The meeting room was buzzing with conversation. They had to do a debrief on their latest mission which was only a few days ago. Not everyone was there yet, though.
Batman was sifting through papers while whispering something to Cyborg. Wonder Women and Flash were discussing something and laughing light heartedly while Aquaman put his own two cents in once in a while.
Superman looked around the League and smiled at the easy atmosphere. His eyes landed on Captain Marvel sitting near him. The caped crusader was staring into space with a goofy grin on his face and fingers slightly tapping on the table. Clark shook his head but his small smile didn’t fade. Marvel had the tendency to daydream, sometimes not at the most appropriate times.
A glance around again confirmed that they were only missing one member. He knew that Batman would be on Marvel’s case again if he zoned out during a meeting. With an easy sigh, he reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder, shacking it lightly. Cap startled into present and looked around wildly for a few seconds before he spotted Superman beside him and relaxed.
Marvel smiled at him questioningly. Almost child-like as he blinked at him.
“Hey, How’s the crime rate in Fawcett City lately?” He asked. ‘Because that’s their idea of small talk’, he thought, resisting the urge to shake his head and chuckle. Clark didn’t dwell on it too much as Marvel started babbling about this and that. It was a little endearing how excited he was about the smallest things like stopping a bank robber or racing Flash in the afternoon.
Suddenly, he stopped talking and blinked. His eyes grew serious with worry, like he knew something bad would happen soon.
“Is something wr-” Clark didn’t get to finish the sentence because Marvel’s eyes slipped shut and his head fell onto the table like he had fainted.
Superman startled and shook Marvel’s shoulder, gaining the attention of the rest of the group. “Marvel? Marvel!”
“Is he okay, what happened?” Asked Diana when Clark didn’t get a reaction from the hero in question.
“I don’t know, he was just fine a second ago and then... fainted?” He said all he knew. Marvel didn’t show any sign of waking up, the only indication that he was alive was the soft rise and fall of his chest.
Batman rose up sharply and was beside them in a fraction of a second. Bruce put two fingers to Marvel’s neck to check his pulse. “Breathing is slow, but not enough to indicate a drugs effect. He's just unconscious.”
The words didn’t do anything to calm the league. “I’ll take him to the infirmary,” said Clark and hoisted Marvel up by the shoulder.
They laid him down on one of the few beds there. Cyborg began investigating the cause of Cap’s comatose state but came up empty handed. All test showed that he was asleep. But couldn’t be woken up.
Hal burst through the door, “Sorry I’m late but we’ve got a huge problem.” Everyone shut up and took in his disheveled state. It was clear that he was panicking and his hands were shacking just a little.
The Justice League (minus Captain Marvel) watched in horror as the news reports and video feeds from hospitals all around the world flashed on the screen in front of them.
“ All of the world’s children?” Diana gasped.
“All 1.9 billion of them,” The lantern said with an unusually grim voice, “Anyone under the age of 18 is in a sort of a coma. The current reports all say they all collapsed at exactly 19:27. It’s causing global panic.” They all could see that from the hysterical parents in the hospitals, demanding that the doctors tell them what was wrong with their children.
“That can’t be right,” muttered Flash, “Cap fell into a coma too and he’s an adult.”
Hal’s eyes widened, “Is that why he isn’t here, he collapsed too?”
Batman nodded, “We moved him to the infirmary and his condition seems to reflect that of all the others described, but that’s for a later discussion. Right now we need to check on the Young Justice League members and contact Zatanna since it’s highly likely that magic is behind this.” And discuss it they would. Marvel’s case was way too strangely similar to the children of the world to be a coincidence.
They pushed that issued at the back of their mind at the mention of YJ. A pang of worry going through them. Aside from Marvel, Zatanna knew the most about magic so she was the best person to go to for help. Hopefully with her they could reverse all of this and find the ones responsible.
Once all the mess was over, Mister Mind was teleported into the freezing reaches of deep outer space and everyone woke up. The Young Justice League had been filled in on the situation when they slowly came to in the Watchtower, rubbing their eyes and wondering how they got there.
As soon as they had explained everything to them and the younger heroes had left, Marvel came to as well. The red cladded hero looked worried and spooked at having lost two hole days and having no idea about what was going on. He looked so much like the other YJ members that the team was once again boomed with their own suspicions about Cap as he flew up to meet them and rambled about being confused.
“Well... that’s what we were wondering as well,” said Diana, eyeing Marvel.
Marvel made a questioning noise and tilted his head ever so slightly which prompted Barry to explain, “All children on Earth fell asleep about two days ago. We found out that Mister Mind was behind it and managed to reverse it just now. Everyone woke up, including you.”
Everyone turned an inquiring gaze at Cap who swallowed and said, “Oh,” nervously.
“I’m sure it was a coincidence, maybe the sleeping gas that one lunatic threw at me last mission finally kicked in. In fact, I should look into it now,” he said, clearly wanting to get out as soon as possible, and turned towards the doorway but found Superman blocking it. He couldn’t lie to save his life, and they knew it.
“Too big of a coincidence, don’t you think?” Asked Batman, stepping closer to the cornered hero.
“What? No.” Marvel tried to laugh it off but everyone else remained serious. Even more so when looking at Cap’s panicky state.
Some of Marvel’s resolve seemed to break under the attention of the League. “Okay so maybe I look a little bit older than I really am.”
“Magic?” Bruce guessed since Marvel looked to be in his mid-twenties, no chance that his age would be over thirty. While that may be younger compared to the other League members, it was still old enough for no one to suspect that he was underage. Until now, that is. The only clue he had given them before was his child-like and innocent personality, but everyone had ignored it in the past. There was no way they would overlook it now.
“Yeah, I don’t actually look like this. I can change into Captain Marvel whenever I need to at will. It gives me powers but the transformation also changes my form.” He tried to explain while keeping it as simple as possible. Magic was usually hard to grasp by people who didn’t use it regularly or study it.
“Really?” Asked Hal, looking intrigued, “It’s that easy? Just ‘power on’ and ‘power off’ like a light switch? Transformation magic usually takes a long time and is painful.”
“Yup, like a light switch,” Cap said, all too eager to change the topic. “But actually it does hurt a bit, I get zapped by lightning every time.”
“How old are you exactly,” Batman steered them right back onto track.
Marvel sighed, no point in trying to talk himself out of this now. It was always only a matter of time before the they found out.
The room was blinded by lightning that appeared out of thin air and struck Captain Marvel. As the smoke cleared the red cladded hero was gone. Replaced by a shy looking boy who was staring at his ratty shoes. His hair was black just like Marvel’s and the League would bet that his eyes would be the same cloudy blue as well. Everyone stared, he couldn’t be older than twelve.
“Y-you can call me Billy,” the kid stuttered out, playing with the sleeves of his oversized, red hoodie, snapping the rest of the team back to attention. They didn’t stop staring at him and towered over Billy like giants, making him burrow deeper into his hoodie.
Superman sensed his discomfort and decided to bush his own horror down about letting a kid that young into the League. He sent a firm look at everyone that made them take a step back from Billy.
‘Later,’ he mouthed at them. It wouldn’t do any good to start arguing over this now and scare the kid away.
Clark knelt down to be as level as his broad shoulders would allow with him. “It’s so nice to finally meet you Billy,” he said in his best reassuring voice while offering a smile. The kid seemed to gain some confidence and timidly lifted his head to meet Clark’s kind eyes.
That smile seemed to be contagious because Billy felt his own lips twitching and trying to rise. Finally he had to let it loose and gave him the most blinging smile the older man had only ever seen in Captain Marvel.
“So, you hungry? I know how to make the best BBQ sandwiches,” he said and took the boys hand to guide him out of the room. Billy glanced behind him to see that the rest of the League weren’t following.
As soon as the door slid shut a commotion of arguing and yelling broke free in the room behind them. The muffled voices made Billy wince. He really hadn’t meant to cause the League any stress when he joined over a year ago. He just wanted to help.
They were never meant to find out. He’d followed all the motions perfectly, acted as mature as he could and attended all the meeting. He hadn’t even been late once! Yet it didn’t matter now: they were going to kick him off the League.
Billy felt tears pricking his eyes as they made it to one of the empty communal kitchens in the Watchtower. Superman helped him hop onto one of the countertops. He followed the older superhero with his eyes as he gathered ingredients from the fridge and set them beside Billy, a soft hum on his lips.
Like all of this was normal and happened every day. That thought made him want to cry even more because he’d never see Watchtower and his friends ever again.
Just as he felt the first tear roll down his cheek, a warm hand came up to shift his chin up a little and wiped it away. “Hey, there’s no need to cry. They’re anxious, that’s all.” As reassuring as the older man's voice was, he still couldn’t shake the terrible feeling in his chest.
The big hands moved onto his shoulders and Superman tilted his head again to meet his gaze. “Listen, no matter what they decide in there, you’re still a hero. Always will be. With or without us. Don’t doubt yourself.”
Billy blinked the mist from his eyes. That was right, he had been using the Wizard’s powers to help for months before he joined the League. Though his friends did make it easier, having other heroes constantly watch his back, on the field or not.
Superman searched his face and added gently, “You’re always going to have people from here in your corner. On the League or not, trust me, you won't get rid of us that easily.”
The boy couldn’t help himself after hearing the kindest words someone had ever said to him and leaped forwards to latch onto the older man. He buried his face into his neck and let the ugly, cracking sobs rack his little body. His arms wormed their way around the broad shoulders and held on as tightly as he could in his normal form.
Superman looked stunned for a moment before pulling Billy into his chest. He let a hand run through his uneven hair and rubbed his back in attempt to sooth. He whispered gentle words and was again taken aback by how one of the only heroes in the League who could match his power was a kid. Currently very sad kid who was trying to smother his hiccupping sobs.
Time lapsed around them and neither of them kept track. Once Billy lifted his head from the older hero's chest the fabric was thoroughly soaked but Clark was glad that the kid’s eyes were dry. Though they were still puffy red. The redness crept onto his cheeks as well when reality of what just happened settled in.
“I’m sorry, Superman, I didn’t mean to-” he started stuttering out apologies when the man shushed him.
“Call me Clark,” he said kindly as he sat Billy down again and started assembling the sandwich. He made sure he was still close enough to radiate his warmth to the kid, hoping it would have a calming effect.
Billy’s eyes bugged when one of Earth’s most well-kept secrets was revealed to him. It wasn’t every day you were trusted with the secret identity of a superhero. Especially one as powerful as superman. It was nice to know that the faith he put in him by telling him his name was returned.
He didn’t have energy left to start babbling about how cool it was or to feel embarrassed about breaking down so easily. The roller-coaster of emotions having drained him. It didn’t feel like he had slept for two days straight. He felt even more tired than that one time he found out the abandoned building he slept in had finally been abolished straight after a longer mission. Billy had spent a hole day looking for another place safe enough to doze off. Just when he found an abandoned railway station, that had a rusted train compartment which looked creepy but could conceal him from the elements (some of the seats still hade soft stuffing in them that wasn’t rotting!), his comm went off. He had collapsed when he finally powered off again after the meeting ended.
Right now, sleeping didn’t sound so bad. He felt like putty and Su- Clark was emitting his body heat with how close he was rustling with the pan of pulled pork. He may as well take advantage of being warm and safe in his civilian form for the first time in months-
His trail of thought was interrupted when a plate was placed on his lap and a cup of water clamped on the counter next to his thigh. Clark sat down onto the counter too, on his right with a plate of his own. “Eat up.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. The sandwich looked delicious, smelled delicious and definitely tasted delicious. After the first hesitant bite he was remined that the only thing he had eaten that day was the half eaten hot-pocket that he found in the trash.
Even the stern, “Don’t choke yourself,” Didn’t stop him from wolfing both halves down under a minute. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten something warm, or something that left him feeling completely full.
After the enthusiasm of having food in front of him died down, the tiredness returned with vengeance. He didn’t know whether he’d be kicked out of the Watchtower once the other League members were finished arguing or would they sweep it under the rug, but at that second he couldn’t bring himself to care. He was safe for now.
Billy was too out of it to feel his head nodding down onto someone else's shoulder. Or how he snuggled into it unconsciously. Or how the shoulder didn’t pull away. The only thing he felt when he fell asleep was warmth.