Part Four: End
The Reach appears on every TV channel, every newscast, every radio station. The world is captivated. Nightwing starts disappearing in longer intervals, and even when he is there, he's talking on the com-link or with Captain Atom. The team is getting restless. Even level-headed Tim is starting to give Nightwing odd glances.
When Bart's not with Jaime, he visit Artemis' grave. It's never lonely there. He doesn't get too close when he sees a woman with asian features sobbing, hands gripped tightly on the armrests of her wheelchair, but the team is there often or not. M'gann comes with flowers, sometimes with La'gaan, sometimes with Conner. He sees Nightwing once, hands clasped behind his back, face bowed.
Wally is there everyday.
It gives Bart a creepy feeling when he stands there next to him. Wally doesn't bring flowers. He doesn't cry. When Bart comes up beside him, Wally doesn't even glance at him, doesn't react to his presence at all.
Barry's still alive. He's tired, but happy and all he talks about is Iris and the twins and the future. His smile is bright and genuine. Bart looks at Barry and thinks, 'See? You made a difference.'
Jaime is still alive and Bart cherishes that every day.
But Wally doesn't know. He's not sure. He lives in an empty house haunted by memories and when he's not there or in college, he's here, in front of her grave.
Bart can't figure out whether Wally is trying to remind himself that Artemis is alive, or preparing himself for the inevitable.
'You have all the time in the world,' he had said.
Was this hope? Or are they both lying to themselves?
Nine, Bart thinks, almost in relief, as he breaks the kiss to rest his head on Jaime's shoulders, and accidentally says the number out loud.
"I remember you doing that before. The numbers." Jaime hums in question, and his breath tickles the back of Bart's neck. "There a reason for it?"
"Like you've never talked out loud to yourself before," Bart quips back lazily, too comfortable in Jaime's loose embrace to argue further.
Jaime groans in exasperation, just as expected. "And like I've said before, it's the scarab! I've been talking to the scarab! And don't..." His voice lowers to a hush. "Don't try to change to subject. You said nueve just now. And siete before."
Nine and seven, Bart translates in his head. "How can you still remember that?" He lifts his head up, genuinely confused.
Jaime smiles wryly at him. "The scarab, remember?"
"Right, right," Bart rolls his eyes, lowering his head back down again. He should have known.
"The numbers." Bart closes his eyes. "They're the number of times we kissed. I'm counting them."
"Oh," Jaime says, sounding surprised. And a bit wary. "Is this a future thing? Do they do that sort of thing in the future or-"
"I just-" Bart was taught to lie incredibly well. But he could never hide his emotions properly from Jaime, and to his horror, Bart finds his throat tighten. He tries again, swallowing hard, but all that comes out is a ragged breath. Bart can't look at Jaime, instead fixing his gaze on the smooth expanse of skin that connects Jaime's neck to his shoulder. He doesn't want him to see just how much all of this is affecting him. Jaime. His anchor. His hope. His.
"-I don't want to forget," Bart lies, murmuring the words into the crook of Jaime's neck.
"Bart. Bart. Please, look at me," Jaime says, gripping his shoulders and shaking him until Bart reluctantly lifts his head again to meet his eyes. Jaime's face was full of resolve. "Whatever you're scared is going to happen, we'll face it together. Everyone will. The Team. You and me. Together. Okay?"
Bart nods shakily. But he can't look at Jaime anymore. His face burns. His eyelashes hang heavy and wet. He clenches his eyes shut, but the tears roll traitorously down his cheeks. Jaime clutches his face with both hands, wiping away the tear tracks with his thumbs.
"Together, Bart. Together." Jaime says again, more softly.
Bart opens his eyes, traces the blurry face of Jaime and commits it into memory. He takes a deep, shaky breath and says as confidently as he can, "O-okay. Together-"
Either Jaime knows just how badly he's lying, or his acting is really atrocious, because Jaime cuts him off with a kiss, lifting Bart off his feet and spinning him around in circles. Like every single kiss before, it makes Bart's heart thump in equal pain and happiness.
'I want to remember us forever,' Bart wants to blurt out. 'I don't know what's going to happen anymore. I don't know how long this will last.'
But he remains quiet. Bart holds on tight to Jaime's shoulders and kisses back as hard as he can. He's either laughing or sobbing into the kiss, he's not sure.
He's never completely sure about anything these days.
Bart can't be the weak and worthless person that he used to be.
That Bart. That Bart was a slave. That Bart had no powers. That Bart did nothing to stop the Reach. All he did was runrunrun and even then that wasn't enough. Even then the Reach still took him. Tortured him. Enslaved him. Collared him. And not only him: hundreds, thousands, millions of people. The entire world.
That Bart was tired. He was tired of acting like he was happy. He was tired of lying. Sometimes he was tired of living.
That Bart had no hope.
But then Jaime kissed back.
And he continues to do so. Every single time.
(It took ten kisses for Bart to stop counting.)
(It took one to convince him to try.)