Part 1: Even Heroes Bleed
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Maybe a bit of language.
Summary: While Flash tries to get his life back on track new and old enemies make a move on the league, abducting an important member (guess who? No, seriously)
Disclaimer: The DC characters are not mine. I'm just playing with them. They'll be returned…eventually, not in good condition but that can hardly be blamed on me!
Author's Note: Back for more are you? Mwa ha ha ha haaa. I'm far too lazy to write the whole back-story (again). If you really want to know you can read the a/n in the first chapter of 'Part 0: Shadow of Youth. It's not necessary to read the whole story, though there will be some reference made to it. Anything else you can probably figure out or just chalk it up to artistic licence.
Prologue - In Praesenti
Not too soon…
Never would they have imagined this. It was barbaric, it was unthinkable, it was personal, and it was effective.
It was perfect.
And he was perfectly shattered.
Was it wrong to see beauty in such frailty? To see strength in such stubbornness? To see art in overwhelming pain?
He didn't think so. Maybe his id had taken over the rest of his psyche or maybe Freud had gotten it all wrong. Honestly, what human could accurately judge humanity when immersed in it themselves? But he, superior to all of them, he had proper perspective. King to subjects, scientist to amoeba, god to mortal…
"You've got quite the fuckin' ego!"
He smiled at his specimen, and then he slapped him hard…
Never would they have imagined this. It was simple, it was genius, it was personal, and it was effective.
It was perfect.
Of course they were the enemy. They had all the power and answered to no one. The destruction, the violation, the anger shouldn't have surprised them but wasn't it inherent to being a hero that you hope for the best? –either that or they're on the other side of the struggle. Yet here were normal people reaping havoc on someone who'd only protected them and put his life on the line for their benefit.
"'It's against our nature.'" They all turned to Diana. "It's what Luthor said to me. 'Survival is selfish and survival comes first.'"
"If you believe that then you're as bad as he is!" Shayera spat.
Diana, calm even in the face of crisis, faced her and gestured to the images playing out before them. "You can't argue with that."
Multiple screens each showed a different station all running the same story. Judging someone they knew nothing about other than what was written in his records. Interviews of friends turned enemies ran over and over, footage of people breaking in, stealing and fleeing with nobody stopping it, and every nut with a theory about the Justice League and meta-humans got their fifteen minutes of fame.
"They aren't better than us! They have more power but that doesn't make it ok. Who gave them the right or the responsibility? Every dictator had a misguided sense of duty!" All the anchors would just nod in agreement, a look of concerned contemplation on their faces (must have been taught to them at journalism school, Faking Sincerity 101). "No alien can teach us about "HUMAN"ity!"
No, but you could all stand to be taught a lesson in it, thought J'onn.
Never would they have imagined this. It was different, it was new, it was so very personal, and it was going to end the same way.
"You haven't learnt a single thing have you?"
"You shouldn't be here."
"I'm you remember. You're not telling be anything I don't already know." He walked around the cave almost identical to his old one. "It's a waste to suffer and then forget the lesson."
"That was your lesson, not mine."
"It was our lesson!" Finally the veneer cracked, just like he knew it would. "I let you go so that you could protect…"
He shook his head. "Protect who," he corrected. "They were better off with us in power. Peace, for the first time since civilization reared its ugly, self-obsessed head." A half smile twisted his lips. "In the end, we suffered the most. We lost." He stared up at the dark ceiling catching the outline of bats shifting in the darkness. "Lords that we were…"
Arguing with a mirror, somehow it was more productive, more insightful and more disturbing that it sounded.
"You worry like a father." The Green Lantern turned and found the planet's ruler approaching him, a smile lighting his pale grey face. "It's an expression we have here." John nodded, not giving anything away, already feeling too exposed. "Is there something wrong?"
"No. The shield is in place. You'll be protected from the Herret for as long as you maintain the generator."
"I didn't mean that," he said shaking his head, smile still in place. "I have every confidence in your people. I meant about your friend." He gestured to the red spandex clad hero currently playing with a group of youths and seeming to fit right in.
"He always manages to find trouble. I'm just keeping an eye out."
"Of course." The silence extended between them, one a hero in the most obvious sense of the word, the other a leader of a whole planet and many peoples, a hero in his own right. He had a fatherly presence and his open honesty compelled the same from others.
"It's just…things have been rough for him. We nearly lost him, multiple times –feels like we're still loosing him."
His companion nodded in understanding his smile waning. "Perhaps he just needs time?" Time was a difficult concept to grasp when dealing with someone so fast. "But you're worried that the change in him is permanent."
"He's not like he was before," was the vague reply.
"Neither, I'm sure, are you. Change is a bitch isn't it." John was shocked by the language and knew that he must have picked it up from the Flash. "Don't give him too much of a hard time. Youthful exuberance will eventually give way to maturity." They focussed on the group of kids as some particularly loud fracas began, with Flash in the middle of it. "Eventually…"
John was too polite to tell him that he was wrong. This wasn't just "youthful exuberance". It's just the way the Flash was. The Narr leader wasn't entirely wrong though. He felt it creeping upon them, the day when things would be horribly irreversibly altered. He had the feeling Wally would be the first to go. Prior experience also seemed to support that prediction.
Unaware of John's thoughts the Narr leader continued. "For him, one day it will be lost, this way of his. The universe seems to target anomalies are targeted first, because when they break it is always more spectacular –more entertaining." He shrugged off the glare that Green Lantern turned on him. "I'm sorry, but you're angry because you know it's true.
"It's always a struggle. Surviving," he elaborated when it was clear the dark man wasn't following, "with our world, each other, even ourselves. Always, there is conflict and we live and die for it.
"Is it wrong to see beauty in frailty? To see strength in stubbornness? To find purpose in conflict? Of course not. We're all inspired by our imperfection, driven to overcome it."
"Sire," a woman interrupted saving John from what else might have been said. "The Grand Heralds humbly request your presence."
"Please, excuse me."
John sighed in relief when he was once again alone. He resisted completely the urge to sort through the "wisdom" which had been imparted on him. Instead he stepped off the balcony and flew down to stand next to Superman who was also watching the game between the Narr children and Flash.
Superman didn't even acknowledge his presence. Something akin to anxiety was etched into the chiselled Kryptonian face. He could only think that this was what he'd looked like a few minutes ago.
With a smirk John told him, "You worry like a mother."
End Prologue - At the Present Time
And so it starts. My muse demanded that this chapter be written like this…sorry (stupid pushy muses). This prologue is really short so I'm posting Chapter 1 with it. So... what you could do is review once now and once after you read Chapter 1. :D
Chapter 1 - Ne Cede Malis
The tension in the aircraft was thick and the silence oppressive. Superman was at the controls, Wonder Woman in the co-pilot's seat, the Green Lantern sat in the row behind and across from him was the Flash staring glumly out the window at the clouds they passed over. He absently touched a small cut on his leg and considered how it had all gone wrong and almost ended with a dead president.
It was a simple mission that had escalated into an all out battle for supremacy as rogue factions ambushed the peace talks. It had only been in a show of support that four of the 'Big 7' had attended. They'd been working hard to get the two sides to sit down together and then this happened.
The almost deafening explosion and the shattering glass had announced the start of the attack. Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern and the Flash sprang into action taking out the attackers and protecting the bystanders. Flash had just been returned to full duty and though he proclaimed complete health the others still watched him carefully.
They had only been sending him on baby-sitting missions, as he called them, easy jobs like installing the shield generator on Narr or this one. When the fight had started he knew that it was a chance to prove he could still do this. Flash also knew that if he screwed up he'd never hear the end of it. And of course he'd screwed up but the silence had him a bit confused.
He sighed and slouched further in his seat recalling the stray rocket that had been heading towards the crowd of people he'd been trying to evacuate. By some grace of some god (no doubt Hera in Diana's opinion) the rocket had veered off and impacted the already battered conference building instead of the crowd of people. Unfortunately large chunks of concrete and glass broke off the once magnificent structure and fell towards the dignitaries and media personnel who'd gathered for the historic event. A burst of super-speed and the Flash was able to create a vortex to safely redirect most of the debris to an open area.
What had happened couldn't be his fault. How was he supposed to know that the insurgents would go after the political leaders again? As fast as he was he couldn't be in two places at once. The sound of the gun shot had not even reached his ears before he was taking off to try and intercept the bullet. He thought he would make it in time, save the day like he'd wanted to since he was a kid and like he'd always done since the accident that gave him his speed. But then the world began to blur, the sharp edges of objects became hazy and he felt a familiar but feared crackle of energy.
Survival instinct was the enemy of every superhero -it caused hesitation. And with bullets in flight that was all it took for disaster.
He wasn't fast enough. He didn't do enough. President Urak was dead. Or he would have been if not for the blur of blue and red that caught the bullet before it could do any harm.
Superman had glanced at him as he dropped the flattened bullet to the ground before he took on the attackers. Wally had gone back to work protecting the people putting the disturbing incident out of mind for the time being.
When the commotion had passed they'd caught their breath, accepted the heart felt thanks of the people and when the situation no longer required them they headed to the Javelin. He'd felt their eyes on his back as he walked ahead of them to the craft. It kind of burned and he had to wonder if Supes had accidentally turned up the heat in his vision. Later inspection didn't find any flaming holes or even a scorch mark in his suit so he chalked it up to his imagination. The looks they gave him though were not his imagination. Wonder Woman was full of indignant rage which he wouldn't discover the true cause of until later.
She'd gone off at him first. "You were supposed to protect them!"
Diana didn't accept anything but perfection from herself and others. Being a beautiful, smart, statuesque Amazon Princess could do that. Flash had learnt a long time ago that perfection was far out of his reach. He'd settled for not causing more trouble than he fixed.
"That's what I was doing," He'd replied.
"The President was nearly shot because you obviously weren't doing it very well!"
"Diana that's enough," Superman interjected but his soft steady tone didn't sway her.
"It was a simple task, even for you."
There was something more going on here -Flash could tell. If he'd really screwed up John would have been the first one to let him know but they weren't joining in on this session of Flash-bashing.
"Hey, I don't know what your problem is but I did what I could. I couldn't predict what those psychos would do!"
"You hesitated and if it weren't for Superman there would have been a dead man at your feet." She gave him a condescending glare before she headed for the cock pit. Superman followed a moment later but Flash's eyes followed Diana's retreating back. Had it really been his fault? He felt a heavy hand rest on his shoulder and turned to the glowing green eyes of his friend. They didn't hold any accusations and Flash suddenly felt undeserving of such camaraderie.
"It's okay Wally. I know." He gave the red-clad hero a comforting pat on the shoulder and then went to take a seat in the cock pit. Flash had followed sedately.
There hadn't been a word said since then. Wally seemed to be the only one chafing under the strained silence and kept himself busy picking out piece for glass from his stinging wounds. He hadn't noticed them until he sat down and the adrenaline began to wear off.
He yanked out a rather large piece from his arm. Glass was always a problem. At high speeds pebbles, rocks and most debris bounced off him. Glass tended to stab him. It was never more than shallow cuts but it was mighty annoying.
Before he knew it they were arriving back at the temporary base of operations. Not the prettiest sight but it fulfilled its purpose. Superman skilfully landed the craft on the airfield and powered down the engines. He turned to address the rest of the heroes who were unstrapping themselves but found only two of them.
Lantern looked at him and then slid a meaningful glance at Wonder Woman.
"Right. Stupid question."
They took a moderate pace back to the conference room. They were greeted by some of the other heroes but mostly it was a quiet trip. By now news of what had happened had circled the globe twice over. Superman immediately went to the monitor on the wall and checked the reports. Nothing drastic was being said- just the typical everyday terrorist attack in an unstable area of the world.
"It could have been worse," the Green Lantern commented neutrally.
"We could have done better," said Wonder Woman watching the footage of their fight.
"He did the best he could," John defended. Diana wisely decided not to comment further. The three watched the news play on for a few minutes more before turning it off.
"The important thing is that no one was seriously hurt," Superman concluded.
"Not this time." They all looked up to find Batman's dark shadow in the doorway. "The radical group 'United Peoples Army' has taken credit for the attack and their promising more."
"Then let's take on this 'Army'. We can beat them," declared the resident Amazon.
"You can't beat what you can't see." Batman slid a file across the table to Wonder Woman. She looked at the documents therein. "They blend in with regular citizens because, for the most part, they are regular citizens. A show of force won't change anything. This isn't our fight."
Wonder Woman wasn't convinced. "We just can't stand by and let them kill innocent people."
"We won't let that happen, Diana," Superman assured. "Let's get some rest. We can discuss this at the next general meeting. Until then take a break, we've earned it."
Not easily placated Diana dropped the file on the table and strode out. Even Batman moved out of her way, a motion that didn't go unnoticed by the other two men. Lantern was smart enough not to comment on it and left to go take a shower and get a meal.
The door closed behind John leaving Batman and Superman in the dimly lit room. The man of steel settled heavily into one of the chairs. Batman waited. He'd get the information he wanted sooner or later and he had the patience for either eventuality.
A minute of silence passed before Clark spoke. "Flash hesitated."
"I told you he wasn't ready."
Clark sighed. He wasn't about to rehash this argument. They'd debated for at least an hour about whether Flash should be allowed back on duty. In the end Clark had won (sort of). "We couldn't keep him on restricted duty forever." The expression on Batman's face said that they could do exactly that.
"I've reviewed the footage," Batman stated and Superman wasn't the least bit surprised. "Even under the best of circumstances catching up with a bullet from that distance would be almost impossible, even for the Flash. The only reason you go there in time is because you were closer."
"But it looked like he was going to make it and then he slowed down." When he'd seen Flash coming Superman had nearly stopped but he'd decided to keep going just in case. It was a good thing that he had.
Batman called up a piece of footage to the wall monitor. "Look at this."
It was from a news camera at the event. Because of the commotion the images were shaky but still clear. Flash had just deposited the falling debris away from the group of people. Batman slowed it down when the Flash began running back towards the crowd to intercept a bullet that hadn't yet been heard. As he approached something happened but Clark wasn't sure what. Even in slow motion it took less than one second before Superman appeared and caught the bullet.
"What was that? Something happened to him."
Batman cued and played the footage again this time pausing it in the middle. Where there had once been a red and yellow blur there was nothing but crackles of small, white lightening bolts. Superman's eyes widened.
Batman cleared the monitor, his point made. "He must have felt it and slowed down."
"He didn't tell us."
"What could you have done, other than worry? Besides if it hadn't been for that rocket he would have been there to stop that bullet."
Superman nodded in agreement. "I know. If Diana hadn't deflected the rocket so carelessly it wouldn't have hit the building. She's usually more careful about things like that."
"I'll talk to her."
Clark waved him off. "Don't bother. She knows. She was really harsh to Flash but she knows he wasn't to blame." Superman rose from his chair somehow how more weary than he was when he first entered.
"You can't let her just go off on people like that."
Superman wasn't surprised by the criticism. Batman always told him when he screwed up but he wasn't usually so harsh on Diana. He thought that she and Bruce had been heading towards some sort of relationship. Not that he worried. If anybody could keep their private and professional lives separate it was Wayne. "She was just feeling guilty. She didn't mean anything by it. We know that."
Now Clark got his point. "I'll get GL to talk to him." He didn't want Flash to beat himself up over something that wasn't his fault and he would talk to Diana about her temper.
A suitable resolution assured Batman walked away without anything further. Superman watched him go wondering about the Dark Knight. It seemed like more than just worry for a fellow league member that drew Batman here. He originally thought that it was worry over Diana but that obviously wasn't the case.
Reading the Batman was a skill Superman was still mastering so what he thought had been concern in his voice couldn't have been. Batman wasn't protective of anyone, least of all the Flash.
The shower was nice. The left-over pizza was better. The mission had just sucked. First he has to sit there, all quiet and still and then he screws up. If they ever let him out on a mission again it'll be a freaking miracle.
West packed his Flash costume into the back of his closet and changed into some casual but neat clothing. He had to go to work tonight. He was still tired from the mission but with his budget stretched so thin he didn't have much of a choice. Eating as much as he did had a very big down-side: it cost a lot. And the more he used his speed the hungrier he was later.
Speaking of hungry… Wally checked his wallet hoping to have enough funds for take-out. No luck. He only had one dollar and eleven cents.
Wally took out the dollar bill with a disappointed frown. "Damn it, Washington. Why couldn't you be Jackson or one of the other guys?"
The ring of his phone interrupted. "Hello, Wally's Music Emporium."
"Oh, hey Fran." He could almost hear her brows rise.
After a dramatic pause she responded. "Wallace. I swear every time I call you get a little more out of touch."
"Coming from anyone else I'd be insulted. But you're more out if it than anybody I know. And I know some out of this world people." The reference to his alien friends was lost on her like he knew it would be.
"Yeah, whatever. Look, be at Pitch tonight. In fact I'm gonna pick you up. Be ready by eight thirty. It's going to be a late night."
"Alright, see ya soon. By the way do you know what president is on a hundred dollar bill?"
"I'll tell you when I see one."
Laughing, Wally hung up. It wasn't necessary for her to pick him up but the alter ego of the fastest man alive did have a reputation for tardiness. "Ironic" didn't quite cover it.
"Well what brings you here my good man?"
The sarcasm was lost on him as his grey eyes shifted around trying to pick out the forms hiding in the shadows. "Just wanted to update you on something information I've come across."
"Well don't keep me in suspense."
He pulled out some papers and a picture. "Meet 'Wally'."
There were a few seconds of scrutiny. "This is a child."
"This is the Flash's son, or nephew or something."
"What makes you so sure?"
"I saw him. I met him! He's just like the Flash but just young. I haven't seen him around lately but I guess he's back with his family."
"I'll look into it." The papers were collected and handed off to someone in the darkness. "Why are you still here?"
"I want to discuss my 'benefits'."
"Wait! I'm the one getting you their secrets. I think I deserve hazard pay!"
"You deserve what you get." The tone carried a threat and he backed down. "Good. Now get out."
He retreated and was gone in a moment.
"Look into this. I want to know everything about 'Wally' and his connection to the Flash."
shadows a man replied. "Yes, Miss Waller. But y'know, he did
"Which just means that we'd have an even bigger problem if the League went rogue. I'll give them some room but national security is still my responsibility."
Screens full of data slid up the computer screen as Batman's sharp eyes and sharper mind made sense of the information. He was on the look out for activity in a few areas, CADMUS and LexCorp to name two. He was also frequently checking the Wayne Tech satellites for more anomalous readings like the ones he'd been finding for the past several weeks. He still wasn't able to identify them or say with certainty that it was just a random anomaly but until he could he'd continue to search.
When the door to the room opened he didn't turn to see who was there. He could tell from the sound of the shoes that it was Wonder Woman. She walked until she stood next to him and was silent. Batman didn't acknowledge her or the feeling inside wishing that she would turn around and leave.
"What are you doing?"
In the silence that followed Diana shifted her weight from foot to foot. Batman continued his work.
"Have you seen the Flash around?"
"He left right after you returned from the mission. Why?"
"Oh… I just wanted to talk to him."
"To apologize you mean?"
Diana knew she shouldn't have been surprised. Batman always kept himself abreast of everything that went on. Still, she wasn't used to him using such a harsh tone with her and she became defensive. "Their safety was still his responsibility. I know I was hard on him but he should be able to tumble when punched."
"You mean 'roll with the punches'." She shrugged nonchalantly. "He's an orphan, Diana. Life's been throwing nothing but punches." He tapped a sequence of keys calling up some new data and then continued. "You can't let your temper get the better of you."
"I know I was unfairly hard on him but I'll talk to him and he'll forgive me." She did feel bad about berating him but their friendship would survive this.
Batman was tempted to shake his head. Equating big hearts with bottomless hearts was childish but tempting. Too many people took advantage of good people, often unintentionally. Everyone had a breaking point and abusing someone's generous nature was just a sure way a reaching the point sooner.
"Just be careful." In those three words he said more than he intended and Wonder Woman heard it too.
"Of him or with him?" Diana waited for a few minutes for an answer but there was no indication of one coming anytime soon and she left.
Fever Pitch lived up to its name that night. The line-up outside the door was long but the low beats from the music blaring inside enticed more people to join the wait for entry. Inside the club was packed. Bodies lined the bar and crowded the dance floor as men and woman alike danced to the music. At the bar there was never a slow moment. Alcoholic beverages flowed freely, encouraging more outlandish and rowdy behaviour from the patrons.
"Here you go. Four 'Polar Bears'." The shots were placed on the somewhat wet bar top. The payment was handed over with a meagre tip but West didn't even have time to gripe before he got another order. Just beers this time and he turned with a nod to get them.
Dodging and weaving through the other bartenders was job in itself but they all managed to get their drinks. When he turned to get the next order he came face to face with a pair of dark eyes that froze him on the spot. It was weird seeing him without the glowing green ones.
"Hey John, what can I get you?"
Stewart responded with a question of his own. "How about your ID? What are you doing here?"
"Working what does it look like?"
"Two rum and cokes," Someone called from behind John and Wally attended the order.
"You can't work here," John said as he watched Wally work.
John leaned over the bar. "Because legally you can't even drink what you're serving."
Wally glanced side-to-side to make sure no else had heard. "John, shut up. I need the money."
"You're breaking the law."
"Can we talk about this some other time?"
John gave him a glare that promised more on this topic very soon. He moved away from the bar but close enough to keep an eye on Wally as he went back to work.
"You okay?" a friend and fellow bartender asked after witnessing the conversation. West nodded. "What was that about?"
"Nothing. Don't worry about it."
Hours later Wally and John walked side-by-side through a back alley. Fever Pitch had just closed and Wally declined a ride home from Fran. Fran had jibed him about John giving him a few nudges and waggling an eyebrow but West vehemently denied her inferences.
"You can't work here."
"I need to. School, rent….food. I need the money, John."
"You could get in a lot of trouble, Wally. And your boss, the whole bar could get in trouble if anyone found out."
"Nobody's going to find out." He was getting paid under the table through a deal his friend had made with the owner.
John stopped and put his hands on the younger man's shoulder. "What's going on Wally? Why are you doing this?"
He shook the large hands off his shoulders and started walking again. "My budget's just been tight lately, okay? I've been taking more odd jobs to try and keep up but it never seems to cover it."
"What about the money you made from the Flash promotions?"
Wally snorted with a wry smile, remembering that fiasco. "I sold the Flashmobile and gave the money to the Keystone Orphanage. The other money's gone."
He sighed and rubbed his sleepy face. "My Uncle's been sick. He can't work and his compensation isn't enough. His medical insurance doesn't cover the treatment or most of the meds. I've been helping out but it's barely enough."
"He's getting better. He'll be okay."
"That's good to hear, but if you're having money problems you should have told me. Or Batman. He's got more money than he knows what to do with."
"No!" Wally's sudden protest surprised him. "I mean…I don't want anyone to know." Stewart could tell that, Batman more than anybody was included in 'anyone'. What he didn't understand was why.
"Just drop it John. I'm done being a charity case, okay?"
John patted his shoulder trying to convey some sense of understanding. "Asking for help doesn't make you a charity case. We're your friends, kid. Friends help each other out."
Wally knew that in such an arrangement he'd always be on the receiving end of such help but he nodded in agreement so that John would drop the topic.
"You have to quit that job though. There are other ways of making money. Legal, ways."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. So what brought you here in the first place? L.A.'s a little that way." He blatantly changed subject and John let him.
"I just wanted to talk to you about the mission today." Wally cringed. "What happened wasn't your fault. Wonder Woman made an error that you had to take care of. She knows that."
"I'm serious. She was feeling guilty and took it out on the wrong person."
Wally rubbed at the back of his neck. "Well no harm done, I guess." He shrugged the whole incident off but John remained wary. He knew Wally was still recovering from all that had happened to him and although he appeared to be fine on the outside, he'd seen brief glimpses of uncertainty hidden beneath.
They walked the rest of the way back to Wally's apartment talking about little things or just in comfortable silence. Not once had Wally complained about the slow pace which made John worry about his health. Maybe he wasn't completely recovered yet? He didn't voice his concern. He knew there was only so much concern that Wally could take. John looked up at the sky and smiled. Ah, the fragile egos of youth.
"I'll see you later, John. I'm beat."
"Alright. Take it easy, kid." John slipped on his ring and took off after a brief wave to his friend. Because of the time zone difference it was only one-thirty in his city so he could get a good night's sleep.
End Chapter 1 - Do Not Give In to Misfortune