Chapter 7: Playing the Table
So Iason of the Blood,
You arrogant sot.
And your power is vast?
What sickening rot!
Such pomp and formality,
All to proclaim,
You’ll be lady-cat’s bitch,
Iason of the Shame.
Etrigan, do shut up for once, Jason thought sourly. I happen to know you –identify– with Bruce. You’re not really upset I’m going to help them, you just have to complain about anything I do.
It’s true I admire the Bat’s soul of
A fellow demon trapped with wretched men.
And such men! though they fly, to cuckold an ally
Will bring chaos fit to rip the world again!
“Meddle not with devils”
Is wisdom old and sound,
For revenge feeds demon revels;
We enjoy it, ask around.
Bruce had said the reason to start with Superman was “full disclosure.” He said “Once the floodgates are open, Superman will tell me whatever he knows.” He said “Once I know who’s involved and how, I’ll know how to proceed.” He said the League has a monthly poker game to which he’s never been invited. He said that was wise, they’d lose their shirts. He said the way you win at poker isn’t by playing your cards, it’s by playing the table.
He said he had another guest coming and I should leave the cave.
I went upstairs. I found Nutmeg and we played with the fringe of the carpet. I thought about Jason Blood. He offered to do whatever I asked to ease my pain in this. I wondered if, instead of some magical favor… I wondered if it might wind up being… hell… giving my apartment back.
I told myself this couldn’t go on forever. Bruce was reeling from a horrible devastating shock, but he’d get past it. He would come around and open up to me again. It would take some time and I would give him that but… how much? …at some point, if he kept shutting me out… It was the League that stuck a knife in his back and it was Clark that knew and didn’t tell him—but I was the one living in his house, the one that maybe he didn’t want that close anymore.
I couldn’t believe how foolish I’d been, how safe and happy I’d let myself become. I’d let myself make a home here. It was his house, not mine, and with this one thing that happened years ago that I had nothing to do with, it could all be taken away. How could I have been so STUPID! Feline independence, it was all I knew, and for a few kisses I’d let him, somehow, take all that away and turn it into—
Fuck him, he never knocks. I looked up; I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier with him in my whole life, even that time he kept me from the Katz Collection.
“Just once, as an experiment,” I spat, “Why don’t you pretend the doorframe is a Joker henchman, make a fist and act accordingly.”
“J’onn is downstairs. He said your mind was screaming.”
“He should stay the hell out of my head,” I hissed.
“He does. He works very hard, constantly, not to invade others’ thoughts. Selina, you were screaming. It wasn’t something he could ignore.”
“Fine, I’m wrong again. J’onn is wonderful. The League is wonderful. Life is great. Now go away, I’ll try to keep my thoughts quiet so it won’t disrupt your meeting.”
“I’m sorry I’ve hurt you,” he whispered, and he was stroking my hair the way you pet a dog. This was exactly how he sucked me in the first time. The man inside the bat, it’s such a seductive idea: under all that Battitude, he’s a man of flesh and blood, and we could care about each other. “My poor Selina.” My. Like I’m something that belongs to him. He kissed the top of my head. Bastard. This was how he did it. This was how he took Catwoman’s independence and left me in this sorry place where my home and my happiness were all tied up with him. “Come downstairs. You’re going to like what J’onn has to say.”
A part of me wanted to resist, refuse, and just plain SCRATCH HIM. The rest of me was desperate to hear what it was I would like.
I felt his fingers at my chin, turning my face up to meet his.
“Selina, last year you dug in like a wildcat to get me to leave the cave during Hell Month, remember? Time to pay up, Kitten. Come downstairs. It gets better, starting now.”
On the way down to the cave, I let myself hope, just for a second, that Bruce was right, that it really might get better. It was a scary feeling, hope.
We were walking down the stairs into the Great Hall. Bruce explained why he was bringing “J’onn” in before taking this to the full League.
“Clark might revere everything the JLA stands for, but the League is the closest thing to family J’onn has known on this planet. He deserves better than to have this sprung on him at a meeting, in front of all of them.”
“You think I have an ulterior motive for seeing him alone?”
“You said you were going to play the table,” I reminded him. “If the League is like family to him, their turning on one of their own would have to strike him as— what?” I stopped because he was staring at me just like he had in the cave, right before he turned on his heel and left.
“You are quite the little strategist, aren’t you?” he graveled—Batman’s deepest gravel, not quite vault disapproval but something close. Then he resumed in a more conversational tone. “Yes, that possibility had occurred to me. So did the possibility that, because of the way he feels about the League, he might think just like Clark, but moreso.”
“JLA first, last and always, no matter who they have to step on to keep it running smoothly, yay-team?”
“And the only way to find out was to have him over and ask?”
“Here, in private, where it couldn’t bite you unexpectedly in front of the rest of them.”
He grunted, but said nothing more until we reached the grandfather clock, then he turned to me.
“I still wanted to tell him first and privately so he could deal with it alone and privately. That’s why I didn’t want you in the cave, Selina. I wasn’t shutting you out.”
I couldn’t answer. He’d already opened the clock passage, which meant an end to our private conversation. When we reached the main cavern, I saw they had swiveled two of the workstation chairs to face each other. That’s how Bruce broke the news. In my mind’s eye, I saw them sitting there… It seemed strangely tactful (for Bruce), and I was sorry I’d questioned his motives.
Martian Manhunter was still seated; not exactly slumped, but you could tell he was reeling from the shock. For one thing, he was teal. I know zilch about Martian biology. I know he’s a shapeshifter, and I presume the green I’ve always seen him in is his natural color. I know when human beings go a full three shades redder, whiter, or grayer than normal, it means something radical is going on inside. I don’t know exactly what happens chemically to make Martian skin bluer, but I didn’t have to be a telepath to know there was powerful emotion fueling it.
“Hello, Selina,” he said mildly.
“Good morning, Ï’ônń,” I answered.
Bruce shot me a look. And Ï’ônń chuckled. It was quiet for a few seconds, and I wondered if this was the awkward pause it seemed to be or if they were talking to each other telepathically.
Then Ï’ônń looked directly at me.
“Your mind was screaming,” he said simply.
“Your skin is teal,” I told him, just as frankly. “Just one of those days for all of us, I guess.”
“There are no words to explain something like this in human language,” he said finally. “For a Martian, such callous disregard for the mind of another being is tantamount to blasphemy. We are taught at a very early age to respect the thoughts and mental privacy of ALL others. To alter another’s mind—to invade a—a colleague and friend’s psyche—to manipulate his memory without his knowledge and against his will? This idea is so egregiously foul, there is no way to express… What Zatanna and the others have done is the Martian equivalent of—of—crashing a party and defecating in the punchbowl.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that. Bruce had an ally. It wasn’t going to be him against the whole League. Not everybody with a superpower was blind to what had happened and what it meant.
“I would catch mental glimpses,” he was saying, “glimpses of something when Hawkman and Green Arrow would go at it. But it never made any sense to me, so I dismissed it. For that, I apologize, Bruce. If I had thought to look into it, if this could have come to light in some other way—”
I thought that might happen. Heroes. They’re such a mess sometimes.
“Let me interrupt you right there,” I put in. “I have a suggestion from the world of self-seeking unprincipled criminal infidels. I suggest you don’t turn this into one of those ‘everybody is at fault’ deals. That’s a cheap way to excuse the ones who really are to blame, and it spits in the face of everyone they’ve hurt. And that’s you, Ï’ônń, almost as much as Bruce. I can’t imagine anybody else being more upset by this or—”
“Flash,” he said softly.
Then he looked up at Bruce.
“His mind has been screaming as loud as hers was. I thought it was because of Sue. But if they told him about this…”
He trailed off. He and Bruce got that look, when they’re speaking telepathically. I assumed it was because J’onn didn’t think I knew Wally’s identity (which meant he really didn’t go snooping around in unsuspecting brains—score another point in the not-all-metas-are-shits column) or else it had to do with that earlier Flash, Wally’s predecessor, who cast that deciding vote to alter Dr. Light.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” I said, with as close to a half-smile as I could manage.
I went back upstairs. Alfred made me tea. He’s convinced it helps. I’ll admit it’s warming, but I couldn’t find it comforting. His gesture, so well meaning, was just another reminder of how much I’d settled in here. The “Bat-family” was a family, but it wasn’t mine. It was Bruce’s. They had made me feel at home, and like any cat given half a chance, I’d made myself at home. In all that hominess, I started feeling safe and loved and settled. And I forgot that cats have to be free. Cats don’t need anyone. If you need them, you can’t be free, you’re trapped.
I was trapped—and I had no one to blame but myself. For a few kisses I’d let him… I couldn’t go to Jason now and take advantage of his offer because Bruce didn’t want it. I didn’t have the option to steal anymore because it would ruin our life together and that had become so important to me I couldn’t even consider… and he could toss me out any time he wanted. This was his house, not mine. And I let myself feel safe here. I let myself think I’d found everything I had lost: a home, a family… love.
I let myself think he had given me everything I’d lost.
But it’s none of those things. It’s just Batman’s house and Batman’s butler and a garden out back where the old Robin married the old Batgirl. It’s a goddamn crimefighter commune, and I let myself pretend it was some kind of—
I looked up and J’onn was standing there.
“Screaming again?” I asked.
“Not exactly. Bruce and I are about to leave for the Watchtower, and I wished to talk to you before I left.” He paused—one of those ‘choosing my words carefully’ pauses that you just know means fun times ahead. “You realize, don’t you, Selina, that he is very different with you than with anyone else. The man you know is vastly dissimilar to—”
“I’m not some cabana bunny he picked up on the Riviera, Ï’ônń,” I cut him off. “I’ve faced him on a rooftop, I brought cookies to a friend he put in traction last Hell Month, I know what he’s like.”
“I don’t doubt it. That is not what I meant. Selina, it’s not that we see something in him that you don’t. It’s that you’re allowed to see a part of him none of us are privy to, even me, and I’m a telepath.”
“What’s your point, Ï’ônń?”
“It is home. When he’ll be the man with you he won’t be with anyone else, when you make compromises for him you wouldn’t make for any other person, that is home and that is family.”
“I thought you didn’t go poking around in other people’s heads uninvited?”
“I don’t. I didn’t invade your thoughts just now, I simply… recognized them. I lost my home and family as well, and I had to find another. One that may not outlast this day—but I am going to fight for it. Don’t throw yours away.”
I went down to the cave. I badly wanted a few moments alone with Bruce before he left to deal with the full League. Unfortunately, for all the hidden feelings J’onn had picked up on since his arrival, he was oblivious on that one. He walked with me down to the cave and kept hanging around the transporters. I guess his mind was thoroughly locked onto the upcoming “fight to save his family” (i.e. the big throwdown at the Watchtower), he just didn’t realize and wouldn’t take the hint. I only wanted some alone-time, a minute or two, no more, with Bruce before he left.
Bruce was already at the transporters and thoroughly in bat-mode, of course, so all I could manage was a soft touch of his cheek, which he tolerated—barely.
“Give ‘em hell,” I whispered. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t grunt, he barely even breathed, but there was this wicked spark in his eye, just for a split second. I knew that spark—angry sex—passion, violence, pure mainline Bruce.
Again, I couldn’t help but smile. They’d never know what hit them.
I will never be the sort of woman who waits in the drawing room or sits around the cave while he goes off and fights the good fight. I knew I had to go out. Normally, it would be the catsuit and the museum, Egyptian wing, or maybe Cartier’s. But today I had a much better alternative.
Jason opened the door before I knocked.
“Let me guess, you sensed I was coming?” I asked with a naughty grin. “You know, between the magic and the telepaths and the superhearing, it’s no wonder Bruce gets edgy around you people. Individually, you might be fine, but collectively, after the third or fourth episode in a single day—”
“’You people,’” Jason quoted acidly. “Selina, please, I have spent years trying to disabuse the Justice League of the notion that I am their ‘Wizard on Call,’ so to speak, simply because they include my name on their rosters. You yourself are technically on the rolls, I believe. You’ve helped them on occasion. You would certainly take offense if I included you in a sweeping generalization about—”
“Yes,” I admitted. “Yes, Jason, touché. It was a figure of speech and I apologize. Let’s start again.”
I knocked on the doorframe, and he assumed a look of dry sarcasm as he intoned, “Why Selina, what a delightful surprise.” He ushered me in and I saw he had a number of large, old books collected on the table. “I take it we’re ready to proceed?” he said, assuming that look I can only describe as the ‘supernatural badass.’
“Yes,” I told him. “But in a different way than we planned. Bruce had a hissy, as expected.”
“Ah,” he said after a pause.
“He can’t stand the idea of any kind of spell worked on him, and I have to respect that. I mean, he was right all along… ” I trailed off. I would feel so much better, so much less vulnerable, if I could know he was protected that way. I sighed. “He says he’ll handle Zatanna himself… and that I have to trust him.”
“I see. So I am dismissed as court magician after all.”
I looked up at him.
“Not entirely. There is still something you can do for me that shouldn’t offend Bruce’s scruples, something that serves my idea of justice. I want to use magic to invade their privacy this time around. I want to see what’s going on up there today, at the Watchtower, when they have their conclave to settle this mess.”
“There is a certain symmetry to that,” Jason said with a smile. “Come.”
I followed him back to what used to be my exercise room. And I felt sick.
“Every magician of worth has a sanctum sanctorum,” he declared with his hand on the doorknob, “that is both repository of knowledge and power center, a cella vires. Like Batman’s cave, it is more than a space for convenient storage, it is an expression of who the magic-user is as a magic-user, an aspect of his being. What I am saying, Selina, is that it is no small thing that I admit you to into this room. The seeing ritual we shall undertake together begins when you step through this door and enter this space that is so intertwined with my magick.”
I felt sick. I knew what I had to do.
And I knew what a crock it was when Clark talked about the hard decision he’d wrestled with. It wasn’t hard at all, knowing the right thing to do. The hard part was sucking it up and doing it. I took a deep breath, forced down the butterflies, opened my mouth, and hoped for the best.
“Jason, I spanked Superman this morning for not coming clean to his friend about a damaging secret. It would be a level of hypocrisy even I’m not capable of for me to stand here and not tell you… to let you go on with this thinking… Jason. Last year, when Janus and Hella took over the park, I… I needed my costume and supplies, there was no time to go out to the manor and… Jason, I broke into this apartment and went into that room to use your Tempus Stones, so I could get my costume out of the past when this was my apartment.”
“Very creative,” he said dryly. “I wondered if you would tell me.”
“You knew then?”
“Bruce knew his mind was violated without knowing the particulars. Do you imagine it’s any different for a magician and his cella vires? With something so personal and of your essence, it is impossible not to know on some level if it has been… touched.”
“I’m sorry, Jason. I didn’t realize back then that there was a personal side to it. I thought it was just a room. I’m terribly sorry to have done that to you. I’ll do anything I can to make it right.”
“As you say, Selina, you didn’t realize. And there were pressing circumstances that caused you to act as you did, but I notice you haven’t mentioned them. Instead of reminding me that the park was overrun with demons and Berserkers, several trying to kill Bruce, that he was hampered by an enchantment reliving the pain of old injuries as he fought, how Superman himself was unable to slow the events racing towards Ragnarok… instead of explaining all that in order to justify your actions, you merely apologized once you understood the personal nature of the injury you had inflicted… And that, Selina, is good of you. I accept your apology. And that is what I meant by symmetry.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No, of course you don’t. Come inside, you will understand soon.”
He pointed me to a small, low table with two chairs. I sat, and he took a strange bowl off the shelf and laid it in front of me. The outside was silver; the inside looked like mother of pearl. “You’ll be surprised to learn, Selina, that you have already paid for that day, breaking into my sanctum sanctorum and stealing my magic by using those Tempus Stones. Do you recall helping me take the Leabhar Seun from Lyle of Avalon?”
“Of course, that’s how I found out about Etrigan.”
“Yes. That was how you paid the debt. The help you gave me that night, obtaining the Leabhar Seun, but also the comfort you gave me when Lyle sprung her trap and brought on that—that—identity crisis for lack of a better word, plus the burden of knowing about Etrigan… all that was your debt to me, Selina. Paid in full.”
“Jason, that’s ridiculous. That was more than a year before I even gave you my apartment.”
“Temporal debts work that way sometimes; it’s all interconnected. You helped me that night because you would one day violate this room, and it is because you helped me then that I am able to help you now.”
He held up a bottle of blue glass with a stopper of silver filigree carved with Celtic knots.
“Water of Avalon,” he announced, pulling the stopper and pouring the bottle’s contents into the bowl. “I returned the Leabhar Seun to Lyle when I thought she had learned her lesson—and this was my price. The Water of Avalon is the stuff of magical seeing, Selina.”
When the bowl was filled, he set the bottle aside and sat in the chair opposite me, laid his hands on the table on each side of the bowl, palms up, and looked up at me with that piercing, supernatural-badass glare.
I looked back at him, down at his hands and back at him. And I reminded myself of the sixteen times I’d repeated to Bruce how I trusted Jason Blood. Then I hesitantly laid my hands palms down touching his. I felt a whirl of red, fiery malice.
“That’s Etrigan,” Jason said blandly. “Don’t be afraid, he is in good spirits today. He is something of a fan of Batman’s. He is quite eager to witness the wrath of the man-demon.”
“So am I,” I whispered.
“Hush. Still your mind. Concentrate on what you would see… The Watchtower, the League, the Batman, now in this present time… And look into the water.”
I looked at the bowl, the creamy whiteness of the mother of pearl visible through the clear water. I thought of the Watchtower conference room. I had been there once, after Prometheus, I waited there while they cleared out the press… I visualized the room in as much detail as I could remember. I held the image and thought of the present… Batman would be there… and Martian Manhunter… and Superman… the creamy whiteness of the bowl became glassy-white, and the water took on a silvery mirror appearance. It became harder to distinguish the water from the bowl… I thought of the Watchtower and suddenly… there it was. We were looking right into it like a movie screen.
Jason’s hands curled slowly around mine and he took a long vibrating breath that sounded like a snore.
“There,” he said at last. “We can relax now and watch, as long as our hands remain in contact.”
“Talk has its place, naturally,” Jason announced after about an hour, “too often, one has to keep the heroes from blindly throwing themselves into certain death. But when they finally do choose to exercise speech as well as shiny rings and magic bracelets, they can become tedious. And then one almost wishes they’d go back to the blind throwing again.”
I just stared at him for a second. It honestly took a few moments to process individual words. There had been such a monsoon of rhetorical nonsense.
“How,” I managed at last, “can these people… function… in the world?”
“I recall having the same thought about the dons of Oxford,” Jason said blandly, “around 1360. The debate that day was translating the bible into the vernacular against the wishes of the papacy… As I recall, they didn’t reach a conclusion until 1610.”
We had endured four cycles around the table. Someone would say their piece—and then, often as not, Wonder Woman would step in like Dan Rather after a presidential address, repeating what they had said, explaining the difficult parts in case anybody didn’t get it, and then telling everyone what they should think about it.
“Themyscirans tend to have certain predictable attitudes, in my experience,” was Jason’s summary.
I noticed that sometimes Aquaman cut her off, and sometimes he just sat there grinding a knuckle into the table. Everyone else seemed to tune her out, like they were used to it. I did too, and I used that time while she was talking to scope out the others.
Flash was certainly taking it the hardest. I remembered J’onn in the cave saying he would be more upset than anybody. Green Lantern looked shocked, but when he spoke, it was with a “who am I to judge” attitude that would have pissed me off under other circumstances. He was one of the “Big-7,” he was in that meeting. The chair he sat in made it his place to judge. But I couldn’t really feel angry. I got the feeling he didn’t care as far as the debate went. His eyes kept going over to Flash. All he saw was a friend in pain and that was his concern, not the big ethical questions the rest of them would argue to death. So I couldn’t be angry, even though he wasn’t exactly on our side. It was exactly how I felt. I didn’t care about the big philosophical issues either. I only cared that they hurt Bruce.
Plastic Man was next. To say he was stunned and disgusted does not begin to do him justice. Every time I’ve met him, he works it in that he’s a reformed criminal, and I guess there’s no zealot like a convert, because he’s got that black-and-white thing down pat: This was wrong, just flat out wrong, it was something criminals do, not heroes, and certainly not The Justice League.
“It is painful to see one’s heroes fall, isn’t it,” Jason remarked in a rather bored tone when Eel had finished.
“Yes,” I murmured, “But there’s no growth without pain.” Jason looked at me strangely and I didn’t know why I’d said it. “Maybe it’s better like this,” I demurred, “for him to see they’re not perfect, rather than to blindly assume anything the League does must be right and wind up getting bit.”
“Like Bruce was?”
“Bruce never had blind faith in anyone, Jason.”
“But he did. He believed in himself, Selina. He believes in Bruce Wayne and his ability to take on all comers with his mind and his body, and what he himself has been able to develop them into. By attacking that, by robbing him of his control of that—Selina, for all your indignation, I wonder if you understand the true nature of the crime that was committed by these ‘heroes.’”
Diana finally got the floor, officially, not just offering color commentary on what everyone else had said. Just as Jason had said, she was thoroughly predictable as a “peace through superior firepower” kinda gal: whatever it took to make someone understand, using whatever tools are necessary. She didn’t view someone as unbalanced as Dr. Light as a person having any rights whatsoever to his mind, body, or will. He was a rabid animal that should be put down.
She never once looked at Batman, but I watched only him while she was talking. She never alluded to what happened to him, it was as if it was in no way related to the subject under discussion. Dr. Light deserved it, that was the beginning and the end of the conversation. I watched him watch her talk, knowing he was seeing the same thing I was: the ultimate vindication of the protocols, the ultimate vindication of everything he said about superpowers being open to abuse. The mortal man objected to what they had done, so they used their powers to prevent his stopping them. Whatever it takes to make someone understand using whatever tools are necessary.
Aquaman spoke last, and I was reminded he was the one in this group who was a professional politician. He was, like J’onn, a telepath, and as such he was “appalled.” And yet he admitted he had been known to quiet the minds of out-of-control sea life—although he was quick to add that, in those cases, the animals were poisoned and diseased as a result of surfacers’ criminal disruption of the aquatic ecosystem. But he could, in a sense, understand where the Leaguers were coming from in so far as the initial question concerning Dr. Light.
Wonder Woman puffed up and looked about to launch into her approving recapitulation of his remarks, but he held up a hand in her direction.
“I’m not finished,” he said sternly, “I said what I feel as a telepath and as a member of this League. There is another role I assume which offers me a perspective none of you have. I am a king. I am not a citizen of a democratic republic; I am a ruling monarch. We don’t vote in Atlantis: we debate, we discuss, and then ultimately I decide. What I decide will please one group and displease another, every time. And unlike some,” here he shot a withering look at Diana, “I do not have the luxury of pretending the argument I personally agree with is the only one of worth. Because those people on the ‘other side’ are not rabid dogs and lowly criminals; they are my subjects, no less than the ones I agree with. If it is a question of great moral and ethical import, I will always—regardless of my personal beliefs—err on the side of caution,” his voice shifted on that last word, the way Batman’s does talking about justice.
“The day I don’t, the day I use my power to support my view regardless of what would be best for my subjects, is the day I cease to be a ruler and become a despotic tyrant. This group, these seven rogue Leaguers were divided in their views. No decision of this kind should EVER hinge on one man’s vote. This was a question of monumental moral and ethical import, and they were DIVIDED. It is obscene that they did not err on the side of caution. I move that we dispense with any more of this whaleshit and call the surviving members of this ‘secret inner League’ up here to answer for themselves. I personally would like to hear Oliver Queen explain to me what kind of crimefighter stands by and lets this happen in front of him on the grounds that he was ‘outvoted.’”
“Wow,” I murmured, “That was almost worth sitting through the hour and a half of, what did he say, whaleshit?”
Jason scowled like I said he’d look good in pink polka dots.
“I said almost,” I repeated.
The League took a recess, thank God, while they summoned the surviving members of the cabal: Green Arrow, Black Canary, Hawkman, Zatanna—and technically Atom, although he had dropped out of sight after discovering his ex-wife killed Sue Dibny and leaving her at Arkham. Nobody expected him to show and everyone seemed to agree that he’d suffered enough.
The recess gave Jason and I a chance to let go of each other’s hands. We stood up, stretched our legs, and in Jason’s case, he went off to the kitchen. He returned with a tray and set out a plate of biscotti, another of chocolate, two small glasses and a small bottle of wine.
“Very important to have sugar in the bloodstream when channeling even the smallest amounts of magic,” he decreed.
“And the bottle,” I said, pointing. “Very important to have a belt or two in there when listening to even the smallest amount of crimefighters pontificating?”
“Vin santo,” he answered, pouring, “Italian sweet wine, I’m quite fond of dipping the biscotti in it—your cell phone is about to ring. You’ll have excellent reception as well as privacy on the terrace.”
I reached for my purse, and, sure enough, just as my hand touched it, Bruce’s ring sounded. I went out to the terrace and heard the familiar :: Selina, secure the line. ::
I felt such a pang hearing that voice. All he was going through, it was so wrong. As if he didn’t have enough pain already. I wanted us to be in bed, holding each other, with all this behind us. But he wasn’t calling me for that kind of comfort. After all that self-important bluster, he wanted to hear me light and heedless and feline.
“Hey, Handsome,” I purred. “How’s it going?”
:: As expected. ::
“As expected-good, or as expected-we’re screwed?”
:: Poker. ::
:: We’ll be going back in a few minutes… Selina, you’re watching, aren’t you? ::
Busted. It had been a long time since he’d so completely read me.
“How did you know?”
:: Poker. Playing the table. You’re at Jason’s, you’re watching, you’re using magic to do it. ::
There was a long pause during which I decided to answer the question he wouldn’t ask. There was a long pause during which I decided to answer the question he wouldn’t ask.
“And that’s the only way I’m using it, Bruce. Nothing I’m doing here will touch you in any way. You can trust me and believe that, or not. If you can read me so well that you knew I’d be here, then you should know you can trust me on the rest.”
:: I would still rather you didn’t use it at all. I would prefer— ::
“I know. And I’m doing it anyway. It’s hardly the first time I’ve done something you’d rather I didn’t. The entire Impressionist gallery at the GMA comes to mind.”
He grunted. It was music to my ears. The grunt was pure Batman, my Batman, the real Batman. Not the Uber-Psychobat pulling back from me and everyone else because of what Superman had done.
:: I have to go, :: he graveled—but he didn’t hang up. Instead, there was a long pause, and then, :: Selina, when this is over, tell Jason to show you Zatanna’s apartment. ::
The words “witch hunt” were used a lot when the meeting reconvened and the cabal were called up one at a time to explain themselves. Green Arrow went so far as to give a whole history lesson:
“Y’see, witches have a numb spot somewhere on their body because they’ve had sex with the devil. So to find out if someone is a witch, here’s what you do: stick a needle into every inch of our skin and if we don’t say ‘Ai’ each time: Guilty! The way of the matchstick we go.”
Plastic Man started to say something about there being a reason witches were hunted in the first place, that nobody liked the idea of someone using magical muscle to victimize their neighbors. I couldn’t follow very well because Jason was chuckling.
“I take it Etrigan has something to share?” I guessed.
“He does, on the subject of demonic lovemaking and the aftereffects.”
“Do tell,” I said.
“Selina, I would not repeat this for the world, especially not to a lady.”
“Oh, c’mon, Jason, it’s been three hours and this is the first six seconds that are interesting.”
“Let’s just say Etrigan strongly denies that a female who has enjoyed the –cough– pleasure of demonic caresses becomes in any way unresponsive, quite the reverse, he says. And he has some intriguing theories as to how impotent and inept human males could have arrived as such a ridiculous conclusion.”
“Quite the hellacious sex machine, eh, Etty?”
“Selina please, I beg you, do not encourage him.”
We returned our attention to the Justice League. A new tension had settled on the table. Aquaman and J’onn were both going after Green Arrow. The others, especially Flash and Green Lantern, had gone quiet.
Up until now, Jason had seemed bored with the proceedings. He was suddenly riveted to the scene before us.
“Because sometimes you HAVE to do what you’d rather NOT do!” Arrow was yelling. “And SOMETIMES you don’t even have the luxury of KNOWING it’s the right thing. And you LIVE with that because it’s the PRICE YOU PAY for DOING WHAT NEEDS DONE. And THAT is as much a part of being a hero as running into the burning building.”
“We no longer know if you’ll run into that building,” J’onn replied calmly, in marked contrast to Green Arrow’s angry shouts. “If it’s some corporate headquarters strip-mining valuable resources, you might decide the greater good is served by letting it burn.”
“Or Hawkman might decide those employees deserve to die, and you’ll go along because you’re outvoted,” Aquaman added.
“Of course,” Jason said quietly. “J’onn and Arthur were part of the first League incarnation. They were both outsiders and the League offered them a sense of connectedness with the rest of the world. The Justice League is their ‘baby,’ in a sense, and this goes beyond standard ‘teenage rebellion’—this is your sixteen year old stealing the family car, robbing a bank and murdering thirteen people.”
“The others have gone quiet,” I noted.
“Now that they’re over the initial shock, they’ve started to notice the strain between Batman and Superman. They must know there’s a bond there, just about everyone does. We can see the tension between them from here, Selina. In the room, it must be palpable.”
I watched and he was right, just about everyone was sneaking glances at Batman and Superman.
“So now they get it. If this is big enough to drive a wedge between them…”
It went on. Aquaman was relentless. He went after Hawkman and Zatanna for disrespecting their fellow Leaguers so thoroughly that they first formed this secret inner group to do what they knew no full League would ever consent to, and then had the audacity to proceed even over the objections of their fellow conspirators. He went after Green Arrow and Black Canary for not fighting for their beliefs. They were the ones in that circle, they knew what was going on, and they had a duty to fight for what they knew to be right.
When it was over, each of the four had the chance to make a final statement. Zatanna whined that she “never meant to hurt any of them”—it was a disgusting display and I was delighted when Jason muttered something about “conjuring up a little responsibility for what you do with your magicks.”
Hawkman did that much; he didn’t make excuses. He behaved like the Nazis at Nuremberg, but he didn’t make excuses. He didn’t accept that the panel he sat before had any authority to judge his actions. He did what he did, he’d do it again. The end.
Black Canary came the closest to looking genuinely contrite. And Green Arrow spoke directly to Flash.
“You know I loved Hal. You know I loved Barry. This has been twisting like a corkscrew in my chest for years. Do you think I wanted to sully their memories? There’s not a thing any of you can do to me to add to the hell I’ve known living with this.”
It occurred to me, listening to them as I held Jason Blood’s hands with Etrigan’s hellfire coursing through his veins, that I would like to test that little theory.
“Selina,” Jason said evenly, “don’t let the hatred into your heart. It will make a hole there.”
“I want to hurt them, Jason. I want it so badly.”
“I know. Now let it go.”
J’onn was talking.
“If any villain had used magic or technology to program the mind of another being to change their moral code and bring it into agreement with his own, if a member of this League tried to stop it and was prevented in this way, there would be NO DEBATE WHATSOEVER about right, wrong, gray areas, slippery slopes, or witch hunts. Why because Hawkman, Zatanna, Green Arrow and Black Canary are in this League do we put them in another category? Are there now to be two sets of right and wrong? One for the Justice League and one for everyone else?”
It was very eloquent, but I just wanted to hurt them. I thought of Bruce clenching his fist as he had another nightmare. I wanted to see them suffer, I wanted to hear the screaming.
“Don’t let the hate in,” Jason repeated. “Trust him.”
Over Batman and J’onn’s strong objections, the “Justice” League decided no actions were to be taken against the former members involved in “the incident” beyond revoking their Reservist status and “barring them from using any League ‘services or equipment’—Watchtower, teleporters, etc.”
Batman also instructed them to reveal all that had happened to their JSA, Birds of Prey, and other teammates, because the other teams needed to be aware of what they had done, and each individual would have to decide for themselves if they wished to continue working with them.
“Tell them or I will” was the phrase he used.
He was looking at Superman when he said it.
Once the former members were gone, Batman addressed the remaining Leaguers. He informed them that if anything like this was to happen again—or was even considered—the League would be instantly disbanded, the Watchtower would be shut down and dismantled, and he would use every resource at his disposal to ensure that no Justice League ever formed again.
Wonder Woman went ballistic—no single person, not even Batman, had that kind of power over a group like the Justice League! They were bigger than any one man! It was ludicrous and insulting to believe that he could exert that kind of control or make that kind of demand!
Batman reached silently into his belt, pulled out a small device the size of a credit card and hit a button. The Watchtower plunged into darkness and then that deep voice that makes my toes curl whenever I hear it uttered two simple words:
The grumbles of dissent started, but were instantly silenced as J’onn stood up and walked around the table to stand next to Batman. “And he wouldn’t be alone,” he said firmly.
Batman restored the power as he and J’onn stared around the table at the others. J’onn was the one to finally break the silence.
“Regardless of your personal beliefs,” he said, “permanently manipulating the mind of another being—especially against their will or without their knowledge—is flat out wrong. And a Justice League—any Justice League—that engages in such practices to impose its will on others does not deserve to exist. We’re better than that. We should be better than that. If you don’t understand that, get out now. Your personal beliefs are your own, but the Justice League will not engage in this behavior again. If you can’t accept that, you don’t want to be in this League, and no matter what abilities you bring to the table, we don’t want you here.”
Diana, ever the diplomat (and clearly the one most offended by the idea of someone that wasn’t her dictating the way it was going to be), attempted to diffuse the situation by calling for a vote. There was a harsh, growling “NO!” that, had I not been looking directly at him, I would have sworn came from Bruce. It could have been the water we were looking through, the details were a bit unclear, but I could swear I saw that teal color creeping back into J’onn as he glared at Diana.
“No. No more votes. As Leon McKinley, I spent a great deal of time in Washington last year, as all of you know. What private time I had, I spent at the Jefferson Memorial. There is a quote on its rotunda that fascinated me. ‘I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.’ That man is the architect of your democracy, Diana. ‘I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.’ We will NOT vote on this. The morality of the League will not be decided by consensus.
“Those of us who see this abuse of power for what it is will not stand aside this time and let it occur under a banner of ‘Justice.’ ‘Almighty God hath created the mind free,’ that’s what your Thomas Jefferson said. The JUSTICE League will not act like this ever again, or the Justice League will no longer exist. It will cease be a Justice League in anything but name—and if it takes my last breath, I swear to you I will not allow any of you to use that name to expunge the good, the self-sacrifice and heroism this organization has come to represent. The Justice League DOES NOT do this. I WILL NOT be a part of any organization that would do this. If you will not be a part of an organization that won’t, leave. And having left, if you use your powers to impose your will and code on others, know that the Justice League will stand against you as we would any tyranny over the mind of man.”
To be continued...