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Ultimate One Universe - Genesis


Overseer of Ultimate
Feb 4, 2008
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In the beginning...

The past age of the "superhero" died off with Captain America and the JSA. In World War 2, America's super-soldier, Steve Rogers, led a small group of heroes against the Axis Powers and helped the Allied Forces win the war. But Captain America was lost in covert mission, and presumed dead. Not long after the war, the rest of the surviving JSA retired from heroics leaving the world to fend for itself.

In the decades that have passed, humanity has seen the rise of an offshoot, Homo Superior, Mutants. Humans born with natural "gifts" that manifest around puberty, mutants are shunned by society and feared by normal humans, called "monsters" and worse.

It has been over half-a-century since the days of the JSA, and the world has seemingly forgotten all about their former protectors. But reports are starting to come in from across the globe of costumed vigilantes appearing in cities, stopping criminals and helping people in need. Citizen reaction has been mixed, some praising the new costumed crime-fighters for their good deeds, but most keeping quiet mistrust about the new capes, even fearing it may be a mutant plot to gain the human's trust before declaring war against mankind.

Whatever the case may be, the world governments have taken notice, and are paying close attention to what is being heralded as the New Age of Marvels.

© Johnny Blaze, Founder


This RPG is based off of a player-created continuity dealing with a modern revision of the One Universe concept that combines the DC and Marvel comics universes into one, cohesive reality. There is no pre-established continuity. As players, it will be your job to take the basic ideas and characters of DC and Marvel comics, and reinvent them into however you see fit. Though it is your choice of how drastic the alterations should be, you are free to customize everything from a character's origin to motivations, identity, mannerisms, costume, powers, and world. Let your imagination run wild.

To apply for a character, fill out the application supplied below. If your application is rejected, do not despair! Simply rework what the Gamemasters tell you is wrong with it, or in the case of multiple applications, choose another character. All players are welcome, regardless of membership status or post count.


1. You may have up to 3 characters. All characters can interact with each other as it is, of course, the same universe.

2. You may choose any character from both universes, but no custom or Amalgam characters such as Darkclaw or Super Soldier will be allowed.

3. No Killing. Unnamed, faceless NPC's may be killed, but not major characters, or taken characters. Someone else may want to take up the character, or they may be important to another story.

4. You can go anywhere within the galaxy except planets already known to be destroyed, such as Krypton, although if you have the ability you may visit the ruins or asteroids.

5. You are your character, so act like it. Talk like them, use their dialogue. Do not exaggerate your powers, or pop-up here and there without explanation. BE Your character.

6. Several stories can be going at once, and you have the freedom to interact with other characters. If a PC doesn't wish to participate in a major event storyline, they don't have to.

7. You must post at least once every two weeks, though it is preferred that you post more. If you go two weeks without a post, your character is up for grabs. You will receive no warnings as it is your responsibility to keep track of your character.

8. Be serious, no slander, or impractical actions from your character. Example; "I found a crystal and now I own the world! You're all my slaves!"

9. If a major character is applied for, there will be a 48 hour period for other applicants. If there are multiple applications, the other players will decide who gets the character by casting their votes. Voting will be open for an additional 48 hours, with the player who receives the most votes getting the character in question. Less popular characters can be given out on a first come, first server basis.

10. Sidekicks and legacy characters will be required to be permitted by the player orchestrating the mentor's role in the UOU. For instance, if you want to play Superboy, your acceptance will hinder on the player playing Superman, and his thoughts.

11. Respect the Gamemasters. If they make a request of you regarding the game, listen to them. Failure to adhere to GM and Hype! Moderator requests will result in expulsion from the game.

12. Be creative, and do not be afraid to try new and exciting things with old concepts. This is a new continuity - the laws of the regular DC and Marvel Universes are not set in stone. You want to have Matt Murdock never be Daredevil and make the Man Without Fear a Green Lantern? As long as it's well-thought out, it's encouraged.

13. And of course, all regular rules of the Hype apply.

If you wish to apply for a character in this RPG, consult the game's OOC Thread!
Five hundred thousand years ago the Neanderthal was the dominant life form on the planet. Then, something happened. A new species emerged that threatened the Neanderthal and its way of life. There has been much theory and speculation upon its true origin, but the fact remains that out of the ashes of the Neanderthal, Homo Sapien rose. Homo Sapien did not take over the planet because of spite, or because of anything other than the hard truth. They were better equipped to survive. They were more evolved.

Now the cycle has begun to repeat itself. A new species some have called Homo Superior, but I have dubbed
Homo Mutata. They -- we -- are the next phase of evolution. And, like the Neanderthal, the Homo Sapien reaction is that of fear and uncertainty. We have it in us to break the cycle of needless violence. There will come a day that mutants will be the majority, but that day has not yet come. We will inherit the Earth, but we must first earn it. We need to show those that would harm us, and even those that would hurt humans, that we are evolved in our compassion, as well as our genes. We may be the Tomorrow People, but tomorrow is still tomorrow. We must stay in the present and strive for tomorrow as we fight the battles of today.

My name is Charles Xavier. I am a mutant, and I am an X-Man.


Alexandria, VA

“How accurate is this intelligence?”

King Faraday, Deputy Director of Clandestine Service for the Central Intelligence Agency looked at the dossier in his lap while his chauffeured SUV rolled through suburban Alexandria. The file contained copies of surveillance photos and transcripts from IM conversations. NSA had collected the data, but this fell under CIA purview.

“Eighty to ninety percent accurate,” the man at Faraday’s side said.

Henry Peter Gyrich was his name. Like Faraday, he was a long-term employee of the Company. He had seen the CIA’s principal enemy shift over the years. It was Soviets when he first came into the Company, then it was Islamic extremist. Now, it was something else entirely. Genetic extremism was the term the big brains in the think tanks kicked around. Gyrich just called them mutants.

“Eighty to ninety...,” Faraday said pensively. He removed his reading glasses and looked at Gyrich. “Take me to your office; I want to see it for myself.”

Five minutes later Faraday’s SUV pulled into the parking garage of an ordinary office building in downtown Alexandria. Gyrch led Faraday and his bodyguard to a service elevator where both men had to be fingerprint, retina scanned, and blood tested before they could continue.

“Extreme precaution, I know… but ever since Mystique and the Pentagon—“

“Say no more, Mr. Gyrich. Let’s continue.”

The elevator sped down to the second sub-basement of the office building. The sub-basement was a multi-roomed floor filled with computers and monitors showing two dozen locations from around the world.

“Director Faraday, welcome to Tennyson Station. It’s a spiritual successor to Alec Station. You’ve heard what they call this place around Langley?”

“Yes,” Faraday said with a curt nod. “The Magneto Squad.”

“Erik Lehnsherr is the most dangerous terrorist in the world. As fanatical as UBL ever was, but UBL could never pull a satellite from the sky and rip into shreds.”

Faraday crossed his arms and looked at his surroundings. Just a few years into his job as DDCS, and this was his first time inside Tennyson. Gyrich and seven other full time officers made up the unit. Morning, noon, and night they combed through data to find out the whereabouts of Lehnsherr. Almost ten years since Tennyson’s creation and they had only managed to get crumbs on Magneto. The working theory was that his Brotherhood was constantly on the move, using their powers to hide across the world. Farday went with a simpler approach. Xavier. There was some weird history between him and Magneto. He wasn’t the only one in Washington that was convinced Xavier harbored Magneto, but the truce tied their hands behind their backs. As long as Waller and Kelly had power Xavier was off limits.

“Show me the videos, Gyrich.”

Gyrich brought up a video on the largest monitor in the room. The two men watched a black and white video of a stoop-shouldered man walking into a building. The building and cars on the street indicated it was somewhere in the Middle East. The man in the video appeared to be white and wearing western clothes.

“Saudi Intelligence sent us this video three hours ago, they recorded it four hours ago. The building is a safehouse believed to be run by Maaz al-Mahd, a Iraqi ex-pat with ties to a dozen different terrorist organization. The man in that video—“

The screen shifted to a picture of a white man in a mugshot. The picture shifted to a picture of the same man in a colorful costume next to Magneto.

“—is Lawrence Bolatinsky alias Bolt, a long-term member of the Brotherhood of Mutants and Magneto’s main gopher. He’s a teleporter and we believe he has a range of a few hundred miles. If he’s in Saudi Arabia, Magneto is there as well. His abilities are limited by sight, he has to see a place and visualize it before he can teleport. Xavier’s people have a similar mutant in their ranks. As soon as we saw the video, I ordered drones to fly above the safehouse and watch and wait. Our theory is that—“

“Boltainsky arrives at the safehouse, teleports to where Lehnsherr is being hidden and then teleports back with him into the safehouse. Show me the other footage.”

“This happened twenty minutes ago.”

The video played. The black and white surveillance footage high above the city of Jeddah showed the safehouse below. Suddenly, the drone jerked to the right, then jerked to the left. The camera pointed toward the ground and sped towards the desert outside the city before it cut to static. Faraday balled his fists as Gyrich spoke.

“No ordinance was fired at it, sir. We both know what took it down.”

“White House, Director Waller, DoD, NSC, the Saudis. Get them all on the phone right ****ing now.”


Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The door of the safehouse blew off its hinges with a loud bang and a burst of bright light. Six men with body armor and armed with plastic assault rifles loaded with Cure rounds came through the door. They swept through the building, restraining anyone they could find with plastic zip-ties.

“Pathfinder 1 to Base,” the head of the assault radioed back after twenty minutes. “No sign of primary or secondary targets. I repeat no sign of primary and secondary targets. We scooped up possible terrorists, but we won’t know for sure until we take them back to base.”


Arabian Desert
250 Miles Due East of Jeddah

The two men appeared in a flash of light. Bolt held the handles of Magneto’s wheelchair. Both of them wore street clothes, Lehnsherr wearing the crimson helmet that shielded his mind to outside forces. Bolt looked through the vast nothingness of the desert with unease.

“I don’t like this, boss. In the middle of nowhere, drones could be swarming up above us.”

“Rest easy, Bolt. I believe our distraction in Jeddah will keep them busy long enough for us to conduct our affairs here. Plus, they still have yet to make drones out of non-ferrous metals. We’ll be fine.”

Both men turned their heads towards the sky as a Leer jet streaked through the air. Magneto narrowed his eyes before nodding to his companion. The jet began to descend before landing vertically a hundred yards away from their location. Bolt pushed Magneto through the whipping sandstorm as the engines in the jet died down. The cabin door to the plane opened and three people emerged. Leading the group was a large, burly man with a bushy black beard. He wore a black three-piece suit with chalk stripes running down it. At his right was a shapely blonde woman in a white suit. Her hair was pulled back into a bun that sat on the top of her head. To the man’s left was a large black man with bleach blonde hair. He also wore a suit, this one bright red. He smiled, showing a row of razor sharp teeth.

"Looks like Hell's CPAs," Bolt whispered under his breath.

“So glad you could meet me, Mr. Lehnsherr,” the leader said with a grin. “I’ve heard of you for so long, I feel like I know you already.”

“And yet I know so little of you, Mister…”

“Please allow me to introduce myself. I’ve gone by many names, but for now you can call me Smith. Victor Smith. Yes, that will suffice.”

For years now you’ve attempted to contact me and my followers. At first I thought you were merely working for a government, but a mutual friend speaks highly of you. She says you are a serious man with serious intentions.”

“Indeed I am. I believe in your cause. I am firm believer that we mutants are the next wave of the human race. Those that do not side with us are against us. I include your former friend, Charles Xavier.”

“Charles’ heart is in the right place, but he prefers to play soldier with his children. He ignores the real war out here, the war the Brotherhood is fighting every day. The war against extinction.”

“Xavier, humans, the CIA. You and I have many enemies in common. I wonder, can the enemy of my enemies be my friend?”

“I'm wondering the same thing, Mr. Smith.”

“You have the followers, Erik. The followers and the passion, but you lack the resources. I have plenty of that. What I wish for us is to form an alliance of sorts. I give you what you need and you continue with your agenda. You will not be beholden to me for anything. I only wish to help your army in their fight.”

“Very generous. But these past ten years have taught me to be skeptical of generosity, Mr. Smith. What is your end game?”

“You would not believe me even if I told you,” Smith said with a deep laugh. “But let me give you a gift. I believe you may have heard of my friend here, the Sugar Man.”

The large man winked at Magneto and showed his razor teeth.

“Yes. He has attempted to supply my people with weapons for years now. We have no need of weapons.”

“Everybody wants a treat every now and then, baby.”

“Sugar Man, go get our present to Erik.”

Sugar Man shuffled back to the plane and went inside. He emerged a moment later with a large metallic case roughly the size of a small coffee table. Sugar Man carried it with ease across the sand where he laid it at Magneto’s feet and popped it open. Inside were three metallic cylindrical shapes. All three were roughly the size of propane tanks.

"Tell me, Erik, did you know nuclear warheads could be so small?"



The humid, Gotham air hung close to the man in the cowl as he crept silently along the rooftops of the sweltering city. The summer had been brutal in the metropolis, and the way Gotham seemed to surround and suffocate one’s life didn’t help anything. The urban sprawl of industrial times had turned much of Gotham into a concrete wasteland, with only a few smaller parks dotting much of the city. The smell of hot tar from the roof below him was overpowering, and he fought hard to clear it out of his mind and focus on his objectives. Even the gargoyles, one of Gotham’s prominent architectural flourishes which lined nearly every building, seemed to sweat in the damp, dirty heat. This wasn’t the optimal night to don the arsenal he had put together for himself for the first time, but he could wait no longer.​

Gotham had often been described in the media as a literal hell on earth, a description that had never been more apt than this summer. The heat mixed with the gothic architecture that filled the city made one feel like they were paying for some terrible sin they wrought upon the world. In reality, the sins were what made Gotham the place it was. Crime had skyrocketed in the past months, past even the highest statistics from when the masked man was a boy. Gotham had more or less become a warzone, and the mayor had finally lost control on the situation. Falcone and Maroni men butchered one another on the streets, the lesser gangs profited off the carnage through gun running or the drug trade, and the cops were powerless to do anything about it.

That’s why it was his time. Bruce Wayne had spent the better part of a year scouting the crime families of the city, gathering intel to bring them down when his true crusade began. His obsessive surveillance gave him insight into the inner workings of the men that ran this city, as well as ways to help bring them down. He had hoped to spend more time preparing, but Wayne could tell the city was on the brink. If Bruce did not act quickly, the city would crumble before he had a chance to get started.

The Batman stopped at the edge of a rooftop across from his target, which was a small warehouse by the Gotham docks. The moonless night allowed him to stay nearly invisible to the men patrolling the roof on the other side. There were only two of them, one on each side, and neither was looking at one another. Below him, a power transformer hung on the street. He took a small disk off of his belt and tossed it at the device. As soon as the disk made contact with the transformer, the entire area went dark. Wayne could see the men on the roof look around anxiously, but neither moved.

Kicking off the roof, Batman extended his cape, gliding towards the nearest man. Before he could react, Bruce folded in the cape, causing him to dive hard into the waiting opponent. The man crumpled into a heap, instantly unconscious. The scuffle drew the attention of the second guard, who called out, “Anyone there!?”

Batman crept silently around towards him as the guard moved towards his partner. When they met, Bruce threw his palm into the man’s chin, muffling any scream before slamming his elbow into the thug’s temple, knocking him out.

Sufficiently sure his opponents were incapacitated, Batman spoke into the comm on his cowl, “ORACLE, I need the layout of the building.”

“Transmitting, Batman,” was the only response from the artificial intelligence. ORACLE had been Bruce’s greatest accomplishment of the last year. The program is stored with mountains of Gotham information as well as battle plans, strategy, and criminal behavior. Bruce believed it was as developed as the FBI’s and CIA’s own criminal databases.

Once the data got to Batman, two covers slid down out of his cowl, covering his eyes and displaying the building’s floor plan. ORACLE continued,“Three floors. Top two are composed of catwalks. Bottom is the warehouse floor. Satellite scans show there may be a hidden basement.”

The eye coverings slid up as Batman said, “That’s where they’ll be then.”

The East Street Dragons had been running a human trafficking ring out of this building all summer, though Bruce was only just able to pin the location down. He was fairly certain they were in league with the Maroni family as well. The Dragons didn’t have the resources to move the number of people they had been bringing in, and Maroni needed a new revenue stream to keep pace with Falcone’s continued success. All Bruce needed was the connection to start pulling that string.

Batman slipped through the warehouse’s open skylight, landing deftly on the third story catwalk. Scanning the interior of the building quickly, he saw that there were only four Dragons remaining, all of which were on the ground floor. He slid down to the second story catwalk without making a sound, and readied his grapple gun. He fired the gun, which caught in the rigging above. Swinging down, Batman scooped one of the men off the floor, landing on the other side of the second floor. He quickly delivered a strong headbutt, quieting the man before he could yell to the others.

“Jin?” one of the others called out to the man now laying at Wayne’s feet. “Hey man, where the hell did Jin go!?”

“Relax,” one of the others tried to calm his compatriot, “maybe he went to take a piss.”

Bruce dropped down to the first floor and hid behind a pillar near the first man. The natural light filtering through the skylight didn’t touch him here, and he was one with the shadows. As the man began speaking again, Bruce pulled him back, putting him in a chokehold, causing him to pass out.

“What the hell was that, man!” the remaining Dragon squawked.

Bruce threw a batarang, a special throwing weapon he designed, which clanged on the wall on the other side of the room. The two men responded by firing their weapons in that direction. As they did, Batman fired his grapple gun at one of them, hogtying him and instantly dragging him towards the vigilante.

Bruce bound him before leaping through the air towards the final gang member. Batman tossed another batarang at his hands, causing him to drop his weapon. Before the thug could react, the hero had him by the collar and off his feet, “What the hell are you!?”

The man that stared back at him was draped in a obsidian cape and cowl that seemed to be made of the darkness itself. Underneath was a grey outfit made of light armor. On his chest was emblazoned a black symbol of the silhouette of a bat. The Batman's viasge was indeed terrifying for the simple man that now was in the vigilante's clutches.​

Bruce merely sneered, “I’m Batman.”

After another headbutt, Wayne discovered the secret door to where thirty Vietnamese girls and women were being held. Intended for sex trafficking, Bruce had discovered the shipment thanks to ORACLE noticing a discrepancy on a shipping manifest coming into the harbor.

<Please, be calm,> he reassured them in their native tongue. <The authorities will be here shortly.>

“ORACLE,” he said back into the comm, “dial Lieutenant Gordon.”

Jim Gordon was one of the few cops that could be trusted in a city as bad as Gotham, even if he didn't remember it. Gordon made a name for himself fighting the mob after Bruce's parents were killed, putting away some of the most powerful men in the city while taking over Major Crimes. Unfortunately, the tides turned when Carmine Falcone had Gordon's wife murdered to send a message. Now he was gunshy. Batman would change that.​

After a few rings, a tired and empty voice answered, “This is Gordon.”

“Lieutenant Gordon,” Batman growled. “You’ll want to get to the 39th Street dock. The East Street Dragons have been running a human trafficking ring out of the building for months. Currently, all their guards are incapacitated and a group of over two dozen women are in need of rescue.”

“Who the hell is this?” Gordon demanded.

“A concerned citizen, Lieutenant,” was Wayne’s only answer. “39th Street dock. Make it fast.”


Detective Katherine Kane carefully picked up the small, bat-shaped weapon with gloved hands before placing it gingerly in an evidence bag. Standing, she took stock of the crime scene. The women who had been kept here were already on their way to a safe place for medical attention and a hot meal, but Kathy still couldn't believe the story they and the East Street Dragons were telling.​

"You think the story is legit, Bullock?" she asked her partner who had just loaded the criminals into ambulences. Whoever attacked them didn't leave them in great shape. They wouldn't die, but they would be hurting for weeks. The most troubling thing about this was the Major Crimes Unit had no idea about this trafficking ring. Usually, they at least knew about this stuff. They were often blocked from shutting them down, but they always knew.​

So the question is, how did this bat character know?​

Harvey Bullock sauntered over, tipped his hat up, and took a drag from the cigarette hanging from his mouth. Bullock was scary. There was no other word to describe him. He had the figure of an ex-prize fighter who had let himself go, but under the layer of flab you knew he had the power to rip you in half. His eyes drooped and yellowed thanks to his excessive drinking, and he always smelled slightly of smoke. In a deep, gravely voice he barked, "Who gives a crap? Whether these idiots were roughed up by a giant bat or a girl scout, we got a bunch of women who are free. That's all that matters, kid."

Kane was the rookie detective on the squad and Lieutenant Gordon had stuck her with the veteran Bullock. He said it would do them both good. So far, all she got from him is a lesson on how to walk the darkside as a cop as well as some looks up and down. She was a pretty girl. She knew that. Her striking red hair and lithe build were attractive to most men. But they certainly weren't her type.

Bullock wasn't a dirty cop, per say. He wasn't taking bribes from the mob to look the other way. But he saw Gotham as a war zone, and often took things further than they needed to go. Just last week she had to pull him off a perp he was beating for information before he killed the guy. Gotham seemed to overwhelm the good in people, turning it into something they never expected.

"But I mean look at this thing," Kane showed him the weapon. "What kind of looney carries this around?"

"Kane," he barked. "Give it up. Whoever he is, he delivered us a front page worthy story. Go home. Get some sleep. We'll worry about the 'Batman' some other time."

Kathy nodded as she stepped into her car. But as she did, she pocketed the batarang.
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Lightning hit the ground.

In a single instant, a brilliant path opened between heaven and earth, as a column of light stretched down like a finger of God, gone in the same moment in which it had appeared. Thunder rolled, echoing in all directions. It was a singular event, the likes of which happened a hundred times over across. But, as with so many things, what had happened was more than meets the eye.

The figure was tall, with a broad build that filled out the cowled robe that shimmered as though it were made of pure light. The shoulders were bowed, either with age or weariness, as the figure set a gnarled wood staff firmly against the ground and leaned his weight upon it as though to take respite from a beleaguered journey. There was a long-drawn breath, and then the sound as though a great stallion gave a sigh.

And the word stallion was used advisedly, for the stranger who had appeared from out of the lightning had the face of a horse. Ears perched atop his head, eyes the color of a merlot wine, peering out from either side of a long snout and muzzle. A white mane of hair draped the head of the upright stallion figure. Hooves dug into the ground, as three-fingered hands tightened around the stalk of the staff.

Like its owner, the staff was a sight to behold. A stout piece of wood, as though the branch of a tree, wrapped in a vine that displayed buds and blooms as though still alive. It radiated a kind of tranquil power that was both reassuring and frightening to behold.

Leaning upon his staff, the cowled horse looked around. The scene was one of chaos, the remains of a warehouse-like building that had collapsed. The stallion rapped the butt of the staff against metal and wood tracks running across the ground, raising his head to look at what appeared to be some kind of locomotive or rail car. The frame was shattered, the vehicle turned on its side.

"Mmmm," the figure murmured darkly, taking a step back to survey the area behind him. Peering down at a pile of brick and wood debris, the sage uttered aloud, "Ah, there you are."

With a simple flick of his staff, the pieces making up the pile of debris moved themselves, like a tide of water pulled back from the shore. And there, as the dust receded was a boy.

The stallion stopped in mid-stride. That wasn't what he'd expected to find here.

A human.

The stallion's mane bristled slightly at the thought, the frustrations vented through the wringing of his hands upon the staff, as he shifted it from his right side to his left.

A human.

Not a welcome thought, to be certain. And, yet, there in the boy's grasp were the very objects which had summoned the figure here. The boy had the gauntlets, and there was only one way he could have come by them.

So where was Mar-Vell?

What had his errant fool wrought now?

The stallion took a seat on a large tire, using the butt of his staff to draw symbols into the dirt on the floor absently as he pondered what to do...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The boy woke coughing.

Dust, dirt, and grit choked the back of his throat, his mouth feeling as though he'd been sucking on a bucket of sand, and his body sore. His lungs burned, his sides throbbing with every breath, as though he'd been crushed. He opened his eyes, and the light of day instantly made him squeeze them shut again.

Blinking through the tears that sprang at the sensation of a thousand suns burning his retinas, the child raised his head as memory triggered the thought that he wasn't alone.

There was a figured dressed in white, glowing with such intensity that the boy immediately looked away, but that wasn't the person he was thinking would be there.

...would be home.

Pushing himself up off the ground, the child rose shakily to stand on his knees and stare out at the place that had been his home for the better part of a year. The longest time he'd spent in one place. The first time he'd had a place he could call home. His home. A real home.


One wall of the train depot was still standing, as the frame of the building had been shattered, leaving pieces and parts of the building scattered in all directions around what had been, once upon a time, a thriving railway station.

As he turned his head, the child was overcome with a sense of vertigo, as though things were continuing to turn even when he'd stopped moving his head. He lurched forward, vomiting into the dirt as he almost collapsed under the weariness sapping the strength from out of his body.

"You should rest easy."

The sound of a man's voice. Digging his fingers into the dirt, the boy made a fist as he willed himself back up from off of the ground, finding himself winded.

The glow around the figure was still more than the boy could tolerate to look at, raising a hand to shield his eyes as he tried to look at the stranger. At the... horse?

It had the face of a horse and the body of a man.

"You were buried under the building when it collapsed," the figure said, doing a better impression of Mister Ed than the legendary talking horse could have.

"Who..." the boy began, faltered as another wave of vertigo washed over him. Sliding back so that he was seated on the ground, the youth hesitated a moment before he continued. "...are you?"

"A question," the horse-faced stranger mused aloud, pausing as he wrote in the dirt with his staff. Contemplating it for a moment, the stallion resumed his writing as he answered, "Many answers, for they change depending on the time or circumstance. In either case of which, I am me."

Shakily, the child staggered to his feet. Carefully, he looked about as though searching for another person. "Where's that man?" the boy asked cryptically.

"The one who gave you these?"

As the boy looked over at the horse-faced stranger, he saw that the figure was holding out a pair of brass gauntlets. The ones that had been pressed into his care. Stunned, the youth merely nodded.

"He is dying."

A look of confusion crossed the child's face for a moment, before a more petulant expression took hold. "Well, what are we jus' talkin' for then?" the boy demanded.

"Why is that?"

"What do you mean, why is that?" the boy tossed back at the stranger. "We have to help him."

"It is a fair question," the stranger in white noted somberly, looking up from the ground to peer over at the youth. "You are dying too."

The boy's mouth fell open, as a string of expletives formed on his tongue.

"Your head was struck when the building collapsed. You are suffering the effects of a concussion. It's causing your brain to swell," the stranger explained patiently, speaking up before the child had a chance to interject. "You have... an hour, perhaps."

"Look, Mister, if you're not gonna to help..."

"And you are?"

"I'm gonna do more than just stand here and talk!" the child snapped back harshly.

"To what end?" the stranger challenged stoically. "He will be dead, and so shall you."

"Because it's right."

"What you call right, I call futile."

"Futile this," the boy snapped, holding up the middle finger of one hand as he turned and started storming off.

"You're going the wrong way."

The boy turned, facing the stranger at a loss. He wasn't certain now if this was someone who was going to help or not, but the stranger certainly seemed to know things.

"There's a demon holding him," the stranger remarked, standing and leaning against the staff as he seemed wearied. "He waits for me, because he knows that I am old. If he consumes me, he'll have power unrivaled," the stranger went on to remark. "The man you met was supposed to stop him in my stead."

So this was all about him. Didn't that figure. "So help him!"

"I cannot. He is beyond that now," the stranger said in the same matter-of-fact tone. "I can stop the demon. He will threatened your whole world if left unchecked. But, to face him, I shall require aid. You have but an hour to live. Are you certain you wish to spend it in this way?"

"Then let's stop wasting time."

As soon as he spoke, an odd feeling prompted the boy to look down at his arms. The brass gauntlets were now there, on his forearms.

"Strike them against each other and speak this word," the stranger remarked, writing in the dirt at his feet.

As the butt of the staff came away, the boy found himself staring down at a cryptic symbol on the ground. Then, somehow, it seemed to make sense to him, almost as though he could read it. And so he did as he was bade, clapping the two gauntlets together and uttering the word there on the ground.


Wayne Manor

Sunlight exploded into the room, jolting Bruce Wayne from a deep, restful sleep. His eyes struggled to addapt to the sudden change in brightness, and he struggled to make out the blurry form that now stands at the front of his bed.

The fuzzy blob remarked, "Noon, Bruce? Even for you that's pushing it a bit, no?"

Slowly the features of Alfred Pennyworth came into view, and Bruce sighed as he placed his feet on the cool floor of his bedroom in Wayne Manor, "Next time you're out breaking up a human trafficking ring in the middle of the night we'll figure out how late is an acceptable time to get out of bed."

"Oh, but I was up all night ensuring you weren't followed home," his long time friend responded. Alfred knew Bruce was cautious, but he couldn't help but worry. It was the special forces training in him, he figured. He had been drilled with the idea that being thurough saved your life in a war, and they were without a doubt in a war now.

Alred took the paper he was holding under his arm and passed it to Wayne, "Special edition. You seemed to have made an impression."

The billionaire scooped up the periodical who's headline read "Mysterious Batman Saves Women". He had to smile at the descriptions given by the perps, who claimed he could fly, had claws, and was actually half man and half bat. "Theatricality and deception are powerful agents, Alfred."

"I know that as well as you, Bruce," the gruff ex-soldier nodded. "Don't get too full of yourself just yet. Last night was only the first step, and against rank amatuers at that."

Bruce nodded in agreement, but he felt that this was a strong start. R'as had told him during Bruce's time with the League of Shadows that men could be killed, but a symbol would last forever. The words of the terrified criminals and baffled cops following last night's raid showed Bruce he was on the right track. When the mob got scared they would get sloppy. Once they were sloppy, they'd begin to make mistakes. Batman would become the symbol that would shatter crime's hold over the great city of Gotham. All he had to do was survive until that happened.

"You have a meeting, by the way," Alred said as he pulled one of Bruce's fine Italian suits from the closet.

"With who?" Wayne grumbled.

"Your company. Now get dressed."


Gotham City Hall

Mayor Oswald Cobblepot paced back and forth, waiting for his meeting to begin. The day, so far, had not gone swimmingly after the events of last night. First, one of the city's biggest human trafficking rings had been busted, which would be sure to cut into his mob kickbacks. Second, the Maronis and the Flacones were already at one another's throats, and this threatened to send the city into an all out war. That was bad for business.

"Mister Mayor?" Police commissioner Gillian Loeb entered the office. "You wanted to see me?"

"You're damn right I did," Cobblepot slammed his chunky fist on the table. "What the hell happened last night?"

"I'm looking into it," Loeb assured the mayor. "Intelligence points to either a Maroni traitor or a Falcone hitman with delusions of granduer."

"Oh great," Oswald seethed. "Just what I need something else to set this city on fire. I've worked for decades to get this city to embrace a happy medium. Everyone knew how the game was played. The mob did their thing, we turned a blind eye, and we all get rich. At least until the little Maroni snot decided he wanted to change the rules. Now we're all about to have seven tons of crap bury us."

"So what do you want me to do when I find whoever did this?" Loeb asked.

"I don't care who he is," the mayor shook his head. "Kill him. Your boys find him, and they kill him. And then dump his body in the river."


Wayne Tower

"I'll be honest with you, Mr. Daggett," Bruce Wayne said to one of his board members, "I don't give a damn what you think. My family did not build this company to tear the world apart at its seams. Wayne Enterprises was built to help humanity build a better future. That is why I shut down the weapons manufacturing arm of Wayne Enterprises, and that is why I'm never bringing it back. Let Tony Stark and Norman Osborn flood the world with weapons. This company will continue to find strength in the altruistic goals set by my family. End of discussion."

A smattering of applause from the other investors signaled the end of the board meeting, and Bruce gave a contented sigh as they left.​

"So I hear you had quite a fun night last night," the lone remaining member of the board said with a smile. Lucius Fox, Bruce's father's old friend and Batman's ally, was looking up at him from his seat proudly.​

"I think I'd go with successful over fun," Bruce smiled.​

"Mister Wayne," Lucius shook his head, "if you don't have fun with this, it's going to kill you."

"Lucius," Bruce responded with a chuckle, picking up his files, "I'm pretty sure it'd kill me anyway."


Gotham Major Crimes Unit

Detective Kane spun the bat-shaped weapon around in her hand again, still mesmerized with what its owner had done the night before. Gotham and its police force, the good cops at least, didn't often get wins like this. In one night the Batman had given Kathy a hope that had been all but snuffed out during her few months on the force. That was something she was greatful for, even if Bullock wasn't.​

"I'm gonna catch this jerk," he promised through clenched teeth. "I'm gonna catch him and string him up by his wings, if he even has any."

"Last night you said you weren't worried about him," Kane deadpanned.​

"Yea, well then I slept on it, rook," he shot back. "And I decided no one takes the law into their own hands in my town."

"Except when the occassion strikes you, right?" Crispus Allen spoke up from across the room. Allen had been drawn to Gotham by Lieutenant Gordon's crusade against organized crime some decades ago, back when Gordon still had the fight in him. Now he stayed in Gotham due to a misplaced sense of loyalty in the old super cop.​

Bullock readened in the face as the anger bubbled up inside, "You got no room to talk, Allen. You don't know what it was like in the early days. We did what we had to do to clean these streets."

"Calm down, Harvey," Renee Montoya sighed. "Cris is just trying to get a rise out of you."

Kathy smiled at her girlfriend, who gave her a subtle wink. The two had been dating for weeks now, but none in the MCU knew it. It wasn't that either were afraid of reprocussions, but in the world of Gotham it was better not to advertise your weak points. Especially not when you were on the single clean squad in the GCPD.​

"I agree," the Lieutenant's voice echoed across their desks as he exited his office. "Calm down."

"Sorry, Jim," Bullock, Gordon's old partner, apologized.​

"We got word on how to handle this 'Batman'," Gordon said as he passed out packets to them.​

"And how's that?" Montoya asked, even though she already knew.​

"Loeb said shoot on sight," Gordon confirmed her suspicion.​

"So how are we going to handle him, sir?" Kathy spoke up. She knew Gordon was a good man, even if the war he fought had drained him of any of the zeal he once had. There was no way he'd agree to that stipulation.​

"We find him, we arrest him, and we let the courts decide," Gordon ordered. "That may be signing his death warrant, but I'll be damned if the blood is on our hands. We're not hitmen. We're police. Now go out there and do your jobs."​

Gordon walked back to his office, closing the door behind him. He slipped a bottle of bourbon from his desk and poured some into his coffey cup. The cheap booze burned slightly on the way down before settling in his stomach and warming his body.​

Loeb thought the Batman was a gang member or an ex-gang member. He was afraid his presence would spark a war that had been brewing in this city for a long time. But Gordon knew better. Whoever this was, he was a wildcard. The Batman was a new player in town, and he had saved more people than Gordon had in years.​

Maybe there was some hope after all.​
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Xavier's School for Higher Learning
Westchester, NY

"My name is Charles Xavier, and I am a mutant."

"Nearly ten years ago, Charles Xavier spoke those words at a press conference announcing the creation of this place, Xavier's School for Higher Learning. It is a private school for mutants, ran by mutants. To many this place is a safe haven from the fears of the outside world, but there are some who argue this school is a training for for a militant mutant uprising. Tonight Charles Xavier opens the gates to the school and shows the world for the first time what is behind these walls."

The entire student body of the school watched the news special in the mansion's ballroom. A large plasma television hung on the wall bathed the dark room in a soft glow. On the screen Charles Xavier walked across the school's grounds talking to the network anchor.

"You know this place isn't like a lot of schools."

"Mutants aren't like a lot of people, Scott. Our school is no different than a Historically Black College or a magnet school for academically gifted children. Our students here happen to be physically and academically gifted."

"What do you say about the charges that this school is a training ground for a mutant army?"

"Preposterous. We teach self-defense, but that's it."

"And the X-Men? Are they self-defense?"

"Yes, but in a more broader sense than personal self-defense. They act as defenders for mutants and humans, Scott. All you have to do is read a newspaper to see that anti-mutant sentiment is high in this country and around the world. I believe we can live in peace together one day, but that day hasn't come yet. Until that time the X-Men will continue to operate in defense of those that seek to threaten peaceful mutant and human relations. In a sense we are no different than the Justice Society from the 30's and 40's."

"But the government shut them down after the war. Do you believe the government will come in and stop this school and your team?"

"Scott, there are certain mutants the government classifies as persons of mass destruction... we have six of them enrolled in our school. If they wish to break down our gates and arrest peaceful citizens of this country who are innocent, best of luck. They'll certainly need it."

A smattering of laughs and applause went through the ballroom as the special cut to commercial.

"They better not show my face,"Logan grumbled from the back of the room. "I didn't sign their damn release form because the last thing I need is for this mug to show up on the tube."

More whistles and cheers when the special returned with candid shots of the students in class and attending various social school functions. Jeff Pierce, sitting beside Jean Grey, frowned when they showed his little sister Anissa, a fellow mutant and student, slow-dancing with Cannoball at the harvest dance from last fall.

"Can't believe they left that in..."

"Aww, Jeff. Don't worry about your sister, she's got a good head on her shoulders," Jean said with a reassuring pat.

"I don't care about her. My family's watching back home. I'm just afraid of my dad trying to go after Cannonball."

The special rolled on, more footage of the school accompanied with interviews from faculty members Scott Summers and Hank McCoy and students Bobby Drake, Paige Guthrie, and Gar Logan. The rest of the school and a large part of the country watch with rapt attention while the very man at the center of the documentary sat in his office and watched something else entirely.

"What am I watching, Rex?" Charles Xavier asked the man at his side.

"Something we can both get in a lot of trouble for seeing."

Rex Mason was one of the First Class. Known as Metamorpho, he left the team and school four years earlier. Charles had lost touch with him, but now he had come back with something very serious. It was footage from a surveillance camera. It showed a masked man in an elaborate costume complete with a cape walking down a corridor. Armed guards would rush him, only to fall to the ground with wobbling knees before vomiting on the floor.

"This footage was pulled from a nuclear facility in Symkaria, that's a small nation in Eastern Europe that's the smallest nuclear power in the world with a whopping total of six warheads. Formerly a Warsaw Pact country, it was part of negotiations with the UN to disarm the few nukes it had leftover from the eighties.

The footage changed to another camera. The caped man walked unimpeded to a computer console in the middle of a large room with a square chamber in the center. He quickly brought up a list of commands on the computer and stepped away. Minutes later the chamber opened up and revealed six warheads. The caped man turned around just as a very large man in a suit came in hefting a large container.

"Look familiar?"

"Sugar Man."

"Our old friend. And that's him carting off three nuclear warheads."

Charles leaned back in his chair and contemplated the information. He knew Sugar Man's reputation as a worldwide arms trafficker. He was not like Erik at all when it came to mutants. All he cared about was money. Still he was a mutant, and that man he was with was presumably a mutant as well. Someone hijacking nuclear weapons was bad enough, but Sugar Man was insane.

"Who knows about this?"

"Symkaria is keeping it under wraps for obvious reasons. Only a small handful of their top officials know the truth, then there's my employers."

"And they would be?"

"Please, Professor,"Rex said with a smirk. "I'm an international man of mystery, now. There's no way--"

"What is Checkmate, Rex? That word is on the surface of your thoughts."

"Hey! That's not fair! Checkmate, without going into too much detail, is an international intelligence agency. They're not like the ***holes in the CIA, they take a bit more liberal approach to mutants. I guess that's how those Europeans are. That's all I'll say."

"And you do what for them?"

Rex smiled and shifted his form to appear as a well-known actor.

"Charles, I have a particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired due to my mutation. Skills that make me a nightmare for paparazzi, but manage to help me out with the ladies."

"Yes, that is a handy ability to have. Did you come here today on your own accord or with your superior's blessing?"

"A bit of both. They know about my ties to the X-Men and they figure having a team led by the world's most powerful psychic would help them out. They just want you to know... umm... you can't keep the nukes if you find them."

Charles deadpanned at look at Rex, lingering on him as an uncomfortable silence set in. Rex shifted forms again, appearing as Charles himself before speaking in his voice.

"Sure thing, Rex. I give my scout's honor that I won't rig the Blackbird up with nukes. Also you were always my favorite student, Jean Grey and Hank McCoy be damned!

"Thank you for the intelligence, Rex," Charles said as he placed a hand on his shoulder. "I appreciate it. I also want you to know that my offer still stands."

"Professor... all due respect, but I'm not you or Hank. I am not the teaching type."

"We could always use a gym coach."

"I'll think about it. For now, let me get back to my sexy life as top secret agent Metamorpho."

Charles raised his eyebrow and smiled at Rex.

"Sexy life? You haven't had a date in six months."

"Stop reading my mind!"

The Joker sat in a warehouse just outside of the Narrows in the lower east side of Gotham watching TV on a sizable plasma TV. The interior looked as though it had been decorated by crew of psychos. There were pictures of death and mayhem all over the walls, and sitting there watching TV with The Joker were his crew.

The lower east side just outside of the Narrows was a part of the city that one didn't just end up. If you came here it was usually because you had a sudden economic downturn, or you were looking to avoid the police. In the case of The Joker it was neither of the above. He was here because he loved seeing one thing in life, and that was the suffering of others. There was plenty of that in this area of Gotham City, and The Joker reveled in it. However he did notice that lately he was in a bit of a rut.

He had robbed mobsters left and right in most major cities along the East Coast and parts of the Northeast, and most of them dared not look for him because they all agreed on one thing; to say that The Joker was insane was understatement. He made Manson look like Mr. Rogers, and they figured it was only money they could get more through other means. Most of them took the Voldemort approach with The Joker; don't say his name and he'll never come back.

The Joker though wasn't doing this for his own personal financial gain. He did this so he could create many new and wonderful toys to bring joy to the masses, and to keep his crew in good spirits. His crew was loyal to him and The Joker in his own twisted way was loyal to them. Although The Joker did dislike the fact that his crew could be had for a few thousand dollars, and when he made a joke the laughter at time seemed almost forced.

The Joker got up from his chair where he had been watching "The Rachel Ray Show" and said, "Boys I think we need to go out tonight. What do you all think?"

His three henchmen that he nicknamed Huey, Dewey, Louie nodded and The Joker said, "I see that there's a Talent Show in town tonight. What see we go and show them what real talent is? I think between the four of us we could really bring the house down."

The Joker grabbed the remote and pressed a button on it. His eyes grew slightly larger as he saw something on the TV. The Joker sat back down and said, "We'll go over the planning and so forth in a few, but according to this Rach-Rach is gonna have J-Lo on, and you know I love me some J-Lo."

He sat back down and with his eyes locked on the screen said, "One of you boys get me a juice box and some Twinkies."
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The sun slowly was rising above the Metropolis Skyline as the city was slowly starting to come to life. One building that was already teeming with activity was the Alexis-Corp tower. One of the three tallest buildings in the world, though Alexis would argue that there should be recount, it never shut down not even for Christmas. Although to be fair Alexis usually paid anyone who worked a holiday like Christmas very well, so much so that people would beg for the Christmas shift.

Sitting on the patio of the spacious penthouse enjoying her breakfast was Alexis J. Luthor wearing a sapphire blue night gown with a red bathrobe. The media had nicknamed her as the Queen of Metropolis,and publicly Alexis downplayed the nickname, but privately she thought it fit her perfectly. After all she sat higher than anyone in the city, and everyone had to look up to her. Not to mention she basically owned this city. If it wasn't for her company Metropolis would be nothing more than a rest stop to slow down the tumbleweeds between Central city and Gotham.

This morning's breakfast consisted of eggs, fruit, biscuits, and a cup of coffee. Alexis was enjoying her coffee while reading her paper on her L-Pad as her manservant/bodyguard/enforcer Percy stood watch looking out over the city.

Just then the doorbell rang, and without looking up Alexis said, "Whoever it is unless they are reporting the building is burning down, they are Jimmy Hoffa, or the Lindbergh baby they're on a waiting list until sometime July of 2018."

Percy left as Alexis continued reading her L-Pad. Percy returned with a gentleman wearing a gray suit (straight off the rack), slicked back balding brown hair, and brown loafers.

Alexis looked at Percy and Percy said, "Sorry Miss Luthor, but this is Mr. Bascom of the I-R-S."

Alexis nodded at Percy and said, "Go see if you can help Yvonne with the dishes and some of the cleaning up."

Percy nodded and Bascom said, "Miss Luthor as your associate told you my name is Jeff Bascom of the IRS. do you mind if I sit down?"

Alexis just gave him the death stare and then smiled as she said, "Of course Jeff please have a seat." She gestured to the pot and asked, "Coffee?"

Bascom sat down and replied, "No thank ma'am. I came here because there was a couple of anomalies in your taxes last year."

Alexis nodded as Bascom explained. Alexis had always made sure her accountants and her knew about the tax law, hiding money,and so forth. In this case they got a little too cute and the IRS pounced. Most people would be a wreck, but Alexis was cool and calm. She answered each question very carefully and was more than up to the challenge of taking on the IRS. Alexis lived for fights like this.

After about an hour Alexis had explained away everything, and made sure that certain reports were resubmitted.

Bascom left the penthouse and Percy re-entered the room. The charming care-free persona that Alexis had shown was now gone. Cold and calculating Alexis was on scene as she said to Percy, "Mr. Bascom is on his way back to DC. Make sure some pain and suffering befalls him."

Percy nodded and Alexis sat back down to her L-Pad. She opened up her "Words with Friends" app and said, "All-right Trump let's see what you got today."

Clark could hear them all. Often, it could get quite overwhelming when he didn't focus to shut them out, but right then he wanted to let them in. The voices of millions flooded the sense of the last son of Krypton as he flew over the city he had decided to call home. Metropolis was full of the promise of the future, and he saw no better location to really introduce himself to the world. AlexisCorp had turned the city into a shining beacon of technology and futurism. Its public transportation was the cleanest, most efficient, and environmentally sound in the world, and its people lived happily, for the most part.​

His father's mission for him was to help lead the people of Earth to the future, and what better way than to promote the way of Metropolis? Of course, the mission his father, his bilogical father, had put on him often weighed heavy on his mind. The crimes of the Kryptonians, Clark's true race, had been vaguely described by his father Jor-El before Clark was told that he was his people's last hope at salvation. It wasn't something easy for a twelve-year old to hear. Nor was he sure he was capable of such things.​

But as Pa, his adoptive father, had always told him, "You do your best, Clark. If you have the power to change just one person's life for good, you've done the world a service."​

They were words of advice Clark had taken to heart since leaving the farm all those years ago. They helped keep him focused on the fact that every human life was precious, and even the smallest of people deserved his attention. Every time he stopped home to the farm, Kent was reminded of his humble beginnings. He thought that was important considering all he could do.​

Cries of fear drew his attention as he neared Metropolis International Airport, and a great plume of smoke and fire helped him find the source. Above the City of Tomorrow, a plane began falling from the sky, its engines detonating one after one. Clark sped through the air towards it, positioning himself in front of the plane's nose.​

Bracing himself with all his strenght, he caught the jetliner in midair, slowing its rapid descent. The force of the plane's movement drove him down towards the ground as he struggled for control. As they both slowed, he could hear the people inside begin to calm themselves. Finally, the aircraft and the superhuman came to a stop mere feet above the air, and Clark calmly put the plane on the runway before exstinguishing the flames with his supercooled breath.​

Before Clark knew it, he was surrounded by fire engines, the police, and the press, and all were shouting questions at him.

"Uh, hi, everyone," he smiled.

"Who are you!?"

"Where did you come from!?"

"Are you a mutant!?"

"What does the 'S' mean!?"

He raised his hands to quiet the questions, "Please, please. I'm just here to help. These people were in trouble. I helped them. That's all I want to do. Now, if you'll please excuse me, I'm sure someone else needs a hand."

Clark took off again, leaving the crowd in stunned silence.


Bruno Mannheim watched the news report with a mix of disgust and amazement. His men had set the plane's engines to fail perfectly. It would have looked like a freak accident, and it would have killed the senator that was breathing down his neck. Now this freak of nature appeared and ruined a perfectly good assassination. Now he not only had to continue to watch his back from the government, but the super-powered freak to end all super-powered freaks as well.​

The Intergang, Mannheim's organization, had long been a powerhouse on the world's blackmarket arm dealing ring and organized crime, but Bruno was ready to take it to the next level thanks to a mysterious benefactor that had approached him weeks earlier. The weapons he supplied the Intergang were like nothing he had ever seen. The last thing he needed was more flies in the ointment.​

Suddenly, the screen in front of him fizzled to black before a hulking shape comprised of shadow and darkness replaced the news, "Mannheim."

"Sir!" the mob boss was surprised to see aformentioned benefactor. "I wasn't expectin' a call from ya."

"There are many surprising things about this day, Bruno," the figure responded.​

"You know who this guy is then?" Bruno asked with a hint of surprise.​

"I know what he is, yes," the other man admitted. "He was marked for death long ago. The fact that he survives is...troubling. No matter, because you will kill him, Mannheim. And then you shall be rewarded."

The screen changed back to the news yet again, and Bruno Mannheim started plotting his next move.​


The next day, Lois Lane strolled briskly into the Daily Planet building, taking a seat at her desk before unfolding the paper she had picked up on the way in. There, on the front page, and on the front page of nearly ever paper in America, was her story. She had front page stories before, but none were ever going to get the attention this one did. She was happy she had brough Olsen along with her asl well, as his picture was better than any of the others she had seen of the mysterious hero. The kid may have been annoying, but he took a mean picture.​

The head line read "The Superman Appears: Myths Confirmed". She had been tracking this man across the globe for years. They told her that she was crazy, or that she had a better chance of finding Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster than the mysterious man who traveled the world helping the weak. But now he had shown up in her own back yard. Maybe it was coincidence, but she believed it meant it was the start of a very good year.​
The Story So Far ...
Then: Youngest member of the Special Crimes Unit, Detective Barbara Gordon along with her partner Sergeant Jean DeWolfe was investigating the sale of a dangerous mystical weapon known as "The Gem." The masked thief known as Red X staged a coup to steal the weapon - the thief's attempt to harness the power of the Gem caused a dangerous discharge of cosmic energy. When the smoke cleared, Sergeant DeWolfe was found dead, the Gem missing, and Detective Gordon paralyzed from the waist down. Unbeknownst to anyone, the Gem was fused to her spinal cord - not only healing the detective's injuries, but granting her the cosmic powers of the Gravity Gem.

Now: Barbara Gordon works as a Detective on the Bludhaven Police Force. She is accompanied only by her mandatory partner, Psychiatrist Karla Sofen, who monitors the Detective's psychological state. But off the clock, the detective conducts her own investigations with the aid of the Gem bound to her spine as the masked vigilante known as Moonstone.
[Barbara Gordon]

"When I was a young girl, my father used to tell me to trust what I feel and not what I see. He'd say actions mean more than words, but both can be manipulated to hide the truth. But feelings were genuine. Instinct; the sum total of the knowledge and experiences you'd have all wrapped into a single subconscious urge that guided your judgement. It was raw and uncontrollable, but you could trust it. And it meant a hell of a lot more than anyone's word."

"But that's the problem with instinct. Animals rely on it - predator and prey alike. If you put your trust in instinct, what makes the prey any different from the predator? And either way, who's to guess which one makes it out alive?"

[The Prologue] - Bludhaven Police Department


Captain Blake gently places his mug of coffee onto the concrete ledge as he gazes out over the city. His eyes are captivated by the lights in the distance; small squares arranged in symmetrical pillars cast before a vision-less structure. The outlines of the buildings are unable to be defined by the dark atmosphere of the midnight air. Each light visible in the formless shadow comes from within the structures as they shine out through the windows like beacons. The Captain ponders how, even at 1:03 am, each illuminate square tells a story - an alibi, a crime, a conspiracy.

"Gotham," a voice speaks with smokey breath. The Captain turns around to see a figure move through the void on his approach - letting the door slide shut as he passes. "Amazing how bright it is, even from here. Isn't it?"
"You get used to it," the Captain says plainly. "Busy tonight, I see, Inspector?"
"I would've been here sooner, but I had business."
"Criminals of New York keeping you busy, Harlan?"
"Just enough," he grins.

"Hold on," the Captain says as he reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a flash drive. "Never really preferred these to tangible folders and paperwork, but, here - Detective Gordon's comprehensive profile as of October 11th. All 4 gigs of it. Her police record, psychological profile as documented by your girl Sofen - even have her personal life; her top frequented spots, internet search history, and online shopping habits." He tosses the flash drive with the flick of his wrist. As the other man catches it, he holds it to the light - inspecting with inquisition.

"You're sure this is everything?"
The Captain's mustache curls into the corner of his upper lip as he grins. "She likes her coffee with a mocha mint creamer."
The man slips the flash drive into his pocket, "I'll make a mental note." He steps into the open space next to the Captain and the two figures peer out at the city scape.

"Don't you think it's all a bit much?"
"What's too much?"
"This. I grew up in the Narrows of Gotham - I've carried this badge since 1985, so I understand the necessity of shadows. But Gordon is snow; there isn't a spot on her. I served with her father for a spell and if he was any straighter you could use him as a ruler. I just don't understand the spotlight you've got on her."
The man stays silent for a moment as if to review his reply before casting it. "It is not the business of men to understand the work of gods, Captain."

"Gods?" The Captain says with tension. "Look, you may come from a more prestigious city, but we both report to the same authority. Ever since the incident at the docks with that Red X fellow that got her superior Sergeant DeWolfe killed, she's had a red dot on her back. I know Barbara Gordon and whatever happened at that dock, I can assure you she was on the right side of the law that night."
"A higher ranking officer was killed. A wanted super thief was reported missing."
"And that hocus pocus weapon went missing as well, I get it. But if you think Detective Gordon knows anything she hasn't already confessed a thousand times, you're wasting your time."

The Captain stares at the man for a moment - expecting a reply that never comes. His head soon turns back to the sky and the lights in the distance as a cool breeze rushes passed the exposed skin of his forearms. A chill runs through his body, but he shrugs it off in an almost entirely inconspicuous manner.

"Did you reassign Detective Gordon to homicide like I asked?"
"I did," the Captain says gruffly. "Heard a lot of *****ing from Sofen for that move."
The man's lips retreat back to expose a toothy smirk of veiled intent. Smoothly, he reaches between the folds of his trench coat to reveal a pack of cigarettes. His fingers twittle across the box - slipping it open and sliding a single white cylinder out between his first two fingers. "Do you have a light, Captain?"

The Captain nods. As he searches his pants pocket, the man continues to speak. "Do you remember what I said to you about my investigation into Detective Gordon when she first transferred here?"
"Yes. You recited the story of Icarus, effectively stonewalling any possible symbiosis between departments for this investigation."
"I recall you didn't like the story."
"You talked about myths. Legends. I've worked this job for a long time, and I've seen some weird and crazy things along the way. But magic isn't real. Gods and immortals are a thing of the past." His hand exits the pocket to reveal a blue lighter. He raises it to chest level and rolls his thumb across the top, sparking a flame into life. "And flesh can't fly."

"But it can burn." With a flick of his fingers, the flame explodes ferverously from the lighter into a long streak of light which coils like a snake around the Captain's body. It takes only second before a vortex of fire encompasses his husky form. Panic dilates his pupils as the swirl of fire explodes into embers and ash. The Captain takes in a deep breath to scream, but his efforts are useless as the fire burns so intently that even the oxygen around his face and within his lungs is consumed.

"I appreciate your cooperation, but you're usefulness has long since expired. You hail from an ancient time that's been replaced. This is an age of legends, Captain Blake," the man flicks his fingers again with a loud "snap." Suddenly, the flames burn out as if a switch had been flipped. The light fades back into darkness and all that remains are the wisps of gray smog dense with ash that swirl around the charred remains of the Captain's body. Lifeless, it crumbles to the ground in a heap of smoking bone and clothing. "And people will believe in magic once again."


"As a detective, it's your job to put the pieces together to an incomplete puzzle that's no longer in mint condition without a direction manual. The first step is reviewing the pieces and matching them against one another to see if any one piece has a commonality to another."

"The day I came back, there were a lot of questions; from family, friends, colleagues, superiors, doctors - just about everyone you could think of had something to ask. But the one question that everyone asked me was "why?" It's an obvious question at first glance, but sometimes it's the obvious that's most confusing. Camouflage doesn't work because it's intricate or complex - it works because it's obvious. And we always tend to ignore what we can plainly see."

"So, back to the question; 'why.' Why did I come back? The answer is as obvious as the question."

"The story isn't done yet - and I'm not either."
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|Abandoned Railway Depot

The thunder rolled.

Steam rose from off the scorched earth where a black scar marred the ground that had been kissed by lightning. And, there, in the wisps, the boy stood with his hair standing on end and the breath robbed from his lungs. His aches and pains, the auras that had lingered in his vision, the pounding in his head, all vanished in the blink of an eye. A moment in which he'd been struck by lightning.

But even as he wasn't hurt -- far from it, he felt more alive now than he had before -- the boy found himself staring down at his hands and body in a mixture of disbelief and awe. Bronzed gauntlets wrapped around his forearms. A suit of brilliant crimson dressed his body. A gold sash wrapped his waist, and he saw what seemed a white cloak billowing behind him.

As though to reinforce what had just happened, a stylistic lightning bolt glowed from the center of the chest.

"What...." the youth stammered, struggling to comprehend the questions he wanted to ask and finding himself unable to articulate any of what he wanted to ask into words. "...just happened?"

"An end."

Turning his head up, the dark haired boy stared out at the horse-man cowled like a wizard from out of some Dungeons and Dragons fantasy. If Billy were really dying, then this was definitely the way to go.

By comparison, Alice in Wonderland was almost tame.

"To what?" the boy asked finally.

"The beginning."

Solemn words. As he spoke, the white wizard turned his horse-like head to face out toward the area behind the depot. A wall of sheet metal used to block out the view, now open as that wall no longer existed. Behind the old depot was an empty lot that had become a vagrant's trash dump. Old train parts, old cars, leftover lumber, and any mixture of good ideas or attempts at clearing away the mess -- only to leave it piled up instead.

The rusted husk of a '67 Ford truck sailed through the air, arcing as though lifted up by some unseen tornado -- like in the movies -- only to come crashing down near where the boy and the horse-mage were standing.


There was some inhuman quality to that voice. The sound sent a shiver up the boy's spine the moment he heard it, the otherworldly tone immediately conjuring thoughts of some malevolent evil alight in the world.

As though to answer the question before he'd even thought to ask it, the horse-mage spoke up beside the boy. "That creature is not of your world," the wizard uttered quietly, shifting his cane from one side to the next. "N'astirh belongs to a place which exists between places."

Billy just looked at the horse-faced wizard as though he wasn't even speaking English. "That... doesn't even make sense," the boy stated flatly, sparing a look at the wizard before he started toward the edge of what had been, once upon a time before the walls came tumbling down, his home.

The creature's voice caught him as he stepped to the edge of the foundation.


And then Billy saw it.


"Bigger than I imagined..." the boy muttered under his breath, even as he brought his arms up, cracking the knuckles of either hand as he started out toward the junk yard.
The Story So Far ...
Then: Youngest member of the Special Crimes Unit, Detective Barbara Gordon along with her partner Sergeant Jean DeWolfe was investigating the sale of a dangerous mystical weapon known as "The Gem." The masked thief known as Red X staged a coup to steal the weapon - the thief's attempt to harness the power of the Gem caused a dangerous discharge of cosmic energy. When the smoke cleared, Sergeant DeWolfe was found dead, the Gem missing, and Detective Gordon paralyzed from the waist down. Unbeknownst to anyone, the Gem was fused to her spinal cord - not only healing the detective's injuries, but granting her the cosmic powers of the Gravity Gem.

Now: Barbara Gordon works as a Detective on the Bludhaven Police Force. She is accompanied only by her mandatory partner, Psychiatrist Karla Sofen, who monitors the Detective's psychological state. But off the clock, the detective conducts her own investigations with the aid of the Gem bound to her spine as the masked vigilante known as Moonstone.
[Barbara Gordon]

[The Story][x1] - Bludhaven; The Streets

"What's the situation?"
"55th and Broad. Apartment complex with the obnoxious fire-escape fixed on the street side of the building."
"Identifiable for once. Nice."
"Don't get too excited - we have no clue which room she's in."

So here I am - leaning against the brick and mortar of an old Bludhaven housing building, shouting into my radio in the middle of broad daylight. My gun is drawn in my free hand - a feeling I'm still not used to no matter how many times I have to do it. I never liked the way the cris-cross grip of the cold steel fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. It always seemed deceivingly welcoming for an object that can so easily alter the course of a person's life forever.

"Is it a hostage situation?" His voice crackles over the radio.

Dr. Karla Sofen stands next to me, her back pressed against the wall as well. She reaches out and grabs my hand around the radio. She pulls it in close to her mouth and presses my thumb on the comm with hers.

I turn to her with a disgruntled glare. "We don't know that, yet," I whisper, trying not too be heard on the comlink.
She takes her finger off my thumb, "You and I both know she has her son up there," she tells me sternly. "Don't compromise the situation because you're paranoid."

"Paranoid?! How am I paranoid?" Suddenly, I find myself locked in an aggressive whispering match outside the dented iron door of the complex. The irony of such a comical exchange for such a risky situation isn't lost on me but I can't seem to muster the mental clarity nor fortitude to even smirk. Not now.

"You know they bring in SWAT and position snipers for a hostage situation. You're worried about someone getting shot. I understand, Barbara, but you have to realize the situation is what it is. Not every one is going home today, and if that's the case, we damn well better make sure it's that little boy, you and I, and every other person in the building behind us."

I stay quiet for a second but I keep my facial expression fixed. Her profiling skills far surpass mine. Part of my harshness towards her no doubt stems from how transparent I must seem through her eyes. At this point, all I can do is bluff.

"Maybe I don't want to escalate a volatile situation. The last thing we need is an armored car to roll up and cause her to fly off the handle."

Sofen's brow lowers. "Three years on the force and you haven't fired a single round while on duty except once. Don't try to convince me you're not hesitant to use your service weapon because your track record proves otherwise. I've seen you in the firing range myself; I know how fast and precise your aim is. But if you're not going to do what's necessary, or even reconcile the possibility in your mind, then hand me your gun and let someone without a dissociative fear complex do it for you."

I want to be angry. I want to pistol whip her right here on the sidewalk. But she's right.

I eye her up out of habit. It's instinct when I feel threatened. She wears the same kevlar mesh I do - it's draped over her white blouse. Her hair is pulled back into a tight bun for utility- only a few straggling strands of golden hair escape and dangle passed her cheeks. She looks like combat Barbie.

"You're not authorized to use a service weapon, Doctor. I am."
"Then do your job."


"Confirm, Gordon."
"Hostage situation. Female late thirties has her child held up in the apartment. Back up needed; request for a negotiator as well."
"Affirmative. We're sending a team to your location."
"Sofen is with you. She's qualified."

Qualified? Wait what?

I turn to her to see a wide smirk over her face. "You judge too closely by first glance, Barbara. It's a disservice to your skill."
"You're a negotiator?"
"Used to be. Four years. Why do you think they let me accompany you on duty?"
"Why'd you quit?"
"I like wearing heels," she jests. "Ready to breach?"

I nod. I start from three, bobbing on each count silently until I hit one. In a fell movement, I strike my heel into the door near the lock. It swings open, and Sofen and I rush the stairwell. She follows closely as we make our way to the third floor. She impresses me while I observe how she trails behind. Even without a weapon, she cautiously checks her corners and stays close to the walls for cover - keeping pace while staying hidden. It's standard military procedure for a breach - something civilians shouldn't know.

Before long we make it to the designated floor. At the end of the hall I see the room we're looking for; 5C. The door is closed. Sofen and I approach with care and position ourselves on either side of the door.

She jiggles the handle subtly. "Locked."

I let a soft breath out as I focus my mind. Discretely, I activate the power of the Gem in my spine. I visualize the lock in my thought-space, moving in front of it to cover - my body becoming an obstruction in Sofen's view. I touch the knob and excite the metal with energy from the gem. The lock becomes intangible for only a second or so - enough time for me to pull the door open before the particles in the metal slow to a cooler state, and it atomically solidifies.

"Not quite. Just jammed," I explain quietly as I retract the power beneath my skin.

Like a tiger stalking it's prey through the thick brush, we enter the apartment stealthily. Sneaking into a room during a hostage situation is almost like a simulation; reality is distorted. The rules to everything change instantly. A foot step, a door creek, a whimper, even the sound of a breath immediately spikes a surge of adrenaline into your bloodstream - a reaction that makes staying calm and patient suddenly seem almost impossible.

Sofen's words echo through my mind once more. Not everyone is going home today. I wish she would be wrong.

I grip my weapon with both hands and keep it positioned waist high. My muscles have been flexed for so long now I can feel the stinging pain pulsate from my tendons like steam off a boiling pot.

As I approach the living room, I cling to the wall; I peer around the corner. The light shinning through the windows is almost blinding in contrast to the darkness throughout the rest of the floor. In the center of the room I see the little boy sitting in a chair facing the window like an island in open water.

The whole scene looks like a trap; and the boy is likely the bait.

I turn to my back to signal Sofen, but as I look, she is no longer behind me. My stomach drops for a moment. It's fear. Where did Sofen go? Was she compromised? Did she bail? My mind fills with questions I refuse to answer. Any thought I have which isn't focused on the boy or his mother could cost me a life. And that's a toll I refuse to pay.

"This is Detective Gordon, Bludhaven PD," I shout, making my presence known. "I'm just here for the boy, Ms. Sullivan."

Silence meets my beckoning.

"Ms. Sullivan, we received multiple disturbance complaints. We know the court ruled your son, Marcus, was to be in your ex-husband's custody. I want to help you. If you let Marcus go right now, there's hope you'll still be able to see your son."
"You don't care!" A voice shrieks. The acoustic's of the room make it difficult to pinpoint her location. "You'll take him from me! You're in on it! You're all in on it with HIM!"

"Ma'am, I work for the state. I have no stake in this besides making sure you and your son are safe. Whatever the court ruled, I have to enforce - you're right. But you can appeal the court's decision - a new jury and a new judge will hear the case. You don't know what can happen. But I assure you, if you hurt your son, myself, or anyone else, any chance of that future disappears."

I poke my head around the corner again. I lock eyes with the young boy - from the stillness in his posture I can tell he's been staring at my position for awhile. I motion him to come to me. He hesitates.

"Now, come on, Ms. Sullivan. Help me help you. Just stay calm, come out. We can have a talk, okay?" I motion to the child again, this time to ask where his mother is hiding. He quirks his head for a moment, then I see him understand my gestures. He turns in his seat and stares. I motion again. His arm raises and he points his finger.

"Mommy," he says. My body goes numb as I trace the line from the tip of his point to the location where he's aiming; directly behind me.

"Ms Sullivan," I say cool-ly under my breath. As the words leave my lips I feel the floorboard dip beneath my heel - confirming my dreaded concern.

"Trust me," I begin as my body begins to pulsate with heat. "You don't want to do this." I activate the stone's energy to project over the surface of my skin. There's still a chance I can calm her down and dissuade her before I have to induce the gem's power.

The more I relent, the stronger the feeling gets within my limbs. It's a balance to keep control. I have to let just enough stay active so I can still respond. If I restrain it, and she strikes - I can't react in time.

The floorboard raises and I clench my fists tightly as the room goes silent. "Last. Chance."

The air stays quiet; I hear no reply. I can no longer take any chances.

In a supernatural jolt, I swing my elbow around to strike. I evade the crazed woman's slash and feel the rush of wind blow past my cheeks. I don't think as I reach out and tell my hand to grab hold. Synchronously, Ms. Sullivan forces a knife forward past my arm as my hand clasps her bicep and I pull her in. As she passes my body, I strike the crest of her wrist with the butt of the pistol, causing her to drop the knife as I throw her into the wall.

"NO!" She screams, lunging violently. She swings a pairing knife and I evade backward. The edge of the blade cuts by the bridge of my nose; my eyes watch for the exact moment I need. The blade passes, and I step forward. My fingers strike the pressure point below her heart, and my arm forces hers against her chest. She trips backward over a small table and we both fall together. I keep her at distance before rolling back to my feet.

As I realign, I'm surprised to find her standing firm as well. Her speed is frightening for a normal human. That coupled with her irrational behavior and labored breathing leads me to suspect the presence of amphetamines. This always complicates already uneasy conditions.

Surveying the space, I notice the open doorway between us. We eye each other up on either side of the doorway in the hallway. I stare at the knife in her hand and think. If I get enough speed, I can fake her out and dive into the next room for cover.

"This is the last time, Ms Sulliv-" I can't even finish my sentence before she leaps into a sprint - preparing to attack. Instinct kicks in and I can't help myself as I raise my gun and aim for her torso. I blink for only a second as my finger taps the trigger - a pseudo foreplay to the action of pulling it. A loud 'smack' catches my attention, and I relent, acting on good faith. As I stay my hand, the blink ends and my eyes open to see Dr. Sofen in an aggressive stance holding a collapsible baton by waist level. Our eyes lock and we take a second to breathe. She motions down to the unconscious body of Ms. Sullivan lying beneath her.

"I don't want to know why I was unaware you had that," I say with heaviness. I lower my arms as I try to cut the adrenaline rush back. I deactivate the gem and holster my pistol - a self demilitarization.

As the gem's power recedes, my body instantly feels the shock. Like a withdrawal, the drain always feels the same. It's not easy to switch back and forth. When the gem is active, it feels like I move faster while the world stays still. But the first few minutes after I turn it off feel like I just ran through a riptide for twenty-seven miles. I'll play it off well, but it makes this whole ordeal far more taxing than it had to be.

"Stow that baton and grab Marcus," I tell her as I lean down to one knee. I pull the handcuffs out of the pouch on my belt and wrap them around Ms. Sullivan's limp wrists.

"You didn't think I'd come with you completely unarmed, did you?" She asks in confusion.
I smile, "I guess I'm just more surprised at how well you used it."
I catch her grin briefly for the span of a pico-second before making her way toward the boy.

As she comforts him, I realize how vital Sofen's presence was. I'd been without a partner since Jean. It was nice to realize someone had my back again whether I needed them or not.

"Snipers in position," the radio growls from my pocket.
I push the comm, "It's all clear. We apprehended the suspect; the boy is safe."
"No shots fired?" He asks with surprise.

"No shots fired," I say with relief. I look up at Sofen as she approaches with Marcus held closely by her side. "Everyone's going home tonight," I say proudly.
"A pleasant exception to the rule."
"Which rule would that be?"
"My analysis," she replies in a mysterious manner with masked intent that would make Malificent blush.

"Can you, like, for once not be a creepy, conceited shrink? Just for two seconds. You make it so difficult for me to even try and like you."

I rise to my feet when suddenly a thought hits me. "Wait: did you just use me as bait?"
"You're fine, aren't you?"
" ... Definitely leaning toward not liking you. Like, at all. No joke."

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&#8220;Get up.&#8221;

Angela Del Toro, my long-term girlfriend, shakes me gently and I groan, knowing that it&#8217;s time to get out of bed again.

&#8220;Five more minutes.&#8221;

I roll away from her and yawn loudly.

&#8220;Get up, Matt.&#8221;

This time her shake is a little more violent and a little less patient.

&#8220;Just give me five more minutes.&#8221;

I hear her heavy sigh and the sound of shoes falling to the ground as she slides her feet into them.

&#8220;Whatever, I don&#8217;t have time for this. I&#8217;ve got to get to work.&#8221;

She shuts the door to her apartment behind her and suddenly I am alone. I glance over at the clock and smile contentedly knowing that I&#8217;ve managed to steal another five minutes or so in bed. Ted can open up without me. He&#8217;s done it plenty of times before and Monday mornings tend to be pretty quiet.

I close my eyes. When I open them the clock reads 10:15pm.

&#8220;Goddamn it.&#8221;

Somehow five minutes turned into an hour and fifteen minutes. I leap out of bed and reach for the crumpled t-shirt lying on Angela&#8217;s bedroom floor, throw on my jeans, and slip on my sneakers as I make my way to the door. Chances are the gym won&#8217;t be too busy at this time, but even so Ted won&#8217;t let me hear the end of it.


Ted Grant stands triumphantly by the entrance of Wildcat&#8217;s Gym as I arrive. For a man that used to be heavyweight champion of the world, Ted has grown into a fairly unassuming, unintimidating individual. Or maybe I only think that because, having lived with him for nearly fifteen years, I know he wouldn&#8217;t hurt a fly unless he had reason to.

&#8220;What time do you call this, kid?&#8221;

&#8220;Sorry I&#8217;m late, Ted. I got held up at Angela&#8217;s this morning.&#8221;

&#8220;Yeah, I&#8217;m sure you did. I spent many a morning getting &#8216;held up&#8217; at some broad or another&#8217;s place when I was your age too, if memory serves.&#8221;

Ted was quite the lady-killer in his time. Whenever I roll out of bed late, he always presumes it&#8217;s because Angela&#8217;s kept me up late or that she refused to let me out of bed in the morning. If only my life were that interesting.

&#8220;Spare me the details. How&#8217;s Tom looking?&#8221;

Tom Bronson is Ted&#8217;s current protégé. It&#8217;s not hard to see why; he&#8217;s young, tall, as strong as a bull, with the temper of one to boot. Despite that, he seems one of the brighter boys to have walked through Wildcat&#8217;s doors in recent years. So much so that Ted had scheduled him a bout against a boy from a gym on Yancy Street tomorrow night.

&#8220;Not too bad, not too bad. He could do with a little more work on his footwork, but outside of that I think he&#8217;ll be ready in time for tomorrow.&#8221;

I smile and look around the gym. It&#8217;s the biggest one of its kind in Hell&#8217;s Kitchen and attracted some of the best talent in the tri-state area. As you&#8217;d expect for a gym owned by a former heavyweight champion that was as generous with his time as he was with his money.

Aside from Tom, the most impressive of the most recent crop of kids were a scrawny preteen by the name of Miles and a thirteen-year old by the name of Austin Cao. Miles was fast, had incredible hand speed for someone his age, and had already begun to indulge in trash talk like his hero Floyd Mayweather, much to Ted&#8217;s chagrin. Austin was quiet, sneaky strong, far less talented than Tom and Miles but worked twice as hard.

Usually he was in the gym every morning doing cardio. The past week or so neither Ted, nor I, had heard a word from him. If it were anyone else it wouldn&#8217;t be suspicious at all, but from Austin it made me worried.

&#8220;Still no Austin?&#8221;

&#8220;Not from the looks of it. Some of the boys say he&#8217;s having a bit of trouble at home.&#8221;

&#8220;What kind of trouble?&#8221;

Ted runs his hand through the grey whiskers that surround his mouth and shoots me a steely look that brooks no arguments.

&#8220;The kind of trouble that&#8217;s none of our business.&#8221;


I let go of the heavy bag and shoot the twelve-year old that had been furiously pummeling away at it for the past twenty seconds or so a thumbs up. The boy shoots me one back and totters off with a smile. From the corner of my eye I notice Miles making his way towards the exit and, making sure Ted doesn&#8217;t see me, make my way towards him.

&#8220;Miles, wait up.&#8221;

&#8220;What&#8217;s up, Mr. M?&#8221;

At some point the kids had started calling me &#8220;Mr. M&#8221; despite my insisting that they call me Matt. Miles had come up with it and, given his outspoken nature, it was no surprise that it had spread through the rest of the boys like wildfire.

&#8220;Where&#8217;s Austin?&#8221;

Miles&#8217; face drops at the mention of Austin&#8217;s name.

&#8220;His dad told him not to come by anymore.&#8221;

It wasn&#8217;t an original tale. A lot of boys of Austin&#8217;s age were taken out of extracurricular activities and told it was time for them to &#8220;earn their keep&#8221;, more often than not standing on some corner somewhere.

&#8220;What do you mean?&#8221;

&#8220;He came to school yesterday, face all bruised up, said they&#8217;d had a fight about something.&#8221;

I feel my fists clenching so tightly that I can barely feel my fingers anymore. I&#8217;ve never pretended to be the most levelheaded individual in the world, but since meeting Angela I&#8217;d managed to keep it in control for the most part. But the thought of a grown man laying his hands on a child made me sick to my stomach with rage.

&#8220;I think maybe I should have a word with Austin&#8217;s dad. Does he still hang out at Josie&#8217;s Bar?&#8221;

&#8220;Last I heard. Honestly though, Mr. M? I wouldn&#8217;t if I was you. Austin&#8217;s dad hangs out with a pretty bad crowd.&#8221;

&#8220;Yeah, well a few words can&#8217;t hurt, can they?&#8221;

The look on Miles&#8217; face says otherwise.
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Louie's Ristorante
Dowtown Gotham

Louie's was known for three things. First was the elderly owner the restaurant was named after, who greeted every patron as they entered the establishment for over six decades. Everyone knew Louie. Second was the best Italian food in the city, which is saying something in Gotham. It was like what you remembered mom making, but better. Third and final was the fact that Louie's was one of the few defacto neutral zones in the Gotham mob war. No one hurt each other in Louie's. No one fought around Louie's. It was where opposing sides came to meet, eat, and go their seperate ways before resuming hostilities.

Tonight, Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni sat together for the first time in years to discuss the state of the war their families had been fighting for nearly as long as the very restaurant had been in operation. Both factions had their ups and downs, and Sal's more vicious tactics had finally put the Maronis in striking distance of Don Falcone's long tenured time at the top. But there were rules in a fight like this, and they would respect them in Louie's place.

The rules, however, had been broken the night before, and that put both men on edge.

Don Falcone looked at the younger man sitting across from him with mild contempt as he began his meal, "So, about this Batman."

"Do you have any idea who it is?" Maroni prodded, not looking up from the plate in front of him. He had no desire to be talking to the old man, but the attack on the East Street Dragons had cut into Maroni's business. He couldn't say no when Falcone called to talk about it.

"I was going to ask you the same thing," was the Don's retort. "Clearly it was someone who knew you were dealing with the Dragons. Even I'm humble enough to admit I had no idea. Have you gotten rid of anyone recently."

"Come on now, Carmine," Maroni laughed in the other boss's face, "you and I both know when I get rid of someone, I get rid of them permanently."

"So an outsider, then," Falcone pondered.

"How do we handle that?" Maroni asked, honestly unsure of the answer.

Don Falcone waved the question away, "Whoever it is, he'll slip up eventually and Loeb's boys will take care of him. We keep on doing business as usual."

"And if he doesn't slip up?" Maroni was unconvinced.

"Well then we take things to the next level on this guy," Falcone shot back. "Either way, he dies."


Gotham City District Attorney's Office

It was another late night for Assistant District Attorney Harvey Dent. The Batman Bust, as the media was calling it, demanded his full attention, especially considering his boss wanted nothing to do with the case. Being paid off by the mob often rendered their job full of conflicts of interest. Harvey didn't have that problem. Instead it was replaced by death threats and danger when he prosecuted these lowlifes to the full extent of the law.

The day had been filled with calls to the FBI and multiple foreign nations reporting the women the Batman had freed as well as trying to get anything from the arrested gang members about who they were working with. The former was a happier occassion, as Dent knew he would help in reuniting families with loved ones. The latter, however, was mostly unsuccessful.

As he cleared his desk to prepare to go home and maybe catch a few winks of sleep, his phone rang. On the other end was his assistant, "Yes, Jessica?"

"Sir, there's...uh...someone here to see you," she said tentatively in a hushed whisper.

"And who would that be?" Dent was impatient.

"Um, Bruce Wayne," she nearly giggled.

Bruce Wayne was at his office. Dent never expected to see or speak to Wayne again, even after he apparently came back from the dead the year before. Their falling out over an old high school love seemed to have split them forever even if the fight seemed trivial now. Still, it was a breach of trust Harvey had never forgotten.

"Send him in," the assistant DA said after a long pause. Nearly immediately, the richest man in Gotham stepped into the cluttered office wearing the most pristine suit Dent had ever seen. It was probably worth more than the car Harvey was about to drive home in. Wayne's powerful physique and the trademark suave look he had worn all through their brief friendship in high school betrayed his social standing clearly. Bruce Wayne was still the same rich, arrogant prick. Dent was sure of that.

"Harvey," the billionaire smiled and firmly shook hands with his long forgotten friend, "you look tired."

Dent smiled begrudgingly, "Well, we all can't have the luxury of the billionaire's life, Bruce. How have you been?"

"Good, good," he still had the smug smile on his face. "I'm sorry it's taken me this long to come and visit you."

"I have to say I'm surprised you came at all," Dent admitted. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Well, first, I want to apologize," Bruce started off. "For what happened between you and I before I left. And Selina. That was...unfortunate."

Harvey was taken aback. Maybe he had changed a little.

"Bruce, we were all kids," Harvey acted as if he understood. "We made mistakes. A lot of them."

"How is Selina?" Wayne asked.

"I wouldn't know," Dent shook his head. "After it all went down the two of us rarely spoke again. After high school I went off to college and I never saw her again. I'm actually happily married to my wife Gilda now. We're actually expecting our first child in a few months."

"Well, I'm happy to hear that," Bruce sounded genuinely happy for him. "But I also came about business."

"Oh?" Dent's eyebrow raised.

"I see this city changing, Harv," Wayne stood and walked towards the window that looked out into Gotham. "But I'm not sure it can truly change with the people that are running it."

Dent perked up at Wayne's words. He had always been looking at ways to imrpove Gotham, even if it was nearly impossible due to the rampant corruption. If someone like Bruce Wayne was looking for something similar, maybe Dent had a chance after all.

"What are you proposing?" he let on that he was willing to hear what Bruce was saying.

"There's an election next year-"

"And you want me to go for DA?" Harvey guessed where this was going.

"No," Wayne turned from the window to look back at his old friend, "I want you to run for mayor."

Falcone Mansion

Carmine Falcone was roused from his bed by the ringing of his phone. Next to him, his young, third bride mumbled a complaint before he shushed her. Answering the call, the frantic voice of his second in command, the man known only as Hammerhead, responded "Boss! Boss! We got a problem."

"What is it, Hammerhead?" Falcone groggily asked. Hammerhead often embelished problems, but this sounded serious. The mob boss readied himself of news of another strike by the Batman.

What he got was worse.

"They torched it," Hammerhead responded. "They torched the stockroom."

The Narrows

Detective Kane watched as the remains of the building smoldered in front of her and the rest of the city block was still ablaze. The fire department was finally getting the inferno under control, but the damage done was exstensive. Many of the poor people in the neighboring buildings were displaced, and the explosion that started the blaze was believed to have killed several.​

What was believed originally to be a gas leak was revealed to clearly be arson after it was discovered the building was a drug warehouse. For what mob, no one knew, but whoever set the fire wanted to hurt them.​

"Now how do you feel about the Batman?" Bullock growled at her. The elder detective was sure it was the vigilante, but Kane thought differently. He hadn't killed any of the men he fought the night before, and had made sure to let the police know about the women trapped in the basement. That's clearly someone who values human lives.​

Before she could answer, something drew her attention inside the smoking ruins. It was a black shadow that seemed to be sifting through the rubble. Kane rushed over to one of the fire trucks, grabed an oxygen mask, and rushed towards the figure before Bullock could react. Drawing her gun, she came to a dead halt in front of the Batman, who was kneeling and examining the location where the fire started.​

"Freeze!" Kane yelled as the gun rattled in her hands.​

"Detective Kane," was Batman's only reply as he took samples of the area around the blast. Once he was done, he stood and looked at her. "You and I both know I had nothing to do with this. But I'll find out who did. Now, put down the gun."

She looked down to holster her gun, and when she looked back up, Batman had disappeared into the smoke.​


Clark had spent the days since he saved the falling plane reading and listening into the reactions across the world and Metropolis. Most in the city were ecstatic that they had a guardian angel like him looking over them, but there was a loud opposiition to what he could do. But it wasn't just him. It seemed that there were others like him springing up across the world. Vigilantes and heroes were being sighted across the glob, and it was sending government officials into a state of panic. None knew how to handle people like him, and it seemed they were in a rush to figure that out. He worried what the ramifications of that would be, but governments were the least of his concern. He wasn't doing this for them. He was doing it for the little guy or gal who was forgotten in the cogs of industry and governance. Clark was a protector of the innocent, not the powerful.​

"My friends, this so-called 'Superman' says he's here for our good, but how can we really trust him?" the voice of G. Gordon "Glorious" Godfrey belted out from the speakers of Clark's TV. The media, or more accurately, Lois Lane, had dubbed him Superman. It was a bit over the top, he had to admit, but it was certainly evocative. Godfrey, on the other hand, had done nothing but bemoan Kent's emergence as a hero. The loud mouth was always stirring up the excitable masses, and he was trying his best on this topic. "Who is he? If his awe-shucks attitude was really genuine, why wouldn't he tell us his true name? No, this Superman fella is nothing more than a mutant glory hound trying to distract you from the fact that his people are a danger to our planet and a menace to the human ra-"

Clark shut the TV off, having enough of Godfrey's drivel. The rhetoric was effective, that's for sure, and Kent thought he needed to change the discussion. Saving people was all well and good, but continuously being slandered with no retort would be a losing plan after a while, especially when Godfrey was the one spitting the venom.

Donning his costume, Superman took to the skies of Metropolis in order to find the one person he knew could help him on this crusade. He made his way to the Daily Planet building, where he found her smoking on the roof.

"Those things will kill you, you know," he smiled as he set down in front of her.

"Jeez!" Lois Lane yelled in surprise. "Heart attacks will too! I don't know who you think you are, but stalking me an sneaking up on me won't win you any favors."

"I'm sorry. I needed a place that I knew people wouldn't see me." Superman was amused, "I wasn't stalking you. But I hoped you would be here tonight."

"And why's that, tight pants?" she asked skeptically.

"I was hoping to give you an interview," he answered honestly. "There's been an awful lot of bad press about me the past few days, and I think it's high time I get my side of the story out there."

Lane's face lit up like the Fourth of July after Superman uttered the word "interview". He knew she had wanted this since the day she began following him across the world. He himself had submitted article about Superman's exploits across the world, but she always got more exposure, while his, which were written well after the events to ensure no one became suspicious, were often relegated to smaller publications and websites. Lois Lane was a tiger in the journalistic world, but he knew she had the ethics and morals he could trust.

"An interview? Now?" she was slightly flabbergasted.

"Miss Lane you've been following me around the world for a better part of a decade," he showed her he knew who she was. "You have to have some questions ready."

"Yea, yea, sure," she nodded, producing a digital recorder from her bag. "Let's get started."

"Now, I do have to warn you," Clark cautioned, "I can't answer everything. There are somethings about me that I'm not sure people are ready to hear just yet."

While she seemed to bristle at that caveat, she soldiered on, "Okay. Let's start with an easy one. Why do you do what you do? Everywhere you go, you help the people that need it most."

"Well," Superman smiled, "like I said the other day, I'm here to help. I was raised in the midwest, see. On a farm. My pa raised me right and he told me there was always someone everyone else was ignoring. There was always someone that was afraid to ask for help. There was always someone who didn't even know they needed help. Those are the people I'm here for. Everyone who thinks they can't make it through. I hope to be the person to show them that nothing is impossible. My pa, he told me once my powers started to show that I could do that. I could show people that with a little elbow grease anything is possible."

"Well, aren't you just a soldier for truth, justice, and the American way," Lane responded sarcastically.

"It's a tad corny, I admit," Clark nodded with a chuckle. "But I think it's important. If you can do what I can do, remembering that every person, no matter how small, is important keeps you grounded. Especially when you can fly. It'd be too easy for me to be big headed otherwise."

"Even the bad people?" Lois shot back.

"I'm sorry?" Clark asked for clarification.

"The bad people. Are they important?"

"Of course they are," Superman asserted. "I have to believe people can change. I have to believe they can reform. If not, what I'm doing is meaningless."

Lois looked surprised at that answer, "Well, I think that's enough to get me a front page article. We should do this again sometime. I'll buy dinner."

Clark held back a blush and was thankful it was fairly dark on the Planet's roof, "I'd like that, Miss Lane."

He took off again, leaving her to ponder her encounter.


Stryker's Island Penitentiary

He sat alone in his oppulent cell flipping through the pages of the Daily Planet. He was an old fashioned man and enjoyed the old fashioned feel of a real newspaper. The prisoner had received one every day since his encarceration started all those decades ago, and every day he read every single word in it. Even the funnies entertained him more than the preposterous nonsense that filled most of the TV channels. He longed for the day real newsmen were on broadcast news once again.

But one new thing drew his attention more than anything he could recently remember. That, of course, was the Superman. The two articles about the new hero from Lois Lane filled the jailed man with joy. Here was his chance. Finally someone worth getting in contact with.

He propelled his wheelchair towards the phone and rang the warden, "Warden, I have a request."

"And what's that?" the weery head of the prison asked.

"I'd like to meet with Superman," the crippled criminal responded. "See what you can do."

As he hung up the phone, the Ultra-Humanite smiled broadly.

It only takes a few seconds of mulling over for me to realise that telling Angela about where I&#8217;m going tonight is a bad idea. She&#8217;s beautiful, intelligent, and way out of my league. How many ex-felons have girlfriends that work on The Daily Bugle? Not many of them, that&#8217;s for sure. And ideally I want to keep her my girlfriend. But sometimes that means knowing when to keep my mouth shut.

I do my best to sneak out of the apartment without her noticing.

&#8220;Where are you going?&#8221;

Damn it.

&#8220;I&#8217;ve got to speak to someone.&#8221;

&#8220;At this time of night? Can&#8217;t it wait until tomorrow?&#8221;

I want to tell her about what&#8217;s been going on. I hate lying to her like this. But I have no choice. She&#8217;ll never let me leave the apartment if she knew why I was going. And I&#8217;ll be damned if I let Cao put his hands on Austin again.


&#8220;You can&#8217;t keep disappearing in the middle of the night like this, Matt. This isn&#8217;t a halfway house. You don&#8217;t get to come and go as you please without consulting me.&#8221;

She&#8217;s right, of course. She always is.

&#8220;Angela, I love you. But I don&#8217;t have time for this right now.&#8221;

&#8220;Of course you don&#8217;t. You have to speak to someone.&#8221;

I kiss her on the head as I put a snug baseball cap over my head.

&#8220;Don&#8217;t wait up.&#8221;


I step through the door of Josie&#8217;s Bar and it falls silent for half a second as a dozen heads turn in my direction. Josie&#8217;s is notoriously unfriendly to out-of-towners, especially ones without connections. The half a second passes and I garner a nod of recognition from a few faces scattered around. Boys I used to run with as kids that have long since given up trying to walk the straight and narrow, mostly. I might be all that&#8217;s left of the Murdock name, but it still carries some weight around these parts.

In the corner drinking on his own is a short man Vietnamese man of muscular build. You can tell by the way he moves that he knows how to handle himself in a fight. No wonder Austin didn&#8217;t stand a chance.

I order a drink at the bar and make my way towards him.

&#8220;Are you Austin Cao&#8217;s father?&#8221;

&#8220;Who wants to know?&#8221;

The first thing I notice is the scar over his eye. The second thing is the smell of bourbon all over him. From the looks of it, Cao&#8217;s been here since the morning.

&#8220;My name&#8217;s Matt Murdock, I work down at Wildcat&#8217;s Gym. I was wondering if I could have a word with you.&#8221;

He rolls his eyes and knocks back a hefty mouthful of bourbon.

&#8220;What&#8217;s the boy done this time?&#8221;

I can feel myself getting angrier with every second I spend in his presence. Even his choice of words rankles me. From the looks of him, and his choice of establishment, he&#8217;s obviously spent time behind bars. Big whoop. But even clearer is that he doesn&#8217;t know a damn thing about Austin. He was a good kid, kept his nose clean, and made his grades.


&#8220;Then why the hell are you here?&#8221;

I lean in close to him.

&#8220;I&#8217;m here to offer you a bit of friendly advice, seeing as you&#8217;re obviously not from Hell&#8217;s Kitchen: news travels quickly around here. You go around leaving baseball-sized bruises on a thirteen-year old boy&#8217;s face and people are going to talk.&#8221;

The gears begin to whir in Cao&#8217;s head. I see the look on his face turn from bemusement into aggression. He stands up from his seat and places his glass down on the table. It&#8217;s all I can do not to smash the damn thing in his face.

&#8220;You don&#8217;t get to tell me how to discipline my own son.&#8221;

Josie&#8217;s falls silent. From behind me, I feel something hard and metallic press against my head and the sound of a gun being cocked rings in my ears. How could I be so stupid? Cao wasn&#8217;t alone. I place my hands above my head and step back from Cao slightly.

&#8220;What was I thinking? You&#8217;re absolutely right. It&#8217;s not my place to tell you how to conduct your affairs.&#8221;

Cao smiles.

&#8220;Good. Now let me offer you a bit of friendly advice in return: turn around and walk out of here whilst you still can.&#8221;

I take one last mouthful of my drink and silently walk out without so much as a glimpse behind me. The sound of Cao&#8217;s shrill cackle in the background sends a shiver down my spine as the door slams behind me and I walk down the pavement. That was stupid, Matt. Really stupid.

I&#8217;ve been home for about an hour or so and can&#8217;t sleep. I sit in the lounge thumbing through the scrapbook I used to keep of my father in the hopes it'll cure my restlessness. It's been a while since I last looked at it, I do so less and less as I&#8217;ve grown up, I guess adult life sort of leaves you with less time to reminiscence. The piece in my hands is one of my favourites. &#8220;Jack Murdock: The Man Without Fear!&#8221;


MURDOCK: What can I say about Teddy that hasn&#8217;t already been said? He&#8217;s the consummate professional, a gentleman both in and outside the ring, and one of the nicest people I&#8217;ve ever had the pleasure to know. Without him there&#8217;s no doubt in my mind I&#8217;d be on the street somewhere, in a prison cell, or dead. So it&#8217;s bittersweet to have this opportunity knowing that I wouldn&#8217;t have it were it not for his help: on one hand I&#8217;m looking forward to shocking the world this weekend and walking away with the win, on the other it&#8217;ll break my heart to take the belt from him. But that&#8217;s exactly what I intend to do.

KOMENSKI: So you&#8217;re not scared at all?

MURDOCK: Scared? Why would I be scared?

KOMENSKI: They say that Ted Grant can&#8217;t be knocked out. They say he punches harder than any boxer in the world. How can you possibly hope to beat him?

MURDOCK: They said the same of Crusher Creel once too and look what happened to him. Read my lips: I&#8217;m going to beat Ted Grant this weekend. Somehow, someway, I&#8217;ll do whatever it takes.

KOMENSKI: And you&#8217;re not worried he&#8217;ll knock you out?

MURDOCK: No, I&#8217;ve never been knocked out before and I don&#8217;t intend to start anytime soon.

KOMENSKI: Jack Murdock, thank you.

MURDOCK: Thank you.

I put it down and smile for a few moments before realising that my hands are still shaking from earlier. They&#8217;ve not stopped shaking from the moment I walked out of Josie&#8217;s. I&#8217;ve been in scrapes before and I'm no stranger to guns but I&#8217;ve never had one pressed to my head like that before. My life could have ended right there and then and what would I have had to show for it? Nothing.

I clench my fists and bite on them gently in the hopes it'll stop the shaking. It doesn't.

I'm still scared and I can't shake the thought that he wouldn't have been.
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Cape Canaveral, FL

Sue took another deep breath as she prepared her spacesuit. It had been specifically developed by Reed to protect them from the forces of the hyperdrive they'd be testing that day, so she really had nothing to worry about. Still, there was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach she couldn't shake.

"Do I look that bad?" she asked Hal, who was looking at her with that kind of look where he knew something was wrong but didn't want to draw attention to it.

"Well, you certainly don't look to happy about seeing years of work finally pay off," Jordan shrugged. "It's not like you not to be giddy on such an occasion."

He wasn't wrong. Jordan often teased her about how excited she got about science and the art of discovery. It was something Sue's father had fostered in her since nearly the day she was born. It made her proud that he'd be sitting in the audience watching this momentous occassion. She'd have never gotten here without him.

"I don't know, Hal," Sue shook her head. "I just have a feeling."

"Hey, pilots have feelings," he laughed. "You have the brains."

Sue chuckled. It was easy to be with Hal. He was funny, laid back, and actually had fun. More or less, he was the opposite of Reed. She'd be lying if she said she didn't wish he was going up with her, but she knew Ben Grimm was just as capable as a pilot, not to mention Johnny being there as well. Plus, she'd finally be among the stars like she had always dreams. Hal was right, there was no reason to be nervous. Sue had waited her entire life for this, and she wasn't going to let the opportunity pass her by.

"Almost time for final prep," she said, standing. "Don't be too jealous now."

"I wouldn't dream of it," he shot her a grin. "Plus, next time I'm coming, no matter what Mister Fantastic thinks."

"After this, you'll be lucky if you ever get to touch the X-1," she referenced the rocket they'd be flying in today. Sue felt terrible for Hal. He had spent all that time training just to end up grounded thanks to petty personal issues. She knew he'd have other chances.

"Doctor Storm," one of the launch technicians popped his head into her room, "it's time to board."

Sue nodded and smiled before her and Hal embraced, sharing a long kiss.

"Good luck, Einstein," he said after they parted. "See you soon."

Sue followed the launch tech down a long hallway, passing windows that showed the gleaming structure of the X-1 for brief periods. Seeing the sleek, agile-looking craft nearly brought a tear to Sue's eye. This was the culmination of years of her life, and it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen up to that point. Sue stepped onto the platform that would take her up to the cockpit and took another deep breath.

"God she is sexy," a familiar voice said as it came up next to Sue. She turned and smiled at her baby brother Johnny. "I promise I'll be gentle. I know it's her first time."

Sue slapped her brother on the side of the head, "We're about to make scientific history. Could you at least take this partially serious."

"I am being serious!" he protested. Johnny had always been a trouble maker. He was smart as a whip even though he'd never match his prodigy sister's intelligence, but he wasn't interested in academia unless it meant prestige. Johnny was a glory hound through and through, even thought Sue knew his braggart exterior hid a truly good person. Still, he was a spectacular pilot.

"Sure you were," the gruff voice of Ben Grimm, the eldest of the pilot candidates barked as he joined the other two. Grimm was built like a tank. He was shorter than Sue, but was wider than any man she had ever seen before. From Manhattan, Grimm had a thick New York accent. "That's why I saw you flirting with that tech earlier."

"Don't hate the player, Ben. Hate the game," was the young man's retort. "Besides, we're testing dangerous equipment. I need to get all my flirting in now."

"It's not dangerous," came the cold, calculated voice of Reed Richards. "I quadruple checked all the calculations last night."

Reed didn't say anything else cordial as the platform moved up towards the boarding area. Sue could see that look of scary determination in Reed's eyes that he had whenever he decided he wanted something. It was what drove him to be considered one of the smartest men in the world. Still, it was scary. Not in the sense that it could hurt you, but in the sense that it was unbelievable anyone could be so driven.

Before long the plafrom stopped, and the four explorers strapped themselves into the seats of the X-1 as Ben and Johnny began the preparations for take off. The door to the spacecraft closed, and the butterflies in Sue's stomach jumped. It was finally time. She had waited so long, but it was finally time.

"X-1 team, are you ready?" the launch team leader asked from the command center.

"This is X-1 pilot," Ben responded. "All systems are nominal and ready for launch."

As the countdown began, so many thoughts raced through Sue's head that she missed the go for launch. The force from the X-1's rocket boosters was dampened by the force dampeners she had designed for the ship's living quarters, leaving take off to be a fairly pleasent experience. She watched in amazement as the ship pierced Earth's atmosphere and entered orbit. Tears of joy trickled down her face as she saw the beautiful marble that was Earth from space.

"Well, would you look at that," Johnny beamed as he joined her in awe.

"It's gorgeous," Sue agreed with him.

"Hell yea it is," Ben grunted.

"Yes, spectacular," Reed was too busy testing the controls for the warp drive to really take notice. "Have we acheived orbit, Ben?"

"Yea, we're synched in nicely," Grimm gave the affirmative.

"Very well, Houston, we'll be testing out the warp drive," Reed transmitted back to the planet. "A quick trip to Mars and back should be an adequate test of the technology."

Reed looked over at Sue, who nodded and began ramping up the hyperdrive using her own controls. The two were working perfectly in synch to get their dream finalized. Johnny and Ben exchanged confused glances as they listened to the two geniuses throwing specs, data, and scientific terms to one another. It was at a moment like this that it was clear why the two had once been lovers.

"Reed," Sue said after a brief moment of silence, "it's ready."

"Then let us take the first step in making humanity an interstellar people," Reed smiled weakly.

Together, they activated the warp drive, and the space around them bent and distorted as the wormhole formed around them. But quickly, Sue realized something was wrong. The force dampeners began to fail, and what should have been a few seconds in hyperspace began stretching on and on. She could hear screaming, she wasn't sure if it was hers or one of the others. The world around her began to stretch and contort, and she could have sworn the X-1 was breaking up around her. Bright, blinding light filled the cabin, and Sue passed out.

The TV was off and The Joker paced back and forth while looking at the wooden floor. His three henchmen watched nervously wondering what the criminal mastermind was going to say.

He finally look up and said, "All those flowers and notes and candy I sent to J-Lo and she didn't even acknowledge me!" The Joker shook his head and said, "Remind me when this is all over that I need to find some Lopez and teach her some manners."

All three nodded and The Joker said, "Oh but don't think I'm gonna kill her. Oh no no not in the least. Just teach her to respect her public."

The Joker walked over to a dry erase board and wrote on it "Talent Show."

He said, "Now we need to find a way in so that we can show our talents, and our talents is causing chaos. What do you boys got?"

One of them said, "We can just blast our way in."

The Joker looked at the henchmen and shrugged his shoulders. He said, "Eh not my first choice, and very crude no style at all. However it does set a tone. I'll keep that in mind Moe."

Another asked, "What about we buy a ticket and we spring out of our seats?"

The Joker replied, "They might be patting us down at the door, and you all know how sensitive I am to be touched in certain spots. But it does have more of the style I'm looking for. Getting warmer Larry."

The last one said, "Break through the skylight and take care of 'em."

The Joker stared at the henchman for a moment. Then crossed over to him and kissed him on the lips. The Joker stepped back and said, "Curley! You're beautiful. Combines showmanship with style and surprise! Beautiful! You may make your mother proud yet! HA HA HA HA HA HA!"

The Joker then started writing furiously on the board and said, "Okay we need this stuff to make it happen, and the blueprints to the Warner Theater in the downtown area! Get to it boys! We got a show to put on!"

Alexis Luthor stood on the steps in front of the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage on picture perfect day in downtown Metropolis with several media outlets in front of her. The sounds of cameras going off and ambient noise of the downtown area broke the silence as Alexis smiled before the cameras.

She said, "For far too long this Orphanage has been under the threat of foreclosure and the object of scorn and ridicule by those who have never known the hardships that these children feel, and who would seek to undermine the good work that the Sisters here are performing."

Alexis shook her head and said, "I for one will not stand by and watch it happen any longer. I grew up not far from here, and in the quieter moments of my day I think about those times."

Alexis brushed away a "tear" and said, "These children need to know that someone will care for them, and do whatever they can to see them through their darkest days."

There was a polite applause and a smattering of head nods. Alexis then said, "I know that most of you all came here expecting to see me pull out some oversized check to help with the payments. Well that's not going to happen."

The Sisters looked shock and people began to look at one another. Alexis said, "Instead I did this."

She puled out a sheet of paper and said, "This ladies and gentlemen is the deed to the Orphanage, and it is my honor to hand this over to Sister Mary Catherine."

The ohs and ahhs and applause is tremendous. Alexi said, "Never again will you have to fear losing this place that is home to so many. You can know continue on in security and knowing that I will always be an advocate for you all."

Sister Mary stepped forward and took the paper shaking and weeping. She and Alexis embraced as she said, "God Bless you Alexis."

Alexis smiled and nodded. When they broke their embrace Alexis walked back to the podium and said, "I have one more surprise to make. For months now the Health Department has been needlessly harassing the Sisters over the children not having their physicals." Alexis shook her head and said, "No more! Tomorrow morning there will be several medical teams from the Alexiscorp Health Center here to give each child a complete physical."

Everyone in attendance began to applaud as Alexis smiled and nodded. She answered a few questions, posed for some pictures with the children and nuns, and then took her leave.

As Percy closed the door to the Limo and they drove off Alexis took off her black Armani jacket and threw it down.

She opened a nearby compartment and took out another jacket that looked like the other one and put it on.

Alexis made herself a Tonic & Gin and said, "I don't know what was more disgusting the nun crying all over my jacket or those leeches touching it."

She took a drink and said, "When we get back to the towers burn the jacket Percy."

Alexis took another drink and said, "In either case it doesn't matter. I did the PR thing, and since the physicals are being done by my company I will have access to the children's files. Meaning I will be able to find out which children are pre-disposed to being a mutant, and that knowledge will certainly be to my advantage."

Alexis raised her glass and said, "Remember Percy knowledge is power."

She took another gulp and leaned back in the seat. Alexis pulled out her L-Pad and said, "All right Mr. Gates let's see if you can top my 36 point word in 'Words with Friends' or do I let you stay close and crush you like always? I do enjoy a good crushing."

"The view of the Kline River Valley is beautiful this time of year," remarked the young woman in the immaculate suit, her dark bluish hair hung loosely over her shoulders as the limousine drove through the streets of Doomstadt. "When I was a child, the valley was blocked off to us, the private property of President Fortunov. The man kept this gorgeous wilderness to himself, and anyone caught trespassing on his land was imprisoned and executed. Now, the children of Latveria play there freely."

Lucia von Bardas, the Prime Minister of Latveria, looked out upon the city she called home, and her violet-colored lips pulled into a proud smile. The past few months had been turbulent, to say the least, but so much progress had been made. The old Soviet structures had been torn down, and now modern, green-energy buildings were going up to replace them. The hovels and ghettos that were so closely tied to the Fortunov regime had been razed, and now affordable housing for the less fortunate citizens were well under construction. Even the infamous gulags were now being turned into productive work camps, where criminals could pay off their debt to society by giving back to the people.

The new People's Republic of Latveria would be a shining beacon to this impoverished and war-torn region of the world. And her job was to convince their neighbors that the future that awaited them was a bright one.

"I see," replied Dmitri Smerdnov, the ambassador from the neighboring nation of Symkaria. A pudgy, balding man in advancing age, Smerdnov was here to discuss the recent border disputes in which Latverian soldiers had repeatedly entered Symkarian territory. "I have heard that the new administration was taking steps to modernize Latveria, but to see it in person is quite another story."

As the limousine neared the heart of the city, Smerdnov noticed something peculiar at every major street corner: large metal poles, approximately ten meters tall, tapering into a point. They did not seem to serve any real purpose.....were they some kind of street signs? Some new kind of monuments, perhaps? They seemed to be more common the further into the city they drove, and many of them had dark stains covering the top half.

"Organized crime was once a major scourge upon the good people of Hassenstadt," von Bardas continued. "Many of the old regime's politburo leaders ran protection rackets to line their pockets, cutting large swathes out of the city as their own personal fiefdoms. Those who could not pay were denied rations and starved, or dragged off to the gulags, or often merely shot in the street. In Doomstadt, however, these predators are now thankfully extinct. The crime rate in our shining new city is virtually nil."

Smerdnov nodded absently, until they turned a corner towards Revolution Square. At the corner again was another one of those ten-meter metal poles.....

.....but at the top of it, impaled from groin to mouth, was a human body.

"Good God!" Smerdnov shouted, turning pale as a ghost. "What in Heaven's name is that?!"

"That," Lucia answered calmly, "was Fyodor Andropovich, a former member of Fortunov's military. He was the overseer of the Gorzenstadt Detention Center, a concentration camp where innocent men, women, and children were rounded up and exterminated for being 'undesirable' by the Fortunov regime. The man was a monster, and so he died like one."

"I.....I cannot accept this," Smerdnov sputtered. "You claim to modernize your country, you claim to look for the greater good of your people, and then you impale your political enemies?! This is barbaric!"

"Systematically gassing half a million Zefiro gypsies is barbaric," Lucia answered, her gentle pleasing tone turning cold. "Piercing the heart of the beast responsible for such slaughter was, at best, an undeserved mercy. Displaying his destruction for the people to see is a reminder that they have nothing to fear from that man anymore."

"Yes, they only have to fear the man who put that man on a sharp stake!"

"If my lord Doom was as unmerciful as you seem to think," she said, "that stake would be blunt. Andropovich would have taken days to die then, rather than minutes."

Smerdnov did his best to hold back the vomit rising in his throat, and kept silent for the remainder of the trip. As they approached the ornate towers and spires of the ancient Castle Hassen--now re-named 'Castle Doom'-- he could not help but notice how many more of those stakes were occupied. Some bodies were fresh, some now eaten away nearly to the bone. Some still bore clothes, military uniforms or the fine suits of the old politburo. Others were stripped naked, their decomposition laid bare for the world to see. It was a nauseating contrast, to see such ghoulish medieval practices in the middle of what was otherwise a modern city.

Eventually the limousine arrived at its destination, parking in the roundabout at the front gate of the castle. Smerdnov looked up at the tall, thin arches and buttresses of the castle, adorned with what appeared to be chrome-plated gargoyles, roughly in the shape of a man......and he could swear one of the gargoyles looked back down at him.

"If you will follow me," Lucia said, stepping out of the limousine and passing between a pair of severe-looking palace guards, "I will take you to the Grand Hall, where we can discuss the border dispute in a more suitable setting."

The halls of Castle Doom were, much like the city beyond, a jarring clash of the futuristic and the archaic. Gorgeous, ornate pieces of furniture, some hundreds of years old, housed three-dimensional holographic displays. An ancient suit of armor stood rusting on one side of the old gothic hallway, across from a gleaming new cybernetic war-drone. It was garish and all picked in extremely poor taste, but somehow suited the tales he had heard of the man who claimed the role of Lord Protector of Latveria.

Nothing, though, could have prepared Dmitri Smerdnov for what he saw in the Grand Hall.

Rows of ornate ebony columns stretched upwards to a cavernous high ceiling. Brilliantly concealed LED lights provided more than enough illumination for the room, but old torches and braziers still blazed in the corner, the heat causing Smerdnov to break into a profuse sweat almost immediately. The dark green and gold carpet that lined the marble floor led directly up to a small stepped dais, atop of which was a large, black throne.

The throne itself was high-backed, with a plush, burgundy cushion along the back and seat. The carving was intricate, but other than that it only had two decorations on it: two spikes sticking out of the top. On the right-hand spike was a skull, plated in polished gold and adorned with glittering jewels. On the left-hand side was another skull, left plain and fly-eaten, small flecks of rotten flesh still hanging off of it in places. While he had no idea whose head the golden skull was, it was common knowledge that the fly-bitten skull was that of Vladimir Fortunov, the former President of Latveria.

On one side of the throne stood an achingly beautiful woman, Jet black hair cascading down her shoulders, a revealing jade dress tightly clinging to her flawless body. On the other side was another woman, dressed sharply in an all-black military uniform, her own hair cut short and pulled back tightly against her head, but physically a mirror image of the woman beside her.

The twin beauties would have been enough to awaken the base instincts of any man, were it not for the terrifying figure between them that drained even the slightest notion of such thoughts from Smerdnov's head.

Even sitting down, the man in the dark green cloak seemed to tower over everyone in the room. Beneath the cloak was a suit of gleaming armor, the face mask frozen in a perpetual scowl. This was the mask, the riveted nightmare-face that had become the symbol of Latveria's revolution, of the savage new age they were entering. It was not the mask, though, that truly frightened Smerdnov.....it was the piercing eyes behind it.

Dmitri spoke very little English, but he knew that the word 'doom' was a synonym for something like fate, or destiny. To the Americans and the British, though, it carried a more sinister connotation than mere fate-- 'doom' was also another word for death. And for the fraction of a second that he could stand to look into those flashing eyes, he could see why he had chosen such a name.

The short-haired woman stepped down from the dais, looking Smerdnov up and down as if appraising him, her lip turning up ever slightly in thinly-veiled disgust.

"I am Nyssa Raatko," she announced curtly, "Head of the People's Security Bureau. Behind me is Talia von Doom, our beloved Queen. And before you now is, of course, our dear and glorious Lord Protector, Victor von Doom. You will kneel when he addresses you, and you will not speak to him unless spoken to first."

The beautiful Queen approached beside Nyssa, slightly nodding her head in a vague approximation of a bow.

"Nyssa does very good work for our people," Talia said with a wide smile, "but I fear she often takes her job too seriously. Please, Dmitri, relax. We are all friends here, and we should be able to discuss the issues as such."

"Why, erm, yes....of course," Smerdnov sputtered. "Forgive me, I am merely....unused to being in the presence of one so, erm....commanding."

"Our lord is powerful, yes, but so long as we are friends, you have nothing to fear from him."

"Yes, well, erm....I'm afraid....that may be the issue," Smerdnov said, uneasily. "The recent incursions into Symkaria by Latverian military forces has caused a great deal of outrage in our government. I understand that ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, borders between our two lands have been....hazy, but we had maintained a treaty with President Fortunov for over a decade. Our Prime Minister hopes that the new administration will still honor that treaty."

Talia's face turned from one of warm welcome to one of pity.

"I can understand why the Symkarian people believe that land to be theirs," she said, "but you must understand, the Kline Delta and Hassenwood regions were historically those of the Latverian people. And Fortunov was never a truly elected representative of Latveria, merely a puppet installed to carry out the whims of his Russian superiors. Such a treaty cannot, in good conscience, be allowed to stand."

"I am sorry," Smerdnov said, shaking his head, "but those territories have been sovereign land of Symkaria for years! The work we have put into developing those lands, the oil pipeline out of the Kline Delta.....if you will not cease these incursions and withdraw from the border, then the Parliament will call for mobilization of our armed forces!"

"No, Dmitri, it is I who am sorry," Talia said, her condescending pity turning colder. "The Latverian people have every right to reclaim stolen land, and we will not tolerate threats from the opportunists and thieves to took it from us."

"Your highness," the Symkarian ambassador said, in a huff, "I beg you to reconsider. This is not some trivial matter, this is the peace of the entire region at stake! Please, withdraw your soldiers from our land or.......or.......or I'm afraid it will be war."


Dmitri's blood went cold as he realized what voice was speaking. All eyes turned to the black throne, to the man in the metallic nightmare mask.

Doom stood up, positively dwarfing the pudgy little man before him, and spoke again.

"Yes, Symkarian......it will be war, indeed."

Royal Emirates Tower
Abu Dhabi

A dense fog rolled in from the Persian Gulf and quickly covered the city of Abu Dhabi from the street to the upper levels of the massive skyscrapers. Unseen through the mist, a black jet quietly cut through the clouds to its destination. The aircraft made a pass around the seventy-four floor building and slowed long enough for five figures to leap from the rear cargo hold and landed on a platform halfway up the building.

The jet sped through the fog back out to sea while the four figures quickly disappeared into the tower.
The twenty-five guards on duty that night were all suddenly compelled to take their breaks at the same time. The six men in the security center turned off all the cameras in the building before adjourning to the break room. Sixty floors above the lobby, the five figures from earlier crept towards their destination. The leader held his hand up as they approached a door.

&#8220;This is the one,&#8221; Scott Summers whispered to the others. &#8220;Are we ready?&#8221;

&#8220;Yes,&#8221; said Piotr Rasputin, a metallic sheen covering his skin.

&#8220;Ready as I&#8217;ll ever be,&#8221; said Buddy Baker with a jungle cat snarl.


&#8220;I can feel his mind in the room. There&#8217;s another presence in there too. Like with the Professor, everything else is a blank.&#8221;


&#8220;Oh, yes. I can smell his odious scent very well.&#8221;

&#8220;We go in on three. 1, 2, 3!&#8221;

Xavier's School for Higher Learning
Westchester, NY
Five Hours Earlier

Charles Xavier walked down the corridor of the school&#8217;s subbasement. This was the place he hadn&#8217;t allowed the television cameras on the tour. The upper levels were the school&#8217;s home, but down here was the home of the X-Men. The Danger Room, Hank&#8217;s laboratory, the Blackbird hangar, and Logan&#8217;s mini-dojo were all stored below the school. The most important piece of equipment belonged to Charles. Cerebro, a neural interface system built by both him and Magneto amplified Charles&#8217; already powerful psychic abilities a hundredfold and connected it with every living consciousness in the world. It was how Charles found mutants in need of his help.

The team awaited him in their briefing room; the rest of the staff had put the children to bed while Charles called the group for a special meeting. Gathered were Scott, Jean, Hank, Ororo, Buddy, Jefferson, and Piotr. The video Rex gave Charles earlier played on the screen in front of them.

&#8220;That is Sugar Man,&#8221; said Charles. &#8220;And that is him stealing three nuclear warheads.&#8221;

&#8220;Oh, my stars and garters.&#8221;

&#8220;This footage is from a few days ago, according to my source that provided me with this video.&#8221;

&#8220;It was Rex, wasn&#8217;t it?&#8221;

&#8220;Jean, what have I said about going into other&#8217;s minds without permission?&#8221;

&#8220;I already know what Rex does. We talk on Facebook sometimes. I asked if telling me he was a secret agent was against the rules, but he said it&#8217;s no fun being a secret agent if you can&#8217;t tell anyone.&#8221;

&#8220;Sounds like Rex.&#8221;

&#8220;Have you managed to get a location on Sugar Man, Professor?&#8221;

&#8220;Yes, Ororo. Using Cerebro I tracked him to Abu Dhabi, that&#8217;s part of the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf. The UAE has a reputation for letting unsavory people hide themselves and their money inside the country for the right price. It would make sense for Sugar Man to run there if he is fleeing the authorities. I tried to enter his mind, but&#8230; it&#8217;s blocked to me.&#8221;

&#8220;The diamond lady again?&#8221;

"Yes, it appears to be her handiwork.&#8221;

&#8220;Diamond lady?&#8221;

&#8220;A powerful psychic I&#8217;ve encountered over the years that is capable of creating psychic blocks that I am unable to penetrate. I could if I wished, but not without doing damage to the mind that has been blocked off to me. Whenever I try to look into their mind all I see is&#8230; diamonds.&#8221;

&#8220;When do we leave?&#8221;

&#8220;As soon as possible, Scott.&#8221;

Abu Dhabi

The door to the hotel room blew open. Cyclops ran through on point with Colossus, Beast, Animal Man, and Jean behind him. The five X-Men spread out through the lush penthouse suite.

&#8220;Hello, my sweets,&#8221; Sugar Man said from his position on a plus sofa. He sipped a dry martini while he watched the mutants. He nodded towards Scott, Jean, and Hank and winked. &#8220;It&#8217;s been a while, my how you children have grown.&#8221;

The martini glass flew from his hand and shattered on the wall. Jean&#8217;s eyes glowed red, as did the visor on Scott&#8217;s face.

&#8220;How rude&#8230;&#8221;

&#8220;You know what we&#8217;re here for, Sugar Man. Where are the nukes?&#8221;

&#8220;I have no idea what you&#8217;re talking about, baby. Don&#8217;t believe me, how about you get the lovely Ms. Grey here to read my mind? How ab&#8212;&#8221;

His windpipe constricting cut Sugar Man short. He floated into the air above the sofa.

&#8220;That block in your mind can&#8217;t stop my telekinesis.&#8221;

Sugar Man snapped his fingers. A sudden wave of vertigo swept through the room. Jean lost her focus, as did the rest of the team. They all stumbled around the room and tried to regain their composure while Sugar Man fell back on the sofa and stood up.

&#8220;Thank you, Werner.&#8221;

&#8220;Ja,&#8221; the tall, blonde man in a green suit and black tie said from the far end of the room. He seemingly glided across the room to where the five X-Men were on their knees. &#8220;The world famous X-Men brought down by a slight case of dizziness.&#8221;

&#8220;How sad. Come, Werner, let us away from this site before I find myself crying.&#8221;

Sugar Man strolled over to Cyclops and kneeled beside him.

&#8220;A clue for what you seek,&#8221; he whispered in Scott&#8217;s ear, his pointed tongue flicking the young man&#8217;s lobe. &#8220;It is no longer in my possession. It belongs to your professor&#8217;s good friend Mr. Magneto. The Brotherhood with nuclear weapons? Ooooh weee, can you imagine?&#8221;

He stood and walked with Werner at his side. A flash of black light filled the room and the two were gone. The effects of vertigo vanished with them. Dazed, Scott slowly got to his feet and tried to catch his breath with the rest of the team.

&#8220;Great job kicking his ass, team.&#8221;

&#8220;That did not exactly go to plan, did it?&#8221;

&#8220;Storm,&#8221; Scott said as he opened up a commlink with the Blackbird. &#8220;Patch me through the Westchester.&#8221;

&#8220;Scott? How did it go?&#8221;

&#8220;Swimmingly,&#8221; Hank said dryly. &#8220;Just swimmingly.&#8221;

&#8220;Sugar Man got away, but he told me something&#8230; those nuclear warheads he stole? He gave them to Magneto.&#8221;

Indian Ocean

Bolt wheeled Magneto up from below deck. The rusty freighter they were on was the same one the Brotherhood had been calling home for nearly five years now. They roamed on it from port to port, using the man called Psimon's skills to hide their true purpose and identities. Now, Magneto smiled. He had the tools thanks to their generous donor, but now he had the place.

"What is that?" Bolt asked with an arched eyebrow.

"Genosha. Our new home."
&#8220;Get up.&#8221;

&#8220;I&#8217;m up.&#8221;

It&#8217;s morning. Angela&#8217;s getting out of the shower, her hair wrapped up in a towel, and I&#8217;m still trying to forget about what happened last night. My hands have never shaken like that, I&#8217;ve never been so afraid in my life. I&#8217;m ashamed.

Angela sits in the seat in front of the mirror and reaches for her hairdryer, casting a look back at me as she begins to dry her hair.

&#8220;Are you going to tell me where you skulked off to last night?&#8221;

There was only ever going to be one answer to that question.

&#8220;I have to go to work, Angela.&#8221;

&#8220;Oh, you had to time to lie in bed yesterday but when I want to talk you have to go to work.&#8221;

I try my best to fumble for a more convincing answer this time and come up with nothing again.

&#8220;It&#8217;s not like that.&#8221;

&#8220;Please talk to me, Matt.&#8221;

From the look on Angela&#8217;s face I can tell how much it means to her that I be honest. As much as I want to come clean and tell her how close I was to being killed last night, I know I can&#8217;t. She&#8217;d freak out even worse than I am, with good reason. Instead I settle on telling her part of the truth and hoping that&#8217;s enough.

&#8220;There&#8217;s been a lot going at the gym. One of the boys Ted and I have been training up these past couple of months hasn&#8217;t been showing up, his dad&#8217;s been putting his hand on him, knocking him around. I went to speak to him at Josie&#8217;s last night.&#8221;

She puts down the hairdryer and sits on the end of the bed next to me.

&#8220;Tell me nothing happened.&#8221;

I stammer slightly before nodding along in agreement.

&#8220;Nothing happened. We exchanged words, I voiced my concern for the boy&#8217;s welfare, and I left. That&#8217;s all, I swear.&#8221;

&#8220;Good, if you&#8217;re worried about that boy then you contact the authorities. Leave it to the people that get paid to deal with other people&#8217;s problems. God knows we have enough of our own.&#8221;

I know she&#8217;s right. Last night proved I&#8217;m in over my head as it is. Whatever happens, from now on I&#8217;m going to let someone else handle it. I can still hear the gun clicking against my head and the weight of the muzzle pressed up against me. Whoever Cao is associated with, they definitely aren&#8217;t people you mess around with.

&#8220;Promise me you&#8217;ll leave this alone.&#8221;

Angela kisses me gently and I smile reassuringly and plant an equally gentle kiss on her lips.

&#8220;I promise.&#8221;


As I walk through the doors to Wildcat&#8217;s Gym I hear a familiar purr from behind me. Ted Grant feints shock at my presence and stands up from his chair, pretending to beckon people over with faux urgency.

&#8220;Do my eyes deceive me? Is Matt Murdock actually early for once?&#8221;

&#8220;Very funny, old man.&#8221;

There&#8217;s nothing that annoys Ted more than being reminded that he&#8217;s old. At heart, he&#8217;s still twenty-five years of age and capable of beating any man, big or small, in the ring or outside of it. It&#8217;s that enthusiasm that keeps him on his feet while the rest of his old friends are all in retirement homes with their feet up.

&#8220;Angela kick you out of bed this morning or something?&#8221;

&#8220;Yeah, something like that.&#8221;

&#8220;When are you going to bring her by the gym?&#8221;

I&#8217;d asked her two dozen times if she wanted to come by sometime. The truth is she hates boxing and wishes I&#8217;d do something else instead. Anything else.

&#8220;The second you get it through your thick head that she doesn&#8217;t have a sister for you. And even if she did, she&#8217;d probably still be forty years too young for you.&#8221;

&#8220;Forty years? Pah, forty years is nothing! I&#8217;ve got underwear older than that.&#8221;

&#8220;Enough, I don&#8217;t want that ticker of yours failing on me the morning of Tom&#8217;s big fight. What time are the boys from Yancy Street getting here?&#8221;

&#8220;They should be here by six. Did I ever tell you about the time your father and I got in a scuffle with the Yancy Street Gang?&#8221;

I smile at the reference.

&#8220;Only a million and one times, Ted.&#8221;

&#8220;Back in the day the Yancy Street Gang used to run half of Manhattan. Those boys would be turning in their graves if they could see what&#8217;s happened to the West Side.&#8221;

The two of us stand in silence for a few moments and Ted catches me glancing up at the poster of my father up on the gym walls. Every one of the boxers on Wildcat&#8217;s walls had been a champion. All of the greats were there, with several classic pictures from many of Ted&#8217;s own fights, but the boxer on Wildcat&#8217;s walls that received pride of place was &#8220;Battlin&#8217;&#8221; Jack Murdock. He only one amongst them that hadn&#8217;t been a champion, but Ted was insistent that he be up there. He swore it was out of merit rather than guilt.

He puts in the direction of the poster with a heavy smile.

&#8220;You look more and more like him every day, you know?&#8221;

I&#8217;m stunned into silence. In all the years after my death I&#8217;d heard Ted make reference to my father only a handful of times. And that was usually only after he&#8217;d had a drink or around their mutual friends. He&#8217;d told me, after half a bottle of whisky one night, that sometimes it hurt him to look at me. That I was a constant reminder of what had happened.

The feeling was mutual.

&#8220;The eyes though, the eyes are your mothers.&#8221;


It&#8217;s eight. Tom Bronson is in the ring with the boy from Yancy Street. He&#8217;s struggling, constantly out of breath, and from the looks of things won&#8217;t be conscious for much longer. Ted Grant stoops in front of Bronson and squirts water in his mouth.

&#8220;How are you feeling, kid?&#8221;

&#8220;My head is spinning and I think I&#8217;ll crap myself if I get hit too hard in the stomach again, but outside of that I&#8217;m good.&#8221;

I smile. You&#8217;ve got to give it to Bronson. He&#8217;s been given an absolute pasting the past seven rounds and not only is he still standing, he&#8217;s cracking wise too. I can see why Ted is so fond of him.

&#8220;Good. You&#8217;ve got him on the back foot. Keep at him, keep him off balance, and you&#8217;ll have him on his back in no time. &#8220;

The bell rings and Tom hops to his feet and meets his opponent in the centre of the ring. I lean over to Ted and whisper to him.

&#8220;Got him on the back foot? Either I&#8217;m going blind or you&#8217;re watching a completely different fight. Keep the towel close by, Ted, something tells me you might need it in a minute.&#8221;

&#8220;It&#8217;s called positive reinforcement, Matt. You should try it sometime.&#8221;

Fifteen minutes later we&#8217;re carrying Bronson out of the ring on our shoulders. I don&#8217;t know how he managed it, but Ted&#8217;s &#8220;positive reinforcement&#8221; managed to light a fire enough of a fire out of him that Bronson got the knockout in the ninth round. The Yancy Street boys make a swift exit and Ted, Tom, Miles, and the rest of us hang around and talk about the fight for a while.

&#8220;That was so awesome,&#8221; Tom says with a grin. &#8220;I can&#8217;t believe I won.&#8221;

Ted puts his arm around Tom and smiles.

&#8220;Enjoy it, kid. We still have a lot to work on, but there&#8217;s no reason why we can&#8217;t build on this. You keep putting in the work in the gym, keep your body in shape, and the sky&#8217;s the limit for you. Ain&#8217;t that right, Matt?&#8221;

As I go to respond I notice that Miles, who had been talking incessantly through the fight and cheering Tom on louder than anyone else, had fallen silent. All the colour had drained from his face and his hands were shaking, as mine had done the night before.

&#8220;Miles? What&#8217;s wrong?&#8221;

&#8220;It&#8217;s Austin. He&#8217;s in the hospital.&#8221;

Silence fell over the group. All the smiles that had so generously been splashed around as a result of Tom&#8217;s victory disappeared in a heartbeat. I can feel my heart pumping in my chest harder than it&#8217;s ever pumped before &#8211; the sound of Cao&#8217;s cackle stuck in my head. I had to do something.

&#8220;I know that look, Murdock, don&#8217;t you go doing anything stupid.&#8221;

&#8220;Take the boys home, Ted.&#8221;

I go to walk to my car and Ted grabs me by the arm. His grip is as strong as a vice.

&#8220;Think about this.&#8221;

&#8220;Take them home.&#8221;

I jump in my car and slam the door behind me, with only the briefest of glances at the group huddled together on the sidewalk watching me drive away. I was going to find Austin Cao&#8217;s father and I was going to teach him a lesson he&#8217;d never forget.
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Wayne Manor Caverns

Bruce sat in front of the main ORACLE CPU array as he ran tests on the samples he had taken from the arson scene the night before. The damp, cool climate of the caverns below his home put him in the perfect state to think. The only sounds in the vast chambers were the trickle of water and the occassional screech and flutter from the many bats with whom he shared the space. Most people would find the area foreboding or cold. Bruce Wayne saw it as a refuge for thinking and a place to meditate on his crusade.​

The blast at the narcotics store room had been setup and executed by a professional, of that he was certain. The blast was precise and extremely hot, causing the entire building to be engulfed in flames in mere minutes. The source and form of ignition was what he was attempting to figure out now. But the thing that really bothered him had nothing to do with the blast at all.​

"Setting fires now, Bruce?" Alfred asked sarcastically as he descended down into the cave. In his hands was the day's paper, where Batman had been accused of the fire the night before. He was, after all, targetting the mob. Bruce was sure the people feeding the Gotham Gazette the story knew he wasn't behind it, but it was an easy way to get the citizenry to turn on him. "And here I thought we were going for a more subtle approach."

"Funny that you mention subtlety, Alfred," Bruce remarked on his mentor's joke. "Because whoever started this clearly isn't, even for arsonist standards. They wanted people to know this wasn't an accident."

"They certainly did put on a show," he agreed.​

"It's not only that fact that's bothering me," Bruce stood and began to pace. "Whoever it was also didn't care about innocent victims in all of this. In fact, he or she may have even wanted them. Most pros will only burn what they were hired to burn. This one seemed to want to burn everything they could get their hands on."

"You think he's a loose cannon?" Alfred mused. "Possibly unhinged."

"I think that's a good guess," Wayne nodded. "But more importantly, whoever hired him did so out of desperation."

"And who would that be?" Alfred inquired.​

Waye pushed a few keys on the massive computer in front of him, and from the floor behind him his armory rose up. He began putting on the pieces of light armor that made up his vigilante visage as he said to Alfred, "That's what I'm going to try and find out now."

"Batman," ORACLE's voice echoed through the cave, "analysis complete."

"Display," Bruce ordered as he slipped the cowl over his head. On the screen was the analysis of the blast and the surrounding area. Bruce cursed, "A thermite bomb. Whoever this is, they're beyond a pro. They're an outright lunatic. ORACLE, scan all the databases you can. FBI, CIA, Checkmate, Interpol, SHIELD. Find any past instances of these kind of bombs used for organized crime hits. I want to know who I'm looking for."

"Scan started," the computer program started its exhaustive search.​

"Don't wait up," Batman said back to Alfred as the vigilante walked down a narrow stretch of rock that lead towards the exit of the cave. At the halfway point was a large, circular pedestal. As Bruce approached it, the circle bisected, and a platform raised from inside it, revealing the gleaming view of the Batmobile. The sleek, well armored vehicle was just as much tank as it was sportscar. The cockpit slid open, and Batman leapt inside as the engines fired up. With the sound of screeching tires, the Dark Knight took out into the Gotham twilight.​


Downtown Gotham

Detective Arnold Flass strolled confidently down the street as Batman watched from above. Flass was as dirty of a cop that you could find in Gotham, which was saying something. Still, his involvement with the underworld meant he'd have something Bruce was looking for. He had gotten far in Gotham thanks to a silver tongue and good looks. There were rumors he was dating Flacone's niece, but they were unsubstantiated.

Wayne realized that attempting to find who hired the arsonist would be a wild goose chase. Instead he decided to find out whose safe house the pyromaniac had attacked, and if anyone knew that it would be Flass.

Bruce saw his chance when Flass turned down an alley, attempting to take a shortcut to whatever his destination was. The vigilante leapt down silently behind him and bellowed, "Detective Flass, it's time we had a talk."

The crooked cop went for his gun, but it was knocked out of his hand by a well thrown batarang. In a flurry, Batman struck Flass in the stomach so he couldn't scream before pinning him to the wall with his armored elbow against the cop's throat. The hold allowed Flass to breath and speak softly, but would ensure he wouldn't be calling for help.

"If you're gonna kill me," Flass wheezed, "just do it."

"As long as you tell me what I need to know," Batman growled, "you're free to go."

"Yea? And what's that?" the man was defiant.

"The fire last night. Whose storehouse was destroyed?" the vigilante asked.

"You don't know," Flass laughed in pain. "It was the Roman's. And he isn't happy about it."

"Maroni," Batman seethed before delivering a headbutt to Flass to knock him unconcious.

"Batman," ORACLE's voice came over the comm, "scan complete. Of thirty-five known demolitionists for hire, there is a 90% probability that Joseph Rigger, alias Firebug, set the explosive device. Rigger was a former member of a private military unit who specialized in explosives. He was fired due to what was described as 'mental issues' and then went into business for himself. He is wanted in five different countries."

"Copy that, ORACLE," Wayne responded.

"Bruce," Alfred's voice came through next, "there's something else. There's been another attack. Not far from your location. Sending you the location now."


Batman overlooked the burning carcass of Louie's Ristorante in awe. He had known this was a safe place for mob bosses to come and eat, and yet here it was burning to the ground. This sent his Maroni thought out the window. No matter how desperate Sal was to own this city, not even he would be crazy enough to touch Louie's.​

From next door, he heard a mother screaming that her child was now trapped in the inferno which had engulfed their apartment complex. All Batman needed to hear was that the child was on the tenth floor, and he was gone. He grappled into the crumbling building, smashing through a window into the intense heat on the other side.​

Warnings went off in his suit, but ignored them as he searched for the child. Luckily, he was able to find the small girl, who was unhurt but frightened beyond the ability to move. Batman snatched her up quickly and hurtled through the window he had entered. Using his grapnel, he ensured they landed safely next to the hysterical mother who thanked him profusely.​

As they moved back, however, the police moved in with their guns drawn, and at the front was Detective Kane. She looked unsure of herself, and Batman knew she had no desire to fire on him. He used that to his advantage. He moved like lightning, dropped a smoke bomb, grabbed her, and fired his grapnel again to the roof he had started on. The police yelled at him to stop or they'd fire, but he was quickly out of range.​

Once they were on the roof, he said to Kane, "We don't have much time. The man we're looking for is Joseph Rigger, aka Firebug."

"What the hell!" Kane yelled at him. "You could have gotten me shot!"

"They weren't going to shoot you, detective," Wayne responded calmly. "Like I said, Joseph Rigger. Start looking for him.If you find him first, do not go after him without me."

"And why's that?" the young cop asked, annoyed.​

"Because he'll kill you," was Batman's simple response.​

"How would I even get in touch with you?"

"Just put out an APB," Batman said as he faded into the night. "I'll see it."

Louie&#8217;s Ristorante, Streets
Gotham City

This is how it all begins isn&#8217;t it?

My hands are shuffled in my pockets as I can see the ultimate declaration of war, but who would be so stupid to do it like this? The sacred ground of Louie&#8217;s is like mob religion, and only someone really insane or really dumb would decide to go &#8220;Hey, let&#8217;s burn down Louie&#8217;s.&#8221; It almost makes me sit down and think which one of the loudmouth idiots could be behind this. The Sullivan&#8217;s were goons but they were on Falcone&#8217;s payroll and Falcone would never torch the place especially so blindly. That left a few street gangs and of course the gang of Ukranian thugs that were prone to violence and muscling in on the big family turf. If I had to guess, it&#8217;d be the Odessa who did this just to see the big fish squirm; of course that would still be stupid, but these are the guys who act before they think. The fact Maroni, Falcone, or even my father haven&#8217;t wiped them up is nothing short of a damn miracle.

But what if it wasn&#8217;t the Odessa and simply some other new player in town trying to get some attention? Or some rogue element like the guy the Gazette is yet to really pin a title on that trounced that human trafficking setup?

It&#8217;s really hard to think like that.

&#8220;It&#8217;s getting late, Helena.&#8221;

I pause as I look over to my shoulder where the bodyguard who I owe so much to is leaning against the car that drove us here. Just had to stop when we passed Louie&#8217;s and see what was going on.

&#8220;What the hell?&#8221;

That sounded like shattered... glass? From where? My eyes move and I catch the rustling of what looks like the police and a dark figure. Bingo.

My bodyguard, Tony Angelo, replies in a fit of confusion. &#8220;What, what is it?&#8221;

I turn around and motion him to come over, pointing at the crowd of cops.

&#8220;That&#8217;s a lot of badges.&#8221; He remarks.

As I turn back around, the dark figure as well as one of the police officers seem to have disappeared. Damn. &#8220;I thought I saw something come out of that window over there&#8230; but&#8230;&#8221;

&#8220;Well, it has been a long night for you.&#8221;

&#8220;Not remotely what I meant.&#8221; I remark in an aggravated groan. Why does he have to be such an idiot? There was something, I&#8217;m not going crazy. Though the idiot bodyguard is right, it has been a long night even without witnessing Louie&#8217;s completely aflame. There&#8217;s a lot of tensions between my father&#8217;s anxiety attacks and heart problems, as well as trying to figure out what I&#8217;m going to do with my life. I wish I had it all figured it out like Jess or Kath do as they are prepared to go into their careers. I need to get this crap figured out and with all of the problems going on with the families right now, I&#8217;m not sure it is going to be remotely possible to get on a normal life&#8212;but that&#8217;s fine, because since I was a kid I knew somehow that life was only going to be complicated. Though I don&#8217;t think I realized the extent of it until now with Louie&#8217;s and all.

Either way, dad is going to have to find a replacement restaurant; there is some nice choices though like Luigi&#8217;s or Giuseppe&#8217;s.

&#8220;Alright, Tony. Take me home.&#8221;

&#8220;About time.&#8221; He complained as he turned around and made for the car.

&#8220;You could totally not be a total goon about it.&#8221;

He chuckles as I enter the passenger side of the car. &#8220;No fun in that.&#8221;

I groan, again. I respect Tony Angelo with my life but the guy likes to play way too much. Honestly, I don&#8217;t see why I need a bodyguard or a chauffeur after all of the training we went through with those summers overseas. I can still remember the relentlessness of it by my father&#8217;s crazy request. &#8220;Helena, you must know how to protect yourself!&#8221; Then why did Tony Angelo call his ninja freaks in to teach me that really ridiculous advanced game of hide and go seek? It was almost like they were preparing me to be a super serial killer or something rather than making me really good at protecting myself.

Well, at least knowing that might come in handy in case a rival family tries to kidnap me. Can&#8217;t really kidnap what you can&#8217;t find, right?

The engine starts and we start moving.

There&#8217;s one thing though that I just can&#8217;t shake: what did I see a few minutes ago? What was that and why am I more curious than a catholic schoolgirl? Weird.

&#8220;So, how&#8217;s the gang?&#8221;

Gang? Really? If he&#8217;s talking about my friends and not the crime family thing then he just seemed really random and odd out of nowhere. I mean one, he&#8217;s not my dad, and two why is he bringing it up? Is Tony really that bored of his day job that he needs college girl gossip? Because that&#8217;s creepy if that&#8217;s what it is. Besides it really couldn&#8217;t hurt sitting and indulging in the small talk though, besides the drive is a little bit and it&#8217;s better than trying to drown out conversation with what goes for music these days on the radio.

&#8220;Right, Jess is going right out of college into a career at the Gazette.&#8221;

He nods, &#8220;I guess all of that blogging she did wasn&#8217;t a waste of the time after all.&#8221;

Probably why they decided to take her on, if you ask me.

&#8220;Yeah and well Kath is still doing the art thing, I think she could do a show or something. She&#8217;s got some cool stuff.&#8221;

In my opinion, she&#8217;s the greatest artist Gotham has spit out in years. No clue why she isn&#8217;t booking it to Metropolis or Gateway City yet&#8212;maybe she&#8217;s like me and wants to stay home to keep an eye on the &#8216;family&#8217; so to speak?

&#8220;What about you?&#8221;

There it is. I knew there was an agenda somewhere.

&#8220;None of your business.&#8221; I say with a wide grin.

&#8220;Kind of paid to be my business, Helena. You know your father&#8212;&#8221;

I cut him off, no way am I taking this sitting down... figuratively speaking. &#8220;&#8212;is concerned? Yeah, tell it to the press. I&#8217;m still trying to figure it out and that was okay the last time I told him about it. So how about you take your weird carseat interrogation and take it to the coldest part of Gotham and freeze, okay?&#8221;

&#8220;&#8230;Whatever you say, Ms. Bertinelli.&#8221;

Great. He&#8217;s being formal now. That means he&#8217;s mad.

I don&#8217;t care.

&#8220;Just take me home already, Mr. Angelo.&#8221;

I flip out my phone and start going through my text messages. So much for small talk.

&#8220;Shouldn&#8217;t be too long.&#8221;

I hope so.
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I wait in my car across the road from Josie&#8217;s Bar and hope that Cao is inside. He doesn&#8217;t disappoint. After a few hours, he comes stumbling out on his own and makes his way down the sidewalk towards a parked car. He fumbles around in his pockets for a few moments trying to find his car keys, before dropping them on the ground and laughing to himself heartily as he tries and fails to pick them up.

I get out of my car and make my way towards him. A few seconds before I&#8217;m on him, I whistle to him and he looks up at me.

The first punch hits him squarely in the cheekbone and knocks him back against his car with a thud. He recovers quickly for a man that&#8217;s clearly had seven too many drinks and throws a punch at me, I parry it away with ease and respond with one of my own to the stomach. He falls to his knees and coughs a few times, placing his hands on the ground to support him.

I&#8217;m not done.

&#8220;Get up, you coward.&#8221;

&#8220;You don&#8217;t have any idea what you&#8217;ve started.&#8221;

He laughs again, wiping some blood away from his cheek.

&#8220;I said get up.&#8221;

Cao reaches for his keys on the ground and in one swift movement leaps to his feet and swipes at my eyes with them. He misses. I make sure not to with the punch I follow it up with. There&#8217;s a loud crunch as my fist connects with the bridge of his nose and he&#8217;s sent sprawling against his car again. I grab his wrist and knock it against the car door, jarring the car keys from his hand, before kneeing him in the balls.

He moans loudly on the ground and throws up all over the road. I grab his face and push it into the sick, then yank him up by his hair and whisper into his ear.

&#8220;You ever put your hands on that boy again and I&#8217;ll make it so you can never put your hands on anyone else again. Do you hear me?&#8221;

Once again Cao laughs. I want to lash out at him, smash his face on the road, and put him in the hospital too. But knowing my luck he&#8217;d end up with internal bleeding and I&#8217;d end up in a prison cell somewhere.

I know I&#8217;m many things, but a murderer isn&#8217;t one of them.

&#8220;Why are you laughing?&#8221;

Cao looks up at me, flecks of sick around his mouth still, and smiles broadly.

&#8220;All I hear&#8230; is some dead man.&#8221;

From behind me I hear the sound of a siren and car doors opening. I let go of Cao&#8217;s head and let him slump to the ground. Two officers make their way towards me and bark instructions at me, but I can&#8217;t hear them, all I can hear is the blood pumping its way around my body. They instruct me to put my hands into the air and I comply with a smile, as I notice this time my hands aren&#8217;t shaking.

I&#8217;m not scared anymore.


I walk out the police station to find Foggy waiting for me outside.

&#8220;I can&#8217;t keep doing this. &#8220;

&#8220;It&#8217;s nice to see you too.&#8221;

Franklin &#8220;Foggy&#8221; Nelson is my oldest friend. Not that I&#8217;m exactly sure how our friendship ever started up. He was the shy, socially awkward nerd and I was the complete opposite &#8211; outgoing, confident, my dad was a world famous boxer and I sure as hell let everyone know it. Under any other circumstances I&#8217;d have been &#8220;sweeping the leg&#8221; out from underneath him. Hell&#8217;s Kitchen had a way of forcing a person into odd friendships like ours.

From the look on his face, I can tell he isn&#8217;t happy. He beckons me into my car and I sit in the passenger seat, waiting for the lecture to begin.

&#8220;What was it this time? Did he give you a funny look? Spill your drink? Treat on your toes on the way to the restroom?&#8221;

&#8220;He put his thirteen-year old son in the hospital.&#8221;

His expression changes momentarily, before the disapproving scowl returns. There&#8217;s no one on Earth that would be less sympathetic of someone taking the law into their own hands than Foggy Nelson. The law had lifted him from a chubby, hopeless kid from Hell&#8217;s Kitchen into a chubby, successful lawyer that lived upstate. He&#8217;d done what he and I had always spoken about &#8211; he&#8217;d made it out.

From the anger in his voice I can tell he&#8217;s never forgiven me for not doing the same.

&#8220;You should have gone to the police. If you&#8217;d reported the abuse to the police like any normal person would have done, he&#8217;d still be sitting in that cell, and that poor kid might get more than a few hours of respite from him.&#8221;

&#8220;You know I can&#8217;t do that. Not here.&#8221;

Foggy shakes his head with a derisory snort as he stops at a set of lights.

&#8220;Oh, don&#8217;t give me that nonsense. The Kitchen&#8217;s not what it used to be, Matt. I don&#8217;t know if you noticed, but gentrification happened. The Starbucks and wine bars outnumber Irish mobsters around here ten to one these days."

&#8220;How would you know? You don&#8217;t even live here anymore. The second you could get out of the Kitchen, you were out. Do you ever come back? Do you ever try to give back? No.&#8221;

I&#8217;ve lost count of the number of times that Foggy has helped me out of trouble over the years. Each time he does it, I can feel the goodwill that used to exist between us eroding away. We were thick as thieves once, we&#8217;d cheat off each other&#8217;s homework, and sneak into overage movies with one another. Now I can&#8217;t help but feel like the only reason Foggy associates with me is out of obligation. Some fear of being branded a sellout.

He runs a hand through his mop of dirty-brown hair and sighs.

&#8220;Maybe I&#8217;m wrong. All I know is that you&#8217;re all Ted has left in this world. Isn&#8217;t about time you grew up and started acting like it?&#8221;

I smile, hoping to cut through the tension.

&#8220;If I knew you were going to turn into such a nag, I&#8217;d have let Nate Hackett beat the crap out of you all those years ago.&#8221;

&#8220;You don&#8217;t mean that.&#8221; Foggy says with a heavy sigh. &#8220;That&#8217;s your problem: you think beating a man senseless in the middle of the street is the same as giving Nate Hackett a Chinese burn to stop him from bullying me two decades ago.&#8221;

I try my best to try to decipher his point but come up blank. All my life I&#8217;ve been trying to look out for the people I love, especially those that are weaker than I am. It doesn&#8217;t matter how you do it, as long as you do. Surely?

&#8220;It is.&#8221;

Foggy shakes his head as the car pulls up in front of Angela&#8217;s apartment. He reaches across me and opens the passenger-side door with an exasperated lunge and stares out of the window without so much as a look in my direction.

&#8220;Goodbye, Matt. Tell Ted I send him my love.&#8221;


I watch his dusty old car drive off into the distance and try to conjure up some good memories to push back the feeling of regret festering in my stomach. Playing hockey in the streets, the time Ted took them to Six Flags in Jersey, and even the beating we took from Nate Hackett&#8217;s older brothers after I gave him that Chinese burn. It felt so long ago.

Slowly Foggy&#8217;s car slips over the horizon and I stand for a few moments alone with a soft smile. There goes my best friend.

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