Hey, guys! I have returned from the bowels of NaNoWriMo-induced exhaustion . . . alive (mostly). I am pleased to report that I succeeded in my endeavor to write 50k words . . . but it was really hard. And fun. *cue mindless babbling*

Moving on, I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year - hello, 2014! Unfortunately, this update is a day behind when I hoped to have it posted, but here it is. I hope you ENJOY because I have to say I was quite happy with how this chapter turned out . . .

Disclaimer: My New Year's resolution is to steal Young Justice from its rightful owners . . . just kidding, please don't sue me! :)

(P.S. Keep a weather eye out for pairing hints in this chapter!)

CHAPTER NINE: ANXIOUS INTERLUDE

Last chapter re-cap:

Content to sleep, Kaldur relaxed into the pillow he was laying on. A slight rustle made him open his eyes again. He glanced toward the noise and was surprised to see that X had snuck back into the Infirmary. He was standing at Raven's bedside, watching her peaceful face as she slept.

Sensing that X did not wish to be disturbed, Kaldur closed his eyes once more. He was almost asleep when X startled him by speaking.

"I appreciate what you did. It took guts to invite us here and offer us help, and I know you'll probably be getting in trouble for it," Kaldur glanced at X in surprise, only to see that the masked man was still focused on Raven. X heaved a sigh before looking up and meeting Kaldur's disconcerted gaze with his own level one.

"Thank you," X said sincerely, "I swear I'll find a way to pay you back."

Kaldur floundered for a moment and attempted to protest, saying they were even now, but X waved away his protests like they were obnoxious house flies.

"Just focus on getting some sleep," X said firmly, and then he was gone. Kaldur was left staring at an empty space, flabbergasted and curious as to how X had the ability to teleport if he was indeed human.

Feeling exasperated, the dark-skinned youth succumbed to exhaustion at last.

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

Two days later, Kaldur was out of the Infirmary, and the Team decided to celebrate by having a free-for-all fight during training. Actually, the fight was more Black Canary's idea, but the Team readily agreed, eager to release some of their pent-up energy.

Raven remained unconscious, however, so X was left with nothing better to do besides watch the festivities.

Some of the Team was reluctant at first to allow him to watch the proceedings, but Kaldur and Robin eventually wore down their arguments. Thus, X found himself leaning against a wall and watching with raised eyebrows as each of the Team was pitted against each other.

At first it would be a one-on-one single elimination tournament in which two of the Team would fight each other and the winner would go on to fight the next person until they were defeated. Whoever had beaten them would then repeat the cycle.

Black Canary had chosen interesting match-ups, X observed from his position on the wall. The fighting was to begin as follows:

Robin vs. Zatanna would open the duel, and then Artemis would face Kid Flash. The winner of each match-up would face the other and then go on to fight the winner of Miss Martian vs. Superboy. Kaldur would face the victor of those competitions, and so the individual victor would be decided.

After that, the entire team would be pitted against each other in the promised free-for-all, and the last man standing would win.

Now, one might think that this tournament might be detrimental to Team bonds, but X begged to differ.

From what he had seen of these kids thus far, they were good sportsmen (and sportswomen) who didn't hold silly grudges. Therefore, X wasn't very worried about inter-Team cohesion taking a hit from the outcome of the tournament.

In fact, X was slightly curious to see what these kids could do. He watched with interest (not that anyone could tell due to his mask) as the Boy Wonder and the female magician faced up to each other in the middle of the Cave, standing on the computerized training room floor.

"Ladies first," Robin started off the fight with a cheeky comment. Zatanna smirked and brought her hands up with a flourish, "You're gonna regret that."

We'll see, X thought wryly, looking on with amusement as Zatanna cast her first spell, only to watch in frustration as Robin dodged and disappeared with a cackle. She immediately went on the defensive, looking around suspiciously for any sign of the Boy Wonder.

Another cackle was all the warning she had before a shadow fell from above, landing in a crouch before exploding outward in a flurry of movement.

Robin straightened, swinging his fist and twisting his body at the same time in a roundhouse kick. Zatanna leaned back sharply, demonstrating surprisingly adept gymnastics skills by throwing herself into a smooth back handspring to avoid his blows.

Robin didn't miss a beat and finished his spin by landing in a loose, ready position.

"Didn't know you could do that," he said cheerfully, a small smirk on his lips. Zatanna finished her gymnastics demonstration and gave the Boy Wonder a wink. His smirk widened, and then fell as Zatanna decided it was time for the gloves to come off, figuratively speaking.

"Muinatit elbac!" she shouted, and Robin was just barely able to dodge the wire that materialized out of thin air. It fell to the ground in a heap as it missed its target, but Zatanna simply pointed at it and commanded, "Erutpac mih."

And thus the Boy Wonder suddenly found himself dashing back and forth, dodging magical cable that was doing its best to catch him. Zatanna put her hands on her hips and watched with an amused smile.

The rest of the Team chuckled as Robin leaped out of the way, the cable coiling and striking at him like a snake. ("Titanium cable, really?" Artemis muttered. Wally gave her a look, "You really think rope is gonna be enough to hold Rob?" Artemis shrugged, for once conceding the point to Kid Flash.)

They winced in sympathy as the cable got lucky, managing to wrap around Robin's ankle, catching him unexpectedly in mid-leap. Zatanna drew her arms up and made a beckoning motion. The cable responded and immediately began dragging the Boy Wonder across the computerized floor, reeling him ever closer to the magician.

"She's got you now, Rob!" Wally cat-called from the sidelines. X simply smirked and settled back to watch the show. He had the sneaking suspicion that the Dark Knight's protégé wasn't defeated yet.

Sure enough, Robin waited until the cable had almost dragged him back to Zatanna's feet before twisting suddenly and throwing his body weight to one side. The cable went slack with Zatanna's surprise as his sudden movement, which gave the Boy Wonder enough time to somersault to his feet.

He used his momentum to snatch the other end of the cable from the ground nearby and darted around Zatanna, entangling her feet in the cable, giving her no time to recover from the shock of his surprise attack.

The black-haired girl realized what he was trying to do and narrowed her eyes, opening her mouth to cast a spell that was guaranteed to be able to truss up even the infallible Boy Wonder, but Robin didn't give her the chance.

Gathering both ends of the cable in his hands, Robin yanked hard on the wire, effectively pulling Zatanna's feet out from under her and making her fall flat on her back.

Everyone flinched at the painful landing, and Zatanna was forced to gasp breathlessly for a moment as the wind had been knocked out of her. Robin, frowning in concern, bent over her and offered her a hand.

"Do you yield?" he asked. For a moment Zatanna looked mutinous, but then her expression cleared and she smiled, accepting his hand and standing up.

"Fine," she said as she regained her breath. "You win this time, but next time you won't be so lucky."

Robin smirked and gave an exaggerated bow, "I look forward to it."

Zatanna laughed, and allowed M'gann and Black Canary to help her off the fighting platform and onto a bench so she could rest. Robin followed the girls, accepting high-fives and congratulations from the boys (and Artemis) that were waiting for their turn in the arena.

"Thought you were a goner there for a second, dude," Wally said as he and the Boy Wonder bumped fists. Robin snickered, "Me too. I had no idea Zatanna could do a back handspring, so I had to step up my game."

Wally was about to reply, but Black Canary interrupted them, "Okay, you two, knock it off. Kid Flash, Artemis: let's see what you can do."

Wally smirked and stepped onto the computerized platform.

"Let me show you how it's done, my friend," he said to Robin, only to be knocked off balance by an irate Artemis shouldering passed him. The Boy Wonder crossed his arms and snickered as Wally spluttered and tried to stay upright, wind milling his arms desperately. He finally regained his balance and grumbled as he joined a smirking Artemis on the arena floor.

"I'll make you eat your words, Baywatch," the blonde proclaimed, settling into a fighting stance.

"Bring it on," Wally retorted, and then they lunged at each other.

Robin watched the entertaining proceedings for a moment, laughing as Wally made a fool of himself and cheering his best friend on in his attempt to KO Artemis. He also made sure to support the blonde archer as well . . . however, it was a long-standing unwritten law that bros went before hoes, so Wally was the main beneficiary of his cheering. (Not that Robin thought Artemis was like . . . that . . . in any way, shape, or form. In fact, he thought she was an awesome, rather kick-ass friend who he could sympathize with.)

The Boy Wonder was soon distracted from the smack-down by a shadow leaning on the wall. A spark of alarm caused Robin to frown for a moment, before he recognized the shadow as the self-proclaimed Red-X.

Robin narrowed his eyes for a moment in indecision before glancing around at his teammates, whose attention was still firmly focused on the match between the two argumentative teenagers. Nodding to himself, Robin slipped away from his friends and wandered over to the corner where X was watching the fights.

The masked man noticed his approach but kept his expressionless white optics focused on the fighting; paying no mind to the Boy Wonder as he casually leaned on the wall next to him.

Robin, having decided the best way to go about this was to keep quiet and give X the chance to start the conversation, didn't make a sound and joined X in watching the fight. X seemed to know what he was up to however, as he let Robin suffer a few moments in silence before tilting his head to acknowledge him at last.

"Nice fighting, kid," the masked man said.

"Thanks," Robin replied, his eyes narrowing, "but I'm not a kid."

He expected X to laugh at him, and argue about his small stature and obvious youth, but instead the tall man simply nodded, and went back to watching the match without further comment.

Eventually Robin realized he would have to take it upon himself to get the ball rolling. Biting his lip, he narrowed his eyes calculatingly as he tried to decide what to say. He decided casual was the best approach.

"So . . ." Robin drawled slowly, causing X to look at him with what the teenager was sure was an expectant, raised eyebrow (not that he could see it of course, stupid mask), "what's with your mask and voice modulator?"

Robin winced as soon as the words left his mouth. Hmm. Well, blunt was an option too.

X snorted, but when he replied his voice was steady and deadpan, "Maybe I want my face and voice to remain hidden from certain prying people."

Robin had the grace to grimace, "Walked right into that one, didn't I?"

"Sure did," X replied.

"At least I tried to ask nicely," Robin shot back, a small smile tugging across his lips despite his best efforts to keep it hidden. X was surprisingly fun to banter with. There was something about him (maybe it was the way he spoke, some of his mannerisms, the way his white optics narrowed), that was disturbingly familiar to the Boy Wonder. He couldn't put his finger on what it was, but he had the feeling that if only he could see X's face, then everything would become clear.

X laughed, "Sometimes it's best not to be nice; makes it much easier to get things done."

"Tell me about it," Robin said, "Punching an idiotic thug is much more efficient than trying to negotiate with him."

X hummed in response, an odd sound coming from his voice modulator.

Robin frowned, "Why don't you want us to see your face, anyway? Surely any scars you have can't be that bad."

X sighed and turned to look at Robin, their optics meeting each other in a stare-off, the Boy Wonder with a challenging glint, and X with an exasperated one.

"I don't see you taking your mask off anytime soon," X jibed, "Do your friends even know what color your eyes are?"

Robin huffed in annoyance and fell silent, glowering in the direction of the match that Artemis was currently winning. While X's point was true, it nonetheless hit a nerve in the Boy Wonder. It had long been a point of contention between Batman and Robin about keeping their faces hidden even from their colleagues.

Robin knew that Batman meant the best and had many valid points in favor of his argument that 'hidden was safer,' but hiding anything from his teammates – who were quickly becoming some of the greatest friends he'd ever had – still left Robin with a bad taste in his mouth. X had opened a can of worms with his comment, and Robin had to work to keep his outward appearance from revealing his irritation.

Calm down, Robin scolded himself, forcing his anger to slowly disperse, it's not X's fault that I wear this mask. I chose this life and everything that came with it, including paranoid mentors.

Robin took a deep breath and tried to distract himself by watching the battle again – ow, that had to hurt – but eventually a question that he had been dying to ask burst out unbidden.

"Where did you get your knives?"

X cocked his head at the random conversation change, but Robin had forgotten his anger and was looking back at him, eagerly awaiting his reply.

"Come again?" X queried.

"Your knives," Robin replied by way of explanation, "The ones you used to stab Teekl in the back. When we first met, you didn't have them."

"Ah," comprehension seemed to dawn on the masked man, and he shrugged, "Well, they're a rather recent acquirement of mine."

The way he said 'acquirement' set Robin's hero instincts on edge and he frowned, a horrible suspicion occurring to him. Surely X didn't mean he'd stolen them . . . .

X seemed to once again realize what Robin was thinking, as he was quick to assuage the Boy Wonder's fears.

"Don't worry," X said, "I came by them honestly."

"Besides," the masked man continued in an offhand, casual way, "Sunshine would never let me get away with it if I even thought about using less conventional means of adding these beauties," here he removed aforementioned knives, which had dislodged from Teekl when the familiar had shrunk back to normal size, from his belt and twirled them, "to my arsenal."

Robin was quiet for a moment as he processed this information. Then he smirked mischievously, "You really care about her, don't you?"

To Robin's disappointment, X didn't even flinch. Instead, he fixed the Boy Wonder with a heavy stare that reminded Robin uncomfortably of Batman's brooding/calculating looks.

For a moment X regarded him silently. Then he asked pointedly, "Do you care about Zatanna?"

Robin's optics widened, and X laughed at his reaction, shaking his head in amusement.

"This place is full of teenage hormones," X declared gleefully.

Robin did his level best to keep himself from blushing, but from the way X's shoulders shook he knew he had failed.

He tried his best to deny it by blustering, "What are you talking about? There's no –!"

"Yes there is," X sing-songed, brushing off Robin's protests like they were no more than pesky flies. He shifted from his place on the wall, reaching out a gray-gloved hand to gesture at Miss Martian and Superboy.

"Those two are almost sickeningly obvious," he professed, and Robin was forced to grudgingly agree. The only one it seemed who didn't realize the two aliens were gaga for each other was Wally, who still pinned after the pretty Martian.

Although, Robin had his own suspicions about where Wally's true feelings laid, and X confirmed that he wasn't imagining things with his next words, ". . . And Kid Flash and the teenage, female version of Green Arrow are also dancing around each other, though it seems that they at least can actually blame it on obliviousness."

"Her name is Artemis," Robin corrected automatically, but X either didn't hear him or chose to ignore him, because he continued without pause, turning to give the Boy Wonder a look through his white optics.

"And then there's you and your pretty little magician," X finished triumphantly.

"It's not like that," Robin began to protest, but X waved him off.

"That's what they all say," the masked man said with finality, turning away and obstinately ignoring anything else Robin tried to say in his teammates' defense. After a while the Boy Wonder was forced to admit defeat and he slumped back on the wall, miffed.

"You know," X began after a few moments of silence, and Robin paid attention immediately to his suddenly serious tone, "To be honest, I'm impressed."

Robin blinked in surprise. Whatever he had been expecting X to say, that was certainly not it.

X seemed to notice his blank, uncomprehending expression, and thankfully chose to elaborate.

"Canary's using this fighting competition to test you, to see whether you have the control to fight someone you're attracted to," the masked man explained. "It's a valuable skill to have."

"Speaking from experience?" Robin asked pointedly. It may have been dangerous to potentially anger the entity known as Red-X, and it was perhaps even a little rude to ask such a personal question, but Robin was unnerved that the man had managed to read the Team's dynamics in such a short time. It was instinct to lash out at a potential threat, and Robin struck at what he sensed might have been a weak point, a chink in X's thus-far-impenetrable armor.

Sure enough, X's optics narrowed dangerously and he abruptly turned away to watch the beat-down between Artemis and Wally continue. The fight seemed to be reaching its climax, with Artemis steadily gaining the upper hand, despite the fact she was limited to hand-to-hand combat and had no superpowers to aid her.

Robin was actually surprised when X replied, albeit cryptically, "I've seen it happen. Fights get lost when you get distracted by your opponent's feminine wiles."

An uncomfortable silence descended between the two caped males.

On a whim, and in an effort to dispel the awkward quiet, Robin ran a hand through his hair and muttered, "Look, why don't we start over?"

X didn't respond, but Robin continued on valiantly, "Also . . . I've been meaning to thank you."

Now X did turn to regard him, giving off a disbelieving vibe that clearly said, What for?

Robin took a deep breath and looked the masked man in the optics as he replied to the unasked question, trying to pour his sincerity into his voice, "Thank you for saving my life, X. If it weren't for you, I'd probably be on the wrong end of Teekl's claws, which is so not an asterous place to be."

It took a great deal of pride-swallowing on Robin's part to admit that he would've died if X hadn't arrived in time to save him, so he was slightly irked when X just continued to stare at him for a moment.

Then the masked man chuckled softly, and Robin instinctively knew he'd been forgiven for his earlier blunder.

"Don't mention it, kid," X said, smirking as Robin scowled at being called 'kid' again. He clapped a hand on the Boy Wonder's shoulder, "Besides, I can't have you dying on me yet – you're too fun to tease."

Robin was about to retort, but the lights suddenly began to flicker on and off ominously. The two opponents still fighting on the arena floor froze, and everyone turned their perturbed gazes upwards, wondering what was going on.

Robin saw X stiffen out of the corner of his eye. He cast a questioning glance at the masked man, only to jerk in surprise as X sprinted past him and out of the main room of the Cave.

The Boy Wonder frowned. It looked like X was heading for – Robin's eyes widened in comprehension – the Infirmary. The next thing he knew, Robin was racing after X, the rest of the Team (and Black Canary) following close behind.

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

There was an odd, heady, foreboding sensation in the air that assaulted the Team and intensified the closer they got to the Infirmary. As they rounded the final corner and dashed down the corridor to the Infirmary's entrance, the Team was also startled to note that something in the Infirmary appeared to be glowing.

Whatever it was cast a ghostly white light under the crack of the heavy door; painting the entire hallway with an eerie, incandescent radiance.

X showed no misgivings about the mysterious lightshow. He kicked the Infirmary door open without preamble and raced inside.

Alarmed, the Team hurried after him. They careened around the doorframe and skidded to a halt on the threshold, shocked by the sight that greeted them in the Infirmary.

Raven was floating a good three feet above her bed, lying on her back with her eyes closed and her unusual purple hair floating about her face. Her entire body was encased in some kind of white energy that emitted the same glow the Team had seen from outside. It permeated the room, throwing the equipment and appliances into stark relief and casting flickering shadows on the walls.

"What's she doing?" Artemis whispered.

"It looks like a healing trance of some kind," Zatanna replied just as softly. There was a peculiar sensation that the Team was intruding on something private, and thus they instinctively did their best to make as little noise as possible.

"We're going to wait and watch what happens," Black Canary murmured decisively, and the teens nodded absently, mesmerized by the spectacle before them.

The Team watched in awe and some fear as X approached Raven quietly. He stopped a few feet away and waited patiently (although what he was waiting for didn't become clear until later).

After a few minutes of Raven's suspected-healing-trance lightshow, the glow around her body abated and she drifted gently back down onto her hospital bed. This seemed to be what X had been waiting for as he broke from his stillness and slowly began to approach the bed.

The glow finally faded away entirely and the lights came back on, but the Team hardly noticed, still intently focused on Raven's pale face.

As soon as the mysterious glow was completely gone, Raven's eyelids began to flutter rapidly, and after a moment, she opened her beautiful amethyst eyes to find X leaning over her.

She showed no outward reaction to his proximity other than her eyebrows drawing together in annoyance. The emotion was gone almost as soon as it was there, however, and Raven's face quickly became blank and expressionless.

X had his back to those still standing in the threshold, and he bent his head closer to Raven until he was almost whispering in her ear. He said something quietly, but his words were so faint that only Superboy could eavesdrop, thanks to his super-hearing.

"Morning, Sunshine," X murmured, ignoring Raven's warning look at his invasion of her personal space, "Good to see you back in the land of the living – you had me worried there for a while."

Raven didn't respond, but her glare softened into a dry look. Chuckling, X carefully helped her sit up.

The young empath swung her legs off the side of the bed and looked up in the direction of the door, where she felt a swelling of misgiving and slight fear.

She was nonplussed to realize that the Team – some of the very people she had wanted to avoid while in this dimension – was the source of the emotion, and was staring back at her warily.

Raven closed her eyes and took a deep breath, counting to three before opening her eyes again and fixing X with a pointed glare.

"Where are we?" she asked monotonously, her flat tone doing well to hide her unease and slight anger.

A wave of sheepishness bloomed in X's aura, and he looked away as he replied; "Um . . . we're kind of in their secret base. The Infirmary, to be exact."

"Is that so," Raven deadpanned, trying to control her temper. She had told X that they couldn't get too involved – and now they were the Justice League's illustrious guests. "And why is that, exactly?"

X cleared his throat and was about to respond when Aqualad stepped forward and beat him to it.

"You are Raven, I presume?" the dark-skinned youth asked softly, sensing that the woman was quickly becoming annoyed with her partner. She had the potential to be very dangerous, and Kaldur thought it best to keep her from getting angry. It wouldn't do for her to decide that taking her temper out on the Cave was the best way to relieve her stress.

She nodded in response to his question, and he took that as permission to continue.

"Please, allow me to explain," Kaldur began. "You were injured during your fight with Klarion and lost consciousness. Thanks to you and Red-X, we were able to defeat Klarion and his familiar, although they managed to escape through a portal."

Raven kept a steady gaze on the red-clad leader as she considered his explanation. She could tell he wasn't lying, and his recollection of Klarion's escape also added up. He vanished through a portal, huh? she thought, resisting the urge to roll her eyes at Klarion's predictability. Must have been a simple trick for such a powerful creature of Choas.

"I see," she said quietly, "However: that still doesn't explain how we came to be here."

Something flashed in the boy (This dimension's version of Aqualad, she remembered)'s silver eyes, and he stood slightly straighter as he explained, "As thanks for your help in dealing with Klarion, I offered Red-X sanctuary and medical attention at our base, a place we like to call the Cave. He accepted, and that is where you are now."

Ah. Raven understood now, but she still was annoyed at the situation. After all, it was much harder to avoid certain people when they were standing a mere twenty feet from you.

This could complicate things, she thought. She exchanged a glance with X, whose aura had shifted to apologetic but stubborn (she knew he was not going to apologize for getting her medical attention, no matter how much harder it made navigating this dimension).

The masked man stepped closer to her once again now that Aqualad was finished with his explanation. He bent closer so their conversation couldn't be overheard.

"Look, Sunshine," he began, "I know you're probably pissed at me for doing what I did," she gave him a look, but he remained irritatingly unperturbed, "but, I think it was the right decision."

Raven looked decidedly unconvinced, so X tried again.

"Just think," he cajoled, "this way we have a place to stay for a while. We can leave as soon as you want to, although that might mean we have to go civilian again . . . ."

X trailed off thoughtfully for a moment, before he shrugged and continued, "Look, Sunshine, just relax for a while, okay? You need time and a safe place to recover from the dimension sickness, and these kids are offering us their secret base. It's best to regroup for now and decide on a plan; running will only make the League more suspicious.

"And," X added, "to be honest, I don't like the idea of being chased again. Not so soon, anyway."

A shadow passed through X's aura, but before Raven could question it, she found herself asking, "Why are you doing this, X? Sticking around is just asking for trouble."

"Well, going out there isn't any better, Sunshine," X retorted, "Remember, this isn't our world. We don't know the ins and outs of the superhuman community like we should, and these so-called heroes do. If we stay with them, we can try to learn as much information from them as possible before taking off again. At least if we try, we're bound to find out something useful. Please, Sunshine, just think about it."

Raven closed her eyes and took another deep breath. She looked troubled for a moment, but when she spoke her voice was steady, "Alright. We'll give them a chance. But," her voice dropped warningly when X's aura flashed with victory, "we have to be careful, X."

She looked at him beseechingly, and he felt as though she could somehow see his eyes through his mask, looking past them and into his very soul, "If they learn too much, the universe could fall out of balance. We cannot let that happen."

"I got it," he replied, reaching over to take her hand firmly in his. "I promise, Raven."

His aura was sincere, and Raven knew deep down that he would do his best to keep his word. However, she had the sinking feeling that something was brewing in this dimension, something that might force X to break his word one day.

It's only logical, a studious voice declared in Raven's head, If Klarion has shown his face here, that means something bad will be happening, and probably soon.

Hush, Knowledge, Raven pushed her emotions further into her labyrinthine mind, I'll talk to you later.

Raven nodded one more time, and X released her hand slowly. (She tried to ignore the way his gray-gloved fingers lingered on her own in a comforting caress. No, she thought fiercely, It was not comforting, not in the least. A giggle resounded in her mind, and Raven resisted the urge to scowl. Shut up, Happy. And Love, I'll deal with you later. There was some squealing, but her mind became blissfully quiet.)

Putting on her best poker-face, Raven turned her attention to the curious group looking in from the doorway. Not even Superboy had been able to catch what was said during Red-X and Raven's whispered conference, so the Team had been forced to wait awkwardly by the door until they were finished talking.

"Thank you for your hospitality. I'm sorry I knocked you out," Raven said at last, looking all of them squarely in the eye. Although they were startled by her sudden apology, the Team was able to nod in acknowledgement.

There was an awkward silence, before a loud, computerized, female voice resounded throughout the Cave, making everyone jump in surprise.

"The local standard time is now just after midnight," the voice announced, "and the date is November eleventh. Happy Veterans' Day, Young Justice."

Kid Flash blinked in surprise as something occurred to him. His realization caused a huge, excited smile to break out on his face, almost wide enough to split his face in two.

"Hey, guys," he said, and everyone turned to look at him, "Guess what?"

"What?" Robin asked, curious as to what had his best friend in such a good mood.

"Today's my birthday!"

The Team smiled and gathered around to wish him well, but the excitement was interrupted by Batman appearing in the doorway of the Infirmary.

"Kid Flash," he announced, "Come with me. You have a mission to complete."

"Aw, man," Wally groaned, bummed that his birthday festivities were being interrupted. He brightened moments later, "Wait a second: is this a solo mission?"

"Yes," Batman growled impatiently, "Now come with me. There is no time to waste."

"Oh, yeah!" Wally whooped before zipping out of the room, calling over his shoulder to Artemis, "We'll have to finish that fight later. And I was so winning!"

"You were not!" Artemis hollered back automatically, but Kid Flash was long gone.

"Hello, Megan!" M'gann exclaimed, "If today's Wally's birthday, that means we have to bake him a cake. Come on, Zatanna! I'll show you how it's done."

With that, the two girls were also out the door, Superboy trialing after them to go watch static on the T.V. Kaldur smiled politely at Raven and excused himself as well, citing the fact he had yet to buy Kid Flash a present.

Black Canary gave a fond huff of annoyance at their antics, and fixed a calculating look on Raven, who had watched the proceedings without batting an eye.

"Is there anything you need?"

The question startled Raven, but she had the wits to shake her head slightly in reply.

"Alright then, I trust you all to behave yourselves while I'm gone," Black Canary's faintly dismissive tone rubbed Raven and Red-X the wrong way, but they kept their ire from showing outwardly.

"Where are you going?" Artemis asked in surprise. She raised an eyebrow sardonically, "Aren't you supposed to be babysitting us?"

"I got a call from Green Arrow," Black Canary replied, making her way out the door and towards the Boom Tubes, "He needs some help cleaning up a mess in Star City. He also wants to talk to you; he said your mother was worried about you."

Robin saw Artemis wince slightly before she gave a curt goodbye and also left for the Boom Tubes, leaving him alone in the room with Raven and Red-X.

"I'm going to go see Kid Flash before he leaves," the Boy Wonder said, sensing that the two wanted some alone time. Having been raised by a womanizer, Robin was well-versed in reading a female's body language. Thus, he was well-aware that Raven was annoyed with X and was no doubt waiting for the chance to chew him out about something. Robin couldn't help but be a little smug about the small slump in X's shoulders as the man realized he was being left alone to face her wrath.

If Robin was certain of one thing as he left the Infirmary, it was that things were going to be interesting, especially now that Raven was awake.

Now, Robin mused, what was he going to give his best friend for his birthday? Maybe a good hit over the head so he would finally realize his true feelings for Artemis . . . .

With a cackle, Robin disappeared to a) wish Wally luck on his first solo mission, and b) plot.

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

Elsewhere in the world, a young boy smiled, laughing as he chased an animal around his front yard. His blue eyes sparkled mischievously, and the wind stirred his messy auburn-red hair, blowing it back and keeping it from falling into his face.

His mother appeared on their front porch and called him into dinner. Her eyes glanced worriedly at the horizon, where a herd of wildebeests could be seen milling around in agitation.

The woman sighed, deciding she would have to wait until tomorrow to find out what was bothering them. Her son was oblivious to her worries and darted past her into the house.

"Mom!" he called, "Hurry up; I'm starving!"

"Coming, dear," the woman replied, smiling as she returned to the house, closing the door behind her. "Have you washed your hands yet?"

"Aw, Mom! Do I have to?"

"Yes, you do. I don't want you getting sick . . . ."

Their voices faded away as they went further into their house, and outside the wildebeest herd continued to prance, kicking up dust from the animal sanctuary they currently inhabited into the hot, dusky air.

The animals' nostrils flared yet again, picking up a disturbing scent in the distance that set them on edge. They didn't know what it was, but their instincts whispered that it was to be avoided at all costs.

Mere miles away, a line of soldiers' boots made thudding sounds as they hit the ground . . . .

So, Raven is awake now! Yay! The real fun can begin!

Also, bet you can't guess the identity of the mother and son (hint: foreshadowing) . . . Haha, I dare you! No cheating and looking on the Internet, you have to use your dusty memory banks. Think back to YJ season 1.

I plan on starting a routine of writing as often as possible each day, so hopefully I will be able to crank out chapters faster and get them posted ASAP. I managed to write this one in three days . . . .

Alright, random question time: Which is prettier, a sunset in a hot, humid place or a sunset in a cold, dry place where ice crystals sparkle in the air?

Lol (Lots of Love),

~ Home By Another Way

(P.P.S. Happy birthday, Dad! Love you!)