Spoilers: speculation based on "Earth-2: World's End" #7
Warnings: wild speculation, Solomon Grundy (zombies aren't charming)
Word Count: 2541
Summary: Searching for the Avatar of the Blue, but Alan Scott might just be on the path to finding someone else as well.
Note: Solomon Grundy became the Avatar of the Gray in 1898. The original character I'm making the Avatar of the Blue became such in 1579. Hence Alan and the Avatar of the White are really Johnnys-come-lately to the Avatar thing. Haven't yet decided what to do about the Avatar of the Red. We'll see what canon gives me to fix. When it came to the Blue, I already had an OC with a backstory that was hella easy to adapt.
Word of the Day: lagan, noun: Anything sunk in the sea, but attached to a buoy or the like so that it may be recovered.
The Light of Intuition
"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly.”
Hope was a tiny thing fluttering in Alan Scott's chest, alongside his heart. It was foolish, and it was painful, but Alan couldn't look at the Avatar of the White and not see his lover. As uncanny as his fellow Avatar's appearance was -- the insubstantial white of a cloud all over, constantly shifting with the air -- it was still recognizably Sam.
("Once... but no longer..." he had said, and part of Alan -- a part that had been screaming his grief ever since the explosion on the train -- was angry at the possibility it might be true. That this might only be some echo of the man he loved, and not really Sam. If that was the case, though... why Sam? Why not anybody else? So many others had died that day, at the hand of the mysterious enemy Samuel Zhao had made.)
Grundy was chuckling to himself as they flew through the air. For one thing, the Avatar of the Gray was pleased that he no longer had to be enclosed in the power of the Green for quicker transport -- Sam had taken over, and was leading them to a place where they could meet up with the Avatar of the Blue. However, Alan was sure that he was another cause of Grundy's amusement. The zombie-like embodiment of Rot was vindictively pleased at Sam's ironic return -- his mocking words "Reunited with your boyfriend, and he's a ghost who hardly knows you!" still needled at that angry part of Alan, even after Sam had stepped in and smacked Grundy around with those wind powers of the White, and brought Grundy more in line.
'You should stop thinking of him as Sam,' Alan told himself sternly. 'You'll only be hurt.'
But Sa-- the Avatar of the White had given no other name, and he hadn't told Alan not to call him Sam. He acknowledged that he'd been Sam Zhao, and he'd only seemed frustrated whenever Alan tried to push for them to talk.
'Now I know how he felt,' Alan realized, 'when I wouldn't listen to him about the Jaunt Initiative.'
"I've never actually been down into the ocean," Alan said, as he floated in the air alongside Sam. "I mean... I assume that I can shield myself with the Green's energy, but if we're going to the bottom--"
"We are." Sam interrupted. Alan nodded, and continued,
"...then I can't say for sure it will withstand the pressure."
"You living things," Grundy scoffed, from his cloud-like air cushion, "so damn delicate." (Sam kept the air moving around the Avatar of the Gray, a gentle swirl that carried the stink of him away from Alan -- it was a little thing that he hadn't had to do, but it showed a thoughtfulness for Alan that hurt in its familiarity.)
Alan spared a glare at Grundy, who grinned in response, baring his mossy, rotten teeth and mottled gums.
"As Avatars, we are all able to withstand the pressure," Sam replied. "You will be fine, Alan Scott. Trust me."
"All right," Alan said, the words halfway to a sigh. He called up another bubble-like shield to surround him. Beside him, Grundy gave a startled shout as the air cushion evaporated away and he was plunged into the water. Alan snickered, even though Sam's cloudy countenance was as serene as ever. It was almost enough to banish his annoyance at being referred to as 'Alan Scott' by Sam.
Alan let the bubble shield sink below the waves and carry him down. Sam followed after, his cloudy form seeming even more wispy and trailing in the water. The Avatar of the White dove quickly, following the trail of bubbles that was Grundy's wake as the Avatar of the Gray sank to the sea floor. Alan wondered if it took more effort for an airy being, like Sam now was, to do a thing like 'sink'. It would be strange, having to put conscious thought in going deeper underwater, when human instincts quailed at the very idea.
Alan tried to banish the equations he remembered from the design sessions for deep sea search robots. Knowing just how many tons of pressure his magical green light-bubble was keeping at bay was not a helpful piece of information.
Their progress felt much slower than the journey to find Sam. The bottom of the ocean was an utterly alien place, a world that had gone unlit since the beginning of time. Alan felt almost like he was violating something sacrosanct by bringing the light of the Green to this place. But Sam, up ahead of him, was also glowing softly. He chanced a look backward and down, and Grundy's eyes met his. The Avatar of the Gray's gaze was shining yellow, the way a cat's eyes would have when caught in the beam of a flashlight.
Alan suppressed a shudder at the eerie sight. He'd never been overly fond of the ocean to begin with.
The ground below them suddenly bucked and buckled -- Alan reacted instinctively, reaching out with the energy of the Green to snare Grundy and pull him clear of the danger. The Avatar of the Gray gave a soundless shout as he tumbled upward, trailing bubbles. Alan let himself rise, following Grundy's path. Then Sam's power wrapped around the tendril of light from Alan's ring -- Alan let his own energy dissipate, remembering how it seemed to pain Grundy, in order to let Sam take over.
"Shit!" Grundy yelled, as soon as Sam had him steadied and upright, his voice strange because it traveled through water instead of air, "Ichtaca is going to kill those Atlanteans!"
His words made Alan immediately think of an enemy, but he only growled out, "Ichtaca?" in a questioning tone.
"The Avatar of the Blue," Sam answered.
"They'll be too late," Alan said coldly. "Commander Khan wanted me to go to Atlantis to help Queen Marella. Something must have happened..." The realization of his failure was like ice in his stomach, and Alan snapped at Grundy, "Something I could have stopped! If not for you!"
"You don't know that." Sam's voice was as calm and even as it had been since his reappearance (and that was so opposite what Alan was used to; it was beginning to get on his nerves). "And the Green would have called you away from your duties in any case. Come. It is more urgent than ever that we find the Avatar."
They resumed their underwater trek. Alan was relieved to realize that they were moving away from the epicenter of the earthquake, and he wondered at the feeling. He didn't even know what they were distancing themselves from, but something deep inside of him was eased by it.
Sam spoke up again. "Grundy, what do you know? What have the Atlanteans done that will anger the Avatar of the Blue?"
"Don't you feel it, White?" Grundy asked. He shook his head slowly. "That charnel house stink. That roiling, endless hunger to consume..."
"Sounds a bit like you and your boss," Alan couldn't resist quipping. Grundy sneered at him, ember-like eyes smoldering with hatred.
"No, Gray, I cannot feel it.," Sam answered, this time ignoring Alan's smart remarks.
"Ichtaca said once that the Atlanteans were keepers of the Old Ones. Their sorcerers had sealed them away." Grundy was actually swimming now -- at least kicking his legs to propel himself forward -- and it looked more than a little ridiculous. Alan held his tongue this time, though. "Never knew that Ichtaca was an Avatar. Figured them for one of Neptune's kids... plenty of those, before those gods died off..."
"The Old Ones?" Alan repeated.
"Yeah, the Old Ones. Big nasties from a long time ago, I guess. Killed a bunch of people in Atlantis while they were being sealed away. The way this thing feels..." Grundy trailed off. He didn't speak for a while, and when he resumed, his tone was gruffer. "If this 'greater threat' we're allied against does beat us, the Old One would probably eat it anyway. It's... it's that big, you know?"
Alan admitted, "I don't want to think about it."
Ahead of them, Sam cried out. Both of them strained to see through the dark murk of the seawater, and Alan propelled himself forward on instinct. (The was no panic, no fear -- not this time. He didn't have time for emotion while Sam was in danger.) A mass of rotting tentacles wound and re-wound itself around Sam's form, and even as the semi-corporeal Avatar struggled free of some of them, others would inexorably repeat the action, slowly drawing him in.
"That is not mine!" Grundy yelled.
It had been Alan's first thought, to blame the zombie for whatever was happening. But as they got closer, Alan saw that the attacker was actually a giant squid. Granted, the thing was half-eaten and rotting -- probably lost a fight with a sperm whale -- even as it somehow moved. But Grundy had never been one to use squid tentacles in a fight.
"Then what the hell is it?" Alan demanded, even as he brought up his ring, trying to get a clear shot at the creature. At this distance, he feared hitting Sam. And while their powers didn’t seem to oppose each other like the Green and the Gray, he didn’t want to find out this way if the Green could harm the White.
Grundy shouted in reply, "Whatever brought it back isn't of the Earth!"
Which was probably why Sam was having such a hard time getting free of it.
Alan growled and dove closer, the shield around him streamlining itself instantly in response to his thoughts, the light transmuting into flame that somehow burned even in the depths. He slammed himself into the mantle of the creature, hoping it would release Sam.
It didn't. So he gave it a flaming punch in the eye. That move got him hit in the head with the club end of one of the longer tentacles. Alan went spinning off through the water, and it was only the steady white glow of Sam's new body that gave him something to orient back to. He aimed for the eye directly this time, and willed himself forward at greater speed.
The undead squid flailed in response, and Alan hoped that he'd hurt it. Somewhere in the darkness, Grundy bellowed wordlessly -- a moment later, Alan felt like he'd been hit by a brick wall, and his stomach heaved. But the wild motions of the squid's body had brought Sam closer, and he grabbed onto the nearest cloudy white hand that he could. Alan pulled hard, but Sam didn't budge. Another awful wave of decay washed over them following a second shout from Grundy, and Alan couldn't bite back a pained cry. He gritted his teeth and pulled with all the strength he could summon.
With a disgusting tearing sound and distressingly large gouts of bluish-black blood, the tentacles gripping Sam ripped free of the squid's body. Sam managed to lash out with his own power, pushing the ragged, rotten flesh away from them both. Alan grabbed onto him again and propelled them upward and out of the giant squid's reach.
Grundy shouted for a third time, and the squid utterly disintegrated under that onslaught of power. Sam shuddered in Alan's arms as they watched the disgusting display, and Alan pressed his lips together in a tight line to keep himself from retching.
The Rot might be necessary, but it was horrible to watch in action.
Grundy was grinning again by the time that he caught up. "I know what it feels like now. I know how to be like it, and how to rip it up before it feels me. The other thing? I know it now."
"That should be useful," Sam said, with a nod. He slipped easily from Alan's grasp, and looked around as though searching for something. "Come on. The sooner we find the others, the sooner we can strike at--"
"Apokolips," Alan supplied, at the same time Sam said the word.
"Stupid name," Grundy muttered.
It was still hard to know how long they had been travelling. It didn't feel like that long after their encounter with the Apokolips-reanimated giant squid when Alan stumbled, going to his knees. His vision swam, little black sparks dancing at the edges. "What now?" Grundy barked, and the sound was... distorted, for some reason.
And then Sam was there, pressing a hand to the light-bubble around Alan. "He's running out of breathable air."
'Air?' Alan was confused. He had air in here -- he wasn't a total fool; he had enclosed plenty inside with him on the surface. He blinked, and from his perspective, Sam was suddenly inside the bubble with him.
The Avatar of the White was smiling at him with Sam's familiar half-exasperated smile, the one Alan always earned when he'd only thought something through partway. He leaned close and whispered, "Breathable air. You haven't been filtering out the carbon dioxide."
'Oh...' Alan was about to apologize, but in the next moment, Sam's lips were on his and a warm breath of clean air filled Alan's lungs. He reacted, out of pure habit, by bringing a hand up to the back of Sam's neck and kissing him softly. And then his addled brain cleared, and he realized that he shouldn't be-- but... no, it wasn't his imagination. Sam was kissing him back.
They pulled apart slowly, reluctantly. Alan's eyes fluttered open, and he was shocked to realize that Sam's dark, deep brown eyes were looking back at him. Then the Avatar of the White blinked, and his eyes returned to the strange, milky blue-white color that matched all his other features.
Grundy made a disgusted noise, and Alan could practically hear him rolling his eyes as he grumbled, "Things would be a lot quicker if this Green idiot would stay dead like the rest of us."
Alan whipped his head in the direction of Grundy's voice -- the Avatar of the Gray was perched on a nearby rock formation, jiggling one knee as he waited out the minor rescue. Grundy sneered back at him.
"Shut up, Grundy!" Alan and Sam said together.
That made the Avatar of the White pull back from Alan, and then the green light was between them again. Alan forced himself not to reach out. He didn't dare push this... he couldn't possibly risk frightening or alienating the Avatar of the White now.
Not when he'd seen and heard and felt those little flickers of Sam -- really Sam, his Sam.
Maybe the Avatar of the White wasn't the man he loved -- the Green Lantern, after all, was more than Alan Scott had been -- but Samuel Zhao was in there, somewhere. Alan knew it, in the same way he knew the pain of the Earth itself. In the same way that he knew how to let the currents of the ocean carry him toward the Avatar of the Blue, as all of them were doing.
"I cannot wait for Ichtaca to knock some sense into you two..." Grundy muttered behind Alan.