A/N: As usual, I own nothing. This story assumes the reader has knowledge of Harry Potter canon through Half Blood Prince, and Justice League Unlimited canon through the season two episode Divided We Fall. Any shipping will occur according to my personal preferences, though I have no intention of throwing out the romance portions of HBP. This chapter is meant as a prologue to gauge interest in this particular plot, so please read and let me know what you think. All feedback is welcome and appreciated. Enjoy.
Vic Sage found it darkly amusing, the way the majority of his so-called colleagues did everything in their power to avoid him as he roamed the halls of the Justice League's space station. Some of them even looked like they were considering throwing themselves out the nearest airlock if it meant avoiding him--he was pretty sure some of the jumpier vacuum-immune metas had in the past. A weak, dry chuckle welled up from somewhere deep in his chest. Batman put so much effort into coming off as a demon from hell to intimidate others; it was so much simpler to completely obscure one's facial features with a skin-tone mask. At least I don't have to deal with all that chafing body armor. Of course, Italian suits weren't exactly bulletproof, so there was a considerable tradeoff.
On the other hand, he didn't garner the respect the cowled detective did. The Batman had few friends, but no one on the Watchtower was likely to call the Dark Knight a nutjob when they thought he was out of earshot. No matter, he thought, walking purposefully past a group of gawking technicians, his light blue trench coat billowing behind him, and clutching the folder under his arm a little tighter. Let them stare if they wish. It had been a great many years since the ridicule had truly disturbed him. Now it was just ... annoying. He swept past Huntress' room, the faintest of smiles playing across his hidden face. There were far more positive emotions worthy of his focus, even if he didn't have a great many people to share them with.
He shook his head. Now was not the time for such thoughts. He glanced down at the folder, his memory providing him with the details of the gruesome photographs it contained. Not the time, indeed, he thought, once more wishing he hadn't eaten before reviewing the evidence as his stomach gave a plaintive lurch. He shook his head as he turned the corner, and it was only a second later, when Supergirl--or rather, a blond female-shaped blur that smelled vaguely of hay and mint-leaf shampoo that was most likely Supergirl--charged into him, sending him crashing into the bulkhead and his files hurtling across the carpeted deck, that it occurred to him that walking with one's eyes closed in the Watchtower, even for an instant, was in fact very, very stupid.
"Question!" And of course, having just sent him reeling quite painfully into a reinforced wall, she would feel it necessary to scream his name loud enough to make his ears ring. She peered down at him, green eyes wide with concern, and he wondered not for the first time how she managed to convince Superman to let her wear Daisy Duke shorts and a tube top when she was on Justice League business. It seemed oddly out of character for the man. She flushed. "Are you alright? J'onn just paged me and I guess I wasn't looking where I--"
He held up a black-gloved hand and braced the other against a wall, starting to push himself to his feet. "No harm done." A twinge of pain shot down his back as he moved and he frowned--much to his chagrin, it seemed even after three weeks his body wasn't completely recovered from serving as Brainiac-Luthor's punching bag and the week of interrogations that followed. "I know from experience that it's unwise to keep the Martian waiting." His lip quirked up, not that she would be able to tell, and he straightened his hat.
Supergirl blinked at him, still looking a little embarrassed. "Uh, yeah. Guess I should be a bit more careful."
That makes two of us. "It might not be a bad idea." He crouched and began to scoop up his papers, hoping she wouldn't decide to be helpful. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her swooping for a photo that had fallen at her feet. So much for hope. "Thank you, but I can manage on my own..." He trailed off; she had already picked it up, and was now turning a rather unflattering shade of green. He frowned sharply. Wonderful. Guess now isn't the time to ask if she's been sleeping well. He held out a hand, catching the photo and sliding it back into the folder. "I think now it is my turn to apologize." He shuffled the rest of the papers up; he could re-order them later. "I didn't intend for you to see that."
swallowed, still looking pale. "Who -- what -- did that?" She shuddered.
"That poor man ... he looked chewed on."
More observant than I thought. Still too sentimental. "I don't know," the detective muttered, as if he had just been asked how to find the bathroom, and tucking the folder back under his arm, "but I've promised to find out." He sighed. It wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting to prepare for." He brushed past the stunned Argonian and hurried towards his quarters. The last thing he wanted to do was not be prepared when Batman showed up.
The Question grimaced as he finished typing the information from Inspector Harris' file into his personal database. He made a point of being extra-thorough during even the most mundane investigation, and that meant scrutinizing all the evidence again as he went, not only to commit it to memory, but also to properly tune the parameters of the program he would use to monitor the news feeds for reports of similar incidents. This was the third time he'd gone over everything in detail, and he prided himself on having a strong stomach when it came to these sorts of things, but one could only look at so many eviscerated corpses before--he shook his head and did his best to drive the images from his mind as his stomach tried to tie itself in a knot. He felt a bolt of fury flash through him. Savages, whoever did this. A touch of righteous anger was often the best cure for nausea, in his experience.
His door chime rang. Running a gloved hand through his raven hair, The Question picked his hat up off the desk and pulled it on his head, tipping it forward just enough to cast shadow over the sunken patches of psuedoderm where his eyes were supposed to be. The door was only twenty feet away, and in the back of his mind, it occurred to him that it was slightly ironic some of the most powerful metahumans on earth chose to live in what amounted to an orbiting dormitory. And somehow, I'm right up here with them. He cast a cursory glance at his wall, at the scores of articles and clippings pinned up and connected by a myriad of string that represented his latest theories on The Conspiracy. Batman would study it, he knew, if only surreptitiously. Even if he did think it was rubbish, Vic was confident the dark detective at least considered him otherwise competent. If he didn't, he wouldn't have consented to meet.
Pausing for the merest instant in front of a full length mirror hung on the wall to straighten the black tie leaning against his mustard yellow shirt and smooth the wrinkles out of his navy blue jacket, he pressed a panel near the door and watched it slide open, revealing the horned, scowling face of the Dark Knight. Vic stepped aside and back a little--just so he wouldn't have to crane to look up at the man's blank white eyes--and put out a hand he knew the other vigilante wouldn't take. "Batman." He kept his voice toneless, professional. "Thank you for coming." He never made a big deal out of it, of course, but Batman didn't really intimidate him like he did others--underneath all that Kevlar and the black cloak, he was just a man, one who had made a vow never to kill and honored it, even when he faced maniacs like the Joker. The devotion to justice he represented was something to be respected, not feared.
"Question," Batman's voice was gravel, every bit the self-restrained demon. He swept past the shorter detective as if it were his quarters they were meeting in, his cape swishing behind him. The Question couldn't help marveling at the image before him. If he were correct about the identity of the man behind the mask, his acting skills were perhaps unrivaled in all of modern history. The real enigma came down to which persona was the actual act. But that wasn't the riddle he was out to solve today. "You said you needed my opinion on something." His voice dripped with a touch of inconvenience.
"Indeed, I believe you have singular expertise on the subject," Question returned smoothly. "If you would step over here, please."
Batman quirked an eyebrow, intrigued perhaps, but followed along quietly. Question gestured at the extra chair he'd sat near the workstation, and watched Batman sink into it. Vic took the seat opposite and began to type once again, calling up the files he would need. "I'd offer you some refreshments, but we both know you'd decline, so I'm not going to patronize you."
Batman didn't move, but Vic swore he saw the ghost of a smirk on the man's face. "You've added more strings to your wall," he said flatly.
Vic allowed himself a hidden smile. Any other time he would have returned the light barb, but a dozen corpses' gaping, horror struck faces told him quite unequivocally to forego their usual verbal sparing. "I assume you've been keeping up with the rather ... grim happenings in Great Britain?"
Batman's facial expression never changed, though the starlight lenses in his mask seemed to narrow. "You don't honestly expect me to say 'no,' do you?"
"No," Question said, in that same practiced calm that made him sound as if he were discussing the weather, "I just couldn't think of a better way to start this conversation. I assume then, you're aware of the bridge disaster, the grisly murders the Prime Minister's detractors are having such a field day with--"
"Junior Minister Chorley's suddenly acting like a mallard," Batman finished, the barest scowl on his face. "I suppose you believe this all has something to do with your conspiracy." The growl deepened. "Question, I don't have time--"
"I know," Vic said calmly. Batman respected his skills, he was sure, but still had certain preconceptions about his "eccentricities," as he called them. "My reasons for asking you here having nothing to do with The Conspiracy. I believe I've discovered a separate cover-up operation, of a lesser but quite significant scope."
Question could imagine the Batman's eyes rolling. "You yourself said there were no such things as multiple conspiracies. Only one. The Illuminati." The barest trace of derision tinged his voice, but that was to be expected.
"And I stand by that assertion," Question picked up the folder, holding it in his lap. "The difference is subtle, like the comparison between a centipede and a millipede. Not every cover-up is necessarily part of some larger, more sinister plot, though large, sinister plots necessitate some form of cover-up." He sighed. "Some are quite sinister enough on their own. I asked you of the events in Britain to prove a point. They're remarkably well publicized, even if they are baffling and ... unsettling. I would say, by now, the world is very aware all is not right within the borders of the United Kingdom."
Batman said nothing for a moment, and then nodded curtly. "Agreed."
In other words, get to the point. "You would think, then," he handed the folder to the Urban Legend, "this would've shown up on CNN." Batman wordlessly opened the folder, flipping through it at speed, until he suddenly stopped, the barest gasp escaping his lips. Unless Vic was very much mistaken, a muscle twitched in the bigger man's jaw. He went back to the beginning, moving more slowly this time.
And now, Question thought grimly, I have your full attention. He knew what had stopped the vigilante--he'd deliberately arranged the photos, placing one of the more gruesome at the front. It centered on a man in his late twenties, tall, tan, and quite handsome. Or, at least, he would've been, had he not appeared decapitated and literally ripped into pieces. The remains themselves appeared, as Supergirl had said, chewed on. Vic would've never been able to tell what color the furniture in the room was supposed to be if he hadn't read the homicide detective's report--everything was soaked in blood.
"What the devil is this, Vic?" Batman rasped, his tone lost somewhere between outrage, bewilderment, and disgust.
Question grimaced. Though he certainly wasn't afraid of Batman, seeing him angry was always ... unpleasant. "If I believed in the Devil, I'd consider him a prime suspect, but since I don't, things are a bit more ... complicated."
"Figures," Batman scowled. "You're right," he continued, almost grudgingly, "this is all too gruesome for the press to ignore. The missing children should've got some attention, at any rate. Someone's suppressing it, and doing a very ... impressive job. How did you get involved?" His tone was flat, now, but Question clearly heard the interest in his voice.
Excellent. Question steepled his gloved fingers and met his associate's eyes. "Two weeks ago, I was contacted by a friend of mine with Scotland Yard, Inspector Jack Harris."
"Profiler," Batman interjected. "Specializes in ultra-violent killers. The best in the United Kingdom," he finished, sounding just slightly impressed. Which, for Batman, indicated quite a bit of respect. "I'm not surprised he was involved in something this ... extreme."
Question nodded. But you are surprised he considers someone as "tightly wound" as me a friend. "Was being the operative word. He came to me two days ago. Showed up at my apartment, in fact, acting like someone was after him. I'd never seen him so on edge before. He demanded a meeting, in private, time and place of his choosing. I must admit I was curious, and I owe the man more favors than I care to count. I had to cancel on Helena. She was ... nonplussed, to say the least."
Batman nodded. "He hit you with this. Probably figured you wouldn't be able to resist."
A nod. There was a veiled insult there, but that was beside the point. "The file you're holding," Question continued placidly, "does not exist." He turned his monitor to face Gotham's avenger, revealing a report on a rash of pet mutilations, "Its case number now corresponds to this comparatively innocuous investigation, and apparently always has." He cracked his knuckles loudly. "Here's where things begin to get truly interesting. Jack claimed, over the course of about thirty-six hours, his associates working the case began to change. The whole affair seemed to be slipping from their memories. The missing children were now recorded as runaways, the deceased as victims of various unfortunate accidents. Once he realized none of them were 'having him on,' as he put it, he came to me, carrying the paper hardcopy you're holding now, and begging for help."
"He prefers to work with paper, doesn't he? He would've made a personal set of the evidence and reports and kept it at home." The lenses in the cowl narrowed to slits. "Meanwhile, the computerized copy vanishes and everyone seems to suffer from some sort of ... " he trailed off and shook his head slightly, and Vic had to wonder if he was inwardly cursing himself for volunteering to listen to "the village whacko" in the first place. (Really, Vic figured someone like The Flash could've come up with a more interesting insult.) "Question, what's got you convinced this isn't some sort of scam? You said Harris is your friend, but it's conceivable someone could be using him in an entrapment operation. I doubt very much we saw the complete disbandment of Cadmus. I would imagine any remnants would still be holding a grudge--it's barely been a month since you helped expose their alliance with Luthor. Something doesn't add up here, and you know it."
Question's eyebrow quirked up, and he smirked underneath the pseudoderm mask. "I thought I was the paranoid one, Batman. But you're right. This does reek of a setup designed specifically to get my attention. Add the fact that I called on Jack this morning to ask his opinion on one of my leads, and--"
"Let me guess. He has no memory of ever talking to you," Batman cut in, his voice almost snide.
"On the contrary," Question went on, "he was convinced I had agreed to help with an animal mutilation case. Why I would do so, I have no clue, and neither did he. As soon as I got off the phone with him, I called you. I've also moved all my digitized files on these incidents to the Watchtower mainframe." He shook his head. "Sounds familiar, doesn't it? A standard conspiracy-suspense novel plot--I should know, I've read my share. Rather unimaginative trap. You'd think someone in a position to engineer such a detailed scenario would be a bit more ... creative."
"So why am I here? You said yourself this whole thing looks like some sort of trick." Batman turned his face away from the monitor, his scowl almost painful-looking. "Surely you didn't bring me here so I could see that you are, in fact, not a moron."
For a genius, you have a very short attention span. "As I said before, I needed your expertise. The forensics on the bite wounds, as you saw, were inconclusive as of the initial reports. The chief examiner called for a further investigation, but that never seemed to occur. I've enhanced the first photo. See anything familiar?" He pressed a few keys, and a close up of one of the grisly bite wounds filled the large screen. A second passed, and Batman sat bolt upright, opaque lenses now wide. In the back of his mind, Question made a note to ask him one day how they did that. "Good. You see it too. I'm not surprised the MEs were confused. I realize saying this has lost some of it's impact, given that we work on a space station with an immortal Amazon princess formed from clay, but this just isn't normal."
"Impossible," Batman hissed.
Question frowned beneath the pseudoderm. You're lying. Interesting. "You know better than that. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Batman was scowling at him now, about to open his mouth to retort. "Don't look at me like that. It's Occam's Razor, only, a bit more eloquent. Now," he let his voice become just a tad bit forceful, for really, catering to Batman's ego got a bit tiring after a while, "the bite marks. At first glance, they appear human. Combine that with the missing children, and I'd be nearly convinced we're dealing with a Manson family copycat who's seen Silence of the Lambs, or something similar. But ..."
"The bite marks are ... contradictory," Batman ground out, almost grudgingly unless Vic's ears were playing tricks on him. "The cuts resemble those that would be caused by human teeth, but the wounds themselves indicate something more animalistic. Pattern most closely resembles Canis lupus."
"So it's not a man," Question said softly, "and it's not a wolf. So the question I pose to you is this," he turned in his chair, meeting those white lenses with his own pseudoderm covered hollows, "Dr. Milo once used a serum to turn a Anthony Romulus, formerly of the US Olympic Track and Field Team, into something very much resembling a werewolf. I'm sure you remember, seeing as you had the unpleasant job of subduing the beast. As for Milo, all evidence points to the good doctor being slaughtered by Doomsday after joining Cadmus some months ago. What are the chances someone else could've duplicated the formula in abundance and distributed through the United Kingdom's underworld?" For once, Question hoped he was wrong, and the chances were actually very good.
Batman crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes. "Virtually nonexistent, Question. Milo was a genius, but he was a greedy, paranoid extortionist, too. He wanted a firm hold on Romulus."
Question detected a bitter note in the Caped Crusader's voice now--Did you know the Olympian?
"The serum and antidote were designed specifically for Romulus' use. Milo never had any intention of mass-producing it. And as I said, the doctor preferred his leverage: there were no written records of his research, at least not the important parts. Everything stayed in his head. I doubt very much he would have shared it with anybody else--he found repeating projects boring."
That proves nothing, Batman, and you know it. It's not like you ignore forensic evidence in your analysis. As interesting as I find evasion... Question adjusted his hat. "Are you sure? He was working for Cadmus. They had ... most powerful methods of persuasion when it came to getting information they wanted. Perhaps you have data available on the sort of bite marks Mr. Romulus would leave. I'd be interested in conducting a comparison, just to be thorough."
"No," Batman returned sharply. He sighed. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"
"Should I?" Question asked calmly. Touchier than I expected. "Would you?"
Batman sighed heavily. "Romulus didn't feel the need--or maybe just didn't have the chance--to attempt cannibalism, but he left plenty of bite marks. I studied the pattern thoroughly, and can tell you conclusively this is not him, or anyone like him." Q quirked his head to the side, but said nothing. "Milo created a werewolf, alright, straight out of a fairy-tale book. It was very idealized, for lack of a better word. Every tooth resembled a fang, even those in the back of the mouth. On these bites," he pointed with two fingers at the screen, "you can clearly see a difference between incisors, bicuspids, this even looks like some sort of molar. It looks distinctly--"
"More natural?" Batman scowled. Not used to being interrupted, I'm sure. "What about gene splicing? As far as I know the tech's not nearly advanced enough for this yet, but maybe you've heard different." He'll shoot that down too--unless I get lucky. He shifted in his chair, and the fabric of his shirt rubbed uncomfortably over the remnants of the electrical burn across his shoulder. Not likely.
"At least fifteen years away from human testing," Batman growled.
Question scowled. "So that's it, then," he huffed, "that leaves the one obvious conclusion. The creatures are real werewolves," he announced, sounding like he'd just found a cockroach in his bathtub. Damn. Sometimes, he really did hate being right.
Batman spun on him, almost gaping. "Excuse me? I've supported your wild ideas in the past, Vic, but surely you don't expect me to agree that some mythical creature--you said yourself all mysteries can be solved through reason. Falling back to fairy tale explanations when you've hit a block is not reason." He sounded increasingly defensive now, and Question found himself amused.
What? You wanted to keep the secret to yourself? "They're not mythical, obviously. To do this, they'd have to be very much real. And besides, we have more than one very powerful magic user in the League. You yourself are friends with an immortal knight of Arthur who shares his body with a demon. There's obviously more out there than traditional science would care to admit. Oh," he added sharply, "and I'd rather you not accuse me of shoddy investigative skills, not when you're ignoring certain bits of the evidence in that file. The attacks occurred over the course of the last three months, during or within forty-eight hours of a full moon. No sign of forced entry or exit. It's as though the murderers just appeared and vanished when they were through. And let's not overlook the poor man involved in the sixth incident. Apparently, no one wanted to eat him--he appears to have simply dropped dead with a look of horror on his face. No obvious cause, unless you buy the 'severe emotional trauma' tripe. It's as though he simply ceased. And you have to admit, the other unfortunate events happening defy logical explanation as well. Bridges do not snap without signs of stress fractures, and hurricanes don't just appear off the coast of England with zero warning. Something is happening there that defies science."
Question allowed himself a glare. He wasn't really angry with Batman, of course, but certainly disappointed. The one time I wouldn't have minded having one of my theories shot to ribbons. "Like you said, reason is the key to all riddles. But you must have all the salient facts. Here we do, even if we might not want to admit it. Unless you have a better suggestion, I have no choice to assume we're dealing with genuine werewolves. Plural. I can't explain their existence, but I'm willing to accept it for now. And the seeming lack of pattern in the locations of the attacks--I'm almost certain, if we knew more about this ... phenomenon ... they would not appear random at all. That is, of course, unless you have a more traditional hypothesis you'd care to share."
Batman was silent for a full minute. Finally, "Stay out of it, Vic. You're right. Harris dragged you into something ... neither of us is prepared to deal with. There are people who handle this sort of thing. Your friend had his memory altered because he became aware of things he was simply not meant to know." Batman sighed, and his voice lost some the gravel when he continued. "I know how it sounds, Vic--I hate it too, especially when we get wind of this sort of carnage, but we've got to stay out of this."
Question felt the frown coming back. That's it, then. Damn it. Of course, Batman knew he wouldn't do any such thing. "Why?" he asked glibly. "Because we're Muggles?" Batman, who had started to rise, fell back in his chair abruptly. I need to contact Lovegood when this is over, our agreement be damned. I need to warn him.
"You knew?" Batman shouted, his composure apparently shot, "you knew and you--I don't appreciate being led on, Sage. You have thirty seconds to explain exactly what your game is. Start talking."
"Don't threaten me, Batman," Question shot back, his own control wavering, "I am not in the mood." He was surprised at the venom suddenly in his voice, but he had to admit, for all the man's exemplary qualities, the Dark Knight's superior attitude could be extraordinarily grating. You can't imagine what's at stake here to me, Batman, he wanted to yell, and he hated that. Then again, anything remotely to do with her usually threw him off his game. The Urban Legend looked taken aback. Vic doubted anyone but the founding members of the League dared speak to him without cowing in fear. "Honestly? You're smarter than me. Don't look so surprised; I admit it freely. Things I would have to research, you know by heart, and you've been at this longer than me--your experience significantly exceeds mine.
"You're right, of course. I am aware that Zatanna and the other magic users in the Justice League only represent an inkling of what's out there. I haven't had as much experience with magic as you might think--the idea that werewolves might be real hadn't occurred to me before this case fell in my lap. In fact, I've made an effort to avoid the Wizarding World, if you want to call it that. But what little exposure I have had left me open-minded enough to guess what was going on. I was hoping I was wrong, and you would find something I missed, something more mundane. That didn't happen. You confirmed my hypotheses in regards to the forensics, albeit reluctantly. Furthermore, you would never give up on an investigation, not when innocent people are dying. Not unless you were sure you were out of your league. And you would never admit to that, not in this world," he finished, pleased to have regained his calm. "But in the magical one, perhaps you would."
Batman stared at him for a long moment, his mouth a thin, hard line, and for once, Question had no idea what might be going on under the mask. It had only been important to either disprove or reasonably confirm his werewolf theory; he hadn't done much thinking on what would happen afterwards. He's not storming off. I suppose that's a good sign.
"Question," he said softly, almost uncomfortably, "what made you so sure I would know about Wizarding society?"
He seemed put off now, and Vic could guess why. The great and mysterious Batman wouldn't like the thought that someone could make such frighteningly accurate assumptions about him. "I wasn't completely sure. But I know you traveled the world when you were younger, hoping to learn anything and everything that could help you with your mission. I overheard Zatanna telling the Amazon you studied a form of magic with her father. I stumbled on the world of real magic by complete accident--I'm quite certain you discovered it through deliberate investigation."
Batman nodded. "Close enough."
"But you couldn't learn it. You aren't magical. If I may be so bold, is that why you distrust magic users so much?" Question asked.
"Partly," Batman answered, sounding a bit more relaxed. "The idea that there are ... techniques ... available that could be used against me but I can have no knowledge of was, and is, very troubling." He finished very quietly, and Question guessed this wasn't something he particularly liked admitting.
"Indeed," Question mused. He hadn't been looking for anything in particular when he stumbled into that other world. But he had sure found something wonderful. And I lost nearly all of it ...
"Is there anything else?" Batman cut into his thoughts gruffly, as though he hadn't just shared a small bit of his past. "I stand by what I said. You can't help them with this, Vic. It's beyond either of us."
"I know," Question smiled under the mask, for he had seen it, after all, "but I have to try, anyway."
Batman sighed, as though he'd expected this. "You realize, as skilled as you are, it would be like journeying to a completely alien world. The culture, history, even some of the language, it would all be like nothing you'd ever seen before. Not to mention the great abundance of people who can transfigure matter, manipulate your emotions, or kill you with a thought. That doesn't even begin to cover a fraction of what they're capable of."
"I know," Question said again. "I'm very well aware that I would be severely handicapped. I'd probably have better luck walking into a bear cave, blindfolded and naked and covered in honey." Note to self. Never say preceding sentence in presence of Huntress. She would get ... ideas.
Batman's eyebrows shot up. Vic suddenly remembered the vigilante's photographic memory and considered apologizing for the mental image, but decided it best to let it pass.
"As long as you don't do it on League time," Batman muttered, "I can't stop you, but why? I may disagree with some of your more esoteric assertions, but you've always had ... passable ... reasons for the things you do."
Question nodded. "I owe you that much, I suppose. Three factors, Batman: one, even though he cannot remember it, I gave Harris my word to do whatever I could to get to the bottom of this, and I keep the few promises I make; two, the 'people who handle this sort of thing' aren't doing a very good job, not if this file is any indication, I'm thinking they could use all the help they can get; and three," he trailed off. Don't have to tell him everything. "I have a personal stake in the matter," he finished, making it clear he considered the discussion closed. Batman looked mildly interested again, but Vic knew he wouldn't press him. He valued his own privacy too much.
"You've decided on a plan, I take it?" Batman asked. Question recognized the tone. Whatever it was, the Dark Knight wanted no part of it.
"I have a reasonably well-connected contact in Ottery St. Catchpole. I've never called on him for anything like this, but I think he'll agree to one conversation, at least. That will be enough to get--" he broke off, interrupted by rather loud shrill from his terminal. It stopped as abruptly as it began, the speakers shifting into a synthesized rendition of "Disco Inferno." On the screen, the message notification icon flashed once, bright red.
"... Interesting e-mail notification," Batman said after a moment, sounding like he was trying hard not to chuckle.
But Vic barely heard him. He had indulged himself over the years in setting a variety of customized e-mail alarms--when he received a message from his accountant redirected from his home ISP, for instance, the terminal launched into a serviceable rendition of Darth Vader's theme. But this ... this was much worse than an inquiry from an over-reaching, over-greedy government money pit. This was a far more special alarm, and given the circumstances, far more ominous.
He was vaguely aware of Batman calling his name--he felt like someone had slammed a pair of seashells against his ears, and all he could make out was a dull roar. Annoying how the man continued to do that, it wasn't like Question had willingly shared his identity. If Vic ever called him Bruce he was sure the Dark Knight would take the liberty of removing several of his more prominent teeth. But he couldn't bring himself to respond. His mind suddenly flashed back more than sixteen years...
It had been their first anniversary--one month--and Selene had dragged him to some over-bright, too-neon nightclub in London--not that he had struggled much. He was young and almost innocent and desperately in love--it never occurred to him to throw up the emotional barricades Huntress would force herself through fifteen years later. He would've done far more drastic things than dance to disco music if she'd asked. She hadn't demanded it become "their song," thank God, but it always stuck out in his memory. He'd told her he loved her the first time that night, meant it with everything he had, and when she'd said it back, for one fleeting instant all was right with the universe.
Ten years later, when he'd revealed himself to her widower in order to offer any help he could with the girl--the forbidden, ethereal moonbeam he dreamt of whenever he was too weak to stop himself--he'd taught William Lovegood how to use a computer to send electronic messages. It had taken ten hours and reserves of patience Vic hadn't known he possessed, but when it was done, he found himself left with the slight dilemma of what sort of tune this man's messages should bear. It had been a trivial thing, something to take his mind off Selene's death. He decided later his subconscious had a cruel sense of humor.
Wrong. This is wrong. William sent him two letters a year, one in late September after she'd settled in at boarding school and another following her exams in the summer. Pictures in the fall. Glorious, magical little slips of paper on which she danced and waved and stared up curiously at him with her unblinking pale silver-blue eyes. Detailed, pages-long missives letting him know how she was, like a foster parent might write--though William was certainly more than that. So much more that Vic found himself fighting back envy more often than he cared to admit, especially as the years went on. But they had an agreement--two letters a year was a sort of glorious torture, any more and Vic could've very well become addicted to them. Vic sent gifts at Christmas and on her birthday, to be given as though they were from William, and that was it.
But it was barely August, and here was another. There were only a handful of circumstances in which the rules were to be broken, and the thought of any of them sent a chill down his spine. His hands began to move for the keyboard as if by their own power. He was dimly aware that Batman had risen and was coming to stand behind him--why couldn't he just leave already? But he couldn't manage to speak, couldn't look away from the terminal, it was as though his mind was crashing down around him. Only one thought was still clear. Wrong. This is wrong.
His fingers, to which he felt only the vaguest attachment, found the keys they were looking for, and in the next instant a text-filled window appeared on the screen. He managed to gather himself enough to read...
The headers were all in order: the message was indeed from William, sent to one of Vic's dummy accounts in the Virgin Islands and redirected so many times anyone trying to trace it would be left convinced that the recipient lived either in Antarctica or a New York sandwich shop. Question felt his pulse quickening now, his guest completely forgotten, and started to read.
I hope this message finds you well. To be quite honest, I hope it finds you at all. You wouldn't believe the trouble I had bewitching my old Quidditch gloves to manipulate a computer. I used an old typewriter to test them, you know, but it was rather touch and go for a bit. Then there was the matter of convincing my solicitor to take them to one of those Siberian Cafes you taught me about in the event this letter needed be sent. Luckily, she's a lot more adept with Muggle electronics than I.
But I digress. Can you blame me, really? Writing this is most unnerving, to say the least. I'm sure reading it is doubly so, so I shall assuage what is likely the worst of your fears posthaste--Luna is fine. At least, in the physical sense. I, on the other hand, well, it would seem I have joined Selene beyond the Veil--please, don't be too envious, my friend. I assure you I was in no hurry to go. I cannot begin to guess the circumstances of my passing--I was never gifted with foresight--so I shall leave it to you to find out. I can only hope you won't need your marvelous mystery solving skills.
I suppose I should set something straight, before I continue. When you revealed yourself to me on that chilly October day during Luna's first year at Hogwarts, I'll admit I was angry. The idea that you were dead hurt Selene greatly, and I couldn't for the life of me imagine why you would conduct such a dark hoax. It was my first instinct to curse you clear across the village, which you no doubt realized, as impressive as your powers of observation are. Now, as I write this, I am most pleased you managed to assuage my temper long enough for me to listen. I cannot imagine, even now, what it must have been like for you, to decide after you found them again that they would be better off without you. I still find your dour logic impeccable, but I must confess, in your position, I'm not sure I could have brought myself to do the same.
But that is neither here nor there, is it? I did not write this to rehash the past. I'm sure the two of us do that enough on our own time.
I would tell you it has been my greatest honour and privilege to raise Luna as though she were my own, but that would be a lie. As far as I was concerned before I met you, and even after, she is my child, and always will be. But she is yours as well, Vic, though you have denied your claim in what you considered her best interest.
If you're reading this, I think it fair to say the circumstances have changed, and I am invoking the final clause of our gentlemen's agreement. She has no one else in the world, now. I know you had meant to stay out of it all, to let her grow up in our society, "where she was meant to be," to use your words. And she has. In a few short years, she will be an adult. You no longer need worry about tearing her between two worlds. But she still needs a parent who loves her, and she always will. And there's never been any doubt in my mind that you do. That's why you left the both of them with me, after all, not out of spite but because you thought it was for the best.
She needs you now, Vic, and I suspect you've always needed her, though you've done your best to pretend otherwise. I would imagine the shock of meeting you would pale in comparison to her reaction to my death, so don't let that lead you to hesitate. I would tell you to take care of her, to guard her and protect her with everything you have, but I know you'll do that regardless. I would caution you that she is a free spirit, that she's been raised to believe where others would bow to convention, but I doubt very much that aspect of her personality would conflict much with your own.
As I sit here, I try to imagine how she might react to meeting you. To learning the truth. To learning her biological father is in fact a member of the Muggle Justice League--something else most of her peers don't believe in. I sit here, and I realize I have no clue. She's always been so hard to read, especially since her mother died. I'm sure my death won't do anything to improve the situation.
The two of you have much to learn about each other, much to work through, and you will. But you clearly love her, as I said before, and in time she will realize that. Really, very little else matters. If I were to give you advice, I'd suggest only patience. Especially with yourself--this will be a rather different challenge for you, but I have no doubt you will rise smashingly to the occasion. If I thought otherwise, I wouldn't leave Luna in your care. If I could ask one other thing of you, it would be this: I would hope you would tell her of your life's work sooner rather than later. She is almost disturbingly good at knowing when secrets are being kept from her, as I've told you before, and, well, I'd like her to be prepared if you should ever put on that featureless mask of yours and not survive to remove it.
Well, I'm looking back over all this, and to be quite honest, I can't believe it took me three hours to write. But as I said earlier, this is a difficult endeavor. There is much more for you to know, things it was either impossible or impractical to include in this final epistle. You will find, below, the telephone number of my solicitor. She will no doubt by now be expecting your call. Godspeed, my friend. As always in our friendship, the honour remains mine.
In Conviction and Faith,
William Henry Lovegood
Question stared blankly at the words. He felt like the world had suddenly sprinted away from him, and it was all his mind could do to limp to catch up. It wasn't until he saw Batman's reflection in the monitor, his opaque lenses wide with shock, that he felt control crash back into him--along with a painful tightness that gripped his chest and an unpleasant moisture in his eyes. This wasn't supposed to happen. William wasn't supposed to die. Luna wasn't supposed to be alone ... never alone ... but they'd prepared for this. It was Vic's time now. He had to act, he had to--
Batman swept back as Question's chair went crashing to the floor, the faceless sleuth having bolted to his feet and started moving about the room. There was much to be done. He had to pack and call the solicitor. He needed to book a plane ticket from somewhere to London. It wouldn't do to just show up there without a paper trail. Huntress--Helena--had to be told what was going on. How am I supposed to explain all this? And when? I can't very well pull her off the stakeout in Bludhaven. And where was he supposed to take Luna to live? His apartment in Hub City was in a terrible neighborhood--only slightly safer than a crack house surrounded by a live minefield, as far as he was concerned. Was she supposed to live on the Watchtower? The same space station Cadmus had done their best to destroy three weeks ago, along with all hands? Would she even want to live with him? She's just as likely to despise me, he thought suddenly, what am I going to do?
He felt a presence in front of him an instant before Batman appeared, grabbing him by the shoulders. He came to a stop, realizing he'd done little more than trot a wide circle around the room. The cowled vigilante's mouth was pulled down in a tight frown, but he couldn't read any anger or ill will. "Question," he said finally, all the gravel gone from his deep voice, "are you alright?"
Vic shook himself free and nodded slowly, focusing only on the man in front of him. "My 'personal stake in the matter,'" he murmured finally, "though I'm sure you already figured it out." He was suddenly glad the other detective had decided to stick around.
"So I gathered," the caped vigilante said softly, staring out the window at the earth below. "What now?" His voice had lost some of its authority, and in the back of his mind, Vic realized what was going on. Batman was forcing him to make some sort of decision sooner rather than later, to spark that rational part of his brain that had so easily figured out and accepted that werewolves were committing murder-kidnappings across the United Kingdom back into action.
William had faith in him. Luna--his beautiful, forbidden little girl that wasn't so forbidden anymore--needed him.
She has no one else in the world, now. Vic heard William's measured voice in his head. You love her ... really, very little else matters.
She has me. It wouldn't be easy. Probably not even particularly pleasant at first. The likelihood of their relationship now ever approaching the traditional father/daughter dynamic he once imagined was practically nil. The life he had built so carefully for himself would change forever. But she needed him, and that was all that mattered.
"Now," he looked at Batman, the beginnings of plan already taking shape, "I have a lot of work to do. I'm afraid Jack's case will have to wait--not long, as I'm more anxious to get to the bottom of things now than ever, but I doubt my skills are at their best at the moment. I need your help once more."
"Anything," he paused, and when he spoke again a little of the gravel was back, "within reason."
"When Helena returns from her mission, if you could tell her I had to leave on some emergency business of some sort, I would be most grateful. I don't want to tell her about all this until I know more about what's going on. I ... I also need time to think about how to approach her." He frowned under the mask. "We've never discussed my past."
"I won't lie for you," Batman said evenly, "but I think I can conceal the truth for a bit. I'll tell her you're working a case in England--like you said, you'll get to it eventually. If you need anything else, you know how to contact me," he said, the growl fully restored. He paused for a brief moment before stepping through the door. "Good luck, Vic." The unspoken sentiment hung in the air: You're going to need it.
Strangely, he didn't mind being called by his real name this time. Once Batman was gone, he went back to his terminal and scrolled to the very bottom of the message. He needed to make a call.