I don't own Young Justice.
Roy has just picked up Lian from daycare on the way home from work – security coordinator at a local bank – when right as he's buckling her into her car seat, his cell phone rings.
Thing is, his cell phone isn't on.
"Hello?" he answers suspiciously, tucking it between his shoulder and his ear so he can finish tethering his daughter in. "Who is this?"
"It's Nightwing," responds the caller. "It's an emergency."
(Well that solves the mystery, at least – the bastard hacked his phone.)
"So deal with it," Roy snaps. He adjusts the car seat straps and ruffles Lian's hair, taking the phone back into his hand and straightening out. "Or get the League. You know I don't do that sh – stuff anymore."
He glances at Lian to see if she noticed his slip-up, but she's contentedly flipping through the book the daycare lady gave her, something about a lost cat finding its way home. She didn't hear.
"The League's busy," Nightwing says. "So's the team. Turn on the news if you're skeptical – things are going down out there, things that've been years in the making. We've deployed everyone we've got and we're still short, but there's a different mission left, an important one, and I need someone to back me up."
"I have a family now," says Roy. "Get West to do it."
"Wally's already in the field," Nightwing says impatiently. "I told you everyone's busy. Roy, listen to me. It's Kaldur."
"Fuck you," Roy barks, then quickly shuts the car door, as if Lian will un-hear the word that way. She gives him a curious look through the glass and he turns away, pressing his back to the door, so she can't read his lips, either. "Don't you dare try and use him to drag me into this. I am not helping you take him down."
"I'm not asking you to," says Nightwing. "I'm asking you to help me save his life. I don't have time to explain the details right now, but it boils down to this – he's on our side, he's been on our side this whole time, and if you don't suit up and get out here, he's going to be dead before the day is over."
"He's – what?" Roy stutters. Bullshit. He's seen the footage. There's no way that's true. "I'm telling you, If you're fucking with me, I swear I'll - "
" – I'm not," says Nightwing flatly. "Please, Roy. I can't do this by myself. You're all we've got. All he's got. I wouldn't be asking you under any other circumstances. "
Silence on the line. Roy stares at the façade of the day care center, watches the mothers who've come to pick up their children, soaks in the sounds of the parking lot, glances through the car window at his own daughter with her pigtails and her car seat and her book about the lost cat. Finally, he closes his fists and speaks again, voice low.
"Let me find Lian a babysitter."
The sub is a wreck; the entire pier is in flames. Roy hangs back a moment to pick off a few of the helmeted soldiers rushing their way, clearing the path for Nightwing, who's rushing in in front of him, escrima sticks in hand. It's been over a year since he last did this, and even though he's stayed in shape and done some target practice here and there, the instincts are rusty – the adrenaline rushing through his system is more fear than excitement, and he still doesn't get what's going on in the big picture.
On the other hand, it might be better if he doesn't think too hard about it. If he's on board with the basic concept, it's that for the last three years – the three years that saw him spiral out of control, marry a villain, father a daughter he couldn't take care of, nearly self-destruct a hundred different ways – the man he once trusted more than anyone in the world has been playing pawn in one of Nightwing's elaborate espionage games, and couldn't be bothered to tell him.
Roy reaches for a particular arrow in his quiver, feeling the configuration notches beneath his fingertips, and aims for the sky – flare arrow, proven effective against Manta's men by Artemis.
Artemis. Kaldur killed Artemis. The thought strikes Roy as he ignites the flare and fires, sending a blinding light arcing across the battlefield. Left and right, Manta's men cry out, fall to their knees, stumble blindly, and Roy can't help but think that he feels just as disoriented as them right now, albeit in a less physical way.
Nightwing presses their advantage with alarming speed and precision. In moments, the docks are nearly clear, and absent the sound of firing lasers the roar of the flames seems to grow yet louder. Roy wipes a bead of sweat from his brow and fires off two last arrows, felling the last of the helmeted soldiers as they emerge from the wreckage of the sub and throw themselves for the comparative safety of the burning pier. Whatever happened here, it was devastating.
"This way," Nightwing orders, snapping Roy out of his hesitation. The acrobat is tucking his weapons back onto his belt, making for the half-sunken submarine and the open hatch at its top.
"Are you crazy?" Roy asks as he follows anyway. "That thing is going down in minutes. We go in there, we go with it."
"Aqualad's down there," Nightwing responds, tossing Roy a rebreather as he leaps off the dock and onto the top of the damaged craft. "So's Black Manta."
That seems to be all he needs to say, and he disappears down the hatch without another word, leaving Roy to jump down after him. They land in a metallic hallway, its walls marred with scorch marks and flecks of blood, though whose, it's impossible to tell, and in the quiet of the sub a new sound comes to light, metallic clangs and faint shouts from somewhere deeper within. The two heroes share a look.
"Your mission," says Roy, nocking an arrow to his bow. "You lead."
Nightwing nods and rushes forward, turning down the first inner hallway they come to. Roy isn't sure if the younger hero is familiar with the layout of the ship or if he's guessing randomly, but he doesn't feel like asking so he just follows, his eyes flicking back and forth in search of danger, which is laughable – it's all danger. There's water dripping through the ceiling and electricity crackling from gashed-open panels in the walls and fires burning wherever they can find something to burn, and any sane person would have gotten off this ship by now.
Then again, neither heroes nor villains are noted for their sanity.
They round a corner. Manta's men, it seems, have already made their escape – the two heroes encounter no resistance as they hurry through the winding passages of the Manta Sub, sidestepping swinging, severed cables and piles of crackling technological rubble.
Just when Roy opens his mouth to demand some sort of further explanation, there's a ship-shaking crash from somewhere to their right that nearly knocks both of them off their feet. The shouting, which had stopped for the last few minutes, now renews, though the voice is too low and too distorted for Roy to make out anyway words.
"We're close," says Nightwing, pausing to check something on his wrist computer before he takes off down a narrow corridor.
"I hadn't noticed," Roy snaps back.
They ascend a short flight of stairs, turn a corner, and suddenly there's a surge of heat and bright-red light and Roy ducks just in time as a burst of energy sizzles over his head and blows a hole in the wall behind him. By the time he remembers to breathe again, Nightwing is already rolling upright and drawing his escrima sticks, heading for the larger of two black-armored figures in the room – the smaller one is slumped against the far wall, left visor shattered, armored scorched and dented in several places. They're in a command room of some sort. It's full of shattered computer screens and monitor systems that are currently shrieking warnings about the state of the sub.
A shout from Nightwing forces Roy's attention back towards the action. Black Manta, whom he recognizes from news footage and mission reports, has dodged the hero's attempt at a full-frontal attack and is now lifting his arm to fire some sort of laser. Drawing back his bowstring, Roy lets fly with a weighted arrow that knocks the villain's arm back just enough to divert the blast into the ceiling; metal rains down upon them.
"So you brought your friends to die with you," says Manta, his voice a garbled, inhuman boom amidst the other noises of the deteriorating ship. Despite the distortion, Roy can still hear the bitterness in his tone as he continues: "There is some loyalty in the world, after all."
"Dying isn't part of the plan, actually," says Nightwing. He rolls to the side as Manta makes a grab for him, then swipes out a leg in an attempt to trip the larger man, but Manta seems to have anticipated the move and sidesteps cleanly. In the corner, the other armored figure – Roy isn't willing to think of it as Kaldur yet – stirs.
Nocking a shock arrow to his bow, Roy advances on the two fighters. It's been too long since he worked with Nightwing (or anyone else), though, and he can't predict the younger hero's moves well enough to get a clear shot. For his part, Nightwing is dodging nimbly around Manta, landing hits with his escrima sticks that don't seem to be doing much of anything, though Roy imagines the echo inside the helmet must be pretty annoying. It's an unproductive fight. Nightwing is too fast and Black Manta's armor too impenetrable for either one to do any real damage, and all the while the sub groans around them, water now trickling in from the hole in the ceiling.
"Nightwing, move!" Roy barks at last, and when the acrobat flips away obediently, he lets his arrow loose. Manta swats the first one away but Roy is quick to follow up, and the jolt the impact sends through the villain's body makes him jerk and quiver with pain as Nightwing steps in to deliver a stiff kick to his chest. But before it can land, Manta rears back, the red slits of his visor flashing brightly, and Roy throws himself to one side just before the laser blast pierces the air where he was standing a split second earlier. Behind him, an ornate wooden bust bursts into flames.
He rolls upright in time to see Manta hurl Nightwing across the room. The man is inhumanly strong, probably because of the armor; Roy draws and nocks an explosive arrow but loses his chance to shoot it as Manta comes charging at him, rendering the distance between them too narrow for a blast attack. With a grunt, Roy jumps to the side and rolls, but the villain adjusts course in turn, blocking off his escape. Black Manta's arm pulls back and Roy braces himself for a bone-shattering impact that never comes – there's a loud clang and Manta staggers to the side, dazed from a blow Roy didn't see. Water showers to the floor around them.
A second blow from behind sends the villain a few stumbling steps forward. It's Nightwing, up again after his throw, capitalizing on Manta's momentary disorientation. Roy follows up with a kick that hurts his foot more than it seems to hurt his opponent, then edges around and away to get in a more reasonable shooting distance. He's just re-drawing his blast arrow when he notices that Kaldur is up – there's blood leaking out of the right boot of his armor and the leg above it is obviously broken, but he's dragged himself upright on a nearby command station and retrieved his waterbearers from the floor, clearly intending to rejoin the fight.
"You should not have come," he says, startling the archer, who somehow hadn't expected him to speak.
Before Roy can respond, though, a stifled cry of pain from Nightwing draws them both back into the fray. Kaldur summons the water coming in from the ceiling and whips it towards his father to knock him away from the acrobat, who executes a quick backwards somersault to clear the way for Roy's incoming explosive arrow. It whistles past Manta and strikes the wall just behind him, but it's close enough: the blast knocks the villain flat and seems to disable some sort of function to his suit, if the erratic flickering of the one-solid red lights on his shoulderplates is any indication.
Rolling upright, Nightwing rejoins Roy and Kaldur on the far side of the room.
"Not to rush things, but the sub isn't going to hold up much longer," he says, pulling up a hologram on his wrist computer. "The sooner we get out of here, the – "
A massive energy blast erupts from Manta's shoulder cannon and obliterates the sensor console in front of them, sending a cloud of heat and debris rushing over their heads. When Roy unfolds himself out of his protective stance, the villain is standing before them once more, the flickering lights on his armor now imposing, even frightening.
"You sent my own flesh and blood to destroy me," he booms, towering over them. The rage in his voice is like a physical force, raw and deep. "Do you really believe I will hesitate to send you to the bottom of the ocean?"
Some part of Roy, the part that has the world's worst comedic timing, wants to point out that they're at a pier, not exactly in the middle of the Pacific, and wish Manta good luck with the whole bottom of the ocean thing. But sixty feet of water is plenty enough to drown in so he keeps his mouth shut.
Beside him, Nightwing takes up a defensive stance; Roy takes the cue and draws his last shock arrow, waiting for Manta to make a move, which the villain does a split second later. It's not the move they're expecting, though. With a jerk of his head, he blasts a ray of energy from his helmet into the row of monitor consoles to his right. They burst into flames, spitting sparks of fire and electricity into the air and creating a wave of heat that washes through the room, and almost instantly, Roy feels himself break out in a hard sweat.
Kaldur lifts his waterbearers and attempts to draw in the water from the ceiling, but there's not enough of it coming in to douse the flames. Furthermore, the effort seems to drain him – Roy can see his arms shaking violently – but there's no time to do anything with that thought because Manta is taking a powerful swing at Nightwing, forcing him to dodge towards the fire instead of away from it, and a new alert from one of the undestroyed monitors is letting them know that heat levels in the fuel compartment have hit hazardous. The whole thing could blow at any second.
"All right, plan B," says Roy, quickly switching out the shock arrow for a double explosive. He aims at Manta, drawing the villain's attention, then swivels quickly to fire it at a wall instead, the wall he's pretty sure is closest to the outside. It's time to blast their way out of here.
The wall explodes in a shower of steel and sparks, but it's not enough. The hull has been built to withstand greater pressure than that. All the same, Roy's move has given Nightwing time to get around to Manta's other side, and now the acrobat lashes out with his wired taser, flinging the two diodes onto the villain's armor and lighting the bastard up. It takes Manta only a second to recover and throw the wires off himself, but his retaliatory laser strike goes exactly where Nightwing seems to have wanted – into the wall Roy just blew half to hell.
For a brief moment, it looks like the hull will hold. Then a single spurt of water begins spraying in, and there's a sort of crumbling sound, and the bay breaks through, water rushing in to consume the fire and rubble and destruction of the command room.
"Fools," Manta spits as the water splashes around his ankles. "If you wish so badly to make this your grave, I will be happy to assist you."
And without another word, he turns, lifting his arm and the laser cannon mounted on it towards Kaldur.
Nightwing's shout of protest is lost in the sound of the ensuing explosion. For a moment, Roy's totally sure that they've come down here for nothing, that Black Manta has just blown his own son to smithereens, but when he lowers the debris-blocking arm from his face, he realizes that Manta fired not directly at Kaldur but at the ceiling above him, bringing whatever was in the room above crashing down.
To be honest, it's not that much better. Kaldur is now trapped under a half-ton of mechanical wreckage, and the water is at their knees and rising fast.
"Rebreather, Red Arrow," Nightwing orders. "Don't put it in yet. Wait for my mark."
Manta is gone, Roy suddenly notices as he hooks his bow onto his shoulder and pulls the rebreather from a pouch on his belt. The monitors are still screaming at them, and suddenly true panic grips his gut – who's going to look after Lian if he dies down here? He shouldn't have come. He doesn't owe Nightwing a damn thing, and he most certainly doesn't owe Kaldur, and he's going to drown or get blown to high heaven and Lian's going to end up in fatherless like he was, tossed from house to house to house, all because he –
Nightwing sounds irate; he'd have to be to drop Roy's real name like that. The archer turns and sees him standing over the pile of rubble under which Kaldur has disappeared, busily hauling pieces off of it and tossing them aside.
"Right," Roy mutters. "Coming."
He tucks his rebreather under his quiver strap and wades over, pushing down the urge to jump ship and save himself. As much as he's afraid to risk leaving Lian without a father, he knows he could never look her in the eye if he left someone to die like this. Crouching beside Kaldur's prone form, he focuses on unearthing the Atlantean, a task made somewhat easier by the water that is now as high as his hips, and soon he and Nightwing have hauled Kaldur upright and braced him against the back wall – he's too heavy to carry, and furthermore, he's unconscious, apparently knocked out by the heat of the now-quelled fires and the impact of the overhead explosion.
"We need to get his armor off!" Nightwing shouts over the roaring water. "We'll never get him out like this!"
Roy nods and reaches for the helmet, which comes off easily enough, probably due to the severe damage it's sustained. Kaldur's head lolls to one side, revealing that the left side of his face is littered with half-sunken shards of his broken visor; blood is trickling steadily down his neck. Nightwing wipes it away from his gills with a grimace that looks almost guilty, as though this is somehow his fault.
Between the two of them they manage to pry the chestpiece open – the mechanism is damaged, making it impossible to remove it cleanly, but their joint strength is enough to wrest it off. The arms go next, but by the time they've slid the gauntlets off Kaldur's hands, the water is up to their necks.
"That's gonna have to do," says Nightwing as he slips his rebreather into his mouth and pulls one of Kaldur's arms over his shoulder. Nodding, Roy copies the motion and they begin to move across the room towards the steadily-widening hole in the opposite wall, their feet barely scraping the ground as the water rises to brush Roy's jawline. They're swimming before long, the water well over their heads and then suddenly the ship gives a horrible lurch and it's clear they've really begun to sink.
Roy shares a look with Nightwing, and the two of them redouble their efforts. Kaldur's body is a dead weight between them, though Roy avoids thinking about how literal that phrase could get in a matter of moments. As they approach the blast hole, the room seems to reach equilibrium with the bay; the strong inward flow abates, and they hurl themselves out the hole in the wall into open water. At their back, the sub sinks rapidly downward.
Kaldur is still far too heavy, though, even armored only from the waist down – Roy's kicking as hard as he possibly can, but with only one arm free and all the extra weight, they're not going anywhere. He turns to Nightwing with panic in his eyes, only to see the acrobat reach down to withdraw something from his belt: his grappling gun.
The relief is short-lived. Below them, the sub strikes the bottom of the pier and explodes on impact. Nightwing's grappling line shoots up slowly, much too slowly, heading for the underside of the dock above them, but Roy can see the fire billowing up below them, knows the water around them will begin to boil at any moment, then suddenly there's a tug from above and they're rushing upwards, Roy swinging his free arm around to grab Nightwing's shoulder and stabilize all three of them.
They hit the bottom of the dock hard, and in the nick of time. Roy can feel the heat washing up over them but it's not painful or lethal and they're in much shallower water now; when they drop down to the dock floor they can simply walk along the bottom, breathing their increasingly shallow air as they drag Kaldur towards the light overhead.
And then suddenly they're breaching, tossing their rebreathers aside, collapsing onto the concrete of the boat ramp they've surfaced next to and gasping for proper air. Kaldur isn't moving but his chest is rising and falling slowly, testifying to the success of their mission – he's alive. They're alive. It's over: mission accomplished.
Roy can't know then just how inaccurate that thought will prove.