Batman ran through the dark alley, chasing one of his oldest nemeses and friends, Harvey Dent. He entered a dead end. He whipped around to see Two-Face holding a gun in one hand and flipping a coin in the other. Batman wasn't surprised and wasn't intimidated by his old nemesis.

"Just like Old times, eh Bats?" Two-Face smiled, "All this chasing and you didn't know you were the prey."

"If it's just like old times, Harvey, then you know you're not going to win." Batman said with a scowl, "I know you're not working alone...who are you working with...or for?"

"Some secrets belong in the dark." He chortled before letting the coin drop. He smiled to himself and cocked the gun, "I'd tell you but you lost."

As he was about to shoot the gun, the gun flew from his hands and skidded right in front of Batman. Two-Face began cursing and trying to figure out what happened. He looked to Batman, whose eyes were on something behind him. Two-Face turned in time to be taken off his feet by an invisible force.

Phoenix stepped into view, "Why is it that I'm always saving your ass?" He smiled.



Prince of Gotham: The Long Hello


I stood in Tim's room, looking around. I'd finally shaken Bruce and Alfred, who should have been used to seeing the dead, and come to be in Tim's room. I looked at the pictures of him and his friends, taking note of how much older he was and marveling at the fact that the people in this picture, Bruce, Alfred, Dick, Tim, and the Kid, all looked like a happy family. It was something I'd watched, but you don't really get the effect unless it's right in front of me. My family had thrived back to life. I now have two little brothers and a little sister, along with an annoying little dog. I'd seen the Crises on Earth and all the events, but being corporeal, being human again made it feel all the more real. I snapped out of my thoughts when I heard someone whistling as Tim walked into the room, wearing only a towel. He stopped at the sight of me and I paused at the sight of him. He'd grown in the most flattering way. He was muscled and manly now. Kind of reminded me of Dick when he was Robin, maybe bigger.

"I thought you were...gone." I said slowly.

"Ditto." He said with shock, "When—Are you—How?"

"Don't ask. In fact, if I die again and you see me, don't ask." I smiled. He chuckled and noticed he was undressed, "It's okay. I remember teeny, tiny Tim and you're just grown up and—"

"I think I should change...and you should...umm—"

"Right." I said walking to the door, "Sorry. I just..."

"It's okay." Tim blushed.

"Oh yeah and Cassie really likes you." I nodded, "Oh and nice abs." I said, walking out of the room. I bumped right into Damian Wayne and his gigantic dog Titus, "That's a mighty huge dog."

"You are the Huma?" Damian asked, sizing me up.

I nodded, "You must be wondering how I pulled of this whole resurrection thing, huh?" I asked

His face contorted into a frown, "My grandfather bathes in the Lazarus Pit, I am not confounded by your reappearance." He said quickly, "It's just curious that you would come now."

"Don't worry, I'm sure Bruce and Alfred are checking my saliva or something right now." I grinned. He didn't crack a smile, "Anybody tell you that you've got your grandfather's sense of humor and your father's scowl? And as far as I've seen the combat skills of your mom."

"I distrust you." Damian said quickly.

"Well I distrust the spawn of Talia Al Ghul, but at least I'm civil." I chortled.

Without another word, he left with Titus. I chuckled to myself and rolled my eyes as Tim came out of the room dressed in a sweater and khakis.

"A sweater? Khakis? How long have I been gone?" I asked.

Tim chuckled and looked down the hall to see Damian turn the corner, "I see you've met our little ray of sunshine." He smirked, "He's the sunshine of our lives."

"I gathered. That Al Ghul blood is strong in him." I said quickly. I looked over and noticed he was staring, "What? You can't be that surprised that I'm back!"

"You're...tangible. Corporeal. Your body's been incinerated more than three times." Tim said in awe, "You literally are a Phoenix."

"Yeah, can we get back to the kid that says he's watching me because he seriously gave me the wiggins." I chuckled, "Is it just me or does he have the most intimidating set of genetics possible?"

Tim was about to say something but looked behind me. I turned to see Bruce staring at me.

"Oh no, Tim, I think we got caught." I said with mock fear, "Did the DNA come through?"

"Yes," Bruce said darkly, "I see you've found two of three of my sons. I hope Damian didn't scare you too much."

"No more than you do." I smiled.

"We need to talk. I invited Dick, Barbara and Jason." Bruce announced, walking away.

"Why?" I asked, following. Tim was right behind me.

Bruce didn't turn, "If you're here, there is obviously something wrong. You just don't come down for the ambiance." He said, descending the stairs.

"You're right but it gets so lonely up there." I said quickly following him down the stairs and to the gigantic sitting room, where he turned to me, "What?"

"How long have you been here?" Bruce asked.

"A couple of've sure changed...nothing." I said, looking around.

Bruce frowned at me, "You're lying." He said angrily.

"I may be a lot of things..."

"The DNA, your DNA, shows signs of being months old." Bruce said, causing an immediate look of surprise on my face, "Are you going to tell me the truth or do I have to—"

"What? Torture me? Scare me?" I asked defensively.

Damian walked in with Titus, "I vote on both. Or we could kill him and wait until he comes back, father." He said, sitting on the couch.

"Look Bruce, not all of us wear black sweaters and black pants and run off into the darkness fighting crime. Most of us barely escape or don't at all and after that, we deserve something more...something you wouldn't take because you're not selfish enough to take the opportunity." I said angrily. All three men, including Alfred, who'd just joined us, and Titus stared at me, "Are you mad that I lied or are you mad that I was back and I didn't tell you?"

Alfred cleared his throat as Tim and Damian looked on.

Bruce looked extraordinarily disturbed, "Exactly what did you do for all those months?" he asked.

I chuckled and Alfred cleared his throat again.

"You really want to know?" I asked.

"I do."

We all turned towards Alfred to see that Dick and Barbara had made it. They looked at me with the same awe as everyone else and I rolled my eyes. When I looked to Bruce, he was staring at me expectantly.

"I swear if either one of you asks `what—when—how', I will kill you." I said with a very serious tone.

"My God. We thought..." Barbara said, clasping her hands over her mouth.

I nodded, "Believe me, you wouldn't be seeing me again. It was part of the plan." I said quickly.

"I think it's about time you explained a lot to us." Tim said, now staring at me the same as Bruce.

"Where do I start?" I chuckled, moving over and sitting in the window pane, "Beginning, I suppose. After I saved your asses years ago, I was granted new life. These things don't really happen easily, thus explaining why it took years to become me again. I had to make a choice and I made it. I said goodbye to my unearthly position as watcher and became human, or whatever I am, again. The plan, which was highly recommended, was that I make a life away from the people I once knew. To get a fresh start somewhere and let go of the pain and anguish of my former life. I lived in California for a while before I got bored, then decided I'd had enough of the US and moved to Paris. It was there where I started to keep up with everything and where I learned about everything that happened. It got boring and lonely and, well, you know me, I can't just stop being a hero. It's what I became. I've been brokering information to Barbara under the name of a broker who died and helping the league with any underground rumblings, even on occasion sending you subliminal messages with my powers." I explained, "But no secret is safe for long, especially with the risks we take. Ra's Al Ghul found me and that led to others finding me. He became obsessed with my return and he's not one to keep quiet about such things."

"How long have you been in Gotham?" Dick asked.

I stared at him, "Four months. Fighting off the League of Assassins was such a pain." I frowned.

Damian scoffed, "As if you could fight off the League. They'd eat you alive." He said.

"You're right. If I hadn't had my powers, they would have used my body for research or something, but I've learned to fight since then." I said cooly.

"From who?" Bruce asked, folding his arms.

I sighed, "Does it really matter?" I asked.

"Why now? Why show yourself now?" Dick asked, the anger apparent in his voice, "You've been doing it all yourself, why do you even need us now?"

"Last night, Batman was attack by Two-Face." I said simply.

"And?" Tim asked.

Bruce's eyes shifted to me again, "He's working with someone." He said carefully, "Ra's?"

"Grandfather?" Damian asked.

"Yeah, but I call him asshole." I said quickly.

"How dare you!" Damian said, standing.

"Damian, settle down." Bruce said quickly.

"Yeah, Damian, sit. Roll over." I said antagonizing him.

Without another word, he swiftly jumped the couch in an attempt to kill me, I supposed, but I threw my hand up causing him to freeze in the air. I then invaded his mind and caused him to squeal and squirm as he fell to the floor. The knife landed at my feet and I picked it up, still in his mind as images flashed of his mother, of his extreme pain and borderline psychotic upbringing.

"Stop this!" Bruce shouted, "Both of you!"

I stopped and tossed the knife to the kid, "Look, I came to warn you. Do you think they would have hesitated to off all of you? You don't want my help? Fine. I'll bounce, but the truth is I've been feeling this overwhelming sense of dread. I don't know if this is what I'm dreading, but it's not good." I said angrily.

"Calm down." Barbara said with concern.

"How in the Hell can I calm down when you're all treating me like I'm a freaking liar?!" I looked around at them, "Do you think I would reveal myself if I didn't think something insidious was coming. It doesn't have a face yet."

Damian picked himself up off the floor and disappeared through the doors, walking the grounds. I looked back and sighed.

"I'll—" Dick began.

"No. I owe him an apology. His family may be a bunch of messed up psychopaths, but I shouldn't bring it up. Poor manners and all." I said following Damian outside.

"Bruce, I'm as pissed off as you are, but—" Dick started.

"I know." Batman said quickly, "He's never wrong."

"Do you think it was a good idea leaving those two alone?" Tim asked, looking over his shoulder.

"No, but Phoenix wouldn't hurt him." Bruce said quickly.

Alfred chuckled but turned it into a cough, "I'm sure...but are we should of the opposite?" he asked.

They all exchanged unpleasant looks.




I walked the grounds for about fifteen minutes before I found him by a shrub maze. He was sitting on a stone bench, looking out onto the marvelous grounds. I could see ducks out on the lake and just far off I could see Gotham in all its glory. He knew I was there. I knew he knew I was there. I approached cautiously, not daring to get to closer to the assassin boy-wonder with the large knife. He regarded me with annoyance, though he never looked up at me.

"What do you want?" He snapped.

I smiled to myself, "Look, kid..."


I took a deep breath, "Damian...I'm sorry for insinuating that the house of Al Ghul is a psychopath's dream. Even if I believe it, I should say it." I said quickly.

"The house of Al Ghul is feared and respected the world over...but to see it get so much disrespect from so many `heroes' is disheartening." Damian said angrily.

I shrugged, "Why do you care so much? That's not who you are." I said quickly.

"I am a Al Ghul, like my mother, like my grandfather, like his father..." Damian said proudly.

I chuckled.

"It's so funny to you?" Damian asked, "What is it that you have against my family?"

"Well, your grandpa, the psych—umm guy that he is is more about what the world can give him. How he can live. Did you even learn about your Aunt Nyssa or your Uncle Dusain?" I took a seat by him, "His father was no better, as you know. He daughter, his only `good' daughter, did some horrible things and not just in the name of love. She did it in the name of Al Ghul. They've done things to me. They're still actively doing things to me."

"I am sorry."

"Wasn't your fault. Well, okay, you did try to kill me with a very large knife, but you're trained to be that way." I said quickly. I sighed again, "Your mother was trained the same way, though she tries to fight the training, it's who she is. But you...I saw your mind."

He looked to me as if I'd read his diary.

"Didn't mean to, but you're not the same and I'd like to think that's because you've got some Wayne in you." I smiled, leaning back, "You want to be good and you do it, though you have decapitated a person or two, it's because you wanted to prove yourself. And I can respect that. It wasn't long ago that I wanted what you wanted: Justice, Revenge...and end."

"They said...or explained to me that you're different." Damian said, "I was never taught about such things, such western concepts. Love and sex, but you contradict the little I was taught."

"I get that a lot." I nodded. I looked onto the hedge maze and reminisced, "I used to run through this maze and Bruce and Dick, being the detectives they were, would always catch me, you know. At a certain point, I stopped running through the maze, I stopped enjoying life as it had been as a kid, you know. I was tied down to all this restriction and I never ran through the maze again."

"I do not understand the connection." He said, puzzled.

"I did, however, feel that freedom again. When I came out. When I let go of being a socialite. When I let go of being a writer for the paper." I looked to him, "Being a hero and being myself, my true self, is like running through that maze. I've just got different things chasing me now."

"You celebrate being different, being deficient?" Damian asked.

I laughed, "I'm not deficient, but you're right. I'm different. Does that make me any less of a hero?" I asked.

"I guess not." Damian said quickly, "I don't say this a lot but I'm sorry for my behavior. I have heard of you, but I believed nothing because—" He stopped.

"Because once I was bad? I was a kick ass villain." I chuckled, "And the costume was just so awesome."

"My father is fond of you. He speaks of you with sadness. They all do." Damian said quickly, "I do believe you were wrong to not contact them."

"They talk about me?" I asked.

"Yes, frequently." Damian said quickly, "I am glad that I have the opportunity to meet you."

I stared at him, "Why wouldn't y—" but as I felt an odd presence. Damian was staring at me, "Damian, go inside."

"No, They're here." He said slowly.

I stood, "Kid, do you have to question everything?" I asked, "We need help."

Damian stood, too. Before I saw anything, I felt something whizzing through the air and pushed Damian to the ground, allowing two throwing stars to cut into my shoulder! I was thrown to the grown by the pain and looked up to Damian, "Go." I whispered, watching him run away. I gasped, rolling over on my back and looking up to see a man with a bandaged face surrounded by ninjas.

"That wasn't so hard." Hush said smugly.

I smirked and opened my mouth, causing a shockwave to throw him off his feet before I passed out.




I screamed out in the darkness, trying to still the pain of Victor Zsaz cutting into my flesh. I was flooding in and out of consciousness as he made cut after cut. My blood ran down my arms, my chest, and every other place he cut. I refused to scream, though I did whimper and quiver from the pain. The madman took pleasure in my pain, watched to see me break, but I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

"You are strong. Of noble blood." Ra's voice came through the darkness. I opened my eyes to see him appear from the darkness, "Your concern for my heir is...touching, though predictable."

I laughed and panted, "Yeah, I met him...he's a pill, but not as much of a dick as you." I spat.

Ra's frowned, "You wish for death? Not too bright of someone like you." He said quickly.

"I died. Then I died again. What's one more time?" I said looking down at the blood on my clothes, "Didn't hurt this much last time, though, I gotta admit."

"How did you make the journey back to the land of the living without the use of the Lazarus Pit?" Ra's asked, obviously cutting to the chase, "I wouldn't hesitate to tell me. If you do happen to die, I know what to do with you."

"You're complex, aren't you? You respect ability of humanity. Sad." I frowned, "What followers you have left may be stupid enough to fear you, but your daughter took off with the majority, right?"

"I like this one." Hush said, appearing next to him, "Please tell me I get a turn."

"As long as I get to kill him." Two-Face smirked, flipping a coin, "I owe him a little something from our last meeting."

"Silence!" Ra's snapped, "There will be no death, not until I know the secrets that he knows."

"Secrets?" Two-Face asked.

"Life and death. Life and death." Zsaz said sadistically, cutting me on my arms, "He dies. He lives. He's..."

"Remarkable," Ra's said, walking closer, "Did you think I wouldn't find you? Did you think your secrets would stay as such?"

I shrugged, "I'm just a dumb kid." I said quickly.

This caused Two-Face and Hush to laugh, but Ra's looked at me angrily, not fooled.

"In your teens, you came closer to ending the world than most super villains these days." Ra's said, causing a silence to sweep the room, "I have not been blind to your endeavors...your training with a very talented fighter, your hacking skills and your mystical powers."

"I just thought he was a meta." Two-Face growled.

Ra's glowering stare caused me to sit back. Hush frowned, "Why doesn't he use his powers on us? Doesn't that mean he can just..."

"Yes, it appears that I have been set up." Ra's said angrily eying me, "You used your psychic powers on me, to ignore details."

"I implanted the suggestions." I smirked, "How else could I lure you out?"

Two-Face and Hush immediately aimed their guns at me and Zsaz giggled insidiously.

Ra's turned to them, "Kill him." He said, sweeping into the shadows.

I heard guns cock before something clanged against them, knocking the guns out of their hands! Jason Todd dropped from the ceiling and took down Hush and Two-Face, then met Zsaz. He ducked Zsaz's knife and gun-whipped him as I telekinetically untied myself and stood.

"Took you long enough." I smiled.

"You actually think I let you out of my sight since last night?" Jason asked, looking back at Hush and Two-Face, "I had to be sure of who I wanted to kill first."

I stared at him.

He turned to face me, "Don't." I held my hands up in surrender, "He really cut you up. Can you..."

"I'm human now." I said, noticing the shadows move, "How does he have that many followers? Seriously, how many assassins are there in the world?!"

"You're the psychic." Jason chuckled, pulling out his guns, "Can you fight?"

"Do I have a choice?" I asked as I turned to the shadows.

"Not really." Jason said as he stuck his back against mine.

Zsaz stood in front of me and ninjas stood far off. On the other side, Jason was staring at two criminals with guns and the same amount of ninjas. Within seconds, the ninjas began to fall and I saw Robin, Red Robin and Batgirl fighting them off. Jason smirked and began shooting into the ninjas in front of him. I stood between the three criminals as Batman and Nightwing dropped from the ceiling. I sighed in relief and they looked at me. I nodded, alerting them that I was okay. Batman wasted no time in engaging Hush, just as Nightwing engaged Two-Face. As if he was prompted, Zsaz moved towards me with great speed and began slashing at me. I ducked out of the way and kicked him in the ribs, causing him to stumble back. He came back faster and even more furious. I wasn't sure how I anticipated his moves, I flipped over the knife and waved my hand, causing it to fly out of his hand. He turned to me and I raised my hand, causing him to sink to his knees and fall to the floor unconscious. I looked up in time to see Two-Face start to fire his gun at me. In seconds, I ducked out of the way and saw the knife. I pushed my hand forward, causing it to slide across the floor and into my hand. I grabbed the knife and threw it at his hand. It stuck into his hand, causing him to curse out loud. I turned to see Ra's Al Ghul standing behind me. Within seconds, he pushed his hand forward, causing blue powder to come for my face. The spunky little Robin jumped in front of me, taking the full brunt of it and crashing to the floor. In anger, I raised my hand and threw him backwards through the shadows. With a sudden pull, the ninjas stopped and disappeared with him. Robin, Red Robin and Batgirl ran and helped secure the criminals.

I bent down Damian, trying to shake him awake, "Kid! Wake up!" I said frantically.

Dick bent down beside me, "He's alright, just knocked out." He said quickly, "He took the proverbial bullet for you...haven't seen that. Are you okay? You've lost a lot of blood."

"No biggie...right?" I said, falling to the ground.




"Bruce, what we had was complicated. It wasn't just a series of one night stands." Dick's voice came from the darkness, "What'd you have? Mild flirtation? This is like Poison Ivy all over again."

"Mild flirtation?" Bruce asked thoughtfully, "And what about Barbara?"

"What about Catwoman?" Dick asked.

Bruce cleared his throat, "Dick, we'll have to agree to disagree." He sighed.

"One day back and he's already coming between us." Dick laughed, "He even got Jason to show up. Is it me or did Jason not looked surprised to see him?"

"He has his secrets, just like we all do." Bruce said quickly, "I think that's the message in all this. His secrets need to stay his secrets."

"Do you think Ra's was right? That he knows the secret of life and death?" Dick asked curiously. Bruce looked at him silently, "Right, his secrets alone."

"You two are finally seeing reason." I croaked. Both men looked to me, "Did I pass out again?"

"You lost a lot of blood, how are you feeling?" Bruce asked.

"Like I've been cut all over." I groaned, trying to move, "Tell me you got the bastards and nobody else got hurt. And Damian!"

"He's fine." Bruce smiled, "He keeps asking about you, which baffles the mind."

"I'm a pretty special guy to have junior assassins caring, huh?" I smiled. Both men chuckled, "And from the sounds of the argument, it seems like I'm pretty in-demand here, too."

Both men looked startled. While Bruce's face faded back to a brooding one, Dick stared at me nervously.

"Too much time has gone by." I groaned, turning slightly, "You both moved on, if you didn't remember."

"Do we look like the type of people that move on?" Bruce said without a smile.

I smiled, only causing more pain, "Did Bruce Wayne just make a joke? Someone alert the Joker." I chuckled.

"So, what does this mean? Ra's is somewhere in Gotham, I guess you're leaving." Dick said sadly.

"No...I can't run." I sighed, "The powers that be were wrong, it's not possible to start a new life. I've got to solve old issues."

"Old issues?" Dick asked. He saw that I was looking to Bruce and looked to him, "What's he talking about?"

"The afterlife shows you things you never knew." I said quickly.

"Like?" Dick asked.

"His father is not his father." Bruce admitted, before turning to me, "Lucius is your grandfather, his daughter, Tamara, is your mother."

"Why didn't anyone ever tell me?" I asked.

"You were close to Lucius? He was a great uncle, wasn't he?" Bruce asked. I nodded, "Your mother and father didn't couldn't have children."

"I don't care." I frowned, looking away, "The thing is that I'm interested in someone else...And I can't really say more than that."

Bruce and Dick looked at me, shocked at my words. I didn't see another way to say it. There didn't seem to be a better way to say it. Both nodded with the greatest understanding and said goodbye and that they'd see me later at dinner. I couldn't help but feel a little stupid, especially when Barbara came in. I greeted her instantly and she made to hug me, but stopped and sat down in the chair beside my bed.

"I want to thank you." Barbara said out of nowhere, "The intel that you sent, under numerous assumed names I have found out, helped us in invaluable ways."

I nodded.

"I would like to offer you to be the new Oracle." She said quickly, "I think you'd be good at it."

I chuckled, "I doubt the Birds of Prey need a guy on their team."

"I was suggesting that you just be Oracle, without a team." Barbara giggled, "Even before your death, you knew more about the occult than most people. You immersed yourself in it and I'm sure that the Justice League Dark would value a lot of your information."

"Maybe." I smiled, "But there's stuff I have to do first."

"Take your time." Barbara said quickly, "I'm really glad you're back. I'll see you at dinner." She said standing and leaving the room.

The day passed quickly, seeing as how I was in-and-out of consciousness, and dinner was amazing. Alfred was still a genius with cuisine and the company was nice. There was little to no awkwardness between Dick, Bruce and I. I think they understood and I was grateful. Damian seemed to have warmed up to me because he hovered; Tim said that he must look up to me, but I dismissed it. I was what he was used to, the cold truth and the emergence of power over identity. Unknowingly, my humanity played a part in his newfound liking. After dinner, everyone headed to the sitting room and I told everyone that I needed some air. I moved outside to the balcony and looked out onto Gotham, taking a breath before realizing what my next course of action was. I wasn't shocked when something moved to my left, in fact, I smiled.

"You missed dinner." I said, still looking out.

Jason Todd moved to the rail and leaned against it, "I found a diner." He said quickly. He looked into the Mansion, "You're not inside sharing the big, happy family reunion?"

I looked to him, "Is it really that bad to cherish someone, to celebrate happiness?" I asked.

"No such animal." Jason smirked, "You know my history."

"Yes, and it's history." I frowned. He ignored me and I continued, "Thank you for not kill the villains."

"Hey, I got some of the ninjas. It was a fair trade." Jason shrugged.

I nodded, "So you're saying you've matured and it wasn't for me?" I asked.

He looked to me with annoyance, "I'm mature. More mature than Wayne or Grayson." I looked at him wearily, "Do you think, if you hadn't asked me, I'd have left any of those pieces of shit alive?"

I chuckled.

"What?" Jason asked angrily.

"You want to be this cold, inhuman justice machine but you're not." I smiled to him, "You're just damaged."


"We all are. We put on tights and fight crime, something we'll never win over." I said softly, "Do you regret getting involved with me? Because it made you more human?"

"More human? I'm human." Jason chuckled angrily, "I've been human. I just want justice for—"

"What your dad did? What your mom did? What some deranged clown did?" I asked, "He doesn't have a face anymore. He's—"

"Still out there." Jason said, looking at the view, "And no, I don't regret anything about you. You're my weakness, which is stupid of me, but if I have to have one, I'd rather it be you." He looked to me, "You trusted me before any of them, doesn't that say it all?"

I joined him at the rail, "I'm coming back in a big way. I have to stay here. I have to let the world see that I'm not dead." I said, staring at him.

He looked at me, "You're becoming a socialite again? You just keep surprising me." Jason frowned, "We can't be more different. You're from towers and I'm from the gutter. Can you be happy with that, with me?"

"No." I said quickly, "But I'm not him, I'm not a socialite anymore. I have to change, to adapt. I have to be a person as a opposed to a label. And if you're asking if I could love you, if I'd break your heart...I can't promise I won't do the latter, but as far as if I could love you, I see through you. Through all the pain, through all the anger, you want to do something good."

Jason surprised me by moving closer and putting his arm around me, leaning in and kissing me. When we broke apart, he stared at me as if wanting to stifle happiness. After the smile on my face dissipated, his face turned to worry.

"The dread—" I said.

"This wasn't it, was it?" Jason asked.

I shook my head and whispered, "No."