Author's Note: I'm going to quickly explain one character who never appeared onstage in the DCAU cartoons. Beautia Sivana was an occasional member of the supporting cast in the Power of Shazam! comic book which Jerry Ordway wrote in the 1990s. Beautia seemed infatuated with Captain Marvel, but the feeling was not reciprocated, and she did in fact volunteer to tutor high school student Billy Batson when his grades were slipping. She had heard that Cap and Billy were friends, and evidently hoped this would help her get closer to Cap. She also happened to be the daughter of the evil Dr. Sivana (one of Cap's worst enemies), but apparently had not seen him in years and never assisted in any of his schemes.
I choose to assume that Beautia also exists in the DCAU continuity; virtually identical to how Ordway wrote her. (Although Billy seems to be a few years younger.) This story is set during the final season of Justice League Unlimited—a few months after Superman and Captain Marvel had an epic slugfest during the episode "Clash," which led to Captain Marvel announcing his resignation from the League. (Sadly, he was never heard from again in any other DCAU cartoon, so I figure the field is wide open for follow-up fanfics!)
Stalling for Time
Beautia Sivana was ravishingly beautiful and comfortably aware of it. Furthermore, she was wealthy enough that she could afford to dress fashionably on each day of the year without needing to hold down a fulltime job or become a billionaire's trophy bride or otherwise sacrifice her independence for the sake of filthy lucre. Which was not to say that she lacked ambition: For over a year now, she had been convinced that the perfect man (Captain Marvel) deserved nothing less than the perfect woman (herself). The man in question was surprisingly reluctant to accept that self-evident proposition, but Beautia seemed to view his embarrassed reactions to her flirtatious overtures as a reassuring sign that he was shy and inexperienced with women and thus not likely to fool around with any others after she had persuaded him to make a binding commitment.
Now she looked across the table at young Billy Batson, well-known as a close friend of the Captain's, and asked sweetly: "What was special about Grover Cleveland?"
That one was easy. "The only President who failed of reelection and then made a big comeback four years later to beat the guy who had beaten him!"
"And those nonconsecutive terms made him the . . .?"
"Twenty-second and twenty-fourth President of the United States."
"How many sitting Presidents have been assassinated?"
Billy had to think about it for a moment. The textbook didn't phrase it that way. "Three? No, four!" he added frantically before Beautia could correct him.
"Honest Abe Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, John F. Kennedy."
"If this comes up on the test, remember to write 'Abraham Lincoln,'" Beautia advised. "How many other Presidents have died in office?"
"Eight total," he thought out loud, "so there must have been four who weren't assassinated." Without waiting for her to ask the names, he began providing them. "Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and . . ." He floundered.
"You're still missing the first such President," Beautia said, and waited to see if he could pin it down from there.
Wasn't that Taylor in 1850? No, there had been another general who got elected and then died . . . "Oh, right. William Henry Harrison was the one who set the all-time record for shortest time in the White House. He only lasted a month after the inauguration."
Beautia clapped politely. "Now you've got it!" She closed the textbook she'd been using for the last half hour. "All right, Billy, I think you're ready to pass that American History test on Friday. And we already covered your spelling. I still don't quite understand how your brain works, though. Lately you've been doing quite well on written homework, but when I quiz you face-to-face on similar material, sometimes you freeze up on stuff you should already know."
"Maybe you just make me nervous, Ms. Sivana."
"Tia is fine," she said absently, even as she reached upward to confirm by touch that her long golden hair was still perfectly arranged (which it was, of course). "I'm not one of your schoolteachers; you needn't be all formal just because I've already graduated from Yale."
Billy said nothing; he was just glad to think he'd diverted her attention from the gap between the quality of his homework and the way he handled tests. That was confirmed when she added, "And at least you usually show up for our appointments. It's your caped friend who seems to find me really intimidating."
Oh, he's here too, Billy carefully didn't say. Just hiding from you.
"You'd think a man who laughs when LAW rockets tickle his chest would have a little more gumption where a harmless and affectionate female is concerned," she added sourly. (Or as sour as that musical voice of hers was ever allowed to get.)
Rather than argue the point, Billy once again said nothing. Beautia might lack the bulletproof skin of Atlas and the strength of Hercules, and likewise the world-conquering ambitions of her father, but describing her as "harmless" would be missing the point. "Relentlessly determined" might be in the right ballpark (a sign that she had inherited something from her father) . . .
Take the way she had volunteered to give boy reporter Billy Batson private tutoring so he could keep his grades up and thus be allowed to keep working at WHIZ Radio without his boss feeling guilty about it. Billy knew darn well that the only reason Beautia was doing this was to increase the chances of bumping into Captain Marvel when he dropped in for a chat with his friend Billy . . . but the total failure of that strategy (thus far) was not preventing her by taking the job seriously, and Billy's rising test scores showed that was true. (Beautia hadn't figured out that the reason his homework looked better when he did it in private was that he usually changed into Cap and let the Wisdom of Solomon guide him through the math problems and rules of grammar and so forth.)
These tutoring sessions were done in the library at WHIZ Radio's headquarters in Fawcett City. Beautia had some strict rules: No cellphones or other communications devices were to be turned on; she didn't want her pupil being distracted. But now they were done at 4:30; still an hour and a half before Billy's contract called for him to read a news script into a live mike. He thanked Beautia for her time and trouble, slid out of the library, and strolled down the hallway to the WHIZ newsroom. "Hi, guys! Anything exciting today?"
"Not right this moment, no," Delroy Amberson said. "The normal range of items from around the world for six o'clock, but it's a quiet afternoon here in Fawcett—"
Right on cue, a phone rang on his desk. Delroy snatched it up, saying a quick "Hello!" and then listening in silence for several seconds. Finally he hung up, from which Billy deduced that the caller had cut the connection without saying "goodbye."
"Okay, folks!" Delroy said to the room at large. "My brother-in-law says there's a metahuman called 'Dreadnaught' ripping open the vault at the Second National Bank on Parker Avenue."
Billy had never met Delroy's sister, but knew she was married to a police sergeant whose tips were always solid. As the adults at their desks went into a flurry of action, Billy quietly backed out of the newsroom—and promptly bumped into something soft that turned out to be Beautia when he whirled around in shock.
"Easy there, tiger!" she said with laughter in her voice as he started stammering out an apology. "Probably my fault—didn't mean to sneak up on you! I think your best bet is the fire stairs," she added, pointing to a doorway about thirty feet down the hall.
"Uh, thanks," Billy said, feeling the heat in his cheeks that meant he was blushing, and then he sprinted down the hall, through the door, and up the stairs toward the roof. He was halfway there before he was calm enough to wonder how the heck Beautia Sivana had known he wanted to get some privacy up yonder.
Had she finally figured out the big secret? If so, then he'd probably have to quit his job with WHIZ, change his name, and move at least a thousand miles away. Bleach his hair . . . maybe start wearing glasses with flat lenses . . . even quit wearing a red sweater all the time . . .
No, on second thought, all that wouldn't do much good if he kept being "Captain Marvel" in whatever new city he picked out. Beautia would simply follow the news reports to that burg and then start looking around for fourteen-year-old orphans who had recently arrived in town . . .
Billy was out on the roof now. He ordered himself to worry about it later as he snapped out the word: "Shazam!"
Lightning and thunder . . .
And Captain Marvel stood on the concrete surface, at least a foot taller and over a hundred pounds heavier than the boy reporter. There was work to be done!
The actual fight didn't take long.
As he often did with super-strong opponents he'd never met before, Captain Marvel let the other guy land the first couple of punches so that the Wisdom of Solomon could process the data and determine just how hard Cap needed to strike back in order to subdue the felon with a minimum of fuss. The biggest danger was accidentally killing some schmuck after taking his big talk at face value and thinking he was your physical equal. (On the other hand, the recent scrap with Superman had been a rare case of facing someone who could take the worst Cap could hand out . . . and then give as good as he got, with greater skill.)
In this case, the gray-clad Dreadnaught's blows were maybe one-tenth as strong as what Superman could dish out . . . so Cap knocked the breath out of the villain with one piledriver to the abdomen, then tapped him on the center of the chin . . . carefully pulling the punch . . . and it was all over! (If Dreadnaught later wanted to brag that he had traded "blow for blow" with Captain Marvel—meaning two blows each—that wouldn't hurt anybody.)
Which was all for the best, since Cap needed to get back to WHIZ, soonest. If Beautia had really deduced his secret identity, best to find out as quickly as possible and then figure out how to—
These ruminations were cut off as a patch of air twenty feet away started shimmering blue and white. That effect and the accompanying sound both matched the distinctive teleportation tech used by the Justice League, so Cap figured this probably wasn't an attack. More likely someone on the Tower had been waiting for "breaking news" to give them a fix on where Cap could be contacted.
He braced himself, though. Sooner or later, a mad scientist such as Professor Thaddeus Sivana was bound to find a way to steal or duplicate the alien tech used by the League . . .
No, it turned out to be The Fastest Man Alive. Flash pointed at Cap, then at himself, then gestured due north, and then sprinted in that direction, all in the first ten milliseconds after he'd beamed down. Even with the Speed of Mercury, Cap was hard pressed to keep that scarlet blur in sight, but he went airborne and just managed the trick until Flash stopped in the middle of a recently-harvested wheat field outside the city limits.
Cap wasn't nearly as territorial about Fawcett as Batman was about Gotham; he didn't start snarling when other superheroes "trespassed" by unexpectedly showing up in his home town; but the League had been leaving both him and Fawcett City strictly alone for ninety-seven days by Cap's count (ever since he walked out on them), and he had hoped his lucky streak would last considerably longer!
Still, Flash had never made any trouble for him during the few weeks they were both hanging out on the Watch Tower regularly, so Cap managed to smile politely as his boots touched the ground a few paces away from the Scarlet Speedster's. "Good afternoon, Flash. What's on your mind?"
The other man smiled and said disarmingly, "Well, J'onn and Diana gave me a crash course on diplomacy before they sent me on this mission. They wanted me to gradually sneak up on it after a few minutes of cheerful small talk to set you at ease, but I can see you're a busy man, so I'm just going to put my cards on the table."
Cap rested his hands on his hips and waited.
Flash said: "The other founding members all want to know what it would take to persuade you to come back. Or even to seriously consider coming back, if we need to start with baby steps."
"Why would I even want to do that?" Cap asked in honest surprise. He'd rather expected a different sales pitch—such as a plea for help with one specific world-threatening emergency. Being a very temporary ally for the sake of the human race was something he might manage without feeling too silly. But just waltzing back onto the Tower tomorrow morning as if nothing had happened, and letting whoever was on monitor duty start assigning him to missions? Not likely.
Flash shrugged expressively. "I really wouldn't know. Let me put it another way: If you had your druthers, is there anything special you'd like to have, and can't manage on your own in the near future? Something the resources of the League might be able to help with, as a favor to a member in good standing? I'll be frank, Big Kahuna—right now, you could pretty much write your own ticket!"
Cap bit back the joking response that first occurred to him: Gosh, you mean they might double my old salary? (League members were paid a grand total of zero dollars per year for their time and trouble, although cutting-edge medical treatment was provided for free if you were hurt during a mission, and food and sleeping quarters were also available if you needed them. But Flash might think Cap really was holding his hand out for cold cash and plenty of it, which was not the point at all!)
Instead, Captain Marvel said simply: "I didn't quit just because I was in a bad mood, and I don't need anything badly enough to justify running right back as if I can't make up my mind!"
Flash smiled, unoffended. "Yeah, I told them you wouldn't go for it so soon. Heck, Batman said you wouldn't go for it, but the two of us were outvoted."
Cap hated to seem too harsh, so he finally decided to postpone the problem. "You can tell them this . . . one year from today, if the League still wants me back, they can send someone down to sound me out, and I'll do my best to look at it with an open mind, depending on what's happened between then and now."
"Throwing them a bone, eh?" Flash nodded. "Okay, I'll pass the word!" He started to turn away, as if about to run, then glanced back over his shoulder at Cap. "Oh, and Superman asked me to pass along one piece of advice, free of charge."
Captain Marvel folded his arms and set his jaw.
"He said that if you've never done it before, you might want to try compressing a lump of coal in your fist and see what happens. Ciao!"
That was when Flash really turned on the speed, and disappeared over the horizon before Cap had finished blinking!
Flash could have called the Tower to beam him back up, but preferred to stretch his legs by running a few thousand miles while he gathered his thoughts. Okay, just how should I explain this to the other founding members? "Hey, guys! Cap basically said that if we keep our noses clean for a year of probation, he'll consider the possibility of rejoining, once we are finally measuring up to his standards!"
Yeah, that'll go over well. Be interesting to see the look on Superman's face, though . . .
The sad truth was that the League needed Captain Marvel back on the roster a heck of a lot more than he needed them. At the moment, he was Mister Squeaky Clean where media coverage of superheroes was concerned, because he was the only one who'd the good timing (or "moral courage," as it was described by pundits) to loudly resign as a matter of conscience before the Watch Tower's secret ion cannon was fired at a target in an American city. What Superman, Wonder Woman, and several others were now worried about was that as long as Cap conspicuously stayed absent from Justice League press conferences, it fueled the suspicion that the League still hadn't cleaned up its act and that Cap was afraid of being tainted by association.
Flash suspected the Captain had not even thought of that angle . . . he didn't act like a man who was, in effect, "holding the League's reputation hostage." Flash's personal feeling, not to be shared with anyone else for awhile, was that it would do those stiffs (the other founding members) a lot of good to experience the humbling knowledge that they just didn't look as heroic as the guy who had gotten fed up and told them off!
Captain Marvel touched down in a blind alley a few blocks away from WHIZ, and then changed back into Billy. By 5:15 he was back in the station's library, meaning to retrieve the backpack full of schoolbooks which he had left there. Although he'd hoped otherwise, Beautia, still looking impeccably stylish in her designer jeans and sweater, was sitting there reading a science magazine. She raised her head as he entered, glanced right and left to see if anyone else was withing earshot, and then said softly, "Billy, I hope you don't think I'm stupid."
"No!" he said truthfully.
"You know and I know that Mr. Morris would never send a kid your age to cover a crime scene—too much liability if a legal minor gets injured while following his employer's orders."
Billy nodded silently. Sterling Morris had, in fact, explained the insurance angle to him shortly after hiring him as a radio reporter.
"So when you ran off right after we got the tip about the bank robbery, it wasn't to cover the story as Billy Batson, boy reporter."
Beautia continued cheerfully: "The last few months, I've spent enough time around here to notice some patterns. For instance: Bad news comes in about something happening 'right now,' and you make some lame excuse to disappear, and a few minutes later Captain Marvel is reported on the scene!"
Yep, this was going to be bad.
"On the other hand, I've heard you insist that you don't know much of anything about Captain Marvel; he just drops in for a chat when he feels like it, on no set schedule."
If she started around the table toward him, he could say the wizard's name and fly out of here in a jiffy—
"I think you're lying, Billy."
"Uh . . ."
"Or I suppose you'd call it 'protecting a source.' Fine old journalistic tradition!"
"Billy, I figure that except for when Cap was part of the Justice League for a few weeks, you're the only person on Earth with his 'contact information.' A phone number, probably. My guess? While wearing plainclothes, he bought two disposable cellphones for cold cash and gave one to you, with the number of his own phone programmed in. You only use it to call him when breaking news sounds like he's needed, and then he goes into action. Afterwards, he rewards you by meeting you somewhere quiet and giving you a first-hand summary of what he did so you can mention it on the air!"
Billy must have looked stunned. Fortunately, Beautia misinterpreted this as shock at the accuracy of her deductions. "Don't worry! I'm not going to share that conclusion with anyone. I don't want supervillains kidnapping you to pump you for information about Captain Marvel. I'm not even asking you to give me his phone number. I'm a realist. If he didn't want to talk to me, he'd just hang up on me when I called. And then throw away that phone and switch to using a new number. I might occasionally ask you to give him a brief message, though, so he can't claim he didn't know I was still interested in seeing him again!"
He had to ask. "If you already know he doesn't want to talk to you, maybe you should just . . . move on?"
She smiled, unoffended. "You'll understand these things better when you're older, Billy. Just because I make him nervous doesn't mean he doesn't like me. It just means he's shy around girls, but that's a manageable problem. 'Faint heart never won fair gentleman!'"
Author's Note: It was only after I had written all of the above, and was trying to post it as a new story about the main character, that I suddenly realized the Justice League fandom doesn't include "Billy Batson" or "Captain Marvel" on the pulldown menu of canonical characters! So I had to settle for just selecting Wally/Flash instead, since he does get a few lines in this story, although he obviously isn't the star. Sorry about that!