"Per Degaton," Jay said suddenly.
"What about him?" Alan asked when he didn't elaborate.
They were sitting quietly in their 'corner' of the plane, what Jack had called the 'old folks' part of the passenger cabin early in their adventures. The name had stuck even after Jack had retired, picked up by Al and Kendra and Dinah and Karen and Rick and especially by Courtney. Invoking it evoked a curmudgeonly growl from Ted, a wink from Jay, and either a glaring scowl or an amused chuckle from Carter depending on his mood. Sandy (and he had remained Sandy in Alan's mind until the end) had protested his "right" to a seat on the couch, pleading youth even as he would sit down with all the weight of his years in his eyes. Alan himself never questioned the assignment; what was true was true and there was no reason to sully his dignity by arguing the point.
"I was just thinking about him," Jay finally said, not opening his eyes. Leaning back against the seat, helmet in his lap, fingers tapping lightly against it at a speed too fast to truly see, Jay was a study in contained energy. It was all he could do to not twitch, Alan knew from experience. This plane trip to Kandaq must seem a turtle's pace to Jay, the way the plane itself felt horribly closed in to him. "About all of the times we fought him."
"It wasn't so often," Alan replied, sounding contrary to his own ears. Alan didn't consider himself claustrophobic, but wearing the Sentinel's garish outfit always made him feel confined within closed spaces. The drone of the plane had been boring into his skull for hours and it made him testy. "I'm not sure I'd put him up there with our great recurring villains. We were off in the War during most of his action, anyway. Libby and the boys fought him the most."
"He was the one running through time trying to take over the world," Jay said and Alan knew he was suppressing his own impatience. They had been through too much together for too long to bother sniping at each other out of frustration or boredom. "Biding his time until he thought the world was ripe."
At the bench closest to the cockpit, Karen and Ted were bickering about something. Courtney was biting hard on her lip, obviously amused by the disagreement and just as obviously unsure whether or not it was appropriate to be so considering the situation at hand.
"But we got him. We always got him," Alan mused. "Degaton was a hard rival, true, but he was predictable. He always wanted the same thing and it was something that was doomed to failure. JSA, JLA, All Star Squadron...In a world with or without superpowered heroes, you couldn't just take over the world. Degaton was never going to succeed and we probably counted on that more than we should have."
"I know," Jay agreed sadly.
"You're worried." A question that wasn't. It wasn't anything he hadn't rolled over in his own mind. "Whether or not we can solve this thing."
"We've been through a lot the last couple of months," Jay said by way of confirmation. "And how do we fight *our own*?"
"This would hardly be the first time we've had to take on teammates who are operating under the influence of mind control," Alan retorted, sounding surer than he felt. Henry King Senior and Junior, father and son. Both men much higher on his personal list of villains than Degaton.
"Brainwave -- the first one -- wasn't an easy man to put down." Jay opened his eyes then and looked at him carefully until Alan turned away.
"Neither is the son." Alan had been driven to depths of despair he hadn't visited since by the father's exploits, then later plagued by the son's exploits. Had probably caused some of them. And if there were anything in the last week that had given him any sort of relief, it was that this madness hadn't touched Jenny. Henry's obsession was past, perhaps, or he was just occupied elsewhere. He was so proud of his daughter's growth as a hero and as a person, but right now, he wished that either she were off with Kyle or that he were here to protect her.
"The son's bred true," Jay agreed. "And I'm not sure he's behind any of this."
Alan turned sharply in his seat, but Jay just shrugged with the helplessness of an unhappy truth. "We have to be prepared in case those kids are doing this all on their own. Black Adam's a charismatic man. It's not out of the realm of possibility."
"Al's always has been the impressionable sort," Alan admitted reluctantly. "And he hasn't been comfortable since the fight with Extant."
"That was a long time ago, too." Jay had been turning the helmet in his hands and seemed to suddenly realize he was doing it. He patted the top, as if in apology, and placed his hands over it as it rested in his lap. "We should have tried to talk to him."
"As much as we could have. He's a proud one. All of the Infinitors are," Alan said sourly, thinking of not only Al, but his own children, Hector, and even Brainwave Jr. "They'd go out of their way to spite us... and so they have."
"Al's just..." Jay trailed off, frowning at his own inability to express what he felt.
"Al's angry," Alan finished. "He's always been angry. Angry that Al Pratt was killed and his murderer never punished. Angry with us the way all of the kids were when we didn't let them into the JSA. And then, when we reformed, he was angry that Sand became an important part of the Society right away. He wants what he considers to be his due respect. He wants a world where the good guys always win and then get to go home to their families. Black Adam's just given him enough of a whitewash of what he's doing that that's what Al thinks he's found."
Al was a lot like Todd, Alan didn't say. Angry at the world for it not turning out the way he wanted. That Al was finally taking that anger too far just at the time when Todd was finally free of it... He sighed and shook his head. It did no good to dwell on that now.
Sharp words from the other end of passenger cabin echoed around the space and both men turned. Carter, his helmet on despite the climate control and privacy that had most of the others stripped of their masks and headgear, was speaking sharply with Kendra, who in turn was standing with her hands on her hips in a posture of defiance that made her look -- despite the physical differences -- much like Shiera. The words "Alex" and "Kobra" and "access" and "Sand" could be heard clearly and it was no surprise that Ted abandoned his bantering with Karen to pay attention.
Beside him, Alan could sense Jay tensing, poised to rush in and defuse what was looking to be a row in the making. Normally, Alan would have just told Jay to let them be -- Carter and Ted were old enough to know better than to pick fights with each other and Kendra was more than enough to keep things from getting out of hand. But Ted had been very hurt by what he viewed (what they all viewed) as Alex's betrayal and Carter... Carter was in no mood to be either reasoned with or talked down. Even by Kendra. Ever unpredictable, Carter had been radiating an almost savage danger in the weeks before his sudden disappeance and now? Now there was almost none of the man they knew there. Whether it was Khufu or Katar or some new aspect of his personality that just Hawkman without any humanity at all... it bore watching.
"... about Norda?" Ted's growl carried easily through the now silent cabin. The two men were now standing face to face (or as close as possible to it with one man still masked). Rick, who had been dozing across from where Jay and Alan were sitting, now blinked awake, concern and surprise warring with grogginess as he looked around.
"Because Norda has not been living under our roof!" Carter snarled in a too-calm voice. "Alex Montez and Al Rothstein carried full JSA credentials, were part of our 'family'..."
"None of which would have been a problem if *you* hadn't brought Black Adam in!" Karen broke in, standing up behind Ted.
"To keep an eye on him!" was Carter's exasperated reply. "We went through this during the original meeting! He was never to be trusted. He was supposed to be watched."
"We're not your goddamned babysitters, Carter," Ted retorted. "You can't just stick your problem children, your experiment into the JSA's protective custody and then run off. Bringing in Black Adam was your idea. You don't even stay at the brownstone; you can't expect us to do your work for you."
Captain Marvel, who had been sitting up in the cockpit with Michael and Pieter, emerged from there, his massive frame filling narrow the doorway.
"I can expect you to do your jobs," Carter growled. "Or does the JSA just do public relations and cleanup for the Justice League now? This wasn't my decision. It was put to a vote and we all share the blame for letting him gain sway over the others."
Ted inhaled deeply, as if he were gathering wind for a rebuttal, but he let it out in a loud breath as Kendra held up her hands and stepped between the two men.
"Enough. Both of you," she emphasized, glaring meaningfully at Carter. "None of this is going to do us the least bit of good once we land. It doesn't matter who's to blame. The answer is that we all are. Every single one of them were part of our team, part of our extended family, or someone we offered *help* to and didn't follow up on. This happened because we weren't *paying attention*."
"Which is why I..."
"Carter, I mean it," Kendra warned. "Enough. You have not exactly been the poster boy for rational and considered behavior of late. Your little putsch may have worked, but that doesn't mean that there's not going to be a reckoning when this is all over. And then we can point all the fingers we want." She finished by glaring at Ted, who flinched under the gaze.
"Is it just me or does she tend to sound like Shiera when she's angry?" Jay murmured next to Alan. "I mean, not just the tone of her voice..."
"She's got Shiera's memories," Alan agreed. "Stands to reason. Kendra's a smart girl; she's probably figured out it's the only way to win a fight with Carter."
"Especially when reason's not working out." Jay made a sour face. "I hope we don't have to watch him."
Alan only nodded, eyes still trained on Carter. The only sound in the cabin was the hum of the engines.
"Now that the turbulence inside the plane has passed," Pieter announced dryly over the intercom. The slight Norwegian lilt seemed to lessen the impact of his words, or at least add to the humor he was trying to gently convey. "You might all want to take your seats as we're headed into some on the outside."
The tableau broken, Carter turned sharply away and Captain Marvel barely got out of the way before he pushed past him to enter the cockpit. Ted sat down again with Karen and Courtney made room for Kendra, who was too busy looking after Carter to notice.
"The mistake is in thinking that we all got along fifty years ago," Alan said loudly enough for all to hear. It earned him chuckle from Karen and Rick, pursed lips and a grumble from Ted, and Courtney exchanged a glance with Kendra.
"We're a family," Jay added. "We may bicker, but in the end, we're there for each other. That's what today is all about."
And with that, a thoughtful silence fell upon the group, soon buffeted by choppy air over the south Atlantic.