Chapter Twenty-Four: Healing Hands

The White Knight put his hand on Ruby's shoulder as she stood weeping over the motionless body of Enrico Benetelli. In the midst of her tears, she took a moment to look behind her and see, for the first time in a long time, the strong but gentle figure who wore the emblem of the golden cross.

"Is it really you?" she asked between tears.

"It is," he answered. "I'm here. And don't worry anymore. It looks like we won."

Miracle rushed forward from where he had reentered the warehouse. The first thing he noticed was Ruby crying and the White Knight standing next to her.

"Ruby!" he shouted. He went over to them and saw Brobego and Benetelli, both lying on the ground, apparently dead. He took a deep breath. It looked like most of the fight was over, and he was glad that they were safe now. But he was not glad that lives had been lost and that so much destruction had resulted.

Miracle looked at Ruby, whose tears had begun to slow down. "Are you hurt?"

She shook her head.

"You sure?"

She nodded.

"You gonna be okay?"

She looked down at Enrico. "I've hated him for so many years," she said through tears. "But . . . I never wanted to watch him die."

"It's a shame," said Miracle. "I know they were evil, and I know we won, but still . . ." He shook his head.

"Maybe not all is lost," said the White Knight.

Miracle looked up at him. "What do you mean?"

The White Knight did not answer at first, but walked over to the two men. "I checked Brobego's pulse a few minutes ago, but that was before Benetelli stepped on his neck." He bent down and put his fingers on Brobego's neck. "Yes. He's dead." Then he moved over to Benetelli and did the same. "But Benetelli is still breathing."

...

"So . . . what do we do now?" Lady Light asked Frostburn.

"I don't know," he said. "Is that all the bad guys?" He looked around the rest of the warehouse, wincing at each movement of his joints.

"I think so. I don't see any others."

As Frostburn looked around the room, he used his ice powers to put out a few nearby flames that had resulted from the battle. "Let's see. Miracle and Ruby are standing over there, and so is the White Knight."

"Is that really the White Knight?" she asked.

"I guess so. I noticed him during the fight."

"So did I, but I didn't know he was back . . . or how he found out what was going on here."

"Neither did I," said Frostburn. "But hey, we've got another good guy on our side. I'm not complaining."

"Looks like Brobego and Benetelli are down and out over there too," she said. "I guess we should go see what's going on."

"Wait," said Frostburn. "What about Night Terror and Neuron? Last I saw, Night Terror was headed back there . . ." He kept looking around and pointed. Then he stopped moving his head and his mouth hung open. "Oh no."

"What?"

Frostburn ran off toward the back of the warehouse. Lady Light followed him closely. Frostburn stopped and looked down at the ground, furrowing his brow and gritting his teeth. He saw Night Terror and Neuron lying on the ground, both bloody and dead.

Lady Light gasped. She saw the same sight that Frostburn did.

"He told me he was gonna try to kill Neuron," Frostburn said. "Looks like he did . . . but I guess Neuron got him too."

Lady Light put her arm around Frostburn's shoulders. "Drake . . . I'm sorry. I know he was kind of becoming a friend of yours . . ."

Frostburn did not answer her directly. "We've got to tell the others."

...

Ruby perked up at the White Knight's announcement. "What?"

"He's still breathing," the White Knight answered. "He's lost a lot of blood . . . he must have fainted from blood loss or overexertion or something . . . but he's not dead. Not yet, anyway."

"Then we've got to help him!" Ruby exclaimed. "Can you fly him to a hospital?"

"I'll see what I can—"

"Guys?" Frostburn interrupted. He and Lady Light had just rushed up to join the others. They all turned to look at him. Frostburn took a deep breath. "Neuron's dead . . . but so is Night Terror."

Miracle lowered his head. "No. So much death . . ."

Frostburn continued. "I figure we should get him away from here. Bury the body or something . . ."

"Right," said Miracle. He glanced back in the direction where Frostburn had come from and started to follow.

"Wait," said the White Knight. Miracle stopped. He and the others looked at the White Knight, still bent down over Benetelli. "Benetelli's still alive, and, even as bad a man as he is . . . I don't want to see any more lives lost today if I can help it."

"Please don't let him die," Ruby said. "Get him to a hospital! Or someone call an ambulance!"

The White Knight did neither. He did not do anything that anyone in the room had expected. He closed his eyes, still keeping his hands on Benetelli where they had been before, and remained still for several moments. Nothing happened at first.

"Um . . . what are you doing?" Frostburn asked.

"Shh!" Lady Light whispered. "Look."

Enrico Benetelli's wounds began to close. Blots of red on his skin disappeared. There were some patches of dried blood that did not go away, but flesh covered over the open wounds and prevented more blood from spilling out. His muscles began to shrink as well—not in an unhealthy way, but just back to their normal state before the formula had augmented them. Enrico coughed, but then inhaled sharply, and his chest began to rise and fall steadily.

Ruby gasped and a few more tears fell from her eyes—but for a different reason than before. She bent down and put a hand on Enrico's chest to feel it for herself. His heart seemed to be beating perfectly normally.

The White Knight opened his eyes and stood up, breathing a little more heavily but otherwise looking normal. "There," he said. "He's still unconscious. His body has taken quite a beating. But I think he's gonna make it."

"That's . . . that's amazing," said Miracle.

"I didn't know he had healing powers," Lady Light said softly.

"Neither did I," Miralce answered. "I've never heard of it before."

Frostburn was wide-eyed. "Come on!" he said to the group.

Lady Light looked at him. "Drake, I think we can wait a little. This was pretty amazing—"

"I know!" Frostburn replied. "We've got to do Night Terror too." He looked up at the White Knight. "Come on. Please?"

"I'll try." The White Knight flew over to Night Terror's body and the other four heroes followed close behind. They all crowded together at the spot where Night Terror had died. Miracle and Ruby looked and saw the gruesome scene of the two bloody bodies on the ground.

"See," said Frostburn to the others. "Looks like he and Neuron must have killed each other."

The White Knight looked around. "Where's Neuron? I don't see—"

"Is that his knife?" Ruby interrupted. She pointed to the ground where a bloody knife lay close to Night Terror's hand.

"I guess so," said Lady Light. She bent down to examine the scene. "Oh no. Did . . . did he kill himself?"

Frostburn shook his head. "No. He wouldn't have. Neuron did it. Maybe he moved the knife with his mind. Or maybe he even mind-controlled Night Terror to do it . . . but Night Terror would never have done it himself."

"But Neuron . . ." the White Knight began, still looking around, trying to piece together the puzzle.

Frostburn looked up at him. "Can you do it?"

The White Knight sighed. "Let's see." He bent down and placed his gloved hands on Night Terror's chest, where his insides were somewhat visible through the huge knife wound. The White Knight closed his eyes and remained still for a few moments. Then he stood up. "No. I can't. I'm sorry."

"What? But you healed Benetelli!" Frostburn protested.

"Benetelli was still alive," said the White Knight. "He was still breathing. But Night Terror . . ." He looked down at the gaping wound. "Well, I don't see how anyone could've survived that. I'm sorry. I wish there was something I could do . . . but even I can't raise the dead."

"Try harder!" Frostburn shouted. "You need to try harder!"

"It won't change things," said the White Knight. "I'm afraid he's gone."

Frostburn raised a fist. "But . . . but . . ."

Lady Light held his arm back. "Drake . . . he's gone. I'm sorry, but he's gone."

Frostburn glared at the White Knight for a moment or two, but then he lowered his fist and his head. "Yeah . . . I guess he is." He let out a loud sigh.

The five heroes stood in silence for a few seconds. Then Lady Light spoke up. "Do you think . . . I don't know, but . . . should someone say a few words or something?"

The White Knight cleared his throat. "Death always feels like a tragedy, no matter whose it is," he announced. "There are a lot of tragedies and apparent injustices in life that I don't know how to explain. I don't know why criminals like Benetelli get a second chance at life while crimefighters like Night Terror die. I don't know why things happen the way they do. I can only do my part to do the right thing and make a difference with what's been given to me, and I'm sorry that I didn't arrive soon enough to do that for Night Terror." He sighed, but then continued. "I didn't know much about this man or the life he led under the mask," he said. "I can only hope and pray that his soul is now in a better place."

Miracle nodded. "I didn't really know him either," he said. "Not personally, anyway. But he was a good ally in all this. He brought our team together and got us all to go investigate the bad guys. If he hadn't done that, we might not even have been here to stop them. He was definitely dedicated to the cause of fighting evil."

"And he believed in me," Frostburn said. "He gave me a chance and tried to help me. I won't forget that."

"He was a good leader and a good fighter," said Ruby. "And, despite his tough appearance, he had a compassionate side as well, somewhere under all that darkness. He was a person just like the rest of us . . . and I'm sorry there was nothing we could do for him in his final moments."

"I didn't always agree with him," said Lady Light. "But I'm sorry to see him die. This whole thing has caused so much death and pain. People here, people in the city . . ."

The White Knight started as if suddenly remembering something. "Wait! People in the city?"

"Yeah," said Lady Light. "The formula drug killed at least one person. Probably more we don't know about. The body can only handle it in gradual doses, and—"

"Miracle!" said the White Knight. "What was that you told me before about the water supply being poisoned?"

"Brobego said they dumped the formula into the city's water supply," Miracle explained. "Or at least, they were going to."

"Have they done it yet?"

"I don't know. Before the battle, he said they were on their way. They might have gotten there by now."

"Where?"

"Near the big church in the middle of the city."

"I've got to go," said the White Knight. "It might not be too late." He ran toward the large hole in the front of the warehouse.

"Wait!" called Miracle. "What should we do?"

"Call the police and explain all this to them. Stay until they get here. Don't worry—I'll be back to answer questions. But I've got to go!" He flew out through the hole in the wall and off into the night.

"Should the rest of us go too?" asked Lady Light.

"We wouldn't make it in time," said Ruby. "He can fly."

"I can fly . . . but I guess he's stronger than I am. Maybe faster too. I don't know."

"Don't worry," said Miracle. "He's got it. He's the White Knight. If it's not too late—if there's still any hope at all—then he'll be able to handle things just fine."

They all stood there for a few more moments, not knowing what to do.

"So . . . I guess we should call the police?" asked Frostburn. He got out his phone from his pocket and dialed 911.

...

"Okay," said the man in black clothing. "The hatch is open. Get one of those containers down here."

Two other men dressed similarly to him stepped up onto the truck and pulled down a cylindrical metal container. One of them grunted. "Sure is heavy."

"Yeah, yeah, quit your whining," said the first man. "Just do your work."

The two men set the canister down on the ground. "Oh, I'm doing it, all right. Benetelli's paying us the big bucks for this one. With that kinda money, I don't care what it is we're doing."

"Benetelli's not paying you anything," said an unfamiliar voice. "He's going to jail. You're all going to jail."

"Damn," whispered the other man carrying the canister. "How did the cops find out about us?"

"They didn't," said the White Knight, soaring down from the sky and punching the man in the face. "I did."

The man who had opened the hatch cocked a gun at the White Knight. "Get the hell away from here," he said. "Now."

The White Knight glared at him. "No." Moving faster than the other man could, he grabbed the gun, crushed it in his fist, and knocked the man out with a blow to the jaw.

The third man screamed. "Don't hurt me, man, please don't hurt me! Benetelli said they had all the heroes over there, or else I wouldn't have done this..."

"Well, he forgot one." The White Knight punched the man in the chest and sent him falling to the ground. All three of them were unconscious.

He sped to the front of the truck where a fourth man sat in the driver's seat, ready to make a quick getaway at any moment. The White Knight knocked on the side window.

"Huh?" The driver spun around to face him.

"Hi," said the White Knight with a smile.

The driver swore and also pointed a gun at him. "Look, I don't know who you are, but you'd better get away from here before I decide to shoot. That White Knight costume isn't really helping you much. I don't take kindly to people trying to play hero."

The White Knight did not flinch. "If you shoot, you'll break your window," he said.

The man looked at him and appeared to think for a second. Then he shifted slightly and pressed the button to lower the car window, while still keeping the gun trained on the White Knight.

"Man, I'm warning you—"

The White Knight took him out with one punch, like the others. Then he walked around to the back of the truck. He would have to figure out what to do safely with the canisters of formula.

"Holy crap!" said a voice. "Is that really you?"

The White Knight spun around. He saw a young man with a video camera approaching from the nearby street. "Who are you?" he asked.

"I'm with channel seven news," the man said.

"And what are you doing here?"

"One of our other reporters is at the warehouse downtown," the man explained. "She filmed Miracle, and he said there was something going down with the city's water supply. Hannah told me to help cover the story. I figured this was the place I needed to check out."

"You're not with them?" The White Knight gestured back at the four unconscious criminals.

"No!" said the man with the camera. "Definitely not. Are you really the White Knight?"

"I am."

"Awesome! And what's going on here exactly? Did you just save the city?"

The White Knight smiled. "Something like that."

The man tilted his head close to the camera. "Do you hear that, ladies and gentlemen? The White Knight is back! He hasn't been seen in years, but he's back here tonight, keeping the city of Wentcham safe again."

In houses and apartments and other buildings all throughout Wentcham, people saw the White Knight on the news. They marveled at his first public appearance in so long and they heard the story of what exactly had happened that night and how he and the other heroes had saved the entire city. And they clapped, and cheered, and celebrated, and smiled, and slept a little easier that night.

...

The police arrived at the warehouse and began to clean up the scene. Most of the superhumans who had fallen were unconscious but still alive. Of everyone involved in the plot, only Brobego, Neuron, and the animal-like man who Benetelli had shot appeared to be dead. Officers instructed Miracle, Ruby, Frostburn, and Lady Light to stay around for questioning about exactly what had happened, and to wait outside so they would not disrupt the crime scene. But first, they began arresting the fallen criminals, starting with Enrico Benetelli. In the meantime, the news anchor, Hannah Marquez, had plenty of questions to ask the victorious heroes about everything that had transpired.

After a little while, the White Knight returned. "Hello, officers," he said to the police.

One of the officers looked up at him. "Are you the White Knight?" she asked.

"Yes. I am."

"I've heard of you," the officer said. "I got a radio bulletin saying you were back, but I didn't know if it was true . . ."

"It is," he said. "I'm back. How is everything going here?"

The woman wiped her forehead and let out a sigh. "It's going. We're trying to get everything cleaned up. We've got to get all these freaks in handcuffs, but some of them might be a little hard to contain." She shook her head. "I had no idea there were this many people with powers running around."

"Neither did I," the White Knight replied. "But the other heroes and I can stand by in case any of them give you any trouble."

"Thanks," said the officer. "But if I could ask you to wait outside with them. This is a crime scene, and it may still be dangerous with the dead bodies and all the blood laying around. Might have to get a team in here to quarantine the area."

"Sure," said the White Knight. "Just come get us if there's any trouble."

"And you'll stick around for questioning and your official statement?"

"Of course." The White Knight turned to leave, but then looked back at her. "You know . . . there could be even more people with powers in the city. There could be more heroes."

The officer looked up at him. "What do you mean?"

"I'll explain more when you're ready for my official statement," he said. "But Simon Brobego apparently recreated his old formula—and made a lot of it, too. It's in the truck on the other side of town. I guess we'll have to get people down there to put it away safely so nobody else finds it."

"Okay," said the officer. "I'll call the station and get someone on it. But what does that have to do with there being more heroes?"

"How long have you lived in Wentcham, Officer? How long have you been on the force?"

"Only a couple of years. Why?"

The White Knight explained. "Years ago, when Brobego made his formula the first time, it was originally intended to be given to the police, so the city's protectors could gain powers and be better equipped to deal with crime. If you or your fellow officers were interested . . . well, maybe that could happen again."

The woman looked at him, considering his words. "Huh. Wow. That would be something, wouldn't it, to be able to fly around and fight like one of the heroes . . ." Her voice trailed off.

The White Knight smiled. "Think about it. And come get us when you need us." He stepped out of the building and joined the other heroes.

"You're back!" said Miracle. "What happened? Were you in time?"

"Yes. As far as I can tell. It looked like they were just about to pour it in as I got there—and I made sure they didn't."

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God," said Miracle. "You did it. You saved the city."

"We did it," the White Knight corrected him. "I never would have known what was going on at all if it wasn't for you, Miracle."

"Oh, well . . . I was just doing what I had to do."

"It seems to me like you're doing a lot more than that," said the White Knight. "I may have been inactive for a while, but I've kept up with the news. I've watched all of you. You're doing great things for the city and its people, Miracle. You're a good man."

Miracle cocked an eye at him. "You really think so?"

"Absolutely. Keep up the good work."

Miracle smiled. "Well . . . thanks."

"And that goes for the rest of you, too," the White Knight continued. "Frostburn . . . Drake, if I can call you that . . . I was glad to see you using your powers for a good purpose tonight. Keep at it. Don't let anything sway you. You can still be a hero."

"I will," said Frostburn. "Be good, that is. I want to try to be a hero again."

"You can do it," said the White Knight. "And Lady Light . . ."

"Yes?" she asked him.

"There's a lot of darkness in this world. It's real, and it's powerful, as you've seen tonight. But you did well here. I hope you'll keep being a light in the midst of that darkness."

"Thank you," she said. "I plan to."

"Ruby?" said the White Knight.

She looked up at him.

"You made the right choice about your—uh, about Benetelli. You did the right thing trying to help him back there. I know you've been hurt . . . I can tell you've been hurt . . . but you can also begin to heal."

She smiled at him. "Yes," she said. "I know. I think I already have."

"But what about you?" Miracle asked the White Knight.

"What about me?" the White Knight replied.

"What will you do now? Are you gonna be back for good?"

The White Knight smiled. "You know . . . I think I just might be."

Miracle smiled even wider. "That's great!"

"I stopped fighting crime years ago when the people rejected me," the White Knight explained. "But being here tonight, fighting Brobego and the others . . . I've realized something. The people of this city still need me. They need a hero just as much as ever—maybe more than ever. And it looks like they just might be ready to accept me again."

"I'd say so," said Miracle. "I certainly am."

"I'm glad," said the White Knight. "This was good."

"What was?" Lady Light asked.

"All of us working together as a team. It worked out well. Maybe we should do it more often."

"Yeah! That would be awesome!" Frostburn agreed.

"Yeah," said Miracle. "We had never really done it before—I mean, even just the four of us. It just kind of happened this time around."

"Well, because it was the biggest threat we'd ever faced," said Ruby. "We kind of needed all of us to be in it together."

"And hopefully nothing like this will ever, ever happen here again," said Lady Light.

"Let's hope not," the White Knight agreed. "But if it does . . . I'm sure we'll all be ready."

...

Hours passed. The police finished their work in the warehouse and got official statements about what had happened from each of the five remaining heroes. It was well past midnight by the time they were allowed to leave the area.

The White Knight had flown home. Frostburn and Lady Light said their goodbyes to Ruby and Miracle, and the two sets went off in different directions. Hope and Drake stood alone at a spot in front of the warehouse by the street.

"Ugh," she said to Drake. "I'm exhausted. That was . . . quite an ordeal. I'm ready to go home."

"Yeah, me too," said Drake. "You gonna fly back to your apartment?"

"Yeah, probably. I'll just have to tell Cassandra I was out late doing . . . I don't know. Something."

"Okay. Well, then, I'll probably just take the bus back. I'm still kind of sore from that blast I took and everything . . . not really in much condition to go ice-sliding through the streets right now."

"Yeah . . . are you gonna be okay with all that?" Hope asked. "I know they hit you pretty hard."

Drake shrugged. "I'm still standing for now. It still kinda hurts, but not as much, I guess. I figure it'll probably wear off after I get some rest."

"Okay," said Hope. "Well, that's good to know."

"Yep."

"Yep," Hope agreed.

"So . . . I guess I'll see you around?" Drake asked.

"Yeah, I guess so. I . . ." She shifted her eyes away from Drake, but then looked back up at him. "Look, Drake, I wanted to tell you something before I left."

He met her gaze. "Yeah?"

"I . . . I wanted to say I'm proud of you," said Hope.

"You're proud of me?" Drake asked.

"Yes. For what you did tonight. You put yourself on the line for me, and you held your anger in at the right times. You did the right thing. You were a hero."

"Yeah . . . I guess I was," said Drake. "But I mean, I had to, or I guess I just felt like I had to. I care about you, and I didn't want to see you get hurt."

"It was very brave of you," she said. "Thank you very much."

"Well . . . sure," said Drake. "You're welcome."

There was a moment of silence. Then Drake spoke up again. "So, does this mean we're . . . uh . . . friends again?"

"Yes," said Hope. "We are. We're friends."

"Great," said Drake. "Are we, um . . . anything else besides friends?"

"We're allies in the fight against crime," said Hope. "That is, if you want to keep working together with the rest of us, like the White Knight said we should."

"That's not what I meant," said Drake. "I mean, yeah, I do want to, I guess, but . . . well . . . you know what I meant."

"I know," said Hope. "And no, we're not . . . at least, not right now."

Drake smiled at her. "Not right now?"

"No. But . . . we'll see. If you can keep doing what you did tonight, keep being a good guy and a hero, then . . . well, we'll see."

"Okay," said Drake, still smiling. "I can live with that."

"Good," said Hope. "Um, I guess I really should get going now."

"Okay. Me too, I guess."

"Good night, Drake." Hope wrapped her arms around him in a friendly hug.

"Good night, Hope," said Drake, returning her embrace. "And . . . thank you."

She looked at him. "For what?"

"For not giving up on me yet."

She smiled. "Don't worry. I haven't. And I don't intend to any time soon. I'll see you around, Drake."

"Yeah. See you."

Lady Light flew off into the night, leaving Drake there to take the bus back home.

...

Robbie and Maria walked away from the warehouse where so much had taken place. For a few moments they walked without saying anything. Eventually, Robbie broke the silence.

"So," he began.

Maria looked at him, expecting him to finish. "So . . . ?"

"So . . . looks like we won. We beat the bad guys." For such an exciting event that he was recounting, Maria thought that his tone was decidedly unenthusiastic.

"Yeah," she said. "We did."

"You did a good job back there," said Robbie. "Fighting the bad guys and everything. I saw you hold your own against one or two of them. That was pretty good."

"Thanks," said Maria. "You were pretty great yourself."

"Thanks," said Robbie. "Well . . . um . . . I guess I should get going. Good night." He turned around and began to walk away.

"Wait," said Maria. Robbie turned around and looked back at her. "Are you just leaving so soon, just like that?"

"Um, yeah, I was going to," said Robbie. "Why?"

"Well, I was wondering . . . if you wouldn't mind walking me home."

Robbie blinked at her. "Really? Are you sure?"

"Yeah," she said. "You know, just in case we run into any trouble. I'm still injured, you know—probably even worse after fighting tonight. I'd feel safer having you along. And besides . . . I thought it might just be nice to chat for a while."

Robbie tried to process what he was hearing. "Oh. Well . . . okay. I guess I could."

"Unless you don't want to . . . or had other plans or something . . ."

"No, I want to," said Robbie. "It's just . . . well . . ."

"What?"

"I . . . I thought you wouldn't want anything to do with me."

Maria looked at him askance. "Why would you have thought that?"

"Because of what I said in there," said Robbie. "About how I was the one who stole the formula and ruined everything. I wasn't just lying to protect everyone, you know . . . it really was true."

"I know," Maria said softly.

"So . . . now you know," said Robbie, looking down at the ground. "You know that I used to be a criminal. I was part of the group Benetelli hired to go steal the formula from Brobego when he first made it. I tried to steal it, but the White Knight stopped us, and I dropped it . . . that's how I got my powers. But yes . . . I'm the one who ruined the whole thing."

Maria tried to interrupt him. "Robbie . . ."

He continued, his voice rising steadily. "I'm the reason the police never got the formula like they were supposed to. I'm the reason that an officer died around the time the White Knight quit. I'm the reason Brobego went crazy and tried to take out his vengeance on the whole city!" He looked at her directly. "It was all because of me!"

"Robbie, no!"

He hung his head again. "And, my selfish, stupid actions . . . they caused my family's deaths . . . and then I almost killed Benetelli one time . . . and . . ." He was beginning to cry. "And I'm a horrible person. I know it. I know I am. I just hate remembering everything I've done . . . and I know I'm not good enough for a great girl like you . . ." He sobbed more freely.

Maria came closer to him and put her arms around him. "Robbie, listen to me. You're not a horrible person at all. Brobego's actions were his choice, not yours. You should have listened to the White Knight. He said you were a good man! And he was right!"
Robbie looked back up at her and spoke through tears. "But . . . I've done so many horrible things . . ."

"You've also done good things," Maria reminded him. "Great things. A lot of them. You fight crime. You're not a criminal anymore—you fight them. You helped save the day here tonight. You were willing to sacrifice yourself to save the rest of us. You save people every day. Robbie, you saved me!"

"I know, I know . . . I just . . ."

"You can't think like that," Maria said. "You can't dwell on all that you've done wrong. That was a long time ago. You're different now. You're new. You're a hero, and a good man, and a great, honest, sweet, loving, caring, guy. You really are."

Robbie smiled. "Thank you . . ."

"I'm the one who should be ashamed, not you," said Maria. "You're not the only one with a spotted past, you know."

"I'm sure yours isn't as bad as mine," said Robbie.

"But you can't say that," said Maria. "You don't know that. You don't know what I've been through."

"True," said Robbie. "Well, I mean, I know you mentioned you had been raped, and I'm sure that must have been horrible for you . . . but that wasn't your fault. It wasn't anything you did wrong."

Maria stopped him. "Robbie . . . there's something else I've got to tell you."

Robbie looked up at her. "Okay . . . sure."

"I . . . well . . ." She began to speak, then shifted her eyes away.

"Mary, what is it?" he asked. "You can tell me."

She looked into his eyes. "My name isn't Mary," she said quietly.

Robbie gave her a quizzical look. "It's not?"

"No. It's Maria . . . Maria Benetelli."

Robbie gasped and took a moment to process what he had just heard. "You . . . you're . . . that means you're his daughter, aren't you?"

She nodded. "Yes. Enrico Benetelli is my father."

"Wow," Robbie said, still trying to comprehend what he had just learned. "I . . . I heard that you had run away. Years ago, I mean. It was on the news and everything . . ."

"Yeah. I did."

"So . . . you became Ruby after that? It all makes sense now."

"Yes . . . my father had lied to me for years, pretending that he was just a legitimate businessman when he was really the city's biggest crime boss. I found out when I was seventeen. I saw him killing some criminals—just teenage boys—in our home."

"Wow," said Robbie. "You must have been shocked. Devestated."

"I was. I—"

"Wait a second."

"What?"

"You were seventeen? I'm a little older than you . . . I think I was like nineteen . . ."

She glanced at him. "When what?"

"When I saw Enrico killing those criminals in his house."

"You saw it too?"

"Yeah. Like I said, I was part of that group . . . we had all tried to steal the formula, and when we failed, he killed all of us . . . except for the one whose new powers made him fast enough to get away. Me." He paused. "Wow. Who would've thought? It sounds like your father screwed both of us over pretty bad."

"Yeah. He definitely did. And I just . . ." She turned away from him. "I just still hate knowing that he's my father. That I'm related to someone as bad as him . . ." She shuddered.

"That must have been pretty bad for you," Robbie said. "But still, it wasn't your fault. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

"But it is," she said. "I just . . . I just can't get over all of it. Everything that's happened to me. Everything I've done. I lived with a crime boss for years. I've been beaten and abused . . . and raped. I stole from my father. And after I left him, I couldn't find a good job to support myself . . . so I had to work as a stripper for a while. And even since then, I've had so much anger and hatred and shame for years, I just . . ."

Robbie stepped forward and put his hand on her shoulder.

Maria continued. "I'm broken. I'm dirty. I'm horrible too. I've had so much to be ashamed of . . ." She began to cry as well, but held it in for the time being.

"But you're not broken or dirty," said Robbie. "You're beautiful." He reached up and wiped a stray tear from her face.

"Robbie, no. I'm not. Thank you, but I'm not."

"Come on! You're totally beautiful!"

"No, I'm not. I'm not even pretty."

"Yes, you are," said Robbie. "You really are. I think you're very pretty. And I think you're a beautiful, wonderful, amazing person. I've seen how dedicated you are to justice, to helping and protecting people. I saw back in the warehouse how you cared about your father and wanted to save his life, even though he's hurt you so much . . . and I'm really, really glad that I was able to rescue you the other night, and that I've been able to get to know you since then. Really."

She smiled at him. "Robbie . . . thank you. You really are so sweet."

Robbie shrugged. "I'm just telling the truth."

"You know, it sounds like we've both had pretty messed up lives," said Maria. "I've been angry and bitter for years. I've never been able to forgive my father."

"And I've been ashamed of everything I did wrong," said Robbie. "I've never been able to forgive myself."

"Yep. We sure sound pretty messed up to me."

"Definitely. So, what do you say we start having some forgiveness around here?"

"Yes . . . I think that would be good."

"It's just like the White Knight said. You can heal. We both can heal. We're broken and messed up . . . but we can heal and try again."

"Yes," said Maria. "I know."

"So let's try," said Robbie. "I really think we should try."

"Try what?"

"I don't know. Life. Living. Healing. Forgiveness. Pressing on and forgetting the past. You know, important stuff like that." He chuckled.

"Yeah. That sounds like a good idea. Let's forget the past and focus on the future."

"Okay. But what's the future gonna hold for us?"

"I don't know . . . but hopefully nothing like what we've just been through again anytime soon."

"Heh. Amen to that. But still. There will be problems. There will be crimes to stop, and people who need saving, and probably more hurt and hard times to come. You think you're up to it?"

She looked him in the eyes. "I know I am . . . as long as you can deal with me." She smiled.

"I know I can. It'll be my pleasure. And we can both deal with whatever comes our way. Miracle and Ruby, together against the world."

"No," she said. "Robbie and Maria."

Robbie grinned widely. "Okay then. Robbie and Maria." He reached down and took her hand. Their fingers interlocked and they felt the warmth of each other's presence in the middle of a dark, chilly night. Hand in hand, they walked away from the chaos and destruction they had left at the warehouse and went out to face the world.