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  1. #91
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    And the subtle Warcraft III nods continue. XD Next I'll have Batman sacrificing his soul to Frostmourne or something.

    Yeah, Ra's is kind of stupid/pathetic comparative to guys like Luthor/Darkseid/Joker, because he's really just the leader of an elaborate thieves' guild that tries to pass itself off as a New World Order. However, I appreciated the concept, at least, that he could be an adversary to Batman/Bruce Wayne in ways that the Joker and others weren't -- he was kind of an intellectual and financial equal. It's a shame they never really played that angle up in the DCAU (or the comics, really, but I'm not too sure about that). Besides, if they said that Ra's is the one who caused this Near Apocalypse -- and given the kind of apocalyptic stuff the Timmverse has seen, that's saying something -- then he'd have to do it in a way that suits him. If there's one single similarity Ra's and Batman do have in common, it's that they're both huge fans of backup plans.

    Anyway, glad you're still reading and possibly even enjoying. ^^
    Recent fun stuff:
    - From the Ashes [JLU, C]
    - The Dark Knight Triumphant

    "Mmm, bacon."
    "Stop it."

  2. #92
    aiwac is offline Member
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    Next I'll have Batman sacrificing his soul to Frostmourne or something.
    A story like that would be awesome on so many levels. For one, it would combine the best of Batman - the willingness to sacrifice all to save humanity, and the worst - the willingness to cross lines to do so and the belief that he's the only one who can do anything and his is the only way (kinda like Arthas, really).

    What would be even better is that such a story arc could focus on Bruce's slow redemption, where he rediscovers his humanity, and learns that "all darkness, all the time" is a recipe for disaster. Kinda like how he rediscovered his unintentionally humorous side in BB, or how he learned to open up and reconnect at the end of RotJ.
    Through a Dark Mirror

    "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist" - The Usual Suspects

  3. #93
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    When Shayera was first sent on her mission to scout out Earth's forces, she'd made a point of researching everything she could about it. Her superiors had amassed a fair amount of intel for her to go through during her month-long trip through the cosmos, and had been watching the planet with interest for years, they'd said. That should have made her wonder just how long they'd been drawing up plans for the Hyperspace Bypass, but at the time, she was watching her people die daily, and didn't really care about those kinds of details. Like everything she did, she tackled it with gusto. Of course, she'd read about their technological capabilities first, but once she got a scope of how primitive and weak they were compared to Thanagarians, she'd moved onto different annals.

    In particular, she recalled being intensely fascinated by their theologies, and how those beliefs shaped the various cultures that dotted Earth's landscape. Humans, for all their faults and assertions to the contrary, were a deeply spiritual people; far more so than Thanagarians ever were. At times, it was something she envied; in others, she considered using it to her advantage, if it was required to quell the populace. She occasionally wondered if humanity reacted so badly to her deception because it called certain things into question for far too many. Disillusionment carried a hefty price.Years later, staring at the unsteady image of the sky being consumed by the horned silhouettes of otherworldly demons, Shayera knew this wasn't any ordinary world-shattering cataclysm that seemed to frequent Earth so often. Zombies, robots, and aliens were the product of science-fiction and horror – entertainment gone awry. Plagues, demons, gods rising from the depths of imprisonment? It would strike a chord, one strung low and carefully hidden by many, that would turn this world upside down in seconds.

    To the citizens of Earth, she understood with a sinking feeling in her gut, this was more than just the end of the world. This was an apocalypse.


    24.
    On a Pale Horse


    Shayera all but stabbed the comm button. “Green Lantern, can you read me?” Her heartbeat sounded too loud in the ensuing silence. “John, come in!” Nothing. She hurriedly worked at the terminal, replacing an image of Gotham's skyline being consumed by demons with a 3D satellite mock-up of the northeast Atlantic coast. Seconds she knew to be too precious to waste passed as the image zoomed in once, twice, three times, the area continually obscured by a dense fog of smoke and ash. Growing irritated and impatient, she zoomed in a fourth time.

    The defunct fallout shelter turned command base, along with the gently sloping hillside it had been built under to hide, had disappeared into the depths of a newly-formed chasm. Her chest felt just like that demolished ridge.

    Her gaze caught the images of another flickering screen, jumping from city to city as the insanity unfolded. Shayera closed her eyes and inhaled.

    When they opened again, there was a steeliness in them that hadn't been present since the days of the Thanagarian occupation. She pressed down on the comm button again. “Attention all Leaguers, prepare for emergency teleport; coordinates are being sent via your comm-link now.” She switched frequencies, continuing, “Mr. Terrific, put the stragglers on those monsters attacking the cities. Find whoever you can – I don't care if they're just some kid in a Halloween mask, get them up and fighting. The rest of us will be working to evacuate the area and stop Hades.”

    “Hades?” Mr. Terrific repeated. “I thought gods were a myth.”

    She briefly scanned the bustling room, almost expecting to see a blue fedora somewhere. She ignored the hint of disappointment when she didn't. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Terrific. Trust me. Shayera out.”

    She was halfway to the transport pad when she heard Talia question, “Do you believe your combined forces will be able to stop a god?”

    Thinking of Rex, of the only home she had left, Shayera replied without turning, “No. But we have to try, anyway.”

    She disappeared in a haze of light.

    ---

    It was startling how quickly they were subdued. Even Superman found himself overwhelmed by the seemingly endless number of monsters that spewed from the newly-created portal, forced to the ground as the others were held in place for their master to deal with them properly.

    Hades, Lord of the Underworld stepped down from the rim of the pit, his boot thudding heavily against the stone floor. A lazy grin hung from his lips. “My daughter, it's always a pleasure seeing you again.”

    Wonder Woman, arms held behind her, glared darkly at the god. “I am not your daughter.”

    “We will discuss that in due time, my dear.” He regarded the group of restrained mortals curiously. “I must admit, I'm impressed; opening a doorway to the Underworld is quite the feat.”

    Ra's Al Ghul, closely guarded and still bound by the unbreakable lasso, adulated, “I had hoped one of your innumerably powerful stature would appreciate the effort on your behalf.”

    Hades turned in his direction. “On my behalf? How altruistic of you, mortal.” He strolled forward casually. “I suppose it is you I have to thank for my freedom?”

    Ra's nodded. “Indeed. I spent many years researching and carefully planning your escape, and have given you an offering of several million souls in the hope that I may make a request of you.”

    Hades briefly inspected him. “Go on.”

    Ra's stared up at the god with as much dignity as he could muster from his half-bent position. “In your many eons of life, I am certain that you've seen humanity's steady decline. They are now little better than a pestilence on this world, and must be stopped so the Earth can recover from its wounds and become the fertile utopia it once was.”

    “Utopia?” Hades paused in contemplation, then broke out into a hearty laugh. The sound of it was nothing short of chilling. “Ah, mortal,” he drawled amusedly, shaking his head, “if only you knew how ridiculous you sound.”

    Ra's paled slightly.

    His smile grew dark, towering over the kneeling Society leader. He lifted his broadsword. “Request denied.”

    The god's arm was wrenched to the side unexpectedly by a beam of energy, sizzling briefly from the heat before it healed. He whirled, eyes befalling Captain Atom and several members of the Justice League pouring through the cavern entrance, shortly before he found himself staring at a snarling Amazon's fist.

    To say all hell broke loose after that point would be redundant.

    ---

    The Flash's world, at the moment of Shayera's call to arms, was one of doubles and unfocused swirling blobs of color. He felt the tissue and cells of his arms continually battle the disease's advance, infecting, dying, and being recreated to start the cycle all over again in nanoseconds. He halfheartedly wondered if he'd inadvertently turned himself into a dynamo in doing this, but, well, it was a little too late for second guesses now, wasn't it? The only thing he knew with clarity was that this sucked and he didn't like it.

    He was too busy gazing off at one of the three left walls that mysteriously sprung up in the last few minutes to see the gloved hand turn off the machine. It was only the sound of it dying down that spurred him enough to bother trying to find out what was going on around him. He squinted, blearily focusing on a fully suited Nightwing staring down at him. Wally's eyes widened. “H-hey, what are you – “

    “Time's up, speedster. Duty calls,” Nightwing said, a quiet little grin on his face.

    “But, what about...”

    “This?” Nighty pulled his glove off and rolled his sleeve back. The thick bands of black death that had ringed his forearms were now down to speckles, like he'd been painting with a little bit too much fervor and forgot to dress accordingly. He wiggled his disease-free fingers once for effect before slipping the gauntlet back on. “Looks like I owe you one.”

    Flash huffed weakly. “Heh, buy me some doughnuts and we'll call it even.”

    “I'll buy you a doughnut factory, if you want.”

    Wally's stomach gurgled with anticipation. “Will they make jelly-filled?”

    Dick's grin widened. “Nothing but.” He nudged the speedster's shoulder. “Come on, we've got some bad guys to stop.”

    ---

    At the base of the newly-created crevasse that once was a section of the Appalachian Mountains, a pile of stone and soil pitched and rolled away, revealing a dozen dirty and battered survivors. Booster Gold rubbed his head wearily. “Man, that was not a fun ride. I want a refund.”

    Retracting the bubble he'd protected everyone else with, Green Lantern immediately moved to activate his communicator. “Green Lantern to Watchtower, come in.” He frowned at the lack of response – not that he expected anything different, at this point.

    Skeets buzzed, “The electromagnetic readings I'm getting are off the charts, sir. It's likely that it's interfering with communications.”

    Great.” He dropped his hand. “I guess I'll try another method, then.”

    ---

    A few thousand miles away, J'onn battled a swarm of demons, twisting bonelessly around their strikes. The voice that echoed in his head nearly startled him into the business end of an axe. 'J'onn, what just happened?'

    He went incorporeal as one attempted to stab him with a broadsword, letting the blade pass harmlessly through his body and impale two more that were directly behind him. 'Ra's Al Ghul has succeeded – Hades is free.'

    He wasn't sure if John meant to send the string of expletives his way or not, but it wasn't worth dwelling over. 'We're on our way.'

    Crushing the demon's neck in his grip, he hurled the trio away as others made contact, pinning him against the jagged rock face. Still greatly weakened, he struggled against the inhuman might of the creatures that piled onto him, when the echo of Shayera's fearsome warcry gave him an idea. Eyes glowing a deep crimson, he forced majestic white wings to unfurl from beneath the confines of his cloak. As he'd hoped, the mob of demons immediately shrank back, hissing in terror.

    J'onn smirked grimly, charging forward.

    Below, Wonder Woman retrieved her lasso from around Ra's Al Ghul's shoulders with a simple warning: “Make any attempt to escape, and bloodthirsty demons will be nothing compared to me.”

    She launched herself into the fray as Ra's dusted himself off in her wake with a slightly amused tilt of his lips. “Hell hath no fury, indeed.”

    The ground trembled as Superman sailed through the cave ceiling, emerging in a sub-basement level corridor of the complex proper. Shaking himself free of debris, he stood and caught Hades' fist in one hand, striking with his other. The god staggered backwards, surprise registering on his features as he rolled his jaw. “Stronger than even Heracles, this one.” He tipped his head at the Kryptonian in what could have been appreciation, smiling thinly. “You will make an excellent addition to my ranks.”

    “I've heard that one before.” Superman ducked another punch, leaping back to avoid him. “Why are you doing this?”

    “Have you ever been denied freedom, mortal? Locked to a realm of darkness for all of eternity?” Without warning, Hades vanished from Superman's sight – all various forms of it. The punch against his gut caught him unawares, sending him through yet another set of ceilings. He vaguely recognized the power plant's courtyard area as he was halted midair by the same invisible force.

    Hades faded back into existence, holding him aloft; the sharp edge of a sword was pressed against his neck. “I want to be free, mortal.” That he could actually feel the blade digging into his flesh set alarm bells wailing in his head. Hades was a creature of magic, or something similar – something far beyond what the yellow sun could protect him against. “I will be free.”

    A cord whistled through the air and snapped taut.

    Hades was yanked down, away from the Man of Steel, by a golden cord wrapped around his neck. “The only place you're going is back to is the depths of Tartarus, Hades.”

    The god righted himself, fingers curling under the unbreakable twine and tugging it off. He appraised the two floating in front of him, noting how his minions were already pouring from the egress he'd created during his battle with this Superman, and shook his head in disappointment. “I do so wish that it hadn't come to this, my daughter. I'd wanted you to join my side willingly.” His tongue became serpentine, eyes glowing a faint, baleful red. “But even you, like all of your mortal ilk, fall under my domain.” He brandished his broadsword. “I think, my dear, it's time that I show you to your ancestral home.”

    ---

    Catwoman rounded the corner into the alleyway, swinging away from one of the creatures in pursuit. It slammed headfirst into a fire escape with enough force to knock the entire thing loose from its moorings, and for all the damage done, it now only seemed to be pissed off at her. Wonderful. She barely dodged the downstrike of its two-handed axe, stepping on the shaft of the weapon to gracefully connect the heel of her boot against its jaw. She bounded backwards when another axehead cleaved the previous in two, panting lightly as more demons, hissing and red-eyed, descended from the sky to land along windowsills and ledges imposingly. In any other circumstance, she would have taken the obvious choice and bolted.

    She loosed her whip and held her ground, wondering if Bruce would be either proud of her, or angry in that equally pigheaded and adorably overprotective way of his that she was risking her life for his city. “This is what I get for playing the hero.”

    The demon twisted its malformed head along its spined shoulders and harshly yanked the axe from the ground with a hollow scraping of metal on stone, running forward in an uneven, wobbling gait. The chopper whistled through the air in a precise downward arc, only to be pulled from the monster's grip before it made contact. Grunting, it only had time to halt its advance in confusion before it was torn from its feet by...something; she couldn't tell what. The creature landed in an unconscious heap amid its brethren as the telltale whirring of Batarangs rang through the air, sinking into their leathery flesh with unerring accuracy. They shrieked in pain as the force returned, knocking away more in an incredible gust of wind.

    Selina looked skyward, mood brightening at the familiar, if heavily armored, pointy-eared silhouette that loomed above. “I was wondering when you'd get here. It's not like you to leave a girl to defend herself.”

    “It's not like you to be a damsel in distress, either,” replied the figure as he leapt from the ledge, landing next to her with a grace that was every bit as feline as her. The sleek black headpiece folded back and sank into the neckplate, revealing the suit's current owner.

    She blinked. Well, this was unexpected. “If it isn't the Man Wonder,” she remarked idly, giving his get-up a once over. “Nice suit; no cape?”

    Nightwing shrugged. “I know this isn't my usual style, but you know what they say: if the prototype super-suit fits, wear it.” He smiled winningly at her. “And I hate capes.”

    She smirked. He was a sweet kid; it was nice to be on the same side as him, for once. “I know what you mean.”

    The wind slowed long enough for her to catch a blur of a bright red suit. The Flash? “Says you,” he groused. “Why can't I have a super-suit?”

    “Well, if you're really good, maybe Santa will get you one for Christmas.” Nightwing nodded briefly in her direction. “So – care if we lend a hand?”

    Catwoman turned her attention to the legion of monsters invading Gotham and cracked her whip once for effect. Proud. Bruce would definitely be proud. “Sure thing, Man Wonder. Let's see what you've got.”

    The helm slid from its confines, armoring Nightwing's head again as he dropped into a fighting stance. “With pleasure.”

    ---

    Batman was in a bind. He'd exhausted nearly all of the tools in his utility belt, and was now relying on the kind donations of the hellish creatures around him to stay alive. More annoyingly, his injuries were preventing him from doing much more than merely holding his own. With the world at stake, that wasn't good enough. His mind worked even as he ducked under the prongs of a trident, grabbing its shaft and leveraging it to throw the monster off balance. Ignoring the fire that sprang along his side, he pivoted and jammed the weapon into its chest. This situation wasn't sustainable; they couldn't defeat an army that had, literally, an endless number of troops to throw at them. They couldn't beat a foe that couldn't tire.

    He heard the screeching too late, his movements unacceptably sluggish as he saw the pike come careening down towards his head. Idiot.

    Scant centimeters from killing him, the weapon was knocked off course. A second later, a blur of black collided into the eight foot tall monstrosity, sending in to the ground in a heap of leathery wings and pointed spines. Tim crouched over the body, retractable metal bo in hand. “Long time, no see.”

    Instinct took over before his conscious mind fully grasped just who was standing in front of him, turning around to protect Tim's flank. Inexplicably, he commented over his shoulder, “Nice staff.”

    “Thanks.” He heard the hollow cracking of bone being pulverized by titanium. “It was a going away present from Alfred.”

    He snapped a monster's neck with a quick twist of the head. “Alfred gave that to you?”

    “Why not? I've always been asking for one.”

    He ducked a claw swipe from another demon, surging upward to break its arm. Tim wheeled around, finishing it off with a harsh swat to the head. He hunched over slightly, breathing heavily. This was definitely not sustainable, in any respect.

    Tim frowned in confusion, if not concern. “You look like crap.”

    “I keep hearing that,” he replied tightly, hand pressed against his pulsing ribs.

    “Hades has reached the surface!” J'onn shouted in warning. “Superman and Wonder Woman will need our assistance!”

    “On it! Everyone, move!” Shayera hastily dispatched the creature she was tangling with, folding her wings back and shooting through the air – and several more demons that weren't quick enough to get out of her way. J'onn more fluidly maneuvered around them, fading through the ceiling. All the other heroes capable of flying or teleporting followed or were carried away. Even the monsters, both the ones that had already arrived and the reinforcements that continually streamed through the portal, took to the sky – scurrying to aid their master.

    He stared up at the retreating figures, briefly hating his humanity. Flight was too good of an advantage to not utilize, somehow. It was for the best, though; with the fight taking place on the surface, it freed him to close the portal down here. Now, he only needed to find out how. His focus turned back to Ra's, who was still fighting as though he could worm his way out of his own mortality again. Maybe he didn't realize the situation he was in.

    Batman decided to remind him.

    ---

    Talia leaned on the Watchtower console, grinding her molars. She wanted to stop her father before his deranged actions caused irreparable damage, but it appeared that her intervention came far too late. Beloved had been right, as usual – she should not have played any part in Father's plan. She should have come to him for help. She had to set things right, somehow. She had to.

    The elevator doors opened behind her. Surprised that much of anyone beyond the skeleton crew was left on the satellite, she pivoted. Her eyes fell upon one ever composed, but grimly determined Alfred Pennyworth; an infant was nestled safely in the crook of his left elbow. She decided to forgo asking. “Alfred.”

    He gave her a tiny nod of recognition, seemingly out of rote more than courtesy, as his attention was clearly directed at the command center they stood in. “Miss Talia. I heard Madam Shayera's command a few moments ago, has she – ?”

    “Departed,” she confirmed. “To battle Hades.”

    The elder man grimaced slightly; a strange sight, for him. Then, his gaze snapped up to hers. The intensity of his scrutiny reminded her sharply of beloved when he was scheming. “You've stated before that you wish to help stop your father from this catastrophe. Does that still hold true now?”

    “Yes.”

    He stepped forward, holding out a small ring. “Then take this. It will be of use to you.”

    She knitted her brows. “What will this do?”

    “My ancient Hebrew is a bit rusty,” he explained, placing the ring in her hand, “but if I've translated this engraving properly, then I do believe this may be the fabled Seal of Solomon.”

    “Rumored to have control over demons and the undead,” Talia murmured, staring at the band resting in her palm. “I recall my father searching for this item many years ago, without success. How did you come across this?”

    “It was a...gift from an old friend.” He motioned to the transporter controls. “You must hurry. If the reports being displayed are anywhere near accurate – “

    “I'll make my way at once.” In spite of this, she remained still as a stray memory of Milan rose unbidden in her mind. Knowing there might never be another chance, she turned back around and said, “Beloved once confided in me that he would not have survived this long if it weren't for your aid. He respects your word above all else, and would end this – all of this – if only you asked him to.”

    Alfred's brief hesitance in reply was proof enough of her statement's impact. “I know, madam.”

    “Then why do you allow him to continue?”

    He inhaled, slowly. “Because denying him the opportunity to help others would be too cruel an injustice for him to endure.” He motioned to the transport console. “Go, madam. Quickly.”

    She nodded briskly, heading for the teleporter without further delay. Alfred watched her go with no small measure of worry, wondering if he hadn't made a terribly dreadful mistake.

    “She will not betray your Master,” suddenly said the young woman that stood off to the side, expression blank. “My grandfather has threatened too many that my mother cares for to show him mercy, now. She enters the fight with vengeance in her heart.”

    “That,” he answered, all too aware of the tiny infant cradled in his arm, “is what I'm most afraid of.”

    ---

    Ra's thought he was faring rather well, given that he was several centuries old and outmatched in every capacity but for sheer tactical prowess – but that was all he was doing. He couldn't escape into the fray without dying, and he'd liquidated his entire institution simply getting to this point; restructuring would take more time than he could afford to buy from the Lazarus Pits. Hades disregarded his offer, but there could still be a way to foster the seeds for regrowth after his reign of terror had ended. He needed to survive to do that, though, and the fiend in front of him was making that a problem.

    He parried the arc of a sword with his own, blue sparks flying; the demon moved with a swiftness and brutality he knew he couldn't match. If only he'd still had the Agimat, he could have brought this brute to his knees! He parried again, the inhuman power of the strike reverberating through his limbs painfully and causing him to falter backwards. The red-eyed monstrosity sensed his weakness and rushed forward to finish its job, when the Detective, of all people, mysteriously appeared in front of him to block the blow. Breathing room established, Ra's was free to flank the miserable creature and end its life with a blade to its chest. “Your assistance is obliged, Dete – “

    Ra's sword clattered to the ground as Batman wheeled around, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and bodily shoved him into the nearby cave wall. The vigilante's expression was nothing short of murderous. “Don't thank me yet. The only reason I saved you is because you might know something we don't. Tell me how to close the portal.” He pressed harder against Ra's throat. “Now!”

    Ra's struggled to allow more airflow in, but was met with his captor's hold tightening further. “There...is no way to close it. It will remain open for as long as the energy sustains itself, which will last for days.”

    “If it can be opened, it can be closed,” he insisted sharply. “Tell me how!”

    “He doesn't know.” The Dark Knight looked to the left, spotting a figure in a blue fedora and cape calmly walking towards them. “He also doesn't know the full ramifications of his actions.”

    “Like releasing a God bent on killing everyone?” Tim commented idly.

    “Worse.” Phantom Stranger nodded to the thin beam of energy that flashed chaotically with energy. “The barrier separating the realms of the dead and living was never meant to be broken. While Ra's Al Ghul's machine remains operational, the breach will remain open. However, that machine is also the only thing keeping the breach stable. Removal of that stabilizing force will cause the rift to widen, and likely shatter the barrier between worlds altogether, obliterating this one in the process.”

    “A catch-22,” Batman said, slowly lowering Ra's to the ground without seeming to realize that he was doing so. “There has to be a way to stop it.”

    “Whatever could be done to reverse the damage may only hasten it,” the Stranger replied.

    “That doesn't mean we give up!” Tim exclaimed. “So what if this barrier was never meant to be broken? Well, it broke. Now we have to fix it.”

    “Spoken like a child,” Ra's chastised with a shake of his head. “Some damage can never be adequately repaired – those scars will remain forever, immune to the effects of time.”

    “Guess that explains why you're still here, then.”

    Ra's snarled. “Insolent – “

    Bruce's focus, strangely, turned inward at the sound of R – Tim's voice. How long had it been since they'd stood in the same room – since he could even stand the thought of it? How much time had he wasted, hunkering in a corner and licking his wounds, pretending that nothing existed but his own shame? He glanced at his former protege, still short with an unruly mop of hair, still rebellious and mouthy, still alive, and was struck by an epiphany. The world was still here. Tim, Dick, Alfred, Clark, Diana, all of them, they were still here; maybe not well, but definitely alive – and, right now, they needed him.

    ...Almost as much as he needed them.

    The conscious admission could have been enough to bowl him over. As it was, his grip on Ra's went slack. “You're right. Some damage can't ever be repaired.”

    Tim's eyes went wide with incredulity. “What? You can't – “

    He placed a hand on the young man's shoulder reassuringly, and in spite of himself, in spite of everything, he smiled faintly. It had been too long. “But that doesn't mean we should give up.” He turned to the Stranger. “What do we need to do?”

    Phantom Stranger shook his head. “Unfortunately, I can offer no advice. The inherent volatility of magic can be difficult to predict under the best of circumstances; mixing magics even more so. The same action can produce a thousand results, all wildly different, many of them extremely deadly.”

    Tim stared at the demi-god flatly. “How about a hint?”

    Batman's expression lit up suddenly. “He just gave us one.”



    To be continued...


    ***

    A/N: Let me be brief: real life > me. There's another chapter that will be (hopefully) coming within the next couple of days -- which was actually part of this one, but, yeah, 18 pages is a bit too long for one chapter. Even for my standards of "Jesus God make it end already" chapters.
    Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 01:50 AM.
    Recent fun stuff:
    - From the Ashes [JLU, C]
    - The Dark Knight Triumphant

    "Mmm, bacon."
    "Stop it."

  4. #94
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    Superman and Wonder Woman battled valiantly; they used their abilities in tandem, playing off of the other's individual strengths and styles in a near-symbiotic fashion. Had their opponent been anything but the Lord of the Underworld, they would have fallen easily. Diana blocked Hades' broadsword with her vambrace, twisting to grab his arm and pull him into Superman's waiting fist. The god sailed through the air as they continued their assault, Wonder Woman looping her lasso around his wrist while Superman's eyes glowed a fierce red. It was a perfectly executed maneuver.

    Hades tugged on the unbreakable cord, wrenching Diana to him – and directly into Superman's line of fire.

    She screamed as the full brunt of Kal El's heat vision connected with her unprotected back, going limp as Hades steadied her in a nauseatingly paternal gesture. He mused, “You know, like this, you remind me of your mother.”

    Diana slammed the back of her head into his mouth.

    Snarling, he hurled her toward the ground. “Wench!”

    From across the battlefield, Shayera watched Superman fly down after her, and more alarmingly, caught how Hades smiled and followed suit. She knew where her friends were weak, and she knew all too well how those weaknesses could be exploited. She wouldn't let that happen again. She charged through a wall of wings and fangs, felling the army between her and him as Hades readied his sword, poised to impale the Man of Steel through the back. She threw her mace with unerring accuracy, knocking the weapon out of his grasp a few feet from its intended target. Incensed by the interruption, Hades glanced up in time to see a shrieking Thanagarian barrel into him.

    She struck repeatedly, right cross after uppercut after haymaker. She managed to move him approximately three inches before Hades lashed an arm out, swatting her aside like a gnat. She righted herself, wings flared out, as the Lord of the Underworld glared, broadsword reappearing in his hand with a pale green fizzle. Sparing no words, he launched himself downward. With a warcry, she launched herself upwards.

    She stood no chance. But if she could buy Clark and Diana time, if they could stop Hades and save her son, then it would have been worth it.

    25.
    Dies Irae


    A split-second before they collided, a demon slammed into Hades, sending him off course. She halted her ascent as she watched him fumble in amazement at the sudden attack, before grabbing it by a horn and hurling it into the distance. “Wretched creature!” No sooner had that monster been dispatched before another took its place, and then another, and another still. So it continued, even as he killed his aggressors, more would replace them.

    Shayera flew to check on her allies below who, by this point, also noticed the sudden shift in the army's behavior. They stared skyward as the minions piled onto the dark god from all angles. “I didn't think demons could stage a mutiny,” Superman stated.

    “They can't,” Diana replied with a grunt of pain as she pulled herself free of Clark's grip, eyes narrowed in distrust. “They're bound to the will of Hades; no demon is strong enough to resist his orders.”

    “Not all demons are alike,” came a slow, rumbling voice. A single demon descended to their level, stilted in its movements. Its malformed jaw worked with clear unfamiliarity as it spoke words that were not its own, words halted and hardly recognizable. “I have controlled the creeeeatures that have been released here, and have sent them to attack their looord. Go – take this time to stop my faaaather.”

    Superman scrutinized the creature. “'Father'? You mean Talia is controlling you?”

    The demon didn't acknowledge his question, slanted red eyes flickering briefly, as if blinking. Its message sent, it darted upwards with a roar, leaving them behind to be slaughtered for its new master. Kal surveyed the grounds, spotting her with her hand upraised, glowing ring upon her finger. “I don't know how she's doing this, but – “

    Batman to all points – start evacuating the surrounding area.”

    Shayera blinked at the request. “I already have League members – “

    “Get everyone on it – now.”

    Diana stared skyward at the chaos made manifest, asking, “And what about Hades?”

    “He's not our biggest problem anymore.” As if sensing her incoming argument, he added, “The portal is destabilizing; if it isn't closed now, the Earth is as good as gone. We need every able-bodied person we can get on the surface, preparing to contain as much of the damage as possible. I don't know what sealing it will do, so be ready for the worst. Batman out.”

    Shayera swore under her breath, muttering, “This just keeps getting better and better.”

    Diana clenched her fists as League members retreated from the battlefield. Her eyes were flint. “I'll make sure Hades stays distracted.”

    Superman recognized the tone; he'd heard it often enough from his own voice during the height of the Cadmus fiasco. He opened his mouth to reason with her, but stopped short when he watched her charge forward. “Diana, wait!”

    “No, let her go,” Shayera interrupted quickly, putting a hand on his arm to stop him. (Such was his strength of will that he actually stopped without inadvertently tearing her arm off.) “Those things aren't going to keep him busy for long – Batman will need cover, and so will we.”

    He knew she was right, but the idealist in him – sometimes, the only thing that kept him going – took intense issue with anyone taking on a mission they had no real chance of surviving; he didn't want anyone giving their lives if there was a way that he could save them. Shayera's grip tightened slightly, her expression soft with a strange kind of sadness. “Trust me, Clark, Diana needs to be here – for herself and for Bruce.” She smirked faintly. “Call it 'Mother's Intuition'.”

    His eyes turned from the Thanagarian to the Amazon, and was reminded of when Batman torpedoed the Watchtower directly into the Hyperspace Bypass while behind the wheel of it. After the dust had settled, he'd mentioned how insane of an idea that was, and asked if he was actively trying to kill himself. Bruce, in reply, simply flashed him a quirky little grin and glibly stated, “It's not a suicide mission until you die.”

    Clark vividly remembered not being sure if he wanted to punch him or hug him. It only occurred to him later, after Hawkgirl had resigned and reconstruction of the new Watchtower had begun, what the words meant: it wasn't a suicide mission until they died – Bruce's way of saying, 'There's always hope.'

    “There's always hope,” Superman said, even as Wonder Woman drove into the dark god with a thunderous force. “Let's go.”

    ---

    Batman walked toward the pit-turned-gateway while Tim happily handcuffed Ra's, asking, “So, what's the plan?”

    His knee twinged in phantom pain. “Suture.”

    “Suture?”

    “When a person is stabbed, removing the knife prematurely is the worst thing you can do – ignoring everything else, it's still staunching the blood flow, buying the victim time. Dahluzett's device is doing the same thing with the portal.”

    Tim surmised, “So, you're going to sew the wound up. With what?”

    “This.” He held up the Agimat. “If I can substitute the generator's energy source with this one, I might be able to reverse the effect and seal the portal.”

    “You would be ill-advised to use it,” Ra's cautioned sternly. “Though I've no doubt of your willpower, such is the strength of the Agimat that the magical forces trapped within it would tear you to pieces.”

    “I'll make do.” His focus shifted to Tim, ordering, “Get Dahluzett to safety, then coordinate with the League forces on the ground and help with the evacuation effort.”

    “Got it.” He raced up the warped and badly damaged gangplank, kneeling at the side of the barely conscious scientist. “Come on, up and at'em.”

    She stirred as he lifted her from the ground, wriggling weakly in his grasp. “No, get off me – my generator! My work!”

    “Seriously, lady,” he griped as he slung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, “let it go.”

    Batman waited for his former protege to exit the cavern before he turned to the passively silent demigod. “Stranger. I need a favor.” The Stranger inclined his head to listen. “Get them away from as far away from here as you can.” He nodded to the figure behind him. “Ra's, too.”

    Ra's stepped forward. “Someone must stay to ensure that the portal is properly shut off at the correct time, or else your gambit will fail.”

    He regarded the man with open hostility. “You caused all of this, and now you're saying you want to help me stop it?”

    “My intent was to save Earth, not destroy it,” Ra's replied factually. “If reparations are to be made, then it is my duty to make them, here and now, while there's still a chance.”

    Batman's distrust only heightened at the supposed honesty, glancing at the Stranger. His silent question was answered with, “He's being genuine.”

    Stranger's words did not alleviate his distrust in the slightest, but a nigh-omniscient creature from another realm of existence had advantages he didn't. With effort, he yanked the leash on his temper and strode forward, removing the cuffs from the Society leader's wrists. Sighing in relief, Ra's rubbed at one with his hand, before that wrist was caught in an iron-wrought grip. Their eyes met. “Don't even think of double-crossing me.”

    “If I'd truly wanted you dead, Detective, I'd have had you killed in your sleep years ago.” As if to sell the point, Ra's smirked.

    Stars exploded, and Ra's hit the ground with a pronounced thud, holding his jaw protectively. Batman stood over him, a looming silhouette, and rubbed his fist idly. In the distance, Stranger asked, “Was that necessary?”

    “Absolutely.” He looked over his shoulder. “Will you do it?”

    Stranger nodded dutifully. “They'll come to no harm, so long as you're successful here. Good luck.” He bowed his head, then faded from sight.

    Ra's, having scrabbled to his feet, stared at the Dark Knight in morbid fascination as he stepped onto the pit's ledge. “Getting the boy out of the way was wise, but sending off the most powerful ally in your arsenal to do so was overzealous.”

    “It wasn't about getting him out of the way.” He gazed into the churning miasma below, remembering those first nights after Tim was recovered. It almost killed him. It did worse than kill him. “I won't let him get hurt again. I can't.”

    “Your 'Stranger' friend may well be the only one capable of retrieving you,” Ra's stated. “Without him, how do you expect to escape the collapse of the portal itself?”

    He thought of his loved ones – of how much they had sacrificed for him, and he for them. He suddenly wanted to thank them for all they had done, for the dozens of times they had saved his life by simply being in it. He knew it was impossible (and hypocritical – he recalled the saying about atheists and foxholes), but he let that impossibility strengthen his resolve to succeed. It wasn't a suicide mission until you died.

    Besides, he'd spent the past four years in a living hell. The real thing couldn't possibly be worse. “I don't.”

    He dove in.

    ---

    In a world beyond worlds, the Spectre frowned at the scene playing out before him, and vanished.

    ---

    Hades was becoming increasingly irritated. His treacherous minions swarmed around him like gnats, doing no harm but being a continual nuisance, while Diana was busy making herself one very fast and angry nuisance that was gleefully taking advantage of the distraction in any way that she could. He wished he could say the damage she was unloading was due to his demon army's bothersome influence, but he had to admit that while she was no member of the Pantheon, Diana had quite well proven her champion status. After all, she was still alive.

    Frankly, Hades was quite vexed by it all, but not due to her defiance; it was his realization upon the eighth straight blocked attack that he was actually pleased by her display. Now was not the time for some inkling of fatherly pride to rear its ugly head. Still, what kind of father would he be if he didn't give his daughter her proper due?

    “Exemplary performance, my dear,” he complimented, cutting a vast swath of his minions down with a single arc of his blade. It was testament to how many of the creatures he'd culled in the past few minutes that the gaping hole in their ranks didn't fill. He was impressed that Diana was able to withstand the power behind the swing as she halted it with a silver vambrace. Her mother certainly trained her well – well enough to almost be a threat to him. “You're quite the formidable opponent.”

    Still, withstanding was not the same as repelling, evidenced by the scowl of exertion that crossed her features after the blow landed. Judging by the venom in her voice, she noted this, as well. “Your words are meaningless, Hades.”

    “I speak the truth. I've been longing to see how you've matured since our first encounter all those years ago,” he responded smoothly, parrying the heel palm strike aimed towards his head with his sword arm. In the same motion, he gripped her by the crook of the elbow with his spare hand and spun her around in his grasp, pinning her arms between her back and his plated torso. She screamed as the claws that were once again aiming towards his body sunk into hers, instead. “It's a shame to see you wasting your talents like this, though.”

    She tried headbutting him again. This time, he ducked his head to the side, pressing his lips near her ear in a close whisper. “Why do you fight for them? You could conquer this entire world for your own.”

    “Never. It would go against everything I ever stood for.” He didn't miss just how sharp her features became.

    “What do you stand for?” he asked her as he maneuvered around to prevent his minions from flanking him. They hissed angrily at his strategic movements, backing away in an attempt to regroup. “Look at them below, scurrying like vermin – killing each other indiscriminately out of greed, pleasure, and apathy. Even the good among their kind are weak and ineffectual against the might of their more craven ilk.”

    “You know nothing of Man's World, Hades,” she seethed as she shifted in his grasp, trying unsuccessfully to wriggle free.

    “I know more than you realize, my dear. Lest you forget, I am the Lord of the Underworld, not merely Tartarus. All will pass through my gates eventually, but you...” He paused, humming. “Well, since you seem so enamored with these mortals, I'll strike a bargain.”

    She scoffed. “With you? Save your breath.”

    “Hear me out before dismissing my proposal,” he chided her lightly. “Regardless of your intervention, all the denizens of your so-called 'Man's World' will perish at some point. It's only a matter of when. I could strike them all down now, or...” His lips tugged back into a jagged grin. “I could spare their lives – in exchange for yours.” He ducked around another headbutt attempt. “If you refuse, I'll simply kill you and slaughter everyone else afterward, starting with your closest allies.”

    She snarled. “You would never keep your word.”

    “I always keep my word,” he reprimanded immediately. “Mortals merely forget to be specific.”

    Diana remained silent, stoic and unyielding. Nauseatingly moral and stubborn, like all of her kin, but he couldn't hold that against her. She didn't know any better. “On one condition.”

    He almost grinned; foolish woman. “Yes?”

    Her gaze was distant, her breathing shallow. “You will personally see my soul safely to the Underworld.” Her dark blue eyes flickered in his direction. “If you're truly my father, you'll do this for me.”

    He considered her briefly. Hers was a sad tale – an immortal among mortals, perhaps, but compared to the power he and his torpid siblings in Olympus wielded, her life was as fragile and fleeting as the middling little creatures she was forfeiting her life to protect. He supposed for a champion of the Gods, for his daughter, he could grant this one singular request.

    “You have my word.” Hades pushed her away, brandished his sword, and ran her through.

    ---

    Batman was engulfed by the putrid mist of the portal, ignoring the way it burned at every patch of exposed skin. The clouds peeled back suddenly, the whistling of stale air ringing in his ears as his eyes struggled to adjust to the extreme contrast of light and dark. He knew what was waiting for him on the other side would have been none too pleasant, but he hadn't been expecting this.

    Instead of the fiery pits of everlasting torment that Diana and Shayera described in their little day-trip to Tartarus, he was greeted by a verdant swamp landscape that stretched on into forever, cut in half by a bloated river. It may have even been somewhat tranquil, if not for the massive, violent whirlpool that churned the otherwise stagnant waters of the Styx. He grabbed his jumpline – the last remaining item in his belt, save for the Agimat itself – and aimed for a low-hanging stalactite.

    A scream from behind caught his attention, and before he could look over his shoulder, he felt the collision rattle through his limbs as a demon slammed into his midsection. It wound its arms around his torso in a crushing grip, veering him towards the ground in a nosedive. Awkwardly, he twisted and struck the monster in the face, first with his fist, and then with his elbow. It snarled and tried to bite his arms off, but had no effect on their course, otherwise. As the canopy rushed ever closer, he hurriedly jammed his grapple into the nook of one of the demon's horns and fired. The line snapped taut, and the demon's head jerked back with an audible crack.

    He shot forward into a free-fall, grabbing the edges of his frayed cape in both hands and praying that it would be enough to control his landing somewhat. Branches and twigs were ripped from their trunks in his descent, his already-damaged cape being torn to pieces in his grasp as he was pitched into the dirt. Even with his training, there was only so much kinetic energy he could mitigate with proper technique; by the time he rolled to a halt some sixty feet away, he'd given up all pretense of fighting gravity and had simply gone limp.

    Batman laid on his back, staring blankly through the too-still canopy to the dead rock above, and tried to remember how to move. He pressed his fingers against the pouch that held the Agimat, relieved when he felt it still in its confines – still had a job to do. With a groan of misery, he rolled onto his side, his arm clasped protectively around his ribs as he shakily stood. He half-crouched, half-hobbled to the treeline, quickly scouting the area for more party-crashers while he heard the wailing echo of Cerberus in the distance. That was not a creature he wanted to tangle with unprepared; this entire sojourn was much more suited for the likes of – “Diana?”

    The figure that caught his attention walked idly along the riverbank, gaze focused on the vortex above with clear worry. He strode forward without thought. She wasn't supposed to be here. “Diana!”

    She looked at him in shock. “Bruce?” Her expression tightened in regret. “Oh Hera, Bruce, why are you here?”

    “Me? Why are you here?” he continued angrily as he closed the distance. “I told you and the others to help evacuate the area! Why did you come through the portal?”

    “I didn't.”

    He scowled. “What do you – “

    Batman's mind – his razor-sharp, callously indifferent mind – registered her words and actions efficiently and without emotion, drawing a clear line from A, to B, to C without halting for his own benefit.

    What Batman's razor-sharp and callously indifferent mind didn't anticipate was a suddenly desperate and frantic Bruce all but shoving the Bat out of way as the connection was made, firmly grasping the reigns for himself. “No.” His hands found her shoulders roughly, willed them to be there, be solid, be alive. “No.”

    Her face was still pinched in remorse, lightly clasping his wrists as she glanced skyward again. “Hurry, you have to hide.” She tugged at his arms – her grip was so weak – and hurriedly ordered, “Go! Hades will be here soon – he'll kill you if he sees you!”

    He didn't move, had absolutely no intention of it. “I'm not going anywhere.”

    “Bruce, you stubborn man, listen to me,” she growled. “If you die here today, Man's World dies with you, and my sacrifice will have been for nothing.” Her jaw rolling in determination and fury, she authoritatively motioned to the trees with her head. “Into the trees. Now!”

    He blinked, reality encroaching upon in him as his mind (heart?) continued to scream that he could fix this, he could save her, there had to be a way, he just needed to find it, just needed time. She was right; too many were depending on him to succeed only to falter now. He wouldn't let them down. He would not let Diana's death be in vain. There would be vengeance.

    Bruce's grip tightened. No. There would be justice.

    He pulled her forward and pressed his lips to hers.

    Her fingertips ghosted down his cheek – they were cool against his skin, no no no – and it was all he could do to break the contact after a painfully brief few heartbeats. She exhaled quietly, hand still resting against his face, and stated with a heart-breaking earnestness, “I love you.”

    His gloved fingers curled around her too-cold ones and gently pulled them away. It was like tearing off his own arm. “You shouldn't.”

    Diana smiled sadly. She motioned again to the treeline. “Go.”

    His hands dropped to his sides and stepped away, his tattered capes still managing to shroud his form as he stepped away. He nodded to her once, a final farewell, and disappeared into the underbrush.

    ---

    Death was an odd experience. Diana felt virtually no different than she did previously – the only marker that she was, in fact, dead was her lack of powers. Was this how ordinary humans felt in their normal day to day lives? She briefly glanced back to the swamp as she continued up the shoreline. Was this how Bruce felt? This...vulnerable? Gods, the strength of will he had to –

    “Ah, there you are, my dear.” The booming, thunderous voice stopped her cold; odd that she didn't feel her skin crawling the way it did previously. Hades landed a pace in front of her, smug grin stretching his features. “Are you ready for your trip? Do you need an extra moment or two to prepare?”

    Diana marched rigidly up the riverbank, past the smugly preening God. She had to draw Hades as far away from Batman as she could. “Let's get this over with.”

    “So wrathful,” he crooned. “Need I remind you that you were the one who requested my company?”

    “I requested that you adhere to a single honorable tradition, not your company,” she corrected as the rickety boat holding Charon floated casually toward their positions. She felt no fear at its arrival; immortal or not, she had expected this would happen one day.

    “Never the less, it's my company you have,” Hades answered, still smiling as he waved off the ferryman's silent request for the customary fare. “I suggest you get used to your new surroundings, Diana. You'll be here for quite some time.”

    Wonder Woman proudly stepped into the dingy, never breaking eye contact. Even in death, she would not be cowed into submission. “Should you break your word, Hades, there will be dire consequences. Justice can never be escaped, not even by a God.”

    “How very impious of you,” Hades replied darkly, gesturing for Charon to disembark. Dutifully, the blue creature pressed its rotted ore into the shoreline and shoved off. “In this forsaken realm, my dear, I am justice, and you will learn not to question my interpretation of it.” His grin turned wicked, true to his very core. “Fear not, though; you won't be the only baffled newcomer yet.”

    Diana stiffened. She knew it. “You said – “

    “I said that I would spare their lives in exchange for yours,” Hades interjected. “I never said for how long.”

    She launched to her feet, determined to dive off the boat and into the deadly river waters, the consequences be damned. Her journey ended abruptly when Charon's gnarled hand dug into her shoulder and forcibly dragged her back down to her knees. Hades chuckled at her display, his betrayal complete, as the realm of the living disappeared in a blinding flash of white.

    ---

    Hades sighed wistfully as his daughter disappeared into the mists of the dead. She would be a tough one to break, just like her mother, but he had all of eternity to teach her the error of her ways. Eventually, like all the others who came before him, they would see reason. But for now – his retribution. He strolled forward casually, listening to the distant cries of damned souls on both sides of the portal, and smiled brightly. Today would be a beautiful day.

    Hades, Lord of the Underworld...

    Even by his standards, the timbre and weight the voice carried was full of hatred and spite. His interest was, quite frankly, piqued. He glanced to his left and found the owner standing silently amidst the trees. It took him a few moments to recognize just who was daring to encroach upon his territory. “Oh, it's you.” He cocked an eyebrow. “A little out of your jurisdiction, aren't you?”

    His voice was a low, baleful growl. “You have made a bargain... One that you now seek to break.

    “And you wish to – what? Keep me in check?” Hades crossed his arms, equally amused and annoyed at the creature in front of him. “Even the Pantheon couldn't do that, except to lock me in this cesspit. What do you expect to do here, today? Stop me?”

    “No. I do.”

    Hades turned on his heel. Batman stood at the riverbed, dangling a glinting pendant from an outstretched arm. His eyes widened, feeling the raw chaotic energy that emanated from the amulet. “No!”

    Batman let go.

    The second the Agimat made contact with the churning, super-charged waters of the Styx, a violent electrical current danced over the surface of the whirlpool. The sparks of magic and uncontrolled power intensified exponentially as the pendant was sucked into the current, sending a powerful surge of blue energy up the thin tether keeping the two realms connected. Cerberus howled in discontent as the entire cavern began to rumble ominously – the precursor to a terrible earthquake.

    Hades gaped forlornly at the sickly swirling clouds warped and began imploding on itself. “The portal! What have you done?”

    Batman's glare never wavered from him. “Magics don't mix.”

    His eyes blazed red with fury and locked onto the piddling little worm who sought to betray him. Enraged, he shot forward in the blink of an eye, latching a hand to its miserable throat and lifting it far overhead. “You wish to entrap me, mortal?! Then YOU will be my prize!”

    Bruce, feeling what little strength he had left failing him as his larynx was steadily being crushed by the unbreakable grip of an irate deity, almost smiled. No regrets.

    There was a flash of light, a whiff of ozone, and he found himself five yards away, on the ground and hacking up what remained of his lungs while struggling to breathe. Blearily, he gaped through watery eyes to see Hades sailing in the opposite direction, an almost comical trail of smoke being left in his wake. It took him a shameful two seconds to focus his eyes on the objects that hovered bravely nearby. It took him three more to muster up the power to speak. “Stranger...? What...”

    Stranger turned to his companion. Oh god, Diana? Was she... “The agreement has been rendered forfeit, your life and powers have been returned. Take him.”

    Diana circled around the demigod and knelt at his side, slipping her arms underneath him. He could've cried; she was warm. She looked at their savior, radiant and alive. “What about you? I thought you were forbidden – “

    Stranger glanced over his shoulder as he strode forward purposefully. “Don't worry about me. Go – quickly! Before the portal closes!”

    Wonder Woman watched on as Phantom Stranger's attire shredded into nothing, revealing a creature of pure light. He – it – intercepted Hades with a thundering crash, pushing the God back into the ground and holding him there. Her heart swelled in admiration; whoever or whatever he was deserved to be exalted among his brethren in the Elysian Fields when his time ended. Such bravery deserved nothing less. She gathered Batman into her arms and soared through the rapidly collapsing portal.

    “Wretched, meddling insect!” Hades bellowed at the being, struggling to connect a blow with it. “You dare to strike a God?!”

    Stranger's voice reverberated throughout the halls of the dead with a startling conviction and strength. “You are no God, betrayer. You will receive no absolution.

    Spectre observed the scene with vague interest. It seemed that Phantom Stranger had finally found his breaking point – and it only took six millennia, at that. “Nor will you, Stranger... Your judgment is soon to come. But you already knew that, didn't you...?” He tilted his head in a tiny gesture of respect. “In that case, I grant you...” He peered skyward, through the violent torrent of energies. He had one last stop to make. “Mercy.

    ---

    Over a hundred miles away, holding a defunct tanker filled with thousands of people overhead, Superman was the first to hear the explosion. His head shot up as he spied the barest crack of dawn over the rim of the world over his shoulder, trying to discern if the explosion was the portal closing, or the Earth's immanent collapse. Either way, he needed to be there.

    He landed upon the shores of Key West, Florida, placing the rusted rig upon the balmy shores with as much grace as possible, before breaking the sound barrier to return to the scene. “Superman to all channels – I just heard a massive underground explosion.”

    “I'm en route to do damage control.”

    A hundred-and-fifty miles away, Shayera's heart leapt into her throat at the voice, her eyes stinging and throat tightening. He was still alive. Even so, her mind detached and assessed the situation; when she replied, her voice was strong and clear. “Understood. John, try and contain as much of the blast as you can with your ring – Superman, you worry about northern coastline. J'onn, Stargirl, Vibe, and Ice, get the southern coast. The rest of you...” She paused briefly as she felt the first tremors beneath her striped yellow boots, signaling the backlash Batman mentioned. “Buckle up, 'cause we're gonna be in for a really bumpy ride.”

    ---

    Ra's felt the earth roll beneath his feet again, and immediately braced himself against a nearby wall. He had held up his end of the bargain and initiated the shutdown sequence of the generator when it appeared that the Detective had been successful. He still wasn't entirely sure if that was the case, but the power surge that traveled through the energy conduit certainly seemed like an important happenstance, and considering how quickly the condition of the command center was deteriorating, he could hardly afford to wait for a more verifiable signal. While it was heroic of the Detective to be so willing to give his life on a slim hope, he hadn't survived six-hundred years by throwing himself upon every sword that promised redemption. He certainly wasn't about to start now.

    The earth rolled again, this time above him; the light fixtures of the secret emergency exit rattled like diamonds in an expensive chandelier. He quickly climbed the ladder at the end of the narrow passage, the hollow clinking of metal playing accompaniment to his shallow breathing. He vividly recalled the good doctor's omens about shutting off the generator at the apex of its energy storage, and the consequence of such foolishness. With luck, the closing of the portal would act as a means of absorbing much of the blast, allowing for the area to survive largely unscathed – and, more importantly, allowing for him to rebuild a network and find a successor capable of carrying on his work. There was still time. There was always time.

    He slid the top hatch back and slipped into the final hallway that stood between himself and freedom, the stench of burning metal hanging in the humid night air.

    Ra's Al Ghul...

    Ra's stopped mid-motion, one foot still resting on the top rung of the ladder. His blue eyes darted around the darkened corridor, expecting (fearing?) to spot the Detective's sinister white eyes peering back at him. He found nothing. He exhaled quietly, standing fully and distractedly brushing his sleeves off. Even Batman could not have escaped –

    Ra's Al Ghul...

    He wheeled around, teeth bared at the terrible, disembodied voice. “Who's there?” he challenged. “Show yourself immediately!”

    As you wish...

    A being dislodged itself from the ever-present shadows that spilled like the bloodstains of millions across the wall, the darkness lingering on his frayed green cape as though it couldn't bear to be parted with him. Ra's' mouth went dry as the thing began to slowly glide towards him, the hallway twisting into the maws of oblivion. Its pale yellow eyes were cold as it grated out in that soul-scarring baritone, “You have escaped me for generations... Plotted and schemed to avoid the fate that you have justly brought upon yourself... No more.” The monster's eyes brightened, glowing fiercely, as it raised a hand – the brandishing of a scythe. “Your time of judgment has come!

    He backed into the wall, heart seized in terror at this creature, this spectre of death. He did not come this far to fail now, he did not sacrifice everything to be felled for nothing...!

    The vision dissolved. The corridor was as it had been before.

    Ra's blinked. Blinked again. He then sagged against the wall, breathing a deep sigh of relief. It appeared that opening a portal to the realm of the damned had let out more that he had been anticipating. It was a mistake he would not repeat. Wiping his brow, he continued through the passage with all due haste, shoving open the exit doors.

    The night air was heavy against his skin, as were the shadows that clung to the many trees that surrounded the hidden egress. On impulse, he quickly closed the doors behind him, feeling his heartbeat slow at the reassuring sound of thick metal clanking together. He turned back around, jumping at the figure that hadn't been there seconds before. The instinct to run was quelled once he recognized who it was that stood before him. “Ah,” he smiled, holding out his hands, “my beloved daughter.”

    Her eyes, blue as his, were devoid of any emotion but vengeance.

    Two hulking monstrosities swooped down from above and landed heavily to his left and right. Talia's lips did not move as they said for their Master, “Goodbye – “

    “ – Father.”

    Ra's pained screams echoed for miles.

    The Spectre, lurking in the shadows, smiled darkly and faded away.

    ---

    Superman saw the tsunami ripple away from the landmass of Cuba...without making use of his own enhanced eyesight. The destruction it would cause would be immense if it wasn't stopped. He set his jaw. “J'onn, is your team ready?”

    “We're assembled.”

    “Good, because it's coming your way now,” he answered, intercepting the endlessly long wall of seawater that frothed angrily in the distance. Shortly before he made contact with the massive wave, he veered to a parallel and blew a gust of air from between his lips. The wall of seawater hardened into monolithic shards of ice that curled over the rest of the Carribbean like a sweetly sparkling guillotine.

    Along the southern coast, the four Leaguers remained spread out over a length of two miles. As their own tsunami hurtled ever closer, they enacted their own method of curbing its deadly force: J'onn cleverly shapeshifted into a form that would cut through the wave and break its momentum. Stargirl used her staff to redirect one portion of the wave to crash into another. Vibe, carried on the back of the Shining Knight's prized pegasus Victory, focused his mind on the sea floor and forced it roll upward for a brief moment, creating a smaller counter-tsunami to halt the behemoth's tracks. Ice, lacking Superman's flight and speed, resorted to erecting walls of frost to slow the tsunami's pace.

    On the mainland, Green Lantern hovered over the imploding Juragua nuclear facility, firing a luminescent barrier from his ring to surround the entire installation. His mind's eye, so deeply immersed with keeping his concentration, could see the way the earth sank into itself – the way the remaining wildlife frantically scrabbled against the impenetrable wall he erected. He ignored it, ignored everything but the rattling of his every nerve while the force of the explosion steadily rose upward against his will, the weight of the ocean against a styrofoam cup. As his world went white, John believed he finally understood how J'onn felt as his mind and body both buckled under the strain of containing the equivalent of a thermonuclear explosion.

    In the choking haze, Diana curled her body around Batman as a final, spiteful blast of searing heat engulfed them both. She had already given her life once for the man; she wasn't afraid to do so again.

    The refugees and citizens corralled into the port city silently watched the sky light up too brightly for the dawn it should have been. One small child, too young to understand how close she had come to death, pointed and murmured excitedly, “Fireworks, mama!”

    Shush, Maria,” the mother, Carmen Famosa, hissed, taking a careful peek at one stoically quiet Shayera Hol. Though she may have been far removed from the hustle and bustle of world politics, she knew of the story between the winged woman and the man responsible for turning much of those 'fireworks' green...and felt her pain. She prayed for Rodrigo's safety, or, at least, his safe entrance into God's kingdom.

    The populace of the world felt another faint tremor run under their collective feet as Ra's Al Ghul's portal to the Underworld resealed itself in a brilliant flash of light, the remaining demons screaming in terror at the sight and fleeing into the skyline. Catwoman, bleeding and clutching at her injured arm, smiled brightly at their sudden retreat. For once, she had no snappy comment to make, simply basking in the warm glow of a hard-won victory. No wonder these heroes did this stuff so much.

    Nightwing halted, the titanium-plated cowl retracting with the slightest tick of his jaw muscles. “Looks like they did it again,” he praised, eyes flickering over to the lanky speedster with an appreciative smirk. “Maybe there's something to this League thing you guys have going, after all. Are you accepting applications?”

    The Flash turned back to him, grinning like he'd won the sweepstakes. But then, they really had, hadn't they? “See? I knew you'd come around eventually!” He returned his attention to the sky as the first rays of sunlight streaked across the sky. “Who knows, after this, maybe Bats'll join back up, too.”

    ---

    Hundreds of miles above the Earth, Nyssa Al Ghul suddenly gasped, and then burst into tears.


    To be concluded...
    Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 01:53 AM.
    Recent fun stuff:
    - From the Ashes [JLU, C]
    - The Dark Knight Triumphant

    "Mmm, bacon."
    "Stop it."

  5. #95
    aiwac is offline Member
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    Wow. Just...wow. Please excuse my French, but that was f&*king AWESOME. Between Dick wearing the Beyond suit, Diana dying and being reborn and the scene with Ras (which kinda reminded me of the end of the Lion King for some reason) you blew me away.

    I love that catchphrase - "It's not a suicide mission until you die". I guess that's Batman's version of:

    "The difficult we can do immediately, the impossible will take a little longer"

    Well done.
    Through a Dark Mirror

    "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist" - The Usual Suspects

  6. #96
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    Tim was dead.

    That was the sole thought running through Batman's head as he stood hunkering over the ledge of a rooftop.
    'Tim is dead and it's your fault. You brought this on him, you let him into your world, you left him to face an entire city's criminal element by himself while you were on Monitor Duty – ' His lips, already curled into a snarl, slid back over his teeth in unbridled self-hatred. He had tried, for the past three weeks, to keep his own ineptitude under wraps; he had tried to keep it quiet. If anyone learned that the Bat had been hit where it hurt the most, Gotham would erupt into a frenzy, and the League...well, it was the damned League that caused this mess in the first place.

    Still, he couldn't ignore that three weeks had passed and the Wayne family's sudden disappearance from high society was turning heads. More quietly, expressed only in the soft creaking of leather as he clenched his fists, he had become desperate for a solid lead. So, he'd called on the only person he could remotely trust to keep the situation to himself. J'onn J'onzz.

    J'onn, to his innumerable credit, had almost given himself an aneurysm in his six hour effort to locate the boy's mind somewhere, anywhere, on Earth. He had even gone so far as to open his mind to the entirety of humanity in a risky bid that he could learn some scrap of information before he fried his own brain from the information overload. He collapsed after forty-seven seconds and didn't regain consciousness for nearly five minutes. Even then, the only thing J'onn could manage to do was roll his head along his shoulders and heave, “N-nothing...”

    A faint glimmer of hope he hadn't realized existed was tersely snuffed out.

    His mind, still logical, cited that there could be another explanation. Mind-dampening technology, perhaps. Tim could have been off world, or in an alternate reality, or in another time period, or any one of the other thousand insane circumstances he'd found himself in over the years. There was no concrete evidence to support his worst fear, only lack of evidence to disprove it.

    Batman stared blankly at the imposing skyline, trying not to give credence to how small and alone he felt. Three weeks later, and he was still no closer to an answer, or even a
    direction to start looking for one. His eyes focused on a historic cathedral that was nothing if not out of place amid the abandoned factories and dilapidated buildings of the lower east-side. The church steeple towered above like a phoenix rising from the ashes of its fallen predecessor; stalwart, indomitable, a beacon of light for the world-weary – and, right now, there were few people more weary of the world than Batman.

    Maybe Ernie Pyle was right; maybe there
    were no atheists in foxholes, after all.

    26.
    Rebirth


    The antique doors opened with a pronounced creak of hinges far too loud for his tastes, but then, any noise was too loud for his tastes. His eyes, narrowed and distrustful, darted across the expanse of the empty congregation hall, expecting something to emerge from the dingy stained glass windows or pop up between the pews. It wasn't in his nature to simply walk in – Batman was not seen unless he wanted to be seen, and waltzing through the front door was about as subtle an entrance as painting a bullseye on his head at a firing range. It came as a slight surprise when he concluded that he didn't care; not this time. He had bigger things to worry about than stealth, and Lord help the poor fool that decided to pick a fight with him tonight.

    The corner of his lip twitched in distaste. Not even ten seconds, and this place was already getting to him.

    He walked through the nave, his footfalls silent against the carpet while the faint buzzing of the overhead fluorescent lights echoed in his ears. The hall smelled mustier than he last recalled it, and as he passed the pews, he spotted the thin layer of dust coating some of them. Much like every other sector, it seemed the church had been cutting back on manpower when they could least afford the loss in personnel. He made a passing note to anonymously donate a few million to this particular parish at the next opportunity. That should tide them over for a year or two; enough to keep the church out of the red, if it wasn't already in it.

    Batman ascended the steps leading to the sanctuary, coming to a halt at the altar. An ornately carved wooden cross rose from the center of the stone block, meticulously well-kept in spite of the appearance of the back pews. Half a dozen freshly-lit candles framed the cross, their flames bathing the lacquered pine in a warm orange hue. He wasn't sure what he was doing here, or what he was expecting to achieve, but he couldn't deny how calming the flickering of the – wait, freshly-lit candles?

    He glanced to his left. Father Michael Stromwell stood in the doorway to the sacristy, his round and aging face mildly surprised. “Odd to see you here at this time of night,” he stated by way of greeting. “Is something on your mind?”

    Good old Father Michael, always cutting right to the chase. He often wondered how he and his conning, thieving, drug-pushing scum-bucket of a brother could possibly be related. He returned his gaze to the altar. “I have a lot of things on my mind, Father.”

    Father Michael crossed the small enclave slowly, his limp more pronounced now that he was alone than if he were in front of parishioners. “So I see. Do you care to talk about it?”

    He opened his mouth immediately, and then closed it. “No, Father, I don't.”

    Father Michael nodded sagely, his cane thumping softly against the carpet as he descended the few stairs to the nave. “That's fine. I hope you don't mind company, though.” Batman looked over his shoulder to see the elderly priest sitting down upon the first pew, cane resting idly between his knees. In response to the scrutiny, he smiled wanly, folding both hands on top of the cane. “A shepherd doesn't abandon one of his flock.”

    “I'm not part of your flock.”

    “As much as you may try to convince the world otherwise, you're still human,” Father Michael responded without missing a beat. “In my book, that makes you part of it.”

    His face hardened. He wasn't sure why. “And if I wanted nothing to do with you or your flock?”

    “Then you wouldn't be here.” He nodded to the high arched ceiling. “No one comes to a church to enjoy the nightlife. No lost soul wants to be lost. God gave us all free will, but that doesn't mean He can't nudge us in the right direction every now and then. That's why you're here.” He motioned his dented wooden cane towards himself. “And that's why I'm here.”

    Batman returned his attention back to the faintly-glowing candles that danced in the stale church air. His tongue felt like lead. “My son is missing.”

    The silence that greeted his confession was deafening.

    He felt compelled to fill that void with something; he was talking before he realized he opened his mouth. “It's been three weeks. He couldn't have just vanished without a trace. There has to be something that I'm overlooking.”

    “Do you believe he's still alive?”

    “I...I don't know,” he admitted heavily. “I know what I want to believe, but...I can't ignore the signs just because I don't like what they have to say.”

    “And what are those signs saying?”

    He leaned forward, resting his hands on the edges of the stone altar, a bit amazed that he wasn't struck dead instantly for the sacrilege. As it was, his chest hurt. “Nothing. They say nothing.”

    He heard the rustling of cloth behind him. “I doubt there's anything I can tell you that you haven't already thought of yourself or dismissed, but for whatever it's worth, I'll say this: sometimes, salvation can come from the least likely source. Have faith.”

    He looked askance at the priest. “In God?”

    “In yourself. And your son.” A hand landed solidly on his left shoulder. “We're all God's children, Batman; you and your son included. And if He loves his children half as much as you love yours, then He will not forsake you in your time of need. Of that, I have no doubt.” Father Michael squeezed. “Have faith.” His hand slipped back down to his side as he took an uneven step backward. “If you or your son ever need a place of refuge, our doors are always open. I make a mean baloney sandwich.”

    If anyone else had dangled that olive branch in front of him, especially now, he would have instantly raised his defenses and shut them out entirely. From Father Michael, though, he knew that there was no presumption or judgment attached, and that his offer was simply an offer; nothing more, nothing less. He returned the gesture of kindness with the faintest grin of appreciation, little more than a softening of his unusually rigid features. “Thank you, Father Michael. I'll keep that in mind.”

    The priest smiled once more, reaching over to pat him reassuringly on the shoulder.

    A jolt of electricity shot through his arm and chest.

    Then darkness.

    ---

    Beep. Beep. Beep.

    Diana listened to the steady chirping of the heart monitor as she entered the recovery room. In defiance of the odds, the rules, and the very Gods themselves, Batman had managed to save humanity from certain ruination, though at great personal cost. On the strictest terms, he had died twice – once before he had even reached the Watchtower, and a second time, briefly, on the operating table. Young Nyssa had insisted on planting herself directly outside of the emergency room, her ordinarily cold eyes red and swollen from bouts of hysterical sobbing. While her Amazonian pride chafed at the public display of weakness, she certainly couldn't fault it; she understood the girl's terror all too well.

    She had wanted to stay, but her duties to Man's World outweighed her personal desires; Batman had ensured Earth's immediate survival, now it was up to everyone else to pick up the pieces. Her time since then had consisted mostly of digging survivors out of the rubble the world-wide quake had created, and quelling some of the chaos that had sprung up in its wake. Visiting Bruce was the closest to a respite that she was likely to get in the near future, and she was glad to have it. Her gaze turned to the room's third occupant, currently the only one conscious aside from herself. “Any news, Alfred?”

    The butler look his head wearily. “No change so far, I'm afraid to say. However, given the injuries Master Bruce has sustained...” More quietly, “And given his abhorrence for involuntary vacations, it may well be a blessing in disguise.”

    “It's been over a week.” Her attention returned to Bruce. “Has he ever stayed unconscious for this long after a battle?”

    Alfred's eyebrow curved up. “I should say, madam – after battling with a deity, ending up merely comatose should be considered an incredible stroke of luck.”

    Luck. She resisted the urge to run her fingers over her upper abdomen, where a particularly nasty scar was now hidden by her armor. The price paid for her faith in humanity.

    The infirmary doors opened in a soft rush of air. Only a week, and Dick's condition had seemingly returned to normal, with no trace of the disease to be found in his system. Diana hoped the rest of the afflicted that were currently being inoculated with Flash's serum healed so quickly. “How are you feeling?”

    Nightwing grimaced faintly. “About the same as I felt the last fifty times I've been asked that.”

    “It's quite good to see you up and about, Master Dick,” Alfred assuaged, a rare moment of affection brightening his normally decorous expression. “No doubt Master Bruce will be thrilled to see you've made a full recovery.”

    Dick raised an eyebrow in a distinctly Alfred-esque manner. “Oh, really? Define 'thrilled'.”

    “He may actually smile.”

    “Wow. Now, that would be something.”

    Diana's brows pinched in confusion, unsure if their amazement was facetious or not. She had seen instances when Batman had smiled; granted, they were rare, but it certainly wasn't outside the realm of possibility. She glanced between the two of them. “Has he never smiled around you before?”

    Dick shrugged one shoulder. “He used to.” He paused. “I miss it.”

    She saw the vague sadness that shaded his eyes, and decided to change the subject. “How goes the clean up in Gotham?”

    “Oh, fantastic,” Dick answered with a sharp, sardonic cheer. “With the right contracts and funding, we should have Gotham completely rebuilt in...oh, about thirty years, or so. It's just the kind of project Bruce can really sink his teeth into.”

    “And a lot of others,” said a new voice, scratchy from disuse.

    Alfred's head rose in surprise. “Master Bruce! Oh, thank Heaven.”

    Diana's expression mirrored the butler's, questioning, “How long have you been awake?”

    “Since I came through the door, at least,” Dick responded, meeting his former-mentor's perpetually withering stare. “I was wondering when you'd give it up and say something.”

    She knew that Bruce was too disciplined to double-take the way that he wanted to. She certainly wanted to. “How did you know?”

    “It's pretty hard to play dead when you have a heart monitor strapped to your chest.” Dick grinned. “So, how's it feel to be back in the world of the living?”

    Bruce winced when he shifted up along the pillows. “Painful.”

    Nightwing snorted. “Oh yeah, he'll be fine.”

    True to the prediction, Bruce cracked a smile. It was small, less than the average smirk that stretched across Wally's face on a bad day, but for Batman, it was monumental. “You're looking better. The Flash pulled through?”

    Nightwing nodded. “It's being mass-produced and distributed to all the major affected areas as we speak. I've gotta admit, the guy's a lot smarter than I initially gave him credit for.”

    She didn't miss the way Bruce's gaze turned momentarily distant. “He has a way of surprising people.”

    “He isn't the only one.”

    The rest of the room whirled again, eyes falling upon one of the more surreal things to occur since the crisis began: Phantom Stranger sitting in a chair. His cape fell lazily over his strangely hunched frame as he spoke, “Your survival in the face of insurmountable odds is a testament to both your strength and courage.”

    “Our survival is thanks to you,” Diana said. “If you hadn't intervened, Hades would have escaped through the portal.”

    Bruce's eyes narrowed slightly. “I thought you weren't allowed to intervene.”

    “Not without dire consequence.”

    Bruce's eyes narrowed further. “How dire?”

    Wordlessly, Stranger brushed his cape aside and lifted a single hand; his palm was oozing blood. Diana gasped.

    Nightwing, not having been touched by Phantom Stranger's power, shrugged a shoulder in confusion. “A paper cut? That's it?”

    “He bleeds now,” Bruce responded, voice hushed.

    Stranger spoke as Alfred dutifully grabbed a roll of gauze and made his way over. “The last time I was offered an opportunity to directly affect the outcome of a conflict, I abstained, resulting in a bloody civil war. As penance, I was disallowed from ever interfering with events again, only able to watch and guide others from afar.”

    “Why break that rule now?” Nightwing asked.

    Stranger's expression, still partially hidden by his fedora, turned remorseful at the unspoken scrutiny. “My inaction sowed the chaos that humanity has been forced to reap for generations. The suffering of trillions could have been prevented, had I the willingness to sacrifice everything for something greater than myself. Your willingness.” His voice, normally so soothing, hardened in resolve as he stated, “I failed those under my protection once. Never again.”

    Bruce relaxed against the pillows, satisfied.

    Alfred finished off the wrap with a quick tug, inquiring, “What will you do with your new-found mortality?”

    Stranger considered the question with a tilt of the head. “Experience it.”

    “Avoid experiencing the dying part,” Nightwing quipped. “It's not as fun as it sounds.”

    “Death is a part of life, and there are fates far worse than it.”

    “Guess you haven't experienced irony, either.”

    Phantom Stranger looked at his bandaged hand briefly, bowing his head in thanks to Alfred as he walked to the infirmary doors. “Though it was handed down as punishment, I consider this a gift. Immortality is not what Ra's Al Ghul believed it to be.”

    Nightwing smirked. “Y'know, I'd say, 'Don't be a stranger,' but that would be self-defeating.”

    “If you ever need refuge, you're always welcome at the Watchtower,” Diana offered. “Hopefully, we'll meet again under better circumstances.”

    “Perhaps. The road will be long, for all of us. Let us hope that it's one worth traveling.” Stranger's lips quirked into a tiny, wistful grin that seemed both completely out of place and pitch perfect. “Who knows what the future holds?”

    Diana looked back at Bruce as Phantom Stranger exited. Bruce stared at the closed doors, expression determined. He murmured, more to himself, it seemed, than anyone else, “I know what it won't hold.”

    In spite of herself, Diana's heart sank at those words.

    Bruce's eyes found hers. His expression was uncharacteristically hesitant.

    Alfred noted the look and discreetly strode to the doors, patting Nightwing on the shoulder as he passed. The younger vigilante nodded and followed suit.

    The two gazed at each other for a long moment. Bruce murmured, “You died.”

    “So did you,” she riposted. “Twice.”

    “You're not supposed to die.”

    “You're not supposed to come back from the dead. Twice.”

    His eyes narrowed. “You're being difficult.”

    I'm being difficult?” she repeated incredulously.

    “I can't afford to lose you, Princess.” His voice was vulnerable. “I don't want to lose you.”

    “Phantom Stranger was right; death is a part of life,” she said, crossing over to stand next to him. “But that doesn't mean that death is the end of it.” He seemed dissatisfied with that response, so she gently ran a hand through his hair, leaning down to look into his eyes. “You will never lose me, Bruce. Not in this life, not in the next. I swear it.”

    He closed the distance and kissed her. She was never so happy to not get an answer.

    ---

    Tim sat uneasily in the hard-backed chair, fingers toying with the edges of his domino mask. It had been a very long, hectic week. Since he was a mere mortal, most of his efforts were spent on the Watchtower, coordinating rescue missions and relaying data to the crews on the ground. It wasn't nearly as heroic as rushing into the belly of an evil mastermind's underground lair, but frankly, he felt more accomplished doing this than drop-kicking demons. He was reaching more people, this way; his work was producing real results. In spite of the carnage Ra's Al Ghul left behind, it felt good to rebuild something. It gave him a little bit of hope for himself.

    He twisted the mask between his forefinger and thumb. Of course, there was the matter with Bruce. Tim had heard of his condition shortly after arriving on the satellite, and he'd tried – really tried – to see him in the Medbay. But with all the injuries and the chaos that came with a triage, he was outright ordered to leave the floor unless he began vomiting internal organs. The closest he got to visiting since then was the reinforced sliding doors, before panic and shame got the better of him and he scurried off back to his station to pretend it never happened.

    But that hadn't worked yet, had it? Pretending it never happened. No, he wasn't like Batman; he couldn't shut off the part of his brain that dealt with pain. He couldn't erase the last four years of his life – if he could, he would, in a heartbeat – and go on with life, the way it had always been. He needed to make the suffering worth it. He had to justify his survival, somehow. Dying in an alleyway was not the way to do that. Not anymore.

    Maybe Bruce was right for firing him. Maybe Bruce knew he wasn't cut out for –

    The door to his quarters slid back. Tim turned his head to look at his guest, then rose to his feet automatically when his brain comprehended who was in front of him.

    Batman, expression and posture tight with agony, let the doors close behind him. Tim gaped at the statuesque figure silently, heart thudding in his chest. He didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but he expected a harsh reprisal for his stunt, at least. Maybe a re-firing, just to get the point across.

    He did not expect to suddenly find his face buried in a Kevlar-layered collarbone, an impossibly strong arm hooked around his neck like his head was in danger of tumbling off of his shoulders. “It wasn't your fault,” Bruce said quietly, his voice as pained as it was earnest. “It was never your fault.”

    He couldn't breathe. “But I...”

    “You saved your life. And mine.” The grip around his shoulders tightened, the sharp corner of a jawline pressed against the side of his head. “Never tell yourself anything different.”

    Tim's eyes burned with tears as he wove his arms around his adoptive father's torso. He wasn't sure if he would be able to keep to that promise, but for Batman's sake – for Bruce's sake – he would try.

    ---

    In another part of the Watchtower, dark save for the dim glow of a monitor, Alfred watched the display of affection, and the very tentative beginnings of a renewed bond. It took Earth being pushed to the very brink of destruction for Bruce to see how much he had left to lose, but it seemed the boy finally caught on. He settled back in the rocking chair, a feeling of peace settling over him.

    “Beautiful, isn't he?”

    Curious, Alfred peered to the new voice...and felt his jaw go slack.

    Thomas Wayne smiled down at him, not looking a day over thirty. “So,” he began jovially, “a ghost, an angel, and a demon walk into a bar. Stop me if you've heard this one before.”

    Alfred's jaw continued to remain slack.

    Thomas looked at the screen, brown eyes dancing with mirth. “All things considered, he's turned out remarkably well. I'm not one-hundred percent certain about the dressing up as a bat thing, but Martha doesn't seem too concerned about it.” He shoved his hands into his pockets, regarding him warmly. “He loves you, you know. More than anything in the world.”

    Alfred's mouth worked soundlessly, thoughts and feelings he hadn't realized were there bubbling to the surface with a fury. It wouldn't do to cry; it wasn't proper. “I should hope not, Master Wayne.”

    “How many times have I told you to call me 'Thomas'?” Alfred couldn't help but smile slightly as he continued, “You know, I've never had a chance to thank you for all you've done. So, let's get to it, then.” He motioned to the door behind them with a jerk of his head. “C'mon, old friend, let's go. You know how bad of an idea it is to keep Martha waiting.”

    On impulse, Alfred stood and began walking next to his closest friend. “Where, might I ask, are we going?”

    “Why, the bar, of course.” Thomas' grin widened a fraction. “Who did you think the angel was?”

    ---

    SIX MONTHS LATER


    Marie King-Dennis sat curled up on the corner of her fuzzy blue couch, half-heartedly attempting to pay attention to the news. “In a bizarre twist of fortune, part-time Gotham resident and reformed feline fatale Selina Kyle was honored today by local government officials for her actions during the Near Apocalypse. City authorities state that in the early morning hours...”

    Her brain tuned out the noise, eyes falling to the parcel lit a pale blue by the television's LED display. Her monthly donation rested upon her wood-paneled coffee table, sealed but undelivered. Ever since Batman had found her, the quiet little life she built for herself had all but unraveled. She had gone from soft-spoken wife and mother to paranoid wreck. People were beginning to notice. Martin already did, but he assumed it was due to the trauma from the break-in. Thankfully, Batman was always excellent at blending in with the shadows, so she never had to explain in more detail just who had been in the room with her. 'Some psycho in black,' was the best description she would ever give, and for once, it would be the truth – or something like it.

    “...Police Commissioner Joseph Loeb announced his resignation this morning, amid allegations leveled by former-Commissioner James Gordon, in which he states that Loeb lied to public officials and the press about dozens of city-wide threats that endangered the lives of millions of Gothamites. This is the latest accusation made after reports surfaced about Gotham City Police officials withholding vital information regarding Leopard...”

    She leaned forward and plucked the letter up in her fingers, running a thumb over the coarse paper. Last week, he suggested that she talk to a therapist about it, if she wasn't comfortable opening up to him; it was Martin-speak for, 'I'm losing patience.' He was getting tired of her always looking over her shoulder, (waiting for those beady white eyes to be glaring at her from a shadow), or constantly waking up in the middle of the night screaming (that Batman was coming to finish what he'd started). He wanted Marie back. She couldn't blame him. She wanted Marie back, too.

    “In other news, the church bells are ringing! Gotham's own Bruce Wayne, finance mogul and boy billionaire, finally tied the knot Tuesday evening to Diana Prince in a small, private ceremony held on the grounds of his mansion, Wayne Manor. Prince, a Grecian diplomat, reportedly met Mr. Wayne while volunteering at...”

    She shot up from her comfortable spot, suddenly stifled by her home's quaint four walls, suddenly terrified that it was all going to evaporate before her. What was she going to do without this? Without them? Marie raced off to her son's room, tucked in the corner of the small, two-bedroom home.

    She opened the door. Her heart froze in her chest.

    Batman angled his head upward, slightly, serving only to get her in his sights. “Hello, Harley.”

    She said nothing, did nothing.

    “He's grown.”

    She struggled to understand his aim about as fiercely as she struggled to breathe. The fury she witnessed last time was absent, and that put her more on edge than seeing it. Why was she not a puddle of broken bones and agony yet? That made sense – treating her with this...cordiality didn't. Batman was never cordial. (Except for all the times he saved her life after she tried to kill him.) “What do you want?”

    “Answers.”

    “You're not the only one,” she replied tiredly, the months of lingering terror and years of guilt finally catching up to her. She gave a mental goodbye to Martin, and hoped he would understand, one day. “Listen, if you're here to kill me, just do it and get it over with.”

    His gaze sharpened, white lenses stark and unreadable.

    She felt pressured to continue. She would not let this fall apart. “We both know I deserve it.”

    “A lot of people deserve a lot of things.” He gazed down at blissfully unaware toddler slumbering in the bed. Timothy. “He deserves his mother. You want to take that from him?”

    The surreality of this conversation made her head throb. His unwillingness to finish what he had started – what she had started – was driving her insane. Again. “Why are you doing this?”

    Batman remained silent in deliberation. That he was deliberating her question and not murdering her for asking it terrified her on levels she didn't know existed. Eventually, he answered, “Salvation.”

    She squinted at him in confusion. “What?”

    “I'm checking up on a lead; maybe you can help me,” he stated. “Last I heard, Harley Quinn fell to her death in the ruins of Arkham. I was never able to retrieve a body, but I never had any reason to assume otherwise until suspicious letters started showing up on Tim Drake's doorstep.” He appraised her. “Do you know if she's still alive?”

    She gaped at the vigilante for a moment in open amazement, before staring down at her beautiful baby boy. She clenched the letter in her hand. She would not let this fall apart. “Nah. She's worm food.”

    “I certainly hope so,” he said, adding in a dangerous tone, “because if she ever shows up again, so help me God, I'll come down on you so hard, it'll leave a crater.”

    Strangely enough, his threat eased her fears. She could accept those terms. “I wouldn't expect anything else.”

    He turned smartly on his heel and headed toward the open window. In plain sight. Her mind refused to comprehend it. Without thought, she blurted out, “How is he doing?”

    Batman lurched to a halt. He glanced over his shoulder, replying, “Entering his senior year of college. Communications. Straight-A student. He seems...happy.”

    Her eyes stung. Good. She didn't ruin his life. He survived. Good. “I'm glad.”

    He said nothing, at first. He turned back to the windowsill, replying quietly, “So am I.” He nodded curtly. “Good night, Mrs. Dennis.”

    Batman left.

    The End


    ***

    A/N: Wow. Where do I begin? This story is something of a catharsis for me. At the risk of revealing more about myself than I really should (especially on the internet), I haven't had the most stable life or relationships with those around me. I've never been very good at trusting people; the distrust is somewhat justified, but only somewhat, and only to a certain number of people. I began writing this as a challenge to myself -- to see if I could actually finish something I set out to to. Something ambitious, something worth putting effort into. To paraphrase Robin William's character in the Bird Cage, I know it's just fanfic, but I'd like it to be good fanfic; if possible, great fanfic. Something that I could look back on and be proud of doing.


    I'd always identified with Batman's character and personality on a very deep and personal level due to many extenuating circumstances and factors. I wrote this, at first, because I wanted Batman to go through Hell, and come out on the other side. I wanted a character that I revered to be put through the ringer, just so he could pick himself up by the bootstraps and become a better person as a result of it. Sound sadistic? It probably is, but that's the stuff heroes are made of -- they take the hits normal people can't or won't and keep going. They get beaten down to the point of submission, but refuse to actually submit. What doesn't kill them, invariably, makes them stronger. I wanted to epitomize that. However, in Batman's case, it's something slightly different: he is, by virtue of his character, his own worst enemy. He is incapable of trusting himself to trust others, because he fears that any miscalculation could cost them their lives. His sense of hyper-responsibility is more dangerous to his life and the lives of those around him than any twisted plan of the Joker or eye-lasers from Darkseid.

    Like I said, I understood the character, because in many ways, I was, and still am, that character.

    In some ways, this story has become reality imitating art. My life, and my outlook on it, has changed so much since I began this story over two years ago that getting back into it (sometime around Massive Time Gap #1) was actually somewhat difficult. Many of the extenuating circumstances and personal difficulties that came to define who I was were no longer there -- because I stopped putting myself in a position where these extenuating circumstances were allowed to thrive. Much like Batman realized later in the story, I finally understood, after a very slow and painful process, that I had a choice in how I wanted my life to unfold, and that no one could make that choice but myself. I can't honestly say that I'm the same person I was when I began writing this story, and frankly, I think that's a good thing. I gained perspective that I lacked before, and hopefully, I was able to reflect some of that feeling of added zen, if you will, into this last chapter without completely destroying the momentum of everything.

    But enough of my rambling. I hope those of you who have been waiting months for this chapter will find it suitable. I appreciate your patience regarding the large gaps between the final chapters (working 12-15 hour days can do that, I hear), and all your words of support. I may not respond often to emails or reviews, but rest assured, I've read every single one, and am as grateful for all of you taking time out of your days to read it, as I am honored that you would enjoy something that I've made. Thank you all for sharing in this with me.
    Last edited by SilverKnight; 11-16-2012 at 03:12 AM.
    Recent fun stuff:
    - From the Ashes [JLU, C]
    - The Dark Knight Triumphant

    "Mmm, bacon."
    "Stop it."

  7. #97
    Theking's Avatar
    Theking is offline Very cute Lego Babe.
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    OH man what a great post. I just love your stories.

    I hate when they end.

    I am waiting for the next one. ;-)

    TheKing
    Software bloat is like being bitten to death by a duck. You never actually bleed, you just wear down and give up.

    If I kill you fast, is it an act of kindness? - Jinzouningen Juuhachi Gou

    Remember.... No one can ruin your day without YOUR permission!

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