by Starsky Hutch 76, Immortalwildcat, Bejammin2000, Drivtaan and Immortalwildcat
Richard Grayson walked aimlessly along the walkway of Gotham City’s Central Park. He was supposed to meet his fiancée Karen Starr for lunch, but she was late. He realized that she was probably engrossed in a project at STAR Labs and had lost track of the time.
He was early, but sadly he had nothing better to do. This was one of the things he hated about being retired from his legal career. If Red Robin wasn’t working on a case that required heavy detective work, then his days were left pretty empty. If he’d still been an active partner at Cranston, Grayson and Wayne, then he would have been dashing out the door at the last second to meet her.
As he walked, he watched the other men who were his own age (but who looked much older) as they also spent idle hours in the park. The difference was that many of them were accompanied by grandchildren. He found himself feeling a little envious.
“Dick! Dick Grayson!” a voice suddenly called out. The voice was familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it.
He turned around at the familiar voice, and a broad grin crossed his face. “Maury Levine!” he exclaimed. “You old son of a gun! It’s been years!”
He walked up to the balding man in the latter stages of middle age and extended his hand. The man rose up from the park bench and shook his hand. “When did you get back into town?” Dick asked his old law school buddy.
“Yesterday,” Maury answered. “I’ll probably be here for a couple of weeks.”
“So what brings you back to Gotham?” Dick asked.
This was when Maury’s smile wavered. It immediately became obvious that there was a heavy sadness beneath Maury’s usual façade of joviality. He had the look of a man who had shed a lot of tears in recent times. “I’m here for… for a funeral. My wife’s.”
“I’m … I’m sorry, Maury,” Dick said, stunned. “I didn’t know.” He was actually stunned to know Maury had ever been married and he hadn’t been there, considering what good friends they had been back in school, though he wasn’t about to say that sort of thing to a man who had just lost his wife.
“No, you wouldn’t have,” Maury sighed. “It — it was Rachel, Dick. She and I were married about a year after we all graduated.”
“Rachel?!” Dick exclaimed. A flood of old memories came rushing back to him. There was a time when he had thought of her as one of the most important people in his life, right there beside Bruce and Alfred. He had seriously considered hanging up his cape for her at one point.
Of course, that never happened. As with nearly every hero who had considered retirement, there was always that one so-called last case, then another, and then another. And dreams of retirement fell by the wayside. He eventually realized he could never retire and lead a normal life. There was no way he could explain that to Rachel, though. All she knew was he would not marry her.
Apparently, Maury would and did. It had always been a recurring joke among their group — Maury professing his love for her. He even got down on one knee in the local pub where all the law students hung out and proposed to her. Everyone had laughed, thinking it was typical Maury clowning around. Now it looked as though all that time he hadn’t been joking — at least not completely.
“You and Rachel?” Dick repeated.
“Yeah, Dick. I never made a secret about how I felt about her. I just never stood a chance with her while you were in the picture. Could you blame me for moving in when you were out of it?”
“No,” Dick said quickly. “I don’t guess I could.”
“We had many good years together. I’d like to think that she eventually came to love me as much as she did you,” Maury said, his voice cracking with emotion.
“How did it happen?” Dick asked.
“Heart disease,” Maury said. “People always think breast cancer is the big killer with women, but it’s not. I wish we’d known that before. Maybe…” He buried his face in his hands. When he raised his head back up, he said, “At least we had plenty of good years together. Lots of good memories and a beautiful daughter we raised together. Nothing can take that away.”
He looked at his watch, rose to his feet and said, “Oh, boy. I was supposed to meet my daughter. There are a lot of things we’ve got to take care of. People to call.” He faced Dick and said, “It’s been good seeing you. We should have dinner or something soon — catch up on old times.”
“Definitely,” Dick said. “Give me a call.”
“I will,” Maury said. “You know, Dick, you may have held up a lot better than I did, but you’re the same age as me, and that’s no spring chicken. It’s time you stopped this confirmed bachelor thing and got what I had.”
“I’m working on that,” Dick said. “I’m engaged.”
“That’s great!” his friend said, his expression brightening. “I’d love to meet her!”
“We’ll have to get together then soon,” Dick said.
Maury departed, and a few minutes later a very hasty-looking Karen Starr came rushing up and said, “Dick, I’m so sorry. I got involved in coding this program, and–”
“Kara,” Dick interrupted, startling her by using her Kryptonian name of Kara Zor-L. “I’ve been thinking it’s time you and I stopped putting things off. Let’s set a date for the wedding.”
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Kara told Helena Wayne as the two spoke over the phone about Dick’s sudden decision. “And let me tell you, it takes a lot to knock me over.”
“I know,” Helena laughed. “I’ve seen you in action. What do you think made him finally do this?”
“Before I got to the park, he ran into an old friend of his who had recently lost his wife,” Kara said. “It pushed him into an awareness of just how fragile life is and how we need to appreciate the time we have and make the most of it.”
“Yeah, we cheat death so often we tend to forget that. And when we’re reminded of it, it tends to hit us all the harder.” Her mind flashed back to the deaths of her mother and — years later — her father, both at the hands of criminals.
“So when does Dick want to do it?” Helena asked.
“In a month.”
“One month?!” Helena exclaimed. “Does he realize what all goes into planning a wedding?”
“I guess not,” Kara said. “I think he’ll end up leaning on Alfred pretty heavily.”
“Poor Alfred,” Helena laughed ruefully.
“Naturally, you’ll be maid of honor,” Kara said.
“Naturally,” Helena said, smiling.
“Well, I’d better be getting back to work,” Kara said. “I want to look at floral arrangements this afternoon, so I need to knock out this next project to make the time.”
“Talk to you later,” Helena said. “I love you both, and I’m really very happy for you.”
As Helena hung up the phone, a flood of conflicting emotions came over her. She did love them both, but now that the date was set, she was reminded about what had felt so strange about the engagement in the first place. It felt like her best friend was marrying her brother. And now she had one month to get over that so she could be a halfway-decent maid of honor for the two people she loved most in the world.
“Yes, sir, I see. I will start making arrangements right away. Will we be celebrating here at the Manor, or do you wish to engage a banquet hall?”
The one-sided conversation was interspersed with seconds of silence as the person on the other end of the line spoke. Alfred Beagle stood ramrod straight, a delicate French-inspired telephone held between thumb and forefinger, with a feather duster dangling in his other hand.
“Of course, Master Richard, and may I say, sir — congratulations! It has been a long time coming, sir!”
As the conversation ended, the door of the study opened, and a young man entered. “Huh? What’s been a long time coming, Alf?”
As he hung up the phone, Alfred’s face split in a grin. “‘Tis Master Richard, sir! He’s finally gone and done it! He and Miss Starr have set a wedding date, just a month from now!”
“A month! Are they nuts? He’s been putting this off, and now they think they can pull together a society wedding in a few weeks?” Jason Todd laughed, remembering some of the weddings he’d been to with his old friends. A justice of the peace and a bottle of cheap wine was enough to make a wedding among the crowd he ran with when he was living alone on the streets. Now, he knew, it was something totally different.
“Fear not, young master Jason. I was accustomed to pulling off miracles when it came to planning the affairs of Master Bruce, and I shall do so once again,” answered the long-time Wayne family butler, one hand held up and a finger pointing up into the air with dramatic flair. He lowered the hand and pointed the finger at Jason. “And you, sir, shall be expected to have a young lady accompanying you at the wedding.”
“A young lady? You mean — a date?” Jason gulped.
“Certainly, sir. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to start planning.” With that, Alfred left the room.
Alone, Jason considered the butler’s words. “A date.” His first thoughts were of the young ladies he knew as fellow members of the Junior Justice Society, but then he shook his head. “Close, but not quite.”
He picked up the phone and dialed a number that he had memorized for quite some time but had never called before. The call was answered by an older woman, as he expected it would be.
“Hello, Mrs. Carson. This is Jason Todd calling. May I speak to Beth, please?”
“Good morning, ‘Lena. How is my favorite non-related gal doing?” Bat Lash said, entering the kitchen that his landlord allowed him to share, dressed in an undershirt and a pair of slacks. For the last couple of weeks, since the end of the Derby and his hospital stay, the smooth-talking gambler had been crashing with one Miss Helena Wayne, sleeping on her couch and living out of his bags.
He had to pay board, but that was no problem; his man down in the Cayman Islands contacted him and told Bat of a ten-million-dollar deposit.
“Pretty good, all things considered,” Helena said, taking a sip from her coffee mug.
“Oh? Is something wrong?” Bat asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee and sitting down at the table.
“Well, it’s not really a problem. My… brother is getting married — something that has been long time coming, might I add — to my best friend,” Helena replied.
“Ah, yes. The often-talked-about family. I have yet to meet them, you know. And I don’t see how that’s a problem. You should be happy for them,” Bat said, reaching for the newspaper.
“I know. But I still can’t help but feel… I dunno, weird. And to make matters worse, the wedding is in a month.” Helena sighed.
“Hmm… That could be a problem. But que sera, sera. Whatever happens, happens. Nullus anxietas. No worries,” Bat said, offering what he could to help console Helena.
“Thanks, Bat. But I think I should help out. It’s probably the least I can do.” Helena was feeling better about the whole wedding now. It was funny how talking about something that was bothering you could make you feel better about it.
“Hey, that’s an inspired idea. Heck, I’ll help you help out, too. Been wanting to meet your family. Seems like a perfect time to do so.” Bat was a little jovial with his words as he spoke.
“Just as long as you promise to behave yourself,” Helena said.
“Hey, it’s me.”
“I know, hence the previous comment,” Helena said, getting a chuckle at Bat’s expense.
“That’s great news, Karen!”
“What’s great news?” Lois Lane Kent asked her husband. Clark Kent put his hand over the phone and told his wife of his cousin Kara’s and Dick’s impending nuptials. “Well, it’s about time.”
Clark relayed his wife’s comment to his cousin. “Is there anything we can do to help?” he then asked. After a moment of listening, he said, “Sure, I can meet you at McNider’s office. How soon?” Another pause. “OK. I’ll see you there in a little bit.”
As he hung up the phone, Lois had a look of worry on her face. “Is there anything wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing serious,” Clark smiled. “There’s just a small problem with the blood test.”
“What kind of problem?”
“They can’t seem to get a syringe strong enough to penetrate Karen’s skin.” He couldn’t help but laugh. “Of course we know what a problem that can be from experience.”
Lois left the room for a moment, then returned with a small mahogany box. She handed it to her husband, then gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Do hurry back.”
Clark pulled her close and gave her a kiss on the lips. “Don’t I always?”
Several minutes later, the Man of Steel landed a couple blocks from Dr. McNider’s office and quickly changed clothes. It wasn’t long before he was walking through the front door.
“Clark,” Dr. Charles McNider said when he saw his friend, “it’s good to see you.”
“You, too, Charles.” Clark looked around. “Where is the happy couple?”
Clark followed the doctor through the door and down the hall. As he entered the room, he swept Dick and Karen into a warm embrace. “Congratulations.” He gave his cousin the kiss from Lois and then looked at Dick.
“If Lois sent me one,” the younger man said, grinning, “then you can just tell me about it.”
“You’re safe,” Clark said with a smile. Turning his attention back to Charles, Clark handed the box to him. “This is the needle that was made from a piece of the rocket that brought Kal-El to Earth-One. It should do the trick.”
“How did you manage to get hold of that?” Dick asked.
“Remember back in ’81 when we had just finished our annual get together and ended up fighting the Ultra-Humanite and his new Secret Society? After the fight, Charles decided to give me a complete check-up. He was worried about there being any lasting effects of the kryptonite.”
“That included a blood test,” Charles added. “Of course, there was one small problem.”
“After putting some thought into the situation,” Clark continued, “we decided to contact Kal-El and see if he had ever been in a similar situation. He said he had something that might help us, and the next thing you know, he had teleported the box with the syringe to us using the old transmatter cube.” As an afterthought, Clark added, “And don’t worry — it has been sterilized.”
“Good enough for me,” Karen stated. “Now can we get on with this?”
“Of course,” the doctor said. “I need you to roll up your sleeve.” As he prepped her arm, he mentioned that this was nothing more than a formality. He was certain they weren’t already related. This got a chuckle from everyone.
“Well,” he said as he removed the vial, “that’s it. I’ll hang on to this for a couple days, then I’ll send you the paperwork that says you are good to go.”
“I guess my work here is done as well,” Clark said. “I’d better be getting home.”
Dick stuck out his hand. “You don’t know how much we appreciate this.”
“Anytime,” Clark replied, then looked at his cousin. “Scratch that. This better be the only time.”
Karen wrapped her arms around her fiancé. “Don’t worry. It will be.”
In Los Angeles on the grounds of the former Stellar Studios, a young black-haired man sat behind an office desk reviewing financial figures. “I tell you, Beth, sometimes I wonder what got into me when I started up Infinity Inc as a for-profit super-hero team. Salaries. Insurance. Taxes. What was I thinking?”
Beth Chapel, a tall, well-built woman of African-American descent, sat in a Queen Anne chair looking out over the old backlot. The lot was unlit this evening, but that did not hinder her view as she watched fellow members of Infinity Inc working through a training exercise. “You thought it was better to be up front about what it takes to run a team like this in the ’80’s, Sylvester. You — oh! Rick, you better watch it out there, love. Aquaman may seem like a fish out of water most of the time, but he can see in this low light nearly as well as I can.”
As Sylvester Pemberton bent back to his paperwork, the phone on his desk rang. “Good evening, Infinity Inc. This is Patriot. How can I help you?”
“Answering your own phone? Great Rao, Sly, you really need to get either an answering service or a secretary.” The voice on the other hand was definitely female, but with a familiar edge to it.
“Pee-Gee, how are you? Haven’t heard from you in ages!” Sylvester leaned back in his chair. Glancing over at him, Beth smiled as she recognized his favorite nickname for Power Girl.
“Great, Sly, and I’ve got some big news. Dick and I are getting married at the end of the month. We want you and the rest of the Infinitors here for the big day.”
“Are you kidding? I can’t vouch for everybody, but you know I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”
“Great! I’ve got tons of other calls to make, but I wanted to catch you first. I’ll fly out next week and we can catch up, ‘kay?”
“Sure thing, Karen. And hey, tell Dick I said congratulations, will you? He’s a lucky guy!”
“I hope he still thinks so by the time we get to the altar. Oops, gotta go. Bye!” The line went dead before Sylvester could answer. He hung up the phone, a wistful look on his face.
“You all right, boss?” asked Beth, getting up and walking over to lean against the desk.
“That was Power Girl. She and Red Robin are getting married.” He looked up. “You’re all invited.”
“Didn’t you and she have a thing going on a few years back?”
Sylvester laughed. “Yeah, right! If you mean, did I have a hopeless crush on her, then yeah, we had a thing.” Leaning back in his chair again, he ran a hand through his hair. “God, I was such an idiot with her. It’s a wonder she even talks to me, even now.”
“Really? That’s not the way I heard it.” While technically blind, Beth’s unique vision could still see the puzzled expression on his face. “What, you think we girls didn’t swap stories when she and Helena stayed out here? She told Jade and I all about how you used to follow her around, your tongue hanging down to your Cosmic Converter Belt. At first she thought you were some kind of weirdo, since she’d never had any experience with adolescent males. Later, though, she realized that it was one of the highest compliments you could have given her.”
“Still, some nights, I just can’t help but wonder what things might have been like if I’d handled it differently.”
“Sly, we all wonder about that. But you know what? All the could-have-beens and never-weres in the world can never make up for what we have in the here and now. I mean, look at you and Jonni. You two have a great thing going, right?”
“Well, yeah, we do, but–”
“But nothing! You worry about that, and never mind about Kara Zor-L, AKA Karen Starr, AKA Power Girl. And on the day of that wedding, you take Jonni up there to Gotham, you wish Karen and Dick well, and you show them that you’ve got yourself just a fine a lady as he does.”
Sylvester thought about this for a moment as Beth went back to the window and checked on the activity below. “Looks like they’re done. I think I’ll go give Rick a hand with showering.” She started toward the office door with a mischievious grin on her face.
“Hey, Beth. Before you go?” Sylvester stood and met her at the door. He pulled her close in a hug. “Thanks.”
The door to the hotel suite opened, and a dark-clad young woman entered, followed by her equally dark-clad father. The woman was visibly upset. “After all she was supposed to have meant to him, all he could do was send flowers to the wake? He couldn’t even bother to make an appearance?”
“Well, it was a pretty impressive arrangement,” Maury Levine said.
“With all that Wayne money, I’m sure he can afford something like that without having to put a lot of thought or sacrifice into it,” she sniffed.
“Well, he does have a lot going on right now, Rachel,” Maury said, sitting down. “He told me he was engaged. And from what I saw recently in the paper, it looks like the wedding will be soon.”
“I’m sure he’s got a lot on his mind,” Rachel said. “But that’s not an excuse. You were his friend. And mother and he had been even more at one time. He should have bothered to show up.”
“You seem really disappointed that he wasn’t there,” Maury said. “I — I know how much you wanted to meet him.”
Rachel saw her father’s expression and sat down next to him, taking his hands in hers. “Knowing what I know now, how can I not at least be a little curious and want to meet him? But it changes nothing between you and me. You’re the one who raised me, and as far as I’m concerned, you will always be my father, no matter what.”
“And you will always be my beautiful, smart, wonderful daughter who I love more than anything,” Maury said, pulling her to him in a hug. “The last time I saw Dick, we’d talked about having dinner while you and I were still in town. I’ll give him a call and see if I can’t set something up.”
Rachel heard her father’s mischievous chuckle for the first time since her mother’s death; she smiled and asked, “What’s so funny?”
“I was just thinking that when he finds out about you, it’s liable to shock him into looking his real age!”