Summary: He wishes that the battles would just cease, and that, for once, the world would be still. Blackest Night AU
NOTE: I just like to pretend the reboot doesn’t exist, okay? And while I’m at it, I’m also pretending Blackest Night lasted a lot longer than what it actually did. And also, I wrote this thing, like, a year ago. So if it sucks…my deepest apologies.
Warnings: Violence, some language, and probably something else I’ve forgotten since I first wrote this thing.
Disclaimer: I am the rightful owner of—lol nope JK I own nothing.
Tim doesn’t regret coming to help his friends and family, not one bit. He doesn’t really care that he’s been interrupted in his mission—yet again—or that he’s being forced to play as just another pawn on the chessboard of the cosmic games that never seem to end. They’re sore facts, true, things hard to accept, but he knows he has to. It’s just a part of knowing these people, just a part of being involved in this world, this life. He knows that, he accepts that, and so his current position doesn’t really bother him.
Or, at least, that’s what he tells himself.
He runs a shaking hand over his face, briefly contemplating removing his cowl before pushing the thought away as though it were the plague. He should know better. These days, how terrifyingly insane things have gotten, he should know better. Tim can’t take off that cowl, not now when he could be called into action at any second. He’s spent the past few days bouncing back and forth between Gotham City and San Francisco, trying to decide if the Bat-family or the Teen Titans need him more. Although, he thinks to himself, half-amused with the notion, if nobody had told him, if this wasn’t his plan, he wouldn’t know he was traveling to opposite sides of the country nearly every day. It all looks the same: ruins, rubble, people running and screaming, Black Lanterns crawling all over the place, and death. The death, so familiar and coldly cunning, has followed him no matter where he goes. It’s almost like he’s bringing it there, to every place he visits, wearing it like a tainted badge of honor. But he reminds himself that he’s just human. He’s just one person, barely even a man, and these things attacking them aren’t human, can’t come from any human source. But it’s really just for Tim to keep himself from thinking that it’s his fault. It hurts him to think like that, and the pain he feels knowing the facts he repeats to himself on endless loop are just going in his mind to keep the blame off his shoulders is almost as bad.
Tim can’t remember the last time he slept. Every time he closes his eyes, he sees his parents’ decaying gray flesh, their dead white eyes, and he wakes up screaming. After a while, he stopped trying to sleep. Of course, there was that one time…just a little fever, not much, but he felt so awful that it kept him in bed for the tail end of a week. He slept a lot then, and his slumber was populated completely with nightmares about them all. He’s just thankful that Steph never really died, that Bruce isn’t dead. He doesn’t know what he’d do if he had to face them.
He slumps a little in his seat in the jet, leaning forward and burying his head in his hands. He wonders how much longer he’ll have to take this. It’s just total bullcrap, everything they make him go through in a typical year. And sometimes—although he’d never say this to anyone, and especially not to Dick—sometimes, he wonders if it’s real. He thinks about the insanity of it all and can’t help but speculate that maybe he’s just imagining it. Maybe it’s all in his head. But then, he looks around at the bloodied bodies of the victims, the people he could’ve saved if he’d gotten there just a few moments sooner, and he knows it’s real. Nothing imaginary could look so gory, so terrible.
He wonders how many people will have to die this time.
There’s a hand on his shoulder, and Tim’s reflexes almost make him throw the person off before he opens his eyes and realizes that it’s just Dick, sitting down beside him with a worried expression on his face, a look Tim can tell is there behind the stark black fabric of the cowl. “Are you gonna be okay?” he asks.
Tim knows the question he’s masking behind the pretty words. “Do you really think you can handle this?”
Tim sighs, nods. “I will be,” he assures (“Of course, I can.”), but his words are drained, devoid of all energy, vitality…life. He’s listless, just as dead emotionally as the Black Lanterns are physically, and Dick sees it. His brother squeezes his shoulder, jostling him a little bit, and offers the only condolence available at the moment.
“You’re strong, Timmy. I know you are. Everybody does. And we could all use some of that strength.”
“There’s not much of it left, Dick.” Tim’s voice is sad, but frank. He’s telling the truth. “There just isn’t much of it left.”
Tim fancies he can almost see Deadman floating above them, making some witty remark about the touchy-feely scene unfolding in the jet. It’s times like these that he’s grateful that he can’t see or hear the guy. Damian stands a ways off, pointedly directing his gaze at anything but Tim. Tim may not like the kid, but he respects that the new Robin is smart enough to realize that this has been hard on him and has apparently decided not to pick a fight today. The last thing the family needs is for the boys to be bickering amongst themselves when the world needs them organized, well-prepared, and ready to take on anything. Barbara nurses her injured father, staying out of it for once. She also seems to recognize that Tim needs to deal with all of this on his own. He can’t process when there are people all around him trying to give input that he didn’t want or ask for in the first place. Besides, it’s not like their reassurances really do much of anything for him. He tries to forget…tries to get lost in his own thoughts, his own imaginings…but it doesn’t help. He knows that, right now, the Black Lanterns are following them. They may not make a move, sure, but they’re still there. He can feel their eyes, boring through the walls of the jet, seeking out the colorful auras and thinking about what it’ll be like to snuff them out.
He wonders what color they’re seeing him in right now. Is it yellow, the color of fear? No…Tim’s not scared of them. He’s not afraid of much anymore. Is it blue, for hope? Again, probably not, as he can’t recall the last time he felt hopeful. He isn’t sure what color despair is, or if it even has a color, but he’s guessing that’s what they’re seeing. Or is that just another strain of fear?
The jet doesn’t touch down in San Francisco, when they reach the city. They’ve learned better. And even though they can’t afford to waste fuel, they don’t lower it to the ground. They’ll stand a better chance if they stay in the air.
Tim loads up his gear and heads to the door, but he’s surprised when he sees Dick coming with him. “What’re you doing?” he yells over the roar of the engines.
“I’m helping you!” Dick shouts back. “Somebody’s gotta make sure you don’t fry yourself!”
Tim smiles, even though he doesn’t feel like smiling. He knows what Dick means by that. “Somebody’s gotta make sure you don’t die out here.” After all this time, after so many months of Tim living on his own—and doing it successfully, his mind adds—Dick still doesn’t trust him to face something stronger than him. He still sees him as a child. And who can blame him? Tim’s never had much to do with the Crises, and this qualifies at Crisis-level. He’s just always served a better purpose farther away from the action. Jumping into the fray like this, trying to be a useful fighter in two places at once, it’s not a smart idea, at least not by Batman’s standards. As far as the others are concerned, Tim is too inexperienced. If something happens, how are they supposed to keep him grounded? “Just make sure you can keep up,” Tim quips at his older brother before leaping out of the jet.
They land rather gracelessly on the debris-strewn ground, both unused to the extra weight strapped to their bodies. Tim sweeps the landscape with his eyes, fighting the urge to break down in tears. The destruction is rampant, once-towering buildings reduced to ashes and piles of rubble, the asphalt of the streets cracked and caving, and black streaks up and down everything, marking the sites of bygone battles. Tim can’t help but think on how many innocent lives must’ve been lost in these struggles, how many people were and still may be trapped beneath the decimated city, and he feels it boiling up in him, the rage at the utter heartlessness of creatures who could do this to people who’d committed no crimes, done no wrong. He hates it when he has to deal with this. He’s sick of these things just taking and taking and leaving nothing behind. He won’t let it happen again.
A red-and-blue figure with flowing blonde hair flies up from the distance, and Tim’s about to blast it when he sees who it is. Wonder Girl touches down softly in front of him and throws her arms around him, ignoring the discomfort the flamethrowers and grenades must be causing. “Oh, Tim,” she breathes, almost sobs, into his ear. “I’m so glad you’re here! It’s been awful. You have no idea…”
He shushes her, gently, and then pulls back to hold her out at arm’s length. She looks worn, tired, like she could just drop at any moment. Tim knows the feeling. “We’re here to help,” he assures her. “I have an extra hand or two.” He indicates Dick with a tip of his head, and Cassie’s face brightens.
“Thank Zeus!” she says, relieved. Then, her face falls again. “Have you heard already?”
“Heard about what?”
“You know—what happened to the resurrected heroes: Clark, Conner, Diana, Donna, and even Bart. They’re all…they…” She stops midsentence to compose herself before continuing. “They’re Black Lanterns.”
Dick and Tim exchange a glance that communicates everything between them. “How’d it happen?” Dick questions. “I thought you had to be dead to be a Black Lantern.”
Cassie shrugs. “Apparently, one time is enough.” She motions for them to follow her and lifts off again. “The others are waiting for us.” With that, the trio starts off in what Tim instinctively knows is the direction of Titans Tower.
When they get there, Tim sees familiar faces, to his joy. He can spot Starfire and Cyborg among the heroes assembled, and he catches a glimpse of Dove and Beast Boy there, as well. Conveniently missing are Superboy and Kid Flash, which makes Tim convinced all the more that Cassie’s right about the Black Lantern thing. When Gar’s attention shifts and notices her returning with Batman and Red Robin in two, he quickly morphs into a hawk and shoots over on frantically-flapping wings to meet them. He swoops low about two yards ahead, turns human again, and then runs to a stop in front of Tim. The older hero wastes no time in enveloping both former Titans in a hug and proclaiming, “I’m so glad you guys made it! We could use all the help we can get here.” He steps back, a strange expression on his face that’s reminiscent of sorrow, and Tim suddenly comes to the realization that he’s hardly ever seen Gar Logan frown. “They’re ripping up the town,” Gar’s explaining. “They’ve already killed dozens, maybe hundreds. Whatever survivors we could find were evacuated, and we’re holding out hope that we’ll find more, but it’s unlikely, and it’s tough to get out there without starting a fight. We’ve been trying to beat them back, but there’re just so damn many of them.”
Tim doesn’t have to ask who “they” are.
“All of them Titans?” Dick asks, disbelieving.
Gar shakes his head. “A lot of them, yes, but not all,” he clarifies. “I just…” He trails off, averting his gaze to the ocean so that the Bats in front of him don’t notice he’s starting to cry again. “I just never actually saw how many people we lost to the life. Not just the Titans, but the whole hero community; I mean, there are so many costumes out there, some that I recognize and some that I don’t. I didn’t know there were so many until…”
“Until they came back to take all of us with them,” Tim finishes. Nobody laughs, because it’s not a joke, and Tim didn’t intend for it to be. It’s no momentous revelation, either. Now, it’s just common knowledge.
“How long of a respite are we looking at?” Dick demands, all business.
As if in response, an ominous thunderclap rings out, dangerously close to the tower. The gathering of past and present Titans is immediately on edge as stark black clouds roll in from the direction of the rest of the ruined San Francisco. Tim and Dick ready their flamethrowers, preparing for the worst. Sure enough, Raven begins to hover off the ground, looking as though she’s in immense pain. Her voice cracks as it strains to call out loudly enough for everyone to hear her, “They’re coming back!”
The image is horrific, terrifying. There’s a swarm of Black Lanterns coming at them, like a swarm of giant, humanoid bugs. They laugh, they jeer, and they tear into the tightly-packed crowd of young heroes as if they’re food and the Lanterns are starving—and they are. Their flesh seems to melt off them in slimy gray strips, dripping from their thin bones like water, and Tim’s shocked that he sees so many capes, so many costumes. Gar was right, he thinks to himself. They have lost a lot of people to the life.
He can’t fire off his flamethrower before a massive Black Lantern crashes into the ground in front of him, sending Gar and Dick as well as Tim flying. Tim hits the ground a few meters back and rolls to a stop, and the ache in his left shoulder testifies to the not-quite-fully-healed wound that he’s just agitated. He tells himself that he really should stop dislocating that joint before he finds himself staring at a pair of black boots.
They’re not heavy boots, nor are they armored, like the kind someone out of the Bat-family would wear. They’re also not particularly clean boots, with about a half inch off the bottom being covered in something that looks like dried mud with suspiciously more reddish-brown speckles here and there. But the weirdest thing about the boots is that they’re…familiar to Tim. He recognizes them.
He never spent a whole lot of time looking at Superboy’s shoes before. The only time he ever saw those shoes had always been during training, when a flying kick was misguided and ended up being directed at his face. But, still, Tim remembers that his best friend’s shoes were always dirty. It was like some kind of status symbol, some kind of identifying mark. Even on the day he died, Conner’s shoes were dirty. And they’re dirty now, as he’s standing over Tim and surveying him like he can’t decide if he should eat him or talk to him first.
“Hey, Tim,” Conner greets him. “What brings you here?”
Tim rolls again as a super-strong punch literally smashes a hole in the ground where he was just lying a moment ago. He comes up in a defensive position, holding his flamethrower ready. Conner looks so different, as a Black Lantern, the now-infamous symbol encasing the S-shield, his skin so white it makes glue look black, and his eyes milky, pupil-less, dead. Tim drinks in every detail a split second before torching them all.
As if it would do any good even if Conner weren’t one of them. He’s practically invulnerable, and the fire doesn’t even make a mark on his skin. And if it did, by some stroke of luck or fate, the black ring on his hand would just regenerate him, too fast for Tim to blast away with flames. Tim knows that. He isn’t stupid. That’s why all he’s trying to do is hold him at a safe distance, just so he can give himself enough time to think of a plan.
“You know, I would’ve thought you’d be too busy to come to San Fran,” Conner continues. “I mean, you’ve been looking for Bruce nonstop for—what, seven months now? It’s all you talk about, all you think about. You’re OCD over this, man, I can tell.”
Tim tries to block out what his friend is saying to him. He knows it’s all just empty words, just a bunch of talk, but it still cuts deep. He doesn’t let himself focus on what Conner’s saying. He backs up another few paces and throws a grenade, which shatters against Conner’s barrel chest and explodes on impact. The Black Lantern keeps coming at him, making a ghastly, almost grotesque, image by the way the not-so-subtly altered shirt smokes, the way the flames singe his hair and then the harm done shrivels away. He’s taking one step at a time towards Tim, to get the words out that he wants to say. No—Conner doesn’t want to say it, and Tim has to scream that at himself in his mind to make it sink in. Conner isn’t doing this. The ring is.
“But why don’t you just let go and admit it, Tim? Admit that you were wrong. You’ve spent the better part of a year now searching for someone who isn’t coming back. You’re losing your grip, dude. It’s time to get real.”
Tim whips out a Batarang. “Go to hell!” he spits, and then he flings it. It bounces harmlessly off Conner’s abdomen, ricocheting into the ocean and spraying the water high as it blows up.
Conner leaps at him, grabbing him by the shoulders and plowing him into the ground. He grins sinisterly as his ring hand comes to rest on Tim’s chest, right over his heart. Tim gets dizzy for a second as the heartbeat slows under the Black Lantern touch, blood flow suddenly being all but cut off to his body. Conner’s voice is almost right in his ear as he murmurs gleefully, “Trust me, Tim; we’re already there.”
A sudden burst of blue light from down the battlefield distracts Conner for just a moment, and it’s all the window of time that Tim needs. He swings the flamethrower up and cracks his friend across the temple, knocking him away. He stumbles when he gathers his feet beneath him, unbalanced somehow by the return of his strength with his heartbeat’s steady tempo. He sends a glance in the direction of the light and just catches the briefest sight of Dick, floating above his land-bound allies and garbed in the uniform of what Tim assumes must be the Blue Lantern Corps. Somehow, it fits. It feels natural. And he lets his attention fall back on the Black Lantern Superboy, who’s gazing at him with a strange mixture of delight and irritation. He licks his lips. “Will, rage, compassion…your heart’s gonna taste good, Tim,” he remarks, and then he lunges. But Tim isn’t scared. He doesn’t fear anything, not death, not Conner, and most certainly not the Black Lanterns. Nothing can frighten him. He came here with the sole purpose of defending the people who are still alive, and he’s going to do it, no matter what it takes.
“Timothy Drake of Earth, you are a creature of great willpower.”
The voice sounds so nearby that it fills his ears, like a person speaking right next to him, but he can’t locate the source unless it’s just in his own mind.
“You are willing to stand up to a force much stronger than yourself to protect the innocent. Even in the face of certain death, you show no fear. For that, you have been chosen. Welcome to the Green Lantern Corps.”
There’s a multitude of sensations all in one split second, the split second of green light enveloping him. The rest of the battle is blocked from his vision, and all he sees is the light of his Corps. He lets the flamethrower slip from his grasp, lets the utility belts full of weapons fall to the ground, because he knows he won’t need them anymore. The cape and cowl dissolve from his body, and his normal suit is replaced by the gleaming metallic armor of a Green Lantern, a domino mask over his eyes and nose being the only thing concealing his identity from the world. The Red Robin insignia is still embedded in the center of the chest piece of the armor, and the shoulder plates bear the Green Lantern Corps symbol, and there’s a ring on his right hand that’s sparking with the energy of his willpower. He’s aware of it all happening in what must be less than a second. Like Dick’s transformation, Tim’s newfound power feels natural to him, like he’s wielded it all his life. And as the light fades from around him, he brings his ring hand up, and a glowing emerald fist strikes Conner hard across the jaw, sending him rocketing down the island.
“Tim!” Dick yells, and Tim turns to face him. “It’s a rush, huh?” Tim can tell what he’s really saying. “Isn’t power awesome?”
Tim gears up and shoots through the air into the main battle near the tower, slicing through the Black Lanterns with ease and pushing aside a few other heroes. He hopes it’ll give them enough time to regroup, get their nerves pulled back into shape. He circles around, a bright beacon of green, dips low, and does it again and again. Each time, he hits a new area, giving his friends and fellow Titans a few moments’ break before the battle begins anew.
He’s almost knocked out of the air by a flash of purple light, like a firecracker going off directly beneath him, and he smiles a little when he swerves. He looks down to see Star Sapphire Wonder Girl beating the crap out of the undead army converging on the young heroes. For someone so full of love, she sure does fight dirty.
He’s heard…he’s heard that green rings do damage to Black Lanterns. He’s sure that, if he tries hard enough, he can figure out a way to stop them. So, he lands in the center of the fray, the most heated part of the struggle, and starts testing out his theory. He’s imaginative, that’s for sure. The things that spout from his ring range from real items to things he’s only dreamt about, creatures out of his darkest nightmares. Everything that populates his imagination is poured out through his ring at his command, biting into the enemy and helping force them back away from the others. Once, during the fight, his ring runs out of juice and, cursing none-too-softly, he kneels out of the way, holds it out to the power battery that’s randomly materialized in his hand, and recites the oath, the one he never knew he’d memorized until this moment. Once his ring is fully recharged, he stands, ready for battle once more.
A blur with surprising weight slams into his side, and he’s off his feet again. This time, though, he rights himself mid-air and spins around to face his enemy.
Black looks so out-of-place on Kid Flash. The auburn hair that pokes out over the top of the mask is messy from running at Mach Ten, and there’s a goofy grin plastered onto his face, just like always. But there’s also a black ring on his hand, controlling him, pulling his strings like a puppet master with his marionette. His skin, like Conner’s, is chalky and ashen like a corpse’s, his eyes inhumanly white. “Hey, Tim, what’s up?” Bart calls.
He runs at his friend again, taking a leap at the last moment that gets him on top of the other young man. Tim comes crashing to the ground, dirt fills his mouth, and he forces Bart away with a blast of energy from his ring. He spits, watching carefully as Bart begins to approach him again, apparently unfazed by the attack. Tim puts up a shield and attempts to stop himself from listening to Bart as he taunts, “Not that you’d know. I mean, you don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t text, and you don’t even come by anymore.”
The speedster breaks through the wall of green energy to deliver an uppercut to Tim’s jaw that sends him reeling. But Tim stays standing, because he can’t afford to go down.
“You’re so self-centered nowadays.”
A hit to the abdomen makes Tim double over in pain, and he shoves Bart back again with yet another blast of green energy. Now, he’s not so worried about not listening. He’s much more worried about not losing his cool.
“You don’t care about anything but yourself anymore, you and that stupid quest.”
Tim pushes the speedster backward once more with a dome of pure willpower. He has to stay focused. He can’t let this get to him, can’t let him get under his skin. Not this time…
“He’s got a point, son.”
The voice makes him wince in spite of himself. Jack Drake is outside his dome, he knows it, but he bids himself to not turn around, to not even look. He has to remind himself that it’s not his father, that Jack isn’t saying these things to him. It’s all from that ring, that horrible, despicable ring that’s desecrating them all, turning them all into monsters. It wants to make him hate the people he cares about the most, maybe even himself. It wants him to break down, because then it can make Jack’s body kill him, and then he’ll turn into one of them. He doesn’t want to be one of them. He doesn’t want to have to hurt somebody for that…that thing that commands them, that cold, heartless whatever-it-is that he can’t seem to upset no matter how hard he tries.
“You’ve pushed away everyone you care about,” Jack says. “You even pushed me away when I was still alive. It broke my heart, Tim, and now you’re doing it again. You just don’t get it, do you? You can’t protect them all, not by cutting them off from you.”
“Stop it,” Tim whimpers, and he can feel the emotion rising up in his chest and his throat again, knows they can see it. So they egg him on, because they see it in his aura, and they want it. They’re salivating, greedily licking their lips as they imagine what they’ll do to him.
“No, you stop it,” Bart retorts. “Stop putting up all those walls and hiding behind them, like you always hide. You hide from the world because you can’t face the truth. You don’t want to have to deal with the fact that you’ve abandoned us.”
The hoarse scream is Tim’s own, and the dome becomes a long, flowing whip that slashes at Jack and Bart, making them slide back to dodge its path. “I cared about you!” Tim bellows. “I cared about all of you! You think I wouldn’t give my life to protect you?”
“Let’s test it out,” Bart suggests maliciously.
Tim’s sick of these things already. He’s sick and tired of them playing mind games with him, tormenting him, making him suffer. He wishes that the battles they cause would just cease and, for once, the world would be still, still and silent and solitary. He doesn’t understand why they can’t just let him be, and it makes him livid.
“Timothy Drake of Earth, your rage is blinding.”
There it is again, a voice speaking to him, strangely close, and he wonders why he can’t be left the hell alone.
“You seethe at the prospect of those you love thinking you have let them down. Your soul burns, and your blood boils, with your anger at the unfairness of the world that took them from you. For that, you have been chosen. Welcome to the Red Lantern Corps.”
Out of his peripheral vision, Tim sees the red merge itself with the green, and the Red Lantern Corps symbol is now on his left shoulder plate, the red ring on his left hand glittering with his fury. He opens his mouth, and fiery blood spews at the nearest Black Lanterns. His vision is rimmed with red, his armor splashed with it, and the ground stained with it. A cry tears from his lips, a battle cry that promises wrath and vengeance, and he charges forward to meet his adversaries head-on. The unlucky ones caught directly in his way are also caught in the path of the red-hot fluid that disgorges from his mouth, leaving behind on their already-rotting flesh charred patches of severe burns, and the stunning attack makes the Black Lanterns scatter. Tim’s fellow Titans get smart the second they can tell he’s gone red, and they disengage themselves from their opponents, moving away from him swiftly and dragging the wounded to safety with them.
But Tim’s not watching them. He’s letting it all out for once, and it feels good. He can hear Dick saying something to him, something about showing them up, but he’s not listening, either. All he’s got his attention on right now is his father.
He floats just out of Tim’s reach, and he grins while he goads his son on. Jack’s face looks like a skull with its one layer of thin, ashy skin that’s almost transparent so that the bones seem to jut out from beneath it, sharp and cruel, and that smile is the smile of the face on a bottle of poison, a skull-and-crossbones. Tim hated it, when he was younger, when his father would give him that smile, the smile that said he wasn’t really listening and he didn’t really care. It’s that same look on his face now, but at the same time, it’s such an abysmal, almost obscene, rendition of that look that it makes Tim’s hatred for the Black Lanterns grow. What kind of creature can amplify the negative aspects of a person you loved so that you don’t love them anymore?
“Oh, Timmy,” Jack sneers, barely managing to evade another surge of boiling blood. “You really should learn to control yourself. What’ll Bruce think when he gets back?”
“You don’t know anything about Bruce!” Tim roars. He unleashes a volley of green spikes at Jack.
The Black Lantern maneuvers around them with ease, beginning to slow down. He’s no doubt getting ready to pounce again. “Damn right, I don’t,” he agrees. “But I do know one thing: that man taught you how to make a career out of saving people, so how come you couldn’t save me?”
An emerald sword forms in Tim’s right hand, and when his left hand clamps onto the hilt, it becomes infused with the red light of rage. He hefts it over his shoulder like a baseball bat and takes a hearty swing when Jack stops flying away and turns to begin the fight again. It catches Jack by surprise and slices through his ring hand, cutting away the black power ring. Tim might be imagining it, but a deep, rasping voice intones, “Connection severed.”
Jack begins to lose altitude fast, and Tim speeds to catch him. He tightly grips a near-skeletal wrist and glides over to an unoccupied area of the island, the one place the mêlée hasn’t touched yet. He gently lowers his father’s body, which is lifeless once more, onto the ground and says, as though Jack could still hear it, “I’m human, Dad. I failed.”
Tim wastes no time in getting back to the others. He catches Dick and Cassie’s attention by yelling out, “There’s a way to beat them!”
Cassie is at his side in an instant, sleek violet armor scuffed from the conflict. “What is it?” she demands.
“Combination green and another color, I just tried it and it works.”
If she’s at all distressed by the streams of searing red fluid still leaking from Tim’s mouth, she disguises it well. She nods once and tells him, “Let’s see what green and purple can do.”
They’re pressed back-to-back against each other in an instant, surveying the area. Cassie’s elbow knocks into Tim’s, she points to his right, and he turns his head to see Conner streaking at them like a black missile. They raise their rings and hit him with a sizeable blast of combined energy that sends him hurtling to the ground. Tim and Cassie share a glance when they hear, “Connection severed.” Then they touch down alongside the panting, huddled mass that is Superboy. Cassie kneels beside her boyfriend, placing a hand on his back, and calls softly, “Conner? You okay?”
He raises his face and smiles at her. Tim is relieved to see that his skin is a normal hue, the color of the living, and his eyes are blue again. “Thanks,” he gasps out. “I needed that.” He accepts Cassie’s hand, which she offers to help him up, and stands tall. “Let’s kick ass.”
Tim takes off to find Dick, trumpeting the news that they can take the Black Lanterns down. Nobody seems to question, at least not outwardly, that he’s pretty much taken control of the situation. There again, it just feels right, natural, like it was meant to happen. He tells the other Titans, the ones still standing and fighting, that they need to let the Lanterns handle it. “When I give the signal,” he shouts over the battleground, “get clear!”
Dick has his hands full with Bart, who’s zipping around him in circles, hitting him probably ten times a second. He won’t be able to stand the beating much longer, which is why Tim is here. He knocks Bart away with a blast of red rage and positions himself beside his brother. “Hit him when I say to,” he commands sharply, and Dick nods.
They watch as Bart gathers his feet under him and comes at them again. “Do it now!” Tim bellows.
A stream of combined blue and green power nabs Bart squarely in the chest, throwing him several yards, and he skids to a stop. Dick starts over to check on him, but Tim grabs his arm and holds him back. “Not yet,” he warns. “Just wait.” Dick looks skeptical, but he obeys. Sure enough, Bart stands up slowly, rubbing the back of his neck and no doubt wondering what just happened. The bright colors have been returned to both his uniform and his face, and Tim only releases Dick when he can clearly see that. The brothers advance cautiously to Kid Flash’s position, watching to see that it’s not a ruse. Bart looks up at them with a genuine smile, not that sinister mask he wore only a few moments before. Now, Tim’s got both his best friends back for real.
He wastes no time in shooting a flare of red power into the air, high enough for everyone on the whole island to see. Tim, Cassie, and Dick come together in the center, back-to-back, hoping to draw the Black Lanterns’ attention away from the swiftly retreating Titans. It works, mostly. The undead heroes and villains crowd around them, eagerly licking their lips and rubbing their hands together and waiting to harvest these particularly tasty hearts. Tim gives Cassie and Dick a look, and all he says is one whispered word: “Nuke.” He counts down from three, and then a powerful explosion of red, green, blue, and violet light erupts, stretching over the entire island. When the flare fades away and his vision clears, Tim sees the former Black Lanterns lying on the ground, dead bodies once more. He floats up a little higher and turns in a slow circle, surveying his surroundings. They’ve done it. They’ve defeated all of them, for good. And at last, the world around him is silent.
After they receive word that the Blackest Night is over, that the Black Lantern Corps’ leader (Tim never learned his name and doesn’t really want to, anyway) has been vanquished, the normal post-Crisis procedures commence. Titans of every age, rescue workers, police officers, firefighters, and even a few civilians begin to clean the wreckage from San Francisco’s streets, slowly coaxing life back into the near-desolate city. Survivors are given supplies, food, water, and medical attention, if needed. Surprisingly, there’s not much looting, mainly because the intense terror of the not-quite-forgotten struggle with the Black Lantern Corps still keeps most people indoors or wherever they happened to be when it all ended. Tim helps out as much as possible, both in Gotham and in San Francisco. He divides his time equally, still attempting to figure out which city’s inhabitants need him most and finally deciding that they all need him. He doesn’t visit the resurrected ones—figures they’ll find him one way or another. That’s usually just the way this business works, after all; give it time, and you’ll meet almost everyone. Besides, he’s already met half of them before, and he’s not in the mood for mushy reunions.
Then, of course, the memorial services come.
Tim attends funerals, some of them for people he was close to and some for people he never even met, but he goes to the latter ones because he knows that they’re all supposed to be in this together. He remembers, when they buried his father and the other victims of Jean Loring’s crazy scheme, dozens of heroes showed up to console and support the families, including him, even though a lot of them were in the big leagues way before his time. He needs to repay the debt he owes them, including the ones who’re dead. That’s what they’d want.
He holds himself together, forces himself to, at Tempest’s funeral service by the sea. And even though he didn’t know her very well, he finds himself swallowing tears as Hawk’s casket is lowered into the ground. There’s just so much baggage being carried around by everyone, something about the inescapable memory of seeing their remains desecrated by such awful instruments of evil. He swears that if it happens again, he won’t let it go far. He’ll track down their leader and stop it himself.
Ironically, the only place Tim can find the real peace and silence that he’s been searching for almost all his life is in the cemetery in Gotham City. He stands before the graves of Jack and Janet Drake, trying hard not to think about how they’re once again freshly buried. He doesn’t want to acknowledge the pain that gnaws at his heart, eating him alive from the inside, but he knows it’s there and it makes him want to cry all over again. The tombstones are cracked and lopsided, the words are just barely readable, but he doesn’t want to get it fixed. He doesn’t want to make the frequent replacement of his parents’ headstones a habit, so as not to encourage the Powers-That-Be to torture him further. The soft, golden Gotham sunlight glints off the metallic armor that still encases his frame, the red and green that he would laugh at, joke about because it looks like a Christmas tree, if it hadn’t been spawned by such a horrific event as the dead coming after the living. His eyes, behind the domino mask, are locked onto the stones, and he feigns deep thought when he hears the sound of feet hitting the grass behind him. As if on cue, Dick steps up beside him and says, his tone almost guarded, “I wish that hadn’t happened.”
“You’re not the only one,” Tim reminds him, and his voice is thick with the emotions he feels.
“You know, Saint Walker told me that a Blue Lantern is the cure for a Red Lantern’s rage. If you want to, I could—”
“We’ve been through this, Dick. I don’t know.”
The conversation dies away, and the only sound around them is the soft rustle of the wind in the trees. “Do you ever get tired of it?” Dick asks suddenly.
Tim’s head whips around so that he’s looking at his older brother. “Tired of what?”
“Do you ever get tired of being angry all the time? I mean, you’re always upset. You’re never happy anymore, and I don’t like that. You don’t deserve to go through your life without knowing what it’s like to enjoy yourself.” He nudges Tim’s arm, gently, so as not to draw his wrath. “C’mon, Timmy, I’m your brother. I’m just worried about you.”
Tim doesn’t answer, not at first. He just turns his gaze back to the tombstones of his parents. And then he changes the subject, hoping to avoid the possibility of having to make up his mind right then and there. “Why do you suppose we haven’t already reverted back to our normal forms?”
Dick shrugs. “Maybe they need us for something. I mean, they’ve gotta have a reason for this, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Suddenly, Tim knows what his decision is going to be. He knows what he must do. He can feel it in his heart that it’s time. He turns to Dick again. “All that stuff you said…you’ve got a point. I…I don’t want to be angry anymore.”
Dick smiles at him. “Okay, then. I can fix it.” He places his hands on Tim’s shoulders, and Tim closes his eyes. He feels the soothing power of the blue light of hope flowing throughout his body, cooling the flame of the rage that burns inside his chest. It’s a gradual sensation, so slight at first that he hardly notices it and then building until the rage is gone completely, leaving behind only a deep sense of relief and happiness. When he opens his eyes, his armor is all green again. Dick removes his hands from his little brother’s shoulders and nods, approvingly. “I’m glad you made that choice, Tim.”
“I’m about to make another.” Tim reaches up and tugs the Red Robin insignia out of his chest armor. The cavity is instantly filled by the Green Lantern Corps’ symbol. “Okay. So, apparently, my job isn’t done yet. Well, I think it’s safe to say that until it is, I won’t need this. I mean…Green Robin just doesn’t really have the same ring to it.”
Dick chuckles and shakes his head. “Glad to see that your sense of humor has returned.” He pushes off from the ground, motioning for Tim to come with him. “C’mon, little bro, the universe needs you.”
For once, Dick is saying exactly what he means.
Tim blows his parents’ graves a kiss before flying away with his brother. And he comes to the conclusion that he’ll always find his share of peaceful silence in his family, no matter what.
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