ANDROMEDA - CHAPTER TWELVE
Jason Todd is lost in an unknown realm light years away from Earth.
With not much hope to find his way back, his only companion is a cruel alien cyborg from the enemy fleet, one he’ll have to get along with to survive.
A/N: I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S OVER. THIS SERIES TOOK ME THE LONGEST TIME BUT I WAS SO SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS TO EVEN MIND. THANK YOU GUYS SO MUCH FOR READING AND I LOVE YOU
WARNINGS:GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS OF VIOLENCE, MIND CONTROL, BRAINWASH, MEMORY LOSS, NSFW SEXUAL CONTENT
Like the headlights that blind as death holds them to his face, the eyes that stared at him were as cold and empty as any blank red bulb. As they glowered like a sniper’s scope, she was gone. N/N lied through her teeth with her last words. Her humanity detached itself from its already weak ties; her face was as deathly as a gun’s smoking muzzle, ready to place a bullet between the eyes that crossed her.
Or crossed Z’arr. She had no thoughts. She had no feelings of anguish, vengeance, or anger. She was a machine powered by the hands of another, a robotic puppet no different from a remote-controlled toy truck. An android.
“Are you in the mood for a show?” Z’arr asked his men. They cackled in response and one of them clubbed the back of Jason’s head with his pipe of an arm.
All it took was a tap on Z’arr’s wrist, a control display that completely rid his precious N/N of her own mind.
A Kryptonian. And no other.
The machinery that held her arms opened, and before the rest of them could even hear the smoke exhaust, N/N obliterated the glass with her fists and leapt for the weakened Jason.
His back couldn’t possibly have broken that many walls on its own, but N/N held him by the shoulders, pushed without the aid of the wind to fly. With gravity being a feeble force no match for her strength, she threw Jason four rooms down.
Had his heart found its way to his head?
Because it was throbbing like one, like fists rattling a steel cage with an agitated gorilla calling for help.
But the blood had reached his eye sockets. For so long, all he could see was the red that spilled from his hairline; the stinging iron that would not leave his tongue. His back should have been in pieces. Perhaps it was, and that his flesh had the cruelty to hold itself together while none of his bones were intact.
He coughed a mouthful of blood. Around him, cyborgs were fleeing out of the food room. Some stayed, watched as if entertained. Some in horror. It was no different from the nosy crowds back at home.
Something grabbed him by the collar on his back, lifting him up so he hung like he was in the gallows. Jason clawed relentlessly at the static tightening in his neck, then he laid eyes on N/N who held him up like he weighed the same as feathers.
Her cold, red eyes. Nothing terrified him more. And she wanted him to have a slow fall into death’s arms, when he could feel his life being torn from his lungs. Jason reached for her arms, her shoulders. “N/N…”
Nothing. That was no longer her name.
It should have been a bullet that hit his chest, but nothing sliced his skin. Instead, it was her fist-with the might of an elephant’s foot leaving a crater on soil. The back of his head soon met a wall.
The shooting pains in his ribs stretched to every nerve stubborn enough to hold on. Already, N/N was in front of him, her feet not even touching the ground as she flew, then she held Jason by the neck to the wall.
“N/N,” he cried, “please. Please, it’s me…”
One hit to his ribs. Another to his face. The words only seemed to agitate her more. He couldn’t tell what was in his lips-if it was blood, sweat, tears, or all three. His jaw had broken by the third hit.
“Enough talking!” Cyborg voices echoed from outside. “Fight back, earthling!”
His body was skidding across the floor. Each time he rolled over his back, his bones punctured further into his lungs.
“He’s not even hitting back!”
“Is he crying?!”
More blood left his mouth. As his arms struggled to hold him above ground so it wouldn’t further shatter his bones, N/N slammed her foot against his back and for once, his screams were all to be heard. His vocal chords had distorted and he couldn’t even recognize his own cries.
Only once did he have this many bones broken before.
But this time, it was worse. Because what gouged through his throat to rip his soul out was no one he hated. It was N/N. N/N. She was doing this to him.
This wasn’t her. This wasn’t her. This wasn’t her.
With the side of his face cementing itself to the cracking ground, he could move only his eyes. There was a wall in front of him: a wall tainted with his blood.
Still, his heart, granted with too many chances at life, would not easily slip away. His eyes trailed up to his assailant, a beautiful cyborg with the hands that once held him so gently, now watched his face distort as her foot dug further into his spine.
No pain was greater than having both the mind and body shatter all at once.
A push of a button.
That was all it took.
N/N stopped and stepped away. She was as stiff as an object, a piece of machinery, standing still and upright just as Z’arr approached them from behind.
“What’s another assessment, earthling? It is the test before we’d bother to replace your parts.”
The Martian did not kneel to his side and only looked down on him like he was dead pest on the ground.
“You’re a stubborn one. We can work with that,” he turned to his me. “Take him back to his cell.”
That night, the pain could not lull him to sleep like it tends to. Everything was silent. Everything was deafening.
She shattered all ten of his ribs.
More than that, he was sure. He couldn’t, quite literally, lift even a finger.
His breaths were counted. Even with shards of his own bones puncturing his lungs, he forced himself to breathe. Every time he did, it was like driving a knife further down his chest.
Nothing had ever been so broken within him that he wished death would just waltz in invited, but he wasn’t allowed that. Not this time.
N/N broke him.
N/N did this to him.
But it wasn’t her.
But it was her.
Always. She’d always been so capable of being so cruel. How was this any different from how she treated him the first time they met?
If only she were as capable at the Watchtower or at the deserts as she was now, he wouldn’t have died differently than in the pitiful state he was in.
One dose of their magical serum wasn’t enough. They had to come in and inject him twice for anything to work. Apparently, they never had a recruit with as much damage from an assessment as he did.
They never had N/N for a torturer either.
Days after, or perhaps it had only been hours, Jason had healed. The pain was still there, of course. And even when it no longer hurt to breathe, it hurt to still exist, to live.
From within his cell, he could only sit and watch as they did the same atrocities to Roy as they did him. Only less, since he was no Lazarus-enhanced earthling. But he was strong all the same and they deemed him worthy for a few parts. His eyes and arms especially. The better to shoot arrows with, dear.
When they left Roy with the serum snapping his bones back into place, he had the strength to look up to his friend. He should be furious, screaming at him for even having the heart to just sit and watch. Hell, Jason didn’t even have the decency to look away.
But he was just as quiet.
Even he knew Jason was long gone, even with all the wounds healed and fixed. He was shattered and no serum could ever fix that. This test wasn’t to see if their bodies were capable. It was to rid them of their humanity and hope.
He was only sorry he couldn’t save Roy, like all the other times their shenanigans were only saved by the strike of luck. Roy stared at Jason for the whole of the night. He accepted this. They’d accepted death. If only it was the same as dying, it would have been okay.
His Red Hood helmet disturbed the darkness with a beeping red light, as it did when it received a message from its transmitters. He didn’t hold it up to his head, but he at least had the strength to listen.
“JASON. IT’S ME, ORA. WE’RE GONNA GET YOU OUT. YOU AND ROY KEEP YOURSELVES ALIVE UNTIL WE-“
Deleted the message before it even finished. This was delusion at this point.
As if it wasn’t her doing, Jason closed his eyes and let the last lingering memories of N/N and her smile bring him that momentary peace. It lasted the night, almost as if her arms were close around his shoulders.
By the end of it, there were other hands that grabbed him, leading Jason out of his cell. There was no saving him. There was no saving this.
They made the hallways as narrow, cold, and empty as possible as if they purposely wanted their hope to further become ash. They held his arms behind his back, as if it were needed when Jason hadn't the strength to even speak.
They passed a room where the cyborgs stood eerily still, without the mind to at least twitch.
A cyborg with the face of a beautiful blue-skinned alien was being rid of her arms, replaced with the same as the Brainiac’s androids. Beside her was one who’d already gone too far to be saved, a friend of hers that no longer had a face, but a cold, empty skull he’d seen far too many times. Soon enough, they’ll be supply for Brainiac’s next invasion.
He couldn’t understand the thin cyborg-with the same built as a grasshopper-holding a holographic clipboard. From the looks of Jason’s anatomy projected above the screen, they were replacing a whole lot of him, more than they should. His arms, already so large, looked double its size. The cybernetic replacements for his thighs looked deadly enough to snap three necks at a time. His brain would be completely ripped from his skull and his chest no different from a steel shell of a machine’s engine. His handsome face would be no more, and instead by a faceless plate of metal with two slits for eyes and a mouth nothing more than a dent. It looked exactly like the Red Hood.
His heart: a cold piece of fuel, like the battery of a ship.
His hands, most of all, no longer looked to be of a human’s. In place of fingers, palms that flushed red of his blood, he had blasters out of his wrists; guns like the ones Bruce repeatedly told him not to use. Karma was not just a bitch. She was sadistic, too.
A tank. Of course. They wanted to build him to be a tank. Like N/N.
He all but rolled his eyes.
The room they took him in had a pod where he’d lie down. They strapped the large man to the bed, even when he showed no restraint. Above him was a blinding white light: the last he’d ever see with the eyes he had now.
He always did think he had pretty eyes. Blue. Like the dust clouds of a nebula on the black skies.
Jason closed them, wanting the feel of his fluttering eyelids to last. Then he let the dreams play out: the dreams of home. The visions were peaceful, gentle.
He thought those visions would stop when they’d drill a screw into his skull.
But it stopped when no other than a sudden flash of fire that scorched the room in black, dispersing ash. Then there were the shrieks of frantic pigs, or the horrified cries of birds.
His eyes shot open when the fire hit too close to his face. Once more, his blood was pumping like it only took then for anything to wake him. He struggled with the shackles but couldn’t move. The fire killed more of his captors. The only one who lived was the grasshopper who put up no fight and instead, curled at the corners of the room begging Ora to spare him.
She did, thankfully. Ora shed her disguise as one of Jason’s guards and sighed as her mohawk almost touched the ceiling. “We don’t have much time,” she said, already throwing Jason his helmet and weapons. “We’ll get you out of here.”
Was this that very delusion?
Should he take it?
The Fleet did an awful good job making sure there was none of that, even when hope was being served on a shiny platter with a bib around his neck.
Ora tore the shackles apart. “Come on-“
“Are you sure?” Jason asked. If it were any other case, they’d already be out the door. This was the days of mental torture talking. “We can't get out of this-“
“Aya has Roy. A ship is waiting for us. Let’s go-“
“Why are you helping me?”
Ora shook him by the shoulders.
“N/N made me promise. That enough of a reason for you?”
No prison cell could keep her down.
Or at least, stop her from saving Jason one last time.
Ora didn’t wait for Jason to object. She sped out the door, shooting fire out of her hands at anything that moved. The alarm blared through every speaker in the Station, and already, he could hear the many cyborgs coming in from the ceiling, the corners, even the floor.
“Ora,” Jason pleaded when his legs grew too weak, “N/N is too strong-“
“I know you’re afraid of her,” Ora held Jason by the waist, “we all are. There’s no one in this ship with half her strength.”
“I wasn’t going to say I was afraid, but that was reassuring.”
“Let’s just hope we don’t have to run into her.”
When her fire could no longer melt the steel, they ran by foot out of the food room for the hangars. The walls suddenly broke down at the might of a Mace of the strongest metal.
Aya shielded herself from the flying debris with her gigantic metal wings. At her side, strapped like a babe, was Roy shooting arrows at incoming cyborgs they didn’t even see.
He raised a hand to Jason like a salute. Then Jason grabbed his guns from his hips.
Roy jumped to his side and they paved their dangerous ways into the rubble. Soon enough, the ruckus would reach the Captain and they couldn’t afford to allow them the time. Aya grabbed them both by the collars, Ora used her fire to free their path, and Jason and Roy shot at anything that even moved. The androids for Brainiac, the cyborgs that looked still too similar to him, all crowded to stop them.
But they reached the hangar, thankfully, after breaking down several walls. The ship couldn’t possibly have lasted, and the floor quaking beneath them only sealed that. Finally, as if a rush of air was there to greet them, they reached the main deck where the plasma ceilings distorted the vast, open skies; the stars singing their misses for Jason as he realized it’d been days since he last saw them.
Ora started for a ship that would have immediately left the terminal. It was then. Hope. As easily as it’d left him, his soul rushed to every ends of his body until there could only be that haste to save themselves.
That ship, however, did not even get to say its finalities. Hope had a little setback as everyone with a sense stood stiff in helpless fear.
N/N shot from the sky, or wherever she came from, with her red, unblinking eyes much like the burn of a star. Her feet landed on the ship itself and it posed no fight nor chance against her weight. The whole ship broke down beneath her; not even with a dent or a crater. It exploded like a canon shot through the whole of it until it was nothing but ash and flying debris, fire catching like a warm, dramatic welcome.
N/N, the Cyborg, grabbed what was left of the ship and tossed it until it drifted out into the vacuum. Like waves parting for a terrifying deity, the fire subsided and the other cyborgs, a whole army of them, stood at the side.
Earthlings stood no chance. That wasn’t a question.
Tamaranians and Thanagarians could. They were strong by themselves.
But against a Kryptonian?
Perhaps not even the Justice League could easily get out of this, like they hadn't when the whole team went against Clark.
Like death in space.
Like the stars that made no sound.
Or the hovering asteroids that wouldn’t whisper even as it collided with its own brethren.
Ora shot what she could out of her palms. But the flames were subtle. Scared. She was so terrified of her own friend, she couldn’t even hold the sweat from extinguishing her own flames.
Aya was no different. Perhaps out of everyone, she feared N/N the most. The largest, most capable being out of the ones on his side, the mace on her hand was shaking like something quaked her.
Jason and Roy. The supposed helpless earthlings. They should be afraid. For what was left out of their lives, they should at least anticipate what would come.
The glowing red eyes had set them as targets. N/N stood unmoving, arms stretched and ready to pounce like a waiting lioness. Her feet looked unshaken even with the ground beyond repairs beneath her.
Help her. Save her.
The voice that echoed, he hoped to ignore.
At Z’arr’s unspoken command, N/N tore through the winds like a bullet shot out of a large gun.
He wasn’t spared the warning of at least having seen her move. The next thing he knew, Jason was pinned to the wall several yards away. His back tore a crater once again, but the pain thankfully didn’t have to last. As he stared at N/N’s eyes, bright enough that it hurt to look, there was nothing but blankness. Not N/N. M-812
Aya’s mace reverberated through the whole part of the ship. The impact was so large, so loud, the clang of metal sounded the same as a ship crashing on cold grounds. To the side of her head, finally, something was strong enough to throw N/N off her stance.
Then her aim was set on Aya, a grit showing that it at least hurt. N/N and Aya pounced at each other like two panthers at a brawl from opposite ends of the ship. No wind stood a chance in their way.
Jason fell but he didn’t wait for the rest to come for him. Not with the cyborgs and half-done androids coming for them. Ignoring everything in him that shattered, he shot at anyone and anything, hiding behind a large cart that’d been thrown to its side.
Roy was at the other side of the hangar, shooting at the bots that flew over his head. Some of the arrows struck just the right place for it to come crashing to the floor. The others that missed, he sadly could no longer retrieve when it escaped out of the plasma walls and out drifting into space.
He could last like this. He could survive the thousands of cyborgs. With a blaster or two and a best friend who stuck to his side, they could last.
But what happened above them was infinitely more interesting.
Aya’s wings shot her miles above the plasma threshold. Holding her throat, N/N did not scream. The wings that flapped like a hawk caught in a storm blurred what they could make out of the scene. The shards where the feathers should have been were terrifying. They pounced for N/N’s skin, but none could pierce it. Aya flew them both further to the sky as N/N thrashed in her hold. When Aya threw her off, immediately she clubbed her with the mace to her head before N/N could recover.
Unfortunately, it was all she could manage. Aya couldn’t keep up with N/N as she narrowly drifted and swerved away from the mace.
Aya was too slow. When she lunged herself forward, N/N threw herself to grab the Thanagarian by the shoulders, squeezing until the metal crushed beneath her fingers. Then she spun, fast enough for a whirlwind to appear even in a vacuum. Aya was thrown back to the ship with an impact that engulfed a part of it in flames.
Ora had only just held off an army of androids from her tail when she looked up, knowing she was the next target.
She hovered like a star and shone like one.
Like the Kryptonians Jason knew before her, she was flying over the ship. To no force that could pull her to the grounds. To no wind that could stand in her way; like a deity, like a god who saved, only she wasn’t. She floated above their heads, fixating her aim on Ora.
Ora thrusted herself up like a rocket. A blast was enough to hold her off, for a while, but N/N escaped the dark flames unscathed without even her skin twitching from the burn. The red from her eyes shone through the ash and she soar from yards up the ground like a failing comet, a light trailing behind her as she dove, and grabbed Ora by the throat.
They disappeared beneath the ship’s deck, destroyed as they shot down stories below and obliterating everything in their way. Past the floors, breaking at each impact of Ora’s back; the hole on the ground was enough to quake the whole ship, and for how large it was underneath, it took minutes long before they exploded out of the hull below.
Somehow, Ora lived through that. She was fleeing back up to the heights above the Station, even with it slow to collapse possibly into two halved pieces. Her shots of fire did no damage and her punches couldn’t make even a dent.
When N/N threw her miles from where they hovered, Ora propelled herself with powerful thrusters bursting past the lack of light. And with that built strength and speed, she pushed N/N off her steady hover until her back ultimately met with Aya’s mace.
The Earthlings on the hangar, surviving with whatever thread of a life they could helplessly hold onto, would soon run out of ammo and arrows. Thankfully, they’d put up a fight against the relatively weaker cyborgs. If Jason had the sense to be sarcastic, he’d joke about being the baby. When Roy rushed to his side of the cart to hide with him, however, he beat him to that.
“How does it feel not being the big guns for once?” Roy screamed.
“It’s a fucking treat!”
The battle above to the stars and the one below it was the kind of chaos that shouldn’t have lasted as long as it did.
When N/N had her attention set on Aya, she flew them away from the ship to the stars none of them could see.
Then Ora fell to their side, shielding Jason and Roy before the cart that protected them lost its stretch of life. They rose from their place on the ground.
“The lower decks!” Ora cried through the screams. “Get the Mother Box!”
Ora overheated an android just before it would have come for Jason.
“The Mother Box! He can save N/N!”
She didn’t need to say more.
Jason and Roy might as well have held hands when they paved their way through the unforgiving crowd of debris, laser blasts, and even limbs thrown to their direction. He shot his blaster, praying the ammo wouldn’t die until they’d reached inside the ship, and Roy used the last of his arrows and even picked up stray rods from the ground to shoot at the cyborgs.
Through the hole N/N made on the main deck, Roy stuck an arrow to the floor, fashioned a rope to its end as quick as a boy scout tying a knot, and they suspended themselves down to the collapsing floors and slabs that was almost falling out of their beams. Just before someone cut the ropes, they fell to the lower deck and they rolled to extinguish the fire on their clothes.
“Do you know where we’re going?”
More tailed them. Some flew. Some crawled like insects. One thing was for sure: too many of them were after a couple of earthlings supposedly posing as no threat. They blindly shot behind them, but as they reached a hallway that curved corners like a maze, not a lot of them could keep up.
When one android grabbed Jason by the foot, Roy had blown up its head with an arrow that short circuited its brain, frying the rest of its body until it was limp on the floor. Another jumped for Roy, and with Jason being larger, he kneed the cyborg to the stomach, shot its head with a blast between the eyes.
A large door at the farthest end of the hallway; probably meant to hold a prized prisoner.
As he should be.
And it was open. Someone was inside.
The incoming mob was growing. Only instead of actual pitchforks being thrown their way, their hands morphed into steel shards like the ends of a knife and they pounced for the earthlings’ flesh. “Hide!” Roy screamed, and they rushed behind the door, bolted it shut before a hand would have grabbed their throats.
Jason didn’t know if locking the door would be any help without thinking of how the fuck they were going to get out of that place.
But it was the least of their worries when the silence overcame the conundrum. Jason tapped on Roy’s shoulder to calm him. He was not calm. None of them should be calm. But they were quiet, unlike their beating hearts.
Captain Z’arr hovered like a ghost. His face, sharp as if his chin could cut steel, was as unmoving as his glare on them. His eyes were red, but they didn’t glow like lights. They were blank and dark. And in his hand, the damned scepter with a shred of Kryptonite encased near the tip.
Roy drew an arrow from his quiver, only having so much left behind, before Jason held out an arm to stop him.
Behind Z’arr was the very answer to this discourse: the bright, blinding beacon that so suddenly filled Jason with the needed hope.
It was all so tragic. Of course, the Fleet of cyborgs would want him. A Cyborg that could change bank numbers at just a thought, who had a connection to every artificial intelligence or anything with a circuit board in the universe.
Whose physical strength was just the tip, the very tip, of what he could do.
Perhaps the King of all Cyborgs.
Victor Stone had grown thin and worn. Whatever horrors they’d put him through, months after he was last seen, it’d taken its horrific toll. He posed a fight, that was certain, but he was alive. He was intact.
He was asleep, stuck to the wall with his arms outstretched like the Vitruvian Man.
Had they rid him of his humanity? Of his mind? Had they already done their damage enough that saving him would only risk the whole universe?
His face, bruised from unspeakable horrors, did not answer. But it moved as if to take a breath. Cyborgs didn’t have to breathe if they weren’t programmed to.
They could save him still.
Z’arr hovered to them, and the wall stopped Roy and Jason from backing up any further.
“We might be pretty fucking useless out there,” Jason gulped, “but I wouldn’t underestimate us against you.”
The Martian did not laugh. “I would not underestimate me either, earthling,” he grinned. “You might know of my kind-“
“Your kind, who you were supposed to fight with for your own planet,” he shot at him.
Z’arr took no liking to his knowledge of his history. “Watch your tongue.”
“I am the Captain of this Fleet-“
“And you are a weakling who sucks up to superiors by sacrificing his own men. And you’ve done it twice.”
Z’arr shot a shard of metal he got from God knows where at their direction, and it bounced off the steel door before Roy and Jason separated.
“You do not know of what you speak-“
“I know exactly what I speak.”
Roy, at the other side of the cell’s holding, hid behind the crates and desks while Z’arr shot another slab of metal at Jason.
“You betray the Green Martians,” Jason shot with his blaster, “and now you betray the Fleet-“
Z’arr flew to where he thought Jason hid, but the asshole somehow made it to the ceiling, and he jumped for Z’arr with a knife to his shoulder. Z’arr shrieked before he pried it out, but Jason already hid somewhere he couldn’t see.
“First the White Martians, now Brainiac? Is you being a suck up ever going to stop?”
Z’arr swung his Kryptonite scepter at Jason as if the rock had any effect on him.
“Face it. You’re no Captain.”
Blasters shot for Z’arr’s shoulder. His ear-piercing shriek almost threw him off.
“I am the Captain.”
“A Captain leads his army to war,” Jason said, “All you do is throw your loyalty around because you can't protect yourself, even at the cost of your own men.” Another knife thrown at Z’arr’s shoulder. This was too easy. “You’re the biggest coward in the galaxy, Z’arr.”
That surely set him off.
The Martian cried but no longer to fight the pain. None of the crates could hold him, and as Jason managed to lift one over his shoulders, throwing it at Z’arr’s direction, it merely passed through his body as if he were made of air. Right. Martian. Almost forgot they could do that.
Z’arr grabbed him by the shoulders, pinned Jason’s body to the wall just at Victor’s side. His punches were strong, though none he hasn’t already seen. Jason grabbed his fists, twisted it enough to make him lose his hold. He struggled. He shook. It was enough.
“You are of no worth, a brat owned by that annoyance of an earthling, the Batman,” Z’arr growled, “do not underestimate me.”
“I think I overestimated you.”
“Have you always been this much talk, you insect?” his static voice eerily crept to his ear. When Jason grabbed him by the throat, he snarled back.
“My guy, that’s the point.”
Z’arr looked at him quizzically amidst their struggle for power.
“You know what the Batman taught me?” Jason grinned, “Keep your enemies talking.”
The realization hit him like a brick.
Roy had unknowingly placed bombs all over the walls and crates that scattered around Z’arr. All it took was for Jason to kick him to the ground, brace for cover, then Roy shot at the trigger. At the slightest impact of the arrow’s tip to a bomb that wasn’t even an inch in size, the whole side of the wall exploded into bursting flames: the one thing Z’arr could not stand.
He disappeared into the cloud of smoke and the flares too bright for them to see through. Maybe he perished, burnt to a crisp. It sounded that way when his shrieks were as painful to hear as a knife being driven into their drums. When the explosion subsided and the room was covered in debris, their first instinct was to rush to Victor.
“You alright?” Jason asked Roy.
“I’m fine. How do we wake him up?”
Any wrong touch could be lethal to Victor.
What they did to the holding cell, however, didn’t afford them the chance to find out. There was a lever, much like the throttle for a ship, that was pushed way up on the control panel. The rest of it were buttons he no longer understood. That red lever looked to be the obvious answer.
Without warning, Jason pulled that lever down.
The tubes that held Vic to the wall exhausted open, with month-old smoke spewing out of the many cracks. Only a tube that clawed itself to the back of his head held onto Vic. He fell to the ground, the rest of him thankfully unhurt, but he was cold and unconscious.
“Come on, Vic, wake up.”
“We got company.”
The door burst open at last with a whole mob coming for them. “Cover us,” he told Roy.
The tube to his head. That was what reprogrammed N/N.
But Vic was a Mother Box. They couldn’t have possibly reprogrammed him so easily.
It was a stretch that could go horribly wrong, and none would forgive him even himself. But there wasn’t the time, and the rest of the cyborg army was getting too much for the archer to handle.
With his bare hands, Jason pried the tube from Vic’s skull, its claw shooting sparks when it finally detached.
Vic gasped for breath like he’d been held to the ocean for months, the air to his lungs bringing color back to his skin which had grown so noticeably lifeless.
Vic shot up to his feet and threw Jason to the wall. Roy ran for cover.
It wasn’t Vic. It was his armor’s defense system.
The mob of cyborgs stood stiff at the sight of the Mother Box. Mindlessly, Vic’s first instinct was to fire at anything that posed a threat.
As long as they didn’t move, they’d be fine. “Roy, hide!”
They took cover behind the crates. All he could see was this blinding beacon out of Vic’s machine arm that tore through every shape of matter that stood its way. Some escaped, leaped from its way before the shot would have completely burnt their bodies to ash. Vic did not stop until none of the mob was left behind.
When it subsided into smoke, there was silence.
Jason and Roy peaked from over the crates and Vic had fallen to the floor, grabbing his head. “Vic-“
Victor aimed his arm at them, instinctively anxious. They raised their hands to surrender and with a voice the friendliest it could be, something Vic could recognize, Jason hummed.
“It’s us. Jason. Roy Harper. You know us.”
“Jason Todd.” He tried reaching out but Vic only kept with his aim.
“It’s us. You're Victor Stone.”
Another throb in his head threw him off his stance. Vic fell forward, clawing at his skull like it was gnawing at his bones. His screams were as low as whispers, but spoke the same pain. When Jason rushed to grab him by the shoulders, Vic no longer threw him away.
“It’s us. We’re here to help. Please, Victor.”
When Jason held his head, as if it were any help to ease him, Vic met his eyes.
“Jason. It’s me. Jason.”
His eyes. His beautiful blue eyes. They spoke to Victor when they had him in their hold. Perhaps it was a reminder of the oceanic blue of Earth, or the homely gaze of welcoming arms.
He hugged Victor. He never hugged him before. But it was the first of what he needed.
“What did they do to you, Vic?”
“I-I was…” he choked, perhaps still contemplating if he spoke at all, “t-they took me, did all these tests…”
“Do you remember anything?”
“I remember everything.”
When his voice dipped into that recognizable depth, he knew it won't be long before they had their friend back
“We need your help.”
“Jason, we have to go,” Roy said when he looked out of what was left of the door. Jason reached for Vic’s arm. “I can walk,” he insisted, pulling himself on his feet.
“I hope you can do more than that, pal.”
When Roy and Vic headed out the door, Jason set his eyes on the Kryptonite scepter left unmoving amid the debris.
And every voice of reason begged him to take it, if their lives meant anything to him at all.
If they meant more to him than N/N.
But it wasn’t N/N anymore.
That thing could kill her.
She’d never forgive him.
He’ll never forgive himself.
They didn’t need it. They had Vic.
But Vic was no Kryptonian.
He couldn’t face N/N alone and win. No one can.
And a voice, the only one he both wished to hear and begged to forget, was echoing into the walls in his head, with the ringing that deafened him and the trembling grounds that pushed him.
Only Bruce had ever singlehandedly faced a Kryptonian and won.
A powerless earthling.
And all that plagued his mind was just that.
How did Bruce do it?
He didn’t have to be Bruce. Not just yet.
But the part of him that was Bruce, a product of fighting years of desperately trying not to be, grabbed the scepter and strapped it to his back.
It at least didn’t take too long for them to rush back out to the halls, past the corridors they’d blown up and the remains of fallen cyborgs left on the ground. Cyborg grabbed them both with his arms and flew them up to the surface.
They suddenly wished they hadn't.
There was too much blood, the engineered blue that spilled on the floor, for anyone to have survived.
Aya laid close to lifelessness in the midst of the fiery debris, without a muscle twitching or moving her mace away from being horribly stretched behind her back. A crate weighed on top of her so she couldn’t heal or even move.
Ora’s screams were horrific before they were finally silenced. Where she laid: a crater the size of a meteorite’s impact on hard soil. Her own flames burnt her, with her arms pinned to the sides of her body and a steel slab that hugged her like a python. Only N/N’s hands could have possibly molded the steel to bend that way.
They should have cowered away like any sane man would, but they only took a step back when N/N slammed herself on the ship’s deck once again.
Her red eyes fixed on them, and her head tilted as if it was curious.
On Vic, of course. Her sensors were probably going nuts at the sight of the Mother Box.
Vic’s defense system was quick to act. When his arm molded into an impressive blaster the size of a tank’s machine gun, the beams that shot out of him were enough to throw N/N across the hangar. She crashed to the wall.
And even when it barely made a dent on her skin, it was enough for her systems to react.
N/N flew like a bullet aiming for Victor’s head. The beams, at least, had the sense to keep shooting quick enough before she would have crashed him. N/N came to a screeching halt, swerved before the blast hit her. And when she was all but hovering over them to avoid every blast that came her way.
But the blasts couldn’t hold N/N for too long. She pounced at Vic like a speeding hawk and grabbed him by the shoulders, dragging him across the metal grounds to scrape it with his body until a long trail marked the main deck. She threw Cyborg for the plasma walls possibly knowing he couldn’t breathe in space.
But he saved himself with his thrusters just before his head crossed the threshold. Vic flew back on safer grounds, firing his beams to keep N/N at bay.
Vic had no chance of getting close enough to N/N’s head, rid her of Z’arr’s control without possibly dying himself.
Perhaps Ora was in that same delusion that N/N still could be saved.
How do you save someone when she was that very thing they were fighting against?
She was a weapon, built to go after anything that posed a threat.
Jason held the scepter, gripped on it tight until his fingers were worn, then he shot the last of his blasters at N/N’s head. It only bounced against her skin, but it caught her attention.
When she set her eyes, her sensors, on Jason, the blank look on her face was much like a recalibrating machine.
With this plan of his, or the lack of it at least, he had to remember this wasn’t N/N he faced.
The Kryptonian Cyborg eyed the scepter and he could have sworn he heard a hiss out of her lips. The first instinct of any programmed machine was to destroy the biggest threat in its way.
What bigger threat was there, other than the only piece of matter in the galaxies that could ever pierce a Kryptonian’s flesh?
Her head turned for a crate. Quickly, N/N flew for one and grabbed it over her shoulders, tossing it at Jason’s direction before he could even move to avoid it. He couldn’t, and it shattered above him. He lost his grip on the scepter and when the crate broke, N/N grabbed for his throat and flew Jason to the closest wall to pin him against it.
She could not touch that scepter if she didn’t want the Kryptonite to burn her. She could only kill the one that held it.
She flew them far away from the Kryptonite before it could possibly weaken her, and her hand no longer felt the throb of blood beating through her veins. Like a steel rod was being pushed to his throat, it shouldn’t have been long before his neck breaks like shards of glass against a boot.
But he wasn’t dead just yet.
That second was all that mattered.
This time, he had to fight back.
He was Jason Todd.
He lived again.
And if there was one thing not a lot of people knew,
It was how this was not the first time he ever broke a Kryptonian’s hold.
No earthling should have done it. Hell, he could feel every eye on him twitch, staring widely at the scene so unbelievably true.
His hands were shaking.
But they pried N/N’s indestructible hands from being wrapped around his throat, and as the air shot back up to his head, he only grew stronger. It was quick, a flash one would have missed in a blink.
Jason pushed himself off N/N’s grip and ducked before her fist landed on the wall.
It shouldn’t have happened.
But it happened.
Jason was back on his feet. A voice called out from afar. Roy.
His friend tossed him the scepter.
N/N’s face couldn’t physically distort to look mortified, but she no longer pounced so easily. Not when Jason had the scepter.
With that little shred of Kryptonite, he could end this.
He could end her.
She would have wanted him to.
How did Bruce do it?
How did Bruce defeat Clark all those years ago?
With his undying wit, the immovable willpower to subdue his loved ones when needed, and a pound of Kryptonite.
N/N was gritting. She couldn’t feel anything, but even then, she looked furious.
But when she jumped for Jason, all it took was a swing of his scepter and already, she was thrown yards across the ground.
Jason held it close enough until she was crawling, shielding her eyes from the Kryptonite’s glow.
He had to be Bruce this time.
Of all times, it had to be now.
Now. To N/N.
This was not the N/N he survived with, kissed, held, and made love to. This was a thoughtless android who’d kill him at any moment’s hesitation. It was no different from their first brawls. That N/N, he needed to subdue. He could do it now. Suppress everything else that happened after.
Tears drenched his face. Was this how it was supposed to end?
Any contact with the rock was lethal. If she doesn’t live through this-
Do it, Jason, Bruce screamed.
The scepter stabbed N/N by the shoulder. Only then, even when her mind couldn’t possibly have allowed her to feel pain, her screams were the deafening cries of help he wanted desperately to come aid. But he was there to cause it, to draw more of it. The Kryptonite glowed until the light couldn’t allow them to see through their own cries, and when he couldn’t shield it with his arms, Jason lifted the scepter up, lifting N/N along with it impaling deeper into her arm.
She grabbed its hilt, her stubborn, willful spirit still there despite the reprogramming that shouldn’t have allowed her the thought. And when she caught Jason’s tear-flooded eyes, fighting through her screams, he knew there was no going back.
Even when she loses, she does not accept defeat.
So there was a trace of her left after all. Only N/N would have used the last stretch of her strength to spit at her killer’s face.
With wide eyes, Jason saw the end of him. N/N blew onto the scepter and a deathly crawl of icy frost formed where her breath blew like a storm’s wind.
And he couldn’t move fast enough before her freeze breath reached Jason’s hand.
Screaming at the ice that tore through his flesh, N/N crushed the scepter’s staff with the last of her strength, and a string of destruction crept to where he could no longer move. Just as she did, only then did Vic finally get close enough to her, his hand like a claw as it sunk deep into N/N’s skull.
Jason couldn’t feel a thing. Not at first. The ice was enough to subdue the pain.
But once he laid eyes on his frozen hand that’d shattered into pieces, torn from his wrist like it was so easily detached, all the excruciating pain surged in an instant’s wave.
But he couldn’t fall out of consciousness, not when everything was screaming at him like this.
With his hand gone, the pain felt eternal.
Like the stars burned beneath his skin. There was no finger for him to reach the sky with. Nothing he could writhe and shake to show just how terrified he was. He looked up, at the unending stars splattered like paint. How he used to watch them like a marvel. Now, they faced him in death.
Turning to his side, he was so suddenly drawn to N/N’s screams that echoed out into the chasms.
She was on her knees, crying both from the Kryptonite still lodged into her flesh and Vic’s claw on her skull, rewiring her brain once more. It was belittling, going against everything she’d fought relentlessly against for years. She wanted so badly to have a mind of her own, and she couldn’t even have that.
This had to happen.
Vic held on for the most of it. When it was done, when the light out of her eyes finally was rid of the blank red so at loss of life, her screams came to a halt. Vic released the claw from her head and she fell limp on the ground.
Someone so strong never looked so helpless. So innocent. Not a trace of fury etched on her face.
Even when he just had his whole hand frozen off, and his blood pooling all over the ground, Jason was already crawling to her body. His tears were never so painful to sting his eyes. His good hand reached for her, helplessly. He could barely sit upright, but that was what he did.
Jason crawled to her side with his whole body like hauling a sack. Crying her name in a whisper only he could hear, his pleas were inaudible. Her name, repeatedly out of his lips, was like a prayer. Roy held Victor off from rushing to help Jason. No one can help him.
His senses slowly came rushing. Or what was left of them, at least.
Jason dug through her flesh with his fingers, crying at the obvious pain that would have caused her and the lack of screams, the lack of color on her beautiful lips. He grabbed the shards of Kryptonite that had dug itself deep into her shoulder and he tossed every trace of it far away, past the plasma walls so they may be lost into space.
Every trace of it. Every rock.
When it slowly started to heal, his breaths slowed. His whole body wanted to just fall. Jason held her face, his tears falling onto N/N’s bloodstained cheeks. The loss of blood out of his hand would soon take its toll. As it long should have.
Jason pressed his forehead on N/N’s, begging that she wake. “Please… Please… N/N… Don’t die on me, Tiger…”
Roy kicked the last of the Kryptonite far off into space.
Then her beautiful, soft lips flushed a faint red.
Her cheeks rose with color. And her chest rose as her lungs filled.
When her eyes opened, no longer did a cruel gaze of red light stare back at him.
It was her. Her eyes.
And they stared at Jason like she’d seen the first of a star’s shine. With it, a trace of confusion. Reprogramming rids her of her memories.
She didn’t know who he was anymore.
But she was alive. She was N/N.
The blood loss didn’t allow him the time to revel. Everything had grown dark before he could speak.
The man that held her fell to the floor before she could say anything.
His hand was gone, soiling the metal grounds with his blood. A red-haired earthling rushed to him at the instant, and the many cyborgs that circled them watched her stand as if she was an unfolding scene to witness. And it was.
Thousands of heartbeats surrounded her. She could hear everything. See everything. And every single heart was frantic at the sight of her like they were afraid. They twitched when she moved and their hearts sped faster.
Her fists tightened, ready to pounce at any wrong slight of hand.
There was a cyborg, one that looked different from the rest, that spoke to her through voices that echoed only in her mind. His skin was dark, with half a face left of what used to be his flesh. An earthling, or he used to be one. His voice, only she could hear, was soothing.
Curiously, N/N took a step to the cyborg.
‘We are not the enemy,’ he whispered to her.
She was right to be skeptical.
But his heartbeat was steady. He had one, beneath all the steel. There was no trace of a lie. Like flashing scenes that took its time to gradually come to her senses, he helped her remember.
There was a bright yellow sun.
Tears. There were tears that seeped out of her. Until there wasn’t.
Everything was red. It was all she could see.
Then there was a man, a cruel man with a cruel mind she could read. That very mind was what spoke to her. A man with green skin, red eyes. And for a while, his was the only voice she could hear.
And it told her to do so much she didn’t want to do. The first order he gave was to take the life of the earthling on the ground, then of the other cyborgs like her, of everything that was a threat to him.
‘He is the enemy,’ the cyborg spoke again. ‘He tortured me, too.’
It only lasted days-the resurfacing memories only a handful.
But she could tell there was more to it.
She looked down and the floor faded from sight. Everything was transparent, like the hearts beneath the steel. Her x-ray vision saw past the many layers down to the ship’s hull, searching for that one, frantic heartbeat of a coward running for his life.
When she caught that very heartbeat, she shot herself into the ground, breaking through those borders like a blast out of a gun. Everything broke to her touch, fragile to hold; nothing was comparable to her might.
There. The heartbeat. A coward’s heartbeat hoping none could see him. He was rushing for a ship. Not this time.
Every wall in her way broke against her fist. With speeds blurring the matter that couldn’t keep up with her sight, she tore through the ship’s innards until she reached the secret hangar.
And the man, the Captain, was hiding by the crates, shaking like a lone pup. He posed no fight even with him thrashing like a child in her hold, when she grabbed him by his cloak’s collar to fly them both miles away from the Station.
Where no eyes could see, where only the twinkling lights from faraway stars could witness her doing, she floated into the airless chasm and looked to the skies for the nearest fiery sun.
The Captain figured what she was doing long after she’d flown them another few million miles for a star, a shining yellow with dangerous flares reaching for this man’s skin to burn it. He pleaded, but no sound could come out of his mouth, not when they were here.
She could only remember so much.
But his eyes were as dark as they were desperate.
They told stories; his voice was the same that’d ordered her mind as if it weren’t her own. They told of years, decades, centuries of torment over people like her. They no longer could hide themselves. The truth wanted to come out by itself.
They told of cruelty.
That was enough of a reason.
He mouthed his pleas to her, gasping for breath when she held him by the neck.
The coward was as good as dead, floating into deep space so helplessly. But he looked into her eyes, and his only bore fear. As if the Martian Captain always knew he’d be staring at them when he dies.
Powerful, blinding beams of red light shot out of her eyes the same as the flaring blasts of the star. It burned the Captain’s flesh that withered away into ash, and the force pushed and threw him into the star’s even more scorching flames. Her heat vision did not stop until his body was no longer to be seen, when it was long lost into the star’s burning core, and the last of his life was nothing more than drifting ash.
There was so much hate, her own cruelties. She woke up and already, the blackness in her soul was the first of the slow-moving thoughts; so much fury she couldn’t even remember. Her eyes had grown dark, even against such a blinding sun.
The beams out of her eyes finally came to a slow halt.
Then there was a second of peace.
With the stars and clouds, the flares that colored the black plane of unending space and hummed a song. No star, even with such a fiery core, could hold that much quietness. It went against everything in her heart that screamed from behind the metal bars of a cage.
How could she remember what they were, even when she had no memory of seeing one before?
She was drifting, floating. The stars had no end no matter where she faced and turned her head. It was a garden, limitless. Some stretched their arms to reach for their brothers, light rays of all colors. Some were clustered in clouds in the deepest shades of lavender petals. Some had drifted from the crowds like they wanted their light to show for themselves.
They called for her to calm, whispering for her heart to slow and her thoughts to rest from such a race.
Then she was tired.
Even with such strength, she fell limp.
Then her eyes were too heavy.
So she closed them, listened to the star’s humming of the song only they knew the melody of. Sometimes, when they wanted to, she heard a note play out like they sung. Everything was quiet and black. She didn’t feel the pair of arms that took her away.
It didn’t take much to wake him.
Perhaps it had been days of staring at the shadows beneath his eyelids, counting the hours of the overhead bulbs coming to a dim. He didn’t count them literally. He just knew it’d been a while. The voices changed, too. And the feel of hands that often turned his arm around.
It started when the shadows burned red, the way it did when closed eyes looked up at fluorescents. Then came the feeling of his toes and fingers that wriggled and twitched, his lips that chapped, his chest that hurt after every breath.
Finally, when breathing wasn’t too much of a pain, Jason opened his eyes.
On top of his bedside, his Red Hood helmet watched him wake.
The quietness was eerie. Somehow his head made up an ever-playing note from a key he didn’t know where from. The infirmary was a busy room, but that time, no one had anything to speak of. Not even his friend, Roy, asleep on a thin chair just at his cot’s side. When Jason sat up, already, Roy was awake.
“Thank fuck, Todd,” he gasped when the surprise died down. “Thought you were actually dead this time.”
“My seat in hell’s been long overdue, but I’m not taking it anytime soon.”
“Spare me the death jokes,” Roy gently slapped his shoulder. “How are you feeling?”
“You’ve been conscious?”
“Barely. But nothing hurts too much anymo-“
He should have figured why the passing wind on his left hand wasn’t as gentle on his right. But it didn’t take until he actually saw his own fingers for it to sink in.
“Yeah, uhm,” Roy gulped, “your hand-“
“I know. I remember.”
It looked impressive.
A cybernetic hand. Skin-like touch feedback. Stainless black steel and rods that folded when he stretched his fingers.
“Looks cool though,” Roy said.
“You’d say that if it weren’t you.”
“Don’t be. I blew up her arm once before. We’re even now.”
The cycling debt finally stops.
Really. Don’t apologize. He’ll have to deal with a lot of sorry’s and pitiful looks possibly for the rest of his life. But he was more looking forward to the children gawping at how awesome his robot hand was.
Soft, feathery sheets against his fingers were all the same. He ran his new hand over the surface until it warmed.
Roy pointed to a few beds behind them. Vic was sitting upright, talking to the Fleet surgeon with a bag held to his head. He smiled and waved at Jason when their eyes met.
Roy didn’t look too worried, at least. Better than what was worst. “Can you walk?”
Jason stretched out his toes and followed his friend down the hallways the Fleet already had repaired. “Ora’s leading the Fleet for now,” Roy told him. “We’re safe here.”
“What happened to N/N?”
They had to go to the Station’s lower decks, through many doors before they got to a holding area with a glass window, and behind that window was a prison cell for a very specific prisoner.
A red sun prison; that had to be what glowed from a compacted star they contained just above the glass dome. No one else was inside, and even outside the dome, it was locked.
But they could see what went on inside.
And she was there. N/N. She looked calm, quiet, peaceful. Sitting upright on the floor with her back against the glass. To just run to her, hold her; it would have been too easy.
“They said she gets more violent when she recovers from reprogramming.”
“She’s always violent,” Jason snorted.
“Yeah, this time she almost killed a hundred guards when they tried to contain her. The place is lined with lead, so she can't even see or hear out of these walls.”
“She’s just confused. And afraid.”
He couldn’t look away. Not from her glowing eyes. This time, full of life, full of feeling, even with it being darkness. But distant.
“She can't remember a thing…”
When he said that, it only cemented what he wanted so badly to slip from his mind. “She was so afraid this would happen again,” Jason longingly whispered, hoping she was listening.
Roy slapped his shoulder. “Well, you're in luck. It won't last. She’ll remember you. She’ll remember everything soon.”
He was about to scowl at his friend’s delusional attempt to comfort him before Roy grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Ora told me to tell you. You know how N/N can record everything she sees?” Roy stuck his finger to Jason’s head. “Turns out that Martian dude was a secret hoarder because he just took out the recorded memories from her head so she could be his puppet, but he never got rid of any of them. It’s all stored in the archives they found days ago. Why else do you think Z’arr knew so much about her that nobody else did?”
The soul in him must have gone for a time, because something filled his body like a cold gust of a storm.
“Don’t play with me, Harper.”
They didn’t know. They didn’t know what this meant to her; how this changes everything.
How much her eyes stepped out from the shadows as each day they spent together passed.
Her past. Her identity. What she longed to know.
And to think that could be brought back? After the many dark days he sulked in a scratchy infirmary cot, pretending to be unconscious? Because the thought of N/N forgetting everything was so hard to even think about?
Jason was already reaching for her, and even that he didn’t notice. When his palm cooled against the glass, her voice was all he could hear. ‘I could never forget you.’
She said it so reassuringly, like there had never been anything more of a truth.
Just as Jason couldn’t forget her. Not even after decades worth of his antics.
They didn’t know what he and N/N made, what they went through, and promised to remember; when they were alone, the silences and bickers, the stars that watched them and the journey of a lifetime.
Maybe she can have all that.
“What if,” Jason whispered, “what if she doesn’t have to…”
What if she can remember the smiles, but not who was behind it?
There was that rage he recognized from the first time they met, the rage that came with fear. But her heart wasn’t hurt, not like how it was going to be.
‘Don’t forget me.’
‘I wish I could.’
What heartaches was she spared from? How many tubs of tears ceased now that Jason wasn’t so much as a distant memory?
She can remember everything else; the journey, the stars, their discoveries. Just not him.
Ora walked into the waiting cell. In her hands, a holographic clipboard. N/N’s anatomy was on display with letters he couldn’t recognize.
“Roy must have told you the news by now. I think we can transfer her recorded memories by today-“
“Can you leave out a few things?” Jason interjected. “Like choose the memories to give back to her?”
“Of course,” Ora said.
“Don’t let her remember me.”
He might as well have told them he wanted to jump out the window. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Jason turned to Ora. “Leave out as many recordings you have of me. That’s only four months. She wouldn’t miss it.”
“Yes, she will,” Ora exclaimed. “You don’t get to decide what she wants to remember.”
“She won't want to remember me if she doesn’t even know.”
Roy felt no differently. “You’re being delusional, Todd.”
The sight of her alone, unknowing. There was that slight of innocence he didn’t want stripped away.
She was right all those weeks ago. It should have just been one night. It should have been less, much less than that.
“We’re finally going home, Harper,” he held his friend’s arm, “and I’m never gonna see her again.”
Roy’s face fell. He always understood.
“I just don’t want her to get hurt anymore…”
This could be salvation. From him. From how scared she was of getting hurt; how long he had to wait before she finally gave in against what she thought she wanted.
And he knew for a fact that N/N once wished Jason never should have happened.
There will never be a greater length of pain. But at least it would all be on him. This could be his turn to save her.
“Can I talk to her?” Jason said, holding back the flooding throb in his throat. “Just to say goodbye.”
She wasn’t stable. She was a machine being contained before she tears the whole place apart.
But it was an act of pity, a charity case with it a risk of his own life. Ora opened the gates to let him pass. Hesitantly, Jason stepped in with his heart tucked away, frozen stiff when almost immediately, N/N watched him move like a hawk.
He wasn’t anything more to her than a potential threat. He had to be careful.
N/N walked slowly to the glass like a defensive lioness. Even with no weapons, she looked dangerous. Her eyes were darker now that they were hooded, like she wanted the shadows on them. He never realized she did that on purpose to look even more threatening.
Jason hoped the glass between them was thicker than it looked. Through the filtered audio, her voice echoed out a speaker at the side.
“Let me out of here.”
“I’m not one of them,” Jason shakily gulped. “I’m not the staff.”
She eyed his robot hand but didn’t question it. Jason tried to ignore the coldness in her voice that stabbed him with every word. “Then what are you doing here?”
“I just came to talk.”
About what? He didn’t even know. He didn’t even think he’d get this far.
There was nothing else in her red sun prison but a small cot. “Don’t worry,” Jason said, “you’ll be out soon.”
Didn’t look like she believed a word he said. That would be logical. And completely within her mindset.
When N/N studied him down to his toes, Jason emptied his pockets and hunched so he wouldn’t look threatening even to a fly, though that was hard to do.
“You're an earthling.”
“Yes,” he shrugged.
“And you broke my grip.”
For a second, his throat closed up. “You remember that?”
“Down to the reprogramming and almost beating you to death more than once, I do.”
She watched Jason closely, leaning against the glass and folding her arms over her chest. Her eyes were almost black squinting at him.
“Impressive,” she breathed.
She probably couldn’t even hear his heartbeat and still, anyone could smell how he nervous out of his mind. He only ever witnessed such hostility one other time, and it was from nobody different.
“Are you here to interrogate me?”
“No,” he chuckled, “what would I interrogate you for?”
“You said you came here to talk.”
“Not for an interrogation.”
“Then what the hell did you come here to talk about?”
He shrugged. “Nothing specific.”
That set her off.
“I don’t have time for this-“ She scoffed with the slight filter in her voice prolonged with a sigh, then she turned for her cot.
“You got better things to do?”
She looked awfully close to breaking the glass with her fist.
“Get out of here.”
“Can't exactly do much about that, Tiger.”
Then she actually did try to break the glass, but the red sun didn’t allow her the strength and it just shook violently when her hands slammed against the dome.
“I will smother you with your own tongue if you call me that again.”
She probably didn’t expect him to smile, or at the very least laugh. All Jason did was lick his lips, watch her face move, and grin at what was supposed to be so terrifying. Turns out she didn’t even have to remember much to be inherently mean.
“What the hell are you laughing at?” She growled.
“Nothing.” Just that you’ve said that to me every day for four months and it gets funnier each time.
The throaty breath out of her lips, the gritting hostility that stayed even in her sleep; she was exactly how she used to be when they first met.
She was back. Even without her memories. Now he could look into her eyes and see who he fell for.
“Stop looking,” she groaned. Jason bashfully darted his eyes down. She huffed. “Did I know you before?”
It would have been so easy to slip, fall to his knees and tell her the stories and places they’ve gone; to just burst out the memories he could recite so easily. He at least had to be careful.
He snorted. “Ally.”
She didn’t like him much so far. That was fine. The fake nod looked too awfully trusting, which meant she didn’t.
“Maybe even friends.”
That seemed to surprise her.
“You don’t have to look so offended.” Jason smiled again. N/N distracted herself with the red sun and everything else around the room so she didn’t have to look at him.
“You know I won't trust a word you say until they give me my memories back,” she cocked her jaw. “So I’ll be the judge of that.”
As you should, Tiger.
“Sure,” he coughed. His tight throat should have been enough to kill him. “Yeah, you will.”
Like she studied his words and every stress in his voice, N/N stepped closer with her head to the side. “You didn’t like earthlings much,” he said, “but you didn’t hate me too bad. At least eventually.”
N/N stepped away from the shadows that blackened her eyes so the color would show. Her face softened. Her arms fell. She stepped closer as if she wanted to check that truth even more. She can check all she wants.
This must be it. The end of a whirlwind.
Reaching for her face, holding it in his hand while his thumb fluttered over her cheeks; thankfully the glass was there to stop that.
“I came to say goodbye,” he shakily confessed. “I know you don’t remember, but I didn’t want to just disappear.”
That didn’t shake her. Or even startle her. She just darted to Jason’s shoes, then back up to his eyes. With her fingers tapping on her arm as if to think skeptically, N/N breathed.
He almost spilled. “Yeah.”
“Anything I should know about you?”
Anyone with a brain or any sense at all would know that the look on his face and his bit back smile said anything but. His whole demeanor screamed otherwise.
“There’s not much to remember about me,” he swallowed. “They’ll probably just leave it out. Don’t worry about it.”
Something just tip him over.
“Bye,” he choked out.
All N/N did was nod; didn’t seem to bother having anything else to say.
Jason went for the gates before the aching would have been too hard to conceal. Whatever was left of his heart, he crushed it himself.
If he went in there to at least have half the fulfillment to make things better, he was miles away from that. Who the fuck was he kidding?
There was no saying goodbye to her now.
Years-worth of memories restored in a night. They sat her down, stuck a tube to her head, and waited. He couldn’t bear to watch when at the end of it, N/N’s eyes shot open and looked around without so much as giving him a second look.
From the safety of an overlooking window, above the cockpit where the view of the whole main deck was beneath their feet, Jason and Roy had settled into the cold enough that none of it was a bother. Neither was the inherent darkness the same as the blank night sky. They cleared the hangar enough for all crew members to crowd about. Some were on ships hovering over the plasma, like boxed rooms of an opera house. The thousands of cyborgs lined on the main deck, of all species and sizes with voices they’d have to try hard to even recognize. There were screams, cheers, some cried out N/N’s name like a plea they’ve held in for so long. That day was a celebration, but it wasn’t for her, it was from the whole Fleet and what they’d just been saved from.
In the upper deck just a floor above, like a stage that overlooked the crowd, was the subject of such a feast. They deemed her safe and stable the minute she remembered everything, down to her beginnings in Krypton, her capture, her limbs torn replaced by machinery, and every horror faced from the deceased Z’arr Z’eran.
And perhaps it was just that why they decided on this feat. If anything, they should have done this sooner.
N/N, Captain of the Fleet, stepped out onto the platform like a shining beacon and the roars were thunderous. At her side, Captains Ora and Aya, who’d sworn to lead by her side as equals. They raised their fists in a salute and the whole ship returned with cries of their names.
N/N’s speech beamed of victorious pride. “We will honor the late Captain J’orr Z’eran,” she said, “his beliefs will be what the Fleet will stand for once again from this day forth.”
They’d recovered J’orr’s body from Zuron days ago. After her speech, they looked out to the starboard side where a steel coffin covered in decorative engravings, the language of the Martians, was being pushed out into the plasma walls. Through small thrusters that attached themselves to its back, they raised their fists as the coffin drifted into space.
“Z’arr’s damage will take years to fix.”
“What does she mean by J’orr’s beliefs?” Roy asked Jason amid the muffled cries of the crowd. They’d drowned them out, but they couldn’t stop watching.
“They’ll stop replacing good body parts for enhancement,” Jason said. “Instead, they’ll give it to whoever needs help, like the disabled, and take in people from around the galaxy who need a home. No one will ever have to be reprogrammed.”
“But they’re still pirates,” Roy chuckled.
“I never could get her to stop with the stealing,” Jason held back a gentle laugh from the memory. “It’s like breathing to them.”
The crowds parted when they walked down the platform to meet with their crew members: their line of subordinates and advisors, their First Mates, Quartermasters, Sailing Masters, and Gunners. N/N did not smile, and through her pursed lips, Jason could see the underlying fear that had always been there from the beginning. He wanted to go up and tell her how everything was going to be okay, that she was going to be the best damn Captain this Fleet’s ever seen. That he was so proud of what she’d become.
“Jay,” Roy interjected his longing gazes, “don’t you think she deserves to be with her own kind?”
“What do you mean?”
“Clark. Kara. How many Kryptonians even exist?” Roy excitedly exclaimed. “She should be with them. It’s the closest she has to family.”
There was that fear, of course; the same as when they watched N/N fly to the stars and lift crates with just a finger. But each time she went up to a cyborg with a frail leg and one who was so afraid to even speak, it was apparent she did not want to rule by fear, like Z’arr did. She wanted to lead by trust and honor to the thousands who’ve suffered like her.
And those very beings they thought to be the enemy, reduced to being robots and cyborgs when really, they were people torn from their homes and identity, people like them.
“She’s already with her kind.”
Jason watched her raise her fist, and everyone around her cheered along.
“She’s not just a Kryptonian anymore, Roy. She has as much in common with Clark and Kara as she does with us.”
The tortures she spoke of were not only endured by her. Every single cyborg in their crew knew of Z’arr’s cowardly cruelty, and have gone through it themselves.
“She’s a cyborg, too. Her kind has to be the people who know exactly what it’s like to be her, who she knows she can help. She belongs here. With them. These people need her.”
Some even more than others. Some who’d escaped the chilling process of being turned into androids for Brainiac had been restored as much as possible. There were others who could not be saved, some too scarred in the head to be recovered. Z’arr’s damage was too great.
But she can try to fix what she can.
“I once asked her to come with me to Earth,” Jason quietly whispered. “That was wrong.”
His friend squeezed his shoulder. “It’s not wrong to ask, Jaybird.”
But it was.
If only the thought of its magnitude comes into clear, which it only just did for him.
Things will be difficult for the lot of them. But for her own good, for her freedom, it was the least they could do.
“No one on Earth can know about her, Roy.”
Roy was about to object, understandably, but a look at Jason’s face and already, he knew what he was talking about.
“You remember how they reacted to Superman,” he said, and perhaps that was all he needed to say. “Everyone was so afraid of what he could do that they wanted him contained. They didn’t even want him to exist, and all he tried to do was the right thing.”
N/N flew off the hangar to the hovering ships to wave at the men in the cockpits. There was a glint of a smile, and it was brighter than even the stars.
“How do you think they’ll react to yet another god-like Kryptonian? Humanity’s ego is so fragile that they’ll want to destroy anything they know they could never go up against, when they don’t have the higher ground, no matter what they intend. Luthor will convince everyone she’s a threat and the whole planet will want control over her, even worse once they find out what they can do when they hack into her brain,
“They can never control her like Z’arr did. She has to be free.”
And she already was. This was her first to a lifetime of freedom.
And nothing could make him happier than seeing just that; to see her soaring into the stars as if she could take one in her hand, it was all he could wish for and nothing more.
Perhaps to soar with her, but it will all be alright. He should be.
“You can stay behind you know,” Roy said, “I mean you’re already halfway there.”
Roy nudged his robot hand and Jason playfully pushed his shoulder.
“Shut up, Harper,” he laughed.
And to that, as if on cue, Victor Stone knocked on the wall to call onto them. “I got the transmits,” he said. “Most of them, anyway. They did come from two million light years away.”
The first was just half a message in encrypted code weeks ago when Cyborg was still in captivity. It was a signal from the Watchtower, blasted to cross planets just to have some sense of their location. When Z’arr did experiments on Vic enough that his transmitter had ten times its power, he got the first one.
Just that week, when he was strong enough, Vic sought out to find more, out of the trillions of transmitted signals from this galaxy to the next.
And to say the least, they were terrified. Jason especially. Days ago, Roy got the first five encrypted voice messages from Oliver and Dinah and it took half a day for the man to stop crying.
Months ago, Jason was so quick to believe Bruce never even gave him so much as a thought, much less look for him. Didn’t even try to find out if he was wrong.
And how wrong he was.
Today, Vic got twenty-two messages from all of Bruce’s six satellites, the Watchtower, the Bat Computer, Wayne Industries, and another four transmitters from different parts of Earth he didn’t even know about.
And those were only the ones he found.
Vic sat him down and gave him a small decoder the size of a Walkman with earpieces.
Then he was alone.
Except perhaps for the stars out the window. But they kept their silence.
‘Jason,’ Bruce voice shakily echoed, ‘if you’re still alive out there, I hope you’re getting this...’
He couldn’t even face the stars for this.
The message played. There was but darkness when his eyes no longer could hold themselves open. Every part of him wanted to fall.
Just halfway through the first one, he stopped, and those shut eyes were already so flooded with his tears.
They didn’t even need a ship to get to Earth.
Vic was figuring out the math to boom tube them back home himself. Saves them the trouble. And the time. Travelling two-million light years was no easy feat.
But anytime now. Perhaps within the day, they’ll be back home.
It ends their journey. As differently as it turned out, it ends at any minute.
At the Station’s port side, a long and wide hallway stretched out from each end. It was empty, not to connect any rooms or training halls, or even to house the many prison cells they seemed to have.
It was a viewing deck.
It stretched almost a mile long. There were no lights. No sounds from the outside. It was dark, secluded, and almost always empty.
Nothing but the field of flowers in the forms of gas giants and twinkling lights shed light to the hallway.
Jason found comfort in that seclusion and silence. It was like watching rainfall from a roofed balcony in his apartment, except it wasn’t the city lights or neon signs that painted the night. Instead, it was Andromeda’s beautiful stretch of star clusters, planets, a spiral the same as bubbling whirlpool on an ocean. But it was silent. Not a word out of those beings.
He stood far enough away from the exits to hear the footsteps come and leave before being seen. But it must have been the stars that pulled him, distracted him enough that he couldn’t hear her coming.
But not even that was enough for his selfishness begging him to stay. He pretended it was alright when N/N joined his quiet star-gazing. He only saw her face from the reflection. Still, he forced himself not to stare too much.
“I thought you’d leave by now,” she said. “You did come to say goodbye.”
“Delay in transportation,” he snorted, “we’re waiting for the next bus.”
She did not smile.
But there was that twitch in the corner of her mouth that even with just a glimpse of her eyes, the fear had subsided for just a while. And she was living in the now.
Jason did not, for his own sake, want to talk to her any more.
Every word out of N/N was like a piece of him being skinned and torn. It hurt to even be beside her.
“I have to go,” he backed away, heading for wherever. “Nice seeing you again.”
For his own sake. For everyone’s sake. Leave before your weakness breaks you apart and everything you promised falls like a dying star.
His hands were shaking amid the darkness. There was no use hiding it. Not with her. He could never hide that. Not when she listened to his heart like a song.
“I could never forget you…” she called to him.
Then the star fell.
As did everything else he thought was so strong.
Perhaps it was never according to him.
He was hooked by the lights, by her gravity. He couldn’t move even his fingers at the instant she spoke. Everything came to a painful halt and it took too long before his demons pushed him to turn around.
N/N was frozen, too; didn’t grab to hold him like the cosmos must have wanted her. Instead, she was glass, trembling like it quaked.
“H-how…” Jason’s throat closed up and swelled. “You didn’t…”
“I didn’t have to hear your heartbeat to know you lied.”
A stretch of selfishness always was all it took to topple what he once thought to be so indestructible. Such as she. Nothing could break her. Not even him.
Suddenly the space that stood between them was as great as a galaxy. And it stayed that way. She didn’t exactly come rushing to hold him just like that.
“I-I,” he shook, “N/N, I’m sorry-“
“When they left you out of my memories, half my life blacked out,” she angrily exclaimed, “I couldn’t even remember meeting you.”
“I had to go through the archives myself. I had to make myself remember you. You said you didn’t want anyone to control me anymore, so why did you?”
Ripped. Torn. Burnt into ash.
As if the shame hadn't already clouded so much of the guilt. What possibly led him to believe she couldn’t hear one little conversation when she could hear blood vessels bursting?
Like his probably were. Suddenly he didn’t crave the silence so much anymore.
“You couldn’t make me forget you if you tried.”
Perhaps a turn for the worst was a turn for the best.
If she hated him, it would be easier on him, too. But Jason didn’t want her to hate him.
“I’m so sorry,” his voice trailed into mumbles, “I just wanted you to be okay.”
“How is this okay?”
It was never okay.
To just take a step back and never return. Perhaps that would have spared him the many months of his own self-torment thinking of what could have been. She should have just flown away.
Because it was Jason who couldn’t handle the hurt, who didn’t want to miss her when she left. And he thought, for a time, that if he had the chance to wipe her out of his memories, he would.
But all it took was a glimpse of N/N’s trembling eyes, her foot that took just an inch of a step back, and he knew that wasn’t at all what he wanted.
He wanted those memories to remind him of a universe that stood just beyond the clouds, the vastness of the galaxy and the next, of the stars so bright his eyes could never see through.
He wanted to go to bed and hurt, longing for her touch, than to live without the tears or ever knowing how that touch felt.
All it took for her was a whisper of her name, then N/N rushed to hold him like every wrongdoing was so easily forgiven.
Oftentimes Jason Todd thought so much of himself that he dictates what he thought to be other’s best. He leaves even when he was wanted. He runs to distances where no one could reach out to him.
But perhaps selfishness outweighs the avoidance of hurt, sometimes, especially when that hurt stemmed from moments of long-forgotten happiness.
The silence was no more, and as they held each other in such an embrace. All the stars in the galaxy sang at once like a choir’s angelic note. The song of the skies, what was so serene and calm, that no matter the fiery flares that burned within them, the peace resonated to any body that stood below them.
And when their arms finally did part, their lips were next to meet. Between the whispers of apologies so easily granted and passed, the tenderness of her touch built up what had so easily been torn down. All the wishes for selflessness and what he thought to be right, masked over by the undefeatable power of her hands that melted. Their lips slowed, strengthened when a distance seemed to creep in. But nothing more, not even the interstellar beings, could stand between them.
Then it calmed, at least for a while. With numb lips, N/N pressed her forehead against his nose. She was so gentle, even with her so infinitely strong.
“You are the adventure that made my whole life, Tiger,” he kissed her palm. “No one else can say the same.”
“Maybe not on Earth,” she hummed.
Six planets. Countless space stations. A billion stars.
No one else could have taken him to the ends of the universe like she did.
“Ask me to stay,” he told her. He’ll deal with the consequences later.
But N/N’s smile was almost lost, her hand falling to lay against his chest. Your family. Your home.
“You belong on Earth,” she whispered, “and I belong here.”
And that was okay.
Everything will be okay.
“What if I loved you?” he sang, like he was one of the stars.
“You’ll get over me,” she smiled as Jason just rolled his eyes at her.
He whispered: “It’ll take a while. I mean it did take three whole months just to warm up to you.”
Perhaps no one else, for all of her existence, could see the same smile out of her as he just did. “I don’t have to get over you, though” Jason shrugged. “I can just live with it.”
When N/N reached for his hand, touching the metal that was no longer his skin, she sighed to let her year-long apologies endlessly flow before he stepped in and kissed her again. It’s alright, he whispered. Having a metal hand won't be so bad.
Then he held them up.
His steel hand pressed gently to match her steel hand so they were lit by the stars. It was just a glimpse into the depths of knowing what it was like to be her, but it felt closer. That was more than he could have asked for.
“Will you get over me?” he asked.
All she could stare at was their hold, like the waves that ebbed between them were an unsuspecting gravity.
“No,” N/N confessed, and her words, he will never forget. “I don’t think I will.”
She will, to some extent.
But the selfish parts of him that flourished wanted to believe her. Then she found his ocean eyes that could never look away.
“Because you taught me how to love.” Her fingers fell between the spaces in his hands. “You made me see the stars,” she cried. “You brought me the stars. Thank you.”
To Jason, it wasn’t that. She was the one who took him to the many moons and not once did he think to look back.
“Why would I ever want to forget you?” N/N said, her thumb brushing under his eyes.
I could never forget you.
Even if remembering you hurts.
He couldn’t bare not to kiss her again, like every minute he wasn’t hurt and tore out his skin.
Just one more night.
They were in for a world, a whole lifetime of hurt. They were ready for the inevitable, for what waited out there that was a limitless life. To the many more places that called their name and the countless voices they were yet to hear.
And even when it meant they couldn’t spend it together, it didn’t mean there had to be an end.
Just one more night. A moment’s bliss that outweighed a lifetime’s consequence and hurt.
It will all be okay.
In her cabin that continued the familiar darkness, where a lone window allowed them at least a speck of light, Jason carried her to bed, her legs hugging his hips without plans to part.
The galaxy was no different from swirling hurricanes, only that the winds were peaceful, and they only ever brought light without destruction. That very galaxy swirled within them, like the pull of oceans and waterfalls. He shed his clothes, almost ripped hers apart. Then he was kissing every part of her that needed to be cherished, to light her skin like gold and diamonds.
It will all be okay.
His hand did wonders to the static in her body, curling just enough for the sweetest mewls to escape her lips. N/N sank her teeth deep into his neck, inhaling the darkness and the dim blue from out the skies. Then he replaced his hands with his lips between her legs, his tongue, moving inside her to rip out an avalanche of blinding lightness. She could only grab onto his hair, hold tightly onto his arms while they ravaged her body. And on her clit, her sweet rose, Jason played it like a song.
Then he hovered over her, moved inside her. He memorized the feeling of her legs bent almost up to her chest, hugging his sides just so she could feel him deeper. He wanted to be within her, to be just one, then the galaxies moved to be just like a storm. N/N tried, as her senses screamed at her, to lay quietly.
But as Jason sank into her deep enough to have played the riveting chords to its limits, a sudden cry for her throat echoed out into the silence. It was so animalistic, so indiscernible; she can feel embarrassed about it later. No longer did that stop; no longer could she hold herself back. His lips were all over her jaw, her face, while she thrashed beneath him.
It will all be okay.
It was just one more night.
But it lasted an eternity.
She laid asleep, finally having the peace she always wanted.
All night, Jason ran the fingers of his good hand down her head, the curves on her face that rested on his lap, as he sat upright to face the stars.
She destroyed the star he thought had the gravity to hold on.
But a new one took its place. So much stronger than he ever could have done himself.
Jason was strong.
He pulled out the transmitter from his discarded jacket, kept his hand on N/N’s face to never let go of that new-found strength, and put the earpieces on. Twenty-two messages. He had the night.
His eyes were on her as Jason pressed play.
‘Jason. If you’re still alive out there, I hope you get this.
Just yesterday, we declared you, Roy, and Victor missing. You’re not on Earth. I checked five times.
Which means there’s a 0.01% you’ll get this within the year. If you are getting this, it’s been 30 hours since the Watchtower invasion.
We saw Victor being brought out by the pirates themselves, so that at least puts him in their location. We just have to find out where that is. If you're with him and Roy Harper, stay together.
Don’t worry. We’ll find you. We’re doing whatever we can about this Fleet. Just stay alive. I know you can do that.’
‘Jason. I sent this from one of my satellites. If you get this, please let me know. Doesn’t matter how. So I’ll use the transmitter that does best. By the time I’m recording this, it’s been a week since you disappeared. I’ve turned to Hal to alert the Lanterns. Some of them who are willing to help told me you’re nowhere within the sector, so that places you far enough away that the chances of you getting this message is at 0.00001%.
But don’t worry, I just need you to stay alive. Just stay alive. Don’t do anything stupid. Christ, I know you will. Just don’t do anything stupid enough to get yourself killed.
This isn’t going to be like last time. I’m going to find you…
I won't be too late this time.
The last time I saw you, I told you to get out of Gotham.
I was so mad at you’ve done. But I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry. I want you back here, Jason. Everyone is out there looking for you. Gotham still needs you.
I need you.
We’ve stretched out to almost a lightyear’s radius from Earth. You’re not here. I don’t even know if we’re in the same galaxy. I don’t know where you are. I’m running out of options and I’m too proud to admit that.
But I’m not giving up. I don’t think I ever will.
I gave up too soon the last time. I thought it was too late. But I won't be anymore.
Please, for the love of God, stay alive. We’ll find you.
Hey, lil brother. Guess who convinced B to spend another million dollars to send a message into space?
It’s Dick by the way. If you're not in the mood to guess.
I won't apologize for anything cuz you wouldn’t say sorry unless it’s the end. It won't be the end. I’m going with Kori tomorrow to search the next sector and try to send a transmit there. Maybe it’ll send and you’ll actually get it.
If you are getting this, I’m begging you to be smart enough to come home on your own. Promise someone you’ll pay them for a ride and bill it to Bruce when you get here. I swear you’ll live another day after that.
I don’t think I’ve seen Bruce like this since… well… since the last time…
Bruce is worried you're dead. But I don’t think that. I’ve never met anyone who’s cheated death as much as you. I don’t think that’s changing anytime soon.
I love you, Jay. I don’t say that enough.
‘Jason. It’s Tim.
I did the math on the boom tubes from when the Watchtower picked up their energy signatures. Took me all of four weeks, but I did it.
No one’s happy about it, though. For once, I wish I was wrong.
You’re not in the solar system. You’re not in the quadrant. You’re nowhere near earth that any of us would be fast enough to get to you before we disintegrate.
I’ll keep with the math. Maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am and I’m actually wrong this time.
I’ll invent a transmitter strong enough to get to you. Maybe I’ll summon a boom tube myself.
I’ll figure something out. Don’t die.’
‘Barbara Gordon here. Message for Jason Todd. If anyone else is picking up this message, please stop listening.
Jason. I know you enough that you wouldn’t think we’d care. But if only you can see just what you left behind...
Bruce hasn’t been out on patrol for a week.
That’s never happened before.
It started when Tim figured out just how far the boom tube ended. The nearest you could have gone is twenty quintillion kilometers away.
That narrows it down, right?
It’s almost impossible to send anything to get you.
But Bruce isn’t going to stop, Jason. Everyone believes in you. We all know you’ll stop at nothing to survive.
I believe in you, too.
When you get back here, you tell me everything.’
My birthday was last week. You were the only one who wasn’t here at the Manor. They surprised me, of course. I would never ask for such festivities myself.
It was the first time in months I’ve seen any of them smile.
I never told anyone, but I’ve guilted myself into thinking this was my fault.
You were saving me that day, from that cyborg woman with the swords. I saw you fall into the same boom tube as her. I hope you’ve done what I know you’re capable of and ended her. I know I would if I was in your place. She took you away from us. That’s unacceptable.
I don’t want to fall into sentiments, Todd.
But remember when you and I only just got to warm up to each other? And you promised you’ll take me to the Alps one day cuz you said I could meditate better?
Yeah. Well. Don’t break that promise.
This is Damian by the way.’
I’m so sorry, son.
I failed you.
I failed you again.
I don’t know how many times this has to happen.
But maybe the worst mistake I ever made was argue with you so much when I was granted a second chance at being your father. You came back to life. That should have been enough for me to never give up on you.
But I think I’m too late. Again. Everyone else has told me to stop with the delusions.
“Master Bruce, it’s almost six am, please come to bed.”
“I will, Alfred. Just hold on.”
You would be the one to tell me I’m being delusional.
I don’t want to give up on you. You don’t deserve to be given up on. You deserve to be saved when it isn’t too late.
But the chances of you even hearing this… I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you again.
If you are out there, I hope you at least know I love you, son.
I will never, ever give up on you.’
“I love you, too,” Jason hummed, leaving the tears to fall, “Don’t worry, Dad. I’m coming home.”
They summoned the boom tube not long after the night.
He wanted her a glimpse of his home, the epic end to their ventures, so Jason took her hand just before he took the first of his final steps.
The boom tube’s light was then a place to step into, a momentary blindness that caused no pain nor danger. It was the end of the song, the end of the stars’ choir. Jason did not let go of her hand until the light subsided.
Then her eyes feasted themselves on the warm, orange sunset that greeted them. They were on a cliff, just atop a blue ocean, and the trees whistled a bright hello.
“What do you think?” he sang, holding N/N in his arms as the sunset fell dim.
“Not bad,” she said, “not bad at all.”
It took all his strength not to crumble when he had her face in his hands. But the tears were no more. So long as they knew everything to be alright.
“Thanks for the adventure, Tiger.”
The name made her kiss him, just once more. Each time, he wished it wasn’t the last.
“This isn’t the end,” he whispered. “Come visit when you can.”
This time, it was the last.
Hopefully for now.
She stayed for as long as time would allow her, basking under the gorgeous sunset that serenaded them.
Then the clock chimed.
A world of hurt.
And he was more than willing to go through it all.
“I’ll see you around,” N/N winked at him, just before their arms slid apart and she stepped back into the portal.
Then it closed between them.
Then, just like that,
They were two million light years apart.
The lonely path could only last so long. He’ll tell himself that. No matter how long it will take to be true. Jason didn’t leave the cliffside until the sun had gone.
This void, one so familiar, was infinite.
And so it was, even if there could be, at some point, an end.
At the end of the night’s patrol, she hovered over the Station to join Captains Ora and Aya for their reports. The stars were peaceful that day and they hoped for the same on the next one. Once they find a new planet to call home, hopefully the peace would last.
N/N found herself in the lower decks that night, where they stored the unused ships.
The Dragonfly had long been abandoned by its once eventful life, but its soul remained. “Rest easy, old girl,” N/N lulled it to sleep, with a hand over the dented Transport Pod.
Then she looked out the window beside it so large, it stretched beyond the ceiling. Her eyes were all over the sky.
At the clusters of stars that moved and wandered, at the clouds that danced in the airless void, at the constellations and twinkling patterns one could never unsee.
Every night, the skies were different. Every night, she made sure to look outside.
That night, what called to her in a song, was the Milky Way. From lightyears apart, they faced each other.
‘N/N,’ he once told her while the desert sands bothered her nose. ‘That sounds like a nickname.’
‘It’s a codename,’ she insisted.
‘Not where I’m from. Back on Earth, your real name would be Y/N.’
No longer M-812.
Nice ring to it.
Her head fell against the glass, then she closed her eyes.
That was her name now.
And it was beautiful.
Gotham’s bustling was something he never thought he’d have to get used to. Or even miss.
There wasn’t an inch in the city that would ever be as quiet as space. In his mind, perhaps, he can have that silence again.
Jason Todd sat atop one of the gargoyles on the Gotham Clocktower, with his arm lazy on his bent knee and his other leg dangerously swinging below to the harsh winds.
Much like the galaxies, the lights of the city towers, the skyscrapers, the neon signs, and voices painted the night like a canvas. It harbored its own beauty, boasted its own kind of song. Though less of a quiet hum, it was riveting all the same.
The lightless sky, however, felt as empty as it looked.
So Jason turned the dial on his helmet to rid his view of the light pollution.
Suddenly that empty night sky bloomed in a meadow of unmoving stars, smiling as if they danced. There were comets, flying meteors, dust clouds that huffed, and the Milky Way Galaxy’s many sights so often unseen.
Even with him so far, the night sky remained.
From lightyears away, he zoomed into the Andromeda Galaxy and its unending grace. Nothing else shined brighter, not when he was looking at her.
She was the galaxy and more.
He installed it just then, so nothing would stand in the way from seeing her
Jason let the wind pass him, a gentle tap on his shoulder to remind him of greater things to follow.
“Red Hood,” his comms went up.
“I’m off to the suburbs just a few miles out of Gotham. Got a tip for a warehouse that might lead us to more of Falcone’s stash.”
Bruce sighed: “Just you and me. If you’re up for it.”
“Sure,” he hoped his smile wasn’t too obvious. “I’ll meet you there.”
Sometimes, he needed at least just a gentle reminder that he was lucky to be alive at all. Or, more accurately, that he was alive again.
Jason Todd sure had one hell of a second life.
And for the rest of it, Andromeda will be there to follow, to watch him with its limitless light.
“Being lost is worth the being found.”
- Neil Diamond
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