Two Years Ago

"Oomph." He was rudely awakened by a weight landing on his chest. Through the dim light he saw pointed ears attached to a rounded green face that contained slitted eyes and bared gritted teeth. "Huh?"

A growling voice said, "Dude, you're Bruce Wayne. Now do you fund the Titans because you really wanna help people or is it cause you just wanna cover Dick Grayson's scrawny ass?"

"Dick's in Europe, and who are you?" Bruce Wayne AKA The Batman, knew who it was that was currently sitting on his chest, but he had to play the role.

"Dude, don't even try to play me. Dicky-boy is back at the Tower, pulling at his spiky hair trying to figure out how to ask Starfire out. And you know who I am, just like I know exactly who you are, Batman."

"Me, the Batman?"

"RRRR, I said don't try it!"

"Fine, get off or I'll throw you off." Suddenly Beastboy was no longer talking to Bruce Wayne, now he was dealing with the Batman. And what concerned the Dark Knight was the young changeling didn't seem to give a damn.

Beastboy morphed into a flea, jumped and shifted back in to his human form, somersaulted and landed in a crouch, snarling, "I asked you a question. You fund the Titans because you actually give a damn or are you just covering Dicky-boys ass?"

Bruce growled, "First things first, how the hell do you know who I am and how'd you figure out Robins identity?"

"For someone that's supposed to be the worlds greatest detective, you can be pretty stupid. They don't call me Beastboy for nothing. I can become a silkworm moth and can smell a female seven miles away. So when billionaire playboy 'Bruce Wayne' visited Steve and Rita Dayton, also known as Mento and Elasti-girl, like you didn't know that, of the Doom Patrol," he pulled a bit at his shirt and snarled, "recognize the uniform, I got a good lock on your scent. So when the Batman had the same smell, it wasn't hard to figure out! And since Bruce Wayne is the Batman, it only made sense that his youthful ward, Dick Greyson was Robin. Hellooooo. RRRR, Now answer the question!"

Bruce getting really concerned. Something had the changeling seriously agitated. He said, "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't partly to take care of Dick. But that's not the only reason. Now what's going on Beastboy? And how the hell did you get in here?"

Beastboy just stared at him with a look on his face that said 'Do you really need me to answer that?'

"Right, looks like I need to upgrade my security."

"Wouldn't work against me anyway. I can even get into a clean-room or infiltrate the Watchtower if I wanted and nobody could stop me. Probably for the best I'm one of the good guys."

Batman growled "Why are you here?"

"Because Dicky-boy wouldn't call you. You're not only one of the richest guys in the world, you're one of the smartest. There's a girl in the Jump City Hospital. The doc's give her six weeks, maybe two months. She has cancer and you need to help her."

"Why?"

"RRRRRRR, because she saved my life."

"How?"

"I was patrolling, stopped off to get a tofu-burger at a joint near the hospital. Turned my back for a second, next thing I know, I'm getting the crap beat out of me. I couldn't even see who it was a first. They threw me through a third story window of the hospital. My heads spinning, the back of my head's split open and one eye is swelled shut. I couldn't even see straight. I look up and see red armor, it's Adonis. I thought I was a goner.

"Then this girl is hollering and swinging an IV stand for all she's worth, cracking him in the shins, the knees, even the balls. He was bent over holding the family jewels and backhanded her into a wall. He split her lip and knocked out one of her teeth. But she came back at him, screaming like a banshee, swinging that IV stand whole time.

"She backed him off long enough so I could get myself together enough to take him apart. First thing I did was throw him back out the window, then I landed on him as a mammoth. Then... I got nasty!

"When I've got him down for the count and the cops are on the way, I hear hollering. I look up and there this twelve year old girl, blood pouring from her mouth, waving an IV stand over her head like it's a club, telling me to 'kick his ass some more.'

"She's got more guts than any ten of us capes. RRRRR, I can't help her, you can. You got the brains and you got the money." Beastboy started walking towards the window, saying, "I'll see you tomorrow, in Jump." He said it like Bruce wouldn't dare not be there. He got to the window and vanished.

Bruce looked at the place where the changeling disappeared for a long moment, threw on a robe and walked out of his room heading downstairs. On the way to the cave he found Alfred sitting in front of the fireplace, feet up with a snifter of brandy.

"Evening, Alfred."

"Master Bruce, I thought you had retired for the evening."

"I had, but there's something I've gotta take care of."

"May I inquire as to what?"

"I need to update my files on the Titan's...badly. Especially Beastboy's!"


Twenty Months Ago

"It was too late. Even before she had been admitted to the hospital, it was too late."

The stoic voice of the Bat said, "I know."

"The docs said that if she would'a been diagnosed sooner she'd a had a better chance."

"I know."

Beastboy had been devastated. He spent every spare moment sitting here in "The Garden". Robin tried to keep him busy with training, but Beastboy was just going through the motions. Starfire and Cyborg had both tried to raise his spirits without success. Even Raven was visibly worried about the Changeling. Robin had been concerned enough to call Batman.

Batman stood beside the bench Beastboy was sitting on in front of a marker of purest white marble. A bent and battered IV stand leaned against it. Cyborg had treated it to protect it from the weather. The marker read,

Coleen Trent
Once A Titan
Always A Titan

Robin had allowed Beastboy to make her an honorary Titan. And when she passed, her parents opted for cremation and allowed the Titans to inter some of the ashes on the Tower grounds.

"Beastboy, did you intend to break both of Adonis's collar-bones?"

Beastboy didn't hesitate and said "Yes Sir."

"Did you mean it when you told him that next time you were going to break both of his legs, too?"

Beastboy held his head high, "Yes Sir."

The Dark Knight smirked, "Maybe there's hope for you yet."

"Batman."

"Yes."

"I'm sorry."

"I know what for, but I wanna hear you say it."

"The night I asked you for help, I was out of line, badly. And I apologize."

"You were desperate. Apology accepted. Just don't let it happen again."

"No Sir."

Batman paused for a moment, remembering when Batman met the young woman interred at the marker, the night after he had met her as Bruce Wayne.


He had found Coleen on the roof of the hospital. She was sitting on the roof, staring at the sky. Batman landed nearby and tried to get the young woman to go back inside.

Batman said, "It's dangerous out here. You should go inside." She refused.

Batman even tried to intimidate her into going. Again, she refused. She refused a man that strikes fear and terror in the hearts of some of the most hardened criminals in the world. Coleen just snorted and said, "Why should I be afraid of you?"

Batman loomed over her, growling "Do you know who I am?"

"Humph, yeah, you're the Batman. I have terminal brain cancer and I'm going to die. So tell me why I should be afraid of you?" The girl returned to staring up at the sky. It was the calm cool acceptance of her fate that floored the Dark Knight.

Batman left her there, but he didn't leave her alone. He stood guard over the young woman until she decided to go back inside. He was shocked to see the young woman crawl to the door to the roof, down the stairs and back into her wheel-chair. Her cancer had taken her legs. She couldn't walk anymore.

The 'Capes' would take turns guarding the young woman. The Birds-of-Prey, the Titans, even Superman and some of the other Leaguers. Beastboy and Raven were frequently found on the roofs overlooking the Hospital. Anybody that even thought about bothering her would have been in for a very rude surprise.

Batman came to Jump as often as possible. He would watch as Coleen would crawl, literally crawl, onto the roof to stare at the sky. She refused any help.

Batman once asked what she was staring at. Coleen looked at her watch and pulled out a small book, a Satellite Almanac. She flipped to a page, looked to the sky, pointed towards the T shaped building in the distance and said "The Watchtower is rising just past Titans Tower. It's really hard to see it here in the city though. Too much light pollution. Luckily, it's self lit."

He asked her what was so important about seeing the Watchtower rising into the sky. "Every kid wants to be a superhero when they grow up. Some of them, like the Titans, even get the chance. I never will. And since this is the closest I can ever get to the Watchtower, I wanna see it every chance I get."

Two days after Batman asked his question, on her thirteenth birthday, with Robins approval and with great formality, Beastboy made her an honorary Titan.

Ten days after her birthday, she passed away.


"Besides, you were right."

"Batman?"

"She did have more guts than any ten of us."

He turned to leave, stopped and glared back at the Changeling, "And one other thing. You need to pull yourself together. Because if you don't, she's liable to come back, pissed off because you made her waste her time saving your sorry ass. And she'll kick your ass until you get your head screwed on straight. Don't make Robin send you to me for retraining."


Two Months Ago

Culver City, near the borders of Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee

He was tall and broad-shouldered with a handsome face wearing perfectly tailored Savile Row suit. Only the wind mussing his hair detracted from the image of perfection presented by the man giving his speech from behind the podium. Not that the mussed hair detracted from his appearance. For the women in the audience it only added to his 'Yummy Factor'.

"Wayne Industries in general and myself in particular are proud to sponsor this addition to the Culver City Hospital. The addition of Targeted Laser Cancer Treatment to the capabilities of the Doctors and staff will bring big city options to the region without people having to drive 10 to 14 hours to get the same treatment. This will allow the patient to recover in the comfort of their home rather then a sterile hospital hundreds of miles from home. They can have family and friends around instead of strangers. And this will reduce the stress placed upon the patient and the family, greatly improving their chances of a full recovery.

"The hospital board tried to name this Center after me, I refused. They offered to name it after my parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. I told them to name it after the person responsible for it, Coleen Trent.

"I met Coleen after I was TOLD to visit her by someone who is not normally a very frightening individual. But he frightened me that night. It was Beastboy of the Titans. And how he met her is a story unto itself.

"Beastboy had been ambushed by the villain Adonis and was beaten... badly. Adonis had thrown the hero up through a third story window into local hospital. In an odd reversal of the roles, Coleen had saved Beastboy's life.

"At the time she was twelve years old. And with no powers, no super strength, no gadgets and no training, using only an IV stand as a makeshift weapon. She was able to injure the villain enough to give him pause, but he backhanded her into the wall, knocking out one of her teeth and split her lip so bad it required 17 stitches.

"But to quote Beastboy, 'She came back at him, screaming like a banshee, swinging that IV stand the whole time.' And she single-handedly held off the villain long enough for Beastboy to recover enough to subdue him.

"And once the Titan had the situation under control, he heard a girls voice hollering. He looked up and saw Coleen, in the shattered third story window, brandishing her IV stand and yelling for Beastboy, and I quote, 'To kick his ass some more.'

"For her heroism, she was made an honorary Titan.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, believe me when I tell you. Waking up in the middle of the night with an upset Titan sitting on your chest, telling you find a way to help someone, 'NOW!' is a frightening experience.

"Beastboy later apologized for his actions that night. He said he was out of line and that he was sorry. I told him he was desperate. Apology accepted. What really got my attention that night, was when I asked him why he would go so far for her. He said, 'She's got more guts than any ten of us capes!'

"But meeting the person that would drive a Titan to such actions was humbling. Coleen Trent faced every day of her treatment with courage and a smile. I watched as she would roll into the rooms of the other cancer kids and try to raise their morale. And any doctor worth his sheepskin will tell you that the morale and mindset of the patient is fifty percent of their chances of recovery.

"Coleen Trent passed away a year and a half ago. She was thirteen.

"In her 'rounds' as she liked to call it, one of the most common quips I heard from her was, 'Dude, you think you got it bad? It takes fourteen hours for us to drive here.'

"No more. If she would have been diagnosed sooner, if she could have been closer to the treatment, then maybe she would have survived.

"And now, it is with a humble heart that I present to this community, The Coleen Trent Cancer Laser Treatment Center." He pulled on a rope to reveal a sign naming the facility. Beside it there was an oversized representation of Coleen's battered IV stand and a plaque:

Anybody Can Be A Hero
Even A Twelve Year Old Girl
They Just Have To Have The Courage


Now

The entrance the Coleen Trent Cancer Laser Treatment Center loading dock exploded in a shower of shrapnel and flying glass. A man dressed a black costume with white trim and cape pushed a oversized machine through the now widened opening. He maneuvered it to the back of a flatbed truck backed up to the dock, cackling the whole time.

"Never had a candy-striper before. That was fun! Might have to do it again." He pulled up the chain in the steel plate set into the concrete of the dock causing the plate to rise and the end to flip up and cover the gap between the truck and the dock. He was lining the machine to roll in onto the truck when he saw a flash in the hill behind the hospital. Then, the back of his head exploded sending the supervillan, Dr Arthur Light, flipping backwards dead before he hit the ground.


Batman stood from the chalk outline of where Light had been found. Cameras on the dock had let him know exactly where and how Light had been standing when the .50 cal round struck. From there he sighted along the back path the bullet had taken. In the distance over a 1000 meters away, was a ridge-line. Somewhere up there was the spot where a murderer had lain in wait. And the Dark Knight would find it, and him.


Computer models had shown that somewhere close by was the hide of the sniper. This open country terrain wasn't his preferred operating area. He would rather be in the concrete jungle of Gotham, but he would make due. Almost gliding along, the eyes of the detective took in everything. Once the back of the hospital came into view he pulled his binoculars and peered in the direction of the loading dock. Not quite on target, he ghosted further along the ridge-line occasionally glancing to the dock.

Here. Somewhere within 20 meters. Casting about looking for signs, he quartered the area, when something caught his eye. A piece of very rough fabric caught in a cleft of the stone.

"Burlap? A ghillie suit."

Standing he looked to the dock through his binoculars again. This was the spot. He found a small pile scattered ashes. Not from a fire, cigarette ashes, no butts. Those had been collected. Looking around again told him he was dealing with a real pro. The cigarettes indicated a fallen pro maybe, but a pro nonetheless. He found a scuffed area where the sniper had rested his pack before leaving altogether.

He hated to admit it but he needed help. He needed a tracker. No, make that trackers. If the sniper was as good as he suspected he could throw off dogs. So he needed someone that didn't need scent as well. Two people came to mind. He could already feel the headache coming on.

Touching the communicator built into his cowl, "Watchtower, this is Batman."

"Watchtower, go ahead Batman."

"Patch me through to the Titans."

"Standby."

A bubbly effervescent voice came on the line. "Greetings, this is Starfire."

Batman sighed and turned down the volume to his earpeice, winced and said. "Starfire, this is Batman."

"AAAAAA, GREETINGS K'NORFKA OF NIGHTWING! It is glorious to be able to speak to you again!"

"Starfire, I need to talk to Nightwing."

"Certainly, Man of Bats. I will get him immediately." Once she was off the line, shaking his head, he reset the volume.

A moment later came the voice of Nightwing. This is Nightwing, go ahead Batman."

"Nightwing, I need...assistance."

"Gimme your coordinates! We'll be airborne in 5 minutes!"

Dick, I don't need the entire Titans Team."

"Bruce you're calling for help. That's bad."

"I didn't call for help, I called for assistance."

"Bruce, assistance is your euphemism for help. And if YOU call for help, it's bad!"

"Not this time. I just need Raven and..." sigh "Beastboy. Contact the Watchtower. Coordinate with them for transport here."

"Where are you?"

"Culver City. Looking into Light's murder."

"How's it going?"

"50 caliber round, 1200 meters away, right through the middle of Light's head. Almost nothing at the firing point. Not tracks, no spent brass, nothing. Just a tiny scrap of burlap. Probably from a ghillie suit. Whoever it is, they're a pro."

"Give me a few minutes to brief 'em and they'll be on the way."

"Don't bother briefing them, I'll do it here."

"You sure?"

The Batman sighed, "I"ll have to do it anyway."

"Bruce, cut him a little slack, he's just got a bad case of hero worship."

"I know, but he needs to grow up. He's nineteen, not twelve."

Batman heard the snickering, "OK Batman, they'll be there in a few minutes. Titans Tower out."

A few minutes later he heard a calm, dry feminine voice saying "...st boy, you need to calm down."

"Calm Down! How can you say that? This is THE Batman we're teaming up with. He's like the coolest superhero ever. He has no powers, but I bet he could still take down Superman."

From behind them the aforementioned Batman growled, "And you'd be right." Beastboy jumped straight up. "AAAAAAAGGGGGHHH" Even Raven was startled.

Batman continued as if nothing happened, "It wouldn't be pretty and it wouldn't be easy. But I could do it." The Dark Knight leaned until he was cowl to nose with the young changeling, "Just you remember that and settle down."

"Sir, yes Sir!"

"And quit watching so much Full Metal Jacket. Now let's get to work."


Twenty minutes later there was a green bloodhound snuffling about as Raven hovered cross-legged above the spot Batman indicated. The shapeshifter approached and flowed back to his human form. "I got a good lock on his scent, but it weird."

"Weird how?"

"It's a chemical scent. I think I know what he did."

"And?"

"Primetherine."

"Insect repellent?"

"Yeah, It's all over his clothes. Problem is it makes it hard to get a lock on him and not what he's wearing."

"The military uses it on their uniforms before they deploy. But you can follow it?"

"Until he takes them off, yeah."

The Bat growled, "Good, Don't lose it."

Beastboy gulped. "Yes Sir"

Batman looked at the other member of the Titans. "Raven?"

"This guy is almost as controlled as I am. Normally after something like this, there's a emotional psychic afterimage. Not here. It's like he was a factory worker putting a nut onto a stud over and over. It's like he wasn't even thinking about what he was doing."

Batman looked around in the afternoon light. From here he saw no less than 8 places they could be under observation from. And he wasn't an expert. There were more. And any one of them could contain their sniper.

He said, "I want to make sure you two understand me. Whoever this is, they are dangerous. Not even the Joker is a dangerous. At least the Joker would want the satisfaction of you knowing he was the one to kill you. Not the sniper. All he would care about is if you dropped. Be careful, if he decides you're a target, he's not going to give you a chance to get close enough to attack.

"I want you two to stick together. You are never alone." He saw the rising blush and protest in both of them. He growled, "You're both adults. Deal with it! Because the only unpowered villain I know that would be this dangerous would be Slade Wilson, Deathstroke, the Terminator." Beastboy gulped as both of the Titans paled, which was a neat trick for the empath considering how pale she already was.

"Raven, you said it was like he wasn't even paying attention to what he was doing. He was servicing the weapon. Nothing more, nothing less. So pay attention, to everything. If something seems wrong or out of place, say so.

"Beastboy, start tracking him, but don't get too far ahead. Raven, try to keep a lock on Beastboy, the instant he knows something, we need to know. Any questions?" Not seeing any he said, "Let's go."


Thirty minutes after they started following the trail, it split. One trail led to a local swimming hole/lovers lane. Dozens of cars and people had trooped through the area making the following of any scent impossible.

Batman figured it was where the sniper had started his approach to the hospital. Backtracking to the other, they followed as it led deeper into the country side.

After two hours and seven miles through the steep Appalachian terrain, Batman was getting nervous. This was too easy. He was about to call Beastboy back and rest for the night when there was a Bang/Poof.

The green bloodhound about 25 meters ahead started whimpering and whining in pain. The shapeshifter flowed back to Beastboy, who was rolling on the ground holding his nose. "I'm gonna murderize this guy."

Raven was there before the Bat, pulling Beastboy's hands away from his face, "Let me see! Keep your hands down."

"God it hurts!"

A growl announced the Bat "What happened?"

"Mace. He tossed coffee and pepper around to hide the trail and set a trap of Mace." His shoulders and ears drooped, "I tripped it."

Batman snarled, "You're lucky it wasn't a bomb. Raven?"

"Not much I can do for him right now. It's not like it's a cut, bruise or broken bone. Even if I treat the swelling and irritation it will just return until he clears out the Mace."

"Beastboy, breath in through your mouth and out your nose. That'll help clear it faster. Now was it Mace or was it CS?"

"What's the difference?"

"Mace is available over the counter. But CS is military grade tear gas. And so far, except for smoking at the firing point he's been a professional all the way."

"Never been around CS so I don't know.

Batman headed to the device and carefully examined it in place. Just a simple pressure canister that threw the chemical into the air. Carefully turning it over, he found a note inside a plastic bag. Using extreme caution he opened it and pulled out the note.

In block print letters it read:

Thanks for forcing me to clean up your mess, Justice League.
Don't worry, I can clean up the others if needed.

Turning it over revealed a map. And the words "Eight miles, four hours walking."

Beastboy snorted saying, "Eight miles in four hours. What is he, like eighty-three?"

Raven bopped him on the back of the head saying "Look around you, moron."

"Raven, either one of us could do eight miles in, what, 15 minutes, easy?

Batman's gravelly voice replied for her "But I can't, not on foot, even if we were in Gotham. In this terrain four hours sounds about right."

Beastboy ducked at the rebuke. "Sorry, Batman."

"You should always keep the abilities of your teammates in mind, both limitation and skills. And in this case..." Batman watched the young changeling.

Beastboy knew it was a test. He scratched his head and said, "Well, I guess me or Raven could carry you. You can't possibly weigh more than Cyborg does."

"So, you do have a brain. Use it."

"Yes Sir."

"Now I want the two of you as rested as possible. So we're going to split the difference. Raven, you'll carry me first, halfway there, you pass me to Beastboy. We land about 500 meters out from the target. We reconnoiter from there. Now let's go."


Batman scanned the inside to the large cave. So far they hadn't found much besides the sealed container right inside the opening. It hadn't been locked and contained exactly what the packing list on the lid said:

Blankets, wool, green, US Army surplus 8 ea
Meal Ready-to-Eat 2 cases/12 24 ea
Mess Kits 4 ea
Fire Starter, Magnesium 1 ea

There was a note at the bottom telling whomever to change the list as the supplies were used. With water from the stream the flowed by outside and the large pile of fire wood just inside the cave, there were enough supplies to keep 4 people alive for nearly a week.

But unfortunately for Batman's peace of mind, other than a simple transmitter that gave off a single pulse, there no bombs, no traps, no hidden recording devices. The pulse was probably just to let the owner know that someone had disturbed the cache. It was enough to make him want to pull the ears off his cowl. This sniper was one of the strangest villains he'd even come across. If that's what he was. He continued his examination of the cave hearing Beastboy and Raven as they applied their different skills to the task.

It was out side where Raven hit paydirt. Since they had entered the cave, night had fallen. In the dark night she saw something that sent a shiver up her spine. "Batman! Over there!"

'Over there' was a depression or sinkhole and it was glowing. To the Batman, it was a familiar sickly green. The color of green Kryptonite. He was on the communicator instantly. "Watchtower, Batman."

"This is Watchtower, go ahead Batman."

"Code ONE, pass word to Clark and Kara to stay the Hell away from here. We've found evidence of Kryptonite."

"How much?"

Don't know yet. But I intend to find out.


The depression turned out to be an impact crater. A small one to be sure, but a crater nonetheless. An old one if the trees growing around were any clue. The glow apparently came from the dust of the bolide that was nowhere to be found. Very carefully, with Ravens help Batman gathered up all the dust remaining in the crater and bagged and tagged it for disposal back on the Watchtower. As soon as the deadly to Kryptonians material was sent up
Superman came down.

The first words out of the mouth of the Man of Steel was, "Thank you, Batman."

"You would done the same for me. Besides, it was Raven that found and collected most of it."

"Well, then I guess I should be thanking you then, Raven."

When he turned his cobalt blue eyes to her and smiled, she blushed and stuttered, "Iiiiit's not a problem, Superman."

There was a very low rumbling growl, almost a subharmonic.

The Kryptonian asked, "Beastboy, are you OK?"

The changeling said, "I'm fine, dude. Did you know I can become a Kryptonian cold virus?" He had a look in his eyes and on his face Raven had only seen once before on the happy-go-lucky jokester. It was primal and feral. And the rumbling still hadn't stopped.

Very carefully Superman put his arm around the changeling, looked at Batman and Raven and said, "Excuse us."

Drawing the shapeshifter to the side, he leaned close enough so that only Beastboy could hear and said, "Beastboy, was that a threat?"

"rrrrrrrrrNorrrr."

"Then I'll have to remember that the next time Zod and Ursa show up. I am a very happily married man. She's all yours, IF you can earn it. Now relax, because what your doing is just going to upset her. And even I wouldn't want to have to deal with an upset, female half-demon, daughter of Trigon the Terrible. My everyday human wife is bad enough."

Back with the Dark pair, Raven asked, mostly to herself, "What is wrong with that idiot?"

Batman slowly turned his head to look at the girl beside him. "You know, I've always heard that you were supposed to be the most intelligent member of the Titans. But it seems to me, in this case you're over-thinking it. Maybe you should turn your brain off and use your instincts.

"What?"

"Just do it." He called to the returning pair. "Superman?" Batman tossed his head and stalked off. Superman followed. "We're going to bivouac here tonight. Are you staying or going?"

"I'll be back in the morning. Something I have to take care of tonight."

Batman smirked, "Tell Lois I said, Hi."

The Kryptonian had to get his own dig in, "Sure. Does Diana know your out here in the back woods of...where we anyway?"

"Culver City."

"We were here just a couple of months ago."

"Yes, Arthur Light was trying to steal the laser Wayne Industries donated to the hospital. Someone dropped him from 1200 meters with single .50 cal BMG round, right through the middle of his head. And I'm beginning to think I know who."


Two months ago

An hour later, during the reception, Clark Kent and his wife were talking to the sponsor, Bruce Wayne.

Lois smiled and said, "Guys, this has got to be one of the strangest receptions I've ever been to."

He replied, "It definitely has a 'downhome' flavor to it."

"Reminds me of some of the dances we had when I was a teenager back in Smallville."

The middle of the feeders supply coop warehouse had been cleared. Every stack of palletized sacks of fertilizer, seed and chemicals had been double or triple stacked either against the wall or outside under tarps. There was streamers and decorations hanging from the ceiling. The employees had spent the last three days with brooms and shop vacs pulling up dust. In one corner was a stage with a pretty good local band and dance floor. In the opposite corner was the buffet. The community had turned out in force, wearing their best. It wasn't Savile Row or Armani, but that was beside the point.

Bruce saw a man approaching him. His detective instincts instantly summed him up. Mid 40's, Average height 5'9" 5'10", slight built 160 to 170 lbs, shaven bald. Bruce could see the male pattern baldness and this man had evidently decided, 'If it's going, then to Hell with it, get rid of it.' He had laugh lines at the corners of some of the coldest ice blue eyes the alter ego of the Batman had ever seen.

The man held out his hand saying "Mr. Wayne, I'm sure you've heard it repeatedly, but I wanna thank you. What you've done here has the potential to save a lot of lives." The warmth of the man's carriage and demeanor belied the coldness in his eyes.

Bruce took the hand, saying, "Thank you. I just wish it could have been sooner, Mister..." The grip was firm without trying be overpowering.

"Clemens, Mark Clemens. I'm a teacher at Culver Jr/Sr High. Ms. Trent was one of my students."

"What subject?"

He smirked, "Any of them." Seeing the confusion, he added. "I normally teach shop and Auto Tech classes. But I also fill in/substitute. I can't teach college level English or Physics, but I can muddle through the high school level. It's usually History, basic math or Social Studies. I also teach firearms safety and operations classes at the local range."

Her reporter instincts twigging, Lois held out her hand and asked, "Mr. Clemens, I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet. Could I get an interview?"

Taking hand, he said, "Certainly, Ms..." The detective noticed that Clemens shook hers the same way. Firm without trying to overpower the other. Not daintily, the way most men would shake hand with a female.

"Sorry, Lois Lane."

"Ms. Lane, that is a wonderful fragrance you're wearing. Distinct, yet subtle."

Lois with a slight blush, said. "My husband picked it up on a trip."

"Well, I guess that means dinner later this evening is out."

"Yes." She said, "My husband, Clark Kent.

The teacher offered his hand to Clark, looking up at him saying, "You're a lucky man. Your wife is a very attractive woman."

This teacher had the instincts of the detective pinging, It was those cold eyes, completely at odds with his actions. And he didn't seem to be concerned or afraid about the fact that Clark towered over him and outweighed him by at least 75 to 100 lbs. And this teacher had just complemented his wife. In front of him.

"Kent? You're also a reporter. I've read some of your bylines. You do good work, although I don't normally agree with some of the opinions." Seeing the surprise he said, "This country was built on dissenting opinions. One of the founding principals was a Voltaire misquote, 'Although I may disagree with what you have to say, I shall defend to the death, your right to say it.' It's actually a joining of a couple of his ideas into a single phrase."

He paused, "Sorry, lecturing is an occupational hazard."

Clark said, "You seem to do it very well.

"If a teacher doesn't get and keep the interest of the student, then he's not doing his job. For example, seventy-five percent of the students in one of my classes, Basic Auto Maintenance... are female."

The three out-of-towners were surprised. Lois asked, "Mr. Clemens, how did you manage that?"

"Ms. Lane, can you change a tire?"

"I live in Metropolis. I don't even own a car."

"Ms. Lane, if your car broke down, and you had a flat tire on a deserted back road, could you fix it? Or would you have to wait for some random man to come driving by?"

Lois had no answer.

"If women want to be treated equally, then they should have the same responsibilities. By placing the question as 'Do you want to be dependent or independent? Do you want to be able to take care of yourself or do you want to be forced to have someone take care of you?' I strike at their pride as young women. I've heard more than one of my female students say 'I'm not gonna rely on a man for anything if I don't have to.'

"And my Basic Auto class is just that. Basic! How to change a tire, how to change a blub or headlight, check or change the oil and transmission fluid, does my car need shocks or struts, how to assemble a basic tool kit for the trunk in case you have to replace a belt, do I need a battery or is the problem the alternator. Hell, one of the hardest and most important things I try to teach 'em is to READ the damn owners manual."

Lois had pulled out her notebook, "Mr. Clemens, when can we have the interview?"

"Now's as good a time as any."

"Great! I might even get you to show me how to change a tire while we're at it."

He grinned, "Ms. Lane, I think that might be one of the things that would fall under your husbands purview."

She looked at her husband, "Clark?"

"When we get home, Lois."