A/N: Here it is, friends! The final chapter of The Underworld Age :0 It has been thrilling and suspenseful, I'm sure, but now things will finally come to a head. I'm sure you've been waiting for the reunion of our favorite characters and their respective partners, but we've still got a zombie virus to destroy so let's get to it!
The afternoon moved slowly. There were less and less anxious civilians rushing into the Arkham Refuge , but everyone sat and waited. News stations began to come back on. It was revealed that a cure was making its way around. Alfred and Leslie had smiled knowingly at each other before before going back to tending to injured people. The two of them had been sitting in what was originally the asylum's kitchen on a coffee break, when Commissioner Gordon walked in and announced that someone wanted to see them. Both jumped up in excitement, hoping it was Richard, but Jim put up his hand and shook his head. "It's just a reporter. He's asking about the Refuge."
Leslie looked to Alfred in curiosity. Alfred asked, "What is this reporter's name, if I may?" "Clark Kent," Gordon answered, pulling out a business card. "Daily Planet, Metropolis. Don't know why he's over here, but if you want to talk to him, go ahead. He's in the lobby." Gordon handed Alfred the card and left. Alfred nodded to Leslie.
"Mister Kent," Alfred greeted cordially. His raised eyebrows were a simple indication of the many questions he had ready to ask. Clark stood up and cleared his throat. "Can we go somewhere private?" He asked quietly. Leslie took him by then arm and walked him into an empty cell. Alfred shut and locked the door behind him and nodded to the doctor, who began, "Explain this."
Clark nervously rubbed his hands on his pants before answering, "I flew down from the Watchtower. Batman originally sent me to find the Team and get them to safety. Right when I broke through the atmosphere he told me to find Lex Luthor instead and get the access codes for the zeta tubes. He wasn't home but Mercy was. She gladly gave me the codes and told me that apparently Lex wanted Scarecrow to release a fear gas, trap us in the Watchtower, and then have Lex save everybody to discredit the JLA, but Scarecrow screwed up and released this zombie virus by accident. So, of course, Lex runs for his life and tells Mercy to give up the access codes to allow the League to save everyone and send Scarecrow to jail. I was going to fix the Metropolis zeta tube when I realized I need some technical expertise or I could fry the whole thing and the League is trapped up there with zero emergency systems working and zombies running rampant. Of course, then my boss spots me and tells to head down to Gotham and get a news scoop. I was directed here and thank God you two are here because my luck just might be running out..."
"Anyway, think you can help me?" He asked, handing Mercy's codes to Alfred. The butler grinned uncharacteristically. "Of course, sir."
Artemis held off wave after wave of zombies to her own shock. She would turn around and a group of zeds she didn't remember shooting would be on the ground, changing into civilians. And then they suddenly started to overwhelm her. She was out of breath, reloading her gun as quickly as possible with the attackers almost on top of her, when she heard a sharp scream. She turned to see Robin hanging off the side of a building by one hand. Her mouth opened in shock. It was him who shot those zeds, she realized. He had my back, she thought. I need to have his.
Immediately she burst into action. Running below him as he hung from a five story building, she stopped and prepared for impact. Impact hit her like a brick. She opened her eyes to find herself on the ground with the little bird limp in her arms. She sat up quickly and winced at the pain in her back. Her heart rate picked up at the warm liquid she felt on her left hand.
She turned the boy's body with her right hand to see the back of his head bleeding. She rummaged in her utility belt and retrieved a bandage that she wrapped around his head with some difficulty before proceeding to check him over for other injuries. She immediately noted the angle of his legs and concluded they were broken but reaching for them a pain shot up in her left arm and she clutched it while a hiss escaped her clenched teeth.
Her arm was broken, too. She mumbled a few Vietnamese curse words before remembering the zeds and turning in panic expecting them to be right there. Instead she saw Kid Flash. "Wally!" She gasped. "What happened?!" The speedster screeched. Artemis glowered at him. "What does it look like? Robin fell off of a five story building and I caught him. As a result, he has a head wound and two broken legs, something is wrong with my back, and Harley Quinn may as well have smashed a sledgehammer into my harm, it hurts so much! Do you have any idea what exactly Robin is doing here?"
Wally opened his mouth, sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. "I'll explain later-" "Oh, you'd better explain later," Artemis cut him off. "Help me here?" She asked, motioning to Robin's body still on her.
Kid Flash picked up the Boy Wonder off of Artemis and inspected him for unseen injuries. Artemis pulled herself to her feet and groaned. "Why are you here anyway?" She asked. "I saw a massive wave of zeds coming," Wally explained. "Bigger than anything we've seen yet. We need a gameplan; they'll be here in minutes." Artemis groaned again, this time in frustration. "I'm gonna have trouble shooting with a banged up wrist, Wally. We need another way to knock them all out."
Robin stirred awake in Wally's arms. He whined, "My legs..." and promptly shut his mouth, not wanting to reveal any weakness. "I think they're broken," Artemis explained softly, frowning mentally at Dick's ill-concealed attempt at covering his pain. "You caught me?" He whispered. She nodded while he shook his head and let out a chuckle that turned into a cough. "...And I had just started walking again, too." Artemis laughed, "I don't know how you're still alive." Wally looked over his shoulder nervously. "They're coming, Arty." "Crap," she hissed before looking to Robin. "Any suggestions?"
He scrunched his eyebrows together in thought before saying, "Get underground. They're undead, they won't want to follow us down. They'll never look there. Let's get in the sewers." He pointed to an open manhole, untouched for the last few days. Wally nodded to Artemis, who sprinted for the hole and climbed down the ladder with her hand, dropping to the ground. "Eww..." She trailed off, wrinkling her nose. Wally made his way down next, with Robin slung over his shoulder. He hit the ground and leaned Robin against the wall while they collected their bearings, panting out visible breath that became fog in the cold air. They listened to movement above them for a few minutes, lying in wait until Artemis finally sighed. "We need some way to eradicate them all at once. We'll never get this done otherwise." There was more silence before Dick spoke up. "I might have a way." "How?" Wally immediately asked.
Dick lifted his head, still regaining his breath, before saying, "A few years before I became Robin, Scarecrow gassed the whole city with fear toxin, using the water in the sewage systems to send clouds of it into the air and throw Gotham into panic, and it worked until Batman stopped him. If we do the same thing with the zombie cure- release it into the air all at once- we could cure practically the entire city simultaneously. It would at least make it safe enough to go out there and even the odds a bit. We just need the device 'Crow used to convert his serum to a gas, and a whole lot more of that serum..."
"Where's Scarecrow's laboratory?" Wally asked. Robin gave him the address from memory and watched Wally speed back up the manhole and away. Robin bit back a groan while his head pounded and instead asked Artemis, "How many liquid vials have we got in those cure darts?" "Six per gun," she explained, emptying her utility belt and finishing, "And I've got four guns." "So twenty-four..." "That's right, math geek," Artemis smirked. Richard feigned confusion. "...Sorry...?" He asked with a raised eyebrow. Artemis grinned. "Yeah, I know who you are. It was a bit necessary for me to save your life." Dick looked at her nervously with pursed lips before deciding, "Okay. Well, anyway, twenty-four darts gives us twelve for each half of the city. That should cover it, if I am remembering correctly the range of the square footage covered by a single dose of gaseous toxin..." He trailed off pensively while Artemis laughed, "You really are a geek!" He smiled at her. "Well, it comes in handy at a time like this, don't you think?" She nodded just as Wally came down the ladder again.
"Alright folks, here we have a liquid converter of some kind," he announced, placing it on the floor. "I really didn't know what to look for in Crane's lab, so I went round testing stuff." Dick started to shake his head at the typicality of it, but winced at the returning of the pounding and remained still. Wally went on, regardless, "Threw some H2O in here and found out this thing is a heat machine. Steam came blowing out and I figured I'd run another test with some air freshener...Long story short, this baby is our best bet. Guy has a whole closet full of 'em, so how many do you need?" Robin winked at Artemis. "That'll be twelve." "Coming right up, sir."
Elsewhere in Gotham, in a particular phone booth in a particular alley, Clark Kent paced back and forth anxiously while the collected Alfred Pennyworth calmly typed the new access codes into the zeta tube console. "Hey, are you almost done there?" the reporter asked. "Almost," the butler deadpanned. "Alright, well, this place is crawling with zeds, so the sooner the better..." "Any moment," Alfred reassured the Boy Scout. The tube suddenly beeped. Pennyworth stepped aside. "Go ahead," he instructed. Kent hurried into the phone booth as it flashed to life. "Recognize: Superman..." the computer began speaking. The butler caught a glimpse of the reporter's relieved smile before a bright light enveloped him and he disappeared from sight. "Good luck, sir," Alfred said.
Every ear in the Watchtower perked up and the sound of the zeta tubes whirring back to life. Heroes ran into the room to see Clark Kent materialize and wave them over. "Tubes are working again!" He yelled. "Thank God..." Arrow muttered. "Let's move!" Batman growled motioning to Tornado at the console who gave him a simple thumbs up. Heroes went running into the tubes with their spirits lifted and confidence renewed. Paula wheeled into the room and watched the Leaguers dashing off excitedly with a smile on her face. "I think I'll go watch the news," she told Tornado wryly.
Batman, Green Arrow, and Icon ran out of the phone booth to see Agent A standing in the alleyway. "Welcome home, Master Batman," the Englishman greeted the surprised men with nods. Batman nodded back. "Let's go..." he addressed his colleagues, observing the state of his city with some distaste. The three of the had barely made it a block before green gas started to seep out of the sidewalk grates. Icon slowed to a halt. "Hey, anybody else seeing this?" Arrow cursed. "I thought they had Scarecrow under control!" he muttered angrily. Batman held up his hand to silence them. "Look," he said, pointing to a pack of zeds higher up the street. They were collapsing, convulsing for a few seconds on the ground, and then returning to their former state. A few of them who had been dead before the outbreak stood up and began walking toward their respective cemeteries and graveyards.
The heroes were almost speechless. "The gas is curing them?" Icon asked aloud. "It is," Batman monotoned patiently. "And that means-" "That means the kids are out here somewhere!" Green Arrow shouted excitedly. The three of them moved even faster.
"I need to get back to Central and try this. Mind if I take one of these vaporizer-thingies?" KF asked. Artemis shook her head. "You'll be alright here with just the two of you, right?" Wally directed his question at Robin. "Of course!" he answered. "We'll go up to check that it worked in a few minutes. Off you go!" Wally smiled, grabbed a machine and ran away.
The Flash knew he should be fighting off zombies, but when he actually got there, he found it difficult to prioritize. Central City in this kind of chaos was different in person. Impulsively, he ran home. He skidded to a halt when he almost collided with a car, of all things. "Hey! It's not safe, what're you-" He stopped yelling when he saw who was driving. "Iris!" He ran to her and pulled her close. "Barry, you're here!" She answered, shocked. He pulled away and gave her a kiss. "And you're alive!" Barry replied with a joyous laugh, before getting serious. "What are you doing driving?" She smiled. "Well, I'm going to work. My boss called and he said he saw the Flash running around shooting zombies with a cure of some kind and he wanted me to cover it... Once he knew I was okay, of course...Wait a minute you couldn't be the one running around Central, you were on the Watchtower at a meeting, weren't you? My God, Barry, he meant Wally was curing people, not you!"
"Wally!" Barry suddenly remembered and dashed off. Iris pulled her hair out of her face, shaking her head in amazement. Barry found the West's front door open. All his worries were immediately put to rest, however, when he entered and found Wally giving his parents (who appeared to be lying, zombified, in the entry hall) an injection of some kind. "The cure!" Barry exclaimed. Kid Flash's head shot up and he presently drew and aimed an Atlantean gun before recognizing his visitor, and breaking into a grin. He hurled himself at the Flash. "Uncle Barry!" Barry chuckled and squeezed him back. "Well, what did I say, we did get our family back together!" Wally lifted his head, face wet with tears of joy. "I knew you would do it," His uncle told him. Wally just shook his head in amazement and buried it into his mentor again.
Megan sensed more and more minds activating in Metropolis, as if a switch had been turned on and back to 'human mode'. She sat pleasantly in the bioship, shooting darts at every zombie she saw. Superboy had asked her to help him with the city for which he felt responsible, and it was proving to be quite the task, due to the sheer size of Metropolis alone. The presence of another Martian shocked her into a frozen position. She immediately recognized it and turned around in her seat to see Uncle J'onn phasing through the top of the bioship and landing on the floor in a standing position. She threw herself at him, bubbly with happiness and then released him and twirled midair.
Outside, Superboy was working furiously to hit everything coming at him as hard as he possibly could. He shot more zombies than anyone else save Kid Flash, ultimately, and the several hours in which this was accomplished were completely adrenaline-fueled. Zombie after zombie had about half a second to approach him before being stabbed with the cure. He was so lost in his furiousness that he didn't notice when he turned around, right into a very broad chest, labelled with an 'S' similar to his own. Superboy stared dumbfoundedly at his mentor, as a smile formed slowly over Clark's face. Superman pointed to a zombie that Conner had apparently neglected.
"I got your back."
That was all he needed to hear. He smiled the largest he had in days. Red Arrow, Aquaman, Aqualad, and Wonder Woman all approached from behind Superman, smiling as large as Conner and ready to kick out some zombies. "You'll never guess who's here," Roy told him dryly. "The cavalry has arrived."
When Artemis poked her blonde head through the manhole and scanned the area, she decided that the coast was clear. "We're good. Just give me a minute to figure out how to get you up here," She called to Robin, who nodded tiredly. "We're good," He repeated to himself. He shook his head. He wouldn't be 'good' after the adrenaline wore off. Dick sighed and looked up the manhole at Artemis who appeared to be in deep thought. "You know, why don't we just see how it goes. I have at least one arm that still works..."
She looked back down at him, expecting a follow-up sarcastic comment, or a smirk signifying he was joking. But he wasn't. She frowned. He was right. He had a bullet hole in his shoulder- that's one immobile arm- two broken legs, a stab wound in his midsection... "How are you even alive?" She asked aloud. "Are you immortal or something?" She hadn't expected that he could hear her, but he replied in a small voice, "I think the deep questions can wait." She started climbing back down the ladder towards him. "One arm that still works. Let's see how this goes." The kid was willing to attempt to climb up this slippery, metal ladder with one arm while not jostling the bullet wound, or the knife wound, or the broken legs. He's probably done crazier before, she concluded. In any case, it certainly encouraged her that such a broken boy would have enough motivation to give every ounce of his remaining strength to get up there and fight when he had already been brought back from the brink of death several times before. She hit the ground and looked at him.
As if reading her thoughts, he said in an irritated tone, "You know, I won't have much of a story to tell when we finish this. I'm pretty sure I was unconscious at least 50% of the time." He added in a mumble, "I'm better than this." Sensing she was about to disagree, he looked up determinedly. "If you want to help me feel like I've done something, let me try this." There was no use arguing. His mind was set. She shut her mouth and nodded. Positioning herself directly behind him, in case of emergency, she gestured for him to begin. He grasped the first rung firmly with one hand. Closing his eyes, he grit his teeth and put every drop of energy he had into one pull. After a few tantalizingly long moments, he managed to bring his chin to the bar. He let out an unintelligible grunt which Artemis interpreted easily and she lifted her arms to support the bottoms of his feet, pushing him up until he could lift his one arm and grab a rung several bars higher.
Artemis had never seen anything so amazing in her life. Progress was slow, but the faithfulness with which Robin grasped each rung was a perfect picture of patient perseverance. When he finally reached the top, he collapsed, shaking, on the asphalt. Artemis rushed to his side with concern, but as she turned him over, she discovered that he was shaking from laughter. Tears of happiness streamed from his eyes. Fast and heavy footsteps approaching caused her to pick up her head with lightning speed. A million thoughts rushed through at once. Is the gas not permanent? Did it not cover the whole area? Could we have missed some of them? Is it just a corpse returning to its grave? Is Wally back already?
All of her questions were silenced when she saw who it was. Batman, Green Arrow, and Icon came flying around the corner at top speed. Lost in a flurry of excitement and blinded by her own astonished disbelief, Artemis could barely remember the events that took place immediately afterward. One moment, however, stuck in her mind for the rest of her life. Ollie had somewhere along the way of hurried explanations and frantic apologies gathered her into his arms as she stared, confused, into the space directly behind him. "You're here..." she mumbled. "Are you alright, Artemis? Could I help at all? Do you need anything?" She pulled back and allowed a sarcastic smile. "I could really use some sleep."
Somewhere in the brightly colored tunnel of dizziness Robin made out voices. Icon sighing in relief. Green Arrow reassuring Artemis that her mother was perfectly fine. Artemis laughing at something one of them said. Suddenly the flashy tunnel disappeared and everything was black. Dick's eyebrows drew together in thought. He was still perfectly conscious; he knew he hadn't blacked out. This new darkness had a feeling. It was brushing against his face. It was soft and comforting and smelled like- Bruce!
Dick grunted and the cape was removed from his face in answer. Batman had been standing directly above him. He swooped down and collected his boy into his arms as carefully as he could. Dick suddenly found his face wet with tears as he watched his mentor attempt to maintain his composure. "I'm here, I'm home," He whispered to his ward again and again. Silence fell around them as the others observed this rare moment between the two. Batman rocked his child, and that child closed his eyes in relief. Nothing else mattered anymore.
The next week was one that no one could quite summarize. For some it was long and tiresome, for others it went by in a blur. But one thing that can be said is that the world certainly had a 180. Probably the most exciting thing about it was the fact that it wasn't a dream. Over the course of that week (The start of "The Extermination" as Wally affectionately named it) the world was returned to normal. Sure, there were a few straggling zeds out there that had yet to show their faces and be cured, but in time they would all be gone. The world knew there had been a cure. Where it came from, they didn't. And the League decided to keep it that way. "We were meant to be a covert team," Aqualad had said. "That doesn't need to change. Enough has changed already." And so minds would wonder and tongues would wag, but it didn't matter. "This whole thing will probably blow over in a year anyway," Barry joked cheerfully. He received several annoyed looks from his more serious colleagues at the fact that his old humor had returned completely. No, everyone involved knew that what had happened was monumental. They had done something extraordinary that had never before been necessary and hopefully never would be again. Everything had changed.
What to do about Dr. Crane was in the air for the better part of a month. The League deliberated and deliberated, and finally one night Robin said to Batman, "Let him go. He's not bound to try something like this ever again, and he did what he could to end it. The debt has more or less been cancelled. If you want to take out your anger on him, let him go back to his old ways like they always do. Then at least you'll have a reason to beat him up." The boy received a dirty look at this final comment, but Scarecrow's fate was decided by the mercy of an innocent boy. Either way, Batman surmised that it was Lex Luthor who deserved the brunt of the punishment on this one.
Atlantis welcomed its heroes and soldiers home with a joyous celebration. The relationship between the kingdoms on the surface and their own had been permanently changed for the better. Aquaman recognized this, and the fact that many were to be praised for their bravery and selflessness. It was certainly an excellent way to return home. The various weapons that had turned the tide against the virus were returned as well, with one or two tanks left on land for emergency purposes and museums. Both Happy Harbor and Central City, being important fronts in the battle against the zeds proved to be much better off with the experience and recognition. It was safe to say supervillians would keep their heads low for awhile with those cities maintaining their power.
The Team members, aside from Aqualad, had expected that it would be a drawback to not be recognized for all they had done, but they found the little ways in which they were recognized by those who knew what they had done to be quite sufficient. Clark Kent taking Conner Kent out to lunch one day. J'onn buying M'gann all the seasons of Hello, Megan so she could stop watching them online. Paula Crock hosting a party on the Watchtower for the League and the Team without Artemis even asking. Aunt Iris bringing Wally to the Central City Newsroom and introducing him to several of her colleagues at Barry's request. But not all the post-victory moments were gleeful and satisfying. There was still pain, and there were still unanswered questions.
Dick spent most of that first week in bed. Bruce and especially Alfred wouldn't have allowed him to do otherwise, but every chance he got, he asked how things were going with The Extermination. Whenever he was awake, he was watching the news until his headache came back, or eating the foods Alfred was stuffing him with. It was a boring week for him, and it was difficult to keep his mind off of the things that had happened during the outbreak. With nothing else to talk about, he knew he was probably being a pest asking what was happening out there every moment he could spare his voice.
By the end of the week he couldn't keep it in any longer. "Have you seen my parents? Are they in their graves? Has anyone found them, or are they still out there?" Bruce and Alfred looked at him. Alfred glanced toward Bruce but the Batman continued to gaze at his ward. "I'm doing everything I can to find them, Dick. The last time I checked their graves was yesterday, but I promise I'll go again tonight." "Not necessary, Master Bruce," Alfred spoke up. Bruce and Dick stared at him quizzically. "What do you mean?" Bruce prodded him. "I checked it myself this afternoon," the butler continued uncomfortably. "They were entering their graves as I watched." Robin's mouth fell open, and he couldn't think of a response.
Luckily, Alfred knew just what to say. "You can visit them tomorrow." "I-I can? I'm not on bed rest?" The corners of Alfred's mouth lifted slightly. "You are on bed rest. But tomorrow is an exception. Master Bruce will go with you, and I can pack something for a picnic lunch. Be careful, and I won't regret allowing it." Dick nodded solemnly. "On another note," Alfred continued more happily. "Commissioner Gordon called. He reports that Barbara returned home yesterday alive and well and wanted to make sure you were alright, Master Richard. Perhaps you can drop by the Gordon place on your way tomorrow?"
Lily of the Valley. Symbolizing a return to happiness. This will be perfect, Dick thought. He bought two bouquets of the flowers and wheeled his way out of the florist's shop before he could be recognized. Bruce waited impatiently outside on the sidewalk. While Dick Grayson could most likely get away with buying a couple of bouquets of flowers from a little local store, Bruce Wayne certainly could not, and so Dick had flat out refused that he come in with him. He didn't like being in a wheelchair, but he could manage and maintain a low profile.
"Lily of the Valley, huh?" Bruce said. "I'm sure she'll be pleased." "Let's just get in the car." Dick suggested before there could be any more teasing. Bruce laughed and shook his head, helping his ward out of his wheelchair and into the passenger seat of the low-profile care Alfred had suggested. After folding up the wheelchair and placing it in the back, Bruce began driving for the Gordon place.
There was a knock at the door. The Commissioner was sleeping, per Barbara's request due to how he tired himself out over the whole zombie crisis, so she answered the door herself. No one was there, but on the doorstep lay a quaint little bouquet of Lily of the Vally flowers, tied with a silky white bow. She gazed at it a few moments, situated where it was on the dark and grimy stair and providing quite a contrast to behold. Quickly she picked it up, not wanting it to get dirty, and noticed a small note attached.
Barbara, I thought I should let you know that, yes, I'm alive, but a little worse for wear. I'm very relieved to know you're okay. I hope you recover well. Consider the bouquet an encouragement :) -Dick
Two graves, side by side. There was a bouquet of Lily of the Valley flowers in between, and a boy sitting on the dirt in front, with his guardian behind, the steadying hand on his shoulder. There were so many things he wanted to say. Bruce didn't push him to say anything, but gave him an encouraging squeeze. "I forgive you," he finally whispered, and gave in to the tears.
When everything had been said and done, the Team found themselves seated silently around the television one night. They all had some time off to recuperate, because physical, emotional, or otherwise, everyone had been dealt a blow that they needed to recover from. No one had suggested what to watch, and no one was sure if anyone would. Either way, they were all happy to just be sitting near each other comfortably in silence. Nothing needed to be said. But of course when nothing needed to be said, Kid Mouth would be the one to say it.
"Who's up for a Walking Dead marathon?"
Hey guys! I want to thank you so much for reading this story and putting up with cliffhangers and possibly bad grammar in some places... it was a lot of fun and a lot of work to write and I hope you enjoyed it. Even if it wasn't "a perfect picture of patient perseverance"... (And yes, FrankandJoe3, I added the Barbara part just for you, due to your concern for her in your last review)
IMPORTANT: This story may be over but I'd still love to see comments! For instance, tell me what you expected or would have wanted to happen differently, what your favorite moment or quote was, and especially whether or not I ought to start writing a sequel or follow-up one-shot of some kind. Let me know!
Thanks so much for all the support thus far! Stay tuned for new stories. Also, I have now changed my name so don't be confused if you read anything else of mine and discover that it's not BW10. Thank you again!