May 1, 8 pm
Discordant sounds greeted Diana as she opened the door to the practice room. Too many instruments tuning up at once, including... what in Hera's name was Artie playing this time? Diana couldn't even imagine where he found all these weird instruments. Ebay? Did he make them? Have a secret hobby breaking into museums and stealing their rare instruments? Maybe she didn't want to know. Barry was whaling away on his drums, that manic gleam in his eye, and they hadn't even started practice yet. Diana dropped her purse (indie but stylish) onto a chair and went to check on the electronics. Bruce and Clark were on opposite sides of the room noodling on their respective guitars, ignoring everyone else. Barry went over to check on Artie's newest acquisitions, and Diana felt an increased sense of peace as the noise level became more tolerable. Another day, another rehearsal with the JLA.
John, their manager, showed up about an hour and a half into the rehearsal. They finished the song they were on, Artie's latest anthem to use a mermaid theme, and John gave them all nods of approval.
"Hope I'm not interrupting," John said, serious as always.
"Nah, we could use a break. Wassup?" Barry said, stretching his arms above his head, drumsticks still in hand.
"I've confirmed more of the details for this summer's tour. I've prepared an updated itinerary for you all; you can find the detailed version in google documents, and I have a summary printout for each of you here." John passed out the sheets. Bruce feigned disinterest, but Diana could see he was reading it like everyone else. Barry and Artie were already giggling about something or other, Diana had no idea what.
"As you can see, one of the Philadelphia shows fell through -- the club is under renovation that week -- but I've got you headlining in Metropolis instead. I think you'll like this one. There's a second google document with the details of where you'll be staying in each city, which varies from--" John was interrupted by the trill of his cell phone. "Yes... Yes... I'm with them right now... Yes, on campus... Acknowledged. We'll be there in ten." By the time he'd finished his cell phone conversation, the group had already packed up most of their gear. They knew what was coming, and they were ready.
A bank robbery, how typical, Artie thought as they approached the bank. The guards were passed out on the ground of the ATM vestibule when they arrived.
“Gassed, probably,” Barry announced after checking the guards. “They should be fine, I think.” He ran to do a quick perimeter check. “Emergency exits there, there, and one in the back,” he pointed out when he returned. “Didn’t see anything else of note except what I assume is the getaway vehicle over there”.
“Got it.” Bruce said as he went to disable the vehicle with one of his many gadgets.
“Looks like they went in through the front door. Let’s go through that emergency exit there,” Diana said, pointing at the exit furthest from the getaway vehicle. “Bruce, can you disable the alarm?”.
"On it." Bruce got the door open without any alarms going off, and the JLA snuck into the bank. They walked silently down a hallway until Diana raised a fist to signal a stop. Artie heard voices coming from the vault.
"See, I told you this would be easier than breaking into houses! No one to wake up!"
"Heh, like it's all ‘cause of you. I'm still nervous about working with guys like this. Who the hell are they?"
"Big players who don't want guys like us asking questions, huh? Let's finish this."
The JLA continued on and reached the vault: two silent men standing watching, two chatty men cleaning out the safe. Diana turned to the rest of the group and quickly signaled the plan. Clark had convinced them to draw on the shorthand of football plays to develop code for their standard crime-fighting tactics. Artie had made some jokes about using anything from football, but Bruce had been even more sarcastic than usual, and that was saying a lot. However, it worked, and eventually even Bruce stopped grumbling. Mostly.
On Diana's signal, they attacked, and it was over almost before it began. While Clark and Barry went after the two in the vault, Bruce shot a batarang that sliced the guns of both lookouts in half. Barry got behind thug 1 and punched him half a dozen times in the kidneys before he knew what was happening, and Clark punched thug 2 so hard he flew into thug 1, and they both collapsed in a heap. The guards made a run for it, but Diana lassoed them together before they got even 10 feet away. Then a blast of water from the fire hose knocked back them into the vault, soaking everyone and everything nearby.
"Oh come on, Artie, I'm soaking wet! Was that really necessary?" Diana cried out, irritated.
"Sorry, I thought they might get away!" Artie replied as the rest of the group grumbled. He was just trying to help.
"You're still dry, so make yourself useful and call the cops," Bruce practically ordered him. Who does he think he is, my boss? Artie thought to himself.
"Fine." Artie replied, but no one was listening. Some days it really sucked being Aquaman.
It wasn't easy, balancing school, being in a band, and fighting crime, but they made it work, some better than others. John did his best to make sure none of the JLA suffered too much in any one regard. Clark managed it all with straight As and an internship as well, causing Bruce to mutter things about showoffs and overachievers on a fairly regular basis. Barry generally had middling grades in his general requirements, but was the star of the chemistry department and had a position in a lab on par with graduate students. If he didn't always put enough time into rehearsing, he usually made up for it on stage with his intense enthusiasm (helped in no small part by his pre-show chemical enhancements). Diana, well, everything seemed to come easily to Diana, but John sensed there was more going on than she let on. Diana was the youngest in the group, only a freshman, but she was a natural leader. Her voice held the group together musically, and as Artie had put it, "She really helps cut down on the sausage-fest factor!"
Artie was the group member John was most concerned about. He was always casual about everything, but John knew his grades had never been strong, and he lacked self confidence. His lyrics were quite good, but he always hated everything he wrote, and only ever wrote while drunk. He shared a suite with Barry, who made a point of keeping an eye on him and making sure he didn't burn all his lyrics, though he'd never admit to Artie that was what he was doing.
And then there was Bruce. Bruce was by far the most closed-off member of the group. His juvenile file was sealed, but John had gotten access anyway. Parents killed in front of him when he was eight, spent the next ten years bouncing around the system: foster homes, group homes, and he'd almost wound up in juvenile detention. Sometime in his mid-teens, things had turned around, thanks to a mentor named Alfred. He'd stopped getting in trouble for fights though John suspected they hadn't stopped, he'd just stopped getting reported, his grades improved, and his record was sealed. He'd gone off to college, impressive for a kid from the system. As far as John knew, no one else in the group knew any details about Bruce's history. He'd never let on that he knew anything, but he kept as close an eye on Bruce as he could without getting in his way. Bruce never seemed to have any problems, but if he did, probably no one else would ever notice.
May 5, 11:30pm
“I can not believe you are making me do this,” Artie said as they approached their target.
“Would you quit your whining?” Barry replied, with no real resentment in his voice. “It’s going to be fun. Just relax and enjoy yourself.”
Artie sulked more, adjusted his oversized sunglasses, and pulled his hoodie up, trying to conceal his face.
“And would you stop it with the getup? First off, you look ridiculous and like you’re about to commit a crime--”
“--no, going to this whole spectacle is ridiculous!”
“Secondly”, he said firmly, “no one is going to recognize you, we aren’t that famous, and thirdly, even if they did, there is nothing to ashamed of! “
“Says you! You have no sense of perspective!” Artie replied.
“It’s got excellent reviews so far!” Barry replied, sighing. They’d had this conversation before. Many times before.
“From who, your ridiculous fanboys on the internet? I don’t care about their geekery!” Artie said, dismissively, though Barry knew Ain’t It Cool News had a high rank in his browser history.
“Dude, stop being a self-hating fanboy, you know you love this shit. Also, this is directed by Kenneth Branagh, okay? Kenneth Branagh.” Barry decided to fight dirty to get Artie to shut up already. “I know for a fact you teared up at the end of his Hamlet.”
“I did not!”
“I was sitting right next to you, dude. It’s cool, it was really sad. Now. We are going to see this movie, and you are going to give it a fair try, and if you actually hate it you can bitch afterwards, all right?”
Barry saw that Artie was beginning to give in, and ushered him through the ticket line as he gave his final protests.
“But seriously, a Norse god? How is that a valid protagonist against a bunch of mortals? The power level skew is ridiculous.” Artie’s protests had lost much of their vehemence.
“But he’s got the other gods to fight! And it’s not like they have all the powers of legend!”
“But how am i supposed to relate to this?”
Barry smiled. “What, because being a god is so much more ridiculous than running really fast or talking to fish?”
May 6, 2:30 AM
“...and they really did a job balancing the two halves of the story!” Artie exclaimed.
“I know, epic Shakespearean-level god politics and family drama, crossed with fish-out-of-water comedy!” Barry was so pleased Artie had shut up and enjoyed the movie.
“Hey man, I resemble that remark! Back off on the fish slurs!” Artie was smiling as he jokingly punched Barry in the arm.
“Sorry man, didn’t mean any fish offense.” Barry smiled back at his friend. “And remember, The Avengers is being directed by Joss Whedon! All these BAMFs, RDJ and Samuel L. Jackson, and her highness Miss Scarlett Johansson--”
“Hottest. Superhero. Ever. This is going to be sick, man! I don’t want to wait a year! This is awesome!”
May 7, 10:30 AM
The sounds of basketball playing penetrated the dark of Bruce's room and the relative peacefulness of his sleep. Bruce was irritated at being woken up early. Bruce was usually irritated about something. He was actually quite good at basketball, but he refused to ever join a team or play outside of gym class in high school. Bruce hated team sports, especially all the nonsense about football. To think his band’s lead guitarist was the star quarterback... Bruce hated most group activities, and every day he was surprised he didn’t just quit the band. He’d had always been a loner, and he saw no reason to change. If you didn't expect things of anyone else, you couldn't be let down. It was a solid philosophy.
He pulled a pillow over his head and tried to go back to sleep.
Bruce would never in a million years actually go to see a mental health professional, but he was intelligent (though he didn’t brag about it like some) and had taken Psych 101 as a freshman, and it was quite clear how his personality stemmed from his parents' death and all the experiences that followed from that. A psychologist would just try to convince him to change, to tell him that his life was different and he should go sing kumbaya with his band and open his heart and bullshit like that. Bruce knew why he felt the way he did, and he was fine with it. His conclusions based on his experiences were totally valid. The world is a harsh place and other people aren't reliable. Yes, some people are nicer than others, and sometimes situations are less harsh, but you can never rely on them to stay that way, to trust anyone to always be there for you, to count on your foster parents not getting tired of your "attitude problems" and sending you back into a group home.
He was just beginning to nod off again when his phone buzzed. He sighed, and read the message from Renee asking if he wanted to get brunch. Brunch, ha. He hated all the complicated social conventions around food consumption. Bruce ate food because he needed it to live, and saw no reason to bother with meals with "clever" names, or fancy restaurants, or twelve forks or whatever the hell people did. It was a waste of time and a waste of money that could be put to better use. Bruce shoved his phone under one pillow and his head under another and again attempted to go back to sleep.
Twenty minutes later, his alarm clock started blaring some god-awful pop music at him. Why the hell was his alarm even going off on a Saturday? On weekdays when he needed to get up, the terrible top-40 station it was tuned to at least forced him out of bed, but on the weekends it was just pure masochism to force himself to listen to that drivel. For an alleged musician, Bruce actually hated most music. He especially hated almost every song written in his lifetime, and given his choice would never listen to anything except the kind of music that never got played on any commercial radio stations. But the music he did love, he loved in a way he couldn’t express. Sometimes music expressed everything that he felt, everything he could never put into words or say to anyone else, everything he felt. That was the magic of music, and why Bruce kept playing, through all the annoyances that came with being in the JLA.
Bruce sighed and got up. He needed to pack; this afternoon they’d be headed out of town for their first gig of the summer tour. He hoped it would be tolerable.
Women's Studies 101 had been a bit contentious for Diana's first term. She got a reputation as "that girl" in the class, the one who was super old-school and hardcore in her feminist doctrine and not afraid to argue about every single point that came up in class. She didn’t tell about how she’d been raised, because they’d just treat her like a freak, and anyway they had no right to know. It was pretty hilarious the first time she ran into one of her classmates at a party while totally smashed, in one of her signature ridiculous punk outfits. The spluttering was so priceless, it was all Diana could do not to post a phone pic of her face to facebook. Then she confused her classmate ever more by offering her adrink and asked if she wanted to dance. She knew that other people saw her as a contradiction, or would if they bothered to really get to know her, and she didn't care. She had no need to fit herself into the labels or boxes that anyone else wanted to put her in. She lived her life according to her own rules, and she was generally pretty happy with the results. She was still sorting things out, but she was only 18, still figuring out college, living in a world totally different than what she grew up with, and plus the whole super power thing was kinda weird too. And the band, sometimes that was harder than dealing with the crime fighting.
Being in JLA was totally awesome, though. For all the bickering between the boys, playing with them was tons of fun, and she was really fond of them all. Diana couldn't wait for the summer tour. She'd never really traveled much, and she was psyched to play in all these cities and see more of the world. And to party with her friends, of course.
May 20, 6 pm
“Hey manager, you planning to tell us why we’re going to Scranton any time soon?” Barry asked as they drove down the highway. “Last week, Gotham, this week... Scranton? Is there going to be a single decent groupie to be found in Scranton?”
John turned around in his seat. “Now that we’re in a secure location, yes.”
“This is a secure location?” Artie asked without opening his eyes. “Our tour bus?”
“Of course, I’ve had it heavily modified.” John replied.
“Oh, then let’s continue here in the cone of silence, hmm?” Barry said.
John continued on without reacting. “I’ve received reports of a cache of disreputable scientists engaging in illegal cloning operations. You’re here to investigate and shut them down if necessary. Also, to play at the Paradise Stream Resort at Mount Pocono.” Barry scrutinized John for any trace of humor. He was either the most subtle comedian Barry had ever met, and a master he should study under, or the least funny man on this or any planet. He could never decide which one it was, he had fun trying to work it out.
“Evil scientists. Cloning. Ski resort. In May. Yup, this is going to be the best stop all summer.” Barry said to no one in particular.
May 22, 4 AM
“How the hell was I supposed to know that guard dogs were also genetic experiments?” Artie said. “They just looked like dogs! I don’t talk to dogs! I didn’t know they could fly!”
“You could have at least not sent them towards the clone vats. It is going to take weeks to get this smell out of my hair! What the hell was in those tanks?” Diana said.
“You mean besides the malformed Hitler clones?” Bruce said as scrapped green goo off his arm.
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.” Barry said, looking uncomfortable. “It’s all gone, and that’s all you need to know. Unless anyone has skin irritation that lasts more than 36 hours, or unexpected skin growths. Like third eyes or anything like that. Then you should talk to me.” No one could tell if he was serious or not.
“Well, we did destroy the whole operation, and made it out in one piece. Let’s get to the showers, we need to hit the road in a few hours if we’re going to make it to Boston in time to set up.” Clark said. Everyone else groaned as they headed to the tour bus.
“This is not the glamorous lifestyle I was promised. Fewer Nazis, more groupies, definitely.” Barry declared.
“And who exactly made this promise?” Diana replied.
“Um, mass media? They were quite clear about it, though! Also, why doesn’t anyone ever throw underwear at us?” Barry said.
“Maybe it’s your outfit, Flash.” Artie smirked. “They don’t want to make you feel underdressed.”
They laughed and climbed aboard “The Invisible Jet”, as Barry insisted on calling their tour bus. They were tired, covered in clone goo, and had a long drive ahead of them, but they’d triumphed over evil, and the Paradise Stream Resort hadn’t actually thrown them out for their performance. All in all, a good night.
June 4, 1 AM
Artie and Barry had had a good night. Curry at a good Indian hole-in-the-wall, sneaking flasks into X-Men: First Class so they could play the drinking game they came up with after seeing it the previous night, then margaritas and tacos, then back home. After the walk home Artie was at that magic point of not so drunk he was puking, but drunk enough that he could actually work. He grabbed a bottle of whiskey in case he needed to top off and headed towards his room.
"Yo bro, you working?" Barry called as he walked by.
"Yeah man, I think I'm in the groove." Artie replied
"All right, I'm gonna chill out here and play some Dragon Age. I think I might be able to score with that elf assassin."
Artie went around the room lighting his candles and incense, then turned out the lights. He knew it probably looked ridiculous, working on electronics by candlelight, but it worked for him -- and he didn't let other people see, anyway. Well, sometimes Barry came in, but that was different. Barry never judged him.
Artie turned on his keyboard and plugged his amazing headphones (Christmas present from the rest of the JLA and John, so much better than his old ones.) He pulled out the bits of lyrics he'd written the night before. He had no memory of writing them, but he'd saved them, so they might have potential. He cracked his knuckles and started like he always did, with the super corny and trite first song he'd learned to play on the piano. Despite it being the most overplayed song by young piano students, it always made him smile nostalgically. He played “Heart and Soul”, singing along softly, wistfully.
Heart and soul, I fell in love with you,
Heart and soul, the way a fool would do,
Because you held me tight,
And stole a kiss in the night...
Artie knew he would never be as good as the rest of the band. Barry's drumming was just hardcore old-school awesome, Diana's singing brought the house down, and as for Bruce and Clark... Artie had always wanted to be a guitarist. He played air guitar like a fiend, jumping around his room as a kid. He'd obsessively listened to Clapton, Page, Berry, and Hendrix, always Hendrix. If only he could have ever seen him live... He'd begged for lessons, and taken them, and practiced day and night, but the closest Arthur Curry would ever come to guitar greatness was in Guitar Hero.
Heart and soul, I begged to be adored,
Lost control, and tumbled overboard,
That magic night we kissed,
There in the moon mist.
He thought of her then, of course. He always did. Mera, beautiful
Mera. So much of his music came from memorie of her, of the joy they
had together and the pain they'd caused eachother. He missed her so very much. Things had gotten so complicated this year, and he didn't know what was going to happen. He wanted to make things work, but sometimes he felt like he just didn't know how to make her happy.
Oh! but your lips were thrilling, much too thrilling,
Never before were mine so strangely willing.
She was gone for the summer, back home in India with her parents, doing a biomedical internship with her mother's lab. They'd both said they hoped the time apart could help them figure things out. They'd been talking a lot, though the time difference made it hard. He didn't mind losing sleep to talk to her, though.
But now I see, what one embrace can do,
Look at me, it's got me loving you,
That little kiss you stole,
Held all my heart and soul.
Artie sighed. He never told Mera which songs were about her. It was bad enough letting the woman he probably loved hear his wretched songs, bad enough to have his stupid feelings on display for the world to hear. He insisted on having the songs credited to the group, and not to him. That way no one could be sure, no one could mock him for his terrible lyrics, or know whose heart and soul was being laid bare for the world.
He took off his headphones and stretched. Time to get to business. He poured himself a shot and drank it for Mera, so he could do more than wallow, and a second shot for himself, so he wouldn't burn last night's lyrics before he even read them. Looking at his own work... he'd rather face down a thousand criminals in the middle of a desert than read him own words. It began to rain outside. Rain. Perfect.
I can use this. He put his headphones back on, read the lyrics,
and started to play.
June 4, 4:30 AM
Sometimes, in moments of clarity, Barry admitted that he might play video games too much. There was so much to do in the world besides video games, so much to see and experience, friends to make and lives to touch, crimes to foil and roses to be smelled and all of that.
This was not one of those moments. Barry fucking loved video games, an
he'd been playing for three and a half hours. He'd gotten up several
times, to use the bathroom and grab drinks and snacks, and each time
he'd peeked into Artie's room and make sure he was okay. He was
in full-on composing mania, so Barry was happy.
He was in the middle of fighting more Maker-be-damned damn bloodmages
when he heard noises coming from Artie's room. He paused the game and
knocked on the door. "Hey man, everything okay in there?" He got no
response and opened the door.
The scene was not unfamiliar to him. The floor was covered in crumpled
papers. Strange instruments were strewn about the floor, everything
was in danger of catching on fire from those damned candles, and Artie
had his head down on the keyboard, crying, one hand clutching a bottle
of whiskey and the other clutching his head.
"Hey Artie, man, it's me, Barry, what's up?" Barry approached him
slowly. Sometimes Artie startled easily when he was like this, and
sometimes he was dead to the world.
Artie merely whimpered softly as Barry approached. Barry knelt down
next to him and lifted his head. "Hey buddy, you okay there? Time to
go to bed, maybe?"
Artie looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. "Barry, this
song, it's just... gods, it's just so..."
"Hey man, it'll be okay, I'm sure it's fine," Barry said as he eased
the whiskey bottle out of his hand.
"No, you don't understand! This is the best god-damn song I've ever
written! It's fucking beautiful! I'm just so fucking happy I have to
Barry was surprised to hear Artie express such confidence in his own
music. Even when this drunk, that rarely happened. "That's great man,
how about we put you to bed" -- on your side, not your back --
"and you can show the band in the morning?"
"No!" Artie shouted with unexpected vehemence. "They can have the
music for now, but the lyrics... they can't have them yet. Mine. For
Mera. Tell her. Tell her everything, how I feel..."
Barry knew he had to act quickly and get Artie off this topic and into
bed, or he'd be up past sunrise with his crying-and-rambling fish-talking
song-writing weird-instrument-playing best friend. Again. And the
thing was, Artie always blacked these nights out, or pretended
to, so Barry never even got to demand recompense for these late
nights. Not that he needed any payback, it would just be fun,
if talking about it wouldn't have been so weird.
"That's great, Artie, into bed, there we go. Your puke bucket's right
here, okay?" Artie was already mostly asleep. Barry went back to the
living room, saved his game, turned off the media system, and went
to sleep on the futon in Artie's room. He'd leave once Artie was
sober, or say he passed out drinking, which happened often enough
anyway. "Pleasant dreams, fish boy." Artie mumbled something, maybe in
reply, maybe not, and Barry rolled over and went to sleep.
June 25, 2 AM.
The show had been good, but the JLA seemed even more excited about the after-party at Oliver’s parents’ brownstone in on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Oliver’s parents were in Madrid, and John wasn’t sure what was getting the most trashed: the band members, the liquor cabinet, or the house itself. Oliver didn’t seem to care, possibly because he’s so busy flirting with Dinah, but either way John wasn’t going to make a problem out of it, not when everyone seems to be getting along for once. It was extremely difficult to keep musicians sane and civil and in fighting condition, but John was nothing if not dedicated.
Barry was doing a keg stand in the kitchen, Artie cheering him on. At least they rarely caused drama, except when one of Barry's chemistry "experiments" causes too much of a problem. Artie had always been a good kid... but John worried about how much he drank to write music. It didn't seem to be a problem yet, but John was always worried about everyone's chemical habits... except Clark, of course. He was practically straight-edge, except for his cigarettes. It's like he channels all the energy everyone else put into their drug habits into those cigarettes. John thought.
John found Clark surrounded by some girls... probably groupies. He'd sung really well that night, and John wasn’t surprised he'd gotten the attention of so many young women. He wasn't likely to do anything for any of them, of course. Clark looked about as comfortable as he ever did at things like this, which was not very much. He was really torn between two worlds, that of the All-American golden boy football player from Kansas, and the handsome rock star surrounded with drugs and girls, neither of which he ever partook of. John knew that Clark was going to have to make a decision about his life someday, but today wasn't that day, and John wasn’t going to push it. He wanted JLA to succeed, but he'd of course support Clark in whatever decision he made. Sometimes he hated being such a nice guy.
John's musing on Clark was interrupted when he felt Bruce glaring at Clark. Bruce's glare was something one could feel with as many senses as one had. John was fairly certain that there were several young women who would have been paying attention to Bruce as well if it wasn't for the Death Glare, or the Bat Glare perhaps. Bruce spent entirely too much time thinking about Clark, and Clark's role in the band, and what other people thought of Clark, and Clark's relationship with Diana and everyone else. John decided to go into counselor mode and intervene.
"Hey Bruce, how's it going?"
Bruce grunted back noncommittally.
"That really was quite the show tonight. Especially the encores. You guys had the crowd on fire."
"I guess." Bruce continued to stare at Clark, barely paying attention to John.
"No, it really was. I talked to a reporter from the Village Voice. You're going to get a good review, and I've got some leads on much bigger bookings." Bruce nodded at John, but still wasn't paying all that much attention, so he decided to take a risk. He put a hand gently on Bruce's shoulder, and said, "I mean it, I'm really proud of you, of all of you." Finally Bruce turned to look at him. He looked awkward, and John was concerned he'd gone too far. Bruce turned to stare at his feet.
gt;"Thanks John. We wouldn't be here without you," Bruce said, barely above a mumble, clearly uncomfortable getting this personal. Thankfully, Dinah decided to show up and start raving at Bruce about his performance, which broke the tension and allowed John to take his leave.
He heard a commotion near the door; Hal Jordan had arrived. Barry stumbled away from the keg to throw his arm around his friend. John smiled faintly and scanned the rest of the party. Clark had escaped his fangirls and was sitting with Diana on a couch. Diana was watching Bruce and Dinah, as was Oliver, which meant they were both quick to react when Dinah threw her arms around Bruce’s neck and kissed him.
John was unfortunately much farther away than Diana or Oliver. By the time he reached the scene, everyone was shouting. He belatedly realized that Diana and Oliver were both far more intoxicated than he'd originally thought. Diana was slurring something at Bruce, Clark was standing near Diana, obviously poised to intervene if things got out of hand, Dinah was pouting, and Oliver was storming off. Various partygoers were gathering for the schadenfreude, and John just shook his head. Everyone had been getting along so well. Diana looked like she was about to take a swing at Bruce, so Clark reached out and took her wrist as she pulled back, which caused Bruce to break his silence to yell at Clark while Diana shouted at both of them. Dinah ran off after Oliver, and Bruce slipped away while Diana's back was turned. With only Diana still shouting, John decided to just clear everyone away and hope that the party wasn't entirely ruined.
June 25, 8 pm
"It's not like that," Clark said, lowering his voice. "She's like a sister to me."
"Oh sure, superboy, that way you look at your sister? I see the way you fawn over her, always wanting to take care of her, to control her life, the way you look at any man who gets near her," Bruce spat at him. He stopped himself from adding "especially me" at the end.
"I said it's not like that, Bruce. I've never thought of her that way. Besides, there's someone else."
"I met her in my journalism class last term. She came to our last show before finals. We're dating."
"And where is this mystery woman, you so conveniently failed to mention?"
"Bruce. Calm down. She has a summer internship at the LA Times. Her name's Lois. I'm not here to stand between you and Diana. If you feel this strongly about her, you should just tell her."
"What? I never said anything..."
"No, Bruce, you never did, did you?" Clark said, slowly and precisely. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to leave now. Think about what I said."
Bruce let him leave. He didn't know what to say.
June 25, 9 pm
"I am so excited to be here, thanks so much for taking me out!"
"Sure thing, Kara, you know I love having a good time! Just don't tell your cousin, okay? He can be such a stick in the mud," Diana replied.
"Ugh, don't I know it. Don't get me wrong, I love him to bits, but he does not know how to have fun. I honestly still can not believe that he's in such an awesome band and actually hangs out with cool people. How has he not had an aneurysm yet?"
"Well, he and Bruce do have their issues sometimes... okay, all the time... but we get by somehow, you know?"
"So, where are we going first? I'm so excited!"
"Well we're gonna meet up with Zinda and Zatanna, then going to go see a totally hardcore show I heard about, then there's a couple different clubs we can go to afterwards for dancing. You've got your ID, right?"
"Of course!" Kara clutched her brand new fake ID, for Helen K. Mallon, 22 years old from Queens. She'd carefully memorized all of Helen's details and looked up her address on google street view and yelp and felt prepared to answer any questions about Helen, who goes by her middle name, Kara, sometimes, in case anyone slipped up.
Kara loved New York City so far. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with Kansas, precisely, what was there was fine, there just wasn't really quite... enough there. New York had everything. Museums, Broadway, music, clubs, stores, and what seemed like more restaurants than she could eat in in a lifetime. It's hard to get good Ethiopian food in Kansas! Not that Kara could really tell good Ethopian food from bad Ethiopian food, but she was very pleased to have the option to have any Ethiopian food at all, let alone Ethiopian food of varying quality!
Her parents wanted her to apply to some state schools in the midwest, and Kara probably would, to make them happy, but she couldn't imagine spending the prime years of her life there. The city was intoxicating, full of so much variety and possibility, full of more people than she could ever meet, people from everywhere, with lives she couldn't even begin to imagine. She wanted to know their lives, their history, their passions. New York was a place to find yourself... or lose yourself, she knew some people did that, but that wasn't her. She wanted to live life to the fullest, starting tonight.
Kara was totally in awe of Diana. She was so stylish, so hip, so self-confident and in control. And beautiful. It seemed like nothing could get her down. Kara could hardly believe Diana was going to take little Kara from Kansas out and introduce her to all her big city friends. She was completely determined not to make a fool of herself, not to seem like a small-town girl. She was Helen Mallon from Queens, and she totally knew how to handle herself in the city, and, well, if she wasn't quite sure sometimes, she'd look to Diana as her role model. This was going to be an amazing night.
"You've drunk before, haven't you?" asked Zinda as they waited in line for the show.
"Of course I have! I'm not that much of a kid! What do you think we do in Kansas, raise barns? There's not much to do besides drink!" Kara wasn't strictly lying: she had beers before at parties, and some hard lemonades and ciders, and she'd totally been tipsy, and gotten very cheerful and giggly and had fun. She'd realize later that she'd never been flat out drunk before, and that there really was a world of difference between tipsy and drunk.
It was at the fourth or fifth club where things started going wrong, Kara determined later. It wasn't that she had clear memories of most of what was happening, but fortunately (or unfortunately), she had been sending a series of increasingly incomprehensible text messages to Cindy, her best friend back home.
Things had been fine at the second club, when Diana was holding court over a crowd of fawning people, men and women, competing for her attention as she flirted freely. Things had been fine when Zinda took control of karaoke away from the MC at the third bar and worked her way through the greatest hits of Journey and Lady Gaga, alternating back and forth. Things had been fine when they did their first round of Jägerbombs, and their second, but the third hadn't gone as well. Kara had been intimidated at first, but she really wanted to fit in, and according to the pictures on Diana's phone, it was the fourth (or maybe fifth) bar where she wound up dancing on a table with her shirt mostly unbuttoned. That was new. It had seemed like a great idea at the time, she was sure, and she was pretty sure the text messages she'd sent Cindy were pretty enthusiastic. About something, at least. If she hadn't had such impressive partying companions, she might have had to deal with some unwanted attention, sixteen-year-old girl dancing on a table in a bar in New York, but the girls were watching out for her, which Kara was very grateful for the next day.
By the time they were headed to a loft where one of Zinda's friends lived, Kara was getting kind of partied out, but there was no way she was going to admit it. When they got there, she found a bathroom and threw up for a while, and she was inordinately pleased with herself for not puking either in public or on herself. After that, her texts got a bit more coherent. Eventually she fell asleep on a couch next to Diana. The next thing she knew, Clark was shaking her awake, the sun was way brighter than it had any right to be, and Clark... Clark was really not happy.
Kara decided maybe she should pretend to be asleep, but Clark kept poking her until he was sure she was conscious. He tried to make her get up, but she really didn’t want to, and then she was tossed over his shoulder in a most undignified manner. Zinda and Zatanna didn’t seem to be about, there were other people who looked vaguely familiar passed out on other couches, and Diana was walking behind Clark, eyes to the ground. Her hair was completely disheveled, her clothes had new rips Kara was sure hadn’t been there last night, her makeup was smeared all about, but somehow she still looked amazing, like hungover was a new couture fashion line she was modeling. Kara was yet again impressed. No one spoke until Clark was putting her to sleep in his room. She had started to hope against reason that she might get out of this without a lecture, but as Clark pulled down the shades (to her great relief) he said, “We’ll talk about this after you’ve slept it off,” and left the room without looking at her. There was no emotion in his voice, and that was so much more upsetting than if he’d just sounded angry.
June 26, 2 pm
Diana woke up with a hangover the size of the moon and wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep for a week, but her body demanded water. She got up and staggered to the bathroom. When she opened the bathroom door again, she found Clark standing outside with his arms crossed.
"We need to talk." That was about the last thing Diana wanted to hear.
"Breakfast," she replied, defiantly. There was no way she could have this conversation on an empty stomach.
"It's 2 pm," Clark said, clearly attempting to be matter-of-fact, but irritated.
"Whatever." She let him follow her to the kitchen, where she started the coffee maker and pulled a leftover pizza box out of the fridge and began to eat the contents cold. She pulled down the shades to keep the goddess-awful sun out of her eyes and slumped at the table.
Clark stood by the sink, awkwardly. Did he not actually have a plan when he decided to confront her pre-breakfast and pre-coffee?
"So, you wanna talk? Talk." Diana could have been kinder, but she was preparing to get yelled at and had no energy to spare. Clark's face hardened, and she regretted her tone.
"Diana, what the hell was that?"
"A party. I told Kara I'd show her a good time, and I did!"
“Diana, she was practically passed out drunk when I found her."
"Seriously, Clark, what did you expect? We went partying. I was looking out for her the whole time,and so was everyone else, and I took her to the tamest places I know. Nothing bad happened except some hangovers. Calm down."
"She's only 16! I thought I could trust you," Clark said.
That hurt, going for I thought I could trust you already. "I'm only 18, Clark, or did you forget that? I'm closer in age to her than I am to you!"
"And I suppose that's how you spent your nights when you were 16, but Kara's from Kansas! She doesn't know anything like this!" Clark was raising his voice, and Diana’s head really hurt.
"Fuck you, Clark, you think you know me? You don't know what I was like when I was 16, you don't even know what I'm like now!" Diana was surprised at her vehemence, but he'd struck a nerve. "All you do is watch everything all aloof, and judge everyone, and try to protect me from everything in the world. You're never part of anything, you're too good for us, you just carry us home afterwards and think you're better than us! You never share anything with us, you never really get to know me, or any of us! This is all just a game for you, isn't it, some fun college rebellion, and after this is all over you'll go get some boring respectable desk job and laugh about your stupid sloppy druggie band from college that was always just a joke to you!" Diana finished her rant and realized she'd gone too far. She'd never seen Clark look like this before, so hurt, so... emotional.
"Clark, I... I didn't mean..."
"Is that what you really think?" Clark said, his voice hollow. "Is that what you all think? I knew... I knew Bruce thought... but I thought you..."
"No, Clark, wait, I'm really hungover and I'm sorry, I know you don't--"
Clark sighed and looked at the ground. "Diana, I thought... I thought you were my best friend. I'm sorry I failed you so much." He turned and headed out of the kitchen to the front door.
"Oh, goddess, no, Clark, wait, please--" but he was out the door. She ran out into the hall in her tattered party clothes, but he was gone, damn his speed. She went back into the apartment and slammed the door.
Kara stumbled out of Clark's room, bleary-eyed. "Hey, was that Clark's voice? Oh, do I smell coffee?"
Diana just leaned against the wall and tried not to cry.
June 26, 2:30 pm
Clark didn't like letting people down.
People had a lot of expectations for Clark, and he always wanted to live up to what people wanted from him, or to exceed their expectations-- which led to higher expectations to live up to in the future. Clark wasn't one to show his emotions easily, to let people know when he was frustrated or when something was hard. That just wasn't how he was raised. He was shocked when he first came to the city and saw how different it was, how so many people wore their hearts on their sleeves, how everything was public and nothing private. He reacted by becoming even more private than he'd ever been and found it hard to loosen up again, even after he was much more acclimated.
Clark believed in good and evil, but he also believed in redemption. Clark believed in right and wrong, but also in mercy and compassion. Clark believed in potential, and in striving to achieve one's potential, but also in helping others do the same. Clark believed in holding people accountable for their actions, but also in letting people walk their own paths. Clark believed in truth, justice and the American way, but he also believed that dissent was both healthy for democracy and patriotic.
Most people only saw part of Clark Kent, but they thought they saw it all. They thought they could define him, label him, know him, but they couldn't and they didn't. It felt like all Bruce saw in Clark was judgment and scorn, hypocrisy and condescension. What Bruce didn't see was that Clark wanted Bruce to be happy. He didn't want Bruce to be miserable and alone, he didn't want to see him alienate people he cared about, and he didn't want him to wind up in jail. But Clark couldn't say that to him; he could barely even express it to himself. Clark wasn't good with emotions, and there were just so many in JLA.
And Diana... Clark thought it was different with her. He thought they understood each other. She lived her life how she wanted to, and he knew it looked wild and crazy, but Clark paid attention to details, and he knew Diana was careful. Diana was never in danger of alcohol poisoning or ODing -- that could not be said of some of their other band members. Diana did things that were illegal, but she took calculated risks and was as safe as possible. Clark didn’t have to worry about her the way he did the rest of the group, but that didn’t stop him from keeping an eye on her anyway, from being quick to go to her side if it looked like somehow something was wrong. She was like a sister to him, and he wanted her to be happy. He thought that somehow she understood, that she didn’t think of him the way Bruce did. But he was wrong.
Everyone liked Clark for what he could do, not for who he was. They adored him for the touchdown that won the game, or the guitar solo that rocked the show, or for punching out that bank robber, but no one liked him just because he was Clark Kent, a nice guy from Kansas who tried to do good and get along with people and make his parents proud. He thought he'd done a decent job fitting in with the rest of the group, even if he didn't drink or do drugs or party hard. Apparently, though, he just came across as a judgemental prick. Something had to change, one way or another.
June 29, 8 pm
Things were awkward for the next few days. Barry and Artie could tell something was up, and they went out to the movies a lot. Not knowing what was going on didn't keep them from speculating as they stood in line to see "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" for a second time.
"Awkward threesome, man, I tell you."
"Dude, are you even listening to yourself? Sure, Diana'd probably be up for it, but Clark and Bruce? I can not believe you are saying this."
"I didn't say it was an awkward sober threesome! Maybe Diana got them all rolling, and, well, you know how these things go."
"What? No, I don't! Wait, do you? Seriously? Is that what happens? All I did was dance nonstop for three hours then pass out!"
"Dude, I keep telling you, I don't think that stuff was pure MDMA. It might not have been any MDMA at all, just some speed. You really shouldn't trust those people you meet at concerts!"
"Those guys were total bros, okay?"
"They might not have even know what they were selling! I keep telling you, people will sell anything and call it X. Talk to me next time."
"What, so we can have an awkward threesome too??"
"No you dimwit, I am not coming on to you. Ugh."
"Whatever man. I still want to know what crawled up everyone else's butts and died."
"You have such a way with words. No wonder the fish listen to you."
“Aww shut it, flasher.”
June 30, 8 pm
Diana had been planning a surprise party for Clark's 21st birthday for weeks, and she wasn't going to let this stupid fight get in the way. It was the real reason Kara had come to visit this week, and Diana had screwed it all up. She hoped, and she knew this was a ridiculous hope, that somehow the party would make it better, that Clark would be happy and feel appreciated and everything could be okay again. It was possible, she kept telling herself. It seemed just as possible that Clark would storm out and hate them all, and Diana was just not prepared to deal with that. She decided to compromise and delegate. By "delegate," she meant that she forced Kara to talk to him, tell him about the party, and convince him to go.
Somehow, Oliver was still willing to let them use his parents' place again, despite the horrible scene at the last party. Diana was confused, but she wasn't going to try and find a new venue if she didn't need to. When she checked Facebook and saw all the cheesy phone camera pictures of Oliver and Dinah and saw their changed relationship status, she thought she understood.
Clark surprised them all that night, putting a new twist on "surprise party." This was a Clark they'd never seen. He was constantly laughing, joking, smiling, and drinking. Drinking a lot. Diana was so relieved that she didn't notice when "21st birthday drinking" became "seriously way too much drinking." She found him slurring his words and accentuating his conversational points by poking people with his index finger, which was actually dangerous given his strength.
"Hey Clark, how are you doing?" Diana asked, cautiously, trying to sound casual.
"Di-an-a! There you are!" Clark was trying to combat his slurred speech by accentuating syllables. "I was just telling Hal about how we are going to kick. their. asses. at the Battle of the Baaaaands!"
Hal smiled at her. He was clearly more amused than irritated, but Diana could see this going downhill.
"Clark, want to come out on the balcony with me? I need some air."
"Does the lady need an escort? An escort she shall have!" Clark tried to take her by the arm, but she wound up mostly holding him up.
Diana learned a lot that night. She tried to be a good judge of people, but she'd completely underestimated Clark. She hadn't really meant most of the things she'd said, not really, but she had wondered what was really going on with Clark. She thought he really was just... stoic, straightforward... simple, almost? She’d been unfair to him. But there was so much more, and Clark really was the best friend she'd ever had, and she'd almost just let that all slip away. There was still more to work through, but she was confident they would.
They were out there a long time in the warm summer night. Diana decided that with all that heart-baring from Clark, it was time she did the same. She'd never actually told anyone at college about her upbringing, and she didn't realize how much she needed to until she did. She told Clark about her mother, her amazing, wonderful demanding mother, Hippolyta. Her mother was one of the founding members of a feminist lesbian separatist colony. It had been a big thing for a while back in the 70s, but she wasn't surprised Clark had never heard of them. Her mother had Diana through IVF and had never told her who her biological father was. She'd been raised almost entirely away from men. Once she was a teenager, she'd started sneaking out to the nearby town at night. She'd made friends with some local girls, and she met their boyfriends and brothers, but she was never really friends with any of them. She didn't understand the social norms of heterosexual society, and the ways of boys were a strange mystery.
Diana applied to all the women's colleges that her mother wanted her to, but she also applied to co-ed schools in secret. She felt silly saving up money to secretly apply to schools, but she just couldn't not even consider co-ed schools. When she decided to actually attend a co-ed school... well, there was a reason she wound up at the only school to offer her a full scholarship. Her mother acted like she'd decided to sell herself into slavery, to worship at the altar of the patriarchy, to throw away everything she'd ever taught her... actually, she'd used all those phrases.
"How are things with her now?" Clark asked, mostly sober at this point.
"Well, I guess they are getting better. Slowly. We're talking again, long phone conversations at least every week. We used to talk like that every day. She says I can come visit in August, after the tour's over. I never thought I'd miss that place so much... I guess it's really her I miss. For all that we've fought in the last year, she's an amazing mother. I have no idea who I'd be without her. I couldn't have asked for a more loving, devoted, encouraging parent. She just flips out about this one particular thing." Diana sighed. "I hope I can make her understand. I know the world she grew up in was different, and I know things aren't perfect, but I... I don't know. I think we can make it work, once she sees I'm not a brainwashed slave of the patriarchy." Diana smiled at Clark.
"So," Clark said, getting to the awkward question at last, "Everyone where you grew up was a lesbian?"
Diana stopped him before he put his foot in his mouth. "Yes, well, all the adults were, the girls like me..." She thought back to her first kiss, Sophia. "It's more complicated. I've been trying to avoid getting boxed into anything. I've kissed men and women... and that robot created by that weird mad scientist that time... but I haven’t, um... I know people think I must...” Diana shook her head. "Clark, when I was getting ready for this party today, this was not a conversation I thought we'd be having tonight, you know? But I guess I'm bisexual. Or omnisexual or pansexual or whatever, I don't want to sound like a fan of the gender binary, though that's another thing I can't really talk to my mother about..."
Clark smiled. "You don't owe me any explanations, Diana, it was presumptuous of me to ask."
"No, Clark, it's okay. You really are my best friend, and it's not that I don't want to tell you these things, I just... got in the habit of not talking about certain things."
"Tell me about it." They laughed, and Diana was more relieved than she could express.
July 1, 3 AM
Bruce had enjoyed the party more than he expected. He hadn't wanted to come, but John had made him, and he knew there would be free booze. He'd had a supremely awkward conversation with Dinah where she tried to thank him for her and Oliver getting together. Bruce kept himself from remarking that he was glad his kiss could drive women to other men and just nodded at her, letting her leave after the even-more-awkward hug she gave him. It wasn't that he wanted Dinah, it was just... he didn't want to think about it, so he let Artie drag him off for tequila shots.
Bruce was past buzzed into pleasantly hammered. There was actually halfway-decent music for once, the booze was expensive, the food was good, and no one was actively irritating him. He was actually having a good time, until he saw Diana. He hadn't seen her in hours, but didn't want to act like he cared. But there she was, out in the balcony off the guest bedroom, practically snuggling with Clark. Holding hands. Hugging.
"Like a sister, my ass." he growled. He played out a whole scene in his mind of confronting them, but it seemed far too likely he'd just try to throw Clark off the balcony, for all the good that would do.
He left the party and didn't look back.
Bruce didn't come to rehearsal the next day. No one knew where he was. Artie remembered that Bruce had been drinking until pretty late at the party, and maybe he'd crashed there. Diana said she hadn't seen him when she left, well after everyone else. His phone went straight to voicemail, so they texted John and had rehearsal without Bruce.
John was getting increasingly worried about Bruce. The tension around Bruce was increasingly palpable. He'd been relieved when Bruce had seemed to be having a good time at the party, but John had been one of the few people to notice Bruce storming out at 3 AM.
John knew where to look for Bruce. He’d long been worried he’d have to go find him when he was in one of this moods. He found Bruce pacing around Central Park, brooding, watching happy families and children playing.
Bruce spoke to John without looking at him. "What do you want, Jones?"
"Hello Bruce. Can I walk with you?"
"I want to be alone."
"We don't have to talk if you don't want to."
Bruce closed his eyes slowly let his breath out of his nose, sounding like a sigh. He nodded his head slightly and resumed walking. John followed, several feet to the side of him.
They walked in silence for a long time. It was a beautiful summer day. They passed a child's birthday party,
softball games, a farmer's market, all kinds of vendors, and three different people playing the saxophone. Finally Bruce stopped to buy a soda and sit on a bench. John joined him.
"So many happy-looking families in the park," Bruce grunted, with no preamble. John let him talk. “I look at them, and I wonder how long they will stay happy, or if they even are happy. Something always happens. Divorce, death, lives of crime... something will happen to all of them. Lying to yourself and pretending that you’re happy, that happiness can last, is just asking the universe to prove you wrong.“
“Better to have never loved at all, than to have loved and lost?”
Bruce shifted uncomfortably.
John continued. “I think there’s still value in the things we’ve lost. The memories we have, the things we learned, all the emotions that we feel, those stay with us forever, longer after we may have lost who we loved. To love someone is to make them a part of yourself, and they are never truly gone, as long as you remember them. “
Bruce said nothing.
“It’s your life, Bruce. I can’t tell you how to live it. I’ll say this, though; I’ve always known you to be a brave person. I know how powerful fear is, but I know you don’t have to let it rule your life if you don’t want.”
John stood up from the bench. “They missed you at rehearsal today. I hope we see you there tomorrow.”
Bruce sat on the bench for a long time, thinking.
He went to rehearsal the next day.
Metropolis Daily Planet
Headline: Jewel Heist foiled by unknown heroes!
An armored car carrying a shipment of valuable jewels was almost stolen last night. The car was driving near the waterfront when the driver was gassed to unconsciousness and the hijacked car driven towards a mysterious ship docked at the harbor. As the car was being unloaded, several masked men and an unidentified woman appeared and fought with the criminals. Details of the confrontation are unclear. According to one dock worker, "I swear a giant octopus rose up out of the water and wrapped its arms... tentacles... whatever around the ship so it couldn't get away. And the lady lassoed the thieves and tied them up! It was the craziest thing!" The dock worker was then taken by the police for a sobriety test.
Artie doesn't know what the hell he's doing with his life. He's been through at least one major every term in school, and his grades are for crap. He knows he should probably major in marine biology or ocean engineering or something, that's what everyone expects, but is that really all he is? Just a guy who talks to fish? He knows no one respects his powers. He tries to preemptively make jokes about it, so that others won't, or won't think it hurts him if they do.
Being in JLA has been the best thing about college so far, but he knows that it's not going to last forever. Either the band will make it for real, or they'll break up when they start graduating. Either way that'll be it for him, because he could never go professional. He won't make them kick him out of the band, he'll just quit before they have to have awkward conversations with producers about how they need to get rid of that useless kid with his minor instruments and crappy keyboard playing. Artie knows exactly how much he sucks, and he really does appreciate the hell out of his bandmates for tolerating him and making him feel welcome. He's never felt so at home on solid earth before. Especially Barry, he doesn't know what he'd do without Barry.
He really does need to pick a major next semester, though. There are rules. Artie doesn't know what the hell to do. He's actually crap at science, which is the real problem with marine biology and ocean engineering. He thinks about dropping out, a lot. He could get a job doing something, he's sure, and he wouldn't need to keep suffering and dragging himself through school, all the endless exams and papers and quizzes and requirements. If he doesn't have a career path that needs a degree, why bother? Maybe he could join the Coast Guard. Hal once joked that he should go work at SeaWorld, and that was the one time he couldn't manage to pretend and laugh it off, and wound up going off on an impassioned rant about seals and dolphins and slavery that was up there with the highest PETA rhetoric. Everyone sat there in awkward silence, and Artie decided to just do shots until he didn't care anymore. No one made any fish jokes for a while after that.
July 22, 11 AM
Subject line: Battle of the Bands: Tonight!!!!
Entry: Battle of the Bands! Tonight! I am so excited I could throw up. The winning band gets an actual record deal which would just be... the biggest thing ever! There are so many awesome bands competing.
JLA: I love them! They’ve got that punk look going for them most of the time, but they’re totally modern in their music. Maybe even post-modern! Diana’s just got the most hypnotic voice, and she’s not too bad on bass either! Bruce, he’s got that awesome haunted look, I always want to know what he’s thinking. Clark is everyone’s favorite, with his rocking guitar solos and kickass voice. Barry plays the drums like demons will attack if he stops... and maybe they will! (Oh and Wally say to say hi, Barry!) And Artie... how many different instruments have I seen him play!!! Theremin, E-bow, Mandolin, Electric Mandolin, Didgeridoo, Melodeon, Nose flute, slide whistle, vuvuzela, dulcimer, ukulele, and I don’t even know what else!
GLC: Another TLA band ;) with pretty tight ties to JLA, front man Hal Jordan was one of the founding members of JLA but formed his own band when he graduated college before the rest of the group. Some other bloggers like to play up the rivalry between them, but I think that might just be them blowing it up for scandal. IDK. They’ve got a really polished sound and broad based appeal, but I think the judges want to see something more fresh... like the Teen Titans!
Teen Titans: My band, of course! The coolest thing this side of Gotham, but you all know that already. :-D Being in a boyband with Virgil, Wally, Garth, Dick, and Roy is the best thing ever, and I know the judges will love our sound.
Lady Titans: Last but certainly not least, our friends/rivals over at the Lady Titans! Donna, Megan, Kory, and Raven have the best all-female sound I’ve ever heard! We’ve got a little bet going: if we win they have to open for us at a show, and if they we win, we’d have to open for them! either way, I’d love to play with these lovely ladies!
There are other bands too, Like “Lex and the Legion of Doom”, (and by the way I know that’s your IP, LLoD, and you said some very unknind things!) but everyone know the three of us are the real contenders!
May the best band win! Which is us, of course! ;-)
July 22, 9 pm
As the gas cleared the room, Lex surveyed the now unconscious crowd through the partially fogged window of his gas mask. Everyone was slumped to the ground, musicians and fawning fans alike. He sneered at them, then chuckled to himself as he began the next stage of the plan. He'd show them, he'd show them all! These idiots wouldn't know good music if it took over their brains with a mind-control ray! Which was a good idea, come to think of it, he'd have to look into that. But for now, the Battle of the Bands was his objective. With all the other bands unconscious, Lex and the League of Doom would win by default, as long as they performed at least one song. He'd had his lawyers go over this plan very carefully. Finally he'd get the recognition he deserved, the glory, the record deal. Today, Battle of the Bands. Tomorrow, a Grammy! Multiple Grammys! Top of the charts! And everyone would forget about the stupid JLA and their outdated sound, and Clark Kent. Oh, how he hated Clark Kent. He surveyed the crowd for Kent, but... where was he?
"The JLA! Where are they! Find them all!" he shouted into his radio.
Clark always drank a spinach and wheat grass smoothie before each show. He thought they tasted healthy. Not healthy like they were a healthy drink, but healthy like they were the very essence of healthiness itself shoved into a blender. They made him feel alive and full of energy and he needed that energy to sing his best.
He didn’t care if it wasn’t a very “rock star” drink, or if it was “punk”, or if everyone else thought they were disgusting. He just loved his smoothies and always had one. It was his little ritual.
He stood in the corner of the dressing room sipping his smoothie and trying to focus on the big upcoming show. He stared down into the vibrant greenness of the smoothie. His smoothies were always green of course, but today it seemed extra green. And as he sipped it, he could almost feel the energy tingling as the liquid flowed down his throat.
"Clark, Clark, what's wrong? Are you okay?" Diana was seriously concerned. Clark had finished his smoothie, then started coughing and fallen off his chair. Clark looked up at her, nodded, tried to speak, and nothing came out. He put his hand to his throat, and experimented with different sounds, but only silence. By this point the whole group was crowded around, looking concerned. Even Bruce, Diana noticed. Barry starting rooting around in the backstage first aid kit.
Finally, Clark croaked out "Voice gone", just as Bruce knelt down to hand him a clipboard and pen.
"Yeah big guy, we can see that. Don't strain it even more," Bruce said as he helped Clark back onto his chair.
"Yo Flash, you find anything useful in that first aid kit?" Artie called to him. Barry didn't respond. Artie went over and poked him.
"What? Oh hey, what's up?"
"Dude, Clark's lost his voice, you went to go look in the medical kit."
"Oh hey, what do you know!" Barry smiled up at him, completely unaware of the problems at hand.
"Barry, what the hell, did you get stoned? What is going on?"
"No, I took my Ritalin... wait... maybe that wasn't..."
"There is definitely something wrong with Clark's drink!" Diana called to the rest of them. "I mean they are always gross, but this is starting to bubble."
"...I think those must have been benzos, maybe Ativan... or some tranquilizer... get me some uppers, kay? I'm just going to lie down..." Barry calmly slumped to the floor, not unconscious but in no hurry to get up again.
"No one eat or drink anything else!" Bruce announced to the rest of them. "We're being poisoned."
Artie looked up from searching Barry’s bag. “All the rest of his stash is gone!”
Clark held up a piece of paper that said, "John's not answering his phone!"
“This is bad. Let’s go.” Bruce and Diana headed out of the green room, followed by a very sedate Barry, who stumbled along, his arms wrapped around Artie and Clark’s shoulders.
Taking down the minions they found wasn’t hard, but the Diana and the rest of the JLA were very concerned about what the hell was going on. When they got to the stage, they found Lex’s band finishing their set, about to declare themselves winners by default, due to the lack of any other bands. The audience had been gassed to unconsciousness, and the judges’ eyes had the distinctive glow of mind control.
“Not so fast!” Diana cried out. “The JLA hasn’t performed yet!” They were about to leap into a pitched battle with their enemies, until one of the judges said, “Technically, if they are registered participants and ready to perform, they must be allowed to, or the contest will be void.”
Lex scowled, but allowed them to pass. Clark lingered to scowl back at him.
Diana turned to Bruce.
“Bruce, without Clark singing, half our songs don’t work at all. We still have to actually win this thing.”
"I. Don't. Sing." Bruce said through clenched teeth.
Artie kindly went to go fiddle with the instruments, leaving them alone.
"Bruce, you do. I know you do. I wasn't ever going to bring it up, but that night we ate way too many pot brownies and played Rock Band? You sang, and it was beautiful, and I know you don't remember, but I know you can do this, and we need you to do this." She reached over and gently titled his chin until he was looking her in the eyes. "Bruce, I need you to do this. Please?"
The moment stretched on in a way Diana thought only happened in pulpy romance novels, until finally Bruce turned away and said, "Fine."
She wanted to sigh with relief, to throw her arms around him, to dance with him, to kiss him, but instead she just smiled and quietly said, "Thank you, Bruce. Let's get ready."
They had a quick huddle to try and change up the setlist. They all knew everything was riding on this, and they had to find songs that didn't have drum solos and which Bruce said he could sing.
"This... will probably work?" Diana said, not sounding hopeful.
Everyone else grimaced and glowered. "It's just... everything was written to have a drummer. Everything. I can play bass when Bruce is singing, but I don’t drum. Maybe we could try a capella versions of some of them? Go all minimalist? It'd be... interesting." Everyone else continued to grimace and glower.
"Guys, hey guys." Barry called from where he was slumped on the ground. Artie ran over to his friend and helped him sit up.
"I can do this. Just get me to the drums, and give me a Coke, and I can do this." Barry's voice was becoming increasingly clear as he spoke.
“Are you sure?” Diana asked, carefully.
“Yes.” Barry pulled himself to his feet, leaning heavily on Artie. “I was born to do this. Let’s rock.”
“Barry, you’re awesome.” Diana hugged him as Artie lead him to the drums.
“We still need a closing song. Son of Krypton just won’t work without Clark, and we need to finish big if we’re going to win this.”
Artie stood up from getting Barry settled. “I know what we’re going to play. We’re going to play Fire and Rain.”
Barry looked at Artie with surprise. “You sure, man? It’s ready?” The rest of the group had all practiced their parts of music, and liked it, but Artie kept saying that the lyrics weren’t perfect yet and he hadn’t decided what he’d be playing. Artie had always been intense about the music, but this was a new level of perfectionism.
He pulled out the sheet for the vocals, unfolded it, and handed it to Bruce. Artie thought about saying something about how much the lyrics meant to him, or notes on how Bruce should sing, but he decided to let his music speak for itself.
Bruce took the lyrics, gruff as always, and began to read. Halfway through, he was quietly humming to himself. Artie was always nervous when he let someone read his lyrics, but this was the worst it had ever been. He’d put everything he had into this song.
Then something entirely unexpected happened. Bruce Wayne, Mister Gruff-and-Sarcastic, the man who Artie felt had never expressed any emotion other than irritation, shed a single, perfect tear. Artie hadn’t been more surprised since the first time a fish talked to him.
“Arthur. Thank you. This song is... thank you.” Bruce walked away and checked equipment, where no one could see his face.
Diana just stared at Bruce, then at Artie. Finally, she said, “Well, I guess we’ve got our closer,” and went to work.
Artie was still dumbfounded. Wow was all he could think.
“And now, our final contestants, the JLA!”
By the second song, most of the audience was conscious again. By the third, they were cheering and applauding, and the judges looked like they might be emerging from the effects of the mind control rays. No matter what he said, Bruce was an amazing singer, and Diana was so happy to be singing with him. Diana was singing her heart out, but was constantly aware of the audience and the judges. Finally, it was time for “Fire and Rain.” She turned to look at Artie to see what he was doing. He'd turned away from his keyboard to his table of strange instruments and picked up what Diana assumed was a wind instrument of some kind. He looked at her and nodded. She nodded back. Whatever Artie had planned, she was going to trust him.
"1, 2, 3!"
Clark thought he'd be frustrated, not being able to sing, but instead he found it freeing. He sang because he was good at it, and other people wanted him to and expected him to. He played guitar because he loved to. There was so much riding on this performance, more than ever before, and Clark should have been intensely anxious, with more people counting on him than ever before. Instead, he felt like he had transcended nerves and found a place of almost zen peace. He had to play as well as he possibly could, and that was all there was to it. Being anxious about it would only distract from his performance. So he relaxed, played his guitar, and actually had fun.
Barry hadn’t played drums without chemical aids since... he wasn’t sure when. He just had so much endurance and energy when he had help! Fighting through whatever chemicals he’d been drugged with was hard, but he was doing it, and he was rocking out. By the third song, he felt awesome. He was rocking out as hard as he could, on stage with his friends, fighting crime while they rocked out! He was having a fucking blast. If only every day of his life could be like this! Minus the non-consensual drugs, though, that wasn’t cool.
Artie made a decision. He pulled out his phone and set it to record right before “Fire and Rain.” It was time to actually say what he meant. He typed out an email to attach the file to afterwards. The email just said, “Mera, this is for you. It’s always been for you. I love you.”
Everyone was listening to “Fire and Rain.” The judges shook their heads and were free of the mind-control rays. Everyone in the audience was conscious, and paying rapt attention to the song. Even the villains couldn’t help but be drawn in by the haunting melody.
I never knew an ocarina could be so beautiful, thought Lex Luthor. These assholes really are good. Maybe all they needed was for Kent to shut the hell up.
Harley Quinn sniffled and wiped a tear from her eye. She’d never heard anything that expressed how tragic her unrequited love was, and never expected anything like that from a theremin.
Ted Kord closed his eyes and smiled. This was the most beautiful song he’d ever heard, and the electric mandolin playing was just phenomenal. The lyrics just perfectly captured how awesome his relationship with Booster was. He turned to his friend, whose smile was just as big as his was.
Barbara Gordon looks utterly calm, but she felt like she’s living her entire life at once. All the pain, all the joy; what she’d lost and what she’d gained; those she’d loved and those she’d hated. It was beautiful, it was terrible, it was everything. It was her life.
Bruce stood in front of hundreds of people, and he sang. He sang the loss of his parents. He sang the loneliness of his childhood in foster care. He sang the happiness of life with his parents. He sang the debt of gratitude he owed Alfred, that he could never repay. He sang the companionship and friendship he’d found in the JLA that he’d stubbornly refused to admit he had till now. He looked to Diana, and he sang Diana.
Diana forgot the judges. She forgot the audience, the other bands, the record deal, the villains who had tried to steal the contest. Diana forgot everything except the music, and her bandmates; her friends. She’s thought Bruce was a good singer before, but this was like nothing she’d ever experienced, nothing she’d ever felt. She felt like she truly knew him, for the first time. She didn’t know if performing could ever be this good again, and she didn’t care. She was part of the music, and she didn’t want it to ever stop.
The music ended, and for several moments, everything was silent. Then, almost as one entity, the room came to life. Most people were standing and cheering, many chanting “J-L-A! J-L-A!”. Some cried, some laughed. The day was clearly lost, and Lex and the Legion of Doom departed quickly, before anyone tried to arrest them. On stage, the JLA celebrated. Barry jumped up and ran to Artie, grabbing him in a bear hug.
“Dude, you are getting sole credit for that masterpiece, okay? And the way you used all those instruments... you should really just declare music major, you know?”
Artie smiled back at his best friend. “That might be a good idea.”
“Awesome! This is going to be great. Wanna go see Captain America?”
Clark, meanwhile, was crowdsurfing. He’d always wanted to, but had always had so many reasons not to. He couldn’t remember what they were as he rode the waves of the crowd.
Bruce put down the microphone, took a deep breath, and turned to Diana. He stated to say “Diana, I think--” but she interrupted by pulling him in for a kiss.