"No doubt - endings are hard. But then again... nothing ever really ends, does it?"
As tangled as my memories had grown to be, seeing the Joker just twenty feet off with a gaze that stares straight through you and into you all at once, they had managed to capture a small fraction of the fear that came with his presence. The whole of it all had me without breath, a trait that the entirety of the cafeteria seemed to have inherited all at once, and a burning, trembling rage began brewing in the flat of my chest.
If I'm remembering right, Shakespeare once said that, "Hell is empty and all the devils are here." I don't know if I could go so far as to say that Hell is empty, but I do know that it's absent of at least one devil, because I could see him seizing up the crowd from his place in the doorway.
"Don't worry; I'm not that mad," he crooned, head tilting as he swiveled it enough to look at us all more directly. "Look! I even brought you all a gift!"
He turned his back to us for a moment, the back of his shirt abundant in finger-shaped stripes of blood, and bent down enough to get a hold on the body he had been dragging behind him. Yanking it up by the front of its shirt, he hoisted the surprisingly small frame up and threw it as far out into the room as he could. When it hit the ground, everyone must have remembered how to breathe, because it sounded almost like the universe had gasped with us.
It was Bart- there was no mistaking it. He was bent in all the wrong ways, and where his body had slid, there was a dark blood trail.
I might have believed that he was just unconscious, were it not for the angle his neck was at, half-open eyes staring at the opposite side of the room.
His name passed through the room, little more than a breath, and I could feel everyone drawing a fist in memory of our friend, the horror thick. Minutes ago, he had been alive. Minutes ago, we had disregarded him, and now we would never have a chance to tell him goodbye.
I could've stopped him. I could've saved him.
My brain stalled on those two thoughts, and those two only, as the fury in my chest multiplied. The Joker took confidence in the silence of the room, his shoes clicking as he walked towards Bart's body. With absolutely no regard for his state, he hefted the boy's body up and held him around his stomach, making his dead hands clap together with a large grin.
"What's wrong? Don't like it?" he held the dead hands together with one of his own and used the other to move Bart's lips, blood dripping out as he opened them.
I had seen Wally's fist tremble before, but that was all he was able to take. He stepped forward and broke the line before Artemis or I could grab him to stop him.
"You bastard!" he screamed, eyes wet with tears.
Before I could comprehend what was happening, Jaime stepped forward from the line, tears making their appearance already, and his armor snapped on faster than I could blink. In a second, he had his sonic cannon raised and aimed.
"Now, Megan!" he shouted, too, and all at once, the room became a blur.
His cannon was enough to stagger Joker, and everyone charged forward. A handful crumpled, holding their heads, but Megan's stance was enough to tell me they were getting their memories back, so I found myself running forward, too.
It was a flurry of limbs. Someone screamed. A lot of people screamed. Orderlies ran in to try and save their boss. It was like the Red Sea, but we didn't need a Moses to part us.
I made myself useful by going after the orderlies. Count Vertigo was the first one I happened upon, but he looked up in alarm when an elephant trumpeted, so I was able to wrap myself around his back. I hooked my legs around his chest and threw an arm around his neck, squeezing both as tight as I could physically manage while I pried at the headgear he had fastened on. He bucked, but Mal was over in an instant, and he helped me restrain him until I could get the piece off. I met Mal's gaze once I had freed it, and he nodded in understanding. The second I dropped off, he tackled the Count to the ground and I made quick work of the headgear under my heel. It broke a lot easier than something that important should've.
As I kicked it away, a hand snatched my throat and the world grayed around the edges for seconds as I kicked at whoever had me. I got a good look at Bane's dumbfounded face as a wheelchair was slammed against the back of his head, and caught a good look at a determined Barbara as I was flung back at the wall in the stagger. My head rung in protest, but I was moving steady all the same as I ran back to join her. Neither of us had expected a wheelchair to take him out, but the stagger had lasted longer than either of us had expected. Barbara's legs kept her from any fancy footwork, but I knew those punches had to be doing something. I was pretty confident in what I managed to land, but it was definitely the water jet Kaldur shot across the room that took our guy down and over to the wall he had just thrown me into.
That's how it seemed to go for a while. Someone would have a baddie, one-on-one, and then someone else would join in to help speed the process. The bruises came a lot thicker than I preferred, and the metal taste in my mouth was far short of pleasing, but it told me to hit harder, to be quicker, and that we were inching our way to freedom. This was our war. I was more than willing to give my all to get everyone else out of here.
Standing over the Riddler's body was gratifying, to say the least, but became even more so when Wally caught up with me. He skidded a bit, interrupting his run, and grabbed my shoulders tightly, searching my face with a smile he managed to rummage from the mess.
"You're alright," he couldn't help but laugh, and then he hugged me tightly. "We're getting out of here, man. Christ, this is it."
I laughed into his shoulder and hugged him back, letting go when he pulled back. He grabbed my shoulder again, hands shaking at the unlikeliness of it all. This was it. We were getting out, going home, getting back to our lives. We had won.
"I'm going to go and get Zatara and Zatanna from upstairs. Start rounding up the others and get out of here, alright?" he slowly dropped his hand from my shoulder. "I'll see you on the other side."
I smiled at him, shaking in my own excitement, and waited until he was completely out of sight before going back to the crowd and spreading the word for everyone to get out. I found Tim and Jason together, helping Batman up.
"Guys, come on! We're getting out of here!" I grabbed their shoulders, and they both nodded quickly.
Barbara wasn't too far off, struggling to keep on her feet, but I wasn't worried about it. I swept her off her feet with little of a warning, and then we were all running out. Jaime was picking up Bart's corpse when we passed, and he nodded when I relayed the message to him, too.
"I'm getting him out of here!" he told me, and he hugged Bart's corpse to his chest in a way that left me without my smile as we ran down the hall.
Bart didn't die in vain. He saved us. He was more of a hero than any of us ever were. We would bury him somewhere special after this.
The halls wound and the stairs dipped, but eventually, we were in the lobby Jason had mentioned, and he held the door for us as we ran through them. Barbara hugged my neck in excitement, and we all braced ourselves.
Immediately outside, we were met with healthy grass and bright skies, and a busy street swarming with people and cars. It was warm and the world was so very alive- enough to make me stop in my tracks. Wally's mom had said it would be ruin. This... didn't look any different than I remembered.
Barbara was quiet in my arms, and we looked at the world in utter confusion. Jason gave a cry behind me and I broke from it all in an instance, whirring around, and I saw that he and Tim were both collapsed in the arms of two orderlies I had never seen before. Bruce was running out the door after us, clothes blood-stained and eyes wide.
"Bruce!" I called to him in alarm.
He raised his hands to me, as if in surrender, and I took a small step back in fear. Where were the others? Why weren't they out here yet?
"Dick, put her down," Bruce asked calmly, holding still. "Listen to me."
Panic welled in my chest and I looked down at Babs for an explanation I couldn't provide myself. That's when I found out why she was being so quiet.
She was bleeding heavily, especially from her thighs. It had been enough to knock her out, and she was limp in my arms. When had she been hurt? She hadn't been bleeding this badly when I had come out here.
"What happened to her?" I asked quietly, staring at the wounds in horror.
Bruce took a few steps forward, and I let him. He walked through the lawn towards me, hands raised calmly, until he was there in front of me, eyes trying to catch mine. I couldn't look at him.
"Bruce, please," I said quietly, struggling to hold her up as the world started beating on my shoulders. "Where are the others? What happened to Babs?"
"Give her to me, and I'll explain everything," he promised, holding out his arms cautiously.
I handed Babs over with shaky hands, and he handed her off to two other orderlies, a third of which was on the phone with 911 from their tone. They took her back in the direction of the asylum and I tried to run after to stop them. Bruce caught my arm and held me back.
"Bruce, they're taking her!" I cried desperately. "Where is everyone?!"
Bruce held on until I stopped fighting, and I searched his face desperately now.
"Who are you talking about exactly?" he asked.
I froze, brow furrowing. "E... everyone. Wally, Artemis, Megan, Conner, Kaldur-, you know... they all... they all ran..."
Bruce held his hands up again and I lashed out, frustrated with how he was treating me.
"I'm not some... some patient, Bruce! You know me! What the hell are you doing?" I tried not to shout.
"I don't know who you're talking about," Bruce said, voice strained in panic of his own. "You, Tim, Jason, and Barbara are the only ones who came out here."
I shook my head, stepping back from him and running my hands through my hair tightly. This was ridiculous. We took care of the bad guys. How could they erase his memories so fast?
"Bruce, please, you have to remember," I whispered.
I tried to think of something that could bring back his memories, but all I could think about now was how we were the only four patients to get out. Where was everyone else? Were they hurt?
"Dick, I need you to calm down," he pleaded, holding my eyes carefully. "Tell me what you think just happened."
I stared at him. It must have been Psimon. No one else but Megan could've done this so quickly, and I really doubt I would forget her being a criminal mastermind. Maybe I could... refresh his memories. If he heard it again, maybe it would make sense. I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts for a moment, running my fingers through my hair.
"Ah... there... Joker had us all line up in the cafeteria... and he... he threw Bart's body out in the middle of the room... Jaime shot him and then... we all charged. We fought back. The... orderlies came in and we... we all took them out. When it was clearing out, Wally found me. He said he was getting Zatara and Zatanna, and then we were leaving. I grabbed who I could... Jaime was taking Bart's body with us..." I scratched my head, feeling blood from where I hit the wall earlier."
"Joker?" Bruce repeated.
I couldn't believe this. I had to bring back his memories somehow. What could I do? What was there...?
The pot! In his office, he had everything in the pot in the corner of his room! If I could show him, he would remember. He had to.
"I can get your memories back, Bruce. Take me back to your office," I urged, rubbing my cheeks fiercely.
I took a step towards him, to urge him to lead me back, and he took a small step back carefully.
"Dick, let's talk about what just happened. You really don't..."
I shook my head firmly. There wasn't time to waste. All of our outfits had been in there. I could show him the belts, and the picture of all of us in his desk, and if I was lucky, I'd be able to find some of the notes Wally and I had stashed under our mattresses. That had to be enough.
The others had to have taken another route out. When Megan realized I wasn't with them, she would try and get in contact, and if I hadn't helped Bruce by then, she could help him. It would be okay. We had escaped now, officially. I could do it again.
Bruce stared helplessly at the orderlies, or maybe he was afraid, but he nodded and we headed back into the building. He had me walk in front of him, and I made the way up to his office with the best confidence I could muster. I had to believe. He unlocked the door, keeping a wary eye on me, and made me go in first. Immediately, I rushed to the plant and lifted it up. There was nothing beneath the pot. The carpet was firmly sewn together, and there was only dirt inside of the pot. All of our stuff was gone. In his drawers, there were pictures of another family I didn't recognize. It was him, three little boys, and a woman, and they were all grinning. There was no sign of me, or the others.
I wasn't discouraged. It was just hidden somewhere else. I had to find it. I had to get us out of here. My heart hammered dangerously in my throat as I tore his desk apart.
"Dick, can we talk?" he asked calmly, keeping his distance.
When I nodded, he made his way over to a set of cabinets I hadn't noticed before and took out a large case file. I didn't pay it much mind. There had to be one on everyone in there. They had to put up some kind of front to make it believable.
"What do you think happened to Bart?" he asked quietly, setting the file carefully on the desk and opening it.
"Joker killed him."
Bruce was quiet for a long time, and I looked up when I realized he was staring at me, only to see that he had a cellphone out. I raised an eyebrow and he signaled me to wait, and I did until after the camera's flash went off. He looked at the photo, making sure it came out okay, and then he turned the phone around to show me.
It took a good thirty seconds to realize I was staring at myself. I raised shaky hands to take the phone and stared at the picture of myself in horror. My hair was stuck up in every which direction and my cheeks had been painted to make it look like I was smiling largely. I stared at it until I couldn't stand the sight, and I dropped the phone, shaking my head. I rubbed at my cheeks roughly, and I could feel the paint against my skin. This was ridiculous. Psimon must've gotten all of us. We never really won. This was all an elaborate trick.
"What happened to Bart?" I found myself asking anyway, afraid to meet Bruce's eyes.
He took a small step back, shifting a little uncomfortably. I could tell he didn't want to tell me, and that made me feel all the more worried. I knew he was lying, whatever it was he was going to say. The Joker had killed Bart. He had killed him, like he had killed Jason, and threw him out there for all of us to see. I hadn't done anything.
"You stabbed him."
I balled my hands into fists and shook my head. I knew that wasn't true. I had seen it. It still hurt to imagine though. And I bet they wanted me to believe that I had hurt Barbara, too. I know I didn't though. I remembered that much. I would remember stabbing someone. I had to turn around and put my forehead to the wall to catch my breath, a task that was becoming so much harder by the second. Without turning to face him, I pointed back his direction to let him know I was talking to him.
"You never answered my first question," I said slowly, and I waited until he gave sign that he had heard before going on. "What happened to the others?"
He gave a frustrated sigh, and it was relieving to know that he hadn't moved. "I don't know who you're talking about. Give me... give me a specific name."
I turned and put my back to the wall, staring at him. I gave a shrug, trying to think of someone specifically. Everyone jumped out at once.
"Wally," I decided, pulling my hair again. "Wally West. Red hair, freckles, super speed."
Bruce's brow furrowed, and then he turned to the file on the desk, leafing through the papers. He leafed for a long time, and I couldn't begin to think of what those papers could tell him about where Wally was. He found one page and held it up enough to better read it, looking at me over the top of it.
"Is he 'Superboy'?"
My brows tightened and I came forward to the desk, taking the file from his hands.
"No, he's Kid Flash," I said abruptly, leafing through the papers he had stacked.
The first one had my name on it, and 'Robin' beneath it, scratched out with 'Nightwing' written beneath it. It had a brief description of me, starting from the circus and working up, marked as "Identity 1".
The next page had Artemis' name on it. It talked about how she was an archer, and who her parents were, and was marked as "Identity 2".
After that was Conner, tagged Superboy. It talked about how we found him in Cadmus, and how the genomorphs taught him everything he knew, and it was marked as "Identity 3".
Then came Megan, tagged Miss Martian. She was described as a Martian, and it included from her talents to the quirks- "Hello, Megan!", and was marked as "Identity 4".
Kaldur was next, as Aqualad, and it described his position as leader to Atlantis, and the talents he had, tagged "Identity 5".
Wally was after that, marked Kid Flash. It described him as my best friend and talked about his super speed, and our friendship, up until it was marked "Identity 5".
The last was Zatanna. Her magic was described, and at the very bottom a "void" ran through what would've been the 6th identity.
I stared at the papers and my head spun circles around me as I tried to get a decent grasp on what I was reading. This wasn't true. It couldn't be true. I had literally just hugged Wally a few minutes ago. I had seen his bright eyes, and all of his freckles, and the brilliance of that larger-than-life grin. Kaldur had saved me from Bane. Megan had given everyone their memories back- I had seen her. I had heard the others previously during the fight, caught glimpses, and I must've seen Zatanna because I had carved something about her on my stomach, confirmed when I lifted my shirt up. The scars were still there. It had to be proof that my memories were the real ones. Staring at the papers though, I was beginning to doubt myself.
There was too much blood on me to match with the fight I remembered. What if I had hurt them? What if I had killed Bart? The paint on my face... Barbara... the world was too much and I couldn't breathe. The oxygen was the wrong kind, all at once, and I couldn't press harder on my head.
Bruce backed himself up, with good cause probably. I was a murderer. That was the only thing that was starting to make sense right now. He was spared from having to say anything to me as the door opened. He hurried over to it, breathing a sigh of relief as he went.
"Maybe you can make some progress with him," Bruce sounded exhausted. "He won't listen to reason."
When I heard two sets of footsteps, I turned around, ready to fight back any orderlies ready to inject me to the brim with drugs set to wipe my memory. Standing there were the farthest things from orderlies. They wouldn't have needed drugs, because I was already sinking to the floor, the world darkening around the edges of my peripherals.
"Oh my god, Dick, baby, what happened?" my mom asked, my dad staring at me in horror beside her.