"Lian?" Ms. Godwin called over the shouting, laughing and crying in the big play area. "Lian can you come here a moment?"
Lian looked up from the drawing she was working on and headed to Ms. Godwin. The kind young daycare worker knelt down to Lian to speak to her at Lian's eye level. Ms. Godwin, or Kate, always did that when she spoke directly to one of the kids who spent their days at Danny's Daycare.
"Am I in trouble?" Lian asked. She hoped Zach wasn't lying about her hogging the purple crayons again.
"No, no," Kate laughed, "You're not in trouble, Lian. There's someone who wants to see you out in the hallway for a minute."
Lian was confused, but she let Kate take her out of the main room where all the kids played and did their usual thing and exited into the hallway connected to the building's main entrance.
Will ceased pacing in the hallway and moment it looked like his heart might've stopped beating for a second. Lian ran from Kate and into her dad's arms, completely and utterly surprised yet thrilled to see him.
Lian didn't see it, but as Will hugged her he appeared extremely relieved. It was as if his worst fear had been disproved. Which is why he held Lian tighter, scared of letting her go. All he could think of was his joy that she was okay.
"Are we going home?" Lian asked, not sounding happy about leaving early. "I don' wanna miss snack time."
"No sweetie," Will explained, "I didn't come to pick you up."
Lian noticed he was dressed in the uniform and hat he wore when he went to work at his business, Bowhunter Security.
"Didja leave Bow'unter to see me?" Lian asked.
"Sort of," Will smiled as he took off his baseball cap and placed it on her head. "I… had something to do for work in the area, and when I realized Danny's Daycare was nearby I thought I'd stop in and see how you were."
Lian giggled as she fiddled with her dad's hat.
"Are you gonna stay for snack time?" Lian asked. "Ms. Kate made cookies!"
"No," Will sighed, "I'm sorry Lian. I would love to stay and have some of Ms. Kate's cookies with you. But I have stuff to do. I just wanted to make sure you're-"
Don't say safe don't scare her don't scare her
"Having fun," Will beamed.
"It's okay," Lian put her dad's hat back on his head and kissed him on the cheek. "I know you got 'sponsbilities," Lian said before turning to face Kate. "My daddy works hard to protect people."
"Really?" Kate asked, kneeling down to Lian's eye level once more and appearing fascinated by this revelation Lian had to share. Although she already knew what Lian's father did for a living because Lian always talked about him when she wasn't talking about all her amazing aunts and uncles and grandparents.
"Tell her daddy," Lian cheered her father on, "Do the thing! Do the thing!"
"Well," Will couldn't help but smirk as he stood up, "If that's what my audience wants."
"My daddy runs a bizness in, um," Lian struggled to remember the word, "Puh-ri-vate secretees, and he's very good!"
"Is he now?" Kate asked.
"That's right, ma'am," Will struck a pose and mimicked a gun with his hand. "Because at Bowhunter Security, we're always on point."
Lian burst into applause at her brave dad and Kate clapped too.
"Bye daddy!" Lian waved goodbye as Kate led her back to the other kids. "See ya later! I love you!"
"I love you too!" Will called back, smiling…
But once Lian was back in the main area of the daycare and the hallway was empty, Will stumbled over to the wall and tried to keep himself from falling down.
"She's okay," he whispered to himself, "Thank you God."
Will Harper had never felt so scared in his entire life. And he had never felt as angry, too. Now he had one other thing to take care of, but first he had to get home and change. He didn't want to get blood on his work clothes.
Dick walked into the building feeling sore all over and wishing to take a 12 hour shower, with the hopes of scrubbing away any memories left of what had to be the worst case he'd ever been on.
"You would not BELIEVE what that mission was like," Dick moaned. "For a bunch of guys dressed like they raided a buffet table, Eurocrime turned out to be…" Dick forgot what he was going to say when he saw Babs for the first time since leaving a few nights ago. Her wheelchair was turned away from her array of computers and an expression of subdued anger and disgust was evident on her face. Dick could feel her stare from halfway across the room and wondered if she was trying to drill a hole into the wall with her eyes. Babs' arms were folded across her chest and it looked as if she was trying to figure something crucial out or was on the verge of murdering someone. Her phone rested on her lap.
"Babs?" Dick inquired.
"Call Will," was all Babs said.
"What?" Dick asked.
"I've been trying to call him and it's going to his voice mail," Babs calmly explained. "I called Bowhunter Security and they said he left for the day. Can you please try his number for me?"
Dick didn't even question her and did as she asked. He took out his phone and quickly punched in Will Harper's phone number. It immediately went to voice mail.
"Yo, this is Will Harper. If you're calling because you need some topnotch security, I think I might know a guy who can help you out. Leave a message at the beep. …unless you're Dick then don't leave a message BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID. Nah I'm just kidding, love ya Dick!"
"Hey Will, this is Dick, just calling to check in, see if everything's okay. Give me a call back when you can and tell Lian I said 'Hi.'" He then hung up, looking at his phone and briefly reminiscing on when the two of them were younger. "Geez, I still can't believe he's the same guy who had a stick up his butt about wanting the Justice League's respect. Funny how people change, right?" Babs continued to glare at the wall with that sour, poisoned expression on her face. "Okay seriously Barbara, what's wrong?" Dick used her full name upon realizing something was legit bothering her and it was starting to frighten him. "Did something happen while I was away? And what does it have to do with Will?"
"That," Babs pointed to one of her computer screens without looking at it. "THAT happened."
Dick could see it was a comment thread about something. Babs kept her gaze off the screen as Dick leaned in to read it and discover what the problem was. As Dick silently read the words on the computer, his expression slowly changed from confusion to exasperated annoyance to disgust and then finally anger. Actually anger was an understatement. He stood up and folded his arms across his chest in much the same way Babs was doing, his back turned to her. He didn't know it, and she didn't know it, but right now they were both doing a perfect impersonation of Dick's mentor.
"You ever stop and ask yourself 'Why don't we just blow up the world?'" Dick growled.
"You say the word and I'll have the launch codes in 3 minutes," Babs responded. "Two if I'm not playing Candy Castle."
Had Barbara Gordon been somebody else with her exact mood at that moment, she would've done it.
Had Dick Grayson been anyone else with his exact mood at that moment, he would've let her.
Dinah let out a sound of pure delight as she threw herself on top of her bed, eager to finally catch up on some much needed rest.
Which was not going to happen.
"Just ignore it, Dinah," she told herself as she yawned. "You can deal with it later."
That would've been sound advice, but the phone kept buzzing. And buzzing. Dinah reached over and turned it off. There, problem s-
"DINAH PICK UP THE PHONE!" A voice screeched, causing Dinah to let out a little frightened shriek. What had-?
"Hello?" Dinah held up the phone and saw it had been turned on to a video call. "Babs? You hacked my phone?!"
"Sorry, not sorry," Babs said and Dinah could see Dick standing behind her, "But we have a problem."
"Guys please," Dinah complained, "I really don't want to whine but I have been running myself ragged dealing with the mess Oliver and Bruce made of the Justice League and I only got in a short while ago. Whatever the problem is, do you absolutely need me right this minute?"
The grim expressions on Dick's face and Babs' face did not waver.
"Yes," Babs said as the notification she sent appeared on Dinah's phone, "We do."
Dinah slowly read the message on her phone. Then she read it again. And again. No matter how times she read it, she couldn't convince herself it wasn't real or a delusion brought on by lack of sleep. And then she blinked.
"Richard, Barbara," she said in an eerily calm tone, "Would you please give me a moment?" Dinah set her phone down on the bed, got up, and casually walked over to the window on the left side of the room. Opening the window, Dinah stuck her head out of the apartment, opened her mouth, and screamed.
Car alarms went off and practically every window in the nearby vicinity shattered. Amid the cacophony and cries of a frightened public wondering what just happened, Dinah calmly walked back over to the bed and picked up her phone.
"Does Will know?"
"We think so."
"...Does Lian know?"
"We're not sure."
Paula regretted always putting this off until the last second, but she just wasn't fond of computers. Nevertheless, all the constant notifications about updates and replies on her social media accounts (which she didn't frequently use) were starting to get on her nerves. It was a hassle trying to figure out what she needed to keep and what had to be deleted. And, if she was being honest with herself, she was hoping she may find a rare message or email from Jade buried somewhere within all that garbage.
The one thing that lessened Paula's worries about her oldest daughter was that she still had Artemis in her life, and there was also Lian. Thank God Jade managed to snag a decent man like Will, instead of making the same mistake Paula made when she got married. At least Paula had taught her children that much.
Oh look, she had a notification about the post Will made for Lian.
Huh. There were a lot of them actually. What happened?
Paula clicked on one of the links and began to read. The more she read, the more her hands began to tremble. Her breathing intensified and she gritted her teeth until finally she let out an animalistic screech of pure anger and flung her half-empty coffee mug at the wall. As the mug shattered and her tea stained the wallpaper, Paula kept reminding herself to stay in control while fighting back the urge to cry.
Right now, Paula not only wished Jade was here, but she also wanted Crock as well. And more than anything she wished she wasn't stuck in her chair because for the first time in a long, long time, she wanted to murder someone. Her daughter and her husband had far more experience in that area, and it would've been a great help to deal with this particular problem.
Kaldur knew he'd forgotten something before the dignitary meeting began, and the buzzing sound in his pocket only confirmed it. He was sure he told everyone he'd be tied up for the rest of the day; he told his teammates not to call unless it was an absolute emergency. He should've shut his phone off, but wanted to be prepared in case he was needed. He hoped at least this was a false alarm, because what sort of person hopes for something bad to happen?
Taking a few steps into the back of the chamber where no one would notice him, Kaldur took out his phone to see it was a text message from Dick.
Dick: HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO WILL?
Confused, Kaldur texted back: NO. WHY? THIS ISN'T A GOOD TIME.
Dick responded: CAN YOU TRY TEXTING HIM?
Kaldur: WHAT'S WRONG?
Dick: PLEASE TEXT HIM AND GET BACK TO ME ASAP, KALDUR.
Sighing, Kaldur did as his friend requested and sent a text to Will Harper.
Kaldur: WILL, ARE YOU THERE? DICK IS TRYING TO REACH YOU.
Kaldur: IS SOMETHING WRONG?
Kaldur waited five minutes, looking back and forth to see if anyone noticed he'd left his spot. When he received no response, he got back to Dick.
Dick: DAMN IT.
Now Kaldur was getting worried.
Kaldur: WHAT HAS HAPPENED?
There was no response for a minute.
Dick: CAN YOU LEAVE THE ROOM FIRST?
Kaldur: I CANNOT.
Dick: …DON'T FREAK OUT.
Dick: DO NOT FREAK OUT.
A link appeared on Kaldur's screen. He clicked on it.
"SON OF A-!"
Will was so enraged he started shoving arrows into his quiver, not even bothering to see what kind they were or if they were facing the right way. He probably would've begun stabbing somebody with them. Did he even NEED his bow for what he was about to do? Or could he just use his bare hands to deal with his problem?
"I'm home, Brucely!" A voice from downstairs called. "And thank God for that. This mission was a-Will?" Artemis stopped mid-sentence as she saw her brother-in-law, dressed in his Red Arrow costume, stomping down the stairs. Or at least he was partially dressed. He had on the mask and the top half of the costume, but was wearing his work pants and he wasn't wearing gloves. Arrows were haphazardly sticking out of his quiver alongside his bow. The look on his face was terrifying, but it wasn't aimed at her. Hell, he probably didn't even realize Artemis was there. "Will why are you-"
"Hi," Will tersely answered as he made his way to the front door, "Bye."
"Will stop!" Artemis grabbed Will's arm and pulled him away from the door. "What are you doing home so early? Why are you dressed as Red Arrow in broad daylight? Where are you going?"
"Out," Will snarled.
"Yes, out, obviously," Artemis rolled her eyes as she let go of him. Brucely came up to Artemis' side and she reached down to pet him, not taking her eyes off her housemate. "But WHY? Is this another situation with Nightwing?"
"Then... what?" Artemis asked. "You wanna maybe construct a sentence that contains more than one word so I can have an idea of what happened to tick you off this badly?" Will just stood there, looking as tense and tightly wound up as he did when he first knew Artemis all those years ago. "It... it's not my sister, is it?" Artemis inquired, looking fearful for a moment.
"No," Will sighed and removed his mask so he could look Artemis in the eye. "But it has to do with Lian."
"Lian?" Now Artemis was really worried. "What happened to Lian? Is she hurt?!"
"No!" Will quickly told her after taking his quiver off and putting it by the door. "She's fine. I went to her daycare and she's fine. That was the first thing I did."
"The first thing you-?" Artemis was more confused than ever. "Why did you have to check?"
Will took a deep breath, exhaled, and pinched the bridge between his eyes. He didn't want to remember this. He didn't want to explain this. He didn't even want to acknowledge it was real.
But it was a threat against his daughter, and that invalidated all of those feelings and desires in an instant.
"You remember the drawing Lian gave me?" Will asked, trying his hardest to remain calm. Artemis knew what he was referring to.
"Daddy daddy!" Lian excitedly ran to her dad as he arrived to pick her up from daycare. She was waving a piece of paper in her hand and looked really excited about something.
"Hey there, squeaker!" Will happily replied as he scooped up his daughter in his arms and twirled her around. "I missed you."
"I missed you too!" Lian cried as she kissed her dad on the cheek and happily waved a piece of paper in her dad's face. "Look what I made!"
"Okay, okay!" Will laughed. "Calm down, honey. Lemme see what you made." Will carefully took the paper from Lian's tiny hand and saw it was a drawing done in different shades of orange. While Lian had the exact type of drawing skills one would expect of a 3 year old, Will thought the figure looked familiar.
"You like it?" Lian happily anticipated her daddy's approval as he set her down and knelt beside her.
"I love it, peanut," Will declared as he ruffled Lian's hair. "You're so talented."
"Tha's Or'nge Diamon!" Lian explained.
"Orange Diamond?" Will asked. "Is this a Steven Universe character?"
Will and Lian had recently become fans of the show "Steven Universe" when Lian asked if they could watch it one day. One of the other Justice League kids at their annual play date had told her about it and she got very excited. Will made sure to check out a few episodes on his own before he let Lian watch it, having heard some unsavory stuff about the fans and how dark some episodes got. The first few episodes seemed okay (except that Frybo one), so together the Harpers (and Aunt Arty) set a date to watch them together.
Lian loved everything about the show about a boy and his alien gem moms/sisters, and Will slowly became a fan as well. Artemis hadn't developed an interest, but she enjoyed seeing how happy her brother-in-law and niece got during "Steven Time."
"Yeah!" Lian continued to explain. "I made him up. He's like you!"
"Like me?" Will replied before realizing that's why the character looked familiar.
"He's or'nge," Lian carefully explained by pointing to Will's hair...
"An' his face is fuzzy too," she said while pointing to Will's beard...
"An I put his gem on his big belly like you have!" She concluded by poking Will's belly.
"Hey!" Will laughed. "You made his gem look like the symbol for Bowhunter Security!"
"Yeah!" Lian was especially pleased with that tidbit.
"Look at you, trying to help promote the family business at age 3," Will couldn't have been prouder, "You're officially our new president of advertising."
"So you like it?" Lian inquired. "You really like it?"
"Oh Lian it's stupendous!" Will's face beamed with pride as he kissed Lian once on both sides of her face, "Thank you so, so much. Here, hold on," Will reached into his jacket pocket, "Let me get my phone out so I can take a picture of your masterpiece."
Will took out his smart phone and snapped a quick photo of Lian posing with her drawing. Then he turned the phone around and took a picture of the two of them together with the artwork.
"I'm gonna send this to everyone so they can see how awesome Or'nge Diamon is," Will started sending texts to everyone. Artemis, Roy, Jim, Dick, Dinah, Kaldur...
"Yay!" Lian hugged her dad, feeling very proud of herself for having made him happy and how everyone else was gonna love her drawing too.
"Yeah I remember, I saw your text," Artemis reminded her brother-in-law.
"Well I also posted a photo online," Will added.
"I remember that too, I commented on it," Artemis said, "Everyone did."
"Yeah," Will gritted his teeth and Artemis could see his fists were trembling, "EVERYONE did."
"Will?" Artemis saw his knuckles were turning white and-whoa, he was starting to bleed. "Will your hands-!"
"Take out your phone."
"I had a... accident with mine," Will tactfully described how he might've broken his phone earlier while at work. All he remembered was throwing it against the wall of his office before getting in his new SUV. Thank God he hadn't been on his computer.
Artemis did as she was told and, figuring what Will was referring to, went to his Tumble account and the post with the photo of Will, Lian, and the drawing she made. Beneath it was a description that said "Hey everyone! Check out Orange Diamond, the newest Steven Universe character! All rights go to Lian Nguyen-Harper, master artist."
"Yeah okay," Artemis began to read the comments below. There were plenty of encouraging words and praise from their friends, talking about how talented Lian was and how lucky Will was to have such an imaginative daughter. Dick complimented her use of orange, Ollie and Roy joked if Will wanted to be called "Orange Arrow" now, Paula talked about a drawing Lian did for her birthday, and Gar even offered to show it to the cartoon's creator if he ever ran into them.
If anything, this just heightened Artemis' confusion. What, exactly, was the problem?
"I'm not really seeing-"
And so she did.
And she wished she hadn't.
"What the hell?" Artemis whispered to herself. Slowly she felt her blood begin to boil as she saw the comments further down the post. And there were a lot of them. "What the HELL?!"
"Yeah," Will let out a disgusted laugh, "Did you get to the one that asks if Lian's braindead for thinking guys can be Gems?"
"What is wrong with these people?!" Artemis shouted so loudly Brucely yelped in defense as she scrolled down some of the most toxic looking nonsense she'd ever encountered. "'Guys can't be gems, is your kid stupid as well as blind?!' 'Did she draw this with her teeth? Hope you weren't gonna send her to art school?!' 'Fake fans like you and your brat are what's ruined this fandom?!' 'Where does your kid get off stealing my Gemsona?!'" That last one was more confusing than frustrating and she looked up at Will. "What is a Gemsona?" And then she saw the next post. "SORRY YOUR KID'S A SLAN-?!'" Artemis was left sputtering in disbelief at one of the worst racial slurs she recalled seeing. "Do these people know Lian's a 3 year old girl?!"
"I really don't think they care," Will spoke in a low voice that would've sent a chill down Artemis' back had she not been so angry.
"Oh this is just evil," Artemis felt her stomach getting knotted up from outrage when she started to scroll back up the page. The first insult appeared to have only been posted early today. But she noticed Will had left angry, disgusted replies to nearly every nasty, vindictive remark about Lian's art. "How does a show like this attract people like THIS? But Will, you weren't gonna hunt these guys down were you?" Will didn't say anything, didn't even look at her, but his scowl intensified. "I get it, you wanna protect Lian. And I don't blame you for getting angry. But it's not gonna solve anything to stop whatever you're doing to go after every single person who speaks-"
"There is only one person I'm worried about," Will grabbed Artemis's phone and scrolled down harder. His hands shook but he tried not to let the slight bleeding from the cuts on his palms get blood on her screen. "Here," he quickly handed the phone back to her and looked away. "I highlighted it."
Artemis took the phone and began to read the comment aloud.
"I DON'T NEED TO HEAR IT, TOO!" Will screamed, he actually SCREAMED, at her. Brucely ran out of the room and hid under the kitchen table, and Artemis took two steps back. She had NEVER been scared of Will before, but right now he was absolutely terrifying.
Artemis looked down at her phone and silently read the highlighted passage, mouthing the words.
I'LL FIND YOUR DAUGHTER AND WHEN I DO I'LL MAKE HER-
Artemis dropped the phone on the floor. Or rather, the phone had slid out from her grasp. The color drained from her face. In fact, she looked like she was holding back the urge to vomit.
It… was best not to say how the rest of the comment went.
"I-I need to sit down," Artemis gasped. She staggered into the living room and sank into the couch, a wide eye look of disbelieving horror etched in her features. Will followed Artemis and sat down next to her, leaning forward burying his face in his hands.
After a few minutes of sitting in stunned silence, Artemis's phone began vibrating on the floor. Will did nothing, kept his exact position as Artemis walked back into the hallway. The caller ID said it was Dick.
"Hello?" Artemis asked in a strangled voice.
"Artemis, where's Will?" Dick shouted, and she knew what he was referring to. "He's not answering his phone and-"
"Tell him I'm not going anywhere," Will answered, not even looking up.
"He," Artemis swallowed back the bile rising in her throat, "He's not going anywhere." She wisely decided to turn the speaker phone off. "He says he had an accident with his phone. Yes he's home. ...Yes, I saw it too. I'm guessing you did too. ...Everyone? ...He said Lian's okay, she's at daycare. ...No, she doesn't know, thank God. ...No, he won't do anything stupid. ...No, I won't do anything stupid either. Okay. Okay. ...Okay."
She hung up.
"Babs is going to double check and make sure if this guy really is harmless, or if he's ever done something like... like what he...," Artemis blinked several times and repressed another gag as she thought about what the comment said. "They'll take care of it."
Will didn't say anything.
"What were you going to do if you found him, Will?" Artemis asked.
"What would you have done?" Will replied, still not looking up.
"...probably the same thing you were gonna do," Artemis admitted, sitting down next to him again. She had no doubt in her mind Will would've hunted down this guy and broke every bone in his body, and this was after he'd let go of a lot of his anger from a few years ago. Had Will seen such a message back when he just gained Lian in his life, back when he was the still the person Artemis first knew him a lifetime ago, she didn't want to think about what he might've done.
"I'm sorry," she sighed and placed an arm around Will's shoulders, not knowing what else she could do.
That's when Will began to tremble.
"Who does that?" He said in a small, shaking voice. "Who says things like that about a little girl?" Will slowly looked up at his sister-in-law, and Artemis watched as tears began to fall from his eyes. What was so gut wrenching about this is that, in all the time she knew him, Artemis had never seen Will look so despondent or upset. Not even Jade's departure had left him in such a state.
"She just wanted to do something nice for me."
Artemis placed her arms around Will and hugged him as he continued to cry, thinking of how someone could wish such awful things on a sweet little girl who never did anything to hurt anyone in her life. And she cried too.
A few hours later, Artemis drove to the daycare center to pick Lian up.
After Will finished crying, he retreated upstairs to his room and said he was going to rest, feeling too exhausted to do anything. She hoped. To be on the safe side, she hung around the house and kept her ears open in case Will tried to leave.
In that time, she periodically called Lian's daycare and tried to explain what happened. Kate mentioned Will had told her what happened when she saw how upset he was after arriving to Danny's Daycare. She assured Artemis no one suspicious or creepy had been floating around the building. She laughed saying they had a pretty good security system. Artemis didn't get the joke, but she knew Will wouldn't have chosen Danny's Daycare if he didn't believe it was a competent place to leave Lian during the day while he worked.
Artemis had a hard time eating lunch. She left Will a sandwich by his door, but wasn't sure if he ate or not. A couple of times from downstairs she heard Will's door open and close, but figured he was using the bathroom. She relayed Lian's status after each phone call and he was grateful.
"Will?" She'd knocked on his door to check on him before she left. "I'm going to pick up Lian, alright?"
"Okay," he said from the closed door. Artemis was thankful it wasn't locked and went inside. The relief she felt he hadn't sneaked out of the house didn't show on her face, but it was immense. She found Will sprawled on his bed, back propped up by pillows with a sleeping Brucely at his side, and was holding up his clipboard and a red pencil. There was an empty plate on his night stand.
"Are you coming?" Artemis inquired.
"No, I...," Will sighed and petted Brucely's head, "After what happened downstairs I'm afraid I might freak out and scare her. I need some more time to get my head together."
"That's understandable," Artemis admitted, but wasn't sure. He still looked exhausted though, so maybe he was still tired. She wondered if he actually tried sleeping and saw there were other papers and pencils on the bed near Brucely.
"Are you gonna be okay by yourself?" Artemis inquired. "Do you want me to pick something up for dinner? Get you anything before I go?"
"I think I can manage dinner," Will looked up from his clipboard. "It's cool."
"...you're sure you'll be alright?" Artemis asked one last time.
"I'm just figuring this thing out for work," Will sighed again, "I was in the middle of completing next week's schedule when... anyway, I just need to wrap this up and then I'm gonna try to sleep for a bit."
"Maybe you shouldn't be trying to work right now," Artemis mentioned. "Considering-"
"It's cool," Will shrugged, "It's taking my mind off... that. Just, please hurry home, okay?"
Her feeling of relief gradually turned to worry as Artemis got in the car and drove off. Was it a good idea to leave him like that? Well, she genuinely believed he wouldn't have rushed out to murder that guy…
…at the very least, she was willing to take a chance he wasn't going to murder him. She knew Will would be able to locate the bastard. He had years of recon work plus all that searching for the original Roy Harper under his belt. And even if he did kill the guy, Artemis would've found it hard to judge Will.
In the time since her call from Nightwing, Artemis received multiple text messages, notifications, and voice mail from their friends and fellow heroes (mainly because Will's number was unavailable). All of them were seeing red and outraged at the hurtful things people said about Lian's drawing for her dad. Even Batman had called and said he understood how Will felt.
Dinah's message devolved into an angry screech that left a ringing in Artemis' ear. She might've damaged the speaker on Artemis's phone.
Kaldur and M'gann's voice mail were unintelligible, angry ranting in their native languages.
Roy swore up a storm promising to find the guy who said... that, and shove his laser canon down the person's throat. Considering Roy almost murdered Lex Luthor, Artemis believed him too. Even Jim, who was a total sweetheart, said he'd hold the guy down for Roy.
Lian's grandmother Paula was especially livid when she saw the remarks about Lian being "Chinese" and left a blistering reply threatening to hunt that particular bastard down and skin him alive with her bare hands. One strip of skin at a time.
As it turned out, the reason WHY these comments were just showing up today was because someone linked Will's post to a blog dedicated to ripping apart what was called "Bad SU fanart." Artemis briefly checked the page out and was further disgusted the comments left on Lian's artwork WEREN'T the worst the fandom had to offer. But that one guy…
Making a turn into the next lane, Artemis wished Lian's mother was around and could only imagine what Jade would've done had she found out about this. She hated her sister at that moment for not being here for Lian like she should've been.
"Damn it, Jade," Artemis said to herself as the car pulled up to Danny's Daycare. She was one of many parents and guardians arriving to pick up their kids.
"Aunt Art'mis!" Lian happily said as she saw her aunt enter the building. Lian ran from Kate's side and got ready for one of her auntie's patented hugs.
"Well hello there, kitten!" Artemis knelt down and hugged her niece tightly, maybe a bit tighter than she usually did. It was a tremendous relief to see with her own eyes Lian was okay. "Oh it's so good to see you!"
"Where's daddy?" Lian asked, wondering why her father wasn't here. Kate gave Artemis a concerned look.
"Your daddy's at home," Artemis said, "He wasn't feeling too good so I decided to pick you up. He even left work early."
Artemis found out he left Bowhunter Security early telling some of his employees there was a family emergency. She was pretty sure some of them might've known what happened too, but when she called she told them all Lian was fine. Will's employees adored her and they always enjoyed it whenever he brought her by for Take-Your-Daughter-To-Work Day.
Which, to Will, happened whenever he felt like. They even kept a coffee mug for her that said "Lian Harper: Team Cutie." Not that Lian drank coffee, but it was the thought that mattered.
...he kept the mug next to the framed Orange Diamond drawing on his desk.
"Oh no!" Lian gasped. "Is Daddy okay?"
"I promise you Lian," Artemis kissed her niece on the forehead, "He's gonna feel a whole lot better when he sees you."
Lian happily chatted away about all she did at daycare today, and Artemis carefully listened with rapt attention. Before she drove Lian home, Artemis sent a group text notifying everyone Lian was fine. The amount of replies she got in a half a minute was staggering. She asked they hold off on calling and asking to talk to her for now so Lian didn't get overwhelmed. Even though she was 3, Lian was perceptive and she might pick up something was wrong if everyone started showering her with attention out of nowhere. Artemis wished Will hadn't left his phone at work so she could text him, too.
"I can't believe he tried to hog all the cookies like that," Artemis responded to Lian's story.
"Zach's a poohead," Lian harrumphed.
"Why Lian!" Artemis made a dramatic, exaggerated gasp. "Such a potty mouth on you."
"I'm sorry," Lian apologized.
"I'm just kidding sweetie," Artemis laughed as she pulled into the driveway. "He does sound like a poohead. There're a lot of pooheads today," she muttered under her breath.
Once the car was in the driveway, Lian began fussing with her seat belt until Artemis helped her. At which point Lian hopped out of the car and ran up the front steps.
"Daddy daddy daddy!" Lian shouted. "I'm home! Daddy?"
Artemis hurried up the steps, praying Will was still home and hadn't-
"HEY there, peanut!" Artemis stopped in the open doorway and watched as Will scooped Lian up in his arms and spun around with her. "And how's my princess doing?"
"Daddy you're okay!" Lian cheered.
"I am now that you're home, sweetheart," Will happily replied and buried Lian in a tight hug.
"Daddy you're smooshing me!" Lian giggled in her dad's embrace.
"Am I?" Will replied. "I guess it's because I'm so happy to see you!"
"But don't smoosh me too hard," Lian laughed.
"I'm your dad, I have smooshing rights," Will teased. "I will smoosh all I want."
Artemis let out a sigh of relief and watched as Will hugged Lian, laughing with her and kissing her over and over again. One might get the impression this was his first time ever meeting her. From the way his hair looked she guessed he'd taken a shower.
"Are you okay?" Artemis asked Will.
"I feel fine," Will replied in between kisses.
"No I mean, are you okay?" Artemis emphasized. "Did you eat anything? Did you leave the house for anything?" Will gave his sister-in-law a look that seemed to communicate "Yeah, in the time it took for you to pick Lian up and come home I went out, murdered someone, and came back in time to shower."
"Arty said you didn' feel good," Lian explained once her dad stopped kissing her. Artemis looked up from her phone as she texted that Will hadn't left to destroy the man who threatened Lian.
"I had a bad day, Lian," Will told Lian while he smoothed her hair, "A very, very bad day. But you being home made it better."
"Like ten times better," Will emphasized.
"Like a hunned times better?" Lian asked.
"Like a MILLION times better!" Will shouted.
"How 'bout a BILLON times better?" Lian was getting in on it.
"INFINITELY times better!" Will laughed.
"That much?" Lian whispered in awe.
"Lian," Will calmly spoke. "That. Much."
Artemis tried not to laugh at how ridiculous Will was being with her right now.
"Come on," Will carried Lian with him upstairs, "I wanna show you something special and then later we'll order some pizza and have some extra long 'Steven Time.'"
"Really?!" Lian couldn't believe it, pizza AND "Steven Time" AND a something special in one day! "What is it, daddy?" Lian wondered.
"It's a surprise, just for you," Will told her. "I made it while I was home. It helped me take my mind off how bad I was feeling." Artemis wondered what he could've been working on while she was gone and silently followed after them. It looked like they were heading to Will's room. So he hadn't been doing something for the company after all.
"How come you were feeling bad, Daddy?" Lian asked. Will stopped. So did Artemis, wondering what he was gonna say.
"Lian-" Artemis was about to cut in before Will stopped her.
"I had to deal with some bullies today," Will explained. "You know that nice drawing you did for me?"
"Yeah," Lian answered.
"Well, these bullies said very mean things about it," Will told her, "And it made me feel mad."
"I hate bullies," Lian grimaced. "Zach says my pict'ers look like boogers and he makes me mad too. I'm sorry."
"You've got nothing to apologize for," Will assured her a bit too quickly, "It wasn't your fault. And hey," he started smiling again, "You know what Sunstone says about bullies right?" Sunstone, a character in the show that was recently introduced, was a Fusion of Steven (who was Lian's favorite) and Garnet (Will's favorite). So basically Will and Lian loved them.
"Uh huh," Lian said. "'Member kids-'"
"'If you ever have to deal with a bully-'" Will continued this bit.
"'Be sure to tell a 'dult!'" Lian finished.
"'BUNGACOWA!'" Father and daughter spoke in unison and then let out a little laugh, while Artemis rolled her eyes at how cheesy that was. Sometimes Will's dad humor drove her bonkers, but at least Lian thought he was funny.
"Now if you don't like it," Will said as they reached his door, "That's okay. I don't really do stuff like this and I'll see about getting you something better. Whatever you want because you deserve it."
"Why?" Lian asked.
"Because you're you," Will nuzzled Lian against his scruffy face, "You're the best little girl a daddy could want, and I'm proud of you every second of every day. And if anyone else doesn't see that, they're-"
"A poohead," Artemis chimed in.
"Gasp!" Will pretended to be scandalized. "Did you hear what Arty just said, Lian?"
"Ooooh," Lian looked appalled and shook her head, "Arty said a bad word."
Artemis put a hand to her chest, pretending to look like she'd been called out and betrayed.
"Don't worry Arty, I won't tell anyone if Lian won't, right Lian?" Will did a "Zipped lips" motion to Lian before he opened the door. Lian turned to her aunt and mimicked her dad.
"Thank you, kitten," Artemis replied.
"I hope you don't mind," Will apologized as he brought Lian over to his bed where a bunch of art supplies had been sprawled out over the cover. "I had to borrow some of your crayons and colored pencils because I don't have any of my own."
Which also explained why Artemis heard him moving around upstairs.
"That's okay daddy," Lian assured her father as he set her down on the bed. He reached over and dug underneath one of the pillows, pulling out his clipboard.
"I'm sorry it's kind of rushed," Will added, "But I'd like to think I was a little inspired. Ta-dah!"
Will flipped around the board so it was facing Lian. Her face lit up in delight and she gasped. Artemis walked over to the other side of the bed so she could get a look at what Lian was seeing.
On the clipboard was a piece of paper, with a drawing of a girl who looked like Lian, dressed in a hood, done in different shades of red. Artemis could make out what seemed to be a jewel in the center of the girl's chest. She was holding a bow and arrow. Above the drawing it said "For Lian."
"What do you think?" Will asked.
"It's so pretty!" Lian answered. "Who is she? Red Ridin' Hood?"
"Why Lian," Will announced, "Say hello to Red Diamond!"
"Like Or'nge Diamon," Will referred to Lian's creation the way she pronounced it. She had plenty of time to learn how to pronounce "Orange" and "Diamond" correctly when she got older.
"Wow!" Lian said, taking the clipboard from her dad to get a better look at her. "This is for me, Daddy?"
"Well sure, it says right here 'For Lian,' and you know the clipboard doesn't lie," Will answered.
"The clibboard doesn't lie," Lian nodded in agreement.
"I figured you can't have an Or'nge Diamon without a Red Diamon. You were so nice to make that drawing for me I had to give you something back," Will went on as he started pointing out different aspects of the drawing. "See, I even gave her a bow and arrow like I use and your aunts and uncles use too. And her Gem's located right where her heart is. Because she has such a big heart and she loves everything, and she makes everything better just like you do."
"She," Lian took a closer look at the drawing, "She looks like me!"
"Really? Does she?" Will sat down next to Lian and picked the clipboard up, sticking out his bottom lip and making an exaggerated look of contemplation as he inspected his drawing. "Hmm," Will mused as he laid sprawled on the bed, holding the clipboard over his face.
"Hmm... Well what do you know, she does!" He handed the drawing back to Lian. "I always did say you were a jewel Lian, and this just proves it. And now Or'nge Diamon gets to have someone like you in his life."
"Thank you, Daddy!" Lian's eyes practically sparkled with joy. "Now we're both diamons! Thank you thank you thank you!" Lian jumped on her dad's belly and hugged him tightly, thanking him over and over again.
Artemis had to turn away and blink back tears from how happy she was feeling, seeing how Will was trying so hard to make his daughter feel good even though she had no idea she'd been attacked in such a way.
"Thank YOU, Lian," Will hugged her tightly as he tried to blink back more tears that were forming in the corners of his eyes. "Thank you for everything. You're such a good kid and I wish everyone could see that, because you always make life better just by being you. Being your father's the best thing that ever happened to me and I'm happy every day you're in my life. Thank you thank you thank you."
"Stop! For the love of God stop!"
Will and Lian looked up to see Artemis had dissolved into a crying, blubbering mess while hugging one of Will's pillows to her chest.
"Aunt Arty?" Lian sat up and asked, confused at the state her aunt was in while her dad got up and rubbed his eyes. "What's wrong?"
"N-Nothing," Artemis sobbed, "I just... I j-j... YOU TWO ARE SO FREAKING ADORABLE!" With that Artemis sobbed harder and threw herself at her niece and brother-in-law, hugging them very tightly. "GOD YOU BOTH MAKE ME NUTS!"
"Daddy?" Lian asked, understandably confused.
"Yes Lian?" Will responded calmly, afraid to upset his sobbing sister-in-law any further.
"Why's Arty so silly?"
"I have no idea."
They let Artemis continue to cry for a couple of minutes without saying anything.
"Can we get extra cheesy pizza?"
"Whatever you want, honey."
"And can I wear my Steven shirt?"
"I got it in the dryer and ready, along with my Garnet shirt."
"Are you gonna cry if we watch 'The Anser?'"
"Absolutely," Will said with stone cold certainty. He would always cry when he watched "The Answer." Always.
Adam couldn't believe it. The guy who posted that crappy Orange Diamond artwork actually posted another OC Gem. And this was even worse than the other one! Red Diamond? Who thinks up this stuff? There were only four Diamonds, everyone knew that. Making a Diamond OC was the cheapest, laziest thing a fan could do and it pissed him off to no end. It was worse than those idiots who drew skinny Rose Quartz fan art. They deserved whatever they got, and Adam was always happy to give them what they deserved.
Oh, but it looked like this Harper guy wasn't the only one posting stuff. Seems a few of his friends were posting the same photo because of the comment Adam left on the other one. And boy they were angry.
Couldn't anyone take a joke?
But hey, the reaction he got out of her grandmother was hilarious. Like she'd really hunt him down, pfft.
"Well at least this one's a girl," Adam mused at the drawing as he was about to come up with another brilliant reply. Nothing beat a long day working a double shift at the hospital then venting on some of the morons who posted their crap in the fandom. Some people fished, some people painted, but he-
That was weird, Adam wasn't expecting anyone. And it was too late in the evening for a package. Getting away from his desktop, Adam headed downstairs as the doorbell rang again. Too bad, because if he stayed a bit longer he would've seen his bank account get totally wiped out by one of the worst viruses out there, courtesy of Lian's Aunt Babs.
And he was going to miss all the happy replies from his sister, parents, cousins, extended family, friends, work friends, co-workers, and his boss at the hospital. Babs was SO eager to show them copies of all the "Jokes" Adam posted on various fan websites. And she especially wanted to share with them his notes, rough drafts, and all the completed "Fan fiction" he'd written about children he knew from work in real life.
The police and the FBI would be getting copies too, but Adam wouldn't have known that until later.
Not that there was gonna be a later for him.
"Adam Murranski?" A voice from the other side of the door asked.
He flicked on the switch for the outside light and opened the door a crack.
"I'm from Wonderland Pizza and I've got your order of one extra large double meat lover's with a side of garlic knots."
Adam opened the door and found himself facing a pretty Asian woman dressed in a jacket and delivery uniform complete with a baseball cap. In one hand she held a pizza box with a small white bag on top.
"I didn't order any pizza from... where'd you say it came from?" Adam asked.
"Wonderland Pizza," she replied. As she read the writing on the receipt to herself, Adam couldn't help but notice she was really good looking. "This is 12 Belfast Avenue, right?"
"Yes," Adam answered.
"And you're Adam Murranski, right?" The delivery woman asked.
"Yeah but I've never even heard of Wonderland Pizza," Adam replied.
"Wonderland Pizza?" The woman repeated. "You KNOW, with that commercial where the Queen of Hearts says if we don't deliver in thirty minutes or less it's off with our delivery peoples' heads? Ring a bell?"
"Vaaaaaguely," Adam said uncertainly.
"Oh come on," the woman laughed, "I was in the commercial too. I played the White Rabbit."
Adam felt guilty and uncomfortable as he saw the hopeful look in the woman's face, the hope of recognition, slowly fade into disappointment.
"I spent hours running back and forth in that costume," she muttered.
"Oh, THAT commercial!" Adam lied. "Of course I remember you now, I'm sorry it's simply been a long day. But I didn't realize there was a Wonderland Pizza near my neighborhood."
"We just opened in the area," the woman answered as she was re-reading the receipt again, turning it over and triple checking. "Well it says on the receipt 'Adam Murranski, 12 Belfast Avenue.' I checked the order myself five times before I left to make sure this was absolutely the place I needed to be."
"I don't know what to tell you," Adam apologized. "Sorry."
"Ugh, I can't believe this," The woman groaned. "I'm such an idiot. This is the third time I've gotten one of these prank deliveries since I was transferred to this part of the franchise, and I'm on a three strikes policy as is. I'm so sick of this. Some kid picks a random name from online or something and phones in a bogus order for cheap laughs. When my boss finds out about this she's REALLY gonna have my head. I'm so sorry to have bothered you," the woman turned around, "Have a good night."
"Wait," he stopped the woman because of how helpless she seemed. "I mean, I'd hate for you to get in trouble with your boss."
"It's not your fault," the woman told him.
"No but really, the pizza's probably going to go to waste if you bring it back," Adam pointed out. "And you already brought it all the way here."
"Oh but I couldn't let you pay for a pizza you didn't order," the woman shook her head. "Please, I've bothered you enough."
"I insist," Adam assured her, "There's no reason for you to lose your job over some dumb kids."
"Kids are the worst, right?" The delivery woman asked sympathetically.
"Absolutely," he agreed. "I work in a pediatric hospital so I know what whiny, snot nosed little beasts they are."
"I feel the same way," the woman nodded.
"Besides, I was thinking of getting a midnight snack anyway."
"Well if you don't mind..."
"My wallet's inside," Adam explained. "I'll be right back."
"Take your time," the woman set the food down on the table near Adam's door. "I don't have any other deliveries tonight. Nice place," she noticed. "You own this house?"
"A few years," Adam mentioned. "I make good money at the hospital."
"Apparently," the woman agreed.
"Hey, if you don't have other deliveries, maybe you'd like to join me for a quick bite?" Adam asked on the stairs. "You should get a little something for your troubles."
"You are so sweet," the woman smiled as she spoke.
"Lemme just get my wallet," Adam was about to continue upstairs when the woman grabbed his arm. "How much did you say it was?"
"On second thought, don't worry about the money," the woman said as she removed her hat to reveal a mane of luxurious black hair. Adam felt his heart stop as the woman looked at him and kept smiling, dropping her hat to the ground and pulling him closer. "I believe we can work something out."
"A-are you sure?" Adam stammered. "I-I mean, I-"
"Trust me," the woman's seductive grin turned predatory, and Adam was so entranced by her he didn't notice the knife she held behind her back. Nor did he notice the "Receipt" was a print out of his comment on Will Harper's post with all of Adam's online information and his address.
"You've got this coming."