Dark Titans – Arc 5 - Wedding Party
Enjoy if you Will, Tolerate if you won't.
The young woman took in a deep breath, relishing the smell of the early morning air. It was, Kasumi reflected, something she would never grow weary of: the smell of the ocean breeze, the light mist of salt water filling the air and giving her a delightful chill. She almost couldn't imagine not living on a small, private island with over a half a dozen of her friends.
Despite the fact that most of her new friends were younger than the family she left home in Japan, they were surprisingly more self-sufficient than her dear father and the Saotomes. It granted her much more spare time to spend as she saw fit, as the Titans only humoured her desire to take over every single task in the massive Tower to a certain point before they would all jump in and lend a helping hand.
That thought brought a smile to her lips. As much as she loved her family - and she did, so very much - it was nice to be 'one of the gang', rather than the surrogate mother. A sudden shiver running through her body brought her back to the moment.
After all, it was starting to get a bit cool lately, though she had read that it was still a month, or two before the snow would likely begin to fall. As such, she had bundled up in a jacket (borrowed from Cyborg's room as, unfortunately, if Starfire had ever even owned a jacket in the first place she had taken all of her clothing with her back to Tamaran.)
Speaking of which:
"Geez, Ryouga! Are you trying to cut off my circulation or my arm? The straps don't need to be that tight!"
Terra's barked objection only widened the smile on the Tendo woman's lips. Standing before her, several yards outside the door of the brilliant Titans Tower, the young geokinetic girl and her devoted master struggled through the final preparations for their camping trip departure.
"I just want to make sure your pack doesn't slip off when we're on the move," Ryouga countered, concern evident in his voice.
Kasumi covered her unpainted lips with her fingers, fondness and amusement nearly overwhelming her as she watched the indestructible powerhouse that was Hibiki Ryouga, fretting over the slight Terra as if he were preparing her for her first day of school.
Terra, clearly exasperated, spun around and started swatting away at her mentor's hands energetically. "Come on! I've spend a good chunk of my life on the road too, you know?"
Even as Ryouga hastily retracted his hands, Terra crossed her arms over her chest and turned her nose up to sniff loudly. "I'm not a little kid, Ryouga. I don't need lessons on camping."
Instantly, the martial artist's face fell and his hands dropped limply to his sides. "Terra... I..."
Now, Kasumi decided, was the moment for some timely intervention. The only question was whether she should be serious, or have a little fun with her adorable friends?
She nearly giggled aloud at that thought. As if it was even a choice worth contemplating at this point. Stepping forward, Kasumi pulled another jacked from behind her back.
"Now, Terra," she began smoothly, "We all know that you're a mature, lovely young woman."
Holding out the jacket, she suddenly pressed it into Terra's hand. "Now put on this jacket. You'll catch your death of cold wandering around the countryside in just a shirt."
For just a moment, Terra looked ready to argue, but each time her mouth opened to form a rebuttal, it closed a second later, words apparently failing her.
Finally, the super heroine shook her head, her long blonde hair catching on the breeze and floating about wildly. Not for the first time, Kasumi felt a tiny pang of envy over the simply gorgeous, exotic hair possessed by some of the members of her new family.
Maybe she should try dying her hair? That would certainly be fun!
"But – but isn't this Beast Boy's jacket?" Terra barked, mortified. She spun on her mentor, currently wearing little more than his sleeveless yellow traveling shirt. "And what about him? How come he doesn't need a jacket?"
Tilting her head to the side, smiling serenely, Kasumi nodded. "Why yes, it is Beast Boy's jacket. It's just that he's the closest to your size, and the few jackets that Raven owns are far too nice to take on a camping trip."
Whatever else the Tendo woman might say about the reclusive Titan – most all of it quite positive! – the woman did have impeccable fashion sense... at least when she wasn't wearing that leotard.
The sound of Ryouga's chuckle drew her attention and she levelled a pointed glance his way. "And as for Mr. Hibiki. I would assume that someone so experienced with travelling would have more sense than to wander around outside in the fall wearing a t-shirt."
Instantly, Ryouga's laughter stopped, the young man adopting a rather spot on impression of a deer in headlights. "Um...but... Kasumi…'
A short pause was followed by an inevitable slumping of his shoulders as he acknowledged defeat. With dejected movements, he began to trudge his way back into the tower.
"Fine... I'll go get a jacket..."
"Don't be silly," Kasumi tittered. Taking a single step back to the small pile of crates behind her, she pulled out another of Cyborg's coats. This one was not a fall jacket, like she had borrowed, looking rather more like a parka. This time, it was the martial artist's eyes that widened at the sight of her thoughtful gift.
Unlike Terra, though, Ryouga could not vocalize even an attempt to deny Kasumi's will. A moment later, and with much grumbling, the pair of earth-shaking warriors doffed their packs and began slipping on their coats. It was, Kasumi noted, a major feat to remain perfectly serious and not burst into giggles at the sight.
Finally ready to go again, taking a few last seconds to arrange straps and other minutia, the pair began to offer up some heartfelt goodbyes.
"Please, wait just a moment," Kasumi interrupted them politely. Pointing back to the stacked boxes behind her, she asked innocently. The three plastic containers, a lovely shade of blue and each nearly big enough to hold a mid-sized dog, had been oddly conspicuous for the duration of the conversation. "Which one of you is going to carry all the food I prepared for you?"
"What?" Terra barked incredulously. "You mean that all of that is food?"
Ryouga shook his head. "I thought you were having me bring down all the week's recycling. Kasumi, we're only going to be gone for a week at the most."
Kasumi nodded, grinning impishly. "And no doubt both of you had been planning to show off just how well you could 'live off the land', eating roots and berries the whole time." She fired pointed glances first at Terra, then Ryouga. "However, a growing young woman should have a properly balanced diet... as should a growing young man."
"But... Kasumi," Terra retorted, pointing to the large boxes, "I can out eat pretty much anyone but Cyborg, but even I think that's way too much food for just the two of us!"
The eldest Tendo sister felt a small sweat drop gather on her brow at that. Even after seeing it, she could still scarcely believe it. She had a sneaking suspicion that the... 'slender'... young woman must have a nuclear reactor in her tiny little tummy to eat like that and still be so skinny.
"Well," Kasumi waffled for a moment. "There actually is something else I need to tell you, somewhat related to that issue. You see-"
"Oh, good, everyone's still here!"
For just the briefest of instants, Kasumi's smile faltered, but quickly resumed its former brightness. As one, everyone turned to regard the newcomer. The red headed lad, wearing an unseemly amount of red for so early in the morning, waved jauntily as he approached them.
"I was hoping to catch you two before you left," Speedy continued, nodding towards the pair of expert outdoors-people.
Ryouga, his own fallen smile having failed to revive as Kasumi's had, offered a grunt and the narrowing of his eyes as response. "Why? What is it?"
For some reason, rather than answer directly, the crimson themed archer lifted his wrist to glance at his watch. "Actually… give it just a minute…"
Rolling her eyes discreetly, Kasumi turned back to Terra and her mentor. "Actually, that reminds me."
Digging into her (or actually, Cyborg's) jacket pockets, she pulled out two familiar yellow objects, one circular, the other a more familiar hexagonal shape.
"What? Our communicators?" Terra asked, her voice rising a few notches at the revelation. The geokinetic's hands flew to her belt and found the empty holder which normally acted as home for the communication device.
The eldest Tendo sister nodded, holding out the pair of communicators freely. "Yes. I was dabbling with the communications systems last night and noticed they were acting a bit funny. So I used some of Cyborg's equipment to fix them right up for you."
Nodding, Ryouga snatched his communicator back hastily, quickly examining it for any supposed imperfections. Considering just how weathered, scratched and beaten up the hexagonal device was, it amused Kasumi to no end when the martial artist let out a silent sigh of relief to see that it was just as he remembered it before slipping it into his own pocket.
"That's cool, Kasumi," Ryouga finally muttered, relief still palpable in his expression. "Thanks a lot."
Handing Terra her much newer, far less banged up Titan Communicator – the slight girl taking it and absently sliding it into its belt holder without a word – Kasumi waved off his gratitude with a simple roll of her wrist. "It was nothing. In fact, I really enjoyed tuning them up properly."
"Yes, yes, that's fascinating," Speedy cut in. Ignoring the heated glares fired by two of his three new companions, the veteran hero (relative to his present company at the very least), then held up his hand… only to extend three fingers.
"Annnnd… Three… Two… One… Zero!"
Counting down with each finger, Speedy ended with his hand curled into a tight fist, only to pump it victoriously into the air upon reaching zero.
"And the Titans are now, officially, out of all meaningful communications range."
The odd statement only served to confuse the gathered reserve Titans further. Not only was it something of a non sequiter to the ongoing conversation, but the gleeful way with which it was mentioned set the eldest Tendo sister just the tiniest bit on edge.
Ryouga and Terra seemed to share her trepidation. The martial artist responded with another disgruntled grunt, while Terra unleashed a full-on suspicious glare.
Honestly, Kasumi wanted to feel bad over the fact that her friends were letting their feelings for her sway their opinion of Speedy for the worse… but, well, the archer did appear to be something of a… well… a jerk?
"What's the big deal the guys being out of communication range?" Terra inquired. The young woman's fists were planted firmly on her narrow hips and she was leaning forward, her posture openly adversarial. Her stern look only lasted for a moment, though, before her face screwed up adorably. "Wait just a second. And how can they be outta communications range? I thought all the hero types had intergalactic communication all figured out, or something… don't they?"
Speedy shrugged nonchalantly, "Well, yeah, sure, if you happen to have a Green Lantern or two on your team, that kinda stuff isn't a problem. Contrary to popular belief, though, not every earth based team of heroes has access to billions of dollars of super/alien technology."
"Actually," Ryouga cut in just a tad smugly, "Starfire has her own communication… thing… that she uses to talk to Tamaran."
For the first time that she could recall seeing from him, Kasumi noticed a slight widening of Speedy's blank white eyes. Panic, perhaps? Enough to even show through his oddly expressive diamond cut mask.
"Wait, she did?" Asked the archer insistently. "Where is it?"
Immediately, Ryouga's superior grin withered away, his chin dropping a few centimeters. "It's… um… with Starfire? …On its way to Tamaran…"
An explosive sigh signaled Speedy's relief better than any neon sign could have hoped to. Drawing the back of his hand across his bare brow, the scarlet archer let out a bark of laughter. "Whew! You had me worried there for a second. Man, the last thing I need is anyone getting in touch with the real Titans now!"
Bristling visibly, and even baring her teeth in a manner somewhat worryingly similar to her beloved mentor, Terra let out a surprisingly good imitation of one of Beast Boy's more bestial growls. Contrasted with Ryouga's merely befuddled glance, it demonstrated the slight geokinetic's opinion of not being considered a 'real Titan' by the newcomer. Thankfully, her mentor was not so oblivious as he used to be, and dropped a restraining hand on her narrow shoulder, pulling his dear protégé back to his side.
"Alright, so what's the big deal, anyway?" Ryouga asked, his patience growing as thin as Terra's rapidly.
Strolling over, devil may care attitude being flaunted with much aplomb, Speedy dropped a companionable hand on the martial artist's shoulder. Leaning forward, grin growing by the minute, the archer arched an eyebrow.
"Why, only the kick off of the second Annual 'Whenever the Titan's need me to baby sit the Tower' Party Extravaganza!"
Instantly, Terra's eyes shot wide open, a smile that threatened to consume her whole face alighting on her lips. Clutching her hands to her chest, the young woman bounced up and down excitedly. "A party? An honest to goodness, real party? Like, with lots of people and everything?"
Fretting slightly, Kasumi wrung her hands slowly before her. "A party? I don't know about this…"
Ryouga, on the other hand, had a slightly different reaction.
"Hold up. What do you mean 'Second' party? You've done this before?"
Looking more than pleased with himself, Speedy nodded grandly. "That's right." A pause, as the archer lifted his knuckle to his chin in thought. "Well, I suppose technically the last one was back in February or March, so it was still this year, but, what the hey? I like the idea of making new Traditions."
Immediately, Ryouga lifted a hand and started counting off fingers as he muttered silently to himself. "…March? That was back when I met the Titans in China." The reserve Titan pointed an accusing finger at the red headed bowman. "You threw a party while the Titans were stranded at the Amazon village with me?"
Speedy stared at Ryouga queerly for a moment, until he finally shrugged his shoulders carelessly. "Robin didn't mention many details, but the timeframe sounds about right. And yeah, totally threw a party. " A wicked smirk. "Granted, I knew the Titans were still on the line, though, so I had to be careful about who I invited, and how. So the last one was a pretty small affair."
Stepping back, Speedy threw his arms up and spun around once, laughing loudly. "But this time! With the Titan's out of the system entirely? There's no limit to how many people I can invite! I even know the perfect lady to get the word out! Man, it's gonna be awesome!"
"Did you hear that, Ryouga?" Terra inquired excitedly as she tugged on the martial artist's puffy sleeve. "A real party? With people! I've always wanted to go to a cool party, just like in the movies!"
The bandanna clad martial artist let out a loud huff, sending his overly long bangs fluttering before his face. "It's always been my experience that big social gatherings are more trouble than they're worth. The only thing I've ever gotten at a big party is a big helping of disappointment."
Kasumi sighed forlornly. It seemed that the young Hibiki was still smarting about the Christmas party. How long ago had that been again? Finally shrugging, she turned to the red clad bowman. "Are you certain about this, Speedy? I don't think Robin and the others would appreciate you taking advantage of their trust like this."
Speedy waved off her concerns with an absent wave of his hand. "Oh, come on. What they don't know won't hurt them. Besides, how often do us teenage super heroes get to do anything actually fun? I'm doing a public service for our industry here!"
"Teenage super heroism is an industry now?" Ryouga asked, a tad perplexed.
"Well, there is a 'Raven' brand of sneakers now, and Cy-B-Q sauce does pay a lot of the Tower's bills last I heard," Terra responded with an impish grin. "There's probably a 'Starfire' line of lingerie in the works out there somewhere… and probably a 'Robin' one too!"
"Terra!" Kasumi squeaked out, scandalized… only to pause as a thought occurred to her, "… Wait… does Starfire actually wear undergarments when she's not dressed for work?"
"INSTANT TOPIC CHANGE!" The vehemence of Ryouga's outburst was only matched by its volume. The windows of the Tower itself nearly rattled and slender geokinetics were nearly bowled over, even as Kasumi was nearly blinded by the brightness of the red flushing the martial artist's cheeks in that next instant. Moving with speeds normally reserved for life and death combat, Ryouga then stepped away from his current companions, dragging Speedy along with him, the archer's heels digging deep furrows in the sandy soil behind him.
"I really don't think that we should have a party," the Hibiki quickly followed up, his words nearly tripping over one another. "I mean, about the only people with worse luck than me in this world are the people that live in this tower. And you want to gather a few dozen of them together… at once? Do you know the kind of trouble you're asking for?"
Waiting until the unstoppable force finally stopped pulling him around by his lapels, Speedy hastily started attempting to smooth out the front of his suit, obviously frantic to head off any damage that Ryouga's curled fist might have done.
"Sheesh, chill out, man. It's just gonna be a party, not the end of the world, here." Grumbling under his breath, but grudgingly satisfied that his tunic wasn't permanently ruined, Speedy matched Ryouga's gaze pointedly. "It's gonna be fun, I swear."
Then, sly smile blooming, Speedy suddenly leaned forward, wrapping a conspiratorial arm around the bandanna wearing fighter's neck. Whispering just loud enough for Ryouga to hear, Speedy added, "Besides, do you know how most Super heroines dress these days? I promise you, this. Will. Be. Awesome!"
Kasumi tilted her head slightly, curious as to just what was being said in the small, two man huddle. It was quite clear that it was concerning something purported to be 'awesome'… but she hadn't managed to catch the rest of it.
"Besides," Speedy followed up immediately before turning around and gesturing towards Terra, then Kasumi herself. "You two are up for a wild party, aren't you?"
Terra's wild, excited nodding was all the answer she needed to provide.
Kasumi, though, hesitated for a moment longer. It seemed that she was, yet again faced with a moral dilemma. Do the right, proper and boring thing… or the wrong, exciting and fun thing? She seemed to be running into these situations a lot lately, and recent precedent dictated her answer more quickly than she herself expected.
"Can I invite my sister?" she asked pleasantly.
Instantly, Speedy let out a bark of laughter, grin growing into a full blown smile. "Kasumi, you can invite anyone you want."
"Argh! Can you at least tell her not to bring Ranma with her?"
"Hibiki Ryouga!" Kasumi chided sternly. Gracing him with a pointed glance and a point of her finger, she replied matter of factly. "She is allowed to bring anyone that she wants. Including Ranma, and that's the last I'll hear of it."
"…yes kasumi…" Ryouga's timid reply and deflated appearance was not at all helped by the fact that Terra was currently giggling right behind the martial artist's back.
"Alright, so now that we're all on the same page," Speedy began, taking charge of the conversation once more. He then pointed at the pair of backpack-toting would-be campers. "If you guys are so dead set on ditching us, then at least make sure you get back here in a week. I figure that should be long enough to get the word out properly. I'll set it up for Saturday night, so any of the 'secret identity' types will be able to come out."
"That gives us five days," Terra stated the obvious proudly, "That should be more than enough time to get our 'camp' on!"
Sighing weakly, Ryouga shrugged his shoulders In obvious defeat. "Well… I suppose there's not even anything we can do to stop you, since we're ducking out of our responsibilities to go camping, anyway… so why not?"
"That's the spirit!" Giving the both of them pats on the shoulders, Speedy gave one final thumbs up before heading back towards the Tower. "So remember, you two make it back early Saturday. And don't go too far out, just in case I need to call you for back up. Have a good trip now."
And with that, the crimson archer departed, leaving the three of them standing in the brisk September air. Kasumi found herself smiling then, just the tiniest bit surprised at the fact that she actually found herself… somewhat excited at the prospect of a secret party. She could only imagine the kind of people that Speedy would invite. Would she know any of them? Would she have even heard of any of them at all?
"Hmm… you know… maybe that guy isn't as big of a jerk as Ranma after all," Ryouga stated absently, a small smile on his lips.
"Heh, you say that like it's an accomplishment!" Terra replied with a bark of laughter, only for it to be echoed by her mentor.
Rolling her eyes fondly, Kasumi decided against reminding Terra, again, that she had yet to actually meet Ranma. Still, it was sweet that she respected her 'master' enough to pick up his bad habits as well as his good. A tiny smirk quirked her lips for a fraction of a second.
It probably wasn't good… but it was still sweet.
Speaking of doing good, Kasumi finally remembered just what it was she had meant to mention earlier. She still felt a bit bad about it, but Cyborg had asked her…
"Before you two go," the tall brunette intervened, noticing the pair getting ready to don their travel packs once more. "There is something else I need to talk to you about."
She caught both of their attentions easily, and the pair stared back at her inquisitively.
"What is it, Kasumi?" Ryouga asked plainly.
"Yeah, what's the hold up?" Terra asked, her double enthusiasm for camping and partying showing through quite readily in her tone.
At that, the ex-home maker found herself wringing her hands once more, not quite sure how to break the news. The more she thought about it, the more awkward she felt about asking. Even though it had seemed likesuch a good idea at the time…
"Well… it's just that…" she hemmed and hawed for a moment. "You see, before he left, Cyborg asked a favor of me."
"Um, okay," Terra stated flatly, "But what's that got to do with us?"
"The thing is," Kasumi tried to pick her words carefully, "That while I was doing that favor, I found out that Cyborg owed a favor to someone else. But with him leaving for Tamaran with the others, he wouldn't have been able to keep his promise. So… when you said what you were doing last night, I may, a touch hastily, have happened to promise that you two could help in his place."
She winced, not able to meet their gazes, feeling quite guilty over her actions now.
"Wait, so you're asking us a favor to help with a favor that Cyborg asked you… to help with a favor that he owed someone else?" Ryouga's voice was just slightly more amused than good manners would have dictated.
The Tendo sister nodded meekly. "I hope you don't mind…"
"Well, it's kinda hard to say," Terra quipped with a grin. "I mean, you haven't actually told us what the favor is yet. And I'm not sure how we're supposed to be helping you out when we're out on our camping trip."
"Actually, that's it precisely," Kasumi replied matter of factly. "You see, Cyborg and Beast Boy had promised a 'Miss Simms' to go on a camping excursion with a scout troop… or something to that effect. Unfortunately, with all of this unfortunate business over the past few days, he wouldn't have been able to do it."
"You want us to babysit a bunch of kids?" Terra asked, obviously skeptical.
"It would only be for two days, just one night, I promise," Kasumi pleaded. Holding her hands to her chest, she donned her most effective pout. It made her feel just the tiniest bit worse to see Ryouga start to crumble almost immediately. "And the children have been so very eager to spend time with some of the Titans."
"Are you sure you can't just wait until Cyborg is back?" Ryouga asked, nearly pleading himself. "I mean, no one even knows either of us."
"I had thought of that," the Tendo sister admitted. "But they've already had to put it off several times, with emergencies popping up at just the wrong time. And now, if he won't be back for at least two weeks, it's doubtful that they'd be able to go until next spring."
The martial artist and the geokinetic shared a long look between the two of them. Kasumi could almost read their minds as she watched the looks flash across their faces. The growing look of trepidation on Ryouga's face was mirrored quite completely by the growing grin on the young blonde's. True, the conclusion had never been in doubt, but it was important to at least make it seem like Ryouga had some choice in the matter. If only to soothe his fragile male pride.
Kasumi nearly giggled at that thought, but managed to stoically maintain her concerned façade.
At least, until the fanged warrior suddenly threw his arms up into the air, something of great import obviously occurring to him.
"Whoa! Hold on just a second there!" Ryouga's expression, now one of near panic, matched the tone of his voice. "You want me," he pointed emphatically to his chest, "To wander off with a pack of children into the wilderness?"
"Can you even imagine what could happen?"
Instantly, the aptly named Lost Boy stared upwards, losing himself in a terrified daydream.
Ryouga trudged forward, his feet as heavy as lead as he dragged them through the desert sands. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the line of his charges – an endless stream of young children from eight to ten years old – stretching on past the horizon.
"Mr. Ryouga, when will we reach the promised land?" asked the lead boy scout.
Kasumi and Terra shared an aside glance. Immediately, the blonde waif shrugged her shoulders. "We watched one of those old Charlton Heston movies last night."
"Ohhh," Kasumi 'oh'd'.
It was too bad that she missed that. It sounded quite entertaining. The price she paid for spending all night on the computer and in the kitchen, she supposed.
Ryouga clasped his hands to his cheeks, his panic only growing. "Or… or what if-"
Tiny legs pumped as fast as possible, propelling the troop of small children as they scrambled frantically through the underbrush of the ancient Rainforest. The hot, humid air and desperate exercise left all of the boys matted with sweat and grime and they ran for their very lives.
The echoing roar of the great cat gave all the explanation required for the frantic exodus.
Kid-Ryouga, leading his small band of a dozen terrified, sprinting young children yelled out his favorite curse for just these kinds of occasions. "Ranma! This is all your fault!"
Behind him, one of the children cried, nose running liberally. "I just wanted to go caa-aaa-mping!"
Kasumi and Terra shared another glance, as well as a pair of large sweat drops between them.
"Ahhh… I do believe that there are going to be several girls along as well," the Japanese woman supplied haltingly, not exactly sure how that would make things better herself.
"Girls!" Ryouga's eyes widened in terror. "But then what if-"
Ryouga ran for his life, carrying three kids on each shoulder and two clinging to his backpack. They blazed across the idyllic meadow, brilliant green grass beneath their feet and sapphire skies above and the sweet aroma of lilacs filling the air. Everything about the scenery seemed to personify the very concept of paradise itself…
Except for the army of angry Amazon warriors chasing after them, golden spears and golden arrows flying through the air. That the front row of Amazons looked to be roughly nine year old, toga wearing terrors was totally lost on the fleeing males.
"Okay, enough with the crazy daydreams!" Terra barked, exasperated. Throwing her hands up into the air, the young elemental stomped an indignant foot to the ground (eliciting a not so small tremor on the island.)
"You are not going to get the entire group of kids lost, Ryouga," Terra insisted forcefully. She pointed a finger to her own chest. "I'm going to be there, too, remember?"
Instantly, Ryouga froze-
'Except for the army of angry Amazon warriors chasing after them, golden spears and golden arrows flying through the air. That the front row of Amazons looked to be roughly nine year old, toga wearing terrors' led now by a golden haired teenager wearing an abbreviated toga of her own, and hefting an overly large spear, preparing to throw it has Ryouga's unguarded back-
A clout to the back of the head snapped Ryouga out of his daydream instantly.
"Don't make me a bad guy!"
Terra followed her outburst up immediately by pummelling the martial artist's shoulder with both of her dainty fists. "And what's the idea puttin' me in a tiny little toga like that!"
"Hey, quit it!" Waving his hands before him in a vain attempt to ward off the young woman's righteous fury, Ryouga quickly backpedaled to gain some space between them.
Kasumi found herself smiling all over again, a wave of nostalgia tinged with homesickness washing over her as the duo continued their indignant squabbling. It was nice to know that, no matter how far away from home she might be, that home would never be quite as far away as it felt. Granted , Ryouga and Terra weren't engaged (nor would they be; Kasumi would make sure to avoid inviting anyone's potentially shiftless fathers around, just in case), but it was still heart warming to see them acting like such good friends.
"Alright, you two, that's quite enough," Kasumi stated calmly, holding up her hands to calm them. Almost immediately, the pair broke up their 'fight' and fell in step. …Well, almost, as Terra would periodically thrust her elbow into Ryouga's side, even as he retaliated by kicking sand onto her shoes.
Rolling her eyes, Kasumi pointed to the martial artist first. "Now, Ryouga, you're being quite silly. Both Terra and Miss Simms will be there to guide the children, so you won't have to worry about getting lost. Just have fun, and show them how much you know about camping. I'm sure the children will really learn a lot from you."
Her attention then shifted to the geokinetic young woman. "And Terra, you really shouldn't be ashamed to wear a toga like that. You do have very nice legs, after all."
"Kasumi!" Terra's face immediately went beat red, even as Ryouga and Kasumi both began laughing. Wiping a small tear from her eye, the Japanese woman stepped forward and swept Terra up into a tight hug.
"Now, you two go on and have a good week." Pulling back, she turned back to Ryouga. "And Ryouga. Tonight was too short of notice for Miss Simms to organize things, so she is going to meet you tomorrow, alright? Can you please remember to contact me when you find where you want to stay, so that I can tell her where to meet you?"
"Of course, Kasumi. That isn't a problem," Ryouga replied easily. "We'll try to find a good spot for a large group. It shouldn't be too hard."
"That sounds lovely." This time, Kasumi bowed deeply, first to Ryouga, then to Terra. "And, again, thank you both, so very much, for doing this for me. I know that I sprung it at the last minute, so I wouldn't have blamed you if you said no."
"Ha, as if," Terra barked, laughing now. "We're just lucky you aren't asking us to rob a bank for you. Even then, I'd probably be tempted to go along with it."
"Hmm," Ryouga ran a knuckle along his chin, "I never did get to do the Hive Academy mid-term. I heard it was supposed to be a bank robbery, too."
For just a second, Kasumi found herself thinking 'With Ryouga and Terra's powers…', but quickly shook her head. No, no, that wasn't a nice thing to think about at all. Though… it would be interesting just to see if they could pull it off-
Rapping a knuckle against her head, Kasumi forced the thought from her mind. Noting the odd looks from her companions, she quickly smiled broadly and waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, I just forgot about something else. Well, it's time for you two to be off. Remember to call me when you arrive at your destination."
Before the duo even had a chance to nod, Kasumi quickly began to retreat back to the tower.
Behind her, Ryouga and Terra shared a confused set of looks. Shrugging first, Terra rolled a wrist lazily. "Man, must have been something pretty important. Maybe she forgot to set the PVR for my shows?"
Ryouga rolled his eyes. "And you couldn't have done that yourself? Oh, what a shameful pupil I have!"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever 'master'. Come on, let's go already." Looking back at the tower one last time, Terra noticed the trio of sealed containers, filled with food for them and their future guests. "Um, so who's getting the food, anyway?"
Smiling widely now, Ryouga turned and began to walk away lazily. "Just who do you think is getting the food, pupil?"
The geokinetic looked from her 'master', to the stack of boxed food that probably weighed more than her, then back to Ryouga's slowly diminishing back. "You know… I'm starting to regret this idea already."
Grumbling to herself, Terra lifted a hand. In response to her slight movement, a loud 'crack' split the air, and a disc of earth beneath the containers rose up, lifting the food containers. Then, with the ear grating sound of gravel on gravel, it began to slide across the ground, following closely after Terra as she moved to catch up with the itinerate martial artist.
"Ryouga, wait up… You're going the wrong way!"
Sighing in contentment, Speedy leaned back into the large chair. Stretching his arms over his head, he interlaced his knuckles before cracking them loudly. A light kick of his foot set the chair to revolving, slowly revealing the entirety of the room as he spun around. Even after all of this time, the sheer size of the Titan's tower staggered the young archer.
Certainly, working with a billionaire like Oliver had its perks (obviously not enough to stick around any longer than necessary, but it had been good while it lasted), but even then he never would have imagined living in such a place as this.
The massive bay of windows, letting the brilliant rays of the morning sun spill in, gave way to the cavernous interior of the Titan's main chamber. Granted, the décor was pretty weak. Reds (which were fine), but a lot of grey, pretty much no decoration, and scant else besides the small kitchenette and the massive semi-circular sofa at the heart of the room. As it was, it was a tremendous waste of space, space with the potential of far greater use.
In his mind's eye, he could see his perfect vision. The room was nearly dark, the intimate atmosphere punctuated only the flashes of colored light angling down from up above. A bass beat so deep that it rattled the ribcage pulsing in the background, inviting – compelling you to move your body. And, of course, the churning sea of nubile young super heroes swaying and grinding to the music.
All the drinks you could drink, all the foods you could food, and an entire tower filled with scantily clad super heroine's just itching to prove that they were just as capable of holding their liquor as their male counterparts.
Scratching his head idly, the crimson archer chuckled. Granted, he had no idea how he could actually get any booze, but it was still nice to dream. As awesome as it was to imagine, he doubted that his gathering would devolve into an orgy of hedonism and debauchery. Probably it would end up more like a high school dance than anything.
Spinning back to face the main terminal of the Titan's equally elaborate and overpowered computer system, Speedy kicked his heels up onto the display console and lazily crossed his hands behind his head. Still, a party was a party, and even without drowning in a flood of teenage hormones, it would still be good to see some of the old familiar faces.
Maybe next time, he might even invite the Titan's to one of their own parties. If only to be polite.
The first step for now, though, was to start inviting people. It was already going to be problematic finding enough people to fill even this single room, let alone half of the tower. The very nature of their profession did not lend itself to what could be called 'large peer groups'. Teenage super heroes were not exactly the most common resource on the planet, after all. Even if he invited all of the teen heroes he personally knew, he'd be lucky to fill up the couch.
A grin settled on his face. Luckily, he knew someone that was a lot more connected to the community than himself. A relative newcomer, true enough, not even a full year on the job, but she'd made something of a reputation for herself. A veritable mystery, wrapped in an enigma, and gifted with a damn sexy voice.
If one needed to get the word out, and to the right people, then there was only way to go.
Leaning forward, he reached for the phone-
The sound of a throat clearing lightly behind him caught his attention. Glancing back over his shoulder, he noted the tall, Japanese woman standing behind him. No longer wearing the oversized coat, she was dressed in a pale yellow blouse and a pair of finely fitted jeans. Kasumi's hands were clasped before her and she stared at him intently, head tilted to the side a few fractions of an inch.
"Excuse me. I just wanted to ask-" The older woman hesitated for a moment, eying him evenly. "Are you certain that holding a party is what you should be doing? Shouldn't we be focusing on protecting the city?"
Uncraning his neck and going back to his splendid view of the city's famous bay, Speedy scoffed audibly. Holding up a hand, he extended one finger.
"First off. It's 'me', not 'we'."
He then extended the next finger. "Second. This city is a piece of cake. Seriously, I've worked in Bludhaven before. There's nothing in this town that's gonna give me any trouble."
Dropping his feet from the console, he replied to the notably non-super woman directly. "No need to worry, lady, I'm still gonna do patrols and whatnot, but that'll still leave plenty of time for me to set up the party. No problems."
Kasumi's head tilted from one side to the other, her eyes still studying him owlishly. "Well, then if you don't want my help with the city, then perhaps I can help with the party? If I can take over some of the host duties, then you'll have more time to devote to the city."
It only took Speedy a moment of studying the demure, proper looking woman to come to a decision. "Ummm, naw. I want this to be a cool party, not a knitting circle."
For just a fraction of a second, he could have sworn that the tall brunette's knuckles went white, but it passed so quickly that it was likely just a trick of the light. The pleasant smile on her face never left, after all. If anything, her smile only seemed to grow.
"I can assure you that I've hosted 'fun parties' before," she stated calmly. Leaning forward slightly, she swung her hands behind her, clasping them behind her back. "But if you really don't need my help for anything, well, I suppose that leaves me with plenty of time on my hands."
The corner of her mouth quirked upwards, almost a twitch really, just enough to – again, for only a fraction of a second – make her already wide smile look nearly painful. The idea of free time must have really been appealing to the older woman, though, as her eyes were positively dancing with excitement.
"I'm certain that I'll be able to find something to do with my evenings."
Speedy stared at her oddly for a moment before finally shrugging. Spinning back to the computer, he waved dismissively over his shoulder. "Sounds good to me. If you really wanna help, I suppose you can pick up some snacks, or something. Chips, pop, that kinda stuff."
Behind his back, he could hear his companion's light footfalls as she began her egress. "Of course. I was thinking of heading into town this evening, regardless."
"I just… need to pick up a thing or two first."
And with that, she was gone. Speedy let out a puff of breath, teasing his bangs. That Kasumi was an odd one. Pretty hot, for certain, in an older woman kinda way, but her uselessness to his causes was a bit annoying. He still hadn't gotten a satisfactory answer as to why she was hanging out with the Titans. At least the headband guy and the blonde twig were both supposed to be super types, even though they were pretty unreliable themselves.
Well them, at least, he could give the benefit of the doubt. If anything did come up, they'd be a call away, after all. He wouldn't mind seeing what the dirt loving duo was capable of.
He still couldn't shake the sense of déjà vu with the blonde, but nothing he could put his finger on.
But that was a matter for another time. Back to the important stuff. Leaning forward, Speedy picked up the phone imbedded into the computer console and dialed the set of digits he'd managed to weasel out of Robin a few months back. He still didn't know how Robin got the number, but the Boy Wonder was tied to a somewhat more infamous mentor than Speedy was, so aggressive information gathering had always been a bit more of Robin's forte.
The phone only rang once.
"Oracle here. What can I do for you, Robin?" The voice was undeniable female, even though it was obviously being run through a few filters. These tech types always went way overboard with the whole 'secret identity' thing. Reminded him of when Robin told him about the week when the Batman had strep throat, or something like that. Talking so growly and gravelly that it had been all the Boy Wonder could do not to fall over laughing.
"Heh, a little off the mark, mystery lady," he replied smoothly. "This is your friendly neighbourhood archer."
"Speedy?" The voice inquired, sounding curious even through the distortion. "Why are you calling from the Titan's Tower? Last I heard, you were in Fawcett City."
"Hmm, you do keep in the loop, don't you?" he replied, quite impressed. He had been in Fawcett, but the lead he had been following had unfortunately dried up.
And, by dried up, he meant 'captured by the 'Big Red Cheese' himself, Captain Marvel, and thrown into prison. Kind of hard for a no-namer like himself to question a guy in lockdown, that much was for certain.
"For the most part, anyway," he correct smugly. "After all, if you were really up to date, you'd know that the Titans were off planet."
"They're what?" came a surprised bark. "All of them? Even their two new members?"
"Well, no, they lef-" He paused. "Wait a minute. You know about Fang Guy and the Waif Wonder?"
He heard her scoff loudly. "Are you kidding? With the uproar on the web from the fact that the Titans are crazy enough to let that Terra girl stay with them after she nearly wiped out the entire city?"
The dose of information struck Speedy with freight train force.
"Whoa, hold on a second." His eyes widened in near panic. "Did you just say that that girl, she's that Terra? The traitor that tried to kill off Robin and the others?"
He nearly dropped the phone, his fingers suddenly feeling numb. Terra, the powerful geokinetic girl that had the power to take on the entire Titan team, by herself, and Robin had left Speedy to watch over her by himself? And the spikey haired jerkass hadn't even thought to mention that fact?
"That's right. Hell of a stupid thing to do, if you ask me. But Cyborg has been defending their actions adamantly for weeks now. Says she's getting training with her powers, has changed her ways, the whole nine yards."
The image of the small blonde girl, laughing and smiling as she joked easily with her so-called mentor flashed through Speedy's mind. Now that he thought about it, this 'Terra', hadn't exactly looked or acted like the Terror that the news had painted her out to be. Robin had never said anything about her, one way or the other, so it wasn't like Speedy had had any different viewpoints to work from.
But after last night, and this morning… And Ryouga had mentioned doing some training on their trip. Was he the one that was training her? It suddenly made things make more sense in his mind. Who better to leave the dangerous girl with than with the person that was training her to use her powers?
Though… just what the hell had this 'Ryouga' guy done to so earn the Titans' trust? They only asked Speedy to come in and protect the city from muggers. Yet they had left Ryouga as the sole preventative measure against a city leveling threat like Terra.
Okay, so maybe there wasn't a need to panic yet. Like he'd thought earlier. Benefit of the doubt. That… and maybe keeping the 'big boom' arrow within easy reach in his quiver for the next few nights.
"So, what can ya tell me about this Hibiki guy, anyway? The Titans were in too much of a rush last night to actually tell me anything useful."
"Embarassingly, not as much as I'd like" Oracle admitted, her voice a bit terse. "The guy's paper trail is spotty, to say the least. And even though he's been with the Titans for months now, they've been keeping him under lock and key for most of that time. From the sounds of it, his first serious mission with the Titans was two nights ago, fighting that Adonis lunatic."
He could hear the sounds of the skilled hacker typing away over the line. "Robin hasn't volunteered any information, either, and I never got around to asking, since the 'Terra' stuff was a lot more important. All I know for sure is that he's from Japan, is purportedly a skilled martial artist, and that he's somehow related to that Saotome Ranma guy over in Tokyo."
Saotome…? Oh, right! The giant ink demon battle! Damn, but that had been an epic fight!
A pause. Whoa, he remembered just what kind of a fighter that Saotome had been. Calling him a 'skilled martial artist' would be like calling Black Canary, 'a bit of a loud mouth'. Speedy was no slouch himself in hand to hand, but last time he'd checked, he wasn't up to punching holes in concrete with his head.
Was Ryouga that kind of guy? If so, then having him in charge of Terra started making even more sense.
"Yeah, yeah, I remember that. So you figure he's as badass as Saotome? That explains why the Titans brought him in."
"Actually… no. From what little is mentioned in Cyborg's post, and what I've been able to pull from the rumor mills, they didn't bring him in to fight."
"Really? If they weren't looking for a new butt-kicker, than why keep him around?"
"Well, this might sound a bit far-fetched, but he… supposedly brought Terra back from the dead."
Again, Speedy found himself at a loss for words.
"You heard me. Like I said, it's impossible to tell for sure. Cyborg uses terms like 'restored', and 'reverse fossilization', which sound like total bunk." He could hear the mysterious woman give a frustrated huff. Apparently lacking possibly critical information was somewhat annoying for notable 'fonts of information'. "But it would explain why this Hibiki guy never got out until recently. If he was spending all his time working with Terra."
Again, the memory of Ryouga interacting with Terra earlier that morning flashed through the archer's head.
"I think that one is definitely more fiction than fact, babe. Trust me, that guy is no miracle worker." He chuckled to himself. "Anyway, I'll keep an eye on the both of them while the Titans are away. I called you for something more important than gossip, Oracle."
"You still haven't told me why the Titans are off planet," she reminded him sharply.
He smirked. "Alright, but you can consider this tidbit as payment for the favor you're going to be doing for me, alright?"
"As long as it's good."
Speedy nodded to himself. "Oh, it is. The Titans are on their way to Tamaran. For a wedding."
"A wedding? On Tamaran?" Oracle's voice rose in pitch. "Starfire is getting married? To who? It isn't to… to Robin, is it?"
Were it anyone else, Speedy could have almost sworn that Oracle sounded caught somewhere between worried and furious. But why would an anonymous information provider care who got married to who?
"No, no. Some alien prince, or something. So Star is moving back home. The Titans are just giving her a ride, so they're going to be out of town for a good two weeks at least."
He was almost certain he heard a silent sigh of relief, but honestly wasn't too interested in his current friend's emotional entanglements.
"Starfire is leaving for good? That's… too bad…" Oracle's voice finally returned to a more even keel. "Well, alright, that seems to explain just a tiny bit of the crazy that's been going on around that place for the past few months. Now what was this about a favor?"
Finally! Time to get to business. He nodded to himself again, though it was a wasted gesture. "That's right. It actually has to do with the Titan's being away. See, I'm planning to have a – an intimate get together in their absence. So I want you to get the word out to all the teenage heroes out there and let them know 'Party at Titan's Tower on Saturday'."
"You're throwing a party at Robin's home while he's away?"
"That's the long and the short of it, yeah."
"While he's entrusted you to watch his city?"
"One does not preclude the other, my dear. In fact, imagine how much safer the city will be with so many heroes in it!" He leaned back, kicking his feet up again. It was hard to keep a mostly straight face.
"And why, exactly, would I want to waste my important resources, and my precious time acting as a singing telegram to invite people to this party?" she asked, sounding far less inclined to help him than he was hoping she would be.
"Well… I did just fill in a pretty big blank in your 'all knowingness'. I doubt even the Bat knows that his favorite protégé is out of the belfry." He grinned to himself. "And, of course, you're invited as well. Beautiful women are always welcome to one of Speedy's party."
A light chuckle was his reply. "Presumptuous much? I'm afraid I'll have to decline. I'm not much of a dancer these days." A pause, followed by a somewhat baser bark of laughter. "But, I suppose I did say I'd help you if the information was good… and it was. Alright, I'll put the word out. I won't guarantee that anyone will actually like you enough to come to your party, but I'll try, at least."
"Oh, ha ha. A comedian, I see. Just you wait and see."
He leaned forward, excitement dancing beneath his domino eyemask.
"It's gonna be perfect."
The dim lighting glinted off of the polished, silver surface of the slightly bent fork. The interplay of light and shadow on the small implement's surface only seemed to accentuate the small payload of pale yellow food it promised to deliver. The smell was of a fine, spiced cider, and the warm, crispy crust nearly crumbled from the force of his gaze alone. Even the small rivulet of melting ice cream as it slid between the steaming slices of apple was nearly hypnotic.
Apparently the chef of Ben's Roadside Diner knew a thing or two about cooking up a nice apple pie.
Ryouga smiled as he looked around, taking in the décor. He was sitting at a long, wooden bar, the top of the bar polished to a glasslike surface by the sleeves of a thousand hungry and thirsty truckers before him. A wide mirror hung on the far side of the bar, a dingy film from years of smoke, steam and whatever else hung in the air clung to the broad sheet of silvered glass, but it still provided a passable reflection for him to see the rest of the diner.
Sitting at his side, staring at him expectantly even as she held up a piece of her own apple pie, was his golden haired disciple. Beast Boy's green wind breaker had been draped over the worn, orange stool next to the slight warrior, and her sky blue shirt took on something of a navy hue through the looking glass darkly. Behind them, various tables, for both dining and playing pool, were spread out across the room. Old styled light fixtures, hanging long, stained glass housings with amusing designs cast an orange hue across the entire room, generating a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
It was a bit at odds with the somewhat rough crowd that filled it. Ryouga noted a few obvious bikers, as well as some large truckers. But not only had Terra not flinched as they entered, she spoke to the waitress like a regular.
"Sheesh, are you gonna eat the pie, or are you gonna ask it to marry you?"
The voice, tight with impatience, snapped the drifting drifter back to the present. He frowned slightly as he noted most of the ice cream had melted off of the sliver of pie he'd been holding up, and steam was no longer rising up from the apple filling. Glancing at his student out of the corner of his eye, he let out a low grunt.
"Just letting it cool down, student. You really need to learn some patience."
She eyed him before letting out a petulant huff, puffing up her cheeks. Dropping both hands to rest on the edge of her stool, she leaned forward. "Just try the pie already!"
Shaking his head, he leaned forward himself, and slid the fork into his mouth. Chewing on the delicate desert for a few moments, tilting his head from side to side, he noted Terra's eyes going wider as she watched him intently. Finally, he nodded to himself as he swallowed the thoroughly chewed pie.
"Mmm, that wasn't too bad."
Obviously, he must have said something wrong, as instantly, Terra deflated. Spinning back towards the bar, she dropped her elbows on the edge of the bar and dropped her chin onto her upraised the palm before letting out a sad little 'huff'.
"What?" he asked. "It's good pie, I'll give you that. What's the matter?"
Letting out a sigh, Terra turned back to look at him. Picking up her fork, she idly waved it in his direction. "I dunno… I was just expecting a bigger reaction. I mean, when I brought Beast Boy here, he was all, like-"
The young geokinetic scrunched up her face, ending up looking a bit shell shocked. "This is the greatest pie… in the history of pie."
The itinerate martial artist couldn't help but chuckle at the startlingly accurate impersonation. "That definitely sounds like something he'd say." He wiggled his fork back at her, a smirk on his face. "Though, are you sure he might not have been a little influenced by the company he was keeping? You never told me you took Beast Boy on a date."
"It wasn't like that!" Terra's face went red and she nearly dropped her chin right into her pie, trying to hide her embarrassment. Before he had a chance to tease further (how often did he get to be on this side of the teasing? Like twice in his life?), her expression suddenly sobered. She didn't look up, but she did respond further.
"It really wasn't like that… I mean, it kind of was, but it all just went so wrong." The blonde warrior lifted her gaze to stare at the grimy mirror across from them. He couldn't really place her expression, but it was almost… searching. Was she expecting to see something in the reflection when he couldn't?
"I actually did want it to be like that, but-" Her gaze dropped down to stare at her shoes, her feet kicking weakly against the stool post. "I… don't even know what I was thinking. After what I'd done… did I think he was just going to run away with me? I – I -" Her shoulder's began to hitch as her voice wavered.
Instantly, Ryouga's frame went stiff. Realization struck him like one of Ranma's fists. Cyborg had mentioned the night when the Tower had been attacked, so long ago. It had been when Ryouga was still trying to gather information to help him free Terra from her igneous prison. His titanium team mate had mentioned that Beast Boy had been absent that night, but hadn't had too many details.
Reaching out, he dropped a gentle hand on her narrow shoulder. Caught mid-sniff, Terra nearly recoiled from his touch, but he held her in place, if only to prevent her from falling off her seat. Lowering himself down enough to let him meet her gaze evenly, he gave a small shake of his head.
"You don't need to talk about it, if you don't want to, Terra," he explained quietly. "I understand if you want to keep it to yourself."
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as she stared back at him. One of her hands dropped down on his, gripping on with manic intensity. "Do you mean it? You don't mind if I – if I keep secrets from you?"
Giving a loud chuckle, as much bravado as mirth, he waved off her concern with his free hand. "As long as it doesn't involved water balloons, I'm alright. After all, I know better than most, about keeping secrets." He shook his head weakly. "I'll have to tell you about the Koi rod sometime…"
He quickly re-thought that offer.
"On second thought, actually, I'll be taking that one to the grave with me, if at all possible."
"Wait, what's a 'Coy Rod'?" Instantly, Terra's expression shifted from grim to curious. Leaning forward, she caught his gaze with intent inquisitiveness. "What happened?"
He let out a bark of laughter, carefully nudging her back onto her stool. "Now now, no prying into secrets, remember? I think we'll both feel a bit better not knowing about each other's lowest points, yes?"
Instantly, a weapon's grade pout settled on Terra's face, and she crossed her arms firmly across her chest. "Hmph! I never said it was okay for you to keep secrets from me! That's not fair!"
"That's the definition of fair!" he fired back incredulously. Giving her a light pat on the back, he nodded to her dessert. "Now eat your pie already. We still need to plan out our trip."
Letting out an annoyed grunt (where did she pick up such an unladylike habit, anyway? He'd have to talk to Beast Boy about that.) she began to dig in. Despite her annoyance, Ryouga could still see a ghost of a smile on her face as she complied with his 'order' to eat her food. He let out an internal sigh of relief, having nearly skirted disaster there.
"Now," he began between bites. Pulling out his map once more, he pointed to a region north of the city. "I think we should head up here, to the forested area north of the city. There should be some ideal camping spots up there."
"What?" Terra dropped her fork before dropping a fist onto her hip. "I don't want to camp in any lame forest!"
Pointing with much aplomb, she indicated the blank stretch of map to the east of the city. "I wanted to camp out in the desert. It's way more beautiful out there, and it won't even get too hot this time of year."
"Yeah, and it'll only get 'slightly' freezing at night," he countered, rolling his eyes. Tapping his fingers to the map again (but not detonating it… yet), he nodded firmly. "The forests will help cut down on the winds, so it will be more comfortable at night."
"Comfortable? Pffft!" Terra rasperried him shamelessly. "I didn't realize we were a bunch of little girls afraid to get dirt under our manicures."
Ryouga just stared at the young woman, but she met his gaze, chin held high and proud and met his look with one that said 'I dare you to say what you're thinking of saying!'
"Besides," Terra added, "There forest is way too cramped if we wanna do any actual training. At least in the desert we can have some fun without worrying about leveling the place."
"Hmm," Ryouga hmm'd. "You actually have a point there."
Of course, and very much unlike himself, Ryouga found it necessary to consider things beyond just himself. "Unfortunately, while we might not be a pair of young girls-" He eyed her tellingly at that. "We are going to be travelling with a bunch of little kids for at least a day or two, remember? And I think they're all expecting a woodland excursion."
"Excursion? What's with the Raven language?"
"Hey, I can watch documentaries, too, ya know?" he fired back in annoyance. Granted, said documentaries were infinitely more watchable in the company of… certain individuals. Not that he'd had any time for that lately, nor would he for at least two weeks with all of this insanity lately! Never even mind this complete Tamaranian marriage bullsh-
"Hey! You still in there?"
Ryouga snapped back to focus, noting a bony knuckle bouncing off his forehead. Giving his head a shake, he glanced askance at Terra. "What?"
She studied him dubiously for a moment, before pointing to his hand. "Umm, I was just suggesting that, maybe, we spend the first couple of days with the kids in the forest. And then, ya know, spend the rest of the week in the desert. But then you started bending your fork into modern art…"
Looking down, he noted the piece of twisted steel in his hand, the silvery metal wrapping around his fingers like pulled wire. Chuckling in embarrassment, he quickly attempted to unbend the ruined implement.
"Sorry, just got distracted," he assured her. "But yeah, that sounds fine. Training in the desert would actually be the best, now that I think of it."
Frowning, Ryouga pinned the end of the fork to the bar with one finger, then pressed his palm down onto it, before sliding his hand along the bar to flatten it out. Once done, he lifted up the fork… which was now perfectly flat, and probably 25% longer and thinner than it had been before.
Shrugging, he put it down carefully beside his plate. Maybe they could use an extra knife?
Letting out an annoyed huff of her own, Terra pulled out some money and dropped it on the counter before pulling him off his stool. "C'mon, let's get going. We need to find a place to stay before sunset."
Ryouga let himself get pulled out the door of the diner. "Oh, don't worry, Terra. We've still got a few hours."
"Yeah, and I want to find a good place to set up before those hours are up. I hate setting up camp in the dark," she declared indignantly. Sliding her coat back on, and donning her pack once more, Terra dispersed the stone prison covering the stacked up boxes of food they'd left outside the diner, and willed up another stone platform to drag it behind them.
"Don't be so serious," he chided teasingly. "This is a vacation, not a mission. I mean, didn't I see an Amusement Park not too far from here? I bet we could have some fun there before we-"
"…Or not…" Too bad, he'd always wanted to try a roller coaster.
Oh my, have Ryouga and Terra finally found a place to stay? Kasumi looked up, noting the setting sun in the distance. It was certainly about time that the pair called her. She was starting to get worried that they actually had managed to get themselves lost. Luckily, it seemed, that Terra had been able to reign in her 'mentor's' somewhat notorious direction sense.
Taking a moment to prepare herself – noting the nice breeze in her hair – she took another few seconds to primp before finally pulling out her communicator. Taking a quick glance from side to side and, quite predictably, seeing no one in her vicinity, she ran a finger over the smooth surface of the hexagonal communicator. Unlike Ryouga's, the surface was still flawless and gleaming, having seen very little use since she had received it.
Flipping it open, she prepared to greet Ryouga and/or Terra-
"Oh my!" she exclaimed, honestly surprised.
Only for her caller to be neither of the above!
"Tendo Kasumi?" asked the wizened, raspy voice, sounding very nearly as surprised as the Tendo sister, herself.
"Elder Cologne?" Kasumi replied, her surprise now of the pleasant variety. She brushed a few errant locks of long, chestnut hair over her ear as she lifted the communicator closer to her face to hear better. "What a pleasant surprise. It's been some time since we've spoken."
"An oversight which, unfortunately, I have not the time to remedy at the moment," Cologne offered politely. "Alas, pleasantries must wait. I must speak with Starfire, post haste."
Kasumi's eyes widened slightly. Shifting slightly upon her uncomfortable perch, she waffled for a moment. "I'm… very sorry, Elder Cologne, but – but Starfire is not available to speak with you."
"Please, this is very important," the ancient warrior intoned solemnly. "If she is on a patrol, or involved in something else, please interrupt her. What I must speak to her of, is of the utmost importance to the Village."
That, alone, nearly left Kasumi speechless. She touched her fingertips to her lip, letting out a small, worried gasp. What could possibly be so important that it had the Matriarch in such a state? Granted, Cologne could tend towards the melodramatic just as much as any other of Ranma's friends… but still, this seemed quite urgent.
"I'm afraid that I can't help you," Kasumi insisted. "You see, Starfire left Earth last night. She is currently on her way to Tamaran, even as we speak."
"She is what?" Cologne asked, her voice rising a fraction of a decibel. "Did she give a reason? The timing of all of this… it cannot be coincidence."
"Timing of what?" Kasumi studied the small screen intently, but the wizened Amazon was an eminent master of the 'poker face'. "Starfire is going to be married. Did – did you hear about it from someone else already?"
Cologne's large, owlish eyes widened visibly at her revelation, and her face suddenly expanded to fill more of the screen as she pulled her own communication device closer. "Starfire goes to be wed?" The aging martial artist shook her head at that. "No, it can certainly be no coincidence… but I can scarcely believe that she would be involved in such a thing."
"Really?" Kasumi asked, somewhat confused. "Well, it seemed that Starfire wasn't enthused with the idea, but she is a woman that takes her responsibilities seriously. She said that her Grand Ruler decreed the wedding-"
"No, not that," Cologne interrupted a touch sharply. "I mean with the dissolution of the treaty between the Joketzuko village and Tamaran."
"Wait, what? Starfire mentioned nothing about that," the Tendo responded earnestly. "And why would Starfire do such a thing? Wasn't she the one that proposed it in the first place?"
At that, Cologne leaned back, revealing darkness behind her… and perhaps a few lights in the background. City lights? It was almost impossible to make out.
"Indeed, which makes it all the more puzzling." Steepling her hands before her, Cologne studied Kasumi carefully. "You say Starfire was told to come home, to be married, but mentioned nothing of the treaty?"
Taking another moment to brush several more windblown strands of hair from her face, Kasumi nodded. "That is precisely it. She received the call early yesterday morning. They have been out of communication with us for most of the day already."
"Hmm," Cologne hmm'd sounding quite wise indeed. "By 'them', I assume you mean the rest of the Titans are with her as well?"
"Everyone except for Ryouga, Terra and myself, yes."
A minute nod. "Ah, yes, the elemental girl. Another oversight which I need to rectify… if only I had the time." A deep frown settled on the ancient Amazon's withered lips. "Unfortunately, this situation is quickly growing from annoyance to mystery, and I do dislike mysteries. I only received word of the treaty's dissolution mere hours ago, and the Council was only made aware by the fact that the Tamaranian cruiser stationed above our village has begun preparations to depart permanently."
Cologne allowed herself a small smile next. "I've been told that it took no small amount of feminine wiles to convince the Captain of the vessel to explain his actions."
Kasumi mirrored the sly grin with one of her own. Though she, personally, would never use her feminine wiles in such a way (…except for maybe once or twice, but those didn't really count), her lessons on the subject meant she could understand the usefulness of such techniques. Of course, that made the entire situation only that much more confusing. Was Tamaran cutting off all ties with earth? Had they only been interested in their planet as long as Starfire had been living here?
"Well," Kasumi trailed off uncertainly, "I'm not certain what I can do to help you. Asides from hoping you some luck, it seems that this situation is beyond any of our control."
"There are very few situations which are beyond my control, child," Cologne corrected her proudly. "In fact, with what you have told me, I believe there is only one logical course of action to take. Thank you for your assistance, young one, I will not forget it."
Dipping her head politely, Kasumi held up a hand and waved it slightly before her face. "Oh my, no, I did hardly anything at all."
She paused, curiosity gnawing away at her.
"Before you go, though…" She leaned from side to side, trying vainly to peer around the seated Cologne. "Are you… in a city? I thought you were back in the village?"
Expression as cool as ice, Cologne waved a hand dismissively. "I am merely visiting a recently acquired business partner. I plan to return to the village immediately."
At that, Cologne leaned forward, eyes searching for clues. "But, if I might ask… why does it appear that you are on a rooftop?"
Kasumi started at that, quickly pulling the communicator closer to her face. "Oh, I was just watching the sunset from the top of the tower, is all."
"Ah, and I made you miss it. Apologies, child. But I must say farewell for now. I have much to do this night."
The Tendo sister nodded politely. "Think nothing of it. I… have a few things to do tonight as well."
And with that, the call finally ended. The small screen flickered to black, and Kasumi clicked the device closed before slipping it back into the compartment on her belt. Smiling sheepishly, Kasumi leaned back on the ledge of the Titan's tower.
She hadn't lied at all, though she'd probably seemed a bit suspicious. Of course, there was the truth, and then there was 'the truth'.
As she said, she did have a few things to do this night, after all.
That in mind, she picked up the black piece of fabric from where she'd set it beside her when she'd received the call from Cologne. Stretching out the elastic material revealed a stark white picture at the center of it, a rough depiction of a skull. With smile widening by the moment, Kasumi slid the mask on-
Red X leapt up to her feet, enjoying the sensation of the high winds as they caressed her body through the thin, though insulated material of her suit. The breeze cracked through her short cape and whistled over her ear covers, and she loved every minute of it. It had been far far too long since she had been able to come out and play.
It was so very nice that all of her friends had made it just too convenient to resist. It was also so nice that Speedy, that primping, preening, egoistical little priss of a hero had been so kind as to give her such a good excuse to get out once more. Oh, the fun they would have.
First thing first, though, she had a thing or two to pick up in town.
A flicker of blackness and a second later, the rooftop was empty once more.
Cologne turned off the display with a flick of her finger. The ancient warrior then leaned back, sinking into the exquisite comfort of her imported leather conference chair. Though none of the lights were on, her vast office was still illuminated by the light pollution of the metropolis that was Metropolis.
Though, she supposed that she wasn't one to speak of naming conventions. Naming a tribe of warrior woman, 'the tribe of warrior women' wasn't exactly that far removed from naming a city after the number of occupants it had, now was it?
Still, she would have to be careful about that in the future. She'd already allowed Hibiki to catch her once, and now Kasumi. True, she had not actually lied in either case, but then, there was a difference between the truth, and 'the truth'.
Just how interested would Ryouga's new friends be, if they were to learn that Cologne was currently staying in Metropolis? In the employ of one Lex Luthor?
But, that was a worry for another time. As much as Luthor offered the village, it was nothing compared to what the alliance with Tamaran, an actual interstellar race, offered. Cologne had to find out why the treaty had been dissolved. And why it had been done in such a disrespectful manner. There was no way that the charming young Starfire would be a party to such an act; at the very least, she would have had the courage to tell them directly if something was amiss.
There was only one thing that was for certain.
She would be on that ship when it left for Tamaran.
Leaning forward, she activated the communication display embedded in her oversized desk once more, entering a frequency be rote. It took only a scant few moments before a familiar face appeared on the screen.
"Lotion, find someone you trust and meet me at the stone circle to the north of the village. I will meet you there in less than four hours."
The young, yet mature looking Amazon warrior stared back across the communication channel, clearly shocked. "Four hours? But, Elder, are you not still in Met-"
"Do as I say, child," Cologne ordered. "I will be there when I say."
"And," she added after a brief moment of thought, "Please collect the following things before you set out…"
With one last hit from the rock, Terra drove the final peg of her tent into the ground. Standing up, the blonde dropped her makeshift hammer before dusting off her hands, feeling quite satisfied with herself. It had actually been quite some time since she'd had to pitch a tent… quite some time, plus nearly a year on top of that, now that she thought of it.
Tilting her head to the side, she eyed her tent critically. Come to think of it, the camouflage green pup tent was looking a little saggy. The triangular enclosure dipped down a bit in the middle, and she probably could have spaced the spikes out a bit better… but whatever, she'd get more practice over the rest of the week.
Spinning around, she dropped her hands on her hips and puffed out her chest proudly. The clearing they had found to set camp in was spacious, and the full moon overhead bathed them with soft, silver light, nearly lighting up the night completely. Lush grass covered the forest floor, and the tall trees which surrounded the clearing offered some protection from the breeze she could hear whistling through their upper branches. In the distance, she could even hear the sound of a stream flowing past. All in all, it was just an utterly gorgeous night.
The sight, sound and smell of the campfire sent Terra's mind hurtling back through an endless stream of memory, countless nights spent beneath the stars huddled up next to a fire exactly like this one. The feeling of warmth on her skin, even from a few yards away, was wonderful, and she took a few steps closer to battle off the chill night air.
On the far side of the fire, Ryouga's tent was already setup. Her mentor chose a more modern style dome tent (whatever happened to tradition, anyway?), and had pitched it right next to the stone enclosure she had created to keep their food stores safe from unwelcome animal visitors. At the moment, the master martial artist was stacking up some wood next to the fire, carefully bisecting each cord of wood in half, and then in half again with expert swipes of his hand.
Terra found herself scratching her head. How exactly was he doing that again? It wasn't like his fingers were sharp, or anything. Just another one of those odd martial artist things, again, she supposed.
Another sharp 'crack' split the air as he cut the last piece of wood and carefully stacked it a safe distance from the fire. Taking advantage of the lull in activity, Terra paced around the fire to stand over her 'master' and leaned forward, hands still on her hips. Smiling brightly, she addressed her current concern.
"So, what do ya want to do first? Make some Smores? Tell some ghost stories?"
Taking a moment to nudge his pile of wood this way, and then that, aiming for perfection, Ryouga glanced up at her. Serious expression on his face, he replied matter of factly, "The first thing we are going to do, is get some sleep. We've had a long day on the road, and I have a feeling the next few days are going to be pretty busy."
"What?" Terra barked, "But I don't wanna sleep yet. We got a bunch of camping protocol to follow still."
"Protocol?" Ryouga asked, smile creeping onto his face. "Sheesh, Terra, we've got all week out here. We'll get to the 'row-row-row your boat' later. Are you seriously telling me that you're not tired after walking all day?"
"Of course no-" Terra's indignant denial dissolved into a hideously embarrassing intake of air that, to the layman could be confused with a yawn, but most assuredly wasn't. "-aww-ot…"
Her cheeks burnt with heat that had nothing to do with the fire at her side, but Terra refused to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging her slip up. Planting fist ever more firmly on hip, she leaned forward nearly close enough to headbutt the kneeling martial artist.
"I'm so not tired! Let's do something."
Her mentor stared at her evenly for a moment, before that nasty little grin of his resurfaced, one of his oversized fangs peeking out over his lower lip. It was an odd mixture of adorable and dangerous (Beast Boy had a similar thing going, though his mixture was more 90-10, as opposed to Ryouga's 50-50… or Raven's 10-90). Rising to his feet, Ryouga dusted his hands off on his pants before bringing them together to crack his knuckles loudly.
"Well… if you're that fired up… then it would be a waste to, well, waste all that energy." Suddenly, the martial artist dropped back into a combat stance, holding his hands up in a threatening gesture before her. "Night training sounds like a good idea. How about we start with a nice light spar?"
She missed Ryouga's stunned double blink as he finally realised she was already on the far side of the camp again, digging her sleeping bag from her back pack. She did catch him stand up and run a hand through the hair at the base of his neck and release an amused chuckle, though.
"What happened to all that energy? I thought you wanted some exercise?"
Rolling her eyes, she freed the heavy, goose down sleeping bag and began untying the straps. Firing a flat glare over her shoulder, she let out an annoyed huff.
"I've got a headache."
Ignoring the bark of laughter from behind her, Terra started to look for her pillow next. Where had she put it again? She had been sure she packed it… Oh, wait, there it was! Triumphantly, she dug the highly compressed head comforter from the very bottom of the pack and held it above her head. Turning to gloat over her victory, she paused at the unusual sight of Ryouga unrolling his own (synthetic) sleeping bag, right on the ground next to the fire.
Still holding her pillow over her head, she let out an interrogative grunt. "Hey, what are you doing?"
Kneeling down to smooth out his dark green sleeping bag, Ryouga gave a simple shrug of his shoulders. "It's far too nice of a night to spend in a tent."
Obviously satisfied with his answer, the older warrior then slid himself into the insulated depths of his sleeping bag and quickly began making himself comfortable. Terra could only stare for a moment, her gaze shifting from Ryouga, to her own sleeping bag, and then to her own tent before making the rotation a second time.
It was beautiful out tonight… but a sharp shiver as an errant breeze cut through her light shirt reminded her of the reality that it was no longer summer out. She didn't want to look like a wimp; If he could sleep under the stars, then she could do it better. Sure, she wasn't exactly sure what that entailed, but it was the thought that counted.
The sight of her teacher now completely relaxed, arms stretched lazily over his head and his hands folded behind his head as if he didn't even notice the temperature in the slightest, only steeled her resolve. Nodding firmly to herself, she came to a decision and stuck with it.
She was rewarded with Ryouga's puzzled expression as she walked back over to his side of the camp fire and unfurled her sleeping bag right next to his – well, overlapping a few inches, actually – placing herself implacably between him and the fire. She didn't even dignify his questioning glance with a shred of acknowledgement as she crawled into her sleeping bag. It wasn't until she was firmly in place, and dropped her head onto his upturned arm for a pillow, that she finally met his gaze.
"Nothing, nothing. Just wondering if I'm going to need a 'personal boundaries' speech here," he replied with a lazy grin.
"Pfft, as if," she retorted, looking straight up at the stars now. "Get your mind out of the gutter, master. It's cold out, is all."
"Oh really? So says the girl that wanted to camp out in the desert? Please tell me that you didn't get any dirt under your manicure while you were setting up your tent."
"With all due respect: please shut it, Ryouga."
"Oh, the disrespect I put up with," the human pillow responded, mock hurt in his voice. "This must be how Mr. Saotome feels every day."
Immediately, Terra lashed out with a righteous elbow of justice – only to clutch it back to her side an instant later.
'Oh, funny bone! Funny bone!'
The slight geokinetic rolled from side to side for a moment, before finally turning to glare at her head rest. "You better not have just compared me to Ranma, there," she half growled.
Looking straight up now, and obviously fighting a vain battle to stop from snickering, Ryouga shook his head from side to side a few fractions of an inch.
Grumbling under her breath, Terra spent a minute rubbing her elbow, trying to disperse the annoying sting. Stupid funny bone… it was only funny when it happened to someone else! Gradually, though, the pain vanished, and she could focus once more. Craning her neck just a bit, she looked over again at her teacher, her mentor and her savior.
Ryouga was staring intently at the heavens. His deep brown eyes, nearly black in the weak moonlight, darted around rapidly, as if searching the stars. Which, in retrospect, was likely exactly what he was doing. Instantly, Terra found herself doing the same, and wondered how it had ever taken her so long to realize why he had chosen to sleep under the stars.
Their long trek suddenly made more sense. An entire day of walking, getting as far away from the city as possible for two vaguely super human people. Out this far, there was hardly any light pollution at all, and the night sky was a brilliant tapestry; millions of points of light stretched across an infinite velvet cloth. There was the big dipper, too…
"Which one do you think is Tamaran?" she asked, her voice barely audible over the crackling of the fire.
With his free arm, Ryouga pointed a single finger to the void of the universe. "I think… it's that one," he stated, pointing to a single bright speck in the sky.
"…That's the north star, Ryouga."
"What? I thought that was the north star?" he inquired, pointing to a completely different celestial body.
"Ryouga… that's a plane…"
He glared at her out of the corner of his eye. "It is not. I've seen that constellation plenty of times."
"Wha- Ryouga, it's blinking! …And moving!"
He looked at her owlishly, an adorably clueless expression on his face. "Well… yeah. How else are you supposed to use it navigate by? Haven't you heard the expression 'Follow the North Star'?"
Terra's cheeks puffed up with irrational, indignant fury… only for her incredulous annoyance to deflate like a pricked balloon. Letting out an annoyed sigh, she settled for glaring at him, the cheeky grin he was failing utterly to hide giving him away completely.
"You're just teasing me! Not even you are that clueless."
He managed to hold onto his blank stare for another few seconds before finally dissolving into a few silent chuckles. He gave a single nod. "Yeah, but I almost had you there. Actually, if Starfire is right, then it's actually easy to find. The Vegan star is the main star of the Swan constellation. It's actually the fifth brightest star in the sky, on account of how close it is."
Terra's eyes grew wide with wonder. Absently, she lifted her own hand and gently nudged Ryouga's finger from the star on Orion's belt over to the actual Lyra constellation. She could see it so clearly now, the bright point of light that stood out amongst all of its neighbours. It was mystifying to imagine. All of this time, the entire time she had known Starfire, and she hadn't even realized that she had looked up at her friend's home a thousand different times over her life.
It was a bit humbling. She could almost imagine a tiny, tiny speck at the center of the distant star, now. Perhaps the shadow of a T-Ship arrowing through the dark, homing in on that distant point of light.
"So, how do you think they're all doing?" Terra asked softly.
"Where did you install the 'rest room' feature again?"
"The… 'what room' feature?"
"…There is no word for the hatred I feel at this moment."
Ryouga waved his hand absently. "I'm sure they're doing fine. You know Cyborg, he always thinks of everything."
Terra nodded. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. Kinda silly to be getting worried at this point, anyway. How many millions of miles away are they right now, anyway?"
"More than I can count," the martial artist admitted with a wry grin. "It's hard to imagine. All of them being so far away. I mean, just a year ago, the thought of even travelling by plane was nearly foreign to me… and now I live with people that can traverse the stars themselves."
"It's hard to imagine," Terra countered quietly, "That we're never going to see Starfire again…"
Her mentor gave a lethargic nod. His eyes shone in the starlight - unshed tears, perhaps? – as he studied the night sky. She still wasn't exactly sure just what Ryouga's relationship with Starfire had been. Sure, Terra had liked Starfire a lot. She was fun, and happy, and treated her like a real friend, everything Terra had always wanted in a friend.
But Ryouga and Starfire seemed to have something… beyond that, and it didn't really make any sense. It was pretty obvious that there was a thing between Raven and Ryouga, after all (no accounting for taste, it appeared), and whatever that thing was, it was far more in line with the 'boy meets girl' kind of relationship that Terra knew about. But the Tamaranian and the martial artist couldn't seem to decide whether they were coming or going. Thick as thieves one second, but completely chaste the next.
Granted, her own botched attempt at a love life wasn't exactly much better. The less that she thought about that at the moment, the better, though. They were supposed to be on this trip to have fun, after all, not mope after cute members of the opposite sex that would be absent for the foreseeable future.
"What are ya thinking about?"
Ryouga shifted slightly, forcing her to lift her head and slide up a bit to get comfortable again. Glancing over out of the corner of her eye, she saw he take in a deep breath before replying.
"Just imagining what we're going to do when they get back from Tamaran," he muttered wistfully. "I can just imagine the huge meal Kasumi will make to celebrate."
Terra nodded energetically at that. Clutching her sleeping bag more tightly to her chest, she giggled. "Yeah, that'll be awesome!"
"And how Robin will probably flay us alive for skipping work and throwing parties instead of protecting the city."
She giggled again. The threat was still far enough off in the future that it was amusing.
"Oh yeah. Really looking forward to that."
"And then how you'll be so happy to see Beast Boy that you'll drag him off to make out all night."
"Yeah, I-" Suddenly, the Lost Boy's words caught up with her. Bolting upright, Terra let out a high pitched squeal and started pummeling Ryouga's chest with small fists. "Ry-o-ga! Gross!"
Laughing earnestly now, but not bothering to defend himself in the slightest, her mentor just shook his head from side to side.
"Why would you even say that?" she asked, still red faced and scandalized.
"Heh, sorry. …Just seemed like what Jinx would say right there."
That caused Terra to pause right there. Propping herself up with an arm, so that she was half laying, half leaning over Ryouga, she studied her mysterious master with an appraising eye.
"Ryouga… Just what does this Jinx girl mean to you, anyway?"
"Excuse me?" he replied, sounding put on the spot.
She rolled her free hand absently. "Well, you never really talk about her, but I remember how you acted when you saw her during that fight with the Crocodile guy."
Leaning forward, she dropped her free hand on his chest to hold herself up. "It's pretty obvious that you like her. And I mean like."
"I-I-I'm not sure what you mea-"
Ignoring his stuttering denial, she tilted her head to the side. "But, then you got your whole deal with Raven going on, too. So what does that make Jinx? The ex girlfriend you still pine for, or the one that got away?"
Piercing him with a stare that demanded answers, she leaned more of her weight on his chest, wanting to keep the pressure on him.
"I mean… you've never even mentioned how you met Jinx. Or how you got to know her." She leaned forward even further, her eyes growing wider as another question struck her.
"Do you – do you like Jinx more than Raven?"
Finally, Ryouga had had enough. Sitting up forcefully, he gently placed his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back and away from him. He was unable to meet her gaze, however, and stared intently at the sleeping bag pooled around his waist.
Something about his words, the way his voice nearly broke when he said them, shocked the geokinetic into silence. She didn't even move as he released her shoulders, only to lay down once more, this time on his side, his back to her. The simple gesture spoke volumes, and suddenly Terra wanted to kick herself for prying so hard.
"It's… complicated…" he added in a whisper, his back still facing her.
Sighing sadly, Terra nodded in agreement. It certainly was. It all was.
Still staring at his broad back, Terra laid back down, rolling onto her side as well. She almost reached out, feeling an odd desire to put her hand on his shoulder, if only to give him a consoling pat… but it didn't seem like the right thing to do now. As odd as it seemed, with all of the time they had spent together lately, there was still so much about Ryouga that she knew nothing about.
Raven. Jinx. His past. His life in Japan. He mentioned names all the time, like Ranma, but it was mostly just anecdotes, or quick stories, nothing really meaningful.
With another long sigh, Terra finally let her eyes slide closed. Hopefully tomorrow would bring a better day.
White light flashed, blinding, then subsided a moment later. The glare gave way to the familiar interior of her home away from home, and she let out an enthused laugh of relief to be back.
"Welcome back, you three," the teleport tube operator offered with a friendly wave.
Supergirl waved to the older gentleman, wearing the standard purple and white outfit that all Watchtower support staff wore, and offered him her most winning smile. Stepping off the teleporter pad, she then spun around – her feet floating off of the floor as she did – to see her friends.
Mousse and Shampoo – or Weapon Master and Neji- Neju – uh… Shampoo – were both still standing on the individual teleporter nodes, and appeared to be taking a moment to catch their breaths. Permitting them a moment to recover, the Argoan took a moment to take in appearances.
Her own uniform: white t-shirt, blue miniskirt and red cape, was in immaculate condition. Not even a dirt smudge on her head band. Her companions, on the other hand, were several light years removed from 'immaculate'. Mousse's heavy white robes were smudged nearly black with smoke and burns, and stained red from a few small nicks and cuts. His hair was a mess and half of the weapons strapped to his back were smoking ruins.
Shampoo looked even worse, considering her preference for getting up close and personal, as opposed to Mousse's more distance oriented style. The Amazon warrior was pressing a hand to her dislocated and reset shoulder, and had a pretty livid bruise on her face above and beyond the same nicks, cuts and burns that Mousse was sporting.
That said, though, both of them were smiling bright as the sun.
"Cyborg ninjas?" the male exclaimed incredulously. "Who hires cyborg ninjas to assassinate an ambassador?"
"Better question," Shampoo countered, "What kind of self–respecting ninja lets themselves get turned into robot mens?"
Supergirl shrugged. "You get all kinds. I gotta say, though, it was a great idea asking you guys to come along," she gushed. "I mean, normally when I go to China, there's usually some people around that conveniently speak English. But this time? No one!"
The weapon master rolled his big, green eyes. "So glad to know that our translating services ranked as more useful than our combat abilities, what with all of the – and let me repeat this for emphasis – Cyborg Ninjas that burst out from everywhere?"
"Shampoo know," the Amazon concurred, her voice still bewildered. "Robo ninjas popping up everywhere… like daisies."
"Ha!" Supergirl barked triumphantly. "Weren't you the one saying 'Oh, but watching stupid, dull conference is too-too boring!' You guys didn't even want to come."
"Does that always happen?" Mousse asked, aghast. "I mean, that one guy shot lasers from his face!"
"Oh, come on, it wasn't even like it was a powerful laser," the blonde Argoan argued playfully.
"It cut a car in half!"
"It was a compact!"
"Alright, alright, enough," Shampoo cut in. The vivacious, lavender haired warrior stepped forward, a bounce in her step. "Crazy as robo-ninjas were… Shampoo admit that was still great fun!"
"Well, yeah," Mousse admitted with a chuckle. "And it's not every day that you get a 'thank you' from a diplomatic delegation. I bet we're gonna be all over the news tomorrow."
Hmm, the Argoan had forgot about that. There had been a few dozen camera crews on the scene. She just hoped they got her good side… and that she avoided any 'wardrobe malfunctions' this time. More importantly, though-
"Enough about work, though," she stated eagerly. "I'm starving! Let's hit the cafeteria!"
"Uh, I think I might hit the medbay first-"
Bright red lights and a blaring siren drowned out the rest of what Mousse was going to say. Instantly, the three warriors, as well as everyone else within sight, snapped to attention. Within moments, support staff started to move about, quickly making their way to their appointed emergency stations.
Supergirl, with Mousse and Shampoo trailing behind her, instead made their way to the Control Deck, where most of their fellow heroes would no doubt be heading as well. The trio zipped down one of the corridors, only to pause momentarily as they ran into another familiar face coming around a corner to meet them.
"Whoa, what happened to you guys?" Stargirl asked, clearly aiming her question at the pair of Chinese martial artist. The young blonde woman was also floating above the floor, her golden power staff resting easily behind her back as she fell into 'step' beside them. The girl's blue and white outfit, looking a bit like an old style flag, was just a bit more modest that Supergirl's own, and even had a mask that covered half of her face.
"We'll fill you in later," Mousse replied with a grin. "I'll just say that it involves a combination of cyborgs, and/or ninjas, and leave it at that."
"Ahhh, Cyborg-Ninja Tuesday, is it?" the cosmically empowered heroine snarked with a smirk. "Anyway, you guys know what's going on?"
"We only just get back," Shampoo supplied a bit sharply. "Know no more than Stick-Girl."
"How many times do I have to tell you? It's called a Cosmic Staff!"
The lavender haired Amazon's only response was a wry grin of her own. And before anything else could be said, they exited the corridor and into the massive chamber that was the Control Deck of the Watch Tower. Even from first glance, Supergirl could count a dozen other heroes present. Shining Knight, Vigilante, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Booster Gold and, of course, the Big Seven.
All of the big wigs were already up at the front of the room, standing before the massive, just ridiculously big monitor that hung at the center of the far wall, just in front of the enormous bank of windows that allowed them to see just a gorgeous view of the Earth in the background.
On the monitor was an alien being, and one that Supergirl didn't recognize in the slightest. It wasn't even remotely humanoid, looking like some sort of hovering squid… spider… thing. Whatever it was, though, it was obviously intelligent, as it was communicating with them from however far away, and even had some kind of translation program working as well. She could tell, because even though the squid-spider (she was probably going to be having nightmares for weeks after seeing that) was communicating with a series of warbling oscillations of sound, it was followed a few seconds later with halting English.
"Superman… Please… Help us…"