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  #26  
Unread 11th of October, 2009, 23:25
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Starfire blinks and the memory of standing before that horrible door in the Widow's lair comes flooding back.

Colin is The Shadow. Why does she keep forgetting that? She remembers his hoarse, unearthly whisper as they tried to solve the riddle of the door. And then...

"How can you say that?" she accuses Hardball, pushing his hands away and stepping back. "How can you say it's going to be all right?"

She shakes her head and turns from the group, staring out through the patio door toward the sea in the distance. "We're not ready to face demons again. I- I'm not ready."
  #27  
Unread 12th of October, 2009, 03:14
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"And you think I'm not scared?" Hardball's words are slow and measured. "We're all scared. And we're all probably wondering if we can pull this off. Just like last time. But we're gonna pull it off. Just like last time. You have to visualize the win because our friends are counting on us."

He walks up behind Starfire and tries again to put his hands on her shoulders in a reassuring gesture.

"When I was growing up, my best friend's dad was our Pop Warner coach. He played in the NFL until he was hurt real bad and couldn't play any more. He always used to give us talks about teamwork and visualization and determination and that kind of stuff. He used to have this one speech that he gave all the time. I always thought I knew what it meant, but I really didn't know until recently. It's pretty quick. It goes like this:

"Everybody tries. Nobody quits. And if the game gets too rough, you start playing hardball.

"It's corny, I know. But the meaning is pretty clear. I say things will be all right. OK, there's a chance that I'll try and they might not be. But if I don't do anything, then they definitely won't be. So no matter what happens, I'm sure as hell gonna try."
  #28  
Unread 21st of October, 2009, 04:53
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Starfire turns to look at Hardball's earnest, metallic face. It seems odd to see such feeling there! When she sees him in his metal form she tends to think of him as a robot, sort of cold and hard-hearted. But now she is suddenly reminded of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.

"Oh Hardball," she says with a sigh. "I know what you're trying to say, and I wish I could buy into it, I really do. But this isn't football. The other team isn't trying to score a touchdown. We're talking about demons, Hardball. If we try and we don't make it..." Starfire shudders.

"I saw things in the Widow's Lair that I don't ever want to see again. Don't you remember? It was horrible, so horrible!

"But it's not just that. We haven't been trained for this. We saw what could happen back at the Lair - the Widow got into our heads and we were finished. I want to be there for our friends as much as you do, but we're just not ready."

She looks over at the phone on the table, imploring. "Polnoch must have other people he can send. Doesn't he?"
  #29  
Unread 24th of October, 2009, 08:17
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"I understand," Hardball says. "But I made a promise to look out for Nightwind, and I just can't leave Paul out there to deal with this by himself."

He looks at Starfire with an expression mixed with sympathy and remorse.

"You do what you have to do," he says, trying not to let the disappointment in his voice show. "Same goes for everyone else. No more bullshit pep talks. No more trying to quarterback this team. We all know where this road leads. What seems like forever ago, Polnoch once told me, 'Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man.'

"If you want out, I don't think there's any shame in it.

"Me? I'm gonna go get my friends back."
  #30  
Unread 28th of October, 2009, 01:05
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"You're both right."

Jack still has the phone to his ear, but it was a long shot to begin with and it is rapidly seeming like it's going nowhere.

"Those demons are god damned scary, god damned powerful, and we only have half a team, untrained to boot. And we have to find a way to get them back. Polnoch, what else do we have to work with?"
  #31  
Unread 28th of October, 2009, 12:49
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Shame.

It burns within her now, as hot as ever it burned before in her life. Starfire looks away from Hardball, down at the floor, hair hanging in her face. She sags as she seems to hear Jerry's voice echoing in her head again.

"Shoulda kept your stupid ass at home where it belongs! Whatever made you think you had what it takes?"

She wants to make that voice go away, thought she had made it go away for good. But the Widow brought it back.

Just tell Hardball that you don't really want out. Go on... Forget about demons and think of Nightwind, for Christ's sake!

But she can't look Hardball in the eye, can't say a word. She is paralyzed by fear.

And it kills her to fail her friends like this.
  #32  
Unread 4th of November, 2009, 23:49
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"There are few who can respond in time. Xarum Shae is undoubtedly already looking to exchange Nightwind’s soul for its freedom. Fortunately for us it will be unable to harm her directly which means it will need an untainted intermediary.”

“Paul?” Hardball says aloud.

“Most likely. Our hope rests on Paul’s resilience, and finding where it has taken them. I can do the locating from here, but if we’re to be able to capitalize on that information, you will need to find a very special type of transport.“
  #33  
Unread 6th of November, 2009, 14:33
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"Cool", replies Hardball.

While he waits for Polnoch to divine his friends' location, he does his best to ignore the uneasy feeling that settles on him as he ponders the meaning of "very special type of transport".
  #34  
Unread 10th of November, 2009, 02:31
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Jack watches Gabi carefully, knowing full well that she was far from convinced by Hardball's speech. The big guy was persuasive, sure, but his sports analogies and can-do attitude were also a good source of shame for someone not as able to deal with the fear and uncertainty. Jack had some idea of what was going on with Gabi, being well aware of his own mortality and even more certain that he was out of his league with the likes of the Widow.

"Here, have a seat."

He leads Gabi to the kitchen, leaving Hardball by the phone, and sits across from her. He knows his own fear, where it comes from and why. Looking at her, though, he realizes he has no idea who she is or exactly what is going on behind those beautiful blue eyes.

"You know, it's okay to be scared. I am. And it's okay not to be able to just push it away like Hardball does. I think it's easier when you're . . . I don't know . . . more of a hero, I guess, like him."

He stops for a moment, considering his own situation, his own issues. Life was what happened when you were planning other things, or so his mother had told him more than once. He still wasn't quite sure how to interpret it.

"I know it doesn't make anything feel any better . . ."

He trails off, not sure what to say or where he's even going with this. Finally he shakes his head.

"It's never like this in the comic books, is it?"
  #35  
Unread 18th of November, 2009, 04:33
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Starfire lets Jack lead her to the kitchen table and slumps into the seat across from him. She is this close to breaking down, so she ducks her head while she listens to him, hoping that he won't see the tears that threaten to stream down her cheeks at any moment.

Is he really as scared as she is? Starfire doesn't think so... He's just being nice. Which is something she isn't used to at all. Jerry always hated weakness in her. It just made him meaner than ever. It feels kind of good to know that Jack cares enough to sit her down and talk to her like this. He sounds so sincere. Maybe he really is scared too...

"It's never like this in the comic books, is it?"

She looks up at him, wondering suddenly about his power and how it came to him. He ages things, massively degrades them. People too. What kind of power is that anyway? And how much control does he have over it? No wonder he doesn't feel like much of a hero!

"I never read comic books," she admits, managing a small smile. "So I don't really know how it's supposed to be. But yeah, I can't imagine Superman being afraid of anything. Did he ever have to deal with demons?

"You know, it's not that I'm scared of dying. It's just that... " She swallows the lump in her throat and forces herself to go on. "What I'm afraid of more than anything is that I'll screw things up. The team will fail, because of me. And if the demon wins, what will happen to us?"

Damnation? An eternity of torture and torment? Starfire shudders and looks away.
  #36  
Unread 20th of November, 2009, 00:34
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Of course she never read comic books, you idiot.

That was an activity for boys who weren't sturdy enough to go out and play something rougher, not for girls that had likely been chased by them since their playground days.

"No, Superman didn't really fight actual demons. Well, unless you count that whole 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' series, but I always liked the classic stuff better."

Smooth, Jack. Real smooth. I don't think she cares about Superman.

"But this isn't a comic book. It isn't a movie either. You're right - this stuff is real, and it's way out of the normal zone. Stuff I'm having a hard time believing even now."

He looks down at his distorted reflection in the surface of the table, remembering. The demons and their captives, the unspeakable acts, the promises of the widow. It was a horror, all of it, and even more horrible was how close they'd come to falling off the edge of that abyss and being a tool for the crazy bitch who had started this. Why go up against that again?

For him, there were reasons - not the least of which was pure male stupidity. Hardball was going and so he'd go; you just weren't a man otherwise. But if you put that aside, it was considerably more complex. He knew that somewhere he wanted to prove he was some kind of hero - maybe to erase his past, to make his parents proud, to prove that his family didn't die for nothing.

What was his life against all that? And maybe, deep down, he figured some sort of demonic hell might be what he deserved anyway. Leave it up to God, what should become of him. He wondered if Father Mike would find that fitting. He looks up at her again, dark eyes full of determination, pain, sincerity.

"I ran away, for a long time. It didn't help anything, least of all the people that I loved. I don't know if I'm ready - to succeed . . . to fail. But I know I'm tired of running."
  #37  
Unread 18th of December, 2009, 07:02
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"I ran away ... It didn't help anything, least of all the people that I loved."

Loved. Past tense. Was there no going back for Jack? Who were those people? Starfire remembers that he'd mentioned his father once. Had there been a wife too, maybe? None of them had ever really spoken much about their past lives or the people who were back there waiting for them. Or not waiting for them. Starfire thinks uncomfortably of Jerry. She hadn't told anyone but Nightwind that she'd been married. And she'd told no-one at all how she'd... well, how it had all ended.

So Jack had tried running away. Running from what though?

From all of this, obviously. From being different. From being special. From having the power to 'massively degrade things'.

The trouble is, that kind of thing follows you wherever you go.

"I ran away once too," she admits, feeling a sudden connection to Jack that she hadn't felt before. "It was before any of this happened. Things were pretty bad in my house growing up, so almost as soon as I could I ran off and got married." It strikes her suddenly what she is saying. She doesn't want Jack to get the wrong idea!

"It didn't work out," she adds hastily.

That hardly explains things.

"I mean, I'm not still...

Wait - why do I care if he thinks I'm still married?

"I mean... you're right! running away doesn't help anything! I..." She stands up, flustered. But looking at Jack, she realizes what the conversation has done for her. She's not thinking about demons or torture or death any more.

What am I thinking about?

Well, if nothing else she is thinking that she doesn't want to be alone, that she is resolved now to stick with the group. She smiles and reaches forward to touch Jack's hand.

"Thanks, Jack. I think I'm OK now. Let's go see what Polnoch wants us to do."
  #38  
Unread 23rd of December, 2009, 07:14
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Her hand - soft, warm, delicate - atop his own. For a moment, he forgets their peril, forgets the mission, forgets everything except that simple, genuine human contact. It is a gentle rain on the parched surface of his soul - so welcome that for a moment, he forgets even to pull his hand away.

And then it's gone, she's gone, and he's left watching her go. Realization churns in the wake and settles cold in his belly. His own wretched life he was willing to gamble - but then, he wasn't alone anymore, was he?

He rises from the table, eyes hard, and follows her to the phone.
 

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