Author's note: So, here it is. My final chapter. Probably ever. I'll have another, longer author's note at the end of this chapter.
January 27, 2017
It was a nice day. The sun was out and it gave a nice warmth that made it pleasant to be outside. Melissa was helping Sam to build a little snowman, while Juliet jumped into a snowbank with a black-and-white puppy. Julien sat inside, working on an essay.
"They're here," Holly announced. "Coming from the northwest."
Melissa and Juliet stood and looked. A shuttle was barely visible. They could see a soft glow emerge from it, and rush ahead of it. Al came in fast, grabbed Melissa, and rose into the sky while kissing her. "Aww," Juliet grinned. "Ack!" she shouted in surprise when Eddie appeared out of nowhere.
"Hey, Jules," Eddie said. He teleported to Sam. "I figured I should keep an eye on Sam until Al and Mel are done."
"I'm so glad you're back!" Juliet said. She ran over to give him a hug. They disengaged as the shuttle settled down and the door opened.
Bailey was the first one out, shouting, "We're back, bitches! Holy shit, I forgot it was winter here! I'm going inside!" She ran for the house.
"Hey, Jules!" Victor said as he exited the shuttle, followed by Rallina. Janet came out last, as Al and Melissa floated back down to the ground.
"We should join Bailey and Julien inside," Janet said. She glanced at the puppy. "Clearly, we all have stories to share."
The next few minutes were spent in excited greetings, introducing Rallina, and talking about how much Sam had grown. "So what was space like?" Juliet finally asked, no longer able to contain herself. "And how's Katie?"
"Dead," Al replied bluntly. "She blew herself up taking out a monster."
". . . Oh," Juliet said quietly.
"God, that's terrible. How'd Stephen take it?" Melissa asked.
"He stole a ship, so we have no idea where he even is now," Al said. "So, not great?"
"Poor Steve," Melissa said, shaking her head. "I can only imagine what he's going through. I know how crushed I would be if something happened to Ronnie. And I have other family; Steve's alone. We should find him and help him."
"We can't help him if he doesn't want to be helped," Juliet said. "I will search for him. But there may be nothing we can do for him."
"He was one of us," Juliet said. "We owe it to him to try."
"I have to agree with Janet," Rallina said. "I think Stephen will only resent any attempts to help him."
"So hey," Eddie said. "Before we just depress ourselves any more, can I just ask about the dog real quick?"
"What do you want to know?" Juliet asked.
"What's with the dog?"
"Her name is Elsa, she's a huskie-lab mix, she's three months old, and she is the best puppy." She scratched behind the dog's ears.
"Elsa? As in, from Frozen?"
"Yeah. Why not? It's a good movie. It's Brittany's favourite movie. And, you know, husky. They're, like, a winter breed, right? So it fits."
"Fair enough," Eddie laughed, leaning over to pet the dog.
"Is it really a good idea for us to keep a dog?" Al asked. "I mean, given the lives we lead? There's always the risk that we need to abandon the house in a hurry."
"Her needs are easily met," Holly said. "Food can be delivered, and robots can feed her and clean up after her. Local children already play with her, so even the need for companionship can be met in the event of an extended absence."
"And what happens the next time the house is attacked? The dog'll be killed."
"I can design a short-range teleport to be worn as a collar," Janet said. "It would take Elsa to my lab. She would be perfectly safe there."
"You can't think this is a good idea," Al said to Janet.
"I certainly do," Janet told him. "Even setting aside the normal benefits of pet ownership, it will be very good for you, Eddie, Bailey and Victor. There is extensive documentation on the effectiveness of dogs in treating PTSD." She turned to Rallina. "I apologize, but I cannot confirm if the same holds true for your people."
"It's fine," Rallina said. "I don't even know what you're talking about."
"I think it's a great idea," Eddie said. "I'd forgotten about dogs helping with PTSD. Maybe we should get a couple more."
"Let's stick with one, for now," Bailey said. She watched Elsa warily.
"Oh. Right. Will you be OK with a dog in the house?"
"I'll be fine. It's not like I'm actually phobic. I had some bad experiences, but I've come across plenty of friendly dogs, too."
"I'm still not sure about this," Al said.
"Look, we needed this dog," Julien said sharply. "We needed something to make us feel better. Trump won the election. Donald fucking Trump is the new President of the United States of America."
Everyone went silent as Juliet buried her face in her hands. "You have to be fucking kidding me," Eddie said. "The guy was a Democrat for years, how did-"
"Eddie," Melissa cut him off. She held Sam closer. "It's way, way worse than you can even imagine. Read up on the campaign later. But for now, we should try to be happy we're all together again."
"Ah, shit," Bailey said. "I think Trump might have been President in my timeline, and the few comments I heard about him were bad. I don't know if he's, like, 'where it all went wrong' and all. He was gone before I was even born, but I did hear enough talk to know he made things a lot worse for supers."
"His campaign did stoke fears about supers," Holly said. "The SUPER Act is expected to pass easily, requiring all superhumans and extraterrestrials to register with the government."
"Is that even Constitutional?" Al asked.
"Like Trump cares about the Constitution?" Juliet asked angrily, startling Elsa, whose head was in her lap. "He wants to ban Muslims. His VP supports torturing gays. He won because Republicans engaged in voter suppression. These assholes don't care about the Constitution any more than they care about people who aren't straight white Christian men. I'm scared, now, to present as male. I fought an actual supervillain a few months ago, and presenting as male scares me more than that did. Because I know trans people online who've been attacked. As a queer girl, I am scared." Tears fell from her eyes. She buried her face in her hands again. "I'm sorry." She dropped her hands. "I'm sorry. Some days, I'm OK. Some days, it's tough."
"It's been an emotional time," Melissa agreed. "But, hey, who's hungry? Why don't I go make some lunch?"
"I'll help ya," Victor said. "It's been so long, I need to get back inta the hang'a cookin'."
"Yeah, cool. Let's go see what we've got!" Melissa handed Sam to Al, and went to the kitchen with Victor, leaving the rest sitting in silence.
"So," Rallina finally said awkwardly. "Have I mentioned I think you have a nice home?"
Juliet giggled, then burst out laughing. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to make things awkward."
"It's fine," Rallina said with a smile. "I understand. I remember when I was young, there was a lot of talk of doing away with the Queen. It led to a lot of heated discussions."
"Which side did you take?" Juliet asked.
"My family favoured abolishing the throne, but they weren't vocal about it. They treated it as a hypothetical question. One of my older brothers was a strict loyalist, and cut off contact with us. He never did reconcile with us. He died a while ago, when some safety equipment failed while exploring some world's oceans."
"Aw, I'm sorry."
"I got over it a while ago. I'm just saying that I understand how emotional politics can be. I wanted to ask, though, what was it you called yourself? A keer?"
"Queer? It means, uh." She paused, not knowing how to explain it to an alien. "Julien, help?"
"This might take some time," Julien said.
. . .
In the kitchen, Melissa kept looking at Victor and looking away, opened and closed her mouth, and generally fidgeted while helping prepare some tacos. "Awright, awready!" Victor said. "What's wrong?"
"It's . . . I'm not sure I want to talk about it," Melissa replied. She was slowly chopping green onion.
"Ya pretty clearly wanna talk 'bout it. So talk. Is it somethin' t' do with Rallina?" He was browning some beef in two separate pans.
"No. No, of course not. She seems nice, and if she makes you happy, then that's good enough for me."
"Then what's up?"
Melissa put down the knife and put her hands on the counter. She was silent for a long time as she internally argued with herself. "I want to tell you," she said quietly. "I do. But I can't. I can't talk about it yet. It's something I need to talk to my therapist about first."
"That serious?" Melissa nodded. "Man. Now ya got me worried. Jus' tell me you're not dyin'."
"I'm not dying."
"Awright. Then whatever it is, you can deal."
She smiled. "Thanks."
. . .
"I know it's impolite to bring up politics over lunch," Eddie began.
"Then don't," Melissa cut in. She splashed some hot sauce over her taco.
"We need to talk about the SUPER Act," he continued. "We need to figure out where we stand."
"I'm opposed," Melissa said without looking up from the lettuce she was putting on her taco. "Trump and the Republicans can go fuck themselves. I'm not telling them a damned thing about me."
"I can't say that I really care much either way," Al shrugged. "So I guess I'm with her."
"That would have been more useful three months ago," she muttered. Al gave her a confused look. "Never mind." She finally bit into her taco.
"Look, the law is the law," Eddie said. "Being a superhero is all about keeping people safe, right? Well, people don't feel safe with how things have been for the past few years. This is a chance for change. To make things better."
"This was inevitable," Janet said. She put down her own taco. "That it didn't happen sooner is stunning, though it does demonstrate just how little the Republican Party wanted accomplished while Obama was President."
"See, even the genius is on board," Eddie said around a mouthful of food.
"I will not register," Janet shook her head. "Quite the contrary, I will be working against the database by assisting superhumans in registering false information, or otherwise remaining private."
"So you're going to undermine the will of the democratically-elected government?"
"Hillary won the popular vote," Juliet pointed out.
"He's just upset because it's plagiarism of the Republicans undermining Obama for eight years," Melissa said.
"I have an inherent mistrust of authority," Janet said, "especially when that authority wishes to put people in a database for what they are, rather than what they do."
"Damn right," Melissa agreed around a mouthful of food.
"I would remind you all that I am not infallible," Janet added. "I am not free of bias. My opinions are my opinions, and in this instance, are no more or less likely to be correct than those of anyone else."
"What's the TLDR?" Victor asked. His taco was half-finished already.
"Make up your own damn minds," Janet summarized, picking her taco back up.
"So I wanna hear Jules' story 'bout fightin' a supervillain," Victor said.
"Oh, that," Juliet said with false modesty. "It was nothing, not worth talking about."
"If you say so. So Julien, how's school-"
"It was a few months ago," Juliet launched into her story. "August. I was in New York, just having a fun day, doing some shopping, looking at cute boys and girls, you know, that sort of thing. When, out of nowhere, these guys run out of a high-end clothing shop. Well, they were clearly thieves, and there was no way I was going to let them go."
Her story went on for a long time, well past the end of lunch, but finally, she reached the climax. "So, Guardian Angel is struggling, the powered armour just too much for him to take. There's no way he's going to be able to reach the computer in time. And I have no way across the big hole in the floor. Things look bad. But, I still have the bow and arrows. So I nock an arrow, take aim," she mimes aiming an arrow, and pauses for effect, "and I fire. And I cut the wires that power the system, so the whole thing shuts down. Power armour and all. And that. . . is how I teamed up with Guardian Angel and defeated a supervillain."
"Great job," Eddie said. "That's great! Congratulations!"
"Hey, we're all proud a' ya, kid," Victor said.
"Of course, the best part of the last year was that I got to kiss a girl," Juliet added proudly. "She, uh, she turned out to definitely be straight. But still! I kissed a girl!"
"So it's been an eventful year for you, is what you're saying," Eddie said.
"Yep. Eventful for Julien, too. He got Phoebe pregnant."
"What?!" Al, Eddie, Victor and Bailey all exclaimed together.
"Uh," Julien said awkwardly.
"It's true," Melissa said. "She's due in April."
"How did that happen?" Eddie asked.
"The usual way," Melissa said. "Do you need some diagrams?"
"Mel," Eddie sighed.
"Look, I had to deal with this shit months ago, by myself, so now, you guys get me being snarky about it, all right?"
"Sounds fair ta me," Victor chuckled.
"I take it humans don't normally have children when they're young?" Rallina said.
"It varies by region, culture, economic status," Janet said.
"Ah. Much like the Empire, then."
"Still surprisin' that Julien would be so irresponsible," Victor said. "You should'a known better, kid. Wear a glove!"
"I know, I know," Julien groaned.
"So what are you going to do?" Eddie asked. "Are you going to college, or getting a job, or what?"
"I'll be going to college," Julien explained quickly, obviously wanting the topic over. "She'll stay home to take care of the baby, at least for the first couple years, then she'll go to college, too. That's how she wanted to do it."
"Well, as long as you've got it figured out, I guess," Eddie said, shaking his head.
"You figure on a name yet?" Victor asked.
"Not yet," Julien shook his head. "We've got some ideas, but." He shrugged. "Anyway, I actually wanted to go see her for a little while. Do you guys mind?"
"Nah, go ahead!" Victor said. "Have fun."
"Al and I will go into the city," Melissa said.
"Why?" Al asked.
"Because it's been months and I've missed you, asshole," she replied with a frown.
"Oh. OK, I guess."
"I figure I'll take Rallina into Albany," Victor said. "Show 'er 'round an Earth city."
"Cool," Eddie said, "I'll catch up on the political stuff I've missed."
Elsa barked and hopped around. "And I'll walk the dog," Juliet said.
"Wow," Bailey said. "We've been back for, like, two hours, and we're already splitting up to do our own things? This isn't taking long, is it?"
"Everyone wishes to spend time with those they care about," Janet said. "It's understandable. If you wish, I will join you in whatever activity you wish to engage in."
"Did you admit to caring about me?" Bailey teased.
"Of course. You're a good friend."
"Aww, you care! We should hug!"
"Or not," Janet declined.
Author's note: So, that's it. The end of The Champions. I tried with it. I did. I started writing it in 2011. I'd been dumped by my fiance, lost my job, and had to move back in with my mom. It was a miserable time for me. So I decided, what the hell, I'd start writing a superhero story I had some ideas for. I think my original goal was to go for, like, 10 years or something. For a while, I enjoyed writing the story, and started to think that maybe I could just keep it going pretty much indefinitely. Clearly, I couldn't. Ultimately, the lack of feedback got to me. It means I was writing this story for myself, and that wasn't enough for me.
On top of that, I grew increasingly frustrated with my own writing. I posted each chapter a few weeks after I finished it. Which meant there was time for editing grammar and stuff like that, but not much time for editing ideas. I was writing a first draft and calling it finished. It was a poor way of going about it. If I'm honest, the smart thing to do would be to go back to the start and re-write the whole thing. But that is way more effort than I'm prepared to put in, so, not happening.
I do feel disappointed that I'm abandoning quite a few ideas I had. A year-long arc of traveling through various dimensions. A couple new Champions line-ups. Victor nearly dying. A battle between gods. I had quite a lot of things I wanted to do in the story, and I'll never get around to them. So that's a little disappointing. Oh well.
I do want to thank you for reading. Only a small number of you stuck it out this far. (Each new chapter had about a dozen visitors. So my readership, for a long time, has been a dozen people.) I appreciate those of you who did. So, thanks for reading.