"There, the boy was apprenticed to the evil man, and made to work by fear, at least at first. For the evil man had spoken truly; he was the boy's true father, and knew him well enough to know the thoughts that went through the young man's mind, and the passions and desires that burned in his breast. He knew how to speak to him, and how to goad him, and how to make him do what he wanted, how he wanted.
"In time they ventured out into this new land as father and son, and worked together. They took what they needed, and stole what they wanted, and were employed by other evil men to do evil things for money and jewels. They lived riotously and well, and the evil man reveled in the fact that the good man could not find them, there.
"But one day, they were employed by another evil man to go back to the land they had escaped from, and enter the home of the boy's former master to take something. The evil man could not resist such a prize, and so went back there to perform the theft, taking the boy with him, as that boy knew how to get into his master's house..."
* * *
"Are you sure the boy knows what he's doing?" the Weasel King asks as the small but deadly group sneaks through the Samuels' estate, his mask slipping as he talks.
"If he says this is how we get in, it's how we get in," the Green Man replies, watching as his son -- now called the Archer, and dressed accordingly -- indicates they should spiral in a little closer.
"These men are being paid by the minute, and all we've done so far is go around the house, three times-"
"Do you trust me?" the Green Man asks, putting a finger on the man's weasel mask, right at the lips outstretched lips.
"Yes," Weasel King says, quite uncomfortable to be touched.
"Then you trust us. He is our ticket to your revenge, and my pay. I would not waste your time or mine if I was not entirely certain that he would satisfy both our needs."
"Well, if you're vouching for him, then fine. But-"
"We're in," the Archer announces, rising up and looking at his watch: "We have thirty seconds from when I say go to get to the house. Be ready."
The two mercenaries in question -- Maul and Brawl, both up-and-coming costumed muscle on loan from the Legion -- take up position right behind him, and wait for a further signal. Weasel King stands right behind them, alongside Green Man and frets, so close to his ultimate goal that he can barely stand it.
Green Man got his son to divulge the Samuels' secret quite some time ago, and has been sitting on that priceless nugget of information ever since, waiting for the right moment to exploit it. That right moment came a few months ago, when Weasel King -- the self-styled robber baron of Chicago, and natural enemy of The Owl -- finally escaped from his life-plus-plus sentence, and desired the ultimate revenge on the heroes who'd put him there.
A call had been made. A meeting had been arranged. Fees and terms had been discussed and agreed to, along with certain understandings and guarantees. And now, at last, everyone was going to get what they wanted.
Some, indeed, more than others.
"Go," the Archer says, and sprints fast and low, running for the one edge of the house he knows has an escape hatch from the Owl's Nest. The two thugs hustle up behind him, with his father and their employer not too far behind. Before long they've flattened up against the side of the house, and remaining both still and quiet until the Archer gives the word.
The boy can barely believe this is happening; twelve years old and he's breaking into one of the most secure places in the city, possibly even the world. But he's been ready for this moment for years, and is not going to fail.
This is how you truly say goodbye to your past, my son, his father had told him on the plane ride over from Paris: You look these people who tried to make you something you were not right in the eye, and spit in it as you take what's most precious to them. And then you vanish into the night a new man, free and unafraid.
He knows that the Weasel King wants to kill The Owl, but he does not care. In his mind, he has separated the demanding but kind man who trained him, years ago, from the costumed meddler who keeps interfering in his father's plans the way the Bright Bowman used to, before...
(Don't think of it.)
... before The Owl decided to become so much trouble.
And after tonight, he won't be any trouble, anymore.
At the right moment, the Archer quickly rewires the access panel on the outside of the disguised escape chute leading up to the Owl's Nest, hidden in the air above the mansion. The hatch pops open, and Archer quickly reaches up behind it, attaching certain electronic boxes to the exterior sensors, there.
"We go up, gentlemen," Green Man announces, beaming with pride at his son's works: "Archer, you first, as you know the way. Maul, you go last and watch our backs."
* * *
There's a cough as Green Man inhales to continue, and when he looks over at Thomas, he sees the young man's blind eyes are looking right at him, which is rather spooky.
"This is a long parable," Thomas rasps: "I thought... Jesus liked them short and sweet?"
"Well, that's probably why this didn't make the final cut," Green Man explains: "It does rather read like its own chapter, rather than a smaller piece within it. But maybe that's why it's one of my favorites."
"Do you want me to keep reading? We could read something else, if this is boring-"
"Oh, it's not boring at all," Thomas says: "I was just wondering. And besides... I did say I wanted to hear your favorite. So if I don't like it... well, too bad."
Green Man smiles: "You have a delightful sense of fair play, young man."
"Got it from my grandpa," Thomas says, closing his eyes: "I miss him."
"He was a wonderful man," Green Man says, practically suffocating through the irony of it all.
They're both silent for a moment, and then the Green Man inhales deeply, taps the Bible he isn't reading out of, and begins again: "And so they entered into the house of the boy's former master..."
* * *
"Amazing," the Weasel King sighs, standing at the edge of the Owl's Nest and looking around at the cavernous interiors: "All this, hidden in plain sight. All along..."
"Admire it later," the Green Man says, patting the Archer on the shoulder: "We'll drink toasts to its magnificence once this and the downstairs are secured. But we need to move, now. This place will be crawling with heroes the moment they know we're here. And-"
"And that moment's already !@#$ing come and gone," Maul says, pointing a gun at Weasel King.
"What is this?" the Weasel King says, putting his hands up: "What are you doing? I paid good money for this-"
"You should have paid better attention," Brawl says, pulling his mask off to reveal yet another mask underneath -- that of The Owl, himself.
The Green Man just sighs, realizing exactly what's happened: "Well, this is a fine turn of events, now isn't it?"
"Pretty !@#$ing smooth, huh?" Maul replies, pulling off his own mask to reveal none other than SPYGOD, himself.
"I must congratulate you," the Green Man says, taking a theatrical step back and to the side: "How far back was this planned?"
"Planned?" the Weasel King snarls: "I will not stand here and be impugned-"
"We let the Weasel escape, Green Man," The Owl explains: "We knew he'd want revenge, and you'd probably bait the hook with what you forced out of that young man while you were brainwashing him."
"And then it was just a matter of gently steering this piece of !@#$ towards you, and letting nature take its course," SPYGOD explains: "With a little help from the Legion, of course."
"Of course," The Owl says, smiling just a little: "And now you can both go back to prison, where you belong. After we take a few memories from your minds, of course."
"Maybe a few other things, too," SPYGOD taunts: "Like how to use the bathroom, maybe-"
"That's providing you can take us there," the Green Man says, getting ready to move: "There's three of us and only two of you-"
SPYGOD clubs the Weasel King over the head with the butt of his gun. The animal mask shatters into flinders and the man falls down in a deep slump, blood trickling from his nose and ears.
"You were saying?" SPYGOD asks, pointing his gun at the man in green: "They say you can't be hit by anything? This gun fires heatseekers. And you are really !@#$ hot, Green Man."
The Archer's looking to his father for guidance, but not getting any. And then The Owl is talking to him, and it's in that voice...
"Son, it's okay," he says, holding out a hand: "You don't have to do what this man's told you, anymore. You don't have to be what he's told you, anymore. I forgive you for everything you've done, and I love you. Please come back to us."
"You don't have the right to call him your son," the Green Man hisses: "He's my child, Samuels. No one else's!"
"Yeah, you !@#$ing saw to that, didn't you, you piece of !@#$," SPYGOD mutters, cocking the gun back: "Hal was a good man. I should blow your hands off just for that-"
(Don't think of it. Don't think of it.)
"Son, please," The Owl says, extending both hands, now.
"Son, be ready," the Green Man orders, almost on the cusp of action.
"Son, don't be !@#$ing stupid," SPYGOD says, ready to fire on them both if necessary.
"Dad, what's going on-" a young voice calls out, behind them all.
Things happen all at once. The Owl's looking up and about to call out in warning. The Green Man's taking advantage of the distraction and slapping the gun out of SPYGOD's hand. There's a miniature crossbow shooting out into the Archer's hand and he's turning, diving, and firing at the sound.
And then there's just a scream as a teenager, dressed for a school dance, is holding onto a crossbow bolt that's pierced him right through the breastbone, and wondering what to do now.
What happens next isn't fully remembered or understood. There's shooting and fighting and screaming and shouting. There's a madcap chase all over the Owl's Nest as a villain scrambles for cover and vengeful heroes chase after him. There's blood on the floor and a moral line almost crossed, and a life given for a life taken away.
But by the time the drama's played itself out, as it only could have from that point on, the Archer isn't there to see it, anymore. He's fled the building, out the way he came, and hustled into the second getaway vehicle that only he and his father knew about. And then he's driving out of state for the first of several possible rendezvous points, hoping that his father will rejoin him there, somehow successful in his mission.
He waits a long time, there, in that cabin. All the while he thinks of the eyes of the man who called him son, then and now. He thinks of how that man looked when he saw his real son falling down dead at the boy's hands. He thinks of what that man said, and what that man cried, and what that SPYGOD person said to that man as he knelt by the body, cradling it and paralyzed with grief.
He remembers what happened to the Bright Bowman. (Don't think of it.)
What happened to his mother. (Don't think of it.)
What he did, and what he didn't do. (Don't think of it.)
What he allowed to happen...
He sits there for a day and a night, waiting and remembering, thinking and wondering, planning and waiting.
And then, when that day and night have gone, he leaves that cabin, leaving behind everything that he was, that he could have been, and maybe should have been behind there.
Even his name is lost to him, now, as he walks down the long, winding road back to the highway, ready to find his way anew...
* * *
The Green Man looks up from the book, and sees that Thomas has fallen asleep.
He smiles, gets up, and puts the Bible down on the dresser. Then he quietly exits the room for the airlock, and signals that the doctor should come and let him out.
"You got his BP back up again," the Doctor says, not really smiling at the news: "Must have been some exciting story. Song of Solomon?"
"Oh please," the Green Man says, sighing: "That's pedestrian stuff, surely, even by your standards."
"Don't you know?" the Green Man says, taking his robe off and flinging it right across the room, aiming it in such a way that it slides right into the open hamper: "I never miss."
That shuts the grumpy fellow up, which is more or less what he wanted. He mimes shooting a gun at the man with his thumb and index finger, and leaves the sick bay with a confident stride.
The rest of his day is free. He can do what he wants, here. No one ever asks anything of him, and no one expects anything of him, either. He was brought here purely to comfort his dying son, and anything else would be unwanted, and unwarranted.
Especially given what he's done, both as a child and a man.
But he knows something they do not. He's known it since Florida, when a strange man put his hand right through his chest, like a ghost, and showed him the one thing that no one should ever confront before his time -- his fate.
In that vision -- the vision that turned him into a shambling shell of his former self -- he saw himself fighting to save a helpless boy's life. He saw himself in battle with a horned demon straight from Hell, the blood of his so-called allies still wetting his hands and fangs. He saw himself doing it, even though he knew that the fight would kill him, and that for all his powers, he was just a piece of fragile flesh in the face of a storm of knives and swords.
And he saw himself fending off that hideous storm just long enough for someone to come and save that boy, because on his broken shoulders will one day rest the future.
It was real, and he knew it. It was a nightmare he could not avoid. And as he had no idea what could lead to it, or what he should do, he let it overwhelm him, and just wandered away from his duties and his post at the COMPANY, thus missing the horrible end of that institution on 3/15.
A human ghost haunting himself, wearing a shroud of crippling self-doubt wrapped around a primal, terrible certainty, he staggered through Imago's America. He came to a stop eventually, at the last place that anyone ever told him that they loved him. And there he sat, drinking rainwater and eating stolen park food until someone came to collect him for their own purposes.
But it wouldn't be until the moment that Mark Clutch -- a man who hated him for many reasons -- showed him Thomas, and explained that he was the Green Man's son by Martha Samuels, that he realized that he knew the boy, just as he had seen that very room.
They were from the vision that Chinmoku had "gifted" him with, back in the Keys, that one day last March.
It was here that he would fight and die, protecting the son that bore his name.
"Thomas," he says, looking down at the grassy ground, far below, as a herd of dangerous carnivores pounce on a hapless plant-eater, too slow to outrun their teeth and claws.
Of course, questions remain. Where will this devil come from? Is it here, already, hiding amongst them? Is it yet to come? Will the others know it for what it is when it appears, or will they wander into its path like hapless teen heroes, come home early on a night they were supposed to be out?
The Green Man doesn't know the how or the why of it, much less the when. But after months of being paralyzed by who and what, he's now trapped in the where, and all too aware that, even if he could leave -- if he could somehow escape this fate -- he wouldn't do it.
He watches the gruesome spectacle for a long time, pondering that strange quirk of his character, and then goes off to make a harmless nuisance of himself, elsewhere. Maybe he'll pay those Muslims back for being so friendly this morning, or go tweak Mark Clutch's nose, just for laughs.
Anything to kill some time before an unknown demon comes to return the favor.