DISCLAIMER: I don't own Teen Titans. If I did, this would be on TV and not here.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This doesn't take place in the same storyline as my "Forced Base" and "Fractured Heart" stories, so forget those when you're reading this. Also, this takes place after the fourth season, so anything that happens in the show after that isn't applicable to this. Also, about Sanza/Red X: When he's wearing the mask, he's Red X. When he's not, he's Sanza. Simple as that.

O-O-O

The Titans and Red X stood around the coffee table in the main room of the tower. At the center of the table stood a metallic canister, which measured about a foot tall and seven inches wide, its shape hexagonal. Along the sides of the canister were glowing red tubes that seemed to have a blood-like liquid flowing inside of them.

"This is it, y'all," said Cyborg, placing his hand on top of the device. "This is the Xynothium bomb."

"And this," said Robin, holding up a small, square remote control with a single red button at the center, "is the remote detonation device. Press this button and the bomb will explode, taking out anything in a fifty-foot radius."

X looked at the bomb tentatively, wondering if something so small could really be effective against a criminal mastermind like Slade. Then again, inside the bomb was more than two pounds of concentrated raw Xynothium... X was surprised the bomb's blast radius wasn't larger.

Cyborg picked up the canister from the table, while Robin continued to hold the remote control in his hands.

"The plan is this," said Robin, walking over to the keyboard in front of the Titans' large television monitor and pressing a button. The screen lit up, and a diagram of Mt. Cappalani, where Slade's new headquarters would most likely be, appeared on the screen in the form of a 3-D virtual model. "We get up onto the mountain and find Slade. We fight him for a while to distract him. Someone will leave the bomb, and once it's in place, we trap Slade and make our exit. Once we're at a safe distance, I will detonate the bomb, and-"

"Slade's done for," X finished, glancing at the canister in Cyborg's hands. "And you're sure this will work?"

"It has to," said Robin, a serious look on his face. "The sooner we take out Slade, the safer the city will be... and the safer your family will be, Sanza."

X didn't respond... until Starfire gently rested her hand on his shoulder. A reassuring look was on her face, and immediately, X could feel a wave of calm sweeping over him.

"After Slade is beaten... your family will no longer be in danger," said Starfire. "You will be able to live a normal life..."

"Unless, um... you wanna join us here or anything," said Beast Boy, nervously rubbing the back of his head.

"We'll talk about that later, Beast Boy," said Raven, glaring over at him, then turning to Red X. Before she could speak, X turned away from the other Titans, walking toward the front door of the Tower.

"I told you, I'm only teaming up with all of you to beat Slade," said Red X, looking back toward all of the other Titans. "After this..."

After this, Red X didn't know... would he go back to his life of crime, stealing just to get the incredible rush it gave him? Would he join the Titans, fighting crime with them, living in their Tower, maybe even becoming their friend?

Or would he hang up his suit forever... or would he even survive?

The feeling of uncertainty that Red X had was shared by all of the other Titans... they didn't know whether their mission would succeed, or even if Slade actually was where they believed him to be. Would they be able to get the bomb close enough for it to destroy Slade? Would he discover their plan and make it impossible for the Titans to get far enough away to detonate the device safely?

"So many damn questions..." thought Red X, pushing open the Tower's front door. "Are we gonna go take out Slade, or not?"

O-O-O

High up in Mt. Cappalani, in one of the many caves carved into the mountain by years of erosion, Slade stood out over a precipice, overlooking the city that one day he knew would be his. Just beside the city, in the center of the bay stood an enormous tower... Titans Tower, the home of Slade's mortal enemies.

"It won't be long now," thought Slade, watching several small specks fly from the base of the tower, slowly making their way to the forest above which his mountain fortress stood.

Slade knew his apprentice would be with the Titans... and despite the fact that Red X had just tried to kill him, he still had designs on making the thief his third apprentice... the apprentice with which he would conquer Jump City... and then the world.

"I will kill the Titans right in front of you... then you will see how hopeless it is to try and resist me, Sanza. You will see that you can never escape your fate... you will be my apprentice, whether you like it or not."

Slade took one last look over the city before retreating back inside the cave, where he would wait for the Titans... and his new apprentice to arrive.

"It won't be long now..."

O-O-O

The three Titans who could fly, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy, found themselves airlifting the two Titans who could not, as well as Red X, who also couldn't fly. Grasping the thief by his cape, eagle Beast Boy held onto Red X as tight as his talons would allow, swooping across the bay toward the forested area on the outskirts of Jump City.

"Just about there, team," said Robin, Starfire's hands wrapped tightly around his waist. "Does everyone know what they have to do?"

Red X knew exactly what he had to do... make sure Slade didn't escape from his mountain stronghold alive, even if the Titans became too reluctant to do it. X knew the Titans' modus operandi well... the Titans didn't kill, and even though Robin said that he was planning to end Slade's life, X still wasn't sure. He looked over at Starfire, her hair waving in the cool night breeze. She was the most compassionate of all the Titans... if anyone was going to bungle the mission by having too much heart, it would be her.

Not to say that X didn't like Starfire's compassion... but when it came to someone like Slade, there was no room for nice.

"The only good Slade is a dead Slade," thought Red X, as he and the Titans drew closer and closer to the first of the forest's many spruce trees, towering high above the rolling hills. "No matter what anyone thinks..."

Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy set down in front of a winding path leading up into the forest and the mountain beyond. A sign clearly marked the distance to the mountain... it was less than a thousand-foot hike away. Just a few minutes until they were at the entrance...

"You're a lot lighter than I thought you'd be," said Beast Boy as soon as he'd detransformed, standing next to Red X after setting him down in front of the path. "Umm... do you work out much?"

Red X didn't say anything to Beast Boy. Instead, he began hiking up the path, his mind focused on the mission that lay ahead. The other Titans quickly followed, with Beast Boy lagging behind, disconcerted that Red X hadn't responded to his question.

"Dude, I just asked you a question..." mumbled Beast Boy, trudging up the dirt path with a dejected look on his face.

"It's time to get serious," said Raven, looking back at Beast Boy. "We'll have plenty of time for small talk after we beat Slade."

The Titans and Red X walked up the path, which was lit only by a few halogen lamps to mark the path and the light from the moon above. In the trees bordering the path, several cabins could barely be seen, smoke rising from the chimneys of a few of the houses.

The area was pristine... beautiful... the air was far fresher than the amalgam of pollution and trash fumes sifting through the streets and alleys of Jump City. The people living on the sides of the mountains outside the city led a purer, simpler existence... of course, this existence came at a high monetary price, which is why most of the homes were populated by office executives who worked in the city by day, but knew enough about the filthy urban jungle to understand the need to get away at night.

"My mom and sister would probably love living in a place like this..." thought Red X, staring at one of the homes as he and the Titans continued to walk up the path. "Mom's boss probably lives somewhere out here... away from all the crime of the city..."

Away from all the crime... except for the worst criminal of all. These people probably had no idea that they lived just hundreds of feet away from the new headquarters of the most diabolical villain in the city.

The end of the dirt path led straight up to the foot of the mountain itself... a wide, dirt half-circle in front of an enormous rocky plateau and a single, metallic door, a red sign hanging from it that read 'Keep Out'.

Never one to obey signs, Red X walked up to the door and placed an X right in the center. It expanded, creating a hole that swelled up to the size of the door itself, causing it to disappear.

"This is it," said X, turning to the other Titans as he stood in front of the open doorway. "I don't suppose any of you want to back out."

"If we did, we wouldn't be the Teen Titans," said Robin, walking around Red X and entering the door. X turned around and followed him, the other four Titans walking just behind. When all of them were through the doorway, it re-sealed itself, and a loud voice began echoing through the tunnel... a voice all of the Titans immediately recognized.

"You really should have read the sign," came Slade's voice, booming loudly through the tunnel. "And Sanza? Rest assured that by the time all of this is over, you will be my apprentice... you cannot escape."

"Who said I wanted to escape?" Red X replied, knowing that Slade probably couldn't hear him. "Don't worry, Slade... I'll come right to you."

The Titans and X walked through the dark tunnel, which was illuminated faintly by an eerie blue light that seemed to shine from somewhere in the distance, but the closer the Titans and Red X got, the farther away the light seemed to be.

The group walked what seemed to be even longer a path than the one they'd come up to reach the mountain. The constant curve of the tunnel meant that the group could see no longer than just a few feet ahead before their light of sight came straight up against the far wall. Finally, after several minutes of walking, they stepped out into a huge, rocky room... a vast, empty chamber built deep into the mountain. In the center of the chamber was an enormous rectangular pit, and at the back of the chamber was a narrow staircase winding up to a small passageway that seemed to lead deeper into the mountain.

The Titans stopped at the edge of the pit, looking straight down into what seemed like an endless sea of darkness. The blue light that seemed to fill the tunnel they'd just been in was coming from an enormous halogen lamp placed at the top of the chamber in the very center, shining straight down into the pit. The blue light was completely swallowed up, indicating that the pit they were staring into must've been very deep indeed.

"Okay... here's the big question," said Beast Boy, pointing into the pit. "Do we go down there, or..."

His finger drifted over to the stone steps leading up toward the small passage in the back of the chamber.

"Up there," Beast Boy continued. "I mean, that probably leads to the top of the mountain, but-"

"We may need to split up, as much as I hate to say it," Robin sighed, also wondering whether Slade could be at the bottom of the mountain or at the top.

Red X knew exactly where Slade was... or at least he had a hunch. Why would Slade choose a mountain as his base of operations if he wasn't going to hang out at the top? Clearly, the stairs leading up to the passage were the right way to go... but X wasn't too sure if he wanted to start a confrontation by stating his opinion.

"Perhaps those of us who can fly should go down into the pit, and those of us who cannot should head up the stairs," said Starfire, though she knew that would mean splitting up herself and Robin, something she didn't want to do, especially when dealing with someone like Slade. "Or... maybe Robin and I could go into the pit, and-"

While the debate was going on, a shadowy figure had appeared at the top of the stairs, standing in the middle of the passageway they were leading up to. Raven was the first to see him, and she was also the first to warn the group of his presence.

"Slade!" shouted Raven, pointing to the top of the stairs. Immediately, X and the other Titans turned toward the passage, all of them preparing for a fight.

"Welcome," said Slade, his hands stretched out so that he was touching both sides of the narrow cave opening. "You're probably wondering what the large pit in the center of the room is for. Certainly it can't be to trap all of you... you're much too smart for that."

Wasting little time, Red X pointed his palm at Slade and fired an exploding X, hoping to catch the evil mastermind off guard. His plan failed when Slade simply took a step back, allowing the X to harmlessly hit the wall behind him. Then, he came back into view, his gaze now focused on Red X.

"You'll get your chance soon enough," Slade mused, "though I certainly hope you don't think I'd come out and fight all of you just yet."

From inside the pit, a series of loud, mechanical noises could be heard... gears and springs were being put into motion, and a small platform at the bottom of the pit was slowly rising up... with an enormous monstrosity standing just on top of it.

In a few seconds, the Titans and X could see a huge, stone head beginning to rise up out of the hole... followed by shoulders, arms, and the rest of a body... a beast made entirely of stone, a granite gigas measuring nearly fifty feet in height emerging from the pit, its entire body visible as the platform it was standing on locked into place. The Titans immediately stepped back, while Red X kept his gaze locked on Slade... he didn't want to fight a giant stone man, he wanted to fight the man who'd kidnapped and terrorized his family.

"When my factory was destroyed, nearly all of my war machines went with it... except for this, my greatest design of all. On the outside, it may appear to look just like Cinderblock, only much larger. But on the inside, incredible craftsmanship combines with skilled mechanics to make a fully-functional robotic superweapon. Teen Titans... and apprentice, meet my magnum opus... Cinderblock Omega."

The beast's eyes opened, flashing a solid red as the gigantic robot shifted into attack mode. It unleashed a guttural roar from its mechanical belly, causing the entire chamber to quake and tremble. Starfire and Raven floated into the air, energy surging through their bodies, while Beast Boy transformed into an enormous gorilla, clenching his fists and preparing to attack. Cyborg's weapon systems went into their highest level of operation, while Robin extended his bo staff. Meanwhile, Red X was already going after Slade, his feet dashing toward the stairs leading to the passage where Slade stood.

He didn't even make it halfway. Cinderblock Omega's enormous hand opened up to reveal a large, circular cannon device. A boulder sprung forth from the cannon's chamber, traveling straight toward Red X's back.

Robin's warning cry came to Red X's ears a fraction of a second too late. The boulder slammed into his back, immediately knocking him face-first to the ground. As he fell, he looked up toward the passage... but Slade was already gone.

His face hit the rocky ground with a resounding smack, the boulder still resting dangerously on his spine. Starfire immediately thought the worst... that Red X's back was broken, and that he could be paralyzed. Cyborg set the Xynothium bomb safely by the wall of the chamber before running over to make sure Red X was okay. Meanwhile, the boulder on X's back was already beginning to lift up... using her telekinesis, Raven levitated the boulder and threw it straight at Cinderblock Omega's face.

The robot's hand reached out, crushing the levitated boulder in less then a second. Then, his powerful palm slapped down on Raven like a flyswatter, knocking her to the ground. Gorilla Beast Boy wrapped his arms around one of Cinderblock Omega's enormous stone legs, trying to muster enough strength to lift the robotic beast from the ground. He couldn't budge the giant robot even an inch, and he quickly found himself picked up and flung into the wall with one flick of Cinderblock Omega's powerful wrist.

Starfire let loose with a hail of Starbolts and eye-lasers, causing bright, flashy explosions against Cinderblock Omega's face and chest, but doing little real damage. Meanwhile, Robin was kneeling at the fallen Red X's side, rolling the thief over onto his back and holding a hand in front of his face.

"X... how many fingers am I holding up?" asked Robin, the weary thief's stunned vision melding Robin's hand into an indecipherable blur.

"Just one..." Red X groaned, holding up his middle finger for Robin to see before slowly crawling to his feet. "Where the hell is Slade?"

"He ran back up the tunnel, but-"

"Out of my way!" shouted Red X, shoving Robin to the side and dashing toward the stairs leading up to the passage through which Slade had disappeared. "The Titans can handle this monster... my vendetta is against Slade, and Slade alone..."

High up in the air, Starfire continued trying to damage Cinderblock Omega with Starbolts, hoping that a constant barrage could help her make even a small dent. Suddenly, she found herself crushed in the robot's grasp, its fingers clamping around her arms and chest. She began to scream as it lifted her high in the air, her eye lasers doing nothing to loosen the robot's grip.

Robin and Red X both heard Starfire's scream, and they quickly turned around, with Red X being the first to react.

"On second thought, if this thing's going to hurt Starfire, she might need my help!" shouted Red X, blasting the beast's left arm with an electric X, hoping that the shock might serve to dislodge its grip. The X hit Cinderblock Omega's arm, but the powerful resultant shock had absolutely no effect on a beast made entirely of stone. It turned its head and opened its mouth, spitting several large boulders at Robin and Red X. The two had to do some fancy footwork in order to dodge them all, with Robin nearly being smacked in the face by an errant fragment of one of the rocks.

"I'll handle this," shouted Robin, pointing his Batcable at the shoulder joint of the robot. The cable wrapped around it, enabling Robin to swing up into the air, flipping up onto its left wrist. As soon as Robin landed, the robot's hand rotated a full 180 degrees, enabling Robin to see Starfire, still trapped in its fingers. A second later, it hurled Starfire in Robin's direction. She slammed into him, knocking both of them down on top of the robot's arm.

"Hey, Robin!" shouted Cyborg, standing directly below the robot's outstretched left arm. "Look out!"

Robin nodded, grabbing Starfire by the arm and running back with her toward the back of the robot's left arm. When the two were at a safe distance, Cyborg pointed his wrists at Cinderblock Omega's left hand, letting loose with a steady stream of nearly a dozen small missiles, which converged on the robot's hand at exactly the same time, engulfing it in an enormous, fiery explosion.

The force of the blast caused Robin to stumble, nearly falling off Cinderblock Omega's left arm before Starfire's hand shot out, grasping around Robin's wrist and holding on tightly as he dangled above the rocky ground below. Her grip slowly loosened, and Robin's arm slipped in Starfire's grasp, so that now, only his fingers were being held by hers.

Sweat poured down Starfire's face as she held onto Robin's fingers, which also began slipping away from her. A look of fear appeared in his eyes, and he even let out a slight yell when he took another peek at the ground.

"Starfire!" shouted Robin, reaching up with his other hand to grab her wrist. "Don't... let..."

A rock flew out of Cinderblock Omega's mouth, straight at the point where Robin's fingers were wrapped around Starfire's wrist. Just seconds before the rock would have hit, Raven floated up in front of the two and created a huge black energy shield, the large boulder shattering against it.

With a determined look in her eyes, Starfire pulled Robin back onto Cinderblock Omega's arm, and for the first time, the two were able to see for themselves the damage that Cyborg's missiles had done to Cinderblock Omega's hand. And that damage... was absolutely nothing.

"You gotta be kidding me..." thought Robin, staring out at Cinderblock Omega's left hand, which had been rotated back to its original position and showed no signs of damage whatsoever from Cyborg's missile attack. "What do we have to do to beat this guy?"

On the ground, Beast Boy had detransformed and was trying to think of some way to harm the enormous robot. Picking him up obviously wasn't going to work, but there had to be some animal he could change into that would do some good.

"Beast Boy," said Red X, running over to the green superhero with a serious look on his face. "Can you change into a pterodactyl-"

"Yeah, but why do you-"

"Then do it, and let me get on your back," said Red X, looking up toward the robot's still-open mouth. "I have a plan..."

Robin and Starfire remained perched on Cinderblock Omega's left arm, while Raven floated out in front of the beat, her shield still extended in front of her body. Every few seconds or so, Cinderblock Omega would open its mouth and spit another boulder Raven's way, and she wasn't sure how long her barrier would last.

Suddenly, the beast pulled back its left arm, curling its fingers into a fist. Robin and Starfire immediately braced themselves for a hard impact, which is exactly what they got when the fist slammed into the center of Raven's shield, shattering the shield on impact and hurling Robin and Starfire from the robot's arm down toward the floor. The fist continued through Raven's shield and slammed into Raven herself, causing her to let out a scream as she was thrown to the ground next to Robin and Starfire. The beast roared triumphantly and began spitting several boulders down toward the three fallen Titans.

One of the boulders hit Cyborg as he was about to charge a plasma blast to fire into the robot's leg. The boulder knocked him flat on his back, leaving Red X and Beast Boy as the only two fighters still standing.

Or more accurately, they were floating... pterodactyl Beast Boy hovered in front of Cinderblock Omega's face, while Red X stood on top of him, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

That moment came when Cinderblock Omega spotted Beast Boy and Red X, and opened its mouth to spit a boulder at them. Red X seized the opportunity, filling the robot's gigantic mouth with thick, red goo. Cinderblock Omega stumbled back, but the goo kept coming... and coming... jamming up the boulders the robot was preparing to fire, as well as straining the connection between its head and the rest of its body.

Blue and red electricity sparked around Cinderblock Omega's head and neck, as more and more goo filled the robot's mouth, gumming up its insides. By now, Robin, Starfire, Raven, and Cyborg were back on their feet, watching as Red X blasted more and more Xynothium goo into Cinderblock Omega's mouth.

Finally, an explosion engulfed its neck, followed by a spray of goo that rained down on the four Titans, as well as splattering on Beast Boy and Red X. The goo spray was followed by Cinderblock Omega's enormous head falling from its shoulders and slamming into the ground below, just a few feet from where Robin, Starfire, and Raven were standing. All that was left where the robot's head once stood was a large hole, still dripping Xynothium goo to the ground below. Blue and red electricity sparked around the hole as the goo mixed with sensitive components on the robot's insides.

"...that was simple," Raven said, the first to break the silence after the beheading of Cinderblock Omega.

"Wonderful!" shouted Starfire, congratulating both Beast Boy and Red X as they continued floating in front of the decapitated robot. "Your solution, while slightly gruesome, was most delightfully splendid in ridding us of-"

A rumbling sounded from deep within Cinderblock Omega's chest. Its two arms, which had been hanging at its sides ever since its head was destroyed, suddenly began lifting up at the air, their fists pointed straight outward. The Titans on the ground gasped and stepped back, while Red X, perched on pterodactyl Beast Boy's back, had a stunned look on his face.

"You can't function without a head!" shouted Red X. Suddenly, like snakes, the two fists extended outward from the robot, with boulders emerging from its wrists, enabling the robot's arms to stretch. One of the fists struck at Red X, still perched on Beast Boy's back. The fist slammed into Red X, knocking him off of Beast Boy and sending him plummeting to the ground. The other fist went downward, slamming into Robin and knocking him backward several feet. The detonation remote for the Xynothium bomb flew out of his utility belt and hit the floor, skidding over to where Red X had landed after having fallen from Beast Boy. His weary hand drifted over to the remote, resting over it and concealing it from view of the others.

"Robin!" shouted Starfire, running over to make sure her boyfriend was okay. As she did this, Raven lifted Cyborg up into the air, allowing him to get clean shots at Omega Cinderblock's chest with his plasma cannon. The beheaded robot was wildly swinging its flexible arms back and forth, and Beast Boy shrunk himself down to a bat so that he was a smaller target.

"I'm wasting my time and my energy here..." thought Red X, looking up and watching as Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg resumed their battle with the giant stone creature. He looked back to the ground and over to his left side, and saw Starfire helping a bruised Robin up from the ground. He then looked toward the back wall of the room, where the Xynothium bomb sat, its sides still glowing bright red. His hand rested over the detonation remote, and now he knew he had everything he needed to take Slade down... all by himself.

"Starfire, lift me up to where Omega Cinderblock's head used to be!" shouted Robin as soon as he could stand. Starfire nodded, lifting Robin up by the back of his outfit and flying up to the top of Omega Cinderblock's shoulders. She lifted Robin over the smoking hole, which was still sparking and had Xynothium dripping slowly out of it. As Robin was being lifted down to it, a stone valve suddenly closed, sealing the hole shut. "Dammit!"

"Perhaps I can destroy the seal over the hole," said Starfire, setting Robin down next to it and letting loose with a flurry of Starbolts and eye lasers aimed at the center of the valve. "Open!"

The two didn't see the robot's enormous fists, poised at both sides of its shoulders. Its arms extended toward Robin and Starfire at incredible speed, and the fists collided into them simultaneously, smashing Robin and Starfire together face-to-face before slowly pulling away, dropping their dazed bodies to the ground.

Red X heard the collision, but his gaze was now focused at the top of the passage toward which he was running, dashing up the narrow stone steps with the Xynothium bomb and the detonation device in his hands. He didn't even look back to see how the Titans were doing as he disappeared through the narrow tunnel, running blindly into the darkness of the inner mountain.

O-O-O

Red X had no idea where he was going... there wasn't a single light in the tunnel as he ran, but he didn't care about bumping into anything, or falling into any traps that Slade might've placed in the darkness.

His mind was fixed on a singular goal... destroy Slade... and the bomb held in his hands would suit that purpose quite nicely. The red glow from the device barely allowed X to see his hands and feet as they ran on the ground... but that was about it.

"I'm coming, Slade..." thought Red X, running through the tunnel, his eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness. "And when I find you... you'll pay... for everything you've done to me... for everything you've done to my family."

X's eyes adjusted just enough to allow him to see just a few feet in front of his face... so when he neared the end of the tunnel, a wooden door with a metallic black handle, he was able to stop just in time to avoid running right into it. His hand reached down to the metal, his fingers trembling as they wrapped around the handle. Slowly, he pulled the door open...

The next room was a narrow space with small television monitors stacked up on desks lining the walls. He entered the room, the glow from the monitors giving him just enough light to see the room's basic shape. Another wooden door was at the end of the relatively short room, but he stopped in-between the desks, curious to see the images projected on the monitors.

It was then that he heard a soft, loving voice... and his head craned to the second row of four, third monitor from the left, on the desk to X's right. The screen displayed a clear image of Maddy's bedroom... where his mother was talking to the girl about what had happened to them the previous night.

Sanza's absence had frightened her... he'd promised to take her out for ice cream... but now night had fallen, and it was clearly becoming evident that something was wrong.

"I'm just really worried..." came Maddy's voice, her head resting on her mother's shoulder. "He... he promised he'd be back... what if something happened to him?"

Red X's hands went to his heart... it was beating slightly faster.

"Maddy..." he thought, reaching out to the scream as if to offer her a comforting pat on the head, "I..."

A muffled scream from the left caused Red X to turn around, his head whipping toward the screen in the bottom right corner of the four-by-four row. A recording of the video feed of the room where Maddy and Maria had been held captive the previous day was displayed on the screen... a Sladebot had come into the room, and wrenched Maddy away from her mother.

Red X's hands clenched into fists at the Sladebot's rough treatment... the girl, tears in her eyes, squealed up at the Sladebot. It ripped the tape from her face, then, a second later, jammed a water bottle into her mouth and tilted it up.

"Drink," ordered the Sladebot, waiting until Maddy had guzzled down half the bottle before roughly yanking it away.

"You guys are jerks!" Maddy shouted angrily, her messy hair whipping forward as she snapped at the Sladebot. "If you hurt my mom or my brother-"

Without warning, the Sladebot slapped Maddy across the face. Red X let out a cry of anger, not knowing that his sister had actually been hit by the Sladebots until seeing it just now, displayed on the screen right in front of his face. As Maddy gasped in pain, the Sladebot replaced the tape over the girl's mouth before marching out of the room, ignoring Maria's enraged, muffled shouts.

Red X's entire body trembled with rage... he reared back his fist, preparing to strike the screen... only to hear Slade's voice coming from the door at the other end of the room.

"You... didn't know? I thought that would be something your sister would've told you."

Red X immediately turned and ran at Slade, his palms pointed straight in the evil mastermind's direction.

"YOU SON OF A BITCH!" shouted Red X, letting loose with several exploding Xs that slammed into Slade and the walls around him, filling half of the room with smoke and fire. The force of the explosion blasted Red X back, and he raised up an arm to shield his face... only to see Slade's hazy outline through the smoke.

"I guess she was protecting you... if you knew my robots had harmed her, you'd come back to kill me... your sister doesn't think you're strong enough to protect yourself from me, Sanza. She knows how weak you are..."

Red X lunged forward, throwing a punch aimed at Slade's face. Slade stepped to the side, his right elbow slamming straight into X's throat. Red X stumbled back into the room, gasping for breath... while Slade disappeared into the shadows, through the door leading deeper into the mountain. With a loud scream of frustration, Red X blew up all the monitors in the room and dashed forward, occasionally firing an exploding X into the shadows beyond.

"COWARD!" Red X shouted at the top of his lungs, his breathing heavy as he stumbled through a narrow tunnel. His eyes narrowed in rage, he continued on... through several more doors and several more tunnels, up a steep flight of stairs, finally reaching a long hallway lit by hanging lamps, extending out farther than X could see. He ran through the hallway, his boots tracking across the stone floor, barely able to make out a door at the end of the tunnel.

Not only had Slade kidnapped Maddy, but he'd harmed her... even a single slap across the face was enough to make Slade a mortal enemy in X's book. Those Sladebots were programmed to act almost identical to Slade... and he was sure that had it actually been Slade in that room, he'd have slapped Maddy as well.

"Don't worry, Maddy..." thought Red X, running all the way up to the door at the end of the stone hallway and placing his fingers around the handle. "I'll beat Slade... and I'll come home."

He ripped open the door... and at a desk just to his left sat Slade, staring out into the night sky through the hole on the opposite end of the room. Red X immediately walked up to the desk, blocking Slade's view and forcing him to his feet. The Xynothium bomb was tucked under his left arm, while the detonator button was in his right hand, his thumb over the button.

"I could blow both of us to pieces right now if I wanted to," said Red X, holding up the bomb for Slade to see. "But instead, I think I'll just kick your ass and throw you out the window. That way, only one of us dies."

X set the bomb down in the corner of the room. Slade, unmoving from his desk, simply smiled as X walked back over to him.

"You want to live, don't you, Sanza?" asked Slade. Before he could say another word, Red X's fist came forward, striking at Slade's face. Slade lifted his hand and caught X's punch, squeezing tightly around the thief's fist. "If you're not going to be my apprentice, I have no more use for-"

X's fist began to glow in Slade's hand. Suddenly, a brilliant explosion engulfed both, throwing Red X all the way back onto the precipice overlooking the city below, a straight drop thousands of feet into the forest. Slade looked at his hand, smoldering from the explosion, but not nearly as damaged as Red X's... the entire center of his glove had been burned off, and there was a large blister in the middle of his hand.

"So that's why mom always tells us not to play with firecrackers," thought Red X, looking down at the smoldering wound in his hand. "If it wasn't for that glove, I'd be out an arm right now..."

"That was nothing but foolish," said Slade, walking out to the precipice and cornering X against the edge. "And now look what you've done... you've trapped yourself."

"I don't think so..." said Red X, running toward Slade with his arm pulled back, apparently prepared to punch Slade in the face. Suddenly, X slid to the ground, his right leg sweeping forward at Slade's ankle. Just when it seemed like X's attack had been successful, however, Slade leapt into the air and swung the same leg around, catching Red X square in the face. The force of the kick was enough to send him flying off the edge of the precipice. "No... not like this!"

In desperation, Red X swung out his unburned hand and managed to grab the edge of the rocky cliff with his fingers, which now gripped tenuously to the cliff's edge. Almost immediately, Slade walked up to X and raised up his foot to stomp down on X's fingers... then, he pulled his foot back, staring straight down into Red X's eyes.

"If you can pull yourself up, follow me," said Slade, walking back into the cliffside office and standing on his desk. As Red X watched in disbelief, Slade opened a trap door in the ceiling and began climbing through.

"No... YOU WON'T GET AWAY!"

Channeling an incredible amount of strength, X did a leaping somersault forward from the edge of the cliff, flipping his body upward and back onto solid ground just as Slade disappeared through the secret exit. Running forward, the thief raised his burned palm and tried to fire an exploding X... only to see red electricity sparking from the damaged glove. Cursing his badly planned-out attempt to show Slade that he was willing to destroy himself as long as it would kill them both, Red X picked up the bomb and detonator from the corner of the room and climbed up through the secret passage, entering yet another long tunnel which seemed to curl upward like a spiral staircase without stairs. X ran up the tunnel, hearing Slade's footsteps just a few seconds ahead.

"You can't run from me!" shouted X, continuing up the long, spiraling tunnel. "I'll make you pay for hurting Maddy..."

A flash of white light appeared briefly in the tunnel, accompanied by a dull rumbling... thunder, perhaps? X didn't care, continuing to dash up the tunnel despite his rapidly tiring legs and the sweat accumulating under his mask. To his great surprise, after nearly a minute of running he emerged on the other end of the tunnel... and out into the open, on the summit of the mountain, with only the night sky above his head. A flash of lightning lit up the night.

"Nowhere to run, Slade..." said Red X as he looked across the long, rocky plateau and saw Slade standing at the edge, looking out over the forest... and at the Jump City skyline.

"I know," replied Slade, turning to face Red X. "This is what you wanted, isn't it? A fight to the death, with no chance of either one of us running away?"

But Red X was planning to run away... once he'd incapacitated Slade long enough to place down the bomb, he could dash back down the tunnel and escape the blast radius before its detonation.

That is... if he even used the bomb at all. He set it and the detonation remote down by the tunnel entrance, then began walking forward toward Slade, knowing that with only one hand capable of using his X devices, he'd be at a disadvantage.

But he didn't care... he was planning on using the other hand to pummel Slade's face in.

O-O-O

Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg had a simple job... keep Omega Cinderblock distracted long enough for Robin and Starfire to break through the valve on top of the beast and expose its vulnerable inner machinery.

But if you told them it was a simple job... they'd probably disagree. Raven's energy shield was keeping her mostly protected from the barrage of boulders that Omega Cinderblock would sometimes deploy from its hands, but whenever those hands changed into fists and came at her, she was forced to put down the shield and dodge... shield or no shield, the robot's punches were deadly.

Robin and Starfire had taken a beating by staying on top of Omega Cinderblock's shoulders, but they knew that it would pay off once they'd finally broken inside and destroyed the giant stone Goliath once and for all.

Starfire's fists slammed repeatedly into the valve cover, hoping that if her energy attacks couldn't break it, perhaps physical strength would serve just as nicely. But her blows weren't even making a dent in the hardened stone, and she was getting more and more frustrated by the second.

Another of Omega Cinderblock's fists came up to try and knock Starfire and Robin from the top of its shoulders. Robin leapt out in front of it, throwing out several freeze bombs to create a wall of ice in the fist's path. The hard wall of ice shattered like glass as the fist tore through it, continuing toward Starfire with amazing speed.

"Starfire, look out!" shouted Robin, causing Starfire to turn around at the last second and extend her arms outward to block the fist. It knocked her back several feet, almost to the edge of Omega Cinderblock's left shoulder, but finally, Starfire was able to use her strength to hold the fist in place, her body straining to keep from being knocked over the edge. "I've gotta help her somehow..."

Robin leapt on top of Omega Cinderblock's arm and began raining down with a hail of bo staff blows. Finally, after nine such attacks, the fist backed off from Starfire and turned around... this time aimed straight at Robin. Robin rolled out of the way, but the fist zigzagged back around itself and came back from the opposite direction, growing longer and longer as it snaked its way toward the Boy Wonder.

While this was going on, pterodactyl Beast Boy now had a new rider... Cyborg leapt off of Beast Boy's back and onto the top of Omega Cinderblock's shoulder, watching as the beast's enormous right arm continued to grow as it pursued the elusive Robin.

"Yo, I think you guys could use some help!" shouted Cyborg, firing plasma blasts from his arm cannon at some of the large rocks comprising Omega Cinderblock's right arm. "Hang on, Robin!"

Using his bo staff as a pole vaulting tool, Robin leapt up on top of Omega Cinderblock's arm, causing it to stop in place, stretched out to nearly fifty feet in its pursuit of Robin. Its fist turned around to face the top of its arm... then, it opened its fingers and began firing large boulders at Robin, trying to knock him from his perch. The boulders he couldn't leap over or duck under he destroyed by breaking them into pieces with his bo staff.

Raven was having her own troubles, having to alternate between putting up her shield to block boulders or putting it down to dodge fists. Finally getting fed up with the monotony, Raven flew into the air, above Omega Cinderblock's shoulders. She looked behind her to see the robot's left arm in hot pursuit, its hand curled tightly into a rock-hard fist.

"RAVEN!" shouted Robin as he continued dodging and smashing boulders, with Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy helping him to destroy the ones he couldn't dodge. "Fly straight at me!"

Raven, instantly seeing the idea behind Robin's strategy, took a nosedive straight at the Boy Wonder, her body trembling in fear as the fist drew closer and closer. At the last second before the two collided, Robin leapt away, and Raven quickly flew to the side, allowing Omega Cinderblock's left arm to plow straight into his right wrist.

A prodigious explosion of rock and dust followed. Starfire wrapped her arms around Robin to shield him from the debris, while Raven created a shield around herself and Cyborg. Beast Boy transformed into a turtle and crawled into his shell, bracing himself as the forceful explosion threw shrapnel in all directions. When the dust finally settled, the damage was clearly evident... Omega Cinderblock's arms had both been completely destroyed, and only legs and an enormous torso remained. Starfire floated Robin down to the ground, with Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg following soon after. The five Titans looked up at what remained of Slade's enormous stone creature, with broken rocks and stones scattered all around its legs.

"...are we now victorious?" said Starfire, nervously looking up and down to make sure the robot had no more hidden tricks or attacks.

"The only working parts were its head and arms," said Raven, looking the enormous creature up and down. "Some magnum opus..."

Another loud rumbling began sounding from deep inside Cinderblock Omega's chest. The Titans quickly got into defensive stances, realizing that if they were going to win, they'd have to destroy the robot entirely.

"Get ready, Titans!" shouted Robin, watching as the robot's torso suddenly began to rotate downward. "What in the world is it doing?"

The torso continued to spin, until the large, closed valve where Cinderblock Omega's head used to be was facing toward the Titans. Then, with a brief sliding noise, the valve opened. The Titans were staring straight into a large, circular aperture.

"Why'd it stop again?" asked Beast Boy, his eyebrows raised as he looked up to the valve.

"Listen," whispered Cyborg, hearing a soft, mechanical noise from inside the torso of the machine. The aperture was beginning to light up, taking on a dim, white glow. Small specks of light could be seen flowing slowly into it, their movement getting more and more frequent with every passing second. "It looks like it's..."

The torso of the robot suddenly began rotating again, until the aperture was pointed downward... directly at the Teen Titans. Now they could see straight up into it... and the dim white glow had quickly turned into a bright light. Cinderblock Omega, it seemed... was gathering energy.

"It's a giant energy cannon!" shouted Robin, now wanting to get as far away from the target area as he could. "Everyone, get out of the-"

Suddenly, a tall white barrier shot up around the Titans, trapping them within a glowing tunnel of light. Starfire and Raven both tried blasting the sides of the barrier with their energy attacks, but their blasts exploded harmlessly against the barrier. The Titans were trapped.

"There has to be some way out of here!" shouted Beast Boy, his fists desperately pounding away at the sides of the tunnel. "I'm too young to die!"

Starfire's eyes began to glow green, and she quickly flew up toward the ceiling. Robin immediately noticed, and began calling up to her.

"Perhaps the barrier keeping us trapped does not extend all the way to the ceiling!" Starfire shouted down to him. Sure enough, there was a tiny crack in the barrier where one part of the rocky ceiling was just a bit shorter than the part just next to it. With some effort, Starfire managed to squeeze through the top of the barrier. By now, the cannon had nearly charged completely, and the entire aperture had become bright enough to blind any of the Titans who looked into it.

"Quickly! Raven, Beast Boy, you can-"

"No, we can't..." said Raven, shaking her head in dismay. "The gap is only big enough for one person to go through at a time... and unless we can take Robin and Cyborg, we're not going."

"Raven, Beast Boy, get out of here!" Robin shouted. "If you can escape-"

"Dude, Raven's right..." said Beast Boy, fear clearly showing on his face. Even though he was scared to stay inside the barrier and face the cannon's wrath, he wasn't about to abandon his friends. "If you two have to stay, then-"

"Dammit!" shouted Cyborg, his plasma cannon useless against the powerful barrier. Starfire floated down to ground level, her eyes beginning to fill with tears as she saw Robin on the other side of the barrier, helplessly trapped behind a wall of white energy.

"Starfire, you have to escape!" shouted Robin, trying to reach out to her from across the barrier. Starfire shook her head, pressing her palm against Robin's on the other side.

"I will go back in and join you..." she said, hanging her head in despair. "I will not leave you to die, Robin... I-"

The aperture... it was wide open, and more than big enough for Starfire to float inside. If she could get into the robot... attack its inner machinery... then maybe she had a chance... a chance to destroy it... a chance to save her friends.

She turned toward the open hole, her eyes staring straight into the blinding white flash. She had to raise her arm to shield her face... the glowing white energy was even brighter than the Sun. The cannon would fire in just seconds... Starfire knew what she had to do.

Robin saw what Starfire was getting ready to do, and screamed at her to stop, pounding his fists against the barrier. Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg could see as well... and all their mouths opened wide in shock.

"I love you, Robin..." said Starfire, wiping a tear from her eye as she turned away from Robin for the last time and flew into the glowing light, immediately feeling the white-hot energy sear her flesh. She let out a loud scream... and then all was silent.

"STARFIRE!"

Seconds later, the beam fired... a powerful ray of white energy flowing forth from the aperture... and stopping right at the lip of the cannon. The energy stopped, and for a split-second, seemed to turn inward...

And then came an explosion. A brilliant white flash, rock and stone and energy being hurled in all directions... the barrier falling as soon as the last of the debris slammed against it. Despite the danger to his eyes, Robin looked straight into the flash, searching for any sign of Starfire... a silhouette, the glint of her beautiful red hair...

Robin saw her floating in the air, her arms hanging limp at her sides. Then, her body fell to the ground like a stone, smacking lifelessly against the cold floor of the chamber with the remains of Omega Cinderblock lying all around. Robin ran to her side, followed immediately by Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg. He knelt down and picked her up from the floor, his hands elevating her head and back, his eyes staring down into her face... her own eyes were closed, her mouth slightly open, her body lifeless.

"Starfire... no..." whispered Raven, her hand to her lips. She appeared to be trying to suppress a sob, and the glint of a single tear was in her right eye. A somber look was on Cyborg's face as well, and Beast Boy had already begun to cry, tears streaking down his right cheek as he realized he was about to have another devastating loss... first Terra, and now Starfire.

Robin was speechless as he held Starfire's limp body in her hands... he too could feel tears welling up in his eyes... but he had to be strong... just like Starfire... the strongest girl he'd ever known... the first girl he ever truly cared for...

"STARFIRE!" Robin shouted again, nearly shaking her in his trembling hands. "Damn it, Starfire, open your eyes!"

"Robin..." Cyborg reached out to touch Robin's shoulder, his voice trying to calm his leader, his best friend down... but Robin continued staring at Starfire's face, hoping that he could will her back to life.

Just as the first tear began to streak down Robin's face, the Tamaranian girl let out the slightest breath... then, a quiet cough. She briefly tried to rise up, then fell into Robin's arms again, her eyes slowly starting to open.

"Are we... victorious?" Starfire said weakly, her voice strained. Raven gasped and stepped back, a joyful smile appearing on her face. Beast Boy jumped into the air, while Cyborg let out a sigh of relief. A smile crept onto Robin's face as well, and he quickly shook the tear from his eye, picking Starfire up and sweeping her into his arms in a tight embrace. With a renewed strength, Starfire wrapped her own arms around Robin's back, despite the pain still coursing through her body. "I will take that as a yes..."

"You're alive!" shouted Beast Boy, jumping up and wrapping his arms around both Starfire and Robin.

"Great job, Star..." said Raven, a smile still on her face as her hand rested on her hip. Robin's body trembled as he held Starfire in his arms, knowing that he'd been seconds away from losing the girl he loved. He didn't want to let her go, and continued to embrace her even after Beast Boy pulled away... which was just fine with Starfire. She didn't want to let Robin go either.

But the joyful celebration was about to be cut short... Cyborg was the first to realize that there were three very important things missing.

"X is gone..." Cyborg announced grimly, "and he took the bomb and remote..."

Robin and Starfire immediately ceased their hug, and a frown appeared on Robin's face. He walked over to Cyborg and took a glance at the wall where the bomb had been... sure enough, it was gone.

"How could I have let him out of my sight?" shouted Robin, his hand immediately flying to his head and grabbing a chunk of his hair. "Dammit, what if he went to blow himself and Slade up?"

"Sanza wouldn't really do that, would he?" replied Beast Boy, his eyes widening. "No... Sanza's not another Terra... he's not anything like her, he wouldn't-"

"We must hurry!" shouted Starfire, floating to the bottom of the stairs leading up to the passage carved into the side of the chamber. "Before we are too late..."

O-O-O

Red X's first punch came in faster than Slade had expected. He weaved to the side, but the punch caught him across the cheek, doing little real damage but immediately signaling to Slade that he'd be in for a fight just as intense, if not more intense than the one inside the factory the previous day. By now, rain had begun steadily falling on the top of the mountain, and a loud crack of thunder shook the entire plateau.

"Now this is certainly familiar..." thought Red X, having dealt with a similar storm in his fight with Robin in the park a few days ago. "You scared of lightning, Slade?"

Slade didn't offer up a response. Instead, he threw up a kick that hit X right in the face, knocking him straight to the ground. When he began to stomp down on his fallen foe, X raised his intact glove and formed a spinning, fan-like metallic blade on his palm. The blade ripped through the bottom of Slade's boot, catching Slade off-guard and allowing X to lunge forward with a legsweep that knocked Slade off his feet and onto his back, just like Red X was. The two opponents both stood at the same time, the fan-like blade still protruding from X's right hand, its blades sweeping dangerously fast.

"How about surgery? Would you be afraid of someone cutting you open?"

X pushed the spinning blade forward at Slade's chest, but Slade quickly wrapped his fingers around X's wrist, twisting it hard before raising it high into the air, lifting up Red X's entire body and exposing him to the lightning overhead.

"That blade of yours is metal... millions of volts would certainly fry both you and your pathetic suit!"

"What about you, Slade?" shouted Red X, the hard rain soaking the outside of his suit. "If you're holding onto me, you'll get fried too!"

Slade threw Red X to the ground, causing the fanblade to fall apart in X's hand. He landed on his side but quickly stood up, shaking the rain from his body and charging forward at Slade again. This time, he fired a concentrated Xynothium laser from his right hand, which struck Slade in the chest and caused him to stumble back. Slade didn't notice that he was standing a few feet in front of the edge of the cliff... but Red X did, and he lunged forward with a hard shove, hoping to send Slade plummeting over the side.

Slade reacted quickly, grabbing both of Red X's wrists and holding him in place just long enough to strike with a knee to the gut. He released X's wrists, elbowing him hard in the back as he doubled over in pain. Red X found himself on the ground again, falling in a large puddle of water that had pooled up on the rocky plateau. Another bolt of lightning streaked through the sky.

"Hmm... if you'd have managed to shove me, I'd have gone right over the edge," said Slade, just before kicking X hard in the side to roll him over on his back. His entire midsection now flaring up with pain, Red X looked up, barely able to see Slade's face through the driving rain. "That was pretty clever... you're almost as good a strategist as I am."

Red X's right hand shot up, firing a sticky X that slammed into Slade's eyes, pasting over them and blinding Slade. Picking himself up from the ground, Red X threw a punch at Slade's face, only to recoil in shock when Slade reached up and blocked the punch with his forearm.

"Sight isn't the only sense, you know," said the blinded Slade, leaping up and kicking Red X hard in the chest, knocking him back down to the ground. Slade stepped forward and ripped the X from his eyes, tossing it on top of Red X's battered chest. "But another nice try."

"I'm losing again..." thought Red X, the familiar sense of failure creeping back into his psyche. He really shouldn't have expected to be able to beat Slade... even when his family's lives were on the line, he was barely able to put a scratch on the man. But as Slade reached down to pick him up from the ground, Red X felt his fists clenching again... he wasn't about to lose to Slade a second time... he'd sworn to himself that he would defeat Slade... and after seeing his helpless baby sister Maddy on the receiving end of a Sladebot slap, Red X would never, ever give up.

But it was then, as Slade was about to pick Red X up from the ground, that both of them heard an all-too familiar battle cry...

"TITANS, GO!"

A flurry of Starbolts slammed into Slade, followed by a blast from Cyborg's arm cannon, hitting Slade right in the chest. As Slade stumbled back toward the edge of the cliff, wincing in pain, a powerful green rhino charged into his side, knocking him back toward the center of the plateau.

"Azarath, metreon, zinthos!"

A tree from the bottom of the mountain rose up to the top, its branches and leaves stripped off to make a powerful wooden battering ram that hit Slade across the back. Just before he hit the ground, Robin's bo staff slapped across his face, knocking him back to his feet, stumbling and moaning.

The five Teen Titans surrounded Slade, with Red X on his knees on the outside, looking in.

"What are you doing?" shouted Red X, standing up and brushing himself off. "You're interfering with-"

"You said that we'd all take on Slade... together," said Robin, shooting a glance in Red X's direction. "Those were the terms of our agreement, right?"

Red X angrily clenched his fists, a bolt of lightning illuminating the sky behind him. As Robin turned around, Slade's fist slammed into the side of his face, knocking him back. Almost immediately, Starfire and Cyborg were upon him, but Slade wildly whipped his body to the side, knocking them both away.

"This is a private party," said Slade, "and only Sanza was invited!"

"I've got my invitation right here," said Raven, wildly moving her arms as she floated into the sky with hundreds of small rocks surrounding her body. "Azarath, metreon-"

Slade's right hand shot forward, clamping over Raven's mouth and cutting her off in mid-chant. His hand lowered to her neck, grabbing tightly around it and tossing Raven toward Starfire and Cyborg, still lying on the ground in pain. Raven slammed into both of them, the three of them forming a crumpled heap on the ground.

Out of the corner of his eye, Slade saw rhino Beast Boy charging straight toward him. He turned toward Beast Boy and aimed a punch right into the base of Beast Boy's central horn, a punch powerful enough to throw all two tons of Beast Boy up into the air. He detransformed a second later, landing hard on the ground at the edge of the cliff. As Slade turned back around, shaking out his hand, he saw the side of Robin's staff coming straight toward his face. He ducked under the staff and took a punch at Robin, who leapt back and came at Slade with a kick that struck him straight in the jaw.

Slade stumbled back, and Red X leapt into the fray, slamming his fist into Slade's already vulnerable face. X then turned to Robin and nodded.

"If I can't beat Slade alone, then I can at least help..." thought Red X as Robin briefly smiled his way. "This isn't such a private party after all, Slade."

Slade rubbed his jaw with his fist and ran at Robin and Red X, who launched into a series of punches and kicks, improvising the best way to coordinate a duel attack. Slade could barely keep up with blows from both Robin and Red X, and soon found himself taking more punches and kicks than he was dishing out himself. A punch to the face from Robin was followed up immediately by a kick to the ankle from Red X, and then another kick from Robin, this time aimed at Slade's hip.

"So you finally learned how to play well with others," said Slade, briefly turning his head in X's direction. "Too bad it's not going to do you a bit of good."

After swinging under Robin's punch, Slade turned around and raised up his arm to block a kick from Red X. Then, he spun around, driving his knee straight into X's chest. The powerful blow knocked X hard to the ground and away from the fight, putting him out of the action. Then Slade turned to counter Robin's blows, the Boy Wonder's swift attacks coming hard and fast at his head and chest.

"You always did give me my best fights, Robin," said Slade, having far more difficulty in blocking Robin's attacks than he had in blocking Red X's. "Swift, agile, cunning... and already trained by one of the best."

Robin wasn't in the mood for small talk, and he leapt into the air with a sweeping kick, the side of his leg smashing into Slade's face. As Slade stumbled back, Red X stood up, charging toward Slade in an attempt to tackle Slade to the ground. What he got was Slade's elbow slamming right into his nose, already broken from the fight the previous day. Red X screamed in pain, watching helplessly as Slade stepped forward to continue his battle with Robin.

"Goddamn that hurts..." thought Red X, pulling the mask away from his face and feeling a rush of blood gush out from underneath, Slade's elbow having likely burst every blood vessel in his nose. "Son of a..."

Robin saw the blood gushing from under Red X's mask, and in his moment of hesitation to see if X was alright, Slade slammed his fist into Robin's chest, stunning the Boy Wonder. He then picked Robin up and hurled him into the hole in the plateau that led to the tunnel underneath.

With a loud battlecry, Starfire flew at Slade, blasting him in the shoulder with a single Starbolt. Before she could fire another, Slade grabbed her by the legs and tossed her into the hole along with Robin. He then saw Raven and Cyborg charging him, both of them flanking a running, roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex Beast Boy. Slade leapt over Beast Boy and wrapped both of his powerful hands around Beast Boy's tail, lifting him into the air and swinging his enormous body around in a circle.

Beast Boy smashed into both Raven and Cyborg, knocking them back into the tunnel before Beast Boy too was released, detransforming before he too fell into the tunnel, landing on top of his friends.

Meanwhile, Red X was still trying to get all the blood out from under his mask, his pride crushed by having been beaten back so easily.

"Robin was going blow-for-blow with Slade... but I could barely land a punch, and the only time I could actually hit him was with Robin's help..."

Red X looked back at Slade... and then at the tunnel, from which the Teen Titans still hadn't emerged. His rage swelling up again, he stood up and ran past Slade, toward the open mouth of the tunnel. Slade, knowing exactly what Red X would do, didn't even bother to try and stop him.

X lowered his intact glove toward the mouth of the tunnel... and began sealing it up with a thick layer of Xynothium goo. The goo hardened into an impenetrable layer of metal, blocking off the only entrance to the plateau in mere seconds.

"It's a private party again," said Red X, his teeth clenched as he turned back toward Slade. Blood still leaked from the small gap between his mask and the rest of his body, and his frame heaved up and down with every breath he took.

"Good," replied Slade, holding one of his hands behind his back. "And just to ensure that you don't try something on the order of gallantly sacrificing yourself just to finish me off..."

Slade showed his hand to reveal... the detonation device for the Xynothium bomb. He took it in both hands and snapped the remote in two, allowing its broken fragments to fall to the ground.

"With that taken care of... let's begin, shall we?"

O-O-O

Under the layer of Xynothium blocking off the top of the plateau, the Titans soon realized that they'd been barred from re-entering the fight. Robin's hands pounded the hard metal, but his struggles were in vain... the Xynothium held strong.

"What's he going to do up there?" shouted Robin, his fists repeatedly slamming into the impenetrable barrier. "We were supposed to fight Slade together!"

"Pride is one of the seven deadly sins..." said Raven, briefly remembering something she knew from the lore of Sanza's religion. "It seems that Red X has fallen victim."

"We must do something!" shouted Starfire, though she knew that using her Starbolts in the enclosed tunnel could be dangerous. Either way, they certainly wouldn't be able to break through the barrier. "Or Sanza will-"

Beast Boy gasped, realizing at the same time as Starfire what Red X might be planning to do.

"If he does that, we don't need to be anywhere around here!" shouted Cyborg. "There's another path leading up to the top of the mountain... once we get down to the base we can start climbing up from the outside... or Star and Raven could float up and-"

"Let's go," said Robin, running down the tunnel in the opposite direction. If the others were right, he and the Titans didn't have much time before... but would Sanza really try to... from what Sanza had told Robin of his hatred for Slade, all signs pointed to yes.

O-O-O

The destruction of the bomb's control device was irrelevant... sealing up the tunnel meant that Red X had no way to escape even if he did want to detonate the device.

Either he beat Slade in hand-to-hand combat, or the plateau would be his grave. No more bomb... no more chances. It was now or never for Red X... he had to prove once and for all that he could protect his family.

Slade's punches came in furiously, and somehow Red X found himself dodging all of them, his limber body swinging quickly back and forth, curving away from Slade's blows. As Slade's arm whizzed past him, he reached down and grabbed it, while at the same time throwing back an elbow into Slade's face.

Red X then spun around, shooting an exploding X straight into Slade's chest. The blast sent Slade up into the air, then back down to the ground, landing hard on his back. Pride and anger within Red X had given way to determination... and he could feel his sister's spirit flowing through his body with every punch. He could see her at his side, willing him on... and when Slade climbed up, Red X rushed forward, his legs feeling as if he had tiny wings protruding from his boots, making every step an agile glide. He swung his fist, striking Slade in the side of the face... then swung with his other fist, hoping to connect the blow that would knock Slade to the ground again.

Slade caught Red X's wrist, then reared back and struck X in the face with a vicious headbutt. Kept from falling down only by Slade's tight grip on his arm, X was taken completely by surprise when Slade released his wrist and struck him in the shoulder with a powerful chop, sending a searing pain through Red X's entire right arm. Letting out a loud scream, X stumbled back, clutching his injured shoulder... and Slade struck again, kicking Red X in the knee.

"Trial by fire," said Slade as Red X fell to one knee, struggling to keep from falling down completely. A loud thunderclap nearly blocked out Slade's next words, but X could still hear them as if they were spoken through a megaphone. "Maybe I should kill your family so you'll have nothing to fight for."

Slade's fist struck downward at the fallen Red X, but X reached up and grabbed Slade by the wrist, wobbling to his feet and raising his right palm in Slade's face.

"You've threatened my familia for the last time, Slade..." said Red X, firing out an X that stuck right to the middle of Slade's face. Slade stumbled back, and the thief fired several more Xs that stuck to Slade's chest, arms, and legs. A powerful electrical shock surged through the Xs, sending an electrical burst more powerful than the ones he'd used to immobilize four of the Titans back at Tekita Refinery combined through Slade's body. Slade cried out in pain and stumbled back even further, but he didn't fall... instead, he stopped screaming and stood completely erect as the shocks continued surging through every muscle and bone that Slade had.

"If this is your most powerful attack, I'm not impressed..." said Slade, slowly ripping the Xs from his body. "If you think the effectiveness of an attack can be gauged by the amount of pain it causes, you're completely mistaken... when you're as powerful as I am, pain means NOTHING!"

As soon as Slade had torn off the last X, Red X immediately lunged at him with another punch... but the punch was again caught by Slade, who released X's hand only to strike at him with a faster punch, knocking X onto the ground as another clap of thunder roared across the plateau. X stood up again, only to be kicked in the chest by Slade and thrown back to the ground. Slade advanced on Red X as he scooted backward, his eyes looking straight into Red X's face, which was growing more fearful by the second.

"For someone like you, a weak, ignorant fool, pain is the only thing that matters... even now you're crawling away from me because you're afraid to get knocked down again."

"I WILL NEVER BE AFRAID OF YOU!" shouted Red X, getting up and charging at Slade. Slade swung his elbow into X's face, knocking him backward and back down to the ground, where he skidded nearly a foot before coming to a stop and again scooting backward before standing up.

"When you finally accept my offer... when you finally become my apprentice, I will rid you of your weakness... you will learn not to fear pain, or anything else."

Again Red X stood, and again he was knocked to the ground, this time by a punch to the forehead. He now found himself with his back pressed against the blocked tunnel, his body once more beginning to tremble. The lightning now came every second, accompanied by instant thunder, its force powerful enough to shake the entire plateau.

"I can't beat him..." thought Red X, instantly trying to chase the feeling from his mind. "Yes I can... no, I can't..."

"Your sister, your mother... both of them weak, both of them holding you back... stop caring about them and-"

Red X rose to his feet and was instantly kicked in the stomach, his body slammed into the blocked tunnel. Slade's foot rose upward, kicking Red X in the side of the head and throwing him to the ground on his side. Now delirious with pain, Red X's vision began to blur, and he cried out as he tried to stand again, the agony of movement quickly becoming too much to bear. He winced his eyes closed, terrified as another peal of thunder crashed over his head.

O-O-O

Thunder... lightning... as a child, Sanza hated the thunder... every time a storm would come at night, it woke him up, and now, at fifteen past midnight, little ten-year-old Sanza couldn't sleep... the thunder was a constant reminder of the apparent danger he was in. His eyes wide, he stared at the ceiling for ten minutes, whispering a song in Spanish to try and calm himself down. Tears began rolling down his cheeks as the thunder and lightning got closer and closer, and he trembled under his sheets, thinking he'd die at any moment.

Sanza screamed when he saw a silhouette in the doorway, at first unable to make out who it was... the lightning lit up the room, and it was then that he realized that it was only his mother, who'd just come to check up on him before she herself went to bed.

The lights in the room flashed on, and Maria walked over to her son's bed, gently wiping the tears from his face.

"Sweetie... did the thunder wake you up again?"

Sanza nodded, unable to speak as another loud burst of thunder shook the room he was in. Immediately, he could feel his mother gently pulling him up from the covers enough to wrap her arms softly around her chest, pressing her chin to the top of his head.

"I'll stay with you until the storm goes away..."

And for nearly an hour, Maria Salazar held her son in her arms... he'd fallen asleep after only a few minutes, but true to her promise, she held him until the last faint rumbles of thunder disappeared into the night. As a light drizzle continued to fall outside the window, Maria slid Sanza back into his place under the covers, planted a single, gentle kiss on the top of his head, and walked out of the room, slowly closing the door as not to wake her son.

O-O-O

Now, more than six years later, there was no one to hold Sanza... no one to protect Red X as he lay at the top of the plateau, completely exposed to the elements, his body battered and with Slade standing over him.

"Mom... Maddy... I won't let you down..."

The first thing X saw when he looked up was a small canister, its sides still glowing red. The Xynothium bomb... and something Red X hadn't noticed before. A black button on the side, marked 'Auxillary Detonation Mechanism- 3 Minute Timer', with a tiny LCD timer beneath it.

Red X's trembling finger was poised over the button for only a second before finally pressing down on the button. Red numbers on the timer lit up... '3:00' and counting.

Remembering his mother's gentle embrace... Maddy's rejuvenating smile... Red X had made his decision, and was almost instantly at peace with it. For the first time in nearly a minute, he managed to stand up, his eyes staring straight into Slade's.

"3 minutes," said Red X, his fists clenching. "That's how long both of us have..."

"What are you talking about?" Slade replied before X gestured toward the Xynothium bomb's LCD timer.

2:57... 2:56... 2:55...

"What was it you said... 'pain is nothing'? I'm sure it'll be pretty painless for both of us."

With a cry of rage, Slade's fist slammed into Red X's face, knocking him back against the blocked tunnel.

"A coward's way out," said Slade, a hint of fear starting to show up in his voice.

"I am NOT a coward!" Red X replied, pressing his hands back against the rock and lifting up his feet. He raised them into the air and slammed them both into Slade's chest, the kick sending Slade stumbling backward. He immediately ran toward Slade, who was too distracted by thoughts of the bomb's imminent explosion to notice Red X's fist plowing into the side of his face, sending him back even more.

2:20... 2:19... 2:18...

Slade ducked under Red X's next blow, ramming his head forward and headbutting Red X in the stomach. X gasped, but didn't fall, which enabled Slade to drive the side of his arm into Red X's chin.

"Only two more minutes now..." thought Red X, ignoring the rampant pain still shooting through his body. "Two minutes until mom and Maddy are safe... until Slade is gone forever..."

The next blow that came knocked Red X back to the ground, a punch that struck X right between the eyes and planted him hard on his back. Instead of trying to strike another blow, Slade charged past X and ran toward the Xynothium bomb, with the intentions of hurling it from the side of the cliff. Realizing this, Red X stood up and delivered a chop block to the back of Slade's legs, knocking him down just short of the device. His eyes were directly in front of it, allowing him to get a clear view of the LCD timer.

1:28... 1:27... 1:26...

"If you're doing this for Maddy, you have to realize that she'll never see you again!" shouted Slade as Red X, using all the strength he had left, began pulling him away from the bomb. "Think of how she'd feel... of how she'd react... they wouldn't find your body, so she'd be in agony for years, her every hope of you being found dashed every day that you don't come home!"

Slade's appeal to reason stopped Red X in his tracks, and his mouth hung wide open.

"My God... he's right..." thought X, releasing his grip on Slade's legs. Suddenly, Slade struck him with a powerful mule kick to the face, causing his body to snap back and fall to the ground. He looked up into the sky, lightning still streaking rapidly across it. "Maddy... no, I can't be selfish! This is for her own good! If I don't kill Slade now, Maddy will suffer! Mom will suffer!"

Red X sat up and began to stand. Suddenly, Slade's fist slammed into his face, knocking him back down. A rain of blows suddenly collided with his face and chest, and Red X again cried out in pain, his screams drowned out by the thunder echoing down onto the mountain.

0:35... 0:34... 0:33...

Slade had to make sure Red X couldn't get up... finally, after landing nearly a dozen punches, he staggered back toward the bomb, leaving Red X flattened on the ground, moaning in pain.

0:30... 0:29... 0:28...

Clenching his fists and feeling the spirit of both Maddy and his mother in his body, Red X leapt to his feet, his legs numb as he dashed toward Slade's back.

"I do this for you... with everything in me, I vow to protect you both!"

0:21... 0:20... 0:19...

As Slade reached down to pick up the bomb, he heard Red X's footsteps behind him... then felt an arm tighten around his neck.

Bringing down all of his weight at once, Red X leapt into the air with his hand still around Slade's neck, the momentum planting Slade face-down on the ground.

"That's a move I like to call the RKO, bitch."

When Slade looked up, he saw Red X standing in front of the bomb, his hands on his hips.

"Think of Maddy..." thought Slade, slowly climbing to his feet. His voice was filled with fear, and his next words came as a terrified shout. "YOU'LL BREAK MADDY'S HEART IF YOU SACRIFICE YOURSELF!"

0:10... 0:09... 0:08...

Slade was going to die... and this time, there would be no deal with the Devil to bring him back.

0:07... 0:06...

O-O-O

The Titans emerged at the base of the mountain, rain drenching their weary bodies. Now that he and the other Titans were out of the tunnel, Robin had time to notice that his T-Com was flashing brightly. He took it out and opened it up... and his eyes widened in horror when he saw the readout on the device.

'Auxillary Detonation Sequence Activated' was the message, with a countdown timer just underneath it. The numbers on the display sent a chill down Robin's spine.

"What is it, Robin?" asked Starfire, walking over to look at the device. "Why did you gasp?"

When she saw the countdown, she too gasped in terror.

0:05... 0:04... 0:03... 0:02... 0:01...

A bright red flash lit up the top of the mountain... and then, an enormous explosion. All five Titans looked up at once... Mt. Cappalani looked like it was a volcano, with a huge plume of smoke coming up from the top.

"No..." gasped Beast Boy, his trembling hand over his heart. "He... he couldn't have..."

But the smoke coming from the top of the mountain sent an all-too-clear message... Red X had apparently sacrificed himself to kill Slade.

Like Terra before him, Red X was a hero... but at the cost of his life.

"NO!" screamed Starfire, shaking her head violently. "It cannot be true! Sanza would not... he could not..."

"He did," said Raven, bowing her head and closing her eyes. She too shook her head. "It was the only way to make sure his family was safe..."

"But I didn't think he..."

Cyborg soon found himself at a loss for words, along with the other Titans... Beast Boy was again beginning to cry, while Starfire wrapped her arms around Robin's back, her face pressed against his cheek. His own hand slowly rubbed the back of her head, as Robin tried anything he could to comfort Starfire.

"Sanza... I'm sorry..." thought Robin, looking back up toward the smoldering mountain. "I did everything I could to try to help... but you insisted on taking out Slade by yourself... it looks like you succeeded... but there had to be another way..."

None of the Titans were prepared for what they saw next... Red X weakly staggering through the tunnel leading out of the mountain, his head hung low. Beast Boy was the first to see him, and let out a squeal of joy that caused the other Titans, including Starfire, to turn toward the mountain entrance as well.

"SANZA!" cried Starfire happily, running toward Red X with her arms outstretched. Before she could hug him, however, he extended his hand, signaling her to stop. "...you... defeated Slade?"

Robin couldn't believe his eyes... somehow, Red X had managed to escape the blast radius... or even more incredibly, perhaps he'd survived the blast itself. Either way, Red X had survived, and Slade was eradicated...

But the dejected look in X's eyes told a different story.

"Dude... so you escaped the blast?" said Beast Boy, overjoyed to see that Red X hadn't become another Terra like he'd feared. "And Slade is-"

"Probably long gone by now," said Red X, looking around at all the Titans. His voice was a mixture of sadness and anger... mostly anger, anger with himself. "He leapt off the side of the cliff and landed on a ledge, then ran down the first path he saw. He's alive..."

The news that Slade was alive caused Robin's smile to turn into a frown... but it still didn't erase the fact that Red X had survived, which was a good thing... wasn't it?

"I used my blade to carve through the Xynothium... since my blade's made of Xynothium itself, it cut right through," said Red X. "I could've killed Slade, but instead, I threw the bomb off the side just before it exploded."

As much as Red X wanted to kill Slade... he wanted to live even more. Even as he put up the facade of not caring whether he lived or died, the fact of the matter was that as the final seconds of the bomb ticked down, his most basic instincts took over... and he hurled the bomb from the edge of the plateau, putting both Slade and himself out of the blast radius. In the chaos of the explosion, he cut himself an escape path and fled...

Red X was a coward after all.

Robin was stunned... after everything Sanza had said about killing Slade, after all Slade had done to Maddy and Maria... he couldn't go through with finishing the job? Terra had sacrificed herself to save the city... Starfire had nearly sacrificed herself for the team... and Sanza couldn't sacrifice himself to protect his family.

Slade would never stop... Sanza had a chance to end it all, and he completely blew it.

"You... you couldn't do it?" shouted Robin, his voice rising in anger. "You had a chance to kill Slade, and-"

"You know what?" said Red X, cutting Robin off. "I'm not a Teen Titan... and I never will be. I'm not you. You and your friends might be willing to give up their lives for this city, but I'm not like you. So just fuck off, Robin... that goes for all of you."

And without another word, Red X ran back down the path, away from the mountain where he'd lost his chance to end he and his family's long ordeal. He knew exactly as Robin did...

"Slade will never stop," thought Red X, running as fast as he could, ashamed at his own cowardice.

Robin stepped forward, opening his mouth to speak... but Starfire's hand clasped gently over Robin's lips, her soft touch quickly calming him.

"Let him go..." said Starfire quietly, watching as Red X disappeared into the trees. "I have a feeling... that we will not be seeing Red X for a very, very long time."

O-O-O

Sanza placed the Red X costume back under his bed, trying to fight back tears. The costume he'd stolen to protect his sister and mother... it had been seconds away from carrying out its ultimate purpose... but because of Sanza's cowardice, the suit had failed. Sanza had failed... and one day, Slade would return to menace both him and his family.

The door creaked open... and Sanza's sister Maddy entered the room, gasping when she saw that Sanza had returned. As soon as he stood up, her arms wrapped around his back in a tight embrace.

"Sanza... I thought something happened... it's nearly ten o'clock, are we still going out for ice cream?"

Sanza nodded.

"Go get ready... I'll be down in a minute or two."

With a giggle, Maddy ran out of the room, dashing down the stairs to put on her jacket. As soon as she left, Sanza walked over to the door, closing it. Then, he walked back over to his bed and pulled out the box containing the Red X costume, opening it and lifting up his mask.

He stared at it for several seconds, climbing up onto his bed and holding up the mask in front of his face.

"I failed," thought Sanza, tears welling up in his eyes. He placed the mask down on his bed and stared at it for several more seconds before turning away, a single tear falling down the side of his face.

As long as Slade was alive, Maddy and Maria were in danger... he would return... he would return for his apprentice...

Sanza had just one chance... one chance to destroy Slade...

"I don't deserve the suit... I don't deserve this duty... my promise to dad before he died... I broke that promise... my promise to myself... my duty to Maddy and mom..."

With his head buried in his pillow, Sanza broke down sobbing.

O-O-O

THE END