It’s the same as it is every morning- Jaime Reyes heads off to school, Milagro ahead of him and chatting up some friend with a name he doesn’t remember. He kisses his mom on the cheek. He meets up with Brenda and Paco.
It’s his everyday routine, so he doesn’t know why it suddenly bothers him.
“¿Qué pasa?” He starts, one hand held up high in greeting, a smile on his face. It’s a little more than forced, but, hey, if he tried to start the day off with a smile, maybe it’d end in a real one. Between the two of them, Brenda and Paco don’t even move, arguing. His smile starts to slip- they’re getting loud (‘just like any other day’, his memories supply, but that doesn’t feel right), and it wasn’t like the school was going to get any closer to them. “So, what did I miss, here?”
Paco finally turns to him, shoulders dropping in dramaticized exhaustion. “Jaime, man, she sneezed and I just said-”
Brenda shoves him, and he actually stumbles before quickly righting himself, blinking a few times at her. “There’s no need to give me some antiquated nonsense about expelling demons from my body!” She turns her nose up, crossing her arms.
“About that? You definitely missed some.” He continues, his lip raised into a half-snarl of challenge. Jaime looks between the two of them, mouth pulled down sharp into a frown.
“Really, what did I miss?”
“I just said ‘God bless you’. She sneezed!” Paco clarifies, gesturing out to Brenda. Jaime blinks, and there’s something to this conversation that he’s not getting. He looks between the two of them again, wondering if he missed how Paco’s skin got lighter before settling back to its previous color.
“See? He admits it!” She counters and, when it finally hits him, Jaime stops walking. He hadn’t even noticed they had started moving, but the scenery is different, and they’re getting closer and closer to the school. Paco and Brenda keep walking, and he hears her continue, as if he was still beside them, “People, and I use this term loosely...”
They keep walking, but Jaime stays a few paces back, quiet, but thinking. There are lulls in the conversation, where he thinks of a response or a jab or that there’s no need for them to be snapping at each other- but he never verbalizes any of it. It’s even more startling when they respond to his silence as if he had answered them, the conversation playing out as if he were still participating. The exact same conversation as yesterday.
And the day before that. And the day before that.
In fact, he can’t remember a day that wasn’t like this. He can remember all of those days where these words were repeated verbatim, but he didn’t notice that he’d already heard them before.
Brenda socks Paco in his shoulder, and they both turn to the space where he would usually be standing. “Did you see that?” Paco says, to empty air. Jaime takes another step backwards, his heart slamming against his chest- his lungs burn as he realizes he’s not taking in enough air, oh God what was happening-
Fight or flight instincts kick in. The Blue Beetle armor slides up his arms, around his chest, enclosing around his face, forcing him to breath in. It only occurs to him that he’s literally running away from his problems once he’s up in the air and his breathing is evening out again. It seems stupid to literally run away from his childhood best friends- maybe if he flew back down there and asked them about it, he’d figure out why-
His phone rings in his backpack (shrugged off and on the ground from where he’d taken off), and he dives back down to pick it up. There’s something off about this, too, that he can’t place, but between the Groundhog Day he seemed to have been living in unknowingly and the little nagging feeling at the base of his neck, it was definitely less of a priority. He unzips his backpack and roots around in it for his phone, coming up with no less than a half-empty pack of gum, a bundle of notecards, and a pack of sticky-notes before finally getting it right. “Hello?” The screen prints out ‘Ted Kord’ above ‘Private’ (which wasn’t a function he thought his phone had ) and it feels like the floor fell out from underneath him.
“Jaime!” He has never heard this man’s voice before. “Listen, I know you’re on your way to school, but we have an incident down at the intersection of Mercer and Republica. A handful of your old foes calling for the Blue Beetl-”
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Jaime cuts in, even though he really wants to know how the sentence would end, and his mother drilled it into him to never interrupt. “And how do you know I’m the Blue Beetle?” Almost immediately after that comes out of his mouth, he flinches- he should’ve denied it, instead.
The man on the other side lets out a sound of obvious confusion. “Jaime, you know me- I’m Ted Kord. The previous Blue Beetle?” The microphone on his phone picks up moving static as Ted shakes his head on the other end.
“But Ted Kord is dead” is on the tip of Jaime’s tongue but, God, he can’t seem to force it. Just pull the phone away from his ear and look down at it, reading and rereading the label like somehow it would make more sense if he kept looking down. Ted keeps talking, so he pulls the phone back up to his ear. “The Scarab might be causing some sort of memory problem- I’ll run some tests when this mission is over to make sure nothing’s wrong.” He sighs. “Anyways, your old enemies are demanding that you show up, and they have a coffee shop full of civilians to push you to comply.”
“What enemies? Are you talking about the Re-” He can’t say it. His tongue freezes in his mouth- he doesn’t know where he has these memories, how he knows these things. But, everywhere he looks, reality seems to contradict these truths he knows- nothing in front of him seems to be what it should be.
“Kid, listen, I know it’s like you just started being a hero, but you have made enemies- we can table this for later, you have to start heading over there!” He starts yelling, which Jaime almost tells him is completely unnecessary, but he just rolls his eyes and lets it go. Just forces himself to ignore how out of line with everything he’d ever been told Ted Kord was like this conversation was.
“Alright, alright, I’m moving.” He takes off again and, prompting the suit for directions, is surprised when nothing happens. Instead, he’s just hovering in the air, no directions overlaid in front of his view. On the other end of the phone call, he hears Ted hang up. Sighing, he pulls up Google Maps and tries to figure out where the coffee shop is.
Jaime is pretty sure that, if he had ever seen the giant Bug-Mobile that Ted was using to ferry him to the coffee shop (he’d showed up last-minute, when Jaime was literally two minutes away) in real life before, he would remember it. But he doesn’t. So, instead, he takes in the inside, craning his neck and wondering why the suit doesn’t respond when he asks for analysis. He tries not to think about the living, breathing dead man beside him. Ted hits a few buttons and, somehow, they both hear the sounds of the villains chattering amongst themselves. For the second time that day, Jaime doesn’t recognize who’s talking.
And it’s starting to get really old.
“That’s, uh, pretty cool, sir.” He comments, not sure what else to say.
The response is instant. “Jaime, I told you, you can call me ‘Ted’.” Jaime just waits. “It’s a targeted parabolic mic- picks up specific sounds.” Which sounds like a seriously oversimplified answer, but beggars can’t be choosers. Seeing as they seem to be in some sort of Batman and Robin situation (which is something he’s also fairly surprised to remember- meeting Batman), he’s a little surprised at the informalities.
“So, what do you need me to do?” He asks, as he looks over the edge of the large floating bug and sees ‘BRING BLUE BETLE’ carved into the cement below them. At the very least, he knows the Reach would’ve been a lot more demanding- not just holding a random coffee shop hostage.
Ted turns to him and gives him a tight grin- he almost looks empty behind his eyes. Jaime swallows, immediately breaking eye contact. “Well, walking down there is one way to start.”
“Your call, jefe.” And, almost thinking it was more of a relief to be walking towards a duo of villains than sit next to some strange, passive-aggressive man trying to live vicariously through him, Jaime drops out of the Bug, the suit’s wings slowing his fall until he lands on the ground.
When he actually goes into the cafe, it’s almost worse. Immediately, somehow, Ted is talking to him through the suit, and giving him advice like he’s some sort of beginner. Of all things, he doesn’t need a play-by-play on how to sass villains. He rests both of his hands on his hips, raising one eyebrow at the scene. “I bet Batman doesn’t have to deal with his fan club requesting appearances like this.” Okay, even he had to admit that was pretty weak. And sounded like something that would’ve come out of Booster Gold’s mouth. He shakes his head. “Well, ask and ye shall receive! Here I am!”
The duo just seems to stare at him. Jaime is about to take the chance to just send a sonic pulse their way, but then one of them grabs a woman by her hair and, yeah , looks like this wasn’t going to be easy. And, suddenly, Ted is screaming in his ear- like he can’t goddamn see that they’re using human shields and he can’t exactly spear a civilian through the chest without extensive therapy and being indebted to her family for life.
But then he just throws her to the side, and Jaime lurches forward, sensors inside of the helmet letting him know of an incoming object at his back and to the right. He narrowly dodges a radiator being thrown at him (Ted Kord was supposed to be rich, right? Surely he could replace and rebuild whoever’s livelihood this was- the property damage was getting ridiculous), but then he feels two arms wrap around his midsection. Hot breath in his ear, “I must admit to finding this disappointing, I thought we’d at least work up a sweat.”
The suit reacts without Jaime thinking about it- the arms on the back of the Scarab crack and, forming protrusions similar to the scythes he could form with his arms, pierce (Ruin? Rack? He couldn’t tell them apart) through the chest. He’s just about to... He’s not sure. Scream? Panic? He’s never killed someone before, and he’d never intended or wanted to... He contemplates chest compressions, when the villain’s chest reforms, and he’s suddenly whole again.
Jaime swears to himself, and hears Ted in his ear, “Robots! Who would’ve thought that it’d be robots?” Jaime pivots on his heel, dropping low before the other, more solid one can sucker-punch him in the back of the head. “Be careful, Jaime- it looks like they’re using some sort of scanning system to anticipate your moves.”
He thinks that Ted probably could’ve told him that earlier, for it to be more useful. And listening to him had distracted him enough to take a painful kick to the back. “Listen, Mister Kord- is there anything you could do to keep them from-”
“Regenerating! A good idea- I’ll just...” He hears a button push on the other side of the receiver and, as he skirts away from a low sweep, Ted continues, in an excited tone that makes him instinctively nervous. “Don’t worry! The suit has filtration systems in place, and the gas is non-toxic, anyways.”
Two arms swing into his chest and, knocked flat on his ass, he stares up at Rack and Ruin, still not knowing who or what they were. “Mister Kord...” They start stomping on him and, for some reason, he can’t form a cannon. Or a scythe-arm. Or a blast of electricity. “Mister Kord, any day now!” The armor is durable, but they’re strong, and in a way he can’t counter while being crushed underfoot.
“Whine, whine, whine!” Jaime can’t believe this man has the audacity to mock him when he’s literally being pounded into the dirt. He’s just about to vocalize this (and how he’d definitely say something to Booster Gold about his best friend and this whole terrible internship he seemed to be experiencing), when the building is hit by the gas, and the whole building swells with smoke, pushing at the walls. Jaime still coughs- even if it was non-toxic, the filtration system made it so the air was thinner, and it was that much more difficult to breathe.
Over the drumming in his ears, he hears one say, over a fit of coughs, “It would seem we’ve another player in the game.”
Answered, “It would explain his constant chattering.”
“Hardly what we were paid for.”
And they take off, chattering amongst themselves, too far away for him to pick up without focusing- and he’s starting to get a headache from the ‘non-toxic’ gas. He runs the back of his hand over his forehead, as if to assuage the pain, but he hears Ted blaring in his ear, “Can’t help but notice they’re getting away.” And, now, it’s a migraine.
“Why aren’t you moving?” He’s pretty sure he’s mildly concussed, probably at least one broken rib and a chest of bruises. His mom was going to have a meltdown when she saw the state he was in (was it bad that he was hoping to use the ‘my mom says I can’t talk to you any more’ excuse against Ted?). “You didn’t just get steamrolled, why aren’t you going after them?”
There’s a beat of silence. “Guess they got what they came for.” He responds, as if Jaime hadn’t spoken.
He rolls onto his back, keeping still, if only for a few moments. “And that’d be...?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“End communications.” Jaime commands, and, somewhat pettily, hopes Ted keeps talking and assuming he’s still on the line. His legs bicycle aimlessly in the air, like a bug twitching after being stomped, restless and wounded. He’s earned it, he decides. He’s earned being exhausted and taking the five fucking minutes to feel like he has his life in some sort of order.
Brenda, Paco, and probably his whole family are on a VHS loop. He’s basically being exploited in an unpaid internship by Ted Kord. He just got pummeled by ‘old enemies’ he’d never seen before.
He wishes he could shrug all of it off with a ‘so that makes this a Tuesday, huh?’, but he’s too shaken to think of anything with a hint of humor in it.
Jaime wakes up on a table, which is the last place one wants to wake up when they’re fairly certain they’ve been dropped into some wrecked alternate universe. “Suit, scan for signs of life.” He says, under his breath, his head turned so he’s whispering into his shoulder. Nothing happens- no murmur of feedback echoing in his mind. He sighs and, instead, jerks up, flexing his shoulders to signal to the Scarab that it was time to suit up- that much, at least, was still the same.
“Oh, Jaime, you’re awake!” Ted’s voice echoes, and he emerges from underneath the Bug-Mobile (a terrible joke about Volkswagens comes to mind, but Jaime dismisses it). “‘Hope you don’t mind- I ran those brain scans while you were unconscious. Everything looks fine! You’re in fantastic shape!”
Jaime’s just about to contest that, recalling how goddamn tore-up his torso had felt earlier but, looking down at where he’d bent at the waist to get up, can’t seem to find any painful spots. No bruises, no broken bones. “Uh, Mr. Kord, did you... did you do anything else while I was unconscious?” The sudden thought intrudes that maybe Ted Kord was still buried six-feet-under. The sudden thought that maybe this really wasn’t Ted Kord. He inhales quickly, then exhales, feeling the suit flex around him- at the very least, he hadn’t taken the Scarab away from him.
“What? No.” He taps a wrench to his chin, like one would do a pencil (which seems precariously dangerous). “Why, did something change?”
Jaime wants to say, “Everything. Everything changed, and nothing is familiar, and, really, who the hell are you?” But he bites his tongue, smoothing his hands down his armored chest. “Just, uh, wanted to cover all of my bases, you know?” He doesn’t meet Ted’s eyes.
“Fair enough.” Ted looks at him from the corners of his eyes, however, as if he doesn’t truly believe him. He clears his throat. “So, are you still interested in getting that Scarab off of your back?”
Jaime blinks, and doesn’t recall when he broached that subject. In fact, it makes him somewhat uneasy, Ted’s eagerness to discuss removing the Scarab. “No, not really.” He says, and sees his eyes narrow further. He’s not sure if it’s his taught politeness or the fact that it suddenly feels like he’s in over his head, but he starts to apologize, holding out one hand. “Mr. Kord, really, I appreciate your enthusiasm- how much you want to help me and all. I’m not, uh, really interested in a partnership. I’d heard great things about you- like that you’re a great person, really nice.” He’s not sure as to how far he’s put his foot in his mouth, so he backtracks, tries to simplify. “So, um. I can deal, Mr. Kord, without having a mentor.”
Ted’s smile is almost waxlike. “Told you. Call me Ted.” Nothing besides his face moves when he speaks, and Jaime fakes looking at a watch, despite the fact that he’s completely suited up.
“Oh man! Look at the time! Uh, gotta fly- late for school!” School was about to let out, actually, but he takes his opening to fly off, arms spread out wide just in case he needed to summon up a sonic cannon. He hopes it’s not too obvious that he’s not flying in the direction of the school- he’s about to head home when he turns around midair, thinking.
The wings keep beating as he suspends himself in air, holding his chin in his hands. “Can’t go home- just in case I bring the trouble there too...” The second place he can think of is Brenda’s aunt’s house, but some memory rears up about her wanting to have the Scarab for herself. He pauses on that, unable to place it on a timeline- especially since she would’ve had no opportunity to have even seen it. He turns in a circle a few times- thinking of somewhere to go and then, almost instantly, finding some reason to actively avoid the same place.
Which is how he ends up sitting on a hill of sand in Kermit Sand Dunes.
It’s a Tuesday, he rationalized- who goes to visit a giant desertous area on a Tuesday? He could sit and let the wind buffet him with sand, something to occasionally pull him from his thoughts. The suit filters in clear, sandless air, almost forcing him into regular breaths. He lets it, lying down and looking up into the clear sky, thinking of the barrage of conflicting memories, of Ted’s waxy smile and his voice shouting in his ear.
“Suit, block all calls not from Mom, Dad, and Milagro.” Last thing he’d want is to listen to Ted’s voice again. He heaves a sigh, then pauses, replaying his words, talking out-loud to himself. “‘Suit’...?”
He sits up, looking at his armored palms. “No, that’s not right- you’re not just a suit.” His mouth feels inexplicably dry. He opens and closes it a few times. “You... You have a name. We’ve fought for years- you saved me from the R-”
It hurts to breathe. “From the Reach.” He forces out, through grit teeth. He sucks in a thin breath. The wind seems to get rougher, forcibly pushing him down the dune, almost knocking him over. “How could I forget your name?” The roaring of the wind gets so loud, it’s almost difficult to think. He thinks the filters are failing.
Jaime Reyes wakes up on a table (another thing he’s getting incredibly tired of), covered in sweat, in bruises. There’s the faint sound of a drill, the smell of antiseptic in the air. He tries to sit up, finds the broken ribs, the chest full of bruises he had been anticipating earlier, and a bright, hot pain in between his shoulderblades. When he sits up completely, feeling tears sting his eyes and his jaw clench reflexively, his head hits a cupped dome.
He ducks under it, the memories Khaji had once implanted into him from Peacemaker’s Scarab having never truly left him. Despite the fact that his arm aches, he reaches out to touch it, to make sure it’s real.
A reprogramming dome. For targeted population suppression.
Jaime Reyes . He closes his eyes, Khaji’s voice giving him a headache- which made just one more part of his body that felt like it was going to explode. Current location: Reach Infiltration Ship. Current date - “How... How are we back-” Unable to locate current date- time travel / incredibly likely. “Then why are we back?” Unable to analyze- was forcibly rebooted and manipulated by targeted population suppression dome. / No recollection of abduction.
Jaime grinds the heel of his hand into his eyes. “Scan for current injuries... please?” He tacks on, if only because he kinda missed Khaji’s voice in the back of his head. And, even though he doesn’t have the physical stamina to suit up, he can still feel the Scarab on his back- underneath the layers of pain.
Two fractures located on the lower ribs / Contusions on torso, shaped like fingers, deep / Shallow lacerations on back. Implications: Jaime was grabbed, struggled, then there was an attempt to disconnect from suit. “From you.” He corrects, rubbing at his lower back- fingers too uncertain to come anywhere close to where the actual pain was. “So, can the doors be opened?” Option [affirmative]. Ship appears to be offline- easily manipulated. Jaime grunts and, not really looking forward to having to exert too much strength, shuffles to his feet, crossing the room with a slight hobble to his walk.
At the very least, this time, he still has his clothes.
The door gives way to his hands unexpectedly easy. No alarms go off and, when he looks out into the ship, it’s dreadfully empty. He doesn’t even have to ask Khaji to scan for life. Singular response to pulse-scan. Two rooms over. / Ship is otherwise unoccupied. Jaime is inexplicably tired- it takes him a second to think of what to do next. Understandable. / Side-effects of dome include fatigue and generalized weakness.
“Threat... Threat assessment?” He stutters out, then letting out a long string of swears, pinching his nose and leaning against the wall. The world seemed to spin- Khaji hadn’t been kidding when he said ‘generalized weakness’. He finds it to be a miracle that he can even stay standing on both feet.
Low . / Infiltrator Scarab, low energy readings. / Still, caution is advised. And, with that, Khaji slowly cloaks him in the suit- Jaime appreciates it. His skin seems to hurt, and the cool metal of the suit helps only slightly. “Hey! I know you’re out there!” With the suit’s scanning system now overlaid in front of his eyes, he can see the heat signature given off by the Infiltrator. The figure seems to jump and, scattering outside of the room it had been in, reveals a slumped, flighty Infiltrator, fingers scraping at the palms of the suit, letting out a slow, repeating scraping sound.
“You’re awake...” The figure across from him says, their face visibly frightened, twisted into a grimace. “I- I hadn’t planned on what to... What to do if you had awakened-”
“Same old control freaks, huh? No taste for... For spontaneity.” He staggers, but compensates by summoning a scythe arm to use as a walking stick for balance. The Infiltrator visibly balks. “So, you got me right where you want me- who the hell are you, and why am I here?”
They take a step back. “The fall of the Reach began with a glitch within an Infiltrator Scarab sent to Earth- that’s what we were taught in school.” One more step back- they’re looking firmly at the scythe arm, not Jaime. “The Scarab eventually took a host within the human known as Jaime Reyes, who inevitably foiled the infiltration of Earth, and sabotaged the Negotiation/Infiltration/Enforcement capabilities of all Scarabs, for use of the Reach empire.”
Current offworld textbooks reflect no such history. The Infiltrator’s eyes go wide, now looking at Jaime. “I... I can hear it. I never thought...” Time travel incredibly likely. They suddenly look very sheepish. “Time travel is forbidden on the planet I was raised in- but we of the Reach are nothing if not resourceful. I discovered the machinations, through notes archived to teach us about the Earth hero ‘Blue Beetle’- a supposed relic of our history.”
“Dios mío, are you really telling me you literally tried to pull a Terminator 1984 on me?” Jaime interrupts, jaw falling open. “Dude, this isn’t going to work out for you- do you even know how to work that suit?”
“Of course!” They say, far too fast for it to be convincing. “I... Don’t question me! You... You’re the hostage in this situation- I hold the power! Don’t you want to know how I got you here, in the exact ship where you caused the downfall of a kingdom?”
“I’m just gonna take a guess- we’re in The Bleed?” At the Infiltrator’s silence, he nods. “Yeah, so, hope you have your ride home, pal, because I’m getting out of here.”
“Wait!” Desperation edges into their voice, before they seem to forcibly collect themselves. “You’re... You’re not going anywhere!” Their suit forms a sonic cannon- far too heavy for their slim frame to wield, and it sends them falling backwards, arms windmilling. They catch themselves, their aim far off from where it’d actually threaten Jaime. “After... After all of my planning, my calculations- even stealing this Scarab from the museum! Forcing the Bleed to move backwards in time instead of linearly!”
Jaime blinks. “All of that?” He looks around, kind of wondering if this was just some elaborate Green Lantern prank. Waiting for the curtain to fall over and someone to yell, “Jokes on you, Reyes, you have that bug stuck to you that makes us all want to kill you and we just wanted to fuck with you a little!” Maybe some ribbing from Guy Gardener, a kazoo to the face or something. “You figured out all of that , and didn’t think to just kill me while I was under the dome?”
“I...” Their face falls somewhat slack, mouth open, before drawing into a hardline. “No! I didn’t! Because I am fully capable of taking you out myself- with aid of this suit! This will be my mark on history- I’ll mean something to the Worlds!”
If the adversary is capable of reverse-engineering the Bleed, / they should not be left to do so again. / Best course of action: apprehend and deliver to Green Lantern Corps for imprisonment . “Hey, and I thought you hated the Green Lanterns.” Jaime jabs at the Scarab lightly. The unsaid truth hung in the air that, between them and the Reach, at least they had moral limits. “Alright, you heard the bug. Gotta take you in- no hard feelings.”
“I- no!” The Infiltrator looks around, desperate, still on the floor. “This isn’t how it was supposed to happen! You, you were supposed to stay in stasis until I was confident in my abilities- and- and then we would have a glorious fight and I... I could be in the textbooks... The Reach’s children would read about me, read about a hero that looked like them, saved their hold on the colonies...”
Even as Jaime shuffles forward, feeling Khaji repair his skin and tissues in a way that was never really explained, they continue to ramble. Jaime picks them up and shifts out of the bleed, their voice going quiet, soft.
“I just wanted to be someone.”
Jaime glances at him, sighing, choosing his words carefully. “Sometimes...” He swallows. “Sometimes, things are better left as they are. Really, do you think destroying a history is worth just one story, with a few minor edits to make it your own?”
The Infiltrator is silent as they exit the Bleed. As he hands them over to one of the newer lanterns, they turn to answer, “I suppose that this is a lesson I missed in History class.”