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, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, 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 fifth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #27

Rose worked busily to cook up a big breakfast that morning. She'd been especially careful this time and managed to keep most of the food from burning, a remarkable feat for a person who had a severe track record of destroying anything other than eggs and pancakes. She really was starting to get the hang of this whole cooking thing. Whistling softly to herself, Rose flipped a pancake up into the air, catching it expertly with the skillet upon its descent. She was in an astoundingly good mood that morning, but then her life was going abnormally well.

This could mostly be attributed to her giving up her nightly escapades as Ravager for the past few months, allowing her to clear out the stress she'd been building up during the past year and get her head on straight. Also, with the disappearance of 'The Blade' from Silverstone, the local media and police force had turned their focuses elsewhere. No purpose in trying to chase a ghost, after all. Perhaps she would put her costume back on again some time, but for right now she was perfectly content living out her life the way it was.

Just as Rose finished up the last of her cooking, Holly strolled into the kitchen and sat down at the table, swinging her legs playfully while she waited to be served. Rose's whistling abruptly turned to humming, as she filled up a plate of food for the girl and brought it over to the table.

“There you go, hot off the stove,” she said, with a smile. “Careful not to burn yourself.”

Holly rolled her eyes a little and went through several hand signs. “I'm not going to burn myself.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Rose waved off the comment, placing few dirty dishes into the sink. “Just finish up quick so we can get going. You don't want to be late for your last day of school, do you?”

I won't be late,” the young girl assured.

“Alright, I'm gonna hop in the shower real quick,” Rose said, heading through the kitchen. “You finish up here and brush your teeth. I'll be out in ten minutes.”

Rose quickly made her way into her bathroom, hurriedly stripping out of her clothes and getting into the shower. She was brief, but thorough, cleaning herself up in a little over five minutes, then taking another few to dry herself off and get dressed again. Normally, she'd linger in the shower to enjoy the feel of hot water on her skin, but they were already running a little later than usual.

When Rose returned to the living room, Holly was already waiting there, tying her shoes. The girl looked up at Rose, bringing her hands together and signing urgently. You're going to make me late!”

“Oh I am not,” Rose said, with a playful eye roll. “Now come on, finish tying your shoes and let's go.”

---

Later that morning, Rose sat back in the passenger seat of the police cruiser, with Becky behind the wheel as usual. As much as she had enjoyed driving, for a change, the circumstances had been entirely unfavorable. She was happy with never driving, so long as it meant that Becky was well and not stuck in a hospital.

“So, the kid's last day of school today, right?” Becky asked, turning the cruiser down the street.

“Yeah, then I have to figure out how we're going to handle the summer,” Rose said, tapping her fingers against the door. “I'm hoping Mrs. Silva won't mind watching Holly throughout the day now, instead of just the afternoons. I asked her about it already, but she couldn't give me a definite answer.”

“I'm sure you'll work it out,” Becky said. “Besides, what else does that old woman have to do, ah? She barely leaves her house as it is. Plus, she already took care of Holly when you were in the hospital, remember?”

Rose paused a moment, nodding slowly. “Yeah, good point. It's not like I wouldn't be paying her for the extra time, either.”

“The more important question, though-” Becky lifted an eyebrow, giving Rose a curious glance. “-what are you going to do about vacations?

Furrowing her brow, Rose looked back at Becky with genuine confusion. “Vacations?”

“Well yeah, girl! It's the summer, kids need to go out, have some fun, cut loose. And I know you got some vacation time saved up, right? Take her camping, or head up to the beach or something.”

“I... hadn't even though about that,” Rose muttered, holding a hand to her chin.

“Ha, Dios mio, you really are clueless sometimes, you know that?”

Rose folded her arms, frowning slightly. “Hey, I don't try to be. I'm just... still not that experienced with this.”

“Ah, don't worry about it,” Becky assured, with a soft chuckle. “Happens to the best of us. Besides, you're pretty cute when you're clueless.”

Rose shifted in her seat slightly at the comment, bringing a hand to her hair and casually clearing her throat. Becky immediately smacked a hand to her forehead and groaned softly.

“Oh, mierda, I'm sorry. I didn't mean-”

“No, it's fine, really,” Rose said, waving it off. “Don't worry.”

“Still, sorry.”

Rose rested her elbow out the open window, looking back at Becky closely. “Guess you're not quite over your crush, huh?”

Becky instantly turned her face to the side to hide the blush. “I, uh... guess not. Sorry.”

“Oh come on, stop apologizing,” Rose said, with a flippant wave of the hand and a big grin. “I know I'm awesome.”

“Not quite the word I would use...” Becky muttered quietly. “But yes, you are.”

A brief moment of awkward silence passed between the two, as Rose attempted to think of a way to change the subject. Finally, she came up with, “So, uh, got anything special planned later on?”

Becky shrugged. “Eh, kind of. Picked up an extra shift.”

“Now why would go and do that?” Rose asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Gonna be heading up to Vermont for the weekend with my family,” she explained. “Kind of a traditional camping thing we do every year. But we leave Friday morning, so I'm working those hours tonight.”

Rose leaned forward a bit, smirking. “Oh, so I get the cruiser all to myself on Friday?”

“Si,” Becky said, stifling a subtle laugh. “So try not to to ruin it, ah?”

Abruptly, the car radio went off, interrupting the conversation. “Possible 211 in progress down at the old S.T.A.R. Labs storage warehouse, address 8294 Duster Street. Witness reported a masked individual entering through one of the side windows, need the nearest unit to please respond.”

Becky quickly grabbed the speaker and pulled it up to her lips. “Copy that, dispatch, we're on it. Be there in five.”

“Someone breaking into a warehouse owned by S.T.A.R. Labs...” Rose muttered. “Doesn't sound good.”

“Maybe The Blade's come back, ah?” Becky gained an eager glint in her eye. “She stole from S.T.A.R. Labs once already.”

Rose turned her gaze, breathing out softly. “Somehow, I doubt that... she only operates at night, right?”

“True, true... well, let's go and find out then, shall we?

---

Becky pulled the cruiser up to the front entrance of the warehouse, shutting the engine off and leaning forward to take a closer look. “Don't see anything suspicious yet. Let's check it out.”

The two exited of the car and carefully approached the front entrance. Rose tried the door, giving it a firm push, but it was locked up tight.

“Guess the place is closed today,” she said, taking a step back.

“Dispatch did say the suspect was seen entering through a window, right?” Becky questioned, taking a few steps around to the side of the building.

“I'll check the left side, you go right,” Rose said, heading around the other side.

Rose carefully inspected the row of windows, but they all appeared to be shut tight and locked, too. Except for one, however, a broken window three floors up. The only problem was, there was nothing nearby to climb up to it, save for a gutter drain. Scratching her head for a moment, she pondered if the suspect had indeed entered through that window, and if they did, how did they do it?

“Find anything?” Becky asked, coming around the corner of the building.

Rose shrugged, then pointed up to the broken window. “Only place I can see that he could have gone through.”

Becky furrowed her brow, hands coming to her hips. “What, did he fly up there?”

“Maybe... or maybe not.”

Rose took a careful step forward, taking hold of the drain pipe and testing its strength. When it didn't budge, she lifted her foot and pressed it up against the side of the building. Every few feet or so, there was a small indentation in the paneling, providing very convenient footholds. With her grip firm on the gutter, and using the footholds to her advantage, she began to climb up to the window.

“Oy, be careful,” Becky said.

Within a few moments, Rose made it up to the window and crawled her way inside. She looked back outside, waving for Becky to follow. “You're not just going to stay down there, are you?”

Becky's eyebrows lifted suddenly, as she let out a small, uncertain breath. “I, uh... suppose not.” She glared at the drain pipe for a moment, then carefully took hold of it and began to climb upwards, though going much slower than Rose did. “Qué mierda... They did not teach us this at the academy.”

When both women finally made it through the window inside, they found themselves in a small, dim office. Rose looked around carefully, then led the way through the door into the third floor hallway. She took the flashlight from off her belt and clicked it on, shining the bright beam in front of them. Becky followed suit with her own flashlight. If there was someone here, they don't want to alert that person by turning all the lights on, so their flashlights would have to suffice for now.

Coming to the end of the hallway, the two made their way down the stairs and came out to the main storage area of the warehouse, with a tall ceiling and rows of boxes and crates stacked along the room's length. Remaining silent, Rose waved Becky to one side of the building, while she went the other way, paying careful attention to every dark nook and cranny. If anyone was lurking about in here, they'd find him.

Ten minutes into the search, Rose came around the corner of one of the rows of crates to see Becky standing there and shining her light across the room, staring intently. “You see something?”

“I thought so...” Becky paused, slowly scanning the catwalks above her. “Might have just been my imagination, though. I take it you didn't find anything?”

“Not yet, but there are plenty of places to keep looking,” she said. “I'll try the offices.”

“Right, I'll keep checking this area.”

As they began to go their separate ways, however, Rose's precog suddenly flickered through her head. She turned quickly and threw herself at Becky, knocking the woman to the floor. “Get down!”

A split second later, a pair of razor sharp throwing stars sailed over their heads, embedding into one of the crates behind them.

“Santa mierda!” Becky exclaimed, sitting up on the floor. “What was that?”

Rose didn't have time to respond, though, as her precog went off again. Flipping herself back up to her feet, she lifted her flashlight to deflect another incoming pair of shuriken. This time, the attacker followed, jumping down from a stack of nearby pallets with a flying kick. Rose leaped backwards, avoiding the attack, then came forward with a countering punch to the man's jaw. The blow knocked him backwards, but he recovered his balance quickly and lunged in again, this time drawing a sword on his back and swinging wildly.

As Rose dodged the incoming blade, Becky clambered back to her feet, taking notice of the current situation. Shining her light on the two combatants, she blinked a couple times in disbelief. Not only was her partner pulling out moves straight out of a Jet Li flick, but her opponent was...

“I'm dreaming, right?” she asked herself, watching the fight. “I must be. No way this is real.”

But she wasn't asleep. She was wide awake and this was really happening. Her partner, Rose, was currently engaged in an impressive display of hand to hand combat with a freakin' ninja. Or at least, someone dressed and armed like a ninja. But with the way he was fighting, she wouldn't doubt if he were an actual ninja.

Of course, he wasn't the only one fighting that way. Rose not only matched him step for step, but was actually beating the crap out of him. Not once did the ninja land a hit on her, while she in turn pummeled him back with vicious strikes that sent him reeling. Within a short few minutes, Rose delivered a hard shot to the guy's neck, knocking him out cold.

Taking in a deep breath, Rose brushed her hands off. “Well, that was annoying.”

“Madre de Dios...” Becky took a few steps forward, blinking in astonishment. “What the hell was that?”

“Some doofus dressed as a ninja, from the looks of it,” she answered, brushing her hands off.

“No, that I got. But you- and he was- and then you were- where did you learn all that?”

“Oh, uh...” Rose paused, lightly rubbing the back of her neck. “Twelve years of karate?”

Becky stared, a blank expression on her face. “Oh is that all?”

“I was... really good at it.”

“Well I guess so,” Becky said, slowly glancing down at the unconscious ninja. “Okay, so, we should, uh, probably check the guy for identification now. Yeah.”

While Becky held her flashlight beam on the unconscious man, Rose knelt down next to him and pulled his mask off, revealing a square face with bushy brown hair and a small goatee. He certainly didn't look like your average ninja, but apparently they came in all forms. Rose then dug her hands through the guy's pockets, because apparently standard ninja uniforms included pants pockets.

“Well what do you know?” A second later, she pulled out a wallet, complete with driver's license and credit cards. “I guess ninjas carry around their personal information with them.”

“And go running around in broad daylight,” Becky muttered, leaning over Rose's shoulder. “So what's it say?”

“Jason Higgins,” she said. “Age thirty-five. Lives over on Levitt Street.”

“Not really the kind of guy I'd expect to be dressing up like that.”

“Or pulling off those kinds of moves.”

Becky lifted her eyebrows, nudging Rose with her elbow. “Maybe he took twelve years of karate, too, ah?”

“Maybe...” Rose narrowed her gaze slightly, something strange catching her eye: a small metal chip situated just behind Jason's ear.

She glared at the strange device, no larger than a fingernail, then reached down to try and dig it out of the man's skin. Once she got a good grip on it with her fingers, she pulled, hard. The chip slowly began to slide out, but as it did, she realized that it was connected to something else, a long, thin, needle-like device that punctured deep into the man's skull.

“The hell is that?” Becky uttered.

Rose could only shrug, unknowingly. “I have no idea. Looks like it went all the way into his brain, though.”

“Freaky...”

As Rose stood up, another precognitive flash went through her head. Grabbing Becky, she pulled both of them back to the floor, just in time to avoid another set of sharp throwing stars. Dropping down from the shadows, two more men dressed in ninja attire appeared.

“There's more?!” Becky shouted, eyes going wide. “Ay carumba...”

Jumping back to her feet, Rose readied herself against any impending attack, but the two newest arrivals didn't seem too interested in them at all, instead focusing on the unconscious man in front of them. While one of them leaned down to pick up Jason and carry him off, the other reached down to take the discarded device that had been embedded in the guy's head.

Becky climbed back to her feet, drawing her gun and pointing it at the two men. “Alright, freeze! Hands up!”

Of course, the two ninjas didn't comply. Instead, one of them pulled out a small round object and threw it at the ground, causing a heavy cloud of smoke to engulf the area. That, combined with the dim interior, allowed them to make an easy escape. By the time the smoke cleared, all three men were gone, with Becky and Rose left wondering what on earth had just happened.

Slowly, Becky turned her head, giving Rose a puzzled stare. “So, uh... do you want to fill out the report on this one, or should I?”

---

It seemed like just yesterday that Rose had been standing in this same spot, staring at her display of Ravager gear. Last time, she had come to the conclusion that she needed a break from it, in turn giving up her costumed crime fighting for the past few months. She had wanted a clear head, so she could better decide whether or not she should give it up for good. While it would be easy to do, and while she really did want to (after all, her life so far without it had been near perfect), it seemed that there were some things that still required further action.

Random individuals didn't just go around dressed up as ninjas, break into storage warehouses, and attack police officers. And even if they did, they wouldn't have other ninjas as backup to come take them when they fall unconscious. That wasn't even including the strange metal device that was drilled into his brain. A lot of things about what happened today didn't make a lot of sense, and there was only so much she can do during the day as a cop. Even if she could properly investigate while on duty, a nagging feeling clawed at the back of her brain, telling her that something wasn't right about this, something wasn't normal.

Guess it's time to suit back up, she concluded, letting out a long sigh.

Chapter 28

The warehouse was a good place to start, at least by Ravager's estimation. That ninja guy had to have come here for a reason, but she and Becky had stopped him before he could finish whatever he was trying to do. If she could find out what the guy was after, maybe she could start piecing together what his purpose was. And of course, if that didn't work, she could always go investigate the guy's home and see if she could find anything suspicious there.

Moving through the rows of stacked crates and pallets, Ravager closely examined each container, looking for anything out of the ordinary. It looked like just a normal warehouse full of goods, but then nothing was that simple in this world. Stopping in front of a random crate, she knelt down in front of it and gave it a careful inspection.

Wonder what's inside...

Drawing one of her swords, she thrust the point just beneath the top of the box and pried it open with little effort. Leaning forward, she took a look inside, only to find what looked like a bunch of old computer parts. Whatever she was looking for, this definitely wasn't it. Putting the lid back on the crate, she quickly moved on to the next one.

She continued like this for the next half hour, looking inside every container she could find, but most of the contents were nothing more than scrap metal or spare parts. She supposed that a place like S.T.A.R. Labs wouldn't really leave important or valuable stuff lying around in a warehouse, but still, what had that ninja broken in here for then? Breathing out a small sigh, she slowly walked back towards the front end of the room, away from the rows of containers.

Guess it's time to try Jason's place.

Before she had a chance to leave, however, her precog once again alerted her of an incoming attack. She ducked low, spinning bolas sailing above her head and colliding with the far wall. Turning around immediately, she took a defensive stance in preparation to defend herself against another attack. Standing behind her was s man she had not heard approach, or in any way notice before her precog went off.

The man was tall and well built, but still agile in appearance. He appeared to be of Asian descent, probably Chinese or Japanese, with his long black hair pulled back into a braided ponytail. For the moment, he just stood there staring at her.

“Hey, buddy, the hell you doing?” she asked, narrowing her gaze

“Studying you,” came the simple reply.

“Uh... huh. And why are you doing that?”

“Because,” he stated, clasping his hands behind his back. “I like to learn about my opponents.”

Ravager frowned slightly, keeping her guard up. “So what does throwing a weapon at a person with their back turned tell you, exactly?”

“That the rumors are true.”

“Alright, you lost me,” she said. “What rumors?”

“You are Silverstone's... 'protector', yes?” He lifted a hand to his chin, thinking carefully. “I believe they called you 'The Blade', at least before your sudden disappearance. Yet, here you are now... I find that intriguing.”

“That's hardly a rumor.”

The man took a few steps forward, expression remaining calm contemplative. “The rumors I speak of are those regarding your skill. I thought them to be exaggerated, but already you have impressed me. You 'see' things, don't you? Before they happen. That's how you are able to evade attacks that you could not have otherwise known were coming.”

“Well aren't you the perceptive one?” Ravager folded her arms across her chest, growing steadily annoyed at this guy's 'analysis' of her. “Now, how about you stop with the bullsh*t and tell me who the hell you are, and why you're lurking around in this warehouse at night?”

“Ah, forgive me, where are my manners?” He held an arm across his chest, bowing deeply. “The name is Shao Shen, and I am here to test myself against you in combat.”

A test of combat... well gee, where have I heard that one before? Does Lady Shiva have a following I don't know about?

“And you just happened to know where I was going to be tonight?” she asked.

He straightened himself again, giving a subtle nod. “After hearing of your earlier victory over one of our lesser... members, I had my suspicions that you would return to investigate, yes.”

Ravager flinched, her stance faltering. This guy had already figured out who she was, just by hearing about her fighting another one of his 'members' from earlier that day?

“Relax, please.” Shao lifted a hand, slowly shaking his head. “I won't go targeting your loved ones or anything like that; I am no coward. Though your presence in this city could have great complications to our goals, I would prefer to defeat you in a fair fight.”

“How reassuring,” she muttered, taking a fighting stance again. “Then what are you waiting for, huh?”

“To discuss the terms,” he informed. “Firstly, no weapons. I would do this purely hand to hand.”

Narrowing her gaze slightly, Ravager drew both her swords and tossed them off to the side. She was plenty confident in her hand to hand ability. “Fine, anything else?”

“Yes, actually.” He shifted himself into his own fighting stance, one arm held forward and the other held straight back, body turned to the side. “When I win, I would have you leave this city, or at the very least give up your costumed identity for good.”

“First of all, when you win?” Ravager scowled, raising her fists. “And second, why in the hell would I agree to that?”

“Because if you don't, I will simply kill you.”

“Fine, whatever,” she muttered. “Let's just get this over with.”

The two squared off, briefly circling each other and waiting for the other to make the first move. Growing impatient, Ravager ran in first. She unleashed a flurry of attacks, punches mixed with kicks, some elbows, and a few backhands.... but much to her shock, she didn't land a single blow. Somehow, Shao Shen was able to dodge or block each one of her strikes, with seemingly little effort.

Baffled, she took a step back and glared at him. “Okay, so you're pretty good.”

“Allow me to show you just how good.”

Ravager wasn't even sure what happened next. She knew that Shao had come in with a series of attacks, she knew that her precog had predicted all of them, and she knew that she had reacted to defend herself. And yet... she still somehow found herself on the ground, every part of her body aching with a dull, throbbing pain.

So... fast, she thought, staring up at the ceiling in a daze. Could only keep up with the first few attacks, and then... was all a blur. He's a meta... has to be a meta, like me.

“That was... disappointing,” Shao said, furrowing his brow. “And anticlimactic. I would have expected you to at least provide a bit more of a challenge; I didn't even have to try.”

“Okay, so you're really good.” Ravager sucked in a deep breath, pushing herself up to her knees. “I get it. But I'm not done.”

“Actually, you are.” With a swift blow to the back of Ravager's head, Shao Shen knocked her out cold, dropping her straight back to the floor.

Sighing, he held a hand to his chin and contemplated what to do with her now. He knew that she likely wouldn't comply with the terms, given the degree to which he had humbled her. It wasn't in her nature. But still, she would be an annoyance if allowed to continue her activities, and he really didn't want to have to kill her.

“I suppose I could just control,” he said quietly, pursing his lips. “But the devices are still in development and might end up killing you anyway. That would be waste. No... no, I think I have a more appropriate solution for you.”

---

Becky whistled softly to herself, as she drove the cruiser down the darkened street, alone. Very rarely did she work these late hours, but since she needed to make up for time she'd be missing on Friday, she didn't mind too much. It had been a fairly quiet night so far anyway, and her shift was just an hour from finishing up. Then, she could head back to her apartment and get a few hours of sleep before waking up early to do it all again. It had been quite a bit dull, though, without a partner to talk to. She enjoyed having another person in the car to talk to, and bounce ideas off of.

As her thoughts fell back to Rose, though, she breathed out a small groan and shook her head. That had been one hell of a stupid slip up earlier, calling Rose cute. Becky had made a point after the initial mishap to try and not noticeably come on to her partner again, especially since Rose herself was not into women. Because of that, continuing to have a crush on her was pointless, and yet at the same time she couldn't help it. She'd never met anyone quite like Rose; smart, funny, strong, caring, sexy, adorably cute, and with ninja skills to boot.

Ay carumba, easy there, Beck, she thought to herself, taking in a deep breath. Gotta stop thinking like a lovesick puppy. It's never gonna happen.

A sudden hiss of static from the radio called her from her thoughts. “Attention, all units, we've just received an anonymous tip that The Blade is back again and seen down by the S.T.A.R. Labs storage warehouse. I repeat, The Blade is at the S.T.A.R. Labs storage warehouse. All units, please respond, we're taking her in.”

Becky's heart jumped, a surge of adrenaline pumping through her. Sitting up straighter, she flipped on her sirens and turned onto a new street. She'd been waiting for this, a chance to finally take in that masked vigilante running amok around the city.

“Alright, espada,” she said, a slight grin curling across hr face. “We're coming for you.”

---

By the time Ravager awoke, Shao was long gone, the warehouse around her now dark and empty. She uttered a long moan, pain throbbing in the back of her skull. Add to that the pain pulsing through the rest of her body, and she felt like she had been hit by a truck. Then, add to that the fact that a single man had done this to her, through her armored costume no less, and it became a thoroughly humbling experience.

Alright... that was embarrassing. Who the hell was that guy?

Emitting a pained sigh, she slowly stood up, teetering on her feet for a second before regaining her balance. That's when she heard them: the sirens. Snapping her gaze to the nearest window, she noticed flickers of blue and red light, a lot of it. From what she could hear, there had to be at least half a dozen police cars approaching, already nearly at the warehouse.

“Sh*t!” she exclaimed, taking off in a sprint. She grabbed her swords, then ran for the back of the building, where she had parked her bike. She had to get out of here, now!

Ravager burst through one of the windows at the rear of the building, hitting the ground on her feet with shards of glass raining down around her. The sirens were louder now, the lights bright; the cops were at the warehouse entrance. No time to think, though, just had to act. Hopping onto her motorcycle, she slipped her helmet on and then gunned the engine, peeling out momentarily before taking off like a rocket around the side of the warehouse.

The police didn't see her coming until she was almost past them, driving up a small embankment and launching herself through the air, right next to one of the squad cars. She couldn't hear the officers yelling and scrambling to get back in their cruisers over the roar of her engine, but she knew they were coming after her. They wouldn't catch her, though, no chance. She was already putting way to much distance between them.

Unfortunately, they weren't the only ones she had to deal with. A mere two blocks from the warehouse, another pair of squad cars came peeling around the corner, hot on her tail. She glanced back momentarily, cursing under her breath as she weaved through traffic. If she could just lose them, she could find a place to hide until the chaos settled down.

She never got that chance. As she bolted up the on ramp onto the overpass, another three squad cars came up from her side, already waiting for her. They had been prepared, guessed that she'd try to take the highway. There was more traffic here, but nothing she couldn't work around. Gliding around and in between cars, she gradually increased her speed. The needle hit one hundred and fifty, about as fast as she was willing to push it; any faster and she'd probably lose control and crash. At least she was losing the cops behind her, though.

That's when the spotlight hit her. Ravager glanced up suddenly to see a police chopper flying above her and keeping pace. Immediately, her heart jumped with panic, as she turned her focus back to the road. A numb lump knotted its way into her throat.

Crap, they're serious about this.

Apparently, the police really want to bring her in. She knew that she'd been pretty high on the city's wanted list, but she hadn't realized she was police chopper worthy. Then again, she supposed that any high speed chase was chopper worthy. Still, this greatly complicated things. Now, not only did she have to outrun the ground troops, but the aerial support, as well. She really had her work cut out for her.

Ravager turned sharply, moving from the overpass and heading down a ramp to one of the city's main streets. She didn't get very far before arriving at a wall of flashing lights, a police blockade blocking her path. Hitting the brakes, she spun her vehicle around, tires screeching as she changed directions. This caught the cars pursuing her off guard, as they suddenly hit the brakes, as well. Two of the cruisers smashed into each other, though fortunately it wasn't a serious accident.

While getting away from the squad cars was easy enough, the chopper proved to be astoundingly difficult to elude. No matter what side street she turned on, what new path she took, the spotlight remained on her. It forced her to go faster than she wanted to, almost to the point of losing control from the slightest of turns. Still, she had to take chances at this point or she'd never get away. Coming back out onto a main street, she changed direction and headed towards the East District.

She didn't get very far, though. As soon as she turned onto the next street, she came face to face with another police blockade, going way too fast to stop in time or turn around. No, she had to keep going forward, but she couldn't just drive straight into the squad cars, either. Instead, she lurched the bike to the side, crashing through a chain link fence on the side of the street, rumbling over loose gravel and rocks, and then hitting a small bump on the ground that sent her flying.

That brief instant lasted a near lifetime to her, as she catapulted over her handlebars. The bike skidded out from beneath her, and suddenly she was airborne with no real way to land properly. The only thing she could do was tuck and roll, trying to reduce the impending damage as much as possible. When she hit the ground, her body bounced, spinning wildly and head smacking repeatedly against rocks and dirt. If not for her helmet, her skull probably would have split open.

When she finally came to stop, a long moment went by before she was able to move, her entire body refusing to respond to her mental commands. She forced herself up into a sitting position, but the pain was phenomenal. Her entire body felt like one giant bruise, though remarkably nothing seemed to be broken. Uttering a deep, pained groan, she staggered up to her feet and threw her helmet off. She teetered there for a moment, everything still spinning around her.

Ravager heard the shouts of the surrounding police officers, as they raced towards her location. She didn't see any of them yet, but they had to be close by. A few moments later, she realized where she was: the same construction site where she had fought Lady Shiva several months before. Though a lot more work has been done since then, the place was still a giant metal skeleton of a building, with a lot of debris piles, pillars, and shadows to take advantage of. Stumbling farther into the construction site, she disappeared into the darkness, evading the incoming spotlight as it swept by.

Ravager pushed her way inside one of those mobile offices often seen around construction sites, slamming the door shut behind her. She suddenly collapsed forward, falling to her hands and knees. A brief flash of pain ripped through her arm, but she ignored it, she had to.

Crawling farther into the office, she made her way around a dividing wall and slipped behind a desk, out of sight. She propped herself up against the wall, sucking in deep, agonizing breaths. As much as she wanted to keep running, her body couldn't take it, not in this condition. All she could do now was wait and hope that they somehow overlooked her.

Several minutes later, she heard voices coming just outside the office, one officer giving directions and telling the others to go search another area. The officer giving those directions then headed up the stairs into the office. Ravager closed her eye and held her breath, waiting silently. She heard the footsteps approaching, coming around the dividing wall. A flashlight beam swept just above her head and kept going, searching elsewhere.

One minute went by, then two, then three. The officer took another sweep around the back of the office and then returned to the front, still closely examining every dark corner. Just when Ravager thought that she was safe, that the officer had somehow missed her, the flashlight paused and then swung around again, just above her hiding spot.

Keep going, keep going.

But luck was not on her side. The officer came forward and pulled the desk to the side, shining the flashlight directly on her. Ravager squinted, holding an arm up to shield herself from the light. At first, all she saw was a silhouette of the officer standing in front of her with a gun drawn. When she realized who it is, however, her heart skipped a beat and leaped up into her throat.

“Got you!” Becky said, pointing her gun forward. “Hands in the air, now!”

“Wait-”

Becky went for her radio, clicking the button and bringing it to her lips. “This is Officer Chavez, I have-”

“Becky, wait!”

Pausing, Becky slowly brought the radio down and stared at Ravager. The voice sounded familiar... but it couldn't be, right?” “How do you...”

Swallowing hard, Ravager raised a hand and pulled the mask from her head, revealing herself to Becky. Right then, she wasn't Ravager, or The Blade. She was just Rose.

“Its me, Beck... Just me.”

Becky faltered, gun lowering as she took a step backwards. Confusion flashed across her face, one hand coming to her head while the other held herself up against the wall, legs buckling. She actually looked physically hurt.

“Rose...?” she uttered, staring with disbelief.

“Rebecca, please...” Rose said, breathing out deeply. “I need your help right now.”

Chapter 29

For several long moments, the two women just stared at each other. Rose swallowed again, sitting up straighter against the wall and twinging at a sharp jolt of pain in her side. Becky, meanwhile, was still trying to process the information that her partner and best friend was actually the Silverstone vigilante known as 'The Blade', who had been acting outside the law and, more recently, outright breaking it.

A sudden hiss of static broke the silence, as a voice came in over Becky's radio. “Officer Chavez, can you repeat that? Didn't get all of it. Did you say you found something?”

“Becky, please-”

“No, don't,” she said quickly, taking in a deep breath. “Don't... don't make me-”

Her sentence cut off, words catching in her throat. The look on her face said it all, torn between her duties as a cop and her friendship (though, more than just a friendship, at least to her) with Rose.

The voice came over the radio again. “Officer Chavez, are you there?”.

Bringing both hands to her head, Becky dropped herself into the nearby chair, fingers gripping her hair and gaze pointed at the floor. A second later, she brought her radio to her lips. “I'm here, I-”

She paused, slowly glancing back at Rose. A long breath burst from her lips, followed by a few words in Spanish. Finally, she spoke back into her radio, bowing her head lower. “-nothing, sorry. I'm just... jumping at shadows. Gonna take another look around this area.

“Alright, keep at it. If we don't find anything here soon, we'll spread out our search into the surrounding alleys and buildings; there's a chance we might have missed her sneaking off.”

“Copy that...” Becky muttered.

Rose brought her own gaze to the floor now, releasing a heavy sigh. She didn't dare look up at her partner, though. “Becky... thanks.”

“Don't, Rose, just don't.”

Rose's face went hot, her heart sinking. Slowly, she glanced up to make eye contact. The look on Becky's face, the grief, the pain, the disbelief, the anger... it was enough to make her physically ill.

“I... where the hell do I even start?” Becky said, throwing up her shoulders in a defeated shrug. “This whole time... this whole time it was you?

“Yeah...” Rose breathed. “It was me.”

“Hijo de puta...” Becky's lips curled into a small smile, but it wasn't one of happiness or amusement. It was a pained smile, one of utter disbelief. “How can you do it? I mean how can you... how can you honestly sit next to me everyday, calling yourself a cop, and then go out every night breaking the law? Is it all a big joke to you?”

“No, of course not, I just...”

“What? Explain it to me, Rose. Help me understand, because right now every fiber of my being is telling me to turn you over.”

“I just wanted to do good,” she explained. “That's all I've ever wanted with my life.”

“And you do that by stealing? By hurting people? By driving like lunatic and putting god knows how many lives in danger?” Becky paused, swallowing a hard knot in her throat. “You're supposed to be a cop, for Christ's sake! We don't do enough good?”

Rose turned her gaze to the side, bringing a hand up to her forehead. “It's not- it's more complicated than that. There's only so much I can do on the force, inside the law. Doing this gives me another outlet, another way to get things done, things that I can't do from inside a squad car.”

“Puro cuento!” Becky snapped. “All you've done is be a criminal!”

“Becky-”

“And more than that, this whole time you've been lying! About who are, about being a cop, about being my friend... Has anything you've said been truthful?”

Rose's sat up straighter, her gaze growing stern. “I never lied about being your friend. That's true, that's real. And I am a cop. I just want to do everything I can for this city, and help people every way that I can. I know you might think it's wrong, but what I do in this costume, behind this mask... I'm good at it. I'm damn good at it, and I know I've helped people because of it. People like Holly.”

A brief moment of silence passed between them. Becky's jaw tightened, her hands gripping her knees tightly as averted her gaze. Her anger gradually disappeared, but was instead replaced by a look of pained sorrow. She sucked in a deep breath, squinting her eyes shut to hide the tears.

“But you have been lying about who you are, haven't you?” Another dead silence. “Is your name even Sarah Walker?”

“No...”

“Then I guess Rose isn't really your middle name, is it?”

Rose looked away, closing her own eyes. The longer she looked at Becky, the worse she felt. “It's... my name is Wilson. Rose Wilson.”

Becky kept her gaze lowered, remaining silent for several agonizingly long moments. Eventually, she stood from her seat and pushed the chair back against the desk, turning to the door. “I just... I have to go. I'll lead them away from your location and come back when everything is clear. I'll bring a change of clothes, too... Just don't ask me for anymore favors after this, Rose.”

When Becky left, Rose dropped her head back against the wall and shut her eye tightly, a nauseous bubble quivering in her gut.

You are... such a b*tch, Rose.

---

Later that night, Rose sat quietly at the kitchen table, staring into her full cup of coffee. She had made it because she thought it would help clear her head, or at least soothe her nerves. But she hadn't even touched it, not a drop. She just... wasn't in the mood.

Becky hadn't said a single word after returning to help Rose back to the penthouse. Rose had tried to start a conversation several times along the way, but never got a response. Eventually, she got the message. Becky didn't want to talk, at least not to her.

Couldn't leave well enough alone, could you, Rose? she thought, scolding herself. You just had to put the costume back on. You just had to ruin one of the few good things left in your life, didn't you?

Becky really had been one of the best things in her life. She was a friend, a partner, and someone Rose actually felt a connection with. Sometimes, she had even wondered about Becky's other feelings for her. Due to her own personal preferences, Rose had initially rejected those feelings... but after what they'd been through together, and how much she cared for Becky, there were times when she really had thought that maybe the two of them could have...

Doesn't matter. We'll never find out now, will we? You went and screwed it all up.

Rose clenched her jaw briefly, still staring at her dull reflection in the cup of coffee. Eventually, she couldn't stand the sight of herself anymore, stomach twisting into a knot. In a sudden outburst, she swept her arm across the table, launching the mug across the room. It crashed into a cabinet, shattering and spilling hot liquid onto the floor. She took in a few deep breaths, slowly calming herself, then grabbed a sponge and knelt next to the mess to clean it up.

“Goddamn it...” she muttered.

When she finished mopping up the coffee, she grabbed the trash bin and began picking up the shards of the broken mug by hand, tossing them out. Not the smartest thing she could have done while not really paying attention to her actions, as one of the sharp pieces suddenly cut into her thumb, drawing blood.

“F**k!” she shouted, pulling her hand back and sucking on the cut.

It didn't really hurt that much, especially when compared to the rest of her sore and battered body, but that wasn't what bothered her. What bothered her was the fact that she had been so careless, her mind so enamored in other things that she couldn't even pick up some broken glass without cutting herself.

For several moments, she just knelt there quietly, sucking on her bleeding thumb and staring at the floor. She didn't even notice Holly enter the kitchen. It wasn't until the girl walked up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder that Rose turned to see her standing there.

“Oh, Holly,” she said. “I... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you.”

Though apparently still half asleep, Holly could tell something wasn't right, that something was bothering Rose. Her eyes softened, hands coming together to sign. “It's okay... what's wrong?”

“It's... it's nothing, really. I just... had a bad night.”

Do you want to talk about it?”

“I... yes, I do.” Rose bowed her head, squinting her eye shut and sighing. “But not right now, maybe later. You just... you go back to bed. Sorry again for waking you.”

The girl let out a small breath and nodded, then gave Rose a warm hug before returning to her bedroom. Rose sat there on the kitchen floor for another hour, unable to do anything but stare at the floor, lost in her misery.

---

Rose exited the women's locker room and looked down the hall. Still no sign of her. It was half and hour past the start of their shift, yet Becky was nowhere to be found around the police station. She had a lot she wanted to discuss with her partner, a lot she needed to explain. She... she had to apologize, for one. And she had to help Becky understand better why she did what she did. Why she had to keep doing it. That was, of course, only if Becky even listened to her.

Heading down the hallway, Rose noticed Officer Stevens heading towards her. Though she normally made every conscious effort to avoid talking to him, it didn't hurt to ask.

“Hey, uh, Stevens,” she said, hurrying over to him. “Have you seen my partner around? Haven't been able to find her anywhere.”

“Oh, Rebecca?” Stevens thought a moment, looking back over his shoulder. “Uh, yeah I think I heard Chief mention she called in sick or something, came down with a really nasty bug.”

Rose's heart sank. “Oh... a bug, huh?”

“Yeah, she asked for the rest of the week off. Guess it was pretty sudden, too, I mean she was fine yesterday, right?”

“Yeah...” she breathed, lightly bowing her head. “Right.”

“By the way, you never got back to me on that rain check,” Stevens said, abruptly changing the subject. “What do you say? You, me, dinner, Friday night?”

“I'll, uh... have to take another rain check.” Rose pushed past him, heading for the exit. “I gotta get out on patrol.”

“Wha- hey, wait a second!”

But she ignored him. Her mind was on more important things than turning Stevens down for another date request.

Guess I should have seen it coming, her not wanting to see me. Don't blame her. I only went and ruined our friendship after all.

---

Rose tried calling Becky's apartment later that night. She got the answering machine. So, she tried Becky's cell phone. Straight to voicemail. For the better part of the night, she continued trying to contact Becky, with no success. While it didn't surprise her each time she got the answering machine or voicemail, she felt her heart growing just a little heavier with each call.

Stupid, you're being stupid, she thought. You lied to her, betrayed her trust... she doesn't want to talk to you. She probably never will.

Still, she kept calling. Not just that night, but each day following. Tuesday came and went, then Wednesday, and then Thursday. Rose lost count of just how many calls she made, but never once did she get an answer. Finally, sitting at the living room couch, she breathed out a frustrated groan and threw her phone across the room.

Holly, who had been sitting next to her watching television, looked over to Rose and frowned sadly. She tugged on Rose's arm to get her attention, then quickly went through a series of hand signs. “I'm sorry about Becky.”

Rose sighed, shaking her head. “Not like it's your fault. I'm the one that screwed things up...”

I hope she answers soon.”

“Yeah...” Rose uttered, bowing her head. “Me, too.”

And yet, a small part of her knew that Becky wouldn't answer, no matter how many times she called. Plus, with her taking time off work now and avoiding the station, Rose didn't know when she'd ever get a chance to talk to her. She had contemplated showing up at Becky's apartment... but she really didn't want to cause more problems than necessary. If Becky was trying to avoid Rose, going to her apartment would only make things worse.

“You watch some more TV for a while, Holly.” Rose stood up slowly, posture slouching. “I'll be in my room for a bit if you need anything.”

Returning to her bedroom, Rose sat down at her desk and released a heavy sigh. For a long while, she just leaned against the back of her chair, staring at the blank computer screen in front of her. Eventually, she reached forward and pulled up her video conferencing software, making a different sort of call. It connected to another penthouse about 300 miles away, in Gotham. She just hoped he was there...

To her relief, the familiar face of Dick Grayson popped up on the screen several minutes later. “Rose?”

“Hey, Dick... glad I caught you before you went out.”

“Something wrong?” he asked. “You usually just call my phone.”

“Yeah, well... I don't know, I felt like talking face to face, I guess,” she answered, shrugging lightly.

“I take it you didn't call just to chat about the weather. What happened?”

Leaning forward and holding her head up with one hand, she breathed out a long sigh. “I... I really screwed up, Dick.”

A small pause followed, as Dick went from standing in front of his desk to sitting down. “Go ahead, start from the beginning.”

And so she told him, about running from the police, Becky finding out about her secret, and her subsequent avoidance of Rose. She didn't really expect to feel like such crap when explaining things to him, but just recounting the events put her in a terrible mood, upset at her own stupidity, her own mistakes.

“And now...” she continued, “I don't know what the hell to do anymore. Becky doesn't want to talk to me, and I can barely stomach sitting in that squad car alone everyday. I mean, she was right, who am I kidding? I'm no cop, never was. I'm just a freak in a costume doing whatever I want to do, and I'm not sure if I can even be that anymore.”

“Rose,” Dick said, leaning closer to the screen, “the most important thing you have to remember is that you always tried to do good. You might have different ways of going about it, but it's part of who you are; you want to help people. And you do.”

“But what's the point in doing good if you just end up hurting everyone around you?” she countered. “You didn't see the look she had in her eyes when she found out who I was. She looked so... betrayed. Hurt. I had a life of my own, Dick, a good life. But then I went and ruined it, all because I couldn't keep the costume off.”

Dick uttered a small sigh of his own, nodding in understanding. “It's part of you. We do this for so long, and that's what happens. Our other identities become a part of us, and we can't let it go.”

Groaning, Rose lowered her gaze and shook her head. “How do you do it? I mean, how have you kept it up for so long without going insane?”

“Years of practice, mostly,” he said, with a shrug. “I've been doing this since I was kid, after all.”

“Gee, thanks for your words of wisdom,” she muttered, rolling her eyes.

“I'm being serious, Rose.” His expression grew a bit more stern, as he folded his hands in front of him on the desk. “I don't just mean physical practice, it's a lot of mental practice, too. The kind of life we live, it's difficult, stressful, not to mention dangerous.”

“And pretty much guarantees you no social life.”

“A lot of times, yeah,” he admitted. “But sometimes you find something, or someone, special.”

“But how on earth are you supposed to keep that something special without screwing it up?” Rose fell back into her seat again, holding her hands to her forehead. “I had that... and now it's gone.”

“Well, for starters, I try never to start serious relationships outside of the superhero community.”

Rose narrowed her gaze. “You're still not funny, Grayson.”

“If you really want to know, it takes a lot of care and a little luck to make your regular life work alongside your secret one,” he explained. “Sharing that secret with someone you trust can be a big help, too. Gives you someone to talk to. Plus, it also helps to try and be on good terms with the local authorities.”

Rose scoffed out a laugh. “Little late for that.”

“Maybe, but not for certain.”

“Dick, let's face it, I'm not really cut out for this.”

Dick furrowed his brow, straightening in his seat. “What are you talking about? You're good at what you do, we've been over this.”

“No, not that.” Rose turned to the side slightly, holding her arms out and gesturing around the room. “I mean this. The normal life, the secret identity, the lying, all of it... I was never meant to be a happy person.” Dropping her hands, she lowered her gaze, staring at the floor. “Ugh, I feel like I don't even know who I am anymore. It's like I'm all the way back to square one. The hell am I supposed to do now?”

Dick paused, taking in a small breath and tapping his fingers against the desk. “You still have Holly, right? You're doing a good job with her.”

“Save the pep talk,” she said, shaking her head. “I know I'm not exactly the best person in the world to look after a kid. Hell, I leave her alone every night with nothing but a suped up security system keeping her safe, while I go and get myself shot at. Social services would have a field day with that.”

“You still cared enough to look after her, to give her a home. A lot of people would have just let her go back into the foster system, but you stepped up. What's that say?”

“Either that I have a soft spot for kids, or I like getting in over my head. Maybe both, I don't know.” She leaned forward again, resting her elbows on the desk. “I just... I can't do this anymore, Dick. I'm not sure I even know how.”

Pursing his lips, Dick nodded. “Look, Rose... I can tell you're in a rough spot right now.”

“Gee, what tipped you off?”

“And if you keep going about things the way you are, you'll only keep beating yourself up until there's nothing left.”

Rose rolled her eyes, spinning back and forth in her seat now. Your confidence in me is endearing.”

“Rose, I'm trying to help you,” he said, glaring at her. “Are you going to listen or not?”

“Sorry, go ahead.”

“I may not be able to help you get past what you're going through, or make you gain some kind of sudden clarity on what you should do, or how to live your life... but I do know someone who went through something similar a while back.” He took in a deep breath, leaning back against his seat. “It... might be a bit of an extreme way to go, but she does owe me a favor, if you're interested. She has connections to someone who can help you gain that kind of clarity.”

“So you know someone who knows someone who can help me?” She snorted out a laugh, shaking her head. “Isn't that always the way? But what the hell, it's worth a shot. Even if I don't think it'll help.”

“Well, before you agree to it, I should mention that you'll have to travel; you could be gone a while.”

A long moment of silence passed between them. Rose sat up a little straighter in her seat, staring back at Dick on the screen. Taking in a deep breath, she pressed a hand to her forehead and shut her eye, thinking. It didn't take long to come to a decision, though.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” she said, giving a small shrug. “Not a lot left for me here anyway, is there?”

Dick nodded. “If that's what you want, then I'll make the call.”

“Oh, uh... just one more favor?” she asked.

“What is it?”

“Could you watch Holly while I'm gone? She... deserves someone nice looking after her.”

“I'd be happy to,” he replied, with a reassuring smile. “Alfred's great with kids, anyway. Plus, she and Damian are almost the same age.”

“Ha, right... I'm sure they'll get along great.”

Chapter 30

The phone rang, but there was one around to pick it up. Eventually, the answering machine clicked on, just as it had the last hundred times over the past several days. The only difference was, this time the caller waited for the beep to leave a message.

“Hey, you've reached Becky, I'm not in right now,” the prerecorded message stated. “Just leave a message or try my cell, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Gracias.”

Beeeep.

“Hey, Becky... it's Rose. I know you haven't been around lately, and you haven't wanted to talk to me... but that's okay, I get it.” She sighed, pausing a moment before continuing. “Look, I... I'm sorry about everything, alright? I never wanted to betray you, or hurt you, or lie to you. I just... I screwed up. Maybe I should have told you about it sooner, or I should have just stopped altogether, I don't know... either way, I just want you to know that I'll always consider you a friend, no matter what else happens. Even if you never speak to me again, that's fine... but I want to thank you. For everything you did for me, just being my friend... thanks. That's not something I say to very many people, but you deserve it.”

Rose paused again, clearing her throat. “So... listen, I... I need to figure some things out for myself, try to get my life straight after I went and messed it up. I'm uh.... I'm leaving soon. Tomorrow, actually. Not really sure where yet, but I'll find out eventually. I... I could be gone for a while. Weeks, maybe months... don't really know. I've already gone and handed in my resignation at the station, so no worries there...”

Another pause.

“Sh*t what else am I supposed to say? I'm not very good at this kind of thing, you know. I just... again, I'm sorry. I just wish I got a chance to explain things to you face to face before I leave.”

Suddenly, a figure moved into the living room of the small apartment. Becky stood there calmly, then slowly began approaching the answering machine. She'd been listening to the whole thing, unsure if she wanted to pick up the phone and answer it. For a moment, her hand came forward, as if about to grab the phone, but then she paused. Eventually, she breathed out a small sigh, and pulled her hand back, bowing her head.

“So... yeah, goodbye, Becky. And take care, you hear me?”

A short moment later, the phone and answering machine clicked off. Letting out a small groan, Becky lifted a hand to her head and dropped herself into a chair. She just sat there staring at the wall, shaking her head. She wanted to answer that phone, but something inside her just wouldn't let her do it.

“Adiós, Rose... adiós.”

---

Rose took in a deep breath, staring up at the tall Wayne Tower building in front of her. Holly stood next to her, holding her hand lightly and also gazing up at the massive structure. They'd been standing there now for several minutes, as if hesitant to go inside.

“Well... this is the place,” Rose said.

Looking up at her, Holly pulled her hand back to make several signs. “Do I really have to stay here?”

A small sigh escaped Rose's lips, as she glanced down at the young girl. “I know you don't want to... If I could take you with me, I would, but I don't even know where I'm going yet.”

Can't you just stay?”

Swallowing a hard lump in her throat, Rose knelt down in front of her, at eye level now. She sucked in another deep breath and put her hands on Holly's shoulders.

“I... I want to,” she explained. “I do. But... my head is all over the place right now. After everything that happened with Becky, I don't really know what direction my life is going in right now. Kind of soon for me to be having a midlife crisis, but I guess you could call it that... Maybe I'm just stressed, I don't know, but apparently this mystery guy can help me, or something, so I'm going to give it a try. One thing to remember, though: I will come back. I promise you that.”

A small, sad look came over the girl's face, one of distant understanding. “How long will you be gone?”

“I don't know... I hope not that long, but it could be a few months. Maybe longer. If I'm not back by the end of the summer, though, my friend here will get you into Gotham Academy come September. It's a good school, really, you'll learn a lot.”

Holly pouted, bringing her hands up to sign again. “It won't be the same.”

“I'm sorry, Holly, I really am...” Rose said, bowing her head. “I promise I'll find a way to make it up to you alright?”

I guess so...”

Breathing outwardly, Rose stood up and held Holly's hand again, then began leading her inside the building. “Come on, let's go meet who you'll be staying with. They're good people, I promise.”

---

A short few minutes later, both Rose and Holly stood in the middle of the large penthouse. Dick, Damian, and even Alfred were all present and there to greet them.

“Good to see you again,” Dick said, briefly shaking Rose's hand. “I trust the trip here went alright?”

Rose shrugged. “About as alright as four and a half hours in a car can be. Nothing special.”

Turning to Holly, Dick took a knee, lowering himself down to her level and giving a friendly nod. “Good to see you again, too, Holly. Do you remember me at all? We met briefly a while back.”

Taking a few moments to study is face and contemplate, Holly eventually nodded and held out her hand for him to shake.

Dick smiled, straightening himself again and introducing the others. “This is Alfred. He's been a good friend to me for a long time.”

Coming forward, Alfred took a steady bow. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss... Holly, was it?”

Holly nodded in affirmation, eagerly shaking the older gentleman's hand.

“Can I get you anything to eat?” Alfred asked. “Or perhaps you'd like a drink? You must be famished after such a long car ride.”

That got her attention attention. Holly grinned, immediately going through a rapid series of hand signs.

Lifting an eyebrow, Alfred watched her hands carefully. “Oh dear, my sign language is a bit rusty... but I believe you said you wanted peanut butter and jelly? And a glass of milk.”

Holly nodded firmly, grinning wider.

“Very good,” Alfred said. “I shall prepare it for you at once.”

As Alfred headed into the kitchen to fix up a snack, Dick looked back at the other person in the room, who had thus far been standing off to the side quietly, arms crossed over his chest.

“Damian, you can say hi, you know,” Dick said.

“I could.”

“Holly, this is Damian.” Dick gestured toward the young boy. “He's my brother, through adoption.”

Holly stepped forward with a smile, signing off a greeting. Damian just sort of stared at her, brow furrowed in confusion.

“I have no idea what she just said,” Damian muttered, narrowing his eyes.. “What did she say?”

“She said that it's nice to meet you,” Rose informed, glaring sternly at him. “And you'll say the same, if you know what's good for you, twerp.”

Damian leaned a little closer to the girl, continuing to study her. Then, he brought a finger up and poked it against her forehead. “So why can't she talk? There isn't anything wrong with her, is there?”

Before anyone can answer his question, Holly's hand shot upward, grabbing his finger and twisting it around, while pushing forward. Instantly, Damian recoiled, desperately trying to yank her grip away from his finger.

“Ow, ow, ow!” he shouted. “What the hell?!” He finally managed to break free of the hold a second later, shaking his finger in pain. “Why didn't anyone tell me she could do that?!”

“Shouldn't have let your guard down,” Dick said, fighting to hold back a laugh.

Smirking a little, Rose raised a palm. “Just like I taught you.”

Holly grinned, giving her a vigorous high five.

“This isn't over...” Damian grumbled, glaring at Holly. He marched away from her, heading over to the couch and plopping himself down with his arms folded.

A few moments later, Alfred finished preparing the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, prompting Holly to go join him in the kitchen. Now alone with Dick in the middle of the apartment, Rose looked back at him and shifted her weight slightly.

“I should probably get going soon,” she said.

“No need to hurry,” he insisted. “You can stick around for a while, you know.”

“Yeah, I know...” Rose glanced back into the kitchen, giving Holly a long look. “But if I don't leave now, I might not be able to. My mind is a pretty fickle thing at the moment.”

Dick breathed outwardly, nodding. “Guess I can understand that.”

“So, this friend of yours I'm meeting,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “She really knows someone who can help me straighten my head out?”

“According to her, yeah. She was in a similar sort of situation a while back, and she had it even worse than you. But this guy helped her figure out her life. I'll bet he can do the same for you.”

“Well, here's hoping.”

“She'll be waiting for you at Gotham International,” he explained. “I've taken the liberty of preparing a private jet for you. Oh, and here, you'll be needing this.”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small blue booklet, handing it to her. Flipping it open, Rose saw a picture of herself, as well as a bunch of personal information.

“A passport?” she asked, giving him a curious look. “Where the hell are you sending me?”

“You'll see soon enough.”

“Right...” she said, flipping the passport closed. “It had better not be anywhere cold.”

The smirk that formed its way on Dick's face made her cringe. Fantastic. She hated the cold.

“Should probably say your goodbyes, then,” Dick said.

Rose bowed her head, sighing. “Yeah...”

Taking in a deep breath, she made her way into the kitchen, grabbing Holly's attention. At first, she couldn't bring herself to say anything, unsure if she can find the right words. For all she knew, this was the last time she'd see the girl for a long, long time.

It was Holly who broke the silence in her own way, by smiling and holding up a single hand sign, one that caused a hard lump to form in Rose's throat. Reaching out, she wrapped her arms around the girl in a warm embrace.

“I love you, too, Holly.”

---

Rose looked around the tarmac, holding an arm up in front of her face to block the bright sunlight from blinding her. It didn't help that it was about thirty degrees hotter on the sun soaked pavement than anywhere else. Dick couldn't have just had the jet hooked up to the terminal, no, he had be all secretive and force her out onto the tarmac to cook to death.

And then he's sending me somewhere cold. Damn it, Grayson, I hope you're having a good laugh over this.

Hoisting her large duffel bag higher on her shoulder, she marched forward, heading towards the large jet in the distance. By the time she reached it, sweat was pouring off her brow, her breaths heavy. Letting out a long breath, she climbed up the plane's lowered steps and emerged inside. The interior of the plane was completely decked out, looking more like an expensive apartment than anything else, and that air conditioning felt great.

“You must be Rose.”

Blinking a few times to let her eyes adjust to the dimmer interior, Rose glanced to her left to see a woman sitting there in a soft leather seat, holding a root beer.

“And you're... Renee, right?” she asked. “Renee... Montana or something.”

“Montoya. Drink?” Reaching over into the nearby mini-fridge, she pulled out a cold soda and held it up.

Lifting an eyebrow, Rose took the bottle and plopped herself down on the nearby seat. A padded, leather, oh so comfortable seat. “Don't mind if I do.”

“So,” Renee said, “I'm told that you're going through a tough time.”

“Uh... yeah, you could say that,” she replied. “Most of the good things in my life sort of went and collapsed around me.”

“And now you don't know what to do, who you are, or where you belong,” Renee affirmed.

“Something like that... I'm told that you went through something similar.”

Renee breathed out a low sigh, taking a sip of her soda. “That was a long time ago. But yes, I did.”

“And this mystery friend of yours can help?”

“If you let him.” Renee shifted in her seat, leaning closer. “He helped me figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and I've been on that path ever since. He was my teacher, in more ways than one.”

“Well, this teacher of yours, where's he live?” Rose asked, looking out the window curiously. “I mean, just where are we going?

“Ah-” Smirking slightly, Renee lifted her drink back to her lips. “-that's the question, isn't it?”

---

Somewhere in the mountains of Tibet...

Rose pulled the heavy jacket tighter around her. Normally, she could handle the cold just fine. Hell, she even knew a few breathing techniques to help regulate her body temperature. But this... this was a different kind of cold, the kind that could freeze over Hell. Then again, when you're in the middle of nowhere up in the Himalayan Mountains, that's probably to be expected.

Exhaling a shaky breath, she watched the frozen cloud of air escape her lips and then trudged through the snow, trying to keep pace with Renee. It wasn't that she was slower, no. She was just miserable. Had she mentioned that yet she hated the cold? And snow. She hated snow.

“Better hurry up, I'm pretty close to just leaving you behind,” Renee said, looking back over her shoulder.

“I'm c-c-coming,” she stuttered, barely able to speak through her near frozen lips. “H-hold your horses.”

It had to be somewhere cold. Damn you, Grayson. Just damn you.

Marching up the snowy embankment, Renee focused her eyes on the high tech GPS tracking device in her palm, carefully keeping track of where they were and where they were going. She had learned the hard way the last time she came here, you did not try to find this place without knowing where you were going. Pausing a moment, she looks around and then headed east.

“We almost there?” Rose asked, tripping over a thick snow drift. “I can't f-feel my t-t-toes.”

“If you don't have patience now,” Renee said, giving her a stern look, “then this is going to be a very long experience for you.”

“B-bite me.”

Their incessant trek through the snowy mountains of Tibet continued for another couple of hours. By that time, Rose was sure that her feet were frostbitten. They had to be, with how numb they were. The last time that she had been this cold and miserable, she spent five minutes holding her breath beneath a frozen pond. Now that had been an unpleasant experience.

Finally, the two turned the corner around a rocky outcropping, greeted by the sight of a large walled city tucked between two mountains. Immediately, Rose's eyebrows lifted, her demeanor suddenly changing somehow.

“This... is where your friend lives?” she asked, mouth agape.

“It is.”

“It's... I mean... wow.” Rose could barely formulate coherent thoughts just looking at this place. Something about it just seemed... calming. Peaceful. Awe inspiring.

Renee smirked, trudging through the snow to the front gates of the city. “Welcome to Nanda Parbat, Rose.”

Chapter 31

Nanda Parbat. It was a place of healing and enlightenment, according to Renee, watched over by the goddess Rama Kushna. The inhabitants were mostly comprised of monks in service of Rama Kushna, though there were other residents who had come seeking peace and tranquility. It was a very strange place, and yet very soothing at the same time. To Rose, it felt like a place where might actually be able to find clarity.

They spent the first hour after arrival getting situated in the city. The living quarters were small, nothing more than a single square room, and the furnishings were simple: a small bed, a desk, a few baskets, some kitchenware, and an old fashioned stove. There was no electricity, either, only candles. No television, no radio, no computers, no phones, no distractions.

Rose dropped her single duffel bag onto the bed and took a brief look around; not much to see. She did take a small respite, though, sitting at the desk and breathing in deeply.

I just hope coming all the way out here is worth it... It seems like a nice place and all, but that means squat if I still can't figure out what to do with myself.

Rose left the room a few minutes later, heading back outside. Though still wearing her heavy coat, she left it unzipped, and she could feel her toes again. Each breath she took emitted only a small, barely noticeable cloud now, instead of a huge white puff. It was still chilly, sure, but the frigid, biting cold outside the walls was long gone, as if Nanda Parbat existed in its own little world.

A moment later, Renee came around the corner of a small wooden hut and gave Rose a silent wave, motioning for her to follow. Rose obeyed, hurrying after the woman, but said nothing. Words seemed to have little meaning at the moment, and she already knew where they were going. It was time to meet the mystery man, Renee's teacher.

The two came to a small snowy field near the very back end of the city, behind a grouping of buildings and just beneath the shadow of a temple situated higher up on a rocky precipice. The space was completely empty, save for a single rock in the center of the field, on which a man dressed in nothing but a tight T-shirt and long pants sat cross legged with his eyes closed and fingers pressed together. He was an older man, maybe in his forties, but was in remarkable shape, with lean, hard muscle making up his body.

As the two approach, the man slowly opened his eyes. “It's good to see you again, Renee. How have you been?”

“About as good as I can be, Richard. It's good to see you, too.”

“Glad to hear it.” Richard jumped off the rock to his feet, giving Renee a firm handshake before turning to look at Rose. “Who's this?

Rose didn't know what it was, but something about the man's gaze twisted a knot in her stomach. It was like he could see into her soul or something. Just one look, and she felt like he knew everything about her.

“Don't stand there tongue tied,” Renee said, nudging Rose with her elbow. “Introduce yourself.”

“Oh, right,” she said, clearing her throat and extending her hand. “It's Rose. Rose Wilson.”

Richard gave her hand a long look before finally shaking it. “Richard Dragon. Tell me, why are you here, Rose?”

“Uh, well... I was told you could help me.”

“Help you how?”

Rose shifted her weight uneasily, arms crossing over her chest. “I was hoping you could tell me that.”

“You lack direction in your life, is that it?” Richard's eyes narrowed slightly, a hand coming up to his chin. His expression never faltered, hard and serious. “Or are you just running away because it's the easy thing to do?”

She paused a moment, staring back at him. “I just... can't figure out what to do with myself. I made some big screw ups with my life, and now... I don't know. I just have some problems I need to work out.”

“Everyone has problems,” he explained, “yet most of us are able to deal with them on our own. I can't make you understand what you're supposed to do, or who you're supposed to be. Only you can do that.”

“But-”

“However...” he said quickly, breathing out deeply. “I can help you find the path that will lead you to those answers. If you are willing to learn what I have to teach.”

“I wouldn't have come here if I wasn't,” she assured.

“I hope you mean that.”

“I guess we'll see, won't we?” She shifted her weight again, kicking a little fluff of snow up with her boot. “So when do we start?”

“Not now,” he said. “Take a while first, grow acclimated to the city. Learn the customs, the routine, ready your mind, and then come see me again. That is when we will start.”

Rose lifted an eyebrow, giving him a curious look. “Alright... and about how long should I spend doing that?”

“As long as it takes.”

“Okay...” she muttered. “In that case, I'll go get 'acclimated', then. I think I'll start with the local cuisine. Got anything to eat around here?”

“I'll have someone bring a bowl of rice to your quarters soon, if you want to wait there,” Richard stated.

She stared at him dumbly for a few moments, trying to process that information.

Rice? A bowl of rice? I can't survive on rice! Is he serious?

One look, however, told her that he was quite serious. Apparently, the people of Nanda Parbat didn't eat that much.

“Fine, I'll be in my room,” she grumbled, turning away and marching back to her living quarters. This trip was starting out just dandy.

Richard folded his arms, watching as Rose disappeared around the corner of a building. “I sense she will be a stubborn one.”

“Yeah, I got that vibe, too,” Renee said, with a small smirk. “Try spending fourteen hours in a plane with her.”

“It doesn't make a difference, though,” he assured, giving her a sidelong glance. “I've handled worse before.”

“I wasn't that bad.”

“Weren't you?”

She paused, lifting an eyebrow at him. “Alright, I was pretty bad. But not your worst.”

“True.” Richard hopped back up onto the rock, crossing his legs again. “That prize goes to Charlie.”

---

Later that night, Rose took a long walk throughout the city, just trying to get a feel for the place. She had no idea on how to know when she was 'acclimated 'to Nanda Parbat, but she supposed she'd figure it out eventually. Richard was one weird guy, in her mind, but he should know what he was talking about. At least, she hoped he did. She could do without philosophical-like speech, but whatever, she couldn't change it.

Hugging her coat tighter around herself, Rose let out a deep breath and looked up to the sky. A light snow had begun to fall, the wispy flakes fluttering down calmly in the windless air. At night, the city streets were lit with paper lanterns, casting long flickering shadows. Her own shadow seemed to dance in the pale light, as she walked down the street with her hands stuffed her pockets, footsteps crunching over the snow.

One thing specifically absent from the streets right now, though, was the people. Every now and then she'd pass someone going about their business, but for the most part the place felt deserted. It wasn't even that particularly late, either, and yet once the sun had gone down, most of Nanda Parbat seemed to shut down. Turning the corner of one street, however, she noticed Renee sitting on a nearby bench, sipping from a thermos.

“That seat taken?” she asked, stopping in front of the bench.

Renee motioned o the empty space next to her. “Be my guest.”

Letting out a small sigh, Rose sat herself next to Renee on the bench. Leaning backward, she lifted her hands up and held them behind her head, gazing up at the falling snowflakes.

“So, regretting coming here, yet?” Renee asked.

“Uh, well no...” Rose said. “I mean, should I?”

“It's not for everyone, believe me.” Renee lifted her thermos up to her lips, taking a long sip from the steaming liquid within. “When I first arrived, I didn't know what I was doing or why I was here. I just wanted to leave.”

“But you didn't?”

“I couldn't,” she explained. “I owed too much to the friend who brought me here to just turn my back. So yeah, I stayed.”

Rose folded her arms across her chest, breathing outwardly. “And it worked out, huh?”

“I figured out what I needed to do to put my life in order, if that's what you mean. I'm sure Richard can do the same for you.”

“That remains to be seen...” she muttered. “So where's that friend of yours now, anyway, the one who brought you here?”

“Gone.” Bringing her thermos back up to her lips, Renee took a small sip.

“Oh,” Rose said, quietly. She sank back against the bench and uttered another heavy sigh. “Sorry.”

Stupid question.

After a brief moment of silence, Rose leaned forward, elbows on her knees, and asked, “So, uh... how long did it take you? To complete your... learning or whatever here, I mean.”

“Months, years maybe,” Renee said. “Hard to say.”

Looking up suddenly, Rose's eye went wide in surprise. She had been expecting to be gone a little while, but years? “Seriously? That long?”

“Don't worry too much about it,” Renee explained. “Time passes... differently, here in Nanda Parbat. Days, weeks, months, they don't matter. Pretty soon, they'll all start to blend into each other and you won't be able to tell the difference. You might spend half a lifetime within these walls, while only a fraction of that time will pass beyond them.”

“So you're telling me that this city is in... some kind of time bubble?”

Renee shrugged. “I couldn't tell you how it works; don't really understand it myself. All I know is that I spent a long time in here learning, training, finding myself... and when I returned to the outside world, it was like I'd never left.”

“I see...” she muttered.

It's like the freaking Twilight Zone in here...

Puffing out a heavy breath of air, Rose stood up from her seat. “Anyway, nice chat, but I should get going. Gotta work on getting 'acclimated' to this place, after all.”

“You'll get used to it eventually,” Renee said. “Took me two weeks before I finally understood what I needed to.”

“Right... thanks for encouragement.” She gave a little wave, then moved farther down the street. “See ya around.”

---

It was a rainy day in Silverstone. Hot, too. The kind of rainy day that caused a sudden kick in the humidity once the sun came out again. Officer Rebecca Chavez sucked in a deep breath of that musty air and wiped some of the water from her brow. She gazed down at the dead body in front of her, a man lying face down in a puddle wearing nothing but his boxers. The cause of death was obvious enough. Judging from the massive bruising and the odd angle of his head, his neck had been snapped. Of course, the medical examiner would have to confirm that later.

She didn't touch anything, of course, or tamper with the scene in any way. Couldn't go making life difficult for the crime scene investigator. Instead, she just stood there, looking at the corpse. It had been pure chance that she stumbled upon it, noticing the body behind a few trash bags as drove by on patrol. She had put out the call out immediately, and now waited patiently for the team to get here.

A large white and blue van pulled up just a few minutes later, followed by another couple of squad cars and an unmarked vehicle; the forensics team, more patrol officers, and the detectives assigned to the case, most likely. Becky moved away from the scene, ducking back out of the barricade tape she had set up in front of the alley. Two men in suits were already there to greet her.

“Officer Chavez,” one of them spoke. He looked to be in his mid thirties, face framed by a scruffy beard. “I'm Detective Kubrick, this is Detective Riggs.”

Becky glanced at the other man, a younger guy with short blonde hair and a stolid expression. “Right, yeah. I think I've seen you two around the station before.”

“I understand you're the one who found the body?” Kubrick said, pulling out a small notepad from his front pocket.

“Si, just a little while ago,” she explained. “Followed standard procedure; secured the area, called it in. No witnesses in the immediate vicinity to take statements from.”

“And tell us again how you found the body.”

“Was just driving past on patrol, like normal. Happened to look over and there he was, face down and dead.”

Kubrick paused a moment, scribbling out a brief note on his pad. “And was there anything unusual about the scene?”

Becky lifted an eyebrow. “You mean aside from the dead guy in his underwear? Nothing I can think of, no.”

“Alright, in that case why don't you help us canvass the area, interview some of the people in the neighboring buildings, see if they saw anything?” Kubrick glanced back over his shoulder briefly, waving the forensics team through. “Give us any statements you get, then you can head back to the precinct and fill out a report.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said, nodding. “I'll get right on it.”

The two detectives returned the nod, then moved past her to the crime scene itself. Becky watched them for a couple moments, eyes narrowing. Something about that conversation just felt... weird. But she couldn't put her finger on why.

Qué mierda, calm down, girl. You're just paranoid. Take a deep breath, settle your nerves, and do your job.

As she made her way back to her squad car to get her notepad, however, Detective Riggs, the silent of the pair, looked over his shoulder briefly to give her a hard look. By the time she turned around again, his attention was elsewhere.

---

Becky let out a long yawn, leaning back in the desk chair and stretching out her arms. Exhaustion was starting to set in, but then that's what she got for working another double shift. Seemed like all she had been doing lately was working, ever since Rose left a week ago. But the work helped take her mind off other things that she'd rather not be thinking about. Like Rose.

And yet you're still thinking about her, estúpida. Get over it.

Releasing a long sigh, she rubbed her eyes and finished filling out the last of her report. That was one of the few things she hated about being a cop, the paperwork. They never quite covered just how much of it there would be at the academy. And with double shifts came double the paperwork, naturally. She just hoped that some of this would be useful, especially her report on the John Doe from earlier.

The statements she had taken from some of the people in the buildings next to the alley were... interesting. Some didn't see or hear anything, others thought they heard screaming, and others still claimed they saw some guy dressed in all back leaving the alley. Yet none of them bothered to notice the half naked man lying face down in a puddle.

“Weird...” she muttered, breathing out another long yawn.

Whatever the case, she was about ready to head home and get some damn sleep. She had to be up in about five hours to do it all again tomorrow. Grabbing her jacket, she gave a wave to the couple of other officers sitting around the station and made her way through thee exit.

Another long yawn brushed past her lips as she walked along the sidewalk. Her apartment was just a couple of blocks away, well within walking distance. Helped save a good bit on gas money, at least. Shoving her hands into her pockets, she kept her gaze pointed down and tried not to nod off in mid walk. Maybe she should take a day off soon and just take a nice twelve hour nap. That might do her some good.

Turning down the corner of the street, she didn't notice the shadow following her. The figure peered around the edge of an alleyway, watching Becky near her apartment. Several moments went by, and then the figure scaled the adjacent building in an astounding display of acrobatic prowess. Within moments, the figure was gone.

---

Becky glanced at the clock. Two thirty in the morning. Well, it was about what time she figured she'd get home, give or take a few minutes. Just another late night in the world of Rebecca Chavez. It wasn't going to be easy to get to sleep, though, not when it was this muggy. All she had to keep cool was a small little table fan, and short of sleeping in the buff, she couldn't really do anything else. She'd manage to fall asleep by four, if she was lucky.

Turning the light on in her bathroom, she took a few moments to brush her teeth and wash up, then tiredly walked back into her bedroom. She yawned again, quickly stripping down to her underwear and collapsing on top of her mattress, eyes closed. She was already starting to sweat.

Dios mio, I hate the summer...

That's when she heard it. The sound was very slight, but she knew it well. One of the floorboards in the kitchen was a little loose, not by much, but just enough to creak ever so slightly when someone stepped on it. The fact that it was creaking now had her suddenly wide awake and scrambling to her feet. Whoever else was in her apartment apparently realized that the creaky floorboard just gave away the element of surprise, because suddenly she heard harder footsteps racing across her apartment.

Becky lunged for her bedside table, pulling the drawer open and grabbing for the small handgun within. By the time she turned around, the figure was almost upon her, so fast. She got off two shots before the dark mass hit her, a hot sting burning across her arm.

The two tumbled to the floor hard, knocking over the end table and lamp. For a moment, Becky just lied there, grunting at the combination of the pain and the weight upon her. Eventually, she pushed the person off her and rolled away, clutching at the bleeding wound near her elbow.

“Qué diablos?” she uttered, getting a good look at the intruder for the first time.

Clearly female, judging from the smaller frame and the ponytail sticking out from beneath the head mask. And the breasts, of course. But the woman was dressed up the same as those strange men that she and Rose had encountered a couple weeks ago at the warehouse, like some kind of ninja. Reaching forward, Becky flipped the woman over with her good arm and then sighed, hanging her head.

Well, she's not getting up any time soon. Jueputa.

Two bullet wounds bled freely dead center in the woman's chest, her eyes wide open and staring blankly forward. Her cold grip held a long knife, the one used to slash open Becky's arm. After taking a brief moment to wrap up her wound, Becky sat on the edge of her bed and grabbed the phone. She wouldn't be getting much sleep tonight after all.

Chapter #32

Three weeks. It took three weeks before Richard Dragon began training Rose. At least, she thought it was three weeks. Just as Renee had said, time didn't have much meaning in Nanda Parbat. Minutes flowed into hours, hours flowed into days, days flowed into weeks, all in the blink of an eye. Trying to keep track of how much time had passed was utterly pointless.

Rose uttered a pained grunt, tumbling backwards and crashing to the floor. Holding a hand to her cheek, she sat up and glared at her new teacher, already starting to wonder just what she was supposed to be learning here, other than getting her ass kicked.

Richard stared back at her, not offering a hand to help her up, just waiting for her to make a move. In a quick motion, she flipped up to her feet and lunged in with a vicious kick. He caught her kick with little effort, then twisted it away and delivered a hard palm strike to the chest that sent her stumbling backwards again.

“You're starting to get wild, sloppy,” Richard said. “Giving in to your anger and your frustration.”

“It's not my frustration making me sloppy,” she grumbled, straightening herself. “I have no depth perception right now. You try fighting with one eye and nothing to compensate for it.”

She was really beginning to hate this temple, where Richard had been training her. According to him, it was protected by Rama Kushna, who disallowed all outside powers, abilities, strengths, or whatever. Within these walls, all those who entered were on equal ground, unpowered. That meant her enhanced strength, agility, reflexes, speed, even her precog, it was all gone in here. She had only her skill and her body. That also meant she had nothing to compensate for her missing eye.

Before, her precog and reflexes more than made up for her blind side, but now... now it was like she was missing a part of herself. She couldn’t tell what coming from her left side and her depth perception was shot. She might as well fight while crippled. That matter wasn't helped at all by the fact that Dragon was good, real good. Like, Lady Shiva good. Maybe better, though it was really difficult to tell with her current handicaps.

“You rely too much on your enhancements, and not enough on your skill,” Richard stated. “What happens when those meta abilities of yours are a non-factor, such as now? Then what to you do?”

“I get my ass handed to me, clearly,” she muttered, taking in a deep breath. “This is stupid, I didn't come here for you to beat the crap out of me, I came here to learn.”

“And I am teaching. If you could look past your clouded mind, you might be able to see the lesson.”

Rose narrowed her gaze. “What lesson is that, huh? That I'm next to useless without my enhanced attributes?”

“You must figure it out on your own,” he said, shaking his head. “Until then, we continue. Come at me again, and this time actually try to hit me.”

---

Walking slowly down the long set of stone steps leading down from the temple, Rose clutched a hand to her side and groaned, a rather noticeable limp in her stride. Some lesson. All she had learned was that she barely passed as a fighter when her enhancements were taken away. Fortunately, she didn't ever really ever have to worry about her enhancements suddenly disappearing. She was already back to normal now, outside of the temple, and damn did it feel good.

Of course, the bruises weren't just going to suddenly disappear. Those were still there, and they still hurt. At the very least, they'd be mostly gone by tomorrow, now that she had her enhanced metabolism back. The question remained, though: what exactly was she supposed to do now? It wasn't that late in the afternoon, and Richard already concluded their training for the day, saying that she needed to contemplate the lesson more, instead of looking past it.

Right, because that'll happen.

Upon reaching the bottom of the long steps, she noticed someone already waiting for her. Renee stood in front of a nearby building, arms crossed and watching her approach.

Rose paused, giving the woman a long look. “What?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Just thinking.”

“What about?”

“How hard Richard must have kicked you to cause a limp like that.”

Narrowing her gaze, Rose stood straighter, trying not to favor her leg. “Don't know what you're talking about.”

“Of course you don't.” Renee pushed herself away from the building and waved for her to follow. “Now, come with me. Your lessons aren't over today.”

“Wait, so you're going to teach me something too now?” Rose said, following the woman through the city.

“Good question. Am I?”

“You're not making sense...”

“I mean,” Renee clarified, “are you willing to learn?”

Rose frowned. “Oh, that again... Let's just get on with this.”

---

Rose glanced around at the shimmering, reflective walls of the cave, all coated in a thick sheet of ice. The ice had been smoothed over, too, making them appear as mirrors. Everywhere she looked, she saw her reflection staring back at her. She wasn't sure she liked it. A circle of candles were set up in the center of the chamber, quite a ways from the entrance of the cave, adding to the almost surreal atmosphere.

“This place is... weird,” Rose muttered.

“That's one way of putting it. Come here, sit.”

Renee had already lowered herself to the cold floor of the cave, sitting cross-legged in the center of the candle ring. In front of her was an empty space just large enough for Rose to sit down in the same manner.

Rose crossed her legs, leaning back on her hands. “Alright, so what the hell are we doing here?”

“Here is will you will look into yourself and learn what you want most,” she explained. “That lack of direction you feel? That sense of doubt? This is where you find the source, eventually.”

“Looking into myself...” Rose huffed out a short breath, gazing up at the reflective walls. “So all the mirrors are supposed to be a metaphor? Real cute. But if this is where I'm supposed to figure out the problem, then what's Richard teaching me?”

Renee smirked. “And that's the question.”

Narrowing her gaze, Rose folded her arms over her chest and breathed out an annoyed sigh. She was starting to get a little tired of these ambiguous answers. Why couldn't these people just tell her what she needed to know and let that be the end of it?

“Okay, so how am I supposed to do this then?” she asked.

Renee straightened her posture, hands coming to rest on her knees. “Have you ever meditated before? I don't mean deeply contemplating a problem, I mean true meditation: retreating into your mind to gain a real understanding of yourself. One of the many things I learned while I was here.”

“Meditation... right.” Rose frowned, not liking where this was going. “Tried it, didn't like it. Not my thing.”

“Well, now you're going to make it your thing, because that's what we're doing here.”

“Swell...”

---

Becky quickly sifted through the long cabinet of folders, her eyes scanning the case titles. She heard a sudden noise near the door and looked over to it, but no one was there. Uttering a breath of relief, she turned back to the drawer to find what she was looking for. Finally, she spotted the proper folder and removed it from the cabinet. Then, she stuffed it into an empty folder of her own, closed the drawer, and hurried out of the file room.

She really shouldn't be doing this. She wasn't a detective, she was a patrol officer. This wasn't her case. And yet... too many weird things had been happening lately for her to ignore it. Ever since she had been attacked in her apartment last week, things around the station had been off. She couldn't tell exactly what it was, just that it was... off.

The dead body in the alleyway she had discovered was the body of one Francis Baldoni, suspected family crime boss. While no one would judge that as weird on its own, a Jane Doe surfaced a few days later. Emilia Marconi, another suspected family crime boss. The day after that, it was the body of Colum O'Malley, believed to be the head of the Irish Mafia in Silverstone.

Aside from the simple fact that highly watched, suspected heads of organized crime families were starting to show up dead all over the city, there were the inconsistencies in the investigation to take into consideration. No leads, no forensic evidence, nothing to give them a hint at who the killer was. Or killers. It didn't make any sense. There was always evidence left behind, that much she knew, especially considering the poor methods in which the bodies were dumped and handled. Whoever had killed them didn't bother to cover up their tracks, and yet the crime scene units never found any evidence at all? No, she wouldn't believe that.

And then, there were the detectives in charge of the investigation, Detectives Kubrick and Riggs. Something about those two men... she couldn't place it, but something about them felt wrong. Call it a woman's intuition, but she got a bad vibe from them. The way they had handled themselves at the crime scenes hadn't been what Becky had come to expect from detectives, at least not the ones she'd dealt with in the past. Whatever was going on, she intended to find out.

Sitting down at one of the empty desks, Becky placed the folder down in front of her and slowly opened it. The first couple pages were just basic background information on the case, nothing interesting. The details were what she wanted. Taking in a cool breath, she flipped the pages over, getting into the meat of the case file. And when she did... she froze, glaring in confusion. At first, she thought it was a mistake, so she went onto the next page. And then the next one. And the next.

Qué diablos? They're all blank!

Now she was convinced. Something was very, very wrong. Closing the folder again, Becky stood up and looked around. She spotted a few of her fellow officers in the immediate vicinity, going about their business. Nothing out of the ordinary... But had someone been tampering with the case files? Could it be just an honest mistake, or was something more sinister going on here? Could she even trust to bring this information to anyone?

Calm down, girl, calm down. Take a breath.

The Chief. She could bring it to the Chief. If there was anyone in this station she could trust, it was him. Hurrying quickly down the hallway, she made her way for the Chief of Police's office. Before she got there, however, a voice stopped her.

“Hey, Rebecca!” Officer Stevens called out.

A small groan escaped her lips. She could have gone without running into him right now. Or at all. Turning around, she breathed outwardly and tried to remain as calm as possible.

“Uh, hey look, I'd love to talk right now and all,” she said, attempting to brush off the conversation, “but I'm kind of in a hurry, so-”

“Ah come on, no need to be in a rush,” Stevens said. “I just wanted to ask you a quick question.”

“Alright... and what would that be?”

Folding his arms across his chest, he gave her a friendly smile and said, “Well, I was thinking, we're both single, we know each other pretty well, so why don't we go out some time? We can grab some dinner later.”

It was times like this that Becky wished she had already come out. It would save her the trouble of having to deal with frustratingly annoying men like Stevens.

“Sorry, really, but I'm pretty busy later,” she insisted, trying to break away from him. “Uh... rain check?”

“Man, what is it with you women and rain checks, huh?” Stevens muttered, hands coming to hips.

“Couldn't tell you. Now, I really have to get going...”

“Alright, just one more thing.”

A small sigh left her throat. “Yes?”

“See, we've been watching you for a while now, Rebecca,” he explained. “We know what you're doing.”

A small twinge of nervousness suddenly rippled through her. She stiffened, taking a slight step back and glaring at the man. “Come again?”

“You're getting too close, Rebecca, and we can't have that.” He reached down to his belt, hand going for his gun. “So I'm afraid I have to say goodbye.”

Becky almost didn't react in time, but once she saw his arm coming up to point the weapon at her, she snapped out her own hand to grab his wrist, pushing it away. The gun went off, bullet ripping into a nearby desk, as Becky turned to the side and brought her knee up into the man's gut, doubling him over. With one swift motion, she pulled the taser off her belt, clicked the button, and jabbed the prongs into his chest. He dropped to the floor instantly, flopping around and twitching like a dead fish.

By this time, the other officers and personnel in the building were springing into action to figure out who had just discharged their firearm in the damn station. Rebecca took another step back, lifting a hand to her head and brushing her fingers through her long brown hair. Her heart was beating a hundred times a minute, it felt like. As she leaned back against the desk behind her, trying to steady her breath, she swallowed and gazed down at the unconscious Stevens.

He... he just tried to kill me! Why? And what was he talking about? They're watching me? Who's watching me? Jueputa, what the hell is going on?!

---

Silence. That's all Rose heard. In this cave, all sounds from the outside world seemed to vanish, separating it into its own, quiet void. And yet, it didn't help her concentrate. Though Renee had spent the better part of the last three hours trying to teach her the finer points of meditation, she just could seem to 'get in touch' with herself. Grumbling, Rose opened her eye and stared at the large reflective ice wall in front of her. She didn't like her reflection right now. It was her face, yes, but beyond the appearance, she didn't know anything else.

Who was she really? What was she supposed to be doing? Where did she belong? These were the questions she had come here to get answered, and yet she was no closer to figuring them out than when she arrived. She was now beginning to doubt that she ever would. Maybe coming here really was a mistake.

Leaning back on her hands, she exhaled a long breath and uncrossed her legs. Nope, definitely not feeling it. How the hell is this supposed to solve my problems?

Finally, Rose stood up from her spot on the icy ground and marched back out the tunnel to the entrance, using an oil lantern to light her way. When she returned outside, she looked up at the night sky, watching the bright full moon for a few moments as it floated high above her head. Apparently, she had been in there a lot longer than she thought. Again with the whole time warp thing; it was really starting to creep her out.

“So, make any progress?”

Glancing to her left, Rose noticed Renee standing there, leaning back against the rocky wall and sipping hot tea from her thermos. “Depends. Is no progress still progress?”

“You'll get it eventually,” Renee assured. “Just takes time.”

“Somehow, I'm not so sure.” As the two begin to walk down the trail back to the main part of the city again, Rose folded her arms and let out a heavy breath. “I just... I keep asking myself those questions. Who am I? What am I supposed to do? Over and over again... and I come up with nothing. I don't think this place is helping much, either.”

“As an old friend of mine would have said, those are the wrong questions to be asking yourself.”

Rose frowned. “Of course they are... Then what's the right question?”

Renee took another another sip from her thermos, giving Rose a cursory glance. “Who do you want to be?

“How is that any different?” Rose asked, narrowing her gaze.

“You'll figure it out. Eventually.”

Releasing a frustrated sigh, Rose lowered her hands to her hips and stared at the ground. “Well at least one of us has confidence.”

Renee paused a moment, then turned back to Rose with a contemplative look. “Let me ask you something, do you have anyone special back home? Anyone you regret leaving behind?”

“And what's that have to do with anything?”

“Call me curious.”

Rose hesitated a response, giving Renee a sidelong glance before finally shrugging her shoulders. “Yeah. I mean, maybe. Kind of. I don't know.”

“Sounds like it's pretty complicated,” Renee said, taking another sip of tea.

“It is. I think. I just... ugh.” Rose held a head to her forehead, puffing out a harsh breath. “It's hard to explain. I mean, she was probably the closest friend I had. Ever had. And we'd only known each other for like half a year, but hell, she was a fun one, you know? She added a whole new dimension to to my life.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Renee slowly curled her lips into a knowing smirk. “Just friends, huh?”

“I don't kn- well yeah. Sort of. I mean, she...” Rose stammered, fumbling over her words. “I didn't actually know she thought more of me, not until she made a move... and god, that was awkward.”

“And you didn't feel the same way?”

“No. I mean... not at first,” she said, staring down at the snowy ground. “I don't think. We were close, yeah, but I'm not... I mean, I've never been into women. But she... look, it's complicated. Why are we even talking about this?”

“Like I said, I'm curious.” Renee finished off the last of her tea, then closed the cap to her thermos. “So what happened between you two, anyway? Something tells me you wouldn't be here if things were still good.”

Rose scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Oh, you know. She just found out that I'd been lying to her during the entire time I'd known her. When she found out my other identity... it wasn't pretty. She wouldn't even talk to me after that. I wanted to try and explain things better, but it's hard to do that when the other person shuts you out completely.”

“Sounds like you miss her.”

“So what if I do?”

Renee smiled, turning from Rose and leading her back through the city. “Then I'd say you're already a little closer to answering the question.”

Chapter #33

“Good!” Richard exclaimed, taking a step back and countering with a high kick. “Again!”

Rose ducked below the attack, sweeping her leg around behind his knee and catching him off balance. It was almost too easy, how naturally the flow of battle came to her now, more so than every before. Her actions were reflexive, instant, with newfound muscle memory the likes of which she had never even imagined. The training that she had gone through under Richard's tutelage had taken the potential that Shiva saw in her and not just nurtured it, but brought it out full force.

“Is that all you got?” Rose said, giving her mentor a mocking smirk.

Richard came in at her with a powerful series of blows. His actions were hard, precise, and blindingly fast. But Rose saw them coming, and not because of her precog or enhanced reflexes. No, it was her skill that matched him, deflected his punches, blocked his kicks. Even with her missing eye, blind side and lack of depth perception all, she went toe to toe with Richard freakin' Dragon.

How long had she been here now? Months? Years? Rose couldn't tell. Time had even less meaning now than it had before, and that was saying something. All she knew was that it had been a long time, much longer than she had intended to stay. And yet... she knew she wasn't done. She was getting there, yes, but she still hadn't quite figured out everything she needed to figure out.

Rose grunted, as one of Richard's kicks caromed off her jaw. She stumbled backwards, sliding across the floor of the temple briefly before flipping back to her feet. “Okay... I should have had that one.”

“You over extended during your last attack,” Richard said. “It threw you off balance just enough for me to land a blow at your blind side.

Rose breathed hard, wiping a small trickle of blood from the cut on her lip. “Right, I'll keep that in mind. Let's keep going.”

“No, I think that's enough for now,” he stated, lowering his guard and bowing to her. He then extended a hand. “You've come a long way.”

Reaching forward to shake his hand, Rose chuckled. “You're telling me.”

“So, my lesson.” Richard pulled his hand back, folding his arms. “Have you figured it out, yet?”

“I think so...” she said, holding her hands to her hips. She bowed her head, sucking in a deep breath. “I've doubted myself for the longest time... maybe not on the outside, but deep down. No matter how much good I did or how far my life progressed, I always felt like... like I didn't deserve it. Or that I was going to screw it all up again.”

Richard lifted an eyebrow. “And?”

“And...” she continued, “that little incident with Becky brought out all that self-doubt to the surface. It had me so unsure of myself that my entire life's purpose folded around me. I was lost.” She paused, tilting her head slightly and sighing. “I'd been relying on the people and material things in my life to define me as a person, just the same as I relied on my enhanced abilities as a crutch in battle. When life kicked one of those crutches out from beneath me, I toppled, like a house of cards.”

“That is part of it,” Richard said. “But what have learned from that?”

“That it's time I started trusting myself,” Rose replied. “Time I figured out exactly who I am, exactly who I want to be, so that I can figure out how to live my life without worry, without doubt.”

A small smirk curled its way onto Richard's face. “And have you figured that out yet?”

Rose shrugged, shaking her head. “Not yet... that's what Renee's meditation lessons are supposed to be helping me, with right? I mean... I'm almost there, I think. I just... haven't quite grasped it yet.”

“You'll figure it out soon,” Richard said, holding a hand to her shoulder. “You've been here long enough.”

“Yeah, about that, how long have I been here?” she asked.

Richard paused, turning to a nearby window in the temple and looking out into the mountains beyond. “On the outside world, it's been a month and half, give or take a week.” He then glanced back at her, gaze narrowing. “But in here, it has been about the equivalent of three years.”

Rose's eye widened, eyebrows lifting in surprise. “Uh... wow. Doesn't feel like it's been that long.”

“As Renee told you,” Richard said. “Time has little meaning in Nanda Parbat.”

---

“So, you think today is the day?” Renee asked, giving Rose a curious look.

Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the ice cave, Rose glanced up at her. “I don't know... hope so. I mean, I'm ready, anyway. Really ready.”

“That's good.” Renee smiled, heading towards the exit. “Just need to concentrate. It'll come to you.”

“Hey, Renee?”

“Yeah?”

Rose paused a second, scratching her cheek and looking towards the floor. “I, uh... thanks. For bringing me here, I mean. And... well, for listening to me. You've been a good friend.”

Renee smiled, nodding affirmatively. “You're welcome, Rose. Now, figure your life.”

“You got it,” she said, closing her eye and sucking in a deep breath.

For the next three hours, she sat there motionless. Her mind cleared, breathing steadied, heart rate slowed... It felt completely normal, no different than her other meditation sessions. She wanted so badly to figure out who she was, who she wanted to be, yet she still couldn't get there.

Come on, come one... Concentrate, Rose.

And then it happened, without warning. It felt like her precog, and yet it was something so very different... so very more. It wasn't just a bunch of images flashing through her head this time, no. Her entire consciousness left her body, went elsewhere... or rather elsewhen. She was seeing the future still, of that she was sure, but not just a few seconds or even minutes later. Instead, she was seeing... well, she didn't really know how far, just that it had yet to happen.

Rose opened her eye and looked around, expecting to see the cave. But she didn't; she wasn't in the cave anymore. She didn't really know where she was... some kind of storage shed maybe. She saw a few tools lying around haphazardly, some old boxes, a broom... and blood? She blinked a few times, trying to focus. Everything appeared washed out and hazy, like some kind of old movie.

Getting to her feet, Rose moved forward and inspected a large dark blotch on the floorboards. It was fresh, still wet. Definitely blood. A sharp cry suddenly drew her attention, coming from beyond a door on the opposite wall. She cautiously moved towards it, easing the door open and peering inside.

The square room was mostly empty, with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. In the center of the room were two people, a man and a woman. The woman sat on a chair, bound tightly to it with thick rope, and a handkerchief gagging her mouth. Her head hung forward, stringy hair veiling her face.

The man paced around the chair, a steel pipe in hand. For a few moments, he rested the pipe on his shoulder, just tapping it against himself. Then, abruptly, he turned and swung the pipe, beating it across the woman's shoulder and eliciting a muffled scream of pain.

Rose flew into action, lunging forward at the man. “B**tard!”

But she went right through him, stumbling to the floor as her momentum carried her forward. Right, this wasn't real... it was just a vision. Not a brief flicker of precog, but a full blown vision of the future. But a vision of what?

“Should have just left well enough alone,” the man said, shaking his head. “You'd think after the first couple of times we tried to stop you, you'd get the message. But no, you just had to keep digging.”

He took another swing, this time cracking the pipe across the woman's arm. She screamed again, her strained voice muffled behind the gag.

“Who else did you tell about us, huh?” he asked. “Who else knows?!”

An uppercut swing this time. The tip of the pipe caromed off the woman's jaw, sending her and the chair flying backwards and crashing to the floor. She barely moved, taking in deep breaths and sobbing lightly. And that's when Rose saw the woman's face. Instantly, Rose's heart seized up, body going numb.

“Rebecca-” she uttered, voice knotting in her throat.

Just as the man began moving in again to make another attack, everything around her began to flicker out of existence and fade away. Her consciousness returned to her, and suddenly she was back in the ice cave again. Releasing a panicked breath, she snapped her eye open, multiple reflections of her face staring back at her in the mirrored walls. Only, this time it wasn't just her face that she saw there. This time, there was another face beside hers, a very familiar face... and right then, she realized something.

She had finally answered her question.

But that wasn't any cause for celebration. Her precog was never wrong, and with something as extensive as she had just seen... Lurching from her spot on the ground, she took off down the tunnel, racing back towards the mouth of the cave. She had to find Renee, had to get out of Nanda Parbat.

I have to get back to Silverstone. Now!

---

Twenty-eight hours later...

A steady rain fell from the night sky, soaking the quiet back street of Silverstone. A taxi cab pulled up outside the small apartment building, allowing its passenger to get out. Rose quickly handed over money for the fare, then pushed the door open and practically sprinted up to the front door. Of course, it had to be locked.

“Come on!” she shouted, desperately throwing herself against the frame.

In her current state, it took her a few moments to remember that she had to press the buzzer for the proper apartment and request to be let in, since she wasn't a resident there. Allowing a moment to calm herself, she sucked in a deep breath and pressed to button.

“Rebecca? Are you there? Becky? It's... it's me. It's Rose. I... listen, are you there? I want to talk... I need to talk to you.”

Come on, be there... please be there.

But she received no response. She buzzed in again, but ten minutes later and there was still no sign of Becky. In frustration, she gave the door a solid kick. To her surprise, the sturdy door remained shut, unyielding to her vicious blow.

“Sh*t!” she uttered, wiping rainwater from her eyes.

Was she too late? She couldn't be too late... She couldn't lose Becky like this, not because she was halfway across the world, too busy running away from her problems again. Groaning out another angry breath, she bowed her head, trying to think. Maybe Becky was just out right now, maybe she was working. Maybe she was-

“Rose?”

Spinning around, Rose saw Becky standing there, wearing a long raincoat and holding an umbrella. The woman blinked a couple of times in confusion, wondering what on earth Rose, who had up and left a month and a half ago, was doing now in front of her apartment building.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Rose came forward and threw her arms around Becky. “You're alright...”

“Uh... I'm fine,” she replied, her brow crossing. “What are you doing here, Rose?”

“I... needed to talk to you.”

Becky's eyes narrowed, giving a hard look. “So talk.”

Taking a step backwards, Rose swallowed a lump in her throat and breathed in deeply. “Okay, look... I know when I left before, things between us weren't... good.”

“You lied to me, betrayed my trust, and had been acting as a criminal on a nightly basis. 'Not good' is a bit of an understatement.”

“I know. You're right. And not just about that... about everything.” Rose bowed her head, brushing back a strand of wet hair out of her face. “I lied to you. I betrayed you. I hurt you. But damn it, I never meant to. I never wanted to.”

“Well, it's a little late to change that, isn't it?” she countered.

Rose closed her eye, lifting a hand to her forehead. “Maybe... but I want to explain things first. Everything. I lied to you before, about who I was, what I do... a lot. So now I'm gonna be completely honest. Who I am, where I come from, what I've done, everything. No matter how you feel about me now, I don't want to keep these secrets from you anymore.”

For a long moment, Becky didn't respond. She took in a slow breath through her nose, just staring back at Rose and softening her eyes a little. Eventually, though, she pushed past Rose, heading to the apartment entrance and unlocking it to walk inside. Clenching her jaw, Rose bowed her head, staring at the ground.

But Rebecca didn't close the door behind her, instead turning around and holding it open. “So are you just going to stand there and catch cold, or are you coming up?”

---

The tension within the apartment was thick enough to cut with a radial arm saw. Rose sat quietly on the couch in the living room, while Becky made her way into kitchen. They hadn't said anything else since entering the building, not since they were outside. Shifting her weight uneasily, Rose held her hands in her lap and took in a deep breath.

“So, can I get you a drink or something?” Becky asked.

“Oh, sure,” Rose said, lifting her gaze. “Water's fine.”

Becky quickly poured a glass of water, then returned to the living room and set it on the table next to the couch. She took a seat in front of Rose, crossing her arms and staring. “Alright, so explain.”

“Well, for starters, my name isn't Sarah Rose Walker,” she said, taking a small sip from her glass of water. “But then you already knew that... my real name is Rose Worth Wilson. I grew up in New York City with my mother, until I was fourteen. It was a good childhood... a great one. My mom had me tutored privately, only the best for her little girl. She also taught me to defend myself... yeah, those twelve years of karate I mentioned? More like an entire life of martial arts. My mother... she was the best. I loved her more than anything, up until the day I lost her.”

Becky listened carefully, but she didn't say anything, didn't even move.

Letting out a deep breath, Rose bowed her head and continued. “And then I met my father and his side of the family... that's when things got bad.”

And so she explained everything. It took the better part of two hours, but she didn't leave anything out, covering her entire life: her father's half-brother, Wade DeFarge, kidnapping and torturing her. Her mother's presumed death. Her first stint on the Teen Titans. Her time as Lian Harper's nanny. Wade DeFarge coming back and killing her foster parents. Slade rescuing her and then having her kill Wade to take over his Ravager identity. Her father drugging her with his serum and controlling her for his use, leading to her carving out her own eye to prove her loyalty to him. Finally breaking free of his control and returning to the Teen Titans. And everything else, up through getting Bart Allen killed, causing her to leave the team for the umpteenth time and eventually arrive in Silverstone.

She explained about how she found Holly, how Batman set her up with a new identity as a cop, how she was forced into crime for Jeremiah Belmont in order to keep Rebecca safe, and of her time in Nanda Parbat, where she had finally realized that she needed to stop doubting herself and take charge of her life.

When she finally finished the account of her life story, Rose took in a soft breath and slowly glanced up at Becky for the first time since starting. Sitting there on the edge of her seat, Becky leaned forward, arms wrapped around herself and soft, sympathetic eyes gazing at Rose. For a brief moment, the two just stared at each other, but eventually Becky reached forward, pressing her palm to Rose's hand.

“I had... no idea how much you'd been through,” she said, swallowing a knot in her throat. “No girl deserves that much pain in her life...” She paused a moment, then bowed her head, burying her face into her hands. “And the whole time I thought you were a criminal, you were just... you were protecting me? Dios mio, now I really feel like a b*tch.”

Rose shook her head. “It's not your fault... you didn't know. I... didn't tell you. I should have told you.”

“I guess it couldn't have been the easiest thing to do, though, revealing your secret... your life, to someone.”

“Yeah, well... now I have,” she said, sighing deeply. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you all of this sooner.”

A small smirk came to Becky's face. “Would have saved a lot of drama, ah?”

“Yeah... anyway, that's all I came here for, to tell you that.” Rose stood up, gulping down the rest of her water and then turning to leave the apartment. “I'll go now... you probably don't want me hanging around your place any longer than I need to. So... yeah, goodbye.”

Becky stood up quickly, though, reaching out to gently grab hold of her arm. “Now hold on there. Who said I didn't want you around?”

Rose stopped, turning around. “I... just figured, considering everything that's happened...”

“Ay carumba, Rose. You might be trying to take charge of your life, but you're still one socially awkward woman, you know that?” Becky paused, uttering a soft breath and taking hold of Rose's hands. “Look... we both acted a little loco. It happens. But now that you're back and being yourself, your real self... I'm not letting you walk out on me again.”

Rose swallowed, a warm smile curling slowly across her face. “Well if you don't want me to leave, then I'm not going anywhere. Not this time.”

Taking in a deep breath, Brought her hands up to Rose's shoulders, her touch soft, gentle. She hesitated a moment, looking off to the side, then slowly shook her head.

“Something wrong?” Rose asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Well, no, just...” Becky started, lowering her gaze. “I want to do something right now, but the last time I tried... it didn't end so good.”

Rose pushed out a soft breath past her lips, expression softening and a small smile coming to her face. Her hands came up and gently turned Becky's head towards her, their eyes meeting again. For a brief moment, she just looked into the other woman's eyes, until finally coming forward and pressing their lips together deeply, tenderly. Her heart began beating at what felt like a thousand times a minute, pounding against the inside of her chest, and her body felt... warm. Hot.

At first, the kiss took Becky by surprise, but she soon melted into it, wrapping her arms around Rose's shoulders and holding her close. When at last they pulled their lips away, she uttered an exasperated breath and grinned widely. “And here I thought you didn't like women...”

“I don't.”

Becky's eyebrows lifted. “But you-”

Her words went silent, as Rose pressed a finger to her lips. “I like you, Becky. Just you.”

“Cáspita... you really know how to make a girl blush.”

Rose smirked. “I try.”

“And you really mean that?” Becky asked. “You're not just... I don't know, being nice? You don't have to do anything just for my sake, you know.”

“I know,” she said. “And to be completely honest, if you didn't want anything more, if you never had a crush on me, then I'd never even consider it. But let's face it, you've been crushing on me hard ever since we started working together.”

Turning her gaze to the side again, Becky smiled slightly, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “Okay... yeah, maybe a little.”

“And you do want something more. I think deep down, I've wanted that with someone for a long time... and right now, I wouldn't rather it be with anyone else.”

“Well in that case-” Becky said, moving in and locking their lips together again. This time, she was a bit more aggressive, pushing Rose back down to the couch and straddling her lap. When she pulled their lips apart again, she smirked, holding her hands to Rose's waist. “-we have a lot of catching up to do.”

#1 Posted by darth_brendroid (1717 posts) - - Show Bio

I only read #27 because I haven't read the earlier chapters yet, but felt I should comment here :) definitely well written; you have me interested in reading through the back-issues as well as reading the next few chapters. Like how you dangle the mystery as well. Not so sure of the 12 years of karate line; maybe it's just me, but it feels a bit forced. I did like the eggs and pancakes line at the beginning though; I thought that was good.

#2 Posted by Ravager4 (1627 posts) - - Show Bio

@darth_brendroid: Thanks muchly, glad you liked it :)