Vertigo

Author: Livia Penn
LJ: liviapenn
Recipient: Apathy
Requested Character: Sue Dibny

Sue opened her eyes and looked into the mirror. She blinked for a moment, lost in sudden vertigo-- who was that girl?

She blinked again, and looked harder, and the image resolved itself. Shiny black hair in a short bob, wide blue eyes, carefully painted lips. The perfect young lady. Sue didn't know why she'd suddenly looked so strange to her own eyes. Probably something to do with the lights in the shop. She put it out of her mind.

"What do you think, Miss Dearborn?" said the shopgirl. She fluttered around Sue's shoulders, darting from side to side as she adjusted the gauze trim around the crown of the wide-brimmed hat that Sue was trying on. "I have to say it's awfully cunning."

"Yes, you do have to, don't you?" Sue said. The shopgirl looked a bit taken aback, and Sue blinked, a bit startled herself. She wasn't usually sharp with people who were just trying to do their jobs; Mother said that sort of thing was awfully déclassé. "I'll... I'll take it," she said. The girl would make a healthy commission; that would more than make it up to her.

"Oh-- lovely," the girl said, still a bit thrown off by Sue's rudeness. "Do you want-- Shall I have it delivered, or--"

"No, no, I'll just wear it out," Sue said, even though it didn't really match her dress. She stood, smoothing out her skirt, and tried to paste a smile onto her face. "Please send the bill to Edward Dearborn," she said, and hurried out of the milliner's shop.

The shop-windows of Central City's garment district gleamed in the mid-afternoon sunlight; the sidewalks glittered with speckles of silver, and ahead of Sue a fountain splashed merrily in the middle of the square. Laughter and chatter spilled from the lips of slim women in colorful dresses and tall men in tailored suits as they strolled the streets. It was a month until Sue's debutante ball, her official coming-out in society. She was happy, and beautiful, and wealthy, and desirable. Everything was right with her world...

Sue adjusted the angle of her hat and looked around at the square. Had Edmonds driven her here, or had she driven herself? She couldn't recall now. Everything was right in her world, though. Everything was right. Edmonds would find her, or she'd walk until she found her car. There was no need to worry. Nothing bad happened in Central City, after all.

Still, it was odd that she couldn't remember quite how she'd gotten to the milliners'...

The fountain in the middle of the square chattered and gurgled to itself, and Sue found herself drawn towards it, to the ring of still water that surrounded the splashing jets of water. She leaned over the broad stone rim, looking down, looking for her reflection, but the world suddenly trembled and Sue's feet went out from under her. She twisted around, collapsing into a seated position on the edge of the fountain, and gasped as a bright whirl of color appeared in the sky above her.

"Earth humans surrender!" a robotic voice buzzed from the vortex. "We are Togorian X, and we desire human subjects!" Around Sue, people shrieked and ran, stumbling and falling as brightly hued beams of light shot from the vortex, smashing into the cobblestone street, the sidewalk and the cars parked up and down the street. Heart pounding, Sue kicked her high-heeled shoes off, picked them up and ran for it in her stocking feet.

A shaft of violet-huet light smashed down in front of her, not dissipating but forming a solid wall-- Sue skidded to a stop, stumbling but managing to catch herself before she ran into it. She backed away, turning to run in another direction, but a wall of green light blocked her escape there as well. In the gaps between the walls, she saw other beams forming barriers and cells all across the square, and then-- suddenly-- a streak of bright, familiar red.

Of course Sue knew who it was. He was the hero of Central City-- everybody knew who the Flash was. She drew in her breath to scream, but it was pushed from her lungs in a gasp as strong arms encircled her, sweeping her off her feet. Sue blinked, and when she opened her eyes again, she was at the far end of the square, beyond the reach of the vortex.

"We are Togorian X and we seek subjects! Earth humans, do not resist us!" the vortex distantly boomed, and Sue leaned back against the sun-warmed brick wall of a dress shop as the Flash carefully set her down on her feet.

"Are you all right, miss?"

"Yes," Sue said, and then looked down at her empty hands. "Oh, my shoes!"

The Flash grinned at her. Sue was close enough to see what color his eyes were. He really had the nicest eyes, she thought-- very warm and very green.

But that wasn't right. They were very blue, of course, she thought, and blushed a little as the Flash touched his forehead, nodded to her, and zipped off. Blue.

She didn't know why she'd thought green.

The Flash didn't seem to have any problems zipping straight through the walls of color, but then, Sue had read in the paper that the Flash could vibrate through walls. He disappeared and reappeared several times, each time carrying a man or woman in his arms and depositing them outside the colorful honeycomb of alien light. Each one of them fled down the block as soon as the Flash freed them.

"This way!" called a sharp voice, and Sue looked over her shoulder-- there was a crew-cut blond man at the end of the block in a long trenchcoat and tie, his badge held high in one hand as he directed the bystanders away from the alien vortex and out of harms' way. He saw Sue, and gestured to her to come away, but Sue turned away, pretending not to have seen him. Half-hidden by the corner of the dress shop, she stayed where she was and watched the Flash.

Finally there was a long moment when the Flash didn't re-appear, and then he did, but with empty arms; obviously, there was no one left to rescue. Blinking in and out, the cell walls began to break down and disappear, leaving only strange smoking angled lines on the cobblestones where they'd been. The vortex itself pulsed, and began to shrink. Thrilled, Sue broke from her hiding place and strode into the open.

"That was wonderful!" she said, laughing. "I've never been so scared in my life--"

"Miss!" the man at the end of the block called. "Miss, you're going to have to step this way."

"You'd better--" the Flash said apologetically, coming closer. He was still vibrating, faintly out of phase with the rest of the world, and Sue had to stretch her hand out to touch, just to brush her hand against his arm.

In her peripheral vision, the vortex pulsed once more, shooting out a massive beam of pure white light, so quickly it seemed as if the whole world simply faded away.

When the world re-formed, Sue found herself sprawled on the ground, rainbow walls surrounding her. This time, though, the ceiling and floor were also made of sheets of colorful, pulsating energy. The 'sky' was purple and the 'ground' was yellow. Lovely. Sue could only imagine how sallow the yellow glow from beneath made her look.

She pushed herself up to a sitting position and gasped. There was a-- He was--

It was the blond policeman, and he was naked! Sitting huddled in such a way that Sue couldn't see his-- well, couldn't see anything, but still! Naked!

Sue averted her eyes in a ladylike fashion, blushing intensely.

"I'm so sorry about this," said the blond policeman. Poor man, he sounded as though he were absolutely about to expire from embarrassment. "I just-- I would really like to sincerely apologize, Miss--"

"Dib--" Sue began, then stopped. Why on earth had she stuttered like that? Her name was Dearborn, not, not-- "Dearborn," she said firmly, wishing the walls of their colorful cell would stop glowing so brightly. She was beginning to get a headache. "Sue Dearborn."

"Detective Barry Allen," said the blond man with a sheepish nod.

"You're the Flash," Sue said, hearing herself speak as if from a distance.

Detective Allen's head snapped up, his eyes narrowing, and then he glanced around as if looking for somewhere to escape to-- somewhere to run. He looked back at her, trapped, then tried to laugh. "What-- what makes you say--"

Sue rolled her eyes, reached up and began unpinning her wide-brimmed hat. When she'd finally gotten all the hairpins out, she brushed her hair back behind her ear and skimmed the hat across the cell to Detective Allen. "Well, it's obvious, isn't it? You were there, and you were doing that thing where you're in two places at once; I've read about it in the paper, except obviously out there, you were changing clothes in between the two places, so that you looked like two different people. Which explains why you're-- Well. Anyway, now that I know-- can't you get us out of this?"

Detective Allen looked a little less queasy with Sue's hat to hold in front of his... masculine attributes. He even looked a bit admiring. "I'm afraid not. They've adjusted the vibrational frequency of the atoms in the wall to block me in. I must say, you're quite the detective, Miss Dearborn."

"Well, I learned from the best," Sue said, trying not to smile too widely.

"Oh?" Detective Allen's expression turned piercing again, his shoulders hunching forward slightly. He really did have very nice musculature. Especially in his legs, which stood to reason, but still. Sue had always liked a man with nice legs.

"I..." Sue blinked. "That is... I read a lot of Agatha Christie." That was right, wasn't it? She'd certainly never met a real detective before. Oh, she did wish her head would stop pounding. She slipped her purse off her shoulder and unsnapped the clasp, looking inside for an aspirin. Her fingers brushed against the cold, sleek surface of her compact as she rummaged inside, and she found herself pulling it out instead, holding it cupped in her hands as her purse fell to the floor. It was silver, with curlicues engraved around its rounded edges, and Sue gazed at her distorted reflection, caught suddenly in a daze.

"Miss Dearborn?"

Sue didn't answer; Detective Allen's voice seemed very far away. She tipped the compact from side to side, trying to catch her entire face at once in its rounded surface-- why couldn't she see herself? She reached up, tucking her hair behind her ear, running her fingers carefully over her cheek. Checking... she didn't know for what. Why didn't it look right, the squiggles and angles reflected in the silver? Why couldn't she make it all fit?

She reached for the clasp of the compact, her hands shaking, and Detective Allen's free hand closed tightly over hers, trapping the compact inside her fist. Sue sucked in a gasp of air. "Don't."

"Miss Dearborn, you're going to have to listen. I'm going to need your help, if we're going to get out of this. And save the world."

"Please let go of my hand," Sue said tightly. How had he gotten so close? He was all broad shoulders and strong arms, the yellow light on him making him look like a sun god. She tried to pull her hand away, but he wasn't letting go.

"Miss Dearborn," he said, "Sue," and leaned in to kiss her. Sue jerked back, shocked, pushing at his shoulder with his free hand. Detective Allen grinned, tossed her hat aside and pushed her down on her back.

"No!" Sue cried, struggling, no, not again-- and the walls flashed red and yellow and purple, like the sun through closed eyes. "No, don't--!" Barry squeezed her hand till she dropped the compact, then let go of her hand, pinning her shoulder to the ground instead. "No!" she said again, squinting through the searing pain in her skull. "Barry would never do this. I don't know who you are, but this isn't real and Barry would never--"

Everything seemed distant, suddenly. Unreal, like a mirage. It was almost a relief to feel it all fade away. None of this was right, and it had started... Sue knew she had to figure out where it had all started. That was the first rule of detective work, wasn't it? Find the beginning. Follow the money, follow the woman--

The woman, Sue thought, and the face of the pretty girl in the broad-brimmed hat, that familiar stranger, flashed before her eyes. The woman. The mirror! She stopped struggling against Barry, going limp momentarily and then taking advantage of his moment of surprise, lunging for her compact. She managed to flick it open one-handed, breaking a fingernail in the process, but the little round mirror flashed open, bright as the sun.




Sue woke up gasping, tears streaking down her face. There was someone crouching behind her, pulling her back against his body; one gloved hand was pressed firmly over her eyes, and another clutched at her wrist. "Shh, hey--"

She sobbed out loud in relief as things fell into place, as everything suddenly felt right. Well, not right, since she'd obviously been kidnapped by some sick bastard of a bad guy. But at least she knew who she was. She was Sue Dibny and she was damned if she was going to let some schmuck take advantage of her again. She slumped back, purposefully going limp. "Where am I?" she said breathlessly. "What--"

"Don't--" the stranger growled. Letting go of her wrist, he brought his hand up to cover her mouth. That was stupid of him. Sue gritted her teeth, leaned forward for leverage and then swung her elbow back into the vulnerable area that Ralph had always referred to, in utter seriousness, as 'the gahoolies.' Her elbow connected solidly, and Sue's captor let out an agonized grunt and collapsed against her back. Sue shoved him off and stood up, staring around at her -- at -- the silver gleam --


This time she was standing in their house in Opal City. It was morning, and Ralph was sitting at the breakfast table in his shirtsleeves as Sue carefully divvied up a pan of scrambled eggs between their plates. Over her shoulder, the toaster dinged, and Sue glanced over her shoulder. "Would you get that?"

"Sure, bun." Ralph kissed her cheek as he stood up, walking over to the toaster. Sue straightened up, struck by a sudden odd sense of wrongness. Why was Ralph walking all the way over to the toaster, when he could just... When he could just... The thought drifted away as the twins chased each other into the kitchen, Allie ducking around her father's legs and Artie bouncing off Sue's knees.

"Not in the house!" Sue called after them, but they were already gone, out the back door into the yard. She winced, stretching out a hand as if she could keep the screen door from slamming shut, but she was too late. It slammed.

Sue glanced at Ralph. Ralph raised his eyebrows, buttering his piece of toast.

"Your kids have no manners," Sue said.

"I'd agree, but there's no proof they're actually mine, is there?" Ralph replied, equally straight-faced. "They could be the mailman's."

"You're awful." Sue said, smacking him in the shoulder. Ralph just laughed. The kids were shrieking and yelling outside; Artie was probably pulling Allie's pigtails again. "You'd better hope they get my sense of humor, that's all I'm saying. Are you..."

Sue drifted off. Ralph looked at her curiously, but Sue just shook her head, lost in sudden thought. Was Ralph going in to work today? What day was it? Honestly, she was getting so scatterbrained these days. She didn't even know if Ralph was going in to work, and yet she didn't want him to leave. There was something wrong, something here in the house, and Sue didn't want to be alone until she figured out what exactly it was. She glanced around the kitchen, looking for some kind of clue. There were Allie and Artie's Hawkman and Hawkgirl lunchboxes on the counter, a few crayoned pictures inspired by last week's trip to the zoo stuck on the fridge, and Artie's teddy bear sitting in his chair at the table... Sue leaned over, almost pulling back at the last second, then told herself not to be silly. It was only a teddy bear. It couldn't hurt her. She picked it up, the soft plushy fur sliding under her fingers.

"Where did this come from?"

"Toy store?" Ralph said. He squinted. "Present from your mother?"

Sue stared at Ralph, her heart pounding for no reason. Something was wrong, something was wrong-- Her fingers tightened on the plush bear as she realized that Allie and Artie had stopped screaming. She didn't hear anything from the backyard. They weren't--

Sue dropped the teddy bear from nerveless fingers and dashed for the screen door. The stupid thing got stuck, just as it always did, and she fumbled at the latch. "Ralph, help me!" She couldn't see the twins anywhere, just the lawn leading down to the street. "Ralph!"

"They're your fucking brats, Sue," Ralph said, and Sue stared. Ralph chewed his toast thoughtfully, then glanced up. "Don't tell me you're surprised. You know I never wanted--"

"You're not Ralph!" Sue said, more angry than anything else. She glanced out at the yard once more, her hands still shaking, but she curled them into fists and stopped trying to make the latch work. It was fading away already; you could never make these things work in dreams, and anyway if this wasn't her real husband then those weren't her real--


"Mrs. Dibny? Mrs.--"

"No!" Sue jerked reflexively against the grip of the stranger, then subsided. "Oh, God! Damn it!" She couldn't fucking believe she'd fallen for the same trick twice.

"This time keep your eyes closed!" the stranger gritted out. Sue nodded, bringing her own hand up and covering her own eyes as she gasped for breath. The man pulled his own hand away slowly. "And... please don't hit me," he added.

Sue choked on a laugh, rubbing tears away from her eyes. "What is happening? Where are we?"

Even as she spoke, even though she couldn't see, she was still trying to collect as much information as she could. Soft wind currents brushed against her hair, and the echoes of her voice and the strangers' bounced and faded, echoing around and around. All she could remember from her previous moment of lucidity was darkness, and a then a silver shimmer, and then... the illusions, again.

"My name's Piper-- uh, Hartley." said the stranger softly, relaxing his grip slightly. "I don't know if you remember, but we met at Wally's wedding reception a few years ago."

Hartley? Sue blinked. Actually, she did remember a red-headed young man about Wally's age, slim and serious-looking; he'd brought his boyfriend to the wedding reception, and probably because of that, she'd always assumed that the two were Linda's friends. Piper she remembered, as well-- he was one of Central City's Rogues, from way back in Barry and Ralph's heyday. She had known he'd gone clean, of course, and that he helped out Wally from time to time, but she hadn't connected him to the quiet young man at Wally and Linda's reception. "Oh," she said. "Oh, of course. Piper. Where's--" She caught herself before she said Wally, realizing that she didn't know who was listening. Or watching, for that matter. "--the Flash?"

"Caught in a mirror, like you were," Piper whispered.

Sue nodded, musing. "I assume this is Mirror Master's doing? Perfect worlds that turn into nightmares."

"Well, sort of. I was the one that disrupted the... the perfect worlds," Piper said, and Sue squinted against the dark. He whistled softly, three descending notes, and Sue's heart leapt, goosebumps prickling up and down her arms. "The mirrors are traps. They give you what you want; they lull you so that you don't try to wake up. I managed to use subsonics to cause... well, a nightmare. So that you'd try to wake up. I'm sorry, I-- I hope it wasn't too awful."

He sounded so damned sincere. Poor kid. Sue remembered suddenly that his parents had been wealthy, had moved in some of the same circles as her own parents had, back in the Crown Hills neighborhood of Central City. Before they'd been killed. Sue reached out blindly and patted him on the shoulder. "Well, don't worry about it, kid. I got you back for it, didn't I?"

Piper laughed. "You're a tough cookie, Mrs. Dibny."

It was more true than he knew, but still, Sue was strangely pleased. "You can call me Sue. Are we still in Opal City?"

"Yes," Piper said. "Your husband called in the Flash, and he brought me along-- I've been working on tech that will shield a person from Mirror Master's illusions. Unfortunately it's, uh, still experimental and didn't work out so well. So I'm stuck with the low tech solution of just keeping my damn eyes closed."

"He has Ralph, too, doesn't he," Sue suddenly realized. She reached out, grabbing at Piper and tangling her fingers in the cloak-like garment he was wearing around his shoulders. "Doesn't he?"

"Yes."

"Then why didn't you get him or Flash out first?" Sue demanded.

"Well, to be honest," Piper said, and coughed, "I figured I'd get you out first because you'd be, uh..." He mumbled the rest.

"I didn't catch that."

"Harmless, okay? I mean, if I tried to pull out Flash or your husband and they didn't snap out of it right away, well-- obviously I didn't want to get--" Piper stammered, and Sue laughed. "Obviously I underestimated you."

"Obviously," Sue said. She moved her hand to Piper's shoulder and used it to lever herself up, then waited until he was standing up too. Running her hand over the ragged edge of his cloak, she ripped off a wide strip of thick cloth and wound it around her eyes, knotting it in the back. Just to be sure. It was as if she were completely blind, and for a moment she shuddered, caught in a dark memory.

"Are you all right?" Piper asked.

"I don't like the dark," Sue admitted.

"Well, come on," Piper said, reaching out and sliding his hand down her arm to her hand. "Let's get you outside."

Sue took his hand, following him for a few steps, then stopped. "We should-- We should try to find Flash and Ralph."

"Look, this isn't a game," Piper said grimly. "Mirror Master is dangerous--"

"And I have a micro-circuitry communicator in my left earring that'll bring half the Justice League down on this rat trap in under a second... but what fun is that?" Sue felt odd, bold and frightened at once. "Listen to me. My husband is in there and if you think I'm leaving this building without him, you've got another think coming." Was this how Ralph felt when he threw himself into the fray? She couldn't imagine that it was, couldn't imagine he felt this queasy and lost in the face of overwhelming odds. She pictured him in her head, taking strength from the image and from the remembered feel of his arms around her.

Maybe he did that too, she thought, and was comforted by it.

Piper had been silent for a while, and Sue took a deep breath, waiting for him to respond. Finally she squeezed his hand, hard. "Well?"

"Well-- okay," Piper said. He took her hand and moved it up so that she was touching her own face, and he was gripping her by the elbow. "You just keep your hand on that earring."

"Worry-wart," Sue said, and swallowed hard. "Come on. Let's go save the day."

"You're awfully optimistic. I'm not sure if that encourages me or scares me."

"Huh, well, why shouldn't I be?" Sue asked as Piper began to lead them through the maze of dark mirrors. She'd meant to be joking, but still couldn't help letting a bit of dark sarcasm into her voice. "Isn't this the best of all possible worlds?"

Piper laughed grimly, beside her in the dark. "Again, not sure whether to be encouraged or scared, here."

"Don't worry. I'll protect you," Sue said. She was mostly joking, but she still curled her free hand into a fist. Just in case.

Together, they made their way further into the maze.

(end)