A/N: Thank you to Angel Queen for the beta.
Chapter Four—Longinus, Part I
There was more blood than Diana had expected, bit then, scalp wounds did bleed liberally. But they also normally clotted quickly. At this rate he'll need a transfusion, she thought worriedly. With the wounds in his wrists, ankles, back and now this, he must be losing an alarming amount of blood. Or was he? He didn't look pale, he wasn't shaky—there were none of the usual signs of massive blood-loss. And that strange odour still persisted, replacing the usual sterile atmosphere of the infirmary with one of a sunlit meadow.
Batman had wrapped bandages around his own head, but tiny dots of crimson had already begun to appear. In another twenty minutes or so they would be sodden.
"We should inform the others," she said. "J'onn especially. If magic isn't the problem then perhaps it's a psychic one."
Batman agreed—not that it had been a request—and Diana contacted the rest of the Founders for an emergency conference. Cowl replaced, Batman slipped out of the infirmary while her back had been turned for half a second. Diana got the message and entered the conference room a few moments after he did. Flash, John, and Shayera were the next to arrive, then Superman and finally J'onn.
Batman launched straight in. "Over the past two weeks, for unknown reasons, I've been undergoing stigmata—my body is manifesting the wounds supposedly suffered by Christ before his death. So far the symptoms are lacerations on my back, holes through my wrists and ankles and now multiple puncture wounds and scratches on my scalp. Magic as the cause has already been ruled out thanks to Dr Fate, and an invisible being is also highly improbable. J'onn, can you sense a telepathic presence?"
The Martian rose from his seat and put his hands either side of Batman's head, his eyes glowing orange for several moments while he searched. Diana watched his face for the merest flicker of deviancy from its normal neutrality; thought she saw a shade of a frown appear on his bald brow. Finally he drew back.
"There is something," he confirmed. "But it's too vague and too...big, for me to track down source or type. If it is a telepathic being, then they are either too skilled or simply too powerful for me to grasp them. Certainly I cannot block the access to Batman's mind. I am sorry, my friend," he apologised.
"So it could be God then," Superman muttered.
The temperature of the room dropped by about fifty degrees as Batman lashed a chilling glare across the table. "If you don't have anything helpful to contribute then why don't you just fly off back to Metropolis?"
"Why isn't it a possibility?" the Kryptonian shot back. "Millions of people all around the world hold Christian beliefs—billions follow a monotheistic religion. Are you saying they're all wrong?"
"Categorically yes," Batman snapped. "Right now, Diana is the only person on Earth who's even close to right in her beliefs, and that is only because the League has interacted with her gods. If there's no evidence for something, it doesn't exist, end of story," he finished harshly.
There was a ringing silence, then Wally scratched the back of his head. "Just a bit bleak there, Bats."
"Life is!" was the barked rebuke.
Without another word, Batman rose and left the room, probably heading to the infirmary to replace one of his dressings. In the void which followed, Diana could see too-well what would happen—they, not having seen the wounds, would worry in an aimless way and investigate without real focus. With their strategic leader temporarily out of the picture, Diana had no intention of letting them all run around like headless ducks. Chickens, she mentally corrected herself. It would have to be up to her to marshal the troops.
She cleared her throat quietly; in the silence everyone heard her.
"Flash, look into other religions besides Christianity—see if anything similar to stigmata happens in any of them. Stick to mainstream religions, we haven't got time for you to pursue every cult in the world."
The young man nodded. "Can do, Di." He zoomed away.
The princess turned to John. "GL, what about the Lantern Corps? Any race or entity they've come across with the ability to alter the unconscious mind in people, produce psychosomatic symptoms like this?"
He shook his head slowly. "Not that I know of."
"Can you take a Javelin to Oa and find out?"
He nodded, but Diana held a palm up to stop him leaving just yet. "Shayera, what's the Thanagarian religion like?"
The redhead shrugged. "Pretty primal compared to most human ones. Our gods are death, war, birth. Stuff like that. I've never been a believer."
Diana pursed her lips. "So you have no religious texts here?"
"Some ancient poetry but that's about it."
"Every little helps. Read them on the flight—you're going with John."
The ex-lovers glanced at each other, surprised. "But-"
"Look, we don't know when the next manifestation will take place," Diana said impatiently. "It could be a week from now, it could be in ten minutes. Either way, we do not have time to waste!"
They left soon after—there had been little room for argument in Diana's tone, after all. She looked at her Martian colleague. "J'onn, can you stay with Batman? I know you said it was too powerful, but if you could try and limit whatever it is, as much as you can? Please?"
J'onn stood. "I will do what I can."
Diana smiled in gratitude as he left the room, but her attention was diverted by a sulky mutter from the seat on her right. "So you want me and my beliefs out of the way too then?"
"No," she said patiently. "I was hoping you could tell me more about stigmata, about the crucifixion. I know so little about it."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Oh. Okay. What do you want to know?"
"As much as you do. You are a Christian, right?"
"Yeah. Well, it's how I was raised."
"Then I couldn't ask for a better teacher," she encouraged.
"Alright. Well, Christ was betrayed by one of his disciples—Judas Iscariot—to the Roman authorities in Jerusalem. He was mocked and whipped. He was called King of the Jews, so they fashioned a crown of-"
"-thorns," Diana completed. "And the nails through his wrists and ankles?"
"On Good Friday he was nailed to the cross and left there to die, and then-"
"Wait, 'Good Friday'? How is it good if he died?"
"Well in so doing, he purged mankind of their sins and saved them."
"Oh." That still didn't make much sense to her, but then again, neither was it a pressing problem. "Alright, what about the spear wound Bruce was talking about?"
"A Roman soldier stabbed Christ in the side, to test if he was dead. When he did, blood gushed out. Along with water, according to some accounts. Anyway, after he was dead, he was taken down from the cross and wrapped in a shroud and buried in a cave. A huge stone was rolled over the doorway, and that was supposed to be that."
"Supposed to be?"
"Yes; three days later—on what is celebrated as Easter Sunday—one of his followers named Mary Magdelene went to his grave, to find him gone."
Clark shook his head. "Magdelene wasn't a disciple. Or isn't classed as one anyway."
"Why, because she was a woman?"
"Probably. Christianity—at least in its early stages—wasn't know for its sexual equality."
Diana frowned, but indicated for him to continue.
"Right. Well, he'd been resurrected. Through...the power of God. Soon after he ascended to Heaven."
"Bible's not very clear," Clark said apologetically.
The Amazon nodded thoughtfully. "Alright. Could you try and find anyone still living who might have undergone the same thing? I realise it must be hard for you," she said quickly, seeing the wary expression which crossed his face, "that this must be challenging your beliefs in the most uncomfortable of ways, but please, Superman. How far would he go if it was you?"
He nodded resolutely. "I'll let you know what I find."
A voice spoke from the doorway, amused with a derisive edge. "And what are my orders, General? Stay in bed and rest?"
Diana smiled at Bruce as he came further in. "No. You and I are going to do something more dangerous and difficult than what the others have to do—tell Alfred."
Bruce's smile vanished like a rat up a drainpipe. "He doesn't need to know, Princess."
"Am I right in thinking," she asked, "that so far you've not had to cut down on social activities because of the stigmata?"
She took the glowering silence to mean yes.
"And unless you intend to go to functions with the cowl on—rather defeating the point of attending in the first place—the bleeding from your head is going to be hard to conceal."
"Skiing accident," he said.
"A skiing accident which left you with non-coagulating wounds?"
He glared. "Your point?"
"Alfred's going to notice when you stop going out. He'll find out why then anyway. This way you can tell him rather than risk his anger later."
She wasn't quite sure what living with an angry butler would be like, but in her experience, British people were experts at being cutting. Plus Diana was willing to bet that Batman's famous glare had more than a little Alfred in it.
Finally Bruce's shoulders slumped about three millimetres, and the sweet taste of victory appeared on Diana's tongue. He tried one more half-hearted objection. "It doesn't need two of us to tell him."
"It does if one of us doesn't trust the other to do so."
He glared. "Diana."
She smiled. "Yes?"
"You owe me for this."
"Don't get into the subject of unpaid debts, Bruce. Not even your bank account is big enough to cover what you owe me after all these years."
A/N: Review please!