Across the Rainbow Bridge, Part III
“Not yet,” Layla said. “We have to stay.”
Jamie Madrox stopped short. He’d been about to leave. The Xavier Institute wasn’t really a place that felt welcoming to him anymore. Not for a while. Disagreements with the management. For all that he’d come to specialize in dealing with the unexpected and the unanticipated, he pretty much knew the drill every time he showed up at Xavier’s. Attend to business. Trade insults with Summers. Show contempt for his fellow mutants that only part of him actually felt. Get asked to leave. Lather, rinse, repeat. “Why?” he asked. It was a question he was asking a lot these days, though rarely out loud.
The Atlantean dinner had let out half an hour ago, and the mansion was beginning to quiet down. A few students still wandered here and there. Layla looked up at him. “I told you. I have a sense of what’s to come from a distance away. How things might turn out, and should turn out. I know we’re supposed to be here today, and we’re supposed to help Karen.”
“And you can’t tell me why.”
Jamie tried to keep his rising irritation under control. “I’ve been patient up till now, but this is getting old, Layla. You playing little miss cryptic, doling out vague references to our future along with a bunch of philosophical crap about butterflies and hurricanes, and all of us being led around by the nose. If you’re not willing to level with me, why should I do anything you say?” Rising irritation? Not so much under control.
“You could call a cab. Send me back to the orphanage.”
Jamie didn’t move, and slowly his anger and frustration began to drain away. Part of him wanted to do exactly what she’d suggested. But that was kind of the problem. Part of him wanted to do a lot of things. There was always a part that wanted to do something
. Another part wanted to listen. A third part was upset about missing dinner. Another wanted to go back and tell Scott Summers something really insulting that he’d only just thought of but would have been really satisfying to have said in their previous conversation. Yet another wanted to do something unexpected. Yet another part thought he was being mean, and another part suggested that if he really wanted to, he could stomp his foot a bit, create some dupes, and do every single thing that every part of him wanted.
”You suck at decision-making,” Layla said.
Jamie didn’t say anything.
Somewhere upstairs, a door slammed open, the sound muted by long hallways but still audible to the two mutants where they stood. A split second later, a moving blur resolved into a tall, busty, incredibly fit black-haired girl, who took a second to glance around and reorient.
"Karen," Layla said.
The girl's head snapped around. "Hey. Er... you." There was no recognition in her eyes, but that didn't surprise Layla. "Look, I'm a little busy at the moment, so whatever it is, it'll have to..."
"You're gonna want to listen to us," Layla said. "We're here to help."
Karen raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?" At Layla's nod, Karen looked thoughtful. "OK," she said, gesturing towards Jamie, "I know you're the guy who runs X-Factor Investigations," she looked at Layla, "But who are you?"
"I'm Layla Miller."
"She knows stuff," Jamie said.
by P.H. Wise
A Flashpoint Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 8: Across the Rainbow Bridge, Part III
Disclaimer: The DC Universe and its associated characters is the property of DC comics. The Marvel Universe and its associated characters is the property of Marvel Entertainment LLC. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is owned by Fran and Kaz Kuzui.
Steve Rogers shut his communicator and replaced it on his belt. The message he had sent was simple enough: “Avengers, assemble!” and the coordinates for Asgardia.
“We should put in a call to Xavier’s, too,” Steve said.
Tony frowned. “... maybe it’s not such a good idea to bring them into this,” he said.
Steve raised an eyebrow.
“They haven’t been the most reliable lately.”
“What are you talking about?”
Tony thought back. “I’m...” he trailed off. The last time the X-Men had done something questionable that he was aware of was... was when the Scarlet Witch went mad. Since then, they’d been nothing if not accommodating and cooperative with the Avengers. He frowned. “... not sure,” he finished.
Steve frowned, taking in his confused expression, his uncertain body language. “Are you feeling well?”
Tony smiled a bit ruefully. “Maybe I should have listened when the doctor said I needed some time to recover after what Ultron did to me.”
“Maybe. You’ve been odd lately.” He paused, and then his expression grew more serious. “Which reminds me. Tony, we need to talk.”
Tony grimaced as he took note of the ‘disappointed father’ look on Steve’s face. “OK, what’d I do?”
“What about her?”
Steve looked Tony in the eye. “You need to back off,” he said.
Tony looked at Steve for a second. “No. What I need is eight or nine shots of whiskey before we can have this conversation. Unfortunately, I can’t have that, because I’m still on the sobriety train, so neither can you.”
“I’m serious,” Steve said. “The way you act around her is inappropriate.”
“Inappropriate?” Tony asked incredulously. “Steve, it’s me. This isn’t about her age, is it? Because she’s twenty five.”
“That’s exactly the problem.”
Tony’s tone grew even more incredulous. “You don't really think I'm taking advantage of her just by flirting with her, do you? Are we talking about the same girl? She could break me like a twig if she wanted to."
“What I think is that while she may be twenty five years old, her body is only seventeen. You’re one of the leaders of the Avengers, we operate out of your tower, and it doesn’t matter in the eyes of the law that she was twenty five before she was de-aged: she’s seventeen. The ID we made for her says as much.”
Now Tony was getting annoyed, and it showed. “What’s your point, Steve?”
“My point is that I think you bring out the worst in each other, that she’s turned you down repeatedly and you haven’t stopped, and that even if she was interested, it would still be a bad idea given the simple math that she’s physically seventeen, and you’re...”
“A genius billionaire playboy philanthropist?” Tony interrupted.
“Forty,” Steve finished.
Tony glared. “You’re eighty four.”
“You don’t see me hitting on her, do you? Come on, Tony. You’re smarter than this.You and I lead this team. You can’t keep pushing unwanted sexual advances on a teammate.”
Tony fell silent for several moments. “... I know,” he said. He shook his head. “I can’t explain it. There’s just something about her that... grabs me.” Steve saw where Tony was going with that immediately: he’d just taken the first step in shifting the blame for his own behavior onto Kara. He gave Tony a disapproving look. For a moment, it looked like Tony was going to try to defend himself further, but then he stopped and let out a sigh. “I’ll behave,” he said. “Promise.”
They shook on it. And then Captain America took out his communicator once more. “Xavier’s,” he said.
Lois Lane woke up in a soft bed. It was warm, and her leg throbbed with the dull pain of a severe wound that had been healing for days. For a moment, her thoughts seemed lined with heavy wool. Then her eyes gained focus. She lay beneath smooth white sheets and furs of every sort, her head on soft white pillows. The room was strange: it was open to the sky, and a carefully tended grove of trees stood at its center. All around the trees grew herbs that filled the room with a pleasant, earthy scent.
She felt... comfortable.
The door opened, and a woman entered. She was slender and young, with reddish blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, dressed all in brown and green. She spoke, and her voice was like music. “Ah, you’re awake. Good.”
Lois watched the woman approach her bed. She had to swallow twice before she could speak. “Who are you? Where am I?”
The woman smiled. “I am Eir, goddess of healing, and you are in the city of Asgardia.”
Of all the possible replies, that hadn’t been high on Lois’ list of expectations. “... Huh.” Her eyelids drifted briefly shut.
“Lady Kára and the mortals who brought you here will wish to know that you are awake.” A warm hand pressed against Lois’s forehead. “No sign of fever. Good. I believe the worst is over.”
“How long was I out?” Lois opened her eyes. The room was empty. She looked about. No sign of Eir. Presently, the door opened, and instead of Eir, the girl Artemis had called Kara of Atlantis stepped through the door.
“How long?" Lois asked again.
Kara's lips twitched as if in the effort of trying not to smile. “A few hours."
Lois blinked. "A few hours?" she asked incredulously. Eir. Goddess of healing. Asgardia. "The Norse gods are allied with Atlantis, then?" she asked.
Kara shook her head. "Not exactly, no. I know what Artemis said, but I'm not Atlantean."
Lois sat up, ignored both her own exhaustion and the dull throbbing pain in her thigh, and tried to recall what she remembered about Norse mythology. "... Vanir, then?" she asked. She was taking this way better than she'd ever thought she could. Then again, she'd just spent thirty plus weeks training under the Amazons of Themyscira in an attempt to infiltrate their power structure and learn of their plans, and only missed out on becoming immortal herself by a few hours, so maybe her weirdness quotient was just full up.
This time Kara did smile. "Depends on who you ask," she said. "But no. Kryptonian." She let a beat pass, and the smile faded. "I believe you've already met my cousin."
Lois frowned. "I haven't met..."
"It was a long time ago. You were both children."
Lois's eyes widened. The boy. She was talking about the boy who was part of her father's project in Metropolis. It had been what had driven her to become a reporter in the first place: uncovering the truth about that boy, and what had really happened in New York the year she was born. The government had called it a terrorist attack. Three whole city blocks in the middle of downtown Metropolis destroyed when something had fallen from the sky. But it hadn't been a missile: it had been a ship. The government had covered it up, took the ship, took the boy and the dog that had been within, and folded it all into her father's super-soldier project: Project Superman. Kara was his cousin. "You're going to break him out."
Kara nodded. "Probably."
Lois looked Kara in the eye. They were the same eyes. The same blue eyes as the boy she'd met as a child. There were other similarities, too. The shape of the nose. The set of the eyes. The smile. Hell, if Kara'd had black hair instead of blonde, she'd have looked like his sister. "There are good people who work on that project," she said.
"I'll be careful. I don't kill people." She shook her head. "It's not what I do."
Lois studied Kara's eyes for a moment before nodding. "Thank you."
"Hey," Kara said, "It's the least I can do for cross-temporal family." She winked. Lois wasn't sure how to respond to that, but Kara seemed to blur around the room, picked up a pair of crutches from where they had rested against the far wall, returned to Lois's bedside, held them out to her, and spoke, all before she could reply. "You feel well enough to meet the others?"
Lois took the crutches, moved to the side of the bed, and then, very carefully, stood up. Her muscles groaned in protest, but she managed not to aggravate her leg. "Absolutely," she said
The flight to Asgardia took the better part of three hours. As the Blackbird set down on a landing pad next to one of the Avengers’ quinjets. The landing pad was oddly incongruous with the rest of the city - a little piece of ordinary Earth technology in the midst of the flying city of the Norse gods. A giant ash tree stood just behind the largest cluster of towers on the city’s largest island, looming above them, tall and strong, its branches wide, giving shade to all below it.
“Wow,” Karen whispered. Here and there, the Norse gods walked the streets, strong, tall and mighty.
Irma walked down the ramp next, dressed in her blue and white uniform, a faint smile upon her lips. “Wow is right,” she said.
Behind Irma came the Surge, Hellion, Prodigy, Dust, Elixir, X-23, Mercury, and Rockslide - Noriko, Julian, David, Sooraya, Joshua, Laura, Cessily, and Santo - all in their black and gold uniforms as the New X-Men. After the New X-Men cleared the ramp, two more exited the plane behind them, the first a handsome dark haired man of average height with a long leather jacket and otherwise ordinary clothes, the second a blonde girl who couldn’t be older than fourteen, her hair in pigtails, dressed in a white tank top, a denim skirt, black and red leggings, and tennis shoes.
Power Girl was there waiting for them at the edge of the platform. A woman on crutches was next to her: a weirdly familiar, beautiful, fierce looking woman with black hair and blue eyes.
“Hey Karen,” Power Girl called.
“Hey,” Karen replied. “I brought everyone I could.”
Kara nodded. "I'm impressed. Scott and Emma let you leave with your entire team plus a Blackbird?"
Karen's laugh was a little too loud, and the others exchanged nervous looks. "Kind of."
Kara raised an eyebrow. "... Ah. So you did it behind their backs, took the Blackbird without permission, and nobody actually has clearance to be outside of Xavier's?"
"Not exactly, but close."
Kara sighed. "Well, I'm glad you came anyways." She gestured to Karen. “Lois, this is my sister, Karen Zor-L.” She gestured to Lois. “Karen, meet Lois Lane.”
Lois Lane. At the invocation of that mythic name, Karen’s whole world seemed to screech to a stop. She recognized the woman now, and despite her being much younger than Karen had ever pictured her, she couldn’t for the life of her understand why she hadn’t recognized her immediately. This was Lois. Freaking. Lane. Her eyes widened slowly, and her whole body language changed. The weight in her heart lifted, and her mouth dropped open slightly. Then she began to smile, the smile quickly widening into a full blown grin. “Lois Lane?” she asked.
The mutants present - Irma excepted - exchanged confused looks, and Lois seemed just as confused, but nodded. “Um,” Lois said, “Yeah.”
“Only one I know about,” Lois replied, now more bemused than baffled.
Karen laughed, a sense of wild euphoria racing through her, and then...
“I did not!” Karen insisted as they walked into the entrance hall of Himinbjörg, citadel of Heimdall. She was STILL blushing, which wasn’t doing anything to give her denials credibility.
“You totally did,” Noriko replied.
“No I didn’t!”
“You squeed worse than Spider-Man the first time he met Captain America.”
“I didn’t!” Karen paused. “And how would you even know if Spider-Man squeed when he met Captain America?”
“It’s kind of legendary,” Julian said.
“Hey,” Cessily said, not quite able to keep the grin off of her face, “It’s cool. Rock that fangirl thing, Karen. Nobody’s judging you.”
Karen gave them all sour looks. “I just want you to know that I hate all of you.”
“Thou spakest true,” a deep male voice said, its tone one of wonderment. “If not for the difference in hair, I could not discern which was Kára and which not.”
Karen looked at the speaker, taking in his features, his garb, her eyes gaining focus as she employed her telescopic vision to read the inscription on the hammer he carried. "Doesn't Thor have red hair?" she wondered aloud. Thor raised an eyebrow, and Karen quickly backtracked. "Not that there's anything wrong with blondes. I, uh, I have plenty of blonde friends." Then it occured to her that she might have just made things even worse, blushed, and imagined herself being burned to a crisp by the lightning of an angry Thor. "So, um, please don't smite me." 'Suave, Karen,' she thought sarcastically, 'Very Suave. You are the prince of cool.'
"Plenty of blonde friends?" Irma asked with a dangerous note in her voice.
"Aren't you invincible?" Santo asked.
Not to magic. She didn't voice that out loud, but it was there in her thoughts. "Uh... can we go back and start this conversation over?"
Thor laughed. "Yes, now I see the differences. Come, if we are to save Kára's world, we must all act quickly. The time for explanations has come, but let them be swift."
The Avengers were waiting at the very threshold of Bifröst. Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Spider Woman, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, and... and... 'Oh shit,' Karen thought.
Wolverine leaned against the wall in his full yellow costume, a lit cigar in his mouth.
"Uh... hey Logan," Cessily said nervously.
Wolverine smirked. "Hey yourself," he said.
When Wolverine didn't say anything else, Cessily spoke again, "Er, you're not going to send us back?"
"Ya want me to?"
"Of course not!"
Wolverine nodded. "Good."
"Let's get down to business," Kara said. "I need you all to understand what you're walking into. I know you all said you'd help, but if you change your mind after you hear this, I’m not going to hold it against you. Karen and I will go by ourselves if we have to. It’s not your world that’s in danger. It’s ours.” She paused, waiting until she had everyone's attention. "It's called the Flashpoint," she said at last.
"OK," Spider-Man said, "I'll bite. What's the Flashpoint?"
“It all comes back to time travel,” Kara explained. “A good man, a friend, discovered that the reason his mother had died when he was a child was because one of his enemies had gone back in time and murdered her. Just to make him suffer. For hate’s sake. No other reason. He didn’t take it well.”
“Let me guess,” Tony said. “He went back in time to save her, and things got a little out of hand?”
“Pretty much,” Karen said. “When the Flash went back in time to prevent his mother’s murder, he screwed up the whole planet. He saves his mother’s life, but doing it makes him the butterfly of doom and alters history willy nilly, and now it’s apocalypse season and the people who would normally deal with it either don’t exist anymore or are part of the problem.”
David and Noriko exchanged glances. “That sounds like an incredibly dangerous situation,” David said, “It’s tragic, yes, but how does us jumping into it help anything?”
“Here’s the thing. We already know what’s going to happen. The whole world is going to be destroyed, but at the moment it dies, the Flash is going to run back to stop himself from going back in time in the first place.”
David raised an eyebrow. “So the problem is going to solve itself? I’m asking again, how does our jumping into it help anything?”
“When time resets, it resets wrong. When the Flash is in the time stream, this woman shows up out of nowhere and feeds him this lie about the history of heroes being divided into three, and how she wants his help to recombine it. He agrees, apparently because he’s a gullible schmuck. Three timelines become one timeline, and everything’s different. Three universes wiped out, a new one put up in their place. Nobody remembers the old world. And people are missing. People who now just... never existed. Important people. One of them is a girl named Atlee.”
Lois spoke up, then, "Are you telling me that my entire world and everything I remember is some big mistake? That the entire course of my life and everyone else's on Earth was derailed by one man trying to save his mother's life?" She grew angrier as she spoke. "I suppose he's responsible for the war between Themyscira and Atlantis, too? It's his fault that Grodd exterminated half the humans in Africa? That Atlantis sent tidal waves to destroy Europe?" When she saw the expression on Karen and Kara's faces, her mouth dropped open slightly. "Oh my God, that IS what you're saying, isn't it? Look, my world may not be perfect, but that doesn't mean you can just destroy it to bring back some other version of it that you happen to prefer."
Karen looked away. Kara didn't. "It doesn't work that way, Lois," Kara said. "Your world is going to be destroyed anyways. Even if we save it from the Atlanteans and the Amazons, there's something worse rampaging through the cosmos, and without the heroes of Earth to stop them, the Black Lanterns are in the process of destroying all life in your universe. We can't stop that. What we can decide is whether or not three other worlds die as well."
"So because you think my world is doomed, you expect me to help you end it in order to bring back a version of it that I don't and won't remember, to be replaced by some other version of me that won't really be me?"
No one said anything for a long moment.
"Do you want to?" Layla asked.
Lois looked at the girl. "Want to?" she asked.
"I don't understand."
"I can help you to understand. To remember. But it will change you."
Luke Cage seemed to notice Layla for the first time. "... You..." he muttered.
Lois hesitated. "How will it change me?"
"You'll remember your life in Kara's world," Iron Man said, and something in his voice suggested he was speaking from experience. "You'll still be you, but you'll remember both lives."
Layla nodded. "Wanna see what they're fighting for?" she asked.
Lois stared at Layla. Karen could hear her heartbeat quickening. She hesitated for what seemed like an eternity, and then nodded. "... Do it."
Layla smiled. "Okey-dokey," she said. Her eyes flared with green light. A second later, that same light burned in Lois' eyes. Irma winced and looked away. A single tear flowed down Lois' cheek. Then it was over.
"... Clark..." Lois whispered, her eyes wide, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. She looked at Kara. "Kara," she said, and put a hand to her forehead. "Oh my God. Kara, they put Clark in a CAGE. My own father... we have to get him out of there!"
Kara smiled, and her voice was thick with her own emotions when she spoke, "We'll get him out. It's good to have you back, Lois."
Karen’s jaw hung open, and a sense of creeping horror crawled up and down her spine. "Are you still you?" she asked, though she feared that whatever Lois might say, the answer was probably 'no.'
"Lois looked down at herself, then up at Karen, leaning against Kara for support. "I think so," she said. "... I still feel like me, at least. It's strange. I can remember the moment it changed, both times. It was after work. Clark and I were having a night in. We were in the middle of dinner, and then... it was like falling asleep."
Karen nodded, her sense of horror fading into a deep unease. "What do you think now that you remember?" she asked.
Lois shook her head. "I still don't think we can just erase the universe, even if we're going to bring back the old world. We have to do something. Save as many as we can. Even if they're going to die anyways, we're in a position to do something. They don't deserve to die."
"So bring them here," Captain America said.
"Would that work?" Lois asked.
"It worked for Power Girl and her sister," Captain America said.
Lois frowned, and looked at Kara, "Since when did you have a sister, anyways?" she asked.
Kara shook her head. "That's not important right now. What's important is that the Captain's right. We weren't affected by the changes. ... because we were here."
The explanations went more smoothly after that. Karen and Kara took turns speaking, each relating what they knew. Half an hour later, with the plan agreed to, they prepared to step onto the Rainbow Bridge.
"OK," Spider-Man said, "We go to the new universe, we save as many people as we can, we get as much support as we can using Layla's powers, we warn Flash Gordon about the probably not Galifreyan Time Lady..."
"And we prevent the destruction of three universes," Kara finished. She took a breath and clenched her fist. “There’s no unstoppable anti-matter wave this time, no Anti-Monitor, no red skies. I am NOT letting this happen again.”
Before anyone could ask her what she meant by that last, she stepped onto the Rainbow Bridge, and was gone. Karen was about to follow when Santo pointed at something above the entrance to the courtyard and asked in a very small voice, "Um... guys? Who's that?"
Karen turned. There, floating in the air just above the door that led into the citadel, was a strange bald robed being, his head disproportionately large, his eyes glowing, a sense of power all about him. Karen took an involuntary step back... and onto Bifröst.
The light took her.
Flashes in the dark. Stars and galaxies whirled past. At the outer walls of reality, at the very edge of the expansion wave of the Big Bang itself, something moved in the darkness. A vast fleet poured out from the Crunch Zone, dark and deadly, and Karen had a brief glimpse of the wreckage of untold hundreds of enormous spheroid space stations all in a cluster around the outer barrier. Then the Rainbow Bridge carried her through, and everything went white.
Her vision seemed to clear, but the white didn't fade: it simply took the form of walls, floor, and ceiling. A white room. It was pleasantly cool, and there was a faint breeze, but no features otherwise. A strange little man stood a few feet away, dressed all in orange and purple. He seemed really, really familiar, but she just couldn’t remember who he was. He was old but not infirm. There was a certain cherubic quality to his face that suggested youth despite his crow's feet and the wispy white hair. There was a mischievous light in his eyes, and he wore a tiny, undersized purple bowler hat. Even as she saw him, he lifted a finger to his lips. "Shhh," he said, his voice a near whisper, and he winked. "Oblivion doesn't need to know about you.”
"Who are you?" Karen asked, lowering her voice to match his.
"A friend," the strange little man replied. "We'll play some games together soon, I think. But not today."
Karen opened her mouth, but before she had time to say anything else, the room was gone, and the strange little man with it.
It came in a flash. Darkness and heat and sound and color as she emerged from the path of Bifröst onto the solid ground. Pavement beneath her feet. The sounds of a city. It was night. The stars shone brightly above, and the moon was waxing. And all around her rose a somber, almost gothic skyline. Dark, looming, gargoyled skyscrapers climbed cancerously towards the stars, with skybridges like spiderwebs against the night sky.
A chill went down Karen’s spine as she recognized her surroundings: this could only be Gotham City. But this was weird: someone had turned Gotham into Vegas. There were Casinos everywhere. Lights everywhere. Billboards. Electronic advertisements. Not just what you’d expect in a normal city, but loud, glitzy, and everywhere. Oh, and people were screaming, and the crowds on either side of the street parted in panic: her arrival had not gone unnoticed. She had time enough to realize that she’d landed in the middle of the street before something heavy hit her in the back and sent her tumbling and then skidding across the pavement. “... Ow,” she said, though it hadn’t hurt her so much as it had surprised her. She got up, and met the terrified eyes of the cab driver with her own. His bumper was a total loss, and the front end of his car was visibly dented, but it was still running.
She floated into the air.
“Mommy,” a little girl said, “Who’s she?”
On the left hand side of the street stood the old Wayne Tower, and a little thrill went through her as she recognized it, but she didn’t have time to dwell on the incipient nerdgasm that just being in Gotham City was bringing on. She tapped the golden X on her cape’s clasp, and her communicator turned on. “This is Nightwing,” she said. “Can anyone hear me?”
People weren’t screaming anymore, but she was getting stares from easily four hundred people, and police officers were approaching through the crowd.
A man’s voice filtered up from the crowd, “Maybe she’s a superhero, like Citizen Cold in Central City!” She looked down at that. Citizen Cold. That name sounded familiar, but... no, not important. Thor had mentioned that the Rainbow Bridge might be unreliable, might put them in different places. She’d stick around to give the others time to appear, but until they did, it was time to get out of sight.
Karen shot into the sky like a rocket, leaving the crowd below to stare and wonder. When ten minutes of waiting didn’t produce any of the others, she began to get worried. After twenty minutes, worry had been replaced by that yawning sense of doom more commonly associated with the realization one makes halfway through a fall that there are spikes at the bottom of this pit trap and oh God but her thought process really just went to Dungeons and Dragons. Right. ‘OK,’ she thought. ‘If I remember correctly, they might be at Wayne Manor.’ Then, out loud she said, “And there’s another thing to add to my list of things I never thought I’d say: I wish I’d obsessed a little more over my comic books.”
Which brought up the next problem: she had no idea where Wayne Manor was. She scanned the streets below for phone booths. … there weren’t any. Descending from the sky to ask random passers-by if they knew where Wayne Manor was didn’t seem like a good idea, either. Gas station, then. She took a second to locate one, and then descended to street level.
Karl de Vries didn’t much like his job. He didn’t much like Gotham, either, but what can you do? His parents had immigrated here from the Netherlands when his mother was still pregnant with him, and he’d never had the wherewithal to leave. He wasn’t much to look at, with strictly average looks granted only a moderate bit of interest by Spanish eyes in an otherwise unremarkable face. He’d fallen in with the wrong crowd a few years back, but after he’d realized what they were doing, he’d gone to the police, people had gone to jail, and then life had gotten boring again. Today had been another long, bullshit day which faded into a long, bullshit evening of faking friendliness and interest in the people who came in to buy gas and snacks at Gotham Gas & Market.
He wasn’t paying much attention when the bell rang. Someone had walked in. He could hear the sound of boots on the floor. He looked up, and his breath caught in his throat; the girl who had just walked in was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. She was tall, with black hair and blue eyes and was wearing a black and silver cape with red lining, a black bodysuit with a cleavage window, boots and gloves... he shifted slightly, tried not to look at her breasts, totally failed, tried to nod casually, and asked, “Can I have you?” Then he realized what he’d said, paled slightly, and amended, “... help you.”
The girl didn’t look terribly impressed. “Is this how Buffy felt?” she wondered aloud. She shook her head and looked Karl in the eye. “You got a copy of the yellow pages I can look at?”
“Uh... sure.” He pulled the phone book out from behind the counter and set it down for her to look at. She flipped it open to the W section and started scanning through. After a few seconds, the clasp on her cloak clicked. She tapped it, and the X on it lit up in time for a resonant male voice to speak through it, “... Cage callin’ any Avenger or X-Man, please respond.”
Karl tried very hard not to stare.
“Cage!” the girl said, sounding relieved.
“Power Girl?” the voice asked.
“Nightwing,” she corrected.
“Oh.” There was some disappointment in the voice’s tone. “Is anyone else with you?”
“Just me,” the girl said.
The bell rang again as someone walked in through the door. Karl looked up, and his blood went cold: he recognized the young man who’d just entered. One of the ‘bad crowd.’
“... Will,” he said.
“Hey,” the girl said, “What’s the address here?”
Will pulled a gun from his jacket. “Hello, Karl. Here I was convinced that you’d be in hiding somewhere on the other side of the country after what you did, when the boss tells me you’ve been seen working a gas station on Gate. And all I can think is that you must have a death wish.”
Karl’s eyes fixed on the gun, on the barrel that was now pointed at him. The girl saw the gun, and she freezed for just a second. Will gave her a look of casual contempt. “Stay out of this, bitch. Maybe you’ll walk out alive.” Will returned his attention to Karl, who was trying very hard not to tremble. “Going to the police?” Will asked. “Informing the God damned BATMAN about our activities? Well congratulations, Karl. I’m gonna grant your wish.” He shifted his aim slightly to point the gun directly at Karl’s head, and Karl knew that he was about to die.
“Will,” he said, his voice thick with terror, “Please don’t do this.”
“Goodbye, Karl.” Will pulled the trigger. The sound of the gun’s discharge was accompanied by a loud crack from another source. Karl felt a rush of wind in front of his face... as the girl caught the bullet in her bare hand, and was completely unharmed. Karl and Will both turned to stare at her.
She took the gun from Will’s limp hand, crushed it into a ball, and dropped it to the ground with a thunk. “No, seriously,” she said. “What’s the address here?”
By the time Luke Cage walked into the gas station at 1231 Gate Blvd, the crook was unconscious and tied up with duct tape, the police were on their way, and the excitement was past. Well, for everyone who wasn’t the attendant. “Yeah,” he said into the phone, “A girl. Tall, black hair, black and silver costume, gorgeous, stacked, built like a fucking amazon!” A pause. “I shit you not.”
Karen tried not to grimace.
“Damn, girl,” Cage said as he walked through the door. “What happened?”
Karen shrugged. “Oh, you know. Causing trouble, stopping crimes, kind of not wanting to be here when the police arrive.” They started walking. “... Also, don’t call me ‘girl.’”
“It kind of creeps me out.” Seeing the expression on his face, she quickly amended, “I’ve already got enough gender-identity issues as is.”
Cage put up a hand to forestall further explanation, “Ain’t no problem. If it bothers you, then I won’t call you ‘girl.’”
“Thanks.” Karen said. She took a moment to call out in her thoughts: ‘Irma, are you there? Can you hear me?’ … Nothing. She looked to Cage. “So you haven’t seen or heard from anyone else?”
Luke Cage shook his head. “Nope.”
A note of very minor irritation filtered into his tone. “Come on, Nightwing, would I lay a jive rap on you?”
Karen blinked. “... Jive... rap?” she asked incredulously.
“I think I just threw up in my mouth.”
Cage shook his head, “Kids these days,” he muttered.
“Look,” Karen said, “I’m sure it’s a perfectly cromulent phrase. But that’s not important. What is important is sticking to the plan.”
“Right,” he said. “Since we wound up closest to Gotham, we’re on Batman duty.”
“Yup.” Karen looked his way. “Don’t suppose you can fly or anything?”
Cage shook his head again. “Nah. Unbreakable skin, superhuman strength and stamina, quick healing, that kind of thing.”
“A flying brick without the flying.”
“Something like that.”
“OK,” Karen said, “Looks like I need to carry you.”
Karen shifted awkwardly from side to side. “To get to Wayne Manor. As fast as we can. I, uh...”
Cage gave her a serious look. “Nightwing, relax. It’s cool. I’ve been in the hero business for years, I know how it works. The day needs saving, and the sooner we save it, the sooner I can get back to my wife and my little girl.”
Karen’s cheeks flushed with shame, and she nodded. “... Sorry.”
“I’m already over it.”
Without another word, Karen picked up Luke Cage and lifted off into the sky. It started to rain, and both Karen and Cage were quickly soaked.
Wayne Manor sat alone and forlorn across the river to the north of Gotham, and the flight there took about ten minutes at the easy pace Karen set for herself - more a concession to the rain than anything else; even with super-senses, going faster in this downpour would have killed her visibility. She almost missed it - would have, if she hadn’t known where she was going; Karl de Vries had proven a useful resource after she’d saved his life, and he’d known where the old manor was. An old red two-door car sat in front if its gates. The hedges had gone wild, and the manor was overgrown with ivy. The windows on the first floor were boarded up, and mostly broken on the second. Karen landed easily in the grass behind the manor and let Cage down onto his own feet. They were in the Wayne family graveyard, and being here felt vaguely sacrilegious. A gravestone stood not far away, and the sight of it gave her chills: Bruce Wayne, Beloved Son.
“A’ight,” Cage said, “We’re here.” He smirked. “Want me to go up and knock?”
“Just... hold on a second,” she said, allowing her vision to shift. Most of the time, she was content to ignore what lay beneath the surface of things. It was still there, of course, but it wasn’t present in the same way. It wasn’t quite the same thing as pretending not to notice that someone was naked: it was more like intentionally not seeing the color blue, and now she was flipping a switch in her head and seeing everything. She looked down, saw Thomas Wayne’s batcave beneath the manor, scanned through the manor itself, then looked to the roof.
A flash of lightning split the sky. Someone spoke on the roof. An old man, gruff and angry but with grudging admiration in his tone: “You really are crazy.” “Like a fox,” replied the voice of a younger man. “Now get me back in.”
“Hey Nightwing,” Luke Cage called, “I think there’s someone up there on the...” Lightning struck the roof and an explosion ripped through the night, sending a plume of fire into the sky. “SWEET CHRISTMAS! He’s falling!”
Karen followed the line of Cage’s finger to the dark, caped and cowled figure that was falling off the roof towards the spiked iron fence below. A crack split the air as she broke the sound barrier flying to catch him, but mere milliseconds before she could, a streak of gold that she could barely follow shot down from the roof, intercepted Batman’s falling form, and deposited him safely on the grass, all in the time it took her to cross the last three feet between her and her target.
A badly burned, bandaged Barry Allen set Batman down on the grass on the far side of the yard. “Told you,” he said.
“Flash!” Karen called, not bothering to land.
Batman and Barry Allen both turned. Batman’s eyes narrowed. Barry’s widened. “Friend of yours?” Batman asked.
“She looks like...” Barry hesitated. “Power Girl?” he asked incredulously. “You remember me?”
The sound of heavy footsteps. Someone running through the rain. Luke Cage came jogging into view. “Hey, everyone alive over there?”
Karen shook her head. “I’m not her, but I know you. Call me Nightwing.” She gestured to Cage. “This is Luke Cage. He’s a friend. Power Girl is here, though. She remembers you, and as soon as she makes contact, you can meet up with her.”
Barry looked from Karen to Cage and back. “God, you could be her twin!” His eyes widened once again as an unpleasant thought occurred to him: “... or her clone.” He shook his head. “You say you know me, and she remembers me? How is that possible?”
“It’s a really, really long story.”
“It usually is,” Batman said, his tone dark.
She looked to Luke. “Everyone’s fine, Cage,” she said, and Cage nodded. “Here’s the short version,” Karen began, “Power Girl and I were both in an alternate universe when history changed. Jury’s still out on whether it protected us or if we’re gonna go all Marty McFly fadeout on you. I’m gonna be honest, kind of hoping for the former.”
Barry laughed, even though it obviously hurt him to do so. “Oh my God,” he said. “This is great! With you and Power Girl here, and, I’m guessing Mr. Cage will be useful, too...” He turned to Batman. “With their help, we might actually be able to do this!”
Karen ruthlessly squelched the part of her that was freaking out over having a conversation with the Flash, and shook her head. “It’s more complicated than you think,” she said. “And you’re really not going to like it.”
“Explain it, then,” Batman ordered.
Holy crap but older, gruffer, angrier Batman was scary. She knew intellectually that there was basically nothing he could do that could possibly hurt her, but that didn’t stop her heart from leaping up into her throat every time he glared. “OK,” Karen said, and really wished that Kara were here to do this in her stead, “Here goes nothing.”
END CHAPTER 08