Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Still from KryptonSite.
"I hear you help freaks."
Seated in her office at the Isis Foundation, Chloe Sullivan looked up from the computer screen, startled. The receptionist hadn't let her know that she had a client, and she hadn't heard anyone come in. But on the other side of the desk, a boy stood, staring at her.
He was a cute kid, maybe ten years old, with the skinny look of a kid that didn't get enough food to keep up with his growth. Freckles were spattered across his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose. Dark hair curled from beneath a baseball cap emblazoned with the words Fawcett City Marvels, and huge, deep brown eyes stared at her appraisingly.
"Hi," she said, smiling, although inwardly her heart sank. Oh, no, not another kid. "I try to help."
She tried, but so far her track record wasn't all that great, especially not with kids. With a pang, she remembered Bette, the teenage girl she'd tried to help a few weeks ago. She and her friend Clark Kent had done their best to help the girl, but they'd wound up having to put her into Belle Reve.
Even though her friend and colleague Oliver Queen had bought Belle Reve and was transforming it into a place that would truly help the meteor afflicted, rather than oppress them, she didn't like putting people into an institution. God knew she herself had been terrified she'd have to be institutionalized when she first realized she was meteor afflicted. It wasn't a fate she'd wish on anyone.
Intellectually, she knew that about seventy-five percent of the meteor afflicted developed psychosis severe enough that they couldn't function in normal society. Those people had to be institutionalized, for the safety of themselves as well as others.
But emotionally, when she had to put people into an institution, she couldn't help feeling that she'd failed them.
She put her worries aside, trying to focus on this one little boy, rather than the other lost and frightened people who'd walked into her office over the past month. "I'm Chloe," she said, smiling at him. "What's your name?"
"Billy," he answered. "And I'm a freak."
Okay. He was here for himself, then, and not because he was worried about someone else. "Can you tell me about your problem?" she asked, keeping her tone as gentle and nonthreatening as possible.
He shrugged one skinny shoulder. "I get bigger," he said vaguely.
"Bigger. I see." She nodded seriously. "Are you from Smallville?"
He cocked his head, and pointed to his cap. "No, ma'am. I'm from Fawcett City."
"But you've been to Smallville, right?"
"No," he said. "Not ever."
Chloe frowned slightly. She knew a few people who had abilities that weren't meteor derived. It did happen, but it was rare.
If his powers weren't derived from the meteors, it meant that this lovely little boy wouldn't have to worry about coping with meteor psychosis. Then again, he might have been to Smallville as a baby, and simply not know about it.
It occurred to her that his parents would know.
"Billy," she said, as carefully as she could, "I wonder if you'd let me talk to your parents."
He stiffened, staring at her, as if trying to decide how much to trust her. At last he muttered defensively, "Don't have any."
"What do you mean?"
He shuffled his feet nervously on the blue industrial carpeting of the floor. "They died when I was little," he mumbled. "I live alone."
Oh, God. She had to help this kid. Meteor freak or not, if he was living alone on the streets, he needed help.
"Do you live here in Metropolis?" she asked.
"No." He frowned at her, an expression that said, You aren't paying attention, are you? "I told you, I live in Fawcett City."
Fawcett City was clear across the country, and she wondered how a homeless kid could have gotten to Metropolis. She hoped he hadn't hitchhiked. But she put the matter aside for now. "So you don't live with foster parents or anything?"
"I can take care of myself," he said, slightly defiantly. He puffed out his skinny chest and lifted his chin, but all it did was make him look skinnier. He was so small and underfed that her heart went out to him. "Anyway, I'm not here to talk about that. I wanted to ask you about being a freak."
"I don't like that word," she said, very gently. "You're not a freak. Neither am I. We just have... abilities."
He bit his lip. "I just... it's scary sometimes, you know?"
"I know," she said, nodding and hoping he'd tell her more.
"I just... I use it to help people. I asked for it so I could help people."
She blinked. There was a new wrinkle. "Are you telling me you wanted your power?"
"Yeah. I wished for it, and I got it. But now, sometimes.... I wish I'd never asked for it."
"I know what you mean," she said with a sigh.
He looked at her consideringly. "What's your power, Miss Chloe?"
An involuntary smile curved her lips. This kid might not have parents, but someone somewhere had drilled manners into him. "I heal people," she answered. "I can even bring people back from the dead sometimes."
His dark eyes went wide. "Wow."
"Yeah," she agreed. "Wow. The only problem is, when I save someone... I die."
His eyes got even bigger. "You die?"
She nodded. "Last time I was dead for eighteen hours. My friends were afraid I wouldn't come back at all. I don't know what'll happen next time I heal someone... if I can ever heal anyone again. See, my power seems to be gone now."
He looked intrigued. "How do you get rid of a power?"
"I didn't do it on purpose," she answered. "It just went away. But usually, they don't. I don't know how to get rid of abilities on purpose. We're studying it, but right now, there isn't a reliable way. People just have to learn to live with them."
"I don't really want to get rid of mine anyway. I just..." He swallowed, and his dark eyes suddenly brimmed with tears. "Most of the time, I like my powers. But it's so much responsibility. I'm not sure I'm ready for it..."
His tenor voice broke. Driven by an impulse she had no control over, she came around the desk, knelt, and wrapped her arms around his skinny little body.
He pressed his face into her shoulder, and sobbed.
She held him for long moments, patting his back gently. He felt like skin and bones beneath her hands, and she could feel him trembling.
Poor little kid, she thought. If she'd had such trouble coming to grips with her power, she could only imagine how difficult it was for a little boy, who didn't even have anyone at home to help him adjust.
"It'll be all right," she whispered. "Let me help you."
His sobs died to snuffles, and then he lifted his head, looking as embarrassed as any ten-year-old boy who'd found himself crying in front of a stranger. She let him go, and he wiped at his freckled cheeks.
"Billy," she said, very gently. "You said you asked for your power to help people. Do you use it to help people, or to hurt them?"
He looked up at her with those big dark eyes. "I help people," he answered. "Always."
"Me too," she said softly. "I know it's a big responsibility, but if it lets us help people... maybe it's not that bad."
He nodded, his eyes far too serious for his age. "Yeah," he answered. "I know it isn't. It's just sometimes it's... it's so heavy, you know?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I know."
She turned and headed around the other side of her desk, intending to start taking notes. She settled into her chair and lifted her hands to the keyborad. "Now, Billy, can you tell me..."
She looked up, and gaped.
The room was empty.
Chloe left the Isis Foundation at seven that evening. The minute she'd realized Billy had gone, she'd raced out of the office and looked everywhere for him, but he'd vanished, so completely she almost wondered if he was a figment of her imagination. She'd put the word out to her connections on the streets and in the shelters to keep an eye out for him, but so far no one had spotted him.
She'd stayed a little late in the hopes that he'd come back, but he hadn't. At last, her heart heavy, she locked the door and walked out into the night.
She couldn't help feeling like she'd failed the boy. He'd needed more than a few words of comfort and a shoulder to cry on. He'd needed food and shelter and people to love him. He'd needed someone to help him figure out exactly what his power was, and to help him learn to deal with it. She'd berated herself all afternoon for her unfortunate moment of inattention.
But really, who could have dreamed that a skinny little kid could be so fast?
She headed toward her car, which was parked two blocks away, on Broad and Vine. The cold October breeze blew over her face, and stars shone overhead. Pools of golden light from the streetlights lit the darkness.
Suddenly someone stepped out of the shadows just in front of her. The blade of a knife glinted in the overhead light.
"Give me your purse, lady."
She thought about screaming for help, but the blade was only a few inches away. Sighing, she handed over her purse. Fortunately, she was broke right now, so there wasn't much in it. Helping the meteor afflicted didn't pay much.
Unfortunately for her, the guy didn't seem inclined to take her purse and run. He took a step toward her, so close that she could smell the scent of alcohol and his rank body odor. He grinned down at her.
"And now... let's have a little fun."
She didn't feel like having fun. She lifted her knee hard, clobbering him in the balls. He grunted, and she turned around and ran.
Within three feet, he'd caught up with her, grabbing her by the hair. Great, she thought grimly. Just my luck. I get mugged by the one guy in a thousand who isn't knocked to his knees by a blow to the groin.
Maybe the guy was superpowered somehow, or maybe he just was less vulnerable there than the average male. But regardless, all she seemed to have accomplished by kneeing him was to piss him off.
He twisted her hair in his hand and forced her up against the nearest brick wall, the blade at her throat.
Now, she thought, would be a very good time to scream for help. But she didn't quite dare scream, not with the blade against her skin. She wasn't sure even her friend Clark could get here fast enough to stop the guy from slashing her throat.
Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. That was odd, she thought irrelevantly, considering that the stars had been shining overhead when she'd stepped out of Isis. And besides, they didn't usually get thunderstorms here in November anyway...
Suddenly there was a blur of red and a thump, and the guy fell to the sidewalk, unconscious. The knife clanged harmlessly against the concrete sidewalk.
Chloe sagged against the wall with relief. Clark, she thought gratefully. It was always her friend Clark, blurring in to save her.
She peered into the shadows and saw a big guy standing there. He was just as huge as Clark, and his hair was just as dark. But he wore a goofy costume that looked like it was straight out of the pages of Warrior Angel, a red, skintight suit with a golden lightning bolt on the front, and a short white cape with gold braiding. She frowned, wondering if Clark had decided to take up wearing a costume for some reason.
"Clark?" she said, tentatively.
He took a step toward her, and the light from the streetlight illuminated his face. It wasn't Clark. The man in front of her was beautiful, all square jaw and commanding chin and dark, lovely eyes... but he was a stranger.
"My name is Captain Marvel," he said, in a deep, resonant voice.
Her mouth fell open. Suddenly she remembered a little dark-haired boy standing in her office, wearing a baseball cap that read Fawcett City Marvels, telling her earnestly: I get bigger.
Oh, my God, she thought, staring into the dark eyes with shock.
She'd seen those eyes before.
For a long moment, she was too stunned to say a word. But nothing could keep her silent long, and before long her ability to talk came back.
"Thank you for saving me," she whispered. "Billy."
One corner of his mouth curved up, very slightly.
"Thank you for helping me, Miss Chloe," he answered, his baritone voice utterly unlike Billy's tenor one. "Thank you for giving me the strength to keep going, and for listening to my doubts. Thank you for giving me a shoulder to cry on, and for reminding me I'm not alone. I appreciate it."
She looked at him, so tall and strong, so... well... marvelous. He looked more like a god than a man, beautiful beyond mortal men, powerful enough to carry the world on his shoulders, yet with the goodness and purity of a child shining from his dark eyes.
She remembered Billy's voice: Sometimes it's... it's so heavy.
She understood that. Her friend Clark was a full-grown man, with superpowers beyond that of anyone she'd ever met, and yet he'd hesitated to take on the mantel of a superhero. It wasn't an easy life for anyone, let alone a ten-year-old boy.
But Billy-- Captain Marvel-- didn't look as if his power weighed heavily upon him now. He radiated strength and confidence, as if he thought he could wield his powers to save the world.
Maybe, she thought, he could. He'd certainly saved her.
She bent, picking up her purse, and began to walk toward her car, and he accompanied her, walking beside her silently. The few people they passed gave him and his costume peculiar looks, but he seemed unconcerned, apparently oblivious to the fact that people didn't normally walk around Metropolis attired in gaudy red suits and gold-trimmed capes.
At last she paused next to her car and looked up at him. The sweet, innocent eyes of a child looked down at her from a sculpted face that would make a movie star weep with envy.
She remembered his words: I help people. Always.
Looking into those eyes, she believed it without question.
"Good luck, Billy," she said softly. "And if you ever need help... you know where to find me."
He nodded. "Maybe I'll come back again. Just to talk."
She reached out and patted his powerfully muscled shoulder, remembering the feel of his too-skinny shoulders beneath her hands earlier today. "I'd like that," she said softly.
The corners of his mouth curved up in the ghost of a smile. And then he was gone in a swirl of crimson and gold.
She stood there staring after him for a long while. At least, she thought, she didn't have to worry about little Billy starving or meeting a bad end on the streets. Billy was clearly able to take care of himself.
And yet, beneath that beautiful, godlike exterior... Billy was only a little boy. A little boy who needed someone to tell his problems to. A little boy who needed comforting, just like any other little boy.
And that was why she was running Isis, to help people who needed help. To offer not just information, but comfort and consolation.
She remembered Billy sobbing against her, and her throat tightened. He might have asked for his power, but it was an awful lot for a ten-year-old boy to carry on his shoulders. He needed someone to talk to, someone who understood at least some of what he was going through.
Sometimes it's... it's so heavy, you know?
She knew. And with all her heart, she hoped he'd come back to Isis before too long.
She didn't want him to carry his burden alone.