I've noticed so many fantastic fics about post-Failsafe feelings, but I haven't seen any for the moments leading up to the exercise itself! So here we go!
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to nor affiliation with Young Justice.
"To die will be an awfully big adventure."
— Peter Pan
It sounds kind of fun.
"Fun" wouldn't exactly be the first word that one would jump to, based on the more-severe-than-usual expression on Batman's hard face. But honestly, they know him well enough to be able to tell when he's serious and when he's putting on that scowl just for show. (It's like Robin always says: you can't spell "scowl" without "cowl.")
Right now, they're leaning more towards "for show." Batman has them all gathered in the living room at the Cave in their civvies, and his arms are folded firmly, and Wally is eating trail mix as loudly as he possibly can. Artemis is ravenously plowing through one of those microwaveable mac-n'-cheese bowls (Wally's) and Robin somehow managed to acquire a Ziploc bag full of M&M's.
"God, Wally, were you born in a barn?" Artemis snaps. "Stop eating for five seconds so I can hear what he's saying!"
"Woman, shut your mouth," Wally retorts (although it sounds altogether more similar to: "Wmnshu'nomouff.").
"So let me get this straight," Superboy interjects. "Martian Manhunter's going to put us into some kind of… virtual reality thing?"
"Yes," Batman confirms tensely. "It will be an exercise to test how well you work as a Team in the face of large-scale disaster."
Robin snickers to himself, garnering a strange look from Superboy.
"That sounds awesome!" Wally declares, pawing through the trail mix with relish. "What kind of disaster? Earthquake? Flood? No, don't tell me – volcanic eruption! No offense, but I think we're kind of covered when it comes to volcanic eruptions as of last week—"
"An alien invasion," Batman says bluntly, eyes narrowing testily. Wally blinks owlishly at him. M'gann fidgets.
"Aliens? Old school, but I can deal," Wally mutters with a grin, kicking his feet up onto the coffee table.
"Thanks for the verdict, Wall-man," Artemis snarls. "Now that you approve, I'm sure Batman will have no qualms about proceeding."
"What is the objective?" Kaldur inquires calmly.
"To defend and protect the earth to the best of your abilities," Batman said. "I won't get into specifics now, but you all need to be here tomorrow morning at nine o'clock to get started on your… briefing, so to speak."
"Sounds like a party!" Wally exclaims, throwing his hands in the air enthusiastically, causing trail mix to shower down onto Artemis's hair.
"I'd hate to get invited to your kind of parties," Robin quips with a smirk. He turns back to Batman. "Got it, Bats. Nine sharp."
"Good. I'll see the six of you then," Batman says gruffly, nodding curtly at them before starting to head back toward the zeta tubes. Robin salutes the other five before following.
"Sleep well, everyone," Kaldur tells them with a smile before he exits. The room falls into momentary silence.
"Never thought somebody could make virtual reality sound like a bummer," Wally mutters, sounding vaguely amused.
Artemis rolls her eyes as she shakes the nuts from her hair without complaint.
"It's Batman, genius. What do you expect?" she grumbles. "And thanks for all the trail mix, by the way. It really does wonders for my roots."
"Anytime!" Wally bandies back with a grin, standing briskly. "Okie-doke, folks. I'm off."
"Like a dirty shirt," Artemis mutters under her breath. Wally obliviously strides out of the room with a wave.
She sighs and sinks down onto the couch, resting her head on the back and staring at the ceiling pensively.
"Aliens, huh?" she murmurs. "You'd better not turn on us, M'gann."
It's a joke, but the Martian girl is silent. Artemis frowns and glances up to see her shifting uncomfortably, staring at her fingers and tugging at them.
"Um…" Artemis blinks hesitantly at her, but Superboy seems to have it covered, putting his hand on M'gann's shoulder.
After a moment, M'gann lets a smile rise onto her face and directs it at Artemis, though she still looks largely uncomfortable, wringing her hands.
"I'm sorry!" she says rapidly. "I'm just…"
"It's cool. I'm sorry," Artemis replies hastily, standing up with an apologetic wave of her hand. "Anyway, um – I'm gonna… go." She nods as if agreeing with her own decision. "Bye."
"Bye, Artemis." M'gann keeps the smile until the archer has left the room, and then, it immediately falls. Superboy squeezes her shoulder.
"It's okay," he says awkwardly. "I mean – we're good aliens, right? So…"
"Right," M'gann agrees, brightening wanly. Superboy plants an encouraging kiss on top of her hair and she looks a bit happier. "Do you want to help me with the dishes?" she asks as she floats toward the kitchen.
"No," Superboy answers bluntly, following her anyway.
Batman has this miraculous thing that he can do. That thing is being able to make everyone feel terribly late even if they are on time and he is early.
The Team witnesses this firsthand the next morning, when they all converge into the main room at around nine and find the Dark Knight standing there impatiently, flanked by Captain Marvel and the Martian Manhunter. Red Tornado is working at a holographic key pad in the corner. Robin is smirking at them. In the center of the room are six raised platforms, approximately the length of beds, arranged in a circle.
It's not as though they're late (Wally considers it one of his crowning achievements), but Batman's steely glower still makes them feel as if they've just done him some enormous indecency.
"And a good morning to you, too, Batman," Wally greets him with a mock salute. Batman does not seem amused.
"Took you guys long enough!" Robin grouses, still smirking. "I thought I was gonna live a full life before you got here."
"Dude, we're two minutes early!" Wally retorts grumpily.
"Wow, what an accomplishment," Artemis mutters sarcastically, tying her hair back as she speaks. "You should have a medal."
"We are ready to be briefed," Kaldur tells Batman, sending warning looks at Wally and Robin, who promptly balk and stand at attention.
Batman frowns tensely for the briefest of moments before clearing his throat and beginning.
"Today will be spent engaging in a training exercise," he told them evenly. "This training exercise will be a simulation created by the Martian Manhunter. He will link your minds and place the six of you in an elaborate virtual reality. The premise of this exercise is that Earth is under attack by aliens, who will be armed with disintegration rays capable of reducing anyone they hit to nothing. The exercise will begin with the deaths of the entire Justice League."
Several cries of shock rippled through the Team, but Batman ignored them.
"You must keep in mind at all times that this is a training exercise, and that nothing you encounter is real. If any of you are hit by the disintegration rays or are otherwise – defeated, you will simply wake up here."
"So we basically just have to defeat the aliens and save the world?" Wally asks, frowning.
"Yes. That is your basic objective," Batman replies evenly. "If all goes well, this exercise will test your ability to operate efficiently when faced with large-scale disaster, and how you will handle your future roles as… a failsafe for the Justice League."
"A failsafe?" M'gann blinks. "For the Justice League?"
Batman's expression tightens.
"We… have faith that, should it come down to it, the League will have a sturdy replacement in the unlikely event that it falls," he murmured. "You will be that replacement. You will be that failsafe. If anything happens to us, it will be your responsibility – your duty – to replace us. This exercise will test that. Understood?"
The six nod silently, weighing their apparent responsibility.
"Does—" All heads turn to M'gann, who has spoken up meekly. "In the… exercise… should we perish, will it—" She swallows. "Hurt?"
"Not in the slightest," the Martian Manhunter assures her warmly.
M'gann is suddenly looking at the other five with an almost terrified expression, pulling at her fingers repeatedly.
"I—I don't know if I can… lose any of you," she whispers, sounding almost ashamed.
Kaldur opens his mouth to offer comfort, but Wally has already started speaking.
"Don't worry about it, Green Cheeks!" he declares with a flourish. Artemis pinches the bridge of her nose. "We'll all stick together. And hey, if any of us are dumb enough to get ourselves offed—which is pretty likely, considering the, uh, balance afflictions of certain people—" He sends a pointed, teasing look at Artemis, who scowls at him. "It's not real, so we'll just keep going and give them grief about it later. Right?"
M'gann, after a moment, nods, smiling weakly.
"We will be fine," Kaldur reassures her kindly, gently patting her shoulder.
M'gann nods to herself.
"We will be fine," she whispers.
"Now… unless there are any other questions, everyone needs to lie on one of these platforms," Batman states, gesturing to the circle behind him.
Robin stands on his tiptoes to see past Batman's shoulder.
"They look a little uncomfortable," he comments, pushing up his sunglasses with one finger. "You couldn't get us some chaise longues?"
"Unfortunately not," Batman growls, clearly not feeling Robin's cheerfulness.
Each of them hesitates for a moment, eyeing the platforms warily. Artemis is the first to step forward, pushing herself onto one with her hands and sitting on the edge. Robin follows her, taking a platform one space away; Wally goes next, strutting over to the platform beside Artemis, hopping up onto it with a grin. Kaldur takes the one beside Robin, and Superboy the one beside him, and finally M'gann, between Superboy and Artemis.
"You scared?" Wally teases Artemis, nudging her incessantly. She swats him away with a sour expression.
"No," she growls back. "That might be the stupidest question you've ever asked."
"Hey, don't sweat it! Keep calm and wait for The Kick, right?" Wally quips. Artemis permits herself a snort.
"I hope this virtual reality gets rid of your virtually bad sense of humor," she tells him. Wally gives her a thumbs-up. "That'll at least give me one less thing to worry about."
"Hey," Wally tells her enthusiastically. "It's all good. I'll have your back!"
He raises his fist at an angle and she stares skeptically at it for a moment before giving in, bumping her own knuckles against it.
"Okay, now I'm scared," she jibes. Wally clutches his chest as though wounded. "I'm gonna hold you to that, though."
"Wouldn't have it any other way." Wally shrugs jovially before lying down on the platform, shifting around and scratching periodically at his cast.
Artemis rolls over onto her side to face M'gann, who is staring at the ceiling with her hands behind her head.
"You okay?" Artemis asks her quietly.
M'gann blinks slowly.
"Yes," she replies after a moment. She doesn't look over, but Artemis can sense her focused mind – there are little flashes of each of them, of her and Wally and Superboy and Kaldur and Robin. "I'm just nervous. I've never done something like this before!" Her face brightens. "It should be exciting. Don't you think?"
Artemis hums her agreement before rolling back over onto her back, crossing her legs.
"I hope you made these aliens look good, Bats!" Robin says cheerfully. "I won't settle for anything less than creepy."
"Please, all of you be silent now," the Martian Manhunter murmurs, stepping into the center of the circle and extending his hands. "I must have clear focus to bring you all in."
"Ready?" Batman asks.
"Born that way!" Wally answers, brandishing a thumb in the air.
Superboy reaches over and wraps his fingers around M'gann's small hand. She gives him a soft smile and he returns it.
"Ready," he says.
"Yep," Artemis agrees.
Kaldur nods silently.
"Let's kick some alien behind!" Robin cries. His sunglasses glint.
"Good luck," Batman tells them, and he means it. He steps back. Captain Marvel gives them a happy wave.
"Have a good time!" he exclaims like a proud mother sending her children off to school.
Red Tornado says nothing.
"Close your eyes," the Martian Manhunter tells them gently.
(Down the rabbit hole, Artemis thinks.)
They oblige him. There is darkness for the briefest of moments, a vacuuming sensation in each of their chests, and their limbs quaver and their heads toss back through nothingness—and then…
"Tornado… did you—?"
"Yes, Zatara. We saw. Celestial defenses have failed. Initiate all terrestrial measures."
"Affirmative. See you in the field."
"I must join the League. We will protect the planet at all costs. But should we fail, the responsibility falls to you."
Kaldur raises his head.
"We stand ready."