The bell rang out through the bustling halls of Gotham Academy, blaring into the students' ears. A girl, likely another sophomore, bumped into Dick Grayson, sending his books flying. She blinked once. "Whoops," she said unenthusiastically. She bent down to pick up the books, which gave Dick a moment to see what was so oddly familiar about her.
There was something about her high cheekbones, the cruel line of her rosy lips, the way her features fell into a muted expression. Her long dark hair spilled over the muscles in her shoulders and back, and her green eyes, shining dully, stood out against her pale skin. When she straightened back up, she stood almost as tall as Dick himself. Where had he seen her before? It struck him.
"Clara?" he asked. "Is that you?"
She furrowed her brow once before relaxing her features again. It was obvious that she recognized him. "Do I know you?" she muttered, studying her jagged nails. "The Dick Grayson I knew would never abandon a friend." She stepped closer to him.
"I thought you were dead, just like the rest of your family," she accused. "You wanna know how much that crushes a little girl?"
"You wanna know how much losing your family crushes a little boy?" he bit back.
He thought he saw her eyes soften for a moment, but she quickly narrowed them again. "Can't lose what you never had."
She shoved his books at him. "Stay away from me." She turned on a heel and walked away. "Clara, wait!" he shouted, as the hall began to fill with students. He tried to catch up to her, but she was too far away. She rounded a corner and was lost in a sea of students.
A clump of chicken surprise landed on Clara's lunch tray. She grimaced as she noticed the green chunks of... something floating around in it. She grabbed a cookie before walking out of line towards an empty table at the far side of the cafeteria. A couple of seconds later, Dick emerged from the line, heading towards where Clara sat alone. She glared at him with eyes of steel, and he turned to go sit at his own table.
To his surprise, Artemis was sitting there along with Barbara and Tim, who were usually there. "Hey, guys." His lunch tray hit the table with a clatter."Hi," Artemis said sweetly, and she reached her hand across the table. "I'm Artemis," she said. Dick shook her hand. "Nice to meet you. I'm— "
"Dick Grayson," she interrupted coolly. "We met when I first transferred, remember?" He was about to respond when Barbara jumped in.
"Have any of you guys noticed the new girl?" she said, pointing a manicured nail at Clara. "Yeah, she's... strange," said Tim.
"I like her," said Artemis. "She seems cool."
"Nah," said Barbara, staring in Clara's direction. "She seems like a stone-cold bitch."
"Why don't we go talk to her?" asked Artemis. Panic swelled in Dick. "Uh, maybe that's not a good idea," he said definitively. Clara didn't want to see him; she said so herself.
"Why not?" asked Artemis in an insinuating tone. "You're not afraid of some girl, are you?" Dick sighed and resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
"I'm going to talk to her." Artemis stood up before Dick had time to protest.
"I'm Night Wing!" he said suddenly, jumping to his feet. Damn. What was he thinking? The only way to not seem like more of an idiot was to just go along with it now. Bruce would have his head on a stake for this...
"What?" Artemis turned around to look at him with a raised brow. She burst out laughing. "It's... true," Dick continued. He looked to Barbara and Tim for help, but they just stared at him with wide eyes. "Ask me something only Night Wing would know."
Her second eyebrow raised. "Fine. What were the names of the androids that attacked the Cave?" she asked lazily, as if she didn't really care whether he was Night Wing or not. "Red Torpedo and Red Inferno," he said quickly.
She froze. "What? How did you…what?" she said, dumbfounded. "You've been a part of the Team for... as long as I've known you?"
"Yeah," Dick said, scratching the back of his neck. "And I finally made Artemis speechless." He grinned.
"Shut up," she muttered, punching him in the shoulder. Barbara and Tim shared a glance. Bruce would punish him for this later.
"Wait. That was a distraction to get me to not talk to the new girl, wasn't it?" Artemis said.
"Perhaps." Even though he knew that Bruce would get mad at him later, it seemed as if a weight had been lifted off of him
"Whatever. I'm still talking to her." Artemis flipped her hair over her shoulder and continued walking to where Clara sat. "Me too!" exclaimed Barbara. Tim and Dick shared a helpless look, then reluctantly followed them to talk to Clara. This was going to be so fun.
They walked over to Clara's table and sat down, setting their lunch trays down gently. "Hi, I'm Artemis," Artemis said, reaching her hand across the lunch table. Clara stared at the palm of her outstretched hand with a blank expression. Dick could already tell that Clara and Artemis were going to be the best of friends.
"I'm Clara," she said brusquely. Artemis' hand dropped. "Nice to meet you," she grumbled through gritted teeth. Clara glared at her.
"So, uh, where are you from? What school did you go to before you transferred here?" Tim asked, trying to ease the tension. Dick barely stopped himself from facepalming. This wasn't going to go well at all.
Clara switched her focus from Artemis to Tim, her muscles immediately tensing up. "Why do you need to know?" she asked warily.
"You're not the greatest at making friends, are you?" said Barbara. Clara flipped her off. Tim and Dick snorted.
There was a beat of silence as she resumed eating. After a moment, she set her fork down. "Are you and her together?" she asked Dick quietly, dipping her head toward Artemis.
"As a couple?" he asked, confused. "Yes," she growled through her clenched teeth. Dick and Artemis laughed. "Of course not!" Artemis hooted, and she collapsed into a fit of giggles. Clara relaxed a little bit. "Oh," she said, hunching over. The laughter died down, and she continued to eat. Everyone leaned away from her slightly as she picked up her knife.
How had Clara changed so much in seven years? She used to be happy, and sweet, and kind. Now, it seemed like she didn't feel anything at all. Except for anger, maybe. Had her loss of Dick been enough to change her entire personality? That didn't seem like the case. There must have been something else that happened.
A loud blaring noise shook Dick out of his thoughts. What the hell? Over the P.A. system, their principal's voice crackled across the cafeteria. "This is not a drill. I repeat this is not a drill. An armed man has been seen walking in the corridors. We need to evacuate the school immediately..."
The rest of the message was interrupted by the screaming of students around them. Clara was strangely calm, along with the others at their table. At least some of the students had enough common sense to open the cafeteria doors. One word flashed through Dick's mind: stampede.
As if Clara was reading his thoughts, she shot out of her chair and made her way to the door. Despite the students' head start, she made it to the open doors long before them. She's going to get trampled! Panic raced through Dick's veins. In an instant, he was out of his chair and by her side at the door. "What are you doing?" She glared at him.
"I don't need help," she snarled.
Before he could say anything else, she put two fingers in her mouth and whistled one of the loudest, shrillest whistles he had ever heard. Was that... blood in his ears? Most of the students dropped to the ground, their fingers in their ears. "Listen up!" Her yell echoed across the room. What was happening?
"We're gonna do this safely. One. At. A. Fucking. Time." She opened one of the doors and Dick opened the other. The students obliged, and everybody in the cafeteria was evacuated in less than five minutes.
As the final student was leaving the building, a shot rang out through the air. The criminal had made it to the cafeteria. The student sprinted out the door, and Clara and Dick shut and locked the doors behind them. Tim and Barbara had stuck around as well. It was four against one. Another shot rang out.
They scattered, diving behind upturned lunch tables. All except for Clara. "What the hell are you doing?" Dick hissed. It was a miracle that no one had been shot.
Instead of responding, she slithered toward the attacker. "Someone's looking for punishment, aren't you?" he growled. He grabbed her by the throat and raised her into the air. Clara kept a straight face. He brought his lips to her ear. Dick almost snapped. He was going to kill this man if he laid another finger on Clara.
Dick blinked, and when he looked back, Clara was standing, and the criminal was on the floor with blood gushing from his broken nose. Unconscious. Clara wiped the blood from her knuckles just as the principal, flanked by tall, heavily muscled policemen, walked into the room. The group of teens turned and ran out the door before she could identify them. "Hey, wait!" she called after their retreating backs.
Once they thought they were far enough from the school, they stopped for a bit to breathe.
"What the hell did you do back there?" Dick demanded. "Calm down," Clara said. "I punched him."
"Yeah, in the blink of an eye."
"Maybe I picked up some useful skills after you abandoned me."
They continued to bicker while Tim, Artemis, and Barbara watched. "Were you and Wally like this?" Tim asked suddenly. Everything froze, and Dick shot him a warning glance.
No one had even mentioned Wally since... It was like a blow to the face. Artemis took a sharp intake of breath and said, "I sure hope not." They could all see the tears that shone in her eyes. She turned away, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt. A hand landed gently on her shoulder. She looked up. It was Clara. "I'm so sorry for your loss," she whispered. "I understand that Wally meant a lot to you."
"How did you know?"
"Wait a minute..."
A million questions swirled around Clara. She had made a mistake. "Enough!" she screamed. She closed her eyes. She opened her eyes to Artemis, Dick, Tim, and Barbara, thrown to the ground by some unknown force. She brought down her hands, which had been thrown into the air above her head. She stared at them as she shook, pulling in deep breath after deep breath. That's when the world tilted, and everything went dark.