"Take the weekend," Max said. "Go to Paris or something, relax. You've earned it."
"Thanks, Max," Ted replied, and grabbed Booster's arm, pulling him out of Max's office before he could change his mind. He didn't know about earned it; he'd stabbed two teammates and then spent three days in a coma, but he knew that he sure could use the break.
"Paris?" Booster said, almost sounding sceptical, which was weird, but he was probably just worried about running into Catherine again. "Do you think..."
Ted kept going. "It's as far away as we can get on no notice, and if we go in civvies, Cap can't make us work."
"Should we pack or something?"
"No need. I plan to party for two days, not sleep." Also, that would cut out the dufflebag of personal grooming products Booster would decide he needed to bring. Like he needed it. Booster already looked like a million bucks: every hair in place, and wearing jeans tight enough to make Ted repress his bisexuality even more firmly than he usually did. "Let's just go now."
"I guess," Booster mumbled, but followed Ted to the teleport tubes.
"Two for Paris!" Ted sang out as he stepped into his tube. "City of lights! City of love! City of an all around good time!"
Around him, the tube flashed, and he felt that nanosecond of void, but then he popped back into existence, or he thought he did.
"Whe doesn't Cap have the lights on?" Booster asked from beside him. His voice was echoing.
"Or the heat." Ted blinked hard, but that didn't make wherever they'd ended up any less dark or cold. "I don't think this is Paris."
"We reprogrammed those tubes after the Khunds used them, right?" Booster asked, his voice starting to pitch up, panic creeping in. "We're not..."
"No," Ted snapped. "We're not. I saw Scott change the settings, and we've used them since then." They might have scattered the Khunds across the void, but none of them would have risked it themselves, not even anyone on this team.
There was a thump as Booster felt his way out of the tube. "But you didn't check?"
"I just wanted to go!" Ted said defensively. "It defaults to Paris now. It's the only other embassy."
"Great." Booster sounded so disgusted that Ted couldn't muster a reply. He shouldn't have been so casual about the teleport tubes. That's what had killed the Khunds, and it could just as easily have been them; he knew that.
Feeling around in the dark, Ted carefully stepped out of the tube and onto a smooth floor. When he crouched and put his hand on it, it felt like cement.
"Lights on!" Booster said, which did nothing. "I miss the future. If I'd been wearing my suit, we'd be able to see." He said it like that was Ted's fault too, which wasn't unfair.
Ted took a careful step forward and ran nose first into Booster's shoulders. "Sorry."
"Look." Booster took him by the arm and forced him around until he was facing the other way. "You follow the wall that way; I'll go this way, and hopefully one of us'll find a light switch."
The walls were the same smooth cement, and Ted trailed his hand along until he came to a doorway, then felt around for the switch. "Hang on, I got it! Aw, jeez."
Booster was blinking hard against the sudden light, but Ted had already recognised where they were. It was a Max Doesn't Want to Spend Any Money on This Chic: four cement walls, the tubes, a control consul with no lights on it, and a door leading into an equally utilitarian hallway. "You got that right," Booster muttered.
It was JLI Antarctica, or what was left of it. Ted knew that the corridor bent then ended in the collapse caused by the earthquake. There should also be cracks in the ceiling, but of course it would be too dark to see them in June. He could feel the wind working its way through. It had to be two degrees. "This doesn't make any sense," Ted said. "Where is the power coming from?" This place has been abandoned since the penguin attack six months ago, and there hadn't been a lot left even then.
"I don't know, and I don't care." Booster was poking at the controls. "Make this work so we can go home."
Ted crouched to pull the panelling off, and as soon as he got a look at the wiring, he knew they were in trouble. He closed his eyes for a second, not wanting to tell Booster, who was pissed off at him enough as it was.
"What?" Booster prodded. "What's the matter now?"
So much for that. "The, uh... The transmitter's gone. It can only receive, not send."
"Of course it can't. Can you fix it?"
"Not gone as in dead. Gone as in not there. Yanked clean out. Vanished."
Booster pulled out his team communicator and fussed with the dials. When it failed to acquire a signal, he glared at it. It was a nice change from glaring at Ted, at least.
"Max had the satellites moved," Ted told him. "Since we weren't..."
"Of course he did."
"Sorry," Ted repeated. He was already sitting on the floor, and slumping sideways to rest his head on the panel seemed like a better option than getting up. "I just wanted a night out. Have a few beers, go dancing, maybe get lucky." He knew he was whining, but it had been an unspeakably awful week. He'd hoped to block the whole thing out, the mind wipe, the pain, the flashes of what he'd done most of all. Now Booster was pissed at him, and he didn't even really know why. It couldn't just be getting them stuck in Antarctica, that was like Tuesdays for them.
"I'm going to see if I can find the transmitter," Booster said, and walked away.
Not wanting to either let Booster go by himself, or to be left alone, Ted pulled himself up and followed. "I can reprogram the communicators," he said. "I don't know if we can get McMurdo from here, but I think there's a French science station pretty close."
"If it didn't get eaten by penguins too."
Ted thought he probably would have heard about that, but then who knew? "We're not stuck here," he promised. "I'll fix it."
They were to the part that Ted remembered leading to the cave in, only it didn't. Instead, it tunnelled down at about a twenty degree angle, heading deep into the Antarctic bedrock, far past the reach of the lights. The walls were smooth, but had a regular scoring like they would from a very large drill. Far, far below Ted thought he heard the hum of a diesel generator. "This is new," Ted noted.
"Yeah." Booster hesitated at the top of the slope. "Look, Beetle, I don't know if we should go down there. I've only got my ring, and you're unarmed. If there's penguins..."
"I really do think we got all the penguins," Ted said, but he didn't like the look of the place either. "But, how about we call for back up, first?" They retreated to the teleporter room, and Ted was able to patch his comm into the consul for a power boost. Pretty soon he had the French science station on the line, and they said they'd get in touch with Paris. "Get Mr. Miracle to bring a new transmitter," Ted told them, but he wasn't sure if they understood what he meant.
Finished, he sat back on the floor and tipped his head back until it rested on the wall. A minute later, he got up, bouncing on his toes and rubbing his arms. Considering where they were, it wasn't that cold, and they were mostly out of the wind, but Ted was dressed for summer in France.
"Cold?" Booster asked. He was sitting next to the tubes with his knees drawn up and his chin resting on his folded hands. He looked depressed, and Ted felt another stab of guilt. It hadn't been a great couple of days for Booster, either.
"Little bit." Ted mugged a leer. "You wanna huddle for warmth, buddy?"
Booster dropped his head to his knees and flipped him the bird.
"Jeez, you really are pissed," Ted muttered. Normally that would have got him some banter back, and a little stock for the fantasy where Booster liked him back. He started pacing to keep warm, making sure to keep clear of Booster's corner. After ten minutes, he decided that the French should have had time to get in touch with someone, and called them back. He got nothing but static. He keyed to the marine distress frequency, and sent out an urgency message. Nothing. Same on the American military frequencies. Ted looked worriedly over at Booster, who'd lifted his head and was watching him incredulously. "Booster, give me yours. Maybe this one's faulty." Though when he pried it open, it looked fine.
Booster's didn't work either, with or without the signal boost from the teleporter system. "What have you done now?" Booster asked, still leaning against the wall.
"I didn't—" Ted took a sharp breath. "Look, pal, I didn't get us sent here, or break the communicators, or move the JLI satellites, and I certainly never thought JLI Antarctica was a good idea, so why are you on my back about this?"
"You wanted to go to Paris," Booster muttered sulkily, and Ted threw up his hands.
"Man wants to party it up in France! Call the firing squad! No, wait, it's France; Madam Guillotine it is!" He would have stomped out, but there wasn't actually anywhere to go. He spun around to yell at Booster again, but the expression on his face stopped him. "What?"
"Ted," he said slowly. "Are you sure that thing was set for JLI Europe?"
"Yeah, sure it was." He hadn't looked, but... "Batman went through yesterday."
Booster got up, moving slowly from the cold. "And there's not really any reason for both communicators to stop working?"
"Coronal mass ejection?" Ted guessed, but he didn't really believe it. "The magnetic field is funny down here."
"Even our luck's not that bad."
"I was just thinking the same thing, buddy." As one, they looked down the corridor towards the bend that led to the tunnel.
Booster sighed. "Fine." He started towards the corridor, but Ted caught his arm on the way by.
"Let me rig up a flashlight, huh?" His fingers were going numb, but it didn't take that long to wire one of the comms to a bulb from the consul. "This'll last about twenty minutes," he said, and gave it to Booster.
The gouges from the drill track made reasonable traction, even on the steep incline, but Ted still found himself wanting to hang onto Booster's arm for balance, or maybe just to steady his heart in the dark tunnel. The little fifteen-watt bulb seemed more like a we are here, come eat us maker than a light source, though Ted knew it'd be worse without it.
After what felt like a hour, the tunnel first levelled, then opened out into a cavern. The light from the old base had long since faded behind them, and their flashlight barely made a dint against the massive space.
"Wow!" Booster said, then, louder, "Echo!" The darkness swallowed his voice.
"Ever read The Lord of the Rings?" Ted asked. "This reminds me of the dwarf mines."
"Is it a porno?"
"I'll show you the cartoon some time." Ted took a step forward then pinwheeled frantically back as his foot hit water. Had Booster not yanked him back by his collar, he would have pitched face first into icy lake. As it was, one of his sneakers was soaked through. "Aw, jeez," he muttered, and sat down to pull the shoe off. This cold, would he get frostbite? The floor was damp and slightly slimy, and immediately soaked through his jeans.
Booster crouched to shine the little light across the water. It caught edges of ripples for at least a dozen yards before the darkness swallowed it. The dim yellow glow made Booster's face look sallow and drawn, or that could be the stress. Ted wanted to get up and put a hand on his shoulder, tell him it would be okay, but he felt a peculiar lack of momentum. "I don't think there's anything down here," Booster said, still peering into the darkness. "No, wait, I see..."
Ted watched as he stood and edged along the wall. Water gleamed near his feet, and on the walls behind him. Booster was glowing too, but no, that was just the light. Ted shook his head sharply, but his vision was blurring. He slumped back against the wall, which was slick with algae. Across the chamber, Booster crouched again, and picked something up.
"There, see?" Booster was holding something right in front of Ted now, discoloured with damp and mould. "A boot! Someone has been down here!"
The light was hurting Ted's eyes, so he closed them. Maybe he just needed to catch up on his rest. It had been such a long week.
"Beetle? Buddy? You okay?" Something shook his shoulder, lightly at first then violently. That had to be Booster again. Why wouldn't he let Ted sleep? "Ted! Wake up!"
The shaking persisted, but now Booster was wrapping something around his ankle, it bit through his jeans, and into his calf, and he flinched. "Booster?"
"Hey, that's right, buddy. Wake up for me."
The pressure on his ankle crept up to his knee, each movement stinging, tearing at his skin. He tried to jerk away, but couldn't move. Ted pitched forward into Booster's arms, his scream strangled as it left his lips.
"Ted? Come on, what's the matter with you?"
Ted jerked against Booster as the thing on his leg—not Booster, something else—pulled toward the water. He tried to hold onto Booster's shirt, but even his fingers had stopped working.
"Oh, holy shit!"
Booster's arms circled tight around Ted's ribs and they both rocketed into the air. Now Ted did scream, right before he passed out.
When he woke up he was cold, his leg hurt like hell, and Booster wouldn't shut up.
He was blabbering, something about the first time they'd been to Paris, when Catherine had shot him down, the end of what sounded like a long, self-indulgent string of stories. Ted blinked a couple times, trying to bring Booster's face into focus against the glare of the teleporter room's lights.
"Ted, buddy, you okay? How you feeling?" Booster touched his cheek, then his forehead, like he was checking Ted's temperature, though his hand felt cold too. "Can you hear me?"
Ted tried to answer and then coughed. He was lying on the floor below the tubes, with his head in Booster's lap. He was not wearing any pants, or shoes. He pushed himself up on his elbows, and found he still had a foot, which was a plus. In the debit column, however, were the sluggishly bleeding ring-shaped cuts circling his leg from his angle to his thigh. "What the hell?"
"There was something in the water," Booster said, then shoved Ted back down again. "It was big and scary, and I never want to see it again."
Ted considered moving, then decided against it. He was starting to shiver, and they were going to have to revisit the whole huddling for warmth issue before long. Now, however, he wanted to lie still for a bit and let Booster pet his hair, something Ted suspected he didn't quite realise he was doing.
"This has been the worst damn week," Booster grumbled. "I mean it, the worst. How many times are you almost going to get us killed, huh?"
"Me?" Ted managed to ask. His mouth was dry, and he almost wished for water, but the feeling of his foot stepping off the edge reverberated through him, along with how he hadn't been able to move. How many times was something going to screw with his head? First Queen Bee, now Creature of the Deep.
"Yes, you," Booster snapped. "I've had enough. We get out of this, I'm going back to working on my own. This team gig is a waste of time."
"All that toothpaste you could be selling?"
"Better than sitting around staring at your comatose ass!" Booster snapped, but he sounded less like he was genuinely angry, and more like he was about to cry.
Ted felt, absurdly, as though he ought to apologise for being brainwashed twice in one week. Instead, he said, "Hasn't been a picnic for me either, pal."
"At least you're not..." Booster broke off. "It's easy to..." His hand stilled, still buried in Ted's hair, and now that it had, Ted could feel the tremors running through Booster's body. "If it wasn't for your dumb trip to Paris, we'd be in New York right now, but no you're out of bed for thirty seconds and you want to go party. What are you, fifteen?"
"Pot, kettle," Ted muttered. "And you wanted to go too."
"Watching you drink too much and get shot down by every girl in France is not my idea of a good time."
"Since when?" Ted asked, genuinely curious now. That didn't sound like his Booster at all. He tipped his head to try see Booster's face, but he was leaning back and Ted couldn't get a good angle on it. He did hear Booster sigh.
"Never mind." He shifted out from under Ted and got to his feet. It wasn't until then that Ted realised that Booster had taken off his sports jacket and laid it over him.
"You've gotta be freezing." Ted pushed himself up until he was leaning against the wall. His leg muscles screamed that this was all a horrible idea, and he should stay where he was. "What are you doing?"
"I'm going to go back down and see if I can find anything in the cavern," Booster announced. "Something that can get us out of here before we freeze."
"Did that thing in the water get to you too, or are you just stupid?" Ted would have gotten to his feet and gone after Booster if he could; as it was, he was considering throwing himself at his ankles and making Booster drag him.
At least that pissed Booster off to make him argue. He turned back, folding his arms and glaring down at Ted. "You got a better idea?"
"Anything! Literally any idea is better than that. Stay here and wait for them to rescue us. Even if the French didn't get through. The team's going to work out that we're missing. Eventually."
"If you think..." Booster started to say, but then the lights went out. "Damn."
"Seconded," Ted said with feeling.
The improvised flashlight clicked on, but its bulb was already flickering, and Ted geared up to protest, but Booster was just finding his way to sit next to Ted without tripping over him. "I hate getting rescued."
Ted leaned against Booster, and pulled the jacket up so it covered an inadequate amount of both of them. "Not crazy about it myself, buddy," he said. "It's been a week."
"It was a week before the mind-altering tentacle monster," Booster grumbled, but he sounded more like himself now, less like he was trying to pick a fight. "I... hate what happened to you. They wouldn't even let me see you, in case I went..." Ted assumed from the way his body shifted that he was making a stabbing motion. "Drove me nuts, not knowing, thinking you might be..."
Then Ted had wanted to go party—still wanted to go party goddammit—and Booster had still been in one of his rare needy, I'm-stuck-in-this-time-with-no-friends moods, even before they'd ended up down here. "Still hanging in there," he said, even knowing it wasn't especially reassuring given the present circumstances.
Booster wasn't paying attention. "And I kept wondering while I was locked in quarantine, what if we both die, and I never get the chance to..."
Ted elbowed him in the side, getting an indignant squawk, but silence soon after. "You hear that?" he whispered. Down the corridor, he could just make out a faint but regular squelching sound, sort of half way between stepping into a boot full of water and dropping a wet rag. It echoed slightly, but less and less as it grew louder.
"Oh, man. I wish I didn't. Damn." The last was said so softly and sadly that Ted's breath caught.
"Booster..." he said, hanging onto his arm, but Booster shrugged him off. He braced against Ted's shoulder as he pushed himself back to his feet, grunting at the effort. They were both stiff from the cold, and all Booster had was his flight ring. What was he going to do, just let it eat him? "Booster, don't!"
Again Booster pulled away, took two steps, bumped into the teleporter consul, took another step, until he stopped halfway to the corridor. "You keep hanging in there, Ted."
"Goddammit!" The squelching was louder now, no longer echoing, but in the corridor. It was moving faster than it should on land, and Ted knew that if they had minutes, they were unreasonably lucky. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he crawled upright, mostly leaning against the wall. His hand brushed the icy glass of the broken teleport tube, and Ted almost spat. Thus was how Tantalus must have felt.
"Ted, stay back." Booster yelled. He was trying to sound brave, but Ted could hear the shake in his voice. "You... you can't do anything."
True, but Booster couldn't either. One or the other of them was going to be fodder for this thing, and Ted would be damned if he'd let Booster die for him. He had a vivid memory of Booster goading the Bialyian guard into shooting him. It had been a trick in the end, but the same reckless bravery shone through here. Ted stumbled forward, catching himself on the consul and working around to Booster's side. "We're in this together, buddy," he said breathlessly.
"Dammit, Beetle," Booster snapped, but his arm slid around Ted's waist to support him, letting Ted take his weight off the injured leg.
Ted could smell seawater and something acrid like that weird salty German licorice, and though it was impossible to judge how far away this thing was in the dark, he thought it must be in the room by now. He could hear the soft thwack of tentacles hitting the cement floor followed by the suck of the creature pulling itself forward. "Look, Booster," he started, but broke off, unable to think of anything to say.
Booster didn't reply, but kissed the side of Ted's forehead so hard Ted felt teeth.
Already light-headed with terror, Ted wasn't even surprised. He held tighter to Booster's side and took a sharp breath as something wet and sharp touched his bare ankle.
The room blazed white, blinding Ted, but even without being able to see, he cheered. He knew the sound of the teleport tubes, and what was more, he knew the sound of Captain Atom and Power Girl in flight.
Booster yanked them both down and back, and Ted fell half on top of him as they got out of the way. He got a Technicolor glimpse of purple and red tentacles, and black eyes the size of dinner plates, before the creature turned in on itself and scampered out of the room and back down the corridor with impressive celerity.
"Want me to bring it back for you, Cap?"
"Not yet, Power Girl."
"Boy are we happy to see you," Booster said, easing out from under Ted. "Well, I mean, you too, Cap, but..."
"You two okay?" Captain Atom was literally lighting the room, the bastard. Though Ted had to admit that his inclination to hate the man was currently very low.
"Nothing that morphine won't fix," Ted answered. He thought about getting up, but decided that if he looked helpless, maybe Peej would carry him. "How are we getting out of here?"
Cap shifted back to his human form, and pulled a box out of his pocket. "Mr. Miracle said you'd know how to install this." He frowned, eyeing Ted's leg. "If you're up for it."
"Boy, am I ever," Ted answered.
It took him less than ten minutes to get the transmitter hooked in, and Cap graciously supplied enough power for them to all to teleport back to New York, though he also carried Ted instead of Peej, which figured. Power Girl ended up staying behind to crispify the ruins of the base before flying home on her own power.
Yet another visit to the hospital and not nearly enough analgesics later, Ted was installed back in his own room in the JLI Embassy, with Booster pacing a trench in his carpet. "Still want to go to Paris?" he demanded.
"Figure I'll wait until I can walk first," Ted replied. His leg was propped up on a pile of pillows, and it'd be a week before he was supposed to put weight on his sprung knee. "Crutches at the discothèque are not a fad I want to launch."
"Right." Booster was scowling into the middle distance, which was better than scowling at Ted, but still sucked. He obviously wasn't going to talk about certain events of the past day, so Ted guessed he'd have to. At least he was still slightly high.
"Or you could take me dancing, I guess," he said. He pushed himself up on his pillows a little, trying to look less helpless. "And we never did get around to sharing body heat."
"Har-dy-har-har," Booster grumbled.
"For once, I'm not actually joking." Ted was really hoping that kiss goodbye in the face of certain death wasn't a platonic thing in the time Booster was from, he'd worked out they weren't (wouldn't be?) too hot on being gay. "Though I could be barking up the wrong tree."
"You really are on drugs," Booster said, but he shifted some pillows so he could sit on the edge of the bed. He hadn't stopped to change since they'd gotten back, and his hair was messy and his jeans muddy, but he made it work. At least, he still looked gorgeous to Ted. "Do you mean that?"
"Clearly I need someone to keep me out of trouble," Ted told him, "and since I can't walk, you can bring me chocolate and those little cakes and keep me, gah!"
Booster had kissed him, on the mouth this time. It was sloppy and clearly mostly meant to shut Ted up, but there wouldn't be any chance of takebacks after this. It didn't quite make the whole week worth it, but Ted would take the silver lining.