a/n: first time writing Young Justice fic. As always, constructive criticism would be appreciated, mostly on characterization and canon compliance.
She couldn't stop crying.
This had been her fault. All of it. All that anguish, everything the team had been through, without even knowing it wasn't real…she had done that. She'd put them through the most terrible nightmare imaginable, and worse, she'd kept them trapped there, helplessly stuck inside the training simulation even after they'd 'died.'
If her Uncle hadn't intervened…M'gann sobbed harder, burying her face in her hands, her whole body trembling. They could have died for real. Every single one of them. All because she couldn't keep reality straight, keep her subconscious under control.
Someone moved to stand behind her, placing strong arms on her shoulders. Was it Conner? M'gann didn't pull away when she was gently turned around, and she instinctively crumpled into the warm, comforting hold, not caring when her comforter turned out to be none other than Captain Marvel.
She couldn't have said how long she stayed there, sobbing helplessly into the man's chest, not caring that the rest of the team was watching, or even Uncle J'onn or Batman.
He never made any attempt to push her away.
He hadn't automatically assumed anything suspicious when he saw Wally beckon Captain Marvel over, nor had he thought anything of it when the speedster hissed at the man to lean over so he could whisper something indecipherable into his ear.
Wally could often be…strange. Conner didn't always understand the reasoning behind the some of the things he did. None of these actions necessarily meant anything.
However, Conner's lack of mistrust turned out to be a poor decision, given that five seconds later he found himself on the receiving end of a veritable deathgrip from one enthusiastic Captain Marvel.
"Hey there, Superboy! I heard from Kid Flash that YOU could use some cheering up," the man said brightly, not letting go when Conner growled and began attempting to pry his arms away.
"That's it, Cap'n," Wally said lazily, watching the two of them with a wide grin, intermittently popping potato chips into his mouth. "Don't you listen when Supey here tries to make you let go, either. He just doesn't want to admit how badly he needs the hug!"
"Wally," Conner growled, livid, but unable to free himself, as Captain Marvel picked that moment to suddenly squeeze him tighter to his chest.
"Aw, no need to be shy!" the man said enthusiastically, beaming. "Everyone needs a hug sometimes. That's what your team is for!"
Robin walked in then, expression incredulous behind his mask as he took in the scene. "KF, do I even want to know what's going on here?"
"You forking over that ten bucks is what's going on here!" Wally said, turning to his friend with a triumphant smirk. "I told you Captain Marvel had as much strength as Superman. This proves it! The two of them could totally go head to head in a fight."
"Uh, Wally," Robin said, slowly backing away as Conner finally managed to wrest himself free, one arm at a time. "I don't think ten bucks is going to help you right now."
Wally turned around, then paled, only just managing to zip away in the nick of time to avoid a very angry Kryptonian fist to the face.
"Dude! Come on, it was only a joke! H-Haha, hey now, Supey, don't be like that…!"
"Are you all right, Artemis?" Kaldur asked with concern, glancing over at her from across the bio-ship while the others disembarked, casting uneasy glances back at her as they went. Artemis determinedly ignored all of them, staring off into a blank space of wall to the right.
"I'm fine," she insisted stubbornly, for what felt like the hundredth time that night.
She heard him sigh.
"It's your right to keep whatever is bothering you to yourself," he said, standing and following the others to the ship's exit. "But—if you ever want to talk."
She nodded, still not looking at him. Kaldur's footsteps echoed away in the empty ship as he walked out, leaving her alone.
Or, not quite alone, as it turned out. "...Artemis?" called an unsure voice from outside, and she had to bite down on her tongue to avoid letting out a groan. It was Captain Marvel.
"I'll be out in a SECOND!" she called out loudly, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around herself in her seat. Why couldn't they just leave her alone? She wanted to think. What Cheshire had said…
"Artemis?" came the voice again, and there was Captain Marvel, floating up into the ship to hover beside her. "Artemis, are you—are you sure you're okay?"
She wanted to scream. She was fine! "It's just a few scrapes," she said through gritted teeth. "Nothing that won't go away on it's own. They'll be gone in a few days."
"That's not what I…" he started, but then cut off, looking uneasy. "I just...I don't know, you seemed…"
Artemis finally sighed and looked directly up at him. "Look. If I come out, will you leave me alone? I don't want to talk right now."
He wavered, uncertain, and then suddenly he was getting closer, close enough that Artemis reached blindly for her bow—before abruptly realizing that he was only trying to hug her.
The realization surprised Artemis enough that she didn't move, neither hugging back nor pulling away, until the Captain backed off himself a second later, looking sheepish.
"Sorry," he said. "You just looked really sad."
He flew away without another word, leaving her truly alone. Artemis waited a moment, then forced herself to uncurl, slowly walking off the ship on aching legs. She had a lot to think about.
"Here it is! One quadruple-bacon cheeseburger, half-ketchup, half-mustard, topped with pan-seared onions and slathered with an entire bottle of ranch dressing!" His laundry list complete, Captain Marvel beamed down at Wally, clearly pleased with himself as he held out the plate. "That's it! I did it just like you asked."
"Wow, that looks great, Captain!" Wally said, feeling his mouth beginning to water as the burger's smell hit him like a freight train full of greasy caloric delight. He forced himself to hold back from tearing it out of the man's hands, however, sitting himself up straight in his armchair. "But. Did you remember the FINAL component?"
Captain Marvel grinned, peeling back the top hamburger bun to reveal a perfectly fried egg. "I was saving the best part for last," he said, with a conspiratory wink.
Wally gave him a quick thumbs-up before seizing the burger off the plate, stuffing it into his face and managing, between bites, to say: "Man, this is perfect! You're the best den mother a guy could ask for, hands down!"
A second later, Wally nearly dropped his burger as Captain Marvel bodily lifted him out of his seat for a hug, beaming.
"You really mean that, Kid Flash? Wow, thanks a ton! I hope I get to hang around with you guys forever!"
"Yeah," Wally said greedily, stuffing the last bit of burger into his mouth and swallowing it all in one bite. "Yeah, I kind of do, too."
Like everything else related to Captain Marvel, the announcement came with all the subtlety and grace of a brick.
"HEY! Hey, you guys! Guess what? The circus is in town! We should all go to the circus!" the man said eagerly, rushing into the sitting room and waving a newspaper in one hand, his cape flagging behind him.
With a supreme effort, Robin managed to keep the twitch out of his face, although once he looked over from the couch, it seemed he needn't have bothered. The rest of the team was distracted with Captain Marvel's suggestion, some of them more enthusiastic about it than others.
"That sounds like a great idea! I've never been to a real circus before," said Miss Martian brightly, tugging on Superboy's arm. "You haven't either, have you, Conner? We could both go together."
Wal—Kid Flash rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on! The circus is lame. What can a trapeze artist do that I can't? It's all amateur stuff…"
The words were like ice daggers to the stomach, but Robin forced himself to remain still, face determinedly calm and blank beneath his mask. Be like Batman. Stay under control. It doesn't matter. Priorities.
"Wally," Artemis was snarling, her voice sounding as though it was coming from very far away, even though she was standing less than two yards from where Dick—from where Robin sat. "Don't be so negative! It won't kill you to sit through a circus act for one night. If the others want to go as a team, then we'll go. Besides, you can stuff your face with circus food—"
"I don't want to go either," Robin interrupted, not quite able to force his tone to be lighthearted. "I don't really like the circus, y'know? Not very whelming."
Captain Marvel immediately flew over, lighting on the ground beside the couch. "What's the matter with it, Robin?" the man asked, sounding hurt. "You don't think it'll be fun?"
The least fun thing imaginable. "I—uh," Robin fumbled, struggling to think of a way to phrase it without hurting the man's feelings. "Being at the circus just kind of weirds me out, okay? I don't really like—"
Without warning, Captain Marvel rapidly leaned over and cut into his personal bubble: before Robin could react, he was being tightly hugged, crushed to the man's chest while he continued to babble obliviously.
"—really okay, Robin! I completely understand! If you're scared of clowns, you don't have to keep it a secret. There's nothing to be ashamed of! We don't have to go to the circus after all. We can stay here and play video games, or watch a movie, or—"
Robin tuned him out, eyes rolling beneath his mask. Well. Aside from the fact that this was completely humiliating, and the fact that Robin thought his lungs might collapse from the force of the den mother's embrace, this was certainly the lesser of two evils. The Boy Wonder awkwardly reached one arm around to hug Marvel back, gasping out, "H-Hey, Cap, mind letting up just a bit? I don't think you quite know your own strength…"
…And 1 Time a Team Member Hugged Him
Billy couldn't move. Black Adam had left him in a trembling heap on the floor, curled helplessly on his side while the villain left to go investigate a sudden explosion from above. Distantly, Billy could hear shouting voices, sounds of a struggle, but it all washed over him as empty white noise. He was in shock. The boundless courage and infinite strength of Captain Marvel felt very, very far away right now.
With a tremendous effort, the boy lifted one aching arm, hands twitching as he slowly, agonizingly, moved to graze his fingers over his injured throat. Even the lightest touch was enough to flare excruciating pain from his damaged nerves, evidence of where Black Adam had attempted to strangle him. It hadn't killed him, nor had the subsequent beating, but Billy could feel that something in his throat had been crushed by the pressure—enough to render him completely incapable of speaking. He couldn't transform.
Even breathing was a struggle.
He slowly lowered his arm, barely noting a fresh wave of pain as his fractured wrist bumped against the cold floor. His mind felt clouded in fog, making coherent thought impossible. This wasn't fun anymore. Billy had known that being a hero wouldn't always be easy, of course, but this—this was different. He just wanted to go home. He wanted to see Uncle Dudley.
He—He wanted his parents.
Eyes wide, tear-tracks running silently down his face, the ten-year-old continued to huddle motionlessly on the floor for a few long minutes, completely still aside from his unstoppable shaking. He didn't notice when several new figures rushed into the room where Black Adam had been holding him, nor when one of them approached, kneeling before Billy and placing a light, worried hand on his back.
"Are you all right?" asked a calm, yet very concerned voice.
Billy didn't respond, struggling to keep himself from blacking out. Whatever he did, he just couldn't seem to get enough air into his lungs. Something was preventing him from breathing properly.
There was silence for a moment, and then the mystery voice spoke again: "It is all right, Captain Marvel. We'll see to it that you are taken care of."
Billy couldn't tell if the voice (so familiar) was meant to comfort him, or if it was for the benefit of the speaker himself—he sounded worried, even afraid. Unthinkingly, Billy tried to tell whoever it was that he was fine, that it was okay, that everything would be all right—but the only thing that came out was a small, sad whimper of pain. A fresh wave of tears rolled unbidden down Billy's cheeks: he couldn't help it.
Then, suddenly, someone was lifting his body up from the cold ground. Even as Billy's trembling intensified at the new pains this caused, he found himself curling instinctively into the other person's arms. The embrace felt familiar and safe, so Billy allowed himself a moment of rest at last, eyes fluttering shut as Kaldur carried his limp frame back to the bio-ship, the rest of the team following close behind.