Fri, 5 Feb 1999
D Benway d_benway@yahoo.com

This story involves characters that belong to DC comics. The story itself belongs to me.

This story is not intended for younger or sensitive readers. When I say that this is a horror story, I mean it.

Many thanks to A. Rogers and A. Mackenzie for their editorial comments.


Rites of Passage

D Benway mf

 

Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe
That unsubstantial death is amorous,
And that the lean Abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?
For fear of that I still will stay with thee,
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again; here, here I will remain
With worms that are thy chambermaids; O! here
Will I set up my everlasting rest,
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and lips, O you
Doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death!
[WS]

 

I didn't tell her that I was coming. I could have phoned, but I didn't. We hadn't been able to meet so often, since she'd had the baby. The excitement had been fading, so we'd taken to surprising each other, to keep it all alive.

She lived in a house with a steep tar-shingled roof that had dormers. I would climb up a tree, make my way across an overhanging limb, then drop down to the roof. Hers was the last house on the street, the back of it was dark, and her mother always slept downstairs. We spent a lot of time sitting up there, talking.

That time, I climbed up the tree, did the roof thing, all without making a sound, to surprise her. I crept down along the slope to her dormer. Her window was open. I could hear them inside. I knew what the moaning and the soft, dark chuckling meant. I'd heard it before, out with Bruce in the City, many times. Makes it less of a mystery. I didn't want to hear it from her room. Her baby slept in that room. I wanted to sleep in that room.

There I was on the roof, trying to stay under control, trying to keep myself from bursting in. It might be her kid's father. It might be someone else altogether. It might be something she was doing on a dare. It might not even be a guy. She was reckless. I liked that about her. Most of the time.

The sounds went on. I was there, at least partly, because things hadn't cooled between us after the birth, just the opposite. She hadn't been able to patrol, with the baby only three months old, but that hadn't kept us apart. If anything, I couldn't see enough of either of them, even if the baby wasn't mine. It didn't matter. She was feeling, I was feeling, that it might happen. I was taking condoms with me all the time, just in case. Stupid. It's so stupid to hope.

I listened for a long time, and things quietened down after a while. There were no moans any more, just licking, slurping sounds. I was trying to tell myself to go, to walk away. It would have changed nothing for her, but I couldn't leave. I had to know, to know exactly how she could do this. I wanted a reason. I wanted to her to tell me. I waited until it went really quiet, then I looked.

She was lying on the bed, naked. I couldn't see her face. Her head was hanging over the edge of the bed, where it was hidden by the head of the other. I could see the short, peroxide hair, the black leather sleeveless jacket, the black pants. I don't know what I said, possibly shit, maybe Steph, maybe I just snarled. It looked around. Its tongue. The blood. I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman, just that it was young. It snarled. It could have gone for me. Instead, it ran into the hall, too fast. Too fast for an ordinary human.

She didn't move. I fell into her room. I looked in the crib. There was nothing I could do. I went over to her. There was a burn on her neck, through to the veins. There was spit all over it. No blood was coming out. No pulse. No heartbeat. Cold skin. I had been on the roof for ten minutes. There had been no movement for the last five. I knew where her blood was. There was still her mother, and the attacker. A door slammed. I took a step towards the hall. I tripped over my staff. On my knees, I threw up. I woke up in the cave.


Bruce was waiting for me when I woke up. He had his cowl on. He told me the details.

He said that I had tripped my emergency signal before blacking out. I didn't remember doing that. Maybe I did. Maybe he had been watching me. I don't know.

He said that I was the only living thing that he found in the house. He said that he had taken me to the car to do a blood test, since I was in shock. Someone called the cops, and they got there before he could head them off.

Bruce said that 10 cars stopped at the house. Three were necessary, the others were rubbernecking. There were so many footprints that he couldn't find any clues about the attacker when he went back.

She was dead.

The baby was dead.

Her mother was dead.

All the blood was drained from all of them. Autopsies were underway.

Fingerprint analysis had turned up nothing. A search of the house had yielded five boxes of morphine vials, 500 in all.

He didn't tell me any more. The question was there, unspoken. How old were they, I asked. As old as the 'quake, he said. Where did they come from, I asked. Gotham General, he said. He still had his cowl on. I couldn't see his eyes. He knew that I knew that her mother had worked at Gotham General, and was there during the quake. He also knew, like I knew, that her mother was a former heroin addict. I knew how difficult it was for a single woman to raise two children on the salaries form two jobs. He knew that I had spent a lot of time in that house. I told him that I didn't know anything about it. I asked him to take off his cowl. He did, but he didn't look at me when he asked the other questions, not directly. I made a list in my mind of what I had done wrong.

I had waited on the roof, not investigated immediately. She was still alive when I first heard them, still moving.

I had left evidence at the scene of the crime, in the form of a puddle of puke. If there was enough of it, I might be a suspect, as Tim Drake, or as Robin.

I hadn't seen the motorcycle that the neighbours heard when the attacker left. I hadn't seen it around the back, where there were traces of tire marks, according to the reports from the first cops on the scene. No-one in that house could ride a motorbike. I could, and had gone there on one many times.

I asked him if he thought I did it. I didn't ask, really, more like yelled. Only then did he turn to me, and only then did I see his eyes. There was a sadness there, that said, now you've seen it, too. The dead are with you, now and forever. He was right. After they killed my mom, I thought that nothing could be worse. I was wrong. I could never have imagined how this would make me feel. How it makes me feel. He told me that he knew I didn't do it. I cried. I don't think that he thought any less of me for it.


When I could stand up by myself, Bruce dropped me off near my house. We had a story, about me getting mugged by some kids from the trailers where they put all those families who lost their homes in the 'quake. The bump on my forehead from when I'd passed out would give them some physical evidence for our story. We knew the cops would be there, so we even rehearsed some variations in it, so that it wouldn't sound too perfect. I had told my dad that I was going to a movie, because that would have left an hour for me at her house, and an hour to patrol. When I saw my Dad's face at the door, I almost forgot about the whole thing.

There were two cars in front of the house, one marked, one unmarked. There was a detective there, one of the better ones from Homicide. They took my story, and made me repeat it several times. My Dad was there and he kept interrupting, telling me about how some entire family had been killed only a mile away. Did I know the girl? Did she go to my school? He went over and over the details, and how worried he'd been. After an hour, the detective took me alone into the dining room and grilled me for another hour. I don't know how I managed to keep it all straight, and I had to hope that Bruce would have finished planting the evidence by the time the cops got there to check out my story. The vomit was another thing altogether, and I knew how much effort he would have to make to destroy it. The detective asked me for a blood or a hair sample. I asked him why. He hedged. I knew that her neighbours had already told the cops about her friend who had been hanging around for the last few months, the friend my age on a bike who her mother hadn't liked. I yelled for my dad, asking him why they wanted the samples. The detective backed off, but I could see something calculating behind his eyes. I knew that he would go straight to where I said I had been attacked as soon as he left. He didn't press the issue, and they let me go off to bed. I fell asleep listening to my father arguing with them downstairs about what on earth they would need the samples for.


I don't know how I made it through the next day. I lay in bed while Mrs. Mac and my dad brought food. The doctor came by. We had enough money, then, that we could still get house calls. When I was alone, I went over and over it all in my mind. Why hadn't I seen the motorcycle? Was it because I didn't want to see it, or because I was so looking forward to spending an hour fooling around with her that I just didn't notice it? Why did I wait? Would I have been able to fight the attacker if we'd been together, or would they have found four bodies there instead of three? Did I ignore some vital clue that would have explained what those drugs were doing in her house, under the bathroom sink? There was only one bathroom in that house, and she must have known that they were there. It was where they kept the box of pads that both she and her mother used. I could barely get out of the bed at midnight to go to the funeral with Bruce.

Going to the real funeral was out of the question, of course. The cops would be watching for a 14-16 year old kid that none of the other kids knew. Bruce knew it was important, so we made our own funeral. Bruce paid for it indirectly, so they wouldn't go into the potter's field. It couldn't be traced to us. We drugged the guard at the funeral home, then went to the room where they kept the dead.

There were 20 coffins in that room. Three, better than pine boxes, were sitting on metal carts. There was a printout attached to each. One told me that the small box held the body of a little boy whose eyes could follow a voice and whose birth I had watched while she had screamed and pushed and done all those things that a woman had to do to bring him into three months of life. I wondered, if I picked that little box up, if it would be as easy to hold as he had been. Another piece of paper identified the largest box as that of a woman who had lived and died under a cloud of suspicion. A woman who had always viewed me with suspicion. A woman who I seen so often, sleeping exhausted on the couch of that tiny living room, who wouldn't sleep in her own bed because her husband had slept in it. A woman who gave herself nothing, so that her daughter and grandson could have the hope of having something.

In the middle was her box. She was inside of it. Some of what was left of her was inside of it. The rest was in my head. Bruce put his hand on my shoulder, but I didn't lose it. We didn't say prayers, because neither of us believe in that. I remembered the tree where she would wait for me. I remembered how intent she was when she fed him, or changed him, or burped him, or held him for hours as he cried. I remembered how she could make anything, no matter how dark, seem silly and absurd. How she knew me, how she could make me feel so alive. Her smile was sunlight, her laughter was firecrackers. Her mother, my father, Bruce, Ari, their faces sometimes bore small smiles that seemed to take them by surprise. My father and Wayne had smiles that scared me, smiles that were so empty but so useful. Sometimes we'd see the smiles on the faces of the victims just before we went for their attackers. All the friendly faces in the world, speaking the same language. Please don't hurt me. Please don't kill me. She showed me that a smile could mean so much more than that.

I think I wept a bit, back in the car. Bruce asked me if I wanted to know what he had found. It took me a long time to decide, but in the end I did want to know. He said that there were no leads on the drugs, but that he had the autopsy reports. I was still thinking of her as he spoke, but I did catch most of the details. There would have been nothing that I could have done for her, unless I had been in a fully equipped ICU. All three had died of blood loss, all three had had their jugular veins burned open by some sort of enzymatic action, as yet unexplained. There was morphine in her system, but the source was unclear. No needle marks on any of the bodies. It might have been ingested, but one of the rubbernecking cops threw up in the kitchen sink and destroyed any evidence that might have been there. Bruce had taken care of my puke, but he suspected that they were still interested in me. At least I wasn't under surveillance.

I asked him if it had been a vampire. He said that it was possible, that there was evidence to suggest that some creatures did live on blood, but that the morphine thing put a whole different twist on things. He suspected a gang of Goths that had moved into dealing in the aftermath of the 'quake. The subtext was that he could be looking into it if I was not with him now. He suggested that I stay out of it, because I was too close. I knew that he meant that I was too weak, not as strong as the Bat. I knew that he meant that their blood was on my hands. I sold the Saturday night special to Joe Chill. He left me alone in the street near my house, and went to hunt her killer.

Ten hours later, Bruce was asleep, but I met Alfred and we went to the cemetery. He parked the car at the top of a hill, out of sight of the graves behind a bush. He set up the monitor with the feeds from the video camera mounted on a tripod behind the car, and from the microphone that Bruce had placed just beneath the earth in front of her grave. I watched the two black cars deliver the boxes. I watched ten mourners and four cops show up, two of whom were accompanying her father. I heard the service through a headset, and watched as the cops had to carry her father away afterwards. He couldn't walk back to the prison van. He took a shiv in the back two months later, in Gotham Pen. After he was gone, two busloads of kids from her school and three vans full of TV reporters showed up. She had some friends, but not that many. They were all her friends for the cameras. Eventually, they went away, but I insisted on watching as the mourners left and the gravediggers buried the boxes. I heard each shovelfull of earth fall as the two men filled in the hole. When the last of the vans and buses had left, they finished the job in two minutes with a backhoe. On the way home, I thought of firecrackers.


They let me go back to school the next day, but I couldn't hide it. None of my friends believed the story about the mugging, though they said they did. Ari showed up out of nowhere and spent an hour yelling at me and begging me to tell her what was wrong. I told her that I'd been hit on the head. In the end she hugged me and I thought of Steph and I wanted to die, but only for a moment. I'm tough. I'm a survivor. I was Robin.

On my way home, Bruce called me on my celphone and told me that the cops were waiting for me. We arranged to meet at the cave. I didn't go there. Instead, I went to a cache that I had hidden in a storm drain and I waited for dark. I used my palmtop to access the cop system, and found that they had an arrest warrant out for me. Dick said that in spite of Bruce destroying most of the evidence, the detective had accidentally stepped in the puke that I'd left behind. When the evidence turned up missing, he had raced home and pulled the pants he had worn from the laundry and had found a tiny stain that they had done a DNA test on. It put me at the scene. If I had met with Bruce, he would have made sure that I stayed in the cave. I wasn't going to do that, not while her killer was still out there. I would show Bruce that I was strong. I would make sure that her killer never killed again. I would show him that I too had the Bat in me.


I knew that Bruce would be after me and the killer, and that he might bring Dick in on it too. I stayed away from the usual places, but the 'quake had given me lots of new places to hide. I couldn't go after her mother's friends, because Bruce would be watching them. I couldn't go after the Goths that we knew about, so I had to find other suspects. I did. I hurt some of them, but found nothing. I was hunting for two weeks before the killer found me.

I had been working the docks, making my way from ruined warehouse to ruined warehouse, looking for clues. I'd been stealing food from the people who were still living here, but there was never enough, and I was light-headed from hunger and lack of sleep. I was inside the old Capel coal terminal, inside one of the coal silos. The roof was gone, and there was just enough light so that I could see with the night vision sensors in my mask. They proved to give me no advantage at all.

It got me from behind. I didn't hear it coming. It knocked me to ground, pinning the staff under me. It was much stronger than I was. It flipped me over, and threw the staff aside. Peroxide hair, elfin features, neither boy nor girl. I met its eyes. They were dark, no pupils. I couldn't look away from them. I couldn't fight back. I knew I was going to die. It chuckled, soft and dark. I asked it who it was. It pinned me to the ground, tore my goggles off, and kissed me. It put its tongue in my mouth. Its tongue was covered in blood. It was long slimy, at least a foot long. I felt it going down my throat, all the way down. I gagged. I tried to buck it off, but I had no strength. It withdrew its tongue. When I finished coughing, I asked Why? It didn't answer. Instead, it wrapped its tongue around my neck. It stroked my body with its hands, it started to undo my armour. The tongue tightened around my throat and the skin there began to burn. I still have the scar. I tried one last time, to throw it off, and it stiffened. Something rammed into my chest armour. It coughed, then broke away, falling back. There was something sticking through the front of it. A dark hooded figure stood behind it. The thing turned and launched itself at Bruce, who fell under its assault. I could see him struggling underneath, as it clawed at his neck. I knew how strong it was. There were some hand- sized rocks near me. I picked up a concrete block and smashed it into the back of the thing's head. Then I did it again. And again. I hauled the twitching thing off Bruce and hit its head again with the brick. Then again. Then again. When I finished, there was no head left. I collapsed. Bruce rose slowly to his knees, then threw himself upon the corpse, as fast as my attacker had been. He was at its neck. I could hear the sucking, almost choking sounds. I watched as it ate. It wasn't Bruce. I found my mask and put it on. It wasn't Bruce.

When it was finished, it looked up. It had no eyes. There might have been tears of blood running down its cheeks, or just blood leaking from the empty sockets. It was wearing an old dark coat with a hood, but the coat wasn't done up, and I could see that it wasn't a man. She said Hi in a scratchy whisper. She had blond hair. I knew her. She was supposed to be have been buried in a box.

She tried to stand up. The coat came fully open, and I saw her naked again. There was a Y on her. It went from both shoulders to a place over the heart, then down to the bottom, sewn closed with coarse stitches of thick black threads. There had been an autopsy. Bruce had said that there had been an autopsy. Her feet were a mess. There were bones sticking out. One of her hands wasn't there. It was still attached to the steel rod sticking out of the corpse.

She staggered over to me. She fell to her knees. She opened her mouth. She jerked, and all this blood came out, all of over both of us. Someone screamed. She couldn't have, so it had to have been me. The dead thing's blood was all over me. I tried to get away, out from under her, but she held me. She was as strong as it had been. She gagged a few times, but turned her head away. A body's worth of blood pooled on the gravel beside us. I said her name. I think I did. Saved, she said. Your eyes I said. She shook her head. I said her name. This time for real. She nodded. I asked her how she found me. She sniffed. I asked her how she got out of the box. She mimed digging, clumsily with a hand that was missing some fingers. She didn't want to waste any more words. Kill, she said. Me, she said.

I heard the words. I could see her mouth making the words. When we went out, she didn't keep her secret identity from me. She would throw off her hood, throw her head back, and say something so stupid, so wild, so crazy, that she would have me laughing after anything. I belong to that smile, forever.

No, I said. Hurts, she said. We'll fix it, I said. She shook her head. I told her about things that Bruce knew, secret knowledge that could help her, help bring back her health, maybe even fix her eyes. Hurt, she said. Still, she said. I knew, then, what she was saying. I never would see that smile again, ever. Even so, she would still be alive, she could still fight. We could still be together. I told her so. Kill, she said. I held her closer, tighter, than I imagined she could ever hold me. I could feel her trembling under the coat. Hungry, she said. I can get you blood, I said. She shook her head. Late, she said. I told her that I loved her. She said nothing. I kissed her to show her. She went stiff. Something thudded into my chest armour. Something grabbed her from behind, drawing her head up and baring her neck so the machete could slice it through. A hand tossed her head aside. I heard it land on the floor somewhere far away. Helena Bertinelli stood over me, machete in hand. She asked me why I was looking at her like that.


I woke up in a private clinic. Bruce was there. I was in a room with no doorknob on the inside. I asked him how I had gotten there. He told me that Dick had found me. I asked him what had happened to Helena. His eyes went hard, and I knew that I wasn't Robin any more.

He didn't tell me what it was, if it was a man, a woman, or even a human being.

He didn't tell me where the drugs had come from, or if she was ever involved in it.

He didn't tell me what he did with her body.

He didn't tell me what happened to Helena. Nothing was ever heard of the Huntress or Helena again, after that.

He didn't tell me, and I didn't ask, and I never will.


I'm telling her this, as she sits in a chair in my apartment, with her feet up on the cushions. She's not here to listen to Tim Drake. I'm not Tim Drake anymore. I have another name, now. I used to work at Waynetech in Metropolis in a job with no official duties. Bruce provided it, for services rendered. I did some work for him from time to time, designing special things until they made him retire. I was let go a week after his funeral. I'm nothing now, except an object lesson for this little girl.

She's not very big, not yet not a child. From the information I was given, she's actually two inches taller than I was when I wore the suit. She's smart. She found him too. I know he's alive, and I know that he wanted me to tell this to her, to see if she has what it takes. To see if she has the Bat in her. She looks back at me with Wayne's eyes. She's not old enough yet to fake concern or compassion convincingly. I saw horror perhaps once or twice, but most of the time she just looked bored, indulging a 41-year old man who's losing his hair and who couldn't climb a wall if his life depended on it. I know that she knows, knows in her heart, that nothing like that will ever happen to her.

It will.


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