Muddling though Grey

Chapter One: Downward Spiral

Disclaimer: Characters and premise are the property of DC, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.

Notes: Story comes from the YJ_anon_memes prompt: Superboy is going through some serious issues of inadequacy, and it's deeper than anyone imagined. The constant rejections from Superman, as well being left all alone on Mount Justice (he thinks no one wants him! and idk Megan actually stays with J'ohn most of the time), make him super depressed and doubt his self worth as a person. Add in the fact that he's culturally stunted and not the most intelligent of the group (judging by his stats on CN), Supey is close to some sort of break down.

One day, when Young Justice shows up to help the Justice League during a situation, Superboy makes a mistake and Superman (out of frustration, exhaustion, whatever) says something insensitive and mean. It wasn't something horrible, though, because everyone kind of cringes and goes "awww poor kid" so they're really surprised when Superboy has a mini breakdown.

Take it from there anon! Do the other heroes step in and defend Superboy? Does he run off and join a criminal organization? Does he get adopted by some anti hero that dislikes Superman too?

I just really want an emotionally broken Superboy who WON'T forgive Superman anymore.

I went with option two, specifically Flash's Rogues, with liberal age/timeline modifications for Earth-16: Captain Cold, Heatwave, Captain Boomerang and Mirror Master (Sam Scudder) are the adult Rogues. But since everyone in Earth-16 has sidekicks there are junior Rogues too: Piper, Trickster (James Jesse) and Mirror Apprentice ( Evan McCulloch), plus Boomerang's kid Owen showed up early... as a toddler.

It's a Monday morning. Superboy opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling of his room for a long time. He considers getting up, but it's a Monday morning. All of the other members of his team are busy at school, living their real lives, because they're real people, unlike him. Around ten he gets up. He spends several hours wandering around the uncompleted passages that extend into the Mountain proper. The base is still, empty and deserted, except for him. He feels like a ghost, like the last forgotten soul left behind on a dead world. He should train, but the gym feels even more empty than the rest of the base, it echoes with the lack of his friends and he hates going in there alone.

Tuesday Red Tornado drops by around lunch. Because he asks what Superboy has been eating Superboy pulls some things out of the refrigerator and puts them between two slices of bread. He's not sure what he's eating and he doesn't care. It all tastes like cardboard. He misses M'Gann's burnt cookies, they tasted like someone cared about him. But M'Gann has entered a new phase in her telepathic training and her uncle is keeping her close by so he can over see her development, she doesn't have much time for the team, for him, right now. Red Tornado brings home school assignments with him. Superboy hates them. He either knows the material perfectly, because the Gegnomes put it in his head, or he can't figure out where to start, because it's not something the Gegnomes thought he needed to know about.

Wednesday Superboy gets around to working on his assignments. He scribbles out the answers he knows then spends four hours staring blankly at the paper wondering what he should do about the part that isn't in his head. Black Canary drops by to train him and he wants to hug her, because she's alive and real and thinks he's worth spending time with. Training doesn't go well, he can't concentrate. Canary finally cancels it and makes him dinner instead. As bad as he feels about screwing up, he's as happy as he's been all week for the three hours Canary spends with him. She suggests he should get out of the base occasionally.

Thursday Superboy goes into town, because Canary told him to. He watches other people near his age as they interact. He doesn't know how to introduce himself. It's not like he could punch them and make friends the way he did with his team. He sits on a hillside over looking Happy Harbor High all day, listening to other teenagers talk about things he doesn't understand and doesn't know how to relate to. It reminds him that he's not human and never will be. Shortly after school lets out, one of the Green Lanterns, the youngest one, lands near him. He reminds Superboy of Superman in that he won't make eye contact. "You weren't on the base, people were worried," he says after an uncomfortable period of silence. "I'm not doing anything wrong!" Superboy snaps. "I'm not a prisoner!" The Lantern twitches and chews on his lower lip unhappily, "Just let someone know where you're going before you leave. So we won't worry." Superboy is certain they're worried about what he might do, not worried about him. Excluding the mentors who work directly with Young Justice the League takes their lead from Superman when it comes to him.

Friday Superboy watches the clock. Robin and Artemis arrive first, one on top of the other. They chatter and snark at each other about school things and Gotham. They haven't quite made the transition from school to hero yet. Superboy feels like he's intruding but the sound of their voices in the same room with him brings the base back to life.

Wally arrives next, with his powers he's at Mount Justice only moments after his school lets out. Superboy's figured out that he must live somewhere in the mid-west because classes had been out an hour ago on the East Coast by the time Wally arrives. He chatters animatedly and Superboy doesn't really know how to respond but his presence break Robin and Artemis out of the Gotham Academy mode and he's part of the group again even if he's only nodding occasionally when a comment is directed toward him.

M'Gann checks in maybe twenty minutes after Wally. She's also in the Midwest, like Wally, but it takes her longer to get home from school and to the Zeta-beam platform. She smiles and blushes and "How was your week, Superboy?" He lies and tells her it was fine. Mental shielding was one of the first things he wanted to learn, so he couldn't be controlled like a puppet again. Back in the summer it hadn't occurred to him that he'd need it mostly to keep M'Gann from feeling the aching emptiness he feels when the rest of the team leaves on Sunday nights. But Sunday night is roughly 54 hours in the future and he's not going to think about it now.

Kaldur comes last this week. His arrival is less predictable than the others, whatever his responsibilities at the Atlantean Consulate are they don't have the same rigid time structure that the others' schools seem to love. Kaldur is calm and steady, his presence grounds Superboy. He doesn't feel like a ghost any more, with his team around him he feels solid and like he belongs.

They train and have dinner then they watch movies. It's a little overwhelming after a week of silence and emptiness but Superboy will never admit it. He's happy, and they're with him and that's all that matters, even if it would be easier if he could ease back into being around people more gradually. Or better yet if he didn't have to be alone for so much of the time. But that isn't an option; the others have mentors and non-costume lives that they'd have to give up to spend more time with him. He's tried to get his own mentor, he's approached Superman maybe a half dozen times now, but Superman doesn't have time for him. He's asked Batman dozens of times more if maybe Superman was just a little pleased with how he's performed on the team, lately Batman just grits his teeth and looks away when he asks. He can't go to school with normal people because they couldn't explain the gaps Cadmus left in his education. Superboy thinks that he probably couldn't go anyway because there's something wrong with how his mind is put together. He doesn't process things like the others. He doesn't figure things out, the Gegnomes either put it in him or they didn't. He's getting better at the way Canary wants him to analyze things in battle situations but the others probably take to that more naturally than he does too, without all the extra time she spends working with him. Besides being able to learn how to analyze a fight isn't something that's going to help him blend in with real people.

Saturday the call comes in. The JLA is in the middle of a large scale brawl with the Injustice Society, in Miami of all places. Miami doesn't have a local superhero and the police aren't used to handling crowd control the way they are in Gotham, Metropolis or Central. Young Justice is the closest back-up, and Batman wants them to deal with protecting and clearing the gawkers and other non-combatants.

It's a big sprawling battle. Over a half dozen separate fights are going on across the city center between more than twenty combatants. Both the Justice League and Injustice Society were responding smoothly to counter the ebb and flow of the battle. The battle has been raging for some time, and doesn't show any signs of coming to a conclusion.

For Superboy it is physically stunning after a week of silence and stillness. The explosions make him jump. He can't keep track of the flow of the battle. Things; energy blasts, thrown cars, thrown bodies; seem to come out of no where. Superboy knew his interception rate sucked in comparison to the rest of his team, he wasn't anticipating, just reacting.

He hears the buzz on his comm-link that indicated a private channel was being activated. "You're distracted," Batman says. "Go back to base, we'll talk later." Superboy flinches. He can't do anything right, they're going to send him away. He turns and starts to trudge away from the battle field. He thinks about just disappearing, but he at least owns it to Batman to let the man tell him how worthless he was.

An energy blast flashes overhead and strikes a building in front of Superboy. He watches, frozen by indecision as it topples toward a bystandard Kid Flash hadn't cleared yet. The girl was seven or eight, lost and scared, staring up at the falling masonry, as frozen as Superboy was. He can't think: Should he try to catch the falling building or at least try to knock it in another direction? Should he move the girl? What if there were people in the building? At the last moment he simply dives at the girl, crouching over her and pulling her in close to his body as several tons of concrete and steel come down on top of them.

Superman pulled up sharply as the boy who wore his crest vanished under a fallen building. He was too far away to do anything but watch and even then he could only spare a second from his own battle to note where the boy was buried. Then Solomon Grundy was on him again. He exchanged punches with the shambling monstrosity for several minutes before he was able to land solid enough blow to knock Grundy back. In the moment's reprieve, Superman scanned the rubble with his X-Ray vision. Both Superboy and the girl he'd been protecting were still alive, but the mass above them was unsteady, supported mostly by Superboy's shoulders. Superboy wouldn't be able to dig himself out and keep sheltering the girl at the same time. But he seemed to realize that and wasn't trying.

Several blocks over Hawkgirl plummeted toward the earth after taking a stunning blow from Star Sapphire. 'Superboy's situation was stable,' Superman decided, flying to his teammate's aid. He angled his approach to stay clear of Green Lantern and Metallo's fight, knowing he'd only handicap himself if he got too close to Metallo's Kryptonite heart. After that Superman was drawn into a battle with Parasite that lasted for several minutes. Once Parasite went down, Superman surveyed the battle to find where he was most urgently needed. His eyes widened as he realized that Green Lantern and Metallo's battle was shifting closer to the rubble where Superboy was buried. "J'onn, help GL," he ordered urgently. "Keep Metallo away from that building, Superboy's under it!"

He scanned the rubble again only to find his X-Ray vision obscured by a tangle of lead pipes. Worried and angry, Superman started tossing girders and chunks of concrete to the side, digging down to were he'd last seen Superboy and the girl.

The battle was beginning to slow, the less dedicated bulk of Luthor's recruits had fled, but the hardliners, the ones with a vendetta to pursue were still fighting around him. Superman had to break off his efforts for several minutes when Cheetah and Wonder Woman's battle careered through the area. "Damn it! Keep this area clear!" he shouted. Superboy and the girl had been breathing easily when he'd first checked on them, but he hadn't though about the on-going fighting and the possibility of the rubble shifting to cut off their air. 'What the hell was I thinking?' In a moment his frustration and worry channeled into another direction. 'What was he thinking? Careless. Thoughtless. If he'd been thinking, he would have had plenty of time to get the girl and get clear. Batman only brought the kids in so that we wouldn't have to worry so much about collateral damage, then Superboy goes and becomes someone else we need to rescue.'

A dozen more feet of rubble cleared and Superman spotted his clone's torn black tee-shirt. The boy's head was tucked down and there was an ugly welt across his shoulders where a beam had crashed down on him. Anyone with less strength would have been crushed. Hesitantly Superboy stood, reluctant to unwrap himself from the girl, wary of something else falling on them. Superman lifted the girl out of the rubble. Then he turned on Superboy. "You'd be more help to us if you weren't here at all."

Superboy felt sick. His chest was tight and he couldn't breath. His eyes ached strangely and seemed to be leaking. He wasn't sure what was happening to him, but for some reason he didn't want Superman to see. So he ran, bounding away from Superman and the battle. Superman was only confirming what Batman had already said, but he felt like the world was coming apart around him. He was worthless, useless, everyone else would be better off without him. That was why they always left him alone. Batman had suggested as much and Superman said it outright: "You'd be more help to us if you weren't here at all."

He wasn't sure where he was going. Anywhere away was better than here. He could barely see through the water leaking out of his eyes and running did nothing to help the tight feeling in his chest. Blindly he stumbled on a group of fleeing villains. It was debatable which of them were more surprised by Superboy's sudden appearance. For a long moment they just stared at each other blankly.

The battle was finally over. The police were collecting the captured villains while a portion of the Justice League hunted down fleeing stragglers. Black Canary grabbed Superman's elbow and determinedly steered him away from the police and general public. "Where the hell do you get off talking to Superboy like that?" she snapped.

"His head wasn't in the fight. He was a danger to himself and a distraction to the rest of us," Superman stated. "I sent him back to his base."

"I heard exactly what you said to him." Canary replied. "First off, you wouldn't have dressed down anyone else like that, let alone a kid. Second, you've made it painstakingly clear that you are not that boy's mentor. You don't want to help him improve? You lose the right to correct him. It's not your place. You treat him like you would any of the other kids. You don't yell at him, if you have a problem with his performance, you pass it on to his mentors; that would be Batman, myself and Tornado; and let us deal with him."

"Then deal with him," Superman said unapologetically. "From what I saw today he's not competent to be out here."

"I already had. Long before your involvement I ordered him back to the base," Batman stated, materializing silently. "A situation came up before he could withdraw and he responded, although poorly. This is why all criticism goes through channels. It's counterproductive, particularly with teenagers, to allow circumstances where everyone seems to be against them. Now I not only have to find the cause of his initial distraction, I have to dig it out from the emotional mess of him thinking he's being ganged up on."

"Superboy isn't at our re-grouping site," M'Gann's agitated voice filled the general comm channel.

"He was sent back to the base ahead of you," Batman answered.

"Is he hurt?" Robin asked.

Batman glanced at Superman questioningly. "Not badly," Superman replied.

Batman cut off the contact then stalked toward his plane. "Deal with things here. I have a teenager to sort out."

Superboy wasn't at Mount Justice when Batman arrived, nor was the tracer in his comm-unit functioning. Batman flew back to Miami, tracing Superboy's most probable route. When that turned up nothing he circled the battle-site until he spotted the characteristic impact craters left behind by Superboy's method of rapid transit. The trail vanished abruptly several miles outside of the city. Batman circled back and landed his plane.

The ground showed indication that Superboy had crossed paths with a mostly unknown group, although Batman did pick out the distinctive prints left by Mister Freeze's cold-suit. There was no sign of battle but two fewer sets of tracks left the area than had entered it, and one set of missing footprints belonged to Superboy.

"Batman to JLA. Priority One," he snapped. "Superboy is missing. There is a high probability that he was captured. Atom, report to my position. Potential crime scene, you're looking for evidence of teleportation or disintegration. I want a list of criminals currently unaccounted for from this afternoon's incident. The rest of you, look for him."