See? You never needed that wand or that cape. The power to feel unfocused shame and anxiety was within you this whole time.

there's a monster at the end of this book. it's the blank page where the story ends and you're left alone with yourself and your thoughts.

when you linger nostalgically on your past, that pain you feel in your chest is the exit wound of time.

As readily as the city - no, the world - had opened up again, hitting the stride of business as usual in a relatively short amount of time following the events of Battleworld, one could expect that there would be a mix of the good with the bad as troublemakers once again found themselves in the mix of everyday Janes and Joes that just wanted to get back to their routines - to their lives - and attempt to recoup what they had lost while everything was on pause. Where there would be children heading off to school in what was hopefully a valiant attempt to catch up on education lost through paused, muted, and otherwise ignored or unavailable Zoom classes, and business owners doing everything they could to dig themselves out of the red before their finances ran out for good, there would be a fair share of gangs getting their feet back up under them, if not outfits of the very same going back to old habits if they had even stopped in the first place; and while it wasn’t typically his cup of tea to step out into the dark of night to play vigilante - especially when he didn’t know the fate of the Terror Titans despite his escape from Battleworld - there was a restlessness found in his bones that said he needed to get out.

He expected a lot of people to feel the same way. Even though the gates were open and everyone had a chance to go out, to be social, to play again, there was a strong pull towards responsibility that had seen Connor in the restaurant during those weekend hours he didn’t spend at the dojo, taking minimal pay to make sure that those legitimate employees of his mother’s restaurant received their fair share before him, both to make sure his mother was doing well and he, himself, was keeping busy; and when he wasn’t at the dojo or at the restaurant, he definitely didn’t want to be inside, bored and restless, mulling over his own thoughts and feelings to the low thrum of whatever rerun happened to be on the television while studios worked on post-production of new content while Peanut chewed away an an all-too-loud squeaky toy. He definitely didn’t want to think on what the next catastrophe might have been, what might have come to destroy the world next while giving shifters a hard time, and he definitely didn’t want to fill his head with outlandish theories and conspiracies born of a paranoia he knew he could only shake by getting out and doing something.

Or someone.

“What was that, Terry? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of your ego,” Connor quipped without second thought, without pause or missing a beat, even as he peered over the edge of the 555 Market Street skyscraper with his eyes on the streets below. The heads up display built into the cowl of the suit gave him all the help he needed when it came to watching the quiet streets below, the Financial District not exactly a hotbed of activity when the offices and corporate buildings that lined the streets were closed for the evening, but there was little good found in only patrolling part of a preplanned beat when it could have meant missing what was right underneath his nose. Something could happen - anything could happen, if he was going to take the business of shifters into account - and the unobservant would miss their opportunity only to catch a swiss cheese version of events on the news the next morning.

I know you heard me,” Terry remarked, not for a second believing that there was anything more than Connor’s own intentional ignorance at play. Connor closed his eyes as a precursor to the exasperation he knew he was likely to feel from Terry McGinniss, once more, sticking his nose in his personal business, something he had done a number of times before even during those weeks when the lines hadn’t been so blurred as they were now, but Connor, refusing to believe the Emerald Archer had ultimately left him, refused to allow convergence even in small form. However, now that it had happened through lack of fight in favor of symbiotic acceptance of a new, but similar mantle, he knew there would be no escape from whatever it was Terry had to say.

What made it even worse, he supposed, was that Terry hadn’t been wrong, and what made it more confusing were thoughts - memories, just like everything to do with the shifts had been in essence - of another that stood in direct antithesis of what he knew now to be true. It brought a brand new point of view to the perpetual frustration Terry had pointed out once upon a time, a convolution to feelings that were only opposition to pleasant outcomes, and saddled Connor in the middle of a mental dilemma he had no intention of finding himself in despite knowing well enough that the intrusive memories he had found himself with were decidedly true.

“And just what do you know about any of this?” Connor asked, not so well-versed in the romantic wiles of one Terry McGinnis to recognize where his jabs and teasing, his poking fun at a situation that had unfortunately and untimely so landed in Connor’s lap, would have had some merit to the situation at hand. It was extremely blindsided to assume there hadn’t been some level of stability in such relations where Terry was concerned, but when the traditional standing of the Batman - certainly not the younger counterpart, but the older mentor - had come into play, it spoke far more of a of a troubled playboy billionaire with a dime on each arm during the day while, at night, he found himself far more entangled with the less savory sorts of Gotham City.

And here he was, uncertain bisexual frustration and confusion in a bat suit, patrolling the streets in search of a distraction in an attempt to remove himself from his own unrest and worry, hardly the gold standard of the emblem emblazoned on the front of the stark black material or all the gadgets that had been hidden within. It felt more befitting of someone else, of another name and another uniform, rather than his current counterpart that on more than one occasion had brandished such unyielding confidence, he stood firmly on the fence of arrogance without outright toppling over - something that Connor put to use as he took a sharp dive off the building when the in-suit telecommunication devices picked up on police units dispatched to the 800 block of Market Street, not at all far away from where he had been temporarily stationed in his own distracted contemplation.

I know you’ll have to figure it out eventually, Terry continued even though he could feel that shift in conscious thought from matters of the heart to matters of the mind, propulsion boosters making the already short flight over Market Street considerably shorter and continued thrust allowing for a smooth landing at the BART station in the vicinity of what he suspected a personal robbery - wallet, watch, phone or laptop, whatever it was someone could rip out of someone’s possession and fetch a price for. Snatch-n-grab robberies were not uncommon. In fact, he was sure there had been a surge at some point before the city had been shut down, and with the increase in distracted civilians taking to the streets once more, why wouldn’t it spike again with operating hours returning to normal and midnight quite a few hours away from the last ray of sunlight?

And I know sometimes the right decisions are the toughest ones, he said, Connor jumping to action at the sound of departing footsteps, urgent and hurried to get away from the scene of the crime - perhaps as urgent and hurried as Connor was to get away from the conversation at hand. A quick thrust into the air brought him back down in reasonable vicinity for the cable shot from a compartment within the suit to tangle up with the escaping suspect’s feet and a quick tug ripped his feet backwards, all but toppling him onto the ground as the stolen possessions in his arms, not already pilfered away in his pockets or too large to do so, scattered about.

And I know you don’t want my opinion on this, but if you ask me, it’ll be an easy decision to make, Terry continued even as Connor approached the fallen robber, making quick work of slapping a pair of flexi-cuffs on his wrists and ankles only to set him up where the police would be able to find him. They could handle the rest as far as Connor was concerned, no police officer in his own right to bother himself with the bureaucratic rigmarole of processing to come with a badge on his lapel - not that he had a lapel to begin with either.

“Why’s that?” Connor murmured, keeping his voice low and confirming Terry’s suspicions, as he picked up the swiped laptop from the ground with all intention in returning it to the proper owner given a quick scan to track them down. It was a further distraction, something more to bide his time, to stay out longer rather than retiring early where he could sit with his own thoughts, reflecting on that which he knew would only bring about more strife, more confusion, more complications to the unspoken when there was already so much confusion to begin with, some born of the very same notion that had come out of Terry’s mouth.

Because he doesn’t even know who he is...

It felt like a scratch in the record, the screeching sound of a singular nail dragged across the laser etchings forged in the vinyl of a record otherwise twisted and warped by elements that were out of his control, and brought Connor a moment pause in his retreat from the scene and return to patrol to embrace the static found in the sudden silence between himself and Terry. He was waiting for it - the other shoe to drop and the shit to hit the fan - and so was the anxiety resting in his stomach that seemed in synmpicato with the very real point Terry was attempting to make. It seemed to flip backward, perhaps twice, before diving right into his stomach with the splash of rationalization that Terry, once again, was right and Connor, as always, was stubborn, but there had been proof of it - proof of the words that further came from Terry in the form of absurd conversations about carrying such super powered mantles of fiction.

But that hadn’t been the worst of it, the verification of something that Connor knew as valid and true when there were still questions about why he had been broadcast on television in a fight for his life, chained in the form of a shock collar with only so much favor to his name and presence in the form of golden gauntlets or why he had been presence during an still yet-to-be believed attack by an alien plant in the safety of his parents’ home, a prattling British A.I. accounted for when it came to figuring out what to do. It hadn’t bothered him, not in such a similar way, that his attempts to explain what was going on - what the shifts were - had fallen into disbelief because anyone, even with an e-mail from the Commission on Superpowered Affairs as flimsy validation of such ridiculous claims, wouldn’t believe they were super.

No, it had been as simple as a statement that took to an echo as if the last line in the close of a chapter, something that twisted and turned and left an uncomfortable feeling in his chest long after he had returned the laptop, returned home, and hung up the cowl for the night, resigning himself to his lingering thoughts and the hum of a snoring dog until sleep overtook him; and, come morning after it had time to settle in his chest, to plant and grow in the moonlight, it remained in the form of a disconcerting emptiness.

And what do you think that makes you to him?