Restoration ch. 9
As tensions and tempers run even higher, Dick’s worst fears are confirmed. And an unexpected, horrifying betrayal rocks what’s left of the Teen Titans…
(Restoration is now officially on a summer hiatus)
Damian’s room was dark. It was early enough in the morning that the sun hadn’t yet began to peek over the horizon, and the Batman was still out on patrol, but the night had been still and Damian had requested to return home early. His father hadn’t objected, and so he lay in his bed in the dark, a thousand thoughts running through his head.
Before he had retired, he’d spent time in the Batcave, going through files in the computer. He had found nothing on Deathstroke. There was a case file for Red Arrow’s last undercover mission with Deathstroke’s team, but Damian hadn’t bothered to read it; Lian would report on that. And there was a more pressing matter at hand.
Slowly, almost dreading what he would find, he found the file titled his mother’s name. He opened it. The available information was basic, but specific information was locked without a passcode. He looked at the keys, then up at her picture on the screen, then slowly tapped in seven letters.
B. E. L. O. V. E. D.
The screen came to life with information. Last documented activity was in Switzerland, less than a week ago. She hadn’t been in the States for over a year, but there were shipping records. Toxin components. Shipped to an alias of Slade Wilson? It didn’t make sense. If Slade wanted his involvement known, he wouldn’t have done it through such a transparent clue. Something wasn’t right, and it didn’t sit well in Damian’s stomach, but he eventually abandoned the computer, returning to his quiet bed to think in silence.
He didn’t close his eyes; he stared up into the darkness, his mind on fire, searching for the connection. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense.
In the darkness, his other senses were heightened. A strange, sweetly sickening odor lingered. A chill permeated through the walls, coming from the drafty cave below. The old manor creaked and groaned in the night, as if shuddering in protest against its gross, heavy burden.
A creak much closer, the skidding sounds of feet on hardwood, and unmistakable breathing coming from within the room.
Damian’s hands instinctively reached for the weapons in the small table beside his bed, sitting straight up, locking his muscles in preparation for attack. He squinted, his eyes already adjusted to the dark. A shadowy figure hung in the corner of his room.
He said lowly, “If you’ve come to kill me, you’ll have to be much better than that.”
The figure stepped forward slightly, into the moonlight streaming in through his high window. The shine of the stars danced through her bright red hair, but didn’t reach her eyes.
“Very intimidating, Damian,” Iris said, almost amused. “But don’t worry. No plans to kill you tonight.”
Damian held his weapon for a moment longer, then lowered the long dagger. “I thought you’d come soon,” he said. “But you could’ve been earlier.”
“Sorry,” she said. “I know I left it on bad terms last time we talked. But I was just…still stressed from Milagro, I suppose.”
“I don’t begrudge you that,” he replied, and it was cautious, as if he were explaining himself. “This has been difficult for all of us.”
She didn’t say anything for a moment, then walked – walked, not sped – to his bed, and sat down beside him, laying a hand on his thigh. Her touch sent a shivering thrill through Damian’s body, but he got the impression it was more for her benefit than his.
“I would’ve come sooner,” she said, quieter now. “But I wanted to be alone, and I didn’t want to catch you on patrol.” She gave him a little smile. “I’ve found that Damian is a lot easier to talk to than Robin is.”
Damian didn’t change his expression. “I am Robin,” he said, as quietly as she had spoken, but there was a desperate edge in his voice. “I was born for it, Irey. I was bred to be a soldier.” Painfully, he added, “I can’t run from that.”
“No,” she said, reaching out to trail her fingers down his jaw. “You’re more than that.” She leaned in and kissed him gently, holding his face in her hand. “You’re so kind,” she whispered. “And gentle. But you don’t want anybody to know.”
“In this life,” Damian murmured, “kindness is a shortcoming.”
She let go of him, pulling away. “Is that how you’d explain how you acted on the Watchtower?” she asked, and her soft words were laced with poison. “Because you’ve been mean before, Damian, but the way you disregarded me – threw away everybody…” She shook her head, her eyes flickering down his face, his exposed neck.
His expression turned hard. “I did what I had to do,” he said. “At least I was honest. I thought you’d be proud.”
“You completely ignored me,” she said. “I tried to help you.”
“It wasn’t necessary.”
“Right,” she breathed, her eyes narrowed. “That’s me. Not necessary.”
He said, “I can take care of myself.”
“You don’t have to do this to yourself,” she said. “You never let anyone in. You never rely on anyone but yourself. You can trust us. You can trust me.”
“I do,” he replied.
“You don’t,” she said, and her voice cut through the darkness. She pulled her hand away from Damian. “You don’t,” she repeated, softer now. “And that’s going to tear us apart, Damian.”
“Are you blaming this on me?” he asked. “How can I trust you, when you’re always one confession away from leaving me?”
“I want to be with you,” she stressed, leaning in, suddenly sounding tired. “Isn’t that enough? I want to be here with you.”
“But you’re not,” he interrupted, but he wouldn’t look at her. “You never are. Not one hundred percent.”
She stared at him. “I can’t help that,” she said. “That’s how I am. I’m never anywhere a hundred percent, I’m too fast for that.” She paused. “You love me for that.”
Damian looked away, as if ashamed. They both knew that wasn’t what he had meant. “You should go, Iris.”
She didn’t say anything. And then, “I’m not giving up on you.” He couldn’t meet her gaze. “Anyway, I just…I wanted to ask if you would come to my house tomorrow. We moved everything out of the Tower and most of it was my family’s, but there was some – I mean, you didn’t empty your room – and there’s some stuff that…”
“I don’t want any of it,” replied Damian shortly. “I left nothing in that Tower.”
“Maxine’s going to be there,” continued Iris. “And Jai, of course.” She paused, then added, “And Lian.”
Damian was silent for a moment, and then he said, “I can’t be there. Enjoy yourselves.”
“Will you leave now, Iris?” he asked, and his voice was hard.
Iris blinked, then pulled away completely. “Of course,” she replied, her voice losing its softness. “I…still need to talk to Milagro. I’ll get you that information as soon as I can.”
And then she was gone.
Damian sat there in his bed, unmoving for a long time.
And then he replaced his weapon in the drawer beside his bed, and he wiped his eyes and laid down again, his whole body shaking.
The grayness of the approaching dawn cast an odd sort of filter across Gotham City as Batman crouched atop a tall stone building, scanning the city. A gentle whooshing sound, and then he sensed a familiar presence beside him, watching his streets with eyes better than any lens on the cowl.
“I’m going to take him, then.”
Without glancing at the Kryptonian beside him, Bruce said simply, “Wait.”
“I can’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t. It’s been days now and I still can’t bring him home. He’s in pain.”
“He’s weak. He’ll recover in time.”
Superman was silent for a moment. Then he said, “This is my son, Bruce.”
Batman didn’t reply.
“I’m going. I won’t take long.”
Neither of them said anything. A strange sort of electric tension glimmered through the air between them. Then Superman was gone, leaving Bruce alone in the darkness, watching over his city.
Hours later, in Keystone City, Wally West stood in his kitchen, leaning against the counter. “I think it’s good,” said Linda, sitting at the table with Roy. “Just because we’re shutting the team down doesn’t mean we have to shut their friendships down. That would just be cruel.
“I agree,” said Roy, nodding. “Besides, since when have we been able to keep Lian away from Irey?” He shared a knowing glance with Linda, but Wally just glowered at them.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “Superman’s off-planet. What if-”
“We don’t need Superman to take care of ourselves,” said Linda gently. “As long as they’re here, they’re safe. All of them.”
“Why didn’t Buddy stay?” asked Roy.
“Parent-teacher conference for their son,” replied Linda. “Iris suggested we sort through things from the Tower after we offered to look after Maxy.”
“Speaking of that,” said Roy, “I’m missing a few things from my…collection. Did Lian-”
“Yeah, she probably brought it to the Tower,” said Linda, nodding. “There’s plenty of weaponry that I don’t recognize. Must be yours.”
In a bedroom above them, Jai sat on the floor with Maxine, each holding a controller, their eyes glued to a video screen as Jai tried to coach her through the levels. “Now go up. No, up, Maxy, not-”
“Do I shoot?” she asked, sounding confused. “Are those the bad guys?”
“No! – no, Maxy, that was your team…”
Iris laid on the bed with Lian, watching her brother out of the corner of her eye. “Is Damian okay?” asked Lian quietly, her gaze fixed on Iris’s freckled face. “I really thought he’d come. He hasn’t seen you in a while, has he?”
“No,” said Iris casually, almost as if she didn’t care. “But you know how he gets. He’s just pouting. I’ll run him to Paris for a romantic candlelit dinner or something, and he’ll be fine.”
Lian giggled. “Have you actually done that before?”
Iris grinned at her. “Once or twice.”
There was a short silence, except for the sounds of Maxy whining as Jai continued, determined to get her to the next level. “Did you hear about Sin?” Lian asked, and her voice was slightly raised. Jai didn’t look around, but his own voice quieted slightly.
Iris didn’t look at her. “She’s still comatose.”
“I heard that she’s looking better, though. They’re saying she might wake up soon.”
Iris didn’t reply to this.
Lian looked at her for a moment longer, then lowered her voice and asked, “Have you talked to Milly yet?”
Iris said nothing. Then she glanced at Lian and muttered, “Come on,” then raised her voice to say to her brother, “JJ, Lian and I are going to my room.”
Jai looked around for a moment, then shrugged. “Whatever,” he said. “Keep the door open, then, kiddies. Don’t get too frisky.”
“Frisky?” repeated Maxy, her eyebrow raised; Lian felt her face flush, but Iris just chuckled and took Lian by the hand, heading one door down the hall to Iris’s room. Iris closed the door behind them.
“Sorry,” she said, turning around to smile at Lian. “I just thought we should talk about the mission privately. In case Jai goes spilling any secrets to my dad or anything.”
“Good thinking,” said Lian. “Um, so. Milagro.”
“No,” answered Iris. “She’s got a twenty-four-seven GL watch on her. I saw her, but nobody saw me.”
“How is she?”
“Okay. As good as she could hope to be. I could tell she feels so bad about Chris, though. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t her fault, but I couldn’t risk it.”
“Well,” said Lian, “maybe we’ll all try to go visit her soon. Maybe after Chris gets back.”
There was a short silence.
“How long are he and Superman going to be gone?” asked Iris quietly.
Lian shrugged. “Not long. A day or two?”
“Long enough for the end of the world.”
“Superman isn’t the only hero on Earth. Our parents alone could hold over the end of the world for a day or two.”
Iris didn’t nod. “You’d be surprised,” she said.
Neither of them said anything. Then Iris put her hand to her hair and pulled out her ponytail, shaking her long red hair free. She sat down with her back against the side of her bed, then looked up at Lian and asked, “Would you braid my hair?”
Lian blinked at her, hesitated, then said, “Sure,” and took a seat on the bed behind her, running her fingers through Iris’s smooth hair.
Downstairs, Wally still stood apart from his wife and his friend. “Yeah, it’s ridiculous that Bruce keeps that kid locked up like he does,” Roy was saying, agreeing with what Linda had just said. “I mean, he’s not the nicest little boy in the world, but I’d say he more than deserves to be here, right? Plus, Dick could use a day off-”
“No,” said Wally. Roy and Linda looked at him. He was silent for a moment, then said, “I asked Dick not to come around anymore. Not that he would’ve shown up anyway, but. You know.”
“What?” asked Roy. “Seriously? Dick? What for?”
Wally shook his head, refusing to look at him.
Realization dawned on Roy, and he sighed. Flatly, he asked, “He told you, didn’t he?”
Linda looked in between Roy and Wally. “Excuse me?” she asked. “…Told you what?”
Outside of Gotham City, Wayne Manor was almost abandoned. Damian, usually studying or training, was in the city volunteering at, at Alfred’s insistence, a day clinic for community service. Bruce had been the one to suggest it; it did the Waynes good to be seen in public working for the less privileged.
And, Dick suspected, Bruce was preparing to finally answer some questions.
Dick slipped into the Batcave almost silently. Bruce sat at his usual seat before the computers, flicking through files. As Dick approached him, he gave no sign to acknowledge of Dick’s presence until he was standing directly behind the seat, half leaning against it.
Bruce said, “So?”
Dick looked up at the files the other man was looking at. The face of Talia al Ghul stared down at them menacingly, a hint of her typical sultry, aristocratic nature behind her eyes.
“So,” replied Dick tiredly. “The video.”
There was a silence. “Why did you keep it from me?” asked Dick. “I trusted his word. I was totally taken in. Why did you keep it a secret? How come he doesn’t even know you know?”
“I kept it from you,” Bruce began, ignoring Dick’s last two questions, “because I wanted you to look into this. All of this.”
“In order to do that,” he continued, “you couldn’t enter the investigation with a prior bias against him. What he did – as of now, that’s unrelated. Completely. That’s a situation that I will take care of. I asked you to take this case with every expectation that you would believe Damian, and that you would search for every other possibility before conceding his guilt.”
Bruce said quietly, “It seems I was correct.”
Dick didn’t say anything. And then, “You knew, didn’t you? From the moment you asked me to figure out what happened to him in the hospital. You knew that it was Iris.”
Bruce finally turned around to look at him. He met Dick’s gaze with heavy, mournful eyes. “No, Dick,” he said, his voice low and sad. “It’s the both of them. You know that.”
Dick closed his eyes and shook his head, trembling slightly. But then he let out a defeated little breath and put a hand to his head, clutching his temples. “It was my kryptonite, wasn’t it?” he breathed. “That’s what proved it.”
Bruce didn’t move, patiently waiting for Dick to finish.
“I opened my safe,” said Dick quickly, the words falling out of his mouth as if he couldn’t understand what it all meant, “I opened my safe right in front of him to get him the passkey to the Penthouse. Right in front of him. And then I…” He closed his eyes again, groaned, “Oh, God,” and then continued, “…I left him there. With the open safe. And I didn’t…I didn’t even think to check until…”
Dick looked at Bruce with wide eyes, his jaw set determinedly, his gaze blurred slightly.
“He took my kryptonite,” said Dick, his voice shaking. “You found my kryptonite in Chris’s body. Damian took my kryptonite, and he gave it to Milagro to…to hurt Chris.”
“He gave it to Impulse,” corrected Bruce stoically, “who ran it to the Green Lantern, with her incredible speed. Her power is enormous.”
“You knew about her already,” murmured Dick.
Bruce bowed his head slightly in assent. “This isn’t the first time she’s indicated speed far beyond that of her father. I’ve been keeping tabs on her since she met Damian.”
There was a silence. Dick took a deep breath, and stilled his shaking body.
“Have you seen his arms?” asked Bruce.
Dick looked up at Bruce, his face white. “The scars?” he asked. “The name…?”
“Bagheera,” said Bruce. “The black panther from the Kipling stories.”
“Yeah,” said Dick. “I don’t understand how…” he broke off, then looked up at Bruce. “Did he show you those?” he asked.
Bruce didn’t reply immediately, then said, “No. He’s been actively trying to hide them from me, in fact.”
“But of course you know,” said Dick. “You know everything.”
There was a pause.
Then Dick asked, “So what does it mean? And what does it have to do with Damian and Iris?”
Bruce didn’t say anything for a very long moment. Then he stood up, and he began to head out of the cave.
“What?” said Dick. “We’re not done here! Where are you going?”
As they ascended the stairs, Bruce said quietly, “Have you been into Damian’s room lately?”
Dick watched Bruce cautiously, fear souring in his stomach. “No,” he said. “You know he doesn’t let anybody in there without his permission. Not even Alfred.”
“Exactly,” said Bruce simply, gravely.
He was silent as they reached the end of the stairs, and then turned to lead Dick towards Damian’s room: the closest bedroom in the house to the entrance of the Batcave.
They stood before Damian’s door for a moment, and then Bruce opened it. He paused and looked at Dick, who met his gaze, fear plain in his eyes, and then, gently, Bruce said, “Beside the bed.”
Dick tore his eyes away from Bruce’s, and entered the room. A faint, sickly familiar odor filled the room. Ignoring this, Dick went to the side of Damian’s bed, where a simple rug lay on the hardwood floor, beneath a bedside table with a small lamp on it.
He knelt down and inspected the rug. There was a small, dark mark in the center. He reached out and rubbed at it with his thumb, then sniffed his finger.
He looked around at Bruce.
“Blood,” he said.
There was a silence.
“That could have come from anything,” said Dick suddenly, defensively, straightening up. “He has a million cuts every night when he comes home from patrol. So he busted a few stitches. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Dick,” said Bruce gently. “I know you can smell that.”
Dick put a hand to cover his nose, distraught, and then looked around the room. “Blood,” he gasped again, his eyes rolling wildly across the walls. “It smells like old blood.”
Bruce didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. Dick dropped to the floor and scanned under the bed, then pulled out the drawers of Damian’s dresser, then swung the doors of his wardrobe open and rifled through the clothes. Nothing. He stopped abruptly to collect himself, to get that shaking out of his chest. And then he turned to the closet.
It was a large closet, like all of those in the house. The second Dick opened it, a gust of the smell burst into the room and, grimacing, Dick reached into it, searching the shelves for-
Bruce said nothing. He was staring straight at Dick, but he didn’t even move.
“Oh, God,” moaned Dick.
He pulled something out of the closet. A heap of bedclothes. A white sheet, from the look of it, and a linen bed shirt.
Both stained with red.
Dick dropped the bundle onto Damian’s bed and then, hands shaking, spread it out slightly. “No,” he muttered. “Oh, no. No, no, no. Damian. No.”
He pulled something from the sheets, something wrapped tightly but delicately.
A long, thin carving knife. Just small enough to slice small grooves into the skin. To carve words in flesh, maybe.
Dick held the thing in his hands, and looked up at Bruce, terror clutching at his heart, and tears in his eyes.
In the West household, Wally’s voice was slowly rising, his rage and indignation painted all over his face. “How could you keep this from me?” he hissed at Roy. “You and Dick – we’re supposed to be friends, don’t you remember? How could you go off and – and conspire with him, and leave me in the dark!”
“She’s your daughter,” said Roy stonily. “We weren’t going to dump that on you until we were completely sure-”
“-which, apparently, he is!”
“Hold on,” interrupted Linda; she was more in control than the two men, but outrage was still shaking in her voice, “you didn’t think that it was important to tell me this, Wally?”
“It’s a stupid suspicion,” insisted Wally. “It doesn’t mean a damn thing!”
“Fine, it doesn’t!” agreed Roy loudly. “Just calm down, alright! Nobody’s pointing any fingers right now. You can be upset – I know I would be if this were Lian we were talking about – but we don’t have to tear anything apart because of this. Not us, and definitely not the kids.”
There was a sour silence. Linda stood apart from them, refusing to look at her husband.
“We just need to keep an open mind, that’s all,” said Roy lowly. “Until this all gets sorted out, let’s just face it. All the kids are in danger-”
“All the rest of them, you mean.”
Roy shot an ugly look at Wally, then continued, “…and it’s possible that any of them may be implicated. Milagro was.”
Wally let out a frustrated sigh. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you.”
“Wally, please,” said Linda. “Roy’s right. The simple fact of the matter is that we can’t afford to rule any possibilities out, and-”
“Not you too!”
He looked between the two of them helplessly. Then, at last, he relented, his shoulders falling in defeat.
“Do any of them know?” he asked.
“No,” said Roy. “Dick told me his suspicion and nobody else. He promised me that he wouldn’t tell Damian. And of course I wouldn’t tell Lian. It’d break her heart.”
Wally looked at them again, something heavy and grim in his eyes. “They should know,” he said. “They’ve been through enough. They should all know.”
At that moment, Lian was still braiding Iris’s long hair, mostly in silence. Lian reached out to collect a lock of Iris’s hair from before her ear, beside her face. Even as she began to pull her hand away, Iris raised her own hand to her face, and gently took hold of Lian’s fingers.
A spark of something burning hot ran through Lian’s body. She said nothing. Iris held her hand for a moment, then leaned back against the bed, pressing Lian’s hand onto her cheek.
“I’m sorry about this,” whispered Iris, into Lian’s palm.
For a second, Lian couldn’t speak, and then her emotions rose in her chest and she couldn’t contain it any longer, and she said, “You shouldn’t be. You didn’t do anything. It’s not your fault for being the way you are. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t be…I shouldn’t have…”
Lian trailed off, as Iris slid her hand down her face and pressed it against her lips. “I’m sorry,” she repeated, under her breath now. “I’m sorry, Lian.”
The door swung open, without a knock; Iris pulled Lian’s hand away from her mouth, but did not let her go. “Girls,” said Wally, but Iris saw his eyes flicker from where their hands touched to her eyes before he spoke, “we need to talk to you downstairs. Right now.”
Iris and Lian looked at each other, then nodded. Standing up, Iris said, “Be right there, Dad,” when suddenly, there was an odd, strangled, shrieking sound from the next room. Before anyone else could react, Wally’s eyes went wide, and he dashed aside, wrenching the door open – Iris called, “They’re just playing videogames!” but then Wally uttered, “Oh, my God.”
There was an awful snarling, like that of a wild beast, and something small and humanoid flung itself onto Wally, tearing at his face and eyes and neck; Linda, by the stairs, screamed in terror, but it wasn’t for what was attacking Wally, it was for the sight in Jai’s room, and she barreled past her husband altogether, screaming, “Jai! Jai!” because the boy was lying on the floor before his videogame, making gross, gurgling sounds as blood poured from his neck, his stomach covered in blood, but from his throat or another wound there, it was impossible to tell – Linda fell to her knees beside her bleeding son, screaming, her shaking hands scrambling across his body as if to scoop the blood back inside the warm cavity where his throat used to be, and she was drenched in blood, and he was drenched in blood, the exposed skin of his face, where not covered in blood, a dull, pale purple-white, the color of a corpse.
And a loud bang rang out and the animal thing fell to the floor, but Wally was already beside her, already collecting his son in his arms, already gone, leaving a wet puddle on the floor and his sobbing, blood-soaked wife. Roy was beside her immediately. “It’s okay,” he said steadily. “It’s okay, it’s okay, Wally’s gonna get him to a hospital, it’s okay, Linda. Don’t panic. Linda, your kids need you. It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.”
Her sobbing lessened slightly, became less hysterical. “Th-that thing,” she gasped, staring with wide, fearful eyes towards the doorway. “It…it…”
“Oh my God,” said Lian, who was standing outside of Iris’s room, covering her mouth with her hands. She took an unsteady step forward and knelt down beside the creature. “Oh, my God,” she repeated, looking up at her father, terrified. “It’s Maxy. Daddy. You shot Maxy. Did she-” all color bled from her face as she witnessed the scene in Jai’s room. Weakly, she asked, “Did she do this?”
“I don’t know,” said Roy, and he had to fight to keep panic from rising within him as well. Blood staining his knees where he had been kneeling and his arms and chest where he had been holding Linda, he stood up and returned to the small, prone body. The clothes were torn, the face disfigured in an ugly snarl, and one leg twitched slightly, but it was undeniably Maxine.
“Did you kill her?” whispered Lian.
Roy glanced at her. “You know I don’t carry any lethal weapons.”
“Yeah, nonlethal – for full-grown adults. She’s a kid.”
Roy didn’t say anything. He slid his arms under the girl’s tiny body and lifted her up into his arms. Lian whispered, “Did she kill him?”
Roy didn’t reply.
He said, “Lian, call Buddy on my phone, right now. Linda, get through to Wally. He should have his communicator on him, keep trying until you reach him. Iris-”
He turned around and for a moment, his heart froze in fear as he didn’t see the other girl, Jai’s sister. But then he noticed her, still standing in the doorway of her room, watching him with big, cold green eyes.
“Iris,” he said again, uncertainly. “…Help your mother.”
Iris nodded, but there was something about her movements – some quality of speed, some degree of stillness – that seemed far too slow.
She flickered for a moment, then was gone, by her mother’s side, providing hugs and comfort and quiet, whispered words of reassurance, but her hard, blank stare lingered in his memory, sending a haunting, tingling chill down his spine
(note: chapter six has been slightly edited for the purpose of continuity with this chapter)
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