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August 1, 2016 

Port Regal 

The Cline Residence 

 

Waiting had been the hardest part. The cancer, slowly eating away at the elderly Bryant Haliday, occasional moments of lucidity amid pain and fatigue. For the decades they'd spent apart, this last gasp of mortality had swept all the Clines together for the last few months of Bryant Haliday's life. Even Anna Cline, who'd spent fifty years angry at the man who had impregnated her, abandoned her, and then escaped into madness, had reconciled with Bryant at the end. She was with him on the last night, a night when Richard, Paige, and Will were home in bed with their memories. 

 

When the house phone rang, Richard and Paige woke up almost simultaneously. Richard rolled over and picked it up, guessing correctly who was on the line - and why she was calling. He reached over and squeezed Paige's hand as he heard his mother's voice - but she felt confusion from him like a backwash of the growing wave of grief, the two emotions mixing together. "He...what? Ma, you're not making sense, what-" He hung up the phone, blinking back sleep, and rolled out of bed for his clothes. "Something happened there, with Bryant. I gotta go." 

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"Wait, Richard..." Paige rolled over and sat up, shaking sleep from her mind as she nudged aside Richard's encroaching emotions. "Something happened? Did he-?" The emotions she was feeling from her husband were not the ones she would've expected at the news his father had died. Richard had been processing his grief already, and all the conflicted feelings he'd always had for the father he barely knew, but this was a confusing welter of new feelings, "What's going on? Let me come with you." She reached for a tee shirt and sweatpants, knowing she'd have no time for dawdling. 

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"I don't know what's happening there," admitted Richard. He dressed in a flash, out of the T-shirt and boxers he'd worn to bed since Will had been old enough to walk, and into the costume that let them come and go at Providence without being mistaken for civilians. It had felt decidedly odd to be at his dying father's bedside in costume - but it made it easier to get along with the Providence staff, and it was something the old Doc Holiday had actually appreciated. "She was talking...crazy." Given his mother, and her habits, it wasn't hard to guess a couple of reasons why she might sound irrational right now, but his mind shied away from those possibilities. "I know she has a bottle there but she swore to me she wouldn't touch it as long as he was alive - and we'd have heard the alarm if anybody had gone after the Asylum." 

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"Should we take the kids?" Paige asked, scooping up her purse and slinging it over her shoulder. She wasn't going to bother with a uniform at this hour, not like this. "Or at least Will? Holly knows to yell across the street for help if she wakes up and needs anything." Paige was a little surprised her daughter wasn't awake already, given Richard's careening emotions, but Holly had been exhausted by the hospital and gone to bed not long after dinner. Paige had a standing agreement with the family across the street for emergency nighttime deployments, even beyond the phone tree handed out to every Nicholson family. "If something is happening, Will might want to be there." 

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There was a soft "woosh" of displaced air, and Will, in costume but with his helmet "stowed", is standing at the door of his parent's bedroom, a worried look on his face. He'd deny any such thing, but both can tell he's shed a couple of tears, probably from anxiety after waking up to a jumble of emotions from his parents, plus the stress of things the last couple of months.

 

"So...are we all going, then? Now?"

 

It was an awkward, rather redundant question. But he was a teenage boy facing the prospect of losing the only grandfather he ever knew, one he'd only started to get to know mere months ago. 

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Richard looked at Will and moved to his son's side, clasping him firmly by the arm and looking him in the eye like a man. "All right, son, let's do this. As a family." They left Holly sleeping - with all the power in the family, being across town was about as 'far' away as being across the room as far as her safety. And even without her powers, as Holly herself had vigorously reminded Richard and Paige on more than one occasion, girls her age got to be alone in the house all the time! 

 

 

Across town, Providence Asylum was lit up and its staff obviously on alert. After an agonizingly long wait at the gate (at least by Richard's standards), the Clines were allowed inside, their escort and keycards letting them find their way to the asylum's infirmary. The infirmary was crowded, restless patients moving behind steel doors or cloth partitions, staff on high alert everywhere, and Anna Cline herself in the middle of an argument with a young hero that Richard was startled to recognize as Captain Thunder's son Bolt. "-that might fly in your little schoolboy league a'pissants, but I know what I saw!" Anna was yelling, near-red in the face, a startling sight for the woman who was usually full of jokes and teasing for her family. 

 

"Ms. Cline," Bolt was trying to talk Anna down, "you have to understand, Bryant Halliday has made hallucinogens before when he was trying to get out, and he had friends on the outside, are you sure he didn't-" 

 

"He did it right in front of my eyes, that cheating-! You think I don't know what his crazy juice looks like?" 


There was no sign of Bryant Halliday. A dark-haired nurse named Kathyrn who Richard had gotten to know was cradling a small baby in her arms nearby, the red-faced tot making the unhappy noises of an uncomfortable newborn. 

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"Excuse me!" Paige's voice was not a yell, but it was loud, clear, and backed up with subtle telepathy to ensure every eye turned in her direction. "This is Richard Cline and I'm Paige Cline. We were told that something is going on with Richard's father! If everyone could just calm down and speak rationally, I'm sure we can get this sorted out." She gave Richard a subtle nudge in the direction of his mother, suspecting that if anyone were going to be the weal link in their "everybody calm down" plan, it would be Anna Cline. "Now, where is Mr. Halliday?" she asked of the room at large. 

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Richard put his hand on his mother's shoulder. At the sight of her son, grandson, and daughter-in-law, she bit back another shout, and settled for pointing at the baby Nurse Kathryn was holding. "That's him, right there. I saw it happen." 

 

"Ms. Cline, you have to understand," said Bolt, sounding just a little desperate. "The idea that a terminally ill man could transform himself into a baby is just so - bizarre, that it's hard for us to accept." 

 

"He...he did it before," said Richard, his arm going around his mother's shoulders. "Back in the old days, you told me about it, the Baby New Year formula. He must have had some stashed somewhere." Emotion was thick in the room to the psychically sensitive, especially around the stormy figure of Anna Cline herself. 

 

"Y-yeah, he must have-" Anna blinked, then focused her gaze on the baby in the nurse's grip. "You know what he told me? He told me he was sorry - he was sorry leaving me when I needed him, and for all the wasted years..." Anna Cline had fought the Centurion and been a life member of the Crime League. She didn't cry in front of superheroes - but her grip on her son's arm was rigid, her muscles tight. 

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One didn't have to be a psychic to sense that the teenager in the group was giving Bolt a stare that, from other metahumans, would probably have melted holes in something. As-is, his disgust was palpable to his parents, but he managed to (barely) keep his mouth shut on the subject.

 

Then suddenly they were talking about how the baby was actually his grandfather, and he blinked in confusion, one hand slowly running back through his hair as he stood there, trying to process that information. And then, he heard the distress in Anna Cline's voice. He saw how tense she was. How part of her wanted to let loose, but she thought she couldn't. So, William Cline enacted a daring and cunning plan. 

 

Step one had him moving to his Grandmother's side...and wrapping his arms around her in a hug. He didn't say anything to her. He just stood there, hugging and holding her. 

 

Step two was when he mind-spoke to his mother, and only his mother. 

 

'Mom, can't we get Mister Perfect Jock out of here? He's clearly not helping anything. Even if this isn't what we thought it would be, he doesn't have the right to be here! He should go! Plus he's a-'

 

Will used a phrase Paige knew she hadn't taught him. 

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~William!~ Paige scolded, but her mental tone was more amused than actually upset. ~There are children present, mind your manners.~ Aloud, she turned to address the other young man in the room. "Bolt, I think we need a few minutes to process this. Could you do me a great favor and get in touch with the Freedom League about extending us the expertise of their legal team? I have a feeling that if this reversal is permanent, we're going to have several novel legal problems to deal with." 

 

She stepped forward to examine the baby more closely, taking him from the nurse and holding him with the automatic expertise of a veteran mother. "He looks like Will," she commented, studying the scrunched and unhappy face. "He looks like you, Richard. That's interesting." She lightly jounced the baby up and down a few times and simply refused to let herself dwell on the incredible weirdness of the situation. "Do you have any baby supplies on hand?" she asked Nurse Kathryn. 

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"We sometimes have pregnant patients come in," said the nurse, looking as baffled as everyone else. "I'm sorry, I should have gotten it before." She disappeared, security doors swinging behind her, and came back after a few minutes with diapers and a bottle of formula. The fussing form of what could well have been Bryant Halliday fussed and kicked at the first - but latched greedily onto the second. 

 

"Can you read his mind?" asked Richard, looking from the baby to his wife with the sort of baffled horror that seemed to be unique to the superhero condition. "Is that him in there?" 

 

Probing revealed that there was a mind in there - a mind that reminded Paige very much of the consciousness of Bryant Halliday from the few times she'd touched his brain. But it was attenuated and thin, with only ghostly echoes of the mind she'd once known. This was the unformed mind of an infant - and there was no sign of the man this was supposed to be. 

 

Anna Cline seemed to be growing tenser and tenser, and finally moved to put her hand on her grandson's arm. "Willie, honey, can you help your nana get some air?" she asked, her eyes flicking from Bolt to the baby to her son and daughter-in-law so fast that only a speedster like Thoughtspeed could have made it out. "I need-" From the contact, Thoughtspeed seemed to hear the echo of two voices in his mind, or rather, in Anna's. 

 

"It hurts so much, Anna. Can you help me?" 

"Oh God, Bryant, anything. Just ask." 

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Thoughtspeed had turned to pay attention to his grandmother when she expressed distress. He took gentle hold of her hand, starting to walk toward the door.

 

"Right. That's fine, Grandma, that's fine. Let's go. Air is good."

 

He saw the track of her eyes, but didn't want to press; this was getting too heavy for him, he just wanted to focus on being there for his family. And then he got the flashes of memory, and for a split second he stopped walking them to the door. For most folks, it was too little to notice. For Anna, it was supremely obvious. Still, he didn't stop, didn't raise a fuss, and didn't seem to be trying to get the attention of other adults as he continued leading her to the door.

 

"I'm sure your head will clear once we're outside for a minute."

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"I can hear an echo of him," Paige reported, cradling the hungry infant in one arm and looking deep into the unfocused blue-gray eyes. "Nothing sensible or sentient, more like... it's hard to explain. A sense memory, like the smell of your childhood home, or a few bars of an old song. He reminds me of Bryant, but the person he was, there's no place for an adult consciousness to exist in an infantile mind. He'll grow up again, but I can't imagine him ever being the same person." She looked over to Richard. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. He's gone." 

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Richard relaxed, ever-so-slightly, and reached out to touch the baby's cheek. "Goodbye, Dad," he said softly, one of the few times he'd ever used that word to describe Bryant Halliday. He blinked a few times, looking up, and decided to let Will handle his grandmother's grief for the moment. He'd talk to Anna later, when he could be there for her without losing control of himself. "Does he still have cancer?" he asked, his voice tight. 

 

"I don't think so," commented Cathy the nurse, who'd been inspecting the baby visually while the Clines dressed him and fed him. "With the severity of his condition, he'd be much more impaired that he is now. As far as I can tell, this is a perfectly healthy baby. May I examine him?" she asked the Clines. 

 

 

Outside, Anna (who had stumbled a bit at the news from Paige) was standing tall by the time she and Will were outside in the hallway. "I didn't...I didn't mean for you to hear me disrespect your grandfather like that," she said suddenly, "I was just on edge with that punk superhero there, thinking I just let Bryant escape. Where would he have gone? 

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Will just patted his grandmother's arm. He himself had been more than a bit shocked at the whole thing, but hadn't stumbled outwardly. He didn't meet her gaze, he just looked out over the grounds for a few moments before speaking.

 

"I...Grandma, I barely knew him. I've known who he is, but I barely ever saw him. I don't know if I'd say I got to know him much until these last few months. He's just not...been there, you know?. I've known you all my life. You're my Grandma. You've been there. Maybe not in the same way as some Grandmas, but that just makes you more awesome. Who else learns sword-fighting from their grandmother?"

 

He chuckled a bit, but soured as he pondered how Bolt had acted.

 

"Well, that guy was being a total-" and there's another word Paige probably wishes he didn't know"-, and that's even as a hero. I know some pretty decent heroes, younger and older. That guy's not one of 'em. He's...oh, how did I hear you say it? Oh, right. He's 'too big for his britches'. Yeah. That. I don't care if he had to "cover all the angles" or whatever, but he was a jerk."

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"Heroes are always like that when they're dealing with people like us," said Anna, hesitating only a barely perceptible moment. "You have to understand, they look at me, your ma, your dad, and all they see is a family a' crooks." She snapped her fingers. "So when they see your grandfather, lyin' there almost dead, all they're gonna think about is how is this crook gonna beat the rap one last time. Nature a' the beast." She walked to the small, armored window on the corridor wall and put her fingertips against it. "He's really dead now, Willie. You heard your ma." She leaned forward, slowly, and rested her forehead against the glass. "You know I spent forty years hatin' that man, and then he was just lyin' there almost dead and he pulled that..." She didn't quite finish the sentence. "Oh, how I'd get so old, Willie?" 

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"Of course." Paige handed over the baby, automatically using the nascent mental link she'd just established to send soothing thoughts and calm the anxious newborn mind. Newly-reborn, she supposed, but other than that fading echo there really wasn't much to differentiate this child from her own children as infants. She kept one ear on Will's conversation with his grandmother, but he seemed to be all right for the moment, and Holly at home was still asleep. She looked to Richard and made a subtle motion with her head, suggesting that perhaps he should go comfort his mother. 

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"Some heroes, Gramma. Some are better than that. Not many, but some."

 

He let his grandmother vent her pain and confusion before stepping forward and giving her another hug.

 

"You got here the same way you get anywhere, Gramma. The same way Dad gets places. The same way I get places."

 

He smiles at his grandmother; their family was unusual, but it was family.

 

"One step at a time."

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"That's a terrible pun, Willie. Your ma and dad must be raising you right." She hugged William - just in time for Richard to step outside and catch them in it. When they all embraced, for a few moments the Clines were a normal family, mourning the death of the patriarch that had been a lover to one, a near-stranger to two, but nonetheless a part of the family even if they'd never carry his name. Richard supposed that the Halliday legacy would die with Bryant - he certainly couldn't remember meeting any paternal relatives over the years. 

 

-

 

"There's no sign of cancer," said the nurse, who'd been joined by one of the night doctors, a balding, sallow-faced man who usually didn't say much. "He must have completely reversed his own cellular development, even in his brain tissue. My God, how is that even possible?" 


"The general consensus has always been that Bryant Halliday was an untapped metahuman dealing with chemical transformations - much like the second Bee-Keeper." Bolt was still frowning. "But he couldn't work without active chemicals, and he was far too sick to manipulate them on his own this time..." 

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"That you know of," Paige pointed out smoothly, giving the young man a quelling look. "Untapped metahuman potentials are difficult to pin down at the best of times, and who knows what might have been happening to him as the cancer began affecting him more? He'd hardly be the first metahuman to exhibit a huge temporary increase in power when faced with a life-or-death situation." She shrugged. "But at this point it's immaterial,  I suppose. We can have him tested for metahuman potential when he's aged up another few years, but until then, there's not much anybody can do." She was still keeping a close eye on the baby, even as the doctors poked and prodded at him. Bryant Halliday or not, at this point in his life he was an innocent who needed someone looking out for him. 

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On 10/27/2016 at 11:28 PM, Avenger Assembled said:

"That's a terrible pun, Willie. Your ma and dad must be raising you right." She hugged William - just in time for Richard to step outside and catch them in it. When they all embraced, for a few moments the Clines were a normal family, mourning the death of the patriarch that had been a lover to one, a near-stranger to two, but nonetheless a part of the family even if they'd never carry his name. Richard supposed that the Halliday legacy would die with Bryant - he certainly couldn't remember meeting any paternal relatives over the years. 

 

Will chuckled at the remark.

 

"I do learn a few things."

 

When his father joined the hug, Will held on all the tighter.He enjoyed this moment of just being family. So often, for all that the Clines loved each other, there was so much "extra" going on thanks to their super-selves that it didn't feel as...real...as this moment. Eventually the moment ended, but with 3 speedsters in the mix, it had lasted longer than one might think. Will looked thoughtfully at his father and grandmother.

 

"So what happens now?"

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As it turned out, what happened next was actually a thorny legal problem. 

 

"A government-certified psychic has found that neurologically, this is not the Bryant Halliday who has been held here since 1970," Bolt told them reluctantly some time later, the new Cline baby now in Anna's hands. Maybe Anna had missed the childhood of her grandson and hadn't been the most attentive for her own son, but she was holding the baby carefully in her arms as the superhero spoke. "And this facility certainly isn't authorized to hold an infant. Normally, what would happen now is he would go into the fosters system - probably the regular system, since by all accounts Bryant Halliday had no superpowers. Unless someone from the family could..."

 

He looked first at Anna, who had allowed herself to be listed as Bryant's common-law wife in the papers, and was met by a bark of laughter from the former Clock Queen. "Oh no, honey, no." Anna looked down at the baby, then handed it to the nearest person, who turned out to be Thoughtspeed. Crossing her arms, she looked first at Bolt, then at her son. "I ain't takin' care of a baby that...any baby, much less that one. Not me." 

 

Paige felt her husband's mind touch hers, a question - they'd talked about a third child while she was still young enough, weighing their busy career, part-time hero work, and dangerous enemies versus how much they both liked being parents and how damn good they were at it. He wasn't going to make any commitments till he knew what she wanted - but she could tell what he was thinking easily enough. 

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