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Quote of the Week: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." - Will Durant, American historian (1885-1981)


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 Post subject: The Measure of a Titan (NEW ch.38 added) PostPosted: 2008-07-01 03:02am
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Joined: 2006-04-22 07:52pm
Posts: 1910
Note from LadyTevar: As the Author finishes a new Chapter, I will continue to update this thread. Even if it takes another year between chapters, General Havoc is always working on them.

Note by rhoenix: This is not my work by any means. This is a Teen Titans fan fiction written by a person named General Havoc on the Libriumarcana forums, and is posted with his knowledge and permission. For the record, I never have watched the show or have any interest in it whatsoever, and yet I'm impressed enough with this story to be willing to repost it here for a fellow writer and friend. If there are formatting problems, please let me know. Any accolades can be given to him directly on the Libriumarcana forums, or at the AIM username "genhavoc".

Author's Note: This tale has grown both in planning and in writing it, and the chapter below represents only the beginning of the story I have in mind. Nevertheless, it is my sincere hope that you will enjoy reading it, though I make no pretensions of being an excellent writer. I would normally not even consider inflicting it upon you all... but... I have been commanded to do so.

So er... hopefully you will enjoy it. :)

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Chapter 1: The Sound of Silence

"Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
Its sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries."


- Paul Simon, "I am a Rock"

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Raven was certain of one thing. The tower shouldn’t have been this quiet.

The half-demon sorceress was sitting alone on the couch in the common room of Titan Tower, a leather-bound book laying unopened in her lap, a mug of untouched, ice-cold herbal tea sitting patiently on the table in front of her. Around her, everything was as silent as a tomb. Not a peep could be heard from anywhere else in the tower, and even the usual background noises that constantly pervaded the Titans’ home, the soft hum of the refrigerator, the clicking sound of the security systems cycling through their automated routines, the distant crying of seagulls outside the window, even these were subdued, hushed as though commanded to do so.

Normally of course she would have welcomed the quiet. For a change, she did not have to lock herself in her room in order to achieve the peace required for a meditative state. She could come out here, into the common room, and meditate while watching dawn break over Jump City. She could read in peace for once, not being interrupted every half-second by Beast Boy’s latest antics.

And yet… for nearly half an hour now she had sat motionless and listened to the sound of her own breathing, her own heartbeat, the deafening silence crushing every attempt to shove it aside. She knew why. If it had merely been peace, she would have had no troubles.

This wasn’t peace. It was a vacuum. It was an empty gaping void. And she knew what was missing.

Without even meaning to, Raven slowly opened the communicator she had been fingering for several minutes. Glancing down into it, she watched as the static on the viewscreen faded out to be replaced by the face of the Boy Wonder himself.

“Raven? What is it? Is something wrong?” asked Robin over the communicator. He, Starfire, and Cyborg were on morning patrol, investigating sketchy reports of sightings of some kind of strange creature somewhere in the northern suburbs of the city.

“No…” she said into the communicator, wishing that she had actually bothered to think up a reason to call them before doing so. “No, nothing’s happening here. I was just… wondering if you guys had found anything yet.”

If Robin detected her ad-libbed question, he made no sign of it. “Nothing yet. Everything’s pretty quiet so far except for the news helicopters. We’ll probably make a few more passes through the area, just to make sure, and then head home.”

Raven smirked slightly. The battles between the Titans and Slade had been so violent and public that the local media had gotten into the habit of simply following the Titans whenever they left the tower, under the reasonable assumption that it was a good way to get interesting stories and excellent footage. It did make for a lot of anticlimaxes though whenever their patrols came up empty-handed.

Robin took a deeper breath and lowered his voice a notch or two before asking his next question. “How’s Beast Boy?”

There were several seconds of silence as Raven lowered her eyes slightly. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him yet today.”

Robin nodded slowly. “Maybe you should see if he’s OK, if he needs anything.”

Raven had enough self-awareness to scoff at the notion. “You were the one telling us to leave him alone.”

“I said leave him alone to work things out, not pretend he doesn’t exist Raven,” said Robin in a tone that was a bit harsher than he had planned it to be. Raven scowled, half at Robin and half at herself for agreeing with him.

“I’ll make sure he’s alright,” she said, with just enough of an annoyed tone in her voice to maintain appearances.

Starfire’s voice chimed in from the seat next to Robin’s. “Be sure to tell friend Beast Boy that when we have all returned, we may spend the rest of the day together at the Light Projection Screens, or perhaps if he is still feeling poorly, I will make him Pudding of Sadness to ease his mind?”

“Was that a promise or a threat?” asked Cyborg from the front seat. It was meant as a joke, but Cyborg’s voice did not sound particularly jovial. In fact he sounded downright angry. Raven ignored his tone. In theory the shifts for the daily patrols were doled out randomly, and yet somehow recently Cyborg’s name kept coming up and Beast Boy’s almost never did, much like how Starfire and Robin always seemed to draw the same shift. Cyborg never complained or cursed his luck, and Raven was certain that he and Robin had wordlessly come to some kind of arrangement. Still it was hard for him, but Raven wasn’t sure if it was the extra patrol shifts or the reason he had to take them that upset him the most.

Raven considered all these things in half a second before nodding to Robin and closing the communicator. The silence of the tower swept over her again, reminding her that all was not well. Normally, with Beast Boy in the tower, silence would have been impossible. If he hadn’t been blasting the sound of his video games all over the tower or singing hopelessly off-key at the top of his lungs along with some ridiculous song, he would likely be bugging her to play a game or watch a movie or just pay attention to him.

As it was, she hadn’t heard him speak a word in three days, and had barely seen a glimpse of him for a week.

Well that wasn't quite true, after all he still stopped in for meals, sometimes, and he still went on patrol along with the rest of them whenever his name DID come up. Robin had canceled their training sessions for the next couple of weeks, after the events with Slade and Terra they needed the break, but Raven imagined that if he hadn't done so, Beast Boy would have probably shown up for those too. But during those few moments when he was around, it was like he was merely going through the motions. Most of the time he would leave his food nearly untouched, save when Robin or someone else forced him to eat. On patrols he was quiet, replying to questions in single syllables, never cracking a joke, never pulling some immature prank, never harassing her or anyone else to the point of insanity. She assured herself that she didn't miss it, that her sole concern was that he wasn't acting like himself. Sometimes she believed it.

She mentally moved the mug of tea into the sink and stood up, tucking her book under one arm as she walked out of the common room. The silence permeating the tower seemed to follow her as she walked down the halls towards Beast Boy's room. It took no more than a minute to arrive at his door, and she raised her hand to knock, then hesitated. For several seconds she listened intently for a sound from within, and heard nothing. For a moment she wondered if she really should be doing this. After all, it wasn't like SHE welcomed interference whenever she was having some kind of difficulty coping with things.

'But then Terra didn't rip my heart out twice,' she thought to herself. The geomancer had betrayed them all, had tried to kill them all, but with Beast Boy it had been different. Terra had played him for a fool, betraying his unconditional trust in her in the most flagrant way possible. He had faced her nearly killing him and all of his friends, only to suddenly win her back and then lose her again just as suddenly, and this time forever. When they had laid the plaque on her statue, Raven had said something about reversing the effect, but she knew how unlikely that was. Terra was dead and gone, and while they all still felt the sting of her betrayal, they didn't feel what he did.

Thus convinced, she knocked on the door.

There was a shuffling behind it and the sound of someone walking (or wading) towards the door through mounds of dirty laundry and assorted junk. The door slid open at last, revealing Beast Boy, who was blinking in the bright light that filtered through the doorway. "... Raven?" he asked, obviously surprised to see her. "What are you doing here?"

To her abject horror, Raven realized that she had neglected to come up with a reason for paying him a visit. Thinking quickly, she came up with one that at least sounded reasonable. "You missed breakfast." she said neutrally.

"Oh... er yeah..." he said, nervously scratching the side of his head and trying to smile. "I wasn't really hungry." His voice was more subdued than it should have been, more reserved. He stood at the door in his purple and black uniform, obviously trying very hard to look like nothing was the matter. He failed. His grin was obviously forced, and his green skin had salt-crusted red-ish streaks around his eyes where he had been crying, though she couldn’t tell if it was recent or hours-old.

Raven sighed, lowering her head slightly as she forced herself not to smirk at the ironic situation, that it should now be her standing outside Beast Boy's room, trying to get him to come out of his shell. She couldn't tell if Beast Boy recognized the irony or not, but she was pretty well certain he knew why she was here. His eyes held an almost expectant look, as though he had been waiting for one of his friends to come and pull him out of the pit he had fallen into.

"So... can I come in?" she asked finally, forcing herself to make it sound like an actual request and not an assignment. She wanted to help him, she wanted to see him recover from this, but she had no idea how. Beast Boy had always seemed completely inured to pain, one of the reasons she got so angry with him. She knew it wasn't true, that if anything he sometimes bottled his real feelings up more effectively than she did, burying them in immature gags and a happy-go-lucky attitude that drowned whatever pain he was in and subsumed it. She didn't know how he managed to do it, how he didn't just collapse from the crushing weight of his suppressed fears of loneliness or loss, but he didn't. In fact he made it look easy, which she never could forgive him for.

Beast Boy paused for a moment before replying. A guilty look came over his face, as though he was sorry for having brought this on. "Sure," he said softly, and opened the door wider. Raven carefully entered, not entirely convinced that there wasn't something growing in the middle of the mess that was Beast Boy's room. Beast Boy let her in before closing the door and flipping the lights on.

"How can you find anything in all this?" she asked, momentarily forgetting everything else as she waded over towards the bunk bed on one side of the room, stepping over knee-deep piles of junk.

“Well I was gonna clean it up,” replied Beast Boy, "but I was afraid you guys would think I'd really lost my mind."

It took Raven a second to realize that he was joking, and as she did, a large weight seemed to vanish from the room. Maybe Robin had been right. Maybe Beast Boy had just needed some time to work it all out. The joke was delivered monotonously, without Beast Boy's usual self-satisfied flair, but it was a great improvement over what she had heard from him before. Perhaps just knowing that his friends cared enough to worry about him was helping.

Raven cleared a spot on the bottom bunk of the bed, and sat down. Beast Boy sat down next to her, not bothering to clear a spot beforehand. His face was glum and he tucked his knees up against his chest as he stared off into the cluttered space of his room. Raven watched him for a second, wondering what to say, when to her surprise he took the initiative and spoke.

"So, did Robin send you here?"

Raven debated for a moment what to say, and then decided on honesty. "Sort of. He was worried about you, wanted to know if you were OK, and so did I."

"I see," said Beast Boy distantly.

Raven knew he needed her help to navigate through this, but she wasn't sure what the best way to help him was. Was she supposed to just be understanding and let him vent? Was she supposed to draw it out of him? Was she supposed to give him some kind of speech? Robin knew how to motivate people and cheer them up when they were down. She was no good at this sort of thing. But still, she was here, and her friend was hurting, and she had to try something. Largely by habit, she decided on the direct approach.

"So?"

"So... what?" asked Beast Boy, puzzled.

"So are you OK?"

Beast Boy blinked several times before he registered that Raven actually meant the question seriously. "I..." he stammered, not certain what to answer with. "I don't know..."

Raven sensed that more was coming, and she waited for it.

"I mean... I thought she was part of our team. I thought she'd become part of our team, and that... it would stay that way. She'd become one of us, you know? You guys are... you're my family, you're everything I have. And I just... I wanted her to be a part of that. I REALLY wanted that. And I thought she wanted it too..."

He lowered his gaze to the floor and sighed sadly.

"And... now I'll never know if she did or not."

"She didn't know either," replied Raven quietly. "She didn't know what she wanted, and she wound up losing everything to Slade because she couldn't figure it out. That's why she was able to fool us for so long. That's why we didn't see it coming."

Beast Boy just shrugged. "You did."

"No, I didn't," said Raven, "If I had, I would have tried to stop her."

"But you never fell for it. Not really I mean. You never liked her. You never really trusted her."

Raven thought for a moment that Beast Boy was accusing her of having driven Terra to her betrayal, only to realize that there had been no bitterness in his words, no implications. He wasn't angry with her for having suspected Terra. He was angry at himself for not having done so. Raven had seen this before. For weeks after Terra's true colors had become known, Robin couldn't bear to so much as glance at anything that reminded him of Terra, not because he missed her or felt anything special for her, but because he felt responsible towards the rest of his team. Because he felt that he SHOULD have seen the signs, that he should have better protected his family. Raven had let Robin work that one out by himself and with Starfire, she wasn't going to be able to change Robin's pathological need to try and be the perfect leader, shielding his team from every threat. That need was too deeply ingrained in his psyche to be parsed out.

Beast Boy wasn't precisely talking about the same thing. He wasn't angry because he had let the team down. He was angry and hurt because he had opened himself up to Terra completely, had trusted her implicitly, had even refused to believe that she was capable of such a thing when the evidence slapped him square in the face... and she had torn it all to shreds with a wave of her hand.

"No, I didn't like her," admitted Raven finally. "I thought she was a pushy, arrogant, show-off. I didn't think she could ever really be a Titan, that she was too self-centered and worried about herself to do that. But that's not the same thing as not trusting her. None of us saw this coming Beast Boy. Not even Robin or Cyborg."

She reached over and put a hand on his shoulder, and felt him relax slightly as he raised his head and looked at her.

"And all of us liked that she made you happy, even me. She liked it too. Why do you think she drew you out of the tower when the Slade's robots attacked us? Even though she had already decided to betray us, she obviously wanted to try and make sure you didn't get hurt. I never thought she'd be capable of that. I certainly never thought that she could be brought back and would turn out to be... well... more than a traitor."

Beast Boy closed his eyes as he blinked the tears out of them, before reaching up and placing his hand on top of Raven's. There was a time, a recent time, where such a gesture would have been met by a cold stare or perhaps even something exploding in the nearby vicinity, but not now. Not here.

"And the only reason she did turn out to be more," continued Raven, hoping that she didn't sound like a babbling idiot, "is because you forced her to see that she could be more. If you hadn't done that, she might have killed us all."

Beast Boy winced at that, which stopped Raven from saying what she had meant to follow it up with: 'or we might have killed her.' Indeed she thought that was more likely. The shock of her treachery had been bad enough; the pain of being defeated by her so totally and left to die was a terrible humiliation, not to mention a source of righteous rage, but that moment in the cavern when Terra seemed ready to kill Beast Boy before all of them... Raven couldn't speak for the others really but she had seen the look in their eyes. It was the same desperate look of fear at the prospect of losing someone infinitely close to them that Beast Boy had in his eyes when they had stood before Terra's statue. The same look that he had periodically whenever one of the Titans were injured or in trouble. The same look he had had the day they thought they had lost Robin forever. All bets were off at that moment. Blood was going to be repaid with blood.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Beast Boy continued to stare into nothingness motionlessly as Raven simply watched him. The more she got to know Beast Boy, it seemed the less she actually knew him. The green changeling was sometimes as thoughtless and careless as a spoiled child, and other times as serious and solemn as a priest. It never ceased to astonish her how he could go from one to the other so quickly, or even embody both simultaneously. He could be infinitely caring, even with hardened villains, as exemplified by the incident with Thunder and Lightning, to say nothing of his repeated and ultimately successful attempts to 'rescue' Terra, and would follow his friends quite literally to Hell and back without so much as a second thought. He was always there for all of them, even for her, despite the way she knew she sometimes treated him, and yet at the same time he was immature, persistently annoying, overemotional, and utterly and completely unable to EVER shut up and leave someone alone, even when they really truly needed to be.

Except of course, for right now.

"So what happens now?" asked Beast Boy, finally breaking the silence. He still sounded hurt, but she could tell from the tone of his voice that he was feeling better, still not recovered of course, she didn't think any of them ever would REALLY recover from this, but better nonetheless.

Raven allowed herself a small smile (for professional reasons only, of course) and gripped his shoulder a bit more tightly. "Now we move on." she said, knowing that it was in a strange way what he had wanted to hear.

"How?" he asked, turning to face her directly for the first time since they had sat down, five week-long minutes ago.

A professional at this sort of thing would probably have found a concrete answer, however Raven wasn't here as a professional but as a friend. "I don't know," she said directly as she stood up and offered him her hand, "but we'll figure it out. We’ll all figure it out together."

Slowly, a small grin began spread over Beast Boy's face as he took her hand and she pulled him to his feet. "Thanks Rae." he said.

"It's Raven." came the half-demon's reply giving the green changeling a warning look as she moved gingerly around the piles of laundry and garbage towards the door. “Now come on, you should eat something before Robin calls us both out for some kind of emergency. You’re no good to any of us if you pass out in the middle of a fight.”

It may have sounded harsh to an outside listener, but Raven knew that Beast Boy understood what she really meant.

Beast Boy followed Raven out of the room and down the hallway. She could tell just by the way he was walking that it had worked. His posture was straighter, his stride was more purposeful, and his face, though still more composed than usual, was at least not the dead blank stare that was all she had seen of him in the last few days. It occurred to her that she had actually missed Beast Boy’s grin, his optimism, and even his stupid antics, though she was fairly certain he would remind her why this was a mistake shortly.

The two Titans re-entered the common room and Beast Boy stepped into the kitchen to get himself some kind of late breakfast. Raven sat back down on the couch and opened her book again, a great feeling of relief coming over her as she heard the sound of Beast Boy scrounging around in the refrigerator for something to eat drown out the piercing silence of the tower, and suddenly she realized that Beast Boy wasn’t the only one who was hoping things would return to normal, or rather the warped version of ‘normal’ that they all were used to.

She had managed to finish only a few pages when Beast Boy sat down across from her on the other couch with a large plate of tofu eggs and a side of toast with soy butter. He ate quickly and with gusto, obviously ravenously hungry after having skipped both breakfast today and dinner yesterday, no matter what he had claimed before, and the noise of him eating completely destroyed all possibility of Raven actually getting anywhere in her book. Still, she wasn’t angry. This here, this was the reality she recognized. This was an indication that despite Terra’s betrayal and death and the terrible events of Slade’s year-long campaign against them, that things were slowly returning to normal.

“Hey, Raven?”

Lost in her own thoughts on the nature of reality, Raven gave a start as Beast Boy spoke. She turned to see him sitting back on the couch, watching the television which he had apparently turned on while she was daydreaming. She did notice that he had turned the volume on it down to a low whisper, perhaps so as not to disturb her? Probably not.

“You think… maybe after the others get back, we could all go somewhere? Like to the park or something?”

Normally, words could not describe how little Raven wanted to go to the park or any other sort of public place. As it stood however, while she was still not wild about the idea, she had to admit that it was a relief just to have Beast Boy ask. “I suppose if the others want to you all can…

“Aw c’mon Rae,” he said, giving her the first example of his pleading smile that she had seen since Terra abandoned them. It usually made her want to fling him across the room, both because it looked so stupid, and because it often worked anyway, not that she was about to let that on. “It’ll be fun. You don’t have to play football or whatever; you can just sit and read if you want.”

Loathe as she was to admit it, the prospect didn’t sound all that bad. As she was considering whether to agree or to refuse a few more times (she already knew that she wouldn’t hear the end of it until she eventually said yes), her eyes caught something on the television, and she glanced at it for a second. Moments later her eyes flew open wide and the book fell from her hand.

“Beast Boy, be quiet,” she said quickly in a tone that was hurried and startled.

Beast Boy stopped pleading in mid-sentence and his gaze turned to puzzlement as he stared at Raven. “Huh?” he asked. “Raven what do you…”

“Shut up and look!” she snapped as she snatched the remote control out of his hand and aimed it at the television, cranking the volume up until it filled the room. Beast Boy turned around to face the television, and the words died in his throat.

On the television screen was news camera footage, evidently shot from a moving helicopter, of a large section of suburban development that looked as though it had been leveled by a tornado. Buildings were torn open; their sidings cleaved off and cast into the streets. Streetlights and traffic signals had been ripped up and flung about like bowling pins, while trees had been snapped in half or even uprooted and left to block the various streets. As the camera panned slowly to show more of the swatch of destruction, Raven saw fire hydrants shorn clean off their moorings, leaving fountains of water in their place, and full sized cars smashed flat by a tremendous force, as though they had been beaten into the earth by giant hammers. Clouds of brown dust and smoke obscured much of the scene, even as the helicopter struggled to find a clearer position, while a small symbol in the bottom corner of the screen showed that the images were being transmitted live.

“Once again,” said the admirably calm voice of the news reader, “at this time we have no estimate on the number of casualties from this disaster, nor are we certain exactly what happened to cause this much destruction. Jump City police are ordering a complete evacuation of the entire Almond Hills region as a precaution, pending consultation with the Teen Titans, at least three of whom entered the affected area several minutes ago presumably in pursuit of the agent of this terrible catastrophe. We have no information on their whereabouts at this time, but our helicopters are attempting to find a better vantage…”

“What?!” shouted Beast Boy at the television. “They went in there after someone?! Why didn’t they call us?!”

Raven was equally astonished and equally perplexed. She glanced down at her communicator just to ensure she hadn’t inadvertently missed their signal. She had not. “Maybe there wasn’t any time to call for backup,” she surmised.

“Well they could be in trouble! We’ve gotta go help them!” shouted Beast Boy, springing to his feet. He grabbed Raven by the wrist and took off down the hallway, dragging her along with him as he ran for the exit.

“Beast Boy! Wait! We don’t even know where they…” began Raven, only to be interrupted by the simultaneous beeping of both of their communicators. Beast Boy ground to a halt as both he and Raven flipped them open.

Robin was on the screen, sitting in the backseat of the T-car, his hair and face lightly streaked with dirt. Behind him, out the rear window, they could see scenery flying past as the T-car raced at top speed towards wherever it was headed. Evidently Cyborg was driving, as they could hear him in the background speaking to the car itself, his baby, urging it to go faster even as he hurtled it through the streets of Jump City. Starfire could not be seen, but her voice could also be heard in the background, speaking with urgency to someone, though only snatches of her speech could be heard, something about “getting help” and “over soon”.

“Robin calling Raven and Beast Boy, come in!”

“We’re here!” cried Beast Boy. “Dude, what happened?!”

“No time to explain,” said Robin hurriedly. “I need you two to get the medical bay ready. We’re coming back to the tower as fast as we can and we’ve got someone badly hurt.”

Beast Boy’s eyes flew open wide with fear even as Raven felt an icy chill run through her as she instantly envisioned the worst. Evidently Robin noticed their expressions turn to mortal terror, and he quickly explained as best he could.

“No!” he said, “Not one of us, someone else. A bystander in the fight, we think. He needs medical attention right now.”

“Then take him to Jump City General,” replied Raven. “They’re closer to you than the tower is and they’ve got an emergency room for…”

“We can’t,” said Robin quickly, cutting Raven off, “there’s no time to explain now but we need to take him back to the Tower. We’ll be there in a few minutes, get ready for us.”

The communicators went dead as Robin closed his, evidently having more pressing matters to worry about. Beast Boy and Raven looked at one another for a moment, before both running off towards the medical bay as quickly as they could. As soon as they had entered, Beast Boy rushed around the room switching on all of the assorted equipment and clearing off the examination table, while Raven closed her eyes and began chanting her mantra quietly to herself, marshaling her inner focus, preparing for what was certain to be a difficult task of magical healing, if Robin’s assessment was to be believed.

Neither one spoke a word. Neither one wished to. They both had felt the exact same terrible fear for a second, the fear that another one of their number had just been taken from them, and it scared them both to silence as they waited expectantly for the others to arrive, bearing whatever casualty they had picked up from the scene of the disaster.


Last edited by rhoenix on 2008-08-27 08:27pm, edited 5 times in total.
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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-01 03:06am
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Joined: 2006-04-22 07:52pm
Posts: 1910
Author's note: Firstly I would like to profusely thank all those who reviewed the first chapter, and say that I am deeply honored by your praise. I hope that this one meets the standards you have set. Writing for Starfire in particular is very, very hard (at least for me), and I hope she came out in-character. Once more, any feedback I can get on that subject (or any other) is most appreciated.

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Chapter 2: But for the Grace of God

"Men should either be treated well or utterly crushed, for while a light injury serves as a chastisement, and a heavy injury serves as an example to others, an injury which gravely damages a man, and yet leaves him able to act will serve as nothing but the instrument of one's own destruction…"

- Nicollo Machiavelli, "The Prince"

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Suppressing a yawn out of decorum, Raven allowed the blue glow around her hands to die as she stood up from the seat she had been in for the last four hours. "I'd say he's lucky."

Beast Boy and Robin both looked at Raven as though she was crazy, while Starfire appeared to be assuming that she had misunderstood. Cyborg merely grunted a small "Hmph," as he continued to adjust the settings on the IV pump he had placed next to the large hospital-style bed sitting in the center of the room, though whether that meant that he agreed or disagreed was unclear. The semi-robotic Titan had barely said a word since his, Starfire's, and Robin's return, completely preoccupied with properly setting up the battery of medical equipment that was now clustered around the rolling bed, as well as running all kinds of tests and checks to establish just how bad the damage was.

"How do you figure that?" asked Robin, pre-empting what was likely to be a far less coherent question from Beast Boy.

Raven shrugged as she gestured at the bed, and the figure that lay motionless atop it. "He's alive, and he's probably going to stay that way," she said. "If he actually had part of a building collapse on top of him, I'd call that lucky.

"We are uncertain of exactly what happened," said Starfire, as she looked past Raven to the motionless figure lying on the bed. Starfire had been worried enough to nearly crush Robin's hand when they had first pulled into the tower, but Raven's prognosis had dulled the worry enough to reduce it to mere concern. "By the time we arrived, Cinderblock had already collapsed the building and was attempting to take him and escape."

Cyborg appeared to disagree. "We all know what happened."

"Forgive me friend Cyborg," began Starfire, "but we do not know exactly what..."

"What happened," chimed in Cyborg with a bitter tone in his voice that revealed just how upset he was, "was that Cinderblock flattened half of Almond Hills before we could stop him. What happened was that he killed hundreds of people before we could even get in his way, and then we let him go!!!"

Robin forced himself to remain calm. "We didn't let him go Cyborg, he escaped into the bay."

"And we should have gone after him instead of turning around and running!" shot Cyborg back at Robin. "We should have chased him down and made sure he couldn't come back and take out another couple hundred civilians! They're still pulling bodies out of the wreckage man! What if he comes back up on shore and decides to try…"

"The Jump City police have boats and divers out looking for him," explained Robin, "and Aqualad has half the wildlife in the ocean scouring the bay to help. We couldn't chase him underwater anyway, not without the T-sub." He didn't add '…or Beast Boy' to his statement. It wasn't the green changeling's fault that he wasn't on that particular patrol.

Cyborg didn't reply, but simply clenched his fists in frustration and glanced about to see if there was something he could hit. There wasn't, and he settled for returning to his work calibrating the last of the medical equipment. The others all let him work. Cyborg had been in a cold fury ever since they had come across the first signs of the damage Cinderblock had wrought on the city, and every fresh police blotter report of another body found in the ruins only made him angrier that he couldn't have stopped it. He knew Robin was right and that this kid would likely have died had they not raced for home as fast as they could, but that didn't make it any easier.

"Besides," Robin added after a long pause, "I don't think he's coming back for a while. We got what he was looking for."

Robin's gaze was fixed squarely on the unconscious form of the teenaged boy lying motionless on the hospital bed. The boy looked like a survivor of some kind of terrible natural disaster (which, Robin supposed, wasn't all that inaccurate). His face and clothes were covered in scorch marks, dirt, bits of rock, and plaster dust, probably from when the wing of the building he was in had come down on top of him. His light brown hair was matted with blood and grime, and his dark green jacket had been torn apart like a kite in a hurricane. One of his eyes was purple and swollen shut; his left arm was encased in a cast that Cyborg had put together, and even through the haze of the painkillers and sedatives that they had given him, he still winced subconsciously every time he took a breath, likely from the cracked sternum and broken ribs that Raven had sewn back together with her magic.

"Who is he?" asked Beast Boy, sounding, Robin thought, much more like his usual self, even if he was subdued a bit by the setting. Robin had meant to ask Raven how their little talk had gone, but as usual, things had come up.

"He does not have a card of identity," replied Starfire, "and he did not tell us his name before he fell unconscious."

"I wonder what Cinderblock wanted with him?" said Beast Boy

"I don't know," replied Robin, "but when we got there Cinderblock had already picked him up and was carrying him off somewhere. We managed to stop him, but we were almost too late."

"We WERE too late," snapped Cyborg, but before Robin could reply, Raven cut him off.

"That doesn't matter now," she said, prepared to tolerate no further argument, "Cinderblock escaped, and we're all back here, so it's pointless to argue about it."

Cyborg looked disinclined to agree, but he didn't protest further, and in any event, Raven didn't give him the opportunity to.

"Anyhow, I think I might know what Cinderblock wanted," Raven explained. "I noticed something when I was trying to look for internal bleeding. Something abnormal. I'm not totally certain, but I think he might be a psychokinetic."

Raven had expected the word to be a bit unfamiliar to the others perhaps, but she did not expect Beast Boy to literally jump backwards with his eyes wide open as though startled by a firecracker. "He's a PSYCHO?!" he shouted, and morphed instantly into the form of a growling saber-toothed tiger, as though he expected to see the unconscious teen leap from the bed brandishing a bloody knife at any moment.

Raven rolled her eyes at Beast Boy's antics. It was really all you could do with them. "Not a psychopath, a psychokinetic," she explained as patiently as she could. "Psychopaths have disturbed minds. Psychokinetics can disturb other objects with their minds. Agitate them, even make them to explode."

"… oh." said Beast Boy as he sheepishly shifted back into his human form and stood up. "So… kinda like you then?" All of the Titans knew what he meant. It was a notoriously bad idea to anger Raven, as her powers had a habit of explosively laying waste to everything in the immediate vicinity when she was upset.

Raven however merely shook her head. "No," she said. "My powers are mostly magical. I'm not sure how psychokinetics work but it's not magic. I think it has something to do with manipulating the molecules of something, making them unstable. At least that's what I've read."

"Wait," said Robin, still taking all of this in. Now they had some kind of kineticist on their hands? "How do you know that he's a psychokinetic?"

"Because I can read minds, remember?" said Raven evenly and with a touch of annoyance in her voice, obviously not pleased at having to give out all these explanations. She saw Robin's eyes widen beneath his mask and she cut him off before he could lecture her about privacy. "I didn't read his mind directly," she explained, "but you insisted for some reason on dragging him back here, and I had to heal him. Powers like this are hard to mask. He's got some kind of psychokinetic ability. I don't know what kind..."

"What kind?" asked Beast Boy, "but I thought you just said..."

"I said he has kinetic abilities," snapped Raven, tired of being interrogated as to the capacities of a teen-aged psychokinetic she had never met or spoken to. "There's something like four dozen different kinds of those that I've read about and probably another four dozen I haven't. Some of them can start fires, some can blow things up, some can move things with their minds, some can even take an object apart and turn it into something else. I don't know what kind he has, I don't know how strong they are, I don't know if he can control them or if he even knows that they exist! If you want answers, ask him!"

Beast Boy took a step or two back even as Robin stepped forward, holding his hands up as a gesture for her to calm down. "Easy Raven," he said, "we're just trying to figure out what we're dealing with here."

"Then wait for him to wake up and ask him, and stop assuming I know everything about it," said Raven, still annoyed, "and while you're at it, you can explain why you decided to drag him all the way here instead of taking him to the hospital."

Robin wasn't looking at Raven as she spoke to him accusingly, staring past her instead at the injured teen laying motionless on the table. "Because I think someone sent Cinderblock specifically to get him."

"Why would someone do such a thing?" asked Starfire, echoing the same question that was in all of their minds.

"I don't know," said Robin, "but Cinderblock was looking for something. When we attacked, he started repeating something like 'devastator' over and over again. 'Find devastator.'"

"Wait… what?!" said Beast Boy, looking even more confused than before. "Cinderblock can pronounce that? Cinderblock can TALK?!"

"Apparently," said Cyborg. "We all heard it. He was just babbling the same thing over and over 'fore we finally drove him off. Kept going on about this 'devastator'."

"And you think that this child might be the 'devastator' that Cinderblock was seeking?" asked Starfire. She too had heard Cinderblock's words, but she had presumed it to be some kind of war cry, or another Earth custom she had not yet come across. When she found that the others had as little idea as she did about what Cinderblock had meant, it had come as a rude surprise.

"Maybe," said Robin, "but if he is what Cinderblock was looking for, then we can't risk taking him to the hospital. Cinderblock barely has enough of a brain to keep moving. Someone else had to have sent him to 'find devastator', and he was willing to kill hundreds of people to get him. If we took him to the emergency room, it'd put the entire hospital in danger, and we can't take that risk.

Raven let her annoyance subside at the thought as everyone else fell silent. They all knew Robin was right. If whoever was behind this catastrophe had been willing to cause this much destruction in pursuit of this teen, then wherever they took him would be in extreme danger of becoming the target of another terrible attack. Whoever had orchestrated this certainly wouldn't hesitate at attacking a hospital or any other instillation to get what they wanted. While they had no proof, they couldn't possibly take that kind of a risk when the lives of hundreds if not thousands of civilians were at stake.

Which still left them with far too many questions.

"So... we're just gonna keep him here?" asked Cyborg after a long pause. All of the medical equipment was functioning perfectly, and he had stepped back to survey the work.

"We don't have a choice," said Robin, relatively convinced that this was the right thing to do. "We'll keep watch over him in shifts, and make sure nobody but us knows that he's here. If we're lucky, whoever sent Cinderblock will think he's dead. If we're really lucky, Aqualad or the Coast Guard will catch Cinderblock and we can see what he knows. Either way, I can't think of a more secure place than Titan Tower. We'll see what he has to say for himself when he wakes up."

Beast Boy meanwhile had moved over to the side of the bed, and was looking down at the unconscious teen with a puzzled expression. "Dude, I don't know..." he said, sounding unconvinced. "I mean... how do we know that he's this 'devastator'?" The young teen looked to be perhaps 14 years old at the most, and was scarcely Beast Boy's height. He was slight and thin, and there was no sign that he was anything other than another high school freshman who had gotten into a bad car accident or a particularly ugly after-school fight. There was nothing visible that could be construed as extraordinary about him, no strangely-colored eyes, no abnormal skin tone, no obvious indication that he was anything other than what he appeared to be. "He looks like a civilian to me," said Beast Boy at last, as though making some kind of profound judgment.

"Not everyone with powers looks like one of us," said the hulking half-robotic warrior to the dark green changeling as he stepped up to the other side of the bed, his anger finally corralled now that he had another job to perform. "We don't know he's what blockhead was looking for, but Robin's right. We've gotta keep him here until we do know." Cyborg adjusted a setting on the IV pump as he prepared to bury himself in more technical work, his usual method for combating disappointment and anger. "Y'all go on ahead," he said, "I'll keep watch for a while."

One by one, the other four teens began to file out of the room. Starfire still wore a deeply concerned expression, hesitating several times before leaving, as though she wished to stay as well, just to ensure that the injured boy would recover as Raven had said. She had spent part of the car ride back trying to keep the half-conscious boy from injuring himself further as he literally writhed with what was no doubt agonizing pain, and trying as best she could to assure him that everything was going to be alright. She had no idea if he had heard her or not, but when he had passed out at last she had feared the worst. Despite Raven's assurances (and Raven tended to know what she was talking about with these things), she was still worried that they had overlooked something.

Beast Boy also lingered a moment or two, obviously wanting to know more about this mystery. Cyborg could have laughed if he hadn't still felt like putting his fist through a wall after all the chaos of today. Beast Boy was never content to leave well enough alone, not like Robin, the detective, who buried himself in research and investigations, but more like a kid who enjoyed finding things out that he wasn't supposed to know, an ironic trait for someone with the attention span of a fruit fly who by his own admission, never made much use of his brain. There was however, quite obviously nothing more to find out about this teen until he woke up or Robin came up with some kind of breakthrough.

Raven looked as if she wished to know more as well, but her expression was not one of curiosity. She looked suspicious, as though this was all some kind of darker plot the details of which she had not yet discerned. Cyborg normally couldn't pretend to know what Raven was thinking at any given moment, nobody could, but right now he knew that she was thinking of the last time that an apparently harmless teen with unknown powers had been brought into the tower, and exactly what had resulted from that disaster. Terra hadn't been far from any of their thoughts in the couple of weeks that had passed since her death, and to put it mildly, this whole situation wasn't helping them to get over the experience. Raven however was no fool. She knew that there was no basis yet to really worry, and that it was pointless to speculate about what might happen in the future. After all, if there was anything Raven was good at, it was parsing out what was pointless and what really wasn't.

Robin stayed the longest of all, his mask shielding his eyes and preventing Cyborg or anyone else from figuring out what he was thinking. As it was, he was running over the unanswered questions in his head. Who was this kid? If he was the 'devestator' Cinderblock had been talking about, then how had Cinderblock known to go after him and where to find him? And why hadn't THEY heard of him? For that matter, where HAD Cinderblock found him? Robin vaguely remembered that the building Cinderblock had brought down atop the injured teen was some kind of government building, but a mundane one, an office building or a processing center of some kind, not something high-profile like a weapons lab. He'd never thought it important to find out what went on there, and now he needed to know. But once he found out, what was he going to do? What about once the injured boy woke up? They couldn't very well keep him locked in the basement of Titan Tower until they had solved the mystery, especially if he had family somewhere in the city.

As he turned finally to go, it occurred to Robin that Batman would have probably known precisely what to do here, and how to puzzle this all out. Not for the first time, he reminded himself that he wasn't Batman.

He had resolved to go straight to the evidence room and begin researching all the various questions that he still had, but no sooner had he left the medical bay, than he found Starfire waiting for him. Starfire's look was one of worry as Robin walked over to her. Something was bothering her, and Robin could guess what. None of the Titans liked to see innocents hurt, but all the others had ways of dealing with it. Raven would meditate, Cyborg and Robin would plunge himself into their respective work, and Beast Boy would bury himself in a video game or some insane antic. Starfire however did not have the same distractions to fall back on.

"What's wrong?" asked Robin, though he was certain he knew the answer.

"I am merely..." Starfire trailed off, unable to find the words to explain properly. Robin smiled slightly and placed a hand on her shoulder as she lowered her head.

"I know," he said. All that destruction and death couldn't help but affect someone as emotional as Starfire, to say nothing of the helpless sensation of watching someone in pain and being unable to do anything about it. "But we did what we could. We stopped him from hurting any more people. Sometimes that's the best we can do."

"I am aware..." said Starfire, but she still did not raise her head. So it was something else then.

"Look, Star... Raven said that he'd be OK. He'll probably be awake in a few hours. I know it was hard in the car, but you probably saved his..."

"No," she said, "that is not it either." This time she raised her head, and Robin saw that she looked almost afraid. This one puzzled him. Starfire was certainly caring and emotional, but she wasn't often scared of anything. "It is... I am... worried that one day it will be one of us laying on a bed attached to machines, and the rest of us will be wondering if that person will ever wake up again."

So that was it. Robin placed his other hand on Starfire's other shoulder. "We have a dangerous job, but it's our responsibility to keep going," said Robin, knowing that she already knew this, but figuring it couldn't hurt to say anyhow. He hated to see Starfire upset or sad. He hated to see any of his team upset or sad, but with Starfire it was particularly painful for him. Perhaps that was because she was upset so infrequently, or perhaps it was some other reason...

Starfire nodded in ascent. "You are right... but it is just that with the death of Terra, and her attempts to kill all of us, and now this attack, it seems... more likely than it once was. It seems as if things are getting more and more dangerous for all of us... and... I am worried."

Robin was quiet for a moment as he thought of his own fears of losing one of his team, his family. This was a fear they all had, and that there was no real cure for, only temporary relief. Fortunately, it didn't take much to get over it for a little while, or at least to push it away to the back of her head where it should have been. "So am I," he said, "but we all know that we can count on each other to do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening. That's more than most people have. And we've made it this far alright."

"Yes," she said, and slowly her mood seemed to brighten back up. The fear seemed to leave her eyes, or at least recede, and was replaced by her normal look of something between wonder and happiness, "we have." She smiled, and Robin remembered why her smile always seemed to make him feel better. "I am sorry," she said, "after today, I did not wish to add to your worries. I just have trouble sometimes when I see others hurt who could have been us if not for chance and luck."

"It's fine Star," said Robin as he grinned softly, "we all do. But it's not up to chance and luck. Whatever this attack means, whatever's coming, we're as ready for it as anyone can be."

"I suppose so," she said, and this time she sounded as though she believed it. "And after all, it is foolish to worry about what might happen when we do not even know what is happening."

Starfire was perhaps the only person who could make their confusion and uncertainty somehow sound like a hopeful sign, but then Starfire had always been good at finding the silver lining of any circumstance. Robin was still marveling at this capacity when she leaned in and hugged him briefly, hard enough to squeeze the wind out of him, though it was probably no more than a light embrace to her alien strength. "Besides, we would not be a very good team if we did not worry about one another, would we?"

Robin realized that that was what he was trying to think of to say to her. "No, we wouldn't." he said as she released him and he breathed again. Starfire seemed fully back to normal, another sign that perhaps the Titans had taken all of the chaos of the past month better than he had originally thought.

Starfire smiled again. "Come with me," she said as she took Robin's hand and walked back towards the elevator to the common room of Titan Tower, dragging him along with her before he could figure out what was happening.

"Where are we going?" asked Robin.

"On my planet, when people are upset about something, they eat pudding of sadness to drive the painful thoughts from their mind," Robin suppressed an urge to run screaming. There were in fact more disgusting substances on Earth than Starfire's pudding of sadness, but most of them were used for stripping the paint from walls. To Robin's everlasting gratitude however, Starfire continued. "However I am told that on this planet, people eat something called 'cream of ice' instead when they feel bad. I believe friend Cyborg keeps some cream of ice in the freezer. Let us see if it will drive our worries away!"

Robin relaxed slightly, as he wondered if he shouldn't be busy trying to find out the answers to all these questions they still had hanging over them. Starfire however did not seem particularly inclined to take no for an answer, and Robin had to admit that ice cream sounded pretty good right about now. He caught himself up with Starfire as they walked hand-in-hand towards the tower's kitchen. "And when we are done," she said, "perhaps we can get the others together and see if it will help them as well?"

Robin merely smiled. "That sounds good to me," and even as he said it, he resolved that he could probably wait a few hours before going to the evidence room. After all, some things were more important even than mysteries...

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-01 03:06am
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Chapter 3: Through the Looking Glass

"In a mad world, only the mad are sane."

- Akira Kurosowa

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There was debris. There was lots of debris. Concrete and plaster and drywall, all around him, all over him. He could feel and taste and smell every bit of sparking wiring and half-slagged metal, every piece of shattered cement and broken rebar and spilled asbestos. He wondered hazily if he should stop breathing or not, and then realized that he hurt too much to care.

There was dust in the air, thick enough to choke on, blinding and stinging his eyes. He couldn't rub them. He couldn't free his arms. One was snapped at an angle it shouldn't have been able to attain; the other was stuck under a forty-pound block of roofing material. The pain forced tears to his eyes even as he hissed through clenched teeth. Was that horrible weight on his chest from the rubble or from his broken ribs? Or was it both? Half of him was numb, and the other half wracked with pain. He wasn't sure which he preferred.

There was blood in his mouth, blood on his shirt, blood on the rubble. Was that all his? He wondered idly how much he had in him to lose. Or was there someone else in here, crushed to pulp beneath him? He found himself realizing that it would probably be next to impossible to get the blood out of his clothes, and for some reason this made him angrier than the fact that the building had collapsed on him. He retained just enough lucidity to recognize this thought as weird.

The ground was shaking. Sounds from outside? Rescuers? He heard rhythmic crashes as something dug into the rubble. He knew he should shout. He knew he couldn't. He could barely force himself to take another breath. The weight on his chest was crushing, or perhaps it was the ribs sticking into his lungs. He knew he would be screaming now if he could manage it, rescuers or no.

Suddenly a wrenching pain tore through his chest, strong enough to cause his vision to blur and make him gag on his own blood. And then there was something grabbing him, lifting him up out of the rubble, something huge. A crane? A steam shovel? He forced his eyes to open. He made out a blurry outline of something huge and grey and humanoid-looking. Sounds. Words. 'Devastator'. His broken ribs bored into him like hot pokers as the thing lifted him free of the rubble and he moaned softly, the best he could do. He felt himself moving now, being carried somewhere. Where? Did it matter? The grip on his chest and waist felt like concrete. He couldn't focus enough to tell what it actually was.

There was more shouting now, and explosions. He'd know that sound anywhere. Whatever was holding him shook violently. His ribs jarred against the concrete fingers, and this time he did scream. Screaming made the pain worse. And then there was a sharp impact and he was falling. He landed hard, on his side, on bricks and pieces of concrete and rebar. There was no longer anything pinning him down, but he still couldn't move, couldn't do anything but twitch and writhe on the broken ground, and painfully force one agonizing breath after another down his lungs. He had long passed the point where he knew why he was doing it. He didn't know if he was alive or dead. All he knew was that he was in excruciating pain, that moving made it worse, and so did staying still.

The world around him was melting into a uniform grey in which nothing solid could be discerned, only echoes and shadows. He saw figures moving around him. He heard sounds, whispers or cries heard from miles away. He felt something wrapping around him and lifting him again, something soft and malleable and remarkably cold, and yet his agony was such that even this was torture. He cried out, or rather he thought he did, writhing and twisting involuntarily, which only added to the torment. After a few moments' movement, the soft cold material melted away, leaving him lying on something that could have been leather, but by now he was fading in and out of consciousness, his feeble, spastic movements still bringing shocks of terrible agony to him. And as he felt the leather cushion beneath him shake and vibrate as though a motor were being run far below it, the last thing he heard before he mercifully passed out was the very faint sound of someone's voice, telling him to hold on...

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A soft buzzing sound, like an insect droning above his head, was the first indication he had that he was actually awake.

For an unknown period of time, he had lain there, atop something that wasn't a bed or a table but some strange combination of the two, fading in and out of consciousness, listening to sounds he knew that he knew, but couldn't immediately recognize, and listening to his subconscious debate whether or not to open his eyes. But when slowly he noticed the buzzing sound, it very, very gradually pulled him into the world of the living.

And so David woke up.

He was laying on a hospital bed, of that he was sure, for it had metal guardrails around the sides to make certain he didn't inadvertently roll over and off it. Overhead was a single fluorescent light bulb, buzzing softly as it cast a gentle blue glow over the bed and the myriad of machines that surrounded it. David moved his eyes to look around, not yet daring to turn his head. Medical equipment was scattered in every direction, much of it connected to sensors, tubes, wires, and IV drips, and all of it plugged into his body somehow. And as he followed the tubes and cords with his eyes, he slowly realized that he could feel his limbs and torso again, and that the pain had died down significantly, a smoldering ember rather than a roaring bonfire, suppressed by the aftereffects of some kind of drug.

For several minutes he lay still, still trying to puzzle out where he was, and how he had gotten there. Initially he had thought he was in a hospital, but the more his brain cleared, the more confused he became. There was no sign of any doctors, nurses, or orderlies, no light other than the single glowing bulb above his head, and beyond the circle of machines there was a dark gloom that could have been that of a cave or a basement. The air was cold, cold enough to feel even through the blankets draped over him. And from somewhere, far or near he couldn't tell, there was the soft clinking sound of tools being used.

Apprehension began to build up in his throat as he tried to make sense of what was happening. He was no longer in the center. That much he was certain of. The center had been flattened and destroyed. He wasn't in a hospital either. So where was he? And who was making that noise? He waited another minute, breathing slowly and trying to marshal his energy to move, feeling that somehow he had to figure out where he was and what was going on.

With a soft groan, David managed to lift his head slightly off the pillow before gently working his way up to a sitting position. He winced as he felt sharp pains stab through his chest and abdomen, but to his surprise, his ribs, while they still ached, no longer seemed to be broken. His left arm was encased in a plaster and metal cast, but he could still move his shoulder, and with his other arm to help, he slowly managed to sit up in the bed. He rested then a moment, all the while remarking that he felt better than he should have, before taking a good look around, peering off into the darkness, looking for some sign or clue as to where he was.

"Hello?" he managed to croak out weakly, his throat still scratchy from the dust and debris he had inhaled, and his voice weak and thin. "Is anybody there?"

He doubted that his voice was loud enough to alert an attentive cat to his presence, however no sooner had he spoken than he heard a loud "CLANG" from the same direction as the tools, followed by a muffled curse. There was a shuffling noise as something was hurriedly put down, and then footsteps, heavy footsteps, approaching the bed. Metal-shod boots crunched against the cement floor as something, something big, loomed into the shadows just beyond the periphery of the lit area surrounding the bed. David felt his heart starting to speed up as he suddenly wondered whether or not speaking had been a terrible idea. He slid backwards almost without meaning to, pivoting around painfully and slowly to face whatever the dimly-visible figure was even as he glanced around for something to use as a weapon, as though whatever had flattened the center would be repelled by an empty glass test tube or a tin medical kit.

But the figure beyond the light did not advance. Instead it stopped and placed a hand on one of the machines that ringed the bed, turning it around to read the screen. Even as it did so, it spoke, in a voice that was steady and cautious, as though whoever was speaking didn't wish to cause undue alarm.

"Easy man," said the voice as whoever it was read the figures on the medical screen. "Take it easy. You got pretty badly banged up back there." The figure slid the machine back around to face David again, and walked around the periphery of the light radius, remaining out of direct sight. David's gaze followed as it checked one machine after another. "Didn't think you'd be up yet," said the figure, "What's your name?"

The voice was deep and calm and had a trace of a black american accent to it, though the vague outline of the figure speaking was larger and bulkier than any human. David ignored the question as he painfully turned around to face the unknown person once more, and asked one of his own, his voice sounding raspy and weak even to his own ears. "Where am I? What... happened?"

"It's alright," said the voice. "You're OK now. You're in Titans' Tower. That place you were in before got trashed. We brought you here to patch you up. How you feelin'?"

"Where?" David had never heard of a place called Titans' Tower, but then that wasn't surprising. Everything else was.

"Not from around here, are ya?" said the voice with a chuckle. "Don't worry about that now. You're gonna be OK." The figure stooped and opened a drawer of some sort, drawing what looked like a large syringe out of it. It turned to face him and stepped forward towards the bed. "You were in bad shape when we found you but we pretty much..."

David's eyes nearly burst from their sockets as the figure came into view. It was a man, or rather most of a man, but a HUGE man, towering over the bed, the equipment, and everything else. The man was black, built like a football player or a bodybuilder, but half of his body was... was just missing. Where the other half should of been was instead a series of metallic limbs and plates containing robotic hands, eyes and other less identifiable instruments, all polished blue and silver. In his right hand he held a syringe filled with a green liquid which he extended towards David.

Several things happened at once. David gave a sort of stunned yelp as he scrambled backwards as best he could, dislodging half a dozen pieces of medical gear attached to his body in various places. As the large half-metal man hesitated and drew back, David, seemingly without thinking, extended his hand forward towards the man, palm outwards, as though trying to ward off a blow. Instead of a blow however, the man with the blue and silver parts suddenly felt the syringe in his hand tremble. He glanced down at it to find that the liquid inside the needle had frozen solid, expanding and cracking the glass container that held the medicine, and then, suddenly and without warning, there was a flash, and the entire syringe exploded in his hand.

Broken glass flew in every direction, pinging off of the man's plated surface and scattering all across the floor. Several larger fragments landed next to the startled young teen sitting atop the bed, who seemed just now to be realizing what he had done. The man took several steps back, dropping what was left of the demolished syringe and holding both hands up. "Whoa!" he said, "whoa, take it easy man! Nobody's here to hurt you." David did not appear to move at all as the half-robot continued. "Look, I didn't mean to startle you. Just calm down."

David took several long breaths, his gaze fixed on the giant, and he slowly lowered his hand back onto the bed. "Sorry..." he mumbled nervously, wondering what on earth had possessed him to do that, and automatically starting to think up excuses to explain it as something mundane rather than what it actually was. The gaze in the other figure's eyes was one of surprise, but also of brief pain, as though he had suddenly been reminded of something unpleasant from a long time ago. David felt a twinge of guilt as he caught the glance, and he lowered his eyes a bit. Whoever this guy was, he didn't appear to be the same person who had destroyed the center, and from the look of things, he was used to that sort of reaction. The larger figure seemed to nod, and then gingerly took a few steps forward to the side of the bed, moving slowly and deliberately, with no sudden moves, being careful not to startle David further. Slowly the robotic man lowered his hands and then extended one to David.

"Name's Cyborg," he said, "Sorry about giving you a start there. Most people in Jump are used to... me... by now."

David hesitantly raised his own hand and gently shook the metallic one, trying not to wonder if his hand was about to be crushed to a pulp. "I'm sorry," he repeated, now feeling somewhat sheepish at having essentially panicked at the sight of Cyborg. "I'm... not from Jump." It was a lame excuse, but it was something, and the larger figure didn't seem to have taken it personally.

"Heh, go figure man, so what's your name? Or do they call you Bomb Squad or something?"

"David," he said, smiling a bit, not at the admittedly lame joke, but at the fact that Cyborg seemed to find the explosion of the syringe more worthy of a laugh than an interrogation. Normally he would be falling all over himself to explain the exploding syringe as a chemical reaction or a flaw in the glass, or perhaps even blame the robotic giant for having squeezed it too hard, but somehow he suspected that whoever Cyborg was, he was used to things more or less as odd as this, and after all, the interrogation might be coming later. He accordingly decided to pretend nothing had happened. "David Foster."

Cyborg smiled as well and released David's hand. "Well good to meet you," he said as he stepped back and checked on a machine that had begun emitting some kind of loud beeping noise. He pressed a button on the machine and the beeping stopped. "So you feeling OK? Like I was saying, you were pretty banged up when we found you, but it looks like you're doing alright."

David took a second to ascertain just how he felt. He felt tired and sore, not to mention terribly confused, but on the whole, better than he felt he had any right to be feeling, given what had happened. Then again, what had happened? His memories were unclear, just flashes of debris and pain and dim sounds that he couldn't quite make out. "I think," he said, pausing and coughing to clear his throat, "I think I'm OK." He sat up a bit straighter just to see if he could, and was rewarded with another twinge of pain in his stomach. He winced and hissed, but stayed sitting up, and after a moment or two, it passed. "What happened?"

Cyborg shook his head. "We were kinda hoping you'd tell us that, man. You remember anything?"

David closed his eyes as he tried to recall the details of what had occurred. He had been walking to the cafeteria, he remembered, hurrying because he knew it closed at 2:30. There was a tremor, then a violent crash, and the floor seemed to give way underneath him, or had the ceiling caved in? He remembered thinking it was an earthquake at first, but then he had seen something moving outside the window. Something huge. And it had turned towards him and seen him, and let loose some kind of a shout and then...

He forced himself to think. Everything was fragmentary. He remembered running down a broken hallway which seemed to be coming apart behind him. He remembered flames and screaming and the sounds of shattering glass and collapsing walls. He remembered fear, a terrible bone-chilling fear, fear that whatever it was, was coming for him, was chasing him, even if he didn't know why he felt it. He remembered finding his way blocked by a massive piece of shattered masonry that had fallen through the roof, and that he had hesitated before it, not sure if he should risk doing... it.

But he had done it. He remembered that part clearly. He remembered watching the chunk of masonry melt before his eyes into its constituent parts. He remembered the network of glowing pinpoints of energy that comprised the smashed rock, remembered reaching for them with his mind, remembered forcing the energy inward, towards the core of the blockage. He remembered the fear creeping into the borders of his concentration, reminding him that he was taking too long, and remembered willing the energy to compress further and faster, and then finally releasing it in a flash. He remembered seeing the masonry fly to pieces like an over-wound pocket watch. He also remembered realizing that it was too late. The explosion brought something down from overhead, and then he couldn't remember any more.

"No," he said finally, opening his eyes again. "Not really. Just... that there was something trying to break into the center. Something big and..."

"The center?" asked Cyborg.

"The building," replied David, "the one that..." David's voice went hollow as his overloaded brain, forced to conjure back up the images of the disaster, refused to stop processing. The center had collapsed. The entire center had collapsed. With a burst of horror, David realized that there had to have been five hundred people inside! He'd only been a few yards from the cafeteria when the roof caved in, and the cafeteria was always packed at that hour! David suddenly remembered the blood that had been splashed so liberally all over the rubble, the same dried blood now encrusted on his shirt, and he realized that it hadn't been his. It hadn't all been his.

A sudden wave of nausea flowed through him, and he turned pale as he doubled back over onto his hands and knees atop the bed. He'd only been in the center for a couple of days, but the sobering realization that every single person he had met there was probably dead sent his head spinning and summoned up a violent spasm from within his stomach. His entire body shook as he attempted to cough up the contents of an empty stomach, to no avail. His head swam through images of fire and destruction, the sounds of people screaming, and a smell, a strange burnt smell that he realized was probably that of roasting flesh. The realization made him wretch again, and this time he nearly fell off the bed. He closed his eyes and clenched them shut, digging his hands into the bed sheets and gripping them tightly, waiting for the spell to pass, trying to push the images and the smell aside. It might have only been a second later that he felt a huge metallic hand gently patting him on the shoulder, but then it might just as easily have been an hour.

"I'm... I'm sorry..." said David, not entirely certain what it was that he was sorry about.

"It's alright man," replied Cyborg with what sounded like genuine understanding, and David slowly felt the spell passing, giving him time to wonder just who this guy was. He was no doctor, nor was he a rescue worker in a normal sense, that much was obvious. Yet he and whoever these 'others' were had obviously saved his life, but how? And why? Yet as he slowly managed to sit back up, various bits of information began to gel in his head. A place called 'Titan Tower', a giant man made of steel with a call-sign instead of a codename, a rescue unlooked for, a remote location filled with advanced equipment, vague references to the 'others'... it hit him all of a sudden with the force of a brickbat. Why hadn't he realized it before? Cyborg was a superhero. He was in a superheroes' lair.

And just as his face was flipping from horror to stunned wonder, things suddenly became even weirder.

The overhead lights all came on at once, filling the room with a brilliance that appeared dazzling compared with the darkness before. David now saw that he was in the center of a large open room, at the side of which was a door that was presently slid open, and standing in the doorway was a green elven vampire.

... or something.

David blinked, slowly and deliberately, and when that failed to dispel or clarify the image before him he did it again. The figure in the doorway was not giant but small and wiry, humanoid, just like Cyborg, but that was where the similarities ended. It was a boy about David's age, but whose skin was a uniform dark green, green like an emerald or a field of ripe grass. His hair was also green, though darker, and cut short, and his ears were pointed like those of an elf or a Vulcan from Star Trek. He had fangs, glistening and sharp-looking, long enough to protrude from his mouth even when closed, and as though this wasn't enough of a strange sight, he was dressed in a purple and black one-piece outfit with light grey gloves and heavy purple boots with velcro fasteners that looked almost like those of a skier. Had he been in a normal frame of mind, David might have reacted with fear or shock, but dulled as his brain was with all of the surprises and trauma of the last few minutes, the best he could manage was to sit on the bed and blink stupidly at something which literally made no sense. He had not, after all, discounted the possibility that he was hallucinating.

But if the figure was a hallucination, it was a damned convincing one. In the split second it took for David to run through all of this in his head, the green one entered the room, and David saw that he held a large plastic bowl in one hand from which steam was rising. "Brought you some chili, Cy!" said the newcomer with what David could have sworn was a mischievous look. Before either Cyborg or David could reply however, the emerald teen noticed that David was no longer asleep and broke into a wide grin as he confidently bounded over towards them. "Dude! Why didn't you tell us he was awake!"

"He just woke up." replied Cyborg, neither he nor the green one addressing David directly, which was just fine by David as he was still having trouble convincing himself he hadn't completely lost his mind. Cyborg eagerly stared at the food in the smaller teen's hand. "Tell me you didn't make that."

The younger one shook his head. "Nope, no tofu this time. It's even got hamburger in it. I didn't want any, but we all thought since you were stuck down here for a while..." he offered the bowl to Cyborg, who snatched it up eagerly and turned to dig a spoon out of a compartment somewhere while the green teen turned to David with a grin that was definitely mischievous before quickly walking over to the side of the bed. "So what's up, dude?" asked the green one, all swagger and self-satisfaction as he extended a gloved hand, speaking as though he had known David for years, and that nothing was at all abnormal. David managed to weakly shake the green boy's hand even as he continued speaking. "I'm Beast Boy. Let me guess, they call you Bomb..."

"I already told him that one." interrupted Cyborg, who had finally found a spoon, or rather an ice cream scoop, which for him would serve. "He thought it was just as stupid as Raven did."

"Dude!" said Beast Boy with an offended tone, "That was my joke! Make up your own!" Cyborg smirked as he dug into his chili and Beast Boy turned back to David with a feigned look of disappointment. "It wasn't that bad, was it?"

By now David was starting to wonder if he was actually in a lunatic asylum, and the blank stare on his face betraying complete and total mystification was apparent enough to cause Beast Boy to tone it down a bit. The green teen smiled as he adopted a slightly more relaxed gaze. "So what do they call you?"

"Er..." hesitated David, by now having trouble remembering his own name with any degree of certainty. "I'm David."

Beast Boy seemed puzzled by the reply. "Oh, I meant your superhero name."

David was equally puzzled if not more so. "I'm not a superhero."

"You're not?" Beast Boy shot a quizzical glance over at Cyborg, who was too engrossed in shoveling the chili down his throat to reply. "Raven said you were a psychokewhatsit..." David did not recognize the term, and merely shook his head in non-comprehension. Beast Boy tried again. "You can... make stuff move or change or blow up or something?"

This time there was a instant's recognition, followed for David by a cold wave of fear that rolled over him like an ocean breaker. They knew. How? The syringe thing had happened only a second ago, and prior to that he had been so careful! Had Cyborg placed some kind of a call to Beast Boy or whoever this Raven was? Had they known all along? Was that why he was here, in whatever this place was? They thought he was a superhero?! He could have laughed if he hadn't been so terrified of the prospect that these people knew about... what he could do.

His thoughts and abject terror were rudely interrupted as Cyborg suddenly emitted a sound that was some kind of cross between a steam whistle and a roar. David jumped in astonishment and whirled around to see Cyborg spitting the chili out of his mouth like a machine gun spitting bullets. "GYYYYEEEAAAACCCCHHH!!!" he shouted, or something like it, and as he did so, Beast Boy exploded into laughter and fell over backwards literally rolling on the floor. Cyborg whirled around to face Beast Boy. "What the hell did you put in that!!!" he bellowed, loud enough to shake the machines around the room.

Beast Boy was laughing so hard that he could barely speak, but managed to cough out an explanation. "It wasn't me!"

"Like HELL it wasn't!" shouted Cyborg as he threw the bowl of chili at Beast Boy. David barely had time to gasp as the green teenager suddenly morphed before his eyes into a small rodent, easily avoiding the flying Tupperware, before returning to his human form. Suddenly David understood where Beast Boy's name was derived from.

"Dude, you asked if I made it, and I told you I didn't! You never asked if Starfire did!"

Cyborg stopped dead in his tracks with a horrified look on his face. "You let Starfire make chili and didn't warn me about it?! That's just wrong!"

Beast Boy seemed disinclined to agree, but fortunately for David's poor, battered sanity, the green shape-shifter seemed to switch gears all of a sudden as he sprang back to his feet. "Hey! Now that you're awake, you should come up and meet the others."

Cyborg answered before David could. "He still needs to rest man. He's been through a lot."

Beast Boy would not be deterred. "He'll be fine Cy! We not gonna grill him, just ask him some stuff. Besides, I want to hear the story, and Robin wants to know what Cinderblock wanted."

Cyborg was still unconvinced. "I don't know man, you feeling up to that?"

It took David a few seconds to register that the last question was aimed at him. He thought about it for a second, and to his surprise, he found that the pain in his chest and stomach had all but evaporated, and while he still felt pretty weak, he thought he probably could walk a bit.

"Yeah," he said, forcing all the insanity aside as he slowly slid off the bed and stood up a bit unsteadily, "yeah I think so. How far are we going?"

Beast Boy grinned. "Just to the elevator and up to the common room. You'll be fine, c'mon." Beast Boy turned and walked to the door of the room, glancing back and gesturing for David to follow. David took a second to recover his breath and then slowly followed Beast Boy out of the room and down a long hallway towards what was apparently the elevator as Cyborg kept close behind, making certain he wasn't about to fall. Every so often he had to stop for a second and grab a hold of something as a spell of dizziness or nausea would hit him, but it always passed quickly and he pressed ahead. As he walked, with Beast Boy chattering away ahead of him pointing various things out, and Cyborg right behind, saying nothing but watching in case he passed out all of a sudden, he tried to make some kind of sense out of what he had just seen. He had about a hundred questions of his own right now, not the least of which where in relation to where he was and what he was doing here. One of the few things he had managed to decide on however, was that whoever the 'others' were, and whatever they wanted with him, he would have a better chance of getting some answers by agreeing to meet them than he would remaining in the impromptu medical bay that Cyborg had set up down here in the basement. However, despite all the questions and confusion, as David entered the elevator alongside Beast Boy and Cyborg, all he could think about was the fact that all of a sudden, everything had gotten extremely complicated.

And somewhere in the back of his mind was the nagging feeling that this was only the beginning...

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-01 03:07am
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Chapter 4: An Object in Motion

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."

- George Washington

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Cyborg stood against the wall, just watching the proceedings as the young kid they had rescued sat in a chair with his hands cupped around a large mug of some kind of hot cider, and stared down into it for a few moments. Robin had just asked him just what the building that Cinderblock had flattened was, and Cyborg could tell by the teen's reluctance that nobody was going to like the answer.

"It was a foster care center."

Cyborg cursed under his breath at the news, Beast Boy actually winced and groaned, for once without irony or humor, and Cyborg's enhanced hearing could detect Raven's sharp intake of breath as her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Robin didn't appear outwardly affected by the news, he had probably suspected something like this, but Cyborg noticed that his grip on the coffee mug in front of him had suddenly tightened, and that his knuckles were white from the strain. Cyborg knew that they were all thinking the same thing. Of all the things that Cinderblock could have chosen to attack…

Only Starfire seemed relatively unperturbed, looking to her friends with concern at their reactions. "Please friends," she asked, "what is a 'foster care center'? Is it a place of great importance?"

"It's a fancy word for an orphanage, Star," said Cyborg evenly. Seeing that this did not lessen her confusion, Cyborg continued to explain, "It's where they take care of kids who don't have any parents."

Starfire may have been ignorant of the terminology, but the explanation was clear enough, and her eyes opened wide. "You mean that it housed children?!" she exclaimed in abject horror. Nobody answered her. "But why were we not informed that such a place existed?! We could have taken better care that it was protected from…"

"It only opened a couple days ago," said the young teen sitting at the table with the mug of cider monotonely. The kid looked shell shocked, and his voice was hollow and quiet. Cyborg could tell that his hands were shaking almost imperceptibly, visible only in the vibration of the liquid in his mug as he held it with both hands. He couldn't really blame him. "They hadn't transferred most of the kids in yet. Just a dozen or so of us."

'And you're the only one left,' thought Cyborg. He'd been passively scanning the radio reports from the media and the EMTs. The casualties from the incident had been remarkably light, with less than forty dead instead of the hundreds that had been feared. Rather than blaming the Titans for allowing such a thing to happen, the media was rather praising them to the skies for having driven the monster off before it could cause any more damage, declaring that but for their intervention, there would have been many times more fatalities.

Cyborg privately thought that the low body count had more to do with the solidity of the construction and Cinderblock's single-mindedness than anything they had done, but he was grateful nonetheless for the break. Robin would take on enough of the blame by himself, in private, without some columnist insinuating that they had let the city down, to say nothing of the fact that Cyborg had been cursing himself blue for several hours over the same exact issue. The difference, Cyborg knew, was that he'd get over it. Robin never got over these things. And the fact that the police and Aqualad's searches had turned up no sign of Cinderblock wasn't helping.

At present however, the Boy Wonder was staring at the lone survivor of the disaster, his thoughts as inscrutable as ever.

"Can you think of any reason why someone would want to send Cinderblock after you?"

The question made the kid raise his head sharply, looking confused. "After me?" he asked, "I thought you said this 'Cinderblock' person just attacked the center."

"Cinderblock was looking for something or someone," explained Robin, "Someone called 'Devastator'. Have you ever heard that name before?"

Cyborg watched as David shook his head in puzzlement. "I remember somebody saying 'Devastator' over and over, but I thought that was his name. Cinderblock's name." The kid paused and glanced around at the other four superheroes. "You think that was me?"

"Maybe," replied Robin as the others remained silent. "You've never gone by that name?"

"No," said David almost plaintively, desperately trying to retain some sense of reason in this whole mess, "I told you, I'm not a… whatever you people are. I'm not a superhero. I don't have a nickname or a call sign like that. I've never heard of anyone or anything called 'Devastator' in my life!"

Robin remained motionless as the bewildered teen looked to each of the Titans in turn, confusion and fear written so plainly on his face that even Starfire could read it. Each of the five Titans looked back at David, Starfire with an expression of sympathy and concern, Raven with one of suspicion and doubt, Robin with a calculating stare that betrayed nothing, Beast Boy with a soft grin (how the hell did Beast Boy manage to smile in these circumstances? Whatever he and Raven had talked about had obviously worked), and Cyborg himself with what he hoped looked like understanding, but given his messed up features, to say nothing of his mood, it could easily have been the opposite.

Cyborg could tell that David had many questions of his own to ask, and so when he met David's furtive glance, he gave him the slightest of nods, as if to say that it was OK to ask. David did so.

"Look, I probably should already know this," he said hesitantly, "but who are you guys? I mean you gave me your names and all but I mean… are you some kind of a team? What is this place?"

"We're the Teen Titans dude!" replied Beast Boy instantly with another smile, and when that name drew a blank stare Beast Boy raised his eyebrow in confusion of his own. "You mean you've never heard of us?"

"I've heard of him…" said David hesitantly, glancing back at Robin for a second. "But I didn't know that he was in Jump City. I didn't know anyone was. Like I said, I've only been here for a couple days."

'Hell of a welcome,' thought Cyborg, as Beast Boy apparently decided that this was a dangerous lapse in David's education and began giving a rather exaggerated and animated description of each Titan's powers and abilities. He was in the middle of describing Cyborg's sonic cannon as the next best thing to the Death Star when Raven cut him off.

"I've got a question," she asked in her usual deadpan tone. Beast Boy fell silent as David turned around to face her, visibly hesitant. Raven could be very intimidating to those who didn't know her... and even more so to those who did.

"You say you don't know why Cinderblock would come after you?" David nodded, the tone of Raven's voice already putting him slightly on-edge. "Are you sure there's nothing you can do that someone powerful and ruthless would be interested in?"

Robin leaned forward a bit onto the table, and Beast Boy turned eagerly to hear the explanation even as Raven's sarcasm-laden comment seemed to wilt the young teen in the proverbial hot seat. He lowered his head a bit, almost guiltily, but said nothing, until finally Robin spoke in a relatively calm voice. "We need to know," he said, "we need to know what Cinderblock was after and why, or we won't be able to stop him from killing again."

David looked up at Robin nervously, still obviously reluctant, hesitating between whether to tell them or not. His glance fell on Cyborg, who walked over to the nervous teenager slowly. "We're not gonna tell anybody else," he said, guessing at what the issue was.

Beast Boy also approached and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder as a friendly gesture of support. "Besides dude," he said with a lighthearted grin, "it can't be weirder than any of us," Cyborg knew that wasn't necessarily true, but given the fact that it was Beast Boy saying it, he had to admit that it was pretty unlikely.

David for his part lowered his head again and took several long, slow breaths, as though trying to work up the courage to admit what it was. Beast Boy continued to grin in anticipation of seeing something impressive, but Cyborg knew how hard this could be, especially for someone who was plainly already feeling unsure of his surroundings. Nevertheless, after a short pause, the young teen finally spoke.

"I can… blow things up," he said without raising his head in a quiet voice, "with my mind."

There was no shock or surprise, Raven had predicted something of the sort, and Robin merely slid his half-empty coffee mug across the table towards the teen. "Can you show us how it works?"

"I'm not really sure how it works," said David, but he lifted his head to look at the mug. He glanced for a second at Robin, as though to confirm that he actually meant for a demonstration, but Robin simply nodded for him to go ahead. David sighed almost resignedly, and turned back towards the mug, staring directly and intently at it as he explained as best he could.

"I can see… what something's made of," he said as he fixed his gaze on the object on the table. All eyes followed, "like the cup there. I can see what's in it. I don't mean the coffee; I mean what the cup's made from."

"You are able to visualize its nature?" repeated Starfire in her own words, "How?"

"I don't… I don't know how," replied David without moving his eyes, "I just think about it and I see it. It's like a network of millions of little bits, all connected to each other. There's... quartz, some silicon, a little... mica I think, and then some bits I don't recognize, but I can see them. I can see them moving and bouncing off each other, just by thinking about it."

"Go on," said Robin.

David took another deep breath, and his voice became a bit softer. "Well I don't just... see the bits," he said hesitantly, "I can change how they move."

"Wait, how they move?" interrupted Beast Boy, "the mug's not moving."

"No," answered Raven, "but the molecules in it are. Is that what you're talking about?"

"I… maybe…" replied David uncertainly. "I don't… really know what they are. But they move. They're always moving, like they're shaking in an earthquake or something, not hard enough to fall apart, but enough to see. And if I think about it really hard, I can take the energy that makes them move and I can sort of… shift it."

David raised one hand and gently extended it out a bit, his eyes still focused on the ceramic cup. Very gradually, a thin film of what appeared to be ice crystals began to form on the outside of the mug. Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the frost spread over the coffee mug, coating it in frozen condensation. It wasn't long before the remaining coffee within the mug began to freeze as well.

"I can sort of push all the energy inward," said David, still without moving. "I can make the bits on the outside stop moving and press all their energy down into the bits near the core of it. I'm not sure why, but whenever I do that, it makes the thing start to freeze." He extended his hand a bit further, concentrating now on the cup which continued to accumulate a layer of frost, creaking as the coffee inside it expanded from being frozen.

"It's the heat," said Cyborg, whose background in engineering and mechanics enabled him to follow what was going on somewhat, "that's what makes a molecule move, right? Heat? You're pressing the heat down into the center."

David sort of half-nodded. "I... I don't know physics real well but... when something's very hot, the bits inside it start to shake harder and faster, and when it cools down, they slow down. I just make the ones on the outside slow down and push all their energy inside."

"So you can freeze objects?" asked Robin casting a confused glance at Raven. What did this have to do with blowing things up?

"No," said David, now with a bit of difficulty. "I mean... not the whole thing. I'm not taking the energy away from it. I just… compress it all, down into a little tiny area, down in the core." David was breathing harder now, and his brow was furrowed as he held his hand rigid. "You might… want to move back," he said.

Robin slid his chair away from the table even as Cyborg and Beast Boy took several paces back. Starfire and Raven remained further away even as the mug seemed to shake a bit.

"So... I squeeze it all down into a tight little ball of energy," said David, "and then… eventually the bits in the center start moving so fast that they start to fall apart. And once that happens I just sort of... release it" David let his arm fall back to the table as he gave one more thrust forward with his fingers, as though flicking something away. An instant later there was a bright flash and a "BANG" as the mug exploded into a thousand pieces, bits of earthenware scattering across the table and tumbling onto the floor, even as a small puff of smoke rose from the remains. The coffee in the mug, suddenly thawed, splattered onto the walls, ceiling, and all across the table.

David let out a sigh of relief, and sat back in the chair, as though the effort of doing what he had just done was draining somehow, though given the condition he was in, the effort of lifting his arm might well have been the draining part. Cyborg looked around to gauge the others' reactions as the young psychokinetic (the term appeared to fit after all) took several more deep breaths before speaking again. "That's… pretty much it," said David as he looked over the wreckage sheepishly, "sorry about the mess."

It didn't appear to Cyborg like any of the others looked particularly stunned by what they had seen, for the explosion, while certainly odd by the standards of normal society, was nothing compared to everyday occurrences in Titans' Tower. Raven after all produced far more powerful explosions merely by accident, and on a weekly basis at that. The explosion had an impressive sound and flash to it, but was obviously not even as strong as one of Robin's explosive birdarangs, to say nothing of a starbolt or a shot from Cyborg's sonic cannon.

Beast Boy was the first to speak. Laughing nervously, he stepped back over to David and intoned with total seriousness, "I guess you could say... you're the bomb?"

Robin and Raven both groaned audibly. Starfire, as usual, missed the joke entirely, while Cyborg himself just shook his head and had to chuckle. All of them however were willing to put up with the joke, even one that bad, as it was a sign that Beast Boy's quiet moping was... if not over... at least ending. As to the 'bomb' in question, David was staring up at Beast Boy with the look of someone who could not quite believe what he had just heard. Surely nobody could actually think that was funny...

... clearly David didn't know Beast Boy.

"You can do that to anything?" asked Robin quickly, before Beast Boy could think of any more one-liners.

"Pretty much..." replied the young teen, "I mean, it depends on how complicated it is and all..."

"Complicated?"

"Well... that mug had, I don't know, four... maybe five different kinds of stuff in it? Like I said, quartz and mica and some others. Something simpler, something with just one or two elements or parts or whatever, that'd be easier. Something more complex..." he shrugged, "like I said, it depends."

"So you couldn't do that to a person or something?" asked Cyborg.

David shook his head. "No," he said, "I mean I've never tried or anything!" he added quickly, "but people have, what? Thousands of different chemicals and things in them? Tens of thousands? I wouldn't even know where to start. Besides, a person's a lot bigger than a coffee cup."

"Does the size matter?" enquired Starfire. Beast Boy snickered at the question and Cyborg elbowed him.

"Well yeah," said David, who clearly didn't get the unintentional joke. "I mean there's more bits or molecules or whatever they are to try and control with a big thing."

"So what's the biggest thing you can blow up?" asked Beast Boy, who had switched to that semi-wicked looking grin that he always had when he was plotting something both embarrassing and flamboyant. Cyborg didn't want to know what.

David thought for a moment. "I blew a bicycle up once," he said, and the memory brought a soft smile to his face, the first that Cyborg had seen from the psychokinetic since he awoke. "I used to... blow car tires out once in a while, when I was like ten or so," that memory was apparently less amusing, and the smile faded. He thought for another moment. "I don't think I've ever tried anything much bigger than that," he said finally.

Beast Boy looked almost disappointed. "Why not?"

David blinked at him. "Well why would I?" he answered, "I mean it's not really the sort of thing you can practice, you know? Somebody probably would have noticed if I started setting things off left and right. I don't think I've done it more than a hundred times altogether, and most of those were a long time ago. There just... there never was a reason to. Before this morning, I don't think I'd done it in almost a year."

"Wait," interjected Robin, "you used your power this morning? During the attack?"

David nodded. "I was trying to get away from that big... from Cinderblock, and there was this big piece of masonry that had come down through the ceiling. It was blocking the hallway, and there wasn't any other way to go so... I blew it out of the way." He shook his head and sighed, almost smirking at his own foolishness. "At least that was the plan. I think that's what brought the roof down on my head."

"How big was the piece?"

"Maybe... about the size of this table?" said David, indicating the table he was sitting before. "It was made of granite."

Beast Boy whistled softly. Even Cyborg was a bit impressed. A block of granite that big could have weighed half a ton, still small enough for any of the Titans to have dealt with themselves without trouble, but considerably more of an obstacle than a coffee mug.

The young teen seemed to find their reactions humorous, and he laughed a bit, grimacing and clutching his stomach after a second as the laughter caused him to ache again. "It was solid granite," he explained, "nothing else, not even any cement. That's just how it works. I can blow a block of steel to bits," he smiled again, "but I can't even crack a wristwatch. I guess I just got lucky... sort of."

'Kid, you have no idea,' thought Cyborg, but he kept the thought to himself, for at that moment Robin slowly stood up. "Can you wait here for a minute?" he asked David in a tone that indicated that this was definitely not a request. David may still have had dozens of questions, but this was plainly not the moment, and the still semi-bewildered teen merely nodded to the Boy Wonder. Robin gestured to the others to follow him, and walked out towards the hallway that led into the common room. Cyborg followed along with Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy, leaving David sitting in the other room, watching them as they left.

Robin closed the door to the common room and made certain that it was both locked and magnetically sealed to keep the sound of their conversation out of the common room before he turned to the others. He was to the point, as always. "What do you guys think?"

Starfire and Beast Boy both looked like they had plenty to say, and Cyborg, who was only just beginning to form his own coherent opinion, decided to let them go first. But to his surprise, the first person to speak was Raven, who, with her usual disregard for beating around the bush, threw her opinion down for everyone to see in a very direct fashion.

"He's lying."

Beast Boy, who had already taken a breath to express his own view, stopped dead and turned to Raven with a look of something like astonishment. Starfire wasn't far behind, a look of complete surprise written on her. Even Robin raised an eyebrow at the declaration.

"Lying?" asked Beast Boy, just barely pre-empting Starfire from asking much the same question, "How do you know he's lying? He said he could blow stuff up and he did it, didn't he?"

"That's not what I mean," said Raven sharply, "his story doesn't hold up." When none of the others appeared to agree immediately, she sighed with exasperation and explained.

"He says he's been in town for just a couple days, and that he hasn't used his power for a year?" said Raven, "and yet somehow somebody knew he was here, knew what he was, and managed to set up an attack on the foster center he was in using Cinderblock, all in two or three days? Even Slade never worked that fast. Plus the attack doesn't make any sense either. If whoever set it up wanted to kill him, Cinderblock would have crushed him like a grape when he grabbed him out of the rubble. And if they wanted to capture him, then why would they send Cinderblock to do it? Why not try something a little more subtle instead?"

Beast Boy fell quiet as the explanation sank in, and Cyborg saw Robin nodding thoughtfully, as though he was thinking the same things.

"But instead," continued Raven, "this mystery person sends Cinderblock of all people to go smashing a path through the whole city and flatten the entire building, but doesn't want Cinderblock to kill him. He makes enough noise that we're guaranteed to show up and at least drive Cinderblock off, and he knows that we can do it because we've beaten Cinderblock what? Three times already? I don't know about you guys, but it sounds to me like whoever set this up wanted us to rescue him."

A chill fell over all five Titans as Raven finished. Nobody needed a reminder of what Raven was referring to obliquely. However, to her credit perhaps, Starfire was not prepared to accept such an explanation at face value.

"But even if that is so," said the Tamaranean, with conviction, "none of that is necessarily the fault of the one we rescued. Even if we were meant to rescue him by the one that instigated this, we cannot refuse to aid him simply because we do not understand what is going on. And I do not see how any of this means that he is telling us the lies!"

"Because what he's saying doesn't make any sense," replied Raven, equally convinced, "Think about it. He said that he's never blown something up bigger than a bicycle, and then ten seconds later he admits that he blew a piece of rock apart the size of the kitchen table in the middle of Cinderblock's attack. He says that he's in foster care of some kind, but he also says his name is Foster?" Raven shook her head, an edge to her voice as she continued. "Lies are bad enough, but these are stupid lies. And best of all, his records, if there ever were any, are all destroyed now along with the building he was in, so we can't check on anything. We only have his word to go on that he is who he says he is."

Starfire fell silent before Raven's evidence, and even Cyborg had to admit that she had a damn good point. Nothing here added up right. There was perhaps a time when they would have all accepted such discrepancies as unimportant background mysteries to be solved later, but that was before someone had repaid their trust by sending a mole into their very midst with a cover story of being a young superhero looking for friends and nearly destroyed them all. Too much of this situation was grotesquely familiar.

And yet... Cyborg turned and looked back through the window built into the common room door at the young teen still sitting alone in the common room. David had one hand over his face, his other hand clutching the side of the table tightly, and even at this distance, Cyborg could see he was shaking. Anyone with eyes could tell that the teenaged psychokinetic was as nervous as a startled field mouse, but the question was, was it because of the incredibly strange situation he had been plunged into, or was it because he knew that they suspected his part in a conspiracy against them? Or, for that matter, was it all a highly practiced act?

"I don't buy it," said Cyborg finally, breaking the long silence. When nobody interrupted him, he continued. "I mean, I was there when he woke up. He nearly had a heart attack when he saw me and another one when the grass stain here walked in. You ask me, nobody's that good an actor. I got no doubt that somebody set this all up, and maybe whoever they are even wanted him to wind up here, but I think BB was right to begin with. I think this kid's a civilian, and I don't think he's got the first idea of what's goin' on here, any more than we do."

"A civilian who just happens to have psychokinetic powers?" asked Raven rhetorically, "and what? Nobody noticed until now except for one supervillain? There's too many coincidences."

"He was in the attack however," insisted Starfire, "and he was very gravely injured. Without our intervention, is it not likely that he would he would have died? That could not have been at his instigation. Why would he allow himself to be so horribly injured in the hopes that we might take him home? Could we not just as likely have taken him to a... a..." Starfire stumbled over the word, "a Hos-Pit-El? To a place where the people of this planet are taken when they are injured? Surely no-one could have predicted that we would bring him here instead." Raven didn't reply to that one, in fact nobody did. Starfire may have been naive, overly trusting, and inexperienced with the realities of life on Earth, but she had been the one who had watched the kid dying in the backseat of the T-car on the way to the tower, and while Cyborg still had no idea what to think, he knew that Starfire had already made up her mind about this question. He also knew that changing Starfire's mind about something was not an easy task, for the Tamaranean's naive exterior cloaked a will of solid iron, as evidenced whenever her sister showed up to cause trouble.

"It's unlikely," said Robin finally, also looking through the window at David, who was now looking around the room from his chair as though trying to spot hidden weapons aimed at his head, still not having dared to stand up. "But you were right Raven. They are stupid lies. They're too stupid." Robin turned back away from the window to face the others. "Whoever set this in motion was planning something. We don't know what he was planning, but it doesn't make sense that whoever it was would make all these plans and then send David or whatever his name is in here with a story that full of holes. If his real name isn't 'Foster', why pretend that it's something that sounds that fake?"

Raven still sounded unconvinced. "Maybe because he wanted us to think that?"

"... and maybe he wanted us to think that," interjected Cyborg, "or that or a hundred other things. We don't know. We're not gonna find out by second-guessing it to death. Besides, I don't think he's lying at all. I think he's scared half to death and can't keep his facts straight. And Foster's not all that uncommon a name. There's gotta be some kids in that system with it."

Beast Boy now finally spoke up, not with an opinion, but with a question. "So... what are we gonna do with him?"

All four of the other Titans paused, realizing they had drifted off-subject in their debate. The time had come however to make a call, and as usual, Robin was the one to make it. Cyborg however was pretty sure he knew what it was going to be before he said it.

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A few minutes later, the door to the common room opened back up, and all five Titans re-entered the room. David, who was still seated in his chair, appeared to have been dozing, probably a lingering aftereffect of the drugs they had given him, and awoke with a start. He stood up slowly, facing the five Titans, trying to read their faces, but clearly having no success. Robin walked over to David as the other four moved around the room and took up various positions, seated or standing.

"Look," said Robin, "I know you're probably confused about what's going on here, but all we know now is that someone probably sent Cinderblock after you. We don't know why, but it's the only explanation that makes sense."

"But..." protested David weakly, "I mean... you just said Cinderblock going after this 'Devastator?' Are you sure that was me?"

"Dude, you can blow things up with your mind, remember?" said Beast Boy, "Who else do you think he meant?" The psychokinetic teen looked as though he was trying very hard to think of someone other than himself. He failed.

"We don't know that Cinderblock was talking about you," explained Robin, "but it seems very likely. And if he was, and he was coming after you, then that means you're in danger."

"I... sort of figured that part out," said David, casting glances at all the other Titans in turn.

"The foster care center," said Robin, "was that where you were living?" David nodded and Robin continued. "What were you going to do now that it's been destroyed?"

The question clearly caught David unprepared. "I..." he stammered, "I hadn't... hadn't really thought about it. I guess they'll transfer me to another facility or something?" He made it sound like 'they' were shipping boxcars of freight from points A to B, but his voice wasn't bitter.

"They think you're dead," said Raven evenly.

"What?!" This clearly DID come as a shock, and David spun around to face the others in turn. "They... they think I'm dead?! Why?!"

"They've been digging through the ruins all day man," said Cyborg as gently as he could, "they just announced on the radio that the rescue teams don't think there's any more survivors left under there, and anybody they haven't found yet is assumed dead."

"But I'm not dead!" exclaimed David, and this time both Beast Boy and Cyborg had to stifle their laughter at the infamous line, exclaimed with such seriousness by the young teen. "I mean, I've gotta get back to the center or wherever and let them know!"

"We do not believe that is wise," said Starfire. From anyone else, the line might have sounded ominous, but from Starfire it sounded like mere concern for his wellbeing.

"You don't?" asked David, looking first at Starfire and then at Robin for some kind of answer.

"If whoever sent Cinderblock knows you're still alive, they might try again," said Robin, "and if they do try again, then that not only puts you in danger, but everyone around you as well."

David waited several seconds before replying guardedly. "So... what am I supposed to do?"

Robin took a deep breath and let it out before making his 'suggestion'. "If you want," he said, "you can stay here in the Tower with us until we figure out who's behind all this. It's the safest place in the city, and nobody but us knows that you're here. It'll give us time to solve this, and find out if you are this 'Devastator' or not. If it turns out you're not, and this was all just a coincidence, then we can take you back to the child welfare people and let them know that we had you for a few days and that you aren't dead, no harm done."

David stood still for a second or so, as though trying to re-interpret what he had just heard to make sense. Cyborg found himself wondering what the kid's reaction would be. Beast Boy had bet them all that he would be overjoyed and would accept without a second thought (as he likely would have done in David's place). Raven had remarked that he would probably refuse to have anything to do with the offer or with them (as she likely would have done in David's place). As it was, David seemed to be reacting neither with enthusiasm nor refusal, but with surprise and some degree of hesitation. He slowly sat back down, no longer looking at anyone in particular, but appearing to be somewhat overwhelmed with everything that had happened, as well as with the suggestion Robin had made. None of the Titans interrupted him. The poor kid had barely had a chance to blink before all this had been dropped on him, Cyborg thought, assuming that he wasn't in on it all, which Cyborg was becoming more and more convinced he was not.

"Stay here?" said David, as though he could not decide if the prospect was thrilling, horrifying, or simply absurd. "I..." He trailed off, clearly lost for words, and Cyborg stepped forward.

"Hey man, it's whatever you think you should do. We ain't gonna force you one way or the other. But we all think it might be a good idea to lay low for a little while, and if you think so too, then you're welcome to crash here for a while."

David lifted his head, and Cyborg could see a change slowly come over his face as he looked around at the five superheroes, his expression turning from shock and incomprehension to something like gratitude and wonder. "Well," he said sheepishly, "I guess... I mean... if it's OK..."

"Dude it's fine!" exclaimed Beast Boy with a wide grin that boded ill for everyone's mental health, though Cyborg doubted that David knew that yet. "We've got plenty of room, a gamestation, and an awesome movie setup. Plus you get to see us in action!" To make the point, Beast Boy suddenly cycled through a variety of animal forms at high speed, leaving David blinking in astonishment once again.

Cyborg saw Robin smirk a bit as he tapped the ocelot-turned-leopard-turned elephant seal with his foot, causing Beast Boy to shift back into his human form. "So that's settled then?" asked Robin.

David gulped a bit and smiled nervously, as though still unwilling to believe that this was all really happening, but nodded. "Thanks," he said, "thanks... for all of this..." and he meant it, or at least Cyborg thought he sounded like he did as he stood up again, putting his hand on the table for support. He clearly still wasn't feeling fully recovered, though considering his condition when he was brought in, the fact that he could walk and speak at all was a miracle (or more accurately, magic). "... but," he hesitated again, "what... happens if it wasn't all just a coincidence?"

Robin full-on smiled this time, though still with a hint of a smirk. "Then we'll figure out what to do next," he said.

David took another deep breath, and nodded again, and Cyborg smiled despite himself as Robin extended his hand towards the young psychokinetic and, after a second's hesitation, David took it and shook. "Anyhow, we'll get you set up in one of the empty rooms," said Robin, and he glanced to Starfire who quickly walked over, took David by the hand, and led him out of the common room towards the elevator, accompanied by Beast Boy, who was already spouting a long list of various amenities that the tower possessed, real or exaggerated. Cyborg watched them go, remarking to himself that it looked like Beast Boy was acting much more like his old self again, and knowing that took a large weight off of his mind that he hadn't even noticed was there before.

As the door closed again, leaving Cyborg alone in the common room with Raven and Robin, he noticed that Raven was slowly shaking her head. She had said next to nothing the whole time, but it was obvious she had not completely abandoned her position from before.

"This is a big risk," she said simply, "even if he isn't in on the plot, whoever was behind it might know that we took him here, or might guess. They know that he was alive when Cinderblock left, and that we were already there, and they know that nobody took him to a hospital."

"It's a risk we've got to take," said Robin, "if not for his sake, then for the sake of everyone else in the city who might be put in danger if we turned him loose." Cyborg merely grunted an agreement, but Raven shook her head slowly.

"We'll see..." she said cryptically, as she turned to go back to her room.

"We'll watch him," said Robin as he turned to go as well, probably to the evidence room to begin the search for answers, "it'll be fine. Besides, he'll probably only be here for a few days."

As the door closed behind both of them, Cyborg walked back into the kitchen for a snack, and as he did so, the thought occurred to him that this might indeed be a terrible mistake. Terra after all had been not just one but a series of terrible mistakes, and they'd been on edge ever since against making another terrible mistake. Now they, or rather Robin, had chosen to risk making a terrible mistake, and maybe the willingness to take that risk was Robin's way of trying to put the Terra disaster behind him... behind all of them.

'Besides,' he thought as he rummaged through the refrigerator for some meat, 'we've survived a hell of a lot worse than whatever this kid could possibly throw at us, even in the worst case.' How much, after all, could really result from taking in a shaken, injured, civilian kid for a couple of days?

Cyborg didn't know. None of them knew. None of them could have known. Had they known the complete answer, it would probably have frozen the blood in their veins and sent chills of fear up their spines. But the short answer could be summed up simply as 'a lot'.

A whole lot.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-01 03:08am
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Chapter 5: The Affairs of Gods

"Come not between the Dragon and his wrath."

- William Shakespeare, "King Lear"

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To the extent that it was possible to use the term in a place where an average day consisted of engaging in preternatural combat with any one of a host of monstrous super-villains, as well as dealing with the latent chaos that always transpired in a tower inhabited by five teenaged heroes, the days following Cinderblock's attack could be described as "business as usual". There were crimes to stop of course, the occasional clash with an over-eager gang of thugs or a tragically misguided super-villain, but nothing that any of the Titans would consider out of the ordinary. Nothing of course except for their guest, and the events that had brought him to the Tower.

Robin had been spending most of his free time in the evidence room (not that this was at all abnormal) poring over police reports, news footage, surveillance videos, paper records, and all kinds of other data, trying to form a better picture of what had actually lead to this attack, who could have instigated it, and why. He discussed his research with no-one, but from the amount of coffee he was drinking, the growls of frustration that periodically emerged from the evidence room, and the fact that he had scarcely been inside his own room for more than a week, the others could guess that there was precious little to discuss.

Cinderblock's trail had lead into the bay where it abruptly ended several miles off the shoreline and, despite Aqualad's best efforts, not a trace of the living battering ram could be found. It was as though Cinderblock had vanished into thin air (or water in this case), a patent impossibility, and yet there was no better explanation to be had. When Aqualad had let them all know that he was unable to find any trace of Cinderblock's whereabouts, Beast Boy had made some half-hearted joke about how the only thing worse than Cinderblock was a Cinderblock who could speak and teleport. It had fallen flatter than usual.

As to their guest, the evidence was no better. As Raven had predicted, the records kept in the basement of the foster care center had been not only crushed under hundreds of tons of collapsed debris, but mostly incinerated in the fire that had swept through the ruins following the collapse. With the records computers smashed to bits, and their paper copies reduced to ash, there was no way to tell who had been in the center when it caved in, let alone whether one of the victims of the attack was named David Foster. Robin had attempted to track down records from other foster facilities across the state, only to find that the state's child welfare office had only recently begun computerizing their archives, and that all of the original records for the kids sent to Jump City's new facility had been sent along with them, and thus destroyed in the attack. There was nothing left.

Of course there were other ways to confirm an identity. Teachers, social workers, and even other foster kids could potentially be found who knew David, or at least remembered him from before the assault, but all such people were in other cities scattered up and down the coast, and for a superhero or an official to contact them asking if they knew a certain young kid who had just recently been involved in a tragic attack in Jump City might well open up unwanted questions about where he was and what he was doing there. He had, after all, been declared dead (or at least not listed among the survivors, which was the same thing), and for the moment that was probably the best place to leave it officially, lest whoever was behind all this make a second attempt at doing... whatever the object of the first attack had been.

All this, of course, was in the background. On a more immediate note there was the question of what to do with David while he was staying with them in the tower. He was, after all, their guest, not their prisoner, at least in theory, and yet there was much in the tower that was of a more or less sensitive nature, and it would not do for a civilian, let alone one under suspicion, to be allowed to go poking around in places like the evidence room or the central computer. Ever since the first incident involving the H.I.V.E. academy, Cyborg had installed scanners into all the doors in the tower, meaning that they only opened when the cameras confirmed the identity of one of the five Titans, and so initially, Robin simply had one of them escort David to and from the guest room they had set up for him, the common area atop the tower, and anywhere else he had to go. This system worked well enough until the day when David had wound up stuck in a hallway for four hours after all five Titans had suddenly been called out to handle an emergency. After that incident, Cyborg had reprogrammed the security systems to allow David access to a section of the tower containing the common room, the guest rooms, and the hallways connecting them.

Security aside, there were more mundane concerns. David's belongings had of course been obliterated in the attack, leaving him with nothing more than the singed and bloodstained clothes that he had been rescued in. Fortunately, while he was a bit smaller than Beast Boy, he was close enough to the green changeling's size that he could fit into some of Beast Boy's older street clothes, some of which had never even been worn, as Beast Boy almost never wore anything besides his purple and black Doom Patrol uniform. Starfire had been kind enough to volunteer for a quick expedition to a "store of drugs" (nobody had the heart to correct her) to pick up various necessities such as a toothbrush, though true to form, she had returned with about four hundred containers of fluoridated toothpaste, and expressing shock as to why nobody had told her that such delectable desserts were available on Earth.

Business as usual, if you could believe it.

Once elementary needs were out of the way however, the young teen proved to be remarkably "low-maintenance", as Cyborg put it, though whether that was because he was used to occupying himself without much else or because he was too intimidated by his surroundings to ask was anyone's guess. He spent most of his time in the guest room they had set up for him, only occasionally venturing out on his own accord. When he did venture out, his eyes seemed to flicker from point to point, as though he were exploring some kind of hidden temple which might contain lethal traps ready to spring at any moment, and his manner was ever so slightly on-edge, as though he couldn't bring himself to relax in the strange surroundings, though he was unfailingly polite and agreeable as if worried about what might happen if he were not. He was neither a carnivore nor a vegetarian, thus robbing both Beast Boy and Cyborg of an ally in their neverending culinary debates, but seemed quite willing to eat whatever was being prepared that day without complaint. In fact, he claimed that there wasn't any sort of food that he either hated or even disliked, and even when it was plain that he could barely bring himself to touch a bite of whatever was being served, he still maintained that there was nothing wrong, that everything was fine, that he simply wasn't hungry.

He didn't speak much, and when he did, everyone could tell that he was choosing his words particularly carefully, as though trying to guess what the Titans wanted to hear rather than speaking his own mind. It would have been suspicious if it wasn't so blatant. Indeed, he behaved as though the word 'no' might trigger something disastrous, and agreed, without argument or even question, to practically everything that anyone suggested. The others might not have noticed this tendency, until one time after dinner when Robin proposed that David carry a small tracer beacon on him at all times to enable them to track his movements. To combat the inevitable protest that any teenager would make to a proposal like that, Robin had prepared a series of explanations and arguments about how it was purely for David's own safety (which of course it wasn't), how it wasn't because they didn't trust him (which of course it was). He needn't have bothered. To everyone's surprise, David agreed to the suggestion as easily as if he had been agreeing to a grocery list, dropping the beacon into his pocket without so much as a sarcastic remark. He agreed to it so quickly in fact that Robin suspected a trick and unbeknownst to David, snuck a second beacon into the clothes Beast Boy had lent the psychokinetic, disguised as a button, and began randomly checking the two beacons' signals on the Tower computer. No matter how often he checked the signals though, both beacons were always together, and both of them appeared to be on David's person at all times.

With Robin searching for clues, Raven spending most of her time locked in her own room, and Starfire quite politely giving the young teen whatever space he seemed to require (after all, if Raven chose to remain hidden away most of the time, why shouldn't David?), Cyborg and Beast Boy were the ones who wound up spending the most time with the young kineticist. Beast Boy was direct as always, periodically dragging David out of his room to go play a round of gamestation games or try his latest tofu concoction, usually right after Raven had refused to participate in the very same activity. Unlike Raven, David never refused, though it wasn't clear if that was because he genuinely wanted to try Super Mega Monkeys 7, or because he was simply unwilling to risk refusing. Beast Boy did have enough sense to never bring up the attack, nor to pester David with what were obviously going to be unwelcome questions, and David, for his part, endured the semi-manic changeling's antics with stoic patience, even if Beast Boy's mile-a-minute stream of consciousness behavior sometimes left him so perplexed that he practically needed to be led back to his room.

Cyborg on the other hand tried his best to be as calm and level-headed as possible around the psychokinetic teen. He knew just from watching the logs of the tracer beacons Robin had given him that David wasn't sleeping well, spending half the night pacing back and forth inside his room or just sitting in a chair. He recognized that something was wrong, very wrong, beneath the overpolite exterior that David had applied, and while he didn't think David was actually scared of the Titans themselves, he was clearly way over his head in the middle of what was surely from his perspective some kind of madhouse. It was no surprise then to Cyborg that as the days went on, the young teen began to spend more of his time down in the garage workshop that Cyborg had set up, just sitting quietly in a corner reading a book, making odd small talk with Cyborg as he conducted some kind of maintenance, or even lending a hand once in a while with some extremely simple task. As a sop to Robin and Raven, Cyborg was always careful never to leave David alone in the garage, and kept an eye on him while he was there, but David either didn't notice or didn't care. Cyborg guessed that in some strange way, David felt that he was the most 'normal' of the bunch, and by being down in the garage watching him work on the car or whatnot he was able to return to something closer to the life he was used to... at least for a while.

The others dealt with David less often, for various reasons. Starfire was, if anything, even more polite than David, always asking if he was alright or needed anything. David however was clearly intimidated by her odd and alien mannerisms, and often had to catch himself staring in wide-eyed astonishment as Starfire drank a full quart of mustard or casually lifted a half-ton piece of furniture with one hand so as to retrieve something that had rolled beneath it. Raven was distant, as always, and even more intimidating than Starfire, if only because she (probably) intended to be. She never vocalized her suspicions to David himself, but David was clearly uncomfortable in her presence, not that he dared say anything. Given that she was usually locked away in her room with her books however, the two of them didn't interact all that often. Everyone could tell however that David was especially careful around Raven, despite Beast Boy and Cyborg both assuring him that there was no reason to worry. As to Robin, the Boy Wonder refrained, for the moment, from asking questions of David other than his exact recollections of the attack itself, but his gaze always promised that the questions were coming, and the prospect plainly unsettled the young teen. Robin kept his own opinions to himself, but with all of his work in researching the disaster's cause, as well as running the team on a day-to-day basis, there wasn't a lot of time left. Most of Robin and David's conversations arose when, every couple of days, Robin would stop by to let him know that there were still no leads, that nothing new had yet been found, and that given Cinderblock's still at-large status, it would probably be best if David stayed in the tower for a few more days.

And so things remained for more than a week. The Titans had fallen back into something approximating their usual routine, and after ten days had passed, even David seemed to be adjusting, slightly, to the pace of life around the Tower. Beast Boy crushed him repeatedly at every single Gamestation game they played, Cyborg taught him the difference between a socket wrench and a saltus wrench, and Starfire even managed to elicit an admission that he didn't really care for her mustard and tabasco sauce soup (after a single spoonful had caused him to fall off his stool and convulse on the ground for several moments). To most of them, it looked like David was beginning to believe he might actually survive this experience, or perhaps he was simply becoming slightly more sure of his surroundings. Either way, he was, just maybe, starting to be able to relax a bit around them.

... and then came the day of the Dragon.

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The day had started out as any other. Starfire and Cyborg had managed, for once, to convince Robin to give the search for more answers a rest, insisting that Robin needed the break after more than a solid week of no progress on that front, coupled with a series of half-alluded to incidents involving some kind of mask that David neither knew about nor probably wanted to. Starfire had occupied herself with lord-knew-what, while Beast Boy and Cyborg, as they had been all week, engaged in a very weird game of their own invention called "Stankball".

The best David could tell was that Stankball consisted of wadding unspeakably filthy and smelly clothes into a tight ball and then throwing them at another player, similar to the old schoolyard game "ball tag", only with a borderline chemical weapon instead of a ball. The rules of this particular game were left somewhat unspoken (and appeared to change at will), but that didn't stop Cyborg and Beast Boy from insisting that they required the services of a referee. They apparently had asked Raven at some point to take on this role, but she had declined rather forcefully. Robin wanted absolutely nothing to do with the game (wisely enough), and Beast Boy was reluctant to ask Starfire to participate in a game where filth was thrown back and forth, having botched some kind of similar prank on Starfire a while back, an experience he was not interested in repeating. As a result, more and more often the two players wound up roping David into overseeing their game. Most of the time this meant simply accompanying one or the other of them as they stalked their counterpart throughout the tower, keeping a running count of the "points" that they scored respectively on one another, and deciding how many points each particular hit was worth. Thankfully, the mandate of a referee did not extend to actually being hit with the Stankball itself, though accidents of course happened...

Much of the day had been occupied with Stankball, but as evening fell, David managed to excuse himself from the game and take a moment to journey up to the roof of the Tower, so as to take in the magnificent view it afforded. Normally not a fan of heights, nor especially given to taking in panoramic views for their own sake, David had found that the roof of the Tower was an excellent place to recover his wits after a particularly strange day, a little corner of sanity where he could relax a bit, and on a good evening, such as this one, the view it commanded was simply stunning, with Jump City spread out before it like a giant tapestry, the lights of the buildings and streets flickering in the twilight darkness.

No sooner had he arrived atop the tower than the alert had rung, sending all five Titans off to deal with yet another threat. David normally withdrew to the guest room at such times, but on this particular evening, he elected to remain where he was. The night was warm and clear, and the roof was large enough to let him walk about a bit if he wished to, or simply sit (well back from the edge of course) and think about how on earth he had wound up here of all places, and what in the world he was going to do now.

It was barely an hour after the Titans had left before David felt the soft vibrations of the underground garage doors sliding open to re-admit the T-car, signalling that they had returned from their expedition. David remained seated for a few minutes, debating whether or not he should go back downstairs, when suddenly the door to the roof flew open, and Beast Boy stomped out onto it. Right away, David knew something was wrong. Since he had met Beast Boy, he had never once seen him with anything but a grin on his face, but now the green changeling was scowling, his brow furrowed, his fists clenched, obviously upset about something. David watched as Beast Boy emerged, grumbling to himself about something, and stalked over to the edge of the roof without even noticing that there was someone else around. David for his part didn't know if he should say something to announce his presence or perhaps simply try and sneak back down the stairs into the tower itself. As it happened, Beast Boy reached the roof's edge and turned sharply all of a sudden, and spotted David standing against the Tower's chimney.

As though a switch had been thrown, Beast Boy seemed to relax suddenly and he smiled, albeit somewhat less forcefully than normal. "Hey," he said as he walked over towards David, "didn't know you came up here."

"I..." David stammered, worrying suddenly that the roof was another section of the tower he wasn't supposed to enter. "I was just... I mean... I didn't think that anyone would..."

"Dude, relax!" said Beast Boy with a grin. "It's OK to be up here. It's gotta be pretty boring just sitting around in your room whenever we get a call, right? We're not gonna feed you to the sharks just 'cause you wanted some air."

David forced himself to calm back down again. "Right," he said, "sorry. I just wanted to take a look around is all." He winced at how foolish he was sounding, and quickly changed the subject. "How did it go today?"

It was the wrong subject to change to. Beast Boy's grin faded as quickly as it had arisen and he groaned softly. "We won," he said evenly and left it at that, not entering the usual animated and colorful re-enactment of the battle that he usually engaged in whenever David asked how it had gone.

"Did... something go wrong?" David asked. Beast Boy seemed more annoyed than anything, so he doubted it was anything too catastrophic, but...

Beast Boy turned away and shook his head as he grimaced slightly. "No... I mean yes... I mean... ugh!" He began to pace back and forth in front of David as he explained. "It's just Raven again," he said with an exasperated tone. David didn't reply, not certain what he meant, but Beast Boy continued to explain, venting his frustration at the situation.

"I mean, it's bad enough that she's been cooped up in her room for like a week solid, and gets mad at us whenever we try and get her to do something," said Beast Boy, walking back and forth, gesticulating wildly with his hands as he did so, "but now she's got this magic book or something with this guy inside it that she's been talking to, and she's all mad at me just because I told her she was creepy and listened in for a little bit. I mean I was just making sure she was OK! And then, today, just before we went out on that call, she walks into the common room and she uses her magic to morph me into a rat! Just like that! Without even asking or anything!"

David could only blink silently at Beast Boy's explanation. Raven did spend a lot of time in her room, but David had simply assumed that it was normal for her to do so. He didn't have the perspective to tell if she was acting differently than she usually did. As to magic books and transformations, Beast Boy might as well have been talking about nuclear physics for all David knew about it, but it was clear he was upset at having been forcibly shifted. Not for the first time, David realized that he had no idea just what the various Titans were really capable of.

Beast Boy meanwhile, continued. "And then we go off to fight Kardiac, he's that big cross between a heart and a vacuum cleaner I told you about? And Kardiac's got this little girl inside him, so Raven does some kind of super magic spell and nearly blows him up with the girl still inside! We told her to stop but she said she couldn't, and I nearly had to knock her out just to snap her out of it. And once she comes around, she just storms off back to the Tower and goes right back into her room without saying a word, like it's my fault she lost control!" Beast Boy turned and kicked at a small rock that was laying nearby, knocking it off the rooftop as he folded his arms and crouched down, facing away from David, scowling once more.

David pondered all this in silence. On the one hand it was actually something of a relief to hear that Raven's hard-edged act wasn't reserved only for him, but on the other hand Beast Boy was clearly frustrated and annoyed, and David didn't know what to say, or even if he should say something. Beast Boy crouched silently for a while, then stood back up as he spoke suddenly.

"It's like, yeah, Raven's usually pretty weird, and she's always all mysterious and creepy, but once in a while she sort of comes out and acts like a normal person for a little bit, just enough to make you think that she's really OK, you know? Like she really cares? And then all of a sudden she snaps shut again and it's 'leave me alone' and 'don't bother me'. And now all this happens..." Beast Boy trailed off in frustration and shook his head. "I don't know, what do you think?" he suddenly said.

The question brought David up short. "What do I... what?" he asked, confused. "Think about what?"

"About Raven," replied Beast Boy. "What do you make of her? Doesn't she act like what I just said?"

The conversation was getting weirder by the minute. "I don't even... I don't know her!' he exclaimed, "I don't know enough to make anything of her!"

"Yeah but, I mean you've been here for a little while," said Beast Boy, "and you're kinda... what's it called... 'objective'? Since you got here, wouldn't you say she's been kind of shut off?"

David didn't know what to say, his few impressions and encounters with Raven having left him with the overwhelming sense that she was merely tolerating his presence, and that to anger her would be a monumentally stupid move. Cyborg kept insisting that she was more bark than bite, but David had absolutely no desire to find out firsthand whether or not he was right. But as to her character or habits, he was about as well qualified to speak on that subject as he was on the subject of vascular surgery. Still, Beast Boy was waiting for a reply, and so he did the best he could.

"Well... yeah I guess," he said guardedly, "I mean I... sort of get the impression that she doesn't want much to do with me. I've been basically leaving her alone since I got here." To be fair, he'd been basically leaving everyone alone since he arrived, save perhaps for Cyborg, and him only in moderation, but unlike Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, or even Robin to an extent (a small extent), Raven hadn't made an overt effort to be friendly, or to engage with him at all really. She wasn't unpleasant to him or anything (and he certainly never gave her a reason to be), it was just that while Beast Boy had been extremely pro-active in dragging him off to some activity or another, Raven had been the exact opposite. There was nothing wrong with that. He was the one intruding on all of their lives after all.

"Yeah, she'll be like that," said Beast Boy a bit sheepishly, "but usually she's not that bad about it, and this past week it's like she's been that way with all of us!"

A thought came to David unbidden. "You think it might be because of..."

"What? No dude, no way," said Beast Boy, anticipating what David was going to say, and he sighed, "she just sorta gets like this sometimes. It's not you. Like we said, don't worry about her."

Beast Boy's admonition might have held more weight if he hadn't been plainly worrying about Raven himself, in a different sense of course. David fell silent again, sensing that Beast Boy was just trying to vent his frustrations, letting him continue if he wanted to. As it happened however, after a half-minute or so of silence, Beast Boy suddenly stirred again.

"Well anyhow dude, Robin said he wanted to see you about something and to meet him downstairs when you had a minute. I'd wait a little bit though if I were you, that thing with Raven tonight's got him pretty worried."

David nodded. "Thanks, I think I'll do that," he said. After a second's hesitation, he added "So what are you gonna do?" not even certain why he had asked

Beast Boy's ears fell a bit and he sighed again. "I guess I'm gonna go apologize to her again," he said, and from his tone it sounded like this was a common enough occurrence.

David looked puzzled, "Why?"

Beast Boy shrugged, "Cause I hit her back there to knock her out of that spell, and cause I sorta snapped at her after she came around," he paused for a second and then grinned a bit, "and cause I might have spied on her a little bit and told all the others that she had that magic book she was talking to..."

David couldn't help but laugh. "You're braver than I am," he said, shaking his head a bit. "I think I'd rather meet Cinderblock again than get Raven mad at me."

Beast Boy's grin broadened into his usual cocksure expression, "Dude, she's not that bad. Worst that'll happen is she'll throw you out the window a couple times!"

"Which is all fine for you," said David with mock incredulity, "but I can't fly, remember?"

"So with you she'd probably aim for the water," replied Beast Boy as he turned to go. "and 'sides, you should be careful what you..."

Beast Boy was interrupted in mid-sentence by a muffled rumble that emerged from somewhere within the tower below, like distant thunder from a storm far away, loud enough however to be clearly heard as well as felt. He stopped in his tracks, looked down at the roof beneath him, then turned back to David with a confused look. "Did you hear that?"

David was equally confused. "Yeah," he said, "what was that?"

"I don't know," said Beast Boy, puzzled, "Did you set something..."

"No!" exclaimed David, "that wasn't me. It sounded like it came from inside the..."

David was now cut off, this time by a much more powerful sound, a massive thunderous crash that seemed to emanate from below. The entire tower shook, nearly throwing both teens off their feet. David clutched the chimney next to him to avoid falling, and as soon as the shaking subsided he turned to Beast Boy, who had managed to retain his balance. "What the hell was that?!" he exclaimed.

"I don't know!" said Beast Boy quickly, his eyes wide and worried-looking. "Stay here, I'm gonna see what happened!" Morphing instantly into a cheetah, Beast Boy took off like a green blur back down the rooftop access stairs, leaving David once more alone on the roof.

David remained where he was for the better part of a minute, listening for any further sounds and trying to imagine what could possibly have happened. He was just beginning to think that it might just have been some kind of freak accident, when all of a sudden the tower shook again, violently enough to knock him sprawling onto the roof, and a series of ever-louder explosions seemed to sound from below. David scrambled to his feet as best he could, and stumbled backwards from the epicenter of the sounds as the noise grew louder and louder, causing the roof to shake as though an earthquake were occuring. His eyes wide with fear, David watched helplessly as a section of the roof barely twenty yards in front of him seemed to buckle and twist, glowed cherry red for a moment, and then suddenly disintegrated and exploded upwards and outwards, blown off with enough force to knock David off his feet again and onto his back on the roof.

He raised himself up on one elbow, shielding his eyes with his other arm, and watched in stunned horror as a huge, black, winged shape clawed its way out of the hole it had blasted in the tower's roof, and loomed up into the air before him. His mouth fell agape, his eyes practically popped from their sockets, and a wordless gasp of horror was all he could manage as the smoke shrouding the monstrous thing was torn aside by a single beat of its giant wings. It lifted its head to the heavens and let loose a deafening roar, drowning out all else in a cacophony of sound and thunder. The very air seemed to shake with the fury of the monstrosity's cry, and as David watched, the clouds and stars overhead vanished, and the entire sky turned a sickly green color, as though presaging some kind of apocalypse. It took David's battered psyche a moment to return to functionality, and only then did he realize that he recognized this thing. In fact anyone would have, and the realization of what it was only added to the horror.

It was a dragon.

His conscious mind shocked into numbness by virtue of the dragon that had quite literally erupted out of nowhere before him, David's subconscious demanded that he run and hide, and his body obeyed. He half-scrambled, half-stumbled back, towards a series of massive steel air vents that emerged from the tower's roof. Ducking behind one of them, he turned back and watched the dragon climb out onto the roof fully, snapping its jaws in the air, turning this way and that as though surveying its new realm. For a brief, horrible second, David thought the dragon had seen him, but then suddenly a blue energy beam flew out of the hole the beast had torn in its escape, striking it across the face, to little effect, and its attention was diverted by a ferocious counterattack from the Tower's residents.

Up flew the Titans, one after the other, hurling themselves at the dragon without an instant's hesitation, those without capacity for flight being carried and thrown at the beast by those with it. As David watched in amazement, first Cyborg, then Robin launched themselves at the black beast, Starfire flinging them through the air as though they weighed no more than matchsticks. Cyborg's face was contorted with an expression David had never before seen as his sonic cannon lashed the dragon again and again even as Robin implacably flew straight at the beast's head and struck it with all his might using a metallic staff he seemingly produced from nowhere. Neither blow was telling however, and the dragon lashed back, striking with tail and claw and clobbering both heroes in mid-air, battering Robin down onto the rooftop hard enough to crack the masonry beneath him, while flinging Cyborg across the roof and into a satellite dish perched nearby.

Starfire herself now emerged to the attack, flinging a barrage of green blasts at the beast's head and body conjured up from lord-knew-where, no longer the polite and cheerful alien girl that David had met before, but a blazing, meteoric superhero, terrible and awesome to behold. Beast Boy was right next to her, now a soaring eagle, and he flew straight at the dragon before his form suddenly rippled and then expanded a hundredfold, transforming before David's eyes into a Tyrannosaurus Rex. With a primal roar equal to anything the dragon had uttered, Beast Boy, though David was hard-pressed to associate this monster with the goofy green changeling he had been speaking to a moment before, collided head on with the dragon, biting, grappling, and clawing at it with enough force and weight to stagger the giant beast.

The scene was like nothing David had ever imagined before in his wildest or darkest dreams, a scene of pandemonium, of chaos, of unbelievable violence and power unleashed like a flash flood. And in that instant David realized that this, this here, this was who the Titans really were. These were the people he had been living amongst for more than a week, these Olympian beings of power and wrath, who possessed not only the will to hurl themselves at such a foe, but the means to do it and live. He had known of course, on some level, that these were superheroes, he had been intimidated and frankly a bit scared of them and their abilities and powers, but to know it intellectually and to see it live before his eyes were two entirely different things, and the spectacle filled him with astonishment, wonder, and awe, as well as the sickening feeling that he was puny and insignificant, a mere insect, watching giants and gods clash at the ending of the world.

But just as David's fear was being subsumed by wonder at the marvels he was seeing, the dragon proved that it too had the means and will to fight. With a twist and a massive heave, the dragon managed to wrench Beast Boy off of its throat, and threw the changeling-turned-dinosaur across the roof and into Cyborg, ripping the satellite dish off of the tower and sending both of them sliding towards the edge of the roof. Before David could so much as cry out, before he had a chance to think, much less act, Beast Boy and Cyborg crashed into and through the low wall that ringed the tower's roof and plunged off the edge and out of sight in a shower of masonry.

With a gasp of horror, David recoiled from the vent he was hiding behind. Had he been able to think clearly, he would have realized that Beast Boy could fly, and could easily catch Cyborg on his way down, but in the chaos of the events, this was well beyond his capacity for rational thought, and he felt a stabbing, wrenching pang of nausea flow over him as he collapsed to his knees, shaking like a leaf in a windstorm. "Get up!" screamed a voice in his head, "Do something! Help them!" but he could not get up, for the fear and the shock were too great. He turned his head to see Starfire, now alone, blasting at the dragon with her green bolts in righteous fury, dodging swipe after swipe of the dragon's tail and claws, undiminished in her power and glory even as the dragon roared and lashed out to tear her from the sky. What could he possibly do that would be of any help in a situation like this?! What could he possibly do against that thing that stood before him?! He was no superhero! He was nothing compared to the Titans! What good could he...

He froze.

In David's terror he had averted his eyes from the monster just for an instant and his gaze had landed upon the most mundane of objects. It was a large metallic tank, specifically a 500 gallon water tank, round and capped with valves and hatches, just one more piece of gear that littered the roof of Titan's Tower. Why it was there, what it was used for, was immaterial at the moment. What was material was that David could see, or more properly sense, that it was filled to the brim with pure, distilled water... and that the dragon's foot was planted on the roof of the tower scarcely two feet away from it.

And then a thought formed in David's mind.

He had no plan. He had no conception of what he was doing really, just a vague, general sense that he had to try to do something, anything, and before he could think it through or decide if it was a good or a bad idea, he was doing it. He reached out with one hand, extending his fingers towards the tank, focusing his eyes and his mind on it, forcing the fear and doubt aside as best he could. The tank was made of some kind of complex alloy, aluminum and stainless steel and a dozen other things, and he ignored it, focusing instead on the pure water that lay within, watching the tank dissolve before his eyes into a network of tiny parts, flowing about one another in a fluid mass. His hand went rigid and he began to press at the network with his mind, herding the latent energy within it together, freezing solid some parts of the water, setting others to boil. Slowly the tank began to vibrate as the water within was agitated, but he forced himself to concentrate, to focus. Somewhere in the back of his mind was the nagging knowledge that this was far, far bigger than anything he had ever attempted before, but the water was distilled and purified, probably a reserve tank of some sort, with no chemicals or other additives to complicate it, and he forged ahead, knowing somehow that he had no choice but to try.

A cry diverted his attention for a brief instant, and his eyes flickered up to see Starfire, now caught within the dragon's jaws, straining to force them to remain open. A gasp escaped his lips and he nearly lost his concentration, but he forced himself to hold on, to force the energy inward, to push towards the critical point. The tank buckled and shook, and fissures appeared in it as David froze more and more of the water solid, expanding it beyond the volume of the tank. A hatch atop the tank burst and overflowed with freezing water, but David ignored it, all thought bent on compressing the energy still further.

There was a burst of fire and heat and David vaguely felt a jet of flame fly over his head as the dragon blasted Starfire off of the tower and out into the bay below. Its enemies seemingly beaten, the beast gave a mighty roar of victory, beating the air with its wings and nearly knocking David over with the wind gusts thus produced. Any moment now it was going to turn and incinerate him. He knew that any gesture he could make was futile, but somehow he felt he had to make it anyhow. With a last shove of his mind, David packed the water's energy tightly enough to set the reaction in motion, and as he raised his eyes once more to gaze at the monolithic beast, he braced himself against the rooftop, and released it.

The dragon's roar was cut off by a horrendous blast from near its feet as the water tank exploded into a million pieces, the water inside vaporizing instantly and erupting forth as a giant cloud of compressed steam. Caught off-balance by the unexpected explosion, the dragon's foot was knocked out from under him, and it teetered for a second and then plunged out of sight with a hideous wail. David felt himself shoved flatly down onto the rooftop by the force of the blast, as bits of metal shrapnel flew overhead. He saw the dragon vanish over the edge of the tower, and then the steam cloud enveloped him, and he saw no more.

For several seconds he lay flat on the rooftop, breathing heavily, not daring to move. The steam soaked him as it began to condense in the cold air, swirling around like mist, obscuring everything. He could hear nothing but the sound of his own breathing and the faint whistling of the wind as it blew over him. Slowly, cautiously, he stood back up, peering through the cloud, looking for any sign of what had happened to the dragon. He couldn't make anything out, neither the beast, nor the Titans themselves, nor anything else distinctive. He considered calling out, but fear restrained him from doing so. Gingerly, he crept slowly towards where he knew the edge of the tower was, shivering in the cold, wet air, just barely daring to think that maybe, just maybe, it was gone?

And then suddenly a huge shadow loomed up from the side of the tower, visible through the mist only as an indistinct black mass. Two giant red eyes appeared within the mass, boring down on David like glowing coals. Their gaze was malevolent, vicious, merciless, terrifying, and as David stumbled back, his eyes wide, his voice silenced by the re-appearance of the giant black drake, he realized that all he had succeeded in doing with his explosion had been attracting the dread beast's attention. Before he could react or run or even scream, the dragon's tail lashed out like a whip and struck him squarely in the chest, flinging him off his feet like a toy and sending him slamming back into an air conditioning unit mounted near the opposite edge of the roof. He landed face-first on the ground, hard, tasting blood on his lips, his lungs on fire from the force of the impact, and as he slowly raised his head, he could see through tear-stained eyes the dragon land on the roof and stride towards him purposefully, snapping its jaws as though anticipating a meal.

He tried to stand, and found that he could not, the impact having knocked all of the wind out of him, and his quivering, injured muscles refused to obey his commands. Desperately he sought for something else to detonate, anything to keep the monster off of him, but terror, black terror was upon him and he couldn't focus, he couldn't concentrate, and even had there been something nearby within his capacity to blow up, which there was not, he could not have so much as twinged it in his current state. The dragon now filled his vision, towering above him like a primeval force of nature, its wings stretching from horizon to horizon as it reared its head back. An orange glow formed within its mouth, and David clenched his eyes shut, raising his arms in an automatic, paltry defence as the dragon belched forth a stream of fire to reduce him to ash.

But the fire never struck.

The roaring of the flames filled his ears, the heat of the barrage seemed just inches away, yet David did not burn, and after several seconds he opened his eyes to see the cause. A semi-spherical shield of pitch darkness had sprung into being around him like a protective bubble, repelling the searing flames, if only barely. Only vaguely could David make out the dragon's form from within the black shield, and he scrambled back from it, pressing up against the back of the spherical barrier. The dragon itself seemed perturbed, but it had no time to try and figure out what had cheated it of its prey, for even as it reared back for another try, tendrils of black energy emerged from the roof, snaking into it like forked lightning, and then from behind David came the muted sound of someone speaking words that he had never heard before.

"Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos!"

A flash, a cry, and something passed overhead, a figure that David couldn't identify through the barely-opaque shield, but a voice he recognized as Raven's. The dragon stepped back and roared in defiance as Raven flew to engage it, but she ignored the cry, and unhesitatingly released what David could only guess were magical spells, beams, and other blasts of dark energy. Bolt after bolt and spell after spell crashed into the dragon, who retaliated with bursts of fire that rent the roof of the tower and scorched the air even as Raven darted around them. With a gesture of her hand, Raven tore up a section of roofing and hurled it into the beast, but the masonry merely shattered against its iron hide and the dragon laughed as it snatched Raven out of the air with one hand. Raven twisted and struggled to no avail as the dragon brought her in close. David could see the dragon speaking, leering at Raven, but between the shield deadening the sounds of the world outside and the ringing in his ears from the explosion and the impact, he couldn't make out what was being said.

Without even realizing what he was doing, he crept on his hands and knees back over to the front of the shield, and pressing his hands against it, stared up at the sorceress and the dragon, unwilling to watch what was happening and equally unwilling to look away. As he watched transfixed, Raven raised her hand, and something flew towards her out of the hole in the tower to his right, something small, perhaps a book or a laptop computer. She caught it in her outstretched hand, and as she did the dragon screamed, not in defiance but in mortal fear, rearing back and blasting another gout of flame at the sorceress. With one hand, Raven held the book she had summoned, and with the other she extended her own energy beam, negating the dragon's. Desperately the monstrous creature poured on the heat and fire, slowly overwhelming Raven's own magical spell, but it was too late. With a sudden cry, Raven thrust the book forward, and from it sprang more black energy, tearing up through the dragon's fire wave and striking it in its gaping maw. The dragon screamed, a piercing, chilling scream of horror and pain, as the energy flowed over it, and it writhed, twisted, and then dissolved before David's eyes into a cloud of darkness that was sucked, shrieking, into the book that Raven held aloft.

The echoes of the calamatous battle faded slowly, and David watched from within his protective enclosure as Raven slowly floated back down towards the tower's roof. The shield, having served its purpose, now lowered around him and vanished, leaving him kneeling on the rooftop, shaking uncontrolably, surrounded by the last thin wisps of steam from his explosion. One by one, the other Titans slowly reappeared, Robin digging himself out from under a smashed air duct, Beast Boy hauling Cyborg back up onto the rooftop in pterodactyl form, and Starfire returning on her own accord, soaked with sea brine and singed black, but alive. David took a deep breath, trying to breathe the fire out of his lungs, and as he let it go, his muscles buckled beneath him and he flopped down onto the roof like a boned fish. The adrenaline slowly faded, leaving in its place a dull headache, a throbbing, painful sensation in his chest from where the dragon had belted him, and a feeling of total, complete exhaustion, not merely physical, but mental and emotional, an empty, drained feeling that buried everything else beneath it. This was simply too much. A mythical beast from the darkest recesses of his nightmares had emerged without warning in his very midst and nearly killed him, and his body and mind demanded time to recover from the experience.

For some time he lay there, it could have been a few seconds or a few minutes, and then distantly he felt someone helping him to his feet. He was too tired to even open his eyes and see who was helping him into the tower and down the stairs. By the time he had reached wherever they were taking him, he was already barely awake, and when they laid him down on something that could have been a bed or a table or an execution pallet for all he cared by that point, it took him approximately two seconds to fall asleep.

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He woke up several hours later, laying on the a couch in the common room of the Tower with a blanket of some sort laid over him. The lights were out, but a faint blue glow out of the corner of his eye indicated that the television was on, though the sound had been reduced to a soft whisper. His headache had gone away, and his chest no longer throbbed, the pain reduced to a dull ache whenever he breathed. He groaned for a second, then slowly sat up and looked around the darkened room. He could barely see anything in the dark save for the television which was playing some kind of black and white 50s sci-fi movie involving giant ants. There was a figure seated in the chair next to the couch, but he couldn't tell who it was, at least not until the figure noticed that he was awake and muted the movie before illuminating most of the room with a green light emitted from her hand.

"Friend David!" exclaimed Starfire in her eternal tone of gentility and compassion, a tone that seemed so completely at odds with what had happened earlier that evening. "You have awakened!"

David rubbed his eyes sleepily, his brain still trying to catalog everything that had transpired. "Hello Starfire," he said weakly as he fought back a yawn. He felt that he should have had ten thousand questions, but right now all he could think about was that he was more tired than he had ever felt. "What... time is it?"

"It is the tenth hour of the clock in the post meridian," said Starfire, and David took a moment to translate that into english, "you have been asleep for nearly three hours. Do you feel that all is right?"

"I think I'm OK," he said, and to his surprise, he actually meant it. He guessed that once he had time to recover and settle himself, he would start to realize just how close he had come, again, to getting killed, but for now everything was so dulled that he could barely recall with clarity what had happened.

"Friend Cyborg said that you were not seriously injured during the battle," said Starfire, "but after you fell asleep with such speed, it was thought that one of us should remain just in case you had been."

Had Starfire been sitting here for three hours waiting for him to wake up? David was surprised and more than a little embarrassed that she or the others would have done such a thing. "T... thanks..." he stammered (had he gotten off a single sentance without stammering since he got here?), "but you guys didn't have to... I mean I'm... I'm fine, really."

"Oh it was no trouble at all!" insisted Starfire with a warm smile, "I have been watching a fascinating documentary on the invasion of the United States by the oversized insects in the year 1954." She gestured at the screen, still filled with images of men with submachine guns battling hordes of giant ants. "Though I am puzzled why I have not heard of this incident before?"

"Starfire, I don't think that's a documentary," said David hesitantly.

"But it is in the black and the white," redplied Starfire, "is that not the style that is used for the documentary films?"

"I... I'm... really not sure about that," said David, as he decided that he had long-since passed his quota of strangeness for today. "Where's... where did everyone else go?"

"Friend Robin was here for some time, but went to sleep just over an hour ago," said Starfire. "Friend Cyborg wished to play more of the stankball with Beast Boy before bed, but he was unable to."

"Why not?" asked David

"I believe that Cyborg wished to hide the stankball from Beast Boy so that he might win the game, and he chose to hide it beneath the water tank mounted on the roof, which was destroyed during the battle."

David winced and groaned at the news. So not only had he obliterated the water tank and failed to harm the dragon with it, but he had also managed to destroy the stankball. Just great.

"Friends Beast Boy and Raven both returned to their rooms after the battle was ended," finished Starfire, not noticing David's discomfort.

"Are they OK?" asked David.

"They were not seriously hurt," said Starfire worriedly, "but I fear that friend Raven is most upset by the events. She believed that the being who was locked in the book was her friend, but instead it betrayed and attempted to kill her." Starfire's tone turned to one of regret and sadness as she lowered her head. "There have been many such occurances in the past months, and both Raven and Beast Boy have been... struggling... to deal with them. It is very hard."

David remained silent for a bit, not sure of what to say. He had no idea what these 'occurances' Starfire was talking about were, nor had he noticed anything of the sort bothering Beast Boy, but then after today, he didn't trust his own judgement to tell him the time of day, let alone what everyone around him was feeling or thinking. After everything that had happened over the past week, David had come to the realization that there was a great deal going on in this tower that he didn't understand at all.

"I... think I'm gonna go to bed..." said David finally, and Starfire smiled and wished him a good night. He turned and slowly walked towards the door, but hesitated at the door and turned back for a moment. Starfire was staring back at the TV, smiling, serene, kindly, and in his mind, David tried to reconcile that image with the one of Starfire hurling bolts of energy at her gigantic foe like some kind of vengeful deity, and he found that he could not. Shaking his head, he turned away and left the room.

Down the halls and around corners he walked, trying to remember the path to the guest room, knowing that it had to be around here somewhere, his addled mind refusing to make the appropriate decisions. It was only a few minutes after he left that he heard the sound of voices ahead. For no reason he could distern, he walked towards them, and came to a corner around which the voices were eminating from. He stuck his head around the corner, and saw Beast Boy standing in a small patch of light before a large metal door that he vaguely remembered was Raven's.

"Raven?" said the green changeling in a tone David had not yet heard him use, "It's me. Look, I'm sorry."

David had the sudden urge to back away from the corner, to go back to his room and go to sleep and leave Beast Boy and Raven to whatever they were doing. He didn't know why, but something in Beast Boy's tone told him that this was something he was not meant to see or hear. He did not back away however, and remained hidden in the shadows in the corner of the hallway, just watching and listening.

There was the sound of movement from within the door, and then Raven's voice was heard, thinner, weaker, and sadder than he had ever heard it before.

"For what?" she said, "You're not the one who..."

"No," interrupted Beast Boy, "I'm sorry that... he broke your heart."

There was a long pause from within the room, then Raven spoke again. "I know it was all a lie. But he was the only person who ever made me feel like I wasn't... creepy. And don't try to tell me I'm not."

She was, and to his credit perhaps, Beast Boy did not attempt to lie about it. "Okay, fine," he said, his voice far more serious than David had thought was possible from Beast Boy, "you're way creepy. But that doesn't mean you have to stay locked in your room." The green changeling lowered his head and closed his eyes, before adding something softly.

"You think you're alone, Raven, but you're not."

Total silence followed this line, and David realized he was holding his breath involuntarily. He felt ashamed, hiding in the shadows and eavesdropping like this, but at the same time he couldn't leave. He didn't want to find out secrets or discover unknown truths, he just wanted to see what would happen. Not for mockery's sake nor for leverage, just... to see.

Just as David thought Beast Boy was going to turn and leave, the door suddenly slid open with a soft hiss, and Raven was revealed, standing in the doorway, looking the same as she always did, but somehow entirely different, as though her barriers of self-control and intimidation had been shattered and swept away. She stood motionless for a moment, and then in one movement stepped up to Beast Boy and gave him a giant, almost desperate hug, like that of a person who feared that the thing she embraced was going to disappear at any moment, and leave her completely alone.

Beast Boy was plainly not expecting this any more than David had been, and he looked almost shocked. After several moments, he slowly disengaged himself from Raven and stepped back a pace, total surprise written on his face. "Uh..." he said, plainly unsure of what to say, almost as though expecting something to suddenly spring out and interrupt them, but nothing did. "I..."

Raven looked fairly embarassed, and lowered her head almost in shame at having done something this emotional. "I should... I should go..." she said quickly, interrupting whatever Beast Boy had planned to say, and she turned to go back into her room. As she did so however, Beast Boy seemed to recover from his initial astonishment, and reached out to put a hand on her shoulder.

"Raven," he said as he placed his hand on her cloak "wait... I..."

Raven stopped, and for a second David half-expected her to blast the changeling with some energy bolt. Instead however she slowly turned her head back towards Beast Boy, who now had a look of profound worry. Slowly she reached up and placed her hand atop his, and clutched it tightly, closing her eyes to block off the tears that were forming. And then as Beast Boy stepped towards her and gently put his arms around her in a reciprocal hug of his own, the last of Raven's will and resolve crumbled, and she broke down into tears.

Beast Boy closed his eyes and hugged Raven tight as she rested her head on his shoulder and cried quietly, no showy erruptions or loud sobbing, just the the soft tears of someone who could hold them back no longer. She squeezed him back, wrapping her arms around his chest and clinging to him as though clinging to a liferaft in the middle of a storm. Neither one said a word, it was likely that neither one could, and after a long while Beast Boy slowly lowered Raven down until they were both sitting against the wall, Beast Boy with his arm (somewhat awkwardly, given that she was taller than him) around Raven's shoulders, and Raven simply leaning against Beast Boy, half of her desperately trying to staunch her crying, and the other half just as desperately trying to let it all out. They sat like this together in silence for a long, long time.

But David didn't see that part, for he had already slipped silently away into the shadows of the darkened halls, moving like an automation towards the guest room. Had he seen what he had just seen yesterday, it would likely have blown his mind, but on this crazed, unbelievable day, it was merely a final confirmation of the fact that whatever he thought he knew about the people who lived in this tower had not only been wrong, but totally and compeletely off the mark. It wasn't that he had mis-understood them, it was that he had never understood anything about them at all, these heroes, these gods, these kids. What was happening in this tower was compeltely outside his frame of mind, was an experience so alien to him that it shook him to the core to recall Robin and Cyborg lunging to the attack without a second thought, to recall Starfire transcendant and fueled by indignation and rage, to recall Beast Boy and Raven, standing there...

These five heroes had something here, something unique perhaps, but entirely divorced from the reality he knew, and he felt more than ever that he was imposing on it. That he was interfering with something strange and alien and beautiful and terrible that he couldn't even comprehend much less understand. It wasn't just that they were superhuman, but that they had... a connection, a five-way web of ties that formed a single pattern, both infinitely strong and exquisitely fragile, and with that realization came a wakening. This place, these people, this was not where he was supposed to be. He was a child of the system, of regimen, of simplicity, of the comfortable anonymity that came with being entirely average and decidedly unremarkable, of a thousand things he had taken for granted that simply did not exist here, not of this place. This place embodied everything that he was not, everything he had never had and never known and never felt and never understood, and he knew he could not remain here any longer. He had to go, if only to save his own worldview and sanity from being entirely oblitterated, to say nothing of the risk of actually losing his life in another "incident". As he entered the guest room and got into his bed, he resolved, firmly and completely, that tomorrow would be the last day he would spend in Titan Tower. He would thank them all profusely for their unending kindness and patience, he would pledge to repay them however he could in the future, no matter the circumstance, and then he would leave, and return to his own world. Cinderblock be damned, this place was as dangerous as any super-villain could be, and not merely because of the risk of dragon attack.

It was decided then, tomorrow he would go. Tomorrow he would leave. Tomorrow he would exit the rabbit hole and leave wonderland behind forever. He fell asleep repeating the mantra to himself, taking some slight comfort in knowing that tomorrow it would all be over.

But tomorrow was another day...

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-02 02:34am
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Note by rhoenix: I'll be posting a chapter roughly twice a week, until caught up with the other site. Of course, feedback would speed this process to prove to him that there are people reading it.

Chapter 6: In the Presence of Mine Enemies

"One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!"

- Winston Churchill

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David loved crowds.

He knew that wasn't particularly common. Most people got nervous in crowds, even outgoing, energetic types. For those whose personalities leaned more towards introversion and shyness, a large crowd of people was supposed to be an early glimpse of Hell. He could see how somebody who wasn't observant might think that, but to him, a teeming shopping mall, a bustling cafeteria, an airport or amusement park or even just a busy street were like returning home. Hundreds and thousands of people going about their business, running, walking, strolling, standing, sitting, talking, whistling, doing a thousand different things, and all of them paying not the slightest mind to a single unremarkable teen-aged boy wandering through their midst. The energy of a crowd as it swirled and washed around him, the soothing, calming sensation of being invisible in broad daylight, these things were almost palpable, as if he could draw his anonymity around him like a warm blanket, secure, untouchable, safe behind barriers of imperceptibility and indifference. Plenty of people sought solitude by themselves, hiding away alone, fearing to encounter anyone. David knew better. If he wished to be alone, then there was no better place than at the center of a mass of complete strangers, none of whom knew him, none of whom noticed him, none of whom gave him so much as a second glance.

And after the last ten days or so, he really needed to be invisible for a while.

The remains of his cinnamon roll lay on his plate as he sat back in the metal chair of the Bayside Cafe & Grill and watched the crowds passing by. Below the terrace he was sitting on ran a small bike path and pedestrian walkway, and beyond that, the sparkling blue waters of Jump City Bay. Bicyclists, joggers, kids, couples young and old, all passed before him, all of them out enjoying the warm spring afternoon, none of them even conscious of the fact that he was watching them pass. He doubted that any of them would have cared even if they had noticed him. After all, what harm was there in a bit of people-watching?

He glanced back up at the wall clock mounted behind him. 4:07. His bus wasn't supposed to leave until a quarter to five and the bus station was barely a block away, so he had time to sit here and watch the world pass by, to observe the people as they went about their routines, laughing and chatting and talking on their cell phones. It always helped him, sitting there, imagining the stories behind each person, seeing everything and being seen by nobody, not because he was slinking in the shadows, but because there was no reason for anyone to see him, just another quiet, unobtrusive kid, nothing special at all. It helped him to calm down, to unwind, to relax.

Or at least it usually did.

Right now however, his gaze was vacant, his stare fixed on nothing in particular, and try as he might, he couldn't get his mind to unhinge and simply daydream. Instead he kept going back over the events of last night and this morning, trying to make sense of it all. It didn't work. He told himself that there wasn't any answer to be had, that this was simply a series of unconnected events that he had been swept up in, nothing to do with him really, and yet no matter how many times he repeated that to himself, he couldn't bring himself to believe it. He had always liked to think that things happened for a reason, that there was a purpose to everything, and yet now here he was trying desperately to convince himself that it had all been the work of chance, that luck and nothing else had placed him in the middle of the attack on the Center, and thereby brought him to Titan Tower. He wanted to believe it. He really wanted to believe that it had all just been a coincidence, but old habits died hard.

And on top of it all, he kept coming back to what Robin had said this morning...

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"I think it's a mistake."

David looked down at the granite tabletop as all five Titans stood or sat around him, staring at him. Their stares made him uneasy, and he said nothing. It was ten in the morning on what David had just announced was going to be his last day in the Tower.

Robin sat opposite David, his masked eyes practically boring a hole right through him. When he saw that David wasn't going to contest his previous statement, he continued.

"We still haven't found any sign of Cinderblock or any evidence of who's behind this," said the Boy Wonder, "and until we do, we won't know if you're still in danger or not. I don't think it's a good idea for you to be going back out there by yourself until we've found something more conclusive."

"I... I know..." he said weakly. He didn't like being confrontational; his instincts were to just agree to what Robin was saying, but at the same time he remembered yesterday evening, and he knew he had to get out of this place, even if it meant forcing an argument. "I just... I don't think that Cinderblock's coming back is all. And I think... I think I really should be getting back to the offices before they close my files up permanently."

"You don't know that," said Robin, crossing his arms, "and whatever the paperwork hassle, a couple more days until we finish going through all possible leads can't hurt."

"Besides, man," chimed in Cyborg, "the Center's toast. It'll be a year at least before they can rebuild it, so where're you gonna go?"

"I figured I'd take a bus or a train or something up to the central office - I think it's in San Francisco - and just turn myself back in there. There's other facilities around the state. I mean... if I leave Jump, won't I lose this Cinderblock guy, if he's even looking for me at all?"

"Maybe," replied Cyborg, "or maybe not. Besides, what's the rush? Way you say it, sounds as if you're going back to jail or something."

"Yeah, dude," said Beast Boy, "you can't be in that much of a hurry to go back to some orphanage or whatever, can you?"

"It's not 'some orphanage', it's where I live, OK?" snapped David before he could stop himself. The tone was bitter, and coming from David it was so unexpected that Beast Boy fell silent and Raven raised an eyebrow. David closed his eyes as he berated himself for having said that, and when he opened them a second or two later he was subdued again. "... sorry," he said softly, "I... it's been a really weird couple of weeks..."

The Titans exchanged glances as David took a deep breath and let it out slowly, returning his gaze to the tabletop. Beast Boy remained silent for once, but Cyborg took a stab at guessing what David's difficulty was. "If you're worried about that dragon thing," he said, "I'm telling you, that was a fluke. It's not like we do that every day around here. Is that what's bothering you?"

"No," said David, almost automatically. It was a lie, an obvious lie, and he immediately retracted it, "I mean... partly I guess, but... it's more that this place is... just..." He fumbled over the words, and switched tracks in mid-sentence. "I don't want to be in the way any longer is all."

"But you are not located within the way, friend David!" protested Starfire, "Surely we cannot agree to your leaving when such a threat remains!" The alien girl looked to her friends for support, but David merely shook his head.

"That's not what I meant," he said, wishing that he actually knew what he meant. He fell silent again and closed his eyes, taking another deep breath to steady himself and try and force his thoughts into a rational order. When he opened his eyes he spoke in as reasonable a tone as he could manage, given everything that was racing through his head.

"Look, you guys have been... really amazing to me for these past couple weeks, and I'm grateful, I really am." He lowered his head and his voice a notch as he spoke with an almost embarrassed tone. "You saved my life back there at the center, you let me stay here just in case I was still in danger, you've all been super-patient and understanding and just generally really cool about everything, and I mean..." He trailed off for a second before raising his head again. "I can't thank you guys enough. I know that... that there's no way really for me to repay you all for what you've done for me, but I would if I could. I mean it."

"We're superheroes," said Robin with just the faintest trace of a satisfied smirk; "that's just what we do. There's no need to thank us. This is our job."

"I know," said David, "but... even so, I know you guys have gone way beyond whatever your job description is, doing all this for me. And... I'm sure you get this all the time, but if there's anything I can do to help you in the future..."

"Seriously, man, it's not a big deal," said Cyborg, "we're just tryin' to help."

"It's a big deal to me," said David, "and... that's part of it." He paused again as he forced himself to return to the real subject under discussion. "But... mostly it's just that this... this whole thing is just way beyond me, you know? And I just... I'd rather just leave Jump and Cinderblock and all of this behind. There's no way to tell if it was me that Cinderblock wanted or not, and you said yourselves that there's been no trace of him at all. I mean I can't stay here forever, can I? And the longer I wait before I go back, the harder it's gonna be to work everything out with the Child Welfare people. I know that... that it might be dangerous to leave and all, but... I just... I can't imagine why Cinderblock would want me in the first place, and even if he had a reason to, I figure it'd be best for me to just go and not come back."

For what felt like a long time, though it could have been only a few seconds, nobody spoke. When Robin finally broke the silence, there was the barest hint of uncertainty in his voice.

"I still think it's a bad idea," said Robin, his tone indicating that he suspected even worse, "but, if you really think this is what you want to do, then we won't stop you." David took another deep breath and released it as he looked up at the masked Titan and nodded. Around him, the other four Titans were watching with various different reactions written on their faces. Starfire's look was concerned, as it almost always was, but more so now, as if she felt along with Robin that this was a terrible mistake, but could not place a finger on exactly how. Cyborg's look was stern, as it almost always was, but understanding, as if he could sense the desperation that was quivering beneath the young teen's fragile exterior and detect David's unspoken plea to be released from Wonderland and return to normal life. Beast Boy's look was unjudging, as it almost always was, a warm smile on his face that masked any doubt he might have felt at this prospect, and seemed to assure David that whatever happened, it would come out alright in the end. Raven's look was piercing, as it almost always was, her dark eyes sizing him up as though trying to peer right through him and see what he was hiding behind his words, an unsettling gaze that caused David to sharply avert his eyes.

And as to Robin, Robin's look was nigh-invisible, as it absolutely always was, his thoughts hidden behind a latex shield, observing everything, revealing nothing. And yet creeping out from behind the mask, David could swear, just for a second, he caught a glimpse of indecision in Robin's stare, as though there were something on his mind he was not speaking of, but what it was, David guessed that he would likely never know. At this point, he was willing to live with that.

There were, after all, some mysteries best left unsolved.

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For all intents and purposes, that had been the end of the discussion. Sure, the others had continued to try to talk him out of it, Starfire and Beast Boy in particular, but once Robin had assured him that the decision was actually going to be his, all further talk was reduced to mere semantics. David knew he had to leave, knew that he had no choice but to leave, and knew that he had to leave as quickly and unobtrusively as he could. It had taken a long time to convince Beast Boy that this was actually what he wanted to do, and an even longer one to convince Starfire of it, but eventually Robin had tabled the debate as settled. Cyborg seemed to be the most inclined to agree with him, and by the end was actually defending his decision to Starfire and Beast Boy on the grounds that, whatever the risks involved, David had the right to make his own mind up on this matter, another one of the ten thousand reasons David wanted to thank Cyborg, as his own will was simply not up to the task of convincing the Titans individually. Raven had, rather characteristically, said not a single word throughout the whole proceedings. David couldn't tell if it was because she simply wished to see him gone or if there was some other reason for her silence. After what he had seen the day before of her and Beast Boy, he was less inclined than ever to pry. He had noticed her speaking in low tones to Robin about something after the discussion had ended, glancing on occasion in his direction, but he had not been able to hear what was being said - nor had he really wished to.

Once the call had been made, the rest of the morning was spent preparing for David's departure, not that there was much preparation to make, or so David had thought, given that he had arrived at the Tower with nothing. As it turned out however, the others seemed rather insistent that he not be made to leave with the same, and despite his protests, he found he couldn't dissuade them from this final gesture. Beast Boy had made him keep the clothes that he had borrowed to replace the ones he had been wearing when the Center had collapsed on top of him, regardless of the fact that his old ones had long-since been cleaned and repaired. "I won't wear them anyway," Beast Boy had explained with his trademark grin. "Besides, they make you look much cooler." David, who was of the opinion that in fact they made him look rather ridiculous, had tactfully remained silent.

Starfire had insisted that he take with him a generous portion of some substance called "Glar'kneft", a casserole-ish thing approximately the same color as Pepto-Bismol whose composition David was afraid to even speculate about. She insisted it was a traditional Tamaranean pastry given as gifts to those departing, which only made David more afraid to try it, but he could hardly refuse such a gift, and thanked her as best he could.

Cyborg and Raven did not insist on loading him down with anything, but Cyborg had quietly placed a few calls through to the San Francisco offices of the state's Child Welfare Services to ensure that David knew where he was going and how to get there, while Raven insisted on a final "checkup" to make sure that nothing potentially life-threatening had been missed after the incidents at the Center and yesterday on the roof. David didn't know why, but he got a vague sense that there was something Raven was searching for as she performed her divination and healing spells, but what it was, or whether or not she had found it, he did not know and did not ask. Last of all, Robin had taken David aside just before they had loaded up in the T-car for the drive to the bus station, and quietly given him a small money clip with two hundred dollars inside it. This was approximately eight times as much money as David had ever had at any one time, and he first stood stunned for a second, then attempted to refuse it, and finally was forced to simply stammer out another series of hopelessly awkward thanks, painfully conscious of his total inability to repay Robin or any of the others for their generosity. Robin, of course, had insisted that it was nothing, that the Titans had plenty of money, that it was just to see him safely to San Francisco and cover him in case of delays or emergencies, but that didn't stop David from blushing beet red as he slipped it into his pocket. Much as he cursed himself for it, all he had to give back to Robin in return was the locator beacon that Robin had given to him to wear around the tower as a security measure, which he felt he no longer needed. He had almost expected Robin to insist he keep that as well, but to his surprise, Robin did not.

They had all loaded up in the T-car for the drive to the bus station, Cyborg driving as usual, and David noticed as he sat in the back that the bloodstains he had left on the back seat of the car were still faintly visible, red splotches on the upholstered leather. He had said next to nothing the entire ride, in fact nobody had, and it wasn't until they arrived at the bus stop that there had been any talk. There Cyborg had shaken his hand and told him to be sure to call them if anything went wrong on the trip to San Francisco, Beast Boy had clapped him on the back and made him promise to look them all up if he was ever back in Jump City again, Raven had curtly nodded and wished him a "pleasant trip", Starfire had recited an incomprehensible thing that was apparently some sort of formal farewell in her native language, and Robin had assured him that they would let him know if there were any results to their searches, or if Cinderblock was ever caught. He returned their farewells in as gracious a manner as he could, making and accepting promises that he knew would never be kept, thanking them all one last time for their actions. Robin clearly had planned to stick around and wait for David's bus to leave, but right at that moment, the alarm in the T-car had sounded, summoning the five heroes to some new adventure, and given that the bus was leaving in a couple of minutes anyway, the Titans took their leave a bit early. With a parting wave, and a wish for their good fortune in whatever endeavor they were racing off to, David watched as all five Titans scrambled back into the T-car and drove away, vanishing around the corner and leaving him standing before the Jump City bus terminal.

For a few moments, he stared off in the direction that the car had gone, watching the dust swirl across the asphalt in its wake, listening to the sounds of the car's nitrous engine slowly fade into the distance, his thoughts jumbled and blurred, his feelings confused and uncertain. And then slowly, with an air of finality, David picked up the small satchel next to him and turned away from Jump City, walking across the parking lot to the bus terminal to buy his ticket that would take him away from this insane city and its superhuman residents forever, and back to the life that he knew.

It was time to leave Olympus to the gods, and return to the world of mortals...

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... of course, the world of mortals had its own hassles to deal with.

The woman at the bus terminal had presented him with the less than welcome news that the bus from Sacramento was late, and that as a result, the next bus to San Francisco wouldn't be leaving for several more hours. Compared with the chaos of the past weeks however, a simple bus delay was almost like a relief, and David had merely bought a ticket without complaint and followed the woman's suggestion that he grab a bite to eat down at the nearby coffee shop while he waited. And so it was that David wound up sitting on a terrace overlooking Jump City bay with an empty mug of hot chocolate and part of a cinnamon roll in front of him, watching the people moving by, watching the waves ripple in against the shore, and sneaking the occasional glance across the wide expanse of water at the giant tower standing atop a lonely island in the center of the bay.

He sat in silence, letting his mind wander, images of the last few days drifting lazily through his head. He remembered the overjoyed look that came over Starfire's face after he had told her (disingenuously) that her Tamaranean Festival Pie (made of eggplant, sour cream, and what David had sworn was motor oil) was delicious, though he regrettably couldn't eat another bite, just like everyone else. He remembered Cyborg's barely repressed laughter as he described in lurid detail the actions that had been necessary to revive Beast Boy during some escapade involving a British hypnotist, and Beast Boy's determined (and loud) insistence that Cyborg was flagrantly exaggerating things. He remembered Robin walking into the common room drenched in seawater and covered with kelp, Raven following behind him explaining that this was why it was a bad idea to sneak up on her when she was meditating on the roof, 'surprise reaction tests' notwithstanding. A smile came across his face inadvertently as he sat and thought, but left abruptly as his mind turned automatically to the reasons he was no longer there: The stunted and cryptic images he remembered from the attack on the center, the sight of the black dragon looming over him, infinitely strong and powerful, ready to consume his very soul, the recognition, pained and slow though it had been, that the five Titans in this tower formed a single unit that he was intruding upon, one that he would never understand...

He shook his head and cleared it, blinking in the late afternoon light. What use was it in dwelling on this experience? It was over. He was leaving. There was nothing more to it. He forced the thoughts and images from his mind as he glanced back at the clock again. 4:32. Time to go. He stood up slowly from his table and took a last look off the terrace across the water at Titan tower, the setting sun framing it in a wreath of fire. With a deep breath he froze the image in his mind, a last and final souvenir of his time in Jump City amongst gods and monsters, and then he reached down to pick up his cup and plate so as to bus them and leave.

But then he stopped.

Initially he didn't know why he stopped. Was it something he had forgotten? He frowned as he mentally checked all of his belongings, paltry though they were at the moment, patting his pockets to see that his money and bus ticket were still there. Everything was in place. So what was this uneasy feeling that had suddenly come over him? Was it the cinnamon roll? That would be a perfect end to the day there, now wouldn't it? But no, he didn't feel sick, he just felt... uneasy... like something was wrong but he couldn't tell what. There was a soft shiver on the back of his neck, something on the edge of conscious perception, a sensation that not all was well around him, but what was it?! And what the hell was that... sound?

Soft, oh so soft it was, just on the edge of hearing, a low rhythmic sound like a bass drum played miles away. It had not started so much as slowly faded into audible range, like the soundtrack to a movie, and as David looked around for the source of it, he realized that he could not only hear it but feel it, a soft pulsating feeling like a heavy heartbeat flowing through him, as though a stereo with too much bass volume were being used in the immediate vicinity. He listened for a moment, trying to pinpoint where it was coming from, and then slowly his gaze followed the sound's direction out off the terrace into the waters of the bay once more. Was it coming from the boats on the water? The island? Titans' Tower itself? None of these things would have surprised him, but as the sound grew clearer, and the sensation stronger in his chest, he realized that it was coming from the water itself... from under the water.

David's hand slowly gripped the guardrail of the terrace without him noticing, as he stared out into the water and watched the last of the sun disappear behind Titans' Tower. With the glare abruptly removed, David could see, far off in the water, a small wave approaching the shore. A bare ripple, it moved nonetheless distinct from the other waves lapping against the shoreline, moving slowly and steadily, less like a wave than the wake of a boat. An icy chill filled David's veins, even though he did not know why as he felt the sound growing in intensity with the wave's approach, to the point where he could hear the mug on his table start to quiver and the windows of the diner behind him begin to rattle.

Now others were noticing the sound and the wave, waitresses and patrons and children playing in the park below the terrace, all stopping and casting glances at one another and staring out into the water as the wave began to build and the sound continued to amplify. It was loud enough now to be clearly heard, a steady "thud", like a pile driver or hydraulic ram. Almost without thinking about it, David opened his mind up in the way he knew how to do but not how to describe, watching the world around him dissolve into molecular components, searching through the water looking for something, anything that didn't belong, relying on sense rather than sight to tell him what was going on. It was only a moment before he spotted it. Ahead, deep in the dark water, moving towards the shore with an imposing, unceasing stride, a solid mass in the middle of the liquid water, hulking and ponderous, a mass made of carbon and silicates, of cement and sand, a composite of ash and concrete that David knew that he knew but that he was having trouble recognizing. It took him several seconds to piece it together, but suddenly the realization of what this material was struck him like an artillery shell.

... cinderblock.

"Oh my god..."

The wave parted, and slowly first the head and then the torso of a dark, monolithic figure broke the surface of the water. The figure was huge, towering, and uniformly dark grey, water running off of it like a storm gutter as it slowly waded towards the shore. Red eyes flared out of the figure's head, boring a path straight through the scenery and the terrified onlookers, straight up at the boy standing frozen with shock and horror on the terrace of the nearby coffee shop. Slowly the figure raised its arms, thick, powerful arms with hands balled into fists, and opened its mouth as it let out a wordless, formless roar of rage and power, loud and unmistakable enough to send civilians fleeing in every direction, screaming as the thing emerged from the water. The monster ignored them, staring directly into David's eyes before extending one arm towards him, a single massive finger pointed like a spear at his chest, and it shouted a single terrible word in a harsh gravelly voice David had hoped and prayed and almost managed to convince himself that he would never hear again.

"DEVASTATOR!!!"

The cry boomed out across the shore like a cannon report, thunderous and earthshaking, overwhelming the panicked shouts of tourists and sojourners, and sending an ice-cold dagger of fear driving straight into David's heart. His mouth fell open, but no words emerged, no sound at all, his voice strangled and silenced by the abject horror that boiled up from within and claimed him for its own. And then as Cinderblock raised both fists and stomped out of the water completely, across the bike path, and up towards the terrace itself, David did the only think that his terrified psyche would permit or even consider. He ran.

He ran blindly and desperately, sprinting across the terrace around the overturned tables and clambering over the railing separating it from the restaurant's parking lot. His foot caught on the railing as he jumped and he fell sprawling onto the sidewalk, but he scrambled back to his feet and took off as fast as he could run, the sounds of screaming and splintering and shattering ringing in his ears as the living nightmare behind him smashed a path straight through the coffee shop in pursuit of what was now unquestionably its sole prey. There was no thought or plan in David's mind, no calculation of how he would lose this thing or escape from it, only pure adrenaline-fueled panic commanding him to flee and countermanding all else, and so he ran, tearing across the parking lot and turning down an alley, even as the loud, regular crashes that he knew now were the monster's footsteps seemed to follow him. He heard its low growls as it followed him relentlessly, overturning dumpsters, knocking down light posts, smashing straight through anything and everything that separated it from its target.

The end of the alley was barely twenty yards ahead, and beyond it, David could see a large, open street. Desperately he ran as fast as he could, listening to the sounds of the monster chasing him. He knew it was gaining. He expected any second to feel its rocky hand on his shoulder, but he couldn't look back, he couldn't bring himself to do anything but run. If he could make it to the street he might be able to find someplace to hide, perhaps jump in a car or duck into a building, something, anything to escape the monster behind him. And so he ran as fast as he could, his lungs on fire, now barely a dozen steps from...

A trash can flew at him from behind and struck him in the back with enough force to fling him off his feet and out onto the sidewalk. Garbage flew everywhere as David slid to a stop on his side, laying stunned for a second as Cinderblock approached relentlessly. David groaned, shook his head, and tried to stand back up, but a stabbing pain shot through his back as he did so, and he slipped and fell once more, landing on his back with a yelp. He managed to sit up, with difficulty, as Cinderblock bore down on him, towering above him like a giant even as cars on the street screeched to a halt and collided with one another, the drivers fleeing at Cinderblock's appearance. Cinderblock ignored them. "Find Devastator..." he said, as though repeating something drummed into him, "Get Devastator..." David's breath came in ragged gasps as he tried to slide away from the monster, but Cinderblock stepped forward, pinning him up against a parked car, and reached down to grab him.

"Find Devasta..."

BAM!

A hail of stone fragments flew in every direction as Cinderblock's arm jerked back from the young psychokinetic, who was painfully sitting up against the car, one hand bracing himself on the concrete sidewalk, the other extended rigidly towards Cinderblock. The animated battering ram took a step back, its voice silenced for the moment, blinking in what appeared to be shock as it stared, not at David, but at its own mangled hand, the thumb of which was now missing, having been blasted to bits and scattered all over the street. For a moment, neither David nor Cinderblock seemed capable of movement, David sitting stone still, stunned that his desperate counterattack had actually had an effect, Cinderblock blinking stupidly, his gaze shifting from his hand to David and back to his hand again, as though unable to fully associate the kid before him with the pain and injury he had just suffered.

Slowly, painfully, David grabbed hold of the side mirror of the car he was sitting against and hauled himself to his feet. He still could not believe that he had actually managed to hurt the monstrosity before him, but the realization that he had was beginning to sink in, and with it, his fear, still holding him in a grip of ice, began to give way before another sensation, a white hot sensation that he had never before felt, a smoldering, indignant fury that this... this thing was attacking him, trying to kill him or worse, that he had done nothing to it or to anyone else and yet here it stood, punishment for a sin he had never committed or even known of. It was not a matter of heroics. He did not feel a sudden obligation to save the city or bystanders or even himself though some selfless act of gallantry. His fear did not subside so much as flow into this new feeling, meld with it and combine to form a mixture of urgency, outrage, and terror that forced him to push down the pain in his back and raise his hand again towards Cinderblock, even as the creature's expression darkened and a low growl emitted from it.

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" David screamed at Cinderblock, his muscles tense and shaking, and he narrowed his tear-streaked eyes and opened his hand as he pressed at Cinderblock with his mind once more. The giant roared in rage and pain as a fist-sized piece of its chest quivered, cracked, and then exploded at David's unspoken command, showering him with another rain of small stone chips and leaving a divot the size of an apple gouged in the concrete hide of the towering fiend. "JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!" Cinderblock's eyes were wide with astonishment and shock, but the mighty behemoth was not the sort to be repelled by words or shouts or even detonations of this magnitude, and he turned back on David with a look of rage and wrath that had not before been present. The insect had hurt him, but it remained an insect, and he would crush it in revenge for the pain it had caused him.

"GRRRAAAAAAAARRRGHHHH!" bellowed Cinderblock with enough volume to shatter glass, and he charged, kicking at David with his foot, missing narrowly as his target dove for the ground with a stifled shout, and crushing the car he had been leaning against like a tin can. David rolled over and managed to scramble to his feet again, his anger overwhelmed once again by his fear, and he ran for his life down the street away from the monster, ducking around cars and trucks as best he could even as Cinderblock, now fully enraged, overturned and tore through the same obstacles in his bloody desire to revenge himself on the kineticist. Before David could even think of what to do now, of where to run or hide or stand, there was the squealing of tires and suddenly, from up ahead, a black and white police cruiser with sirens blaring shot around the corner and came to a stop in the middle of the street. The doors to the cruiser flew open as the car screeched to a halt and the driver jumped out, a shotgun in hand, even as his partner climbed up into the doorwell of the passenger door and aimed a large revolver at the approaching monstrosity. David stumbled towards the cop car and collapsed against it as the driver shouldered his shotgun and pumped a shell into the chamber. "JCPD!" screamed the driver to Cinderblock, "FREEZE!" but Cinderblock did not freeze, did not even hesitate, kicking a fire hydrant over as he stomped towards both David and the police.

The driver opened fire, his partner following suit a second later, and David cried out as the gunshots nearly deafened him, but the bullets had no effect, and Cinderblock roared as he snatched up another car with his good hand and threw it straight at the police cruiser. David ducked down instinctively, and the instinct saved his life as the sedan Cinderblock had thrown passed barely an inch overhead before smashing into the police car, sending both vehicles flying down the street like rubber balls and colliding with a jackknifed gasoline tanker that sat in the middle of the road where its driver had abandoned it at the first sight of Cinderblock. A single spark was all that it took. With a cataclysmic blast, the tanker exploded, disintegrating itself, both cars, and much of the street it sat on, and sending flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air. The blast wave rolled over David like an ocean breaker, and the thunder of the blast echoed down the street as bits and pieces of burning debris rained down across the area.

Several seconds passed before David slowly opened his eyes and got up off the ground. A black pall of smoke billowed upwards from the burning tanker, completely blocking the street behind him. Ahead of him, Cinderblock stood defiant and unbroken, his cruel features twisted into a smirk, as if he was pleased at the havoc he had wrought, to say nothing of the fact that his prey was now cornered, all avenues of escape cut off by the explosion and fire. David glanced around to see that one of the cops, the driver, lay crumpled against another car on the side of the street, while the other was nowhere to be seen. He turned back to face Cinderblock even as the giant slowly began to move towards him, and he backed up before its advance, trying to force himself to think of something, anything to do to keep it at bay. His foot tapped against something hard and metallic, and he glanced down to see the second policeman's revolver laying in the street next to him. He stared at it for a second, then back up at Cinderblock, and then snatched the revolver up from the ground, pointing it awkwardly at the abomination, even as it stomped closer.

It was a joke really, a weapon of almost comedic impotence against the supervillain before him, wielded by a terrified kid who had never before fired, held, or even seen a gun up close, but he had no other choice but to try, as his powers were clearly insufficient to stop or phase Cinderblock, and in any event he was far too scared to make any use of them. "Stay back!" he shouted through exhausted tears, the revolver shaking in his hands as he said it, but Cinderblock ignored him, and so he braced himself as best he could and squeezed the trigger. The Magnum's gunshot startled him enough to nearly drop the weapon, and the recoil staggered him like a punch to the chest, but the heavy round bounced off of Cinderblock's arm as though made of rubber, and the juggernaut did not so much as shudder. Taking several steps back, David raised the handgun again and fired it, this time striking Cinderblock in the chest, but once more the bullet had no effect at all. With Cinderblock bearing down on him, fists raised, bellowing incoherent cries of violence, David pointed the weapon forward yet again, clenching his eyes shut as Cinderblock filled his vision and squeezing the trigger one final time.

BOOM!!!

David felt a fresh shockwave strike him and bowl him over backwards, landing him on his hands and knees. He felt the heat of the roaring flames behind him and the heat of something else before, and he opened his eyes and gasped as he saw Cinderblock stagger back away from him, a cloud of fire and smoke erupting from the monster's chest, which looked as if it had been blasted open with a bazooka. A massive smoldering rent had been torn in Cinderblock's rough surface, and the gargantuan supervillain was roaring, not in rage now but in obvious pain and astonishment, as it backed up several paces. For a second, David glanced down at the revolver still clutched in his hand, wondering if it was even possible, but his question was answered a second later as three more explosions burst all over Cinderblock's hide, knocking the stone monstrosity onto its back. David looked up to see a fusillade of green bolts and blue beams of energy scream overhead and into Cinderblock, followed by an entire four-door sedan, cloaked in a black shroud and hurled at the battered colossus like a cruise missile. And as David tried to rationalize this new development, a brief shadow fell over him as someone leaped over the roaring fire behind him and landed barely half a dozen yards ahead with the grace of a circus acrobat. Someone clutching a handful of razor-sharp steel boomerangs shaped like birds of prey between his fingers. Someone dressed in a red and yellow and green suit that reminded David vaguely of a stoplight.

Someone wearing a mask...

"Robin!"

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-02 09:50am
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Ok, I'm surprised JME2 and the other Timmsverse fans haven't said anything yet.

Yes, this is an Alt-Fic, with a new character. However, Havoc's managed to capture all of the Titan's personalities and speach patterns perfectly. Read it over, you'll love it, and he only gets better with each chapter.



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-02 11:21am
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rhoenix wrote:
Note by rhoenix: I'll be posting a chapter roughly twice a week, until caught up with the other site. Of course, feedback would speed this process to prove to him that there are people reading it.


I'm reading it, and loving it. Keep 'em coming!



"You were doing OK until you started to think."
-ICANT, creationist from evcforum.net

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-03 05:42pm
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LadyTevar wrote:
Ok, I'm surprised JME2 and the other Timmsverse fans haven't said anything yet..


Hey, I just found out about it. :wink:

But yeah, spot-on characterizations and an interesting plot. Well done.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-03 07:52pm
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JME2 wrote:
LadyTevar wrote:
Ok, I'm surprised JME2 and the other Timmsverse fans haven't said anything yet..


Hey, I just found out about it. :wink:

But yeah, spot-on characterizations and an interesting plot. Well done.

He's up to chapter 23 or 24 now... an alt-look at the whole season of Titans.



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-03 08:05pm
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JME2 wrote:
Hey, I just found out about it. :wink:

But yeah, spot-on characterizations and an interesting plot. Well done.

The Author wrote:
[19:56] Gen Havoc: Hehe, well I'm flattered that he thought it worthwhile
[19:56] Gen Havoc: I wish I could post in SDnet to say so



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-05 02:27pm
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Chapter 7: The Point of No Return

"We walk into a trap we bait,
With bated breath, attend the end so carefully prepared,
And dare not move nor change our course
Though pain await."


- Alstair Cockburn

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

David scrambled back to his feet, still clutching the useless revolver in one hand as Robin stood resolute ahead of him, facing the tangled ruin of cars and dust that Cinderblock had fallen into. After only a second or so, the sedan that had landed atop the gargantuan monster was knocked aside like a toy, and Cinderblock rose from the ashes once more, his surface pitted and burnt, but his eyes still flaring with hate and his strength undimmed by the barrage that had flattened him. Robin's gaze remained fixed on Cinderblock as he called back to David in a firm, commanding tone that seemed to exude confidence, concern, and calm all at the same time.

"Are you all right?"

David did not have time to reflect on the fact that this was at least the eightieth time one of the Titans had had to ask him that in less than two weeks. "I..." he started to stammer, "... I think so!" In fact he was considerably less than 'all right'. His ears were ringing, his entire body ached and throbbed, particularly his back from the impact of the trash can, and he was covered in scrapes, burns, bruises, and minor lacerations from the flying debris and various spills he had taken. How this condition had morphed into "all right" was beyond him, but he didn't have time to reflect on that either.

"Good," said Robin, as he pointed his finger at Cinderblock. "I'm gonna need your help with him."

David was certain he hadn't heard Robin correctly. "You're gonna need what?!" he exclaimed, as if Robin had just asked him to lift up a cathedral with one hand, "what about all the oth..."

"There's no time!" shouted Robin in a tone that brooked no argument, though David had no idea what it was that there was no time for. He held up the birdarangs in his right hand. "Can you set these off when I tell you?"

"... yes?" said David uncertainly, his rational mind having taken a leave of absence to consider the inconsiderable. What the hell was going on here? Where were the others? The blasts and bombardment from a moment ago couldn't possibly have come from anyone but Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven, so why in the heck was Robin out here alone, needing his help of all people's?!

"Then get ready," said Robin, still facing Cinderblock, "he's coming."

He was indeed. Cinderblock, now angry beyond the point of what little conscious thought he could manifest, screamed an unearthly roar and charged straight at Robin and David together, his thunderous footfalls leaving basketball-sized craters in the pavement. David froze, transfixed, a deer caught in headlights, but fortunately for him, Cinderblock had locked onto the nearer target, and Robin had no such handicap. The Boy Wonder sprung like a grasshopper, leaping up into the air and spinning around to fling all three birdarangs like ninja stars, striking Cinderblock in both shoulders and in the forehead. All three throwing weapons drove into Cinderblock's hide and stuck into him like pins in a pincushion, but Cinderblock ignored them, swatting at Robin with one hand and missing as the Titans' leader extended a long metal staff in his left hand and cracked the juggernaut in the side of the head with it, hard enough to chip stone. Cinderblock recoiled, stunned for a moment, then raised one foot and stomped at Robin, who nimbly flipped backwards, evading the blow. Landing on his feet with his staff held in-hand, Robin dropped into a crouched ready position as he shouted out to David, who was still standing dumbly in shock at the display before him.

"David! Now!"

The cry shook David out of his daze, and he turned his stare back to Cinderblock and the three bladed objects that were sticking out of him. Ignoring the roars and the crackling flames, David tried to clear his head to focus on all three birdarangs at once. It was not an easy feat. Controlling the molecular motion of one thing was hard enough; three at once was like trying to play the piano while juggling bowling pins. He pressed down the energy of one, and another slipped loose, forcing him to divert his attention to it and release one of the others. Cinderblock meanwhile ignored him and everything else, advancing with measured, steady strides towards Robin, who fell back deliberately and cautiously. Seconds ticked by as David fought furiously to keep the energy under control, to prevent it from slipping out of the compression he was erecting, but it always did, again and again. He could of course have set them off one at a time, but he retained enough lucidity to know that this would be useless. Only a coordinated blast stood a chance of harming something like Cinderblock, and so he pressed and pressed some more, directing his attention back and forth, trying to push them all together. Robin was rapidly running out of room to retreat into, the burning oil tanker blocking his escape, and Cinderblock moving to corner him from in front. Closer and closer Cinderblock moved, neither noticing that the birdarangs embedded in him were growing colder, nor caring, as he bore down on Robin and raised both fists high in the air, looming over Robin like a gargoyle brought to life by some foul magic, but an instant before the monster could bring them crashing down on Robin's head (or rather at Robin's head, as it was unlikely Robin would have remained there long enough to be struck), two of the birdarangs exploded, followed a split second later by the third.

The smell of cordite wafted through the street as Cinderblock staggered back under the weight of the combined explosions, large fissures running down his face and arms, yet still the monstrosity would not yield or break. Whirling about, he casually tore a mailbox from the ground, flinging it at David, whose instincts were not sharp enough to dive for cover in time. Fortunately, Cinderblock had not taken the time to aim his throw, angered by the blasts that had just shaken him, and the mailbox missed David’s head by bare inches.

Robin leaped into the attack once more, flinging another handful of birdarangs, this time self-detonating ones, into Cinderblock's back, staggering the giant yet again, as David crouched behind the truck and watched. Stunned that he had managed to set off all three birdarangs, and even more stunned that the blasts had actually hurt Cinderblock, David tried to push down his flailing emotions and the aching pain that throbbed all over his body as he sought about for something to try, something to do, and in his semi-instinctive state he hit upon an idea that, had he only been thinking clearly, he never would have tried or done.

Cinderblock was facing Robin, swiping at the acrobatic teen like an elephant swatting at a fly as Robin struck him again and again, buying time for David to do... what exactly? David was at a loss. He couldn't distract Robin now by asking what he should do, and he had no idea what he could possibly do that stood a chance of stopping that thing. No idea that is, until he suddenly remembered the revolver still held in his hand. He looked at it for a moment, and a germ of a plan struck him. The revolver was not powerful enough to so much as phase Cinderblock, but it was made of solid, pure stainless steel... just like the birdarang casings...

He should have thought it through. He should have realized what would happen, but he was caught up in the moment, balanced precariously between a desire to flee and a desire to do something, and he didn't take the second to think about it. Instead he stood back up and ran out from behind the truck, rearing back and hurling the revolver as hard as he could through the air towards Cinderblock. As he did so, he raised his now-free hand and pointed it at the flying handgun. After three detonations at once, a single one on an object the size of the revolver's chamber (the largest single piece of steel within it) was almost easy, and he rapidly squeezed in the energy to the breaking point, his gaze and hand following the revolver as it arced through the air and plunged towards Cinderblock. Robin saw it coming, flying through the air, and instantly deduced what David was doing. His eyes went wide and he turned to scream a warning, but it was too late. The revolver slammed into Cinderblock's side and bounced off, only a second before David released the energy and blew it to smithereens.

The handgun went off like a grenade, and at ultra-close range it had a definite effect. Cinderblock lost his balance in mid-punch, staggered, and fell onto his side. David felt a wild rush of adrenaline surge through him in elation as Cinderblock fell, only to feel it recede just as quickly, replaced with stone-cold horror as the two remaining bullets loaded into the revolver went off simultaneously, each one ricocheting off Cinderblock, the ground, and the walls of nearby buildings, an instant before Robin gave a cry and spun around as though hit in the arm with a baseball bat, falling onto the ground clutching his shoulder.

"Robin!"

David watched in horror as Robin fell, an expanding red stain forming on the sleeve of the Boy Wonder’s uniform. A frozen chill washed through him as he realized what he had done, followed immediately by a crushing, gripping tightness in his chest and stomach, as though all his insides had been tied into knots. He shouted incoherently, clutching his hands to his head, clenching his eyes shut, screaming at himself, at Cinderblock, at fate, at the world, at the panic and rash idiocy that had caused him to do something that monumentally foolish, as though doing so could dispel or negate what had just happened. How could he have been so stupid as to set off a loaded gun?!

He was over-reacting. He should have seen that the bullet had barely grazed Robin, knocking him off balance, and that Robin was already scrambling back to his feet. He should have known that a shot to the shoulder would not, in any event, have disabled someone like Robin, and that this was hardly the time for hysterics. But to think in these terms was well beyond him by now. A thousand raging emotions were clouding his judgment, and all he wanted to do, all he felt that he could do now, was to curl up into a ball and lay dead on the ground. His legs buckled and he fell to his knees, and he might well have sat there until Cinderblock walked over to step on him, save that when he opened his eyes he saw Cinderblock, standing up once again, bending over and lifting a car into the air with both hands, hoisting it up above his head and turning slowly towards Robin. And in that instant the horror of what he had just done was replaced by the horror of what Cinderblock was about to do.

He felt his vision tunnel in on Cinderblock, felt the world slow down as the looming monster lifted the car free of the ground, and in the second snap-decision he had made in as many minutes, he suddenly realized that he had to do something right now. He had to stop Cinderblock this very instant, stop him and stop him permanently, or else Cinderblock would crush Robin like a grape, and it would be his fault, and no-one else's. Sound, pain, emotion, fear, everything seemed to melt away as he saw Cinderblock and only Cinderblock, and without even really knowing what he was doing, he raised a trembling, exhausted hand towards the monster and pointed it straight at the car in Cinderblock's hands. He didn't see what else was happening. He didn't see the black energy shield snap into being around Robin as though a switch had been thrown, strong enough to repel anything Cinderblock chose to throw at it. He didn't see the hulking figure leap off a rooftop overhead and land between Cinderblock and Robin, its sonic canon extended and charged, nor did he see the figure take aim at Cinderblock's head. He didn't see a small, wiry person materialize from nowhere behind him and transform seamlessly into a rhinoceros, scrambling over the pavement to charge at Cinderblock, and he didn't see the green flashes overhead as bolts of energy began to slam into the area around the concrete monolith. In short, he didn't see that all he had to do was wait and watch as the other four Titans tore into Cinderblock, that Robin was already perfectly safe, that it wasn't necessary for him to do anything at all.

He didn't see any of that. All he saw was Cinderblock, the car he had hoisted over his head, and most importantly of all, the full gas tank that lay within it...

KABOOM!!!

With an apocalyptic roar, the car disintegrated in Cinderblock's hands into a hail of flying parts even as the explosion of the gasoline tank tore Cinderblock's neck back, snapping his head about like a Pez Dispenser, before bodily flinging him off his feet and chucking him into the street. A ball of fire and a cloud of black smoke mushroomed into the air as flaming fuel spewed in every direction, and bits of fender, pieces of engine, and burning fragments of rubber and steel bounced and pinged off of every surface, while the deafening blast echoed down the street, drowning out all else. David had been knocked over backwards by the force of the explosion, shielding his eyes from the fireball and debris with his arm, and in the echoing silence that followed it, David slowly and unsteadily managed to sit back up, half-expecting Cinderblock to rise once more and attack.

But the walking statue was past attacking.

Cinderblock lay on his back on the ground, one hand shattered as though crushed by a trash compactor, his arm lying helpless at his side. His body was covered in deep cracks and fissures, large swatches of rock gouged out of it and strewn about, and he gave a low moan as he struggled to rise once more, and failed to. David noticed on the edge of his vision other figures moving about, some flying, some walking, some crowding around Robin, some moving towards him, but he could not tear his gaze away from the fallen giant, as if in fear that to do so would invite it to regenerate itself and resume the assault. Cinderblock's head turned sideways, and he stared straight at David with a malevolent glare that would have melted armor plate. For a second or two, Cinderblock and David stared at one another, Cinderblock's eyes filled with malice, David's with apprehension, as Cinderblock slowly raised his one good arm and pointed a finger straight at David.

"Devastator..." said Cinderblock in a low, guttural growl, "get... Devastator..." And then Cinderblock's arm fell back to the ground, and as David watched, unblinking and uncomprehending, a series of blood-red tendrils seemed to emanate from the broken pavement beneath him. Before David or any of the Titans could so much as react, the tendrils swirled around Cinderblock, fusing into a solid shroud obscuring the juggernaut. For a few moments the shroud roiled and bubbled like a boiling cauldron, before it suddenly seemed to recede, seeping back down into the cracks in the pavement and vanishing. When it was gone, to David's and all of the Titans' shock, Cinderblock was nowhere to be seen, as if the tendrils had dissolved and digested him, and withdrawn underground, leaving nothing behind but an empty crater amidst the ruins.

The crackling flames behind and the geyser of water from the severed fire hydrant before both hissed like a badly-tuned radio, mixing with the distant sounds of sirens and the ambient noise of people moving around nearby, but David couldn't focus on any of it. He sat mutely in the middle of the street, covered with dirt and scorch marks from the flaming fuel that had been cast about so liberally just moments ago, the jacket and shirt Beast Boy had given him now torn and streaked with oil and asphalt. He sat there in a daze, his gaze vacant and blank, staring at the spot that Cinderblock had occupied a moment ago, as if unable to believe that Cinderblock had just vanished, that he was still alive, or that any of this had actually transpired. He heard voices, but he could no more respond to them than he could stand up. Even the pain in his back and the headache that he felt forming up inside his skull seemed numbed by the shock of everything that had just happened, and it could have been a minute or an hour later that he felt, distantly, someone walking up behind him, and telling him that it was time they left. They helped him up, they walked him to what must have been the T-car, they sat him down inside it, and yet he had no idea which one of the Titans it was that had done so, for his mind was no longer processing the images his eyes took in rationally, and all he could do was sit there, breathing slowly, his hands trembling ever so slightly, and stare off into space, like someone who had just watched the last rescue ship vanish over the horizon.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Robin tried to avoid Cyborg's accusing stare as Raven continued to mumble her magic words next to him. He was sitting on the medical table in the basement of the tower, facing the semi-robotic teen, who was standing impassively before him with his arms crossed, a look on his face that indicated something Robin truly did not wish to deal with now.

"I told you we all shoulda gone in together." said Cyborg, as he watched Raven magically stitching Robin's shoulder back together, repeating her meditative mantra quietly over and over.

"I had to find out for certain," said Robin, forcing his voice to remain calm. Cyborg's disapproval only served to remind him how upset Starfire was with him over this incident, and that was a reminder he didn't need. "I knew I could handle it myself for a while, and I needed to see if he was in on..."

"Oh come on man!" exclaimed Cyborg with clear exasperation at Robin's explanation. "Don't start giving me that! Like you couldn't see what was going down when we got there and found a war zone?! What'd you think? Cinderblock and him were just having a game of tag?!"

"You were the one who said we should let him go, remember?" snapped Robin back at Cyborg.

"No, I was the one who said it was up to him what he wanted to do," shot Cyborg back, "and that's got nothing to do with you running off to play lone ranger again! What if that bullet hadn't been a ricochet, huh? What if it'd gone off right into your face? You think Starfire's angry now? Imagine what she'd do to you if you really got hurt,

Robin heard Raven's mantra becoming sharper as she grew more impatient with the two heroes' argument. Cyborg must have noticed too, as he shook his head and lowered his voice from a tone of anger to one of disappointment. "We agreed on this man! You're the one always going on about how we've gotta work together better and all. No more of this 'I'm the only person who can risk it' nonsense! We're a team."

Cyborg was right, Robin had agreed to stop this sort of thing after the time he had been forced to become Slade's apprentice. He still refused to believe he had done the wrong thing in that incident, but that was neither here nor there, and he forced himself to calm down for Raven's sake if nothing else. "Look, I had to see for myself what he would do in that situation. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I'd let you all take down Cinderblock immediately. It was a calculated risk. Plus, I had to figure out if it was a setup."

"It was a setup," insisted Cyborg. "Why do you think we got called to a damn false alarm on the other side of the city right then? He didn't set us up, someone set him up. Someone called us away so that he'd be alone when Blockhead came after him."

"I know that," said Robin darkly, "but I had to be sure who was setting who up. That's why I had you all stay back and cover me."

"And was that all you were trying to find out?" asked Raven suddenly, her hands still glowing blue as she repaired the bullet wound.

Robin was quiet for a few moments before replying. "No," he finally said with emphasis, but he did not elaborate, and Raven narrowed her gaze slightly as she returned to her work. Cyborg fell equally quiet, as if he could guess what Robin meant, and the next few minutes were spent in silence, before Raven finally stood up and announced in a flat tone that she was done. Robin rubbed his shoulder where the bullet had struck him, but could find no trace of the injury. "Thanks," he said to Raven, and Raven nodded curtly, her gaze cool and piercing, as though she too suspected what Robin had meant by his answer, and had her own thoughts on the matter which she did not intend to make plain.

Robin let Raven maintain her mysteriousness for the moment as he jumped off the table and put his shirt back on. "Where is he now?" he asked Cyborg.

"Upstairs with BB and Star," replied the giant Titan. "Star and I gave him a once over while Raven was getting you set. He's gonna be pretty sore for the next couple days, but he's all right."

"How's he... doing?" asked Robin.

Cyborg crossed his arms, clearly upset once more. "How the hell do you think he's doin'?" he said, "He's in shock. He's wiped out, he's terrified, he nearly got killed about six times today, and I don't think that thing with the gun helped any.” He paused and glared at both Robin and Raven, clearly anticipating some sort of reaction. “And before either of you say anything, it is not a damn act!"

"Nobody's saying it's an act, Cy," replied Robin evenly, raising an eyebrow at Cyborg's uncharacteristically strong reaction. Cyborg paced over to one of the medical machines and began punching buttons on it.

"Kid oughta be catatonic by now after everything he's been through..." remarked Cyborg without turning around. Robin and Raven exchanged glances, before Robin took a step towards Cyborg.

"Cyborg," Robin asked firmly, "are you OK? What's going on here? You said he was going to be fine. Why are you so upset about this?"

Cyborg let out a slow sigh and turned around to face Robin and Raven as he shook his head slowly. "You grew up with the Batman, right?" he said, "and Raven, you come from some other planet? You've been dealing with this kind of thing since you were little kids. It’s… different for him, all right? I mean, one day you're going to school, you're dealing with your life, you're getting ready for a test or for a big game or a date, and then all of a sudden you're in the middle of the Twilight Zone. You've got supervillains coming out of the woodwork after you, you've got weapons or powers you don't know how to use, you don't know if you're some kind of monster or if the whole world's gone nuts or anything else."

Neither Robin nor Raven replied to this, both acutely aware that Cyborg was no longer speaking solely about David. Cyborg, left to speak freely, continued.

"But that's not so bad," said Cyborg, "I mean it's weird and it scares the hell out of you and all, but it's not the worst part. The worst part comes later, after you've calmed down and there's nobody shooting at you anymore. It comes when you start to think again, when you've got time to turn it over in your head, and that's when you realize that what just happened is how it's gonna be from now on. There's no way back. That's what hits you the hardest. There is no way back. You're not what you were before, you're something else now, and you can't ever get back to where you used to be. You're never gonna be who you thought you were. That life's gone. You realize that, and it just messes you up."

Cyborg trailed off, as if he suddenly remembered that he was addressing someone else rather than just venting steam to the empty room. Robin and Raven said nothing, and he shook his head and turned back around to face them. "Look, I'm not tryin' to say that you guys had it easy going through what you went through, I know better than that. But you two at least knew that you were gonna be different than everyone else from the get go. Same with the others. Starfire's some kind of alien princess. I don't think she even knows what normal is. BB was running with the Doom Patrol when he was what? Seven? I know y'all went through some heavy stuff, I'm not trying to make like you didn't, but this is different. And I know what it's like."

He turned back to the medical computer and resumed his work, apparently not interested in embellishing further on his own past experience. After a short time had passed, Robin finally broke the silence. "So what's it like?"

Cyborg stopped working again, and once more didn't turn around as he sighed softly. "It's like you don't know anything all of a sudden. It's like you're in some other world that you never heard of, and you're stuck there, and everything you had before is all gone, least that's how it was for me. I had a family before the accident, I had friends, a girlfriend, I was a big man around my school, captain of the football team, you know the drill. When it happened I lost all of that, all of a sudden, overnight. It took me a long time to get over it. I got a real bad attitude about it, started doing things I shouldn't have done. I quit school, I stopped going out, got mad at the whole world. This kid... I don't know. It doesn't look to me like he's got much to lose. He's got no family, I doubt he's much of an athlete, and obviously there's nobody too interested in what happened to him or else the police would've gotten calls. Plus his powers didn't just show up yesterday. Who knows, maybe that makes it easier, least I hope it does. You can't lose what you don't have. He’s not like me... so I don't know what he's gonna do, how bad it’s gonna be for him."

Cyborg sighed and finally turned around. "But I saw the look in his eyes when we carted him back here, and I know what's going through his head right now. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone, but there’s nothing he or anybody else can do about it right now, just something he’s got to find a way of dealing with.”

“But you got over it, right?” asked Raven suddenly. Robin glanced at her as he maintained his silence, turning several things over inside his mind.

Cyborg gave a sort of hollow chuckle, as if he wasn’t sure himself that he had. “Yeah,” he said, “I did, eventually.”

“So what happened?” asked Raven. “How did you manage to pull through?”

Cyborg did not answer immediately, thinking quietly for a second, and then a soft smirk appeared in the corner of his mouth and he smiled a bit. “I met you guys,” he said finally, and neither Raven nor Robin needed to ask what he meant by it, for both of them knew what meeting the other Titans had done for them. Robin decided that it was time they got back on track.

“Well whatever he’s going through now, we can’t help that, or at least not right now. What we can do is decide what to do with him now, and that’s not something the three of us can decide alone.” As the other two nodded in agreement, Robin slid the communicator out of his pocket and opened it, letting the static resolve into a picture for a moment before speaking.

“Starfire? I need you to make sure David will be OK by himself for the next twenty minutes or so, and then you and Beast Boy meet us down in the evidence room as soon as possible.”

Beast Boy and Starfire both nodded over their respective communicators. “We shall be down presently,” said Starfire slightly more curtly than normal. Star had barely said a word to him since they returned, and he knew why. While she was not prepared to challenge his tactical decisions in the field, she was mortified that he had chosen to put himself in danger rather than let the team cooperate in taking Cinderblock down as a unit. Robin could only console himself with the knowledge that Starfire never held a grudge. “What will we be doing within the room of evidence?”

Robin glanced back at Raven for a moment before he replied. “Having an argument…”

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“Look, I know this is a different situation,” said Raven with an exasperated tone, “I’m not trying to say that it’s all a trap, even though it might be. I’m just saying there’s just something about this that really bothers me. And we’re not doing ourselves or him any favors by just pretending that everything’s OK.”

The five Titans stood, floated, and sat in various spots scattered around the dimly-lit evidence room, a room Cyborg and Beast Boy had until recently referred to as 'the Slade shrine', at least until Slade’s demise at the hands of Terra had made collecting more evidence about him a moot point. Robin stood at one end of the room, watching the other Titans debate the issue back and forth.

“There’s plenty about this that bothers me,” replied Cyborg, “but it’s not like he can leave again anyhow. We know Cinderblock was after him all along. We know somebody with a lot of juice put Cinderblock up to it, and that they were able to pull Cinderblock out from right under our noses after the fight. Whether or not we try this, he can’t go back to San Francisco or anywhere else. He’s got no place else to be. Plus…”

Cyborg trailed off, but Robin wished to hear where he was going. “Plus what?”

“… plus, just look at him. I mean, like I said, I know what it’s like to be where he is, but we all know what it’s like to be scared and confused and alone and everything, don’t we? Is that something any of you’d want to face again?" A quick canvas of the other Titans' expressions indicated that nobody did. "And I mean… he did all right back there in the street, you know? I mean he’d have gotten squashed like a bug if we weren’t there, but when Cinderblock backed him into a corner, he hit him back hard enough to make him feel it, and when you jumped in man,” he gestured to Robin, “he didn’t just run and hide and let you handle it, he tried to help you out. I know he didn’t do a great job; he coulda blown your head off with that gun, but… I mean he’s never done this before, and you saw what happened after he shot you. He nearly had a stroke on the spot, and then he blew that car apart ‘cause he thought Cinderblock was gonna crush you with it. It wasn’t ‘til after Blockhead called it quits that he went all shell-shock on us.”

Cyborg paused to gauge the reaction he was getting. “Same with that thing on the roof yesterday,” he said. “He didn’t have to blow that tank. Hell it’d probably have been smarter if he hadn’t. All he did was piss the damn thing off. But he gave it a shot. He was scared to death, but he still gave it a shot. I know he’s a civilian, and that we don’t know much about him except what he tells us, and I remember what happened with…” Cyborg visibly hesitated, and Robin forced himself not to glance at Beast Boy, “I remember what happened just as plain as you do, but that don’t change anything, far as I see it. He’s not a bad kid. He’s quiet and closed off and scared and way too damn green, no offense BB, but he’s not a bad kid, and whatever’s behind all this, we ought to back him up however we can until we know what the hell's going on. Least that’s how I see it.”

As Cyborg finished his speech, Starfire turned to him, Raven, and Robin in turn with a confused look. “Friends, I fear I do not understand the purpose for our discussion. Surely we are not considering permitting friend David to go off on his own again after what happened this afternoon?”

“No,” said Robin, “we can’t do that, especially not now. What we have to figure out is what to do with him now that it looks like he’s stuck in Jump City for a while, and how we can make sure that no more attacks happen, or if they do, that they can be handled.”

Starfire still did not fully understand. “Do with him? Do you mean what sorts of activities we shall engage in to make his stay here more enjoyable? I would be happy to prepare a traditional…”

“No Star,” interjected Beast Boy rather suddenly. “We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about Terra.”

A dead silence fell over the entire room as Beast Boy spoke the one name they all had been performing feats of verbal gymnastics to avoid. All eyes turned to Beast Boy, who was crouched atop a chair in the corner, his expression considerably more serious than it normally was. He met the stares of the other Titans with his own in return, as if silently daring them to contest the statement he had just made.

“We are talking about her, aren’t we?” asked Beast Boy rhetorically. “That’s what this is all about. It’s not about David and it’s not about us, it’s about Terra, right, and what she did, and how we’re all afraid that’s what's gonna happen again?”

Nobody answered. From where he was standing, Robin could see that Starfire’s look was filled with concern at Beast Boy’s tone, and that, far more subtly but with no less intesity, so was Raven’s, while Cyborg seemed to have suddenly discovered a fascination with the floor tiles. Robin didn’t know what his own expression looked like, but he doubted it was anything close to as composed as he would have hoped. “Beast Boy…” he said evenly.

"It's the truth Robin,” said Beast Boy, his tone not exactly angry but not exactly not angry either. “We’ve all been thinking about it, including me. Pretending that she didn’t exist isn’t gonna help, so let’s just say it, OK?”

"It's not... only her," said Raven uneasily. "There's a lot going on that..."

"Yes it is!" insisted Beast Boy, standing up and turning to face Raven. "Would we even be talking about this if it wasn't for Terra? We've helped out lots of people way more dangerous than he is without thinking twice about it!" He extended one hand and began ticking off the various incidents from off the top of his head.

"We trusted Thunder and Lightning even after they worked for Slade against us. We made friends with Wildebeast and Hot Spot after that thing with the Gamemaster. We've raced off to help Aqualad every time he called for it. Why is this so different? Because we don't know his background? Because we think that someone might be using him to set us up? We still don't even know what Thunder and Lightning are, and Slade did use them to set us up, but that didn't stop us! But now we're about to throw David out because he didn't have references with him when we pulled him out of the rubble?"

Raven's temper, never particularly long where Beast Boy was concerned, flared at the implication. "We're not going to throw him out!" she shouted. "Nobody's saying that!”

“Well then what are you saying?” asked Beast Boy, no less upset, “because that’s what it sounds like to me!”

Robin cut in to avoid the eruptions he was afraid might be coming if Raven actually got angry. “She’s saying,” he said, casting a quick glance at Raven to indicate that she should let him handle it, “the same thing that we were all discussing before this happened. Cinderblock was the wrong choice to send against the Center, and he was the wrong choice to send today, at least if the object of the attack was either to kill David or to capture him. So either the person who sent Cinderblock isn’t very bright, which I don’t believe, doesn’t have any other options but Cinderblock, which I also don’t believe, or that wasn’t the objective, which both Raven and I agree on.” He insisted on this last phrase to forestall any more argument. If Beast Boy wanted to get upset, he could get upset at him. “We can’t be sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say Raven was right all along. Whoever’s behind this wants David to be here at the Tower, and attacked him because he was leaving.”

Robin half-expected Beast Boy to round on him with more angry accusations of being overly paranoid, or even accuse him of being bitter about being shot a few moments ago but instead the green changeling said nothing for a few moments as his eyes fell, and he sat back down slowly on the stool he had been using, pulling his knees up to his chest, and Robin knew that he wasn’t thinking about David at all when he finally replied.

“So then what does that mean?” asked Beast Boy, “What are we supposed to go to upstairs and tell him?"

Robin glanced up at Starfire and Cyborg, who were both watching him silently, already certain of what he was going to say, before he cracked a tiny smile and answered Beast Boy.

“We tell him that he’s welcome to stay here for as long as it takes to figure out what’s behind all this, and that we are going to stop whoever set this up and attacked him, no matter what it takes.”

Beast Boy raised his head sharply and his jaw nearly hit the floor at Robin’s unexpected about-face. Cyborg smiled incredulously at the reply, and Starfire beamed a broad grin in Robin’s direction, something Robin found made it hard for him to concentrate on much else. Though she was seated behind him, out of sight, Robin could practically feel Raven’s surprised stare through the back of his head. No doubt she would have questions to ask of him later.

“What?!” exclaimed Beast Boy in honest astonishment. “But you just said that’s what whoever did this wants us to do!”

“I know what I said,” said Robin, “but if we know that this is what they want, then we can use it against them. If they want David to be here at the Tower, then us keeping him here might make lull them into making a mistake. We don’t have any other leads, and after today, I don’t think we’re likely to find any just by looking. We have to make whoever’s doing this feel safe enough to take a risk. We need to make them come to us. Plus, there’s always the chance that we’re wrong, and that Cinderblock was trying to capture him. In that case, whatever we might suspect, we don’t have a choice but to help him to the best of our abilities.” Robin crossed his arms as he glanced at each Titan in turn. “Right?”

Cyborg also crossed his arms and smirked confidently as he leaned back against a desk. “Right,” he said

Starfire grinned radiantly again , her anger forgotten or at least tabled, and landed almost weightlessly on the ground in the corner she had been hovering above. “Right,” she said.

Beast Boy smiled as he turned to Cyborg, then Starfire, and then back to Robin as he straightened up a bit and nodded. “Right,” he said.

Raven took a long, slow breath, floating in a cross-legged seated position behind Robin near the entrance. She seemed torn between wanting and not wanting to say something. When finally she spoke, her voice was its usual monotone, but with a vaguely funereal and uncertain sound to it, as though this were a prison sentence rather than a declaration. “Right,” she said.

“Right,” repeated Robin. They might not all be happy about it, but they were all in agreement.

“I do have a concern though,” said Starfire. “Friend David attempted to leave us this afternoon of his own free will, not because he believed that we were going to force him to. It is still hard for me to understand human behavior, but I believe he was… scared of what happened last night, and of the thought that if he remained here he would be attacked again by another monster or supervillain, yes?”

“Looked that way to me,” said Cyborg.

“So now that he has been attacked within the Tower and attacked when he attempted to leave it, and now that our plan, if I understand it, is to wait and see what his assailant does next, how are we to convince him to agree to this? And if he does, how are we to ensure that he is not killed or seriously hurt if the attacker should strike again? We can certainly protect him to a point, but even with our aid already he has nearly been killed three times, even if it was not the attacker’s goal to kill him. As he is a… civilian… and unable to defend himself against such things, will he not be scared of such attacks continuing, even if we pledge to defend him?”

Robin nodded as he uncrossed his arms and smiled slyly again. “Actually,” he said, I had a thought about that too…”

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The common room was dark and quiet as Robin entered it, the overhead lights extinguished and only a single table lamp illuminating a small corner of the large open space. Outside the gigantic bay view windows, Jump City was cloaked in darkness and rain, as the storm that had blown in shortly after the Titans’ return to the tower lashed at the world outside. Inside the rain was barely audible as a soft patter against the shatterproof windows. There was no movement and no sound from within the room, and but for a small shape silhouetted against the wall by the light of the table lamp, the room might have been thought empty.

Robin waited a moment or two and then crossed the common room, the carpet muting the sounds of his metal-soled boots. David was seated in a small chair facing the windows, an untouched cup of what had once been hot chocolate sitting on the table next to him, and Robin could tell as he approached that his eyes were unfocussed as he stared off into space. David had one hand on his temple as though he were trying to suppress a headache or simply support his head. Perhaps he was using his powers to watch the molecules of water and air dance around one another outside, or perhaps he was simply still in the daze he had been in when they brought him back. Robin wagered it was the latter.

“David?”

David gave an almost imperceptible start as Robin spoke his name, and he turned his head and looked up, clearly not having heard Robin approach. He said nothing, but instead stood up as he looked at Robin with trepidation and some degree of guilt in his eyes, though apparently the actual fear had passed some hours ago.

“Have a seat,” said Robin, and David did so, even as Robin also sat down in another chair nearby. “Are you all right?”

David clearly had to think for a moment, but nodded slowly. “Just a headache..." he said hesitantly as he glanced at Robin's formerly-injured shoulder. "Are… you?”

Robin rotated his arm a bit. “I’m fine,” he said confidently. “It was just a graze. Raven fixed it.”

David let out a soft sigh of relief. “I’m… I’m really sorry about… I don’t know what I was…” he trailed off as he balled his right hand into a fist and shook his head. “That was so stupid...”

“It’s okay, really,” said Robin firmly but not too firmly. “Was that your first time handling a gun?” The young teen raised his head again and nodded. Robin smirked a bit. “I figured. Don’t worry about it. Given the circumstances, it could have been a lot worse.”

David adopted a puzzled look. “… how?” he asked. “I shot you.”

“You hit me with a ricochet,” said Robin, “you could have actually shot me, or yourself. As it was, you hit Cinderblock a few times.”

It might have been the wrong thing to say, reminding David of what disasters could easily have happened, but fortunately the young kineticist merely lowered his head and smiled just a bit, albeit nervously. “… lot of good that did,” he said sarcastically, and he turned his head away for a bit, not staring at anything in particular. Robin let him sit quietly for a moment, and then was about to speak again, when to his surprise, David asked a question.

“So, I… I was wondering something…”

"Yes?”

“How… how much longer were you gonna wait before setting off those ninja star things yourself?”

Robin smirked again and chuckled a bit. “You could tell?”

David nodded slowly without looking at Robin. “I had to… look inside them in order to blow them up,” he explained. “They were… crammed full of TNT, and some other putty or clay stuff I couldn’t…”

“C4,” said Robin, “for the shaped charge.”

David nodded again as he turned his head back towards Robin. “They had electronics in them too. Detonators I guess?" Robin nodded. "So you… I mean you could have blown them up any time you wanted, right?”

Robin smiled and nodded, sliding a small remote trigger out of his belt. “Essentially, yes.”

“So why’d you tell me to blow them up if you could have done it just by using that?”

“Simple,” said Robin, “I wanted to see if you could.”

David was confused. “But what if… what if I couldn’t? I mean I’ve... never tried doing more than one thing at the same time. How much longer were you gonna wait?”

“About another eighth of a second,” said Robin truthfully. Indeed he had been literally in the process of depressing the trigger himself when David had finally set off the birdarangs, though the small chip inside the detonator had recorded proof that it actually was David that had blown them up, and not a twitch of Robin's finger.

David let out another long exhale and he shook his head. “Is that… why you went in alone? Why the others stayed back?”

Robin nodded. "I had them cover us in case something went wrong. I went in myself to make sure that I could control the situation."

"But..." frustration of some sort was beginning to leak through David's words and mannerisms, his hands clenching the armrests of the chair. Robin didn't need to be empathic to tell that he was upset by all that had happened, though afraid to show it. "But... why? Why go through all that? Why not just have everyone come in? I mean... no offence or anything but... wasn't that dangerous? I know you're... you know... you, but... if something really bad had happened... you were by yourself."

Robin folded his arms and sat back. "It was a risk," he said, "but risks are part of the job. I had a few different reasons for wanting to do it that way. I knew that if all else failed, the team could handle Cinderblock without a lot of trouble, and I wanted to see if I could get Cinderblock to reveal something, maybe another shout or just something from his actions. I wanted to keep the collateral damage down as much as I could. Besides," he smirked a bit, "I wasn't by myself."

David looked puzzled for a moment, before he realized what Robin had meant. He seemed to think it was a joke, and laughed a bit nervously. "... right," he said almost sadly, and looked back down at the carpet.

Robin waited a few moments before continuing. “Mostly though, I wanted to see what you’d do.”

This remark brought David’s head up once more. “What do you mean?”

“Cinderblock had you backed into a corner. I wanted to go in and make sure he didn’t actually pound you to a pulp, but still give you an opportunity to do what you thought you should do in that kind of a situation.” Robin folded his arms and sat back, staring calmly at David with a practiced eye. “You can learn a lot about someone based on what they do under pressure like that.”

To Robin’s surprise, David actually winced. “Great…” he said with a pained tone. “So that was some kind of test? What for?”

“Not a test,” said Robin, “more like a controlled experiment. Mostly controlled anyway. And it wasn’t ‘for’ anything but information.”

Robin watched as David clenched his hands together tightly and balled them into fists. He shook his head once again before leaning forward, gripping the armrests again, and speaking in a plaintive tone that was almost frantic, with fear and even anger creeping around the edges, as his repressed frustration and confusion finally began to come into the fore.

“Information?!” he said, “What information? What did you want to find out? That I didn’t know what to do? That I panicked? What, did you think I was gonna be able to just jump in and help you save the city? I’ve only told you guys about fifty times, I’m not one of you!”

David stood up and paced over to the window, his fists clenched. “I’m not a superhero! I’m not some kind of alien or wizard or kung fu master or whatever you all are! I don’t know how you guys do what you do! Cinderblock came out of nowhere and I just… I didn’t know what else to do but run!”

“It was the right thing to do under the circumstances…” insisted Robin, but David turned and shook his head.

“It wasn’t the right thing to do, OK? I know that. I knew it when I did it! I’m not stupid. I just… I couldn’t think of anything else. And then after you showed up… I… I thought if I knocked him over with that revolver that… god I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know if I was thinking.”

“I told you already, don’t worry about the gun, seriously. Besides, you wound up taking Cinderblock down yourself.”

David gave a sort of hollow, bitter laugh. “By accident,” he said.

Robin raised an eyebrow. “You accidentally blew the car up?”

“I didn’t blow the car up,” he said, “cars are way too big and way too complicated. I blew the fuel tank up.”

“… which caused the car to explode and nearly blew off Cinderblock’s arm,” said Robin, “I’m not seeing the accident here.”

“The accident is that I could just as easily have killed you or myself instead!” exclaimed David. “I don’t turn the energy that I compress into some kind of weapon I can aim. I turn it into a bomb. It blew Cinderblock’s arm off because he happened to be holding it just right when it went off. What if he’d thrown it already?”

“I could have avoided it,” said Robin, confident that he could indeed have done so.

“And if it had blown up five feet over your head?” demanded David. If the blast nearly tore off Cinderblock’s arm, what would it have done to you, or to me, or to whoever else it happened to hit? You have no idea how easily I could have screwed that up. One slip, one mistake, and God knows what would have happened.”

“But you didn’t make a mistake. You timed it right. Cinderblock took the blast.”

David laughed incredulously. “And what? You think that I did that because I’m some kind of expert at this sort of thing? You think I’ve practiced setting off gas tanks in the hands of walking statues? I've never done a gas tank before! I've never done gasoline before! Everything I set off, every different kind of metal or liquid or chemical, all of them are different. All of them take different amounts of time, different kinds of effort, different reactions. I got lucky. You got lucky. I guessed at how gasoline might work and it did. And if I'd guessed wrong or it had taken longer..." he trailed off and shut his eyes for a second. "There’s a reason I don’t just use this power, okay?”

Robin crossed his arms and narrowed his gaze slightly, guessing at what David was getting at. “You hurt someone?”

David lowered his head and slowly shook it from side to side. “No,” he said softly, “but I came close enough a couple times to…” he hesitated, shaking his head again to clear it of whatever memory this was conjuring up, “… to realize a long time ago that it wasn’t a toy. It's just... I don't know what it is... but it's dangerous and I don't like messing around with it.”

Robin nodded slowly and stood up. There would be a time later to delve into this if it proved necessary, but for the moment they had more important matters to discuss. “Look…” he said, “I know this is all really overwhelming to you right now, but you have to understand, sometimes these things just happen. I’m not saying you did everything perfectly, but given the circumstances, you did the right thing by running and then by trying to back me up.”

Robin honestly expected those words to suffice. David had largely done the right thing after all. However instead of calming him down, Robin’s speech only caused him to shake his head again.

“Really?” he asked in a very rhetorical manner. “And those two cops… the ones whose gun that was… what happened to them?”

Robin didn’t answer immediately.

“They’re dead, right?” insisted David. “Cinderblock killed them when he threw that car?”

“One of them’s in the hospital,” said Robin, as though this made it better. “The doctors think he has a decent chance of making it…”

“So then one of them might live. The other one’s dead. Half of that street’s in ruins. If that was the right thing to do, I don’t want to know what would have happened if I’d done the wrong thing.”

“If you’d done the wrong thing, you’d also be dead or captured,” said Robin, “and Cinderblock did all that. Cinderblock killed those policemen and caused all that damage. It wasn’t your fault. You did what you had to do.”

David turned to Robin with a look of almost disbelief on his face. “Forty people died two weeks ago because I got transferred to this city. One more, at least, just died this afternoon because I decided to leave here. Tell me something, am I supposed to care whose fault it is?!”

Robin fell silent a moment as David continued.

“I know it wasn’t my fault. I’m not trying to say I caused all or whatever. I didn’t go out there planning on getting attacked, but I got attacked anyway. I know that if I hadn’t run, then maybe something worse would have happened, but I don’t think that makes what happened all that great, do you?”

He collapsed back into the chair he had been sitting in and covered his eyes with one hand, pressing his other fist down against the arm of the chair. Robin let him sit for a moment, trying to judge when would be the right time to say what he had to say.

“It’s not… gonna stop... is it?” asked David in a voice that was now thin and weak, and he looked up at Robin with a beaten, defeated look. “Not… ever. They’ll keep coming, won’t they? Cinderblock or whoever else? Keep attacking?”

Robin nodded. “Maybe,” he said, “we’re not really certain what the objective was. They might have been trying to prevent you from leaving, or capture you, or even just get to us through you. But… chances are this isn’t the last we’re going to see of them.”

David didn’t reply to that, having already clearly come to the same conclusion. Robin sat back down in his own seat, and as he did so he noticed that the door to the hallway was open, and the others were slowly entering, floating, standing, or crouching in various spots along the back of the room and in the kitchen.

Robin turned back to David, and he saw that the young teen still had his eyes covered with one hand. He rubbed his eyes and breathed sharply several times through his mouth, and when he lowered his hand, his eyes were red and streaked with tears.

“I don’t want to die…” he said weakly and without looking up, “and I don’t want to kill anyone.” His voice trembled and his hands shook. “What am I gonna do?” he asked nobody in particular.

Robin spared just a moment to glance back at the other four Titans, before he sat back down opposite David and leaned forward, speaking as plainly and as earnestly as he could. “You’re not going to die, and you’re not going to kill anyone,” he said, “you’ll stay here with us, for however long it takes us to figure this out and put a stop to it, once and for all.”

David looked up hesitantly at Robin. “Cinderblock escaped,” he said, “how are you supposed to figure this out and stop it?”

Robin smirked. “Let me worry about that.”

David took a deep breath. “… stay here…” he said in a hollow voice, clearly still uncertain about the prospect.

“That’s right,” said Robin. “The way I see it, there’s no place else you can go. They found you once within hours of you leaving the tower. Even if you managed to escape the city, they’ll probably be able to follow you outside it.” David audibly gulped and clenched his eyes shut, trying to stop from shaking. Robin continued.

“But… if you stay here, we can make sure that they can’t get at you. Not at least without something a lot nastier than Cinderblock. I know that you’re still… nervous about what happened yesterday, and I can’t guarantee that nothing else is going to happen around here, but this is the safest place in the city, and we can stop Cinderblock and whoever sent him given enough time.”

David slowly opened his eyes, and only now did he seem to notice that the other Titans had filtered in. Robin turned to see the others hovering around the periphery of the light from the flickering table lamp, and watched as they slowly moved in around himself and David both. None of them said a word, and all of them, even Raven, had concerned expressions of various sorts.

“And there’s one more thing,” said Robin as David turned back towards him.

“What’s… that?”

“Like I said, I can’t guarantee anything. Whoever’s behind this might attack the tower itself. There could be an unrelated emergency or incident. You might get caught up in something. Given that, I think it might be a good plan for you to learn a thing or two about how to defend yourself.”

David’s gaze became puzzled, and he blinked once or twice at Robin. “… defend myself?" he asked, as though this were a novel idea. He glanced up at the others, still confused. "You mean… like fighting?”

”Partly,” said Robin, “but not just fighting.”

”What… what else then?”

“Your powers… can you control them?”

David clearly didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”

“Do they ever go off by themselves? Do you ever actually blow things up by accident?”

“By themselves?” David seemed appalled at the very idea. “No… I mean… god no! That would be… that would be really bad right?”

Robin glanced at Raven out of the corner of his eye. Raven looked puzzled as well by what David was saying, but she kept the reasons for her puzzlement to herself.

“So then, the reason you’re hesitant to use them is because you’re afraid you’ll make a mistake with them and hurt somebody?”

David sighed. “No… look… my… my powers are just… they’re not… I just don’t like using them. They attract a lot of attention, they’re dangerous, and all they’re good for is destroying things.”

”Maybe,” said Robin, “but they’re also the reason you’re still alive, and they’re probably linked with whatever is behind all this. Not to mention, they’re your best chance at defending yourself if something does happen.”

“… so what are you saying?” asked David guardedly.

“I’m saying you need to learn how to use them properly.”

David looked as though Robin was suggesting he take up brain surgery as a hobby. “How?”

“Practice,” said Robin, “and training.”

“Training?” David’s voice faltered, as if he truly could not believe what he was hearing and wasn’t sure he wanted to know any more. “Training… for what?”

Robin smiled, a vague sense of deja-vu striking him as he answered. “For whatever might happen.”

The psychokinetic boy needed a moment to digest all that he was hearing. He looked as though someone had just informed him that he was departing immediately to become an official in some faraway country. He looked at each of the other Titans in turn, his mouth open, his eyes filled with something like wonder. When finally he turned back to Robin, he could barely speak.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked Robin in an almost remorseful voice that was barely above a whisper. “It could be… weeks… months before anyone finds out anything. You don’t even know me. Why are you willing to do all this?”

“Dude,” said Beast Boy in a friendly, but relatively calm tone, “we’re superheroes. This is what we do.”

David looked at Beast Boy for a moment, and then shook his head slowly. “No,” he said, “this isn’t what you ‘do’. I mean you help people, I know that. You stop crime and protect people and fight villains… but this is… way above and beyond, and I know it and so do you. So why… what did I do to deserve all this?”

“’Deserve’ has nothing to do with it,” said Raven evenly.

“We all got our reasons man,” said Cyborg.

“We are not willing to let you come to harm through inaction,” said Starfire.

“But mostly,” said Robin, “as much as I’m sure you can’t believe it… we all know what this is like.”

“… and we’re not gonna make anyone face it alone,” said Beast Boy as he placed a hand gently on David’s shoulder.

David lowered his head and exhaled slowly and nervously as the Titans wordlessly glanced at one another. When he finally raised his head again, he looked at each one of them in turn with tears in his eyes. Last of all he turned back to Robin, averting his eyes slightly from the masked Titan’s gaze. He seemed to be at a total loss for words, but finally and awkwardly, he managed to stammer out two soft words that he had been using liberally ever since he arrived at the tower, but never with as much depth of meaning behind them as now.

“Th… thank you.”

A soft smile crossed Robin’s face as he sat back and watched David lower his head and try not to cry, even as Beast Boy sat down on the arm of his chair and started talking about various things they could do over the next couple of days, a foil as always to the horrors that lurked outside. Cyborg stood nearby, occasionally commenting on Beast Boy’s proposed rule changes to Stankball, and Starfire happily assured David that all would be well within moments, and that there was no longer any reason to “partake of the sadness”. Robin was gratified to see that she periodically cast a smile his way. He hated to see her upset, and he knew that his being shot today had upset her. Raven as always was more reserved, and hung back in mid-air on the periphery of the light. Robin turned his head to her, and she met his gaze as emotionlessly as ever, yet there was clearly worry in her eyes, but worry about what, he would have to determine later. He considered taking her aside to ask now in fact, but she seemed to sense this, and shook her head to indicate that it could wait for another day.

Turning back to the others, Robin watched silently as Beast Boy and Cyborg, quickly deciding that it was probably time for a distraction, pulled out the Gamestation and started up some four-player cart racing game, which they were now explaining the rules of to David (while simultaneously arguing about some house rule with one another). Starfire was holding one of the controllers gently, having accidentally crushed the last one she had attempted to make use of. Video games normally weren’t Starfire’s thing, but it was clear she was making an effort to take David’s mind off what had happened today. Robin watched the kineticist for a moment as he awkwardly took the controller Cyborg handed him, and wiping the tears out of his eyes, began to select a racer as Beast Boy pointed out the benefits and drawbacks to each.

Robin couldn’t be certain of course, but somewhere in the young teen’s eyes, buried beneath the fear and doubt and gratitude, he thought he caught just a glimpse of what might have been hope. What the hope was of, Robin of course couldn’t tell, Raven was the empath, not him, but if he had to guess, he would say it was the hope that despite everything, despite all evidence to the contrary and all the violence and death of the last 48 hours, that things



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-05 02:28pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 8: The Catalyst

"Their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains."


- J. R. R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings"

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The man in gold frowned as he pressed the play button on his remote control for the fifth time, watching in undisguised disgust as the image on the television showed Cinderblock lifting a car and throwing it into a police cruiser a dozen yards ahead. Nearly decapitating a terrified teenaged boy who dove to the ground, the enormous missile smashed through the police car and into a jack-knifed gasoline tanker which promptly exploded with enough force to shake the image, despite the fact that the CCTV camera which had filmed this recording was three full blocks away from the epicenter of the blast.

"If all you're going to do is play that footage over and over, then I've got much better things to be doing."

The man in gold shook his head. "You will go when I give you leave to go," he said directly. "Until then, you will remain here and answer for this disaster."

The tall man shrouded in darkness standing behind the man in gold did not so much as move, and his voice was as calm as the eye of a hurricane as he replied.

"You wished for the Devastator to be prevented from leaving Jump City. I prevented it. How is that a disaster?"

"How?" asked the man in gold as he turned around, incredulously, he pressed another button on the remote, and the footage on the television rewound to the instant where the boy on the screen was diving for the ground, a flying automobile passing barely two inches over his head. It froze on that image as the man in gold shook his head. "Your instructions were to ensure the boy’s survival," he said. "Does that look like ensuring his survival to you?"

The tall man merely shrugged. "He survived."

"He survived by pure, stupid luck!” roared the man in gold, pointing an accusing finger at his counterpart. “He nearly had his head torn off because of your bungling!”

The darkened figure did not move, nor even change expression, save perhaps for raising his eyebrow slightly at the accusation. “My bungling?” he asked, with mock disbelief. “Forgive me, but I missed the part in that recording where I was involved at all.”

“You were responsible for ensuring that he was prevented from leaving with as little risk as possible! Your agent lost his head and tried to kill him!”

“He was only my agent,” retorted the taller figure, still standing where he was before, “because you insisted on someone that could not be traced back to us. I believe your words were ‘someone who might do this on his own accord’?”

“… which Cinderblock was!” interrupted the man in gold, “until he lost his head and started saying ‘Devastator’ to anyone with ears!”

“And exactly whose fault is that?” sneered the tall man. “I warned you, both of you, against that fool. I told you he stood a risk of going berserk if confronted with resistance. Cinderblock has the mind of an overcooked eggplant. Tell me you did not actually expect subtlety!”

“I expected you to do your job and control him, as you assured us you could!”

“I assured you that I would make every effort to…”

“And if all we wanted was ‘every effort’,” said the man in gold, “then I would have handled this matter myself. But as it happens you came highly recommended for this sort of thing. We did expect a degree of subtlety from you in maintaining control of your agents. Perhaps our expectations were… unfounded?”

The last word was an obvious threat, but the tall man did not appear perturbed by it. “Forcing me to use Cinderblock or any other one of the monsters you pre-selected is like asking me to perform brain surgery with a meat axe. I told you who I wanted for this operation, but you refused.”

“We have already discussed that,” said the man in gold. “Cinderblock and the others will deflect attention away from the possibility of our existence. Using your ‘friend’ will present difficult questions to our enemies, questions we do not wish them to ask at this stage of the plan.”

You were the one who assured me that there was nothing the Titans could do to stop us.”

“There is nothing they can do!” snapped the man in gold, “Nothing at all! It is already written!”

“In that case, why are we so concerned with secrecy? Or is your confidence flagging?”

“Stop trying to deflect the blame! This entire matter reflects poorly on you. I suggest you do what you have to do to clean up your act!”

“Then give me what I need to do this job properly!” said the tall man with a somewhat contradictorily short tone. “If you want this plan of yours to work, then you have to stop thinking solely in terms of who has the largest arsenal of thugs. Leaving that boy with the Titans carries a serious risk in its own right…”

“… the risk is nonexistent, and even if it were not, it is unavoidable. Besides, there is nothing that they or he can do to…”

“If that were so, then you would not have asked me to serve you in this,” insisted the tall man. “Now let me finish. Leaving him with the Titans carries a serious risk, and what we need is a field agent that can think and act independently, and can serve to bind him in place without the need for displays of violence that are both attention-grabbing and dangerous. Neither of us are suitable for such work, for obvious reasons, and anyone lunatic enough to theoretically attack the Titans by themselves is completely unreliable. We need someone specific.”

The man in gold groaned softly and shook his head. “All right," he said, "let's assume I agree to this insanity. How would we control such an agent?”

“Normally you couldn’t," said the tall man, "but in this case there should be no difficulties, especially for our employer, as I explained to the both of you some time ago. Given the alternative to working with us, I would say we're unlikely to be rejected."

"But what guarantees do we have that this won't result in another near-catastrophe?"

"If you want guarantees, find another line of work," said the tall man evenly. "But what choice do we have at this point? We know what will happen if we employ Cinderblock again, and we need a field agent to make certain the process goes smoothly. We've tried the direct approach, and it has worked... tolerably. Now it's time to use the indirect approach."

Slumping back into a chair, the man in gold sighed and nodded. "Very well," he said, "I will... arrange to have it done. I assume you will wish to be on-hand for it?"

The tall man seemed to smirk. "Absolutely," he said, "I wouldn't miss it for the world..."

The man in gold raised a wary eyebrow and looked up at the tall man. "I do hope you aren't conflicted in your priorities," he said with a warning tone. "I know of the history between you two. We are not going through this merely to provide you with some form of amusement."

With a soft chuckle, the tall man shook his head slightly. "Perish the thought," he said, "but this is merely to provide us with the field agent we require. Nothing else is important at this stage."

The tall man turned to go, but before he had taken more than a couple of steps, the man in gold called after him. "If this works," he said, "then be assured we will remember it when the time comes to repay those who have served loyally."

The tall man paused and stood motionless for a moment, but did not turn around.

"You had better."

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The wind swirled across the roof of the tower, bearing with it the smell of fresh paint from the repairs recently performed on the roof and the water treatment system. Starfire recalled friend Cyborg’s comment that, according to his calculations, they had already replaced every single piece of the tower at least once since they finished it, and would likely continue doing so, since the villains and madmen they fought seemed to target their home for attack every other week. Fortunately, Robin apparently had near-unlimited funds at his disposal, and the leaders of the city were very accommodating with the permits of construction.

Starfire sighed happily and turned a little pirouette in mid-air before touching down on the tower’s roof. Grinning gleefully, she paused and took a deep breath, reveling in the glowing warmth of the bright sunny day on her skin (the first sign that summer was finally arriving again), the delightful feel of the soft ocean breeze in her hair (a perk of living this close to the sea), and the heavenly scent of the chemical paint fumes wafting off the roof next to her (which for some reason the others did not seem to enjoy as much as the first two).

Indeed, it was one of those rare, magical days that periodically appeared where it seemed like could go wrong at all. The weather was gorgeous, the sky a brilliant azure blue matched only by the glittering bay below upon which the surfers of wind and boats of sail darted back and forth. Much as she occasionally missed the stark, rugged landscape of Tamaran, a day like today made it feel as though the entire planet was trying to re-assure her that she had made the right choice in deciding to stay here on Earth, not that she often felt otherwise. This planet, unfathomably strange though it might be, was where her friends were, and leaving it would mean abandoning them, which was in any case out of the question. Even so, there was something about days like this that made her decision sit easier. It was one thing to believe that everything would work out for the best; it was another to see it happen.

There was a sound like a gunshot from near the base of the tower, echoing across the bay, and a small puff of brown smoke rose from the rocks that ringed the island Titans Tower was located on, but Starfire did not flinch or react with surprise. Instead she turned back and peered over the edge, looking down at her friends Cyborg and Beast Boy, who were standing outside the tower along with their guest, the young man named David who could destroy things violently with his mind and who had somehow acquired the enmity of several of the more loathsome villains in the environs of Jump City. Cyborg had a box of small orange ceramic discuses open on the ground next to him, and was holding one of them in his hand, while Beast Boy was standing several dozen paces away on top of a rock with another box at his feet and a discus in either hand. David was roughly midway between the two Titans, with small bits of smashed orange ceramic laying scattered on the ground around him.

Starfire smiled as Cyborg explained something to David (she was too far away to hear what he was saying), and then gently tossed the orange discus into the air over David's head. David extended a hand towards it as it flew overhead, and it seemed to wobble slightly in its flight before it crashed into a white rock and broke into three pieces. A moment later, one of those pieces exploded with a loud bang, causing a large colony of seagulls perched nearby to burst into the air, squawking angrily at having been disturbed. Several of the seagulls swooped down at David who yelped loudly enough for Starfire to hear it, and flailed at them ineffectually with his hands while Beast Boy and Cyborg both doubled over with laughter. Giggling at the ridiculous scene as she turned away to walk back into the tower, it was not until then that Starfire noticed that she was not alone on the roof.

"Raven?" asked Starfire, surprised to see her gloomy teammate sitting quietly on the edge of the roof, and she walked over towards the sorceress, who was sitting with her legs dangling over the edge, a large, hardbound book open in her lap. She was watching the three figures below silently, and her expression, as ever, was grim and motionless. "It is a wonderful day, is it not?"

Raven did not appear to have noticed Starfire landing, and gave a soft start as Starfire addressed her. "Er... hi, Star," she said almost uncertainly, "yeah, it's a real nice day." Raven picked the book back up out of her lap and held it up to read more, taking a pencil out from behind her ear as she did so and making a quick note in the margin with it.

Curious, Starfire bent over slightly and peered at the title of the book Raven was reading. "'A Study of Comparative Metahuman Characteristics and Abilities'," she read aloud, "'by Doctor Jason Garrick.'" She paused for a moment as the title struck a familiar bell. "I believe this book belongs to friend Robin, does it not?" she asked, "I have seen him reading from it before in the room of evidence."

"Robin let me borrow it," said Raven without looking up, underlining a word with her pencil.

Starfire leaned in a bit further to read the chapter heading of the section Raven was browsing. "'Natural Telekinetics and their Variants'," she said puzzled, "are you conducting research of some sort on behalf of friend David?"

"Um... kind of," said Raven as she lowered the book and turned her head to face Starfire. "How was the patrol?"

Starfire did not resent the change in subjects. "Everything was wonderful," she said happily. "There was a snatcher of purses at the park who endeavored to evade us, but Robin overturned him with his staff and retrieved the stolen receptacle of wallets and makeup. Then later we came upon a large number of families visiting from a place called The France, who asked us to repeatedly write our names on pieces of paper for their children. And then finally, as we were returning to the tower, I asked Robin if he wished to come to the Mall of Shopping with me this afternoon, and he agreed to! He merely has to apply more of the ooze to his head, and then we shall be off!" Starfire floated a few inches off the ground with excitement as she said the last words, prompting Raven to raise an eyebrow.

"Ooze?"

Starfire landed quickly. "Is... that the improper term?" she asked.

"I think you mean hair gel," said Raven

"Perhaps," said Starfire, refusing to let a mere word dispose of her jovial mood, "but whatever the name of the substance Robin must partake of, once the application is complete, we shall be ready to go!"

Raven smirked slightly, "Well... have fun," she said as she turned back to her book.

"We shall certainly endeavor to have much of the fun," replied Starfire confidently, before taking a seat next to Raven and adopting a more confiding tone. "Indeed, I feel that Robin is in great need of the fun recently. I had... hoped that after the death of Slade he would feel less need to confine himself within the room of evidence, but..."

Starfire sighed whimsically, prompting Raven to chuckle without looking up. "That's like expecting Beast Boy to grow a brain," she said, "Robin's just like that."

"I know," said Starfire, "and I do not wish to change the way which he is. But I do wish that we could see more of him at such times as these. I fear sometimes that he still seeks to take on more responsibility than anyone is capable of managing, even when he claims that he will no longer do so.”

Raven smirked. “You’re still mad at him over Cinderblock?”

Starfire smiled at her friend. “I was never angry with Robin, merely upset that he had taken such an un-necessary risk.”

“Was that why you caved in the elevator door while you were yelling at him?” asked Raven, causing Starfire to blush.

“I was… intending to make a show of being more angry than I truly was, so as perhaps to make him see how upsetting such actions are. I fear I may have… overdone it?”

“You knocked it forty feet into the common room.”

Starfire smiled nervously. “It was lighter than it appeared to be. I only wished to make a loud noise.”

Raven shook her head slightly as she circled another sentence in her book. “Well it worked.”

“Perhaps…” said Starfire. She remained silent for a moment before a sudden thought came to her. “You do not suppose that Robin agreed to go to the Mall of Shopping merely because he believed me to still be angry, do you?” she asked Raven worriedly. “I would not wish to..."

“I don’t think Robin needs an excuse to hang out with you, Starfire,” said Raven evenly, prompting Starfire to adopt a puzzled expression.

“I… do not understand.”

“Well look how often he pairs up with you on patrol.”

Starfire remained confused. “Patrols are assigned by lottery,” she said, “there is no ‘pairing up’.”

“Really?” asked Raven facetiously. “When was the last time either of you two went on one without the other?”

Starfire paused for a moment to think. “Well…” she said, “there… was that time some weeks ago after we defeated the Rancid Johnny.”

“You mean while Robin had his arm in a cast and couldn’t go out?” replied Raven. “And didn’t he drop in on the patrol anyhow just to ‘make sure things were okay’?”

“Oh… um… yes…” said Starfire. “I suppose before that it…” She trailed off again, trying to force her memory back. “I… I do not remember the last time,” she finally confessed.

Raven said nothing, but continued to read silently.

“Do you… are you suggesting that Robin has been arranging this purposefully?”

"Either that or you two should start playing the lotto..." said Raven.

Starfire did not know what the 'lotto' was (some type of game?), but she did not ask, preoccupied with considering the implications of what Raven had said. Why would Robin, a champion of justice and fairness, intentionally subvert a system he himself had established for the fair assignment of patrols? It would not of course be unlike Robin to take on more than his own fair share of the work, but why did he constantly wind up on the same patrols that she did? Not that she resented patrolling alongside Robin, indeed she looked forward to it, but...

She sat in silence, looking off into the distance as Raven continued to quietly read her book, and suddenly she wondered if she was the only one who hadn't noticed this. Shaking her head, she resolved to ask Robin about it as soon as he arrived.

Several more explosions sounded from far below as Starfire and Raven both quietly sat, Raven apparently engrossed in her textbook and Starfire simply marveling at the beauty of the bright summer day. Torn between wishing to express how wonderful she was feeling and not wishing to disturb her friend Raven's studies, Starfire merely hummed a light, airy tune, which Raven apparently took no notice of. Several minutes went by before Starfire decided finally to ask what the 'lotto' was, and how it was played, but when she turned back to Raven, she noticed something that caused her to fall silent.

Raven was still sitting with the book held up, motionless and apparently concentrated, and yet from where Starfire was sitting, she could read the title of the chapter Raven was on, as well as see the marks she had made with her pencil in the text. Nothing about this was un-usual, save that the title and markings were the same ones that the book had sported nearly five minutes ago when Starfire had first arrived. Raven hadn't made a mark or turned a page in all that time. Starfire was about to ask if Raven was having difficulty with some aspect of her research, when she looked up at her friend's eyes, and saw that Raven wasn't even looking at the book. She was staring over the top of it, down at the three boys at the foot of the tower, with a gaze that was as piercing as an Eridanian Thunderhawk's.

"Raven?" asked Starfire.

Raven seemed to jolt back to reality, and turned her head to face Starfire's. "Yeah?"

"Why... are you reading this here?" she asked.

"Oh," said Raven as she quickly turned the page of her book. "Robin and I wanted to see if there was anything we could find that would tell us more about what David can do, and how his powers work. Robin's been so busy that I volunteered to do a little of the reading for him."

"No..." said Starfire as another explosion went off below, echoing across the bay, "that is not what I meant. Why are you reading this... here? On the roof? Do you not normally wish for peace and quiet in such times? With Friends Cyborg and Beast Boy assisting Friend David with his explosions, is it not... distracting?"

Raven clearly hesitated, a very uncharacteristic reaction that puzzled Starfire even further. She had assumed Raven was merely overseeing the boys in their activities, but Raven did not reply with that. Instead she blinked once or twice and slid the book down a bit as she stumbled for an answer. "I... got a little tired of my room is all. I thought a change of scenery might help."

"Of course..." said Starfire, trying to keep the concern out of her voice. Raven was a secretive person at all times, which normally bothered Starfire not in the least. As she had once explained to Beast Boy, Raven was complicated, and there was much about her that they were not meant to understand. Normally she would never have given Raven's reply a second thought, but Raven's gaze had none of the usual calmness that was her trademark, no sign of apathy or disconcern. She was focused, clearly focused on what was going on below, but Starfire could not tell why.

Starfire turned her eyes back to watch the three figures on the rocks below. Originally Cyborg and Beast Boy had been throwing the orange ceramic plates into the air over David's head, and David was attempting to cause them to explode as they flew, without much success it appeared. At present however, Cyborg and Beast Boy had apparently gotten into some form of argument over something, which had degenerated quickly into both Titans hurling the discus-shaped objects at one another as fast as they could, all the while uttering prophetical claims about how they were going to "kick the butt" of their counterpart. Beast Boy quickly got the better of it, mercilessly pelting Cyborg with a hail of orange disks, all of which shattered against Cyborg's metal surface without so much as shaking him, while Cyborg was unable to hit Beast Boy with so much as a single disk, as the smaller, more acrobatic teen shifted in and out of various animal forms, nimbly avoiding throw after throw. David had ducked out of the line of fire behind a small tree, and was watching the two battle when one of Beast Boy's errant shots struck him in the side of the head, nearly knocking him over, though the disks appeared fragile enough to cause no harm. As Cyborg ran out of disks to throw, Beast Boy laughed and resumed his human form, posing and gloating triumphantly at having defeated Cyborg in this impromptu contest. His triumph was short lived however as David, still rubbing the side of his head where he had been struck, smirked and extended one hand out in the general direction of Beast Boy. A moment later, a geyser of water erupted out of the sea behind Beast Boy and drenched him in a soaking and very unexpected downpour. Such was the surprise written on Beast Boy's face at having been unceremoniously dunked while still on dry land that Cyborg doubled over with laughter, and Starfire herself nearly fell off the tower. Beast Boy blinked several times in astonishment before his mischievous grin re-appeared, and he snatched up another swarm of discusses and bombarded David with them, knocking the psychokinetic to the ground in a barrage of orange ceramic fragments.

"Is it not odd that friend Cyborg calls those orange discuses 'pigeons of clay'?" asked Starfire. "They do not resemble the pigeons found in Jump City. Are there other types of pigeon that take that shape?"

Raven did not even reply this time, staring so intently down at the three boys that it did not appear she had even heard Starfire's question. Down on the ground, Beast Boy, having recovered from the impromptu tidal wave, walked over to David with a broad grin and extended a hand to help him up off the ground. David took Beast Boy's hand and slowly got back up, brushing a shower of clay fragments from his clothes and hair, none the worse for wear it appeared. As Cyborg walked over to the other two, David said something inaudible to which Beast Boy laughed out loud and replied in an animated fashion, clapping David on the back with one hand as he did so, causing both Cyborg and David to laugh as well before all three began rooting through the wreckage of the pigeons of clay, looking for any unbroken ones with which to continue the lesson.

Starfire watched all of this transpire, and shifted her glance carefully back and forth between Raven and the scene on the ground. To her surprise, the more relaxed the three boys became, the tenser Raven seemed to be. By the time Beast Boy was helping David to his feet, Raven was gripping the edges of her book hard enough to wrinkle the pages and Starfire could feel the roofing panels they were sitting upon starting to vibrate.

"Raven?" she asked cautiously, "is something upsetting you?"

Once again, Raven seemed to suddenly remember that she wasn't alone on the roof. That was worrisome in and of itself. Raven was not commonly forgetful.

"I'm fine..." said Raven quickly. "Nothing's wrong."

"Forgive me, friend Raven," said Starfire more directly, "but you do not appear at all to be fine. You seem worried about something. Can I not assist you?" Raven didn't answer immediately, and Starfire followed her gaze back down to the base of the Tower, and to the specific person she was watching so intently. "Is something the matter with Beast Boy?”

“What?" asked Raven suddenly. "Of course not. Why?"

"You have been watching him with great intensity for some time," explained Starfire, "as though you anticipate him coming to harm. If that is so, then you must tell me what you are watching out for, that I may assist you in..."

"I'm not anticipating anything Starfire," said Raven shortly with a tone of what sounded like disgust. "I just... it's nothing, okay? Nothing's going to happen. I'm just over-reacting to some things. Nothing to get excited about."

Starfire was more confused than ever. "To... what things are you over-reacting?"

"It's nothing," insisted Raven with what Starfire thought was far too much vehemence. She put the book down and slowly stood up, glancing down at the others one more time. The three boys had switched roles, with Beast Boy now using some sort of long plastic sling-arm to hurl the clay disks into the air for Cyborg to destroy with expertly-placed shots from his cannon of sound. After a few throws, Beast Boy handed the sling over to David, who managed to throw his first disk straight into Cyborg's chest plate; however with a bit of practice and instruction as to how properly to snap his wrist while using the sling, David was soon flipping the disks through the air tolerably well. It all seemed perfectly innocuous to Starfire. It plainly did not to Raven.

"I need to go," said Raven suddenly, turning to walk back down into the Tower with some degree of haste. "Could you give the book back to Robin when you see him?"

"Certainly, Friend Raven," said Starfire, standing up as Raven walked away. "Are you absolutely certain there is nothing that I can..."

"I just need to clear my head," said Raven evenly without turning back. "There's nothing wrong."

"You do not sound convinced of that."

Raven paused at the top of the stairs. "I'm not," she said, and then she walked quickly down the stairs, letting the door click shut behind her.

Starfire sighed and turned back to face the edge of the roof, sitting down once more next to the large reference book and watching the boys below. Beast Boy was grinning broadly and cheering both David and Cyborg on as the pace of the throws increased, and David was smiling as his accuracy improved and he looped the orange disks through the sky with more and more confidence. Eventually, Cyborg stepped back to the other two and began speaking some sort of instruction to David, who began tossing the disks high into the air and detonating them near the apex of their flight, or at least that appeared to be the plan. The reality was that more than half of the disks crashed back to earth before they could be destroyed, but then they were merely practicing... though Starfire wasn't particularly certain what was being practiced. She resumed humming softly, her tune punctuated periodically by echoing explosions as she glanced around, waiting for Robin to arrive. As she did so, her gaze fell upon the book Raven had been reading, still laying open on the page she had lately been studying. Largely out of boredom as well as a vague interest in seeing what sorts of things Raven had been looking into, Starfire reached over and picked the book up.

Starfire could read English perfectly well, she had learned it along with the spoken language when she had first met Robin, but this book was a reference work, filled with technical language and terminology she did not understand. It was clearly written by and for those with an understanding of something called 'meta-physiology', a term Starfire had never heard before. To her relief, it appeared even Raven had difficulty with a work this technical, as the margins and line breaks were filled with hastily scribbled question marks and other indications of confusion written in pencil. Most of the book was taken up with an extremely complicated explanation of the physical and medical roots of various superpowers, not the most captivating of reading material, and Starfire was about to put the book aside when she came to a paragraph written in a slightly more general tone, and more importantly, one which Raven had circled several times in pencil, in addition to underlining various key phrases.

"As we have seen," read the text, "the extremely broad family of kinetic powers has more in common than might be apparent from external observation of the effects of such abilities. Kineticists, of whom Telekinetics are merely one subtype, share an overdeveloped neural pathway network within the neo-cortex, granting paranormal control over external objects and molecular structures. The universal and well-recorded instability of all known kineticists is due to this centering of the power's control mechanism within the neo-cortex, the center of emotion and sub-conscious thought, while more stable metahuman abilities typically are controlled via the frontal, temporal, or occipital lobes (see chapters 5-18). In consequence, with no known exceptions, kineticists cannot "learn" to manifest their powers, merely to control the manifestations that they sub-consciously produce."


Another disk exploded at the zenith of its flight, prompting cheers from Beast Boy and congratulations from Cyborg, even as Starfire read on.

"While manifestation times and mechanisms commonly differ according to para-psychological archetypes, all kineticists share the consequences of highly potent, uncontrolled eruptions of kinetic power, prior to mastery of the mechanisms of control by which these powers are commonly harnessed. Untrained kineticists are extremely dangerous, disrupting the physical laws that surround them randomly and with great frequency. This is particularly true of so-called RPMV (Restricted Pathway Manifestation Variant) Kineticists, meaning those whose powers grant control over one or a small number of states of matter, molecular properties, or physical processes, rather than general telekinetics. Well-known RPMV archetypes (though all RPMVs are extremely uncommon) include Aquakinetics (water), Geokinetics (earth/stone), Pyrokinetics (fire and rapid oxidation), Cryokinetics (temperature extremes, particularly extreme lows), Aerokinetics (gases, atmospheric or otherwise), Psychokinetics (molecular stability/instability), Ferrokinetics (heavy metals), and even such extreme aspects as Balistokinetics (physical acceleration) or Gravikinetics (gravitational forces)."


Underneath this paragraph was the word "Terra" written in Raven's handwriting and underlined three times, with an arrow drawn to connect it to the word "Geokinetics". Starfire understood. Terra had been cursed with awesome powers well beyond her capacity to fully control, even with Slade's 'assistance'. What Starfire did not understand was what all this had to do with Friend David, whose powers were obviously much less potent, and had so far not exhibited any sign of being out of control.

"In summation, kinetics of all stripes, but particularly of the rarer RPMV sort are among the least reliable and most collaterally dangerous forms of metahuman capabilities. This is under no circumstances an indictment of the many kineticists to be found among the metahuman community, and is merely intended to point out the fact that only the most skilled wielders of kinetic powers, recipients of many years of difficult and intensive training, can hope to fully master their own powers without risk of kinetic eruptions during high-stress moments. Kinetic powers are marked by incredible potency, matched only by their extreme volatility, and untrained kineticists are among the more dangerous beings on the face of the earth, tragically often without even meaning to be. Fortunately, untrained kineticists are also among the least subtle of the metahuman archetypes, and their frequent eruptions of raw kinetic power will almost always quickly bring them to the attention of the relevant authorities."


Starfire lowered the book slowly, completely mystified by what she had read. None of this made any sense. What the book was describing could not have been further from a description of David, who even now was struggling to find the power to cause fragile ceramic plates to explode. She wondered if her confusion was due to her imperfect understanding of the language the book was written in, only to find that beneath the article in question Raven had written in crisp, printed letters the words "does not add up", with half a dozen arrows pointing to various phrases in the preceding text. The only other intelligible note was written at the very bottom of the page. There, Raven had simply written "Beast Boy", and circled his name hard enough to carve a furrow in the paper, though why she had chosen to write Beast Boy's name was, of course, a mystery.

"Starfire?"

Starfire turned around with a start similar to the one Raven had exhibited a moment ago, to see Robin standing on the rooftop behind her. She set the book aside and smiled as she stood up.

"Robin!" she exclaimed happily. "Are you ready to undertake the journey to the mall of shopping?"

"All set," said Robin with a smile, gesturing at the book. "Is that the book Raven borrowed?"

Starfire nodded. "Raven asked that I return it to you. She said that she had to consider things but that nothing was wrong."

Robin nodded back before walking over and picking the book up. "Good, we'll drop it off before we leave. She just asked if she could help with the research a bit. Did she say if she found anything"

"She did not indicate one way or the other," said Starfire, still uncertain as to the meaning of the notes Raven had jotted down. "No doubt she will speak to the rest of us if she makes a discovery."

"Probably," said Robin as he extended a hand towards Starfire. "At any rate, are you ready to go?"

Starfire smiled again and took Robin's hand as she took one last glance at the three figures down below, who now seemed to have finally run out of disks to destroy and were slowly making their way back towards the tower. "Very much so," she said, and she turned away and walked with Robin back towards the Tower's roof stairs. Whatever the mystery and confusion surrounding Raven's research and David's powers, it did not change the fact that this was a perfect day, and no matter what tomorrow had in store, today she was going to the mall of shopping with Robin. Part of her wondered whether Robin's presence was what gave her this warm feeling that the day felt perfect, or whether it was something else, but most of her didn't care. It was a perfect day, and it seemed as if it could not get any better.

"Friend Robin?" she asked.

"Yes, Starfire?" replied Robin.

"Have... you been conspiring to defraud the lottery for your own personal benefit?"

"..."

Looking at the priceless expression that came over Robin's face and trying not to laugh, Starfire realized that even the most perfect day could always get better…



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-13 01:48pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 9: The Shadow of the Past

”Those who cannot learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

- George Santayana

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There were few things in the world that Raven despised as much as being treated like an irrational child.

She stood in the darkened control booth overlooking the training room with one hand on her temple, trying to ward off the headache that was threatening to surface, a large reference book clutched in the other, and a look on her face that left no questions as to her mood or state of mind. Before her stood Cyborg, looking equally implacable, arms folded across his chest as he looked down at Raven with an expression of mixed concern and displeasure. The muffled sounds from training room below barely filtered into the booth, giving the two Titans an uninterrupted chance to speak their piece.

“Goddamnit Raven,” said Cyborg, not yielding an inch, “don't tell me that everything's okay. It ain't, and you're weirding me and everyone else out!”

Raven forced down the frustration that was boiling up inside her. She had thought that Cyborg knew better than to push her like this! “I've told you a hundred times already,” she said with a tone that usually sent the others scurrying for the nearest bomb shelter, “there is nothing wrong! Quit hounding me!” She punctuated her statement by ostentatiously turning back to the window of the control room, a clear signal for Cyborg to go away.

“Hounding you?” demanded Cyborg, obviously either not getting the signal, or more likely not caring to act on it, “Last time I checked, Raven, you were the one hounding me and BB. Or did you think I didn't notice you up on the roof yesterday?”

Raven groaned. “So what if I was on the roof? It's quiet up there.”

“Not while we're skeet shooting it ain't!” said Cyborg, “and it's not just yesterday. Every time BB or I grab that kid to go do anything you go all surveillance on us, dragging that damn book around like you're trying to catch him red-handed with something. Even Starfire's noticed, so why don't we drop the act talk about what your deal is?”

Raven crossed her arms and lowered her head slightly, silently cursing herself for being so obvious with something this unfounded. Down below, Robin was standing in the center of the training room, arms folded, eyes invisible as always behind his mask. A dozen feet in front of him stood David, who was presently doubled over with his hands on his knees breathing heavily, his face flushed with exhaustion. Blackened cinders and fragments of rubber and brick lay scattered about him, and there were scorch marks adorning the walls and floor.

“It's nothing,” she said hollowly.

Cyborg sighed and shook his head. “It's not nothing, Raven,” he said before walking over to the window next to her. “Whatever it is has got you being all paranoid and acting strange. It's got you doing all kinds of research about stuff none of the rest of us can even pronounce, and it's got you tailing that kid like he's a bank robber and you're the damn cops.”

“You don't bother Robin when he does those things,” said Raven.

“Yeah, because Robin's like that. If it was Robin doing all this, nobody'd say anything about it. But you're not Robin, and this isn't like you at all.” Cyborg lowered his tone a notch and smiled knowingly at Raven. “C'mon Raven, you know I'm not trying to get all up in your business, you know I don't do that. But Starfire doesn't know how to ask, Robin's not gonna do it, and Beast Boy's afraid you'll put him through a window just for bringing it up.”

Raven managed to smirk at Cyborg's last comment. “And how do you know I won't do the same to you?”

Cyborg smirked right back. “I wouldn't fit.”

“Don't bet on it...” said Raven, but the menace was gone from her words, and she made no effort to carry out her implied threat. Cyborg folded his arms as Raven leaned against the window of the control booth and took a deep breath, both of them watching the two figures below in silence. Robin was holding his staff in one hand, and behind him sat a table piled high with all manner of junk culled from the Tower's basement. David had raised his head, but still stood doubled over, catching his breath, and Robin was currently lecturing him on some subject or another. Raven didn't move as Cyborg reached over and flipped on the intercom switch, flooding the room with the sound of Robin's voice.

“... enough to be able to blow something up. You have to learn to do it at a moment's notice. Whoever you're facing won't give you time to sit there and think about it. The less time it takes, the more options you have. There's not always going to be a water or gasoline tank nearby.”

David seemed to wilt slightly, and he coughed a few times to clear his throat. “How?” he gasped between breaths. “I can't... I can't just... it takes time. I have to concentrate on it and...”

“You don't have the luxury of time when Cinderblock or someone worse is coming after you,” said Robin, “you have to learn to act instinctively. Things can happen in combat in the blink of an eye, and if you can't react in time...”

Without giving the slightest hint of prior intent, Robin suddenly lunged forward, drawing a birdarang from his belt in a single swift motion and flinging it like a softball straight at David. Even to Raven, Robin's motion was so fast as to be a blur. To David it must have looked like Robin had just teleported. He gasped, cringed, and jerked backwards as the birdarang flew past his head and embedded itself in the wall, precisely as Robin had intended it to.

David let his breath out in a ragged exhale, and turned to see the birdarang sticking out of the wall next to his head. “Jesus...” he whispered in a stunned tone, and he turned back to Robin with his eyes wide.

Robin stood up straight again and regarded David with a practiced eye. “If you want to be able to defend yourself,” he said, “you're going to have to learn how to stop something like that.”

David looked at Robin as though he had grown a second head. “You mean... dodge it?”

Robin smirked as he slid another birdarang out of his belt. “I mean blow it out of the air.”

Up in the booth, Raven shook her head as she watched the lesson continue. “This isn't right...” she said darkly.

Cyborg sighed, switching the intercom back off. “It's not easy,” he said, “but I mean, the kid's gotta learn how to not get turned into hamburger if Blockhead or someone else comes after him, or if he gets caught up in something.”

“That's not what I meant,” said Raven, prompting Cyborg to turn his head to her and raise an eyebrow. Raven gestured at the scene below with her hand. “There's something wrong here. This isn't how it's supposed to work.”

“Raven, what are you talking about?” asked Cyborg. “What's wrong with this?”

Raven closed her eyes sharply and groaned before beginning her explanation. “Look,” she said, “he's kinetic, right? You know what that means?”

“It means he affects objects around him with his mind,” said Cyborg, who was familiar enough with mechanics to follow her this far. “What's your point?”

“Kinetic powers are tied into your emotions,” she said, “you feel a strong emotion, anger, fear, surprise, whatever, and your powers just 'go off', subconsciously. They lash out at whatever's around them. That's what makes them so dangerous; you don't have any control over what they're doing, not without a lot of practice and work.”

“Okay...” said Cyborg “so...”

“So does that look like a lack of control to you?!” she asked, pointing down at David. “You take an untrained kineticist and scare him half to death or surprise him like that, and his powers should be ripping the tower apart. He should start just detonating everything in sight without even meaning to, but he's not. Why not?”

“Wait a minute,” said Cyborg, “are you telling me you're upset because he's not blowing the tower to pieces?”

Raven clenched her fist and resisted the urge to blow something up herself. This was why she didn't want to explain her suspicions. “You don't get it,” she said, “it takes years of training to learn how to control kinetic powers. Remember Terra? She was a geokinetic. She'd had some kind of training I think, but not much, and she was so terrified of losing control that she went running to Slade just to try and get a handle on it. And she'd been using her powers for a long time before we met her. My powers are partially telekinetic, that's why I have to keep my emotions under control. You've seen what can happen when I lose control.”

Cyborg lowered his eyes at that, and Raven sighed. She was not trying to generate pity, merely to explain. “This kid has better control over his powers than I do and I've been practicing how to control them since I was four,” she said evenly. “So if he's never had any training at all, then why didn't he blow that birdarang out of the air? If Robin had done that to me back before I learned how to control my powers, I would have disintegrated it... and him... without even meaning to.”

Cyborg glanced at Raven with a hesitant look for a moment, but Raven ignored it. After a moment's pause, Cyborg ventured an explanation.

“Not everybody's powers work the same, Raven,” he said. “Beast Boy doesn't have any trouble controlling 'em. Starfire doesn't either. Maybe David's just... different, you know?”

Raven shook her head. “No...” she said, “Starfire's an alien. Beast Boy's a changeling of some kind. Neither one of them are kinetic.” She held up the reference book in her hand. “I've been doing research. All kinetic powers work the same way. All of them are subconscious and have the same control problems, no exceptions.” She smirked as she lowered the book. “That's probably why so many of them end up as villains. Easy, personal power that you don't even have to learn how to use. Just pick a target and 'boom'.”

'BOOM!' The control booth shook slightly as the brick Robin had pitched into the air was torn in half by an explosion, a large piece of it bouncing off into the corner of the room. David lowered his hand and smiled at Robin, but Robin's implacable gaze quickly wiped the smile of the young kineticist's face.

“You were supposed to completely destroy it,” said Robin, “not just break it in half.”

“You said you wanted me to do it as fast as I could,” replied David. “I figured if I just snapped it, it would be enough to...”

“If I'd thrown it at your head,” said Robin, picking up another brick, “then it still would have hit you. You need to completely take it out. Try again.”

Robin threw the next brick up into the air, and Raven was prompted to shake her head again. “Besides,” she said, “that's not the only thing wrong.”

“What else?” asked Cyborg uncertainly.

“Kinetic powers are very, very strong. They start out strong and they stay that way. Terra could cause an earthquake by accident. She plugged that volcano and turned herself to stone just by releasing her powers completely. The hard part with kinetics isn't generating enough power, it's controlling the power you generate.” She pointed down below again. “I just don't see that kind of power here. Kinetics are supposed to have loads of power and no control. This kid has almost no power and total control. It doesn't make any sense.”

“So... maybe he's not a kinetic?” suggested Cyborg, as though explaining the obvious.

“He has to be a kinetic,” insisted Raven. “Nothing else makes sense. I even detected traces of it when I scanned him that first time. There's no way to generate these effects without kinetic powers. If he's not a kinetic, then I guarantee you nobody's ever seen anything like him before.”

Cyborg shrugged. “Why can't that be?”

“Because that doesn't just happen!” exclaimed Raven in frustration. “You don't just come across a brand new type of superpower that nobody's ever heard of before! I've been researching this for days, there's nothing like it anywhere else. Superpowers are rare enough by themselves, you know how rare an entirely new class of superpowers is? And this one just happens to walk through our door? With no verifiable background and a bunch of super-villains attacking him for no reason? How many coincidences are we going to ignore before they stop being coincidences, Cyborg? Either David is the greatest natural kinetic in the universe, or he's not what he says he is.”

“He hasn't said he's anything,” said Cyborg forcefully. “You're the one coming up with all this evidence.”

“Of course,” said Raven in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “I forgot. He's just some poor scared kid who doesn't know anything about all this, right?”

Cyborg could also play at that game. Without skipping a beat, he replied in an equally sarcastic voice, “No, you're right,” he replied without skipping a beat in an equally sarcastic voice, “he's actually a criminal mastermind who's only pretending to not have any training, he's such a good actor he can fool you and everyone else here, and he let himself get beat to pieces and almost killed about five times because...” he glanced up at the ceiling and rubbed his chin as though trying to recall the reason. “Why was it that he let himself nearly get ripped apart again?”

“You asked me what I was worried about,” snapped Raven, turning back to the window. “If you don't want to know, don't ask!”

“Raven,” said Cyborg calmly, shaking his head, “this is crazy. David's not a plant. He's not out to get us, I'm sure of that!”

“You were sure of that with Terra, weren't you?” asked Raven without turning. The dead silence that followed told her that her comment had hit hard enough.

“As I recall,” said Cyborg, “so were you.”

“Yeah,” said Raven, “which is why I'm not making the same mistake again.”

“But remember what Robin said?” asked Cybrog, now clearly frustrated himself. “Why would anyone send us a plant like this? No back-story, no records, a whole packet of mysteries just begging for someone to ask questions about... it doesn't make sense! If someone sent David here, why wouldn't they make up a background for him that held water? Why wouldn't they try to make him fit what's in that damn book of yours?! They gotta know we're still suspicious after what happened with Terra, so why do it like this?!”

Raven paused before replying. “Maybe because it worked.”

The response brought Cyborg up short. “What?!”

“It worked, or it's working,” said Raven. “If someone did send him here as a plant, then they succeeded. He's planted.”

This was clearly too much for Cyborg. “Now hold on just a second Raven, that ain't true at all! We've all been making damn sure that he doesn't have access to anything...”

“Great Azar...” exclaimed Raven in disbelief as she whirled around to face her half-metal teammate, “wake up, Cyborg! You think this is just about access codes and door locks?! Terra didn't have 'access' to your security systems, and she managed to make a pretty good mess of them, didn't she?! He's here, in the tower, and he probably will be for weeks if not longer. Beast Boy and Starfire are already trying to make friends with him, our fearless leader down there is actually teaching him how to fight better, and you've been letting him work on the T-car! He doesn't need codes. He's already got fifty different ways to hurt us. We gave him that!”

Cyborg looked almost stunned at the vehemence of Raven's outburst, and he defended his security measures as best he could. “Raven, it's not like I give him a blow torch and tell him to have fun! We've got tracking bugs on him all the time, we've usually got someone with him, and he can't get into important places like the evidence room or the computer...”

“He can detonate things with his mind!” she exclaimed. “You think a locked door is gonna stop him?!”

“And what, we're not gonna notice if he blows a door down?!”

“By that point it could be too late. Besides, he doesn't have to blow a door apart in order to get at us! What if he slips something into the T-car? Or the refrigerator? Or an air vent? A bomb, a booby trap, a toxin... for god's sake there's enough chemicals under the kitchen sink to kill us all in a dozen different ways. It doesn't matter what kind of security we set up, or how much surveillance we put him under, if he's living at this tower, he can hurt us! Maybe kill us!”

Obviously, Cyborg could barely believe what he was hearing. The giant Titan was staring at Raven as though she had suddenly transformed before his eyes into someone else, and when he replied, his voice was as serious as Raven had ever heard it.

“Okay, Raven... now you're starting to scare me.”

Raven scoffed. “How do you think I feel?”

“That's not what I mean, and you know it,” said Cyborg with intensity, bending over and putting his hands on Raven's shoulders as he spoke urgently. “This is insane! I've never heard this much paranoia out of Robin, let alone out of you! What the hell is wrong with you?! You never reacted like this even with Terra.”

“Maybe I should have...” muttered Raven.

Cyborg refused to be knocked off topic. “Maybe, but you didn't, and as far as I can see, this kid's never done anything to you. Hell, you two've barely said ten words to each other since he got here, and you know he's scared to death of you. So what is your problem Raven?! This is not like you at all!”

Raven glared up at Cyborg for another moment, before closing her eyes and forcing herself to take a deep breath. She lowered her head and stared at the ground almost guiltily. “I know...” she finally said. Cyborg stood back up slowly and crossed his arms once more as Raven continued. “I'm exaggerating and it's... crazy and paranoid and whatever but... there's something about this... this whole thing.” She trailed off and turned back to the window, watching David continue to try (and mostly fail) to detonate an assortment of objects that Robin indicated or threw into the air. “I just... I have this really bad feeling about all this, and about this kid and I... can't help it. I keep waiting for him to let in a legion of robots or ambush us with some super-villain. I mean we know nothing about him...”

“We don't know a whole lot about you Raven...” said Cyborg gently, “... or really about any of us. But we're not sitting here waiting to turn on each other are we?”

“No...” said Raven. “Look, I don't have an excuse Cyborg. I know you're right, and this is all insane, and that he's probably exactly what he looks like he is. I know it doesn't make any sense for him to let himself get killed, and I know I should be thankful he's not blowing things up left and right by accident because we don't need two of us doing that... I know this is all crazy... but I can't let it go. It's just... I keep feeling like there's something going on here that we're not seeing. Something really, really bad.” Raven sighed and closed her eyes. “But I don't know what.”

Cyborg smiled and put a hand on Raven's shoulder. “So why don't you let bird-boy there do the worrying? That's what he's good at, and we really don't need two people doing that either.”

Raven shook her head. “... because Robin's not worrying about that at all.”

Cyborg raised an eyebrow. “What? What do you mean? Of course he is.”

Raven glanced up at Cyborg and then returned her gaze to the two figures below. “What are they doing down there?”

“Robin said he was gonna start showing David how not to get his butt kicked,” said Cyborg, “that's what it looks like to me...”

“Yeah... except they've been at it for three hours solid now.”

Cyborg chuckled. “Well, you know Robin,” he said, “he thinks the word 'break' oughta be illegal.”

“Doesn't that seem a little much?”

“We do three hour sessions all the time,” said Cyborg with a shrug. “Nothin' odd about that,”

“... yeah, but we're all trained superheroes. This was supposed to be a sideshow.”

“Robin doesn't know how to do a sideshow, Raven,” said Cyborg, “you know him. He's Mr. 110.”

Raven shook her head. “Maybe,” she said, “but that's not what this is. They've been practicing with David's powers this whole time. No hand to hand, no evasion training, just superpower endurance.”

“A power like his, that might be useful for staying alive...”

Raven frowned at Cyborg. “When was the last time someone threw a rubber ball at you in a fight? They spent forty-five minutes on those. Before that it was rolled up newspaper. I know David's not a professional, but I think he already knows how to defend himself against the Jump City Tribune.”

Cyborg smirked at the joke, but scratched his head for a moment. “Now that you mention it, that is kind of a weird thing to spend all that time on.”

Raven folded her arms and stared down at the training room. “Not really...” she said in a monotone, “Learning how to use my powers for prolonged periods was the first thing I started on when the monks of Azarath were training me...”

It took Cyborg a few seconds to process what she had just said, but when he realized what she was implying, his human eye opened wide and he turned to her with a look of disbelief. “Wait a minute...” he said, “you don't mean...”

“Yeah,” said Raven, “I do.”

“But... no... no way Raven, that don't make any sense at all!”

“It does if you know Robin...”

“I do know Robin!” insisted Cyborg “He's more suspicious than you'll ever be! You saw what he got like after Terra switched sides!”

Raven nearly laughed in surprise. “You think that was suspicion?!” she asked incredulously. “That wasn't suspicion, it was guilt.”

“Guilt?”

“How can you possibly not know this?”

“Not all of us are empathic Raven,” said Cyborg with an annoyed tone, “what are you talking about?”

Raven groaned. She hated playing psychoanalyst, but Robin's behavior only made sense with a proper appreciation of his personality, so she tried her best.

“Look... what I'm about to tell you... you can't tell anyone. Not a word. Not to Beast Boy, not to Starfire, not even to Robin himself, okay? This is private and a lot of it's just guesses, and I don't want to start anything.”

“My lips are sealed,” said Cyborg, “now let's hear it.”

“All right.” Raven took a deep breath, and began explaining as best she could.

“Robin... feels responsible for all of us. Not just because he's the leader. I mean, you've seen how he acts like he's everybody's father sometimes. You guys all laugh at him for it, but that's who he is. It's why he keeps doing such stupid things to try and keep us out of harm's way. It's part of what makes him such a good hero.”

“Yeah, he's pretty gung-ho about that sort of thing,” said Cyborg. “Go on.”

“So when Terra... turned, Robin felt responsible for it. Like it was his fault that she betrayed us. That's why he got so upset afterwards. We were all really upset ourselves, and we were more worried about Beast Boy so nobody really said anything to Robin about it, but he and I talked a couple times and he told me that he kept thinking that if he'd just had more time to train her, or paid closer attention, or maybe even just met her earlier on, that he might have been able to stop her from doing this. Teach her how to... I don't know... control her powers better or just be a better hero or who knows what.”

“But that's crazy,” said Cyborg, “Robin did everything he could with her, we all did. She didn't even tell us that she couldn't control her powers, and then one day she stabs us right in the back.”

“I know that,” said Raven. “Even Robin knows that, I think, but he's just like that. You've seen how he blames himself whenever one of us gets hurt or whenever a crime happens, right? It's the same sort of thing.”

“All right... so what's this got to do with David?”

Raven smirked and shook her head again. “Don't you see? Here we are, barely a month later, and here's this new kid, who shows up all of a sudden with powers he's never used and a bunch of mystery villains chasing him all over the city. He's got no outside ties, no family, nothing to hold him back, and he's never done anything at all like this before.” Raven paused as she watched Robin continuing to pitch bits of brick and masonry into the air to be blasted apart in mid-flight. “So I don't think he's trying to teach David self-defense at all. I think that's just an excuse. I think he's trying to prove something to himself.”

“What's he trying to prove?”

Raven sighed. “All of us... you, me, Beast Boy, Starfire, we all had our powers and at least some training before we ever met Robin. We've gotten better since then of course, but... you know... we were already pretty good. We stopped the Gordanians without any extra practice or help from anyone. David though, he's a blank slate, brand new. I think Robin's trying to prove that he can actually take someone with no training, a civilian, and turn them into a superhero.”

“But, Raven... it takes more than just powers to make a hero. You know that. Hell Robin knows that better'n anybody!”

“I didn't say it made any sense,” said Raven, “but if that's not what Robin's up to, then I don't know what he's doing, because he's not just showing him the self-defense ropes.”

Cyborg whistled softly and shook his head. “That's...” he said, trying to find the words and failing, settling finally for a simple “damn...”

“Yeah,” said Raven.

“But why?” asked Cyborg. “Why would he do that? Who's he trying to prove this to?”

“I don't know,” said Raven, “maybe Batman... maybe himself... who knows. It doesn't matter. The more I watch, the more I'm sure that's what he's doing, even if he doesn't know it yet. Power endurance training isn't any use unless you keep it up for a long time, and even then, all it does is get you ready for the real training.”

“Shouldn't... I mean shouldn't Robin have told the rest of us? Shouldn't we be talking about this?”

“Oh, I imagine we will be...” said Raven, “once Robin actually admits to himself that this is what he's doing. Until then he's probably going to tell himself that he's just 'preparing' David for whatever comes his way, and that this is just temporary. Robin can be... remarkably blind sometimes. Besides, the real fun's gonna be when David realizes what Robin's doing.”

Cyborg shook his head and stepped back from the window. “You guys are all insane, you know that?”

Raven smirked. “You hang out with us...”

“Hey, I ain't sayin' I'm any better,” said Cyborg, “but this is just nuts. Robin's trying to build new heroes without realizing it, and you've caught paranoia disease from him. Next thing I know, Beast Boy's gonna come walkin' in here reading a book!”

“I think that might destroy the universe,” said Raven with a wry smirk.

Cyborg said nothing for a few moments, and they watched as David continued to struggle to detonate object after object. By now, the young psychokinetic looked like he was on his last legs, ready to pitch over unconscious at any moment. Raven's eyes narrowed as she studied his gestures, his expression, his bearing. Everything looked normal, just another worn-out kid... so why did it feel so damn ominous?!

“Well I gotta get going,” said Cyborg finally. “But look... Raven... we'll deal with whatever Robin's thing is when we get there, but you've got to try to stop imagining that David's out to get us all. I've got instincts too, and I don't think he's anything except what he looks like he is. I think he's a scared, shy, civilian, and that's that.”

“But then how do you explain his powers?” asked Raven, “How do you explain the control that he has over them? That's not the mark of a scared civilian, it's the mark of a practiced expert! How do you explain all the coincidences?”

“I can't explain it,” said Cyborg. “And maybe you're right, maybe there's something fishy going on but... I just don't buy it. I know what happened with Terra, and I know I thought the same thing about her... but I don't buy it anyway.”

Raven sighed as Cyborg turned and walked out of the control booth, the doors sliding shut behind him, leaving her alone. She rubbed her temple, trying to focus her calm and approach the situation rationally, but as always, as she went over the facts in her mind, she felt an alarm bell ringing deep inside her mind. She knew Cyborg was probably right. She knew that she was likely imagining the danger, but she remembered that, whatever she had claimed while facing the geokinetic in the cavern, she had fallen for Terra's act, and the consequences of that misplaced trust had almost killed them all. The holes in David's story, the powers that shouldn't have been possible, the motives and actions of Cinderblock which made no sense, the unknowns that flooded this whole situation from every side, all these things stood out like red flags, commanding her attention, forcing her to wonder. Just who was David, and what was his purpose here in the tower. Was he a victim of circumstances beyond his control? Was he a mere puppet, being manipulated against his will or even without his knowledge by forces unknown? Or was he actually part of the conspiracy itself?

The door to the training room slid open, and Beast Boy sauntered in just in time to completely spoil David's attempt at concentrating on his last target, a piece of granite, which smashed into the floor at Robin's feet and shattered into a million pieces, not from superpowers but from gravity. David flopped over onto the ground, completely spent, and Robin finally decided that they had had enough for the day. Beast Boy and Robin spoke briefly (the intercom was still off, so Raven couldn't hear what they were saying, before the green changeling walked over to help David back to his room, as the young teen appeared ready to pass out from the effort of using his powers so much. As Beast Boy took David's hand to help him up off the floor, Raven narrowed her eyes, and subconsciously began to press harder against the glass with one hand, her powers causing it to tremble slightly.

Why did it feel like she was watching the prelude to an execution?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One thing Raven knew from experience was that everything had its limits, even meditation.

Two hours of failed attempts to find her calming center had left her even more aggravated and confused than before, and in her frustration, she had managed to knock her door off its slide rails again with a sudden burst of dark energy. It took ten minutes of mentally beating the rollers back into shape before the door would slide open and shut properly, and once it was fixed, Raven decided that she needed something to calm herself down if she was to have any hope of attaining a meditative state.

The kitchen was dark and empty, which was no surprise given that it was nearly midnight, and Raven quickly brewed up a strong cup of herbal tea and sat down, sipping it slowly and trying to clear her head. It wasn't working. Whatever she did, no matter how hard she tried, her thoughts kept being dragged back to the conversation she'd had with Cyborg earlier that day. Why couldn't she let this go?! She didn't like prying into other people's secrets any more than she enjoyed having her own pried into! Robin was paranoid enough for all of them and perfectly effective at sorting out mysteries, so why couldn't she just let him deal with this?!

And as always, the answer came back, 'Because Robin's not dealing with it. Because nobody is. Because nobody else sees the danger.'

And why was that exactly? If she was the only person who saw danger, then why couldn't the others be right and her wrong?

'Terra.'

Terra... goddamn Terra. Terrahad been dead for more than a month and a half and the traitorous blonde bitch was still dominating her thoughts and everyone else's. Nobody was acting rational around here, certainly not her, and it was all because of Terra!

She snarled and cursed silently and knew that she wasn't being fair. Terra was more than a traitor. She had told Beast Boy as much not two weeks ago. She knew she should be forgiving her. Death expiated all sins, particularly her kind of death, but the parallels were too close, the sting too recent, to just push it aside. Or was it? After all, Beast Boy had taken the worst hurt by far from Terra, and was he sitting around acting suspicious? Of course not, he was dragging David off every five minutes for some crazy stunt or another! How in the hell did he do that?! How could he not be suspicious that he was being set up again?! After a blow like Terra's betrayal, how could he possibly bring himself to trust an outsider again?!

He couldn't possibly be so stupid as to not see the danger. He was inconsiderate and juvenile and had no common sense at all, but he wasn't stupid. And Terra had hurt him. Badly. Worse than he knew maybe. That much was obvious. So how could he be acting like this? How could any of them?

She needed more tea...

A second cup was followed by a third, and would have been followed by more had she not had combat training tomorrow, and thus needed to get at least some sleep. She was no closer to a solution on any front, and her suspicions had not calmed down at all, in fact her quiet reflection had only served to embolden them further. She clenched her hands into fists as she strode back to her room, shaking her head as though trying to fling the paranoid thoughts out of her mind by force. By all the gods, why couldn't she just let this go?!

And right about then she realized she was in the wrong part of the tower.

Had she actually been so distracted that she made a wrong turn? Obviously so, as she was plainly not where she had meant to be. Instead of turning left and heading up the stairs to her room, she had continued on straight down the hallway, winding up in a different section of the tower. To her right was the gym, to her left, a series of storage closets filled with piles of useless junk, and directly in front of her stood... the guest rooms.

Well this was just peachy.

It was bad enough to have her emotions loose and personified inside her head, was her subconscious now also trying to manipulate her? Times like this made Raven feel awfully crowded inside her own head. How the hell had she wound up here of all places? Part of her wanted to shrug off the wrong turn and return to her room, but shrugging things off had gotten her nowhere so far. Perhaps her subconscious was right. Perhaps it was time to clear the air a bit. Perhaps instead of trying to 'forget about it', she should be trying to go straight to the heart of the matter... whatever that was.

After all, if all else failed, David wasn't the only one who could blow something up...

Slowly she approached the guest room door. It was closed of course, and no doubt locked. Was David even awake right now? Cyborg had mentioned something about him not sleeping well. She walked up to the door and listened quietly. Sure enough, there was the soft sound of someone shuffling about inside. The sound moved back and forth. Pacing. Raven couldn't help but smirk. So she wasn't the only one worried...

Steadying herself, she raised her hand and knocked on the door softly but firmly. Instantly the pacing stopped, and Raven heard the person inside inhale sharply in surprise. She stepped back from the door slightly, composing herself into her usual emotionless, rigid form. A few moments later, the door unlocked with a click, and slowly slid open partway, revealing David standing behind it. Raven said nothing as David blinked once or twice, obviously having not expected to see her. “... Raven?” he asked after a few moments, doing an admirable job of keeping the nervousness out of his voice.

“Is this a good time?” she asked.

“For... what?”

“We need to talk.”

David turned slightly paler and gulped audibly. “Talk?” he asked, as though the word contained some hideous implication. “... about what?”

“Can I come in?”

Raven didn't need to be empathic to sense the fear in the younger boy's eyes, but both of them knew that there was nowhere to go, and so David slowly nodded and slid the door open fully. “S... Sure...” he said, stepping to the side to let Raven in. Raven walked into the room, and David slid the door shut again, though Raven noticed that he didn't lock it, perhaps preparing an escape route? Perhaps trying to put her at ease? She shook her head as David turned back. She had to stop second-guessing everything or this wasn't going to work...

“What... uh... what can I...”

Despite herself, Raven couldn't help but be a bit bemused by David's nervous bumbling. “Well you can offer me a seat,” she said with a smirk.

“I er... of... I... please... have a seat?” he asked, as though asking a favor. Raven shook her head and sat down in a chair, as David did the same of the side of the bed. “S... sorry...” he said, “I just... this is... your guys' tower and all... I thought...”

“I have a few questions for you,” she said, getting straight to the point.

“Er... questions?”

“Concerns, actually.”

“Um... okay...”

“Have you ever had any formal training in your powers?” she asked

“No...” said David. “I... no, I told you guys that. I barely ever used them before Cinderblock attacked.”

“Really?” she asked. “That's strange...”

“Why... is that strange?” asked David guardedly.

“Well... you don't usually see someone that new with that much control over their abilities is all.”

David looked puzzled. “What do you mean... 'control'?”

“A lot of people's powers... they manifest before they learn how to control them. The powers start going off by themselves, doing things subconsciously. It usually takes a long time, years even, before someone with powers like yours really gets control of them.”

“... oh.” said David, perceiving that there was an implied challenge in those words, but not what it was.

“When did they first show up?”

David thought for a moment. “I think... I was seven maybe? It wasn't all of a sudden. I just... realized that if I stared at something long enough and thought about it real hard, I could make it look like a whole bunch of dots... like a... a connect-the-dots picture or something, but a whole lot more complicated. It wasn't until another year or so that I figured out how to start manipulating the energy and make it freeze or explode...”

“Okay...” said Raven, “... that's also a little weird.”

By now David was definitely worried, and not just in a general sense. “... what's so weird about that?” he asked, “I mean... other than the obvious...”

“Superpowers show up in one of two ways,” explained Raven. “Either you're born with them, or you acquire them later on. You ever been blasted by cosmic rays? Ingested experimental chemicals? Maybe had a magic spell performed on you?”

David blinked. “... no?”

“So then you were probably born with these powers...”

“I... guess... maybe...”

“The thing is? That's not possible either.”

This one definitely caught David by surprise. “Why not?”

“Because if you're born with superpowers they either manifest immediately from birth, or they wait until much later, usually around age eleven or twelve or so. They don't just start up earlier than that.” She crossed her arms and leaned back in the chair. “Ever.”

“What... what are you saying?”

Raven sighed and smirked at David. Now was the time to draw it out.

“I'm saying you're not very good at this.”

Raven's empathic sense told her that David was confused, scared, and clearly becoming more than a little tired of cryptic questions. “I'm not very good at what?” he demanded sharply.

“At making these stories up.”

That was the bombshell. The cards were now laid on the table, and the purpose of her little visit was made clear. Now she would see where he chose to take it. Not surprisingly, his first reaction was shock.

“You... you think I'm lying?!”

“I didn't say that, but your story is completely impossible, at least according to every study of meta-human physiology ever done,” she said evenly. Let him try to refute that.

He didn't try, a wise move with her literally holding the evidence in her hands. “My story?!” he demanded with a hint of actual outrage in his voice... a very compelling hint, she had to admit. “It's not a story! It's the truth!”

“So you say, but that doesn't change what all the studies have shown.”

“I don't give a damn what the 'studies have shown'!” said David. “Why the hell would I lie to you about this?!”

“Oddly enough, that was going to be my next question,” said Raven calmly.

“I'm not stupid, okay... I know you can read minds! Why would I lie to someone who can do that?!”

“Maybe because you know that I don't read them without asking first...”

“Well are you reading my mind now?!”

Raven frowned. “What did I just say?” she asked.

“This is crazy!” exclaimed David, unintentionally mimicking Cyborg from earlier in the day. “I mean... what do you think I am if I'm not what I said?! I showed you that I can blow stuff up! I've been here for a couple of weeks now and I haven't blown anything away by accident! Doesn't that maybe mean that I am what I say?!”

“Maybe,” said Raven, “or maybe you actually have had training in this sort of thing. Training enough to make it look like you're brand new at this. Maybe you're here by yourself. Maybe someone put you up to it. Maybe I'm wrong and this is all just a mis-understanding, but you've got to admit, it looks pretty odd...”

David opened his mouth to make further protests, but Raven suddenly stood up, cutting him off, and a torrent of words poured out of her mouth unbidden.

“Look,” she said darkly and seriously, imparting her point with her finger pointed at David. “I'm not saying you're lying and I'm not saying you aren't, but I want to make something very clear to you. If you are who you say you are, and I'm just making things up, then fine. You were right and I was wrong, and I'm sorry. But if you're not, if you are lying to us, and this is part of some plot to hurt Beast Boy again... then god help you, because one of us will smoke you out! If you're playing us, if you're not what you claim to be, I will make you regret it!”

David looked beyond stunned, beyond scared. He looked like a rabbit confronted with a hunter's shotgun, like he was staring at the headlights of an approaching express-train. He stared up at Raven with wide, unblinking eyes, and instantly, Raven knew that she had gone way too far. She had meant to clear the air between David and her suspicions of him, not scare him half to death and accuse him of being in league with the very forces that were probably trying to kill him. Silently kicking herself, she slowly backed down.

“Just... keep it in mind...” she said weakly as she turned to leave. Robin was going to kill her for this. What the hell was she thinking? Maybe Cyborg was right. Maybe she was going...

“... why do you care?”

Raven froze. She hadn't expected David to say anything, except maybe to yell at her for having unjustly accused him of all these things (if it was unjust, that is). She turned back to see David, still sitting on the bed, looking up at her with shock and fear still radiating from his person, but also a strange sort of calm... something she had not seen before.

“What?”

“I'm... just curious,” he said. “Why do you care about that so much?”

Raven's self-reproach was placed firmly on hold as she reacted in disbelief. “Are you actually asking me why I care what happens to my friends?”

David leaned forward, as though trying to delicately approach a dangerous predator (which might not be too far from the truth). “Okay...” he said, “... except you didn't come in here talking about 'your friends'. You came in here talking about Beast Boy. About how I was going to 'hurt Beast Boy', somehow, right?”

Raven was about to respond with an emphatic no, when she suddenly realized that was exactly what she had said, and without meaning to. She was so surprised by this that she didn't immediately come up with an answer.

“So... why Beast Boy, of all people?”

“I...” stammered Raven, caught off-guard. “You've... been spending an awful lot of time with Beast Boy.”

“Yeah...” said David guardedly, “... but I've been spending even more with Cyborg.”

“Cyborg can take care of himself,” replied Raven without thinking.

“And Beast Boy can't?” asked David, slowly standing up.

Raven shook her head and grimaced. How had this conversation gotten away from her? “Look, I... I mis-spoke. I didn't mean to say Beast Boy. What I meant to say was...”

“Yes you did,” said David.

“I... what? How do you know what I meant to say? Are you psychic now?!”

“I don't need to be psychic.” said David as he walked over towards her, now pointing his own finger at her accusatorially. “You got pissed off at me, and you started talking without thinking about it and that's what you said and that's what you meant to say, okay? I'm not dumb, and I know how to read people pretty well. If you're gonna crucify me because what I told you doesn't match whatever's in that book of yours, then can we at least agree on what you said?”

Raven could not think of what to say, and so said nothing, folding her arms as David walked over to her and spread hands out, palms up.

“So... what is it? Why are you so worried about Beast Boy? Because I know you aren't stupid enough to actually think I'm going to just suddenly attack all five of you guys, alone or separate. Any one of you could mop the floor with me without trying to, and you know it, and so do I! So what gives?!”

Raven didn't know what to say to all this. Why had she brought up Beast Boy? She could think of a reason or two maybe but...

“Beast Boy is a good friend,” she said evenly, forcing her voice to stay calm. “He's been through a hell of a lot recently, and I don't want to see him get hurt by you or anyone else. That's all.”

“Really?”

“Of course!” replied Raven in a mildly offended tone.

David slowly took a deep breath, and turned away from Raven, walking back over towards the back of the room. He shook his head as he did so as he made an offhand comment.

“... could'a fooled me.”

The next few seconds were a blur.

A flash of movement, a good hard shock, and suddenly Raven realized she was holding David by his shirt collar up against the wall, and her eyes were sparking with raw power. She held David pinned against the wall with one hand, her other hand still holding the book, and black energy was crackling from both.

“How dare you!” she snarled at David, her voice swollen with anger. “You don't know anything about me, or Beast Boy! Don't you ever insinuate that I don't care about my...”

“Raven...” said David in a scared, desperate voice that was barely above a whisper. “Let go of me... now.”<br>
<br>
For a moment, nobody moved, and it was only then that Raven realized that the bare metal floor underneath her booted feet was starting to get cold...

Slowly, carefully, Raven released David's shirt and took several steps back. Now that her anger had passed in a flash, she had time to realize just what she had done... she had lost control. For a moment there, she had actually lost control, and the realization filled her with horror and revulsion. By Azar... what had she done?

David seemed no less affected. His eyes had fear a-plenty in them, as well as the afterglow of an adrenaline rush. One hand was pointed at the ground, and held rigid, as he slowly and carefully released the pent up energy he had begun compressing inside the steel floor. Only when the steel had returned to normal did he collapse onto the bed, his hands trembling, glancing nervously up at Raven, who this time knew she had gone way too far. Neither one moved or said anything for a moment, both shaken up by what had almost happened.

“Look,” said David finally in a tense and nervous voice... “I did not sign up for this... I don't know any of you people or what's going on here, or what happened before I got here. I'm pretty sure I don't want to know. But... don't threaten me! And don't come at me like that! Ever!”

“I…” There was no excuse and Raven knew it, and she lowered her head guiltily. “I'm... sorry,” she said. “I... remember what I said about control? That was... that was it.”

“It's okay...” said David with a long sigh as he slowly calmed himself down. Raven got the sense that both of them wished to forget that that had just happened. Suddenly he chuckled hollowly, as though in the midst of all this, something was funny. “Besides, if we fight then you're gonna have to explain to everyone else why I'm dead,” he said. Despite everything, she smirked at the line, and after another minute or so, David looked up and spoke.

“Look... I know... you guys have enemies or whatever,” he said. “I know you've got to be careful, and that you care about your friends and Beast Boy... but... I mean... I don't even know what you think I am. I don't know what I would be in order to threaten you. You say you're worried about Beast Boy, but Beast Boy can turn into a dinosaur! I saw what he did that time on the roof with the dragon! You think I could ever threaten that?! What am I gonna do? Stub his toe?”

Raven shook her head and sighed. “David, if you are what you say you are, then maybe you don't realize it, but powers like yours... they're very dangerous, even to us. I'm not gonna go into what you could actually do to us, because I don't know, and maybe you don't know either, but it's happened before. We've had people turn on us, people we thought we knew, and we only survived because we got lucky. In a position like ours... we just have to be extremely careful, even if some of us forget that sometimes. I'm sorry I accused you and... everything, I don't usually do this. Normally Robin's the one who's extra-careful about these things but, Robin's... got other things on his mind.”

She walked over to the bed and stood in front of him as he lowered his head. “We want to help,” she said, “and I know you... probably... had nothing to do with this and are just trying to figure out what's going on, just like the rest of us. Plus, like Cyborg said, you're not a bad kid...”

David looked up, raising an eyebrow, obviously not having heard that particular line before.

“... but,” said Raven, continuing, “we don't know anything about you at all, other than what you tell us, and even if it's the truth, your story sounds like something someone would make up to try and get at us. We don't know your background. We don't know what your powers are like, or where they came from. We don't know why Cinderblock's after you, or even if he's after you, or if he's trying to get at us through you or whatever. We just don't know. And there's no way for us to know...”

“Can't... I mean... can't you read my mind or something? I mean... if I gave permission?”

She shook her head. “It's not that simple. Doing that could be extremely dangerous, to you as well as to me. There's no magical way out of this. And on top of everything else…” she sighed, “... you showed up at a very strange moment, and all of us are a little more on-edge than we should be.”

David sighed and lowered his head again. “... so what do we do?”

“I don't know,” said Raven. “You say you are who you say you are, fine. Now I have to figure out if I can believe that, given everything. That's my problem.”

“If it means you're going to throw me into a wall again, I'd say it's both of our problems.”

She groaned. “I'm sorry about that, I shouldn't have done that. I just... I have a hard time trusting people. There's nothing to be done about it.” She turned away, ready to get out of here and go back to her room. After a night like this, she would need some rest. “Have a good night,” she said, a she walked towards the door.

“... Raven?”

Raven stopped. “Yes?”

When David didn't reply immediately, Raven turned around, and to her surprise saw that the young teen had his hands folded in front of his face, breathing deeply and heavily, as though steadying himself for something important. For a moment Raven wondered what else he could possibly have to say that was so worrisome...

... and then he dropped an atom bomb.

“My name's... not David Foster.”



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-13 01:49pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 10: A Lie Agreed Upon

“Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

- William Shakespeare, “MacBeth”, Act V, Scene 5

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It took a lot to surprise Raven.

Nearly two years of being a superhero, combined with Raven's rather unique upbringing had, if nothing else, equipped her very well for dealing with unexpected and unwelcome surprises. To some she appeared almost jaded, but whether or not that was true, she was usually very good at rolling with whatever punches came her way, and at least with not letting what astonishments she did experience disturb her outward visage and temperament. She was used to anticipating the worst, and reacting to events, even spectacularly weird events, with a certain degree of aplomb. Certainly the facade cracked occasionally. Learning that her friends had been willing to stay by her side in a ruthless battle engaged within her own mind had been a shock, as had discovering that Terra had betrayed them all, however much she liked to claim that she had seen it coming, to say nothing of course of the more recent events with Malchior. On the whole however, Raven was not one to let mundane shocks disturb her inflexible emotional control. After all, even Malchior's ruthless betrayal hadn't incapacitated her for long.

“My name's... not David Foster.”

This, however, was a surprise.

It wasn't that she hadn't suspected David of anything, indeed she had been prepared to imagine him guilty of collusion with all manner of enemies real or imagined. She had detected the holes in his story long before the others, save perhaps Robin who kept his own council. She had been watching him for weeks like a detective gathering evidence, researching, examining, investigating, second-guessing, to the point where she had wondered if she was going mad, if she was turning into Robin. She had tried to shrug it all off as paranoia, but always it came back to her, the unbidden thoughts, whispering in the back of her mind that this boy was dangerous, was a threat, was out to get her, that the evidence was staring her in the face and that she needed to act. Indeed, she had even suspected that David's name was fake, as the coincidence of a boy in foster care being named Foster seemed far too neat to be plausible. The revelation that it wasn't his real name was not at all a surprise.

The fact that he had decided to tell her this, deadpan, without a trace of threat or implication in his voice, as she was in the process of leaving his room, not half a minute after she had finished apologizing for nearly attacking him... that was a surprise.

Raven pivoted around in a single fluid motion, her hands encased in auras of translucent darkness. Whereas before her emotions were barely in check, now she forced them aside, masking her surprise at the revelation behind her professional, emotionless gaze, the same one she used when confronting a criminal or villain. Even so, there was a grim look in her eyes as she stared down at him like a predatory bird. Her fists were clenched tightly, energy channeling through her as she faced the now nameless teen-aged meta-human who was still sitting on the edge of the bed, his hands folded in front of himself, casting occasional nervous glances up at Raven as though uncertain if she was about to flay the skin off his bones. Still he did not retreat, not that there was anywhere for him to retreat to, as if, having triggered this confrontation, he felt he needed to try and see it through.

“Your name's not David Foster?” Raven's words were cold and icy, with a feral edge behind them that augured nothing pleasant.

'David' seemed to wince at the words, and he did not look up, but merely shook his head, almost guiltily. “... no.”

“So you did lie to us... you lied to all of us,” said Raven with anger building, a smouldering anger that was far more dangerous than any momentary eruption. David, or rather the boy who had called himself David winced and seemed almost to shrink at the loaded menace in her words.

“I wasn't... I wasn't lying... exactly...” he said unconvincingly.

“You told us that was your name!” snapped Raven. “You told us it was your name and you lied!” She spat the final word out as though it was a mouthful of poison, and the psychokinetic shuddered as she did so before replying haltingly.

“It's not that simple...” he said almost resignedly, and he lowered his head until he was staring at his shoes, his hands still clutched together and trembling.

“It is that simple.” said Raven darkly. “If your name isn't David Foster, then what is it?!”

David took a slow, deep breath, and then looked up at Raven. To her surprise, his expression was not one of fear (well... not entirely one of fear), but sadness. He wasn't weeping or tearful or even particularly upset, just... wistfully sad, as though there was a memory here he had no wish to dredge up.

“I don't know.”

Raven paused, and stood blinking silently for a moment, her train of thought derailed by confusion at David's reply.

“What?”

“You heard me,” he said as he lowered his head again.

Raven inclined her head slightly, as if having trouble believing what she was hearing.

“You don't know what your name is?”

David shook his head slowly, saying nothing.

“What, you're amnesiac now?” scoffed Raven sarcastically. The comment caused David to bring his head up sharply with a flash of outrage she could feel empathically. No sooner had it appeared than it subsided, but it left him staring at her intently, a sharp unspoken warning that this was not a matter for which he was prepared to tolerate sarcasm. He pronounced his words very carefully, his voice level and flat enough to match anything Raven could put out.

“I never got a chance to learn it.”

For an instant, the two meta-humans stared at one another in silence, and then David lowered his eyes again and sighed. Raven said nothing, but stared at him thoughtfully, her eyes narrowed. Whatever the truth or untruth of David's statement, there was no deceit in David's look and tone, and his moment of outraged anger had been genuine enough. Most likely he believed what he was saying. She took a deep breath of her own as she lowered her charged fists, dispersing the energy that was flowing about them. It was time to finally get the full story. Whether or not she believed him, she needed to at least hear what his story was.

“What happened?” said Raven coolly, forcing herself to be calm and reasoned, or at least to sound it.

David sighed. “It's kind of a long story,” he said in a hollow voice, and he glanced back up at her to see if she wanted him to continue or not. She did, but first she wanted to clear something else up.

“Why are you telling me this?” she asked.

David shrugged. “You wanted to know the truth, right?” he said. “This is it. If any of my records survived the attack, then this is what you'd find in them. I figure you guys'll find something eventually? Better you hear it from me first.”

Raven crossed her arms. “As you wish...”

“It's really not that big a deal,” he said evenly, shaking his head. “It's not a bunch of dark secrets. It's just...” he trailed off for a second before finally shrugging. “... just bad luck.”

Raven nodded slowly, sensing the buried emotions behind David's words, a confused jumble that revealed nothing in particular save that it was considerably more of a 'big deal' to him than he was letting on. With a wave of her hand, she telekinetically pulled a chair over and sat down. “All right then,” she said, “let's hear it.”

“Like I said, you'd find all this out anyway,” he said, “and... I'm sorry if it's boring. I mean compared to what you guys...”

“Just tell me what happened,” she said, cutting him off. David obviously hadn't yet realized that having an 'interesting' past was not at all a good thing.

David took a deep breath and let it out slowly before beginning. “My parents died a real long time ago,” he said evenly.

“What happened to them?” asked Raven.

“An accident,” he said.

Raven narrowed her eyes. “An explosion?” she ventured. That would certainly explain his reluctance to make use of...

To her surprise, David reacted with momentary confusion, before suddenly realizing what she meant and shaking his head. “No,” he said, “no this was way before I could do any of that. It was a car wreck...” he closed his eyes and paused for a moment, and Raven waited for him to continue.

“Do you know Interstate 5?” he asked without looking up.

“Vaguely,” she said. She didn't possess a driver's licence, and would have had little use for driving even if he had possessed one. “It runs up the West Coast, right?”

David nodded, his eyes still closed, and when he spoke, it was in a hollow monotone that betrayed only a little of the sadness behind the words. “We were driving north,” he said, “right where it enters the Central Valley from the mountains, between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, near a town called Grapevine. It was real early morning, late spring, water on the road...” he shook his head and sighed. “We were in a car, I don't know what kind... my parents were in the front seat. I was in the back... in a car-seat. I was probably asleep.”

He paused again. Raven, who had an idea where this was going, said nothing, and simply let him continue.

“There was... no traffic on the road, too early for that. But it was foggy out. They get this stuff down there called 'tule fog'. Some kind of inland fog that settles down in the valley in the mornings. I guess they couldn't see it coming, not that it would have mattered.”

“It?”

“A tractor-trailer,” said David, “coming the opposite way. The driver was... up on meds or something, sleep-deprived. Long-haul truckers do that sometimes. He braked when the fog got thick but the road was wet. The truck swerved, he overcompensated and lost control. His truck jumped the divider and...” he looked up at Raven and sighed again. “We hit him head-on. They died instantly. I survived.”

Raven nodded slowly. “Were you hurt?”

“Not really,” said David. “The driver of the truck... after he finally stopped he ran back to see if anyone was alive, and managed to drag me out of the car before the fuel caught, made sure I was okay until the Highway Patrol arrived.”

“I see...” said Raven, not sure what else she should say to such a thing.

David sighed and shook his head slowly. “It's just one of those things, you know? Just another highway accident. Like I said, nothing exciting. Besides, I don't even remember the accident. It was that long ago.” He remained silent for a moment. “Anyway, you wanted to know why I didn't know what my name was...”

“Wait,” said Raven, “what's that got to do with your name?”

David raised his head once more with a confused look. “I didn't know it.”

“How could you not know your own name?”

“This was more than twelve years ago,” he said, “I was eighteen months old, maybe twenty. How much do you remember from when you were one and a half? I couldn't even talk yet.”

“Okay...” said Raven, “but what about ID?”

A weak smile crossed David's face, as though the concept were funny. “ID? What ID?”

Raven frowned. “You know, identification? Your parents drivers' licences? Anything?”

David shook his head and chuckled, before leaning forward towards Raven.

“Raven, have you ever seen what happens to a car that gets hit head-on by a fifty-ton semi-truck at highway speeds?”

Raven remained silent.

“My parents weren't just killed,” said David with a calm, descriptive tone that came very close to covering up the emotion underlying his words, “they were pulverized. The front half of the car was flattened like a tin can. I only survived because it collapsed around part of the backseat. There was gasoline spilled everywhere, sparking wires. The car was already on fire when the truck driver pulled me out. By the time the fire department and the cops got there... there was nothing left. No driver's licences, no registration, no credit cards, not even a license plate. With all the chemicals spilled all over the place, they couldn't even get a DNA sample. Hell, I don't even know if they were my parents. They could have been guardians or kidnappers or anything else.”

“But what about other records? Things not in the car?” asked Raven. This couldn't possibly be right. People didn't simply lose their identities like this. The theory that he might be making the whole thing up, or had been coached to say these things was beginning to lose cohesion. Surely nobody would invent a story this ridiculous. He didn't know his name because of a traffic accident?

“Like what?”

“I don't know, your birth certificate? Hospital records?”

David smiled almost knowingly, as if this was some kind of ironic joke fate had played upon him. “And where would those be? Safety Deposit Boxes? Banks? Hospitals? Which ones? What city? What state? What country? Where do you go to find the records?”

“Well didn't the police or the social workers look?”

“Of course they looked!” exclaimed David. “They looked for months! They searched missing persons databases, they checked rental car companies, they looked everywhere. They didn't find a thing. How would they? I wasn't in any computer system they could find, by fingerprint or anything else.”

David stood up and began to pace back and forth, his hands nervously wringing, trying not to sound as upset as he obviously was. “There was this... this policewoman. Officer Garcia. She was one of the first ones that got to the accident scene, and she sort of felt sorry for me I guess or... anyhow... she kept looking for any leads, any evidence at all, for years, just as... you know a hobby or a part-time thing or whatever. Every few months, she'd come to whatever facility I was in and tell me all about this lead and that piece of evidence and this database and that record, and how she was sure that everything was going to be cleared up soon and that they'd know who I was and who my parents were 'any day now'. I believed her until I was about five, and... then I just sort of pretended to, like she was telling me Santa was going to come get me.” He sighed again. “It didn't matter anyway. There wasn't anything to find.”

Raven listened to all of this with equanimity. Her empathic sense was detecting a mishmash of confusing emotions emanating from the young psychokinetic, which was to be expected, she supposed. Her guess was that this was not the first time he had told this story to someone, but it didn't sound rehearsed. An old pain that faded with time but never fully vanished. A sort she knew well.

“If you don't know what your real name is, where did you come up with the one you gave us?”

David stopped pacing and sat back down on the bed. “The only thing I remembered at all from before the accident was 'David',” he said, “I don't know where I heard it or why I remembered it, but... I sort of vaguely knew that name from somewhere. When the social workers finally sat me down and asked me if I knew what my name was, apparently that was the one I gave them, or at least it was the only one I was able to say.”

“So it could be your real name?” asked Raven.

David scoffed at that. “Yeah, I suppose,” he said, his tone indicating that he didn't believe for an instant it was. “Or, you know, it could have been my dad's name, assuming those people in the car were my parents. Or it could have been a relative's name, or a friend's, or a pet's. Hell, it could have been something I heard on the radio.” He shook his head. “But... I mean... it was all I could remember. And... you know,” he shrugged and blushed slightly, “I kinda liked the sound of it. After all, I needed something.”

Raven nodded slowly, and let a few moments go by in silence before asking another question.

“And Foster?”

David stifled a laugh. “You're gonna love this...” he said with an embarrassed shake of his head. “So I just had the one name, David, for something like four years. I think the welfare people just figured I'd take whatever last name from whoever adopted me. But of course, I couldn't get adopted so...”

“You couldn't?” interrupted Raven. “Why not?”

David blinked. “No records,” he said, as though this were the most obvious thing in the world. “No medical history. No proof of orphanage. There's something like five kids in the system for every one that actually gets adopted. You think the agencies were going to waste time trying to place a kid who had all kinds of unknowns and legal hassles in his file? What if they'd found something later? What if they'd placed me with a family and, a year later they get someone barging in screaming 'That's my nephew!' or something? They couldn't take the risk. Places like that are allergic to lawsuits.”

Raven didn't answer, but what David was saying did make sense. She was however somewhat surprised that he wasn't more bitter about the experience. He spoke of the decision not to press his case as though it were the most reasonable thing in the world for the authorities to decide. And perhaps it was so, but she would have expected a little more anger. As it was she could detect none.

“So anyway,” continued David. “When I was about six, it started to get more important to have a 'real' name, for starting school and everything. So one day they told me that I needed to have a last name and asked me if I was sure that I didn't have one. So I sort of had to pick one...

“They let you 'pick' a last name?” asked Raven, raising an eyebrow.

“Well there's not really a 'system' for kids without names to get one. It's not exactly common, you know? They really didn't know what to do, if they should just assign me one or what. So I decided to pick.”

“And you picked 'Foster'?”

David blushed slightly and nodded. “... yeah,” he said.

“Why?”

He didn't answer immediately, shaking his head slowly as though what he had to say was too embarrassing to be spoken. “I was six.” he finally said. “You know how a six-year-old's logic is. My whole life, I'd been in Foster homes or Foster care centers or 'Foster' this or 'Foster' that, and I thought...” he smiled and laughed a bit at himself, “... I thought that if my name was Foster, that it would make all the other kids think that this actually was my home, that I was supposed to be here, not like everyone else. I mean we were all orphans or runaways or wards of the state for one reason or another, but... I thought that maybe I could make everybody think that I was different than all of them, like I actually had a family or...” he trailed off for a second almost wistfully, then shook his head and snapped back to reality. “Like I said, I was six. It was some stupid kid's game. But that's the name I gave to the social workers, and that's the name I got.” He shrugged and sighed. “And besides, I still like it better than 'Doe'. That was what the school officials wanted to use. It's like a default name for anyone without one.”

Raven nodded slowly, careful not to betray what she was thinking by any careless expression. David however was able to divine something of what she had been suspecting. “Let me guess,” he said, “you thought it was weird to have a foster kid named 'Foster'?”

“It sounded like an alias,” said Raven.

David took a deep breath. “Well that's probably because it is one,” he said, “... sort of. You're not the first one to notice. I usually don't go on this much about it but,” he laughed nervously, “this is kind of a special case.”

“I suppose so,” said Raven. She remained silent for a few moments, before changing the subject. “So then how do your powers fit into all this?”

David groaned softly and shook his head. “The short answer is... they don't,” he said. “I didn't have them then, or maybe I did and I just didn't know about it, but they've never done what you were talking about. They don't go off by themselves. That's just... that's not how it works.”

“You understand that's a little hard to believe...”

David rubbed his eyes with one hand as his other hand balled into a fist. “What do you want from me?” he asked, frustration apparent in his voice. “You say they don't work like it says in your book there, fine! I believe it! But I don't know anything about this stuff, or how these things are supposed to work! I barely know how my powers work, let alone everyone else's! And the way mine work is the way I told you.”

“Fine,” she said, and let the matter sit for the moment as she decided on what to ask next, but before she could, David asked her a question.

“Why are you guys so obsessed with this whole 'control' thing?” he asked. “I mean, beyond the obvious. I know it'd be real bad to have me setting stuff off all the time. But... I mean it's like you're waiting for me to lose it and start blowing everything to pieces. Is it really that common?”

“With powers like yours, yes, it's that common. In fact it's universal.”

“But... you can do the same sort of stuff, right? I what you did to that dragon and I've... I've seen the TV clips whenever you guys go out. You don't seem to have any trouble with...”

Raven's deadpan expression stopped the young psychokinetic in mid-sentence.

“... your powers actually go off by themselves?” he asked, his expression close to one of horror.

“When I let them,” said Raven, “which I don't. Ever.” She wasn't being entirely accurate herself of course, but this wasn't about her, and she had gotten better at preventing outbursts since arriving on Earth.

“Wow...” he said, his voice trailing off. “That's... I can't even imagine that.”

“It's not pretty,” said Raven evenly, “but there's plenty who don't know how to control them at all. Every time they get upset or emotional, their powers go haywire.” She crossed her arms and regarded him with a cool, practiced gaze, her best impression of Robin (though without a mask, the effect wasn't quite the same). “So you can see why we're a little concerned.”

David sighed. “I don't... I don't know what else to say,” he said. “Look, you know what happens if I get really scared, or angry, or upset or whatever?”

“What?”

David shrugged. “Nothing,” he said, “absolutely nothing. I can't use them at all. To blow something up... it's like trying to play the piano or solve a puzzle or remember your lines in a play. I have to concentrate on it, sort of press the energy down in just the right way, figure out how all the little bits connect to one another and how they move, otherwise nothing happens. That sort of thing doesn't just happen by itself. If I'm really upset, I can't even snap a twig.”

Raven considered what David was saying, trying to decide if she believed him or not. It was all consistent with what she had observed so far. Even under attack by Cinderblock, even when Malchior was looming over him, his powers had not erupted to his rescue as hers would have. Still there was something about all this that didn't feel right.

“If they only do what you want them to do,” she asked, striking in a new direction, “then why didn't you ever use them before you came here?”

David chuckled nervously. “It's not like I never used them...” he said, “but... I mean they blow things up. It's kind of dangerous.”

“What happened?”

David blinked and adopted a confused expression just a little too obviously. “What do you mean? Nothing happened, I just don't...”

“Don't give me that,” said Raven, who narrowed her eyes once more and peered at David with a gaze that would have melted steel. “Nobody just 'decides' that these things are dangerous, not at age seven. Tell me what happened.“

David winced and shut his eyes for a moment but did not reply. Raven took a shot in the dark.

“Did you kill someone?”

“What?!” he yelped, his eyes flying open in surprise. “No! Of course not! What the hell do you think...?”

“I don't know what to think,” said Raven acidly, “because you're sitting there trying to pretend that nothing ever happened, and that's a lie, and we both know it. Now either tell me what happened or I'll go get Robin and you can tell both of us together.”

David blinked in mute astonishment for a second before he closed his eyes again and let a long breath out through clenched teeth. “You have to understand,” he said, not opening his eyes, “I didn't know what any of this stuff was at first. I knew I could... see things, the insides of things, what they were made of, if I thought about it hard enough and concentrated long enough. And I figured out, after a while, that I could press down on the energy inside and that when I did that, I made whatever it was get colder... freeze even. I didn't know what the hell I was actually doing, or anything about explosions or molecules or physics, I was seven!”

“So what made you learn?”

David leaned forward and rested his head on one hand, still not looking up at Raven, his voice barely kept under control. “Every year around December, there's a charity drive to get presents for all the kids in Foster care. People donate all sorts of stuff. My second grade year, I guess I was about eight...”

“You guess?”

David looked up at Raven sharply. “No ID, remember?” he said in a snippy tone, “I don't know my birthdate or exact age. I think I'm about fourteen now, and this was six years ago, so yeah, I guess I was about eight. If you have a better guess, go ahead and make it.”

Raven said nothing, forcing herself not to roll her eyes.

“Anyhow,” said David, “I was in second grade, and Christmas had just happened. I was in an orphanage in San Diego, a pretty nice place. I don't have the first idea how they decided who got what presents, but that year I got a bicycle, solid aluminum, three-speeds. It wasn't fancy or anything, but I was real excited. Then one day Marcus Beech comes up to me and says he wants it.”

David smirked and raised his eyes, as though the story were amusing in hindsight. “Picture a kid the size of Cyborg, only he's in sixth grade” he said, shaking his head, “or at least that's how he looked to me. Big, stocky kid, not too fast, but built like a brick wall with a brain to match, and always looking for someone to pick on. He was a real foster kid, not an orphan. Got taken away from his parents after they beat him with a broom handle, at least that was the rumor. So he comes over to me and tells me to get off the bike, and before I can even say anything, he shoves me off it and picks it up and starts to ride off.”

David laughed and a mischievous glint flashed in his eyes as he continued. “... only he gets about thirty feet away, and I get this idea. So I sort of stay laying on the ground and stick my finger out at him, and as he's riding I freeze the front brake to the wheel. He's right in the middle of calling me some name, and the bike just stops dead like it hit a wall, and he goes pitching forward over the handlebars and lands on the ground in a puddle of mud, and the bike flips over and comes down on top of him. Right there in front of everybody. Everyone just bursts out laughing at him like it's the funniest thing in the world...” He trailed off and the smile faded from his face. “... and so did I.”

Raven nodded. “And that's when it blew up?” David sighed and nodded slowly.

“Before... whenever I'd frozen something, I'd always let it go slowly, just because I didn't want to break it, you know? But this time... he just flipped over and went splat and everybody laughed, and so I just laughed at him and let it go all at once. And then all of a sudden there's this “BAM”, like a gunshot, and the front brake goes off like a hand grenade, and everyone turns dead quiet for a second.” David took a deep breath and let it out raggedly. “And then Marcus lets out this shriek like he's being murdered, and everyone starts screaming and...” He paused and stared at the floor for a bit. “His foot was right on top of the brake when it blew, and he nearly got it cut off. It broke his leg in three places, both ankles... they rushed him to the hospital and managed to fix him back up but...”

“Did they know it was you?”

“No,” he said, “they said it was some kind of freak accident, that the tire was over-pumped or something. I mean what else were they gonna say? Nobody saw me do anything except point at him. But I knew. And I'm pretty sure Marcus knew, or at least he never tried anything around me again.” He shrugged. “So anyhow, that's when I learned that I wasn't just freezing things, I was making them blow up. And that's why I don't just go around using it. I mean... what if I'd frozen the wheel itself instead of just the brake pad? Something that big would have blown him apart.”

“I see,” said Raven. It was an old story, and a classic one. Inevitably, every meta-human eventually encountered the unintended consequences of their own powers. Some resolved to use them for good, some for their own gains, and some were scared i.nto never using them at all.

They sat in silence for a few more moments, before Raven chimed in once again with another question. “So you don't know where these powers came from?”

“They didn't come from anywhere,” replied David. “I mean not from radioactive meteors or whatever. I just figured out how to use them.”

“So then you might have been born with them?”

He shrugged. “I guess, maybe.”

“Well then doesn't that mean your parents might have been...” she trailed off, letting him finish the sentence.

David reacted in disbelief. “... what? Superheroes?” He laughed sarcastically. “Right.”

“It's possible, isn't it?” said Raven in a calm tone.

David groaned and shook his head. “No, Raven, it's not possible. It's not even slightly possible, okay?”

“Why not?”

“Have you ever been to an orphanage?” asked David, his voice becoming short and clipped, bitter frustration oozing from every word. “Everyone there is the son or daughter of superheroes or royalty or international spies or long-lost billionaires. Nobody's really an orphan, they're all just living there until Mom and Dad come back in their private jets or their magical chariots to take them back home to a castle in the sky. Everyone says that, everyone lies. Even the social workers play along with it, because they don't want to have to tell some six-year-old kid that their parents are actually dead, or worse yet, that their parents abandoned them or were locked away because they were drug addicts or criminals or abusive. Nobody wants to face that, so everyone makes it all up. Everyone.”

Raven refused to be browbeaten out of her point. “I'm sure they do,” she said, “but you actually have superpowers.”

“Yeah...” said David. “So?”

“So didn't you ever think...”

“Of course I thought!” said David angrily. “Of course I imagined that maybe they were superheroes! Of course I told myself that! And then you know what? I actually looked. And you know what I found out?! I found out that no superheroes went missing around the time of my accident that weren't accounted for elsewhere. I found out that there was no way anyone could have been near Grapevine on that night. I checked every single superhero team, and all the independents I could find. The Justice League, Legion, the Doom Patrol, everyone. The only ones I didn't check were... well... ones like you guys. I mean, you know, you guys weren't around back then. That's why I'd never heard of you before, and you all are my age, or close to it. But everyone that was around, everyone who might have been, I looked at, even the bad guys, just in case, you know? Superheroes are high profile. Nobody disappeared, nobody vanished, nobody was there. It's not possible! Period!”

Raven said nothing as David clenched his fists again and shook his head. “I'm not special,” he said. “I'm not unique. I can blow things up by thinking about it, and I don't know why, but it's not because I'm the son of Superman or some kind of chosen one. I'm not Moses, I'm not an alien, and I'm not Harry Potter. I don't have dark secrets or whatever the hell else you think I have. I was not sent by anyone, I was not trained by anyone, and I am not holding out on you somehow. I'm not a superhero or a supervillain or anything else. I don't even have a real name.”

David finished speaking and took a long, deep breath, then lowered his eyes back to the floor. “And if you don't believe that,” he said after a short time, “... then I don't know what to tell you.”

The room was quiet for a minute or so as Raven watched the young teen, whose eyes were still affixed to the floor and who showed no signs of raising him again or offering any further insight. Finally, she stood up.

“Okay then.”

David looked up quizically as Raven stood and moved the chair back over to the wall with a wave of her hand. She noticed that he no longer flinched at the sight.

“So... do you believe me?”

Raven paused a moment before replying.

“I don't think you're lying, if that's what you mean,” she said, “but I also think you're wrong.”

“Wrong?”

“You say you're not special at all except for the explosions. Well whether or not I believe that, obviously Cinderblock and whoever sent him don't. So since you don't seem to know anything specific, I'd say they're more likely to be right.”

“But what do they want with me?! I mean I can't do anything close to what any of you guys can with or without my powers!”

“I don't know,” said Raven, “but Robin's working on that, and if anyone can find out, he will.”

David sighed slowly. “Yeah, I guess he will, won't he?”

Raven didn't reply immediately, but after a moment she decided it was time to leave. “You should get some rest,” she said, not mentioning that she should as well. “Robin's going to want you ready tomorrow.”

“Again?!” asked David. “What's he trying to do? Kill me so Cinderblock won't get the chance to?”

“Quite likely,” said Raven with a smirk. David had seen nothing yet of Robin's single-mindedness, and thus had no idea what was in store for him, but she would let him figure that part out himself. She turned to go, walking towards the door, but once more, she was stopped by David, this time armed with a reminder.

“Raven?”

“If you're going to tell me that you're actually working for Slade, do it tomorrow. I'm tired and I want to go to bed.”

“Who's Slade?”

“Nevermind, what is it?”

“Just... before you go...”

Raven sighed and turned around again. “Yes?”

“You... never answered my question.”

Raven paused. “What question?”

“Why are you so worried about who I really am?”

Raven raised an eyebrow. “You're our only clue to what's going on here, why wouldn't I be.”

David shook his head. “Because you didn't come here to find out who’s chasing me. You came here to find out if I was being chased at all, or if this was a setup. I... sort of expected Robin to be the one coming here to ask me all this, not you...”

Raven crossed her arms and tapped her foot quietly, indicating to David that he should get to the point. He stumbled over his words and then shook his head.

“Look... I... I just wanted to ask... did... did something happen here?” He raised his head again to look at Raven with a guarded expression, as if he was worried about what the answer might be. “Did something happen before I got here, that made this so important? I mean... you guys have to know that I'm not able to threaten any of you. You're superheroes. You're all fifty times more powerful than me, and you know how to fight and everything, so... I mean... you come in here and threaten me about Beast Boy and all and I just don't get it...”

Now it was Raven's turn to take a long, deep breath. Of all the subjects she didn't wish to get into now... but still, she owed him the truth at least.

“Yes,” she said finally, “something happened.”

“What was it?”

“That's... a very long story,” she said.

David nodded. “Is it one I should hear?”

“Maybe,” said Raven wondering the same thing, “but not tonight. And not from me.”

“Then when, and from who?”

“From all of us,” she said, “when we're ready to tell it.”

For a few seconds, David looked almost disappointed, but then he slowly nodded. “Okay...”

“Good night,” said Raven, walking to the door and sliding it open. As she stepped across the threshold however, she hesitated. “And David?” she asked, turning halfway back around to face him.

“Yeah?”

“I'm sorry. About your parents.”

David sighed. “Thanks,” he said, “but... I mean what can you do? Some people have it even worse.”

“Yes,” said Raven as she turned back to leave, conscious of the fact that David didn’t actually know how right he was, “some people do.”

The door slid shut behind Raven as she softly padded back down the silent hallway, turning everything that had just happened and been said over in her mind. No answers were forthcoming, just more questions, save for the fact that whether or not Cinderblock and company wanted something with David, or had a different agenda in mind, David didn’t appear to be their pawn, or their willing pawn at least. Of course, that much she had guessed already, and yet it had not allayed her suspicions, nor altered her gut feeling that there was something to this kid that was dangerous, beyond the obvious danger of exploding objects. That feeling remained, a deep-seated instinct that he was placing them all in danger, but she could not see how, not after tonight, not after their talk.

She arrived at her own room at last, and entered, and flopped down on the bed. Questions circled above her head, but she knew that mere meditation and pensiveness would provide no answers. Indeed she was more convinced now than ever that there were no answers to be had, merely mysteries that would reveal themselves, no doubt, in good time. In the meanwhile, Robin was on the case, and Robin was scary when he latched onto a good mystery. Her empathy had convinced her that David believed what he was saying, and even if he hadn’t said everything he could have, Raven could read enough between the lines to know what she needed to know. The incident with the bicycle had happened, yes, but it had not been the only one. She had seen it in his eyes, felt it in his mannerisms, that there was something else that he wasn’t speaking of, but she had not pressed for it. Some things were legitimately none of her business, and it wasn’t as though she had any right to get up in arms about accidents other people had had with their powers. She still felt there was a risk in this boy, a dark possibility just on the edge of her senses that she couldn’t quite place, but in the absence of any further evidence, she could no longer justify making assumptions. He hadn’t done anything to them. Not yet. There was still a risk, but now at least, she knew the risk.

… or so she thought.

But the clouds had not yet gathered, and the weather remained calm, and despite all her suspicions and warnings and instincts, as she finally drifted off to sleep, she did not actually see what was coming.

Nobody did.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-02 10:03pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 11: Of Beasts and Bombardiers


“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.”

- Arthur Golden

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6:06 PM

“Come on, concentrate!

David fought down the urge to inform Robin of the fact that yelling at him to concentrate was not helping him do so, and settled merely for a sharp glance. Something hit him in the chest and shattered, staggering him, and a loud buzzer sounded, letting him know along with the rest of the world that he had picked the wrong moment to glance away.

Robin sighed and shook his head. “You're dead,” he said. “Again.”

David doubled over, planting his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath, his eyes clenched shut. “I can't...” he managed to gasp out between breaths, “I can't... do this.”

“You got eight in a row,” said Robin, “and if you can get eight in a row you can get twenty.”

“I got eight in a row two and a half hours ago!” snapped David through clenched teeth, frustration clearly audible in his voice.

Robin crossed his arms. “And what's different now? You're tired? Cinderblock isn't going to care if you're tired, and neither am I. If you can only use your powers when you're feeling up to it, then you might as well go find him and surrender, because he's not going to let you catch your breath before he attacks.”

David had nothing to say to that, and Robin, looking insufferably smug (insofar as that was possible from behind a mask) turned to the training room controls to punch in a few more commands. “Now try again.”

The overhead lights blinked a couple times before turning green. David opened his eyes, stood up again, and tried to focus, tried to will away his thundering headache and his throbbing muscles and just concentrate on the task at hand. He turned in a slow, nervous circle, as though expecting attack from any direction, and then suddenly caught a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye. He spun around as fast as he could; extending one hand towards ceramic disk that was flying towards him from one of the three dozen launchers that were set up in a circle around him. He forced his mind to compress the energy in the disk, fought the molecules for the briefest of moments, and then snapped his fist closed like a mousetrap.

The disk exploded in mid-air, and he closed his eyes for a moment as a hail of ceramic fragments washed over him. An instant later he opened his eyes to see another disk flying straight for him, and he turned on it for a moment before blasting it to fragments as well. As the echoes died down, he heard a noise from behind him and spun around to see another disk curving towards him at waist level. Once again he extended his hand and concentrated, forcing the energy down into a compact little ball. It quivered as he pressed the molecular energy towards the breaking point and he was already preparing to turn around and ward off the next disk, when suddenly he cried out, clutching at his temple as a searing spike of pain drove straight through his temple. His concentration disintegrated instantly as the pain shot through him and the disk immediately thawed, wobbled slightly in mid-flight, and then slammed straight into his stomach, shattering as it knocked the wind out of him and doubled him over onto the ground.

Robin shook his head again as the young kineticist landed on the floor surrounded by the shattered remnants of the disks he had been destroying or attempting to destroy for the better part of three hours. As he did so, he heard a snicker from the doorway behind him.

“I could do better than that when I was nine.”

Robin turned around to see Beast Boy leaning against the doorframe, an arrogant smirk on his face. The green changeling seemed almost bemused at the scene, and strolled into the training room as though entering a stadium filled with his adoring fans. David turned his head weakly to see him enter the room, but simply could not muster the energy to make a reply, his hand still clutched to his temple as he sat on the ground and waited with clenched teeth for the pain to go away.

“We're a little busy right now, Beast Boy,” Robin said coolly, obviously expecting the order implicit in his voice to be obeyed. His expectations were not satisfied.

“Oh yeah? With what?” scoffed Beast Boy as he approached, “More of your 'training' sessions?”

There was something distinctly abrasive in Beast Boy's voice, and Robin narrowed his gaze. “Yes,” he said, “now if you'll excuse us...”

Beast Boy laughed. “Dude, what a waste of time.”

This remark brought Robin up short. “What?”

“Shooting at clay pigeons all day, like a bad guy's really gonna start throwing these at anyone,” said Beast Boy, snatching a ceramic disk out of one of the launchers. “And he can't even shoot these down.”

Robin could hear David fall silent and he knew that David had heard Beast Boy clearly. “It's power endurance training,” said Robin, “the same sort of thing we all started on, and we're right in the middle of a session now, so...”

“Started?” asked Beast Boy, “I could do this stuff before I started anything. Face it, Robin, he doesn't have what it takes to do any of this.”

Robin blinked, uncertain if he had heard Beast Boy properly. “... what?”

“You heard me,” said Beast Boy with a sneer. “He's not tough enough, Robin, and you know it. So why doesn't he just step aside and I'll show you both what a real man can do?”

Robin could scarcely believe what he was hearing. A single glance told him that David couldn't either. The kineticist was staring at Beast Boy in undisguised shock, saying nothing, not even moving.

“Beast Boy...” said Robin slowly, reduced to merely repeating himself, “we are in the middle of...”

“Oh come on, Rob,” said Beast Boy contemptuously, “you don't actually think he can do any of this do you? You heard him; he's not a superhero. Something goes wrong, what's the first thing he does? Runs off to hide behind the real heroes, just like all the other civilians.”

“You know I am sitting here, right?” said David in an even tone that sounded very forced.

Beast Boy scoffed, an incongruous look of disgust plastering itself across his green features as he turned to David. “Yeah? So? I said you don't have what it takes, and that you're weak. You got something to say about it?”

David hesitated, as if he wanted to say something back to Beast Boy but either couldn’t generate the words or couldn’t stomach speaking them. Beast Boy stared at him for a moment before laughing. “That's what I thought,” he said. He turned back to Robin, dismissing David implicitly. “C'mon Robin, let's head down to the gym. I bet I can break Cyborg's bench-press record.”

“Beast Boy,” replied Robin coldly, his eyes narrowed, “you need to leave this room, right now.”

“Oh, what?” asked Beast Boy in a mocking tone, “you don't like me talking down to your new little pet? He's not worth anyone's time. Watch.”

Beast Boy strode confidently over to the controls and re-activated them. As David watched, Beast Boy punched a few commands in, and the clay pigeon launchers revved themselves up. David stood up, the pain obviously either gone or sidelined, and he stared at Beast Boy with a look of smoldering anger that was unmistakable. “You ready?” asked Beast Boy, “or d'you want a lollipop first?”

David didn't deign to reply.

Beast Boy hit a button, and a ceramic disk was shot from one of the launchers at the side of David's head. David turned towards it and raised his hand, blasting it out of the air a second later with a satisfying “BANG”. No sooner had he done so than a second one was launched from his right, and he blew this one apart too. Beast Boy smirked and then hit the button three consecutive times, causing three different launchers to fire their disks. Beast Boy watched with a look halfway between amusement and revulsion as David, caught by surprise by the fusillade, hesitated as to which one to target first, a mistake which allowed all three to strike him dead on and shatter, staggering him, and causing the lights to turn red again and a buzzer to sound. The buzzer sounded, and David grimaced and fell to his knees, clutching his head with one hand again as the headache came back with a vengeance. Beast Boy watched all this with a look that was a cross between amusement and revulsion.

“See,” said Beast Boy, “totally pathetic. My advice? Leave the fighting to the real men.”

David glared up at Beast Boy in frustrated anger. “What... the hell... is your problem?” he asked between sharp breaths.

Beast Boy's gaze darkened and anger appeared on his face. “My problem,” he said, “is people thinking that they belong here when they don't. You think you can walk in here and in a couple of weeks, you can just learn how to do what we do? You could never be as good as me. You're too weak. You don't know anything about being like me.”

“Yeah, I'm starting to get that idea,” said David pointedly, slowly getting up off the ground. Robin was trying to figure out a way to end this without actually having to physically drag Beast Boy out of the room, when Beast Boy suddenly hit the trigger button once again. A launcher behind David fired, and unprepared as he was, the disk struck him in the back of the neck and shattered, knocking him forward onto his hands and knees. David cried out in surprise and clutched the back of his neck as he winced in pain, before raising his head at Beast Boy in a fury.

What the...?!”

Another disk smashed into his side and he was knocked over onto the ground. “You can't even beat a bunch of clay pigeons, and you think you're gonna be able to beat someone like me?!” snarled Beast Boy, an unusually feral tone in his voice. “Just admit it, you don't have what it takes.”

FOR WHAT?!” screamed David back at Beast Boy, but Beast Boy just scoffed and hit the button again, sending another clay disk flying at David, this time hitting him in the shoulder as he tried to stand up.

That's enough!” shouted Robin in a commanding tone, stepping in to shut the training program down. Beast Boy blocked his access.

“You're the one always saying that we've always gotta be ready to keep fighting no matter what, Robin,” spat Beast Boy, a glint in his eye that Robin had never even imagined before. “Isn't that right? We all need to learn how to take hits and keep going, right? Just like this?”

To Robin's horror, Beast Boy slammed his hand down on the trigger button hard enough to shake the control panel and held it down, causing all three dozen launchers began firing in automatic mode. David let out a shout of alarm before a hail of ceramic plates smashed into him from every direction and knocked him sprawling to the ground. Beast Boy's features twisted into a leering grin, as though he were relishing the sight of the young kineticist lying utterly spent on the ground, beaten down by a hail of clay. Robin did not hesitate further.

“I said that's ENOUGH!” bellowed Robin and he shoved Beast Boy aside before flipping the off switch on the control panel and causing all of the launchers to lower back into the floor. David slowly emerged from a mountain of clay fragments, moaning softly and clutching his head, as Robin furiously rounded on Beast Boy.

“Oh, what?” said Beast Boy with an attitude a mile wide, “so he gets special treatment now? You save your hard-ass routine for me and treat him with kid gloves, is that it?!”

“I don't know what this attitude of yours is,” said Robin, “but I'm not having any more of it! Get out of here right now, and don't come back unless I tell you to!”

Robin saw a second's hesitation in Beast Boy's eyes, and it worried him more than anything he had yet seen. Beast Boy was actually trying to decide if he should disobey a direct order, or back down and leave. In the end, after a moment's indecision, he decided on the latter, not without the need to save face of course.

“Pft,” scoffed Beast Boy, “whatever, dude. I've got better things to do than hang out with a couple of losers. Call me when you need something important done.” And with that, the green changeling spun around and strolled out of the training room, as though he had just finished effortlessly defeating an entire posse of criminals. The door slid shut behind him, and everything was quiet once again.

Robin stood staring at the door that Beast Boy had left through for some time, unable to understand what had just transpired. Behind him, he heard David slowly climbing back to his feet. He turned around, and found David leaning against the wall next to the smashed remains of dozens and dozens of clay disks, his eyes downcast, mostly from pure fatigue... but not entirely.

“You... you want me to... try it again?” offered David, looking up at Robin almost furtively.

Robin said nothing for a moment, lost in his own thoughts. “No,” he said finally, “we're done for today.”

David did not reply immediately, and when he did, it was wordless, merely an exhausted and slightly disappointed nod. He shook some of the clay fragments off of himself, and trudged slowly towards the door, looking so deflated that Robin ventured an excuse.

“Look,” he said, “Beast Boy's been acting really weird lately,” he said. That much was certainly true. “Don't... worry about what he said. I'll talk to him.”

“It's all right,” said David unconvincingly, “I'm just gonna...” He trailed off without finishing his sentence, almost as if speaking was too great an effort right now. With a soft sigh, David half-walked, half-stumbled to the entrance to the training room and exited, whatever thoughts he had on what had just happened buried and hidden partly by design, but mostly from sheer mind-numbing fatigue, leaving Robin alone in the training room to consider what in the world had just happened.

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10:53 PM

“Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen please, if I could just make a statement? Ladies and gentlemen...”

The press conference was thinly organized anarchy, the reporters from seven different local networks and two dozen print publications all shouting questions at the same time, while the bespectacled man at the podium stood before them all, the bright lights of the TV cameras shining in his eyes, unable to get a word in edgewise. Even through the impersonal barrier of the television screen, David felt sorry for the man who had to stand there and take such treatment, unable to respond to the flying accusations and loaded questions being hurled his way.

“Why was the public not informed that this facility was being constructed in Jump City?”

“Do you have any comment on the allegations that the Justice Department is presently investigating Axis Chemicals for criminal money laundering activities associated with South American drug cartels?”

“Is it true that the assailant claimed to be acting on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front, and was attempting to free the test animals imprisoned in the facility?”

The harried mayoral press secretary could do no more than continue to urge the reporters to remain calm, an urging that they all resolutely ignored. This went on for several minutes, before finally a large dark-skinned man wearing a Jump City police officer's dress uniform and a scowl that could have sunk a small boat walked onto the stage from the left side, allowing the press secretary to beat a hasty retreat. The man stared down at the assembled press corps as though he were inspecting a particularly loathsome species of mildew, and as quiet slowly fell over the room, he addressed them in an authoritative, even tone that brooked no argument whatsoever.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said as though begrudging them the term, “here is what we know.

“At approximately eleven PM last night, an intruder broke into the Axis Chemicals research and testing laboratory complex in the Ortega Hills district of Jump City. Before being subdued by the intruder, the security guards on-site tripped a silent alarm that alerted the police, emergency services, and, of course, the Teen Titans to the break-in. As this complex contained highly valuable and potentially dangerous equipment, and as all signs pointed to a meta-human assault, the Teen Titans were requested to handle the situation. I'm happy to report that they overcame and captured the intruder with a minimum of collateral damage.”

Whatever his words, the Police chief did not look happy to report anything, though perhaps his aggravation was due to his having to undergo this press conference. With a resigned groan, he asked for questions, and the press corps erupted once again.

“Chief Brown,” asked a reporter from the Jump City Tribune, “do you have any comment on reports that the Jump City Fire Department Hazardous Materials team was ordered to the complex shortly after the incident in question?”

“Axis informed us that bio-pharmaceutical compounds, pesticides, and other chemicals were being produced in the complex, and that if spilled, these might pose a public health risk. We took all precautions to make sure that no such risk materialized.”

“Chief Brown,” called out a TV reporter, “what of the allegations that Axis Chemicals has ties to organized crime syndicates in Gotham City?”

“We're a long way from Gotham here, people,” said the chief. “Go ask the FBI if you want to know about that.”

“Chief,” asked a woman in the back row, shouting over the others to be heard, “my readers would like to know how the Jump City Police Department justifies sending children into an admittedly hazardous area filled with unknown intruders and dangerous...”

“We all know the answer to that,” said the chief of police with clear impatience. “They're superheroes. I'm not here to repeat the obvious. Go fill your tabloid with something else.”

“Well then can we speak to the Teen Titans?!” insisted the reporter over the laughter and din of the others clamoring to ask their questions.

“You know the drill,” said the chief, “send a request in for an interview. But I don't think they'll agree to talk to the Enquirer after your stunt last month...”

“That was an vitally important in-depth study of the potential for abuses of power in the meta-human...!”

“Sexual slavery at Titans Tower?” quoted the police chief. “You're damn lucky they didn't go after you for libel. Next question!”

The press conference continued with more of the same, and David zoned out, what little interest he had in such proceedings overwhelmed by how bad he felt. His entire body ached, his head throbbing mercilessly with a steady rhythmic pulse that would not go away no matter what he took for it. It hurt so badly that despite how exhausted he was, he couldn't even come close to sleeping, and so all he could do was lay on the couch in the tower's common room, occasionally paying what attention he could to the television, which wasn't much, which gave him plenty of time to feel sorry for himself.

He hadn't seen Robin or Beast Boy since the end of the training session that afternoon, nor for that matter had he seen anyone else, in fact he had avoided running into them as much as possible. His head was still spinning after the confrontation with Beast Boy. What Beast Boy had said, what he had done... he couldn't make sense of any of it. All he knew was that Beast Boy had been angry. Angrier than David had ever seen. Angry enough to even give Robin pause. Angry with him.

Why?

David didn't know what was more frustrating, knowing that he had somehow done wrong by Beast Boy, or not knowing how. Raven had been one thing. Suspicious, private, dark, and mysterious, Raven had, if not resented his presence, at least not gone out of her way to be friendly, but after a long and difficult and sometimes bitter conversation, accompanied by him spilling his guts, he considered that even if things between them weren't exactly happy, they were at least cordial, a major improvement as far as he was concerned. Beast Boy on the other hand had been 100 outgoing and friendly, literally since day one, to the point where David needed to actually take a break from his company at times, lest he lose his mind. Beast Boy, along with Cyborg, had managed to make his time here at the Tower seem less like an unending succession of unimaginable terrors (not that there weren't some of those anyhow), and more like a particularly weird sort of extended vacation (the fact that he hadn't had to return to school since the attack on the center certainly didn't hurt). One of the reasons he had decided to leave in the first place was that he hated feeling like the anchor around everyone's neck, the sixth wheel that was disturbing the strange, indescribable thing that these five superheroes had, and after Cinderblock's second attack, Beast Boy had gone out of his way even more to make David feel welcome, to the point where he had managed to stop worrying about it so much...

... and now he had screwed it all up somehow.

Was it something he had said? Done? Did it have something to do with what Raven had been alluding to during their conversation, some trauma or catastrophe in Beast Boy's recent past that he had inadvertently tread on? He didn't know. Raven hadn't been willing to tell him, and he hadn't dared ask Beast Boy or any of the others about it. He had no answers for the questions that pounded in his head with the same regular drumming beat as his headache. All he knew was that he felt more than ever like he was intruding on the Titans' lives, violating their sanctuary and their home by staying here, only this time leaving wasn't an option. Cinderblock was still out there waiting, and so all he could do was sit here and curse himself for this state of affairs, for being so dependant on the Titans' generosity and patience, because the alternative was to invite another public assault that would get more innocent people killed.

Lying motionless on the couch, David found that he was getting drowsy despite himself. The pounding headache was slowly beginning to ebb, and his eyelids were becoming heavy. Weakly, he reached up for the remote control and switched the television off, and yawned before closing his eyes and slowly drifting off to...

“Didn't you see what he did to my chest plate?”

Cyborg's voice was loud enough to be heard through the closed door to the common room, and roused David from his slumber. A second later, David heard the door slide open, and two sets of footsteps walk in. One was too heavy to be anything but Cyborg's. The sound of metal soles on metal floor told David the other belonged to Robin.

“Over a game?” asked Robin's voice incredulously, though David could see neither Titan, due to the couch facing away from them.

“Yeah man, we were just playin' a round of Ninja Racer, and I won. Next thing I know out comes these claws and he tears the top layer of my armor up like wrapping paper, then storms off like I just called him somethin'. It was weird. I never seen him like that before.”

“He's had a bad attitude all day,” said Robin, who sounded about ready to punch something, “but that's completely over the line. First he slashes you, then he explodes at David, and now he threatens Raven...”

“Somebody better talk to him, man.”

“I'm gonna give him a chance to cool down and apologize,” said Robin, his voice making it clear that he was only grudgingly doing so. “But I'm not putting up with this sort of thing from him any more. If he won't quit it...” he let the sentence finish itself.

“Whoa, hold on man, you don't mean...”

“It’s totally unacceptable what he did, no matter how upset he feels. I won't allow anyone on this team to act like that. Period.”

David clenched his teeth as he divined what Robin was talking about, and he cursed himself again silently. Had he made Beast Boy that angry?! He couldn't imagine what else could have gotten into the normally exuberant green changeling, and he had a sickening feeling in his stomach that he had somehow brought this about.

“Look, let's just give him a little while, and then maybe someone else should talk to him, eh?” said Cyborg.

“This is my team,” said Robin pointedly, “and it's my responsibility to keep everyone on it in line.”

“Fine,” said Cyborg, “but you know how you can get man, when someone pisses you off, so why don't we let just let Starfire or someone else talk to him first, see if we can't calm him down?”

“He already upset Star,” said Robin, with an edge to his voice that made it clear just how bad a mistake that was in his book. “He tried to order her around like she was his servant or slave!”

“Whoa, back off, Lancelot,” said Cyborg as Robin was clearly working himself up into a righteous fury of his own. “Star's a big girl, she can handle Beast Boy being a jerk. Besides, we both know she couldn't hold a grudge with both hands. Once she's calmed down, why don't you let me and her take a crack at Beast Boy, and see if we can't talk him out of this crap before you read him the riot act, okay?”

Robin groaned audibly, still very clearly aggravated at Beast Boy. “Fine,” he said. “But let him know that I'm not going to let...”

He was cut off by a roar.

A low, unearthly, howling sound reverberated through the tower from somewhere below, stopping Robin in mid-sentence, rattling the windowpanes of the common room. David's eyes flew open wide, all thoughts of sleep or self-recrimination driven instantly from his mind as the roar sent chills running down his spine. Frozen in place on the couch, he could not see what Cyborg and Robin were doing, but it wasn’t hard to guess that they too had been taken by surprise by the horrible sound that had emerged from Lord-knew-where. As it died, the common room was silent for a short time, before Cyborg broke it with the obvious question.

“What the hell was that?!”

He was answered, not by another roar, but by a crashing sound as something caved in beneath them. Snarls and growls could be heard, and then suddenly a loud, fearful cry which couldn't possibly be anyone but...

“Raven!” shouted Robin, and in an instant he was off, racing through the door to the common room towards the source of the disturbance, with Cyborg hot on his heels. David, still laying half-petrified on the couch, lifted his head as they ran off. For a moment he hesitated, not sure if he should obey his first instinct, which was to dive underneath the couch and hope nobody found him. With difficulty, he managed to suppress the urge to hide, and after another second's pause, he scrambled off the couch and ran after the two Titans, figuring that whatever was going on, he was safer around them than he was by himself. Images of the gargantuan black dragon that had nearly fried him not long ago shot through his head and he forced them aside as he ran for the stairs and vaulted down them three at a time, landing in a heap on the floor below and sprinting down the hallway towards where he could hear sounds.

He rounded the corner to see Starfire, Robin, and Cyborg standing in front of Beast Boy's room, the door to which had been ripped from its rails and cast into the hallway. He approached quickly, the others taking no notice of him, then stopped and gasped. Beast Boy's room looked as though a bomb had been detonated within it. Furniture, toys, comic books, clothes, and everything else had been ripped to shreds and flung about the room as if hurled by a giant centrifuge. The walls were covered in dents and claw marks, steel torn into ribbons and hanging from the ceiling in lace-like patterns. The window was wide open, having been smashed to bits and blown out of the tower.

“What happened?” asked Robin in shock, speaking for everyone present. All three Titans entered the room and approached the shattered window. David followed, gingerly placing his hands on the windowsill and sticking his head out of the open portal. He looked down the side of the tower, only to see that there were claw marks gouged into the exterior of the tower as well, as though King Kong had paid them all a visit. There was no sign of Raven or Beast Boy. He pulled his head back inside and turned around to see all three remaining Titans conferring.

“I fear that the shout of anguish belonged to Friend Raven!” exclaimed Starfire. “We must locate her and Friend Beast Boy at once!”

“They're not in the Tower,” said Cyborg, pressing a few buttons on his arm. “We're gonna have to look for them.”

“But they could be anywhere within the city!” replied Starfire in horror. “How are we to discover their whereabouts?!”

“We'll split up, each cover a different sector,” said Robin tersely. “Stay in contact by communicator and scour the city until we find them.”

“It's a big city,” said Cyborg, “and we're down two people. It'll take us a week to search the whole thing. How we gonna find them if we don't know where to start?”

“We're just going to have to work quickly,” said Robin. “Standing around here won’t solve anything. Starfire will search from the air while Cyborg and I take the T-car and the R-cycle. As soon as any of us find anything, we’ll all vector in and try and track them by sensors. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to it.”

“Wait.”

All three Titans stopped and turned to David, who was still standing inside Beast Boy’s room. David’s eyes were lowered, his fists clenched at his sides, looking like he couldn’t quite believe he was saying this. He took a ragged, nervous breath, and then raised his eyes to meet the others’ gazes and spoke quietly.

“I’ll go.”

For a second, none of the others responded or even gave an indication that they had understood. Robin was the first to wake up.

“What are you talking about?”

“There’s… only three of you, and you’ve got the whole city to search, right?” He exhaled softly, trying to breathe the apprehension out of himself. “So let me help. I can look for Raven and Beast Boy just as well as you guys can.”

The expressions on the Titans faces clearly indicated that they had not even considered such a thing before. Indeed neither had David up until a second ago. He wasn’t even sure why he was suggesting it now, but there it was...

“I dunno man…” said Cyborg hesitantly. “I mean you can see what happened here, right? We find Raven and Beast Boy, we might have to mix it up with whatever did this. No offence or nothin’, but I don’t think you’re up for something like…”

“I… I know…” said David quickly. “But… I mean we’re just trying to find them right? I can do that much. If I find anything, I can just call you guys and let you handle whatever did this, can’t I?”

Cyborg fell silent, turning the idea over in his head. Robin however had quickly made his mind up.

“Thank you for the offer,” he said in an authoritative tone, “but we can’t let you take that kind of risk.”

“Robin,” said Starfire gently, “it… would accelerate the searching process to employ four rather than three,” said Starfire. “And time is of the essence…”

“It’s too much of a risk,” said Robin flatly. “If Cinderblock or someone else is still watching for him to leave the Tower, they might take this opportunity to try something. If David leaves here and someone attacks him while we’re short two Titans and spread all over the city, we won’t be able to help effectively. He could easily get killed.”

A heavy lump settled in the pit of David’s stomach as Robin said that. Cyborg however ventured to question the decision.

“It’s worth a little risk to find Raven and BB,” said Cyborg, “and it’s not like we can just lock him up here forever because someone might be watching him. If he wants to go…”

“No,” said Robin, clearly prepared to tolerate no further discussion of the matter, and turning back to David. “We appreciate the gesture, but this isn’t the time to gamble on whether or not Cinderblock or whoever still has you under surveillance. Trust me, it’s much too dangerous.”

The others fell silent, and David gulped down his apprehension and nodded. Inwardly, he felt relieved. Everything Robin had said about Cinderblock had been running through his head like some kind of prediction, and he had already been dreading going out there into the city and meeting with Cinderblock in a dark alley, or worse yet, the agent of this catastrophe.

With the matter settled, Robin turned to the others. “Let’s get out there and find Raven and Beast Boy!” he said, his voice controlled and commanding. Cyborg and Starfire raced off towards the elevator. Robin hesitated only long enough to turn back to David and give him some quick instructions.

“If you want to help,” said Robin, “set up the medical bay down in the basement to receive injured… just in case.” And then the boy wonder was gone, racing after the other two Titans, leaving David alone in the hallway.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

12:37 AM

The medical bay was as silent as a tomb, and had lighting to match, or so David thought; a vast dark expanse that served as garage, workshop, and medical recovery facility all in one, presently illuminated only by a glowing blue fluorescent bulb suspended from the ceiling, casting a pale light over the corner of the garage wherein Cyborg had set up the medical machines, all of which were now humming softly, ready for whatever might be needed of them.

If only David could have said the same.

Since waking up in Titans Tower all those weeks ago, he had not yet returned to the medical bay, despite spending much of his time in Cyborg’s adjacent workshop. It had not improved in atmosphere in his absence. The air was cold and felt slightly damp, more like a cave than a basement, and despite the jacket he was wearing, he shivered as he paced back and forth within the small circle of light cast by the overhead bulb. The garage of course had lights all over, but David wasn’t entirely sure where the switch was for them, nor was he entirely sure he wanted to see what else was concealed within these cavernous depths.

It was that kind of night.

He felt anxious, restless, nervous, all at the same time, and he could not understand why. For more than an hour he had been down here pacing and staring at the clock, waiting for one or all of the Titans to roll back into the Tower. Thus far, there had been no sign of them. He knew that he should be trying to sleep. It was well past midnight after all, and he was deathly tired after the “session” today, but he knew he couldn’t sleep. Not tonight.

He rubbed his eyes with one hand, trying to calm himself down. Why was he so worked up? Yes, something very strange was happening, but that was hardly new, and the Titans were on it as usual. This was not the first or even the twelfth time that they had left him alone in the Tower while they raced off to combat some malevolent criminal or greater hell-beast, and those times he had had no trouble whatsoever waiting patiently for them to return, confident that they would have all manner of tales to tell him of their latest victory against all odds.

So why not this time?

The situation was bad, worse than usual, but it wasn’t like he didn’t trust that the Titans could handle it, was it? Of course not. They were the Teen Titans, and for weeks now he had been discovering just what that meant. And even if he had been worried that they might be in trouble, what exactly was he supposed to do about it? If Robin and Cyborg and Starfire couldn’t find their missing comrades-in-arms or defeat whatever the agent of this weird situation was, then how could he hope to alter the equation in their favor? Robin was the unflappable detective, Starfire was the alien princess, Cyborg was the unstoppable warrior, not him. Best to stay here where it was reasonably safe.

He paused in the middle of his pacing and shook his head. Why in the hell was he still thinking about this?

“One-track-mind…” he whispered to himself, shaking his head, and he glanced up at the clock again. Ten minutes to one in the morning. He really needed to try and get some sleep. And yet at the same time as he thought that, he resumed pacing, his own footfalls the only sound in the tomb-like silence of the garage level.

Minutes ticked past like hours as he walked back and forth, back and forth, trying to assure himself that everything was all right, trying to believe that he was getting worked up for nothing, trying to remind himself that he normally didn’t act like this, and trying to figure out why he was. Certainly he was worried about Beast Boy and Raven, but Beast Boy and Raven were practically demigods in terms of their power. There was no cause for overt alarm, especially not since three other demigods were right now tearing the city apart looking for them (figuratively speaking he hoped). So why did he feel like, by staying here, doing what he normally did, letting the Titans handle what they were best suited to handle, why did this feel like he was doing something wrong.

And the answer came back, because he was.

He shook his head violently as though to fling the thought from his mind, but there it sat, impervious. ‘The Titans saved your life’, it went, ‘and now two of them are in trouble, and what do you do? You hide in a basement.’

“That’s not true!” he said aloud to nobody in particular, his voice echoing through the empty halls, and no sooner had he done so than he realized that he was talking to himself. He was clearly more tired than he thought.

‘It is true,’ ran his thoughts. ‘Hiding here, waiting for others to take care of it.’

But Robin had told him to stay. He had offered to help for God’s sake and Robin had told him to stay right here!

‘Which gives you a perfect excuse to do nothing.’

It wasn’t an excuse! It made sense! He was a civilian, not a superhero! This was a job for superheroes!

‘This is a job for people with eyes and ears’, returned his own thoughts, ‘and you have both. Raven saved your life on the roof that day with the dragon. Beast Boy welcomed you into the tower with open arms, supported you through the training and the attacks, and now they’re both in trouble and you won’t lift a finger. No wonder he finally got frustrated with you. He was right; you don’t have what it takes.’

What what takes?!

‘What it takes to be like them.’

“I’m not like them!” he shouted suddenly.

The cavernous basement and garage reflected his voice around back to him in a cacophony of sound. David rubbed his eyes and clenched his fists as the echo faded away. This was insane. He could not actually be considering doing this, could he? And yet the more he asked himself that question, the stronger the voice in his head became.

‘You’re damn right you’re not like them,’ it said. ‘You saw what they do when the chips are down. You saw the way they act. You don’t have the guts to be like them.’

But they had superpowers! They were super-human!

And what the hell do you think you are?!

That one stopped him short.

He stared into the darkness of the Tower basement for a time, not moving, barely even breathing, and as he did so, he felt as though a great abyss was opening up before him, that he was standing on the edge of it, that he was afraid he was about to fall into it and plunge down into the unknown dark, and never return. It was the same dizzying feeling that he had felt that night after the Dragon incident, only this time, instead of recoiling from the abyss, fearfully running lest he fall in, he felt like the abyss was calling to him, like it was demanding he turn around and jump into the darkness, come what may.

He shook himself out of the metaphorical imagery, and sat down on the side of the bed, shaking his head as he tried to make sense of the mental labyrinth he was lost in. What the hell did he think he was? He didn’t know what he was, or who he was, or anything else. It wasn’t blindness. He knew he was a “meta-human”, but even thinking that term caused him to wince and shy away from it. Not that there was anything wrong with being a meta-human, far from it, but it seemed ridiculous, almost arrogant, to name himself such a thing, merely because he could detonate something. Meta-humans were larger than life. They were demigods, superheroes, giants among insects. To think of himself as a meta-human, was to place himself in the same category as the Titans, and he couldn’t do that. He knew he couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be right.

He sighed. Ever since he had come to this place, everything had become so complicated…

The thought emerged, a quote he had heard somewhere. ‘Life is only as complicated as you let it get.’

He couldn’t see how that was though. Robin had told him to stay here, and leaving carried so many risks.

You make a decision, you stand by it, and you take the consequences,’ came the reply from within his own mind. ‘Do what you think you should,’

But this wasn’t a question of deciding what to eat for lunch. He could die. Worse yet others could die, just because he chose to leave the Tower. It had happened before. It could happen again. And if it did, he couldn’t stop it. He wasn’t strong enough to prevent the deaths that he might cause just by stepping outside. What right did he have to...

“No.”

David closed his eyes and shook his head forcing his mind to clear. It wasn't about 'rights'. It was about Beast Boy and Raven, and also Starfire and Cyborg and Robin. It was about the Titans, and about himself, and what they had done for him. It was about two missing Superheroes, and their three friends, who right this instant were scouring the city looking for them. It was about David himself, and what he could do or not do to help find them. Pride, hubris, superheroism, none of these things mattered in the end. What mattered were the five people that had taken a big risk helping David, a risk that was clearly greater than David had realized at first. He had made enemies somehow, powerful, terrible enemies, and they had made those enemies their own, on his behalf. He had carried within him a threat of some kind, amorphous and terrible, and they had accepted it regardless. He was nobody, an unknown in the literal sense. They had done all this for him.

And now two of them were missing.

And then, all of a sudden, all the agonizing confusion and chaos evaporated like steam, and in its place was a the calming realization that for the first time in ages... perhaps the first time ever, David knew exactly what he had to try to do.

Not what he had to do, what he had to try to do. He wasn't a hero, he was a normal kid with an abnormal ability. There was an important difference. Heroes succeeded at these sorts of things. Normal kids merely tried to.

But sometimes trying was enough.

And there was only one way to find out if this was one of those times...

He stood up from where he had been sitting and took a long, slow breath, opening his eyes as he exhaled, watching the steam from his breath spiral up into the cold air and vanish, altering his own perception so as to watch the molecules of water vapor spin and dance among those of the nitrogen and oxygen that surrounded them before they finally became too diffuse to detect anymore. And then, after turning to glance at the clock one last time and to whisper a silent prayer that he not wind up walking into certain and painful death, David raced off into the darkness of the garage, looking for an object he had seen down here many times, but had never once imagined in his life that he would use...

... much less steal.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1:44 AM

The city was quiet, quieter than he had ever heard it.

Not that this was surprising, given that in all his time here he'd been out in Jump City itself only for a matter of hours here and there, and that those hours had chiefly been occupied in being assaulted by animated concrete monoliths. That there were no such monoliths attacking him right now was a fact he was infinitely grateful for, not that he wasn't still watching. Cinderblock had been rather roughly handled by the Titans as well as by David himself last time they met, but that didn't mean that he wouldn't return for more at some point. David just hoped this wasn't that point.

He sped down the deserted streets quietly, the only sound the rustling of leaves and discarded papers in the wind, and the soft clicking of the spokes of the bicycle he had “borrowed” from the Tower basement. It was a beautiful bike, twenty-four speeds, with adjustable handlebars and seat built around a titanium frame painted fire-engine red with the Teen Titans logo emblazoned on the wheelguards. David wasn't certain who it belonged to, though his guess was that it was Robin's. Starfire and Raven could both fly, and the bike didn't look or feel like a girl's. Cyborg was too large to fit on a normal bicycle, and while he couldn't rule out Beast Boy, the color scheme just seemed to fit Robin better. It even resembled Robin's motorcycle.

He hoped Robin wouldn't mind that he had borrowed it.

In fact, as the minutes ticked by, he hoped a lot of things. For example, he hoped that by the time he found any sign of Beast Boy or Raven, he would have figured out just how he was going to contact the other three Titans. He knew that the Titans had those hand-held communicator things (he had thought that they looked like something out of Star Trek), which they could use to talk to one another, but he didn't know where they had gotten them. His suspicion was that Cyborg had built them as they didn't exactly look like they were out of a catalog. Either way, he didn't have one, so he would have to hope that either Raven's or Beast Boy's were still intact, or else he'd have to rely on the old fashioned method of making enough noise to attract someone's attention. Given his own abilities, that at least wouldn't be a problem. People tended to notice explosions.

Of course it was entirely possible that the others had already found Beast Boy and Raven and were now back at the Tower wondering where the hell he had gotten to (or, he had to admit, not wondering that at all). Even if they had not, it was very likely that they would find signs of Raven or Beast Boy before he did, if only because they knew this city like the back of their hands, and he was reduced to searching semi-randomly through the darkened and deserted streets. Fortunately it was impossible for him to get truly lost. Titans' Tower served as an admirable reference point, being visible from largely anywhere in the city. At any rate, having left the Tower, he now had plenty of time to consider all the wonderful reasons why this was a stupid plan. But to each of them he had the same answer. Even if the others were perfectly capable of finding their lost teammates, four sets of eyes were still better than three, no matter how superior the other three happened to be.

It was a big city.

He pedalled along quietly, looking left and right at the closed shops and the deserted office buildings, at the flickering streetlights and the illuminated billboards. Nobody was about at this hour, save the occasional drunk or homeless, as well as the police in their black and white squad cars making the midnight rounds. He avoided all of them, sliding into shadows whenever a car passed by, largely unconsciously. He wasn't supposed to be here. He wasn't even supposed to be alive. Robin had deemed it an unacceptable risk for him to be out by himself, and he wanted no accidents to complicate things. The cops saw only a figure on a bicycle, if they saw anything at all. David was pretty good at not getting noticed.

He rode up and down hills, past skyscrapers, apartment houses, and factories. He moved randomly, looking for any sign, any indication that the Titans had passed this way. Once, just once, he reached the top of a ridge and thought what he saw the T-car racing past an intersection down below him in what looked like an industrial part of the city and vanishing into the labyrinth of streets beyond. That meant that the others were still out searching and hadn't found out that he was gone yet. It also meant that they had yet to turn anything up.

A half hour passed as he pressed on doggedly, looking for any sign, a claw mark, a scrap of indigo cloth, a green animal darting about, and finding nothing. Every minute he continued to search, he became more and more convinced that he had made a terrible mistake coming out here. At this rate he was about as likely to find the Loch Ness Monster as he was Beast Boy or Raven. He was exhausted, freezing, and highly conscious of the fact that once the other Titans noticed he had left the Tower after being told to stay put... well he wasn't sure what that discussion was going to look like, but he had a feeling it was going to be neither pleasant nor calm. From a certain perspective, he was putting the entire city in danger just being out here. No doubt that was what Robin was going to say.

He was on the point in fact of turning around and making his way back to the Tower as best he could, when he heard something.

He wasn't sure what he had heard. It sounded like shout or a cry of some sort, but soft, and reasonably nearby. Instantly all of his dire predictions of what the future was going to look like flew out of his head, and he clenched the handle-break on the bicycle and skidded to a stop. He cocked his head, listening for the source of the disturbance, but heard nothing save the wind. For several seconds he waited, wondering if he had mis-heard it, or if it was the sound of someone's television, when he heard a hollow “Clang” as something struck metal nearby, followed by another series of muffled shouts. David felt his heart starting to beat faster. The shouts were definitely distressed, and sounded like a girl's voice, somewhat higher pitched than anything he had heard out of Raven, but then he had never heard Raven crying out like that before, save once earlier tonight. Either way, this was the first thing he had come across out of the ordinary, and so he quickly dismounted the bicycle, leaving it leaning against a wall, and quietly ran towards an alleyway that seemed to be the source of the sound.

The alley was choked with garbage cans, dumpsters, and other urban debris, and David slowly made his way down it, apprehension building inside him. More than ever now, he wished he had some way to contact the Titans, but there was nothing to be done for that now. He reached a corner, turned it, and ducked behind a large pile of garbage bags, peaking out at two figures standing some dozen yards ahead. One was a man, large, hulking, holding a lead pipe in one hand as he loomed over the second figure, a blond teenaged girl who looked a year or two older than David, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, and who was backed up against a metal dumpster by the man. The man swayed side to side slowly as if intoxicated, and slurred his words as he sneered at the girl.

“Whadayamean you don't want to?” said the man. “That ain't no way to talk to me!”

“I said get away from me you creep!” said the girl, as she glanced left and right, looking for an exit. There wasn't one that wasn't blocked by the man in question, and before she could do anything, the man reached out with one hand and grabbed her sweatshirt, nearly hoisting her off the ground as he lowered his head towards her.

“Missy,” he said, and even at distance David could smell the alcohol on his breath as he did, “you and I are gonna have some fun. And if you don't play nice, I'm gonna beat your skull in with this pipe. Got it?”

“Let go of me!” shouted the girl, and she tried to shake free, but the man merely laughed and grabbed her by the hair, yanking her nearly off her feet as he shoved up up against the opposite wall.

“What if I don't?” said the man. “You gonna scream?” He hoisted the pipe and laughed. “Nobody here to hear you, you little bitch. It's just the two of us...”

Unfortunately for the man's intended recreation, it was not in fact just the two of them... a fact made clear a moment later when the lead pipe in his hand spontaneously blew up.

The pipe burst into a thousand pieces as though it had been crammed full of explosives, and the man let out a hellacious shriek as splinters of rusty metal dug into his hand. He flung the stump of the pipe down onto the ground and grabbed at his maimed hand, screaming bloody murder, hopping up and down as drops of blood splattered over the alley walls and the ground. The girl slid back from the sight as the man tripped and fell against the concrete alley floor, writhing and shouting as though he was being killed, and promising all manner of painful death to the girl, who took the opportunity to break for the alley's entrance. As she ran, the man lunged forward and grabbed her ankle, tripping her up and knocking her sprawling to the ground. With an angry shout, the man crawled towards her as she rolled over onto her back and tried to scramble away.

And that's when the sidewalk exploded.

A section of the concrete floor of the alleyway blew upwards like a landmine, the blast catching the man straight under his stomach and knocking him into the air a full foot before dropping him back onto the ground. The blow was like a punch to the chest from a pneumatic drill, and the man gasped as the wind was knocked out of his lungs. He made no further attempt to get up, and merely lay moaning on the ground as though beaten with a sledgehammer. The girl slowly moved back from the man, clearly (and understandably) surprised by what had just happened, and got up slowly, glancing around in all directions for the source of the eruptions that had disabled her assailant.

David remained crouched behind the trash bags, peering over them to see the scene, his hand held rigid at his side as he slowly exhaled and tried to stop trembling. Though he had been using his powers on a more or less daily basis for some time now, this was not a training exercise, and that man was not a pop-up target. What surprised him the most though was how... natural it had felt to use them. Whereas previously it had taken a threat the scale of Cinderblock or a collapsing building to galvanize his attention long enough to use his powers free of doubt or hesitation, this time... this time he had just started detonating without even really stopping to think about it. He supposed it was force of habit, and... well... it wasn't like he regretted it. That man had deserved far worse after all. Still, he realized that it was high time to leave this place before the girl realized what had happened.

Quietly he backed away from the trash bags, making as little noise as he could as he snuck back towards the entrance to the alleyway. He walked carefully to avoid attracting attention, intending simply to get back on the bicycle and get the hell out of here.

“Hey! Wait!”

David froze in mid-step, and no sooner had he done so than he realized he shouldn't have. He should have kept going, jumped onto the bike and pedalled away. It was however too late. He could hear footsteps behind him, and sure enough, when he turned around, the girl was standing a dozen feet behind him, her blond hair covered in grime from the fall she had taken, but otherwise apparently all right. She looked remarkably collected given the circumstances, though there was a fair bit of surprise on her face as she got right to the point.

“Did you just do all that?”

David found himself tongue-tied. Of course he nearly always wound up tongue-tied around girls, but this was a little different. “I...” he said. “I... um...” His hesitation seemed to answer the question for her, and she stepped forward into the light so as to get a better look.

“Hey, I know you!” she said.

This one threw him for a loop. “What?” he asked. “You... do?”

“You're that boy from the TV,” she said, “The one from the news a few weeks ago? When that big concrete monster attacked the waterfront?”

David blinked stupidly. He had no idea that any of that had been caught on television. But then he supposed it had been a fairly public spectacle.

“It is you,” exclaimed the girl, and she smiled and stepped forward, as he continued to stand there searching for words. She looked him over as though not sure what to expect. “Are you... like a superhero or something?”

“No!” exclaimed David sharply. He quickly shook his head and tried to force some sense through his mouth. “I mean... I'm... I'm sorry are... are you all right?”

“I am now,” said the girl with another warm smile. “So it was you back there? You made the pipe break?”

For an instant, he considered denying it, but it was plain that the girl already knew the answer to the question. “Y... yeah,” he said and he felt himself blushing as he lowered his head slightly. She seemed to take it stride.

“Well thank you,” she said, “I don't want to know what that creep was gonna...” She let that sentence drop as she noticed his embarrassment. “Hey, are you okay?” she asked.

“What? Oh... no. No, I'm fine,” he said. “I just... this... this has been a really weird night, and... I'm sorry...”

She laughed, and David reflected for a second on how stupid he was sounding. “You saved me from that guy,” she said. “Shouldn't I be the one who's nervous?”

Despite his own awkwardness, David couldn't help but chuckle at that. “It's... the first time for me too,” he said, shaking his head and blushing beet red. “Like I said I'm not a...”

“Not a superhero, right,” said the girl. “So what's your name?”

“David,” he said. “My name's David.”

She smiled again. “Well thank you, David, for saving me from that drunk.” She extended her hand towards him and a moment later he shook it gently. “I'm Carrie.”

“Carrie,” David repeated, taking the chance to look her over up close. She was definitely older than he was by at least a year or so, and taller as well, almost rail-thin, with long blonde hair and blue-grey eyes. Her heavy black sweatshirt, emblazoned with some kind of cartoonish school mascot seemed to hang off of her body, as though several sizes too big for her.

“It's good to meet you, David,” said Carrie, “but if you're not a superhero, then what are you doing out here? And how did you do all that stuff?”

“I'm... actually looking for some people,” said David, shaken back into reality by her questions, and choosing to dodge the latter of the two.

“Out here?” asked Carrie, rather surprised. “Who are you looking for?”

There was no point in lying. “Do you know who the Teen Titans are?”

Carrie laughed. “Everyone knows who they are,” she said. “Why? Are you trying to join up?”

“No!” insisted David a bit too strongly, and he quickly toned it down. “No... I'm... look it's really, really complicated, but I'm looking for two of them. Have you seen any of them around?”

“Not except on TV every time they get into a fight,” said Carrie. “But it's not hard to find them. Just go to the big tower on the island in the middle of the...”

“No,” said David, “I meant tonight.”

Carrie looked puzzled. “No, I haven't seen anything. I was just coming back from a friend's house when that drunk guy tried to jump me.” She shuddered at the thought, and no sooner had she done so, than both of them heard a noise from within the alleyway, a shuffling sound that both of them immediately took for the 'drunk guy' in question starting to recover his senses. Both teenagers glanced at one another, and then slowly began to back out of the alleyway. When they reached the street itself, David was trying to think of what to say now when Carrie asked him a rather urgent question.

“Um... I know you're busy and all,” she said, “but... do you think you could... maybe walk with me for a while? This isn't a great neighborhood, and I... I don't want to get...” she trailed off, and now it was her turn to blush.

Not to seem un-chivalrous, but David honestly wanted to get out of this place as quickly as possible. The fact that he wasn't supposed to be out in the city at all tonight only made this encounter seem more dangerous, and he had the distinct feeling that he should be avoiding this sort of thing as much as possible. At the same time however... well... he did know what would likely have happened if he hadn't been here to drop that guy...

“I... I'm not sure if... if I can...” he said.

“I live just down on the other side of the hill,” said Carrie. “It's about twenty minutes away. I'm really sorry to have to ask but...”

He had to keep looking for the others, but then... he had no idea where to look for them. In a way, walking back with Carrie was as good as searching in any other direction. At least that's what he imagined. In reality he had a lingering feeling that this was what he should do. Not to be heroic... just the sort of thing that decent people did.

“Sure,” he finally said, and the relief on her face was apparent.

“Thanks,” she said with a nervous grin. “Come on, it's this way...”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
cont. below



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-02 10:04pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 11, part 2


2:19 AM

“So you never thought of just… going to the police?”

David shrugged as he walked Robin’s bicycle down the deserted street. “I guess I did,” he said, “but if Cinderblock was willing to do all that just to get at me in the first place… I dunno… it seemed like the safer thing to do.”

Carrie nodded slowly and whistled. “That sounds… really weird.”

David laughed at that. “Tell me about it…” he said. “Most days I don’t even know what I’m doing. I just sort of try and ride it out, you know?”

“Yeah, I guess…” said Carrie, plainly unsure of whether or not she did, but David didn’t mind. He hadn’t expected to say much to her at all on their little stroll back to Carrie’s house. Just walk her back home out of the bad part of town, and get on with things. And yet not five minutes into their walk, David was already feeling more relaxed than he had in weeks. For the first time since this whole ordeal began, he had someone to talk to to whom he owed nothing, someone who wasn’t superhuman and larger than life, someone like him. David was not exactly hyper-social at the best of times, but he hadn’t realized just how much he had missed that.

“So then what do you do there?” she asked.

He sighed. “Lots of practice,” he said. “I don’t really know why. I mean they call it self defense or something called ‘power endurance’. Mostly just a lot of busy-work. Other than that… not much. I mean I don’t go running around the city doing… well you know… that kind of stuff. I’m not a…”

Carrie laughed and David smiled as he turned to her. “What?” he asked.

“David, we’ve been talking for twenty minutes,” said Carrie with a grin, “and that’s the fifth time you’ve said you’re ‘not a superhero’.”

“It is?” David thought back for a second sheepishly. “Crap…” he said, “sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she said, “but I really do get it. It sounds totally nuts.”

“It is totally nuts,” said David. “But that’s just the way it is for now I guess.” He smiled a bit and shook his head. “I’m really not even supposed to be out here.”

“I won’t tell on you,” said Carrie. “But you still haven’t told me why you’re looking for the Teen Titans out here.”

David fell silent, then shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I… I can’t…”

Carrie merely nodded. “I understand,” she said, and she looked concerned for a second. David rapidly changed the subject.

“So then what’s your story?” he asked.

“Oh nothing special or scary like that,” she said. “Just the usual, you know? High School, homework, parties, cheerleading…”

“You’re a cheerleader?” asked David incredulously.

Carrie laughed. “What, I don’t look like it?”

“No, no!” said David quickly. He laughed and shook his head. “It’s just that at the schools I went to, the cheerleaders wouldn’t ever talk to the kids like me, you know?”

Carrie smiled impishly. “Well I bet most of the kids like you never saved a cheerleader from getting attacked.”

David couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Probably not.”

“So were you like, a nerd or something?”

David shot her a look of mock insult, and she laughed. “I’m just asking!” she said. “You said the ‘kids like you’. I don’t think you meant the kids who had secret superpowers.”

“I wasn’t a nerd,” he said. “I mean, maybe I was, I don’t know. I was… that kid who sits in the back of the room and nobody notices him, you know? There’s always one in every class? You go through the whole year and never even know his name?”

“The one everyone thinks is gonna wind up a school shooter?”

“Gee, thanks,” said David sarcastically.

“Hey!” said Carrie, “I’m just saying, that’s what people think, you know?”

“I know,” he said, “but do I look like I wear a black trench coat and listen to death metal all day?”

“No,” she said, and she smiled again. “You just hang out with a bunch of people who wear yellow tights and swing around from rooftops shouting one-liners.”

David said nothing for a second. “Touché,” he finally admitted. Carrie cackled in victory, and they both continued walking, rounding the corner towards Carrie’s house.

“So you’re saying I should be nicer to that kid?” asked Carrie.

“Which kid?”

“The one who sits by himself and doesn’t say much?”

“Hey, whatever you want,” said David. “I liked being that kid. I’m sure everyone thought I was weird, but I didn’t really care. I changed schools a lot.”

“Well I don’t think you’re weird,” said Carrie with a warm smile that made David blush. “I mean, other than that stuff with the ground and the pipe.”

“Yeah, well… that stuff is weird,” said David. “Take it from me.”

They had gotten halfway down the block, before Carrie finally indicated that the apartment building ahead on the right was hers. Stopping in front of it, David wondered awkwardly what to say or do here.

“Well thanks for saving me, David,” said Carrie before David could figure out what to do.

“Oh… er… no problem,” he said. “I’m glad I could help.” He winced at how stupid that sounded, but Carrie merely smiled.

“Well do me a favor then,” she said.

“A favor? Um… sure.”

“The next time they let you out of that Tower,” said Carrie, “come look me up. We’ll go hang out or something.”

David blinked, and the look of surprise on his face was enough to make Carrie laugh again. “Seriously?” he asked.

“Of course!” she exclaimed. “What? You think we’re all stuck up airheads? I could have been killed if you hadn’t been there, and you look like you could use a break one of these days.”

“I do?”

“Hell yes!” said Carrie. “David, you look like a scared rabbit, like you expect someone to jump out at you all of a sudden. You really need to relax.”

David chuckled and shook his head. “I hadn’t noticed…”

“Well I did,” said Carrie, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Just come down to the city one of these days. Long as you don’t get all stalkerish or creepy, we can just hang out. What do you say?”

“I don’t know…” said David, before looking up at her with a mischievous grin, “are you going to use me like a tool to get back at your ex-boyfriend or something?”

Carrie hesitated in confusion a second, then laughed. “No stupid cheerleader tricks, I promise,” she said.

“Well then,” said David, faking magnanimity, “I guess if I manage to survive long enough I’ll come and see if…”

And then suddenly everything went straight back to bizzaro-land.

A loud crash resonated through the empty street as a trash can was overturned somewhere behind them. David’s eyes widened and he spun around, only to see a large young man staggering out of an alleyway next to Carrie’s building. He wearing a blue jumpsuit, or rather what was left of one, as it looked like it had been torn in several places. His hair was jet black, and he stood a full head taller than David, but what was most noticeable were his eyes, brown but with bright white irises that practically shone in the dark, giving him a feral and intense look that was very unsettling.

Neither David nor Carrie said anything as the young man stumbled into view. He blinked a few times in the light of the streetlamp, then kicked the garbage at his feet away, sending tin cans and banana peels spilling out into the street. Only then did he notice that he was in the presence of others.

“What the hell are you two wimps looking at?!” said the young man in an unmistakably aggressive tone. Neither of the two other teens responded, and the young man turned towards them with balled fists and stomped over.

“Yeah, that’s right, I’m talkin’ to you, losers! What are you gonna do about it?!”

“What is wrong with this city?” asked Carrie to David, clearly neither impressed nor intimidated by the young man’s appearance. David didn’t reply, his mouth hanging slightly ajar as he studied the young man’s face closely.

“You got somethin’ to say?!” asked the young man. He wasn’t spectacularly tall or well-built, but he certainly had a demeanor that reminded one of such people. His voice was low and gravelly, and his manner leering and threatening. “What’s the matter? Your little boyfriend here not gonna fight for you?!”

“He’s not my boyfriend, and neither are you, asshole,” said Carrie with remarkable aplomb. “Leave us alone.”

The young man sneered as he pointed a finger in Carrie’s face. “Or else wha…?”

“Marcus?”

Everyone froze, and both Carrie and the young man, slowly turned towards David with surprised looks on their faces. David ignored their surprise. “Marcus is that you?”

“You know this guy?” asked Carrie, as the young man was trying to formulate a similar question.

“I don’t know,” said David. “Are you Marcus Beechman?”

The young man said nothing for a second, and then responded with another question. “Who the hell are you?”

David broke into an incredulous smile. “I’m David Foster,” he said. “You remember me?”

The sudden flash of recognition in Marcus Beechman’s eyes indicated that he did.

“No way…” said Marcus. “No way… you’re dead.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that a lot,” said David, who was by now prepared to accept this as a sick joke being played on him by the world at large. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“That’s none of your goddamn business, freak!” shouted Marcus in David’s face. He glanced back at Carrie, and then smiled malevolently. “Or does she know that you’re one of those freaks that can do stuff?!”

“Yes, Marcus,” said David patronizingly. “I’m one of those freaks who ‘does stuff’. I see you haven’t changed.”

“You watch your mouth, you little wimp or I’ll…”

“You’ll what?” asked David evenly. This was not at all how he normally would have spoken to anyone in this circumstance, but the weirdness of the day was becoming such that he felt like he was in some kind of fake parallel universe where the laws of reality no longer applied, and given that, he was done taking this sort of crap from someone like Marcus Beechman.

“What will you do?” David asked with a smirk. “Steal my bike and make me blow your foot off again? You do remember what happened last time you messed with me, right? I’m having a really strange day Marcus, and it would not bother me at all to have to send you back to the hospital because you were acting like an idiot again.”

Carrie stifled a laugh, and Marcus reacted in confusion that could only be slightly less than David’s. The difference was that David was long-since used to not understanding how these things kept happening. Marcus was plainly not.

“You don’t know who you’re messing with!” shouted Marcus, clearly keen on retaining what little dignity he had.

“Oh, I think I do, Marcus,” said David. “Unless you’ve actually managed to grow a brain since the last time we met.”

“My name’s not Marcus anymore,” said the young man. “They call me Adonis now, and you better step aside if you know what’s good for you!”

David looked unimpressed. “You named yourself after a shoe?”

Carrie laughed, and Marcus practically gnashed his teeth with rage. “I think that’s Adidas”, said Carrie.

“Oh right,” said David, “Adonis… that’s what, a Greek God?”

“That’s right,” said ‘Adonis’ threateningly. “They call me that 'cuz I’m the strongest guy in the world.”

David groaned. “That’s Hercules you idiot, not Adonis.”

Adonis hesitated. “It… is?”

David shook his head. “Yeah. Adonis was the god of being an arrogant jerk. No wonder you got that name…”

“Hey! SHUT UP!” screamed Adonis, forcing David back a pace. “I’m gonna teach you a lesson I shoulda taught you a long time ago!!!”

David was by now long-since fed up with being ‘taught lessons’. “I do not have time for your crap, Marcus,” snapped David. “Get out of here or I’ll send you back to the hospital in a body cast.”

“You can’t hurt me, you little punk,” said Adonis with a sneer. “I took out the Teen Titans! You’ve got nothin’!”

David froze at the mention of the Titans. “You… you what?”

“Yeah, you heard me!” he said. “I busted the Titans up last night, and I busted them up tonight too! You’re just a warm up for me!”

Before David could ask another question, Marcus took a swing at him as hard as he could with a right hook. David ducked instinctively, Marcus’ fist passing over his head, and with a thought he reached out to a mailbox standing nearby and commanded the mail chute, solid iron through at through, to freeze and compress. The mailbox shook, but Adonis took no notice of it and grabbed David by the shirt, holding him in place as he reached back with his other hand to deliver a haymaker.

Before he could do so however, David released the energy, and the mailbox exploded, blasting letters and smashed packages all across the street. The unexpected explosion knocked Adonis off his feet, forcing him to drop David as he staggered to retain his balance. Snarling with rage, he loomed towards David, who backed up several paces before tripping over a package that had fallen in the middle of the street. Adonis laughed as he fell behind it onto his back, but David merely reached forward towards the package and flicked his wrist at it.

With a crash, the packaging was torn to pieces, as the object inside, a toaster or other kitchen appliance, cracked in half. One half, the half containing a large piece of steel that David had fixated upon, exploded. The other half was propelled by the explosion at high speeds directly into Adonis’ stomach, slamming into him like a riot gun slug, doubling him over, gasping for breath as he fell back onto the ground.

David scrambled to his feet, and looking around quickly, he spotted a tree branch that had been snapped off one of the sidewalk trees when the mailbox exploded. By now he was furious. It was bad enough that monsters of all stripes attacked him every time he set foot outside the tower, bad enough that Beast Boy of all people had decided to start bullying him around, but now bullies from the depths of his past were being conjured up to make his life just that much more miserable?! Adonis was still trying to regain both his footing and his breath. With a shout of anger, David ran over and clobbered him across the back with the branch, knocking him back down onto the ground.

“Why can’t you people just leave me alone?!” shouted David as he kicked Adonis in the ribs as hard as he could. “I’ve never done anything to any of you!” Adonis tried to get up but David shoved him hard and knocked him back over. He threw the branch at Adonis, screaming “Get the hell out of here!!!” before he turned and stomped back away, his hand over his eyes, feeling like he wanted to just scream.

Adonis moaned behind him as he stood there and tried to suppress the tears of frustration. Ahead, he saw Carrie, still standing on the steps to her apartment building. She looked… well frankly she looked a bit scared of everything that had just happened, but that was to be expected. He tried to think of something to say, some lame apology to give for his behavior, when suddenly her eyes went wide, and she pointed at something behind him.

Look out!!!

David turned around, and his jaw dropped. Adonis was no longer there. In his place stood a monster.

A towering, slavering bestial monster stood in the middle of the street. Twelve feet tall at least, covered in fur like a mutated werewolf, it howled into the air as it beat its chest like an enraged gorilla before extending claws from its fingers and pointing them at David. David stared up at the monster in horror and shock, as he realized from the scraps of blue fabric that adorned it that this thing hadn’t replaced Adonis. This thing was Adonis. And then suddenly David realized where those claw marks on the walls of the Tower had come from, and it occurred to him just how much trouble he was now in.

“Oh shit…”

With a single heave, the monster tore an entire streetlight from the ground and swung it like a two-handed club, barely giving David enough time to duck under the swing as it clobbered a parked car and overturned it with the force of the blow. David backed up quickly, glancing left and right for something to use before pointing his finger at one of the nearby cars, intending to set off the fuel tank and do to this monster what he had done to Cinderblock. He did not get the chance. The thing that had been Adonis reared up, bringing the streetlight down towards David overhand, aiming to crush him like an ant, and he was forced to abandon his attempt at setting off a gas tank and simply dive to the side. The powerful blow shook the street as though an earthquake were occurring, and then suddenly there was a loud crash, and the ground seemed to give way.

With a scream of terror, David fell, rocks and rubble and bits of debris falling with him. It was only a second later that he landed, fortunately in water, and he scrambled and clawed for the surface as quickly as he could. His feet found the ground beneath him and he stood up, and found himself standing waist-deep in the middle of a large sewer, a hole overhead indicating how he had come to be in this place. The monster’s blow had been so hard it had actually smashed a hole through the street. His shoulder ached horribly from where falling debris had struck it, and he clutched at it, wincing with the pain and feeling something warm starting to trickle down his arm and soaking into his shirt and jacket. He looked around, searching for any sign of the monster and finding none. His breath came rapidly as he struggled to find a way out of this place, but before he could, a low growl emanated from the darkness before him, and a pair of glittering white eyes materialized in the darkness ahead.

With a cry, David stumbled backwards, the water impeding him as it flowed around his stomach. Taking its time, the monster stepped into view before him, moving with inexorable strides to put him down once and for all. It raised its claws high, claws sharp enough to disembowel an elephant, and in fear for his life, David held his hand back out behind him and clenched his fist.

The water lurched as something blew up inside it, and an instant later, a brick shot out of the water and slammed into the monster’s face, striking it right between the eyes. The monster howled in pain, and David reached to his left, setting off another explosion deep within the wall, which hurled another brick into the monster’s shoulder. This one drew blood, and the monster wailed loud enough to wake the dead as it lunged forward, snatching David up and tossing him up onto the walkway along the side of the sewer. David landed on his back, hard, and he scrambled to his feet, already trying to find another brick to turn into a missile when the monster leaped out of the sewer, landed right in front of David, and slashed at him with his enormous claws.

There was the sound of ripping fabric.

David thought for a second that the monster had just grazed him, and prepared to ward off another blow, but the monster, instead of pressing ahead, stepped back, an unmistakable smirk on his face. David hesitated for a moment, not comprehending why, and then he felt a tingling sensation in his chest, and looked down.

There were four deep red gashes in his side, all of them spilling blood down his leg and into a growing puddle on the ground.

David blinked for a second, not understanding what had just happened, and then his legs gave out beneath him and he collapsed onto the ground. The monster stepped forward, licking its lips, towering over him, and it bent down, fangs bared. David looked up at the monster, still barely able to believe what had just happened, and slid down the wall slowly, leaving a bloody smear against it. The monster’s face was inches away now, its fangs open as it moved towards David’s throat, and David could do nothing but watch, and wait.

But the monster stopped.

Initially David wasn’t sure why it had stopped, but then he saw its ears perking up, and with all his remaining energy, he tried to hear whatever it had heard. There was a sound, a very, very faint sound, but it was that of voices, and forgetting about David, the monster suddenly stood up and struck off into the darkness quickly, leaving David bleeding out on the ground. There was still no pain; his system was in too much shock for that, but he knew that he was badly hurt. As badly as the day he had first encountered the Titans. He could hear sounds emanating from somewhere else in the catacombs, but couldn’t make them out. Not, that is, until some trick of acoustics brought him the unmistakable sound of Cyborg’s voice.

“Just chill man! It doesn’t have to go down like this!”

David had no idea who Cyborg was talking to. He had no idea what Cyborg was doing here. He had lost the capacity to think back rationally. All he did know was that there was a terrible monster loose down here. Indeed he could hear the slavering, growling sounds it was making. And so, summoning whatever will he had, he reached up, grabbed the railing of the walkway he was laying on, and began to pull himself to his feet.

Why was he doing this? He could not have told you. He did not know. All he knew was that he had to move, he had to go and find Cyborg. Maybe he was afraid he would die if he did not. Maybe he was afraid Cyborg was in trouble. Maybe his mind was not making any rational sense anymore and his body simply moved on its own accord. All he knew was that moving jarred him, and caused waves of terrible pain to rush through his body, and yet he had to move anyhow.

He staggered to his feet, leaning heavily on the railing. Slowly he shuffled towards where he had heard the sound. New sounds were emerging now. Thunderous, crashing sounds of battle up ahead. The ground shook, the railing trembled. He lost his footing more than once, but still he shuffled ahead, leaving a trail of blood behind him as he cried and sweated and pulled and forced himself to take another step, and then another, and then another. He was getting closer. He was approaching the sounds. Just a little bit further.

A door.

The walkway terminated in a solid metal door, behind which the sounds were coming from. The door was locked shut, dead-bolted perhaps or even welded. He couldn’t tell. But he knew he had to get through the door somehow.

And he knew how.

He clutched the railing with both hands, his eyes closed, trying to will away the pain and the fatigue and force one more explosion. The steel materialized as particles before his shut eyes, and wearily he manipulated them, his mind flickering automatically down the paths needed to do this last, terrible exercise that was being demanded of him. Behind the door, screams of inhuman anger were heard. The monster was fighting someone. What David would do once he had blasted the door down was beyond him. He didn’t have a plan, other than get through the door. He pushed and he pushed, ignoring the pain, ignoring the chill that seemed to enter the air, ignoring the numbness that was beginning to spread into his extremities. Nothing mattered but the door. He could hear Robin’s voice echoing in his mind. “Concentrate,”

It was the only way to please Robin. It was the only way to end the training session. The only way they would let him sleep. He had to concentrate.

He concentrated.

“BOOM!”

The shock flowed through and around him, but did not bowl him over, for he seemed to flow with it, as though the explosion were some extension of himself, and as he opened his eyes he saw the door flying to pieces, ripping off its hinges, shattering like glass before his unspoken command. The pain was almost gone now, the comfortable numbness spreading to his chest and wounded side, and in relief, he smiled as he walked slowly into the doorway. Behind the door stood Robin and Cyborg, and both were staring at him as though they could not believe what they were seeing, and the expression on their faces seemed hilarious to him, so he laughed weakly, though no sound emerged. Cyborg was carrying Beast Boy in his arms, and Beast Boy appeared to be unconscious. Rubble and the signs of terrible battle were everywhere, and laying on the ground at Robin’s feet, David saw Marcus, er… Adonis, also asleep, also unconscious.

None of the others seemed to be able to say anything as David stumbled into the room. He smiled at Cyborg and at Robin and at Beast Boy, though Beast Boy of course could not see him, but it was to Robin that he addressed his words, weak and barely understandable even to himself.

“You... you want me to... try it again?”

And before Robin could answer or even move, David felt the world spinning, and felt himself falling once more, and then everything went black.

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5:06 AM

“So?” asked Robin for the fifth time, still pacing back and forth in the middle of the medical bay, apparently unaware that this was driving Raven to distraction.

“So he’s going to be fine,” said Raven. “The antibiotics should take care of the three hundred different infections he probably picked up in that sewer, and I’ve managed to stop all the bleeding. He’s gonna need a week or so to recover, but there shouldn’t be anything permanent other than some scarring.”

Robin nodded, his mask doing a worse job than usual of blocking out all signs of what he was thinking, not that it was hard to figure that out right now anyhow.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.

“I just had a concussion and a few bruises,” said Raven, standing back up and fastening her cloak back on around her neck. “It looks like I got lucky.”

“Good,” said Robin. “We all were afraid that the worst had…”

“I was with Beast Boy the whole time,” said Raven. “He would never let me get hurt. You should know that by now. I did.”

“Yeah,” said Robin with a sigh. “Where’s Beast Boy now?”

“I’d guess he’s out on his rock,” said Raven. “He goes there whenever he’s upset.”

“Is he upset with me?”

“I think he’s probably upset with himself,” replied the sorceress. “Cyborg said that those chemicals unleashed something from inside him, but they didn’t create it. It can be really scary having something that powerful and that primal inside you.” She finished putting on the cloak, and shot a narrowed look at Robin. “Trust me, I know.”

Robin shook his head. “Look, I did what I thought was right. There was no way to know that…”

“No way to know that Beast Boy wouldn’t attack me?” interrupted Raven angrily. “Didn’t it ever occur to you that if Beast Boy had wanted to hurt me, he would have done it long before you showed up?! You found me in his jaws for God’s sake! All he would have had to do was bite down!”

“I know!” exclaimed Robin, fighting down the urge to kick something. “I know I should have seen it, okay, but I was worried about you, and Beast Boy had been acting… so weird…” He sighed. “Look, I don’t have an excuse. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me,” said Raven, “apologize to Beast Boy.”

“You know I’m no good at that.”

Raven scoffed. “Learn,” she said.

Robin averted his gaze back to the medical bed. Raven said nothing for a moment before asking a question.

“So do we know what he was doing out there?”

“The best I can tell,” said Robin, “he took my old bicycle out of the garage and rode it all the way out there.”

“Any guess why?”

Robin shook his head. “I thought he had enough sense not to pull a stunt like this after what happened with Cinderblock. Adonis nearly killed him”

“He’s not dumb, Robin. He probably had a reason to go out. Be sure you ask him what it was before you crucify him.”

Robin raised an eyebrow at Raven. “He disobeyed a direct order…”

“… to stay in the Tower,” she said. “Cyborg told me he wanted to go help look for us. Why didn’t you let him?”

“It was too dangerous. We couldn’t have protected him if Cinderblock had shown up.”

Raven paused before adding an observation. “Well whatever he was doing out there, he obviously didn’t care too much about our protection while he was doing it.”

“Obviously not,” said Robin in a short tone.

“So maybe we should find out what he did care about before we make any more assumptions?”

Robin raised an eyebrow at Raven, but Raven gave no further sign of any sort, merely turning around and walking towards the door.

“Where are you going?” asked Robin.

“Out to talk to Beast Boy,” she said. “He needs it after tonight.”

Robin nodded. “All right then. Tell him I’m…” Raven paused, waiting for Robin to finish his sentence, but Robin did not, finally letting out a sigh. “Nevermind,” he said.

“Robin,” said Raven.

“Yeah?”

“Beast Boy’s not the only one who needs it,” she said, before stepping out the door, and letting it slide shut behind her.

Robin turned back to look at David, still fast asleep, his side swathed in bandages. He took a deep breath as he sat back down in the chair set up next to the bed.

"yeah."



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-02 10:05pm
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White Mage
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Posts: 17562
Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 12: Trust


“Life is not easy for any of us, but what of that? We must have perseverance and above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

- Marie Curie

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“What the hell were you thinking?”

Robin stood, leaning over the folding table, his hands planted on the surface as he stared at David with an intensity that rivaled that of an industrial laser. Before him, the psychokinetic refused to meet his gaze, sitting sullenly in his chair instead opposite Robin in the combination medical bay/garage of the tower. Three of the other four Titans were scattered around the cavernous room, and all three of them were pretending not to pay any attention to the conversation he was having with David. Cyborg was, as always, performing maintenance on the T-car, his head buried inside the hood of the Titans' vehicle. Starfire was busy checking and re-checking various figures printed on medical screens and the clipboard in her hand, and casting occasional concerned glances at Robin as his temper rose that she only thought he wasn't seeing. Raven was seated in another chair in a corner, reading a leather-bound volume as she slowly replenished her energy from the healing session she had just finished. She too was periodically glancing up at Robin whenever a particularly sharp word was spoken, but unlike Starfire, she made no attempt to hide them, nor her displeasure at the fact that he had insisted on having this talk here in the midst of everyone else.

Robin was not presently in the mood to care what Raven thought of his choice of venues, and he waited only a few moments for an answer, carrying on implacably when he didn't receive one.

“You nearly got yourself killed, which is bad enough,” he said. “You stole a bicycle from the basement and you went out into the city, alone, without any way to contact us in case you got into trouble, even though I told you we couldn't take the risk that something would happen.” Robin shook his head and thumped the table for emphasis. “What the hell were you thinking?”

David seemed to wince, perhaps out of pain, but more likely not. “I don't... I don't know, okay?!” he explained for the umpteenth time, the same old tired excuse. “I just... I thought you all could use a hand trying to find...”

“Didn't it occur to you that whatever we were looking for managed to disable at least Raven if not her and Beast Boy both?!” interrupted Robin, ignoring a sharp glance from Raven as he said it. “Did you think you could stop something like that by yourself? You could at least have let us know you were out there.”

“How was I supposed to do that?” countered David. “I don't have one of those walkie-talkie things you guys use.”

“Well if you couldn't find a way to contact us,” said Robin without skipping a beat, leaning forward even further and narrowing his gaze, “then maybe you shouldn't have gone out there in the first place!

David wilted under Robin's fire, lowering his eyes again and slouching down in his chair. Robin looked him over with the same gaze he normally reserved for recalcitrant criminals. “Whatever you thought you were doing by going out there,” said Robin with a gesture at the bandages still swaddled around David's mid-section, “you could have gotten yourself killed. You almost did get yourself killed! And it could have been a hundred times worse than that!”

“It was a stupid idea,” said Raven from the side of the room, sounding as though her reserves of patience were just about exhausted, “and he shouldn't have done it, but it's over now. It's pointless to argue about what could have happened to him when we know what did happen.”

“Yeah, man,” said Cyborg wearily from within the T-car, “give it a rest already. It's over now.”

Unwilling to deal with Raven right now, Robin rounded on Cyborg. “And if we hadn't happened to chase Beast Boy into the sewers, Cyborg,” Robin snapped at the half-metallic Titan, “he'd be dead.” David shuddered involuntarily as Robin made the matter-of-fact pronouncement, and Robin returned his gaze to David before continuing. “But that's not even the worst thing that could have happened,” he said.

David raised his head slightly. “What?”

“What if Cinderblock had showed up? What if this had been another trap? Did you ever think of that?!”

“Wait a minute,” said David, his voice beginning to falter, “Cinderblock? Cinderblock hasn't shown up in weeks!”

“That didn't stop him last time, did it?” said Robin remorselessly, clenching his fists and pressing down on the table with them. “Did you know he wasn't going to be there? Or did you just forget that there's some sort of conspiracy trying to get their hands on you, willing to kill anyone that stands in their way?” His voice sharpened as he bore down further. “How could you think it was a good idea to go into a residential part of town, alone, while being hunted by a living battering ram who already destroyed an entire orphanage trying to get at you?!”

It was bad enough in Robin's eyes that David had done these things. That he had apparently done them without thinking of the possible consequences was truly unacceptable. He stood impassively as David tried to stammer out a reply. “I didn't... I didn't think Cinderblock could come back again, not after what happened to him last time!”

“It's been weeks since then,” said Robin, “and if you remember, he vanished into thin air right in front of us. If they can make him do that, they can repair the damage you caused, and if not they could have sent someone else! There's at least twenty outstanding metahuman criminals we don't know the locations of who operate around Jump City. Any one of them could have done it!”

David clenched his eyes shut and gripped the table with one hand. Robin crossed his arms coldly. He had to make David see, and if the others were sick of hearing about it, then there were plenty of other places in the Tower for them to be.

“If Cinderblock had attacked, there could have been dozens of people dead if not more!” he said, leaning forward even further. “Dozens of people dead because you didn't think before you acted! I thought you understood that!”

“I did!” shouted David, shoving his chair back and practically leaping to his feet in a flash of anger at the accusation. No sooner had he done so than the young kineticist let out a sharp cry as he clenched his teeth, clutched his bandaged side and doubled back over.

“Obviously not,” insisted Robin, “since you even got a civilian involved!”

“I... what?!” replied David incredulously, staring wide-eyed up at Robin and his latest accusation. Robin refused to give an inch, but before he could say anything, Raven preempted him.

“Can we please just drop it already?” she asked sharply, her hand to her head, clearly in no mood to ask again. “There nopoint in fighting over something that's already...”

To Robin's surprise, and obviously to Raven's as well, David actually cut the sorceress off in mid-sentence, paying her no mind as he half-spoke, half-shouted at Robin, ignoring all else.

“She was being attacked,” said David, slowly staggering back up to his feet. “She could've been killed or worse! What the hell was I supposed to do? Sit back and watch?!

“You were supposed to be here in the Tower!” fired Robin right back, “not running around the city by yourself looking to get killed. But since you went out into the city and since you happened upon a crime in progress, you were supposed to stop it and make sure the girl was all right, and then you were supposed to get out of there before you put her in even more danger!”

“Goddamnit,” said Cyborg, clearly alarmed by the tone this argument was taking on, “that's enough! Will you both let it go?” Both David and Robin ignored him.

“She asked me to walk her home, and I did,” said David, now standing up once more with one hand clutched to his side. “What would you have done?!”

Robin stared down at David, and with an even, cold tone that would have made Raven proud were she not becoming so angry, replied. “If I was being chased by an unknown group that had already murdered dozens of civilians to get to me, I probably wouldn't have stood out in the middle of the city for half an hour telling the first person I ran into everything that I knew about what was going on inside the Tower. I probably would have helped her home and then left as quickly as I could so that I didn't put her in danger!” He crossed his arms, tightened his gaze, and tapped the steel toe of his boot against the table leg. “But that's me.”

“Oh so now I'm not only supposed to stay locked in here forever, but I'm not allowed to talk to anyone else?!” replied David angrily, his free hand waving ever more violently through the air as he spoke.

“Friends, please!” said Starfire in her eternally reasonable tone, now inflected with worry and urgency, “There is no need to be raising the voices. Can we not discuss this in a calmer manner?”

Robin was becoming just as tired of this as the others were. “You're not allowed to put yourself in danger like that,” he said simply, his voice signaling that this was the end of the conversation as far as he was concerned, “and you're certainly not allowed to put others in danger...”

“... by walking outside and saying 'hello'?!”

“By any means!” shouted Robin back angrily. He could not understand how David could be so irresponsible as to not see this?

David hesitated before Robin's anger, but only for a second. “For how long?” he demanded

“For as long as Cinderblock is at large,” replied Robin, trying to keep his voice down.

“And how long is that gonna be?!”

This question brought Robin up short. “What?”

“It's been almost two months,” said David urgently, his free hand open palm upwards as though he could physically show Robin what he was trying to say. “Two months, Robin! I've been declared dead, I've been attacked by a monster every time I try to leave, you five are pretty much the only people who know that I still exist besides Cinderblock, and now you're saying that I'm not even allowed to go off the island and talk to someone until this is over. You've got tracer bugs on me wherever I go, you make me go through some kind of demented boot camp practically every day! I want to know when this is all going to end!”

Now it was Robin's turn to hesitate. He glanced to the others, but none of them seemed to be capable of or willing to reply in anything but stares, worried or otherwise. He returned his gaze to David who had an expectant, almost pleading look in his eyes, similar to the one he had had the day he had first decided to leave the Tower.

“It will end,” said Robin carefully, “once we've found out who's...”

Wrong answer.

David practically exploded. “Two months!“ he shouted, tears forming in his eyes as he waved his free hand around as though flailing with a sword. “And you haven't found anything! How many more months is that gonna take? Am I supposed to be locked up in this place forever?!”

“Calm down, man!” said Cyborg, stepping forward towards the table. “I know this ain't easy but you gotta understand...”

David however was clearly in no mood to calm down. “Understand what?” he shot back, “Somebody I've never met wants to kill me so I have to hide in a basement and never talk to anyone because they might come after me until the end of time? Is that what I'm supposed to understand, that this is how it's going to be forever?!”

“Man, that's not what we said!” insisted Cyborg angrily, “But...”

“Yes.”

Both Cyborg and David stopped talking, and turned back to Robin, who had just spoken the last word.

“Yes, that's what you have to understand,” said Robin, tired, angry, and sick of having this argument. He was no longer willing to beat around the bush. “This is how it is now, David, and I'm sorry that it inconveniences you to stay here, but you're a danger to this city for as long as Cinderblock is alive and that means you are staying here, for as long as it takes to...”

I know that!“ David roared, slamming his hand down onto the folding table hard enough to collapse it. It crashed to the ground in a heap. The reaction was so unexpected that both Cyborg and Robin stepped back as David clenched his teeth again and snarled, clutching hard at the bandages. It was a moment or two before he opened his eyes again.

“How long?” he demanded. “How long am I here for?”

“For the fiftieth time, until we can stop whatever's behind this!” insisted Robin.

“How long?!” yelled David, his voice practically giving out on him with the strain. “Answer me! How long?!”

“I don't know!” shouted Robin right back. “What do you think is going on here? As long as it takes!”

David shook his head incredulously, tears forming in his eyes as he laughed hollowly at Robin's words. “I don't believe this...” he said. “What is wrong with you? Wake up! You haven't found him in two months, what are you gonna do in the next two, call a psychic?!”

Of all the conversations Robin was not interested in having right now...

“Will you let me worry about that?!” he shouted back at David, livid.

“I wish you would worry about that,” yelled David, “instead of trying to kill me every other day in that goddamn torture chamber of yours!”

Robin stopped dead in his tracks, and instead of the reply he had planned to give, he simply stared at David with narrowing eyes and clenching fists. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Raven with a scowl on her face as she watched them, and Cyborg looking like he wanted to overturn something just to shut them both up, but he ignored them both, hot anger boiling in his veins at David's outburst.

“What?” said David, noticing Robin's discomfort. “You thought if you knocked me out every couple of days in that training room I'd lose track of time or forget what it's like to go outside? You're supposed to be some amazing detective, right? I can't tell if you can't find Cinderblock, or if you're not even trying!” David reached up and with a single pull, snapped one of the buttons off of his own shirt collar and threw it onto the ground at Robin's feet. Robin didn't have to pick it up to know which one it was. It was the tracer bug Cyborg had built and that he had snuck into the clothes Beast Boy had lent to David when he first arrived at the tower.

“You've got me under surveillance all the time,” said David, stabbing a finger at Robin, “you won't let me leave or talk to anybody else, you keep making me blow things to pieces for hours at a time until I pass out or get a migraine, and don't tell me it's just for self-defence because I know it isn't! What am I doing here? What do you want with me?!”

Robin stared back at David for a few moments, his emotions boiling inside him like a pressure cooker ready to explode. He tried to summon an answer, tried to repeat himself for essentially the fifty-first time, but he found he had no words, just a roiling, directionless anger that coursed through him like acid, and he found that all he wanted to do was leave the room. Right now.

Before he could do so, the silence was broken by Raven's book slamming shut as the sorceress stood up from her chair, her expression dangerously threatening.

“I am done listening to this,” she said, staring at David with flames dancing in her eyes. You are being hysterical and acting like a selfish idiot. Stop it, right now.”

There was no mistaking Raven's tone, and David hesitated only a moment or two before closing his eyes again and slowly exhaling through clenched teeth. “Fine,” he snapped, and still holding his side with his left hand, he coldly stalked towards the exit.

Robin was still near-boiling with fury. “Where are you going?” he snapped

David stopped in his tracks. “To the roof,” he said, without turning around. “Is that okay? Is that allowed? Or is there too much risk that space aliens might try to kidnap me as part of a plot to destroy the city?”

Nobody answered David, and after a second or so, he let out a low groan and turned back around once more. Walking over towards Robin without meeting any of the Titans' gazes, the young kineticist stooped down and picked the discarded tracer bug/shirt button up from where he had thrown it. He held it up to Robin for a moment before sliding it into his pocket. “Happy?” he asked angrily, and without waiting for a reply, he stalked off out of the basement, the doors sliding open and shut to admit him, leaving the four Titans in silence.

For a few seconds, nobody said anything. Then, as the silence became too awkward to bear, Raven sighed and rolled her eyes.

“So that went well...” said Raven sarcastically, turning to Robin.

Robin was presently not in the mood for sarcasm. In fact he was not in the mood for anything. A cold, bitter anger coursed through him, not at the others, nor even so much at David as at himself.

Cyborg sighed as well, a more resigned sigh than Raven's, and slowly he turned back to the T-car. “You two have another shouting match like that, do it somewhere else, eh?” he said over his shoulder. “I'm not getting in the middle of another one.”

Starfire approached him from behind slowly. “Is... everything going to be all right?” she asked hesitantly. He knew that fights like this always upset Starfire, and upsetting her was in some ways worse than anything else that could result from them, but it was too late to think about that now.

“He's not stupid, Star,” said Cyborg. “I really don't think he's gonna try to leave again.”

“That is not what I meant,” said Starfire carefully as she neared Robin. He could detect her stare from behind him, almost feel the worry in her eyes, and in his head he could practically hear a voice rebuking him for having caused such worry. He shook his head.

“I'll be in the evidence room,” he said curtly, stalking off towards a different door, and the sanctuary of lists of leads, information databases and research methods that he took refuge in at such times. He walked through the door and into the hallway, leaving the other three Titans behind to discuss what had just happened or not, as they liked.

Right now he needed to be busy.

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Jump City in late spring was a very windy place, especially on the bay. Wind blew off the Pacific Ocean towards the valleys further inland and encountered the skyscrapers of the city and the open waters of the bay. Thermals rose off the water and twisted in every direction, deflecting off islands, racing across the bridges, prompting Jump City's residents to break out windsurf boards and sailboats and kites to take advantage of the warming weather. Higher up, above the kites and the para-sailors, flocks of birds rode the eddying air currents, egrets and pelicans and flocks of squawking seagulls looking for a dropped french-fry or an unguarded hot dog. And often enough, among them all flew a very special bird, a bird that defied identification. At times it appeared a hawk or an eagle, at times a sparrow or a jay, by turns it took the form of a minute, barely-visible hummingbird, or that of a soaring, majestic condor. No matter its size and species though, always its only constant feature was its color, the deep emerald green that revealed it to any Jump City resident as no bird at all.

Beast Boy spread his wings and floated above the clouds of birds that swooped and danced around below him, letting the thermal air current keep him aloft without any need to beat his wings. He was in the form of a swallow, and there were hawks about today, circling at his altitude, but he paid them no mind. Hawks were smart animals, and they had learned long ago not to select the green birds as prey, as the green ones had the habit of turning into pterodactyls when attacked. Beast Boy would never actually hurt them - they were just doing their thing after all - but all it took was once to convince the raptors that their time was better spent targeting the pigeons. Right now he was glad that the other birds were leaving him alone. He didn't want to deal with them. He didn't want to deal with anyone right now.

He turned a slow circle around the bay, letting the wind direct him by turns over the land and the water. He was coming back towards the island in the middle of the bay on which the tower sat when he heard the first explosion. It wasn't particularly powerful. No flash, no puff of smoke, just a echoing sound like a firecracker or a car backfiring heard from far away. Beast Boy turned his head in the direction of the tower, and about ten seconds later there was another one, and he saw with his avian eyes a small glint of light from the roof of the tower and a small figure standing atop it. He winged over and flew towards the tower, descending swiftly, landing atop one of the chimneys that dotted the roof, not sure what was happening, but fairly certain that he could guess.

David was standing on the roof, facing away from him, holding a handful of gravel in his left hand, no doubt plucked from the rooftop just a moment ago, and he took a single small pebble in his right hand, and with a soft grunt and a wince threw it overhand off the tower. He threw like a girl, shoving the rock through the air rather than hurling it, lobbing it up in a long slow arc as it spun off the tower towards the water three hundred feet below. It never got there however, for just as the small rock reached the apex of its flight, David's hand twitched, and it burst into a small puff of dust with the sound of a gunshot, as tiny fragments rained down into the water below. David watched the dust melt away in the stiff breeze, took another half dozen steps along the roof's edge, muttering something to himself in an angry tone, and then turned and threw another pebble off the roof, blowing it to pieces as well. He proceeded in this way for several minutes, walking back and forth slowly, destroying a dozen or more pieces of gravel before he came to a stop, dropping the rest of the gravel back onto the roof as he slid his hand down to his side and clutched it tightly closing his eyes and clenching his teeth to force the pain of his injury away. When it finally subsided, David flopped down onto the roof with a sigh, draping his free hand over his face and massaging his closed eyes, looking very much dead to the world.

Beast Boy might have sighed himself if his current form had possessed vocal cords. As it was, he watched the psychokinetic teen sit there shaking his head and whispering softly to himself for a few moments, before slowly dropping off the chimney onto the ground, and reverting to his human form. David was clearly upset, and Beast Boy didn't know why, but once again, he could guess. They hadn't spoken a word since the afternoon Beast Boy had fought Adonis, the day he had barged into the training session Robin and David were conducting and acted like a total jerk. Since that moment, plenty had happened. He had been turned into a raging Beast, fought Adonis, saved Raven, and acted with such primal fury and instinct that he had scared himself as well as everyone else. Robin had practically accused him of trying to kill Raven, threatened to throw him in jail, even shot at him with rockets when he couldn't stop himself from fleeing into the city. Raven had come and talked to him after that night, assured him that she at least had understood that he didn't intend to hurt her, in fact that he had been trying to save her from Adonis, but that didn't make what Robin had done, had thought of him, any easier to stomach, nor had the knowledge that he had nearly disemboweled Cyborg over a video game, angered Starfire in a way he had sworn he never would again, and at the very least, been a total jerk to David (if not worse). And so he had avoided everyone else as best he could, taking to the air or the water and just staying out of people's way and knowing that he should apologize but convincing himself that if Robin refused to do so after having tried to kill him because of his own mistrust, then it absolved him of any responsibility to take the first step with anyone else.

But here David was, still obviously upset, and Beast Boy remembered what he had said that afternoon, and the hurt look that had come over David when he had said it, and recalled the revulsion that had boiled up inside him at how weak David was, and he felt vaguely sick recalling it. And so with a real sigh, Beast Boy slowly walked over towards David, his heavy velcro shoes making crunching sounds on the gravel-covered rooftop. David's ears perked as he heard Beast Boy approaching, and he lifted his head, but he did not turn around, and Beast Boy approached to within a dozen steps before speaking.

“Hey, dude,” he said simply.

David didn't reply immediately, and instead he took a long, slow breath and let it out again. When he finally spoke his voice was even and quiet.

“Hey.”

This was not going to be simple.

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“All scans complete. No matches found to query. Please redefine parameters.”

Robin suppressed, with difficulty, the urge to smash the computer in front of him. No matter what he did, no matter where he looked, he always ran right into this same dead end, with the calm, inhuman voice of the computer seeming to mock his inability to find answers. He stared at the monitor as though he could intimidate it into telling him what he wanted to know, but as always, the cursor simply blinked back at him, taunting him with total indifference to his plight. He clenched his teeth and took another gulp of the coffee next to him and tried to focus on another avenue of approach to take.

“Robin?”

Robin jumped, having not heard the door open, and spun around to see Starfire standing in the doorway of the evidence room. Relaxing again slowly, he tried to force a smile to assure her that everything was all right. She had been worried after his fight with David, and he had been unable to muster the wherewithal to convince her that he was okay. He had to admit however that he was surprised to see her here. Generally speaking she didn’t venture into the evidence room unless there was some urgent need.

“Is something wrong, Starfire?” he asked, trying to sound as confident and calm as he could.

“What are you doing?”

There was an edge to Starfire’s voice that normally wasn’t present. Starfire didn’t usually mince words, but it was clear that there was a great deal she wanted to say now but wasn’t willing to for whatever reason.

“I’m trying to track down Cinderblock,” he said as he turned back to the computer, “and find out who’s employing him.

He heard Starfire approaching him from behind. “… again?” she asked with worry in her tone. “Have you not already been seeking him?”

“It’s important that we find him, Star,” said Robin, begrudging the distraction somewhat. Not that he didn’t like talking to Starfire, but he had work to do right now.

“But… is there new evidence that leads you to believe that he shall be located presently?” she asked in her inimitable fashion. Robin caught the implication, but once again, he had work to do, and there simply wasn’t time for this now.

“I just have to keep looking until I find him,” he said, typing a new search query into the computer as he did so.

“Then there is no new evidence?”

“I’ll find him,” insisted Robin, “no matter how long it takes.”

It did not occur to Robin that this might have been the wrong thing to say until he heard Starfire sharply inhale at his words and walk over to place a hand on the top of his chair.

“Robin, perhaps it…” she hesitated, unsure how to say what she was trying to say, “… is it possible that Cinderblock may not be found?”

“He can’t hide forever,” said Robin as the computer search came up empty again. “I will find him.”

“But, is it necessary…”

“Of course it’s necessary!” shouted Robin before he could stop himself, spinning his chair around to face Starfire. “He’s killed more than fifty people, and he’s part of a conspiracy aimed at killing more! How can you ask if it’s necessary to find him?!”

Starfire withdrew a step or two, her eyes wide in surprise. “That is not what I meant!” she protested. “I meant to ask if it was necessary for you to devote yourself entirely to the search for Cinderblock as you once did for Slade?”

“It’s my job!” insisted Robin with far more vigor than he had intended to. “It’s my responsibility! I have to find him!”

“But…”

Robin turned his chair back to the computer. “You know what this is like, Starfire,” he said, “if we don’t do what we’re supposed to, people die. It’s that simple.”

“But, Robin, surely there is…”

“I can’t let him get away with what he’s done, and I can’t let the people he’s working for go unopposed. None of us can.”

“Robin, please! It is not necessary to…”

“Even if I couldn’t find him after the last attack, it’s my duty to keep trying. I won’t let someone else die because I wasn’t able to…”

Robin, stop this!!!

Starfire’s words were not a request or a plea, they were a demand, and her voice was louder and more commanding than Robin had ever heard it, save once. It brought him up short, and he slowly turned his chair back around to see her standing in the middle of the evidence room with her fists clenched, and her eyes gleaming. Her gaze was not that of a naive girl, but that of an angered alien, fully as fierce and as desperate as the first time he had met her, when she had been an escaped prisoner willing to lay fight an entire alien army rather than be enslaved once more by the Gordanians.

Robin stopped.

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“You feeling okay?”

David shrugged softly and glanced down at his bandaged side. “I’ve had worse,” he said, and then chuckled at his own presumption. “… I guess that says something.”

“Yeah,” said Beast Boy, who was standing next to David on the edge of the roof. “So uh… can I sit down?”

David, who was already seated, glanced up at Beast Boy and raised an eyebrow. “It’s your Tower,” he said, and he gestured at the patch of roof next to him for Beast Boy to sit. Beast Boy did so. Neither one spoke for a bit, staring out at the bay and the city beyond it. Only after enough time had passed to make it clear that David wasn’t going to start speaking on his own, did Beast Boy break the silence.

“Look,” he said, turning to David. “I’m really sorry about what I said before. Back before you got hurt. I was acting like a jerk. I didn’t mean any of that stuff, about you being too weak and everything.”

“Yeah you did,” said David evenly.

“No, dude, I really didn’t, honest,” insisted Beast Boy. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t anymore after all the stuff that happened that night.”

“What stuff?” asked David, sounding disgusted, “I stole a bike and nearly got killed again by an enraged gorilla. Very impressive. Plus apparently I put the whole city in danger again. I’m on a roll.”

Beast Boy paused. “Who said that?”

David turned his head towards Beast Boy. “Guess,” he said.

“Oh.” So David had also had a fight with Robin. Well at least he wasn’t the only one. David returned to staring out at the city, and Beast Boy made another attempt.

“But, dude, I’m serious,” he said, “I’d never really think that.”

“And why not?!” snapped David back at Beast Boy. “Everyone else seems to! And they’re right!”

Beast Boy had been through this line of arguments before however with Cyborg, albeit from David’s perspective, and he didn’t skip a beat. “Oh yeah?” he asked, recalling Cyborg’s third-hand account of what had happened to David during that crazy night, “what about that girl you rescued from the drunk guy? Did she think so?”

This one caught David off-guard, and his frustration melted away instantly. “Maybe…” he said, returning his gaze to the city.

“Dude, trust me, there’s no way.” He grinned a bit at David. “Did you try to tell her you weren’t a superhero?”

David closed his eyes and chuckled a bit. “Yeah.”

“Did she believe you?”

“I don't think so.” he said, shaking his head and smiling.

Beast Boy’s grin expanded to its usual proportions and he lightly shoved David’s shoulder. “You see, dude! You totally impressed her. You should go ask her out!”

David laughed openly at the suggestion. “Right,” in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I’m serious, dude! Chicks dig the knight in shining armor thing! You’ll see! The superhero angle totally works!”

He might have continued, but right then Beast Boy realized he had said something wrong, as David’s face fell and the kineticist lapsed back into silence. Beast Boy sat there, tongue-tied for a moment, “... what'd I say?” he asked finally.

David glanced deadpan at Beast Boy for a second. “The 'superhero angle'?”

Was that it? The green changeling shook his head and chuckled. “Dude, seriously, you've gotta stop worrying so much about that word. So you're a kinetic? So what? I'm green. Cyborg's a... cyborg. You don't think we're weird do you?”

David blinked at Beast Boy as the changeling smiled confidently. “Uh... no comment.”

Duuude“ said Beast Boy with a broad grin. “Totally not fair!”

“Hey, you asked!” said David, raising one hand defensively.

Beast Boy chuckled. “C'mon dude,” he said, “you sound like being a superhero's a bad thing. Why not just go with it for a while? It's not like you don't have the powers to back it up.”

“It's not a bad thing...” said David, shaking his head “It's just not me, you know? I'm nothing like you guys.”

“Well... maybe not now dude,” said Beast Boy, “but...”

Beast Boy trailed off, and David turned and raised an eyebrow. “But what?”

“Well... dude... why not?”

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Starfire stood transcendent before Robin, her fists clenched tightly enough to crush coal into diamonds, as she glared down at her leader unblinkingly. She neither moved nor spoke, but instead her eyes bored holes into Robin's, and he gulped softly and tried to adopt a conciliatory tone.

“Um... what's... wrong, Star?” he asked.

“What is wrong,” said the angry alien princess, “is that you are behaving like a royal zarbnarf!”

“A what?” asked Robin. Was that a good or a bad thing?

“A zarbnarf is one who does not concern himself with the feelings of others,” she said impassively. “On my planet, it is considered shameful to act in such a fashion.”

Despite the upsetting novelty of having Starfire annoyed with him, Robin still maintained enough anger from his previous conversation to challenge her claim. “Is this about David?” he asked, “because I really don't want to talk about that anymore. He put the whole city in...”

“This has nothing to do with Friend David,” insisted Starfire, cutting Robin off, “any more than it has to do with Friend Beast Boy.”

Robin's eyes narrowed beneath his mask. “That's also not something I want to talk about right now. I already had this discussion with Raven, and if Beast Boy can't understand that I had to...”

“As I said before,” repeated Starfire, not backing down an inch, “this has nothing to do with Friend Beast Boy either. It has to do with you.”

“Then it can wait,” said Robin, turning back to his computer. “I've got a lot of work to do.”

“I believe Friend Cyborg would say that this is 'tough',” said Starfire. “Now please turn around so that we may talk, or else!”

Robin hesitated. Was Starfire making a threat? “Or else what?”

“Or else,” she said, a note of hesitation in her voice, “I shall... think of something unpleasant to do to you until you do so!”

“Starfire, I really need to...”

“I shall cover you in mustard and hang you by your feet from the roof of the tower and let the seagulls attack you for an entire night and day and then I shall think up something else to do to you, Robin, unless you turn around and speak to me this instant!” exclaimed Starfire, in a voice that was not at all humorous, the above statement notwithstanding. Robin turned back slowly, half-expecting to see her already brandishing one of the half-gallon jugs of mustard that they kept for special occasions for her. She was not, of course, but the look in her eyes was desperate enough to make him believe that her next move would be to raid the refrigerator for one.

“Look, Starfire, why is this so urgent?” asked Robin. “I'm sorry if I upset you back there but I need to find...”

Starfire cut him off yet again. “It is urgent,” she said, “because you are preparing to hide in the evidence room once more instead of speaking to your friends, just as you did during the time of Slade's campaign. You refused to trust us and you refused to trust yourself to be able to stop Slade, and so you barricaded yourself in this place for weeks without seeing any of us, and we both know what became of that. You attempted to stop Slade yourself at the expense even of your friendship with us... and you became a criminal, first as a ploy, and then because you thought there was no choice.”

Robin felt a flash of anger that Starfire would bring that long-past incident up again, and forced it down again, remembering just how upset she had been even after their first major victory over Slade.

“Starfire,” he said as gently as he could, not sure if she was about to cry or hit him or something else altogether, “I know that was a mistake, I told you so, and you know I'd never do that again.”

“But you are doing it again!” she insisted, waving her hands around to gesture at the evidence room and the equipment and newspaper clippings within it, “or if not that, then something resembling it! You are becoming upset and hiding in this room of evidence once again, and you will stay in here for weeks once more, until you are so desperate to protect us that you will do something else that is a mistake because you still refuse to trust that we will trust you and support you as our friend! Last time you did this because you could not think of a way to stop Slade without putting all of us in danger, and this time...”

Starfire hesitated and lowered her eyes, unsure if she had gone too far, but Robin said nothing in return, so concerned and desperate was Starfire's voice and tone that the arguments he was already preparing defending his behavior and explaining why it was important that he do what he was doing all seemed to melt away like snow in the sunlight. Several moments of silence went by before he prodded her to finish.

“This time?”

“This time,” said the Tamaranian girl, “you are doing it because you know that you will never find the Cinderblock.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

David blinked slowly at Beast Boy as Beast Boy sat crouched on the roof next to him. “... you can't be serious.”

Beast Boy grinned. “Why not?”

“Look at me,” said David, speaking slowly as if repeating the obvious. “Do I look heroic to you? Do I go out and solve crimes and fight bad guys and make the world a better place?”

“You gave Cinderblock something to think about, didn't you?”

“Yeah, 'cause he was trying to kill me! Not for the “greater good” or some 'hero's code'.”

“Pft,” scoffed Beast Boy, “so what dude? You still got him, and besides if all you were thinking about is not getting killed, why'd you go out after Raven and me?”

David lowered his head and chuckled. “Because I'm an idiot.” Beast Boy laughed at that, and his laugh was infectious enough that David did too.

“Seriously though, dude,” said Beast Boy, “why'd you do it? I mean Robin told you not to go, right?”

“Yeah,” said David, “and he wasn't too happy that I went.”

“Well you had to know he was gonna be like that, right? And you went anyway. So why?”

“Honestly,” said David quietly, shaking his head, “I don't know. It just... I guess it seemed like the thing to do at the time.”

Beast Boy smiled and nodded. “Uh huh, and what about the thing in the alley?”

“Well,” hesitated David, “she was... getting attacked, or close enough to it! I mean it was happening right there in front of me, I had to do something!”

“Exactly!” exclaimed Beast Boy with a broad grin, and he leaned back and crossed his arms, satisfied at having made his point.

David blinked in confusion. “... what?”

“Dude, don't you get it?” said Beast Boy, “That's what this thing is! That's what we do!”

“You... what?”

Beast Boy groaned and stood up, waving his arms around at the Tower they were standing on. “This! All this superhero stuff! That's all it is. We go around and try to help people and fight bad guys because,” he shrugged, “because we can! Because someone's gotta do it! Because we're all friends and we look out for each other! Because we see people in trouble and we try to help! That's all there is to it, dude. It's not like someone showed up one day and said that the five of us were chosen ones or something and assigned Jump City to us. We all just ran into each other in the middle of an alien invasion, and we decided we had to stop it, and after we did, we figured that we made a pretty good team, so we stuck together. That's it! We all do what we think the right thing is, and kick a lot of bad guy butt in the meantime!”

David watched Beast Boy with a blank stare on his face. “... that's it?”

“Of course!” exclaimed the changeling, “What did you think, that we got appointed by the Justice League or something? That we all got permits? We're just like other people that try to do what's right, except we're not, you know? None of us actually goes around like they've gotta be perfect all the time...”

David raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, nobody but Robin does that, but that's why he's in charge... sorta. But d'you see what I mean? All that stuff you did, it's the same thing we do.”

“Come on,” said David, shaking his head and wincing. “It's not at all the same thing. I mean, look at what you guys do, every day! I can't do a fraction of...”

“That's just practice, dude!” said Beast Boy, gesturing with his hands. “I've been at this stuff since I was seven!”

David's eyes widened. “You have?”

“Yep!” said the changeling with a boisterous grin as he adopted a suitably 'heroic' pose. “I was with the Doom Patrol before the Titans. I've kicked more bad guy butt than anyone here except maybe Robin...” he suddenly began to wonder, and screwed up his face as he thought about it. “... and Starfire,” he added, as he began counting on his fingers.

“There has to be more to it than that,” said David. “You make it sound like anybody can do this stuff!”

“What?” asked Beast Boy, having lost count somewhere around the Titans' first encounter with Trident. “No, no way, dude. Not everyone can be like us. I mean it can be really tough sometimes... when the bad guys look like they're gonna win or when one of your friends gets hurt...” he trailed off. “Not many people are willing to go out and fight like we have to. A lot of people just try not to rock the boat.”

“Yeah,” said David, “like me.”

Beast Boy grinned knowingly. “Oh yeah? I'd say you rocked it pretty hard a couple nights ago.”

“Yeah, and that was such a great idea.”

“Dude, who cares if it was a good idea or not, you were trying to help us, right? Even after I acted like a jerk to you? Cinderblock didn't attack you, nobody got hurt, nobody else at least, and if you hadn't been there, then that girl might've been killed. It's all good!”

“Tell Robin that,” scoffed David.

“Yeah,” said Beast Boy, his own bitterness creeping back up inside him as he balled one of his gloved hands into a fist, “well, Robin's not always right.”

David sighed and rubbed his bandaged side. “Maybe not,” he said, “but he is this time. I mean I didn't know Cinderblock wasn't going to be out there, and I didn't even have a plan for what I'd do if I found you guys. I just... ugh.”

“So, live and learn, dude,” said Beast Boy, pushing the bitterness aside again, “Adonis might've kicked your butt, but you're still here, right? Next time you'll have a plan or you'll be able to deal with him better.”

David groaned, shaking his head at Beast Boy. “There isn't gonna be a next time, Beast Boy,” he said. “I can't leave the tower anymore, or Cinderblock or some monster from the Black Lagoon might take out half the city trying to get at me. Everyone outside the tower thinks I died months ago, so they're not going to come looking for me, and even if they did, Robin's... he's right. It's too risky to let anyone else know I'm alive. It doesn't matter if I 'have what it takes' or not, I'm stuck here until this is all over and Robin isn't about to let me pretend I can match up to any of you guys anyway...”

Beast Boy blinked in near astonishment at David as he lowered his head and sulked. Several moments passed before David noticed that Beast Boy was staring at him. “... what?” he asked.

“Dude,” said Beast Boy, “how can you not know this?”

“How can I not know what?” asked David.

Beast Boy shook his head incredulously. “What do you think you and Robin are doing in the training room?”

David blinked. “Self... defense lessons,” he stammered unconvincingly. “It's just learning how to stop from...”

Beast Boy smiled and shook his head.

“... it's just self-defense,” insisted David, “right?”

“Um... dude? Please don't tell me you actually bought that...”

The kineticist fell silent for a few moments, and Beast Boy watched, waiting for the moment when David's eyes widened in surprise as what was previously obvious to everyone except him suddenly popped into his head.

“Wait...”



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-02 10:06pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 12, cont'd

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“You will never find the Cinderblock.”

Everything, every fiber of Robin's being, seemed to react to that simple statement with rejection and anger. It was with difficulty that he fought off the urge to shout an angry denial and turn back to the business of proving that he could find Cinderblock by finding him, no matter how long it took. Had it been Cyborg or Raven or Beast Boy making that claim, he would have taken it as, at best a challenge, at worst an accusation, but Starfire's tone could not have been further from such things, and as she gazed down at the floor almost mournfully, Robin struggled to find an answer, and settled on defiant rejection.

“I will find him,” he said with narrowed eyes and clenched fists. “I will find Cinderblock and his employers.”

Starfire slowly shook her head as she lifted her eyes to look at Robin once more. “No,” she said, “you will not. He cannot be found, not now.”

“You don't know that!” snapped Robin before he could stop himself.

“I do know it, Robin” said Starfire, maintaining a far more reasonable tone than he was, “because I trust you. I trust that you have attempted to find the Cinderblock for many weeks now without relent. I trust that you are among the finest detectives who have ever lived on this planet. I trust that if it were possible to find the Cinderblock at all, then you would have discovered his whereabouts and uncovered the plot that he is involved in.”

She sighed and slowly walked over and placed a hand on Robin's shoulder. “But you have not found the Cinderblock, even with all the searching and the hours spent in here, and because I trust you, Robin, I trust that this is because whoever has employed him has made him impossible to find.” She glanced past him for a second at the normally well-organized workbench, now covered in papers, files, CDs, books, and microfilm, “Tell me truthfully,” she said, “has there been any sign of the Cinderblock in all your searches?”

Robin didn't know what to say. He didn't know how he felt about what Starfire was saying, save that all of a sudden, he felt incredibly tired. He slowly slumped down into his chair and took a long, slow breath as he rubbed his eyes through his mask. “No,” he admitted bitterly, “nothing.”

Starfire seemed unperturbed by his admission. “Then why do you insist on continuing to seek for something that is not there to be found?”

“Because it's my job, Starfire,” said Robin, feeling his resolve starting to return to him. “Because if nobody finds Cinderblock then more people could be hurt the next time he attacks.”

He expected Starfire to argue with him some more, but instead, Starfire nodded slowly and clasped her hands behind her back.

“Do you remember,” she asked, “when I first arrived on this planet, and how it was that I came to be here?”

Robin nodded. “Those Gordanians were taking you back to their planet to be a slave. You escaped them.”

“Yes,” said Starfire, “but that was... not the first time that I attempted to do so.”

Robin said nothing, and Starfire sighed and sat down in another chair as she attempted to explain.

“When I first came to be a prize for the Gordanians,” she said, “they placed me in chains and locked me within a great prison on one of their fortress-worlds. Every day, I struggled and strained to find some way of escaping from the prison, and returning to Tamaran, but the prison they had built for me was too strong. I told myself that in all prisons there is always some way to escape, and so I tried everything I could think of to do, and always I was unable to so much as get out of my cell. And so after many months, I realized that I was not able to escape from the prison, and then I understood that the only way for me to escape was if I was no longer held within it.”

Robin slowly clenched his teeth. The concept of Starfire as a helpless prisoner was one he tried never to think of. Still, she clearly had a point in telling him all this, and so he waited.

“One day,” she said, “I ceased seeking a way out of the prison. I became docile and compliant with the Gordanian's commands. I pretended that I no longer wished to escape, and wished only to live out my days as their slave. It took some time to convince them that I was no longer a threat, but eventually they decided that they would transport me to their homeworld to be exhibited as a prize of war before their King. It was for that purpose that they placed me within the Gordanian Cruiser...”

“... and then you escaped?”

Starfire nodded. “They could not make a starship as secure as they could their prison-world, and they did not believe that I had enough of the... spirit... to make it necessary. The orange-skinned alien girl smiled innocently as she beheld Robin's gaze. “It was an error.”

'Understatement of the year,' thought Robin as Starfire stood back up.

“Robin,” she said, “I do not pretend to understand everything about your planet and all of the strange people and creatures that we have fought in protecting it, but... I do understand that there are times when we must be patient with ourselves if we are to perform our role as Titans. If you cannot find Cinderblock, Robin, then it is not because you have failed as a hero or as our leader, but because Cinderblock cannot be found by any seeker, and perhaps the best thing for us to do is to prepare for what we shall do when or if he returns, rather than trying to find something that cannot be found.”

Her words made sense, and her voice was reasonable and calm and concerned, and Robin wanted more than anything to agree and just let this damned search go, but everything he felt inside, everything he knew, told him that this was the way of giving up, of surrendering, of admitting that he was beaten. He couldn't do that. He just couldn't.

“I can't let Cinderblock get away with this,” he said. “I can't do it, Star. He has to be stopped.”

“And he will be stopped,” she said, a touch more confidence in her words than she had voiced earlier. “Just as I never planned to abandon my attempts to escape,” she said, “we need not abandon our wish to see Cinderblock and his associates receive the kicking of the butt they so richly deserve.” Robin had to bite his tongue to avoid laughing at Starfire's awkward construction, and perhaps she noticed, as she paused and asked uncertainly “Do you... understand the meaning of my comparison?”

“I get what you're saying,” he said. “If we stop hunting for Cinderblock, his masters might feel safe enough to let him out again, and this time we'd be ready.” He exhaled slowly and shook his head, trying to suppress the voice inside that cursed him for a coward for even thinking about calling off the search.

“But that will only work,” said Starfire, “if you can trust us.”

This comment brought Robin up short, and he lifted his head sharply. “What?” he asked, “I do trust you guys, you know that! How can you say that...”

“Forgive me,” said Starfire, “that was not what I meant. You do trust us to fight at your side, and to support you as best we can. You trust us to be your friends, and to be the heroes that you have taught us to be. What you do not trust us to do, is to trust you.”

Robin blinked stupidly, uncertain of what Starfire was trying to say. “What?”

“Once more,” said Starfire with a sigh, lowering her gaze, “forgive me if I do not understand, but I believe Robin that you feel, as I once did, that to stop trying is to give up all hope, and that if you no longer seek for Cinderblock, you fear we will think that you are weak or despairing or unfit to lead us.” She raised her eyes again to look at Robin. “Nothing could be further from the truth. You do not see that we trust you, Robin, to do what you think to be right, because that is what you always do, even at great risk to yourself. You believe we will not trust you if you do this, just as you believe that Beast Boy -”

“I thought you said this didn't have anything to do with Beast Boy,” interrupted Robin.

“It does not,” she replied. “Please let me finish. You believed that Beast Boy had become a monster and had harmed Raven, and so did Cyborg and I, and we were wrong. But you do not trust that Beast Boy will ever be able to forgive you for doubting him. You believe that you failed Beast Boy, and that he will never forgive you for it, because you do not understand that he trusts you, and even if he is angry now, he will forgive you if you ask him for it, just as he did Cyborg and I. You trust us and forgive us when we make mistakes and make errors, but you do not see that we trust and forgive you when you do such things as well.”

Robin watched Starfire in silence, unable to think of what to say, and slowly his certainty that there was nothing to be done but to stand his ground and keep looking forever if need be began to die away.

“We worry about you,” said Starfire. “I worry about you, and I do not wish to see you cause yourself anguish because you cannot trust us to trust you. If you truly believe that you will find Cinderblock by locking yourself in this room and searching for him, then I shall leave you be and wait for you to finish.” She smiled. “But if you do not believe this, and you are merely searching because you are afraid that we will think less of you if you do not, then you will either stop this at once, or I shall go and fetch the mustard and the bungee cord and get Beast Boy to locate the seagulls.”

Robin couldn't help but smile as Starfire said that, and slowly he stood up from his chair. Starfire stood before him, trying not to look excited and failing as always, and finally with a glance back at the desk littered with papers, he nodded to her.

“All right,” he said with a smile. “We'll do it your way.” And as he said it, the glow in Starfire's eyes and the smile that appeared on her face seemed to banish his fears that this was entirely the wrong thing to do back into the recesses of his mind, and fill the room with joy and happiness and song. Starfire nearly squealed as she threw her arms around Robin's neck and gave him a bone-crushing hug that left him gasping for breath.

“I am so relieved that you will not be locking yourself away!” she said happily. “Now we can all participate in Gorb-Gorb, the Tamaranean festival of berating drapery!”

Robin had learned by now just to smile and nod at such things. “Uh... looking... forward to it!” he said, declining to try to unravel what that could possibly mean. “But before we can do that, we still have to figure out what to do about David.” Remembering that this insoluble problem was still hanging over him dispensed with much of the good will that he had felt infusing the room.

To his surprise, Starfire merely giggled at his comment. “... what?” he asked, self-consciously.

“Robin,” she said, “you still do not trust us to trust you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You already know what you are going to 'do about David',” she said, “even if you hide it with words like 'self-defense'. We all can see this, even Beast Boy. But you must trust that we will trust in your decision to try.”

Robin blinked. “You... all?!”

Starfire nodded.

“But... I didn't even decide yet...!”

“Yes you did, you simply were afraid of what we would say once you told us, especially of what Beast Boy would say.” Starfire's smile was almost arrogant in the way she announced so matter-of-factly what he had been thinking. He made a mental note to ask Raven if the there were any other telepaths in the tower.

“And... Beast Boy's all right with it?”

“I do not know if Beast Boy is all right with the it,” she said, “but I believe he understands, and I know that he trusts you to make the right decision, even if you do not.”

Robin shook his head, allowing himself a chuckle as he considered what was going on here. “So then I guess we just have to ask David himself.”

Starfire smiled once more, placing her hand back on Robin's shoulder. “Friend David...does not trust himself or others yet,” she said. “He has never had a family, or... I believe many friends. But though he was wrong to do so, he left the Tower attempting to aid us in locating our friends. I believe that... he will be willing to try at least, if we can learn to trust him, and teach him how to trust us.”

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“No way, no way, man,” said David, backing away from Beast Boy with his hands held out in front of him, as though warding off some kind of monster. “There's just no way.”

“I'm telling you dude, he's putting you through Superhero 101. It's just like what Mento and Elasti-girl used to do with me back in the Doom Patrol.”

“Robin said it was self defence!” exclaimed David, still refusing to see. “Why the hell would he lie about it?”

“Don't even get me started on all the stuff Robin does just to be weird,” said Beast Boy with a scoff. “He probably had some plan or other to tell you later, after it was over or something.”

“But why me?”

Beast Boy blinked. “Why you?” he asked, incredulous. “Um... hello? Paging Mr. Psychokewhatsit! You have superpowers! How many people with that sort of thing do you think we have stashed in the tower?”

“Yeah but... so what?”

Beast Boy blinked in astonishment. “Dude, are you crazy? What do you mean 'so what'? You've had these powers for a while, right? Didn't you ever imagine you might be superhero material when you were a kid?”

Hell no,” said David, as though the very thought were abhorrent. Beast Boy paused in place, not entirely able to believe what he was hearing.

“Never?”

“Not since they showed up,” said David.

“Um... dude?” said Beast Boy hesitantly, his eyes widening slightly at the admission. “That's... a little weird.”

David gave a hollow laugh, then bent over and picked up another rock. “No,” he said, “that's not weird.” He turned and hurled the rock off the roof again, and detonated it in mid-air, sending small fragments raining down towards the water below. “That's weird,” he said, turning back to Beast Boy and pointing his finger at the puff of smoke left behind by the blast.

“It's your power,” said Beast Boy, “it's supposed to be weird! That's why they call it a superpower. You think that's weird, try turning into a bacteria and going into Cyborg's body.”

Beast Boy had expected that comment to produce the usual blank stare followed by David asking him about that particular endeavor (a memorable one, to say the least), but it did not. Instead David clenched both fists and his teeth and breathed painfully through his injury, narrowing his eyes to almost slits and responding in what was almost a hostile voice.

“Don't you get it?” he asked Beast Boy, his teeth still clenched and his voice constricted to a snarl. “I could kill you, right here,right now, just by thinking about it. I could blow the ground out from under you. I could make your belt implode and cut you in half. With a little work, I might even be able to turn your teeth into hand grenades. Think about that for a second. Even if I couldn't actually do it to you, because you're a superhero or whatever, I could do it to anyone I meet, without anyone even knowing it was me. I could do it accidentally!”

“Whoa, dude,” said Beast Boy, backing up slightly, “I thought you said you had control of...”

“I do have control, but are you telling me I'm never gonna make a mistake? Ever? 'Cause if I do make one, guess what happens. And the more you guys make me practice this stuff and use these powers, and the more Robin tries to get me to use them without hesitating or whatever, the better the chances are that I'm gonna make that mistake. The next time something happens, an attack or even just something normal like car accident or a fire or some guy getting in my face, what happens if I panic? What happens if I just react all of a sudden? I see something behind me or I think I hear Cinderblock's voice or I get really pissed off at something and then...”

David fell silent, dropping his hands and exhaling slowly as Beast Boy stood silently, not sure of what to say. David needed a second to regain use of his voice, and when he did, he continued.

“I told Robin once,” he said, “that I don't want to die, and I don't want to kill anyone, and I wasn't joking. And now you're telling me he wants me to turn into some kind of...” David trailed off, clenching his eyes shut, as though he couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence.

“I don't... know what Robin wants,” said Beast Boy. That much at least was true. “I'm... I'm sorry, dude. I wasn't trying to say you have to do this or make this call now or whatever. I was just saying that's what it looks like Robin's getting ready to do. I thought you knew.”

David scoffed at the idea as he stepped back and leaned against a large pipe before sliding down it into a seated position. “Beast Boy, I don't know anything,” he said bitterly. “I don't know what the hell I'm doing here, I don't know what's going on, I don't know what these powers are or how they work or why, or if they're gonna start going off by themselves one day like everyone seems to think they will or should, or why it gives me a headache to use them.” He fell silent for a moment or two, before a slight smile came to his face and he glanced up at Beast Boy. “Is it always this complicated around here?”

“Dude,” said Beast Boy, “you shoulda seen last year.” David could only shake his head as Beast Boy walked over and sat down next to him. Neither one said anything for a little bit, before Beast Boy broke the silence yet again.

“So,” he said without turning his head, “you... don't wanna be a superhero?”

He heard David sigh softly. “I didn't say that,” he said. “I just... never even thought about it, you know? And now it's like Robin's already made the decision and didn't tell me or something.”

“It's really not like that,” said Beast Boy. “Robin can be kind of a jerk, but he'd never make the decision for you. It's your choice.”

“Great,” said David, “now if I only could figure out how to make it, that would be something.”

“Well, dude, you mind if I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“You really never thought you could be a superhero one day?”

David shook his head almost whimsically. “Never once.”

“Why not?”

David turned his head to look at Beast Boy to see if the question was genuine, and Beast Boy explained. “I'm just saying, every kid I know of wanted to be superman when they grew up. All the kids we deal with, even the ones in the orphanages around town all wanna be like us. There's even this class full of kids who are missing an arm or a leg, and have fake ones, that all write to Cyborg because they think he's just like them. And you've actually got superpowers, dude. A lotta kids would kill for those. So... you know... what gives? Are we all that crazy?”

David smiled at Beast Boy's last question. “It's not you guys,” he said. “It's... those kids wish they were superheroes because they don't know what that is. They don't have powers so they think about how cool it would be to fly or do magic or turn into animals, and I'm sure that stuff is really cool. But I don't do any of that. I blow things up. I destroy things. That's it. That's not what I use my powers for, that's what my powers are. I knew that when I was eight. The first time I ever blew something up, I think it was a concrete block or something... I didn't sit there and think 'wow, look at that, that's so cool', I thought 'oh crap, what if someone else saw that?'“ He chuckled and shook his head a bit. “I always sort of assumed that if I ever really met a superhero because of these powers, it would be because they were coming to get me and stop me from using them, not to try and get me to use them more. If I was gonna be a super-anything, it wasn't going to be a hero. I mean how many superheroes go around blowing things up all day?”

Beast Boy shrugged. “Robin carries bombs,” he said. “Cyborg has a cannon in his arm. Raven can blow stuff up with her powers, she even does it by accident sometimes.”

David groaned softly. “Fine,” he said, “that's good for Raven and Cyborg and Robin. They're heroic. You're heroic. That dragon thing attacked, and you all just went after it. Cinderblock or some other monster shows up, and you drop everything and fight it just so that it can't hurt anyone else. That's not me at all. When that dragon attacked, I nearly jumped off the damn tower. Cinderblock showed up looking for me and I ran away. If he shows up again, I'll probably do it again. So you tell me, does that sound like the sort of person you'd want to have around in the middle of one of your fights?”

Beast Boy did not even hesitate. “Hell yes!”

That produced the blank stare.

“Dude,” he said, smiling and clapping David on the back, “I don't think I wanna meet the guy who isn't afraid of the stuff we fight. Even Robin wouldn't pretend to be like that. Raven might but she's just like that, she isn't actually as cold-blooded as she pretends to be, trust me. When that dragon showed up, I totally freaked out.”

“Yeah, and then you turned into a dinosaur and tried to rip its throat out,” said David. “You fight those things. I don't.”

“Like hell you don't!” insisted Beast Boy. “You blew up that water tank, remember? You knocked it off the tower. When Robin took on Cinderblock in the street that one time, you set a car off in his hands. You shoulda heard Cyborg afterwards. He was totally impressed.”

David shook his head. “Was he also impressed with how I shot Robin? And a lot of good the water tank did. The dragon barely noticed.”

Beast Boy jumped back up to his feet again. “Dude!” he cried, grinning and gripping the side of his head. “Don't you get it? Who cares if it didn't work? So you screwed up? You wanna know how many times I screwed up when I was with the Doom Patrol? At least you were trying to get it right. Robin once turned himself into a criminal because he thought it was a good idea! Raven lost it when we were fighting this crazy guy called Dr. Light and nearly ate him or something. And don't even get me started on Larry...”

“Larry?”

“Robin's clone from another dimension. Really long story.” David seemed to take his word for that one, and Beast Boy finished up as quickly as he could.

“Look, dude, I know you don't get what's going on here. I don't either half the time. And I know you don't think you've got what it takes to do it, but think about what happened again. You blew up the water tank when the Dragon was trying to eat Starfire. You blew up the car when Cinderblock was trying to crush Robin with it. You saved that Carrie girl from the guy who was after her, and maybe even from Adonis too, and you even risked Robin getting mad at you to come after me and Raven. Yeah, some of those things didn't go so well, or maybe you shouldn't've done 'em, but... you asked me if that was the kind of person I'd want to have around when we fought somebody?” He smiled warmly and extended a hand to help David up. “Totally.”

David did not take Beast Boy's hand immediately, indeed he almost looked like he had lost his motor skills. He stared up at Beast Boy like a shell shock victim, as if he couldn't associate what Beast Boy had just said with himself. Eventually though, he recovered enough sense to take Beast Boy's hand and slowly stand back up, his eyes unfocused and blinking, and Beast Boy grinned and considered if he should take the opportunity to try and convince David of something totally hilarious, but thought better of it.

“You... really mean that?” David asked slowly.

“Well, I don't know if you'll ever be as awesome or kick as much butt as me,” he said with a broad grin, “but not everyone can be this cool, just ask Cyborg.” David did not seem to appreciate the joke, so Beast Boy laughed anyway and continued. “It'll be fine, dude. It's not like we're gonna send you out tomorrow to go take something down yourself. I'm sure Robin knows what he's doing, or at least he thinks he does. Just don't stress about it.”

David shook his head, as though trying to clear it after a boxing bout. “Sorry,” he said, “it's just... kinda weird even thinking about this. I mean Robin was really pissed, and we had a big fight about that thing with Adonis... and now you're telling me he actually wants me to be... like you guys?”

“He just wants to see if you can do it,” said Beast Boy, artfully avoiding saying all the things he could have quite easily said about Robin right around now. “He's Robin, so he's probably got his own weird reasons. Just... don't worry about what he thinks so much.” His smile failed as he turned away slightly. “I don't.”

If David noticed anything the matter however, he gave no sign. He let out a long breath, and then turned back to Beast Boy. “So you think... I should go talk to him?”

“Who, Robin?” Beast Boy shrugged. “I dunno, dude. I can totally understand not wanting to deal with him sometimes.”

David shook his head slowly. “He was probably right,” he said with a sigh. “I'm just not sure about all this...”

“So don't worry about it. If you don't want to do this stuff, you really don't have to.”

“It's not that,” said David, turning and looking out at the city. “I just...” He chuckled. “I actually liked being normal, you know? No superpowers or monsters or plots to kill me or anything, just... school and the other kids and the social workers and everything else.” He sighed and shook his head. “And it's like that's all over with now, even if we do catch Cinderblock. And it's like part of me wants to just say 'go for it' and run downstairs and totally do this, and the other parts wants to go home.”

He laughed again at that statement. “Go home. I don't have any family, I haven't lived in one place for longer than nine months since I was two, and most of the places I did live were state-run orphanages, and I'm sitting here talking about that like it's home.” He rolled his eyes and took a long slow breath. “I guess it is...” he said.

“It's what you know,” said Beast Boy. “I grew up doing this stuff, so it was totally natural for me. I know it's gotta be pretty weird for you.”

“It's not the weirdness...” said David. “I think I melted my weirdness circuit back when that dragon showed up anyhow. It's that it's... permanent. I mean you can't... do this stuff that you guys do and then just stop and go off and become a normal person again, can you?”

“Well uh...” said Beast Boy sheepishly. “I'm not sure. I mean... you know... I'm green.”

David's face fell. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to...”

“No, dude, really, I get it. It's not a small thing to just go and do. I can't help you decide, but... I mean it's not all bad, in fact it's really pretty sweet. Everyone looks up to you, everyone knows who you are. People stop you on the street and say that they think you're awesome, and on top of that... I mean your job is to help people by taking out bad guys. It's hard and it hurts sometimes and it's dangerous and you worry a lot about if you're gonna be able to do it... but if you can do it, it's really the coolest thing in the world. I mean it.”

David considered this for a moment, before finally shaking his head as though trying to wake up. “Well... I think I'll go see if I can find Robin. You gonna... stay up here?”

Thinking about it for a second, Beast Boy nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I think so. Good day for flying.”

That of course was not at all the reason, but David didn't know it, and he simply nodded. “All right,” he said, and he turned to go.

“Um, dude?”

David stopped and turned back. “Yeah?”

“I really didn't mean what I said that time in the training room. I don't think you're too weak for this.”

David took a long, slow breath. “Yeah, well,” he said, as he turned to go, “that makes one of us.” And with that he walked back into the stairwell and vanished into the Tower.

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The corridor was dark, the slate gray walls not reflecting anything close to enough light, as David slowly padded down it towards what he hoped was the common room. He wasn't entirely sure. How the Titans navigated around this place without signposts was totally beyond him. He turned several corners, pausing at each intersection to try and remember a familiar landmark, but the further he went, the more aware he was that he was hopelessly lost. It did not hit home however until he turned the final corner and found himself staring at a dead end hallway with several doors far too small to be those of the common room periodically studded along it. Closing his eyes and muttering a curse to whoever had designed this place (a very quiet curse, as he wasn't certain if the offender was Cyborg or Robin or some hapless contractor), he was about to turn around to leave when a voice caught him from behind.

“Trying to get somewhere?”

David froze as he heard the voice, then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “How'd you know?”

“You've been going in circles for ten minutes,” said Robin. “I could see you from the...”

“... tracer bug, I figured.” finished David, and he turned around. Robin was standing a dozen paces away, having just exited one of the doors David had walked past to get to this place. Robin's gaze was, as always, both unwavering and totally inscrutable, and it only took a few seconds before David sighed and lowered his gaze.

“Look,” he said with a sigh, “I'm... sorry I was an idiot.” He paused before adding, “both times.”

“Both times?”

“You were right,” he said. “I shouldn't have... gone out there.”

“No,” said Robin, “you shouldn't have. But I should have let you come with us instead.”

David raised his eyes again, now a bit confused. “You said it was too dangerous. You said I shouldn't leave until Cinderblock was caught.”

“He's not going to be caught,” said Robin, and David thought he could detect a note of reproach in Robin's voice, but didn't know who it was directed towards. “Not this time. I knew that before we went out there. I can't find him. I don't think I'm going to find him.”

David felt his heart sink at the news. “So... then what happens now? Does that mean... what does that mean?”

To David's surprise, Robin did not reply with a plan or a series of orders for what was going to happen next. Instead he crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “Well that's up to you.”

“Up to me?”

“You have a... unique power,” said Robin. “And you've never used it before. That might be why they want to get you, it might not. I've been trying to... teach you how to use it to defend yourself, but... there's a lot more to it than that. Not just self-defense. More than that. I know all this stuff is new to you but, if you want, if you’re willing to stay here and not put the city in danger again by leaving… then I’d be willing to see what you’re actually capable of.”

David didn’t reply immediately. He got the sense that neither of them quite knew what they were talking about, but then he could never figure out what Robin was actually thinking.

“You mean… like what you guys do?”

“Maybe,” said Robin. “What we do is… very dangerous and not for everyone. It’s a huge responsibility. People depend on us, not just to protect them, but to set an example, and show them that evil doesn’t always win, and that there are people willing to stand up and fight to make the world a better place. A lot of people think that sounds corny, or like rhetoric, but we don’t, and we put our lives on the line to do just that.” Robin stood up again and walked over towards David. “Do you think you could do that?”

David had no clue, and in the absence of any other bright idea, answered with the truth.

“I don’t know.”

And to David’s surprise, Robin smiled.

“Good answer.”

The ice broke, and David actually laughed. What else was there to do, after all? In the end, what else was there to do?

“So do you think I could?”

“I don’t know,” said Robin. “But if you’re willing to try, and I mean really try… then I’m willing to find out. Are you willing to try?”

“I don’t know that either,” said David, and he sighed. “I don’t know anything here. I never… thought about this sort of thing before I got here, and now it’s… it’s a lot to take in, you know?”

“I know,” said Robin, “but you don’t have to make a decision right here. All I need to know now is, are you willing to stay, and are you willing to try?”

There were all kinds of ways to answer that, and most of them shot through David’s head as he stood there in the hallway. His fears, his worries, everything from the dark nightmares, waking or otherwise, that had plagued him since he had come to this tower, all of them shot through his head. He thought of himself getting killed, maimed, captured by Cinderblock. He thought of the taste of blood in his mouth from the wreckage of the Center, and of Adonis bearing down on him. He thought about having to go around for the rest of his life with the knowledge that at any time he wanted, he could kill anyone in sight painfully. He thought about the headaches that shot through him whenever he pushed his powers, thought about the sound of the gunshot that had winged Robin, thought about all the terrible things that might come from what Robin was suggesting, all in a flash.

And when he returned to reality, he found that he was nodding anyway.

“I’ll try,” he said, and Robin’s eyes narrowed and he smiled again and uncrossed his arms to extend one hand to David, just as he had done the first day David arrived in the Tower.

“It’s not gonna be easy,” said Robin, but his voice didn’t sound like a warning as much as it did a promise, and, while it was always impossible to tell what Robin was thinking, David got the distinct sense that for once, Robin was actually pleased.

It was anyone’s guess why.

“So where were you trying to get to?”

“Um… the common room,” said David. “To… find you.”

Robin jerked his head back the way David had come. “Follow me,” he said.

David followed Robin back through the twisting, turning halls, back towards the common room, but his mind wasn’t on the destination. Instead he found himself wondering about what Beast Boy had said, and Robin, and everyone else during his stay here. And it occurred to him that he hadn’t actually asked a reasonably important question. ‘Why’? Why was Robin willing to go through this? Why did Beast Boy think he had what it took? Why would any of them even consider him for such a thing? They had to know that they were miles beyond anything he had ever dreamed of achieving. If it wasn’t obvious just from looking at him, he had only told them all eighty times. So why?

He might have stopped Robin to ask, but to be honest, at this point, it no longer mattered. All he wanted to do right now was just get through the rest of the day, and see what the next one had to offer. And so to that end, he kept his head down and followed Robin, intent on simply letting this day run out without any more questions. The door to the common room finally loomed ahead, and both he and Robin approached it. The scanners detected their approach, and the door slid open to admit them.

And they promptly stopped.

Several moments passed in silence, as neither David nor Robin moved a muscle, standing in the doorway like mannequins. It was David who finally broke the silence… as well as his promise to ask no more questions that day, with, inevitably, one more.

“Robin?” he asked, not looking over at the Titans’ leader.

“Yeah, David?” replied Robin, still unmoving himself. David wasn’t entirely sure how to phrase this question in a manner that made rational sense, so he decided to go with the literal approach.

“Why is there a twenty foot caterpillar eating the refrigerator?”

Robin considered the matter carefully, clearly weighing the various possibilities and answers that could be provided, and replied with a very reasoned. “I have no idea.”

“Just… checking,” said David, and he blinked at the gigantic larva-shaped beast that was sitting in the middle of the common room as it seemed to smile and make gurgling noises that sounded almost happy. And as he debated whether or not he should run screaming back down the hallway the way he had come (and if so, precisely what he should be screaming as he ran), the thought came to mind that, whatever else could be said about living in Titan Tower, there was certainly never a dull moment.

And he was really beginning to miss those.



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
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Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-02 10:07pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 13: To Reason Why

“When I asked these men, these citizen soldiers, how they were able to fight like heroes for so many days without end, how they were able to sustain everything that the finest army in the world could throw at them and keep on fighting, they all told me the same thing. The desire not to let down your buddies was so strong, so binding, that it overwrote all other priorities, in many cases, even survival.”

- Steven Ambrose

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The training was, by far, the hardest thing he had ever imagined.

A specific moment stood out from early on, from when Robin had asked him to observe some of the Titans' own collective combat training sessions. Robin had worked the other Titans so hard that day that Beast Boy asked, only half in jest, if it was Robin's plan to kill them all before any of Jump City's crooks could. David had laughed then, but after a single day of real training of his own under Robin's 'tutelage', not the hour here and hour there he had been receiving previously, but an actual, honest-to-god training day, he had stopped laughing.

After a week, he was starting to think Beast Boy was on to something.

Never in David's life had he experienced or even dreamed of something as punishing and as difficult as this process was. He was not an athlete by any means, nor a fighter in any sense of the word. He had barely ever gotten into a real fight during school or at the various foster centers, and certainly never won one. Now he was expected to learn not merely how to become both of these things at once, but how to become something entirely more than either of them. To accomplish this transformation, to mold David into something new, this was Robin's task now, and Robin, as always, set about it with his customary single-minded dedication towards a goal that might well be impossible, but would be attempted anyway, come what may.

The vast majority of the work was physical in nature, at least at the beginning. David wasn't exactly in bad shape so much as he was not in any shape. Thin and small, David best resembled Beast Boy in terms of build at least, save of course that Beast Boy, even in his human form, was preternaturally lithe and agile, even if he lacked Robin's acrobatic precision and grace. David, though reasonably quick for a kid his age, was nothing of the sort, and possessed the approximate stamina (panic-fueled bursts of adrenaline notwithstanding) of an asthmatic hamster. Accordingly, it was this element that Robin concentrated on first, setting a grueling pace and holding it, until David was certain that every day was going to be his last on this earth. If Robin didn't kill him outright, he would drop dead from exhaustion before it was all through.

There were laps, endless laps to be wearily jogged around the tower, around the island, around the training room, so many that he lost count after three days. There was round after hour-long round of what was politely-termed ‘combat training’, usually with Robin, occasionally with someone else, a variation which merely changed which one of the Titans would simulate beating the stuffing out of him that day. Despite the fact that it was his powers which had (theoretically) recommended him to this process, the combat training was purely physical to begin with. It consisted of Robin and the others trying out various different combat styles on David, none of which seemed to stick particularly well. Strength and experience aside, David was simply not built for things like boxing or wrestling, nor had he the speed and agility for more subtle options. Robin seemed to have an idea of what he was doing, but David couldn't figure out for the life of him why it was necessary to concentrate so much on hand-to-hand combat rather than on what seemed to him to be the more important aspects, namely his powers.

That is, until one day he asked.

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“Attack me,”

David hesitated, knowing full well what was about to transpire. Still, there was nothing for it, and he balled his hand into a fist and lunged at Robin as fast as he could. He thought he had done fairly well, not telegraphing the punch whatsoever, and aiming for a point behind Robin rather than Robin himself (as Robin had taught him). His self-congratulation lasted exactly two milliseconds as Robin, as always, sidestepped the blow and lightly tapped him on the back and sent him crashing to the ground to land in a heap on the mat.

“Like I said, always make sure you've got a plan for if the enemy blocks or deflects you. Now try it again, and this time be ready for if I catch your arm.”

David tried to will himself through the floor, and when that didn't work, he slowly got back up again. “This is insane,” he muttered to himself as he smoothed out his shirt and turned back towards Robin.

“What was that?”

David hesitated. He hadn't intended for Robin to hear that. He looked up to find the Boy Wonder staring him straight in the eye. There was nothing for it but to elaborate.

“I said this is insane,” he said, trying to sound more reasonable than he felt. “I mean it's not like I'm actually gonna hit you, right? Even the other Titans can't hit you, I've seen them try, so... what's the point of all this?”

“The point is to teach you how to handle an opponent in close quarters,” said Robin. “That's something you need to know.”

“Yeah, but...” David trailed off, as though the objection wasn't important enough to warrant discussing, but Robin seemed to take a different view.

“But what?”

David shook his head and sighed. “If I ever am trying to handle someone in close quarters,” he said slowly, “then, unless I'm missing something, I'm not gonna go after them with my fist. Shouldn't I just concentrate on blowing stuff up? I mean, no offense, I know this is your thing and all, but why would I ever want to do this martial arts stuff in a real fight if I'm no good at it?”

David expected some kind of long-winded explanation, or perhaps a terse order to try it again. What he did not expect was for Robin to stand there for a moment, considering what he had just said, and then for him to finally shrug.

“Okay.”

David hesitated. “Okay?”

“Go ahead,” said Robin with a slight smile. “Attack me with your powers.”

This couldn't be right. “Seriously?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Completely,” said Robin. “Go all out if you want. Whenever you're ready.”

It felt like a trick, but then Robin was the boss...

“Er... okay...” he said. “On three?”

Robin's smile broadened and he dropped into a loose ready position. “Whatever you like.”

David nodded and began stringing the molecules together in his head in the proper pattern. “One...

David too had tricks up his sleeve, and before he got to three, before he even got to two, his finger suddenly shot out, aimed directly at the mat underneath Robin's feet. The mat shook and groaned and ripped and then exploded into a cloud of stuffing and feathers with a satisfying “BANG”. He was careful to modulate the blast properly, as there was no use breaking Robin's ankle or worse. It was powerful enough to knock Robin sprawling, but that was it.

Or rather it would have been, except that Robin wasn't there.

Perhaps he had seen David moving before he had moved or perhaps he had read the intention in his eyes, but either way, Robin sprang into the air the instant David's finger twitched. The explosion went off behind the acrobatic teen, and Robin made use of it, allowing it to push him up and into a flip, flying over David's head like his namesake and landing behind him. David didn't even have a chance to register what had just happened before Robin grabbed him, pivoted, and threw him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, tossing him easily down face first onto the mat even as bits of debris from the explosion rained down on the both of them like confetti.

It took David a moment or two to realize that he was laying on the ground, again, and another moment or two to replay what had just occurred in his head, trying to figure out just how he had come to be there. By the time he had sorted out the fact that Robin was probably a secret wizard who had teleported out of the way of the explosion (it made perfect sense to him), he looked up to see Robin leaning over, offering him a hand to help him up, with a satisfied grin on his face that might just have had a trace of smugness to it.

“That's why.”

David accepted Robin's help. “Because you can beat my powers?” he asked, not sure if that was the point of the demonstration.

Robin merely smiled. “Because I'm not the only one who can.”

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It only took a few incidents like that one to convince David that he was better off simply doing as he was told and not asking the reasons why, which in a way was fortunate, because it wasn't long before he no longer had the energy to think anymore. Days of relentless, soul-shattering physical training blended into one another and formed a sort of blur from which he never seemed to emerge. After a week or two, it was not uncommon for him to finish up a session so exhausted that he could barely stand, and his sleep habits had suffered accordingly. The first time he had fallen asleep at the dinner table was horrible, in that he had woken up hours later having been placed back in his room and, for a moment, didn’t know where he was or what he was doing there. By the time it had become a weekly occurrence, the others had learned to simply leave him there and let him wake up whenever he awoke. He was perpetually at the brink of total physical exhaustion, and his only respite (if it could be called that) came when it was time to practice using his powers.

One might have thought that there were only so many variations on the theme of “blow something up”, but Robin once again had thought of nearly everything, and David found himself doing things that he hadn't known he was capable of doing, nor even that they were physically possible. He spent two days going over every single aspect of his own powers with Robin and Raven, from beginning to end and back again, both of the asking him questions he could barely understand regarding how he manipulated the molecules, how the energy was transferred, in what ways it could be shifted, and how it 'felt' to shift it. David wasn't certain if his answers were any help, he knew next to nothing about his own powers after all, but it wasn't long before Robin was talking him through the process of not just detonating objects, but manipulating the explosions to produce the desired effect. He learned how to cause an explosion in only part of an object, sending it flying at high speeds away from the epicenter of the blast rather than merely blowing it to pieces. He learned how to channel the force of the explosions in a given direction, an incredibly tricky process but a vital one, as it would permit him to actually stop an object hurled at him, rather than merely shattering it into fragments, or to limit the damage of an explosion so as not to place everyone nearby in danger. How Robin, who had no powers of his own, knew how to talk him through the insanely difficult process of learning how to manipulate his powers in this way was totally beyond him, and yet David's clumsy, halting descriptions of what it felt like to manipulate molecules of lead rather than carbon, or what it was like to 'compress' molecular energy with his mind were adequate enough for Robin to coach him on what to do and how to do it. Raven was of course very helpful with the technical aspects of using superpowers, as was Starfire and even Beast Boy, but the single, unifying coordinator and guide was Robin, and Robin alone.

Indeed, even as David sweated and ached and cried and dragged himself into the training room for session after session, still he could see that what Robin was doing was something wholly unique. This was not merely some boot camp; there was none of the servile humiliations and petty indignities that a drill instructor would inflict on a recruit to break their spirit and subsume their individuality into that of a larger unit. David's spirit was not the subject here. His stamina, mental, physical, and otherwise, was. When Robin told David to run a lap around the tower or detonate a target with his powers, it was never for the sake of conditioning him to obey orders unquestioningly, but part of a calculated plan, the details of which were known only to Robin. On some days, Robin would tell him precisely what to do and how to do it, and on others he would merely set him a goal, to avoid being hit or to defeat a hundred drones or to crack a thirty-ton block of solid granite in half without spilling the cups of water that were set around it in a ring.

Robin seemed to know David's limits better than David himself did. Sometimes Robin would look over David's tired, trembling form with a practiced eye, and switch from physical to kinetic or mental training just at the moment when David was certain he could do no more without passing out. Other times he would not, and instead tell David to dig deeper and try harder, that he knew he was capable of better, and David believed him not because it flattered his ego to do so, but because Robin simply knew better than he did. Perhaps it was self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps something else, but when Robin told him he could do better, David would grit his teeth and fight back the migraine that was pounding in his head and the acidic burn that seared through his muscles, and he would. Sometimes it was only incrementally better. Sometimes it still wasn't enough. But the day that he managed, on his ninth attempt, with a percussion orchestra pounding in his head and the contents of his stomach threatening to burst violently out of his throat, to use repeated, shaped-charged explosions to carve a three-foot gash right through that block of solid rock without spilling a single drop of water around it... that day made all the crushing efforts of the previous days worth it.

It was strange. At the time he did it, his primary and overwhelming feeling was one of relief, relief that the task was finally over, relief that he would be allowed to go and collapse and fall asleep. Robin had told him he'd done a good job and Starfire, who had been looking in on the session, had cheered and congratulated him on “successfully bisecting the wicked mineral aggregate”, and he'd sort of smiled wanly and stumbled out the door, too tired even to speak. It was late that evening, when Cyborg had managed to rouse him from the torpor he had fallen into to go and get some dinner (it took quite an effort), that he walked into the common room, still tired enough to trip over his own feet, and slumped into a chair like a corpse. There was some kind of conversation going on, with Starfire proudly describing some exploit or another that someone had done that had taken place recently, but he could barely maintain enough focus to avoid stabbing himself with his fork, let alone follow what was being said. Accordingly, it wasn't until a minute or two in that he noticed Beast Boy and Cyborg casting grinning glances in his direction, and he forced himself to focus on the words being spoken, and only then realized that she was talking about what he'd managed to do earlier that day. It was a shock, and the look on his face had obviously been priceless enough that Beast Boy had shot juice out of his nose laughing and Cyborg felt obligated to whip out a camera and record it for posterity, but that barely registered.

What registered was that Starfire had actually been talking about his accomplishment to the rest of them. What registered was Robin remarking that he'd made a lot of progress in the last couple weeks. What registered was Raven turning her head and giving him the slightest nod of acknowledgment as Beast Boy mopped up the spilled juice and said that it was really awesome and he’d have to show him some time and Cyborg asked him what it felt like to finally get through that obstacle. And in the back of his mind, he knew that it was just an exercise, and that Robin would be back to grinding him into powder again tomorrow and that Starfire thought that pretty much everything that ever happened was impressive enough to talk about, and that Raven and Beast Boy and Cyborg were just being polite in their own different ways, that it didn’t mean anything at all because they were still superheroes and did stuff like this on a daily basis, but despite all that he found, to his surprise, that he actually felt… good. Not great, not outstanding, not like he wanted to jump up and run out for another training session, but good, like he was actually something more than a little league ballplayer who’d snuck his way by fraud into the world series.

Had this been a Hollywood movie, he would likely have used his newfound determination to power through the next day’s practice and reach new heights, but this was not a movie, and the next day, he found he was so sore and exhausted that he could barely snap a twig or take a step, and Robin had to cancel the training session for the day to give him a chance to recover, but it still helped nonetheless. Not the praise so much as just the feeling, fleeting though it was, that he was actually doing the right thing by being here and doing this, that he could do this, become this. Robin kept him so busy that he barely had time to question his being in the Tower anymore, but even Robin couldn’t do anything about the moments when the Titans’ lives were interrupted by a call to go confront some crazed villain.

One might have thought David would welcome those rare moments of peace, when he was alone in the Tower with no exercises to perform or training regimens to undertake, but he did not. For one thing, every call meant that there were dozens if not hundreds or thousands of innocent people in danger, some of whom might die despite the best efforts of all five Titans. One did not have to be a superhero to appreciate that a bomb threat or a paramilitary assault on a populated city was a bad thing, even if it meant a break for him personally. But also, time alone, time to think, meant time for all his fears and doubts to creep back into the fore. It meant that he would sit there on the couch in Titans’ Tower and watch on television as the five superheroes did battle with whatever monster or army they were confronting this time, and see them at their most glorious, their most transcendent, and as he did so, his thoughts would swirl around him, repeating over and over the same old claims, that he wasn’t in their league, that he was deluding himself and deluding them, that he could never do what they did, be what they were, that they were demigods and he was a normal kid, and that he should slink back off and stop pretending that he could manage this, stop wasting everyone’s time with his hubris and his arrogance and his stupidity in even presuming to become a superhero.

And then the Titans would come back home, and tell him of their exploits and their victories, and Robin would tell him it was time to continue working at doing just that. And he would.

Why?

He didn’t know. The question defied rational answer, and before long he was beginning to think that part of Robin’s strategy was to leave him so tired and so busy that he would never get to ask that question. He could theoretically have stopped at any time, thrown up his hands and declared that it was too much and that he was done. It was never really an option though, and he knew it, not because he was ‘driven’ to succeed or because he had had a burning desire to become a superhero since age two, but more precisely because it seemed pre-ordained that he would continue trying until he died or failed. He was used to a ‘system’, to a ‘process’ that you moved through on your way towards wherever you were going. Bureaucracies and paperwork and transfer requests and records and someone deciding for you what you should do and become, this was what he was used to; this was what his life had been before Cinderblock. And now Robin was showing him a path, a trail. It didn’t matter where it led or how steep it was, it was a path, and once he was on it, there was no choice but to walk it to the end, even if it led right off a cliff.

However, Robin was the one leading him down this path, and Robin was too good at this to walk him off a cliff.

Robin never behaved as though there was a risk of David failing to accomplish this monumental task of metamorphing into something new. If David failed to complete an assignment, then he would have to do it again, and again, and again. There was no talk of “flunking”, and while he could see Robin getting testy sometimes when he failed to get it right for the eighteenth time, he never pressed it by protesting that Robin was being too hard on him. He knew it would accomplish nothing save for making Robin angry, and while he occasionally questioned the value (and the sanity) of what they were doing, he staunchly forced himself never to question the intensity, if only because he was afraid that Robin would find a way to dial it up yet further. The few times he was tempted to cry out against the punishing schedule or scream at Robin that he was demanding the impossible, he checked himself with a reminder that he was attempting to do the impossible by becoming one of them, that Robin was working at this just as hard as he was, and that, above all, Robin knew better than he did. He still didn’t know if he could become a superhero, in fact every time he thought about it, the answer came back ‘NO’ in a deafening cacophony of evidence and reasons. But Robin seemed to think he could, or else why would he persist with the charade? And as always, Robin knew best…

But of course, that only shifted the question into one that he had never been able to answer since he first arrived here, a question that had been gnawing at him ever since the Titans first announced that he was welcome to stay here in the Tower with them indefinitely. It was a question that had only grown more confusing with every stupendous victory the Titans scored and every favor they had done for him, one that tore at what little confidence he had whenever he let it, one that he had tentatively tried to ask, but had never gotten a straight answer for:

Why were they doing this?

Why? What possible reason could they have for wanting him here when they knew that even at his best, he might (theoretically-speaking) be able to match some of what they could do. He was not some chosen figure destined to lead the world into light or save the universe, for that they seemed to be doing plenty well on their own. The more he saw of their exploits and their lives, the more amazed he was at how well they complimented one another, at how it was that the five of them, so completely different, managed to make this insanely dysfunctional family that they had here work, and whenever he thought of this, he felt like he was once again intruding on them, disrupting everything by his mere presence. It was what had driven him to leave initially, but now that this was no longer an option, he still couldn’t figure out what possible reason any of them had for doing this for him. Whatever they all said, it was not merely business as usual. Superpowers were perhaps rare, but they weren’t that rare, and he knew that there were other, fully trained metahumans out there, superheroes in their own right that the Titans had befriended and worked with, and yet had never brought into their home and offered to make a part of their team. They were called “Honorary Titans”, and he had even (briefly) met one or two of them, people like Aqualad or Bumblebee. None of them had been invited to do what he was trying to do, even though they had years of experience as full-fledged superheroes. Even had it been a simple matter of him having no place else to go, and in need of aid to prevent from being tracked down by Cinderblock, it still made no sense that they would go out on such a limb, put in so much effort, all for the sake of trying to do with him what they could have done in a heartbeat with any number of other candidates. If they were looking for a sixth member, they could have picked anyone. As best he could tell, from his admittedly limited viewpoint, they didn’t need a sixth, and in fact they positively shied away from the subject and from his awkward attempts to ask why, why him, why they were willing to go to this much effort on his behalf?

He didn’t know. He had no evidence or clue whatsoever as to what their reasons were. None that is, until one day in the common room…

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was quieter than usual that day, probably because there were fewer people about. Cyborg had been gone for three days on assignment in Steel City, helping some of the Honorary Titans set themselves up in a tower of their own. Robin was off conferring with the Mayor and the Chief of Police of Jump City, a process which, judging from his reluctance was approximately as pleasant as dental surgery without anesthetic. Starfire had gone with him, though nobody, not even David, needed to ask why she would do such a thing. David had accordingly been granted the day off, and he made use of it as productively as he could, that is to say by sleeping. He had woken up late for the first time in Lord-knew how long, made his way to the common room for something to eat, and sat down to see if there was anything on TV about Cyborg and his adventures in Steel City. He didn’t even get that far. No sooner had he sat down on one of the smaller couches near the side of the room than he felt drowsiness flowing over him again, and without even picking up the remote control, he lay back, and fell fast asleep.

He woke up to business as usual.

His eyes snapped open with a start as the door to the common room burst open and there was the sound of two figures rushing inside. It was not hard to figure out who, even though he couldn’t see either one of them from where he was laying. The identities were confirmed a moment later when Raven snapped at Beast Boy.

“I don’t care when it came out, I’m not playing your stupid video game, got it?”

“C’mon, Raven,” pleaded Beast Boy. Super Mega Monkeys 7 needs two players, and you’re the only one here! Pleeeeeeeease?!”

Raven sounded like she was about ready to take Super Mega Monkeys 7 and feed it to the green changeling, not that this was anything new. “Go bug David then, I’m busy.”

“He’s asleep in his room!” protested Beast Boy. “Robin said not to wake him up unless there was a fire or something. Cyborg won’t be back for two whole weeks! I need to play with someone before then!”

Raven scoffed. “You’re an addict, you know that?” she said bitingly. “Can’t you just wait for Robin to get back?”

“Robin doesn’t have time. He says he has to keep working with David or he’ll never get ready.”

David caught his breath at that statement, and forced aside the thoughts that immediately rose to the fore, shouting that he was taking up all of Robin’s time with his pretentious imitations of a superhero, and that he shouldn’t be doing so.

“Well then I guess you’re out of luck,” said Raven, and she turned to walk over to the counter to read.

Beast Boy refused to give up. “Aw c’mon, Raven. Don’t make me do the face…”

“The face works on Starfire, Beast Boy,” came the reply, “not on me.”

“Oh yeah?” There was the sound of rustling pages, and David lifted his head and peaked over the couch to see Beast Boy in the form of a tiny kitten with oversized eyes standing on top of Raven’s open book on the kitchen counter, mewling up at Raven, who looked particularly un-amused. David would have given even money that she was about to throw him out the nearest window (or perhaps straight through the wall), but instead she sighed, and groaned, and shook her head as though calling on the gods to witness her travails.

“If I agree to play one round with you, will you shut up about your stupid video game until Cyborg gets back?”

Beast Boy froze, needing a second to interpret the fact that she had just agreed. When he finally understood, he sprung back into human form so fast that he forgot to get off the counter and took a nosedive off of it onto the ground. Raven rolled her eyes as Beast Boy scrambled back to his feet. “Sweet!” he exclaimed, “this is gonna be so awesome, Raven, you’ll see! You’ll love this one, it’s got eighteen characters, thirty weapons, and the best graphics ever! Once you play it, you’re never gonna want to stop!”

“Somehow, I think I’ll resist,” said Raven deadpan, sarcasm rolling off her tongue thick enough to drown in. “Let’s get this over with…”

The two moved towards the television and sat down facing away from David, and David laid his head back down as Beast Boy animatedly explained what the controls and who the characters were, before inserting the game disk. Soon the cartoonish sounds of the gameplay were all that he could hear, and he closed his eyes once again and began to drift back off…

“Um, Raven?”

David cracked an eye back open. Beast Boy’s voice was more subdued than before, and his tone more hesitant, much more like the last time David had overheard a conversation between him and Raven.

“Hmm?” said Raven, her attention still focused on the game being played.

“I just… wanted to say thanks.”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” she said. “I’m only playing one round to shut you up.”

“No, I meant… for before… for talking to me, out at the rock.”

David hadn’t the first idea what Beast Boy was talking about, but he did know that Beast Boy liked to spend an awful lot of time out at the rocks near the shore of the island. He’d never gone out there to bother him at such times, but he had seen him from the top of the tower, skipping rocks off the bay’s surface, or just staring at the waves.

Raven didn’t reply immediately. “Don’t mention it,” she said finally, “we all have hard days.”

“Yeah,” said Beast Boy, and his voice had a forlorn note to it. Suddenly, David heard Raven get up from the chair she was sitting in and walk over to where Beast Boy was sitting before sitting back down, presumably next to him.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Hmm? What? Nothing. I'm cool,” said Beast Boy. There was a burst of sound from the video game, and David guessed someone had just won a point. Oddly enough, Beast Boy neither reacted with celebratory taunting nor with shocked disbelief, as he normally did when he won or lost a point in these games. Instead the game played on.

“Beast Boy,” asked the sorceress, “what is it.”

Beast Boy sighed. “It's her birthday.”

The game sounds stopped.

Neither Beast Boy nor Raven made a sound, and David felt the vibe in the room shifting, and didn't dare to raise his head to see what was going on. His first clue was Beast Boy muttering a soft “Thanks,” though he couldn't see what he was thanking her for.

“Do you still visit her?” asked Raven.

“Sometimes,” said Beast Boy. “Just... I kinda figured somebody ought to.” Another pause. “D'you think we'll ever be able to change her back?”

“I don't know, Beast Boy,” said Raven, and her tone was much more sympathetic than David had ever heard it before. “Maybe, but even if we do - “

“Do you...” interrupted Beast Boy, “Do you hate her for what she did?”

David hadn't the faintest idea who 'she' was or what she had done, but his mind flashed back to that conversation he'd had with Raven, that one night in his room.

'Something happened.'

Raven didn't answer immediately. “Not... anymore,” she said at length. “She was scared and stupid and made a couple of really bad decisions. If I had met Slade when I was younger instead of you guys... I might have wound up the same way.”

“What?” asked Beast Boy. “You? No way, Raven. You'd never work for someone like Slade.”

Raven's tone darkened, and David could swear he felt the temperature in the room start to drop along with it. “There's a lot you don't know about me,” she said, “If the first person I'd met had been someone like Slade...” she trailed off and sighed. “You don't know what I'm capable of.”

“Yeah I do,” said Beast Boy immediately, “sorta. You're... you're different than Terra was. You're tougher, kind of, and I don't think I've ever seen you get scared. Well except for that time at Halloween...”

“I get scared just like she did,” said Raven. “Not admitting it was what made that stuff last Halloween happen.”

“Well maybe,” said the changeling, “but I know you'd never do what she did, sell out your friends, no matter how scared you got.”

More silence followed Beast Boy's last comment, and David dared not even breathe, for fear that he would be discovered eavesdropping. . It was clear enough from Raven and Beast Boy's words that something had happened, something very bad, and though he still wasn't certain what, it all centered around the name 'Terra'.

“Besides,” said Beast Boy suddenly with a forced laugh, “you totally don't get scared, 'cept maybe when Starfire's making dinner. Other than that, I don't think I've ever seen you afraid of anything.”

Rather than laughing, Raven let out a soft sigh, and David thought for a moment that she wasn't going to respond, but eventually she did.

“Remember when we were down in the cave, and Terra had you pinned with the rock at your throat? Remember what I said to her?”

Beast Boy went silent again at this, and took a second, either to recollect what she had said, or merely to work up the effort to repeat it.

“You said... you said you were... gonna – “

“I said that if she hurt you, it would be the last thing she ever did,” said Raven. “I try not to let myself get scared because of what happens when I do, but that time... I was afraid she was actually going to do it.”

A second or two of silence.

“Were you?” asked Beast Boy

“Beast Boy, she'd already tried to kill us all, and almost succeeded. Of course I was.”

“No,” said Beast Boy, “I mean... were you gonna really make it the last thing she ever did?”

Raven didn't even hesitate before replying in a chillingly neutral tone.

“Absolutely.”

David couldn't see Raven, but her flat, declarative tone sent a shiver rolling down his spine regardless. Apparently it wasn't just him, as Beast Boy replied in a stunned voice.

“... really?”

“If she had seriously hurt or killed you,” said Raven impassively, with only a slight trace of emotion behind the words, “I'd have made her wish that Slade had killed her.”

“But... you said you didn't hate her?”

“I don't,” said Raven, “but that wouldn't have stopped me. Nothing would have, not Robin, not Slade, nothing.”

David remembered the night Raven had come to him, asking about who he really was, and what she had said to him then about Beast Boy, and more specifically how she had said it.

“But... but why, Raven? I mean... you don't even like me. You keep treating me like I'm stupid and you never laugh at any of my jokes or - “

“Beast Boy,” said Raven with a sigh of what might have been exasperation, “I treat you like you're stupid because you act stupid, and I don't laugh at your jokes because you're not funny.”

“But then why would you - “

“Because you're my friend, Beast Boy,” exclaimed Raven suddenly, as though repeating the obvious. “Because when my emotions got loose in my head you and Cyborg helped me get through it when nobody else could've and when Malchior used me to break out of his prison, you were there to try and cheer me up. Because even when you lost your mind because of those chemicals you still never would have let anything hurt me, whatever Robin thought, and you dragged Adonis halfway across the city and back just to keep me out of his claws. You're annoying and you're immature and you're really not funny, I mean it, but I know that you're always there for me and that you're my friend, Beast Boy, and I'd never let Terra or anybody else hurt you.”

There was no reply forthcoming from Beast Boy, and David could practically hear the smirk on Raven's face when she added: “And don't look so surprised, because I've seen you do the same for me.”

Several seconds of silence followed, before Beast Boy replied softly. “You really mean that?”

Raven sighed. “It doesn't mean I'm going to stop calling you stupid when you act it,” she said, “but yes, I really mean it. You're a good person and a good friend, and take it from me, because I've known a lot of people that aren't.” She lowered her voice a bit, some of the harsh edge fading away. “You're my friend, Beast Boy, and I don't have a lot of friends.”

“You've got all of us, Raven,” said Beast Boy

“I know,” said the sorceress almost wistfully, “and I know you think I don't like you, but you're my friend, and no matter how dumb you act or how many windows I have to throw you out of, anyone who tries to hurt you will have to deal with me first. Period.”

Raven's voice had no inflection to it, her tone as calm as if she were ordering pizza or reciting a multiplication table, but David knew better by now to mistake that for a lack of resolution, and clearly, so did Beast Boy.

“So uh...” said Beast Boy, “... does that mean you want to play another round?”

“You'd have to glue the controller to my hand,” she said, “ and that's not a suggestion.”

“Aw c'mon, Rae,” said Beast Boy in his part-pleading, part-teasing, part-demanding tone, “you know you wanna hang out with your best friend, right?”

David could only imagine Raven's glare and Beast Boy's boundless grin at the last comment. Once again, David expected the next sound he heard to be the crash of Beast Boy being flung through the tower window. Once again, Raven managed to restrain herself somehow, before responding with an unexpected sigh of resignation.

“I guess it won't kill me...”

“Sweet!” exclaimed Beast Boy, and he jumped up and reset the gamestation, which was soon pumping out music and sound effects once again. David decided it might be best to use the cover of the noise to make his exit, before they realized that he had been unintentionally spying on them. As quietly as he could, he got up from the couch he was laying on, and began to creep towards the door. Beast Boy was too fixated on the screen to notice anything else, and Raven seemed to have no idea he was there, and he had almost reached the door when Raven suddenly asked a question, freezing David in place once more.

“Hey, Beast Boy?”

“Yeah?”

“You remember when David first got here, when we were talking about what to do with him, and you said that we were all letting Terra get in the way of making the right choice?”

“Um... yeah?” came Beast Boy's reply, as he paused the game. From where he was standing, David could see Beast Boy turn to Raven quizzically.

“I was just surprised,” said Raven. “I don't know if I could have said that if it had been me, especially that soon.”

Beast Boy set his controller down and shook his head. “But David's not Terra,” he said. “And it's not like we can just never make new friends again because of what she did, you know?” He shrugged, before picking his controller back up. “It's like you said, Raven. We move on, right? They can't all be working for the bad guys.”

“I guess they can't,” said Raven, and something in the way she said it felt... well he didn't know what it felt like, but it felt odd, like there was some reason she had asked what she had other than mere curiosity. “But you didn't think... after what happened, that it might be too much of a risk?”

Beast Boy thought about it for a while, then shook his head. “Yeah,” he said, “but I thought it was a bigger risk to not do it.”

“What do you mean?” asked Raven, but the question sounded almost fake, as though she were leading him like an attorney, as though she already knew exactly what he meant but wanted him to say it aloud.

“If we hadn't helped David,” explained Beast Boy, “then it would've been because we were afraid that what Terra did was gonna happen again, right?”

“Probably,” said Raven.

Beast Boy lowered his head. “I just... didn't want to be afraid of that. I didn't want us to be afraid of that. 'Cause if we let ourselves be afraid that that was gonna keep happening... then we wouldn't be us anymore. Then Slade would have won in the end.” He shook his head. “Do... d'you get what I'm saying?”

“I think so,” said Raven. “But you know that he might turn out to do just what she did, right?”

“He won't,” said Beast Boy immediately, and there was an edge to his voice that David had never heard. “He won't do what she did. I just don't believe it, okay?”

“I don't either,” said Raven. “I'm just saying, he could.”

“He won't,” repeated Beast Boy, but his voice was not as certain as his words would indicate, and David got the impression that it wasn't Raven he was trying to convince. “He won't do it. I know he won't.” Both Titans fell silent, and David caught his breath once again. It was some time before Beast Boy spoke once more, his voice having returned to normal.

“Besides,” said Beast Boy, resuming play, “I like David. He thinks I'm hilarious.”

“I seriously doubt he's that dense,” said Raven, “and if he does laugh at your jokes he's being polite.”

“Pft, whatever, Raven,” said Beast Boy in mock scorn. “I am totally funny. Just because you have no sense of - “

“Beast Boy...”

“Erp... I mean... just because you uh... hey nice shot!”

Raven merely shrugged in reply, and David slowly slid towards the door, his eyes still glued on the two Titans, his mind abuzz with everything that he had just heard. The door opened silently at his touch, and he slipped out of it, sliding down the hall as quietly as he could. All the things that he had heard today, all the fragments and half-alluded incidents of the past, all of them spun around inside his head, but not in confusion or chaos. Much of this had confirmed what he already suspected after all. He still did not know who Terra was of course. He did not know what she had done, or why, or how it was that she had come to do it. He had guessed that there had been some kind of incident, pieced together the idea that there was once someone who had pretended to be a Titan so as to destroy them, a reason for why Raven was so defensive about him and had thought him a liar, and Robin so paranoid in tracking his movements, none of these things were surprises..

... but he had never imagined that the reason for all those things, might be the same reason that they had taken the ultimate risk with him.

Despite how little he actually knew, despite having nothing but a name and snatches of a conversation about an event he hadn't been around to witness, it all seemed to fall into place. For days, for weeks, he had agonized over the question of why. Why had they taken the time to do this with him, why had they taken him in, and why were they trying to make him into one of their own. He knew it could not have been because he was particularly skilled or because they needed the firepower. He knew it could not have been merely because Cinderblock displayed an interest in him. All these reasons it could not be, and the real reason had been staring him in the face the entire time.

Raven was right, the risk to them had been greater than he realized, but they had taken it, not in spite of the fact that they had been burned shortly before by some kind of gross treachery... but because of it.

Because they needed to believe that whatever had happened wouldn't happen again. They needed to believe that if they opened themselves up to a stranger in need, to a new friend, to a potential recruit, that in spite of everything that they had experienced, the result would not be another deadly disaster. Whoever Terra was and whatever she had done, they needed to believe that she was a fluke, because if they couldn't...

David stopped as the last piece of the puzzle snapped into place.

Because if they couldn't believe that, then how could they go out every other day and face down hell-spawned monstrosities and cruel murderous super-villains, and believe, actually believe that they would defeat them and all come back alive, day after day, week after week?

On the face of things, superheroes were suicidally insane, throwing themselves in front of dangers too horrifying to contemplate without a second thought. He had long sat and wondered how they could do such a thing, contain their fear and marshal their bravado and rush straight into the heart of danger to confront the most evil people and beings alive. He had assumed it was a matter of nerves of steel and wills of iron, and perhaps it was… but was it also some degree of willful blindness? Obviously they all knew on some level that they could die, none of them were idiots. But did they actually believe it?

The more he thought about it, the more he doubted that they did.

And it wasn’t the only thing they believed. They believed that the five of them, despite being still kids, could make a difference and take responsibility for an entire city. On the face of things, that was absurd. Even if they were a match for the monsters that menaced the city, just how many times could they be expected to cheat death? David had watched enough of their fights on TV by now to know just how close an uncomfortable number of them were. Yet they believed that they were equal to the task. Despite the fact that criminals never ceased to assail them, that the alerts never stopped coming in, they believed that they were making a difference, that despite all the crime and vice and evil they saw, that people were generally good, and deserving of being protected. And they had believed that if they welcomed an outsider into their ranks, took the step to make a new friend, that their efforts would pay off, that they would succeed, that they would make friends and find a new companion in their times of triumph and trouble.

And they had been burned.

That much was obvious. They had opened themselves up and had their guts torn out by this Terra. The tone in Beast Boy’s voice, the edge to Raven’s words as she described so matter-of-factly how she would have murdered Terra… this was not just another villain. This person had hurt them in a way they had believed they could never be hurt, so deeply and totally that it had shaken them to their core, and shaken those beliefs that had let them do their job. They had survived, obviously. There was no use overstating the matter. They had triumphed over whoever Terra was and beaten her and this ‘Slade’ character and forged ahead, and fought more battles and won them, but a betrayal like that could not be forgotten overnight. David had been racking his brain to understand how, if they had been betrayed, how they could have dared to open themselves up again. Now he understood. They had to open themselves up again, because they had to believe.

He didn’t know if Terra had been another fully-trained meta-human like them, or a kid with powers that she didn’t understand like him, but they had decided to willfully ignore precedent, and intentionally take the risk that what had happened to them before was about to happen again. That was no easy feat. It was why Raven had confronted him in his room that evening, why she had threatened to kill him if he hurt Beast Boy again, because Beast Boy had taken whatever Terra had done the worst, and might not be able to take it again. It was why Robin and Cyborg had been watching him so carefully all this time, all the while insisting that they were doing nothing of the sort. They wanted to believe that he was who he said he was, that he would not repay their kindness with a stab in the back, whether or not they could bring themselves to believe it, they wanted to. They needed to.

They needed him to be what they hoped he was, because if he wasn’t, then how could they ever trust another person outside of their ad-hoc family again?

They needed him to be real.

They needed him.

Nobody had ever actually needed David for anything before.

Perhaps he was exaggerating. In fact, he was almost certainly exaggerating. This wasn’t a bunch of traumatized shell-shock victims after all, it was the Teen Titans, but that didn’t mean he was wrong, and in fact it only made it all the more astonishing. All this time, he had been agonizing, rolling around in his head trying to figure out what he had done to deserve this, this chance that they were giving him that he knew he should want but didn’t know if he actually wanted. Well he still didn’t know if he wanted it or not, but he knew that it wasn’t charity and it wasn’t a question of having earned it. As Cyborg had said to him a long time ago, ‘deserve’ had nothing to do with it.

On one level or another, they needed him to be what they were. Not because they needed an extra hand, not because his powers were so overwhelming or even because he had any. They needed him to become like them, just to confirm that it was possible, that they hadn’t erred twice in trusting another. And the more he thought about it, the less sure he was that he was making any sense, but the more sure he was that he was right.

So where did that leave him?

For once, a question he knew how to answer. After all, he had left the Tower looking for Raven and Beast Boy because he thought that he could somehow help the Titans by doing so, and the fact that he was wrong hadn’t suppressed the urge to do something, anything to pay them back for their kindness and patience and a hundred other things that he knew he owed them and knew he couldn’t pay back. He had been noncommittal on the subject of becoming a superhero because he wasn’t sure if he could do it and he still wasn’t, but he was certain of one thing now.

He would become a superhero, like them, or die in the attempt.

They needed to believe. They needed to believe that he would not betray them, not fail them somehow, not because he was the lynchpin to existence or because they needed him for some war, but because they had been hurt badly, and they had survived, and retrenched, and now needed to think that it had not been their fault, that their impulse to help this Terra person had not been wrong, that their impulse to help him had not been wrong. And if he could do that, if he could somehow help them get over whatever had happened, if that were even possible…

If they actually needed him, then he would do everything he could to help them out.

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The video game continued to warble loud enough to make Raven wish she could just fling the damn thing into the ocean, but Beast Boy was clearly enraptured, and after the talk they had just had, she knew it was worth a bit of headache if it helped him feel better. Terra was on everyone’s mind these days, and she supposed that the geokinetic would remain on their minds for the foreseeable future.

But then that need not be so bad.

“Um, Raven?” asked her emerald green companion. Raven adopted an appropriately unconcerned look before replying.

“Yeah, Beast Boy?”

“Uh, just wondering… why do you ask?”

“Hmm?”

“About what I said when we were talking about bringing David in for a while. You never… never asked about that before. How come you asked now?”

Raven slowly turned her head until she was facing the door to the common room, her empathic sense detecting the swirling emotions that surrounded the young psychokinetic teen as he slowly made his way towards the elevator. She was pretty well convinced by now that David meant well, and he had held up pretty well to Robin’s training, especially for a kid that had never done anything like this before, but he clearly had a lot to learn…

… such as the fact that empaths didn’t have to be able to see you to tell that you were present, and awake.

“No reason,” she said with a smirk as she returned to the video game, just in time to score another bonus an instant before Beast Boy. Beast Boy howled in horror and concentrated even harder, desperate to not be shown up by Raven at his own game.

Raven allowed herself a small smile. Perhaps these pointless video games had a use after all…



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-02 10:07pm
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White Mage
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Joined: 2003-02-12 11:59pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 14: The Sound of Drums

And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard. And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the LORD have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD. Shall not the isles shake at the sound of thy fall, when the wounded cry, when the slaughter is made in the midst of thee?”

- Ezekiel 26 : 13-15

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David sat in the armchair with a can of soda in one hand and listened and watched as Beast Boy continued to gesticulate wildly as he narrated the scene from yesterday.

“So Brother Blood's got the rest of us held up in the air with this red glowy stuff all over us, and Cyborg's in front of him, and he's real mad, like yelling and everything and grabbing at Cyborg's circuits and shouting some stuff about finding the part he was looking for. But then all of a sudden, Cyborg turns blue and all these parts start flying off of the other robots and connecting to Cyborg, like magic!”

“Man, I told you already,” interrupted Cyborg, “it wasn't magic. I hacked Blood's brain, and used his own powers against him.”

“Dude, whatever!” said Beast Boy, happily refusing to be derailed by such minor things as facts. “It was totally awesome anyway. So then, Blood freaks out and goes after Cyborg, like he's gonna cut his arms off again, but Cyborg just grabs his wrists, like you see in a movie, and breaks his hands off!”

David winced involuntarily, his eyes flickering over to Cyborg. “You what?”

Cyborg chuckled and glanced back up from the camera to avoid running into something. “It wasn't like you're thinkin'. Blood replaced his arms with cybernetic ones, like I've got, but thinner. I just popped his wrists like glass.”

“Remind me never to get you mad at me,” said David in jest. It wasn't as though he ever needed reminding of that. He glanced back and forth at the five video feeds that were spread across the main screen in the Titans' common room, showing each one of the Titans as they sat in their seats in the various Titan-vehicles on their way back from Steel City. Robin and Cyborg were sharing the T-car. No doubt they had a lot to discuss after the events of the last few days, which left Beast Boy, Starfire, and Raven in the T-ship. To David's surprise (and no doubt to Raven's alarm), Beast Boy appeared to be the one piloting the spaceship, not that this stopped him from spending most of his time recounting their latest adventures into the video camera mounted on the dashboard.

“So when are you guys getting back?” he asked, sitting back in the easychair, ignoring the gurgling sounds that came from the alien monster to his left.

“If we make good time and don't stop on the way, we should be back in Jump City by this afternoon,” said Robin. A chorus of groans and protests greeted this news.

“Dude, it's a road trip!” exclaimed Beast Boy, “we don't have to race. Can't we take it easy going back? We just kicked Brother Blood's butt!”

“We're superheroes, Beast Boy,” said Robin, “we don't get the luxury of taking vacations.” Robin couldn't see Beast Boy and Cyborg both rolling their eyes and lip syncing his exact words as he spoke them, but David could, and he had to stifle his laugh with a cough as Robin returned to business. “Have there been any problems since we left?”

David shook his head. “Nothing the police couldn't handle, at least that's what the news says. It's been pretty quiet.”

“And how is Silkie?” asked Starfire suddenly. “Has he been behaving himself in a proper fashion?”

David turned the videophone recorder around to face the watermelon-sized alien larva that was presently curled up on one of the couches, squawking and gurgling to itself, and for a second, he wondered when this sort of thing had become normal. “He looks like he's been doing fine to me,” he said, by which he meant that Silkie had not eaten anything larger than himself in some time. Starfire smiled and cooed at the larval worm, which slithered happily off the couch and over to the screen, sitting up and waving its stubby tentacles in the air at the image of Starfire, and David admitted to himself that, once you got used to the weird noises and the voracious appetite, Silkie wasn't that bad as pets went, although invariably whenever he seemed the most cute, it was because he was considering who or what to throw up on.

Beast Boy and Cyborg were still trying to convince Robin to agree to an overnight stop of some kind, talking over one another and, in Beast Boy's case, waving their hands around wildly to describe how awesome the proposed excursion would be, and Raven was rolling her eyes and trying to figure out how to mute the others more or less permanently, and Starfire was adjusting the radio of the T-ship and singing along with the jingles for carpet cleaners and toothpaste, and waving at the image of Silkie that she could see on her videoscreen. It was thinly-organized chaos, as usual, as Beast Boy periodically gave a yelp and grabbed at the flight controls and swerved to avoid plowing into something, and Cyborg steered the T-car with one hand while driving at what looked like about two hundred miles per hour over a dirt back-road, and all five Titans' voices competed with the roaring radios tuned to completely different stations in the two vehicles. And just for a second, David caught himself wishing that the Titans had brought him along.

Of course there had never been a question of that whatsoever. They had gone to Steel City to help Cyborg after a garbled transmission calling for aid had come through the Tower's computer. Whatever was going on was certainly no place for David to be, that much had been agreed to without a word. And given what Beast Boy was telling him about what had happened, he was more certain than ever that it was a very good thing that he has stayed behind. Besides, for once, he had the Tower to himself for an extended period of time. No training regimen, no early wake-up calls, no bone-shattering combat training or migraine-inducing power endurance sessions. He could do whatever he wanted around the Tower, and between the video games, the satellite TV, the endless (and often mystifying) nooks and crannies around the tower, and just the sights it had to offer of the city itself, there was plenty to do. Plus, he'd always been good at taking care of himself, or rather he thought he had prior to coming here. At least he'd been good at keeping himself amused and sane. When one moved around as much as a kid in foster care did, it became necessary to cultivate that skill, so given that, having the Tower to himself for a week was like some kind of Christmas bonanza.

... but hearing the usual barrage of sound and shouting and chaos from the speakers served to remind him that, despite all that, it was awfully quiet around here by himself.

“David? Can you hear me?”

David blinked and shook himself out of his daydream to see Robin staring at him from the main screen. “Um... yeah... yeah I read you.” he said, leaning forward to speak into the microphone. “What was that?”

“I said, are you sure you're okay there if we take another day to get back?”

Apparently Cyborg and Beast Boy had convinced Robin while David wasn't paying attention. Either that or he had decided it was worth it to shut them both up. It was a toss up as to which.

“Yeah,” he said, “yeah it's no problem. Take your time. Everything's fine around here.”

“You know what to do if something goes wrong?” asked Robin, for what might have been the twelfth time since they had left. “If something happens?”

David smiled and nodded earnestly, “Surrender to the biggest monster I can see and promise to obey its every command until the end of time, right?”

Beast Boy and Cyborg exploded into laughter, which was unfortunate, as they happened to be the ones driving the various vehicles, and Raven had to wrench a signpost out of the way with her powers or the T-ship would have plowed right through it. Once Cyborg had gotten the T-car back under control, and Robin had stopped getting ready to leap from the passenger seat, he turned back to the camera and frowned. “Seriously,” he said, his voice indicating that this was not a laughing matter, “if anything goes wrong, remember - “

David held up one hand to pre-empt him. “Call you guys and run like hell, I know. Don't worry.”

“Good,” said Robin, sitting back in his chair and adopting a more trademark smirk. “We'll see you when we get there then. And get some rest. We start up again tomorrow.”

David groaned loudly and flopped back into the armchair like an exhausted war veteran. “Again?” he asked plaintively. “I don't think I've caught up on sleep from the last couple weeks yet.”

“Sleep's another thing we don't have the luxury of,” said Robin, the predatory smile on his face plainly visible through his mask, “didn't anyone tell you?”

“I must have missed that chapter in the idiot's guide...” said David, rolling his eyes, but oddly enough, despite the histrionics (which were necessary, of course), he found that he didn't mind the idea of starting the routine back up again. Not that it was pleasant to have Robin working him to death in the training room, but it was becoming... familiar sort of.

It was amazing what someone could get used to.

“Yo man, we'll see you when we get back, all right?” said Cyborg, smiling over the steering wheel of the T-car.

“Yeah dude,” chimed in Beast Boy exuberantly, “I still gotta tell you all about how I kicked the Titans East's butts.”

“You mean how a pair of hyperactive dwarfs beat the stuffing out of you until I split them up?” commented Raven without even looking up from the book she was reading. Beast Boy turned back and shot her a nasty look, and consequently had to pull up sharply to avoid slipping a cyprus tree the instant he turned back.

“We shall see you upon our return!” chimed Starfire, still waving to her pet mutant. “Thank you for agreeing to watch over Silkie! Please, do not permit him to consume any furnature.” David couldn't help but wonder how he was supposed to stop him if he chose to do such a thing.

“Have fun,” he said, as the Titans shut off their communicators one by one, plunging the Tower into an almost deafening silence. Silkie stopped gurgling and slithered back onto the couch, curling up in a ball and going back to sleep. David set his soda can down on the table and sat back, sighing slowly and staring up at the ceiling. It was strange. He had no problem at all with being on his own, he had been pretty much on his own for as long as he could remember after all, but these past few days had been, well they had been tougher than he expected. Amazing as the gadgetry and the amenities in the Tower were, and grateful as he was for a chance to sleep for once, it was downright unsettling to be sitting in the common room and unable to hear anything besides the refrigerator and the air conditioner, and no matter how many games he played on Cyborg's Gamestation, or how many of Robin's movies (all crime dramas, typical) he watched, the feeling never left him that there was something missing. He had tried drowning the silence out with Beast Boy's CDs played at high volume, or going up to the roof to listen to the seagulls, even headed down to the training room once or twice to blow some targets up, nothing ever really helped.

He didn't know why, and he wasn't about to admit it to them in person or over the communicators, but he was really looking forward to the others getting back to Jump City.

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In the tomb-like silence of the underground cavern, the sound of footsteps on a metal grate were loud enough to wake the dead, but the tall man did not turn around. Instead he looked straight ahead at the computer display before him, which showed a map of North America, and at the small red dot blinking somewhere over northern Wyoming.

“Is everything ready?”

The tall man looked down at a smaller screen below the map and glanced over the list of figures and facts to be found there. “They're in position,” he said evenly, and the man in gold behind him smiled and stepped up to the control panel next to where the tall man was sitting.

“I'll be overseeing the attack.”

The tall man hesitated only for the briefest of instants. “I see,” he said guardedly, and stood up from the chair. “And why is that?”

“Because I am in charge of this operation,” said the man in gold smugly with a self-satisfied smirk on his face, “and because if we manage to kill one of the Titans, I wish to witness it live.”

“You don't know how to control them,” said the tall man, not an objection, just an observation. “You won't be able to prevent collateral damage.”

“And I don't intend to,” said the man in gold. “We both made the mistake of underestimating these children more than once. I see no reason to restrain ourselves. Our objective is to kill.”

“I know what our objective is,” intoned the tall man deeply, crossing his arms. “And what do you suggest I do in the meanwhile?”

“Oversee affairs in Jump,” said the man in gold, sitting down in the chair that the tall man had just vacated. “Ensure that everything there goes as planned.”

There were several seconds of silence, as the man in gold slid the computer's controls over to himself and the tall man considered what he had just been ordered to do. “As you wish,” he said finally, and turned to walk away.

“Do I need to know anything special about these robots?” asked the man in gold.

“That depends,” said the tall man, stopping and turning back. “What kind of firing orders did you want?”

“Firing orders?” said the man in gold, as if unfamiliar with the term.

“Rules of engagement,” explained the tall man. “The robots can obey more subtle commands than 'kill everything in sight', and I assume you don't want them shooting the girl by accident.”

The man in gold smirked at that. “The girl is too resourceful for that. I've been assured of it. No, the gloves are off for this one. Let them kill anything they can.”

“Do we at least have a priority target?”

The man in gold was silent for a moment, before punching a few commands into the computer terminal before him, bringing up a window on which the faces of all five of the Teen Titans were to be seen. He pointed at one of the faces on the screen with his finger, and the touchscreen highlighted the face and caused its picture to fade to black.

“Robin,” said the man in gold. “Tell them to kill Robin if at all possible.”

The tall man nodded slowly. “I'll arrange it,” he said, and he walked off into the darkness, leaving the man in gold to tend to his operation. He waited until he was nearly to the other side of the badly-lit cavern before he slowly reached into his pocket and drew out a small, yellow, hand-held object the size of a hockey puck. With a touch of his finger, the object popped open, revealing a small screen built into it. With his free hand, the tall man drew an instrument from his other pocket, and inserted it slowly into a pin-sized hole below the screen. The screen flashed static for a moment, and then resolved to an image of a young man wearing a latex mask over his eyes, smiling at out at the tall man, frozen in mid-word.

“Turnabout is fair play, Robin,” whispered the tall man, and then he pressed a button, and the screen went black, but only for a second or so.

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“Incoming transmission.”

David lifted his head sharply from the book he had been trying to read without a lot of success, one of Raven's no doubt. He didn't think any of the others were the sort to keep Steven King laying about. On the main screen of the Tower, a light was blinking and a computerized voice was letting him know that another video-call was inbound. Puzzled, David set the book down and pulled the microphone and video recorder over to himself before pressing the “pickup” button.

The screen before him flickered for a second before Robin's face materialized on it. Robin was now in the driver's seat of the T-car, he and Cyborg having apparently switched places.

“Um, hey Robin,” said David, a bit surprised to see the Titans' leader barely a couple of hours after his last call. “Everything okay?”

“Just a change of plan,” said Robin evenly. “We're actually coming into the city this afternoon.”

David's eyes widened. “This afternoon?” he asked, rather surprised. “That's pushing pretty hard.”

“We've got things to do,” said Robin, looking as serious as he ever did. “We're going to drive right on through and get something to eat when we arrive in Jump City. Why don't you meet us down at the pizza parlor on Main Street, and we'll all get lunch?”

It took David a second to properly interpret that. “Meet you guys?” he repeated slowly, as if hard of hearing. “Really?”

“Sure,” Robin said, and the image flickered as he smirked a bit. “It'll be fun. Meet us at the parlor at 1 o'clock.”

“Um... right!” said David, suddenly feeling much more energetic than he had in a long while. He hadn't left the tower in weeks, not since the incident with Adonis, and even then it had been surreptitious, practically behind Robin's back. He was so excited that he almost forgot to ask a reasonably important question.

“Wait, Robin... how do I get there from the Tower?”

“Take my bicycle if you want,” said Robin. “It worked last time, didn't it?”

David blushed slightly at the reminder. “Thanks,” he said. “I'll er... I see you guys there I guess!”

“See you at one,” said Robin, and the screen went black again.

David glanced up at the clock mounted above the viewscreen, and tried to remember how far it was from the Tower to the shore through the underground tunnel that connected the two. Silkie was staring at him almost expectantly, and he smiled down at the little bug and gently (very gently, the thing had tried to eat his hand more than once), patted it on the head.

“Star'll be back soon, Silkie,” he said, having no idea if the mutant larva could understand him. Silkie gurgled and slid over to the side of the couch, and David walked back to the kitchen and picked up one of the cans of pink sludge marked “Imitation Zorka Berries” that Starfire had told him was the only thing Silkie should be allowed to eat. He popped the lid off the can with a can opener, and set it down next to Silkie, who immediately dove headfirst into the can and was soon happily munching away. Leaving the little mutant to finish, David grabbed his windbreaker (it was really Beast Boy's but he'd been wearing it for long enough to think of it as his own) off of one of the stools under the kitchen table, and walked out of the common room, towards the elevator down to the garage.

It was shaping up to be a good day.

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Robin sat back in the passenger seat of the T-car and shut his eyes just for a moment. The muted sound of Beast Boy and Raven arguing about how loud to set the music in the T-ship hovered vaguely on the edge of his consciousness, as did the more immediate rhythm of Cyborg's hip hop CD playing in the T-car before him. Cyborg had volunteered to drive all the way back to Jump, probably because he didn't trust the T-car in any hands but his. At any rate, with the others off in the T-ship, the trip would give the two of them a chance to talk, something he thought they probably needed to do after what had happened with Brother Blood, but so far, neither of them had felt like starting up that conversation.

“So where're we stoppin' man?” asked Cyborg from the driver's seat.

Robin opened his eyes again and looked around at the mountains and trees that zoomed by outside the T-car. He glanced at his map. “Yellowstone Park's not far off,” he said. “We could try there.”

“Sounds good,” said Cyborg, and he pressed the intercom button to talk to the others in the T-ship overhead. “Y'all hear that?”

“Yeah dude!” came the Beast Boy's voice back. “It'll be awesome! We can go hiking, have a campfire, make hot dogs...”

“Mosquitos and smoke,” said Raven with as little enthusiasm as she could muster. “Woopie.”

“This 'camping' sounds wondrous!” said Starfire, more than making up for Raven's sarcasm. “May we see the great water spouts of the Yellowstone? Or relate stories of men with hooks for hands while shining flashlights into our faces? These are the traditional activities of 'camping', no?”

“Sure thing, Star,” said Cyborg with a smile, and he switched off the intercom, leaving the others to argue the relative merits of the various things they could do once they arrived at the park. A moment later, he turned the volume on the music down to a low murmur, such that he could be heard without having to shout.

“Look man,” he said, “I never said it...”

“You don't have to,” said Robin, shutting his eyes again.

“Still. Thanks for bailing me out of that mess. And thanks for... for lettin' me handle it.”

“You were the best person for the job,” said Robin, and he knew it was true, though that wasn't the only reason he had turned the team over to Cyborg for the mission. “You were the one who could stop Brother Blood. The Titans East owe you one.”

“Yeah well, I owe you guys one,” said Cyborg. “So, will you do me a favor? If I ever start acting stupid again like that thing over the phone, just smack me upside the head will ya?”

Robin chuckled as he crossed his arms and leaned the seat back. “Sure.”

The hum of the engines was all that could be heard for a few minutes as neither Cyborg nor Robin said anything, until finally Cyborg broke the silence with a hesitant question.

“Hey man... uh... I'm... not gonna have to get initiated again am I?”

Robin cracked one eye open and looked over at Cyborg with a sly grin.

“Aw man! Come on! It took me a week last time to get the silly string outta my circuits! Don't I get like a pass or something for what I did to Brother Blood?”

Robin laughed and sat back up. “I'll talk it over with the others. Maybe we can let you off with just the wig and the - “

A loud red light flashed on the dashboard of the T-car, and a small buzzer sounded. Robin stopped speaking, and Cyborg glanced down and pressed a button, causing a small heads up display to extend up from behind the steering wheel, revealing a topographical map of the surrounding area with two blue and one red dot on it.

“What is it?” asked Robin, leaning over to see.

“Not sure,” said Cyborg. “A power signature of some kind, pretty big one, from up ahead.”

“A town maybe?” suggested Robin, glancing up at the half-metal teen, “or a factory”.

Cyborg shook his head. “We're inside the park already. The map doesn't show anything way out here, just trees and...”

Another red dot appeared on the topographical display, then another, then three more, then a dozen. Within seconds, the display was thick with red dots, each one indicating a power signature up ahead. “What the...” said Cyborg staring at the screen, and Robin lifted his head to look out the windshield at the road ahead, and as he did so, he saw a tiny flash of light and a small bright object fly up out of the trees ahead in an arc towards the T-ship thundering overhead...

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It was Saturday.

David had completely lost track of the days while staying within the Tower, and thus it wasn't until he arrived at the park near the pizza parlor that he realized it even was a weekend. The place was packed thickly with families and revelers, out enjoying the weekend. The restaurants and cafes near the waterfront were packed solid, the pizza parlor itself literally overflowing with hungry tourists and locals. David wondered for a second how they were going to get a table; before it struck him that the Teen Titans would probably warrant a reserved spot.

He felt the energy of the crowds around him as he slowly pedaled through them all. Nobody paid him even the slightest mind, and for that he was thankful, even if he knew it wasn't going to last long. Once the rest of the Titans showed up, it would be kind of hard to remain anonymous. Not every random kid on the street got to have lunch with the...

He stopped peddling for a second and put his feet down to stop himself as he reconsidered what he had just thought.

'The rest of the Titans?'

Now why the hell had he...

“David!”

David spun around and nearly tripped over the bicycle. He glanced through the mob of faces off to his right before one appeared that he recognized, and then a surprised smile came over his face as a tall, thin, blond girl a year or two older than him jogged up the grassy hillside towards where he was standing, waving her hand to catch his attention.

“Long time no see,” said Carrie with a smile as she stopped on the side of the path. She was wearing a jumpsuit with a Japanese-looking name on it and a high school mascot, a cartoonish octopus, emblazoned on the front.

“Hey!” said David, smiling back as he dismounted the bike. “Yeah, sorry, I've been kinda busy.”

“I figured,” said Carrie. “What are you doing out here? I thought they never let you leave the Tower?”

“Close enough,” said David, “but the others are coming back from some mission off in Steel City, and I'm meeting them for lunch.”

“The others?”

“The... the Titans,” he corrected himself. “Sorry.” 'Why in the world did I call them that?' he wondered.

“Oh really?” said Carrie, her eyes widening with what David took to be surprise that the Titans were about to show up here, in public, although David knew that they spent a great deal of time just wandering the city publicly. Robin always explained it as showing the flag, letting themselves be seen and noticed as a deterrent to criminals, but David knew better than to believe that this was the only reason.

“Well I already had lunch,” said Carrie, “but, you wanna just hang out until your friends get here?”

David was rather taken aback by this proposal, and it showed. “Uh… I…”

Carrie smiled. “C’mon, I’ll get you something from the soda fountain next to the bookstore. I still owe you for that rescue, remember? And I want to know what happened to you after that werewolf thing attacked.”

David looked around for a second, as if the Titans were about to materialize out of thin air (you never knew), and then smiled. “Sure,” he said, “sounds good.” And parking the bicycle on a bike rack nearby, he followed Carrie into the soda fountain.

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“Just a small-town girl! Living in a lonely world! She took the midnight train going annnyyyywheeeeeeeeere!”

Raven was in hell.

She was locked inside the T-ship with a hyperactive alien and an even more hyperactive changeling, both of whom were taking turns singing at the top of their lungs along with whatever song was being played. It didn’t seem to matter to Beast Boy what genre of music it was, rap, country, disco, electronic. He sang them all, and he sang them all terribly, his voice cracking every other line and as far off tune as he could possibly get without breaking the laws of physics. But the worst, hands down the absolute worst of all, was 80s rock. Beast Boy seemed to know every single song ever produced in that decade, and every word in them. It was worse than fingernails on a blackboard, and it wasn’t made any better by Starfire joining Beast Boy in a harmony of the damned whenever they came to a song that she knew. No amount of frantic pounding on the mute button or meditative technique would keep the sound away. She was getting ready to melt the radio or teleport outside and fly along by herself.

“Just a city boy! Born’n’raised in South Detroit! He took the midnight train going annnyyyywheeeeeeeeeere!”

“Will you two please be quiet!” snapped Raven, knowing it was hopeless but forcing herself to try anyhow. “I can’t even think in here.”

“Oh do sing along with us, Raven!” exclaimed Starfire joyously enough to give Raven diabetes. “We can alter the music playing device to emit a song you are familiar with! It is wondrous fun pretending to be a singer!”

“Yeah, Raven! Let’s hear it!”

“Not a chance,” she said darkly, and she lowered her eyes back to the book in her lap. Beast Boy merely shrugged and resumed.

“A singer in a smoky room, smell of wine and cheap perfume! For a dime they can share the night, it goes on and on and on and on…”

“Smile.”

Beast Boy interrupted an energetic air guitar session to twist around in his seat and look at Raven. “What?”

“The line is ‘for a smile they can share the night’. If you’re going to sing, get the words right at least.”

A millisecond too late, Raven realized she had walked right into a trap.

“HA!” shouted Beast Boy, loud enough to drown out the guitar chorus. “You do know the words!”

“I’ve had to listen to you sing it badly a thousand times already,” said Raven sullenly, refusing to meet Beast Boy’s gaze. “And shouldn’t you watch where you’re flying?”

“C’mon, Raven, get the next line!” said Beast Boy, paying no mind to her advice. Privately, Raven wondered what they had drugged her with to get her to agree to fly with Beast Boy as pilot.

“No way.”

“Please! I bet you’re really good!”

“I don’t sing, Beast Boy,” said Raven with enough emphasis to hammer a nail, “and I don’t like Journey even if I did.”

“So what do you like?” asked Beast Boy, gesturing at the CD binder sandwiched next to his seat. “I’ve got like half the music in the world here.”

“I like peace and quiet!” she shouted, clenching her fists into balls and feeling the dark energy coating her eyes and hands. Beast Boy yelped and winced as if expecting to get hit and Starfire fell silent, glancing back and forth between her friends. Raven snarled to herself and forced the energy away, but said nothing, returning to her book, and for a time, there was no sound except the blaring stereo.

“I can turn it off if you want,” ventured Beast Boy timidly, and she could have kicked herself for reacting like that again.

“Whatever,” she said softly. “Just don’t fly into anything.”

“Raven,” said Beast Boy, putting on airs and adopting a pseudo-intellectual tone, “I’ve been flying since I was three. I know just what I’m doing.”

Raven was about to make a sarcastic comment in response, but right about then there was a bright flash of light from outside her window, and the T-ship’s front right engine disintegrated into a hail of flying pieces.

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“Strangers, waiting, up and down the boulevard. Their shadows, searching, in the niiieeeiiight…”

The amateur cover band singer wailed into his microphone, as the crowd that had gathered to watch him and his friends laughed and cheered and sang along and occasionally tossed money into the open guitar case in front of them. David and Carrie stood above the crowd on the sidewalk, looking down at the grassy dell in which the band was playing. David held a vanilla milkshake in a plastic cup in one hand, and was leaning against the metal railing separating the street from the dell, watching the musicians playing.

“Wow…” said Carrie, who was paying no attention to the music. “But… you’re all right, right?”

“Yeah,” said David, taking a sip of the milkshake. “He didn’t hit anything important, least that’s what Raven said. I got lucky.”

“I’ll say you did…” said Carrie, and she turned back around to face the dell once again. “Well I’m glad you’re all right.”

“Thanks,” said David, and he shook his head. “All part of the job I guess.”

“So now you’re gonna be a superhero?”

David took a long, deep breath, and let it out slowly. “I’m gonna try,” he said finally.

“You don’t sound too excited. What’s the matter?”

He shook his head and laughed. “I’m not really sure...” he said. “It’s a little bit…I dunno…”

“Daunting?” said Carrie, finishing David’s sentence for him with a guess.

David blinked and looked up. “Yeah, sort of. Like this is all way too big for me.”

“I can imagine,” said Carrie. “But… well you’ve got powers, right?”

“There’s more to it than just powers. There’s… it’s really hard to explain. It’s like… they just… don’t even think about what could happen to them. They go out and they fight these monsters or psychopaths who would kill them if they got the chance, just… because! And not just that but, they… believe, they totally believe that they can take anything that comes at them, without any problem. Alien battlefleets, mutant Godzilla things, armies of robots. Even if they’re right…” he glanced up into the sky, as if looking for a sign of something. “I don’t know how they can do that, but they do it. And I just don’t… I don’t know if I can, you know.”

Carrie didn’t say anything, but simply watched as David lowered his head again and went back to watching the band play. After a moment or so, she gently put a hand on his shoulder, sort of in support, and smiled.

“Well they must know what they’re doing with you, right?” she asked. “They sound like they’re pretty competent to me.”

David nodded slowly. “Yeah, they are. They’re… they’re really good. I mean scary good. That werewolf thing that attacked us? Beast Boy took him down in like two minutes, alone. Raven can just… I don’t even know what Raven can do but anything that gets in her way just gets paved over like it’s made of paper. And Robin…” he shook his head and chuckled. “Robin can take on all the rest of them, at once, without any powers. And he’s like your age. Maybe.”

Carrie laughed at the description, and gripped David’s shoulder tighter. “Well it sounds to me like, if you’ve got friends like that, you don’t really need to worry about much of anything. So what do you say you just try to relax huh?”

David laughed and nodded slowly. “I’ll try,” he said. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” said Carrie, and she gestured with her head towards the rest of the park. “C’mon,” she said, “let’s go see if the crowds have thinned out.”

David nodded and was about to follow her, when he suddenly remembered what he was doing out here in the first place. “Wait,” he said, “d’you know what time it is? I don’t have a watch…”

Carrie glanced at her wristwatch. “It’s about half past one,” she said. “Why?”

David blinked and looked confused for a second. “It’s just… I was supposed to meet them at one. They didn’t… we didn’t miss them did we?”

Carrie smiled. “I… think we would have noticed if the Teen Titans had shown up. The tourists would have made enough noise to wake the dead.” David nodded slowly, but the worry was obviously still apparent on his face, and Carrie sighed and laughed in mock-exasperation. “I’m sure they’re just running a little late,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”

David chuckled at his own paranoia. Carrie was undoubtedly right. In fact they had probably called the Tower to tell him they were going to be late, but as he was already out here, and had no way of contacting them directly, he would have to wait until they showed up to find out what happened.

Besides, he rationalized. One o’clock had seemed awfully fast for them to get back to Jump, even with the T-car and T-ship…

As they walked along, the warbling sounds of the lead singer’s voice filtered up to them.

“Working hard, to get my fill! Everybody wants a thri-ill! Payin’ anything to roll the dice, just one… moretime!”

The singer was good, David thought to himself, as were the guitarists, but the drummer needed a little work. He was out of rhythm with the other musicians, particularly his bass line, a heavy jackhammer beat that seemed a bit out of place for a power ballad like this. It was loud and strong enough to feel, even at this distance.

“They need a new drummer,” he commented to Carrie offhand, and when she stopped suddenly, he worried for a second that she knew the drummer somehow, that he had just inadvertently insulted her boyfriend or whatnot. “I… mean… I just meant that…”

“David,” said Carrie, and her voice was quiet, almost a whisper as she reached back without looking and grabbed his shirt. He stopped, puzzled, and it was then that he realized that the music had stopped, but the drumming hadn’t.

… and it wasn’t coming from the dell.

David listened and felt as the low heavy drumbeat coursed through the ground and through his body, echoing across the park, making people stop and turn to look for what could be causing it, and he felt an icy fist grip down around his head and freeze his blood solid as Carrie slowly turned back to look at him. Her sky-blue eyes were wide and fearful, and very slowly, both of them turned their heads to look up one of the major boulevards that led towards the park, as the sound of the heavy drum beat began to sharpen and grow louder, and mix with the faint sounds of glass shattering and metal being rent that were forever seared into David’s memory like childhood nightmares.

“No,” whispered David, a horrified plea addressed to any deities that might be listening, “No, no, no, oh God no!”

Slowly, from down the boulevard, a giant, grey, hulking shape loomed into view, its footsteps echoing like the sound of drums, alive, intact, repaired, a juggernaut, moving with even and steady strides down the street towards them, its red eyes like fiery coals boring straight into David as if it could transfix him with its gaze and reduce him to ash, a monster of steel and silicates, a creature out for blood and revenge, and as David and Carrie both stared at it, and the all-too-familiar sounds of panic and screaming began to break out all around them, the monster broke out into a run, its footfalls casting debris and dust up like the impact of artillery shells, and it raised one hand into the air, and opened its mouth wide, and it screamed.

DEVASTATOR!!!!!!!!”

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The music was muffled, quiet, for the feed had to be transmitted a long distance, and he had amplified the foreground more than the background so as to hear what they were saying, but when the first missile slammed into the T-ship’s engine, the man in gold grinned broadly, and turned up the volume, flooding the cave with soaring guitar riffs and melodies, and as he watched over the screen the three Titans inside the spacecraft scrambling in panic to try and right themselves even as the ship began to descend in smoke and flames, he felt the excitement of the moment coming over him, and the lyrics seemed to float through him as he watched greedily.

“Some will win! Some will lose!”

The green changeling’s eyes widened in stunned horror as the T-ship’s nose fell, revealing a broad green forest below, from which two hundred surface-to-air missiles identical to the one that had just blown off the engine were rising into the air like meteors in reverse from every direction. He pulled uselessly at the controls, but there was no altering the ship’s direction. It was on a crash land course, but it would not get there.

“Some are born to sing the bluuu-uues!”

“What the hell?!” shouted Cyborg as the T-ship’s engine was vaporized. He slammed on the accelerator as Robin snatched up the dashboard radio and frantically called for his friends to respond.

“Beast Boy! Starfire! Raven! Can you hear me?! Eject! Eject!”

“Oh shit!” yelled Cyborg at the top of his lungs. “Look out!

The T-car swerved and fishtailed as Cyborg slammed on the brakes, for fifty yards ahead of the car, three hulking armored robots had stepped out into the road. The robots were humanoid, and in their hands they held massive six-barreled Gatling guns, all of them already spinning. And just as Robin realized what was about to happen, all three guns spat fire like dragons, and the windshield of the T-car exploded into his face, followed by a barrage of shells.

“Oh the movie never ends, it goes on, and on, and on, and –“

Even as he saw the T-car swerve under a hail of machine canon fire and spin out of control, the music in the underground chamber cut out as the first missile crashed straight into the primary cockpit of the T-ship and consumed it instantly with a 10,000 degree blast of thermite plasma. The broken spaceship seemed to hang in mid-air for just a second, its remaining engines fighting a losing battle with gravity to keep it aloft, and then an instant later, a broad grin crossed the face of the man in gold, as thirty more missiles slammed into the ship from every direction and in one, cataclysmic explosion, blotted it out of the sky.

“Don’t stop believing,” said the man in gold to the silent screens that showed him the destruction his agents had wrought. And as he said it, the man in gold pressed a button which issued a command to the two hundred and fifty six armed war-bots that were hidden in the trees near the location of the remaining Titans to engage all survivors of the assault, and slaughter them all.

At least one of the Titans, if not more, would no doubt survive all this. But he only had to kill one of them…

... and he found it hard to imagine that at least one was not already dead.



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
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Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-02 10:08pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 15: The Lines in the Sand

”It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog”

- Mark Twain

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He stood amidst the chaos and stared down the barrel of the gun.

The people around them were screaming, panicking, fleeing in every direction, abandoning their cars and belongings and running for their lives, but Cinderblock was taking no more notice of them than a stampeding elephant would of a swarm of ants scurrying beneath its feet. He marched relentlessly down the street, kicking cars aside as he walked past, caring nothing for if they were occupied or who he might hit with them. His beady orange eyes were fixed on his target, and from his mouth issued a blood-chilling roar, a single word, one David had burned into his memory, one he had prayed he'd never hear again.

DEVASTATOR!

“Oh my god...”

Carrie was staring at Cinderblock as he stormed down the street towards them, her eyes wide with astonishment, frozen in place as though staring into the headlights of a fast-approaching freight train. David, whose reaction the first two times he had met Cinderblock had been reasonably similar, managed to snap out of it in time to grab Carrie by the wrist.

“RUN!”

They ran.

The streets were emptying quickly as residents and tourists dove into the nearest buildings or fled down side streets; anything to get out of the path of Cinderblock. Some threw themselves into the waters of Jump City Bay, others ducked behind parked cars and mailboxes or even leaped into dumpsters, all of them hoping the monster would just pass them by. Terrified though he was, David knew better than to imitate the other civilians. Cinderblock was unquestionably here for only one reason, and there was no hiding, not now, not from this. He had to drag Carrie only for a few steps before she too began running on her own power, and they ran as fast as they could down the street and towards...

... towards what exactly?

His mind was screaming at him to run, just to run, that it didn't matter where he ran to as long as it wasn't here, but deep inside his stomach he felt a terrible cold knot of fear forming. This time there might well be no evading Cinderblock at all. He could hear the thunderous footfalls of the concrete-and-steel juggernaut as it pursued him, and he realized slowly and with growing panic that this time the Titans would not be coming to his rescue. The Titans could have been a thousand miles away for all he knew, and Cinderblock would catch up with him in less than a minute. He needed to think of something, some place to go, some place to hide, some place Cinderblock couldn't...

Someone grabbed his arm and nearly pulled him off his feet to the side, and he snapped out of his thoughts to see that Carrie had ducked into an almost-hidden alleyway and dragged him into it. The alley was deserted for the moment, and without a word, Carrie scrambled into a dark corner, shadowed by the buildings around it, and crouched behind a trash can, pulling David down next to her as she did so.

“What is that thing?” asked Carrie breathlessly brushing her hair out of her eyes with one hand and steadying herself against the wall with the other.

“It's Cinderblock,” said David in a hollow voice. He was staring at the entrance of the alley, as though expecting Cinderblock to burst into it at any moment, but though the footfalls were still audible, they were now more irregular. It appeared that Cinderblock had lost track of where they were when they suddenly vanished into the alley, and was now trying to reacquire them.

“Who's...” began Carrie, and then she thought better of it and switched to a more important question. “What does he want?

David turned nervously to face Carrie, his voice quivering as he spoke.

“Me.”

While David heard her breath catch, just for a second, she did not scream or run away, though it took her a second to compose herself enough to ask the next question.

“So what do we do?”

“I have no idea...” he admitted quickly, clutching the edge of the trash can hard enough to bend the aluminum. “Lemme... lemme think for a second...”

“Aren't the Titans going to show up and - “

“I don't think so,” he said. “I think... I think they...” he didn't know what to think about where the Titans were, but it was clear now that this was all a setup, a trap to get him out in the open where Cinderblock could take a crack at him.

“So then... what are we gonna do?”

He closed his eyes and clenched his fists hard around the lip of the trash can and tried to focus, tried to think clearly. Cinderblock was after him, and the Titans couldn't help. He needed some kind of a plan, and fast, and he tried to control his fear long enough to generate one.

“We need to... get to the Tower,” he said after a moment or so. “There's security systems there, stuff Cyborg built. I think... I think they might be able to stop Cinderblock.” It was not perhaps the most brilliant or inspired of battle plans, but it was better than sitting in an alley and waiting to be crushed like beetles.

Apparently Carrie agreed, as she made no argument, but instead raised her head to glance up and down the alley. “How do we get to the Tower?” she asked. “Isn't it on an island?”

“There's a tunnel, under the bay,” said David rapidly, expecting Cinderblock to round the corner at any moment. “It comes out at the waterfront, onto Battery Street.”

This news made Carrie hesitate. “David,” she said, “that's ten blocks from here. We'll never make it that far without - “

“I know!” exclaimed David breathlessly, cutting her off and glancing ever-more-nervously up the alley, “but I don't know what else to do.”

“Well aren't you a...” began Carrie, her voice catching, “... a meta... whatever? A superhero? Can't you do something?”

“Not by myself!” he responded with urgency. “He'll rip us both to pieces! We have to get back to the tower before he - “

David was in turn cut off, but not by Carrie. Instead his voice failed as a thunderous roar echoed down the alleyway from somewhere out in the street beyond, loud enough to rattle the windows overhead. It was followed in short order by the sound of metal being rent and glass being shattered, mixed with a chorus of high-pitched screams. David's heart skipped a beat as he heard the bloodcurdling screams, and before he knew what he was doing, he was sprinting down the alleyway towards the street, Carrie hot on his heels, and he ground to a halt just next to the entrance and stuck his head out to see what was happening.

It was a scene straight out of a nightmare. Cinderblock, temporarily cheated of his quarry, had apparently decided to take his rage out on a red and silver Jump City municipal transit bus, filled to capacity with panicked, terrified civilians. The front part of the bus had been peeled off like a sardine can lid and tossed into the street, and the bus driver lay motionless on the ground next to it, the radio with which he had desperately tried to summon aid still held in his hand. Cinderblock was reaching inside, groping around with his huge, concrete hand for a victim to snare. With a roar of victory, the monster's fist clenched around a little girl in one of the front seats, and she was dragged screaming out of the bus. The girl's mother shrieked for help, desperately scrambling over the ruined front section of the bus to get to her daughter, but Cinderblock ignored her, and let out a primal roar as he prepared to spike the struggling child onto the pavement like a football. And faced with all this, David did the only thing he could think of to do.

He reached out with his mind to a piece of pavement a dozen feet behind Cinderblock, and he detonated it.

The blast was not very impressive, barely even audible over everything else, but Cinderblock heard it, and he instantly stopped his roaring and turned around, all else forgotten in a heartbeat. For a brief instant, Cinderblock and David stared at one another, and then a leering grin spread across the giant's face, and with no further thought for anything but his target, Cinderblock dropped the little girl onto the pavement, bruised but unharmed, lifted his finger to point straight at David and shouted his eternal battle-cry.

“DEVASTATOR!”

“David...”

David did not respond to Carrie, for Cinderblock had divested himself of the little girl, and consequently, he no longer had to settle merely for getting Cinderblock's attention. Whether or not he couldstop Cinderblock, he would have to at least slow the monster down if they were to make an escape. He extended one hand forward, and clenched his fist, trying desperately to keep his concentration as Cinderblock stomped towards him. He felt Carrie jerk back in fear next to him, but he threw his fingers out, palm forward, as though he were signing for an explosion, and as if in mimicry a fire hydrant sitting on the sidewalk next to Cinderblock blew up. The water within burst forth as a cloud of pressurized steam, instantly shrouding the entire area in a dense, thick fog. Visibility dropped to nothing in a split second, and David altered his perception such that he was no longer staring at cloud, but at molecules of water floating in those of air, and behind them, a lumbering mass of silicates and rock, stumbling in a circle, clearly disoriented.

“Come on!” he shouted to Carrie, who needed no encouragement, and the two teens ran as fast as they could down the street away from the confused juggernaut. Momentary the confusion proved, for David could soon hear Cinderblock stomping after them, his footfalls causing the very ground to shake. He expected at any moment to feel Cinderblock grabbing him from behind, and his fear pressed him to run faster, ever faster, and so it was that he did not notice when Cinderblock's footfalls stopped all of a sudden.

Fortunately Carrie did.

“Look out!” she shouted, and she practically tackled David, throwing both of them to the ground as an SUV passed over their heads and rolled down the street ahead. David landed hard on the pavement, tearing his jacket's elbow out, and rolled over onto his back in time to see Cinderblock pick up a motorcycle and lob it towards them. Almost automatically, he reached upwards with one hand and with his mind and commanded the gasoline inside the motorcycle's gas tank to detonate. The bike exploded into a fireball a dozen yards away, sending flaming debris raining down on them like confetti. Gasoline fumes and acrid smoke swirled around them as David and Carrie scrambled back to their feet, and with Cinderblock momentarily distracted by the unexpected blast, the two teens raced around the corner.

Coughing and gasping, David forced himself to keep running, down one block after another, even as the sound of the footfalls behind them resumed. He knew that they needed more time. Even running flat-out, they could not hope to outrun Cinderblock for long. Their only hope was to delay him long enough to get to...

They rounded one more corner onto Battery street, and stopped.

“Oh god...” said Carrie, her voice turned hollow and thin. She glanced to David, as if for guidance as to what they should do now, but David was standing in a stunned daze, unable to speak or even believe what he was seeing.

Battery street was teeming with people.

Hundreds of people, mostly civilians, all were gathered before David and Carrie like footage from the aftermath of some great disaster. Reporters stood on the sides of the crowd, speaking earnestly into microphones and TV cameras, relaying the details of what was happening. Police were trying to herd the crowd into some sort of order, EMTs were administering first aid to the injured, but David's eyes were drawn not to any of them, but off to the side, where there stood a large gaggle of children, some as old as David or Carrie, some as young as kindergartners. The kids looked reasonably nondescript, all ages, all races, all sexes represented within them, but what stood out was that here and there within the group of children stood a handful of adults, each of which wore a collared black shirt with white lettering boldly printed across the front for all to see, shirts that David himself had always thought looked incredibly stupid, which seemed to serve only to draw attention to the unique status of the children these adults were chaperoning whenever they were allowed out on weekend excursions...

The shirts read “Department of Child Services”

For a few moments, David actually forgot about Cinderblock. This could not be happening. The only possible way back to Titan's Tower was blocked by a horde of civilians that had just... materialized? This was some kind of sick joke being played by the universe, and he half expected to see the civilians all vanish the instant he blinked his eyes. And worse yet, DCS was here? He knew that the DCS people often took the foster kids to places like public parks or other free venues for kids' entertainment on weekends, weather permitting, but the co-incidence that he should run into them here of all places was so incalculably unfathomable that he suspected he was seeing things. To his abject horror, he realized that he recognized half a dozen of the older kids, other veterans of the state foster care system he had known from this orphanage or that one, though thankfully, none of them seemed to have noticed him yet.

And quite soon, bigger issues intervened.

The sound of Cinderblock's approaching footsteps was soon quite easily detectable, and predictably, panic shot through the civilians as they realized what was coming. Some tried to run, but the crowd was thick enough, and the exits from the street few enough, that there was no way the area would clear before Cinderblock hit them. Behind the refugees was hidden the tunnel that led under the bay to the Tower itself, but David knew that there was no question of getting there now. Cinderblock would hack a path straight through the panicked crowd and kill dozens if not hundreds, many of them people he knew. He turned to Carrie, to see if she had any better ideas as to what had to be done now, but she appeared equally stunned to silence, and merely turned to look at him with the same question written on her face, and slowly, the realization that they had just run completely out of options began to settle into his stomach like a lump of lead.

They could no longer escape, not without causing the deaths of hundreds of people. There were no more side streets to dart down, and even if there were, it would not serve to get them away from Cinderblock, for the way to the tunnel was blocked by the screaming, frenzied crowd. Cinderblock was advancing up behind them, and when he reached the crowd, he would commit a hideous massacre that would make his previous crimes look like parking tickets. The handful of police on-hand were not equipped to stop Cinderblock, nor were the civilians going to be able to get away before Cinderblock smashed into them.

So Cinderblock had to be stopped.

Both of them seemed to understand what was about to happen at the same time, and it was Carrie who spoke up first.

“I... thought you said you couldn't do anything by yourself,” she said nervously, as both she and David turned their backs to the screaming crowd and faced up the street in Cinderblock's direction.

David felt queasy, he was beginning to shiver, and not with cold. “I did,” he managed to whisper, trying to stop his teeth from chattering.

She nodded understandingly and looked back up the street. “Is there... something I can do...?”

David shook his head. “Not unless you have superpowers that I don't know about...” he said, with no laugh to accompany the gallows humor. Every approaching footstep felt like a gunshot straight to his heart, and he was afraid he was going to pass out right here.

Carrie turned her head to face him and forced a smile, putting a hand on his shoulder and gripping tightly, in support. He put his hand atop hers and squeezed, closing his eyes and wishing he knew how to pray or meditate or do anything to still the racing fear that was coursing through him. “You can do this,” said Carrie in a low voice that was almost a whisper. “I know you can do it. The Titans know you can do it. You can stop him.”

He tried to respond with a joke or a lighthearted comment, or even just a thank you, but the best he could manage was a weak smile. His fingers were trembling as he squeezed Carrie's hand extra hard, and then he let go and walked a few paces forward into the middle of the street, facing Cinderblock's direction, as Carrie slowly withdrew to the side of the street, and took cover behind a parked car.

Cinderblock was now in view, moving with even, unhurried strides towards a quarry who could no longer run, and David watched as the living monolith finally stepped out of the smoke and dust and stopped twenty feet ahead of him, leering down at the insignificant creature that had caused it so much bother. The crowd behind David gave a cry of alarm that quickly faded into whispers as the civilians realized that there was someone standing between them and Cinderblock, someone none of them could immediately recall having seen before, but whose very presence was enough to make Cinderblock hesitate.

“Devastator...” said Cinderblock with a low, guttural growl of malice as he glared down at his prey.

His mouth was dry, and his voice was weak, but David stared up at the engine of all the pain and death that had surrounded him for months on end, and replied with a soft voice.

“No...”

Cinderblock seemed unconvinced, to say the least, and snorted, growling at David like some kind of over-sized attack dog, but much as he wanted to run and hide, he did not back down. Instead he regarded his adversary, bitter anger starting to rise in his throat as he thought of all that Cinderblock had done, all the helpless people slaughtered in the name of whatever mad quest Cinderblock was on, and he raised his hand slightly and felt the molecular structures of the air and the ground and the objects around him ready to bend to his will. And then he raised his eyes to look Cinderblock in the face, and clenched his teeth as he spat out a final word. Robin or Beast Boy or Cyborg might have thought up a witty catchphrase to use here, one that would show Cinderblock that they weren't afraid of him, and that would impress upon him that to tempt their wrath was a dangerous prospect, but David was afraid, and Cinderblock had tempted his wrath before, and knew what it was like. He was fooling no-one. So he simply hissed out his own frightened challenge through his clenched teeth.

“Get away from me or I'll kill you!”

If Cinderblock was intimidated, he gave no sign, growling and snarling at David like a feral wolverine, before letting out a savage roar and lunging forward at the same time that David detonated the manhole cover underneath him.

And then it got messy.

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Robin awoke to find himself wreathed in smoke and the muffled sound of gunfire.

He was sitting in the T-car, that much he knew, and he automatically forced his mind to play back the events that had just transpired, viewing them as one would footage from a crime scene, not letting supposition or panic get in the way as he gave his head time to clear and trusted that it would of its own accord. Slowly the details of the situation slid into focus. The jagged remains of shatterproof glass along the edge of the windshield, the deflated airbag sitting in his lap, the flames flickering outside the passenger window, all of these things told him, before he had even had time to remember what had happened, that he was indeed sitting in the T-car, that there had been an accident. He tried to concentrate on his own body, see if there was any pain that he wasn’t noticing yet. His nerves were such that he actually had to concentrate on pain in order to really feel it, but other than aches and what would no doubt become bruises, there was nothing. All of his limbs moved when he told them to. He was all right.

So where were the others?

He reached down to unbuckle his seat belt and found that a piece of shrapnel had pinned it in place. With a single gesture, he pulled a birdarang out of his belt and sliced the restraints off of him, the motion so automatic that he did not even have to think about it, and could concentrate instead on remembering what happened. They were on the road, traveling back to Jump City. There had been a power spike ahead. A missile had struck the T-ship. Robots had attacked the car. Cyborg had swerved off the shoulder and…

Robin’s eyes opened up wide behind his mask. The T-ship…

He grabbed at the sides of the shattered windshield and pulled himself out of the car, his kevlar-laced gloves repelling the broken glass, and he leaped out onto the grass, turned a somersault and stood up in one motion. Immediately he was checking his surroundings. Broken, crumpled bodies lay scattered around the car itself, robotic bodies, each one showing signs of extreme trauma to the torsos and heads. One had a hole the size of a beach ball blasted through it, another’s head had been batted clean off and was sitting twenty yards away from its body, the imprint of a giant metal fist stamped into its lifeless red eye. More sounds of gunfire were coming from his right, and he drew his staff from the pouch on his back in one hand and pulled a communicator out with the other.

“Cyborg!” he called into the communicator. “Starfire! Raven! Beast Boy! Can anyone hear me?”

Static.

They were not dead. He refused to allow himself to even think that. Their communicators were broken or they were busy fighting the other robots and couldn’t reach them to respond. He needed to rally them somehow, regroup and assess what they were actually facing, and without waiting to formulate a better plan than that, he turned and ran towards the trees from which the gunfire was coming. And as he did this, he heard a harsh mechanical sound like a garbage disposal or a blender turned on to high speeds and thrown into a bathtub of water, and the knot inside his stomach loosened a bit, because he knew what made that sound.

Cyborg burst out of the trees, running as fast as he could towards the smashed T-car, and seemed surprised to see Robin awake, alive, and running towards him, but did he not stop. Every dozen paces or so, he turned back to fire his sonic cannon into the bushes and trees from whence he had emerged, sending shafts of bluish energy stabbing through the undergrowth at unseen foes. Whatever was chasing him seemed to think better of it, and he was able to run the rest of the way over to Robin unmolested, breathlessly reciting what he knew so far.

“I got knocked outta the car when we went off the road,” he said. “I tried to get to you, but there was too many of 'em, so I led 'em back into the woods. There's dozens out there!”

“Did you see the others?” asked Robin quickly. “Did you see where the T-ship went down?”

“The ship didn't go down man, it blew up in mid-air. I got knocked off the road before I could see if the others bailed out, and they're not responding to my calls.”

“We have to find them,” said Robin tersely. “We have to regroup and try to - “

A crashing of branches and brush cut Robin off as a firing line of half a dozen robots broke through the line of underbrush ahead, six-barreled miniguns and rocket launchers affixed to their limbs. Cyborg let out a yell and dove to one side, firing his sonic cannon and blasting the head off of one of the bots, even as the others opened fire, sending hails of slugs and streaking missiles soaring towards the two superheroes.

Robin flung himself to the ground as a fusillade of shells passed overhead, and rolled to the side as missiles impacted the dirt near him, sending showers of earth raining down. Snatching an explosive birdarang from his belt, he flung it at the robots, catching one square in the chest and sending it crumpling to the ground. A tree loomed ahead, and he darted for it, taking cover behind its massive trunk. Cyborg was out in the open blasting away at the robots with his sonic weaponry, slugs from the miniguns pinging off his armored frame even as missiles streaked past. Having lost track of Robin, the remaining robots turned on the metallic Titan, and Robin sensed an opening.

He knew never to hesitate when he sensed an opening.

Racing out from behind the tree, Robin sprinted at the nearest robot, who turned to bring his machine gun back around onto Robin. Too late. Robin leaped high into the air and flipped, bringing his staff down onto the robot's head with all his might and momentum, crushing it like a grape. As the robot fell, its neighbor took a shot with a rocket launcher, but the missile had no time to track its target, and missed high, spiraling off into the trees, and Robin landed behind his fallen enemy and extended the staff like a spear, catching the robot under the arm and upending it. Robin stepped over the downed robot, dropping a timed explosive onto it as he passed, and with his left hand, drew two more birdarangs and hurled them like shiruken at the two remaining robots. One was hit in the face, and fell instantly with a missing head. The other was struck in the arm, and lasted but a moment longer as the explosion of the birdarang set off the ammunition it carried within its rocket launcher, and blew the robot to pieces.

Cyborg had dents all over his front and side armor from where the heavy slugs of the robots' miniguns had struck him, but he remained unbowed, and he raced back over to where Robin was standing in the midst of the smashed robots. Cyborg's scanners were deployed, and he waved his arm slowly back and forth in front of the woods, as Robin watched for signs of more enemy.

“I don't get it,” said Cyborg. “There were at least a hundred and fifty signals on the T-car's scanner when we got jumped, but I haven't seen more than a dozen or two robots coming this way. Where's all the others?”

As if in answer to Cyborg's question, a loud blast echoed through the forest from somewhere ahead and to the right, and there was a green flash followed by a puff of smoke and the sound of much gunfire. As the two heroes watched, an entire robot, weapons and all, arced up into the air high enough to be seen over the tree canopy, and was summarily vaporized by a beam of bright green energy that flashed up from somewhere on the ground.

“Starfire!” cried Robin, and he took off into the woods towards the location of the blast, using his staff like a machete to swat brush and branches aside as he ran. Cyborg followed after him, ripping through trees and bushes as he continued to scan for the robots. One or two more enemies tried to intercept, but Robin did not even pause to deal with them, and hurled birdarangs out of either hand as he sprinted past. It was barely thirty seconds later before he burst out of the brush into a large, open clearing.

Starfire was in the center of the open space, in mid-air, her clothing and hair singed black, but her eyes and fists glowing green with righteous fury. Dozens of robots stood all around her in a loose circle, and missiles and hosepipes of waspish projectiles streaked through the air from their guns. Already at least twenty more bots lay smashed on the ground, many of them rent to pieces and cast about like the broken playthings of a clumsy giant, and more were joining them as Starfire swooped and spun and twisted and dove and cried out in her own language as she flung starbolts into the robots with their hands, and consumed them to ashes with beams of energy from her eyes. Always though, more came out of the woods, firing full tilt at anything they could see, and some of them carried electric net launchers, several of which she nimbly avoided before blasting those that had fired them into piles of melted circuitry.

Robin didn't hesitate. “Cyborg! Cover me!”

He charged into the maelstrom like a possessed demon, stabbing one robot in the back with his staff and slamming the war machine face first down into the ground, before using it's fallen body as a pivot to pole vault forward and into another one. His titanium-soled boots rang like churchbells as they collided with the second robot's head, snapping its servos and shutting it down. The nearby robots now noticed him, and they began to turn to bring him down as well, but suddenly Cyborg was upon them, wielding an entire uprooted tree like a two-handed club, tossing robots aside like rubber balls as he swung it back and forth. Still others took aim at Robin, but he sprung like a grasshopper and twisted like a contortionist, tossing more explosive birdarangs whenever he could, striking robot after robot with his staff and his boots and even his fists, always careful to keep his target between the other robots and himself. Still the shots flew uncomfortably close. A missile nearly took his head off before Starfire atomized the shooter with a starbolt, and a burst of minigun fire tore holes through his cape like swiss cheese, and creased his shoulder close enough to raise a blister, but Cyborg crushed the robot like a sardine can with his uprooted tree before it could correct its aim.

Yet more robots poured from the woods, stepping over the fallen bodies of their brethren to fire and fire and fire some more. A missile struck Cyborg in the shoulder and knocked him down, his armor peeled back and jagged, but Cyborg merely yelled even louder and retaliated with a blast of his sonic cannon so intense that it melted three of the robots into slag, and shattered the arm of a fourth. A near miss by a missile caught Robin as he was flipping through the air, and sent him crashing into a tree, but his instincts served him well, and by the time he had hit the ground he was ready to leap again. He didn't know how many of the enemy there were, or where Beast Boy and Raven were at, but he knew they couldn't stop now, they had to drive back this assault if any of them were to survive this day.

But as he finished smashing another robot to pieces with a flurry of blows from his staff, already planning on how to spin and take down the next one, as well as trying to imagine where Raven and Beast Boy could have gotten to, he heard Starfire scream, and his blood froze.

He turned around to see that Starfire had darted low to the ground to evade more missiles, and a robot from within the woods had launched another electrified net at her, one she had not seen in time. With a cry of pain, she halted in mid-air as though she had collided with an invisible wall and plunged into the ground like a falling rock. The robot stepped forward to finish Starfire off, but the Tamaranean was made of sterner stuff than it expected, and Starfire scrambled her way back to her feet and tore the metal fibre net in half like it was tissue paper, before spinning around and belting the robot who had launched it in the face with her fist, tearing its head off and sending it bouncing across the clearing. By then however, the other robots nearby had managed to re-target her, and a target on the ground was much easier than one in the air. Three of them opened fire on Starfire point blank with miniguns, and with an aborted cry, Starfire was thrown off her feet and flung to the ground by the force of the shells.

STARFIRE!!!”

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The manhole cover was solid iron, and it exploded like a land mine, blasting upwards with all the force David could channel, and catching Cinderblock right where the solar plexus should have been, save of course that Cinderblock had no such thing. The iron fragments pinged off of him like water droplets, and he raised his fists and charged.

So much for plan A.

David jumped to his side as Cinderblock brought his fists down together on the point where he had been standing, gouging out a divot in the ground large enough to hide a refrigerator in. He hit the ground and slid, tearing his jacket's sleeve, before scrambling back up to his feet, and turning back around to face Cinderblock. It had taken the monster that long to make certain that he hadn't actually crushed David, and to realize he was still standing elsewhere, but as soon as he did, he bellowed once again, sending a involuntary shout of horror through the crowd gathered behind the two combatants. Backing hastily away from Cinderblock, David felt his heart pounding somewhere around his throat, and trying to think of something quickly, darted behind an abandoned Toyota in the middle of the street. Cinderblock could either try and crush his way through it, or pick it up, and either way, he could use its full gas tank as a weapon. The reasoning seemed sound, except Cinderblock stomped over and kicked it aside with a single blow, sending it bouncing back up the street the way both David and Cinderblock had come. Desperately, David fell back again, up onto the side walk, and as he did so he aimed his finger at the ground and caused a chunk of asphalt to freeze and quiver, and explode under Cinderblock's feet. Cinderblock stumbled and tripped and fell, but in falling, he reached out and grabbed David's foot, yanking it out from under him and spilling him onto the ground as well.

“Devastator!” shouted Cinderblock as David squirmed and scrambled to try and get away while Cinderblock grabbed for him with his other hand. Desperately, David waved his hands at a storefront window nearby, which shattered and exploded outward, showering both him and Cinderblock with broken glass. Reflexively, Cinderblock pulled his other hand back to protect his eyes, and David managed to wrench his foot free and scramble back and away, shedding shattered glass like a waterfall, his jacket cut to ribbons by the sharp glass fragments.

Up loomed Cinderblock once more, towering and defiant, and he raised both fists slowly before shoving them downwards and thrusting out his chest and roaring. Streetlights exploded, for once without David's input, while the very force of the roar nearly bowled him over, and he had to steady himself against another car to avoid falling. Any second now, Cinderblock would charge, and David for the life of him couldn't see what he was going to stop him with. There was nothing explosive or otherwise conducive to this sort of thing to be seen, and Cinderblock couldn't be stopped by a -

He glanced up.

Cinderblock stomped forward, and David had to scramble back, over the parked car's hood, which Cinderblock peremptorily overturned as he growled and snarled like a wood saw. David reached out with his left hand, pointing at something behind Cinderblock, but the cement and concrete juggernaut did not possess the intelligence to check and see what David was up to, and it pressed ahead, raising a balled fist which it prepared to bring down onto David to pound him into jelly. Before it could do so however, David snapped his fingers and shouted with the effort, and the base of a telephone pole behind Cinderblock burst into splinters and fragments as though it had contained a bomb. The fragments did nothing whatsoever to Cinderblock, nor did the explosion itself, but the pole toppled over like a bowling pin, and crashed down onto Cinderblock's head. Even this would have been nothing, a mere nuisance to one such as he, but for the fact that when the pole hit Cinderblock, it bounced, and fell off of him to the side, and in doing so, it dragged the live electrical wires that it was holding up across Cinderblock's face.

And that had an effect.

Cinderblock let out a horrific, wailing scream as twenty thousand volts of electricity coursed through him, and he staggered, and stumbled backwards, and fell to the ground writhing. For a brief second, David thought he might just have done it, but it was only a few seconds later that Cinderblock managed to kick the live wires off of himself, and staggered back to his feet, lividly angry and practically shaking with rage. As David watched in horror, Cinderblock lifted the telephone pole, and snapped the wires connecting it to the others, leaving a length of steel cable about twenty feet long still trailing from the end of the pole. And then with roars of vengeance and death in his throat, Cinderblock swung the pole at David, who was standing too far away to be hit by the pole, but consequently didn't realize his own danger until it was too late.

David threw his hands up to protect his face, and jumped back, but in vain, as the metal wires attached to the telephone pole lashed at him like a whip. He screamed as his arms and forehead were sliced open by the still crackling wires, and the jolt of electricity they delivered literally blew him off his feet and onto his back on the ground. Blood dripped into his eyes, blocking his sight, and his arms felt like they were on fire. Desperately he tried to blink or brush away the blood and smoke so that he could see what was happening, and finally he resorted to his other senses, feeling out with his mind for the tell-tale mass of solid silicates that represented the brutish monster that was trying to kill him. The instant he did, he cried out again, this time in fear, as Cinderblock was standing directly over him, the telephone pole held up like a giant pestle, and he was preparing to bring it down to crush him underneath it.

Unable to do anything else, David rolled over to his side, and the telephone pole came down next to him, missing by inches. The bottom third of the pole shattered under the impact, and the wires detached, but Cinderblock still held a fifteen foot long piece, and he hefted it once more like a club as David shakily got back to his feet. Cinderblock swung the pole at him wildly, missing high, then right, as David fell back, no longer trying to find something effective, but simply something that would stop him. A mailbox burst, sending letters and packages flying through the air like feathers from a bird. A parked car's tires ignited and exploded next to Cinderblock's feet, followed shortly thereafter by the car they were attached to, but nothing seemed to phase the enraged monstrosity, and Cinderblock swung again and again. Quick enough to dodge Cinderblock's ponderous swings, at least for the moment, David was still searching for something else to detonate when Cinderblock, instead of swinging his club once more, jabbed at him with the tip of it, catching him in the chest like a speared fist and tossing him back like a toy.

He slammed into the side of a Porsche, hard enough to dent the door and shatter the car's window above him, and he lay there winded, stunned, his lungs on fire, blood running freely down the side of his face. There he lay, moaning softly, his chest throbbing and burning, and when he looked up, he blearily saw Cinderblock, now standing still, looking pleased with himself at having apparently defeated his enemy. And then, implacably as ever, the nearly-unharmed monster began to walk towards him.

He couldn't breathe. He could barely see. He was certain at least one of his ribs was broken from the impact, and it hurt to move, and hurt to sit still. His brain was telling him to get up and get out of the way, to find something else to do to Cinderblock, but the best he could do was to slowly stagger to his feet, leaning against the Porsche he had been thrown into. He wanted to run, but couldn't get his balance back, and besides, where was he going to run to? Cinderblock was faster than he was, and the only escape route meant leading him straight through the crowd of civilians.

... and that's when he realized that it was awfully quiet.

It was an odd thing to realize, given the circumstances, but the fact that, Cinderblock aside, he hadn't heard any noise in a while from what had not long ago been a screaming, panicked mob, prompted him to make the unforgivably stupid mistake of turning his back on Cinderblock for a second and looking back at the crowd. It was larger than he had thought, hundreds and hundreds of people of all ages standing and hiding behind cover, all of them silent, all of them staring at him.

That part stopped him short. They were all looking at him. Not at Cinderblock. At him. Every pair of eyes that he saw was fixed on him, and in them he saw fear and surprise, of course, but also something else, but he couldn't tell what. So good usually at watching and gauging people's reactions, this one was hard to interpret. And it wasn't until he turned his head slightly and saw all of the other foster kids and the social workers from the DCS staring at him with wide eyes and gaping mouths, that it really clicked.

It was wonder.

Wonder and awe and amazement was dancing in the eyes of every single one of the foster kids, from the youngest to the oldest. Some of them he recognized, vaguely, from elsewhere, and some he did not, and he could not tell if they recognized him as one of them, as one of their own little group of orphans and runaways and wards of the state, but he suspected that most of them didn't. And the reason for that was suddenly clear. He wasn't one of them any longer. They were standing off to the side of the crowd, and nobody was paying them the slightest mind, not even the very monster that he was afraid was going to kill them. They were unseen, un-noticed, anonymous, as he was, as he had always been, as he had always wanted to be.

But not now.

Every eye, from the tourists and residents of the city, to the police and medical personnel, every single eye was on him, with only the occasional glance aimed at his nemesis to ensure it wasn't threatening them directly yet. Every man, woman, child, everyone that he could see was watching him, staring at him, willing him silently to keep them safe or to beat Cinderblock back to the hole he had crawled out of. They didn't see a terrified kid, desperately trying to fight off a monster that was totally out of his class. They didn't know that he was scared witless, unprepared for a challenge like this, that Cinderblock was almost certainly about to kill him. They saw someone larger than they were, a champion, a protector, something that could stop Cinderblock. They wanted him to fight. They wanted him to win. Their worry, their amazement, their fear... it was all for him.

Behind him loomed a giant shadow, gathering up like an ocean breaker about to thunder down on his head, and he half-turned to look back at Cinderblock, who was holding his telephone pole/bludgeon high in the air with both hands. David's expression didn't change, and he made no move to evade as the monster roared one last roar of victory, and swung the telephone pole down like an executioner's axe. Dozens of people cried out in alarm, screaming a warning to run, to dodge, or anything, but David simply closed his eyes.

And that's when the entire telephone pole exploded.

Flames and shrapnel burst into the air as Cinderblock's weapon disintegrated in his hands into a hail of flying wood splinters, and he gave a surprised yelp of pain and astonishment as the blast shoved him back several steps. Bits of burning wood plunged out of the air onto the street, the buildings, the bay, and into the crowd, who fended them off with briefcases and jackets and umbrellas. David, less than four feet from the epicenter of the blast shuddered as bits of wood hit him and knocked him back a pace or two, and he bit back a cry as a large splinter embedded itself in his upper arm, quivering like an arrow and forming a slowly expanding red stain on his shirtsleeve and what was left of his tattered jacket. But when he opened his eyes again, he saw Cinderblock, standing back from him, his arms and torso covered in so many splinters that he resembled a porcupine, and his right hand mangled by the blast wave. And he couldn't be certain, but he thought that for a second, he saw what might have been fear in the monster's gaze.

But what he was certain of, were the cheers emanating from behind him, and the cries of “let him have it!” and “get the bastard!” from some of the more aggressive onlookers. David didn't pay them too much mind, after all he was still in fairly extreme pain, his lungs were still aflame, his forehead and arms still leaking blood that ran down his body onto the ground, and Cinderblock was still stronger, faster, tougher, and a hell of a lot less afraid than he was. But the cries of the crowd seemed to wrap around him like a warm blanket, and took the edge off the fear, and the spikes off the pain, and he found that he could walk, and move, and he stepped a few steps forward, and stared at Cinderblock, armed with the realization that however bad the odds were, he wasn't yet dead.

It wasn't exactly confidence, but it was something.

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The electricity seared through her like fire in her veins, and she cried out without realizing she had, as the joy of flight evaporated and was replaced with agonizing pain. Only dimly did she realize she was falling, and the impact with the grassy ground was barely tangible next to the agony of the electric net, but while she could not feel the joy of flight or really the joy of anything in such a state, but she could still feel the boundless confidence that flowed through her whenever she had need for strength, and more importantly, the agony lent itself well to the righteous fury that powered her starbolts. It was partly for this reason that Tamaranean warriors were so feared by their enemies. Pain tended to make them more dangerous.

This was, obviously, a lesson lost on the mechanical assassin that had done this to her.

She shouted a wordless cry of defiance, and forcing her way to her feet, ripped the electrified restraint apart and cast it to the ground. The robotic assailant which had projected it at her was at hand, and she lunged towards it with one glowing fist, tearing its mal-formed head from its shoulders and letting its body crumple to the ground like a Wuserloop in mating season. Behind her there was the sound of more enemies, and she spun round to engage them, starbolts at the ready in her hands, but as she turned, she heard the sound of gears and machinery spinning, and then a harsh, grating noise, like that of a disposer of garbage.

And then something hit her.

Starfire screamed once again as something, a thousand somethings, projectiles, heavy and cold and solid metal, ripped into her abdomen and chest and sent her toppling over onto the ground. She clutched at her stomach, and felt a hot, wet, liquid flowing over her, and she knew it to be blood. The impact had knocked most of the air out of her lungs, and she could not breathe, though fortunately, she did not need to. Dazed and bleeding, she lifted her head slightly, enough to watch as three of the robots with the spinning projectile weapons strode up to her, and lowered their weapons towards her face. Once more the rotating projectile launchers began to spin, and she gasps and raised a hand to conjure a starbolt.

But she didn't get that far.

There was a blur of motion, and suddenly Robin appeared as though conjured by magic, his staff swinging underneath the robots' weapons and forcing them all skyward, causing the bursts of metallic projectiles to pass harmlessly overhead. The robots turned on Robin, but he struck them with his staff again and again, the staff whipping and flailing about in his hands like the tail of a scorpion. One robot fell back with its eyes demolished, firing its weapon blindly into the sky and ground, before a beam of blue energy struck it in the side and tore out the sparkling materials from which its organs were created. The second's weapon was wrenched from its grasp and fell to the ground, and it swung its long, spindly arms at Robin like the clumsy motions of a man who had imbibed too much of the alcohol. Robin ducked and spun around the robot's uncoordinated strikes, and draw a birdarang to slash open its neck. No blood ran forth, but the robot toppled onto the ground. The last robot was already spinning its projectile weapon at Robin, but Starfire had by now managed to conjure a starbolt, and with a flick of her wrist, she threw it into the robot's chest, blasting a hole through it as wide as Silkie, and it too fell lifeless to the grass.

No sooner had the last robot fallen, than Robin was rushing over to her, his eyes leaking tears from behind his mask. “Starfire!” he shouted, sliding to a stop and dropping his staff. Cyborg was coming up behind him, but as he approached, she pushed the pain of her injuries to the back of her mind and smiled broadly as she threw her arms around Robin's neck.

“Robin!” she cried happily, and only in the nick of time did she remember to reign in her strength to avoid causing damage to Robin's skeleton (again). It was several moments before she realized that Robin was not responding to her, and when she looked up, she saw his eyes wide in astonishment, and Cyborg standing behind him, looking equally shocked.

“Friends... you are unharmed, yes?”

Robin did not answer the question, staring at her as though she was undergoing another transformation. “How... are... what? Are you all right?!”

“I am not seriously hurt,” she said, standing up, brushing the metallic projectiles off of her skirt as she did so. The cuts from the projectiles still throbbed, but the bleeding was already beginning to stop. Still Cyborg and Robin were staring at her strangely, and she worried if perhaps she had done something that she was not supposed to do…

“Is something the matter?”

“Star,” said Cyborg in a quiet voice, “those were miniguns…”

She turned and looked at the broken robots. “They do not appear small to me…” she commented.

“They should’ve cut you in half!” exclaimed Cyborg, “You got hit with two hundred rounds, how are you all right?”

“It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re all right…” said Robin, his voice already returned to the tone he used whenever he was giving orders. “Are you able to move?”

“I will be fine,” she assured Robin, still not quite certain what all the worry had been about. It wasn’t as though the projectiles were fired particularly hard.

“Starfire, where are Raven and Beast Boy?”

Starfire suddenly a bitter coldness flowing through her. “You mean… they are not with you?”

“You were the one in the ship, Star. What happened?”

“I… do not know what happened,” she said, trying to recollect as best she could what she had seen. “The engine of the T-ship exploded, and there were missiles about us. Beast Boy was attempting to land the ship when they began to hit, and my seat was ejected from the rest of the ship. I was attacked by these robots when I arrived on the ground. I did not see where Beast Boy and Raven went…”

Starfire saw the fear in Robin and Cyborg’s eyes as she spoke, and a moment later, she realized what they were afraid of.

“But… are they not… have you not found them yet? Where did their seats land?”

“They’re not responding to the communicators,” said Robin. “We don’t know if they ejected or not.

“But… surely they must have… if my seat was thrown out of the ship, should not theirs have also been?”

Cyborg was pressing buttons on his arm, and reading something from the screen built into it. “Your seat didn’t eject, Star… there’s transponders built into the ejection system that broadcast right to my scanners. If you’d ejected, I’d have seen it. I think you got blown out of the ship.”

”But then… Beast Boy and Raven?”

“I didn’t read any ejections.”

Starfire felt something catch in her throat. It couldn’t be. Cyborg couldn’t mean that…

”They’re not dead,”

Robin’s mask made it impossible to tell what he was thinking, but his voice was as steady as she had ever heard it. “Both of them can escape the T-ship without having to eject, and if they had a chance to see the missiles coming, then they could have gotten out. We just have to find them.”

Robin sounded so certain that the cold feeling in Starfire’s stomach began to recede, and she brushed herself off. “I shall seek them from the air. They cannot have gone far.”

“No, Star,” said Robin. “They have surface-to-air missiles. We can’t risk that. We’ll have to search for them on foot.”

”I’ll use my scanners,” said Cyborg, already pressing more buttons. “Beast Boy could be anything, but Raven should show up. C’mon.”

Cyborg led the way into the forest, and at Robin’s insistence, she went second, leaving Robin to bring up the rear. She did not allow herself to think that they might not find Raven and Beast Boy alive. Robin did not believe they were dead, and neither would she.

But she did hope they would find them soon, and remove all doubt.

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”Come and get me.”

More startled than hurt, Cinderblock tore the larger bits of wood out of his hide with broad strokes of his arms, and his beady eyes narrowed as he glared down at the young psychokinetic, but David was long past the point of running away at a glare. Despite his injuries and the pain they entailed, despite the blood still leaking into his eyes, he continued to stand in the middle of the street, trying to stay upright, one hand pointed at the ground before Cinderblock, where a strip of asphalt had frozen solid by his will. He did not remove his eyes from his foe, nor so much as twitch a finger. It was perhaps all hopeless, in fact it was probably all hopeless, but even if he couldn’t stop Cinderblock, he knew he could hurt him, and he knew that Cinderblock knew that too. The civilians were watching from behind their cover. Many had managed to flee, but some remained behind, though God only knew why. Ironically though, given his penchant for going un-noticed, he was glad they did. It helped, a little, to know that he wasn’t about to die alone…

… in one sense or another.

Cinderblock lunged forward all of a sudden like a springing panther, hoping to clear David’s frozen chunk of asphalt before the young kineticist could react. Unfortunately for Cinderblock, David didn’t have to react, simply release the energy he had already stored, and the ensuing blast upset Cinderblock’s lunge, causing him to fall flat on his face on the ground. This elicited a cheer from some of the civilians behind him, and David felt his blood beginning to run hot as the fear began to give way to anger.

“Devastator…” he said, borrowing the term from Cinderblock for the occasion, his voice half-choked with pain and furious anger at all that Cinderblock had done and was doing. “That’s me, isn’t it? I’m the one you want? You wanted to find Devastator… get Devastator…”

Cinderblock for once did not repeat his favorite catchphrase, and he instead reached up and tore the hood off a sedan sitting nearby, throwing it at David like a discus as he scrambled back to his feet. David ducked low, and the hood passed overhead, but as he ducked he turned, and extended his hand, causing part of the hood to explode. It arced up into the air and over the heads of the other people, before plunging down into the bay behind them harmlessly. No sooner had this happened, than David turned back to Cinderblock, and pointed a finger at the now-exposed engine block of the car the hood had come from. It flew to pieces like a fragmentation bomb, knocking Cinderblock back another pair of steps. Cinderblock looked... worried now, still defiant, still ready to kill, but clearly this was more resistance than he had been anticipating.

“You want to kill me?” asked David, as he stepped forward again, trembling once more, this time with a mixture of fear and indignation. “You could have killed me before, but you didn’t! And now you’re here to kill me? Kill Devastator? Is that it? Sixty people dead already because of you, and that’s not enough, you’ve got to start ripping busses apart and throwing rocks into crowds?! What do you want with me?!

Cinderblock did not answer, instead racing forward again, fists held high. David did not even glance to his side as he shot his hand out and blew the base off another telephone pole, which crashed to the ground in ruins ahead of Cinderblock. The rampaging monster hesitated, grinding to a halt, as he regarded the live wires sparking on it, and kicked it aside carefully, to avoid contacting the electric current.

David was clearly livid now, his face flushed red with more than just the blood on his forehead, and he kept his gaze to the concrete monster and shouted to be heard above the crowd behind him. “You want Devastator?!” he screamed, his voice shrill and furious, as he planted his feet securely the way that Robin had taught him to when preparing to receive a charge from an enemy. “You want Devastator?! I’ll show you the goddamned Devastator!!!”

All further words were lost in the cacophony of the explosions that followed.

Cinderblock howled, howled in pain and surprise and rage as pineapple-sized pieces of his own body cracked and froze and exploded all across himself, blasting divots in his concrete hide as though he was being shot with anti-tank weaponry. Explosion after explosion racked his form, and he staggered, but did not fall, and in a blind fury he charged David, ignoring the blasts that sent bits of stone and cement flying in every direction. Focused intently on generating these explosions, a task which would have been well beyond him in this mental state only months ago, David saw his own danger only in the nick of time, and he threw himself to the side of the street just as Cinderblock brought his fist down on the place he had been standing.

He landed in the gutter, which was somehow appropriate, perhaps, and he got back up as fast as he could and turned to see Cinderblock bearing down on him again, equally livid it appeared. He could have run, perhaps, dodged this strike as he had the last, and come up with another plan, but he glanced to his side at a minivan parked nearby, and instead of retreating and trying to find a better plan, he marshaled what energy he had left inside him, and pointed his finger at the tires on the passenger side of the minivan, and blew them up.

Both tires exploded in unison, and the car was propelled into the air and sideways, a simple physics reaction whose purpose was immediately apparent, as the car collided with Cinderblock head on, and arrested his advance instantaneously, knocking him onto his back and landing atop him, pinning him to the ground. David felt his legs give out, and he collapsed onto the sidewalk. Footsteps, normal footsteps were coming up behind him, but he did not turn to look at who was making them. Cinderblock was roaring and trying to shove the multi-ton vehicle off of himself, and David slowly extended his hand, closed his eyes, and focused on the fuel tank, clenching every muscle in his body and letting out a savage cry of pain and fury as he shoved the energy in the gasoline tank one last time.

KABOOM!

Cinderblock’s roars were subsumed in the explosion, as the vehicle burst into flames and exploded like a car bomb, casting pieces of itself in every direction. Utterly spent, David flopped onto the ground like a corpse, barely able to keep himself sitting up. His head pounded like a timpani drum, his forehead bled profusely, as did his arm, and several other spots where he had cut himself or scraped his skin off on the asphalt. He felt someone touching him on the shoulder, a strong grip, and he looked up wearily, to see Carrie staring down at him. She might have been trying to say something, but the roaring flames, and the other background noise made it hard for him to hear, to say nothing of the fact that he felt rather like a boned fish. She reached down and grabbed him around his chest, and pulled him up to his feet as best she could, and he cried out and clutched his side as his broken ribs jarred with the motion.

”Come on,” she said, “we need to get you to - “

Carrie was cut off, by a all-too-familiar sound. A roar.

The roar was low, and guttural, and unmistakably malevolent, a bitter, sick roar from a beast that was now well past the pale of anger. Carrie froze, and David’s breath caught. Surely not even Cinderblock could possibly sustain…

The burning wreckage of the minivan fell aside, as a giant, cracked, concrete fist was shoved it off of the thing it had landed upon. And slowly, like Nosferatu rising from his coffin, Cinderblock sat up. His body was broken and mangled, his hide shattered, his face cracked, but his eyes burnt like miniature suns, like nuclear explosions contained within his boxy head. And right now they were burning in pure, unadulterated, vengeful rage.

“No…”

But no words of David’s however sincerely felt, could banish this thing that simply refused to fall. The civilians who remained shouted and pointed and stumbled back, even as Cinderblock began to slowly pick his way out of the ruins of the destroyed minivan. David had no idea what to do now. He could barely stand, the pain of his injuries was almost debilitating, and what’s worse, he wasn’t certain that he could conjure the energy for another explosion, not for one large enough to take out Cinderblock.

Carrie, for her part, did not wait around to see what Cinderblock intended to do, but draping one of David’s arms over her shoulder, she moved down the street as fast as she could, away from Cinderblock, but they hadn’t gone more than twenty yards before David simply collapsed in the center of the street and fell to his knees, unable to rise further.

“Come on!” she said, kneeling down next to him. “We have to get going! Cinderblock is…”

But David wasn’t listening. His rage and adrenaline were spent, and he could barely keep his eyes open. His senses reached out, and he felt the world spinning, his perception floating back and forth from visual to molecular. He could feel the molecules of the asphalt beneath him, of the steel of the nearby cars, but he could not so much as twinge any of them. He had nothing left, nothing powerful enough to stop…



He noticed something.

“David? David, can you hear me? We have to go! I know you’re hurt, but we have to get out of here before…”

“J.C.G.E.”

Carrie stopped short. “What?”

David blinked, and raised his head to look Carrie in the face, and he was actually smiling, like a little kid who knew a secret that nobody else knew. “J.C.G.E” he said, as though the meaning were perfectly obvious, and using Carrie as a support, he slowly forced his way back to his feet.

“Carrie,” he said as he stood up again, his voice adopting a tone of urgency. “I need your help. I need you to do something.”

Carrie did not appear to like the sound of this. “What?”

“I need you to get everyone back. Way back.”

“What are you talking about?”

“All the other civilians. Get them back from here, as far back as they can go. Get them all moving and then run. Run as fast as you can.”

Carrie hesitated. “What are you going to do?”

David closed his eyes and took a slow, deep breath to steady himself. “Something really stupid…” he said, “Just trust me. Run!”

Carrie plainly did not understand, but with only another second’s hesitation, she turned and ran, shouting to everyone who could hear to do the same. The civilians, seeing Cinderblock back on his feet and slowly approaching, needed little encouragement, and David took one more glance back at them, before he returned his gaze, one last time, to Cinderblock.

Cinderblock was standing again, moving towards David with a single, bloody purpose in mind, limping, and clearly damaged, but alive,



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
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Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-02 10:09pm
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Location: Tahalshia Manor
Chapter 15, cont.

Cinderblock was standing again, moving towards David with a single, bloody purpose in mind, limping, and clearly damaged, but alive, and mostly intact. Nothing David had done, not his best, most violent explosions, nothing had managed to stop Cinderblock, but David did not retreat. He crouched instead, lowering one hand to the ground, and planting it on the asphalt, fingers splayed, as he lifted the other hand into the air, balled into a fist. Cinderblock was roaring again, shaking the very ground with every footstep, charging like a maddened bull, but David simply watched him, watching him approaching like an oncoming train. Inside his head, he forced himself to focus, to marshal all his remaining energy for one more explosion. It did not have to be large, in fact it did not have to do anything special at all. All he needed was one more spark in the right place…

Cinderblock was barely a dozen paces away now, screaming his head off and lining up to deliver a running kick, to punt David like a football. David pressed, pressed as hard as he could with his mind, and then as he felt himself crossing that critical threshold , he brought his other hand down like a hammer, and struck the ground with it.

For a moment, nothing happened.

And then a low, sonorous rumbling sound was heard, like that of an earthquake or landslide, and the street shook, and heaved, an began to crack. Cinderblock lost his footing and stumbled to a halt, looking this way and that, to try and pinpoint what was happening, and in his confusion, he glanced back down at David, who was smiling even as he crouched as low as he could to the ground, and braced himself for the impact.

And then it hit.

Chasms split in the asphalt beneath Cinderblock’s feet, and from them came gouts of fire that burst hundreds of feet into the air, high enough to scorch the undersides of the news helicopters floating overhead. David saw Cinderblock’s enraged, confused expression turn to abject terror as the very ground beneath his feet rose and cracked, and crumbled, and then burst, and the entire street that they were standing on went off like a volcano. Cinderblock had time to scream, just for a split second, a scream of pain and terror and fear so similar to the ones he had been inspiring in hundreds of others, not least the beaten, bleeding young kineticist sitting before him, and then a fireball the size of a four-story building erupted out of the street, and Cinderblock vanished from sight.

It was only a split second later that David felt the piece of asphalt he was crouched upon give way before the titanic explosion. He had time only to crouch as low as he could before the blast wave hit him, and then everything went black.



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-27 08:25pm
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Chapter 16: Comrades in Arms

"We have such a theory now; we can solve any moral problem, on any level. Self-interest, love of family, duty to country . . . But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misquotation: 'Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to defend her kittens.' Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral ladder you are capable of climbing."

- Robert Heinlein, "Starship Troopers"
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Static.

Every monitor, every uplink showed the same thing, a flickering of motion from the broken figure facing Cinderblock, and then a single bright flash which cut to static as the CCTV camera providing the video feed was either severed from its transmitter or (more likely) atomized in what looked to be a military-grade explosion, and no matter how many times the Tall Man played back the feed, no matter how carefully he peered at it, frame by frame, he could not discern what in God's name had gone wrong.

But something had gone very wrong.

He cycled through all three cameras once again. No feed. No picture. No clue as to what had happened. He punched another command into his computer, and the feed switched to a news helicopter hovering above the battle. Nothing again. Clouds of dense brown smoke obscured all possible views of the battlefield, and the orange glow of fires beneath the shroud made it clear that this would remain the case for a long time, at the least. With growing irritation, the Tall Man brought up a 3D schematic of the street and the surrounding areas, and told the computer to cross-match Cinderblock's transponder onto the map. Nothing happened. He repeated the command, with the same result, and then asked the computer to acknowledge. The computer's crisp response was that Cinderblock's transponder was no longer signaling.

"What insanity is this?!" came the voice of the Man in Gold from the other side of the cavern. "Restore the picture!"

"The cameras have all been destroyed," called back the Tall Man. "I can't restore the picture."

"Then find another camera!"

"There is no other camera!" shouted the Tall Man. "This is not Britain! They aren't security cameras on every corner!"

"So then we have no way of knowing what happened?!" asked the Man in Gold with fury and desperation rising in his voice.

"Not unless you have some magical means of viewing the site that you haven't mentioned. All communications in the area are down. I can't raise Cinderblock or anyone else."

"What about your vaunted agent?"

"What part of 'anyone else' was unclear to you?!" retorted the Tall Man angrily. "The air is filled with debris and static. No signal is coming through."

"Wondrous..." said the Man in Gold, now beginning to pace along the other side of the cavern. "Then what about the Tamaranean?"

"What about her?" asked the Tall Man without looking up.

"How is it she is not dead? She took a full barrage from machine cannons loaded with depleted uranium rounds, did she not?"

"I don't know how she survived it. Tamaraneans are built to withstand the pressures of outer space and cosmic rays. They may well be proof against even depleted - "

"You said these shells would work!"

"I said they stood the best chance of working! There's a reason I never used projectile weapons!"

"You're supposed to be the damned expert on this!" shouted the Man in Gold accusingly.

"There is no expert on slaughtering the Titans!" retaliated the Tall Man, losing his patience. "If I knew with certainty how to kill them, they would long since be dead!"

Several seconds of silence reigned before the Man in Gold loudly stomped back over to his computer and sat down. "Find out what happened on the waterfront, and make certain nothing further goes wrong," he snapped. "I'm going to get something out of the debacle in Yellowstone one way or another."

"If Starfire is proof against the uranium shells," said the Tall Man guardedly, "then it might be a wiser plan to abort the operation until we can..."

"No!" snapped the Man in Gold. "I will have one of them dead today, and let the others consider the fates that await them. If not Robin or Starfire, then one I can reach."

"And how are you going to do that?" asked the Tall Man, clearly none too enamored with the tone in the Man in Gold's voice.

"Simple," snapped the Man in Gold. "I'm going to kill the changeling before they can gather together."

"But what of Raven?"

"What of her?"

"Well you can't very well kill her, so how will you get at - "

"I will throw all two hundred robots at them simultaneously and bury them both under an avalanche of steel before their friends can intervene," snarled the Man in Gold, gripping the computer controls tightly enough to bend iron. "I will cast her down with a tidal wave of fire and force her and the rest of them to watch as I crucify Beast Boy before their very eyes!"

There was a note of hesitation in the Tall Man's voice as he replied to this bloodthirsty prediction.

"If you kill Raven," he said, "accidentally or otherwise, you know what will happen to - "

"I will not kill Raven!" snapped the Man in Gold as he whirled around in his chair to face the Tall Man, his eyes positively glowing with hate, and his face a mask of frustration and rage. "But I will make her and all the others understand just what it is to be helpless, alone, and surrounded by the deaths of those they care about. I will make her and all the others understand that they are all doomed."

The Man in Gold returned to his command console and began giving orders to his proxy army. "And if I can manage it," he said, his voice a harsh rasp flaying the very air, "I will hammer that lesson home with the changeling's severed limbs."

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Raven materialized inside a maelstrom of fire and lead.

Acrid smoke billowed from the burning remains of the T-ship, and cast the entire area into an inky shroud. Figures strode about left and right, before and behind, hulking figures the size of silverback gorillas, armed with all manner of lethal weaponry. Their guns spat fire and metal into the air, crisscrossing the area with streams of projectiles and the smoky contrails of high explosive rockets. The good news was that the robots did not seem to be firing at her, so much as at the entire area, blanketing it in fire in the hopes of annihilating whatever had survived the crash. The bad news was that there was enough fire here for them to do it.

Explosions and the sharp sound of nearby bullets caused her to dive to the ground, sketching up a shield of black energy as she did so. Instantly she realized this was a mistake. The bullets snapping over her head bounced off the shield as though made of rubber, but in doing so, they flew up into the air like red-hot sparks against the darkening sky, revealing for all to see that here there was something that was deflecting the fire.

Which of course was a perfect invitation to direct more fire her way.

The shield shuddered under the impacts of hundreds of shells, and a near miss from a rocket nearly brought it down before she redoubled her concentration and forced the shield to hold. Another robot stepped up to the horizon, visible against the sky, and loosed another rocket her way, but she waved her hand and tore the projectile apart with dark energy before it was had covered even half the distance to her. With one hand, she maintained the shield, while with the other, she uprooted an entire tree with her telekinetic powers, and hurled it into the skylined robot before it could reload.

More rockets flew at her, some passing uncomfortably close. A direct hit might break through her shield, and so she turned towards a large flaming section of the T-ship, and with a flick of her wrist she threw it, sight unseen, in the direction that most of the fire was coming from. It never landed. Four rockets hit it simultaneously and blew it to bits while it was still in mid-air, but the cover was enough to give her a second to act in. She dropped her shield, and without it the wind caught her cloak and unfurled it like a flag seconds before she took to the air, revealing her position for all to see unfortunately, but then what she planned to do would have obviated any attempts at remaining hidden anyhow.

The gunfire followed her into the sky, and she soared up and around, twisting about the trails of shells as rockets spun after her, seeking a target that was giving off no heat to follow. As the robots on the ground struggled to adjust to an airborne target, she stopped suddenly and turned on them, raising her hands and calling on her magical words in the dead language of her home planet to suffuse her mind and body with power.

"Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos!"

Two beams of black energy flew from her hands down into the ground like negative searchlights, churning up the ground where they struck and casting dirt and debris in every direction. Two of the robots failed to evade the beams and were promptly ripped to pieces like toys in a tornado. Still others were forced to fall back, spraying their weapons wildly into the air. Concentrating on her counterattack, Raven could not simultaneously keep up a shield, and she felt a tug on her cloak as a half dozen shells drilled holes straight through it, while a flying piece of white hot shrapnel from an airburst rocket cut across her temple, leaving a red gash behind that oozed blood like a wet sponge. Cringing and biting her lip, she walked the beams of black energy back and forth, consuming robot after robot in the localized telekenetic storms, until the remainder fell back into the trees, apparently in retreat.

Quickly she sailed back down to the ground and landed, wiping the blood from above her eyes and wishing that she had time to properly heal the cut, but there were more urgent matters to attend to. Quickly she ran back over what had happened. She remembered Starfire's section of the ship being torn off of the rest of the ship by a missile and sent spiraling down towards the ground, and there just been enough time for her to phase through her cockpit bubble and into Beast Boy's, grab him by the wrist, and teleport them both out of the T-ship. There had not been enough time however for her to select a location or ensure that they moved together, she had been forced to launch him and herself through space sight unseen. Consequently, she had no idea where Beast Boy had wound up, nor what had happened to Starfire, let alone to Robin and Cyborg. She needed to find them. She needed to make sure they were all right.

Quieting her emotions as best she could, she reached out with her empathic sense, looking for her friends. Her vision went black as she felt and searched with other senses than sight or hearing, searching for any of the other Titans. With all the adrenaline and surprise that was still working its way out of her system, she could only seek so far, and within the relatively limited range of her sensory powers, she could only detect one of the others, a dim, faint sign, but instantly obvious to her as a familiar face would be, a warm, garrulous, comforting presence that she seemed to spend half her time at the Tower actively blocking out, tinged vaguely green to her empathic sight. Beast Boy.

A wave of relief flooded over her as soon as she detected that Beast Boy was nearby and alive. It lasted only half a second before turning to ashes as she realized that he wasn't moving, and that the signals she was picking up were flooded with pain. Her guts seemed to freeze and a spike of fear that would not be pushed aside drove into her heart as she caught her breath, and before she even realized what she was doing, Raven was racing off towards the signal, flying barely a foot above the ground like a guided missile, overtaking one or two fleeing robots whose heads she tore from their torsos with a single gesture and a flash of darkness, not even hesitating to ensure that they were dead. Branches lashed at her from all directions as she flew, and she generated another shield ahead of herself to plow through them with, like a bulldozer's blade. There was no time for subtlety. She had to make sure Beast Boy was...

"No..."

She came out of the trees into an area of desolation and ruin. An area the size of a baseball diamond had been summarily cleared of trees, most of them blown down like matchsticks, all facing outwards from the epicenter of whatever had happened. And in the center of the devastation lay Beast Boy.

Beast Boy lay motionless in the middle of the destruction, covered in scorched debris and fallen branches, his right leg bent backwards with a gruesome compound fracture, a white fragment of bone actually visible, sticking through his green skin like a spike. His purple and black uniform was torn and tinged red, as was the grass, or what was left of it, beneath his crumpled form. His face was covered in cuts, most of them bleeding freely, but worst by far were the injuries to his stomach and ribs. His entire torso was swollen, the emerald green skin already turning a dark ugly purple from the massive internal hemorrhaging.

"Great Azar..." whispered Raven in shock as she landed and knelt down next to her stricken teammate. As gently as she could, Raven placed her hands on his chest, trying to feel the extent of his injuries. It was worse than she thought. His ribs weren't so much broken as they were shattered, he was wheezing from what was certainly a punctured lung, and despite her caution, and despite his unconsciousness, Beast Boy winced and moaned softly in pain at even the lightest touch.

There were too many injuries, and she had no time to treat them all. They were in the middle of a war zone, and they had to get out of here, find the others, and get back to Jump City ASAP before whatever was attacking them came back to finish the job. Racking her brain, she whispered a handful of words in Sumerian, Latin, and various alien tongues, calling on a healing spell to try and staunch the internal bleeding which, if left unchecked, could kill him in minutes. With as little pressure as she could apply, she placed her hands on Beast Boy and transfered the energy of the spell into him, her hands glowing an icy blue. Beast Boy shuddered and let out a whimper that seemed far more animal than human, but the swelling subsided a little, and the bruises stopped spreading, although by now they covered most of his torso, tinging his skin a muddy brown mottled with purple. As the magic took effect, Raven pulled her communicator off of her belt and flipped it open. Static. Urgently, she pressed several buttons, but nothing came up. Perhaps the robots were jamming their signals, though Cyborg had claimed that was impossible, that he had built the system to rotate frequencies often enough to make conventional jamming useless. As though anything they ever fought was 'conventional'. Regardless, it meant that for the moment, she was on her own, and would have to figure out how to get Beast Boy and herself out of this.

The obvious answer was to teleport them both back to the Tower, but Jump City was a thousand miles away from where they were right now, and at that distance, teleportation became extremely dangerous if not prepared properly, which would take precious time that Beast Boy might not have. Beast Boy was smaller than she was, and she was confident she could carry him without difficulty, but there was no telling what that might do to him, as merely shifting his position could make his injuries worse, if that were even possible. There was always telekinesis of course, using her powers to carry him more gently than she could ever do herself, but her half-imbued, half-magical telekinetic powers were unstable at the best of times, and with the worry and fear that was even now crowding at the borders of her mind, there was too much risk of accidentally jarring him or worse. Perhaps she could try and find the others, but they were outside the range of her empathy, and thus to find them without her communicator, she would have to leave Beast Boy here, with an army of armed robots roaming the area.

"C'mon, think," she commanded herself through clenched teeth. Beast Boy was still moaning softly, even through his deep unconsciousness, and his breathing sounded like a clogged drain. Blood ran from the corner of his mouth, red blood that looked darker than it should have been, but Raven didn't know if that was normal for him or not. She needed the others here, especially Cyborg, who knew Beast Boy's mutated physiology better than anyone else, and would know what to do with him. But Cyborg wasn't here, and she had to do something now or else...

The sounds of heavy footsteps brought her head up in the momentary hope that Cyborg and the others had found them, but an instant before she saw what had made them, she realized that had it been Cyborg or anyone else, her empathy would have warned her that they were coming. As it was, she felt nothing, no emotions whatsoever from anything around her save for her own and Beast Boy's, which could only mean that whatever was approaching had no emotions at all.

And she knew what that meant.

On the edge of the clearing, first one, then several, then many armored figures appeared, their red eyes sweeping back and forth, searching for anything out of the ordinary. Raven's eyes widened but she suppressed any sound she might have normally made and immediately crouched as low as she could, laying on her stomach on the ground next to Beast Boy with her head lifted just enough to watch what the robots were doing. She held her breath, repeating her mantra in her head over and over to try and calm herself down. There were at least two dozen robots out there, and while she was... reasonably confident that she could handle that many, there was no telling how many more might be laying in wait within the trees, and in the confusion and chaos of a battle, a single stray shot could -

"... R... Rae...?"

Raven started and turned her head to her fallen teammate. Beast Boy's eyes remained closed, his teeth and fists clenched hard from what she took to be pain, but he was stirring slightly, and whispering words incoherently, not awake, but not fully unconscious either.

"Shh!" she hushed urgently. The auditory sensors in those robots might well be strong enough to pick up even these soft words. They were even now spreading out, searching around the periphery of the clearing, though none of them appeared to be ready to move towards the center of it. In a minute or so they might pass them by. She might even have chanced a short-range teleport, just something to get them both out of the way, but one of the robots had strayed uncomfortably close, and there was too much risk that if she moved to teleport them it would spot them before she could finish.

"Rae lookout... there's..."

Stilted snatches of what Beast Boy had been saying right before the explosion, or was it? Raven didn't recall any talking, but then she had been busy. She reached down for his hand and took it in hers, the best she could do now without attracting the attention of the robots. He squeezed it as hard as he could, 'probably because of the pain', she thought, and she did not pull away, not even when he squeezed hard enough to hurt her hand. She tried to think of a spell, anything she could do to help him here and now, something to dull the pain perhaps, but anything she could do would involve noise and movement, and the robots would set on them in an instant if she dared to...

"RAVEN!" Beast Boy cried out suddenly, writhing on the ground in agony and anguish, "RAVEN, NO!"

Raven's breath caught and her eyes widened in horror as Beast Boy cried out, his voice so thin and weak that even at full volume it was barely louder than the birds chirping in the trees around the clearing, but as she watched, the robot nearest them froze, and turned towards the sound of Beast Boy's voice, and then raised its gatling gun, the barrels already spinning up to deliver their lethal stream of projectiles.

She had no choice.

Raven raised her hand, and a blast of dark energy screamed out of it like a bird's talon, striking the robot in its midsection and ripping a hole through it the size of a beach ball. Sparking and crackling, the robot was dead long before it hit the ground, and yet Raven knew with terrible certainty what would happen next, and even as she scrambled to her feet again, freeing her hand from Beast Boy's grip, she saw all of the robots around the periphery of the clearing turning towards them and beginning to open fire.

"No!" she shouted, and she raised both hands, calling on her powers, with no further need of stealth. A hemispherical shield of pure blackness flashed into existence around her and Beast Boy both, only to be pelted an instant later by a veritable deluge of firepower. Tens of thousands of rounds ricocheted off the shield in every direction, perforating the foliage nearby and arcing into the sky like fireworks. Rockets impacted on the shield and exploded with tremendous force, shaking her concentration and nearly knocking her back from the shield. There was no chance of evading the shots. Even if she could take to the air again, that would leave Beast Boy defenseless, and so it was a contest of will versus mass, and she gritted her teeth and poured on the power and desperately forced the shield to hold, even as more robots emerged from the woods, blasting away with reckless abandon at her and Beast Boy.

"I... won't... let you...hurt him!" she yelled back at the robots without even realizing that she was doing so, and she leaned forward into the shield, focusing all her will and energy, desperately pressing back harder and harder. Sweat rolled down her face, tears formed in her eyes at the exertion and at the power burning through her veins and nerves like an electrical current. Shaken and battered, the shield nevertheless held out, and for a brief moment, Raven thought that she just might be able to drive the robotic army back.

And then seven rockets hit the shield simultaneously.

Had they come in one at a time, she might have been able to hold, but all seven struck within a quarter second, and the combined blast overwhelmed her concentration and shattered the shield like a pane of glass. Raven was thrown bodily aside, hurled into the ground on the opposite side of the clearing as though pitched there by some convulsion of the earth. She landed face down, hard, tasting blood and dirt and grass on her tongue, but no sooner had she hit than she scrambled back to her feet in a near-panic. Without the shield, Beast Boy was totally vulnerable to the robots. She had to get back over to him, help him, drive them off somehow. Something grabbed her arm, something metallic and cold and unfeeling, and she snarled and struck at it with her powers, ripping off the arm of the robot that had seized her and ramming the severed limb through its unblinking red eye. Whirling around without even checking that it was truly disposed of, she spun back towards Beast Boy and her heart froze solid.

Robots, hundreds of robots were streaming into the clearing, moving with an even, unhurried, relentless pace that indicated that they or their masters had every confidence in victory. Dozens of them were already moving between her and Beast Boy, cutting her off from him. Dozens more were advancing on Beast Boy's position. Not a single one had opened fire, despite the fact that standing in the open as she was, she presented an absolutely unmissable target for them to fire at. Right now however, it was not her own vulnerability that was foremost on her mind, for the robots were closing in on Beast Boy, and if they got to him...

She lashed out, desperately, incoherently, her fear for her friend gaining the upper hand over her self control, black energies soaring out and decimating everything within yards of her. Robots fell with their heads ripped off, with their weapons bent inwards, with their circuitry torn to shreds or blown to bits in a pyroclastic barrage, A few desultory shots were fired her way, none of them fatal, none of them intended to be, but she did not even notice them. She did not notice the metal slug tear through her shoulder, ignored the near-miss explosions that knocked her off her feet again and again, desperate fury compelling her to stem the tide any way she could, but it was not enough. For every robot she brought down, three more stepped forward, wielding concussion grenades and taser rifles and electrified nets, and they dis-concernedly shot her again and again with these weapons, caring nothing for how many robots she might destroy, knocking her about and stunning her repeatedly until she could barely stand, tottering, unable to reach Beast Boy, unable to stop them.

"No! Don't touch him!" she cried, but they predictably ignored her, and another concussion grenade brought her to the ground two dozen yards from Beast Boy. She struggled to rise again, but then there were a dozen or more robots all around her, on top of her, pinning her to the ground. She did not ask herself why they hadn't shot to kill, for she feared she actually knew the answer already. It wasn't her that they wanted. One of the robots was standing above Beast Boy now, and the ones between Raven and Beast Boy parted slowly, intentionally, giving her a clear view with which to watch. She struggled all the more desperately, fighting with every ounce of her power, her emotions running wild in her head, and the robot above Beast Boy exploded like an over-wound clockwork toy, as did the one that stepped forward to take its place, but one of the enemies pinning her slammed its arm into her back and broke her concentration if not her ribs, then bent down and physically forced her head back so that she would have no choice but to watch yet another robot picking Beast Boy up by his head.

She screamed now, a wordless scream of terror that sent vibrations through the ground, as the robot lifted Beast Boy's senseless form into the air. Two more robots stepped forward, and took hold of the changeling's wrists, and braced themselves, and the robots on top of Raven forced her head forward, forced her to drink up every single detail, as time seemed to hang motionless for her. All the world began to fade away, all but Beast Boy and the robots that held him, as everything else passed into darkness, and she opened her mouth to scream once more, but no sound emerged. Her worst fears were coming to life, right before her eyes, and deep inside her, she felt something straining, beating at the bars of its cage, roaring to be let out. Unbridled emotions, fear, rage, desperation, and some she could not identify, all of these danced within her mind and around her thoughts, and their cacophony drowned out all else. And then suddenly the robots were no longer holding her arms, their grips on her wrists crumbling like stale bread, and dimly she knew she should get up and help Beast Boy, but the cascading emotions where overwhelming her, and the last thing she saw was the robots holding Beast Boy turning towards her and backing up before everything faded into a red haze...

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"Robin, calling Beast Boy and Raven! Can anyone hear me? Robin, calling anyone!"

"Forget it man," said Cyborg, still tinkering with the shell that he had dug out of his chestplate. "The frequency's jammed, right across the whole spectrum. I can't even pick you up."

They had been making their way through the trees for quite some time, twenty minutes at least, but so far had yet to detect a sign of either Raven or Beast Boy, and Robin was becoming more and more worried. He knew the others were too of course, but he was bad at dealing with it. While Starfire wore a suitably concerned expression, and kept making very brief forays above the forest canopy, and Cyborg scanned constantly for their missing teammates, and intermittently played with the shells that the robots had shot him and Starfire with, Robin was forced to simply keep walking, unable to search by any means other than his own ears and eyes.

"There's something weird here..." said Cyborg after a while, and Robin glanced back to see what he meant, only to find Cyborg staring in puzzlement at the armor-piercing slug laying in his oversized hand.

"What?" asked Robin. He wanted to yell at Cyborg that whatever it was was not more important than finding Raven or Beast Boy, but he knew that Cyborg was doing everything he could in that regard, and that this might be important too.

"These shells," said Cyborg, "I can't figure 'em out..."

"What's wrong with them?"

Cyborg nervously tossed the shell up and down in his hand as though flipping a coin. "They're depleted uranium," he said. "High velocity, armor piercing shells. They should've gone through me and Starfire like Beast Boy through a plate o' tofu, but they didn't even crack my armor, and they barely cut Star..."

Robin glanced at the massive dents that had been hammered into Cyborg's frame, and felt the holes drilled through his own titanium polymer cape. "They looked like they hit hard enough to me," he said.

"Oh they hurt," said Cyborg, shrugging it off as though he'd had worse, which was certainly true, "and I mean, they'd probably go right through you or..." he pointedly didn't finish his sentence. "But... I mean I'm armored, and Starfire's an alien. She can survive in a vacuum or getting hit with a wrecking ball. Normal bullets just shatter when they either one of us. But this stuff... this stuff's different. Military-grade armor-piercing rounds. This stuff can cut through tank armor."

"So..."

"I don't know man... something strange is going on. If I had to go hunting for someone like me or Star, these are the rounds I'd be using. They should've worked, but they didn't, and I don't know why. He threw the shell from one hand to another with a loud 'clank'. "It just don't make any damn sense..."

Starfire descended from above, brushing leaves and twigs out of her face and hair as she landed. "There is much smoke in the air," she said, "and I could find no trace of Beast Boy or Raven from there. Perhaps if I attempted to fly higher..."

"No, Star," insisted Robin for the fifth time. "It's too dangerous. These robots have surface-to-air missiles, and if they lock onto you, they could blow you out of the sky." Even as he said this, Robin knew it might well be the wrong call, but after what had happened back before with Starfire and the Robots, and the revelation that but for some property none of them understood, Starfire would be dead now, he was loathe to send her into the teeth of that much firepower again, even if it might mean finding Beast Boy and Raven faster.

'Of course it might also mean losing her along with them,' he said to himself.

"Well we gotta do something man," said Cyborg. "BB and Raven could be anywhere, and we sure as hell ain't gonna find them wandering through the trees like this.

'He's right,' thought Robin, but he couldn't see a way to do it without getting all of them blown out of the sky by the same weapons that had destroyed the T-ship. Not even the transponders built into the communicators were helping at all. They couldn't risk splitting up, and only one of them could fly. They needed a new plan.

Fortunately, that was one of Robin's better points.

He took a few moments to think it over, weighed the various options, and then turned back to Cyborg and Starfire and took a deep breath.

"Okay," he said, "here's what we do. First - "

That was as far as he got.

A thousand machine guns exploded into life somewhere off to the left, followed by the whine and explosion of rockets being fired at a target. Mixed in with the sound were shouts and screams, too far away to be understood, save for the voice. Raven's voice. All three Titans looked at one another for an instant, and then all three bolted off towards the noise.

Robin lost sight of Starfire and Cyborg almost instantly as he swatted the foliage aside with his staff and sprinted, full speed, through the dense undergrowth. The roaring sounds of battle and explosions seemed tantalizingly close, and yet they got no louder, in fact they seemed to be tapering off. A minute or so after they had fallen silent, Robin pulled up short before a large grove of trees to try and listen for any further sounds, but there was nothing audible to be heard, save for Starfire and Cyborg emerging behind him. All three glanced around, listening for any sign, but detecting nothing.

"I do not understand," said Starfire. "The voice we heard was clearly belonging to Raven! Where could she have gotten to?"

"Uh... guys?" said Cyborg in a very apprehensive tone, and he pointed ahead right, and up. Robin saw Starfire follow his extended finger with her gaze and her eyes widened as she gasped, clasped a hand over her mouth, and actually took a step back. Robin now turned, to face the direction the others were looking, and no sooner had he done so than his mouth fell open wide and his staff fell to his side as his hand went limp.

"Holy..."

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The street was choked with smoke and fumes, thick enough to burn the eyes of any witnesses, and render futile any attempt at determining the totality of what had happened. The restricted visibility could not however conceal the terrible destruction that had been wrought in the center of the street. Cars lay overturned on their sides and hoods, or wrapped in knots around light poles and the corners of buildings. Man-sized and larger pieces of asphalt, concrete, and even bedrock were laying strewn about as if a volcano had cast them down. Everything was in ruins, from the fronts of buildings, to the electricity and telephone poles that now lay fallen in the street like a blown-down grove of trees, to the fountains of water jetting up from the severed water pipes and fire hydrants. Fires burned quietly all over the place, on awnings, inside cars, and amidst the twisted remains of newspaper racks. Such few civilians as remained in the area were stunned almost to the point of catatonia, shell-shocked and covered with ash and dust, like the survivors of some natural disaster.

All that is, but one.

"David?"

Among the small number of stunned police and civilians, a single one, a teenaged girl, was actively roaming through the ruins, searching for the perpetrator of this cataclysmic event, by which was meant not the gigantic concrete behemoth called "Cinderblock" that had begun the metahuman confrontation that had taken place here today, but the undersized, psychokinetic kid that had ended it. The explosion had enveloped both assailant and assailed, and none knew what had become of either, and so Carrie called David's name, and picked through the ruins as best she could, before she finally spotted a scrap of dark green windbreaker sticking out from under several massive chunks of ripped up asphalt.

"David!" she called out, and she made her way over to where the piece of jacket was buried, only to find something she likely did not expect.

David was laying on the ground on his back, mostly buried by a pile of debris as well as a piece of asphalt the size of a large bookshelf. This much was not surprising. What was surprising, no doubt both to the young metahuman laying there, as well as to the girl who was looking for him, was that he appeared to be alive...

... and conscious.

"David, can you hear me?" asked Carrie with a note of urgency, and as if to quiet her fear, David coughed once, before slowly opening his eyes. His gaze was unfocussed and somewhat vacant, as if he was having a devil of a time remembering what had just happened, but then she supposed that much could be forgiven.

"Are you all right?" she asked, not even bothering to imagine just how ridiculous a question that was, given the circumstances.

David coughed several more times, trying to move his arms and failing. "I... I dunno..." he said weakly, "I can't... can't move..."

"You're pinned under the rubble," replied Carrie. "I'll go get some - "

There was a loud 'CRACK', like a gunshot, and the piece of asphalt that was pinning David to the ground broke in half like a cracker. Carrie took a step back, but David let out no cry, merely taking a deep breath and letting it out as the pressure on his chest was somewhat relieved. "Could you... gimme a hand?" he asked haltingly, wincing as he tried to push the remaining bits of rubble of of himself. He was plainly not equal to the task, but Carrie knelt down next to him and helped shove and clear the debris off. Despite the violence of the explosion that had just happened, David didn't look much worse for wear, or rather no worse than he had appeared prior to doing... whatever he had done.

The rubble disposed of, Carrie very gently helped David sit up. He was badly shaken, certainly, probably had a concussion if not worse, but he seemed to be at least reasonably alert and clearly still had enough left in him to use his powers, albeit not with as much... gusto as previously demonstrated.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

David looked worried when he asked, and Carrie tried to smile. "I'm fine," she said, "I got behind a building."

David breathed a sigh of what looked like relief. "And... everyone else?"

"I made everyone get way back. I don't think anyone got hurt... well... except..."

Both of them turned back and looked at the gigantic crater several dozen yards ahead that had been gouged into the street like the aftermath of a meteor's impact. Forty feet wide, and deep enough that they could not see the bottom from where they were sitting, it loomed like a gigantic abyss, and cars and other bits of debris lay scattered all around its lip, or hanging precariously over the edge. Smoke and the flickering orange glow of flames still emerged from the crater, as though it were a volcanic caldera filled with magma. There was no sign whatsoever of Cinderblock.

David took all this in, and then slowly turned to Carrie, looking very worried once again, if not actually scared. He asked his next question in a loud whisper, as though afraid of the answer.

"Do you think I got him?"

Carrie took one look at the flaming debris scattered about the street, at the shattered windows, the broken streetlights, the overturned cars that looked like they had been folded in half by giants, or thrown around like toys, one look at the gaping, yawning crater large enough to swallow a house, one look at the smoke spiraling up into the heavens in the vague, rough form of a mushroom cloud, and turned back to David, who had asked the question with as much earnest and sincerity as he could, and began to laugh.

It was only a second or so before David also perceived the absurdity of what he had just asked, and burst into laughter as well. Perhaps it was merely a release of tension or catharsis, or anything else, but right now, both of them seemed to find it the funniest thing in the world, and clearly not even the jarring pain in David's chest as he laughed could make him stop.

Half a minute or so passed before Carrie stood back up and carefully helped David to his feet. He was wobbly certainly, and his balance had clearly been thrown in loops, but he could stand, or at least stand with help. Once both of them were on their feet, both David and Carrie took a long look around the ruined scene, which was just beginning to emerge from the smoky gloom into which it had been plunged. If anything, it made the damage look even more extensive. It was a good thing that Jump City carried metahuman insurance...

"What did you do to him?" asked Carrie, as they looked around at the scene of devastation.

David smiled and chuckled softly, wincing as this caused his ribs to protest. "J. C. G. E..." he said slowly.

Carrie did not understand. "What's J. C. G. E.?" she asked.

David pointed to his left at a manhole cover that had become half embedded in a brick wall, thrown into the building like a ninja star into a post. The manhole cover was stamped with the letters "J. C. G. E."

"Jump City Gas &amp; Electric," said David weakly, explaining as best he could. "I saw it... while we were trying to get away, and it just sorta... hit me. I couldn't bring him down with my own explosions." He looked back up at the gaping wound carved into the ground. "So I thought... maybe I could use something else instead."

"What did you use?" asked Carrie, a note of what might have been awe or fear creeping into her voice.

"I set off a gas main," said David evenly, without turning his head. "It just took a spark..."

"A gas main!"

"Yeah..." said David with a hollow laugh. "Told ya it was stupid..."

"But... a gas main did all this?!"

"It was a really big one," said David with a shudder. "A pipeline. I think the city's probably gonna need to replace it."

"You think?" asked Carrie sarcastically, but the joke didn't go over too well. Neither one of them said a word for a while, simply staring at the crater. Carrie thought David looked as though he half-expected Cinderblock to come roaring out of the hole in the street yet again, not that he could really be blamed for it.

"Do you think... is he in there?"

"I didn't see him land," said Carrie, "but I don't hear him."

David nodded slowly and let his breath out slowly. "I'm gonna take a look then..."

Carrie looked at him apprehensively. "Are you sure? Shouldn't you wait for the police or the army or something?"

"No," said David, shaking his head, "I don't... I can't let him... get away again. I just... I don't want him coming back. I don't want him ever coming back. So I... I have to be sure."

David still looked like a scared field mouse, but then she knew full well that looks could be deceiving. He had just blown a hole the size of a small yacht in the ground bringing Cinderblock down, and she could understand the impulse to not want to have to go through that again. It was more than that though. This thing had been chasing David for months now, forcing him to go to ground, cutting him off from a normal life. This was a chance to end it all.

"All right..." she said. "Do you want me to come with- "

"No," he said. "I'll... I'll be okay."

"You don't look okay. What if Cinderblock's still active?" It was highly unlikely, but possible after all.

"I don't know," said David. "But if he is... could you stop him?"

Carrie didn't respond immediately. When she did, it was with a sigh. "All right," she said. "Be careful..."

David nodded slowly. "I'll try," he said, and then slowly, as though he were climbing Mt. Everest, David began to pick his way through the wreckage towards the crater. Carrie watched him move off and vanish into the smoke and dust, and once he was finally out of sight, slowly backed away towards the side of the main street, slipped into an alleyway, and vanished.

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David made his way slowly through the ruined street, climbing as best he could over the shattered pieces of street and sidewalk, and moving around the burnt out cars and collapsed building fronts. He took his time getting around them, indeed he had no choice. Everything ached at best, and at worst pounded hideously with every movement. He hadn't gone more than three dozen steps before he was regretting asking Carrie not to come with him, but when he turned back, she was no longer visible in the cloud of smoke and debris, and he had no choice but to press ahead. Why he had no choice was a question he did not ask.

He knew the answer anyway.

The lip of the crater loomed ahead, foreboding and dark, like the entrance to some kind of underworld. From within was the roaring of flames, no doubt from the severed gas line. He thought he could hear something else inside as well, something low and grating, like the sound of heavy stones being dragged across one another. Once more, he hesitated, not sure if he should peer over the edge into the abyss, not sure what he would do if the monster within it was ambulatory. His arm still hung near-useless at his side, still leaked blood from the now-snapped wood fragment that had been driven into it. His face still burned from the electrical whipping that Cinderblock had inflicted. His ribs still stabbed at him painfully with every breath, and he knew that if Cinderblock was still active, that there was nothing he could do to stop him. His powers were all but expended, his energy gone, his body broken and crushed. He knew that Carrie was probably right. He should wait for the army before proceeding.

But then... the army might not come until a superhero had checked the area out... and even if they did, Cinderblock had escaped once before. He would not... he could not go through all of this again. And so with a air of finality, David walked up to the edge of the crater, and looked down into it.

And no sooner had he done so, than he realized he needn't have worried.

Cinderblock lay in the crater, on his back, staring up at the sky, but the monster, the nightmare, the hellspawned fiend that had haunted David's footsteps and nightmares for two months was no longer any threat to anyone. All four of Cinderblock's limbs had been shattered like pottery, and such stumps as remained twitched semi-randomly, like the legs of a turtle rolled onto its back. Cinderblock's torso was barely recognizable, gouged and pitted and cracked gruesomely, to the point where a thick, viscous black ichor-substance was oozing out of him. Not even when David had blown off Cinderblock's hand had he seen the concrete behemoth release so much as a single drop of blood, and this alone was enough to show him that he had managed to hurt Cinderblock worse by far than anything previous.

The monster's head, undersized for its body, was also cracked and pitted, but more or less intact, though one eye was dark and cold. The other stared up at David unblinkingly, and there was still malevolence in that gaze, but there was also fear, and shock, and perhaps even pain, though it was hard to read anything into Cinderblock's beady eyes. For once however, the gaze no longer filled David with fear. This beast was no longer a threat, not to him, not now. Cinderblock was beaten.

Weariness flooded over him, and without really thinking about it, he sat down on the lip of the crater, dangling his legs over the side. It was about twenty feet deep, and fires still burned within it from the broken gas main, but none of them close enough to scorch him. He sat there, not sure of what else he was supposed to do, and waited for the pain to fade out or for someone to come and find him, and stared at Cinderblock.

"What did you want?" he asked, more to himself than to anyone else. "What did you want with me?" He had asked the question before, during the battle, in anger, but there was no more anger now. He was too tired for it. It was merely a question, one Cinderblock had steadily refused to answer, one he supposed he was unlikely to ever hear the answer to.

To his surprise, Cinderblock opened his mouth, and weakly grumbled the all-too-familiar phrase he had seemed so fond of bellowing not long ago. "Devastator..." said Cinderblock, in the voice of an echo in the mountains, the shadow of something fierce and powerful, but only the shadow.

David sighed softly, still trying to breathe the fire out of his lungs, and looked around at the street, now becoming visible again as the breeze began to clear the smoke from the area. It looked like the aftermath of some kind of violent war, save only for the merciful lack of any dead bodies laying in the ruins. Carrie had managed to get them all back in time. For that he was thankful.

"Yeah," he said quietly, again addressing himself more than Cinderblock. "I know..."

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Beast Boy had no idea where he was.

He knew that he was alive, mostly because if he was dead, he would not be in so much pain, or so he assumed. Everything seemed to be on fire; his body was cloaked in a searing, unrelenting pain that was so intense it brought tears to his eyes and made it impossible for him to determine what form he was in now, not that it would have mattered. He couldn't shapeshift like this in any event, couldn't even move, and his eyes were swollen shut with cracked eyelids that seemed to have daggers stuck through them. All he could do was listen to the strange and unidentifiable noises around him: an intense roar like a wind tunnel or an air current, partly (but only partly) masking the crackling of fires burning nearby, the harsh grinding of metal-on-metal and the sickening crunches that sounded like splintering bone.

The noise grew in volume until it was deafening, and yet nothing struck, though the agonizing pain remained, and finally, Beast Boy cracked one eye open, blinking away the tears that attended such an effort, and above him, and around him, he saw wind.

He literally saw wind.

No gust of air, nor even a stormy blast, this wind was alive, violent, and unquestionably malevolent. The very air itself felt cold, not like a breeze during winter, but like it was sucking the very heat out of everything nearby. Beast Boy didn't know what was going on, but behind the wall of wind, he saw a number of grey figures that looked familiar somehow, and some of them were flying through the air, and some of them were backing up, firing their weapons at something above him, and some of them were laying in pieces on the ground, motionless and lifeless, but soon the wind was blowing so hard that he could not even see that, swirling and stripping the ground bare like a tornado, barely inches away from his face, but not touching him. And as he tried to reconcile this with anything from his addled memory, Beast Boy slowly turned his head to his side and looked up, and there he saw a living nightmare.

A tower was looming over him, a dark, black and purple tower, with red glowing lights atop it, round and imposing and around it swirled a maelstrom of lightning, fire, and pitch darkness that seemed to move like a living thing. And from the tower came sounds, frightening, cruel sounds that left him quivering without knowing why. From the base of the tower snaked tendrils of pure black that flowed above him and towards the figures in grey, snatching them up by the dozens and flinging them helplessly about like rag dolls. Streaks of yellow fire and orange blossoms appeared all around the tower, but they seemed to have no effect, as the whirling winds blew them off course and spun them away along with everything else. There were words, words that sounded alien yet familiar, coming from overhead, but try as he might, Beast Boy could not make them out.

He could not tell if he was awake or dreaming, if this was all some sort of hallucination or some other kind of delusion, or if he was really seeing it. Part of his brain seemed to recognize this, seemed to be telling him that he knew what was happening here intimately, that it had all happened before, and would all happen again. Unfortunately, injured and battered as he was, he could no more identify what was happening than he could tell where he was, and even now, even with all the destruction and violence raging about, all he could do was to remain awake, barely. And soon, all too soon in fact, he could no longer even do that, as the pain began to fade out into a comfortable numbness, and he felt himself drifting away once more.

And as he passed back into unconsciousness, he decided that he was certain he did recognize what was happening, and that when he woke up, he would have to remember to ask Raven about what had happened to him…

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-08-27 08:25pm
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Chapter 16, cont.

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It was over all too quickly, though not quickly enough for Robin's taste.

The thing that had loomed up over the trees, the towering creature that was Raven, and at the same time was not her, had taken all of them by surprise. They had all seen it before of course, once, over a year ago in a routine battle with Doctor Light that had turned out to be far from routine when it was all said and done. Doctor Light had pushed Raven too far and had wound up nearly eaten for his trouble when something broke loose inside Raven's mind and had dragged him kicking and screaming into her cloak to be subjected to God-knew-what horrors. That time had been scary enough, particularly for Cyborg and Beast Boy, but this… this was on a whole other scale.

The sky grew dark, the clouds threatened ominously, and tentacles the size of boa constrictors lashed the air like whips, grabbing robots and hurling them through the air like toys. They fired back with their machine cannons and rockets, but the rockets were torn out of the air by shields and nebulous, semi-invisible forms of shifting blackness. Above it all loomed Raven, as tall as the tallest trees, her four eyes glowing blood red, her powers going mad, tearing up everything in sight and ripping it to shreds, robots, trees, rocks, dirt, bushes, everything, like a black storm of vengeance sating itself with the blood of its enemies.

They had tried to call to her, to no effect. They had even fired starbolts and shots from Cyborg's cannon into the air to try and get her to snap out of the rage, but she took no more notice of them than she did of the insects in the trees she uprooted. They had tried to make their way towards her, but it was no use. Everything within two hundred yards was being scoured to bedrock or torn to shreds by dark energies. Something terrible had been unleashed from within Raven, something vicious, wrathful, primal, and there was nothing they could do besides take cover and wait for the storm to lift.

And inevitably, it did.

All at once it seemed, the darkness vanished, and the air returned to normal, and the tentacles and tendrils and wisps of black energy dissolved and were no more. An instant later, all three Titans burst into the clearing Raven had been looming over, and found a scene of desolation.

Everything, absolutely everything had been destroyed. Trees had been blown to splinters, robots ripped apart and left to festoon the stumps of gigantic evergreens with their sparkling circuitry. Of the hundreds of bots that had arrayed themselves against Raven, not a single one remained visible, though likely many had been ordered to retreat rather than get themselves destroyed uselessly. Everything had been blown outwards from the center of the clearing, like the debris pattern from a bomb, and predictably, it was in the center of the clearing that they found them.

Raven and Beast Boy both lay upon the ground and neither one was moving. Beast Boy's face, chest, and arms were covered in dark bruises so profound that Robin took them for dirt initially and tried to brush them off, only for Beast Boy to give a sharp cry in his sleep and cringe away from him. His injuries were hideous, but they were older than this. No bruises could have developed this quickly. It wasn't Raven that had done this to him, it was something else. Raven herself was laying on her stomach, perpendicular to Beast Boy, out cold, no doubt with the effort of having just drained her normally dammed powers dry. Her skin, always pale, now looked almost deathly so, and her shoulder was red with blood from a gunshot wound that went straight through it. Electrical burns and bruises covered her back and sides, and she did not so much as stir or move a muscle when Cyborg gently bent down to pick her up. Both she and more precisely Beast Boy clearly needed immediate medical attention. They all needed to get home. Now.

And yet even with the chaos of the surroundings, and the urgency of the situation, Robin could not help but notice that even as her powers finally gave out, Raven had fallen with her arms and shoulders draped over Beast Boy almost protectively, and her head laying on her cheek atop Beast Boy's bruised stomach, as though he were a pillow. Nor could he help but notice that despite the terrible, sensitive bruises that made Beast Boy cringe and cry and write at even the lightest touch, he had made no move to shift Raven once her head had landed atop him.

But of course, that was all just coincidence, or so Raven would no doubt claim. Right now, Robin just hoped that Raven would live to claim it… and that Beast Boy would live to tease her about it.

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David had been in the medical bay of the Tower many, many times, usually as a patient. This was no exception. What was different however was that this time, he was not the one laying on the medical table, surrounded by other people, all of whom were wondering if he was going to wake up or not. This time he was standing next to Starfire, watching Beast Boy, who was lying comatose on the bed, as badly beaten as anyone David had ever seen, even in films. This time, Robin and Cyborg were standing off in the corner, whispering to one another about Beast Boy's chances, rather than his own. This time, Raven was not hovering overhead, chanting her mantra and telling him to be quiet, but instead was nowhere to be seen, Starfire having assured him that she was "recovering" from whatever the hell had happened out there in Yellowstone Park earlier that day. This time, he had gotten himself into a hell of a mess, this was true, but for once, it appeared that he was not the only one.

To be honest, he preferred it the other way.

Shifting his throbbing arm uneasily under the bandages and splint, David watched the oscilloscope line flicker high then low, high then low, and tried to tell himself that it wasn't as bad as it looked. It certainly couldn't be worse. The casts and the neck brace were bad enough, the IV and the machinery made the whole process look quite serious, but somehow it was the bandages over Beast Boy's eyes that worried him the most. It made Beast Boy look like a mummy rather than the emerald-skinned superhero he had come to know. None of the aforementioned emerald skin was visible now at any rate, all of it either swathed in bandages, or stained an ugly purple by the internal bleeding, bleeding that appeared to have stopped, but that nobody could be certain was not continuing. Not until Beast Boy either died or recovered enough to wake up at least, which was not exactly the most re-assuring set of options.

Starfire had bandages around her midsection, but smaller ones. Cyborg's damage was all cosmetic, if you could call dents and metal fractures cosmetic, and Robin, as always, had come through the entire ordeal almost unscathed but for a few bumps, bruises, cuts, and welts. Then again, he glanced back at Robin, whispering with Cyborg against the wall, or up at Starfire, who had more worry in her eyes than David had ever seen before, and he thought perhaps that "unscathed" was the wrong word to be using here.

He had sat by the crater and watched Cinderblock lay helplessly within it for… forever as far as he knew. His watch was smashed, no clocks were visible, and it had felt like a year or more before the paramedics and the police had finally arrived. When they had, it was as though they expected him to climb down into the crater and pick Cinderblock up or something, for all of them acted extremely reticent and reluctant to do anything without him telling them to. At another time, he might have made some observation about how they were treating him much like they treated the Titans whenever they were abroad in the city, but to be frank, his mind hadn't been in the game, and in the end, after the paramedics had done their work, and the police had fetched a crane to lift what was left of Cinderblock out of the ruin of the street, he had just asked the ambulance to take him back to the Tower, rather than to a hospital, as would have been sane.

They did so without so much as a word of protest, and David was too tired to wonder why.

His fatigue had not lasted though, for even as the ambulance was taking him back to the Tower, the Titans had arrived, Starfire carrying the entire T-car, along with all four of the other Titans over her head like a sack of potatoes, and dropping it off on the roof of the tower itself. One look at the wrecked car had told him that something had gone terribly wrong with the rest of them, and he had told the ambulance to leave him on the shore of the bay, and taken the tunnel back to the Tower basement, where he ran into Robin, Starfire, and Cyborg, all trying to get the medical bay ready to receive Beast Boy and Raven.

That was hours ago.

Now it was nearly nine o'clock in the evening, and none of them had yet left the small circle of light that delineated the medical bay of the Tower basement. Beast Boy had been stabilized, and Raven was hovering above another bed, slowly healing herself with her own powers (or so the others explained) but none of the others had made any motion to go back upstairs and catch some sleep. David guessed that they would all be staying down here for the night. None of them were likely to be able to sleep. David certainly wasn't going to. Not after today.

Not after all this.

"You are… all right? Friend David? Is there anything more we may do to assist you?"

"I'm okay," said David. By comparison at least, he certainly was. He could still walk, he had the use of three of his limbs, and he wasn't bleeding to death internally. Robin had suggested early on that Beast Boy might need to be taken to a real hospital for surgery to repair the internal damage that he had incurred, but Cyborg had pointed out that not only was Beast Boy's physiology completely alien to most doctors, but that his blood type was totally incompatible with any other living thing's, and that the doctors couldn't possibly perform surgery on him without any blood to give him. He looked as though he'd already lost more than half of his own anyhow.

"Has he ever… gotten hurt this bad before?" It sounded stupid when he said it, but he did not retract the question. Starfire hardly could tell the difference between what sounded wrong and didn't anyhow.

"Not since I arrived on this planet, no," admitted Starfire with an admirable calm to her voice, "but… Beast Boy is very resilient in all ways, and I have no doubt that he shall soon begin recovering from… this."

She did not sound as though she had no doubt, but David nodded. Not long ago, he had assumed that the Titans were completely invulnerable. He wished he still could assume that.

"David?"

David turned his head towards Robin, who had spoken last. Robin was beckoning him over, and he walked over towards him and Cyborg, slowly so as not to fall over.

"Are you gonna be all right?" asked Robin. "We can set up another…"

"I'll be fine," said David. The absolute last thing he wanted to do right now was to add to their worries or their troubles. As soon as Beast Boy and Raven were stabilized, Cyborg had gone over him carefully, splinting up his arm, bandaging his face and ribs, and making sure that he wasn't about to collapse on them either, but he had refused to let them drag another medical bed out of storage. Perhaps he was being stubborn, but he simply didn't want that now.

Robin nodded. "I wanted to say earlier, but didn't get the chance. You did… very well out there."

All this had actually managed to drive what had happened with Cinderblock from David's mind, albeit temporarily. This statement brought it all back. "Really?"

"Absolutely," said Robin, and he seemed to mean it too, which was almost scary. Being as he was Robin, he immediately qualified the praise with criticism. "Of course you took needless risks, you picked your battlefield too close to civilians, you allowed another civilian to put herself in danger on your behalf, and you got pretty badly beaten up… but all that aside, you did very, very well, especially since it was an ambush."

David had expected the critique. Indeed he had known most of those things were true even as he was doing them, but there was an item missing from the light that surprised him.

"So you're… you're not mad that I went out there in the first place?" It seemed a reasonable question, given the argument last time.

But Robin merely shook his head. "This was a setup," he said. "We all fell for it. We all… paid for it." He glanced over at Beast Boy and at Starfire standing over him. "It's not just about you and Cinderblock anymore. It's about all of us, and I think whoever's behind it is after something more than just you."

It was not exactly refreshing news that the conspiracy against him was larger and more powerful than anyone had thought, but oddly enough, it was somewhat refreshing to learn that he and he alone was not the sole focus of their efforts, terrible as it made David feel to admit it.

Cyborg seemed to sense David's discomfort, and laid his heavy hand as gently as he could on David's shoulder. "We're gonna catch these guys," said Cyborg in a clear, even tone that masked a cold fury more intense than David had ever heard before. None of them were taking what had happened to Beast Boy well. "We're gonna catch these guys and make damn sure they can't get at you or us or anyone elseever again."

Robin crossed his arms. "That's right," he said. "We won't let them get away with this."

"I know," said David quietly, and to some extent or another he did, but… it didn't feel like as certain a thing as Robin and Cyborg were saying. Everything felt like it had derailed somehow.

"Besides," said Robin. "Thanks to you, we finally have a lead. Cinderblock can lead us back to whoever is responsible for this, if we can convince him to talk."

"Let me try," said Cyborg darkly. "I'll get Blockhead to talk all right…"

Robin was about to say something else, but his communicator beeped and he opened it up and stepped aside, leaving David and Cyborg alone. Neither one said much for a minute or so, looking over at Starfire, maintaining her silent vigil, and at Beast Boy, motionless and quiet for once.

"You know what's weird?" said Cyborg at last.

"What?"

"All this… and we still got lucky."

David raised an eyebrow. "We did?"

Cyborg sighed and took a small metal slug out from a pocket, rolling it around in his hand. "Those bots were firing these at us. These are armor piercing slugs, high velocity, high kinetic power. They're designed to go straight through tank armor. I took a whole bunch of them back there. Starfire got shot pretty bad too. That's why her stomach's all cut up."

David slowly picked up the slug and turned it over in his hand. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," said Cyborg, "but the weird thing is… the bullets went straight through Raven's shoulder and all, but they didn't punch through me or through Starfire, or even through Raven when she went all berserk on us, and I can't figure out why not. Not without some time to look the slugs over. I mean, depleted uranium usually goes through armor like paper so – "

"Depleted uranium?" asked David, confused.

"Yeah man, that's a DU shell there. Don't worry about radiation though, they're called depleted for a reason. Military uses 'em in all sorts of – "

"Um… Cyborg?" said David. "This isn't uranium."

Cyborg hesitated. "What? What are you talkin' about? Of course it's uranium."

"No," said David, "I can… tell what stuff's made of, remember? This isn't uranium at all. This is lead."

"Man… I know what you can do," said Cyborg, now becoming a bit agitated, "but trust me, that is uranium. I even ran a scan on it when I dug it out of my arm."

"Well… maybe the outside is," said David. "I don't recognize that part, but look…"

He took the shell and set it on the table, and concentrated for a moment before cracking it in half with a sharp puff of smoke. Picking up one half of the slug, David held up the cross-section to Cyborg. From this angle it was clear that the shell was comprised of a thin outer layer made of one metal, and a thick, inner layer made of another.

"If the stuff on the outside is uranium," said David, "then it's just coated with uranium. The stuff inside is lead. Robin's been making me work with lead for two weeks. I know it in my sleep."

Gently, Cyborg took the shell half and stared at it in disbelief. "But… that don't… that don't make no sense!" he exclaimed, turning it over in his hand. "Why the hell would you make an armor piercing shell out of lead?!"

"Maybe… it wasn't supposed to be armor piercing?"

"Of course it was supposed to be armor piercing. They wouldn't'a used uranium at all if it wasn't. DU's expensive stuff man, especially nowadays. But why the hell would you go through all the trouble of getting some and then filling the shell up with lead?"

"Does it make a difference?" asked David.

"It totally screws everything up," said Cyborg. "The flight characteristics, muzzle velocity, penetration power, everything. No wonder the shells didn't penetrate, they were shooting at us with lead slugs. But why the hell would anyone make them out to look like DU unless…" he trailed off, and his face suddenly got a look of realization on it.

"Unless?" asked David, barely able to follow what Cyborg had said.

"… unless, they were trying to make the shells look like DU. Unless… daaaamn!"

"What?"

"These aren't normal slugs, and they ain't armor piercers either. These are fakes."

"Fakes?"

"Fake AP ammo," said Cyborg, and despite the situation, he grinned a bit, and flipped the shell like a coil in his hand. "Whoever came up with these little babies must've pretended they were armor piercing, and that they'd work on me and Starfire. Without powers like yours or a live fire test against armored targets, nobody'd ever be able to tell the difference. He chuckled a bit, and slid both halves of the shell back into his pocket. "Someone conned the guys who did this, sold 'em a bunch of fakes. Prob'ly told 'em they were the next best thing to kryptonite, when all they are is the same old lead stuff that any thug uses. Man, I love it when the crooks screw each other for a change."

David still wasn't sure he understood, but Cyborg seemed somewhat relieved to have solved at least one mystery. Robin came walking back over towards them, having apparently finished with his call, and Cyborg turned to let him know what they had discovered, but one look at Robin's face was enough to quiet him down.

"David," said Robin. "There's… something you should know about."

"What?" asked David, already becoming apprehensive. Robin looked, if possible, grimmer than he had before. This did not bode well.

"I just got word from the Jump City penitentiary. Ten minutes ago, something blasted its way into the jail and broke into Cinderblock's cell."

"WHAT?!" shouted David loudly enough to make Starfire jump and turn around to see who was being murdered. David did not even notice. His head was spinning already. This could not possibly be happening. Not after all that. Cinderblock could not be… he couldn't be gone! Not again! How long was he supposed to be running from that monster?!

"Don't… don't tell me he got loose," said David weakly, absolutely certain that this was precisely what Robin was about to tell him. "Oh god… please… don't… don't tell me he's escaped! Not again!"

Robin however closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. Cyborg and Starfire looked quizzically at one another, and David hesitated in the midst of panic mode, as Robin's voice lowered and changed to a more somber tone.

"No," said Robin quietly, and the seriousness of his voice flowed through David like the deep tolling of a bell. "He's dead."

Those were the last words David actually understood for quite some time. Robin's explanation of how the assailants had broken into Cinderblock's cell and attacked him and vanished without ever appearing on a security camera fell on deaf ears, as David shakily sat down in a chair, stunned by the news. And as Robin promised that, despite the setback, this would not deter them from finding whoever was responsible for the assault, David found that the only thing he could really think of now was that, now certainly, if not before, all of them would be spending the night down in the infirmary.

And he doubted very much he was going to get any sleep at all.

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