Dance With the Demons
A Tale of Earth 1.75
NOTE: All characters in this story and succeeding chapters are property of DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended. This story begins a week after the wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane in Hellsister part 1.
Nobody had to tell Bruce Wayne to kiss the bride.
Selina Kyle was, as the overused word has it, radiant in her wedding gown, and her tears were of genuine happiness. Finally, it had all turned out right. Finally, she had a man she could love. The only man she ever could love. And he had the woman he loved most of all in his arms, both of them not breaking the long kiss in the great receiving room of Wayne Manor.
The minister smiled. A lonely millionaire had finally found companionship. So had a woman who had strayed too often to the wrong side of the law, but who had found her way back just as often. Now each of them had said the words, put on the rings, entered into holy and legal matrimony.
He reflected, for a moment, that if she was disappointed in not snaring Batman, she certainly didn't look it.
Then he turned to the second pair at the altar. "And do you, Dick Grayson, take this, Kory'ander, to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, so help you God?"
"I do," said Dick. His hand trembled just a bit, and Starfire, gold-skinned and white-gowned, squeezed his hand to make him stop it.
Reverend Black repeated much the same words to Kory, and the Teen Titan from another planet said, "I do." She wondered again why it was so important for Dick to do this here, since they had recently been married on her homeworld. But he told her that this made it legally recognized in his homeland and on her adopted planet. And anyway, it was nice to get married along with Bruce and his new wife.
Jason Todd, who had carried the rings for both couples, smiled and stood behind them with the pillow. He was going to be alone with Alfred in the mansion for awhile. A small part of him had wistfully hoped that Nocturna might turn good someday, might marry Bruce, and might become his foster mother. She had been so motherly to him, when they met.
But, heck, Bruce couldn't wait forever. And Selina was kinda neat. Maybe she'd teach him how to use her whip.
Philip Wayne adjusted his hearing aid a bit and smiled. Bruce was almost 40 now, and he'd darned near given up on getting the whippersnapper married. To him had fallen the task of raising the boy, after his brother Thomas and Thomas's wife Martha had been shot dead in the street those long years ago. He'd never seen a boy so intense and serious as Bruce had been. The boy was either cracking half the books in the library, or doing experiments with his chemistry set, or building up his body, or doing gymnastics. But he'd turned out well, and then some. And now, if Philip was lucky, he might get to see a grandnephew or grandniece, if they hurried up. Maybe he'd see both.
Alfred Pennyworth, sitting beside Philip and Philip's wife Stella, was also happy. Happy that the master and young master had finally found love and were looking to keep it, and happy that his niece Daphne and his granddaughter Julia were there beside him. There were all the others of the Wayne family, too--young Vanderveer; Bruce N. Wayne, a detective for whom Bruce had been named; Mina Wayne, late of South Africa, now a resident of Britain; the Rev. Emelyn Wayne, a missionary who lived somewhere in Asia; and Jeremy Wayne, who owned a station full of sheep in Australia.
Commissioner Gordon had made it, too, as had his lovely daughter, Barbara. Dr. Dundee, Bruce's (and Batman's) personal physician, was also in the audience. So were Lucius Fox, Harriet Cooper, Betty Kane, and a number of friends and business aquaintances...though Bruce had intentionally kept the last category few and carefully screened.
Then there were the special friends. The men and women who, for this occasion, dressed in street clothes and came unmasked.
Alfred wasn't certain who a lot of them were. But he knew Clark Kent was Superman, and he was sitting with his wife Lois and sitting among almost a dozen people, giving signs in various ways that he knew them. Two of those people were Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, and his wife Sue. Another was obviously Aquaman, though he wore a tuxedo for the occasion, and the redhead beside him had to be his wife Mera. Thus, it was a safe bet that the party in that section of the seats was the Justice League of America.
There was a group of young people, some about Dick Grayson's age. They all sat together, as well. One of them looked unmistakably like Wonder Girl. Another was obviously wearing a lot of pancake makeup and had dyed his hair brown. Alfred guessed he was Changeling. Aqualad was easy to recognize, since he, like his mentor, had never worn a mask. He was sitting beside a brown-haired girl and holding hands. There were over a dozen of them, too, and it was easy to peg them as the New Teen Titans. Or, as they called themselves today, the New Titans. With only a few of their members still in teenage years, they finally gave up on tradition and shortened their title by a word.
Finally, there was the band of brethren Alfred knew the best. In or out of costume, he recognized Katana, Metamorpho (who sat with Sapphire Stagg), Halo, Black Lightning, Looker, and Geo-Force. All in their civilian identities, of course. He didn't recognize who the lady was sitting on the other side of Rex Mason, who wore a mask to hide his calcium-white face. The woman had on a big floppy hat that hid all her hair and wore too much makeup, and wore a long-sleeved dress, thick stockings, and white gloves. But she knew Rex, that was obvious, and only seemed a little nervous around Sapphire. So it was obvious she fit in decently among the Outsiders.
All things considered, Alfred was rather proud of his detective abilities. Of course, it couldn't match the Master's. But whose could?
Perhaps it was all over, now. Perhaps the Master could begin to set aside the cape and cowl, and simply devote himself to business and making a new generation of Waynes. To be able to see this, Alfred had scarcely dared hope. And now...possibly within a year's Time...he might see the fruits of their union.
A chill wafted through him just then. He recalled Thomas and Martha Wayne. And he prayed God that no assassin's bullet would cut them down, and inspire a young boy to take up his father's mantle.
That would be too cruel. Too cruel by far.
There was even a pair from another Earth, though only Alfred and a few others knew of that. They had been brought over the night before, and the Master had introduced them to him. At the sight of one of them, his jaw had dropped to his shoes. He was an older--much older--version of master Dick, himself. The other was a woman, and when Alfred learned that she was the daughter of the Bruce Wayne of that other Earth, he was stunned all over again.
They were the Robin and Huntress of Earth-Two, and both of them looked grim, sitting their in their formal clothes. They had reason to be.
They were watching the wedding of two people whose counterparts, on their homeworld, were dead.
Alfred rubbed the side of his mouth absently. Too much omen and portent were mixed in this room. He had had enough of it. It was well-nigh Time for it to be over.
The wedding recessional started, and the four newlyweds proceeded down the aisle again. Daphne Pennyworth nudged her uncle gently. "Something wrong?"
"Hm? Oh, no, no, nothing's wrong yet," said Alfred, softly. "I don't believe anything's wrong at all. Not yet."
"What do you mean, ‘not yet', Granddad?" asked Julia Remarque, suspiciously.
He said, "With the Master, in all things, it just seems best to say...not yet."
So the foursome had gotten to the sunlight of the outdoors after shaking too many hands and kissing too many cheeks, and left the feast to the fortunate guests, and were entering two limos with the JUST MARRIEDs painted on in white shoe polish on the windows.
Selina looked up at Bruce and was about so say something when he heard a whirring noise. So, presumably, did she, because her face had Time to register a curious expression before there was a brief thpt of impact in her neck and she fell down.
Without thinking, Bruce caught her on the way.
He registered the needle-tipped dart in her neck and got them both under cover of the car, its side between them and the direction from which the dart had come, and he had yelled, "Dick! Kory! DOWN!" before he realized he had done it.
Not that it mattered.
Selina's breaths were becoming more labored. She was trying to focus her eyes on him, trying to say something to him, and nothing would come.
He snatched her up as if she only weighed as much as a hollow doll and sprinted for the doors of the church, keeping as low as possible.
Dick Grayson ran after him. "Dick," Kory yelled. "There might be danger."
"There already is," he yelled back, and made the doors almost as quickly as the burdened Bruce.
She decided not to turn on her starburst flying power, but kicked off her white high heels and ran after them. She also looked in the direction from which the small missle had flown.
No one there.
Bruce Wayne, even with Selina lying in his arms, had pulled open the heavy door with one hand and manhandled his bride inside. His voice boomed throughout the hall, and many who had only known him as Bruce Wayne had never heard this tone in his voice, even as a yell.
But all who knew him as Batman had heard it.
"Raven," he shouted. "Rex. Clark. Hal. Help me. She's hurt."
The four of them, and more besides, came running.
Bruce waved a row of people out of a number of folding chairs and lay Selina across them. He immediately placed his lips to hers and began CPR. While he did this, his hand went to the dart and plucked it from her neck. Hal Jordan was hauling ass in his direction, and Dick and Kory were coming from another one. Jason Todd was trying to push his way through the mass of adults. Clark and Wally made it before any of the others.
Breaking CPR for a second, he gave the dart gingerly to Hal. "Spectroanalysis. NOW."
"I can do that better, Bruce," murmured Clark Kent, as he reached for Selina.
"No. Use your X-ray vision. Check her out," said Bruce, and went back to breathing into her mouth.
Wally West massaged Selina's cold wrists and ankles so swiftly he was afraid he might burn her. Then again, that might be the least of her worries.
The incognito heroes were forming a circle about Bruce and Selina, and the outermost ones faced outward and kept the rubberneckers out. Since the latter included a couple of doctors, this was rough to do. But powers were being unleashed that could not be revealed in public. And if Hal didn't have to blanket-cleanse everyone's mind, so much the better.
The invisible power ring on Hal Jordan's hand shot forth a rainbow of spectroscopic analysis of the poison on the end of the dart. Bruce looked up at it, broke for a moment, named it, and said, "Rex. You know what to do."
"You bet," said Rex Mason, and rolled up his sleeve.
"So do I," said the mystery woman who had been sitting beside him earlier, and took off her glove.
Both their hands, impossibly, elongated forth and turned black and metallic.
One forefinger from each of their hands turned into a hollow needle and pierced Selina Kyle's flesh, at two points on the neck. Through those two needles passed chemical antidotes to the poison identified on the murder dart. But the venom was deadly, and fast-acting. All the antidotes in the world might not be enough.
Selina had almost stopped breathing.
"One side, Bruce," said Clark, and flatly shoved his friend so hard that he toppled into the arms of Dick Grayson, standing behind him. He bent, Lois watching tensely, and blew into Selina's mouth with a multiple of the force that Bruce had been able to muster.
"You'll blow up her lungs," warned Bruce.
"No, he won't," said Lois, sharply.
Hal Jordan's ring, its beam as invisible as itself, was pumping blasts of life-energy into Selina, trying to fan the flame within her. If her vital signs fell much lower, Hal knew he was going to have to put her in stasis.
The other Dick Grayson, Helena Wayne, and Barbara Gordon were standing nearby. "Oh, God," said Helena, fighting back tears. "Not again..."
Jason Todd touched Bruce's hand. "Uh, Bruce," he said.
Briefly, he touched the boy's shoulder, as a father would a son. Then he pointed. "Go sit over there, Jason. Now."
Silently, Jason went off to do just that.
Finally, the young girl whom Bruce had called upon came to the fore. "Let me help," she said.
Bruce looked at her, as grim as he ever got. "Do it," he said.
The others moved out of the way for her. Raven, the Teen Titans' empath, lay hands upon Selina's cold, still form, and began utilizing her power.
Hers was the power to take away hurt, to take upon her the pain of another, as if she were a modern-day sin eater, and, once the hurt was within her body, to dissipate it into the cosmos. She had used this power not many weeks ago, to save the lives of two Supergirls.
Now she exerted it as furiously as she could, to rescue Selina Kyle from a journey almost nine-tenths run.
Bruce Wayne stood a few feet away, barely breathing himself, watching Clark, Hal, Urania, Rex, Wally, and Raven minister to his wife, and knowing that there was nothing he could do--nothing--that would be as effective as their efforts. His wife would live or die, and he could have no part in that decision.
His hand wrapped tightly about the body of the dart, held in a handkerchief. His mind ached to run to the cave below the mansion, subject it to further analysis, find out from whence it came, find out the trademarks that would betray its sender.
But he would not leave Selina's side.
So he waited, and watched, and listened to the strange keening of the girl called Raven, which sent unpleasant feelings through more souls than his.
At the edge of it, he seemed to hear a cough. He pushed in. He looked at his bride.
A bit of color seemed to have returned to her.
"Keep back, Bruce," warned Hal. "We haven't got her back yet."
"Hal," said Bruce, "you'd better."
A touch of fingers at his shoulder made him whip around. "Easy, Bruce," said Dick. Kory was standing beside him, her all-green eyes brimming with tears. "I just want to be there for you. You look like you need it."
He composed himself as much as he could. "Do me a favor, Dick. Run this down to the lab, check it out. Thoroughly." He handed over the dart. Dick took it, carefully.
"You've got it, Bruce," said Dick, and stepped off to head for the grandfather clock that opened upon a passageway to the Batcave. Jason Todd decided to follow him.
Princess Koriander was there by his right arm. "I pray to the gods of my world that your wife makes it through, Bruce. If I may do more, please tell me."
His look held more tenderness than she had expected. "Thank you, Kory. Just...keep praying. For Raven, too. For all of us."
"I will," she promised. She was awed. He wasn't letting himself shout, panic, even interrupt the team working on his wife. The man was so strong. She could see how much of it had been duplicated in her husband. He was strong in different ways, and gentle in different ways, as well.
They did hear a sound of muted sobbing, then.
The eyes of the persons not directly involved in Selina's resuscitation went to the source of it.
The noise was coming from Helena Wayne, who was crying against the elder Dick Grayson's shoulder. He was holding her and trying to keep between her and the hurt, and knowing he had no power over anything.
A look of empathy passed between him and Bruce, almost startling him. Bruce nodded, briefly. Then the Batman who was younger than the other Earth's Robin turned back to his wife.
Dr. Dundee pushed his way through. "Bruce, Bruce, where is she?" he said. "I told them who I was. You've got to let me help her."
"She's being helped," he said.
"By a--good Lord! What is this, a faith healing?" Dundee pointed at the figure of Raven, her hands still on Selina's diaphragm and abdomen.
Bruce looked at him with a mien of tempered savagery. "What she can't heal, you can't either. I thank you, Dr. Dundee, but my friends have the matter in hand."
"Let me through." He tried to push past Bruce. Bruce grabbed him by the coat collar and his right armpit, lifted him gently off the floor, and deposited him on his feet a couple of feet backward.
"No," Bruce said.
Swearing softly, Dundee stood his ground.
Bruce's head whipped around. "Is Ronnie here? Let me talk to Ronnie."
Ronnie Raymond's face showed his astonishment. "You want to talk to me? Bruce, you...uh...really want to talk to me?"
"Go out there and see if you can find who or what loosed that dart at her," said Bruce. "I think you'll be impervious to it. If it's a man, bring him down and bring him back--alive. If it's something else, bring it back as intact as possible."
"Yessir," said the youth. He strode through the circle of heroes, pushed his way through the crowd, and made for the doors. Batman had called on Firestorm to help, and he was by-gosh going to show them that the junior Justice League member could pull his weight and then some.
Bruce Wayne turned back to the scene before him. She wasn't making a move. He could barely tell that her chest was rising and falling. He doubted that it would make the bubble in a level change positions. He clenched both fists to keep his hands from shaking, and the muscles in his upper arms threatened to burst the seams of his sleeves.
A cough. Then, another one.
And finally, a long, shuddering breath. He could see it, even with Clark's mouth covering hers.
Gently, but powerfully, he shunted Wally West aside and touched his wife's form with both hands, feeling the cold radiance from Raven's nearby palms, perceiving some of the energy pulsing from Hal's ring, and still finding a place for him to touch her. He would not be separated from her at this point, or afterward.
Within thirty seconds more, Clark withdrew his mouth. Selina Kyle's eyes were open. Focused. She looked at Clark, at the two Element People whose metal fingers still sent chemical antidote into her neck's veins, at the girl who was doing some kind of wailing-wall number on her, and at all the other idiots round about her, looking down.
"Bruce," she said, gasping for air.
Clark moved out of the way as Bruce went to her head and grasped her hand. "Lie still, Selina," he said. "They're still working on you. Can you see me okay?"
"Bruce," she said, "I have, gotta tell you, something."
"I'm listening," he said, his eyes wet.
"This is, one crappy way, to run, a wedding reception."
The civilian guests had basically been run off with a promise of a soiree at Wayne Manor when things got sorted out. The Wayne family members were a bit put out at being sent back to their hotels, but Alfred knew when to be firm, and he was, so they went.
Dr. Dundee, who knew Bruce was Batman because he had to patch him up so often, flatly refused to leave. Bruce let him give Selina a thorough checking out and help him place her in a monitoring bed in the Batcave with a saline drip-feed in her arm. "You should let me take her to a hospital," said the doctor.
"Doctor, this is the only safe place for her right now," said Batman. "Now, if you'll excuse me, the crew and I have to meet, and they can't speak freely with you present."
The physician harrumphed. "I'll be upstairs," he said. "I'm not going to leave tonight. Consider this an extended house call."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Bruce. As Dundee passed by him, Bruce grasped his upper arm and held him for a moment, and caught his eyes. "And I do mean thank you."
"Yes, well," said Dundee. "I'll be around, Bruce."
The multimillionaire went to sit in a chair beside Selina. She looked up at him, weakly reached out her hand. He took it.
"Sorry I'm not gonna be up to wifely duties tonight," she smiled. "Just as soon as I feel better, I promise to rock your socks off."
He held her long-fingered hand between both of his own. "Don't worry about it, Sel. There'll be plenty of Time for that once you're past this."
"Who could have had it in for me this badly? I didn't think I made anybody mad enough at me to kill me."
"I don't think it's that, Sel. I think it was a strike at me, through you. I've got enough enemies to fill half the state pens in the Union."
"How many of them know you're Bruce Wayne?"
He considered it. "Not too many. But someone could have found out. It wasn't exactly a big secret that the Batman and Catwoman had a thing going for each other. Even though we put on the big act of cooling our romance in masks, while we heated the one up without them, in public."
"More than in public."
"Yeah," he admitted. He rubbed her hand and felt its familiar warmth, only a little stanched. "We took too much of a risk with this one. Our wedding, together with Dick's and Kory's. We were asking for trouble."
"We've done that ever since each one of us put on a mask," said Selina. "And you said yourself that the mansion was the safest place to have a wedding."
"It was," he said. "But even with Clark, Hal, Wally, Dick, Jason, and myself combing the area, even with Hal setting up those energy-filters and alarm systems, even with Clark listening and watching...it still wasn't enough."
She didn't know what to say to that. So she said nothing.
Footsteps. Two sets.
"Bruce," said Dick, his tux coat off and a lab coat thrown over his shirt. He was holding the dart in a pair of forceps. Jason Todd stood beside him.
"Yes, Dick? What did you get?"
"About what you thought," he admitted. "None of the poisons that go into any Joker-venoms. Which makes sense, because, excuse me, Selina, you weren't grinning when it got to your bloodstream and we were able to save you. If we were racing Joker-juice, well...I'm not sure we could have done it."
"Thank you," she said, quietly.
"As for what's in it," continued Dick, "a mixture of toxins used in the Middle and Far East. Some stuff which has been traced to the Hashashin. That's a telling indication of its source, Bruce."
"Could've come from only one guy," put in Jason Todd, seriously.
"No," said Bruce. "That's where you're wrong, Jason. Several of our enemies could have used that poison. The Sensei. Kobra. Probably even Django. If I put my mind to it, I can probably drag up a dozen other names."
Dick said, "So you want us to check out a dozen different perps?"
"For right now, Dick, I want you to go upstairs, bring Rex's group down, and tell the Justice League I'll brief them afterward. I think I'd rather use the Outsiders on this first."
"What about me?" said Robin. "I can't stay out of this."
"You blasted well can. You have a new wife who needs your attention, and I won't hear of anything else. You've got a honeymoon to get underway, Dick. Go to it. If I need you--"
"‘I'll call you,'" finished Dick, sullenly. "Yeah, okay. All right, Bruce. But try not to get yourself killed, okay?"
Bruce didn't answer him. To Jason, he said, "Go with him. I need to talk to the group first."
"Aww, shucks, Bruce," said the boy. Bruce gave him a look that brooked no bargaining, and the latest Robin trundled up the stairs after his predecessor.
When they were gone, Selina said, "Bruce? Who do you think it is?"
"The one man among my enemies whom I'm sure knows my identity," he said. "The one man whom I thought would have honor enough not to attempt such a thing...but resources enough to accomplish it with ease.
"Selina, we're going after Ra's Al Ghul."