Timothy Jackson Drake knew that things had gone horrible wrong. Jason Todd was dead. There had been a funeral, a small, private affair. He'd spied on it from the trees, feeling awful as he did so, but he needed to know when it would be safe to pay his respects to the young hero. He'd known Jason, not just as Robin, but as Jason. They both went to the Gotham Academy, and Jason had been nice to him. Robin was a hero, but Jason was a good person. Rough around the edges, but still a good person.
Tim didn't know all the people who were gathered around the grave, but he could make some guesses. Artemis Crock, a close friend of Dick Grayson's was there, as was a red haired boy that resembled Kid Flash, on either side of Dick, as if to provide comfort. Kaldur'ahm was present, head bowed low. A boy with such a resemblance to Superman that it couldn't be a coincident held a sobbing red haired girl close. A dark haired girl that Tim recognized as Troia, Jason's girlfriend, was standing to the side, tears slowly making their way down her face. Tim recognized Rocket, and he was pretty sure the other girl was Dick's ex-girlfriend, Zatanna. Barbara Gordon, who Tim had tentatively identified as the rumored Batgirl, and the Commissioner were also there. Bruce Wayne's face was stony as the casket was lowered into the earth.
This was wrong. Heroes weren't supposed to die.
Dick called Doctor Leslie. "Please. We need your help," he begged. Leslie might have not approved of Bruce's methods, but she recognized the desperation when she heard it. She drove there quickly, breaking all speed limits and shattering expectations. She froze at the sight of Jason Todd, battered and bruised as he was, but she quickly set to work.
She managed to stabilize Jason rather quickly, using the supplies in the Batcave. Artemis showed up with the evidence (she'd clearly been crying, but Dick had enough tact not to bring it up).
"Who on Earth would do this to Jason?" Leslie said, removing her gloves as Jason rested. It simply looked as if he was sleeping after a bad patrol. His face was bruised, his lip was split, his hands were covered in bandages, but his chest was rising and falling and he was undeniably alive. Bruce sat beside him, holding his hand with white knuckles.
"Who could, that's the real question," Paula said quietly. She wheeled herself closer to Bruce, placing her hand on his shoulder.
"Ra's al Ghul?" Artemis suggested, holding the cup of tea that Alfred had offered her with white knuckled hands. "His Pits are pretty effective."
Paula shook her head. "It would not work like… this," she gestured to Jason. "I have seen the Pit work. It heals all active wounds. If Jason had been in the pit, he would be uninjured. Scarred, perhaps, alive, yes, but this injured…"
"Klarion," Dick whispered, eyes wide.
"Why would Klarion—"
"Klarion hated Jason," Artemis whispered. "There was a mission, in Jordan. About three weeks before…" Even now, with Jason alive in front of her, she couldn't say it. "Anyways, Jason had an idea of how we could get him to retreat. He rigged up a landmine. Lured Teekl onto it."
"It worked," Dick said, running his hands through his hair. "Klarion retreated."
"But Klarion said… that Jason was going to pay for that," she said softly.
"Looks like he did," Leslie said quietly. "I've treated Bruce often enough to recognize the signs. Jason was tortured. And since the autopsy I did."
Dick felt like he was going to be sick.
"We need some answers before we tell anyone else," Bruce said quietly. "We need to know…"
"If he's going to be alright," Dick finished.
Tim just stood to the side, staring at Jason with wide eyes.
Tim watched from a distance, as he always did. He watched Batman and Nightwing fight. He watched Nightwing and Batgirl hug desperately, Nightwing sobbing. He watched the embrace turn into kissing and quickly left, feeling uncomfortably voyeuristic. He went to find Batman beating up Poison Ivy. Much more comfortable.
Batman started taking risks. More and more of them. Nightwing stayed in Bludhaven or with the Team that Tim had finally figured out existed.
Things were falling apart. Tim stood in front of the gravestone of Jason Todd.
"What do you think?" He asked the piece of granite. "Should I?"
Everything was white. Whitewhitewhitewhitewhitewhitewhite. Endless and ever going, nothing else destroying the beautiful pure white.
He ran through the whiteness, one foot in front of the other, never stopping, never pausing. What else was there to do, after all? It was nice; running there. He never got tired, he never got hungry. He just kept running and running, faster and faster, moving through the lovely, forever white. The white that just kept going. He kept going faster and faster.
He'd always been here, he was pretty sure about that.
Wally, I need you! The voice was female and he loved her and he tried to get through the white towards the voice but it was never there just more white white white.
He was happy here.
Wally please! This was a boy, his best friend what was his name and he needed to find him but he couldn't because there was no way out.
He kept running into the white. As he'd always done.
Tim felt like an imposter in the outfit. He'd made a new one, of course, but he still felt awful. The awful crushing illness in him, the inherent wrongness. Robin was a legacy, there were plenty of legacies, but never in Tim's knowledge had someone ever continued the legacy of a dead hero.
They were going to hate him.
Dick placed a hand on his shoulder. "C'mon Tim." His voice was kind. "Don't worry. They're going to love you."
I am never going to live up to this, Tim thought wretchedly. But he followed Dick into the Zeta-Tube anyway.
Tim watched as Jason started to twitch. All attention immediately went to the boy. Artemis grabbed Dick's hand.
"Jason?" Bruce's voice was gentle, and if it sounded like the Dark Knight was crying, no one commented on it. "Jason, are you there?"
"Too early for school B," Jason muttered. His voice was dry, and he was clearly not awake. "Lemme sleep."
"Jay!" Dick couldn't help but call out, pulling himself and Artemis closer. Artemis removed her hand from his. She and Paula shared a look. This was a family moment.
The two Nguyen women exited the cave, side by side.
"What do you think?" Wally showed Dick the ring. It was silver, with an emerald in the middle.
"It's great. She'll love it." Dick couldn't quite meet Wally's eye. "When are you going to ask her?"
"After the mission," he said, pocketing it. "I… I've been meaning to for a while now."
Dick looked away, ashamed. "Wally… I'm so sorry. For everything."
Wally closed the case, placing it in his pocket. He then grabbed his best friend and pulled him into a tight hug. "It all worked out," he said quietly. "It's all okay now. And you were right. Kaldur needed backup. Artemis was the best choice. I mean, I wish we hadn't needed to do it, but you did too."
Dick clutched to his best friend. The two of them just stood there. Two best friends, finally over the worst fight that they'd ever had.
They'd made it through though. Things would be better now.
Painpainpainpain pain in his arms pain in his torso pain in his head (oh God what did hedo, why was there a herd of elephants in his head, was Zee pissed at him?) God so much pain, jeeze did they bandage his hands completely? Fucking hell, how badly had he been hurt this time? He really needed to be more careful on patrol or B was going to bench him…
Klarion really was a vindictive son of a bitch.
Jason tried to remember if he had vocalized anything. He figured his first words after being resurrected should probably be really eloquent and meaningful. "I'm sorry I was stupid," perhaps or "please tell me you didn't find my angsty poetry journal, it was ironic I swear" maybe.
Of course, just then the pain in his ribs decided to remind him of its existence and his first fully conscious words were:
"Holy fucking shit that hurts."
Dick and Bruce were on either side of him, from the sound of it.
"Hey B," Jason managed. His throat was dry. "Hey Dickface."
"Master Jason," Alfred placed a hand on Jason's shoulder.
"Hey Alfie," he rasped.
Dick quickly held a cup of water to his throat. Jason eagerly drank, the cool liquid pure magic for his parched mouth and throat.
His eyes landed on a scrawny boy, a year or two younger than him. "Who's the kid?"
Wayne Manor was huge. And creepy. There were so many rooms unused in it, much to Jason's delight. He could hide away from Bruce "The Goddamn Batman" Wayne and Dick "The Boy Wonder" Grayson to his heart's content there. The less they saw him, the less likely it was that they would change their minds and throw him back to the streets.
Alfred seemed okay, but Jason knew a lot of people who "seemed" okay who turned out to be very much not okay. He didn't seem to mind Jason's appetite, although it was probably because Jason only ate so much in front of them. He nicked more at night, stashing it in his backpack, which he carried with him at all times. It had been his when he got here, so they wouldn't take it when they kicked him out, right?
"Hey Jay!" Dick Grayson, AKA The Ninja, popped into existence beside him. Jason jumped away. He hated it when that happened.
"Hi Dickface," Jason said, pretending that didn't happen. He'd been at the Manor for sixteen days already, and he still wasn't used to Dick's manner of popping up.
"So, ready for training?" Dick's face was wide and open, the kind that usually belonged to a mark, not a vigilante. He was eager, practically bouncing up and down as he stood in front of Jason.
"Yeah, sure," Jason said, feeling incredibly awkward. The backpack felt heavy all of a sudden, and Jason wondered how the Golden Boy would react to knowing that Jason had been stealing food.
Everything was so strange here. Jason had been in enough foster homes to know that each place was different—different rules, different traditions, and don't even get himstarted on the different food. But this place was so different that it felt like he had fallen through the looking glass and into Neverland or Narnia or whichever one that finished that metaphor.
Artemis entered the Batcave, pressing her palm against the hidden panel at the bottom of the staircase that made sure whoever had found the hidden passageway was supposed to be there.
"Artemis!" Jason was propped up in the medical bed, grinning crookedly. Already he was looking better. His skin had colored, some of the bandages had been removed, and he was moving and alive. "Get me out of this thing, will you?" He'd disposed of the oxygen feed that he'd been hooked up to, but the IV was still attached to his arm. His hands were covered in bandages and his ribs were taped, but apart from that, he looked healthy.
"What did Alfred say when you asked him?" She retorted, crossing her arms. He looked just like she'd remembered him, albeit a bit older. How had he aged? He'd been dead.
"That I need to wait until the tests come back," he groused. "So where's Wall-Man? Why hasn't he come to…" Jason stared at her, horror dawning on his face as Artemis's expression crumpled. "No. No no no no no no." He shot forward, grabbing her arm. "Tell me he and Dick had a huge fight and he's banned from the Manor for a year. Tell me you dumped his scrawny freckled ass and he's not allowed in Gotham anymore. He can't be dead he can't be…"
Artemis collapsed, sobbing. Jason grabbed her, although he was shaking himself.
"What happened?" Jason asked, once the tears were dry, and they both were too numb to do anything more.
Artemis told him, starting from his death. The memorial. Donna's leaving the team. Tula. Kaldur. Ted Kord. Tim. Jaime. Her faked death. Arsenal. Bart. The mountain. The raids. The Reach. The fall of the Light. Wally.
Jason looked horrified."This isn't right." He slammed his fist against the metal bar of the bed, rage taking over his features. "This isn't right!" He yelled.
"I know," she whispered, wrapping her arms around herself. "I know…"
"Wally… Tula… Ted…" Jason's expression was distant. "They shoulda come back. Not me."
"Don't say that," Artemis whispered. "Never say that. We're happy you're back."
Jason let out a bitter laugh. "Wally was needed, 'Mis. I wasn't. I was… replaceable."
"That's not true. Tim took over as Robin, but he didn't replace you, any more than you replaced Dick."
Jason shook his head. "Wally was needed."
Artemis tried to deny it, although she thought of the empty bed, of the bad jokes never told and kisses never shared and no. She wasn't going to think like that.
"Look me in the eye," Jason challenged, as though he had read her mind, "And tell me that you would rather have me here than Wally."
Artemis laughed, trying to hold Dick in place. "Hold still!"
"But I hate these things!" He whined, tugging on his waistcoat.
"Man up, Grayson," She ordered, working on his tie. "Barbara's waiting for you."
Dick's eyes may or may not have glazed over ever so slightly at that thought. "How do I look?"
"Like Dick Grayson in a monkey suit!" Jason chirped from Dick's bed, where he was sitting, cross-legged, with a book propped open in his lap.
"You didn't even look!" Dick sulked, his lower lip jutting out.
"Do I need to?"
"Yes!" Dick cried.
"Not really," Artemis said, finishing the knot with a flourish. "Although if you don't he'll probably make you."
Jason looked up from his book for half a second, raised an eyebrow, and then returned to his book.
"What are you reading that's so much more interesting than me?" Dick pouted, flopping onto the bed next to Jason without regard for the lines of his expensive suit.
"Nothing," Jason said, at the same time as Artemis said "Jane Eyre."
Jason flushed, bringing the Bronte novel up to cover his face.
"Oh cool!" Dick said, grinning. "Love that one."
"You sure about this?" Roy asked Kaldur. "I mean, last time you two met…"
"I am perfectly aware of what happened," Kaldur said blandly, face controlled, although there was a somewhat amused gleam in his eye. "I do not believe she will hold what occurred against me."
"Are we talking about the same woman here?" Roy asked, unlocking the door. "Jade!"
"Finally," Jade said. "I was wondering when you two would finish duking it out." She got off the couch, holding a gurgling baby in her arms. "Lian, this is Kaldur. Your uncle." She carefully handed her smiling daughter to the man she had once tried to murder.
"Hello Lian," Kaldur said quietly.
Lian let out a screech that was probably hello in baby, and smiled, waving her hands in the air.
"So, you'll be coming around more often then?" Jade said, sitting back down. "Roy's been sulking, and we could always use another baby sitter."
Kaldur smiled. "It would be an honor, Jade."
Roy clapped his best friend on the arm. "It's good to have you back," He said softly, so that only Kaldur could hear.
Tim Drake felt like a fraud as the cape hung around him. The domino mask itched against his face, and the weight of the belt was somehow even greater than the one he'd worn for training. Dick smiled at him. (Tim wondered if that was why Dick wore the mask so often—to be able to smile even when he was upset.)
"C'mon Robin," Nightwing said, placing a gloved hand on his shoulder. "The Team will love you. Don't worry."
Tim spared a glance for the glass case that held the memorial for Jason. I'll make you proud, he vowed to himself. I'll be a good Robin.
"Hey Baby Bird!" Jason called. Tim's mouth quirked up, but he controlled his features. If Jason saw how much he liked the nickname, more would follow.
"Yes Jason?" He didn't look up from his casework.
Jason had been improving in leaps and bounds. His sense of humor had re-emerged, along with his (in)famous temper. He was walking again, and working on recreating some of the muscle that he'd lost. Somehow, he had aged while he was dead, which none of them could quite figure out. Doctor Fate or Zatanna might have been able to tell them, but for now, while they ran every possible test that could be concieved of, Jason's return was staying among the Bats and Birds—and Bart. The speedster had figured out the matter of Jason's return only moments after Tim had told Jaime and Cassie that he'd be busy in Gotham for a while. Bart had immediately started to text Tim, demanding updates on Jason, who he referred to as "Red."
Jason sat down on the arm of the swivel chair, face decidedly serious. "Can you help me with something?"
Tim finally looked up. "What is it?"
"I need you to help me find Donna," Jason said, somewhat embarresed.
"What, Donna Troy?" Tim asked, eyes wide.
"No, Donna Noble," Jason gave him a worthy Batglare. "Yes, Donna Noble, my old girlfriend."
"Right. Of course," Tim muttered, embarrassed. "She… well she mostly stays on Themyscira.
"You're leaving?" Dick asked, looking at the state of Donna's room. She was packing her clothes, her weapons, even her books (mostly gifts from Jason, Dick remembered wretchedly.)
"I have to," she whispered, brushing away the latest of her tears. "I just… I can't… I need time."
"Don't start on me Dick," she said quietly. "I know you moved out of the Manor. Too many memories, you said. That's how it is with me."
He was silent. "Will you come back?" He asked, eventually.
"I promise," she said, kissing his cheek.
"Do you have a way to contact her?" Jason said, kicking his feet restlessly. It had beenthree weeks. He missed her something awful. He also missed Gar. And M'gann. And Conner. And Kaldur. And Garth. And Tula and Wally. He clamped down on those thoughts. It didn't do him any good.
He knew there was a chance that she'd moved on. It had been years, after all. She might have started dating someone else. She might have forgotten about him. She might have realized just how much a screw up that he actually was. But he wanted her to at leastknow that he was alive, even if she might not necessarily care.
"Not really," Tim said apologetically. "I mean, you might be able to right after Rocket's wedding…"
"Raquelle's getting married?" Jason fell off the chair, eyes wide. Tim peered at him on the floor, concerned.
"Uh… yeah. Next week."
Jason sat upright, eyes gleaming. "Perfect."
"Perfect?" Tim repeated, suddenly nervous.
"Last of my tests just came in," Jason said. "I'm one-hundred percent Jason Todd. I'm thinking it's time to plan the big reveal."
Oh this can't be good was practically written on Tim's face in sharpie.
Another funeral. Dick was numb as he, as the new Team leader, placed flowers by the memorial.
Kaldur was gone. Artemis and Wally were gone. Conner and M'gann were fighting. Donna was…
"I heard." He turned around.
Donna stood there, tear marks on her face. She wore a black jacket, the one she'd bought for her date with Jason, red jeans, and a Wonder Woman t-shirt. Dick had never been happier to see her in his life.
Her arms wrapped around him, and the two of them just stood there, mourning their losses together.
Dick was only the tiniest bit tense as he was social. He wore a suit and sunglasses, classy but still secretive. The Team, the Justice League, and various other independent heroes were all in one room, (minus Bruce, who had opted out), celebrating the secondary reception of Rocket's marriage.
Tim had let it slip that something was about to happen. Which made Dick slightly nervous, as he had no idea what it was.
Even the sight of Babs, radiant in a blue dress that hugged her figure and made her eyes gleam, could not distract him too much.
Raquelle and her new husband were laughing and being social with Clark and Lois. Conner hung behind them, awkward as ever. Tim, Cassie, Bart, Gar and Jaime, were all hanging out with Virgil in the corner, playing either Truth or Dare or Never-Have-I-Ever.
Dick watched Donna move towards the balcony out of the corner of his eye. He'd have to catch up with her later. At the moment, he probably should go check on Artemis.
"Artemis," Donna pulled her friend into a tight hug. Artemis clung to her, trying not to cry again. "I'm so sorry."
Artemis let out a sob and held on tighter, and the two women who had lost so much just held the other.
Donna stepped onto the balcony. She needed to breathe.
She smoothed out the wrinkles of her dress absently. It was floor length and pure black, with her lasso functioning as a belt. Her hair hung loose, framing her face.
"You look beautiful," a familiar voice said from behind her.
She spun around, and then froze. Standing in front of her, immaculate in a well-cut suit, his dark hair streaked with white, a nervous smile on his face, was Jason.
"Hey Donna," he said, voice deeper, eyes older, taller than she remembered.
"Jason," she whispered breathlessly. She drunk in the sight of him. There were scars on his hands, ones that hadn't been there before. His green eyes held a slightly haunted look to them.
"So… um…" He noticed her looking at his hands and stuck them in his pockets. "I'm back."
"I…" She was dreaming. She had to be dreaming. Unbidden, she stepped forward. Her hand reached out to touch his face. He felt real. She ran a thumb gently along the lines of his face. Tears slipped from her eyes. He was real. And if she was mistaken, if it was a dream, she found that she no longer cared.
Jason's calloused fingers brushed away the wetness on her face. She leaned into his touch slightly. "I've missed you Donna," he said quietly, scared.
"I've missed you too," Donna said truthfully. She hesitated. Then, slowly, she stood up on her tiptoes (he was so tall). Their lips met, hesitantly. They pulled apart only a second later, both uncertain.
"Donna," he said quietly, voice heavy with emotion.
She surged forward, pulling him down into a kiss, a proper kiss. It was better than Donna remembered, a sharp reality in contrast with the faded memories, desperate and passionate, flooding her veins with fire. Two years, they had been apart. It was impossible to incorporate two years in a single, no matter how long drawn out, kiss. But the two of them did their damned best to try.
Finally, panting for breath, they pulled apart. As Donna set about trying to calm down her hair, and Jason set about fixing the lines of his suit, they hear Raquelle shout furiously. "That is not funny!"
"What did you do?" Donna said suspiciously.
"Sent her a present, that's all," he said, offering her a smile and his arm as he slipped on a pair of sunglasses. "Shall we?"
She took it with a laugh. "Let's."
They moved back inside.
"I mean it!" Raquelle was livid. "Whose idea was this?" In her clenched fist was a set of Jason's precious Robin gloves. A piece of paper with the signature R scrawled on it was pinned to them. "This is not funny!"
"Sorry Rocket Power," Jason said loudly, his voice carrying over the muttering crowd. "I couldn't resist."
Every eye in the room landed on him. Expressions warped in milliseconds. Some were confused. Some were incredulous. One (Dick) was exasperated.
"Robin?" Billy Batson was the first to speak, mouth hanging open. "But… what…"
"Hey Red!" Bart was by Jason's side in an instant, pumping his arm up and down in a traditional speedster handshake. "Greattomeetyou! I've heard loads about you!"
"Robin!" Gar tackled him in the form of a monkey, then morphed to his normal self. "You' alive!" Still gripping on to Jason's back in a reverse hug, he turned towards Dick, eyes dangerous.
"Nope nope, not like that kiddo, I really was dead," Jason said, sensing where it was going.
"Then… how…?" Conner, looking about as comfortable as Tim at a swimsuit competition began.
Jason cut him off with a shrug. "I got better," he said, in a British accent.
People glared at him, although one would think they would appreciate that Jason's ability to make jokes when jokes shouldn't be made hadn't been killed along with him.
Jason sighed the sigh of someone who felt like they were suffering greatly. "Fine. Turns out Teekl missed his favorite chew toy. So he got his pet Witch Boy to bring it back. He spread his arms wide, allowing the wrists of his suit to move up slightly in order to reveal the series of rather nasty looking bite scars on his wrists.
Donna remembered those scars. The mission before… the Joker. She swallowed, and reached for Jason's hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
The crowd of superheroes looked appropriately horrified.
And it was at that point that the freshmen started to wonder who exactly this guy was.
And that several people realized that this meant that Jason had been alive for some time, and the Bats hadn't told anyone.
And then Bart accidentally knocked over the wedding cake.
After that, it was chaos.
Donna was standing in a white plain. The wind blew around her in a familiar way—she was standing too close to a speedster again.
"Wally!" She called, not understanding why, but knowing that she had to.
"You shouldn't be here ," a girl, pale skinned and raven haired said to her. An ankh symbol hung around her neck and her clothes were goth. "This is not for you."
"Where is here?" Donna asked, fighting the wind.
"The land between life and… Elsewhere."
"He doesn't belong here!" Donna cried, ignoring the ringing in her ears from when the other girl spoke. "He needs to come home!"
Kindness flickered across the other girl's face. "He can't cross over with you."
"Why not?" Donna demanded, surging forward. Her hands passed through the Other girl as she tried to grab her by the lapels of her leather jacket.
The world flickered in Donna's view. She let out a gasp and stumbled backward, away from the Other. Her eyes were wide with fear.
Death, for that was who the Other girl was, frowned at her. "You are not one of mine. Only one of mine can reclaim him from this place."
Donna let out an anguished noise. "How?" She pleaded. "The dead are dead!"
"The entrance is still open, Donna Troy." The words echoed in her head, placing pressure on the back of her eyes. Donna cried out, falling to her knees as an image of a snowy wasteland burned in her mind, seared into her eyelids. "To you, I grant it." Death reached towards Donna, and Donna could do nothing to avoid it as Death's hands rested on her shoulders. "When you find the entrance, you will find the strength."
"The strength for what?" Donna was pleading now. The Other looked at her with the smallest amount of compassion.
"You will understand. Donna Troy, you have until the sixteenth week has passed until Wally West will move from this realm into My Realm. You have until then to bring him back into the Land of the Living.
Do not fail."
Donna sat up in bed with a gasp, the image still burned into her eyelids.
Only one of mine can reclaim him.
Donna looked to her side, where Jason slept peacefully. She swallowed.
She could get Wally back.
"So…" Wally drawled, smiling at her. Artemis couldn't help but flush under his gaze. "May I have this dance?"
Artemis placed her hand in his, allowing him to pull her to her feet. Senior Prom. Gotham Academy.
If you be my star
I'll be your sky
They moved slowly along the dance floor. Wally's hand was on her waist, the other holding her hand. Her arm was draped almost lazily over his shoulder. She stared into his eyes, trying to capture his face precisely.
You can hide underneath me and come out at night
When I turn jet black and you show off your light
They moved side to side, slowly rotating as they went. The lights were dimmed, tinted slightly pink. That should have annoyed her, but Artemis found herself unable to mind.
I live to let you shine
I live to let you shine
The crowd around them started to fade away. Wally's face, despite the poor lighting, was clearly in focus. His green eyes glimmered. His smile was almost blissful as he looked at her. His gaze was adoring and it made Artemis feel warm.
But you can skyrocket away from me
And never come back if you find another galaxy
Wally leaned in to whisper in her ear, his breath moving her hair and tickling her ever-so-slightly.
Far from here with more room to fly
Just leave me your stardust to remember you by
"I love you," He whispered, his voice deep and sending tingly feelings throughout her body.
She smiled. "I love you too," she said quietly. She kissed him, ignoring the vague sounds of Babs and Dick laughing just off the dancefloor.
"I can save Wally."
Artemis's world froze. The colors drained away.
Donna stood in Dick's apartment, Jason by her side. The two had barely left each other's company since the reunion at the wedding. Making up for lost time, Artemis thought numbly. After all, it was not every day that the universe gave you back the person you loved from death.
Dick, clutching yet another one of his articles with the number 16 written on it in large handwriting, stood frozen as well. Hope, fear, desperation, all were perfectly frozen on his face.
Artemis was numb, frozen. She was dreaming again. Dreaming. It couldn't be real, it couldn't be.
"What do you need?" Dick asked quietly.
Donna looked at Jason. He grabbed her hand and nodded reassuringly. Artemis frowned, confused by their actions. You'd think that in a dream, people would make more sense.
"I… I need to see. Where he… ceased."
Artemis flinched. The word bit at her. "Well get traught, or get dead." It wasn't right, that what took Wally away was a dissected word. It was like someone had reached into her childhood and violated something beautiful, something precious.
Dick hadn't uttered a single one of his words since.
"Why?" Artemis asked, the word sounding broken, pathetic, even to her own ears. She flinched internally. She hated being this week.
Donna bit her lip and gave Jason's hand a squeeze, barely noticeable, but Artemis had spent months on a submarine watching for any sign of attack. Her perception was amazing. "Because… it needs to end where it began."
Should be Cadmus then, Artemis had a sudden longing to say. But she didn't.
"When do we head out?" She heard herself ask instead.
"Tomorrow morning," Donna said, resolving herself.
Artemis hadn't brought much with her into the submarine. She couldn't risk revealing her identity, after all, and the Light, for all she knew, had their whole house back at Stanford documented.
But she'd brought one thing.
A rock, from the beach outside Mount Justice "Are you sure?" She'd asked Kaldur, mentally pleading him to shake his head, to let her spare the first home she'd ever had"
It was made of crystal quartz, and was vaguely heart-shaped. Not very. She had to tilt her head and squint the tiniest bit, but it was enough.
It had been a beach party Blue Beetle breaking free, desperate to save himself and his friends and it's all Artemis can do not to help him get away because she knows what's awaiting him down below the sea and she hates this, hates Kaldur, hates Dick, hates herself for letting this happen to children, she's a hero, not this. Wally had found it, and pressed it into her hand. "Happy birthday, babe," he'd muttered, pressing his lips against hers.
Tigress carried the stone with her, hidden inside the secret compartment in her shoes. She took it out when she needed to think of him.
She stared at it, mentally listing every single thing she's going to do with Wally when she gets back.
She's going to kiss him until their lips are numb.
She's going to hold him and let him eat his stupid junk food and watch his stupid sci-fi shows and just be happy to hold him.
She's going to make him take her running again.
She's going to pass notes with him in college classes.
She's going to make him help her wash Brucely.
She can feel the heat of the explosion and she hears Bart whisper desperately and she closes her eyes and ignores the feeling of guilt and hopes prays dreams that Dick and Conner and Wolf and Sphere got out safely.
She couldn't live with herself if they hadn't.
Donna pressed her lips against Jason's again. His hands were on her hips, scarred and heavy and real and there, and the whole situation was dreamlike. She moved her attention away from his lips, moving to his ear, his neck, his shoulder blades… Jason in turn was running his hands along the length of her body, caressing it gently.
"You don't have to do this," she muttered softly, mouth a fraction of a centimeter above his neck. "We can find another way."
"The deadline's tomorrow Donna," he said, eyes steady but loving as he looked at her . "I can do this. I need to."
Donna knew there would be no point in trying to persuade Jason Todd.
Tonight might be their last night together.
Talking was just a waste of time.
Donna set flowers down on the grave, ignoring the feeling that she was being watched.
"I miss you, you big idiot," she told him. Then she sat down, opening the basket she'd brought with her.
She spread out the red and white checkered table cloth. Alfred's chilidogs went on plates, along with a tin of cookies, a thing of cucumber salad, two cans of Coca-Cola, and a bar of chocolate. Perfect picnic food.
She rested her back against his headstone and ate with his memory, watching the sunset go down.
The sky was purple that night.
Purple for hope, her mother always said.
Donna brushed away an irritating tear.
The bioship landed close to where the last Reach weapon had been hidden. Artemis swallowed the lump in her throat, and stepped onto the hard ice.
"Where exactly did he disappear?" Donna asked. She's wearing polar stealth—a white, long-sleeved leotard without her usual sparkles. Jason's just wearing civilian clothes, albeit ones meant for cold weather.
"Around… there," Artemis pointed.
Donna moved forward.
(Her foot stepped onto the spot where Wally had disappeared).
There was a noise, like someone was taking the fabric of reality and ripping it in two. Artemis was knocked to the ground by the force of the arctic air rushing to fill the suddenly empty hole appearing in the Arctic air.
The portal was like a boom tube, large and circular, radiating golden light. The wind pulled Artemis toward it. For a moment, Artemis swore she heard Wally screaming.
"Wally!" She shouted, leaping for the portal. Desperation filled her. Wally was there.
The winds reversed direction, throwing her into Dick, who had been moving for it as well.
"Don't!" Donna shouted. She stood firmly planted on the ground, arms spread wide, as if she was holding the portal open physically. A silver light surrounded her, creating the illusion of stars on her costume and in her hair. "Don't touch it! You'll disrupt it."
"But…" Artemis protested, getting to her feet, struggling against the wind.
"That's why I'm here," Jason grinned widely. It was his I'm-about-to-do-something-really-really-stupid smile.
"Jason!" Dick yelled, his masked eyes wide. "What are you—"
"Already dead, Dickface!" Jason yelled, before barreling into the portal headfirst, his grin reckless.
The portal morphed to fit his form, swallowed him, and then expanded again.
He was gone.
"Of course I'll do it," he told Donna.
"You might not come back," she whispered.
"Please," he snorted, moving to kiss her again. "Like you could get rid of me again if you tried."
Jason stood in a familiar place. White on white on white. How could he have forgotten this place?
He looked down at himself, smiling. He was wearing his old Robin uniform. He flexed his hands in their gloves, soaking in the familiarity. It felt right.
"One last time, huh?" He said to the emptiness at large. "Well then. Holy Jeepers, Batman! We've got to save Kid Flash!"
There was the sound of laughter, and then two figures stepped into view. Jason wasn't sure how they had been hiding, as there was nothing to hide behind, but he didn't really mind. Things worked differently here, he knew that.
"Hey Grandma! Hey Grandpa!" He said, smiling at them.
"Hello Jason," the woman said. She wore a string of pearls and a suit. Martha Wayne was dressed in life as she had been in death, without the bullet wounds or blood. She looked beautiful, a proper Gothamite beauty, with lively eyes and a kind smile. Jason threw his arms around her.
"Jason!" Thomas Wayne, wearing an impeccable suit, placed a hand on his shoulder. "Good to see you again!"
"Even if it means I'm dead again?" There was a gleam in Jason's eye. Thomas and Martha both laughed.
"Even then," Martha said.
"Have you seen Wally?" Jason asked. "Red hair, fashion sense of a condiment bottle, eats literally anything…"
"Your friend is that way," Thomas said, angling his head. "He won't stop running."
"Thanks!" Jason said, reluctantly pulling away from Martha. He hugged Thomas too, for good measure. "Still waiting for Bruce?"
"We promised we'd be here," Martha said quietly. "He'll be wanting to see us."
"He sure will be," Jason said, shaking his head. "See you later!" He ran off into the landscape, focusing on the idea of Wally, picturing him in his mind. Jason shimmered like a mirage as he moved through the Realm Between Worlds with the ease of a boy who'd brown up there.
In a way, he had.
He saw things as he moved. There were the Coma Walkers, who were permanently confused, always asking for their families and friends. There were the Memory Folk, who flickered between the living and the dead, constantly crying. Then there were the Forgotten, gaunt and incorporeal, staring at themselves as they slowly faded into oblivion. Jason shook his head and kept running. When Death came for her rounds again, they'd go with her, if they were smart. Things had to be better Elsewhere than being a Forgotten.
That was thing about being dead, Jason reflected. It made one realize the presence of capital letters.
Finally, he found Wally.
Hilariously enough, the speedster was running in a circle. Jason rolled his eyes. The speedster hadn't figured out that in Between, you had to know where you were headed in order to go anywhere.
"Hey Zippy!" Jason yelled. "Wally!"
The ketchup-and-mustard blur kept moving in its circle.
"KF! Speedo! Ass-freckles!" Jason shouted, cupping his hands around his mouth. "For once in your goddamned life, slow down and listen!"
Jason growled, then reached for his utility belt. He'd really missed having it. It was so useful for things like people not paying attention. He grabbed a bolo, and let it loose at the circular blur that was Wally West.
"Gah!" Kid Flash appeared, tripping as the bolo wrapped around his ankles. "GAH!" He slammed into the ground. "Ouch," he whined plaintively.
"Hey Zippy!" Jason crouched down to take a look at his big brother's best friend. "Long time no see!"
"Jay… son?" Wally blinked. "Crud. I'm dead, aren't I?"
"Only mostly dead, Wesley," Jason said with a grin, taking on a slight accent. "There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do—"
"Keep quoting The Princess Bride and I will kill you," Wally informed him.
"Spoilsport," Jason said.
"So if I'm Wesley, what are you?" Wally asked, getting to his feet as Jason removed the bolos. "Casper the Snarky Ghost?"
"More like Buffy the Reference Slayer," Jason said cheerfully. "Crawled out of my own grave and everything."
Wally looked at him in mild alarm. "Please tell me you're joking."
"Of course I am. Do I look like a hot blonde with superpowers to you? I'm way more Dean Winchester."
"I don't understand that reference," Wally told him. Jason snickered.
"C'mon," he said. "The portal's this way. And your badass version of Princess Buttercup is there, so don't drag your feet."
Wally shrugged of Jason's assistance. "So everything's okay? The Reach didn't win?"
"Nope! Angst overload though," Jason said. "'Mis is gonna be really glad to see you Zippy. Once she finishes kicking your ass, that is."
"She's going to kill me!" Wally announced cheerfully.
"You've only been gone one hundred and twelve days," Jason told him. "I'm sure she'll only break both your legs. To keep you safe. Of course."
"Nice to see the explosion didn't kill your sense of humor," Wally said dryly.
"I know, right? But apparently, quoting Monty Python at your re-introduction is frowned upon."
"What?" Wally squawked. "Dude, that's a classic. Tell me at least somebody laughed."
"Not one," Jason said sadly.
Wally let out an anguished noise. "You see, this is why I never should have retired! Quip quality has clearly suffered greatly in my absence, if a Monty Python joke cannot be appreciated."
"'Got your nose?' Is a quality quip?" Jason asked.
"So I don't have a perfect track record, sue me!" Wally said. "Shut up Boy Wonder."
"That's Tim now," Jason said cheerfully.
"Why you dressed like Robin then?" Wally asked.
"Because he is here as he was in death," a girl stood before them. Her skin was white as bone, her hair pitch black, and her eyes were kind. She smiled at them. "Hello Jason! Hello Wally!"
Wally didn't know her. Jason did.
Death of the Endless, the True Immortal, stood before them. She wore baggy black pants with silver chains, a bulky black jacket over a tight black t-shirt, and a silver ankh necklace. Her smile was cheerful and she was beautiful.
"Hello!" Jason said. He slumped slightly. "S'pose I have to go with you now."
Death smiled. "Not yet," she said softly. "Klarion broke a few rules… well, most of them really, but Destiny assures me it was meant to happen. I won't be taking you home just yet Jason." She patted his head. A faint silver light, visible only to those who were in-tune with the magical auras of the universe, surrounded him. To those who could see it, the aura read PROTECTED BY DEATH.
As it happened, only nine creatures could read the aura on Jason. One was Death herself. Six were her siblings. One was the creature that had resurrected Jason in the first place. The last was Doctor Fate, who happened to really dislike resurrections, as they disturbed the balance of the universe.
Death might have to put up with a little crap from her siblings about her fondness for the Robin. She didn't really care though. As far as she could tell, Jason Todd could use whatever help he could get.
"Thanks Lady!" Jason grinned at her. She brushed the white-streak—her claim and mark—in his hair out of his eyes.
"Go," she told them. She looked at Wally. "See you soon."
"What?" Wally demanded nervously. Even being in the Between had not yet eased his concerns about death. (Death without the capital letter, of course. It's hard to feel concerned about Death with an uppercase letter, since she's just one of those people. You end up liking her, no matter what.)
She smiled at him mysteriously. (She was very good at mysterious smiles.) "I have another duty besides reaping," she said vaguely. "All beings see me twice."
"C'mon," Jason tugged on Wally's arm. The humorous gleam in his eyes told Death that he remembered the time he'd spent following her around for her work was remembered and he understood what she was telling Wally. "We don't have much time!"
"Until later," she told them. She faded from view, merging with another version of herself somewhere. Death was infinite. Every death on every planet of every living creature, no matter how big or small, she was there. She had more time on her hands than should be possible.
Jason dragged Wally, focusing firmly on the mental image of Donna. The world rippled, morphing to pull them towards Donna and the exit.
They skidded to a halt in front of the swirling golden portal. Wally's face scrunched up at the sight of it. Wally might have gotten over his disbelief in magic and the supernatural, but that did not mean he had to like it.
"Science," he said plaintively, pouting.
"You just met the anthropomorphic personification of Death, Zippy," Jason said, annoyed. "A glowing portal the size of the Chrysler building should not be your biggest issue right now. He then proceeded to shove Kid Flash through the portal.
He jumped after him, grinning.
"Um… who is this?"
"Artemis. Your new teammate."
" I swear, beautiful; I've never seen her before in my life!"
"So… I'm your ninja boyfriend, huh?"
" Uh… this could wind up being one of those things that sounds better in my head than out loud? But… you are a real archer. I mean, I'm jazzed about Red Arrow! We go way back, you know? But you… you've made your own place on the Team. You've got nothing to prove. Not to me. Okay?"
"And… Wally? It sounded… fine out loud.
"I should have done this a long time ago."
"Hey, it's after midnight. Happy Valentine's Day."
"What could go wrong?"
"You can decide later… when we're alone."
"There will always be a world to save!"
Wally tumbled through the portal. His breathing was heavy, his feet ached like he'd been running for, well, sixteen weeks, and his heart was racing so fast that he could barely distinguish between individual beats.
He was kneeling on bleak white ground, and for a second, he thought the portal hadn't worked, and he was still Between… between where? The thought slipped away from him like water in a strainer.
And then Artemis was tackling him, pinning him to the cold Arctic snow, but he no longer cared because her lips were on his, and she was kissing him like she was on fire and he was water, trying to bury herself in him to save herself. Her lips were chapped and dry but they were everything he needed, clashing against his, hot and heavy and fast.
Wally grabbed a hold of her hair and pulled at it as he deepened the kiss. She bit down on his lip gently, causing him to moan into her mouth. Her hands moved along the length of his chest, her fingernails scratching him through the spandex, raising goosebumps on his skin and he tugged on her hair, his fingers running through her blonde hair—had she cut it? He lost that train of thought as her tongue darted inside his mouth, gliding along his teeth.
He vaguely thought he heard someone—Dick?—make a gagging noise in the background, but he wasn't exactly paying attention at that moment.
"That's just disgusting," Dick said. "SECOND BASE!" He shouted. He was ignored. He turned to Jason and Donna. "What do you guys say about getting out of here and leaving these two lovebirds to it—oh gross Donna that's my BROTHER!"
Donna and Jason didn't move from where they were, propped up against the bioship. Jason's legs were around Donna's waist, and they were making noises that SHOULD NOT BE COMING FROM JASON AND DONNA DOES NOT COMPUTE DELETE DELETE DELETE.
"My eyes!" Dick screamed, falling to the ground. "My eyes!" He rolled on the ground, screaming in anguish.
The two couples, thoroughly lost in each other, proceeded to ignore him.
It generally was a good policy.