Epilogue: Run Run Away

The street was called Mercury. That, for the first time during this hellish week, was what brought a small bit of amusement to Jonathon Chesbro: the fact that the street Elijah Versaw had lived on was named after the messenger of the gods, who had wings on his feet that made him extremely swift. It hadn't struck Chesbro the first time he had been to this house: he had been high on the fact that he finally knew who Cauterize was. Now, he realized the irony of it. Perhaps some might have accused him of not checking such a possible link, but such possibilities are always dismissed as foolish even if they are proven true. That was the power of perception. Or maybe the curse of it.

That, and how easily it could be manipulated in this day and age.

There was a second irony now, on the street called Mercury. The phrase "wings on one's feet" can also be used to describe someone who is running away extremely fast, usually because they are afraid of something, and that was the case here. Not like Chesbro could blame them. The battle between Cauterize and Kid Flash had caused extreme damage to several blocks of these suburbs, and the people that Cauterize hadn't spirited out of the way had pretty much all left when the police had arrived, both worried that their houses might have suffered damage they hadn't verified yet and the more irrational fear that Cauterize would come back. That, among other things, was what Chesbro faulted Elijah for: he didn't care who he terrified as long as he accomplished his goal of cleaning up Light City.

But that was pretty much immaterial now, he supposed. And in any case, Roman had opened a few hotels for the families to stay for free before the damage could be assessed. Such things were quite possible now that Roman had access to the slush funds that Geoffrey Tercero had kept. The man's greed had been obscene…and so had his fate, Chesbro supposed. Karma, if it existed, at work.

So the suburbs where the battle had begun were practically empty…except for one house. The Versaw house, the house Chesbro had tracked down and so had the Titans. Despite the huge hole in the side, an occupant remained there. Kei Michiko had been taken to the hospital for a slight injury she had suffered when the Titans had smashed the wall down, but Caroline Versaw remained in her home…or maybe, as Elijah had said, her prison.

The trip was largely a formality. It wasn't like the Titans or the LCPD needed evidence to prove Elijah Versaw had been Cauterize, now or at a trial. There would be no trial. Elijah was gone, having run so fast he ran right out of the world. Well, maybe not quite that…but it remained that the boy no longer existed as a living, breathing being on this plane of existence. Even so, Turnquist had asked Chesbro to take several officers to the house of Caroline Versaw and "give it one final review". Chesbro saw through it: he was the messenger. Huh, another irony.

And so, with about half a dozen police officers, Chesbro arrived back at the Versaw house. The snow, now lightly dusting everything, still bothered him, but the Titan who called himself Savior had said that it would eventually stop and the normal temperatures of Light City would quickly melt it away. Chesbro figured he could live with that.

The fact that there was a large gaping hole in the house pretty much rendered knocking moot, but Chesbro had one of the officers go in ahead, calling for Caroline. While he received no answer, he came back saying that Caroline was still there. Chesbro found her sitting in the kitchen, which is where the officers who had interviewed her had left her when they had been called away to clear the streets. A cup of ice-cold tea sat beside her, as the small, gray haired woman stared at the wall before her. It wasn't a glassy eyed stare, like the one a corpse might have…but it was fairly close.

At the time of the first interview, Chesbro was being treated and hadn't had a chance to tell anyone what was going on or what he had learned, so the officers had been giving Caroline Versaw a general questioning and not an interrogation on her son being Cauterize. The woman hadn't been much help: she had at first seemed utterly bewildered at what was going on, and then, as bits of information began to trickle in, she seemed to go into a strange kind of trance. Chesbro couldn't identify it, neither could the officers…but perhaps a psychologist could. Some women suffering a long history of abuse learn to detach themselves from their own bodies and mind, essentially turning themselves off until their abusers grew tired or bored. Faced with the fact that her son, the only thing she had left, and someone she undoubtedly loved deeply, had been the super powered murderer that had terrorized Light City for the past several days…after her life, she couldn't do anything else. And with reports that Cauterize was probably coming back, the officers had been distracted from Caroline's crisis, and had pretty much left her there at the table, where she had sat, trying to figure out this latest, greatest horror that had been visited upon her.

Chesbro had wondered if he might feel some anger towards this woman, wondered if he would blame her for being so weak to allow what had happened to her to go on, to not speak up and seek out help, and on top of that to be so blind that she had no clue of her son's plans…but all those musings in Chesbro died completely when he saw her. She looked so small, so fragile…fragility scarred deep from the crimes of William Versaw. Looking at her, even Chesbro felt a slight urge to protect her…but only probably because he knew the whole story, or probably the closest thing to the whole story that would ever be known. Battlin' Bill's bones were probably bleaching on some island in the middle of nowhere, Elijah was gone, and Caroline Versaw would never speak about her life. She had been thoroughly silenced.

He still did not excuse his crimes…but in those moments, Chesbro got a slightly deeper understanding on what had motivated Elijah. If life had reduced his mother to this…Chesbro possibly could have turned murderous too.

But, unlike Elijah it seemed, Chesbro understood one thing. There was an expression that said fight fire with fire.

Chesbro knew that if you did that, you inevitably ended up with ashes.

"Mrs. Versaw." Chesbro said. Caroline Versaw didn't seem to notice his presence, notice any of the cops at all. This did not alarm Chesbro. In fact, he rather expected it.

"I'm De…Lieutenant Chesbro." Chesbro said. "May I sit down?"

No answer.

Chesbro sat at the table anyway, gently, trying not to do anything that would alarm this badly damaged woman…and then again, she was in that mindset Chesbro could not really identify, she could have been confronted with a snarling pit bull and she would not have reacted.

"Lieutenant…" Said one of the officers. "What should we do?"

"Oh…ma'am…we have a search warrant…just doing a check over…" Chesbro said lamely. No answer. Chesbro looked at her for a few seconds, and then turned around.

"Search the place, but don't toss it. I repeat, DO NOT TOSS IT. If I hear one crash or the sound of anything breaking, you'll answer to me. Understand?" Chesbro said, his voice firm. There was a chorus of "Yes sirs" and then the officers left the room.

Chesbro turned back to Caroline. Her expression and pose had not changed. Chesbro took a few seconds to make sure the woman was still breathing: she was. She was just…not there. The line was open, and information was being received…but no one was home besides that.

Deciding it was pointless to sugarcoat anything, Chesbro went to the point: the truth about her son, and the fact that his power had seemingly claimed him, which essentially meant he was dead. Caroline sat emotionless through the entire thing.

"This is just procedure ma'am." Chesbro said after he was done. "After this we'll be out of your hair permanently. Most likely. Um, I believe someone will be assigned to fix your house…you might not want to stay here, there could be structural damage…"

No answer.

"Ma'am…" Chesbro said, and found he had no words for what to do next. This wasn't his area of expertise. But Chesbro was familiar with pain, and he didn't need Elijah's sordid tale to know that this woman was clearly in the grip of an agony he could never grasp, and not just that, but the fact it was the just the latest in a series of them, a hellish existence that never ceased to torment her. But Chesbro knew that this would be the straw that broke the camel's back. And despite the fact of what her son had done, it also meant he was gone, her last link to this world, and with him gone…she might as well be too. She just hadn't made it official yet.

But Chesbro also knew that giving up on life, as bad as it may be, was never the answer. And if he didn't say something, he was certain that was what was going to happen. There wouldn't even need to be any external assists. The woman would just…cease to be. And why wouldn't she? Her life had been a litany of people and situations telling her she had no worth at all. Worthless things should probably just disappear…

"Your son…I will not mince words. I do not like what he did, or condone it. But what he did…he did it for you. He did it so that you could finally live out your dreams, so that you could be happy. And I know that I can't even begin to imagine how it feels to lose him, but Elijah would want you to go on. For you, he did this…and for you, he gave his life. We just benefited as bystanders. In a way, Mrs. Versaw…you have most likely saved Light City. And I thank you for that."

Silence.

And then, a slight shift, a bit of motion.

"…………He was a good boy." Caroline said.

"…Yes. I'm sure he was."

"They'll hate him for what he did. And me."

"What? No. No, you don't have to worry about that Mrs.Versaw. There will be no retaliations…"

"It won't matter. He disturbed their lives. All of them. People…they don't like having their lives disturbed. It makes them feel bad…and that makes them do bad things."

Silence.

"Mrs.Versaw…what happened to you…and how it related to this city…that was not your fault. It never was. It never will be."

"No…no, I suppose not." Caroline said. "But that won't matter. It never does."

Chesbro digested those words a bit, and then realized he couldn't say or do any more.

"Are you sure you don't wish to be brought to a hotel?" Chesbro asked.

He was once again greeted with stony silence. Not thinking of anything else he could say, Chesbro gestured to one of his men to come over and keep an eye on the woman, as he left the kitchen, wondering if he had made any difference at all.

And though he'd never admit it to himself…part of him wished he had never put the pieces of his blackouts together, wished his brain hadn't read his intense desire to solve the case and tried to give him the information he needed. But it had been different then. Cauterize was literally faceless. Easy to demonize him, make his deeds define his absolute and be done with it. One never considered that behind your monster may yet lurk a man…a man who had his own life, his own problems, his own people he cared for, and who cared for him.

Yet…the Titans had figured it out too. Even if he'd never had his epiphany, Elijah Versaw still would have been discovered, could still have suffered the fate he had suffered.

And yet…

"Has anyone checked the basement yet?" He asked another officer, trying to take his mind off the guilt he was feeling, guilt he knew was groundless and couldn't help feeling anyway.

"Well, no sir. Your order to be careful is making it take a lot longer then normal, searches go a lot quicker when you can just tear the place up…"

"Right, right. Find anything?"

"Nothing except a hidden closet in the back of the kid's closet. And it was empty."

"I suppose that makes sense, he probably planted all his other gear at the Garigen place." Chesbro said. "Well then, I'll search the basement. Call if you discover anything interesting."

"Yes sir."

The basement seemed unremarkable: nothing but the cots where Elijah had placed his mother and Kei out of harm's way, and the usual basement clutter of boxes with a few old pieces of furniture. Chesbro picked his way through the boxes, more to keep his hands busy then with any real expectation of finding anything.

Yet…he was not surprised when he moved a few boxes aside and found the blue tarp covering something. He pulled it off to reveal a large, wheeled trunk. The trunk was not locked.

What he found inside…did not surprise Chesbro either.

Instead, it faced him with a choice. He could go upstairs and do his job…or he could forgo his duty, just once.

The latter did not appeal to him at all. He was a good cop, and perhaps more importantly, despite the pain that life had visited upon his mother, Elijah had gone about avenging it all wrong. Yes, his actions may have cut out the rot that was afflicting Light City, a rot Chesbro knew he himself most likely could never have touched…but that wasn't an excuse. Chesbro had lived his whole life dealing with excuses. The excuse of his father to stop living when his older brother died, the excuse of Turnquist to keep him out of danger not because he didn't feel Chesbro was qualified but because part of him couldn't separate Chesbro as a child with Chesbro as an adult…and Elijah's excuse as well, that his father and stepfather and school bullies gave him a justification to commit murder and cause terror.

And yet…

What good would doing his job do here?

Or perhaps more accurately…what good had his words done?

For all his crimes, Elijah had saved the city by stopping the oil from ruining the beautiful beaches that had once been Light City's pride and joy. That, and everything else, he had done so that his mother could be happy…a happiness she would most likely never find, because she had no idea how. Elijah, through his death, had robbed her of his guidance…except for…

But still…he was a cop…

And a human being.

In the end, Chesbro made his choice, and made his way back up the stairs.

"Find anything Lieutenant?" The same police officer asked.

"………….No. Nothing but junk. And I take it from any lack of communication that you and your fellows have found nothing as well."

"Nothing, nada, zip, zilch zero. This place was thought to be a formality and it appears to be just that."

"…Yes, all right. Ok then, call everyone off, and let's get back to the station. Those Titans may have helped save the day, but we still have to do all the paperwork."

"Heh, yeah, those rotten bastards." The officer said jokingly, and headed down the hall.

Chesbro made his way back to the kitchen. Caroline Versaw's position had not changed.

"Relieved. Go back to the car." Chesbro said to the officer watching over her, who nodded and left. "Mrs. Versaw…just in case anything happens, ANYTHING, here is my card." Chesbro said, as he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a card. He offered it, and Caroline took it, much like an automaton would…and this allowed Chesbro to lean in and not look suspicious.

"The corner of the basement. Blue tarp. There's something under it for you. I strongly suggest you take a look." Chesbro said.

He had already pulled back by the time the second officer returned to the kitchen to tell him everyone had left the house, as he nodded to Caroline Versaw and left her.

Though he was not sure, he thought he had detected a slight hint of astonishment.

"Sir, there's something really wrong with that woman." The officer was saying. "You think the vigilante…"

"It wasn't anything he did. He loved his mother. And she loved him. And she's lost him."

"Yeah, but still…"

"Officer…there's nothing we can do…but don't fret…I think…in the end, there might just be some hope." Chesbro said, and walked away. He stepped up to his squad card and opened the door, sitting in the driver's seat.

He glanced at the police officer in the passenger seat and realized it wasn't the same one he had made the trip with. He must have gotten in the wrong car. Well, it didn't matter.

The officer looked familiar, though it took him a few seconds to place her: the female officer who he had met at the end of the second Cauterize attack and who had woken him up to tell him that Turnquist had become unofficial chief.

"Lieutenant? Is this your car?" She asked.

"I don't think so, but it doesn't matter, does it?" Chesbro asked.

"….No. I suppose it doesn't." The female officer replied. Chesbro nodded and put the car it gear, slowly easing away from the curb. The snow was still going, but it seemed different now, somehow…prettier.

"…I just like to say congratulations on your promotion, Lieutenant." The female said, and Chesbro glanced wryly at her, trying to see if she was sucking up. She wasn't, he could tell. And that made him feel oddly…content.

"Well thank you Officer…you know, I never got your name…"


Two minutes after all the police cars had left, Caroline Versaw went down to the basement.

Despite her pain, despite her despair, despite that voice in her head telling her like it had for so long that it was done, everything she had to live for was gone, so it was time to end it…she had to know.

She found the tarp easy enough.

When she pulled it off, it drifted to the floor. It had originally been in the trunk, but Chesbro had removed it to take a look, and then placed it on the top when he had closed the trunk. Caroline leaned down and picked it up.

It was an envelope. On it was written one word.

Mother.

Caroline stared at the letter for a few seconds, and then, with trembling fingers, she began to open it, managing to get the actual letter out twenty seconds later, recognizing her son's neat, precise handwriting.

Dear Mom,

If you are reading this, then the worst has come to pass: despite all my precautions, something has gone awry, and I have been arrested, or worse, am dead. I had hoped that I would be able to find a gentler, easier way to tell you, someday, about this, but the best laid plains o' mice and men are ever to be led astray. Iif you are reading this, then all I can tell you is the truth.

The truth is a fragile thing Mother, easily spun and distorted until nothing remains but a façade. Some people buy this façade because they lack the intellect to see through it, others buy it because they find it easier…and others buy into it because it serves their needs. It is often a hated thing, truth, and I will not lie and say I did not feel any of that vitriol. But despite it, I will speak it.

The crimes they accuse me of, I am guilty of, but only by their system. The system that could have done nothing to help this city, or you. A system I had to discard if anything was to be done. They will most likely call me many things, from lunatic to monster, and quite possibly even evil. I am none of those things, mother. I will not deny I am a killer, for I took many lives in my quest…but it was what had to be done. Perhaps you will not believe me, either because of others or perhaps your own opinion, and you are free not to. But I knew in my heart that the only way this city could be saved was in blood and fire. It was why I chose my name, and it is why I am writing this, knowing what it could do to you.

All I ask is one thing mother. Your whole life has not been yours. Either to your parents, your first husband and my father, your second husband, this city…you have lived according to their desires and wants, many of which have been wrong, or even true evil. And you have been told to believe that this is what you deserve. But it is not the truth mother. The truth is…you deserve to live your own life, however you see fit. Even if I am crucified for what I did…it will all be worth it as long as you understand this truth.

This is my gift to you mother.

Live.

If I am alive, do what you will, whether it be to continue to love me as your son or hate me for what I chose to do, or deny me all together. It is your choice to make now, and in the end that is enough for me.

If I am dead, mourn, but do not let yourself be crushed by your grief, for in the end, life goes on, and even in the wake of such sorrow there can be joy again. And I believe that you can find it.

You're strong mother. So much stronger then even you know. And I know that you will find that strength.

But whatever you may do…just live.

Love,

Your Son

Elijah

Caroline Versaw read the letter several times before she could bring herself to open the trunk. What she saw shocked her so much she nearly dropped the letter, as she let out a small gasp.

Money. Money filled the entire chest, stuffed it to bursting, all neatly tied and bundled. Money that Elijah had stolen over the years, from bad people who had no need for it any more, money that was thoroughly washed and utterly untraceable, even to its original foul owners. Untold millions.

Money, and his wish.

Live.

"Oh Elijah…" Caroline said, as the tears began to come, and she collapsed by the chest, finally letting herself feel the reality of the grief…but also the reality of the gift her son had left her, as she wept quietly by the trunk full of money.

As mentioned, Mercury Street and its occupants, as well as much of the rest of the suburbs, was abandoned.

Hence no one saw it, roughly forty minutes later, when a woman came from the hole in her house, first dragging an immense trunk behind her that she barely managed to get into her car, and then two suitcases filled with everything of value, as she placed them in the trunk of her car, closed it, got behind the wheel, started up the car, slid out of the driveway, and slowly drove through the suburbs and out of Light City.

Forever.


The other car was also in motion, as it slowly turned onto a snow-covered street and made its way carefully down it. It was an old fashioned Rolls-Royce, a truly lovely car, its soft black paint job set off by the white that was drifting down on it. The streets were calm and quiet, like the people inside the car were the only ones there.

Noel glanced to his side as Nigel let out another racking cough, spitting something into a handkerchief. Another bit of clotted blood hacked up from his lungs, most likely. Blacktrinians may have been able to endure blade wounds far better then humans…but they were far from invulnerable.

"Ugh." Nigel said, as he put the handkerchief away. "I don't regret this life I lead…but sometimes I wonder what makes me go on with it."

"Perhaps the question might be, what would you do without it?" Noel replied.

"Hehhhh. True. Then again…when the last time you see your girlfriend is when you're cutting apart some murder victim, you tend to be annoyed that that could have been the last time you ever saw her had some things not gone the way they had."

"True…true…but even so…do you think you could give it up?"

Nigel looked out the window.

"No…no I don't. But I probably will have to, one day."

"When that day comes, I'll make sure you do." Noel replied.

The car was a gift from Roman Fernendez, given to the Titans "since your car was destroyed and you need transportation back home". It had been confiscated from the late Stephen Pierce, for while his house had been vaporized, his garage had not been touched. And since all his sports cars were too small for what Noel was sure was needed and his limousines were too large, Noel had picked out this classic car instead.

Kid Flash was gone, back home. He would be ok: his wounds would heal fast. That was the thing about Speed Force users. They did everything fast. Noel had wrapped up everything with Turnquist and Roman and then he and his allies had taken the car and started for home.

And though part of him felt disbelief that it was all over, Noel had solid proof, for in the seats between Nigel and Noel was Elijah Versaw's sword. The broken one had been taken by the police, supposedly as evidence…but Bart had retrieved the whole one for the Titans. He had thought they might want it for some reason…and he had been right.

But not as a trophy.

No…more as a reminder for what could happen in this life, and how in the grand battles against world destroyers and evil gods, one could overlook the smaller things, where the suffering was just as great, if not greater, then in the big things…until it gets so bad that one will do anything to alleviate it.

Still…there was no denying what this mission had been. Despite the fact that the Titans had been unable to prevent any of the deaths that Elijah had set out to cause, and in the end Elijah had again escaped justice, though in a way Noel could cope with better…he had most likely saved Light City. With the criminals scattered and still probably seeing Cauterize in every shadow, the police would have an easier time cleaning things up, purging the corruption, while Roman and his fellows would hopefully bring back what had once made Light City known.

Still…even if it returned to glory, Cauterize's mark could never be removed. For all his good intentions, his cut had been deep.

Well…Light City aside…there had been one more good thing, Noel supposed, as he heard a slight noise and glanced behind himself to check.

In the back, Gar and Tara were asleep, Gar leaning up against his taller girlfriend, as the two finally gave in to exhaustion. Together in the back, they truly looked cute, and Noel regretted he couldn't take a picture.

Nigel had followed his eyes, and he glanced at Noel, giving him a toothy grin.

"You know Noel…it's not that hard playing stupid."

Noel blinked.

"…Cupid, Nigel. Playing cupid."

"What? Oh. Right." Nigel said, grinning sheepishly.

The two drove on for a bit, turning down another street that would finally lead them out of Light City, and back home to the Titans, where friends and family would be glad to have them back…and evil would surely reach out to again.

But not tonight.

"Well, come what may." Nigel commented. "Merry Christmas Noel."

Noel blinked, and then he looked oddly at Nigel.

"I said something erroneous again?" He asked, blushing a bit.

"Yeah, you might say that. Merry Christmas is a seasonal greeting Nigel. It's not one you make due to snow."

"Ah, temporal factors rather then climate. My apologies Noel."

"Oh, no need Nigel." Noel said, as he adjusted his mirror, and turned his eyes back to the road ahead. "Hmmm, I suppose in a way, it still fits. Merry Christmas Nigel." Noel said, looking thoughtful. "Good will towards men. Whatever path they may walk…or run."

And the Rolls-Royce slowly drove down the street that headed out of Light City, as we pan up through the buildings, through the soft snowfall, until he finally come to the top of the buildings, looking up at the sky…as one final gust of wind finally scattered fading cloud cover to reveal the moon, its light beaming down on Light City, in a brilliant luminescence that seemed almost heavensent.

As the figure stepped from the shadows on the roof and gazed contently on his city's shining namesake.

August 8th 2004-January 12th 2005

THE END