Summary: In their family there was an endless string of betrayal, heartbreak, deceit and manipulation. At the same time, there was love, loyalty, faith, and trust. They were broken, but they were a family. 5 year gap fill.
"Together, on our own, we formed something powerful."
This is the story that no one wants to tell. This is the account of six sidekicks, of which some became villains, some become heroes. This is the story of the five missing years, of a team – of a family.
Even a broken family is still a family.
There'd been a time of victory and assurance, of certainty and conviction – there'd been a brief and shining moment when their family had been complete and whole. Kaldur has had been a strong and commanding leader with the need to understand and courage to be accepting – he'd guided them through the terrible storms of hard times and helped them enjoy the good times. He'd acted as not only the leader, advisor, and guardian of their group, but he'd also managed to be the friend, the counselor. In every way, he'd become the big brother that none of them had – not the oldest brother, though. That job was for Red Arrow, who'd be waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in whenever he was truly needed.
Robin had still been a child – definitely not innocent or ignorant of the world, but not yet a leader. He hadn't had the weight of the world shoved onto his young and unprepared shoulders. He was still light, still weightless – he'd still fit into the name Robin with a comfortable ease. His laughter had been almost reassuring during missions, his mirth always contagious as he performed his acrobatics and joined Wally in witty banter. Despite his indignation, experience and exposure to the darker themes of humanity that had wizened him beyond his years, Robin had been the little brother.
Wally had still been Kid Flash – reckless and rash, loyal and determined. His careless repartee that he kept up with Robin while they fought off the villains, his teasing arguments that he engaged in with Artemis and his comically fast metabolism that had fueled his seriously fast pace had been grounding, in a way, stabilizing the Team. His resolve to do the right thing had kept them moving, his selfless nature reminding them of what they were: heroes.
Artemis had been the older sister, offering her own unique way of showing she cared. She'd been the support behind Kaldur when he needed it and Robin was away, she'd been the one to practice stealth with Robin, to keep Wally grounded and serious when he needed to be, she'd taught Conner the art of patience by teaching him archery. She'd been Megan's older her sister, exposing the Martian to Earth one baby step at a time.
Megan had still been innocent at the time, excited to learn and eager to please. Cautious but brave in a fight, and bold with her powers. She'd been quick to apologize when she'd lost control, when she'd gone too far. She'd been openly accepting of everyone, despite their many flaws and unusual quirks. She'd reminded the team of what genuine kindness looked like with the ways she'd tried to make everything right for everyone; the way she'd kept the Mountain stocked with food for Kid's crazy metabolism, or the way she decorated the Mountain with shells she found on the beach for Kladur, and the other subtle things she'd done to keep everyone comfortable. Her innocence and enthusiasm had allowed her to easily slip into the role of little sister.
Conner had been the middle child, too mature for Robin and Wally's antics but not practiced enough in the world to be older. He'd been the protector in battles, a shield, but he'd also been awkward in social situations. His occasional flashes of rage had been countered by the his gentler side, his caring for other living things that he displayed with his tendency to adopt strays .His raw emotions had still been to unprocessed for deceit, and his blunt honesty had been just as stabilizing as Kid Flash's determination. He'd been a gentle giant, a lovable brother, if a bit impatient and easily annoyed.
It'd been a glorious time; they'd formed a family – a strong and stable unit. They'd been willing to risk their lives for one another. They'd carried one another through the bad times – had comforted each other when reality had been too cruel for words – like when they had buried Kent Nelson, or when Zatanna had watched Dr. Fate embody her father. They'd trusted each other with their darker pasts and their lives.
But things change.
A year after the mind-control fiasco the League had faced, the family suffered its first blow – the loss of Wally.
The team had noticed that the speedster had been getting his faster, his powers growing and changing. Wally had noticed it too, and had been perfectly comfortable with it – embracing it, actually. He'd thought of himself like an unknown variable in an experiment, as he'd explained in excitement to the team. Whereas Flash and Jay Garrick had both gained their speed as fully grown adults, Wally had received his powers at a much younger age – he'd been excited to see how the difference would affect him. He'd killed off their worries effectively, until that one heart wrenching day. He'd pushed himself just a little too fast, run just a tad faster than he normally did – he'd started running, and hadn't been able to stop.
Kid had finally stopped when Megan had reluctantly reached into his mind and knocked him unconscious. It'd been good timing, any later and it might have killed him – his body had started to shut down from overuse and starvation. Even after Robin had injected a mild sedative into his friend's arm, Wally's unconscious form had still been weakly vibrating; it hadn't stopped until they'd had him in the infirmary and they'd managed to start feeding nutrients into his body with the use of medical equipment and tubes.
When Kid had finally regained consciousness three days later, Batman had announced that Wally's unstable molecules were slowly killing him. He'd explained that the only way to keep Wally's system from completely shutting down and overworking his heart was to stop running. So saying, he'd relived the horrified speedster from duty. The most terrifying run of his life had been his last.
The blow to the team had been harsh, as though someone had ripped their hearts out. For a few weeks, Megan had continued cooking at her normal pace, but within a week she'd stopped because the food wasn't being eaten, and throwing out the uneaten and rotting food was horribly depressing – it was a reminder about Wally. However, he'd still visit every two weeks or so, playfully demanding a souvenir from each mission. Artemis and Robin had dutifully complied. Whenever the redhead was present in the Mountain, their family didn't feel incomplete – but they weren't frequent enough to fill the gap. They still loved that he tried though, even when they clearly saw that the visits made him nostalgic for his hero days.
The Golden Age had ended, but their family had still held strong to each other. The souvenir shelf had continued to accumulate various trophies of missions, and still continued to be Wally's favorite room to visit. The Team took great delight in explaining what every item was and where it had come from. Conner had grown past his emotional turmoil, and though he still got agitated every now and again, he'd sobered. Megan had learned more of the world – even the horrors that Artemis had been unable to protect her from. No one had been particularly thrilled, and in fact it'd been a solemn moment, when the Martian girl had been present during the first mission they hadn't saved someone – a little boy not even seven years of age. It'd hurt the most when M'gann had realized that a little superspeed could have saved the boy. She hadn't told Wally that though – no one did. Robin and Artemis became inseparable during missions, often telling stories about Wally to each other through the mind-link. The others would listen in as the conversation progressed, and the two didn't seem to mind when the others had their own story to share – it'd made waiting for the thugs in the dark so much more enjoyable. They'd suffered a real loss, but the family was still strong.
The second hit the Team had endured occurred two years later. It was a wound that hadn't ever really healed – it probably never would.
Atlantis had been attacked by a group of rebels that'd been organized and supplied by Black Manta. The rebels had gone on a rampage, storming the streets, weapons drawn. Blood had floated in eerie ribbons in the water, the crystal blue sea being polluted by smears of crimson red that drifted up before dispersing and discoloring the water. Black Manta supporters stormed to the castle, swarming the place. Guards were stretched thin, either too preoccupied with protecting the castle to help the dying city below, or overwhelmed by the chaos in the city to aid their comrades being slaughtered in the castle.
Orin called in reinforcements. The Team by this time had gained credibility with the League, seeing them almost as equals by this point of time, taking into account their experience and skill – they'd been the first to respond to the distress signal, Aqualad taking action the second his King had sent the alert.
The Team arrived shortly. Artemis and Robin had stayed in the Bioship to help because their need for air made them ineffective fighters underwater and they lacked the ability to produce gills like Megan or to hold their breath for hours at a time like Superboy.
They'd joined the fight. Miss Martian stayed in to the city to incapacitate the rebels in the streets and to aid the injured survivors while Kaldur and Conner had raced to Aquaman's castle.
When they'd arrived, Kaldur and Superboy rallied with a group of specialized soldiers that'd been trained in the art of combat as well as sorcery – Tula and Garth had been on the team.
The soliders, with the help from the two heroes, had managed to beat back the rebels. The mutineers' confidence had begun to dwindle along with their confidence, and it hadn't taken long after that to coax surrender out of the few that remained standing.
The feeling of victory had been nearly intoxicating to Kaldur, who'd sent through the mind-link that the battle was done and they were victorious. Just as he'd finished his announcement though, he heard a faint noise. Suddenly, Superboy was lunging at the leader, carrying both of them to the pearly white floor. Kaldur's back collided with the floor, but he'd fought side-by-side with the clone long enough to know that he'd just been saved. What he found out though, was the price that his life had cost him – Aqualad's observant eyes watched as a magical beam shot past where he had been standing, and instead collided with a solider – Tula cried out in pain, and had died.
From the shadows, Black Manta had crept forward from the darkness. Before Kaldur could strike out at him, the villain had removed his mask, revealing his face. He told Kaldur about his parentage, about the lies Orin had fed him as a child about being an orphan. Fueled by anger and mistrust, Kaldur blamed Superboy for Tula's death, saying he'd valued her life over his own, and taken up on Manta's offer to join him. Before Superboy had been able to react, Aqualad had attacked Garth, using his water bearers as swords and swiping at his old friend's abdomen, a deep cut that would've been fatal if not addressed. He then gave Superboy a choice between stopping him and his father from leaving or saving the life of Garth.
Angry and confused, Conner had taken Garth and fled back down to the city where Megan could nurse him back to health. By the time he'd returned to the castle, Orin had reported that Aqualad was gone.
That ride home on the Bioship had been the longest, somehow seeming even longer than the time Wally had been lying slumped in his seat with his body trembling with feeble vibrations – at least he'd been there. Aqualad's seat was empty though. It was even worse than him being dead, really – because at least they'd still know who he was, exactly who they'd lost. In a split second, their older brother had become a stranger – Conner could still see the look of hatred taking over the Atlantean's expression.
When Wally had visited a week later, they told him what had happened. He hadn't believed them at first, but when it finally settled in his mind, his face had sobered, shaking his head in disappointment.
Three months later, they lost Artemis – her mother had finally pulled her out of her 'extracurricular' activities. She'd decided it was high time Artemis went on with her education, and had banned Artemis from going on any more missions. While in reality Artemis could have easily ignored her mother's wishes and continued despite her demand, she respected her lone parent and packed her things up from the tower. The remains of the Team had celebrated her leaving with a small party, and Wally had come, bringing cake. Unfortunately, it'd been too soon for parties, with Kaldur's betrayal still fresh on their minds. The retellings of past adventures that were customary at parties such as these fell flat, as they either reminded Wally of what he'd lost or the Team of their leader's treachery. The party had been short lived, though Wally and Artemis did announce they'd be attending the same college. That had lightened the mood enough to bear the lengthy bitter good-byes that followed.
The Team had lost a total of three members – and Robin, now seventeen, had realized that all three of his original teammates had left. He was now barely a year older than Wally had been when he'd been forced off the Team, and Kaldur had changed sides, he hadn't seen Speedy – Red Arrow – since he'd left more than three years ago, and had only received a few letters in that time that basically told a twisted story of how he'd briefly managed to get Cheshire on the right side, and then had married her (Artemis, to that day, never talked about it to anyone, even after Robin had read the letter out loud to the group, even though that'd been all the way back to when Wally was still on the team), and then had started to get into drugs to deal with the depression that followed when she left. The last letter he'd received had been nearly a year ago, and despite Dick's persistence and detective work, Roy Harper was a tough guy to keep track of when he didn't want to be found.
So, four months after Artemis had left, and Robin was eighteen, he decided that 'Robin' was no longer an appropriate name. That title belonged to a different era, to a different boy. It belonged to Batman's protégé, not his partner (though really, they were more like co-workers now, considering Dick had grown into a man by this point- both physically and mentally); the name wasn't didn't fit his new role as leader . He dropped his 'Boy Wonder' label, giving the mantle to another boy named Jason, and took on the identity of Nightwing. He declined his invitation to join the ranks of the League though, playfully jabbing fun at the idea of all the rules and regulations. He did show up at the inauguration of Zatanna and Rocket, though, to wish them luck and to show his support.
Wally and Artemis still dropped by, but college ate up most of their time. Their visits had become less and less frequent – it came to a point where they only visited on Christmas, when they could escape their school work in name of the holiday vacation. Obviously, though, neither Kaldur nor Roy came to the meager celebration. Wally didn't comment on how the souvenir shelf had remained untouched, how his once-precious treasures had been allowed to be forgotten and collect dust – after Artemis had left, only Nightwing had been in the spirit for collecting mementos, and his new position as leader to Jason, Megan, and Conner kept him busy enough on missions. He'd tried to get the new Robin, Jason, to take up the hobby in memory of his old friend, but the boy didn't seem to have the motivation to do it and didn't see a point. The tradition had simply died away, and Wally could understand that.
It was during the next year that everyone realized how much their family had changed, as well as the people in it. Kaldur; their leader, their big brother, had abandoned them. Wally had stopped using his speed, his molecules to unstable to run and take full advantage of his superspeed – he'd also matured along with Robin, who was now Nightwing. Nightwing was no longer the little bother, and instead bore the brunt of leading and guiding a team. His childish antics had long since faded away in those four years – he never laughed during missions, instead or more serious demeanor as he watched out for Jason, who was nearly as reckless as Wally had been – but lacked the accelerated healing that should have gone along with it. Artemis was still snarky, a 'Spitfire' as Wally put it, and still had a tongue sharper than the arrows she used to shoot, but she too had grown past her teenage insecurities and had settled down into a steady and stable relationship with Wally. Conner, too, had grown – but they had found that because of his cloned genes, he would always have the appearance of an eighteen year old. At first, Conner had been worried about this, watching his friends grow and mature while he stayed frozen in time, only aging on the inside. However, with the help of Superman and the support of the Team, he'd gotten over the dilemma.
Conner and Megan, though, had broken up. Over the past years, with the loss of her innocence and her telepathic powers that were still growing, Megan had become colder and more calculating. Tampering with minds became quick and effective. In the years since tier first, she'd been exposed to so much evil and corruption, rifled through so many unwilling minds, that it was hard for her to respect another being's privacy in their own mind. It'd become so much easier to just break their minds than to delve into them and sift through each and every sinister stray thought, examining them with a magnifying glass. Conner had asked her to stop – tried to explain his discomfort with her tactics with his own experience of being influenced with mind-control – but Megan had refused. If anything, the regularity of her severe interrogation methods increased slightly, and Conner finally left her.
Even with these changes, though, all of them, excluding Kaldur and Roy, had been a family for one horrible day. A few weeks after Christmas, Dick's little brother, Jason, died. The day of his funeral, their broken little family came together and mourned with Nightwing and comforted him – Wally especially, knowing just how much loss Dick had encountered in his life and how hard it was for him to lose those closest to him. For just that day, they all stayed by Jason's grave and were a team again. Megan even made cookies, and Wally ate almost all of them. Artemis scolded him, Conner showed a small grin, a sign he'd sided with Artemis, and Dick might've even displayed his pixie laugh at the comforting familiarity of it all, if it had been under any other circumstances.
Their family had once been a stable unit. They'd all lived and loved and worked together. There had been a time when Kaldur had lead them with a calm and commanding hand, guided them through the shaky waters of troubled times and when Roy had watched over them all from afar. There'd been a time when Wally had been a speedster, when Artemis had been an archer, when Conner had been new to the world, and Megan had been innocent and eager.
It was nice to remember sometimes that they hadn't always been screwed up. It helped to keep in mind that Kaldur had been a hero once and hadn't always hated them, that Wally's speed hadn't always been a burden, that Artemis was still an amazing archer, that Conner hadn't always been so level-headed, and that Megan used to make cookies every day and used to be almost obnoxiously kind.
And when Dick had seen that brief hesitation in Kaldur's eyes – when the Atlantian could have so easily killed both him and Conner but didn't – it'd forced him to have an epiphany of a sort.
They were still a family.
They were a screwed up, dysfunctional, and hated each other most of the time for what they had become and what they hadn't. They had been betrayed, lied to, manipulated, and had helped to break each other's hearts. They often were isolated from one another, Conner, Megan, and Nightwing often concerning themselves with other tasks and avoiding each other. More often than not they refrained from discussing the past, even when Garfield joined the Team as Beast Boy and had adopted the souvenir shelf. But, some things hadn't changed. He'd still die for any of his friends, maybe even Kaldur, and he was fairly certain that at least Conner, Megan, Artemis, and Wally would still die for him – he wasn't foolish enough to add Kaldur's name for that list, but maybe in the back of his mind, he considered the possibility that maybe one day he could once again add his former leader to the list of people he trusted.
Because despite anything and everything that had happened, there had been a time when they had lived together, fought together, for each other, side-by-side. There had been a time when they loved, laughed, and cried together. Maybe there would be again.
They were a messed up, broken, and torn apart, a dysfunctional and wrecked family.
But they were still a family.
Author's Note: Okay, so I really don't know where this came from. I guess this is a combination of at least 2 or 3 one-shots that have been playing around in my head and they sort of just clumped together. This counts as a fill for my cliché-word prompt challenge, in which I received "the silver lining" – which fits because, despite the horrible things the team has experienced they are still a family. And this counts as my missing five-year-gap fic.
Now, I should be writing for "Illusion". I know this. However, my brain is a total troll and came up with this. Reviews are appreciated. Unless of course you hated this, in which case reviews are also welcome. :)