Nita leaned gingerly back against Liused, idly listening to the rowan's murmuring about the stars. The leaves rustled, and Nita thought ruefully that her mind was in a similar state--scattered and restlessly shifting in the wind. With everything she and Kit had been through, from dark Manhattans to whalesong, Irish myths and sentient computers planets--she thought she had stopped being surprised by the universe. With the death of her mother, despite all her efforts to save her, she thought she had understood loss, and even a little acquaintance with humility.
Last winter, she and Kit had stumbled into an alternate universe. They had tried to use a short-cut to decrease the pollution in a nearby lake--which worked better than they had hoped--but then their 'short-cut', a young, semi-sentient alien creature from another universe, had stumbled into the wrong universe when they tried to send it home. Kit and Nita were pulled along with the alien, a Halperx, and required some assistance from the denizens of that universe to catch and send the Halperx back home.
The only catch was, the universe they stumbled into: wasn't...couldn't...shouldn't be real.
A subtle play of light on leaves and gentle rustling caught her attention, and she turned her focus to Liused, who was curious as to what was distracting Nita from the beautiful stars on view in the perfectly clear sky.
Nita struggled to find a way to express her recent adventures--the language of the trees didn't really encompass quantum mechanics and paraphyletic universes.
"It's like," she paused, composing a sentence of starlight and leaf shadows, "It's like the day the sun went dark, when something you always knew would be there, should be there, every day without fail...and suddenly it was gone."
The rowan contemplated that for a long time, and then asked, "When the sun went dark, did the rest of the stars disappear?"
"No," Nita replied hesitantly.
"Even the Lone One cannot snuff out all the light."
Nita nodded slowly, thinking this over. The rowan contemplated the stars for a time and Nita followed suit, still troubled. "What did you do when the Sun went out?"
Nita thought back to that day, but the Rowan continued before she could answer. "You found another light." The rowan rustled her leaves gently, something like a tree version of a sigh or deep breath. "And what will you do now, when you feel your roots are unsettled?"
Kit Rodriguez looked up from Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors" with relief, glad to have an interruption. A second later, the relief was followed by a little concern, as he noticed the odd tone in his mother's voice. He stood up and walked from the living room to the kitchen, "Yeah, Mama?"
"I really hope this is a brujó thing," his mother replied as he walked in the kitchen, a peculiar and very parental look on her face, her hand covering the mouthpiece of the phone, "because I really don't like the idea of you receiving collect calls from jail."
Kit blinked in astonishment, his mouth dropping open slightly and his eyebrows raising. "Jail?"
"A collect call from someone named Robin Halperx," his mother responded, handing the phone to him.
His mouth dropped open a little wider and he hurriedly picked up the phone. The combination of the two words instantly reminded him of his and Nita's little adventure with Robin--as in, Batman and Robin (and friends)--last year.
The voice on the other end of the line was definitely Robin's, sounding frustrated, irritated and slightly amused all at once. "Hey, Kit, it's Robin. Sorry to bother you like this, but...ah...I've got a little problem."
Kit grabbed a chair and slowly sank into it as Robin continued. His mother watched his expression shift from surprised to amused to thoughtful and then, biting his lip slightly, to the expression he took on when focused on a wizardly problem. She crossed her arms and listened to Kit's side of the conversation with concern:
"Oh, yeah--necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh-eating disease?"
"So it's infecting all the trees? And other plants?"
"Man. So how fast is it spreading back there?"
"Oh...yeah, that's really not good."
"Has everyone been evacuated?"
"Well, how'd they get them out?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot the whole flying thing. That’s useful."
"Why does he think we have to do it?"
"Ahh...yeah, I get it; our universe isn't infected. Yeah, he's probably right."
"Yeah, that makes sense--they already made a connection to our universe. Oh, no! Is she ok?"
"And how much time do they think...?"
"Then I guess we'd better hurry."
Kit turned to face his mother, "Um. Let me talk to my folks. We'll figure something out and be there soon."
Marina Rodriguez recognized the expression on her son's face instantly--it was the same one he'd had when he broke her mother's china teapot when he was five, mixed with the one he'd had every year around his birthday. She sighed, giving in to the inevitable. "What do you need?"
Kit swallowed. "Um. Maybe...bail money?"
Kit opened the door for his father as they walked into the local police station. After he'd explained the situation, his mother had handed off the problem to his father and fled to the grocery store. He let his father take the lead approaching the front desk and watched as he filled out the paperwork, sighing with relief that the two visiting vigilantes hadn't been arrested, just detained. They sat and waited for about an hour before Kit recognized Robin and Batgirl being escorted towards them. Kit's stomach knotted again--they were both in their costumes. He glanced around, but saw only amusement on the faces of the other cops, and nothing resembling suspicion or some other sign that they recognized the...well, fictional characters. It looked like the cops hadn't even bothered to take their masks off.
Of course, it was Christmas Eve and in addition to their group, there were four Santa's--one in drag--two elves, one snow fairy, and one couple as the front and back of a reindeer...dressed in selectively placed leather. Batgirl and Robin fit right in.
His father glanced down at him with a raised eyebrow, but didn't say anything.
"Thanks, Kit," Robin said as they approached. He glanced at Kit's father and Kit stumbled over his words for a moment.
"Hi, uh...guys. Um. This is my dad--dad, this is...that is…uh..." He cleared his throat--how exactly should he introduce comic book characters to his father? "These are some friends of mine," he finally stammered out.
Robin extended a hand to Kit's father, who shook it bemusedly, "It's nice to meet you, sir," he said politely, "We appreciate your help.”
"No problem," Juan Rodriguez said dryly. He looked over at Batgirl who extended a hand.
"Hello. Thank you," she said quietly, and Kit cleared his throat and hurriedly maneuvered the small group back out to his father's car.
With the ease of long practice, Robin spun a story about the police mistaking them as part of a skateboarder gang that was robbing a liquor store and harassing the owner. Kit admired Robin's skill at carefully directing the conversation away from exactly why the police had made that mistake. He would have to check with Robin later to hear the real story--which would presumably explain some of the bruises he'd seen on the skateboarders. The rest of the drive back to the Rodriguez home was quiet, with occasional spurts of strained and very uninformative conversation, including such riveting topics as the weather, school, and the over-saturation of Christmas carols on every radio station.
Mr. Rodriguez only spoke once, wryly commenting that Robin and Batgirl seemed to be a little late for celebrating Halloween. That caused nervous laughter from Kit and intense stares shared between the three teens that Mr. Rodriguez pretended not to see. Kit had explained to his parents that the two visitors were friends he'd met on a wizardry assignment, but had refrained from providing more information beyond an embarrassed cough and muttered explanation that the 'jail thing' was a misunderstanding. Mr. Rodriguez refrained from asking details, knowing that his son would provide an answer.
Upon arriving at the house, Kit provided even briefer introductions to his mother, mentally thanked the Powers that his sisters were out Christmas shopping with his abuela, before disappearing upstairs with his guests, followed ten minutes later by Nita knocking on the door and vanishing into Kit's room even more rapidly.
Mr. Rodriguez slowly sunk into the couch and leaned back and listened to his wife putting away groceries. Once upon a time, he and Marina had talked about what problems they'd run into when the kids became teenagers. The list included drugs, alcohol, stealing and pregnancy. It did not include TVs that picked up channels from other galaxies, talking dogs that speculated about the meaning of life, or picking up (presumably) other teen wizards (why they were dressed as superheroes he still wasn't sure he wanted to ask) from the police station. He wondered, a little wistfully, what it might be like to confine one's worries about children to skipping school and sneaking cigarettes.
Tim felt naked without the mask. Cassie was sitting calmly on the floor, leaning against Kit's bed, perfectly comfortable wearing some of Carmela's sweats and her mask deposited casually next to her on the rest of her neatly folded costume. He was still holding his, rubbing the leather unconsciously. It was one thing to hear Bruce's stories about Justice League adventures in alternate universes--including the one where the Justice Guild of America comic book characters were actually real--but even knowing such things existed was no preparation for stumbling into another world's Times Square and seeing an ad for Batman: Dark Knight on a twenty foot Jumbotron.
He heard Cassie say something, and pretended to be listening. Kit and Nita had been looking through the manual--thus far unsuccessfully--trying to find information on the others who had come over to this universe with them. He'd tuned them out, still thinking about Christian Bale on that ad, dressed as Batman--though, to be fair, the costume looked more accurate than the other versions of Batman he'd seen in the comic in the newspaper stand. But still--Christian Bale? That guy who played the doctor in ER?
Though that was nothing compared to the shock of seeing himself and Stephanie as action figures in the toy story window--Stephanie dressed as Robin instead of Spoiler, and him dressed as Red Hood! He shuddered a little, and blinked as Cassie nudged him, finally registering that Kit was trying to get his attention.
"What? Sorry...I was just..." he trailed off, and Nita and Kit exchanged sympathetic glances.
"It's weird," Nita stated plainly.
Robin nodded. "Yeah. It's..." he trailed off again, sighing. "Yeah, it's weird." He looked up at the two wizards, Kit leaning against his desk and Nita perched in the desk's chair, wizard manual in her lap. "And you guys had no idea where you really were when you were in our universe?"
They shook their heads. "It felt..." Nita laughed wryly, "Well, it felt...weird. Like there was something off, something I just couldn't remember. And whenever I tried to think about it, it was like something stopped me from getting too curious--I lost interest in trying to piece it together. And, you know, we were kind of busy."
"You forgot. But we remember. Why?"
Kit looked at Cassie, forehead wrinkling in thought. "Good question. I'm not quite sure."
Robin narrowed his eyes, detecting something in Kit's tone. "But you have an idea."
The two partners glanced at each other, communicating silently. Finally, Kit shrugged a little, "Yeah...I have a theory. I've been thinking about our trip there a lot--about other universes in general." He refrained from adding that Ponch and their recent adventures in created worlds--including worlds inside a person's mind--was his primary motivation. "If we'd remembered that you were...er. If we'd remembered, ah, who you were while we were in Gotham, we might've said something or did something to change things there--said something about...um...events that took place in...uh...stories, here."
"But we've already seen...things...since we've been here--things that definitely have not happened in our world," Robin said firmly.
Kit and Nita glanced at each other again, and Robin shook his head as he got it. "You think we're going to forget when we go back to our world."
Kit shrugged, "Robin...er..T--um. Robin, we don't really know. Neets and I have dealt with a lot of other worlds and universes, but not quite in this way. We're just not sure."
Sighing, Robin finally set his mask down on top of his costume, and tugged at the sleeve of Kit's borrowed sweater, which was a little too snug for him. "I guess you'd better make it Tim. It's pointless to pretend you don't know and we can't go around in your universe as Robin and Batgirl. And Bat--” He rolled his eyes, "And Bruce has hammered time travel protocol in me for years; this isn't that much different." He sat up a little straighter. "So. Kit, did you brief Nita?"
Nita shared an amused look with Kit at Rob--er, Tim's formal tone; even with the mask off, it was Robin the crime fighter that was talking now, not Tim the teenager.
"I think I picked up the gist of things," Nita replied, "So, Poison Ivy did something to the plants in Gotham, made them...metal?" She shifted position, feeling a little weird talking about...Poison Ivy. In a non-fictional context. And she couldn't help but wonder whether or not the one in Tim's Gotham looked like Uma Thurman.
"Not exactly metal, but close enough. And it's toxic, intractable, impervious to fire, cold, chemicals, everything--and it's spreading. Fast."
Kit nodded at Tim, "And impervious to the magic in your universe too?"
"Yeah," Tim replied, "And the theory is that yours will be more effective, since this universe hasn't been exposed."
"Wait...I thought you had this confined to Gotham, at least temporarily."
"Only the actual transformation--what Ivy did was world-wide, so every plant on our Earth has been--" Tim paused, searching for a metaphor, "It's like a virus--all the plants have been exposed, but we've managed to quarantine the plants in Gotham so they're the only ones showing symptoms." Nita nodded, and Tim watched the two wizards exchange a moment of silent communication.
"So, first we have to collect the rest of your team--"
"No, first Cass and I need to pick up the stuff we hid in the alley," Tim cut Kit off firmly.
"The alley?" Nita asked, a little confused.
Tim nodded. "We stashed our weapons and supplies in the alley when we realized we couldn't avoid the cops. Canary and I--er, I mean, Dinah and I--we'd already figured incognito was the best bet, and I wasn’t about to let cops get their hands on our equipment."
"Ohhh, yeah, I think that was probably a good idea," Kit said with feeling, "We were lucky they decided you weren't with that gang and released you--if they'd found any weapons you'd probably still be in jail with the rest of them."
Cassie snorted. "Lucky they are in jail."
Nita and Kit blinked, and Tim snickered. "She means she'd already laid into a few of them--they're lucky they're in jail and safe from her."
Kit swallowed, eying the small Asian teen, the dangerous glint in her eyes markedly incongruous with Carmella's Hello Kitty Bobblehead sweatshirt.
Tim tugged at Kit's sweater again, and then stood. "All right. Cass and I will get our equipment, including our communicators. We'll catch up with Dinah at the hospital, see how Aika is, and then try to figure out where ZiLi and Denise landed." He stretched a little, hoping their trip back wouldn't be nearly as turbulent as the trip here, which had knocked out Aika and separated them from the other two wizards.
"ZiLi has the pod?" Nita asked.
"I hope so," Tim replied, "she was the one carrying it when we went through, but since we all got separated..."
"Let's deal with one problem at a time," Nita said hastily.
"Oh, hell," Dinah said woefully, her head in her hands. "One problem at a time! I feel like I've got a hangover and just gone ten rounds with Prometheus, I'm wearing hospital scrubs and I got a D in Physics! Break this down for me like I'm Killer Croc, kids."
Kit grinned a little, but he lowered his voice a little in sympathy. "Ok, short version: The wizards in your universe were right that the only people that could get through to our universe were the ones we interacted with when we on your side. The problem is that because of...um..." he cleared his throat and continued, "because of your, ah, unique situation, it was more difficult to get our universe to...um...recognize...er, accept...I mean--"
"Because your universe doesn't think we are real," Cassie cut in calmly.
Kit sighed. "Um. Yeah. So...anyway, so it took a lot of work for Aika, Denise and ZiLi to break through--that's why you all ended up in different locations. But while that's not a good thing for you--the splitting up, I mean--assuming we can find ZiLi soon, that's a good thing for helping your problem."
"The universe and the Powers that Be have a pretty good idea of what should be," Nita continued. "That's part of the reason wizards exist--we change the things that shouldn't be back to the things they should."
"And how does that help us, again?" Dinah asked, rubbing her the back of her neck tiredly.
"Whatever Poison Ivy did to change the plants in your universe, it's not something that should exist. In your universe or ours. If your wizard--Jason?--was right, whatever she did, she didn't just change the plants themselves, she changed what the plants should be."
"And if that's what she did, Jason was also right to come here," Kit continued. "The plants in our universe know what they're supposed to be. This is the best place--and has the best wizard--," he grinned proudly at Nita, "--to help remind the plants what they're suppose to be."
"That's only the first problem," Tim said, brow knitting, "we also have to hope that whatever Nita does to the plant we brought with us will change the rest of the plants back to normal when we take it back home."
"It will," Nita said firmly." She paused, "I mean, it should." She bit her lip, "We can't know for sure until you take the plant back, but all the other wizards should have to do is bring the plants together. Look--the universe knows what it's supposed to be, and so do plants and trees--all they need is to remember."
"There are way too many shoulds and mights and ifs in this plan," Dinah groaned. "Remind me why I didn't go with the team tracking down Ivy?"
Three mouths opened up to speak and she waved a hand sharply. "Rhetorical, rhetorical." She shifted her shoulders and stretched, "I just really hope this works, because that snot green/puce living metal monstrosity in Gotham Plaza is just not what Christmas trees are supposed to be."
"...I hate puce."
Dinah and the assorted teens gathered around the hospital room started and turned to stare at the hospital bed's occupant--all except for Cassie, who had detected a change in the woman in the bed and had been eying her expectantly. "Hey, Aika, how are you feeling?"
Aika blinked her eyes and raised a hand to her head. "Um. I'm not sure. What did we run into?"
"Our universe," Nita said apologetically, scooting her chair over to the bed. Aika and several of her friends had helped Nita and Kit last year when they ended up in Gotham City. Nita had gone to a Solstice party held by the tall Tanzanian woman and her roommate Zera Li--ZiLi--to ask for help finding the Halperx rampaging through Gotham, and the other universe's wizards had immediately come to their aid. Nita brought over some ice water and handed it to Aika, resolving that she and Kit would not fail in returning the favor.
Dinah pulled up the zipper of the jacket she was wearing a little tighter. She felt more inconspicuous in the gaudy silver and green sequined coat they'd found at Goodwill than she had wearing her costume around the hospital. Aika, on the other hand, had found a man's gray leather coat that fitted her perfectly and looked like she'd just stepped off a Paris runway, her striking features and waist-length braids catching just as much attention as Dinah's blinged-out jacket.
Tim stepped out of the homeless shelter and walked over to them. "Denise doesn't need stitches, and they think ZiLi just sprained her ankle; they're wrapping it now."
"And the pod?"
Tim pulled out an old-fashioned leather pouch, and opened the strings at the top just long enough to see the blue glow inside. He nodded, relieved, "Jason said as long as the shield is blue, it's still contained."
Nita stepped closer, curious, "It...it looks so different."
Kit nodded, looking like he was staring straight through the bag to the magically shielded seed pod inside. "Yeah, it's...I've never seen magic like that before."
Cassie leaned over to look at the bag and then looked at Nita, "Can you unlock it?"
Tim blinked at the possibility of that obvious problem he hadn't considered, and Kit reassured him quickly, "Oh, yeah, I can see how it opens--it's just...different."
"There's that word again," Dinah said wryly. She shifted position and sat down on the stone wall in the courtyard. Once Aika was released from the hospital, she, Kit, and Nita had located the other two Gotham wizards, Denise and ZiLi, at a homeless shelter in St. Julien's church. The two women had been as dazed as the others when coming through, and ended up a little bumped and bruised. They'd been found by one of the local church volunteers in a nearby park, and brought to the shelter to warm up and receive medical attention.
Dinah pulled up her legs to sit cross-legged on the stone wall, and then leaned over to stretch out her back. She slowly came back up, using the back muscles to pull herself up and stretch out each vertebrae. Feeling a little better, she let her legs dangle over the edge of the wall and looked back up at the little assembly. "All right, Tim, dazzle us with a Bat-strategy."
He rolled his eyes at her and stepped over to Nita, handing her the leather pouch with the seed pod inside. "Strategy: Nita, fix this."
She blinked, startled, even as she accepted the pouch.
Dinah laughed, then winced as her muscles protested. "That's your strategy, kiddo?"
Tim shrugged. "Theoretically, this was a pretty simple mission--go to other universe, find wizard, fix plant, go back home. We fumbled a bit on the 'go to other universe' and 'find wizard' stages, but...
"Now you just need to fix the plant and go home?" Kit said, grinning. He looked over at Nita, send a mental reassurance even as he spoke. "No problem. Come on, Neets, dazzle them."
"Thanks," Nita replied dryly. "No pressure or anything." She took a deep breath and then sat down on the ground in the little courtyard. She shifted until she was comfortable, then carefully pulled out the glowing blue orb from the leather bag. She studied it carefully, seeing what Kit had noticed earlier--a 'zipper' that could be used to open the shield. But...she looked a little closer, then grinned. "Kit, you see this?"
He leaned down, and Aika followed, the bells on her waist-length braids chiming softly. Nita wondered absently whether Aika wore the bells all-year-round, or just during the holidays.
"Oh, yeah," Kit said, "Hey, tell that Jason-guy this was done well."
Tim carefully hid his amusment, imagining how ‘that Jason-guy’s’ other half might react to that casual praise.
Kit studied another angle and then nodded to Nita. "Aika and I can set a line--should we wait for ZiLi and Denise?"
Aika shook her head, her bells chiming, "We're going to need them for the gate if the trip back is anything like it was on the trip here."
"Right," Kit said, and then sat down next to Nita, "Then don't worry about it, Aika, I've got this--you save it for the trip back."
"Thank you, cousin," Aika said, sitting down as well, "But let me know if you need another anchor point."
"Yeah," Kit replied to Dinah, closing his eyes for a spell that he knew by heart, "Your wizard in Gotham set two shields on this--an outer and inner. So Neets can open the outer one and close it behind her, and then open the inner one so the plant never actually comes in contact with anything in our universe. She just needs an anchor on this side of the shield in case she needs any help."
"Magical virus, magical plants, magical quarantine," Dinah muttered, "of course."
Kit ignored that and focused on Nita. "Ready when you are."
She nodded, closed her eyes, and 'zipped' open the outer shield. Grasping the open edges of the shield, she extended it, and wrapped it around herself, careful to extend the shield completely around her, both above and below the ground. Once she was completely enveloped in the pale blue light, she 'zipped' it closed, and then, very carefully, opened the inner shield.
Almost immediately, the sense of 'wrong' was so strong it made her nauseous. Inside the inner shield was the seed pod of a acer saccharum--a sugar maple--the same pods she used to call 'helicopters' when she and Dairine were younger for the way they spun as they fell. But this pod looked nothing like the healthy green and yellowish pods that littered the ground in the fall; this pod was dark, an ugly institutional green and blood red, and metallic looking, a liquid-looking metal, smelling like sour eggs, and with tiny sharp bristles. She cringed, imagining a whole city with plants like this. Tim had said the plants were releasing a toxin that was harmless in small quantities, but the more trees and plants became infected, the more intense and widespread the toxin became--and the harder it was to contain the outbreak in the city. It was early fall in Gotham, and currently clear skies and low wind, but there was a storm system approaching Gotham, and once the wind and rain mixed with the toxin, it could spread and infect more and more plant life--and the amount of toxin would kill everything in its path.
She swallowed and looked closer at the seed pod, which was hard--the closer she looked at it the more foul it appeared. Aika was right, this piece of plant life had completely forgotten what it was, what it was supposed to be. No wonder nothing the wizards or heroes had done could fix the plants--this wasn't just a mutation or transformation, this was warping and distorting the kernel of a universe--and she was sure, somehow, that One, that Lone Power, had had a hand in this. A non-wizard should not have been able to cause a change this complete and total--without help.
She closed her eyes, and listened, listened for the heart, the kernel of the universe that existed, even in miniature, in this tiny seed pod. Quietly, quietly...she reached into the twisted and damaged kernel of this small piece of life, and suddenly she grasped it--but instead of a bright, strong, loud light, she felt a bitter taste in her mouth, and a hot, fevered darkness, rotten and decaying.
Nita shuddered and pulled away, regrouping. She searched for her connection to this universe, to the kernel of the Earth, and nearly gasped with relief to feel that vibrant, silvery light. Now, the hard part...
She looked at the kernel from the Gotham seed pod, and reached into it, grasping a twisted jumble of characters, and, carefully, changed them. She pulled the silver light from the kernel of the Earth and braided it into the kernel of the seed pod, adding structure, order, and, above all--light.
It seemed like hours before she was finished, but when she released the inner and outer shields, her connection to Kit told her it had only been minutes. Kit grinned at her, immediately seeing the change in the seed pod, now a soft, natural green--all traces of toxin or that warped metal gone.
Tim and Dinah watched, a little confused, as the shield disappeared and Nita stood, depositing a normal seed pod into the leather pouch.
Kit grinned at Tim. "That's it!"
"Really? That little bit was all it took?"
Nita raised an eyebrow at Dinah as she rose carefully, exhausted. "Trust me, there was nothing "little bit" about it."
Dinah grinned. "I'll take your word for it." She shook her head again--all that effort for five minutes (at least, so it appeared) of work. "So, now--"
"Now, we go home," Tim said firmly. Home, to Alfred's cookies and Christian Bale in the Cook County Hospital instead of the Batsuit. He'd leave the rest of inter-dimensional traveling to Bruce and the League, all he wanted now was to look at an atlas and reassure himself that Gotham City was nestled next to the Atlantic in New Jersey where it belonged.∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞
"OK, but are they...really real?"
Carl raised an eyebrow, "And what, exactly, is 'really real'?"
Kit opened his mouth to respond and then shut it. He looked across the room at Nita, ensconced in Carl and Tom's love seat, flanked on both sides by dogs. She sighed and leaned her head back. "My head hurts," she groaned.
Tom laughed and shook his head, offering Kit the rapidly emptying bowl of chips. The two young wizards had come here trying to understand how comic book characters could really have just spent an evening in New York. But the answers they were getting from their Seniors--the wizards supposed to guide and educate them--weren't really helping.
"Do you think they're going to remember?" Kit asked, "You know, that they were here...I mean, that they were here and found out that they aren't...aren't..." He trailed off, because it was difficult to think of Tim or Dinah or any of them as...fictional.
"Tell you what, why don't you test it? Travel to a universe where we're fictional, and then come back and see what you remember."
Kit and Nita laughed, and then Nita blinked and eyed Tom. "You're...you are just kidding, right?"
"You don't really think there's a place where we're fictional, do you?" Kit asked incredulously.
"Look, kids, you two are wizards. You regularly visit the moon, travel the galaxy and you turned into whales! Do I really need to quote Hamlet?"
Kit snorted, then quoted the expected phrase,"There are more wonders in Heaven and Earth..."
Carl eyed his partner, "I'd have gone with the Velveteen Rabbit myself, but..." He watched Nita and Kit laugh at the reference and settle back into their chairs--still a little unnerved, but starting to accept yet another odd part of life as a wizard. He smiled and thought silently to himself: And at least yours were more polite than the X-Men.
Tim watched the main monitor in the Batcave with satisfaction--the damaged plants were almost all returned to their natural state, and the toxicity level had diminished enough that everyone in the evacuated area was returning. Aika, ZiLi, and Denise had managed to connect a gate back to Gotham, with the help of Kit and Nita. The three wizards were exhausted and a little wobbly when they made it back, though the trip back wasn't nearly as tumultuous as the trip there. Dinah insisted the three be checked out at Gotham General, and she and Cassie had escorted them there, just to make sure they were all right.
He glanced at another monitor and smiled as the Gotham Plaza Christmas Tree was finally relighted. Bruce came back into the cave, having disposed of the costume Ivy had pretty much destroyed. He stood next to Tim and watched the monitors for a moment, then glanced at him sideways, very briefly. "You did well."
Tim swallowed at this unexpected--and rare--praise, and nodded, "Thanks. Our wizards did really well too." He caught the slight grimace on Bruce's face at the possessive pronoun and added, "They really did, Bruce. We couldn't have done it without them."
There was silence. Finally Bruce grunted and sat down at the main station. Tim grinned to himself--considering Bruce's distaste for magic, that was probably the best he was going to get.
"Anything unusual in their universe?"
"Nah," Tim said, and then paused. "Though there was..." He trailed off.
Bruce eyed him, and he frowned, then shrugged his shoulders. "There was something I meant to remember..." He thought for a moment, but the vague sense of something memorable was fading. "Huh. Oh, well. It's probably not important."
On the monitor showing Gotham Plaza, the Christmas tree was lit once again, green and vibrant with silver ornaments; the first hints of Christmas morning's sunrise were starting to show.
Nita thought back to that day, but the Rowan continued before she could answer. "You found another light." The rowan rustled her leaves gently, something like a tree version of a sigh or deep breath. "And what will you do now, when you feel your roots are unsettled?"
Nita was quiet a long time, the wording sinking in. The rowan had hit at the feeling she'd been struggling to put into words at Tom and Carl's house. Her roots were unsettled--she felt like the ground had shifted and was no longer reliable. When the sun went out on that very first adventure, the first time she and Kit had met and discovered they were wizards, Fred had sacrificed himself to give them the light they needed to defeat the Lone Power. When she and Kit had traveled to Gotham last year, to a world that should not exist, and met people who couldn't be real...those people had offered their help and support instantly. When those same impossible people showed up in their world today, she and Kit had immediately come to help, not just because of their duty as wizards, but because of the friendship they shared with these supposedly non-existent people, because of all the other non-existent people who could be killed in Gotham and the rest of their world.
Carl was right about the Velveteen Rabbit. Fictional or not, they were real in every way that mattered. Nita smiled and stood, brushing off leaves and dirt from her pants. She leaned against Liused, almost the way she used to hug the tree as a child.
"Are your roots settled now?" Liused asked, a dry amusement in her voice.
"Yes," Nita said, moving back and patting the tree's trunk affectionately. She looked up at the stars, where Fred still shone somewhere, where a planet of machine intelligences had rejected the Lone Power, where a Transcendent Pig still refused to answer a question, where other worlds and other universes innumerable impossibly far away and right-next door existed. There were still a lot of other lights to find.
of a good universe next door; let’s go”
― E.E. Cummings