Drumroll, please! I am proud to present…the final chapter! After taking most of last years' school year, plus the entire summer, I am finished! With this particular story, anyway… however, if any of you are interested, my sequel, "The Scars of the Past" is going to be posted on my bio very soon! Feel free to check it out! (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)
By the way, since many of you asked: Bruce the one who asked Robin to do a favor for him…and you will find out exactly what it was in this chapter. (And to Pirategirl: No. Vanora's an OC, not Rose or Leslie…or anybody like that.)
Now, may I just take the time to thank all the faithful readers to this story for their awesome reviews! Honestly; I absolutely love to know that people are reading my fics, and I can't express my utmost gratitude for all of you fabulous people! You rock! I am aware that I'm rambling, so I will just say thank you (Thank you SOOOO much!) once more, and let you get on with the story.
Chapter Twenty Seven: An End, A Beginning
"…No authorities have yet confirmed what the cause is for the waves, though a few renowned scientists have established that the highly dangerous chemical, francium, was used to destroy the pipes and water plumbing in Jump City, setting it at a disadvantage against the attack…"
"…The police, though confident that they had swept the entire city keep finding bodies every single day, crushed and hidden beneath the debris…"
"Murder! A young college student, later identified as David Norris, was found dead in a Gotham City morgue by one of the other workers who had come in for her shift. Norris, 20, had had his neck broken; the body he had been examining has gone missing for the time being. His parents have been stricken with grief. Says neighbor Gladys Dorston, 'Nathan and Tricia haven't come out of their house all week'…"
Bruce sat, brooding, in the Batcave as he listened to the reports flowing in from the news stations on the television; a small frown overshadowed his features as his eyes remained fixed on the large screen in front of him. Despite all the activity that had taken place over in Jump City, everyone was still unsure of what exactly had taken place. There were so many unanswered questions: Who (though Bruce had more than a vague idea of 'who' was behind it) had done it, why, would it happen again to other places surrounding Jump?
No one could confirm the truth; so, naturally, the reporters were merely stirring up more chaos and fear in people with their words (And how is that different from any other regular day? Bruce thought wryly.) Plus, considering his side of the story, they weren't making his job any easier: There were tons of citizens in Gotham who had panicked at the thought of being attacked. Nearly every night, fights broke out in the back streets; families packed up their belongings, left town without a trace of where they'd gone to; more than twice this week, there had been shooting incidents.
If "Slade" had wanted to spread the fear of terrorism, all Bruce could do was give him a standing ovation. The dark hero sighed and turned the power off, leaning back in his chair. First his son, now Gotham.
He really hated this man.
A body had gone missing in a morgue, and a kid found dead…that was peculiar. Now, Alfred had called the police so that they might take care of the villain (Bruce had preferred to use his friend's voice, in case his might be recognized), and they had complied…Was it just coincidence? And if it had been Slade's corpse—well, somebody had to take it. Honestly, the guy couldn't have just stood up and walked away; he'd had a metal staff driven straight through his skull. It wasn't possible to survive an attack like that…he hoped.
Unfortunately, there was no way to tell whether it had been Robin's adversary or not. The dead boy hadn't had time to give the name of the missing deceased.
It was like those annoyingly complicated puzzles that Alfred gave him for Christmas (the Bat had a feeling that the old man did it just to see the frustrated look on his employer's face as he tried to solve them): They were twisted and confusing, and there was always, always a hidden piece, waiting to be found—the very thing that kept him from completing it. It was comparable to this case.
Too bad that, detective though he may be, it often took Bruce an exceptionally long time to discover that puzzle piece.
A Few Months Later:
London, 6:45 p.m. A local train station.
People pushed and shoved, and hustled their way onboard as the sleek train started down the tracks. Workers attempted to guide them to their seats, and footsteps stumbled and stomped outside in the hall as the train increased in speed. A single woman sat in one of the compartments, brown eyes gazing out the tinted window as the scenery whipped by. Her hair, a pale blonde color, was wispy and stuck out at strange angles—as wild as a witch's—and her hands were folded neatly on her lap.
In spite of her mousy demeanor, there was something about her; at least, a something potent enough to keep anyone from joining her.
The woman rather preferred it that way.
Ever since she'd gotten the strange feeling, and seen the names scrawled in blood in her dreams, the thought of it had lodged itself in her brain, like a splinter to flesh. It ached and pestered her until she could simply not deny it anymore, and purchased a ticket to Gotham City. It was where he was supposed to be, according to the voices, but she was also headed that way to see what had become of Jump City—to see whether or not the rumors were true.
An usher tapped on the glass section of her door, and when she glanced at him questioningly, he slid the door open, and asked if she required anything.
"No," She said in a dramatic tone that suggested she practiced to make it sound exactly that way. "I am fine."
She went back to staring out the window, and the usher hurried down to the hall to the next compartment. The woman already knew what would happen—she'd known it days, perhaps weeks prior to the event: The couple there was bickering, the wife accusing her husband of cheating on her with some—
"Dirty little whore! How dare you! Twelve years we've been together, and now you're sleeping with some slut!"
The wife stormed down the hall, and her spouse trailed behind, screaming back more excuses. The mysterious lady heard them fade into the distance, a complacent smile curving her thin lips. She still hadn't lost it.
That was good, for she'd need proof when she confronted the man in Gotham. Somehow, she already knew that he was a skeptic.
The train hurtled down the tracks, and the female closed her eyes and hummed tunelessly, drifting to sleep. Once the train reached the edge of the continent, she'd get on a plane and head towards the states
California's a ways off…
"I need to ask you to do something for me."
"Well…" Bruce shifted his weight several times, apparently uneasy. "I was thinking about it while Leslie was stitching you up—" His father grimaced at his bluntness, and Robin chuckled hoarsely. "—And I…I was thinking that…maybe you should take a break…"
Robin was in his old room, folding clothes up, placing them in stacks on his bed. It was at least eight at night, but he'd left the lights off, allowing the moonlight to pour through the vast windows and illuminate the place. The Titans were finally out of the hospital, and in some other area of the manor, recuperating. In time, they'd return to Jump to help with the reconstruction.
Everything was getting better, going completely according to the plan he'd mapped out with Batman and his friends.
The only things out of place were the jeans and T—shirt he was dressed in, and the suitcase sprawled over his mattress, which would eventually be stuffed with clothing articles and personal possessions of his.
It's not fair, it's just not fair…you've worked your ass off as a leader for the past two years, and this is what you get!
"It's for the better," He murmured to darkness, though privately he agreed with what part of him was saying.
"Yeah," Bats said, unsure, as if he were worried about how the Boy Wonder might react.
"What…what do you…?"
"I mean…maybe you should spend some time living a life as a…you know, regular person, instead of a hero. Just until you've felt truly recovered from your injuries," Batman added quickly.
"A break," The boy repeated, voice stronger this time around.
Inside him, Robin was screaming in absolute fury. How could his father do this to him? Being a hero meant everything to him, and his mentor was suggesting that he leave it for awhile! How could he do that when his city had been almost entirely wiped out and Slade was…well, he wasn't quite sure.
"…Yes. I hope you understand," Bruce said, weary and wary at the exact same time. "It's for the better…"
For the better? For the BETTER! But on the other hand, Robin was just plain tired; his chest ached from being cut open, and he couldn't even use his arm at the moment…not to mention his ribs…and all the other bumps and bruises he'd taken during his time underground.
Robin didn't say a word but he let go of Bruce's hand and rolled over as carefully as he possible, stuttering out:
Even after their little talk had ended, Bats remained, sitting and watching his ward's back.
It was just a short period that he would be gone. Robin was confident that in a couple months he'd be back on his feet, ready to take on anything.
Until then, he was stuck and starting his newest career as a high school sophomore in awhile (It had been his decision to go to school—he refused to be left alone in Wayne Manor, and he'd suspected that the crowds of kids his age might help him adapt a bit easier).
At the least, if Slade was alive, at least he wouldn't know where to start searching…
Robin—or Richard, now that he was going to have to be known by his actual name—stopped packing and crossed over to the window to stare out at the twinkling lights that lit up Gotham City.
He was going to miss the Titans…
None of them were talking to each other, though it wasn't as if there wasn't anything to talk about. Heck, Beast Boy knew that he himself was brimming with questions: What exactly had happened to the fire dude again, how did Slade manage to eliminate their city, where was Slade anyway…?
Nobody would answer, though. He could shout at the top of his lungs for hours on end, and not one person would glance twice at him.
Robin was leaving the team…at first, the changeling hadn't accepted it. He'd burst into peals of laughter in the Batdude's face—it had to be a joke (Given, a pretty miserable one in his opinion, but a joke all the same.) That was the impression he had been under…until Robin had confronted the four and explained how it was going to be from now on. All of them, including Raven, had stared at their friend as though they had been slapped. Beast Boy, personally, had gone very hot all over, and then the very cold the next time he laid eyes on Batman.
It wasn't happening…the Teen Titans had been five, always been five. Nothing would be the same anymore…he didn't care if Robin had assured them that it would just be a short time. He was gone…
The green transformer turned the volume up on the TV, half wishing that the increased noise would blast the dismal thoughts out his ear. If he'd had his way, he'd have gone running outside, switching in between animal forms. His fighting technique had gotten sloppy; and besides, it was easier to forget when you weren't human. But one of his legs and a kneecap were still mending, and he'd been confined to the living room.
Cyborg was across the hall in the library, staring at the wall. Beast Boy's usual video game buddy had taken critical damage in the hospital; his metal armor was trashed, dented in different areas, and parts of him were lopsided—the doctors "hadn't completely understood his anatomy" (whatever that meant) and did a bit of a crappy job repairing his body. Once Titans Tower was back up, maybe they'd fix him…
Raven was in the same room as the changeling, but she was ignoring him. She'd drowned out the television (probably using her powers) and his random outbursts of angry words, choosing instead to gaze through the window at the grounds of Wayne Manor. The Goth was deep in her thoughts; she fidgeted sometimes though (he was counting on those tiny movements to guarantee that she was still alive), uncomfortable with her clothing. The butler, Alfred, had gone out and purchased regular teenager shirts and jeans (excluding Cyborg, since all of them seemed to think he was a bit broad shouldered to fit into anything at the store) for the Titans, seeing as their uniforms had been stained and ripped. Beast Boy wasn't too happy with his outfit, yet he had nothing else to dress in—he'd gotten the sneaking suspicion that Alfred had burned their stuff and tossed the ashes in the trash.
As for Starfire…
The boy's shoulders sagged. Last time he'd seen her, the alien had been a wreck.
The demoness inclined her head to the left, to show that she was listening, and he went on.
"Out on the grounds."
Oh. So that's what she'd been watching.
"Is she okay?"
No answer. Beast Boy got the drift, and, picking up the remote, clicked the tube off and reached for his crutches. The least he could do was walk around the mansion for awhile. His eyes were tired anyway.
The Tameranean hurled a barricade of starbolts at the multitude of targets that Friend Alfred had set up for her; the red and white circles exploded and flew through the air. And still, the girl kept going, her green powers smashing miniature craters in the ground, the grass sizzling and burning from the extreme heat.
She was never going to be the same again—every time she'd stare at her reflection in the mirror, she'd see the scars, the jagged little white lines trailing down her body—
"We have an emergency here! Let's move! GO!"
The doctors were rolling her down the hall as fast as they could; there was shouting and what were intended to be comforting whispers in her ears, but Starfire knew nothing…nothing but the agony and the intensity of being alone…
Where are my friends?
Pearly tears slid down her cheeks, but she persisted, throwing more and more every time until she'd exerted so much energy that she collapsed to the ground, sobbing; the targets had been utterly reduced to dust, but she didn't care.
Footsteps padded along the earth towards her, and Starfire refused to look up till the last second, when the new arrival cleared their throat. She'd been expecting Raven, or Cyborg, or Robin himself, and was taken aback to see Bruce Wayne—the infamous Batman—staring down at her benevolently.
"May I join you?"
Starfire nodded mutely and gestured to a spot beside her; she wasn't sure what to think about this man. True, he was Robin's father, but she'd heard violent stories about the Dark Knight. Besides, he was one of the reasons that her friend was going away. Meanwhile, the billionaire sank down and folded his legs nimbly. A moment passed between them, as Star awaited the predictable words to come: 'I'm apologize, it's better for him, you must understand, he's not gone forever…'
Instead, he shocked her again as he said, straight to the point, "You must hate me right about now, am I correct?"
She spluttered, unsure how to respond to something like that.
"I do not necessarily hate you, eh…?" Star cast about for the right title to address him by.
"Bruce. Just Bruce."
"Oh…well, Friend Just Bruce—"
"No," He said, laughing out loud. "Bruce. That's all."
Starfire blushed, flashing an embarrassed smile.
"Friend Bruce…I…do not know what to think of you. Perhaps I dislike you…but…"
" 'Hate' is a bit of a strong word?" He finished.
"Hmm. I guess you're right…"
Both of them stopped to collect their thoughts, staring upwards at the wide expanse of the deep blue heavens. Then:
"You see those stars?" Friend Bruce murmured, pointing to sky to indicate which group he was talking about. Starfire studied the sky.
"Yes…the Nebulus Coridion cluster?" She asked innocently, and Bruce chuckled some more.
"Well; as you can plainly see, I don't know anything about them, unlike yourself…do you know what a metaphor is?"
"It is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison," Star quoted. Friend Bruce blinked, before smiling.
"You a scholar?"
"Friend Raven suggested once that I read the Dicti—onary," Starfire explained, mispronouncing it. Bruce bobbed his head up and down, taking this in.
"So you're aware of the meaning…good…um, back to the stars…I haven't a clue what they're called, why they stay together in that one group, and whatever else you'd care to add to that list…those five stars are sort of a metaphor to you and the other Titans…" Bruce stopped for a few seconds, apparently absorbed in his thinking. "I can't start to comprehend the ties in your group—the level of friendship, of fellowship…the only two who have been truly close to me are Alfred and Robin…" The Batman admired the evening with a gentle gaze, and then, in a hushed tone:
"I see those five stars, and I try to imagine what would happen if one were to be removed. They'd still be stars, but they wouldn't quite ever be the same…"
The girl's bright green eyes pricked with salt tears.
"I want to help him, Starfire," He said quietly. "It may be difficult to try to conceive right now…but he desperately needs to take some time off from this life…You and I—and Alfred, and Beast Boy, Raven, Cyborg—we care about, and love him…"
"This…" She choked on her sobs, and managed to whisper:
"This is…for the better…"
Gotham City, 10:32 p.m. A church.
The candles had just been extinguished, pale gray smoke writhing in the solitude of the solemn old church. Minister Roger Thompson strolled down the aisle, running one hand along the mahogany pews in a fond caress.
He was going to miss this place…
The city council had announced, not long ago, that he was to relinquish the land on which the church was built, to make way for something…exactly what the something was, though, he hadn't yet been informed about.
It's probably a strip mall, or something just as idiotic and wasteful as that, Roger thought bitterly.
The building was empty now, as there were no services until Sunday morning, but the minister couldn't help thinking of all the members that attended the weekly ceremonies. Would they be as desolate as he was, knowing that in a short amount of time, the walls were to be ripped down, the stained glass cast into a dusty corner…did they care?
Thompson stopped and gave a tiny, nostalgic grin as he admired the glow of the ruby and gold hues that the glass reflected throughout the sanctuary. Sadly, this little church was his life; his wife was dead, and he had no children to visit…
This was all he had left…
Above him, the organ creaked to life, as someone started casually playing a slow, waltzing song.
Roger jumped and whirled about on the spot to see a young woman in a trenchcoat and scarf lolling on the bench, one long finger punching out the notes on the enormous keyboard.
"I pity you, Mr. Thompson," She drawled, leaping out of the balcony to land catlike on the edge of one of the rows of pews. "I really do."
The minister gaped at her, unsure how to respond. Hadn't he locked up for the night? So how had she crept in? Unless she was a thief, perhaps hoping to loot something from the designated construction site? But if this was so…how did she know his name?
"What do you want?" He demanded as firmly as he able. The woman smiled widely, and Roger was reminded of a cat who had finally cornered a rodent, and was about to devour its prey.
"I can help you keep your church up," She announced, regarding his expression with vague interest. "But I want you to give me something in return?"
Roger, though he wanted to have faith, let a snort escape, and the woman raised an eyebrow.
"What's so funny?"
"Well…just look at you!" He burst out impatiently. "You look like just another random person off the street? How can you even begin to promise that you'll have the power—against the entire city council I might add—to keep my church around!"
He hated to admit it, but the hardness of his face had softened as the conversation topic came around to his little building, revealing to the stranger just how desperate he was. But all she responded with was another sly grin, and "I have my ways."
The minister loathed himself for even acknowledging the chance and struggled; eventually, however, he cracked.
"If, if, I were to say yes to your offer…what would you require from me in return?"
She laughed airily.
"Oh that's easy. All I want is your body, to borrow for awhile."
Roger felt his mouth drop open, as he steadily backed away from her.
"Oh no…you ca—can't be—"
Her eyes glowed a demonic orange, flecked with a sapphire color, and a wave of terror overcame him.
"No!" He yelled helplessly, futilely. "No, no, no, no—"
The demon essence started to slide into his mouth, into him as she slowly possessed him, relishing the control she dangled over his head.
"It's not so bad," She said in a distorted tone as she was merging. "God has a purpose for everyone…And so does a friend of mine down there…"
The scars on her body burned as she twisted and turned, trying to fall asleep…
But the scars go deeper than my skin…
A girl was laughing and waving furiously at her, while her mother stood beside her, an arm wrapped around the child's skinny shoulders—
Screams. They filled the air as a city burned, and criminals ran amok, ravaging the place. Above, standing confidently on one of the fiery buildings, was a slender figure, dressed in a tight uniform, her—she could only assume it was a woman from the shape—face hidden by the mask pulled over it. Strands of hair, white—white as the purest snow, even—blew in the rogue wind that chose to sweep through…
A pleading cry, muffled as if someone were covering the caller's mouth…she was being pressed down into the floor under some gigantic weight, while visions of terror danced in her eye and mind—
A power surged through her veins, throughout her entire body while the ground cracked and trembled at her feet. From the depths of the earth, a gloved hand shot out of the chasm, groping—
"I'm so sorry, Richard…please forgive me…"
Death ran rampant, a old man—minister by the looks of his clothing—yelling in pain and clutching at his head, Cyborg's eye glowed a terrible red while Brother Blood cackled, Starfire stood beside Red X as chaos occurred before their eyes, Beast Boy was stumbling away from some unknown as it exploded—a bomb!—and Robin…
"I'm so sorry…"
A huddled form crouched in the mud, while—not that far away—the ruins of Wayne Manor were black and crumpled on the ground. Someone, broad shouldered, muscled—NO! NO!—was walking in his direction.
Raven shot up in bed, panting heavily while sweat dripped down her back, staining the pajamas she'd worn to bed. What she'd just seen…had been horrible…and so perplexing. The girl, though her visions had given her insight into what was yet to come, was getting a bit fed up with them. What was the point of having them when they couldn't do anything but show random flashes of the future? How was she supposed to figure out which event would happen when all the information just came flying at her?
So what do you do…ignore them?
On one hand…she'd never had the opportunity to share them with another person, basically the same as ignoring…
Raven shoved the bedcovers and stood, pacing back and forth, back and forth, the soles of her feet padding on the thick carpet. Maybe…maybe she'd keep them to herself until she could make better sense of it…where was the harm in that? What her friends didn't know wouldn't kill them.
Now…for starters, who was this white—haired creep…?
It was so silent…awkward almost. The Boy—sorry, former Boy Wonder was sitting in the doorway, allowing the cool dawn wind ruffle his air…He almost didn't want to believe it…he was leaving the Titans so quickly, the situation seemed unreal. And plus, he'd never really known a life that was completely apart from his heroic responsibilities. It was going to be weird, having to actually be a carefree teenager…
He wasn't one for thinking things through, overanalyzing them and whatnot—he was the person on the team…the person who used to be on the team that was impulsive, despite the fact that he had been the leader…
God, he really hated doing that to himself! "Former, used to be, had been…" Was that all he was now? Robin hadn't left Wayne Manor, and already he was reminiscing the old days.
He wished one of his friends was up, so he could have discussed what was on his mind with them…but they'd probably have just cut in with, "Then don't go!" Like him, they were blinded by their own emotions, their own beliefs and wants, and needs…How did such a screwed up person like him manage to live for so long?
Beats me, he thought miserably, chin slipping down to rest on his knees. He should've died and gone to be with his parents a long, long time ago. It just wasn't fair…
But of course, as we all know, life is never fair.
Alfred stood formally by the driver's side of the car, looking on like Bruce as the Titans said goodbye to one another. Robin had been fighting as hard as possibly could not to cry in front of his team, but in the end, he'd failed…this was one battle he didn't mind losing, thought.
"I'm gonna miss you, Rob," Cyborg said, choking as they hugged; his human eye was watering, and he backed away looking tired. Beast Boy patted one of his enormous shoulders kindly, then hobbled over to his leader and embracing him.
"Dude…" The changeling's voice cracked.
"I'm coming back, Beast Boy…I'd never leave you guys forever…I promise."
The green—skinned hero withdrew and nodded feverishly.
"I know you will…'bye Robin…"
The once Boy Wonder turned towards Raven who walked towards him with small, uncharacteristically meek steps.
"I, uh…I don't exactly know what to say," She murmured.
"Just…whatever is on your mind." He grinned weakly at her, trying to encourage her.
"I…I didn't expect for you to…" The demon bowed her head, and her hair fell like a glossy curtain, shielding her sadness.
"I'll miss you too," She finished lamely, and hugged him tightly.
"And I mean it too…"
"I know you do, Rae," He whispered, and was rewarded with a minute smile on her part, though she hesitated as she drew off to the side.
"Hey, did you get my—"
"Yeah…thank you, Raven…"
She giggled nervously, cutting it off quite suddenly.
"Don't mention it…"
Robin shifted his masked gaze (he'd said he was going to take off his mask once they got into the center of Gotham City) away from the huddle of friends who were waiting, and stared at Starfire as young alien girl floated up, clutching something in her hands.
"I just wanted you to keep this," She whispered, and entrapped him in a gentle hug; then she pressed the clumsily wrapped package into his hands, and scurried off…his team was still watching him.
"Look," He said, clearing his throat several times in an attempt to clear the lump that was building there. "I'm not gonna make some big grand speech, telling you it's going to be okay…I'm going to miss you guys so much…but I'm coming back," He added determinedly.
"No matter what, I'm coming back."
"You bet your ass you are!" Beast Boy declared, and the Titans began to laugh, Robin along with them.
Bruce walked with his son over to the car, murmuring:
"I'll call you once you get settled."
In his heart, Robin knew that Bats was just doing what was right…even if it was killing him to obey…
Robin—Richard—jerked at Alfred's voice and snapped out of the daze he had sunken into (He'd been watching Wayne Manor for as long as he possibly could as it faded in the distance).
"Alf? What's up?"
"I simply thought I might suggest…why don't you open the present that Miss Starfire gave you?"
The package…he'd nearly forgotten about that, so overwhelmed in the farewells. Richard reached into the seat beside him and pulled the gift over to him, fingers carefully removing the wrapping paper…
It was a photograph, of himself and the four others, all laughing hysterically at the park, waving for the camera. He remembered that…
A note was stuck in the corner of the frame, and he flicked it open.
Dearest Friend Robin—
I do not fully comprehend why you must go, and I am quite upset… Here, there was a lot of water drops staining the paper. …But you must do what is best: You always have. A very intelligent person once spoke to me of the stars in the sky; he said he did not quite comprehend how they worked, and how they could always stay together, and he said that the cluster would never be the same if one star were removed. But I wonder…how would the stars be now, if they had never had that single, removed star to begin with?
We will not forget you—
Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, and Cyborg.
A tear slid down his cheek…
"I won't forget you either…I'll be back…"
…And the car rounded a bend in the road, speeding off for the city.
" 'Everything that has a beginning has an end'…but then again…every end has a new beginning hiding within it. You just have to know where to look…"
So…how's that for an ending? Good? Sucky? Perhaps exactly the ending you were expecting? Well…I hope I didn't make it sappy…or bad in anyway…or disappointing…crap, now I'm nervous again. Anyway, all I can say is that it feels so great to type those two words above, and that I can't wait to see your reviews on the matter. Once again, my sequel will be up in a day or two—so watch for it if you're going to be reading it!
(Sniff, sniff!) "You tolerate me! You really, really tolerate me!"