Part 1: Even Heroes Bleed
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Summary: While Wally tries to get his life back on track new and old enemies make a move on the league, abducting an important member.
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: Last Chapter for this part. Yay! You're all saying. But I know you'll miss it. :D
Chapter 8 – Ex Libris Culpa
They'd made an announcement. Wally West had been liberated from Vril Dox of Colu and was recovering. They told the press and anybody watching the broadcast that his injuries were not life threatening but no details were revealed. They didn't tell them that Wally had been released to a local hospital for the rest of his treatment and they didn't tell them specifically what injuries he had. He'd been admitted under a false name but with his picture filling the news channels the hospital staff had recognized him almost immediately. As medical professionals they could not disclose any information about him but eventually his whereabouts did leak out.
Press swarmed the Metropolis General Hospital as soon as they heard but the patient of interest had already been discharged. Wally had simply donned a ball cap and walked out the front door, the mob of media personnel not recognizing him.
He'd climbed into the passenger seat of Clark Kent's mid-priced sedan and was given a ride to the reporter's apartment. He would have insisted on going home but there were reporters staked out near his apartment and he didn't think there was any reason to go back their anyway. He'd been informed of the break-ins and was grateful to Grayson for getting the important things out before they could be damaged or stolen.
The trip to his condo was short and silent. Clark cast worried glances every now and then to the young man staring blankly out the window. The dark blue sedan was parked in the underground garage and two passengers took an elevator up to Kent's high rise apartment.
"Make yourself at home," Clark said cheerily as he opened the front door.
Wally hadn't been here since his little regression incident but nothing drastic had changed.
"Can I call my Aunt and Uncle?" Wally asked quietly and with downcast eyes.
"Sure. There's a phone in the kitchen," Clark informed hoping that Wally would get something to eat as well. He'd lost weight during his ordeal and also during his recovery. His metabolism had again proved to be a hindrance in his convalescence, requiring high intake before even a normal rate of healing could begin. Even his broken left forearm had to be braced again. The fracture had pretty much stopped healing when he'd gotten almost nothing to eat during his captivity and now there were many more injuries to heal.
Clark didn't even think Wally was ready to be released from the hospital but he needed some time alone and he couldn't get that with curious doctors, nurses and general hospital staff always popping into his room.
He followed Wally into the kitchen just to make sure he was settled comfortably before moving to the living room.
"Hey, it's me." Clark heard the soft voice from the kitchen. "Yeah, I'm okay. No really." He attempted to infuse some of the usual energy into his voice. "How are the munchkins? …Oh…. Um, tell them I'm sorry for missing our park date. I'll make it up to them….No…Please, just tell them for me." A shaky sigh interrupted. "No, don't worry about it. I'm fine. Yes….yes…I don't kn-…soon as I can, Aunt Iris…no, just need some quiet and with those three you know there's no chance of that." He gave a hollow chuckled. "Okay, I will…cross my heart….bye."
When there was no other sound Clark worried and walked back to the kitchen. Seated gingerly on a stool, the phone still in his hand Wally stared sightlessly at the counter top.
Clark made the mistake of gently resting a hand on Wally's shoulder only to have the younger man startle violently and jerk away from him. Wally took a few deep breaths and mumbled an apology. Clark made his own apology. He should have known better.
Wally was only going to be with him overnight and then he'd be staying in a new apartment in Central City. It was being rented under Dick Grayson's name so as not to draw attention but Wally hadn't even thought to ask who was paying for it –probably Bruce Wayne.
The next day Clark took the day off to drive Wally the four hours to Central City. Clark took them in a car from a rental chain so he could drop the car off in Central and make his own way back home. Wally spent most of the trip sleeping and when he was awake there was minimal conversation.
It was just around one in the afternoon that they arrived at the apartment complex. The neighbourhood was reputed to be a little better than the one he'd been living in before but not so much that the neighbours were in everybody's business. Wally donned his ball cap and he and Clark went to check out his new place but the younger of the two couldn't really bring himself to care. Nothing about his situation had quite sunk in yet.
When Clark left an hour later Wally collapsed onto his new double bed. He lay on his side staring at the wall until finally sleep claimed him.
He watched the smoke pool at the ceiling and then spread outward. The bare light-bulb mounted into the fixture on the ceiling acquired a misty haze, diffusing the harsh rays of light to a softer luminance. He raised his right arm from the worn armrest and took another drag of his cigarette. As he breathed in the acrid smoke he let his eyes drift over to his colleague, his last remaining friend.
"Must you do that inside?"
Okay, maybe friend wasn't the right term.
"Try and stop me." As irritated as he knew she was, he was doubly and nothing would keep him from enjoying the few little pleasures afforded to him in this hell-hole. "Any word?"
Yall didn't respond immediately. The silence stretched on for nearly five minutes before she responded. "Many went back. They'll face numerous charges, likely be incarcerated but they wish for home soil, and orange sky. I can't say I blame them."
"Fools. What of the others?"
"They've spread out; probably going to find real lives for themselves."
Yall looked away from the screen of the computer and the covert transmissions they'd received to the man lounged on the ratty furniture. "The council will find out. They'll know what you did."
"What we did," he corrected casually, staring at the ceiling. He shrugged nonchalantly. "What can they do? The great council, the band of morons."
Thirty years away from her homeworld and Yall still held the same respect for it that she did then. It took a great deal of effort to restrain her retort but she managed.
"What will you do if they send someone?"
He laughed at the obscurity of the notion. Vril reached into a pocket of his grey slacks and pulled out a flat but irregular object. With a two fingers on opposite points he held it up to her.
"I still have this."
"The seed program? You'd start it all over again."
He just smirked and slid it back into his pocket. "You can't see infinity without wanting to touch it. You can't taste ultimate power without wanting to own it." He flicked on the television shaking his head at the poor quality picture. "I know you, Yall. Hand picked you from hundreds. Power has always been your weakness." He smiled at the image on the screen and Yall's eyes slipped to it and then quickly away. "Power and jealously."
He heard her slam the computer closed and storm out of the room. She wouldn't go far, he knew. With her blue skin she couldn't blend in with the local populous. And she wouldn't leave. She was infatuated with him and it gifted to him her complete loyalty. She would never let him go but he would never return her feelings. He had his own infatuation.
Red hair, eyes the colour of the Balar Ocean of his planet and smooth skin wrapped over firm, supple muscle. The image on the TV changed and Vril turned it off. He brought the cigarette to his lips again and allowed his mind to wander back to those stolen moments with his Wally.
Like a favourite movie, the memories slipped past his eyes. He knew what came next, new the end but it always left him breathless and excited. The smell of the blue-grey smoke was replaced by the scent of his former prisoner, on the tips of his fingers the texture of the young body ghosted past. And his greatest token of the too brief time spent with West was neither the piece of the troubled mind he'd touched, nor the parts of the hero he'd felt break. It was the purity he'd stolen.
Vril closed his eyes, gave up his reality to the reminiscence and gently exhaled.
The smoke rose in lazy ribbons to pool at the ceiling and then spread outward –gathering clouds.
"How is he?" Shayera asked in a rush as soon as Superman entered the conference room.
He shook his head and sat down at his seat. "He's…quiet."
"He's going to need time," J'onn told them. "This recovery will be difficult."
The empty chair, the one with the Flash logo painted on the back seemed to stand out and many eyes were drawn to it. It was their first full meeting since Wally's return. They'd all been busy with various things, league-related, Wally-related and not. They had some catching up to do.
"We have to change his access codes," John said into the silence.
"You think he told Dox?" Diana asked. She expected Green Lantern to have the greatest faith in the Flash.
"If I had to put money on it, I'd say he didn't but we can't know for sure what was said."
Superman sighed. "I agree. His codes need to be changed."
"How about Mr. Terrific?" inquired Shayera. She'd heard that he was somehow connected with the incident in Cleveland.
"Brook and the other scientists haven't found anybody else with a response to the crystal resonance. For now, it's an isolated incident," Superman answered.
"Then why him?"
"To set the stage for his play," said J'onn. "There's no guarantee that a particular member will be sent to a particular location in the event of a crisis."
"So Dox needed to make sure Flash showed up," inferred the Thanagarian.
"There's still no sign of Dox," Batman announced, breaking the short hush.
"J'onn you said Wally gave you information about Dox. Anything we can use?" Superman asked.
"Most of the information was personal in nature so we can't use it to track him but I can tell you why –why all of this, why Flash." He looked around and they all waited anxiously for him to continue. "Vril Dox was a respected scientist on his home world of Colu, just one system over from Krypton and Argo. His planet had been under the rule of a race of machines but he managed to turn their technology against them and lead an uprising. In an effort to prevent any other race from conquering them again the Coluans looked to Dox to find a way to keep them safe. He created a program that would collect unique information from other civilizations and bring it back to them."
Superman leaned forward in his chair, pieces beginning to fall into place in his mind.
"To the program, however, unique meant that there could only be one copy so once it retrieved the data the original was destroyed. When the Coluans realized what was happening they sent Dox and a team to stop the machine but he didn't. Instead he followed it in its travels, clandestinely downloading information that had been collected and using it to further his power and his knowledge. They had been doing this for the past three decades and had only been stopped when the Flash destroyed their program."
Stunned silence met the end of his dialogue. They glanced at each other.
Shayera spoke first, a question. "So, Dox, he created Brainiac?"
J'onn nodded. "He saw Brainiac as his greatest triumph and when the Flash destroyed it just as the program was reaching the pinnacle of its existence, it was his greatest defeat."
"So he turned his obsession onto the Flash," John surmised correctly –another repercussion of the battle with Lex/Brainiac. This nightmare was never going to end. The ripples will just keep growing, John thought sadly.
Nobody had anything to add right now and one by one they left until it was only Diana, Bruce and Clark left in the room. Clark sat hunched over, the heel of his hands pressed against his eyes. Bruce stared at the wall opposite him. Diana frowned in great upset at the table.
"I don't understand." Batman glanced to her. "Why hurt him like that?" Nobody had said anything about Wally's injuries but she'd figured it out on her own. "Why take something intimate and …and use it as a weapon?"
Clark seemed to sink further into himself at the question and didn't answer; he didn't have any to give her.
Eventually the Dark Knight responded in a low voice. "Rape is about power. It's about proving who has it and who has none." He didn't spare her the brutal crux of the matter, didn't sugar-coat it. He would not make something so terrible, easy to swallow. He didn't even blink when he saw the beautiful blue eyes become glassy and the tears well. She left a moment later.
The light from the corridor was again blocked by the doors sliding closed leaving the last two in a low-lit room matching their dulled spirits.
"This isn't your fault, Clark."
It was several seconds before a raspy voice replied. "It's not yours either." He gave a derisive huff. "But that doesn't make either of us feel better, does it?"
To be honest the idea of celebrity had never appealed to him. It had been great for the Flash, a persona that he could discard when he wanted but not for Wally West. He enjoyed the pleasures the quieter side of his life brought. He'd even needed the respite from the fame of being the Flash, but now it was gone.
News channels were still reporting about him, the Flash, the League, Dox. He watched reruns of old newscasts, interviews with his friends –former friends now –and something began to give inside of him. He flipped to a cartoon channel and watched the animated characters run around and fall into overly complicated traps. Somehow it wasn't as amusing as it used to be.
He turned off the TV and stared at the black screen, at his reflection.
A heavy knock on his door startled him out of his reverie and a cold panic wrapped around him. He pressed a hand over his heart feeling the rapid beats. Sweat pricked at his forehead and he recoiled when the knocking came again.
His eyes were closed, he was spinning in a waking nightmare but a familiar voice brought him back to the here and now.
"Hey, Buddy? You okay?" It was John. He didn't use his name, lest the neighbours hear. With more confidence than he felt Wally walked over and undid the two locks in the door and stepped back. John opened the door himself and locked it behind him.
"Hey," Wally greeted. He tried for a smile but the panic hadn't worn off enough.
"Hey, yourself." He gave Wally a reassuring smile and held up the bag of take-out he'd picked up. Both he and the bag were a little wet from the rain that had just started but was already coming down pretty heavily. "Got us some grub. You hungry?"
Wally knew what his usually response would have been but he just shrugged and walked to the far side of the couch to sit down. He turned the TV back on but didn't pay it any mind. Instead he was tracking John, his best friend, like he was someone not be trusted. He couldn't help looking for things that could be wrong, something that would break the illusion but nothing happened. He didn't expect anything to happen, not after the first day of his scrutiny turned up nothing, but he still couldn't help looking. He wasn't sure he would ever stop.
"Wally," John's voice startled him back to the present.
"I'm okay," Wally said hurriedly but the colour draining from his face said otherwise.
John put down the container of pasta he'd been holding out to the kid. "It's going to take time," John said lamely.
"I said I'm fine!" The anger flared and just as quickly was gone.
John looked down at his hands. He wasn't sure how to handle this. Post traumatic stress disorder wasn't new to him having suffered from it and watched others suffer from it but in those cases the trauma had not been inflicted so personally.
"Wally, what happened to you-"
"Nothing happened!" The anger mounted and erupted before John could finish. West tried to quell the shivers by wrapping his arms around himself in a protective hug. John remained silent, unsure whether to leave Wally to his denial.
He swallowed thickly and spoke again, trying to bring comfort and security. "It's okay, Wal."
"No! Nothing is okay!" West pushed away from the couch and stood up. "Just shut up and leave me alone!"
"You know I'm not going to do that," John said evenly.
"You did before! You guys just left me with him! You didn't care!"
"That's not true," John protested and tried not feel hurt by Wally's words. He was bound to lash out at someone and right now he was closest. "We never stopped looking." Something in what he said broke through Wally's wild anger.
"…the caesium…" Wally whispered and John watched uneasily as something coalesced in the kid's mind.
"Yes. We followed the trail to the explosion site."
"I did that."
John gave him a half smile. "We figured that."
Wally turned his back to him realization dawning. He held out an arm to brace himself against the wall. "It's my fault…"
"No!" John practically leapt from the couch.
"I did this…" Vril's words tumbled through his mind: 'You made me do this.'
"Wally!" John spun the young man around to face him but the eyes were vacant, lost in some too-fresh horror.
"…my fault…" The hands shaking him finally registered and he staggered back crashing against the wall, just next to the window. "…if I had…sooner…I did this…"
John rounded on him again. "This is not your fault!" Large dark hands gripped his shoulder almost painfully. "You didn't do this!"
"I…I…"glassy confused eyes stared at dark ones trying to find an answer that made sense.
"What happened…" John swallowed his own distress, "…what he did…it wasn't your fault." He felt Wally begin to shake as the dam cracked. "You didn't deserve that. It wasn't your fault."
Tears began to trace the features of the gaunt face. His chest began to heave with deep stuttered breaths. "…oh God…" Wally mouthed silently. John eased his grip on the shoulders and suddenly Wally collapsed against him. Sobs shook his thin frame as John eased them to the floor.
"It wasn't your fault," John murmured as he gently held Wally. "…it's not your fault."
Pale, shaking hands gripped John shirt. "…oh God…what he did to me…" he cried into John's chest. The shaking grew and John held him tight, trying to hold them both together as Wally finally fell apart.
"It's not your fault, Wally," John whispered and felt tears slide down his own face. "…it's not your fault."
Outside the window, on the other side of the wall, a dark spectre stood on the fire escape. A steady downpour of rain cascaded over him as he listened to the sobs coming from inside. Each cry tore at him removing strips of composure and only the darkness and the cloak of his cape hid his shaking hands.
They'd been too late. He'd been too late. He'd failed. Clark was right. Knowing it wasn't his blame to take didn't make him feel any better. Who was to blame then? An alien with no empathy? A cold, uncaring universe?
He turned his face up into the cold, stinging shower. If he shed any tears they were drowned in the rain.
"–not your fault."
End Chapter 8 – From the Library of Fault
End Part 1: Even Heroes Bleed
Thanks for reading! Thanks doubly for reviewing. Your responses meant a lot to me. Part 2 won't be out for a few weeks, probably about the same amount of time between Part 0 and Part 1. I think that was about 4 or 5 weeks. Now…press the review button at the bottom. :D