Looking in the Bathroom Mirror: The Legible Version
It never failed. No matter how early Sam got up (and he considered himself a fairly early riser, especially compared to the Pied Piper), there was always-always-at least a four-person line to the bathroom, and, since their hideout only had one bathroom, this was a problem. (Sam would never understand why Len had decided that it was a good idea to buy a house with only one bathroom to serve as a hideout for nine highly unstable people, but he had.) At the moment, he was standing behind Mardon, who was standing behind Mick, who was standing behind Len, who was standing behind a whimpering, dancing James, who clearly had to use the bathroom.
"Who's in the bathroom?" he asked Mardon.
"I think it's Dillon, but whoever it is, I hope they hurry it up in there. I haven't showered in three days," Mardon replied. Sam frowned. Well, that certainly explained the smell.
"That's really gross, Mardon." Mardon shrugged.
"Hey, the less I have to wait in this line, the better." Sam had to admit that the man had a point. Showering was nice, but it was definitely not always worth incurring the wrath of eight other people.
"I need to pee!" James whined loudly. Sam groaned. Why did James always wait so long to use the bathroom? He knew that there was always a line, and yet he always waited until the last minute to go to the bathroom. Len moved past James and banged on the door.
"You've been in there for forty-five minutes, Dillon! You've gotta be done by now!" Len snapped. The door opened a crack.
"One cannot rush perfection, Cold," Dillon's snooty voice announced. Then the door slammed shut again.
"Fine, but if Trickster has an accident out here because you're taking nine years in the restroom, you're cleaning it up," Len replied. Five minutes later, Dillon finally left the bathroom, perfectly shaved, hair immaculately combed, showered, and fully dressed in a yellow-and-green striped tuxedo.
"Top of the morning, everyone," he said in a tone that was probably intended to sound cheerful. Then he walked off, whistling "It's a Small World After All" as he did so. James rushed into the bathroom, not even bothering to close the door behind him, but thankfully, Len managed to close the door before James made it to the toilet. A minute later, James rushed back out again. (He'd taken a fifteen-minute shower yesterday, so there was no need for him to spend a long time in the bathroom.) Len went into the bathroom and slammed the door. Then Sam turned back to Mardon.
"Are you sure it's only been three days since you showered? Because you reek," he asked. Mardon nodded, but then he frowned thoughtfully.
"Uh, now that you mention it, Lisa kicked me out of the bathroom before I could take a shower on Wednesday, so it's actually been more like a week and a half," he said sheepishly. Sam took a few steps back-and backed right into Digger, who had apparently joined the line in the interval. He also smelled bad, but this wasn't unusual for him, as Digger had always said that he thought showers and deodorants were highly overrated. Sam sighed. Apparently, he wouldn't be getting any relief for his nose for awhile.
"G'day, mates!" Digger exclaimed, much too cheerfully for Sam's tastes (at least at 7:30 in the morning), but Sam decided to engage him in conversation anyways.
"You're in luck, Digger. Dillon's already finished," he told the Australian.
"Really? How long did he take this time?"
"At least fifty minutes, by Len's clock." Sam had no idea if Dillon really had been in the bathroom that long, but it wouldn't have surprised him, as the arrogant elitist never got out of the bathroom in less than twenty minutes.
"He's got kangaroos loose in his top paddock, he does." Sam nodded in agreement, used to Digger's colorful Australianisms. Dillon was many things, but sane was rarely one of them.
"So, who's in the bog now?"
"Len," Mardon replied, evidently having decided to join the conversation. As if on cue, Len left the bathroom, still in his bathrobe and fuzzy polar bear slippers but looking decidedly cleaner and better shaved.
"Make that Mick,"Mardon added quickly as the gigantic pyromaniac ducked into the bathroom. At this point, Lisa showed up, wearing her pink satin nightgown and with her hair a tangled mess.
"Excuse me, boys," she said as she cut to the front of the line. Mardon groaned, and Sam understood why, as Lisa took even longer in the bathroom than Dillon usually did, but both men kept their mouths shut. What Lisa wanted, Lisa always got, and no one was about to anger her, her brother, and her boyfriend by refusing to let her cut to the front of the line. Mick left the bathroom about two minutes later (being bald, he was a fast showerer, and he rarely shaved), and Lisa entered. Thirty minutes later, she was still in the bathroom, and Digger had started doing his own variant on James's bathroom dance. At this point, Mardon's patience apparently ran out, and he knocked on the door.
"Are you almost done in there, ma'am?"
"No. I'm still applying my makeup. Beauty takes effort-not that any of you would know about that," Lisa replied.
"Okay, but Digger really has to use the bathroom, so you might wanna hurry," Mardon said as he backed away from the door. Thirty minutes after that, Lisa finally left the bathroom, hair styled, makeup applied, and wearing a lovely orange dress. Digger rushed to the bathroom, almost knocking her down in the process, and left it thirty seconds later.
"Did you even wash your hands?" Sam asked him.
"Nope," Digger replied cheerfully. Then he and Lisa walked downstairs, and Mardon entered the bathroom. With all his companions gone, Sam groaned. It would have been so much easier if he could cut the line by using the Mirror Realm, but after he had accidentally "walked in" on Len once, he had decided that the risks outweighed the benefits (especially since Len had punished him for said incident by making him clean out the bathroom for three months) and stopped doing it.
"I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain," a loud voice sang. Sam rolled his eyes. Despite his lack of talent, Mardon insisted on singing in the shower, and, since Mardon was also very loud, the off-key voice was hurting his ears. Thankfully, the bad singing stopped once Mardon left the shower five minutes later, but about two minutes after that, he yelled
"OW!" and emerged a few minutes later with a large bandage on his cheek. Apparently, he'd nicked himself while shaving. He went down the stairs, and Sam went into the bathroom, took a shower, dressed, and then started shaving. While he wasn't nearly as particular as Dillon, he still liked to look good (or at least better than Len, Digger, and Mardon), so he was still shaving when the Pied Piper stumbled into the bathroom about twelve minutes after he'd entered it. The small man's long, red hair was a frizzy, tangled mess, and he looked half asleep.
"Good morning," Sam said cheerfully as he finished shaving.
"G'morning," Piper mumbled.
"You're up early." Usually, the Piper never got up before 11.
"The roof was leaking." Piper grabbed his toothbrush and then started to "brush" his hair with it. Sam stared at him. What was he doing?
"Uh, Piper? Why are you using your toothbrush to brush your hair?"
"Huh?" The Piper replied drowsily. He looked at his toothbrush in confusion.
"So that's why it felt funny." He put the toothbrush down and proceeded to fumble around for his hairbrush. After a few seconds, Sam handed it to him, and despite being half asleep, the Piper managed to tame the frizzy mess that was his hair enough to pull it into his usual ponytail. He then grabbed his razor and started shaving haphazardly. Sam stayed in the room and watched, both out of amusement and a desire to keep his teammate from accidentally slitting his own throat. When Piper finished shaving, he stumbled out of the room, and Sam followed him. It was definitely time for breakfast. When the pair made it to the kitchen, it was already a disaster area. Dillon and James were already almost finished with their food, Mick appeared to have burned three waffles and was attempting to toast a fourth, Mardon had spilled his orange juice all over the table and Len's cereal and Len was screaming at him, and Lisa was pouting.
"We're out of yogurt," she explained when Same looked at her quizzically.
"Oh," Sam replied, not sure of what else to say. He moved over to the refrigerator and grabbed two eggs, which he proceeded to start hard boiling, while the Piper blinked slowly, as though unused to the kitchen's brightness, and then grabbed a banana, which he proceeded to take a bite of without peeling it.
"I think you're supposed to peel bananas before you eat them, Piper."
"Oh. Right," Piper replied sleepily. He peeled the banana, and continued eating it as he stumbled out of the room.
"What's wrong with him?" Lisa asked, still sounding annoyed about the lack of yogurt as she poured herself a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats.
"He's not awake yet. Apparently, his roof was leaking, so he got woken up early."
"What?" Len demanded, apparently having lost interest in Mardon (who was now futilely trying to clean his mess up with a ridiculously small napkin).
"The roof is leaking over Piper's room, and it woke him up," Sam repeated. Len groaned.
"Great. That's just great." Across the room, Dillon suddenly shrieked angrily.
"You disgusting, loathsome creature! I have told you a thousand times that you should utilize better table manners, and now you have spit food on my tuxedo!" he yelled at Digger (who had been eating his cereal with his face since Sam had arrived in the kitchen).
"Don't care," Digger replied (although he had his mouth full, so it sounded more like 'onto coo"). Dillon stormed out of the room in disgust, and Len smirked.
"Serves that snobby lunatic right." Lisa scowled.
"Lenny! My boyfriend is not a lunatic!" she exclaimed angrily. Len looked at the ground.
"Okay, so he's not a lunatic, but he is really weird," he muttered apologetically. Lisa shook her head and went back to her cereal.
"You were asking about the roof?" Sam prompted.
"Oh, yeah. Who's gonna fix it? I patched the last hole in the roof, so I ain't about to do this one, too," Len replied.
"I'll do it!" Lisa volunteered.
"No, sis, you're too little. I don't want you to get hurt," Len replied. Lisa scowled and sighed huffily, and Sam rolled his eyes. He would never understand why Len was so convinced that his sister was a helpless little girl when he'd seen her rob banks and fight the Flash, but he didn't feel like inflaming the situation.
"I'll do it, boss!" Mick said as he burnt the waffle he had been toasting.
"That sounds good. You're on roof duty, Mick," Len replied. Mick saluted and smiled broadly.
"Thanks for letting me help, boss. You're the best!" Len turned to Sam.
"When you're finished with breakfast, go buy groceries." He handed Sam a stack of bills. Sam groaned. The last time he'd gone to the grocery store, he'd run into Iris Allen and only narrowly escaped having her call the police on him, and he had no desire to go through that again, especially since she had also informed him that she carried a pistol in her purse. However, since Len already seemed to be in a bit of a mood, he pocketed the money and continued cooking, only for Mardon to throw up his hands and use his weather wand to create a wind that dried up the spilled orange juice. Unfortunately, said wind also knocked Sam's hand into the boiling water.
"My bad!" Mardon yelled. Sam glared at him, but decided to ignore his pain and continue cooking. Len muttered something unintelligible that was probably supposed to be vaguely threatening but instead just came off as silly, given that he was still wearing his stupid polar bear slippers, and grabbed an apple, presumably to replace the cereal that Mardon had ruined. He continued glaring at Mardon as he ate it. A few seconds later, James finished eating and cartwheeled out of the room, narrowly avoiding kicking Digger's face. Digger just continued eating his cereal with his face as though nothing had happened. Lisa finished her cereal and stuck her bowl in the sink, then exited the room, and, about a minute later, Sam finished boiling his eggs. He put them on a plate and sat down to eat them as Mick burned a fifth waffle and grabbed a banana, evidently having given up on being able to toast a waffle. Sam quickly ate his eggs, dumped his plate into the sink, and departed the kitchen. As he passed through the living room, he found Piper passed out on the couch, with the remains of his banana on his face. Sam took a picture, sent it to all the other Rogues (and the Flashes), and then went to his room. He sighed, steeled himself for his mission, and then traveled to the grocery store through the Mirror Realm. Upon arrival, he grabbed a shopping cart and started throwing all the necessary groceries into it. The faster he could get done with the store, the better. Seven minutes later, he was in the checkout line-a new record! He purchased all the groceries (a total of $570), and then started throwing them into the mirror realm. When he was done, he entered it himself, walked to the mirror that he used to get back to his room, and threw all of the groceries out of the mirror realm and into the house. Once this was done, he exited the Mirror Realm himself and used the same system to transport the groceries from his room to the kitchen.
"This is why I always send you to buy the groceries-you're efficient," Len said respectfully. Sam smiled. Compliments from Captain Cold were few and far between, so Sam appreciated this one.
"No problem. It's easy for someone who has my way with mirrors." By this point, the kitchen was mostly empty, but Digger was still there and shoving his face into what appeared to be his fourth bowl of cereal. Sam wrinkled his nose in mild disgust. Why did Digger have to be so...Digger?
"Doesn't he ever get full?" he wondered aloud.
"Not that I've seen. Could be worse, though. You should see the way our "friends" in the red pjs eat," Len replied. Sam wasn't sure when Len had actually seen the Flashes eat, but since the Flash Museum blared the fact that speedsters had high metabolisms on the annoying PA system every five minutes, and he had been to the museum many times in attempts to vandalize it, he figured that the man was probably accurate. A series of loud bangs followed, suggesting that Mick had made it to the roof.
"Good old Mick," Sam said. Of all his teammates, the brawny pyromaniac had surprisingly proven to be his favorite. He was quiet and friendly, and too dim to betray secrets or jockey for position, so it was hard not to like him, even with his destructive tendencies.
"Yeah, he's good to have around," Len agreed. (Last week, he had said that Mick was a liability, but then again, Mick had managed to catch the stove on fire last Wednesday.) The two men left the kitchen together and walked into the living room-only to find Lisa and Dillon standing in the middle of the room, locked in a very passionate embrace. Len walked over to them and cleared his throat loudly in that "I'm-trying-to-get-your-attention" way. Dillon reluctantly broke away from Lisa.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"I want you to stop PDA-ing with my baby sister!"
"Lenny, nobody was here but us until you walked in! That's not a PDA!" Lisa protested.
"Piper's here," Len said.
"Yeah, but he's asleep," Sam blurted out before he could stop himself. Len whirled on him.
"Whose side are you on here?"
"First, I never said anything to imply that I was on your side, so your question makes no sense, and second, I'm on their side. Your "baby sister" is thirty-three years old and fights the Flash on a regular basis. I think she can handle her boyfriend," Sam said. Lisa smiled, and Len scowled.
"But he's a freaking psycho!"
"Who worships the ground she walks on and follows her around like a lovesick puppy? Yeah, not seeing the problem here." Lisa's smile widened.
"Thank you for your support, Sam," she said. She winked at her boyfriend and pecked Sam on the cheek (much to his surprise). He blushed, and Len glared at him.
"Stop encouraging her!"
"I didn't do anything!" Sam protested, and Lisa nodded.
"Yeah, stop being such a grouch, Lenny. I'll be fine. If Roscoe tries anything I don't like, he'll get a skate to the face," she said fiercely. Sam mentally reminded himself not to anger her.
"Besides, I am no cad, Leonard. I would never force my beloved to do anything she does not wish to," Dillon added. As if to prove his point, he stepped a few feet away from Lisa.
"See, Lenny?" Lisa asked. Len just scowled again and stormed off. Upon realizing he was gone, Dillon embraced Lisa once again and the two began making out.
"Uh, don't mind me, guys. I'm just going to watch some football," Sam said, and then he quickly exited the room. He had no desire to watch Dillon and Lisa practically eat each other's mouths. He rushed to the den, only to find that Mardon and James were already there and predictably fighting over the remote as the TV played a rerun of Barney.
"Tell him to watch his stupid Barney show somewhere else! I wanna watch the weather channel so that I can make sure their forecasts are wrong!" Mardon exclaimed. Sam sighed. On a normal day, he would have insisted that they hand him the remote so that he could watch the Central City Cowboys (hopefully) defeat the Star City Sea Lions, but the shopping trip had exhausted him, so instead he just said,
"James, as soon as the episode is over, let Mardon watch the weather, okay?" James nodded, and Sam left the den and went back to the living room, where Dillon was now showing Lisa a jewel-studded top. He ignored the couple and checked on Piper, who was finally awake again but still looked rather exhausted.
"Ha. Ha," the Piper said grouchily. He disappeared from the room, and then returned with a cup of coffee. While he drank it, Sam tried to ignore the constant giggling and kissing noises coming from the house's resident lovebirds and awkwardly drummed his fingers on the arm of the couch that Piper was sitting in. About five minutes after Piper finished his drink, he smiled.
"Sorry for my unpleasant behavior this morning," he said. Sam snorted. Of all the unpleasant behavior this morning, Piper's had easily been the least offensive. Piper vanished a few seconds later (he was remarkably good at pulling disappearing acts for a man without access to the Mirror Realm or super speed) and then returned wearing a ripped pair of jeans, a green t-shirt, and holey sneakers, which was basically his civilian uniform.
"Uh, hey. Glad to see you up," Sam said. He didn't really know how to relate to the idealistic rich kid, so their conversations were usually brief and awkward.
"Thanks. What did I miss?"
"Digger being gross as per usual, a long line for the bathroom, a disaster area in the kitchen, a shopping trip via the Mirror Realm-we have yogurt again now-and Len freaking out when he caught Dillon and Lisa kissing. Oh, and Mardon and James fighting over the TV remote," Sam explained.
"So, nothing unusual, then?" Sam shook his head.
"Okay, see you around, Sam. I'm going to meet Wally at the homeless shelter," Piper said, as though a supervillain going to help people at a homeless shelter with his enemy was perfectly normal. Piper was a weirdo, no doubt about that.
"Uh, you have fun with that dumb goody-good stuff, I guess," he said as Piper left the house. Not having anything better to do, Sam retreated to his room and pulled out one of his well-hidden JSA comic books and began reading it. Although he would never admit it to his teammates (the last thing he wanted was to share Piper's reputation), he was a huge fan of the heroes, due to having loved their adventures as a child, and he just couldn't bring himself to stop reading them now. His love of those dumb comics had once made his mother so proud-but no, thinking about stuff like that was stupid. His mother hated him now, and for good reason. The boy she'd raised to be a hero-hah!-had become a villain, so it was better for everyone if they forgot each other. That way, no one would blame her for him. She wasn't like Len's dad-she had done no wrong. He was just a creep, and all the chaos in his life was his own fault. In frustration, Sam ripped the comic in half, deposited it in the trash, and dove into the Mirror Realm. At least that way he didn't have to look at his reflection. He stayed in the Mirror Realm until he heard Lisa screaming.
"Sam, get down here!" Sam sighed, emerged from the Mirror Realm, and went down the stairs and into the living room, where he found Len and Dillon in a Mexican standoff with an angry-looking Lisa in the middle.
"What is it?" he asked exasperatedly.
"Tell them to stop kissing!" Len barked.
"I don't care if they're kissing, Len. And even if I did, what would you suggest I do about it?"
"You could dump Dillon in the Mirror Realm," Len said, sounding far too enthusiastic about the idea. Lisa frowned and Dillon gave Len a glare that could freeze even the Master of Absolute Zero.
"No, thanks." Sam didn't particularly like the snobby elitist, but considering the fact that Dillon was telekinetic, he wasn't about to anger him.
"Sam, tell Lenny to stop treating me like a little kid! He listens to you!" Lisa exclaimed.
"Yes, do, and tell our "beloved" Captain that he is being unnecessarily hostile as well," Dillon added. Sam sighed. How did he always end up playing the middleman?
"Look, Len, I know you and Dillon aren't each other's favorite people, but can you at least try to like each other for Lisa's sake? Also, Len, seriously, stop treating your sister like she's ten years old. It's getting ridiculous, especially since my mom was married when she was ten years younger than your sister is now," he said, trying to ignore the memories that the mention of his mother brought up.
"I am not doing anything! It is only he who is not trying," Dillon protested.
"Oh, yeah, then who was it that called me an uneducated piece of trash the other day, your secret twin?" Len shot back. Lisa looked surprised and hurt, and Sam wanted to scream. Why were these people so difficult?
"I was only speaking truth," Dillon said disdainfully.
"Roscoe, my brother is not trash! He's a hero!" Lisa exclaimed. Upon realizing what she had said and how odd it sounded, she blushed, but she didn't retract her words.
"My apologies, darling. I did not realize that your brother was so...highly esteemed in your eyes," Dillon said gently. He wrapped his arm around her, but she pulled away.
"Of course he is! He was the only person who cared if I dropped dead when I was a kid!" she yelled, eyes sparking with anger.
"But he's so barbaric," Dillon protested. He seemed surprised when Lisa slapped his hand and glared at him.
"Yeah, and you're a freaky weirdo with a top obsession," Len said. To Sam's surprise, Lisa frowned at him, too.
"Lenny! Roscoe is not freaky! He's a gentleman!" Sam snorted. No one who had ever been on the receiving end of one of Roscoe's attacks would ever have described him as a gentleman, but then again, he had never raised a hand-or even his voice-to his girlfriend.
"No, he's a snooty jerk," Len muttered. Lisa frowned.
"Both of you, stop insulting each other right now, or I'll stop speaking to both of you and kick you both with my skates to boot," she said icily. Len and Dillon immediately fell silent, something that would have been the envy of police officers everywhere had they seen it.
"Sorry, Sis. I still hate Dillon, but he does make you happy, and he hasn't hurt you yet, so I guess I should try to keep my mouth shut when he's not actively being a snob," Len said.
"And I apologize once again, sweetums. I still believe that your brother is obnoxious, but his raising you allowed us to meet, so I will try to keep the abrasive comments about his background to a minimum," Dillon added. Lisa beamed.
"See? Friends," she said firmly. Sam sighed in relief.
"What did you need me for?" he asked her.
"Moral support," she replied. With that, she and Dillon walked off, and Len turned to Sam.
"Wanna watch football?" Sam shrugged.
"Only if you can convince Mardon to stop watching the weather channel."
"Don't worry. I'll handle it." The two headed to the den and found Mardon sitting on the couch, staring at the weather channel in utter delight.
"Change the channel to football," Len barked.
"But I don't wanna," Mardon whined.
"Now!" Len barked. Mardon pouted, changed the channel, and left the room. The two watched what proved to be the last six minutes of the game and saw the Cowboys lose to the Sea Lions, 29-0.
"Our team is terrible this year," Sam muttered and turned the TV off in disgust.
"This is why I only watch the Cubs and the Combines," Len replied, sounding equally annoyed. (He often made this claim, but he always watched the Cowboys the following year anyway.)
"I'm starting to think somebody from Gotham put a spell on our team the last time we played them or something."
"Maybe so." The Gotham team hadn't played in two years, due to being called the Jesters, something that had prompted the Joker to turn up repeatedly and attempt to murder several players and the team mascot, but they were still formidable in the minds of the other sports teams.
"You got anything planned, Captain?" Sam asked, more out of boredom than anything.
"Not for another two weeks. Sorry." Sam groaned.
"A little. Want to go bother Piper?" Sam asked, not having any better ideas. It beat sitting around in the hideout watching reruns all day.
"Sure. Just let me get dressed." He left and returned five minutes later wearing jeans and a t-shirt that read "Cold" on the front.
"Subtle," Sam said. Len shrugged.
"Hey, it's not like Hartley won't know who we are anyways." With that, the two left the hideout and started walking to the homeless shelter. (Sam probably could have used the Mirror Realm to get them there, but most people who weren't him tended to puke when they were yanked through it, including Len, so walking was for the best.) About ten minutes later, they arrived at their destination, only to be grabbed by an exhausted-looking lady.
"Oh, good, you're here! Our workers in the kitchen are completely understaffed!" Before Sam could explain that they weren't there to volunteer, she dragged the two of them to the kitchen, and Sam found himself with dishpan hands. For the next two hours, he washed dishes, in part because the kitchen was so busy that he could barely finish one plate before ten others were shoved into his hands, and in part because he had neglected to bring his Mirror Gun and therefore couldn't escape through a reflective surface or threaten someone into allowing him to leave. Len, meanwhile, had been more or less pressed into becoming a waiter, and no one had yet listened to his angry protests that he wasn't a volunteer. Sam sighed. He was never going to complain about being bored again.
"What does Hartley like about this place?" Len asked as another tray of food was shoved into his hands by a smiling teenager.
"Oh, you know Hartley?" she asked.
"Yeah," Len replied, sounding as confused as Sam felt. What was so special about one volunteer amongst like a hundred?
"That's so cool! He's amazing!" she exclaimed dreamily. Len made a face and walked away with the tray, while Sam turned to the girl in the hopes of figuring out why the Piper seemed to be a celebrity here.
"Why do you like Hartley?" he asked, only to have to turn away from her as another person shoved two plates into his hands.
"Because he really understands the people we serve. A lot of volunteers, myself included, have a hard time relating to the people here because we don't want to come across as rude, but he acts like he's known them all his life. Oh, and he's a total babe," the girl replied.
"Yeah. There's nothing better than a cute guy who's also a nice guy," another girl, who was cooking, agreed.
"Basically, there's only one guy who's cooler than Hartley working here, and that's Wally. We're really lucky to have a real-life superhero volunteering here, because it encourages other people to help out. He's great," the first girl said.
"And he's super cute," the second girl added. She giggled, and Sam made a face. The Flash was not cute, and frankly, neither was Piper. How had he ended up in a place where they were celebrities after putting in so much effort to avoid such places? He decided to end the discussion and turn his attention back to the plates. At least they didn't remind him of how non-heroic he was. About ten minutes later, Len returned, looking oddly pleased.
"Why are you smiling?" Sam asked. Len never smiled.
"I found a new Lisa," Len replied cryptically, and when the next tray of food arrived, he practically grabbed it out of the cook's hands. Sam just sighed. He had a weird boss.
"Here you go," a guy said as he handed Sam twenty plates. Sam wanted to scream at the guy, but knew that Len wouldn't be happy if he caused trouble off the clock, so instead he just started to wash the new load of plates, trying to ignore the fact that his back was killing him because he'd been standing in place for over two hours. Several minutes later, Len returned, still smiling widely and apparently as happy as a clam.
"Len, I haven't seen you this happy in ages. Seriously, what gives?" Sam asked as he finished washing a plate and had six more shoved into his hands. (By this point, he was pretty much on autopilot when it came to washing the dumb things.)
"I told you. I found a new Lisa." Sam scowled. Why was Len being so secretive?
"But that doesn't make any sense!" he protested. Len smiled again, this time a bit sheepishly.
"Okay, if you're really desperate to know, I'll give it to you straight. There's an adorable little girl out there who looks just like Lisa used to. Her name is Josephine, and she… she don't have a father worth speaking of, and, well, somebody needs to help her," he said.
"Um...okay," Sam replied. He'd long been aware that Len had a soft spot for young kids, but he'd never seen the man take this much of an interest in helping one before today. Supervillains didn't help people. It just wasn't done (unless you were Piper, but Piper was weird.)
"I'm coming back tomorrow-and bringing her some presents, if I can get them. Nobody who looks that much like my sister is gonna go without if I can help it." Sam stared at Len in shock and wondered idly if the Piper had used his flute to somehow brainwash him.
"Whatever floats your boat, Len." He personally planned to never come back, as, unlike some people (including Len, apparently), he actually wanted to maintain his reputation, but he wasn't going to rain on Len's parade, either. Len grinned, took another tray, and then exited the kitchen again. Sam rolled his eyes and kept robotically washing plates. A few minutes later, Piper appeared, beaming.
"I didn't think you cared about the poor, Sam. I'm glad to see that I was wrong." Sam almost laughed out loud. Was Piper really naive enough to think that HE would want to help people? Him, the scourge of Central City? What a laugh. There was nothing good about him.
"Actually, I came here to bug you, but then one of the people who I think works here dragged Len and me to the kitchen and I've been washing dishes ever since." Piper's face fell.
"Well, if you came here simply to bother me, then you deserve your current fate." The man sounded utterly disappointed, and Sam rolled his eyes for what was probably the twentieth time that hour. Hadn't Piper figured out that he was the bad guy yet? Did he honestly think he was a good man?
"How'd you even know I was here?"
"Captain Cold told me." Given Len's recent mood, Sam wasn't surprised.
"Of course he did."
"Well, I'll leave you to your task, Sam." Sam stuck his tongue out at Piper's retreating back and continued washing dishes. Two hours later, he was finally relieved from duty (the shelter evidently really was very understaffed), only to find that Len didn't want to leave.
"Len, come on! We've been relieved from duty! We can go!"
"But I don't want to leave just yet. I'm enjoying myself."
"Well, that makes one of us. Now let's go!" Sam said. Len smiled plaintively.
"At least let me introduce you to Josephine." Sam groaned.
"Fine." Len eagerly led him out of the kitchen and up a flight of stairs, where he saw a children's playroom. A tiny little blonde girl ran up to Len and hugged his leg. Sam examined her and decided that she did, indeed, look a lot like Lisa-and then noticed that she had a black eye.
"Wait… did her father…?"
"Yeah. He did. That's why I want to help her out."
"Hi, there, kid. I'm Sam, Len's friend," Sam told the little girl awkwardly. He was the last person who should be talking to the kid, what with a) being a villain and b) having a decent childhood, but he figured that he should do something.
"Hi," she said quietly. Then she buried her face back in Len's leg.
"Why did she trust you so quickly?" Sam asked. Len looked at the floor.
"I have scars, too," he muttered, which made Sam feel like a bit of a jerk for being so mystified by Len's uncharacteristic niceness- this girl reminded him of himself! No wonder he was being nice to her. A brown-haired woman walked up to him. She also looked a lot like Lisa, except for the hair color, and, just like her daughter, she had a black eye.
"Your friend is terrific. My Josephine adores him," she said.
"I'm glad, but we have to go now," Sam replied, shooting Len a glare to try to get him to get moving. Len sighed and turned to the little girl.
"I've gotta go now, princess, but I'll be back soon. Good-bye."
"Bye," the little girl replied. She released his leg, and Len and Sam left the room and exited the shelter. They walked home, Len still seeming pretty happy, and upon arrival, they found that the roof had been repaired. They went inside-and found Lisa and Dillon making out again. Sam was hopeful that Lisa would be able to keep Len and Dillon in line, but just in case, he prepared to exit the room. He was shocked when Len smiled at them and said,
"Hey, sis? I just wanted to tell you that I'm giving you two my blessing." Dillon looked at him skeptically.
"What is the catch, Leonard?"
"No catch, Dillon. I still don't like you, but my sister's old enough to know what she wants. If it makes her happy to be with you, it makes me happy, too. Sorry I've been such a creep, lately." He shook Dillon's hand, pecked his sister on the cheek, and walked off.
"What was that about?" Lisa asked.
"As far as I can tell, he has a new person to protect now, so he can see you as the adult you are. I was bored a couple hours ago, so I suggested to Len that we go to the Piper's shelter to bug him, and he agreed. Bad idea, by the way, because we got forced into working there, but while we were there, he met a little girl named Josephine, and he enjoyed helping her, I guess because they have lousy fathers in common, so now he's taken it upon himself to protect her, and since she needs help a lot more than you do, he can lighten up around you."
"Fascinating," Dillon said, not sounding at all fascinated. Lisa smiled.
"Thanks, Sam!" she exclaimed. She pecked him on the cheek again, much to his confusion. Did she think that he had intended to introduce Len to Josephine?
"I, uh, wasn't actually planning to help you guys by going there, but I'm, uh, glad that the trip ended up helping you out," he said. Lisa nodded, and then she and Dillon embraced and started kissing yet again, and Sam went to his room, exhausted. What a day. As he collapsed on his bed, he glanced on the comic book that he had thrown away, and he felt another pang of guilt. If Len could change his spots, and if he could help resolve a family quarrel without even meaning to, maybe-just maybe- he could change his spots, too. He picked up his cell phone and dialed the number that one of his parole officers had programmed into his phone years ago upon one of his many releases from prison. The phone rang for a few seconds, and then someone picked up.
"Hello? Mom? I know it's been forever, but I was wondering if maybe you could talk."