Author's Notes: Winter sucks... That's all I got.
The Law of the Streets
Chapter 2- Riches to Rags
Nightwing sat in the common room of Titans headquarters. He'd need to go see the Civilian girl in a few minutes. They still didn't even know her name. Nor had they figured out just what they were going to do with her. They'd have to piece all that together after the withdrawal ended. He was not looking forward to that in the least.
Nightwing glanced up from where he was sitting when Raven walked in. "How's she doing?" she asked tonelessly.
"She's conscious," Nightwing answered. "I decided to let her relax a few minutes before I ask her any questions. I figure I should also be there to try and talk her down from the Bliss withdrawal."
"You may want to be careful about that. I found out while trying to purge the Bliss from her system that she's been genetically altered." Raven stated this in the same way she would if declaring that the sky was blue.
Nightwing quirked a brow. "How so?"
"For one thing, she has enhanced strength. She could rip you in half like a phonebook." Leave it to Raven to look so apathetic when saying that. "For another, it seems she has energy projection capabilities."
Nightwing let that information process in his mind for a moment, and then eloquently summed up his thoughts with a single word. "Fuck."
"So can I assume our little house guest is doing better?" Terra asked as she strode into the room with Beast. She leaped over the back of the sofa Nightwing was sitting on, landing in the space next to him while Beast leaned against the back with his forearms.
"Something like that," Nightwing drawled.
"Dude, how could she be anything but better?" Beast asked with a raised eyebrow. "Didn't you see her when we brought her in? She was fuckin' blasted."
"Your way with words never ceases to amaze me," Raven cracked in a subtle sarcastic tone.
"Gotta fill your daily quota for sarcasm, huh?" Beast retorted.
"Both of you shut the hell up," Nightwing chided. "I'm not in the mood."
Terra just rolled her eyes and got up off the couch. "Whatever you say, fearless leader. I'm gonna get a shower while the bathroom's still open."
"Any chance I could join you?" Beast asked, wiggling his eyebrows.
"If you're really good," Terra said in a sultry whisper. She walked out of the room swinging her hips very noticeably with Beast trailing after her with his eyes fixed closely on her backside.
"Those two are really getting on my nerves," Raven groaned once they were out of earshot.
Nightwing didn't say anything. He just got up and walked out of the room. He would have to talk with the Civilian girl, and any minute now she'd be experiencing the first symptoms. She'd need somebody there for comfort. At least, that's what he kept telling himself.
Kori looked over at the door when she heard a knock. A moment later, Nightwing poked his head in before stepping in and shutting the door behind him. "How you feeling?" he asked softly.
"A little warm," Kori answered. The last few minutes had felt as if the room was heating up, but she didn't see any space heater around.
"Ah. About that..." Nightwing pulled up a chair and sat backward in it facing her with his forearms crossed over the back. "You see... you were abducted by a gang known as the Black Dogs."
"Yes, I am familiar with them."
"Right. Well, their leader took you as a hostage for a motorjoust."
"A motorjoust?" Kori asked curiously.
"It's an Outcast thing. It's a form of dueling in which two opponents joust on motorcycles," Nightwing explained.
"So... you are an Outcast then?" She knew his answer before he even nodded. She wasn't sure just what to feel yet. She had always been taught that the Outcasts were backward savages, but this young man seemed more civilized than some Patricians she had known.
"Anyway, I won the joust, so the Black Dogs have to leave our territory for one month before they can challenge us again for this territory. We found out that they subdued you by pumping you full of Bliss."
"What is Bliss?" Everything Nightwing said just gave Kori more questions.
"It's an extremely powerful and addictive hallucinogenic drug. They nearly gave you a lethal overdose." He was brutally honest, but his voice was almost comforting at the same time. It was difficult to describe, but Kori imagined that he really cared whether she lived or died.
She felt a light sweat form on her forehead and reached up to wipe it away. "Why does it feel so warm in here?"
"That's the beginning of Bliss withdrawal," Nightwing said evenly. "It's going to be rough, but that's why I'm here. Can you tell me your name?"
Kori hesitated a moment as the warmth began turning into a full-blown fever. "Kori Anders."
"Kori Anders?" Nightwing repeated. "I like that. Where are you from?"
"San... San Francisco." The heat was starting to get to her. Kori wasn't sure how long this would last, but she wanted it to end as soon as possible.
She felt a cool, damp rag placed on her forehead. Just that small act helped ease her discomfort. "Is... is Nightwing your real name?" Kori asked.
Nightwing seemed a little surprised by the question and hesitated. "Actually... no. No, my real name is Richard Grayson. I call myself Nightwing as a street title."
"What is a street title?" Kori found his reaction to the reversing of the questioning a little amusing.
"It's like an alias," Nightwing explained. "I'm part of a gang called the Titans. We try to keep the other Outcasts here in Jump City safe and uphold the Law of the Streets."
"What is this... Law of the Streets?" Kori could feel the fever beginning to overtake the marginal comfort from the wet rag.
"It's our way of life. Rules, guidelines, mores, and so on." Nightwing soaked the rag again in a bowl of water on the table by the bed and gently applied it to her collar and shoulders. "Government among Outcasts is basically tribal, so the Law of the Streets is the code we all follow to coexist."
"But... how do you carry on without the megacorps?" It was something Kori had always wondered. How did the Outcasts get food and clean water? Did they have electricity? How did they clothe themselves? How could anyone survive without the corporations to take care of them?
"How so?" Nightwing didn't seem to find the question strange at all as he continued trying to keep her cool.
"What do you do for food? And water? And power?"
"We don't use money, like Civilians and Patricians," he answered. "Everything in our world is bartered for. We trade goods and services for our needs. As for utilities, we use alternative energy and the facilities that the megacorps abandoned. We regularly pay tribute to those who work in those places to repay them."
That... sort of made sense. Kori was still trying to wrap her mind around the idea of not using money. The fever was getting worse, though.
"Kori?" Nightwing's voice was laced with concern. "Kori! Stay focused, come on. I won't lie to you, the withdrawal is going to be hard to get through." His voice began to take on a more no-nonsense tone as he firmly held her shoulders. "Just try to stay focused on my voice. Now, do you have any other questions?"
Of course she did. But right now, she felt like she was on fire. In a matter of moments, the fever became unbearable and she began to sweat. What's more, her muscles were beginning to ache and her mouth started to dry. Nightwing was still calling out her name, trying to talk to her, but his voice was getting pushed to the back of her mind as the minutes dragged on and she got steadily worse.
Someone owed her. Terra knotted the belt on her robe and stormed out of the bathroom. For the most part, she liked to think she was easy-going, but interrupting a private moment and killing the mood was unforgivable. Either Raven had a nightmare, Cyborg was trying to make explosives again, or...
Terra turned the corner to the next hallway just as the door leading to the Civilian girl's room burst open from Nightwing being slammed into it. He tumbled once before crashing into the wall and groaning as he shook his head to clear it. When she saw the huge purple bruise already forming on his jaw, Terra suddenly felt it a little difficult to stay mad at him. Whoever that girl was, she really must have had one hell of a right hook.
Beast finally joined her clad in boxers and a T-shirt, his hair and fur still damp, and his eyebrows shot up at the sight of Nightwing injured and the door destroyed. "Dude, what the hell-"
He was promptly cut off by a shrill scream of agony and a crash from the girl's room. "Shit," Terra mumbled. "Now what?"
As if on cue, Raven swept into the hall, seeming to glide rather than walk. "Out of my way," she brusquely ordered.
Cyborg skidded out from around the corner leading to his lab, his one human eye wide in alarm. "What the hell's goin' on out here?!"
"Guess," Nightwing grumbled as he got to his feet. Raven gave him a quick check to see if his jaw was broken, then strode off to the Civilian girl. "I was trying to keep her calm and she punched me."
The girl screamed again, and the sounds of her violent thrashing soon accompanied it. Terra swore that she saw the windows rattle with those screams.
"Dude!" Beast exclaimed as he covered his pointed ears. "How long is she gonna be like this?"
"Probably another few hours at least," Cyborg remarked in awe. "I've never seen anyone react so violently to Bliss withdrawal before, though."
"She's been genetically enhanced," Nightwing shouted over the girl's screams. "It's probably reacting more potently with her physiology."
From within the room, Raven seemed to be struggling to hold her own with her magic. There was a loud whoosh and a flash of energy that seemed to absorb the light from the room, and the screaming and thrashing died down into sobs.
Raven emerged from the room nursing her left shoulder. "I've managed to dull her senses for a while," Raven drawled through teeth clenched in pain. "She clipped me in the shoulder pretty hard, though."
"Is she going to be okay?" Nightwing asked in concern as he peered into the girl's room.
"She'll be fine," Raven replied. "But someone better be there in a couple of hours when her fever breaks and she moves on to the next stage of withdrawal."
Beast thought for a moment, scratching his damp head. "That would be weakness and partial blindness, right? Jesus tap-dancing Christ, who makes this shit?"
"If we knew that," Raven remarked, "we'd have cleared them all out of California by now."
Cyborg stepped up and placed comforting hands on the shoulders of Raven and Nightwing. "Come on, y'all. The girl's fine for now, so let's get you two fixed up."
The two nodded their acquiescence and followed Cyborg out of the room.
Terra crossed the room and peered past the threshold to see the naked form of the Civilian girl huddled in a fetal position on the bed and sobbing. She felt the corners of her mouth drag down and sighed.
"Terra?" Beast tentatively asked.
Terra looked back over her shoulder and smiled sadly at her lover. "I'll talk to her when she moves to the next stage. You better get dried off, cutie."
Beast smiled in return, walked up to her, and placed his hands on her shoulders as he kissed her neck. "Have your little girl-talk then," he teased. "If I'm asleep before you get back, I'll see you in the morning."
Terra smirked as she leaned back against him slightly. "1 in the afternoon is not the morning, Beast," she joked, making reference to his sleeping habits.
"You're the one keeping me up late at night, you know," he quipped back. He gave her another kiss, this time on the cheek and walked off toward his quarters.
Terra sighed and went to her room, which was down the hall. However she hadn't slept there in days and was considering just moving all of her stuff into Beast's room. Right now though she had to get changed and get a little meditation in. She and Raven had gotten off to a rocky start, but after a while the two of them had grown closer, and the sorceress had taught Terra meditation and yoga to help her in controlling and developing her powers.
After changing into a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, Terra sat in a lotus position on the floor and cleared her mind. She was going to have a busy night and would need to be calm.
It was about two hours later that she decided to check on their guest, and left her room for the guest room. Raven had apparently worked with Cyborg to replace the door, and when Terra opened it and stepped in, Nightwing was sitting at the bedside again keeping vigil over the girl. "I think you better get some sleep, fearless leader. I'll take over for a while."
Nightwing seemed reluctant at first, but it was clear that he was a little weary. He was always awake at the crack of dawn, and as it was he'd only be getting a few hours of sleep tonight. "Alright," he conceded, his voice a little husky from fatigue. "I'll be back after breakfast."
It was pointless arguing with him over something like that. Though Terra wouldn't admit it out loud, she really looked up to Nightwing for his selflessness and stubborn determination. She stepped out of his way as he stalked out of the room and took his place at the chair by the bed.
In a few minutes, she began to drift off and lost track of time. It could have been five minutes, or over an hour that had passed when she heard the Civilian girl's soft moans.
Shaking her head to clear it and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Terra looked at the girl just as she opened her eyes, which were glassy and unfocused. "Why is it so dark?" she asked in bewilderment.
"It's okay," Terra reassured. "It's just another side-effect of the Bliss. It'll wear off soon."
"Who is there?" The girl seemed a little nervous now. "Where is Nightwing?"
"He had to get some rest. My name's Terra, a friend of his." That explanation seemed to work. "What's your name?"
"Kori Anders." Kori seemed resigned to what was going on by now. "Please... tell me. How much longer will this withdrawal last?"
Terra bit her lip and considered her answer a moment. "Well, there are four stages to Bliss withdrawal. The first, which you just finished is an intense fever with muscle pains. At this stage, your body is exhausted and goes through a period of weakness. Your eyes are also going to lose focus for a while, so you'll only be able to see in silhouette. This part won't last long."
"Good," Kori sighed. "What happens next?"
"Well..." Terra hesitated at that. How could she put this? "After that, for about 6 hours, give or take... you basically lose control of your bodily functions."
There was an awkward pause before Kori shifted slightly under the sheets. "That explains why it feel as if there is plastic underneath the bed sheets."
"Yeah..." Terra couldn't help but smile softly. "The final stage is a second fever, but not as powerful as the first. You'll also still feel some weakness, and a few chills. Kind of like having the flu."
Kori sighed, again in resignation it seemed. "Then I suppose the worst of it is over. May I ask you something, Terra?"
"Shoot," Terra replied.
"Can you tell me more about this gang that Nightwing spoke of?" Kori seemed almost afraid to ask the question. Terra could actually sympathize with that. But where to begin.
"Well, we call ourselves the Titans. We're part of a faction called the League, which is basically just a big network of gangs all over the world with the same goals. We uphold the Law of the Streets, which is our way of life."
"Yes, Nightwing told me about that," Kori said softly with a nod. "How did you join them?"
"Funny you should ask that," Terra chuckled embarrassedly. "I kind of... used to be a Civilian like you."
"What?" Kori gasped.
"Truth," Terra insisted. " Two years ago I worked for a security firm called Wilson Problem Solvers. My boss, Slade Wilson had me as an apprentice. We were hired by a Patrician family to make an example of the Titans, and I was used as a double agent." It had been two years, but Terra still didn't feel entirely comfortable with her own past.
"What did you do?" Kori asked, riveted with the story already.
"The plan was I was supposed to spend time studying them to learn all their strengths and weaknesses. But, uh... Beast turned out to be too irresistible." Terra couldn't help but smile at that memory. "He's a shapeshifter, an escaped experiment subject from Canada. And... what can I say, I fell in love with the little imp.
"When it came time to pull the double-cross, I just didn't have the heart. So I helped them fight my boss off and joined the Titans full-time." She smiled fondly at the memories of her first days as an Outcast, a lifestyle more exciting and rewarding than she ever could have imagined as a Civilian.
Kori on the other hand furrowed her brows in confusion. "You left your life as a Civilian?" she asked, as if the very concept was unthinkable.
"It's not as bad as you'd think," Terra mused. "There are some things in the Civilian world I miss, yeah. But I'm happier here." She couldn't help but chuckle at Kori's still-confused expression.
"What will happen to me, then?" she asked, as if dreading the answer.
Terra suddenly realized that they hadn't figured out the plan on that part yet. In fact, they had yet to bring it up. Of course, Nightwing probably already had a rough idea of what to do. "We don't know yet," Terra admitted. "It's up to Nightwing, really, but he's a good guy. He probably just wants to get you home safely."
Kori was silent for a moment. "I must admit," she said at last, "that you and the Titans are not what I expected. I thought you would be..."
"Primitive?" Terra offered. "Backward? Barbarians? Savages? Philistines?"
Kori just blushed and tried to sink lower into the mattress.
Terra laughed and slouched more into her chair, draping one arm over the back. "I used to think the same thing, too. The megacorps know that exterminating us all would take way too much time and effort even if it really were possible. So instead the just convince all the Civilians to stay away from us. We don't bother them, they don't bother us."
"Then why were you to assassinate the Titans?" Kori asked curiously.
"Gang war with the Black Dogs," Terra explained. "Those dumbshits just live to raise hell. Basically, they stormed into Los Angelos after they got their asses kicked and started breaking and stealing everything they could get their hands on. Way the Patricians saw it, Outcasts all look the same, so take out whatever gang happens to have a lot of influence and it sends the rest a warning. Good thing that didn't pan out, huh?"
The silence that followed was actually a pleasant one. As Terra drifted off to sleep, she couldn't help but wonder... If she and Kori had met in the Civilian world, could they have been friends? If Kori had been an Outcast, could they have been friends? Would it be easy when it came time to say goodbye? And even though it was silly to think of it, Terra couldn't help but wonder if it might be possible to convince Kori to stay with the Titans, just as she had chosen to do two years ago.
Author's Notes: Winter still sucks.
bluefuzzyelf: Nightwing is Dick Grayson's adult hero persona. If you haven't seen it already, you should check out the Teen Titans episode How Long is Forever?. It features Nightwing, and Glen Murakami made him look really bad-ass.
BrassBanana: I've seen similar stories to this one. There's no real original idea, it's the telling that sets the story apart from the rest of the pack. Anyway, I just wanted to see Seattle because of a handful of landmarks.
Araine: Not Urban Arcana, but look at the pictures in the Shadow Chasers campaign module, and think about which one seems to resemble a scene from chapter 1 here.