Dr. Destiny roared with rage. And his rage shook the world. The Leaguers stumbled, keeping to their feet only just barely as the great monstrous giant stood before them, howling in anger.
"NOOOO!!" he roared. Then, his baleful gaze dropped down to regard them, and even Superman stumbled as the sheer hatred ripped over them all like a physical force. "I will destroy you ALL!" shouted the twelve-foot giant Dr. Destiny.
"Don't be a fool Destiny!" shouted up Batman. "The dream is over! We know the truth, you can't hurt us anymore!"
"You took my life!" shouted Dr. Destiny, and again the world around them quaked. "You took my DREAMS!! You crushed my very existence as if I was nothing! Now you know the agony I felt! Now you know what it is like to be normal! To be JUST... LIKE... I WAS!!"
Dr. Destiny snarled down at them, his blue cape writhing behind him, splitting off into snake-like tentacles, that writhed and moved on their own. His dark gaze encompassed them all, and with a swat of his hand he could've knocked aside Superman. But none of them broke their position. They stood their ground. Silence permeated the air, darkness covered the skies, broken only by the flash of lightning and the clap of thunder.
It was J'onn who spoke for them finally.
"We are NOTHING like you!" he replied, his voice oddly calm. "Even without our powers, we remain heroes. True heroes need no powers. They need only faith and valor. Faith in themselves and valor to do the right thing. And that is something you will never understand..." he said. Then added, "John Dee."
"I hate that name! I am Dr. Destiny!!" shouted the skull-faced monster, rearing back up his hands as if preparing to crush them all in one blow, clenching his hands into great fists. "I will destroy you for what you did to me!"
J'onn had no reply for that. He felt no hatred for John Dee, only pity. But he felt something else. They all did. Faith and valor. That was what, ultimately, made them who they were. It was what separated them from others. Not their origins, not their blood, not their upbringing or abilities. Faith and Valor.
The last Martian opened his eyes wide, and an orange glow came from them. A ripple went throughout the air, as Dr. Destiny leaned back, pausing his in his attack to see what was happening. What he saw he did not enjoy in the slightest.
J'onn body morphed, shifted, colors and lines altering until he was in his human-martian hybrid form, blue cape and costume. Superman reached down, grabbing two great fistfuls of his blue business suit and tore it from his body, revealing a blue uniform beneath with the 'S' symbol and a red cape furling out behind him. Wonder Woman did much the same, tearing away the dress she'd worn in favor of the costume Athena and the Gods had granted her, and like magic the tiara appeared around her swept back black locks. The Green Lantern raised his fist and a green glow washed over him, transforming his garments into the uniform of the Lantern Corp, giving his eyes a great green glow of their own. The Flash whirled around faster than they eye could follow, re-emerging from his cyclonic spin in the bright red garments he'd made himself. Hawkgirl smacked the ground loudly with her mace, causing a great cloud of dust to rise up. With a whoosh of her wings, it cleared, and she stood their in her own uniform. And Batman reached back behind his head, drawing forth a cowl that had appeared as if by magic. As he drew it over his features, his clothes morphed and flowed into the black bat uniform he always wore.
The Justice League stood before Dr. Destiny, ready to do battle.
Roaring in rage, Dr. Destiny lashed out, trying to crush J'onn's head. He slipped out of the way, phasing through the ground and out of harms way as Superman launched himself forward, slamming a fist into Dr. Destiny's jaw, sending him reeling backwards. Flash zipped forward and around Destiny in a tight circle, giving him a thorough smacking from every conceivable angle, mostly aimed at his stomach and chest (unable to reach higher). Destiny growled in dark rage, lashing out with his cape's tentacles at Wonder Woman and Superman, restraining them. His relief was short-lived, as a green bolt sliced clean through them, freeing his comrades as Green Lantern joined the fray.
There were too many, coming at him too fast, hitting him too hard. Dr. Destiny barely had time to recover from one blow before receiving a second. Superhuman punches, batarangs, green power blasts, energy maces, and worse, slamming him all at once. A one-two punch from Superman and Hawkgirl knocked Dr. Destiny flat onto his back, and J'onn sped up into the air, zooming down at Dr. Destiny with the speed of a cannonball, slamming his fist right into the demented dreamers face and with enough force to crack his skull-like face. A great explosion lit up the air, and a bright light filled their vision, their senses, as the world seemed to explode...
... Bruce sat upright in an instant, his eyes wide, gasping for air as if he'd been drowning. Belatedly, he realized, he was awake. Really, truly, awake.
A glanced told him the other members of the League were lying beside him, sitting on a number of steel tables carefully lined out for them, each in their own sleeping garments. They were starting to rouse as well, no doubt as confused as he.
And there, standing across from the tables... John Dee.
Unlike the twelve-foot tall, cloaked and muscular form of Dr. Destiny, John Dee was a respectable 5 feet ten but thin and wasted as a scarecrow, with light brown hair and pale skin that obviously hadn't seen the sun in ages. He had an utterly ridiculous look on his face, shock and horror and downright denial of the events he'd just witnessed. His jaw hung slack, and a nervous tic had developed in the side of his face since Bruce had last seen him.
"No... nonono... no... this can't be..." he muttered, peering at them anxiously as if expecting them to go back to sleep. "No... no its not fair... no!"
Bruce slipped to his feet and calmly walked over to John Dee... and then sucker punched him right in the jaw, sending the poor man crashing to the ground, unconscious. Behind him, the rest of the League were rousing themselves, standing up and shaking their heads clear of sleep. With only one noticeable exception.
John had noticed it too. He didn't look terribly happy.
"He must've brought us here to better focus his powers on us," remarked Bruce casually, keeping his back to the rest of the League (little point now, since they knew in and out of the dream who he really was, but old habits linger). "Hawkgirl he probably couldn't even find. Since nobody knows where she is right now."
The air was thick with sadness then, each of them privately mourning, again, the loss of one of the League. Seeing her again, even if only in a dream, had made it that much harder on all of them.
"Well... I dunno about the rest of you, but I think a change of attire would be preferable before we drag this fellow back to Stryker's," said Clark diplomatically to break the silence.
"I'll handle that," said Wally, picking up the unconscious Dee and slinging him over his shoulder. "I can take care of this in a few seconds, you guys all head home and get some sleep," he said, and with a blur he was out the door and on his way. First to stop at his apartment and suit up, then to drag Dee back to Stryker's in Metropolis. Hopefully, they'd keep John Dee under better guard now that they knew what he was capable of still.
The rest of the League drifted off, Clark returning to Metropolis (though keeping out of sight until he arrived home), John heading back to his apartment. J'onn floated off in the direction of the Batcave ahead of Bruce and Diana, the latter of whom who'd offered a ride to the weary Gotham multi-billionaire. Carefully holding onto her, Bruce relaxed a little, allowing his mind to rest easy as they headed home.
Wally had John Dee back under the supervision of trained professionals in under ten minutes, and bid them a fond farewell as he zipped out of Stryker's and Metropolis and headed back to the good old comfort of Central City, where he lived. Tired though he was, his brain was entirely too active, and he wasn't up for much sleep yet. He checked the time, glancing at a hanging clock as he zipped by and noticed that it was only nine-thirty. Most stores were only just beginning to close, he could still catch a few late-night specials, maybe drop by the diner and get some fries...
... as he zipped along, however, running for the sheer joy of being able to run again, whipping up a gust of air and zooming along at break-neck speeds, he caught the sound of a scream. A cry of distress. Skidding to an abrupt stop he turned on his heel and zoomed towards the source, down a nearby alleyway.
Just a mugger, he realized. A big, heavyset man with an ugly face and a dark trench coat. He was ripping the purse out of a young woman's hands and making a break for it, towards the end of the alley. He'd yet to notice the Flash, busy as he was trying to avoid the girl, who was chasing after him, screaming t the top of her lungs.
The perpetrator got to just the mouth of the alley before a sudden foot was shot out, right in front of his leg, causing him to trip and go sprawling onto the ground, the purse falling from his hand as he struck the sidewalk hard. Growling, he turned around in shock, and got an even bigger shock when he saw the Flash there, arms folded across his chest, leg outstretched in a casual way to trip him. The girl had stopped a little back in the alleyway upon the Flash's appearance, gasping in surprise.
"Ooops... did I do that?" asked the Flash, in mock innocence.
The mugger growled, reaching into his jacket and grabbing a gun, blasting it off without warning right at the Flash. The girl screamed again... but the Flash was unharmed. He'd sidestepped half a foot from his original position, still in the relaxed position he'd assumed. Three more shots, three more dodges, none one of the bullets came close. Then the Flash had had enough, and any more gunplay could make things dangerous. He might not get hit but someone else could. So a quick burst of speed and he was standing behind the guy, holding his gun and... as the thug turned, noticed he was holding something else.
The thug's pants fell around his ankles and, mortified, he grabbed them to keep them in place. By now a small crowd had gathered, and the mugger ran for all he was worth as the Flash tossed aside the belt and disposed of the gun, handing it to the first cop who arrived on the scene in response to the gunshots. There was cheering from the small gathered crowd as the Flash grabbed the woman's purse and, with a flourished bow, handed it back to her. She blushed prettily, and he smiled back.
Man was it good to be back, Wally thought.
J'onn J'onez returned to the quiet sanctity of the Batcave, relieved to find it still stood where it always had. Alfred, Batman's manservant and friend, had been beside himself with worry, but J'onn had shown up and reassured him that all was well, that Batman was taking a longer route with Diana. If, and a telepath was rarely wrong about such things, they didn't happen to take a detour.
Still, he smiled. He'd lost his family, but that was no reason for others not to feel happiness in being together. J'onn dropped down gracefully into a meditative position on the ground as Alfred excused himself from the Batcave, heading upstairs to finish some of the reconstructive efforts being done to the Mansion. The Thanagarian attack hadn't done much to the house itself, but the windows were still in need of repairs. Workers would be arriving tomorrow, likely, though J'onn. Or perhaps Batman could've drafted members of the League into repairing the damage. Superman melting panels into place with heat vision, Green Lantern lifting up the glass with his power ring, Flash laying bricks at super speed.
J'onn smiled again, and then lay his head back, his eyes open and glowing a faint orange but unseeing, as he sank into his memories and allowed himself a chance to rest. He had many happy memories to relive while he slept. But as he sank into the martian sleep, he realized he had something else. He had the chance to make more happy memories in his time on Earth. And given how young he was, in the Martian lifespan, he could create many, many happy memories here.
Clark yawned, stifling it behind his mouth as Lois rushed on ahead, calling out for him to hurry up. Clark grimaced. He'd barely arrived back home at his apartment before Lois had called, saying that John Dee had escaped and been brought back to Stryker's again (as if he didn't already know) and that Perry had wanted them both (despite the lateness of the hour) to go and get some news for the Daily Planet.
"So you say Dee was brought back by the Flash?" asked Lois, writing down little notes as she interviewed (interrogated more like, knowing Lois) one of the scientists monitoring Dee. Clark could see him now in his prison through a one-way glass mirror. He was tightly trussed up in a white straightjacket, and a metal helmet was on his head, though even Clark didn't need to be a scientist to guess what it did. Right now Dee was still unconscious, his chin bruised from Batman's strike.
"Yes," replied the scientist. "Said the rest of the League had been attacked and that they'd managed to defeat Dee, then they'd headed home. John Dee here was placed under containment measures, and during that we made a rather interesting discovery."
"What's that?" asked Clark, stepping behind Lois. The scientist picked up a nearby clipboard, flipping through the papers on it.
"Ah, here it is. Apparently, John Dee no longer exhibits any signs of R.E.M." he stated.
"Rapid-Eye Movement?" asked Clark, picking it up quickly. Lois glanced up at him, impressed by his knowledge but determined not to show it.
"Exactly. As near as we can figure..." the scientist said, glancing at the glass mirror and through it to John. "That means he can't... well... -dream-..."
'You took my life!' shouted Dr. Destiny, and again the world around them quaked. 'You took my DREAMS!!...' he'd said, thought Clark. The Materioptikon, with which he'd first gained his powers, coupled with receiving that almost-lethal dose of sedatives while trying to take out Batman... must've fried his mind. Just like the doctors had warned Dee. Now he couldn't dream. And he blamed them. Clark shivered, though under the eyes of the scientist and Lois, tried to mask it with a polite yawn.
"Not getting enough sleep, Smallville?" asked Lois teasingly.
"Bad dreams," he replied, meaning every word of it.
Then suddenly, his super-hearing caught something. An explosion, followed by ringing. Alarms. Idly, ignoring his companions who were deep in a conversation about the nature of dreams, Clark slipped down his glasses and peered out at a nearby wall…
… and straight through it back into the city. Sure enough, smoke was rising, coming from the direction of the First National Bank.
"Er, Lois, would you excuse me?" asked Clark. "My mouth is parched, I think I'll go grab a soda from the machine in the hall," he said, slipping out the door. "You want anything?"
"Yeah, mountain dew if they got it," she replied, turning around. But he was already long gone.
And Superman was flying over the city, zooming through the air with his red cape flapping behind him as he ducked between skyscrapers and between buildings, heading down to stop the criminals before they got away or someone got hurt. Some of them, perhaps more stupid than the others, opened fire, but their bullets bounced off the Man of Steel as he drifted down almost serenely, arms crossed over his chest in a severe look of disappointment.
"There are two ways we can do this," he said, bullets bouncing off his chest as he spoke. He let them, they'd get tired of it soon enough. He could feel them, yes, but only vaguely because of his invulnerable skin. They kind of tickled, actually. "Easy way or the hard way. Which would you prefer?"
Bruce, relaxing and half asleep in Diana's arms as she flew them home, barely paid attention to the passing scenery below until a rather distinguishing pattern had emerged, and he almost jolted upright in her embrace.
"Diana?" he asked. "Where're we going?"
"Shhh, its alright, we're almost there..." she said, extending her free hand and pointing. There, near Wayne Manor. The sandy beaches by the rocky ones, the ones just below the batcave, riddled with little tunnels and the like he'd used on more than one occasion. But these beaches were further away, the rocks broken down into sand, and it was... almost peaceful. No one around for miles.
Diana dropped them both down gracefully, letting the salty sea air run through her ebon locks. She smiled serenely, glancing over a Bruce. She was clad in the cotton sleeping pajamas Bruce had loaned to her (female guests, at Wayne Manor, were an infrequent occurrence) but she looked as beautiful as if she was decked out in jewels and the finest silks.
"I hope you don't mind," she said, seeing he was confused. "I just wanted to ask you a question."
"We could've gone back to Wayne Manor for that," he replied, crossing his arms across his chest and frowning.
"I wanted some privacy. Please, Bruce... just answer me this one question. Honestly," she added.
He quirked an eyebrow. "I promise nothing," he said, and she nodded. "Go ahead."
"When you had figured out we were trapped in a dream world... why did it take you so very long to find your, er... powers," she said, unable to think of a proper word. There was just... such an incredible difference between Bruce Wayne and Batman. It wasn't just his equipment, his costume. It was his attitude. And the dream-Joker had nearly been able to finish him off before he could access them. So had dream-Cheetah, before Diana found her own.
Bruce's frown grew, if possible, even darker. He took several long moments before responding to that, during which Diana watched him carefully.
"A few years ago," he started, figuring it best to start at the beginning. "I had first shown up in Gotham as Batman. I'd foiled an insane scientist who had an obsession with 'Alice and Wonderland.' He was called the Mad Hatter. And he was Mad. But in some ways, he was a genius. He created this device... and put me through the same thing you and I went through tonight," he added, peering at her meaningfully. "A dream world. A fantasy world where he tried to give me everything I'd ever wanted," he said. He did not add what things they had been. His parents, alive and well. His life, unbelievably perfect and uncomplicated by his dual-identity. And yes, even Selena Kyle, though that flame he died ages ago.
"But you realized it," surmised Diana. "You figured out it was a dream."
"Same way I did this time. A fundamental flaw of all dreams is that it is physically impossible to read in one," he remarked.
"But, if you've done this before... why was it so hard this time? Would it not have been easier?" asked Diana.
"When I tell you how I escaped the Hatter's dream world," he said. "You'll understand."
"Alright. How?" she asked, moving gently closer towards him.
"I jumped off a five story building to my death," he replied, his voice casual. As if he was talking about the weather. Diana gasped in surprise.
"I had no desire to live a lie... no matter how tantalizing it might've been," he said, staring out at the open sea, at the dark night sky, scarcely even looking at Diana as he spoke to her. "I determined that, if I didn't wake up, I would rather be dead. And see Hatter in his nightmares," he added, smirking slightly. That particular response he'd enjoyed giving the dream-Hatter. "That's why it was so hard this time. I had no more faith now than I did then. No more valor than John Dee. The only difference is that I don't fear death. I don't fear it... but that's all," he finished, glancing over at her.
"This... oh Bruce... I did not know."
"So that's why it took so long. I have little faith and even less valor. All I have is vengeance," he said.
"Now that," she said firmly, "Is a damn lie." He glanced at her in surprise. She sounded so convinced. "You risked your life to try and save me on more than one occasion, Bruce. You've done the same for all of us. A fearless man wouldn't care what happened to us. And we all have faith in you. So have faith in us," she said with a smile.
And despite himself, Bruce did then smile back at her. They stood there a while, staring out at the choppy waters and the peaceful sands under the dark night sky. Taking comfort in one another's presence, taking comfort in the fact that they were alone, with no one around for miles.
"I never noticed before," he said suddenly. "How beautiful the night was."
"I'll be happy to remind you," she said, giving him a warm, heartfelt hug. He drew her close, resting his head atop of hers as he coiled his arms gently around her slender shoulders.
"Thank you," he whispered gratefully.
John sat down once more on his bed sheets, idly peering down at the green power ring on his hand. He'd done it last night, right before the whole mess had begun. But unlike before, when he'd been despairing, now he felt only a quiet sense of peace and... fulfillment. This was what he was meant to do. This was what he wanted to do.
Admittedly, he was upset. He'd seen Shayera again, only to see her vanish as the dream state had ended. She could be anywhere by now, anywhere in the solar system if not the universe. But still, he thought. If he could've stayed with her in the dream world... would he have?
No. And neither would she, he imagined.
Still, seeing her again had reminded him of what it meant to be a hero. It had dragged him out of the pit of despair he'd fallen into when he'd seen her fly off into the sunset. They hadn't even spoken much, they hadn't said much of anything. All they'd done was hold hands briefly... but it had been enough.
She still loved him, he knew.
And he still loved her.
If nothing ever changed, if they never saw each other again, John would know that. And treasure what they'd once shared.
Standing, he held out his fist with the green power ring and activated it, letting his nightclothes be replaced by his Green Lantern uniform. He opened the window and flew up into the night sky to patrol. He was too restless to sleep anyway. A quiet smile touched his lips as he thought of his redheaded angel, and then he gently nudged it out of his mind to focus on his patrolling.
As he passed by a nearby skyscraper, he glanced at his reflection on the moonlit glass. He hadn't shaved in a few days, and he was already starting to get a rather thick moustache and beard on his usually clean shaven features. Idly, he rubbed his jaw, thinking. Maybe he could do with a new look.
Shayera was awake and alive.
Her eyes cracked open as she peered up at the brilliant purple-black night sky. Well, it was always night on the third moon of Gaultos. She rolled over onto her side, pushing herself up with little trouble. Whatever she'd drank the previous day her body her worked out while she'd slept, and she now felt sober, if a little woozy. She was in an alleyway. It stank horrible of humanoid and alien refuse and debris, thick in the air. Likely she'd been tossed out of the bar when she hadn't woken up the previous day. Sure enough, she spotted another patron being hauled out by the barkeep, too weak or wounded to walk on his own. Part of the place's charm.
But Hawkgirl had had enough of Gaultos and its moons. She wanted to go somewhere else. Back to Earth? She considered briefly. And it was awful tempting this time. She'd seen him again. Her real promised one. John Stewart. But she couldn't go back to Earth. Not yet. Not now. She couldn't face them all again until she was ready.
So where to, she wondered idly. Thanagar? Out of the question. Even if she was accepted back as anything less than a traitor (doubtful, as she knew full well the Thanagarian temper) she had no desire to see her people again. People who'd gladly sacrificed Earth for their own skins. And she definitely didn't want to see Commander Hro Talak again... ever. He'd never really loved her. Just found a companionship with her. A convenient one, considering they were both military. That hadn't been love. Love meant sacrifice, and all he wanted to sacrifice was Green Lantern and the planet Earth.
Rigel IX? That place was always a chaotic world, she'd have no trouble finding work there. Mercenary, detective, hero. Whatever she was going to do now. Maybe she'd head over to Kalanor, they needed help rebuilding in the sudden absence of Despero's tyrannical grip on the planet. But that might mean a run-in with Katma Tui, who was also on the list of people Hawkgirl did not want to see right now. Maybe War World. Draaga too would need help rebuilding after disposing of the despot Mongul.
Settling on a destination, Hawkgirl made her way down the spaceports to see if she could hitch a ride. It would've been nicer, she thought, to have a Green Lantern around to transport them with the power ring...
... sighing deeply, she pushed on. Someday, perhaps. But right now, she had to make peace with herself before she could make peace with him.
So it was the sun set on the semi-peaceful planet Earth, bringing another night upon the world and its inhabitants, including many weary heroes. Tomorrow, they would rebuild, they would continue to protect and safeguard the lives of others selflessly. As long as they remembered their two most important powers were not super strength or energy blasts.
They were faith and valor.
And that's a wrap to my first ever Justice League story. Good, eh? The idea that Dr. Destiny loses his own ability to dream is based off his comic incarnation, of course. The Materioptikon, in case no one recognizes the name, if of course the device that gave John Dee his powers, though he set it on a rather high setting for fast results and nearly fried his brain. Batman's encounter with the Mad Hatter was from his TAS series episode 'Perchance to Dream' and was the major inspiration for this story. Rigel IX was mentioned by John in 'Secret Origins' in passing, while Kalanor was the setting for the majority of 'Hearts and Minds' and War World of course from the episode of the same name. And so I artfully slip this story into the timeline, right in between 'Starcrossed' and just before 'Initiation.' I hope you all enjoyed. I know I sure did.
Todd fan: Well thank you for the compliment. 'course they're fun. Hey I hear the Justice League needs a cheerleader, would you be interested? Hehe.
Angelic Temptress: I will eventually, yes, because continuity forbids me from keeping her with the League and marrying John and having little cherub kids, as I want to. Very sorry I couldn't have them say good-bye before they left the dream world, but they already did in 'Starcrossed.'
X00001: Yes. Yes they did get their powers back. Or really, find out they'd never lost them in the first place.
Ashley: Conclude it, you mean. This was the final chapter. Hope you enjoyed the wild ride, see your reviews for my next story.
Ghostina: Nope, last chapter. I will, however, keep writing. Enjoy.
Clearwaters: It's just my nature to leave every chapter with people asking what's next and how long until then. The second of which I usually reply as soon. Glad you enjoyed the sources of the League's true power and their realization of it.
Galatea: Well, there you have it. Everything you ever hoped for? I know I rather enjoyed it.
Ray1: Get in line indeed. Dr. Destiny sure doesn't make friends too easily, does he? Glad you enjoyed the chapter.
Dreamcatcher89: Wasn't talking about you, Comet-hime had a mace as well. My crack squad is indeed quite useful and solving any sort of problems I have. Except my schoolwork. And yeah, Maria Canals does a killer war-cry. Highly recommend this story? Where's that box? I got a few stories I gotta check too.
Desert Hawk: That's how I always work. Gradual build up is the best way to write, I think. Glad you're enjoying it.
Knight's Shadow: Just a little tribute I wanted to make, glad it came off well. And no, 'fraid no JLU in this story. Since I haven't seen 'Initiation' yet and I do stay in continuity. Sorry.
Comet-hime: Rocks your panties. Cute. Though I am glad you're enjoying the female Leaguers return to power and the reunion of Hawkgirl and Green Lantern. And yeah, the order the Leaguers regained their powers was intentional. The obvious ones (Supes, WW), followed by the happy couple, Flash being a little harder, Bats being hardest (you can see why here) and finally J'onn because he's their way out.
Momentum: Normally I avoid arch-nemesis vs. arch-nemesis for the sake of it, but in the dream world it seemed very apt. And yeah, Bats always does have a way of smacking the Joker around that none of the other members of the League can do (or have you noticed during both his appearances on JLU that Batman was the one who defeated him).