All recognizable characters belong to their respective owners (Cartoon Network, DC Comics). For a prompt on YJ_Anon_Meme.
Megaphone was created by Seito, and is used here with permission.
"I'm so booooored," Wally complained, lolling about on the sofa.
"You're always bored," Artemis shot back. Her voice was just as venomous as always, but Wally found the threat mitigated by the frilly pink apron she was wearing. She waved a batter-covered spoon at him, ignoring M'gann's attempts to rescue it. "And what, exactly, are we supposed to do about it?"
"Entertain meeeeeee," Wally answered, sliding sideways to collapse bonelessly on the couch.
"Isn't that Robin's job?" Kaldur asked, looking up from the seashell he was doing something to. No one knew quite what, and given that curls of seashell were actually coming off because of something that looked like a dull spoon, no one wanted to ask, either.
"Robin's not coming 'til tomorrow," Wally whined. "Some bodyguard gig or something with Bats. And before you ask, I can't go bother him because I'm not allowed at black tie affairs anymore, not since last time."
Artemis debated a moment, before deciding she did want to know. "What did you do?" she asked, turning to look at him, and carelessly letting the mixing bowl tilt sideways.
"Artemis!" M'gann yelped, taking the bowl from the archer with her mental powers.
"Hey, I had it!" Artemis protested, and would have said more, but M'gann was looking at her, and had chocolate smudged on her nose and across one cheek, and Artemis didn't have the heart to say anything mean to her adoptive sister. "Sorry," she sighed instead, taking the bowl back with more care.
The matter forgotten, Wally stopped pouting and stretched out his arm. If he strained, he could just poke Conner in the side. "Dude, you wanna play video games?"
"No," Conner said, and got up to get the controllers.
Wally rolled his eyes, but sat upright again. "Cool! You can pick the game!"
"What's the one with the balls?" Conner asked, and Wally took a second to narrow that down in his head.
"Oh, yeah, that one!" he said, smiling. Figures Superboy would like games featuring kickass balls. "Where the balls gather things! It's the red case."
Kaldur put down his seashell and his blunt spoon, and said, "I admit, I've been wanting to try that game."
"Score!" Wally cheered. "Tournament time!"
"I have to say, I think that game got aliens wrong," M'gann remarked from the kitchen. "I've never seen any that looked like that."
"You could totally shapeshift into that for Halloween," Wally said absently, maneuvering through the menus at speed. "That could be cool!"
The girls traded looks, and decided to just ignore him.
"Right! Here we go!" Wally announced, counting down with the numbers on the screen. "Three, two one—"
The beeping of the computer cut across his voice. All five of them straightened up, game and baking forgotten. M'gann soared over to the terminal, and started reading aloud. "Break in and hostage situation, downtown Happy Harbor, reporters on the scene report...supervillain, not sure who, no distinctive costume. Guys, we should—"
Wally was beside her in seconds, now dressed in his uniform, and Artemis was pulling down her mask. "Let's go," Kaldur said, and they hit the door running.
The bioship hovered over the bank, invisible to the crowd below. A hole opened in the floor, and Kaldur said, "Megan, Artemis, covert recon. Save who you can, don't get spotted. Conner, secure the back, Kid Flash, the rest of the outside. I'll come in from the front. Megan, link us up; team, go!"
And they did, falling through the hole one at a time.
Kaldur went last, and waited until everyone confirmed they were in position. Then he pushed open the front door, and walked in.
"Hello?" he called out.
Back room, M'gann supplied in his head.
Has hostages. Wearing black ninja clothes, but he looks familiar, Artemis added. We can't get close, and he looks unstable. Careful.
Understood, he said. Approaching in three, two, one—
"Hello?" he called again, easing the door open.
"Stay there!" A familiar voice called. "Stop right there!"
Kaldur blinked. "Seriously? Megaphone, what are you doing? This is hardly your usual scheme."
I knew he looked familiar! Artemis said, even as the team shared a moment of surprise. But what is he doing here? And not in costume?
"Shut up!" Megaphone yelled, loudly enough to activate his amp, causing them all to wince at the supersonic resonance. He whipped off the black cloak to reveal his usual attire, complete with speakers.
Kaldur clapped his hands over his ears, not just to block out the sound, but also because he was that much nearer to drawing his Waterbearers.
Take him down now, and get the innocents out of here, Kaldur ordered. We'll figure out the why's later.
An arrow shot out from the dark behind Megaphone, piercing the center of the big speaker on his back. He turned around with a shriek, and Kaldur whipped out his weapons, drenching Megaphone and dragging him to the floor.
Megaphone twisted, slipping on purpose to drop below the water, and screamed. The sound bypassed the ears and went straight for the brain, and everyone in the room felt it. Kaldur pressed his hands to his ears again, but it didn't help. He sank to his knees, unable to think over the noise. It hurt, and he couldn't make it stop—
The wall exploded, and there was Conner, face screwed up in pain, panting, but obviously still functioning. "Ow," he said, and came for Megaphone.
He upped his scream another step, and scuttled to the side, picking up M'gann's limp form by the neck.
He punched a button on his suit, and the scream continued in the background, but it left his mouth free to say, "Lookit what I found."
"Put her down," Conner growled, and swung a punch at Megaphone. He missed by a mile, disoriented as he was by the sound, and Megaphone laughed.
"This isn't like you," Kaldur managed to get out. "What are you doing?"
Megaphone sneered at him. "I'm moving up in the world. What are you doing? Oh, that's right, losing!"
Conner glanced at Kaldur, and then swung at Megaphone again. He skipped backwards, laughing. "Punch, punch punch, hard as you can! Can't catch me, I'm the Megaphone man!" he teased, and stepped to the left and Conner charged again.
Conner tripped and fell, and Megaphone laughed. "Really?" he said, and dropped M'gann off to the side. "Is that it, kids?"
"No," Conner said. "Now."
And, though Kaldur couldn't quite see, he still charged up the bioelectric shock of his Waterbearers, trusting that Conner had maneuvered him into the puddle. And it paid off when he saw the villain's back arch, and he upped the voltage, enough to fry all the electronics Megaphone was carrying.
And the screech cut out. Conner rose, and Kaldur pushed up to his feet, breathing raggedly. Megaphone collapsed onto the floor, clothes scorched and smoking. He groaned and rolled onto his side, but it was over for him, and he knew it.
Kaldur kept watch over the fallen Megaphone, and Conner rushed to M'gann's side. Artemis and Wally moved to free the hostage, all without talking. Kaldur knelt, and grabbed him by the shoulders.
"What are you doing here, Megaphone?" Kaldur asked. "What were you hoping to achieve?"
The man coughed, and coughed again. "What did I—what did I hope to...! Ha!"
Kaldur put a bit of weight on him, and said again, "What was the plan?"
And Megaphone grinned, showing all his teeth. "It worked," he whispered, and his head lolled back.
"Megan!" he called. The Martian limped over, supported in part by a worried Conner.
She knew what he was asking, and Conner helped her to sit. She laid her hands to his head, and closed her eyes.
"Oh," she breathed a moment later. "Oh, it's just a distraction. He was working for someone, a group of someones, and they promised him power if he'd distract us tonight."
Kaldur rose to his feet and sighed, sheathing his handles. "A distraction from what?"
M'gann frowned, and went quiet for a while longer. "He doesn't know, but he guesses from...there's—what? Something is happening, some gathering. I see a speech, and a crowd, and the media. The man speaking, I know him, I've seen him before...Oh! Mr. Bruce Wayne, I see the Wayne Enterprises logo. It's a press conference!"
Her eyes flew open and she dragged her hands away. "Something's happening at the Wayne Enterprises press conference in Gotham," she said. "And it's happening now."
Suddenly, Wally was there. "That's where Robin is," he said tersely. "Guys, I don't like this."
"Agreed," Kaldur said. "Let's go."
They headed straight for the bioship, stopping only long enough to drop a tied-up Megaphone outside the building for the police to deal with.
The bioship wasn't fast enough, and they knew it, not if whatever it was was going down right then. M'gann steered the ship back to the hangar, and they piled out. Wally pulled up a comm link to Robin, and Artemis started a search for the press conference, trying to find a location.
"Can't raise him!" Wally called in frustration, right as Artemis sang out, "Got it!"
"Let's move!" Kaldur called, and they headed for the zeta-tubes at a run. Wally got there first, programming in the destination, and 'porting on ahead. He checked the alley out, making sure there weren't any nasty surprises waiting. It was Gotham, after all.
M'gann went next, linking up people as they arrived. Artemis came through last, and took the lead. No one thought it strange that she knew the way; after all, she had the map and the address.
As they tore down back alleys and over roofs, Kaldur asked, Megan, can you raise Robin?
There was a moment's pause, and then she said, Got him! Putting him up now!
Robin sat on high, comfortable on one of the rafters. It was high enough and dark enough that he could hang his legs over the side, kicking them back and forth as he kept an eye on the room below him.
Not that he wasn't taking this seriously, because he was. He watched Bruce closely, and the audience closer, on the lookout for any possible threat. He was also cycling through the security cameras' footage, keeping a weather eye on the perimeter.
"...give you the man himself—Bruce Wayne!" The PR agent said, stepping away from the podium. Bruce stepped up to the stand amidst cheers and applause. Flashbulbs went off, people called questions, and Bruce smiled brilliantly.
Robin knew that smile, and smiled himself at the discomfort Bruce must have been feeling. He was so glad Dick hadn't been required to attend.
And then Bruce started speaking, and Robin tuned out the words. He let Bruce's voice roll over him and he watched everyone. It was soothing and familiar and nice, because Bruce could be incredibly charismatic when he chose to be. And Robin didn't need to listen, anyway. He knew what this conference was about; he'd heard about little else for that last few days.
The government was getting ready to launch a new orbital satellite. It would be super-advanced, incredibly high-tech, with all the latest goodies and gadgets. Supposed to revolutionize space travel and global defense. Tonight Wayne Tech was announcing their intent to bid for the contract to build key components.
The problem being, their main competitor for the contract was Lex Corp. And call Bruce paranoid, but he didn't want Lex Luthor building the key to the global defense systems. Chances were he'd sabotage it, or add a little something that shouldn't be there. And it would be putting more money in Lex's pocket, and currying favor with the public.
Neither Bruce nor Batman wanted Lex Corp to win this bid.
And Bruce Wayne and his company had gotten in Lex and his company's way before; it was highly likely that Luthor would sabotage this press conference. Because if Wayne couldn't announce it, then they couldn't do it, right?
Well, that was what Batman thought, anyway, and Robin had learned to trust Batman when it comes to plans.
He checked all the cameras again, and sighed. Looked like it'd be boring, after all. He tuned back in to Bruce, scanning the crowd again.
"..so it gives me great pleasure to announce that Wayne Enterprises—ow."
Robin sat up straight, suddenly paying more attention to Bruce than the crowd. Bruce was swaying a bit on his feet, and putting weight on the podium to stay standing.
And Robin had a split second to decide between Bruce and the audience, and it wasn't even a choice. Bruce would never forgive him if he let innocents get hurt for any reason.
He circled around the room from above, unable to find the sniper. There was no one in the general vicinity, and he couldn't risk going too far afield. Just then, M'gann made contact with his mind, and he grabbed onto it with both hands. Find the shooter! he ordered, and felt her search for hostile intent.
And she found it, about two thousand meters away. He didn't even know it was possible to make a shot over that distance. But he needed to stay in the here-and-now, and let his team catch the shooter.
I've got this under control; you guys get him!he said, and fell from the ceiling into the maddening crowd.
"This way! Exit this way!" he called, and propped open the double doors. He went up to avoid the press of people, and hovered to make sure they got out safely.
He glanced over his shoulder to check on the people on the stage and Bruce in particular. He'd seen Bruce pull through being shot before, and he knew Bruce was wearing a special Kevlar vest, made of the same material as the Bat suit, so he hadn't been too worried. Until he looked back, and Bruce wasn't standing, was collapsed to the floor.
And he didn't remember moving, but suddenly he was crouched beside Bruce, was checking his vitals and carefully removing the tranq dart in his neck. "Mr. Wayne?" he asked, holding up Bruce's head. "Mr. Wayne, can you hear me?"
And Bruce, Bruce smiled. He smiled, grinned and let out a little giggle-hiccup, and Robin felt his heart hit about his shoes, because if it was Joker gas then—
And then Bruce stopped moving, stopped twitching, but he didn't stop grinning. But the problem, he noticed, was that the grin didn't grow, either. It wasn't unnatural, just odd.
Joker gas based, then? And then he thought of the league of bad guys, of Lex and Joker and Ivy, and all the horrible things they could make from giant plants and Joker gas and nanotech.
"Get out! Go!" he yelled, throwing an arm out, trying to clear the stage. He needed to be alone, needed space and quiet and time.
Are you okay? M'gann asked in his head, and he startled, having forgotten he was linked in.
Yeah, I'm fine. Only one casualty. Have you found the shooter yet?
Found, and lost, Kaldur reported in frustration. He took off, right through Conner.
Wally chimed in with, I was on the wrong side of the park; by the time I got there, he'd disappeared.
Got a good look, though, Conner said. I'd know him if I saw him again.
M'gann hesitantly offered, I made up a quick composite, if you're interested?
Robin stood up, and started dragging Bruce off the stage. Yes, I—No, I...need help. Can you guys—
On our way, Kaldur said. Be there in—
"Hey," Wally said, skidding to a stop. "What can I—dude! Is that Bruce Wayne?"
"Yes," Robin managed through gritted teeth. "Now help me move him."
"Sure," Wally said, grabbing the feet. Robin positioned himself by Bruce's shoulders, and heaved. Wally once again found himself in awe of his friend's upper body strength.
Together, they managed to get the billionaire off the stage. "Dude's pretty heavy for a rich guy." Wally huffed as they pushed through the doors and out into the hall. "Should probably lay off the caviar."
Robin bites back on Bruce hates caviar, and focuses on getting the door to the room next door open. Bruce had used it earlier as a prep room, and prepared it as a fallback room. There were no windows and only the one door, with a magnetic lock and back up deadbolt. In an emergency, the door could be deadlock-sealed, and nothing, but nothing, would be going in or out.
They'd just dropped him on the settee when Conner came bursting through the door. M'gann was right behind him, Kaldur behind her, and Artemis arrived a few moments later.
"He's still breathing," Robin reported, holding one limp wrist to keep track of the pulse."M'gann, can you tell what's—"
She glided forward, and rested a hand on Bruce's forehead. "He's alive," she reported. "Just...I think he's in a coma."
"Shit," Robin said numbly. He felt the stares on him, and looked up. "I was supposed to protect him, that's why I was here..."
And they all know the pain of a failed mission far too well to say anything to that.
"I don't think it's natural," M'gann offered. "He's still there, still fighting. Maybe we could...go in and help him?"
Robin was on his feet in a splitsecond. "Can we do that?"
She nodded. "I've done it before. Uncle J'onn showed me how."
"Right, I'm going in," he said. "You guys stay here and—"
"Not gonna happen, birdboy," Artemis said, bopping him on the head. "You think we're gonna let you wander in there alone?"
"You just wanna take a stroll through a hot guy's head," Wally teased. "But, seriously, we got your back, Rob."
"Right!" M'gann said, beaming around. "Everyone gather in close; I need to be touching everyone."
They piled in, and she manifested a few extra arms so she could hold everyone's hands. Wally and Artemis jumped, and the latter cursed a little.
"Sorry," M'gann said, laying her two main hands on either side of Bruce's head. They shuffled in, and each took a hand. Robin's grip was desperate, but Conner's was firm and nice, and M'gann smiled. "Hold on to your hats," she said, "'cause here we go!"
And there they went.
Robin took a deep breath and held it as M'gann pulled them out of reality and into a dream.
They fell in down a well. It was dark and dirty and small, and they fell one at a time, very very slowly.
Robin was right behind Artemis, which was why he was the only one to hear her murmur, "Curiouser and curiouser." He snorted, and she turned to face him, glaring. He shrugged, and she narrowed her eyes at him, but turned back around. The ground was approaching.
But instead of touching down, they stopped. Robin slid in beside M'gann, across from Artemis. Wally slotted in as well, but Conner's broad shoulders required some serious reorganizing.
"This is like a demented game of Tetris," Wally said, and then, "Uh, I don't think we have room for Kaldur."
But Kaldur came in anyway, with a few "Excuse me"s and a couple "Pardon"s, and the well must have expanded just a little, because they all fit. They didn't fit comfortably, but they all fit.
There was a moment of silence as they all tried not to put hands in awkward locations and then whatever was holding them up gave way, and they all fell hard.
They fell onto a carpet, though, so the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been. It was warm and the light was dim, but cheery.
"What—where are we?" Wally asked, sitting up and scooting off of Conner's legs.
They all looked around, and Robin swallowed hard, but it was Artemis who said, "This is Wayne Manor, I think. Stands to reason."
"Oh, look at that!" M'gann said, pointing. There was a tall, decorated pine tree standing in the center of the room, glittering and glorious.
"Mommy, Mommy, look!" a little voice said, and laughed. There was a little boy sitting under the tree, though there hadn't been before. And he picked up his shiny new toy car and ran to show it to the woman in the chair, who smiled long-sufferingly.
"It's very nice, dear," she said, patting his head. "Why don't you bring Daddy one of those presents?"
"Yeah!" the boy cheered. "I'll play Santa!"
"It's snowing," Artemis observed. "It hasn't done that on Christmas for ages."
Sure enough, the world outside was white and serene. Robin turned to look at the familiar vista, and frowned. Something was off, just a little. He used to be able to see the top of that pine tree, but now the roofline was blocking it, the shadows dark and deep and clinging. Robin turned away, but he didn't turn his back.
The team watched as he rushed back over to the tree and sorted through the brightly-colored boxes. The man murmured something to the woman, and she laughed gaily, and slapped lightly at his arm. All in all, the scene was sickeningly sweet.
"Christmases like this actually exist?" Wally asked quietly. "Wow."
"I thought tv made it up," Artemis said.
They watched the scene play out, but then it stuttered, the boy saying, "Here's one—here's o—here—here—he...!"
And they were back at the beginning, watching it all play out again.
Finally Conner turned away, and Kaldur asked, "What is this?"
M'gann swallowed, and then looked at their leader. "This is...his happiest memory, I think."
"Yeah, well," Wally said, voice coming out a little low and rough. "This isn't gonna help us wake him up."
"Agreed," Kaldur said. "It doesn't seem like we can interact here, anyway. Let's explore the rest of the Manor."
Robin opened the door to the rest of the house, and they stepped through into an immaculately kept entrance hall.
They migrated to a stop in the middle of the hall. "Robin, have you been here before?" Kaldur asked.
"Hm?" the boy said, tearing his eyes away from the grandfather clock at the top of the stairs. "Oh...yes, once or twice. The kitchen is that way, the ballroom that way. Bedrooms a floor up, stairs over to the left, there."
"Right," Kaldur said. "We need a plan. M'gann, Artemis, you're the most familiar with Mr. Wayne. Where would you guess he'd be?"
M'gann blushed, and answered, "The bedroom," just as Artemis said, "The party room." They looked at each other, and Artemis shrugged. "Either, I guess."
"We'll split up," Kaldur decided. Three teams of two could cover each floor; M'gann and Artemis and Robin should be on different teams, as they were the three with knowledge. Conner would sulk if her weren't with M'gann, and he could trust Wally and Artemis to be (mostly) professional on a mission. Besides, Robin had been a little off since his perceived failure; Kaldur wanted to try talking to him. "Superboy, Miss Martian, the main floor. Kid Flash and Artemis, second floor, and Robin and I will take the top. M'gann, can you—"
"No," she interrupted. "we're only manifestations of mental projections in a psyche. Communicating telepathically could be dangerous."
He sighed. "Very well. Keep in touch via comms, reporting back for items of interest. Let's go!"
They split up, and Wally muttered, "This never ends it up well for the heroes."
Everyone pretended they didn't hear him, because they all knew it was true.
Conner opened the doors as they went along the halls. Each room had a different scene on repeat. It was odd, seeing the study at night with Bruce working hard, and just down the hall was the kitchen on a sunny afternoon with Bruce and a young boy sneaking around an older man towards the cookie jar.
"What's this Wayne guy's deal?" Conner asked, shutting the door on the sight of the boy trying unconvincingly to blame Bruce for the 'stealth mission'.
"Oh," M'gann said, skimming the carpet. "His father was a big philanthropist in Gotham. But one night, both his parents were murdered, and he grew up an orphan. Went abroad for college, and when he came back to Gotham, established himself as a playboy and just as big a philanthropist as his father."
Conner peered into a room, a gym, that was almost pitch-black. He could just make out a figure in the far corner, and it took him a second to realize it was doing push-ups.
He pulled his head out, and closed the door again. "And the boy?"
"Bruce Wayne took in Dick after that," Artemis continued. "Poor little rich boy, and a complete brat. Uh, or so I've heard."
"Yeah," Wally agreed absently, taking his side of the hall at a regular pace. "Rich people, right? They think theyhave problems—whoa!"
Artemis was at his shoulder immediately, asking, "What?"
Wally held the door open wider. "Look at this place! It's like a museum!"
They stood staring at the twilight-painted gallery for a second, before Wally said, "Well, be right back!" and canvassed the whole room in a second.
"He's not in there; no one's in there. It's kind of creepy, actually."
"Creepy? You philistine! This place is fantastic! Look, look, see this sculpture? It's the pinnacle of its time, a perfect example of human grace! And that painting!"
"Right," Wally said, but he stuck his hands behind his back, and followed her through the room, listening. It was kinda cool, actually, all the things she knew about art. And there were some pretty pieces, as well.
"And that! Oh, look over here!"
"Shouldn't we, I dunno, be looking for the real Bruce Wayne manifestation, uh, thing?"
She shot him a withering glance. "We'll never get a chance to see this stuff in real life. Like hell am I gonna pass up this chance! He's probably just hiding under his bed or something, anyway."
"I think the bedrooms are just down this hall," Robin said, waving a negligent hand towards a corridor on their left. "But we should probably start—"
"Wait," Kaldur said. "Do you hear that?"
There was indeed a quiet murmur coming from down the indicated hall. "Let's check it out," Kaldur said, and turned. "We must be cautious—oh, I hate it when he does that." Now alone, he made his way lightly down the hall, approaching the door. Suddenly Robin was there again, ear pressed to the door.
"I can hear—" he started, and then stopped. Kaldur joined him, and leaned up against the wall, ear to the crack between the door and frame. And then he jerked back, face flaming, and grabbed Robin, towing the younger boy back down the hall.
"Hey! But I was—"
"You are too young for that," Kaldur hissed, trying to quell the fire he could feel in his own cheeks. "That is private, and you are too young, and also, just no."
Robin sulked, but allowed himself to be pulled along. "Ruin my fun, why don't you," he muttered.
"Well, this looks fun," M'gann said with forced cheer, looking at the pool table and huge television (with all the latest gaming consoles). There were stacks of boxes of toys and legos and books scattered everywhere, and it was obviously a well-loved play room.
Conner grunted, and walked through it. He didn't watch where he stepped, but anything he stepped on, he stepped through. M'gann floated a little higher, and they made it to the door on the far side of the room.
Though they could clearly see the sun through the window, it was night outside.
"My point!" Dick's voice called, and suddenly there was enough light to let them see.
"Oh, no, you don't!" Bruce said back, and caught Dick around the waist, changing his trajectory. Dick laughed, and used Bruce's shoulder as a platform to jump again, getting serious air and clinging to the backboard. "Can't get me up here!"
"That's also against the rules," Bruce pointed out, hands on hips, staring up at the wild-haired boy.
"Rules?" Dick laughed. "What's a rule? That word's not in my vocabulary."
Conner was growing tenser and tenser, watching 'father' and 'son', and M'gann slipped her hand into his. "Come on," she said. "I don't think he's here."
He let her tug him back towards the house, but his eyes caught on the roof. "There! What's that?"
Without waiting for an answer, he jumped, and she flew up behind him. There was a shadow on the roof that wasn't a shadow at all.
"Show yourself!" Conner yelled.
The shadow swayed, and then Bruce Wayne, dressed all in black, fell dead at their feet.
Wally was wandering through the exhibits, having tuned out Artemis a while ago. He hadn't pegged her for an art buff, but then, what did her really know about the girl? Not much.
Damn, he wished Roy were here.
He zoomed over to the windows, looking at the extensive gardens and forests, painted purple by the setting sun. Actually, it looked like there was a balcony just over that way...
He jogged over there, and had to brush by Artemis to do it. He tweaked her hair a bit in passing, mostly to annoy her, and also because he might have been wondering if it was as soft as it looked.
"Hey!" she complained, but he was already out on the veranda.
The air was clean and smelled of flowers, and it really was gorgeous. He couldn't imagine living in a house this big, especially not with only two people.
Something moved, off to the side, and he jumped. It was Bruce, sitting on the rail at the corner, staring in at the pictures.
"Artemis!" he hissed. "Artie, get out here!"
She came around the corner with her bow strung and drawn."Oh," she breathed. "Mr. Wayne? Mr. Wayne, we're here to help you. Sir, would you please get down from there?"
And he looked around, looked right through them like they weren't there, and fell backwards off the edge.
Kaldur kept close watch on Robin as they wandered, and listened really really hard. He was hoping to avoid any...situations that might arise from them being in a hall completely comprised of bedrooms.
"Wait," said Robin, stopping suddenly. "This one."
He headed to a door, and Kaldur followed. It looked just like every other door, and sat on the end of the hall. "Why that one?" he asked.
"Because," Robin answered and swung the door open, "it's the master bedroom."
And it was a huge room, full of dust and the smell of memories. It made Kaldur uneasy, though he couldn't say quite why. He shifted from foot to foot, and then Robin stepped inside.
"What are you doing!" Kaldur hissed.
"Bruce Wayne has a major hang-up on his parents. Where do you think he's going to be?" Robin asked, and threw open the curtains.
Dreary light filled the room, painting it bleak and lonely. It also revealed the form draped across the foot of the bed. It was dressed all in black and unmoving, but Kaldur had seen many Bruce Waynes in the past little while, and recognized the build.
"Robin..." he whispered, but the boy was already putting fingers on the neck and leaning in to check the eyes.
And when Robin said, "He's dead," it sounded like the end of the world.
"Aqualad to team!"
"Superboy to Aqualad!"
"Artemis to team!"
Everyone paused, waiting for someone else to talk, and then started up at exactly the same time. This time, though, Kaldur talked through everyone. "Regroup in the main hall," he ordered. "We'll talk there."
It wasn't two minutes later that they'd all gathered on the polished marble floor of the entry hall.
Artemis started off with, "M'gann? What happens if the person whose mind we're in dies?"
The Martian wrapped her arms around herself. "Then we're stuck. We're alone in the mental dark until we die or go insane."
Wally swallowed. "So when we saw Mr. Wayne fall off the railing just now..."
"No," M'gann said. "No, we're not trapped here. Not yet, anyway."
"We also found a dead Mr. Wayne," Kaldur threw out, and Conner nodded.
"We did, too, out on the roof."
"What does it mean?" Wally asked. "Is he suicidal, or what?"
"I don't know," M'gann said, quickly and high and with an edge of panic. "Humans are so complicated and have so much feeling and I don't understand them at all and I just—"
Conner grabbed her hand. "Megan, look at me. Look at me. See? It's okay. It's all right, just focus on me."
Her breathing slowed, and she blinked away the unshed tears.
"Okay," Kaldur breathed. "Okay, so now that we're all together—oh, dammit, Robin!"
They looked around to find him opening a door at the top of the stairs. Wally blinked. He could have sworn there wasn't a door there before. Just...oh, was it a clock?
"You guys stay here," Robin said. He seemed cheerful enough, but there was a note of strain hidden in his voice. "I'm just gonna pop into the basement, be right back."
"Oh, no you don't," Wally said, catching his wrist. "You are notgoing into the creepy basement alone, okay?"
"We've cleared the whole house," Kaldur said, coming up the stairs at a slower rate than Wally. "I did not realize there was a basement."
"The real Mr. Wayne must be in there," Artemis guessed. "Come on, let's go. I wanna find him and get the hell out of here already."
"Guys, no, I really think—" but they piled in through the door, disregarding his words.
"Is this a cave?" Wally asked. "Are we on a staircase in a cave?"
But then they weren't, because they fell through the floor and into a nightmare.
They never landed, but they did stop falling.
"What's going—" Conner started to ask, but that would be about when a giant crocodile rose out of the non-existent ground to try and eat them.
"Scatter!" Kaldur called a bit redundantly, since they already had fallen apart. Robin hopped up on the crocodile's head, and slammed a canister of some sort into its skin. He stood upright, waited a second, and jumped, turning a flip just because he could, and landed at the same time the animal hit the floor.
"Hard-core tranq cocktail," Robin explained before anyone could ask. He spun the canister through his fingers, stuck it back in his belt, and stalked grimly on through the clouds.
Conner reached out to take M'gann's hand to reassure her, but his fingers touched only mist. He glanced around, and then said, "M'gann? Has anyone seen Megan?"
"I haven't," Wally said, spinning around. "Where did she go? Artemis, did you see? ...Artemis?"
"Regroup," Kaldur called out, and the boys grouped together, but neither girl showed up.
"There!" Wally called, pointing through the fog and at a figure coming towards them. It was tall enough to be Artemis, and willowy, but it was moving in a jerky, wooden sort of way.
Robin came up over the group, and charged the figure. Wally had just enough time to glimpse the rebreather in his friend's mouth before the figure went down, laughing and shrieking.
And then Robin was back, sliding in behind Kid Flash, who hissed, "Dude, what are you doing?"
Robin let out a breath, and Wally was surprised to hear it tremble. Robin was always cool, always calm and collected. Robin never freaked out or panicked, except, apparently, inside Bruce Wayne's head.
"Wayne is from Gotham, and a celebrity," Robin answered tightly. "He's been kidnapped by some of the worst of our villains. Can you imagine his worst nightmares, and what they may be doing to Megan and Artemis?"
That sunk in, and Conner put it best; "Well, shit."
Then the boy tilted his head a little, and asked, "Do you hear that?"
They knew better than to ask hear what?and instead waited. Sure enough, they could all hear the strains of music and laughter soon enough.
And then the laugh grew, and it was familiar, so familiar. "The dart had Joker gas in it," Robin breathed. "Come on!"
They really should know better than to charge after the Joker blindly, Kaldur thought, but then, this wasn't the actual Joker, was it?
"Ladies and Gentleman~!" The Joker's voice boomed from everywhere. "It's time for the Greatest Show on Earth! Step on up, step right up!"
Kaldur drew his handles, and spoke rapidly. "Kid Flash, find the girls. Superboy and I will distract him. Robin, you—you stop disappearing, dammit!"
And a giggle sounded around the area, mimicking and mocking the Joker's laughter.
"Is he crazy?" Conner asked as he skidded to a halt in a circle of wagons. "And where's the Joker?"
Kaldur turned in a circle. They couldn't fight what they couldn't see.
"I found him!" Robin's voice cackled, and the two triangulated on that. "Olly olly oxen free~!"
And Conner came in high with a punch that the insane clown dodged easily. Kaldur came in low, and got him with the Waterbearers, keeping him restrained. "Ooh," he said, and laughed. "What are you gonna do, little fish-boy? Bubble me to death?"
"No," said Kaldur, and activated the bioelectric shock. And it might have worked, if the Joker hadn't got ahold of Conner's leg and switched their places.
Kaldur dropped the charge immediately, and Conner ripped the water away from himself. "Don't dothat," he growled.
"I apologize," Kaldur said. "Shall we try Maneuver Twelve?"
They faced off, the Joker nonchalantly leaning on nothing at all. "It's always so nice to see you kids," he cooed. "You're all such a riot!"
"Riot this," a voice growled for behind him, and a foot connected with his head, driving it all the way down to the ground.
The body sunk into the ground and disappeared, and Artemis stood, dusting off her hands.
"Found the girls," Wally said, leaning on a nearby trailer.
Artemis hmphed and looked away. Kaldur shook his head. "We see that," he said, and watched Conner make sure M'gann was okay. Given the blush and stutter, she was enjoying the attention.
Then a grumbling, rumbling, tumbling sound filled the area, and Conner just barely yelled, "Earthquake! Get down!" before the world tuned sideways.
"This isn't natural!" M'gann yelled. "It's not an earthquake!"
"Sure feels like one to me!" Wally called from the side.
"If it isn't an earthquake, then what is it?" Kaldur got out through his gritted teeth. "And how do we make it stop?"
"Let me try! Mr. Wayne?" M'gann called, loud as she dared over the sound of chaos. "Mr. Wayne, please, we're only trying to help!"
And suddenly, they were on a plane, bright white, with light from everywhere. It was utterly featureless, and seemed to go on forever. At least it was blessedly still.
"Thanks, M'gann," Artemis said. "Good catch." The green girl beamed.
"Uh, guys..." Wally said, eying the new horizon. "Is anyone else worried?"
"He knows we're here," Robin said, standing carefully. "He knows we're here now, and he's trying to block us out."
"Can he do that?" Conner asked.
"I...I'm not sure," M'gann answered. "I just—I've never seen a mind like his. It's so, so twisty and wrong, but still so bright. I can't—I've never seen a human mind so strongbefore."
"Can you still save him?" Robin asked urgently. "Can you wake him up?"
M'gann looked taken aback, but brought a hand to her head. She closed her eyes and frowned, and for a second, something almost shivered into being. It edged in and out, and finally, M'gann gasped and collapsed.
Conner caught her, and she smiled weakly at him. "Thanks," she said, and didn't move. "Sorry, he's just too set. He's got defenses I've never seen in anyone, not even on Mars. It hurts to try to change things here."
Wally fell to his knees beside her, and Artemis put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't strain yourself," she said. "He may be good, but he's only a playboy. We're better."
"What's that?" Wally asked suddenly. He was looking beyond Conner, at the horizon.
Darkness, utter, pure darkness was sweeping towards them.
M'gann scrambled back to her feet, and Conner rose with her. "He's shutting down," she babbled. "He's self-destructing, retreating into himself. He's withdrawing and locking himself into his own mind, and if we don't get out of here, he'll take us with him."
"Say what?" Wally yelped.
"I've seen this before, when people decide it's not worth fighting anymore and they just stop, and no one recovers from this, no one. We've gotta get out of here, now!"
"No," Robin said abruptly.
Everyone turned to look at him. "No what?" Artemis asked. "No to leaving?"
"No," he said impatiently. "No, he doesn't get to do this. Not now, not to us, not to me." He turned in a circle. "You hear me, Bruce?" he yelled at the approaching dark. "Do you hear me? You do not get to do this! Don't you dare lock me out!"
Kaldur took a few quick steps towards the boy. "Robin, what are you-"
"Override RG 4!" he screamed. "You come out here right this instant, Bruce, you do not get to abandon this!"
"That won't help, Robin, calm down—" Kaldur started, laying a hand on the boy's shoulder. Robin shrugged it off angrily and stalked off a few feet, towards the horizon and its lack of light.
"You get out here right this instant!" he cried out, voice loud and high and shaking just a little bit. "You come out here! You can't abandon your city! Or your mission! You are not allowed! And you are not allowed to abandon me! I can't do this alone, Bruce! You've faced down horrors and nightmares before; you are not allowed to lose!"
The darkness was sweeping towards them, fast and faster, growing and flowing and all-consuming. M'gann was gathering everyone together, trying to prepare for the jump out of there, but Robin wouldn't move. "You are never allowed to lose!" he screamed, and, "If you fall, you take us with you! If you fall, I will follow, Bruce! Do you hear me?"
Kaldur grabbed the boy and dragged him back towards the group; there wasn't much light left. Robin turned and struck to his elbow, and Kaldur, not expecting it, was forced to let him go.
And Robin ran, ran blindly, tripped, fell, and sat on the ground, rocking. Tears started down his cheeks, and the team split apart, because like hell were they leaving without Robin. They headed for him, and Wally, at least, was almost there when Robin looked at them, looked up, whispered, "Bruce, please," and was lost to the dark.
Wally skidded to a stop, and darted back to the others, now clustering in a little group. "He's gone," he said numbly.
"What the crap," Artemis said. "What was that even—what was he on about?"
"Worry later, getting out now!" Conner interrupted. The dark was gaining, and they had less than thirty seconds to get out, if they were going.
"It hurts," M'gann whimpered. "It hurts, and—and I'm afraid of the dark."
"Everyone join hands!" Kaldur ordered. "We hang on to each other, and whatever you do, do not let go!"
And then the lights went out for good.
They waited, the only points of reality in the endless dark each other's hands. Then M'gann said quietly, "Something's coming."
They unconsciously moved in a little, gathering together.
"Guys." Wally said. "Does anyone else get the feeling—"
"Shut up, Kid Mouth," Artemis hissed. "You're giving away our position!"
"Hear that?" Conner asked, and tugged M'gann a little closer.
It took a second, but then they did hear it, an odd mix of squeaking and clicking and the sound of leather moving at speed.
"Drop!" Kaldur ordered.
"No, wait!" Artemis called back. "I know that sound; it's—"
And over the sound of the bats, they heard Robin's little giggle, and it was simultaneously incredibly comforting and unbelievably creepy.
"I knew you couldn't give up," Robin said, and the dark narrowed to a point, and came down, sweeping off of them like a cape.
Which was exactly what it was, they realized, as the dark turned to night. Night in the city was never as dark as the dark; there was the moon and the stars and the streetlights and the factories and skyscrapers and the flames of burning dreams. And a familiar cape hung over them, and swooped down.
It landed in front of them, and enveloped Robin whole; Robin, who was still sitting where he'd fallen.
"What's going on?" Wally asked, hissing it loudly.
And, surprisingly, it was Robin who answered, from the depths of the cloak. "The dark wasn't him giving up; it was him fighting back. Dark isn't despair, not for us. For us, it's the color of safety."
The pieces clicked into place almost audibly, and he could tell that they knew. But really, hoping they wouldn't learn was kind of a pipe dream, after all, and he was okay with pretty much anything, so long as Bruce was alive and well, and not leaving him.
"Oh," someone said softly.
Robin just sat there, basking in the dark and the city and the embrace of the cape. He'd stopped hiding under Batman's cowl when he was eleven, but that didn't mean he didn't miss it.
But as nice as it was, it was all in his head. So he rolled out from under it, and the cape and cowl collapsed on top of him. He laughed, and pulled the mask over his head. It was too big, just like always.
"I think we've succeeded," he said, and pulled off the black material. It lay heavy in his hands, heavy with hopes and dreams and responsibilities and tears and Kevlar. "Shall we go?"
And, although he wouldn't look up, M'gann smiled gently and said, "Yes, let's."
No one said anything as they gathered around M'gann, each taking one of her newly-acquired hands.
"Hold on," M'gann warned, and then she dragged them back through the veil and into the harsh light of reality.
They came to, scattered around the floor of the room, Robin laying across Bruce's chest. Wally groaned, but was the first on his feet, checking on Artemis first. She was still a little disoriented, but she managed to get her feet under her. Conner was similarly helping M'gann up, and Kaldur didn't bother, just sitting upright where he'd lain.
"Bruce?" Robin said, looking at the man lying prone on the floor. "Bruce, c'mon, wake up. We didn't go through all that for nothing. Wake up, please? Bruce, wake up."
The others watched as he shook Bruce's shoulders, and then lightly slapped his cheek. Or tried to.
A hand caught his, and eyes opened, and a voice said quietly, "I taught you better than that."
And finally, Robin breathed again. "Yeah, sorry 'bout that," he said without meaning it. And then he helped Bruce sit up, and nearly tackled him back to the couch when he hugged him.
"I'm okay, you know," Bruce said, amusement plain in his voice.
"You tried to give up," Robin told his midsection. "You're not allowed to do that."
He sighed, and one arm came up to hug the boy back. "I hear you," he said, "and I promise."
Finally, it was Artemis who cleared her throat. "Um, hey, not to break up the lovefest or anything, but you still have a sniper after you. Are we...gonna do anything about that?"
"Oh, yes," Robin said, letting go of Bruce and standing. "Yes, we sure as hell are."
Bruce got his feet under him and tried to stand. His knees buckled, and he went down again. Robin sighed and said, "After we get Bruce to a hospital."
"I'm fine, go ahead," Bruce said. "There are armies of reporters and such outside the door, if I remember correctly; I'll be fine. Go make sure I stay that way."
Robin cracked a smile and his knuckles. "You bet we will." He pulled up his holocomp, and asked, "What do we know?"
"Male, white, under six feet," Conner reported. "Brown coat."
"A crack shot and a real creep," Artemis added.
Robin typed and sorted, and asked, "Was he wearing a mask?"
"Yes," Conner answered immediately. "Full head covering, looked like plated armor."
Robin pulled up a single photo. "Deadshot," he said, rotating the picture so they could see.
"Yeah, that's him," Wally confirmed, and Kaldur also nodded.
"Assassin for hire," Robin read out. "Always completes his hits once a contract is made. He's not gonna stop."
"We'll stop him," Kaldur said, a touch grimly.
"Real name Floyd Lawton. Taken down some heavy hitters, definitely dangerous. If you take him down, you'd best make sure he stays down, or you're gonna get a bullet to the back. I bet I can track his movements—"
"M'gann—" Kaldur started, and completed the sentence link us up, over the link.
It's a bit disturbing how used to this I am, Artemis said.
Yeah, well, Wally said, shrugging. It is handy.
I kinda like it, Conner threw in, and M'gann blushed and looked at him sideways. He took her hand in a manner he probably thought was discreet, but really, really wasn't.
Got his address, Robin stated.
Kaldur smiled grimly. Artemis and I will stay here and guard. We can't move around a city as fast as you guys.
Understood, Wally said. Let's go.
It didn't take them long to cross the city. Robin knew it well, and lead them from rooftop to alley to gutter to rooftop. Wally followed on the ground, Conner by running and judicious use of jumping, and M'gann by air.
When they finally reached the run down motel that Robin had centered on, they crouched on the rooftop opposite.
Room two-oh-eight, Robin said. I'll go in. Conner, cover the back in case he tries to run. M'gann, lookout. Wally, stay outside the door for backup.
Got it, Wally said, zooming away.
Conner grunted but leaped, and M'gann nodded. Then she laid her hand on his arm, and said, Robin, I... Good luck.
He nodded shortly, and turned away. It didn't take long to find the right windowsill, and from there, it was a simple matter to slip in when the occupant wasn't looking.
"How much are they paying you?" Robin growled, crouched in the corner. "How much is murdering a hero worth?"
Deadshot looked at him coolly, unimpressed by his ninja entrance. He was sitting at the one little table, polishing parts of a shiny, big, dangerous-looking gun. "Enough," he said.
"How much?" Robin demanded, but didn't move.
"All right, if you must know. Three hundred thousand dollars."
There was silence, and then Robin scoffed. "What price honor? What price glory?" and then he twisted the shadows around himself, and disappeared between one blink and the next.
Floyd shrugged. Money was money, and he'd complete the hit, no matter what—or who—got in his way. He went back to cleaning his guns.
A few hours and many guns later, there was a knock on his door. He stopped in the middle of packing up, and peered through the keyhole. A pretty young girl was standing outside, clutching a briefcase and looking around nervously. He waited and watched.
She knocked again. "Mr. Lawton?" she called quietly. "Mr. Lawton, um, would you please open the door?"
"Who are you?" he asked. He hadn't lived this long by being stupid.
"I'm...a friend of a friend," she answered, flushing as red as her hair. "I think he came by earlier? He was quite...vehement that I speak to you regarding the matter or a certain celebrity?"
"Oh, did the little bird send a girl to do his job for him?" he asked, drawing back the lock and opening the door. "How typical."
She smiled at him, but her heart wasn't in it. "Here," she said, offering him the case.
He stepped aside. "Won't you come in?"
"I'd rather not," she answered. "Please, take it."
"What is it?" he asked, eying it warily.
She hefted it, spun it flat and opened it. "It's three hundred thousand ten dollars, and fifty cents. Payment for not killing Mr. Wayne."
He stared at the money, and the fresh-faced young woman holding it, utterly surprised. And then he laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
"So, will it work?" she asked, and her smile was real this time.
He chuckled some more, and said, "Yes, sure, fine. Tell your little birdboy that it worked—this time."
She beamed at him, and handed over the case. "Thank you, Mr. Deadshot," she said, and curtsied. "Have a nice evening."
"You too!" he called after her, and shook his head. Then he went back to packing. He had a plane to catch, to someplace warm and tropical. Maybe Tahiti, or the Galapagos; somewhere with hot weather and hotter chicks, and absolutely no birds, bats, or other insane people in tights.