Disclaimer: All characters from Young Justice are copyright © 2001-2002 DC Comics, and the characters are used without permission for fan-fiction. No copyright infringement is intended. I am not making any profit from their use. This copyrighted telecast is intended for the private use of our audience. Any rebroadcast or retransmission, without the express written consent of the Philadelphia Phillies and Major League Baseball, is prohibited.
Jeez, where did that come from?
Author Notes: Yes, you can feel free to put my name on a dartboard and peg it a few times for killing off Cissie. I’m evil. I live for it. Oh, and a major note: this would be mostly where that PG-13 rating kicks in, boys and girls. Sorry about that. If I blow continuity for some of the stuff I do here, I’ll live with it.
TWO – Requiem
“Halon.” Tim said tonelessly, and then ran his hands through his dark hair once before resting the fingers again at his temples. He had scarcely looked up from the tile floor, as if he were afraid to meet the listener’s eyes.
But the listener knew better. It wasn’t fear that caused Tim Drake to look at the floor, recite his answers in a dead voice. The listener had endured enough pain, seen enough anguish etched into the faces of countless people. He recognized it instantly. Nonetheless, he prodded, pretending that his mind had been elsewhere.
“Pardon?” He said. As a point of fact, he had heard the word clearly. But he wanted to see if Tim would just repeat the word in that same flat, lifeless tone of voice, or dig a bit deeper.
Whether he meant to or not, the young man bit the hook.
“Halon. The stuff they put in fire extinguishers. Flame-retardant. Heat resistant.” He never looked up, just continued on, as though reciting it from memory. “I should have thought of it earlier. I know that. But I didn’t... not until... until she was already— ”
He couldn’t go on for a long moment. One hand peeled away the spirit-gummed green mask and dropped it to the floor, then pinched at the bridge of his nose, snuffing out the tears as they were born.
“Go on.” The listener said, his voice uncharacteristically soft, tinged with understanding.
As if those words had caused a crack to form in the dam of his emotions, Tim’s eyes gained a little flare of their fire back. “What’s there to ‘go on’ about? We did what we could, considering he’d already taken out the entire damned sprinkler system! There! I admit it! I screwed up again! I should have noticed he’d cut off the power to the sprinklers, and if I did, I might have thought of using Halon sooner!”
He stood up from his chair now, blinking back tears that the listener knew were not just angry or sorrowful, but a painful mix of the two. “All right? I admit it! Are you happy now? Robin screwed up and one of his teammates paid the ultimate damned price for it! Are you happy?”
“I’m not interested in who’s at fault, Tim.” He picked up the mask from the floor. “I just wanted to know what happened.”
“She died! That’s what happened! I told her to use a liquid nitrogen arrow, and the guy caught and threw it back, and it hit her in the shoulder and she froze solid and died!” Tim pressed his fist up against the window and leaned on it, as though he wished he could punch the glass out and throw himself through it. The stars in the black sky beyond flared steadily, and as if the dim light calmed him somewhat, he slowly gathered himself again, momentarily. “We rounded up what hand-held extinguishers we could, hosed him down and— ”
His hand found his eyes again, came away wet; slender tracks of tears formed on the fingertips of the green gloves. “Jesus, God, can’t any of you do anything?”
The listener slowly shook his head. “I wish we could, Tim. But we’re people, not gods.”
“That’s not what the media says.” Tim said. Except for the choke, it was a flat tone.
“If the media has any better luck raising the dead, I’ll be more inclined to listen to them.”
Tim stared at the floor, caught again between anger and sorrow.
The listener tried a different tack. “You took down a dangerous criminal, Tim. One more powerful than I imagine any of you are used to tackling. You told us what happened as soon as you could and brought her here as quickly as humanly possible. Nobody is going to say that you didn’t do everything you could do.”
“Cold comfort.” Tim whispered.
“I know. This will likely be, too. She didn’t suffer.” He held out the mask to Tim. “The human body’s not meant to take that sudden extreme; even if she hadn’t crystallized, the shock—”
Tim held up a hand, as though warding him— and the mask— away. “Bruce, please. That really doesn’t matter. Not now. I just... I need some time away, just to think. I don’t need to be Robin. I just need to be Tim, someone who just lost a good friend.”
“In the line of duty.” He responded, quietly, and after a moment, made his way around Tim and pressed the mask into his hand.
Tim stared at him, stonily, and slowly adhered the mask to his face. Then he made his way toward the door, which hissed open at his approach. “The how doesn’t really matter to me. The fact we lost her is enough.”
“Robin.” Batman said, and the old dark voice was back. Grief had its time and place, but it wouldn’t do in lieu of answers. “What about the rest of Young Justice?”
Robin looked at him for a long moment, and then looked out into the hallway. “As of this moment, Bruce, there no longer is a Young Justice.”
And then he stepped out, and the door hissed shut behind him, leaving Batman to the solitude of his thoughts in the observatory of the Justice League Watchtower.
* * *
“I can’t believe this.” Cassandra Sandsmark said, in a voice just above a whisper. It was hard to tell if she just didn’t trust her voice or if a whisper was all she was capable of speaking— these were the first coherent words she had spoken in some time. The dark wig had been discarded some time ago, forgotten, and her short sandy-blonde hair was still in slight disarray. Somewhere along the line, she’d lost one of her kneepads, and there were still burn marks on the stylized gold W’s of shirt. Her eyes had dried now, mostly— smudged trails of dirt marred her cheeks, but no new tears had sprung to the surface yet.
That probably made sense, Kon-El supposed. It had been a few hours since they arrived on the Watchtower; it was possible she just didn’t have any tears left. After a while, he figured, it was like trying to wring water out of a damp washcloth. Sometimes there just isn’t any wetness left to squeeze out.
Or words left to voice, for that matter. That was what Kon himself was going through as they sat on the couch of the nondescript waiting room. He wasn’t sure what to say, if anything, and everything he did say came out wrong or sounded lame. It was like he was picking and choosing from a mass of overused condolences.
“I still can’t believe... Kon, it’s... it’s just not fair.” Cassie said, brokenly. He could tell she was trying to be strong, trying to focus on something other than the hurt. But when she did, she kept looking through the doorway into the next room, her eyes transfixing on the reflection of the overhead lights off the glass tube on the far wall. On what lay— or more correctly, stood— behind the glass. And that just kept the wounds raw.
“I know, Cassie. I know.” Kon said, and inwardly grimaced at how automatic those words sounded. Boy, you’re a fountain of trite comfort, aren’t you? He cursed himself silently.
“You don’t know! It’s not fair!” She repeated, and although her voice raised from the whisper, it was bitter and edged, as well. “Look at her! She was my best friend! And now she’s— she’s like that! I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what to do, Kon, my best friend is dead, frozen, whatever! Hera, they can’t even take her out of that case!”
Kon-El struggled to find words. He held her close, patted her back softly, knowing no matter what he said, it would be inadequate. “Cass... Cissie wouldn’t want you to beat yourself up like this.”
“She wouldn’t want to be frozen solid, either!”
“Wondy,” he started.
But she didn’t listen; her voice raised, almost hysterical. “What’re we gonna do, keep her in a meat locker so she doesn’t melt?”
And she stopped, her eyes widening. The silence that fell over the room was oppressive, broken only by the hiss and thrum of the refrigeration unit through the open doorway.
“Oh, oh Hera.” Cassie whispered. She seemed to crumple from the inside, heartsick at what she’d just said. And from somewhere, she managed to find enough tears for her blue eyes to glimmer as she slowly hugged him again, burrowing deep into his arms. “I’m sorry, Kon. I— I can’t think straight right now. It’s just all so insane. I never thought anything like this would ever happen.”
Kon nodded. “I know. Neither did I.”
“Has anyone told her mother yet?”
“I’ll handle that,” said a soft voice from the shadows of the hallway as Kon opened his mouth to respond. He and Cassie turned to the opposite doorway to see the familiar red, yellow and green uniform of Robin. “It’s the least I can do. I’m the team leader. It’s my responsibility.”
“Robin?” Superboy said, not because he didn’t see the Boy Wonder, but because there was something odd about the voice. Something missing. Confidence. Self-assuredness. He looked again, and saw the way Robin was leaning against the wall, tiredly, as though his shoulders were weighed down.
For the first time since they’d formed Young Justice, Kon-El saw beyond the green mask and the Dark Knight façade, and saw that Robin wasn’t all that different from him. He saw that there was a deep pain, a sense of failure and mortality that the mask couldn’t hide any longer. He saw a teen that felt very small and alone after the events of the past few hours. He saw all that, and felt an odd surge of camaraderie.
It was then that Robin stepped from the shadows and removed his mask, then slowly offered his gloved hand to Kon and Cassie for the first time, unmasked, not as a leader or a co-worker, but as a friend.
“Not Robin.” He said with a small, somewhat embarrassed smile. “Tim.”
* * *
In the next room, she didn’t move, didn’t blink, didn’t breathe. It was like it wasn’t really her, but an image of her. A still life. But life had nothing to do with it; at least, that’s what he’d been told.
The overhead lights were dimmed in the safe room, but the refrigerated stasis cylinder that held Arrowette was lighted from inside, casting an odd, almost ethereal glow over her. The inside light and the flicker of the tube’s electronic displays softly illuminated the darkness of the room, and inside the cylinder it sparkled on the facets of ice and the crystals of frost— lending to the appearance that her body was made of crystal. It was ironic, as that just made her look all that much more fragile, just like her life was.
Such thoughts were beyond Bart Allen right now. Many thoughts were, and it wasn’t just because his thoughts bypassed words and curled straight into images. Now, those images even seemed to escape him; he couldn’t talk, couldn’t think— he wasn’t sure he knew how anymore. He was numb, barely able to even move, a mirror of his teammate behind the glass. He hadn’t budged from the spot, kneeling in front of the tube with his mask pulled down around his neck, almost since they’d arrived on the Watchtower.
He’d lost track of everything else around him. For that matter, he hadn’t even realized he’d been crying, off and on, until each time the bluish form of Cissie went out of focus as his vision blurred, and he’d been forced to stab his fingers to his eyes and rub away the wetness.
It couldn’t be like this, he found himself whispering aloud. He’d never understood, never realized...
“Bart?” A soft, wispy voice asked, behind him. He recognized the voice— Suzie, he knew; the young heroine known as Secret— but couldn’t pull his eyes away to look at her.
She didn’t force him to, floating around him so that his peripheral vision picked up her face, drifting within the clouds of sand-colored smoke that made up her body. She waited there, momentarily, and then, in a much softer voice, asked again:
“Hey, Suzie.” Bart said, without really looking. He realized that his voice didn’t sound right. It sounded small and flat and nothing at all like the Bart Allen the heard talk every day.
She seemed hesitant to say anything beyond that, and out of the side of his eyes, he could see her look up at Cissie as well. Then she glanced back at him.
“Do... do you want to talk?” Secret asked.
His eyes had remained steadfastly locked on Cissie’s face, but Suzie’s words broke the spell, and he blinked his wide amber eyes and turned at her. For a long time, he just stared, trying to form words, and his mouth moved a couple times, noiselessly, before he admitted in that same small voice:
“I don’t know what to say.”
He saw for the first time that Suzie’s own eyes had welled up with tears, and he dimly realized that he never knew that she could cry, too. But she touched his shoulder, a touch so feather-light that he wasn’t sure at first he’d actually felt it, and her lips turned up slightly in a sad smile.
“I don’t always, either, Bart. There’s no reason to feel bad about it.” She said, and then she looked back at the stasis cylinder. She hugged herself, and Bart saw her shiver slightly, as though feeling some remembered pain. But she turned her head to him, sky-blue eyes still glistening, and she swallowed. “But at a time like this, Bart, we need to talk, to remind each other we’re not alone. Being alone is the worst feeling in the world.”
Bart’s eyes closed, and he thought of Cissie, smiling, warm. Alive. “I already feel alone.”
He opened his eyes, to find that Suzie had floated around him. Smoke rose from her, wafted around him. Her face was still etched with sadness, but her voice didn’t lose its composure, like his had. “But you’re not. We’re all here. We all feel it. That’s why it might help if you talk, to remember. Maybe if I start, it’ll help you know what to say. Would that be okay?”
He shrugged noncommittally, and his head drooped into a nod. He didn’t really feel like arguing. He didn’t feel like doing much, in fact. “Yeah.”
“Okay, you know my name— Suzie— right? I didn’t have a name, really, before I met all of you.”
“Yeah.” He paused, gazing at the stasis cylinder, and quietly added, “Cissie gave you that name.”
“She did.” She wafted around him again, floated to his side, and kneeled on the floor beside him. “I told her that I would be honored to accept a name that she had given to me so freely.”
“I remember,” he murmured.
“I’m still very honored by it. But it’s more than that to me, now... It’s almost... like a part of her that will continue. That doesn’t mean I’m not sad, Bart. It doesn’t mean I’m not feeling pain inside, because I do. I do, more than you might guess.” She touched a hand to her chest, and her eyes became soft. “But at least, as long as I have that name, I won’t ever be far from her... because I can’t even say it without remembering her.”
“But we shouldn’t be just remembering her! Not like this! Not if it means she’s not here!” Bart’s voice rose in pitch, and he looked up, disconsolately. The blinking of blue LED flickered off Cissie’s long, crystalline hair, off her face, her arms. And the sight took all the frustration and anger out of him, leaving only a deep, lasting hurt. “We should be talking with her, hanging out with her, having fun with her. She... she shouldn’t be like this. Not when...”
He trailed off.
Suzie watched him, quietly, and then prompted. “Not when...?”
“S’nothin’.” He said, a small murmur.
“Are you sure?” Secret asked skeptically.
He didn’t answer that.
She let the quiet linger there, untouched, and slowly she tried again. “It doesn’t look like it’s ‘nothing’ to you. I can understand if you don’t want to tell me, Bart. But I’d kind of like to know. I mean, I... I didn’t really get to know her, not like you did. We talked a little, but... I don’t know... other than my name, I never got a chance to find out much.”
He was silent for some time, and his gaze never broke from Cissie. “I never told her how I feel.”
She was shocked, or at least, she didn’t respond for a few moments. But then the soft voice came to him again, questioning.
“How you feel?”
Bart nodded a couple times, sending a tumble of untamed brown hair down past his eyes. It didn’t matter. He’d seen his vision blur again, and couldn’t force himself to knuckle away the tears. “I just didn’t... didn’t know... she was right all along.”
He felt a light touch on his face, like fog on a morning breeze, and his vision focused on Suzie, her fingers brushing away the wetness, looking at him with quiet sky-blue eyes, an expression of shared sadness on her barely-there face. Her voice was as soft, almost apologetic.
“Will you tell me?”
Bart found his voice again. “Tell you?”
“What you mean by that. She was right all along. About what?” She drew her hand back from him, inclined her head, ever so slightly, sending up a small wisp of smoke at the movement. “Will you tell me?”
Bart glanced back up at the glass of the cylinder, at Cissie. And then his gaze dropped back to Suzie, and he looked her for a long moment, saw the honest desire to know in those cloudy eyes. He swallowed, as if he hadn’t taken a drink in months.
And then, there, in the quiet of the safe room, kneeling before their departed teammate, Bart Allen told her how he’d come to realize he’d fallen in love.