Year Five: Heirs
Author's Note: Not sure why I hated the previous chapter so much, but rather like this one. Probably because, as chiroho suggested, it was a transitional one.
Billionaire Takes In Circus Orphan
Published June 18, 2017 / Vesper Fairchild
GOTHAM CITY, IL. – Sources inside Gotham City Child Protection have confirmed that Bruce Wayne has filed paperwork to assume temporary guardianship for Richard Grayson, the circus acrobat orphaned in such a dramatic manner one week ago.
Wayne, 29, was an eyewitness to the deaths of Grayson's parents, John and Mary Grayson, when their high wire snapped during a performance at the Haley Circus in what was initially called a tragic accident but is now believed to have been a homicide linked to an extortion ring. Authorities are still investigating.
An orphan himself, Wayne is a well-known backer of charities for underprivileged children throughout Gotham. According to tax returns obtained by the Gotham Post, Wayne contributed over three million dollars to local charities last year alone, most of these monies dedicated to orphans and families affected by violent crime.
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HE FOUND THE BOY PERCHED ON THE ROOFTOP.
Bruce approached quietly, recognizing from Grayson's body language that he was perfectly at ease with the height even though he was still quivering with fury. Less than a week had elapsed since the circus, since he felt his heart shatter at the sight of another boy kneeling over the bodies of his parents, and Bruce still wasn't sure what had come over him when he asked if young Mister Grayson could stay at the Manor while Gotham's absurdly slow bureaucracy labored to determine what to do with him. He didn't have the time needed for a grieving boy, especially one so young and so angry and so like he was at that age…
"You went out there tonight," he growled, his voice causing Grayson to jerk in surprise. The boy never lost his balance, even when startled. A part of Bruce noted that with more than a little admiration. "To the circus," Bruce added. "Don't bother denying it."
"Batman…?!" Grayson's eyes widened. "What are you doing here? What do you know about me?!" He was scared but defiant, and the ever-present rage was still there.
"I know enough," Bruce replied. He studied the young man carefully, noting how easily Richard shifted his place on the decorative edifice. They were a hundred feet from the ground with very little to catch onto should he fall, but Grayson barely seemed to notice. And from what Alfred had said, that was the case when inside as well – the chandelier would probably survive, but Bruce wasn't sure his butler would.
"I keep thinking about what happened," the boy said tightly, anger in every line of his body. "My father always checked the lines. It couldn't be an accident!" At once, Bruce recognized what was eating at the young man: like he had with his own dad, Richard very likely worshiped his father and if this turned out to be the elder Grayson's fault, then that meant the older man's negligence had killed both of the boy's parents. For a very long time, Bruce had wondered about that himself – why had his father been so calm, so quick to yield to that shaky man with the wide eyes? Had he been to blame? Was there something Thomas Wayne, M.D., could have done to prevent that tragedy? Even now, the idea that his father might have erred gave Bruce pause.
And to his further surprise, he realized he could not let this boy suffer the same way.
"It wasn't," he said with a frown.
"What?" Grayson's eyes, which had drifted away from Bruce's – he was examining the cape with a child's fascination, even despite the anger – snapped back up.
"The trapeze rope that snapped," Bruce said. "It was made to look like it was worn out." He paused briefly, wondering why he was explaining this, but the words kept coming. "I found traces of an acid on the rope. Just enough." His voice darkened. "And I've seen what that acid can do to people." The old familiar stab of guilt punched him in the gut. Harvey. Lost to the madness that was Gotham. Perhaps it was best Selina was gone. Would this city swallow her up as well?
"I want to help." Grayson rose to his feet in a fluid motion that Bruce had to envy. The boy stood tall and firm, fists clenched at his side and purpose in his face that Bruce recognized all too well. It did not seem that long ago when he glared at Alfred in the same manner.
"You will," he said, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop them. "When the time is right. I promise." Almost instantly, he wanted to drag that promise back … but The Batman could never be seen as indecisive, even by a thirteen year old boy.
Grayson mentioned something else before Bruce could make his escape, something about a fat man which matched elements of his investigation, but there were other, more pressing matters to handle at the moment. The Hangman Killer was still on the loose, Gordon had assembled a new taskforce to take down some of the more … exotic criminals running loose in the city, and Selina … she was still gone.
And it was Father's Day.
Somehow, he found himself standing before his parents' graves, staring at the elaborate tombstones and wondering how things would have worked out if he'd just sat through that damned opera. Would he have been able to give his dad a father's day gift in person? Or would some other senseless tragedy have robbed him of years? Would he have faded and finally passed in his sleep like Clark's mother? Would Gotham have chewed Thomas Wayne up and spat him out in some other way? If he closed his eyes, Bruce could still smell their blood, could still taste the gunpowder in the air, could still hear the sharp retort of the pistol as it stole two lives. Even as he was dying, his father tried to reassure him.
"It's okay," Thomas Wayne had murmured.
But it hadn't been okay. And it still wasn't okay. Anger warred with grief, and he wondered at his sanity. Others lost close family members every day and had for decades, especially in this cesspool of a city, but he could not let it go. Why? Why was he still trapped in that moment? What was wrong with him?
"I … tried to get out here sooner," he said softly. He could almost see his dad's amused look – it was the same one he wore whenever Bruce had done something he shouldn't have. "I don't have any excuse," he murmured before the words once again began tumbling out. He told them about Richard, about how the boy had lost his own parents, and how badly it hurt seeing the same pain in a different boy's eyes he'd felt so long ago. Tears did not come, of course – Bruce couldn't remember the last time he'd actually cried which, according to much of the medical documentation he'd read was something of an anomaly as well – but as he touched his father's name, he felt a renewed rush of grief.
Grief … and rage. Somewhere, in Gotham, at this very moment, another boy or girl was hugging their daddy for the last time. Somewhere, another monster was about to inflict the same pain on an innocent child. Bruce clenched his fist and ground his teeth together.
Not tonight. Not on his watch.
Tonight, he would show the monsters why they were afraid of the dark.
Not even the peace and serenity of Hera's temple could ease her discomfort.
Diana rose slowly from her knees where she had knelt before the icon of the Mother, but guidance remained frustratingly absent. Her decision to spend the evening in prayer and meditation was not uncommon – out there, in Patriarch's World, she had so little time to attend to her spiritual needs that she invariably needed it when she returned to Themyscira – but the intensity of her need was. Ares was no longer bound.
The God of War was loose upon the world once more.
No one in the American Department of Metahuman Affairs knew how Ares escaped from the containment cell – from the recordings, he was there one moment and simply gone the next – and, while they were concerned, none of them quite understood how grave the situation truly was. Even Steve, who had witnessed the war god's insanity firsthand, was not inclined to dedicate adequate worry regarding his escape.
"That's what you and the League are around for, right?" he'd asked with a tight smile. It was the first time she had looked upon him since they decided to end their courtship nigh on two years ago and Steve had aged. He wore it well enough – the streaks of silver in his hair lent a distinguished look and the new wrinkles on his face appeared to be from smiling – but the change was undeniable. Had she needed another reminder that these mortals were short-lived, Steve's appearance would have served perfectly. By her reckoning, he was perhaps a year shy of forty and, though he was still fit and active, his healthiest years were behind him. And yet, Diana stood still. In three years time, she would see her first century of life pass and she remained as she had since five and twenty. Pending death by violence, she would remain thus for all time.
Never before had Diana felt this lonely.
She walked slowly from the temple to Hera, breathing in the comforting air of the island as she trod over familiar ground. There were more sentries standing watch tonight than normal, which pleased her. Unlike those in Patriarch's World, her mother had taken the warnings about Ares to heart immediately. If the God of War meant to strike here, he would not find them easy meat.
Her feet carried her to Hermes' shrine and she automatically knelt before the icon. In recent days, she had learned a newfound respect for the Patron of Travelers, and she silently thanked him for his protection as she ventured to lands she'd only heard of or read about. Four years had passed since she departed the island and still, she had yet to lose her wonder at the sight of places she'd never seen. In their own way, they were all beautiful, whether it was the stark desolation of the Arabian desert, to the cosmopolitan cites of America and Europe, to the primitive feel of deepest Africa where no humans had ventured for centuries. Was this why Hermes was so often portrayed as absent from Olympus?
She knelt there for a considerable time, long enough for her silent shadow to grow bored and approach. Artemis' steps were light, but her frustration was palpable and it made Diana smile. Her friend had never enjoyed guard duty, especially when she would rather be actively seeking out their enemies.
"Has my mother assigned you to watch over me, Sister?" Diana asked. The flame-haired woman came within striking distance and stopped, glowering down at her which only intensified Diana's amusement. They were of an age and, had the Bana-Mighdall come to Themyscira much sooner, it was probable they would have been raised as sisters.
"You know she did," Artemis replied. Her voice was silky and smooth, so unlike her normally abrasive personality, and she crossed her arms as she spoke, not bothering to hide her general contempt for all things religious. To most of Diana's tribe, that very thought was heretical, but Artemis did not care about how others perceived her. In that, she was much like Kal's lover, Lois, who made little effort to conceal her distrust of those in power. "I do not know why," Artemis grumbled. "As the Champion of Themyscira, you should not be concerned about a mere god of war."
"I see your disposition is as affectionate as ever," Diana said with a smile as she rose quickly to her feet. Artemis shot her a scowl, but Diana ignored it. She began walking and Artemis easily matched her pace.
"Are you going to be about this mystical nonsense for much longer, Princess?" the flame-haired woman asked. "I have a wish to see my bed before the sun rises." She frowned. "Although a skin of wine would not go amiss." Diana laughed softly.
"That does sound pleasant," she remarked. "I have an offworld beer I must introduce you to." Artemis clearly perked up at that and looked to almost be on the verge of an actual smile. She drew breath to comment.
A gong sounded.
It echoed across the breadth of Themyscira, so powerful that the very ground trembled, and a heartbeat later, lightning cracked the sky. Wind howled and thunder boomed. The gong sounded again, this time striking a discordant note that set Diana's teeth on edge. She whirled back toward the origin – Hermes' shrine – and clashed her bracers together, instantly triggering the transformative magics within.
"Up spears!" Artemis bellowed, her voice somehow carrying over the thunder rolling through the heavens. "To arms, you bitches! To arms!"
Diana was already airborne, darting toward the eye of the storm. Hurricane-force gusts battered at her, threatening to dash her to the ground, but she pressed on, willing herself to continue forward. There, at the very heart of this disturbance, she could see a tear in reality, a vortex that spat forth ribbons of light and fire. The statue of Hermes glowed bright against the maelstrom, as if the god himself were preventing the portal from shattering the island. Diana landed next to it, instantly summoning Hephaestus' shield and stepping forward, as if she were standing next to other hoplites and readying their wall of armor. The wind continued to howl and she concentrated, expanding the size of her shield to cover more area. She took a step forward.
And nearly cried out in surprise when a body tumbled through the hole in reality.
The gusts of wind carried the girl through the air into one of the ornately carved columns that held the shrine's roof up. Her impact shattered the marble and she spun off it, still limp and unmoving. With her right hand, Diana instinctively snatched her lariat free and sent it flashing toward the girl. It wrapped around her, arresting her tumble, and Diana side-stepped quickly, placing herself – and her shield – between the girl and the portal. She heard rather than saw Artemis seize the child. Refocusing her full attention on the vortex, Diana felt her breath catch.
She saw Themyscira.
It was aflame and shattered, with temples burning and flashes of light she took to be weapons-fire. An immense explosion threw great geysers of rock and dirt into the air. Something dark but massive tumbled through the sky and vanished in another fireball. A wave of heat washed out of the vortex.
And for the span of a single heartbeat, Diana saw a woman standing before the vortex.
She was dressed in green and gold, with a face so similar to Diana's mother it was jarring. Blood caked the woman's face and her blonde hair was burnt and smoking. Her eyes widened the instance her gaze locked with Diana's and she opened her mouth to say something.
But in that instant, she vanished in a column of fire.
With a shuddering explosion, the vortex vanished. The detonation shattered the shrine to Hermes, sending marble and stone fragments spinning. Diana staggered back a step, grunting with the effort as the released energy splashed across her invisible shield. It pounded at her, striking with force she had not experienced since Darkseid, and she strained to hold her place, to absorb the heat and fire and killing energy into Hephaestus' gift. It would not be enough. She was pushed back another step.
And then, the girl who had fallen through the cracks of the world sprang to her side.
With a flicker, a second unseen barrier sprang up, originating from bracers nearly identical to those wrapped around Diana's arms. They locked their shields together, pressed back against the maelstrom and a flood of unseen power joined them from somewhere else. Diana did not question the unexpected boon, but instead, accepted it as a gift and poured it into her will. Their shields sparked and danced. Together, they held the line.
The force from the vortex lessened, then faded entirely, leaving only destruction and two pairs of brightly glowing bracers in their wake. Diana sagged in relief, noting that the girl dropped to her knees, before forcing herself to stand upright. She glanced around, wincing at the fractured marble that had torn great divots into the ground. The statue of Hermes was untouched, she noticed with a smile, though it had inexplicably been turned to face the vortex and the god's hand was held aloft, as if he were gesturing for someone to stop.
"Thank you, my lord," Diana said softly. Even with the girl aiding her, her strength would have been inadequate had he not discreetly intervened.
"Princess!" Artemis drew closer, her eyes locked on the girl. To Diana's mild surprise, a bruise was forming on her friend's face.
"I am unharmed," the girl announced before Diana could speak. She rose and turned to face Artemis. Whatever she had to say died the instant her eyes fell on Diana. And for her part, Diana did not know what to say either.
The girl had her face.
"Bring my mother, Artemis," Diana ordered.
"By your command, Highness," the flame-haired woman turned and vanished at a run.
"Who are you?" the girl asked at the same Diana posed the same question. Hera, it was like looking in a cracked mirror! The girl even tilted her head the same way!
"The portal you came through," Diana said after a moment. "I saw another Themyscira." The girl immediately looked toward where the vortex had been and frowned.
"I do not know of this … Themyscira," she said slowly. "If you speak of Ilios, then that was my home." She frowned. "My mother … did you see her?" The girl began looking around. "She was to follow."
"I saw a woman in gold and green," Diana admitted, "but the fires took her. I am sorry." The girl's shoulders slumped. She did not weep but was clearly pained. When she looked up, Diana met her eyes and refused to look away.
"This place is Themyscira, then?" Diana nodded.
"And I am Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, who rules." The girl's eyes widened.
"Hippolyta?" she repeated softly. "How … she died, millenia ago…" Shaking her head, the girl looked up. "I was named Despoina by my mother, Antiope, who ruled Ilios in the name of the gods." She swallowed. "But everyone calls me Donna."
The noise of the Daily Planet was deafening.
No one paid much attention to him as he weaved through the obstacle course of reporters' desks, trash cans knocked askew, errant office chairs and the most lethal of all threats, the computer cable tripwire. The rattle of printer wheels grinding, of fingers banging against keyboards, of metal spoons thundering within coffee cubs, of humanity in general thudded and pounded against his skull, and Clark grimaced.
"You look like hell, Clark," Lois murmured as he slid into his desk chair. She was chewing on her pen and squinting at the page in her hand, intentionally ignoring the reading glasses perched on the top of her head that she constantly insisted weren't necessary. Later, when no one else was around, she would use them, but only when she could not be seen by anyone. "Everything okay?"
"Difficult night," he replied. Lois rolled her eyes – she knew full well that he'd been at the Fortress, trying to determine how to unseal the Kryptonian stasis-tube he had retrieved from Jupiter orbit without killing the girl inside; the damage the pod had taken prior to discovery was fairly significant and Clark was far from certain that just opening it wouldn't kill the girl outright – and then tossed him a wink before returning to work. She only did that when Lombard was bothering her again and, normally, Clark would give Steve a careful look just a little shy of intimidating, but today, his head hurt too damned much. He carefully sat down in his office chair, pinching the bridge of his nose and wincing. Dear God, humanity was noisy today.
And just like that, all of the noise, all of the unrelenting sound battering against his enhanced senses suddenly vanished, as if someone had simply flipped a switch.
"Good afternoon, Kal-El," a calm, measured voice said. Clark looked up slowly, his body tensing only slightly as he took in the dark-skinned man in the rumpled green suit and battered leather jacket. A badge was secured to his belt and, from the stylized design, it identified this man as Detective Jones of the Special Crimes Unit. Whoever this man was, though, he was not human. His body's temperature was too low, his heartbeat barely existent, and he was far too light on his feet for a man his size. Out of the corner of his eyes, Clark could tell that no one seemed to be paying attention to them; even Lois, who was, in his expert opinion, the nosiest woman alive, did not even glance up from her desk. "I apologize for visiting you in this way," the man who was not Detective Jones said, "but this seemed the easiest method to present you with this." He placed a thin rod on Clark's desk – it was a Kryptonian control key! – before offering a slight smile that looked odd on his face. "It should allow you to access the stasis pod."
"How do you know that?" Clark asked. Part of him was screaming in panic – here he was, carrying on a conversation with this … not-man in public about things he desperately wanted to keep private and yet, for some reason, he wasn't freaking out – but it all felt distant, muted, like he was observing someone else's thoughts.
"I knew her father quite well." Not-Jones smiled again. His eyes shifted, as if he was hearing something that Clark couldn't. "My time here is limited," he said. "We shall talk again soon, Kal-El."
And then, he fell through the floor.
The cacophony of noise that had vanished moments earlier returned just as abruptly, slamming into Clark with the force of a runaway truck. He grunted softly, his eyes still locked on the floor where the stranger had disappeared. Had that just happened? It didn't seem possible … he wouldn't have a conversation like that with someone he didn't know. His gaze shifted, falling on the black control key now resting on his desk.
"Can you let Perry know I had to duck out?" he asked tightly when a quick scan of the building revealed no sign of the dark-skinned man. Lois looked up and frowned at his expression. "Something has come up and I need to check it out."
"Super," she said with an almost smirk. "If he asks, I'll tell him you're checking out that shooting on Shuster." Clark almost groaned at her sneakiness – now, he would have to check out that particular incident since he knew Perry would ask about it – but nodded instead. Shaking his head, he stood, grabbed the control key, and walked toward one of the larger break rooms near the back of this floor – unofficially, it was called 'the smokehouse' due to the large open window that allowed the smokers on the staff to duck in to get their nicotine fix without completely violating the 'clean-air' policy of the building. The window was a little taller than Clark himself and opened up onto the fire escape. No one was present at the moment and, with a quick sweep of his enhanced vision, Clark was fairly certain the coast was clear. He blurred through the window, then accelerated sharply away from the Planet, curving up and deeper into the city. Moving too fast to be recognized as anything but a simple blur, he darted through the air, triggering the Kryptonian suit's systems as he twisted around the artificial canyons of the city and climbed into the sky. Instantly, the hard light hologram that gave him the appearance of slacks and a shirt fell away, revealing the easily recognizable blue and red of Superman. The cape, firmly secured to his back in a stiff square, suddenly quivered and unwrapped itself. With his left hand, Clark pulled the glasses off his face and placed them on his belt. As they always did, they shifted and shrank, turning into just another indefinable lump on the red belt – he still didn't understand how they worked, or how they knew when to go into camouflage mode, or even how they deflected people's attention from him, but whatever their secret was, it couldn't be magic. Magic simply couldn't exist. It was just technology he didn't understand yet.
He slowed to a hover once he reached a height that would make him impossible to see by normal human eyes, and began scanning the streets and alleys around the Planet for some sign of the stranger. When he found nothing, he expanded his search, all the while trying desperately to remember everything he could about the man. Already, his memory of what the stranger looked like was fading, as if the entire moment had been a strange dream he'd just woken from. Clark couldn't remember the man's skin color or how tall he was or even what had been said. If it wasn't for the control key in his hand, he doubted he would remember … remember … what the hell was he doing up here? He had the key that could unlock that tube!
The solar visor had not deployed yet as he breached the upper atmosphere and Clark slowed for a moment, luxuriating in the still silence of space. For the first time in several weeks, his headache eased, prompting him to mentally schedule a trip to the Moon for a few hours. More and more, it was beginning to look like he would need to park himself in a vacuum for a few hours every couple of weeks if he was going to be able to handle the noise of humanity. He could still concentrate through the noise and ignore most of the worst, but the strain …
He entered a section of the Watchtower that was normally sealed off – access was only possible through a single external airlock that only he had access to at the moment – and floated toward the stasis tube secured in the very center of the laboratory. Thus far, he'd been able to determine very few little about the occupant thanks to the extensive structural damage. The occupant was a she, likely less than twenty years of age, and with a skin tone that resembled that of a Caucasian. Briefly, Clark wondered if there were any blacks on Krypton, or just people with darker complexions than his, or the equivalent of Asians, but he thrust the idle thought aside as he examined the control key.
"Online," he said as soon as his solar visor retracted into his suit. A subtle whir answered him. "I have the control key for this tube."
"Acknowledged, sir." Kelex's voice floated out of the hidden speakers but the actual servitor droid was not present as Clark had relocated it to the Fortress. "May I inquire where you obtained it, sir?" Clark frowned.
"I have no idea," he said. He didn't have it yesterday … in fact, he was pretty certain he didn't have it this morning when he walked into the Planet. "I want a full spectrum analysis of it," he ordered as he placed it carefully on one of the scanning trays. "Use an isolated system but make sure it actually is what it looks like.'
"Compliance, sir." Clark glanced at the tube briefly before frowning once more.
"While you're at it," he said, "let's do a neural scan on me. I have no memory of how I got this thing and that is unacceptable." The leftmost wall unfolded, reshaping into a chair. Clark slid his cape out of the way and took a seat. He leaned back and waited.
"Scans complete," Kelex's disembodied voice announced. "Which shall I review first, sir?"
"Acknowledged. According to my scans, this control key's composition conforms to expected Kryptonian alloys and parameters. My initial review of the internal circuit indicates it is not a system override key, but a dedicated system one."
"Any idea about the creator?" Clark asked.
"Wonderful." Clark shook his head. "And the neural scan?"
"As you know, sir," Kelex replied, "your physiology under a yellow sun is difficult to quantify, but I am detecting dwindling indications of neural manipulation within your frontal lobe."
"Telepathy," Clark guessed. "So whoever did it tampered with my short-term memory while talking to me. Smart fellow." He made a mental note to review possible ways to combat such future assaults. "Any long-term damage?"
"Not that I can detect." Kelex was silent for a moment. "Would you like me to schedule regular scans to ensure this does not continue to occur?" Clark nodded.
"Yes." He pushed against the floor and floated to his feet. Even before he was fully upright, the chair retracted into the wall. "Let's give that key a try," he said. "Bring the atmosphere to Krypton standard." As soon as his hard-suit recognized the change in atmospherics, it deployed the protective solar visor. Clark grimaced slightly – he hated that his body was simply incapable of handling his native environment, but he'd adapted to Earth too well.
"Ready, sir," Kelex announced moments later. Wincing at how heavy he felt, Clark picked up the control key and lumbered toward the stasis tube. Locating the access port was easy and the key snapped into place. A moment later, the pod's internal lighting activated and entire sections began to peel away, revealing more than the girl's face. Clark's breath caught.
She was wearing the seal of the House of El.
"Body temperature stabilizing," Kelex announced. "Neural patterns normalizing. She should wake momentarily."
She did. Slowly, the girl opened her eyes. A clear lack of coherence reflected on her face as she glanced around, still wearing the expression of the heavily drugged. She blinked as she looked up at Clark and slowly, comprehension replaced the confusion. Her eyes widened as she glanced around rapidly. She looked back at Clark.
"Relax!" Clark said in his best Kryptonian. According to Kelex, his accent was 'abnormal,' which Clark took to mean atrocious, but it was evidently clear enough to the girl as she scrambled out of the tube and back-pedaled away from him. "I am not a threat!"
"Who are you?" she demanded. Her Kryptonian was smooth, flawless and spoken so quickly that Clark had some difficulty following her words. "Where is my Father? Where am I? What are you-"
"Wait!" Clark held out a hand, hoping to forestall her rush of questions. "My name is Kal-El," he continued. "My parents were Jor-El and Lara." Confusion flashed across the girl's face then.
"What?" She glanced over him, frowning at the presence of the solar visor. "They have no children," she snapped.
"They did, actually," Clark replied. "Evidently, I was a freebirth." He meant the words to be soothing, but they had the opposite effect as she recoiled and stared at him with horror. Might as well tear off the whole band-aid all at once, he reflected. "I'm sorry," he said, "but Krypton is gone." He placed his hand against one of the wall controls and triggered the shutters. They slid away, revealing Earth. The girl's eyes widened even more.
"What … how …" She closed her eyes, drew in a deep breath, and visibly composed herself. When she opened her eyes again, she locked gazes with him. "Where am I?" she asked.
"In orbit over Earth," Clark said. He gestured toward the planet. "I grew up here, after my parents sent me away from Krypton before it was destroyed." He glanced away. "I spent the first thirty-three years of my life not even knowing I was Kryptonian."
"That … that would explain your accent," the girl murmured. "I need proof … quantifiable facts that I can verify before … wait." Her eyes narrowed. "If Jor-El sent you from Krypton," she said sharply, "then how do you know it is lost?"
"Zod saw it die," Clark said sadly. He glanced toward one of the optical cameras. "Kelex," he called out, "I need some chairs."
"Acknowledged, sir," came the instant response. The floor shifted as a pair of wide chairs rose up. To Clark's surprise, the girl actually seemed to relax fractionally. It struck him then – Kelex. She would know his voice since all male members of the House of El had the same servitor personality matrix.
"Kal-El," she said slowly, as if testing the name. "I knew my aunt and uncle were renegades … but a freebirth?" She shook her head.
"Aunt?" Clark repeated. It took him a moment to fully comprehend the Kryptonian word and translate it to its English counterpart. His breath caught. "Who are you?" he asked.
"Kara," the girl replied. "Kara Zor-El."
The girl who named herself Despoina did not resist as Diana led her to the Hall of Judgment.
It was a portentous name for such an unassuming chamber, with Hippolyta's high-backed chair facing a small, elevated platform around which a handful of benches were scattered. Here, the queen passed sentence upon those charged with crimes against the nation, but the chamber had not been used even once in Diana's memory. Her mother was already present, attired in her most queenly garments, with Phillipus standing in attendance, fully armed and ready for battle. The girl's steps faltered as she caught sight of Hippolyta, but she held her head erect and continued forward.
For her part, Diana was more than a little confused. Why was her mother insisting on speaking to Despoina … Donna here? The girl was no criminal. Without thinking, she squared her shoulders slightly and tensed her muscles, as if in preparation for a fight. If needs be, she would defend this girl who looked so much like her…
"Am I being charged with a crime?" Des … Donna asked. She looked Hippolyta in the eye and refused to blink.
"I concur," Diana said. "She has done nothing wrong." The girl glanced at her with something like surprise on her face, but she quickly smoothed her reaction away and resumed her poised stance. To Diana's mild surprise, her mother almost cracked a smile.
"Be at ease, both of you," the queen instructed. "The throne room was damaged by your little encounter earlier." She rose from the throne and approached, her eyes locked on Donna. "You claim to be the child of Antiope?"
"I claim nothing," Donna replied. She swallowed but otherwise appeared unruffled. "My mother was Antiope, queen of Ilios." She cocked her head. "You look much like her," she remarked softly. "Her hair was different, her eyes … but you … you look like her." The girl's voice caught slightly, to which Diana shot her mother a dark look. Hippolyta softened slightly and clapped sharply.
"Guards!" she called out. Artemis stuck her head into the room, which made Diana frown slightly. The Bana-Mighdall venerated Antiope as a sacred ancestor. How would they react to a child claiming to be her daughter? The peace between their two tribes was tenuous enough. "Bring us chairs!" Hippolyta ordered. As Artemis turned to obey, the queen smiled at Donna. "We shall hear your story, child," she said calmly, "and help as much as we can."
Donna's story turned out to be a dark one with many familiar elements. As with their world, her mother was sister to Hippolyta, but events differed from nearly that point. It was Hippolyta who pursued war against Herakles against Athena's explicit wishes and would later remain in Man's World for reasons Donna did not know. She would later be murdered thanks to the machinations of Medea, which led to Queen Antiope and her tribe withdrawing entirely from the known world. Hera herself would relocate Ilios, though Priam would use the name for his own nation which was sacked by the Achaeans some forty years later.
"We only ventured back into Man's World some months ago," Donna said some time later. "And that was because the sky turned black and the ground trembled for days and days." She sipped from the diluted wine that Artemis brought along with the chairs. "Beings from the stars with powers that rivaled the gods had descended upon Man's World where they waged war against each other and nearly destroyed the entire planet." Diana inhaled sharply, drawing all eyes to her.
"With your permission, Mother," she said. Hippolyta nodded and Diana knelt before Donna. She began tracing Kal's seal in the dirt. "Did one of these beings bear this symbol?" she asked.
"He did!" Donna glanced between them. "He fought against the others but fell when they united against him, though I understand he did not fall easily or without taking some of his enemies with him." The idea of Kal dying in battle against such overwhelming odds caused Diana to grimace slightly for some reason and she tried to ignore her mother's gimlet stare as she returned to her seat.
"And they were responsible for the fires I saw?" she asked. Donna shook her head.
"No." Her expression hardened. "That came later. Demons from the sky fell upon Ilios." She shivered. "Their master was a one-eyed giant of stone." Diana froze.
"Darkseid," she said. Donna's head snapped around.
"You know of him?"
"I took his eye," Diana replied. Her weapon hand ached in remembered sympathy – the sword itself had shattered and even Hephaestus could not salvage the pieces, despite his great skill. "On this world, the man who wore that symbol," she said, gesturing to Kal's seal in the dirt, "survived and was victorious. He and I and some others threw Darkseid back when he came to this world." Even now, nearly two years later, she could still recall how badly it hurt when Darkseid blasted her with those eye beams of his.
"Then this world was mightier than mine," Donna said. She turned her attention to Hippolyta. "I have no claim to hospitality, Your Highness," she said, "but I do ask for shelter and sanctuary until such a time that I might be able to return to my world and retake it from Darkseid."
"And you shall have it." Hippolyta offered her a soft smile. "Though we may be from different worlds, we are still family. Any daughter of Antiope is welcome here."
"Welcome, sister," Diana said. She smiled.
But out of the corner of her eye, she could not but to notice the Bana-Mighdall guards watching Donna with a strangely fervent light in their eyes.
The mid-July air was sticky and hot, but Bruce did his best to ignore it as he crouched in the shadows and watched a drug dealer peddle his poison.
With each moment that passed, the urge to swoop down on the piece of slime and beat him to within an inch of his life swelled, but this particular investigation required patience, not violence. Stopping one dealer wasn't enough – he needed to follow this little fish to the larger sharks providing this poison and then break the backs of this entire operation. He snapped photographs of each person who visited the dealer – time permitting, they would all be quite surprised when he paid them a visit.
"Incoming left," a familiar voice announced via the earpiece in his cowl, and a moment later, Clark stood on the building next to him. Kent was wearing the hard-suit as normal, though the familiar blue and red had been replaced with black. Yet another one of the special features of the suit allowed Clark to change the colors by way of the integrated controls on the belt. He called this camouflage mode … and Bruce had some really good ideas about how to incorporate something similar in his next generation suit. "Drug dealers?" Clark frowned. "I thought you were focusing on that hangman killer?"
"I'm multi-tasking," Bruce replied tightly. "What do you want?"
"Perry is harassing me about the rumors Bruce Wayne has taken in an orphan," Clark said. "Since he knows I'm your friend, he … asked me to abuse my friendship and make inquiries."
"Noted." Bruce snapped another set of photos. "Tell him Wayne threw you out and threatened to sue the Planet into the ground if his privacy was violated." Clark gave him smile.
"I'd already intended to say something like that, actually," he said. "Taking in a kid though … that's pretty out of character for you, isn't it?"
"Young men looking for revenge don't need encouragement," Bruce said flatly, repeating something that that Alfred had told him. "They need guidance." He glanced toward Clark. "I've been where he is and I know the rage."
"He's thirteen, Bruce." Clark shook his head. "How can you even consider bringing him into this kind of life?" Bruce glowered – he'd heard these same arguments already … but only inside his head when he chastised himself for encouraging Richard. What did it say about him that his conscience sounded exactly like Kent? He scowled.
"This is Gotham City," he said darkly. "We have two kinds of people here, Kent: predators and prey. I'm trying to ensure he isn't a victim."
Clark was silent for several minutes. He crossed his arms over his chest, concealing the darkened House of El symbol, and stared at the city with a deep frown on his face. Twice, he opened his mouth to reply, and twice, he kept silent. Finally, he shook his head.
"And what happens if he dies out here?" he asked carefully. "This isn't a game … you know that."
"I do." Bruce exhaled. "I won't let him engage until I think he is ready. That might be two months. It might be two years." He lifted his camera.
"That man is wired," Clark announced.
"He's a vice cop," Bruce said with a glower. "I've had an eye on him for a while. Watch for money to change hands." As he expected, the dealer passed over a roll of money which the police officer took and pocketed. Bruce snapped a half dozen pictures – he would ensure that Gordon received these images later; what the commissioner did was his business – and fought back a dark smirk at how angrily Clark glared at the now retreating cop. "Was there anything else?"
"Actually, there was." Clark sighed. "I think I tracked down that telepath I've been looking for," he said. "I think he's-"
"John Jones," Bruce said flatly. "Detective-Sergeant with the Special Crimes Unit under Captain Sawyer." Kent scowled.
"I hate you sometimes," he muttered. "I really, really do."
"He's not human," Bruce continued. "I don't think he's a threat – his closure record is actually quite impressive – but you might want to check in on him anyway." He cocked his head. "How's Kara?"
"Frustrated." Clark grimaced and rubbed his temples. "She's having more trouble acclimating to Earth's atmosphere than she would like to admit," he continued, "so she takes it out on me." He shook his head again. "She's also not real pleased with my choice of careers. Evidently, the House of El are members of the Thinker's Guild and I'm acting like a Warrior which doesn't sit well with her at all." Bruce grunted and snapped another set of photographs. He frowned in recognition of the latest client – it was one of the anchors for the WLS six o'clock news whose public struggle with substance abuse was well known in Gotham – before glancing back toward Clark.
To his utter lack of surprise, Kent was gone.
"I hate it when he does that," Bruce muttered.
He returned his attention to the drug dealer below.
With a low boom, Clark broke the sound barrier.
He continued to accelerate, pouring on the speed as he arced up and over greater North America. Canada flashed under him, then the Atlantic ocean, before finally, he breached the air space over Europe. Angling down, he bled off much of his speed as he streaked toward mid-Germany and the giant scorpion-like robot running amok through downtown Frankfurt. Explosions and tracer fire lanced up – the military had arrived.
Contain the situation, he reminded himself as he arrowed down through the clouds. Seemingly at the last instant, he pulled up so he didn't crater into the street and he flashed toward the hostile, staying mere inches above the concrete. A scan of the eight-legged robot revealed very little – there were heavy sheets of armor covering the more sensitive parts and quite a bit of it somehow blocked his x-ray vision – but he was able to easily recognize the aesthetics.
Glowering darkly, Clark pushed harder and the speed of his flight rattled parked cars and set off alarms. The military had done an excellent job of cordoning off the zone – the few civilians present were either media or local police – but the smoking wrecks that had once been armored personnel vehicles indicated it had not been easy. Twisting around a corner, he flashed toward the giant machine, heat bubbling from his eyes and carving a vicious furrow through the robot's chest. He slammed into it at just under seven hundred miles per hour, the force of the impact picking the monstrosity up and knocking it back into a hastily erected barrier wall.
Apertures on the robot slid open as slabs of armor fell away and missiles streaked out and toward him, but he had come to expect this sort of thing from Luthor and his eyes flashed, incinerating the dangerous ordinance before it could curve away and hurt the innocents of the city. Most of the missile vanished in fierce explosions, but two resisted the beams and curled toward him, detonating with small thunderclaps.
Agony screamed through him and Clark tumbled back to the ground. What the hell was that? His body felt heavy and slow, like it did when he was operating in a Kryptonian atmosphere. He shook his head and looked up, just as the robot righted itself. More of the ports slid open. His head spinning, Clark focused on the ever-present heat behind his eyes.
But nothing happened.
Crimson light streaked from the robot's projector arrays upon its tail, burning into Clark's body with the intensity of a thousand suns. He cried out in sudden pain – it was like his skin itself was on fire or the blood in his veins had become molten lava – and he struggled to move. His muscles twitched and spasmed, but he couldn't move.
"Finally." An all-too familiar voice spoke over the pain and Clark was vaguely aware of Luthor's face appearing on the surface of the robot. If he followed his usual pattern, the display was set to a frequency no human could see and the mocking comment was made in a pitch not even dogs could hear. There would be nothing to directly tie him to this murder machine and a dozen things providing him with plausible deniability. In fact, at this very moment, Luthor was supposed to sitting in a jail cell in the middle of Nevada, with no access to outside technology whatsoever while his latest appeal walked its way through the court system. "Do you have any idea how difficult it was to replicate Brainiac's solar projector? How much money I had to spend just to get the correct frequency?" Luthor's image smiled maliciously. "But I succeeded. I always succeed. And now, Kryptonian, you die."
With a whir, the robot's two massive pinchers slid forward, seizing Clark by the arms and slowly drawing him closer to the light burning through his body. He struggled against their grip, fought to find the strength to tear free or rocket up into the sky, but his body refused to obey. Pain pounded through him. He was vaguely aware that the robot's stinger was preparing for a final blow but he couldn't move.
"Any last words, Kryptonian?" Luthor asked.
He never saw it coming.
A golden streak slashed down from the sky, slamming into the robot at just over the speed of sound. The impact carried the armored figure through the robot and into the street below, tearing free great gouts of concrete. Windows and other breakables shattered in all directions at the resulting shockwave, and Clark himself was sent tumbling. He hit the ground hard and slid, but already, his strength was returning and his vision was clearing. Without thinking, he threw himself up into the air, just in time to see another great chunk of the robot crumple under the impact of blows that could shatter mountains. His savior floated above the smoking ruin that had once been a Luthor death trap.
She was fully encased in her battle armor, a fierce expression on her face as the barely transparent shield emanating from her left bracer sparked and sizzled in the air. A great spear was in her other hand and it dripped black from where it had punched through the robot's hull and penetrated the thing's inner workings. With a casual snap of her right hand, Diana flicked the viscous fluid – oil? Robots needed oil, right? Clark made a note to check with Bruce later – off the spearhead.
"Are you well?" she asked with a casual but quick glance. "I came as quickly as I could."
"And just in time it seems," Clark replied. He winced – the pain had not fully abated – before giving her a smile. "I'm pretty sure you just saved my life," he said. "Thanks." The smile she returned lit up her face and her eyes danced with merriment.
"I just happened to be in the neighborhood," she said before gesturing toward the robot again. "Is it dead?" Clark nodded.
"Looks like you knocked out its central processing unit on your first strike," he commented as he slowly returned to the ground. He gave a thumbs up to several of the military personnel still in the area and they visibly relaxed. A second later, he heard one of them radioing headquarters to advise them that the situation was contained.
Diana frowned as she eyed him and the obvious way he was favoring his left side which still stung like hell. She released the spear – it should have clattered to the ground, but instead, it shrank and seemed to almost retract into embossed bracer on her right arm where, a moment later, he could see only a stylized representation of a spear – and flexed the fingers of her left hand, which deactivated the shield. Clark still hadn't figured out the technology behind her gear, but he would continue to research them. There was no way they were magic.
"This was a close one, Kal," she murmured, her voice so low no one else could hear her words. "I know you do not wish to consider it," she continued, "but Luthor … he needs to be put down."
"That isn't my decision," Clark replied. He floated toward the lead officer – a major by his rank insignia – and gestured toward the robot. "Do you need any further assistance?" he asked calmly. The major shook his head.
"No, sir," he said in only slightly accented English. "Thank you for your timely arrival." He shifted his eyes to Diana. "And to you, ma'am, for your even better timing." Diana smiled at him, unaware of how devastating that expression was to mere mortals.
"The League is always happy to assist, Major," she said brightly in perfect, unaccented German. She began floating upward, slow enough for Clark to recognize that was his unspoken cue to join her. Together, they climbed higher and higher, faster than most commercial aircraft, but slow enough to continue their conversation. "He won't stop until you are dead, Kal," she said.
"And the moment I kill him," Clark replied, "is the moment the world stops trusting me again." He shivered – even now, five years after the fact, he still had nightmares about Zod's death; try as he might, he could not see any way he could have stopped that monster but it haunted him still – and glanced at her. "As long as he focuses on me," Clark said, "he's less likely to target his madness against others." She frowned and he continued before she could respond. "Kara is having difficulty with fine control of her strength," he said as they continued to gain altitude. "And it's frustrating the hell out of her. Out of both of us, actually." Diana nodded her understanding. "So I want to bounce an idea off you," he said.
Kara Zor-El was, in Diana's opinion, a smug, self-centered, conceited, spoiled fool of a girl.
Kal's cousin had barely set foot upon Themyscira before she began complaining about the lack of the comforts she was accustomed to. The architecture and general lack of technology appeared to displease her, and the expectation that she would assist in the various manual labor chores necessary caused almost open shock, but the discovery that she would be instructed in the use of martial weapons almost caused open panic.
"I am a member of the House of El," she said, disgust dripping off her words. She spoke English reasonably well now, though with a curious accent. "We are Thinkers, not Warriors." Diana looked at her calmly – Kal had warned her she might be recalcitrant because, according to him, Kryptonians were so rigid in their mindsets, one could barely reason with them; she still wondered if he noticed the irony of the statement, considering the source – and then did the only thing she could in this situation.
She punched Kara in the face.
It was hardly a real blow – she'd traded harsher strikes with Kal during their all too infrequent sparring sessions and was fairly confident that Bruce would have been able to take this strike with little more than a deep bruise – but from the way Kara reacted, one would think she had been gutted by a spear. The Kryptonian girl staggered back, stumbling over the loose rocks on the training ground before falling back, landing hard on her arse. Diana crossed her arms as she looked down at the girl who was cradling her nose with both hands while tears leaked out of her eyes.
"You struck me!" she said in a high-pitched voice.
"I did," Diana agreed. She crouched before Kara. "I know this is difficult for you," she continued, "but your world, your way of doing things? They're gone." She watched as the words sank in. "Krypton is lost and there are only two Els remaining. You have to do things differently now."
"I spent sixteen cycles training to be a member of the Thinker's Guild!" Kara retorted. According to Kal, she had not yet mastered her heat vision principally because of how uncomfortable it was to utilize, so Diana was not worried about looking the girl in the eyes. "I have no desire to be a warrior!"
"Then don't be," Diana replied. "Become the greatest scientist this world has ever known … but you are not leaving this island until I am satisfied that you can defend yourself." When the girl pouted again, Diana almost sighed. "I promised Kal that I would see this done, child," she said, "and Hera help me, if I must strip your hide from dusk to dawn to batter some sense into your dense skull, I shall." A low, delighted laugh from the direction of the queen's seat almost caused Diana to flush – those were very nearly the same words her mother had told her decades ago when she went through a phase where she had no interest in martial training. Her mother had to be amused at how things had changed. "Beyond this island, the world is a dangerous place," she continued. "Your cousin tries to better it, not just by example but by deeds." She frowned. "Is he the only El worthy of that crest?" she asked. "Or are you simply unequal to the task?"
Anger flashed across the girl's face, followed closely by fear and a quickly buried sadness. Silently, Diana cursed herself – though she might conceal it, this young woman was still grieving for lost family. An idea struck her then and she straightened.
"Donna," she called out. The summoned girl approached, dressed in the training gear of a warrior's apprentice, and Kara obviously noticed at once how similar Donna looked to Diana. Even more importantly, she observed her youth. Only a few years separated the two and both were grieving. Where Kara evidently hid away her pain, Donna embraced it and focused into a rage that Diana feared would eat her alive. Perhaps what they both needed was a friend to help them both find some balance. "I am assigning you the duties to teach Kara shield and spear." Donna opened her mouth to speak but just as quickly snapped her mouth shut. "She has no experience with fighting so teach her well." Diana returned her eyes to Kara. "What say you, child?" she asked. "Are you as worthy of that crest as your cousin?"
Her jaw tight, Kara Zor-El rose to her feet.
"Teach me," she commanded.
And Diana smiled.
A/N #2: Some random musings.
+ The dialogue in the first section is lifted verbatim from chapter 9 of the wickedly awesome Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale which I envision taking place throughout this year in Gotham. As with the animated Batman series, when Dick (and that name is going to be hard as hell to really use given the modern language; I may have to avoid using it entirely) assumes the Robin mantle, he's going to be wearing the original Tim Drake/Robin III suit (with pants and a cape with black exterior, yellow interior.) For that matter, I mentally use their representation of Selina Kyle as opposed to the short-haired version we see in much later stuff. Also? At this point, Bruce & Selina are ignorant of their respective costumed identities.
+ Incorporating Kara is difficult based on Man of Steel. I know the prequel comic indicates she was the empty pod on the scoutship/Fortress, but that wasn't on the screen, so I'm ignoring it. Originally, Zor-El sent her ahead of Kal with the intent of raising him ... but in MoS, Kal's birth was a secret so that doesn't make sense. Clearly, Zor-El listened at least a little to his brother's warnings. Interestingly enough, bringing her in means that she's the same evolutionary dead end that Jor-El indicated all other Kryptonians but Kal were since she was born and raised on Krypton.
+ Mental image of "John Jones" is Phil Morris who played him on Smallville. I dropped out of that show shortly after he appeared, but I really did like his appearance and it works in well with my future plans. A note: I've depowered him quite a bit. He can phase, change shape, fly and is probably the most powerful telepath on the planet, but I removed all of his pseudo-Kryptonian powers (laser vision, absurd strength, absurd toughness, etc.) Having him be more of a stealth asset works better with said plans.
+ Incorporating Donna is nearly as difficult as Kara in the wake of my decision to use the new52 "Diana is Zeus' offspring" idea. (And before you ask, no, she doesn't know that even though Darkseid all but told her when he hailed her as an "Olympian" back in chapter 3. She thought he recognized her armor and accouterments, but he obviously recognized a lot more than that.) As to Donna's birth name, I worked backwards: Donna is Lady or Mistress in Italian, so Despoina is Lady or Mistress in Greek (as a child, she probably butchered her name to just Donna which everyone else called her by), and Ilios is another name for Troy. Aren't I brilliant?
+ Regarding the Bana-Mighdall, while I didn't come out and say, I sort of mentally envision Diana encountering them during her travels in Year Two, after the big Pentagon fight. So they haven't been on Themyscira very long. If you are unaware of who they are, the short story is Antiope led a group of Amazons off Themyscira after Herakles & Co. raped and pillaged (she would eventually be murdered by Circe), and that group eventually got sucked into Egypt and other weird stuff. Not being on Themyscira, they lacked the whole immortality, no sickness thing, and abducted and raped men to maintain their numbers (which makes them exactly like the new52 Amazons under the current writing team, I believe.) Di encountered them and they re-located the remnants of their tribe to Themyscira.
+ In regards to Artemis' relationship with Di, while I didn't say it, in my head, their's was once a romantic relationship and is now perhaps akin to a friends with benefits one. I'm not of the mind that Diana is completely sexless and with her upbringing, it only makes sense that she's very likely bisexual, but incorporating that into the text without it seeming titillating was something I couldn't manage. Just keep in mind (or ignore it, I'm okay either way) that the two have a history. It won't be a major factor or anything, but it might come up again.