The Red Jumpsuit Conspiracy
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas. R/R.
She was giving him that look again. The Question hated it when his girlfriend, the lovely and deadly Huntress, gave him that look. It was the look that said 'You are the most inhuman man on this planet and I don't know how I love you'. He hated that look.
"Please," said Huntress through teeth that were dangerously close to being clenched.
"Helena, I would love nothing more than to do you a favor," stated Question sincerely, "but I can't." Huntress glared at him again.
"I humor your theories, Victor," said Huntress, "I listen to you ramble on and on about them, Victor. I nod my head, Victor. I support you, Victor."
"Please, Helena," scoffed Question, "I hardly see this as important." He knew he shouldn't have said that. Why oh why did his mouth move when his brain didn't work?
"Not important?" asked Huntress, "I'll go tell Sister Marie that, Vic. I'll walk up the steps of St. Catherine's, go right into her office, and tell her that this 'is hardly important'. She'll be delighted to hear that and so will the kids."
"Helena, stop the melodrama," sighed Question, "It's not that I don't want to help you. It's just that I can't." He sighed again, wondering if she fully understood the significance of her request. He admired Huntress for her dedication to the Church and to her faith. Vic Sage was too much of a cynic to believe in God but he wasn't about to think less of others for it. So when Christmas time rolled around, as was the case now, he would just use the holiday as a time to muse philosophically on the brotherhood of man and humanity's need for acceptance. However, this Christmas was presenting him with unforeseen complications, the biggest of all being the seemingly innocent request from his girlfriend. The Question inwardly snorted at the idea of innocence, especially when attached to Helena Bertinelli.
"Vic, I know they treated you like crap back at the orphanage where you grew up," said Huntress, her tone softening a little, "I know okay? I just need you to do this for me though. I'm in a really tight spot here."
"I can't," repeated Question, rubbing the bridge of his nose as he felt what must surely be a migraine coming on.
"I swear you must've been born in Gotham," snapped Huntress, "Not even Batman is a bigger Grinch than you are and that's saying something."
"I take it you asked him then," said Question.
"I asked everyone I knew to ask," said Huntress, "Q, I swear if you don't do this then I'm never sleeping with you ever again." Question hoped she couldn't see him sweat. It was the classic ploy of using sex as a bargaining chip. He knew this ploy had a concrete connection to America's current sociopolitical philosophy. If only he could find the connection then he could solve the crisis of third-world starvation. First, however, was the immediate problem: the fact that he would be deprived of fulfilling his biological imperatives with the lovely Ms. Bertinelli forever. Having realigned his priorities, Vic Sage uttered the only sensible answer a man can utter in moments of such dire peril.
"Fine, I'll do whatever you want," agreed Question, "Where's the stupid Santa suit?"
The Question had developed a new theory. There was some sort of conspiracy out there that was designed to force otherwise sane, sensible men to turn into large, beard-wearing morons dressed in red and bellowing "Ho-Ho-Ho". He wasn't sure how this plan was implemented but he believed it had a strong connection to perhaps the only weakness that sane, sensible men possessed: the absolute willingness to become total buffoons at the whims of their significant others.
"I must be insane," stated Question as Huntress helped him put on the red coat and then threw the hat at him.
"I happen to think you look very cute," said Huntress, "I'm sure the kids will absolutely love you."
"Children adore crazy people," assured Question, "I'm sure it's a scientific fact by now." He checked himself in the mirror after putting on the hat and he immediately wanted to scream. This had to be Hell. He was not a religious man by any means and even he could see that dressing up as Santa Claus was the definition of Hell.
"Vic, they're orphans," reminded Huntress, "You could try being a little more compassionate about this." Question sighed, the rush of air from his nostrils brushing the white curls of his fake beard.
"You might want to be jollier too," added Huntress as she turned to get back to the party. She made sure to put an extra swing to her hips, hoping to let Vic know just what he would be missing if he screwed this up. She had promised Sister Marie a Santa Claus and she wasn't going to break her promise to a nun. This extra sway to Helena's walk didn't go unnoticed by Question.
"Compassion I can try," muttered Question, "I wouldn't hold my breath for jolly though."
"I hear we might be having a special visitor today," said Sister Marie. Helena Bertinelli gave the nun a little smile.
"I promised you a Santa," reminded Huntress, "I've got one in the back."
"Then you're going to have an orphanage of very happy children," replied Sister Marie. Huntress felt a tug on her skirt.
"Is Santa coming this year?" asked a little girl.
"He sure is, Christy," assured Huntress with a smile, "In fact, I think it's time to go get him." The eyes of the little girl lit up with delight and she quickly ran to get the other children.
"I'll round them up," assured Sister Marie. Huntress nodded and went into the small room where Question had changed clothes. She was surprised he hadn't run away by now. She noticed him staring at something in his hand.
"For the millionth time, Q," said Huntress in a frustrated tone, "Santa Claus has to have a face." She honestly couldn't believe that Vic enjoyed wearing that mask of his. The thing actually stuck to his face for God's sake.
"Oh alright," mumbled Question as he put the mask back in his pocket. He grumbled on his way out the door.
"Q," said Huntress sternly. Question turned around and rolled his eyes. He had forgotten the bag of gifts. The thing was extremely heavy and he already hated it after just one practice lift. He knew it would likely break his shoulder or at least dislocate it.
"You owe me for this," assured Question as he hefted the sack over his shoulder and nearly fell backwards because of the weight.
"Alright, boys and girls," said Sister Marie, "We have a special visitor today." She had managed to gather all the children around the large Christmas tree that was on display in the foyer of St. Catherine's. The orphanage belonged to the same church that owned the school where Helena taught. Sister Marie had cornered Helena in the hallway one day and had conned her into getting a Santa Claus for the children. Helena had known Sister Marie for years and had decided it would be a nice present to the nun. Question, of course, begged to differ.
"Miss Helena has been kind enough to invite Santa Claus to come to our party," explained Sister Marie, "So let's all be on our best behavior." There was some slight commotion as Question attempted to resist the order from Helena to "go out there". The children watched as some unseen force propelled Santa into the room. Question tried to readjust his weight since the shove from Huntress was throwing him off balance and the added weight of the sack he was carrying wasn't helping matters.
"Ho, ho, ho," grumbled Question as he finally righted himself and stared at the mass of children.
"Louder!" hissed Huntress.
"Ho, ho, ho!" bellowed Question. He was making out a will in his head. Helena, of course, would receive the copious amounts of research he had compiled on his various theories. These would, no doubt, be handed to Batman since Helena never could make heads or tails of Question's wild ideas. Green Arrow could have Vic's collection of Marx Brothers DVDs. Question hoped that Ollie, being something of a Marxist, could appreciate the joke. If not then the videos would surely be passed on to Flash even though Wally was, admittedly, more of a Stooges man. Supergirl, Question decided, could inherit all of the pop CDs he had purchased "purely for research purposes only". He figured it would be a nice attempt at an apology for that one time he had gone through her trash and found a love letter she had written to Captain Atom but had then thrown away. Vic's jaw still sometimes made popping noises ever since she had slapped him when he had casually confronted her about his knowledge of this situation.
"I'm going to die," muttered Question as the mass of children surged forward, driven on by an innate love of the bearded man in the bright, red suit. However, converting chaos into order was something the Question prided himself on and he quickly began doing just that.
"Alright now," said Question as he waded through the crowd of children with his bag over his head, "Settle down, kids, settle down." This could only be some sort of nightmare. Question quickly managed to sit down in the chair provided by Sister Marie and put the bag in front of him.
"Santa has a new rule," stated Question before the kids could reach for the bag, "You see, lots of people being really, really close to Santa makes him nervous so all of you need to be good and give Santa space so he doesn't have what grownups call a 'panic attack'."
"Did you really come from the North Pole?" asked one boy.
"Yes," lied Question, "Now everyone line up and you can get your presents one at a time." The children did as they were told and Question began handing out the contents of the bag.
"Do you really fly around the whole world in one night?" asked a little girl.
"Yes," lied Question again, this time with what he hoped was an unnoticeable roll of his eyes. This concealment game became much harder when the other person could actually see your face.
"How?" asked the girl.
"Well," began Question as he searched for something, "you see . . . my sleigh is fitted with technology so advanced that I can actually bend the fabric of time and space so that I create wormholes capable of shuttling me from one continent to the next in a matter of seconds."
"Huh?" asked the girl.
"Magic," replied Question as he reached into the sack and took out a present, "Here, have a new doll."
"Do you really know Miss Helena?" asked another boy. It was at this point that Question was struck with divine inspiration on how he might pay back Miss Bertinelli for getting him involved in this little fiasco.
"Yes, I do," replied Question, "You see, boys and girls, Miss Helena is my 'special friend'. Every year, she comes and tells me who's been naughty and who's been nice. Why, she's even been to the North Pole before. So if you would like to find out how to be Santa's 'special friend' then you should go ask her lots of questions." Vic's plan worked like clockwork as the kids, their greed satiated for the moment, quickly rushed to grill Miss Helena on all the important details of Santa's workshop. This, of course, meant that Question could catch a break and perhaps slip away unnoticed so that he could finally dislodge himself from this God-forsaken suit and quickly burn it before a certain someone managed to get pictures of him in it and those pictures made their way around the halls of the Watchtower.
"You're not really Santa." Question's glee was halted as he stared at one lone boy who hadn't fallen for his ruse.
"What makes you say that?" asked Question.
"Santa's not real," replied the boy simply, "He's merely a character created by our consumerist culture so that big businesses will be able to exploit the desires of children and the gullibility of their parents."
"You're a precocious child," admitted Question, "Where'd you learn that?"
"I figured it out," explained the boy, "It's the same as when I figured out the growth hormones they put in the amino acid chains of those breakfast bars." Victor Sage sat there in a red suit and fake beard completely baffled. There . . . was another him?
"Do you know about the spy satellites that receive signals from the fluoride in your toothpaste?" asked Question carefully.
"I always thought it was something like that," replied the boy, "Is it seriously true?"
"I believe it," assured Question, "What's your name?"
"Charlie," replied the boy.
"So tell me, Charlie," said Question, "Why is it you don't believe in Santa Claus?"
"He's not real," replied Charlie, "I mean what's the point of believing in something that's not real? You should always look for the truth. It doesn't matter how many things you have to prove wrong before you find it. You should always believe in the truth."
"You believe your theories are true?" asked Question.
"Of course," replied Charlie, "It's not my fault that others don't though."
"Why don't they believe you?" asked Question.
"They're not ready for the truth," admitted Charlie. Question stared at the boy. Long before he was Victor Sage or even before he was the Question, he had been a lonely, little boy named Charles Victor Szasz who was raised in an orphanage. He had been picked on and tormented by peers and adults alike simply because he had his head full of crazy ideas that no one believed. Now, years later, he had become a cynical man who questioned everything because it was his nature to not only be skeptical of what everyone else believed in but also to defend his own beliefs against everyone, even himself.
"Are you from Gotham?" asked Question.
"Yeah," replied Charlie.
"I take it you're familiar with Batman then," said Question.
"Some people say he's not real," explained Charlie, "I believe he is though."
"People need symbols," explained Question, "It doesn't really matter if Santa Claus is real or if Batman is real because what people need most is the thing that Santa Claus represents or the thing that Batman represents. It's the ideas that are more important. If people need a fat man in a red suit to tell them about the spirit of giving then that's what people need. It doesn't matter whether or not Santa exists."
"It matters more that we think about the things he represents," finished Charlie, "I get it." Question let a rare smile grace his lips. He knew it was what he had needed to hear at that age. Maybe if he had then he wouldn't have become such a paranoid neurotic.
"I believe I have something special in this sack for you," said Question as he reached into his bag. He pulled out a very old, tattered book and handed it to Charlie. It was an extremely old copy of a Sherlock Holmes anthology that chronicled some of the sleuth's greatest cases.
"How'd you know?" asked Charlie as he looked at Question.
"Magic," replied Question simply, "Now run along and play with the others. They'll understand the truth in time." Charlie nodded and smiled as he ran to join the others. Question took this opportunity to retreat to the room where his "normal" clothes were eagerly waiting for his return.
"Vic, there's a boy out there who snipped off the ends of his shoelaces," said Helena as she came into the room while Question was putting on his shirt, "Have you been lecturing the children?"
"No, I thought it was common knowledge that aglets were sinister," replied the Question with a smile that Huntress could finally see.
"How did you know someone would want that gift?" asked Huntress.
"There's one in every crowd," assured Question.
"Where'd that book come from?" asked Huntress as she looked at Vic suspiciously.
"My apartment," replied Question simply, "One of the few nuns I liked gave it to me when I was his age." Helena stared at him before leaning in and kissing him on the cheek.
"You're really something, Vic," said Huntress with a smile.
"You wouldn't have me otherwise," assured Question as he finished putting on his shirt, "Have you been a good girl this year, Helena?"
"There's no fun in that," replied Helena with a smirk, "I'll see you back at my place."
"I'll be waiting," assured Question as Huntress left the room. He thought about what he had told Charlie. People needed symbols. Although Question himself preferred to remain skeptical about the existence of such abstract things, he couldn't deny humanity's need to believe in them. It was part of the reason the Justice League existed in the first place, to remind people of such things as hope, justice, and truth. So if humanity needed a man in a big, red suit to tell them to share and give to one another then that was okay with Vic. If people needed a troupe of colorfully-dressed characters like a man in red and blue tights or a man dressed like a giant bat to teach the world about truth and justice and doing what was right then that was what people needed.
"Merry Christmas to all," said Question to himself. The world needed fat men in big, red suits just like it needed men in red capes with spit curls. However, there was one very important thing the world also needed. The world needed funny men in blue overcoats who had no faces because it was those funny men who remained skeptical about everything and always questioned the Santas and the Supermen. Those funny men made sure the Santas and the Supermen never got too idealistic or too full of themselves to take the ideals they defended for granted. The world needed funny men with no faces too. Victor Sage wasn't going to question why, he was just going to enjoy it.