Huh, this might very well be the fastest I've ever updated - how 'bout that? I admit I borrowed some dialogue from the YJ episode "Image," so if you recognize anything, it ain't mine (ha! Did you see that? Sneaky disclaimer!).

Before we begin, I just want to say how much I sincerely appreciate all of your support over the course of this story. Originally I planned for this to be about 8 chapters, but it kind of blew up and now here we are two years later at chapter 11. Wow, just wow. And I really couldn't have done it without you guys, so thank you so much for keeping me inspired!

I hope you all enjoy the guest appearances in this chapter! Stay tuned for twists and turns! Now, without further ado, I present:


Last chapter re-cap:

The soldiers parted way and Queen Bee led X to a military-style Jeep, where a pale man, his head semi-transparent and proudly displaying his over-large brain, greeted them with a poisonous smile.

"My name is Psimon," the man said, "Welcome, Red-X."

The two shook hands before the Jeep started up and carried the trio off into the depths of the Quracan wilderness.

Thousands of miles away, Raven paused in taking a sip from her tea as a feeling of foreboding washed over her. Frowning, she briefly tuned out M'gann's happy chattering and concentrated on the feeling of dread, even as it was quickly fading away.

Something's not right, she realized, her amethyst eyes narrowing, I feel like something important has been set in motion.

Yes, Raven thought as a subtle shift in the atmosphere of the entire Earth-16 dimension caught her attention and simultaneously confirmed her suspicions, Somewhere, a plan has begun and dominoes are beginning to fall.

For some reason, this certainty reminded Raven of the inevitability of her destiny as the Gem of Scath, and she couldn't help but shiver slightly in dread.

X, Raven wondered absently, knowing deep down that the masked man must have a part in this, what have you done?

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

Raven knew the exact moment her peace was going to be interrupted, but although she had sensed him enter the room; she still jumped slightly when he growled in a dark, demanding voice, "Where is he?"

Taking a deep breath, Raven turned to face the intruder, her mug of herbal tea clasped in her hands. Since her hood was down, she took advantage of her clear line of sight to make eye contact with the intruder through his white optic lenses, giving him a flat stare.

"Where is who?" the empath asked in monotone.

"The man known as Red-X," Batman clarified, glaring, "Where is he?"

Raven considered him quietly before she replied simply, "I don't know where X is."

"Really," Batman said, his anger making him seem even larger as shadows loomed behind him, "Why don't I believe you?"

"It's the truth," Raven retorted, unruffled by his attempt to intimidate her.

His eyes narrowed, "You could find him if you wanted to."

"Yes," Raven admitted, "But he asked me not to follow him, and I respect him enough to leave him alone. Besides, he promised he'd return eventually."

"And you trust him?" Batman seemed to lower his hackles, but he was still giving off a threatening aura.

Knowing this was a test, Raven took a while before replying, choosing her words carefully: "I trust him to keep his word."

"Fine," Batman rumbled, and suddenly his face was blank again, his emotions bound up tightly. The two continued to watch each other for a moment before Batman turned to leave.

"The Team has a mission," he said shortly, "I want you to be at the briefing in five minutes."

Raven didn't respond, but Batman left anyway. Once he was gone, Raven looked down into her mug of tea and sighed.

X, she thought darkly, The next mission for this group of kids better not involve you.

As soon as she had that thought, however, Raven shook her head ruefully, Who am I kidding? We'll just have to wait and see.

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

When the Young Justice team had gathered for their mission briefing, Raven was disturbed to feel waves of shame and anger coming off Miss Martian, who remained quiet when she entered the room instead of bouncing on the balls of her feet and smiling like she usually did.

J'onn's niece was not the only one acting out-of-sorts, however; Kid Flash was pouting in the corner because he had lost his rematch fight to Artemis, who had returned home the previous day because she had to catch up on school work.

Robin was standing by Wally, waiting patiently for the briefing to begin. He had given Raven a respectful nod when he noticed her unexpected presence. Raven had acknowledged him in turn and was now focused on M'gann, who was staring at her feet. Superboy was by her side, looking confused at her sullen attitude.

Raven frowned and had opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, when Batman entered the room, activated a holographic screen, and signaled for quiet. The Team fell obediently silent, and the briefing began.

"This is Rumaan Harjavti," Batman said, as a man of Middle Eastern descent appeared on the screen, "the democratically elected leader of Qurac. He has been praised as a fair, wise leader and a humanitarian."

"Sure," Wally drawled quietly to Robin, snapping out of his defeated slump, "And a friend of Bruce Wayne's."

Batman continued as though he hadn't heard of the comment, "Harjavti has allied himself with a dictator of the neighboring country of Bialya – Queen Bee."

Superboy scowled and grunted, "Not a fan."

"Few are," the Dark Knight acknowledged dryly, "But Harjavti backs Queen Bee and her baseless claim that their two countries were once one nation in ancient times. The two countries are set to re-unify at a ceremony in Qurac in two days, after which Harjavti says he will step down as President and hand over the reigns entirely to Queen Bee."

"And the Quarcies are okay with this?" Wally asked incredulously.

"Hardly," Batman replied as pictures of Quracan protestors appeared on the screen, "They are well aware of Queen Bee's brutality, but Harjavti refuses to back down. He has stifled the press, shut down legal protests, and invited Bialyan military into his country to enforce martial law."

"Queen Bee has to be controlling Harjavti," Robin said grimly. He tilted his head, "Doesn't she have the power to control most men?"

"And some women," his mentor confirmed, "But not by long distance. We've received confirmation she hasn't left Bialya. Something else is at work here," Batman's eyes narrowed and he ordered, "Find out what."

"Robin," he continued, "You're team leader."

The Boy Wonder's eyes widened in shock, but Kid Flash didn't miss a beat.

"Sweet!" Wally cheered, raising his hand for a high-five, "Promotion!"

Robin ignored him, stepping forward, "Me? But – what about Aqualad?"

Raven had also wondered about the quiet teen's absence from the briefing, and Batman answered her suspicions by saying smoothly, "He's helping Aquaman. You're the next logical choice."

"Great," Robin muttered, sounding irritated. Why is Batman doing this now? he pondered. The last mission I sort-of-led made him angry because I allowed potential hostiles in our base. If he wasn't happy with my last performance, why is he making me Team Leader again?

"Robin," Batman said quietly, and the Boy Wonder reluctantly looked up at him, "You have the ability to make good decisions under stress, which is why I trust you with this mission."

And suddenly it was like a weight had been lifted from Robin's shoulders as he understood what was left unspoken; Batman wasn't angry with him for allowing X and Raven into the Cave; he trusted the Boy Wonder to make the right decisions, even when they may be unorthodox. This realization made Robin's heart swell slightly, and the moment was broken by Wally.

"Dude," he whined, waving his red-gloved hand around, "You totally left me hanging!"

Smirking, Robin gave him a high-five, and then turned back to the holographic screen as Batman continued the mission briefing.

After the Dark Knight had finished explaining their assignment, he dismissed them to head to the Bioship. Robin turned to go, but stopped when he realized something.

"Hey," he called to his mentor, "Where's X?"

The rest of the Team also stopped, waiting to hear the Dark Knight's reply. However, to their surprise, it was Raven who answered, "X is out on a mission. He'll be back by the time you're finished in Qurac."

The Team was still curious, but they curbed their desire for more information and instead made their way to the Bioship, leaving Raven and Batman alone in the briefing room.

"I certainly hope X has returned by then," Batman said lowly, stalking past Raven on the way to the Boom Tubes.

Raven waited until he was out of earshot before allowing herself to sigh and murmur, "So do I."

Closing her eyes, she teleported to a quiet place in the Cave, determined to meditate and find out more about the troubling shift she had felt in this dimension. With any luck, she could figure out what part X had to play and put a stop to it before something terrible happened.

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

Superboy wasn't sure what to think about his girlfriend's connection to Marie Logan. On one hand, he was happy that she had gotten the chance to meet her idol, but on the other hand he was slightly confused. Why hadn't she told him about the Hello, Megan! show? Why hadn't she trusted him?

Superboy was startled out of his musings by Marie Logan's son, Garfield (or Gar, as he preferred to be called), when the little boy announced his discovery of the Hello, Megan! pilot episode. He watched as the kid put the VHS tape in the player, but was distracted by a slight buzzing in his ears.

Frowning, Superboy concentrated, trying to figure out what it was . . . . Connor's eyes widened as the answer dawned on him and he leaped up, alarmed, "There's aircraft headed this way!"

Robin and Kid Flash leaped into action and followed him out of the house, ordering Gar to stay put for his own good.

"What is it?" Marie Logan asked, startled by their sudden appearance. In reply, three hostile aircraft appeared in the sky and started raining bullets down on the Logan Animal Sanctuary.

Out of his peripheral vision, Superboy registered Robin and Kid Flash diving to safety, but all Connor's focus zeroed in on Miss Martian as she tackled Marie to the ground. Moving faster than he had thought himself capable, Superboy crouched down and wrapped his arms around the two women, shielding their bodies with his own.

As the planes roared out of range overhead and the hail of bullets stopped for a moment, Marie scrambled to her feet and grabbed Connor by the shoulders, shaking him in desperation, "Where is my son?!"

"I ordered him to stay in the house," Robin replied as he stepped out from under the shelter of the porch.

"He's eight," Marie retorted in exasperation and fear, "He doesn't do orders!"

Sure enough, in the distance one of the animal sanctuary barn doors opened and a flood of animals streamed out, shepherded by a small boy with striking red hair.

"It's okay!" Garfield waved at them from the barn doorway, "I got the animals out!"

At that moment, the planes returned for a second attack, and one of them aimed right at the barn. Bullets kicked up dust and earth, turning the barn walls into Swiss cheese until one ricocheted off of a fuel tank and exploded. In a matter of seconds, the barn was blown to smithereens and little Garfield Logan disappeared beneath the smoke and debris with a high-pitched scream.

"GARFIELD!" Marie cried out in anguish for her son, distraught. Superboy grabbed her before she could run toward the burning building, and felt a blast of wind as M'gann flew by at break-neck speed. His heart in his throat, Superboy watched as his girlfriend caught Gar's body before it hit the ground.

Cradling the limp boy, Miss Martian returned to earth and gently handed him to Marie. Garfield groaned but did not wake up.

A loud roar distracted their attention as the planes dipped their wings to return for yet another assault. Glaring with determination, Miss Martian and Superboy leapt/flew away to deal with them.

Before letting out an angry shout and driving his fist into the underbelly of a plane, Superboy's sensitive hearing picked up on Marie saying bitterly to Robin, "I told you there'd be consequences," to which Robin replied grimly, "Always. Let's get him inside."

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

Wally watched quietly from the doorway as Marie and Robin tended to Garfield in their makeshift medical clinic. He bit his lip as he watched the little boy's chest rise and fall weakly, his bright red hair mostly hidden beneath several layers of bandages that swathed his head. Once again, Wally berated himself for letting the kid get hurt.

Marie Logan took a deep breath and checked her son's pulse before turning to Robin, "He needs a blood transfusion immediately. Are either you or Kid Flash O negative?"

"No," Robin said softly, looking at the readouts on his wrist gadget, "I'm sorry."

"Neither am I. I used to keep some on hand at the clinic because it's the hardest to match, just in case," Marie murmured, soothing Gar by stroking his forehead gently.

"I can run him to the nearest hospital," Wally offered, desperate to be of some help. He deflated when Robin shook his head, "The nearest hospital is half an hour away at your top speed; you'd never make it in time. We could try the Bioship, but –"

"He doesn't have that kind of time!" Marie said urgently, trying not to let her panic slip into her voice, "What is Superboy's blood type?"

"He's Kryptonian," Robin answered, "and Miss Martian –"

"—might be able to help."

Wally jumped as the sweet, soft-spoken voice sounded from behind him. He turned to see M'gann floating in the hallway, looking miserable. Superboy stood behind her, his arms crossed over his chest.

Without making a sound, M'gann alighted on the floor and slipped past Kid Flash into the room, explaining as she went, "My shapeshifting occurs at a cellular level, and I think I can morph my blood to match Gar's."

Marie didn't hesitate. She grasped Miss Martian by the arm and looked her in the eye, begging her quietly, "Please. Try."

Nodding, M'gann put a hand to her temple and went to Garfield's bedside, "I'll need to concentrate. No distractions."

"Alright," Marie nodded, before turning to the other heroes in the room, "All of you out! Now!"

The boys went without a fight, and the door slammed shut behind them.

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

Robin was trying hard to keep control of his temper as he threw himself in a chair, but the stress and frustration still crept into his voice as he said, "And on top of all this, Harjavti steps down tomorrow! All of Qurac is in danger! KF, can you find another station?"

"Sure," Wally replied, "Which remote is it?"

He tried the power button on one, and the T.V. flickered on. The boys sat in silence as the pilot episode of Hello, Megan! – the one Garfield had wanted to show them – began to play. They watched in shock as a younger Marie Logan – who looked just like Miss Martian – took center stage.

"Maybe it's a coincidence," Connor said weakly, but they could all hear the doubt in his voice. Before the episode got too far along, the door to the temporary hospital opened and M'gann stepped out.

"All we can do now is wait," she announced sadly, looking back at Garfield's small, unconscious face one last time. The boys startled at her sudden appearance and hurried to turn off the T.V. before she could see what they were watching. Kid Flash fumbled with the remote and accidentally flipped the channel to a news station, where Rumaan Harjavti himself was giving a speech.

"Is that Harjavti?" Miss Martian asked curiously, and they turned their attention to the broadcast in curiosity.

"Queen Bee's rule will be a blessing to our nation," Harjavti was saying.

"Hey," Superboy exclaimed suddenly, "That guy in back – I know him!"

The camera zoomed in on a pale man standing to Harjavti's right, his face hidden by a hood.

Miss Martian narrowed her eyes, "It's Psimon. He's the psychic we fought when we were last in Bialya. He was working for Queen Bee then; he must be controlling Harjavti for her now!"

"We have to get Harjavti away from him," Robin said decisively, his eyes narrowing at the television screen.

Marie Logan chose that moment to enter the room.

"I think it worked," she told them, "Garfield is stable thanks to Miss Martian's blood transfusion."

"That's great!" M'gann cheered happily, relieved.

Robin nodded in agreement, "Good. We have our mission."

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

Back at Mount Justice, Raven was meditating on the dimensional shift, floating in the Lotus position a few feet off the ground, with her hood up and her eyes closed.

What is going on? This was the question she was struggling to answer, and she hoped that by focusing her senses on the fluctuations of energy around her she might find a clue. Raven had been trying ever since the Team had left for Qurac, barely stopping, even for sleep, because she sensed there was something about the current sequence of events that she needed to know, and she needed to know now, before someone got hurt.

Unfortunately, her search had been fruitless thus far, and after several days of trying, Raven had to admit she was getting slightly irritated. And if she were completely honest, she knew her irritation stemmed from several places and not just one source.

Sure, her unsuccessful attempts at information-gathering through meditation was one problem, and her worry for the Young Justice team another, but the thing that was really getting under her skin was Red-X's mysterious absence.

It can't take this long to collect Xenothium, Raven grumbled to herself, and Worry took the opportunity to pipe up a possibility Raven had been trying to ignore, Maybe he's hurt. Maybe something's happened to him and he can't come back because he's stuck and needs help.

X can take care of himself, you know that, Raven growled at Worry, who went quiet. But once her emotion had supplied the idea, Raven couldn't help dwelling on it.

Brow crinkling in annoyance, Raven frowned, This is ridiculous. I can't afford to be distracted.

But – Worry started, only to have Raven cut her off, Fine! I'll search for X to make sure he's okay.

Appeased, her emotions subsided and Raven sighed before focusing her attention inward. One of Raven's abilities as a descendant of Trigon was being able to locate someone by their spiritual aura. It was one of Raven's few abilities capable of covering distances of thousands of miles, but she had to use it sparingly because it used up a lot of her energy.

There were a few requirements for this ability to work, and one of them – perhaps the most important – was she had to be close to the person she was trying to locate. In order for Raven to find them, she had to share a bond with them and be familiar enough with their aura she wouldn't get lost amongst the billions of others across the planet.

This technique took an intense amount of concentration, and Raven wasn't even convinced it would work because, really, she shouldn't have any such bond with a supervillain. Granted, she and X were currently in a mutually-beneficial truce, but she wasn't sure that would be enough to find him.

And what if it is? Love whispered. Are you afraid of what that would mean, Raven?

Yes, the empath admitted to herself; she was afraid, but she couldn't worry about that now; she had to find X, who had been missing for days.

Centering herself and calming her mind using techniques the monks of Azar had taught her as a child, Raven pictured X and cautiously reached out for him with her magic.

Using this method forced Raven to wade through millions of auras across the planet in seconds; she was suddenly forced into the hearts, thoughts, and feelings of beings of every shape, size, and specie. She was able to immediately discard the smaller, inhuman auras of plants and animals, which narrowed her search slightly, and then all she could do was lose herself in the ocean of humanity and trust her senses to find X.

It took several minutes; enough time for Raven to turn pale and begin to sweat, shaking slightly under the stress her mind and soul-self were forced to endure. Gritting her teeth, Raven stubbornly fought off a fearsome headache and made one last push, desperate to find X before she lost control of her own powers.

In the end, her efforts paid off.

Just as Raven was about to give up, her soul-self latched onto one particular aura that was blessedly familiar. For an instant, the female Titan was surrounded by a feeling that was purely X, purely Jason Todd. But at the same time, Raven sensed there was something off about X's aura, something wrong. Raven couldn't allow herself to dwell long, however. She had to find something – anything – that would help her get a bead on his location.

Just before exhaustion forced her back into her body, Raven caught a glimpse of a tall, dark, foreboding mansion surrounded by soldiers through X's eyes.

Gasping, Raven's amethyst orbs snapped open and she fell to the ground. She lay there for a moment, too weak to move, and a small stream of blood trickled from her nose. Closing her eyes to gather herself once more, Raven allowed her healing abilities to work on repairing the damage the technique had done to her physically, before forcing herself to her feet and striding from the room.

Raven knew where Red-X was, and something told her she needed to hurry.

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

Robin stopped and looked up at the enormous, tall, dark house where President Harjavti of Qurac was said to reside. It was surrounded from every angle by a contingent of Bialyan soldiers, all alert and armed with semi-automatic weapons. The plan was for Young Justice to slip inside and help Harjavti escape so Psimon couldn't exert his control over the President any more.

Kid Flash and Robin, followed by Superboy and an invisible Miss Martian, dashed past the guards and snuck into an air duct that the house's blueprints said went right over Harjavti's office.

Crawling along the cold metal shaft, the four heroes arrived at a vent over their targeted room in three minutes flat. Checking to make sure the President was alone; they slid aside the vent and dropped down to the floor.

Harjavti, who was seated in a luxurious stuffed armchair, gave Robin a blank stare when the Boy Wonder appeared at his shoulder.

"Where is my daughter?" the President of Qurac asked hoarsely, rubbing his head like it hurt, "Where is Psimon?"

"Forget about him," Robin urged, "Let's get you out of here."

Before the Team could move, the door to the President's office burst open and Bialyan soldiers flooded in; armed with weapons that glowed a vicious red. A loud hum filled the air as the soldiers formed a circle around Young Justice, trapping them.

Those are Apokoliptan weapons, Superboy growled over the mind-link Miss Martian had established.

Which they'll use to kill Harjavti, comprehension dawned on Robin, We'll get blamed for it, and Queen Bee will get to rule Qurac. Form up around the President!

I found Psimon! M'gann exclaimed, slipping out of the room without waiting for permission to leave. Superboy made a move to go after her, but Robin said, No, wait! Let her go – the mission is Harjavti.

Snarling, Connor joined Robin and Kid Flash as they made a triangle to protect the President.

Ready? Robin asked his teammates, On three. One, two –

His countdown was cut off when a shadow fell from the air vent the Team had entered from, landing right smack dab in the middle of the standoff.

"Not so fast," a familiar voice drawled, before a capsule was thrown to the ground and a cloud of red smoke blinded everyone in the room. Acting on instinct, the Young Justice team tackled Harjavti to the floor and ducked as sounds of a scuffle broke out somewhere in the smoke.

Superboy! Robin called urgently, What can you see?

I can't see anything, Superboy grimaced, The smoke is too thick!

Their communication was cut off as several blasts from Apokoliptan weapons discharged over their heads, and new holes were blown open in the wall to their right.

And then just as quickly as the fight had started, it was over. Eerie silence fell in the room, and the Team waited with bated breath for the smoke to dissipate, uncertain about what they would see once it had.

As soon as the smoke had cleared, Young Justice cautiously picked themselves and the President off the floor before looking around in amazement.

Somehow, every single Bialyan soldier had been subdued. Crumpled forms in dark outfits were sprawled everywhere, and every single Apokoliptan weapon had been destroyed.

In the center of all the chaos stood the shadow that had dropped from the air vent and started the melee. As the Team watched in shock, the shadow dusted itself off before turning to face them, revealing a very familiar skull-like mask.

"Hey," a gray-gloved hand was waved in salute, "Did ya miss me?"

"X?!" Robin and KF gasped in unison, while Superboy's eyes grew impossibly wide.

"The one and only," Red-X replied, sounding pleased with their dumbstruck reactions. Ignoring the unconscious soldiers underfoot, X stepped over to the air vent again and deftly caught a beautiful young Middle Eastern woman as she fell through. Setting her on the ground, X turned back to the Team.

"What are you doing here?" Robin asked in disbelief. Connor and Wally could only stare in bewilderment as the pretty woman hurried to Harjavti's side and wrapped him in a quick hug, whispering, "Father! I'm so glad you're safe!"

"I was in the neighborhood," X replied casually, "And I thought I'd drop by."

By this time the President's daughter had helped the older man to his feet. Dusting him off, she turned to speak to the gathered heroes, "Thank you for saving my father. We will take care of him now."

"Stay here until we tell you it's safe," X said to her.

As soon as the two Quracans had nodded in acquiescence, X gestured to the Team, "Come on. We've got to hurry and get Miss Martian."

Exchanging glances, Robin, Kid Flash, and Superboy agreed simultaneously to trust X. Pushing their shock and suspicions aside, they dashed after him as he ran down a hall. They followed X from a distance until they saw his cape disappear around a corner.

When they rounded the corner themselves, X had disappeared, but they spotted Psimon conversing with someone straight ahead.

"M'gann!" Figuring it could only be Miss Martian, the boys charged forward and into the room, only to catch a glimpse of something white as they were knocked off their feet by an invisible wave.

This is just like what Raven did to us a couple weeks ago! Robin realized with alarm, but then the overwhelming pressure on his mind became too much and he blacked out.

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

Raven urged her soul-self to fly faster. Millions of auras flashed by all around her, but Raven was protected by a cloak of her own magic, allowing her to focus on homing in on one aura in particular – that of Red-X.

Come on, Raven thought, Just a little further. Not much longer now.

By Raven's estimate, if she could keep up this speed and trajectory, she would arrive at X's location in –

Wait, what's that?

Suddenly, the empath found herself distracted by an extremely familiar aura just below where she was flying.

Concentrating, Raven zeroed in on the aura, shocked by its familiarity.

Is that –? she wondered, her dark eyes widening as her suspicions were confirmed, It can't be!

For a brief moment she considered flying on without stopping. It's too dangerous. I can't risk meeting him in this dimension, and besides, if I stop now, I'll lose X –

A sharp ripple of pain in the achingly familiar aura decided it for Raven.

I have to help him, she thought fiercely, He's hurt!

Her mind made up, Raven allowed her soul-self to descend from the sky and retreat back into her body. When Raven looked up, she found she was standing in a dusty courtyard in front of a quaint farmhouse. Reaching out with her senses, Raven discovered there were two beings in the house – both her quarry, and a woman she did not know. However, judging by the protectiveness and grief in the strange woman's aura, the empath was willing to bet she was not a threat. Before reeling her senses back in, Raven was slightly surprised to detect the faint imprint of several auras she had come to know recently hovering around the building.

The Young Justice team was here not long ago, she realized. Taking a deep breath, Raven drew her dark blue cloak around herself and flew up to the porch. She only hesitated for an instant before knocking firmly on the door.

There were a few moments of silence before the door was thrown open and Raven found herself face-to-face with a middle-aged woman with auburn hair and blue eyes.

"I'm here to help," Raven said immediately. The woman looked taken aback for a moment, before running critical eyes over Raven's costume.

"Are you with the Young Justice team?" she asked suspiciously.

"Something like that," Raven replied.

The woman continued to glare at her for a minute before she heaved a sigh and held the door open, "Come in."

"Thank you," Raven said politely, stepping over the threshold. Shoulders slumped with exhaustion, the woman nodded in acknowledgement before leading Raven to a small back room.

Opening the door, the pained aura Raven had originally sensed doubled in strength and intensity, and Raven frowned as she examined the small, unconscious boy on the bedspread. Although his breathing was stable, his face was pale and his eyes flickered restlessly behind his eyelids.

Beast Boy, Raven thought sadly, What have you done to yourself?

Aloud Raven asked, "What happened to him?"

The woman's mouth (Could this possibly be Beast Boy's mother? Raven wondered.) twisted bitterly, "He got caught in an explosion trying to save the animals we were taking care of here. His body went into shock, but Miss Martian was able to give him a blood transfusion, so he's stable now. But," her voice faltered and she bit her lip, stroking Beast Boy's face tenderly, "he's still not recovering as fast as he should be."

"I can help with that," Raven promised. "I have healing abilities."

"Thank you," Beast Boy's mother said tiredly, "I'm Marie by the way, and this is my son, Garfield."

"Pleased to meet you, Marie," the empath replied as she gently began to tend to Beast Boy's wounds with hands swathed in white energy, "I'm Raven."

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

When Wally came to, he was greeted by the terrible headache he had been dreading. Groaning, he struggled to his feet.

"Psimon?" Robin was urgent as he leaped up from the ground somewhere to Wally's left.

"He brain-blasted you," Miss Martian explained gently, before her amber gaze hardened, "I stopped him."

Looking around, Kid Flash spotted Psimon spread-eagled on a pile of debris. The telepath's gaze was scarily blank, and drool seemed to be oozing out of his mouth. Disturbed, Wally glanced away, only to find the whole room had been trashed.

"Where's Red-X?" Superboy wondered.

"X is here?" M'gann asked in surprise.

"Well, he was here," Wally replied, putting his hands on his hips and shaking his head, "He disappeared right before we found you."

"Oh," she said. "Wherever he went, I hope he's okay."

"Me too," Robin said softly. Rubbing his forehead as he struggled to think of a plan, the Boy Wonder turned to Miss Martian, "M'gann, there's something I need you to do."

After Miss Martian nodded and left to fool the public into believing Queen Bee was behind the entire fiasco using her shapeshifting abilities, the rest of the Team decided to regroup in the President's office and await her return.

"Well done," Robin congratulated Miss Martian when she stepped in the room an hour later, "Sorry I had to ask you to pretend to be Queen Bee."

"It's no problem," M'gann replied cheerfully, hugging Superboy.

"So," Wally nudged his best friend, "We've got Psimon in custody and Queen Bee on the run – not bad for your first mission as Team Leader, huh?"

"Yeah," Robin muttered, lost in thought and not sounding entirely convinced, "Thanks. Let's head back to the Logan Animal Sanctuary to check in on Gar."

Of course, when they arrived, the last thing they expected was for the door to be opened by a suddenly green-eyed Garfield. And when they stepped inside, they definitely weren't expecting to see the Gem of Scath sitting on the couch, sipping tea with Marie Logan, who was drinking coffee and watching her son carefully to make sure he didn't have a relapse.

"Raven?" Miss Martian chirped excitedly, flying over to greet the stoic-looking empath, "What are you doing here? Did you see Red-X? Why –?"

"You saw X?" Raven interrupted sharply. "Where?"

"He was back at the President's mansion," the Boy Wonder explained, "You didn't know?"

Raven shook her head, "I was on my way here to find him when I sensed Garfield was in pain, and so I stopped to help."

"Speaking of Gar," M'gann gave Marie a timid look, "Is it okay if I go see him?"

"Of course," Marie smiled warmly at the green-skinned version of her younger self, "I set him down for a nap in the back room after you got here."

"Thanks!" M'gann was quick to dart away. Humming happily, she quietly opened the door to the back room, illuminating Garfield's face in a thin beam of light.

"Garfield?" she asked softly. Seeing that he was fast asleep, M'gann opened the door further, only to gasp in shock when she realized Queen Bee was also present in the room, and entirely too close to Garfield for Miss Martian's comfort.

"You!" M'gann hissed, her eyes glowing with green fire.

Queen Bee tsked, "Now, now, girl. Think carefully, or this little darling will cease to breathe. It is rather hard for the heart to keep beating when it has no brain to listen to."

"What do you want?" Miss Martian snarled, forcing her powers down, her fists clenched tightly at her sides.

Queen Bee smiled and gracefully arose from the bed, walking toward the Martian until M'gann had no more room to step back, "In exchange for the child's life and all the trouble you have caused me today, I only want your cooperation."

Gulping, M'gann stuttered, "I-I –"

She was interrupted by a wave of darkness flowing over her shoulder and blasting Queen Bee through the opposite wall, splintering the wood and drywall and sending the villainess like a rag doll into the dirt outside.

Shocked, M'gann turned to see Raven and the rest of the Young Justice team standing in the hallway. Raven's arm was outstretched, her hand cloaked in black energy.

"I sensed your turmoil," Raven said by way of explanation, "Get Beas – Garfield somewhere safe while we deal with Queen Bee."

Nodding numbly, M'gann scooped up the little boy and hastened to comply. Once Garfield was safely out of the way, the Team and Raven stepped outside to face the Bialyan dictator as the dark-skinned woman struggled to her feet.

"How dare you!" Queen Bee hissed once she was standing again.

Robin took charge and stepped forward, bird-a-rangs in hand, "Why are you here, Bee? Your plan to take over Qurac failed!"

"Oh, no silly boy," Queen Bee sneered, "I've gotten exactly what I wanted."

Looking unruffled despite the fact the fight was four on one, Bee smirked and looked each of the young heroes in the eye, "This wasn't how I planned our first confrontation but I suppose I don't have much of a choice now. I see you've got the Gem of Scath as a trump card," the beautiful woman gave the ashen empath a look of distaste, "But you'll never guess who mine is."

Puzzled, the Team was totally unprepared for a familiar face to fizzle into existence at the Queen's side.

"Red-X," Queen Bee crowed, "Serve your sovereign and destroy these pesky children."

"X?" Kid Flash whispered in astonishment. "But, you were – I thought – you – what?"

Connor and Robin's jaws had also dropped in surprise, but Raven's face had twisted into a thunderous expression.

"X," she snapped; her voice a low, dangerous monotone, "What the hell are you doing?"

"Why," Queen Bee replied smugly, "he's helping me, of course. All it took was a little Xenothium, and I had Red-X feeding out of the palm of my hand. He was quite happy to help me with anything I desired! This plan to take over Qurac was only possible because of his expertise. In fact, he was instrumental in arranging the final details of this elaborate plot!"

At her side, Red-X did nothing to deny her accusations. Reeling with shock and betrayal, the three boys could only stand and stare uncomprehendingly. At their side, shadows seemed to gather around Raven; a terrifying tension building in her shoulders with a silent promise of imminent eruption.

"Now, Red-X," Bee crowed, "Finish them off so we can get out of here."

For a moment there was only dead silence in the clearing, the very Earth seeming to still and hold its breath in anticipation.

Then X tipped his head back and laughed. His sudden action was so unexpected that Raven's anger subsided and Queen Bee spun to glare at him. Reaching up to cup his face in her hands, the dark-skinned dictator hissed, "Are you mad? Stop making a fool out of me and attack them – now!"

X stopped laughing abruptly, his head snapping 'round to give Bee a white-hot glare through his optics. Before she could react and draw away, his gray-gloved hands closed around her wrists in a crushing grip.

"Let me tell you something, Your Highness," X sneered, "You made several big mistakes, and they cost you 'cause I was keepin' track. First you thought you could control me," his grip only tightened as she tried to escape, "You even claimed to be my Queen. But let me make one thing very clear, you delusional broad," X leaned close so he was almost nose-to-nose with Bee, whose dark eyes were wide with fear and fury, "no one controls me. Not you, not anyone.

"That was your first mistake," X continued, "but you also threatened Garfield Logan. Now, don't get me wrong, I could care less about the kid, but there are others I know who want him safe and sound. So, Bee, that's the last straw."

Freeing one hand, X's glove glowed red and a foot-long red "x" appeared; which the masked man used to bind Queen Bee's wrists together. Ignoring her indignant squawking, X tossed her over his shoulder and made his way over to the wide-eyed Team.

"How could you!" Queen Bee shrieked, "We had a deal."

"Yes we did," X agreed, "But then you tried to control me with your pheromones. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't appreciate that kind of low blow. It's been a pleasure doing business with you, but the deal's off now."

Arriving in front of Robin and Raven, X dumped the Queen at their feet and straightened up, stretching.

Catching sight of Raven's pointed glare, X held up his hands in a placating gesture, "Come on Sunshine; have a little faith in me."

Crouching down in front of Queen Bee, X said, "Sorry, sweetheart, but my loyalty can't be bought anymore. And besides," using another "x", the tall man bound Queen Bee's feet as well, "I owed Aqualad a favor."

"Dude," Kid Flash whispered, looking between X and the furious dictator, "You just took down the Queen of Bialya like it was nothing."

"Where did you go when we were trying to find Miss Martian?" Robin asked; relaxing as X tilted his head to consider the question. The Boy Wonder wasn't sure how to take this sudden turn of events, but something inside him wanted to believe that X was telling the truth.

"Yeah, sorry about that, kid – there was something I had to do while Her Highness here was distracted," X replied.

"Your aura," Raven cut in suddenly, her dark eyes calmly considering X from under the shadow of her cowl, "what was wrong with it earlier?"

"I –" X started to explain, but he was cut off as a red vortex opened up in the sky behind him.

"Look out!" Superboy shouted, diving out of the way as a bolt of red energy flashed through the air and landed in the middle of the group, exploding with enough force to send them all flying.

Adrenaline pounding through their veins, the Team rolled to their feet in time to see Klarion the Witch Boy free Queen Bee from her bonds. Rubbing her wrists and scowling, the beautiful woman pushed herself to her feet and backed away toward the Witch Boy's vortex.

"You'll regret double-crossing me, Red-X," Queen Bee vowed, before she vanished into the swirling red mist.

"Klarion," Raven growled, her eyes glowing white as black energy covered her arms.

The Witch Boy waved at her, "Hello, Gem! I'd love to stay and chat but I'm afraid I have a meeting to attend. Don't worry, though – I'm sure we'll meet again soon!"

With a sneer, the Witch Boy disappeared through the portal and it closed behind him.

The Team, Raven, and Red-X were left standing next to the Logan's farmhouse, staring at empty space.

Kid Flash was the first to break the silence, "Well, this'll be fun to explain to Batman."

"Shut up, KF," Robin groaned, "This is so not asterous."

"I don't think he'll be that mad," X piped up, a flash drive appearing in his hand, "I found something I think he'll find very interesting."

Confused, the three boys exchanged glances. X leaned toward them conspiratorially, "Tell me, what do you know about a certain organization called the Light?"

#? #? #? #? #? #? #? #? #?

Hundreds of miles away, in a secret location hidden underground, Queen Bee and Klarion were attending an important conference.

"So you failed to sway him?" a pompous, male voice asked from a glowing television set showing only his profile.

Queen Bee sniffed and evaded the question, "It matters little. We have what we want. The plan can begin in earnest now."

A deep voice asked thoughtfully, "And you took care of the Gem's companion?"

The dictator's lips twisted into a poisonous smile, "Oh, don't worry, I took care of that little snake. The moment he shook Psimon's hand, he received a little present," her eyes narrowed vengefully, "Red-X will regret the day he decided to cross me."

"Excellent," another male said, "Though it is a pity we could not persuade him to see the Light."

"Luthor," the deep voice remarked again, "It is your turn now."

"Oh, don't worry," the pompous voice replied, "Unlike L-4, I'm ready. And I will not fail. Soon, I'll prove to Superboy just how much he takes after me."

Deciding the meeting was adjourned, the voices chorused in unison, "Long live the Light."

What a whirlwind, huh? I really struggled writing the last couple of scenes, but I hope they were decent and not too OOC. Next chapter we're in for a real treat - a jealous Red-X! Can anyone guess why?

Please take the time to drop me a line (hey, that kind of rhymed!). Otherwise, I'll see you all next time.

~Home By Another Way

P.S. And for my customary question: If you could visit any place in the world, where would it be and why? Personally, I would like to go to Scandinavia, 'cause I think it's a beautiful place full of amazing history. How about you, dear readers?