ptahrrific: Woman with a notebook (Default)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2013-07-24 02:08 pm

Fake News | Jon, "Stephen" | PG-13 | Rogues' Gallery

Title: Rogues' Gallery
Rating: PG-13
Cast: Jon & "Stephen", others
Contents: Drugging, baby-kidnapping, sexualized brainwashing
Disclaimer: #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement. Characters belong to the Report. Names of real people are used in a fictitious context, and all dialogue, actions, and content are products of the author's imagination only.

Four vignettes about four different villains, from the universe where "Stephen" is a forcefield-generating superhero and Jon is his Lois Lane. (A very belated response to some OT prompts.)

Fills some squares from my [community profile] hc_bingo round 4 card: "hostages" for #1, "making deals with demons" for #2, "brainwashing" for #3, "poltergeist" for #4.

I. [personal profile] kribban: "Something about the people who want to take away all your guns. Maybe they're gnomes?"

"I can't see how this story is going to need photos," says Jon. The interview he has lined up is a one-reporter job, but apparently Stephen also takes pictures, so he's accompanying Jon anyway. "It's a theft case. What are we going to do, get shots of all the places the items aren't?"

"You obviously don't understand photojournalism," sniffs Stephen, babying his camera. They're crammed in the back of a dingy cab that screeches down the road at half again the speed limit, and Stephen cuddles the gadget every time the car bounces. "The general public today doesn't have the attention span to read things. Especially not things that make them think, like all the stuff you write. The only hope you have of anybody taking a look at the words in your article is if they catch some by accident on the way to checking out the illustration."

"Maybe I like to have more faith in the American public than that," grumbles Jon.

"Maybe you're just not in touch with what's going on in the world," says Stephen. "Speaking of which...what's this story about, anyway?"

Jon sighs, but decides to answer. If Stephen's right, and nobody's going to read this when he writes it up, at least he'll have gotten the word out to someone. "A string of firearms have gone missing. I just got back from talking to the cops, and they have no evidence, no leads, no suspects. The only thing linking the case is that the victims all had what looked like a chunk of yard dug up. We're going to interview one of the—"

"Driver!" shouts Stephen, cutting Jon off. "Change of plans! Now we're going to—"

He rattles off an address, and Jon doesn't get a chance to protest before the cab executes a sharp U-turn that nearly knocks the wind out of him.

"What are you doing?" he demands, when he's got his breath back. "We've got a story to cover!"

Stephen doesn't look so good. His face has gone all pale and peaky. "First I have to make sure I'm not part of the story!" he cries. "Jon, have you been listening to yourself? They're trying to take away our guns!"

"You have a gun," realizes Jon. Of course his aggressive, dangerously impulsive co-worker would have picked up a gun at some point. "Okay, but come on, that's no reason to panic. That address, that's your place, right? Because it's nowhere near any of the thefts. And we don't even know yet if there's a pattern, let alone if you fit it...."

"You don't understand," moans Stephen, clinging desperately to Jon's arm. "I know who's behind this, Jon! It's a bunch of vile little gnomes the Eagle's tangled with before. And if they've gotten ballsy enough to start working in the Eagle's own city, there's nothing to stop them from going all the way and taking my Sweetness!"

Stephen nearly has a fit when he sees a basketball-sized mess of upturned soil in the lawn in front of his building. Jon follows him inside, muttering a description of the scene into his recorder, pausing to ask, "Wait, so are these literally gnomes we're talking about?"

However hysterical he might be getting, Stephen is still composed enough to snap, "Yes! Haven't you gotten caught up on the Eagle's back adventures yet?"

"It's on my to-do list!" says Jon. For someone who thinks the Eagle is a menace to society, Stephen sure does seem insistent that people know about him.

They race down the halls, Stephen jams his key in the door, and they both stumble into a room full of overturned furniture. A painting with a cracked frame leans against one of the chairs; in the blank spot on the plaster above it, the door of a wall safe hangs open.

Stephen dashes over, pulls a slip of paper out of the otherwise-empty chamber, and falls to his knees. The camera bumps against his stomach, hanging forgotten around his neck. "Sweetness...."

"Can you read it?" asks Jon quietly, looking over his shoulder. The note is the first new piece of evidence, but it's covered in a scratchy, runelike script that Jon can't make heads or tails of.

"It's gnomish," sniffles Stephen. "Says if we ever want to see our beloved guns again, we need to bring them even more guns! Either way, they're going to massacre poor innocent firearms!"

"I'm, uh, sorry," says Jon, trying to be sympathetic enough to soothe his co-worker's obvious distress. "Listen, let's report this to the police, and I'm sure they'll put all the pieces together and get your, um, your Sweetness back. And if they don't...well, I know you don't like to admit this, but I bet the Eagle will."

Jon's back at the office writing when he gets the call. "Daily home office, Jon Stewart speaking."

"Jon!" says the bright voice of the Eagle. "We're about twenty minutes from a big underground cops-versus-gnomes shootout! Want to come watch?"

"First tell me one thing," says Jon. "How many firearms are going to be involved?"

"Oh, plenty," the Eagle assures him. "Of course the evil gnomes have all the guns they've taken, and we're bringing all the guns they demanded to fake out that we're paying the ransom, and of course the police are loaded up with enough ammo that they will definitely bring these suckers down."

Yeah, Jon was afraid of that. "Then it sounds like you'll have to do plenty of shielding the good guys as-is, without throwing a civilian with no combat training into the mix."

The Eagle sighs. "If you're sure."

"I'm sure. Best of luck to you, though. Oh, and one more thing! Is Stephen Colbert there?"

"What?" stammers the Eagle. "No. I mean, he might be. I mean...that's your fellow reporter, right? The handsome and talented one? What would he be doing here?"

"One of his guns got taken," explains Jon. "He seemed pretty emotionally involved, so I thought he might want to be there for, the rescue. On the other hand...between you and me, he's kind of a coward, so it would make sense if he kept his distance."

"I'm sure he's very brave, and only runs from danger when he has a very good reason!" says the Eagle. "Like, for example, I don't see him around here at all. But there's probably a reason for it!"

Jon can't resist teasing him. "Do you have a new favorite reporter? Should I be jealous?"

"Jon, if you're going to be ridiculous, I'm going to hang up."

"Okay, okay. Just wanted to say, if he does turn up, keep an eye on him for me, okay? He'll be useless in a fight, and I really don't want him to get hurt."

The Eagle takes a long moment to digest this. "If your friend comes by," he says at last, "I will do everything I can to make sure he comes out in one piece. One very attractive piece."

II. [personal profile] politicette: "Satanic Feminazi Baby-Killers o b v i o u s l y."

There are times Jon regrets being the Eagle's official tipoff guy.

He's been summoned down to the docks in the middle of the night, told there's a showdown in the making. So far, so good. But when they first sneak into the boarded-up warehouse, Jon does a double-take, then whispers, "Hey, I think this mission might not be for me."

"Where's your sense of adventure?" hisses the Eagle. His sidekick, the actual eagle known as Junior, fluffs its feathers in indignant agreement from its perch on the costumed crimefighter's shoulder. "Your fearlessness in the face of danger?"

"I'm up for adventure!" protests Jon. "I'm even okay with a little danger! But this?" He nods to one of the swastika-emblazoned tapestries that are tacked up on all the walls. "This is really not my scene!"

"Oh, that," says the Eagle, voice low but dismissive. "Don't worry, Jon, they're not your kind of Nazi."

Before Jon can protest, they both hear the chanting.

They're coming up on a closed door that has light flickering behind it, orange and uneven, from a fire, or maybe a lot of candles. It's only the door to a catwalk that runs over the main body of the warehouse, but there's still a lone figure standing sentry, muscular with cargo pants and buzzed-short hair. It takes Jon a couple of seconds to pick out that she's a woman. The Eagle hunches his shoulders like a cat about to pounce, then waves his hand in a loose arc, and a forcefield pops into being around her.

She whips around, raising her fists in a boxing stance, and urgently scans the hall. In the dim light Jon realizes her mouth is moving, but he can't hear a word. "Soundproof?" he whispers.

"One of my favorite types to cast," murmurs the Eagle proudly. "Stay put while I tie her up."

He and Junior leap forward, feathers fluttering in the shadows, and a second field appears around all three of them. "Soundproof field number two, maybe 20 feet in diameter," says Jon softly, holding the mic right up against his lips. "Never seen him cast one that big before...okay, there we go, he's already shrinking it as he approaches. And he's airborne! She's fast — and I'm getting the sense he doesn't actually know anything about boxing — wait, Junior's dropped something on her — and she's in her own field again! Let go of the Eagle to grab for Junior. Bad move."

Sure enough, a minute later the sentry has keeled over, knocked out by whatever chemical Junior let loose to be sealed with her in an airtight bubble. The Eagle clambers to his feet, panting, and straightens his cowl before beckoning Jon forward.

"She called me a male chauvinist pig," he pouts, as he undoes the sentry's belt and uses it to lash her hands to an exposed pipe. "That's completely unfair! I was beating her up for reasons that had nothing to do with her gender."

Normally Jon would wince at that, but he kind of figures that if you're wearing a swastika on your chest, that's asking for it. "Let's just get inside."

The Eagle throws a couple of mini-forcefields up around the hinges and doorknob, and the door is whisper-silent as he pushes it open.

On the floor of the warehouse below them, ringed by boxes and crates with more Nazi banners tacked up everywhere, a dozen more women are kneeling in a circle. They're the ones chanting, surrounded by candles. Someone's drawn an elaborate chalk sigil on the floor, full of symbols and script that Jon doesn't recognize, though he doesn't think they look good.

And in the very center of the circle....

All of a sudden the Eagle shoves him backward, casting a forcefield around them both. "Change of plans!" he says, hushed, urgent. "I don't get paid enough to deal with something like this."

A wave of cold horror rushes over Jon. "You can't be serious," he hisses. "There was an infant down there! Probably one of the missing ones!"

"I am totally serious! And if you understood what they're about to summon—"

"I don't care what they're summoning!" barks Jon. "You're supposed to be a hero! Act like one!"

The Eagle goes statue-still.

Jon catches his breath and taps the pearly forcefield where it curves up over his head. "You did make this one soundproof, right?"

The costumed hero's hands tense into furious claws, but he keeps his temper, just barely. "If you don't want to make this any worse, stay here and shut up!" he snaps. The forcefield flickers off and on, leaving Jon outside of it, as he and Junior leap forward.

No time to stop and record narration now. Jon plasters himself against a wall draped in shadow and holds his breath. There's shouting from below, screams, machine-gun fire, an eagle's screech.

Then the Eagle crashes back through the doorway, his current forcefield banging against the frame. Metallic, heavy creaks and groans echo in his wake. "Jon! Are you still here?"

"Right here!"

"Great! Hold this!" He shoves the infant into Jon's arms — dark face framed by fine curls and a lemon-yellow onesie, eyes glazed, terrifyingly still — Jon doesn't have time to think before there's the searing pain of Junior landing on his shoulder, claws digging through his un-padded T-shirt — "Hold on to your seats!" cries the Eagle, a double layer of forcefields popping into existence around them, and Jon barely has a chance to drop into a sitting position on the innermost field before the whole group is crashing out the nearest window, shards of glass raining down around them.

Jon's heart is jumping out of his ribs, lungs seized so tight he couldn't breathe if he wanted to. The double forcefield soars over the docks, drops through the air, skims across the surface of the harbor in a crashing wave —

— and that's when the warehouse explodes in a titanic ball of fire.

The Eagle steers them around behind the hulk of an old World War II battleship that's now used for educational tours. Past its shadow on either side Jon can see the flames reflected on the waves, with the occasional splash from a falling piece of debris.

"Wh-what the hell was that?" pants Jon with his first breath.

"Hell," says the Eagle, like he's correcting Jon's pronunciation.

"That's what I said."

The feathered crusader slowly draws them upward, seawater dripping from the bottom of the outer forcefield as they rise. He comes to a shaky landing on the deck of the battleship, where both bubbles pop at once and he sits down heavily against a plaque describing the role of code breakers in winning the war.

"No," he intones, "I mean, it was Hell. Capital-H." He points at the flames. "That's what happens when you have the gall to summon Satan without a proper sacrifice waiting."

Jon turns frightened eyes on the infant in his arms. In the light of the high flames, he now recognizes the face from the photos they ran next to the last article on the kidnappings. "I can't tell if he's still alive," he says faintly. Breathing and pulse, if they're there, are too weak for him to feel.

The pain in his shoulder flares up again as Junior takes off, talons digging into his flesh one more time. Instead of flying over to its partner, as Jon might have expected, the bird lands in front of him and claw-walks up to his crossed legs, then rests its head against the baby's chest.

A few seconds later it raises its head, looks Jon right in the eye, and gives him a sharp nod.

"Oh, good," breathes Jon, leans back against a life preserver, and quietly passes out.

III. Militant homosexual activists who are out to turn everyone gay.

Jon sticks a couple of quarters in the pay phone with fumbling fingers and dials the number of the Eagle's hotline. "Thank goodness I caught you!" he exclaims, when the familiar voice answers. "We need you in the park. There's a supervillain in purple zapping everyone with some kind of energy beam and cackling!"

"The park?" echoes the Eagle. "What are you doing in the park? There's no story to cover there today."

"I didn't come here to cover a story! I came here to feed the pigeons."

"Oh," says the Eagle. Like he's never imagined that Jon has a life outside of news. (Doesn't the caped hero have his own life outside saving people and getting merchandise deals? Jon sure hopes he does.) "Well, stay put, citizen. I'll be right over!"

Jon hangs up the phone and, even though he's not on the clock, starts creeping back toward the center of the action anyway.

The people who get zapped with the beam aren't screaming or crying, there's no electric sparking or smell of burns, but it has to be doing something dastardly, or else the violet-haired villain in the fabulous purple outfit wouldn't be laughing so evilly about it. Jon stops at a bench where a couple of people are sitting, faces flushed, breathing heavily. "How do you feel? Any pain? Do you need medical attention?"

Of the pair, the woman looks blankly at him — not blank like she's been mindwiped or anything, just blank like she can't believe this putz has the nerve to think she'd want to talk to him — and turns away in a huff. Jon might have guessed she was dating the man, but he has to be a couple of decades older — sort of an Ian McKellen type, an impression that gets unexpectedly reinforced when he rises to his feet and cups Jon's face in his hands. "You're beautiful," he murmurs, and tries to kiss Jon full on the mouth.

Jon flails. "No thank you — excuse me — you're not my type!" he babbles, scrambling out of the guy's grasp and backing down the path.

He hasn't gone more than a few steps when he spots a pair of younger men with no such inhibitions, furiously making out. Not far beyond them, a woman of around Jon's age is gazing dreamily at a slightly older lady, and, while he watches, pushes her up against a tree and grinds their hips together. Now that he knows what to look for, they're everywhere: either dazed single people wandering alone, or same-sex couples pairing up and going at it.

Above the trees, an eagle screech rings out, followed by a heroic voice: "Stop right there!"

"So, the Eagle finally arrives!" cackles the villain. He's frighteningly close, at the edge of the pond; Jon ducks behind one of the last of the trees and peeks through the branches to watch. "How do you like my new and upgraded Homomenator? 233% more effective, with 69% farther range!"

"When will you learn, Lavender Menace?" demands the Eagle. He and his sidekick are silhouetted against the blue sky, framed by a dusting of fluffy white clouds. "You will never get the numbers you need to force your agenda down the throat of America!"

"Oh, won't I?" says Lavender Menace. "What if I told you that this version...goes through forcefields!"

He aims squarely at the Eagle, and a burst of rainbow light explodes from the end of his ray gun, enveloping his target dead-on.

Jon's mind races trying to come up with a plan. Maybe he can lure the dazed Eagle down to earth and dunk him in the pond. And if cold water doesn't work...there's gotta be a physical limit to how much lust that beam can induce, right? Maybe if Jon just gets the Eagle to kiss him for a while, it'll burn itself out and he'll be back in the game. That's a sacrifice Jon is willing to make. Purely for the good of the city, of course.

But wait — the Eagle doesn't look dazed at all. He touches down, sharp as ever, and dissolves his forcefield to cast a new one keeping the Lavender Menace from fleeing.

"What? No!" shrieks the villain. "It's not possible! You should be transported by throes of homoerotic passion!" He fires again and again, some of the shots going wild, none of them making any difference to the approaching hero.

"The joke's on you, Menace!" exclaims the Eagle. "My other superpower is being 100% unshakably heterosexual!"

He's close enough to switch off the forcefield and grapple with the Lavender Menace over the gun. In the struggle, rainbow beams go off in completely random directions. One of them has passed through Jon before he has time to duck.

The next thing Jon's aware of is a soft, harmonious voice saying, "What is it, boy? Did you find something?"

"Scrawk!" declares the bird in the branches above him.

Jon realizes he's sitting aimlessly in the grass. How long it's been, he doesn't know. His eyes finally see that he's being approached by the most handsome, suave, desirable man he's ever seen in his life.

"Jon!" exclaims the Eagle, whose lusciousness Jon has never truly appreciated until now. "There you are! It's okay, I took the bad guy out. He won't be destroying any more marriages today. Good job doing your civic duty and calling me in!"

"Mmm," says Jon, letting his stunning rescuer help him up. "Happy to call you in any time." Wrapping his arms around the Eagle's waist, he presses their lips together.

"Mmph!" says the Eagle.

"Your confusion is really hot," Jon tells him, nuzzling his spandex-clad neck.

"With my keen intellect and eagle-eyed powers of observation," says the Eagle, wriggling in Jon's grip, "I am deducing that you may be a victim of the Homomenator ray."

"Oh, I don't know about 'victim'," purrs Jon, working his hands through the feathers that run down the Eagle's back. "Unless that's what you're into? In which case, sure, I'm a helpless citizen in distress. Someone better come rescue me."

"Junior!" wails the Eagle. "Help!"

His sidekick drops out of the sky and lands — on the hero's padded shoulder, thankfully, as Jon still has talon scars from their last adventure. He's still not going to get away from this one unscathed, though: Junior ducks forward like a pigeon going after crumbs and gives Jon a sharp nip on the ear. Jon yelps and hides his face against the Eagle's chest. "Please, beautiful, call off your bird!"

"Okay, that didn't work," says the costumed crusader. "Don't bite him again...yet. Is this temporary? Please tell me this is temporary."


"Is it wearing off of other people yet?"


"Great!" The Eagle cups Jon's face in gloved hands and holds it away from his. A shiver runs through Jon at the touch. "Hear that? You'll be okay in a couple of minutes. Until then, you've just got to fight it! Fight it like the sweet and tender temptation of baby carrots!"

"I know a guy who's scared of baby carrots," remarks Jon dreamily. "It isn't sexy with him, though." And he tries to hook one leg around the Eagle's waist.

They overbalance almost instantly and go toppling backward. (Junior takes off in a flap of feathers as his nice perch tips over.) Instead of hitting the park's grounds, Jon lands against the bottom of a wide, shallow forcefield, with the Eagle on top of him, pinning him down.

"Mmm, pushy," says Jon, as the forcefield skims lightly across the top of the grass. "You know, I like that in a man."

He arches his hips upward in invitation...

...and the field under him disappears, dropping him without warning into the cold water of the pond.

It's close to the edge — he plants both hands in the muddy bottom and shoves his head up through the surface — soaked through, spitting algae, hair plastered across his face. When he's coughed and wheezed and blinked the brackish water out of his eyes, he glares at the figure hovering in front of him: a dripping Eagle sitting cross-legged in a bowl-shaped half-forcefield, small holes opened around the bottom to let the water pour out.

"Are you better now?" demands the sopping hero.

"Must be!" snaps Jon, coughing some more. "You're not looking appealing at all right now!"

"Well, good!" cries the Eagle. He pauses. "Wait, not even a little?"

IV. The sinister forces who hate religion and are out to oppress people of faith. Just because you can't see them doesn't mean they're not there!

When the first couple of hymnals start flying around, Stephen exclaims, "My notorious sensitive stomach is acting up once more!" and bolts for the doors at the back of the sanctuary.

They won't open.

In spite of himself, Jon almost feels relieved. Church reporting isn't his beat; this was supposed to be Stephen's story, and the only reason Jon came along is because Stephen can only stay on task if there's somebody around to babysit him. A metahuman attack that will probably require the Eagle to show up and defend, on the other hand...that's a story Jon can sink his teeth into.

"This way!" rings out the pastor's voice from the front. Turns out there's a door behind the pulpit, and she's holding it open, though it's rattling and shaking in a fierce effort to close on her. "Families with small children first. Two at a time, please! Walk, don't run!"

A couple of children have started wailing in fear and confusion, but the rest of the congregation is downright organized as everyone files toward the exit, parting to let families through. Stephen's the only person who doesn't listen, trying to jog to the front of the line.

Jon grabs him by the shirt as he jogs past. "Weren't you listening?" he demands, yanking Stephen back, then ducking before a flying Bible can clip him across the head. "Let the kids go! And don't panic!"

"I am not panicking!" yells Stephen. "This is a perfectly rational response! It's a poltergeist; it could be anywhere! And it's a poltergeist who clearly hates religion, so as the most devout person here, I'm going to be its primary target!"

Communion trays go whizzing over the crowd, spinning as they go, pelting everyone with bread and grape juice and tiny plastic cups. Someone starts yelling at their invisible antagonist to be gone, demon! It doesn't stop one of the carved wooden crosses on the walls from shaking itself out of its fastenings and floating across the rows of pews... clock Stephen across the back of the skull.

He hits the carpet, and Jon grabs the cross and wrestles it back before it can strike again. What if Stephen was on to something with this "primary target" business? He's been right about this city's supernatural events before, after all. "Stephen! Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, thank you, Susan," says Stephen woozily.

The congregation is almost all out ahead of them, but a man at the back of the line turns and calls, "You boys need some help back there?"

"Yes, please!" calls Jon. The sooner he can get out of here, the sooner he can find a phone and call the Eagle...but no, he can't just leave Stephen. "Get him out of here, will you?"

The cross in his hands goes limp, and a second one rips itself off the wall...not to hit Stephen, but to get in front of their would-be rescuer and swat at him before he can get halfway down the aisle.

"Okay, never mind!" exclaims Jon, flinging his own no-longer-mobile cross aside and kneeling to help Stephen up. "I've got him!"

They stagger together toward the exit, Stephen's breath quick and shallow, Jon stumbling under the weight.

When the second cross has batted the last of the congregants as far as the door, it drops to the ground, and there's a long moment when nothing is moving that shouldn't be. Is the poltergeist bored? Tired? Gone? "Come on," urges Jon, "we're almost there, just gotta keep going before it comes—"

An eerie creaking sound fills the air.

At first, Jon can't place it. It's not a sound that was ever meant to be heard. Because these pews are huge, old-fashioned boxy things, and they were bolted to the floor with the design that they would never come up again.

The slab of wood tips and wobbles unsteadily while it's in the air, as if whatever's holding it is having some trouble balancing this kind of weight. Cushions topple from the seats when it rocks forward. A handful of programs from the day's service fall out of the slots on the back and scatter like leaves in the wind.

Then it starts moving.

The pastor's still holding the door open, her efforts now aided by the man who tried to come back and help Jon and Stephen. But standing their ground to let a solid, heavy piece of wood crash into them isn't brave, it's suicidal, and they fall back into a passage too narrow for the pew to follow. At last the door can slam shut behind them.

"Stephen, listen to me," says Jon, praying Stephen's lucid enough to take this in. "I know you're dizzy, but we have to run, okay?" He can't see any shelter. Not from this. Just have to keep ahead of the pew rocking through the air towards them. "We have to—"

"Get down!" yells Stephen, and with one hard yank drags them both to the floor, Jon on top.

The last thought Jon ever has is going to be cursing Stephen for using him as a human shield, in spite of everything.

A slow, splintering crash fills his ears...

...but there's no pain, and he's pretty sure he isn't dead.

Jon looks to one side. Half a carved and heavy pew is lying at an angle over him, one end thudded against the carpet, the other snapped and splintered overhead. Its matching half is on the other side. Fragments of wood skitter down the familiar soap-bubble dome of a forcefield holding it up.

"He's here," breathes Jon as he sits up, giddy with the too-familiar joy of unexpected not-dying. "He made it! I didn't even call him, and he made it. We're gonna be fine, Stephen." He'll shout at the man about the whole human-shield thing later. Right now he just wants to bask in the glory of his favorite hero's competence. "The Eagle's got our backs."

"Jon, please shut up," snaps the Eagle. "Not that I mind the praise, but I am trying to concentrate."

The voice is right next to him. And that's not possible. The feathered crimefighter has to be casting this from a distance, because Jon can't see him anywhere...

...until his eyes light on Stephen's hand. The shouty reporter is still flat on his back and keeps closing his eyes, but his hand is curled into a gesture Jon's seen dozens of times by now, though for all the others it's had a glove on.

"Stephen," breathes Jon. "You're...?"

"Concentrating!" yells Stephen, in the Eagle's voice. And now they're being pelted with another round of hymnals, so Jon swallows all his questions and lets the Eagle concentrate.

Around the time they hear the first sirens, the barrage stops.

Stephen ripples the field around them, shaking off the debris piled on top of it, and switches it off. Jon promptly takes a couple of deep breaths. Stephen had been opening holes periodically to let in fresh air, but it still got pretty stuffy in there.

"They...burn themselves out," explains Stephen in a wandering voice. "Dash themselves to pieces against the rocks of our faith...we shall not be moved, rah rah rah." He pauses. "Unless it's we take our guard down. Hope it's not faking."

Jon gets to his feet and surveys the battered sanctuary. "If anything moves, I'll let you know."

"You can't...tell anyone," adds Stephen.

"What, about the poltergeist?"

"About me," pants Stephen, short of breath. "Can't tell. Not a word. You can't."

"Wasn't going to," Jon assures him. "Nobody would believe me if I did."

A weak smile crosses the prone hero's face. "Yeah...I'm pretty good at the whole...secret-identity thing," he murmurs, closing his eyes.

Jon drops back to his knees and clasps Stephen's shoulder. "Don't fall asleep! We've gotta get you to a hospital first. The Eagle may have saved us from death-by-hymnal, but you could still have a concussion."

He works late filing the story, and gets home long past dinnertime, too late to cook. Jon's staring at the TV dinners piled in his freezer when there's a knock on his window.

The Eagle, now in full costume, is perched on the fire escape.

"You'll be happy to know that I am not concussed," he announces, when Jon opens the window. "The nurse said I still seemed mildly confused and had a short attention span, but she was sure that would wear off soon."

Jon has a feeling it won't, but he's tactful enough not to say so. "Good to hear. I got you a card anyway — do you want it?"

The hero makes gloved grabby-hands at him. "Gimme!"

It's just a cheap card he picked up at a convenience store on the way home, but it's illustrated with a cartoon version of the Eagle, declaring, "Get well soon, Hero!" The real Eagle's lip wobbles when Jon hands it over.

"In a way, this is a relief," he adds with forced pep. "You have no idea what a trial it is, hearing you praise me all the time at the office and not being able to take the credit."

"I don't praise you all the time...."

"Do so! Sometimes it gets so bad I have to double-check the police wire just to make sure Lavender Menace hasn't broken out early."

Jon's cheeks flame. He'd been staring at the man's mouth — it's the only body part the costume doesn't cover, the only thing he can compare to his mental image of Stephen and recognize how they've been the same all along — but now it just reminds him of that time he got brain-zapped into kissing that mouth, and, wow, this is awkward.

"But that is not the reason I came over here!" declares the Eagle. It occurs to Jon that he might be blushing too, and with the cowl over his face you'd never know. "The reason I came by say thank you, you know, for stuff, and...and to say, do you want to come hang out at the Eagle's Nest with me?"

"Seriously?" says Jon, stunned and flattered. There are rumors all around the city that its local superhero has a secret lair, but nobody's ever seen it. He'd be getting the biggest exclusive on the cape beat this city's ever offered.

"We can order pizza!" adds the costumed crusader, apparently thinking he has to sweeten the deal. "I'll even pay for it on the Eagle's Credit Card."

For Jon, being a newspaper guy means two things: he's insatiably curious, and he's always nearly broke. Stephen really is a hero. "I'm in."

He kicks on a pair of sandals, grabs his keys, and comes out onto the landing. The Eagle loops a steadying arm around his waist, and their forcefield for the evening shimmers into being. "I should warn you, it's pretty high up."

"Not a problem," says Jon warmly. "I trust you not to drop me."

Stephen gives him a sharp, birdlike nod, and, with the hand still holding the card, makes the gesture that lifts them into the air.

Jon leans comfortably against him, and they soar.