Notes: Not set in any specific timeline, just a fair bit of time after Titans East was formed. (Obviously.) And I've never read any of the comics, so everything is based on the cartoon and the research I've been able to do through friends and various internet sites. If I have anything majorly wrong, feel free to correct me so I can file it away for future reference. Feedback is appreciated. :)
Rating: T, I think. There's some language (Speedy has a potty mouth), but in my experience, it's nothing worse than what most thirteen year-olds are using these days. (And I worked at an elementary school, hearing it from 11 year olds!)
Spoilers: Minor ones for "Titans East 1 & 2", but nothing much else, I don't think.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Don't sue. Backstory on Bee and Fixit comes from Scribbler's fic, "Precedent", and is borrowed with her permission.
For Scribbler. Happy Belated
Birthday, Babs. :) Hope it was worth the wait.
The Needs of the Many
2006, By: Ash Carroll (a.k.a. ShadowDiva)
Fight. Destroy. Protect Master.
Must protect Master.
Bumblebee fired her stingers, but Steamroller shrugged them off. She watched as one by one, her team was sent flying in all directions - she'd lost count of how many times. They'd beaten Steamroller once before, under Cyborg's leadership, but the tactics they'd used on him then were ineffective now.
"What the hell is going on?" Speedy shouted, firing off another arrow, "our attacks aren't even hurting him!"
Bumblebee looked at Aqualad. She knew the Atlantean well enough to know what he was thinking, and she was sure his thoughts were mirroring hers: if Steamroller was back, then Blood wasn't as dead as they thought he was.
"We gotta keep trying!" she shouted back. "Titans, move!"
Mas y Menos ran circles around Steamroller, drawing his attention as Aqualad unleashed a wall of water on him and Speedy pummeled him with arrows - but the metal giant remained unaffected. He swung both fists, separating Mas and Menos, who'd used Speedy's arrows as a diversion. Scared and unaccustomed to being split up, the twins called out for each other as they flew backwards in opposite directions.
They landed in two unceremonious heaps, where they sat dazed for a moment before pulling themselves painfully to their feet. Speedy kept Steamroller occupied with volley after volley of arrows as Bumblebee grabbed Menos, and Aqualad picked up Mas. The four of them regrouped off to the side, where the Atlantean summoned another wall of water and the twins joined up again, running circles around their adversary. Bumblebee charged Steamroller with her stingers in hand, weaving to avoid one fist as Speedy moved to avoid the other, firing off an arrow.
It hit its mark - Steamroller's face - but instead of hurting him, it just made him mad. Steamroller went after Speedy with both fists; one attack after another. The archer's agility allowed him to neatly outmaneuver all of them, except for the last one; he wasn't fast enough on the dodge. The metal fist grazed his arm - hard enough to knock him off balance and send him sprawling, forcing him to roll sideways to avoid being smashed from above.
This was getting them nowhere. Bumblebee pulled an object from her pocket and looked down at it.
Cyborg handed her a small metal disc.
"What's this?" she asked
"A bomb; powerful enough to take out everything within a hundred yard radius"
"So, what? You press this little button and throw it?"
Cyborg's mouth set in a grim line. "No. You have to place it and hit the button. You get ten seconds."
"There's no way you can get clear in ten seconds - unless you're Kid Flash." She looked up at him. "Whoever sets this will prob'ly - oh."
He nodded "It comes with being the leader, Bee; making the hard choices is part of the job. And you only make this one when you're out of cards to play."
Well, they were definitely out of cards; there was no other way. And as for who was going to set it, she'd made that choice when she'd accepted the position as leader.
She turned to Aqualad. "Take the others and get out."
"Nothin' else is workin'. This is our only chance."
"Then let me."
"You know I can't do that, Garth. We talked about this; you promised."
"No. We've always known that some day, some mission, it might come down to this. Being in charge means making the tough choices, and I made this one when I agreed to be leader." She looked at him. "You know why I have to do this."
"I'll hold him off until everyone's clear." She smiled. "You'll be a good leader, Aqualad." Her smile faded. "Bring Blood down. For both of us."
He swallowed hard and nodded. "Count on it," he promised, then turned to the others. "Titans! Fall back!"
"That means whoever...will probably..." He couldn't finish the thought.
She nodded. "I know. That's why it's gonna be me."
He stared at her, incredulous. "Are you crazy?"
"Prob'ly," she answered wryly, then sobered. "I'd never ask anyone to die for me. After Fixit -" She swallowed. "I can't do it again. I can't be responsible for killing someone else."
"You didn't kill him! Fixit's not dead!"
"He ain't alive, either!" She took a deep breath. "And that's my fault; I caused it."
"You didn't mean to; that was an accident."
"But this wouldn't be." She sighed. "I can't do that to anyone else. I won't. That's why I need you to promise me."
"Promise you what?"
"If the day ever comes I have to use it, you won't try to stop me. That you'll take over the team and keep going. Carry out the mission; stop Blood."
She looked him in the eyes. "Promise me, Garth."
He stared back at her for a long time. "Are you sure about this?"
She held his gaze. "One life to save so many? Cyborg and Robin would do it; that's good enough for me."
He nodded. "All right. I promise."
A sad smile split her lips. "Thank you."
"I hope it never comes to that."
Her smile faded. "So do I."
But it had, and she'd forced him to honor his word.
He trailed slightly behind the others as the four of them made for the exit. He knew it was only a matter of time before one of them - Speedy - realized she wasn't with them and -
The archer glanced around as they cleared the door. "Hey, where's Bee?"
"Sí," Mas y Menos added. "¿Dónde está Señorita Bumblebee?"
Aqualad ignored them and looked at Speedy. He knew about the bomb, but not the promise. "Playing our last card," he replied, and his tone said it all.
Speedy stopped in his tracks as the color drained from his face and he exploded. "And you let her? You fucking left her there?"
He'd expected the archer's reaction, but the twins hadn't. They jumped at his outburst and whispered to each other in Spanish, too fast to understand.
"You don't understand -" Aqualad tried to explain.
But Speedy wasn't having it. "Oh, I understand. I understand teammates don't leave each other behind! The fuck is wrong with you?"
"She made me promise not to stop her."
"Yeah? Well she didn't make me promise."
"She knew you wouldn't." The Atlantean sighed. "Look, this is what she wants -"
The archer narrowed his eye mask. "No, Waterboy, you look. I don't care what she wants; I'm not leaving her behind! Now get the fuck outta my way."
Garth knew there was no point arguing with him; once he made his mind up about something, the chance of him changing it was slim to none. But he wasn't about to let Roy go back alone; with his hot head and short fuse, that was just asking for trouble they didn't need.
"Fine, but we're going with you; someone has to keep your hot head out of trouble."
The four of them were heading back towards the warehouse, when the lurching of metal behind them caught their attention. They turned at the sound and found themselves face to face with an army of familiar metal men. If he'd had any doubts that Blood was involved in this, they were gone now.
"We don't have time for this!" Speedy shouted, firing off a cluster of arrows as the sea of scrap metal advanced.
Garth looked at Roy - who was shifting his gaze back and forth between the warehouse entrance and the walking scrap heap that was headed their way - and made a decision. "We'll keep them busy! Go!"
"It's a hundred yard radius," Speedy reminded him, "make sure you're clear!"
"Don't worry about us!" The Atlantean shouted back, "just go!" Speedy nodded as Aqualad turned his full attention on the advancing army, summoning a wall of water. "Titans! Move!"
The twins touched hands. "¡Mas y Menos, sí podemos!" they shouted, racing off at full speed to confront the oncoming threat as Speedy made a run for the warehouse.
Bumblebee nimbly dodged Steamroller's attack. "Missed me," she taunted, shrinking down to flit around his face.
He tried to smash her between his fists, but she was too quick. She flew out of the way, returning to normal size as his fists crashed harmlessly against each other.
"Oh come on, that the best you got?" Karen grinned, firing her stingers at his head.
The shots bounced off his arms, but they achieved their purpose; focusing his attention on her instead of the four people running in the opposite direction, out the warehouse door.
Facing him alone now, she dodged one arm - but his other fist narrowly missed her. "That's right," she coaxed, firing at him again as she flew backwards, "come an' get me."
Steamroller advanced - arms swinging in wide arcs - and Bumblebee dodged, just barely avoiding some of the blows. Firing on him with one hand, she reached into the hidden pocket of her uniform with the other. Curling her fingers around the small metal disc, she pulled it out.
She'd given them long enough.
Flying around behind him, Bumblebee stuck the disk to his back and reached out to press the button that would activate it. She hesitated.
She wasn't ready.
She needed more time; More time to tell Garth how proud she was to have him call her his friend, more time to tell the twins they were like the annoying little brothers she never had. More time to tell Roy how much she car-
The thought assaulted her and she shook it away; she didn't think she could ever bring herself to tell him that. It was too late anyway. The decision was made, and she wouldn't change it even if she could. She was the leader; it was her risk to take. And it was time to take it.
She reached out again - ready to press the button this time - but Steamroller turned, swinging a metal fist at her head. He narrowly missed, and she was thrown off balance; forced to fly in a wide arc and circle back around to right herself.
Firing her stingers, she tried to make another run at the the button, but he was ready for her; meeting her with a punch strong enough to send her flying like a rag doll. She careened backwards, slamming hard and painfully into a concrete support beam.
Light exploded behind her eyes and she struggled to hold onto consciousness as she slowly pulled herself to her feet. You can do this, Karen. All you have to do is press the fucking button.
Gritting her teeth, she flew towards him, breaking right in an attempt to get at his back. He swung at her, and she twisted her body in a clumsy arc to avoid his fist. It missed her by inches, and she tried to maneuver herself around his back. He shot his fists out again, and she dodged backwards.
But she wasn't fast enough.
A shadow loomed overhead and Bumblebee looked up in time to see Steamroller's fist descending. It was aiming straight for her and there was no time to get out of the way.
Everything went black, and she absently wondered if this was how it had been for Fixit.
Speedy sprinted back to the warehouse, forcing his legs to live up to his codename. Voices - Garth's and his own - echoed in his head.
"She made me promise not to stop her."
"Yeah? Well she didn't make me promise."
"She knew you wouldn't."
Damn right he wouldn't - couldn't - and he didn't understand why Garth could. An annoying little voice told him he knew exactly why, but he chose to ignore it - and the feelings it inspired.
Karen, you idiot. What the fuck were you thinking?
Oh, he knew what she was thinking; this was about her need to redeem herself for what happened to Fixit. But he couldn't let her do it; not like this. And not when he'd never have a chance to tell her -
A chance to tell her what?
That annoying little voice again. He told it to shut up; he didn't have time to waste on this crap.
He barrelled through the door in time to see her trying to get around to Steamroller's back, meaning she hadn't armed the bomb yet. Karen dodged backwards as Steamroller's fist descended, but she wasn't fast enough, and she crumpled beneath the force of the blow to lay sprawled and unmoving on the concrete floor. Steamroller advanced on her, ready to attack again.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit!
He fitted three arrows to his bow. "Hey! Buckethead! How 'bout a fair fight," he hollered, firing off a volley meant to draw Steamroller's attenton.
It worked, and he sommersaulted out of the way as a metal fist came at him.
He grinned. "That's more like it."
Steamroller advanced, arms swinging, but Speedy was more agile than the metal man could ever hope to be, and he dodged easily with a series of flips and rolls, firing off another volley as he sprinted towards Bumblebee. Scooping her into his arms, he kept running, acutely aware of Steamroller behind them.
He had to stop him from moving, or at least from chasing them. His net arrow wasn't nearly strong enough to hold him, but...if he couldn't see them...
Skidding to a stop, he gently set his burden down and turned to face the oncoming threat. Fitting two arrows to his bow, he drew back the string and fired. They hit their mark; lodging deep into Steamroller's eyes. Howling and writhing in pain, he reached up and grabbed the arrow shafts; attempting to pull them out of his eyes as Speedy grabbed Bee and ran for the exit.
He stopped as he reached the door, set her down, and readied his bow. Steamroller was still squirming as he tried to pull the arrows out of his eye sockets, and Speedy waited until he had a clear shot at his back.
He didn't have to wait long.
Steamroller turned and the archer took aim at the metal disc and fired. The arrow hit its mark - the red button that would arm the device and start the countdown.
He narrowed his eyes behind his mask. "Good riddance, asshole."
Shouldering his bow, he picked Bumblebee up again and ran from the building as fast as his legs could carry him.
Garth checked the monitors next to her bed. She'd escaped relatively unscathed, thanks to her superhero physiology - and Roy's stubborn streak. A few cracked ribs, a mild concussion, and some heavy bruising. She was going to be sore as hell when she woke up, but she'd heal just fine. They were lucky.
Hell, she was lucky; not that she'd see it that way when she woke up and demanded to know why the hell she was in the Infirmary instead of dead.
Speaking of which...
She stirred and opened her eyes, blinking in confusion. "Garth? What the hell-"
Karen groaned as she tried to sit up and he pushed her gently back down. "Your injuries are pretty serious; you shouldn't be moving around." He readjusted her pillows and frowned at the monitors. "I can increase the pain medication if you need it."
She ignored him and looked up, mustering as much of a glare as she could manage. "You promised you wouldn't stop me."
His voice was quiet. "I didn't."
At least it was the truth.
"Then why am I -" Her eyes narrowed. "Roy."
He nodded. "Yeah. And for the record, I'm glad."
"Promised. I know. And if I had it to do again, I wouldn't. I only agreed because you told me there was no other way. Obviously there was if Roy found one."
She sighed. "Garth..."
"No. You're my best friend, Karen, and I love you like a sister. But I -" He shook his head. "If you really think the only way to redeem yourself for what happened to Fixit is to die, then go ahead; I can't stop you if you're set on it. But I can't let you use me to do it, either. I can't let you put that decision on my conscience; it's not fair."
She seemed to consider his words. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to put you in the middle, I just -" She blinked hard. "You don't know what it's like to live with it."
"I would have if Roy hadn't done what he did."
His voice was strained and she looked up at him. "I didn't mean for it to turn out that way."
He squeezed her hand. "I know."
A silence descended, covering them like a blanket until he swallowed and broke it.
"They want to see you."
She sighed. "You think Mas and Menos can wait a few days? I'm not up for that much energy right now."
"Yeah. I'll have a talk with them." He looked over at her. "What about Roy?"
Another sigh. "Give me half an hour then tell him to come up."
"Don't be too hard on him," he cautioned, "he only did what he felt he had to."
"Yeah, and I'm gonna bust his head. He disobeyed a direct order."
"He saved your life."
"And endangered everyone else's."
"We didn't actually go with him; got sidetracked by goons. But even if we had gone, we chose to; he didn't make us."
"He didn't think of the consequences, either."
"Like you when you chose to go down with the ship?"
"I'm the leader; that's my job."
"So is making sure everyone comes home. Including you."
Her mouth opened, then abruptly shut. Touché, he thought, when for once, she didn't have a snappy comeback.
Karen exhaled heavily. She'd told Garth to give her half an hour to prepare herself. But that was nearly twenty minutes ago, and she was nowhere near ready to face Roy.
Her stomach twisted.
She knew he wouldn't get where she was coming from; he didn't have anything that heavy on his conscience. He hadn't been there when it happened, hadn't seen the consequence of his action first hand, hadn't had it forever burned into his memory. He didn't understand that it didn't matter how many people told her it wasn't her fault; it didn't matter that Fixit had forgiven her. Because in the end, she couldn't forgive herself.
She didn't think she ever would, and she didn't know how to make any of them understand that - especially him.
With a heavy sigh, Karen shifted her gaze to the doorway, her stomach churning as she waited for him to arrive, and prayed for the strength to have a confrontation she knew she wasn't ready for.
He looked up, expression grim, as Garth stepped out of the elevator. "Well? How is she?"
"Sore. She's got a mild concussion, a few cracked ribs, and some heavy bruising, but she's okay."
He exhaled heavily. "Good."
"She asked for you."
"To chew my ass for disobeying her order." Garth's expression was all the answer Roy needed. His eyes hardened. "Fine," he said flatly, "I have a few things I'd like to say to her, too."
He brushed past his teammate, stepping into the elevator.
He looked at him. "Butt out, Garth. This is between me and her."
The doors slid closed, putting an end to the conversation and leaving him alone with his thoughts as relief faded and anger took its place.
It wasn't supposed to be this way; it was supposed to have been about the team - protecting Steel City. He wasn't supposed to lo- to care about - her. Not like this; not this much. But then, that had always been his problem, hadn't it; he never did anything he was supposed to.
And this time it was a good thing, or she'd be scattered in pieces all over downtown -
Roy stamped the thought down, feeling the loss as keenly as if it had actually happened. The elevator came to a stop and the doors swished open as a new wave of anger coursed through him, propelling him towards the Infirmary with purposeful strides.
Barging into the room, he stopped a few feet from her bed and pinned her with a glare. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"You know, that's funny, 'cause I was about to ask you the same thing." She matched his glare. "You had orders, Speedy."
He noted the use of his codename. It was her way of pulling rank on him, but it wasn't going to work - not this time. "Those orders were bullshit, Karen, and you know it. Teammates don't leave each other behind."
She sighed. "Spee-"
He could see the fatigue behind her eyes, but he ignored it and pressed on. They needed to have this discussion. "No. Would you have left any of us behind?"
"Really? How? Because from where I'm sitting, it's the same damn thing."
"No, it's not. It was the only way to -"
"Bullshit! There was another way! I found another way!"
"By risking someone else! I couldn't do that again; I couldn't be responsible for killing someone else."
"You didn't. Jesus, you were a kid; it was an accident. They happen; people get hurt. That's just the way it is."
"That's not my way."
His fists clenched. "And that's what this whole goddamn thing is about isn't it? Your fucking way. You always have to be the Queen - fucking - Bee and to hell with everyone else."
She moved her head in nonchalance. "I'm the boss. And that's really what this whole goddamn thing is about. You just can't deal with the fact that Cyborg made me leader and not you."
"No, I can't deal with the fact that you'd abandon your team because you have a fucking death wish you can't let go of! That's not the way it's supposed to work!"
He tried to tell his mouth to shut up, to stop talking before he said something he didn't mean.
"I didn't! I left it in Aqualad's command!"
"Goddammit, Karen, I don't need him! I need you!"
Or worse, something he did.
The room plunged into dead silence as his words hung in the air between them. Fuck. He wasn't supposed to say that.
It took him a full minute to muster up the nerve to look at her. He met her gaze, catching the brief flash of emotion that passed through her eyes before she shuttered them again, and he knew his own eyes had given him away as well.
And that was as far as it would go, at least for now. They'd ignore it and pretend things were normal and nothing had changed - until another situation forced them to admit that something had.
But that wasn't now.
Now, there were more important things to worry about. He may not have had the connections to H.I.V.E. that Garth and Karen did, but he wasn't stupid. Steamroller had been Blood's pet last time they'd faced him, and Blood was like a cockroach. He just wouldn't die. If Steamroller was back, then there was a damn good chance that Blood was, too.
He was startled out of his thoughts by Karen's voice. "I had a decision to make and I made it. It was always gonna be me -" She looked him right in the eyes. "H.I.V.E. or no H.I.V.E."
He headed for the door, turning back to face her as he reached it. "You make your choices, Karen. I'll make mine."