by Hitman 44077
A short time later, having returned to Central City and making a quick change into his civilian clothes, Wally West went back to Frances Kane’s apartment, where he saw her preparing to enter.
“Hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time, Fran,” Wally said with a confident grin.
Fran returned a smile of her own, though she seemed a little tired. “Hey, hero. I heard you were a little busy today. Come on in.”
The two entered Fran’s apartment, and after securing the apartment door, Fran undid the bun she’d placed her hair in. “Come here,” she said, narrowing her eyes and flashing a curious smile.
Wally returned the smile and approached her. She wrapped her arms around Wally’s shoulders and pulled him in for a lingering kiss. “Very nice. I take it things went well for the second interview?” Wally asked.
“I think so. I’m supposed to hear from them one way or another in a few days, barring any unexpected events. But enough of that for the time being. The news reports mentioned something about a UFO? You know anything about it?” Fran asked, releasing her embrace.
“Yeah, I dealt with it first-hand,” Wally said, his mood growing somewhat somber. “I was under the impression that our visitor was Superman’s old foe Brainiac, but the fight it gave me helped dispel that possibility. It was almost like fighting a possessed creature, and there were some close calls.”
“You stopped it, of course,” Fran said calmly.
“Yes… and no,” Wally admitted, still solemn. “Superman, who sends you his regards, by the way, examined the remains aboard the JLA Satellite earlier. He had an encounter with the real Brainiac a few months back and conclusively proved that what I fought was not Brainiac.”
Fran grew quiet, showing as much confusion as Wally had earlier during his battle. “What was it, then?” she asked, her voice slightly above a whisper.
“I don’t know. There was something familiar about at times, like its attacks and the eerie motions it made, like it was laughing at some bizarre joke. I don’t know if it’ll return, but if it does, I’ll be better prepared to face it,” Wally said with determination.
“You can count on me, too, Wally. I promise,” Fran said, equally determined.
Wally flashed a confident smile and replied, “Thanks.”
“You want to maybe stay inside tonight, get some takeout, and try to relax?” Fran offered.
“Sounds good to me, unless that arsonist strikes again. Then it’ll be time for him and I to meet,” Wally said. “And I don’t envy him.”
“Neither do I,” Fran agreed before sneaking in another kiss on her boyfriend.
Elsewhere, in Tempe, Arizona:
The warmer weather contrasted with that of Central City’s. At a campground was a traveling carnival with several tents set up all about. Inside one of the tents stood two men, and an argument ensued between them.
“You give me one damn reason for me to keep you employed, Fine!” the taller, clean-shaven man said, combing his hair.
The shorter, unkempt man stood, desperately trying to keep from showing his slight drunkenness. He pulled some of his long, scraggly hair from his face and responded. “Mr. Bender, I-I need this job. People come to see my show… they want to hear me tell them about things only they know about.” The man almost shook, but it was unclear whether or not it was out of fear or from his stupor.
Bender wasn’t fooled. “Yer a drunk and a putz, Fine! You know what it’s like explaining to the parents why one of your business attractions is sitting in a puddle, asleep? I don’t need this headache from you anymore.”
“Listen,” Fine responded, as strong a showing as he could reason, “give me one more chance. If I screw up, I’ll leave voluntarily.”
“He will, Mr. Bender,” a worn voice called from the tent’s entrance. In walked an aging, blonde-haired woman with glasses, dressed in similar fashion as Fine, but much more cleaner.
Bender paused, looking at the woman, then turned back at Fine. “One more chance — for Janny, there. I’ll be surprised if you’re not gone by the start of the evening. I’ll be watching you closely, Fine.” He glared momentarily at the man, then left in a huff.
“Milton, damn it. You’ve gotta quit hitting the bottle,” the blonde woman said angrily. “And if you think I’m leaving with you when you mess up this time, well, quit thinking that, OK?
“Janny, I’m sorry. Look, thanks a lot. It’s just — things haven’t been going according to plan. My life — I just need help, you know, fixing it,” the drunken man said, placing his hand over his eyes.
Janny almost relented, but she couldn’t give in, knowing he needed a tough love approach. “You need to decide whether you want to move forward in your life — you and you alone. I’m not cleaning up after you anymore.”
As Janny ranted, Milton started to feel woozy, not in a drunk way, but as if he could drop right there, like a cloud coating his mind.
Janny saw Milton growing disoriented, and it angered her further. “I see you’ve hit your buzz, Milton. I just can’t reason with you, can I?” she screamed.
Suddenly, pain shot through the body of Milton Fine, his brain on fire and his eyes rolling into the back of his head. He shook, and the pain was possibly the worst he’d ever experienced. This caught Janny off-guard and indicated to her that Milton was in some sort of danger rather than overly intoxicated. “J-Jaann-uh–” was all Milton could muster, even as he fell face-first to the floor.
“Milton?!” she shouted, now worried for the man. She checked to see if he was choking on his tongue as his body shook uncontrollably. Not knowing how to further react to the situation, she started to run toward the entrance of the tent, when suddenly, the shaking stopped.
“Milton?” she said once more, quietly this time, wondering if the man was dead. Tears began to well in her eyes.
Suddenly, Milton woke up. In fact, he stood up rather calmly for a man who, seconds ago, seemed to be in the fight of his life. He turned toward the woman and said with quite a calm smile, “I’m fine, Jan.”
“What happened?!” Janny almost shrieked.
“I… think I had a seizure. Epilepsy runs in my family. But you knew that, right, Jan?” Milton asked curiously.
In all the time Janny had known Milton, she’d never been witness to an episode. Nonetheless, she nervously replied, “Y-yes. Of course.”
Milton approached Janny slowly, eyes narrowed, as if he knew she was lying. He placed his hands on her shoulders and spoke softly. “You’re right, you know, about my faults. But I swear, that life is behind me now.” He grinned, almost with malice, as he embraced Janny with a hug. “I’m a new man this moment forward.”
Jenny stood there for a second, then quickly hugged Milton, thinking the worst was over. “I’m glad,” she said, a tear rolling down her face.
As Janny rested her head on his shoulder, Milton continued his cold smile, his eyes almost appearing to be black, even as he kept his dark thoughts to himself. After all, he had as much time as he needed now.