(posted Sunday, October 02, 2005)

Thea signed onto the comm with a heavy sigh. Stephanie Peebles had yet another difficult assignment for her. Which was good, because difficult assignments kept her busy but—well, she was going to need help for this one. Again.

"Iss der beink anyvun villing to help in destroyink Facist robots in varehouse on Striga?" she asked carefully over the Congress channel, knowing from the lack of chatter on the CCCP channel that she was likely the only one on patrol right now.

"See?" she heard Infurno say a moment later. "I told you. Striga."

And then the voice she had never expected to hear again. "Darlink, why are you in Striga? I thought you were making of the lunch?"

Her mind—stopped. Froze. Mrs. Peebles looked at her oddly. "Are you all right, dear?" she whispered, looking concerned.

Thea could only clutch the comm. for a moment. And then, because another horrible possibility occurred to her, she said, carefully, "...if is joke...."

"Darlink?" said the voice.

"....Alexei?" she faltered.

There was a crackling on the comm., and then Shyft's voice. "Well, I have both through the Portal...things should get back to normal quickly."

"Yes darlink? What is wrong?" Alexei asked at almost the same moment.

"....Vere you are?" she gulped.

"I am in Skyway running patrol with comrade Soviet Wing and cute little girl," he replied, and coordinates and the team-signal followed immediately. She switched her comm. to the team signal without a second thought, although…in the back of her mind…there was still the hideous thought that this was some kind of sick joke. Wing had never met Alexei and would not know him. Could be deceived. Easily.

"Alexei?" she gasped, as she launched herself into the air.


She was practically vibrating. "…oh my god…"

He sounded amused. "What happened? were you out of mayonnaise for egg salad?"

He didn't know. He didn't know. How could he not know?

"I am coming! I am coming, Alexei! Oh my god, you haf been gone for six weeks!" she cried, holding back tears. "I t'ought you vere dead! I t'ought you vere neffer born!"

Obviously this was all news to him. "I was in bathroom washink hands….

"Look at newspaper!" she shouted, popping out of the ferry and spotting the tram in the distance. Tram, tram, there were newspaper vending machines at the tram….

"II will check as soon as we are out of Laboratory," he said, clearly at a loss as to why she was shouting at him to look at a newspaper.

" I am beink so out of loop," sighed Soviet Wing, whom Thea had met in the HQ now and again. The hollow tone of her voice, inside her helmet, identified her.

"You are out of loop? I do not even know you.," Star said, beginning to sound nonplussed. "And you are CCCP."

"I join not long ago.," Wing explained.

Now Star sounded uncertain. "Apparently while was washink hands."

Thea stopped long enough to jam quarters into the vending machine and rip out a paper before flinging herself aboard the tram. It was a good thing it was not rush-hour. She probably would have body-slammed someone to get aboard.

The flight to the mission-door went by in a blur, and she hurled herself down laboratory corridors. And there he was. Alexei, Alexei it was he, and she flung herself at him and covered him with kisses before he could say more than, "Darlink!"

"I am happy to see you too!" he managed, as she paused long enough to shove the paper at him, then cover him with kisses again.

"Shto? What is....." In between kisses he managed to see the dateline—and froze. "Two...months... I was washink hands…."

She managed not to burst into tears. She'd had enough of tears for a lifetime. "You disappeared."

"Did the council...."

"Your grandfather was here...." she interrupted. "Vas Crey—"

Poor Soviet Wing was trying to keep track of a very small and active girl with a bow and arrow…children were a rarity among the heroes and Thea vaguely recollected something about this one. Giselle? A German name….

But there were more important things for the moment.

"Jedushka Vlada?" Star replied, more bewildered by the moment. He rubbed his temple. "I was washink hands...."

"Vas Crey—" she repeated and her face darkened. "—and--Kid Crisis. He is being spy."

Now she had him truly bewildered.

"Ach! Let us not discuss him," Soviet Wing spat, as the child looked frightened at the change in their mood. "Is not worth breath to speakink his name."

"He told Crey vat you found in Vlada's costume case," Thea said angrily, as Star looked from one to the other of them.

His brows knitted. "That is crazy talk. You speak like he is working for Crey or somethink—”

Wing interrupted him. "He is!"

Thea just turned to the back page of the paper, which, as always, held a half-page ad for Crey with their "Official Spokeshero, Kid Crisis," featured prominently. And shoved it at him.

"Shto?" Star choked, staring at the paper. "Zis is not possible!"

"Is true. We have orders not to associate wit him," Wing asserted as Thea nodded.

"He is being mind controlled!" Star growled as he stared at the picture.

"He is Bolshevik," Thea replied angrily. "Spy."

Soviet Wing's voice echoed with Thea's anger. "It nyet matter. He is in league wit them."

And Star—Star reacted exactly as she expected. His anger crested to the breaking point, almost too quickly to follow, and he whirled and went looking for something to hurt.

He found it, too; Thea followed him, falling into the patterns the two had established, throwing spells to make the enemies easier for him to hit, to steal their life force and use it to heal her team, to blast them with her own dark energies. Finally, finally, he wore himself out for a moment and paused, panting.

She grabbed both his hands as the child looked terrified. "You are home again," she said forcefully. ” Ve deal vith this later."

His voice was barely controlled. "Da. I will deal with Crey.."

"And I," she asserted.

"Let us clear this place—"

"Together." She kept herself calm now; she had to be his anchor in this. Her anger was old, his was new, and his temper was much the hotter.

"Of course—" he began, and then he turned to hug her fiercely, and his face and voice calmed.

"Use temper," she said quietly into his ear. "Do not let temper use you."

The child whimpered, and Star released Thea to pat her head. "Do not worry little one. It is ok."

Finally Thea had a moment to turn to the child, and she felt a rush of maternal warmth at the sight of her. What a pretty child—"Sie sind Deutsch, kind?" she asked, and the little one's eyes brightened. Thea smiled. "Also, kommen sie, bitte! Bleib mit mir, bitte, fur die Heilung." ("Now please come with me. Stay with me for healing.")

"Thinkink I needink to be learnink German. I hear Dr. Alow speak it.," said Wing, as they followed Star.

They followed in Star's wake, as he waded into mob after mob of Tsoo, using his anger as Thea had urged him and slowly purging it. Finally he had exhausted enough of it to notice that the child had been using her bow and arrows all along—"Bows are not something you can use against super beings, durok," he said, in a kindly fashion.

But Thea had already sensed there was something quite out of the ordinary about this child and her weapon. "Ist das ein zauber-bogen, kind?" she asked, and again the child brightened and nodded vigorously. "It is a magic bow and arrows," she explained to a baffled Star and Wing.

"Magic bow?" Star repeated.

"Da," she said. "Now I am beink glad I learned German."

For the first time since she had showed him the newspaper, Star laughed. "Is like spear and magic helmet in cartoon, da? What is with germans and magic medieval weapons…"

Thea sighed with relief. Her Alexei was back. And her Alexei was himself again. Whatever else happened, this much was right and good. The bottom was back in her universe. And all would be well again……