LEGION PRESS CENTER
BENEATH THE FLYING FORTRESS
There hadn’t been enough time to prepare.
If she was on her A game, Tabitha could have done better. But Cheney had beat her to the initial punch, and then Alice had distracted her, and…
The Oathkeeper was standing in a backstage room, staring at racks of wardrobes that the Legion had provided. Makeup artists and stylists hovered nearby.
“I don’t know what to wear,” the paladin was in the midst of wailing.
“You’re going to fret about it for twenty minutes,” Tabitha assured, arms folded, “then go with the same skirtsuit you always wear at press conferences.”
“This isn’t just any press conference!” Alice said, considering a tie before casting it aside and beginning to button up a pale pink blouse. “…It is a nice suit, though. Charcoal, do you think?”
“Charcoal is good! It’d work. You’re going to pick navy, though.”
“…It looks professional.” Alice grumped, wriggling into the pencil skirt. A stylist swooped in to help with the zipper. “Heels, do you think?”
“Of course, because you feel short standing in front of a crowd without your armor on. Alice, you know what you’re going to wear. We all do.”
Alice glared at Tabitha. “Right. Okay. Yes. Thank you.” She spun in front of a mirror. “So, tell me, what am I going to do about makeup?”
“As natural as possible,” Tabitha advised, “today especially.”
“Alright. You’ll be backstage, yeah? Doing your magic behind the scenes?”
“Well, actually, I’ll… be watching you. Helen is helping with the logistics, Alicia is handling the social media aspects. Even Estelle is… well, she’s there. For this conference, I think it’s more important that I, ah. I be…”
“Detached?” Alice asked. “An… audience member?”
“No,” Tabitha replied, quiet. “There for you.”
Alice gave a slow nod, and for a moment it looked like she might well up – and then one of the stylists took her by the face. “No, no, don’t cry honey, it’ll take so much work to cover it up if you’ve been crying –”
The other stylist smiled at Tabitha. “We’ll be out of here in thirty. Privacy, please?”
“I’ll be right behind you, hon,” Tabitha inclined her head, then walked away, her heels clack clack clacking on the padded metal of the folding stage..
There was already a buzz of interest from the assorted journalists and audience members. There had been rumours swirling about the Oathkeeper now for weeks. The footage of Sin’s assault on her in a cafe, Callister Rayne’s threats, the surgery… The Legion tamped down some of it — her grounding was not public knowledge yet, and thank God for that — but it would be impossible to keep everything from going public. They probably thought this press conference was to set the record straight on Sin.
Well, they’d be in for quite the surprise.
Alice finally emerged from the backstage. There was a moment of collective shock: she looked healthy, strong, with dewy and minimal makeup… but she had had the same glorious mane of blonde hair since she emerged into the spotlight at nineteen. The short cut was… a surprise.
She sat and cleared her throat. This close, Tabitha could see her hands shaking.
Tabitha’s eyes swept the crowd, then flickered over to Alice. Strength, hon, she cheered silently, you’ve got this.
Alice’s jaw set in that stubborn way, and she began to speak.
“You’re probably all wondering why I’ve called you here today.” She said. “The truth is, this isn’t about the recent rumours floating about, and it’s not about the Legion, and it’s definitely not about my haircut.”
That was a good line; the crowd laughed appreciatively. Encouraged, Alice plowed onwards.
“I’m here because as the Oathkeeper, I need to be honest. I need to be open. I refuse to be bullied into silence about certain beliefs of mine any longer.”
The laughter died. The hall was dead silent.
“My name is Alice McGowan, and I’ve been married for twenty years, but I’m queer, and I’m in a polyamorous relationship with another woman.”
The silence stretched on.
“Some of you may ask about Biblical values.” Alice continued. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no conflict. There are no words in the New Testament speaking against this, but there is a line I want everyone to remember: Judge not, lest ye be judged. There is no sin in being queer. There is no Hell, and if there was, being queer wouldn’t send you there. I encourage everyone to be open and honest with themselves, and I can’t do that unless I lead the charge.”
The icy silence was painful at this point.
“You slut!” Someone shouted from the audience. “God hates you!”
Time seemed to stop for minutes. How many seconds was it actually?
Alice reared back as though she had been punched in the gut. Tears sprang into the corners of her eyes. “No,” she said, but there was no strength or conviction in her voice. “Look, you don’t understand, it’s –”
Tabitha’s eyes darted about, heart in her throat. She could see Nat hovering nearby, face red, fully prepared to fight the entire crowd for turning against Alice. Even she hadn’t expected the reception to be so icy, this was going to be hellish–
“Thank you, Oathkeeper!” Someone near the back of the crowd shouted. It was only a single voice, but enough to light a fire.
“We love you!” Another voice shouted from the crowd.
“Bless you, Oathkeeper!” Another.
“God save the Infinity Legion!”
Where the dissenting voice had spoken up alone and cast a chill over the crowd, the supportive voices became a conflagration in seconds. The air suddenly filled with words of support, applause, becoming cheers. Such a majority of the crowd was speaking up for Alice that no one dared insult her again.
Nat dove down from the air, caught up in the energy of the crowd, and wrapped eir arms around Alice’s neck in a joyful hug.
Alice grabbed em back, spinning them around and laughing. “You made it, bug! You – I can’t believe it, it’s – it’s all right, everything’s alright, they -”
“Oh my god, oh my god, you did it, you really did it,” Nat bawled openly. “I’m so fucking proud to call you General Mom!!”
“Language!” Alice said, but she was crying and laughing too. The two of them were illuminated by camera flashes from the crowd, snap snap snap.
“Easy, bug,” Tabitha walked up to them with a smile, and gave a gentle nod to Scott on the other side of the stage, beckoning him to come up with them, “they’re going to think you’re Alice’s secret girlfriend.”
“They’ll think that anyway,” Nat shrugged, beaming. “They’ll think everyone is Alice’s secret girlfriend. Let me hug my legion mom!!”
Scott bounded on stage, throwing his arms around both of them. “I’m so damn proud of you -”
“I know, whatever, enjoy the moment.” Scott turned the embrace into a group hug – and then made grinning eye contact with Tabitha.
Tabitha returned the smile with her own. Confident, poised– she was the very picture of herself as she stepped in, gently moved Nat to the side, and took the space on Alice’s other side.
“Let’s let them get their publicity shot,” she said, and squared herself, turning outward so that the message was clear: it’s me.
The crowd went wild, camera flashes filling the room.
This would be on the front page of every country’s Infinity Report, every magazine, every news program would feature this. Story of the century — and it wasn’t Oathkeeper’s Gay Scandal splashed on a tabloid, it was a blended, queer family all grinning at the crowd. Oathkeeper was glowing, and it wasn’t the makeup; an ambient haze of golden light surrounded her. The crowd ate it up.
“There is no sin in being queer,” the woman on the television said, and Paul’s shock coalesced into rage. He stood in a quick, stiff motion, clutching the remote control with white-knuckled intensity. He couldn’t breathe. This was– this betrayal– he had idolized the Oathkeeper, her image had kept him going through it all…
Paul didn’t even hear what the heckler in the crowd shouted, but he saw its effect on General McGowan. The way the color drained from her face, the shock. It filled him with a kind of vindication, a belief that perhaps there was some order to the universe, that those speaking their sins may feel the weight of God’s judgment…
The remote control went crunch. Paul looked down, raising his hand, and beheld a great platinum gauntlet, the remains of the television remote falling to the floor in pieces as he opened its fingers. Paul stepped back and beheld the rest of his body, encased in shining armor, more majestic, purer than the Oathkeeper’s had ever been. For a moment, his heart sang triumph. God Is Good!
Then the scene on the television changed. The crowd was… cheering? Supporting this disgusting display? The Oathkeeper’s face lit up. She was happy again, enabled in her betrayal. Something swooped into view, a figure, slight and fey, crimson hair–
When the Damselfly hugged Oathkeeper, turning a freckled face toward the camera, Paul froze.
“Peter,” he whispered, “the prodigal brother shows his face, embracing the false prophet.”
As the press took photos and the audience cheered, Paul’s rage mounted.
“You abandoned us. You all abandoned us.”
He raised his arm and a shining holy sword appeared in his hand. “HOW DARE YOU!” He brought the blade down on the television, cleaving it in half with a single, mighty strike.
Then, suddenly, the sword was gone. The armor was gone. The great strength Paul had felt… it was gone from him. But his heart still burned, and his path was clear.
“I promise you, Alice McGowan,” he growled. “I promise that I will find this power again, and use it to bring you low. I promise to reclaim the brother I thought lost to my family. It may take me years… but I will keep this promise as I keep them all.”
He turned and strode from the room.