Summary: The Teen Titans meet the JLA members for the first time. Meanwhile, an unknown menace has been spotted entering the galaxy on a direct line towards Earth!
Acknowledgement: I'd like to thank Cambridge Cosmology Galaxies for its beautifully illustrated and educational astronomy website, and Robert M. Hazen's Why Aren't Black Holes Black, a provocative treatise on Man's search for answers to the seemingly unexplainable. I'm sure I got most of the science wrong, so I apologize to everyone in advance. :):)
As always, much thanks to Terri and Dannell for their patience and assistance; their critical input was priceless in the final development of my story.
Disclaimer: All the characters are owned by DC Comics and Time/Warner; this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome!
by Syl Francis
"Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice." (Robert Frost, "Fire and Ice")
The craft was hundreds of kilometers in length. Its relentless journey across hyperspace began at a time lost to its builders. On its endless journey, it visited a limitless number of galaxies and absorbed an infinite number of technologies into its very composition.
As it turned to bypass a giant, barred spiral galaxy, a tiny spark of intelligence set off the ship's indicators. Automatic systems, shut down for an eternity, quickly came online. The ancient vessel's independent Artificial Intelligence ran a systematic sweep of the billions of stars making up the young galaxy.
Four spiral arms branched off a "bar" passing through the galactic center, each arm comprised largely of young, blue stars. The bulge at the galactic center glowed brightly with its high density of older stars. Sensors detected evidence of a black hole at the center's nucleus. Finally, a halo comprised of dim stars in globular clusters surrounded the galactic disk.
Forward sensors sent out feelers, tracing the intelligence to its source. There! Within the third spiral arm of the galaxy, in a nine-planet system of a medium yellow star...the third planet! Spectral analysis showed multitudinous minerals in abundance. More importantly, the planet was replete with hydrogen and carbon, the necessary building blocks for biological life.
The automatic recorders began to analyze the various languages received. One syntactical linguistic pattern appeared more often than others: subject, verb, direct object. It showed a neutral article, variations for possessives, plurals, and...tense, indicating knowledge of time: past, present, future.
Computers, older than the galaxy the craft was about to enter, began their patient analysis of the primitive audio/visual recordings for phonetic markers: glides, diphthongs, fricatives, trills, aspirated, and voiced.
The visuals hinted at a race that could not survive the vacuum of space without protection, a race in its infancy of space travel.
A voice from thirty years past spoke.
"...That's one small step for man...one giant leap for mankind!"
Alfred waited patiently for his young charge to finish his milk and cookies. The boy's dark head was bent solemnly over his plate, a picture of total dejection. Dick was barely thirteen years old but already an experienced crime- fighter. Certainly, the most experienced of all the teenaged sidekicks with whom he'd recently formed close, binding friendships. They even organized their own teenaged-superhero club: the Teen Titans.
Although, Robin was one of only two without any superpowers, his keen intelligence and unusual maturity combined to make him the natural leader. Sometimes the boy felt resentful that the others always looked to him to solve whatever problems they came up against, although for the most part, he took it all in stride. Today was not one of those days.
"It's not fair, Alfred, they're always looking to me for the answers! Sometimes, I'm afraid that I'm gonna make a big mistake and order one of them to do something that I shouldn't have, and it'll get us killed or captured!"
"All one can do is one's best, Master Dick, you know that," Alfred said. Dick looked unconvinced. Alfred sighed. What could he say to transform the overly serious young crime-fighter back into a normal, mischievous thirteen-year-old boy?
"Master Dick, you of all people should know that one must trust not only one's own abilities, but also that of his teammates. Your parents taught you that. Moreover, you've certainly managed to pass that lesson to Master Bruce as well."
Alfred's eyes smiled fondly at Dick.
"Trust yourself, young sir, and your teammates. Remember, they're the ones who selected you to be their leader. I, for one, am of the personal opinion that they have chosen wisely!"
"Alfred, you're the greatest!" Truth be told, Dick felt happy just to be with kids his own age for a change, to be able to talk to others about problems unique to junior superheroes. It was nice to have friends his own age, a new experience for him.
"Naturally, young sir," Alfred said with refined assurance. "Now, if we don't wish Master Bruce to become put out with the both of us, might I suggest that you hurry down to the cave and begin your afternoon workout?"
"Yes, sir," Dick said smiling. A much happier boy rushed downstairs to what he considered to be the world's greatest playroom. Alfred's eyes followed the boy affectionately, then he turned to the task at hand: Dinner!
The next day, Dick received the news of a lifetime! He was finally going to be allowed to meet the other members of the famed Justice League of America...
"Alfred! Guess what?" Dick skidded to a stop at the door to the study where Alfred was dusting behind bookshelves that never moved. "Batman says that the Titans are meeting the big guns today! Gotta go!" He turned, a big grin lighting his bright blue eyes. "This is so cool! And Superman's gonna be there! Can you b'lieve that? Superman?"
The boy didn't wait for a reply. He practically flew down the Batcave's secret entrance. Alfred shook his head and smiled. Dick's hero worship of the Man of Steel went back several years. Alfred recalled how the boy even slept in Superman pajamas when he first arrived at Wayne Manor.
Alfred further remembered Dick's deep disappointment at not being allowed to meet Superman, or rather, the "Super-Alien" as Batman called him, because, while Batman worked with Superman on a few cases, he did not trust him entirely, and therefore would not introduce him to his junior partner.
However, Bruce's reticence never curbed the boy's desire to meet the Last Son of Krypton. Now that Batman was a bona fide member of the Justice League of America, and was even on a first name basis with Superman, his initial distrust was somewhat abated, though not completely.
Robin tried to look nonchalant when introduced to the other members of the JLA, but eventually just gave up. Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and...Superman! They were all there! And except for Green Arrow, they were all extremely nice, shaking hands with him and the other Titans as if they were equal partners, or something.
Black Canary and Wonder Woman set up a nice "Welcome Aboard" icebreaker for the junior superheroes in order to give them an opportunity to become acquainted with their senior counterparts.
Robin saw that the other Titans looked just as excited as he felt over meeting the JLA. All except Speedy, that is. For some reason, the young archer appeared to be keeping a low profile. Funny, Robin thought. Speedy kept looking nervously in Batman's direction, and somehow always managed to be in the opposite end of the room that the Dark Knight currently occupied.
"Weird!" Robin muttered, shaking his head. His ruminations were interrupted by a friendly voice next to him.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Robin." It was Green Lantern. "I heard what you did against the Joker and his gang two nights ago. Using your grappling hook to bring down the warehouse on their heads was quick thinking. Very impressive!"
Robin blushed under his mask.
"Thank you, sir," he said. "But it wasn't my idea. It's one of the contingency moves Batman planned for long ago. We sort of practice it." GL smiled. Black Canary, who'd walked over with GL, also smiled.
"I see," she said. "You Bat-guys just happen to practice demolishing warehouses as part of your training program. That's very interesting. Tell me more." Black Canary's tone was light.
"Robin." Robin looked over to where Batman was standing exuding disapproval. Robin swallowed. He realized that he was giving away one of their training secrets. This would not be tolerated. Robin turned apologetically to Green Lantern and Black Canary.
"Excuse me, sir...ma'am," he said quietly.
GL raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"Was it something we said?" he asked. Black Canary shrugged. They both turned to look at the JLA's enigmatic Dark Knight. He was talking in low tones with his brightly garbed junior partner.
"Something set him off," she said.
"Well, whatever it was," GL replied, "I can't let Robin take the fall." He started walking towards the Caped Crusaders.
"Poor kid," Black Canary muttered to herself. "What must it be like being the partner of the World's Greatest Grouch?"
"Excuse me." Batman turned to the intruder. Green Lantern, of course. The Dark Knight faced off against the Emerald Knight.
"I just wanted to congratulate you, Batman. Robin is a fine young man. An excellent example to the other junior heroes. Here he is with no superpowers, no invulnerability, no power ring...just sheer guts, intelligence, and the determination to get the job done. Sort of like a test pilot, eh, kid?"
Green Lantern added the last with a smile. In his civilian identity as Hal Jordan, GL had the reputation of being a man without fear, a test pilot who always pushed the envelope. This inner quality translated into his GL persona as uncommon valor in the face of overpowering odds.
GL was happy to see an answering smile light the boy's features, a smile that Robin quickly suppressed. Oh well, at the least the kid can smile, GL thought. He decided to talk to him later when the big bad Bat wasn't in sight. He nodded to Batman then left the Dynamic Duo alone.
Batman watched Green Lantern walk away. He gave a mental headshake. In Batman's mind, GL was too naive, too overly trusting, and too reckless an individual. That power ring of his made him think he was invulnerable. And while the ring's power was awesome, it wasn't impervious to harm. A man with no fear was a foolish man in Batman's assessment.
"I'm sorry, Batman," Robin said softly. "I'll do better, I promise."
Batman looked at his junior partner's mortified expression and felt a stab of guilt. What's the matter with me anyway? Batman asked himself. The boy's excited at meeting at the other heroes. I should relent just this once, shouldn't I? Batman's eyes narrowed. Like GL said, Robin had no superpowers, nothing upon which to rely except his wits and his training. To give away training secrets, even to their allies could come back and bite them later.
Who was to say whether any of these meta-humans might ever go rogue? Batman and Robin needed an edge in order to survive any possible future confrontation. No! It was best to curb this "hero worship" now! These men and women were colleagues, professionals, nothing more.
"We'll talk later," Batman said coldly. "Until then, try not to reveal the location of the Batcave." With that he spun around and walked over to where Superman was about to start the meeting. Robin's look of abject hurt--he had to talk the boy about telegraphing his feelings so openly--stabbed at his heart. Batman was beginning to believe that bringing Robin along had been a mistake.
By the time he took his place in the shadows of the conference room, Batman saw that Robin's face had taken on an inscrutable demeanor. That's more like it, he thought with approval.
"Star Labs reports that the anomaly will enter our Solar system within another four to five weeks. Long distance sensors can't determine what it is other than it's big."
Superman paused. He'd been briefing the assembled group for the past twenty minutes. He looked around the JLA conference table meaningfully.
"And I do emphasize big! It's about an eighth the size of our moon." His announcement was met with astonished gasps from the others.
"Great Hera!" whispered Wonder Woman.
"GL?" Superman said over the shocked voices.
"The Guardians have never seen anything like it, so it's new technology to the Green Lantern Corps. They caution my approaching it without further study, because at the moment we've no idea if the ring can go up against it. Spectral analysis indicates that bands of amber crisscross its superstructure...could negate the power ring's ability. But that's never stopped me before," he added with a slight grin.
"I've already looked at it with my telescopic and microscopic vision, and it isn't pretty. I saw several of what seem to be weapons emplacements, and what could be hundreds of smaller ships. People, our only conclusion can be that we are about to be visited by an unknown, possibly hostile force. Of course, the only way to ascertain its intent for certain is to either wait and see, or go out there and establish First Contact."
"As our two space-going experts, Supes," Green Arrow interrupted, "First Contact is normally your department!" He looked around and indicated the Flash and the Atom. "I mean Fleetfeet and Short-stuff here may be crackerjack scientists in their fields and all, but hardly of the Star Trek variety."
The Flash and the Atom exchanged cryptic glances. Black Canary closed her eyes and dropped her head into her hands as if she had a sudden headache. Unperturbed, Green Arrow continued his personal assessment of his JLA teammates' weaknesses.
"Manhunter's on some sort of personal quest to find his place in the sun. Aquaman is King of the Seven Seas, not of the nine planets. Pretty Bird's sonic cry is unpredictable. And Diana..." He looked at Wonder Woman, who raised her eyebrow imperiously at him; he shrugged his shoulders sheepishly, "...Well, I don't know 'bout Diana. As for the Bats and me...well, we're just your normal kinda guys. Somehow, I don't think trick arrows and batarangs are gonna prove effective against something an eighth the size of our moon."
Superman's eyebrow went up at GA's description of Batman as a "normal kinda guy," but let the comment pass. Before, he could respond, a shy throat being cleared interrupted him. Superman looked over to where the Titans had been sitting quietly respectful throughout the briefing.
"Go on!" Wonder Girl urged. Robin looked at her like she was crazy. The other kids were similarly urging the Boy Wonder to take center stage, and he was just as determinedly shaking his head in a vehement NO!
"Excuse me, Robin," Superman said, interrupting the pantomime. "Is there something you Titans want to share with us?"
"No, sir," Robin said in a firm voice. He'd already gotten in trouble once for opening his mouth out of turn. He wasn't about to tell the JLA where they could go!
"Yes we do!" interrupted Wonder Girl. She glanced nervously toward her stepsister, Wonder Woman, who raised her eyebrow in mild surprise. "I mean, yes sir, we do. Robin said...well, maybe Robin should tell you himself."
Robin dropped his head in his gloved hand. Why me, he asked himself?
"Robin." The quiet, chilled voice cut through his humiliation. "If you have something to say--"
Robin's head shot up. He stared at Batman, trying hard to hide his conflicting emotions. Batman's menacing demeanor offered little assistance, but he'd just practically ordered Robin to speak! Robin swallowed. He was suddenly on his own. He slowly turned his head towards the rest of the JLA. Superman smiled encouragingly, as did Green Lantern.
Why can't Bruce be like them, Robin thought sadly. They were practically strangers and yet had done everything possible to put him at his ease since his arrival at the Hall of Justice. Taking a deep calming breath, Robin took a firm hold of his jangled nerves. Once he knew that he felt in total control, Robin stood and faced the World's Greatest Heroes.
"Sir, the other Titans are exaggerating. All I said was that we should just send the visitors a message or something letting them know that we're aware of their presence. If they're counting on their arrival not being detected, then knowing we're aware of them may give them pause before they continue." Robin shrugged. "I know it's not much, but if they are planning an invasion, they'll know the surprise element is gone; maybe it'll slow their advance." By then Robin felt himself blushing furiously. He dropped his eyes embarrassed. "Like I said, it's a dumb idea, sir."
"Absolutely not, son," Superman reassured him. "That's why we have these briefings, Robin. We bounce ideas off of each other. That's the whole point behind the Justice League, right Batman?" Superman asked pointedly. "Sometimes what a lone individual might miss, a team of people might spot." Batman didn't bother to answer the obvious.
Robin nodded his head, then returned to his seat. He wanted to kill Wonder Girl.
"You know, what Robin suggested may not be so far-fetched," mused the Atom. He was hovering over the others in his miniature chair. A respected physicist and visionary in his civilian identity, Dr. Ray Palmer was a highly sought after lecturer at Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life (SETI) Conferences.
"I've always been amused about the need to having these SETI conferences," Atom said smiling at Superman. "After all, I do work with the most famous extra- terrestrial of them all! However, one of the points of contention always discussed is First Contact! Do we try to establish a dialogue from the beginning, or do we start planning the next phase of our Star Wars technology?" He shrugged. "As my mother always used to say, talking first never hurt. It's certainly a more constructive option than beginning to build the space version of 'Big Bertha'!"
"Who's Big Bertha?" Kid Flash whispered.
"Shh-h!" Robin shushed him annoyed.
"All I asked was--"
"--A big cannon used during the First World War," Robin snapped. "Don't you read anything?"
"Flasheroo can't read! Didn't you know that Bird-boy?" Speedy said laughing.
"Shut up, Quiver-breath!" Kid Flash said.
"Make me, Twinkletoes!" The two boys' argument quickly escalated into a poking match. First one, then the other would reach over and jab the other. Sitting between them, Robin was literally caught in the middle of their childish altercation. Reaching the end of his patience, Robin grabbed them both by the wrists in a vice-like grip.
"Cut it out, guys!" he said sharply, louder than he'd intended. Robin felt all eyes on him. He swallowed and slowly turned to face the conference room table. The senior heroes were looking at the Titans with disapproving glances.
"Robin." He turned to where Batman was still standing in the shadows. Batman moved his head slightly. Follow me. Robin stood immediately, his resolute posture masking the internal turmoil he felt.
Great! Here we go again, he thought. As he stood, Wonder Girl spoke.
"Batman, please, Robin didn't do anything!" She turned to the superhero cut- ups, Speedy and Kid Flash. "Tell him! It was you two." Robin waved her away.
"That's okay, Wonder Girl," Robin said. "I'm responsible."
"Hey, no one's responsible for my actions, 'ceptin' me!" protested Speedy.
"Yeah, me too," piped in Kid Flash. "Batman, Uncle, uh-I mean, Flash...it was me'n Speedy being knuckleheads, not Robin. He was trying to listen to the discussion."
"Yeah, GA," Speedy agreed. "The kid was trying to listen, and me'n Twinkletoes were just giving him a hard time."
Batman and Robin stood in the shadows, oblivious to the protests going on around them. Mentor and sidekick were having a one-way conversation. To the onlookers their grim demeanor appeared identical. Neither smiled. Neither telegraphed any body language that could reveal what was being said.
However, to the others' sympathetic eyes, it was fairly obvious who was receiving the tail end of a major chewing out.
"I thought you knew better than to let the other kids get out of hand. If you don't think you can handle the job as Titans' leader, then maybe you should step aside and give the position to someone who can." Batman looked at the other Titans with disapproval. "Although, I don't think any of those children could lead themselves out of a paper sack!"
Robin stood stock-still under the verbal assault. He'd never felt so ashamed of anything in his life. He'd humiliated himself, the Titans, and now Batman in front of the JLA. He wanted to go home. Robin valiantly fought for self- control. He wasn't a quitter by a long shot. He'd show Batman! Robin nodded grimly, lifting his chin in proud defiance.
"Is that all, sir?" he asked quietly. Batman nodded. Robin executed what to the others appeared to be a military about face, and his expression tightly under control beneath his mask, he walked up to the Titans. Standing precisely at military parade rest, Robin addressed Superman. "May we be excused for a few minutes, sir?" Superman nodded. "Let's go, Titans!"
Robin turned and marched out of the conference room without looking back to see if he was being followed. The others glanced at each other with various expressions of bafflement, then wandered off after him. Wonder Girl flew up behind him.
"Dick! Please, wait!" she called worriedly. Robin stopped in his tracks. If he was going to take control, then it had to start now.
"Wonder Girl, how many times do I have to tell you that when we're in uniform we only go by code names?" he asked her sotto voce. "When is that little tiny bit of information going to sink into that pretty brain of yours?" Wonder Girl looked like she was going to burst into tears. Robin wanted to kick himself, but refused to relent. It was time he started exerting leadership qualities, even if it made Wonder Girl cry.
"Don't you know the danger you can put us all into if you let our secret identities slip for just a brief moment during a firefight? You have to remember always, that when I'm on the job, I'm Robin! No one else!" She nodded, her wide blue eyes tear-brimmed, her pony-tail bobbing. "Come on."
Robin grabbed Wonder Girl by the elbow, and pulled her after him into the lounge. The others soon joined them. He looked at them like a schoolteacher particularly displeased with his students' recent conduct.
"Okay, this the way it is, Titans. I'm not your mother. I'm not your father. I'm not your mentor, or your senior partner! I'm a kid sidekick, just like the rest of you. For some reason I still can't fathom, you made your leader. Well, I'm not going to be the leader of a group of irresponsible, lamebrained kids!"
Robin glared into their stunned faces.
"I may be a just sidekick like the rest of you, but unlike most of you, I don't have superpowers! And believe it or not, I'm not ready to get killed yet, either! So, either get with the program and start taking something in life seriously--besides scoring with Wonder Girl, Speedy--or get yourselves a new leader."
With that Robin stalked away, stopping at the huge viewing window. He stood, arms crossed, gazing out at the breath-taking panoramic beauty of Earth floating 25,000 miles below. Robin fumed silently. He cared about the Teen Titans. Forming the group had been his idea and even Batman approved. His mentor believed that it would be invaluable for Robin's training to work with others his own age. Robin simply thought that it might be fun to hang with other kids his own age for a change.
Robin's initial plans for the Titans included exchanging crime-fighting techniques and even cross training. He had definite ideas on how Kid Flash and Wonder Girl might enhance their speed and strength respectively with martial arts.
He'd love to experiment on developing new crime-fighting gadgets with Speedy, maybe even learn a little archery himself if Harper would have the patience to teach him. In exchange, Robin could show Speedy how to execute a quadruple spin...well, maybe a single to start with.
As for Aqualad...the Atlantean teen was severely limited by his need for hourly rehydration. Maybe Robin could show Aqualad some Eastern mind-control techniques designed to help him control his body's physical needs.
But the other Titans were all so indifferent to learning new crime-fighting methods. They just didn't seem to take anything seriously! They were all approximately the same age, just a few months apart at the most. Robin was probably the youngest, which was why he couldn't understand their behavior, or why they'd selected him to be their leader.
Maybe he was a little too serious, Robin privately admitted. But he led an extremely dangerous lifestyle; he couldn't afford to let his guard down for even a moment. Furthermore, Robin's idea of fun didn't exactly fit with the others' preconceived notion of enjoyment...
Robin remembered Wonder Girl's amusement when she caught him reviewing old cases, and studying the differing methods of the villains they'd encountered.
"Don't you ever relax and just have fun?" she asked teasingly. Robin looked at her perplexed.
"I am relaxing." At the time, he couldn't understand her sudden fit of helpless giggles...
Kid Flash likewise scratched his head in puzzlement when Robin invited him to help assess their fellow Titans' individual performances with a blow-by-blow analysis of each member's actions.
"What for?" the young speedster asked, his legs kicked up on the lounger, surrounded by various bowls filled with munchies and several opened bottles of soft drinks. Kid Flash appeared to be in as near a state of perfect relaxation as was humanly possible to achieve. He was watching the latest craze in Japanese animation. Something about space aliens taking over the universe, Robin surmised. Robin shook his head.
"Never mind," he said, leaving Kid Flash to his amusements...
Robin later tried to explain to a distracted Speedy that as leader, it was his job to make recommendations on how each member could improve his or her performance the next time they encountered the same villain, and also how the team on the whole could improve. Speedy's mind at the moment was on Wonder Girl.
"Yeah? What was that?" Speedy asked. Wonder Girl smiled at him, standing up suddenly to walk outside.
"I said that--" Robin began.
"Yeah, yeah, Bird-boy...fascinating! You're doing a great job! Keep it up," Speedy said hurriedly as he followed the young Amazon outside...
Later, Robin sat alone in the Titan's conference room. He was reviewing in his mind the exact reasons he'd formed the Titans originally. They seemed juvenile at this point. He sighed, his chin in his hand.
"I guess I should just tell Batman that the Titans are a failure and disband the group," he said quietly to himself.
"Why would you wish to do thus, Robin?" Robin looked up at Aqualad as the shy youngster walked in, unsure of his reception. Robin smiled his welcome. He was always extremely careful to try and make the young Atlantean feel at ease. It had to be difficult feeling literally like a fish out of water, Robin thought.
"Because it's the truth," Robin said. At Aqualad's raised eyebrow, Robin started to explain. He told Aqualad about his plans, his dreams of having like- minded friends who lived his dangerous superhero lifestyle. He confided to Aqualad what he thought was the best part of the job...seeing how they could all improve...how the Titans could become a viable force to be reckoned with.
"But none of them are interested! I make recommendations and most of the time they just go in one ear and out the other." At the Atlantean's look of incomprehension, Robin explained. "Sorry, that's just a saying...It means that the person doing the listening is ignoring what's being said."
"Ah," Aqualad said, understanding dawning in his eyes. "And this causes feelings of disappointment within you. Is this not correct?" Robin nodded. "Perhaps you haven't discovered the correct method to relay this vital information to the others so that they may understand its urgency?" Robin shrugged and again placed his chin on his hand.
"That's an understatement." At Aqualad's look, Robin just shook his head. "Never mind, it's not important. Thanks for listening, Aqualad. You're the only one who has." With that Robin got up and left the Lair, returning home prematurely...
Watching the blue marble that was the Earth on its orbit around the sun, Robin believed he would never understand the other Titans. All they seemed to want to do was eat pizza and listen to loud, raucous music. At least Robin thought it was music. He just didn't get it!
On the go since his parents' deaths, Robin never bothered to take the time to learn what was in or out in the pop culture, unless it affected a case he and Batman were working on. He didn't have any real friends his own age. He didn't attend parties, football games or take part in any extracurricular activities. He was still too young date, and since he attended an exclusive all boys' academy, he didn't know any girls anyway. Alfred didn't allow him to eat unhealthy foods, watch primetime television, or listen to certain rock lyrics.
For a kid superhero who'd witnessed some of life's seamier side on any given night, Robin admitted that he lived a rather sheltered life. Ah, to heck with it! Robin thought disgustedly. I don't need this! He whirled to face the others.
"Look, you guys have your fun while the world gets invaded by whatever that thing is out there. Me...I'm going back to the conference room to see if there's anything I can do to help. I'll see you later."
"Robin, wait!" Aqualad spoke for the first time that evening. The Atlantean teen was so reticent about speaking that sometimes the others often forgot he was there. Exceptionally shy and quiet, Aqualad seemed almost timid.
"I do not understand what the total problem is," he said in halting English. "But we are all friends. I do not wish to see you give up on the Titans. Robin, you are not the leader because we wish you to be. You are the leader because that is who you are."
Aqualad paused, and noticing the others' confusion, shrugged his shoulders as if he'd just explained a basic principle to a group of exceptionally slow students.
"Atlanteans believe that we are all guided by our destinies. Arthur is King of Atlantis because that is who he was born to be. You make light of your abilities. Perhaps you do not have superstrength and you cannot fly. Perhaps you cannot withstand the great pressures of the deep. However, that is not where your innate talents lie. You are the leader, Robin, because such is your destiny."
"Hey, Gillhead, how come you're suddenly so smart?" asked Speedy derisively.
"You jest because you know that you are not up to the task of leader," Aqualad replied quietly, stating a simple fact. Speedy smirk slipped a bit at this insight. "None of us is as yet; however, Robin has been a young warrior at the side of Batman for longer than some of us have even known our mentors. Even in Atlantis, we heard tell of a young, laughing daredevil named Robin. His exploits inspired me to try to improve my own performance as Aquaman's partner."
Robin's cheeks flushed crimson under his mask at the unexpected compliment.
Kid Flash ducked his head in slight embarrassment.
"Me, too, Batboy," Kid Flash admitted. "I mean, I only got my powers a few months ago. Before that I was just an ordinary kid with no particular skills to set me apart from the masses." He grinned. "Except that I had quite possibly the greatest uncle on the whole planet! Now I get to be his partner. Man, what a life. But, I know that without my superspeed, I'd just be Wally West of Blue Valley, a nothing special kind of guy. But you...Robin, I've heard of you since I was ten! I think all the guys in Blue Valley Elementary wanted to be you, the partner to the coolest guy in Gotham!"
"Coolest?" said Speedy. "You mean scariest!" He looked at Robin askance. "How can you work with the Bat-guy? He gives me the chills! Brr-rr!" He pantomimed a shiver.
Robin smiled, a rarity in the others' presence. So that was why Speedy acted so oddly during the icebreaker. He was afraid of Batman!
"Batman's not that bad. He and I just have to be careful 'cause...you know, Speedy. Heroes without powers are dead heroes if they slip up for even a split second! So we're always training." Speedy looked at him in shock.
"Always?" he asked. Robin nodded.
"But, Robin," Wonder Girl broke in, "when you're not being Batman and Robin, you must be doing other things?" She was looking at him in shock. Robin shrugged his shoulders.
"Sure, I do other things besides train. I've got school during the day. Homework when I get home. Library if I have to do research. By the way Gotham City has got the way coolest librarian! Babs knows where everything is! I eat dinner. Lights out at ten on school nights. Weekends I get to partner with Batman till way late. And, of course, there's other neat stuff we do: forensics, computer searches, daily workouts." He shrugged his shoulders as if asking, "Doesn't everybody?"
"I thought you were going to talk about what you do when you're not training," Wonder Girl protested.
"What are you talking about? That's the best part!" Robin was grinning excitedly. He turned to the junior archer. "Speedy, you tell 'em! Superpowered meta-humans just don't understand the amount of training and dedication it takes to maintain our level of superhero activity!"
"Uh-h, I can't Batboy," Speedy replied. "Even on my best day I don't think I've ever rushed home to do my homework. I don't know Star City's librarian. Heck, I don't think I know where the library is, and I don't think GA's ever imposed a curfew on any of my activities."
"Never?" It was Robin's turn to look shocked. He mentally reviewed all of the 'Do's and Don'ts' that regimented his daily life. What would a life without rules be like, he wondered?
"We all follow our own paths, Robin," Aqualad said. "You and Speedy have many qualities in common; however, how you utilize those given talents and abilities differ widely. Eventually destiny will lead you on divergent paths, for you must each follow a different call."
Wonder Girl walked to Robin and placed her hand gently on his forearm.
"Robin, please give the Titans another chance." Robin stared long and hard into her gentle eyes. Making up his mind, he nodded and placed his gloved hand on hers as a sign of acquiescence. He turned to face the others.
Putting his hand straight out and palm down in front of him, Robin said proudly, "Titans Together!"
The others quickly gathered round, and their young voices echoed across the Hall of Justice.
Ages-dormant computers continued their analysis of the audio/visual recording's possible intent by running it through an infinite number of permutations in billionths of a second. The awkward, low-gravity, hop-skip of the strange carbon lifeforms was played and rewound repeatedly...
"Personally, I don't see how the little guy can put up with it." Black Canary shrugged her shoulders at Wonder Woman and took a sip from her cup. She and the Amazon Princess were sitting in the kitchen having a quiet cup of tea together. Wonder Woman carefully put her cup down and looked steadily at her friend.
"Dinah, I know Batman. He loves that boy. Maybe too much," Wonder Woman said softly.
At Black Canary's raised eyebrows Wonder Woman shook her head reluctantly. While the Amazon Princess was privy to Batman's real identity, Black Canary was not. Black Canary nodded in understanding. Secret identity stuff. Almost all of the JLA had revealed their civilian identities to one another, except Batman. Wonder Woman took a sip from her cup to camouflage the awkward moment, then continued.
"He'll never voice his feelings in public. I'm not even certain he's capable of admitting it in private, but if you watch how he interacts with Robin, see how proud he looks whenever the boy does something exceptionally well, you'd see how proud--"
"Uh, Diana," Black Canary interrupted, "forgive me for saying this, but I haven't noticed any overt reactions from the Bat-guy, other than grim, grimmer, and I wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley. Feelings? Roy thinks Batman has ice in his veins."
Black Canary and Wonder Woman shared a small, guilty laugh.
"You should've seen Red!" Black Canary sputtered. "He kept trying to avoid Batman during the icebreaker this afternoon. No wonder GA calls him Speedy! I think he might've given the little Flash Kid a run for his money!" BC smiled at the image, then recalling how Batman treated Robin earlier, she slapped her hand on the table, in sudden annoyance, rattling her teacup.
"I wanted to bust Batman upside the head, you know that? He humiliated that poor little boy in front of everybody! Both the JLA and the Titans! How could he? Robin is the politest little guy! Did you notice how he was calling everyone sir and ma'am? Made me feel like I'm my mother or something. I don't think I've ever heard Roy address Ollie as sir. Hell, I don't think I've ever heard Roy address anybody as sir!"
She giggled suddenly.
"And that little elf costume Robin wears! He looks like he's about eight years old running around in that!"
Wonder Woman smiled at her friend's silliness.
"Perhaps," Wonder Woman acknowledged with a tilt of her head. "But have you ever seen the Boy Wonder in action?" Black Canary shook her head no. "Then I suggest you and I take a little walk down to the training room. I understand that the Teen Titans are going to be doing some training there for the next few hours. Donna told me that Robin has some ideas on how she might utilize martial arts to enhance her strength and her other warrior training."
Black Canary raised an eyebrow, then nodded her head as if to say, 'Lead on.'
"Don't you think you were a bit hard on the boy, Bruce?" Superman asked. He and Batman were in the JLA's control room studying the latest Star Lab readouts of the space anomaly. Batman made a single slashing motion with the back of his hand.
"Back off, Clark," he said harshly. "This is a personal family matter. Totally off limits!"
"Robin looked like he was gonna bust a gusset, as my Dad would say," Superman said. "Meeting all the members of the JLA. I know I was proud to finally meet him. Oh, I know you haven't really trusted me, Bruce. I'm not sure if it's because of my powers...because I'm an alien...both...or neither. It would only make sense that you'd want to protect your boy from exposure to me."
Batman turned to look at Superman's expression. The Man of Steel's countenance bespoke of hurt understanding. Batman turned away and walked out without further comment. Superman watched his retreating form with a mixture of sadness and disappointment.
"I guess it's both," he said softly.
"But Robbie, I'm already trained in a differing number of warrior fighting skills," Wonder Girl said reasonably. "Mother would never have allowed me to return to Man's World with Diana if she did not feel that I was adequately prepared to face danger."
"Understood," Robin nodded, agreeing readily. "If you don't think you need the training..." he shrugged his shoulders. "Well, look I've got a few things to do for Batman. So, if you'll excuse me."
Robin turned to go. Wonder Girl quickly followed him.
"Robin! Wait!" She reached her hand to him, placing it on his shoulder. In an instant, Robin grabbed her wrist, turned under her and threw her head over heels to land unceremoniously at his feet.
"Oof!" Wonder Girl inadvertently uttered when she hit the floor. Still holding her wrist, and before she could recover, Robin quickly grabbed her lasso and tied her arms behind her back. He then looped the rope around her a couple of times, but this was essentially overkill. As soon as he'd tied her hands, she was completely at his mercy.
Holding onto a length of her lasso, Robin looked at her with raised eyebrows.
"You were saying?" he asked.
Obediently, Wonder Girl began to repeat, word for word, what she'd said earlier until Robin finally held up his hand and stopped her.
"That's enough! I think we both get the point."
Wonder Girl looked ready to kill him. Robin smiled teasingly.
"Before I untie you, you have promise not hurt me!"
Too angry to respond verbally, Wonder Girl nodded her promise. Robin untied her, and Wonder Girl immediately stood up. It looked like she was using every ounce of self-restraint to keep from hitting her friend, and breaking a few of his bones. Robin held up his hands and smiled disarmingly, an action so uncharacteristic that it caused Wonder Girl to pause. Eventually, she smiled too.
"Whew!" Robin said. "Thought I was goner for sure!"
Wonder Girl giggled.
"You almost were...and don't think you're off the hook, yet, Boy Wonder!" She warned laughing. "What was that all about, anyway! Humiliate Wonder Girl for kicks, or something?"
"Of course, not! You know I'd never do anything like that! Too dangerous. You could easily kill me in anger!"
Wonder Girl gave a small laugh, but saw that Robin wasn't joking. "Oh, Robin, I'd never--" she started denying.
"Perhaps not intentionally, but you certainly have the ability, and I have to approach you with that likelihood. Today, you're my friend, but what about tomorrow, WG? What if tomorrow someone takes control of you through your magic lasso and orders you to mop the floor with me, and not to spare the bones? What then?"
When the possibility of what Robin was saying started sinking in, Wonder Girl's eyes widened in shock.
"It would never happen, Robin. I know it!" She stared at him proudly; her chin jutted out stubbornly.
"Wonder Girl, what I just did was no fluke. You left yourself wide open. Of course, I couldn't be sure that you'd follow me and place your hand on my shoulder, but I've seen you do the same thing on at least three occasions against some of the goons we've encountered. When I turned to leave, I counted on you doing exactly what you just did." He shrugged his shoulders. "I wasn't sure if I'd be able to take you down, but I figured that if I could do it, then..."
"Then, one of the super-villains that we meet in the future might be able to do the same," she finished. Robin nodded. Wonder Girl studied her serious friend for a moment, assessing the information Robin had just shared about her personal weakness. She wondered if there were any others.
"Okay, Boss Man," she said nodding. "When do we get started?"
Unknown to the two youthful heroes, several people witnessed their entire exchange.
Watching from the training room's observation deck, Wonder Woman gasped when Robin first tied up her stepsister. She wouldn't have thought it possible! She'd witnessed the young man in action before and had been duly impressed by his virtuosity. The boy could almost fly across the rooftops without the benefit of wings. On at least one occasion she witnessed him descending from dizzying heights without the use of one his safety lines until the last possible moment.
She'd watched him dodge the hail of bullets from automatic weapons, by executing some of the most elaborate aerial acrobatics she'd ever seen. And while occupied with the daunting task of avoiding being killed, he'd still kept his cool, throwing either one or another of his array of defensive weapons at his assailants, invariably succeeding in disarming them. All the while spouting some of the most gosh-awful puns she'd ever heard!
But to overwhelm her Amazon-trained stepsister, Donna? To take her lasso and tie her up?
Wonder Woman's jaw dropped when Robin did just that. She turned to Black Canary. Her shock was mirrored on Canary's face.
"I recognize Robin's technique as an Aikido defensive throw in combination with a wrist grab from behind. Nicely done," Black Canary said approvingly. "I heard the kid was good, Diana, but frankly, I didn't know just how good until this moment."
"You and I both, Dinah," Wonder Woman said softly. "You and I both."
From the shadows of the observation room, the Dark Knight allowed himself a small smile. The boy was certainly showing he had the right stuff. Perhaps this trip hadn't been a mistake after all.
"Yeah, yeah, Bird-boy! You're pretty good at beating up girls! Let's see what you can do against someone your own size!" Wonder Girl and Robin turned to the newcomer. Speedy! Robin's eyes narrowed a bit, but he swallowed his retort. Instead, he gave the junior archer a neutral wave.
"Speedy." Robin nodded his acknowledgement, then deliberately turned his back. "Look, I'll be working with Wonder Girl for a few more minutes. Why don't you take a seat or something, and I'll be with you in a moment."
Angry, Speedy began walking to where Robin and Wonder Girl were talking about tactics and the methods to take down someone who was of equal or greater strength.
"Well, WG, like I was saying, if you use this method..." Robin carefully put his hands on Wonder Girl in places designed to give him the greatest leverage, "...then you can do this!" Instantly Robin had Wonder Girl on the mat, while he holding her in headlock.
Wonder Girl giggled.
"I bet you do this to all the girls!" she teased. Robin instantly tensed and released her. Standing up, he self-consciously placed his hands at his sides.
"Is that right, Bat-boy?" Speedy asked mockingly. "Do you like beating up on helpless girls?"
Robin didn't bother answering. Wonder Girl helpless? Yeah, like a Siberian tiger was helpless! Robin instead gave Wonder Girl a hand up. Resolutely keeping his back to Speedy, he checked her to ensure that she was all right.
"You're okay? No bruises or anything?" he asked worriedly.
"Don't be silly, Robbie!" Wonder Girl protested. "I landed on a soft practice mat! You should see the rock quarry that my warrior sisters use to train in the arts of battle on Paradise Island! I'm okay."
"Well, I'm not okay with it!" interrupted Speedy.
"That's good," Robin said addressing Wonder Girl and ignoring Speedy. "Would you like to continue the lesson? I had you scheduled for another fifteen minutes. After you, I have Speedy, then Aqualad."
"Hey! Bird-boy! I'm talking to you!" Speedy yelled, growing angrier by the minute.
"Of course, I'd love to continue the training, Robin," Wonder Girl said, oblivious to Speedy's outburst. "This type of hand to hand combat is new to me. Would you mind if I taught my sisters on Paradise Island some of these techniques?" Then dropping her voice added, "Would Batman?"
"I don't see why he should," Robin said shrugging. "These are ancient martial arts fighting techniques. We sure didn't invent them!"
"Okay, Bird-boy," Speedy said, coldly. "No more Mister Nice Guy! You'd better put up your dukes!"
Wonder Girl looked at Speedy as if seeing him for the first time. Robin allowed himself a small half-smile.
"Speedy! Just the guy I wanted to see!" Robin began.
"Speedy, is there something the matter?" Wonder Girl asked.
"No problem, WG! That is, no problem as soon as I clean the room with this wiseguy!"
"Clean the room?" she asked puzzled. Wonder Girl still became confused at times with the language idioms she encountered. "Why would you want to do that? The room is already clean."
"I think Speedy meant he was ready for his training session, didn't you Speedy?" Robin asked.
"You bet I am, Bird-boy," he said taking a prizefighter's stance. "Oh, boy! I'm gonna enjoy this!"
Up on the observation deck, Black Canary suddenly slapped her forehead and shook her head.
"What is it about the Arrow-guys?" she said shaking her head. "Roy, don't be a fool. You'll never take him!"
"Wonder Girl, why don't you take a seat over there by the exit?" Robin asked. "I wouldn't want you getting hurt during our training session. Don't worry, this shouldn't take long...and then you and I can continue with yours."
The entire time Robin was speaking with Wonder Girl, he kept his back turned to Speedy on purpose, fueling the young archer's anger.
This little punk in the fairy costume was making time with his girl, Speedy fumed. Worse, Robin was putting his hands on her! In Speedy's mind, Robin's only excuse for having a training session with Wonder Girl was so he could move in on her while Speedy wasn't around. He'd show him!
Angry beyond comprehension, Speedy attacked.
As Speedy moved in, Robin kept a running commentary going with Wonder Girl. Keeping his back turned, Robin exploded into action with lightning fast movements, easily countering Speedy's attack from behind.
"As you can see, WG, if a careless assailant tries this rear attack, simply moving like so..." Robin shifted his weight at this moment "...and placing your hands here...and here..." Robin demonstrated calmly, grabbing first a wrist, then an elbow, "...the intended victim can easily turn the tables on his would be mugger!"
In less than a tenth of a second, Speedy was at Robin's feet looking up the junior daredevil.
"Stay down, Roy," Black Canary muttered, shaking her head. "Don't be stupid, Red. Stay down!"
Wonder Woman smiled at her friend. "Boys will be boys," she said.
"Of course, a determined assailant will probably not give up at this moment," Robin lectured as if oblivious to the attack. "So you have to be ready for the follow on attack."
Recovering quickly, Speedy kicked out, sweeping his legs under Robin's. However, Robin was already gone. He'd leaped into a single back somersault, avoiding the attack from below.
Landing on cat feet, Robin crouched in a ready position. "The key, Wonder Girl, as in all things, is to have patience. Let the assailant come to you. Let him waste his energy!"
From the sidelines, Wonder Girl nodded her head seriously. Everything Robin said made sense. Speedy sure was being a good sport allowing Robin to use him as a teacher's training aid. And he had the cutest red hair and green eyes.
Robin moved his hands in a slow, mesmerizing defensive pattern, while circling the junior archer as a predator stalks its prey. Speedy opted for a frontal assault and ran headlong towards Robin. Robin simply somersaulted over Speedy's head. Landing softly behind Speedy, Robin thought it was time to put a stop to this.
He was having fun at the junior archer's expense, but enough was enough! The junior bowman was becoming more upset by the second. This was no way to treat a teammate.
"I think that's enough training for the day, Speedy," Robin said quietly. "I've been going at it with Wonder Girl for a while now. I think I could use a break. How about you?"
Black Canary and Wonder Woman recognized the laurel leaf that Robin was offering. The boy was mature beyond his years; it was obvious that he could easily incapacitate Speedy, but instead was making a peace overture.
"Say yes, Red," Black Canary urged under her breath. "Think with your head and not with your mouth!"
Speedy turned to face the younger boy. He was slightly taller and heavier than Robin. Speedy couldn't believe the kid's moves! No way was he going to let Bat- boy win this round. Speedy shook his head.
"Uh-uh, Bird-boy! Round one goes to you, because we were doing it your way! What say we do round two my way?" With that Speedy deliberately brought his bow up to bear and cocked a trick arrow. With slow anticipation, he aimed squarely at Robin.
Wonder Girl sensing something was wrong cried out. "Speedy! What are you doing? You'll hurt him!"
"No, I won't Wonder Doll! None of my arrows are designed to kill or injure." Speedy reassured her. Then added in low tones so that only Robin could hear him. "Just temporarily clip your wings, and give you one hell of a headache, eh, Bat-boy?"
Robin immediately assumed a Kenpo defensive posture; he neither spoke nor showed any other response. This was no longer a game. His position had suddenly become untenable. Speedy's accuracy and speed with the bow were second only Green Arrow's. The Flashes might be the fastest man and boy and alive, but the Arrows were the fastest and best archers alive.
Drawing from a deep reserve of inner strength, Robin waited calmly for the inevitable release.
As he waited, Robin said to himself, "Release, fly, block...Release, fly, block..."
In the next instant, Speedy released his bow. His arrow flew true to its mark, Robin's center of mass. As he released, Speedy saw Robin crouch, his left shoulder slightly tucked, his right hand looking like he was pulling one of his sleight of hands. Speedy immediately pulled another arrow from his quiver, and was just about to cock it, when...His eyes grew wide in disbelief.
Black Canary and Wonder Woman both held their breaths. Black Canary couldn't believe Speedy's recklessness. When I get my hands on you, she thought darkly!
Almost faster than the eye could follow, Robin brought his left arm up to a blocking motion, unbelievably deflecting the arrow from its course. Simultaneously, he threw two batarangs, one right after the other. The first struck Speedy's shooting wrist, numbing it instantly and causing him to drop his bow. The second missed him! or so Speedy thought.
The whirring sound of the returning batarang told him otherwise. It quickly started looping around him, tying him up with what appeared to be a heavily weighted nylon rope.
Black Canary and Wonder Woman both exhaled explosively. By now, neither was completely surprised by Robin's skill and expert countermove.
"That boy is a first degree black belt at least. Probably higher," Black Canary mused. "And with those acrobatics of his...he's a hell of a formidable opponent, Diana. Hell, I'm not even sure that I could take him at this point! Imagine what he'll be like in a few years, when he's even more experienced!"
From the sidelines, Wonder Girl applauded.
"Yay! Robin!" she cheered. "I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's fallen into one of your deviously evil traps today!"
Robin didn't say anything in reply. Instead, he walked slowly to where Speedy was angrily spluttering about what he was going to do to him, the object of his still smoldering rage; Robin crouched down next to him.
"That was a nice thing you did, Speedy, helping out with WG's training. Brilliant touch, by the way, bringing in the bow and arrow! Gave me a chance to demonstrate how to deflect a fast approaching object!"
"Can it, Bird-boy," Speedy said angrily. "You and I both know that that isn't why I was fighting you out here...this wasn't a favor for you...I still intend on taking you down! Now let me go!
Robin's face remained inscrutable as he watched Speedy wrestle uselessly with his bonds.
"You know, there's a very nice girl coming over here right now, who thinks this was all in good fun," he said quietly. "I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want her to find out otherwise." He stood up, still looking down at Speedy. "It's up to you."
Wonder Girl reached them by then. "Aren't you done yet?" she asked anxiously.
Robin looked down at Speedy. "Are we done?"
Reluctantly, Speedy nodded his head, yes. Robin immediately bent down and started untying him.
"Good!" Wonder Girl cried out. "You can still take me to dinner then!"
Robin looked up quickly. What? Dinner? They'd never...He looked down at Speedy. The archer was giving him a knowing smirk.
"Yep, that's right, Bird-boy! Read 'em and weep. You might've won the battle, but I'm winning the campaign!"
"Campaign? Battle?" Wonder Girl asked confused. "What are you talking about Speedy?" When no answer was forthcoming, she looked at Robin. "Robin, what does that mean?"
Robin looked at her quietly for a lingering moment. Wonder Girl was his friend...he knew that and was comfortable with it. He felt a little hurt that she was having dinner with Speedy...and yes, he knew that there was an underlying feeling of jealousy. However, neither she nor he had ever intimated anything closer than just being good friends. And, she obviously preferred Speedy to him.
Robin shrugged his shoulders and gave her an enigmatic half smile, an unconscious imitation of his mentor.
"Nothing, WG. It's just a joke between us. You two have fun!" With that Robin turned to leave the training room. He had to get away. He had to think. As he walked out, he could hear Wonder Girl's bell-like laughter echoing from behind him.
"I think I'm gonna have to show Red a few self-defense moves," Black Canary said. "Robin could've maimed him without breaking a sweat. Roy doesn't know just how lucky he is." "What did you think of Robin deflecting the arrow?" asked Wonder Woman.
Black Canary shook her head.
"Well, at least now I know why he's called the Boy Wonder!"
The impossibly-sized vessel, which last saw its home world's system before the oldest star in the Milky Way Galaxy first sprang to life and long since burned out, began a short-lived firing sequence of its impeller star drives. The ship's Artificial Intelligence adjusted its trajectory and set the ship on its new course.
The ancient vessel's communications systems came online. The ship's AI conducted a self-analysis of the hundreds of commsysts the ship assimilated along its voyage, searching for a unit compatible with the primitive audio/visual system in order to attempt contact. Finding none, the AI went into sleep mode.
An instant later, the AI awoke and the ship began transmitting a complicated numerical string...
A shy throat being cleared behind him caught the Atom's attention. Standing quietly at the doorway were Robin and Kid Flash.
"We were wondering, sir, if it would be all right for us to check on the status of the anomaly," Robin said.
"Of course, kids," Atom waved them in. "I was just running a new program that cross-checks previous information with new data...see if we can find any new patterns that might've been missed."
Robin smiled inwardly. This was the first time he'd had a chance to speak to the mighty mite. Robin found the Atom's scientific knowledge and jargon somewhat at odds with his pixie size. It was like talking to Tinkerbell with a Ph.D. in physics.
"May we help? Kid Flash here can go through data faster than either of us would be able to...just tell him what to look for."
Atom looked doubtfully at Kid Flash. Unlike his uncle, Barry Allen, the Flash, the younger speedster didn't seem to have a serious scientific bone in his body. The Atom worked closely with the Flash on previous occasions, and while their fields were slightly different, with Palmer's being more theoretical while Allen's geared more towards practical application, they'd made an excellent team.
As if noticing the Atom's reluctance, Robin spoke confidently.
"Sir, the Titans may not have a lot of the experience, knowledge and skills that the regular JLA members do, but we're pretty good at what we do. Twinkletoes here has proven himself on other occasions with being able to solve puzzles and find other obscure patterns that the rest of us might've solved eventually, but which would've taken us a little longer." He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not really sure yet why he can do this...I haven't had a chance to run any sort of practical tests or anything...but so far he hasn't let the Titans down."
The Atom nodded and smiled. Robin was good...a real leader who stood up for his team, and he was also a budding diplomat, as well.
"All right, son. Here's what we're looking for..." the Atom began to patiently explain the spectral patterns in the highest and lowest ultra-violet range that they'd been able to spot so far. What he was looking for now was any deviation that either broke from the established pattern, or that formed a new and unexpected pattern on a different position in the light spectrum.
Kid Flash nodded impatiently. While the Atom had been explaining what he was supposed to be looking for, he'd been perusing the printouts at supersonic speed. Before the Atom finished his explanation, Kid Flash broke in.
"You mean like this, sir?" he asked politely. Atom's eyes narrowed. The kid was pulling his leg surely. He took the printout from the young speedster.
"Show me," he ordered shortly. Kid Flash pointed out what to him was the obvious. Atom stood on top of the printout and followed the boy's pointing finger to four...no five...pattern changes. Atom studied the changes closely...yes! A definite change here...and here...and...Atom stopped what he was doing and looked up at the two Titans admiringly.
"Good job, Kid Flash. I think I know someone who'll be impossible to live with for the next few hours when I tell him what you've just done." Atom was smiling as he spoke. "And you, Robin. It takes a good leader to know the abilities of his team. You've both been of tremendous help!"
Kid Flash, looking like his chest was about to burst, was grinning from ear to ear. Robin merely acknowledged the compliment with a nod.
"Is there anything else we can do, sir?" Robin asked. "We'd really like to be of help."
"You sure can. And please, call me Ray," Atom said smiling. Robin dropped his eyes.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "I'm not allowed to use first names when I'm on the job. Too dangerous."
Atom nodded in understanding. Batman's young protege was worlds ahead of the other Titans in his total professionalism.
"Well, how about calling me Atom then. This isn't the Armed Forces, kid. You don't have to go around calling us all sir or ma'am!" Robin nodded.
"Yes, sir." He smiled and rolled his eyes, suddenly all boy. "I mean...Atom."
"Hey, now, that's more like it," Atom smiled in return. "Okay, gentlemen, here's what I'd like you to do..."
"I don't see why you hang out with that little stiff anyway," Roy said. He and Donna had switched to their civilian identities and were having dinner in Green Arrow's assigned JLA quarters. Roy fixed his specialty, spaghetti and meat sauce. With Green Arrow gone so often, sometimes weeks at a time with the JLA, the boy had been forced to learn to cope on his own.
The teen couple had been arguing for about a half-hour now about Donna's friendship with Robin.
"Roy, I don't understand why you dislike Robin so much. He's one of the nicest, most thoughtful boys I know!" Donna looked hurt at Roy's sudden change in character. Their dinner had been going well until she mentioned how much she'd enjoyed her session with the Boy Wonder. Since then all Roy had done was find fault with her friend.
"Oh, yeah? Well, if you like him so much, then why aren't you having dinner with him instead?" Roy jumped up from the dinner table. This wasn't going the way he'd intended. He'd looked forward to getting Donna alone all day, but she'd pushed all the wrong buttons: She'd praised Bat-boy once too often.
"Bird-boy is going to push me too far one day, and when he does--!"
"When he does, then what?" Donna stood too. She'd had just about enough. "What'll you do? Robin is your friend, Roy, whether you'll admit it or not. He's not a stiff, or a twerp, or any of those mean and horrid names you keep calling him! He can't help it if he's serious about what he does. Dick's parents were murdered in front of him when he was only nine--!"
Donna's eyes widened and she immediately clapped her hands over her mouth. She couldn't believe what she'd just done! She'd violated Dick's trust! She'd done exactly what he'd said she'd do one day! Donna had given away Dick's secret identity!
Donna started backing away from Roy, shaking her head in denial.
"How could you?" she whispered blaming him for her slip, tears spilling. "I never want to see you again!" With that she turned and ran out of the Arrow quarters. As she flew down the corridor, she passed Black Canary and Green Arrow returning to his quarters.
"Donna!" Black Canary called. Donna ignored her and sped to the quarters she was sharing with her sister. "Now what was that all about?" she said. Green Arrow shook his head.
When they entered GA's quarters they found Roy standing in the middle of the living room looking like he'd just been kicked in the stomach.
"Hey, kid," GA began. "Something happen to upset Donna?" Roy looked at him sadly.
"Yeah, me...and my big, fat mouth," he said in self-disgust.
As they were talking, GA removed his mask and began putting his equipment away. Black Canary likewise removed her blonde wig and instantly shook out her midnight black tresses. As they slowly transformed into their civilian identities of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, they each studied the young teen with varying looks of concern.
"Well, don't sweat it, kid," Ollie said. "She'll get over it. Women usually do." He added this last without thinking. Dinah glared icicles at him. "Don't hurt me," he uttered in a small voice and ducked into the bedroom to change.
"Red, would you care to talk about it?" Dinah asked. She liked the junior bowman. During her relationship with Ollie she'd grown quite fond of the boy. She felt like a big sister to him. Ollie's rather unorthodox method of raising the boy had been cause for concern on several occasions. It was one thing to have Roy partner with him as Speedy; it was entirely different not to set boundaries. Dinah's mother used to say that all children needed rules, especially those children who believed themselves too old for rules. In truth, it made them feel loved and protected.
Dinah couldn't imagine Batman not setting strict limits for Robin either in their crime-fighting identities or in their civilian identities, whatever those might be.
Roy looked at her deeply ashamed and shook his head.
"No, Dinah, thanks," he said in a low voice. "I have to handle this on my own." He began to walk out of their quarters. "Don't wait up for me."
Dinah stared at the closed door long after Roy left.
Atom sat on Robin's shoulder his legs crossed casually as the Boy Wonder studied the readouts closely. Once Kid Flash had found the pattern, Robin started looking for any other markers or other indicators that could help the JLA accurately analyze whatever the thing was out there. As Robin studied the readout, the Atom studied Robin.
The kid dug out a magnifier from somewhere in that utility belt of his and immediately settled down to doing what he did best--painstaking detective work. Atom shook his head admiringly.
"I wish some of my doctoral candidates were as dedicated as you, Robin." Robin turned to face the littlest Justice Leaguer. From his vantage point, it was easy for the Atom to see the boy's facial muscles struggle to maintain their serious demeanor. Finally, Robin's underlying boyishness broke through and Atom was rewarded with a genuine smile.
"Batman says that ninety-nine percent of all detective work is meticulous attention to detail. It's not a lifestyle for the impatient." Robin jerked his head surreptitiously in the direction of Kid Flash who was finding it impossible to sit still for longer than a nanosecond. Atom and Robin shared a secret smile.
The kid's all right, thought Atom. There's a real little boy underneath that mask of his. I wonder what he's like when he really let's go?
"Hey! Stop the presses!" Robin muttered. "Atom! Look here, sir!" Atom jumped off Robin's shoulder and landed softly on the readout. He walked over to the area that Robin was studying so closely.
"What is it, son?" Atom asked crouching down on the paper. "What have you found?"
"I'm not sure, sir, but I think I've found a definite pattern that we hadn't seen before." Robin gave Atom a pensive look, chewing his lower lip in concentration. "Look here...and here...and here..." Atom looked at the different places on the printout that Robin indicated. Finally, he shook his head.
"I'm sorry, son, I don't see what you're talking about," he admitted reluctantly.
"Yeah, Robbie," Kid Flash piped in. He'd sidled up to Robin's other side when the Boy Wonder first called out that he'd found something.
"I know it's hard to notice, sir. I'm not exactly sure if it's even a pattern, but look..." Robin glanced around and quickly found a yellow highlighter. He then took out a small ball of twine from his utility belt. Atom's eyebrow went up when he saw the twine, but he didn't comment.
Robin fed out about a meter length of twine; he then tied the marker to one end. Highlighting several points with his orange marker, Robin then began an elaborate game of connect the dots. Placing one end of the twine on a single point, Robin held it down with his thumb and then placed the highlighter on the next nearest point. Winding the twine until there was no give, Robin then drew a circle around his thumb.
Robin paid out a little bit more of the twine until his marker could reach the next point on the printout. As soon as he could reach the next point, Robin drew another circle. At first Atom couldn't understand what Robin was doing. The young crime-fighter appeared to be drawing concentric circles around one single point. Atom shook his head.
"What are you doing, Robin?" Atom asked curiously. "It looks almost like you're drawing a bullseye?"
"I can't be certain, sir, since it doesn't appear to be to scale, but it looks like this could be a representation of the solar system. See, the center bullseye is the sun, and each of the other nine points represents a different planet. This clear area here..." Robin pointed with his highlighter, "...could be a possible trajectory coming straight to Earth." He followed the path to the third point from the center bullseye. Robin shrugged sheepishly.
"I guess it's kinda silly, Atom," Robin said apologetically. "I'm sorry if I'm wasting your time."
Atom waved his arm distractedly. His keen analytical mind was evaluating the possible interpretation that Robin had just given him. If this was a representation of the solar system, and that was indeed a trajectory, directly in line with Earth, then there was the very real possibility that this was indeed an invasion.
"Kid Flash, get your uncle in here ASAP! Robin, good job! I need to get this data inputted into the JLA's main computer as quickly as--"
"--As a Flash?" Atom and Robin turned to the twin scarlet blurs that zipped in simultaneously.
"Barry, just the man I need to see. This data that Robin has just uncovered. I need this programmed into the computer's CAD program. I need a three- dimensional virtual representation of this." He pointed to the printout and Robin's yellow circles.
"If you need a fast typist, I'm the man for the job," the Flash said. "But I'm afraid that computer programming is a little outside my area of expertise. I mean, I'm getting better at doing online searches and all that minor league stuff, but I'm no programmer."
"Uncle Barry," Kid Flash began.
"Yes, what is it, champ?" the Flash looked fondly at his nephew.
"Robin's pretty good with computers," Kid Flash looked at Robin. "Aren't you?"
Robin shook his head.
"I've been learning a few of the programming languages, but something like this..." Robin shook his head. "It's still a little out of my league, too, sir." Robin paused. "But I think I know someone who might be able to help...someone who's pretty good with computers."
When approached by the Atom on the new twist in their investigation, Batman immediately sat down at the main terminal and started writing the necessary program to construct a three-dimensional holo-representation of the data that Robin discovered. As soon as he finished writing the program, Batman called Robin over and together they began inputting the data.
The Dynamic Duo worked smoothly together, oblivious to the others gathered in the control room around them. Robin read out the figures, and Batman immediately input them into the JLA supercomputers' immense memory banks.
"That's all there is," Robin said. Batman nodded and continued working without saying a word. Robin stood to Batman's right and slightly behind him; his left hand was resting comfortably on the back of Batman's headrest, his right behind his back. The two looked completely at ease working together. The boy would on occasion point something out on the screen, and Batman would nod his head in acknowledgement.
"Even when the boy's relaxed, he's not," Atom said in an undertone to Green Lantern. GL nodded his head in agreement.
And what an odd way to raise a child, Atom added disapprovingly. He looked around the room, surreptitiously studying all of the mentors with their junior sidekicks. What kind of childhood must these kids have, to know that their lives are constantly in danger?
Atom thought about his relationship with Jean Loring, a young up-and-coming lawyer, whom he'd met while he was still an undergraduate. He'd been planning on asking her to marry him as soon as his department granted him full tenure. That was two years ago, and he still hadn't asked her. Since becoming the Atom, he just didn't think it fair to share that kind of lifestyle with another person, let alone a wife and possibly children later.
Yet here, Batman, Green Arrow, Aquaman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman all had partners who were little more than children. He shook his head unable to articulate the feelings inside him. At least Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Wonder Girl were all super-powered beings, but Robin and Speedy were just two boys with exceptional skills. Skills which up to now had served them well, but what if something happened in the unforeseeable future? How would Batman or Green Arrow react if either of their junior sidekicks was ever injured or worse?
Movement from the Caped Crusaders caught his attention. Unbelievably, Batman reached over and shook Robin's hand.
"Good work, partner," he said. Robin looked like he'd suddenly grown an extra inch. They held the tableau for about another two seconds, then both dropped their hands, and whatever real affection they'd shown momentarily was quickly masked again. Batman spun around in his chair. "Atom."
Batman stood and moved aside. No, "We're finished! Come and look! We've saved the universe!"
Instead, Batman moved over without saying anything further. Robin walked over and stood next to him. Both had their arms crossed in identical poses. Both had inscrutable expressions.
Atom suppressed a smile. It wouldn't do to tell Batman that he and Robin looked "cute" together...Atom didn't want to die before his time.
He found an air current and glided easily towards the terminal. "Barry!" he called. The Flash joined him instantly. Together, the two scientists studied the data before them. "Clark!" Superman flew over, his toes just barely clearing the floor by a few millimeters.
Robin watched, round eyed.
"Whoa...!" he whispered. He immediately tugged on Batman's cape. "Did you see that? He didn't even walk!" Robin kept his voice barely above a whisper.
"Robin," Batman chastised his excited partner, "super-hearing is included among Superman's many talents. Whispering is a waste of time." Robin's mouth formed a silent O! He felt his cheeks burning again. When would he learn to keep his big mouth shut?
Superman turned at this moment and gave the boy a friendly wink and a thumb's up.
"You did an outstanding job, Robin. Your detective skills may have given us the answer to our earlier questions about this spatial anomaly."
Robin's momentary discomfort was instantly forgotten. He looked over to where Wonder Girl was standing next to Wonder Woman. She noticed him watching her and gave him a tentative smile, but Robin saw immediately that something was wrong. His eyes narrowed in concern.
He looked up at Batman.
"Sir, may I be excused for a minute?" Batman placed his hands on the boy's shoulders and looked into his eyes. He gave Robin a curt nod. Robin looked over at Wonder Girl and jerked his head subtly indicating that he wanted her to follow him. She gave a small nod that said she understood, and as soon as Robin was out the door, she slipped outside too.
"Do you hate me terribly?" Wonder Girl asked in a small voice.
Robin had turned his back to her in anger. How could she have betrayed his trust? And to that idiot, Speedy, of all people! Why not to Aqualad? At least the Atlantean teen didn't hate his guts! Even Kid Flash would've been preferable. The young speedster was a bit immature, but he had a good heart, and Robin already felt that they were going to be good friends.
Robin sighed and shook his head. He turned around and faced his friend.
"Of course, I don't hate you, Donna," he said. With a cry she shot up from where she'd been sitting in a little ball on the lounge chair and flew into his arms. Stunned, Dick just stood there while she hugged his neck...incredibly...hard!
"D-Donna...y-you're hurting me..." Robin managed to choke out. Wonder Girl immediately let go. Dick fell to his knees, the deck spinning underneath him.
"Oh! Dick, I'm so sorry!" Wonder Girl apologized, her hands over her mouth in shame. "I keep forgetting just how fragile mortals truly are! Mother and Diana keep pounding it into me to mind my strength whenever I visit Man's world!"
Robin rubbed his neck ruefully. He stood up carefully, somehow managing to keep his balance.
"Uh-huh. I'm okay, Donna...really." He sat down on the couch and indicated that she join him. She sat down. Her eyes were downcast over everything she'd done wrong.
"Look, Donna, what you did...blurting out my secret identity to Speedy when you were upset. That's the kind of thing I've been warning you about all of this time. That's why I keep insisting that you call me Robin when I'm in costume."
"But Dick...I mean, Robin. It's silly to keep your identity secret with the rest of the Teen Titans! We're your friends! We work together!"
Robin nodded his head, but held his hands out for quiet.
"Okay, you have a point there, and maybe I even agree with you on this issue. However, it isn't your decision to make! Nor is it mine. At least not mine to make alone! Batman has to be in agreement, and somehow I don't think he's ready to agree that a bunch of kids that he doesn't think could, and I quote, lead themselves out of a paper sack, unquote, should be trusted with our secret identities."
Wonder Girl's eyes dropped in shame. Robin saw a lone tear trail down her cheek to her chin.
Robin gently took Wonder Girl's chin in his hand.
"Hey, now, none of that. Please don't cry, WG. I know that what you did was an accident, and I'd love to punch Harper's teeth out for making you cry the way he did, but what's done is done. You know that I don't blame you and that I can't stay mad at you. I just hope that underneath that arrogant exterior of Speedy's lies a man of honor and that he won't use my secret against me or Batman."
"Oh, Dick he wouldn't!" Wonder Girl exclaimed, holding his hand in hers. "I just know that he wouldn't! Roy is a man of honor! He is! I just know it!"
Robin gave his friend a half-smile of amusement.
"If Harper can get this much support from you, WG, then I guess there must be more to the guy than bluster. Okay...I'll talk to him, maybe smooth out the rough waters. But you know I'm only doing it for you, because you're my friend."
Wonder Girl nodded her head trustingly. On impulse, she reached over to kiss Robin on the cheek. Robin chose this moment to tilt his head slightly, and the kiss that she'd intended to place on his cheek, landed on his lips instead. Confused, the two youngsters immediately jumped apart as if electrified. Robin got up and put as much distance between himself and Wonder Girl as he could. Wonder Girl likewise moved in the opposite direction.
She felt tears beginning to threaten again. What was the matter with her? She liked Roy, she told herself. Roy Harper was all she'd thought about and dreamed about since their first meeting several months ago! She loved Dick Grayson like a brother. Amazons didn't have brothers for obvious reasons, and Dick had filled the void almost from the beginning.
Robin didn't know what to think. He'd been Wonder Girl's friend almost from the start. While the other male members of the Titans had been doing cartwheels to gain the young Amazon's attention all those months ago when they'd first formed their group, Robin pledged that he'd never do anything that could even be construed as silly or inappropriate. He was the leader, and he was going to lead by example.
Wonder Girl was a friend and a colleague. He felt that it was his duty to treat her as such, and to protect her from any unwanted attention. He suddenly closed his cape around him, a nervous habit he'd picked up recently. It was as if he was symbolically sealing himself off from the rest of the world. Perhaps it was an outer manifestation of the walls he'd built around himself, almost a self- defense. Thank you, Doctor Freud, he thought sardonically.
"Dick." The small voice behind him made him jump. He gave no outer indication, however, except perhaps a slight tension between his shoulders. "Dick, please, turn around."
Robin slowly turned to face Wonder Girl.
"I'm sorry," she shook her head. "It seems that all I'm going to do is apologize to you." She looked at him with sad eyes that stabbed at his heart. "If you never want to speak to me again, I'll understand."
Robin swallowed, then forced himself to smile.
"Please don't apologize again, Donna," Robin smiled sadly. "There aren't too many guys lucky enough on the whole planet who can say that they've been kissed by you!" He reached over with one hand and cupped her face again. "I know how you feel about Roy, and while I can't see the attraction..." he shrugged. "It's okay with me. You know that."
Wonder Girl smiled her thanks. Robin turned to go. A tentative hand on his arm held him back.
"Dick, if we don't...You know--?" Both youngsters dropped their eyes in embarrassment. "We'll always wonder..."
Robin nodded. He looked into her eyes for a long time, then looked away, momentarily at a loss for what to do next. Finally, he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders helplessly.
"Donna, I've never kissed a girl before! I'm not even sure how it's done!" He looked suddenly boyishly helpless. Wonder Girl smiled impishly.
"I think I can help you in this department, Boy Wonder!"
Wonder Girl suddenly stepped closer to him. Taking his arms, she carefully arranged them around her slender waist. Robin stood a bit awkwardly. He felt his whole body flushing. He'd never stood this closely to a girl before. He felt himself backing up inadvertently. Wonder Girl shook her finger at him and grabbed him by the neck clasp of his cape.
"Oh, no you don't, Dick Grayson," she whispered fiercely. "This is one hands on experiment that you are going to carry out to the end!"
With that, Wonder Girl wrapped her arms gently around Robin's neck, mindful not to squeeze too hard and hurt him. Standing toe to toe, nose to nose, the two teens closed their eyes and slowly, shyly moved towards each other. When their lips finally met, neither breathed for a few seconds, then almost instinctively Wonder Girl opened her lips slightly and Robin tentatively tasted her mouth with his tongue.
Robin felt the back of his knees suddenly begin to give way. He couldn't remember how to breathe. His stomach felt like it had butterflies or something else fluttering around inside. Eventually, they broke apart and came up for air.
"I...I think that I better sit down, Donna...I don't feel so good all of a sudden," Robin said weakly and collapsed. Wonder Girl's knees also gave way and she collapsed next to him. Suddenly she started to snigger. Robin looked over at her, and catching her eye, he began to snicker too. Before long, the two youngsters had folded into helpless giggles, sounding like children much younger in age.
Eventually, they ended up lying on their backs clutching their respective stomachs. Their heads were side by side but upside down. Robin was lying on the couch his feet going in one direction, while Wonder Girl's were pointing towards the opposite end. Finally, managing some semblance of control over their laughter, they turned to face each other. They immediately looked away and broke into more silly laughter.
"I guess now we know, huh?" Robin sputtered between chortles. Wonder Girl nodded her head, then she too burst into more helpless chuckles.
"I guess we do!" she managed.
Wiping his eyes, Robin finally stood to go.
Turning, he faced Wonder Girl again and becoming suddenly serious, he held his hand out to her. Pulling her up to him, he kissed her once more, this time without hesitation. When they finally pulled apart, Robin drew back slightly and studied her face as if for the first time. On sudden impulse he gently reached behind her and released her ponytail.
He watched mesmerized as Wonder Girl's lovely long, sable hair fell in shimmering waves, down past her shoulders and to the middle of her back. Robin gazed wonderingly on his beautiful friend, then ran his hand through her hair once. He gently traced his finger up the slender curve of her neck to her chin. Smiling, he followed her jaw line up her cheek to the center of her forehead and down the bridge of her nose.
He then playfully kissed the tip of her nose, and held her a little longer, their foreheads and noses touching, blue eyes gazing longingly into blue eyes. Finally, sighing deeply, the two dark heads separated, and the two friends stood a safe distance apart from each other. Robin looked at Wonder Girl regretfully.
"If you ever change your mind and decide to dump the jerk, you know where to find me." He then gave her his best daredevil smile and walked out.
Wonder Girl immediately fell back onto the couch with a loud un-ladylike whoosh of air exploding from her lips.
She knew she'd just been kissed!
Hours later, Dick sat on his bed his legs crossed, his chin in his hand. He was in his pajamas, his Robin costume tossed carelessly on the back of his desk chair. His literature textbook was open to the reading assignment that his teacher had given him in advance.
Alfred had escorted Dick to school and explained to the Chancellor of Gotham City Boys' Preparatory, that his employer Mister Wayne and his young ward had to leave the country on a sudden family emergency. Therefore, Master Richard needed his school assignments for the next three weeks, Alfred punctiliously explained.
Dick remembered going to each of his teachers and receiving his assignments for the next few weeks. Most of his teachers didn't bat an eye. The majority of the boys attending GC Prep came from Gotham's wealthiest families. Many pulled their sons out at moment's notice to vacation in other parts of the globe; therefore, leaving for an extended period of time was hardly considered unusual.
Dick tried to read his literature assignment but his mind kept wandering to a pair of wide, clear blue eyes. He sighed. "Forget it, Grayson," he muttered. "Donna likes Roy and that's that!" Dick turned determinedly back to the assignment, a poem. He groaned. He hated poetry. Worse, it was a sonnet by Shakespeare. He read the first line out loud.
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?...Thou art more temperate..."
Dick sighed. It was going to be a long night.
"Thou art more temperate..." he repeated, muttering to himself. He read the entire sonnet silently, then reread it aloud. Giving up, Dick suddenly fell backwards on his bed. He covered his face with his arms. "ARGH! I hate poetry!" he yelled.
"Now why is that, chum?" Dick immediately sat up and looked at his guardian guiltily. He shrugged his shoulders.
"I can't understand it! Too many thees and thous! It's stupid, going around comparing people to a summer's day anyway. Who does dumb stuff like that?"
Bruce gave his ward a small half smile and sat down on the bed next to him. He reached for the literature textbook.
"Ah, 'Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?' by William Shakespeare. One of my personal favorites," Bruce said.
"Huh? You like this stuff?" Dick asked incredulously. "The guy's been dead for almost five hundred years!" Bruce's eyes smiled slightly, amused at his young ward's outrage that he had to read anything so old!
"William Shakespeare wrote some of the finest lines in English Literature, chum. He may be dead, but he isn't quite down, yet! Besides, you know that you never judge a book by its cover, or literature by how old it is!"
"I know, sir, it's just that..." Dick couldn't continue.
"Just what, Dick? Is something else bothering you, chum?" Bruce asked gently drawing out his ward. Dick nodded reluctantly.
"Bruce, please don't be mad..." Dick began, then stopped. Bruce's eyebrow went up at the preamble. Dick dropped his eyes and traced his literature book nervously. Getting his emotions under control, he finally managed to tell Bruce about Donna's letting his secret identity slip.
"So now Roy knows that my name's Dick and that my parents were murdered in front of me. Bruce, Donna feels really really awful about the whole thing! I mean she was crying and everything! I felt really guilty that I got mad at her and...and..."
His voice dropped to the barest whisper. Dick studied the weave on his bedspread with intense interest, unable to meet Bruce's eyes.
"I...kissed her..." Dick looked up horrified. "But it was an accident. Honest! I didn't mean to at first. I moved my head, and she was just suddenly there! Kissing me!"
Stunned, Bruce studied his little boy closely. Dick's voice hadn't even started to change yet. He still had the same bright blue eyes that always seemed to make Bruce's heart catch in his throat.
My God, Dick just barely turned thirteen on his last birthday, Bruce thought wonderingly. Girls? So soon? Bruce wasn't sure that he was up to the task of where this discussion was leading. This was more Alfred's line of work.
"Anyway, I was going to leave the room, but, well, I didn't." Dick shrugged his shoulders. "I guess we...Donna and me...we wanted to see..." He stopped and looked at Bruce.
"Go on, chum," Bruce said. "You wanted to see...what?" Dick shrugged his shoulders. Finally, finding the courage to go on, he reported what transpired as straightforwardly as if he were giving a review of evidence uncovered.
Bruce found himself struggling to keep a straight face. The little rascal...and with sweet, little Donna no less! Apparently all of the Titans boys had been trying to get her alone for quite some time and Dick had done everything in his power to protect her from the young wolves. Eventually, Donna decided that she was interested in Roy's overtures and the two teens had started "dating" of sorts. Mostly handholding and sitting together and having their meals together.
However, whatever brotherly or sisterly feelings Dick and Donna felt for each other, they were nevertheless confused by other feelings as well. They were both certainly at an age where awareness of the opposite sex was suddenly and inexplicably awakened in a child. Working so closely as Titans had probably added to their inner turmoil. It was one thing to have a long-distance friendship where they corresponded as best they could. It was quite another to be suddenly thrust into danger together!
Bruce released a long breath.
"Dick, I'm not sure what I can to do help you with your feelings about Donna. That's something that you and she will have to iron out on your own. Just remember that you two aren't the only people involved, though. So you know that you have to act like a gentleman the entire time, right?"
Dick looked up shocked when understanding of what Bruce was implying finally dawned on him.
"Bruce, I would never--! Donna's my best friend! I could never do anything to hurt her! She's the first girl I've ever kissed! That was the first time...honest!" Dick's expression pleaded to be believed. Bruce held up his hands.
"I believe you, chum. Don't worry about that. But it's my responsibility to have this little talk with you. God knows I wish we could put it off until you were thirty instead of thirteen! And certainly not when the Earth may be facing certain annihilation! But I guess Mother Nature isn't known for picking her battles at a time that's convenient for parents."
Reaching his arm across the bed, he pulled Dick over to him.
"C'mere, chum. Let's have a little talk..."
"And you say that you kissed him by accident?" Diana looked at her younger sister skeptically. Donna nodded vigorously.
"Honest! It was an accident the first time..." her voice dropped.
"The first time?" Diana asked. "You mean there was a second time?"
Donna nodded guiltily. Diana sat down next to her little sister and putting her arm around her settled down for a long talk.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" Diana's voice was quiet and nonjudgmental. Donna looked down at her clasped hands, unable to meet her sister's eyes. How could Donna explain her behavior to Diana, when she couldn't explain it to herself? Donna shrugged helplessly, and unbidden, the tears began to spill again. With a wordless sob, Donna threw her arms around Diana and cried brokenheartedly.
"Oh, sister! I don't know what to do! I'm so mixed up inside. Dick's the last person in the world whom I would wish to hurt!"
Diana hugged her little sister closely, allowing Donna to cry her tears out of her system. When it seemed that the storm had finally passed, Diana spoke in soft soothing tones.
"There now, little one. The world will not come to an end because you're in love. Donna, you are of Man's World...that is why our mother allows you to travel with me and visit. You must learn its ways, because one day, if you wish, you will return permanently and make a home for yourself here." Diana held Donna at arms' length. "Paradise Island will always be your home, but mother knows that it would be wrong of us to force you to remain there."
Diana affectionately caressed her younger sister's face. "Unfortunately, one of the lessons to be learned is that love is sometimes very painful." At Donna's sad look, Diana's eyes smiled gently. "When one thinks with this--" Diana pointed at Donna's heart, "--and not with this--" Diana pointed at Donna's head, "--the choices one makes are based solely on one's feelings and passions...and not tempered by reason. One is bound to make mistakes and come face to face with hurt and confusion."
Diana gave her younger sister a knowing grin. "I need not remind you of mother's rash experience with Heracles, do I?"
Donna emphatically shook her head, no. Queen Hyppolyta's disastrous love affair with the famed demigod ended with the enslavement of her people. Eventually, the queen and a few of her loyal subjects managed to make good their escape, and arriving on Paradise Island swore to forsake Man's World for all eternity. Today no man could set foot on Paradise Island lest the Amazons fall once more into enslavement.
"But I love Roy!" Donna cried. "I can't help myself, dear sister. I can't! Sometimes, when I catch him looking at me, I feel like...like time has suddenly stopped...! And, oh, Diana! I can't breathe! And my chest feels like it will surely burst!" Donna looked helplessly at Diana, her struggle for words to explain her feelings bringing her to the verge of tears again.
"Oh, sister...I don't know why I feel this way with Roy and not with Dick! I love Dick! You know I do! He makes me feel safe and secure. I can speak freely about anything with him, and I know that he won't pass judgement or laugh at me or become angry! With Dick I feel warm and happy at the same time...like when I'm with you or mother."
Donna placed her head on Diana' shoulder, at a loss over the difference in how she felt for Roy and Dick. "When Dick and I kissed for the second time, I thought that I'd lost use of my senses. I never knew you could feel like that just because your lips touched another's...and when his tongue touched mine, I thought my world had exploded!"
At this last, Donna's face was burning hot. To speak of such an intimate detail, even with her sister was almost more than her sensibilities would allow; however, she was desperate to talk to someone of how she'd felt when she and Dick kissed, and of how she felt now.
Donna looked carefully away from her sister while she spoke, but now she dared to take a tentative peek to see how Diana was taking it. To Donna's amazement, Diana's face didn't register the least bit of shock at her behavior. Instead, her older sister was looking at her with loving understanding.
"If this is how you responded when you and Dick kissed, Donna, then I don't understand your earlier assessment of your feelings for him. Surely, this reaction shows that your feelings for Dick run much deeper than you believe."
Donna shook her head, no. "No, sister, it isn't like that, at all. Dick and I kissed because we knew that if we didn't, we'd always be curious about what it would have been like. We found out. It would be so easy to throw caution to the wind and change our relationship, purely based on that one kiss and our mutual reaction. But in the end, I believe that it would be wrong for us to do so."
Donna stopped for a second and smiled, eyes shining. "What makes our relationship so special is that we love each other as friends, not as would-be lovers. Dick is like a brother to me, Diana. I love him surely the same as I love you...I do not wish to lose that love by complicating it with something else. I believe that romance would destroy that special bond which he and I share."
Diana looked long and hard at her little sister, wondering where she could possibly be picking up such complicated notions, which could only lead to further hurt and confusion.
"I see...but how does Dick feel?"
Donna's eyes widened. She'd obviously not given any consideration to Dick's feelings. Maybe he didn't just love her like a sister...maybe...but no! Dick had never given any indication that his feelings for her might go deeper. And yet...his kiss had almost stopped the universe from expanding on its infinite journey to oblivion. And his closing words echoed in her mind...
"If you ever change your mind and decide to dump the jerk, you know where to find me."
No! Donna shook her head adamantly! Her world would not be shaken from its chosen path...Dick was her steady beacon in a world gone mad. He was the guiding light that would never falter...the brother she'd always longed for, the knight to protect her from the perils of Man's World. To ask for his love as well would be an act of pure selfishness, especially when she knew that her heart belonged to Roy.
Diana's heart ached for her younger sister. "Donna, such conflicting emotions in one so young as you will only lead to heartache," Diana sighed, then added fatalistically, "but such is the way the of the heart. Little sister, you are but a child in the throes of first love. You shall find your journey of self- discovery full of new and wondrous vistas."
Diana smiled at Donna's eager smile over her words. Diana tenderly ran her hand through Donna's long sable locks of hair, an unconscious imitation of her mother's mannerism when speaking to the youngest Amazon. Diana's eyes grew sad, as she thought about the pain ahead. Her next words were a warning.
"Your love for Roy Harper today is new and fresh, and you shall see the world through new eyes. But you are still so young. My dear, sweet little sister, there will be others whom you will love in the course of your life...and I promise you that each one will seem just as new and fresh as the one before. And then one day, you will find the one true love with whom you were meant to be." Diana smiled into her sister's eyes.
"Until, then little one, your ability to love will be sorely tested by forces seemingly strewn upon your path to disrupt these first tentative steps towards true love. Only the strongest and bravest of us can survive such a battering. But always remember that the reward at journey's end shall be worth the pain experienced on the way."
Diana didn't know if she could bear to stand idly by and watch the heartbreak that she foresaw befalling her beloved younger sister, for Diana knew that by choosing Roy over Dick, Donna's heart had elected to love the one whom reason warned against.
The Titan-sized vessel's impeller star drives automatically shutdown once forward sensors indicated that the ship was now entering the spiral galaxy's gravity well. The vessel allowed itself to free fall through the galaxy's outer regions comprised of an invisible spherical halo of nonbaryonic dark matter...
"Whoa! What do we have here?" Atom muttered. The Flash zipped to Atom's side. The two scientists were closely studying the real-time readouts on their screens. The new program that Batman had written was already showing some sobering information.
"What? What do we have?" the Flash asked.
"I'm not sure, Barry, but it looks like 'someone's coming for dinner!'"
"Ray, I wish you wouldn't put things that way!" the Flash complained.
Atom and the Flash exchanged uneasy glances. Whatever that thing out there was, it had just entered the extreme outer edge of the third spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, the Orion Arm. The same spiral arm in which the Sol system was located!
"Come on, my friend," Atom said quietly. "We'd best inform the others."
The following morning, Roy sat alone in the small cafeteria, his demeanor signaling all to stay away. The other heroes gave him curious glances, but most automatically honored his unspoken request. Black Canary and Green Arrow exchanged worried looks. Speedy didn't return to their quarters the previous evening, and neither knew where he'd spent the night.
"Ollie, you can't let this continue without comment," Black Canary said softly. She suddenly kicked him under the table. "Ollie! Are you paying attention?" Green Arrow winced at the sudden sharp pain on shins.
"Oww-w!" he howled helplessly. "You're always hurting me!" He whimpered in a little boy voice. Black Canary struggled to keep from bursting into laughter.
"You always do this!" Black Canary said in exasperation. "You always somehow manage to turn a serious situation into a Looney Tunes moment. Don't you have a single serious bone in your body?" Her tone became solemn.
"Ollie, Roy's hurting inside. You've got to do something! Please? Talk to him?"
Green Arrow's eyes studied her pensively for a few moments, then looked awkwardly away.
"Dinah, you know I'm no good at this father/son stuff. Roy's a big boy. If there's something he can't handle, then he'll--"
A movement to their right caught their attention. Robin was approaching Speedy tentatively. Black Canary noticed that the Boy Wonder had a tray with double helpings of everything. She smiled to herself. Robin was making a peace offering...again!
"Hi. May I join you?" Robin asked. Not waiting for a negative response, he sat down. Speedy glared at him. Robin ignored the angry stare and began evenly distributing the JLA Breakfast of Super-Heroes between the two of them.
"I didn't know if you preferred milk or orange juice so I got both," Robin said.
As Robin spoke he began to eat his scrambled eggs and pancakes. They were no where near as good as Alfred's, but he was starving.
"Go on! It's not the best breakfast I've tasted, but it won't kill you!"
Speedy deliberately pushed his plate aside. He stared at Robin as if daring him to say anything. Robin kept on eating. Dropping his voice, so that only Speedy would hear him, Robin kept on talking in a friendly fashion, as if he and the sulky youngster sitting across from him shared a breakfast every morning.
"I remember the pancakes Mom used to make on Saturday mornings! They were the best. It's funny 'cause I was the only one allowed to eat 'em on account of me being the smallest. Dad wouldn't let Mom eat anything that could make her gain weight before a Saturday matinee."
Robin face smiled behind his mask.
"He used to say that he'd be--" Robin lowered his voice even further looking around quickly to see if he was being overheard and continued. "--well, damned." He looked around again, then explained succinctly. "Batman doesn't approve of swearing."
Robin gave Speedy a boyish grin as if he'd just shared something of great profoundness.
"Anyway, Dad wouldn't let Mom eat anything that could 'cause her to gain any weight. He didn't want to catch an additional five to ten pounds during the performance." Robin grinned in remembered amusement.
"Performance? Matinee?" Speedy looked at Robin confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, didn't Donna tell you?" Robin asked innocently. "She told me that she accidentally told you my secret identity. I just assumed that she'd told you everything."
"Look, Robin or Dick or whatever your name is. Donna didn't tell me anything! See? Nothing!" Speedy spoke in low angry tones. While he spoke he jabbed his index finger in the air between himself and the Boy Wonder.
"Oh, I guess I misunderstood her then, when she told me--quote--Robin I told Speedy your secret identity by accident. We were having an argument, and I just blurted it out--unquote." Robin matched Speedy's glare for glare. "Look you little twerp!" Speedy said sharply. The others in the cafeteria turned in shock. "Let's go somewhere where we can talk," he said. Robin nodded curtly.
As the two rival teens walked out, Kid Flash turned to Aqualad.
"Oh boy! A fight! Let's go, Gillhead!" Kid Flash quickly got up to follow.
Aqualad looked concerned.
"I don't understand," he said. "Why would Robin and Speedy fight? They're friends."
"Because Speedy's a jerk, that's why, and Robin's going to show him what's what!" Kid Flash explained.
Aqualad stubbornly stayed put and glared at Kid Flash.
"I suppose you truly believe that that vague and purposely obscure statement clarified the situation."
It was the junior speedster's turn to look confused.
"Huh? Hey, don't they speak English where you come from, Fish head?"
"Why would we speak a land dweller's language?" Aqualad asked reasonably. "We are Atlanteans. Underwater we communicate telepathically. This need to vocalize everything that we must communicate is most tiresome. At times, it becomes difficult to remember the exact sound levels we must project in order for your auditory nerves to receive them."
"You mean you can read minds?" Kid Flash asked nervously.
"No, no," Aqualad reassured the scarlet speedster. "It isn't like that. We Atlanteans communicate telepathically with each other. We can only do so with other telepaths, and then it is limited. For example, I cannot go into Aquaman's mind to see what he is thinking; that is his private domain. I can only listen to what he transmits to me. Much like you cannot know what I intend to say, until I say it!"
"How do you know that?" Kid Flash asked suspiciously. Aqualad stared at him for a second, then rolled his eyes in disgust.
"Let's go," he said shaking his head. "Before Robin and Speedy hurt one another."
As the two teens left the cafeteria another couple were discussing Robin and Speedy's angry departure.
"Ollie, if you don't do something to get the bottom of this, then I will!" Black Canary threatened.
"Dinah, honey, why do you want to get involved in some teenage rivalry between Speedy and Robin? Roy's big enough to take care of himself!" He laughed suddenly. "Roy'll wipe the floor with that little elf!"
Faster than the eye could follow, Black Canary grabbed Green Arrow's wrist and suddenly dumped him unceremoniously on the floor. The rest of the superheroes present broke into spontaneous laughter.
"Bravo! Well done!" The Flash called, clapping his approval.
"May I go next?" Green Lantern asked.
"Hey! What was that for?" Green Arrow spluttered, his dignity hurt. He looked around at his so-called buddies. "Ha-ha, guys. You wouldn't be laughing so hard if your girlfriend could kick your butt!" He protested, then under his breath he muttered, "Super-powered morons!"
"This is why, you big doofus!" Black Canary said quietly. "Robin is an expert martial artist. If he wishes to do so, he could very easily injure Speedy."
"Aw, come on, Pretty Bird," Green Arrow protested, first rubbing his wrist, then another part of his anatomy. "I know Robin's good, but Speedy's got him beat by a good four inches and about fifteen pounds. No way can he best Roy one-on-one."
Black Canary shook her head and sighed, looking at Green Arrow almost pityingly.
"Didn't I just demonstrate that size has nothing to do with ability? Training does. Robin's been trained by the best, remember? I watched Robin flatten both Wonder Girl and Speedy yesterday. I'm not sure that I'd be able to take him one-on-one."
Black Canary glared at her lover, then proceeded to press her point.
"Now, are you getting up off your butt and are you going to do your parental duties, or am I going to have to teach you a lesson or two in self-defense?"
"I guess I thought I could be prepared for just about anything, but girls?" Batman spoke, his back turned determinedly away. "I mean, he's only thirteen! Talking to him about taking down Gotham's crazies is a snap compared to the little conversation I had with him last night!"
Superman smiled in understanding. He was slightly bemused that Batman was opening up to him, albeit reluctantly. Sadly, Superman knew that he was probably the closest thing to a "friend" that Batman had in the JLA. However, because their "friendship" was tenuous at best, Superman would have to choose his words carefully.
"Not having faced that problem myself, Bruce, I'm not sure I can offer any advice. That's more along my Dad's line of work." Superman's smile broadened. "I don't envy you your predicament, my friend. On the other hand, I do envy you that you have the opportunity to be suffering from such a problem."
Batman turned, his expression inscrutable as ever; yet, Superman sensed the quandary underneath the grim exterior.
"That's a fine boy you have, Bruce," Superman reminded him gently. "Be happy his problems are normal teenaged problems, and not something else."
Batman gave a curt nod. He spoke haltingly, unused to confiding in anyone other than Alfred or Dick.
"It seems like only yesterday, that Dick was still sleeping with his stuffed elephant. It was really hard for him at first, as you can well imagine, following his parents' deaths. He was barely nine...and small...God, I never knew kids were so small! I didn't know what I'd gotten myself into. I was only in my mid-twenties myself, and I suddenly found myself the father of a very needy, very lonely, very traumatized little boy!"
Batman walked over to the plate glass viewing window that overlooked the gym below. He leaned over heavily, resting his forehead on the glass.
"More than anything, I saw myself in him, I guess. I just wanted so badly to help him see that his life wasn't over, that hope remained."
Batman gave a rare half-grin.
"I was determined to keep him at arms' length, however. No emotional attachments for me, thank you very much. I told him flat out that I'd be his trainer and his partner, but that I wouldn't be his father."
He shook his head ruefully.
"Dick just looked up me with those big blue eyes of his and nodded his head in solemn agreement. I didn't know it at the time, but I guess I'd already lost that particular resolve. That first night, he slept in my old room and he just looked so helpless lying there sleeping so innocently, so trusting...Did I tell you how little he was?"
Superman nodded his head, knowing that Batman could see his reflection on the window. Batman straightened himself then turned around and gave Superman a wry look.
"I'd stood up against Two-Face, the Joker, Arkham's worst! But against that boy...I guess I just never really stood a chance."
Superman smiled. He didn't say anything, gave no profound words of wisdom. What could he say? Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were extremely lucky that they found each other. Following his parents' deaths, the boy desperately needed someone to give him a home and love. While the man who'd shut himself off from almost all human feeling, himself desperately needed someone to give his life renewed hope.
Instinctively Superman knew that as long as Batman and Robin remained together, their lives would be in balance. A sudden cold hand clutched his heart. What would become of Batman if he ever lost Robin? Superman swallowed. This was neither the time nor place to entertain such thoughts.
"Bru--" Superman was interrupted by Robin and Speedy's entrance down below on the gym floor.
"Why did we come here?" asked Speedy, indicating the JLA training room.
"Because if we're going to have the discussion I think we're going to have," Robin explained, "then we need to make sure that we have as much room to express ourselves as we need."
"What are you talking about?" asked Speedy impatiently.
"I'm talking about the biggest jerk I've ever met in my life," Robin responded coldly. He advanced towards Speedy, jabbing his finger in the junior bowman's chest while he talked. Speedy retreated instinctively.
"Donna likes you--" (jab) "--but that isn't good enough for you is it?" (jab) "You have to try to control her, too." (jab) "Control who her friends are."
Robin stood still, his hands on his hips. He stood toe to toe and nose to chin to Speedy.
Using his height as an advantage, Speedy leaned down slightly and yelled into Robin's face.
"Hey, what's between Donna and me is none of your--"
Grabbing Speedy by the collar, Robin pulled him down to his level.
"Donna's my friend, and that makes her my business. You hurt her. You made her cry. That I won't forgive." Robin suddenly let Speedy go, as if disgusted that he'd touched the junior bowman.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Speedy yelled. He began advancing on Robin, jabbing his finger in imitation of Robin's earlier action. Only problem was that Robin stood his ground defiantly. "You're just jealous 'cause Donna's dating me and not you! You want her for yourself!"
Robin grabbed Speedy by the wrist and twisted slightly. Speedy yelped involuntarily at the unexpected pain, and ended up on his knees.
"Donna's my friend, and I care about her," Robin said quietly, applying a little more pressure. Speedy winced behind his mask, but refused to cry out again. "I thought you did, too. I guess I was mistaken." Robin released his painful grip suddenly, and turned to go. "I'm obviously wasting my time talking to you."
Speedy reached over and grabbed Robin's arm. Before he even knew what happened, Speedy landed head over heels on his posterior looking up at Robin's retreating back. In a sudden fit of anger, Speedy sprang to his feet and took off after Robin. He suddenly leaped, intending to take Robin down with a flying tackle.
When the boys walked into the gym, it was instantly obvious that they weren't there to train. Speedy radiated open defiance and a willingness to start a fight. Robin looked all too ready to take him up on it. Batman moved to the wall intercom to call Robin, but Superman stopped him.
"Bruce, those two have been headed for a fight almost from the start. You know that! They're both practically cut from the same cloth, and now they find out that they each like the same girl? They may be only kids, Bruce, but it doesn't make their feelings any less real to them. If we don't trust them to work out their personal problems on their own, then how are we going to trust them to fight alongside each other against some super-menace?"
Batman's chin jutted out in grim determination. Superman faced him down, his powerful form appearing both intimidating and gentle at the same time. Finally, Batman nodded; however, this was but a momentary retreat, for the Dark Knight would never agree to a full surrender to the Man of Steel.
They both turned to look down at what was happening on the gym floor.
Speedy launched an attack from the rear at Robin. Batman clenched his fist in anger. Speedy was the larger of the two boys, outweighing Robin by a good fifteen pounds; however, Batman hadn't trained Speedy.
At the last possible moment, Robin ducked, and Speedy went flying overhead. Speedy's training saved him from injuring himself. He tucked immediately and executed a shoulder roll when he landed. He came up instantly and attacked.
Robin easily fended off most of Speedy's blows. Speedy was a trained archer. In that area, he was second only to Green Arrow. In hand-to-hand, Robin had the advantage. Using all of his self-discipline, Robin redirected the force of most of Speedy's moves against him. Robin's actions were intended to inflict the least amount of injury to his opponent.
Speedy threw a punch to Robin's chin. Robin easily blocked the blow, grabbed Speedy's wrist, pivoted and tossed him into the air again. During the next quarter-hour, an angry, determined Speedy tried to overpower Robin through sheer brute force. None of Speedy's attacks connected with the young acrobat. To Speedy's increasing fury, it seemed that Robin somehow always managed to either deflect his blows, or simply not be where he'd been a split second before.
"Will you stand still so's I can hit you?" Speedy sputtered in exasperated anger. Robin shrugged.
"Okay," he said agreeably.
Speedy immediately immobilized Robin in a headlock.
"All right, Short Pants. Now we're gonna talk," Speedy said gasping. "You're not gonna see or talk to Donna, y'hear? She's my girl! Not yours. Furthermore, I want you off the team!"
"Oh, really?" Robin asked. He immediately brought his right index finger to a sensitive pressure point just under Speedy's jawline. Speedy instantly reared back to avoid the sudden pain, and before he could blink, Robin had him pinned on the floor mat.
"What you want is the least of my concerns," Robin said quietly. "What Donna wants, however, is. Like I said...Jerk...I care about Donna, and I don't want to see her hurt. What she sees in you is beyond me, but she assures me you're a man of honor. Okay. You've got a deal. I'm off the team. But I want you to understand, it's not because of what you want, but because of Donna. I don't want to see her cry anymore. And if you make her cry again, hotshot, the next time we have a discussion, it's going to be a lot more painful."
To emphasize his point, Robin applied a little pressure on Speedy's right thumb. Speedy gasped at the unexpectedly sharp pain!
"Now, if you'll excuse me," Robin said, "I'm gonna go finish my breakfast."
Up in the observation room, Batman and Superman quickly separated. Batman left to follow Robin, while Superman wanted to speak with Speedy.
Meanwhile, two additional pairs of eyes also witnessed the non-fight. Kid Flash and Aqualad were watching from the gym's in-door track located on the third deck. They were leaning on the railing looking down at the curious proceedings below them.
Kid Flash continuously expressed his disappointment at Robin for not being more aggressive against Speedy.
"I don't get it! Batboy could wipe the floor with that blowhard, yet all he does is...I don't know...looks to me like he's trying to avoid hurting 'im or something!"
"That is exactly what Robin is doing," Aqualad agreed. Pointing suddenly at the two combatants, he ordered, "Watch!"
Speedy suddenly landed and rolled on the mat--again--after being unceremoniously tossed on it--again! He threw himself at Robin's legs. Robin-- again--leaped gracefully into the air. His form was sheer poetry in motion. He almost seemed to defy gravity as he somersaulted three times, gaining momentum with each turn, and elegantly landed on his feet behind Speedy. He patiently waited for Speedy's next attack.
Aqualad shook his head in awe.
"Robin could put a dolphin to shame," he said admiringly.
"Yeah, yeah," Kid Flash said impatiently. "He's a regular Flipper! But when's he gonna flatten that jerk, Speedy?"
"I believe that your wish is about to come true," Aqualad said enigmatically. Sure enough, at this point Robin broke Speedy's hold on him, and ended their discussion.
"It's over?" Kid Flash asked disappointedly. "Hey, nothing happened!"
"That's where your wrong, Wally," Aqualad replied sadly. "I'm afraid that too much has happened. Come on. Let's speak with Speedy. I believe he needs a friend just about now."
"Friend? You wanna be that idiot's friend? No thanks! I'll talk to him all right, but if he needs a friend, he's gonna die a very lonely death before I offer him any friendship!"
Aqualad walked out while Kid Flash was venting his frustration. When he finished talking, Kid Flash realized that he was alone on the track.
"Hey, Gillhead! Where'd you go?" Kid Flash hurried out after the young Atlantean.
Speedy spun at the sound of his name. Aqualad was standing in the doorway, his arms crossed. His demeanor was slightly different, a little less timid than usual. Closer to defiance, Speedy thought.
"What do you want, Gillhead," Speedy asked annoyed. He was exhausted after his "discussion" with Robin. He hadn't slept all night, either, and now all Speedy wanted was to go to bed.
"I wish a word with you," Aqualad replied.
"Make that two words, Arrowhead," Kid Flash chimed in.
"Look, guys, I'm not in the mood right now. I'm tired and I just want to be alone, okay?"
"No, it is not 'okay,' as you say," Aqualad said. "We observed your little altercation with Robin, and we're concerned about you."
"Concerned about me?" Speedy said sardonically. "Since when?"
"Yeah, Gillhead," Kid Flash asked. "Since when?"
"Since we're teammates," Aqualad answered. He elbowed Kid Flash, annoyed at the young speedster's denseness. "We wish only to help, Speedy."
Speedy stood in the middle of the room, obvious disbelief on his face. "Why should you want to help me, Garth?" he asked, his voice ragged.
"Yeah, Garth," Kid Flash agreed. "Why?" Aqualad gave him a warning look.
"Like I said, because we're teammates, and teammates are supposed to help each other when they're in trouble, aren't they?"
"Who says I'm in trouble?" Speedy asked obstinately.
"Jeez, Roy!" Kid Flash said exasperatedly. "You sure don't want to make this any easier, do you?"
"Why should I?" Speedy yelled. "You've both made it clear that you have little use for me!"
"Hey! What do you expect?" Kid Flash replied hotly. "You act like such a jerk most of the time. What are we supposed to do? Pretend that it's okay with us? You've been on Robin's case almost from the beginning. You won't give him half a chance! He's tried several times to shake hands with you, and each time you've slapped it back in his face. Now you're fighting over his friendship with Donna?"
Kid Flash shook his head in disgust.
"Get real, man! If Donna and Robin were even a little bit interested in each other, do you think that she'd even bother to take a second look at you? Donna's not some super-bimbo without a brain! She's got a mind of her own! I'm with Rob," Kid Flash added by way of conclusion. "I can't figure out what she sees in you, but that's none of my business."
Aqualad jumped into the conversation.
"She has known Robin longer than any of us, Roy. They're friends," he said in uncharacteristic frustration. "Just as we are friends. I don't understand this petty jealousy you continue to demonstrate. Robin is our leader. We trust him with our lives. Surely, you can trust him with your girlfriend?"
"Trust who?" they all turned to see Donna standing in the doorway.
Robin stopped at the familiar menacing tone. Now what? He didn't bother turning around. Batman would catch up soon enough. As soon as the Dark Knight came up alongside him, Robin started walking, matching his mentor stride for stride. Not an easy task usually, but Batman deliberately cut his normal stride in half in order for his junior partner to be able to walk with him without having to run.
Batman stopped outside the JLA lounge.
"In here," he said. He opened the door and waited for Robin to precede him, then followed him in. Batman activated the door's privacy lock to prevent anyone walking in and disturbing them.
"You heard," Robin said without preamble.
"No," Batman replied. "I saw!"
Robin turned to him confused.
"I didn't hear what you and Speedy were arguing about, although I can guess; but I witnessed your...'discussion'."
"Oh," Robin replied in a quiet voice. His head hanging unhappily, he suddenly sat. "I'm sorry, Batman. I guess I didn't handle it very well." He looked up at his mentor. "And, even worse...I quit."
He stated the last part so quietly that Batman had to strain to hear him.
"You quit?" Batman asked, caught off guard. Robin nodded miserably.
"Yes, sir. In addition to being a lousy leader," Robin said, "I'm a quitter, too. I guess you're just really proud of me, huh?"
Batman sat down next to him.
"Okay, chum, tell me the whole story." Robin nodded and proceeded to report the details of the conversation.
"So, I decided that the best thing for everyone was that I just quit the team. I mean as long I'm with the Titans, Speedy and I are just going to clash. I'm not sure why, but he just rubs me wrong, Batman! I've tried to be friends, but he keeps insulting me, practically goading me into hitting him! I don't understand him! Why is he like that? I mean, if I'd done something to him, I could understand, but I haven't treated him any differently than the others!"
"I don't know, chum. Everyone carries some kind of excess baggage on them...the sum total of their lives. Somewhere, somehow that boy was hurt. Deeply it would seem. For some reason, you've become the whipping boy he's selected to lash out at because of that hurt. If I were you, I wouldn't take it too personally. Whatever problems Speedy has are his, not yours."
"But I quit, Batman!" Robin looked forlorn. "All I wanted was to have some friends my own age. That's all! It isn't fair! I didn't do anything!"
"Robin, how old are you?"
Robin looked at Batman like he'd suddenly sprouted horns.
"You how old I am, Batman!"
"Bear with me, chum. I asked you a question. How old are you?"
"Thirteen," Robin answered perplexed.
"And do you know what being thirteen means?" Batman asked. Robin shook his head, still mystified.
"It means, that you're entitled to make mistakes, and more importantly, to change your mind." Batman put his hand on Robin's shoulder. "No one could ever expect a thirteen-year-old, who made a promise that was clearly against his best interests, to keep his end of such a bargain."
"But, you've always said that a man's word is his bond!" Robin protested.
"Yes, I did," Batman agreed. "I still hold that to be true. But that's only in a matter of honor."
Batman suddenly stood up.
"This is nothing more than childish petulance on the part of Speedy. You gave your word to keep the peace, and I'm proud of you for it. You're thinking of the Titans before you think of yourself. But no one, Robin, not even I, would expect you to keep a promise that was made under duress."
Robin stood and faced his mentor defiantly.
"Maybe no one else would expect it of me, Batman," Robin said quietly. "But I'd expect it of myself."
He turned to leave the room. When he reached the door, Robin paused momentarily, and not looking back, he spoke quietly.
"I thought you'd expect it of me, too."
Batman stood and faced the door that his boy exited from for a few minutes. His outer features gave no hint of the inner turmoil he was feeling at the moment.
"Trust who?" Donna repeated. She looked at the three boys who all suddenly looked like they'd rather be somewhere else. Any place else. Donna had a sudden sinking feeling.
"Where's Robin?" she asked. When no answer was forthcoming, she turned to Aqualad. The Atlantean never lied and never garnished the truth. "Garth, where's Robin? What's going on here?"
Aqualad dropped his eyes, unable to meet her anger. Taking a deep breath, he slowly raised his lavender eyes and met her determined blue ones with a slight hesitation.
"I do not know his exact location, if that's what you are asking; however, he did leave here rather hastily."
"Why?" Donna asked. "Why did he leave here in haste? Wally? Roy?"
Wally blushed awkwardly. Donna always made him a little nervous, because she was so pretty. When she was angry, however, he knew that the only thing that could save him was his speed. He felt himself instinctively sidling away from her.
Wally shrugged his shoulders helplessly.
"I-uh, I'm not really sure, uh, Donna," he managed to stutter.
"I'm not really sure, Donna," she repeated sarcastically. She turned ominously towards Speedy. "Roy, you're the only one left. Where's Robin, and why did he leave here in such a hurry? And what were you talking about as I walked in?"
Feeling foolish and guilty, Speedy took a deep breath, and proceeded to answer her questions. As he related the events of a few minutes before, Donna's eyes widened first in shock, then in anger, then in hurt.
"You fought over me?" she asked outraged. "How dare you? How dare you question my choice of friends? Who do you think you are, Roy Harper? Great Hera! Mother warned me about becoming involved with men! She said you were all treacherous...that in the end, all you would do was try to enslave me and all the other women! I should have listened to her...to the history of my people!"
She began to cry.
"I can't believe you'd betray me this way. I can't believe you'd betray Robin! All he wanted was to be to your friend! Did you know that? Did you ever stop to think about other people's feelings? We're the only friends he has, and because of you, Roy Harper, he's decided to walk away from it all. Because he thinks that the Titans are more important than his need to have friends!"
She whirled around and began walking out of the training room. At the door she stopped, and turned to look at Roy again.
"I told him yesterday that you were a man of honor. He told me that he was going to talk to you this morning about his family. Try to make you understand. He said that because you two were the only ones without superpowers that he felt that you and he could be good friends."
Donna gave Roy a look that could freeze molten lava.
"I guess Robin was wrong about you. Apparently, I was too." She turned and stalked out.
Kid Flash and Aqualad both advanced menacingly on Speedy.
"There isn't much to add after that," Kid Flash said. "Except this: It'll be a cold day in hell when we let you lead the Titans!" With that, he too turned and walked out.
Aqualad hung back for a moment. Speedy looked at him with dawning hope, but Aqualad suddenly shook his head, as if in deep disappointment. Then, he followed Wonder Girl and Kid Flash out the door.
Speedy remained standing in the middle of the gym floor. He hadn't felt this alone since his tribe had disowned him.
The colossal ship's impeller drives came to an all stop. The ship's Artificial Intelligence assessed the situation. Carefully formulated transmissions to the third planet from the M-type yellow star had not been answered. The AI determined that more data was needed.
It sent a short signal to the launch room located hundreds of levels below. Long-dormant launch tables were suddenly activated. Slowly at first, conveyor belt motors began spinning. Overhead steel cables and grabbling hooks moved silently along well maintained though long unused metal beams.
Mighty doors slammed open suddenly and revealed smaller, skyscraper-sized ships...
After Batman left the JLA lounge, the Atom came out from where he'd been hiding. "Well, I wouldn't call it hiding exactly," Atom said to himself. "I was just staying out of their way."
He'd come in earlier to relax. Once it became obvious that the anomaly was indeed on a trajectory towards earth, Atom stayed in the monitor room for several more hours until all the readings began to blur. Green Lantern finally shooed him out and ordered him to get some sleep.
When Batman and Robin walked in originally, Atom was taking a nap on his favorite bookshelf. It included works by Dickens and Dumas. Ray Palmer might be a physicist by profession, but he was a romantic at heart. He set up his miniature couch on the bookshelf and curled up to read for a few minutes respite.
Atom promptly fell asleep only to be awakened an hour later by quiet voices, one young and agitated, the other deep and somewhat uncertain. When the Atom finally came to full awareness, he realized that he'd been listening in his sleep for some time to a very personal conversation between Batman and Robin.
Atom felt embarrassed. Obviously he was intruding on a private moment. Should he interrupt and excuse himself? After all, his presence was totally accidental, he told himself.
Oh, yeah? Atom replied, and how will I explain that I was here for however long that they've been here?
Atom opted for the better part of valor, a quiet retreat. He reduced himself to an even smaller size and ensconced himself comfortably on the back binding of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Atom decided that it was better for all concerned if he said nothing for the moment. He waited patiently for the father/son drama to play itself out, then when Batman followed Robin out the door, Atom emerged from where he'd been perched, guiltily listening.
"Who'da thunk it?" Atom mused. "The Bats really loves the little guy." He smiled suddenly. "Well, looks like it's up to Doctor Palmer, Freshman Class advisor and coolest guy on campus, to stick his nose into something that is totally none of his business!"
Atom left the lounge to find his best friend and sometime partner, the Flash.
As he was about to walk into the gym, Superman was unceremoniously shoved aside by Green Arrow.
"'Scuse me, Supes," Green Arrow said irreverently. In order to avoid injuring GA, Superman allowed himself to be pushed. Standing to the side, Superman watched his outspoken teammate walk towards Speedy.
"Thank you for caring, Superman," Black Canary said behind him. Superman smiled as he turned to her.
"Speedy looked like he could use a friend just about now," Superman said quietly.
As always, whenever the Man of Steel smiled directly at her, Black Canary felt her knees suddenly wobble. It's not that she was attracted to Superman, she told herself; at least, no more so than any other woman on the planet. It was just that Superman was the living embodiment of perfection.
On the outside, Superman had the power to level mountains and change the course of raging rivers. On the inside, he was gentle and kind. He rarely raised his voice or showed anger. On the occasions that he did, he usually directed it at some overwhelming super-menace that was threatening his beloved adopted home world.
It was just like Superman to show interest in Speedy's problem.
"Excuse me?" Superman asked. Black Canary's eyes widened. She must've spoken out loud, and as Batman said earlier, Superman's hearing wasn't one of his failings.
"I said that it's just like you to show concern for Speedy." Black Canary said smoothly, then shrugged anxiously. "I've been worried about Roy this entire visit."
They were suddenly interrupted by an angry shout.
"What do you care?" Roy yelled. "Every since she showed up, she's all you're interested in. She's the only one you care about! You're hardly ever home any more--!"
Green Arrow said something that Black Canary couldn't hear.
"Don't give me that, Ollie! It's too late to try and play the part of the concerned parent! Remember the last time the both of you left on some JLA mission? You left me alone for three months! You said that I was old enough to look out for myself. Well guess what? I totally agree!"
Speedy saw Black Canary standing near the door.
"There she is, Ollie! She's the only thing that matters to you. Well, that's okay with me! I don't need a father! I don't need a partner! And I don't need you!"
Speedy turned to walk out of the gym, but Green Arrow grabbed him by the arm. Speedy whirled and punched his mentor, partner, and guardian squarely on the chin. Not expecting the attack, Green Arrow didn't duck and took the full brunt of the blow. He went down instantly.
"Stay away from me, Ollie. Stay away from me, or I swear I'll hit you again!" With that Speedy stalked out.
"Superman, please go to Speedy," Black Canary pleaded. "He shouldn't be alone right now. Please?" Superman nodded, then lifted gently and flew out the door.
Black Canary hurried over to the dazed Green Arrow. After what Speedy had said, she was even more worried. No wonder Roy seemed so angry and out of sorts! She'd been blind to the problem because she was so close to it.
In Roy's eyes, Dinah was the problem!
Of course Roy was jealous, Black Canary realized. He and Ollie had shared a bachelor living existence for several years. Then she came along and practically usurped Ollie's attention. Not that Oliver Queen had been a monk before Dinah Lance came into the picture, but none of Ollie's previous relationships with women had been serious.
Roy worshipped Ollie, and now he felt like he was being shoved aside, abandoned--again! All because of her! She and Ollie had to talk to Roy. Make him understand that just because they loved each other it didn't mean that Roy meant any less to Ollie. And to her.
Black Canary admitted that she was extremely fond of the young teen. She couldn't bear to see him hurting. Roy lost his father when he was little more than a baby, then Brave Bow, Roy's adoptive father also passed away. He left Roy in the hands of his Native American tribe who treated Roy as an outsider, and thus ostracized him.
Alone and abandoned, the boy found out about Green Arrow and worked to become his partner. Ollie immediately took to the boy and became his legal guardian. Sometimes Dinah wondered if Ollie even realized the extent of Roy's deep feelings for him.
"Uhhhnn," Green Arrow groaned as he slowly regained consciousness.
"Ollie," Black Canary called worriedly. "Ollie, are you all right?"
"Uhhhnn, what happened?" Green Arrow moaned.
"Roy decked you," Black Canary explained ruefully. "What did you say to him, you idiot?"
Green Arrow grimaced in pain. He brought his hand tenderly to his jaw.
"What you told me to say," he said, still a bit dazedly. "That we were worried about him, and wanted him to tell us what was bothering him."
"Hmmm. That's probably what set him off. The we part, I'm afraid. It looks like Roy does have a problem, and the problem is yours truly...Me! We have to talk to him, Ollie. This time without punches, hopefully."
Green Arrow looked up at Black Canary and slowly sat up. He recalled the look of anger and contempt in his ward's eyes. He remembered trying to reason with him, trying to be the "concerned parent," as Roy had mocked. Green Arrow felt strangely guilty over Roy's words. Soon his guilt turned to self-righteous anger.
Okay, the kid didn't want a father or a partner? Fine with him! He didn't need to be saddled with some disruptive teen at home either. His eyes narrowed in anger. Give a kid some freedom and what does it get you? Sucker punched is what!
"You talk to him," Green Arrow said. "The kid's made it clear he wants nothing from me. And that's perfectly all right by me! I never claimed to be the world's greatest dad. I just wanted to be his friend, his pal, y'know? And this is how he pays me back."
Black Canary leaned back on her ankles. She couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"Of course, Roy said he doesn't want anything from you!" She protested. "He's hurting inside! Ollie, Roy's only fourteen years old. The people who raised him abandoned him when he was only eleven! He worships you, Ollie. He thinks you're abandoning him, too, for me. You've got to make him understand that I'm not a threat to your relationship with him."
"You bet you're not a threat, Pretty Bird," Green Arrow responded darkly. "'Cause as of today, there is no relationship between me and the kid! It's over! He called it quits. Well, it's just fine with me!"
"I don't believe I'm hearing this!" Black Canary said in shock. "Ollie, I've always known that in many ways you're nothing more than an irresponsible overgrown little boy. But when it came to Roy, I felt that you had nothing but the best intentions. I've often bit my tongue, when I thought you were being way too permissive with him, because I thought you really loved him."
Black Canary shook her head, and looked at Green Arrow as if for the first time.
"Maybe I've been wrong about you. Maybe you didn't set any rules, and gave him too much freedom, not because you cared about him, because you just didn't want to be bothered with him."
She stood up slowly.
"I don't think I know you, Oliver Queen. And from what I'm seeing right now, I don't think I want to know you!"
"Hey, Pretty Bird, it's not like that," Green Arrow protested, reaching his hand out to her. "I swear!"
Black Canary began backing out slowly, avoiding his touch.
"I thought Batman was too harsh with Robin, that he didn't need to keep such tight leash on the boy. At least I can see that he does what does because he's overly protective. You, on the other hand, just don't care!"
The last words were torn out of her. Black Canary whirled around and ran out of the gym. She couldn't bear to look at the man she'd thought she loved any longer.
"Dinah, it's not like that. I love that kid," Green Arrow said. But he was speaking to an empty room.
Speedy ran down the corridor towards his quarters. Everything was going so wrong! Everyone was mad at him! First Robin, then Donna, then the other Titans. Now Ollie hated him, too! What was the matter with him? Why did the people who meant the most to him always grow to hate him, instead? Why couldn't he hold on to people he loved?
As he ran, Speedy suddenly felt a firm, but gentle hand grip his shoulder. He immediately ducked and rolled. Or, at least, that was what he'd intended. Instead, Speedy felt himself being lifted bodily and flown down the corridor. He tried struggling at first, but when he realized who had him, he gave up.
Yeah, like I can get away from Superman, Speedy thought sardonically.
"Relax, son," Superman said. "I want to show you something."
Robin stomped into his quarters and quickly crossed the outer living area, jerking off his mask and cape as he did so. As he walked into his bedroom, Robin angrily tossed his mask and cape aside and threw himself on the bed.
"I'm only thirteen, he said! I don't have to keep my word, he said! It's not a matter of honor, he said!" Robin suddenly scrambled to his feet and began pacing.
"I just don't get it! You think you know a guy, then he pulls a one-eighty on you! What am I supposed to do now? Go back on my word? I can't do that!" Robin stopped his pacing. "I won't do that. Not even for you, Bruce."
"What about for me?"
Robin whirled around.
"Donna! What are you doing here? How'd you get in here?"
Wonder Girl smiled a little guiltily. "You left the door to your quarters unlocked. I tried knocking, but you didn't answer. I know I shouldn't have walked in...I'm sorry."
Robin glared at her for a few seconds, then sighed.
"Come on! Let's talk in the outer room! You're crazy, you know that? If Bruce or your sister ever found out that you just barged into my room like this, we'd both be in trouble!"
"Why should you be in trouble? I'm the one who barged in."
"Yeah, and I'm the one who left my quarters unsecured," Robin reminded her. He shook his head at Wonder Girl's naivete, and grabbed her by the wrist leading her determinedly to the outer living area. "Boy! If I have to listen to another of Bruce's father/son lectures on girls I'll kill myself!"
Wonder Girl blushed at the underlying implication of Robin's words. "Oh!" she said softly, embarrassed.
Relenting slightly, Robin smiled and added, "Come on. Let's check and see if there's anything to eat in the refrigerator."
"Great! 'Cause I'm starved!"
Both Robin and Wonder Girl spun at the unexpected voice.
"Kid Flash! Aqualad!" Wonder Girl's eyes widened at the intrusion. She turned to Robin, her hands clasped across her mouth. "Robin! I'm so--"
"--Don't say it, Wonder Girl!" Robin said, holding his hand out in a stopping motion. "Just don't say it, please?"
Robin stood in the middle of his unsecured quarters fully unmasked! How am I ever going to explain this to Batman, he thought miserably?
"So...what's to eat?" Kid Flash asked.
"Where are we?" Speedy asked. Superman had flown him into a small, enclosed room barely large enough for the two of them.
"You'll see," Superman said enigmatically.
Speedy heard a small click, then a louder groaning sound, followed by a long hiss.
"What was that?" he asked nervously.
"Don't worry, son," Superman reassured him. "You're perfectly safe." As soon as the words were out of Superman's mouth, it seemed to Speedy as if the satellite's bulkheads were collapsing around him.
"My God!" Speedy cried out panicked. "There must've been some kind of explosion! There's a breach on the starboard bulkhead!" He started running out the exit, but Superman caught him.
"Calm down, Speedy," Superman said in quiet soothing tones. "There's no breach, and we're in no danger. Watch."
Superman pointed up. Speedy's eyes followed Superman's pointing finger. What he saw took his breath away. The bulkhead was slowly opening, peeling away, almost like tulip petals opening in the sun. The aperture started immediately overhead, at twelve o'clock and kept widening.
As the bulkhead peeled away, Speedy's eyes grew ever wider, holding him enthralled in wonder. It felt as if he and Superman were standing on the edge of eternity, with nothing between them and the rest of the universe. Intellectually, Speedy knew that he and Superman were probably protected by some kind of transparent titanium, the same material as in the JLA lounge's viewing port. But this?
Speedy never knew this observation deck existed! Even the floor was transparent. He felt as if he were hanging in space without a safety line. The view was stunning. He didn't have the words to articulate his emotions. He was in too much awe.
The Earth hung like an exquisite blue jewel directly beneath them. The moon was peeking shyly from behind her larger sister. Speedy turned 360 degrees. In that direction, he could make out Venus. Mars lay further on. Sol burned steadily and brightly, his white light bringing nourishment and energy to the billions of living beings and organisms that inhabited the planet below.
"Makes our own petty problems seem rather insignificant, doesn't it?" Superman murmured. "Whenever I start to feel like I'm King of the World, or get on some other super-ego trip, I come up here and get my perspective back."
Superman smiled a little embarrassed.
"When I was growing up and discovering just how different I was from everyone else, and frustrated because I couldn't tell anyone, couldn't share my secret with even my best friends...well, you can only imagine how lonely I felt."
Superman looked at Speedy a little sadly, and Speedy, in turn, began to realize how lonely the Man of Steel's childhood must have been. Speedy couldn't imagine how it must feel being the last of your kind. The enormity of the insight left him feeling profoundly sorry for the Last Son of Krypton.
"Pa took me aside and told me that the problems of one kid with superpowers didn't really amount to a hill of beans when you took in the big picture."
Superman smiled suddenly and opened his arms wide, encompassing the entire universe.
"The universe is bigger than me, Speedy. It's bigger than either one of us! Bigger even than that small, beautiful planet we both call home. Whatever's out there will be coming here soon. We don't know yet if it's friend or foe. Our own problems may seem insurmountable at times, but when you look at the big picture--"
"--When you look at the big picture, our problems suddenly seem pretty trivial," Speedy finished. He stood, head hanging, feeling thoroughly ashamed of himself. Speedy felt Superman's comforting hand on his shoulder, reassuring him.
"Son, I know that you're hurting inside. I know that it seems as if the whole world's turned against you. But I assure you that's not true. I can't help you with whatever problems you and Ollie are having. I'm afraid that that's something the two of you will have to iron out. The same goes for your earlier fight with Robin."
At Speedy's startled look, Superman nodded.
"Yes, I'm afraid that I saw what happened. It seemed to me that Robin went out of his way not to hurt you, didn't he?"
Speedy's face darkened immediately.
"He didn't have to!" He protested hotly. "I could've taken him eventually!"
"Perhaps, but why would you want to hurt one of your teammates? One of your friends?
"I don't know what you're talking about! That little twerp is no friend of mine!" Speedy stubbornly denied, then added suspiciously, "And why are you so interested in me anyway? Why's everyone suddenly so interested in my welfare, huh? Ollie certainly hasn't expressed any concern before today. Or are you just afraid that I would've hurt your precious little Boy Wonder?"
Speedy shrugged Superman's hand from his shoulder.
"Why don't you just leave me alone?" Speedy cried out in anguish. "Why doesn't everybody just leave me alone?"
"There's a lot of bile building up inside of you, son. If you don't try to stop it soon, it's going to reach critical mass. And before you know it, you will be alone. All alone."
End of Part 1