|Fic: Dignity Left to Lose
||[Jul. 15th, 2009|12:57 am]
All Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, all the time!
Title: Dignity Left to Lose
Genre: Angsty fluff (or is it fluffy angst?)
Word Count: 5919
Summary: "Tune in next week, when I explain Booster and Gladys!" I never actually thought I'd DO it. But this bunny just... it bit me, and then I couldn't stop writing until it got out of my head, all in one go. Still no beta. :( Takes place in that quiet piece of continuity after Extreme Justice when Booster is out of the spotlight. I tacitly assumed he worked solo, as did Ted. God, I hope my Booster's in character.
Booster Gold has just been asked to leave, and he obeys. Even though they're likely not friends anymore, so obedience is no longer a requirement, but habit and all.
Booster knows his career's out the window the moment the paper comes out tomorrow, but there's a charity ball tonight, full of people looking to hire a spokesman, and if he can just get a contract tonight...
He reaches the charity ball late, but fashionably so, and when he arrives, his hair has been combed, his dirty clothes have been changed, cologne covers up the sweat, and his smile is pasted on.
He feels terrible, but he looks good, and that's when he meets Gladys Thatcher.
* * *
It's not that Gladys looks particularly noteworthy. She has the delicate, frail look of sixty-year-old women in this time and the stretched angle to her features that speak of face-lifts. Her smile is as big, bright, and artificial as Booster's is, and when she looks at him over her wineglass, he can tell that she knows it.
He knows vaguely who Gladys Thatcher is, but only from scuttlebutt you pick up at these parties. She's an aging trophy wife, living off what she inherited from her oil magnate husband, who died before Booster came on the scene. She still goes to charity balls and donates to posterity, but as far as he knows, does little else; she's certainly not involved in any big business.
In other words, she has no need to hire a spokesman, and Booster has no reason to chew the fat with her. But they see each other over a wineglass, and without either of them saying a thing, they approach each other.
"I know you," she says. "You're that golden boy."
No, he's not, not since a quarter to five this evening, but even though she's not in the newspaper business, he feels like she knows this already, and that she doesn't mind.
So he spends his last night with a reputation talking to Gladys Thatcher about how dull these charity balls really are. He drinks more wine than he should, and she talks more personally than she should, and once the masks come off, she confides that it has taken all her training not to stare at his ass when he's in costume. All in that demure, slightly batty old woman voice that he suspects is mostly an act.
And Booster laughs for real out of pure pleasure and surprise. Giving her his roguish self-promoter's grin and a wink, he improvises a quiet speech for Booster Gold private lap-dancing lessons and as an extra flourish, he hands her his card, which makes her laugh. Booster would too, except that would ruin his best "you WANT this used car" face.
Once she finishes, he gets slightly more serious and tells her that well, his reputation may go up and down, his career may have its lows, but at least he'll always have his ass and shiny tights.
She pats his arm and says that she certainly hopes so; you have to have some certainty in life, don't you know.
* * *
The papers come out the next morning. Booster doesn't read them; he sees his name on the front page and tosses the whole section into the recycle bin. Then he sits down with a mug of coffee and some waffles, reads the funnies, and waits for the phone to ring.
He loses three commissions within the day, and decided it might be better not to do his evening patrols for a while.
He considers calling Ted and asking how he's holding up, but he's not sure if that would just make things worse. Ted probably doesn't want to speak to him now any more than he did last night. Still, it seems callous to NOT say anything. So he nervously looks back and forth from Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes to the phone, wondering what to do.
When it rings, he nearly dives on it. It can't be an employer; they've all fired him already.
"Hello?" He's so sure it's Ted that he forgets the usual greeting regarding Booster Gold International.
But the voice that asks him, "How are you holding up?" is a woman's voice, slightly creaky with age.
It seems she kept his card from the night before. It seems that she both remembers him and is concerned. Which is more than he can say for anyone else.
And so he answers her honestly. "I'll tell you when I know."
* * *
Time passes. Ted doesn't call, and Booster finds life goes smoother if he doesn't leave the house for much. He has plenty of food in the fridge, the best entertainment center that money can buy, a private gym, and a posh apartment he was never able to fully utilize, what with all his work. Now he has nothing but time.
He watches old Cary Grant movies and Sesame Street. He avoids the comedy channels, because the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, and Martin and Lewis depress him. He avoids the news like the plague. Morbid curiosity pricks at him, wondering just what exactly they're saying about him, but he decides that when in doubt, it truly is best not to know.
He considers calling some of his old Justice Leaguers, but he decides that if they haven't called him, it's probably best not to bother them. They're probably too busy saving the world from sinister interstellar starfish to care about gossip.
He gets a lot of calls, but they're all from tabloids and newspapers wanting the inside scoop. After a while, it gets easier just to not answer his phone at all. His answering machine is a better reception. When even that gets too much, he pulls the thing out of the wall. If people want to talk to him, they can come and visit in person.
Unfortunately, the press isn't that easy to put off. Go figure that the most attention he's ever gotten from them is the one time he wants absolutely nothing to do with them. The media man in him knows that he's only making things worse by not coming up with even a "no comment" or, better, an explanation carefully denying, deflecting, and devaluing the work of the reporter who caught him. But he finds he doesn't have the heart for it.
"You must be getting soft," he tells himself in the bathroom mirror. "You used to bend the truth for a living. You know they aren't going to stop."
But he still can't bring himself to do it. It's easier to just avoid the news entirely and let it stay in the gentler embraces of memory. It seems less tawdry that way.
At first, he blesses the people who invented the peephole in the door. Then he realizes there's no point when the only people who show up are the ones you don't want to see. So he stops answering his door entirely. He doubts even the most devoted paparazzi will climb forty floors, so he figures that if it's someone in the superhero circle, they'll just go to his bedroom window.
Nobody does. Booster wonders if he should be surprised. Half of him expected Batman to show up in his bedroom, glowering at him and muttering something about personal and public business.
He stops shaving too. It seems too much of a bother.
When he realizes that he hasn't left the house in a week, he considers doing something about it. That lasts about five seconds; then he goes back to watching Maury.
* * *
He wakes up at seven in the morning to a rapping on his door.
Booster sighs. He rolls over, pulls the pillow over his head, and proceeds to ignore, ignore, ignore. It seems to be working so far.
The rapping doesn't stop. It's quiet but insistent, to the point that Booster wonders if a large, angry woodpecker is attacking him. Perhaps it's a new supervillain just starting out. That'd be a nice change. He burrows deeper under the covers and waits. What supervillain is cruel enough to attack at seven in the morning?
It takes a while, but Booster finally realizes the rapping is not going away. If he's not going to answer the door, apparently his caller hopes to annoy him to death. It's been a while since he's really felt anything, but apparently he is still not quite immune to annoyance.
Finally, after twenty minutes of rapping (it's devolved into a slow steady rhythm, as though the caller is getting as sick of this as he is), he gives up.
"All right, ALL RIGHT," he mumbles, throwing back the blankets. He considers getting dressed, combing his hair. He decides his reputation is already beyond salvaging, so putting on pants can't really do much. "I'm up. You got me. Give up, I'm only going to say 'no comment...'"
Except when he checks the peephole, there's nobody there.
Well, this is a bit new. Now slightly curious on top of the annoyed, Booster opens the door.
He realizes there IS actually somebody at the door. It's just that Gladys Thatcher is such a tiny, stooped woman, she doesn't come up to the peephole. She's standing there, arms crossed, leaning on her cane, giving him a disapproving look over her glasses. She's wearing pearls and a cocktail dress.
Booster has to give her credit; she looks a lot better at seven in the morning than he does.
"Michael Jon Carter," she tells him sternly, "you are a VERY difficult man to get a hold of."
He blinks at her owlishly. "Gladys." He's still too groggy to summon a proper exclamation point.
But she's not paying attention. She looks at him and clucks disapprovingly. "Look at you. You've regressed. What have you eaten lately?"
"Um..." truth be told, he can't remember.
She cups his face in her hands, turns it one way, then the other, as though checking his bone structure. Whatever her inspection, he passes... barely. Her hands are delicate and soft, very different. Then she lets him up.
"Come on. Get dressed."
Her tone makes him automatically want to obey, but he hesitates. "Why?"
She gives him a stern look. "I know you've holed yourself up here, because the news is going gaga over you. I know you aren't talking to anyone, because I've called you no less than eight times and come to your door twice. Shame on you, Michael, making a poor old woman wait. You have no idea what all these stairs do to my hip..."
"You've been trying to get to me?" Had he slunk that deep into torpor? He feels the week's growth on his chin and winces.
"Of course I have. I need a man with a nice booty in tight pants at the moment. Now get dressed. I'm getting you something to eat."
Gladys is a tiny, wizened old woman. Her voice is quiet and polite, like an elderly aunt. Booster has known her for all of a few hours at a charity ball.
He obeys her faster than he obeyed Batman half the time.
* * *
Gladys tuts over Booster's hair, and refuses to leave the complex with him until he combs it and shaves. She then rides down the elevator with him with all the dignity of a visiting duchess, and leaves with him on her arm, much to the astonishment of the doorman.
Gladys drives them herself, much to Booster's surprise. Not just because she could easily afford a chauffeur, but because her driving is as terrifying as some supervillains. She wavers over the traffic lines constantly, gets her windshield wipers instead of her turn signal half the time, and says, "oh dear, was that red?" at least twice. It's astonishing her Bentley is still in one piece.
Booster has to admit: if her plan is to get him back in touch with his emotions, it's working. He's terrified.
Gladys takes him out for pumpkin soup, croissants, and ice water with slices of lemon, and she makes sure he eats every bite. She herself has a salad with chopped walnuts and cranberries, along with a couple multi-vitamins. She chatters about the weather, about the charity ball, and about gossip--but only about others, and only the usual harmless stuff about Mrs. So-and-so and her parakeet. The only thing she DOESN'T discuss is superheroes.
He finds it refreshing.
* * *
She takes him back to her mansion, and Booster doesn't think to protest. After spending so much time in front of his TV, it's nice to be somewhere else and having someone besides himself to think about. Once there, she shows him around and keeps him busy, constantly asking his assistance to reach things on high shelves, or put things back up for her. When she asks if he could sweep the floor, she does it so politely, so hopefully, that he can't really say no. (After all, it's not as though he has anything better to do. He's seen all the Dallas reruns.)
Booster never considered himself much in the area of housekeeping, but he finds that sweeping the floor actually helps him feel better. There's something soothing about the simple repetition. He practically volunteers to vacuum. When he's finished with that, he finds her in the garden, doing something with begonias. She's still in her pearls and cocktail dress, but seems to have a gift for keeping it clean.
"Here, dear, would you water the ivy?" She says, handing him a large watering can. "I'm afraid I have trouble holding it for long, at my age."
The watering can IS rather heavy, so Booster agrees. The ivy looks a bit confused at which way it's supposed to grow. Gladys apparently isn't much of a gardener. Still, Booster waters the ivy, and he realizes that for the first time since the news hit, he feels like a human being again. Not a superhero, just a human being. He's not sure what he thinks about that.
When the watering can is empty, he returns to her, to find her plucking off snails and tossing them in a compost heap.
"Thank you, thank you, Michael," she says, and flashes him a large, bright grin. Booster finds him smiling back at her, and he realizes he's now sure what he thinks about it: it's a nice change. For now.
After the garden is taken care of, they bake cookies, of all things. Gladys has apparently never done it in her life, which Booster shouldn't find surprising, but does. He's from the future, and HE knows how to make cookies. Some things never go out of style.
In the resulting culinary madness, Booster gets covered in flour, and Gladys's pearls end up in the eggs. They finally give up and just eat the dough, while Gladys continues discussing the various little societal scandals that happen in the old upper crust of the loaf of white bread that constitutes the local high society.
It's while discussing Colonel Flaubergine's young new mistress that Gladys brings up her own experiences with the media.
"It's terrible," she says, as she nibbles some dough. "I understand the need to make money however you can--I'm a trophy wife, after all--but you'd think there would be more important things going on than what rich old people like us do. It's not as though we're curing cancer or anything."
Booster shrugs and licks a beater. "Gives people something to be scandalized over, I suppose. Puts some spice in life."
"Can't they be scandalized about something else? Surely they can give their lives spice themselves. Anyone can get a young man, a pair of handcuffs, and a Wonder Woman costume, really..."
"Gladys, your imagination is filthier than I ever thought."
She gives him a snooty look over the mixing bowl. "Michael, that is NO imagination, and I'm insulted that you would think otherwise."
Booster almost chips a tooth on the beater. "No! You didn't really...!"
"Of course, Michael dear, I'm a kinky old woman. Old women are not supposed to be kinky, and after their husbands die, they are expected to quietly toil in celibacy for the rest of their lives."
Booster throws back his head and laughs. There's just something about the look of dignified annoyance on Gladys's face that gets him. "So you weren't just joking about the tight pants."
She pats his knee. "I wear glasses, Michael, but I'm not blind. Just because I'm sixty doesn't mean I can't appreciate a good-looking man who's young enough to be my grandson. Don't worry, I will be a complete lady towards you. Anyway, my cook sold my schedule to the press, they came, and they caught me. Ended up splashing me all over the newspapers, a year or so back. It was really quite dreadful and tacky."
"Really? I didn't know that." Then again, Booster hadn't had any reason to care about Gladys Thatcher until a few weeks ago, and he tended to skip the gossip columns in favor of business and worldwide news. "You really are a naughty old bat."
"Naughty old bat, indeed." She smacks his stomach playfully. "And yet you don’t seem surprised. Am I obvious?"
Booster snorts. "I saw Guy Gardner with Ice. After that, nothing shocks me anymore. It just makes me like you more."
She ruffles his hair and offers him more cookie dough. Later, he has to credit her ability to bring her own embarrassing media story into the light without mentioning his own. It helps to know he's not the first person who's gotten into trouble.
At least now he knows why he hasn't seen any servants in the house, and why she drives herself.
* * *
It's a bit of a stretch to go from having huge, buff, superhuman company to having small, frail, trophy widow company, but Booster finds it comfortable enough. He goes every day and takes care of menial work for Gladys. Tries to cook something, because she never learned how. Scrubs her floor because her hip doesn’t let her bend like that for long periods. Cracks jokes about her just having a houseboy kink, while she shakes her gladiolas at him and says with her best little old lady dignity that of COURSE she has a houseboy kink, can't he tell? Now scrub harder!
He visits her every day now, though never at seven in the morning. She never calls him anything but Michael, and she never asks him about his costume, or what he did--does--for a living. She treats him like he's... ordinary. Handsome and good for helping her take care of her house, but ordinary.
It's incredibly domestic, and relaxing. They both carefully don't mention the twenties she leaves in his jacket pockets, and that he's been selling his furniture. His insulated bubble is shrinking, but it hasn't popped yet.
Booster knows it's coming, though. A genius, he's not, but he knows his arithmetic: the money you spend has to be less than what you earn. And right now, he's earning nothing. He doesn't bother looking for commissions anymore; he knows they're not coming. Unfortunately, although he expected a rise and fall in income, he never expected a complete cut-off like this; his savings aren't what they should be.
He's already sold everything that he can get rid of quickly and without publicity. The gym is gone, the entertainment center is gone, and he sleeps in his recliner now. (Which is fine; according to Gladys it's better for the back anyway.) He knows he has to move out of his penthouse soon--he can't keep paying rent this high--but he can't bring himself to move just yet. If only because he knows going out to hunt for real estate will only bring the media down on him like an asteroid shower. His lease lasts another month; he can figure it out then.
He plugs his phone back in, but Ted still doesn't call. The only person he calls who he really wants to speak to is Gladys, which is fine. She seems determined to keep him out of his funk, and so far, she's done an excellent job.
Better to live in that bubble with her for a bit.
* * *
"I have to move out," Booster tells her one evening.
She pats his head without looking away from the Golden Girls. "I know. Do you have anywhere you'd like to be?"
Booster sighs and settles back against the sofa. "To be honest, I've been trying to avoid the inevitable. It's a bad time to be looking for a new place to live, what with my image right now."
It's the first time they've mentioned that Booster is anything but an ordinary man going through a rough patch.
"I can imagine." She takes a deep breath, and folds her hands in her lap. When she looks at him, he recognizes her expression as the one she carefully composes for delicate matters. "Michael, how would you feel about living here?"
"Here? You mean, like..." he waves his hand around the lush mansion. "HERE, here?"
She nods. "You might have noticed I don't have anyone living in this old box with me. To be honest, it's too big for me, but the mortgage is paid, and moving and sorting through forty years of accumulated junk is too much for someone my age. I haven't had anyone living here since the Wonder Woman debacle; a matter of trust, you see."
"I understand that."
"I'm afraid that I'm too old to keep up with the big place myself--you've already noticed, I'm sure. Understand I never meant any false pretense, it just seems to have... well..."
"Turned out that way?"
"Yes. If you were interested, I'd pay your room and board, and a living wage. None of this uniform, yes madam, no madam stuff; you're my friend who would help me get around a little, that's all."
"Oh, you can't need my help. You look great for your age, Gladys."
"Such flattery." She says, but she says it smiling. She holds up her cane and pats her leg. "But I am sixty-two. It's not good for someone my age to live in a house all alone. I did fine without the servants for a while, but I broke this hip not long ago; it's healed but I'm afraid I'm not quite as mobile as I used to be." An idea seems to come to her, and she looks concerned. "Of course, don't take this as a bait and switch. Say the word and I'll never mention it again; I enjoy your company, however you choose to gift me with it. You're a young man, you don't need a naughty old bat rushing you around making you clean clocks and things..."
"I don't know," Booster confesses. "About now, being a naughty old bat's clock-cleaner doesn't sound half bad..."
She smacks him lightly. "You make it sound so prurient!"
"I'm a young man known for tight pants living with a kinky old woman! How can it be anything BUT prurient? Would you rather me in costume when I bend over to clean your floors?"
She goes, "oh you, of course I would," but the joke helps break the tension, but after a moment of quiet chuckling, she asks, in a quiet, vulnerable voice, "Are you interested? In all seriousness, you don't have to wear the costume; that I was joking about."
He kisses her cheek, and it means yes.
* * *
And so Booster becomes a houseboy. He figures that in such a situation, he can cut and run if necessary. It's not as though Gladys is an overwhelming personality.
But as it is, it is remarkably easy. He simply packs up his stuff when the lease runs out, moves into the empty guest room upstairs, and that's that. Things don't really change; he'd been spending most of his time at Gladys's place lately anyway. The work doesn't really grow much. He helps her with the high shelves, the stairs, helps clean and cook a little bit (though they still order pizza too often). She does her gardening and watches Golden Girls. They both quietly acknowledge that the news won't ever be mentioned or watched while Booster's in the vicinity.
They start discussing superheroes a little, but only in a detached way, while watching the old cartoons on TV.
"Superman or Batman, Gladys?"
"Oh, Batman, Michael, always Batman. Superman is always so POLITE. Batman you just want to bend over your knee and spank!"
"My ass is better."
"How would you know? He could hide anything under that cape."
"Trust me, he got bitten by a Joker shark early in his career."
"Oh, very true. Trust me, mine is MUCH better. You can put the teeth marks on yourself and know that you're the first!"
He tells her little silly stories about his time with the Justice League and the Conglomerate. About the time he saved Reagan, and the Uberbot, and when J'onn went to jail. It's almost impossible NOT to mention Ted when he reminisces about the glory days, but he tries to keep it short and moves on quickly. His best buddy becomes a regular cameo, and not much else.
Then one day, she asks, rather delicately, "The Blue Beetle... you don't mention him very much. Was he a friend of yours?"
Booster is positive she must know. Gladys is old and plays a bit dotty, but she's no fool. She's seen the news, when he isn't present, and she's known him long enough now to be able to make a pretty good guess at how much is true, and how much isn't. She's just been polite enough to never ask, really, until now.
So he sighs, and says, "Yes. Yes he was."
"I'll get the wine," she says, pats his knee, and goes to fetch it.
So Booster wastes a fair amount of very good wine in shocking time, and he tells her about the Blue Beetle. Nothing immensely personal--the time they stole J'onn's cookies, Kooey Kooey Kooey, the infamous mousetrap. You know, silly stories, entertaining stories. Stories you tell when you're smashed on wine and want to make people laugh.
He's pretty certain he almost says Ted's civilian name at least twice, and he's crying before the hour’s out.
And Gladys, being Gladys, hugs him, gives him Kleenex, and says, "Oh Michael," a few times. She fetches him leftover cookies and a glass of milk, and wraps him in a hideous old quilt that smells like dust and rose oil. Booster doesn't protest when she puts his head in her lap and pets his hair.
"You loved him, didn't you?"
Booster cringes. Somehow, it sounds a lot worse voiced than it was sitting quietly around in his head. "I still like women," he emphasizes. "And I don't have AIDS."
"I never said you didn't, and I never said you did," she chastises. "Anyone who spends time with you for five minutes knows that." She scratches him behind the ear lightly.
Well, as long as she knows, then. He mulls it over a bit and shrugs. "Yeah. Bug-loving pain in the ass, with his gizmos and his zany schemes and his stupid weight problem." He needs more wine. When he gropes for his glass, Gladys places the bottle into his hand. God bless the old bat.
"Might spill this on the blanket," he warns her.
"I've got four more in the cedar chest, and I always hated that old thing anyway," she replies, patting him. "Drink up."
"Can I ask what happened?" She inquired.
He snorts. "You've seen the news. You know what happened."
"I WAS on the news, Michael. There's a difference between what happened, and what they say happened. Always."
Fair enough. He considers it, shrugs. He's already the old woman's houseboy; she's seen him covered in flour and Alfredo sauce, plucking slugs off her tomato plants, and unclogging her toilet. It's not like he has much dignity left to lose.
"I finally got up the guts to tell him. We'd known each other for so long, I thought it'd be okay. It wasn't." He takes another gulp of wine. "Like that wasn't bad enough, found out some reporter had caught us coming off patrol, hoped to figure out his identity--mine's always been public. Not like he's been careful about it either, but... well, the guy tailed us, and I was so busy being nervous about telling him I didn't see him, and Beetle was too busy telling some corny joke and…" Booster makes a swan-dive motion with his hand. "Not like the tabloids haven't played that game since '88. But..."
"They really caught you that time," Gladys finishes for him.
Booster sighs. "I kissed him. It was an idiot thing to do, but it was easier than talking. I'm just lucky he didn't break my jaw."
The memory is still tucked away in the back of his head somewhere. As bad as Booster feels about it, he still doesn't feel quite awful enough to deny it all. Not when he takes glances at the memory of Ted's mouth against his every once in a while. It had been nice, for the split second it'd lasted.
And then the flashbulb had gone off, and they'd all gone to Hell in a handbasket. At least they'd still been in uniform.
"Tried to catch the guy, but I was too slow. And then Te--Beetle asked me to leave, and I haven't heard from him since. And that was the night you met me at the charity ball." He finishes off the bottle of wine and lets it drop to the carpet. "So there. Now you know."
"I'm so sorry, Michael."
Gladys pets him in silence for a while. Then she adds gently, "At least he wasn't in a Wonder Woman costume."
Booster laughs until he cries.
* * *
Booster wakes up on Gladys's couch the next morning, still wrapped in her ugly quilt and a little hungover, but oddly feeling a lot better than he has in a long time. He feels like he finally threw up something poisonous. He smells something cooking in the kitchen.
He gets up, stretches, and wrinkles his nose at his rumpled clothes. Then he walks to the kitchen to find Gladys in an apron, thoughtfully frowning at pancakes frying in a pan. When she sees him, she beams at him, which makes her eyes vanish into a forest of wrinkles.
"Michael, you're up! There's a glass of Gatorade and an aspirin on the table for you."
"You're a queen among women," he declares, and partakes of the Gladys hangover remedy.
"I'm making you breakfast. Do you feel up to pancakes?"
Booster sends the inquiry to his stomach, which gives a half-hearted gurgle and a queasy jerk. Then he sees the clock. It's a few minutes past seven. "Maybe in a while, but not right now, thanks."
He goes back into the living room, sits back on the couch and turns on the TV to watch the news.
* * *
While the aspirin and Gatorade battle Booster's hangover, he reads the paper and the magazines Gladys collects. Shockingly, him and Beetle are still in the backs of some of the trashier ones. He reads. It hurts, but not as much as he thought it would.
When he's finished and his stomach feels obedient, he goes back to find Gladys. She has long since finished her share of the pancakes and grapefruit, and is currently reading a Harlequin novel. When he comes in, she looks up to smile at him.
"Pancakes in the warming drawer, Michael."
He nods at her and goes to fetch his pancakes. They're still warm, though with powdery lumps now and again. Then again, Gladys is learning cooking pretty quickly after sixty years. As he eats, she gets up to go put the flour away. As she does, struggling with the heavy Mason jar and her cane, she calls over her shoulder, "Cooking breakfast, doing housework, sleeping on the couch... Mikey, you might as well be my husband."
"Are you sure you can handle that jar? It's pretty heavy," he replies.
"Mmph--I've got it, thank you, Michael." She struggles to raise it to the counter, her thin arms trembling. She manages to get it there and leans against the counter to take a breather, favoring one hip. "Phew. Goodness. Let me tell you, Michael, your archenemies had names like the Gray Man and the Rainbow Raider. Mine is named Gravity." With a rueful sigh, she bends over to rub her hip.
And Booster could smack himself for not thinking of the obvious before. He holds up a hand.
"Don't touch that jar," he tells her, and races up to his room.
Booster hasn't touched or looked at his costume since stuffing it into a box, and it takes a while for him to find it. He finds the suit in one box, his goggles packed in somewhere else with his arm blasters, but that's not what he wants. Finally, after ransacking his luggage, he finds his flight ring buried somewhere among the folds of his suit, and he dashes back down to the kitchen, where Gladys is staring at him curiously, but still, she doesn't ask.
With a flourish and a bow, Booster shows her the flight ring. "Milady," he says, and slips it onto her finger.
She laughs, "Michael, is that a propos--oh!" She's started to float.
"Easy, easy, don't think too hard about it or it'll malfunction," he soothes, lightly taking her wrists before she drifts too far. "Treat it just like an extension of your body, envision your body rising or sinking, and..."
"Oh my. Oh MY. Michael..." Her eyes are huge and round, but she's grinning. "Michael, my hip isn't bothering me!"
"It's an anti-gravity ring. Consider your nemesis conquered."
"Oh!" She gives a little tug to let him know to let go of her wrists, and tremulously rises, then sinks a little. She slips a little to the left, then to the right. Then she tilts back and forth, testing it out.
Seeing the look of delight on her face, Booster knows exactly how it feels. He beams.
"I'm an idiot, I can't believe I didn't offer it before. It's so OBVIOUS."
"Michael, I couldn't accept this!" Though her voice says that she would really, really like to.
"Well come on, I'M not going to be needing it. Not for a while anyway. Go ahead. You're the last person I'm worried about taking over the world."
She laughs, still stuttering up and down a little in the air as though practicing. Then she carefully turns in the air, lifts the flour jar effortlessly, and puts it back on its shelf, without trouble. "For a moment there, I thought you were proposing." She sounds almost wistful.
Booster starts to laugh, but then he thinks about it. She looks back at him.
"I wasn't being serious, Mikey. I know better than to chase a man who already loves someone else."
He shrugs. "Doesn't matter when they don't love you back." Then he lets the thought pass on and watches her drifting through the air like a peaceable balloon, her face smoothed out from lack of pain.
EDIT: Changed Gladys's last name. I FAIL.