Posted by Ravager4 (1627 posts) - - Show Bio

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy, Ruby, Jeremiah Belmont, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The next story arc deals with Rose's continued issues in moving past the loss of Becky. During this time, she meets a new friend, as well as a new hero around Silverstone. Though she's sworn off being Ravager for good, can she keep the costume off? Read on to find out!

Side Note: Alright, this is admittedly, a pretty slow story arc, I think, with not a whole lot of action. The conflict in this arc is mostly internal, and is more of a drama piece, kind of. I don't really think it's one of my better ones, either, since my ideas for it were kind of all over the place when I was writing. But, hopefully things came together alright and it won't be too bad. Anyway, as always, let me know what you think.

All Chapters: http://www.comicvine.com/forums/fan-fic/8/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/660884/#1

Chapter #69

Int. Rose's Martial Arts Studio – Night

Even though it's after hours, with the last class having gone home nearly an hour ago, the studio is still open. Specifically, it's being used by two individuals currently engaged in a spar. Holly runs across the mat with skilled focus, leaping through the air and delivering a spinning kick. Of course, it isn't much of a challenge for Rose to block the attack and push the girl off balance. Holly quickly recovers, her feet setting themselves beneath her perfectly. Instantly, she counters with another kick, followed by a hard elbow. Rose blocks them all, but this doesn't discourage the girl; in fact it's the whole point.

Rose: That's good, you're doing great. Keep it coming.

Without hesitating, Holly lunges in with a flying knee, and when Rose goes to block, she brings both hands down in the form of a double chop aimed at the sides of her opponent's neck. Reaching up, Rose catches the girl's hands by the wrists, then flips her over onto her backside. Holly lands with a huff of air on the mat, blinking up in surprise.

Holly: Ow.

Standing over the girl, Rose brings her hands to her hips for a moment, then finally extends a hand down and smiles.

Rose: You're getting a lot better. Keep this up and you'll have your brown belt soon.

Returning the smile, Holly reaches up and takes Rose's hand, pulling herself back to her feet. She briefly takes in a small breath and then straightens herself, holding her hands to her lower back.

Holly: Thanks. I've been practicing a lot.

Rose: And it shows. I think you almost hit me that time.

A small grin forms its way onto Holly's face.

Holly: Just you wait, one of these days I'll get you.

Rose: I’ve no doubt.

Putting a hand on Holly's shoulder, Rose walks with her back towards the front of the studio, where Circe is sitting behind the newly repaired counter and going over the computer records. It had taken a few weeks to completely repair the place in light of the damage that had been caused during the VRA attack, but at least now everything is back to normal.

Behind Circe, her daughter Lyta sits on another chair, swinging around casually and casting a few small magic spells between her hands, causing bright sparks to erupt in the form of a miniature fireworks display. When the two approach, Circe glances up from the computer and shuts off the monitor.

Circe: You finished now?

Rose: Yeah, I'd say that does it for today.

Circe: Lyta, dear, grab your coat and let's go. You, too, Holly.

Holly: Right, just a second.

As Holly and Lyta retrieve their coats, Rose utters a long breath and leans against the counter.

Rose: Thanks for taking Holly for the night. I could use some time to myself.

Circe: It's no trouble, really. What do you plan on doing, anyway?

Rose: I don't know, I might just stay in and watch a few boring movies.

Circe: By yourself? Oh dear.

Rose: What?

Circe: Look, Rose... it's been three months now and you've barely set foot outside of your home except to work. Go out. Do something. Put on that atrocious costume of yours again and patrol the city if you have to, it doesn't matter.

Sighing, Rose lifts a hand to her head and closes her eyes.

Rose: I can't. I'm just... I'm not ready. Not yet.

Circe: You're still grieving, I understand. But at least consider it. I won't pretend to have known Rebecca nearly as well as you did, but even I don't think she would want you to forget how to enjoy life. You did tell me she's the one who taught you how to do that, right?

Rose: Yeah, well... I don't know. I'll figure something out. Thanks, though.

Circe: Just looking out for you. Someone once told me, 'that's what friends do'. So I'm being a friend.

Rose: A good one, too. Thank you.

A few seconds later, both Holly and Lyta run by, heading for the door.

Lyta: Race you to the car!

Holly: Hey, you got a head start!

Circe: I suppose that's my cue. I'll see you tomorrow, Rose.

Grabbing her own coat and purse, Circe walks out from behind the counter and make her way towards the door. She stops briefly, looking back at Rose.

Circe: And try to find a way to enjoy yourself. You deserve it.

When everyone is gone, Rose lets out a cool breath and stands there for several moments. Eventually, she heads out the door, locking the place up behind her.

Rose's Penthouse Suite – Night

Running her fingers through her hair, Rose leans back on the couch and puts her feet up on the coffee table. The night is young yet, only around eight-thirty or so, which means that she has plenty of time to just sit back, relax, and watch a couple of terrible movies. In spite of Circe's urgings to go out and try to have fun, she just can't bring herself to do so. It's still too soon, in her mind. The memories of Becky are still too fresh, the pain of her loss too strong.

As she reaches for the remote, a knock on the door suddenly calls her from her thoughts. She utters a low groan, bringing a hand up and rubbing her eyes briefly before rising back to her feet and heading for the door. Whoever this is, she's really not in the mood right now. She didn't order any food, she wasn't expecting any visitors, and she really just wants to be alone. The knock comes again, and this time Rose lets out a more audible breath of annoyance.

Rose: I'm coming, hold your damn horses.

When she throws the door open, her eyes glare forward at the man standing there, fully read to tell off whoever decided to interrupt her time alone. When she realizes who it is, however, her annoyance comes down a little.

Rose: Oh, it's you.

Standing in her doorway is Police Chief Gerald Palmer, head of Silverstone's police department. Before the whole VRA incident, the last time she'd spoken to him while in her civilian identity had been when she'd still been on the force, more than six months ago.

After the VRA incident, though, it didn't exactly take much for the people she used to work with to figure out that she was Ravager, the former vigilante of Silverstone City, especially considering her case for killing Jeremiah Belmont, the mastermind behind it all. Fortunately, the judge saw fit to throw that case out, given the incredibly outrageous circumstances surrounding it.

Palmer: Mind if I come in for a minute?

Rose: I guess. Not like I have anything else to do.

He gives her a brief, calm look, then walks through the doorway into the penthouse, closing the door behind him.

Palmer: I would have called, but...

Rose: I would have hung up again. Yeah. So what are you here for anyway? You still trying to 'recruit' me?

Palmer: I wouldn't really call it that, but if you mean I'm here to get you to work with us again, then yes. Silverstone's been in some rough shape these past few months, what with the budget cuts and police layoffs. As much as I hate to admit it, we could really use some help. Your kind of help.

Moving into the kitchen, Rose grabs a glass and pours herself some water from the sink. She stares at it for a short moment before taking a long gulp, then leans up against the counter and stares at Palmer.

Rose: I don't do that anymore, I already told you.

Palmer: I know, I know. It's the last thing you want to do. After what happened with Rebecca...

At the mention of Becky's name, Rose's gaze drifts off to the side, a heavy sigh emerging from her throat.

Rose: I just... I can't do it anymore. Things have changed; I have a daughter to look out for. I wasn't the only one who lost Becky, we both did. If I go out there again, if I put on that costume and I end up getting myself killed, too... I'm not putting Holly through that.

Folding his arms across his chest, Palmer takes in a deep breath and slowly lets it out.

Palmer: I understand. Never hurts to ask, though, right? Anyway, I, uh... I should get going. I got a bunch of reports to fill out, something about a new suspected drug going around getting kids addicted, and one of our undercover guys went missing.

Rose: Good luck with that.

Palmer: Yeah... see you around, Wilson. And take care of yourself.

When he finally gives her a parting nod and leaves the apartment, Rose bows her head for a moment and stares at the kitchen floor. She absently raises a hand, again rubbing her eyes and uttering a deep sigh. Eventually, she walks out of the kitchen and back into the living room, once again dropping herself onto the couch. Reaching for the remote again, something catches her vision from the corner of her eye.

Turning her head, she notices a framed photograph standing on the end table. It's a picture of her and Becky in the Silverstone City Park last September. It wasn't any significant moment, just a random act while they'd been sitting on the park bench. Becky practically ambushed her with the photo, throwing an arm around her and holding the camera up at them to snap the shot. As a result of being completely unprepared for the picture, Rose's expression is utterly ridiculous, somewhere between surprise and confusion, while Becky grins mischievously at the camera.

For the longest time, Rose just stares at the photo. She can almost feel Becky staring back... After a while, she reaches over to the picture and lifts it up, holding it in front of her to get a better look. Becky really was beautiful, and that smile was the best part about her. It had a way of melting Rose's heart every time she saw it.

Rose: So what do you think I should do, huh?

A moment of silence, as she ponders things in her head. Specifically, she's thinking about exactly how Becky would react if she could see Rose sitting alone on that couch right now.

Rose: Don't give me that look. You know I never liked to go out much. I only went out with you because I liked you. And so maybe you did teach me how to have fun... but that doesn't mean I should be doing it now without you.

Another pause. Rose knew Becky well enough to know how she'd respond to that. Letting out a long sigh, Rose closes her eyes and bows her head.

Rose: I know you'd still want me to be happy... but it's hard, you know? I miss you a lot.

Slowly lifting her gaze again, she stares at the picture a moment longer, then finally returns it to its spot on the end table.

Rose: Alright, you win; I'll try. No promises, though. Two to one says I'm back here in an hour even more miserable than I started.

Int. Last Call Bar – Night

It certainly hadn't been the place that Rose intended on ending up when she decided to go out that night. When she started thinking about it, though, anything else she thought of doing just reminded her too much of Becky and she couldn't bring herself to go through with it. Instead, she decided to do something that she and Becky had never done together, which happened to be going to a bar. It's actually been a couple of years since she went to a bar at all. Sitting there now, though, she starts to realize just why she hadn't been to a bar in so long.

Rose: No.

The man that had walked up to her just sort of blinks for a second. He hadn't even said anything yet, but she could tell he was going to.

Man: I was just-

Rose: I said no.

Man: But-

Rose: Get lost before I break your arm.

Man: Alright, geez.

Holding up his hands in mock surrender, the guy turns around and walks back the way he came. The group of friends he's with instantly breaks out into laughter over his incredible failure. Uttering a long groan, Rose bows her head and holds it in her hands, elbows resting on the bar counter. That had been no less than the seventh guy she had turned away. Who knew she'd be this desirable at the bar scene?

Maybe it has something to do with her striking white hair that gets people's attention, but either way she wants nothing to do with them. The only reason she's even here is to try and have a relaxing drink, not endure being repeatedly hit on all night.

Christ, I knew this was a mistake. Never should have gone out.

Bringing her beer up to her lips, she quickly gulps down the rest of the bottle's contents, then raises a hand to grab the bartender's attention.

Rose: I'll take a shot here.

Bartender: What of?

Rose: I don't care, as long as it's hard. Surprise me.

Bartender: Uh, alright, coming right up.

Breathing outwardly again, Rose taps her fingers incessantly against the counter while staring at herself in the reflection of a small mirror next to the shelves in front of her.

Woman: I take it you're having a rough night.

Rose's fingers suddenly stop tapping, as the voice grabs her attention. Looking to her left, she spots a woman sitting a few stools down from her. The woman's hair is dark red and cut short, falling just past her ears, and she wears a tight pair of jeans, plain white T-shirt, and a dark jacket. She's no stunner, but she's still attractive, with soft features, a toned body, and a small tattoo of a thorny vine around one side of her neck.

Rose: Uh... something like that. Do I know you?

Woman: Definitely not. I think we'd remember if we knew each other.

She speaks with a slight English accent. It's subtle, but still noticeable.

Rose: Yeah, right...

Ruby: Name's Ruby.

Rose: Rose.

Ruby: Huh, that's weird. I had a grandmother named Rose. Ghastly woman.

When Rose doesn't say anything, instead just blinking curiously at her, Ruby leans against the counter and nods over to a table of guys near the back.

Ruby: I've seen them making passes at you all night.

Rose: Yeah, kind of hard to miss.

A short moment later, Rose's shot arrives. She grabs the small glass and instantly downs the contents.

Ruby: You know, a few of them are pretty good looking guys. You don't like guys?

Rose: Er, it's not that I don't like guys. It's just... sometimes they can be so...

Ruby: Intolerable?

Rose: That sounds right. Like a bunch of dogs in heat looking for the nearest leg to hump.

Ruby snorts out a laugh, lips curling into a grin.

Ruby: Ain't that the truth? That's why I gave them up years ago.

Rose: Smart move. Lately, I've found that women are a lot easier to get along with.

Ruby: Also true.

A small sigh escapes Rose's lips, as she leans forward against the counter.

Rose: So what are you doing here, anyway? I mean, if you gave up guys and all... shouldn't you be at a different kind of bar?

Ruby simply points her thumb behind her, where a group of women are in the middle of flirting with a group of guys at a nearby table.

Ruby: My friends dragged me out with them, said it would be fun. So far, though, I've just been sitting here and watching them have fun.

Rose: Sounds riveting.

Ruby: Oh you don't know the half of it. As it stands, I'm about five minutes from leaving.

Rose: Funny, so am I.

Pursing her lips in thought, Ruby taps her finger against the side of the bar for a moment, then shifts her weight in her seat.

Ruby: Here's a crazy thought, why don't we leave together?

Rose: Together?

Ruby: Sure. I know this great little coffee shop over on Danelion Avenue that's open late. We could grab a cup, have a chat. Whatever.

Slowly, Rose's gaze narrows at the woman. A few quick thoughts begin running through her head, not least of which is whether she actually wants to go out with someone again so soon. The logical part of her brain is of course against it. She barely knows this woman, it's only been three months, and she still has Becky constantly in her head. It just wouldn't be right. And yet, at the same time, the spontaneous side of her brain sees something in Ruby that she wants to get to know, something... intriguing.

Rose: You know what, why not? Might be fun.

Chapter #70

Int. Cup O' Joe Coffee House - Night

Rose lifts the mug of coffee up to her mouth and takes a long sip. The hot liquid puts her at much greater ease than the drinks at the bar had. As she sets her mug down on the table again, she utters a long breath and leans back in her chair. Ruby sits across from her, just staring intently. Noticing this, Rose cocks her head to the side and narrows her eyes.

Rose: What, I have something on my face?

Ruby: Oh, no. I'm just reading you. It's sort of what I do.

Rose: What you do... like as a job?

Ruby, Ha, goodness no. Can't imagine a way to pay the bills with that, could you? No, it's just a hobby I have.

Rose: And what exactly are you reading with me?

Ruby: Hmm...

Leaning forward, she squints her eyes slightly and continues staring, trying to discern whatever she can from Rose's demeanor.

Ruby: I'm getting... uncertainty. You don't really know if you want to be here.

Rose: Lucky guess.

Ruby: And you're also sad. Not much on the outside, but within... yes, there's sorrow. Grief. I can see it in your eyes. You lost someone very important to you, didn't you? Recently, too.

At this statement, Rose furrows her brow and stiffens in her seat. Her gaze moves downward, looking into her coffee as her fingers tighten around the mug.

Rose: You... how did you...

Ruby: Like I said, it's what I do. No matter how much one tries to hide their emotions, the eyes never lie.

Rose breathes out a long sigh, continuing to stare into her coffee mug. She doesn't say anything yet, simply contemplating. After a long pause, Ruby rests her chin in her hand, and gives an empathetic look.

Ruby: Who was she?

Slowly, Rose glances back up.

Rose: You're so sure it's a she?

Ruby: Call it a lucky guess.

Another small pause, as Rose holds her head in her hand and sighs again.

Rose: She was... one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Ruby: Ah, you loved her.

Rose: Yeah.

Ruby: I know what that's like... been there, myself.

Rose: You mean...?

She gives a small nod, then sinks back into her seat and lifts her own cup to her lips, taking a long sip of coffee.

Ruby: Her name was Jeannette. Great girl; funny, smart, caring, everything you could want in someone. We'd been together for a long time, had even been talking about marriage. You know, all the happy stuff. But then...

Her demeanor suddenly takes on a much more solemn appearance. Ruby's eyes shift downward, shoulders slackening, as if remembering some painful memory. When she finally continues, she raises her gaze up to look at Rose again.

Ruby: It was cancer. Doctors caught it too late, and... well, there wasn't a lot they could do.

Rose: Oh... I'm sorry.

Ruby: Ah, it's alright. Was a long time ago. I've moved on. Though, I sense you haven't, yet.

Rose: Yeah, well, it's still too soon for me. To move on, I mean. I... I still remember her so well, you know? The memories... they're so vivid.

Ruby: It's just a natural part of the grieving process. Cherish them while you can, because eventually those memories will start to fade, as sad as it is.

Taking in a deep breath, Rose sips at her coffee a bit more until finally finishing the drink. Then, she sets the empty mug down and lets out a small, almost amused chuckle.

Rose: You know, I don't even know why I'm talking to you about any of this. I mean, I barely know you, and yet there's something about you. Something... I don't know, comfortable.

Ruby: Ha, yes, I tend to have that effect on people.

Rose: Thanks, though. For talking, for listening... and the coffee was good, too. But, I mean I don't know what you were expecting from this. If you were trying to pick me up or something, I'm not really ready to...

A small laugh finds its way out of Ruby's throat.

Ruby: Please, I'm not as heartless as I look. I wasn't expecting anything out of this except for a nice chat and some good coffee.

Rose smiles very slightly, nodding in response.

Rose: Thank you.

Ruby: However, I am going to give you my number.

Reaching into her purse, she pulls out a small pad of paper and a pen, then scribbles out her number on it. Tearing off the paper, she passes it over to Rose.

Ruby: If you ever feel up to it, give me a call. I'd like to see you again sometime.

Rose tentatively takes the number, giving it a long look. Eventually, she folds the paper and then stuffs it into her pants' pocket.

Rose: Sure, I'll keep that in mind.

Ruby: In that case, I will take my leave.

Standing up from her seat, Ruby takes an over exaggerated bow, then extends her hand.

Ruby: It was a pleasure to meet you, Rose. I hope things get better for you.

Sucking in a deep breath, Rose slowly lifts her hand her shake Ruby's, in turn giving a slight smile.

Rose: Was nice to meet you. I'll give you a call sometime, maybe when I'm feeling a bit better.

Ruby: May your heart mend itself well.

Flashing her own, almost childish smile, Ruby this time gives an over exaggerated curtsy, whirls her arm in a parting wave, and then spins around to head towards the exit. Rose leans forward, holding her chin up in one hand while watching the Ruby leave.

What an odd woman...

And yet as odd as she is, for some reason Rose finds herself wanting to know more about the woman, wants to see her again. For some reason, she's suddenly in a better mood.

Ext. Silverstone City Streets - Night

Rose stuffs her hands into her pockets, as she makes her way down the sidewalk. There's a bit more bounce in her step than when she had originally gone out that night, when she'd been dragging her feet beneath her and in no mood to actually be out. She doesn't know why, exactly, yet it feels like an air of happiness – no, not happiness. More like contentment – had taken hold of her.

Am I smiling? I am smiling. Why am I smiling?

But she doesn't actually care why she's smiling. All she knows is that she is, and that's good enough for her. Stopping at a crosswalk, she waits for the signal to change so she can cross the street. As she does this, however, she notices a couple of young kids grouped together near the alleyway across from her. She narrows her eyes at them for a moment, watching as they look around nervously and then duck into the shadows. She might have written it off as just a bunch of kids about to do something mischievous, if not for the fact that it's nearly ten o'clock, and it's a school night. Something about that just seemed a little off.

As soon as the signal changes, Rose hurries across the street and makes her way into the same alley that the kids had disappeared into. She steps past a small pile of trash bags, moves through a broken gap in a chain link fence, and then pauses at a bend in the path, hearing voices ahead of her.

Kid #1: Hey, we got you the money. Let us back in!

Kid #2: Yeah, come on! Please? I... I can't go without it. Life sucks out here... let us back in.

Kid #3: In there, I'm somebody. Out here I'm just a nerd with broken glasses.

A new voice follows, this one deeper... and impossibly creepy.

Man: Yes, yes of course. You've made the payment, so you get the treatment. Just relax and I'll bring you back again. Relax... open your eyes and watch the lights.

A short moment later, bright flashes of light begin to flicker out from around the corner. Instantly, Rose hurries forward to get a better look at what's going on, and hopefully stop whatever the creepy dude is about to do with those kids. Unfortunately, the second she comes into view, she goes blind by the lights, squinting her eyes shut and stumbling against the wall of the building next to her. The way they're flashing so fast, too, makes her feel like she's about to vomit. Fortunately, she manages to keep it down. By the time she regains her sight and her senses, though, the alley is empty.

Well sh*t.

Taking a quick look around to make sure she isn't missing anything, Rose utters a small sigh and stuffs her hands back in her pockets. So much for that.

Wait a minute, Rose, why do you even care? You don't do that anymore, remember? Just let the cops handle it.

A small frown suddenly forms on her face, as she walks back out of the alley. For some reason, she doesn't feel nearly as well as she did a few minutes ago. Whatever contentment she had after her talk with Ruby, it's gone now. The only thing left is the familiar sense of grief and misery. If anything, she actually feels worse now, and she has no idea what caused it. Hanging her head, she turns the corner of another sidewalk and starts back towards home. Maybe getting a good night's sleep will help.

Of course, she doesn't make it very far before she realizes that she's being watched. As subtle as her stalker is trying to be, it's actually fairly obvious. A couple years ago, she might not have picked up on it, but right now, she's well aware of the fact that she's being followed. Stopping suddenly, she turns to look behind her. As expected, the figure moves behind another group of people, hiding from view.

I am really not in the mood for this...

If this mystery stalker is so intent on following her, then fine. She'll lead whoever it is where she wants to take them. Turning another corner, she darts down an alley, then swings her way up onto a fire escape and begins climbing towards the roof of the building. In all likelihood, she'll lose the person on the way up to the building anyway.

However, looking back down, she notices that the figure is still close behind, not bothering to be very subtle about it anymore. Narrowing her eyes, Rose continues up onto the roof. She hurries a few steps ahead, then turns around and waits. Her stalker appears a few moments later, emerging onto the roof and jumping up to her feet.

Rose: Wait... you? What the hell are you doing here?

She doesn't recognize the face so much as the outfit; tight dark pants, a red shirt in the style of a Chinese gi, and a long, black leather coat.

Shiva: I did say I would return for you in one year, didn't I? Well, it's been a year.

Rose: Technically, it's been three months more than a year. Did they not teach you how to keep track of time where you come from?

Shiva: On the contrary, I was here three months ago, on time. However, when I found out about your... loss, I waited. I allowed you time to grieve, since you would not have been able to fight to the best of your ability then. Now, however, I would expect you to be ready.

Narrowing her eyes, Rose breathes outwardly and turns around, starting to walk away to the other side of the roof.

Rose: Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not in the mood. I'm not Ravager anymore. I'm not the person you're looking to fight.

Shiva: Do not walk away from me, Rose Wilson. Our rematch is already long overdo.

Rose: You say that like I should care.

Shiva: Yes, you should.

Rose: Well I don't.

And suddenly, Rose is reacting to her precog again, witnessing an attack from behind in her mind. Instantly, she reacts by ducking away to the side. During that period, there are at least a dozen different ways she can make a counter and land a hit so hard that Lady Shiva would be on the ground in a daze. But she never makes the attempt, instead just taking a few steps back. She doesn't react to the next attack nearly as fast as she should have, taking a hard kick straight to the face that sends her tumbling to the ground.

Shiva: Don't think that just because you won't give an effort that I will walk away. I've waited long enough, it was up to you to prepare yourself in time. I understand that you lost someone close to you, but if you don't get over it in the next few moments, then you will die.

Holding a hand to her bleeding nose, Rose glares up at the woman and then slowly returns to her feet.

Rose: Well, aren't you just a walking bundle of sympathy?

Shiva: Sarcasm won't save you, either.

Lady Shiva lunges in again, this time with a hard palm strike aimed at her face. Rose leans to the side to dodge it, then throws a punch of her own. However, her fist misses by a lot, while she takes a knee the chest, dropping her to her knees.

Shiva: Your body is here, but your mind is elsewhere.

Rose: I think... we established that already.

Shiva: You aren't making this worth my time. I was hoping that you would have improved in the past year. Instead, it's like fighting a child.

Groaning out a small, pained breath, Rose rises back to her feet again.

Rose: Oh, well, forgive me for disappointing you. What was I thinking?

Shiva: You weren't.

This time, when Lady Shiva comes in, she aims at a specific spot on Rose's throat, a very special pressure point that, if hit hard enough, can induce unconsciousness and even death within seconds. It isn't her leopard blow, but then only opponents she considers worthy are given the courtesy of receiving a blow from such a technique. No, Rose just gets a generic killing move. Before her fingers reach their target, however, she is stopped by the sudden appearance of... someone.

Quite literally, a third person materializes out of thin air right in front of her, leading with a flying missile kick that drives into her gut. Uttering a grunt of surprise, Lady Shiva slides backwards and quickly recovers her balance.

Shiva: Who are you supposed to be?

Rose blinks a few times at the new arrival, trying to discern just who the person is supposed to be. The rather form fitting, armored catsuit, colored black, does little to hide the fact that said person is female, especially considering some very noticeable features of her figure. To go along with the catsuit, however, is a long hooded cloak, blood red in color. The hood of the cloak also includes a dark covering over the face, completely obscuring her identity.

Woman: Just a concerned citizen, is all. I suggest you take your leave now, or I might have to force you.

Shiva: This does not concern you. Stand aside.

Woman: Sorry, I don't really think that I will. You see, I don't tolerate people like you. Either you get out of my city, or I throw you out.

Standing straighter, Lady Shiva slowly walks forward towards the woman. Coming to within a few paces of her, she suddenly throws a lightning quick jab, meant to take her out in a single blow. However, the hooded woman again vanishes into thin air, leaving behind a stray wisp of smoke in her wake. A second later, she reappears behind Shiva, leading with another kick. Shiva stumbles forward as the blow caroms off the back of her head.

Shiva: You're really starting to-

Woman: What? Get you riled up? Frustrate you? No, I don't think so. You see, you're actually starting to feel really, really calm. I'd even say indifferent. You don't feel like fighting anymore. All you want to do is leave.

Rose simply lifts an eyebrow in confusion, as she watches the scene. Is this mystery woman trying to pull some kind of Jedi mind trick or something? To her complete shock, however, the strange commands... actually work. Lady Shiva abruptly drops her guard and stands straight, her expression going clean and calm.

Shiva: You are right... I have more important things to do. Thank you, but I must be going now.

And with that, Lady Shiva turns around, walks back over to the fire escape, and then vanishes. Blinking in utter confusion, Rose looks over at the woman.

Rose: What the hell was that?

Woman: Oh that? Nothing really, just made her feel what I wanted her to feel. It's sort of what I do.

Rose: I see... and the teleportation bit?

Woman: Just part of the package. Are you alright, by the way?

Rose: I'm fine... though I could have handled myself, thanks.

Woman: Yes... you were on the verge of a miraculous comeback victory, I could feel it.

Gradually, Rose's eyes narrow.

Rose: Was that supposed to be a joke?

Woman: Did it feel like a joke?

Rose: I... what? Never mind. So who the hell are you, anyway?

Apathy: You can call me Apathy.

Rose: And what are you doing? I mean, dressed like that. Last I checked, you weren't the designated cape in Silverstone.

Apathy: Last I checked, no one was. At least not anymore.

Rose: So what, you decided to take over? I mean, since that Ravager person stopped showing up.

Apathy: Something like that. I just started recently, but wow is there a lot to clean up around this city.

Rose: Tell me about it...

Apathy tilts her head to the side slightly, while folding her arms across her chest.

Rose: Uh, I mean... like what?

Apathy: Oh, you name it, this place is infected with it. But if I'm being specific, right now I'm trying to figure out what's up with some of the kids in this area. They've been acting... strange. Rumor says it's a new drug going around, but I'm certain that it's something more.

Rose: Of course it's something more. It's always something more. At least... that's what I hear.

Apathy: Of course, because everyone hears that.

Without speaking a response, Rose merely narrows her eyes at the woman.

Apathy: It's a shame, though. Since I am so new at this and all, it might be good if I had some help. But alas, I'm all on my own in this.

Rose: Right, a real shame. Go to the cops if you want help.

Apathy: Please, I don't do cops. Besides, they can only help so much. They can't really do the kind of dirty work that we can.

Rose: And who's we, exactly?

Apathy: You know, superheroes.

Rose: You think you're a superhero?

Placing her hands on her hips, Apathy cocks her hips to the side and gives a hard stare. At least, Rose thinks she's staring; it's kind of hard to tell considering she can't see the woman's face through the dark mask and hood.

Apathy: Well, let's see-

She then raises her hands, casually counting out her list of reasons.

Apathy: I have superpowers, I fight crime, I beat up bad guys on a regular basis, and I have an amazing costume. I believe that qualifies, yes?

Rose: Well, you did say you were new at it, right? That means you're a rookie.

A small, amused laugh escapes Apathy's throat.

Apathy: Don't let that fool you, kid, I know how to handle myself.

Rose: Uh huh, I'm sure. Why don't you go and- wait... did you just call me 'kid'? How old are you, exactly?

Apathy: Thirty.

Rose: You're joking, right? You act like you're about fifteen.

Apathy: Still a kid at heart. Now, if you're just going to keep standing there and asking me stupid questions, then I think it's time I take my leave. I have a city to clean up.

Rose: Hey, wait a-

In an instant, however, Apathy disappears into thin air, leaving behind only a few small wisps of smoke in her place.

Rose: -minute. What the hell is with her?

She stands there a few moments longer, then shakes her head and heads back towards the fire escape. So, now not only does she have to watch her back for Lady Shiva on a daily basis, but apparently there's a new cape in town looking to take her place as Silverstone's protector.

So what? You don't care, remember? Let her take your place. She can clean up the city, and you can feel less guilty for giving it up. Unless she gets herself killed...

Releasing a long sigh, Rose makes her way back down the fire escape and into the alley. She's about ready to get some sleep now.

Meanwhile, up above on another rooftop, Apathy leans over the parapet and gazes downward, watching Rose walk down the sidewalk. After several moments, she finally straightens herself and folds her arms over her chest.

Apathy: See you around, Ravager.

Another second, and she vanishes.

Chapter #71

Int. Silverstone City Mall - Day

Rose sits in the chair outside the dressing rooms, waiting patiently with her arms folded. A very soft, quiet music plays in the background over the store's speaker system. She guesses it's supposed to be soothing, but really all it does is make her want to tear the PA system out of the walls. The quicker they can be done with this trip, the better. Or at least move to a different store that doesn't have annoying music. A short while later, the door in front of her opens, revealing Holly dressed in an outfit consisting of capris and a tank-top with an abstract design on the front.

Holly: How's this look? I think it's okay.

Rose: Come here, let me see.

Holly moves closer, waiting while Rose inspects the outfit.

Rose: Seems alright to me. Everything fit okay?

Holly: Well, the pants are a little loose, but I think I'll grow into them.

Rose: You don't think the shirt is a little big, too?

Holly: Maybe, but-

Rose: You'll grow into it, right. Well, if you're sure you like it, then it's all yours.

A broad grin forms its way onto the girl's young face.

Holly: Thanks, Rose! Er, Mom. Er... I still don't know what I should call you.

A small chuckle finds its way to Rose's lips.

Rose: It's alright. Call me whatever you want.

A short while later, the two find themselves at the food court, sitting at table and eating a couple sandwiches. Neither of them say anything right now, simply enjoying the meal. Rose lifts her bottle of water to her lips, taking a long gulp and then leaning back in her chair. It's been a relatively dull day, but she doesn't mind it too much. Just spending it with Holly is enough to keep herself entertained.

Holly: Hey, Ro- uh, Mom?

Rose: Yeah?

Holly: I've been meaning to ask you something...

Straightening herself in her seat, Rose brings her hands in front of her and folds them together on the table, giving Holly a careful look.

Rose: What is it?

Holly: Well, um... how come you don't go out at night anymore? You know... to stop the bad guys and stuff?

Rose: Holly...

A long breath emerges from her throat, as she lifts a hand and holds it to her head.

Rose: I just want to spend more time with you. And I wouldn't be a very responsible mother if I went out every night getting shot at, now would I?

Holly: Well, yeah, I mean I guess that makes sense, but... I don't know, I guess I liked it when you helped people. Like how you helped me.

Rose: I like helping people, too, but sometimes things change. If something happened to me... I just don't want to put you through that. Not again.

At this comment, Holly merely gives a large smile.

Holly: But nothing could happen to you. You're the best.

Eyes softening, Rose returns her own smile. There are are just so many reasons to love this girl.

Rose: I wish that were true, Holly.

The girl shrugs her shoulders, then takes another bite of her sandwich.

Holly: I guess I just wouldn't mind if you still wanted to, because helping people is important. Someday, I want to be able to help people, too.

Rose: Yeah, and hopefully as a doctor or something.

Holly: Maybe.

Just as long as you don't end up like me, kid...

As they start to finish up their lunch, an excited voice suddenly calls out, interrupting them.

Voice: Hey there!

With the slight English accent to it, Rose knows exactly who the voice belongs to. Turning her head, she sees Ruby heading towards them from across the food court.

Ruby: Well, fancy meeting you here. My goodness, what a small world.

Rose: Yeah, fancy that. What are you doing here?

Ruby: Oh, you know, just shopping around. That is generally what one does at a mall, isn't it?

Rose: So it is.

Ruby: And who's this lovely young girl?

Rose: Oh, Ruby, Holly. Holly, Ruby.

Holly eagerly extends her hand forward, which Ruby takes and gives a firm handshake.

Holly: Nice to meet you.

Ruby: And you, as well, Holly. Are you Rose's sister?

Rose: Daughter, actually.

Blinking in surprise, Ruby glances back and forth between the two.

Ruby: She looks awfully... well, old, to be your daughter.

Holly: That's 'cuz she adopted me.

Ruby: Oh, I see, well that's wonderful.

Holly: How do you know Rose?

Ruby: Ah, you see, we met last night, didn't we? Had a cup of coffee, talked a little bit. She's a real interesting woman.

Looking back up to Rose, Holly smiles a little.

Holly: You didn't tell me you went out last night. Did you have fun?

Rose: I... well, yes, actually. I did.

Barring what happened after I left Ruby.

Holly: That's good. You deserve to have fun.

Rose: So people keep telling me.

Ruby: Anyway, what are you two up to? Aside from enjoying what looks like rather tasty sandwiches.

Rose: Shopping, same as you. Mostly for summer wear. Holly's outgrown a lot of her old clothes, so she practically needs a new wardrobe.

Holly: We're going to try on swimsuits next! I totally want a bikini this year.

Rose: Not until you're older.

Holly: Older? Come on, I'm already eleven and a half!

Ruby: And very mature for your age, I can tell.

Holly: See? Ruby thinks I'm mature.

Clearing her throat, Rose gives the woman a sidelong glance, then looks back to Holly.

Rose: In the sense that you're a very smart girl, not in the sense that a bikini would be appropriate for you.

Holly: But Rose-

Rose: No buts.

Pouting a little, Holly holds her arms over her chest and breathes out a sigh of defeat.

Holly: Fine.

Ruby: Say, do you mind if I tag along with you girls? I still have a bit of shopping left to do myself, and I find it's always more entertaining with other people than by yourself.

And there it is again, as sudden as a kick to the gut: that overwhelming feeling of calm and contentment, the same that she felt the night before after meeting Ruby. She still doesn't know what's causing it, but for some reason she's in a much better mood now. She might even go so far as to say she's feeling quite giddy and carefree at the moment

What the hell is it about this woman? She's so... enjoyable. Why is she so enjoyable?

Rose: Yeah, sure. That would be great actually. We could use the company, right?

Holly: Right!

Ext. Silverstone City Mall - Day

Ruby: I'll see you girls around. Thanks for the company!

Giving a warm wave of departure, Ruby heads across the parking lot in the opposite direction. Rose and Holly return their own waves as the woman disappears into the rows of cars, then head towards their own vehicle in the lot. Most of their many shopping bags, Rose gets stuck with, mostly due to the fact that she has the strength to handle them all. Holly, meanwhile, manages with just a pair of bags, one in either hand.

Holly: She's really nice. I like her.

Rose: Yeah...

Pausing a moment, she glances back over her shoulders, as if hoping to catch another glimpse of Ruby. She only sees a wall of cars, though.

Rose: I do, too.

Ext. Silverstone City Streets - Day

As Rose guides her car down the off ramp of the Silverstone overpass, she spots something ahead of her down the road that catches her attention. A collection of cop cars sits along the side of the street, along with an ambulance. The medical team works to lift a gurney up into the back of the ambulance, a gurney on which a young boy lies unconscious with an oxygen mask over his face. He can't be more than fourteen or fifteen years old.

While Rose at first considers simply continuing on, something about the situation feels off to her. This can't just be an ordinary accident. If that were the case, then the ambulance would be enough. Maybe one cop car. But six? And why on earth is the chief himself here, too? Right at the front of the line of squad cars is Gerald Palmer, police chief, speaking with a distraught looking woman outside the building. Curiously, Rose beings to slow down, eventually parking on the side of the street behind the cop cars.

Holly: What are we stopping for?

Rose: I just need to talk to someone real quick. Wait here.

Holly: Well can you at least leave the keys so I can listen to the radio?

Rose: Yeah, sure. Be back in a second.

Opening the door to her vehicle, Rose walks out onto the sidewalk and makes her way towards Palmer, who's just finishing up with the tearful woman. When he finally gives a nod and turns away, she speaks up.

Rose: Hey, Chief.

Blinking in surprise, Palmer glances over at her and lets out a small breath.

Palmer: Oh, Wilson. What are you doing here?

Rose: Was just passing by. Thought I'd stop and see what's going on. What happened?

Palmer: Damn tragedy is what happened. Kid collapsed while getting lunch with his mother. Paramedics called it a brain aneurism. He's still alive right now, but it doesn't look good.

Narrowing her eyes slightly, Rose looks around at the scene, watching the multiple officers in the area.

Rose: But you obviously think there's something else behind it. Otherwise, you wouldn't have a whole team investigating things.

Palmer: I might. But you know I can't discuss an ongoing case with a civilian.

Rose: And you know I'm not an ordinary civilian.

Palmer: Maybe before, but you gave it up, remember? Not that I can blame you. Plenty of weird sh*t going on around here lately.

Rose: I told you why I can't.

Briefly, she glances back behind her. Visible through her car window, Holly is singing along with a song on the radio.

Palmer: And I get that. You got a kid, you want to be there for her. I wasn't judging you, Wilson. I'm just saying I can't give case details to you.

Rose: Well maybe I have information that could be related to your case.

Palmer: And you won't tell me unless I tell you? How about I get you on obstruction of justice? Or better yet, impeding a police investigation.

Rose: You could. Problem is, I don't know if my information is related to your case or not. I'd need the details to be sure.

For a long moment, Palmer just glares at her, arms folded across his chest.

Rose: Come on, it's me. You know I just want to help.

Eventually, a tired sigh escapes from the chief's lips. Bringing a hand up, he rubs his eyes and shakes his head.

Palmer: Alright, fine. Truth is, this isn't the first incident of a young kid collapsing with an aneurism. There's actually been five similar cases within the past week, all in the same general area.

Rose: The same kids you think are addicted to some new street drug?

Palmer: That's our best guess, anyway. We've been getting a lot of reports of children appearing dazed in school, tired, erratic, twitchy, paranoid, you name it. I even heard that they've been stealing from their parents for extra cash. It fits, but no tests run on any of the kids have yielded any known results. As far as we can tell, whatever is happening to them, it's something new.

Holding a hand to her chin, Rose lets out a deep, contemplative breath.

Rose: Huh... that's interesting.

Palmer: What?

Rose: Last night I saw a few kids running off into an alley. It looked pretty suspicious, so I followed them, eavesdropped. They were talking to some man. They were paying him for something... said they wanted to 'go back in'.

Palmer: Could be related. Did you get a good look at the guy?

Rose: No. When I went to get a closer look, a bunch of bright lights started flashing; couldn't see a damn thing. Once the lights disappeared, the kids were gone.

Palmer: Weird...

Rose: Tell me about it.

Palmer: Actually sounds like something that would have been right up your alley. I mean, back when you had an alley.

A long pause passes between them. Rose's eyes narrow slightly, then moves her gaze back once again at her car. This time, Holly sees her and gives a wave. Smiling, Rose returns the wave, then lets out a heavy breath.

Rose: Look, if I get a chance... I'll look into it, alright? But no promises.

Palmer: You do what you need to, Wilson. But you know I won't refuse the help if you can give it. I don't need to remind you how shorthanded we are right now.

Rose: Like I said, no promises. But I do have your number in case I need it. Anyway, I should get going. I'll let you get back to work.

Giving a small wave, Rose turns and heads back to her car. Getting in behind the steering wheel, she takes in a deep breath, then leans back against the seat. Holly looks at her curiously.

Holly: Are you alright?

Rose: Yeah, I'm fine, hun.

Holly: Then what are you doing?

Rose: Thinking.

Holly: About what?

Rose: Just... what I talked about with the officer. Some kids that might need help.

Sitting up straighter in her seat, Holly looks curiously at her.

Holly: Are you gonna help them?

Rose: I... want to. But I can't.

Holly: Why not?

Rose: I already told you why.

Frowning slightly, Holly crosses her arms over her chest and shifts slightly in her seat.

Holly: But you can help them. And if you can help someone, you should. You told me that once.

Rose: Holly-

Holly: I was a kid that needed help, too. If you hadn't been there, where would I be now?

Rose: This is a little different... If anything, their parents should be the ones helping them, not me.

Holly: But maybe their parents can't help them. Maybe only you can.

Rose: Okay, don't go turning this into a cliché fantasy plot where I'm the only one who can save everybody. It's more complicated than that.

Breathing outwardly, Holly looks off to the side and leans back in her seat.

Holly: Fine, let's just go.

Rose gives the girl a long look, unsure of what else really to say. She hadn't really been expecting to have an argument like this with her. After all, the whole reason she isn't being Ravager anymore is specifically for Holly. Shaking her head, she puts the key into the ignition and drives back down the street.

Int. Rose's Penthouse Suite – Night

It's getting late now, almost ten o'clock. Holly has been in bed for a while, and since that time Rose has just been sitting on the edge of her bed, staring at the wall in front of her. To be more precise, it's the wall full of her gear. Swords, gadgets, spare costumes, everything. It seems like forever ago that she last saw any of this stuff. The only reason she's even looking at it now is because of what Holly had said to her: if you can help someone, you should.

I did tell her that...and now she thinks I'm being a hypocrite, even when I'm doing it because of her, because I have to be there for her. I have to be responsible.

And yet, at the same time, she knows she can still help people. At least, she certainly has the ability to. She always has. And she does like helping people, fighting for those who can't fight for themselves. She's good at it... The only real question that remains is, does she have the motivation left to do it? Is it worth continuing to put herself at risk, to put Holly at risk? Is it worth any of that?

Finally rising up from the edge of her bed, she begins to walk over to the wall of equipment. Slowly, she reaches forward and takes hold of her costume.

Rose: I guess we'll find out.

Chapter #72

Int. Silverstone City Central Police Station - Night

Gerald Palmer sinks into the seat behind his desk, rubbing his eyes tiredly. Almost eleven o'clock and he still has a stack of paperwork to take care of. At this rate, he might get home sometime tomorrow morning. As he goes to turn on his computer, however, a sudden presence near the window startles him.

Ravager: Chief, we need to talk.

Practically jumping out of his seat, Palmer whirls around, his hand already halfway to his gun. When he realizes who it is, though, he slowly relaxes. Breathing out a sigh of relief, he instead holds his hand up to his chest and sinks back into his chair.

Palmer: Wilson... I really hate it when you do that.

Ravager: I get that you know my identity now, but please, it's still 'Ravager' when I'm in costume.

Palmer: Right, of course. Ravager. So, I see you changed your mind.

Ravager: I... had some help with it. I'm still on edge about it, though. We'll see how things go.

Palmer: Well, either way, glad to have your help.

Ravager: First thing's first: I'm gonna need to know everything you know about this case. It doesn't matter if it's a minor detail you don't think is important.

Palmer: Alright, give me a few minutes. I'll have the case files copied for you.

About ten minutes later, Ravager is leaning over the chief's desk and going over a bunch of papers in a folder, all spread out in front of her.

Ravager: So, you had another incident just a few hours ago?

Palmer: Unfortunately, yes. That makes the seventh child aneurism in the last week.

Ravager: What do they have in common?

Palmer: Far as we can tell, they're all in the same general age group. High school kids, fifteen to seventeen. And if you look at this map-

Reaching into a drawer, Palmer pulls out a rolled up map and opens it across his desk. It's a map of Silverstone, with seven red dots across one side of it.

Palmer: -they all lived in the same neighborhood, within ten blocks of each other.

Ravager: The dots almost make a circle... I'll start searching in the center, work my way out. Hopefully, I'll find a lead. Can you tell me anything else?

Palmer: Other than what's in that folder, nothing directly. However, I will say that there's also been a series of unusual thefts in the past few weeks.

Ravager: Unusual, how?

Palmer: Well, the security alarms trigger, so the cops show up. Only problem, the person or persons on duty at the place in question insist that there's nothing wrong. Next day, we get a call saying that some equipment's been stolen. This has happened four times now, from different establishments. All heavy duty technology development companies, though, S.T.A.R. Labs included.

Ravager: You're right, that is unusual. You think it's related to what's going on with these kids?

Palmer: Hell if I know, but it's just as strange. I reckon it's possible, so it might be worth looking into if you don't find anything else.

Ravager: Give me a list of the places hit and all the information you've gathered from the reports; what was stolen, when it was stolen, all that. I'll look into it if I can't find any other leads.

Palmer: No problem. Oh, and Ravager? It's good to have you back.

Ravager: I'm not back. Not yet. I'm just... helping.

Ext, Silverstone City East District - Night

Ravager slows down her bike to a careful stop in a back alley. Glancing down at the GPS monitor on the dash, she double checks to make sure that she's in the right location. Yup, this is definitely the center of those red dots. All that's left to do now is patrol and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. It might be easier if she knew what she's looking for, but unfortunately she has no such knowledge. She'll just have to follow whatever lead she can find, no matter how small.

After killing the engine, Ravager hops off her ride and climbs the fire escape of the building next to her, making her way up onto the roof. Once up there, she gradually works her way around the ledge, gazing over the parapet and closely scanning the surrounding area. She sees a lot of empty streets and alleyways, but nothing out of the ordinary. A few people go about their business, walking along the sidewalks. A homeless man sleeps beneath the shelter of a few cardboard boxes, an empty bottle of alcohol next to him. A stray cat mewls loudly somewhere in the distance.

Good old Silverstone...

Breaking into a partial run, she leaps over the edge of the roof and onto the next one. Continuing her jog, she jumps from building to building, stopping every few rooftops to again scan the neighborhood. After several minutes of this, her gaze falls on a basketball court behind a collection of buildings, a high chain fence closing it off from the small side street next to it. Standing next to this basketball court is an unidentifiable man dressed in a hoodie sweatshirt, hood up. He looks around, shifting his weight nervously, as if waiting for someone.

Patiently, Ravager watches. Within several moments, another man in a hoodie shows up, walking out from behind one of the buildings. The two greet each other with a stylized hand shake, then start talking in low voices to each other. Curiously, Ravager moves farther along the rooftops to get a closer look. There's definitely an exchange being made. They think they're smooth, but she easily spots the money changing hands, along with a small plastic bag full of an unknown substance. She waits just a few seconds longer, until the two begin to part ways, and then makes her move.

Leaping down from the rooftop, she lands silently on the balls of her feet, in a crouch. As the dealer walks past her hidden location in the shadows, she runs out, lunges at the man, and knocks him to the ground. The man utters a surprised, frightened yell, landing hard on his front. Rolling him over, Ravager firmly pins him against the ground and clamps a hand over his mouth.

Ravager: You yell for help, and I break your fingers, got it?

Frantically, he utters a muffled response and nods his head furiously. After a moment's hesitation, she removes her hand from his mouth.

Dealer: J-jesus. You're the- the-

Ravager: I know who I am. What did you sell that guy?

Dealer: Wha- just some coke, man, honest.

Ravager: Just some... uck.

As if that's better compared to the mystery drug she's looking for. Quickly going through the guy's pockets, she pulls out several plastic bags with small quantities of white powder. She stares at the substance for a moment, then opens the bag and plants one of her fingers into the powder, a very small amount sticking to her glove.

Dealer: Hey, that costs money!

Ignoring him, she touches the substance to her tongue briefly. Frowning, she stares back at him. Just coke.

Ravager: Do yourself a favor and find a day job.

On that note, she starts to open all the plastic bags, dumping out the contents on the ground.

Dealer: Hey! What the hell are you doing?! That's a waste!

He tries to make a desperate grab for one of the bags, but Ravager silences him with a punch to the nose. Instantly recoiling, the dealer holds his hands up to his face, groaning in pain. Once all of the drugs are disposed of, she turns back to him, grips the collar of his shirt, and lifts him closer to her.

Ravager: There have been rumors of a new drug going around, affecting young kids. Know anything about it?

Dealer: Wha? Sh*t, no, I don't know anything like that. I ain't seen anything new or nothing.

Well, he isn't going to be much help.

Finally release the guy, Ravager stands up and places her hands on her hips, looking around the area. Still on the ground, the dealer rolls over, clutching his likely broken nose, and utters a small whimper of pain.

Dealer: Man, f*ck you. No good dirty c-

Without even looking at him, she cuts his words off with a sharp kick to the stomach. He immediately curls up, holding his arms around his gut and groaning. Then, Ravager walks away away from the scene to look elsewhere. A half hour later, Ravager comes to rest against the parapet of another rooftop, near the outer ring her search area. So far, no good. Chances are, she missed something somewhere, or just wasn't in the right place at the right time, but she can't help it. She is only one person, after all.

Taking in a deep breath, she slowly pushes herself up straighter and starts heading to the opposite end of the roof. There's still plenty of night left, so she can double back and patrol over the area a couple more times, just in case there's still something else out there she hasn't seen yet. As she plants her foot at the edge of the roof in order to jump to the next one, however, a sudden voice very close to her (in fact, right next to her), makes itself known.

Voice: Well, look who it is. The one and only Ravager.

Letting out a startled cry, Ravager stumbles forward, just barely catching herself before falling off the ledge into the alley below. Immediately turning to her left, with her guard raised, she prepares to defend herself in case of attack. When she sees who it is, though, she simply glares from behind her mask.

Ravager: What, are you stalking me now?

Apathy: Stalking you? But we've never met. Or have we?

Ravager: Uh... never mind. Who are you?

Apathy: Just a friend, doing the same as you. Name's Apathy.

Ravager: Let me guess, you're some newbie who thinks she's hot stuff, right?

Apathy: Possibly. Though, for the more experienced vigilante, you're really going about your investigation in a highly inefficient manner.

Ravager: Is that right? And what would you know about it?

Apathy: Well, I know that you'll never find what you're looking for the way you're looking for it.

Ravager: And you know what I'm looking for?

Apathy: The problems with the local kids, right? Me, too. Been on the case now for days, but it's been tough. Not a lot of leads.

Ravager: I'm willing to bet I have more leads than you.

Folding her arms across her chest, Apathy tilts her head to the side and gives a hard glare. Not that Ravager can see the glare from behind the woman's dark, tinted facial covering and hood. In fact, neither woman can see the other's face.

Apathy: You mean the places of residence of those kids who suffered from brain aneurisms, right? And you do have the list of strange robberies lately, I would assume? Have you cross referenced the locations of those robberies yet with those places of residence and mapped out the most probable radius to find the source of the problem?

For a long moment, Ravager just stares back at her, eyes narrowing. Eventually, she crosses her arms and lifts her chin a bit.

Ravager: That's assuming the source is even in the middle of it all. It could be coincidental. For all we know, whatever's causing it could be on the other side of the city.

Apathy: Possible, but unlikely. You didn't really do a lot of research into this before you decided to jump out here and look around, did you?

She doesn't answer, allowing for an awkward pause to pass between them. Hands coming to her hips, Apathy tilts her head to the side, bemused.

Apathy: Do you even know what was stolen from those companies?

Ravager: Some sort of advanced tech, right? I haven't looked into it, yet. I don't know what that would have to do with drugs, though.

A disappointed sigh finds its way to Apathy's lips.

Apathy: We're not looking for drugs.

Ravager: And what makes you so sure of that?

Apathy: Because of the tech that was stolen. Not a lot on on their own, but when you put them together you come up with something... interesting.

Ravager: Define 'interesting'.

Moving forward, Apathy reaches down to the belt of her armored catsuit and pulls out a small electronic device. Holding it up, she clicks a button and causes a rather detailed hologram to project from the lens on top, showing the different stolen components.

Apathy: Well, it's just a theory, actually, created by formerly renowned hypnologist, Dr. Preston Atkinson – he was fired recently. Anyway, he hypothesized that, with the right neurological stimulation, a person could be subconsciously driven into a sort of... alternate reality existing in their own minds. Sort of like a dream, only much more than a dream.

Ravager: Okay... and what does any of that have to do with the dying kids?

Apathy: Well, the finished product would be unstable. It's highly likely that it causes brain damage in some of the subjects, possibly even inflicting, you guessed it, brain aneurisms. So, if someone is using this technology to addict children to their own privatized virtual reality, they end up with complications after using it for too long.

Lifting a hand to her face, Ravager lets out a long sigh and shakes her head.

Ravager: Okay, none of that makes any sense. First of all, why would somebody be doing this in the first place? What's to gain, except for some small time cash from a bunch of kids stealing from their parents? And second, if it were true, how in the hell would you know all of it already?

Apathy: Because-

Holding a finger up, she points it playfully a Ravager.

Apathy: -I actually did my homework. You know, used the big thing in my head; a brain, I think it's called. Not bad for a 'newbie', huh?

Ravager: Okay... and exactly what do you propose we do about it?

Apathy: We go stop the guy behind it, duh. You really are two steps behind in the whole thinking thing, aren't you?

Ravager: Don't tell me, you just happen to know where this is all going down, right?

Apathy: Well... I have theories. But yes, I can say it's a distinct possibility. Care to join me?

The woman reaches a hand out, waiting for Ravager to take it. After staring at it for what feels like an eternity, Ravager finally extends her own hand and grips Apathy's. In an instant, they pop out of existence. When they reappear, Ravager staggers forward, holding a hand to her stomach and doubling over.

Ravager: Oh god... I will never get used to teleporting.

Apathy: Should I grab you a barf bag?

Ravager: I'll be fine.

Fighting back the bubbling nausea in her gut, Ravager sucks in a deep breath of air and straightens herself, finally looking around. It looks like one of the many back alleys in Silverstone, rather hard to discern from the other twenty she's already covered tonight.

Ravager: Where are we?

Apathy: The most probably location, as determined by yours truly, for whoever is behind the problem to be located. Well, this and the surrounding few blocks.

Rose: And we're still in the East District?

Apathy: Yup.

Rose: Then I've already searched this area. There's nothing here.

Apathy: Please, I saw you 'search'. A couple once overs hardly qualifies. I'm totally certain you didn't overlook anything at all.

Rose: So you are stalking me.

Apathy: I prefer to call it 'intensive observation'.

Rose: You know what... I don't even care. Let's just get looking.

Apathy: I suggest we split up to cover more ground.

Ravager: Wow, an actual good idea. I'm shocked.

Apathy: And I'm unamused at your poor attempts of sarcasm.

Giving the woman another glare, Ravager slowly turns away and begins marching off in the opposite direction.

Ravager: Let me know if you find anything.

This time around, Ravager takes a much closer look at the surrounding neighborhood, sticking to the more deserted areas and back alleyways, as usual. Unfortunately, she doesn't spot any sort of suspicious activity. Sure, whoever is behind this whole thing could be located in any one of these buildings, but she can't just go breaking into every single one to search, especially when she doesn't even know who or what she's looking for. There isn't enough time in the night.

Holding her hands to her hips, Ravager lets out an annoyed sigh and doubles back down the series of alleys she came through. Her eyes are drawn to a few chained and padlocked doors along the sides of some buildings, but they're meaningless to her right now. At least, she thinks they are at first. But then she notices one of the doors, the handle wrapped up in chains just like all the others. The only difference is, the chain is cut. She narrows her eyes, coming forward to inspect it.

Hmm... no guarantee it has anything to do with what I'm after, but it couldn't hurt to check out.

As she reaches forward to open the door, however, her attention is quickly drawn away when she catches sight of a shadowed figure watching her from further down alley. Turning towards the obstructed individual, she narrows her eyes at him, trying to get a better look. The figure pauses a moment, standing straighter, then suddenly sprints in the opposite direction.

Ravager: Yeah, that's not suspicious at all. Hey!

Taking off into a run, Ravager quickly reaches a speed that begins to close the distance between the two, even as the retreating figure disappears around an approaching corner. The moment she rounds the bend, her vision is assaulted by a rapidly flickering series of lights. She squints fiercely, trying to get a fix on whatever's happening. Her precog doesn't warn her of any imminent danger, so she isn't being attacked. But then what in the hell is all this?

Ravager: Would you... cut that... out?

Her words suddenly begin to slow down and slur, everything going blurry. She blinks a couple of times and shakes her head, trying to snap herself out of whatever daze she's sinking into. Within seconds, she realizes that it's useless. Something happens in her brain... almost like it just decides to just shut off. The next thing she knows, everything goes dark.

Int. Rose's Penthouse Suite – Morning

Slowly opening her eyes, Rose lets out a long moan of discomfort. The headache pounding between her eyes is simply astounding, as if someone's playing the drums with her brain. She sits up in bed, holding a hand to her head and squinting her eyes shut for several moments, trying to force the pain away. Slowly but surely, the headache begins to subside. When it's finally bearable, she opens her eyes again and takes a look around.

I'm back home? But how did I...?

The last thing she remembers is collapsing in an alleyway at the hands of strange flashing lights. But that didn't make any sense. How could blinking lights cause her to fall unconscious? No, doesn't make any sense at all.

Ugh, maybe it was just some kind of sick dream.

The sound of a toilet flushing catches her ears. She slowly glances over to the closed door of the bathroom next to the bed. Leaning back on her hands, she lets out a small yawn.

Rose: Holly, that you?

Don't tell me the toilet down the hall is clogged again.

And then, the door opens. It takes her brain a few moments to register exactly what she's seeing, throat going numb and heart jumping into her throat. At first, she thinks she's just hallucinating, maybe the side effect of whatever killer headache she had. But the more she stares, the more she realizes that the woman standing in front of her, dressed in nothing but a loose fitting T-shirt and a pair of underwear, is not a hallucination. She can't be.

Becky: Morning there, sleepy head.

Rose: Becky...?

Becky: Last night must have really tired you out, ah?

Chapter #73

Int. Rose's Penthouse Suite - Morning

It takes several moments before Rose's legs are able to move, caught in frozen shock. When she finally manages to throw herself out of the bed, almost tripping over her own two feet on the way, she runs over to Becky and lunges forward, embracing her in warm, yet almost desperate hug, arms coming around tightly.

Rose: It... it was a dream. It was all a dream. Everything was...

Blinking in confusion, Becky slowly wraps her arms around Rose in return, giving a curious look.

Becky: Rose... are you alright?

Rose: Yeah, I... I'm fine now. I'm great.

Becky: You're crying.

Sniffling slightly, Rose lifts a hand to wipe the tears away and utters a small chuckle.

Rose: I'm just... I'm so happy to see you. God, I missed you so much.

Becky: Now I'm confused, did I go somewhere?

Rose: Did you-? No, nowhere at all... you've been here the whole time, haven't you?

Becky: Dios mio, girl, that must have been some dream.

Smiling, Rose pulls back slightly and plants her lips firmly against Becky's, her arms coming up to curl around the woman's shoulders. Breathing outwardly in pleasant surprise, Becky presses herself into the kiss, her own hands coming down around Rose's waist.

Becky: Oy, someone wants an early encore from last night.

Rose: Let's do something today.

Becky: What do you mean? What do you want to do?

Rose: Anything, it doesn't matter. We can go out. Shopping, bowling, a walk in the park, I don't care. I just want to spend some time with you right now.

Becky: But you have your classes to teach, don't you?

Rose: I'm canceling classes today.

Becky: Well I have work, too, you know.

Rose: So call in sick. I just... please, I want to spend the whole day with you.

Furrowing her brow in curiosity, Becky purses her lips and gives a slow nod.

Becky: Alright, alright. I'll call in sick.

Rose: Okay, good. That's... good. I'll go drive Holly to school, and then I'll come back and we can do something.

Becky: And I'll be waiting. Maybe I'll be wearing a little less, too, ah?

A large grin forms its way across Rose's face.

Rose: Have I told you how much I love you?

Becky: Not since last night. Though, I think there may have been a few 'oh gods' mixed in there somewhere.

Leaning back in, Rose gives her girlfriend another deep kiss.

Rose: I'll be right back.

Ext. Silverstone City Park - Day

Rose and Becky walk down the stone pathway of the park hand in hand, fingers tightly interlocked. It's a beautiful day, sunny and not a cloud in the sky. Warm, but not too hot. With the spring season, the trees are lush and full, birds hopping around their branches and singing to greet the day. A pair of squirrels chase each other along the path, then suddenly dart off towards a bush, disappearing within. A family of ducks swims lazily through the waters of the the large pond. Nearby, an elderly couple sits on one of the many park benches, throwing bread crumbs in front of them and watching the birds fly down to have a taste. The day is, quite simply, perfect.

Rose: I can't remember the last time I actually came here. It's so... relaxing.

Becky: Ha, girl, we were here just last week, remember?

Rose: Oh, uh... right. I meant it just seems like so long, I guess. We should come here more often.

Becky: Well I certainly wouldn't complain.

Rose: So, tell me about you. I mean, how are things going? With your family, with work, with life. Anything.

Again, Becky's expression twists into one of slight confusion and curiosity. Of course, this lasts only briefly, as she soon smiles and takes a firmer grip of Rose's hand.

Becky: Well, my family is doing good. Mom and Dad just got back from a cruise to the Bahamas, said they really loved it. You should see the pictures; my parents can be so ridiculous sometimes. Oh, and my sister just got engaged a few days ago. I haven't met the guy yet, but she says he's great.

Rose gives a smile of her own, leaning closer against Becky as they continue to walk down the pathway.

Becky: Work's been okay, about the same as you can expect. But ugh, you would not believe some of the things we have to put up with on the job. Well, maybe you do since you were a cop once, but it's just been weird lately. Naked homeless guys, wild parties, reports of cannibalism...

A small shudder runs up her spine at the thought. Some of the things that police officers have to respond to are just plain creepy.

Becky: But as for my life, well...

Turning her head, Becky's smile grows softer. They stop walking for a moment, as she leans forward to give Rose a light kiss.

Becky: I'm currently involved with the most wonderful woman I could ever ask for, who I love very much, and I couldn't be happier with. So I'd say my life is going perfectly.

Rose returns a kiss of her own, this one deeper and longer lasting than the first. When she finally pulls back, a small breathless gasp escapes her throat.

Rose: Funny... you just described my life, too.

The two continue down the path again, now taking a turn onto the bridge that overlooks the pond. The family of ducks from before is now swimming below them, heading beneath the bridge. Taking a moment to pause, Rose and Becky lean against the railing and gaze down into the water, still holding hands.

Rose: Hey, can I ask you something?

Becky: Shoot.

Rose: Do you... I mean, could you see yourself spending the rest of your life with me?

Lifting an eyebrow, Becky turns to her and takes in a short breath.

Becky: Do you really need to ask that question?

Rose: Well, I just... I was wondering, is all.

Becky: Dios, girl. Of course I can see myself spending the rest of my life with you. I wouldn't still be with you if I didn't.

Rose smiles, swallowing back a nervous lump in her throat.

Rose: Then let's get married.

Becky: Wha- for real?

Rose: Yeah. It doesn't have to be right now, but I want to marry you. More than anything.

Becky: You don't think it's a little soon? I mean, we haven't even been together a year, yet.

Rose: So what? Time is relative, anyway. I know that I love you, I know that you love me, and I know that I want to be with you forever. I don't ever want to lose you.

After a brief pause, Becky's lips curl into a delighted smile.

Becky: And you never will.

Rose: Is that a yes?

Becky: Si, it's a yes.

Int. Marchini's Italian Restaurant - Night

Later that night, Rose, Becky, and Holly all sit around a table at the restaurant, staring at the menus. While Rose and Becky remain entirely focused on said menus, acting as though nothing is out of the ordinary, Holly every so often glances up over hers and looks at either woman curiously. She may only be eleven and a half, but she's not stupid. She knows when something's up. Eventually, she closes her menu and plants it down flat on the table in front of her.

Holly: Okay, what's going on?

Rose: No idea what you're talking about.

A small smirk finds its way across Becky's lips, but she doesn't look up from her menu.

Holly: But we never go out for dinner on a school night. You always make me do my homework, and then we train, then you cook dinner at home, and then I go to bed.

Rose: Oh, well I just thought we'd mix things up a little bit tonight.

Holly: But I haven't even done my homework, yet! You didn't even ask what I had for homework. You always ask what I have for homework.

Finally, Becky lifts her gaze from the menu, flashing an amused smile at Rose.

Becky: Can't get anything by her, ah?

Holly: So there is something going on!

Rose: Well, maybe.

The young girl just gives a hard stare, arms folding across her chest.

Rose: Alright, alright. We're here because we're celebrating.

Holly: What are we celebrating?

Rose: Marriage.

Holly lifts an eyebrow and tilts her head in confusion

Holly: Marriage? Who's getting married?

At that question, Rose reaches across the table, taking Becky's hand with her own and firmly interlocking their fingers.

Rose: We are.

Eyes going wide, Holly shoots up straight in her seat.

Holly: What, really?

Becky: Si, it's true.

A big grin them forms its way across the girl's face.

Holly: That is so awesome! Oh my god, is there going to be a big wedding? Do I get to wear one of those awesome dresses? Oh! Can I bring the rings down the aisle?

Becky: Whoa, whoa, slow down, girl. We haven't even discussed when the wedding will be, yet.

Rose: It's more of a promise.

Moving her gaze towards Becky, she flashes a warm, loving smile of her own.

Rose: We don't know when it will happen yet, but some time, eventually, we will get married.

Holly: Oh, well that's cool, too. But when you have the wedding, can I bring the rings down the aisle? Pleeease?

Rose chuckles, slowly nodding.

Rose: Alright, you can bring the rings down the aisle.

Holly: Yes! Awesome!

Rose holds a large smile across her face, slowly glancing around the table. Becky, the love of her life, and Holly, the wonderful girl that brings out the mother in her. She couldn't ask for anything more out of her life. The more she looks at them, however, the more they begin to fade. In fact, everything is starting to fade; the restaurant, the people, her entire world, as though a dark curtain is being dragged in front of her eyes. In a near panic, she lunges up from her seat and looks around wildly.

Rose: No! What's going on? Bring it back! Bring it back!

But things just continue to get darker, until finally she herself disappears along with everything around her.

Int. Unknown Workshop - Night

Rose: No, no no no no... NO! I want to go back! Let me go back!

Her eyes suddenly fly open, a large, heavy breath escaping her lips. Things are blurry at first, but slowly come into focus. She's in a small, square room with a very dim florescent light flickering weakly above her. When she tries to move, she realizes that she's strapped into some kind of machine, with a weird, helmet-like device wrapped around her head. Clenching her fists, she struggles to break free, but the bonds are reinforced against even her enhanced strength.

Rose: Please... please, I want to go back...

Tears are streaking down her cheeks now, tears that she doesn't even know she's producing until the water in her eyes begins to blur her vision again. Blinking them away, she shakes her head and sucks in another deep gulp of air. Her heart feels like it's beating a thousand times a minute. She tries to lift her head, but finds that it, too, is strapped firmly against the odd machine she's in, some sort of strange pod with a glass covering above her.

A short moment later, the glass cover lifts open with a small hiss of air, then slides off the pod. The restraints holding her down suddenly release, and the helmet over her head lifts up, allowing her to lurch upright with a gaping breath and climb out of the pod. Her legs collapse like jelly, causing her to fall to the cold, hard floor. She still has her costume on, she realizes, but her real helmet and faceplate are gone, as are her swords and her belt.

Voice: How was it?

Flinching at the sound of the voice, Rose rolls over and pushes herself up against the wall. A short distance away, she sees a man standing there, a man dressed in a very odd costume. It's almost completely black, except for a series of round lights attached to it at various intervals along his body, as well as one larger light at the center of his chest. He wears a full mask covering his entire head, as well, with a black and white spiral design on the front.

Rose: How was... what? What are- who are you?

Trance: You can call me Trance, my dear. Now tell me, how was it? Did you see everything you wanted to see? Did your deepest desires come to life?

Swallowing a hard lump in her throat, Rose glances back at the pod machine, now noticing several more of the same machines lined along the dim, dirty room. The other machines are all occupied, mostly by kids, all with the same weird helmets over their heads. They look peaceful, as though they're sleeping.

My god... Apathy was right.

Rose: It... wasn't real. None of it was real.

Trance: And what makes something real? If you're referring to things that we can see, that we can touch, taste, hear, smell, then those are merely electrical impulses interpreted by our brains. If our brain tells us that something is there, if we can touch it, taste it, smell it, see it... is it not real?

Rose: But it wasn't really there. Becky wasn't... she isn't alive.

Trance: Maybe not in the material world, but in your mind-

The man slowly bends forward, bringing a finger up to press lightly against her forehead.

Trance: -there are no limits. What you want to exist does exist, and my machine offers you a gateway into that subconscious world, where you control your life, you control what you want to happen. It may be a different world entirely, it may be all in your head, but that doesn't make it any less 'real'.

Gripping the sides of her head, Rose closes her eyes and curls up slightly, bringing her knees to her chest.

Rose: But your machines, they're hurting people. The kids... it's killing them. Seven are dead already.

Trance: Yes, that is... unfortunate. And part of the reason why my theory was rejected by my peers, why they refused me funding, why they decided to let me go.... Fools, all of them. I can help people. These kids... they come abusive homes, or they get bullied in school, or they just want something more. Well I can give them more; I can give them whatever they want.

Rose: You're giving them brain aneurisms!

Trance: So there are some kinks that still need to be worked out; but it doesn't affect everyone. Most of the people who use my machines do not suffer any lethal side effects. These things take time. Trial, error. I'll fix it eventually.

Rose: No... no you won't... I have to... have to stop you.

She goes to stand up, but stumbles almost immediately and falls to her knees. She can't stand right now; she can barely think straight.

Trance: But my dear, if you stop me, then you'll never never get a chance to go back in. You do want to go back in, don't you?

She does. Deep down, she realizes it. More than anything, she wants to go back into that pod, close her eyes, and wake up in Becky's arms again. It had felt real... so very real. Becky had been alive again, even if only in her mind.

But she doesn't say anything. She can't just admit to this whack-job that she wants back into his machine. She's supposed to be the hero here.

Trance: I can see you're exhausted; another side effect of the machine. Tell you what, go home, take some time to think on it, and then come back to me. If you really still want to stop me, we'll deal with it then.

Turning around, Trance begins making his way back to the other machines, monitoring their status.

Trance: But, if you want to slip back into that world in the back of your mind... well, bring payment. Only the first jump is on the house.

Ext. Silverstone City East District - Night

Rose stumbles out of the door and into the alleyway, a hand held to her head. Her legs are still recovering, shaking and quivering. Several times, she trips and falls down to her knees, only to quickly push herself back to her feet. A small groan escapes her lips, as she holds herself up against the side of a building and takes in deep breaths.

Okay... okay, where's my ride? I need a nap.

When she finally figures out exactly where she is, she shambles her way back towards where she left her bike. A very strong grip of guilt and uncertainty begins to build its way up into her chest. She had put on this costume tonight in order to help those kids in there, to stop Trance from using his machines to slowly kill them. Yet, here she is, not stopping him, but walking away and actually considering going back to dive back into one of those pods again. To see Becky again. What does that make her?

An idiot, that's what it makes you. And a hypocrite.

But she doesn't care what it makes her. All she cares about is that, for at least a brief time, she had been able to see Becky again. She'd been able to hear Becky again, hold her again, feel her again...

And nothing will keep me from experiencing that again.

Chapter #74

Int. Rose's Penthouse Suit – Day

Rose lies back on the couch, her head resting in Becky's lap. She holds a magazine up in front of her face, just flipping casually through its pages. It's a bridal magazine, to be more precise. Wedding gowns, planning ideas, locations, decorations, and a whole lot more to help make the perfect event. Stopping on a page with images of different dresses, Rose exhales a long, relaxed breath.

Rose: What do you think of these?

While gently running her hands through Rose's hair, Becky looks down at the page, taking a few moments to examine the gowns.

Becky: Not bad, but I liked the one on page seven more. You know, the one with the ruffles along the side?

Rose: I don't know, I'm not sure about that one. I don't think it would look that good on me.

Becky: Who's talking about you, ah? I meant for me.

Flashing a small grin, Rose glances up at her bride-to-be and lowers the magazine.

Rose: Please, you'll look good in anything.

Becky: Well, this is true. But that doesn't mean we can't find something good for you.

Rose: I don't know, I've never really looked great in dresses. I doubt a wedding gown will be much different.

Becky: Hey-

Lifting Rose upwards slightly, Becky leans forward and gives a deep, loving kiss. When she finally pulls away, she smiles, caressing Rose's cheek gently with her fingers.

Becky: -you'll look beautiful. But you're not going to find the right gown in a magazine, so put that down and we'll go out. There's a bridal shop just four blocks from here; we'll head down there and we can find the perfect one.

Rose: That does sound like a good time...

Becky: Of course it does; I suggested it. Come on, go find your shoes and let's go.

Rose: Well, if you insi- no!

It's happening again. The world around her, darkening, fading away into nothingness. Rose tries to keep it alive, tries to hold on, but it's pointless. No matter how hard she concentrates, Becky's loving smile quickly disappears along with everything else around her, until all that's left is a cold, numbing void.

Int. Unknown Workshop – Night

Rose: NO!

Rose's eyes snap open, followed by an exasperated breath rushing from her lungs. She tries to struggle out of her restraints, but even if the bindings were weak enough to be broken by her regular strength levels, she barely has a fraction of that right now, with the quick onset of exhaustion. Several moments go by, vision slowly focusing on the glass covering above her, which begins to slide open. Shortly afterward, the restraints automatically release, along with the helmet lifting off her head. Immediately, she starts pulling her way out of the pod.

Rose: Put me back in! I should still have more time!

Nearby, Trance gives her a long look, slowly walking over and clasping his arms behind his back.

Trance: I'm afraid that's all the time that your payment covered.

When Rose's feet hit the floor, her legs instantly collapse. She crumples into a weak, nearly helpless heap, uttering a grunt of surprise while taking in slow breaths to recover.

Rose: What are you talking about? I gave you the two hundred!

Trance: Yes, you did. The first three times. But after that you only had fifty left over, remember? This is your fourth trip into the pod tonight.

It slowly starts to come back, the memories of her time in between each mental jump. He's right; Rose did spend all her money already. She came in with six hundred and fifty dollars, most of the cash that she could scrounge around. The night before, she burned through a thousand dollars, and the night before that, two thousand. She doesn't have a whole lot left.

Rose: Just... please put me back in? Just a little while longer. I'll get you the money, you know I have it. Please let me see her again.

Trance: I'm sorry, but rules are rules. You want in, you pay up.

Swallowing back a hard lump in her throat, Rose slowly begins pushing her way back up to her feet. She staggers there for a moment, legs feeling like jelly, but eventually she manages to stumbled her way towards the door.

Rose: Fine... fine, I'll be back. I'll get the money and I'll be back.

Ext. Silverstone City Streets - Day

Rose stares at the ATM screen in disbelief. She blinks a few times, then reaches up to rub her eyes, as though somehow she's just seeing things. But she isn't seeing things. The screen doesn't lie, showing her current balance as: $0.37.

Rose: This isn't right... this can't be right.

Feeling her heart rate beginning to increase, she gives the machine a hard kick.

Rose: This is wrong!

The people walking by take a moment to give her odd looks, curious over her outburst. When she notices this, she looks to them, eyebrows crossing angrily.

Rose: What are you looking at?!

The passersby quicken their pace, hurrying away from the scene before the strange woman takes her frustrations on something other than an ATM. Taking in a deep breath, Rose glances back at the screen again, her anger beginning to boil. Uttering one more furious breath, she storms away from the machine and stuffs her hands in her pockets.

Okay... okay, this isn't the end of the world. Just think. My students' next payments come in at the end of the week. I'll have plenty more to afford the pod a few more times this month.

But that isn't good enough. It can't be good enough! What's she supposed to do, blow all her cash just to see Becky maybe ten times a month? No, she needs more than that. Somehow, she needs more... As her thoughts begin to descend further into depression, a cheery voice suddenly calls out to her.

Ruby: Hey, there! Rose!

Glancing up, she notices the woman coming towards her down the sidewalk, waving like mad.

Ruby: What a surprise, I wasn't expecting to see you tonight.

Rose: Right... what a surprise.

Ruby: Haven't heard from you in a few days, didn't know if- goodness, are you alright?

Narrowing her eyes, Rose gives the woman an odd look.

Rose: Of course I'm alright. Why wouldn't I be alright?

Ruby: Well, I mean, I don't- you're just so pale. And your eyes, they're bloodshot something awful.

Suddenly turning her head away, Rose squints her eyes shut for a few moments and breathes in deeply.

Rose: Don't worry about it, I'm fine. Just a little tired, is all.

Ruby: Oh, sorry to hear that. But listen, what are you doing right now? Do you want to grab a bite or something? I mean, if you're not too tired.

Rose: I... I don't have any cash on me.

Ruby: Then I'll just have to pay for the both of us, now won't I? Although, that might qualify it as a date.

Furrowing her brow slightly, Rose turns back to look at her again.

Rose: A date?

Ruby: Right, sorry, bad joke.

Rose: No, actually... yeah, why not? A date might be good. I need to take my mind of some things.

Ruby: Oh, well then, excellent. Let's go, I know this great little Italian place.

Int. Marchini's Italian Restaurant – Night

Rose looks around, her eyes moving sharply across the restaurant. She takes note of the people, the atmosphere, the background music, everything. That fact that she had been here not too long ago with Becky in her dream world is bad enough, but everything is so... loud. And distracting. Though, maybe it's just her; nobody else seems to mind. So then why can't she concentrate?

Ruby: Rose? Hello, Earth to Rose.

Rose: Huh?

Snapping out of her daze, she turns towards Ruby, only then noticing that their waiter is standing next to the table, waiting.

Ruby: What are you having to drink?

Rose: Just, uh, water for now.

The waiter takes down her drink order, and then leaves the table. Ruby looks closely at her and narrows her eyes with concern.

Ruby: Are you sure you're alright?

Rose: Yeah, fine, totally.

Ruby: You can take a rain check if you like, I won't raise a fuss.

Rose: Don't worry, really, I'm okay. It's just this restaurant...

Ruby: What about it?

Rose: I... it's nothing.

Ruby: Come on now, you can't bring it up and then expect to brush it under the rug. Go on, tell me.

Rose: I just used to come here a lot, with...

Though she doesn't finish her sentence, Ruby figures it out fairly quickly. The tone in Rose's voice is enough of a giveaway.

Ruby: Oh, my- oh goodness. I'm so sorry, I didn't know. We can go someplace else, if you like.

Rose: No, we're already here. I'll be fine.

Ruby: Yes... yes, you will, won't you?

And then it happens again. A sudden onset of warmth, happiness, joy. It comes from nowhere and for no reason, but in an instant she's in a better mood. Her posture straightens, she lifts her head, she's able to concentrate, and she completely forgets why she'd been in such a terrible mood before.

Ruby: So, tell me about her.

Rose: About... you mean Rebecca?

Ruby: So that was her name? See, I'm learning more already.

Rose: I don't understand why you'd want to sit there and listen to me talk about her, though.

Ruby: I find that one of the best remedies for a broken heart is to talk it out. In this case, sharing the memories of Rebecca that made her special, the qualities about her that you loved, may do you some good. And besides, I'm curious.

She knows she shouldn't. It's still a touchy subject, after all, losing Rebecca. And yet, for some reason, she's feeling very open right now. So, Rose delivers a small smile, nods, and goes on to tell this woman all about Becky, all the things that made her wonderful. Funny moments, happy moments, touching moments, embarrassing moments; she covers them all. This goes on throughout their entire meal, all the way into dessert and beyond.

Ruby listens in quiet interest, sipping her drink and leaning forward closely on the table. Not once does she interrupt, allowing Rose's recollections to flow freely. By the end of it, Rose is laughing, smiling widely, and wiping away warm tears from her eyes.

Rose: And then the time the curling iron got caught in her hair, oh you should have seen her. Swearing up and down the apartment – in Spanish, mind you, so I couldn't understand half of what she was saying – while the smell of burnt hair started to choke the place. We finally managed to get it out, and what does she do? Kicks it across the room with bare feet! She bruised her toe real good, let me tell you.

Ruby: Ooh, painful.

Rose: Oh yeah, she had to take a week off work because she could barely walk.

Still smiling, Ruby lifts her glass of wine to take another sip.

Ruby: She sounds like a wonderful person. I would have very much liked to meet her.

Rose: Yeah... she would have liked you. Hell, she liked most people. That's just the kind of person she was.

Ruby: Take it from one who knows, Rose; don't lament that fact that she's gone, but rather celebrate that she lived.

Rose slowly nods, though her eyes grow ever more distant, and a long, sad breath leaves her throat.

Rose: If only it were that easy.

Ruby: Losing someone you love never is.

After a moment's pause, Rose lifts her gaze slightly, leaning forward against the table.

Rose: I... I want to thank you. For listening. For this date. It's... been really great.

Ruby: It was my pleasure. Now, shall we get going? I'll walk you home.

Int. Rose's Penthouse Suite – Night

Rose stops with Ruby outside the door to her penthouse. For a moment, she doesn't say anything, just shifting her weight slightly and folding her arms across her chest, smiling. It's amazing how good she feels right now, how content and at peace. Not two hours ago, she had been stumbling around the floor of Trance's workshop, begging to go back into one of his pods, but now such a thought couldn't be further from her mind.

Ruby: I still can't believe you live here. I mean, this is the most expensive place to live in the city, isn't it?

Rose: Yeah, well, I have some help affording it. It's nice, though, for sure.

Ruby: No kidding.

Rose reaches for the door handle briefly, then pauses, thinking.

Rose: You don't, uh... I mean, do you want to come in?

Ruby: Depends, are you offering?

The corner of Rose's lips curls into a slight smirk.

Rose: Yeah, I am.

Ruby: Well, in that case...

Suddenly moving forward, Ruby takes hold of Rose's shoulders and brings their lips together. Eyes going wide, Rose takes a step back.

Rose: Wait, I didn't mean-

And then their lips are together again. This time, she doesn't step back. Instead of surprise, she feels an abrupt warmth spreading through her, entire body tingling wildly. She doesn't know what it is, but it refuses to let her pull away, and instead she ends up reciprocating, arms coming up and wrapping around Ruby's body. Somewhere during this, she manages to open the door and lead them both into the apartment. By the time they make it past the kitchen, they're practically attacking each other, lips kissing along flesh, hands tearing off clothing. Like two animals in heat, they go at it.

What the hell is going on? I shouldn't be doing this... I shouldn't be... why am I doing this?

Those fleeting thoughts vanish in an instant, as the two push into the bedroom. They don't make it all the way to the bed, though, instead falling to the floor in a tangle of naked flesh and pleasured gasps.

---

Ruby takes in deep, steady breaths, just staring up at the ceiling. Rose lies calmly next to her in bed (they did eventually make it to the bed), eyes closed and fast asleep. Holding a hand to her head, Ruby utters a frustrated groan.

Okay, so perhaps I got a little carried away there.

But so what if she did? So what if this complicates things? She enjoyed it, and so did Rose. That much was evident. With everything going on right now, they both deserved something good for a change. It's at this thought that her eyes close and heart sinks.

No, no I can't go through with this.

Rolling out of bed, Ruby briefly rummages around her belongs until she finds her phone. Flipping it open, she hits the first number on the speed dial and holds it up to her ear, while walking out into the living room. The line rings several times with no answer. Finally, on the fifth ring, a voice answers her on the other end.

Voice/Phone: Ruby. It's rather late, don't you think?

She ignores the obviously rhetorical question and gets straight to the point.

Ruby: I don't want to do this anymore.

A small pause follows. When the voice speaks up again, it retains its eery calm.

Voice/Phone: I must say, that is disappointing to hear. Might I ask why?

Ruby: You told me when we started this that she was some awful person who deserved every bit of misery she got.

Voice/Phone: Of course, and I stand by that statement.

Ruby: But she's not! She's a lovely girl, and I can't understand why you'd want to break her down like this.

Another pause.

Voice/Phone: You slept with her, didn't you?

Ruby: That's none of your business! Nor is it the point I'm trying to make!

Voice/Phone: Calm yourself, Ruby. I can assure you that she did something very unforgivable to me, some time ago. Something that cannot go unpunished.

Ruby: I can't imagine what someone like her could have done to deserve the way you're toying with her emotions. The way you're making me toy with her emotions.

Voice/Phone: Have you forgotten our arrangement? You do your job, as I tell you, and I bring back your dear Jeanette.

A frustrated scoff leaves her throat, as she leans forward against the couch in front of her and stares out the large window in front of her.

Ruby: And I'm honestly supposed to continue believing that? You have done nothing to show me you're capable of such a thing.

Voice/Phone: You already know what I can do, don't fool yourself. Not to mention, with your ability, you can tell I'm not lying. Can't you?

Ruby doesn't answer, instead bowing her head shamefully, eyes closed.

Voice/Phone: If you continue to do as you're told, you will see Jeanette again. If you don't, then our deal is void. Take it or leave it.

The line clicks dead, as the man on the other line hangs up. For a long moment, Ruby just stands there, holding her phone up in the air with her fingers clutched tightly around it. Even with her eyes closed, she can't stop the tears from leaking out.

Goddamn it... What the hell am I doing?

Chapter #75

Int. Unknown Workshop – Night

The glass covering of the pod lets out a hiss of air, as it opens up. When the restraints release, Rose's hands fly up to grip the sides and pull herself back out. It feels even worse this time, coming out of her mental world. Not only are the side effects starting to get worse, but the life she's built herself with Becky in that pod is better than ever. They live in a beach house down in Miami now; it's wonderful. But that makes it harder and harder on her emotional spectrum every time she's torn away from it again.

Like now, for instance.

Rose: I- I have more. Money, I- I can get it. My payments come in next week, I- if you'll just let me have a little more time, I'll pay you later. I promise, I swear, please.

Trance: Sorry, my dear. I don't accept credit.

Uttering a frustrated groan, Rose slowly claws her way back up to her feet, using the edges of the pod to assist her. When she wobbles back to a standing position, her hands come up to press firmly against her eyes. God, it feels like they're on fire.

Rose: But I don't have anymore money right now! I can't wait that long!

Trance: I'm sure you'll find a way to cope.

Expression suddenly growing cross, Rose finds a burst of strength and lunges forward, taking hold of the man's throat with both hands.

Rose: You have to let me back in! I need it!

A second later, everything goes dizzy, like the feeling you get when you stand up too fast. Her grip loosens instantly from the man's neck and she collapses back to the floor.

Trance: No money, no jump. Plain and simple. Now, get yourself off my floor and get out of here.

Ext. Rose's Penthouse Suite – Night

Rose stares desperately at her phone, as the number rings through without anyone picking up. Again. For the tenth time. The name on the screen reads: Ruby. Desperately, she hits the call button again and waits. Again, she gets no response.

Rose: Come on, pick up! Pick up!

She tries again. Still nothing.

Rose: Damn it!

Finally giving up, she stuffs the phone back into her pocket and sinks against the wall. She couldn't even make it all the way down the hallway to get to the couch in the living room. Her legs gave out long before she ever got there, and she hasn't been able to stand up against since.

I don't get it, I don't understand. I thought we had something, I thought we... why isn't she picking up? Why hasn't she called me in three days? Why do I only feel happy in the real world when I'm with her?

Closing her eyes again, she brings her hands up to either side of her head. A sharp pounding surges between her eyes, like someone taking a pair of drills and driving them up against her temples. It hurts... it really hurts. She doesn't have time to wallow, though, as a knock suddenly sounds on the door. Slowly glaring up at it, she utters a long breath. Maybe if she waits, he'll just go away. When a second knock comes, she snaps her head back in frustration, unintentionally smacking it against the wall.

Rose: It's open.

The door opens a moment later, revealing Chief Palmer. He pauses a moment, staring around the interior of the apartment until his eyes finally find Rose sitting there on the floor in the hallway. Curiously, he steps inside and closes the door behind him.

Palmer: Wilson, are you... alright?

Rose: Why wouldn't I be?

Palmer: Well, it's just... I haven't heard from you in days. I know you like to work on your own schedule, but I figured you would have checked back in by now, let me know if you've found anything about-

Rose: I haven't. I've looked plenty, but I haven't found sh*t, okay?

Eyes narrowing, Palmer takes another few steps forward, hands folding across his chest.

Palmer: You don't need to snap.

Rose: I'm sorry, I'm just... tired. So what have you found?

Palmer: Same as you, complete jack. I've had any spare officers I could find investigating, searching for clues, but no luck yet. In the meantime, three more kids have been found dead. Same deal; all aneurisms.

Rose: Sorry to hear that.

Palmer: Yeah, well, I was really hoping you might have come across something we missed. With as poorly as this case has been going...

Rose: Yeah, well, news flash: I'm not perfect. Just because I put on a costume at night and have a few enhanced abilities, it doesn't mean I can do everything right!

Again, Palmer's eyes narrow. Now he's sure something's wrong.

Palmer: Are you sure you're okay?

Rose: I said I was, didn't I?

Palmer: Then what are you doing on the floor?

Rose: Nothing, I just- I had a few too many. Can't keep my balance.

Palmer: Funny, you're speaking rather eloquently for someone who's 'had a few too many'.

Saying nothing, Rose turns her head further away from him. Tilting his gaze slightly, Palmer squints his eyes at her.

Palmer: Look at me.

When she doesn't, he raises his voice.

Palmer: Damn it, Wilson, look at me.

Finally, she turns her face towards him completely. At the sight, the chief's eyes go wide with surprise. Her eyes are bright red and bloodshot with dark rings below them, and her skin is chalky white.

Palmer: Good god, Wilson, what happened to you? I haven't seen anyone looking this bad since the schizo we picked up last month so high on LSD he was flying kites. What the hell have you been doing?

Rose: I told you, I'm fine.

Palmer: Like hell you are! Have you seen yourself lately?

Rose: What does it matter?! I'm nobody to you! Just another damn cape you can use to get your work done for you!

Palmer: Believe it or not, it does matter to me. You're not 'just another damn cape', Wilson. You're a person, and a damn good one at that. I've seen the good you can do; I've seen the kind of person you are. I know losing Rebecca messed you up something bad, but you can't throw your life away because of it.

Rose: And what do you know about it, huh? How could you know how I feel?!

The question is met with stone cold silence. Palmer's eyes lock onto hers, hard and unwavering. After a long, uncomfortable pause, he just shakes his head.

Palmer: I know a lot more than you think; like I know that you need to shape up, for instance. You have a girl to look after for Christ's sake. If not for yourself, then get straight for her. There's nothing more important than that.

When Rose bows her head, not saying anything, Palmer turns and opens the door. He hesitates briefly before leaving, looking back over his shoulder.

Palmer: Get some help, Wilson.

Once he's finally gone, Rose slowly pushes herself upwards, using the wall for support. Her legs still feel like jello, but at least she's recovered enough to stand upright. At least, mostly. She still needs to hold the wall as she walks, making her way into the kitchen. Grabbing a glass from the cabinet, she fills it with water from the tap, then gulps it down. She's so absorbed in her thoughts that she doesn't notice Holly enter until she starts talking.

Holly: Mom? Is... everything okay? I heard shouting.

Rose doesn't answer, not at first. She swallows back a hard lump in her throat, staring into the sink. Holly moves closer, reaching out to gently touch her arm.

Holly: Rose?

Rose: I'm fine!

Her shout is one of abrupt anger, and in the process she lashes her arm out. She doesn't register it at first, but after a moment she realizes that she struck flesh. Blinking her way out of her blind stupor, she turns with a start to see Holly sitting on the floor, holding a hand to her cheek and staring up at Rose with wide eyes.

Rose: Holly... I- I'm sorry, I didn't mean-

But before she can spit out the words, Holly is back on her feet and running down the hall. The door to her room slams a moment later. For the longest time, Rose just stands there in disbelief over what she'd done.

I... I struck her. How... how could I...? I would never do that to her.

And yet she did.

Finding new strength in her legs, Rose hurries down the hall, still having to push against the wall every once in a while to remain on her feet. She stops outside Holly's bedroom, pausing. What is she supposed to say? How can she even begin to explain what just happened? Let alone to Holly, but to herself, too? As she pauses there, she hears something coming from the other side of the door. It doesn't take long for her to figure out what the sound is.

It's Holly crying.

A small piece of Rose's heart shatters at the revelation. Holding a hand over her mouth, she collapses to her knees and bows her head in shame. She struggles to hold back the tears, but fails miserably.

My god... what is wrong with me?

Ext. East Silverstone Middle School – Day

Rose tries to concentrate, as she pulls up outside the school that afternoon. She's still trying to figure out a way to talk to Holly after what happened. The ride here that morning had been bad enough; Holly wouldn't even look at her. Never before had she ever experienced such a long, awkward silence in all her live. The whole thing made her want to die right there.

It's okay... it was just an accident... I didn't mean to. Everything will be fine. I just... need to talk to her.

But as Rose waits there for Holly to come out of the school, she doesn't see her. The crowds of children slowly begin to disperse, some taking buses, and others getting into cars with their parents. No sign of Holly, though. Starting to grow concerned, she gets out of the car and looks around. By now, the school grounds are near empty, except for a few teachers. Staring to panic, she runs up to the first person she sees; conveniently enough, it happens to be Holly's homeroom teacher, Mrs. Hayes.

Rose: Mrs. Hayes!

The woman turns around suddenly, as Rose runs up to her. For a brief moment, she flinches, taking note of Rose's utterly drained and ill appearance. Finally, though, she does manage to respond.

Mrs. Hayes: Oh, Miss Wilson... are you alright?

Why does everyone keep asking me that?

Rose: I'm just- have you seen Holly? She's never been late to get picked up before and I was- I know I dropped her off this morning.

Mrs. Hayes: Holly? Why, yes, she left a little while ago with that friend of hers. Lyta, that's it.

Rose: You mean she... she went home with Lyta's mother?

Mrs. Hayes: I believe so, y- Miss Wilson?

Rose is already off and running back to her car. When she gets inside, she slams the door shut and takes off.

Int. Circe's Apartment – Day

Rose pounds the door wildly. She isn't being patient right now, already screaming out in the hallway.

Rose: Open the damn door, Circe! I know you're in there!

When no answer comes immediately, she drives her fist harder against the wood, starting to put cracks in it. She really doesn't want to have to break down this door, but she will if she has to. After a short few moments that to her feel like an eternity, the door finally opens. It doesn't stay open for long, though, as Circe slips out into the hallway and closes the door behind her.

Circe: You do know how to cause a racket, don't you?

Rose: Cut the sarcasm, where's Holly?

Circe: Inside, playing with Lyta.

Rose: Why did you take her?

Circe: I didn't take her; she wanted to come with us. Practically begged to.

Blinking her eyes a few times, Rose shakes her head.

Rose: Why would she-

Circe: She told me what happened, Rose. You hit her.

Rose: It was accident! I didn't... I didn't mean to.

Circe's gaze takes on a hard, venomous tone. She may be mortal and a bit more pleasant nowadays, but she still knows how to turn on her old, cold self. At the same time, though, she takes on this demeanor for entirely different purposes. She's changed these past months, mere shades of the evil sorceress she used to be.

Circe: I don't care if it was an 'accident'. It never should have happened. That's not all she told me, you know. You haven't been yourself lately. You're on a downward spiral, and you're sinking fast.

Rose: You don't know what you're talking about. Get out of the way, and give me my daughter!

Circe: You're not getting anywhere near her, not like this. Have you looked in a mirror lately? I've seen lost souls in Tartarus that looked better!

Rose: I'm fine! God, why do people keep thinking something's wrong with me?!

Circe: Because you're destroying yourself! And you're hurting everyone around you!

Rose: Keep talking and you'll be next!

Smack!

Circe's palm cracks across Rose's face like a whip, slapping her with enough force to make her stumble backwards and very nearly fall from her tired legs. For a moment, Rose just stands there with her hand pressed against her bright red cheek, utterly stunned. She blinks, staring back at Circe and slowly straightening herself.

Circe: Wake up, Rose! You're falling, and you're not letting anyone catch you! Whatever you're going through, let me- let us help you get past it. Let us help you get better. You owe that much to Holly.

Rose: I...

Bowing her head, Rose's eyes squint shut. She holds her hands to her head clenches her jaw tightly, fighting back the growing numb sensation rising in her throat.

Rose: I'm sorry... I'm so s- my god, I'm awful... what have I done?

Taking a few, careful steps forward, Circe holds out a hand to Rose's shoulder.

Circe: It's alright, Rose, we'll help you get through this.

Rose: I- I- hrrrnnggggh.

Suddenly lurching backwards, she falls to floor with both hands clawing at her skull. The pain is... unbelievable. It feels like someone is using her brain as a damn basketball! She doesn't realize it at first, but she's screaming. Granted, she can't actually hear her own voice, instead hearing only a loud ringing in her ears. When she blinks upwards, everything goes blurry and starts spinning. The pain begins to spread from the back of her head down into her neck, and then up between her eyes. After everything she's been through in her life, she's never felt anything physically more painful than this.

Circe: Rose! Rose!

Of course, Circe doesn't get a very promising response; just more pained screaming. Instantly, she lifts Rose up and starts dragging her back into her apartment.

Circe: Lyta! Call an ambulance, now!

Int. Silverstone General Hospital – Night

The hospital room is quiet, save for the methodical beeping of the heart monitor. Rose lies unconscious in the bed, all sorts of tubes and wires hooked up to her. With the amount of meds the doctors pumped her with, she won't be waking up for a while, which is probably for the best. She could use a nice, long rest. Visiting hours are over, too, but that doesn't stop the current guest from slipping in unnoticed. It's easy enough for one who can simply appear where she wants to appear. Coming up next to the bed, the figure hangs her head and breathes out a long, shameful sigh.

Ruby: This... this is my fault. All my fault.

The only response she receives is more beeping from the monitor.

Ruby: I thought I could do this. I thought I could...

Holding up a gloved hand to her face, she closes her eyes and shakes her head.

Ruby: I can't... it isn't worth this.

Finally, she sucks in a deep breath and lifts her gaze, walking away from the bed. Her hands, meanwhile, reach back over her shoulders.

Ruby: I'm sorry, Rose. For everything.

With that, she pulls up the hood over her head and slips the dark mask over her face.

Apathy: Time to clean up my mess.

A second later, she disappears in a small cloud of smoke.

Chapter #76

Int. Unknown Workshop – Night

The man calling himself Trance walks from pod to pod, inspecting the vitals on each person within. Nothing too serious, not yet. Give them enough time, though, and eventually another one will end up dead. But at least the percentage is going down, with the adjustments he's been making. Just a little bit more and he'll have all the kinks worked out. Maybe. Either way, he'll continue making a fortune off this operation, and all while helping people be exactly what they want to be. It's a dream that he never got to live when he was kid.

A sudden presence in the room, however, causes him to stiffen slightly. He straightens himself, turning around and glaring from behind his mask. When he sees who it is, he begins to relax. He knows that outfit; the armored catsuit, hooded cloak, and dark mask. He's only been working with her for the past couple weeks.

Trance: Ah, Apathy. How good of you to show up. To what do I owe the pleasure?

Apathy: Drop the facade, Atkinson. I'm not here for pleasantries.

Trance: Of course you're not. Finally decided to give my machines a test run yourself? I guarantee that you'll enjoy them. Just think; your deepest desires all coming to life. Imagine how great that would feel.

Apathy: I'd sooner make out with a cactus than get in one of those deathtraps.

Trance: Ah, Ruby, ever the jokester. But there's no need to fret; in a few more weeks these machines will be completely safe, once I figure out how to fix their little problem.

Apathy: I don't want to hear anymore of your deranged theories about how you're helping the innocent 'be all that they can be'. You're killing them, end of story.

Tilting his head to the side, Trance raises a hand to his chin and stares at her.

Trance: Funny, you didn't seem to mind before. In fact, you were quite willing. After all, what's a few dead kids when it brings in the prize we're really after? Who, I might remind you, is exactly where we want her: addicted to my pods and unable to shake free.

Apathy: She's in the damn hospital with an aneurism, you moron. We weren't supposed to kill her!

Trance: Ah, is that all you're worried about? Please, an aneurism won't kill her, not with her accelerated healing. Our boss assured me of it.

Apathy: But you're still destroying her!

Trance: And that was the whole plan, wasn't it? We follow the orders, we pick her apart piece by piece until there's just a shell left, and then we back off for phase two.

Apathy's hands clench into fists, her head bowing slightly. Taking in a deep breath, she then shakes her head firmly.

Apathy: No, it isn't right. We shouldn't be doing this, I don't care what we get in return.

Trance: Hmm, I thought you were doing this for that love of yours. Janet, I think her name was?

Apathy: It's Jeanette, you cretin.

Trance: Right, Jeanette. Terribly sorry. But either way, it's still the reason you signed up for this when we came to you. I thought you wanted to see her again?

Apathy: I did... I do. More than anything. But not like this, not if it means ruining a good person in the process. Not if it means killing innocent children. I... she wouldn't want me to do that. I know she wouldn't.

Shaking his head, Trance lets out a small sigh and turns back to his machines, making notes on a clipboard.

Trance: Touching, really, but it's a little late. Phase two will begin soon. Our jobs are almost done.

Apathy: No, it's not too late, not to fix my mistakes.

Trance: Whatever do you mean by-

His words are cut short by Apathy's teleporting fist ripping into his jaw. He goes down hard, crashing against one of the pods and rolling to the floor. For a moment, he just lies there groaning, then starts to push his way back up to his feet, a hand clutched to the side of his face.

Trance: Now that was a mistake.

Apathy: I'm shutting you down, Atkinson. Then I'm I'm going to fix what we've done to Rose. She doesn't deserve any of this.

Trance: You really are a f-

Again, he doesn't get a chance to finish his sentence, as knuckles carom off his face, knocking him back against one of the machines. He doesn't fall this time, though, managing to hold himself up and then reach down to his belt to click a button. Instantly, the lights on his suit begin to flash rapidly in a very distinct pattern. Apathy holds an arm up, trying to shield her eyes from the intense blinking.

Trance: You think this getup is just a fashion statement, you ungrateful little b*tch? These lights assault your neural stimuli. That funny feeling in the back of your head right now? I can make it to what I want now. Like paralysis, for example.

Apathy freezes, seemingly unable to move her body. Trance walks over to her with his hands held to his hips.

Trance: Or I could switch to nausea and having you puking blood in a matter of seconds. Or maybe I give you a blackout and stuff you in one of my pods permanently, hmm? Or I could control you, use you as I see fit. What do you think?

Apathy: I think... you're one of the dumbest smart people I've ever met.

Trance: That's cute, really. But you're in no position to-

Crack!

Apathy's knuckles hit him so hard this time that he literally flies off his feet, plummeting to the floor and landing hard on his back, air rushing from his lungs.

Trance: How...

Apathy: My mask isn't just a fashion statement either, you pitiful excuse for a man. It diffuses intense lights. Nice try, but you picked the wrong person to try your hypno-pocus crap against.

Groaning, Trance drops his head back against the floor. That last shot was a bit more than he could bare.

Apathy: Now, let's you and me take a little trip, shall we?

Int. Silverstone City Central Police Station – Night

Breathing in deeply, Chief Gerald Palmer pushes the door to his office open and closes it behind him, then flicks on the lights. It's been a long day, and he really needs to finish up the last of his paperwork so he can go home and-

Palmer: What the hell?!

Hand flying to his gun, he takes aim. But the figure in front of him vanishes in a cloud of smoke, only to reappear next to him and snatch the gun away.

Apathy: Shh, relax, I'm on your side here.

Palmer: Who the hell are you? And who's that?

He looks over at the unconscious man in a very strange costume, who is slumped forward in the chair against the desk.

Apathy: You don't need to know my name. Just that I'm currently a fill-in for Ravager, since she's...

Palmer: Not in a good place right now, I know.

Apathy: Yeah, that. As for this goon, his name is Dr. Atkinson. He's the one you're looking for, the one who's been responsible for those dead kids you've been investigating.

Palmer: Wait, you're serious?

Apathy: Quite. I can give you the address where he's been operating from, as well as detailed notes on exactly what he's been doing. He also committed those strange robberies you've been looking into.

Narrowing his eyes, Palmer takes a careful step backwards and looks back at Atkinson.

Palmer: But how did he commit those robberies without being noticed?

Apathy: The short version? Hypnosis. Don't ask me to explain, because we'd be here all night and I'm afraid I don't have the time.

Palmer: Alright, then explain exactly how you know what we've been investigating in the first place.

Apathy: Don't worry about that; I have my ways. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have places to need to be. All the information you need is on a note I left in Atkinson's front pocket. Take care, Chief.

When she vanishes again into thin air, the small wisp of smoke slowly dissipating in her wake, Palmer utters a long breath and holds a hand to his head.

Palmer: I'm getting too old for this.

Int. Silverstone General Hospital – Day

It's still quiet in the hospital room, even though Rose is awake now. There's no reason for her to raise a fuss or anything, though. Instead she just sits there upright in bed, staring down at the blanket covering her and contemplating what a stupid, illogical b*tch she's been these past couple of weeks. She can still hear Circe's words in her head, and they hurt. Not just because the words are biting and aggressive, but because they're true. Rose has been destroying herself, and inadvertently hurting everyone close to her. And now she hates herself for it.

A knock on the partially open hospital room door draws her attention. When she looks up, her attitude suddenly shifts from depressed to relieved and happy.

Ruby: Can I come in?

Rose: You know you can.

Moving forward, Ruby comes to the edge of the bed and sits down in a chair. A long sigh leaves her throat, while her gaze drops towards the floor.

Rose: Are you alright? I... I haven't heard from you in a few days. I thought-

Ruby: I know, and I'm sorry. I'm... so sorry. For everything I've done.

Rose: What do you mean? You've been nothing but good to me. Every time I'm with you, I feel... I feel amazing.

Ruby: Of course you have, because I made you feel that way.

Rose: Well yeah, you're a great person, I know. You're-

Ruby: That's not what I meant. Rose, I... I have some things I need to explain.

Five minutes later...

For a long moment, Rose sits there in silence, trying to absorb the information that Ruby told her. It's a lot to take in, after all. Folding her arms across her chest, she drops her eyes towards the bedsheets again, sucking in a deep breath and slowly letting it out.

Rose: So let me get this straight. You're an empath, and this whole time you've been interacting with me, you've been manipulating my emotions. Happy when I'm with you, depressed when you leave me.

Ruby: Yes.

Rose: And you led me to that Trance psycho so he could stuff me in his pods and addict me to my own little fantasy world to further deteriorate my emotional stability.

Ruby: ...yes.

Rose: All as part of a plan to break me down into an emotionless shell.

Ruby looks away in shame. Her eyes are closed, trying to hide the tears already brimming.

Ruby: I'm so sorry. The man who came to me, he said... he said you deserved it. He said you were a terrible person, and that if I helped him he'd bring Jeanette back to me. And I believed him...

It's Rose's turn to play the shameful expression game, turning her gaze away and holding a hand to her face.

Rose: I am a terrible person... manipulated by you or not, I fell into this hole and I hurt the only people who care about me. That's on me, no matter how it happened.

Ruby: What are you talking about? I'm the one who did this to you. I'm the one who... who toyed with you.

Rose: Yeah, well, you only did it because you wanted the person you loved back in your arms again. I get how that is, and I can't say I wouldn't have done the same in your position. There's one thing I don't understand, though.

Wiping her eyes briefly, Ruby gives her a confused look.

Ruby: What's that?

Rose: Why didn't you go through with it? Why did you give up that chance to be with Jeanette again?

At this question, Ruby bows her head again, expression softening and hands coming together in her lap.

Ruby: Because I had no guarantee that this mystery man could do what he claimed, or that he would even if he could. But more than that... I realized that bringing one good life back isn't worth destroying another.

A long moment of silence passes between the two. Rose continues staring down at the bed, wringing her hands together and thinking deeply about the situation. Eventually, she brushes back her hair and looks over to Ruby, who can barely stand to meet her gaze.

Rose: Thank you.

Ruby: Wha- thank you? For what?

Rose: You've made me realize something of my own just now. Are any of those pods still around?

Ruby: Wait, Rose, I don't think-

Rose: Relax, it's not what you think. There's just... one thing left I have to do.

Int. Rose's Penthouse Suit – Day

When Rose opens her eyes, she's standing in her apartment again, just as she wanted. Taking in a deep, nervous breath, she walks forward towards the living room. Becky's waiting there for her, of course, just sitting casually on the couch and reading a magazine. A small smile finds its way to her lips, as she moves closer to the couch. Just seeing her again like this, it's beautiful.

But it won't last. It can't last.

When Becky notices Rose approaching, she looks up and grins widely, then rises to her feet and gives a warm, tender hug.

Becky: Ah, there you are. Was wondering where you ran off to.

Rose: Yeah, I was just... clearing my head. Hey, Beck?

Pulling back a little, Becky raises an eyebrow at her.

Becky: What is it?

Rose: You know I love you, right? I always will.

Becky: Well of course I know that. I'll always love you, too.

Another smile crosses Rose's face. But it's a different sort of smile. A sad smile.

Rose: I... I can't keep doing this, you know. I have to go, for good.

Becky: What are you talking about?

Rose: I can't stay here with you. It's not... it's not right. As real as this feels, it's not.

Blinking in confusion, Becky lifts her hands to Rose's shoulders and looks into her eyes.

Becky: Rose... what are you saying?

Rose: I'm saying that I have to stop living in the past. I love you, Becky, more than anything, and I will never forget you.

Leaning forward, Rose plants her lips firmly against Becky's, holding the kiss for a long moment before finally pulling back.

Rose: But I have to let you go...

And then, the world begins to fade again. Darkness sets it, washing away everything around her in inky blackness. The last thing she sees is Becky's tearful, confused face. Within seconds, that, too, vanishes.

Rose: Goodbye.

Int. Unknown Workshop – Day

When Rose opens her eyes this time, she feels different than before, than the other times she came out the pod. She feels... distant, sad, yet also somehow at peace. Uttering a deep breath, she sits up once the restraints release and the glass covering slides open. She doesn't feel quite as weak this time around, either, able to slide out of the machine and hold herself up on her feet. For a long moment, she just stands there, taking in deep breaths. That's when a comforting hand comes to her shoulder.

Ruby: Are you alright?

Rose: Yeah, I'll be... I'll be fine. I just need some time.

Ruby: You want me to take you home? The police will be back here soon to start dismantling these things.

Rose: Please.

Reaching out, Ruby gently takes Rose's hand, and in an instant they disappear in a cloud of smoke.

Int. Rose's Penthouse Suite – Night

Rose paces nervously around her apartment, heart fluttering and throat numb. She doesn't know how she's going to get through this, but she has to. She owes too much, and this isn't something she can avoid. Taking in one more deep breath, she gradually begins to calm herself, just as the front door opens. Circe stands there at the front, with the two girls behind her. Lyta holds her mother's hand, peering cautiously inside, while Holly waits off to the side, looking away.

Swallowing back a hard lump in her throat, Rose gently lowers herself down to one knee.

Rose: Holly...

It takes several moments, but the girl finally does glance over. Shifting her weight slightly, Holly pauses and looks up to Circe, unsure of what to do.

Circe: It's alright, we're all right here.

Finally, Holly moves forward into the penthouse, walking up in front of Rose and giving her a long look.

Holly: Are you... are you still mad?

Rose: No, sweetie, I'm not mad... not anymore.

Holly: You really scared me. You... you hit me. Did I do something wrong?

Bringing a hand up to her face, Rose swallows back another numb lump and shakes her head.

Rose: No... god, no. You didn't do anything wrong. I did... and I can't even begin to express how sorry I am. The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you. But I did.

Holly: You weren't really yourself, were you?

Rose: That's putting it lightly.

Holly: Were you sick or something?

Rose: I... in a way, I guess. But that's not an excuse for what I did. I should never have hurt you like that. Ever.

Shifting her weight again, Holly briefly pauses before coming forward and wrapping her arms around Rose in a comforting hug.

Holly: It's okay, I forgive you. I still love you.

Squinting her eyes shut tightly, Rose returns the hug warmly, holding the girl tight.

Rose: I love you, too, Holly. I always will.

Ext. Silverstone City Streets – Night

Tapping her fingers gently against the parapet, Apathy gazes down at the streets below. It's late, and not too many people are out and about. Not to mention, crime has been pretty slow tonight, too. The only thing she's stopped so far is an attempted mugging, and that was hours ago. Letting out a long, bored sigh, she moves away from the edge and starts walking back across the roof.

Apathy: Well, guess it's time to switch areas. I wonder how the slums are doing this time of night.

Man: Probably the same as always.

Uttering a startled gasp, Apathy whirls around to see someone standing there at the corner of the roof, bathed in dark shadows. She squints a little, then soon realizes who it is.

Apathy: Oh, it's just you... what are you doing here?

Man: Checking up on you. Heard you... had a little disagreement with Dr. Atkinson.

Apathy: You heard right.

Man: Thought so. You know that means your deal with the boss is null, right?

Apathy: I don't care. I'm done working with you nut-jobs. What you're trying to do to that girl... I won't be a part of it. In fact, if you go near her again, I'll stop you myself.

Man: Well, your determination is admirable. And of course, if you're protecting her now, then by all means we'll back off.

Apathy: Your sarcasm is not endearing.

Man: Wasn't meant to be.

Apathy: Then why the hell do you even bother to keep talking?

Man: Because it's my job.

Folding her arms across her chest, Apathy cocks her hips to the side and tilts her head in confusion.

Apathy: Uh... huh. Your job is to bore me to death?

Man: No. My job is to distract you.

Apathy: Distrac- ngh!

Her words abruptly cut off at the feel of hot pain ripping through her body. Looking down slowly, she sees several long, razor sharp spikes jutting completely through her body. Three by her stomach, two at her chest, another still through her shoulder. A second later, the spikes retract, causing her body to crumple to the roof. She lies there motionless, just staring up at the sky as her blood begins to pool around her.

From behind her, another figure walks forward, hands in his pockets. He stands over her for a moment,, shaking his head.

Figure: Such a disappointment.

The other man, too, walks forward now.

Man: What do you want to do with her?

Figure: Have you eaten yet?

A grin forms across the man's face. Slowly, he steps from out the shadows, his eyes already shifting into something more feral.

Kubrick: No, no I haven't.

#1 Posted by Nyrax (12 posts) - - Show Bio

I think you should give yourself more credit. The arc wasn't full of action but that doesn't stop it from being good. I know Ravager is a pretty kick ass character, but I believe that Rose's internal struggles is what makes her an extremely appealing character. She isn't perfect, and she's constantly reminded of it. I believe that you capture the essence of someone that just wants to be with their loved one again, and the confrontation that needs to come when we realize that we need to move on. So bravo.

#2 Posted by Ravager4 (1627 posts) - - Show Bio

@Nyrax: Well I'm glad it was still entertaining for you, ha. Even without a lot of action, I tried to do what I could with it.

#3 Posted by CapFanboy (5136 posts) - - Show Bio

Bump

@Ravager4: sorry about the Gah! spamming xD

#4 Posted by ReVamp (22865 posts) - - Show Bio

Bump.

#5 Posted by Time_Phantom (527 posts) - - Show Bio

Been busy so comicvine has been way out of the way for some time. This was really good. You didn't need any action for this arc it was perfect as it is. Rose dealing with Becky's death this is really the natural next step. Keep up the great work Ravager.

#6 Posted by Ravager4 (1627 posts) - - Show Bio

@Time_Phantom: It's cool, we all get busy sometimes. I'm just glad it was that you got busy and not that my writing got so horrible you just couldn't stand it anymore xD