AUTHOR'S NOTE: This doesn't take place in the same storyline as my "Forced Base" and "Fractured Heart" stories, so forget those when you're reading this. Also, about Sanza/Red X: When he's wearing the mask, he's Red X. When he's not, he's Sanza. Simple as that.
SECOND AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the third part of a trilogy, which includes "The Life and Times of Red X", and "Maiden of Stone", both of which are in my profile. Read those before you read this. Also, this fic COMPLETELY IGNORES the events of the fifth season (with the exception of "Go"). For the purposes of this fic, "Things Change" NEVER HAPPENED.
As soon as the four Titans entered the lobby of Library Tower, Cyborg began running a search on his scanner for the three computer terminals that lay within the building... as well as the de-activation terminal held by Construct.
"Robin is... somewhere down there," said Starfire, floating over the large hole that Terra had created in the middle of the lobby. "Down below with Slade..."
A shiver went through Starfire's body, but she was able to stave it off, remembering that Robin had promised her that he would return safely. Still, she worried... even though Terra and Red X were with him, his safety was hardly guaranteed.
"Robin will be fine," said Raven, standing with Beast Boy at the far end of the chasm. "He'll be back up here shortly."
Beast Boy still had other things on his mind... mostly, he was distraught that Raven still didn't acknowledge the kiss he'd given her. Even an angry reaction would've been better than nothing... now it just seemed like she was trying to forget the kiss entirely.
"I got it, y'all," said Cyborg, looking at a small computer monitor built into his right wrist. "I've got abnormal computer activity on the 8th, 35th, 50th, and 62nd floors."
"...and where is Construct?" asked Starfire. "He holds one of the terminals, the scan should have identified him..."
"Not sure, all I know is that the activity is registering from these four floors," Cyborg continued. "Do we each go looking for one of the terminals? That might be the quickest way to find them, but they'll probably be heavily guarded."
"We have to assume that Robin, Red X, and Terra will be arriving shortly," Raven said, not knowing that two of those people were currently engaged in other matters. "I'm sure they can probably handle two of the terminals, and I don't suggest splitting up the group any more than we have to."
Starfire nodded in agreement, though at the same time, she was confident that she could handle the search for one of the terminals, and perhaps even Construct, should she happen to engage him, on her own. Almost immediately, she used her eye lasers to blast a hole in the ceiling, quickly diverting her friends' attention toward her.
"I will make my way to the 62nd floor... the rest of you should stay together and search for one of the terminals," said Starfire, not waiting for any other directions before flying up through the hole.
"...dude..." said Beast Boy quietly, looking up through the hole. "She really wants to start looking..."
"Wouldn't it have been easier for her just to fly outside and head up to the 62nd floor that way, instead of blasting through each and every floor?" Cyborg said, hearing small explosions from Starfire's lasers, which were getting quieter and quieter as she ascended the building. "Or at least take the elevator or something..."
"You know Starfire, always doing things in her own special way," Beast Boy commented, walking around the chasm with Raven and Cyborg as the group headed toward the nearest elevator. "So... which floor are we going to?"
"Might as well start with the closest," Cyborg replied. He pressed a button next to the elevator door, and it opened a few seconds later. "Eighth floor it is."
The three Titans stepped into the elevator, and as the door closed, Beast Boy once again started thinking about Raven... and worrying about Terra. For some reason, he could sense that she was in some kind of trouble... maybe even engaged in battle with Slade himself. He knew full well the terrible injuries that Slade was capable of inflicting, remembering how bad Terra looked as she returned to the Tower with Sanza just a few days ago.
"Raven healed her, she should be okay, but... I know she still has to be hurting pretty badly... I just hope she's safe, wherever she is..."
Slade's powerful kick came just centimeters away from Terra's ribs, still bandaged from the injuries they'd sustained just days ago. Terra knew that the vicious criminal mastermind would try to exploit her weakness, and she did everything she could to keep him from attacking the injured area. She levitated chunks of concrete from the roof of the building, pelting Slade multiple times in an attempt to keep him back.
"You think that those little pebbles will harm me?" Slade taunted, punching through one of the projectiles and continuing forward, landing a punch that struck Terra across the bridge of her nose. The geomancer let out a scream before hitting the ground, and Slade raised his foot above her bandaged ribs, preparing to land a devastating blow. "Honestly, I thought I taught you better than that..."
It was then that Red X swooped in from behind, landing a spinning aerial kick that knocked Slade away from Terra. He was knocked away, but remained on his feet, turning and withdrawing a small throwing knife from his belt. He threw the knife at X, only to have him produce an X-shaped shield from his hand that deflected the knife harmlessly away. X then ran forward, launching a punch at Slade's face that was barely dodged. X fell slightly to the left, and Slade aimed a knee at his gut, only to have a large chunk of concrete slam into his legs and knock him flat on his face.
"And I thought you knew that you should pay attention to both of your opponents," said a smiling Terra, who raised up her hands and generated a small wave of concrete that sent Slade tumbling over himself, almost to the edge of the roof. He recovered and climbed atop the wave, riding it all the way to the precipice before leaping off of it and flying forward, charging headlong at Terra. He was met by a barrage of exploding Xs, forcing him to land and shield himself by crossing his arms over his face and chest. By the time the cloud of smoke from the attack had dissipated, his two opponents were now hovering on either side of the roof, flying around its perimeter and laughing at him.
"Not so fun now that we're both fighting you," shouted Red X. Clenching his fists, Slade turned to Terra, who was sticking her tongue out at Slade as she floated past on a concrete platform.
"We're not going to be your victims anymore!" said Terra, with a surge of bravery and confidence unlike any she'd had in quite some time. "It's over!"
Angrily, Slade lifted up from the ground nearly six feet before suddenly coming back down, plowing his fist into the ground and sending out a devastating shockwave. The force of the wave blasted off much of the concrete from the outer portion of the roof, and shattered every window on the building's top six floors. It also knocked Terra off of her platform and disoriented Red X, who began to fall and was soon showered by small chunks of rock and shards of glass from the broken windows. When he looked at his wings, he could see more glass embedded in them, weighing them down and making flight difficult and awkward. He managed to flutter into the building's 36th floor, stumbling forward and breathing heavily as he caught his bearings.
"Shit... should've known that Slade could do that..." thought Red X, leaning against a desk and fluttering his wings several times to get all the glass out of them. "Wait a minute... where's Terra?"
On the other side of the building, Terra was in complete freefall, screaming as she desperately tried to grab onto some of the concrete that had been dislodged from the building. She was unable to get her platform down in time to catch herself, and as she continued to fall, she realized that the only way she could save herself would be to bring up some of the pavement from the street and use it to slow herself down.
But when she looked up, she saw something that filled her with horror. Slade was flying down after her, his hand outstretched toward her neck. She let out another scream, only to have it stifled by Slade's fingers catching her around the throat. He brought back his other fist, preparing to strike her in the ribs as she continued to fall.
"No... no, not like this..." Knowing that she was only seconds away from painful death, not from Slade's blows, but from impact with the ground below, Terra closed her eyes and desperately tried to bring up a rock from the sidewalk to grab onto.
A violent crashing sound, immediately accompanied by a powerful jolt, instantly released Terra from Slade's deathgrip. Red X had flown through the building, and had tackled Slade through the window of the skyscraper next door, freeing Terra and giving her the split-second of concentration that she needed to bring up a section of sidewalk to slow her fall. She felt herself being lifted up just three stories above the ground, and immediately floated back up, just in time to see X being violently thrown out of the building he'd just tackled Slade through.
"SANZA!" Horrified by the sudden turn of events, Terra turned her attention back to the building that she had been knocked off of before... and through a window on the 19th floor, she could see Red X lying flat on his back, groaning in pain. Turning to the building across the alley, she could see Slade flying straight forward, and was able to duck just in time to avoid being tackled off of her new platform. Instead of tackling Terra, Slade landed next to the fallen Red X... and lifted him up from the floor by his neck. "Oh no you don't!"
Raising up her hands, Terra launched a barrage of earthen material from the adjacent skyscraper at Slade, most of it consisting of soil from the various potted plants that dotted the building's offices. Hardened by Terra into thick rocks, the clumps of soil punched through dozens of windows above and below where she and Slade were standing... though some of the clumps did find their mark, slamming into Slade and forcing him once again into a defensive position. The barrage subsided, and X was able to climb to his feet... though he was now tightly clutching his chest, and seemed to be in serious pain.
"Sanza... are you all right?" Terra asked, quickly running over to check on the status of her boyfriend. He gave her an affirmative nod, but the strain in his voice indicated that he'd suffered a serious blow.
"Just... a few punches to the chest... nothing to... be too worried about..." X replied, sucking in a loud breath of air. He looked over his shoulder and could see Slade rushing forward again. "Come on, we've gotta get back up to the roof..."
Extending his wings, X quickly grabbed Terra and flew out the window, soaring up the side of the building until he was once again able to reach the roof, now littered with broken fragments of concrete. Just as he set Terra down, Slade reappeared, hovering beside the roof with his arms across his chest.
"You're both wearing down... and much quicker than I would've anticipated," said Slade coldly, stepping out onto the roof and walking toward X and Terra, who began backing off while keeping their eyes locked on their opponent. "But as you can see, I'm just beginning to warm up. In fact..."
Before X or Terra could defend themselves, Slade kicked a wayward piece of concrete straight forward, aimed right at Terra's bandaged ribs. She saw it coming, but was unable to dodge, and sustained a direct hit. Letting out a scream, she collapsed to her knees and bowed her head, instantly spewing a large clump of blood from her mouth.
"You son of a bitch!" shouted X, running forward at Slade and striking at his face with a furious punch. Effortlessly, Slade caught X's fist, then struck the thief's chest with the side of his other arm, knocking X onto his back next to the fallen Terra, coughing violently. "I... can't breathe..."
Slade bent down and picked up the largest piece of concrete that was laying nearby, a 500-pound rock much larger than Red X's head, and more than large enough to smash it into tiny pieces. He began walking over to the fallen thief, who was too stunned with pain to resist... but Terra, still choking on her own blood a short distance away, was still capable of defending herself... and Sanza.
"I won't... let you hurt him..." gasped Terra. Still on her knees, she planted one hand on the ground to support herself, and raised the other hand, which began to glow a bright shade of yellow that matched the glow forming in the geomancer's eyes. As Slade lifted the rock high over his head, it too began to glow... and Slade could feel his grip on the rock beginning to loosen.
"No... how can she still...?" Slade's attention was diverted to Terra, whose teeth were clenched tightly in anger as she used her powers to lift the rock completely out of Slade's grasp. "NO!"
The rock was lifted several feet above Slade's head, then thrust straight down, stopped only by its intended target's hands once again reaching up... this time, not to grab it, but merely to stop it from splitting his skull. His elbows bent, and he let out a loud grunt as he strained to hold back the rock... with Terra pushing down on it with her powers the entire time. Finally, Slade emitted one lot, violent scream... and threw the rock off the side of the roof, where it made a loud thud as it hit the pavement below.
The thought of coming so close to defeat, or perhaps even death, had enraged Slade. Letting out another shout, he charged forward and backhanded Terra with such force that she was instantly knocked unconscious, her body twitching as a small stream of blood poured from her lips onto the concrete rooftop. Nearby, Red X had just begun to pick himself up... but when he saw Terra get knocked out, a wave of anger hit him... accompanied by a wave of fear.
"I'm alone again..." thought X, watching as Slade turned back to face him. "Alone with Terra... and I'm the only one who can protect her..."
Sanza's nightmares were all flooding back to him... and he began to once again realize that this was a fight he couldn't win.
Around the 15th floor or so, Starfire had finally gotten the idea that, even if the building was empty, blasting holes in the floor to get around was not the best thing to do.
Instead, she decided to head up the emergency staircase, flying upward past numerous flights of stairs, watching the floor numbers increase as she went.
"30... 31... 32... 33... soon I will arrive at the 62nd floor, and I will be able to-"
But when Starfire reached the 35th floor, she felt a powerful force hit her in the small of her back... and was soon slammed through a thick metal door leading into a hallway. She hit the wall hard, making a large crack in the plaster and drywall... and when she saw who'd attacked her, she let out a gasp.
"Construct...! But I thought you were higher up...!"
"Think again..." The replicant floated through the door and into the hallway, where he could see that Starfire was preparing to strike him with Starbolts. "You came alone? Not too smart..."
"I am not afraid of you!" Starfire shouted, bombarding Construct with balls of green energy that were easily blocked by his nanoshield. "I do not care if you can stop my attacks, I will still be victorious!"
Eschewing further energy attacks, Starfire lunged forward and threw a punch at Construct's head. He swung his body to the side, producing a wrist blade and slashing across the Tamaranian's shoulder. She winced slightly, but quickly recovered, kicking Construct hard in the chest and sending him flying back past several empty offices. He came to a stop next to a water cooler, which he picked up and threw at Starfire's head. She easily dodged it and flew forward again, ignoring the cut on her shoulder and swinging her foot at the side of Construct's head. The impact of the kick knocked the replicant's head to the side at a ninety-degree angle, and Starfire gasped, thinking she'd broken her opponent's neck.
"That's the sad thing about you," said Construct, smirking viciously as his head easily snapped back into place. "You're so afraid to go all out... if you actually killed someone, you'd never be able to get over it!"
"I do not believe in killing!" Starfire replied, clenching her fists.
"That's a lie," said Construct. "You come from a proud warrior race... I know all about your issues with the Gordanians. I bet you've killed at least a few of them before, haven't you?"
Starfire's legs began to tremble at the mention of her terrible past... and while it was true that her race had been at war with the Gordanians, she herself had never been forced to kill anyone... as badly as she wanted to at times. Being sold into slavery had been the final straw, and Starfire knew that her rage had likely driven her to the point where she was more than willing to use lethal force... but at that time in her life, in those moments when she'd been so hurt and so angry, she met the person she would later come to fall in love with...
She met Robin.
"I would never kill anyone, because he would never kill anyone... Robin is the strongest, bravest, kindest person I have ever known, and it is because of him that I vowed to never end the life of a sentient being!"
But while Starfire was talking, something else was happening... Construct had planted nanites inside the jug of water he'd thrown at Starfire, and after it had landed on the floor, all the nanites had crawled out... and were now forming into a silver slime that had begun wrapping itself around Starfire's legs. It hardened into an incredibly strong metal as soon as it made contact, and pinned Starfire's ankles together while continuing to advance up her body. When she saw what was happening, she began to struggle... but it was already too late.
"You can't escape, those nanites have been programmed to encase your body in an inescapable cocoon... and once that task is completed, they'll transform you into copies of themselves, your every atom transformed into another nanomachine... it's a very slow process, and from what I understand, very painful."
Horrified, Starfire tried to lunge at Construct, but her feet were pinned to the floor, and he was able to avoid her blows by taking a single step back. A few seconds later, the nanites had expanded up to Starfire's torso, and soon, her arms were pinned as well. Seeing that the end was near, the Tamaranian girl did the only thing she could...
She began to scream.
As Raven, Cyborg, and Beast Boy explored the eighth floor for any sign of the terminal Slade had planted to de-activate the nanomachines below, the changeling suddenly remembered that he'd forgotten a very important item... though its importance only seemed to be apparent to him.
"Raven! I forgot to give you back your cloak... I left it in one of the other buildings..."
"And this is important... why?" Raven asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, he did nearly kill me to keep it from falling on the ground," said Cyborg, also looking rather annoyed. "Forget it, BB. Raven's got plenty of cloaks back at the Tower... and besides, she looks a lot better without it, anyway..."
Raven immediately stopped in her tracks and shot Cyborg a very angry glare... and the mechanical Titan immediately realized his blunder.
"Heheheh, you forgot she can read thoughts, didn't ya, Cyborg?" asked Beast Boy, grinning as he looked back at his embarrassed friend.
"Both of you need to remember that we've still got work to do," said the half-demoness through clenched teeth. "That terminal is somewhere on this floor, and if we don't shut it down, Slade's nanomachines will overrun the city. We don't have much time."
The three Titans were walking through a large, open room that was separated into dozens of small offices by cubicle walls a bit taller than Raven and Beast Boy. Cyborg's scanner indicated that the computer with Slade's nanomachine deactivation program was somewhere nearby, but he was unable to get an exact location.
"Looks like Slade's got the terminal networked to the other computers in the room," said Cyborg, "which means that it's impossible for me to pinpoint which computer it's on unless we go in and run a search ourselves."
"Wait a minute," replied Raven. "If the computer that the de-activation program is on is networked to the other computers in the room, then wouldn't we be able to access the program by hacking into it from any one of these computers?"
"I suppose it's worth a try."
Cyborg walked into the cubicle immediately to his left, followed by Raven... neither of them realized that Beast Boy had disappeared from their sight just a few seconds ago. He was in the cubicle right next door... but the hand now pressed tightly over his mouth prevented him from calling out to his friends and telling them where he was. His arms were pinned to his sides by a metallic clamp wrapped around them just above his elbows... the clamp had a blinking red light on the front, indicating that it was some kind of mechanism... in this case, it was a mechanism that completely prevented the use of his powers.
He was being held tightly by a Sladebot that was sitting against the wall, keeping Beast Boy silenced while at the same time signaling to its two companions that there were two more Titans nearby. Unable to do anything but observe, Beast Boy could see that the two Sladebots in front of him, and likely the one keeping him quiet and docile, were different from any of the models he'd ever seen before... even the upgraded ones. The Sladebots were completely black, without any of the orange paneling that accompanied the originals. Their external armor appeared sheek and polished, and their eyes alternated from red and glowing to completely dark... in the dim light of the room, they appeared almost invisible when their eyes weren't illuminated.
"I'll keep this one quiet," said the first Sladebot, discussing its plans with the other two via a radio communication system built into their circuitry... a system that enabled them to speak to one another completely silently. "Go take care of the two next door, and hurry... before they de-activate the terminal."
The other two Sladebots nodded, disappearing from view. Beast Boy screamed as loudly as he could, but the metallic hand over his lips kept him completely silent, unable to warn the others of the danger about to befall them.
"All right, I managed to get into the system... apparently, the terminal that has the program on it is third from the right on the side of the room closest to the elevator," said Cyborg, his eyes focused on the screen. "But I can de-activate it from here."
As Cyborg spoke, one of the Sladebots, completely unbeknownst to the two Titans at the computer, slid a small, compact explosive device between them, before disappearing back into the shadows of the room. Focused on Cyborg's work, Raven was unable to concentrate enough to hear Beast Boy's frantic, desperate thoughts to her... but she did manage to remember the changeling on her own.
"I wonder where Beast Boy's gotten-"
In the ensuing explosion, Raven forgot about Beast Boy again.
Red X could hear a faint, muffled blast from where he was standing... and out of the corner of his eye, could see that it had originated from one of the lower floors of Library Tower.
One look at Slade immediately returned X's attention to the moment at hand... Terra was unconscious, and he was still in the middle of the fight of his life... or rather, the fight for his life.
"And Terra's too..."
"Well, this certainly is familiar," Slade noted, a hint of amusement beginning to register in his voice. "Terra helpless, and you're the only one who can save her... I can see it in your eyes, even with that mask of yours... you're remembering everything."
"No... no, this isn't the same..." X stopped backing up and looked into Slade's eyes, ready to face him down, ready to protect Terra... this time, he wasn't going to lose. "This is where I beat you!"
Fighting off his fear again, X rushed forward at Slade, striking at his face. Seeing that his fist was going to be caught again, X diverted the blow, aiming his elbow downward and bringing it into the center of Slade's chest. This stunned Slade a bit, and allowed X to sweep his leg under his opponent's feet, bringing him quickly to the concrete floor. Instead of landing on his face, Slade pressed his hands to the ground and flipped himself upward, bringing his legs straight up and attempting to wrap them around X's neck. X avoided the grapple by stepping back, and Slade somersaulted to his feet, thrusting his arm forward and catching his opponent right in the jaw. The blow was strong, but not enough to stun X completely, and he was able to recover fast enough to fire off an explosive projectile, which hit Slade in the center of the chest. The explosion forced out a cry of pain from Slade, who stumbled back and began to cough, unable to see X running through the smoke to tackle him.
With a loud, primal yell, X threw his body into Slade at full force, bringing him down and knocking the air out of his lungs. Stunned, Slade was unable to defend himself from the barrage of blows that began raining down on his face, and once again, he could feel his mask beginning to crack.
"This... is... for every... time... you... hurt... Terra!" As lightning streaked through the sky, each punch came in rapid succession, and when X could see blood beginning to pour out from behind Slade's mask, his aggression grew more and more, blinding him from everything else. "This is it... revenge is mine... I've got him...!!!"
Disoriented but not yet beaten, Slade brought his knee up into Red X's gut, stopping the rain of blows for only a moment. As the thief brought back his fist to strike again, Slade slammed both of his hands into X's chest, knocking the thief onto his back and giving Slade the time he needed to stand back up.
"Delusional child... do you actually think... you can defeat me...?" Slade stood up at the same time as Red X, and for several moments, both of them stood facing one another as they struggled to catch their breath. "This isn't a game... I've played with you long enough..."
X could see lightning again... but this time, it wasn't forming in the sky. Instead, it was forming in Slade's hands, sparking around his palms and coalescing into glowing orbs that hovered a few inches away from the criminal's fingertips. Immediately, X raised up a shield to defend himself, but the ensuing stream of lightning punched right through it, slamming into X's chest and causing him to let out a loud scream as his entire body flared up with pain.
"The friction created by the nanites in my suit produces an incredible static charge... what you're feeling is millions of volts now coursing through your body... a blast as strong as the lightning generated by this storm. I was hoping I wouldn't have to resort to this, but you really have grown quite powerful... unfortunately, you were never, ever strong enough to defeat me."
By the time the blast had ended, X had collapsed to his knees, all the air having been sucked out of him. He looked down at the center of his chest, where his costume had been completely singed away, and a large, star-shaped burn had been formed on his bare skin. He gasped, not from the shock of seeing the burn, but in another attempt to get air back into his lungs... his heart was beating erratically, and there were moments when he thought it had stopped beating entirely.
"There's no way... how was I supposed to fight him if he could do that...?"
Slade circled around his defeated foe, his hands once again beginning to light up as silver electricity surged into them. Red X could only watch helplessly, trying desperately to catch even a single breath.
"Arrogance, Sanza, arrogance led you to challenge me, and look where it got you. Before I even set about to complete my revenge on Yancey Aylesworth, I had to realize that as powerful as I was, I was no match for the Teen Titans... so I began researching every bit of advanced technology as I could, looking for the one thing that could give me the power I needed to finally defeat them. Nanotechnology was the answer."
Another, much shorter but still painful blast from Slade forced out another scream from X, who appeared as if he could pass out at any moment. Slade continued to speak.
"Once I learned how to control them, I placed nanomachines in everything... my Sladebots, my weapons, my creatures... and my own body. Despite the risks, I soon came to love the idea of having billions of tiny robots inside my bloodstream... once I realized that the rewards completely justified those risks. My strength, my speed, my stamina, all of it increased tenfold... I even gained the ability to fly."
Slade stopped pacing, and was now standing a few feet in front of X, who was looking down at the ground... and then, he glanced over at Terra.
The blonde was just now beginning to stir, moaning quietly as she twitched on the floor, trying to gather the strength to get herself into a sitting position. X couldn't stop looking at her, couldn't stop thinking that once again, he'd failed her... and once Slade was through with him, Terra was certainly next.
"I can't... I won't..." X looked back up at Slade and could see the electricity gathering in both of his hands... he knew what was coming next. "Terra... Terra..."
All of his life, Sanza Salazar had wanted so desperately to protect the people that he loved. Seeing his sister imperiled by Mumbo had led him to steal the Red X suit, and seeing his sister and his mother imperiled by Slade had almost caused him to give it up. Even once he'd started wearing it again, the people he cared about continued to be placed in danger... first Cleo, and then Terra... and now, Terra again.
"If this suit can't help me protect the people I love, it's worthless... just like me..."
Every memory of the past came flooding back to him... watching his father die, seeing his mother and sister threatened by Sladebots, seeing Terra helpless in Chu-hui's mountain shrine... and with every memory that came, he kept telling himself 'no'...
"No... I will not let this happen again... no... I can stop this... no... I can save her... no... I WILL NOT LET HER DIE!!!"
Red X stood up again, and gathering up every bit of energy he had, focusing all the Xynothium in his suit into his hands, he clasped his fingers around Slade's just as Slade released his next electrical blast. Immediately, a stream of red lightning passed from X's body into Slade's, just as the silver electricity from Slade's body passed into X's.
The pain was unbearable for Red X, who began screaming loudly... but he refused to let go, even as he felt his skin being ripped apart, as he felt his muscles trembling, felt his heart beating out of his chest... but he knew that whatever pain he was feeling, Slade was feeling as well.
Terra was now wide awake, but the brightness of the energy flowing between Red X and Slade blinded her completely, though she could hear everything that was happening loud and clear... two loud, pained screams... one of them belonging to Slade, and the other belonging to...
The electricity could no longer be seen, the flashes now combining into one large orb of white light that consumed both X and Slade... the orb transformed into a column that lit up the sky for only a single second before disappearing entirely. The two beings that had once been standing at the center of the orb were now flying outward, their bodies hitting the rooftop and skidding until coming to a stop just a few feet away from the edge of the roof on opposite sides, Slade landing near the roof entrance.
The two lay motionless and still for several moments, but Terra immediately knew who'd gotten the worst of it... Red X, who didn't seem to be breathing even as Slade slowly began to come to his feet. Terra immediately knelt down beside X's body and removed the mask from his face... Sanza's eyes were open, albeit barely, and his breathing was very slow and shallow. Upon seeing that Sanza was alive, Terra began to sob, her eyes filling with tears as she leaned her head down on his chest.
"Sanza... oh god, Sanza... I thought... I thought..."
"Slade... he's getting up, Terra, he's getting up..."
Letting out a gasp, Terra looked over her shoulder. Sure enough, Slade was back on his feet, though he definitely looked as if he'd seen better days... he was lumbering toward Terra and Sanza, while smoke trailed from his body and a peculiar silver substance began flowing from several large cuts on his chest and legs.
"The nanomachines... that shock killed all of them...!" Slade stopped cold after taking just a few steps, raising his hands and attempting to form the lightning that he'd used on Red X before. When nothing happened, he tried to activate the jets at the bottom of his boots... but was unable to do so. "NO!"
"Yes..." Terra whispered, smiling as she looked back at Sanza. "The nanomachines... Slade can't use them anymore! The ones in his bloodstream, anyway..."
The news provoked a smile from Sanza, who sat up and tried to form an X in his left hand... a small spark of red electricity is all he received in return. He looked down at his other hand... and got the same result.
"Oh, shit... the suit is... it's..."
"Looks like both of us lost something we didn't come here to lose," remarked Slade, though the strain in his voice clearly indicated that he was still in no shape to fight. Seeing Slade's weakness, Terra stood up and levitated several chunks of concrete around herself... as much pain as she was in, she wasn't about to let Slade have his way with the now-powerless Sanza. "I don't think so, dear child... I have other business to attend to... and in the meantime, this city will still fall..."
As Slade turned and ran down the stairs leading off of the roof, Terra immediately tried to follow him... but when she saw Sanza struggling to stand, she quickly turned around and helped him up.
"Terra... you need to go after Slade... without my powers, I'm pretty much useless..." coughed Sanza, a look of disappointment on his face as he wiped a bit of blood from his lip. "Even with my powers, I still couldn't beat-"
A quick kiss from Terra cut Sanza off in mid-sentence, but his bowed head afterward still indicated just how disappointed he was that he hadn't been able to beat Slade.
"Come on... we know where he's going..." said Terra, levitating a chunk of concrete underneath herself and Sanza. "...but we're not going after him... not yet."
As Terra began flying the two of them across the street to the nearby Library Tower, she began to wonder if it was really safe for Sanza to be coming with her without his powers... but when she looked down at the Xynothium reactor attached to his suit, he could see that it had already begun to give off a faint glow. It had been cracked, but it was still functional... Sanza would get his powers back, hopefully sooner rather than later.
"When Robin and I were down below the tower, we found out that there were five terminals that needed to be de-activated in order to shut off the nanomachines," said Terra, levitating the platform through a broken window on the 26th floor of the tower and setting herself and X down in the middle of a hallway. "Robin already stopped one, but I've got no idea where the others are..."
Terra's words brought a sudden burst of realization to X, who remembered something he'd seen earlier during his fight with Slade.
"There was an explosion... I think it was on the eighth floor... maybe we should go down and check it out."
"You think it might've been Robin, or one of the others?" asked Terra, racing with Red X toward a nearby elevator.
"I'm not sure, but..." As X was running, he could feel his strength finally beginning to return... though he had still had a tingling sensation throughout his body that wouldn't go away. "I might not have been able to beat Slade, but... I was able to save Terra... now I have to help her and the others save the city..."
A gloved hand emerged from the chasm in the center of the Library Tower lobby... then, a grappling hook, held by another gloved hand... a hand that belonged to Robin, who was exhausted as he emerged into the lobby, wiping a layer of sweat from his brow.
"I should've realized that if I let Terra go, I'd have to climb my way back up here..."
It had been an uphill all the way for Robin, who'd had to fight through every single last upgraded Sladebot that remained down in the base below... and after all that, a twenty-story climb back up to the lobby... he only hoped that his teammates had been able to de-activate a few of the terminals by now.
But as soon as Robin emerged, he heard a voice that sent a chill down his spine.
"It took you that long to escape from my base? Robin, I'm surprised..."
Looking up, Robin could see Slade standing in front of the elevator.
"Slade... I thought Sanza and Terra would be able to beat you... I should have known."
"You have far too much faith in your friends," replied Slade, "but if you wish to stop me, you will have to have faith that your friends can de-activate all of the terminals. I'll be on the roof if you wish to come after me..."
Slade disappeared into the elevator, which closed behind him before Robin could even make it halfway there. He began frantically pressing buttons to summon the elevator again, but stopped when he received a powerful shock, and saw the elevator's lights dim.
"Dammit... Slade must've broken the elevator to make sure I couldn't follow him up... guess I'll have to take the stairs..."
Without even thinking for a second that his friends might not be able to stop the nanomachines in time, Robin allowed his focus to remain entirely on Slade... he wasn't about to let the ruthlessly criminal mastermind get away with all he'd done... not again. He ran across the lobby until he reached the emergency stairs... and despite all the energy he'd exerted as he climbed back up from Slade's base beneath the tower, he began running up each and every flight of stairs, determined to stop Slade once and for all.
The explosive device planted by the Sladebot had left the eighth-floor office in shambles. Sparks and smoke came from shattered computers that littered the floor, piled amongst the rubble of destroyed cubicles and broken file cabinets. The blast had sent Cyborg flying across the room, his badly dented but still intact body landing atop a pile of tangled wires.
Raven hadn't been so lucky... the blast was more than powerful enough to blow her fragile body completely apart... had she not erected an energy shield at the last possible moment. She lay face-down on the floor, nearly unconscious but still breathing, her body having instantly healed any wounds she happened to have sustained. Groaning, she began to pick herself up... when she could hear a faint, muffled noise emanating from a pile of rubble nearby.
"...is that... Beast Boy?" Raven could see the pile of rubble beginning to stir... and when she cleared the debris away, her suspicions were confirmed. "Oh no..."
Lying on the floor, Beast Boy was looking up at Raven, his eyes wide with fear. A piece of duct tape had been placed over his lips to silence him, as the Sladebot who'd been keeping him quiet had to make a quick exit before the blast had occurred. The metal clamp that kept his arms pinned and his powers sealed was still in place, and though the cubicle wall had shielded him from the worst part of the blast, Raven could still see bruises and burns all over his body.
"I'm going to get this thing off of you, whatever it is," said Raven, kneeling down gently beside Beast Boy and concentrating her energy. "Azarath, metreon-"
Beast Boy's muffled shout was the only warning that Raven got before a powerful energy blast slammed into her chest, knocking her into the other side of the room. The three elite Sladebots, who'd taken shelter in a nearby bathroom, had emerged to destroy what was left of the Titans. As Raven skidded to a stop next to the large pile of wiring, Cyborg stood up and fired back with his own energy cannon, which was blocked by an invisible energy shield in front of the three Sladebots. While two of them continued moving toward Cyborg and Raven, one of them made its way toward the helpless Beast Boy, who could only look on as its energy cannon was pointed at his head.
"I don't think so," said Raven quietly, using her telekinesis to pull Beast Boy over by the clamp holding down his arms. When the Sladebot began firing at him, Raven used a dark energy barrier to repel the attacks. "I have to get that thing off of him... his powers might be the only thing that can stop these guys..."
As soon as Beast Boy was next to Raven, she concentrated all of the energy that she could into breaking the metallic clamp around his body... and within a few seconds, it had shattered into pieces. Beast Boy quickly reached up and peeled the tape from his lips, taking a sigh of relief before starting to thank Raven.
"Don't... I should've been paying more attention, anyway... you were grabbed while Cyborg and I were trying to hack into the computer terminal, right?"
While Beast Boy and Raven were talking, Cyborg was doing everything he could to stop the advancing Sladebots. He began to deploy missiles from his chest, but all this managed to do was knock the three robots back... the explosions harmlessly blocked by their shields, which were much more advanced than the ones used by Slade's previous model.
"It doesn't matter, if they hadn't grabbed me they might've taken you, and..."
An errant blast from one of the Sladebots' energy cannons slammed into the ground next to Raven and Beast Boy, blasting both of them away from one another. As soon as Beast Boy hit the ground, he transformed into a lion and lunged into the Sladebot on the left-hand side, tackling it hard into the ground and ripping his claws into the Sladebot's formidable armor. He was making a few minor scratches, but didn't seem to be doing much in the way of damage. Letting out a roar, Beast Boy tried again, only to be kicked away, landing in the entrance of an intact cubicle. The cubicle, and the computer inside, had been undamaged by the explosion... and the two cubicles next to it seemed to have escaped harm as well. Beast Boy quickly detransformed so that he could alert his teammates.
"Hey!" Beast Boy shouted, pointing at one of the computers. "Cyborg! I think this is the one you wanted to-"
"Not now, Beast Boy, I'm kinda busy here!" Cyborg was now on the ground, being held down by two of the Sladebots. The other had its attention focused squarely on Beast Boy, leaving Raven unattended.
"Keep them busy, I'll deactivate the terminal!" Raven quickly flew over to the cubicle, landing next to Beast Boy and walking past him to the computer. "I just hope this'll be quick..."
The Sladebot nearby lunged for both of them, but Beast Boy kept him busy, transforming into an elephant and using his powerful tusks to keep the bot at bay as Raven began the de-activation process.
"This... ain't... much... fun!" Cyborg was now being stretched out by the two Sladebots attacking him, with one tugging at his left arm, and another pulling at his right. "They're gonna rip me in half!"
Thinking quickly, Cyborg activated the missiles in his shoes, launching them into the chests of the Sladebots. The accompanying explosions, followed by the sensation of being released from the powerful grip he was in and dropped to the ground, indicated to Cyborg that something very good had just happened. He looked to his left, and then to his right... and saw the destroyed fragments of the Sladebots lying beside him on the ground.
"What the... how did I just..."
Meanwhile, Beast Boy was beginning to have serious trouble keeping the final Sladebot at bay. Even as an elephant, the Sladebot's powerful punches to his hard skin still hurt, and when one landed right between his eyes, he found himself detransformed and in a daze beside Raven, who had just completed the de-activation of the second terminal.
"Two down... I hope Starfire was able to find the third..."
Immediately, Raven looked down at Beast Boy, who she could see fall down next to her out of the corner of her eye as she was working. As soon as she turned, the Sladebot's hand wrapped tightly around her throat with enough force to break her neck. Her eyes widened, and she let out a silent gasp.
"RAVEN!" called Cyborg as he ran toward the cubicle. "Their shields don't work when they're separated from one another! Blast him now!"
But as Raven felt the bones in her neck start to snap, she became too afraid to focus her powers... and was unable to gather up enough strength to fire a blast. Cyborg raised up his cannon, knowing that he'd likely hit both Raven and the Sladebot... but risking injury to her was a small price to pay when her life was at stake.
As it turned out, Cyborg didn't have to. A loud roar came from Beast Boy, who had transformed into a fearsome creature... the same fierce beast that had appeared during the changeling's brief feud with Adonis. With one mighty tear, the Sladebot's arm was pulled from its body. Its grip on Raven's neck loosened immediately, releasing her and allowing her to fall to the floor with little more than an extremely bruised neck. The Sladebot tried to blast Beast Boy with its energy cannon, but fueled by rage, Beast Boy slammed his fist through the Sladebot's chest, ripping through its extremely strong armor and reducing it to little more than a pile of scrap metal.
Destroying the Sladebot brought little end to Beast Boy's fury... he smashed through the three remaining cubicles as Raven and Cyborg looked on in horror... but as soon as he turned toward them, he began to calm down... he took several deep breaths and fell to his knees... then, finally, he detransformed again. His costume now slightly ripped, he stared wide-eyed at Raven for several seconds before looking down at his hands and wondering what had just happened.
"Raven... that Sladebot, he was breaking your neck... I heard it, and then, I-"
"It's over..." Raven walked over to Beast Boy and helped him to his feet again, placing a hand on his shoulder. "We de-activated the terminal... the Sladebots are gone..."
Beast Boy still wasn't sure exactly what had happened, but when he saw his tattered clothing, he got a pretty good idea.
"...I changed into that thing again, didn't I?"
"Yeah, and you broke a whole bunch of computers in the process," said Cyborg, pointing at the destruction Beast Boy's brief rampage had caused. "But like Raven said, we de-activated the terminal, so no harm done."
"And you saved me... again," said Raven, her hand lowering from Beast Boy's shoulder. "Not only that, but you managed to control the beast within... you lost control for a few seconds, but as soon as you saw Cyborg and I, you brought your anger back down, and..."
"And I saved you..." said Beast Boy quietly, a smile appearing on his face.
"...yeah, you did," Raven replied, rolling her eyes a bit. "And by the way, that kiss-"
The elevator nearby opened up... but it didn't slide open. Rather, its doors were knocked down by a large piece of concrete... and when Terra and Red X emerged through them, it became clear that they hadn't come up the normal way.
"We got halfway down here before the elevator just... pooped out on us," said Terra.
"Fortunately, Terra here was able to fly us up," Red X added.
"Wait... I thought you could fly," said Cyborg, walking over to Red X. "So why didn't you just grab Terra and fly yourselves up here?"
"I... I can't fly anymore," said Red X, "or use any of my other gadgets. It's only temporary, so don't get any ideas."
Though Red X was still trying to project a rather arrogant front, Raven could immediately see through it... he was still unsure, and after a quick look through his mind, she could see why. He and Terra had waged an unsuccessful battle with Slade, and now, it seemed that with his powers diminished, he was as unconfident as ever.
"Were you two able to deactivate any terminals?" asked Cyborg. Terra quickly shook her head.
"Sanza and I spent most of the last half-hour fighting against Slade... we just now got here... and since Sanza saw that some kind of bomb went off here, we knew to come down here. Are you guys okay?"
"My armor's a little dinged, but it's nothin' I can't fix once we get back to the Tower," said Cyborg.
"And the Beastman is still doin' just fine... just got a few bumps and bruises and a slightly worn out uniform, but it's all good..." said Beast Boy, trying to maintain his cool exterior around Terra... or at least make her laugh. "What about you guys?"
"Yeah... Sanza, you've got a nasty burn on your chest, what's up with-"
"It's nothing, Cyborg, it's..." Red X turned away from Cyborg, facing the window and wrapping his arms tightly around his chest to cover up the most prominent of the wounds he'd received in his battle with Slade. "Dammit... I can't do this... I don't know when my powers will come back, and... even if they do, what if we run into Slade again?"
Raven walked over to X, taking him aside for a moment and leading him over to the window. He tried to pull away, but Raven firmly held onto his arm, not letting him go.
"...Sanza, do you remember when I tried to tell you to have faith?" Raven asked. "Right before we left for Los Angeles, you and I were talking, and-"
"Yeah, I do remember," Red X replied, "and I don't have any idea what the hell you were talking about. What does someone like you know about faith?"
"...when you and Terra were fighting Slade, just now... what did you think would happen?"
"I thought... I thought..." X clenched his fists tightly, not wanting to admit to Raven that he honestly believed he and Terra would die. But already, his mind had betrayed him, and Raven was able to sense exactly how he felt.
"You thought you were going to die. But you didn't die, did you?"
"And at Chu-hui's mountain, when Slade had you and Terra at his mercy, you thought you were going to die then. But what happened?"
"I got... lucky," X replied, placing his hand against the window and looking out at the sky. "Terra stood up to Slade, and Slade ran..."
X looked back over at Terra, who was standing with Cyborg and Beast Boy. The three of them seemed to be looking down at their Titan communicators... and Raven quickly focused X's attention back on her. She knew he needed to hear this, and she wasn't going to let either of them get distracted, not this time.
"You need to have faith that no matter what happens, no matter how bad things seem... that you, and Terra, and everyone else you love, will be able to survive. If you do your best, even if you don't win... you will still survive, and that there's nothing to be ashamed of."
"...you don't actually believe that, do you?"
Raven knew that Red X was right to be skeptical... to hear such an optimistic statement coming from her? But her ordeal with Trigon had taught her something... even the impossible was possible with her and her friends... even though there were times that she was afraid, even though there were times when she knew she wouldn't survive... deep down in her heart, she still had to have hope. And always, always, she had to believe in herself.
"Sanza, I believe that with all of my heart. And the only way you're going to be strong enough to protect Terra and your family is if you believe it too. I know Terra's tried to tell you this before."
"...well, yeah, but I thought she was just... I thought she was just saying it because she loved me."
"She probably didn't express it the right way, but listen... faith is knowing that no matter what you think is going to happen, you know that you'll still be all right once it's over. It's okay to be scared, but it's not okay to let that fear consume you. It took me a long time to learn that, Sanza... I hope you learn it now."
Raven walked away and rejoined the others, leaving Red X standing by the window to ponder Raven's words. He continued to look up in the sky for several more seconds before walking back over to the group... who'd just gotten through talking with Robin.
"Sanza," said Terra, putting her communicator back on her waist as she began informing X what Robin had told her and the others. "Robin just called us to say that he's going up to the 35th floor... he was heading to the roof to take on Slade, but when he tried to contact Starfire, he didn't receive an answer... something's happened to her."
"Apparently, Construct's on the 35th floor," said Cyborg. "Raven, Beast Boy, and me are going up to the 50th floor to deactivate that terminal... if you and Terra go to the 62nd floor, and Robin and Starfire take out Construct, then the nanomachines will be deactivated for good, and all we'll have to worry about is Slade."
"...we're not going to help Starfire?" asked Beast Boy, shooting a puzzled look over at Cyborg. "If she's been attacked by Construct, then-"
"Trust me, Robin's more than tough enough to help Starfire," Red X said, though he did feel a bit of worry for her, as did the Titans. "The important thing right now is deactivating those terminals, because if those nanomachines come up here, then..."
"...there won't be a Starfire left to protect," said Raven, finishing X's sentence for him.
"Come on, we'd better fly up there..." said Terra, running over to the elevator shaft and waiting for Red X to follow her before lifting up a piece of concrete beneath both of them. "It's a long way to the 62nd floor."
X nodded in agreement, and before long, they were en route to the 62nd floor, heading up via Terra's concrete platform. Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven followed them. They already had their destination, the 50th floor, squarely in mind.
"So," whispered Beast Boy to Raven as the group made their way to the elevator shaft. "About that kiss..."
"It wasn't... terrible," Raven replied, though she didn't smile as she picked up Cyborg and began flying up the elevator shaft. Letting out a frustrated yell, Beast Boy transformed into an eagle and followed them up, still having no idea exactly how Raven felt about the kiss.
"Not... terrible?" thought Beast Boy. "That means it still could've been horrible! Or nasty! Or bad! Or... I guess it could've been mediocre... which isn't TOTALLY bad..."
As soon as Robin realized that Starfire wasn't responding to her communicator, a wave of thoughts began flooding his mind... none of them good. When he learned that she'd engaged Construct on her own, even more troublesome thoughts came to him.
"Construct's a highly refined weapon... even when we all fought him at once, he was still able to give us a good fight... who knows what might happen if he attacked Starfire?"
Robin had to try and remember that Starfire was strong... she'd fought difficult battles before, and she'd managed to win. Maybe she'd already beaten Construct, maybe she'd already deactivated the terminal contained in his body... but if she'd beaten him, then why didn't she respond when he called her?
Finally, Robin reached the 35th floor. He could already see that the door leading inside had been knocked down, and quickly rushed into the hallway, calling Starfire's name.
He found her almost immediately.
"I figured that if I waited here with Starfire long enough, one of you would try to show up and help her..."
Construct taunted Robin as he stood next to a large, silver pillar... and about five feet up from the bottom of that pillar, a pair of green eyes stared straight into Robin's... about the only thing left uncovered by a slowly expanding mass of nanomaterial. The entirety of Starfire's body below her neck had already been encased and rendered totally invisible, while just above her chin, another band of impenetrable silver metal had wrapped around Starfire's mouth, transforming her cries for help into a series of muted squeaks. Her nose and eyes were left uncovered at the moment, but another band of material around her forehead kept her head firmly locked in place as the nanites slowly multiplied to encase the rest of her body.
"STARFIRE!" Robin immediately withdrew his bo staff, while Construct simply pointed one of his wrist blades where Starfire's neck would be underneath the pillar.
"This blade cuts through nanomaterial, and were I to move it just a few inches forward, well... your precious Starfire would be losing her head a lot sooner than she would by simply having it converted into more nanites. Of course, that might be a bit less painful for her, but the choice is yours to make."
Horrified, Robin clenched his fingers tightly around his staff, taking a single step forward and shifting his focus to Construct.
"No one... threatens Starfire... and gets away with it..." Through clenched teeth, Robin was trying to inform his teammate's captor that there would be severe consequences if he didn't let Starfire go... but it was obvious even to Robin that Construct held all the cards. "Dammit... why didn't I get here sooner?"
"I mean it, you take another step forward and she's history... the nanomachines haven't started converting her body yet, perhaps if you drop your weapons and surrender, we might be able to negotiate some kind of release... or maybe I'll just kill you both at the same time. Either way, you won't save Starfire by attacking me."
Starfire couldn't stop herself from crying a single tear... this was her fault, all of it... she could see it in Robin's eyes, he'd be willing to do anything to save her.
"No... no, you cannot endanger yourself for me! Go after Slade, leave me here!" Beneath the layers of thick synthetic metal, Starfire tried to struggle free, but she couldn't move her arms even a fraction of an inch... and with her head immobile, she couldn't aim her eye lasers either. "I must think of some way... I must not let Robin be placed in danger... I must be strong!"
From the day Starfire had first met Robin, he'd always been by her side, determined to protect her... it wasn't supposed to be like this, she was the strong one, she was the one with superpowers, and yet she couldn't keep herself from being captured over and over again. It had almost jeopardized the most beautiful moment of Starfire's life... when she'd finally been able to convince Robin that she wouldn't be in danger if the two were a couple.
But now, it seemed, she was in danger... and it was her own fault.
"I..." Robin's hand trembled as he held out his staff, preparing to drop it to the ground. He knew that with Construct so close to Starfire, able to end her life at a moment's notice, trying to save her would be a futile endeavor. "Starfire... forgive me."
Starfire's eyes began to glow, and one final time, she attempted to burst free of her prison. Gathering all of her strength, all of the righteous fury that enabled her to be so amazingly powerful, she threw out her arms... and completely shattered the metallic prison encasing her body. Hundreds of shards of nanomaterial flew outward and slammed into the walls, instantly softening into goo before seeping through the floor, deactivated and useless. Now free, Starfire turned around and punched the stunned Construct in the face, knocking his body into the wall and forcing him to retract his blade.
"Starfire!" Surprised and delighted, Robin ran over to Starfire, retracting his wrist blade and wrapping his arms around her in a tight embrace. "...how did you get out of-"
"I was angry, Robin... so angry that he would try to use me against you... just like so many others have done in the past..." Her eyes still glowing, Starfire looked down at Construct, who was just beginning to get up from the floor. "Robin, you must go... you must defeat Slade, I will deal with Construct here."
"But Starfire, when I left you alone before..." Leaving Starfire alone to deal with Construct once had almost cost her her life... leaving again could be an equally fatal mistake. But Starfire wasn't worried in the least... she knew that she could beat Construct, if only because she knew she could never let Robin down.
"You must trust me, Robin... you said it yourself, I am the strongest girl you have ever known... and you also think that it is cool when I shoot Starbolts!"
Her lips briefly curving into a warm smile, Starfire turned to Robin and took his hands in hers, gripping them tightly and trying to reassure him that she would be able to handle Construct on her own. And in that moment, Robin's trust in Starfire's abilities returned... if she could trust him to defeat Slade, then he could trust her to take care of Construct. In fact, he knew that he was the one who had the more difficult task.
"All right, Starfire... I know you can beat Construct on your own. I believe in you..."
And with those warm words, Robin ran back to the emergency staircase, leaving Starfire alone again with Construct... who immediately brought his blade down at the Tamaranian's head.
Without a word, Starfire caught the blade in her hand... and with determination in her eyes, she fired a Starbolt right into Construct's face.
X and Terra arrived on the 62nd floor, immediately heading left from the elevator and conducting a thorough search of every office nearby. Without the computer knowhow that Cyborg and Raven possessed, each search was a relatively time-consuming affair... and on the fifth computer, frustration began to set in.
"There's no way to know if the computers we're searching even have the program on them," groaned X, stepping back from the desk and placing his hands behind his head. "I don't want to bring this up, but... did Slade teach you anything about hacking into computers?"
The mention of Slade brought a brief tremble from Terra, but she quickly shook her head, understanding why X had asked her such a question.
"All Slade did was teach me how to fight... I mean, I got into the Tower's computer security system to let those Sladebots in, but I had the password, so it's not like I had to hack into anything."
"Damn," X replied. "And because of my suit, I've never actually had to hack into anything... did you see Robin when he de-activated that first terminal?"
"Well... no, actually..." Another tremble went through Terra's body as she remembered what she'd been doing when Robin hacked into that first computer... she'd been looking at Aylesworth, his mangled and mutilated body ravaged by nanomachines, screaming and pleading for the Titans to put him out of his misery. "I..."
X could tell that Terra was getting more and more uncomfortable by the second, and he quickly placed a hand on her shoulder, thinking that his mention of Slade was what had stirred up all these fresh fears in Terra's mind.
"Hey... I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything... but you don't work for Slade anymore... and you don't have to feel guilty about-"
"It wasn't him, Sanza... it was Aylesworth... what Slade did to him, just..." Terra couldn't take it anymore, and she fell to her knees, putting her face into her hands. "I should've killed him, Sanza... he was suffering so much..."
"Dammit... this isn't getting us anywhere..." And though Red X offered Terra a comforting hug, he was still thinking about what needed to be done... that terminal was somewhere on this floor, and he and Terra needed to deactivated it before Slade's nanomachines were unleashed on a helpless city. "We've both seen a lot of messed up stuff, haven't we?"
Terra nodded, choking out a sob as she looked up into X's eyes. As she allowed him to help her up, she thought back to everything that had happened in the past few weeks... how many close calls she'd had with death, and how close her friends had come to that fate as well.
"Maybe that's the real reason I didn't want to be a Titan anymore... I've been living my whole life like this, I've seen all of these terrible things... I want to help people, but... if Robin hadn't been there to stop me from finishing Aylesworth off, I'd have killed him, and then the nanomachines would've swarmed us..."
"Come on... all we have to do is find and deactivate that terminal..." X began to walk out of the office with Terra, but suddenly, two elite Sladebots crashed through the door, their energy cannons pointed right at the couple. "...shit..."
And before X and Terra could defend themselves, the Sladebots opened fire.
Starfire's brief surge of offense against Construct didn't last long. Soon, she found herself at the receiving end of several sharp slashes from the replicant's blade, cutting into her skin in several places and leaving a particularly nasty wound across her midriff. Fortunately, he hadn't tried to deploy any more nanites to encase her... but that didn't mean that she was completely out of danger.
"So, are you wishing you'd told Robin to stay?" Construct shouted, repeatedly swiping at Starfire with long metal blades extending from both of his wrists. "I'll carve you to pieces and send you to him as a gift..."
Angrily, Starfire managed to bring her foot up and kick Construct in the stomach, knocking him away and momentarily stopping his assault. She fired a flurry of Starbolts at him, but the blasts were repelled by an energy shield that appeared at the last moment in front of Construct's body... he laughed, then retracted his blades and fired an electrical blast at Starfire, knocking her onto her back.
"Face it, I've got too many weapons..." Construct materialized an axe, throwing it at Starfire's head as she tried to get up. She raised her arm to block it, screaming as the blade sliced into her skin as the axe flew past. The cut wasn't very deep, but it was another indication to Starfire that she needed to do something... and do it quickly. "Your energy blasts are useless, and I won't let you touch me again!"
Starfire fired her eye lasers at Construct, only managing to hit him in the shoulder, an attack that caused him little more than a minor burn. As nanites rushed in to heal the wound, Construct formed another axe, then after he'd thrown it at Starfire, formed another one and threw that as well. Soon, Starfire was constantly being forced to dodge a limitless supply of axes that the nanites in Construct's body generated at the rate of one every second. He began to laugh as Starfire rolled back and forth on the ground, dodging the axes with some barely missing her.
"I must stop him from throwing those at me... or I will never be able to strike him myself!" Finally managing to get to her feet, Starfire rolled out of the way of one of the axes, pointing her hand at Construct's head and firing a Starbolt, which he blocked with his shield before resuming his attack. "He stopped throwing axes at me when he generated that shield! Perhaps if I can force him to keep it up constantly..."
Starfire began firing more Starbolts, not stopping even as the last axe that Construct threw whizzed just past her, cutting off a few strands of her hair. As she continued to launch Starbolt after Starbolt, Construct's attack had stopped entirely, though he began to laugh as Starfire's attacks were deflected by his shield.
"How dumb are you? I already told you, that isn't going to work!"
Keeping up her Starbolt assault with one hand, Starfire reached down and used her other hand to pick one of Construct's axes up from the floor. Then, keeping her eyes focused entirely on Construct, she threw the axe with all of her might. Construct saw it coming out of the corner of his eye, but as soon as he turned to stop it, it sliced through his forehead after passing right through his nanotech energy barrier.
"...w...what...?" Construct stumbled back, his eyes now glancing at the axe embedded in his forehead. Starfire let out a brief gasp, but when she realized that the axe hadn't killed her opponent, she ran over to Construct as quickly as she could, aiming a punch right at his chest. As nanites from Construct's body rushed to repair the wound in his skull, his midsection was left depleted... and Starfire found that her fist went right through, plunging straight into Construct's nanotech heart. She heard him scream loudly, and then, his arms fell limp at his sides. Starfire began to pull out her arm, but she could feel a strange sensation... billions of nanites were crawling around her hand and forearm, a tingling sensation that began slowly drawing the energy from her body.
"I do not think I have killed him... perhaps I should pull my arm out...?" Her fingers wrapped around Construct's heart, which was strikingly similar to that of a human... though as her grip tightened, the outer layers began to disintegrate, and the Tamaranian found that she was holding something else... her fingers felt something almost similar to wiring. "I know that he is not human, but... he is still sentient... and somewhere within him is one of the terminals that I need to deactivate..."
Gripping the strange wires with all of her might, Starfire tugged as hard as she could... and almost instantly, Construct's head lifted back up. His eyes stared straight into hers, and Starfire let out a gasp. Construct began to speak... but in a strange, mechanical voice completely unlike the one she'd heard him use during their battle.
"Terminal... deactivated..." came the voice, just before Construct's body transformed into silver goo, falling apart around Starfire's hand. Even the wiring fell apart, and Starfire soon realized that she was standing in a puddle of de-activated nanites.
"I am... victorious?" Starfire blinked, and then began to smile. "I am victorious!"
Floating happily into the air, Starfire rejoiced, knowing that she'd done exactly what Robin had expected of her... she hadn't let him down, and she'd kept her promise.
"Now I need to assist my friends..."
As soon as Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven had reached the 50th floor, they had been met by three elite Sladebots similar to the ones they'd dispatched more than forty floors below. Now, the group was running down a long hallway, dodging blasts from the Sladebots' energy weapons while futilely trying to blast through their shields.
"Cyborg, you said that their shields are deactivated when they're separated from one another?" Raven shouted, looking back at the Sladebots as she sent a desk flying out of a nearby office in an attempt to trip one of them up. The Sladebot leapt over the desk and kept firing, nearly hitting Raven in the back of her legs.
"Yeah, and you don't have to separate 'em very much... if they're not right next to each other, their shields don't work."
"Sounds like Slade sacrificed defense for firepower..." thought Raven. "Even the previous model of upgraded Sladebots could use their shields by themselves... all we have to do is hit them with something that will separate them..."
So far, Raven's attempts to hit them with office furniture had been unsuccessful... Beast Boy decided that it would be his turn to try and strike back.
"Cyborg, Raven, you guys keep running... I think I can hold them off!" With that, Beast Boy transformed into a tyrannosaurus, letting out a powerful roar. Several blasts from the Sladebots' weapons immediately slammed into his body, causing him a great deal of pain but not budging him from his current spot... he blocked off the hallway, allowing his teammates to escape.
"Go after them," said one of the Sladebots to its two comrades. "I don't need my shield, it won't repel a physical attack."
The Sladebots nodded in affirmation, turning around and running together down another hallway, hoping to catch up with Cyborg and Raven at another area on the floor. The two Titans had reluctantly left Beast Boy behind, turning a corner and heading toward the office where Cyborg's scanner indicated the deactivation terminal to be.
"It's in the second room on the right, we need to get there before those Sladebots catch up," said Cyborg, running past one room and turning toward the second. When he looked back, he could see that Raven had stopped a few feet behind him, and seemed to be pondering whether or not to go back and help Beast Boy, or stay with Cyborg to hack into the terminal. "Rae, what are you doing?"
"Beast Boy's back there... I know he's pretty tough, but so is that Sladebot... I'm not sure-"
The two Sladebots who'd left their partner behind were now storming down the hallway, blasting Raven and Cyborg with their weapons and causing nearby walls to collapse in their wake. Gasping, Raven ran out into the middle of the hallway and put up a shield to protect herself.
"Cyborg, go!" Raven shouted, ordering him into the office while she stayed behind to engage the pair of Sladebots. "Azarath, metreon..."
As Robin ran up countless flights of stairs on his way to the roof, he couldn't get Slade out of his mind.
"This is it... I can't let Slade escape again... this has to be our final battle..."
All the terrible things Slade had done in the past... his psychological torment of Sanza, Terra, and Robin himself... his threats toward Robin's friends, his threats toward Jump City... and now, his plot to destroy Los Angeles, all stemming from a vendetta against the one remaining man responsible for the crippling of his son.
"He'd kill ten million people just to get revenge on one man... anyone that evil and depraved can't be allowed to roam free..."
Robin passed the 50th floor, then the 62nd... where he knew his friends were still fighting desperately to halt Slade's plans. He ascended the final few flights of stairs, made it to the roof access door... it wasn't locked, but it didn't matter... there wasn't anything that would keep Robin from Slade now.
He threw open the door and was immediately confronted by a litany of lights... the lightning still flashing overhead, punctuating the driving rain... lights from the city's other skyscrapers, and the lights of the Library Tower itself... as well as dozens of helicopters hovering overhead, their own lights shining down on the roof. Police helicopters had already attempted to attack Slade, but their bullets were easily dodged, and every single man they'd sent down to the roof had easily been knocked unconscious. Slade himself stood at the other side of the roof, staring straight ahead, waiting for Robin's arrival.
"I thought it would take you longer... I suppose I've underestimated you, just as I underestimated Sanza."
Robin extended his staff again, walked toward Slade with hatred in his eyes.
"This is over, Slade... there's no escape..."
"On the contrary, Robin. You forget, this city is about to be destroyed, and this very building is at the epicenter of that destruction. But I've already got my escape route mapped... see these choppers overhead? As soon as I finish you, I'll grapple up to one of them, knock out the pilot, and fly away with a bird's-eye view of everything I've wrought."
"Your plan has two problems..." said Robin, stopping in the center of the roof so that he could inform Slade about just how foolish his grand plan truly was. "First, there won't be any destruction, because my friends-"
"Your friends are worthless, Robin. I've dispatched eight of my finest creations into the building... elite Sladebots, designed to be as intelligent and as strong as myself... they will rip your teammates apart."
"My teammates already destroyed three of them," Robin replied, and he could see, just for a moment, a look of shock on Slade's face. "And right now, Starfire is taking care of Construct. Face it, Slade, your plan isn't going to work... it'll fail, just like all the others."
Robin was starting to tire of talking... and he knew that he didn't have much time, as Aylesworth's death could come at any moment, triggering a rush of nanomachine fury that would be impossible for he and his friends to escape. If he was going to defeat Slade once and for all, he'd have to do it right now.
"Regardless of what happens below, I know one thing for certain... you're not going to survive!" And with that, Slade charged forward, his fist raised as he launched his first punch at the Boy Wonder. Fueled by adrenaline, Robin effortlessly vaulted over Slade's head, spinning around and swinging his staff at his opponent's back. The staff connected, and Slade was knocked forward, kicking back at Robin as he regained his balance. Robin ducked under the kick, grabbing Slade's foot and using it to gain leverage as he threw a kick of his own, hitting Slade in the head and sending him rolling forward across the floor.
Slade recovered quickly, reaching down to his belt and pulling out several smokebombs, which he threw down in front of Robin. The smokebombs formed a screen that blinded the Titan leader, and the next thing he saw was Slade kicking down at him, striking him between the eyes and sending him flying across the roof. Robin tumbled back several feet, looking up to see Slade running at him again. He planted his staff into the ground and leapt into the air, spinning himself around in a kick that Slade dodged by leaping back.
Robin picked up his staff and swung at Slade's head, only to have the blow blocked against the side of his right arm. As Robin swung again, Slade ducked and reached up, grabbing Robin's staff and pulling hard to yank it away from him.
"I'm still stronger than you..." Slade said menacingly, striking Robin in the face with another kick and knocking him onto his back. Once he'd done that, he threw Robin's staff off the side of the building, forcing the Boy Wonder to watch helplessly as his primary weapon fell more than a thousand feet to the ground below.
"I don't need my staff to beat him..." Robin thought, reaching down to his grappling hook as Slade lunged at him. He fired the hook, wrapping a thin cable around Slade's arms and pinning them to his sides, which stopped any attack that the criminal had planned on making. As Slade struggled to get free, Robin hopped to his feet and slammed his fist hard into Slade's face, stunning him as another bright flash of lightning illuminated the sky. "Yes!"
Slade stumbled back, but managed to break free of the cables that pinned his arms. He punched at Robin at the same time that the Titan leader punched back at him, and the two began exchanging a series of blows, neither of them able to land anything significant on the other.
"With every second that we fight, this city comes closer to destruction..." said Slade, thrusting his fist at Robin's face only to have the blow deflected so that it just barely brushed Robin's shoulder. "And your friends come closer to death."
"No!" Robin replied, kicking up at Slade's ribs. Slade dodged the blow to the side, grabbing at Robin's leg, which he quickly moved away. "My friends have never failed before, and they'll save this city!"
The brawl gradually shifted to the center of the roof, and after Slade and Robin managed to block each other's kicks and punches several more times, they leapt back from one another, their eyes locking in a momentary staredown.
"The only reason I placed the de-activating mechanisms in the first place was to safeguard against any kind of glitch in the system... so that I had a way to stop the chain reaction if I discovered it would get out of hand. It's strange... the only possible instrument of my undoing is also causing you and your friends to gravitate here... so close to the nanotechnological chain reaction that they won't have any chance to escape once it begins!"
"They'll stop it! And I'll stop you!" Leaping over the unconscious body of one of the cops that Slade had beaten earlier, Robin threw another powerful kick at Slade's chest. Slade blocked the kick against his hand, then threw out his elbow, catching Robin at the tip of his nose. The blow stunned Robin, who stumbled back, blood trickling out of one of his nostrils... and Slade responded quickly, striking with a punch that once again landed squarely in the center of Robin's forehead. With stars in his eyes, Robin fell back even more... giving Slade the opportunity to land a brutal uppercut that sent the Titan leader flying. He landed hard next to the fallen police officer, rolling over once before coming to a stop on his face, fading in and out of consciousness. "Damn... he's so quick..."
As Robin lay prostrate on the ground, Slade kicked him in the side, knocking him briefly into the air again before coming back down, this time on his back. Robin let out a groan, and blood began pouring from his mouth, mixing with the blood coming down from his nose. He tried to get up, but he was still in a daze, and the loud claps of thunder overhead weren't making it any better.
"Even Sanza put up more of a fight than you," said Slade with contempt, kicking Robin in the side again and causing him to roll over once more. "This is beginning to feel like a waste of my time."
Robin looked up into the sky, his pounding head the least of his troubles as he realized what could happen if he lost to Slade.
"He'll come back... he'll do this again, and again... my friends can fight him, but... they can't stop him forever... I have to end this now... for Terra, for Sanza, for Raven and Cyborg and Beast Boy... and for Starfire..."
Robin's heart was determined to win, but his body wasn't cooperating... fatigue had already set in, and no matter how much he knew he needed to get up, he just couldn't muster the strength.
And Slade kicked him again.
Raven's barrier kept the Sladebots' energy blasts at bay, but now she'd been backed all the way into the hallway where Beast Boy was... and presumably, he was too distracted with his own fight against a Sladebot to worry about anything else.
"Come on, Raven... you need to do this... just stall a little bit more, until Cyborg de-activates that terminal..."
Just then, Raven could feel something... or rather, someone, brushing against her side. She looked over her shoulder and saw Beast Boy, now detransformed, facing down the Sladebot from before, which continued to advance toward him.
"Hey Raven... this guy's stronger than a t-rex... I tried to bite him and he chipped my teeth!"
"That's good to know," said Raven, "but I've got troubles of my own..."
When Raven looked forward again, she could see that there were no longer two Sladebots coming after her... instead, there was one, as the other had gone back for Cyborg. Seeing her golden opportunity, Raven fired an energy blast at the Sladebot coming toward her... but instead of being destroyed, the Sladebot simply walked through it as if it wasn't even there. Raven let out a gasp.
"How did that just... how did that happen?" As Raven tried to think about why her energy attack had been ineffective, Beast Boy was kicked hard in the face by the other Sladebot, a kick so powerful that it nearly knocked him unconscious... but he stayed where he was, and he remained standing. "Beast Boy, transform into something else! Transform into that creature!"
Dismissing Raven's suggestion, Beast Boy transformed into an ostrich instead. He launched a kick at the Sladebot's head, but it easily stopped the kick by grabbing his leg. Then, it knocked him into the wall. Beast Boy immediately detransformed, slumping against the wall as Raven began to engage another of the Sladebots in hand-to-hand combat. She was easily beaten, and kicked violently back, landing next to Beast Boy with her head next to his legs. She sat up quickly, and as the Sladebot lunged down at her, tried firing off another burst of dark energy... only to have this blast, just like the previous one, pass right through.
"Raven!" Remembering what Raven had told him, Beast Boy tried to focus his anger, tried to channel his rage into manifesting his most fearsome form... "I'm not gonna let these Sladebots hurt you... I'll rip them apart!"
The Sladebot lifted him up by the throat, and the Sladebot next to Raven lifted her up as well.
"Not again... you're not going to hurt me again..." Hearing Beast Boy's struggles next to her, and remembering her own fear as her neck once again started to crack under the Sladebot's vice-like grip, Raven clenched her teeth and channeled her own anger... and her eyes began to glow red. "I'll hurt you first!"
At the same time, Beast Boy could see Raven in danger once more, and finally found the rage he needed to unleash the beast within. He transformed, breaking the Sladebot's grasp, and with his powerful claw, ripped the Sladebot to pieces. Raven blasted the Sladebot that was holding her with a large, focused beam of magic, a beam that overcame the Sladebot's protections against dark energy and easily destroyed it. Raven and the transformed Beast Boy both fell to the ground, breathing quickly in order to catch their breath. They looked at one another, then stood up, Raven's red eyes meeting Beast Boy's fierce, monstrous stare. They blinked, then both of them began to return to normal... Raven's anger faded, and her eyes returned to their normal shade of dark blue, while Beast Boy once again returned to his human form.
"I guess... we both got kinda out of control there..." said Beast Boy quietly, giving Raven a nervous smile as he looked away.
"I think we both handled ourselves pretty well," Raven replied.
"Yeah, but... transforming into that thing twice really wore me out, so... I just hope we don't have to fight any more of those Sladebots."
Nearby, Cyborg had just completed the process of deactivating the fourth terminal.
"Aw yeah, only one more to go before-" Cyborg turned around and came face-to-face with the barrel of the Sladebot's energy weapon. "...oh no."
A powerful blast from Starfire's eye lasers ripped open the Sladebot's side, causing it to explode violently and shower Cyborg with smoke and shrapnel. He peered through the smoke and saw the Tamaranian girl standing in the doorway, a smile on her face.
"I hope that I did not damage you, but I saw no other way to-"
"Starfire!" Beast Boy shouted, running over with Raven to rejoin his friend. "You're okay!"
"Why would I not be? ...oh, yes, the battle with Construct... it went very well! And hopefully, if Sanza and Terra have deactivated the final terminal, the nanomachines have already been defeated!"
The three Titans were glad to reunite with Starfire, but now, all of them knew that they still had a job to do... Robin was up on the roof fighting Slade, and Red X and Terra were still on the 62nd floor... and considering that stopping the imminent nanomachine attack was the most important priority, Cyborg quickly decided to lead the group up to that floor... much to Starfire's intense disappointment.
"I am sure that Robin will be fine without me..." thought Starfire, following her friends back to the open elevator shaft. "He believed in me, and now I must believe in him... but I am still so very, very worried..."
By the time Robin finally managed to get up, Slade had kicked him all the way over to the other side of the roof. The stairs leading back down were just a few short feet away, but Robin wasn't thinking about running even for a second. As exhausted as he was, he knew that defeating Slade was what he had to do.
"I'm amazed that you're still standing," said Slade, methodically walking toward Robin even as he produced a pair of Bird-a-rangs from his utility belt. "Those toys won't save you."
Robin threw them anyway, watching as Slade blocked them against his arms, sending them flying off into the night. Robin produced two more Bird-a-rangs, but instead of throwing them at Slade's head, he threw them down at Slade's ankles... and they were dodged just as easily when their intended target simply leapt over them.
"Don't you understand, Robin? It's pointless to fight me."
Robin next took out a pair of freeze bombs, throwing them down at Slade's feet and creating a large sheet of ice that nearly encased him. Slade easily broke the ice, punching through it and sending large, jagged shards of it skidding across the rooftop, some of them toward Robin. By now, Slade was standing just a few feet away, and with one more step, he was close enough to grab Robin by the throat. The Boy Wonder was unable to resist, and soon, Slade was hoisting him high in the air, over the edge of the roof, able to look straight down at the ground below.
"And now, Robin... I end this futile crusade of yours..."
Thrashing violently, Robin slammed his fist several times into the side of Slade's face, doing little more than annoy him as he abruptly released Robin's neck from his grasp. He fell for only a moment before grabbing onto the edge of the roof with one hand and pulling out a Bird-a-rang with the other. Before Slade could stomp his fingers, Robin slashed across Slade's ankle, forcing out a loud scream from the villain, who immediately lowered his foot back onto the roof. Robin then took the Bird-a-rang and slammed it down into Slade's foot as hard as he could, piercing through the steel toe of his shoe and impaling the flesh underneath. Slade howled in pain, and Robin managed to flip himself back up onto the roof, kicking Slade hard in the chest and knocking him onto his back.
"You... won't... ever... beat me..." gasped Robin, still catching his breath as Slade pulled the Bird-a-rang, its tip now dripping with blood, out of his foot. "No matter how hard you try... I won't lose..."
Screaming in rage, Slade charged at Robin, who bravely stood his ground, crouching down into a fighting stance and beckoning Slade forward. One way or another, the battle would end... but Robin wouldn't let it end until he was the victor... no matter how much of a beating he took in the process.
With Red X's powers still useless, he and Terra were forced to flee from the two Sladebots, who were undeterred by Terra's repeated attempts to smash them with pieces of concrete from the building's support columns.
"Terra, I think we need to split up...!" X's intentions were to use himself as bait to draw the two Sladebots away, enabling Terra to set a trap for them... but Terra, who knew that X was mostly useless without his powers, had other ideas.
"I agree! I'll lure the Sladebots away until you can use your powers again!"
Terra stopped running and held out her arms, putting a large wall of concrete between herself and the pair of elite Sladebots. Red X also stopped, turning around and trying to see exactly what Terra was doing.
"Terra, what are you-"
"Just hide somewhere until you get your powers back, I can handle-" The two Sladebots punched through the wall easily, tackling Terra to the ground. One of them stayed to hold her down, while the other charged forward, running right at Red X.
"Sanza, just go!" Terra fought to escape the Sladebot's grasp, but it was far too strong for her, and, keeping one hand around her throat, used the other to pick up a small fragment of the concrete barrier Terra had tried to create to stop its advance. "GO!"
"I don't think so..." X held his ground, looking the other Sladebot right in the eyes as it ran toward him. "Have faith... have faith... I'm gonna live and so is Terra... come on, come on, come on...!!!"
After unsuccessfully trying to activate an explosive X, the thief managed to slide between the Sladebot's legs, standing up behind it and trying again. This time, he managed to fire out several Xs, right as the Sladebot turned around. The combined blast caused a large explosion, but the Sladebot remained standing... though it was now dented in several places, and sparks were emerging from its neck and shoulder.
"Sanza!" shouted Terra excitedly. "You got your powers back!"
She didn't have long to celebrate, because the Sladebot on top of her was now bringing a rock down on her head... but before it could smash Terra's brains out, a large metallic X slammed into its body, sending it flying down the hall. It ended up stuck against the wall, its arms and legs pinned by the corners of the X.
"Terra... we fight together, remember?" X said, bending down and helping Terra up from the floor. Though one of the Sladebots was now pinned in place, the other was still functional, and it had raised up its energy cannon to fire at the couple. The blast was blocked against a Xynothium energy shield that X was able to form, and as it started to fire again, Terra buried it in a pile of the concrete rubble still littering the hallway. "Good shot!"
Terra smiled proudly, but once again, the celebration was cut short, as the Sladebot X had pinned earlier had just broken free, and was now charging down the hall to attack its two targets.
"I'll handle this one," said X, stepping in front of Terra and preparing to dispatch the Sladebot with a blast of Xynothium electricity. He charged up and prepared to fire, but instead of sending out a burst of lightning, his arm was enveloped by red sparks, and he fell to one knee, letting out a cry of pain. "Damn...!!"
The light emitting from the Xynothium reactor had once again faded... energy appeared to be seeping out through the crack made in its surface. When X realized that his gadgets might be gone for good, he let out an angry yell, prompting Terra to place a hand on his shoulder.
"Let's just go... we need to find that terminal, and-"
"You go... I'll stay," said X, clenching his fists and preparing to stand down the Sladebot. "I know you said we fight together, but... this is just something I've gotta do... that terminal's not gonna shut itself off."
"Sanza, without your powers, you can't-"
The Sladebot punched down at X's head, a blow that the thief was able to dodge by ducking out of the way. He charged forward, throwing a shoulder block into the Sladebot's chest and knocking it back, if only slightly.
"Yes I can... Terra, go take care of the terminal!"
Reluctantly, Terra ran off down the hallway, hoping that X would be able to defeat the elite Sladebot... and that there weren't any more of them lurking in the shadows.
"And on top of all that... I still don't have a clue where the terminal is... or how to de-activate it!"
For several minutes, Robin and Slade fought back and forth across the roof, the Titan leader taking every blow that Slade dealt him and responding with one of his own. He blocked out his pain, ignored his bruises and the blood still pouring down his face... he stayed on his feet, not letting himself be knocked down even once, refusing to show any sign of weakness.
Still, the repeated blows from Slade's fists and feet were taking their toll, and Robin's counter-attacks were getting slower every time. He began to see two of Slade, his eyes struggling to maintain their focus after Robin sustained repeated blows to his head. But he continued to keep at Slade, matching him blow-for-blow, and even landing a spinning kick that knocked Slade to one knee.
Slade quickly recovered from the kick, charging at Robin once more, who barely managed to avoid being tackled to the ground. Robin leapt out of the way, and Slade spun to face him, only to be hit with a flash bomb squarely between the eyes. The flash bomb, combined with a bright, nearby burst of lightning, sent an overwhelming painful sensation through Slade's skull. He let out a horrific scream, placed his hands over his face and staggered back... and Robin continued to come. Five furious blows, punches to Slade's head and chest that the criminal was unable to block, or even to see. Slade staggered back to the edge of the roof, finally lowering his hand from his eyes in time to make out a large blur coming straight at him.
He ducked just in time... Robin flew past and continued on to the edge of the roof. For a single, tantalyzing moment, he balanced at the precipice, one foot in the air, while another lay halfway over the edge... he teetered, and Slade staggered toward him... but, still blinded by the flash bomb, he didn't know whether Robin was struggling to keep from falling over, or poised for another attack... and he hesitated. It gave Robin the time he needed to maintain his balance, and cost Slade the best chance he had yet of winning the fight.
Shaking a bit from his brush with death, Robin quickly recovered, charging forward at Slade and preparing another punch. This time, Slade was ready, his vision nearly back to 100. He ducked under Robin's blow and elbowed him in the gut, then grabbed the stunned Robin by the throat and tossed him away.
"The clock is ticking, Robin..." Slade was still limping slightly, his foot injured from the Bird-a-rang attack... it slowed him down, giving the agile Robin a bit of an advantage... but of course, the Boy Wonder still had to overcome the disparity in strength. "Your friends are going to fail."
Robin threw himself at Slade once more, battering him numerous times with repeated punches to the midsection. After letting himself get beaten back to the center of the roof, Slade began blocking Robin's punches, but he couldn't block the next attack... a leg sweep that sent him off his feet and face-first to the ground. Robin capitalized on the attack, getting on top of Slade and grabbing his left arm, wrenching it hard behind his back in an attempt to dislocate his shoulder.
"Give up!" shouted Robin, his rage punctuated by another flash of lightning. "What gives you the right to attack this city, or ANY city? What gives you the right to hurt my friends?"
As Slade tried to wrench out of Robin's grasp, Robin tugged even harder, and Slade let out a yell... his shoulder began to rip out of its joint, and Robin smelled blood, increasing the pressure on Slade's arm. As Robin was sitting on the small of Slade's back, he was unable to use his legs to kick his opponent off of him... and despite his superior strength, the hold that Robin had him in took all of his leverage away. It was becoming clear to Slade that he simply wasn't going to be able to overpower the Titan leader... not without getting into his head first.
"You're right, Robin... you're right that there's nothing that justifies my actions... not the injury to my son, not the fact that my wife and daughter both rejected me in anger afterwards... you're right, Robin, you're absolutely right."
Robin wasn't in any mood to listen to Slade's sob stories... whatever calamities had befallen the criminal mastermind during his lifetime were no excuse for all the suffering he'd caused. Robin wrenched even harder on Slade's shoulder, but this time, the criminal gritted his teeth, not allowing himself to scream.
"You can't... imagine what it's been like... not seeing my children... it's why I tried to create my own... tried to go after you, and Terra, and Sanza as well..."
"I could've killed the man responsible for the deaths of my family... but I spared his life, because killing him would have made me just as evil!" Robin didn't loosen his grip, but he didn't tighten it either... he was wrenching on Slade's arm with everything he had, trying to render it useless, trying to eliminate the advantage that Slade's physical strength gave him. "But you... you've killed hundreds, maybe thousands of people... you even sacrificed the world to save yourself! You're nothing but pure evil... you're a sadistic, maniacal psychopath... I HATE YOU!"
Blinded by rage, Robin didn't see Slade's other hand beginning to reach into his utility belt... Robin simply kept his focus on Slade's left arm, and once he felt the muscles around his shoulder finally begin to tear, his lips curved into what was almost a sadistic smile.
"Good, Robin... now harness that hatred..." Despite the fact that he was experiencing more pain than he'd ever experienced in his life, Slade was undeterred... his healing factor would repair his shoulder, but for now, he wanted to keep Robin as angry as possible. "I'm sure you'll hate me even more once your friends are dead."
His eyes narrowing even more, Robin gave one final, powerful tug at Slade's arm... not noticing the explosive device attached to his ribs. Just before he could pull Slade's shoulder completely out of place, the device went off, blasting Robin across the roof and freeing Slade, who stood up with his left arm hanging slightly limp at his side. Robin hit the concrete hard, bounced up again, and skidded over to the edge of the roof, his body shaking violently... his midsection in extreme pain. The device had given him a serious second-degree burn, a small, localized third-degree burn, and had fractured two of his ribs, letting him know in an instant about how bad Terra had felt on that night when she'd staggered back into Titans Tower.
While Robin was languishing in a semi-conscious state, Slade popped his dislocated shoulder back into place and began walking toward Robin again.
"One little kick, that's all it will take..." Slade said to himself, believing that the blast had immediately rendered Robin unconscious. It hadn't, but the Titan leader still wasn't moving, save for an occasional twitch as he rolled painfully onto his back. "He won't get up again."
Seeing Slade coming toward him, Robin slowly, painfully picked himself up from the ground, letting out a scream as the burn in his side began to flare up, and his broken ribs tore at his nerves. He looked up at Slade, who had broken out into a run... and once again, he had to push all of the pain to the back of his mind. He clenched his right fist and waited until Slade was at the perfect distance... then threw his arm forward in one fierce, desperate punch.
The blow was so hard that it broke two of Robin's knuckles, but what it also did was knock Slade back a couple of steps, giving Robin enough time to run around to the side, away from the roof's edge. Slade immediately turned to face him, and soon, the other effect of Robin's punch had become apparent. The small crack in his mask that he'd sustained in his earlier battle with Sanza and Terra had begun to expand again... then, more cracks began to form. In only a few seconds, the entire mask was lined with small fractures... and as another flash of lightning burst through the sky, the mask shattered and fell away.
It revealed the scarred face of a man whose twisted actions and desire for revenge had aged him beyond his years. His hair had turned gray, and his craggy features were lined with numerous wrinkles... and for the first time, Robin could clearly see the scar where his right eye used to be.
"So, this is the true face of Slade..." Robin said quietly, clutching his ribs as he once again backed toward the edge of the roof. The unmasked Slade began walking toward him, his lips curving into a smile as he realized just how injured his opponent really was.
"The last thing you see before you die," replied Slade, taking several slow, deliberate steps toward Robin, who got into the best defensive stance that he could, preparing to make one final stand against the triumphant villain. "That little punch of yours was a nice effort, but it's the last blow you'll land on me."
Rain battered the Titan's badly beaten body as he watched Slade make those final steps... he clenched his fists, realizing exactly what he would have to do.
"Slade's face is exposed... if I can land a good enough punch, it could be a knockout blow... but I'm going to have to be quick..."
Slade was ready for such a punch, and he knew exactly where to strike at Robin. One good blow to the chest near his injured ribs would stun him, and another would send him plummeting off the side of the building. He lunged forward, going low and bringing up his leg to strike at Robin's torso... Robin craned up, preparing to go high but immediately receiving a sharp pain from his side.
"I can't... I can't go that high up, not with broken ribs...!" As Slade got ready to throw a punch, Robin did the only thing he could... he fell back, his head dangling over the edge of the roof, while the rest of his body remained on solid ground. When he saw Slade's punch miss, and saw him beginning to fall forward, he kicked up his legs, into Slade's stomach... and scooped up, throwing the villain backward over his head.
Two things happened. Slade went flying over the edge of the roof... and he let out a scream. He reached down to his grappling hook and launched it at the side of the building... but he was falling too far and too fast, and it fell just a few inches short. Turning around, Robin looked out and saw Slade plummeting hundreds of feet, his extended grappling hook now falling with him... Slade fell, and fell, and fell, and the police and reporters gathered below quickly backed up, forming a circle of exposed pavement that Slade crashed into at more than a hundred miles per hour.
No healing factor could save him from a fall like that. Robin looked down, wide-eyed, the rain blocking his view of the fallen Slade... and he began to stand up, clutching his side, still racked in intense pain. He stepped back from the edge of the roof, looking up into the sky, then straight ahead. He hadn't intended for one second to kill Slade... he simply reacted in the best way he could think of, and...
"What's done is done," thought Robin, turning away from the edge and walking toward the center of the roof. "At least he'll never hurt anyone again."
A faint rumbling could be felt beneath Robin's feet. It started him, knocking him over. An earthquake? No... something else... the rumbling felt as if it was coming straight up from the building itself, from something tearing away at the tower's very foundations...
"The nanomachines!" Horrified, Robin rushed for the stairway leading down from the roof. "The others must not have been able to find the computers in time!"
Terra had found the computer, but had not yet been able to access the program that controlled the final de-activation switch... and as she felt the rumble from below, she knew she was running out of time.
"Come on, Terra... you already almost destroyed one city, you're not gonna destroy this one!" Terra's fingers raced across the keyboard, her eyes scanning the screen, desperately searching for the sequence that would bring up the deactivation controls.
Sixty-two stories below, trillions of nanomachines were churning up through the chasm like lava through a volcano, consuming Aylesworth first, then Slade's base... then, as it neared the surface, the Library Tower parking garage and every car inside. The nanites tunneled through the basement levels, just seconds away from the lobby... there would be no stopping them.
Unless Terra could navigate her way through the computer programs... but she knew she was running out of time. She tried to push back her fears and all of her past failures... she wasn't Terra the traitor, or Terra, the apprentice to Slade... she was Terra, Teen Titan, true friend, and the only one who could save Los Angeles from total annihilation.
"This isn't just your life on the line, it's your friends' lives too! It's Sanza's life! And it's everyone in Los Angeles!" Sweat and tears poured down Terra's face, but finally, she managed to bring up something that at least looked like the nanomachine deactivation program... and the words on the screen confirmed it. "YES!"
With one click of the mouse, the screen displayed a message: "Terminal 5 of 5 Deactivated. Nanite Self-Replication Sequence Terminated."
The rumbling stopped. The nanites had expanded to coat the bottom few inches of the lobby in glimmering, silver dust... but had stopped there. Terra let out a loud sigh, leaning back in her chair and smiling from ear to ear.
"Thank god..." she whispered, suddenly realizing what Maria meant about knowing what it felt like to have someone watching over her. "Yeah, definitely got some help from the big guy upstairs for that one..."
Before Terra could think back to Sanza, four of her other friends rushed to the doorway. Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg were all prepared to fight off elite Sladebots... but when they saw Terra at the computer, and the accompanying message about the nanomachines being deactivated, they all breathed a sigh of relief.
"Terra... you did it!" shouted Beast Boy, rushing over to give his friend a hug. She stood up from the chair and giggled as Beast Boy embraced her, then looked over at the other Titans, who were equally overjoyed to see that Terra had accomplished the mission.
"That's our little rock 'n roller," said Cyborg, giving Terra a high-five.
"Wait a minute..." Starfire said quietly, the smile disappearing from her face. "Where is Sanza?"
Terra let out a loud gasp.
Despite the loss of his powers, Red X had still delivered a sound beating to the elite Sladebot... using all the martial arts moves that Chu-hui had taught him, he now had the sparking Sladebot on its knees, preparing to deliver the knockout blow.
"This one's for Chu-hui," said X, kicking the Sladebot's head cleanly off its shoulders. As the wreckage of the bot clattered to the ground, the four Titans rushed into the hallway, just in time to see X's triumph. "Hey, guys... you missed it. I turned this Sladebot into scrap metal."
"Great job," said Terra, running over to give X a hug. "I knew you had it in you all along..."
"...then why were you so worried on the way over here?" asked Raven, prompting Terra to give her an annoyed look.
"Hey, kid, leave her alone..." X replied, pointing his hand at Raven's face. "I can still..."
Sparks began emitting from the thief's hand once again, and he drew it back, wincing in pain.
"Dammit... the reactor's still busted, I think all the power's drained out of it..." Letting out a frustrated sigh, X removed his mask and looked down at his still-sparking hand. "Maybe for good this time..."
"We'll worry about that later," said Cyborg, a serious look appearing on his face. "Where's Robin?"
"He must still be fighting Slade!" Starfire shouted, her eyes widening with worry. "Come on, we must go up to the roof and-"
Starfire's fears were immediately assuaged when she and the other Titans saw their leader. He was limping down the hallway, but the smile on his face indicated that he'd been victorious over Slade... though Starfire wasn't smiling when she saw the wounds that had been inflicted on Robin in the process. She flew over and started to hug him, but one look at the burn on his side gave her cause for alarm.
"My goodness, Robin, what-"
"It's nothing Raven can't heal..." Robin choked out, still managing to smile. "And it looks like you guys stopped the nanomachines..."
"Yes, we have... and it appears that you were victorious over Slade... were you?" Starfire still couldn't quite bring herself to smile, not until she knew for sure. "Or were you able to-"
"It's over, Starfire... Slade's gone... this time for good..."
Starfire didn't need to know the details, and she immediately leaned in to kiss Robin. Robin closed his eyes and responded in kind, but just before their lips touched, the building began to shake again.
"What the hell?" shouted Sanza, nearly knocked off his feet by the force of the shaking. "I thought we stopped the nanomachines!"
"We did, but... oh boy, this is bad..." Cyborg's voice took on a frantic tone as he looked down at the scanner on his arm. "The building's foundation is badly damaged! The nanomachines ate it almost completely away, this building's coming down!"
As bad as that sounded, Sanza wasn't worried... the building had been evacuated, and as long as he and the others could get out in time, even a catastrophic collapse wouldn't hurt anyone... though the destruction of the tallest building on the West Coast would certainly be a significant psychological blow to a lot of people.
"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's get out of here and far enough away so that-"
"We can't let this building collapse!" Robin shouted. "There are thousands of cops and reporters down there, the building's been evacuated but if it comes down, those people will be buried alive!"
"...that isn't good," said Beast Boy.
"Anyone got any ideas?" Cyborg asked. "According to my scanner, the building is coming down in six minutes!"
"Maybe I could hold it up with my powers, but..." Raven bowed her head. "With its foundation destroyed, it's still coming down sooner or later, and I can't hold it up forever..."
"I can keep it from falling down!"
All of the Titans looked over at Terra, while Sanza tried to think about just how she would be able to repair the building's shattered foundation.
"I can rebuild the tower's foundations and keep it up indefinitely..."
"...you mean you're going to stay here until-"
"No, Sanza, I won't have to stay, I just have to strengthen the building's foundation enough for it to stay up until people can come in to repair it..."
"Five minutes, y'all! If we're gonna do this, we gotta do it now!"
"Cyborg's right, everybody to the window!"
As Raven picked up Cyborg, Starfire picked up Robin, and Beast Boy transformed into an eagle, Terra stayed behind... and Sanza stayed with her.
"Sanza, what are you doing?" asked Terra, running over to the elevator shaft nearby. "You need to go, there's nothing you can do!"
But Sanza wouldn't take no for an answer... he followed Terra, and as the geomancer lifted up a platform to take her down to the lobby, Sanza climbed on with her. He pointed down to the reactor on his suit, which had begun to glow again... if only very faintly.
"We fight together..."
Terra was still skeptical as she lowered X and herself down to the lobby... she realized that if she was unsuccessful in restoring the building's foundations, this was as much of a suicide mission as stopping the volcano was nearly a year ago... and she didn't want the person she loved to be any part of it.
"Dammit, Sanza... this is something I have to do alone..."
But when the two stepped out into the lobby, it was clear that Terra wouldn't be able to complete this task alone at all. The chasm she'd created had been completely plugged and covered over with nanoscopic dust.
"You need me to turn some of this into concrete that you can use to rebuild the foundation," said Sanza, kneeling down on the ground and sending waves of Xynothium powered electricity through the deactivated nanites.
"Because the nanites transformed the foundation into trillions of copies of themselves..." thought Terra, her eyes widening. "How could I have been so stupid...?!"
The building began to shake even more... only four minutes remained until its catastrophic collapse.
As soon as the Titans reached the ground, they rushed toward the large contingent of police and reporters that were surrounding the building, desperately trying to get them to evacuate before it was too late. The reporters would have none of it, shoving their microphones into the Titans' faces and trying to ask them questions about the battle.
"What's your secret for defeating Slade?"
"How did you shut off the nanomachines?"
"Are you still dating Lindsay Lohan?"
Letting out a scream of rage, Robin took a swing at one of the cameramen, only to have Starfire stay his hand.
"It's like they don't even care that their lives are in danger!" screamed Robin in an exasperated tone.
"Guys, I just realized something," said Cyborg. "If the nanomachines turned the building's foundation into gray goo, where's Terra going to get the concrete that she's planning to use to rebuild it?"
The Titans looked at one another for a moment... then Raven broke out in a mad dash toward the front of the building.
Just before she could reach the door, a huge chunk from the building's roof fell down toward her. She stepped back and watched in horror as the large piece of steel and concrete blocked off the only way into the building.
"Azarath, metreon, zinthos!" Raven tried to move the piece of concrete away, but it wouldn't budge. Breathing heavily, Raven fell to one knee... she was exhausted, as exhausted as all of the other Titans... Terra and Sanza were on their own.
Just before the X suit's reactor faded again, Sanza had managed to force a small portion of the nanomachines in the chasm below to transform into concrete. It was scattered throughout in small patches, but Terra hoped that she'd be able to bring it to the surface fast enough to save the building. Only a minute and a half remained.
"Sanza..." Terra said, kneeling down at the center of the chasm and beginning to focus her energy. "You can... go now..."
Sanza looked up toward the front door, which seemed to be blocked off by debris. He looked back over at Terra, who began moving the debris away from the door. Sanza grabbed her wrist.
"No. You need to focus on rebuilding this tower's foundation."
Fighting off tears, Terra closed her eyes and began to concentrate as much as she could, sending out waves of energy from her body into the ground below. Immediately, the microscopic clumps of concrete below began to converge on one another, gravitating together and making larger and larger chunks. She continued to focus, moving the large chunks up below the bottom of the building and fusing them with the tower... but as the building shook harder and harder, and pieces of the ceiling started coming down, Terra once again lost her nerve.
It was then that Sanza's arms wrapped tightly around her.
"Have faith, Terra... we're going to make it... we're going to survive..." Sanza's voice was trembling, he was scared... as scared as Terra was. Terra was drawing on the last of her energy to form a new foundation for the building. She was trembling violently, and she could feel Sanza trembling against her, his arms wrapping even tighter around her waist.
"Sanza..." she whispered, fighting back the tears, "I... I..."
"I know... I'm scared too, but I know you can do this... because you know you can do this, Terra..."
The building shook even more, the lobby started to sink... Terra pushed upward, trying to use the strength of the new foundation she'd almost completed to keep the bottom floors of the building from pancaking and collapsing... she began to scream, and Sanza held onto her even tighter.
"I... I CAN'T!"
"YES YOU CAN, TERRA! YOU'RE STRONG, YOU'RE THE STRONGEST PERSON I'VE EVER MET! YOU'RE STRONGER THAN ME!"
Terra could feel her body beginning to rip apart under the stress, she was feeling the same sensation that she felt when she'd stopped the volcano... every last ounce of her power now being used to keep Library Tower from collapsing. She stood up, and Sanza stood up with her, leaning his head on her shoulder as tears began streaming down his face.
"I LOVE YOU!!!"
Sanza's final words of encouragement were drowned out by Terra's scream as she began giving off an incredible golden glow... a glow so bright that it shined from every window in the tower.
"I know we're going to make it..."
A magnificant cloud of dust emerged from the bottom floors of the tower, at the same time that Terra's blinding light burst forth through the windows. The Titans, and the police and reporters that had gathered nearby all looked away, the flash too bright for them to see.
Then, there was an incredible silence. Library Tower still stood, one second, two seconds, three seconds after Cyborg predicted its collapse. He looked down at his scanner.
"Terra did it..." he said quietly, blinking repeatedly. "She... she completely rebuilt the foundation... the parking garage too... the building's saved..."
The Titans all focused their eyes on the front of the building. The debris blocking the entrance hadn't moved... Terra could move it easily, couldn't she?
"Maybe she's exerted too much energy in saving the building," said Raven. "She'll climb out one of the windows..."
"Not if she passed out," said Beast Boy, "or..."
The changeling let out a gasp. The last time Terra had exerted so much energy at once, she'd been changed into a statue... thoughts of that fate immediately flooded back into Beast Boy's mind, and with no Crisis Crystal to restore her...
"Come on, let's try to get that big rock out of the way!" Cyborg rushed toward the building, gesturing for Starfire to follow him. Several dozen police officers, and even a few of the reporters rushed over to help as well.
But as they neared the massive rock, something amazing happened... it began to move on its own. It slid back, revealing two dust-covered figures slowly emerging from the building... one of them lowering her hand.
"...Terra!!" Beast Boy's cry immediately brought the geomancer's head up from its lowered position... her beautiful blue eyes immediately locked on his, and she gave him a smile. Her arm was draped around Sanza's shoulder, and she was walking with him out of the building, the two supporting each other's exhausted frames as they emerged together.
"Beast Boy..." Terra looked at him, and then at the other Titans... all of them, even Raven, were smiling. "Guys, I'm okay... and Sa-"
Sanza's hand quickly lifted up to cover Terra's mouth. He looked up and saw the reporters, hundreds of them, pointing their cameras in his direction.
"Terra," whispered Sanza, lowering his hand from Terra's lips. "Don't reveal my identity on national TV..."
"Uh, Sanza..." said Beast Boy, pointing at the unmasked thief's face. "You uh... sorta already did that."
Sanza looked up at the cameras again... and then down at his right hand, still tightly clutching the Red X mask. He reached up and felt his face... feeling only bare skin.
"...well, this is absolutely fucking wonderful."
But in spite of the incredible shock and dismay that Sanza was feeling, he heard only laughter from the Titans... and even from Terra, who seemed to be laughing loudest of all. It seemed that she didn't understand the ramifications of his identity being revealed... all of those crimes he'd committed... he was in serious trouble!
Still... he couldn't help but start laughing as well... for no apparent reason other than the fact that finally, it was over. Slade was beaten, he was safe... and Terra was safe as well.
But this was still going to make any future thievery extremely difficult...
Sixteen hours later, Sanza was back home in the living room of his family's apartment. His mother and sister had watched the entire thing... the attack of the Omega Ternions on the city, Robin's fight against Slade... and Sanza and Terra's triumphant emergence from Library Tower. Now, his mother was all too eager to discuss the ramifications of his face being revealed on national television. Of course, her worry that her son might be arrested was gone... as five minutes after Sanza had emerged from the building, it had been reported that because he had helped to save Los Angeles, the president had immediately given Sanza a pardon for all the crimes he'd committed as Red X. Of course, this pardon didn't extend to any future crimes.
"Now are you going to stop all of this stealing, and sneaking, and-"
Maddy rushed in from the kitchen, having deposited her backpack on the table. She ran into the living room and over to Sanza, all to eager to hear about everything that had happened in Los Angeles.
"You gotta tell me, everyone at school kept asking me about you, but I didn't have anything to tell them because I didn't see you at all last night, or this morning!"
"Last night I was in Los Angeles, and this morning I was sleeping..." Sanza said. "I slept in 'til noon."
"Well, tell me now then!"
It was apparent to Sanza that his little sister's appetite for information was insatiable, and she wasn't going to leave him alone until he told her about every single little thing he'd done in Los Angeles. So, he walked over to the easy chair nearby and sat down, taking a deep breath and immediately launching into a long story.
His sister listened to every word.
Back at the Tower, Terra was seated at the foot of her bed, staring straight out the window. Slade was finally defeated, the threat to Los Angeles was over... and hopefully, she and Sanza would never be terrified by another wicked madman again. She'd saved the day... saved millions of people, and this time, not from something that she'd caused herself.
She was in perfect control of her powers, and she was a valuable member of the Teen Titans... she'd regained everyone's trust and friendship, including Raven's... but still, something didn't feel right to her about where her life was going. Something was missing... she'd found true love, but she still wanted more.
"I know I can help people, but... still, I..."
The door slid open, and Terra looked over... it was Beast Boy, walking over to see how Terra was doing. She smiled and slid over, allowing him to sit next to her... but the changeling could tell that something was bothering his friend.
"What's up? We kicked Slade's butt and all, but-"
"Where are the others?"
"...Robin's in the infirmary, Starfire's sleeping in the chair next to his bed, Cyborg's recharging, and Raven's in her room."
The mention of Raven's name brought a smile to Beast Boy's face that he couldn't contain... and he decided to tell Terra why.
"She... she agreed to go out with me tomorrow night! She wasn't smiling when she said it, but I know she wanted to go... we're going to this cafe downtown, it's kind of a creepy place, but... being with Raven will make it totally worthwhile. I just hope she doesn't walk out on me after the first joke."
"Aw, Raven's got a better sense of humor than that..." Terra replied. "I'm glad you and Raven are... getting along better."
"Yeah..." The smile disappeared from Beast Boy's face as he remembered what he'd seen when he came in. "Terra, you okay?"
"It's... complicated, Beast Boy. My powers are stronger than ever, but... for some reason, I still don't really feel like being a Teen Titan anymore... it's nothing against you guys, I love you guys... and I still want to be your friend, but..."
Beast Boy's hand clenched tightly around Terra's, and she reciprocated the gesture, her fingers squeezing tightly.
"That week when I went to Murakami High School... I... I really liked it... I liked not having to worry about being a superhero, I liked not having to worry about Slade or anything like that... I know Slade's gone now, but... for some reason, that just makes me want to... want to live a normal life even more."
Terra's hand continued to grip Beast Boy's hand tightly, and he placed his other hand on hers as well, looking up into her eyes and smiling.
"You know what I said, Terra... it's your life... you can always choose..."
"I know, Beast Boy... that's why I'm glad I got to talk to you... do you think the others will-"
"Of course, Terra," Beast Boy replied. He stood up from the bed, keeping his hands tightly clenched with Terra's. "You'll always have friends here."
With tears streaking down her face, Terra stood up and hugged Beast Boy tightly, her gloved hands gently stroking his back.
"Thank you, Beast Boy..." she whispered, an indelible smile etched on her face. "Thank you so much..."
That night, Terra was eating dinner not at Titans' Tower, but in the kitchen of the Salazars' apartment. Just before leaving, she'd told the others about her decision to leave the team... and they were very supportive, even allowing Terra to keep her communicator. Robin had told her that he would give her as much time as she needed to think about her decision, and that she could come back to live at Titans Tower... but Terra didn't want to stay there if she wasn't a member of the team. She'd be willing to visit, of course... but she was fully prepared to sleep in her cave until she found a permanent place to stay.
"Unacceptable," said Maria, setting her fork down into a large bowl of salad. "You're not going to sleep in a cave, there's absolutely no way."
"Yeah, there are snakes and scorpions out there," Maddy commented. "I know you said you spent a lot of time sleeping in caves before, but-"
"I'll find an apartment eventually..." said Terra, shrugging her shoulders. "I mean, once I get a job and everything..."
"I don't know..." Sanza replied. "It's hard to live on minimum wage."
"How would you know?" Maddy blurted. "You lazy bum, you've never held a job in your life!"
"Neither have you!" Sanza shouted back, pointing his salad fork at Maddy.
"Because I'm twelve!"
"How about this apartment?" Maria said, causing Terra to let out a gasp. "You could live in the ground-floor apartment below us."
"...you mean until I find an apartment of my own?" Terra stammered.
"I mean permanently," Maria said. Upon hearing this, a look of shock appeared on Terra's face... while a much happier look of shock appeared on Sanza's. Maddy was surprised as well, but she seemed to support the decision as much as Sanza did... while Terra was shaking in disbelief.
"But... you said you only rented it for a week... that means there's only a few days left, how-"
"The person who owns it has been trying to sell it to me for a year," said Maria, "and I've got some money saved up... I'll just add it to the mortgage I have on the top two floors of the building. With the ground floor bought, I'll own the whole building, and you can live in the bottom floor. I'll even help you decorate."
"...Mrs. Salazar, that's-" Terra began.
"Maria," Maria corrected with a smile, "and don't worry about it. If you get a job, you can pay me some of what you make, and we'll call it even. I still don't think it's enough to repay you for all you've done for my son, but-"
"This is the happiest day of my life..." thought Sanza, who's look of shock had turned into an ecstatic smile. He looked over at Terra, who seemed as if she was about to cry... she got up from her chair and ran over to Maria, wrapping her up in a tight embrace.
"Thank you so much... I owe you... I totally owe you..."
"Don't worry about it," said Maria again. She looked over at Sanza, giggling slightly at his almost dopey expression. "Don't you get any ideas, I think I might put a camera down in Terra's room..."
"Then they'll just do it in Sanza's room," said Maddy, causing both Sanza and Terra to blush. "Don't worry, mom, I won't let 'em do anything... I'll hide under Sanza's bed all the time."
Though living together certainly meant that there would be more opportunities for physical intimacy, to Sanza, that was inconsequential. Living just two floors above Terra meant that he'd be able to see the girl he loved with all of his heart every single day... at least until the two of them went off to college.
"Of course, now that Terra's going to be going into high school with me next year, maybe we can go to the same college..."
Sanza couldn't shake the smile from his face. He was going to be spending the rest of his life with Terra... and he'd never have to worry about her getting attacked again.
"At least not by Slade, anyway..."
A week later, Sanza sat together with Terra on the roof of the apartment building, staring up into the night sky. Terra was now living on the bottom floor of the building, her room's drab white walls remade into a beautiful mural of the desert sky, similar to the wallpaper she had back at Titans Tower. She hadn't severed her relations with the team, who still considered her to be a Teen Titan... and she even planned to return to the Tower to train once or twice a week.
As for Sanza... his Red X suit remained in a box under his bed, the Xynothium reactor repaired by Robin and Cyborg to the best of their ability... the suit retained all of its powers except the ability to fly. He would return to the Tower to train with Terra as well... not as a Teen Titan, but as an average citizen determined to remain strong and vigilant in case evil ever returned to threaten the city.
"So, you're going back to school, huh?" Terra asked Sanza, her hand reaching over and resting on top of his.
"Yeah, they finally got the building fixed..."
"I suppose you're a pretty big celebrity now that everyone knows you're Red X."
Sanza nodded his head, a slight chuckle escaping his lips. Not only was he a celebrity at his school, but so was Terra... who had decided to forego returning to Murakami High School, opting to attend Sanza's school instead. She'd be taking several tests over the summer so she could be admitted as a senior... and thus, would graduate with Sanza. She'd already started looking for a senior prom dress.
"By the way, about those tests you're going to take... you'd better ace them all, I'd hate to tell my friends about how wonderful a girl you are, only to have them not be able to meet you in person."
"Oh, don't worry... Raven's helping me study," said Terra with a giggle. "And aren't you worried about someone trying to steal me away?"
Sanza laughed. His stealing days were over... and not just because his identity had been revealed on national television. He'd already fulfilled his initial reason for becoming Red X... he'd grown more than strong enough to protect the people he loved, and on top of that, he had the faith to know that they'd be safe even if he couldn't quite beat the people that threatened them. As for the reason he had continued to be Red X... the stealing... for some reason, he no longer felt the compulsion to steal anymore. He'd stolen something far more valuable than all the treasures in the world... he'd stolen Terra's heart, and that was more than good enough.
"I'm not worried about that... you're my guardian angel, remember? If you went with someone else, you'd be shirking your duty..."
"And what about you, Sanza? I'm sure now that everyone knows you're Red X, you'll be getting a lot of offers for dates..."
"Yeah..." Sanza turned to Terra, looking into her eyes. "Pretty girls with gorgeous blonde hair, soft skin, a perfect body, and radiant blue eyes... lots of them will be chasing after me now that I'm a celebrity."
Terra didn't have to think to know exactly what Sanza meant... and she giggled again, reaching up and placing her hand on Sanza's cheek.
"And you don't look too bad yourself..." Smiling warmly, Terra leaned in and pressed her lips to Sanza's... and could feel his arms wrapping tightly around her, pulling her to him. Her lips parted, and her hands wrapped around him as well... and the two became lost in bliss.
And as Terra continued to kiss him, Sanza was finally able to let go of the last of the demons that inhabited his mind. He knew his father was proud of him now... and that he was now free to live the rest of his life as he saw fit.
"And I'll be able to live that life with an angel by my side... thank you, Terra... thank you for everything."