Special thanks to leothelion, who made the above manip especially for this story. Thank you!!
The JLA (Ollie, Dinah, Chloe, J'onn, Victor, AC, Bart, Clark)
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
The music is "Citizen/Soldiers," by 3 Doors Down.
Beyond the boundaries of your city's lights
Stand the heroes waiting for your cries
So many times you did not bring this on yourself
When the moment finally comes, I'll be there to help
Darkness was beginning to settle over Metropolis like a shroud as Oliver Queen, a.k.a. the Green Arrow, made his way out into the streets. He knew that with darkness came trouble. It was just as true here as it was in his home town, Star City.
Accordingly, he kept to the darkness as he patrolled, gliding noiselessly through narrow, unlit alleys. His dark green costume helped conceal him, turning him into one of the shadows.
He'd only been on patrol about fifteen minutes when he heard a cry for help. He burst into a run. A moment later, he came to a halt and paused, surveying the situation.
Unlike some of his friends, he wasn't invulnerable to injury, or superfast, or superstrong. In fact, beneath the costume, he was just an ordinary man. As a result, he tended to stop and look a situation over before charging in. More often than not, he was able to help people out without ever showing himself.
He saw a woman up against a brick wall, her eyes huge with fear. She was heavily made up, and attired in cheap clothes that exposed a lot of flesh. Prostitute, Ollie thought. The guy in front of her had his pants half open, but that wasn't the main reason the woman was scared.
In his hand, he held a knife, and he was tracing the tip of it along her throat.
"Please," she whispered. She obviously didn't dare scream again with the knife against her fragile flesh, but she was quietly pleading for mercy. "Please please please..."
"I want to see you bleed," the guy said. His voice was avid, his eyes more so, and Ollie could barely repress a shudder. Ugh. Prostitutes were prey to guys with all sorts of perversions, and the guys got away with it all too often because in his experience, the cops didn't really care about these women all that much.
The glinting knifeblade pressed into her throat a little harder, and Ollie saw a trickle of blood, black in the dim light. Noiselessly, he lifted his arrow and took aim. It was a tricky shot. If he missed--
But he never missed.
The arrow sang through the air and slammed right into the guy's hand. The guy jumped back, yelling in anguish, and the knife fell harmlessly to the ground. The woman looked around, shocked and bewildered by her sudden deliverance.
And then she did the smart thing, and ran like hell.
Ollie went after her. He figured the guy wasn't going anywhere, not the way he was screaming and thrashing. He wouldn't bleed to death, and he wasn't in any real danger. He just hurt like hell, and in Ollie's opinion, pain was a perfectly just punishment for what he'd been about to do.
He caught up with the woman a block away, and brought her flight to a halt by the simple expediency of catching her arm. She rounded on him, kicking and flailing, but he easily avoided her blows.
"It's all right," he said in his altered deep voice. "I'm a friend. I stopped that guy for you."
The woman looked at him with wide eyes. Up close, he realized she wasn't a woman at all-- she was just a girl. He'd be surprised if she was sixteen yet. Probably one of the runaways that populated any city. She'd probably been wandering lost and hungry and unable to find a way to support herself until some pimp had found her.
He smiled at her, aware that in his hood and goggles, he must look pretty intimidating, maybe even scary. He hoped the smile would help.
"Let me help you," he said gently. "I know a shelter that can help. I'll take you there. Okay?"
She hesitated, looking far more lost and alone than a sixteen-year-old girl ever ought to look.
And then, slowly, she nodded, and let Ollie guide her to safety.
And on that day, when you need your brothers and sisters to care
I'll be right here
She was always glad to get that damn wig off.
Dinah Lance leaped from rooftop to rooftop, her short blonde hair ruffling in the cool night breeze. Despite her code name, Black Canary, she couldn't fly, but she liked to see as much of the city as possible, and that meant traveling over the city rather than through it.
She traveled block after block without seeing or hearing anything amiss. But at last she paused on a low roof, peering over the edge.
Beneath her, a man knelt on the sidewalk, weeping quietly in the dark. Dinah studied him for a moment, observing his huddled, despairing posture, then jumped lightly down to the fire escape and made her way down to the street.
The truth was that she wasn't really much good at the sympathy thing. Her usual way of dealing with a problem was to kick it until it whimpered and fell to the ground. But this didn't seem to be a situation that called for martial arts moves, or her sound-muffling ability. It just seemed to call for compassion.
"Hey," she said gently as she walked up behind him. "What's wrong?"
He looked around, wiping hastily at his face, and his eyes widened as he took in her black leather outfit, fishnet stockings, and the heavy makeup she used as a mask.
"Don't worry," she said, still as gently as she could. Gentle wasn't her normal mode, but she was pretty sure she could do it if she had to. "I'm one of the good guys. What's wrong?"
He made a visible effort to choke back his tears, but a shudder ran through him. "There's something wrong with me," he whispered. "Something terrible."
She looked him over. He was about six feet tall, with sandy brown hair and an average, pleasant face. If he was ill, it didn't show. "Are you sick?" she asked, puzzled.
"Sort of." He gazed up at her for a long moment, as if trying to gauge whether he could trust her or not, then rose to his feet, facing her. Suddenly he seemed to ripple and become indistinct.
He turned to the side, and she watched as he walked straight through a brick wall and disappeared.
A moment later he reappeared, and rippled, becoming more solid. She stared at him, shocked, and he looked back at her, despair in his eyes.
"I don't know what's happened to me," he said, and she could hear the anguish and confusion in his tenor voice. "I don't know what to do. I mean, obviously something's wrong, but I can't go to a doctor and tell him I can walk through walls, you know?"
"Yeah," she answered, keeping her voice soft. "I know."
"My wife-- she's scared of me. She told me to get out, to get away from the kids, before I... before I infected them somehow. And I don't blame her for reacting that way. I... I'm some kind of freak."
She looked at him with compassion. She knew how it felt to realize you were different, to be rejected because of abilities you couldn't help possessing. But it sounded like his abilities were brand new, and that made her wonder...
"Have you been to Smallville lately?" she asked.
His eyebrows shot up at the question. "Yeah. My wife's from around there, so we drove out to see her family last weekend. After that, we took the kids out for a family picnic at Crater Lake."
Chloe Sullivan, a.k.a Watchtower, had filled all the members of Justice in on the wildly varied effects the meteor rocks could have on human DNA. She'd been researching the phenomenon for years, and had shared a vast quantity of information on the subject with them. Based on what she'd learned from Watchtower, Dinah guessed this poor hapless guy had come into contact with the green rocks somehow, and they'd changed him, the way they had changed so many others.
"There are actually a lot of people like you," she said, as kindly as she could. "Not exactly the same, not with the same ability, but a lot of people have been... affected. I know quite a few of them." His eyes began to brighten with hope, and she added, "But... there's no cure. I'm sorry."
His eyes dulled, and he looked at her more despairingly than ever. "What the hell am I supposed to do?"
She wondered if he was one of the lucky ones, the ones that didn't go bad, the ones that could continue to live a reasonably normal life, or if he was going to start exhibiting symptoms of what Watchtower had labeled meteorite psychosis.
The problem was that there was really no way of knowing. About seventy-five percent of the meteor afflicted turned so psychopathic they had to be locked up in mental institutions, for their own protection as well as others' safety. The remaining quarter seemed to come through the changes just fine, and continued functioning normally, albeit with strange new abilities.
Looking into this guy's eyes, which looked perfectly sane despite his obvious fear and confusion, she had a sudden conviction that he was one of the lucky ones.
"There's no cure," she repeated. "But I do know some people who can help you adjust. They can help you learn to cope with it. Why don't you come with me? I'll introduce you to them."
He narrowed his eyes, as if suddenly aware he'd spilled his guts to a weirdly attired stranger, and took a cautious step backward. "I don't even know you."
"No," she agreed. "You don't. And you don't have any reason to trust me. But I swear to you, I have friends who've gone through this themselves, or who know other people who have. They can help you." She looked at him solemnly. "I can help you, if you'll let me."
She turned and walked away, in the direction of HQ, which was also referred to as the Watchtower. There was a long silence behind her, but at last she heard the sound of cautious footsteps, trailing along behind her.
She turned her head and smiled at him over her shoulder.
And then she led him toward hope.
Holding the light for the ones that we guide from the dark of despair
Chloe Sullivan, known to Justice as Watchtower, was just leaving the Daily Planet at midnight when she heard the gunshot. She kicked off her heels, leaving them behind her like Cinderella ditching her glass slipper, and ran in the direction of the sound. The concrete of the sidewalk ripped her stockings to shreds and scraped her feet, but she hardly noticed.
No other gunshots rang out, but she heard the sound of coarse laughter and running feet. She kept running in that direction, and moments later she found a body sprawled in the entrance to an alleyway.
She dropped down beside the figure. He was a young man in his mid-twenties, and she had no idea what had happened to him. He might be a hero, but then again, he might be a drug dealer, or even a murderer. But it didn't really matter.
She remembered something Clark had once said after he'd saved a guy who'd turned out to be a killer for hire, wondering if he ought to save people at all: And what if that person's a killer, Chloe? What if the world would actually be better off without them?
She'd answered, That's not your choice to make. You save first, and you ask questions later.
She felt for a pulse while fumbling in her pocket for her cell. But almost instantly she realized that calling for an ambulance was fruitless. The guy was quite dead, and the spreading puddle of blood beneath him showed why. He'd been shot through the chest, and the bullet had made quite an impressive hole.
If she called medical personnel, all they could do was declare him dead.
Which meant it was up to her to save the guy.
Damn it. I hate doing this.
Gritting her teeth, she placed a hand on his chest.
Instantly a terrible, burning pain swept through her torso. It felt like she was being torn apart. She struggled to keep her focus despite the agony, and a golden light flared out from her hand and slowly encompassed the man's body.
Beneath her hand, his flesh began to knit back together, and his heart began to thud, slowly at first, then faster. At last he began to stir, and the light faded away.
Chloe struggled to her feet. She no longer died when she healed someone, even if they were dead themselves, but it still hurt like hell, as if she'd taken their injuries on herself. Fortunately, it didn't last long, and to her relief the terrible pain was already beginning to fade. She staggered away, before the guy could open his eyes and see her face.
Once out on the street, she leaned against a wall, breathing hard. Her head spun and her stomach heaved, but somehow she managed to stay upright.
There were times when she hated the ability she'd been given. In particular, she hated the pain it cost her to heal someone. Unlike most of the meteor powers, her gift came with a price-- and the price was excruciating pain.
But remembering the feel of a stilled heart slowly beginning to beat under her hand, she thought the gift was worth the price.
Standing on guard for the ones that we've sheltered
We'll always be ready because we will always be there
Metropolis was nothing like a Martian city.
On J'onn J'onzz' home planet, he'd resided in a lovely, graceful city of slender crystal spires that gleamed in the sunlight. The city itself had been a wondrous work of art.
Metropolis was not a work of art. In fact, to his alien eyes, it was something of a mess. It was a jumbled mixture of architectural styles, its highly decorated Art Deco buildings rubbing shoulders with starkly modern steel-and-glass towers.
Its people were just as highly varied as its architecture, and like the buildings, the people all too often clashed.
Tonight, J'onn, whose code name was Manhunter, stood silently watching as two groups of young men circled each other on a back street in Suicide Slum. Unlike the other members of Justice, he didn't have to keep to the shadows, because he was capable of making himself invisible. He stood now, invisible to the human eye, and watched as the two groups of men prepared to do battle.
Gang warfare, he thought tiredly. He'd seen more than enough of it, and its results, in his career as a police officer since he'd come to this fractious planet. He'd seen too many young men with no real purpose in their lives, fighting over some imagined slight or some dispute over territory, fighting over skin color or money or drugs, and in the end dying for nothing at all.
Humans tended to use violence as their first resort rather than their last, and that grieved him.
Knives were beginning to be drawn, flashing in the dim light of the streetlights. Before long, he knew blood would flow, and bullets would probably begin to fly, too. He needed to stop this now, before one of these foolish young humans died.
Making a decision, he stepped between the two groups, still invisible.
He focused his powers, and became visible... in his natural form.
The two groups of men froze, stunned, as a seven-foot, green-skinned alien with glowing red eyes suddenly materialized in their midst. There was a sudden and profound silence. J'onn turned slowly, his crimson eyes glaring at them. To them, he knew, he appeared to be a huge and terrifying monster, rather than the last surviving member of an ancient, philosophical, peaceful race.
Suddenly there was a wild confusion of yelling and cursing and pounding feet, and J'onn found himself alone in the street.
Smiling wryly to himself, he shifted back into invisibility and began to patrol the streets again. He knew well enough he hadn't solved any of the underlying conflict, and those two gangs would probably return to face one another at a later date.
But he'd been on Earth long enough to know he couldn't change the human heart. He understood that no matter what he did, no matter what anyone in Justice did, there would still be violence and anger and hatred in the world. All he could do-- all anyone could do-- was try to deal with its consequences.
Tonight, at least, he'd saved lives.
When there are people crying in the streets
When they're starving for a meal to eat
When they simply need a place to make their beds
Right here underneath my wing
You can rest your head
He could hack into any computer on the planet, break through any secured system, take out any programming that got in his way in microseconds. He could tear his way through solid steel, or pound his way through granite.
And here he was, ladeling out food.
Victor Stone, otherwise known as Cyborg, poured gravy over a serving of mashed potatoes and handed a plate to an older man. The guy was missing most of his teeth, but that didn't stop him from flashing a grateful smile at Victor. And then he was moving on to a table, and the next person in line moved forward.
And it was a long line. Victor had been here for four hours, and despite the fact that it was well after midnight, the line of people hadn't gotten any shorter. It was really sad, he thought, how many people were going hungry in Metropolis. It seemed like a big city ought to have some way of keeping its people fed.
But clearly, a lot of folks were going without.
He'd made some cranky, offhand comment about how Justice saved people from bullets, but didn't do anything to help the people who didn't have food, or clothes, or shelter. Ollie had looked mildly annoyed at his jab.
"Did you know I set up a soup kitchen down on Fourth and Main?"
Victor hadn't known, and he immediately felt really stupid. But he wasn't about to admit he was wrong, especially not when Ollie was looking at him with that annoying, slightly superior smile that said he had all the answers.
"It's easy to throw money at a problem, Arrow, especially when a guy has as much money as you do. You ever go down there and hand out the food? See the homeless up close and personal?"
"Twice a week," Ollie had answered promptly. "When's the last time you worked at a soup kitchen, Victor?"
"Um..." Victor felt beyond really stupid now. Since he'd "died" and had his life ripped away from him, he hadn't spared a lot of thought for the troubles of other people. He had enough troubles of his own to cope with. "Tenth grade," he admitted sheepishly. "Back when I was still going to church. My youth group..."
Ollie had flashed the bright smile that had been featured on Time and People and innumerable other magazine covers. "Time for you to get back to work, Cyborg."
"Past time, maybe," Victor had admitted.
And so here he was, handing out plates of steaming food to people whose best meal so far this week might have come out of a Dumpster. Hundreds of people, in a line that seemed to go on and on and on. It hurt to realize there were this many people going hungry in Metropolis.
It hurt to realize he hadn't given them much thought since tenth grade.
He remembered his earlier thought, that he had enough troubles of his own to deal with. He'd been dealt a lousy hand, no doubt about it. But then again, so had a hell of a lot of other people. There were an awful lot of troubles in this city beyond his own. There were an awful lot of people who needed help.
He handed a plate to a middle-aged woman. She smiled at him.
And he resolved to help more often.
On that day when you need your brothers and sisters to care
I'll be right here
The body thrashed frantically in the water, but its struggles were growing fainter and fainter. Arthur Curry, otherwise known as Aquaman, had heard it from a long distance away, and he shot toward it, knowing that drowning was imminent.
A.C. loved the water. He needed the water. He wasn't sure why, but if he didn't get water to drink every hour, he suffered badly. If he couldn't be immersed in water on a regular basis, his skin dried up and he got terribly ill. He wasn't sure if he was a mutant, or an alien, or something else entirely, but he was doing his best to figure it out.
As he searched for clues to his origins, with help from Ollie Queen, he worked helping Justice keep the people of Metropolis safe. As usual, he'd been patrolling the waterfront tonight, swimming at his usual incredible speed, when he'd become aware that someone had fallen from a boat, quite a distance out.
He rocketed up toward the surface, and realized as he broke the water that the "someone" was a dog. A puppy, really. A mutt that looked like it might be a cross between a border collie and a Lab. It was black, but with a white stripe down its nose, and a single white paw. He was pretty sure it had some water dog in its ancestry, and he could tell it had been fighting hard, but it was still way too far from land, and it was all played out. Its nose was barely above the water, and as he watched, its churning legs stilled.
He scooped it up just before it sank below the surface.
"Hey," he said in a reassuring tone, cradling it against his chest. He was fairly certain it was a puppy, maybe five months old. It was already a pretty good size, but he suspected it was going to get bigger. He also suspected it hadn't fallen overboard at all-- it had most likely been tossed. That was one popular way for people to get rid of their unwanted dogs.
Bastards, he thought angrily, holding the dog protectively to his chest and swimming, more slowly than usual, back to land. What kind of scum does that to a dog?
The dog seemed grateful to be back on dry land. It collapsed on the shoreline, gasping and sputtering as water streamed from its long coat. A.C. knelt next to it, rubbing the sodden black fur reassuringly.
"It's okay," he told it. "I'll take care of you."
The dog looked up at him with big, trusting brown eyes, and at its adoring expression, A.C. instantly tumbled into love. He'd always wanted a dog when he was a kid, and had never gotten one. And now here was one, like a gift from heaven.
Or a gift from Poseidon, maybe.
Damn it, he thought crankily. The last thing on Earth he needed was a dog. He worked for Ollie, and that meant he had to be ready to pack up and hit the road at a moment's notice. He couldn't have a dog. He just couldn't.
But this dog needed him.
"I'll put an ad in the paper first," he told the dog. It wagged its tail feebly at the sound of his voice. "Maybe you just fell overboard. Maybe they didn't try to kill you."
The dog looked up at him, and its big sad eyes said, You know that isn't true.
"Yeah," he said, rubbing its lop ears. "I know. But I have to try. And then if no one claims you... well, I guess maybe I can figure out a way to keep you. Somehow."
The white paw lifted and rested on his knee in a friendly gesture, and the eyes answered, I already belong to you.
"Yeah," A.C. muttered, patting its head. "Same here, buddy."
Hope and pray that you'll never need me,
But rest assured I will not let you down
Ollie was fond of saying that Impulse was a good code name for Bart Allen, because he was too damn impulsive for his own good. Bart figured that the situation he'd landed in tonight proved Ollie right. Not that he'd ever admit it in a million years.
Bart relied on his speed to get him out of trouble. He was the fastest guy in the world. As he'd once boasted to Clark Kent, Nobody sees me when I'm doing my thing.
But take away his speed, and he was helpless.
Well, not helpless, exactly. But without his speed, he was just an ordinary guy, and a short, wimpy guy at that.
He wasn't sure how the device that had been fired at him took away his speed, but it definitely had. He'd tried to bolt, but had found himself restricted to ordinary human speeds. His ability to run fast seemed to be just out of his reach for some reason. Now he was just standing there in this old abandoned warehouse, his arms held by two big burly guys while a third, much thinner guy stared at him.
He had to admit that he was in pretty serious trouble.
He knew he could call for backup. Since J'onn had joined their ranks, they'd started using his telepathic abilities to stay in contact with one another. All he had to do was call out mentally, and someone would hear him.
But he'd been alone for years before he'd joined up with Justice. He was used to getting out of tight spots on his own. And besides, he was uncomfortably aware that he was the youngest member of the team. He knew perfectly well the others thought of him as "the kid." The last thing he wanted to do was reinforce that impression by calling for help the minute he got in a jam.
No. He'd get out of this on his own.
Some of his trepidation must have shown in his eyes, because the guy who'd shot him lowered the device that had stolen his speed and smiled, almost reassuringly. "Don't worry, kid, it's not permanent. You'll get your speed back eventually."
Bart glared at him. "What do you want?"
"Your speed, little boy. I want your speed."
The guy grinned widely. He was older than Bart, but not exactly ancient. Ollie's age, maybe. He was skinny, especially compared to the two incredible hulks holding Bart immobile, and short blond hair stood up in spikes above his very ordinary-looking face. There wasn't anything particularly striking or noteworthy about him.
But the device he held had definitely gotten Bart's attention.
"What the hell did you do to me?" Bart demanded. Show no fear had always been his mantra. He might be a little guy, but he didn't let anyone know he was scared or intimidated, ever.
The blond guy grinned again, and lifted the device. "I just cut off your access to the Speed Force."
"The what?" Bart blinked at the guy, baffled. He had no idea how his speed worked. He'd been hit by a bolt of lightning a few years ago, and the next thing he knew he could run at the speed of light. Well... near enough not to matter.
"I'm a physicist," the guy said. "And I've made a study of an energy force that acts upon our dimension, so that affected objects can pass through it at greater than normal velocities. You, Bart, were affected by it when you were younger."
"Actually," Bart drawled, "I got hit by lightning."
"No." The guy pointed the device directly at him. "You passed through a strand of this extradimensional force that had temporarily crossed into our reality. It enabled you to tap into the force, which I call the Speed Force."
"Catchy name," Bart sneered, and threw in an eyeroll for good measure.
The guy didn't seem annoyed by his very sincere efforts to be a snot. "I've cut off your access to the Speed Force. Only temporarily, because there's no way I know of to make the effect permanent. Within an hour or so, your ability to access it will return. But in the meantime, I want to use your access. Your... password, if you'll pardon the term."
"What for? You gonna go save people? Go right ahead." Bart yawned ostentatiously. "I'll just take the night off."
"Don't be absurd," the guy said impatiently. "Only a fool would use a power like this just to help people. I have plans, kid. Big plans."
Naturally, Bart thought sourly. Because bad guys never had big plans to help the world, only to hurt it.
That was what made them bad guys, after all.
The guy turned the device away from Bart and fired it at nothing. Bart saw a faint reddish light begin to glow, and alarm hit him. This guy might or might not really be a physicist, but he obviously knew more than Bart did about his abilities.
"Listen, dude," he said desperately, "it's not just the speed, okay? Somehow my metabolism got kicked into overdrive, too. You're normal, and you don't know what my speed might do to you..."
"Your speed!" The guy rounded on him, looking suddenly irritated. "It isn't yours, little man. You just happened to stumble on it. The Speed Force is there for anyone who can figure out to take it for themselves." He turned, and the red glow lit his eyes, so that they gleamed crimson. He looked almost demonic. "And now... it belongs to me."
He flung down the device and ran forward, into the heart of the red light.
He disappeared in the crimson glow, and there was a terrible, drawn-out scream. It was, Bart thought, the worst sound he'd ever heard-- and in his years on the streets, he'd heard a whole lot of terrible sounds. It sounded like a soul screaming in torment from the depths of Hell.
The screaming went on and on, making the hairs on the back of Bart's neck stand up. But at last the red light faded, and the guy reappeared.
He collapsed to the ground, senseless, and Bart saw with horror that the guy's hair was white and impossibly long, almost to his knees. He was no longer a young man. His face was lined, and his body was bent and frail.
He looked ancient.
"Jesus Christ." One of the two guys holding Bart spoke in a hoarse whisper. "Let's get out of here."
They let Bart go and turned away. Bart spun around, trying to grab their arms.
"Are you crazy? We have to get him to a hospital!"
Little guy that he was, he didn't have much chance of stopping two big dudes who'd probably been linebackers in high school. The guys shook him off and fled from the warehouse, apparently figuring they could be in deep shit if the cops associated them with whatever had happened.
Bart ran for the guy and dropped down next to him. He was still breathing, and his heartbeat was still steady. But he'd definitely put on fifty or sixty years.
God, Bart thought. This could have been me. Instead of being superfast when that lightning hit me... I could have just been old.
But it wasn't him. It was just this poor sap, who'd tried for a superhuman power, and crashed to Earth faster than what's-his-name, that guy with the wings who'd flown too close to the sun.
Superpowers were great, for a small handful of people, but Bart knew that many more people were harmed by powers than helped by them. Superpowers had destroyed many more lives than they'd improved. They were definitely a double-edged sword.
Bart tried to move into superspeed, but his ability to move fast was still being blocked somehow. I hope the guy was right about that, at least, he thought glumly. I hope I get it back soon.
He looked down at the guy and tried to figure out what to do next. Because yeah, the guy hadn't been real nice to him, but still, he wasn't going to leave the poor sap here all by himself. He might die.
Not that Bart would feel guilty or anything. Really, he wouldn't. But Ollie probably wouldn't like it if Bart let the guy die. And Ollie was the boss.
Anyway, this was his fault, sort of. Not that it had been his idea or anything. He'd been attacked, and he was still sort of pissed about that. But there was no getting around the fact that it was his ability that had made this poor guy age so fast. Bart figured he kind of had a responsibility to help him.
Bart thought about the problem, and it occurred to him that people without superspeed relied on ambulances. Unfortunately, he didn't have a cell on him, because there wasn't a lot of point in a guy like him carrying one. He patted the guy down, and found a mobile phone in one of the pockets.
He called an ambulance, and waited in the light with the guy till he heard the sirens.
But then, driven by force of long habit, he retreated to the shadows.
I'll walk beside you but you may not see me,
The strongest among you may not wear a crown
He wasn't on patrol.
Clark Kent zoomed along the quiet streets of a Metropolis suburb. He wasn't patrolling the streets. He wasn't even part of Justice, not really. Yeah, he did some work for Ollie when his particular skill set happened to be needed, but he didn't go out every night and keep an eye on things, the way the members of Justice did.
He'd just happened to be coming back from seeing Chloe at the Planet, and had decided to take the scenic route.
The truth was, he'd been taking the scenic route for a couple of months now, but that didn't mean he was on patrol. Metropolis had plenty of protectors, and it didn't really need him. Anyway, he had enough stuff to do in Smallville. So the fact that he was whooshing around Metropolis didn't mean anything.
He just happened to like running.
He left the suburbs and raced toward the tall buildings of downtown. As he approached, a strange, high-pitched sound buzzed annoyingly in his ears. He fell out of superspeed and came to a stop, cocking his head and listening.
What is that noise?
He'd left downtown about an hour ago, when he'd said good night to Chloe and taken off, and the sound hadn't been audible then. But it was more than audible now. It was a terrible, teeth-vibrating whine that made him want to cringe and cover his ears.
It sounded, he thought, almost Kryptonian. Kryptonian artifacts had a way of making a ringing sound, audible only to the members of the family which they belonged to. But this sound was a little different. He thought maybe it was alien, but not from his home planet.
And he also realized that no one in the city could hear it except him. It was too high-pitched even for dogs to hear.
He broke into superspeed, heading toward the sound.
Before long, he found its source, a small box placed in the small park just outside the LuthorCorp building. He x-rayed it, and although the components were indeed alien, he was pretty sure it was a bomb.
A big one.
He frowned at it, trying to figure out what to do with it. He'd once dealt with a nuclear missile by riding it out into space and throwing the warhead into space, where it had exploded harmlessly.
Unfortunately, he couldn't fly, so he had no way of getting it into space on his own. But he knew someone who could.
J'onn, he thought, making telepathic contact. I need some help, now.
I am busy, Kal-El. J'onn's thoughts were clipped. Just give me a few minutes...
They didn't have a few minutes. Clark lifted the box, hearing the ringing growing louder. It was, he thought, about to explode.
He couldn't afford to wait. He'd have to handle this on his own.
He zipped into his highest speed, heading for the nearest national park, where there were few people. The sound in his ears grew more and more piercing, and he knew the thing was about to blow.
And he also knew that alien technology could sometimes hurt him, or even kill him. For all he knew, the thing would blow him to bits when it exploded.
But better him than everyone in downtown Metropolis.
He dropped out of superspeed in the middle of nowhere. He tucked the bomb against his stomach, dropped to his knees, and wrapped himself around the small box. It exploded.
And Clark screamed.
Holding the light for the ones that we guide from the dark of despair
Standing on guard for the ones that we've sheltered
We'll always be ready because we will always be there
"How are you feeling, Boy Scout?"
Lying on the couch in Justice's headquarters, Clark grinned, a little weakly, at Ollie. "Better," he said. "I think I'll live."
"We weren't so sure about it when J'onn brought you in," Ollie said, looking down at his friend. He was fond of the kid, and didn't like seeing him injured. "You have got to be more careful, Clark. Metropolis needs you."
"No." Clark shook his head. "I don't do anything for Metropolis, Ollie. I wasn't even on patrol. I just happened to hear something."
"Sure," Victor said. "The same way you've just happened to take care of stuff for the past month."
Clark shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "I just keep running across stuff that needs to be handled. I've just been lucky, I guess."
"Metropolis is lucky," Dinah said. "If you hadn't found that bomb when you did, downtown Metropolis would be a smoking crater right now."
"Anyway," Ollie said, turning to address the room at large, "the Boy Scout isn't the reason I called this meeting. We have some serious stuff to discuss, folks. It's time to rethink our focus."
He looked over his people, feeling no small amount of pride. Bart had temporarily lost his speed last night, but it had returned, and he was gleefully zooming back and forth across the room, annoying the hell out of Victor, who kept tossing popcorn at him. A.C. sat on a chair, a black dog sprawled at his feet. The rest of Ollie's team sat or stood around the room, watching him expectantly.
Behind him, he was aware of Watchtower sitting down on the couch and taking Clark's hand. He smiled.
"Our focus?" Chloe repeated. "What do you mean, Ollie?"
"What I mean," Ollie elaborated, "is that we never intended to settle this whole operation in Metropolis permanently. We have a hell of a lot of firepower here, folks. Way too much for just one city."
Around the room he could see the members of Justice nodding, as if they'd been expecting this for a while. Only Clark looked bewildered.
"Now that we've spent some time practicing caring for a city as a unit," Ollie went on, "we need to break up the operation a bit. There are a lot of other cities out there, and they all need our help."
"Wait a minute." Clark struggled to a sitting position, wincing a little. "Are you talking about Justice leaving Metropolis for good?"
Ollie nodded. "Yeah, Boy Scout. That's exactly what I'm talking about."
"No way." Clark glared at him. "You are not just abandoning my city."
Privately, Ollie was amused by how quickly Clark had shifted from I wasn't on patrol to my city, but he held back his smile and spoke seriously.
"Someone can stay here and take care of Metropolis if they want to."
Clark rubbed at his forehead, looking worried. "There's a hell of a lot to do here, Ollie. Look at the reports everyone just made. Everyone was busy last night. Someone tried to blow the city up, for God's sake."
"Fortunately," Ollie answered, "the guy won't be blowing anything up for a good long while."
After J'onn had found Clark sprawled, bleeding, in the middle of nowhere, Watchtower had done some research and figured out who the bomber was. J'onn had found him, confiscated the alien equipment the guy had stumbled across, and taken him to the police station.
"Still," Clark said. "There's just too much work here for one man."
"But not for a superman," Ollie said.
Clark scowled. "Ollie..."
Ollie waved a hand, cutting him off. "Look, Clark, the fact is that there are other cities that need us. I'm not disbanding Justice, okay? If we need each other, we can always contact one another through J'onn. We'll always be there to help each other when we're needed. But it's time for all of us to start working more on our own."
He paused, choosing his words carefully, then went on. "I'm figuring we need just one or two of us in each city. We'll cover what we can, and as we recruit more people, like the guy Dinah brought in last night, we'll be able to handle more cities. Me, I'm going back to Star City. It's my home, and... it needs me."
"Central City," Bart said quietly.
"Middleton," J'onn said.
Ollie lifted an eyebrow and looked at Clark. "You have a preference, Boy Scout?"
He saw Clark's big fist clench, as if the kid was annoyed. "I don't even work for Justice, Ollie."
"True," Ollie admitted. "Well, it's no big deal, I guess. Metropolis has had our protection for months now. Its people can handle things on their own for a while."
"Over. My. Dead. Body." Clark hefted himself to his feet, despite Chloe's efforts to keep him on the couch, and stood glaring at Ollie, swaying a little. "You are not leaving my city undefended."
"No," Ollie said, looking right at him. "I'm not."
Clark stood there, big shoulders squared, chin lifted, and glared at him for a long moment. Even swathed in bandages, he looked dangerous. But after a moment his shoulders slumped a little, and some of the anger went out of his posture.
"Fine," he said simply. "I'll take care of Metropolis."
Chloe rose to her feet and stood next to him, and Ollie read her silent declaration: I'll help. Somehow he'd known she would. The Boy Scout and Watchtower were never far apart.
Ollie smiled at the two of them.
"I think Metropolis is in good hands," he said.