Title: Hereaftermath
Fandom: DCAU (toonverse) - Justice League/JLU
Characters: Bruce Wayne (Batman), Diana (Wonder Woman), Lois Lane, J'onn J'onnz (the Martian Manhunter), Kara Kent (Supergirl), Ray Palmer (the Atom), Dick Grayson (Nightwing), multiple various JLU and DCAU heroes and villains, Clark Kent (Superman) in absentia for now
Pairings: SM/LL, BM/WW - but only background
Genre: Friendship, h/c
Warnings: (apparent) character death. Spoilers for the JLU episode Hereafter, as well as various basic DCAU spoilers such as World's Finest, etc.
Summary: In the wake of Hereafter, the friends and families of Clark Kent/Superman must learn to live with the knowledge that Superman is dead. One man refuses to believe this, and while balancing the aftershocks of Superman's death and its effects on the League and the world, sets out to prove it.

A/N: The two-part JLU episode Hereafter left far too many plot holes and unfulfilled details and scenes. This is my attempt to make a researched, scientific story detailing the enormity of details needing to be addressed with Superman's death as well as the scientific processes Batman would have gone through in an effort to discover what really had happened to him. Story begins with Superman's disappearance and progresses to the night after his return to present-day Metropolis, studying the effects of his death upon those who were associated with him, and detailing one man's determination to prove the truth. Not an AU, in technicality, more of what I believe might - or should - have accompanied the glimpses we got in the episode. Story starts slowly and builds with intensity each coming chapter.

Further AN: I really, really want to get this fic going because it's sat on my hard drive half-finished for almost six months now. I have the first three chapters and the last two done (out of fifteenish that I have outlined), and want to start posting so that I will have motivation to finish the in-between chapters. That being said, updates might be a bit slow at first but comments and reviews will probably give me a virtual kick in the pants to get it moving. :)

Superman was dead.

Possibly the most frightening three words anyone had heard in many years, they were all the same true. And wrong; so wrong that it seemed the world should be ending its existence along with its greatest hero. No one had ever dreamed the Justice League's strongest member would be the first to fall, gone in a brilliant split-second like a shooting star vanishing from desperate sight.

He had wondered, often enough, just because he knew Clark's overly trusting heart could lead him – and had led him – into one too many traps, if that possibility might ever come true, that the Man of Steel would be the first to go. But he'd never dreamed it would be like this.

He'd spent some horrible nights before – the sleepless ones where Gotham's worst claimed his blood and sweat until after dawn; the sleeping ones where his unconscious mind betrayed his memory and insomnia was welcomed afterwards; the ones where almost constant pain and constant weariness sapped his energy and he barely stayed awake during meetings and parties and conferences the next day or three; and, worst of all, those spent in activities to maintain his playboy reputation, when all he could think about was what was happening in his city while he whiled away the darkest hours with the most popular debutante of the season.

But no torture the Joker had or would ever dream up could compare with this; and added to it was the fact that they hadn't reached the Daily Planet building before all the channels were playing the news clip of Metropolis's eternal hero literally disintegrating before their horrified eyes. Before his eyes, too, because that was all he could see against the white lenses of his cowl, over and over, a continual acid rain that was steadily corroding its way deeper into his memory.

He was proud of Lois, though – Clark would be proud of Lois – for taking it like the trooper she was. And Clark would be proud of the League, too; it was a shame that it had taken his death to make them all, even Hawkgirl and Diana, work together without so much as a ripple of tension. They'd denied more than a cursory statement to the press and police for the moment, and disappeared before they could be mobbed by reporters or hysterical bystanders. Then they appeared en masse at the building every Metropolite knew Superman regarded as his special territory.

They were too late to break the news, since probably half the staff had helplessly watched the entire thing from the windows of the thirty-seven stories, but early enough that the initial shock hadn't yet given way to the chaos of grief; and their respectful condolences and the fact that the entire League had made the trip up to the press room (none of them had a choice in the matter, he made that perfectly clear and none dared disobey) made the reactions somewhat calmer than would have been had they denied the terrible facts.

But he was the only one in the room that knew the Planet had lost two friends, a guardian, and a darn good reporter today, and that knowledge weighed on him as heavily as the scrap of red cloth hidden in his utility belt.

J'onn, it had been decided, would be the only one to speak to any media about the death of Superman, and the Martian immediately went to Perry White to give him full details of what had happened. Flash, at a nudge from the Lantern, buttonholed a sniffling Jimmy Olson. But he declined Diana's offer and went to Lois Lane himself; it was the least he could do. The only thing he could do, now; and besides he owed it to both Superman and Clark Kent to do it.

He caught the reporter's stunned, wide-eyed attention and slipped into Perry White's empty office while the editor was speaking with J'onn. A moment later she followed, and the next fifteen minutes melted into a puddle of chaotic thoughts and half-whispered moments, as his mind whirred in perfect detachment to fill in all the pieces that would need to be taken care of while at the same time he tried his awkward best to comfort the woman Clark loved – had loved. His own fling with Lois had been wonderful, passionate, if short-lived, and they were both long since completely over it – but still, the only thing he would have hated more than having to deal with her reaction to Superman's death would be for some idiot to do it in a less tactful way. She deserved far better, and he would see she had some privacy for a few minutes at least.

The main problem presently racing through his mind with the strength of an industrial electric current, was what on earth was he supposed to tell the world about Clark Kent? Unfortunately for everyone, the reporter had been working at his desk when the call came in from downtown – that was why Bruce had had to stall for time with Kalibak – and this was going to take a lot of explaining. But just at the moment, no one seemed to realize that Kent was missing.

Lois was still crying, and he was grinding his jaw in an effort to not think about how much less painful it would be to do the same himself, when White returned to his office, his honest face grief-stricken. He paused for a moment incredulously, seeing his star reporter sobbing on the shoulder of the darkest of the superheroes occupying his offices, and raised a greying eyebrow.

"I thought she deserved some privacy," Batman growled, but he didn't even need to start glowering to make White agree.

"It'll be all right, Lois."

He heard the familiar trite platitudes (though in White's defense there was really nothing better to say), and rolled his eyes angrily behind the cowl at the blatant lie. It wasn't going to be all right. Ever. He should know.

White punched the intercom. "Hold the presses, Jake. We'll have a front-page replacement in an hour." The elderly editor looked up sadly. "Thank you for coming, Batman – all of you."

"Superman was one of us," J'onn's soothing voice spoke quietly from the doorway, where his intimidating presence was keeping the rest of the reporters corralled, milling about in the outer newsroom. "He loved the people of the world, and Metropolis, but especially his friends here. If we can do anything, please do not hesitate to ask us."

The editor pressed the intercom again. "Anyone seen Kent?" he bellowed. "And get me pictures of this in the next half hour, Olson!"

Batman stiffened, but evened his voice so no one could have noticed. "Clark Kent is missing?"

"Yes, he is," White muttered, shuffling through papers on his desk. "He left over an hour ago, said he forgot and parked his car in a four-hour parking zone and had to move it. Where the dickens…"

Bruce flicked a quick thought over to the imposing figure hovering in the doorway, and received a short nod. That was what he respected most about J'onn; while the Martian could read minds, he never did with memories or thoughts he could sense were very personal. And, he didn't ask pointless, asinine questions – something the Batman appreciated.

"I saw Mr. Kent outside a while ago during the storm," J'onn said soberly. White glanced up. "In all probability, upon his return, when he heard about and saw the battle taking place, he decided to cover the story from somewhere."

"Well, if he didn't get himself back here in time for this, he's not getting any kind of byline," White grumbled under his breath. "Knowing him, he's probably still out there hiding until the storm blows over."

Bruce relaxed slightly, leaving that angle until he could think of the best story to give the workers of the Planet regarding Kent's mysterious disappearance, sometime when he could actually think straight. "I have things to take care of now. You understand," he said quietly into Lois's ear. "You still have my number?"

Lois's watery laugh teetered on the feathery edge of hysteria, but she nodded and stepped back from him, blurry-eyed. "If I didn't know you better, I'd swear that was the most inappropriately-timed pickup line I've ever heard," she gasped, with a handkerchief dabbing at her eyes and then the damp patch on his cape. He winced invisibly, but she offered him a brave smile. "Yes, I have it."

"Good girl," he muttered, only when she had moved away and couldn't hear him.

White had stepped past the Martian into the press room and now held up a hand for some sort of order. "I need a four-column spread ghostwritten in forty minutes, full rewrite in an hour," he barked, for he was still a newspaperman to the core, even in the face of tragedy. The people of Metropolis were not going to get the Story of the Century from the Globe or Daily Blade just because they were busy grieving a fallen hero. "Don't volunteer for this unless you –"

He was cut off by such a loud din that it nearly rattled the spotless windows, and for a minute nothing could be done or heard other than every good reporter on the staff vying for the privilege of writing Superman's eulogy.

J'onn jumped, startled, when Lois shoved past him into the room behind White. The room quieted slightly upon her entrance (everyone who was anyone knew that Lois Lane and Superman had at least something going between them). Folding her arms, she glared venomously at the rest of the newsroom.

"I'm writing it," she snapped thickly, in a tone that could eat its way through bullet-proof glass faster than any corrosive known to science. "Any problems with that?"

The room went dead silent except for the monitor overhead, with Snapper Carr's voice droning on and on about the death of earth's greatest hero.

"And someone mute that d--- television!"

"Yes, ma'am," Flash gulped, and silenced the broadcast in a nanosecond.

Batman had never been so proud.