This takes place after the events of another fanfiction of mine, "The Flash is Wally West" which is chapter two of my fanfiction (also on this site) "Justice League Rescue Missions". It's basically the aftermath of what happened in that chapter, though this is still a standalone and can be read without having read the other story first. So we're all good.
Standard disclaimers apply. Reviews and concrit are appreciated.
Crosswords and Stockholm Syndrome.
The silence hangs for a long, heavy beat.
Silence, that is, except for the beeping. They've left only one of the machines turned on. Which is okay, because it's the only one Don needs, and even that's just a precaution. Asides from that, everything is quiet.
Hank pulls himself together and starts talking. 'Okay, what the living fuckdid you think you were doing?'
'Hi, Hank, nice to see that you didn't get yourself killed out there.'
'Oh, shut up and answer.'
He pulls out a chair –too sharply, too suddenly– and almost breaks the legs when he sits down since he's slamming it into the floor so hard. A doctor gives his a disparaging glance. Hank pretends to ignore him.
'Now that's a nice bedside manner. And a contradiction in terms to boot.'
'I'm not a doctor, doofus, and I'm not here to make you feel better. And do those machines have to beep so loud?'
'Machine. Plural. And it's sort of checking my nervous system hasn't gone kaput, so I'd really rather it kept making the noise. For now, at least. Besides, you get used to it after a while.'
The silence hangs again, dry and tense. Don stares absently at the IV sticking out of his wrist with no signs of wanting to pull it out the way Hank probably would've been trying to by now. 'I'm alright, you know. A mild concussion, third degree burns going up my arms and possible nervous trauma from the excessive use of stun guns on my person, but that's mostly invisible stuff, and the burns, which aren't, can be hidden under my sleeves, so there's no risk of people asking questions. Apart from that I'm perfectly healthy and they're letting me out of here in the morning provided my nervous system behaves tonight, thanks for asking.'
'You mean freaking pacifist, there's a small but very important difference.'
'…Yeah. I'm just gonna stick with idiot and move right along. I repeat: what the hell were you thinking?'
A sigh, impatient and not at all willing to get engaged in the argument they've been having for most of their lives. 'I wasn't thinking, I guess. Obviously. I was in the middle of a transformation, half way between my human and Dove form, my senses were impaired and I didn't know they knew I was there, or else I would've stopped them. As Superman told me: we all make mistakes. Most of them just don't come quite as close as that to getting me killed.'
'"Most" is pretty much the key word in that sentence.'
Hank isn't one for maths and logic, but he's has counted eighteen guns being pointed at his brother's head to day. Seven of them came within scant millimetres of being fired. He's counted thirty-six terrorists, seventeen dirty bombs, countless hand grenades and a couple of stun guns. All of that, versus six league members. Six-and-a-half if you counted Mr Terrific's constant audio-instructions over the comm. link.
Really, they should probably be dead by now, but somehow that's not what happens in the League.
'So. Shayera says she wants to teach you the advantages of organizing attack-defence strategies before you go into a fight, or something. Wally said he's gonna hold out on taking Allstar out for coffee until you're coming with us. The Allstar in question was still having a minor freak out last I checked, but she'll calm down when I get back there and tell her you're okay and just as irritating as usual. Anyone else I need to inform that you're not dead, or are we done there.'
'Meh. Is probably a prophet, or something. I bet she already knows.'
Don sighs. Hank can't quite tell if it's in relief or irritation. 'I probably should've talked to her before we came here. Not that I didn't appreciate her trying to put a hand through me and the terrorist in order to pull the gun away from my head, but…'
'But you didn't because it freaked you the hell out?'
'I was going to say that it really wasn't necessary, but your way works too. Say thanks to her for me?'
Hank flicks the IV bag idly. 'Say thanks yourself, man, you're conscious, aren't you?'
'They weren't happy with me, were they?' Don says.
'I'd say the terrorists were more pissed than our team mates were.'
'No wonder. I did screw up a weaponry exchange that that must've been eight months in the making. I didn't really expect anyone to go calmly. How'd the rest of the mission go? Blow up any buildings?'
'Blow up? Nah. Took a wall out of the room where they were holding you, though.'
'…I'm touched, really.'
'Don't be. I just wanted to see how tough it really was if it could hold the Unbridled Energy of Order. You know you could totally have bashed a hole right through one of those walls if you tried.'
'Yeah but the guy guarding my room never came close enough for me to execute a believable defensive move.'
'He had to?'
Don is tapping his fingers in time to the machine monitoring his vital systems. His heart beat or his nervous system or… whatever the hell he just said it was for. Whatever it is, it's still irritating. His burns are wrapped in white and film, but they still look angry where Hank can see them. The sight of them makes him want to hit something even more than usual.
'My powers only work if someone threatens me first, right? Well, technically that entire situation I was in could've been interpreted as a threat with a bit of logical extrapolation. I could have possibly tricked my powers into action. It's kinda paranoid sounding, but if I could… convince the Forces of Order that I was in a constant state of threat-related high-level tension, they would've activated automatically, just to be safe. I don't know if they would've gotten me out of that room, but… maybe.'
Hank blinks, slowly. 'What do you mean "tricked them into believing"? There was nothing "tricky" about it. You were in constant danger, you're not freakin' bullet-proof and they had AK40's and more hand grenades than a Governmental Contraband Department!'
'Exactly. So technically…'
'Your powers should've worked. So why the hell didn't you take them out? Make it easier for the rest of us?'
'You and I both know the answer to that question.'
'Not good enough. I need to hear it from you. Again. Like the million other times I have when it hasn't worked.'
'I… it's a little late for us to be having the antagonist-pacifist debate, okay? First of all I wasn't sure if it would've worked. Second of all there was only one person in the room with me whom my powers could've been used against anyway and he… He wasn't exactly Solomon Grundy. If it wasn't for the gun he had over his shoulder, I figure he would've actually been pretty harmless. I wasn't going to use the unbridled Forces of Control on some kid who wasn't even hurting me at the time.'
'Yeeeah, that's a really sucky bit of morality. He was a goddamn terrorist in control of the weaponry grid that could've blown the city sky high!'
'No, he was a drone. A worker who knew less about the project than I did, except for the fact that they were going to blow a lot of stuff up. He was hired and paid an awful lot of contraband money to help run those weapons out of town, and then to keep me locked up in that cell when I discovered the weapons were there and tried to stop him. He was doing his job, illegal or not.'
Don actually seems to smile now, and Hank's gut clenches a little. 'You should've seen the look on his face, when they brought him into the room and he realised he was going to have to keep an eye on a superhero… He looked terrified. Can't imagine what he would've looked like if I'd turned out to be Superman.'
Superman would've have been locked in there in the first place. '…Oh, fuck, no, tell me you're not sympathising with them. Not them.'
Don picks at a blanket. 'Not… exactly, no, but I can almost understand their reasoning. I've said it before, Hank, that most aggression can be cured with education. I think I should've probably said "the right kind of education". Course, that's debatable too. It's complicated.'
It's like this every time, except that usually these arguments aren't held in the med-bay. They're held over undone homework, or in a fight, or sitting in the mess-room between Watch Duty shifts. The same argument, the same answers every time.
After having just been locked in a cell for twenty-four hours, lashed out at with stun guns, threatened with real guns and used as a living shield for a bunch of terrorists who would've calmly slice his windpipe open just to get away from the League alive, Hank figured his brother might have mellowed out a bit on the whole non-reaction-is-the-best-policy thing. Obviously not.
He's a total idiot.
'Did you miss what I just said? Terrorists, Don. People out to blow up everyone in their way in… in some distant country we've never even heard of for whatever the hell that country had which it wasn't giving them. People who answer everyone who disagrees with them with a bullet to the brain.'
'Well, I live with you every day; I can't very well hold someone's tendency towards violence against them.
'Har-har. How about someone's tendency towards using Nuclear Weaponryagainst harmless civilians?'
'That I can hold against them, but I'm not still sure of the situation. despite the fact the situation had me in a choke hold. Occasionally literally.'
'Oh come on, they were gun-totting bastards hiding weapons under a local factory within reach of a high school and several public districts, Don. They're worth sympathy about as much as I'm worth an A-Grade.'
'I know, and I hate it. I hate what they thought they had to do. I just…'
Don trails off into silence. He looks up at the IV like he's considering asking for a morphine reduction. Typical that Don wouldn't want his thought processes to be screwed up by a drug intake even when it stops the pain. 'You just what?'
'Just… I never figured that kidnappers would do crosswords with you.'
The chair screeches backwards across the floor and clatters as Hank stands, more out of surprise than anything else. 'What the… Crosswords?'
'He got stuck on eighteen-down and… Hank sit down, you're disturbing people.'
Hank feels like he might just be about to burst a blood vessel, and he hasn't felt like that since his Year One Western Philosophy Exam. Which he failed. Spectacularly. 'Hey there is only one person disturbing anyone here and that's you. You don't do crosswords with kidnappers!'
'Why not? My hands were tied behind my back, but they didn't gag and blindfold me until they thought you'd entered the premises… And we never did manage to work out the answer to four-across.'
Hank sits down again. There's really nothing else he can do. He doesn't have anything he can hit, and he's out of "uniform" anyway. He just…
He doesn't get it. Don's not an idiot. Surely he wouldn't. 'So… you were being held by international terrorists, sitting on top of a weapons stockpile of several hundred tons. And you were helping your cell guard with a freaking crossword?' Hank makes sure to insert just the right amount of his "fuck, you're insane" tone of voice into that statement. Don responds with an equal amount of his "no, I'm not, you just don't understand" tone. The one that always makes Hank feel like hurting things.
'Yeah… I guess it does sound weird, when you put it like that. But it didn't feel so, at the time. at least UI was thinking about something other than all the weapons in the next room… it was a hard crossword.'
It's official. His brother is a maniac. A very passive, non-aggressive maniac, but a maniac nonetheless. Hank wonders why he didn't see it earlier. I mean, what kind of superhero gets a bad guy in an arm lock and offers to let them go on three if they just calm down and take deep breaths? Not even Superman dared do that, and yet, Hank's brother did.
Maybe there is too much morphine in that IV drip.
'He was young, you know.'
Hank shifts. 'What? Who?'
'The guy in my cell. The one with the crossword. You know he was the one who had the gun to my head afterwards? I never got his name, but I'd guess he was about twenty three. Our age, Hank. All his life, he'd wanted to be a hero to his country. He thought he could do that by killing people. He was brought up thinking Superman was the symbol of everything wrong about the western world… Can you believe that? Superman. But… It's what he was taught.'
"One man's hero is another man's terrorist." Hank thinks. Don had said that to him once. Sometimes Hank just can't understand how they ever ended up taking any classes together, much less Western Philosophy (Hank still swears he only signed up because the girl in front of him was hot).
It's at least one part of Don's philosophy which has always made a funny kind of sense to Hank, and he can't say that about a lot of Don's philosophies.
'Oh, great. Wonderful. We have a name for that kind of thing, you know, its called Stockholm Syndrome!' Ha. And Don says he never paid attention in psychology. Indeed, Don looks a little surprised, his eyebrows rising in the same, familiar pattern that Hank has loved forcing him into ever since they were kids. He knows it means he's said something Don isn't ever going to be able to think of an especially good backchat to.
'Wow, I'm surprised you know that word.'
…Though as comebacks go, he's come out with worse than that.
'Oh no. Fucking no. You don't get to joke about this, Don. Not now. Not here. Not in the med bay.'
'Why, think the painkillers are impairing my judgement?'
'Why not? That's the only possible explanation for the crap you come out with at times like this.'
'It's not like I'm in here every weekHank.'
'Might as well be the way you carry on. Jesus, Don, you don't get to do this kind of stuff!' Hank's hands curl into fists. It's is a comforting and familiar sensation to him – the way his nails dig into his palms and the skin stretches across his knuckles. He knows the shape of a fist the way Don knows the shape of an open palm. 'You don't get to play nicey-nice with terrorists. They're not going to let you go just because you tell them the answer to a newspaper puzzle.'
'…Uh-huh. Somehow I doubted he would, Hank, but at least when the time came to it, it was him they got to stick the gun against my brain, if it was anyone else I might not be here.'
'Maybe crossword boy was just too chicken to pull the trigger in the first place, did you think about that? Maybe it had nothing to do with whatever the hell you said to him in that cell, what were you doing, anyway? Quoting the Geneva Convention act at him?'
'Trying to convince him there were better ways of letting out his feelings of repression? Offering psychological counselling?'
Don offers him a look so plain it almost makes something inside of Hank tremble. Except that Hank hall never trembles. Ever. It's not in his nature. It's not in his superpower. 'After being brave enough to take a job involving enough dirty bombs to blow a city to kingdom come, you really think he wouldn't have shot me? I knew he would. Or might, at least. Maybe what I said would make a difference, maybe not. In the end you guys showed up and did the saving before it could really matter. Remind me to say thank you to Shayera when we see her next.'
Hank snorts. 'Seems likely he couldn't fire a weapon, if he's pansy enough for crosswords. And why am I not surprised, Don?'
'Because you know me, I guess,' Don sighs. And that…
…That's not the answer Hank was expecting. It's not like anything he was expecting. This is supposed to be the part of the argument where Don starts giving withering glances and being all uppity about his moral constitution, except… he isn't. He just looks tired.
'Dad is gonna be so pissed off at you, you know that? That's going to make a nice change. Him being pissed at you, not me. Seems good little boy Donald Hall isn't as sensible as daddy thought he was.'
'And seems that Mister Tough Guy Harold Hall isn't quite as good at boxing bad guys out of the way as he likes to think. Though I've got to say, it was kind of impressive, the way you hell them off like that. I always said there was hope for you choosing to defend something someday instead of attack, though don't be offended when I say I wish it wasn't me.'
'You really need to get a grip. This is the Justice League, Don. Justice. League. It's not the kind of team you join so that you can get the bad guys to sit down and talk over tea and cookies!
'You do know that the words "Justice" and "League" don't actually have anything to do with bashing the hell out of things, right? So there's no point in emphasising the words, they're really not releva—'
Hank's chair legs screech out from underneath him again. That doctor is starting to look really hacked off, but also like he's seen this kind of thing a hundred times before. Hank supposes that maybe he has. 'Shut up! They were going to fucking kill you, Don! Do I look like I care what's relevant? Sometimes, you have to knock people down and keep them there, or else they'll get back up and take you down with 'em.'
'So the League is an army, then? Like those ones in Kasnia? Like the military forces that tried to shut us down last year?'
Hank's brain jolts into rewind. Great. Don's one step ahead of him again and Hank's just too angry to counter-argue properly. 'What? No, it—!'
'That's what it sounds like!' The last time Hank heard Don yell like that was when they were in Kasnia, when they were both running out of patience for that hell-damned (literally, it seemed) Annihilator and Wonder Woman had been beating up soldiers left, right and centre. 'I know when you joined up here you were thinking of at least a few building's we'd seen explode in the past, Hank, you didn't join this organization to promote world peace!'
'And you're sitting here with burns right up your arms and a drip in your vein because you wanted to uphold some… some human concept of order and tranquillity that doesn't even fucking exist. We're not order-driven, Dove, humans never were and never will be. We fight, because that's all we can do!'
'No it's not! If it was there wouldn't be a Spirit of Order in the first place!'
'Then which came first?'
'It doesn't matter!'
'I say it does!'
Great. Now the whole argument is starting to get existential. Hank hated that, because Don can always seem to outthink him. The machine is still making noises. Beep, beep, beep, like the echo of a communicator, sounding over and over again with no one picking up. It's driving Hank crazy.
'…I can break steel rods with my bare hands.' Don says eventually.
Actually, it's more of a whisper than anything else, and it's another thing Hank hasn't been expecting Don to come out with. He's really starting to wonder if he recognizes Don and Dove as separate entities anymore. Whenever he can still tell the two of them apart, if he ever could.
He's fairly sure he could, at some point. Years ago, when they were kids and Don hadn't been half as brave as he was now. It's like Don has grown into bravery as Hank grew into boxing gloves.
'I know that's not a surprise to you. You've seen me do it. You can do titanium. I'm at least three quarters as strong as you are, right? I figure I could manage reinforced steel, if I tried hard enough.'
Hank twitches. 'Yeeeah, about that explanation concerning how this is important?'
'It means that I can smash things, Hank. Just like you do. I'm actually surprisingly good at smashing things; I even do it from time to time. There's something really satisfying about breaking a double barrelled shotgun over your knee. See? We actually agree about something. And it'd probably be really easy for me to smash things on a more regular basis. But that didn't help in the bar brawl, Hank. That didn't help Kasnia during that civil war, and it didn't help me in that cell. It also didn't help you while trying to get me out of that cell. What part of "don't run at the guy with the magically-oriented plasma shielding" did you not understand back there?
'Well how was I supposed to know they had plasma shielding? The hell is the deal with that?'
'These guys were international terrorists with more technology in their pocket than our entire university tech-department, Hank. They knew what they were doing. Of course they were going to have defensive weaponry that was on a Cadmus level and higher!'
Don sounds angry enough to give Hank pause. It's usually the other way round. Hank listens to the machines beep again, waits for an explanation he knows he isn't going to understand, or maybe even remember later. Don's ideas always seemed to wash right over Hank's head most of the time.
'You were never going to talk them into stopping what they were doing, you know. It wouldn't work wuth these guys.'
'I know you're probably right. I'm an optimist, Hank, but I'm not stupid. I know when people aren't going to come quietly. I'm not going to argue. Beating things up works. Sometimes. But if people would just cool the hell off and sit down and talk about whatever it is that has their underwear wedged up their ass, then I think the tea and cookies would work pretty damn well every time, thank you. And don't say it's not true, because somewhere in that irritatingly obstinate brain of yours? A part of you knows that it is.'
'Talk to me, Hank. I know you comprehend more than just Neanderthal.'
Hank can't talk.
He can't think how. Don looks at him. Stubborn, self assured and tired. He's sitting there. In the medical bay. With a morphine drip coming out of his wrist, bandages up his arms and the expression of… well, of a guy who just spent an entire day in forced captivity and had several unpleasant encounters with tasers.
He could've fought his way out of that. He could've. If his powers only worked differently. Heck, if only his mind worked differently. He wouldn't have to be this beaten up. Hank wants to scream that at him so much that he's surprised when he manages to keep his voice at a volume which the doctor over there will find acceptable.
'Your method… it's not enough, Don. Just once out of the five-hundred odd battles we've had to diffuse this year, you've successfully talked someone out of killing lots of people. Doesn't that say anything about your success rates?'
'It's not about my success rates.'
'The heck it isn't, we're superheroes. We're supposed to stop these things happening!'
'I still think that one single battle was the best one. You called me weak back then. Was I?'
Hank can't answer that question. Not in any meaningful way. He knows it wasn't the right thing to say. It felt right then, but… 'Sometimes things like that just work when you dare to try it… we don't know how or why.'
'I know how. And I know why. I dare, Hank. They just don't realise it works in time. It should be the first line of action, but by the time we get to the conference halls and discussions, somebody's already been blown up, or kidnapped and locked in a dark room.'
'Where they then do crosswords with their captives, Stockholm boy?'
'Better Stockholm boy than God of Chaos.'
What was it Wonder Woman said? Sometimes it takes more strength not to fight.
Hank still can't get that. He can't believe they both have powers for opposite reasons. He doesn't see how they can both be rightHe doesn't see how Don's idea equality in opposites works. He doesn't get this damned karma. Hank won't sit down and let his brother get killed for his ideals, or anyone else for that matter.
That expression must show in his eyes, because he knows the look Don is giving him back. The one which says: 'I know, and I'm still going to try. Don't get yourself killed for me.'
'It's still stupid. If you'd used your powers differently…'
'They wouldn't work if I used them differently. I wouldn't want that. It's not what they're about and if it was… then I wouldn't want to be a superhero. I don't care if I fit the profile Hank. Or if I get burned a little.'
'Yeah, I know. You're stupid like that.'
'U-huh, and which of us is the Grade A student, again?'
'I'd really like it,' Don interrupts. (Irritating, because Hank doesn't sue that nickname often and he'd like it to mean something. Don doesn't even get annoyed at him for calling him that anymore.) '…If the Powers That Be would just… leave me alone for now, Hank. Let me forget about them for a while, now that we have nothing to fight over. Or for. Let me…' He bites his lip. Looks up. 'I'm still trying to think of the answer to four across.'
Hank groans. 'Okay, fine, I bite. What the hell was question four-across?'
'Famous Boxer, 1960 debut. Eleven letters, two words.'
'Man, are you a graduate or what? That's Clay.'
You know, "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee"?' Don looks blank. 'Oh, for crying out loud, I'm talking about Muhammad Ali! C'mon, what kinda boxer would go out in the ring using their birth name?'
'How about one with a non-corporate-sponsored identity?'
'Pfft. Yeah, or one without any stage pride whatsoever. Shows what you know, Ali's a legend. A hero.'
Don smiles and… it feels more like a genuine one this time. That's okay. 'Keep telling yourself that, Hank.'
'I don't need to, those damned history books you seem to love so much will tell you themselves, if you'd just look in the interesting sections for a change.'
They keep the argument up for a while. A whole fifteen minutes before Don goes completely quiet and stops pretending to be awake. The machine beeps its constant mantra, but actually, Don was right when he said that you get used to it. Over time, you even start not to notice it's there.
Hank's sure his brother's right about that, at least.
The definition of Stockholm Syndrome is, according to google, "[A psychological response sometimes seen in an abducted hostage, in which the hostage can show signs of having feelings of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger (or at least risk) in which the hostage has been placed." It is, basically, a hostage bonding with their kidnappers. I always assumed Dove to be a perfect representation of this in that he was such a devil's advocate, always trying to pay heed to both sides of an argument in an attempt to quell any possible further violence. If anyone would be sympathetic towards a kidnapper, it would be Donald Hall.
In the interests of good character usage, I know it's not typical (or advisable) to use characters as voice pieces but… Come on, these two were virtually mouthpieces in canon anyway. what's difficult is making them seem unlike Straw Men and to protray them both fairly, which apparently the original writers found as tricky as the animation writers (and the fic writers later on) did/do, and the episode, in my opinion, didn't wonderfully convey the message it was trying to but hey – at least it made an attempt.