Spoilers: Orion references characters, events, and themes from all episodes of The Flash through 02x22 Invincible, all comics featuring Zoom/Hunter Zolomon, and various comics released under the New 52.
Warning: Orion contains adult content, graphic description of violence, and dark material that exceed canon-typical levels. Please mind the M rating.
Chapter Summary: Zoom handles unexpected circumstances at the facility, and Caitlin is brought in later to deal with the fallout.
The Three Spinning Sages
Several hours previous... Zoom raced through the wreckage, exhilarated by the destruction and carnage. The bittersweet tang of triumph and the bliss of victory thrummed in his blood. The high was incredible. It was more than intoxicating; it was transcendent. He had felled his enemies, and now he would scatter their ashes to the wind.
He wouldn't stop there. No, he would dismantle everything they'd built, everything they'd ever touched. When he was done, there would be nothing but faded memories of the bad dream that was once the MTU. Its legacy would be the monster under the bed that had no teeth - the boogeyman with no bite - crushed under the heel of Zoom, the master of all metahumans.
"Captives found in the robotics lab!" echoed over the intercom.
Motley Siren's voice grated Hunter, and the unceremonious announcement doubled his distain.
He sounds panicked.
Hunter rarely bothered with Motley or Singsong Siren. Their abilities were parlor tricks compared to Black Siren, whose ruthless will augmented her powers and made her his best lieutenant. But she didn't solely rely on her abilities. Her cunning and wit served her well; indeed, without them, she would've been lost in the shadow of her mother, Void Siren.
Motley wouldn't panic for anybody else.
Hunter smiled beneath his cowl. Special Agent Cameron Chase had captured Void Siren over a year ago. He never admitted it to anyone, but he had felt her loss acutely. She had been an expert interrogator long before her metahuman gene was activated, and her loyalty never wavered. It would be good to have her back.
Assuming she's alive and the MTU hasn't tortured her into insanity.
No, the MTU couldn't break the will of someone like Void Siren. She'd endure the worst pain imaginable and remain alive and sane to spite her captors. In that way, they were something of kindred spirits. His time in the asylum at the mercy of so-called doctors and those nights at the orphanage when he couldn't sleep for the memory of his mother's face... and always, thoughts about ending his suffering haunted him.
No, they hunted him like a pack of wolves.
It always started with the question, Will I ever see her again?
And somewhere in the back of his mind, the answer lurked: You will... when you die.
Not far behind it were thoughts like, You could see her right now, if only you were brave enough.
From there, he was dragged down into a spiral of despair and agony, and he survived over and over again, for no other reason than to spite his father.
Zoom stumbled to a stop, his heart beating too hard and too fast. It had been a very long time since he'd thought about those days, and longer still since he remembered the experience. It was like reliving it all over again.
He didn't have time for this.
"Anyone not on perimeter or capture duty - to the robotics lab!" Zoom ordered over the intercom. "Now!"
He followed Motley's tracer signal to the room in question, which was at the very heart of the building. This lab was marked for authorized personnel only, so anyone present likely had valuable information. He rendered all MTU employees he encountered unconscious.
There were hundreds - maybe thousands - of carbyne containment units.
He grimaced. He could pass through carbyne without issue, but he had yet to discover a means of phasing or tunneling someone else through the material. At the Roost, the walls retreated three feet into the ceiling above, giving him more than enough room to shove a prisoner inside or drag one out.
Whatever the means, it was likely that each unit here had a unique code or biometric lock.
That would take days.
Or it would've taken days, had Zoom not come with the largest metahuman army at his back. Black Siren couldn't shatter carbyne on her own, but she could with Motley and Singsong Siren. Deathbolt and Ordnance would no doubt try to blast their way through, while Berserker, Colt, and Scrap would beat at the carbyne until it splintered.
As he combed through the countless minions at his beck and call, one in particular rose to the top of the list.
"Pyranis," he ordered over the intercom. "Report to the robotics lab immediately."
Then he ran.
Pyranis played the part of mad scientist to conceal his true nature. He claimed to have transformed into an elemental by studying alchemy, but Hunter knew that, however he had acquired his abilities, it was not his own doing. But the man was a brilliant engineer, and he could easily coordinate the destruction of countless impenetrable cells.
So could Caitlin.
He couldn't help his smile, even though she did ruin a perfectly good containment unit.
You knew she could, and you didn't stop her. You didn't even try.
The tone was accusatory, but there was no need. His insides jolted of their own accord as he remembered what transpired immediately after Caitlin had freed Killer Frost. She had almost died. If he hadn't gotten to her in time...
And now you're going to risk her life again some stupid mind game.
No. He hadn't wanted her to come. She had insisted - no, demanded - to join this mission, to be treated like a partner.
So instead of keeping her safe, you're going to risk losing her again.
His blue lightning became thin as vapor. His legs felt like lead, but he kept his speed up. If he ran fast enough, he could burn his anxiety up.
You can't run from this. You aren't bringing her here because it's what she wants. You're doing it to manipulate her!
He couldn't lose her again. It was too risky. He would order Blink to bring patients to the Comet. He'd keep Caitlin busy until the facility was gutted and call it a regrettable change in plans. She'd be angry with him, but she'd be safe. And she would never refuse to save someone's life.
Except you. She wouldn't save you. Not after everything you've done.
His feet began to fail him. He couldn't run, but he also couldn't let anyone see him like this, so he raced up the wall beyond the suspended ceiling, coming to rest on a ledge that barely supported him. He was panting for breath, his mind reeling with doubt and fear.
You promised to keep her safe.
Hunter had promised to protect her, but as long as she saw him as an enemy, she'd never truly be safe. There would always be that tiny voice of defiance in her head driving her away from him, telling her not to trust him, to fear him, to hate him. That's why she freed Killer Frost, despite her better judgment. That's why she nearly died in his arms.
She had to believe in him and The Cause. He needed her to come to him and only him for help and protection.
Need or want?
He screamed, and his modulated voice amplified into a roar as the sound drove away his wretched doubts. His forces had overtaken an enemy fortress, and he was fretting Caitlin's safety?
Hunter had planned everything around protecting her. He even arranged for a handful of useless MTU employees to survive long enough to enter her care. She would save them and demand their freedom, and he would gladly grant it. That would prove that Caitlin belonged with The Cause.
You're manipulating her.
The thought was like a whisper, the last quiver of his doubts fading like a dream. Yes, on some level, he was manipulating her, but it was for her own good. When he told her he would lock her in a cell to keep her safe, he meant it. Distorting a few facts was far less painful for both of them.
He was doing this to save her.
Hunter took a few seconds to empty his mind, tempting any lingering uncertainty to rise to the surface, but there was none. Doubts were only able to take root because he remembered that slice of his childhood, reliving those horrible nights for just a few seconds. Those days were long behind him now and that was where they would say.
Revitalized, he began to run again. He circled the lab a few times before speeding out to check the perimeter, which Blacksmith had under control.
He rushed to Fort Green. Hazard, Haunt, and Totem had put the entire campus into lockdown by leveraging a hacker who called himself the Calculator.
It had all been part of his strategy. Rather than attempting a two-pronged assault, he ordered a subtler attack built upon Hazard's penchant for spreading bad luck and Haunt's ability to possess inanimate objects. He didn't know or care about the specifics, but they had compromised something that triggered a kind of panic mode. Then the Calculator exploited a loophole to keep the entire army base in perpetual lockdown.
Hunter considered taking all his metas and leaving the hacker to fen for himself, but tactically, it was a stupid risk to leave Fort Green unguarded. Hazard and Haunt would, at the very least, raise the alarm should the fort break free and marshal a strike force. He couldn't trust an outsider like the Calculator for that. No human would risk his life for metahumans.
His spymaster, however, was needed elsewhere. Without a word, he zoomed her from her post, bringing her to the battered ruin of the MTU.
"Totem," he said in his modulated Zoom voice. "Establish a medical zone for the doctors."
"Very well," she replied stiffly.
Sensing her unspoken words, he said, "Speak."
"There is such a thing as too much truth," she replied.
He loathed cryptic messages, but Totem had the unfortunate habit of imparting genuine warnings when he least wanted to hear them. She was also one of the only people who spent any real time with Caitlin, so he considered her words carefully.
"I'll keep that in mind," he replied, emphasizing the edge in his voice.
He savored the way her fierce veneer subtly trembled at the faintest hint of a threat from him. That kind of control calmed his nerves and steadied him. He thrived on it.
She could fulfill her duties without further direction, so he raced back to the robotics lab only to find that Pyranis had not yet arrived.
Of course, for non-speedsters, it had only been about ten minutes since he gave his order to Pyranis, but his patience was too thin to be coddled by rationality. So he ran through the facility until he found Pyranis limping through the halls. Zoom scooped him up and zipped him back to the lab, dropping him on his feet. Pyranis's legs buckled, forcing him to his knees.
It was a good look for the megalomaniac, bowed in agony before his true ruler, but Hunter didn't have time to indulge the passing impulse. It was clear Chase had wounded Pyranis badly enough to cause delayed healing, which was particularly astounding for a man who was - by his own pronouncements - made of pure fire.
"I came as fast as I could," Pyranis said. "That woman... did something to me."
"I have no need for your legs," Zoom said harshly. "Bring down these cells, Pyranis, if you ever want to leave here again."
Pyranis looked at him with something akin to awe, as if he was expecting an immediate beheading and instead received a blessing. He put one foot under himself and forced himself to stand, and though he vocalized nothing, the trembling of his features made it clear that the man was in complete agony.
"I will destroy every last one of them," he vowed.
Zoom flashed his blue lightning before vanishing again, this time to examine the state of the room. Black Siren had found her mother and recruited Berserker to help her annihilate the carbyne separating them. She funneled her voice into a tiny pinpoint that was so powerful it drew sparks as it landed, and Berserker pummeled the weakened material. Effective, perhaps, but unnecessarily slow...
They weren't the only ones. Countless minions were likewise attempting to free one captive or another, but none had the power or the wit to match the strength of carbyne. He felt a surge of pride as he recalled how swiftly Caitlin managed the same feat that so many of his minions failed at now.
But that satisfaction gave way to something else, something heavy and jarring. He hadn't seen Caitlin the past three days, and they hadn't spoken since their fight almost a week ago. He missed the sound of her voice and the sleepy look on her face over breakfast. He longed for her company.
Hunter refocused his energies on his original plan. He darted through the facility and transported the metas still making their way to the robotics lab. He continued for what felt like hours, though it was hardly twenty minutes by any watch or clock. He only stopped when the environment shifted enough to catch his attention.
The one true drawback of moving at super-sonic speeds was that sound was distorted. It was like a bad time lag on a video chat, his brain taking just a few moments longer to piece together what his ears heard.
So it took him far too long to realize that alarms were blaring.
Then the lab was plunged into true darkness as the emergency lighting cut out.
His attention garnered, he flew around the lab to assess the situation, but sirens emanated from every speaker as the lights flickered. There was no way to hone in on the source of the disturbance.
Then he heard the unmistakable tone of Motley Siren's deathblow.
He circled the room, searching for the faintest hint of Motley's garish costume. Hunter growled in frustration when the darkness concealed his quarry and forced him to weave through the maze-like lab. Even a millisecond of delay was unacceptable, especially when the prisoners began to thrash against their cells, every moment extended in slow motion snapshots. It was as if hew as moving through a never-ending sequence of grotesque statues, each one wearing the visage of terror, misery, or anguish.
Finally, he caught sight of a jester's cap to his left, so he changed course. What he discovered was... disappointing.
Three MTU employees - lab workers, from the looks of them - were lying dead at Motley's feet. Lullaby was next to him, frantically pounding on a keyboard and cursing like a sailor.
Knowing the Sirens as he did, he could only imagine the events as they unfolded. Perhaps Lullaby had enthralled an employee with a high clearance level to unlock the cells, or maybe Motley had some leverage on one of them. Whatever the scenario, things had gone south, probably when one of the other employees intervened.
Lullaby must've done something right, though, because as Zoom closed in on them, the lights were restored. But that only highlighted how bad the situation had become.
Every screen read TERMINATION SEQUENCE, and Hunter didn't need to see any more to put two and two together.
"Break open these cells!" Zoom ordered, his voice booming so loudly that he didn't need the intercom. "All of them! Now!"
Chaos erupted, and cacophony followed as every metahuman reinvested in their assault on carbyne tenfold. He raced the closest cluster unmanned cells. He drew from deep within, accessing every iota of his power, and he unleashed it in a fury of fists and lightning.
At first, his energy did little more than rattle the walls, but then his speed kicked up to a level he hadn't known existed. The vibrations from his assault harmonized with the friction and the sparks. There was no sign of the carbyne buckling, nothing to indicate anything had changed, yet he perceived the newfound fragility. Instinctively, he honed in on the weakest point, and the lightest touch of his pinky rippled the surface, which then split open like a pistachio.
Hunter felt rejuvenated and galvanized, so he proceeded to the next containment unit, and the next, and the next. Each life snatched from the jaws of death gave him another rushed that spurred him forward.
He was unaware of Pyranis's progress across the lab, not to mention the burst of success from Black Siren's quadrant. The only things holding his attention were the captives thrashing and gasping for breath. They were running out of time.
He was so wrapped up in the thrill that he lost track of his position, first carelessly drifting toward his minions, then crossing their paths. Even when he realized his misstep, he continued without faltering. He had only started apart from them on the off chance that he couldn't shatter the carbyne. But no one could witness him fail if there was no chance of it occurring. So why not let them see him, their all-powerful leader, free their captured brethren.
That was how he ended up surrounded by an audience as the screens flashed TERMINATION COMPLETE. To him, it was redundant commentary, for unnatural stillness had crept in around him as the remaining captives collapsed. There was a corresponding frenzy to match as his minions mounted a final, desperate rally.
In super-speed, everything unfolded so slowly that it felt tedious and wasteful, inspiring nothing but restlessness. This time, however, he experienced something very different and deeply unpleasant. It was accompanied by a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach that reminded him of that terrible moment he had seen Caitlin crumpled and frozen on the ground.
Dread. He was feeling dread.
As soon as he recognized it, he dismissed it outright. Why should he care if any of these pathetic people died? He only bothered to save these gnats to fuel The Cause, to show metahumans where their loyalties must lie if they wanted to survive. Their lives meant nothing to him beyond that. What right did these specs have to elicit anything remotely similar to what he'd felt with Caitlin in jeopardy?
Furious at himself, he redirected his rage toward the nearest occupied cell, pummeling the unforgiving surface haphazardly, unable to control his fuming wrath or coordinate an affective assault.
"Please, stop!" someone said.
It was the woman in the cell he was attacking. She had long brown hair and warm, earnest eyes of the same hue, marred by a bloodshot crimson. She was pale but radiant, and there was a genuine kindness to her despite being on death's doorstep.
"Let it be over," she pleaded, repeating it over and over again like a mantra, occasionally punctuated with, "Please, don't... just don't."
Her voice faded, then cracked, and then fell silent. At some point - the exact moment escaped him - he stopped. Not just pounding against the carbyne, but fully and completely stopped. He stood before the woman resigned to her fate, despite the visible crack that continued to spread across her confinement's wall.
His blue lightning flashed erratically as he watched her last tumultuous breath leave her lungs, and with it, the light in her eyes. Just like he'd seen all those years ago when he watched his own mother die.
On some level, he was aware that countless prisoners had likewise breathed their last, but his thoughts were consumed by the last moments of the women before him. The weight of absolute defeat crushed the thrill of his previous triumph to dust. Helplessness and anguish followed, and that familiar pain gave him an unanticipated surge of power.
His rage bubbled up, demanding him to lash out at those responsible for leaving this woman crumpled on the floor, her death a spectacle in a voyeuristic cage, and her final expression equal parts horror and relief as her eyes reflected people she could no longer see.
But those monsters were already dead, and any still living were scurrying away in fear, broken and bleeding. What revenge was left to exact?
The very least he could was honor her request and respect her remains. She didn't deserve to be left like this. So he took a nearby lab coat and vibrated through the carbyne. In a single heartbeat, he closed her eyes and covered her body, leaving as quickly as he had arrived.
Then he ran as hard as he could, channeling his energy into the exhilaration of speed, burning away the acute agony of loss. He wasn't a helpless child, not anymore. He was the fastest man alive, the most feared man in three universes, and there was nothing and nobody powerful enough to challenge him, let alone harm him.
Hunter felt fear and doubt melt away as his fury transmuted into raw speed, pushing him into the apex of his power. He could sense every part of the facility, every minute shift in temperature, and every molecule of the world around him.
Then the faintest tremor roused his suspicion. He pondered the remote possibility that Geomancer had survived his long captivity and risen with a vengeance, but dispensed with the idea when he realized that he had felt quivering like this before. And it wasn't a quake. No, this was a demure shiver heralding an explosion.
It was an unsettling realization, as he hadn't authorized anything of this magnitude. Certainly not while his metas were inside the facility.
He moved so swiftly that he rounded the countless ignition points between their first hints of spark and the glowing embers that threatened to engulf the world in roaring flames. He zipped unsuspecting minions (and their captives) out of what he calculated as the blast zone, piecing events together as he went, his mind working in overdrive.
Ordnance, ever the good soldier, had done exactly as ordered and strategically set charges to cave in the catacombs to trap any members of the MTU who managed to retreat that far. That way they could ensure capture while securing the facility above, allowing his minions to scoop up the prisoners at their leisure.
Unfortunately, Typhoon had conjured a lighting storm so powerful that it grew out of his control, precipitating a series of events that triggered Ordnance's explosives. Hunter considered leaving Typhoon to the fiery maelstrom of his own making as punishment for his incompetence, but the only tribulation the weather manipulator endured was being the last whisked out of danger. He wasn't even singed.
Hunter hadn't spared anyone from the deafening blast nor the tumultuous shockwave that followed as fire rose up and up and up till the flames reached out to the stars of the night sky.
There was a twinge of pain in his left arm; a quaint but palpable indicator that his calculations weren't as precise as he assumed them to be.
Still, he had predicted the size and scope of the destruction quite accurately, given the surprise ignition. He hadn't anticipated the fire burning so hot nor rising so high, leaving him with a mess of complications, all of which had to be handled before he could allow Caitlin anywhere near this place.
He smiled. He was up against his favorite opponent, the clock. He'd made a habit of racing time and winning.
Several weeks ago on Earth-1... Jay gazed up at the ceiling, his eyes unfocused and unblinking. He should've been sleeping, but he couldn't will himself to relax. Just a few hours ago (though it felt like days), Barry had announced his plan to rescue Jessie by traveling to Earth-2 with Harry and Cisco.
He had insisted that he join them, but Barry had refused. Jay Garrick had too much celebrity and too popular a face to return to Earth-2 without drawing attention.
He turned his head to see Caitlin's beautiful, slumbering face. If he were the man he pretended to be, he would be fuming over being left behind, no matter how sound and rational the reason. But he wasn't. All this talk about Earth-2 had dredged up everything he had been willfully avoiding for months, everything he told himself there was no point on dwelling on it until the time came.
Caitlin's life was here, on Earth-1, and his life - his real life - was on Earth-2. If all went according to plan, the two universes would soon be sealed from one another with no way to pass between them.
And that left him with a choice to make and not a lot of time to decide one way or the other.
He couldn't help but stare at Caitlin, wondering after the possibilities of a life on Earth-1.
Now... Caitlin wasn't sure how long she stood and watched the blue lightning streak to and from the devastated stronghold. Everything felt surreal, down to the light breeze caressing her skin: the throng of people surrounding her, the height of the cliff, the whirl of activity in her periphery. She caught herself holding her breath, her body unnaturally tense. Her only saving grace was the young boy in her arms.
Then the lightning vanished, and she backed away, allowing the crowd to swallow them both as she caught her breath.
It was soothing to pretend that she could lose herself in a mob with no responsibility except the boy she promised to protect, even if only for a little while. So she indulged herself with the absurd idea that she could walk away from all this, leave it behind without a second glance.
But you can't.
That was a truth she refused to entertain.
Even if Zoom hadn't abducted you, you can't walk away.
Yes, she could. She wasn't supposed to be here, submerged in horrors and surrounded by beaten and bleeding people with super-powers. She wasn't like Cisco or Barry or even Killer Frost. She was only human. If she didn't get away from all this, she'd die.
And what would happen to all of them?
She bit her lip. She looked around her and saw Multiplex - one of him, anyway - less than an arm's length away, carrying somebody who had collapsed. There were people spattered with oil and blood and others with poorly bandaged wounds and barely-set broken bones. And all around her, dozens of children lumbered through the masses, all of them afraid but searching.
What would happen to all of them without you?
A shuttering rumble and thunderous explosion yanked her from her thoughts. Her eyes went to the edge of the cliff, which thankfully hadn't lost any bystanders, and the rising smoke plume made it clear that the battle inside the facility had come to a very violent end.
"Bellatrix," Blink said in her ear. "You're needed elsewhere."
Caitlin hadn't seen her approach, so the unexpected greeting made her start in surprise.
"Leave the boy," Blink continued.
"He stays with me," Caitlin said.
"All children go to the Comet," Blink explained. "He'll be safe there."
"He stays with me," she repeated vehemently.
Part of her knew that Blink was right. RJ shouldn't be here, in the middle of a warzone, and sending him ahead to the Comet was the most sensible thing to do. But her relentless sensibility had worn straight through her, rendering its normally persuasive arguments moot. She didn't care if she was being paranoid or irrational. She had promised Killer Frost that she'd keep him safe, and to do that, she needed to keep him close.
Blink must've gotten impatient, because the next thing she knew, the world dissolved around her, and when it came together again, they were standing in a tiny clearing enclosed by trees. The quietness of the area felt suffocating, like she had been deafened during the abrupt teleportation.
"I'll take him straight to the Comet," Blink said, reaching out for RJ.
Caitlin jerked away, pulling herself and RJ out of Blink's reach.
"He's not going anywhere without me," she said, her voice sharp and commanding. "Do you understand?"
"Bellatrix," someone else said.
The speaker was Totem, who had apparently been waiting for their arrival.
Blink began, "I know you said to come alone, but - "
"I understand," Totem interrupted. "Thank you, Blink. I'll take it from here."
The teleporter vanished without another word.
"There is a patient in the next clearing," Totem said. "I can watch over the boy, if you will allow it."
Caitlin considered her options. Totem wouldn't call on her without reason, and whoever the patient was must be in dire condition, otherwise Blink could've moved transported them back to the Comet for treatment. RJ was young, but not so young that she could assume he would forget a traumatic experience like witnessing in-the-field medical care for someone critically wounded. RJ certainly didn't need anymore trauma in his life.
So Caitlin chose her words carefully and said, "So long as I am alive, he doesn't leave here without me."
"You have my word, Bellatrix."
She turned to RJ and said, "This is Totem. She's a... a friend. And she's going to watch you while I help... another friend. It'll only be for a little while, I promise. Then I'll be right back, RJ."
She could see fear and concern flicker over the boy's face, and for a moment, she considered taking him with her.
But then he nodded his head, his sad eyes never looking away, and mumbled something that sounded very much like, "Okay mommy."
Had she heard those words from his mouth, she never could've left him behind, not for a patient, not for any reason on this earth. So she pretended that he had said origami, and she handed him to Totem, who set him on her hip and pointed the way to the next clearing before turning her full attention to RJ.
Caitlin walked quickly, weaving through the trees, until they opened to another clearing. Despite being in a deeply wooded area, there was a metal tray table with a sterilization unit and a large surgical table.
And on that table sat Hunter, his cowl discarded and his suit in disarray, only partially removed to reveal his left side from shoulder to hip, which was covered in a thick, black substance.
She couldn't have been more than five yards from him, yet he was too preoccupied to notice, his shoulders and head slumped and his breathing, ragged. He'd never let his guard down like this, not willingly.
He must've been in excruciating pain.
Her stomach dropped and her mouth went dry as concern flooded her, drowning her caution and trepidation and spurring her forward.
"What happened, Hunter?" she asked, her professionalism hindered slightly by how foreign his name was to her.
Jay is Hunter, and Hunter is Zoom.
He looked up at her, and his face lit up as he said, "Caitlin."
The smile had barely reached his lips when an abrupt wince interrupted it. His breathing became shallow for a few seconds as he struggled to quell his pain.
Compelled to action, Caitlin took a long cotton swab from the supplied medical tray and collected a sample of from his chest. The black substance was viscous with a strong scent of iron. It was his blood, congealed and darkened in some kind of chemical reaction. She suspected that whatever caused it was somehow responsible for compromising his meta-healing.
Her mind reeled with possibilities, none of which seemed even remotely viable. Zoom could dodge, outrun, and deflect anything thrown at him. She opened her mouth to ask again what had happened, but she stopped when she saw that he wasn't in any state to answer questions. His eyes were closed; his breathing, labored; and his fists, clenched. It looked like he was channeling all his energy into staying upright.
"Lie down," she said. When he didn't respond, she raised her voice and repeated, "Hunter, I need you to lie down."
"I'm fine," he grunted.
She put one hand on his uninjured shoulder, and his breath caught as he looked up at her, surprised. For some reason, she was shocked by how blue his eyes were.
"You aren't fine," she said firmly. "Lie down, take a deep breath, and tell me what happened."
His eyes went wide for a few moments, his face flickering between pain and anger with the slightest hint of confusion. But then he nodded his head, yes, and let her guide him so he was lying supine on the table.
He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth in discomfort, so instead of pressing him for answers, she went ahead and sought them for herself. The only way to assess his injuries was to examine his wounds. She began to wipe his skin clean with distilled water and what she hoped were sterile towels.
She was surprised to discover that his chest was clear. When she moved on to his shoulder, he hissed in pain, and his right hand shot up and grabbed her wrist to stop her.
"Hunter," she said as calmly as possible. "Let me go."
He pulled his hand away, apology written all over his face, but she didn't want to hear it. No, she couldn't hear it... not from him, not here, not now.
"What happened?" she repeated, cutting his apology off before he could begin.
"Not sure," he replied. "Began to hurt after the explosion... assumed it was debris. It seemed fine... didn't really start to hurt until hours later. I tried to remove whatever it was, but I couldn't phase... and my speed, I've been losing speed."
"But I watched you... you were running a few minutes ago," she said.
"No choice," he responded. "Blink lost one of her familiars. There was no one else to get them out."
For some reason, his words were like a one-two punch to the gut. Hunter's situation was dire, and the smallest part of her was screaming for her to walk away and leave him to whatever fate befell him. With any luck, Zoom would die, and all she had to do was stall... waste time with empty promises, just like the ones he had whispered to her as she was falling asleep, back when she thought she was falling in love with a good man named Jay Garrick.
The idea crept up on her, gradually evolving into an overwhelming temptation with claws that threatened to tear her apart. It wouldn't just be easy to let him suffer and die; it would feel good, too.
But what he had just said... the Hunter who strolled in and stole Barry's speed would've happily left people behind to die, especially when it came to saving himself. Yet the man before her now had risked limb - if not his life - to pull people from danger.
No, he was the same villain as he had always been. He had successfully shown her that this universe was filled with others just like him, possibly even worse than him, but that didn't make him a hero.
What if this is some kind of test?
She couldn't put it past Hunter to set up some kind of trial to see if she would be loyal to him. Or maybe he was looking for some excuse to punish her, to lock her in a windowless cell and call it her fault.
"Hold still," she said.
She waved her palm over his left shoulder, chest, and arm, scanning for any foreign bodies. When the image loaded, she ran the scan again, certain the first was faulty. But the second only confirmed what she had seen.
His subclavian artery was compromised by some kind of mass but not debris. If anything, it was like a tumor encroaching on the blood vessel, obstructing flow and likely causing poor healing and claudication. There were other similar blockages along the lateral thoracic, subscapular, and superior thoracic arteries.
She hesitated as her mind drew a blank. She'd never seen anything like this before, and she had no idea how to extract them without rupturing the compromised blood vessels.
"That bad?" he asked, his words somehow playful despite the grimace he wore.
"Are you sure this was from an explosion?" she asked. "Do you remember what specifically hit you or the actual moment of impact?"
"No, no... not then," he replied. "Before... before that, I took a few bullets."
"Someone shot you?" she repeated in disbelief. "How?"
"Friction-seeking ammunition," he grunted in reply. "Another gift from the R-and-D branch of the MTU - "
"Friction-seeking?" she asked, interrupting him. "And they actually hit you?"
"A speed-dampener was involved," he answered defensively. "It was nothing - a few pinpricks to the shoulder."
"Those pinpricks are now obstruction circulation," she replied. "And I think the more you use your speed, the worse they get."
"Can you get... get them out?" he asked.
"If I tried to cut them out here, you'd bleed to death," she explained. "And I don't know if I can cut them out. I won't know until..."
She couldn't bring herself to complete her thought.
"Until you cut into me," he said when he realized she wasn't going to continue. "Well... better get started."
"I - no," she stumbled.
"I can't trust anyone else," he said. "Think of it as taking your pound of flesh."
She could tell he was trying to make joke, but there was nothing funny about it.
"I don't do that," she snapped.
"Caitlin - "
"No," she cut him off. "You don't understand. Your metabolism is faster than Bar - than any other speedster. There's nothing I can give you to put you under or to help with the pain. You would need to lie perfectly still as I surgically remove all four obstructions, and even if you could manage that, chances are you'd still bleed to death before I finished."
"You almost sound worried about me," Hunter said, flashing his smug, toothy smile.
She wanted to shout at him, to loose all her frustrations on the man responsible for them. How could he make her love him, only to break her heart by revealing his true, demonic nature? How could he draw her heart and soul into this conflict then so flippantly disregard her concerns?
"Caitlin," he said, his voice soft and pleading. "You've seen what's happening here. What the MTU does. You see what they are. If you still believe I'm the worst possible thing in this universe, then all you have to do is walk away. I wouldn't blame you."
Jay is Hunter, and Hunter is Zoom.
But then she remembered Blink Junior, the young boy in her care who had both of his eyes removed for an experiment, and she recalled the countless tiny cells with adjacent screens that read TERMINATION COMPLETE. The memory of each vacant face she had seen, including her own mother's (or, near-enough) surfaced and refused to abate.
Hunter wasn't a hero, but after what she'd seen in the last week, she was ready to admit that he wasn't the worst thing in this universe.
In fact, there was part of her, deep down, that knew that he wasn't even close.
"We'll need straps to hold you down," she said.
"I'll keep still," he replied quietly.
"Hunter - "
"No straps!" he snapped, interrupting her.
From the contortion of his face, the burst of energy that animated his response cost him dearly. But what struck her more was the fact that fear was palpable in his voice. For some reason, he was more afraid of a few straps than the pain of an impromptu surgery and the very real possibility of bleeding out.
She didn't have time to contemplate thoughts like that. Or, more correctly, Hunter didn't have time.
"All right," she said. "I'm going to start with the smallest one. It's deep, near the lateral thoracic artery, but it's also the least likely - "
"Just do it," he said, his interruption almost lost to the weakness of his voice. "Don't be afraid, and don't stop till they're all out."
He took a deep breath and added, "Please."
"Okay," she replied. "Okay."
End of Chapter Notes
Warning: The end of chapter notes contain minor spoilers for the chapter. Read at your own risk.
Chapter notes: The title of this chapter is derived from a combination several traditional names for Orion's Belt: the South African Drie Susters (Three Sisters), the Lithuanian Trys seselės verpėjo (Three Spinning Sisters), the Latin American/Spanish Las tres Marías (The Three Marys), and countless traditions (English, Germanic, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Slavic, South African to name a few) that use variations of The Three Magi/The Three Kings/The Three Wise Men.
Author's note: I hope you enjoyed this latest installment!