Hey. Sorry for the long wait for the update, but I've just gotten all nice and moved in at college (my first year) and so should start doing better. Slightly. As always, reviews keep me going sometimes so I'd love some.
Chapter Two: The Bedfellows Get Stranger
Spoilers for Starcrossed
The first time it hit her, she feel twenty feet, her body stunned into temporarily submission, before she regained control over herself and, steadily, regained height, balance, and direction.
The second time, all she registered was pain, but she was expecting it. She gritted her teeth and shoved into that distant pocket in the dark corner of all our brains until it stopped screwing with her. The pain, to its credit, did pass but not nearly as quickly as Shayera would have liked.
She should have learned, considering she was no fool nor had ever suffered them for any less than a rate of a pint of blood per ten minutes. But it wasn't as though she was flying through storm clouds with what, lately, was behaving exclusively as a lightning rod but rather she was flying under clear blue skies that shone deceptively. Sure, the mace weakened it, but it was only magic to a point and pure electricity beyond that.
Shayera was going to have to include this in her report, but she had no idea that she would tell them. Were magic lightning bolts a deal-breaker? Probably. Was that a good thing? She was beginning to wonder.
The third time it whirred and crackled through her and rocketed around inside her until her feathers and hair both stood uncomfortably on end, she swerved into the ocean, which both ate up and shared the current between her and several fish, and somehow increased it. She beat a shark away, the crack of the spiked metal against cartilage bones echoing even through the blub-blub sound of having been under water for several minutes now.
Her wings were soaked now, but the dead shark floated well enough for her to prop up against it and spread them out to dry.
An hour, many waves, a few dolphins and one other shark passed before she flew again.
She flew until she trees that were nearly endless and decided that this would be a good point to continue on.
The fourth time the lightning struck Shayera, her heart, bowing before the great merciless force before it, stopped.
Wally West was looking for some campers who may or may not have been eaten by a bear. True, one really ought to know whether or not they were relatively whole or in tiny little kibble-sized scraps, but therein lay the problem. It was a group of fifteen women, they had been on a retreat for a support group they had all turned to in their respective darkest hours: survivors of domestic violence. This in and of itself was more than enough to make Wally feel enough pity to look after their well-being, but that was not the end of it. Two of them were pregnant by men they never wanted to look upon, touch, smell, see, taste or hear again. Ever. Some of them continued to sport scars and injuries for the more difficult years of their lives, all of them were broken and only just beginning to heal, the seams of their fractures still evident to the naked eye. They were a pitiful group and no one would want them to come to harm. Or so one would hope.
But apparently someone did. Either that, or none among them knew how to use a compass. They were supposed to meet their bus at an easy-to-find junction that all the trails within the national park eventually led to. They had five satellite phones among them in the case of something...unexpected happening with either of the pregnancies. They should have called if something had gone wrong. One of them should have been able to get word out in the case of just about any garden-variety disaster.
Wally watched the news when he could, but the fact of the matter was that even though he could very nearly occupy two spaces simultaneously that he very seldom had time. However, this morning at a local coffee shop the woman who had, without comment and without charge, given him a coffee with five creams and thirty-seven sugars for years, begged him to find her sister. The woman who had never flinched when scalding coffee spilled down her shirt, or when she was screamed at by an overly-caffeinated customer the fifth time that day had asked him softly and hopefully for this favor with tears in her eyes.
He had agreed in a heartbeat. Promised, if you will.
So here he was. The trees were quickly beginning to look the same to him, the monotonous bright blue sky no help. "I'm not lost," he assured a nearby towering redwood. He just wasn't found, either.
There were no lightning-scarred corpses, no suspicious bloody stains. There was just plain nothing. He'd expended beyond fifteen thousand calories darting between trees and running
up waterfalls and the like. They might as well never been here, never met, never been born. He sighed. He was no detective, if he could just find a body he would be able to put something together...
He promptly stopped wishing for that upon realizing that that would be wishing one of them dead.
Suddenly there was a violent break in the seemingly never-ending olive green colors of the forest. Something artificial and bright. Immediately he backtracked about a mile. A prone female form lay in the upper branches of some trees, unmoving and slumped.
He swore softly, and darted up the tree, running vertically where the branches ran out. He knew better than to try to move someone with an unknown injury without immediate danger present, but there was no heartbeat. He swore. The body's need for oxygen outweighed any possible spinal injury, and CPR was an impossibility with her slumped like that.
Wally attempted to lay her out flat on the ground before he realized what was preventing this: wings. Not allowing his bewilderment to creep up on him, he attempted to yank them off.
They didn't budge, and he got a handful of grey feathers and blood droplets for his trouble.
An angel. It was a strange world they lived in, after all. He decided not to think about this. He did chest compressions anyway, intermittently forcing air into her lungs as well. Five minutes later, her heart followed Wally's illustrious example and took to beating on its own. Two minutes after that, her lungs followed. Moments later she was concious, and slammed the hilt of her mace into his face with a cry that made his palms sweat.
The last thing he heard was the crunch of his own skull cracking.
This was merely further confirmation of many of Wally's preformed theories on women.
"You don't like me being here." There was no hint of a question mark at the end of that sentence. Slowly, J'onn began chewing on a raspberry dipped in whipped cream. He almost smiled.
"So you really are a mind reader..." Muttered Bruce, knowing J'onn would hear anyway. He stirred a minute quantity of cream into his coffee.
It was just the two of them this morning, college now taking of most of Barbara's time (something Bruce was deeply grateful for) and Tim was always allowed to sleep in until the absolute last possible moment to dress and down breakfast during his car ride to school, excepting the days when his stumbling gait and bruise-like indentations under his eyes were so pathetic that even Bruce was moved to pity and told him to go back to bed. Today, Tim greedily slumbered upstairs, his body eager for every last drop of rest it could garner before, once again, being hauled away from it by the most obnoxious noise known to man: the alarm clock.
"Is it the fact that I am unknown to you or that my abilities far exceed any of yours?" Slowly, J'onn moved onto a strawberry. Today he was a man in his early sixties, with salt-an-pepper hair and an olive complexion, with a priest's collar that struck Bruce as judgemental.
"Why would you need to ask that question?" Bruce offered as an answer, as he began to drink slowly.
"As you threatened not more than twenty-four hours ago, I am no longer able to gain easy access into your mind, though the strain that feat is placing upon you is enormous."
"You could just be telling me that it's working in hopes that I will relax my guard." Bruce shot back, blue eyes, as always, deeply wary.
"And why would I not have simply perused your mind at my leisure when I had the opportunity?"
Bruce shrugged. "You may not have realized the value of the information I have until recently. You may be perusing my mind as we speak, having learned how not to allow your consciousness to leak into mine. You may enjoy deception and challenges."
"Will you be answering the question?"
Bruce shrugged, and for a moment the persona he wore in the day seemed to leak out. "Perhaps," he said, his tone bordering on jovial, "The short answer is 'both' and the combination is deadlier. Now why did you want to know?"
J'onn shrugged and began perusing possible spreads for his toast. "If the former is the issue, then time will cure it and we could perhaps be friends." A glimpse of his devastating loneliness showed in that statement. "If it's the latter, you will most likely hold me in contempt for the rest of our acquaintance."
Bruce never really knew how to handle honesty. "Flawless logic," he said, and bowed his head as though complimenting him on his bet at some horse races.
"You don't trust my kind." A strict observation.
"And people call me the detective."
It was noon, and Bruce bowed his head in acknowledgement as Clark touched down. "Anything?"
Clark sighed, heavily. "Nothing. I was struck three times." His hair still smoked vaguely in protest.
Bruce cocked his head sideways and nearly smirked. "It still hurt," Clark muttered, in protest. "They come from nowhere. And Lois took my byline..."
For an odd moment, Bruce sighed and his shoulders slumped. "Great. Did you...?"
Clark held up a little black box. "Your computer will tell you the same thing I just did."
Bruce shrugged. "Perhaps."
Even so, they both sat down to watch the recording. Clear blue sky and silence filled the entirety of the huge screen. Then, a crack that made neither of them flinch and brilliant blue light that filled the sky. The perspective shook slightly. Bruce carefully rewinded it, and then watched it again. Then again. Then one more time until....stop! One frame at a time, from the precise time the lightning appeared. Then, frame by frame...
Blue sky, innocent and wide, one would half-expect a kite to appear.
Next frame. A single dot that only Clark could see, still blue, but not. Different. Deadly.
The frame after. The electricity took form now, its jagged edges evident.
Bruce prepared to continue, but Clark muttered quickly, "Stop. Blow up the area immediately surrounding the lightning."
Muttering something unflattering, Bruce obliged until what was a tiny sector of the camera filled the whole enormous scream. Around the fledgling natural disaster, which at this moment was in the shape of a blue disc, there was a tiny amount of peach color, as the skin of the apple to its flesh.
"Atmospheric anomaly?" Bruce muttered, hope's third cousin in his voice.
Clark sighed. "If it was anything....natural, I would have the temperature, or the air pressure change, or heard it. It's not anything..." Again he groped for words with which to discuss the impossible. "Scientific."
Bruce nodded, and attempted to stop the conclusion he could feel coming from reaching his mouth. "A hand?"
Clark's shoulders slumped. "Blow up the image some more...Yeah. I can see the pores."
"But you couldn't hear a heartbeat, or feel a body tempearture, or hear the movement against the air molecules?" Bruce never had bothered keeping accusation out of his tone, and did not choose that night to start.
"No." said Clark. "I couldn't. Which shouldn't be possible..."
Soft groans echoed through the cave. If they'd known that they would utter this mantra many times, then perhaps they would appreciate this time, the first, more.
"I hate magic."
John Stewart's home was genuinely his castle. At least, in terms of fortification. He had five padlocks on the doors, none of which he ever forgot to bolt carefully upon returning home.
John worked out for hours a day, the mugger or garden-variety thief that tried their luck with him was going to get a whole lot more than his wallet. His windows were bullet-proofed carefully and discreetly. If one attempted to use the air ducts to gain entry, they would regret it. If the unconscious can truly be said to be capable of as much. His walls were reinforced to resist smaller explosives and standard rocket-launchers.
A curious absentee: weapons. No matter how thoroughly a truly fortunate intruder ransacked his apartment, they would find neither gun, nor knife, nor club, not even a pink cane of mace. The security wasn't for John's sake either, he wasn't vain enough to believe that someone would go through all the trouble of mounting a plot against him. If he wasn't in charge of both guarding and guarding with what lived up to the hype of "the most powerful weapon in the universe" he wouldn't have bothered.
Tonight, after a standard set of drills, he collapsed on the couch with a small bowl of rocky road and was planning to indulge in the Turner Classic Movie marathon, when, while flipping through the news he came across something that could, perhaps be called curious. The headline across the top of his television was "Homicidal Angel Seeks Medical Care." This alone may not have interested him, as this was a world they lived in that way quite prone to its oddities, and, whoever she was, she was well within her rights to seek medical care just like every other green man or giant lizard.
The words began to roll of the screen, and were replaced with two others. "For Flash."
A sudden image appeared on the screen, what looked like a warrior angel, a man in red pajamas slumped over her back, screaming very unflattering things about the possible ancestries of those in charge of the police blockade. Then she turned to the reporter who was reading off of a solemn monologue and made an anatomically impossible suggestion.
Hostage situation or major misunderstanding, it didn't matter.
John Stewart's hand found his ring.
Diana had made her hold hands, for all the good it might do. But they had been told to fly low and only under the cover of night, meaning that the seemingly-endless wine-dark ocean was mere feet below them, instead of miles as both would have greatly preferred. Donna had given her sister A Look when she first reached for her hand, but Diana had returned it tenfold, trying very hard to prevent the particulars of Icarus' story from running through her head over and over again. If Donna had had any thoughts towards falling in the ocean, towards allowing that deep and nearly-endless blackness to fill her lungs and snuff out her life, well, she was going to have to take Diana down with her, for she would die before she let their deeply-intertwined fingers be parted.
Something in her, something that others might call feminine intuition, whispered that it was something other than too many frightening legends too late at night that made her hold her little sister close, that it was something a lot like sense.
Fact: Donna was very nearly as strong and fast as herself, and would be, given time.
Fact: Donna had not been awaiting anxiously Diana's return last night, but had, rather mysteriously, somehow been lagging behind Diana, despite her ample head start and the winding
and time-consuming path Diana had led the bull on. This was...not like her, to be slow when she needed to be fast, to behave unwisely in such unsuitable circumstances.
Fact: Donna had been bruised and sore the morning after their run. Diana had been out of breath and frightened, certainly, but not so pale, not so frighteningly weak, not so shaky.
Something a lot like guilt had wriggled in Diana's stomach for being too busy to notice fighting with her mother to notice these signs before they left, or too demand an answer or...Or what? She had nothing with which to force Donna to tell her what had happened. Donna was weak, afraid, and in pain, Diana knew, but so was she. How could she help? Diana supposed it was easier to focus on what could be wrong with Donna than her prized shining black hair that her mother had rapidly and neatly hacked off with a short sword, than these hideous pants, than the incredible pain from the merciless bindings on her chest.
"What?" Donna muttered, finally breaking the silence that had defined their trip together for the deepest hours of the night. It was the wee hours of the morning now, and both were so far on edge as to be nearly fallen.
"Are you...okay?" Diana winced instantly at the question, at her tone.
Donna chuckled dryly, sounding many times her age for a moment. "You're aware we're currently running for our lives and will be hiding among rapists and cretins in order to keep them?"
"I meant...physically." Diana sighed. When had it become difficult to talk to her best friend in the whole world, the one who knew her better than she knew herself, with whom she shared food, quarters, secrets, and feelings? Whom she would die for without a second thought?
Donna looked at her as though she was something gelatinous that she had stepped in. "I'm fine," she said, flippantly. But, just for a second, her eyes flickered to her left thigh, then returned to defiantly meeting her sister's.
Diana didn't bother thinking about it, but slammed the heel of her hand into Donna's upper leg. Donna, to her credit, did not scream and swear and writhe, but gasped nearly silently. A few scant tears filled her eyes. "What was that for?" Donna had meant her tone to sound annoyed, but the words sounded with an edge of pain. In retribution, she slammed her elbow into Diana's chest, already a cause of no small amount of pain.
All she got in return was a glare.
John Stewart touched down in the middle of this zoo of a hospital parking lot, allowing the relieved and admiring glances to slide right over him, neither demanding nor taking nothing from his impressive reserves of energy and willpower. He heard the reporter, a minute redhead with freckles and a wide, white smile, gasp with excitement and promptly start announcing that "The Green Lantern had arrived on the scene, and, for those of you who don't know..."
John tried valiantly to rid himself of that twinge of discomfort at the glorified biography of his life that the redhead was spouting as though she had had it memorized for ages now.
He steadily approached the winged lady, grateful for the fact that the crowd seemed to think that five feet was the minimum distance they should keep from him. He made is to her side within moments, cutting an easy swathe through the crowd.
"Ma'am?" He tried very hard to sound authoritative and sure of himself, but this was more diplomacy than scaring some mugger witless. This was miles outside of his comfort zone.
He saw that crackling mace move and instantly a green shield went up in front of him without any thought, but she was just adjusting her hold on it.
"If I hand him to you, do you feel like your competent enough to get him into that damn hospital?" Her voice was loud and menacing. "If there's internal bleeding, then these idiots, who really" She gave the reporter a look filled with the most hatred she could muster, "should be used to aliens by now might have killed him."
John just nodded, and a shining green stretcher appeared, levitating about four feet of the ground appeared before him. He gestured, and Shayera lay him there with something that he might have called gentleness had he never spoken to her before. He began to strap Wally in, slowly, in an attempt to prevent any or further spinal injury.
The stretcher began to move towards the hospital smoothly, everyone too busy gaping as Shayera fell into step with John to get further in the way. The cops, apparently having felt that this was a situation better handled by superheroes anyway, obliging faded into the crowd then away altogether.
"What happened?" John mutter, they were both jogging now and Shayera's wings swayed awkwardly as she did so.
For a moment, she looked at her feet. "It was an accident."
"He just...surprised me."
John chuckled softly.
They passed him off to the first nurse, a forty-something Hispanic woman who didn't faint and looked both of them in the eye and then glanced at Wally, disapproval for their occupation written into every line of her body. Shayera drew very close to the woman, a who was truly lovely with shining black hair dangling down to her waist and murmured, "I find out that anyone took his mask off...." She let the threat hang in the air, and the nurse nodded sagely, half of her mouth curving upwards.
It was night, and therefore, they were on patrol. Today they had chosen a large park in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Gotham, with more than ample shadows and eerie-looking trees for the opportunistic criminal of any kind. One would have to be a fool, to wander around in that area alone at night, the strip of green and crackling brown a poor defense against a knife or gun, yet a perfect hiding place for such an assailant. But in Gotham, the muggers were every bit as professional as the CEOs and, on average, far more talented in their chosen fields. Perhaps they were hungry, or desperate, and once in a blue moon Bruce could be prevailed upon to pity them, but he would see the fear and the promise of future nightmares on the faces of those they robbed and hurt and realize that he would never, ever, understand.
Tim, despite being something of a prodigy and a very sweet boy who caught more than any of his guardians gave him credit for, tended to buy wholeheartedly into what they were doing. People who got hurt were innocent. Those who did the hurting had to be stopped because they were wicked, but never harmed in turn because they were also misled and weary, and the good guys didn't hurt someone they didn't need to.
Tonight's victim was a college-age girl, quite drunk, sobbing, and clad in a wildly-dishevelled outfit that had probably looked very put-together and flattering not three hours earlier. Her appearance, which upon closer inspection revealed angry plum-colored bruises forming on her wrists, collarbones and face made her reasons for walking home alone at such an hour quite apparent. The last thing she needed that night was to be harmed or intimidated by another man.
Bruce and Tim were perched in a tree. When the two men, both in their young twenties, both walking with a swagger, whom they had been waiting for for hours now finally acting he would swoop down from the tree, and slink towards them slowly, looking for all the world like a demon fresh from hell. They would try to run, or fight, but it wouldn't work. They would reach for the girl as a hostage, but she would have already been spirited away to safety by Tim. They would never, ever, again try to hurt someone weaker than them once they got out of the hospital.
"Stop!" One of them called out. "Stop right now!"
The girl had lived in Gotham her whole life and sprinted, making it all of five steps before tripping over her high heels. Bruce allowed then to get within ten feet of her and then, with a barely-detectable nod at Tim, moved down silently onto the grass.
He never aimed for the head first, instead breaking a collarbone with a swift roundhouse which caused the tip of his boot to connect with a loud, sickening crunch and several ribs on the
other with a well-placed elbow. The former fell to his knees, gasping with the pain and groping at what was once whole with something that seemed like shock. The latter went for Bruce with a sloppy and slow right hook. Bruce didn't even bother with a formal block, but caught the delicate part of the man's wrist in his iron grip and, lightly, squeezed. The man, who was looking much more like a boy now, howled.
He was shoved into the boy already on the concrete. "If I ever meet either of you again..." His voice was a hiss straight from nightmares.
Both pale, sweating, and shaking nodded and limped away as fast as they could. Tomorrow they would make up a story about an enormously unfair fight with ten huge armed men. Tonight they would go to a hospital and perhaps look through the Help Wanted section of the classifieds while waiting for medical care.
Bruce, by now, knew better than to get near the girl, who was sobbing that much harder and whose mascara was now running in earnest. Tim approached and patter her shoulder. "Do you want me to walk you to the hospital?"
Leaky brown eyes were fixed on him. "He can come too," Tim added lightly, "And then anyone that even looks at you funny," he mimed a punch and a growl.
The girl offered a watery chuckle and spoke. "I just want to go home."
"Okay. Do you live near here?" She nodded and they all set off, Bruce keeping at least forty feet behind, always, watching, listening, and even smelling for signs of trouble.
The girl was seen through her front door without incident, and the moment Bruce had joined Tim some ancient instinct prompted him to look upward. An unidentifiable outline moved with grace and speed that he might have thought it was Clark, except Clark never moved so...regally. Within moments his instantaneously-formed theory that this was a new player was confirmed as the second dishevelled creature of his night appeared before him. He was cut, and sweat, and had storm-colored spots beneath his eyes, which were blazing. But for the merest fraction of a second all either him or Tim could do was stare. With his already-infamous willpower, he shook himself out of it and assumed a subtle defensive stance and waited patiently for his next move, already certain that there was a certain wrongness about him that had nothing to do with abilities beyond that of humans.
The bundle in his arms moved vaguely. He shouted something at Bruce. It sounded like poetry. Tim moved forward slowly to more closely inspect what he clutched to his chest so tightly, but Bruce held his arm out just as this raven-haired man lashed out a leg that would have landed Tim on the ground and at least slightly broken.
He spoke to him again, more slowly. Bruce caught three words: "injury", "sister", and "urgent" and decided that the rest were relatively superfluous. Years ago, back when Bruce didn't know absolutely everything, he had read the Iliad in its original tongue. It remained one of his favorite stories.
He thought briefly about a possible equivalent for "doctor" and settled for "healer in white" and the man, with what he recognized as deep distrust, nodded but still gestured for him to go first, to lead the way.
Finally, after they had passed under several streetlights allowing him to be inspected more closely by Tim, whose movements he didn't want with quite such disdain, he drew closer to Bruce and whispered, not knowing that he may as well have shouted. "Who is he?" And, when Bruce shrugged almost imperceptibly, "And why is he wearing a pair of your pants?"