The multicolored cascade of lights faded away, leaving the familiar sight of the Batcave’s communications center. He stepped out of the teleporter cabinet and pushed the cowl up off his head. Immediately, he was met by a thin, distinguished figure who rose from one of the chairs. “Alfred!” He stepped forward and gave the older man a warm hug.
“Master Bruce! Thank heaven you are returned safe!” In a rare show of emotion, Alfred Pennyworth returned the embrace, holding his employer like a long-lost son. “When you called from Los Angeles, it was such a relief to all of us.”
“Where are they?” asked Bruce Wayne, looking around. In one corner, he saw a young man, not even a teenager yet, wrapped in blankets on a cot. The figure stirred, head lifting up to turn toward him. “Bruce! You’re back!” Jason Todd sprung up, racing to his adoptive father. “Man you won’t believe what’s been happening here while you were gone! Batwoman and I helped take out the mother of all motherships, and the fleet left after that, and we worked with a couple of new heroes, and–” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batwoman: Counterstrike Gotham.]
“Master Jason, that’s quite enough for now.” Alfred laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder, stilling him for the moment.
With a smile, Bruce lifted Jason up and held him like one would a much-smaller child. “Don’t fear, Jason, we have all the time in the world for you to fill me in. I’ll be able to tell you about my trip into space, as well.” He looked around. “Are Silver or Dick here?”
“Master Dick called from New York; he is staying at Titans Tower for a while yet as their team gets things straightened out. Miss St. Cloud is in Pennsylvania.”
“Pennsylvania?” asked Bruce as Jason dropped back to his feet.
“Yes, sir. She left this for you, as well as instructions for myself.” Alfred reached into the pocket of his vest and pulled out an envelope. “The car is packed and ready to go, sir.”
Bruce opened the envelope, taking out a single sheet of paper. Unfolding it, he read her note:
Please forgive me for not being here for your return. I have gone to take care of my brother’s wife and their son, for he was killed during the alien attacks. I shall stay here as long as I am needed. Please, when you are able, come to Scranton. I am leaving directions with Alfred.
I hope to see you soon, my love.
Underneath, her signature flowed like quicksilver in the silvery laced ink that was her favorite.
“You said you’re ready to go?” he asked.
“Just as soon as you’ve had a night’s sleep, sir.”
“If you’re up to driving, I’ll sleep in the car.” Bruce saw his butler’s wry grin at that. “You didn’t think I would wait, did you?”
“No, sir, which is why Miss Thompkins is up in one of the guest rooms. She offered to stay here with Master Jason if you wish.” Alfred turned toward a counter and lifted up an electric tea kettle, pouring steaming water into a cup with a tea bag in it.
“Jason? Would you rather come with us, or–?”
“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay here with Leslie. She’s teaching me to play chess, which is better than watching you and Silver and all that mushy stuff.” Seeing Bruce’s disappointed look, he added, “We’ll catch up when you get back.”
“If you can give me ten minutes, then, sir. I just need to gather a few last-minute items.” Alfred lifted the tea bag from the cup and expertly squeezed the excess water from it. A quick squeeze of a lemon wedge and a bit of sugar, and he handed it to Bruce. “Drink this and change out of that costume, and we’ll be on our way, sir.”
“Yes, I think this particular outfit is ready for the rag pile.” Bruce pulled the gray shirt up and over his head, wiping his brow with it. “Ugh! Jason, when Alfred comes back down, tell him I’m taking a shower before we go.”
On a state highway in northeastern Pennsylvania, Bruce and Alfred talked as Alfred drove. “Dr. Dundee has given me a clean bill of health. I’ve been a bit dehydrated, but otherwise fine this past week. Master Jason came along when I brought Miss St. Cloud to her sister-in-law’s home last week, but I was able to make the drive back without any problem.”
“How about the others? Have they recovered from the kidnapping?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman Family: A Terror Too Close, Book 2: Taken.]
“Oddly enough, Lucius Fox seems to be the only one who had any serious trouble. Of course, he had the extra shock of finding out that you and Batman are one and the same. When I spoke with him last night, however, he seemed to be all right. He has been covering for you in your absence.”
“Yes, I’ll need to call him and let him know I’m back. Apparently, you were the only one seriously affected by the Outsider’s realm.”
“Yes, sir.” Alfred said no more, and the silence in the car stretched on for a few minutes. “Master Bruce, about the Outsider…” He turned to be sure his employer was listening. “I wasn’t quite so fortunate this time, as I was in the past.”
“In the past? What do you mean?” asked Bruce, sensing the answer.
“When I regained consciousness, my memories of my activities as the Outsider did not leave me. All of them, from the moment the Outsider first took over my body after my apparent death.”
“Alfred, please forgive me. I — that is, Dick and I — always felt that the shock of knowing you had become one of our most dangerous enemies would be–”
“Too much for me to bear? Until the discovery of my daughter, I might have believed that. Since then, however, I think I can probably take just about anything this world can throw at me.”
By this time, they had reached Scranton. It took Alfred a short time to find Rita St. Cloud’s home again. Through a window, they could see the flickering light of a television in the living room. Bruce walked up to the door and knocked.
The door was opened by a young boy no more than six or seven years old. “Hi,” said the boy, his voice quiet. “If you’re looking for my mom, she’s still sleeping.”
Crouching down to face the boy, Bruce answered, “You must be David. I’ve come to see your aunt, if she’s still here.”
“Oh, you must be Mr. Wayne. Aunt Silvia told me you’d be coming sometime. Come on in.” Rising, Bruce let the boy take his hand and lead him into the house through the living room, with its television playing a show full of talking puppets, then a dining room with a table that had obviously been used more as a home office than for formal dinners, to a kitchen from which the smell and sound of cooking bacon issued.
“She in there?” he asked in a low voice. He placed a finger to his lips as David St. Cloud nodded. Bruce slid silently into the room, stepping up behind the slender woman who stood at the stove, her back to him. “Silvia, hmmm? I guess I should have known that by now,” he said, leaning against the counter with his arms crossed.
She turned. Bruce had seen her in various states of dress, undress, high fashion, and casual dress. On this early morning, she was wearing a pair of jogging pants and a gray, cotton shirt. Her pale blonde hair, usually styled in flowing waves, was pulled back in a ponytail, held with a single plain band at the base of her neck. No makeup adorned her face, something he had rarely seen. “God, Silver, you look beautiful!” he said.
“Bruce!” Silver St. Cloud dropped the long metal fork into the pan and reached for him. For long moments, the only sound in the room was the sound of bacon hissing and popping in the pan. Then, without warning, a smoke detector went off. The shrill beeping startled them both.
Before either of them could say anything, another woman appeared in the doorway. Rita St. Cloud was short, thin, and dark-haired. Bruce immediately noticed the dark circles around her eyes, a sign that she had not found much rest from her grief. However, there was a spark in those eyes that led him to believe that this woman had an inner strength that would see her through her loss. That belief was reinforced when she spoke.
“Sheesh, couldn’t you two have your little reunion without setting that alarm off?” All three of them broke into laughter as Bruce reached for the frying pan on the stove.
In the night sky over Coast City, California, a green bolt sliced the air. It descended to Earth in a quiet neighborhood next to a modest, split-level home. The glow dissipated, leaving in its place a handsome man dressed in jeans, plaid shirt, and a brown leather jacket. He walked to the front door and rang the bell. The door was opened by a short, dark-haired man. “Hal! When did you get back?” The shorter man reached for the visitor’s hand, only to find himself in a bear hug.
“Tom! Man, am I glad to see you! Everyone make it through the invasion all right?” Hal Jordan released his old friend Tom Kalmaku, and they walked inside.
“It wasn’t bad up here. I gotta warn you, though: Ferris got hit pretty hard.”
“It did? Oh, God, Tom, don’t tell me-”
“She’s all right, Hal.” Tom looked Hal in the face. “You didn’t know that? Great stars, Hal, you haven’t been to see her yet?”
“No.” Hal shook his head and ran one hand through his wavy brown hair. “I don’t know, Tom. With everything she’s been through this past year or so, I’m not sure where I stand with her. Do you know, she was all set to marry this guy up there? Red was a great guy, and she really was in love with him. How am I supposed to step in right after she’s lost him?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Green Lantern: Reunited, and it Feels So Good.]
Tom reached out to lay a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Right now, she may just need someone to talk to. She might need something more, I really don’t know. But I do know, she needs to see you.”
“I guess so.” Hal moved toward the door. “We’ll talk tomorrow, OK?”
“Just go, buddy.”
Ten minutes later, the Pacific shoreline south of Coast City was lit up with a green glow as Green Lantern streaked toward a sprawling home on the shore. When he touched down on a deck overlooking the ocean, a door slid open, and a tall, beautiful woman ran to meet him. For long moments, they held each other. When they drew back at last, tears were streaming down both their faces.
“I knew you’d come back,” whispered Carol Ferris. “Somehow, you always come back.”
“What man wouldn’t come back for you?” Hal’s mask and uniform dissolved away in a spray of glittering green light, replaced by jeans and a plaid shirt. “I never should have left again.”
“From what’s filtered through the news, it’s a good thing you did go.” Carol disentangled herself from her off-and-on lover and walked toward the house. Hal followed her inside. “It looked like you were the point man in bringing the Guardians back.”
Hal waved his hand in a dismissive way. “If it wasn’t me, it would have been one of the other Green Lanterns.” Together, they sat down on a couch. “How are you holding up, Carol?”
She closed her eyes, leaned her head back, and let out a long sigh. “God, Hal, how the hell should I be doing? I spent the last nine months living in Oregon, falling in love with Red. You and Kari show up and restore my memories just in time for this damned invasion to start. Red gets killed, you have to go save the universe, and I spend a month trying to push military aircraft off the line at Ferris for the defense effort, with bombs dropping and landing craft releasing troops on our test fields. I’ve only been able to sit down and think about it in the last day or so.”
“And it was Carrie Ford who fell in love with Red Crawford.” Seeing Hal’s look, Carol held up her hand. “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love him, Hal, and yes, if he hadn’t been killed, I would have married him. It would have been hard, trying to make a life up there and take care of things for Dad here. And I would have been happy with it. But now…”
“Now, Carol Ferris is back. I’ve got a company to run, and a life to get back on track. I’ve still got most of a year before Red found me that I can’t remember. Maybe Kari can help me with that.” Carol stood up, taking Hal’s hand and pulling him up with her. “But I know what I want right now.”
“What’s that?” asked Hal.
Carol pulled him close. “I want you. I want you to take me in that bedroom and make love to me like it’s our last night on this world. Because the way our lives go, any night could be our last.”
When morning came, Hal found Carol sitting on the deck again, watching the surf. He came up behind her and tentatively laid a hand on her shoulder. She reached up and laid her hand over his. “Good morning.”
“You know, for the first time, in a very, very long time, it is.” She turned and looked up at him. “Something wrong?”
“No. I just have to go to the Citadel. The Corps is having a memorial service for one of the members killed in the invasion. The only one killed who was based here on Earth.”
“Who was it? Not John or Katma, I hope?”
“No, his name was Driq. An odd case, the most incredible case of willpower I’ve ever known. His will and his ring kept him going after he was killed. When the Controllers cut off access to the Central Power Battery, Driq’s spirit was lost.” (*) Hal sat down and poured a cup of coffee from the pot that sat in the middle of the table.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 1, Chapter 2: Depleted.]
“That sounds incredible. How did he die in the first place?”
“He was attacked by–” Hal paused, realizing that Driq’s attacker was sitting before him. “He was attacked by someone who is no longer a problem.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Tales of the Green Lantern Corps: The Green Lantern Corpse.]
“Is this a private service, or open to the public?” asked Carol.
Swallowing hard, Hal replied, “It’s open to anybody. Would you like to come along? It starts at noon.”
“Noon? I’d better not. Dad and I are meeting with some people from the Mexican government at one o’clock. We sent them five fighters for temporary use, and they want to buy them now.”
Hal mentally thanked the Guardians for that bit of timing. “That sounds good.”
“It will be, if we can straighten out the export licensing. That’s what we’ll be working on today. Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll be meeting Arisia in L.A. and going out to the valley with her. I should be back by six. Dinner at Chez Emeril?”
“If it’s still standing. A lot of central Coast City got hit pretty hard.” Carol stood and stretched. “Have time for a swim before you leave?”
The green gemstone on Hal’s hand glowed, and a green light enveloped them both. As they rose into the air, Hal asked, “Pool or ocean? Choose quick!” He grinned at her.