The sleek black motorcycle tore a path through the gentle night, its single bright headlight spreading out over the dark pavement of the highway while the whine of the engine followed far behind. It wove in and out of the sparse traffic leisurely, as if it were only moving for the sake of variety. Bent low near the handlebars, its rider was little more than a continuation of the machine itself-dressed in form fitted ebony and blue with a helmet made seemingly of shadows. Even the visor was tinted despite the darkness.
It easily flew by a silver Porsche Carrera GT and the driver of the expensive car, catching a glimpse of the bike as it whipped through his headlights, muttered, "Death trap."
The skyline of Jump City rolled into view, some of its tall office buildings still alight. Behind them all, like two arms outstretched in a protective embrace, was the imposing T shaped Titans Tower.
The rider gunned the bike's engine and it shot forward out of sight.
Raven was not entirely sure how she had gotten into her current predicament and, at the moment, had little idea of how she was going to get out of it. Worse, she had the sinking feeling that there wasn't a way out.
Take Robin to Azarath? Impossible. There were a number of completely logical, rational reasons for this.
1) As she had already said, several times, transdimensional travel was extremely difficult. She had no desire to smear Robin or herself for that matter, across the thresholds of multiple worlds.
2) Regardless of past and future events, Azarath was her home. She refused to believe that there was any danger in returning to it. (Despite any internal mutterings that suggested others.)
3) She had said no.
And yet, there was the aforementioned leader, standing before her and the rest of the Titans, repeating the declaration he had made to her inside his mind.
As if it was his decision.
Impossible. Out of the question.
The other Titans did not seem to agree. With her, that is.
Starfire nodded firmly and for a moment the worry that had been storming her vivid green eyes for the past few weeks cleared. "Yes. It is good that Raven will no longer be traveling alone."
Raven bristled. "I am completely capable-"
"Yeah I definitely did not like the idea of her going someplace hostile without one of us backing her up," Cyborg interrupted. He started to add something more, but was distracted by a beeping that came from the screen on his forearm.
"Azarath is not a hos-"
"But what are we supposed to do about whoever hired that assassin? And what if Slade shows up? I mean, we can totally handle the tin can man but, no offense guys, our detective skills aren't the sharpest," Beast Boy pointed out, scratching at the back of his head. "What? I'm just being honest dude," he added when Cyborg shot him a glare.
Raven folded her arms triumphantly across her chest. "You see? It would make more sense-"
"I've got a . . . friend who should be able to help with that." Robin glanced idly at his watch. "He should be here shortly."
The room went silent as each Titan contemplated just which friend Robin might have called. He could not have meant . . . that is, there was no way that . . . would he?
"It's not Batman," he added with a hint of exasperation when he looked up and found himself faced with four identical expressions of apprehension.
Beast Boy jerked a shoulder in an attempt at indifference, though it looked more like he was having a minor seizure. "I knew that."
Rolling his eyes, Cyborg ran his fingers over the mini-computer in his arm and the image that had been blinking at him suddenly appeared on the massive television screen in their living room. It showed the long winding road that lead to the Tower and the motorcycle that was currently tearing up it.
"Is that him?"
"Right on time," Robin answered, nodding his head. Then he paused and took a step closer to the screen. Behind their mask, his eyes narrowed. "I think that's my bike."
The back of Beast Boy's head popped up in front of him and tilted to the side. "Dude that so can't be your bike. It's black. There's not even a hint of yellow anywhere."
Frowning, Robin turned and strode towards the elevator, clearing intending to meet their visitor outside.
"Or red for that matter," Beast Boy continued, not noticing as Starfire and Cyborg followed in the footsteps of their leader. "Or green. Or any of your-" he stopped short as he turned and found himself alone in the common room, save for Raven, who stared at him with one eyebrow raised. His head whipped around until it settled on the still open elevator, where the other members of the team were now all standing.
"Dudes! Wait for me!" he complained, morphing instantly into a tiger and launching himself forward.
Raven watched dispassionately as he, upon reaching the elevator's threshold, attempted to slow to a stop. And stop he did, though it came both faster and slower than he intended, as the three other Titans each stepped to the side at the same time and he slammed head first into the back wall. He sat up momentarily, his head wobbling on his neck, before he collapsed backwards.
Robin, Cyborg and Starfire shifted their gazes from him to Raven.
"Coming?" Robin asked, with the barest hint of amusement in his voice, humor that Raven understood was not directed at Beast Boy's buffoonery. Her eyes narrowed to pin pricks, her eyebrows forming an elegant 'v'.
"This is all completely-"
The elevator slid closed.
"-unnecessary," she finished with a low growl to the empty room.
The motorcyclist was already waiting for them at the entrance to the Tower's massive garage, leaning casually against his bike, legs crossed at the ankles. His helmet had been stowed away, not that it made much of a difference. The tousled locks that spilled over his forehead and down onto his dark mask were nearly the same exact shade of pitch black. And though the exposed skin of his face was pale, it somehow seemed muted, as if it were well accustomed to the shadows.
He straightened lazily when Robin approached and flashed what most would see as a cheeky, circus performer grin. But Robin knew better.
Dick Grayson had put aside his boyish cheer when he had taken up the mantle of Nightwing.
At least he had had some in the first place, Robin's own mind inserted. He frowned at the errant thought.
"For someone who asked for my help, you sure don't look happy to see me."
Robin met the older hero's eyes and motioned with his head toward the bike.
"What happened to your bike?"
Nightwing shrugged. "Nothing. Alfred was cleaning out the garage and thought you might want it."
Robin's frown deepened. "When were you at the manor?" he asked, surprised.
"Last week." Another smile. "It was Alfred's birthday."
Robin closed his eyes. "Shit."
"Yeah. I even put it on the stupid calendar he got me."
"I figured. That's why I put your name on the card I got him."
"You mean the card that Barbara got him?"
Nightwing waved his hand idly through the air in front of him. "It was my idea." A look of curiosity came over his face. "When was the last time you were back there anyway?"
When Robin failed to answer, Nightwing let out a low whistle. "You haven't been back," he stated, without even a hint of question in his voice.
Robin kept his eyes level. "Did you really expect otherwise?" he shot back, swallowing the question that he really wanted to ask.
Can you blame me?
Shrugging, Nightwing ran his fingers through his dark locks, ruffling them absently. "Honestly Rob, you've always been a bit of a mystery to me. I was surprised that you called."
Robin felt his shoulders hunch at what the simple sentence seemed to imply and he struggled to remain straight backed. "I know that Br-he means . . . more to you," he began carefully not entirely sure of what he wanted to say.
But one of Nightwing's gloved hands flicked dismissively again. "That's not what I meant. You know Bats and I have had plenty of our own disagreements."
Quirking an eyebrow, Robin couldn't help his smile. "You mean like the time you blew up part of the east wing?"
"Not my fault."
"That's not what he said."
"Yes, well, he was the one who refused to tell me what the button did. If he had, I wouldn't have needed to push it, would I? But anyway," Nightwing continued, before Robin could answer, "enough of this bonding, reminiscing crap. Which one of these fellows are in charge when you're away?"
Robin blinked; both in the abrupt change in the conversation and the question itself.
"What? You said you needed my help, not that you needed me to lead your group of merry men. And women," he amended, nodding in Starfire's direction.
Looking back over at his team, it occurred to Robin with a start that he had called Nightwing with the intention of having him lead the team in his absence. It hadn't even occurred to him to set up one of the Titans as temporary leader. And as he met each one of their eyes briefly he realized, guiltily, that none of them had expected differently.
What had happened to him?
Shaking his head lightly, he turned back to Nightwing. "Cyborg's in the driver's seat." He glanced over his shoulder and grinned, trying to push away the dark feelings that Batman's name always managed to bring up in him. "Hell, he's in it half the time I'm here anyway."
Cyborg looked surprised for a moment, before returning the smirk. "That's because I'm the only one with keys to the T-car."
"Does the T-car even have keys? I thought it just plugged into your neural interface," Robin pointed out.
"Details, details," Cyborg replied, waving one arm dismissively in the arm. His smirk disappeared as Cyborg, the de-facto leader, switched into place. "How do you want us to play this, Rob?"
Robin thought of the plans he had half drawn up in his mind and let them go without mention. There was no way he could go with Raven to Azaroth and lead the Titans at the same time. And since he wasn't willing to let Raven make an interdimensional trip into a hostile –he shot a sideways glance at her and saw that she frowned in response, as if she were picking the thought from his head – environment alone, he couldn't afford to hobble the team with his own preconceived battle strategies.
"Carefully," he answered, shrugging lightly. "That goes without saying. And defensively. We're back to square one in regards to whoever sent the assassin after Raven. There's no telling if they'll send someone else but if they do, it won't take more than one attempt before they realize she's gone. Whether they'll back off at that point, we don't know. But we also don't know if Raven is the only target."
"You think that perhaps there will be attempts on our lives as well," Starfire stated without question.
Robin lifted his shoulders again. "It's possible. So stay sharp. Don't go looking for trouble."
Beast Boy scratched at the back of his head and rolled his eyes. "Dude, trouble always finds us."
"You're the one that gave it our mailing address," Cyborg chimed.
Frowning, Beast Boy scratched harder. "Lame, dude. Seriously lame." He morphed suddenly into a sleek hound and pawed vigorously at his ear.
Cyborg shrugged. "I thought it was pretty funny. What's a matter with you? You need a flea bath or something? Wouldn't surprise me, judging from the state of your room."
The hound growled and then shifted back into Beast Boy. "I don't have fleas. And what's wrong with my room?"
"Are you kidding me? Have you been in there lately? It's like a bomb went off or something. I can't imagine what's breeding underneath those heaps of clothes."
"Uh dude, how are we supposed to play stankball without any stankballs!"
Robin held up one hand to draw their attention back. "One last thing." He paused and his gaze shifted away from them to stare out over the city. In reality, though, he did not see it. Instead he saw in his mind's eye a small white box with a thin silver crank. His fingers curled into fists at his sides.
"I've asked Nightwing to prepare a briefing for all of you. I want you to pay close attention to everything he has to say in it." He took a deep breath, suddenly feeling a great pressure on his chest. "I don't have any idea what the Joker could be planning, if he's capable of planning anything, but he's drawn attention to himself for a reason. Whether it's connected with everything else or something completely separate to worry about, we have no way of knowing. But he's a factor now and anytime the Joker is a factor it means trouble that you cannot even imagine. Beyond anything-"
A gentle touch on his arm had him stopping. Turning he saw Starfire watching him with concern in her liquid green eyes and he realized that he had begun rambling.
"We will be careful, Robin," she stated, giving his arm a brief squeeze, as if to reaffirm her words, before releasing it. The breath he had inhaled came rushing back out and he struggled to calm the anxiety that had washed over him. He nodded.
"Okay then. Any questions?"
They stared back at him silently. After a moment Nightwing, who had maneuvered himself behind them, raised one lanky arm.
Robin lifted an eyebrow.
"What exactly is a stankball?"
The room was darker than it should have been.
That was the first thing that he noticed when he opened his eyes.
All of the lights were off, the sterile overhead one, the softer table lamp, the small night light that would have served as a guide to the bathroom if he had been able to get out of the bed. Even the faint glow from the machinery surrounding him, bolstering him and the monitors that displayed the unseen conditions of his body was missing. He could still hear its quiet humming though, reminding him of where he was.
The second thing he noticed was that he was not alone. He could see a vague shape at the end of his bed but it was the feeling of a presence that had awoken him. He closed his eyes again and wished that hospital personal was as strict at keeping out super brats as they were at keeping out regular visitors. He also wished that someone, some poor caring soul had had the decency of heart to leave him his gun.
"Go . . . go away, kid. I already . . . told you," Ravager wheezed out.
There was a high pitched giggle. "See that's what Mr. J was afraid of, Ravagy."
He blinked at the unfamiliar voice. "What?" he rasped, his throat dry. "Who are . . ."
"I told him that he didn't have to worry, that you didn't know nothing, but my Mr. J, he's always right. That's why I love him so much."
The sharp sound of whistle came from nearby and the humming of his machines increased. He frowned, the movement sending sharp sparks of pain through his face.
"What . . . what are you . . .talking about?" he asked, frustrated by the amount of time it took him to force the words out. His bed began to vibrate slightly and the whistle shrieked again. Closer this time.
"Well, actually what he said was 'I don't care if he doesn't know anything! Get rid of him anyway!' So, here I am! This won't hurt too much. I mean, not that you'll really notice, considering your current state. Buh bye now!"
The shape danced away. In its place appeared a circular light unlike the square ceiling fixture of his hospital room. The whistle blew a third time.
His eyes widened.
RANDOM TITANS THEATER PRESENTS: "A Robin and a Nightwing walk into a bar . . ."
Nightwing: "Nothing. Alfred was cleaning out the garage and thought you might want it."
Robin: "Alfred was cleaning the garage?"
Robin: "And you don't think that's weird?"
Nightwing: "He's the butler. What's so weird about that?"
Robin: "He's a seventy year old guy. And the garage is the size of a football field. And what did he do with all the stuff that was in there while he was cleaning? Put it out on the driveway?"
Nightwing: "It's not that big. It's more like a field hockey field."
Robin: "I'm concerned that you know the size of a field hockey field."
Nightwing: "What? Guys can't like field hockey?"