The station looked like a setting for a horror movie. Hal was calling it a station inside his mind only because it didn’t look like a spacecraft of any kind. Or maybe it was, just of a very alien kind. Dark, quiet—of course it was quiet, it was a space station with all air—if it had ever been here—long gone, sucked into the void. The eerie glow of a nearby nebula was the only illumination—that, and the glow of Hal’s ring.
He already regretted not taking anyone with him, but he tried to battle this doubt by repeating to himself what he had told Kyle. Sinestro is my responsibility, my alone. Always was, always will be.
Kyle, bless his beautiful soul, understood. He always did, when it came to Sinestro and Hal’s relationship with him. Maybe Kyle understood it better than Hal did himself.
Hal pressed himself into an alcove made of torn metal of the wall and made the ring replay Thaal’s message.
Thaal’s head appeared, projected over the ring and tinted in greens, making Hal’s heart do strange stuttery things. “If you receive this message, Jordan, you must stop me—and I mean really stop me, Earth boy! You must. You’ll find me near the following coordinates...” His face turned into a set of digits. That was all. Thaal was never the one for heartfelt speeches.
Though some part of Hal reminded him of some beautiful nights.
He didn’t have time for this now. He didn’t have time for this ever.
Thaal did sound desperate. And it was strange that he clearly considered that his message might not reach Hal. How could a message from a ring not reach another ring?
Hal pushed himself away from the wall and flew further down the corridor. If it was meant to be used by any living being, it was built for someone five times Hal’s size.
He used the ring to light the nooks and crannies of the station, and from time to time he dimmed its glow, hoping to catch a glimpse of yellow light, or at least a glimpse of yellow uniform... Or red skin. He was ready for the worst.
Why here? Why now?
The corridor eventually led into a giant hall—or what could have been a hall once, had the roof not been torn off and away completely. It was suspended in the vacuum a hundred meters above the hall, the lights of the nebula crawling over it like paint spilled into a mixing bowl.
Everything was still like on a photo.
Hal dimmed his ring light again and shielded his eyes from the glare of the nebula—and in that moment he noticed movement in the left part of the hall. He pushed himself off the floor and floated to a giant eye-shaped protrusion. It looked like a strange designer overhang, one pointy end planted on the floor and the whole thing arching gracefully to the ground. Hal had no idea what purpose it might have served. Nobody could tell him now.
The station was devoid of its original inhabitants.
But that protrusion or a leaf now sheltered two figured that were huddling so tightly they could be taken for a single creature. They were glowing faintly yellow.
One of the figures jerked their head up like a frightened animal, and Hal sifted through his mental list of faces and names and found a match.
He held his hands up and floated to them slowly, but neither made any indication to move away or to attack him. Then Hal extended his hand, and the guy with the pointy chin, Dez, pressed his palm to Hal’s so that the fields of their rings could establish a connection.
“Jordan!” Dez said. His voice was unsteady, but he seemed to be in his right mind, only terribly shaken. What could scare a man with the ring of fear so much?
“Yeah, it’s me, Dez. It’s Dez, right?” He knelt on the floor near them. “What’s happening, guys? I received a message from Sinestro asking me to stop him...” He trailed off as the other one whimpered and Dez tightened his embrace and murmured something soothing, then turned to Hal.
“Yes. I heard when he sent the message. You must find him. It’s Parallax,” he lowered his voice but the other guy—Hal now could see his torn face and long hair, but couldn’t remember his name—whimpered again.
“What’s with him?”
The guy was crying, tears soaking through the collar of his uniform.
“Parallax,” Dez replied, as if it explained everything.
In a way, it did.
“Did...” Hal struggled to rephrase the question to not mention that cursed name again so that the other guy—Rigen was his name?—wouldn’t be brought back into despair. “Has Sinestro been... possessed?”
Dez shook his head, but it was not very convincing. “Hard to explain. Find Sinestro. You’ll see.”
“Hard to explain? What’s that supposed to mean?” Hal hissed, then rubbed his face. “Sorry. Sorry. Didn’t mean to lash out. Is Soranik here?”
Dez shook his head again and pulled Rigen closer to himself. The big guy was still crying, without making any sound, without changing the expression of his face, as if his mind was somewhere else. “He didn’t take her with us. There’s only Arkillo, Rigen, Sinestro, and me. The... other one, he got away. Got loose. I don’t understand it myself. Find Sinestro. The last we’ve seen of him was there,” he showed a portion of the map of the station, and Hal made a copy. “You can stop him, you can save him. We’ll... join you as soon as we can.” And he curled protectively around Rigen, and said no more.
Hal left them in their shelter and marked their hiding place in the map he had been creating.
Arkillo could manage himself, he hoped.
He tried to fit the sketch Dez had given him with his own map.
If Sinestro had been possessed, then it could explain why he had thought his message could be intercepted. But Dez had said he hadn’t been possessed. But Parallax had been loose.
The Entities were not exactly prone to manifesting without a host body.
What was going on?
He finally matched the pieces of the map, extrapolating some lines that were supposed to be corridors and hallways and what-not. At least he knew the general direction. The station couldn’t be that big, right? Right? And he could return to Dez and Rigen and try to get their help in locating Sinestro.
A few more hallways, some with blasted walls, others lined with pulsating white lights, and Hal was ready to turn back to the two Yellow Lanterns when he felt... something. It wasn’t a sound, it wasn’t movement—it was a certainty that Thaal was somewhere close, and in distress.
He just knew.
He tore through a few walls, ramming right through them, rushing to where his knowledge led him until he ended up in another great hall, this one with one wall being a transparent dome. On the great dancing of the hallucinating nebula there was a dark outline of a figure kneeling on the floor.
Hal skidded on the floor, tearing it, leaving a furrow of torn metal.
A big cloak was flowing down Thaal’s back and pooling by his knees. There was a white streak in his hair.
He didn’t seem to hear Hal at all.
“Release him, Parallax!” Hal yelled and raised his right hand.
Ah, Jordan. You have finally come.
The voice was not heard—could not be heard. It didn’t try to worm its way into Hal’s head—it felt as if it were coming from inside Hal, from the dark places he had hidden from himself. The voice was vibrating with many undertones, friendly like a cat speaking to a mouse that had nowhere to run...
No. Hal shook his head. He would never let this creature mess with his head.
“Let go of Thaal!”
Thaal seemed to hear or feel him somehow, because for the first time he moved, curling tighter into himself. He face, turned to the floor, was contorted in pain, the perfect arcs of his eyebrows broken into a frown of agony.
“Thaal, do you hear me? Fight it!”
He’s trying, Jordan, he really is. And now that he can hear you, it’s helping me, not him.
“Get... lost!” Thaal gritted out.
Hal closed the distance between them, and fell to his knees near him, precautions be damned. “Thaal, I’m here! Tell me what to do!” He reached out to merge their fields. “You can fight—”
The punch was so strong Hal thought his chest cracked. He crashed into a wall and made a giant impression in it, but thankfully it seemed it was a blast door. It was sturdy enough to not break.
No touching before we’re finished! I know how eager both of you are to touch each other, you can’t keep your hands to yourselves, but you must be patient.
“Shut... up...” Hal scraped himself off the door or whatever it was, turned head-on in the direction of Thaal, bent his knees and pushed himself away from the door.
Thaal looked up. His eyes were blazing with molten gold.
Hm, you know what? I changed my mind. It would be funnier this way.
The motion threw Hal right into Thaal. Hal expected a resistance, but Thaal actually moved and both of them were heading into the transparent wall. Hal was bracing himself for the breach, he had no time to create a construct, but the material held, and Hal found himself cradling Thaal to his chest. The lights were caressing Thaal's face.
It could have been beautiful—if not for the otherworldly blaze in Thaal’s eyes when he opened them slowly.
It could have been romantic—the stars around them, the terrifying beauty of the plasma and ice and gases all mixed and swirling and giving birth to new stars. And Thaal was in his arms.
But there was the blaze in Thaal’s eyes, and there was the voice in their bones.
You see? It’s like this all the time, and will always be. You come to rescue him, no matter from what, usually from himself. You come because you can’t let go. But you will always fail to keep him. And he? He always leaves, even though he wants to reach out and never let go. Ah, the delicious tragedy.
It sounded dirty, felt dirty, being laid out and bared like that. He knew the truth of these words, there was a truth to these words, made manifest in the sad arc of Thaal’s lips.
“Don’t listen...” Thaal whispered. Hal rarely heard him whisper. Sinestro was a man of quiet, but strong words—and Thaal whispered only in the most intimate moments. And Hal’s problem was, he didn’t want to let go of those moments and only got tangled in them again and again.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a yellow movement, two silhouettes. Good, Dez and Rigen were here. Parallax had noticed them, too, no doubt, but Hal still decided to buy some time.
“Delicious? I always thought you fed on fear, you yellow jerk.”
Fear? The void around them laughed. A good deception, isn’t it? No, delicious. My domain is not fear, but something even more beautiful, more powerful than that.
“I will not... yield to you... Parallax,” Thaal managed. He was so terribly limp in Hal’s arms. Blood bubbled on his lips. “I’ve... nothing... to lose anymore. I’m not afraid.”
No, that’s not true. Ah, you delectable creature. You have a lot to lose. There is your daughter—but wait, you have lost her, too. And then, there is him. Let me show you how bad it can be…
Thaal arced in Hal’s hands, mouth and eyes open.
“Stop it, stop it!” Hal cried out, pulling Thaal closer, willing him to feel this hold, to know that he’s not alone in whatever horrors Parallax was showing to him.
Thaal went limp again, his chest barely rising and falling, but Hal didn’t believe for a moment that it was the end.
Surely, Sinestro, it was not fear you felt when Korugar was destroyed. Loss, rage, pain.... Don’t you think that with all that love you feel for your people, or your daughter, for Hal Jordan, wouldn’t have it earned you a violet ring and not the one based on fear?
Something like a smile appeared on Thaal’s lips. Hal locked his fingers behind Thaal’s back. He cursed the void around them for not letting him feel Thaal’s weight.
“But… Violet rings only seek women…” Thaal whispered.
Bah! Hal could have sworn the bastard waved one of its limbs dismissively. Superstition. Misconception. Ask Gardner. Ask what lie he has been telling himself about that ring that landed in his hands.
As they talked, both Dez and Rigen moved halfway to Hal and Thaal, but suddenly Hal felt the pressure ease a fraction, and turning somewhere else, and both yellow warriors stopped dead. The swirls of light were casting Rigen’s tear-wet face into a horrible mask.
You, Rigen. If the fragments of her ring disappear, the excuse for how you feel will disappear, too, right? And when you wake up with an ache, searching for a different name, willing your comrades to address you differently, you won’t be able to say, That’s just her ghost talking in me. That’s not how I really feel.
Let me tell you, delicious child. It won’t go away. You will wrap yourself in lies and tear your flesh on them, because you will never admit the truth, and pain is better than that truth.
Rigen turned his face away from the light.
And you, Dez. The assassin startled. If you let go of your pain, you’d have no excuses to not try it again and approach Rigen, right? You wouldn’t be able to say, Now I’m free and I can pursue my happiness again…
Dez’s face crumpled and contorted, and the demon half-mask covered the lower part of his face and he lifted a construct-sword burning with the fierceness of his anger, and Hal heard a roar over their still existing channel. The assassin rushed to Thaal, to Parallax, his tormentor, but the blade faded from his hands and the mask disappeared from him face, and he stumbled and crashed into the transparent dome.
I’M NOT FINISHED! The shout shook the stars, then Parallax chuckled. If you had known it was pain, if you had known you had to let go, I’d have lost you all—but you don’t want to let go. Your pain gives you excuses, armor, weapons, the pretty lies you tell yourself and each other. What can kill even the strongest will? The crippling pain, my deliciousnesses. I will always be strong and I will never know hunger.
Thaal started shaking in Hal’s arms, and Hal braced himself for another of Parallax’s tortures—but realized that Thaal was laughing.
What’s so funny, dessert? The jerk sounded insulted, and Hal’s chest swelled with pride.
“If you are pain,” Thaal said though silent laughter, “then you will always be, it’s true. But you will always fail. Anger, love, hope, will, they will all prevail. Sometimes because of pain, sometimes despite it. Now begone, creature. You’ve made your point. I’m too tired to deal with it now.”
I WON’T LET ANY INSEC— AH!
Hal closed his eyes against the following screech and suppressed the urge to cover his ears, but it wouldn’t have helped anyway, the screech wasn’t physical. When it faded, Hal looked at Thaal. The cloak and the white hair were gone.
“Dez, taken Rigen home,” Thaal murmured. He didn’t seem to have any intention to move himself. Hal wasn’t objecting. He only shifted his hold on Thaal, trying to get comfortable.
“I’m all right, Sinestro,” Rigen growled.
Hal glanced at them. The Lanterns were holding hands.
“No, you are not, and I believe you have a lot to talk about. Go, but find Arkillo and tell him everything about Parallax’s words, if he doesn’t know already. I’ll follow you… later.”
“What did you do to the yellow bastard?” Hal asked after the two Lanterns went away. He leaned on the transparent wall, and its dome-shaped structure made for a good cradle. Or a bowl. At least Hal didn’t have to look at the maddening lights directly.
He pulled Thaal closer to prevent him from floating away, and wiped the blood off Thaal’s lips.
Their merged ring fields were humming softly together.
“Executed my will. Parallax is not completely free, but rather, Parallax is anchored to my mind.”
“I won’t pretend that I can understand that.” Hal fell quiet. It wasn’t an uneasy silence. Then he said, “Sorry I wasn’t of much help.”
“You always help me just by being you.” There was some undercurrent in these words. Like a joke and an insult and a praise all wrapped in one. Double meanings, triple meanings—it’s what made Thaal so frustrating sometimes.
“Did you call me because you missed me?” Hal meant it as a joke—and was too breathless anticipating the answer.
Thaal was silent, then answered, “I did.”
Hal couldn’t find anything to say except, “I missed you, too.” And somewhere Parallax became just a bit stronger.
“I must go.” Thaal planted his palms on Hal’s chest—only thin layers of the ring-created uniform were separating them. Thaal’s hands were cold.
Hal hugged him tight. “Don’t go.”
Thaal’s sigh ghosted over Hal’s throat. He didn’t get to experience that often, because Thaal was taller. “Why shouldn’t I go?”
“Because you missed me. And now I’m here.” He looked into the golden eyes and was relieved to see no trace of the damned Entity there. “And I want to kiss you,” Hal added.
Thaal raised an eyebrow—an infuriatingly beautiful trick. “You may kiss me.”
Hal grinned and brushed his lips over Thaal’s mouth—and when Thaal’s lips moved, soft, encouraging, Hal’s heart did that weird stuttering thing again.
He moved his palms lower down Thaal’s back. The uniform was hugging Thaal really nicely. “Do you have any plans for tonight?” Hal murmured, pressing another kiss to Thaal’s lips.
“Trying to stop a certain Green Lantern from putting his hands where they have no place to be,” Thaal said. He sounded amused, and Hal only laughed and squeezed where his hands certainly had a place to be. “And you, Earth boy?”
“Trying to earn the place to be for my hands. Also, I know a cafe on a space station—”
“A lost space station?”
Hal cringed. “No, a normal space station, with lots of people. Don’t derail me!” He pressed himself to Thaal. Their fields were thrumming, or maybe it was just Hal. “They read your mind in that cafe and bring you the things you certainly like, the best things. And the view is wonderful, the station orbits a big green planet.”
“I’m not exactly keen on anyone reading my mind tonight,” Thaal said. But he was not pushing away, so it was a good thing.
Hal quickly reformed his plan. “We can go for a walk. Or get a hotel room and—”
“Do what we shouldn’t do,” Thaal chuckled. His mustache tickled Hal’s neck, and Hal shivered.
“Stop… You’re distracting me!”
It earned him a bite to the neck, and then strong hands squeezed his ass where they certainly had a place to be. “You were saying?”
“I was saying that you’re a jerk,” Hal grumbled, and raised his chin, encouraging Thaal to kiss him more.
“I thought we were past the—how do you call it?—wining and dining part?”
With how Thaal was kissing him, quick presses of lips spiced up with an occasional bite, Hal was tempted to skip the walking and talking part, too. They were alone on this station anyway.
Hal relaxed—and suddenly his arms were empty of the wonderful Korugarians, and Thaal hovered a few paces away from him, a smug smile on his lips, an eyebrow arced. “Well? You promised the best meal in the universe.”
Hal groaned. “You are the worst!”
“Quite the opposite, Earth boy.”
Such arrogance. Hal promised to himself he would make Thaal… smile more, possibly. As long as he could.
Hal turned in the void and did the same thing like before and launched himself at Thaal, pushing away from the transparent wall. “Sinestro!”
But the bastard laughed and dodged. “A magic cafe, Hal! You promised!”
“Didn’t promise anything! Come back here!”
Hal didn’t use any constructs, and simply chased Thaal through the station, using the walls, bulkheads, doors to change direction of his flight.
Parallax would be left hungry tonight. Of that Hal would make sure.