Stately Wayne Manor, such as it is. The old girl has seen better days for sure. Everything has just been a constant struggle to keep up. It all started with Bruce’s death. A lot of talk has been about Batman’s death, but that’s the catch in all of this. Batman didn’t die. Bruce Wayne did. He was killed in what most people outside of our little family believe was a random act of violence no different than his Mother and Father. Gunned down on the street due to the symbol he’d represented in the City (and the world). While the Foundation was left to Tim, the Manor was left to me. We’d all wondered what exactly Damian was left, but Alfred had told me long, long before Dinah approached. That it was written that way to make sure each of the sons knew what they were inheriting. The Manor held the Cave and as such that went to the son who should inherit that legacy.
When I got here, I’d spent six months more or less holed up in the library. Most of the staff were let go. Alfred wasn’t able to keep up with the sheer volume of the investigation I’d begun to do in to Bruce’s passing. The Cave was Moth-Balled, because I simply told the lot of them that I wouldn’t do it. Then came the backfire of all the Cave’s technology, followed by the Ninja, then the physical attack on the Cave… we’ve scarcely had time breathe. Much less repair it all. Even still Alfred manages to work miracles around here and so despite there being a literal litany of people sitting in the Manor’s sitting room? It looks homey. There’s a fire lit. Everyone has food and drink.
The role call is a who’s who. Timothy Drake in a suit that I’ve seen only once before, has made himself at home in a seat near the fire. He’s got some sort of holographic display up, apparently still working on his task. Despite being in full costume, neither he, nor Stephanie Brown are wearing a mask. Spoiler seems to be also be distracted by that Gameboy contraption of her’s and I’m surely not the only one who has missed her nervous glances at the grandfather clock tick-tick-ticking away. Then there’s Cassandra Sandsmark and Conner Luthor. They’ve apparently put their ‘work clothes’ on since I saw them less than an hour ago and look completely ridiculous in this old ‘Gothic’ styled home. The pair of them are bright anyway, but you add the glow of a fire to them and it makes Wonder Woman light up the entire room. Last but not least is Dinah Lance who is just in front of me when we step in to the room fashionably late and Alfred Pennyworth who is serving food and drinks to everyone in attendance.
We took the liberty of actually getting ‘dressed’ for this occasion. Figuratively and literally. Though given the tone of this meeting, I’m not sporting the far more comfortable skin of Nightwing. I’ve come in the cape and cowl, the former of which is currently swathed around me like a cloak. I feel only slightly over-dressed sporting the Cowl, given that seemingly everyone else has dropped the pretense of not knowing one another. It just feels like a moment when there needs to be a reminder that this is literally my House. That we asked everyone to gather, but there is a pecking order here and is a burden that I wear. But I will wear it.
“Status report Robin?”
“Let’s cut the Robin and just go with ‘Drake’ for the moment. I’m working on a new moniker.” Tim barely looks up from the Holographic interface to correct me, but when he does there’s a small ‘gulp’ at the sight of my nonplussed gaze. “Right, okay then. This thing you’re calling the Vault, is something we’ve all known existed. None of us actually knew the form it took. Bee tee doubleya, by ‘all,’ I mean those of us who have lived in this house. For example during Dick’s time here there was a vault below the Cave where Batman would house his foe’s most dangerous tech that couldn’t be left to Police impound for fear it might end up in the wrong hands. During Damian’s time as Robin, the Vault expanded to have it’s own holding facility because during the No Man’s Land period there was no law, no jails or arkham. It was during my between his time and my tenure as Robin, that Bruce installed the current upgrades. From what I can ascertain they were put in place to deal with Parallax, should they be able to take Hal Jordan alive.”
That projection he’d been working on is literally cast out in to the middle of the room for all of us to see. It’s filled with dimensional images and video for us to see as he speaks. Data, blue-prints, schematics. The names of the engineers are all different. No one person built this, it was designed by hundreds of people. Bruce just took their engineering and put it together.
“During the assault on the Cave, the attacker intentionally botched an attempt to gain access to the cave through a systemic reboot of the security system. Whomever it was had 15 seconds of time during which the security was down. This sounds totally reckless now that we know there were actually captives down there, but the security isn’t what is holding those people. It’s the Kryptonian crystallis system. It bends every single form of energy that I can even postulate and confines it to the cubic cells. So the person who did the attack knew this and therefor needed 15 seconds to take whatever they took from the Vault.”
“This is where Dick needed Barbara. She was able to trick the Brother-Eye system in to believing that those cells were being violated. That also sounds miraculous, until I realized… she didn’t have to hack the system. Once she was able to physically locate the over-rides, she simply took Bruce’s form and unlocked the Vault. This is where it gets sketchy, because I’m still not sure what the hell she was doing in the cell with Dinah’s Brother. And I’m not sure why Dinah’s Brother… let’s just ignore that Dinah doesn’t have one… was actually down there, but he is and has been for at least a year, possibly more.”
Each time Tim stops speaking he shifts the Holographic projection to -show- us stilled images of various portions that he is describing.
“Here’s where we really get in to the weeds. You asked me to fact-check everything. I did what I could in the time allowed. Alfred is somewhat clean. Despite assisting in the build, Alfred was completely locked out of the system about a week before Bruce put your Brother down there. I’ve cross-referenced everything, Bruce went to Rapid City about three days after he locked Alfred out and he then sent Alfie on a vacation up to his cabin in New Hampshire to see his daughter… another relative I wasn’t aware of, might I add… this correlates directly to several other trips Bruce has made to Rapid City over the years. I believe he’s been planning this for a very long time.”
“Thank you for the briefing… eh.. Drake, but you left at least one thing unanswered. Is the Martian safe to let out of the cage?”
This clearly makes Timothy uneasy, but I’m not entirely sure why. He shares a look with Cassie and Conner, but I’ve got no idea what it means or why he does it. The three of them know one another well from while Tim went to school with them, so perhaps the three of them all knew M’Gann in some form or another?
“There’s no definitive test that I can, which would give us a credible answer. The person in the other cell isn’t using a standard form of mind control that we’re used too. It’s possession. Which in a non-mystical sense, is a form of rapid mental domination on a genetic level. Since she’s a shape-shifter, there’s a chance that she simply re-wrote her DNA as fast as he was making changes. There’s an equal or even better chance that she didn’t or at least not all of what was done. From the files, there have been tests done on Dinah’s Brother over the years, as Bruce attempted to reverse the effects. There’s been a lot of success, but the key hurdle is that if one cell of this ‘Vertigo’ remains in the system, it eventually multiplies and re-takes the host.”
“So we can’t let her go.” It’s best, I think, if I say those words because then perhaps the Supers will understand the gravity of what is being said. Except then Tim makes that noise he does, when he’s the smartest person in the room.
“Well. One test was actually a success.” His throat clears again and he gestures to Dinah. “Well. During the original encounter Dinah’s team had with this Vertigo thing. They were able to free everyone else from it’s possession, when she … uh…”
“Killed him. She killed him, Red. Which brings us back to the question I asked before they got here. How the fuck is he alive, if she killed him?”
“According to Bruce’s notes. Nowhere re-animated Kurt Lance, in order to harvest the virus. Vertigo was seen a more humane method of putting a suicide in the field, then implanting bombs in to their brain. Don’t worry. They couldn’t control it. So they scrapped the idea and started cloning real heroes to be programmed…”
“Where does all of this information leave us?”
“You’re not killing Megan.”
“Suddenly a little blood on your hands is a problem?”
“There will be blood, but it won’t be Megan’s if you guys go down that route.”
“I didn’t suggest we kill her, you didn’t let me get that far. I was going to say… we might want to think about re-killing Kurt Lance. I’m not clear on the ethics involved in killing someone who’s technically already dead. But…”
“… if killing is wrong, then it’s just wrong. I’m sick of you people constantly changing the rules. Either Killing someone is okay or it isn’t. Black and white. Right Cassie?”
“Now Cassie’s opinion matters to you? You’re half the reason this entire problem exists.”
Ahem. “Master Drake, Mister Luthor. Would either of you like a cold drink perhaps?”
Dinah: I haven’t spent a whole lot of time here since Bruce died, and I came back to Gotham City. I was working with Tim, and we’d been operating out of the Nest instead. The only times I really actually came up to ‘the house’ was to yell at someone. Or for Halloween. I briefly considered turning up for this exactly as I’d already been: in even more disheveled workout gear than I’d had on the last time, but Dick’s pulled out the big Bat gun, and we probably need to set a tone. This had needed to happen regardless, I’d taken Conner seriously after that train, but it was already abundantly clear to me that ‘my’ problem wasn’t just going to be ‘my’ problem. There were targets for NOWHERE to take aim at beyond myself, and as it turns out ‘my’ problem is a whole lot bigger than I actually anticipated. One side of it. There’s different repercussions for the second. Admittedly, there’s three more attendees than I’d actually planned on…
Either way, even in my full gear, I’m the most underdressed person in the room, and I don’t even mean in sheer amount of skin showing. This of course doesn’t bother me, but Spoiler’s clearly gotten an upgrade over what I last trained with her in, and is still playing her stupid game while looking anxious about being here, and Wonder Girl’s costume is a great deal more spangly in person, or maybe that’s thanks to the firelight throwing a reflection on it. I couldn’t even actually guess what the fabric is, and I spend enough time trying to that she notices, and pointedly looks away.
“…well that’s a little obvious for a starter, but we’re all friends and fam here so…”
I’m mostly talking to myself, he’s giving his report and relaying information is Tim’s thing, particularly if he gets to reveal something he’s figured out before anyone else has. No mocking or judgement there. It’s what he does. He’s good at it. Sometimes he even makes sure everyone actually understands the magnitude of what he’s saying, but fortunately for even us plebians this is mostly English. And I have questions but they’re not actually immediately relevant to our issue and this problem. The logistics of how Kurt’s been eating down there for God knows how long, for one thing. Standing with my arms folded across my chest, I start to make the observation, circling back to what Dick and I, and Tim and I separately, had already concluded about the intruder, and the points that this proves.
“So the attacker had to know there was a Vault, they needed to know exactly what was in said Vault, know exactly how to get to it, and know exactly where to go in it to retrieve whatever it was that they were after, while also either covering their trail to get into the Cave, or preventing all the systems from detecting them in the first place. So either there’s a speedster involved or. Is. Your father alive?”
Holy shit, she speaks in whole non-stammering sentences that don’t only involve her speaking up in order to charm an audience, or trying to contain Conner from whatever his current moment of ridiculousness is? Maybe I’m a little harsh, since I had literally no experience with her up until today, and given that Tim’s a genius, albeit a teenage one, and Conner’s smart and observant and doesn’t strike me as the tie himself to one person unless they were actually pretty special type… I’ll admit I’d kind of figured maybe they both only thought she was so great because she’s yet another gorgeous, well built blonde and they were both in love with… her… While I was boggling over Wonder Girl’s observation, and the sincere concern that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the big problem, and more Bruce being not so dead, the conversation had carried on to what we’re really here to discuss.
And it has moved on to the two of them fighting. This isn’t banter, or bickering. There’s answers to questions I had myself, but those are about to get glossed over in rapid fashion. Conner had told me, before we got to Rapid City, that I’d blown Kurt’s head up. Off. Distinction that doesn’t really matter. It was clearly intact. And he is clearly in there, in some part, because I saw those memories. Steve Trevor had spoken to him since. Do I know for certain that it isn’t Vertigo aping my brother? No. But either way, I’d wondered if perhaps the reports filed, that Conner had access to in order to tell me the information, might maybe have not been entirely accurate in the details of how things fell out on that last mission.
It is very clear to me that they’re not fighting about M’gann, or what we’re going to do with her, that subject is just what they’re using to air some other bits of hostility. Cassandra’s expression has shifted from concern, to thinly veiled dismay as she watches her friend, and boyfriend, going back and forth like a ping pong match, until she interjects about the same time Alfred does.
“Stop it. Both of you.
Then there’s me, casually examining my fingernails, even though I don’t typically paint them and I’m wearing gloves that cover them up anyway, with a tone of voice that is so light and airy that it probably sends up red flag danger warnings in half the people in the room’s brains.
“I’m going to ignore the fact that we’re just casually throwing out murdering my brother as an acceptable option here, and circle back to the part where we don’t kill people. Even when they’re insufferable asshats that arguably deserve it. So what are our productive options on scanning the Martian for Vertigo? And what are we going to do about your other friend in the meantime?”
Dick: “We have a couple of theories with regard to the answer of that question, Wonder Woman,” applying a deep emphasis on the term, to in turn make clear what I think of the two kids bickering. “At the moment we haven’t been able to firmly determine if any of them are correct. I will say most of our current theories run in line with ‘Yes.’
Let’s just be very honest here, the best thing I’m doing right now is what Batman does best. Loom. Also I’m listening to the group in order to mentally take stock of them. Most everyone here I know, if only on different levels of varying degrees friendship. Unless you count Superboy, in which case I barely know him. He was Tim’s assignment and I’ve had no chance or cause to interact with him until recently. I’m particularly interested in the bickering and how it’s put down, but that’s for another time. We have problems that are for the right now variety and like clock work Canary cuts right to the heart of it.
“Here’s the thing, and I’m loathe to admit this but, our current systems aren’t advanced enough to do a full medical scan of Martian genetic codes due to their malleable state. In fact that’s actually the luck of the draw on how she was able to be in the Cave at all. Due to the Brother-Eye system being one of the ones taken out a couple months ago when the Cave systems got hacked.” Realizing almost immediately that some in the room don’t have that information, I can see Tim actually scramble suddenly. He doesn’t like having to correct himself and I can tell it bothers him even more to do so in front of Conner. “Back before Christmas, the systems that my Father originally created and that we’ve ran on for years, were all hacked. Legitimately hacked. To Di–Batman‘s point, that’s one of the problems with our theories too. If our Father was alive, he wouldn’t have needed to hack the system to disable it. And if he were going to simply invade to get something from the Vault, then he wouldn’t have needed to do something so obfuscating as hiring someone else to hack the system either.”
“Meaning, that we’ve been under attack from multiple angles for the last year. One of our theories, in fact, is that Bruce faked his death to go to War with a secret cult-like organization based out of Gotham, but with global reach. I’ve got reason to believe they’re actually behind the entire ordeal in Kahndaq, in order to get their hands on Nth Metal.”
“Which is ironic, because… wait for it…”
“… ugh … it’s like a game show. Tim’s going to cut to commercial and we’re going to have to listen to Freakshow talk.”
“. . . did they design you specifically to be an asshat? You smug piece of…”
“… cheese and wine … are available for those whom are old enough to partake. I’ve taken the liberty of setting a table in the children’s dining hall for those whom are not…”
“Bleh. Fine. The irony? M’Gann unlocked everything when she did what she did. I was able to compare Bruce’s most previous inventory to current inventory. Two items are missing. One piece of Kryptonite. One Nth Metal dohickie that was titled labled ‘Absorbascon.’ Seriously, I don’t have a good enough imagination to even make that up. I half thought Spoiler read the files before I did.”
“Absorbascon is an item that was stolen from Nowhere about three years ago.” My eyebrows lift right up, but before I can say a word, Conner’s putting his hand on Cassie’s leg. “Came from the same place I took this materia from. Nowhere has a vault like the one you’re talking about, in Metropolis. It’s full of items they’ve recovered, but either couldn’t make work or didn’t think actually did anything useful.”
“That’s comforting. Everyone has a vault of secret W.M.D.’s in their basement.” If I’d come as Nightwing, I’d be rubbing my nose at the moment. “So this item that is missing from our Vault, is the same metal that I believe the ‘Court of Owls’ is creating World War III over. Now the sample we actually did have, that we weren’t even aware of, is our stolen item. Lending yet more credence to the theory that Bruce is alive.”
“However, while this is all very well and good. We’re here to discuss impending doom by way of this ‘Raven’ individual. How are we going to avert that?”
“There is one thing.”
“See? Commercial break.”
Whatever it is, he doesn’t want to say it because… “… if Conner was to go in to her cell, there’s a chance he could use his enhanced visual accuity…”
“… to read her genetic code. Assuming he’s fast enough to do it, smart enough to read and understand it, there’s a chance that even if she’s infected he could utilize his extra-sensory ability…”
“… to remove the infection. If he’s not any of those things. We’ll have a Martian and Kryptonian infected and in our basement.”
Dinah: Cassie’s eyes widen over the confirmation of what she’d gathered herself from all of this, and you can almost read a momentary excitement there as she looks especially towards Tim as if to say, ‘but that’s amazing, right?’ only to half a second later realize that maybe it’s not in the current context and situation. Then it’s right back to paying rapt attention to the information being relayed to all of us, with a tiny perfect wrinkle on that forehead of hers, while leaning in towards Tim. Ah, Christ, is all I can think with a roll of my eyes, no wonder Dick said this girl’s a problem for our Boy Genius. If I were doing that move, right there? There’d probably be more tits hanging out, but otherwise it’d be to stroke an ego (so I could ultimately crush it) and make him want to impress me. Flirtation 101, maybe even remedial level. Except nothing else I’ve seen about her makes me think she has a fucking clue what she’s doing, so either she’s really, really good, and maybe also gaming Conner or…
There’s a momentary lapse in order to shoot a displeased look at Conner for his interruption, Stephanie who’s been silent for the longest time put together ever, actually looks up from her game long enough to spread her hands in a ‘what the actual fuck?’ gesture at being called out. That’s about the same time that our eyes meet, in the middle of her coming to an observation all her own as eyes flick back and forth between Tim and the ‘new girl.’ Then she’s pulling the hood of her costume up over white blonde hair, and sinking a little lower into her chair with that gameboy and… she just slipped an earbud into her ear.
“Unless your Father, or someone else, had already removed it after his last inventory. If it was someone else, they still had to know it was down there in the first place, though, and still know where to look so if it wasn’t Batman… the original Batman, then either they got that information from him voluntarily or…”
“Or he’s breadcruming us again, which my brain almost cannot take on right now,” one eyebrow is lifted, the other squinched down as I can’t not focus on the complete and utter lack of reaction from either Conner, our resident half-Kryptonian, or his girlfriend, to the revelation that Bruce had Kryptonite and it’s also missing, but that’s something I’m intentionally not calling their attention to. Tim and Conner’s bickering is making me want to box their ears literally, they might be kids, as Alfred has pointedly called out, but they’ve got to be better than this right now. Clearly I’m one of the old ones now, getting annoyed by all of the childish… “Spoiler. I know this is all a little above your pay grade, but if you’re going to be here pay attention. Conner, Tim, anyone at this point… what does this Absorwhatever do. Or not do usefully enough for NOWHERE to care much about it?”
“Uhhhm, so we were kiiiind of in the middle of something when the systems triggered before,” So help me, I’m going to uncork on the easy target in the room if she intimates in even the slightest that we interrupted Tim passing the time with… “And while I totes get Batman’s concern about things that go boom in people’s basements, because there probably was a bunch of them that we haven’t really figured out what they do yet in my Dad’s the last time we were there, and right now we kind of have someone we were interrogating tied up in the living room, and I thought he was waking up but… I mean. Probably fine. Yelling in the neighbor’s house is like, typical errrrryday in the Narrows…”
Twisting a purple gloved hand, she flashes the game machine’s screen at me long enough to sheepishly display what looks to be a Junior Detective Version of a Tim Drake project spread, rather than any actual video game. Huh. She looks at the momentary surprise on my expression, pauses for a moment like she’s waiting for an apology, realizes she already knows that sure ain’t coming and then with a snap of bubblegum I hadn’t even known she had until this second, goes back to work.
“…yeah sooo I’ll just let you real superheroes go back to your reality TV debate club and…
“Ahem. Conner’s regularly been able to spot the changes in M’gann’s cells before. It’s why he uses his x-ray vision on people, posing as someone else isn’t precisely a new thing for her, so it’s necessary to check sometimes if…”
“…haha yeah sure that’s why he does it…”
And now the girls are getting into it, too, judging by the way I just practically saw Wonder Woman’s hair start to puff up like an angry cat, whether it’s over being interrupted, or someone calling Conner on what we all sure wanted to say on at least a teensy tiny level, I actually get a flash of that something ‘else’ that Dick had talked about and that I hadn’t wanted to admit the girl might really have… no. Wait. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck starting to rise, and as I shift my weight the building static in the air becomes clear.
“Enough.” There’s force behind that word, not enough to damage the Wayne’s Home, but definitely enough to set the chandelier to tinkling, and everything to rock just a little bit, not to mention be felt. Stephanie’s mouth snaps shut, Cassie cringes in a way that answers the question mark in the file over whether or not her senses were improved with her physiology, and I move on after planting my hands on my hips and squaring my stance. “We’ve gotten all your input, so if you can’t fucking behave like the heroes you want to be, and that we need present and working together right now, then you can get the fuck out and Batman and I will make a unilateral decision that you’ll fall in line with or… get the fuck out.”
There’s a pause for response, or getting the fuck out, but mostly it’s to see if anyone wants to sass me so that I can demonstrate exactly how accurate I can be with a small angle scream.
“Is there anything, or anyone else of use in the basement, because I don’t actually want to risk having to lock up Superman down there, too, especially on the heels of what we just did yesterday, and what we know, but unless there’s a solution to deal with the Magical Psychopath that’s potentially going to be here any minute, I don’t really hear any other viable choices from the peanut gallery.”
Admittedly, he might fare okay after what Steve Trevor said about Vertigo and people with/without morals, but allowing anyone we can’t control under the sway of that entity is less than acceptable.
DIck: This is why I’d come here in the Cape and Cowl. As Nightwing, I’m one of them. As Batman, I’m above it. Someone whom can actually speak with authority, if only because the Cowl conveys it upon me. Even if I truly am just one of them, the act of just being Batman, being accepted -as- Batman, means that I hold some manner of sway. The trouble is knowing when to use it and when to listen. Right now the in-fighting is not exactly helping us with the immediate problem, but in the long term (assuming there is one) I am getting so much information about all of the people in this room that I won’t need to rely on second hand accounts anymore.
Dinah knows everyone in this room better than I do. She’s experienced, tough as nails and as far as I can tell every single person here respects her. Even the Demigod that barely knows her immediately went silent when Dinah began to explode. I’m impressed, quite honestly. Though she certainly aided her efforts to be heard by making her voice impossible to be denied, didn’t she? Every tool, in the toolbox.
Wait. Stephanie said they have someone tied up in her Father’s apartment? Well okay. That’s going on to the ‘list of things we need to discuss.’ Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with many things of late, it has to further down the list than ‘Hell-Child coming to Unleash Satan on Gotham.’ If such a threat is to be taken literally, of course, I’m admittedly not sure I entirely buy in to all of that. If that’s the case then why hasn’t this person been unleashed before now?
“Honestly, X-Ray vision does have other benefits, but the reason I scan everyone I meet? Is because I spent two years having no idea if I was talking to a real person or someone they cooked up to have M’Gann test me with me. Half the time? I still don’t know, if I don’t check.” The Superboy’s tone is very different, after Dinah’s explosion, than it was just a few moments ago. Did she bring him down off of the constant bickering or was it Cassie coming to his defense? “Canary’s experiencing it herself, right now. Nowhere replaced Mayor Queen, in Star City. It’s actually part of the protocols, which were created for a good reason. To stop public panic when someone like ‘Green Lantern’ gets corrupted, like with the Parallax situation that Tim brought up. It’s just been…perverted and abused.”
“Good people lose their way, Son. Thus the saying about the road to hell, being paved with good intentions.”
As much as I’ve been ill-impressed with the Superboy, I’m impressed that he has the ability to speak so clearly about this Nowhere group that he’s been working with his entire life. I’ve met the boy four times and each time has been slightly different, but they follow two different themes I’m starting to pick up on. Conner Luthor is Brash, Spoiled, Educated clearly, but sterotypical of today’s millennial culture of entitlement. So much so that his whims seem to change every couple minutes. Each meeting with him in costume has been a stark contrast. He seems dedicated, albeit it to the idea of being Cassie’s Hero, thoroughly trained, highly skilled and holding of convictions that aren’t entirely in line with my own. At least he has them. One of those two personas is fake, I’m just not sure which one.
Then there’s Cassandra. Her interactions have me the most curious. I’m told we’re banking on her to be the ‘control’ on Superboy, but she doesn’t seem to fully understand the power she holds over him. More especially the power she holds on every teenage boy that sees her. Properly harnessed she’d have them all eating out of her hand as surely as Vertigo’s mind control. So then what do we have with her?
“I think I can answer your question about the Absorbawhatsis. The reason that Nowhere was in possession of it, is because it was ‘rumored’ to hold mystical properties. The legend was that it allowed the holder to link with a people, not just one person but an entire culture for example, thereby absorbing their entire civilization. The wielder would then be able to think, act, speak… just like a member of the culture. A perfect tool for an Alien invasion, which is what Nowhere believed was in the works when the item was originally discovered. A race of avian-winged people were seeded in to the Earth Culture. They used the stone to learn the culture and blend in. Admittedly, once again, the original intention was good when your Grandma’s people took the rock. Over the years though, the thinking was that the item might be able to be of use when replacing people of interest. The rock didn’t quite work the way it was hoped for, so it was stored in the artifacts vault to be kept safe but not used.”
“Huh. That actually makes a lot of sense. My current theory, is that Bruce got his hands on the item for use in recovering your Brother’s mind, so that if cured of this Vertigo possession, he’d be able to reconstitute him. But if he could get it to work… he’d be able to infiltrate this cult of owls thing.” This is the first time so far that Tim has seemed less than totally hostile at his supposed best friend. Apparently it took Dinah screaming and Conner to say something intelligent to accomplish that goal. Alternatively… he’s responding to the way Cassie leaned in his direction to soothe him? “As to what you asked me, Dinah, there is two other people down in our vault. I don’t believe they’re going to be of much assistance with the Raven-issue, but they are something worth noted for our other situation(s).”
Up until this point I’ve been specifically ignoring Alfred, because he was doing the routine he always dives in to when we have guests. Serving those in attendance with food, drink, while attempting to only chime in when there were points of contention that needed to be cut off. He normally does not actively participate in the meetings. I’ve had hundreds of these meetings before and he rarely speaks up to offer real input, unless questioned directly. This should be… interesting.
“If I may…”
“You have something Alfred? Go ahead. You have the floor.”
“It occurs to me, that we are focused on a stop-gap for this Raven situation. Master Wayne. The original, Thomas. Doctor Wayne. Used to say frequently that we were constantly chasing symptoms for Gotham’s illness, but rarely treating the disease. To such a point, I might add, that perhaps instead of risking the contagion on young Kon-El for the purpose of simply checking on our melted friend. Perhaps if the risk is present anyway, we should instead deal with the disease.”
Cowled head tilts to the side, waiting for Alfred to continue. I knew this would be interesting, the old codger is making a show of it. Even now he’s acting as though he doesn’t know precisely how to use Tim’s holographic systems and it’s some sort of difficulty. Which in turn has Timothy treating the old man, as if he needs help and assistance. Coaching even. To find the exact image he’s looking for. The image we eventually get? Is the room Dinah and I charged in to, where we found Barbara and Vertigo locked in their battle of wills.
“Master Drake, what is this item here. On the floor of the cell. I believe I know it from somewhere. Could you jog my memory.”
“It’s a high school projector, Alfred. Precursor to television. Moving Pictures. You know?”
“Tch. Just so Master Drake, but … I’ve seen that specific one before. Clark gave it to Master Bruce, before he left.”
“Huh, that looks familiar to me too.”
“OOokay. Um…” Now Tim is actually working the controls on his wrist. “Phantom Zone Projector. According to the Manifest, it’s a gateway for a kryptonian prison dimension.”
“It’s position in the cell, suggests that Master Bruce positioned it as a failsafe, should the crystal cell begin to fail. When Marbara, our prisoner made sure to disable it immediately.”
“You’re suggesting that we open the cell again. To get that device. So that we deal with Vertigo directly instead of risking Conner on a Queen’s Gambit? Bold chess, Alfred.” In all of this back and forth, this is the first time I’ve actually turned entirely from the rest of them to look at Dinah. “You asked for other options, that one sounds viable.”
“Actually. There is one other option. Two actually. We could keep talking, but once Raven’s gets here all bets are off on which of you survive. We… could let Cassie smite him.” Okay. I think I’ve just ‘goggled’ for the first time in my whole life. Truthfully I can’t tell if Superboy is enamored with his girlfriend or believes what he said is an actually viable option. But thank god for the cowl, otherwise I might just have rolled my eyes hard enough to make my head lull. “Her Lasso. It’s strong enough, that I can’t break it. And I’ve seen it conduct electricty. She’s got Zeus’ bolt.”
“Negative. We don’t get to godmode this one, unfortunately. The last bit of information I’ve been waiting to pass on? Kurt Lance. His meta-human power is augmentation. He can bolster or remove meta-human powers completely. You touch him with the lasso, he turns it off. We don’t know how it works, the touch of the lasso might act as a conduit to turning off Cassie’s powers too.”
“Key-words, Tim. Meta-Human. She’s not Human. She’s divine.”
“Half-Human. So I’m half-worried we’d lose our Wonder Woman.”
“Alright, I think we’ve got a number of options on the table, but I think only two of them address the most immediate concerns. We need to choose between sending Superboy in to check on his friend. Or. We need to make a play for that projector device. Ultimately, we’re talking about Dinah’s Brother, so the decision to use the projector or not, is going to be up to her.” A hand raises out from beneath the cloaked cape. “I understand that everyone has a piece of the pie at risk here. Which is why you all were invited to give input, but we’re going to start with Dinah deciding if she wants to send her brother to this ‘Phantom Zone.’ If she doesn’t? It’s pretty obvious to me that Conner is willing to give option 2 a try.”
Dinah: It’s really only the fact that I just forcefully course corrected the group’s entire conversation that I don’t latch onto what Conner’s just said with all of my pent up hurt and vitriol. Clearly, it’s not pushed down as completely as I had thought, in the face of chasing my answers and what I’d actually learned in that hunt. I had thought I was going to find evidence of the things that NOWHERE has been doing, had been doing for years apparently, that there’d be something I could use to make them hurt in a very permanent fashion for what they’d done to Oliver. Only Rapid City had been opening a can of worms, and taking the wind out of my sails to use all the metaphors at my disposal. Coming home to find out Barbara had gotten a similar treatment? I don’t think any of us have really gotten to fully process that one yet. It’s only hours old, and there’s been a whole lot of ‘bigger problem’ in that very short time.
Conner is now, suddenly, very much more the Conner I know and actually like quite a lot, so I let him finish instead of launching into a hiding because he’s the best thing I’ve got available to lash out at when it comes to NOWHERE. Given he saved us in a very real and needed way on that train, and what he’s actually said, it’s clear he knows there’s some issues with the way things are being done in the organization. It’s also a reminder that even their own are subject to ongoing and submersive mind-fuckery. I suppose you don’t need to play nice to keep your loyal soldiers when you can just surgically psyche-rape them though. That combination makes me personally inclined to let the Martian rot down there…
“Unless Absorbascan only fully works for the people that created it. My lasso wouldn’t function in any meaningful way for them, neither would the Golden Fleece, which is how they both ended up in NOWHERE’s junk drawer, and Conner was able to ‘gift’ it to me…”
Did she just point at her leg, next to where Conner’s hand has been, when speaking about the Golden Fleece? First off, I’d laugh and say that’s a fairy tale but when you’ve got a supposed, actual, demi-God and child of Zeus sitting across the room from you, you have to start opening your mind to trying to accept a thing or two. I suppose that would explain how damn sparkly that suit is, but I just assumed spandex and sequins. I am fairly sure that Spoiler has rolled her eyes underneath the cover of her hood, but… that could also have just been the firelight bouncing off Wonder Woman’s getup.
“You know, if Bruce Wayne is ‘dead,’ and he is infiltrating the Court of Owls, then he can’t very well be doing it as himself. That’s a whole new round of branching potential paths, from supporting evidence to him having already taken the item, to not very well being able to just waltz into the Batcave and let himself in like he owned the place…”
Even I can’t help it. Christ. There’s just too much going on, and all of it is just connected enough that it’s easy to lose the thread we’re currently chasing, to diverting off on a tangle that’s surrounding it and intertwined. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I shake my head hard, back and forth once like I’m clearing it out. I’m actually grateful to Alfred for chiming in when he does, and I contain any remarks about him now asking permission to voice his opinion, and also leading Tim by the nose water. Who then drinks.
“Mmn. Makes sense. Also explains why Vertigo wanted me so bad.”
There’s my clarification on exactly what ‘tuning fork’ had meant, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of mental creativity to understand that maybe that means Waller had been right. That maybe she either wanted both parts of that world breaking equation under her thumb. Or that she realized recently Kurt was in the wind, and wanted to control at least one, prompting them to no longer be content to just let me be. This projector sounds like a solid option, honestly. Clearly Bruce, despite having a long time to find a ‘cure’ for the problem hadn’t managed it and we all know the man was like a starving dog with a bone when it came to things like that. For good or ill. The pragmatic core of me already had squared up to the fact that there might not actually be one. If I really had killed Kurt, and they brought him back and Vertigo was still there, maybe there really isn’t any Kurt left. Just what Vertigo wants people to think. Steve Trevor had gotten to tell me a little about its tactics, but I’m still coming up with too many ways this might not work.
“Huhwha? Okay, but I’m about maxed out on data for the month so just don’t… yeahnookayright. You’re right. More important. Probably…”
I don’t have mine with me still. I didn’t bother to hunt for it, or to look even a little, because literally anyone that would try to contact me that I could spend the attention on right now was already at Wayne Manor, and God knows she’s going to have hers right there. It’s also been upgraded from the cracked screen model that had looked rather like my phone that I’d seen the last time. Which actually doesn’t stop me to probably many people’s surprise from flicking in a search, pulling up a number and starting a call.
“Put the Sheriff on. He is. Side table. Look behind the mountain of empties. Just give him the damn phone.”
Cassie has gone from looking at me like I’m insane for choosing this moment to reach out to someone not in the Brain Trust currently discussing the fate of the world on a short, incoming hormonal timetable, to her gaze moving back and forth between Conner and Tim. It might be one of the first times I fully understand the debate going on in her eyes, while I wait for the bartender to do what I’d told him to. She can’t decide if she wants to rear up at someone daring to suggest she might fail at doing something, or over someone trying to boss her into doing something that wasn’t her idea first.
“I am not going to kill someone. Especially not with the Bolt, that’s not what it’s meant for, and not when there’s other options. Maybe we could talk to Raven. Explain and…”
The surety and conviction in her voice has melted when she begins to talk about Raven because clearly even she knows that’s not going to be much of an option.
“Well, hey handsome. Quick question. Say a feeler might have creeped its way out of Pandora’s Box. If we remove the Box from the equation, does it become a new box or just… poof?”
The truth is, I already know the answer to what Dick’s asking me to make the ultimate call on. There’s just a variable I can’t risk. I do actually believe I know the answer to my question, too, because if Vertigo was simply able to shift itself to a different infected person then I’d have to guess that its influence in World War I. And World War II. And among Team 7. Would simply have hot potatoed around without end. But there’s no point in throwing my brother through that portal to another dimension, which apparently Bruce just had lying around down there, if the Martian will still remain infected and festering just the same.
Dick: Of all the things I’ve been surprised with this evening? I think seeing Conner lean over to ‘nudge’ Stephanie ranks in the top three. To all appearances the two of them didn’t like one another. I’d have even said they were about to be at each other’s throats about a second ago.
“Don’t be so nervous. Dinah included you. Even if she was just taking your phone, she didn’t kick you out. You’re in now.” Okay. No, I was wrong. That is the most surprising thing that has happened all evening, because I think every single person in the room just stopped what they’re doing to look at the man in the S-shield. I think that’s the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen on Superboy’s face. “She’s hard on people, so the weak ones run away from this life. It gets kinda crazy sometimes. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. Until you explained the gameboy.. ‘you were the weakest link. Now … she likes you. You’re in.”
Huh. The pinch hurt significantly. So I’m not dreaming. There is still a very good chance that this is the one of the Circles of Hell and that I’m just working my way through them. Pretty sure I took the detour through the circles of Lust and Gluttony. What’s possibly the worst part about this though, is the look on Timothy Drake’s face. It’s a mish-mash of pure confusion, which is a foreign emotion on that boy’s face, and a sort of shock that he’s apparently choking on. Other than Dinah talking on the phone, Conner’s commentary is met with momentary silence until Alfred drops a spoon to the floor. The Butler meets my gaze and mouths the words, ‘Eegads, I didn’t know the lad had two braincells to rub together and start a fire?’ Much less the ability to tamp down his own ego to say something like that, even if he knew how or recognized that sort of depth in Dinah.
Steve Trevor is apparently not at the strip club. Surprisingly enough. As it so happens the girl with Harley Quinn’s voice is only to happy to give Dinah his personal number though. She knew enough about the Sheriff to lead the girl on the other end to think she’s one of Steve’s girls apparently. Though it takes her an extra call, she does get to ask that question.
“…evenin’ gorgeous. Seems like you folks made quite a stir up here in my quiet retirement community. Dealing with the aftermath of a blood bath instead of my usual Beer Night. Thanks for that. Uh… okay. So you got more involved after all huh? Kind of had a feeling you would. Short Answer then: When we first encountered Vertigo, he was in another body. Weak and withered. The entity was still strong enough to overcome all of us. We were all infected. All of us. When the entity moved in to your brother… killing him freed all of us. That’s why you did what you did. Does that help, sweetheart? Because I hate to throw complications at you, but Nowhere was just here. Deathstroke took out… well… someone’s going to need to do a lot of countin, because I’ve never seen people cut in to this many pieces. Nowhere sent in some big gun. Next thing I know fire and rescue, the National Guard and every cop in the state is being called. There ain’t no air force base anymore. The News is reporting it as some sort of munitions storage muckup, but… I’d call it Act of Deathstroke.”
Dinah: Even if I weren’t on the phone and somewhat distracted, I would be the person least surprised by what’s actually going on in the room right now. Up until a few days ago, or was that yesterday? Christ, I don’t even know at this point and I probably should because it would indicate the last time I actually got to take a shower or a fucking breath… up until that point I had only interacted with Conner one on one. Apart from anyone else, with the exception of him tossing Deathstroke off my roof first. The Conner I’d seen tonight was very much more what I think Tim’s probably gotten all of the time. At the train, it was to the other extreme. Also.. ouch, when did I become that transparent? Oh, wait. He’s just like me. He’s also right.
Saying I like her might be taking it a bit far, but I’ve clearly misjudged her for being nothing but a ditzy try-hard. I wasn’t aware she knew how to run any of the systems.
“Not on purpose, believe me. I was all set to let that one go for the good of mankind, but it managed to rear up and bite me in the ass as soon as I got back to Gotham. But yes. That does help. It’s what I thought, but old age… rusty-slash-erased memories… I wanted to be absolutely sure.” I blanch because that’s on me in small part. I don’t have the sort of complex that lets me assume all of the guilt for Slade, but his being there at all was on me. “They made him. I’m probably asking for more of my own if I say that’s kharma, and with this week I just don’t need that… thank you, Steve. I’d apologize for disrupting your superhero strippers, but… better go. Second Armageddon of the night to avert, sure you understand.”
I’m pacing a little while I talk, because the energy and anger I’d been trying to mostly contain for the rest of the discussion in this room needs somewhere to go. I’m in ramp up mode. The end of the pep talk, where you’re about to go out on the mat and show the world what you’re made of, and probably deliver some serious hurt to someone in the process. Maybe that’s just how it goes for me… Spoiler’s looking from the handheld computer, to Conner’s limb that touched her, up to his face, and back through the circuit again. An expression not unlike mine when I noticed the utter lack of comment about the missing Kryptonite by literally everyone in the whole room, of suspicion, while Wonder Girl looks more surprised by Conner’s little heart to heart than she probably should. Shouldn’t this girl know him the best?
“Who are you and what did you do with Superdouche? But uh… thanks? I think? Are we like…”
She doesn’t get to finish wherever she was going with that, because I hang up my call and launch immediately back into Team Bat Huddle, returning my attention to Dick.
“Do it. The projector. Tim, you said the Martian deactivated it, how do we turn it back on?”
I’m backing towards the door, clear body language of just wanting to get this done. Over. Now. Because despite knowing it’s the only and best option, I don’t want to have the time to put any amount of thought into it, or what I’ve just made the call to do.
Dick: “Duh, totally.” Superboy is offering Spoiler the fist-bump of doom. This can only mean bad things and I’m not sure I like any of the possibilities. At least they’re not fighting though, so that’s a plus. Added to the two of them, there’s the hush that has fallen over everyone else as we take in the spectacle. Dinah may have actually gotten with her antics, what she didn’t get with her lecture.
Me? I think I’m the one who needs a drink at this point in life. That’s just going to have to wait, because it’s clear that Dinah got her answer. We make eye contact, she nods, I understand. I just don’t think I like it, even if I truly meant what I said. It needs to be her choice, that doesn’t mean I want to see her deal with what she’s about to have to do. Furthermore I know exactly why she’s started barking orders, because if she takes the time to think this through she might allow emotion to override good sense.
Is it a shame that I’m the one in the room that is actually thinking it might be better that way? I can’t help it, but I feel like we keep coming to cross roads and the choices are just between which decision is the better of two terrible options. As I’m watching everyone, deep in though it would seem, it’s surprising to me that Tim hesitates over Dinah’s question. Was he not prepped with the answer or was he not expecting that decision? His face says the latter, but it’s the way his hands haven’t started moving that is the real tell.
“I-I.. u-uh, well…”
“Oh, this is going to be good.”
“… she did. I mean, Megan did. I just.. I haven’t had enough time to…”
A very slight, almost imperceptible incline to my head is given toward the Superboy. I hope Dinah sees it. Timothy doesn’t know how, because he didn’t have enough time. Any normal person in this room wouldn’t be able to either, but Tim is struggling to actually say the words out loud. What did he have? Two hours total time. We were gone to get food, a motel, and an attempted interlude that got interrupted. Had to rush back here to avert the ‘End of All Things’ and by that time Tim had gotten an exorbitant amount of information. Alfred had to lead him through even taking notice of the projector and that tells me all I need to know.
“Don’t worry, Red, I’ve got you.” For the second time in as many moments, Superboy does something I’m not expecting. There’s this gently pat on Cassie’s leg, then he’s rising to his feet and the look he’s got is something I’ve not yet seen. “M’Gann could work your vault, because she’s been in my head. I think I can turn that thing on for Canary.”
Dinah’s making her move and I’m not that far behind her. What I’m seeing behind me is something I wouldn’t have thought possible just a handful of minutes ago. The dynamic shifted when Black Canary stood up to the children in the room bickering. They listened to her. Stephanie did so out of fear. Conner seemed to do so out of respect. Tim’s change in tone seemed to come more out of insecurity than anything else. Over all the change was obvious and note-worthy.
One by one everyone is following Dinah down to the Cave, but I’ve stopped at the doorway to await Wonder Woman. “You were right about what you said. You’re not going to kill someone, it’s not what you’re meant for. You’re going to talk to this Raven person. We have to stop treating them as if they’re all evil. If the Martian is important to her and she thinks we are the bad guys in this? She has every right to the same plan of action that any one of us would take if our loved one was taken captive by the bad guys. It’s exactly what started this entire scenario, Canary charged in because they took one of her’s. Now this Raven is charging in for the same reason. The whole viscous cycle needs to stop.”
“That’s what you actually are meant for, Wonder Woman.”
I can see out of the corner of my peripheral vision that Conner -and- Timothy have stopped on their way down the hidden stairs, behind the fireplace, down to the Cave. Each of them, for much the same reason, wanting to know what I’m saying to the apple of their eye. I don’t care if they hear me. In fact I sort of hope all of them catch it, because I don’t stop at her.
“You’re not going to be alone, Spoiler has been learning the computer tracking systems. Using the Wayne satellites, she’ll guide you to Raven. Penny-One will be tactical control on all three operations. If anything goes wrong with any of the three points he will keep everyone apprised.” That leaves Tim, Dinah, Conner and I to deal with the remaining elements. The bat-cowl’s brows lift slightly for just a moment, as I see Cassandra’s face scrunching up. “Ah, you thought he’d always be by your side? That’s great in theory, but it isn’t how this works. If the two of you are going to be a team, there’s going to come a time when each of you needs to trust the other to do what needs to be done. If the two of you are meant for this, for each other, there’s going to be a moment when you know you can count on each other, even if you’re not side by side.”
“He’s Superman right, Wonder Woman? He can handle this. So can you. Stop fidgeting and get moving. Spoiler, stop blushing and peeking at the Dinosaur. All of you. Get to work or get out of the way.”
Dinah: Stephanie is halfway into returning the offered fist-bump by sheer reflex, when she realizes what she’s doing, pauses, shrugs, and then finishes it, pulling back her hand with a little finger waggle action and Jesus Fucking Christ save us, it has begun. Truly. This is how the world actually ends, provided it doesn’t manage to do it in the next hour or so.
“Tim. It’s okay. That was an ‘in case you know,’ not an ‘I expect you to already have this for me.”
I realize that I did, however. Expect him to already have this for me, because I expected him to know based on the sheer amount of intel he’s already had to offer, despite arriving after us. He always does, talk about a little bit of unfair pressure, coupled with the drive he’s got to prove himself that we’re all well aware of. That, and of course mind control, are what led me to badgering Dick into putting on the cowl in the first place. After all of this, I’m going to have to do some damage control and that’s not something I have ever been good at. No. That’s not the right words, because that implies using kid gloves on him, which won’t help either. A heart to heart.
Conner’s rising, and then volunteering, has me twisting my head slightly. In. Down. It defeats the purpose of this strategy entirely, in not exposing Superman to M’gann and potentially Vertigo. It’s exposing him directly, instead. There’s too much I still don’t know about this foe, and too many questions from my limited experience that I can remember with it tonight. We’re already on the move though, there’s that momentum and I can’t stop. If I stop I’m going to second guess this, even though I know in the end I’ll ultimately make the call of whatever has to be done, we’ll just waste time that we do not have on the way.
“How long do you think it will take to get it back on, Conner, and do you know what we need to do once it is?”
I say we because it’s not about to be just him going into that cell. Cassie looks surprised that Batman’s hung back in order to talk to her, and not just to herd everyone else where they actually need to go, and the fact that the two boys have hung back to watch her means that… the rest of us have to as well. Or maybe it’s just me… and so I keep on walking.
“Um, well. In this case…,” she doesn’t finish stating her opinion on Raven and whether or not she’s actually evil, but it’s visible in her posture when she goes from Cassie to Wonder Woman, who doesn’t get to have an opinion on whether someone’s completely horrible or not and have that dictate the right course of action. “I’ll find her, and try to reason with her. If reason doesn’t work, I’m probably the most magic resistant option anyway.”
Which is where it gets above my pay grade, so maybe I shouldn’t have mocked Stephanie before. Who’s still looking more than a little surprised about being called on for anything in the first place, but she’s already bee-lining for the Big Boy computers, and surreptitiously pulling up the face mask portion of her costume. She could probably claim it’s for comms, but I have a feeling it’s to hide any blushing. The dinosaur. Seriously? Cassie is shaking her head at Dick, lowering her voice even though she knows fully well Conner will hear her regardless.
“That’s not it at all, and I know he can, because he’s amazing and knows what he’s doing, even when I don’t think he does. So does Tim, who I know I can always count on for the right answers. Believe me, the only one I’m worried about in this equation is myself, but I do appreciate the pep talk. Really. Spoiler? Show me where to get a comm, and then point me where I need to go.”
The girls get working on their portion of the project, Cassie telling Stephanie what to look for, but not without turning for a moment of eye contact with Conner. I’m fairly sure I saw her lips shift but definitely couldn’t hear the ‘I love you, please be careful,’ or even make out enough of the movement for words.
Dick: Regardless to what anyone thinks? Tim doesn’t like that Conner has to save him in this. His face is a mask of displeasure even after Dinah excuses him too. I don’t need to be his brother to see that he’s taken this as some sort of hit to his ego. Which I’d already known was fragile but I didn’t think it was eggshell fragile. The guy did amazing work in a short amount of time, but not being able to answer Dinah on the one thing she’s actually requested? It seems to have definitely hit his confidence. I’m not seeing the boy who took pot-shots at Conner anymore. In fact he looks a lot like Damian, broody-kid phase.
“Not long at all, Tim’s picture had a lot of detail. I’ve been studying Krypton’s language since the V.R. and I’ve been working with the technology to try to fix my suit. It looked like he broke the stand, not the projector itself. Honestly, I think from the image I think it’s going to be a matter of point and shoot.”
From where I’m standing, I can only see as Conner puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder and nudges him down the stairs. I miss the look between the three of them, because I’m focused on Cassie for the moment. Once we make it down the stairs with the rest of them, I’m pointing her in the direction of the armory. Alfred seems like he’s headed that way to make sure everyone has what they need anyway.
Conner’s big ‘thumbs up’ at Cassie tells me that they two of them communicated even further, but once again I’ve missed one side of it so I’m without context to know what he’s responding too. Something about him is different right now than it was a mere five minutes earlier. He’s taller. His shoulders seem broader. The kid is always confidence, but this is different. I can feel him going the opposite direction mentally from Tim. While Tim’s confidence was shaken easily, Conner’s has been bolstered by Cassie’s confidence in him and Dinah’s acceptance of his help once more.
Once everyone else had their orders I’ve made a bee-line for Dinah. With my eyes drifting from Conner to her, then back again, I’m asking the unspoken question of why she’d be okay with the Kid going in there with her brother, but not in with the Martian. I mean, I get it. At this point both options equate to him going in, I’m just not understanding what made her pick one way over the other, if both choices risk the Kryptonian. But part of backing her play, is not questioning her in front of the others openly. I put the choice in her hands, she’s made it.
“If it’s point and shoot, then let I’ll take the shot.”
“No offense, Bats, but I could be in there and aiming before you blink.”
“Maybe that’s true, but I’m faster than you think and I won’t miss.”
“You don’t know Kryptonian.”
“I’m a fast learner.”
The way Conner is chewing on this, I can tell he wants to be helpful but he’s at War within himself. His expression says that there’s a sense of wondering if putting up a fight about this is just due to his own ego. The poor kid is wondering what’s the Heroic thing to do. All that intellect and a question of whether to be selfless or a good soldier that follows the chain of command has crippled him. No, he’s definitely not the Superman that I knew. Maybe he could be, but he isn’t yet.
“If Stephanie is on comms, Conner and Dinah are with you two. What am I doing?”
“Upstairs. When Dinah was asking about the options. You hedged. You said there was nothing in the Vault that would be helpful. You were overly specific, which means you knew something that you didn’t tell us. You also hedged when it was pointed out that the missing items could have been removed after the last inventory.” There’s a very hard edge to my voice right now, but I’m doing my best not to destroy my youngest brother. Not when I’ve been watching him self-destruct for the last hour. “You also didn’t jump to confirm when I suggested that Bruce stealing the Nth metal was confirmation. You’ve been trying to convince all of us that he’s alive this whole time, but you didn’t jump on that confirmation at all.”
“I’m fairly confident, that you’re holding the absorbascan and the kryptonite, Timothy. It occurs to me, therefor, that you believe one of those two things could potentially aide us. Once Dinah and I are both in mortal danger, I’m working on the assumption you’ll make the right choice.” And, I’ve just told Dinah that I also believe he was willing to not say a word, so long as Conner Luthor was the one in danger. I did tell her that something was wrong with him. “Shall we?”
Dinah: The truth is, I’m not okay with Superman going in with my brother, or more specifically Vertigo. The boys had voiced concern over Cassie getting depowered, and if that were even possible, but Conner has literally not once in his entire life that I know of been without those powers, that his girlfriend by all accounts only actually acquired a year ago. His answers regarding the projector only cement the fact that it has to be Conner in some form, however. None of the rest of us can read Kryptonian, I’m historically and categorically terrible when it comes to anything more advanced technologically than googling a phone number, or working my VCR.
With Cassandra gone to get her communicator, and Stephanie already working at the computer, I turn my attention from our two boys, and back to Dick. What had started with an almost imperceptible shake of my head in response to what expression, clear enough, I can see beneath the Batman cowl. My plan, at the very least, solidified even more by the back and forth going on. Conner’s the fastest of us by far, there’s just no comparison in scale, but he’s also the most easily lethal and we don’t truly have any idea of how quickly Vertigo can infect someone. I’m inclined to think ‘not that quickly,’ because we saw M’Gann fighting him and she may very well have been for some time. Ignoring that example because none of us are highly skilled telepaths with the mental defenses that likely go along with it, there’s my own experience yester… no, today, which might just have been him toying with me. That leaves me Trevor’s description of the influence on the whole team.
I’m still not taking chances, though. I’m also not adding my judgement on top of the weight of Dick’s, because his is more than sufficient for one, and ganging up on Tim won’t do him, or the rest of us, any favors. There’s United fronts, and then there’s also making sure to shore up all your sides.
“What kind of music do you like? I’ve been working on this thing to weave in a playlist and…”
Oookay, I’m going to ignore what looks like freshman attempts at Teen Girl Squad Bonding Time beginning as Cassie’s returned with her comms, and Spoiler actually bothered to stop her from taking off long enough to check and make sure that they’re working, despite us being in the Batcave where I don’t think I’ve seen anyone run that kind of test in… ever. It’s Battech. It just works, doesn’t it? I’m about in as much of a state of ‘I don’t even know what to make of you’ as I am at Tim’s behavior. So instead of coping with any of that, I tune back in to Channel Dick, and his ‘shall we.’ Moving once again towards the entrance to the sub-sub-basement.
“Not both of us. Me. It’d be bad tactics to expose both of us at the same time. Superman is the fastest, and most immediately able to operate the projector, especially if it’s not just point and shoot. If Vertigo gets hold of him, and with Wonder Woman gone, none of us would be able to put him down as long as we’d need to.” And before anyone tries to vocalize that they have Kryptonite in order to use in just such a horrible occasion, I say it again with as much emphasis and iron as I can manage. “None of us.”
Because it won’t work. Why it won’t work, I couldn’t say, other than it would make perfect sense for Lex Luthor to have made absolutely sure to breed any weakness he couldn’t be sure he had control of, out of his personal Superman. Conner’s ego might have prevented him from reacting outwardly to the mention of it before, but Cassie Sandsmark is far too earnest, far too heart on her sleeve, and far too concerned about her friends. And boyfriend. There would have been something to read off her.
“I’m going in first. Whether it’s Vertigo, or Kurt, or both of them, something in that host wants me.” How’s this for battle face that I don’t even crack wise or saucy about that too easy opening. “I’ll be the distraction, then you come in, Big Blue. Ten seconds should be enough. If it’s not just point and shoot, then you need to get out and seal us in until it’s working. Even amplified, my sonics shouldn’t be able to do anything sealed inside.”
I don’t really mean to relegate both Dick and Tim to thumb twiddling, or maybe door closing, but it really can’t be both of us, and there’s no reason for Vertigo/Kurt to toy with Batman, rather than just outright moving to take him over. We also clearly can’t just leave these kids alone, no matter what attitude improvements we’ve seen in the last few minutes. I finish up with a much lighter wink for Dick, than the no-nonsense, this is the play expression I’ve had up until then.
“Lets go. Maybe you should put on your old Robin mask just in case though…”
Dick: As soon as Dinah has finished speaking, both Tim and Conner are looking at me to see if I’m going to argue with her. In a way, I think they’re ach trying to see if the two of us are in lock step like we seem or if we’re going to bicker the same as everyone else. They picked the wrong day to look for cracks in this current partnership. Especially since Dinah has very sound logic to what she proposes. I’m not offended; Conner made much the same argument. I don’t know the language and if it’s anything more than a broken tri-pod I’ll be useless. Leaving us back to the double bad option of picking between which room to expose the Kryptonian too.
“Wait. Was the kryptonite for me?” Maybe the Superboy is smarter than I’d believed. His face is saying that he’d been considering arguing with me about going in, but after Dinah spoke about no one being able to put him down there’s an obvious shift of the gears. “Oh, that’s awesome. You guys had a plan to take me out.”
…w.t.f. is going on? …where &^%$ am I…? Is he.. he is… this mother &^%$ is hugging Batman and Robin.
“You’re stabbing me with the kryptonite right now. Aren’t you?”
“…is it working?”
“If you poke a little lower, we can talk about the first thing that pops up…”
“I hate you.”
A second later, I’m free of the grip. Not by Conner’s choice either. The cape is mostly for show, but it has filaments meant to be used in case of needing an escape. We’ve been in more death traps than you can count. I never thought I’d have to use them to escape a bear-hug from an adolescent Krypto-Clone, but here we are. This is the world we live in. ( Unless I really am dead in the next room. Which I may be starting to hope for. )
The Superboy releases Tim and squares up to Dinah. All of his antics aside, he seems to have a business face. I can see the cold-blue gleam in his eyes and a moment later he’s speaking carefully, “Four cells. Multiple armory caches. All shielded from view. With the cave itself also shielded, I would never have known these were here if I wasn’t inside the cave. Man, you guys are sick with all these overlapping securities.”
“I can see the surface technology. This vault of your’s is the same as the arctic base I’d been working with. Tech is the same. What you’re seeing is actually a form of Kryptonite, in a way. If you consider that kryptonite is just a meteorite cast off from Krypton’s explosion. This Vault of your’s is actually a kryptonite alloy, which Star labs calls krystallis, but is actually just a blending of two or more forms of kryptonite. You’ve got a virtual rainbow of it here. Synthetic though, this was all grown here. Probably in the base I was just talking about in the arctic, if what you said about how old skool bats got this.”
Everyone. Me included. Is standing there looking at the prattling teen, as he talks and talks right after Canary said they were ready to move. My look to her is yet another unspoken, ‘Are we sure about him?’ But before I’ve done more than glance the kid straightens up, rolls his shoulder… is he limbering up? I didn’t even know they did that.
At my side ‘Red Robin’ is tugging on the mask for his new suit and I’m a little surprised to see that it’s not a Domino Mask. In fact he’s wearing a full cowl, just like his original Red Robin costume. The colors are all wrong though. If everything else hadn’t cemented it for me? I think just seeing the radical colors on this costume, the gun, the knives… I’m pretty sure this is close enough to Red Hood right here, than I’m comfortable with Tim doing.
“We can talk about any mask you want, after this is over. I’ll open the door….”
Without anything really being handed to him for a duty, Tim’s moved behind the rest of us. There’s nothing for him to shelter behind, so he’s focused on making himself small. Crouching down and preparing himself to watch and help in any way he can. That is the Tim Drake that I know and I’m happy to see that, regardless of whatever else is changed about him, he’s still ready to do whatever needs to be done.
Dinah: I’m not surprised about anything that happens after I finish speaking. Not Dick’s lack of argument, because he promised to back my play so long as I wasn’t being a dumbass, and I know I’m not being a dumbass. There’s this gut feeling that you learn to recognize and go with. Calling it a feeling of peace is wrong, because there’s never any peace in the moment leading up to danger that you plan for and can see coming. Rightness; where you know that, barring something you had no knowledge of, your course of action is the correct one. It’s probably more difficult for most people, when they’re not 100% sold on their own skills and experience, because then you second guess. With everything that we’ve gathered about our problem, and our foe, and the tools at our disposal this is the best strategy I can come up with.
Short of asking them to find the scorched Earth failsafe backup #3, that I am equally sure exists in the maze of plans that was Bruce and his methodology. Me, I’m settling for two backup plans in Dick and Tim. I’m also not surprised that Conner put two and two together after my emphasis on their not being able to stop him, or that he thinks it’s great. The hug, though. The expressions on their faces. It’s so ridiculous in this moment that I can’t help it. I let out a short, singular laugh. It’s all I allow myself, with a shake of my blonde head, I’m turning back towards where I know the door is. I’m listening to what Conner’s saying but I’m also ready go. Right now. I want this over with before anything else manages to go wrong or complicate matters. I’ve shrugged my shoulders at Dick, carrying the motion over into lifting arms overhead, interlocking my knuckles and stretching.
I miss ‘Drake’ in his full glory since I’ve already turned my back on the group, stepping up to the wall.
“Stay out of view, as much as you can.”
Once the door’s open, I’m striding through, all ballsy and brash as ever with my arms folded across my chest to match the glower on my face. On the surface it’d probably seem like sheer idiocy to enter a room that I just had to flee a few hours ago, against a foe I hadn’t been able to dent. But then, I am the same person that at fourteen demanded to be taken with a Black Ops team, because fuck you. There’s nothing physically defensive in my posture, just emotional in those folded arms.
“Tell me. I want to know why.”
The honest truth is I do want to know. It will probably eat at me, when it shouldn’t, but I also know I’m a professional at pushing aside emotional ‘crap,’ even when it’d be better for everyone involved. Especially me. If I could square up and face it like I would a regular fight.
Dick: “Back so soon? Couldn’t stand to be apart any longer, eh?”
The one thing that our heroes didn’t do before enacting this plan of their’s? Check the monitors. Dinah steps in to Kurt Lance sitting upon the singular piece of furniture in his room. A cot. Which is more a slab, built not to move. It occupies the center of the room, without any padding or anything that can be removed. In fact the entire cell is much the same thing. With only the projector and tri-pod as the exception. It’s a strange setup in fact, one that Dick is just now taking notice of. Last time the door was open he was fixated on closing it, not looking inside.
“Tell you why? Why what? Why am I here? Why your brother? Why do I want you, specifically you? Why do the flowers bloom and the sky rain?” Kurt’s expression, his mannerisms, they’re all so very laid back. He’s not concerned. Not about Dinah, not about the open door. He’s simply not concerned. “There are so many things you might be asking about. Is it dealer’s choice then?”
Even as he’s speaking there’s a blur. Blue/Red flashing in from outside. Dick Grayson is one of the few heroes that worked with the original Superman. He isn’t surprised at what he sees, but that doesn’t make it less impressive. Dinah’s old enough to remember Superman, but did she ever work with him directly to see him in action? Even Tim, several feet back from the door and out of the immediate line of sight, takes a short breathe that signals his surprise. He’s seen Conner in action, but only in the form of sports where there was definitely some holding back.
“Let’s start with why him? Why you? Let’s be rather forward shall we? You and Your brother are one atom that has been split in two. Through him, your power could crack entire worlds or turn them in to a paradise. The two of you, when joined are Gods.”
It isn’t the blur that clues Kurt Lance in to what is happening. Conner is moving too fast. He’s viewable, but his actual actions are nothing more than a blurry after-image. Affording no one the view of what he’s actually doing. Dinah, Tim and Dick know only because they’re aware of the plan. Vertigo’s view is that of what Kurt Lance can perceive; a gust of wind, the blur of blue/red and then… the projector being moved.
“It won’t work.”
“But that isn’t what you’re asking is. You want to know why the tone was such as it was. You want to know if there’s anything left of your brother or if he’s been perverted to the point of no return.” Spreading his hands there’s a conciliatory open gesture that is what you might do if you wanted to show the authorities that you’re unarmed. “Symbiotic. That is the nature of my bond, to a Host. Kurt has always wanted you. His desire for your connection drives him to fight for control. He’s struggling right now, but it’s been too long now. He’s spent years accepting this fate.”
Click. Click. The blur of Superman has slowed completely. In his hand is the projector that they’d been discussing, but as he works the kryptonian technology it does little more than sound as if it is a car that turns over, but doesn’t ignite the fuel that would turn it on. “I did say it wouldn’t work.”
“What say we start over, shall we? What is your name, sweet boy and what can you do for me?” Vertigo barely glances in Conner’s direction and ‘Superman’ starts to feel the invasion of his mind. “Be civil, Dinah. There’s no need to scream. There will be plenty of that later. When we’re alone.”
“…nnh…” To his credit, Conner doesn’t drop the device or do some dramatic grab at his temples in a vain attempt to fight whatever it is that’s going on. His hands are moving so quickly that even in slow motion, later, when they try to review the footage they won’t be able to clearly see what sequences he’s even trying. “… bleh.. not cool at all man… stranger dangerin it’s worst form…”
“Have you realized that I have no intentions of leaving? The moment I saw your pretty little Martian’s mind, I knew her friends would come to reclaim me. You think if I wanted out, that I would just stand here and let you throw me around the room?” His gaze shifts back and forth to Dinah and Conner again, back and forth. Once again Dinah is going to be flooded with the memories of her Brother’s life. Not -her- memories, Kurt’s memories. His impressions. His feelings. His take of how each memory was to him. The loss of loved ones, the love and protectiveness of Dinah. “Oh, I know what you were asking now.”
“Why did the Dark Knight pull me out of that little hole in the middle of no where? Do you think he did it to save your Brother? To save you some great heart-ache? Perhaps that was his original intent, but it took only a handful of times in this room for your great detective to come around to my way of thinking. Just as your Kryptonian will and the Martian. Then their friends.”
It’s at that very moment that a tiny little red dot appears upon Kurt Lance’s forehead. The creature’s eyes lead Dinah and Conner in order to look down the little hall for the first time. Following the infrared light to it’s origin. He showed no interest at all in Dick Grayson the day before, whom was clearly visible just outside the door, but there’s clearly interest now.
“From what I gather this world is already on the brink of War, it won’t take my Pestilence long to give them the little push they need. I looked upon him and behold, a pale horse. His name that sat upon him was Death and Hell followed with him.”
Dinah: “You’d like to think that, I bet.”
I try to meet his laissez-faire attitude with one of disdain, which isn’t all that hard, even though there’s warning bells sounding loud and clear in the back of my skull already. The tone, and mannerisms, are all supreme confidence which you’d think shouldn’t be happening in the middle of a prison cell. This is an old being, probably ancient, who has been from host to host, inciting their wars and spreading their influence. I’d really meant why Kurt had wanted me, though all the other answers will work, too. I’m just trying to distract, and there’s a high probability regardless that anything I’m told either isn’t real, or is tainted.
Do I buy into the potential? We just sent out a half-God to run interference in the skies, but the word is so frequently used to designate power in relationship to the masses. Titans, as the name had started to slowly stick for Wonder Woman and her friends. My head cocks in confusion when he tells me it won’t work. Joining as Gods? Making a paradise which I fail to see an application for, and I’ve tried to be fairly creative with my powers a time or two. He’s moved on to what I had really meant though, before his assertion about ‘it not working’ makes sense. If it were point and shoot it should have gone off by now, and my eyes widen as Conner’s zipping around, which I’d felt more than seen as wind moved my hair, stops.
“Civil? Oh you really don’t know me at all…”
Conner is used to having his head screwed with, used to not trusting what senses tell him and resorting to the backups of others. He’s told us this already. I’ve only heard him make a noise that sounds even vaguely like discomfort once before, and that was after I’d point blank screamed in his ear. It’s starting, and he’s still trying to work the machine, splitting his focus between the mental assault and getting the machine to work. Which might never work. Then the memories are back, the images swimming in my head and behind my eyes, and I … am not used to this sort of mental intrusion. I don’t have memories of my own, they were taken from me, or in this case precisely and surgically altered. I’m seeing things I remember, things I know happened, but from a different side. Trying to be a brave little badass, and distract and bolster my family through my mother’s cancer, and her death. Loss after loss, and attention that focused more, and more narrowly on the remaining relatives, even as my power and confidence and body bloomed. Kurt’s reactions to all of it.
Fucking villains and their monologuing… the further we go in those thoughts, the more the emotions and impulses behind it makes my chest tighten, and stomach turn. I’m reliving a different angle of literally everything in my life I’ve ever buried, along with things that were exorcised and it’s overwhelming. Everything is swimming a little when I open my eyes though… I don’t actually know when I closed them in the first place. He’s just looking back and forth. Back and forth between myself, and Conner, talking about Bruce. Talking out his ass. Or. Is he? What if it was never going to work? Oh, Alfred. It was him that pointed out the machine in the first place. Led the horses to water. What if Bruce orchestrated his own death not to infiltrate the Court of Owls, but to try and escape this? Or even worse, what if he didn’t?
I’m already shifting before I see that little red dot, before everyone notices it and traces it visually back. I was moving forward, I’d been trying to not block the projector before, but now I move closer to that cot, trying to interfere with the view of Conner working away at lightspeed on our Hail Mary that may not ever work. I feel like I’m swimming in my own mind, except at the moment it isn’t. When we all look at that little laser spot, though, the no rises up in my mind. I focus on that clear, and hard. He’s already in here, I feel like I’m filling up, and instead of letting my thoughts go even a little to how to end this, I fixate on the ones that I usually wouldn’t. Instead of debating how to do this, because Conner’s predecessor and I had done this before, but screaming at Kurt earlier tonight had done basically nothing, so why had it worked then? I focus on the loss, and the hurt, and the trauma, and not on ways to get in close enough. Not on whether or not I can get Vertigo to let me wreak havoc. Kurt’s thoughts I’ll get lose in, I think, so i’m left with the things that are mine to claim, and hold onto tooth and nail, and they’re dark, and they hurt, but they’re mine.
My eyes are watering, nausea and the echo chamber of emotions that my skull is right now making it very easy to do, actually I probably couldn’t help it even if I was trying to avoid looking affected. Not thinking about how I refuse to put that little red dot, and what it means, on my friends. No longer putting myself just between Conner and Kurt, but now lurching closer, trying to block that shot with my own body.
“Kurt I’m so sorry. I should have protected you better then. I won’t let them…”
It’s the first time out of both encounters that I actually try to touch him, fingers reaching for his face, even as I turn my face towards the door, letting out a shriek that mostly strafes the wall, rather than making it through the doorway, absorbed by the material like it had been before.
“Hnnnf… these walls..”
Dinah: Half of a lifetime of memories, answering the question so many moody teenagers ask in literature and film: would anyone even notice if I was never there? The differences are at the same time slight and gargantuan, threatening to change everything I thought I knew about myself, and enforcing it as well. Was it a kindness to make me forget him, and everything about him? Yesterday, it was easy to offer the benefit of the doubt. Right now, even queasy as I feel, I think I’d answer in the opposite. I am not sure any of it was done with any of my well being a concern. Not all of it. Being alone, fighting through everything alone, and dealing with or ignoring my shit alone had been my always. How I’d always done it, as I lost person, after person, until I was the last one standing, and told myself I was okay with keeping it that way.
Those eyes. It’s jarring, and sedately beautiful all at once. And then I’m swallowed up, in what redefines a Eureka moment, showing me exactly how small minded, how this moment and not the big picture my thinking had been. Despite what I might have claimed about my massive ego, how grossly I’d been underselling my potential and the ways that I thought my power could actually work. So this is what it’s like. Having senses so lit up, and on fire, so much input from so many things all at once and it takes me a moment, or I suppose a fraction of a moment, to realize that this is all happening at once. Stacked one on top of the other in a cascade that I would have missed. Then it’s not so hard to imagine exactly how far I could go in order to disrupt it. All of it. How that could snowball, or how it could all be stilled and stopped.
The gun firing, despite me now being between it and the target. The accusation of one brother to the other. The single-minded effort of the hero beside me to complete the task he’s been asked to do. Music that should be out of place, but at the same time… then I realize I’m not actually seeing any of this with my eyes, but I may as well be. It’s all so clear.
My apology had been in that moment a ruse, words spoken to provoke a specific reaction, to let me get close.
I want you to know Kurt doesn’t blame you for the choice you made.
Did I really make a choice? He did. He chose to sacrifice himself, not seeing any other way, he had that feeling in his gut of rightness, in the face of everything that he knew, and what he could count on the reactions to be. That my choice then became to either let his choice accomplish nothing, or to do that one unthinkable thing. That thing that we don’t do, as has been said over and over tonight alone, and so many nights before it.
In that second, I’m springing from the floor, the touch of my hand to Kurt’s face becomes tackling him onto the cot, out of the trajectory of that incoming bullet. The decision that I’d already made two seconds ago suddenly seems so much more tragic in the wake of what I’ve seen, and know, the emotionless pragmatic tactic of last resort has become, in an instant, the same one that half of my life was shifted in order to save me from. And here we are all over again, because someone couldn’t leave it alone. Had to play God, and do things that were not meant to be done.
I don’t have to scream, though I desperately want to vent that rage and frustration and hopelessness on the world, instead I am for once in my life. Twice, I suppose. Doing as I’ve been asked to do. Pressing my lips to the side of Kurt’s head, with a whisper just for his ear.
“Never again. I love you.”
That’s all it should take, the sound, the vibration, the tiny delicate parts of any ear that amplify those inputs and send them to a brain, the simultaneously most incredible and resilient part of a human body, and the easiest to disrupt, to break, to damage and to still.
Dick: There is beauty in power. In fact scholars have said for eons that the beauty of it is at the core of the psychology behind why it corrupts. You’re taken in by what you see or perceive and each time it becomes easier to do so. As you take that power in to yourself, whether it be physical power like metahumans or political power or even emotional power, each time it becomes easier to look at. This in fact diminishes, you constantly chase it because to see that same beauty and feel it the same way you’ll always need more. The perpetual hunger that leaves you spinning in a never ending cycle of chase, attain, diminish, chase, attain, diminish… on and on until you’re sickened by the every lasting dizziness of trying to attain it. A sort of Vertigo.
This may be the first time that Dinah has experienced that sort of power to her own personal knowledge, but she now knows it’s happened before. She knows that the power came at a great cost. Her Brother’s life in sacrifice to the creature that threatened them. Not just them but the world. He died a Hero, even if that loss of life came at the hands of the person he cared most for in this world. History has a way of repeating itself. Whether by natural design or unnatural machination, it seems to come in cycles. So many things in our world are these vicious cycles that we indulge in, unable or unwilling to break them, so we endure them again and again.
It isn’t the sudden movement that obscures Kurt’s little spark from those eyes. If anything the creature revels in her choice to save it’s life. Somehow seeing it as a defining moment when Sister makes the same choice as Brother. Each accepting it as the Path they shall walk. Never suspecting that even as they land, flattened upon the simple cot, that her next words would be the undoing of everything it knows.
“..N-no.. you c-can’t..”
She can. She does. The words echo through the body of her brother in such a way that there is no time for salvation. The Kryptonian even still struggles with the intrusion. A cell adjacent from this one even now hears the screams of the Martian who objects to her Master’s demise. Blood trickles from the Kryptonian’s nose, as the Martian comes apart literally at the seams. With Kurt Lance remaining hole only for a moment. That half-purple hue that covers his unnatural form dissipating as the creature seeks salvation in Dinah herself. For one single heart-beat, Kurt Lance and Dinah Lance are linked by his hands clenching her forearms. Her lips pressed to his ear. Her words echoing through the entire cell, through the entire cave.
As attuned as she is to the sonic vibrations of everything (not just the cell, the cave, the mansion or even just Gotham City), she can hear almost hear her brother’s power shifting. Denying Vertigo access to the power he might need to escape this fate. Like a tuning form that is hit with the right harmonics becomes a magnet, so too does Kurt Lance pull in to himself all the power he had been enhancing. In doing so, it leaves Vertigo bereft of it’s chance to leap from one body to the other. Even in this moment of great heroism, there is only so much a Human can do with someone like this. He did not exaggerate his position in the cosmic balance of life and death. That clarity in Kurt’s eyes that shines with fresh wet tears for Dinah starts to fade…
As Kurt Lance’s last breathe sounds like a whirlwind in her ears, she can actually hear the emotion drain out in it. The Fight is over for her Brother. Vertigo was wrong. Kurt had never given up. He’d been waiting for this opportunity and his last breathe is a thank-you to the one who freed him. A final spark. Ignition. His death does not echo in Dinah’s ears, because she is consumed by the sound of life beyond the walls of the Cell or the Mansion. Out there. Everywhere. His sacrifice, her sacrifice, allows that the start of every life to begin with a single breathe. A baby is born.
Moments later the reconstituted form of Kurt Lance is torn asunder by the vibrations that ripped every atom of his body apart from the concussion force of five words. Molecule by molecule he breaks apart until there is not even dust left behind.
“Oh. Tweety.” Shockingly enough there’s no joke made about the projector not working. Nothing to be said about his big Hero Moment equating to a Richard Pryor joke. Even the name he uses, is not in jest but the same term of endearment he’s used repeatedly since they first met. “… you’re clear. He’s.. gone. There’s not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake.”
It’s as if Kurt Lance and Vertigo never existed.
Dinah: This life, that we debated if it even mattered since he had already been dead. That I’d tried to wall myself off from since the moment I even learned he existed. Tried to deny the reality of, and then once I had to accept he’d been real, tried to keep myself impartial to. That wall’s had cracks from the get go, little feelers creeping in, little inklings, and a collection of what ifs. Each and every scrap of the history that I learned, what we’d done, what Bruce had or hadn’t done, what they might have meant. Ordinarily I’m the first person to kick someone’s ass if they complain about fair, or what they deserve, but it’s not fucking fair. I know what I lost. Know what I’ve been missing. Feel it in every little bit of my being.
And in the world around me, because the other prisoner is shrieking. More sound that I can feel. Sense? It’s everything and nothing all at once, from Spoiler’s gasp as she wheels her chair around, to the water dripping further back in the cave, feet scraping pavement in Metropolis and beyond. That wail of confusion and intrusion of the baby. It’s everything and everywhere, and at the same time as I’m feeling it all, and then it’s gone. Leaving me clutching my brother for an eternity and an instant all at once, I want desperately to close my eyes and not watch, but I can’t do it. The relief and release is even more deafening than M’gann, or everything else, and I hold on until there’s nothing, and I’m trying to wrap myself around… nothing, which looks a lot like assuming a fetal position on top of the cot.
Not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake. I know he’s trying to comfort me, to tell me that I’ve done it, that it’s over. What my brain’s telling me is he’s gone, like he never existed in the first place. Like they never had. And now all I have is knowledge of what he experienced and felt, and lived, and what we did. Twice. Yes, there’s what we saved, too. But in the vacuum of what could have been, of all that power, the connection, left clinging to nothing, I’ve never felt more empty in my entire life. It’s like my throat’s caved in, and… oh. No. Wait. That’s just the sensation that comes right before the single sob that escapes before I realize what’s happening and choke it down.
Crush it down. Push myself upright with one hand, while the back of the other brushes harshly across my eyes, and cheek on the return trip. Swing my legs over the cot and get my ass moving towards the door.
“Good.” It’s not. It is but it’s also not, and I force my mind onto that ‘is,’ and tackling the next phase of this problem. “Check on your friend. What’s the situation with Raven?”
Dick: For whatever it’s worth, Conner makes no effort to console Dinah. Just those couple words which were not meant exactly to console, but to educate her that the sacrifice made was not in vain. Though he is often seen, due to intentionally giving the impression, that he is clueless? If anything shows that it is quite the opposite this is it. He knows what she just went through, because it’s coldly reminiscent of his own battle with Billy Batson not so long ago. The Boy doesn’t make any effort to impede Dinah, but he is also not leaping to obey her command. His attentions instead turn back to the projector that he spent the entire ‘Battle’ working on.
Outside the cell awaits a single person and it isn’t who Dinah’s likely expecting. Tim Drake’s new costume looks positively unforgiving, in comparison to normal, but the mask is once again out of place. “Things got a little … odd … out here too. As far as I can tell, Wonder Woman found over Gotham Harbor, near the Iceberg. She was trying to use magic to find M’Gann, but Wonder Woman interrupted her.”
“The two of them have a small bit of history, but things were tense for a moment. Whatever you just did? Right at the moment you did it? Raven’s Human Side took control. Cassie was able to talk to her. She went the Honest route and Raven’s human side believed her. She called off the search, on the condition that we present M’Gann and Conner to her for proof they’re okay and not prisoners.”
Ordinarily Timothy might not be so bold as to touch Dinah when it’s clear that her mood is foul like this, but there is a level of recent familiarity that he seems to believe gives him a little leeway. So it’s his uncovered, bare hand, that catches Dinah before she can pass him by. Through all of this he’s seemed very angry, but in this one singular moment there’s clearly concern written on those youthful features. “Dinah, don’t do the thing where you flick a switch and shut the lights off.”
“Dinah,” my voice calls from just up the stairs, outside of the infernal vault. “You’re going to want to see this.”
By ‘this,’ I mean the sight of Alfred Pennyworth. The Butler did it. Literally. When she finishes the last step, it’s pretty difficult to not see and know exactly what happened. When the whole plan was forming Alfred had gone to the armory, presumebly to pass out the various gear we’d need. Like the comm-links he passed to Cassie and Stephanie. None of them had even taken a second to think about him. He wasn’t given a specific task other than over-sight, the same task he performs every night as ‘Penny-One.’ Tonight he was apparently intending to take an active role and even now he looks quite guilty about the whole thing.
In one hand I’m holding the Butler’s shoulder. In the other I’m holding what looks like an old vietnam era long range rifle. It’s been retrofitted with a new age scope and laser sighting. Judging by the knot on Alfred’s jaw, there’s been some sort of violence that resulted in his disarming. The Bat-Cave is actually about as quiet as it’s ever been. Even Spoiler is silent right now, despite the hand she’s got to her ear piece, she seems to be listening to both sides of what is playing out.
“You shouldn’t have had t’ do it a second time, Miss Dinah. I wanted t’ spare you that pain, even if it meant losing another one of my kids to this bloody insanity.”
Dinah: I’m grateful that he leaves it where he does, and Lord help us all, doesn’t point out anything else that he might have noticed in the last few seconds. Maybe he was busy with the Kryptonian puzzle box project, or maybe he’s a friend that happens to be an awful lot like me. Striding out of Kurt’s … the… cell, I’d expected to see the looming Bat, and instead there’s Tim. Either that all took longer than I thought it did, or Dick had hustled somewhere else, which seems… strange. Like the rest of the last few days, that had felt like it both just happened, and was a lifetime ago. I suppose, as my perceptions and thoughts go, it actually was.
“All the boys love her, and the girls love to hate her. Sounds like a tune I know.”
It sounds a little harsher than I actually meant it, but still without bite, because my tone’s a little too flat for that as I make my offhand observation. It’s a little forced, in an effort to at least talk, and respond rather than letting myself think about anything else. There actually was a demon half? Maybe this really is all above my pay grade, too.
“Okay may be debatable for the Martian, but hopefully we can make her understand that wasn’t our fault… Mostly wasn’t our fault.”
Business as usual. We’re just all moving on, and going back to business as usual. Is that a mantra in my head, or internal disbelief? Are we going to pretend that I didn’t just kill someone? That they didn’t all just watch me do it, and that it’s not preserved ad nauseum in security systems, and backup security systems? Which would be worse. Getting a pass, because Kurt never was, and won’t be remembered, or having guilt not just coming at me from an internal angle? Maybe this is why we don’t do ‘it.’ I’d thought about it before now. Before I knew about my brother, or my past. About whether or not I’d be able to cross that line if it had to be done, and I’d always thought the answer would be yes.
Which it was. I just didn’t know to expect…this. Tim’s hand on my arm pulls me up short, and my eyes move from the passage ahead of me, and the stairs, over to his face. Shit, it’s like he knows me, or something.
“I have to. Just for right now, Tim.”
Except they’re not off, it’s more like the shades have been pulled and there’s a lightswitch rave going on inside that I can’t make quit even though I’d really like to. My voice sounds raw to me, like I had actually been screaming for hours instead of the single short one that wouldn’t have been enough to even fatigue me a little on most nights. One of those partyers is screaming ‘liar’ at me, even as I clear my throat and lay a hand on top of his. Anything else I was about to say diverted by the sound of Dick’s voice from up the stairs. Guess he didn’t get all that far after all. Following the sound of it, up and out of one hole into the much bigger hole above, until I stop with a foot on each stair and look at the tableau in front of me.
Eyes move from the gun, to Alfred and back, to the timing of the sounds I heard which gets a little hazy but his admission is plenty of confirmation for what might have happened if Dick hadn’t intervened. If my switch wasn’t flipped, I’d have demands, and accusations to screech right now, whether he deserved to have that pointed at him or not, but it’s done with, and I instead just speak an absolute truth.
“I had to. That wouldn’t have stopped him, Alfred.”
That first bit might selfishly be more for me than him, and if he hadn’t been interrupted I don’t want to think where that would have gone. I don’t have to. It’s over, but I’m trying to carry on as if it’s not. Like there’s one more problem. Something else to go on and face. That next task so that I don’t have to stop, which means I finish my trek up the stairs, sparing a hitch in that gait to lay a hand on Alfred’s other shoulder, before I’m headed for the computer terminals.
Dick: To say that there’s a lot going on would be an understatement. We have Alfred Pennyworth, trying to take the sin of murder off of Dinah’s shoulders. There’s Tim who seems to be floundering, under the accusations and distrust of the family around him. Not more than a handful of steps beyond him is Conner Luthor, who’s seemingly grown up ten years in two hours. Though to hear Dinah tell it, that was always there beneath the surface. Even now he’s trying to scoop his friend off the floor of yet another cell. If only to deliver himself and her to another ‘cosmic’ threat level female that calls herself the Raven. If you’re with me this far, then you get to take a look at Stephanie Brown, who’s currently having team girl-power with a Demigod. Oh and the Demigod? Just saved the day out there, with nothing more than honesty and heartfelt convictions.
I know better. Because I was here, in the Cave, playing at being the witness to everything I was able to ‘See.’ The entirety of what happened inside that Vault, played some role in what happened outside of it. Like the other cosmic shoe being dropped. Except this time. For once. That other shoe didn’t get to hit the ground. We managed to catch it before it caused yet another ripple in the pond.
Though Conner and Tim, each in their own way, seem to be allowing Dinah to deal with all of this in her own way? I move over to stand behind her. In much the same way that she’d done in passing Alfred, I put my hand upon her shoulder, but no sooner has it touched her than it’s squirming in to allow my fingers to touch her’s. The other hand is used to draw Dinah’s attention to what Spoiler is working on. Like I’d said before, the girl was taught how to work Timothy’s drones. Even now she’s got them at work tracking, analysing every move that Raven and Wonder Woman make in Gotham. The two otherworldly teenagers seem to be simply hovering out there, over the Harbor, idly talking about who the hell knows what.
Actually, I know exactly who knows what is being said. She’s sitting directly in front of Canary in the big chair, but she doesn’t seem to be offering any insights at all. In a time like this, the fact that Spoiler is not crowing about the sky falling or really talking at all? Tells me the only real bad news right now, is that there is no next thing on our plate just yet.
I’d heard what was said in that Cell right before I left to deal with Alfred. I also know exactly how it played out after that too, because the shot was taken before I’d even known for sure it wasn’t Tim doing it. Had she not moved Kurt Lance, it would have been Alfred that took the shot. It would also have not worked, just like she said. The Host couldn’t just simply die, it had to be destroyed without a trace left before. Nothing could remain or it’s simply possess something new. The plan had been to tuck the thing away in a true Kryptonian Prison, the Phantom Zone, but plans rarely last beyond first engagement. What transpired inside the cell, is not for anyone else to judge, I don’t think.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that everyone else is avoiding it for that very reason. My free hand raises up and for the very first time in the presence of any of these ‘Outsiders,’ I draw the cowl off my head and let hand lose at my back. The other hand gives Dinah a gentle squeeze, maybe the hint of a tug. Everyone else is tip-toeing. That’s never been my calling card.
“I’d offer to taze you, but I left my escrima sticks in my hobo pants,” the tone of my voice is just about the softest I’ve ever allowed it to be with Dinah Lance, and I know she may not wish to let the others see her in a moment of weakness, but I still offer the slightest tug to tell her she can come closer to me if she wants. “We should….”
“…. and then Tactile Telekinesis!…” Swoosh! The Superboy interrupts us, and is gone before anyone can even acknowledge him or the Green Skinned girl that he’d been carrying. The next time we hear his voice it’s over the comm-signals on the main computer. The kid is fast, I’ll give him that, for all the good it did us. “… Spoiler picked out a theme song for us… that makes us legit. Next step is business cards, Megs and Titan Branded Blow-Up Dinosaur Sextoys. It’s going to be glorious.”
As quickly as that soft moment had been offered to Dinah, I’ve reached down with my free hand to pinch her side enough to get her to jump. “Hm. Apparently, I’m not in Hell. Or Dreaming. I was hoping it was you. But, no. We’ve really got a Super Man, that wants to franchise blow up dino sex toys. I’m too old for this.”
Dinah: “That explains so much…”
Bless him, he’s trying, and he’s doing it in the exact right way for me to be completely unable to not respond. It wasn’t that I don’t appreciate what each of the others had done for me. Conner with his no judgement, matter of fact assurance that it was really over. Tim asking me to not shut down, which comes along with shutting out. Alfred, who we were all so mad at a very short while ago, trying the only way he could to shoulder the burden for me. Then there’s Dick, with the cowl off, and the unspoken offer. Well. Maybe not so unspoken, even if it’s interrupted, about when I lay my hand on top of his on my shoulder.
“…see? What did I tell you? You can’t not hear about it.”
I do want. Some little part of me, deep, deep down wants exactly what is being offered. But inside I feel like this vast, open nothingness. My universe was literally expanded to the universe minutes ago. My senses filled with everything, literally everything, until all the sudden they weren’t, and in the vacuum of that, I gave up the brother I’d lost for the third time. No amount of ‘it had to be done’ that I may say out loud, or to myself in my head, makes that feel any better. Maybe if I was a fucking monster it would, but I’m not. I guess that’s one of the consequences of being one of the good guys.
“That one wasn’t even yours, it’s not all about you all the time, Superjerk. Settling on an anthem after one option? Blegh. You’re the worst. There’s so many other options…”
Spoiler’s eyeroll, which I don’t see so much as intuit rolls her head back, and then swivels her chair in a complete circle from the momentum of an arm thrown across her face in an entirely melodramatic fashion. Carrying on like nothing out of the usual is going on, in a tone that makes it sound like she’s having the time of her life, like nothing just happened, and I can’t decide if I want to just latch onto that and go along with it, or punch her for having the audacity to be okay. Still probably the easiest target in the cave, but at least she’s not just the convenient distraction for Tim that I’d mentally filed her as up until now.
The pinch actually does take me by surprise, and I shift my weight quickly, twisting enough to grab his wrist before I really realize what I’m doing. To my incredible credit, I pull up short before I try to snap an elbow or anything unpleasant like that. Which I probably couldn’t manage with him in the batsuit unless I really tried.
“I don’t know, you could have fooled me.” Alright. That was out before I could stop it, and is a little more on point for how I’m actually feeling than I ever intended to let past my lips, and I let out a soft cough, before pushing on. “I knew I should have gotten my lawyers working faster on trademarking all of their names. Admittedly, intimate accessories wasn’t the merch I was planning on peddling, but when in Rome…”
The words are very Dinah Lance on the surface, though the sarcasm hasn’t quite made it back into my tone, and I fix my attention on the monitors and try to make sense out of what Spoiler was actually doing, because it looks like too much information to be just monitoring the SuperTeens. The harbor, the Narrows, I’m pretty sure that is someone busking on a corner.
“Why on Earth would we need business cards… We’re not making blow-up dinosaur sex toys. We’re not making any form of sex toys. And I actually sort of liked the last track better. Can you play that one again?”
They really did, actually, have music playing over their comms the whole time, didn’t they? At the risk of sounding like the eggplant menace in the chair, I can’t even with these guys. Though, at the same time I can’t help feel a small hint of relief at how easily and suddenly that all seemed to come together. Spoiler’s clueless optimism and Wondergirl’s naive view on how the world should work. Except maybe Stephanie’s not actually as dumb as she acts, not unlike a boy in blue I know, and the jury’s still out for me on Cassie.
“You and me both, Dick. You and me both.” I blow out a breath of air so hard that it rustles the hair hanging near my face a bit, and I straighten my posture. There was nothing for me on the monitors to latch onto needing ‘doing,’ and I just have to keep going. “I need a drink. And probably to let Sheriff Trevor know that…”
No. I can’t. I can’t do this right now. I need to leave.
Dick: She’s right. You can’t actually not hear about this strange ability that our Superboy has. Tactile Telekinesis. For just a moment I’m lost in thought, memories back to a different time but the same place. I’d been the one sitting at the computer where Spoiler sits now, Bruce behind me dark and brooding. Alfred to the other side trying to foist fresh tuna sandwiches off on the two of us. We’d been talking about the news. A ‘Hero’ had made headlines that evening when he caught reporter Metropolis that had been ejected from an airplane. Topping that, he’d later caught the entire airplane itself. The three of us watched the footage multiple times. We’d zoomed in. There’d been software analysis. I’d settled on ‘Holy fucksticks, that’s cool.’ While Afred had told me to watch my language, Bruce had commented that it was strange how Superman’s had not caused the friction of motion to peel Lois Lane’s skin off. He’d hypothesized that Superman had some sort of field that must extend his invulnerability from himself to others…
Bruce. Always thinking. Always working out the problems, before anyone else even knows they are problems. He’s alive out there. Possibly never died, but at worst he’s been re-animated by the Lazarus Pit. We’ve spent the last couple weeks thinking the worst. Believing that the Man we loved may have set all fhis in motion as nothing more than a crucible of tests to force us to do what he needed. As if he’d treated us as nothing but pawns. Even now when we know it is likely that he was not under his own power, all of those worst fears are valid because all of them are things we each know to be true about him. He would absolutely do every single thing we believed he had done.
That makes the truth a harsh reality. While he is innocent of the crimes, he is not so innocent of being the architect of our believing him capable. His Methods would never have allowed us to deal with this situation. None of the trust or friendship that these kids are showing, the hope in spite of what we just faced, would be there because Bruce would never have fostered it. I’ve never been more certain than I am, as Dinah starts to talk about needing a drink and to make a phone call, that I’ll never be able to be Bruce’s Batman. It’s also made me just as certain that the world we live in may not need a Batman, but if it does that Batman has to be a different one that it’s known up until now.
““I didn’t say it was mine! Our’s.”
““Spoiler’s got a point, though. We did only hear one option…”
““How are we going to work the Brand, if we don’t have business cards? M’Gann likes the blow-up merch idea…”
““… I’ve already ordered cards, they should be at the Tower …”
“What was the last track? I was busy being mind fucked, without a reach around…”
Dinah’s movements are such that if I were anyone else, this were any other time, I’d be surprised at how she reacted. How fast or potentially lethal she reacted would be impressive. As it is, she’s barely secured my wrist, when I twist my hand inside of her’s and have her forearm. We’re still standing like that when I watch her eyes bolt across the screen. The need for a drink, the call to the sheriff, those come a second later when she starts to turn to leave, only to realize someone hasn’t released her. On my face is a look that says so many things. The deep blue eyes are filled with understanding. The set of my jaw speaks of determination. Even the way my head inclines, speaks to the fact that I’ve got a promise to keep.
“… whoah whoah whoaaaaah… who said you’re the Leader, Tiny Tim? You don’t even have a code name right now.”
“I picked the team. I’m building the base. I even bought the business cards…”
“Nope. Sorry. Wonder Woman’s the boss of me. Freakshow picked the theme song. Those are way more important than monetary interests. You’re not the only rich boy here.”
“… wait.. Spoilers on the team? Does she want to be…”
“See? You don’t even know who’s on the team. Wondy’s the leader. Spoiler’s the Deejay.”
A step is taken, by me toward her. Another step brings me close enough to Dinah that she’s the only one that is going to hear what I have to say. Even though what I say isn’t even something private. “You said it, Di. You and me.” My head turns just enough to bob and direct her back to the computer screen. “Spoiler, was that a Bank Robbery on the police scanner? Send the GPS to the Batmobile. Canary and I will handle it.”
“Oh and Stephanie. Tell the Titans to get out of my &^%$ city. Now.”
Dinah: “But what would we even use business cards for…”
“Here, I’ll start it again, but there’s more with way more epic beats deeper in… Really shouldn’t rush the entrance music picks though. Just sayin’.”
I think my eye’s actually starting to twitch. It could also be the corner of my mouth attempting to make an upward turn that the rest of my body is in complete and utter opposition to, however. It’s hard to deny that this feels… better, though. Listening to them yammer back and forth at one another, but the tone’s so utterly different this time in comparison to where they were at a very short time ago. Clear and present reminder of how very little it takes to spin your world on its head, how one moment, one choice can make all the difference. We don’t actually get to hear the track, or at least I don’t because I’m not wearing a communicator. I can see that she’s done it, queued back up Cassie’s re-request of Young Volcanoes, but it doesn’t impede the comm chatter or come across any of the inputs. For specific ears only, apparently.
“Shouldn’t we get Flash and Shazam’s…
“God bless you… er… well… clearlyalreadydonetalkaboutunfairmeasuringstick… gesundheit!”
“..what? No, I wasn’t sneezing. Shazam is his name.”
I don’t get very far when I turn to spin on the ball of one foot and head for the vehicles to commandeer, brought up short by the grip on my arm as Spoiler’s snort of laughter echoes across the cave and she mutters to herself about who comes up with these things. It was probably not meant to be said out loud. Putting my shoulder into it, I give another tug to try and keep on going, but when that doesn’t work either I turn to face him, and Dick’s face says so much, and so much of it is what I don’t want to see right now. The kids are all apparently bonding over terrible music, and I want desperately to do exactly what Tim asked me not to do. Shut myself off, so I don’t have anything to lose like I always claimed was the case. The set of my mouth is irritation, but my eyes are almost pleading to be let go.
“I’m going to remember you said that, Con-L.”
“I’m kinda dealing with my own thing, but I guess if you guys need… wait do you not want me on the team…?”
“Dick, I don’t want to be the Black Canary right now…”
I haven’t tried to retreat as Dick comes in close, and talks under the back and forth. He’s not going to let me run. Despite one of the most honest things I’ve said since coming out of that cell, I already know he’s not going to listen. Not because he’s not listening, or doesn’t respect my need to shove this all down and compartmentalize like a fucking champ, but because he’s going to make me get back up on that horse. I’m making an awful lot of horse metaphors for someone that’s never been on one, but… everyone knows the gist of them. So I can fight, and push away, and go get drunk… where exactly? I’m probably still wanted, and there’s a pack of superteenagers hovering over the harbor making a spectacle of themselves. I justify to myself that the problem with the law is what signals my surrender, and the tension going out of that arm before I reverse angles and move towards the Batmobile.
“Totes is! There’s another one they haven’t been told about yet, too. Hey! Batleader says, and I quote, get the #$*& off my lawn, losers! Don’t make him come up there! …maybe not those exact words but… you get the point. Amscray! …but I’ll keep sending the tunes…”
Christ. Maybe I do need to punch someone after all.
Dinah: If you can believe it, city girl like me, I have actually been camping before. In an actual forest, with a tent and a campfire, and everything. All in all, it was a pretty wet and miserable experience, which I had been unable to complain about even once, because Oliver had intimated that he should probably go solo, since I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Ass. The whole thing had been unnecessary, since we could likely have hiked out to the place we’d needed to be, handled business, and gotten back in a single day. He probably didn’t have the stamina for that, though. Which I may have intimated heavily myself once we were there.
I can handle uncomfortable and non-ideal sleeping conditions, though. I’ve been an accomplished daytime sleeper since high school, and the thuds and voices from my bar don’t keep me up at the apartment in Gotham. I trained under sensei that delighted in tormenting students and putting them off their game. All in all, the Nightwingmobile is not the worst place I’ve ever tried to rest, and after the little train compartment I’m finding nearly anything at all feels damn roomy.
Leaving Rapid City hadn’t been much of a problem, on account of them having to deal with Deathstroke at their highly secured, secret base. Finding a place to stop after what wasn’t nearly as exciting of a day for me as it had been for Dick was convenience more than availability. Just because NOWHERE’s off our asses for the moment doesn’t mean they’re not still watching out, and friend or not even I don’t want to require a Supersave twice in one week. The drive probably would have been faster if we weren’t on side, back, and nothing roads, but the view’s not half bad here if you like flat, flat nothing and the occasional weed that’s taller than the other ones.
There’s an over exaggerated stretch, as I’m reaching arms up and over my head. Outwards as I curve my back and let my head hang for a moment.
“Ahhh. So this is what non-toxic air is like. Do you have any more hobo clothes in there? Fishnets at any kind of stop seems to have gotten me the looks that say I probably could’ve rustled up some cash for a hotel after all…”
The lack of physical money wasn’t actually what was keeping us out of lodging with a real roof and walls, because I’m positive he’s got some stashed somewhere on him. On the road, off the road, is less likely to have some random, well meaning, law abiding citizen decide to be ‘helpful’ for the authorities.
Dick: Even if it’s DINAH LANCE and her nameless sidekick NIGHTWING that made every headline across the country? I’m not going to just abandon her. Not only would that probably play ill on any future scoring chances, but… she still hasn’t answered my &^%$ questions. I’d love to know why we went to all this trouble only to have her pull me out of there before I could get access to whatever that was. I know what I saw, but what I saw didn’t make a lot of sense. It’s left me driving. Driving some more. Driving even more than that.
While Dinah slept. Snoozed. Cat-napped. What do you call it when the girl next to you seems to all appearances unconcious but can recite every lyric from the last song that just played. Even if it was Achy Breaky Heart remixes and Southern Baptist Church Music. Because Bible Belt and even a multiple thousand dollar radio can’t find another channel. Picking up enough signal for a good playlist off any sort of internet is a chance equal to that of hitting the lotto.
I’ve had to remind myself more than a dozen times so far; Someone would recognize Dinah if we went mainstream. It happens to be a problem that I’ve been pondering as we move towards home, but there are a lot of factors involved that I’m not entirely sure I follow or understand. Why do they want Dinah so much being chief among them. That’s a question that I obviously get, because I do too. I’m just not sure I understand why they want her when they have a superman, alien shape-shifters, wizards and matter re-arrangers. They seem to create their own Deathstroke, Huntress or Superman even, every other weekend.
“The Hobo clothes were actually authentic. I gave a guy a diamond tipped dart for them. He’s probably having his first good meal right now.” Like we could be having, if we didn’t apparently do all of this for nothing Side-eyes are a way of things right now, but at least the view is better from my seat. “That last stop left me wondering if maybe we couldn’t have both earned some hotel money.”
“There’s actually cash in my utility belt. When we stopped to load up I grabbed a handful of the freeze dried bat-bucks. Just add water… instant go-bag-cash.”
Dinah: Complain more, at least he’s got a secret identity to default to. Which I don’t even begrudge him, truthfully. I made the ballsy choice long ago to depend on not much more than makeup to protect myself, mostly because I didn’t care to protect myself. If Dick Grayson is all over the headlines engaged in vigilante behavior then lets face it, that shines a spotlight on every other Wayne, adopted or otherwise. Suddenly Tim’s backing of the tower they’re building in California gets even more scrutiny. The various strange behaviors of Damien would become not just acceptable filthy rich eccentricities.
I think I might honestly just begin to assume that all of these Billionaire Playboys are actually vigilantes. Every single one. The Waynes. Queen. Luthor.
His comment, coupled with the weight of the sideways look that I don’t even have to be facing him to see has me lolling my head over onto my shoulder to look at Dick, mouth twisted in wry amusement, as I reach over and pat his cheek.
“Yeah, yeah. Like we could be having, too. But then we wouldn’t be having this excellent team bonding road trip. Maybe we should have loaded a few more people into the ‘Wingmobile and really made a go of it.”
Someone would probably murder Damien before the night was through. Or he would have killed someone for looking at him like that one fella had been checking out Dick. And Stephanie. Because she wouldn’t shut up, she might be the first to go, and I say that as someone who’s only ever interacted with her in a form where it’s perfectly acceptable to hit her when she’s obnoxious. It was, after all, how Grant trained me. The fact that he didn’t manage to throttle the banter out of me should probably be telling of my efforts on Spoiler. If she’s got one thing going for her its stubborn inability to quit when she should really, really stay down. Reminder that I may owe her an apology… which isn’t really my thing to do. Speaking of…
“I’d settle for knock-off imitation. Or nothing but that might actually get more attention. I knew we should have just gone back to the truck stop in Rapid City. Fleeced them for all their money… oh, shit, really?”
The laughter that’s creeped into my tone is probably a dead giveaway for the ridiculousness I’m about to propse.
“…any water? Do you have more of them? Can I pop one in your mouth and take out bills like you’re an ATM?”
I may be running on leftover adrenaline, disappointment, tension and not much real sleep right now. Combined with the entire situation we’re in, I may be reaching a bit for anything to keep the levity to a certain level. Namely because I owe Dick an explanation, and I’ve been trying, while pretending/attempting to sleep to put my thoughts together in the best way. I’ve felt second guessed a lot, and I know that isn’t his fault. He knew I was compromised when I didn’t, even if I feel now I would have made many of the same choices.
“Look. I’m sorry for the no explanation, seemingly pointless trip it… while it wasn’t a dead end, it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I got answers but… they weren’t what I thought they’d be and it kind of knocked the wind out of my crusader sails.”
Dick: “Dinah.” Uh, oh. Bat-voice. Danger, danger Will Robinson, danger! “Let me say this clearly; Hard. Pass.”
“About calling it the Wing-Mobile. I’ll put the pellet in my mouth,” comes the offsetting wryly delivered punchline. “So long as I get to choose how you then earn whatever comes out of it.”
She is not the only one with a sense of humor. I’ve been doing this even longer than her. Banter, I mean. I still remember the teen that barely said two words before breaking knuckles on a heavy bag. Humor is my thing. Not always good humor, but humor none the less. I’m not the only one who worries that the Cowl is going to rob that aspect of my life from me, but for now I’ve been able to maintain thanks to so many openings that Dinah and Damien, not to mention our lives, provide me.
There’s a long look afforded to her once she says something serious though. “Was that you admitting that I was right and this wasn’t all about someone tinkering with your head? Because that sounded like you veiled one unicorn, inside of another unicorn. In which case I just got a two unicorn apology, for the price of one unicorn.”
“What did you think the answers would be? And why do you now think the answers you did get, don’t measure up to those expectations?” Two days ago I wouldn’t have reached across the console to lay my hand on her knee, but today I’m actually thinking that might be the ounce of reassurance I can offer that she just might appreciate. “Before you left Gotham, the only thing you knew for sure was that someone stole something from you and used you when you were just a kid. Now you’re free of the Hatter, you said you got answers and we know now that Nowhere has some sort of designs on you specifically. None of that happened, if you didn’t leave Gotham.”
“Actually, I think that I was wrong about this from the start. I think it was the exact time for you to make this play.”
Dinah: There’s a moment where I think that somehow I’ve managed to break some rule of sanctity about pellets and putting them in his mouth, or maybe I’ve found the limit by triggering some long not spoken of trauma, so when it’s the nickname for the SUV I let out a snort, before leaning my head back against my seat, and kicking my feet up on the dash, eyes forward once again. I even let him leave his hand on my knee. Pushing it off would seem a little hostile and until something else springs that trap, we’ve been being nice. And, truthfully, the contact is nice. A different kind of nice.
“Well, what else are we going to call it? I made a judgment call that Dad Van was probably not sexy. And I wouldn’t go that far about the unicorns or the apologies.”
That wasn’t all what it was about, was it? It had certainly been made personal, and maybe the mode by which the news was delivered set it all up to be a whole lot more sinister. It has to be pretty awful if Deathstroke brings it to the plate, yeah? Bruce running the whole thing down ahead of me, apparently, and still opting to make it go away hadn’t helped the initial impressions either. Would it have been better if he’d just told me? You know, it’s easy to say yes. To blame someone not here, in a conversation that I can’t have.
“I thought I’d done something terrible, and I want to say I could deal with that, but not knowing the circumstances, or how much choice I had in it… maybe after Hatter that made the wound a little more raw.”
Folding my arms, and then bracing the tops of my angled thighs might almost be a vulnerable position if it weren’t for the set of my jaw, though the expression goes wry once more as I keep going.
“I thought maybe I could at least get some good mileage out of it, if I could stick it to NOWHERE where it would really, really hurt with the answers. But turns out I was just a big damn hero, who sticks her nose wherever she wants to stick it, who made a choice that I probably would make all over again tomorrow, brain chip or not.”
Which actually is a relief. That’s one of the things I’ve had to mull over since we bailed on Rapid City, in the middle of explosion.
“So, I guess it wasn’t a pointless trip. It just wasn’t the point I’d planned. Besides. I gave a living legend half a lap dance, and you almost accidentally unleashed Armageddon on the world because I asked you to, frankly it’s another day in the life, huh?”
Dick: “I don’t know what we’re calling it, but I know what we’re not calling it. This isn’t even my normal car. It’s from a safe house in Montana.”
With an exasperated roll of the eyes that almost makes my neck pop from the weight of it, I’ve let Dinah have her fun at my expense. As we’ve gone along, I’ve started to recognize my role in this dynamic. It’s ever changing, but essentially I’m the release valve on the pressure that Dinah’s built up for herself. She can handle the pressure that others exert with no help from anyone. That voice in her head that ultimately leads her to either throttling Russians on the streets or drinking herself comatose at home? They’re different. One of them I can help with, by not being overbearing. The other I can help with by getting out of her way.
“Dad Van. Just remember. These old jokes are going to haunt you when we start calling you the Silver Canary.”
From the conversation I’d listened in to, partially, added to what she filled me in on, during the trip up to Rapid City, I know topically what Dinah thought. Killing a brother would be traumatic to anyone, but to have it be the first time you’d found out about the existence of one also being the moment you found out that you killed him? I honestly can’t even imagine that well enough to empathize. I had to just harness the power of seeing my family die, to just lend my understanding of loss to her. Not that Dinah needed or wanted, but I’d wanted to let her know it was there.
Which amounted to a very quiet trip to Rapid City. The opposite of this return trip. Thankfully, because if I see another beet farm or corn field I’m going to give serious thought to pushing the big red button under my steering column. Hopefully none of that reaches my voice, “I’m not angling at a fight, but I want you to remember that the fight we did have was about why you needed to go ‘Now’ instead of ‘Later.’ That reason was a personal one. You had a hole in your life that you needed to fill. Dinah, you got those answers and came out of it without a scratch.”
“Finding out that you are, were, exactly who you and I, and everyone else, already knew you were? I put that in the win column,” so says the needless reassuring squeeze offered to her thigh, before I borrow one of her words to make a point. “Besides. While you were giving a lapdance to a World War One Veteran, I was looking at the strangest thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
“In the basement’s basement’s basement, which hasn’t had it’s air vents scrubbed since you were wearing a training bra. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t think I’d find some swanky blacksite prison. That only had one cell and that cell had all of the amenities of the Wayne Mansion.”
“Hermetically sealed, Wayne Mansion. Real Charles Mansony stuff. Made Arkham look like it did during No Man’s Land. I don’t know what kind of Armageddon was living there, but he was living high on the hog.”
Dinah: “What, they don’t all have names? And you say we, but it’ll probably just be you.”
Frankly, if I live long enough to be doing this while going silver, it might be a big enough tick in the win box for me to just roll with it. If my grandmother was any indicator, it’ll be White Canary, also no one dared call her anything but her original name. That I heard anyway, but I had no idea she was so… active. As long as she was. In hindsight I should have, because you don’t retire from this kind of life. Not for long, or not well. Ordinarily, that would be a flippant comment I’d make out loud. About dying relatively early. In the wake of everything that’s happened this year, and everything we’ve jointly learned as a group, I just… don’t.
“I feel like in the interest of the whole continued goodwill and getting along thing we were doing, that I should point out that anytime you start a sentence with ‘not trying to fight or anything buuuut…’, it basically says you know it’s fighting words about to come out of your mouth. Kind of like if I were to start what I’m about to say next with ‘not to say I told you so, Dick, buuuuuut…'”
The entire thing has amounted to a very strange month of my life. Knowing who I am has never, and I mean not once in the history of ever, been an issue for me. I had strong role models in every single aspect of my life, and beyond that a cocksure personality that would probably have existed even if I didn’t have the skills, and looks, to back it up. But I did. Which apparently made me the ball of fun I was as a teenager. Finding out you’ve been shifted, though, finding out there was a part of you, an important and traumatic part, that you didn’t even know was there? I suppose it’d probably rock most people at least a little bit.
“Half a lap dance. Pretty sure I could have funded the trip if I ponied up the rest of it. I was almost better looking than the real Black Canary they had working in there.”
His fingers pressing into the muscle of my thigh is weirdly reassuring and… no. I don’t suppose it is weird, that’s probably a normal gesture between people who are close enough for the touch to not be something else automatically. So when my arms unfold quickly and I grab the hand that’s touching me, it probably seems like it’s about to be forcibly removed but I hold it there.
There’s a pause, the hand not on his coming up as I pinch the bridge of my nose for a second, letting out a breath that sounds more like a hiss. Much like Slade using me to hunt down much more easily the thing he was after, and it had all clicked into place while I was ‘interrogating’ Steve Trevor, things that had been said in that conversation tumble into place with what my companion’s telling me about his adventure.
“Fuck, I’m really not on my game. A prison. An actual prison.”
And my brother doesn’t blame me. Not didn’t. Christ. He’s still alive.
“What you were looking at, was where NOWHERE thinks an entity called Vertigo is being contained. Bruce have anything on that?”
Dick: “No. They don’t.” Side-eye again. Wait for it. Damnit. “Okay. Tim and Bruce named more or less everything. Not me. Them. I never bothered learning their name. Bat-Boat. Bat-Mobile. Bat-Plane. Robin-Cycle. It wasn’t really a complicated naming convention. Then you started adding in things like two, three, four…”
If one didn’t know better they might think that this was the sort of thing that would drive a young Dick Grayson to drink. They’d be right. It did. A bar in Bludhaven even started numbering my martinis. That’s one of those things we don’t talk about. Not even with the shrink. The Bartender with Blue Hair once started making vroom vroom noises as she slid them to me. I had nightmares that night…
Que disappointment at being rebuked on the simple reassuring touch that hadn’t even been romantic… in five, four… blink. Blink. Maybe not. This is starting to feel like one of those eureka moments that I’d have with Batman. Okay. Maybe not exactly like those. There was a lot less hands on his thigh. Much less hand-holding. But… the same sort of ‘Oh, oh ohhhh damn everything just clicked.’ The problem is, I’m not sure what’s clicking in to place.
Then she asks the question and I’m moving on muscle memory. Tapping the edge of my sunglasses, to activate the car’s onboard computers. While in stealth mode it looks like a real car, but Dinah’s right in that it’s far from that. The fold out super-cycle in the trunk confirmed that. A couple seconds later there’s mechanized sound of the dashboard’s fold out screen that would ordinarily only be a backup camera for other vehicle. Us? We have the Nest’s backup systems putting us in to the Brother-Eye back-up system.
“Brother-Eye has some encrypted files on Vertigo, but they’re on the actual mainframe for the Bat-Computer. Unless Barb made headway in getting back in to the system, we don’t have any way to see the files.” Tilting my head back to her, I’m having my own little moment of recognition. Daamn. “During the League of Assassins being in Gotham. They attacked the Mansion in their search for Talia. While they were doing that, someone else used it as cover to attack the Cave. That’s what caused Alfred to lose control of the Plane that crashed and nearly killed you, me and Damien. In the long list of ‘shit gets weird.’ The attack on the Cave was either not very successful, if the intention was to steal something. Because all it succeeded in doing is putting the Brother-Eye Mainframe in to lockdown. We don’t have access to any of Bruce’s myriad of ‘Secret Files’ he had on Nowhere or various meta-humans that he kept. We still have all the computing power and software. None of the historical data.”
“Alternatively, it was very successful. Because Alfie thinks the whole thing was meant to lock us or someone else out.”
Dinah: Sure they don’t, and three… two… I know the way he’s looking at me, when denial won’t do the trick because he knows. And there it is. You’d think at least SuperGeniusTim would have better names for all the assorted accessories and doohickies, but maybe he was going direct and simple for the plebs. Whether this particular vehicle has a name, beyond Montana Safehouse SUV #2, gets a whole lot less important in very short order. Dick’s got a look on his face that I imagine is at least somewhat similar to the one on mine, when something clicks things that you hadn’t thought about, or at least hadn’t thought about from a very specific vantage, into place.
Not only are those ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ moments, but they’re even more frustrating because you did. Just maybe not back when you should have, or when you were in a place to pursue the trigger a little more directly. He’s moving, enough to get The SUV to reveal some of its hidden goodies, and I’m leaning in again to look at it. Unnecessary, because it’s more than clear even fully upright in my seat, but there’s this intensity to feeling like you’re right on the edge of something. Wave. Rollercoaster. Discovery.
“And here I just thought he was sick of Damien’s shit and we were acceptable collateral damage…”
I am actually listening to Dick, though, the commentary is more of a soft aside to myself than any remark meant to seriously derail what he’s telling me. Like the fact that Barbara’s back in Gotham, something I didn’t think would happen anytime soon, let alone in the Batcave. Explains why she was in my ear relaying messages. I would be wanting to talk about that if this moment were a little different but maybe I’m a little caught up in ‘me’ and ‘us’ for the moment.
“So are we still working under the assumption that it was Bruce? Why hoard all that information on literally everything and suddenly decide people who might have access shouldn’t? Trevor said that he had the basically the exact same conversation that I had with him, with Batman. Now, that could have been just the NOWHERE portions, but it seems like it would have been hard to compartmentalize what I did in Rapid City, without bringing up Vertigo. It’s not him he’s keeping it from, I’m sure he’s got it up in that steel trap head, and if nothing else in the Cave Crew has changed to suddenly warrant lockdown, then that takes us back to the someone else. Deathstroke knew I’d be able to get stuff from people he couldn’t, I assume that’s the real reason for him telling me what he did. Which I did, because I couldn’t help myself, and… I’m hoping he didn’t have nearly as much fun as we did in Rapid City. ”
But it’s probably not Slade he was hiding anything from either. So that goes bigger picture to what we’ve been toying at the edges of.
“So that brings us to the enemy we don’t know, that’s well connected enough to get its hooks in a project like Team 7. Steve said that Vertigo is an entity that inhabits people. As in more than one at a time. It was responsible for world war one. And two. It was contained until the Parallax event, and then Team 7 was sent in. Who we already know were facilitated by this group at one point. The good sheriff moved Vertigo, which he said NOWHERE doesn’t know….”
So either they’re not friends anymore completely, or its someone else, or…
“At this point I’m just going to keep outloud thinking like …ugh… Spoiler, because clearly I’m not putting all these thoughts together in the right order just in my head.”
Dick: Somewhere between ‘So are we still working’ and ‘outloud thinking like Spoiler’, I’ve all but pulled the vehicle off to the side of the road. Because I’ve afixed Dinah with a look that screams ‘What the hell?’ This is actually a first for me. I’ve never had her go on such a tangent of outward thought in the entire time of knowing her. Hell, half of my problem with Dinah is getting her to talk in the first place.
“First. I’m going to remember that you compared yourself to Spoiler. For literally ever. You had me turn on the computer. So it’s also recorded and backed up to like nine hundred systems.” Playful banter? Not going away. Not when she’s managed to start my wheels turning. “I’ve been so focused on you and everything else that I’ve put everything in Gotham on the back burner… holy fish sticks, Dinah.”
Without a hint of reservation I lean over and just outright kiss her. She’s fast. I’m faster. I’ll live with whatever consequences come of it. “Twenty-ish years ago Bruce puts on the Cowl and goes out as Batman. Gotham had been off-limits, because it’s Heroes like your Gran and Alan Scott retired there after the last World War. They brokered a deal, that kept powered metas out of the City, in exchange for making it a haven. Since Bruce wasn’t a Meta, but was clearly doing meta-like things… it put Nowhere at a bit of an impasse.”
“Once Bruce’s crusade began, anything that stood in it’s way had to be dealt with. He starts building contacts in D.E.O. and Nowhere… leading to your Gran. A few years later, you show up on his doorstep. He had a few new sons, but no daughter… plus a debt to your Gran. Like with me. Like with Tim. Even with Damien. You had a mystery around you and Bruce couldn’t not pull at the threads. He went looking, as he always did… and I’ll bet you a new shiny diamond tipped dart… he found out about Team7, had that conversation with the Sheriff and helped him move your Pandora’s Box.”
“I’ll bet you another dart, that he connected Pandora’s Box to you and one day you’d personally need to know. Hence having the info prepped, but set aside for you. He didn’t drop it… he intentionally left it for you to do what you do. Knowing it’s lead you there. Just like he knew I’d never let his death settle. Knew that Tim would never believe he actually died the way he did. I’d even bet, he factored in that Damien would lose his utter shit after losing his Father, if he also might lose his Mother. But he needed a Lazarus pit, to bring himself back. Because to fool the real bad guys, he needed to actually die.”
“All of which ties right back in you, Dinah. If this Vertigo is what you’re saying, he wouldn’t want that Court of Owls that he’d been researching to have it.” The next kiss is for the joined hands, it serves as a chance to swallow and wet my lips before I bring up one more thing. “The only problem I’m having here. Is that if all of this is even in the ball park of correct. The attack on the Cave doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’d have wanted us to have access to those files. I mean.. if I’m sharing Bruce’s head-space here… then there’s only two reasons I can think of as to why I’d sabotage the cave.”
“One, he knew you’d follow this to it’s ultimate end game. Which would trigger backlash once Nowhere realized that Pandora’s Box was gone. Meaning the info in the files probably contains the location of your Pandora’s Box, so he needed to render it inaccessible to keep the ‘Bad Guys’ from getting it. Or the second option… is that Bruce simply doesn’t want us to know the location. Which in itself means either one of us can’t be trusted.”
“Oh. Oh, wait. Shit, shit, double shit. There’s a third option. Damnit, I hate it when I think like Bruce. If this were me, Dinah. And I wanted to re-unite my daughter with her brother. Wanted to send her on this whole chase to rediscover lost memories. I wouldn’t drop it suddenly. I’d make sure there was a happy ending, so I’d damn sure keep Pandora’s Box somewhere I knew was the safest place on earth. Like.. the so super-secret vault that even Superman can’t see in to it and none of my partners, including Alfred, can even get in to.”
“…and I just asked Barbara to come home and hack it open, because Tim’s left the reservation.”
Dinah: “If you ever tell her that Act Like Spoiler was a momentarily legitimate plan, and that I did it, I will find the most creative way to castrate you that I can imagine, whether that’s figurative or literal. And I’ll do it twice.”
When did he pull over? I realize I’d begun staring at nothing, while ostensibly looking at the display on the console, and talking out loud. Or rather spitting out a stream of conscious thought so that if I missed something else, Christ Almighty, maybe he would pick up on it. We’d said before how many fucking times, joked about it, been half serious about it, but what if it was all the same thing? One neat little package, wrapped up with the same bow.
I don’t even get to rib him about the fish sticks comment, because first he’s kissing me. Which, as I’d already learned in the cramped train compartment is a pretty enjoyable experience. Then, before I get to respond to that in any manner at all he’s A. Stopped. And B. Moved on with his own ramble of verbal detective diarrhea. Blue eyes just get bigger. And bigger. Parts of this I think we’d guessed at, because it would only make sense. Bruce’s death. Talia al’Ghul just happening to be available and prepared with the Lazarus Pit. Then her Father being even more displeased with her than one would have thought.
“…you’re really free and loose with those darts…”
Still really can’t help the stray commentary. Even when he’s in the middle of all of this and…
“Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s all a neat, convenient package because somehow Bruce managed to make it that way.”
I don’t even understand how, and by all accounts, most especially my own, I’m pretty smart and clever. But it just makes sense, convoluted and ridiculous as it all is step by step it works. If I was rubbing the bridge of my nose before Dick kissed me, and connected all the dots, now I’ve got my fingers pressed to my temples like it’s all that’s keeping my head from exploding.
“I didn’t ask where Trevor moved it, because I didn’t want to know. Didn’t want that to be a secret I had to keep, but then I realized after you talked about the prison cell that it’s not a what, but a who…”
And that who is my brother. Was my brother. Who I didn’t really kill, just helped contain with Vertigo, and maybe NOWHERE thinks that’s not the case. Either because Steve Trevor got to ‘write’ that particular history, or maybe because the part of NOWHERE that’s actually trying to do good for this world doesn’t want just anyone to know the truth.
“…so maybe you better call her and tell her to stop…? Christ. I’d ask why on Earth he’d want us back together, but apparently once again I was right when I told Tim that despite his emotional constipation, Bruce clearly knew we were all better that way.”
Dick: “It’s also. Fucking twisted. Jesus, fucking, Christ, on a stick. Twisted.”
“This is exactly the kind of crap that man does. It’s why I left in the first place. Half the time it’s a test, to see if he can trust you. The other half of the time you’re left in the dark, twisting in the wind, because he doesn’t trust you.” This rambling little bit of rant is brought to you by hard feelings. They’re apparently sponsoring this episode of Dick Grayson wants to punch his adoptive Father in the mouth. And ends only when I realize that I’m ranting about three cubic inches from Dinah’s lips.
Oh. Um. “… kinda free and loose with castration threats too, good to see you’ve got my best features on your mind …”
Right. So I’m back to my own seat, not even realizing that I’ve just cleared my throat for like the third time in as many seconds. “Because we’re better together, D. All of us. Tim was right about that too. Look at it topically. None of us are the total package that Bruce is, but as a team. Working together. We’re more than the sum of our parts.”
“Hold on,” my free hand is touching buttons, gliding across the console in order to call Barbara’s commlink which ends in a warble. She’ll see me selectively going commlink to commlink then. Alfred is next, then Tim. Even though I know Damien’s out of the City, I go with him. Before finally settling on Stephanie. “The wishful thinker in me is hoping we’re so far out in the sticks that we can’t get cell service. Because otherwise that’s not ominous at all. Right?”
In what is the first time I’ve released her hand since she initiated that contact, I pull my hand away so that I can set the Wing-Mobile in to the not-stealth mode S.U.V. settings. Outwardly plating starts to coat the exterior. The engine sinks inward and the vehicle drops lower to the road. On the interior Dinah gets a whole lot more technology in her vision as it converts in to what she’s seen a hundred times inside the batmobile proper. Unfortunately we’re not driving the sports car version of this vehicle. We’re in the all-terrain one. Dinah’s already seen the backup bike in the trunk and now she’s seeing the wheels swiveling up in to jet turbines.
“I did tell you it can’t be the Wing-Mobile. Because it literally doesn’t have wings, Dinah. Don’t. I see your dimples. You’re about to try to say it’s an ‘Ironic Name,’ I swear… Bad-Dad will lose his shit.” As the engine is literally warming up, I stop in mid-teasing rant to turn just enough that this time around it’s a little more than side-eyeing her. “Hey, D. I just… I know it’s not the right time to say this but… we should actually take a night off and …
“Holy. Shit. That night. When I was spying on you and Slade. He said he didn’t know who contacted him about coming to Gotham to clean the whole Lazarus pit up.” No, that isn’t at all what I’d been about to say, but as more chips fall in to place I’m almost reeling over the complexity of it all. “Bruce could have hired anyone to take out that Pit once Joker got involved, but he brought in the one person who had history with you. The one person who would have reason to think you could help him take this journey, connect all these dots…”
“I think if Bruce isn’t really dead. I’m going to kill him..”
Dinah: He’s definitely right about that and, I think, everything else as well that’s come upon us in this thunderstruck moment. I might call it awe instead, but I can’t help wonder if Dick’s at least feeling a little bit of the dismay that’s threatening to creep in like it is for me. He was, after all, the first child. The test subject. I’m sure not judging him as he goes on his tirade because Lord knows he’s entitled. For all the things Bruce was for me, therapy inducing wasn’t one of them, but I also never lived with him and had a foundation outside of being a Bat before he came into my particular picture, along with the rest of them. As he goes, there’s this tension because I want to return the favor from the train and kiss him. Calling it a favor might be a little too saintly, because it would most definitely be as much for me, I don’t actually want to interrupt because maybe he needs to get that out, as much as anything else. It’s like magnets, pulling to connect, and squirming to get there.
Then Dick’s sitting back against the driver’s seat again, and I don’t have to fight that temptation quite so hard anymore. It’s also easy to let my eyes obviously drop to his lap, and let out a single snort of laughter.
“Mmn. Don’t know if I’d say best, but definitely memorable.”
But then, we didn’t exactly do much more than start, did we? Definitely a first for me, and maybe that’s the cause of some of that tension and frustration, but I think it has a lot more to do with the general situation. All of it. Being on the run, or maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been holding hands for probably longer than I’ve ever held anyone’s, and it’s a shockingly intimate gesture for what little sexual energy should be there. That’s broken as well, as he goes on with fiddling with the vehicle’s functionality, trying all the com links.
“The pragmatist in me is too strong to suggest that maybe Alfred’s busy with something else, and everyone else all at the same time. Realist would say we are in Middle America Nothingville, but given that you guys probably have a handful of satellites to prevent just this kind of thing…Maybe Barb accidentally crashed the system. Sounds like something I would do…”
Any one of them could be busy, but all of them, all at the same time? Even Spoiler? The fidgety, itching for a fight tension I’ve been feeling is zinging between different energies, and now it’s swung squarely back from interpersonal, to a need to get moving towards action. All of it is adding to something wrong. The comms. The vault. The Court and the timing. Maybe because the cynic in me could easily spin all of it two ways, this big picture. Bringing us together, or neatly having us out of the picture.
“Neither do you, Bird Boy.”
Fine, doesn’t want the ironic comment that I was definitely thinking, but now I’m leaned away from him, to watch the transformation of the car through the passenger window as much as I can. Good Lord, it’s like they can’t help themselves. This is exactly why I don’t let Tim touch my bike. I end up looking back over my shoulder at him, an almost wistful twist of my mouth.
“Yeah, we could probably use one at this point…”
No rest for the wicked, or the weary. I think I know what he’s trying to get at, not the general damn, we work way too hard and are putting up with way too much bullshit and deserve a night off, but we should set aside time where we’re not distracted by… everything. Thoughts of any of that, and almost my immediate need to try and play it off, get obliterated by what he’s just twitched into place. And one blue eye squints down to almost closed as I grimace. Jesus Fucking Christ on a Stick indeed.
“The one person who had an assortment of brain chips, that were incredibly solid breadcrumbs that would have had to have been overlooked in the very, very thorough surgical procedure that was erasing that chunk of my past, by someone who went to a lot of trouble to remove all other evidence…”
My Father never mentioned a brother, nor did my Grandfather. There were no pictures. No stray memorabilia. Nothing. Despite my general state of emotionally walled off and unavailable, I’m actually pretty sentimental. I love old romance movies, and the pictures and keepsakes were the only thing I kept from my childhood home before I sold it. He probably knows even more surely than me that Bruce didn’t overlook things. It was a pretty big shock that there was any sort of shadowed enemy in Gotham, mostly because he always seemed to know everything.
“…fuck, I don’t know if I’m impressed, horrified, or with you on the form a line, I’m gonna kill him. When I met Superman the first time, he was shocked he didn’t know who I was, even posing as someone with much less power than I’ve actually got. NOWHERE databases the shit out of everything like someone else I know. I thought it was my Grandmother’s doing at first, but not anymore, so it had to be Bruce. I don’t think they’d just let her erase that from their intell. Waller was apparently under the impression that I could crack the world with a little help, and Trevor said that my brother was, more or less, that…help…”
Ah, fuck. The Earthquake. I steer my thoughts sharply away, though a bit of a cringe still manages to escape my control.
“Fucking Machiavellian bullshit. Dick, I don’t think twisted is enough for it.”
Because Bruce went to an awful lot of trouble to protect me, or keep this from me, to ultimately still have it available and brought out for answers. But with the ‘answer’ being apparent Armageddon in his basement, the timing of it makes this feel a whole lot less of a favor for me, and more like a tool that was in that giant Battoolbox to be used when and if he needed it. I hate being used. Probably even more so when I don’t see the point. Why lead us here? Why choose this?
Dick: The two of us shift gears almost faster than the vehicle we’re traveling in. A once sleek black S.U.V. fit for any high roller’s cross country trip, it now rockets across the farmland sky on four rockets that were once the tires. More hover-craft than rocket, the lack of wings also means a lack of altitude, but that’s a good thing when you want to stay off the radar of a government that’s hunting for you. At the same time it means we’re no longer concerned about roads, allowing us to take the shortest route possible. Nearly a straight line.
As we travel I’ve made an effort to contact anyone who has an active commlink to our systems. None of them have answered. There have been no red alerts sent out though, which leaves the possibility that nothing is actually wrong. That the two of us are worried about something terrible that isn’t actually happening. There’s enough to lead us down that path, but I’m still holding on to the hope that everything in our world didn’t just go terrible wrong. I mean, frankly, it doesn’t have to be the opening of this Pandora’s Box. The Cave and our allies have seen their fair share of attacks recently. Not to mention Tim and Stephanie were off the grid before any of this. And there’s also a very real possibility that our antics have sped up the timeline with Nowhere. We could be facing a completely different threat than the one we’re racing home to confront.
I just don’t have that sickly feeling about this possibly being a Nowhere move against us. As much as I know about them and their resources, I have a hard time believing they could completely cut us off from someone like Tim or Barb. Add in to that, that I fully believe if they were moving against us that I wouldn’t have an open line available to the Tower in Coast City or Wonder Woman where ever she is. Nor would Dinah be able to just pick up a phone to contact Roy or Superboy. This all just feels targeted and close.
It’s only the people who know about the Cave or are connected to people who know about the Cave. That alone has me pressing down upon the accelerator to such a point that we’ve been getting warned about exceeding structural limitations for about the last half hour or so.
Entering through the underground grotto is the fastest way in to the cave. The problem at hand is that we don’t exactly know what we’re rushing in too. Nothing is visually amiss as we clear the shadows of the long cave entrance. At the mouth of the grotto there is a disguised entry, that functioned just like it’s supposed too. Parting open, then securing behind us as we passed through. Once the S.U.V. opens to allow us exit, next to the far more iconic and actual Batmobile, everything is a bit of a mess but it’s been that way since the attack a couple weeks prior. Alfred has clearly been working on putting things back in order, but there’s only so much a guy can do with a giant penny, massive dinosaur and over-sized Joker-card. These things will require a bit of assistance of the heavy machinery sort to put in place and he’s been left largely alone without anyone to badger in to helping.
It doesn’t take long to discover that things aren’t exactly as they seem though. Just up the cat-walk my eyes go to the figure slumped over the keyboard at the massive computer. Clearly unconscious, the form of Alfred Pennyworth is poised to push the ’emergency’ call button that would have sent out an alert to anyone that had the same commlinks I made an effort to call on our trip in. I’m about three steps in to rushing to the ageless caretaker when my eyes fixate on the computer itself in front of Alfred.
A grizzly sight if I’ve ever seen one and it leaves every drop of blood in my face draining out. I’ve never seen the room in the image, but I’d know the red head anywhere. She stands in front of a man that I recognize only from the files I’d gone through with Dinah. Barbara and Kurt Lance are having some sort of stand-off. I’m not sure it really classifies as a stand-off right now though, as it’s pretty clear that Barbara’s under some sort of great strain. Her whole body is trembling with effort.
Though I want to check on Alfred, I know immediately that I’ve got to check on the readings for that monitor. “Shit. Barb broke through the lockdown. The entire vault system is off line. Everything about this is above my pay grade in programming, she turned off the security systems… before she went in. Maybe she thought it was boobytrapped…”
“Either way. She’s all that stands between your brother or whatever he is and freedom.” Jerking my hands away from the keyboard, one goes to Alfred for a pulse and the other points Dinah to previously hidden stairwell beneath the lined rack of Batman and Robin costumes. “I don’t know what the hell she’s doing, but it’s bought us a little time.”
Dinah: We’re not alone, there’s other people to reach out to. I suppose that’s what Tim had been angling at with his recruitment drive. If I really wanted to rib him, I’d blame him for all of this since it started with me running interference for him in Metropolis. That wouldn’t be exactly fair, though, because that was actually, it looks like, coincidence. All of the rest of this had already been set into motion. Plus, I’d like to know he’s okay. When it comes to my non-super contacts outside the cave though, I wouldn’t call in Roy for this. Not with his daughter, and my advice to him to try and lay low after Oliver had outed him to the authorities along with the rest of us.
For someone that’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, who drives her own motorcycle, and any car, like she has absolutely zero regard for her own safety or mortality, it becomes pretty clear that I don’t enjoy this particular ride. I’ll try to pass it off as nerves about what’s waiting, or whether we’re going to get there in time or not, but I’ve never liked being out of control. I didn’t like it when Conner flew me, I could really do without going this fast, hurtling across farms and white knuckling it when there’s a barn within a hundred feet.
And the warnings really didn’t help. Because after all of this? Fireball of a crashed, unidentified flying object doesn’t sound like the way I want to go.
At first, when we arrive, I notice the shambles but it doesn’t look recent enough to be ongoing. Who knows how long it’s been a wreck down here, I haven’t actually been back to the Batcave proper in years, I’d been spending my time in Tim’s hidey hole. I think Dick and I both have the same idea, which frankly says a lot about Alfred’s place in all of this, and I make it a few steps further than him before I skid to a halt because he has, and I must be missing something. Then I get my first look at my brother. Or what used to be my brother. Maybe I should have inquired a little more heavily and directly about this Vertigo, but once it was made clear to me what it was, I was out. It seemed like the kind of thing I didn’t want to/need to know about, and that knowledge could be a liability.
“Bruce made the thing, it’s a pretty sound bit of logic.”
If she went in, though, what exactly happened to Alfred? Kurt’s down there, I suppose he got out when the system went down. She had no way of knowing there was a cell with an actual living, breathing person in it I’d also assume. All I need is that pointing finger though to send me into motion again, questions or not. They can be answered later. What exactly is Barbara going to do against this thing? She’s a badass in most circumstances, but otherwise what exactly is she going to do? Bolting for the stairs, I don’t so much take them as use them as landing pads for leaping down the stairwell, I’ve got no concept of how big this vault is, but hopefully it won’t be too difficult to find my way. Running on my toes, fast as I dare without sounding like an incoming herd of horses.
Soon as I find them, soon as I’ve got eyes on Kurt, I’ll be screaming. No time to warn Barb to cover her ears, so she’s just going to have to forgive me. This Vertigo took almost all of Team7 back then, all at once, and I can’t allow time for it to make another go at rounding up a gang.
Dick: The Cave itself is cavernous, so it’s pretty natural to assume the Vault itself will be too. Dinah’s moving quickly, but nothing really keeps her from seeing that the staircase opens in to what off-sets all the darkness of the Cave, with white-walls that belong more in a hospital. The Vault is a single floor, that opens from the stairs in to a singular hallway with only one door. What Dinah doesn’t see or can’t possibly know is that the hallway she’s dashing through is crafted with kryptonian technology in mind. The walls aren’t white, they’re krystaline and reflect back the light that hits them. In this case the light is white, because that’s the simple human lights themselves. If she had time to stop and think, she might ask herself ‘What’s the purpose?’
Making the ‘Vault’ even more odd, is that if the door hadn’t been open at the end of the Hallway, she wouldn’t have even known the opening was there either. The door itself is the same krystaline structure and just as smooth as the walls themselves. Meaning that if you didn’t know what you were looking for or some way to peer past that krystal construct, you’d have no way to find the door itself.
Perhaps all of that is for another time? Because Dinah is fleet of foot and rushes headlong in to danger, doesn’t she? Other than the Video and some decade old files, she hasn’t seen the man she rushes toward in person for a very long time. He’s taller than she by a handful of inches and he’s got a rich almond color to his hair. Perhaps a sign of his entrapment, but it’s nearly as long as Dinah’s right now. Above and beyond that is the color of his skin a faint purple hue runs along exactly half of his flesh, with one eye nearly matching the color of Batgirl’s cape if she were wearing it. There’s no ominous greeting, no villainous monologue. In fact there’s simply no acknowledgement of Dinah at all.
Kurt Lance seems entirely focused upon Barbara Gordon. The two are locked in some sort of stair down when Dinah rushes in. Giving Dinah about a heartbeat to take in the room itself; four white walls. A singular bed in the middle of the room. Off to one side is the singular piece of equipment in the whole room, that looks like an archaic projector you’d use to play old home movies with. Nothing else. No medical equipment to keep him sedated. Nothing that would suggest he’d been locked up or subdued. A nearly empty room.
That’s about when the screaming starts. Because unbeknownst to Dinah and I, that’s the moment that Barbara’s Martian mind was cracked like an egg and started to spill out her nose, ears and tear ducts.
Dinah: I expected state of the art, maybe not unlike what Dick had talked about from South Dakota. Everything is too shiny, too polished, and it doesn’t look at first glance like any kind of building material I’ve ever seen. I’m not exactly spending a whole lot of time examining it, though, what with being in a little bit of a hurry. Maybe I thought there’d be more to it than this, with the scale of the Cave itself, and the equipment that’s above…not ground since the whole thing is a cave, but not in this sub, sub basement. I didn’t know it was here at all, Dick clearly did since he’d set Barbara to hacking into the thing again. Which she succeeded in doing, clearly.
I spend about as much time in taking in the sight of Kurt Lance as I had the walls and structure that make up the place. I wasn’t waiting for a greeting, and I’m certainly not rushing in headlong for a hug, or some tearful reunion. There’s enough important facts that I know. What this entity had done before. The lengths gone to in order to hide him and keep him contained, and the fact that the door is open. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t look entirely human, and is fixated on Barbara, makes this even easier for me. I’d already sucked in a breath before the screaming started. It might have jarred me a little if I wasn’t already set in my plan of attack.
Oh what the actual fuck! I’ll thank someone or something above for the years, and years, of fighting reflexes that keeps me moving even as …what is that?.. starts to come out of every orifice and hole on Barbara’s head. I have to get her out of here, which means moving, and trying to get close enough to grab her and drag her to the doorway while I focus my concussive sonics on Kurt.
Dick: What is that? That is Martian brain oozing out of apparently human orifices. Good thing she worries about that later, because Barbara’s screaming isn’t nearly as impressive as Canary’s. One of them is more like shrieking in pain, while the other is directing genuine concussive force upon a target.
There’s some impressive things happening right then. The first is how utterly unaffected anything in the white room is by the sheer power coming out of her lungs and across meta-human vocal chords. Canary has upturned cars and brought the Superman to his knees before, but the bed in the middle of the room doesn’t even flinch. One might wonder how comfortable a bed it could be taking such force without seemingly a care in the world, but that might explain why Kurt’s so grumpy. His back has to be killing him with that kind of comfort in sleeping.
Kurt on the other hand is the one thing in the room that -is- impacted by Dinah’s assault. Being hit exactly as Dinah might have wanted it to do with just about everyone else she’s ever attacked. It picks her ‘Brother’ up and hurls him across the white room, in to the opposite krystaline wall. Minus the satisfaction of a crunch. Actually. Minus any sound that would suggest the kinetic force being met with an unmovable wall.
Ah, but remember what Steve Trevor told her about her Brother? Tuning Fork. The power of her voice does as it should in that the concussive force tosses him like a rag-doll, but his whole body seems to soak it in. He should be down for a long time, with a hit like that, but he’s already pushing back to his feet. What’s worse is that as he does Barbara’s brain matter isn’t the only thing about her that starts melting.
That’s just about the exact moment that our ‘Hero’ Nightwing skids to a halt just behind Dinah, moving to take the bulk of Barbara’s weight off the Canary’s burder. “Sorry to interrupt the ‘Family Re-Union’ but when Barb took down the Vault’s main lock-down, she apparently took out the entire Brother-Eye mainframe to do it. Com-links and Tim’s drones are out too.”
“Oh, hell. He’s pulling her apart at the seams.”
“No. I’m pushing the reset button on this one.” Not that Dinah would recognize the voice, but it certainly isn’t her Brother’s. “She may prove useful.”
He’s only just getting himself upright when he began speaking. Kurt Lance is a bit taller than Dinah, but he’s not an imposing figure by any means. Especially not when draped in little more than a white hospital gown. The stark contrast of white cloth to purple skin really the only ominous thing about her brother right now.
“Dinah Lance. We meet again. My how you’ve grown.” As ‘Kurt’ speaks Barbara begins to go in to what can only be described as convulsions. Her skin on the left side of her body is beginning to take a hue similar to Kurt’s. Though the other side of her body is shifting to a sickly pale green. “This husk is feeling… moved… by how good you look. I can’t decide if it’s pride or want.”
“Did you bring me another?” A pair of mismatched eyes shifts to Dick Grayson and narrow. “He seems. Much. Less special than the other.”
“Whoah. I’m perfectly special enough… yeah, okay… your brother’s a mean girl too? It runs in the family?” The truth is Dick’s actually letting go of Barbara though and touching Dinah’s arm to tell her to do the same. The files say Vertigo possessed people and Barbara’s skin says she might be a victim. “D, did your lapdance include an instruction manual…?”
Dinah: It’s not any human blood that I’ve ever seen, and that’s the much more strange part of what I’ve just observed. The room itself being blissfully unaffected by my screaming? That actually makes sense in a prison that’s been playing host to a superpowered individual for an indeterminate amount of time. It must absorb it. I wasn’t intending to stick around in here if I could help it, but the only semi-satisfying result of the brunt of my meta-power goads me that little bit faster. When the rest of Barbara starts to melt, that’s about the time that I stop trying to forcibly remove her from the area.
That isn’t Barbara, and while I may typically be a hero, I’m about to pull a move not unlike pulling Dick from the base when Deathstroke started to attack it. This one’s a lot more rooted in self and world preservation though, and maybe a side of wanting to get away from this thing that was, once upon a time, my older brother. While ordinarily I am all about engaging in some witty repartee with a bad guy, especially one that’s giving me such strong creep vibes, the fact that we’re in serious trouble kind of curbs my fun a little bit.
“I’m going to let you go ahead and think on that for a second…”
I’m backing myself into Dick, and trying to back us both out of the room. I’d heard what he’d said about the system being down, Christ I hope there’s still a way to shut this door… I know next to nothing about things like this, technology isn’t my forte but Bruce Wayne liked to make contingencies with backups and backdoors and second backups. What was your plan for this, you overbearing asshole? It’d be thought with more love on any other day.
“No. Not it did not. Other than you get this shut again… and maybe get a blowtorch, and call Superman. Not Wonder Girl… and I’ll…”
Try to hold him here. He may not even be able to use that particular phone that’s apparently for the super secret club, but I don’t know. That’s something Dick gets to figure out while I do my level best to pin the man that was Kurt Lance in place, and hopefully disrupt him enough to not add me to the growing collection. That first scream hadn’t been terrible effective and I’m cursing, long and creatively, my lack of curiosity for exactly how we’d put him down and contained him the last time. I just have what Steve Trevor had said about when he woke up, and when he passed out, to gauge by. Knowing that that is not Barbara in there, actually frees me up to push a little harder this time. The walls absorbing the sound means I don’t worry about the waves bouncing and hurting Dick. Of course, it’s still loud.
DIck: “…I-uh I.. don’t think a blowtorch is going to work on these walls…”
That right there? Is your once and future Batman. Dick Grayson is not a stupid individual. Far, far from it in fact. However as near as he can deduce the creature in that room is melting Barbara Gordon. Whom Dinah is seemingly suggesting that they leave behind, while backing away from the door and the creature. The trouble is two-fold for Dick. On the one hand he knows the Canary, knows that she wouldn’t leave someone behind if she could help it. Add that to the fact that Barbara is literally slipping through his fingertips with no real ability to take hold on her to drag her along anyway.
You have to understand. Smart or Not. Dinah’s physically suggesting that Dick leave behind the woman he’d been engaged to only a year prior. The question is not whether or not to do what she’s intimating, but a measure of how long it takes him to actually get past the shock of it to acknowledge properly. A second longer, even, to actually act on it.
“Much less special.” Her brother’s eyes once more go to the growing puddle of Barbara Gordon on the ground between he and Dinah. Her shrieks have ended, but only because she no longer has a mouth. “Very curious indeed. What have you brought me, little Sister? It does not want to be erased but it also isn’t what it seemed to be.”
Dinah’s plan is sound and though Dick hesitated for a few heart beats, he’s moved out of the doorway. Albeit a little grudgingly. Once Dinah’s backed up enough she’ll see that he’s taken to curiously thumping and tapping the walls outside the cell. “Once, back when I was Robin, we took a trip to the Arctic. We met the O.G. Superman there. He took us to this.. snow fort thing.. the walls looked the same as this. It was some sort of sophisticated circuitry that was made of the same stuff as Superman’s home world. Everything activated with a touch.”
Oh yeah. Dick’s somewhat babbling but he does seem to be actually following directions. Assuming he’s right about how to control the door in the first place. It isn’t hard to see though, that he is splitting his focus to see what the hell is going on. He just did the math too and knows that he isn’t going to do a whole lot of good against that thing in there. No better than Barbara did, at least.
Kurt Lance on the other hand, has finally begin to move once more. If he fears Dinah’s attacks it sure doesn’t show on his face. His gate does hobble, if only a little, but that only gives him a movie monster like shamble as he rounds the cot-like bed in the middle of the room. A hand outstretched toward ‘Barbara’ seems to coerce her in to movement as well. Little pale green tendrils start to ooze out of Barbara’s remains in the direction of Dinah’s legs.
“Definitely want, though I don’t understand why. Your people are so frail. You would never live survive the…”
Dinah: “Not for the walls, that’s not Barbara.”
That is, or formerly was, NOWHERE’s shapeshifter. Maybe I don’t have a lot of concrete evidence to go on, but gut acknowledgement, coupled with thankfully my brain seeming to function at decent efficiency with the adrenaline going, tells me I’m probably right. Conner’d mentioned her before in an aside. And he’d also said that they don’t like eye lasers. Lacking those, I figure fire is the closest thing we’re going to get. Maybe a Batflare. It could serve the same purpose.
“Flare gun? Move.”
What you’ve got right now, is two of the most experienced and highly trained, you might even say overly so, vigilantes in the country and we’re left with desperately pawing at the walls, trying to close a door in the face of a shambling monster that is now making overtly sexual comments while wearing my brother’s face. It would probably be so much worse if I possessed the memories to connect him to. I’m backing my ass up as well, I don’t want shapeshifter anything getting on me.
There has to be a way to close it, or you’d think he would have gotten out before Not Barbara could have gotten down here, and gotten in. She also had to be able to find it, unless she knew something we didn’t, but that’s another level of subterfuge that I just can’t add into the mix right now.
“Mmmn, maybe you should have a seat, a nice little think and ask him.”
Clear of the door, I can to a degree join in, copying Dick’s search for any kind of point that will do what we need right now. Leaving the shapeshifter in there with him isn’t ideal, but neither is contending with both of them and so I launch another attack from my vantage just outside the doorway. Harder this time, more forceful, this isn’t a shout to knock someone down and away, but a longer held note.
Dick: As the search for the door controls continues, with little success, Dinah’s multitasking. It’s a very good thing that she’s very good at what she does. Because while she isn’t going having any luck with the door she’s blasting the snot out of the puddle of goop that’s in front of her. It does a very good job of pushing that back.
In fact Dinah is succeeding in pushing everything back. Her brother is forced to grasp the side of that cot to hold himself from once more being pushed all the way back to the other wall once more. Though once again, Dinah’s too good at what she does not to notice that it’s having a decidely lesser impact than before. Perhaps that could be explained by the simple act of widening her attack. Thereby lessening the impact over all? In either case that purple hue to Kurt’s skin is starting to darken considerably and overtake all of his flesh, not just the partial coverage it had been when she first saw him.
“An apt suggestion. Let’s ask him.”
That is when it happens. Those mismatched eyes focus upon Dinah herself. Not to attack in any way she’s ever been trained to fight. It’s not control he seeks. Nor violence that might come from an assault upon the mind. As she attacks him, he responds by opening a link to the pawn that he’s infesting. Dinah won’t be getting her own memories back. She’ll be getting a glimpse in to Kurt Lance’s. The only way she’s going to stop it, is for her to focus on denying that link… or making him have to focus elsewhere. Otherwise she’s going to have to witness it all. Every moment of Kurt Lance’s life that she doesn’t remember on her own. The Vertigo pushes that link, to find why the Brother seeks to touch the Sister quite so much.
To make matters even worse? Does anyone notice the puddle of goop is starting to not be quite so pushed away with the concussive element of her scream?
“…bloody ‘ell, can’t even take a nap…” Apparently it isn’t just Kurt Lance that shambles, because Alfred Pennyworth is limping down that long hallway at the pair of Dinah and Dick, with what looks to be a bottle of the Wayne Manor’s best whisky. No E. “…fookin kids…and their loud parties…”
English though he may be. The thing in his hand is decidedly Russian in origin. Molatov, specifically. Which he’s lighting as he approaches and only misses Dinah’s golden head by a hair’s width. “… fire in the bloody hole …”
Dinah: We’re not even going to discuss the fact that I’m basically batting at the air and walls surrounding the doorway like some catnip drunk kitten, while I split my focus. Screaming? Takes almost zero effort, but it does require me to point my mouth in the proper direction. Ordinarily, I can count on walls and surfaces to ricochet the force waves to a degree, but these clearly absorb everything that hits them. Then there’s racking my brain for every little nuance and remark that Steve Trevor had made about Kurt and Vertigo. Fucking idiot. Me. Not him. I should have asked more questions, but that seemed like a clear hands off, Dinah! sort of situation. How the fuck was I supposed to know that Bruce Wayne actually had a world ending Pandora’s Box in his goddamn basement?
He said he was like a tuning fork. What does that even mean? I do know what a tuning fork is, and what it does, I had a lot of music lessons growing up, to go with the literal horde of other instruction and teachers. Doesn’t matter how hard, or soft, or where you hit one, as long as you’re holding it by the right end it’s going to make that same, singular pure sound. The force aside, and the effects it has on the world as a whole, he’s really not personally doing anything but… absorbing it. It’s suddenly very much quieter as I stop, hands unconsciously going to my head at the intrusion as I back away another half step, and then another. I don’t want to know, and I certainly don’t want to see.
The immediate response is denial, trying to force my thoughts onto something else, to anywhere else that I can replay in vivid clarity. The train ride, and the intense moments in the compartment with Dick. The sensation of a fight. The taste of shitty rest stop coffee. The very welcome sound of Alfred Pennyworth’s voice distracts me, the relief that I feel, and it’s a very good thing that he’s actually a very good aim, because I don’t do much to get out of the way. Other than to throw myself out of the immediate path of the door when I actually understand what he’s said, and what he’s thrown. I land with a thud, arms over head and face to try and protect at least that from any backdraft of a fireball.
Maybe there won’t be one because of the room but I’m not going to bank on anything right now. I’m scrambling up to my feet again as quickly as I’d gone down, though.
“It’s absorbing anything I throw at him. Maybe absorb anything we throw… are BatExplosiveSedatives a thing?”
Dick: The explosion in the chamber is muted by the cell itself and it’s construction, but it wasn’t meant to absorb liquid. While the bottle pops when it explodes and the floor, walls, absorb that concussion, the liquid inside sprays everywhere. Oh and thanks to the wick at the end, it also burns. Liquid fire sprays everywhere. Which in turn has a couple effects.
It frees Dinah of the influence that was pounding upon her mind. The stream of memories stops almost immediately. One would wonder, how does he seemingly ignore the damage, if not the push, of her concussive blasts but simple fire harms him? It takes only to look in to the room to understand the answer, because it’s all about that fire hitting the goopy blob that was once Barbara Gordon. It would seem that by harming Barbara, while she is mentally linked to Kurt, it translates in to him feeling her pain too.
Alfred is as quick as he is sturdy, which is to say that he really isn’t either of those things right now. He’d no sooner tossed the cocktail through the door, than he too hit the deck. As it so happens, Dick Grayson turns from the wall, to brace himself between the two of them and that wave of firey explosion that Alfred unleashed. Stupid and Selfless to a Tee, but this time with good measure.
“Bat-Wankers, the lot of ’em. Next time I’m getting a good suit, Lucius is making mine out the same bloody materials.”
Ignoring his grumbling, Dick has already moved from protecting the two of them to assisting them on getting up. “We can’t just leave her in there. Barbara… whoever,… whatever that is? She’ll just become a pawn. We don’t even know if the cage will hold two of them.”
As soon as he’s got the two of them on their feet and moving towards that exit again, he turns back to the door itself. Big Damn Hero? No. He’s about a step in to going in after ‘Barbara’ when he sees another of the tendrils reaching. It just doesn’t seem to be going for him or them, like before. It’s going upwards, along the seal of the door. Right where Dinah had been reaching, tapping wildly, looking for some button to trigger the door. Maybe it’s intuition, maybe it’s some inner voice telling him to take his change. But either way Dick does two things then. With one hand he grabs the tendril to pull as hard as he can. The other hand slaps, palm down upon the spot it seemed to be reaching for.
It’s a shockingly resounding success. Maybe the first one Dick’s had all day. Weak as she is from the fire, ‘Barbara’ weighs next to nothing and is pulled clear of the door like silly puddy. Dick read the moment mostly correct and his hand caresses the door trigger, just like ‘Barbara’ had been reaching for. It seals shut almost in time with the moment the goopy Barbara is pulled free.
“Dude. Kryptonian tech? When did we install a Kryptonian Sub-Basement?…. Spoiler… don’t touch the Dinosaur!”
Dinah: I’d been on my way to up and moving, but I don’t refuse the assist. We still have to get the damn door closed. We still have to keep this Apocalypse that was my brother, and apparently deep down wants me, from getting out. Once I’m up, and the assault has cut off, I’ve turned my back towards the door, hands braced on my knees as I lean my ass against whatever the hell these walls are made out of, and take a moment to just pant.
“You Batboys and your fireproof suits. Hff. Hff. It’s almost like this happens to you all the time.”
I’d bet the suit Tim made for me probably is, too, but I’m not wearing it right now. Good thing I don’t depend on gear for heroics, or I’d have gotten crisped. Even as I think the thought, though, I don’t doubt Dick would have still done the same thing even if he was wearing street clothes. Or nothing. This isn’t exertion, I can keep going, I’d be pretty worthless in a fight if thirty seconds of action took me out. Mental assaults are not something I’m used to feeling, or fighting, and to say that it was overwhelming might be understatement of the day. And it’s been a day. One that’s not even close to over.
“We don’t know that she’s not already!”
I know this Vertigo can possess multiple people. I didn’t know how, though I’d ruled out proximity or you’d think it would have already done so. My charity also doesn’t go nearly so far as Nightwing’s, I’m feeling a whole lot more better safe than sorry. He’s already going, though, and as I turn around to try to grab hold of Dick, I see what Dick’s seeing. He’s already there, and already moving and before I can make anymore bids for just leaving the other intruder she’s been pulled free, and the door’s shut. If that wasn’t enough of a feeling of relief, to go with the general lightheadedness I’m feeling, then there’s the all too familiar voices of ‘the kids.’ I sit my ass back down on the floor and let my head tip back against the wall again.
“But why is there a Dinosaur! You can’t have something like that and not expect people to TOUCH it…wait… what’s…is this a giant penny? What does it even GO in?”
Make that 2/2 of Robins that didn’t know this was here. Which leaves the man that always knows more than he lets on…
“Did you know this was here, Alfred?”
I might be sounding a hair accusatory. Or maybe that’s just me out of breath, or maybe it’s a tone of annoyance because I’m warily eyeballing the not entirely formed, quivering pile of Barbara.
“That is NOWHERE’S telepath. And shapeshifter. And cheerleader, apparently. Ring any bells, Red?”
Dick: Dick has gone from one thing to another with the customary grace you’d expect of a trapeze artist. Pulling ‘Barbara’ to freedom. Closing the door panel, if only because the goop was clearly trying to show us how. Putting himself between the fire and everyone else was just pure and simple instinct, the rest was calculated design. It’s as simple as that and he says so as soon as the door is sealed, “We can’t leave someone behind, Dinah. Not like that. If she’s still hostile we deal with it, but…”
“…but the fire did a number on her and she’s not going to be causing any trouble for the time being…”
“It doesn’t go in anything. Not since Batman and Robin dismantled the Joker’s amusement park in the Narrows. … seriously… don’t touch that. The Bat-Pogo stick is a little finik… don’t look at me. You got yourself on to that giant playing card, you find a way down.”
The elder statesmen of the Cave realizes, even as he’s speaking, that literally all eyes have turned to him. Nightwing’s. Canary’s. Even Timothy at the top of the stairs is leaning in to hear the answer to Dinah’s question. No one is joking, nor is anyone offering him an easy out that ordinarily might have been tossed out. Instead there is a very uncomfortable silence, as everyone simply waits. Pennyworth looks from Dinah, to Dick, then down the hall to where the voice of Timothy had come, before mopping a hand through his tussled hair.
“The lot o’ you givin an old man the third degree.” His shoulders go up, then down and with a sigh he finally answers. “Not like Master Wayne woulda found the time t’ build it ‘imself. That woulda took ‘im away from his mission. Drew up the bloody blue prints and left ’em on my inn table s’whot ‘e did. Ya think we hired a construction crew? It’s the bloody bat-cave ya ninnies.”
“Fairly sure Dinah was asking if you knew about the Vertigo creature,” jerking a thumb back over his shoulder at the now closed door. “How much of it did you know and why didn’t you tell us?”
“Mm. Master Wayne has had his fair share of house guests. Some that I knew, some that I didn’t.”
“Not that I’m trying to let Alfred off the hook, but just so you guys know that gelatinous creature down there is going to be able to reform herself soon. You should put her in to one of the the other cells down there.”
“There’s more than one cell?”
“Mhm. There’s six of them.” The look between Dick and Alfred has just turned in to something very very tense. “Seriously. Lock the Martian up now. Family Feud later. Spoiler can referee.”
Dinah: “And if she was playing host to Vertigo, which she could have been…”
There’s more to say, but I cut myself off, not because I’m trying to leave it dangling there for suspense, but because there’s really no point in arguing. How’s that for an indicator of where my mind’s at? Passing up a pointless argument with Dick, because it was pretty clear that GoopBarbara was trying to help shut the door and not attack us, in favor of redirecting myself. I don’t even roll my eyes or make an aggravated noise at the childish uselessness that sounds like Spoiler’s displaying upstairs. Oh, see. Maybe I wasn’t just annoyed by her because of the mind control.
“So, the answer is yes, you knew. All of it.”
Because a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed, if he hadn’t, and wasn’t trying to avoid lying to us. A ‘fair share of house guests,’ means they’ve come and gone. Plus, Alfred always knows everything. I didn’t need Dick to try and lay that out for me before, I already knew it. Batman might have been ‘Master Bruce’ but Alfred’s Master of the House and everything in it.
“And even when you knew we were picking and pulling at something that would lead us here, you still didn’t say anything.”
I know that the person I’m actually mad at right now is Bruce. Fucking Bruce. I’ve said Alfred’s loyal to a fault, because it’s the saying, but I think this might be the first time I’ve ever thought of it that way, and I find myself feeling actually quite… hurt. Usually there’d be a whole lot of piss and vinegar in that accusation but my tone is even, and a little a cold as I push myself up the wall, reach down to grab the best handful of our new guest that I can, and start dragging her towards… the flat wall. I already feel ridiculous, played, lied to, and I don’t really want to add anymore stupid fumbling on top of that.
“Then open one. Or point. And then do whatever computery magic it is that you do to get this shit back on lockdown.”
There’s a rather loud thud from up above us, a few moments before the purple clad Spoiler becomes the third person to do their own shambling.
“…what so I overestimated my boots’ shock absorbers a little… ummmmm…I’m good, I’d like to keep my head where it’s at thank you verrrrry muuu…ulp.”
Maybe I don’t have my murderous look reigned in quite so tightly as I’d thought. Regardless, the Martian’s getting put nicely into whatever particular box they open for me, because I don’t need Dick accusing me of being hostile towards the prisoners, even if they deserve it. And then I’m heading for the stairs up and out.
Dick: “How do we know she isn’t?”
Because Dick Grayson saw her reaching for the controls. He’d seen it the first time too, but like Dinah there had just been an assumption that they were going for an attack. Like Dinah, Dick chooses to just leave this alone for the moment. She’s technically right, of course. It just hadn’t seemed that way in the moment. He’d felt something, that detective’s intuition maybe, that just told him that Barbara was fighting it. Okay, maybe it isn’t Barbara, but the look on the screen when they’d first arrived told him that she was fighting the entity.
It doesn’t answer what she was doing in there, in the first place. Dick isn’t quite to that point in his working through the anger though. That’s still reserved for Alfred. Who is even now puffing up quite simply, Master Bruce felt that you, Dinah, had been hurt quite enough. He chased your demons round the world. When he finally found them… he realized they should be left where they were. Figuratively speaking. Literally speaking, they couldn’t very well be left with those insufferable prats. They mass produce everything they get their hands on. Imagine them with the ability to just make everyone love the President and ask no questions at all.”
As Alfred starts to rebuke the anger all around him, another door opens that was previously invisible to the naked eye. This one is just a few paces down the hall. Dinah’s getting a little help by that point from Dick who’s scooping his ex-goopfriend up in handfuls to assist in sliding her in to that empty white chamber. It won’t take much of a detective to see the anger radiating out of the former Boy Wonder.
“Master Bruce’s long-term goal was to find a means of extricating your Brother from his prison, in order to reunite the two of you… miss Stephanie would you kindly put those back where you found them. The Riddler’s puzzle box is not a rubix cube.”
“It looks like Kelsey, Barbara, whatever we’re calling her, did a great job with ‘fixing’ this Krypto-Vault. If I’m following her digital foot-prints right, I think that once she realized it was kryptonian she was able to work right through the logic programming to trick it in to thinking she was supposed to be allowed in there.”
Once Barbara is tucked away and secured, not only is Dinah heading up and out but so too is Dick. “Alright, Alfie. What I’m still not getting, is if you knew about this Vault and knew about the contents of it. Why didn’t you bring it up from the start?”
“Oh. Two reasons. One of which isn’t going to buy me any forgiveness. Master Bruce was quite convinced that once he was gone, the lot of you would need take this journey. Which, I might add, as maddening as it may seem, would appear to be correct.” The wisened old butler makes a last moment attempt of regaining his dignity before adding. “A fact that I became quite agreeable with. Once it became clear to me that none of you would take your heads out of your arses and just look at the mess we’re making of everything. Master Grayson, you tried to tell Miss Lance about her being programmed. Miss Lance, you tried to tell Master Drake that he needed to be himself and stop trying to be Bruce. While you Master Drake, took to pouting like Master Damien after a scolding.. and injected yourself with the Queen only knows whot. And might I add… that I did attempt to say that, that was not Miss Gordon? Because there is absolutely no way Miss Gordon steps in to this house, if you’re wearing that cowl. She feels the same way about it and you, as I did about Master Bruce and that damnable thing. She just had the temerity to put her foot down.”
“Something had to bring the lot of you t’gether and open your eyes. You’re all too bloody old to have your ears pinched and sat in a time out.”
Dinah: How on Earth Stephanie Brown manages to look supremely guilty when you can’t actually see 75% of her face is beyond me, but it’s a thing at the moment. She may also be the only one who’s both not mad at Penny-One, and listening to him without any sass, because the box is promptly put back. And then adjusted when it’s not close enough to the exact spot where she got it from. And then rotated a few degrees, all while keeping eyes on the Butler with a weird sort of awe. Me? Well. I’m less sass and more sharp and tart.
“Oh, yeah, very noble of him. Until he had a purpose to use that hurt for.”
I’m going to fucking kill him. Again. I’m not going to debate the logic, because I’m sure there was elements of all of what Alfred’s said. After all, he did know him the best of all of us. It isn’t those surface motives that I’m furious over, because I wouldn’t want NOWHERE, or anyone else, to get their hands on Vertigo. Either they don’t all know about him, or it hadn’t occured to them to use it as Alfred suggests or they would have known before now that it wasn’t in the box they left it. They probably do now. Plans, within plans, within backups to be trotted out when needed, would Kurt have just rotted away down there unknown forever if Bruce hadn’t run afoul of this Court of Owls?
“Lets make sure no one else can do that again, huh? It’s an understatement to say that thing can never get out.”
That thing, it’s easier to call it a ‘thing’ than my brother. I’m once again left with more questions that I both don’t want the answer to, and can’t help wondering regardless. The glimpses of a life that are still ringing between my ears. It’s already cost me enough, and the ramifications beyond that… I don’t care how supposedly secure Bruce thought his superprison was, someone’s already broken in, and the reason I hadn’t wanted to know where Vertigo was, was this is beyond me, it feels like too big of a problem to be buried in Gotham City. I don’t question whether or not Tim can. For one, I always assume he can do anything I can imagine with tech because one, I’m not that imaginative with it, and two. He’s good. I still don’t want to damage his ego so… again, maybe that wasn’t all the programming. Plus I’m not fucking mad at him.
I might be taking the stairs a little hard, but I’m still pretty jacked and ready to fight so… the conversation isn’t precisely settling me any. But to be honest I’m not in the mood to be settled. There’s elements of what Alfred’s saying that I can’t truly argue, especially after the rather eye-opening week I’ve had across the country. In true Dinah Lance fashion, however, I bypass all of those points that can be argued and go for the jugular of what I see is the problem.
“Road to Hell, Alfred. The manipulation’s gotta stop, maybe we do have our heads up our asses, but we can’t be a team if we’re all questioning each other’s motives all the damn time.”
Maybe I’m projecting. I think I’ve gotten the object lesson from The Nest and that sparring session a little too many times upside the head at this point, that anyone could be the problem. And we’re not even to dealing with the fact that we have a telepathic alien that belongs to NOWHERE in the basement, who knows what’s in the basement. We need to have a ‘family’ meeting, but Christ I am not in the head space to do that in a productive manner right this second.
“And before anyone accuses me of running off, and gets punched in the face, I have to go see if I can deliver the other half of a lap dance over the telephone with someone who will actually give me straight, pointed answers.”
Dick: “Weaponized emotions? The one class you showed up to on time, Miss Lance?”
It’s Dick’s turn to plant himself against the side of the white wall and just melt down in to a huddle. “That’s enough, Alfie. You made your point.”
“Have I? Because I think what you’re all missing here is the bloody point. Bruce needed… needs help and this was his way of asking for it. By providing each of you some aspect of finding yourselves and being better than him. Because y’ got t’ be t’ do what he couldn’t. His last gift was t’ make y’ all whole.”
“Right-o, on it chief. I’ll just sit here and play with the Kryptonian technology until I figure it all out.”
Dinah’s wrong about one thing. Spoiler isn’t the only one that isn’t angry. There’s a certain silver clad Drake that’s crackling his knuckles when she storms past that is just about the happiest boy in the world. She even got a very sincere salute. That’s one order he’s happy to obey unquestioningly. This is next level technology that has been here all this time? And Tim never even had a hunch about it? That speaks to so many things, the least of which is how good the tech is if it hid itself here of all places. Without Tim ever being the wiser.
“Do you need to borrow my Holographic imaging phone? Virtual Lap-Dances might just be the…“
Dick: Rapid City.
What can be said about Rapid City? It is largely unremarkable. In fact it’s remarkable only in how unremarkable it is. Ordinary is the key word for this city. Rarely making the news for anything other than being not-quite as good at anything as the other major cities of the world. It lacks the scope of Metropolis. Not nearly as idyllic as Fawcett City. Crime doesn’t quite manage to reach even the levels of Star City, much less Gotham. It had an economic collapse a few years ago, but even that didn’t make much waves as Coast City was being wiped from the face of the planet. Aliens didn’t invade here, in fact much of the town thinks that was all just sensationalist news casting from Hollywood.
All in all when Dinah Lance steps out of the sports car that she and Dick have been driving in for the last two days? She’s going to be stepping into the most Mayberry place she’s been to in a very long time. There’s just nothing to latch on too beyond the surface of Rapid City being a virtual lake placid.
As luck would have it? She has had two and a half days to do the leg work. More accurately she’s had two and a half days to let other people do it for her. Mostly. Based on Superman’s information she was able to direct Alfred as to where to look for some sort of historical reference points. One dead end that was particularly frustrating was the sudden silence of Slade Wilson. Had she used up her good will and he’d ditched her now that she was clearly working more with Grayson than him? Or had something happened with him, during his attempted escape from Star City when things went south? The answer to that question wasn’t an easy one to answer. Alfred couldn’t pull anything from public sources. Even contacting Boy Blue hadn’t merited any inside information, because he was currently being held out of the loop following him going cowboy on the organization. Adding to that mystery, Alfred was reporting that both Stephanie and Tim had not reported in. They too were off the grid since their last check in said they were headed to Stephanie’s dad’s flat to do some research on his machinations.
The bad news just kept coming too. Alfred could find nothing that even suggested a point to look into about all of this. That turned out to be the only silver lining, because the whole thing was so clean that it was actually too clean. Just prior to 2007, when Ra’s Al Ghul was engineering the destruction of Gotham and the subsequent ‘No Man’s Land’ that befell it, Rapid City became a hot-spot for military distribution. This coincided almost perfectly with the decommissioning of their sole military base, which one would logically think should mean the opposite. Military funding should be getting decreased, if the sole military asset was being shut down. Rapid City saw a distinct increase.
Which is why the unmarked S.U.V. rolls up not far from those very gates. The naked eye can see all too well that the former base is exactly as it should be. Closed down and sealed off. With all the proper signs that show it being in a state of non-use and shut down. All of Dick’s fancy technology confirms just that too; No life signs, no power readings. Nothing that would hint to them a direction to go from here.
Speaking of her cohort on this trip? Dick’s been a lot more quiet than she’s used too. Though it wouldn’t take Dinah long to figure out that it was all due to him being acutely focused on trying to piece together some sort of plan that would allow them to not go in blind again. The trip only took as long as it did because they had to detour to one of the Bat Family safe houses that Bruce scattered across the country. They needed new outfits and supplies.
At the hood of the car, Dick is bringing up the known blueprints of the military base in the form of a holographic display on the hood of the vehicle. “The problem, right now, is that we have too much information. We’re trying to connect too many dots. That’s one of the reasons that serial killers do calling cards. Most people think it’s all about taunting, in order to challenge the cops to catch them. However most serial killers do it for the purpose of supplying red herrings. It’s a taunt, only in so much as they’re trying to outsmart the profile.”
“Of all the information you’ve learned. We need to start looking at the important details. Talk about the four things; Who? Your former team. What. Do we know what they were doing? When? We know it happened while you were young, but old enough to actually -do- some sort of military operation. Where? Here, Rapid City. Why? Did Conner or Slade give you any sort of clue as to why that team was formed or put in the field?”
Dinah: I clearly wasn’t cut out for small town living, even when said small town isn’t actually that small. Every place that I have ever lived has just been both considerably larger, and a lot more insane. Maybe places like Star and especially Gotham breed a level of paranoia into you, and I can’t decide if I don’t trust this place, or I just don’t like it. Overall, my tension level really hasn’t decreased. Being unable to solve my own problem, on my own, isn’t helping and the big picture has only gotten larger the deeper we delve into this. If I’m honest with myself, I knew it would. There was a reason I hadn’t wanted to make a move until I knew I’d have information that I could make stick, because I was aware that my opponent is technically the law. I’d gone to Star City hoping to have something to use, and they’d gone and pushed me along into action more quickly than I’d anticipated.
Conner’d told me that I was being marionetted, and spoke towards his experience with that sort of treatment. So the question really is, are they making me dance on those strings because it’s what they wanted, or because I was getting too close to something else?
I have to let other people help though, I’m not so stubborn as to not recognize there’s things I can’t do. It’s why I’d given Tim those chips in the first place. It’s not just about me anymore, or maybe it never was in the first place and I just didn’t see it. But the fact that we’re here, in the middle of nowhere, with a lot of people either important to us, or connected to this, or both unable to be reached? Yeah. I’m tense when I need to not be, I need to focus and not second guess, and more importantly I need some kind of clarity. If I’d noticed Dick being quiet, for once I didn’t even needle him about it, but I’m in much the same state.
Boots crunching on the ground, one hand’s jangling against my thigh like it would if I were being restless with a set of keys. I don’t have any, so it just results in a thumb tapping an unsteady rhythm against the limb, the other shoved into a jacket pocket as my eyes wander over the blueprints that he’s pulled up. Dick’s asking some good questions, and I use them to ground my thoughts and try to put the pieces I’ve been laying out in a nonsense order in my mind.
The pause gets longer, despite my having just opened my mouth to answer him. I close it to purse my lips, blue eyes widening in a mix of recognition, and surprise, like I’ve had a eureka but I don’t actually trust it’s what I’m after.
“To combat Ra’s. Slade said that he was trying to purge Gotham, but not because Gotham is, well. Gotham. He was trying to burn out an enemy, and that enemy pulled a whole lot of very politically connected strings to mobilize a force to defend Gotham against the League. Self-preservation, and ten bucks says that enemy is the same one that you’ve been trying to find even a shadow to of to chase since Bruce died and fuck why do I have to always be right…”
I’d been half-flippant way back when about it all being connected. All going back to some neat little package. But it clearly didn’t stop there. Why would it? Channels had been opened, things set in motion that probably couldn’t be taken back nearly as neatly as a little neurotoxin took all of our memories.
“I was probably fourteen. Maybe fifteen. You met me right after and I wasn’t a whole lot more developed at that point. I didn’t look as old as I was, and I’d been training as long as most career soldiers already. Tim’s work with the chips placed me at Belle Reve. Slade said we met on a plane on the way to Gotham. I don’t have a solid timeline, because he doesn’t really remember reliably either, he’s gotten his information somewhere else. It clearly wasn’t a one time deal, and this is a healthy dose of supposition and informed guessing but…”
But my gut, and instincts, are usually pretty good when I’m working at full, untampered with, capacity. Now I’m pacing, the drumming of my fingers intensifying as my mind goes back to rolling through scenarios.
“Alfred said things were picking up here, when they should have been winding down. I may not be a tech wiz, but I assume as advanced as Tim said the chips were that they took some prep time, and would have had to be in the works. So either Ra’s enemies got wind of what he was doing well before he got to Gotham, or someone was doing some non-kosher experiments ahead of time. Superman said Rapid City was our last mission. He also said, much like you and your blueprints and my eyes right now, that there’s nothing here. Considering how you’ve got a Batcave hidden in your basement, I don’t know that I believe that.”
Slade also told me the team was the first time I met him. Not Deathstroke, who clearly came later. After the team? Conner’d also given me a lot of information on Slade, and psychotic is not actually a label I’d put on him, not in the actual definition. A daughter that no one else remembers. Much like a perhaps brother of mine, in the same boat?
“We need to get in there. I. Think we also need to track down Steve Trevor.”
Dick: Fourteen? Would you believe that out of all the things that have been up for discussion of late it is that information which brings Dick Grayson to a complete halt. Even if he’d been sporting his mask, Dinah would have seen the surprise. Because it’s about as genuine an expression as you’ll ever see on the Boy Wonder. She’d been about that age when she showed up at the Cave. Full of piss and vinegar at the time, but damaged to the point that anyone who knew her then would have saw that something was deeply effecting her. The Death of her Father? Sure. We’d all been there. Dinah just had so much more Rage than the rest of us. Add in a life-time of her dad wanting her to never be the weak link and…
“Someone made you run tactical missions at Fourteen? I’m so torn right now. On one hand that’s deplorable. On the other, it explains why you were so…” Oh, look at her face right this second. Let’s pick a different word than damaged. “Hot back then. Fourteen is an early age to develop in to the Hot.”
Right. So moving right along. Steve Trevor? Check. The Bat Computer was compromised, so that puts us constantly behind an eight ball. Or rather it would have, if not for Timothy’s obsession with redundancy. The Nest has it’s own system, which is off the Cave’s grid. It’s lacking access to a lot of Bruce’s secretive server information, but it’s basically a copy of the mainframe that formed the Bat Computer. Meaning? Dick don’t need Barbara or Tim to find Steve Trevor in Bruce’s files. He can use the Nest’s systems to access alternative systems like the Homeland Security and Department of Extranormal Operations, to find information. If Dinah was looking closely she’d see that there’s not even a hollywood amount of hacking involved. The Boy Wonder actually credentials.
While Dick works on the first thing that she’s said, it’s Alfred that chirps in with the second avenue that she’s talking about. ‘It would seem you are in fact correct, Canary. While there are no records of official activity at the base you’re standing before. Off-site records actually do show an active power grid. Along with that the local reservoir’s power station has been at work for the last fifteen years or more, without actually sending so much as a joule of electricity to the city proper. It was never redirected to the city, after the base’s decommission date.’
“Yahtzee! Steve Trevor was part of the task force sent here to decommission this base in 2006. When the base was shut down all personnel were transferred elsewhere. Except for Trevor and his task force. According to official records they were also decommissioned. The reason we couldn’t find any additional military records for Trevor? Is because his file ends there. Tim assumed he went black site with Nowhere, but… he’s actually in the PNC. Sheriff Steve Trevor, Rapid City.”
With a wave of his hand, the digital display shifts and soon enough an entire profile is right in front of Dinah’s face. Steve Trevor. Less blonde hair than white at this point. The beard definitely alters his face quite a bit, but if you’ve ever seen him it’s hard to forget someone that looks like him. Maybe it’s the blue eyes. They are rather piercing. Like hollow point bullet kind of piercing.
“Are we breaking and entering? Or going to visit the Sheriff?” Dick Grayson is a man of his word. He promised to follow her lead and not push his own agenda. Hence the Nightwing costume and giving her everything but the keys to his car. “There’s two of us. We can split up. Two birds. One stone. So to speak.”
Dinah: “Tactical suicide missions. With brain chips loaded full of neurotoxin. You’re leaving out some important keywords. And it could’ve been thirteen, depending on how far ahead of the Arkham raid it all truly started but, semantics on exactly how bad of an idea it really was based on hormones alone… Tim did say it was a good thing you didn’t know I’d been to prison back then, though.”
Which is what’s had me thinking this entire time, even with less information than I actually have now, why me? Because it seems like a spectacularly bad idea to bring a teenager into anything life or death, let alone with with superpowers no matter how well controlled. And mine had been. Controlled. There was a singular outburst when my metagene first manifested, but despite the rest of my attitude that was always on a tight leash. My grandmother was to thank for that, especially after my Mother died. The more I learn about this Team 7, the angrier I get at NOWHERE, and the more I think that the original Black Canary’s passing shortly before was no coincidence. Whose demented experiment was it, or whose version of payback? My tone is awfully cheerful through all of that, but that’s not exactly comforting since it’s more at home in Full Canary or I’m Going to Murder You Mode.
“I figured I was at least kind of entitled to be angry, what with the domino affect of dead family members, but then you add in a traumatic brain injury or several that I didn’t even know about and…”
I may not be an anatomy whiz, except when it comes to what parts hurt most if you hit them with the least effort, but I’d have to assume anytime you have portions of that tissue destroyed outright it qualifies. And how many times had it happened? I’d have to assume that the fact that I was still actually growing and developing is the only reason it’s not a lot worse. So is that why they’d thrown someone so young into the mix? How would it have affected Slade differently? Or this Trevor? Maybe it’s why Wilson’s got fragments and flashes and I have absolutely nothing. My brain might have been still growing and just patched over the trauma while he had bits and bobs.
I’m just going to get even more angry the more I think about this, and I need a semi-level head right now.
“Huh. Seems a little convenient. I’m learning to not like convenient.”
I blow out a huff of air strong enough to rustle my bangs a little, turning towards the hood of the SUV and bracing my hands on the hood.
“Here’s where I’m at.” Being not terribly Dinah and discussing plans and thoughts, for one thing. “I really want to smash something, but I’m pretty sure that’s a bad option. I figure you wouldn’t have even put the option forward unless you felt semi-confident in being a ninja because we both know you didn’t mean me for that.”
I smirk at him through the curtain of my hair before straightening my posture once again.
“I’ll go talk to Sheriff Trevor and leave the stealth to you, as long as you can promise me you’re semi-prepared for the chance there’s not nothing down there. I can’t lose anyone else this week.”
Dick: “Tim said that? Ass.”
‘Master Drake is extremely astute, ordinarily.’
‘You do, after all, have a very bad history with very bad women.’
“Oh. I get it now. All these years. Now I’m starting to understand why Bruce was such a loner.”
‘Perhaps to wear the cowl one must have a predilection for ‘Bad Girls?”
One moment Dick Grayson is palming his face. The next moment he’s sighing in complete helplessness. Accepting his fate as the Boy Wonder that has a tendency for girls who run a little on the wrong end of the law. How exactly does someone defend against such indictments? Well you can’t exactly point out the long, long looooooong list of women who were on the right side of the law. Not when standing right in front of one of the very topic of conversation.
So, the only natural course of action? Deflection to the point and purpose of why they’re here to begin with. “Actually, Dee. Given that we are here for the purpose of looking in to all of this -and- based on the supposition that it isn’t just nothing down there? I would say that isn’t convenient. It’s strategic. Look at it this way. If something happened here that required an entire base to be shut down, then do you just leave the cover-up exposed and available for people to snoop around? What better cover for someone to keep this all on the downlow than the law enforcement officer that would logically be responsible to keep people off this old base?”
“A bottle of Alfred’s best and night of the winner’s choosing, says when you find him? He’s a plant.”
This is the point in the planning efforts where Dick finally puts that Bandit mask on and completes the visage of Nightwing. A couple seconds later the costume’s entire blue motife fades away. Leaving him little more than a smudge in the background of what she’s looking at. Ninja? Dick has told her (and anyone that would listen) about three hundred times that he’s simply not the straight forward ground and pound of Bruce Wayne. This is almost a tailor made assignment for him, but he wasn’t about to even suggest himself for the job. Not when Dinah might feel a need to do this as a much more frontal assault. He’d prepped for that too, just in case.
He lingers for a second. Just a second. Eyeballing her for a second, as he thinks through whether or not that he should say something encouraging or make a joke. With a twist of his lips there’s a jaunty salute, followed by a circus bow, before he’s springing in to action to go look around the old Military Base.
Taking Dick’s ride to town isn’t much of a problem for Dinah either, because as luck would have it Wayne Boys do nothing in half measures. Dick’s vehicle apparently converts in to two separate ones when need be. Leaving behind what amounts to the shell of the sports car, Dinah’s off to Rapid City on a bike that is more crotch rocket than she’s used too. But the damn thing basically unfolded out of the trunk like some sort of escape pod.
The little thing cooks too and there’s not a hint of burning gas to accompany it. Alternate power source? You betcha. What? Did she think Tim got all the toys? Not a chance.
Finding the Sheriff of a town this size isn’t exactly difficult. We’re not dealing with Metropolis. By the time she’s nearing the City Limits, Alfred’s got her dialed in to the local P.D.’s radio frequency. Dispatch has deputies going all over the place, but the Sheriff is always ‘1PP’. Call sign for ‘First Police Person.’ The chief or sheriff is always the first police person as a symbolic gesture to the old west, when a sheriff would often police a town alone. Until deputizing every day citizens to help in times of need. 1PP happens to working a disturbance at a truck stop just outside of town.
Alfred’s cool ‘Oh, my.’ in Dinah’s ear probably tips her off that it’s not exactly a casual family dining experience. Neon Lights in the shape of women dancers properly spell out what Dinah’s heading for even before she rolls in to the parking lot. The lack of police strobe lights say the only disturbance is likely to the sheriff’s wallet.
Dinah: “Penny-One might be onto something…”
I do stifle some of the laughter at his expense, but the same effort isn’t put into keeping the smirk off my lips as Dick’s called out on his tastes and proclivities. I’m not judging, I’m not that big of a hypocrite, but I can certainly still be amused. The air is saved for the derisive snort, as I shake my head.
“No bet, do you think I haven’t been paying attention? I’ll be shocked if he’s not waiting in some large swivel chair with an evil looking pet in his lap and a sinister ‘I’ve been expecting you, Ms. Lance.'”
I half expect there to be commentary in response to my moment of verbal vulnerability, especially after the ribbing he’d gotten, but there’s nothing. Just the bow, and the disappearing act, and knowledge that I should probably be more anxious about leaving him alone out here like this. I’m not though, because I know Nightwing is a hell of a lot more suited to the task than I am. Would I have preferred a frontal assault? Absolutely. But I expect them to be expecting us. Somehow. I’m much more likely to tip off a welcome wagon. Now. I may gripe and bitch and refuse to let Tim do anything to my own bike back in Gotham, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of fun riding this one into the city. There’s not much worry about getting pulled over, not when we know where all units are, and I’d already opened the throttle anyway. The adrenaline doing the opposite of what it would do for most sane people and settling me, before I angle in to the truck stop.
I’m already laughing before Alfred’s remark is finished, taking in the lights, or more importantly the shape thereof.
“Gee. I might stick out like a sore thumb in here…Maybe we should have swapped jobs.”
I’m shrugging out of my jacket before I’m even off the bike, shaking fingers through my color altered hair to fluff it up some in the wake of my bike ride, in order to look for the back door and let myself in that way. I might be slightly more covered up than your average pre-show stripper but not by a whole lot. See. Knew it would come in handy someday. This may not be my Gotham City Black, but it’ll function just fine. The sheriff shouldn’t be hard to find, even if I didn’t know what he looked like. Then it’s a matter of going up to ‘introduce’ myself. So many ways that I can play it, but if we’re just going to assume a plant that’s not particularly into cooperating with me? Assuming his lap is actually vacant, I’ll help myself right to it, looking to pin the sidearm I also assume is there, with a thigh.
“You’re an awful hard fella to get in touch with, for someone in public service.”
Trevor: With a name like ‘The Grin and Bare It’ it would be hard for someone that looks like Dinah Lance to ever be out of place. Unless you mean that she finally found the one strip joint in the entire United States that she’s far too classy to fit in. As it just so happens, she isn’t as out of place as you might think. Once she’s inside she’ll understand right away why that is. Is that Wonder Woman giving a lap dance in the champagne room? How did they get Harley Quinn to pole dance center stage? Don’t look at the V.I.P. lounge, because there’s a blonde over there who is doing a very good impression of the original Black Canary. The Bar Tender may as well be O.G. Supes too, because he’s got muscles in all the right places. Don’t look now but Batgirl just shot Dinah a nasty look for cutting her off, as she was headed for the same lap.
“That tells me you haven’t been looking very hard.”
From the moment that he opens his mouth there’s just something different about Sheriff Trevor. He’s well spoken. Crisp. Not a hint of slur in the voice, in spite of the fact that the neighboring table has what looks to be the remnants of a sixty four pack of ‘Miller Light.’ Light on the carbs, but heavy on the alcohol. Less filling -and- it tastes great. Not that she would think he needs less weight, because the moment she’s in his lap she’ll get a sense of a man who doesn’t need to go to the gym any time soon. He’s physically fit and that might be an under-statement.
Pinning his sidearm is tactically sound, but about three seconds after she does that she’ll get the understanding that he might not need the gun.The rules of the House say that the Guests can look but not touch. The Girls can touch, but the Guests can’t. The Sheriff follows the rules, per say, but only after a single hand touches just the small of her back to bring her in snug to his hips.
Of all this posturing there’s sure to be one disappointment. Despite his eyes showing a very clear spark of recognition when they take her in completely, there’s no sinister cackle. No move to violence. No immediate turn to some sort of evil monologue. Just a hand that moves from the small of her back to the table next to them and the other beckoning to Batgirl. “Bring one for Canary.”
“You’re legal to drink by now right, kid?”
Dinah: “Well, to be honest it was some friends of mine that had the trouble. I only started trying about thirty minutes ago.”
I really can’t decide if this place is offensive or incredible. I may have missed out a really great opportunity with my bar in Gotham, and I’m sure someone with a better business head could churn out merchandise for days. Given that being a vigilante isn’t legal, you probably can’t trademark your own codename and that means anyone can use it however they like. Maybe I better look into trademarking my codename after this. And a whole lot of other people’s while I’m at it.
Sheriff Steve Trevor’s pictures didn’t exactly do him justice, and given his age, which is not nearly as advanced as it should be, I guess Tim wasn’t that far off in telling me he must have found the proverbial fountain of youth. Or the experimental side of science. Given what I know of his career path afterwards, it seems definite more than likely. I can hold my booze pretty damn well for any height and weight, but the aluminum fort he’s building on the adjacent table, combined with everything I’m reading off him and can feel in the way of very solid body underneath me… red head cocks to the side as I survey his still mounting total. Oh, goody and one for me.
“Let me guess, don’t do jack shit for you?”
I remember what Superman had said on my rooftop when I’d offered to share. They won’t do a whole lot for me either, unless I were to have that many. I might actually be under the table if I had all of what he’s been through, but who knows how long he’s been sitting here enjoying himself.
“Sure am. I suppose that answers question number one for me.”
The recognition in his eyes already had, though it’s possible he could have just known me from briefings if he was still ‘in’. Steve Trevor had been Bruce’s source on the whole project in the first place though, so either he’s doubling, or he’s somewhat sympathetic, or in enough disagreement with what he’d seen or done to be in a sharing mood. I can only hope there’s at least some of that, still.
“Your record you could settle down anywhere. Why Rapid City?”
Trevor: “Well, to be honest, it was more like fourteen years ago when you started looking for me. You only remember starting to try thirty minutes ago.”
Those same words out of the mouth of someone else, said with a different tone or just the slightest change to even his own inflection would sound equally ominous and douche baggy. When Steve says them it’s like having someone deliver the worst news, while handing you an ice cream cone and promising you cotton candy later. He takes exactly what she said, turns it around and confirms so many things all at once with a simple tease back to her like returning serve in tennis.
All of that while having her nestled upon his lap and multitasking to get a beer from the Batgirl pastiche to go with the one in his other hand. Not blinking away from her or failing to meet her gaze for a second. Self-Assured Confidence in the Canary that borders on cockiness, meeting even more Self-Assured Confidence but his seems downplayed. Pulled back upon, so that others don’t know the entire bar couldn’t take him if they acted as one.
“No. Not really. They kind of taste like warm piss too, half the time, but I’ve never given up hope that just one more will do it. Or maybe the right company might convince me it did, at least.”
One beer for her, the other for him. Steve offers it to her in just about the gentlemanly way that he can, to a woman that’s perched in his lap as she is. It’s no sooner in Dinah’s hand that he’s offering a tip of the beer to her. “Someone’s got to keep the lid on Pandora’s Box shut. The way I had it figured, sooner or later one of you was going to come looking for me to get answers or looking for it to get some pay back.”
“Which is it for you; the Box or Answers?”
The way his eyebrow tips upwards suggests that he actually expects an answer. Perhaps this whole discussion hinges on it being a two-way street in so much as information exchange. Or maybe he’s just taking stock of her honesty, because his eyes seems to take in everything about her all once. Those eyes are really windows to the soul and Steve Trevor’s is a very old soul it would seem.
Dinah: And there’s the rest of my answer. There was the way I didn’t dare hope this would go, the way I was prepared for it to go, and a whole lot of grey area in between with one side being Dibney, and other being Conner Kent. It’s simple enough to not act defensive, because I have a great deal of practice. Where Steve Trevor seems a little restrained while still being all that, especially in a place like this? He’s probably King Shit, or would be if he wanted to be. I’m all cocky all the time because I can be. A lady can be the biggest badass in the room and still underestimated even if she tells it to your face. Maybe it takes two supremely confident people to have a conversation, in a place like this, positioned like this. He wasn’t phased by me climbing on board, and getting pulled in closer didn’t bother me.
“Half the time? Honey, that sounds like wishful thinking, but cheers. Here’s to the right company.”
Miller Lite always tastes like that, if you ask me. Even when it’s cold. But it sure as hell isn’t going to stop me from drinking it. A tick of an eyebrow and a returned ‘toast’ and I’m having my first swig. Ugh. Better than nothing, though, and I haven’t had a drink since before Star City went ass over elbows on me.
“And now there’s two of us. I think it’s not even a brag, or a lie, to say I’m the nice one. That’s a hell of a question.”
I have to do my very best to not shout Brad Pitt movie lines right now. Mostly avoided by another drink from my beer, and propping an elbow on one shoulder. Yow. Solid.
“From my point of view, box is already open. Open box is why I’m here in the first place. I’ve got enough half answers, and out of context facts to be dangerous and totally unable to let it go and move on with my life, and I’m smart enough to know it’s probably not even a scratch on the surface. Now, that smaller, specific box out there, outside of town? Maybe there’s not a reason for me to kick it open and stomp on it. You gonna tell me that reason?”
Trevor: “Well the other half of the time, I’m drinking them too fast to taste them. I can remember a time or maybe two, that I’m even enjoying the sights too much to remember what the beer tastes like.”
A time or two. It’s the tone of voice that makes that simple phrase sound literal. Twice. No more. Twice this man has found the sights in a strip club worth not remembering that the beer is terrible. The rest of the time he’s dutifully chased a buzz and ignored the sights. How is that for diligence and honesty all at once.
On top of that while Dinah’s entire motif tends to intimidate insecure men or tempt the secure ones? She’s getting a whole lot of casual gaze from the Sheriff. Though Steve spares her more than a passing glance, all but giving a smile that would melt most women in to the ground when she leans in, there’s just no biting the forbidden fruit as the two of them circle one another figuratively. He hasn’t decided if she’s friend or foe yet, so there’s just a very healthy dose of taking in the sights but not being taken in by them.
Trevor seems to have a lot of practice not being taken in by anything. “Three. I know, it’s not polite to correct a lady but… there’s the Beauty, the Beast and the other guy from the train. I’m a cards on the table sort of guy, Dinah. I’ll even go first.”
“Lets say there’s two ‘Pandora’s Box’ in this discussion. One of them is your memory, I’m not on board with people’s memory getting ‘redacted.’ You want me to help connect some dots for you? Sure. The other Box is literally Pandora’s Box. If it’s opened, it’s going to end the world. Our world is a dung heap stacked taller than the President’s Bald Headed Ego, but I like having a world so… I save it every single day, by just not opening that box.”
“Pretty good reason, right? Say what you will about our little dirt ball,” eye contact is positively king right now and Steve is looking at Dinah like she just might be the only person in the room. “…but it sure has some good sights to see.”
Dinah: I’d say that I might judge a guy for making eyes at someone he knew when they were barely a teenager, but I’ve got a whole lot of no legs to stand on in that particular arena, mind control or not. I still did it. The part of me that cannot help banter, like it’s part of my livelihood and job, which it is, wants to chase that remark. Coo about how rough it is to have lived this long and only had that happen twice, but it could just be once, maybe twice, in the last fourteen years. You’d think at some point he’d move on from Miller Lite, but we’ve all got our poisons. Mine’s usually cheap, terrible whiskey. Despite the fact that I’ve got better stocked.
I cluck my tongue, with a soft sigh, though truthfully I wasn’t going for deception. I was naming those that I knew of that were coming back for those answers, or comeuppance.
“Yes. Three. The other one from the train is one of mine, and I was kind of mentally lumping him in. Unless he’s the Beauty, I’m the Beast and someone else was hitching a ride. But I appreciate that, really. Hasn’t exactly been a cards on the table kind of week, and I’m all in for a refreshing change of pace.”
See. Steve Trevor, in the whole five minutes that I’ve known him that I remember, doesn’t strike me as much of an exaggerator. I absolutely believe that he absolutely believes that whatever is in the Big Box is that bad, that monumental. I want those answers, Christ, I need them because I’ll never let this go. I have to imagine Slade Wilson is even less likely to because he remembers just enough. Knows just enough in fragments and bits of real or maybes. He was willing to play nice with me, because he thought I’d be able to help him in some way, get something that he couldn’t, and…
I let out another sigh, this one’s a little self aggravated and I more or less finish my beer before I’m leaning my chin into my hand. There’s a whole lot of up close, really direct eye contact going on right this moment. Doesn’t make me uncomfortable, does make me want to be really damn honest which is a weird change for me. I blame Superman. Or maybe Dick. There wasn’t much pretense in the beginning, but I drop what little I had going for me.
“You sure have that unassuming charm down pat, you know that? You do. Steve, I have had a pretty crappy month. I got mind controlled. I found out that I don’t remember entire chunks of my life, and that I apparently did some really terrible things, for reasons I can’t even guess though I’d like to say I had no choice, or that it was the best one available. I need those blanks filled, but if the choice is whole me, or making sure it never happens to anyone else ever again? I’m going with the latter. Because that’s me. Now. The other one. Who I have a really sinking feeling I just played hunting bitch for like a big ol’ chump, so we probably better make this fast… He’s probably more of a fuck the world, because it deserves it guy.”
Trevor: “I know,” it is really that simple, without bragging Steve puts even that card on the table. “I don’t mean to sound like that guy, but I do. Know that is. Nightwing was a good kid. His Father was very proud of him. Probably should have told him once or twice, but that’s not my business really. He’s here with you. Not here-here, but at the base.”
“There were only a couple places you’d be headed after the train, and trust me when I say this because I was that kid once, good kids are hard wired to follow even the most capable of dames in to the absolute worst crap they can get themselves in to. Especially if the dame has has legs like your’s. Do they ever stop? I plum gave up trying to follow them once you made yourself at home.”
He’s touched Dinah exactly once up to now. She’s done all of it. So it is pretty telling that the second time he touches her, it’s to push a lock of hair out of her face so that nothing impedes that eye contact they’ve had this whole time. “Damn, that’s rough. Kind of kicks my having to write a citation for drunk and disorderly and give it to myself, sort of month. I wasn’t even drunk, I just needed an excuse for the disorderly bit.”
“Alright. Let’s start with the memory thing. For what it’s worth, the memory thing was done to try to give you some sort of normal life after everything that happened. If you want the gory details, let’s get another round of beers and I’ll tell you everything, but trust me that part was a good thing. When Batman came asking the same questions, when you first landed in his protection, he needed the gory details because he’s Batman. The fact that you don’t have them? Tells me he agreed with them on taking them away. Which doesn’t make it right or anyone else’s choice but your own now that you’re old enough to make that choice. It should, however, be a gauge for you to give you that inkling as to how bad those details are going to be.”
“The other natural question, that Batman asked too, is why take a fourteen year old and her brother along on a Black Ops mission. Amanda Waller picked your brother, because your Grand Mother was too old at that point and your Family owes a debt of some sort that hadn’t been paid. Now your involvement came because… and I’m going to quote you… ‘Fuck you, if you think my little brother is going without me.’ He was a few years your senior, by the way. Not that you really had much say in the whole she-bang, but I think Waller liked seeing your Gran so pissed off when she agreed.”
“Fourteen. You looked too good to even be legal, if you were, which you weren’t. You still have that look going for you too, Kid.” That unassuming smile is then twisted just a bit, but it’s smothered by turning to signal Bat Girl to bring another round of drinks. “Slade played you? Surprise, surprise. That one is crazy like a whole box full of kittens.”
‘Pardon the interruption, Canary, but Nightwing believes he has found what you were looking for at the Base. He’s gone silent, due to the shielding that is preventing scans of the area.’
Dinah: “Preaching to the choir on that one.”
Here’s hoping he gets the opportunity to fix that, once we dig ourselves out of this shitmire that we’re all in. But then, it’s Bruce. The fact that he didn’t tell them he was disappointed basically amounted to the same thing. It just doesn’t always amount to the same thing when you’re on the receiving end. There had been no chasing Batman/Nightwing/Dick off, no matter how hard I’d tried at first, but that was when I needed fixing and he knew it. Now that I don’t, I guess I really haven’t tried again, have I? I probably should have, but at that point it was too far, too deep, and he was already so in I don’t think it’d mattered. Plus he saved my ass. Then Conner did. And I’m getting saved a whole lot more than I’m comfortable with this week. Maybe I should go for a hat trick and then never again.
There’s another cluck of my tongue, a wry smile pulling up the side of my mouth as I lean over to add my can to his mountain.
“The law’s always at least a little crooked. Knew you were too good to be true. I feel like that makes sense for me. Special snowflake and all that, but the neurotoxin and the brain chips I assume were something else. But Slade? He’s a box of kittens that it seems off for the same mercy. And unfortunately, someone gave me just enough of the gory details that my mind’s going to be forever trying to fill in the blanks.”
Apparently his dishonesty comes in turning on himself. Suddenly all I can think of is the ancient Templar in that dusty adventure movie. Doing his duty for literally ever and bored out of his goddamn skull. Only instead of prayer vigils, this one has strippers and beer and South Dakota. I pipe down, as the man answers the ‘why me’ question in a way that. Well.
“Sounds like me. Especially that too good to be legal part. Did Kurt at least have… training? A power? Fuck, even asking is just… how could I have forgotten a whole person?”
A person who I killed. A brother who I killed. And I actually think the utter lack of remembered emotion and trauma attached to that is right now worse. There’s a decision here, waiting, after Alfred’s voice sounds in my ear and it also feels like my time’s about out to make it, without getting as much as I really wanted. But if where to go from the train was a timer winding down, this is the real branching point, isn’ tit?
“What I really need to know. Big Box. Is there enough of NOWHERE to be worth left standing?”
Trevor: “You didn’t forget a whole person, Dinah. Those memories were surgically removed because, not just for your age by the way, you might never have recovered if you kept them.” By this point Steve’s actually rearing back just enough to stop lazily looking in to her eyes and sort of taking in the whole picture one more time. “Wait. Implants and neurotoxin? He didn’t tell you anything did he? Ah-hah. Boy Slade’s really playing both ends against the middle here. I told the Company if they didn’t either fix him or neutralize him it was going to bite them in the ass.”
“Except now it might bite everyone in the ass. That man is full of piss and vinegar, in equal parts.”
“Sweetheart, when I said end of the world? I meant that as a literal construct. Pandora’s Box is a cell. Created by your Grandma and her crew to contain… something. We called it Vertigo. It’s an entity that possesses people. Whole sale. It doesn’t just mind control them, it inhabits he, she or it en masse.” For the first time in all of this talk there’s a hitch in that beautiful voice, actual emotion that is playing out inside of him as he’s telling her this part. Does she need to know? Yeah. Is she ready for what she’s about to hear? Well, if what she’s saying about Slade is true then she’s lead the Wolf to the Sheep’s Den. “You ever read about World War One? That’s the first time I ever saw that thing. It was behind the first Reicht. If it wasn’t for… that weird Purple Healing Ray and those islander girls… Vertigo would have ended this world right then and there.”
“Second World War? Replay of the first, mostly, but your Grandma’s Society figured out a way to contain the entity. Until that Parallax thing hit the planet. Waller put a team together, because Superman and Batman had morals. Vertigo eats those for breakfast. Those implants with the Toxins? They were to put us down if Vertigo got to us.”
“…and… it did. That kid brother of your’s and Slade.”
Being brought up short is a real knocker, because it entails being derailed from what was finally being explained. Her question actually merits enough that that Trevor is looking down the barrel of his bottle for a long, long time. Maybe that gives Dinah time to process, but that isn’t what he’s silent for. His answer is a measured one.
“Believe it or not, that’s the most complicated question you’ve got for me. You need to think of Nowhere like you would a building. It has many levels, floors in this metaphor. The foundation was solid. Most of the floors have some feng shui going for them, but somewhere along the way the design went off the rails. If someone could get back to that foundation? Sure. I just don’t believe that’s possible. There isn’t an alternative to Nowhere, Dinah. You tear them down and what did you really win? You aren’t fourteen anymore. So don’t try to fool yourself in to thinking this is the only Pandora’s Box out there. Someone’s going to need to monitor them. Maintain them. You take Nowhere out of the equation for even a day and someone like Slade gets one box open…”
“For what it’s worth, I had this same conversation with Batman about a decade ago. I told him then, the same thing I’ll tell you now. The only way to take Nowhere down, would be to take Nowhere over and change it from the inside out. By the way. He didn’t sit in my lap, drink my beer or look one one hundredth as good as you.”
Dinah: “In his defense….hrk, those words might make me ill… I don’t know if he knew or not. Someone else told me what the chips did, and what they were probably for.”
I have to imagine, and I’m learning to like that less and less, but it’s a logical supposition that if Slade Wilson knew he’d have gotten from Point A, to Point B with a lot less putting up with side trips, and a lot less needing to bring his information, and the chips, to me. He used me, more than played me. Pandora’s Box. Couldn’t leave it alone, couldn’t forget. I had resources that he wouldn’t have to work for, trade for, or pay for, and I used the ever loving shit out of them until I got myself here. I had my memories taken completely, I lost my brother and then had him taken with those thoughts. And Slade, in the wake of it, apparently escaped with his head still attached, and fragments.
“And Slade’s daughter?”
I don’t need that spelled out for me, what happened after this Vertigo got hold of members of the team. The last mission. The reason for the team to be sent to somewhere where there was nothing. Now. The upside of all of this, is knowing he was talking a literal thing, and hadn’t meant where my mind had taken his comment originally… that kicking that anthill was going to turn over something so sinister about what the government had done that implosion was imminent if it were brought to light. What I’ve got here isn’t the truth, or blackmail depending on how you want to swing it, that I was hoping for.
That input is still important though. This man’s a little more long game than most of us get to be. Or maybe even want to be. And I have perhaps the good grace to look apologetic as I start on my second beer, and sit a little more upright again to let him look, if he wants to look.
“Excuse me one moment.”
Not that I’m going anywhere, other than staying cozily straddling Steve Trevor’s hips.
“Tell him to get out, Penny One.”
As for the someone to police the world’s BoogeyMonsters and Evil Pandora’s Boxes, is that what Tim and his friends think they’re going to do? Trevor’s calling me kid, and most of that group are still in high school. Do they know what they’re in for? What they’re signing up for?
“What can I say? I’m much more charming than he is. Bats was even more of an overthinker than I am, though, and clearly he decided to go another route than hostile takeover.”
Trevor: “Acknowledged, Canary.”
As ever Alfred Pennyworth is succinct in his communications during field activity. Trained as British SAS in service to her Majesty’s Special Forces. He operates on par with the entire crew, but where each of them has a side of over-talking, Alfred gets right to the point during times like these. Perhaps out of necessity, since he might otherwise never get a word in edgewise.
Is it to Dinah’s pleasure that her current sitting partner does exactly what she was allowing for? Sparing no room for a modest gaze, Trevor’s eyes soak Dinah in like a sponge. Every peak. Every curve. Those piercing blue eyes are like an artist’s and an engineer’s all at the same time. Appraising the sleek curves, like one might do with an artist rendition of a statue on one hand. While on the other her harder edges are seemingly valued in the same way a fighter jet’s wings would be, checked for aerodynamics and maneuverability. Regardless of how he looks, it takes little intuition to know that Steve Trevor approves of what he sees. Because he doesn’t hide his gaze, not take it off of her for more time than it takes to check and re-check their surroundings every few moments.
There’s a catch though. Unlike so many men in Dinah’s life? Trevor isn’t drawn in. Approving of what he sees and acting upon that desire are two different things. It would seem that unlike most people (man and woman alike), Steve is not immediately enticed to losing control of the situation to Dinah based simply on her looks alone. One upon the time Dinah was the Mean Girl. Once upon a time Steve Trevor stood in the presence of Gods and was found worthy. His confidence isn’t arrogance and this might be the first time she’s ever met someone so confident that they feel any need to give a voice to what they think of what they see. Steve’s eyebrows lifting in approval is about the most she gets. Unless she counts the fact that he does keep looking.
“Rose,” providing a name to Canary for the nameless daughter of Slade Wilson. “She was not part of the team, nor the mission. She was part of the fall out. Slade was a member of Team7 because, much like your brother, he had certain qualities that were considered meta-human but were not so over-the-top that if he was to fall under the influence of Vertigo that he would be unstoppable. The one in question is that he utilizes about 90% of his brain power. Where the average person uses roughly 15%. That’s why the brain scrubbing didn’t work so well on him, but also why he’s only getting fragments.”
“Slade and your brother were taken by the entity, at one point. We later believed that while they were ultimately freed of the entity, some of the programming remained in those higher portions of Slade’s brain. He acted out. Became unstable. Did some things. Took some jobs. None of which was above board, exactly. As Nowhere rose with Luthor in prominence, his actions had to be disavowed but he needed to be replaced. Would you believe that it just so happens, Rose Wilson has a nearly identical meta-human quality to her brain that Slade does? A lot of metas end up having to pay for the sins of their Fathers or Mothers.”
“Forgive the intrusion, Canary, but Nightwing has already gone in to the dark area of the base. We cannot establish communications until he’s out of that area.”
“Oh yeah? That means you think Batman is still out there? Working his master plan. Honestly, I wouldn’t doubt it if you did say that. I didn’t know him well, but I got the impression that the man under that cowl thought he could accomplish anything with a lit elbow grease and some dental floss.” A soft clear of his throat is meant to pull her attention back to him and away from the hidden commlink in her ear. “As much as I’d like to take your heart racing as a compliment, I think this is where you tell me that your current companion is about to take a look at Pandora’s Box. You hope he’s not dumb enough to open it, but your real worry is that Slade’s right behind him and definitely will?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I like Nowhere to think it’s there, but it hasn’t been there in a very long time.”
Dinah: My focus probably should be split at this point, I should be a great deal more distracted knowing what I just sent Dick into, him and his morals, and the skills to get into exactly where he isn’t supposed to be. We’ve talked about Pandora’s Box a lot, but there’s that experiment with the cat in the box, too. Until I know Dick’s in trouble? I assume that he’s not. I also can’t do a lot about it at the moment either way. Leaving me happy to let Steve Trevor look, and talk, while I drink more of my beer. It’s definitely not the type to be savored slow. Another explanation for his mountain of them.
“So much for saving the world and resting on your laurels and getting easily and gracefully old for an end game goal, huh?”
There’s so many more questions that could be asked, and a large part of me really wants to ask them since I have a knowledgeable, willing, first-hand source to give me the answers. Why’d I do what I did? What exactly lead up to it? When was my brother pulled under its sway and what was he like? What were his abilities, were they the same as mine? I’m not sure that it would do me any good, though. There’s a tiny, subtle line and what I had gotten here in this incredible and awful strip club got me over it. More information might just swing me back the other way.
Alfred’s voice in my ear hauls my attention away once again, and this time my brows do knit. Not being able to reach Nightwing to tell him to not kick the hornet’s nest is problematic, especially now that I know what’s actually down there. These are the moments where situational preparedness being in your skill set is both helpful, and terrible because I’m already trying to plot the what ifs so that I can account for them. Until Sheriff Trevor clears his throat, and then I relax the hair that I’d actually physically stiffened.
“Don’t get me wrong, older, built, sexy eyes and able to kick in someone’s teeth with zero effort is definitely my type, but you got it in one. Makes a hell of a lot more sense, actually. I may only remember knowing you for about two beers…” And I’m finishing the one in my hand. “Exactly two beers, but did seem a little odd that you were sitting here, knowing my other half is out at the base, because unless that’s a jet pack I’m sitting on you wouldn’t be getting out there fast enough to do anything about it. No matter how good the sights made those two beers.”
That doesn’t mean that there’s not another problem following behind though, or that something out there can’t and won’t get Dick into trouble if he doesn’t know that he can leave. Do I ask where he’s hidden Vertigo in the mean time? No, I do fucking not. I don’t want to know. See, Bruce? I can leave well enough alone. Which brings me back to the question of Batman.
“You know, I was expecting a plant. Just not one that planted himself. What Batman could do with elbow grease and floss was shocking, but Lord help you if he had a chance to prepare. I think he’s either working it, or counting on someone else to follow the logical and anticipated steps. We’re just not sure how that’s going to play out.
Trevor: “That stopped being an end game goal after the purple healy ray thing, actually. Did I mention the isle of beautiful women and not a competing male in sight? Let’s just say I like my chances at that after life.”
For Trevor’s part in this continued sit’n’chat, he’s polishing off his own swill as she’s talking about him being older, built and having sexy eyes. Call the guy a lush if you want, but he soaks those compliments up about like you might expect. It’s not the first time he’s heard it, won’t be the last time he’s hearing it. But. Getting that sort of comment from someone he knew as a fourteen year old has him lifting one bushy brow higher than the other, before just breaking open with a legit belly-laugh.
“That’s the second time you’ve made the inference that you made the beers better, instead of the old adage about beer bottle eyes making the girl look better. You almost put Bronson under the table at fourteen. Maybe I haven’t changed, but you haven’t changed one bit, Dinah Lance. Those curves got curvier, the edges got sharper and you’re still lightning in a bottle waiting to be uncorked by the right fella.”
“Mmm, you were anticipating another in a long list of swerves? Sorry to disappoint, but the only curve ball I’m going to be throwing you today is the one where you weren’t expecting someone who’s happy to answer any question you want. As long as you sit right there and take answers instead of dollars. I’m partial to a capitalist world where I keep my dollars and look at you anyway.”
“On the other hand, Nowhere still has the Box Site layered with alarms and defenses. Even if Slade followed you boy in. They’re both in a lot of trouble. The D.E.O. is going to descend upon the place like locusts, because like I said they think the Box is still there.” Which it isn’t and that might lead someone to think that Steve should be worried about them discovering the ruse. Until you truly think about it and realize that the D.E.O. will want to make certain no one opens the Pandora’s Box. Meaning they won’t be able to check into the contents thereof, unless Dinah’s friends do something very stupid. “Which, judging by how you jumped in to feet first with your brother and every other time Waller made people do something you didn’t like. Tells this old lawman that you’re going to want to rush off and play cowgirl hero.”
“Rocket Pack is in my other pants, to be fair.” Yep. Completely serious. How’s that for a straight man? “The only rise I’m getting here is the piss water and the sights.”
“The man I met didn’t strike me as the ‘relying on someone else’ type. You have that in common with him. Sounds against his character, in my experience most men especially are defined by their character for good or ill. Women? Women can change their character every time they change their coat.”
His hand goes up when Batgirl steps in close to ask if they’re going to want more. Steve mouths the words, ‘Put it on the tab’ and shushes her away before she can even speak. “There’s one thing you didn’t ask, but I think you need to know. Because it might change where you go from here. I don’t want you finding out some other time, some other place and thinking that all of this was dishonest after all.”
“We thought he was your boyfriend at first. Kurt, I mean. Your files said your name was Drake. Dinah Drake. His said Kurt Lance. In a room with a clone, a head case and a fossilized world war one spy? No one was going to ask too many questions about the strange team Waller put together. The two of you were closer than any siblings I’ve ever seen, but once you were in the field we saw that he was like a tuning fork for you…”
“I’m pretty sure that if it hadn’t happened the way it happened one or both of you would be in a Box of your own. Waller thought you could break the world with a whisper with a little ‘Help.’ Vertigo thought so too. That creature was in all of our heads. We were all seeing something different. Enticing, is the best way I can describe it. Vertigo was setting up shop in our brains, but to control us he was getting us to buy in to a perfect little mind palace. Truth be told. If it wasn’t for Waller just being an unpleasant and unhappy person by meta-nature? We’d have all died, right there. Or ceased to be, which might be worse.”
“She can’t be pacified. So she brought me out of it. Then you, she was working on Bronson… and then Slade reacted to whatever it was Vertigo was showing him. About twenty seconds later, Cash and I woke up with both ears bleeding. Slade was standing over Waller with a gun in her mouth. And Vertigo was in his permanent prison, thanks to you and Bronson. I’d like to tell you everything, but as much as it pains me to say it once the screaming started you put the normal folks in the room out like a light in a hurry. So, I don’t know how exactly it went down… but I know you did the right thing.”
“I want you to know Kurt doesn’t blame you for the choice you made.”
Dick: “…Barb… this is Dick… are you getting this? I’m in a Nowhere blacksite, working a case with Canary.” I’ve got no way to know if she’s hearing me, honestly. This isn’t my area, I’ve never needed to get better than Tim because of Barb or better than Barb because we had Tim. Not to mention Bruce was as good or better than both and he had Lucious Fox on standby. Best I’ve got is the few tricks I picked up from the four of those people and add in some software -they- designed. “I’m sending you some readings. None of it makes any sense to me.”
“…oh, shit… something just exploded and it wasn’t me..”
“Barb. If you can hear me, and I really hope you can hear me. Call Dinah. Right now. Deathstroke is attacking a Nowhere blacksite in Rapid City. I don’t know whether to get the &^% out of here or stop him…”
Dinah: “Amazons, huh? I definitely don’t blame you. I know a couple guys that are pretty infatuated with just one, and she’s technically only half.”
I hadn’t necessarily put it together when he’d mentioned the ‘islander girls’ the first time around, but if there were any other islands like that the world probably would have heard all about it. I’d still have called it myth and wishful thinking if I hadn’t read Wonder Girl’s file, and seen the attached photographs of her mother. Which I would have called unnecessary but gotta give those Bat Boys some eye candy, I suppose. I can only hope I look half the good when I’m her age. Except I’ll probably be dust, I suppose.
“Nah, I’m not disappointed. Surprised. Maybe even relieved. If I hadn’t been wanting to punch something so bad all week while being figuratively handcuffed, this’d be my favorite interrogation of all time. I got a little less angry at the world, and I’d say more sure of myself but the better wording is probably that I just have a lot more practice.”
Sounds better than saying I’ve matured, which makes me sound old. Aged like a fine liquor, smoother on the senses and that much more likely to put you down for it. Leaning over to deposit my second bottle, I waggle a wishy washy hand at Steve before coming back to center and leaning my weight more forward once again.
“I’d wager you probably would have heard about it already if he actually triggered any of them. He’s good. Which is why you’re not having this conversation with him in your lap and me playing china shop bull out there.”
But he’s definitely not wrong. Clearly I haven’t changed in the essentials at all. As long as Dick’s undetected, I’ve got to hope he has the sense to try to put himself into contact with someone, or to know that he’s been in long enough and get out. If shit hits the fan, well. I probably can’t make it too much worse if I go in ‘cowgirl hero’ style.
“He wasn’t. Had an unintentional habit of surrounding himself with freakishly skilled ‘family’ though. I don’t think it was on purpose. Reminds me of someone else I know.”
A wry twist of my mouth, shifts into a quizzical expression, and I hold it there mostly because I’m having a very hard time not laughing anytime ‘Batgirl’ comes near us, and I can’t decide if this place should be my private mental hilarity once I leave, or if I should share with say. Barb. More information that I don’t have to ask for isn’t going to be turned away. Especially since I don’t think he’s about to pull a Deathstroke on me and upend my world.
“Wait, which was the clone?”
I’m trying to remember exactly what Tim told me about all of the chips that he had, but that’s more idle curiosity that really doesn’t matter compared to what else he’s telling me. A blank that I had assumed the generalities and outcome of, and didn’t think I needed in specific. I may think pretty highly of myself, but even I don’t have aspirations quite as big as what Waller had apparently believed I could do. Given that she probably hasn’t changed her mind in the interim, and following my little cameo in Metropolis, the hard press, ‘or else’ courting makes a lot of sense. As for the last piece he can’t tell me? That’s okay. Truly. What I’d needed, what I came here for, was a reason. The why. And the truth of that moment half a lifetime ago for me was another fork in the road, or at least a branch of intentions. Whether or not I was going to be doing some burning myself.
Cynical Dinah would be demanding to know how he could possibly have known my brother’s mind in that moment, except cynical Dinah also knows that she wouldn’t have blamed him if the roles had reversed. So I just tilt my face in, and press a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
“Thank you, Steve.”
That kiss, and sentiment, ends up lingering a little bit longer than even I’d intended it to, because once again I’m getting distracted by a voice in my ear, only this time it’s one distinctly female that I hadn’t heard in a while. Barb? Why the hell is Barb coming over the… shit. I’m removing myself from the good sheriff’s lap just as suddenly as I’d arrived in it in the first place.
“Tell him to get the fuck out. Sorry, Sheriff. That there’s my cue. Sounds like I was right about the leading, and following.”
Trevor: “Never said the word ‘Amazon,’ don’t know what would give you that idea,” oh Mr. Trevor has just about the most innocent expression he’s ever capable of assuming and it looks damned convincing. “No such thing as a half-Amazon, by the way. You are or you aren’t. The Amazons are just like you and me. They live, they love, the fight and they die. Maybe they live a little longer, love a little harder, fight a little better and die little less, but it’s all the same.”
“Fact is, you remind me of one in particular. Have you read any of Clio’s treatise on bodily pleasures, by chance?”
The two of them have been bantering back and forth in just about the most open, friendly and flirty ways possible. Like two very old friends who just rekindled, even if they only just truly met again for the first time. Steve seems to be completely at ease teasing her like that, if only because he already knows she’s respond in kind if left the opening. It’s all about making one another feel comfortably, uncomfortable, because you know that’s what breaks the ice in what could otherwise be an awkward couple of moments.
“Not sure he’d fit quite so nicely in that particular saddle,” though he’s giving her the sideways smile that only works because his head has tilted in such a way as to compare her bottom with some mental image he has of her companion’s. “Though, I know some fellas who used to think he and the Bat wrote the screen play for brokeback mountain.”
“Bronson. Word has it you’re cozy with his replacement.”
The Sheriff actually comes to a halt in the tale when she gives her thanks. A couple fingertips touch the warm spot her lips leave behind and his new smile makes it all the way to the corner of his eyes. His lips part, hang there open for a moment as if words are on the tip of his tongue. They just never make it out. At least, not whatever it is that he was about to say. Instead she’ll see it clearly pulled back and chewed on. Whether what he says next is what he’d been working on or not is anyone’s guess.
“You’re welcome, Dinah. As much as I’m enjoying the sights, sounds and feel of the trip down memory lane,” those blue eyes traverse her form one more time in a very straight forward, unhidden, trek, made so much easier now that she’s standing up once again. “Parting word of advice: Don’t die owing a fella more than half of a lap-dance. That’s the kind of thing that can keep you out of heaven.”
Dick: “Nightwing, this is Penny-One. I’m afraid that Batgirl is unable to take your call at this time. I’ve misplaced the second headset. Between Ninja Invasion and Sabotage, I’m afraid that I’ve been remiss in my cleaning duties.”
“…uhhhh… okay then…”
“Batgirl did inform me that Canary suggests.. and I quote… that you ‘get the fook out.’ Miss Lance is customarily vehement and succinct in her directions. If training with Ms. Brown is any indication failure to follow the prescribed course of action will result in blunt force trauma.’
“… but I’m literally standing in front of the …whatever this thing is…”
“Probability of blunt force trauma has just risen by seven percent and the potential inflicter of said trauma has doubled. Miss Gordon has harumphed.”
“Urm. Well that’s bad. Was it hrmph… or harrrrrrumph.”
“More pirate than pussycat, Master Grayson.”
“I’m already moving, Penny-One. You’re so. Very. Weird when you’re dating someone. I’m trapped between ‘Go Alfie’ and ‘Eww.'”
“… we now need to add throttled in your sleep and I do know where you live, Richard.”
Dinah: I’m really not out to debate what this particular one is, or isn’t, even if by his definition I’d be inclined to go with isn’t, and that means defaulting to half-god which sounds like a whole lot more of a bad idea in a teenager who may or may not decide the fate of the known world at some point. Which leaves me simply shaking my head at his question, which since he knew fourteen year old me well enough to peg me in my twenties, he already knows the answer to.
“Reading’s not really my thing, there a film version?”
Sounds like a porno. A high class one, but a porno nonetheless. I do him one better on this particular look over, shifting my weight, and rocking a hip to the side to swing my ass a little better into view, toss of the hair, despite the dirty look I’m getting from the actual Black Canary working in here now. Saucy little wink and everything.
“What happens in the Batcave stays in the Batcave, handsome. And clearly, it’s all just a little bit of history repeating… I’d hum you a few bars, but then they’re going to want me on stage, and once I get up there…”
There’s a snort of laughter for his parting advice, and a flippant wave of a hand. The unhurried sway that gets me out the way I came only lasts until I’m out of view though, then it’s bolting for the bike, and roaring back onto the road, back towards the not so defunct base. Part of me feels like I should try and defend the place against Slade, after all I did lead him here to exactly what he thought he wanted. Vigilantism is against the law though. Also, the only one of them I’m feeling even a little charitable to I just gave half a lap-dance to, so we’re on our way to square. It’s a matter of finding Dick, whose hopefully out before I have to go in, and then a joint getting the hell out of here before anyone tries to interfere.
Dibney: If you were to ask most costumed heroes in today’s society if they would pick Batman or Nightwing, as a possible mantle to wear? Nine and nine tenths of them would say Batman. The Cowl is a Legend, regardless of how you slice it. In Gotham it’s known as a sometime Hero, sometime Vigilante. Half-Vampire Immortal Demon. Half Sherlock Holmes, Super Genius James Bond. Out in the world Batman is known on two fronts; He helped save the world from Paralax, and he helped save the world from Alien Invasion. He’s also known for causing Gotham to fall in to despotic criminal No Man’s Land, which it has only recently recovered. All of which translates simply in to Batman being the biggest known, unknown in the Meta-Community.
Making Batman something other than the ideal candidate for tagging along on this particular mission. Not so much a mission as it is a meeting, in fact. The sign on the door window says ‘Brave and Bold Detective Agency.’ The under-lable is that of Ralph Dibny and a second name that has recently been removed. To get there Black Canary and Nightwing had to come in through the front door. Why? Because the windows to this particular office have been triple bolted with security grating. Oh and there’s no fire-escape. Plus the roof access door has boards over it. On the outside and the inside. Even when breaking those, it would seem someone has piled so much stuff in the stairwell that you’d have to unpack it for a full day to make use of the stairs. Largely the whole building is nothing short of a massive fire hazard in waiting. You basically have no choice but to come in through the front door.
And then …. walk up the four flights of stairs to get to the ‘Detective Agency.’ Because the elevator hasn’t worked since before Dinah was even alive. One might wonder how this is indicative of getting business, but just as the costumed visitors near the door? It opens in a whoosh and slams with the force needed to break the window pane with the names on it. A woman with legs as long as Dinah’s strolls out, hand to her eyes, uncorking alligator tears that only look half as bad as the heaving cry escaping overly red lips. It’s only the sound of ‘…does that mean the check’s in the mail, Ma’am?’ That really cuts through the whole demonstration.
Of course one need not be particularly observant then to see the man blinking back at the two Costumed people in the hallway. Toothpick on his lips, tie mostly undone, with hair that saw a comb yesterday but not today. He’d be attractive, by any standards, if he didn’t look like he lived in the office they’re peering through a window at. Between the chiseled jawline and the piercing eyes, he’s a looker by just about any standard. Albeit a little run down.
The inner sanctum of this particular detective? Nothing like the one who accompanied Dinah in the first place. There’s not a computer in sight. The television in one corner of the office was also born before Dinah. The room has this odd combo-scent of cigarette, scotch, and bubblegum. Bubblicious Bubble Gum at that. With a hint of three day old popcorn. There’s a desk set right in the middle of the office, but it’s got stacks of files (all paper) higher than the horns on Batman’s cowl. A table to the left, with boxes of left-over pizza that is stacked in a progressive assortment of ‘Last Month’ to ‘Last Night.’ A couch over to the right, that’s got a visible impression of being well worn and if the pillow/sheet combo is any indication it has earned that reputation.
Dibny himself is busy clearing off the second of two chairs that were in front of the desk. He spares about three whole seconds on Dinah’s legs before carefully putting the pile in his hands back in to the chair. “Look. I studied that file long enough to know those fishnets anywhere. You look like a smart Dame, so lets skip the whole sweet-talking, scotch-drinking, fun night on the couch while Cuckwing cries in his Wheaties as you try to get intel out of me. The answer to your question, all of your questions, is ‘Classified.'”
Dinah: Let the record show, for judge, jury and the kids keeping score back at home: I’m still mad at Dick, but anyone who doesn’t think I can stuff down emotions when they’re inconvenient to what I want doesn’t know Dinah Lance very well. Queen of Emotional Constipation is I believe what I was called by someone once. I think they meant it as a bad thing, but that’s a badge I’ll proudly wear basically any day of the week. My only real debate was if Grayson sticking around after our Fun Time in my room was because he wasn’t 100% sure his tactics had worked and wanted to make very, very certain, or if he’s trying to make it up to me. Honestly, my money’s on the former because I think it’s pretty well established that I like to do the ‘alone’ thing. Truth is, it’s never as simple as either, and since he’s here I’m damn sure going to use him. He seemed pretty upset that I wasn’t before, after all.
“Golly. I guess it’s a good thing that wasn’t the play I made. Looks like someone beat me to it.”
It’d be hard to have done much more to rip this place out of some Noir novella, and the inconsolable damsel whose distress assumedly hasn’t been assuaged fits right on in. It’s a trick that only really works for those that don’t actually know me, even if I’m not entirely faking the act. Make that twice in the last day that going without playing pretend was the choice I’d made. Sure, I could have lied to Deathstroke, tried to trick him, what would have been the point? Those are the kind of cards that you save for emergencies, and some impassioned explanation of why I thought this second side trip to track down Dibney had done the trick. Better than expected, actually.
This old school trash heap is pretty much right up my alley. No, really, it’s more or less what my place would probably look like, sans the smoke because that’s never been my vice, if I didn’t have an OCD roommate. Right down the low grade, but still effective against casual and not so casual intruders, security methods. Ten bucks says someone’s gotten the drop on him already and he doesn’t want it happening again, so all visitors are funneled in the way Dick and I had to arrive.
“What, these fishnets? You must be mistaken. These are new. Some kind of fancy filament to keep me from having to replace them every night.”
Among other things, step the rest of the way through the door that I’d pulled open, not skirting the shattered glass because it’s not going to puncture the soles of my boots, and I’m not sneaking up on anyone just now.
“So what I’m hearing is you’re not interested in easy way. That’s too bad. Expecting some other company, Ralph? Can I call you Ralph?”
Because if he’s clearing a second chair because he saw two of us coming up, he also already saw who was coming up, or at least that it was a pair of costumes.
Dibney: “Sweetheart, with you types there is no easy way and it’s not the nets that’re important, it’s the legs that wear ’em.”
Behind her is the former Boy Wonder. He’s in all his particular glory, looking like a svelte half-ninja half-adrenaline junkie. That’s who the second seat was going to be for. Right up until he saw the pair of them through the window. Something about the sight of them contrasted with whatever he’d seen or heard that tipped him off to their arrival. Apparently, he’d come to the conclusion that this might not be a social call. Go figure. Tipping his hand might seem suspicious, but it doesn’t seem at all like he cares one bit to play along with it.
“What? Nah. That Broad was just a client. Ex-client. Hired me t’ find her Husband. Didn’t like where I found ’em.” A moment is spared to glance over at the top folder, still laying open, on that mountain of other folders that covers the actual desk. “Ya do a good job in this City and all ya get is grief. That one? She ain’t payin the bill. Gonna spend the next couple years blamin’ the Detective for her Husband’s …inadequacies, instead of blaming the husband.”
“Got me a couple o’ those fancy filaments too. Stops me from havin t’ wear rubber suits. Alright, Doll. Can I call you Doll? Enough chit-chat. You an the Boy payin by the hour or want me t’ bill you lump sum? Lump requires a retainer…” Would you believe that the man they came here to see actually takes a step away from his pile of abused folders to start rolling up his sleeves? He’s starting to loosen up the tie when his eyes cut to Nightwing again. “…chargin double, if junior’s in. Not normally in on the funny stuff, but… like I said, read ya file.”
Dinah: “That’s pretty subjective, yeah? Some folks like a challenge. Maybe it’s a rare day where I’m in a great mood…”
I can’t really argue. I mean. I can, and I will, but he’s not without a salient point right there. After all, I carried on just fine for a long time with regular old fishnets, and made a whole lot of trouble for the people who opposed me without any tech to speak of at all. This situation could be read a number of ways, and I usually do read them a number of ways just to be prepared. Preparation is what lets you eke an edge out on someone you otherwise shouldn’t be able to beat. He doesn’t need that second chair anymore, and so clearly isn’t going to be inviting us to sit down now. Either someone else is coming or he was expecting us, and that means either he saw us come in, in which case he wouldn’t have bothered, or someone told him we were coming. There’s any number of little ‘birds’ that someone could blame for that, and sometimes? The simplest, most obvious answer is actually your answer.
“Anything except blaming yourself, right? People these days.”
The side-eye that Nightwing’s getting right now is a lot more about heading off a comment from the peanut gallery rather than any kind of nod towards this particular situation. I can’t help but wonder if those filaments of his are new, and if they’d come part in parcel with whatever his payment was for his stint as Oliver Queen. Maybe he’s still working for them, because I don’t think you ever get to really stop, and the whole building reads like someone who’s not exactly cool with his particular boogey men creeping up on him again.
“Whatever floats your boat, stretch. Oooh, there’s a retainer option? I’m going to need some more details on that before I make a decision.”
Tapping a black polished forefinger against my lips, blonde head’s cocked to the side in consideration. I do find it somewhat hilarious that he’s referring to the Boy in repeated diminutive terms, when The Boy is older than me but I have to assume he’s just trying to get a rise.
“I’m kind of particular, and there’s some qualities I get kind of picky about. Like doing what I say, with or without restraints and debateably excessive force, open honesty and trust in compromising situations… like ya said. You read my file.”
Dibney: “Yeah, no. With a side of nooooo. You, the royal you that encompasses all of you Gotham types, haven’t had a great day in a long time. Like maybe the day before birth, but probably not even then. Add that to your time in Star City and you ain’t seen the right side of a good day, much less a great day, maybe ever.”
Sleeves rolled up. Dibny is ready for a good hard days work. The only thing missing is… “It’s America. We only blame ourselves, if there’s a benefit to it. And then we deny that we ever did it, as soon as we’re suckin up the dividends.”
“Floats. My. Eh. Boat? Egads, was that an plastic man joke? Because if that’s the level of banter I can expect from you, I’m going to have to have a serious talk about the people who keep Nowhere’s personality profiles. You got like full marks for witty reparte. A plastic man joke is just phoning it in, Lady. Patrick can’t carry my shorties. That’s like comparing Boy Blunder back there to Bats. Sure he’s got all the tools, but he thinks too small. It’s like comparing Mozart to Post Malone.”
It’s pretty easy to see that the digs at Nightwing are having an effect. ‘Easy’ to a life-long detective, that’s been doing this whole thing as long as Black Canary’s namesake. He has tells, like anyone else. They’re just disguised behind moving out of a direct line of fire that would stop him from attacking, if anything happens. Attacking. If that’s what Nightwing is thinking about then it means those jabs are having an impact. Which means he thinks there’s a chance that some comment, something that Dibney says is going to cause the fight. Nightwing’s stance suggests it is inevitable, so Dibney’s response is to assume a more defensive posture. Dinah’s seen it before. After all it looks a lot like a certain old school Boxer’s posture.
“Excessive Force and Restraints? Sounds like my second marriage. Maybe the third. Tell you what. You can hum a few bars and I’ll fake it. But you’re paying the mortgage and keepin the lost puppy in the divorce. Deal?”
Dinah: “I did visit Metropolis a couple weeks back. That’s gotta count for at least part of a glimpse at one. You know. Enough to actually know what I’m missing, instead of the deluded Stockholm Syndrome.”
I can’t even take credit for the last bit. It’s Tim’s foundling’s favorite thing to say about Gotham City, or at least about the Narrows though I have to imagine she means the whole thing. We had half a conversation about her plans to GTFO as quickly as she could, and by that I mean I decided we weren’t working hard enough if she had time to tell me about stuff I really wasn’t actually asking her about. It may have been fairly effective, but I think maybe I might owe her a Dinah Lance version of an apology at some point down the line, because while I’m definitely a hard ass, there’s a few sessions in hindsight that I maybe took a little too hard. For reasons I don’t actually want to do the mental gymnastics to examine just now.
“Ooh, little sensitive about something? Because jabs at a nom de plume is kind of beneath me.” It had actually been meant as a saying but hey, if he’s going to own it and keep feeding me tidbits more power to him. And I haven’t used Nightwing’s name like an insult once. Today. Yet. So it’s not even a lie. Also, the irony. Guess that means they really don’t know who’s under the cowl, or at least that Ralph isn’t high enough on the totem pole to get updates like that. “…now you’re just talking gibberish and I can only work with what you give me here.”
Who the hell is Post Malone? None of what he’s saying is phasing me, I actually have pushed my hands into the pockets of my leather jacket, which are nice and satin and comfy, thank you Red Robin. I don’t need to look over my shoulder to be aware that Dick’s moving, or to feel the tension shift. It’s just one of those things that you either can do, or learn to do, in a fight. I don’t act like I’ve actually noticed until Dibney’s going a step further into readiness prep, then there’s an exaggerated look from him, to Nightwing, and then back.
“Are you trying to Wildcat me? Your leading foot it way too far forward. Also lacks a little bit of the Drunk, Yes or No? Mystique. How did anyone not notice that was you in Star City?”
Because no one that really knew Oliver was there to spot the fake? Oh, wait. I’m not one of those self-blaming martyr types. I’m more has to be made to eat crow, and then pretends like she wanted it all along girls. Do I want to follow suit and start prepping for an assault? Oh, sure. I’ve been robbed of good targets to vent my spleen on left and right, lately. But we kick this guy’s ass and then what? He still doesn’t give me what I want, we give NOWHERE one more black mark to wave under their ‘just cause’ flag, and I’m still not any closer to putting things right.
“You really trade in one unappreciative client that dumps you for a city full of them that don’t even pay? My files made me think I was dealing with someone smarter than that, but clearly your people and my people need to have an accurate information swap.”
Dibney: “They don’t really call it Stockholms, when it’s the whole city. That’s a pandemic. At that point they just call it buggered too all fookin shiz. English term, I don’t claim it really.”
If there’s one thing Dibs doesn’t respond to? The one about his fighting stance is it. Nothing. Not even a smirk. Nothing at all like the running jokes on Plastic Man or the diatribe on the Bat-people. That goes to speak to whether or not his fighting style means anything to him. Alternatively, she’s wrong about it and he’s poker facing her. Either way Dibs is on to the thing she said that did bother him.
“I’ve been Ollie so many times over the years, that most of his girlfriends couldn’t tell the difference. I remember this one down on her luck, freshly kicked out of Gotham, blonde dame. Let me tell you. The only thing worse than her down trodden daddy issues, was her over-inflated sense of self-importance that was directly in defiance of her complete lack of self worth. That one. Threw herself at anything that looked her direction and drank herself in to a pity party about it to save you the need to kicking her out of Olliver’s bed.”
Is that a sweet smile? You betcha. Dibs told her that he could banter all she wanted. He can also rise to or play down to the line of chatter. This? Just like her, is simple and straight forward. A shot across the bow. “Just because that was a little low, even for me, I’m gonna do you a favor and tell you one thing.”
“Wildcat learned Rope-a-Dope from Muhammed Ali. Which… is what I’m doing. You’ve got about a minute, maybe two, before they’re here and by my math? You’re going to need at least five, to even tickle me proper. Leaving you at least fifteen short of even getting me to tell you my name, rank and serial number. And you haven’t even asked the first good question.”
“I hate doing the whole Clint Eastwood thing, but.. yeesh.. your generation sucks. Fuckin Millenials.”
Dinah: “Maybe you should. Probably not anyone to contradict you here.”
I’m being downright cheerful. Sunny even, in direct contrast to the way the rest of my week’s been going. Or maybe in spite of. But maybe that’s got something to do with the oddly reassuring feel of the no longer cool metal recording device in that jacket pocket along with my balled fists. Bingo. Thanks again to Tim for making it just bulky enough to be protective, and deceptive. I’ve got a short fuse, as Dick got to see yesterday but already fully well knew about, and that’s why he’s probably still surprised his nose isn’t broken. I’ve made a relatively long career, and reputation, for speaking my feelings with blunt force. But you know what I’m even better at, and even more dogged about? Not giving someone the satisfaction of my emotions, good or bad, if I don’t want them to have them. And I don’t want this motherfucker to have them.
So of all the possible reactions that both of them are expecting to explode out of me, in this all too casual and relaxed posture that I’m in, an eye roll so dramatic that it lolls my head back on my shoulders for a moment with a groan that I’ve been told by Spoiler indicates ‘can’t even’ levels of annoyance or disbelief, is probably not close to one of them.
“Okay Boomer, don’t flatter yourself.”
Even if it would probably have gotten someone punched another day, depending on how well they knew me, but a heated response? Proof. Also, I’ve never had to throw myself at anything with legs in literally my entire life. Blue eyes settle down from out of my skull in time to pull my gaze back onto Dibney.
“Oh, please. That, while maybe Wednesday evenings kind of fun, wouldn’t have been worth the effort. I was kind of curious if you’d take the chance of doing what you actually loved again, but… never made it to the table, did it? Mysteries for another time. But thanks sweetheart. You’ve been a real peach.”
The toss of my blonde head oozes dismissive/you’re not worth my time, and I strut a thousand times better than the last woman through that door. With better legs.
“Don’t need good questions when the other guy can’t help himself.”
Dibney: “Dollface, I didn’t dump the city for a client that doesn’t pay. Queen pays better than anyone I know. Especially now.”
Is that it? Dibny is left puzzling over what has been said and how Dinah would have garnered anything about what was said in all of that. Dinah is making an exit, which leaves only Nightwing and Ralph Dibny looking at one another for a couple small moments. It ends when Dick shakes his head and turns to follow the Blonde out. He’s about to clear the doorway when Dibny speaks out…
“Hrm. It was the jab about being someone in Star City wasn’t it? But neither of us said who I was or wasn’t in Star City. She got nothing.”
Nightwing barely rolls his shoulders in a shrug at the Elongated Man behind him as he files out. “She wasn’t here for a confession for the courts, Ralph. Just confirmation. She’ll be back for that confession later.”
If Ralph Dibny has anything else to say? Neither Canary or Nightwing are going to hear it. They have started to trek down the stairs to the lobby and then the door to the sidewalk. It’s about there that the two of them will hear, more so than see, the line of black sedans that pull up out front. Agents of the Federal persuasion file out of the vehicles with a sense of dramatic purpose like an episode of the X-Files. It might be impressive, even intimidating, if not for it all being outdone by the woman who steps out of the lead car. Prompting a low whistle from Dick Grayson.
“… holy swizzle sticks Canary, I thought that SUV was a low-rider…” But no, it wasn’t. It was merely the vehicle that Agent Nowhere was being driven to the scene in. It doesn’t take a detective of Grayson’s calibre to deduce the sheer body masse that would be required to drop the suspension like that. “You take guy to all the best place. A little wine, some music, touch of dancing… with a side of hulked out super soldier. Covered all the basics. This might get you to second base, if you know… we don’t end up in a blacksite prison…”
Dinah: The way out is, while the same as it had been on the way in, taken with a fair bit more speed to it. If he knew we were coming, and is clearly still on the payroll, it’d be idiocy to think that he’s the only one who knew that, and while I’d like to put it up for debate in most circumstances whether or not we’d done anything today to get us into trouble? Don’t think anyone else is going to be doing a whole lot of listening. NOWHERE’s very much a questions later or not at all sort of crew.
God. I really want to punch someone. It’s been days since I punched anyone.
“Man. You know you’ve arrived when they send this amount of overkill for a humble vigilante and a piece of ass.”
There’s a pause, before I continue talking out of the side of my mouth. Dramatic effect, or because I was doing some mental counts, and dramatically lowering the statistical probability of bailing out of this without having to resort to violence. Which would be fine on most days but…
“Second one’s you, by the way. I don’t remember you complaining this much. And to be fair, we were headed for one anyway, so maybe they’re just doing us a favor by providing the transport.”
Shit shit shit.
“Unless you’ve got some magic in all that spandex though, I guess this is our cue to try to find.. or make… a back door. You’re probably too pretty for prison.”
Dick: “Arrived? Batman got the entire Suicide Squad. This is like three black sedans and a freak from GLOW. I’d call this a Bollywood arrival, tops.”
Both of us can do the Math here pretty easily, but where she’s trying to ascertain the odds of us escaping without violence I’m working on the angles of attack. That’s the difference between us in a nutshell in this particular moment. Not always, but definitely right now. On your average day, I’d call it a victory to talk our way out of something and she’d be the one to kick your teeth in first and ask questions afterward. It’s the opposite right now. All of which is born from our Agenda at the moment. Canary wants to get out of town with what she’s gotten. I’ve got more reasons than that, at stake here.
“That’s because you’re mentally blocking out the tidy green-whitey days to save yourself from the undeniable hotness of this ass in those shorts. Alternatively the trauma of those memories. Because I complain. A lot. About. Everything.” Batman doesn’t Complain, but oh-you-bet-your-buckies, I’m going to let you know all about the situation. “Don’t you think for one moment that I missed the fact that I was going in to situations like these with a whole lot of Yellow, Red and Green in my costume. While my partner was a silent, shadow seeking ninja. I was modern day clickbait. The distraction.”
“I was your legs. With a better ass. While Batman was the rest of you.”
“By the way. Mostly the reason I talk so much, is because it stops the bad guys from monologuing. God that’s obnoxious.”
NOWHERE: Oddly there isn’t much of that going on. The people logging out of the transports are all wearing suits, but it’s doubtful that Nightwing or Canary mistake them for anything but what they are. The only difference between Gotham Goons and these guys? They all have badges and are legalized deputies of an actual Law Enforcement Agency.
While your average Gotham Baddie would be right now speaking some vague threat, these guys aren’t even doing the casual law enforcement proclamation of ‘Come out with your Hands Up.’ To make matters even worse, once Dick’s stopped talking he points Canary to the rooftop where actual S.W.A.T. type sharpshooters are repelling from Helicopters to take up crossfire positions.
Agent Nowhere doesn’t even do them the courtesy of letting them work it out. She’s just stalking right toward Ralph Dibny’s building, as if she knows the only exit of use if the front door. Her version of ‘Come out with your hands up?’ is….
“We doing this the easy way or the hard way?”
Dinah: “Little bit before my time, old man. Also I’m sticking a pin in that Batman is All of Us thing for later discussion.”
By the time I got brought into the Cave, Dick had gotten too big for his britches, or hot pants in this case, and Bruce was on to the next Robin that I tormented like only an overly confident teenage girl can. Doesn’t mean I don’t know though. After all, it hadn’t taken a whole lot of alterations to make my Sexy Robin Halloween costume last year. As for the odds? Yeah, they’re basically zero from what I know about our new dance partner, and that’s before you factor in the rest of these shmucks who only have to wait for an opportune angle to pick us off. If I were going at this solo, my approach would be a whole hell of a lot different. It’s a whole lot easier to get a whole lot more ballsy when it’s only you with the repercussions and a nothing to lose attitude. I had this whole plan to do things differently, to try to at least go about it from sort of of sneaky high ground.
“What’s obnoxious is that she actually asked that question.”
Our only choice on the way in was the front door, but that’s when we were trying to come in sly and subtle. That ship’s sailed. Hard way gives us a lot more options, like making our own new doors. After that conversation with Dibney I won’t even feel a little bit bad about it either.
“Admittedly used to working with a different partner here, so forgive a gal some assumptions but maybe you oughta point me at either a good punch spot for a sewer exit or the least likely wall to bring the building down on our heads. Her head’s fine. Our hair’s too good, though.”
I know fully well there’s some great sewer systems. Isn’t my first time in Star City, after all. Whether there’s one here, under this particular building is another story.
Dick: “Before your time? Like I didn’t see your Bedroom walls, with the Hotpants all over them, when we did Recon on you, before you got adopted. You’re what Spoiler calls ‘Dorbs’ right now. Totally dorbs. She actually says that. When you’re not looking.”
Me? In the span of a couple heart beats, during which the monster woman has approached us and asked that soul-crushing question ( Maybe topping all the worst monologues ever. Not to mention one-upping Dinah’s to Dibny, all at once. ) I’ve gone from playfully bantering to looking at Dinah like she’s grown a third eye.
“Why. In the Hell. Would I know where a sewer exi… did you just… holyshit… did you just …” Yeah. I’m actually ignoring the predicament we’re in for one very hot minute. Because. “You just assumed because one Robin is an anal retentive, overly educated, paranoid, hyper-intelligence, plan-upon-plan-upon-plan freak, that we’re all like that. All Robins are -NOT- created equal. We each have our own unique traits. We bring something different to the table. That was extremely presumptuous of you. You’re a Robinist. That’s what you are you. Just put us all in a box and stick us in the corner. Well, Nightwing doesn’t go in to a corner, Canary. No one puts Nightwing in a Corner. No one.”
“Also. Sewer Access is always nearest the mainline, which would run from that door over there. Marked ‘Restroom’. Shutit. Not one goddamn word.”
NOWHERE: Agent Nowhere jerks a thumb over her shoulder at the door behind her. “You two clowns think I brought air support, but now sewer support? I don’t normally do this, but you’re clearly special. Speshul. So, let’s try this again. If you come peacefully there’s donuts, if not.. there’s still donuts. Just the kind you get through a straw.”
Canary: “It’s probably totes dorbs…aaaand I’m going to punch her even harder than usual when we get back…”
Because I fully believe that it is, in fact, a thing she says and it’s going to be something that must be done on principal if nothing else. There’s creative with the English language and then there’s just outright butchering it. Even worse is that it stuck enough for me to just automatically, in bantering and can’t help it mode, do it myself.
In any other moment, or situation, I’d be smirking my smuggest, most self-satisfied expression as Nightwing doth protest too much. Robins might all have different particular strengths, but they’re all Bruce Wayne’s freaking kids. And if they didn’t have all those proclivities beforehand they got drilled into them. They also all have Alfred in their ears. I may not use the tech, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a vague idea about how it works, mostly thanks to the repeated, frustrated conversations where someone tried to get me to utilize the stuff. Tim is definitely the MOST of all those particular…qualities… Dick’s just rattled off but eventually his rant gets to where we’re headed and I’m not kidding anyone. I was smirking despite the situation.
“Well, gosh, now I kind of want to have made someone trounce through shit for nothing. And donuts.”
Smirk’s a lot more questioning eyebrow now, I may not be telegraphing quite so hard as Dibney and his fucking rope-a-dope (which was also not right either), but my seemingly relaxed posture is me an instant away from motion. I assume he’s got reads on at least some, if maybe not all the anal retentive sources, and a vague idea of if we’re angling at snowball’s chance, or none, and what he’s willing to go in for here. I hadn’t really been kidding about the headed for the blacksite anyway comment. That’s not a choice I want to make for Dick, though.
Dick: “It’s so totes dorbs that it hurts me on the inside right now,” shooting a glance from Dinah to the tall woman with the dour attitude. “I’m not sure what bothers me most right now, BC. The fact that she’s being so smug about this or that you are.”
So this is what the feels like. Man, I’m heard that phrase before but it really hits home when you’re the one standing in front of what seems like an impossible situation. With a very imposing figure doling out your choices for life expectancy standing about ten feet in front of you. As we’ve covered before, I’m not Bruce, so I’ve never been the biggest bat in the room but I’m normally the one people are running from. Not the other way around.
It’s a good thing, though, that Dinah brought me along. (Like she had a choice.) Because while I’m not the most technological advanced Robin, I do have some skill to be brought to the table. Which includes a lifetime spent next to Bruce in compromising situations, by every who’s who of villains Gotham City had to offer. Each one thinking they had the drop on us and each one thinking they had all the bases covered. None of which succeeded, because we were always a step ahead. As luck would have it? We’re nearly three steps ahead here.
Dinah and I were about to leave, peacefully at that, when all these folks showed up. I was only marginally behind her when Agent Nowhere showed up and in the time she’s spent making her offer, with us bantering for time, I’ve closed that gap. For once the touch of my hand going to the small of Canary’s back is not some sort of flirting effect. It’s to guide her, when she too finds herself unable to see because I’d dropped a couple smoke pellets at our feet. She doesn’t wear the tech, she won’t hear Alfred’s directions in her ear, so she’s got to be directed a different way. Staying close also means less opportunity for life fire to hit us if they open fire.
The moment that the smoke fills the immediate space around us, I’m taking Canary -back- the way we came. Not to the sewers, not to the roof. Back towards Dibny’s office. For what it’s worth, Ralph Dibny is not hiding. He’s standing at the window watching the proceedings with a nervous sort of appraisal. Unlike when we were here seconds ago, he’s broke out a cigarette to calm his nerves. Which does a whole lot of nothing for him, once we come bouncing back in to that beat up office of his.
“It was a setup from the star. There’s no way out.”
“God you’re an idiot, I can’t even be bothered to waste some of my good material on you.” I don’t need to face Dinah to talk to her, nor do I need to see her face to tell that she’s going hate this idea. She will however appreciate me bouncing a escrima stick off of Dibny’s face. Even if she doesn’t know why I’ve done it, until she sees where the cigarette from his lips falls. In to that big stack of flammable paper he’d been shuffling around. “You’ve been working on leaping tall buildings with those vocal chords of your’s? Out the window. Don’t look back.”
“Step one: Blow the window. Step two: Sonic flight at least a two block distance from the scene, then escape on foot. You’re sporting the new suit from Tim, so it’ll mask your meta-signature once you’re not using it anymore. Step three: Get to your bike and get out of here.”
“Oooh, that look says you’re not used to being saved. If it makes it any better for you? This is going to hurt Dibny a lot more than it’s going to hurt me,” which she can probably guess why, as I’ve barely even recovered my baton, before I’m scooping up Detective Dibny to throw him over my shoulder. “Villain 1 oh 1. They think they’re the Heroes of this story. So we’ve got to make our capture the lesser of potential outcomes.”
Unconcious Dibny isn’t holding himself quite together, so I’m more.. Gathering him up, than anything and putting him partially through the broke window of that door. This is taking time and in that time the people on the outside of this building are looking for shots. So I’m avoiding the external windows, but I’m using that little bit of time we have to position Dibny between Agent Nowhere and us. All the while that cigarette is starting to catch on fire.
“She’ll save him. The ones outside we can avoid or deal with. Stop looking at me like that. You have to learn how criminals think to bring them down, BC. Adapt. Overcome. Out the window, right now. Go faster than a speeding bullet. I’m right behind you, but the first shots are going to be aimed at you.”
Dinah: “I’m sure it’s hard not being the biggest ego in the room. Actually, I wouldn’t know…”
Does the sudden cloaking of the building’s dubious lobby take me by surprise? No, if anything I keep to myself the stray thought of ‘yeesh, what took you so long?’ Probably waiting for something else to fall into place, so that the domino could tick over at just the right moment to bring us cascading to the best possible result. Look, I’m a mouthy, arrogant bitch a lot of the time but I’m also observant. In another life, much like Dibs up there, maybe I could have actually made a living out of the whole detective thing. Maybe if I’d gotten my start anywhere but Gotham I would have. My maneuvering is usually reserved for a physical fight, and the scenery surrounding it. I don’t have to Big Picture it if I’ve got a Bat with me. He’d asked why I didn’t trust him, and even if that was at least partially a baited ruse and not actual concern, this is my own personal. Private testament to the fact that I do.
All I needed was the cue.
I almost miss the best part in all of this, due to the epic eye roll that I’ve done in response to Ralph. Who is literally standing next to a way out. No kidding it’s a setup, the real question is which of the potentials can we really point fingers at for setting it up in the first place. Or who didn’t mind talking about it where a big blue bird could hear them doing it. Fortunately for me, I have really great reflexes and situational awareness so the motion of that baton being launched by Nightwing was more than enough to draw my eye just where it needed to be.
No. I’m not used to being saved. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes at the other man this time, as I round the desk and square up to the window. There’s no alarm over the fire, I mean, that seems like karmic justice just a little bit to me. Also maybe this is why Tim gets after me about the clutter at my place, or would if any got to accumulate anymore. Even I had nothing on Ralph Dibney though, I hadn’t been in a place long enough to let it get like this. It takes very little effort to take out the glass, and surrounding pane. Without, I might add, demolishing any of the rest of the wall because I’m good like that. Though the place is about to be engulfed in flames so maybe it didn’t really matter, but there’s a single short screech of concussive force.
“Gosh, it’s almost like you’ve spent your entire life figuring this stuff out…”
The urge to save my ass may override the need to argue with him, but it doesn’t at all stop a healthy dose of sass. If that’s missing, it’s when you know the shit has really, truly hit the fan. I wait until I’m actually ready to jump to plant the thick sole of a boot on the frame, because I’m not about to make myself anymore of the target that I didn’t need told I would be.
“Nn-nn, partner. Doesn’t count as saving when you’re doing your job.”
I don’t wait for a rebuttal after my wink, before I let momentum, and that foot on the edge of the hole, boost me hard out and a little bit up. Only a little bit though, have to hit the top of that arc first for a couple reasons. One, if they’re going to start shooting I want it to start in the instant of an opening, so that when I start screaming not only is it going to propel me in the direction I actually want to go, but it hopefully will do some of the work of keeping me from getting myself shot. I know how this works in theory, more than in practice. I actually spent a lot of time learning about my sonics, both from Grandma and science nerds, but knowing how it ought to go is very different from doing a thing outside of very limited practical experience.
So it’s probably a good thing that I’m an instinctual doer more than a plodding thinker. Otherwise I’d be doing a lot more ‘fuckfuckfuck’ rather than screaming. And consequently flying.
Dick: “Truth is, I am not sure that Dibny was the real enemy here,” all this talk about ego and figuring things out aside, I don’t like this whole setup because it all stinks of something even more foul than just his part in Oliver Queen’s situation. “If he was actually working for them, really on their team? He wouldn’t be here. Not like this. He seemed to be protecting himself against something just like this.”
We don’t have a lot of time to talk right now, because things are heating up. Through the broken window I can -hear- the footsteps of the woman we’re avoiding, as she advances. Outside we know from seeing them arrive that there are people on the streets and on the rooftops. We also know, because Agent Nowhere has a big mouth, that there are people in the sewer. We also know that Dibny was aware of us, before he actually saw us. Given that this place has no operable security system, nor does Dibny have powers which would lend themselves to granting him that information -and- Alfred traced no electronic communication from this building out of it. My deductions leave me believing that Dibny is not entirely to blame here, which was reinforced by how he said he’s taken Oliver’s place in the past.
He’s not out of the blame though, because he has also clearly sold out. His hands are dirty, not to say that every single one of us has clean hands, but that alleviates me from feeling much guilt over what I’m planning here. I’ve got just enough time to spare an eyeroll for Dinah though, “Yeah, yeah. Conveniently now we’re partners. Stopping us from being even. Grumble. Grumble.”
Blowing out the window the way she does is impressive. Taking the glass, the frame that holds those security grates, yet not damaging the wall speaks to Dinah’s legit skills with her meta-human power. Back in the day she would have taken the whole wall down with it. Even recently in Gotham she’s not demonstrated her skills, but now I have a pretty clear picture that she held back out of respect for Bruce’s no-meta rules. Even after he was gone.
Once she takes flight, I count the shots. One. Two. Three. Four. Equaling the number of sharpshooters we saw on the roof. They’re all training on Dinah, who’s employing a skill that no one even knows she has. Except for those of us she trusted with the information (or those of us who spied on her while she was getting lessons). Three of the shots are off wide, but the fourth is good enough that she’d have taken a hit if not for the fact that she’s moving far faster than the bullet itself. I’m not able to even perceive whether it knicks her or misses her, but because of Dinah’s surprise I’ll have the opportunity to ask her later. Those snipers are trailing her for another round of shots, which is good because that leaves them not aiming at me.
Agent Nowhere is tugging Ralph out of the doorway, which I’d used him to gum it up. He’s unconcious and she’s having to work him like a child tries to work with play dough. To her credit she’s doing it faster than I’d planned for, but to Dinah’s credit she took -all- of the attention from outside with that display. Leaving me to bound out the same window behind her, tossing a set of flash-bangs from my belt at the guys on the ground.
Between the sonic boom in the air, the flash-bangs on the ground and a rapidly spreading fire in Dibny’s office? There’s not a lot to keep us from making an escape to our bikes a block over. True to my estimate, Agent Nowhere is one of the people who believes their side to be the Heroes. She isn’t giving chase, because she actually is making an effort to save silly-putty Dibny. More importantly to me? Dinah got the confirmation she wanted and we got out of there without either of us being taken down.
Dinah: Of course Dibney wasn’t the real enemy. It might not have saved him from a punch in the spleen on any other day of the week, but there’s levels of blame. If I were to be very, very generous I could just assume he’d done it because he didn’t have a choice. That doesn’t exactly mesh with what Dick had told me, and what information I had, but there’s a whole lot of other factors at play and I’m neither naive, or innocent enough, to not at least think about them. Black and white is the purview of people with enough power to draw a stark, smudge proof line. If my grandmother wasn’t who she was, and had I not been born where I was and used the restraint I have with flexing my sonic muscle? I might have had to deal with all of this bullshit a whole lot sooner than now.
I already did. I just don’t remember it. But the timeline I’ve reconstructed places it before NOWHERE could possibly have had a reason to knuckle me under except opportunity and want. Maybe Dibney happened to be getting paid to do something that he was being asked to do by the government. But chances are the hard way, easy way discussion wasn’t just for Dick and Me. Now, you want to get into the chessboard tactic semantics with a side of paranoia and self-importance? Was this all an elaborate way to get me to put my foot even more out of line? Is this all a trap that benefits them by getting someone even more on their side in a position of power (as much ‘power’ as the Mayor of Star City can be said to have, anyway). Maybe it’s all just a little convenient.
I never like leaving a man behind. Even one that is fully capable of watching his own ass. I still go, though. It’s difficult to fully watch what’s going on around me, and I can already see this is going to need practice despite being something I’ve got very limited opportunity or place to do, because I have to keep the force waves coming out of my throat aimed downwards, so that I stay up. There’s no sudden pain, so clearly they’ve missed me. By quite a bit, though I don’t actually witness it, but a moving target is a lot easier when you’re prepared for where it’s going. I scream harder. Pushing myself higher into the air, modulating it downwards to sink erratically as I arc away from Dibney’s smoking building.
Guess it’s a good thing I’d been pushing my lung power in duration, after what Conner Luthor had told me, but at this pace a few blocks isn’t difficult. Trans-Pacific? Not so much. The problem will mostly come as I reach my target, and I realize I do have to land. It gets tricky as I have to contend with buildings, and the other pieces that make up a city, the car alarms that start squealing in my wake making it even more obvious where I’ve gone. It was a possibility, which is why I hadn’t aimed towards where we’d stashed the bikes. I cut off the sonics just a hair sooner than I probably should have, leaving me with a slightly bigger drop to the ground than I’d really wanted. It’s only Black Canary swagger, and a whole lot of knowing how to roll with punches, that keeps that from being more of a disaster. There’s a solid ‘whumf’ of the rest of the air I’d been holding being forced out, before I’m tumbling up to my feet again and already in motion. Doubling back and sprinting through alleys until I can make it to the transport.
Then it’s time to GTFO of Dodge. Or Star.
Dinner with the Mayor.
It took very little time between Dick’s exit and Slade’s return, but she knew that was being choreographed. Perhaps the more surprising aspect of the timing is how soon after Slade’s return, that the Mayor’s entourage shows up. This leaves her with very little time to tell her original dinner companion what had happened or clue him in on what the entire parking ticket situation had truly been about.
Once Slade has been clued in, at least so much as to understand he has to beat feet before even eating, there is barely enough time for Dinah’s waiter to clear up the second seating. Mayor Queen cuts a striking figure, just as he did the last time she’d seen him. Age sets well on Oliver, especially when it’s quite clear that he’s not letting his new position keeping him out of the training room.
Quite frankly there are more clues for her to pick up before Oliver and she makes eye contact than what follows. That entourage of his is specifically curious, because she knows the head of security; Tommy Merlyn. One of Oliver’s life-long best friends. While Tommy’s father has always had questionable dealings, Tommy has never seemingly followed in his footsteps. Then there’s a woman, but isn’t there always with Oliver? She’s tall, taller than Ollie or Tommy in fact and stacked in a way that says ‘I could break you’. Which is accompanied by this nonchalant sort of style that never hints at her needing to say something like that outloud.
While the rest of the Mayor’s protectors are the run of the mill security that you might see anywhere else in the country? Those two stand out in just about every conceivable way. So much so, that before Slade has completely exited the building she’ll get a little chirp in her ear of him whispering a single bite of information: ‘That’s Agent Zero. You’re going to ignore me, but for the record I suggest you abort right now.’
A warning from Slade is a haunting experience. The man simply fears no one and nothing. Which means that he has such a healthy respect for this Agent, that he would abandon the battle-field rather than fight her. Or more accurately, he would abandon this particular battle-field. Wherein she’s an element of surprise, one that Dinah has no training for or intel on.
From that moment on Dinah is on her own, but it takes almost no effort on her part to be noticed. Which almost immediately becomes an invitation to join Oliver. One thing will roll right in to another and Dinah will find that Ollie is happy for her presence. Nothing will derail that pleasure either, much to Dinah’s constant snipey demise. The man is surprisingly an open book; willing to discuss anything, so long as Dinah humors him as well when he makes casual attempts to get her to see his point of view. He hides nothing, answering any questions and making any overture she asks for. Right down to offering DNA samples, of which he slyly suggests that she’s even welcome to collect personally, if it would put her mind at ease.
During the time that she’s with Oliver, Slade makes his way to the Queen Estates. Where he does his part in all of this. Though there is even less to report there. Queen Mansion is largely abandoned, beyond the skeleton live-in staff that keeps it maintained and in livable shape. There’s no signs, not the obvious or less obvious, signs of anything be amiss. Deathstroke’s tools allow him to scan the House with varying types detection all of which prove a big fat negative. Leaving him to report that the Estate has been largely out of use since the night of the celebration of Queen winning the mayoral election.
At the same time, Dick Grayson, in the guise of the Batman, infiltrates the Mayor’s Mansion and Office. Shockingly, he has only marginally more to report than Slade. ‘Marginally more,’ equates to confirming that Nowhere has a hands on presence in the Mayor’s office under the guise of the Department of Extranormal Affairs. They have literally set up a joint task force that works out of City Hall, under the Mayor’s direct authority to enforce the law. Through that task force they pull together under one heading a group that works to eliminate both vigilante and their super-villain enemies at the same time. Dick almost seems worried, yet largely impressed by how… legal… the entire unit is structured.
And when Dinah is ultimately free of Mayor Queen for the night, she’ll the Batman waiting for her in the old rag-tag apartment that she’s staying in for the visit. Slade is once more conspicuous by his absence. In Slade’s place is a small un-opened package that awaits her on the countertop nearest the entrance. Within which is a very simple choker similar to the one her grandmother wore as part of her costume.
Dinah: In a way, it’s incredibly hilarious to send Slade Wilson (and his salad) packing like this, or it would be if I were a hair more suicidal than I actually trend towards. So there’s no shooing motions, so much as explanation brief as it may be, before we’re on to a whole different game. I have, however, been present for, or there in the aftermath of, enough of Deathstroke’s dirty work to have a teensy bit of a hair on the back of the neck rising sort of warning that it can only be taken so far, before it becomes more trouble and annoyance than he wants to put up with to get what he wants. I’m top rate in a fight, but poor to middling at taking long range bullets from a sniper rifle.
There’s a very big problem with the way the rest of my evening goes. Not the warning about an Agent Zero, which I do indeed ignore insomuch as I don’t get up and leave, but part of me hoped very much that something about all of this would just scream wrong, in blaring capitol letters. That even though he’d been fooling everyone else around him, there’d be no fooling me. But other than the fact that this whole thing is just idealistically wrong there’s nothing else that is. Wrong, I mean. I was looking for something to seize on, something that I could use to expose what’s going on and protect My Ollie after we break him out, and stop this from happening to anyone else I care about. Some slip up, but there’s nothing I can find.
Other than the fact that it’s completely fucking insane for Oliver Queen to have suddenly and abruptly decided that vigilantes are just the absolute worst thing and that they need stopped by any means necessary. I don’t buy the change of heart. Don’t buy the explanation for it, but then who else would possibly think it strange? The people who were in the life with him, that he turned on? For my part, it ins’t a hard act to play, other than I’m restraining myself from attempting to bitch slap sense into Oliver…no, wait, that would be a normal interaction between the two of us, were I actually a Dinah that didn’t think this wasn’t My Oliver. Physicality came in a whole lot of forms for us, so grilling him? Looking at him like I think he’s sprouted a third eye-ball? It’s all in character. The thinly veiled hostility and confusion and hurt? Yeah, that’s all me, too.
Probably the least me is the refusal of a little more hands on confirmation of genetic make-up. Gee, -Mayor- Queen, as much as I’m usually down for sleeping with guys I don’t know, I think I’m gonna have to -pass-. No. Not the continued snarky digs, but I probably still would have done it anyway. Cover the bases. All the bases. The desire is just completely absent, to such a degree that I think I’d likely give myself away if I were to even attempt it. We weren’t exactly strangers to make-up sex, I guess that tells me a lot about my level of hurt and betrayal that I don’t even make a go at it.
Disappointed as I am at not finding anything myself, and typically happy as I am to rely on no one else, it’s actually pretty disheartening that no one else really does either. He pushed through his election on the whole anti-capes platform, clearly it’s a winning one so you’d think even more people would be doing it, so the task force isn’t that shocking. Maybe the speed with which it was assembled and how neatly it actually functions is, but they had time to prepare for this ahead I’d assume.
“More gifts other than your glum, looming presence? You shouldn’t have.”
Even if it’s not from him, I assume it’s not booby trapped on account of he’s here and so is it. I heave my ass onto the counter, like I’ve got the extra weight of everything from the day riding on me, with a long sigh as I pull the box into my lap to open it. Reaching in and fingering the jewelry delicately.
That choker looks authentic because it is. Old, in so much that the actual assembly was crafted nearly a hundred years ago. With the small yellow crested Canary as the signature piece in the middle of two leather strands. If it were from just about anyone else, she’d probably be impressed. And if it were given at any other time she might even be swayed by it. Judging by the set of her jawline, neither of those things are in the cards for tonight. I didn’t anticipate them making any impression, I just wanted to make a sort of statement from the moment she stepped in to the room.
Part peace offering, part nostalgia call back. I’d been after making sure that Dinah had something to think about other than whatever she’d discovered during her time with Queen. “We ran DNA testing on a sample taken from his hair brush. Cross-referenced with a follicle taken from his bed-pillow. Triple-crossed it with skin samples from a tooth his mother kept in the attic at Queen Mansion. The person you had dinner with, is Oliver Queen. There’s not even a hint, of a clue, that it’s anything other than the real thing. We’ve had to worry about shape-shifters before. So we’ve got the means to test for them.”
“Even if our early warning grid is off-line after the attack on the Batcave, we can still run the tests we know about. This must be something else entirely.” I’m not an idiot, I’m not even going to try to go down the path of suggesting that is really Oliver.
Not only does that serve no purpose in moving forward, but it would likely only make Dinah that much more upset and uncomfortable. What I’m after is a different side of Dinah. One that isn’t quite so combative with me as she’s been of late, but I suspect that’s simply not in the cards for the two of us right now. So I’m going to keep trying something different. Open honesty. A new trait for the Bat-Fam to explore.
“When they arrested Oliver, there’s a high likelihood that they did something to him. We know they have several high functional telepathy users. Mind Controllers come from the magic side of things too. Don’t forget people like Mad Hatter can do terrible things to someone with the slightest tweak to their personality…” It’s all just an offer, to put it out there and secure hope for Dinah that the person she met, even if it’s actually Queen, isn’t really him.
But, I also know it rings hollow because she was hoping for something else entirely. By then I’ve rounded her small rented apartment and am standing before her. ‘Hat in my hands,’ so to speak. If by hat, you mean Bat-cowl, so that she can see my face. See the obvious disappointment there, to match her own.
“Consolation prize, more so than gift,” a glance from her face to the small necklace and back again. “Slade was back first. He isn’t appreciative of my being here anymore than you are. But. He is actually more practical than you. I offered him the information you already had, he gave me what he garnered at Queen Mansion. We compared notes. He’s arranging transport, on the hunch that you’re going to want to do something… big… now that you know there’s not going to be a quick fix to this.”
“Me? I am a man of two minds right now. The Batman thinks in terms of what’s next, but I know if this was me? If Barb was the one that got mind controlled or replaced by body snatchers. I’d be in a really terrible place. Requiring Booze and/or a trip down to crime alley, to get in to a fight that let me clear my mind for a couple hours. Does Star City even have a crime alley?”
Dinah: There’s a short huff of what is meant to pass as a laugh, and maybe to cover for surprise just a little bit, at what I actually have in my fingers once I’m looking at it a little more closely, the now empty box passed back onto the counter by my hip before I turn the choker over, and back again. I recognize it, of course, though only from pictures. For someone so ostensibly anti-attachments, I do still have some sentimentality to me. I just don’t talk about it, like how I’ll never tell you that my movie of choice is usually an old, classic romance. This particular piece just hadn’t been in my thoughts of late, and for it to turn up now, after my discussion with Conner Luthor, just kind of rings kismet. I hadn’t had a chance to go looking for it between that conversation, and leaving for Star City. Holding it up between thumb and forefinger by the cameo in the middle, I offer it to his view. As if he hadn’t already seen it.
“Let me guess. Harmonic stabilizer? Thank you, Dick. Did Bruce have it?”
How’s that for actual, real sincerity? With no barbs hidden in it. No sarcasm. No weighting of his name like I’m calling him a name and calling him by name at the same time. Like 95% of the rest of the time. Then I’m whistling low between my teeth.
“There’s that special brand of extra thoroughness that we’ve come to know and love from the cowl… he didn’t seem particular alarmed when I almost ‘accidentally’ set his sleeve on fire either so… there’s my high tech contribution to the vetting.”
But he isn’t wrong. If anyone tried to tell me that this was Oliver Queen, my Oliver Queen, of sound mind and making his own decisions and conclusions then they’d be in for a fight from me. Most likely verbal but.. it’s been a trying day. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. When it moos, however?
“Makes me wonder who, or what, is waiting at that black site and I am debating whether or I’m more or less resolved to go find out, now. What do you know about an Agent Zero?”
There’s probably cracks to be made about us all playing nice with one another, so it’s probably telling to a degree that I’m not actually making any of them. Instead I’m left side-eyeing the cowl-less Batman from across the room.
“We need to get you out more. Every city has a crime alley. East Gary is pretty much the arm-pit of the Pacific Coast, but the action’s pretty much always on in The Triangle. Booze is only good if you don’t have any potential for a fight, so that leaves flipping the bird at the anti-vigilante laws.”
Though that’s probably not wise. Not because I’m chicken, or don’t want to test their response times and reaction strength, but this is only a stop on the line.
The sound I’m making is akin to a long drawn inhale, that is then expelled with a sort of grumbling acceptance. Dinah seems to be a step ahead of me on the gift-giving end of our evening. It is clear to me that she’s acknowledging this as a true gift for, because she gives the thank you, but at the same time I’d hope she would see it as a bit of a peace offering. Especially when it comes from me being not in uniform. At least, not entirely.
“Good eye. It is a harmonic stabilizer, but it isn’t one that Bruce had locked away. That’s actually all me. I knew Dinah Drake, your grandmother right? A long time ago in a Galaxy, Far Far Away. Bruce sent me to learn from a couple of the Gotham City ‘Old Timers.’ He did the same with Tim too. Bruce was always wanting us to follow in the foot-steps and learn from the best.”
“I spent a couple weeks learning Gotham’s history, it’s secrets you might say from your Grandma, Johnny Thunder and Alan Scott. I became something of a fanboy for a time. I’ve got quite a collection of old school memorabilia. With the way things have gone of late, I’ve been looking into some low-tech means of keeping us all a step ahead of the game.
“There isn’t anything fancy in that. It’s not hot-wired to the internet or lowjacked,” as I’ve spoken, I’ve also crossed the length of the small apartment and put myself in front of Dinah. “May I…?”
It is as if I’m feeding off of her being less combative than normal. Though that isn’t quite the truth, because I’ve been trying to diffuse whatever this is for the last few times we’ve been in the same place at the same time. The problem has been simple; I rise to the bait and she mocks me as well as I mock super-villains. Without fail Dinah lights a fuse and mine’s pretty short as it is.
Now though I’ve got a hand out to see if she’ll be willing to let me put the gift for her on to her throat. “I’d have been fairly sad to not get to witness you setting Ollie on fire, in more normal circumstances.”
“Did Superboy tell you that Oliver was being kept there or that he was taken there? Is there a chance that they took him there to be ‘conditioned?’ While I was working with Spyral, I saw a lot of double-Agents get reconditioned while in captivity. That was with normal means, Nowhere has far more extranormal means to make that process speedier.”
“There’s also another point, you should consider, Dinah. Something that Huntress told me about herself. She said that Nowhere is… not entirely what we think it is. It isn’t all Evil. She told me to start thinking of it three dimensionally. Like a bee-hive. Every little honeycomb is insulated by a certain level of either misinformation or lack of information. Only the highest levels know the whole story. Sometimes the various departments are even intentionally tasked to work at cross purposes for plausible deniability if needed.”
“If you need a good example? Slade’s here with you. Helping you. Except he’s on their payroll. We both know Slade’s got questionable morals, so him double crossing them? Par for the course. Why are they allowing it? Why are they letting him, potentially work with you against whatever they’re doing with Ollie? There’s exactly one reason; Because allowing him to do so, means that if you actually do something irreparable to their plan with Queen, they can swear off a small part of their group as having gone rogue. Then claim their Agent helped bring it to a halt. Luthor, working in layers. He’ll even get to say his own son told you about the whole thing. It’ll cement Conner even more as a Hero if you succeed. Or alienate him as a traitor if you fail. Luthor wins -both- ways.”
Tilting my head just a bit, because I know everything I just said is a nutshell for all the things Dinah hates in the world we live in. People like Luthor muddy the water, drag the rest of us into that mud and inevitably make all of us dirty. But, I’m telling her this because it relates back to exactly what we’ve spoken about before with Bruce. If Tim is right and he’s alive, Bruce may have done all of this as a way of getting out of this entire cycle the rest of us are trapped in.
It’s impossible for me to think of it any other way, because quite frankly I think it may have been the only solution. I just don’t know if it’s something anyone can come back from. “Agent Zero. Cliff notes? She’s something special. I don’t think Nowhere even calls her Agent Zero, it’s everyone else that does. The Batcomputer pulls and correlates news reports on most meta-humans, as you know. What we have on her is limited. She’s distinctly meta.
“The sort of meta than is able to swat bullets right out of the air, but doesn’t appear to be bullet proof. She’s fast, but not super-fast. In Fawcett City, she chased down a car of alligator men. Stronger than any person has a right to be, but seemingly not on the same level as Superboy. That same car, she picked up and chucked about a block. Her fighting skills are off the chart, just a few months ago she came to Gotham to retrieve a cyborg that seemingly went rogue and in the melee she utilized several distinct, but known fighting styles. Then switched to one that… I’ve never seen before. She throttled Tim -and- Helena, at the same time and actually thanked them for the fun.”
“That sounds like an awful lot of information, but we literally know nothing about her. Frankly, I would have put money on her being an Amazon, but if she is? Wonder Woman’s mother, whom happens to be a bonafide Amazon that doesn’t mind being a source of information so long as Alfred plies her with good scotch, didn’t recognize her. My second guess would have been Alien, but her incursion into Gotham was -before- someone took out Brother Eye. Meaning that since only like four people knowhow Brother-Eye works? One of which is not on the planet, another is dead, the third was at the site and the fourth was baking cookies? There’s next to a zero percent chance someone could beat the tech.”
“So in reality? We know more about what she can do, than who she is.” Clearing my throat a little more gently than is strictly necessary. “Seems to be a trend really. All the most badass women, like to keep a little mystery and not let us guys get to know them.”
“Not. A pickup line, for once. I know you pretty well.”
Dinah: “What, he never let Uncle Ted beat the shit out of you?”
To be totally fair, my training with Wildcat didn’t take that particular bent until a half-dozen years into my tutelage with him, even if it very definitely colored my own current method of instruction with the baby birds. Ted Grant never, ever, went easy on me. Even when I was six years old, and I think if anyone had really been witness to our sparring sessions after my Mother died they’d question why the hell he was being allowed to brutalize a young, grieving girl. I hadn’t questioned it, but then I needed it. Probably even more so when Dad was murdered, and I went from reckless to suicide by vengeance. Not my words. I don’t go easy on Spoiler because Gotham isn’t going to. A lesson she probably already knows from childhood, but there’s nothing like a good dose of pain to make your body remember a lesson even better than your mind can.
I do see the peace offering, as what it is, and that means that Dick gets more precious, rare, honesty that’s not a weapon and without snark to give it teeth.
“She was the best. I miss her. For once, I can’t claim being a know-it-all for pegging this for what it is. Happy coincidence. Con-L had mentioned I should look for it in Grandma’s things.”
His question of permission is answered in gesture, rather than word, as I slide fingers under my mane of blonde hair and lift it up and off of my neck, out of the way of the choker being fastened around my throat.
“He also said the same thing. That it’s not what we think, and that it does a lot of good with the right hand, while the left hand does other shady shit behind its back. The shady shit that he doesn’t agree with,” Probably an important distinction there, “is why he told me that they’d taken Ollie in the first place. I was untouchable, so they touched someone else.”
My fingers drum on the counter on either side of my thighs as I purse my lips in thought. Not because I’m mulling over what Dick’s said to me, which I honestly can’t argue with. Shock of the century, seemingly. But because I’m calling up that rooftop conversation with Conner Luthor, so that I can repeat exactly what he said. Not where my mind’s run with it from there, but the precise words. And the recriminating wince, before I can bother to mask it, is probably at least a little telling that I’m realizing I missed my chance, and window, and that I probably just wasted a whole lot of our time. But maybe a portion of that is hindsight.
“Kept. But he also said that until they could make their press splash, to rival the Wonder Couple’s, he was being replaced by an Agent Dibney.”
Until. Which hadn’t been the important word, and that they’d tamper with Ollie and swap him back had never at the time even occurred to me. I was still looking at this like we were still going up against a copycat, at least until I’d gotten here and we’d been faced with evidence that it was, in body, Oliver Queen. Stands to reason then, that it was true exactly to Conner Luthor’s word. Oliver was at the Black Site, being ‘reeducated/tampered with,’ while Dibney was in his place. And instead of outing him as the Green Arrow…
“Fucking layers. Another mouthpiece for the anti-vigilante agenda, bait for me which at least I knew was bait ahead of time,” I would have taken it regardless, “And if the ruse is exposed, they have apparently a laundry list of charges against him so long they didn’t write them all out waiting to be levied. Hopefully whatever agreement he signed when he ‘decided’ to go straight and out all our friends will eliminate that to a degree but…”
But I know better, it’ll probably be counted as invalidating whatever he’d agreed to. Unless it can be proven to be under duress. After Dick finishes going through his own list of what this Agent Zero can do, or not do, I let out a low whistle between front teeth. No wonder Slade was outsies when he saw her, or rather recommended I get that way myself. Like I’d listen. Which he clearly knew. There’s another chuff of laughter at Dick, and a roll of my eyes.
“Hard to really maintain any kind of mystique when you have a Batcomputer, pal. Or a chatty Butler. Or just because I don’t really do subtle…”
Dick : “Actually, fun fact, I didn’t meet Ted Grant until after I’d met you. Bruce took me with, when he went to talk to Grant about you being special. To get Ted to agree you needed people your own age in your life and more particular training than a fist to the face every day.”
Putting the piece of jewelry on is simple. I’m a deft touch and she does the actual hard work for me. Once her hair is out of the way I’m able to slip it around her throat, cinch it in to place with it’s clasps. Then wait, for a couple heartbeats, while the little device activates. True to my word, it isn’t ultra high tech like Timothy would do. It is very much old generation technology. There’s just a little more to it than I’d said. She’ll feel a sort of sonic hum pass through her entire body as it attenuates to her. Like a tuning fork, it does exactly what the name implies stabilizing the out of sync harmonics that her power creates in every cell of her body. Think it as the physical body’s version of clarity to thought.
Except. I may have asked Alfred to put one little extra bit of old school technology in there with it. We’ll worry about that a little later, for now she’s presented me with something different to focus on for a second. “Conn Elle? Connel. Cawn-El. Hrm. Con-L. I’m going to ask two questions and I don’t want you to take them as hostile. I know you are partial to this Superboy and I know Timothy isn’t, exactly. So first question, do you think he’s earned this. The name. Names, plural.”
“Second question. You clearly trust him, so… why don’t you trust me?”
Right up until then I’d left my hands right where they were. Lightly touching her neck, locking the mechanism in to place. Now though I’m drawing them back and taking a much longer look at her. That last question is something of a personal one, in the midst of a very business-like discussion, but I’ve been curious for a long time about it. She fights me on anything, everything. I thought it revolved around the two of us being the same age, rivaling one another in the eyes of our peers. But. The way she’s fought me about the entire situation with Tim has been different. Personal. Then she didn’t want my help. Not just a refusal, but almost a violent denial.
Before she answers though, I kick in with a little more information. “Agent Dibney. Ralph Dibney. He’s a meta-human, shape-shifter of course. He was a first rate detective, until some funny business got him kicked off the force. He looked dirty, couldn’t get a job with a badge anywhere but Nowhere. I will tell you however, Dibney isn’t a blind true believer type. He doesn’t buy in to causes. Just paychecks and women. You might have a lead, Dinah.”
“As for the ‘ruse,’ and ‘exposing it,’ I’m going to point to something out. Again. You’re really not going to like it. But. I think you need to hear it. Because one of the most insidious things about any form of mind control? Is breaking it, is never simple. There’s a real chance here, that the Oliver you met tonight -is- your Oliver now.” Clearing my throat, I use one hand to lightly nudge her chin so that she’s looking at me directly. “If they’ve re-wired him? The only way to undo it, is going to be re-doing it. It’s difficult, because the person who has been tampered with is going to be the one who fights you the hardest.”
“Can we talk about Tetch for a moment?”
Dinah: “More practical training, for sure. I feel the need to point out some humorous irony in going to the Bat Cave for socialization.”
But at that point, I only didn’t live in a gym or dojo, or the basement of what is now my home in Gotham with its heavily soundproofed walls, because it was technically required by law that I go to school and my grandparents demanded very little of me. That being one of those things. Ironic or not, there was a lot of things I needed in that cave that I didn’t recognize at the time. I suppose that’s the crucible that it was for all of us. Well. Except for maybe Tim. He came at this whole thing from a different angle than Dick or Bruce or I had. As the heirloom fastens around my neck, I’m a little surprised by the thrum that I can feel all the way down to my bones. My power isn’t something I’m constantly aware of any longer, but the meta gene manifested itself when I was five so I’ve had a while to get used to it, and then tune it out. This is like an instrument that had been just slightly off coming into tune. A feedback loop being fixed. i’m actually a little glad he’s got questions so I don’t end up distractedly dwelling on this.
Or trying to fly out the window.
“Funny, huh? I like his bestie better than he does. The Luthor kid was a job for him, though, and I think he might have gotten maybe just a little bit…”
Prejudiced, on account of the apparent Goddess that he’s been carrying a torch for. I wind up trailing off before I can begin to air any of that laundry. Either his brother already knows, though I happen to think he’s a little clueless when it comes to that, or Tim wouldn’t appreciate me gossiping about something that he’s trusted me with. As for the question itself, however, it’s both simple and complicated all at once, and much like the moment I spent recollecting my conversation with Conner about Oliver’s capture, I actually pause to order my words. Which is probably telling that I find this important to convey exactly as I mean to, and to not just bull and brash my way through it like I do most things.
“Bluntly? No, but it’s not a matter of earned. Not yet. He reminds me a lot of someone else I’m rather intimately familiar with, though. Slapping on a name and a costume that doesn’t actually belong to them, because they’ve got something to do or prove. He’s what they made him, and that can go one of two ways. Do I think that he can step up, and along the way that one important thing to him might turn into two, and then more? Yeah, I do. Even Supermen follow the path of least resistance though, and he’s already aware that no one trusts him, and if no one does what’s in it for him to want to even try to earn that?”
You want more irony? That I’m treating the acutally bullet proof, actually faster than that speeding slug, eye-lasering teenager with proverbial kid gloves, but he is still that. A kid, with a whole lot of potential for both destruction and greatness that needs a reason. Other than his girlfriend, because while that may work for now I have a hard time believing that will work forever. Dinah Lance. Cynical Romantic. Now. It’s the second question that actually surprises me. Surprises me enough to make my eyes widen in confusion, and my head pull back a fraction. Not enough to seem like I’m trying to back away, but it’s a physical manifestation of the ‘waitwhat?’ that sounds in my head. I’m actually completely thrown off, and so I right myself in the best way I know how. Some immediate sarcasm after he’s carried on without really giving me a chance to answer.
“Well, you did taze me. So you’re saying there might be something I can flirt my way towards a resolution with? Hallelujah.”
There’s a heavy sigh as he tries to gently, at least more gently than I’d probably do in his place, remind me that this new Oliver is My Oliver, and that this is the new normal for him going forward and that I should act and plan accordingly. Because I don’t like it, but logically I get it. It’s also, in part because he’s managed to take the natural flow of the conversation and loop it back around to something we’d agreed to table until later. Or at least that I’d decided and said we’d deal with later, because he’s fixated on it like it’s going to stop me from doing my ‘job.’
“If we must.”
My hand moves from the counter, a single motion to snatch at his hand but while the movement is quick it’s not violent and I take it, rather than slap it away from my face.
“I do trust you, Dick. Why would you think that I didn’t?”
Dick : “It wasn’t always like that. When I first got there, it was.. just a cave. Not even a bat cave. The first couple weeks Bruce tried, really tried, to beat the witty sarcasm out of me. Every night, once I was deemed not yet ready, he’d leave and Alfie would pick me up. Put me back together. We’d start all over the next day. It didn’t become the Cave you needed until Bruce remembered how to live again. Once he realized that he needed people like us, if he was going to survive … you know the rest.”
Part of me believes that Dinah is going to see this as a setup. That she’s going to think I’ve orchestrated this conversation in to being about her or about me. Truthfully, I’d wanted to discuss the topic we’re getting too, but it’s happened far more organically once we stopped fighting every other breathe. We, or at least I, needed it to be more fluid than forced because I knew we’d never make it to the point I have been desperately chasing if we got in to another fight.
For all of that as a reason, I don’t want to do a disservice to the discussion of Conner Luthor. Because the rest of our talk stems from the organic honest of that topic. “You’re more right than you know, D. He is what they made. He’s a weapon. A highly trained, extremely effective, physically teenage, mentally pre-teenage, weapon that popped out before his egg timer went off. That’s what Bruce sent Tim in undercover to ascertain too. How much of their training go imprinted before it all went sideways.”
“Tim’s reports are … detailed. Grizzly. But. A trained eye can see how this Superboy changed, as his life was influenced by the things he wanted, that he couldn’t just take. He can be better. They didn’t strip him of that choice. Tim’s assertion is simply that he doesn’t believe the Superboy can make the Superman choices without that influence.” And there’s something else, but there is always something else. “Tim’s insights are colored by the things he witnessed Con-L do, before he started to mature. They’re colored again by Tim’s insecurity. An insecurity that is.. deepening. I’m troubled by what -I- see as those two boys going in opposite directions because of this Wonder Woman’s influence on them. Intentional, for Con-L. Unintentional for Timothy.”
“We saved him, you know?. Every day. Bruce, I mean. Sometimes twice as much as he saved us.” Head tilting off to the side, because I’m making a very studious attempt at really looking Dinah in the eyes. “He needed us. So there’s no loss to our ego admitting that we sometimes need each other. I needed that kick in the ass you gave me. Damien needs one right now. I’m starting to think maybe Tim does too.”
I know I’m pulling her rather suddenly away from the discussion about Tim and Conner. But I’m only doing so topically, to get her to see something. Or to lead her towards what I hope she sees, the same way I do. “I don’t think you trust me, because …. you’re the smartest, most bad ass woman in the room. Any room. In the entire time we’ve known each other, I’ve never intruded on your life like I’ve been doing lately.”
“If you trusted me. You’d know that, no matter what your brain is telling you, there is no way I’d risk making you hate me. Unless I actually knew the alternative, not helping, not intruding, was worse.” She took my hand, so I give it this soft squeeze that leaves it open for her to pull away. I almost know that it is the next most likely outcome. Especially once I finish that thought. “Tetch had you alone for a few seconds. Just long enough to start doing what he always does. Making a change. In this case, he was just making sure you’d do the thing that would most please him. Such as, for example, letting him go.”
“Tim rushed in. Tetch screamed his name, just before he got his jaw broke. I know you’ve been effected. I believe in you, D. I know you can accomplish anything you set your heart and mind too. I just want you to trust me, that I’m afraid that you’re choices are ever so slightly colored by this. That you’ll make a choice, however small, based on something that shouldn’t be there. And the consequences will be too high to be paid.”
“That’s why I put the Harmonizer in to the Collar, that Tetch used to control his sister. Alice. Back when we first met him. When he hadn’t quite perfected the whole mind whammy hat thing.” When I give her hand a second squeeze, it’s because I’m offering a hint of reassurance. And…the most charming smile I’ve ever offered. “And. I hope you trust me, right now. Because I am telling you the only Robin you need to please is the one right in front of you. I know. It’s hard to trust someone that just got you to put on a collar with a mind control device in it.”
“But, if we can make it the next few minutes without you breaking my nose… just tell me you trust me. Please.”
Dinah : “Hell, you don’t even need the reports. Ask him and he’ll tell you. For all his flaws and the problems that kid might present, he’s honest. And underneath the Superman mask, and the act that is Conner Luthor, there’s a whole lot of you can lead a horse to water, but that horse doesn’t actually know if he wants water or not, and God help you if you try to make him drink it. For now, he likes it because she likes it, but we can’t count on that motivator long term. Or. I guess we can, because I’m told she’s immortal? Christ. Someone save us all from perpetual, god-moding teenagers…”
I may be grousing, but he already knows that I like our current Superman. I just don’t trust that Wonder Woman will always be in a position to solely be the one keeping him in line, and if we didn’t have to depend on the status of a hormonal teenage relationship to keep the world from burning I’d be so much happier about the whole thing. So would Tim. Because then he could make the move that he wants to make, and that thought line has my head already starting to try to tally up all the ways we can give Conner Luthor other things to be attached to, and want to protect and more relationships to maintain. My nose wrinkles, not because of the turn my mind’s taken but because of what Dick’s said about Tim. So he knows. Not shocking, he’s a smart guy and as much of an incredible genius as Timothy Drake-Wayne is, he’s far less subtle about some things than I think he thinks he is.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have chewed your ass into taking the cowl from him, I wasn’t trying to damage his ego, in fact I was trying to do the opposite. I just couldn’t sit there in the Nest and watch him get himself killed, along with his not even half-trained liability.”
So why hadn’t I just gone out with him? Because if I’d done that, I would have almost surely been myself, done all of it myself, and conveyed the same message in a different way. Except Tim made it pretty clear he didn’t really want the suit in the first place, he was filling some too big shoes, and consequently tripping on them, because he felt that someone had to and he could do it until someone else would. No. I think I made the best choice for the situation, and insecurity is something that can be worked on. Dead isn’t.
“Sounds like they’re both due a lightbulb moment. Maybe we should lock all of them in a closet together. Let them sort out their… I can’t finish that. It’s a terrible idea even for a joke.”
Tim and I had a talk with Damien, but since it didn’t involve literally kicking his ass, I don’t know that it took. I guess we’ll have to see how he comes out of his indentured servitude to NOWHERE, or if he’s another name on the list of folks that need rescued from this ‘isn’t as bad as we think’ group. When he shifts topics, as we’ve been going back and forth doing, I can only hope the deadpan look on my face conveys a whole lot of what I’m thinking, without my interrupting to say ‘listen, dumbass…’ If I didn’t trust him, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I would have fought a lot harder against him coming along, or taken a different route that probably would have involved more than a little lying and possibly violence. Or that maybe just maybe I’ve been fighting with him because he’s never intruded in my life before so what gives him the right to start right now, and not trust me to handle my own shit.
And then deadpan, you’re an idiot expression goes blank. Just not the sort of blank that might indicated confusion, or incomprehension. No. I understood him perfectly well, so this is more the calm at the center of a storm of I’m about to murder your ass. He’s got my hand, and I don’t precisely try to take it away, so much as solidify my own return hold on it so that he can’t get away from me. There’s a really solid temptation to really incapacitate him with a well placed kick, but he better be able to explain himself. There’s an explosion of action in my free hand shoving off the counter, as my heels use the front of the cabinet to propel me forward, and knees up with every intention of riding his shoulders to the floor.
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?”
My free hand’s catching at the choker, trying to rip it off of my throat. The rage that’s roared into life in my chest is making it very, very hard to not just commence with trying to beat the crap out of him and vent all the anger of the day. Trying, because he could actually give me a run for my money, though unless he’s got his clubs on him I’ll have an edge. Until you take into account the suit of actual armor he’s wearing, so that leaves me with just head shots. Someone, somewhere, might feel bad about the damage to his handsome face but… if he’d actually just mind controlled me into pleasing him instead I probably shouldn’t be able to be so creatively, and explicitly planning out how I’m about to dismember him.
That’s really the only thing that stops me from actually starting to make my solid go at it.
Dick : “I’ve had one opportunity to meet your Superboy, and I kicked him out of Gotham as soon as the meeting came to an end,” before she can quibble about that particular Batman tradition, I move on to… “At the time our truce, so to speak, had not be entirely thrown out the window by Damien’s actions.”
As for Tim, I don’t really even know where to begin. A lot of what is going on with Timothy is Dinah’s fault, except it isn’t her fault at all. She can’t be held responsible for what she’s done the last few months. Which I know won’t mean a thing to her once she’s as free as I can manage to get her from the spell she’s under. So let’s start with the part she really played no part in. “No. If there’s guilt for you, as far as Timothy is concerned, that’s not where it lays.”
“When I spoke with Tim, about the Cowl, he didn’t want it. Because he already didn’t believe he was good enough. The problem, the real problem with Timothy, is that for all those brains? He cannot see his own value, because all he’s ever known as ‘second place.’ He thinks that he’s the second best Robin, behind me. The second best detective, behind Bruce. He couldn’t stop the attack on our systems, because he’s not quite as good as Babs. The first girl he ever fell for? He couldn’t win her, even though his competition was almost literally abusing her. When he accepted that he needed to be second fiddle, he couldn’t even manage to do that… he failed you at the Iceberg Lounge, got benched and you immediately went off with Slade. That part, you can own, for the record.”
“Baby brother needs a win, but it can’t come from me. The Detective in him will never accept it from me. He’ll poke holes in anything I even try to do or say.” As for the other, I’m not certain if I’m the right person to help with Superboy either, but I do know from experience that he respects Batman. Even if that respect didn’t pay off long term, obviously.
Oh. Wow. This hotel has the nicest floors. Cushy. I’m impressed, maybe I should forget buying that restaurant and look at buying…How the hell did I get here? Ah, yes. I think Dinah Lance is angry. Very angry. Good call, Dick. I knew I better come with my hat in hand and my armor thick. Because… “…Dinah. D. Di! Dinah!”
The smart thing? Put my arms up. She road my shoulders to the floor, but she doesn’t have the weight to keep me there if I want to move. Block any shots to the head, that’s what I should be doing. Nothing in Bruce’s training said to lay there prone. To be the punching bag for Dinah’s fury. Someone has to be and I can take it. So, I do. As much as she needs to unleash, I’m just hoping she hears my only defense.
“…it’s a false command, D… there is no Robin…!”
For the first time in a very long time, she should be more or less free of Tetch’s original command. With mine making no actual impression, because no one fills that role currently. I didn’t erase what Tetch did, because doing so would require erasing literal months of her memory. We’d need a spell or a telepathic far more surgical than that choker would ever allow for. Plus, Dinah would have to be willing. Which will never happen. All I’ve done, in a way, is the same thing Bruce did with Tetch’s real sister Alice. He gave an empty command, that released her from following the previous one.
The one thing that doesn’t work for me here, is that the choker won’t simply pull off. The stabilizer part of it, makes it something of a magnet in so much that her own power keeps it locked in place. The only way it’s coming off, would be for someone to turn it off. And she’s currently deciding whether to throttle the person who could do that.
Dinah: The part that he says I can own, is actually one of the few parts I won’t. He seemed to enjoy the benching, after all, and then ignored that I’d done it in the first place. It didn’t seem to be until after the fact that he really had gotten butt hurt about it, at which part I should have just done it more forcefully or explained it to him in no uncertain terms. Why hadn’t I, when I was doing it for just the same reason I’d gone to Dick about the cowl in the first place? He hadn’t let me down at the Iceberg, he’d had a cover to protect and by proxy all the people attached to that cover, and leaving him in charge of training while I left had been meant to show that I trusted him and believed that he could handle it. So why did I ignore him moping about up until… fuck.
It’s not Dick’s repeated use of my name, and variations thereof, that’s stopped me from exercising a one-two right across that smug face of his. Even if it’s not looking actually smug right now it does on occasion, and furious as I am that’s affront enough. On top of everything else. It’s definitely not any sense of modesty or restraint that’s come from realizing that particular attack in a short dress, and with where I’m perched, might be a little compromising. To someone else. It’s the fact that my fingers are still trying to get purchase on the new jewelry that’s defying the force being applied to it, and instead of coming free just digs into the opposite side of my neck instead.
Growled through clenched teeth at him. The fact that he’s apparently going to just lay there and take it takes a lot of the satisfaction for me out of it. God, no I still really do want to break his nose, so instead I rock back onto the balls of my feet and start to rise. If I weren’t the one he’d pulled this on, I might actually be impressed by the forethought. Fucking armor. What’s making me even more irate is that he’s practically led me by the nose into a trap twice now. And I let him. Only this time it happens to sting just a bit worse.
Okay, no. I can’t completely help it after all. I’m part way up when I drop my weight in order to drive a knee into ribs, even though I know it’s not going to do much if anything other than some fake satisfaction for me. I punched a Batsuit once upon a time, and they’ve only gotten more advanced since then. I don’t linger there, or throw any more physical jabs, I twist to the side and get my feet back under me again.
“Get this off, and then get the hell out. I have to figure out what the fuck I’m going to do about Tim now, on top of everything else.”
Dick : “…hey, don’t just… unngh.. really?”
Okay. Who would have thought the entire bear defense that my actual father taught me at the age of five would work? ‘Just go down. Play dead.’ He’d told me after one of the circus bears escaped during a particularly terrible trip to Arkansas. I’d thought every element of this conversation through a hundred times. I knew that I could get her talking. I knew she innately trusted me. And. I’d known all too well that she’d end up wearing that choker. What I didn’t know, is what would happen after that. So, my only plan had been… Play dead, Dick..
Little did I know, she’d shank me in the ribs as an after-thought? If that’s the worst of it, then it was worth just about any cost. Worth dusting myself off as I pick my ass up off the ground and get myself in right proper shape for what comes next. She didn’t punch me before, but maybe she’s about too.
“I can’t. Seriously. I literally can’t take it off. At least, not as easily as could be accomplished in the time your tone of voice suggests that I have left in this mortal coil.” She needed the freedom to work out her anger and betrayal a second ago, this time she’ll find me less willing to just take a punch after what I’ve just said. “Stabilizer is primed to your harmonics. The only way it comes off now, is if you can keep yourself stable enough to take it off.”
“Hey. You said you trusted me. I really hope you meant that, because you know how Hatter’s programming works. You couldn’t knowingly let me break his mind control. If you meant that bit about trusting me? Then … aw, t’hell with it… I understand why you’re angry. But, I came here knowing your pride wouldn’t let you accept that anyone ever had to save you from anything.”
“We need you, Dinah. The real you. I’m done apologizing for that.” She is at least getting part of her wish though. The gloves are on and I’m reaching back to lace the cowl back over my head. “If you can’t handle the fact that I was willing to do anything to make sure your every choice was your’s and no one else’s? Then you asked the wrong person to put this cowl on.”
“Because if you knew me, even a tenth as well as you’ve said before? Then you know there’s just not a chance in hell, that I’d let Tetch diminish the only woman I respected as much as I respected Bruce.”
Dinah: “…hey, don’t just… unngh.. really?”
Okay. Who would have thought the entire bear defense that my actual father taught me at the age of five would work? ‘Just go down. Play dead.’ He’d told me after one of the circus bears escaped during a particularly terrible trip to Arkansas. I’d thought every element of this conversation through a hundred times. I knew that I could get her talking. I knew she innately trusted me. And. I’d known all too well that she’d end up wearing that choker. What I didn’t know, is what would happen after that. So, my only plan had been… Play dead, Dick..
Little did I know, she’d shank me in the ribs as an after-thought? If that’s the worst of it, then it was worth just about any cost. Worth dusting myself off as I pick my ass up off the ground and get myself in right proper shape for what comes next. She didn’t punch me before, but maybe she’s about too.
“I can’t. Seriously. I literally can’t take it off. At least, not as easily as could be accomplished in the time your tone of voice suggests that I have left in this mortal coil.” She needed the freedom to work out her anger and betrayal a second ago, this time she’ll find me less willing to just take a punch after what I’ve just said. “Stabilizer is primed to your harmonics. The only way it comes off now, is if you can keep yourself stable enough to take it off.”
“Hey. You said you trusted me. I really hope you meant that, because you know how Hatter’s programming works. You couldn’t knowingly let me break his mind control. If you meant that bit about trusting me? Then … aw, t’hell with it… I understand why you’re angry. But, I came here knowing your pride wouldn’t let you accept that anyone ever had to save you from anything.”
“We need you, Dinah. The real you. I’m done apologizing for that.” She is at least getting part of her wish though. The gloves are on and I’m reaching back to lace the cowl back over my head. “If you can’t handle the fact that I was willing to do anything to make sure your every choice was your’s and no one else’s? Then you asked the wrong person to put this cowl on.”
“Because if you knew me, even a tenth as well as you’ve said before? Then you know there’s just not a chance in hell, that I’d let Tetch diminish the only woman I respected as much as I respected Bruce.”
Dinah: I should really knee him in the face while he’s getting up. And then sucker punch him on the next time, though there wouldn’t be a next time. Clearly he was willing to take the uncontrolled rage beating, but probably not so much petty, calculated pot shots. I’m so tempted, in fact, that I stalk away from him a few paces once he’s said he can’t take it off, because the urge to do it anyway has just become almost insurmountable. And I’m only getting more angry at the fact that I’m so angry at him I very nearly can’t control myself. Controlling myself was a victory I’d earned and fought for a long time ago. The fact that I can yell at him without yelling at him is a testament. Though it’s also very tempting.
“Yeah. I did. Fool me twice, Dick…”
I’m settling for waspish snapping at him, because inside I’m screaming all the harder over the fact that I’m wearing a mind-control collar, in the middle of Star City, that he can’t take off again, and who knows where Slade is right now, or if he’s been listening. If there’s one thing I hate more than getting trapped, or trumped, it’s feeling vulnerable. And I’m kicking out the person who I could normally count on to watch my back.
“And you thought that doing it here. Mid mission. With Deathstroke. When probably the most questionable thing I’d do would be to continue to act in your brother’s best interests…”
Ah, fuck. Tim. What the fuck am I going to do about Tim… seriously, I forcibly steer my thoughts away from Red Robin and our interactions because it would probably both serve to make me less able to calm down, and liable to be a little ill. I can’t spend tonight examining every interaction that we’ve had, but what else am I going to do? Hit up my crime alley of choice, in a mind control collar, in a NOWHERE infested city that already knows I’m here?
Logically. Deep down in my angry beehive of a brain, I know that Dick couldn’t wait, even if the actual timing and method that he chose was unmitigated shit. Logically, if I knew that he really knew what Tetch had done to me and let me stay that way, it would probably be worse. Logic just has absolutely nothing to do with anything right at this particular moment, and I really should have punched him. Now he’s got the rest of the suit on, though, and I have missed the opportunity to do it without a whole lot of extra effort. Which leaves me stalking towards the back of the apartment, to go and find something that I can punch.
And I’m telling Barb. How’s that for petty pot shots…
Dick: “Okay. I don’t want to argue, yet. We can do that once you actually listen to me for a second.”
This? I’ve said this to Dinah as the motherfucking Batman steps in front of her and her exit. I’m okay with being the punching bag. I came here knowing that I’d be the bad guy at the end of this. I haven’t sought out a thank you or any sort of gratification from this. I could have, but that’s not remotely who I am. Even at my lowest. But, I’m not having this right here. Where she questions my tactics after she forced me to take this route.
“I’ve had quite enough of that particular line of garbage, Dinah. You know damned well that I wouldn’t have come here mid-mission and locked that choker on you, if there was even a chance someone else could utilize it. If someone got close enough to you, to figure out what it is? They’d also need to stay close enough to you to use it. Which, by the way, only works with old school tech. It needs my exact bio-metrics to function. Which also requires someone to figure out who it’s keyed too. Track me down. Get me out of the suit. Then let’s say another shapeshifter fakes my biometrics, my voice and uses it? In order to override those past commands, we only programmed a single phrase in to the Ones and Zeros.”
“That’s a string of events that could happen, but they’re pretty damned far fetched.” A jabbing hand cuts through the air between she and I, symbolically ending that line of discussion. At least on my end. “You’re also being dismissive of the fact that pleasing Red Robin has a statistically better chance of going terrible, than the odds of that choker being used against you before you learn to get it off.”
“What if. In his depressed state. He gave you the idea that pleasing him would equate to you walking off the short end of a pier? Or going on some suicidal mission with Deathstroke, because he’s got his pre-teen pubes in a twist over not being good enough for you?”
“If you want to vent your anger at me? Fine, get it out. Walk away. But, you’re not going to walk away from me without hearing from me that I meticulously planned this. Because despite being the *&^%$ Batman, I’m not Bruce under this cowl. I can’t do it alone, like he could, Dinah. I need help. I need a team, a family. And everyone leaves. Barb left. Bruce left. Helena left. Tim is leaving, right now. Has Damien even ever been there. Rhetorical.”
“My point is, that I need you. The real you. I need you know your choices aren’t influenced by anything, but you.” Both of my hands are visible, up, but ready to defend this time if I need too. “Now that you’re free of Tetch and you know that I made pretty fucking sure this wouldn’t backfire… you want me to go? Fine.”
“What are you willing to do to make sure Oliver is Oliver? You think he wants your help? You think you can go to his place, right now, tell him that he’s been subtly changed and he’ll pop a bottle open with you to brainstorm his freedom? You don’t even know what they’ve changed, to keep Ollie so close to the man you know, but to get him to walk a different path. You just know it can’t be tolerated… Pot. Kettle.”
“Like I said. Tell me to go, now, and I’m gone. I just want you to say it, knowing I came here for the same reason you did. It’s just a different blonde we used to be hung up on that we each came to save.”
Dinah: Oh, he doesn’t want to argue, despite I’m fairly sure pointing out that it’s all we do. It’s definitely what I do, because it acts as self-defense, as deflection if I want out of a particular situation, as a means to antagonize someone. Playfully or not. Particularly of late it’s been one or the other of us picking those fights, well meaning or not. And no matter how much I should probably at least acquiesce to his planning going steps further past baiting me into the collar, into making sure that it wouldn’t get me into even more trouble, I’m not going to. Not out loud.
Maybe he does have something in common with our new Superman after all: being punished for doing what he thinks is the right thing.
Throwing my hands up in the air, not at his face, I spin on my bare heel and stalk a pace back in the other direction to both create space once more and as a means to channel the bottled up energy at least in some small amount of kinetic movement. Even if the best I get is a short back and forth pace on the rug. Since he’s taken the legs out from beneath my last accusation, I do what any smart tactician does. Abandon that, and pick up somewhere else.
“You didn’t exactly leave me with a lot of other options here, and you damn well knew I’d be fucking mad at you for it. I’m mad that you made a point of showing me not to trust people that I should trust, and then I did it again anyway. I’m mad this went on as long as it did, and that it might destroy someone important to me even when it’s ‘fixed.’ I’m mad because I feel backed into a corner. And it’s not the same. I wasn’t acting against everything I used to stand for because…”
He’s going to have a rebuttal for that, so I lift an index finger between us. It’s just to stop me, more than him, as I take a deep breath and readjust. Because you just spent the last few months crossing a line you were never going to cross with a kid that you’re now going to have to figure out how to handle, without permanently damaging your relationship, or his ego.
“If I thought this was going to be anything other than something other than Ollie masquerading as Ollie, I would have come at this from a different angle, and if I thought it was a matter now of just changing his mind, then I wouldn’t have turned down the nightcap.”
No, you turned that down because apparently screwing other people became a line you weren’t going to cross. Fuck. It had made so much sense to not be, well, me in that particular moment and now I’m finding myself unable to trust my decisions that I’d been so sure of.
“And if I find proof that this really was just him somehow then I’ll punch him in his goateed face, and protect the family that he turned on, but I am fully capable of being fucking mad, and still not leaving.”
Because I’m mad because he matters to me. Both hes, I suppose, and I didn’t miss that he said he needs me. I guess if anything that was some good word choice to at least stop me from building up more steam. I’m still damn well going to keep arguing though.
“Here I am doing exactly what I just said that I didn’t want to do. Arguing. But, I’m going to point out that you are mad because you’ve been backed in to a corner. Which I did and I’d apologize, if it weren’t for the fact you wouldn’t <I>allow</I> anything else.” Which I’m pretty sure she should hear it in my voice for once, that I am genuinely frustrated by the fact that she wouldn’t listen to me any other way I tried. “Do you realize how many times I tried other routes on this? Dinah, I mean it. It was this way or Alfred’s way and Alfie suggested tranquilizers in your Bourbon.”
The real Batman would never be standing here having this discussion. Bruce didn’t justify his actions. People either understood his intentions or didn’t. And those who didn’t either swallowed their pride or got out of his way. To my credit, I’m as true to my word as possible. I need people, so I can’t be like Bruce. I have to get people to understand and keep working with me. Except that I have a limit to the crow I’m going to eat when it comes to something like this. I own my choice, but I won’t own the fact that she backed -me- in to the corner and left me no real alternatives.
I won’t say it that way, but I’m not exactly sure what Dinah expected. So I’m going to move on and she opened the door quite nicely. “Actually, with regards to Timothy, I believe the damage is not in the fix. Tim’s problem is a compounding one. It began with Cassandra Sandsmark, but it has steadily gotten worse because of a perception that none of us have corrected. He seems himself as something of a failure. Or perhaps, he sees the approach he’s been taking as a failure.”
“This is where I’m a bit out of sorts with all of this, Dinah. From what I can tell Tim is thinks himself unworthy. He failed as Batman, because he tried to be Bruce. He failed Cassandra, because he actively chose to leave her with Conner (whom he sees as vile). He failed to solve Bruce’s murder. He’s failed to protect the Family from these outside attacks. He manipulated Damien, instead of helping him, which turned in to Damien killing Firefly and a host of others.”
“You also left him with a protege. Whom he seems hell-bent on not failing like, he perceives, he has done for everyone else in his life.”
“Before our last conversation in Gotham, I took some time at his ‘Nest.’ He’s doing some advanced things there, definitely above my paygrade, so I had to get Lucious Fox involved. As nearly as we can tell, he’s decided to <I>improve himself</I>. Which seems connected to ‘failing’ you at the Iceberg Lounge. Experimental nano-mesh technology to repair his shoulder. Complete costume redesign. New bike.”
My shoulders move in only the most slim approximation of a shrug, before I am speaking again on the topic of Oliver Queen. “Not to say I told you so, because frankly we’re well beyond that, but… Tetch’s programming affects people’s natural tendencies. I’m not sure you could actually <I>think</I> strongly about the topic of mind control, hypnosis…etc, without your mind comparing your circumstances to Oliver’s. Especially once you had someone like me putting it in front of you. That would have lead to self-examination, which your programming would automatically rebel against.”
“Meaning: Tetch’s programming was impacting you in ways you couldn’t perceive. Like dropping a small pebble in a pond, the ripples go everywhere Dinah.”
“Regardless. We’re here now. I hope you consider, for once, forgiving me. Because I really do need you and I need you to trust, if not me directly, then trust the fact that I’d only break your trust if it was something like this.” Crossing my arms, I haven’t moved so it leaves me framed as the Batman in the doorway. Scowling, which is far less pretty than my smirk. “Also. I’m moderately hurt, Dinah, that you spent a couple moments thinking I’d mind control to please me. Anything less than the full Monty ‘Dinah Lance’ doesn’t merit a notice from this Robin.”
“Actually. That’s what tipped me off to all of this. You weren’t you and I actually like you. I might be the <I>only</I> person that does.”
Dinah: “Gee. It’s almost like Alfred knows me…”
Sure, I’d still be mad then, but only after waking up and I’d get over it. Easy to think when it’s the circumstance that I’m not actually in the middle of, even though I know two things perfectly clearly: Dick Grayson’s not going to be okay with roofying a girl he actually remotely cares about, and/or will have to see again with any regularity. He’s not Bruce. And hypothetical betrayal is mostly likely going to seem not as bad as the one you actually just lived and had to actually feel the emotions, and reactions, of. I keep alternating between defensive arm crossing, and animated gestures of annoyance.
“You kept accusing me of being in love with your brother! Which I’m not! Wasn’t.” Blonde head cocks to the side for a moment in obvious mental examination of that particular mental assertion, lips tightening like I’m ready to find something unpleasant. “Nope. Wasn’t. Definitely wasn’t.”
I guess we’re all very lucky that the programming doesn’t make you act in a manner completely counter to your normal proclivities or Christ this would be even worse.
“And if I’m not allowed to be pissed at you for something you couldn’t help, you don’t get to point fingers and use your butthurt face. Yes. I know it’s under there. For things I did when I wasn’t me. Fully me. Normal me.”
As he goes on to detail Tim’s supposed failings, I rub my palms against my forehead in my own frustration, but it’s taken some of the heat out of the rest of it. We’re not talking about me now. Of all the ‘flaws’ he lists, almost all are things that all of us have been failing at of late, maybe with a few additions of failing Tim for putting him in situations that he’s much too young to have to deal with, or not thinking through how he, being Tim would respond to others. It’s not like we don’t all know how he ticks.
“Nnn-nnn. She was his first, I got roped into training her. Christ, so we have to all babysit Spoiler now so nothing incidentally happens to her and he really goes off the deep end. Great. Perfect. Just how I want to spend my time.”
That’s a choice I don’t have to try and examine, though. The time I spent in the bowels of the Nest training these kids instead of doing something productive like chasing trails on Bruce’s murder, or dealing with Ollie’s disappearance before it reached the point it’s at now. Maybe the timing would have been different, and I suppose I can try to blame Tetch for all of this if I really want, but I still would have trained them. I was doing it with Roy, which wasn’t at Red Robin’s request.
“He seems to enjoy the costume shtick, and better faster tech is his wheelhouse. I’ve had to fight to keep him away from my ride for years. But the million dollar man routine is something that is going to need dealing with. It’s like none of you have watched a sci-fi movie ever…”
There’s so many sniping comments I could, and want to, make with what he’s just said. Road to Hell. Good intentions. All well and good to claim the greater good when you’re the one in the wrong… maybe it really is better in the short term that he did this here, because the situation itself demands some logic and self-preservation override anything else that might be going on in my head, and that is something I can focus on. If he was making up the whole thing about my grandmother to get me to let my guard down, though, I really will hunt him down in his sleep and do a whole lot worse than a knee in the armor. I don’t fawn and pat his hand, and assure him that all is forgiven, and it’ll all be okay, but the fact that I don’t keep needling him about it is a fair approximation to a white flag from me. Instead, I cluck my tongue at him.
“Superman likes me. You should probably stop baiting, unless you want me to helpfully go back to the comment about you being hung up on me.”
Those lips of mine draw in to a very thin line. Tone of voice dipping in to that grittier, ominous tone. “You do not know what is under the Cowl. You may think you know, but there is no way to confirm. Batman does not do ‘butthurt,’ it’s literally in the bi-laws. Of which you’re in violation of by just suggesting such a thing.”
This bit of back and forth is about the only confirmation she’s going to get. Because I’m not going to give her the satisfaction of taking the mask off again and letting her see it. She isn’t the only one who has a self-defense mechanism. Mine just has a utility belt these days. “Also. You were <I>Moping</I>. M-o-p-i-n-g. You were either in-love or Mind Controlled. Nothing else makes Dinah Mope. Also, pretty sure there’s a line about ‘Dinah Mope’ in the bi-laws. Scribbled in crayon. By a little mocking bird.”
Okay. Now I move. For the first time since I barred her quick exit, I circle back around to where I’m close enough to actually make contact if one of us wanted. I just don’t make that particular leap yet. Another self-defense mechanism, you might say. How the fuck did she hurt my ribs through this much space-age kelvar weave? This girl. Meh.
“Mnn. Not sure how much babysitting she’s going to need. I’ll give this guilt-driven Tim one thing. He’s hell-bent on making sure Spoiler is ready for the life. The two of them disappeared, after he nearly beat her to death during some bo-staff training.”
“Superboy likes you. Great. A-Plus endorsement. I’ll put that in your epitaph. ‘Couldn’t say thanks to the guy who literally dropped everything to help her. But Superjerk liked her.'” Pulling the large cloak down around my shoulders allows me to actually loom in the center of the room for a moment. “<I>Only you</I> and Bruce would think it a weakness to be hung on someone as impressive as you.”
A flick of the wrist. That is all it takes to send her little hotel room in to complete darkness for a moment. The gesture controlled electro-magnetic pulse from my suit bathes us in Darkness. When it blinks back on a couple moments later? Dinah’s alone with her thoughts.