I guess I could've done a Christmas story, considering what day it is and all that. But, you know, when there's snow outside, my mind tends to go to one place and one place only.
With that being said, while this is rated T-for Teen...it's gonna get gory, eventually. I'm not really in to lathering it on, but just as a heads up, it's...well you can probably guess what movie I'm basing the concept of this story on. Consequently, you can probably guess the level of violence. that's gonna be thrown down later on.
Anyways, thanks for reading, and hopefully you enjoy the story!
(DC owns things, John W. Campbell and John Carpenter also own things...heh, "things.")
*Cue Ennio Morricone's score*
Who Goes There?
"Man is the warmest place to hide…"
Diana didn't consider herself to be superstitious.
She recognized that was an odd statement to make, considering how she was a mound of clay animated by magic. But that was partially it: being linked to the gods of antiquity and having conversed with the Fates themselves, Diana was well aware of just how rigid their plans were, how chewing gum with only her left molars wasn't going to result in a bountiful harvest. If the gods were going to intervene, Diana would know; ergo, she had simply chalked up funny feelings and twitching eyes to other, more reasonable causes (like caffeine—it was almost always caffeine).
But Diana had a funny feeling today, and no matter what she did she just couldn't shake it. Everything seemed slightly off kilter to her, every step just a little unstable. It hadn't affected her duties in the political field or on the Watchtower (Athena knows she would have done something about it were that the case), but during her downtime it was noticeable, palpable even. It got to such a point that, a few days earlier, she had cornered Bruce in the Watchtower laboratory just to have a conversation about it, to "bat" around ideas with someone who would listen (she had come up with the pun herself—Bruce had grunted at a slightly higher octave than normal, so that was something).
"Might be food poisoning," he had told her. "And by that I mean someone might have tried to spike your drink with arsenic."
"I doubt it," she said back. "I am not one to sample local cuisine."
"Don't like the food usually?"
"No—usually I am just being shot at."
Bruce smiled and pushed back from the computer terminal. "Fair enough," he said. "Wish I could help, but I'm not the best person to talk to about this. Everything looks 'off-kilter' to me."
He paused, looked at Diana, seemed to consider his words. "Because I'm a detective, not because…yeah."
Diana returned his smile. "I believe you," she said. But her mind returned to her unease, and she felt the need to let out a sigh. "Perhaps it is because I have too little to do. Heidegger was quite emphatic that an unoccupied mind makes one anxious."
"I wouldn't use the word 'emphatic' to describe Heidegger," Batman said, now standing. "And I don't think your problem is too much free time. Probably the exact opposite, actually."
"I thought I ruled out stress," Diana said, "but I suppose I could be wrong. It makes enough sense, at the very least." And that it did—Diana had, after all, being ferried back and forth between conflict hot spots, the UN, and the Watchtower almost constantly. In fact, there was an old saying—from the 1960's—that the only difference between a regular activist and a woman's rights activist is that the latter attends four times as many meetings; Diana was starting to feel that such a statement described her relation to pretty much the rest of the League almost perfectly. Part of her liked it, part of her felt guilty for liking it, and part of her thought that a vacation in Fiji would be nice even if the island was being hit with a tsunami.
So that was probably it. Maybe. Possibly. Diana remembered her mind locking on to that explanation, and once that happened the rest of her thoughts decided it was good enough to move on. Stress would do; stress would explain the funny feeling that refuse to go away.
(Yes, stress does wonders for your sanity…)
(And speaking of stress…)
"How are you doing, by the way?" Diana said to Bruce. "Clark mentioned that you had forgone sleep for the week—again."
"Clark exaggerates," Bruce said, casting a glance at the computer terminal.
"That would explain the lack of bruises, I suppose. Alfred rarely lets you get away with that without leaving his mark."
"He's read me the Riot Act too, trust me." Bruce sat down again, though he motioned for Diana to take a seat as well, if she wanted. She shook her head.
"No, I'm fine," Bruce said. "A lot of late nights, but they do end in sleep. Maybe not enough, but it's there."
"I should be more angry," Diana said, though she wasn't—the odd feeling she had felt was starting to rescind. Things felt more normal.
"You could be," Bruce said. "But the next time Langstrom tries to turn everyone in Gotham into bats, I'll be ready." He gestured to the rest of the laboratory—a section in the corner was covered with caged and sleeping bats. It was like Bruce had robbed a zoo and stashed his prizes in space.
"Would that be what you are working on now?" Diana asked.
"Not really—I'm splitting my time between that and a fraud case. Not my normal modus operandi, but crime is crime."
He pointed at the screen, Diana made a comment ("…interesting—looks like a scheme…in the shape of a pyramid…a "pyramid scheme," if you will…"), and after the both of them shared a chuckle, the conversation deviated away from work. Diana had found it somewhat odd that Batman would dedicate so many of his waking hours to Langstrom and Langstrom alone, but it ultimately didn't matter. Bruce had his own interests—his own way of looking at the world—and Diana respected that. Besides, she felt less funny, and while that was not the only reason she enjoyed her talk with Bruce, her relaxation time between missions was now exactly as it should be—relaxing.
That was then; now, the funny feeling—the superstitious sense of something going catastrophically wrong—was back, and it had made its presence known to her with gusto. Talking with Bruce was out of the question (she didn't want others to think of this as a reoccurring problem, even if it was), which left her little else to do except keep busy and make her mind go elsewhere.
Except the world had been relatively peaceful for the past week, her application for a Themysciran Embassy was going smoothly, and the Watchtower had been under construction for the same length of time. Teleporter problems, to be precise; no easy way from the satellite to the planet, not without taking one of only two shuttles not intended for heroics-related missions. That left her a lot of time to wander around the Watchtower, helping John and Shayera with construction where she could and reading or writing for the rest. As she walked down the halls adjacent to the central hub for the fifth time in a row, she wondered if that was why the feeling felt so strong, that too much free time combined with a change in her environment had just fed into the stress as it bled off. But a voice in the back of her mind told her, no, it had started long before she had too much time on her hands; it was a voice that grew all the more powerful when Diana used the Golden Perfect, and a voice that saw fit to remind her how it rarely couldn't sort out the truth.
(Good gods, I am desperate for answers...lasso, you have failed me utterly and you know it...)
The sound of footsteps dragged Diana back into the external world. Around the corner came Shayera—Hawkgirl—covered in splotches of grease from wing to toe. Diana's brow rose into a point, but none-the-less she felt a ping of relief. It would be nice to have a casual conversation with someone after all the wandering she had done, and nothing said "casual" like asking why your friend had become 40% more flammable.
"Morning Di," Shayera said.
"Good morning Shayera." She walked up to her friend and placed a finger on an oil splotch. "I, um, have to ask, you understand."
"Yeah yeah," Shayera said, rubbing at the splotch with the heel of her hand. It didn't come off. "The teleporter violently disagreed with what I was doing. Might be because I was kicking it at the time, but still—it's being picky."
"Is it still refusing to teleport any of our junk?" Diana asked, conscious of the fact that she'd love nothing more than a quick trip to the surface at that very moment. She was also conscious of how unlikely that was, didn't even need to look at Shayera's shaking head to know what her answer would be.
"It's teleporting things, all right—just not to one place. And none of said places are on Earth. Actually, John's pretty sure we opened up a portal to Hell the other day, so, yeah, progress is slow."
Diana smiled the fullest smile she could manage (which wasn't much; she was becoming aware of just how exhausted she felt, which shouldn't be happening with the amount of "rest and relaxation" time she had) and said, "Has Wally already offered to turn it on and off again?"
"Twice," Shayera said, smiling back. "We're pretty sure he thought nobody heard him the first time, so John threatened to hit him with a boxing glove the second time."
"And it worked?"
"Oh it was very effective. Too bad we lost a third set of hands."
Diana was about to snap at what she felt was a free opportunity to help when a sound tore apart reality, echoing through the Watchtower halls. It was unearthly, garbled—a lot like someone choking on their own blood or suffocating in their own skin. There was no crashing, no struggling that Diana or Shayera could hear—just an inhuman scream that Diana was sure would have ripped apart a normal man's vocal cords. The two heroes stood still, their joints locked together. The scream faded, like it was a passing breeze, but they could still feel it, their minds could still hear it.
"What in the name of all that is Good was that?" Diana said. She had assumed a defensive position instinctively, and noticed just then that it was a stance reserved for the biggest and most powerful foes she had faced. Shayera already had her mace out, fully charged and crackling with energy.
"I was kidding about the portal to Hell, you know," she said. "Just a joke. No truth in it what-so-ever."
"You have me convinced," Diana said. They moved back to back, covering each other's six for a threat that they couldn't even name, let alone see.
"I'm thinking 'red alert'," Shayera said.
"I would be in agreement," Diana answered back. "But until we know which direction we are being attacked from—"
Another scream stabbed at their ears—but this one could be placed, was familiar in its anguish.
"Jesus, that's J'onn," Shayera said. That was all that was said, as both heroes had taken flight and were speeding towards J'onn's hab-suite with enough speed to ripple the walls as they passed. The scream came in oscillating waves, and with every pulse their speed increased.
Shayera's foot was the first thing through the door—literally. Her kick sent the heavy-set sheet of metal flying towards the opposite side of the room, letting the full brunt of the Martian Manhunter's scream slash at them like barbed wire. It sounded as though the room was depressurising, that J'onn's throat had split itself open and was attempting to expel his very soul. Then it reached a crescendo that no organic being could possibly have created—not alone, not without the aid of an army's worth of other tortured victims. Throughout her many years in active global conflicts, Diana had heard a great deal of screams come from innocent souls; but what she was hearing in J'onn's suite—the pain her friend was clearly going through—might have brought her to tears right there in the doorway if her training hadn't taken control automatically. At the very least, her ears would ring and echo back what she heard for the next two hours, without reprieve.
And Shayera…Shayera just looked pale beyond belief.
They sprinted into the room, foregoing safety in order to rescue their friend from whatever was happening to him. The room was dark, though—specially designed that way for J'onn. Even with their advanced senses, the possibility of being blindsided was increasingly likely. And J'onn's screaming had abruptly stopped—mid breath, it seemed like to Diana. Whatever was attacking J'onn appeared to be done with him, and there was no reason to assume one victim would be enough.
Diana pulled out her lasso and stretched in in front of her eyes. A small circle of the room lit up in golden light, just enough for Diana to note the books and blankets and cartons of Oreos strewn about the floor. His room was dishevelled, but Diana couldn't remember hearing the kind of noises necessary for a fight. Maybe the screams had covered it up, but Diana doubted that—she did, after all, have advanced hearing, and would have easily picked up on any punches or kicks that were thrown. Shaking her head, she saw Shayera back towards her, and the glow from her mace mixed with that of the Golden Perfect. They inched deeper into the suite.
"Do you think he's dead?" Shayera asked.
"The silence is not comforting," Diana answered back. Shayera had sounded cold—distant, even—but that was the training, Diana knew. It was the very thing that was keeping her alive as well. She understood; this was how trained minds operated in combat.
"Yeah. But J'onn can handle himself."
"I did not hear a struggle. Whatever was in here with him no doubt—"
The combined glow of their weapons passed over a line of deep scratches, deep enough that only someone as powerful as J'onn could have created them. They lead past J'onn's bed and into a secondary area—Diana had never been in his room, but she assumed it was either some sort of closet, or, more likely, a meditation room for when her friend was alone. She motioned in the direction the scratches pointed with her shoulder, and both she and Shayera sank into a deeper defensive position. They were ready, or at least Diana hoped they were. For J'onn's sake, if nothing else.
"Who should lead?" Diana asked. Shayera paused, then shook her head.
"Whoever's got the stomach to deal with what we find."
"J'onn is our friend, and we are not sociopaths. Neither one of us will be remotely OK afterwards."
"Then we go together," Shayera said. "On my mark—ready?"
Diana nodded, and in her mind she placed images to her memory of the screams. A sickly churning began in her stomach, and as she cursed her imagination she felt her grip on the lasso tighten to the point of causing pain. They shuffled forward what felt like only an inch, then another inch, then one more, and in far too quick a time they were at the doorframe of the secondary area, close enough to notice the pure silence close in around them like a wall of water. Diana felt her hand pass over the scratches, round the frame, and just as her arm was about to pass into total blackness—
A noise from behind startled both heroes, and they whirled around in attack position to confront whatever was heading their way. It was Wally—the Flash—with John Stewart right next to him. The pointed ears of Bruce's cowl cast a shadow from the hall towards the centre of the room, filling out the silhouette at the room's entrance in a noticeably demonic way. Diana felt her fist clench and almost caught herself cursing Bruce's costume design, but managed to calm herself quickly. Her nerves were frayed—shouting at the rest of her friends would accomplish nothing.
Shayera still laid into them, however.
"God, Christ—are you guys serious?"
"Sorry I've, um, I've been rounding people up," Wally said, looking as though he was completely unsure if he wanted to walk forward. "After I heard the screams I saw you guys bolting to J'onn's room. Kinda thought you might need back-up."
Diana moved herself between the secondary area's entrance and the rest of the League. "You should stay back," she said. "If whatever attacked J'onn is still in there—"
"Then you might need help," Bruce said, pushing past John and Wally with his shoulders. He quickly crossed the room, ignoring Shayera as he raised her hand to stop him.
"Seriously Bruce," she said. "I don't know what's in there, but it's pissed off, whatever it is."
Before Bruce could say anything, before anyone could say anything, a groan that seemed to drip with liquid rose out of the darkness and cut off all other thoughts. Without a single word spoken, the League piled into the room with their weapons drawn, ready to take on whatever was still in there.
The room was empty, save for J'onn. But J'onn was alive, they saw that immediately.
As Bruce swore to a god he didn't believe in, Diana couldn't help but think how much better it would have been had they found a corpse.
When they found J'onn, he was curled in a fetal position with his arms locked around him in unnatural configurations. His eyes were closed, as though he was sleeping, but something like blood was leaking out of them in a steady trickle. Shudders wracked his body, shudders that looked more like the spasms of a malfunctioning animatronic puppet than an organic being. And his skin was a pale shade of green, as if several layers of his skin had been shaved off to reveal a white core, one that was trying to push its way through to the surface. J'onn looked horrible, and it ate at Diana's heart. But more than that—and Diana hated herself for this—it fed her curiosity: the scratches on the walls had been from his own fingers, meaning that it was highly unlikely that something else was in his hab suite while he was screaming.
(So what in the name of Hades happened to him?)
That question also ate away at Diana, and the possibilities that her mind concocted did little to put her at ease. The rest of the League—who stood around J'onn in the bleached white of the medical bay—seemed no less shaken up, but Diana told herself that they hadn't been suffering from a malignant case of the jitters for the past month or more. That thought made her feel selfish, but none-the-less it was there and incredibly hard to ignore. It wasn't so much that this event with J'onn had added to her anxiety as it was that it didn't—this made no sense to Diana, but she felt very much like she had before, only with the addition of sadness due to the state her friend was in. It made her realize just how off-kilter she had felt before, and just how hard she was trying to ignore it until today.
(So what in the name of Hades is happening to me?)
(No, worry about J'onn—I am unimportant right now)
"I sincerely do not mean to doubt you, Bruce," Diana said, looking away from the medical table. "But are you positive that J'onn did all that himself?"
Bruce sighed and ripped off his medical gloves—he sounded and looked tired, not impatient. "I asked myself that almost a hundred times, Diana. But Wally did a sweep of the room—any bits of wall that weren't under his finger nails could be found on the floor. So far as I can tell, J'onn was alone in his room."
"But that does not mean he wasn't attacked."
Bruce nodded, sliding his Batman gloves over his bare hands. "Agreed." As he was closer to Diana than Wally or John or Shayera, she heard him mumble, "Not that it makes what happened any less terrifying."
Diana placed a hand lightly on Bruce's shoulder as Shayera walked forward and said, "What are we thinking? Psych attack? Chemical warfare?"
"We'd better assume it's chemical no matter what," John said. "Far as I'm concerned, that's our worst-case-scenario." His uniform had spots of grease on it as well—he likely was still with the teleporter when Wally grabbed him, Diana thought.
She also agreed with what he said. "It could be hallucinogens of some description. I have no doubt that their effects would be magnified by his telepathy."
John nodded. "That's what I'm thinking. And if you wanted to infect the rest of us? It'd only make sense to wait until he was on the Watchtower. Close proximity's the best friend a terrorist could possibly have."
"Jumping the gun a bit there, aren't you?" Shayera said. John folded his arms over his chest and took up a more relaxed position.
"Sure. A little, yeah. I'm not saying this is terrorism. Hell, I'm not even sure this is a chemical attack yet. I'm just pointing out how we could hit max damage pretty quickly up here."
Diana saw Bruce scratch at his chin, doing what he always did when running options through his mind at the speed of light. Judging from his body language, Diana predicted he was about to agree with the group consensus. He probably wouldn't have started an argument considering the circumstances, but she was glad everyone was in agreement all the same. One look at J'onn was enough to melt even the steeliest of exteriors; among the League though, there truly weren't any exteriors like that so far as she could see.
"We'll need to start quarantining off the Watchtower then," Bruce said eventually, proving Diana right. "We throw caution to the wind and this could be the epicenter of a pandemic."
"Bonus points: we don't get sick either," Wally said. Diana saw a sheepish look grow on his face, then heard him say, "And, well…don't wanna sound like an a-hole or anything, but the best way to do that is, you know, to give J'onn some space." Under his breath he said, "Sorry big guy—nothing personal, really."
"After the length of time we have been next to him," Diana said, "I doubt we have avoided contacting whatever he is carrying." She walked next to Wally and put a hand on his shoulder and smiled. "We have equipment to deal with that, so I see no reason to fear just yet. But Wally is right—we should let J'onn be. Let him rest."
"Then we'll get the quarantine up and running," John said. "See if he's any better after we're done. Shouldn't be too long considering how the teleporters are being held together with duct-tape."
"That just leaves the tests and decontamination," Bruce said, nodding his head. "Simple enough. Let's get moving, then. I need to make a quick call—
(right, call Clark; make sure he is aware of our circumstances)
—but after that, we'll start cleaning the place. If we don't find anything, we're going to need to brainstorm other possibilities." He paused, looked out of the window into the black of space. "I don't like this…" he muttered.
(I would just so happen to be in complete agreement with you Bruce…What happened to J'onn is enough to make anyone paranoid…)
(By the gods, poor J'onn…)
"You go," Diana said. "Get ready. I will ensure that J'onn is comfortable, or at the very least stable."
Diana watched Bruce's head shoot back around. He looked startled at first, but then again he had also looked deep in thought just a second earlier. Diana knew that Bruce took every loss—every injury—quite personally, as though he himself had failed the victim no matter what his involvement might be. She wondered if he was trying to hide what he was feeling; looking around, it seemed like everyone was hiding what they were feeling, even her. J'onn had scared them, and if there was one thing that the Justice League seemed unwilling to show, it was fear. Superheroics had a strict code of conduct, after all.
Eventually, Bruce answered Diana. "You sure?" he said. Diana nodded.
"I am. I have tended to wounds before, and you have an important call to make. It should not take me very long—I just want to be sure that he is at peace."
"Sounds good to me," John said, rising to his full height. "Shayera—wanna accompany me while I get all the invasive medical devices?"
"Right," she said. "Because nothing puts me more at ease than spending quality time with needles."
"And quality time with me?"
"Jee," Shayera said. "I take that back—are the needles free?"
With that, John and Shayera began to exit the med-bay. Wally followed closely behind, saying "I—um, make sure he's…yeah, make sure he's comfortable Di," as he left. Diana smiled and watched him go.
(You do not need to feel bad about being afraid, Wally—it makes you no less of a friend to J'onn)
"You're sure," she heard Bruce say, and for a second she wondered—despite herself—if he had read her mind. She realized as she turned to face him that he was just repeating his question from earlier. She nodded her head, and gave Bruce a weak smile.
"I truly am, Bruce. Please, you need to contact Clark—you are needed elsewhere."
She watched his brow rise briefly, then fall back into a neutral position. "Guess I'm making the right call then, hailing Clark. In that case, I'll meet up with you when we're done."
"Agreed," Diana said. "We will meet up when we are done."
As Bruce left the medbay and Diana's eyes fell over J'onn, her mind went back to what she told Wally earlier:
("No reason to fear"….I am not sure I believe that myself, I truly am not…)
But she pushed that aside and focused on the task at hand, letting the medical training she had received with the Amazon's guide her hands. It was almost an unconscious effort—the sign of years-worth of practice—but it left her conscious thoughts free enough to wander, free enough to speculate. Free enough to ask questions.
(What in the name of Hades happened to him?)
To be continued...
Now, you may ask yourself: "How is this a BM/WW fanfic?" You may ask yourself: "did Two-Eyed Charlie lie to me?" You may tell yourself: "This is not my beautiful house." You may tell yourself: "This is not my beautiful wife!"
Ahem. Sorry. Got carried away with the Talking Heads references. You know how it is.
So, yeah, hopefully you're not super disappointed that this isn't intensely romantic. I'll be honest with you, I know how this site works: you only get views and such if there's shipping involved. That's...well that's the reality. And since I'm scum (I know it, you know it, our Lord and Savior Tim Curry knows it), and I need personal validation from strangers on the internet, well...I just crave those views and reviews. Hence why they're paired up on the description thingy (heh...I mean, that's the second time I've made that joke, but still...).
Since I used to write a lot of BM/WW fanfiction, and I do like how they play off one another, there's definitely going to be a lot of interactions between the two of them, and some romantic chemistry might work its way in their no matter what I do (I just write the damn thing, after all), but I wouldn't fully classify this as a shipping fic. Even less so than "Behold a Pale Horse," if you want a comparison.
Hopefully you don't hate me (feel free to hate me though, I deserve it), but I just thought I should be honest - in the event you came here looking for shipping - what the game plan will likely be in that regard. Sorry about that.
Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed the first part of the story and stick around for more. Since I don't outline my stories anymore, I'm just as intrigued to see who survives as you guys!
Thanks for reading!
(oh, and Happy Holidays, of course)