TIME


M'gann has gotten better at this.

It used to be that gathering information from an unwilling mind took hours, sometimes days to accomplish, back when she cared whether or not the extraction left a mark on the target. But she doesn't hold back like that anymore, not since she realized what the price of hesitation can be. Now, she can sift through years of memories in a matter of minutes, ripping whole sheaves of thought from their bindings, because only the guilty keep secrets, and the guilty do not deserve mercy, least of all him.

It's astonishingly easy to penetrate his initial resistance. Perhaps it's because her rage is so fresh (Gar, La'gaan, Artemis) that it overwhelms his psyche before he even fully registers who his opponent is, before he has a chance to throw up any mental defenses. By the time recognition clicks in his subconscious she's already inside it, and his shouts are just fuel on the flames of her fury as she forces her way in deeper and he falls to his knees.

This time is different. She's not looking for anything. She's past caring why he betrayed them after all he's done. She's just looking to make him bleed in the only way she knows how, and so blindly she lashes out inside his mind, takes up fistfuls of memories and pulls as hard as she can as his body writhes on the floor of the submarine. Then it happens that she stumbles upon a memory that contains her and she slows, just enough to glimpse what it is she's obliterating.

It's the day they met, and there's a surprising amount of detail to it, little fragments of emotion attached to each fleeting image – curiosity towards her, fond embarrassment at Wally's overeager introduction, worry about Conner's reticence. M'gann's first reaction is surprise. She hadn't realized something this old would be so near the surface, nor so well-preserved, like he's revisited it lately. Then it occurs to her that he's probably been thinking of it because not a week ago, he destroyed the place where that meeting occurred, and her rage intensifies.

She tears through the next batch of memories, flickers of the team in its early days, feeling him fight her every step of the way, but his mind is no match for hers. She does not even hesitate when there is a surge of grief as she touches on his thoughts of Tula. The monster proved his heartlessness when he murdered Wally's lover, her Earth-sister, the young woman who once trusted him with her life only to lose it by his hand. With brutal efficiency M'gann unburdens Kaldur of the memory of his never-to-be love.

On she flies, through the core of his thoughts, the times of his life she knows he holds dearest by their favored position in his psyche:

Sunrises seen through the sparkling lens of the waves above his childhood home. Afternoons spent sparring with Robin, watching him grow from a rambunctious young boy to a steady-eyed leader. Midnights on the beach at Mount Justice, steeped in silence. Missions completed. Missions failed. The gruff growl of Batman's reprimands. The approval in Aquaman's eyes at a job well done. Roy's dingy, beloved apartment, smelling of blood and bleach and cheap beer. The team in action. The team in mourning. The team at Christmas.

She is not so lost in her fury that she does not find this strange. There is no bitter tinge to the recollections crumbling in her wake. There is nothing to indicate anger or hatred towards any of his old teammates, not a trace even of the time-crusted numbness she'd expect from someone who's undergone such a drastic change of heart. These are memories kept fresh by frequent revisitation, like those of a prisoner clinging to thoughts of life Before.

And then she stumbles on it: the string of memories that turns her heart to ice.

"No."

The word drops from her lips as she withdraws in horror from what's left of his mind. She doesn't notice her knees buckling beneath her, nor Gar's arms reaching out to steady her before she can fall; she doesn't notice anything until a hoarse voice calls out Kaldur's name, and she looks up to see the woman she thought she had been avenging there in the flesh, her mind as recognizable as her body is not.

They don't have time to talk. Halfhearted justifications drip through M'gann's mind but they sound feeble even to her, and she can feel the shock and dread rolling off Artemis in waves as she holds Kaldur upright, the one thing that stood between her and Black Manta, now as hollow as the armor that couldn't protect him.

In a flash of smoke, they're gone, leaving Artemis's question to echo through M'gann's mind:

What have you done?

And even M'gann doesn't know.