This is my first completed fan fiction. Like many authors, I am working on a larger, more complex piece, but this one-shot wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote it down. I was inspired by the plot hook developed by EmeraldsandDaggers in the story "Titan's Together." The idea of a doofus villain turning into a dangerous psychopath intrigued me, as well as the idea of how a bunch of honorable men would act in a situation where there was no honorable way out. This is a dark one, but I hope you like it anyway.
Oh, please review. I was born wearing asbestos underwear, so do your worst.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
I do. - Lamont Cranston
From the outside, it looked like a large warehouse, or an automated factory. In the bad part of town, it stood utterly abandoned at was two o'clock in the morning. The rain poured down in sheets. Only the occasional flash of lightning with its accompanying rumble of thunder illuminated the scene. The whole area was blanketed with a stale, rusty, oily smell. There was no one there to notice as the young man slipped through the smashed gates and into the building.
The trespasser was dressed in nondescript clothing. He wore slightly tattered blue jeans, a faded T-shirt with the logo of a passé rock band on it, and a leather jacket. His jet black hair was slicked back by the rain. Dark sunglasses completed the look, even though it was the middle of the night. In one hand he held a battered leather briefcase. He made his way through the crumbling industrial fortress, his high tech "sunglasses" revealing sufficient detail to allow him to move through the abandoned building with ease.
Slade Wilson. Arch-villain. Assassin. Terrorist. Kidnapper. And now worm-food. The young man smirked, ever so slightly and he looked at the smashed machinery around him, reminiscing. This had been the last of his lairs. The stench of his evil pervaded the building and no one seemed to want to come near. Some of his hidden accounts continued to pay taxes and legal firms to prevent developers from taking over the space, so it just stayed abandoned. A dark place, for a dark business.
The young man entered the dusty board room. It stank of mildew and disuse. Plenty of seating. No recording devices. He tossed the briefcase down at the head of the table, smearing the dust on the once-shiny table top. Opening it, he took out four candles and placed them at the Cardinal Points on the table, and lit them. They did little to dispel the gloom, but now you could move about the room without tripping over things. Four overlapping pools of golden light flickered. The rain drummed on the roof. He sat in the chair and waited. One by one, the other men arrived. Some stayed way back, leaning against the walls. Others came in close and sat around the table. No one said anything. No one said anything at all.
The young man spoke for the first time.
"Is everyone here?"
From the back of the room a high tenor spoke. "I think so."
"Please confirm that the building is empty, except for us. You guys, too."
Two other voices spoke in unison, "Si, se puede."
The three men vanished in a cloud of dust just to reappear seconds later.
"We couldn't find anyone. I'm pretty sure we're alone."
The first young man spoke again, "All right then. We all know why we're here, but I'm going to state it explicitly so that there can be no misunderstanding. Tonight, we compromise our oaths, our ethics, and perhaps our honor. This is not going to be a trial by any reasonable definition of the term. The accused will not face his accusers. The accused will not get to refute the charges. There will be no defense other than what we provide.
This is a star chamber, wherein we set aside the law, and pursue justice. What we do here, what we agree to, and the actions that may come from here will be illegal, and likely also unethical and immoral by any standard you care to name. If there is a single person among our number who is unwilling to take on the moral responsibility for making this choice, say so, and the proceedings will stop, and no action will be taken. But if any action is taken, we all must accept responsibility for it. Regardless of the outcome, we all commit to never speak of this again, privately or in groups, once we have taken care of business. Say something now if you have any reservations."
Silence fell. No man spoke. No feet shuffled.
"All right. I will moderate the discussion. All the facts will be presented. All questions will be answered to the best of our ability. Then we will vote."
He opened the nondescript briefcase and removed a packet of photographs. Moving over to the wall, he stuck one up with a thumbtack.
"The accused is Dr Arthur Light, a former developer at S.T.A.R. labs. He has a gifted intellect, but has been unable to successfully pursue a career on either side of the law. Frequently incarcerated by the Teen Titans of Jump City, Light also has a fairly long history the Justice League and the Suicide Squad. Primarily known as a thief, burglar, and armed robber, he stands accused of being a serial rapist."
The young man stepped aside, and a second, an older man, all in black stepped forward, face shrouded in shadow. "About fifteen years ago, Arthur Light was a dangerous opponent with a taste for violence against women. After a particularly nasty scrape with the Justice League, Zatanna mystically 'wiped' portions of his mind and set up some post-hypnotic suggestions that were supposed to make him prone to self-sabotage. It is the belief of the Justice League that something in the past eighteen months has happened to remove those blocks. His reaction has been to lash out at the young people who humiliated him in the past, particularly the young women."
A new voice spoke. He leaned forward into the flickering circle of light the candles permitted. He wore a battered overcoat, concealing his clothes. His long, dark hair was pulled back in a severe pony tail, and his eyes glittered black, like obsidian. No pupils showed.
"Why has the Justice League done nothing?"
"For the same reason the Titans, the Doom Patrol, and even the Green Lantern Corps has done nothing. No evidence. No admissible evidence, anyway." He stepped back into the darkness.
The moderator turned to yet another man. "Evidence?" he asked.
The man stepped forward. He was enormous. In the silence of the assembled me, the floor trembled ever so slightly under his weight. In the dust-filled silence, the other men could hear the quiet sound of mechanical servos whirring as he walked.
He wore a dark brown hooded cloak over most of his body. From within the hood a single, red light shined. He laid out a series of reports on the table. The paper made dry hissing sounds in the silence as he shuffled it about the table. The marks on each chart were identical in the light of his shoulder-mounted flashlight.
"DNA was recovered from the rape kits of most of the victim's matches. It has been confirmed that most of the victims were attacked by the same man. Further, the profile constructed from the DNA recovered by our operative is a 99.72% match. But he's been too smart to let law enforcement get hold of any of his DNA. Our sample was illegally obtained, and is inadmissible.
Additionally, he's confessed in assorted forums, bragging about what he has done. Apparently he has a deep-seated need to talk about his exploits. Unfortunately, he's very careful who he talks to. People who look like they're willing to quote him seem to turn up missing very suddenly. We only have third- and fourth- hand accounts of the bragging.
Finally, and most disturbing, an audio recording of his last assault was discovered in his home."
The young man seated next to the moderator gripped the tabletop, his claws scarring the wood.
The large man continued speaking.
"Again, the search was made without legal sanction.
He has alibis. They tend to be people who are afraid of him, owe him money, or need him to do something for him, but no one has been able to crack any of them except the Martian Manhunter, Saturn Girl, and Mento. Again, all those searches were illegal, and as such inadmissible in a court of law."
A lean young man stepped into the light, revealing large, pale blue eyes. He looked into the eyes of the moderator for a moment.
"He'd like to know," said the moderator, gesturing at the silent man, "If there are any extenuating circumstances at all. Anything at all."
"It has been pointed out that no one knows who is responsible for removing Arthur Light's blocks. If we act, we lose the only lead to finding out who is behind this. Other than that, no one has suggested an extenuating circumstances."
The silence grew thick around the table. Thunder rumbled outside as the storm worsened.
Another voice spoke. Seated next to the moderator, his voice, normally a clear tenor grated out: "We have one more thing we have to see. Show it to us."
The moderator sighed, winced, and opened his briefcase again.
"The victims," he said, and began to pin eight by ten photographs to the wall next to the picture of Dr. Light.
"Martha Lance," he said, posting a picture of a badly bruised woman in her mid-thirties. "She committed suicide last year. Jeane Tamara. Still in therapy."
As he mentioned each name, he gave a very short bio of the woman.
"Beth Brimes, now divorced and living alone."
This list went on for a disturbing amount of time, until fully fifteen bruised and battered women were on the wall next to Light.
"This man didn't just violate the bodies of these women. He ravaged their lives. Most have trust issues. All have self-confidence problems. Some can't remain in the same room with a man.
The tenor spoke again, "That's not all," he said. "Finish it."
The moderator continued. "Wondergirl," posting a picture of a savagely beaten blond girl of exceptional beauty. The men in the room shifted.
"Kole." The tiny girl looked even smaller in the hospital bed. Her eyes swollen shut and a tube down her throat to help her breathe. If possible, the silence in the room got thicker.
A voice rumbled in the back of the room, coldly and quietly. "Gnaark."
The moderator posted his last photograph and said, "Raven."
The young man sitting next to the moderator moved slightly, his hands balling into fists. A close observer would have seen that his fingers ended in forest green claws which scored the table top, gouging out tiny curls of wood.
The man with the glittering black eyes asked, "How is he attacking Titans without getting beaten down?"
The moderator spoke. "He catches them alone. Then, depending on the victim, he uses a variety of mechanisms that keeps them from focusing or concentrating, usually through pain. It's like he surprises them and tasers them. Titan women are no safer than any others, whatever their powers.
The moderator continued. "We have failed these women. Outside of this room, and in the light of day, I will tell you that these women are competent, together women of the new millennium, with no need for archaic gender roles and capable of making their own way in the world. And for the most part it is true. But our father's taught us different. Here, in the dark of the night where men talk to men, we know that we have a responsibility to keep our women safe. It's one of the oldest of compacts. We're supposed to keep our women safe. It runs in our blood, and stands in our bones. Instead we have allowed this monster to walk among us, wearing the shape of a man, OUR shape, and harming our women. The authorities have 'stopped' him twice before, and each time, it's gotten worse when he eventually got loose. I think he's going to start killing them soon. He's got to be stopped."
Silence filled the room.
"Does anyone else have any questions? Any more evidence to submit?"
"Then it is time to vote. There can be no abstentions. The vote must be unanimous. Again, a yes vote will result in the extreme sanction. We've talked around it. I'm going to say it bluntly. If we all vote yes, we're going to murder him. We have no authority. There is not the remotest stain of legality on these proceedings.
I will undertake the responsibility of going first. I vote yes."
One by one, each man at the table nodded or spoke, indicating that he approved. Then the ring of men against the wall voted. And again, one by one, each man voted yes.
"Very well," said the moderator, "The motion has passed. We will now need a small group of volunteers to apply the sanction."
Quietly, with no fanfare, each man standing against the wall stepped forward, and each seated man raised a hand.
"I didn't expect anything different. All right. There will be a small group sent out to prepare a disposal site. A second, slightly larger group will apply the sanction. The rest of you will set up a large party with a bunch of alcohol, women of 'negotiable virtue,' and wander in and out of it until the wee hours of the morning. Our sanction team and clean-up crew will attend slightly later after business has been taken care of. This should provide us with alibis, should they be needed later."
A voice spoke, and with it came the smell of brimstone and ash. "I'd like to be on the sanction team, but I think you'll need my talents to prepare for the cleanup. I'll tap a couple of volunteers."
"Thank you," said the moderator.
"I know a spot, across the bay and up the hillside, where that lava creature manifested. No one goes there, and the site is sterile. No fire can spread from there."
"We'll meet you there."
The young man with the claws turned his head toward the Moderator.
"Yes, we. Some of us have – investments – that go beyond our obligation as men and gentlemen."
"Yes, some of us do."
The young man who'd been sent to check for intruders and latecomers spoke for the first time since they began.
"I support the sanction, but I think I'm best suited for setting up a giant bachelor party on short notice. We'll be at the Lightspeed ballroom by three-thirty AM. Don't waste much time taking care of business – the night's getting short."
With that he walked out. Each man evaluated his place in the scheme of things, until four men remained. The "sanction" team. The moderator, the man with the green claws, the man with the long, black cloak, and the limited speaker.
The man with the red eye spoke. "You sure you want a piece of this big guy? It's an ugly business. The ugliest."
The other man replied, "Gnarrk!" Sharp, short, and concise.
"Okay, okay – I wasn't telling you 'no,' I just want you to be sure. "
"Well okay then."
"I'm sorry my friend," said the moderator to the red-eyed man, "You're out. Your size and accessories . . ."
"- make me too easily recognized. Believe me, I know. And I don't like you guys taking on this responsibility without me."
"We still need you to cover our tracks."
"No problem there. There will be no security cameras, video, or police presence anywhere near Arthur Light's place tonight. Wear these nomex suits. They'll prevent you from leaving any DNA evidence. Don't bring them back. Burn them at the cleanup site. I'll see you at the party later."
The actual "business" took less time than it took to get to the apartment. Dr. Arthur Light lived in a slick modern apartment on the upscale end of town. He clearly had a very expensive cleaning service, because they place looked like a magazine photo set. Clean lines. Inset gas fireplace. White leather couch. Thick pile carpet. Outside, the storm was at its peak. Thunder constantly rolled across the city as bolt after bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. The wind roared through the nearly abandoned streets of the city.
The moderator turned on the bedside table light and jabbed the sleeping man sharply with a finger.
"Wake up!" he hissed.
"Who are you?" asked Doctor Light, in a frightened voice, shading his eyes from the glare of the light.
"We're . . . messengers, said the man with the green claws as he stepped forward.
"Messengers?" said the older man, scrabbling backwards under his sheets.
"Yes. We're here to tell you that, 'you win.' You've beaten us. You're too smart for us. The law says we can't touch you."
"Get out. You have no authority here. No power – my attorneys say we can get a restraining order to keep you away from me. There's nothing you can do to –" his voice stopped with a choking sound.
"You're right. We have no authority here. The law would keep us away." He squeezed the throat. "But you're wrong about . . . power. And what I, we can do."
"What are you doing," he gasped. "You can't do this . . . YOU don't DO this . . . ."
"But you see, you're wrong. Heroes don't kill. You were probably counting on that to protect you. The thing is: I'm not a hero any more. You've fixed that for me. I can't BE a hero and still protect my woman. . . women. I heard the recording. You promised them all that you'd be back. You'd 'do' all of them you could find, and then start back around again. So I'm not a hero. I'm just a man. Doing a man's job. And meeting a man's responsibilities. "
He squeezed tighter. "You've won."
"Try to understand. It's important to me. I'm not a towering dinosaur biting your head off. I'm not blasting you with force beams or controlling your mind. I'm not even using a lifetime of kung fu training to kick your ass from here to Metropolis. I'm just a man, and I'm going to squeeze your neck until you can't hurt any women any more, ever again."
The older man strained to force the words out past the iron fingers around his throat. "I don't . . . it's not like they were YOUR daughters."
"I'm here for seventeen fathers who can't be. Fifteen brothers, seven husbands and nine boyfriends. We all failed them. We weren't there when they needed us most. But we're here now. I'm standing in for them. It's what men do for each other. When they must.
Tell me, Dr. Light – how does your victory taste? Are you savoring it?"
Light was no longer able to speak, and his face began to turn red. And then purple.
The young man spoke again. "I've thought about this. I've thought about it a lot. And the only regrets I can come up with are that I don't have time to do this properly. And that I didn't do it a long time ago."
He leaned forward and looked into the dying man's eyes. "Properly done, this would take several days."
Light clawed at the nomex sleeves of his nemesis, but was unable to gain purchase. He reached out to his power suit, just out reach by the bed.
His face turned purple, and then black. Still the young man squeezed. He squeezed until Light stopped struggling. He squeezed until Light's muscles spasm-ed and his rectum and bladder let go. He squeezed until cartilage cracked and crushed under his hands and Dr. Light's head flopped loosely around his shoulders.
"Gnarrk," said his companion softly.
The young man dropped the body in the middle of the bed. The larger man gathered the bedclothes around the dead man and wound them like a shroud. Together the three wrestled the body down to the waiting car, and drove to the cleanup spot.
When they arrived, they found only two of their colleagues waiting. The storm had barely begun to pass. Lighting still flashed above and the footing was treacherous due to the mud underfoot. Around them, the corpses of dead trees, burned years before stood sentinel in the sterile area. The African man spoke. "Once the pit was dug, I sent the others away. I've slagged the bottom already."
The moderator looked down into the pit. It was a good ten feet deep, it's bottom a glassy ceramic. "Looks good," he said. Will you be able to generate enough heat in this rain?"
The other man snorted. Together, he they unceremoniously dumped the body into the pit. The raw meat hissed as it struck the superheated earth. The nomex suits followed immediately.
The moderator spoke, "Anybody feel the need to say words?"
"I'll do it," said the man with the green claws. He thought briefly. "May Arthur Light find in the next life that which he so dearly earned in this one."
"A-men," said the others. The African man knelt by the edge of the pit and stretched out his hands, below the surface of the earth, so that he could conceal his hands from any watchers. His hands flared as a steady stream of plasma formed around them and incinerated the body. He continued pouring heat into the bottom of the slag pit until the body was completely gone. He rose.
"I think that's it. I don't think it will be possible get DNA out of that. Only a careful chemical analysis will even reveal that there was ever a body at the bottom of that pit."
The five men working together filled the pit. It was getting close to dawn when the one with the green claws planted a small sapling in the loose dirt at the top of the pit.
"That should do it. We should put in an appearance at the party, just to have our faces seen."
"I don't feel like it either," said the moderator, "But it's the safest. There's also one more bit of business."
The man with the green claws spoke. "I'll take care of it."
"Have you chosen a point of contact?"
"Pantha. They're a pretty caring, forgiving bunch. I think she'll be most . . . amenable to the steps we've taken."
He vanished into the night.
"Someone has to tell the women they're safe now. He's gone to tell one of them who will tell the others."
On the other side of the city, a tall, powerfully built woman sat in an uncomfortable chair outside a private hospital room. The two-toned corridor was painted white over institutional grey. Half of the overhead florescent lights were off, indicating that the hospital was on its night cycle. The quiet hum and click of various pieces of medical hardware could be heard over the thick silence of the sleeping sick and wounded. The scent of disinfectant lay like a pall over the entire scene.
"Pantha!" A voice hissed from a nearby stairwell.
Her head whipped around, glaring up and down the dimly lit corridor.
"Come to the roof."
"Who are you? What do you want? If you think I'm following a mysterious voice up a darkened staircase . . ."
"Dammit," said Pantha, and she began to climb the stairs.
When she passed the air return for the main hospital air conditioner, the voice spoke again from within it.
"That's far enough."
She looked at the heavy steel grating between her and the owner of the voice.
"Very clever. I can't get through that for at least five seconds."
"You can tell them he's gone."
"Tell who what?"
"Tell all of Arthur Light's victims that he can never hurt them again. Tell the other female Titans that they no longer have to be afraid."
"Who are you and what have you done?"
"We're nobody special. We're just men. And we've . . . taken out the garbage."
There was a pause as Pantha thought through the implications. "You had NO RIGHT!"
"No, we didn't. We had no right, and no authority. But it's done. Please tell the other women."
"How dare you," she savagely clawed the vent open.
She glared about the interior of the air intake, but saw nothing. She sniffed. Just a fading scent of sweat. Very faint. The harsh odor of disinfectant had burned her nose and she probably wouldn't know it if she smelled it again.
She failed to notice the green housefly clinging to the top of the air duct. Furious, she stalked back to where Raven lay in a fitful sleep to keep watch for the rest of the night. And she made some calls.
Later, at the Lightspeed Ballroom, Beast Boy approached Robin, as he sat quietly on a fire escape, looking out at the sunrise. The party was a very quite one. The hired women had left shortly after they arrived, the quiet, grim mood of the room being too intimidating. Teen Titans and a few Justice League men sat in small groups, playing cards and smoking, or talking quietly. The storm had passed, leaving the city smelling fresh and clean. Beast Boy rattled the ice in his scotch.
"Since when do you drink?" asked Robin, as they sky turned from gray to red.
"I don't," said Beast Boy. "Don't smoke, either," he said and drew on the cigar in his other hand. "It just seemed like the night for it."
"You're telling me, said Robin, drinking some beer.
Beast Boy spoke again. "Listen, I know we weren't ever going to speak of it again, but I need to report out about the last little bit of . . . business."
"No. It went exactly like we expected, right down to her getting pissed off because we acted."
"She'll pass the word?"
"I think so. Why do they always get so mad?"
"I'm no expert, but I think a little bit of it is trying to own the rape. When we do . . . what we did, it makes it about us, and not them. It's "dis-empowering" or something."
"Huh. And the rest of it?"
"Yeah – you said, 'a little bit.'"
"The rest is guilt. They worry that we will get in trouble for 'what we did because of them,' when in fact, it was because of him, and who we are. And mostly they don't want the responsibility of 'turning us into killers.'"
Beast Boy snorted. "Wow. Talk about misguided."
"I know. But don't tell them. I honestly don't think they want to know."
"That we're all killers, and have been, all along? No, I don't think they do."
Robin sipped his beer, and look. He'd never noticed before that that sakutia virus had skipped Beast Boy's palate. And how very, very red his gums were next to his very white fangs. He grinned, and took a long pull on his beer, as he watched the sun crest the horizon.