I've always wondered, what would have happened if the show hadn't copped out on the initial battles between Terra and the isolated Titans? Particularly, what if Robin had shown one ounce of the determination, compassion, and inner strength that he manages to in so many other episodes instead of pussing out the first time Terra buried him? Well, here's more or less how I would have written that fight. If you Love her, if you Hate her, this story is for you, so get into it already.
Agg, this is a long one peeps, but it's just so good. I couldn't find any place to put a chapter break, nor any reason to under the circumstances, and so here you have a whopper of a one shot. This idea's been burning in my brain since I first saw Aftershocks, and it feels nice to finally get the whole thing out of my system. Would you imagine it only took me one tough week to actually write it down once I started? Anyway, I hope you like it as much as I do, drop me a review when you finish.
Twisted Hearts: Tough Love
A young woman stalked slowly out of an abandoned factory, face set in a grim relief of twisted pleasure. As she absently ran a hand through her long, thick, blond hair, she was careful to avoid the bulky neural interfaces, still tender where they'd been wired into her skull. A sudden crackle of sound assaulted her where the comm. unit rested in ergonomically perfect alignment with her ear, and she knew she was about to receive her first reward for her vicious actions.
"Excellent work Terra," came Slade, in that eternally dark, dignified, syrupy smooth voice which had captivated her since she'd first heard it during that nightmare in the mines, "I couldn't have done it without you, but our conquest is not yet complete."
"I know," the young woman confirmed, a sadistic smile creeping along her face as she thought back, back to all the things she'd done, the terrible betrayal she'd wrought in the name of this man who'd taken her under his wing.
In the space of an infinitesimal pause, she considered their faces, the visages of those she'd deceived, broken in hate and suffering as she'd disposed of them. Cyborg, cold and distant in his reviling contempt before she'd dumped him into the void. Starfire, utterly shocked… unable to comprehend the magnitude of the hideous evil that she'd kept concealed, disbelieving eyes staring at her as she swatted the bitch into the raging sea. Raven, fury and pain that defied imagining driving her from her sanity, leaving her raging for blood unto the moment she'd drowned in the mud. And of course… Beast Boy, the staggering agony of his heartbreak fairly bleeding from his eyes when she crushed his body as she'd crushed his emotions. Each flashed through her mind in turn during that brief instant, and then she finished her statement.
"…four Titans down, one to go."
The comm. link died with another crackle, and the blond set her mind immediately to the next task. As she considered carefully how to track down the Titan's wayward leader, she felt the grip of her body armor, the all-encompassing pressure of the special synthetic body tape that went beneath it and covered every inch of her, and she recognized an unpleasant sense of urgency sizzling in her veins, conveyed by her pulse to every extremity of her body. It was as though if she didn't proceed quickly to her next task, something would catch up with her, something she'd been running from, something she'd been driving from her mind with constant concentration on the orders the Voice was always only too willing to dispense. She hastily pushed those unsettling thoughts away, instead trying to think of where Robin might be, when a sudden roar of engines drew her sight upward with a jerk.
She had a split second to recognize the distinct silhouette of the R-cycle before a shining ellipse filled her vision, then her world exploded into motion. There was the sound of an impact as her vision blurred, a breath of cold washed her face, and the next thing she knew she was head over heels, chewing dirt as the cold in her face gave way to a raging flame of heat. Reacting to her long training, she suppressed the rush of panic and confusion that followed the sudden pain, instead dragging herself slowly to her feet, taking in her surroundings for the coming fight. There was the sound of a body touching down in front of her, and she instantly surmised it to be her opponent, lifting her eyes upward to peer out at him through the veil of her shining blond hair.
He stood there silently, body taught with the promise of action, shadowy form just barely illuminated by the pall of the city lights bouncing off the nighttime overcast. As she watched and came fully to her feet, he shifted slightly, stepping into a classic combat stance, feet spread and hands extended.
"Ahh," she muttered mildly, as her pulse began to race in excitement, "a kick in the face… quite the cheep shot for one of the good guys." She accentuated her taunt by rubbing a hand idly along the visible mark his metal-shod boots had cut into her forehead, narrowing her eyes in malicious eagerness for the approaching, finalizing bout.
There was no response from his corner, and she gritted her teeth against a flash of anger at the way he was ignoring her. He was supposed to be out of his mind with rage, crushed by the way he'd failed in every responsibility he felt toward those insufferable friends of their—of his. As she thought again of the way she'd smashed her other four opponents, the frustration dissolved and her blood began to boil slightly as her excitement peaked, and she found herself in the hot embrace of full villainous ecstasy.
"What's the matter Robin," She began her next taunt, her voice dripping with sarcastic contempt, "feeling lonely since I exterminated all your friends?"
"They were your friends too," he whispered, and his voice was like a sword made of ice, slicing a cold path into her mind. She was staggered by the sudden wavering in her mood, her excitement giving way to anger and uncertainty, or maybe that's what it had always been, and it had simply taken that terrifying voice to pull her from denial.
"I—I don't need any friends!" she shouted at him, somehow unable to keep a hint of uncertainty out of her voice. She brushed the last bit of dirt off of her arm, noticing an odd, clingy quality to it, but then took up her own fighting stance, putting away all thoughts other than completing her victory. Bowing to the strength of her discipline, all emotion left her as she prepared to fight.
"We'll see about that soon enough Terra," Robin spoke in that same chilling voice, moving his hands through a complex motion of measured poses and stretches, then settling into a new fighting stance. Without another word, he beckoned her forth with the curl of a finger, and she, beyond caring about his strange behavior, answered the taunting gesture with action.
"Prepare to meet your pathetic friends!" she shouted at him, charging in with reckless abandon, overwhelmed by a consuming desire to destroy him, to eradicate the last glaring reminder of 'what could have been' from the face of the Earth. She reached him quickly, launching a flurry of punches, each one met in turn by a simple block as he retreated slowly from her advance. With a grunt, he reversed momentum, sweeping aside her arms to launch his own attack, a quick series of light blows coming right back at her to meet her blocks, testing her own defenses as she'd tested his. She tried to match his reversal with one of her own, but he grabbed her arm easily as she tried to sweep his punches aside and caught her cold, her heart skipping a beat as her eyes widened in a flash of panic.
Twirling her through a spectacular overhead throw, Robin planted her face into the soil for the second time and twisted her arm painfully around her back, spreading a fire of agony through her shoulder and side as he capitalized on the hold and stamped his boot onto her spine, grinding her chest against the ground, compressing her body even through the armor. She opened her eyes from wincing against the blow, and her vision was filled with the face of a young, blond woman staring back at her, her reflection as cast by a large, discarded piece of glass jutting from the ground nearby. She looked into her own wide eyes as she struggled for breath, and that terrible, ice-cold voice came at her again.
"Look at yourself Terra," he nearly whispered as he continued to grind the breath from her body, "look at what you've become." A simple request, devoid of emotion, devoid of accusation, devoid of ulterior motive.
So she did.
She found herself staring into the mirror, transfixed by the image of the familiar face twisted in pain, bulbous neural interfaces grinding into the dirt, a single eye visible as her other became obscured by a spill of her golden hair. She saw no trace of the little girl that had wandered out of the wastelands northwest of the city, no infinitesimal speck of the weakling that had fled mewling with the terror of rejection from Titans Tower. Instead she saw the shadow of a great man, cast across her face and body, making the nothing she was into a something. Robin's disgust was a stinging recollection of the beautiful young woman who'd walked away from the Titans a second time, but that was wiped away by the greater sensation.
She looked on, and without responding in any less meaningful way, she made Robin know what she felt as explicitly as possible.
Her power released in a burst that shoved a rock upward into Robin's ribs, knocking him off of her and a tossing him to the side. He slapped the ground as he went spinning away and brought himself safely to a crouching stance, and immediately he was looking at her with that intense, masked stare, utterly emotionless in his cold consideration.
"Are you proud?" he asked simply, perfectly still and yet still conveying so much undiluted strength and danger.
"I'm just never going to be good enough for you!" she screamed, driving forth the answer without thinking, infuriated that he couldn't understand the greatness Slade was helping her to achieve, the heights of glory and power that the old her could never have hoped to attain.
"Idiot!" he spat right back, and the word was heated—such a shocking departure from his tone that it literally froze the breath in her throat, "You only ever had to be good enough for yourself!" With that last comment, he stood to full stance again, and Terra's mind blanked, combat erasing any consideration of that phrase, almost as a defense against what such an understanding might do to her resolve.
Not hesitating another moment, she raised the earth itself beneath her feat and catapulted herself at her opponent, striking out with a kick that planted deep into his stomach, knocking him back and bouncing him off the dirt once before he could flip back to his feet. She followed forward with a small barrage of stones from the left, but a flash of metal and the harsh report of resounding impacts announced that he'd drawn his weapon, deflecting her small shots. Hardly fazed, she raised two larger stones with sweeping motions from her arms, grunting with the effort of launching them at him.
Expertly aimed, they threatened to crush him, and she felt a thrill of triumph. That thrill quickly died as a shadowy blur arced in high over the stones, leapfrogging off of one to bee-line directly for her. Another flash of metal and she was flying, her head and neck leading the way as her whole body was flipped around by the force of metal on flesh. No sooner had she impacted with the ground, face once again aflame as she struggled to bring the world back into focus, before that shadow crowned over her, cold metal pressing into her flesh, slightly compressing her esophagus and posing a very real threat.
"I promised Beast Boy that I'd give you another chance… and this is it," he muttered down at her, face so empty, so terrifyingly cold, "I know you aren't a bad person, and I know what Slade can do to twist your mind—but I escaped from him, and so can you." As his words forced their way insidiously into her mind, gnawing away at doubts that weren't supposed to exist, Terra mounted her ironclad denial, furious at what he was suggesting.
"When are you going to get it?" she screamed her question as best she could from under the metal squeezing down on her throat, "I'm not some scared little girl waiting to be saved!"
"You can only save yourself," he retorted, not the slightest flicker of emotion registering as he pinned her down. With that, Terra's heart contracted once in an unbearable pulse of fear, and she responded in the only way she knew how, the compulsion as undeniable as the creeping terror overcoming her senses.
"I don't need saving!" she screamed, lashing out with a kick that shattered his weapon then blowing him away with a second kick to his chest. As he flew away, doubled over by the force of her attack, she flipped up to her feet, shaking the gravel from her hair as she compressed all of her fear and doubt and channeled it into the hate, just as she'd been taught.
"Don't you understand Robin?" she asked him as her fury bubbled through her body and mind, burning away all lingering hesitation as her ultimate mission approached culmination, "I wanted to be the way I am. I wanted to be like this, and I wanted to annihilate you and your pathetic friends." She approached closer to his prone form as she spoke, her fury breaking the ground into a thousand shattered pieces, smoke of the earth's own vicious heat venting forth in sympathy for the fire burning in her soul, searing her very spirit with its all-consuming hunger.
She approached closer, and it was as though she could feel the world around her phasing out, every iota of her existence funneling down to this singular moment, her life itself hinging on this solitary action. Robin tried to get up, to face her with that insultingly calm stance once more, and so she struck with an occasional small stone to explode next to him and keep him off balance, denying him that petty defiance before her moment came.
"And now," she said, finally standing over him and looking down with eyes glazed by hate, levitating a large stone over his body, preparing to crush him and so doing complete her victory, "I never want to see your face again!"
At her mental behest, the stone slammed down, the sickening boom of its impact confirming her success, its mass entombing the last thing tying her to that hideously confusing, heart-tearing period of her life. She turned away quickly, her whole body shaking with the magnitude of her excitement, her soul-chilling thrill of victory, and she took several careful steps as she tried to come to terms with it. Staggering in numb confusion, she spotted an emblem imprinted with Robin's insignia lying forgotten on the ground, and immediately reached to pick it up. After staring at it for some minutes, gazing at it in uncomprehending wonder as she gasped for air, mind blank and every nerve alight with sparks and needles, everything snapped into place.
She'd won, and with that victory came complete justification, complete vindication of everything she'd done to work towards it. Slade had been right, and in this moment, all doubt and fear was truly gone from her, her rage was slaked with the death of her final former ally, and the magnificent high of the victor shot her gloriously above and away out of the mire of near-guilt and half-regret she'd ignored only with great difficulty these past weeks. She felt a kind of wonderful, delightfully malignant peace settle over her mind, and was floating away on a platform of stone the next moment, utterly content, completely at peace for the first time since betraying the Titans.
She didn't hear the motion of shifting stones. She didn't notice the grim eyes staring up at her with that terrible, soul-shearing pity. She couldn't have known that it was this pity, transforming suddenly into total resolution, that motivated the electric disk into the air, that directed it toward the stone she flew upon, and that caused her to be blown forcefully from the sky. All she knew was that she was suddenly twirling uncontrollably through the air as she plummeted toward the ground, only a completely reflexive move to soften the earth beneath her saving her from being broken by the long fall. Stunned by the impact none the less, she was jerked to attention by the Voice, unexpected and hot with anger, snapping into her ear.
"Terra, what are you thinking!" it came in harshly, "Stop daydreaming and finish your job!" The anger in that voice did much to motivate her, and she was up in a flash, her eyes glowing yellow as she focused them on the shadowy stone field before her.
It was already too late.
The first thing to greet her face as she pried it from the ground was a fist, snapping her head around before she had a prayer of getting her orientation, an accompanying kick to her ribs flinging her back and bouncing her off a chainlink fence. She reeled from the hits, bringing up her guard only to have a cheep shot into her guts drive the air from her, and still she could not see who assaulted her. Before she'd finished doubling over from the body blow, a forceful knee met her face in a nauseating clash that flipped her head over heels backward, her heel was caught out of the air, and her mind shorted fitfully out of whack as she was flipped full out the other direction, impacting with the ground 180 degrees opposite of where she would have a moment ago, striking so hard that it drove the breath, and for an instant, the very consciousness from her body.
She was left numb, the sound and light of the word coming back in snips and crackles, the accompanying return of searing pain to her body hardly making it worth the trouble. That man still had her left heel in his hand, and as she twisted to strike him and break that grip, he twisted back, twirling her leg to one side and then kicking her in the side of the knee like he was trying to break a stick.
There was a sickening pop as her femur was dislocated from the rest of her leg, and she screamed out as the intense pain blinded her, compelling her to empty her lungs as fire broke through her body. She gasped for air, her mind loosening in the throws of shock, and as she stilled on the ground, Robin dropped her shattered leg and fell on top of her, straddling her body with his thighs and pinning her, bringing his face right up to hers, even as she struggled to breathe.
"Terra, I'm sorry," he whispered gently into her ear, some indefinable but undeniable emotion finally coloring his tone, "but I can see now that there's only one way to get you to snap out of it."
"Snap out of what?" she bit out viciously through a haze of pain, still too disoriented to pry him off of herself. "The only one here who's going to need help is you—after I bury you!"
"Ha!" he backed away from where he'd whispered from before snapping out that contemptuous bark, his entire demeanor altering with a sickening twist to his face, the expression under his mask draining away to utterly nothing as he stared down into her eyes. "You pathetic weakling… I'd like to see you try."
Her mind exploding with the force of her sudden rage, a yellow glare flashed from her eyes, the ground around them bucking terribly at her undirected power pressing into it. Before she could will the stones to rise up and smite his detestable body off of hers, there was a glint of metal as a stinging blow whipped in from the right and snapped her head around. The world blacked out, then snapped back into focus with a white flash, and she found herself staring over to the side as her head lolled limply on the ground. The ringing in her ears died away, and she listened detachedly to that monster's voice raining down on her as the throbbing, bar-shaped fire curled through her jaw.
"It's almost funny Terra," Robin began, his voice taking on an edge of maniacal joy as he expressed his amusement, face still so frighteningly devoid of emotion that she dared not look up at it. "I wanted to be this way!" he mocked her, wracking a pained heat from her chest, "I wanted to be bad! Well, I only wish I could believe that… it would make things sooo much easier for me to just haul your ass in… but you're not a good enough liar to have pulled off that whopper, bitch!"
As he cursed down at her, voice atwist with revulsion, spitting her comments into her face and accusing her of deceiving no one but herself, she felt it getting to her. The haze in her skull was awful, lingering flames of pain crawling through her jaw and right into her brain, degrading her carefully built walls with undiluted agony. So weakened, she could feel the force of truth in his words, could feel it pressing down on her from above, and it slowly began to choke her very heart.
"We're you're family Terra—we are!—US!" he screamed into her face, "Do you really think we'll let that slime-bag steal you right from under our noses? Do you really believe we'll let him take anything else from us!"
The hideous counterpoint between the raw feeling of his screams and the utter calm of his face towering above her threatened to break Terra then and there, her rather delicate grip on her sanity quickly disintegrating as pain and fear mixed with hate and confusion to boil her mind. Then the Voice came again, speaking its smooth honey into her ear, a balm as comforting as any panacea washing gloriously through her wracked consciousness.
"Come Terra… I have no patience for weakness," Slade spoke, the threat implicit but ignored as the girl grasped at the words like the last rope in a storm, hanging her survival on his presence. "It's high time that you and I worked together to show Robin just how wrong he is." So inspired, the young woman's grimace of pain twisted languidly until it was a manic smile, and she turned it up at her assailant slowly.
"Slade can't steal something that's always been his, Robin," Terra said calmly, giving over full control to the shadow walker connected to her brain. Her eyes glowed yellow again, and once more the merciless metal bar arced in as punishment, but this time it struck a raised stone, another set of slanting stalagmites spearing out of the dirt to punt Robin off of her, knocking him away into a roll that brought him back to his feet easily. Scraping herself up to her knees, she glared at the boy wonder, her knee in agony but all that beside the point as Slade's strength, cunning, and mercilessness supplanted her own in her body.
"You see Bird-boy," she heard herself taunting again, "you can't take me back… because you never had me in the first place!" and she ended her scream by striking the ground with both fists just in front of where she crouched, sending a shockwave of broken earth jetting toward that hated silhouette. He leapt away, and her eyes tracked the motion, her power splitting the ground where he would land and jutting a dozen razor-pointed spikes of stone to meet him. As he whipped out his partially damaged staff and vaulted away from the spines, her power moved again, projectile stones launching from the earth, only to be deflected by a flurry of staff strikes, a sudden, distinct whizzing noise announcing that he'd grown tired of passively avoiding her attacks.
Instantly a shielding wall of stones raised before her, deflecting the electric blue explosion and effortlessly washing it around her. She pressed her power into the dirt to elevate herself, only to face an unexpected flash of light. The next she knew, she was deaf, dumb, and blind, her body whipping through a storm of heat as she felt herself propelled unbearably through the air, then the exacting press of her friend, the earth, as it kissed her a sweet goodnight.
A pain in her chest woke her with a jerk, her pulse fairly jumping out of her body as she twitched in unbearable all-over stimulation, writhing in the dirt, skin crawling and every hair raised against the sensation. When she could finally bring herself to stop, she gasped for air, panic clouding her mind, choking out what little reason she'd been able to maintain of late.
"Calm yourself child, I had your armor shoot you with adrenaline," spoke the Voice, and she obeyed instantly, focusing on those sweet syllables and using them to guide her back to sanity, crawling back up to her knees at its behest. "Robin used some kind of explosive… the stones themselves blew up in our faces. He might just be more serious than I had consid—"
Slade's voice was interrupted by a harsh clang and a concussive impact in her spine, the forceful swat of an unseen assailant bearing her once more to the dirt. Slade forced her to slap the ground and roll away before a second blow could spear into her exposed kidneys, and the metal bar clanged into the empty space as she counterattacked without thinking. A new spear burst from the soil, a slam and leap announcing that Robin had clipped its point before disappearing once more into the dark sky, and she searched for him in vain as she summoned a swirling storm of moderately sized rocks around her body to hold off any further sneak attacks.
Kneeling in the dirt, surrounded by a shield of spiraling rocks, she felt herself slipping into fear once more, despite the unwaveringly confident presence controlling her powers. Robin was fighting like a devil possessed him, ruthless blows and honorless, deceitful strikes unlike anything she'd ever seen from him before. Did he really hate her so much… so much as to try and kill her? It was this above all else that made her body quake, made her stomach twist, made her spine tingle—this overwhelming sense that here and now, tonight, someone was truly out to end her life.
She was afraid.
"There!" Slade snapped into her ear triumphantly, bringing her attention away from her quaking heart as they spotted Robin's erect, powerful, shadow-draped shape standing in the darkness. He was holding something out in front of his body, and as Slade mercilessly struck out from every direction around him with spines of rock to crush him, Terra couldn't help but feel a flash of terror at what it might be. He sprang directly upward, clearing Slade's attack even as her powers shot flying stone spines into the air in anticipation of this dodge. For an instant, it looked like Robin would be impaled, but then Terra's world was forcefully rearranged yet again.
Without warning, one of the many stones orbiting her body went off like a bomb, the expanding fireball sweeping her aside through her own earthen veil and pitching her through the dirt with a tailing dust cloud like a runner sliding home. A terrible ringing blotting out the world's sound, she crawled dazedly to a single knee, her hand coming up suddenly and a vicious pain exploding through her arm as a resounding clang spoke of the blow meant for her head that it had intercepted. A follow up strike arced in from directly in front of her the next moment, and her hands were up and there to catch it, her palms going numb as she twisted the weapon out of Robin's unprepared grip and swept his feet out.
The agile man cart wheeled to the side, shooting out a line on the fly to wrap around his staff, jerking it with far more force than she could match while on her knees and catching it easily as it sailed through the air back to him. He twirled it demonstratively through a complex pattern that wove around his head and to either side, then planted one end into the dirt and leaned on it. It seemed that he wanted to talk, and it seemed Slade was willing to give her the slight breather.
"You… aren't fighting like your normal self," Terra heard herself say, squeezing it out between huffs and puffs of acrid, dust-filled air, Slade speaking with her voice.
"I'm fighting the way I need to fight," Robin answered cryptically, much more curt and disdainful than vicious, as though he was no longer addressing the object of his efforts kneeling before him. "On the other hand… you aren't fighting like your normal self either," Robin went on, a chilling grip carried with his voice to touch Terra's spine, his eyes narrowed perceptibly behind his mask as he endeavored to drill his sight straight through her skull, "which seems to me a much more interesting fact. How exactly are you doing that—Slade?"
Terra felt her heart thunder out of control the instant Robin announced his understanding, her blood threatening to burst from her veins as is shot painfully through her throbbing body. Then the situation reversed, and she snatched at the thought as a source of saving grace. Slade was with her, and that meant something.
"You're going to love this Robin," she heard herself bragging out through the haze of pain and confusion baking her brain, "This suit is a neural interface—"
"Don't tell him!" Slade snapped into her ear, but her taunt, already begun, would not stop tumbling from her lips.
"—Slade is always with me, and together, we'll get rid of you once and for all!"
Despite the frightening curses Slade muttered into her ear, her heart swelled with confidence for the first time in a while. That was why it was so disconcerting when Robin began to laugh. The low, almost pained chuckle rolled across the open field and brought the fear instantly back, Terra's whole self aching with every guffaw.
"My god Slade," Robin finally spoke, pushing himself off of the staff and beginning to approach slowly, "it never ceases to amaze me… how many ways you can find… to reduce a person into a tool. Bravo—really, quite well done."
The sarcasm in his voice cut through what remained of her confidence like a spotlight through mist. The implication that the wonderful support her master had deigned to grant her somehow reduced her to a meaningless weapon, an expendable unit in his greater vision—it just struck too close to home for comfort. She actually found herself wavering, her pained fatigue, massive disorientation, and growing sense of inferiority ganging up on a sense of self-assured nastiness she had thought invulnerable ever since Slade had collected her from her espionage mission.
"Don't listen to him Terra, he's just trying to poison your mind," Slade promised her, "you are my chosen apprentice, and it is time we taught this upstart just that. Your loyalty to me is absolute, and together we are unstoppable."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," a new voice whispered in her ear, sending a jolt of shock through every nerve and hair she had, a startled choking from Slade's end betraying his own surprise as Robin joined their comm. channel. "However," that cold voice continued contemptuously, "I will admit that your command of cheesy propaganda and silver-tongued showmanship is quite impressive. Does he always feed you such crappy lines, Terra, or did I just catch him on an off night?"
"How did you get this frequency!" Slade's dire tone betrayed anger, threat, and perhaps the slightest bit of embarrassment as Robin finally caught him off guard. Terra was freaking out, the sudden presence of multiple voices so intimate within her head doing nothing to alleviate her fear as she kneeled in agony.
"What did you think I was doing just now, trading witty banter with my nemesis?" Robin retorted cruelly, the implications for what he thought of Terra at least quite clear. She watched him as he stepped oh so slowly closer, body taught with barely restrained action, and heard Slade growl into her head, feeling it as he forced her still-abundant strength to pool in her hands where she had them pressed into the ground.
Without warning, four fists blasted out of the soil, two to either side, and the writhing, crawling dirt caved in around them, allowing two faceless earth golems to pry themselves out of the ground. Terra was still in awe of the way Slade did that, and she let her mind free from her concerns for a moment as she lifted off from the ground on a new platform and got some distance above the scene. The pain made it hard to think, but Slade's own lust to see Robin's blood was infectious as it tingled along her neural connections, and she found herself staring down with wide, eager eyes as the two golems surrounded the young warrior.
"Really Slade," Robin taunted over the comm. line, "using the same trick twice? You're loosing your touch, you evil bastard."
Terra felt Slade's flash of fury at that comment, and she was suddenly commanding the golems forward to crush him. At the same time, she found herself reaching deep into the earth beneath Robin's feet… changing things. Terra once again felt blessed to be on Slade's side, the winning side, and her doubt all but evaporated as she realized why this wasn't going to be the same attack.
Robin didn't wait for the golems to attack. Instead he pointed at them with his outstretched arm as he had earlier at her stone shield, and the two creatures detonated like huge gasoline bombs, the whole area rocking with the shockwave. Terra was blown backward, flipping several times around and around the stone she clung to, barely able to keep her perch as heat and sound washed over her in buffeting waves. Clouds of black smoke bellowed up from the smoldering remains, and not only had her secondary attack been interrupted, but she'd completely lost sight of Robin.
Pale trickles of steam began to gout from the earth as her attempt to boil the young man erupted half-heartedly after the unfinished manipulations Slade had been into, compounding the visibility problem exponentially. At the same time, the hot mist, harmless rather than hideously deadly as it had been meant to be, was still too warm to penetrate with a thermal scan, the tool buzzing at her uselessly as she struggled to re-attain her target. All this became moot as there was a sudden beeping noise, and only Slade's reflexes allowed her to leap from the stone before the explosive stuck to the bottom could tare her body apart.
As it was, the concussion from this one pitched her down into the mist gracelessly, the ground rising up to meet her as she hit it in a saving acrobatic roll that ended with her on her knees, the agony of the jarring blow to her injured leg forcing her to grit her teeth. It took some time for the hurt to diminish enough to look around, but the steam was so thick that she could barely see her own hands, much less her opponent, and the hot moisture clogged her throat and made her muddy as it began to condense on her filthy armor. Automatically she began planning for another mud battle, the ever bellowing and twirling fog simply denying her a target.
"Now it's time for me to teach you a lesson Terra," came Robin's voice, directly into her ear, frightening the wits out of her and completely breaking her attempt to search him out. She was on edge, pain and fear loosening her grip on herself and washing most of the discipline she'd learned clean away. "It's not a lesson that I dispense lightly…" he spoke softly over the comm. line, voice almost sultry as he hid in the hot steam, "if it were anyone else but my friend, I wouldn't be able to bring myself to do it."
Terra felt something crackle fitfully and then shatter in her mind, as though the last straw had been dropped feather-light onto the camel's overburdened back. As a soft breeze blew through the choking steam and the sound of the unsettled ocean washing rhythmically against the shore tickled over her ears, she trembled.
"I'M NOT YOUR FRIEND!" she screamed rabidly into the mists, her power flaring enormously with her raging, desperate fury, twin yellow glows erupting from her eyes to strike through the mists with an unbroken iridescence, bright as burning magnesium. She couldn't be his friend, couldn't be anything but contemptuous of those detestable teenagers and their obnoxious lifestyle, had to have nothing but hate and disgust in her heart—it simply couldn't work out any other way—her mind just couldn't survive any other scenario—not now, not at this point. That single, pure fact focusing her mind, she let her full strength burst forth from her fingers as blinding lamps sheared like small yellow suns through the steam, reflecting and refracting a billion, billion times in silent sympathy for the undiluted emotional agony.
With a single desperate pound from her joined fists into the damp soil, she let loose. Unable to contain it for an instant longer lest it implode in a brilliant burst of yellow lights and skull fragments, she dumped everything in one shot. All of her gathered power, all of her swamping, drowning, miserable emotion, every ounce of spite and jealousy, every drop of contempt and envy, everything went right into the ground all at once.
There was a momentary quiet, all glow and flash dead, all emotion and sensation destroyed, leaving her empty and alone in the silent, impenetrable mist…
…Then the earth bucked wildly once, shattering the mystical silence with a singular expression of its sympathy, and after continued to vibrate slowly as though the harp of the planet had been plucked and was now harmonizing to the tune of cacophonous apocalyptic eradication.
In an orgy of motion, sound, and destruction, the ground, even the very bones of the planet itself, rose to her call, arriving to her agonized summons as a loyal beast to its mistress's heel. With a jerking and shaking that shattered buildings and felled trees, a great chasm split the earth, cracking open along a margin that speared left off of the cliff and was swallowed by the ocean, and right along the shoreline for more than a mile before splitting into the ocean as well, separating an inconceivable mass of stone from the land and setting it sliding into the sea.
For a moment the land's own inertia kept it vaguely intact, though the pressure caused by the opening crevice did suck down the great cloud of steam into the reaching darkness below. As Terra cast about desperately for her opponent, a deafening roar of crumbling rocks and rushing water assaulted her ears as the lips of the chasm began to shatter and tumble down and the seawater sped into the opening space to begin its embrace of the land-cum-island she'd introduced it to.
"It will be a lesson in PAIN!" Robin shouted into her ear, and Terra had just enough time to flip around where she kneeled and watch her back before Robin caught her with a flying kick in her newly exposed chestplate that blew her backward and carried them both into the chasm's reaching emptiness. Terra reeled from the kick, grasping out with her depleted strength at the stones that fell or tumbled down around, above, and below her, seeking desperately for some relief to her plummeting descent. It was not to be, as Robin dove in from behind her in midair, grabbed her around the shoulders, and kicked her mercilessly into a wall, the counter force pushing him back to the opposite side as they twisted in free-fall.
Robin kicked nimbly off of that wall and returned to his fall as Terra was set to tumbling down the incline, using her powers as best she could under the constant beating of stone to soften and slow her motion. Finally, she caught a stone just as it was breaking away from the wall, pressed her dwindling strength into it, and managed to ride it safely down to the arching crease where the shattered new island was sliding down and away from the mainland. Even as she watched, pulling her airborne vessel up and away, the water came rushing in from the near side of the ocean, sweeping beneath her with irresistible power to make it's mindless dash for the twin tide that even now must be approaching from the opposite end of the chasm.
She maneuvered deftly out of the gaping hole, dodging falling rocks and exploding water spouts until she reached its end, ever unable to hear or get a true orientation as the unnatural upheaval of nature she had brought forth continued to reshape the face of the planet in its small, unbearably extravagant way. Then Robin spoke again.
"From the pain will arise a greater understanding…" he whispered now, the comm. unit in her ear superceding even the body-numbing noise and vibration permeating the air as the earth itself growled out its suffering.
The comment alerted her, and she rotated the platform to look back in the chasm, finally spotting Robin jetting through the storm of rock and water on an inconceivably long grappling line he'd anchored into a stable hunk of wall. Nearly all the terrible momentum of the hundred or so foot fall was focused in the tension of that wire, giving Robin unbelievable speed as he trimmed the line to shift left and right through debris, his path unerringly proceeding directly to her. She flexed her power anew in undisguised panic the moment she spotted that red and black streak, but even as set after set of enormous stones attempted to clap shut on him one after another, closer and closer each time in her desperate attempts to destroy him, to end this terrifying battle, she simply could not time the shots right, her distress too advanced for even Slade's steady hand to correct.
At the last moment, as he was shooting up at her with hideous force, metal-shod feet impending like a set of twin cannonballs, Slade finally got a grip on her, dodging her floating platform down and away out of the arc Robin would need to smash into her. By some impossible reflex, Robin anticipated the dodge, and using a motion that no human eye could have caught, he released from the wire at exactly the right instant, slinging off of it with the full force of his swing and blurring past Terra with his staff extended, inconceivable momentum meeting the insignificant inertia of her right shoulder in a shot that shattered bones effortlessly and blew her off her platform like a marble off of a rubber band.
There was no pain, not for the long, long, slanting fall down to the raging ocean, nor for the buffeting skips over the surface that her numb body took with minimal complaint, nor even after she came to a slow rest in the ice-cold ocean water, its freezing bite sucking away the light and any lingering sensation the mauled bones in her shoulder and arm might have produced. Knocked completely silly this time, it was all she could do to beg for help.
"Slade… please…" she croaked just before slipping under the waves, the words carried to her absentee guardian and sponsor by the mic lashed to her throat.
"Of course my child, you still have work to do after all," his sickeningly calm, unbearably smooth voice answered, utterly unconcerned for her welfare. None the less, her powers activated, and her slowly sinking dead weight was lifted upward by a cloud of seabed that solidified into a kind of raft, rising until she broke surface again.
Immediately her ears were accosted by the unreal noise of the crumbling cliff, which had been muffled underwater, and the sound managed to bring some sense back to her as she coughed out seawater. As she took stock of her pummeled body, gingerly searching out the extent of the damage to her right shoulder and left leg, among the many things that were dangerously numb at the moment, she couldn't help but have certain thoughts pass through her mind.
Why, why, why had she ever gotten into all this? Why had she come out west… why had she met the damned Titans… why had she gotten Slade's attention… why had she accepted his offer for control, power, revenge…? What had possessed her to believe that she could feel safe, that she could ever have a place to belong, that anyone would ever accept her and her volatile, deadly powers? As she realized that her arm and shoulder were broken in at least six places, and that only the pinching deformation in her armor caused by the blow was cutting off the burning agony it should be causing, unreserved tears of terror and regret began to run down her face as she sat floating on the pitch black sea, bathed in choppy, ice-cold water and the constant roar of stones crashing into the ocean. Nothing Slade had done to train her could possibly have prepared her for pain and fear like this, and she wanted nothing more this moment than to be asleep in a warm, safe bed.
"The first step of deeper learning is Regret," Robin's voice spoke into her ear, ethereal and detached in an emotionless way, the sudden break in the roaring of the ocean shocking her from her reverie. As she realized just what he'd said, how immediately she was conforming to his guiding fist, a deeper cold penetrated to her heart, and she began to shiver in earnest as the salty water dripped down her hair and face, mixing with her tears.
"Damn—" Slade snapped when he heard Robin's voice on the comm. line again, then, "Stop simpering and finish your job Terra. Victory must be ours, no matter what the cost."
"Come now Slade, stop playing with the frequency, I'll just keep finding the new one," Robin admonished the man mockingly over the line, "you can't stop me from conveying to Terra what she must learn."
Terra was, meanwhile, ignoring them both, stomach having turned to jelly at the thought of trying to fight the way she felt right now. Her every nerve was wracked, her body was pierced through by cold, and she had no useful motion out of two limbs. Her heart began to pound faster and faster, its ever-increasing tempo shooting tiny lances of pain through the places she still had feeling, but otherwise did nothing to extract any action from her panic-frozen shell.
"Terra!" Slade screamed into the headset, sending a screeching pulse over the airwaves that struck her skull through with a lance of agony and dragged her attention firmly back to the present. "I gave you and order, don't make me give it again!"
"Slade—please," she heard herself begging weakly, "I can't fight anymore—I—I need a doctor—"
"Shut up!" he overrode her whimpering requests without hesitation, "Robin is only one man, one fighter. You will not retreat until you have crushed him, you will not receive any more help than you already have. You are an embarrassment to me already, and if you cannot eliminate Robin… you will become a liability," he croaked the word out with every imaginable shade of murderous threat dripping from his tone, sending crawling flashes of heat through Terra's body, all quieting as the ear piece died, and she knew she would not hear his voice again over that line.
At first, her mind refused to register what she'd heard. In a desperate attempt to stave off epic self-destruction, she found herself incapable of comprehending his words. Alas, she was not strong enough to keep up saving denial for more than a moment, and as the words sank in, the bottom fell out of her world.
It had finally happened.
She was being rejected, rejected and ridiculed by the one person she'd placed her complete trust in, the one person she'd gambled giving her heart and soul to since the first time she'd been hurt, oh so long ago. In a way, she'd always known it was coming, no matter what she did to garner his favor, no matter how she bowed and scraped, pillaged and destroyed, murdered and robbed, she'd always known this moment would come someday, simply because she'd never truly believed in happiness. As she knelt in numb shock on the platform, she realized how much a difference there was between knowing your most secret desire would be crushed, and actually feeling your last hope crumble to powder.
In the face of the gaping emptiness that was gorging itself upon her heart, the echoing hollow area spreading out like a sink hole in her soul, all regret became beside the point, all misery a pale shadow of what it had been. There was simply nothing left… nothing left at all… and only a single dangling hope for salvaging the palest shadow of what, only minutes ago, she'd firmly grasped with the entirety of her twisted heart. Face set in a numb mask of utterly complete internal destruction, Terra pried herself to her feet, floating the platform out of the water as she staggered on her useless leg. Right arm limp at her side, she brushed damp hair from her face listlessly with her left, no longer noticing the stinging chill of the ocean wind across her wet armor.
"ROOOOBINNNNNN!" she suddenly screamed across the waters, her voice overpowered by the raging sea as stones and debris continued to rain from the slowly sliding island, the rage and hurt in her tone drowned by the hopeless, bitter hate that seethed through her broken spirit. Tears as acrid as the salt spray saturating the air traced wandering paths down her cheeks, visage set in a terrible porcelain mask of indifference as everything smashed against the brink within her, teetering on the final precipice between reality and the impenetrable darkness of utter insanity. "ROBIN!" she yelled a second time, "you've stolen everything from me! Come out and fight—fight me now!"
"The second lesson is the Face of Oblivion," Robin's voice came to her clearly through the comm. unit, almost as sinister as Slade's in its heartless caress, "come… let me show you its darkest reaches."
Suddenly a grapple shot out of the pitch blackness of the raging ocean, wrapping her up around the arms and waist and jerking her from her perch before she could react. The line was on a fast retractor, and Terra was dragged face-first through the water, her high speed making the fluid as hard an unyielding as sandpaper, screeching against her armor and leaving her exposed face a stinging, burning mess. Buffeted by water, her injuries exploded in pain, her screams letting in the cold sea to choke and muffle her lungs. The next thing she knew, a great platform of stone was outlined in front of her, reaching powerfully up from the sea, and she was speeding toward it far too quickly.
With a grim expression of her power, Terra blasted the platform, shattering the side she was rushing toward and grabbing a large chuck of the broken portion before it could sink. Jetting it forward with a massive press from her mind, she used it to catch herself as she skidded to a slow halt on the waves, finally managing to pry herself from the icy brine and take flight once more over this new area, empty eyes searching frantically for her prey.
Barely audible over the deafening sound of rushing water was the prominent whispering of well-thrown objects, followed by the clang of metal striking stone, and the night was suddenly lit up.
The enormous, flat-topped island of rock that Terra had partially destroyed was illuminated beneath her by the stark attention of two flood lamps dug into the raw stone, casting their unyielding glare from either side to drench the night in the death of darkness. At the converging point of the lamps, dripping wet as she was, standing tall and confident with weapon in hand, was Robin, granting her the clearest invitation imaginable. In the background, the roaring of the ocean as it swallowed the new island came to a sudden and painful halt, the sea having gotten its fill of the stone, whose deep roots had finally buried into the muck and sand of the ocean floor deeply enough to give even its inconceivable mass pause. There was the shocking silence of whispering winds and hissing waves no longer disturbed by the earth's mighty roar, then a final, ear-spiting crack as some horrendous stress was released out of the mighty stone's quietude.
Like the shot to start a race, the noise unleashed the climactic action of this struggle for life, death, and oh so much more.
Since words failed her grief-smothered mind, Terra said nothing as she struck. With a grisly precision that had failed her while mere rage and hate controlled her, she kicked up a storm of stone chips with the merest wave at the soaked ocean platform, sending the whirlwind of razors at Robin from directly forward. He danced away easily, his eyes never leaving her where she crouched above him in the sky, watching her intently as, with further gestures of glowing hands, she summoned another three such pebble storms in turn.
With one storm on each side of him, all encroaching closer from every direction, Robin still did not look away from her. Even as she turned the rocks he stood upon into shackles that lashed him in place, his gaze never wavered. When the glowing golden twisters were finally pinching him in from every side, when the minute blades began to cut him here and there, opening red welts on his skin or ricocheting painfully off his armor, still, still, still he wouldn't look away. The empty pit within her itself began to feel the reach of that stare, began to be drawn out by its intense depth, began to run out of her, whether in terror or in fatal attraction, she couldn't have known.
All she knew was that she couldn't force the storms to converge on the source of that baleful stare.
The instant she flinched, the very second she stopped the storms from destroying Robin in the violent burst of blood and gore they most assuredly promised, he flashed into action. With two quick flicks of his staff, he shattered the shackles, then planted his weapon into the rock and vaulted a ludicrous distance into the air, flipping and using the motion to fling a birdarang from each hand. The blades flashed in at her faster than she could possibly have avoided, slicing her platform neatly into thirds. Reflexively, she caught herself on one third and managed to glide down to the rock island, still too shocked by her hesitation for the idea of a counterattack to even occur.
Robin did not even remotely share her reticence.
The second he touched the ground, he came in at her with a right hook that turned her around, following through with a punch combo to her head and stomach that left her seeing triple. She found herself cringing away from his blows, cowering on her unsteady footing as he mercilessly pummeled her with his bare hands. Every reflex was broken, every survival instinct evaporated from her pristinely shattered psyche, and she was soon barely able to keep up on her one good leg as punch after punch endeavored to shatter her body in kind. Finally a sharp snap kick to the guts bent her over hard, then he busted his staff over the back of her head full force, slinging her to the ground. Her world was stars and fire, but she hardly noticed, even when his boot came in and punted her in the skull, turning out the lights.
She tasted oblivion.
The taste was broken when a wash of chill water poured over her body, shocking her back awake with its unbearable icy bite. She gasped for air, choking down the sea's body and her own blood with her desperate need to breathe, her eyes snapping open to be lanced by the harsh glare of Robin's flood lights, right up until that sinister shadow fell over her eyes. Every last drop of fight beaten mercilessly from her body, gone and beyond the limits of her sanity, having lost everything she had left to live for, having been broken from even a dream of vengeance by the demon in man's flesh overshadowing her, she found a kind of peace. It was the peace that came to one awaiting nothing but death.
"Do you have any questions about the lesson so far?" Robin asked gently, and she tried to turn her eyes upward to look at him as he spoke, but she couldn't make anything out with the light at his back. His shining silhouette took on an ethereal air as the image percolated through her beaten, pain-wracked mind, and along with his chill tone, she could have believed it was the reaper himself standing over her.
"Why… why can't I kill you?" Terra asked, some last dying spark of defiance, or perhaps genuine curiosity, managing to find its way to her tongue as her body commenced the process of becoming terrifyingly numb.
"Good question—with a long answer," Robin responded to her morbid query without hesitation, then knelt down until she could look up through eyes shaded by fading consciousness into his own grimly masked visage. "There are two main reasons you couldn't kill me Terra, and understanding these two things will lead you to the next part of the lesson." Robin took a short moment to brush the hair fully up and off of her face, then went on, voice devoid of all the spite and arrogance she'd expected.
"The first reason is that I have something that you lack, and this thing makes all the difference in a battle like ours, a battle of willpower, faith, and confidence," and as she finally managed to catch glimpse of his expression, she was shocked to see sadness tempered by compassion lurking under his neutral façade.
"Don't tell me!" she managed to choke out sarcastically, and then emitted a dark chuckle that was clipped short by pain. After coughing out more blood, she managed to finish, "it's friends right? That's what you were going to say."
"Stop being so blind!" he ordered harshly, the clear anger in his voice striking her through with terror. She was beyond broken, and the slightest heat to his tone was a frightening experience, much less the bark he'd snapped out at her. "We both have the same friends…" he continued more gently, when he noted just how far gone she was, "so that couldn't possibly be it.
The thing I have, the thing that you lack so completely, is resolve Terra. Resolve is what you need to win a fight like this, and the rather sorry shadow of jealousy, hate, fear, and petulance Slade helped you scrape together wasn't going to do the Job. Even when he cut you loose, even when you had nothing left to loose, you still lacked the resolve to strike me down, to see my blood run red over these rocks. It's because you aren't a bloodthirsty beast, you aren't the evil and vicious person you've been pretending to be, and without enough resolve, one can never violate one's actual, true inner nature."
"I… had enough… to kill your… our… friends," Terra spoke slowly as true darkness began to overcome her mind. It sounded like a taunt, but at heart it was more of a plea, a reaching desire to feel the feelings of victory and contentment that had been pummeled from her body, to confirm that her path had been true, no matter how disgusting. She didn't know what she felt anymore, she was actually too numb to really feel anything at all, be it extremity of body or height of emotion.
"Which brings me to the second reason why won Terra. You see, you didn't have enough to kill our friends—not by a long shot." Somehow, she managed to contort her broken face into a thousand-mile stare of disbelief mixed with pure failure to understand. She'd watched the Titans die, she'd murdered them and Slade had congratulated her… they… couldn't be…
"We're the Titans Terra, you were one of us, you should know by now…" Robin continued to talk calmly, enunciating clearly as he spoke to Terra as one would to a small child, "…a Titan isn't dead until you've felt his or her pulse slow to a stop under your finger. I know that, and so I have no fear for the others." Robin paused meaningfully, and Terra was suddenly struck by the realization that this was the true key to the lesson right here and now. "Slade…" Robin actually had a hard time breaking it to her at first, like a father trying to tell a little girl that her pet kitten had died, "Slade also knows that Terra."
She'd thought she was cold before.
It was as though someone had stopped the process of permanently turning off her life in mid-reaping, so much of a dire reaction did this accusation evict from her failing body. Her pulse, a faint afterthought, a slowly decreasing tempo ticking away the last moments of her existence, suddenly exploded in her chest, rushing a hot new life to every inch of her body. What Robin said was inconceivable, it implied and explained such enormous volumes of deceit and deception that to even entertain it as possible threatened to completely blow her mind. There simply wasn't any way—never.
"LIAR!" she screamed at him, a bellow forcing its way up from the depths of her bruised diaphragm, punishing her with hot shooting pains from her broken ribs when she tried to inhale for the rest of her desperate rebuttal. In her blind refusal to believe, her eyes began to pulse with her power once more, and that was clearly something Robin couldn't have. He stood swiftly and, moving in a smooth fluid motion, whipped his staff around a full arc, clubbing her firmly in her shattered knee.
Streamers and spots of black danced before Terra's eyes for some seconds before she'd stopped screaming, gasping in air again and once more being punished by her mauled abdomen. She eventually broke down into quiet tears, the occasional wracking sob eliciting unbearable pulses of agony from her injuries, everything coming back to life with a stinging fire as the need to escape the terrible burden placed upon her mind gave her a burning desire to live again. Dying with such a belief in her heart… it simply wasn't possible.
"Believe it Terra, Slade was playing you from square one," Robin began to speak, his explanatory tone edged with heat rather than compassion as he stood over her brandishing his staff in both hands, as though waiting for the next moment he'd have to break her defiance with an outpouring of crawling agony. "Please, just try to tell me one thing he did for you." It was not the request it was phrased as, and seeing that staff move fluidly through the air, Terra recalled everything she'd ever been thankful to the dark criminal mastermind for.
"He—he taught me control!" she managed a harsh whisper, desperately wanting to avoid the lightning in her ribs.
"Fool!" Robin spat at her, his staff striking the ground next to her head so hard it turned the stone there to powder, piercing her ear with the sharp report of the crushed rock. "Slade gave you nothing but an illusion and cheap words!" Robin yelled down at her, and she cringed away, beyond terrified of new pain from the source that had dragged her to the pits of hell this night. "While you wallowed in the glory of getting a grip on your power, he was molding you into a tool, stealing all control from you while you were distracted by a phantom of your dream's realization, transferring it all to himself without you ever realizing! You haven't been in control for a single instant since the moment he captured your heart!"
"NO!—STOP!" she screamed wildly, desperately, manically, and he punished her instantly with a fierce poke to her agonized guts, stirring up a whole new world of pain there. She'd known the punishment would come, but the pain was of secondary concern, no physical pain conceivably capable of matching the wracking, searing, piercing, murderous suffering that loomed closer with every self-evidently true word he spoke. Curled up as best she could manage with her arm and leg so damaged, she allowed the scene to fall to silence, only the incessant lapping of the nighttime waves washing around their perch to break the palpable sense of impending doom that loomed over her.
"He never beat on me," Terra managed to whisper from her improvised fetal position.
"And you figure you should thank him for that?" Robin asked sarcastically, heat in his voice receding as he watched her cower, "think he was doing you some kind of favor? Slade is one thing Terra, one thing that transcends thief, kidnapper, and even murderer." Robin paused for a second, as though waiting for her to guess, and a single word indeed crawled up from the shady parts of her mind as she shivered on the cold stone.
"Sadist," Robin voiced it for her as she said it in her head.
"He's the most vile and cruel kind of person Terra," Robin continued, "The only thing he enjoys more than inflicting the maximum amount of suffering possible on a person… is himself and his megalomaniacal dreams of domination. You were going to be a kind of psychopath blue light two-for-one special."
"Stop…" Terra begged quietly, unable to take the words that struck unrelentingly on her mind, more than willing to return to the physical variety.
He did not, and he would not.
"By manipulating you Terra, he was going to get everything he wanted at once. He knew your background, he traced your history, and he discovered your deepest, most secret desire, perhaps knowing what it was even when you didn't. I know this because I did the same thing—after you betrayed us—and it was from this that I came to understand you, to know you in a way that the others couldn't. The knowledge is what gave me the resolve that allows me to do this." Robin slowed for a moment and planted his staff on the rock gently, his shadow falling over Terra's face once again as she withdrew further and further inward, so much wanting the soul-shredding march of the truth to end, to leave her to her delusions of happiness so she could die in peace. "He knew Terra, he knew that you didn't wander the land searching for friends and companions…" and there was now the most mysterious bit of pain in Robin's tone, "… but rather, that you searched for the approval of your long-dead father."
"Noooo-ohho-no…" Terra moaned weakly, Robin's words dredging up the deepest, most miserable memories she possessed—the ones she thought long ground away by the pain of starvation and loneliness that a wandering orphan was ever doomed to. Her father, the vicious, condescending, abusive center of her young world, the only person whose respect had ever mattered to her, the person who had died in an earthquake she'd conjured to stop the beating.
"With that intelligence, it was easy for him," Robin continued grimly, refusing the respite she so pathetically whimpered for. "Easy for him to use you, to pull your strings like the puppet you've been, dancing his dance as you waited at his heels for any scrimp of expertly faked emotion he might hand down to you. Enthralled by what he could offer you, it was simple for you to abuse our trust, to infiltrate and backstab, because we never had anything you wanted—or at least I'm sure that's what you've been telling yourself."
"Slade—Slade wanted me—he came to me—he wasn't like my father—he was different!" Terra screamed out her last flailing attempt at a denial, the absolute need to escape the reality Robin was weaving wrenching the defensive outburst from her lungs in short gasps.
"Face it Terra!" Robin screamed right back at her, so very much stronger than she was, "Slade wanted nothing from you but the suffering he could reap from your blind faith in him. He didn't hit you for the same reason that I am—the first lesson is pain. As long as you hadn't learned the pain of defeat, you thought you were invincible, and it was simple to feed you a few victories over the others, all too stunned by your betrayal to find this resolution," and Robin brandished his staff meaningfully to denote exactly the resolve he meant, and then pressed its cold metal tip along her limp jaw, pulling her shock-widened eyes upward to meet his ubiquitously masked stare.
"Slade was counting on that, counting on us going soft on you, giving up, and coming back with resolution only the second time… the resolution to defeat you that we've always held for Slade himself. That would be his feast, Terra, the ultimate harvest of sorrow, this confrontation where he would throw you to us, watch you crumble, then finally, sacrifice you to destroy us all. I know him Terra," Robin was almost manic himself as he proclaimed this knowledge, "I know him better than anyone else ever could, and so I know this to be the truth!" Robin let that shout dangle away to nothing as he got a hold of himself again, then trailed back in with "…But there was one thing he didn't—couldn't anticipate," and Robin's tone changed, no less able to crush her, but slightly less vicious about it, "and that was just how many lines I was willing to cross here… now… tonight."
Terra did not deign to respond. The extent of the trauma done to her spirit by this total mindfuck could have no possible measure, no determinant bound, and she was approaching something not unlike catatonia as her reality crumbled a little more with every word from Robin's mouth. She was rocking slightly on her side, her shattered-bone fetal position wilting as she tried to shake her whole body in refusal of the undoing she was experiencing.
"But consider this Terra," Robin began again, seemingly dead set and determined to drive every last poignant nail of this nightmare firmly into her skull, "You may not have wanted anything from us, but we were always fully willing and able to give you our complete trust and friendship. No matter how you may or may not have felt toward us, we were always your friends—and more. I said it once, and now again: We are your family Terra—we are—US!" He was screaming now, lost in his own unbelievable anger and frustration. She cowered on the stones, cringing away from the coup de grace as he finished his nightmarishly perfect torture of words with this extravagant flourish.
As she trembled, the last thread snapped.
It was clear to her now… so very clear that beneath the crushing pain choking her life away, she wondered how she could have ever missed it. It broke her, it broke her with a pain greater than any shattered bone or bruised organ, it really and deeply broke her, this diabolical knowledge that had finally been beaten into her brain by the enormity of Robin's resolve. Slade had found a way to hurt her that went deeper than any torture could ever reach, that went to greater extremities than any lesser sick mind could ever have conceived of. He'd convinced her to willingly trade away the trust and friendship of a family and to embrace a shiny lie, an ephemeral shadow of her secret dream that he turned into a noose to hang her with.
Bitter, bitter, agonized tears rolled down her face in a steady stream. She felt so low, so insignificant, she wished for nothing more than for her friend the earth to reach up and swallow her, to suck her down and away from the travesty she'd made of her world. Anything, anything to end the pain, to stop the suffering that she'd walked blindly and willingly into, that she'd practically begged to be granted, all the while inflicting terrible, inconceivable, unforgivable sins upon the only family she'd ever had. To have held it all in her hands, to have had the world, and then to have not only given it up of her own free will, but smashed it to pieces, dashed its guts out, and ground it beneath her foot—she could find nothing, no words, no actions, nothing at all that could possibly express what she felt.
"Robin—!" she choked, a sob wracking her body with pain and cutting her off, "I—oh god—please!" she choked again, simply unable to say anything that would remotely match what she needed to get out. Her insides were disintegrating, her mind was pulling apart, and she was left without the means to communicate how utterly, absolutely, and totally sorry she was for the betrayal she'd wrought.
No words were necessary.
"The next step, the next lesson, is Remorse," Robin stated simply, giving her a long minute to wallow in tears and pain, a high breaking wave washing up over the stones and dumping its freezing load over her sniveling shell.
"Please…" she was reduced to begging, "Please… I can't take… I can't…" She couldn't stop her tears, she couldn't stop the hurting, she could never be sorry enough for the evil she'd wrought… there was only one thing that could silence her agony…
"Kill me…" she whispered to him, her voice empty of everything but the pure desperation of her plea, "I don't deserve to live, I don't deserve friends, just let me go…"
"Sorry Terra," Robin answered her last request with a dead tone, "but I can't let you leave until you've learned the lesson I came here to teach you."
"NO!" she snapped unexpectedly, thrusting herself up on her good arm and leveling a stare of desperation far beyond the cusp of sanity directly on the painfully detached Boy Wonder, "I can't take it!" she shrieked and cried simultaneously, "I can't—don't make me—!" but her insane, terrified, agonized ravings were cut off by Robin's ever-rigid resolve.
His staff's glinting metal described a rather fantastically wide, circular arc as he gathered torsion and momentum, then slammed it without reservation into her already destroyed right shoulder.
The unreal pain shot through the barrier of her pinching armor like it had never existed, washing her with agony and basting her with lightning shocks of suffering. Lacking the strength to scream out her protest to this ungodly hurt, her mouth formed the unvoiced screech anyway, her lungs simply unable to overcome the shocking electric pain that blanked out her mind and washed all reason and intelligence from her eyes, sending them into an unfocused glaze that well-complimented her gaping, silent scream. She could never have lost consciousness under the press of that pain, it was simply too great to be so ignored, and so as system shock slowly choked off the agony, she was left once again a quivering, trembling mess.
At the same time, her mind had been cleansed of the choking, suicidal grip of remorse.
"Enough, remorse is the short step—and don't contradict me while I'm trying to finish up the lesson," Robin stated coolly as the purifying wash of agony cleared the emotional turmoil from her body and left behind a quaking shell of a young woman. "There will be plenty of time for you to reflect on what went wrong later. Death is too easy an end for you Terra, you have the potential to manage so much better than that. Besides, the simple fact is that if I wanted you dead, if I wanted your death to be the result of this encounter, I'd have murdered you long ago and not wasted my breath inflicting this misery. Unlike Slade, I'm not a sadist, and this brings me no pleasure."
Terra managed to get her wandering eyes to focus on him somehow or another, and she saw a grim finality come across his face. She was fading quickly, but an odd curiosity overcame her, and it must have transmitted to her face, because Robin interpreted he question beautifully.
"Didn't you wonder how I was making the rocks explode back up on the cliff?" Robin asked rhetorically, raising his voice to penetrate the paralyzing effect of shock slowly engulfing her. "It's really quite amusing." Rather than say more, he reached into one of his belt pockets and drew out a handful of something, then casually flicked it into the air. A fine dust exploded from his fingertips, sparkling in the bright floodlights, and gently floated on the ocean wind. With a flash of motion, Robin pulled something else from his belt, a kind of remote, and pulled its trigger while it pointed at the dust cloud.
It was as though the dust cloud had be set alight, every sparkling speck bursting with an internal force that was impossible to conceive by proportion to their minute size. The fireball was fantastic, and it lit the ocean with its red glow far beyond the reach even of the powerful lamps Robin had struck into the ground. As the heat washed over her in a teasing kiss, she felt an odd tingle along her spine.
"Nano-detonators on a fine powder of plastic explosive," Robin explained, "I knew I'd need an edge, so I picked some up from my contacts at Wane Industries before I went to find you. I dumped a ton of it from my bike before the fight even started. We're both coated in it, and it'll take a lot more than seawater to wash it off."
It was clear to her now, clear that Robin had never been willing to take a chance on all of this. He'd been dedicated, prepared, and as he'd mentioned ad-nauseam, resolved to teach her something this night, though as the blackness of exhaustion edged her vision and her injuries were packed away by her body's overloaded nerves, she couldn't have said what that lesson was. The only thing she'd learned was her own worthlessness, that she was by far the lowest creature in existence, and that there was nothing that could conceivably redeem her friendships. Also… her hand was twitching, though she did not will it to.
Her leg suddenly snapped upward in a kick that knocked Robin's detonator control high into the air, a sweeping strike that riddled her body with fresh pain taking the surprised man's legs out the next moment. Before she knew it, Terra had planted her good arm onto the rock and spun up to her one working leg in a vaulting flip, snatching the explosive controller as it fell and simultaneously encasing Robin under a dozen rock arches that strapped him to the ground, utterly immobilized.
"Terra, what—?" Robin managed to get out, before Terra clamped down on him with the shackles and pressed the breath from his body in a merciless squeeze. There was the sound of his gurgling moan as the air escaped inarticulately, and at last Terra had time to be stunned by what was going on.
"What—how is this…" but she didn't need to complete the thought for the source of this motion to flash into her head. "SLADE!" she screamed out, having almost managed to block out memory of the monster after the nightmare Robin had stuffed down her throat. "Slade—what are you doing!" she spat the words, knowing the beast could hear her no matter where he happened to be cowering at the moment.
"Why Terra, my dear girl," Slade's voice, his wicked, deceitful, nasty voice, crawled its way into her ear again, and she cringed away from the sound, even as he attempted to seem surprised and hurt by her short tone, "I'm simply trying to help you complete your mission. You see, after watching that delicious display of emotional torture—for which I must truly congratulate you Robin—I changed my mind about giving you aid. You're going to kill the bird boy with his own toy—"
"NO!" Terra screamed, desperately trying to regain control of her body, "NOOOOOO!" she bellowed in panic and insane determination, sparks flying from the neural connectors in her skull and chest armor.
"—and then you're coming back with me so we can spend a little quality time. There's not much point in lying to you now that our perceptive little friend has let the cat out of the bag," and Slade's voice was dripping with sick anticipation, "so I'm going to assure you in advance that you will not enjoy what happens to you before I've finished preparing you for finalizing the others. It was such a nice plan… I would so very much have enjoyed to see you writhe in pain as your former friends subdued and imprisoned you… before I forced you to drop the city on them… but alas, my former apprentice once again proved his mettle where I had not expected it."
"GAAHHH!" she shrieked her frustration to the air, her attempt to stop her finger from closing on the triggering mechanism in complete vain. She could hear Slade laughing at her attempts to wrest control back from him, could feel the way he toyed with her hand's grip, giving her a little slack only to reel her finger back in the next moment, taunting her with her utter inability to resist his commands. Her heart felt ready to implode from the speed of its pounding, her every muscle was cramping and burning with the tension she forced against his willpower, but it was nowhere near enough.
The trigger depressed.
There was a long silence, and then the trigger depressed again. Then again, and again, and in a moment Slade was clamping her finger onto the device in a rapid succession that raised naught but a quiet clicking noise. Terra was so stunned by the lack of explosion that she lost all resistance as Slade reflexively held the detonating device up to her face and looked at it through the camera mounted in her chest armor.
"This isn't a detonator!" he yelled suddenly into her ear, "this is a—NO!" he ended with a scream of rage and panic, attempting to draw back her arm and fling away the hated object. Before he could halfway complete the motion there was a beeping sound from Robin, and Terra's world was lit in an entirely new way.
The object that she had confiscated from Robin began to buzz in her hand like a live wire, and like said electrical conveyance, it shot a current of shocking power through the tape and armor coating her body. The buzz spread across her skin in a split instant, flashed behind her eyes, and blew out the interfaces on her skull like two popping fuses. The moment the shock passed, she fell limply to the ground, crumpling onto her good knee then keeling over onto her working arm. By the time she could breathe again, Slade's voice, his presence, and his irresistible commands where all long gone.
An insistent tapping sound brought her sporadic attention definitely back to Robin, whose feet were striking their metal-shod soles together as he slowly suffocated on the hard rock. She was struck by the memory of his situation immediately, and rushed to release the earth's grip with a wave, allowing him to gulp down long gasps of sweet ocean air the next instant before he rolled off his back to aid breathing. No sooner did he have air in his lungs again, however, before he was busting it out in harsh, coughing laughs.
"AH-ahahah-hahahah!" he spat the mirthful sounds into the dirt as he regained his breath, and Terra, badly shell-shocked and still disoriented from her recent electrocution, was unable to perceive the source of his humor. He would explain, of course.
"I can't believe he fell for it!" Robin exclaimed as he brought himself to his knees, his laughs dying down only with reluctance, "such an obvious decoy—and he kicked it right out of my hands!" he finished prying himself to his feet as his excited laughter died out, collected his wayward staff, and turned back to where Terra knelt on all fours in utterly muddled cluelessness.
"I couldn't get a read on the signal of his direct link to your interfaces, not from any kind of range," Robin explained a shade more calmly as he looked over the smoking, burnt-out electrical interfaces still stuck to her skull, "so I got him to analyze it for me—many times, though one was enough to target my special E.M.P."
"What the hell's going on?" Terra asked, riddled with disorientation on so many levels that they ran together into a mess of impenetrable fog around her brain.
"I gave Slade the boot," he said right back to her, "so now we can finish the lesson."
"I'D THINK AGAIN BOY WONDER," spoke a booming voice over the waters, and both youths took a hard startle from the sudden deafening noise, Robin jumping into a fighting stance and glaring around the reaching darkness while Terra crouched and cowered reflexively.
"Slade!" Robin spat his contempt for the unrelenting villain, a little of something else hidden beneath his disgust, "just what are you up to now?"
"Oh Robin," and Slade sounded genuinely disappointed, "you've been on such a hot streak, do you really need me to tell you what comes next?"
Without waiting for him to answer, Slade played his final gambit. All along the shoreline cliffs looming up over the ocean, spotlights began to light one at a time, describing a line that stretched endlessly along the horizon above them. Holding up an arm to shield his eyes from the glare, Robin saw something that made him stiffen in fear, forced him back a few steps in sheer disbelief. Wincing against the glare of so many lamps, Terra soon saw it too.
All along the shore, red dots attached to stiff, motionless humanoid forms blinked languidly down at them. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of Slade Bots lining the cliff, and all their weaponry was trained on the relatively tiny stone outcropping the two teens had been struggling upon.
"If you will not dance to my tune," Slade explained emotionlessly over the loudspeaker, his voice gone harsh with emptiness, "then I will expel you from the party… permanently. If the puppet has to go too… well so be it, the other Titans won't stand a chance without their leader to rally around, so I don't really need her anymore."
"No…" Terra heard herself whisper, sensing more than seeing the sudden wash of defeat that crumpled Robin's form, twisting like a knife in his chest as he was finally trapped by something he really couldn't hope to escape from. "No…" she whispered a second time, and this time she did it fully of her own will, a slow yellow glow gathering around her hands and dripping down from her eyes along with her tears as the determination grew in her heart.
Sudden resolution filled her empty shell like warm water flowing into a vase.
"You're not going to hurt him," Terra spoke the words like a grim promise, and Robin looked at her in surprise as she began to rise slowly from the ground. Her confusion was gone, she'd moved past any pain that crying would help, and she was left with nothing but a deeper hurt that only action would cure. She had to act, had to show what she felt, and it was this pristine desire that spread a golden glow through every inch of her body, the pure geomagnetic force of it all lifting her freely from the stone outcropping and upward into the air. She was soon glowing like a tiny star, and when she spoke, her voice was like the whisper of wind over mountains.
"Slade, I will not let you harm my friend," she said, "though I am hardly worthy of calling him that anymore. I don't care what it costs me… I will protect him."
No sooner had she spoken the words than she knew their utter truth. She no longer cared if she lived or died, she'd already squandered everything worth living for, traded away her friendship for misery and torture, and betrayed all that should have been important. Nothing she could do would repair that harm, ever—but perhaps she could improve herself in their memories. With a silent apology to Robin for lacking the strength to live with her pain, she threw off every last barrier and felt her life force flow out through the lens of her power.
The glow around her tripled, and she rose up and toward Slade's forces like an iridescent golden flare.
"Terra, wait!" Robin screamed at her, and she couldn't help but look back down as he raised a hand and pointed at her, not with fear or concern, but with dire warning. "Did you forget already! Did you forget about your lesson! You can't go until you've passed the final exam!"
"It's too late Robin!" she screamed back over the sound of innumerable energy weapons charging their power sources all at the same time. She turned away from the platform, and a terrible rumbling overtook the earth and sea in anticipation of the calm, quiet, compassionate force that surrounded her body, the last of her life all gathered into a shield that would protect the terrible, wonderful man who'd saved her and damned her all at the same time.
"Stop right there Terra," a powerful male spoke, and for an instant, she mistook Robin's voice for Slade's, so dire was its tone. "I promised you that I would teach you something, and no matter what you may think, you haven't learned it yet."
"That's not important anymore," Terra complained, her vision so clear in her own mind that she couldn't understand Robin's insistence on telling her more still.
"I'll be the judge of that," Robin clipped the words into her back as she formed her power into the wall it would need to be, already able to feel her body stiffening, hardening, the lifeless flesh taking on a different form in the moments before her end. "And the question of final judgement is simply this: why?"
"Why?" she asked, finally hesitating in her headlong attempt to die a hero's death and be free of the miserable existence she'd drawn for herself.
"Why did I do this for you Terra," he elaborated quickly as Slade's artillery armed and aimed, "why when it would have been so much easier to have given up and let Slade's plan show you the truth, why when I've had to violate my every principal, why when I've had to forsake my deepest feelings, what could possibly motivate me to do this for you? If you can tell me what it is, then you will have learned what you needed to know," and his voice died to silence as he left her with that deceptively simple question.
Terra's mind became unexpectedly tangled around those three letters, the query echoing in her mind a thousand times as the world slowed down. As it had with the moment she'd thought she'd found complete victory outside of that forsaken factory, the entire universe came to a sudden pause, her existence focusing in on the one moment of understanding that truly mattered.
It was not hate, not vindictive spite, no kind of revenge, no matter how much it hurt, because he'd made it clear that the puppet she'd been all along was beneath his hate.
It was not mere friendship, because a friend is someone you call to move a couch, not someone you shatter every moral principal you've ever held to reach out to.
He'd spoken of family, but until this surreal instant, she'd been unable to distinguish this from friendship, for it wasn't as if she'd ever had one of these before. What was it that made them a family, that gave them this superseding, overriding, ubiquitous responsibility and compassion for one another, the selfsame force that Robin was extending to her at the expense of his integrity, at the expense of that which made him himself and not a monster like Slade? No matter how many times she went over the questions, only a single answer came back. But if that was it, then she'd been all wrong.
Her sudden certainty struck her harder than Robin's staff ever could, and she desperately tried to halt her progress, to call back the life force she'd thoughtlessly pressed into the shield that was already starting to solidify. She couldn't die, if that was it, she had a reason to live! The best reason, the only reason she'd never knowingly tasted, had been bombarded at her in the form of punches, explosives, and harsh words, had been smashed into her until she bled and cried, had been ground into her until she'd passed the brink of sanity, and it was only now, too late, too damned late, that she came to understand. The lesson, the lesson that began in pain, that moved to regret, that rose to the face of oblivion, that plunged into remorse, and that was summarized by the ultimate query of purpose, was all to teach her a single, shining, heart-searing, soul-warming, sprit-cleansing fact.
She was loved.
Thinking about it, she realized that it was true… she'd never once before known this 'love' as anything but the immaterial words of poets. Certainly it hadn't come from her worthless father, nor from the empty world she'd wandered, nor even from the friends who gave it to her without comment and assumed in err that she was able to recognize it. She'd had no idea, she'd been in the dark, and Robin had seen it, had seen her living in ignorance. Now… painfully late, she knew.
Love was not the approval and praise of a parent, not anymore than it was the pleasant company of a friend or the hot passion that could flare between a man and a woman. It was something more, a connection that went deeper than a person's own feelings and desires and spread outward to actually encompass the object of one's affection, that possessed and guarded it unto oblivion. The lesson that had summoned a resolve capable of driving Robin to torture, capable even of transforming an honorable and courageous man into a beast in man's clothing, was the lesson that her miserable life of lesser pains had never managed to teach her. A lesson of what it was to be truly loved.
"Robin—I know—I know but, I can't stop!" she screamed at him, desperate for him to know that she'd learned the lesson before she'd gone, needing to see his warm approval before the cold stone overtook her body and drew the curtain on her existence. Her eyes caught his as she floated gently back toward the platform, her overwhelming energy sputtering and clotting out of its careful shape as she lost all concentration in her moment of pristine revelation, and in them she saw that pride, that divine relief.
Robin did not waste an instant with minced words, but stepped forward and buried his fist into her guts like he was trying to make it come out her back, knocking her from the power high that was consuming her life with a brand new purifying pulse of unbearable agony. Her disturbed power inverted hideously and rushed back into her body like smoke leaving a burning log in reverse, and as the world basically faded from her eyes, she felt the pain fade away with her consciousness, replaced by warmth that continually renewed itself as she slept dreamlessly. It was the warmth of love that she could finally, finally see for the glorious thing it was.
Robin snatched Terra up over his shoulder, gestured meaningfully to the assembled robots with a proudly erect finger that expressed his moniker and his opinion in one concise motion, and then full-out sprinted for the far ledge of this drama's unadorned stage. As a storm of red energy blasted huge craters and searing fireballs of molten rock around him, he ignored them all, expressing every drop of speed he could muster into escaping the instant death that storm would so carelessly grant him. Finally, he took a flying dive off the edge, committing himself to the sea.
As he fell the short distance to the water, the tide altered suddenly and dramatically, drawing the water from the shore in a stiff pulling motion that moved at a rate he could hardly believe. Suddenly facing a dry sea floor, he used his last grapple to catch the ledge he'd just leapt from, even as it was being annihilated by the angry red glare of Slade's weapons, jerking himself to a stop and flopping the last few feet to the ground. As he stared in awe at where the water had gone, he couldn't help but be annoyed by the crappy timing of his backup. None the less, it was certainly better late than never.
That in mind, he hefted Terra again and dashed directly for the titanic wave even now curling and cresting as it rushed for the cliffs Slade's forces occupied. Diving in head first, he was buffeted and knocked in every conceivable direction by the savage fury of the unnatural tide, clinging to his unconscious charge with one hand as he pressed a hand over her mouth and nose to keep the water out with his other. It was desperate madness for an eternity of seconds before strong hands finally grabbed him around the waist and began powering him through the wave and toward calmer waters.
A mask was pressed over his mouth, and he unclenched his eyes as a blast of air cleared the water from under the miniscuba breathing unit over his face, taking deep breaths from the tiny compression tanks to either side of the mouthpiece. When he could see again, it was to look into the chiseled face of the raven-haired Aqualad by the light of a glowing stone he held in one clenched fist. The water was still rather rough, but considering the sudden sound of a 20-story wave hitting a cliff and the robotic occupants of said cliff, Robin knew that someone somewhere was having it a lot rougher than him. The more immediate concern of Terra was a great deal hotter on his mind.
Fortunately the Atlantean had responded to his distress signal exactly as they'd set it up so very long ago, and there were a number of his people's rendition of an EMS team there with a device that looked like a stretcher inside of an air bubble. They worked in silence to secure Terra, who was then pushed through the water by the graceful merfolk to one of their ships, ostensibly to convey her to Atlantis itself for medical treatment. When he'd set this up with the other guy, Robin certainly hadn't envisioned these being the circumstances of its first actual implementation, though that hadn't stopped him from sending the necessary codes the instant he'd found the ocean to be the theatre of the drama's final act.
"Thanks man," Robin said into the radio unit of the air mask, "you have no idea what an ass-saving you just pulled off tonight," and Aqualad nodded benignly in response. Raising an identical oxygen mask to his own face, he affixed it carefully and messed with it until Robin could hear the other young man's radio kick in.
"I came the moment I got your code," he explained unnecessarily, "when I couldn't raise you direct, I called the others. They're waiting at 'the rendezvous point' for you to meet up with them to plan the next phase… but…" and he stole a look over at Terra before she disappeared into the water car, "from what little I know, you've probably got more to say than they did. Last I heard, that girl was some kind of traitor."
"She is, or she was, I haven't exactly gotten my mind around it myself yet," Robin admitted, his mind moving instantly to his other friends and the confirming knowledge that they were fine. Man would he have news for them.
"Did she get those injures escaping from Slade?" Aqualad asked, and Robin shook his head in definite negative.
"She's hurt because of me… because I failed to see the problem before it got to this sorry stage. She's our family man, plain and simple, and I couldn't live with myself if I didn't correct the mistake. It took… extreme measures."
Aqualad paled visibly under the odd light of the stone that cast its globe of reality in the ever-stretching pitch black of the nighttime ocean, then nodded his sad understanding.
"So… what… is she going to go back to you guys?" he asked.
"Keep her safe for now, there's no telling what danger she could be in until we've finalized the issue of Slade. As for her return…" Robin's mind flashed to his friends again, to the fresh agony of the betrayal they'd suffered, and he spoke the truth as best he knew it, "… Beast Boy and Starfire will forgive right away, and Cyborg too I'd guess. Raven… is another question, but I could see her coming around as well. They're not the problem, when you get right down to it."
At the Atlantean's continued confusion, Robin sighed into his radio.
"Terra has learned a valuable lesson, and it gave her something to live for," he spoke out the sad, sad bottom line, "but the ultimate test will be weather or not she can forgive herself, not if any of us can forgive her. She's been hurt in a way none of us could even begin to comprehend, and it may be some time before she can stand to let us even look at her, much less anything else. All we can do is keep sending her our love and hope to hell that she can heal from all this."
Aqualad, finally comprehending, shook his head in heavy pity of his own.
"Now if you could give me a lift to dry land," Robin began, tone shifting from sad to dangerous faster than seemed possible, "I have a whole lot of rather extreme frustration built up after this nightmare of a night… and there's only one face I can think of that would properly serve to work it out of my system."
The merman smiled, ditched his mask, and summoned a pod of dolphins with a twitch of his eyebrow. In moments, they were jetting toward shore, toward the rest of Robin's family, and toward the dire foe that had by now begun his secondary plans for conquest of the city. There would be a reckoning for tonight, Robin promised himself and Terra as he was jerked through the water at high speed. Before he was done, Slade would suffer every bit as much as he'd forced Terra to—he would come to know the pain of trying to mess with a true, loving family.
How was that, angsty enough for you? If you like this, just wait for the rest of my stand alone stories in the Twisted Hearts series to come out.
Triangular—Robin x Raven x Starfire romance fest
Green Turkey Shoot (tentative title)—Beast Boy x Raven 'why it could never happen' angst fest
And more that I don't have a hard enough plot on yet to name.
This is where you review, right below here, take a second out of your busy life and do it wouldja? Even three words to indicate you've been here are greatly appreciated.