Dance With the Demons
Helena Wayne sat in the Batcave at Selina Wayne's bedside with her hands in her lap, and Selina noticed that Helena's eyes never seemed to stop staring at her face.
Finally, she said, "Hel, look. I don't mind you looking at me. But would you look somewhere else on occasion? For cat's sake, it makes me nervous."
"Can't help it," said Helena. "You're so much, so much like my mother. She was the reason I became the Huntress, you know."
"I know," said Selina, ruefully. "You've told me before. A bunch of times. Look, honey, I appreciate you being here." She lay her hand on one of Helena's. "It's just that you can't keep on thinking of me as your mama. I'm me. I'm the Catwoman from good old Earth-One, and I'm staying here."
"And I'm glad," said the woman from Earth-Two. "Even if we did have to fight the first time we met."
Selena chuckled. "I kinda wondered why you were holding back before you finally cold-cocked me. When Bruce finally explained it to me, I don't think I could talk for half an hour. I mean, there was another ‘me' somewhere, and she had a daughter, and she was dead. Of course, by that time, the other Bruce was dead, too."
Helena nodded, holding back the tears.
Selina Kyle asked, "Hel, did that other Selina, your mother, have a sister?"
"No," she said. "A brother. His name was Karl. He called himself the King of the Cats one time, when Mom was reformed, and tried to beat Batman, but he couldn't do it. Karl ended up in jail. But he went straight, got out, even managed to attend the wedding. And--the funeral." Helena turned away. "I'm--I'm sorry."
"Helena. Don't be sorry. If you've got to cry, cry. Lord knows I've had to, enough times, over the years."
"Yeah," said Helena. She took a handkerchief from her purse on a table nearby and daubed at her eyes. "Oh, yeah. I've got, a Ph.D., in..."
"Helena. Come here."
The daughter of the Batman and Catwoman of another Earth scooted the chair closer, still sniffling. Selina raised herself up in bed and took her in her arms. "That feel better, now?"
"Some," admitted Helena. "God, here I am, big tough super-heroine from Gotham City. Can't even do anything to help you."
"You hush, now. You're helping me just by being here, Helena. Wanna know something? It makes me feel good to see you, to know my, uh...the other-me had you for a daughter. I...well, I mean, it means there's a chance I could have a daughter, or maybe a son, who'd turn out just as good as you. After all that crap I wasted my life on, for so many years...maybe it will turn out good, in the end."
"I love you so damn much, Aunt Selina," said Helena, hugging her and wetting Selina's nightgown with her tears.
"I love you too, honey." Selina paused. "Your uncle Karl is still alive, isn't he?"
"Yeah. Yeah, he is. He's a CPA, now. He's sorry he didn't make the wedding, but his kid is having an operation and he couldn't make it. He wanted me to bring back a photo of you and me together."
"We'll take him one before you go. But I'm very glad your uncle is still alive, Hel. Because...well, I had a sister. Felicia was her name. She was a crook, like I used to be, but a lot less successful. She got in trouble down in a Louisiana prison. I sent Bruce out to...to get her out of it. And he couldn't. She...died." Selina swallowed, hard. "So I...well, I'm glad...that, if the other Selina had to die...at least her brother didn't have to die, too. D'you suppose that you could...well, maybe ask him sometime if he could come over? If you could sort of arrange it with the League and the Society to get him over here? I'd like to see him. That is, if he'd like to see me."
Helena Wayne was getting it back together, but still glad to be in her other-mother's arms. "I have a feeling he will. I'll ask him, when I get back. Maybe when his son's out of the hospital, and when you're, you're feeling better...maybe we can arrange it. I'll sure try, you can bet on it."
Selena gently disengaged from Helena and lay back on the bed. "There's another thing I've kind of wondered about, honey. You may not even know the answer."
She propped herself on one elbow to face Helena. "From what I've been told, all the League people and all the Society people who share a name have met each other. You know, the two Flashes, the two Supermen, the Wonder Women, and all that. Dick even told me he met the other Robin. Well, I've met him, too, at the wedding. But Bruce never met the other Bruce, from your Earth. I know your father's dead now, but there were years when they could have gotten together. But they never did. Why was that?"
Helena took a deep breath and looked at the stalactite-studded ceiling. "I asked Daddy about it one time. At first he wouldn't answer me. Then he finally broke down and told me. He said that...he didn't like the thought that there was another man who went through the same thing that he did, that there was another Thomas and Martha Wayne that got killed, and another Joe Chill who did it to them. He knew what kind of hell he'd had to put himself through to become the Batman. He also asked why God would allow two sets of Waynes to be killed, just so two Batmen could come into being. Also, he wasn't like Clark. He wasn't comfortable with the notion of a counterpart of himself even existing. So he didn't come to any JLA-JSA parties. He was kind of glad that on the one time he and Dick were kind of yanked into one, your Bruce didn't show up." She hung her head. "Of course, that's just the way my dad felt. I don't know about your Bruce's feelings."
Quietly, Selena Wayne said, "I think you've just told me about them."
The Outsiders were crammed into two Batplanes, headed back to America. Metamorpho flew the second one. Element Girl elongated her head into the cockpit and kissed him on top of the head, then snaked the rest of her body into the cockpit. Rex grinned. "Don't ever do that when Sapphire's around, honey."
Urania Blackwell compressed her elementally-altered body into an area of the plane near the pilot's chair. "Yeah, but I can't help it here, Rex. You got me out of that damn depression and I'm soooo grateful." Her arms wound around him several times, like pythons, and gently squeezed him.
"Honey, I can't fly the plane and play mumblety-peg with ya," said Metamorpho. "So leggo. Please? Not like I'm tryin' to be ungrateful, but I don't wanna autopilot this thing right now."
"I understand, honey." She transformed her arms into gas, then reformed them nearer her body. "And I know it can't be like it used to be for us." She shrugged. "But getting out of that room, getting to meet people again...that's enough."
The Element Man swung his calcium-colored head her way. "You oughtta told me about it a long time before you did. You really shoulda told me, Rainie."
"I know." She rested her arms on her bare knees, one gray, one brown. Her body was a female counterpart of Mason's. "But after we wrapped up that Scavenger case, and you got back together with Sapphire, you got stuck in that glop by Simon Stagg, remember? And you stayed there for, must've been over a year." She hugged herself. "He wouldn't make one for me. I wasn't one of his employees."
"Were you ever lucky," muttered Metamorpho. Simon Stagg, his father-in-law and employer, was never known as the most affectionate or easy-to-live-with humans on the planet.
"Well, Stagg thought it was going to cure you, make you human again," said Rainie. "Maybe it would have, if you'd been able to stay in it long enough."
"Yeah, and if I had, Sapph would have been murdered by the Bounty Hunter," Rex replied. "The Bat Guy helped me save her. I don't forget things like that. I helped him out on other stuff, as a payback, like that Ruby Ryder mess. What the hell, maybe being like this isn't the worst thing in the world, after all."
"Seemed like it was for me," said Element Girl.
"Dammit," said Metamorpho. "I knew you'd been doin' secret agent stuff for the government, Rainie. You were on assignments when I was in Stagg's glop. I figured you were in deep cover somewhere. Then some lady calls me and tells me you weren't workin' for the Company anymore, and you'd been holed up in a hotel room for so many years."
The green-haired girl nodded.
"Why in Sam Hill didn't you call me?" Rex turned his head to stare straight at her.
"You know why," she said. "I've told you."
"Yeah, but Sapphire was not a good enough reason why. So I'm in love with her. Does that mean I stopped being friends with you? Jeez. Like when you started working for Uncle Sam, they took your brains out as a requirement."
Her hands, transformed into chlorine gas, went in front of his mouth. He coughed for a second before she changed them back to normal and withdrew them. "Don't ever do that," he gasped. "You ever noticed, I'm trying to fly a plane here?"
She grinned evilly. Then she said, "You still remember how long you had to talk to me through the door before I opened it?"
"Oh, yeah. And I still remember how bad the place smelled once you did."
"You're gonna get sulphur in the face for that!"
"You're gonna get water if you try!"
Geo-Force poked his head through the doorway. "Excuse me, Rex. A little turbulence we have gone through? The plane seemed to dip for a moment."
"We're doing fine, Brian," said Metamorpho. "Urania here's been a real gas. No more problems, I promise."
Geo nodded and withdrew, then went back to sit with Looker. She said, "Well? How are the two white-faced wonders?"
He looked at her, quizzically. "It was a thing of very much curiosity, Lia. Up until just now, I did not think that Element Girl could blush."
Batman acknowledged Black Lightning's entry of his cockpit with a brief, "Hello, Jeff," but did not look at him.
"Hello yourself," said Jeff Pierce, chummily. "Bats, you never told me how scary that Ra's Al Ghul dude was. I mean, Tobias Whale is a big enough deal where I come from. But that guy makes Fatso look like a 12-year-old numbers runner."
"12-year-old numbers runners come pretty tough these days," said Batman, still looking out at the grey sky through the windshield. "Kids of all sorts pack guns in school. I thought it was tough enough when they just used knives. That fact scares me almost as much as Ra's does. Almost."
Black Lightning nodded, soberly. "I do know that fact. Maybe even better than you. Had to take a gun away from a boy for the first time in class last year. Oughtta change the name of our ‘hood to Homicide Slum, ‘stead of Suicide Slum. Hell, Bats, maybe I ought to quit this gig and go back to being a solo act full-time. The ‘hood sure needs me."
Batman turned to him and lay a hand on his arm, gently. "We all need you, Jeff. I've been down even more mean streets than you have, in my day. But evil comes from all directions, on all levels. When the Justice League needed me to fight something over the power-level of the Joker, I came. I was part of the team, an integral part of it. Just like you're part of our team. We need you. I need you, too."
"Yeah," said Lightning. "But I gotta be back to class tomorrow. We don't all do this for a living, Bruce."
"Neither do I," said Batman. "Though I have to admit I've been able to structure my life around it a little bit easier than you. You need some money, Jeff?"
"No," Pierce said, firmly. "Friendship, I accept. Charity, I will not take. Thanks, Bats." He paused. "Listen, I'm not dropping out. I want to help you find the one who tried to whack Selina, sure enough. But I've got committments."
"The best commitments there are," acknowledged the Darknight Detective. "The commitment to educating a new generation. Just help out when you can, Jeff. That'll be enough."
Black Lightning didn't say anything. At that point, he couldn't. Batman had a rep as a scary dude, and he was that, especially if you were on the other side of the law from him. Even those on the team treaded lightly around him, sometimes. But he also had a rep as a ruthless dude, and Jeff Pierce knew for a fact that wasn't true. Batman had a heart, maybe as big a one as he'd ever known in a man, and he helped just as many straight folks as he beat down crooked ones. The straights were mighty grateful for it, too--all the times he'd saved lives, helped out with some discreet financial aid, got families back together again, put people back on the right-hand path.
It was just that the newspapers only printed stuff about him taking down the bad guys.
But Jeff knew there was a lot more to the man than that.
He figured Bats knew enough about who Jeff Pierce was by now, too.
Jeff Pierce was a kid from Metropolis's Suicide Slum, a bad neighborhood that, unfortunately, didn't get any better when blacks seeking work in World War II moved up there from the South...it just changed colors. His dad had been one of those workers, and his dad, some years after getting married and fathering Jeff, had gotten shot to death by accident. In Suicide Slum, that was kind of unique. Most accidents there were on purpose.
There were still good white folks in Suicide Slum, and one of them was Peter Gambi, though Jeff later found out he wasn't as good as he should have been. He was a tailor who took Jeff and his mother in after the death of Jeff's father. Gambi, Jeff later found out, made suits for super-villains, including a lot who fought the Flash. But back then, he was just a kindly old man who helped Mama make ends meet, and didn't ask for the kind of payment some white men would have asked for in return.
Jeff knew Suicide Slum, hated it, and figured athletics was his best way out. So he got good enough to go to the Olympics, went there, and brought home the gold for the Decathlon. That felt damn good. It also helped him get into Kent State university, where he took his degree in English. After that, he started teaching in New Carthage at a high school and was going to move his mother out of the Metropolis ghetto as soon as possible.
But it wasn't soon enough. She died there, and he came back to Suicide Slum for the funeral.
He looked at the place from a new aspect, then. Beforehand, it had been an enemy he wanted to escape. Now, it was an enemy he wanted to beat.
Pierce transferred from New Carthage to a p.s. in his old neighborhood within the month.
It was tough, but he knew it would be tough. The kids weren't as bright as the ones he had been used to teaching. Too many of them got advanced just by age. He didn't like that, but the local school system did, and he resigned himself to making sure the kids in his classes, at least, weren't cheated out of knowledge by him slacking off in despair.
But there was a lot of dope, and a lot of guns, and a lot of crime. An outfit called the 100 had its mark on Suicide Slum, and its hand touched the backs of too many of the young people in his school. Jeff Pierce broke down and told Peter Gambi about it one night, and Gambi had a possible solution. The kind of solution he used to make for bad guys. Only this time, he'd make it for a good guy.
Gambi made him a black, dark blue, and yellow costume with a white mask and a big phony Afro wig to conceal his identity. But that wasn't the important thing. The real deal was the power belt Gambi designed. It gave him the power of electricity. The power of lightning. With the belt on, he could throw bolts of energy from his hands, surround himself with a force field of electromagnetism, and amplify his strength.
With the belt on, he was Black Lightning.
And Black Lightning went out into Suicide Slum, challenged the 100 and its local chief, Tobias Whale, and won. It was hard as hell, and it didn't automatically clean up the ghetto from evil influences. But he had struck a powerful blow against the criminal element, and, soon enough, his section of Metropolis didn't need much attention from a mostly-absent Superman.
In his time, Black Lightning had teamed up with a bunch of super-heroes, mostly white, but what the hell. Superman was the first, since he was a homeboy. Then he met Batman, Green Arrow, and the whole Justice League. They wanted him on their team, but it just wasn't his scene. There was no sense in running around trying to fight some idiots in costumes trying to conquer the world when there was no one else but him and the overworked cops to keep trouble down in Suicide Slum. At least, that was the way he looked at it.
A power feedback in the belt transferred the electrical powers to Jeff's body, which made things a little easier. At least, that was what he thought, until what happened, happened.
It happened when he was blasting a couple of holdup men in a subway car below the Metropolis streets. Jeff Pierce had just happened to be there, and turned into Black Lightning. A teenaged girl named Tricia Shelton had just happened to be there, too. The hero had kayoed one of the hoods with a bolt. The hood's hand had pulled the trigger of his gun, reflexively. Tricia got in the way of the shot, and she died.
He'd tried to restart her heart with electrical jolts and CPR, but she was gone. The law and the media didn't blame him. She'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and she'd bought it. Her parents, and one other, blamed Black Lightning for her death.
The other one who blamed him was himself.
Jeff hung up the Black Lightning costume after that, and, when he tried to see if he could still use the powers a few months later, found out that they wouldn't activate. So he'd put the costume in a safe place, took it out every now and then to remember what it had been like, just like he took out his Olympic medals, and then quietly put it back.
He might have stayed a plain high school teacher if Batman hadn't contacted him about a mission.
The Bat Guy needed to get a friend of his out of a foreign country, and he couldn't rely on the Justice League anymore. In fact, he'd quit the League, because their hands were tied up by politics. Jeff didn't have the powers anymore, but he still had the body, and he'd functioned as Black Lightning once for a brief time when he'd lost them before. And he owed the Batman one from a time before.
So he pulled the old suit out of the trunk and joined up with Bats and that crazy-looking cat, Metamorpho, to save the bacon of Batman's friend, who turned out to be a brother named Lucius Fox. Along the way they met some new recruits, Geo-Force, Katana, and Halo.
Also along the way, Black Lightning found out he still had the powers. His guilt-trip had just made them harder to get at, was all. He used them again.
And they felt damned good.
So, during that incident, the Outsiders had been born, and Black Lightning had ridden with the bunch on a regular basis. It felt a lot better to him than the notion of joining the JLA, even if they did get into some wild-ass adventures. He also respected Batman as a leader, and as a friend. Batman gave him a lot of respect, as well.
Black Lightning had met up with the parents of Trisha Shelton less than a year after the group began. Mrs. Shelton had hired the Masters of Disaster, a team of super-villains, to capture him and stage his execution. But Batman and company came to rescue him, Mrs. Shelton got hurt by one of the villains, and both she and her husband finally admitted that Lightning hadn't been responsible for Trisha's death. They forgave him.
That went a long way towards Jeff's forgiving himself. He wasn't all the way there, and he knew he never would be. But it helped.
From that point on, he figured he'd always be an Outsider.
For a time, Bats dropped out, or they left him, over another political thing. The Outsiders went out on their own for a good while, and Batman had rejoined the JLA. But he didn't stay out for long, and all of them were grudgingly glad he came back. Now Batman belonged to two teams, and if that was okay by him, it was okay by the rest of them, as well.
But now they were into something that might've been Bats's private war, even though they'd been dragged into it. In a way, he felt honored. Batman would have done this sort of thing solo before. Now he trusted them enough to let the Outsiders in on this sort of gig.
In another way, he was unsettled. There were parts of Batman's affairs that even he hadn't penetrated into, before recently. Ra's Al Ghul was heavy stuff. If the Catwoman whack attempt brought them into this sphere of influence, it was going to be a whole new baptism of fire for the team. For him, too.
"God help you, Bats," muttered Black Lightning as he left. "‘Cause I won't always be able to."
Commissioner Gordon wanted to retire so badly he'd give up half his pension to do it, right then. But every time he contemplated it, one of the boys with the funny names and deadly m.o.'s got out of Arkham Asylum or the state pen. Then he had to have Sgt. Hainer go up and turn on the big searchlight on the roof and make all the yokels go finger-pointy at the big image of a bat in the sky.
Well, this time he hadn't had to do it. Batman had called him a day ago and told him that he was getting right on the Selina Kyle, excuse him, the Selina Wayne case, and he'd contact him when he was back in town. Jim Gordon could understand that. Batman had carried a lot of emotional baggage related to Catwoman for a long time, even though he'd put her in the slammer so many times he couldn't count them. It was probably a good thing she ended up with Bruce Wayne. He had a feeling that this time, her reform would stick.
Maybe Batman needed a good wife, too. On the other hand, he didn't know for sure that he wasn't a married man, though he claimed to be single the last time Gordon had asked. Whatever the case, he was glad Batman hadn't ended up with the Catwoman.
Right now, Gordon was talking to Alfred, the Waynes' butler. "Well, when will Bruce be able to talk to me?" he said. "Is it exactly a normal thing for a man to leave his wife at a time like this, Alfred?"
The butler took an audible breath. "Sir! I must say, the implications of your statement are positively monstrous. Master Wayne is implementing his own methods of gathering information as to Mistress Wayne's assailant. Mistress Wayne has given her blessing to him in this endeavor. Dr. Dundee has made a complete diagnosis of her present condition. I trust you have a fax of his report?"
Gordon sucked on his pipe, then said, "Yeahp, I've got the fax. But I want to talk to Bruce as soon as possible. Both as a member of the department, and as a friend. The nightly news is bound to get ahold of him being absent from Selina at this time, Alfred, and I don't have to tell you that it won't look good."
"Acknowledged, sir," said Alfred. "But Mistress Wayne is in good hands. Including my own, and several others of the family. She is making progress, but she is in seclusion. Until the perpetrator is found and caught, we feel that this is the best way."
"We can put her in protective custody, Alfred. In fact, it'd be a damn sight better if we did."
"No, sir," said Alfred. "With all due respect, we feel differently."
"Well, have him call me, anyway," said Gordon. "Wherever he is, he's bound not to be far from a cell phone. The department will look like crap if they're not involved in solving this thing."
"Your department has a fine, sterling, and well-deserved reputation, Commissioner," said Alfred. "As does the Batman. When the master calls, I shall have him contact you. Good day."
Gordon took his pipe out with one hand and punched another button on his phone. "O'Hara," he said. "Get a squad car ready. I'm going to Arkham."
"Yes, sir," said the chief's Irish tenor. "But, beggin' your pardon, sir, why Arkham? Isn't everybody there that needs ta be?"
"Maybe I'm just going to do a head count," grumbled Gordon, and punched the off button.
There was a knock on his door. "Come in," he said.
His daughter Barbara, redheaded and lovely in a green outfit, entered. "Dad," she said, looking composed. "I haven't been able to dig up anything so far on the Wayne case."
"Didn't expect you to," he said, getting up and pulling his coat off the rack. "You're not a police officer, and the case is only a day old. It's our balliwick, Barbara. Even though you're very good at what you do."
"I'm going to try to hook up with some of the others," she said. Gordon had learned years ago that his daughter was Batgirl, but the Batman's true identity was a mystery to him. "It's my balliwick, too."
He lay a hand on her shoulder. "Yours is staying out of trouble for the moment. If someone was gunning for the Catwoman, they might have a shot or two reserved for you as well. Do you remember the last time you got wounded?"
She nodded, grimly. "By Cormorant. I almost quit being...you know. But this isn't that, Dad. I have to help on this one. I may have fought Selina in the past, but now she's the wife of a friend. We're all involved in this."
"You want to get involved?" He pulled on his coat and took his hat from the rack. "Come with me. I'm going to talk to some hotshots at Arkham. Have coffee with the Joker, Two-Face, and Croc. Could be an interesting afternoon."
"Couldn't keep me away from it, Dad." Barbara Gordon smiled.
The two of them left through the front door of the Gotham City Hall of Justice. A small mob of reporters were there, flashing bulbs and wanting to know about the Wayne case. He no-commented them all, and the two of them got into the back of the car that waited for them at the bottom of the stone steps.
Captain O'Hara drove them away to Arkham Asylum.
Katana told Halo to talk with Black Lightning while she went up front to consult with the Batman. The Japanese woman entered the presence and sat down beside him in the co-pilot's seat, waiting.
"We're going back to Gotham," he said. "You'll need some sleep and mealtime before our next jog. I don't think Jeff will be with us on it."
She nodded. "But I will be by your side," she said.
"I was counting on it," he said. "Thank you."
Katana shifted in the seat. "You have another suspect." She said it as a statement, not a question.
"The next one of many," he answered. When she didn't say anything, he finally told her.
"Kobra. We're going after Kobra."
"I shall enjoy that very much," she said, and polished her sword with a paper.