A Moment Too Late

by ArgoForg (argoforg@earthlink.net)


Archive: Fanfiction.net and LTBSA, so far.  I’ve got no problem with this being posted elsewhere, just please e-mail and ask me.

Summary: Sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring truths to the surface and into the light of understanding.  Bart Allen (Impulse) learns that the hard way. 

Rating: PG-13 for slight violence, and situations that may be construed as ‘adult’; same for language, because tense situations sometimes cause tense people to say bad words.  Although much of that happens in the later two chapters.


Disclaimer: All characters from Young Justice are copyright © 2002-2003 DC Comics, and the characters are used without permission for purposes of fan-fiction. No copyright infringement is intended.  I am not making any profit from their use, mostly because I already have all that extra money from illegally taking bribes in the infamous “ArgoForg Point-Shaving Scandal” that has made me ineligible for the NCAA Basketball Tournament through the year 2006.


Author Notes: Okay, this is my first YJ Fanfic, but it was a story that had been creeping around this edges of my head for a while, and it was one I wanted to tell.  I know I go third-person omniscient here, but some of the heads are too fun to stay out of.  Apologies to Kator if this has a bit of the “The Noble Sacrifice” feel to it, especially in the beginning; apologies to anyone who thinks the story has too much of a ‘been there, done that’ feel to it. 

    If you don’t like Impulse-Arrowette/Bart-Cissie, you might feel out of sorts here.  Sorry about that, too… but as someone else has said a lot better than me, for some reason they just ‘feel’ right together.  You can either say this story takes place in an alternate timeline where Arrowette doesn’t leave the team after YJ #15, or that Cissie’s made her way back to the team and picked up Arrowette right where she left off.  Or you can say my head’s filled with goat-cheese and I wouldn’t know continuity if it hit me upside the head.  Read, review if you want, but above all, enjoy!


Boy, I was right... sometimes I don’t know when to shut up.


* * * * *


Impulse (Bart Allen) - Bart Allen is a refugee from the future, a displaced traveler from the future.  In his time, he inherited super-speed from his grandfather, Barry Allen, the second Flash, but never quite got his ability to think slowly and steadily.  Called by his cousin, Wally West, the current Flash, "the living embodiment of the single-synapse theory," he has always been an act-first think-later teenager.  And he's likely to stay that way for some time to come.

Arrowette (Cissie King-Jones) - Cissie, the teenage daughter of the original Arrowette, Bonnie King-Jones, was pushed into her role as Arrowette at an early age, and soon found her mother vicariously living the teen-heroine years she couldn't have because of her pregnancy and single motherhood.  Although she never embraced the idea of being a heroine the way her mother did, Cissie has a good heart and a strong sense of right and wrong.

Wonder Girl (Cassandra Sandsmark) - An outgoing super-hero loving teenager, Cassandra Sandsmark quickly became an instant friend of Wonder Woman upon their first meeting, and soon after an audience with with Zeus, with only slight encouragement from Diana, she was granted her "fondest wish" which was a toned down version of Diana's super-powers.  Cassie and Cissie are almost inseparable friends, and Cassie harbors more than a slight crush on Superboy.

Robin (Tim Drake) - The third young man to be the sidekick to Batman, Tim possesses less of the acrobatic skills of Dick Grayson or the street-smarts of Jason Todd, but makes up for it with an intellect and keen grasp of detective work that may have him some day supercede even the exploits of his predecessors.  All but unanimously voted YJ's leader, he has taken the responsibility with aplomb and more than a few winces.

Superboy (Kon-El) - A teenaged clone of Superman, Kon has always had a lot more attitude than the Man of Steel, but is just now starting to recognize the responsibility of the emblem he wears on his chest.  Powered with Tactile Telekenesis that affords him enhanced strength, endurance and a forcefield, he is definitely one of Young Justice's big guns.  He considers himself a little more popular with the ladies than he probably is. 

Secret (Suzie) - For a long time, Secret was precisely that, a secret.  When her metahuman powers surfaced, and it was found that her normal shape was that of a smoky, gaseous girl, she became a ward of the D.E.O. (Department of Extranormal Operations). Here she was kept in an air tight room, so that the D.E.O. could observe her as her meta-human powers grew.  Eventually she was rescued by Young Justice, and she was somewhat informally adopted by the team, and named Suzie, since her past remained a mystery even to her.


ONE – Dirge


    “Here’s the sitch, people,” Robin said crisply as he leapt off the Super-Cycle, his boots kissing the rooftop silently.  He looked at the roof-access door.  For some reason, silhouetted against the last light of the sunset, it looked even more menacing than he would have figured.  He shook the thought off, not liking it. 

    “Ten minutes ago, STAR Labs security had a breach at this building.  This is the fourth time in the past two weeks in different tech-labs around the area; same M.O., probably the same perp.  Ballistics and surveillance pegged him as a meta, and we think we have an I.D.” 

    He looked back at the five other members of Young Justice, who were staring at him blankly.  He could almost see the question mark forming over Bart’s head.  He didn’t have the heart to ask the young speedster if it was a question over what he’d just said or if he was just wondering why they hadn’t already run inside and taken care of the situation.  Not that anyone else looked any clearer on what he’d just said.

    “Come again?”  Arrowette asked, raising her hand as if she was in school and didn’t want to break the teacher’s concentration.  The blonde’s blue eyes were wide.  Wonder Girl, though silent, had the same sort of look on her face: a look that suggested to him that he might as well have been speaking Latin.  Or that her mind was obscured by the same hazy smoke Secret— floating next to her and touching a slender finger to her lips— was made of.

    “Who’s Mo?”  Impulse asked, guilelessly. 

    Superboy was a little less questioning.  His expression slowly made its way into a smile.  “Try English, Boy Genius.  Real people don’t talk like that.”

    Robin rubbed at his mask.  Forgot.  It’s not like hanging with Dick or patrolling with Bruce.  Don’t simplify, just remember they probably don’t know what a shotgun scatter pattern is or how the police file a ballistics report.

    “Okay,” he said, allowing a bit of a smile to come to his own face.  A grim one.  Couldn’t let the whole façade down; not while he was behind the mask, anyway.  “Plain and simple.  In the last two weeks someone has broken into four different labs around here and made off with technical equipment.  It was only a matter of time before he’d try STAR Labs here, so Red Tornado and I started monitoring their alarms.  Anyway, we got a bite tonight, and I think that this is the same guy—”

    Bart broke in excitedly.  “And his name’s Mo, right?”

    “That’s M.O., Bart.”  Robin chided quietly.  “It stands for Modus Operandi.  Method of Operation.” 

    Bart paused a moment, a rare feat for him, and then shrugged, a confused expression still on his face.  “Well that’s even worse than Mo.  Maybe he needs a ‘Bum-bum-BUM’ or something.”

    Robin felt the insane need to beat his head into a wall.  “The guy calls himself Volcano.  He’s a pay-for-hire thief with high-end heat powers and an amped-up body.  Fast reflexes, enhanced strength and endurance.”

    “But nothing we can’t handle.”  Wonder Girl said with a smile.

    “They haven’t come up with that yet,” Superboy grinned.

    Robin nodded.  “Even so, I want to be careful.  Impulse, you scout ahead.  Be careful, though.  I have a layout of the place; there’s a lot of hallways that would be perfect places for— ”

    “He’s not there.”  Bart reported, his after-images still flickering after he blurred back into focus.  But he was gone between one eyeblink and the next.  “Least, I didn’t see him.”

    “— ambushes.”  Robin sighed.  Should have known better.  “You’ve been through already?”

    Bart nodded, grinning amiably.  “Right after you said ‘Impulse, scout ahead’.”

    Kon fought back a scowl without much success.  Cassie looked to the sky as if she was looking for moral support and exhaled quietly.  Suzie— Secret— just hung her head.

    Cissie finger-flicked his ear.  Bart yelped.

    “We’ve had this talk before, Impulse,” she said quietly, and with no menace at all.  Just as though she was gently reminding him of it.  “Didn’t we?”

    The effect on Bart was immediate, however. 

    “...sorry, Cissie...” he murmured, suddenly the utter soul of contrition.  His eyes looked as big and shiny as Bambi’s beneath the amber goggles.  Tim would have sworn he was half a step from shuffling his big feet.

    “Stop that.”  Arrowette smirked at him.

    Robin stared.  Now, that’s a change.  Something to look into, possibly.  Later.  Business first.

    “Well, we’ll keep alert, anyway.  Secret, you’re going to reconnoiter through the air ducts, see if he’s hiding himself from view.  Impulse, once I’ve finished here, you’ll take point.  Stay within shouting distance, in case you find him.  The rest of us will stay close.  Kon, Cass, stay tight and be ready to hit fast.  The hallways and offices won’t allow a lot of flight room to gain speed.”

    There were scattered nods from all around as they prepared to enter through the rooftop.

    “And be careful.  I don’t think he’s had time to get through all the security and make off beneath our noses.  I’m betting he’s in there.” 

    “Ten minutes is a lot of time, Robin,” Cissie said, pinching her lip thoughtfully.  “Especially if he’s super-human.  You really think he’s still here?”

    “I’d stake my life on it.”  Robin said, adjusting the lenses of his mask as they prepared to descend into the building.

    He had no idea those words would be somewhat prophetic.

* * *

    Bart Allen somehow expected Young Justice to eventually find Volcano; he just didn’t expect them not to be able to see the thief when they did find him.  But that was exactly what happened in one of the larger labs on the second floor. 

    It was still well-lit, despite the absence of workers— a fact Kon hadn’t hesitated to point out to Bart. 

    But Bart pointed out right back that he couldn’t see him, anyway.  In addition to any of the tech he’d stolen, he’d apparently also stolen and put on a prototype light-refraction suit that had rendered him almost totally invisible. 

    To anyone that wasn’t Robin.

    Of course Robin had been prepared— he was always prepared.  He wondered how Robin had learned it.  Bart just couldn’t imagine Batman talking to his protégée in that same droning, ‘learn from me, again’ tone that Max sometimes used.   Oh, yeah.  Right.  “See, Robin, you never know when you’ll be fighting conquering starfish or the giant killer monkeys or whatever, so always carry an extra banana and a can of Starfish-B-Gone.”   Well, whatever the big scary Bat did, it worked.

    Robin had stopped them right at the office the guy was at and pointed.  At nothing.  And before Kon could even get a good laugh in or Bart could run over and knock on Rob’s head to see if it was hollow, he’d silenced them all:

    “You can’t see him visually.  He probably took the prototype camo-suit that uses light-refraction technology.”  Robin said, and then looked at the empty center of the lab.  “That works against some of us, Volcano.  But I’m using a thermal imaging overlay.  And you’re giving off enough heat to stand out like Superman in a murder line-up.  Give up now.”

    Bart had been half-tempted to knock on Robin’s head anyway.  The guy had obviously been spending too many nights on all-night stakeouts by himself.  That idea had lasted until a voice from the middle of the room spat out a four-letter word that Bart wasn’t about to pretend he’d heard before.

    Things had accelerated pretty rapidly after that.  After several focused beams of heat had erupted and caused the team to scatter, Robin had pointed out to Bart where the shimmer of heat— like a mirage on a hot street— would help pinpoint Volcano.  And then he’d sent the big guns in: Superboy and Wonder Girl had been happy to lay into the guy, but the invisibility and his aura of heat had made the fight a lot less fair.  A couple lucky punches had made the man stagger back a couple feet, but he’d given as good as he got.

    “Careful!”  Robin yelled and ducked.  Cassie smacked into the wall above him, skidding down painfully and shaking her head, clearing the cobwebs.  She’d been tossed away as casually as if she’d weighed nothing.

    “Was it me that said, ‘Nothing we can’t handle’?”  She asked, muzzily.

    “Yeah,”  Bart supplied helpfully as a concentrated beam of heat energy scorched the wall that he had been standing in front of a millisecond ago.  He was still shaking his stinging fist.  Punching the guy at a hundred times a second had sounded like a really good idea until Bart found out that Volcano’s body was like a giant furnace.  He could still feel the burns on his knuckles, and he still had no idea if he’d been whaling on Volcano’s head or his shoulder or for that matter, his elbow.  Or a hundred different places.  He wasn’t anywhere near Bart’s league, but the guy was fast.

    “Rob,” Kon said, nursing his arm, where a lucky blast had tagged him.  “Dude, he’s not falling, even with me and Wonder Girl going full-bore.  We can barely see him, let alone know if we’re hurting him.  And those heat blasts hurt.  What do we do?”

    “We even the odds,” Robin said, then cupped a hand around his mouth.  “Secret, now!

    And just like that, the room around the invisible Volcano began to fill with smoke.  Bart glanced up at the ceiling, and saw that the slight stagger had placed him directly under one of the air vents, and Secret had just spilled out to enshroud Volcano.  Immediately, in the haze, Bart could see a shadowy form fill out, where the smoke wafted up against something solid, where the light couldn’t reach him to be refracted.  Volcano turned out to be slightly smaller than, say, the ceiling.   He was broad and even in that shadowy form, looked like he very well could have had muscles on top of muscles.  Bart was half-glad he couldn’t see the guy’s face.  The body was vicious-looking enough.

    But even more than that, at least now, it was visible.  Trust Robin to have a plan.

    “On him, Robin,” said Secret’s voice, from the fog.  There was something a little bit spooky about the fact she could talk without forming a mouth, but by the same token, Bart thought it was totally cool, too.  Max would lose it if Bart could find a way to speak without a mouth.

    “Okay, there he is!  Superboy, Wonder Girl, Impulse!  Take him down!  Arrowette!”

    Cissie had backed up toward one of the walls of the lab, not out of any sense of fear, but to give her more time to react to any of the heat blasts that might have come her way.  She glanced Robin’s way as the two major-league powerhouses veered in.  “I’m here!”

    “Can you squeeze a liquid nitrogen arrow in there?”  Robin asked.  “That should cool him down.”

    “Well, yeah,” she said, and then stared at him for a moment.  “But aren’t you worried that might kill him?  I mean it is liquid nitrogen.”

    Robin shook his head.  “Not as amped up as he is.  Do it.”

    He then glanced around and did a double-take as he saw Bart, still standing there next to him.  His voice rose.  “Impulse!  What are you still doing here?”

    Bart blinked a couple times; as far as he was concerned, that was self-evident.  Couldn’t he make up his mind?  “I wanted to make sure there weren’t any more instructions, or anything like that.  You know, so I didn’t run off without listening or— ”

    “NO!”  Robin yelled, in a manner that made Bart wonder if maybe he needed a vacation or something.  Max usually said he needed one after he yelled at Bart like that.  At least the veins in Robin’s forehead weren’t showing, like Max’s sometimes did.  “Just take some of the heat off the other two!”

    “Uh, sure.  Okay!”  Bart said, and left a series of after-images as he began to circle around Volcano’s form in the smoke, chanting about how he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if he tried.

    Volcano responded with a heat beam that nearly scorched Bart’s hair.  He apparently wasn’t big into vocals.

* * *

    Arrowette nocked the arrow with its fragile head and pulled the bowstring taut as she aimed.  She didn’t like this.  Most of the villains Young Justice fought were big into the villain banter— the growling of empty threats, the snarling about how they would pay dearly, the grousing about them being pesky kids.  Kind of like Scooby-Doo villains with superpowers.

    But not Volcano.  He was eerily quiet after his initial single-word outburst.  No threats, no growls of rage, no nothing.  For some reason, that worried her.  Did it mean he was more professional than many of the super-powered types they’d seen?  Was he just less bombastic?  Or more focused?

    She didn’t know, Cissie admitted to herself.  And maybe that was what worried her.

    Arrowette sighted.  Right now, Wonder Girl was leading in with a pair of punches to his head— Good one, Cassie.  Give him a good one for me— and Kon was using his tactile telekinesis to try to take his light-refractive suit apart at the seams.  And there was Bart, sticking his tongue out and presenting too tempting a target to pass up, but zipping around too elusively for Volcano to draw a bead on.  Be careful, cutie, she thought before she could squelch it.  She nearly shook her head and smiled wryly.

    Nearly.  But she was in her own state of focus now.  Inhale, exhale, inhale and draw, hold.  She held the bowstring, kept the arrow carefully pointed; her arms tensed, and she waited for an opening to release.

    She didn’t wait long.

* * *

    “Got it!”  Superboy yelled triumphantly, rewarded with a flash of light through the haze of smoke, and the sound of high-quality space-age textures unraveling at the seams.  “The suit’s trashed, thanks to my tactile telekinesis— ”

    “We never would have guessed.”  Impulse said as he continued to run around, drawing fire.  “Maybe you should wear a sign or something, you know?  ‘I have Tactile Telekinesis.  Be Warned.’ ”

    Superboy half-grinned.  “Ah, you’re just jealous ’cause all you can do is run f—GGLK!”

    “Run what?”  Bart asked, and immediately saw the problem, even through Secret’s smoky haze.  Volcano’s hand— a hand that was nearly the size of Bart’s head and completely visible— had stabbed out and grasped the Boy of Steel around the throat.

    And then he stalked out of the smoke, glancing around, not saying a word.  He was huge, all right... whoever named him wasn’t joking— he did look like a great big boiling mountain.  Volcano was tall, red-skinned, and had a chest that probably given Superman a run for the money, even covered up by the leather combat vest.  He also gave off an aura of heat that Bart could feel even at a distance.  In fact, every square inch of him that wasn’t covered by clothing gave off heat shimmers, like the hood of a car in the summer.

    None of that made Bart think twice, however.  What did make him worry was the look in the large man’s fiery red eyes.  A look that seemed to say that he not only expected everything Young Justice was dishing out, but he was fully prepared to walk right through it.

    And them. 

* * *

    “Give me a crease, give me a crease.  Half a foot.  Four inches, something.”  Cissie murmured, like a mantra.  Her arms remained rigid, her muscles taut, poised to release the arrow at a moment’s notice.  She had been ready to release when Superboy had shredded his light-refractive suit, but the sight of Volcano’s monstrous size and obvious strength had caused her to hold off for a fraction of a moment, and now that momentary window of opportunity was gone.

    Volcano held the struggling Superboy between him and her, as if the whole time he was thinking he had better things to do.  And while the larger man might not have been planning to use the Boy of Steel as a shield, Cissie had seen how fast he’d picked Kon up, and knew that he could just as easily put him right in the path of her arrow.  Maybe if he wasn’t looking, she thought, but that was an abortive thought, too— Volcano’s red eyes were roving back and forth, gauging his threats.  So she held on the shot, and waited, cursing the whole time.

    “C’mon, c’mon, come on... put him down, look away, something.”

    One second passed.  Bart leaped up, his fist raised to pound away on the bigger man’s head, never once seeing Volcano’s free hand come up in a clenched fist until it smacked him in the face.  

    If not for his reflexes, his skull might have been shattered— Cissie felt her heart get stuck in her throat at the thought.  But either his reflexes or his aura saved him; he crashed to the tile floor in a tumble of arms and legs, shaking his head dazedly, a hairline crack visible in his goggles. 

    Another second passed. 

    “Superboy!”  Wonder Girl exclaimed as she flashed around him.  “Put him down, you— ”

    The next word never came, because at that moment Volcano hurled the thrashing Superboy at his attacker, so fast that Wonder Girl had no chance to catch him.  Or avoid him.  The two crashed into the heavy wall of the lab with a sickening thud.

    He looked as though he’d barely tossed Kon.  He didn’t over-extend, the way Cissie had hoped he might have, but he did follow through, and for a moment, at least, he was exposed.  It wasn’t the shot she would have wanted.  But it was likely the only shot she was going to get.

    And so Cissie King-Jones— the heroine known as Arrowette— released the most fateful shaft of her entire young life.  The bowstring sang like a chorus, and the arrow sped, straight and true, for Volcano’s midsection.  The blue liquid snugly captured in the fragile cylindrical arrowhead seemed to wash forward, as if sensing its freedom.

    And then the arrow stopped, a scant inch from its target, plucked from midair by a meaty hand.

    Cissie’s eyes widened.

    Volcano’s follow-through had not left him open after all; instead, he had merely tossed Kon and then brought his hand back, with a speed that defied belief and caught the arrow by the shaft, half an instant before the arrowhead impacted. 

    The large red man looked at the arrow as though he was studying its construction, and then, his red eyes flicked up to its owner.  He never once said a word.

    She did, however.  Two, in fact.  “Aww, crud.

    But before she could even react beyond that, his hand had come around in that same torrid arc and hurled the arrow back at her, every bit as straight and true as her shot had been.

* * *

    As Volcano threw it, the arrow hung in mid-air, as if it would stay there, forever.

    It just.  Hung.  There. 

    Instinctively, Bart knew it was moving.  It had to be.  And just as instinctively, he knew he would never be able to catch it, even as he pulled himself from the ground.  He knew it was going to hit her.  It was going to hit Cissie.

    Cissie, who couldn’t vibrate her molecules or change herself to a vapor form to allow it to pass through harmlessly.

    Cissie, who wasn’t super-strong like Kon or Cassie, who didn’t have any sort of invulnerability to cold.

    Cissie, who was backed up against the wall and couldn’t get away, who didn’t have speed-of-light reflexes to catch the arrow the way Volcano did.

    Cissie, who—

    “No!”  Bart screamed, even as he leapt to his feet in a space of time that made electrons look sluggish.  His heart hammered a hummingbird tattoo as his legs started to pump, his fingers nearly brushing the fletchings of the arrow in the first moment.

    He never once saw the foot of Volcano.  It was hard to say whether the large man meant to trip him or not.

    But either way, the effect was lethal.  Bart’s flailing fingertips came so near the fletchings that he could literally feel the air molecules being displaced by the arrow’s wake.  They came that near, and still fell short.  Bart Allen sprawled to the floor, not even protecting himself from the fall.  His chin cracked hard into the tile, and he tasted blood.

    By the time he could pick himself up again, it was far too late.

* * *

    “Aww, crud.

    Cissie saw the arrow coming for her, and had already started to move, but even as she did, she knew she’d never get out of the way in time.  It was Harm all over again, she thought, only this time, there was no such thing as a flesh wound.  She knew her arrows; the liquid nitrogen arrows were different than her cryo-arrows— which were fairly harmless, in their own way.  These would coat an area in enough liquid nitrogen to crystallize a Cadillac.   

    Time seemed to slow down; everything came into sudden and crystal-clear focus around her, and it was at that moment that Cissie King-Jones realized she wasn’t going to escape.  This was it.  The end.  The last chapter. 

    In the split second she had to catalogue her short life, she heard Bart scream “No!” in a voice that sounded like a badly warped tape.  He made a stab for the arrow, his fingers falling breathtakingly short before he tripped and slammed to the floor.

    Figures.  Everyone else has a knight in shining armor.  My hero trips over his feet on the way to my rescue.  Where the hell’s the justice in that?

    If that had been her last thought on earth, Arrowette would have felt righteously shafted by life in general.  In fact, she might have stalked right up to the powers that be in the afterlife and lodged a formal complaint that of all the heroes on earth, she had to have one of the absolute worst closing lines to a life that anyone had ever had.  And Arrowette was someone who had yelled down the JLA— who were only a step below God to begin with— so her opinion was not one to take lightly.

    But as it turned out, that was sort of a moot point.

    I really fucking hate you, mom, she thought.

    And then the arrow hit her and its delicate arrowhead shattered and in an instant there was nothingness.



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