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Betrayal, chapter 4
Location: the Gathering Storm's secret lair
Match followed Superboy back to the heroes and their prisoners.
"Are you going to tell us why you did it, Match?" Wonder Woman asked. "Should I compel you to tell the truth with my magic lasso?"
Match seemed unconcerned as power nullifying cuffs were placed on him. "You're going to have the Martian Manhunter go into my mind, so why not wait until then?"
"What do you mean?" Kid Flash asked.
"I know too much," Match replied in a clinical tone. "Some steps will need to be taken."
"That's enough," Batman's voice came from a communicator. "The Martian Manhunter will escort the rest of the prisoners to the Slab while Match is brought to the Watchtower."
Location: the JLA Watchtower
Conner felt very nervous, while Match continued to seem blasé about everything. Batman stood at one end of the room across from him, while the rest of the heroes watched. There was an uneasy feeling in the air.
"These aren't necessary any more," Match said, holding up with arms with the power nullifiers.
"You're correct," Batman said, advancing on him.
He removed the cuffs from Match, and some in the room tensed, preparing for the white-haired teen to lash out. Match merely rubbed his wrists.
"I'm disappointed," Batman said.
"It was my call. Circumstances led to it."
The unusual conversation had others confused.
"What are they talking about?" Bart whispered to Cassie.
"By putting things into motion earlier, we weren't able to get as high a level of containment as we planned," Batman said.
Match shrugged. "There was a plan in motion that would have meant a high probability of losing one of our own; I deemed that unacceptable. What were the numbers?"
"That is an appropriate reason. We had a sixty-eight percent containment."
Match made a face. "That's six percent lower than we planned. I believe we should be able to make some of that up with the additional information I recovered."
"Yes. Considering the circumstances, this was excellent work."
There were surprised murmurings, as Match replied, "Thank you. This mission was...unpleasant."
"This was a ruse all the time?" Kon asked, shocked. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"He couldn't," Batman answered. "Hammond is telepathic and would have skimmed your minds to see if he had truly gone rogue or not. Your reactions had to be authentic."
"I'm sorry," Match apologized. "'All warfare is based on deception.' The Art of War still holds today."
"Who knew about this?" Superman asked, struggling to control himself. "Who else was in on this?"
"Besides the two of us, J'onn was the only other one," Batman replied. "We needed to keep the number of people who knew to the smallest group possible."
"What about breaking Batman's ribs?" Robin asked. "Was that planned?"
"It was part of the scenario we put together," Batman explained. "It made his 'change' seem more believable to the criminals."
"I do want it on record that it wasn't my idea," Match said with the hint of a smile.
"It added three percent to your likelihood of your disguise."
"The tattoos, the forged diary of the Contessa's, this outfit. It was all part of our profile to make it look like I'd genuinely gone bad."
"You could have told me," Superman complained. "Hammond has difficulty reading my mind."
"You weren't told because you're not suited for deceit," Batman said bluntly.
"You have too honest a face," Match said. "It's why you're you."
"Whose idea was this?" Wonder Woman asked.
"The original idea was mine," Match said. "However, it was in quite a different form. Most of the alterations were Batman's."
"I made it survivable," Batman noted. "Your original plan was completely unworkable."
"I apologize to everyone," Match said. "It was not my desire to make you all worried for your identities and loved ones."
"Don't pull something like this ever again," Kon ordered.
"He won't," Batman said. "He's now got some enforced downtime before he can enter the field again."
Match smiled and pointed at his tattoos. "I'd like to get these removed now. They really don't suit me."
"Who were we at danger of losing?" Batman asked. "We should take steps to prevent it from happening again."
"It's no longer a problem. The astral window has passed."
Batman made a face. "Oh. Magic. I thought there was a logical reason."
"They're criminals. They are a superstitious and cowardly bunch."
Kon laughed, and the laughter quickly spread. A lot of nervous energy was released.
Location: the Kent's farm
There was a knock at the door.
"I'll get it," Max said.
He opened the door and was caught in a surprise hug by Dan.
"Don't make me worry like that again!" Dan ordered.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't say anything."
Conner laughed. "At least there's a happy ending!"
"Dan, would you be a little gentler?" Max asked. "I had a lot of tattoos removed, and I'm feeling a little sensitive."
"You deserve it for making everyone worry," Dan complained. "You looked awful with them."
"I thought you would have liked the clothes."
"Kind of, but that stuff all over your body wasn't you."
"That was the point," Conner said.
"I'm back, and I'm not scary anymore," Max said.
Later that night, as Conner and Max were about to go to sleep, Conner asked, "So, how was it?"
"I didn't think I'd be that good at being evil," Max admitted. "It was...too easy, and that scares me."
"How much of it was real?" Conner asked. "I know you very well, and some of the vibes I got off of you in the computer room...I don't think you were just putting on a show for any cameras."
"People have expected me to revert to evil. That part was very true."
"What about what you expect?"
Max was silent.
"Talk to me, Max."
"I've looked at the past cases. Villains that have reformed have higher than fifty percent rate of returning to crime. That worries me because I'm not like you."
"You're so good that I can feel it in your presence. I-I'm not good."
Conner went over to hold his brother. Max was shaking.
"You are good," Conner told him. "Don't lie to yourself."
"I lied to Batman," Max whispered.
"There was no astral window. I called the mission off because I felt myself slipping."
Conner picked up a handkerchief and wiped his brother's eyes. "Look, you were under a lot of pressure with this. Calling it off was the right choice."
"We could have captured more of them if I wasn't so easily tempted. If I were stronger-"
"I'll keep you out of these situations," Conner promised. "When you're dealing with areas where it's clear what's right and wrong, you'll get a better sense of yourself."
"I'm sorry for being such a baby."
"Don't apologize for being human. Never apologize for that."
My apologies for the misdirection, but if you look at the end of the last chapter in Fallout, you'll see that Batman and Match were working on this for a while!
Any and all comments welcome!