"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends."
- Richard Bach
The clouds overhead were thick and black, threatening to unleash a massive downpour upon the always-beleaguered city and the surrounding area. She could not help but think that it would be appropriate, both for her and the city. They were both suffering, in ways that were both remarkably similar and drastically different. One was trying – and failing – to cope with the loss of the one person who had held it together for over ten years, fending off attacks from gangsters, murders, super-villains and even the odd God of Evil. It did not look like good times ahead, now that he was gone.
The other was trying – and managing – to deal with the loss of one of her oldest friends, someone she had known since childhood. They had played together in their earliest years, running to and fro as children were wont to do across the palatial estate that had belonged to his family for generations. Some of her earliest memories involved him laughing at their combined antics, an action that was so completely at odds with the man he ended up becoming. After what happened to his parents, she had tried to make him laugh again and bring back a little bit of the irreverent, enthusiastic boy she once knew. Her efforts had mostly been for nothing, but there had been a couple times when she could have sworn she managed to pierce the thick armor of unfeeling that he erected around himself since that night in the alley. They were some of her most cherished memories, ones she would never forget.
But that was a long time ago, in what seemed like a lifetime away. The two children had become adults and lived adult lives, filled with responsibility and obligation, though he obviously took those ideas far more seriously than she ever did. Every so often, they would meet up and see what had become of each other. She had followed in her father's footsteps, becoming a magician for both on the stage and off. He had become…something else. Something no one had ever quite seen before. Something that could intimidate men and gods alike with equal effort, despite his own mortality. Yet, mortal he was, which was why Zatanna Zatara was standing alone in a cemetery just outside of Gotham City. In her hands was a small bouquet of flowers – an inadequate tribute to the person she came to see, but the best she could think of.
"Hey, Bruce. I finally found the time to come and see you." She said, standing before a blank headstone placed next to a much larger, more ornate one.
"Things have been kinda crazy for the past few weeks. After…after Darkseid was put down, we had a hell of a time trying to clean everything up. Plenty of people were injured or lost or just in trouble somehow and they were all looking to us to set things right. Nothing we haven't dealt with plenty of times before, but there was just so much more of it this time around. Remember back when Mageddon showed up and the entire world just started fighting each other and then everyone got Superman's powerset so we could beat it?"
There was no response. Zatanna set her eyes downward anyway.
"Yeah, of course you do. Dumb question. But it was a lot like how things were after that. Everything was just complete chaos. People were refusing to listen to anyone not wearing a costume, and even then it got kind of dicey. Countries just couldn't function for several days, despite anything their leaders said or did. Some of the guys at the UN tried to help, but most of them weren't willing to speak with each other after what happened. Nobody could get people to work together. Except Superman, of course. All it took was a speech from him in front of the General Assembly and suddenly the whole world was ready to kiss and make up. It was one of those moments that made you really proud to even be in world that had him in it."
Silence. She pushed her hair back over her shoulders to keep it from getting into her eyes.
"You don't have to be so blunt about it. I know Clark was always good with public speaking, but that was just part of it. It was one of those moments, the kind you get when something really good is happening. Seeing something so good was a nice change of pace after the absolute hell we had been through during those few weeks. I mean, we were so close to going out that time. Superman was MIA, Wonder Woman had turned evil, half the Justice League was brainwashed and you…"
She stopped talking for a few seconds and turned away. A few small raindrops started to fall. She did not notice.
"Things were bad. That's all I'm saying. Worse than I can remember them being in a long time. A little bit of hope went a long way after everything. Light at the end of the tunnel, and all that."
Zatanna turned back to face the headstone, folding her arms in front of her. She waited a couple seconds before continuing.
"Same old Bruce. It doesn't matter if Heaven, Earth and Hell are coming down around you, you just put your death glare to maximum and get to work. Nothing ever gets to you, not even the end of the world. Maybe it's the superpower you never knew you had?"
She waited a few seconds before resting her face in her right palm, looking away from the grave slightly.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. But it's an interesting thought, if only because you'd have to start calling yourself Implacable-Man. Renaming the cave and everything else might be a bit of a chore, but I could see it working for you."
Her body shifted slightly, almost automatically, and she hid her eyes beneath her right hand.
"Right, I'll stop. 'Cause you never will, Implacable-Man." She let out a slight laugh before continuing. "All right, this time I really will stop. After Superman reminded us to do the right thing – again – we started putting things back together. It wasn't hard or anything like that, just time-consuming. You'd figure that after all the near-apocalypses this planet has seen, we'd find a way to slim down the rebuilding time. But things are pretty much back to normal, for better or worse. A lot of people are just going on like nothing ever happened. Ollie and Dinah reconciled pretty quick – they've both seen enough mind control over the years to not let what it does get to them. Wonder Woman tried to apologize to the League, but Superman wouldn't let her. You know Big Blue, he draws a clear line between brainwashed and not-brainwashed. No one's showing any weird aftereffects of the Anti-Life whatever, so I guess that's not something we have to worry about anymore."
She slightly tilted her head and briefly closed her eyes.
"Should have known you'd say that. Okay, I'll get with as many magic guys as I can to see what I can do about whipping up a defense in case someone else tries this. I can't promise anything, since the big guns aren't what they used to be. People are whispering there's a new Doctor Fate somewhere out there, but I haven't met him. Shazam is still dead, last I checked and don't even get me started on Zachary. My cousin is worse than useless in a fight. At least guys like Blue Devil can hit stuff from time to time. Right now it's just me and whatever's left of the Shadowpact. Yeah, you heard me – the team with the talking chimp is my only backup as the front line defense against the occult. I'd say 'be worried', but you never worry. Maybe you'll teach me how to do that someday."
She exhaled and started to pace back and forth a bit. The rain was still lightly pelting her.
"What else…Ah. I'm getting worried about the JLA. Superman has said he's going to cut back on his commitment so he can deal with New Krypton and Wonder Woman is singing a similar tune about her ambassador duties. Normally this wouldn't be that big a deal, but I keep hearing murmurs that Hal is talking about splitting off and making his own League."
She smiled a bit and rolled her eyes slightly.
"Figured that would get your attention. Hal just bugs you, doesn't he? It's not about the Parallax thing or anything like that. He just gets to you. I know the feeling, believe me. He actually tried to hit on me the first time we met. It would have been flattering it his lines hadn't been so cheesy. He said something about 'going green for health' or the environment or something like that. What I remember is that it was stupid, mainly. People talk about Ollie's history as a ladies man, but sometimes I think that was just Hal rubbing off on him. Not that he's any better, of course."
Still pacing back and forth in a short line, Zatanna continued to speak as the thoughts came to her.
"I don't know what to do about the JLA. Technically, I'm not even a member this time around, I just came in to help when you asked. Do I have the right to step in and do something? Dinah's the leader this go-round, and she can be really snippy when she feels people are trying to go behind her back or usurp her authority. Besides, I'm not really someone anyone ever listens to. Sure, when the demon lords are looking to invade this plane of reality or someone needs to locate a magic macguffin I'm first on the call list, but any other time they lose my number and I'm just the other cute girl in the fishnets. There were moments when I got the cold shoulder from you too, but I always remembered that that was just how you treated everyone. With you, Dinah was the other cute girl in the fishnets. Just one of the many things I appreciated about you, y'know?"
Her voice started to become scratchy. The rainfall increased in amount, starting to stain her eyes.
"You were always the one I could count on, even when no one else could remember my name. Remember when we were teenagers and you spent that summer studying with me and dad? Those were such great times. You were a great friend even then and I wouldn't have made it as far in my studies without you. Kind of funny, when you think about it – you were the one who came to learn from us, but we ended up learning just as much from you. I still remember that palm trick you taught me. It's great for when some loser gets up close and personal. I've used it plenty since then, just as I know you've used plenty of the stuff we taught you. That look on the Key's face when you swiped his master key for a fake? Priceless. I couldn't stop smiling after you did it, because I remembered when you learned that. Dad had a lot of fun teaching us that one."
She paused a second to catch her breath and did not resume her pacing.
"Dad…dad was really good at teaching us how much quicker than the eye the hand really is. He made that part of the way he lived every day of his life. One minute he was there, the next he was gone. One minute he was alive…the next he wasn't. God, I'll never forget that day. He was burned up by that demon and I had to just stand there and watch. The only person around to get comfort from was John Constantine. It was the second worst day of my life and it left me completely torn up inside. I was messed up for awhile after that. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore, if a man like my father could just be burnt alive by some stupid hell lord that the JLA could have taken out in fifteen minutes if they had just been there. If you had been there. But you weren't and he was dead and the universe seemed like it wasn't as good a place as we were supposed to think and act like it was. Keeping up the pretense wasn't worth the effort anymore."
The rain was now falling hard, getting in her eyes and making it harder to see. She rested a hand on the gravestone.
"That was what led me to do some things that…that I really regret. Things that make me sick to my stomach when I think about them now. That was when I…messed with Dr. Light's mind. I saw what an animal like that did to Sue and all I could think about was that creatures like him were the reason my father was gone and that they deserved whatever was coming to them. When Hawkman started talking about what we should do with him…I…I…"
Her voice cracked and she looked away, unable to face him.
"I lost track of right and wrong for a moment. I let them convince me to mess with his head, to do things with magic that my father had expressly forbidden me to ever do, to use my abilities to violate him like he had violated her. I betrayed my father's memory in the name of getting vengeance for it. But that wasn't my worst moment. My worst moment came next."
She had now turned away completely, keeping her back to him. The guilt was too great to do anything else.
"When you came back, I didn't think, I just reacted. I froze you in place, hoping that you couldn't tell what was going on after that. What we were doing was wrong, and you knew it instantly. You always knew the difference between right and wrong, better than anyone. Even Clark. That's the real reason everyone stays away from you – we know you won't let us get away with anything. Clark might bend and cut us some slack, but you? You hold everyone to the same high standards you set yourself to. That's one of the things that's made you so strong over the years, because everyone else looks weak in comparison to what you've done. And I was weak – very weak. Weak enough that I was willing to, that I actually -"
She stopped talking for several minutes. Her voice was weak when she resumed her confession.
"That was my worst moment. When I betrayed both my father's memory and the trust you placed in me. When I allowed my anger and my shame and everything else to blind me and I did something that made you hate me. Something that made you, the boy I used to play with as a child, the man I trusted with my life, hate me. You probably figured it out later, but the reason you didn't see me much after that was because of the guilt. I knew what I had done was wrong and that it would get out sooner or later, but I was a coward. I was afraid that if I came to you with the truth, you would tell me to never speak to you again. So instead, I waited, and the truth came out at the worst possible time. My heart was beating like a jackhammer when we came to confront you in the cave. When Hawkman started acting like a self-righteous jackass, I wasn't surprised when you hit him. If it had turned into a fight, I would have backed you, just for the chance that it might help you forgive me. But things happened differently from what any of us expected after that. There were plenty of funerals after the second Crisis went away, and I let myself get distracted by what the Spectre had done to the world's magic long enough to avoid having to see you before you left Gotham on your trip. It was the only way I could avoid bawling like a baby in front of you."
Her back was still to him. It was still raining.
"And then you showed up again, months later and I came so close to just crying and begging forgiveness. But you brushed it off. Well, brushed it off by your standards. You started calling me again, and more often, to get info on stuff and I was thrilled. It was starting to look like the old days, back when guys like the Monocle actually considered themselves threats and Despero was skinnier than Plastic Man. Those were some good times."
A genuine smile formed on her face for the first time that night. She shifted position slightly, so that her front was partly exposed to him.
"How about when I first met you after you left me and dad? There I was, sitting in the back of a police van, wondering how I could have let Monty frame me so easily, and then you pull me out of there and get me on the job like I should have been. What a crazy night. I've often wondered why you let me in on your identity just out of the blue, but it's something I've never had the courage to ask about. Part of me…part of me hopes it was because you still had some feelings left over from the old days. If you had stayed on with me and dad, maybe…oh, never mind. I would have gone crazy being called 'Zana' after a few years."
"But that part of me…it always hoped. It kept hoping even though year after year after year went by with no interest from your end. The hope was just about to run dry before that night you stayed by my side, looking over me. If I had known that a lousy knife-wound to the neck was all it took to get you to open up, I would have gotten stabbed years ago."
She finally glanced back at him, and then turned away again.
"Sorry. But when I finally got a hint that maybe you did feel something after all…I made sure to re-schedule an act in Gotham City as soon as possible. And then, just when we were so close I could almost taste it, you backed off. At the time, I figured that I should have seen it coming. Everyone who knows you knows your attitude towards dating. Losing a chance to be together wasn't pleasant, but at least I had your trust back. That was the important thing."
Though the rain still fell steadily, it did not feel like the torrent it had been five minutes ago. She finally gathered the courage to walk back over to him.
"Catwoman and I had a little bit of girl talk when we got word about you and Jezebel Jet. Neither of us could figure it – what were you doing with one of those high-society girls you normally can't stand to be around? Both of us tried to shrug and go on, but you have a way with a girl's mind, so I kept some feelers out. It wasn't until a few days ago that I got the real story. Figures you would go ahead and start dating a woman you knew was part of a plot to kill you, all so the other guy would get cocky enough to drop their guard. We really should have seen it coming. There're a lot of stories going around about that last fight before Darkseid showed up. Some people are even saying you had a showdown with the genuine article devil. Can't be too sure about that, especially considering the number of demons and hell lords that are already angry at you for one reason or another. But even if it was the First of the Fallen itself, I'm not surprised you came out ahead. It's what you do."
Still holding the flowers, Zatanna walked back over to him and placed both her hands on the stone.
"That's why, for the first time in my life, I'm scared Bruce, really scared. Before now, no matter what came at us – alien overlords, masters of the lower realms, extra-dimensional monsters – I never got scared. Sure, my heart would race and I'd think that this was the day I went to the big stage in the sky, but I was never truly afraid. Because I knew you were here and that you would make things right, no matter what. Even when it looked like Darkseid would turn all of us into his personal zombie army, I didn't lose hope because nobody had proof you were dead and as long as you were out there, you would find a way. And I was right – you did, even though it cost you. It cost everyone."
She closed her eyes and began to speak very softly.
"When I saw Superman holding your body, it was like something inside me just wasn't there anymore. There was this absence of anything and I didn't even know if I was still breathing. I was there, but I wasn't there. The feeling hasn't completely gone away yet. Maybe it never will. The hollow feeling I get when I think about my father hasn't completely gone away, either, so maybe I'll have to live with it for the rest of my life."
She opened her eyes and looked down at him.
"But this time, I'm not going to let it get to me. This time, I'm not going to betray the trust you gave me. I'll do what I can to hold the line and keep the world safe because you would expect nothing less. And then, if-when you get back, I'll be able to look you in the eye and tell you that…no, I'm not going to say it like this."
Gently, she placed the flowers down next to his grave and backed up. The rain was still going strong, but it did not bother her. The feel of it was oddly comforting, in fact.
"Come home soon, Bruce. You've raised some good kids, but they're not on the same level you are. Gotham's underworld set is starting to smell blood in the water, and they'll tear this city apart without you here to keep them down. If anything will get you back quick, it won't be me and it won't be the others. What'll bring you back is Gotham, because I know you'll always love her more than anything else. Hopefully, there will be some room in your heart for others once you get back."
With a wave of her wand and magic words on her lips, the sorceress disappeared into the night. The only trace that she was there were the small group of flowers and a few words that lingered in the air.
"uoy evol I .ecurB, eybdooG"
A few things:
For those who care about continuity, Zatanna is visiting Bruce in that nebulous area of time between the end of Final Crisis and the beginning of Battle for the Cowl. I'm not sure how much time passed between the two, but it was enough for the world to get back to normal and for Batman's body to get put in the ground. The 'first meeting' of Zatanna and Batman is taken from the B:TAS episode 'Zatanna', simply because I don't think there is either a pre-Crisis or post-Crisis equivalent in continuity. Besides, I figure Paul Dini managed to retcon it into the new post-Infinite/Final Crisis continuity. That leads me to another point, namely why I wrote this. Since the talented Mr. Dini has made Batman and Zatanna's childhood and teenage experiences (previously only a part of the DCAU timeline and a creation of Mr. Dini at that) a part of mainstream continuity, I thought it would be approriate to give the lovely Ms. Zatara a chance to say goodbye to her friend in her own way. The idea of an attraction between the two of them is so different from what usually appears in a Gotham City romance that I can't help but see the charm there. It's a bit surprising (to me) that Mr. Dini hasn't already written something similar, but perhaps editorial problems have prevented it from seeing print so far. I'm sure he could manage something more poignant that this scrawling.
This is the first time I've tried my hand at writing a story like this, so please don't hold the poor quality against me too much. It think it got a little too schmaltzy towards the end. But, let me know if you like it and want to see more of Ms. Zatara and Mr. Wayne (preferably in something where they're both breathing....)