The next morning, Joan woke with a start. Her breathing was heavy and sweat was pouring down her body. Her eyes were wide as the memories of the nightmare of Black Beetle, the Reach's enforcer, came towards her. He had raised his arm which had changed into a weapon. He had smiled, then moved his arm and fired at her younger brother. Or so she assumed. She woke up before that happened. Now her heart was pounding faster than a stampede. She sent up a prayer that that would never happen.
She slowly sat up, groaning from sleeping on the floor. She hadn't meant to do it, but after NIghtwing passed out on her bed, she wasn't in much of the mood to move him, so she sucked it up. Now she was debating if she regretted that decision or not. She looked up on the desk where her alarm clock was sitting. It was 6:30. Shoot, she'd overslept.
Joan looked at Nightwing to make sure he was out, before sighing and changing. She had to do it quickly because any moment now, her parents would come make sure that she up and drag her out of bed if she wasn't. She pulled over her legs her worn out jeans and her shirt over her head when a knock came from behind the door. Her father was knocking on her brother's door. He would be getting up to go to the Reach school where he would learn everything there was no know about operating a Reach food production farm. Joan sighed, glad that she had not been thought to have enough intelligence for that. Punching the director's face might have helped that conclusion though.
She opened the door just wide enough for her to sneak out to come face to face with her father. He was a tall strong man with dark hair and dark eyes. He would be imposing and frightening if Joan didn't know how he was nothing more than a giant teddy bear and couldn't hurt a thing. He was surprised that she had opened the door in time. His hand had been raised. He smiled though.
"Hey, you're up. Why don't you come down for breakfast? We have fresh eggs."
Joan's mouth watered. It had been months since they had last had any fresh food. To the Reach, it was considered a waste of food to give the people fresh food when it could be sent to their own elsewhere. However, occasionally, someone would get something from the black market. It was one of the few things most people didn't question when they were given it. The neighbors had an honor system to share everything, even if it was only an egg per household. But was Joan came down and saw a practical feast before her eyes, she knew this was much more than a simple black market trade, the closest her parents had ever came to being a criminal. She knew, though it was nothing more than a feeling inside of her, that they had so many eggs because Nightwing was here. He must have friends waiting for him to get better and doing everything they could to ensure his health.
"H.. how?" Her brother, who had wandered down with his dark hair still messy and dark eyes still sleepy, was now almost drooling at the sight of so many eggs. There were several eggs all divided up into bunches of six. Six eggs per household. A miracle here. Joan wondered if anyone would get suspicious.
"They were on the back porch," Joan's mother said. Like Joan, she had long blonde hair with blue eyes. She looked the part of a typical farmer's wife with her hair pulled back. In fact, Joan and her mother had begun to look so much alike, that it inspired Joan to cut her hair below her ears in a bob every time it grew to her shoulders. "They had a note that said to make sure he got some. I'm not sure who he is but if we pass these out to everyone, then we should had gotten them to him. It looks like one of our neighbors has real connections."
"Perhaps. Either way, it means it's our turn to spread the wealth among our neighbors. I'll go pass them out." Her father chuckled. "Everyone is going to think it's Christmas."
Joan smiled. It had been a two years since anyone had mentioned Christmas. The Reach had banned Christmas and all other holidays because all humans needed to work all the days. The only excuse for missing work was limp,in which case you were sent away. Joan never knew where though she had her suspicions; she only knew it was away. Or if you were really sick, like dying sick. Then you were sent away, but always came back by the end of the say. Everyone knew enough that pretending to be that sick meant never coming back from away.
"Joan, what did you do to you hair?" Her mother asked, bringing Joan out of thoughts of Christmas past and those hearty dinners. She missed eggnog the most, but her father's Christmas ham was something to really drool about.
"What do you mean? " Joan, concerned, went to the bathroom immediately which was just around the corner. There, she saw that her blonde hair now had red strands everywhere, making it look like she was now a strawberry blonde. She shook her head. It was real. It was particularly strawberry colored on the strands that framed her face, they had long since been bangs. She was baffled by the sudden change in her hair. It had been bleach blonde last night when went to bed.
"I'm taking it you don't know anymore than I do." Her mother walked in behind her, smiling.
Joan shook her head, wondering what strange phenomenon had occurred in the middle of the night. Had Nightwing done it? Or had her brother pranked her after she fell asleep and put more sticky powders in her hair like the day which would have been the first April Fool's since the Reach took over. He had been punished severely for it, as "jokes distracted to workers," but Joan had not minded at the time. She had always been curious what she would have looked like with electric blue hair. It was too bad it washed out the next day.
"Okay, well, Henry says he's innocent and after last time, I don't think he would do it again. Either way, wash your hair after breakfast and we'll see what happens. I'm going to scramble them, do you mind?"
"No. Hey, do you think I could take breakfast up in my room? I need to finish something up before heading out today."
Her mother sighed, but nodded. Joan felt bad because with life the way it was and everyone working until either dark or when the bell rings, whichever came first, there were few opportunities to have a meal like this one together. However, she also knew the punishment for not finishing work by the next day.
Joan felt bad about lying, and made up for it by helping her mother prepare the eggs and making sure the conversation didn't turn towards dark things. Everyone did their best to keep it light and happy, a skill that they had become good at over the last couple years. When her dad came home, he commented on what a beautiful family he had and how lucky he was to have it. He almost began to play chase with Henry as he had in previous years when he was younger, but the hour warning bell stopped him. They all had to be working before the bell rang again.
"Don't be late," her mother warned as Joan took her breakfast up. They both knew that the Reach did not tolerate tardiness well. Joan nodded and ran down the hallway to where her room was and thankfully Nightwing was still asleep. She ate a few mouthfuls of the eggs before setting the plate down, hoping he wouldn't notice the couple bites missing, and writing a quick not. Don't leave room. Breakfast on table. She hopped off and jumped into the shower, hoping that the situation with her hair was just a dye.
When she came out, she saw it was not. Though thoroughly confused, she left if be, deciding that it was not worth freaking out over as it would have been a couple years ago when she went was obsessed with her appearance. The Reach however had taken away the idea of self consciousness. Now, there was only one way to make an impression. Don't take it lying down.
She snuck back into her room and saw Nightwing wide awake. He was almost sitting up, but he was still leaning on the headboard of her bed. He was eagerly eating the eggs, with a half smile on his face. He didn't look as bad as last night, but he still look rough. In the light, Joan also saw his dark hair was shaggier than she thought last night. His eyes were what raptured her attention. They were a dark stormy blue which echoed all the hardships, trials, joy, and so much more of more than one lifetime in those eyes.
"Morning," she said as she walked in.
"Only through the night."
He groaned as he tried to sit straighter. "Sorry, but my memory is a little fuzzy. What happened last night?"
"You came to my door in the middle of the night. You said help me, then collapsed. I brought you up to my room where you've been hiding."
"You hid me? Do your parents know?"
"I thought it would be better if they didn't."
Joan looked down at her hands, unsure of how to explain the feeling inside her. It was definitely a tangled ball of knots. "I... I just knew."
"And?" He seemed to know that there was more to say.
Joan sighed. He was as bad as her brother who knew exactly what was going through her head. He had probably guessed already that she was hiding something in her room. She hoped he hadn't already sneaked in and saw her secret, her precious hope. "You... you reminded me of the Justice League. I was hoping you were a part of it. Or at least knew where they were."
The stranger chuckled quietly. "I am not part of the League. If I was, then I would have been captured when the Reach first took over. I don't know where they are."
"Oh." Joan silently turned away. "Then why are you wearing a costume? The Reach have decreed that everyone works for the sake of 'production'. What line of work could you possibly be in that the Reach would have you dress up in an highly armored suit? Tell me the truth or I'll turn you into the Reach myself." Joan turned back towards him, with all the accusation in her eyes.
The man sighed, deciding on whether or not he should tell the girl the truth. She had saved his life and seemed to have reasonable observational skills and great intuition even if she was a bit dramatic. Turn him into the Reach. That was an idea. Perhaps... he smiled. Yes, he believed she could. "I don't work for the Reach." She didn't gasp, almost surprising him, but he suspected that she had already figured that out. "I work for a covert team that fights all the enemies of Earth and humanity. I have working on this team since I was thirteen, eight years ago. I am now leader of that team. We are made up of mostly teenagers and a few older members of the League who managed to escape the Reach. Our mission is as of now to rid humanity of the Reach. We are called-"
"Young Justice." Joan breathed under her breath. The man nodded. She felt her heart fill with the hope she had prayed for every night. He was her hope again. She smiled, but before she could ask the man what she had been dying to ask for even since the Reach came, the ten minute until work bell came. She excused herself, telling him that he would have to stay in her room until she work something out. He nodded, understanding the position she had put herself in to protect him.
As Joan left the room, frantically trying to make it to report to work on time, she was oblivious to the burned spot and tiny pile of ashes on her desk where the little red bird had once been.