Chapter Eight: What No One Wants
"Nepo a yawetag ot eht dlrow taht sah nekat eht nerdlihc dekram yb ym lleps*," Zatara intoned. He raised his arms, and his magic responded. The air in front of him thickened, mist materializing and coiling around some invisible structure. He could see it through eyes half-closed with effort, and smiled grimly. He took a deep breath and then focused; the hardest was yet to come.
To the side, out of his way, the others waited. Ms. Martian was there, eyes shining in hope. Beside her, Aqualad watched with quiet intensity. Black Canary, disgruntled and angry, stood stiffly by an emotionless Batman. Behind them were Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, the Atom, Red Arrow, and Captain Marvel. All planned to take part in retrieving the children, but they lacked unity. Batman wanted no one else to accompany him when he went (and he would go). He said he had his reasons, but refused to specify. Black Canary had assembled the rest of the adult heroes minus Red Arrow to go in with her, but did not want Aqualad or Ms. Martian coming with. She said she understood their desire to help, but they would do better to remain in the mountain. Aqualad had let Red Arrow know what was going on, and he had come to the Mountain of his own accord. He wasn't keen on working with the Justice League*, but wanted Aqualad to fight with him (if it came to that). Aqualad would not leave Ms. Martian behind.
"Nepo, dna tel eseht seoreh hguorht!*" Zatara frowned when the tendrils of mists continued to curl thoughtfully through the air, and did not change. "Won! Nepo eht etag!*" This time, the mist froze, and then thickened rapidly, becoming smoke rather than water vapor. Several of the heroes coughed, and a few stumbled back, eyes smarting. Zatara's eyebrows creased in confusion. This was real smoke. What…?
Ms. Martian screamed, so suddenly and violently everyone looked, thinking she was somehow being attacked. Her eyes closed in agony, but red tears trickled out. Aqualad caught her as she collapsed. Before Zatara could think to break off the spell, Martian Manhunter cried out as well and fell forwards, only barely managing to catch himself before he hit the floor. He didn't move except to drag in harsh breaths of air, and to mutter nonsensically in his native tongue.
"Giovanni!" Black Canary called, rushing to Ms. Martian. "Keep going! Whatever this is, we'll deal with it!"
Zatara nodded, but as he prepared to continue a surge in magic that was both his and someone else's appeared and opened a hole in front of him. He had to shield his eyes, the light was so bright. He expected it to yield, after a moment, and show them another dimension, but it did not. On the contrary, it flared, twisting up as if in agony, and a jumble of emotions hit Zatara with so much force he stumbled. The glow died, falling away with the last of the magician's concentration. In his core, Zatara felt the gateway close before it had even been properly opened.
He tried to speak, to articulate what had just happened, but his voice failed him and his vision faded rapidly to black.
"Giovanni, are you—"
"Can you hear me? J'onn. J'onn, answer me!"
"Get them to the medbay—"
"Come on, get up—come on, you can do this."
"What did you see?" Batman's tone, cold yet urgent, cut through the frantic chatter of the others. Black Canary, astonished at his audacity (anyone could see they're in pain, honestly, what is wrong with that man), started forward, but J'onn opened his eyes and she stopped. He tried to say something, but faltered. Leaning back in exhaustion, he instead sent out a mental message to everyone except Zatara and Ms. Martian.
Batman's eyes narrowed in displeasure when he felt the psychic answer push gently up against his mental barriers. Reluctantly, he allowed it into his mind, though very carefully.
Pain. Shouldn't be pain, shouldn't be like this—who are these SHIELD people? Are they the police? What is going on?
Ah. Ah. Stinging everywhere. I can't think. This is—that voice; I don't know her. I don't know where I am—
Tired. So tired. Legs hurt. Need food. Need food very soon. Whatever. That's second on my list of things to do. Superboy. Gotta reach Superboy.
NO! Stay away! No, no, this isn't right, make it stop—can't tell them, won't tell them, Batman, BATMAN!
Batman gasped sharply. He wasn't the only one. Most of the others cried out. Dinah stumbled, but caught herself. Captain Marvel fell to his knees with a thud. His expression was astonished and vacant. He's in shock, Batman thought grimly. Billy definitely hadn't been ready to deal with something like that. Why would he be? He's only ten.
Aqualad was whispering something to Red Arrow, looking shaken but surprisingly composed. He was holding Ms. Martian in his arms, and she was still shivering in pain. Superman had only flinched, but now he stood uncertainly, staring at the wall. Wonder Woman's only reaction had been a grimace, and she was muttering a prayer to her gods. Green Arrow had his cellphone out, and he was looking at it like he didn't know what it was. Atom was nowhere to be seen—he'd instinctively shrunk down as soon as the mental barrage hit him. Flash looked panicked, and after a moment of disorientation, raced to Batman's side.
"ThatwasWally. ThatwasWally. He'sstarving. Bats, you have to getmethrough. Orgethimback. Itdoesn'tmatter, but do itquickly." Flash slipped in and out of super-speed as he talked, literally vibrating with his worry for his nephew.
Batman couldn't deny feeling a bit of worry himself. For all the team, but especially Robin...that last bit had been him, Batman was sure of it. He was in pain. He sounded like he was being tortured. And either it was a coincidence, or he had felt Batman's psychic presence, however briefly, and called out to him.
No, Bruce reminded himself. It had to be a coincidence. J'onn had only shared the memory of what he had experienced; if anyone, Robin would have sensed Martian Manhunter or M'gann.
Batman brushed Flash aside distractedly, striding over to Ms. Martian and taking her pulse. She had one—in the same place as a human, but then, she was in human form—and it was unnaturally accelerated. If he was right (and he knew he was), she needed medical attention.
"Get her to the sickbay," he ordered Aqualad softly. "Don't leave her alone."
Kaldur nodded, but said nothing. He was too preoccupied, emotionally, to verbalize even something as simple as a yes. Red Arrow was also very subdued, his gaze distant and his skin ever-so-slightly paler than usual. Without a word, he helped Kaldur lift M'gann and together they carried her away. Batman didn't watch them go; he was already turning away, moving over to check on Zatara. Dinah glared at him when he crouched down by her, but he ignored her. Zatara's vitals were steady, and when the Atom appeared full-sized next to him, Batman told him to take the incapacitated magician and follow Aqualad.
As Batman took control, the members of the Justice League began to follow his lead. Green Arrow and Flash didn't need to be asked; they were already supporting Martian Manhunter between them. Flash shot Batman a look that said he'd be back, and then things would be discussed. But he was more upset than angry, and Batman watched him go with something that was almost empathy.
Black Canary had found something else to do besides glower at Batman; she was kneeling down next to Captain Marvel, talking to him in an undertone. She had a hand on his shoulder, and appeared to be consoling him. She couldn't know that he was a child, but instinctively still seemed to understand he needed attention. Together they stood, and trailed after the others.
Superman and Wonder Woman were already following them, and so, left with little choice, Batman did the same.
He spent the next twenty minutes in a corner, uncomfortably out of place in the white, sterile surroundings of the med bay, yet unwilling to show it. His aura was so dark that eventually Ms. Martian managed to ask that he leave. If it had been anyone else, Batman would have silenced them instantly with a murderous glare, but her tone was so pleading and apologetic that he left quietly.
Since everyone else was busy taking care of their own in the ward he had just left, Batman wandered Mount Justice like a ghost, too restless to stay in one place for more than a few seconds, yet reluctant to go back to Gotham before he could talk to Zatara and Martian Manhunter. After a while he ended up in Robin's room.
It was fairly bare, since he didn't often stay overnight at the mountain, but the dresser was full of his clothes and some pictures and small tokens were scattered on and in the bedside table. Most of the photographs were of the team; since Robin was always there, laughing with Wally over something no doubt trivial or smiling at M'gann as he complimented her cookies, Batman surmised that Canary had taken them.
It was strange, but Robin seemed suddenly to be so much younger than he was. He was the smallest out of all his teammates, and yet had the most experience, something that made Bruce wince. He hadn't taken Richard in to make him into a vigilante, but he knew that was exactly what he'd done. It wasn't like Dick has been forced into it, but still…
If Robin died because of his vigilante activities, Batman knew he would never forgive himself.
"Oh! There you are, Bats," Flash slid to stop in front of the open door. He looked distracted, but managed a smile. "They've been stabilized. Zatara and M'gann are still out for the count, but J'onn is awake and ready to talk to us. We've called a meeting. I knew you'd want to be there when it started."
Batman didn't answer. He put the pictures down and moved quickly after the Flash.
Life. Life was odd, Robin thought, giddily. You never knew what to expect. For example, physical exertion. After a while, it started to hurt. But, if you were careful about it and kept going, endorphins would kick in; the proverbial 'second wind'. And suddenly, you couldn't feel the pain anymore.
Torture worked the same way. If you are hurting, hurting, hurting, sometimes—sometimes—your body took pity on you and temporarily muted your nervous system. Of course, this was not an absolute. It depended on the torture, and on your own limits. Buuuuut, Robin knew his own body, inside and out, and he could manipulate it, too. And after that weird moment when his mind just...opened, and it was like standing at the edge of a canyon knowing somebody's on the other side, and if you could just yell loud enough they'd hear you….It was strange, it was sudden, and he'd reacted desperately, instinctively.
He'd cried out for Batman in his mind, and simultaneously tried to do the same aloud. He'd only barely stopped himself, because he still didn't know who his tormentors were, didn't know who he was, didn't know what they wanted…
And he'd almost called Batman's name. That didn't make sense, no matter who he was; Richard would just scream, and Robin was too strong for that. Robin never showed weakness, except that he so almost had. So he retreated. Back, back into his head, where he had no body, and could fly free, away from the earth, away from the hurt.
Now he could think. Now he could breathe. Now he could move like gravity didn't exist, like the sky was his and the earth was of no real consequence anyway.
But it wasn't perfect, being like this. He couldn't feel pain, or worry, and he couldn't plan for disaster, because there was no disaster. He explored the stars that were memories and reached into the sun and ran free.
But now like a comet a memory shimmered for attention, and he turned to it with the curiosity of a three-year-old. It was the Mountain, he recognized it immediately. He was dizzy, confused, falling, but the fabric was thin between worlds, and he didn't know the thoughts in his head but he saw Batman catch him, and Black Canary over his shoulder, her blonde hair falling forward as she leaned towards him, face creased with worry.
Only something was wrong here…off…something didn't feel right.
"I'll show them. I'll show them all."
Artemis, trapped beneath a layer of pain and confusion, struggled to understand the dark muttering.
"I can do it. I don't need him. Or them. Or it."
Something was wrong, Artemis thought, but her mind was slow and splintered in agony, and she couldn't quite understand what was happening. She felt one of her arms being lifted. Something cool and wet slid around her hand, twining through her fingers and then slipping down to her wrist. She shivered, but that woke small slices of pain all up and down her body and she moaned. The cloth stopped moving abruptly. There was a brief silence.
"Are you awake?" the voice asked, carefully. Artemis thought she could hear repressed panic, and tried to understand what that meant.
Something nudged Artemis' side. "Are you awake?" The voice asked again. Artemis couldn't answer, and after a long moment the washing resumed, a little slower than before. Nothing more was said, and soon Artemis lapsed back into unconsciousness.
Connor was bleeding. In disbelief, he touched the drops of red with his fingertips. It didn't make them any less real. He looked at his knuckles; they were bruised and torn the way he'd seen his teammates' knuckles so many times before. But never his own.
Whoever these people after him were, they were persistent. Connor lifted his arm to shield his eyes from the helicopter's lights and stared at it grimly. Behind the glass he could see shadowy outlines of people, the pilot and co-pilot and others, leaning forward to look back at him. He narrowed his eyes, but couldn't make out details. On the rooftop behind him were several squads of what looked like SWAT teams. To his left was the edge of the rooftop, an alley, and then a building, tall and wide enough to prevent his escape that way, unless he wanted to go through it—and seeing as his invulnerability seemed to be faltering, that'd only hurt him worse. On the street on his right were what sounded like police cars.
He wasn't trapped. Not quite. But he couldn't run for much longer, and he couldn't fight his way free. Not from this. Not with his skin more susceptible to pain and damage then it had ever been before. Conner realized all this, but his instincts didn't care. He didn't want to act logically. His entire body trembled with the effort of not attacking.
Connor's eyes widened. He turned and saw Kid Flash—no, it was Wally, the costume was gone—standing behind him. The door to the roof hung open, though Superboy was sure it'd been locked.
"What happened?" It came out rougher then he'd meant, but he spoke instinctively, startled. Wally's clothing was torn and ragged, and he had several long scrapes up and down his body which were bleeding sluggishly. His shoes were barely intact, and looked as if they might fall apart any moment. Belatedly Superboy noticed his hand, dripping in blood, and realized he'd vibrated the lock apart. A glance behind him confirmed this; the disfigured metal lay just beyond the doorframe.
"I ran. I ran a lot. Need food." Wally tried to grin, but couldn't. He was shaking with exhaustion.
"Put your hands behind your head! The Avengers are here, and they will act if you won't comply."
"Somebody's bossy," Wally muttered, limping over to Superboy. "Who're the Avengers?"
"Don't know," Connor told him shortly. "Doesn't matter. You can't run anymore."
"No," Wally agreed. "What should we do? Are these the—police? I don't know that logo. Are they good guys or not?"
"I think so…at least, the people here don't mind them." Superboy's expression soured as he recalled how they'd worked together to find him. "At all."
Wally looked at him curiously, but was too tired to ask. He was leaning on Superboy just to stay up. Connor glanced at him, assessing, then pushed his arm away to pick him up. Wally didn't argue. It was all he could do to keep his eyes open.
"You ran far," Superboy whispered, and suddenly he was worried. Kid was lighter than he should be, and his shivering was a vibration against Connor's chest. He raised his head to the hovering helicopter, quickly, before he could change his mind. "I SURRENDER!"
In the living room next to the sick bay, the Justice League (plus Aqualad and Red Arrow) assembled. Martian Manhunter was well enough to attend, but M'gann and Zatara still were absent.
Green Arrow started it off with an understated, "Well, that didn't work."
"No," Superman agreed. "It didn't. J'onn, can you tell us what went wrong?"
Martian Manhunter lifted his head slowly. He looked old and tired in the florescent lighting, aged before his time. "We were unprepared."
Batman's eyes narrowed subtly. We?
"We knew…how to …establish contact. That wasn't the problem."
"So what happened?" Flash prompted when he fell silent.
"We did not expect the—the level of—feeling that was conveyed. The children were not…calm. They were all very agitated, and I'm afraid it broke my concentration."
Batman didn't outwardly react when the realization hit him. 'My concentration'. 'We were unprepared'. J'onn, being a telepath, had been surprised just as much as Zatara when the connection came. He'd been drawn in involuntarily, as had M'gann. But M'gann was asleep and J'onn was still drifting between his psyche and Zatara's.
Batman took half a second to process this, filed it away, and continued listening.
"With us distracted, the portal could not maintain itself. The spell is very complicated, as I'm sure you know."
"So it shut?" Flash frowned. He wasn't displeased with J'onn, just the situation.
"We all shared the same—visions. Correct?" Black Canary glanced around. Their confirmation was in their silence. "So…let's try to sort this out. If we have even an inkling of what is happening over there, it may give us an advantage when we switch dimensions."
Aqualad raised his eyes from the floor to what he could see of Batman, which wasn't much. He knew the mental voices of his teammates. He was pretty sure Batman did as well. And he didn't think Batman wanted them all talking about the anguish felt from his protégé.
Wonder Woman was thinking the same thing. She stood by the wall quietly, mouth set in a grim line. She had met most of the team, and knew enough to figure out (within a reasonable margin of error) most of what they had conveyed. She and Robin had never been close, but she knew Batman. None of the mentors would like this, but she doubted Batman would tolerate it like the others likely would. She watched, half-curious and half-melancholy, to see what he would do.
The alarms went off, belatedly. He was already gone, out of the room, almost out of the facility. Shocked back into his body—into the pain and truth serums and unpredictability (because this was another world, he remembered that now, this was another world)—he'd escaped without consciously thinking about it. Clearly they didn't know who he was, or much of anything about him, because it wasn't even that difficult. If he hadn't been trained like he had, as an escape artist for fun when he was young, and then trained for real under Batman, it would certainly have been a nearly insurmountable obstacle. But he had, and it wasn't.
He was using the back hallways, ducking into closets, or into rooms, or anywhere really, to avoid being seen. The ventilation shaft would have been his first choice, but he didn't have his belt anymore, they must have taken it, and besides, the air ducts were tiny. Had to admit, these guys weren't stupid.
He stopped briefly to listen to the distant shouting. One voice rose above the rest, barking out orders and demanding information almost simultaneously. "Ooh, somebody's angry," he whispered, and his smile was dangerous. "I should fix that."
It was an impulse, and a foolish one at that. He argued to himself while he searched, but only half-heard his own reasoning. Adrenaline and something else was coursing through his veins, blocking out his thoughts and sending bright lights skittering across his vision. He found what he wanted a minute later, and laughed. With the alarms overhead and the yelling, he knew he wouldn't be heard. Even with whatever they'd drugged him with coursing through his system it only took him a minute to get down to the cables. They were even color-coded, though of course he didn't know if the rules here were the same or different as in Gotham.
He decided it didn't matter. His bare hands were clumsier than normal, and of course he had no wire cutters, but he made do. Not knowing which cable did what, he yanked them all.
And suddenly, everything was a lot quieter. The lights died with a whine, and Robin thought he heard something shatter. Probably somebody dropped something.
Of course, it wasn't the main power supply…that would have been too easy. It was only a section of the facility that was down, and not for much longer, if these guys had any brains at all. And he knew that they did.
On his way out of the room, he paused, straining to hear the voice from earlier. "C'mon, I did this for you…" the room spun, and he had to catch the doorframe to keep from falling. There was a gunshot. Then another. Confused, Robin wasn't sure if they were real or part of his off-and-on hallucinations*. He hesitated, then heard heavy footsteps—a lot of them—and ran.
*"Open a gateway to the world that has taken the children marked by my spell."
*I know about Roy's (SEASON ONE SPOILER!) programming; but, I don't want him working with the Justice League yet. So, I'm making his anger towards Green Arrow, his annoyance with Superman (in my head he agrees with Batman that Supes should just get over it and take care of his kid—clone—whatever), and his ire that the League is saying they won't allow the two remaining members of Young Justice to help rescue their own teammates outweigh his mental orders. For now.
*"Open, and let these heroes through!"
*"Now! Open the gate!"
*Lots of explanations, I know. . But I wanted to clarify, in case anyone was confused. Hallucinations can be auditory as well as visual. They can even be tactile, so the person feels something (say a hand on the shoulder or somebody poking them) very distinctly that isn't actually happening.
Robin 'fixed' the guy's anger (Yes, that was Schmidt) by turning it into fury. Helpful, yes? X3
Look, I know he's been OOC, and I promise you that's intentional. It's the drugs. When they aren't affecting him anymore, he'll be more himself again. And I was trying to convey that sort of blurry reality he's stuck in without being too vague…that's why exactly how he escaped and details about the facility and so on were left out. Did it…did it work? Or…I don't know. . Also, the memory from earlier; the one that 'shimmered like a comet'. The drugs had him so high he didn't comprehend it when it happened. His subconscious knew this, and so presented it again for processing.
Oh yes, before I forget—THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO HAS READ/FAVORITED/REVIEWED OR ADDED MY STORY TO YOUR ALERTS. That has been just so amazing. The support y'all are giving me…it's incredible. Thank you. :) And I owe you folks an explanation, don't I…doctor examination went wrong, very dangerous diagnosis, life, life, and an overload of schoolwork. That is why my updates have been slow. BUT! I have no intention of abandoning this story, or any of my others. I'm a bit slow, definitely, but they will all be completed. Thank you for your patience.