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"Who can quit young lives after being long in company with them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years? For the fragment of a life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web: promises may not be kept, and an ardent outset maybe followed by declension; latent powers may find their long-waited opportunity; a past error may urge a grand retrieval."
Chapter25:The Parting of Ways
Alfred couldn't believe that he was thinking this, but he was going to miss Wintergreen. Wintergreen had surprised Alfred, but what had Alfred expected, anyway? For him to be like Slade? But perhaps it was this surprise that made Alfred like him. The man had an interesting life, and while gruff he certainly wasn't unpleasant.
The other man still walked with a cane. He would be using that for a while. As Alfred stood in the hallway, seeing his guest out, Wintergreen stopped and turned around.
"So this is it?" Wintergreen asked.
"I suppose so. Will you be seeing our mutual friend again?" Alfred asked.
"Dick?" Wintergreen thought for a moment. "Probably not. Before I was attacked, I hadn't spoken to him for ten years. We're not really friends, I suppose. Why do you ask?"
"I was just wondering."
"He is a good young man," Wintergreen said. "He didn't have to save me. Thank you for treating me kindly, given my history."
"You were not the problem."
They had not spoken of Slade. Not directly, at any rate. The longer Alfred spoke to Wintergreen, the more he realized how much Wintergreen disapproved of his friend. Merely by speaking with Wintergreen, Alfred discovered why it had been so hard for Dick to talk about his past.
"I don't think we can be friends," Wintergreen said. "Our bosses will continue to do what they do best. And we'll stick with them. We both know that."
Sometimes Alfred felt as if it were all an endless cycle: Batman would put the villains in jail or Arkham, and once they broke out the process would start all over again. Alfred had been afraid that the same thing would happen to Dick, that he would suffer that same way Master Bruce had done while he was alive.
"I'm just glad we could find some middle ground," Alfred replied.
Wintergreen was not entirely blameless—he had cooperated with Slade, had participated as Dick's captor. One could not ignore that. But the gracious way Dick acted towards Wintergreen—not only forgiving, but also caring—changed everything. If Dick could do that, he had truly moved on. He acted like the hero he was supposed to be. Alfred had taken that into account every time he spoke with Wintergreen.
"I'll be leaving now." Wintergreen motioned towards the cabby. "I can't miss my flight."
"Of course. Take care of the Wilson children for me," Alfred said. "I like them."
Wintergreen nodded. "They're good kids. They're all good kids."
The cabby bleeped. Alfred stayed just a few moments longer to see Wintergreen off. It was entirely possible that they would never interact again, though Alfred wasn't sad about that. After all, Wintergreen was right: they would go their separate ways.
So they parted in awkward silence.
"Is this where you live?" Steph looked around the apartment and noted the cracked, dirty walls and the pile of dishes on the kitchen counter. "You can do better than this, Jason."
"I didn't invite you here," Jason snapped. "You invited yourself."
He didn't kick her out, either. Stephanie was surprised that he had even let her accompany him back to his apartment. Maybe after this business with the al Ghuls he didn't know what to do. His weapons supply was gone. Kaput.
A unilateral decision to monitor Jason and his whereabouts had somehow landed Steph in the first watch. Make sure he got home okay after being thrown about by al Ghul agents, that was her job. Both of them were dressed in civvies; it wasn't as if they had anything to hide from each other.
As Jason lumbered around the kitchen, Steph rifled through his late bills and overdue rent notice lying on the counter. What did he do when he wasn't killing criminals?
"What do you hope to accomplish by being the Red Hood?" she asked.
"Cleaning Gotham of filth. I will do everything Dick won't."
"Dick has the ability to kill, but he chooses not to. You've always had a choice, Jason."
"Sometimes we don't have that choice."
She looked sideways at him. Jason was just a few years older than she was. Even she had to admit that there was something ruggedly attractive about Jason, with his five o'clock shadow and slightly shaggy hair and his upturned coat collar, but Steph had learned a long time ago not to mix in with the bad boys. He took out a cigarette and stuck it between his teeth, although he didn't light it.
"It's not about me overcoming my bad circumstances or whatever," Jason said. "I chose to live like this. Sorry it's not up to your standards."
He chewed his cigarette as he began to clean up forcefully. Steph couldn't tell if he was embarrassed or not.
After Steph had left him the night before, she had picked up Lian. Somehow the fierce little girl had apprehended her mother, one of the most dangerous assassins in the world. Jason had disappeared once the cops swarmed in to arrest Cheshire. Typical.
Stephanie Brown was not like the other Robins. Short as her run was, she came from a similar background as Jason. She could understand the dilapidated house, the cigarette butts scattered all over the floor, the empty beer cans piled in a corner. She just couldn't understand why anyone would choose to live this way when they could be so much more.
Steph held up a coupon. "Still up for a burger and shake?"
Jason merely looked at her, his face impassive. "Perhaps some other time, Brown."
She held up her hand to her ear. "Call me, maybe?"
As she turned to leave she swore she heard Jason snicker. A small smile graced her face. Perhaps there was hope for Jason yet.
Jump City, California
Tim supervised the cleanup, though he also swept away debris. The Wilson kids worked beside him. Jericho had made sure that all of the children got out of the way the night before. Hard to believe that he was the son of a great assassin. Joey was one of the nicest people Tim had ever met.
"Everyone made it back alive?" Tim asked, leaning on his broom.
"Good." Tim sighed.
Once Starfire joined the battle the night before, everyone's spirits lifted. Civilians got excited whenever an original Titan appeared. Tim couldn't blame them. She was the most likable, the most approachable, especially when Dick left the Titans to work for Slade.
The battle, which Tim wasn't certain the Titans would win without help, fell apart soon after Starfire had appeared. As Tim suspected, the al Ghuls were behind the attacks, and once Dick and Damian had defeated them the agents stopped what they were doing.
"Did you talk to Dick?" Jericho asked.
"Yeah, he called."
Both of them looked up as Starfire streaked past them. Some civilians gasped and gaped as she sped pasts. Jericho gestured towards her.
"Does he know?"
"Oh, yeah, he knows. They'll meet in London."
Jericho smiled. Tim turned to watch Starfire fly off into the distance. Though he knew her marital situation, he knew that this meeting was needed. As Tim continued to sweep up the debris, he hoped that Dick would come back a happier man.
Millennium Bridge, Thames River
The high, rotund roof of St. Paul's Cathedral gleamed in the sun's dying rays. Dick and Damian stood in the middle of the Millennium Bridge, a twisting steel structure that yawned over the Thames, and looked out over London. Somewhere out there Knight and Squire, London's Dynamic Duo, were kicking bad guy butt. Cyril and Beryl were kind enough to accommodate them during their brief stopover in London, something that Dick was eternally grateful for after everything that had happened.
They had arrived in London a few hours before, and though Dick knew that they had to get home, he wanted to stop for a bit. That was always his problem, wasn't it? Never slowing down enough to enjoy the small things in life.
"It's nice to be in a place where everyone speaks English," Dick said. "This is a nice sunset, don't you think?"
A great roar of laughter floated over the Thames. One of Shakespeare's comedies was being performed today. Perhaps Dick should get tickets for tomorrow night.
Parting from Slade had been easier than Dick expected. A brief handshake and their alliance was over. Being mad at Slade for betraying them would do nothing. In the end they all turned out okay, and Ms. Kane was going home. For the time being, the al Ghuls were in jail.
Damian began to fidget.
"Why are we standing here?" Damian asked sullenly. "We are creating a traffic jam."
"Enjoy the moment."
"Yes, enjoy the sludgy Thames and the disgusting peasants walking past."
Dick ruffled Damian's hair affectionately. "Maybe we should take a holiday to the country."
"It's nothing special."
"How about Disneyland, then? We'll go on It's a Small World."
"I'd rather be in the deepest circle of Dante's hell."
They fell into silence again. Dick could sense that Damian wanted to talk, so he waited. It didn't take long.
"Grayson, I apologize. I'm sorry, so sorr—"
"Shut up." Dick hugged Damian tightly. This was all he had left of Bruce, of the man who raised him and trained him, the man Dick considered his father. Damian relaxed into the hug. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"It was not unpleasant." Damian twiddled his thumbs as he continued to speak. "I apologize for what I said before. I did not understand what you had gone through, not until Talia did the same to me."
"Don't be sorry. It's hard to understand. I know it is."
"Why me? If you knew that I was dangerous, then why did you let me become Robin?"
Dick bent his knees until he was at eye-level with Damian, and choose his words carefully. "When I saw you for the first time you reminded me of myself. Angry, determined, and hurt in ways I couldn't even begin to describe. No one wanted you, but I did. I've acted the villain. There are things that my friends cannot understand and never will understand. But above all, Damian, I knew that you were capable of change." Dick faltered, startled by an overwhelming emotion. "I wanted to give you a choice because I wasn't given one."
For the longest time Dick had seen nothing but anger and annoyance on Damian's face, but Dick now realized how much of a child Damian still was.
"I've passed the Robin uniform down so many times: to Jason, to Tim, to you. I haven't regretted it yet." Dick placed a hand on Damian's shoulder. "I don't want you to be anyone. I just want you to be the best Damian Wayne you can be."
Silent tears rolled down Damian's face as he squeezed Dick into a powerful hug. Dick said nothing, did nothing except hug him back.
Something green streaked across the darkening sky. They broke apart. Dick looked up, immediately recognizing that streak of green light.
"They're here," Dick said quietly. "It's time to go."
"Who are here?" Damian demanded. "What are you talking about?"
They walked off the steel bridge and past the Globe, towards Southbank, where the Eye and the carousel and street performers resided. Once or twice, Dick stopped to throw a few pounds into a musician's hat, and he noted that Damian did the same. Dick could not help but smile.
A very tall woman with fiery red hair stood next to a cotton candy stand, smiling as she handed some to her dark-haired child. The woman looked up as he approached, her smile wide and genuine. Excited flutters rippled through Dick's stomach. She was still as beautiful as ever. The child, her mouth full of pink cotton candy, shrieked with delight as she turned.
Dick knelt and opened his arms to receive his daughter, who nearly flew into his arms. She touched his face and dragged her fingers across his black stubble. "Why don't you say something, Daddy? Aren't you happy to see us?"
"Yeah, of course ..." Dick swallowed a sudden sob. "I'm so glad to see you. So very, very glad."
It had been months since he had seen his daughter in the flesh. He had nearly forgotten her slight Tamaranean accent, how the weight of her felt in his arms, how her English was so much more fluid than her mother's.
Mar'i was too young to understand her parents' legacies, but in this moment it didn't matter. The family was back together again.
"Why did you come?" Dick asked Kory. "I didn't expect you to visit until Blorthog."
"I need to know if you are the okay," Kory said, looking at him steadily. "Slade did not give you too much trouble?"
"He doesn't matter," Dick replied. "Besides, is this okay with your husband?"
"He knows that Mar'i is your child. And you did not answer my question."
She hugged him. He was suddenly very grateful for Kory, of how much effort she put into his well-being. Even if they were not lovers anymore, she was still one of his best friends. Tamaraneans never stopped loving people they cared about, even when they were no longer in a romantic relationship. Dick hadn't fully understood that until now.
Mar'i, who had noticed Damian's red eyes, offered him a piece of her cotton candy. After eying it for a moment Damian accepted it.
Mar'i was blissfully unaware of everything bad in the world, being as young as she was. Someday she would learn about her father's history. Someday she may even continue in her parents' footsteps. But today was not that day.
"Let's go for a walk." Dick took Mar'i in one hand and Damian's hand in his other. "We're a family. Nothing can change that."
Kory took Mari's other hand. The four of them walked along the embankment. Going where, even Dick didn't exactly know, but he didn't care.
Dick had often wondered if he would ever find peace in his turbulent life. Dwelling on the past only perpetuated suffering. Accepting what had happened and moving on was the only way he could find happiness. And while, every so often, he would stop and think about the tragedies in his life, he knew that he could not change the past. Better to spend time with the people he loved.
Slade stood moodily along the embankment, his long trench coat flapping in the breeze. People weaved around him as he stood there, still as a boulder. He watched Dick and his family walk along the other side of the river.
"You're not spying, are you?" Addie asked.
"She came back to him with the child," Slade said. "They were waiting on the bridge."
"You need to stop stalking people."
She took his arm and led him away, towards Parliament and Big Ben, if Slade's memory of London served him correctly. For once, it wasn't raining in London. This was a nice city, really. Without a contract or other business here Slade found it nice to wander this immense city.
"If it wasn't for the war, I'd love to have taken you here for our honeymoon," Slade said.
"It's too late for that. I have Waller."
"Why did you follow me here, then?"
She gestured towards the other side of the river. "I needed to know why you followed him."
Why did Slade follow him? Part of him was curious. The alien woman came all the way from Tamaran to see Dick. How touching.
"Wanted to see how Wayne would react after all this. That's all."
"After everything you put him through—"
"It was Talia's doing. Not mine." He looked at her. "You understand why I did it?"
"Yes. Doesn't make it right."
What was done was done. No one had been killed, and it seemed as though Damian made amends with Dick. Everything was better in the long run, right?
Don't kid yourself, Slade thought. We're messed up. All of us.
"I have no intention of reigniting our relationship," Addie said. "As romantic as you may be, you don't get kudos for saving my life. Find someone else, someone else who will put up with your bullshit."
How could he explain himself to her? That he would never meet another woman quite like her, who was quick to point out his faults and brutally honest when it was needed most.
"You are the mother of my children. I owe it to Joey to make sure you're safe."
"Did you really let Dick go?"
Funny, really: he had built his entire reputation on being a solid man, a man who knew his way in life. He could kill in mere milliseconds, but he still could not speak clearly to his ex-wife.
"I didn't know that," Addie said quietly.
"The boy didn't give me much choice, but I did not pursue him."
"And you think that makes everything right?"
"I moved on. That's better than I can say for some other villains he's fought."
"You were a better man, Slade."
"I really am sorry," Slade said.
"Are you sorry only because I got hurt? Because Wintergreen got hurt?" Addie snorted. "You're a pathological liar, Slade. You always have been. Besides, you never answered my question: why did you follow him?" She wasn't going to leave until she got an answer.
"I need to see how he's been," Slade said. "I wanted to know if it was real—his child, I mean."
Together they looked out across the bank. The little family was walking down, doing what, Slade did not know. All at once that child connected Slade and Dick, yet distanced them. Before that child there had always been that slim hope—if Slade could call it that—that Dick would work for him again. He almost had once or twice during his run as Nightwing. But that child was physical proof that Dick really had moved on. And seeing Dick here, with his half-Tamaranean child and Wayne's son, made Slade realize that he was now tethered to something even stronger: family. But most importantly of all, Slade realized that he had been wrong about Dick.
"I'm meeting Will at the airport," Slade said absently. "He's better now. There's no lasting damage."
"I'm glad your stupidity hasn't killed him yet. He's a better man than you, and he always will be."
It was hard to be happy for other people, especially when Slade wasn't happy himself. It frustrated Slade to find that Dick had found happiness when he could not, but in the end Slade supposed that it was better this way. At least Addie and the kids were safe. That was all that mattered.
"Can we part as friends?" Slade asked.
"Only as friends apart." She looked steadily at him. "If we ever are friends again."
She lit a cigarette. Once he too smoked, but he made himself quit after the divorce. He wondered briefly if he should say something to her, but then he thought better of it. Better to part as allies than as enemies. It was certainly better than when they had parted after the divorce; she had been practically murderous.
"I'll be going now," Addie said. "Waller and I will leave for the States this afternoon. Goodbye, Slade."
It was time to go. Slade was needed elsewhere, and his mission was accomplished. Slade supposed that he shouldn't have expected anything out of this; after all, he'd just worked with the two people who hated him the most. He would never admit to anyone that he had been wrong; he couldn't do that, especially not with his professional reputation at stake. Perhaps one day he would, but he couldn't envision that.
Well, there was no use thinking about what could have been. Slade and Adeline nodded once, turned their backs to one another, and parted. Walking away from her was harder the second time around, yet he was sure she did not feel the same. Without looking back, Slade continued on his way, certain that he would never see her again.
A/N: Well, I wasn't quite sure how I should end it, but I felt as though this was best. Rather melancholy, I know.
This will be the last novel-length fic I will work on. I may write occasional short fics, and I will finish the Christmas fic, but I'm burnt-out. I'm currently searching for employment and trying to do all that adult stuff, but do be aware that I'm working hard on original content for you guys. Following my tumblr is your best option for any possible updates.
Most of you know the drill: if you've been a-creeping, please take the time to review since this is the last chapter. If you don't know what to say, answer these questions: 1) What did you like about the fic? 2) Is there something you didn't like? 3) If so, tell me why you didn't like it and what I can do better.
For now, toodles. I hope you've enjoyed this fic. Maybe it's not my most popular fic, but it's one of my favorites.