La'gaan's ankle healed. M'Gann was 'rescued'. Things were, by and large, fine.
For the moment.
As soon as he was given the medical all-clear, La'gaan threw himself back into training with the intensity and focus that he pushed into every aspect of being Lagoon Boy. Someone like him didn't get a pass up to the surface by being timid or uncommitted. When the Team wasn't training, he trained alone. He scheduled extra sparring sessions with Nightwing. He got Mal to pass along any old case files relevant to whatever problem he was focusing on for the week. He asked Batgirl to teach him infiltration and help sharpen his surveillance skills. People rarely dared to ask what brought on the sudden bout of enthusiasm for broadening his skill set, and when they did, he brushed them off.
La'gaan didn't need to highight the truth to other people. It wasn't their problem. It was his.
He wasn't good enough.
Nightwing's whole undercover plan felt like a second chance, a do-over on the long list of mistakes. Now that he knew the truth, it seemed so obvious; of course Kaldur wasn't a traitor. How could that ever be true? He was Aqualad! He was La'gaan's friend, idol, and inspiration... and as La'gaan read more and more of the Team's previous adventures, it became more and more obvious that he never should have taken the superficial, real-world evidence presented to the contrary. It was because it had been delivered by Nightwing, that was the problem; La'gaan was a soldier, he'd done his military service, he was trained to believe and obey superiors.
But if he had been a traitor... then La'gaan would have failed to stop him from killing Artemis. He would have failed to escape and protect his teammates who were later captured. And most recently, he would have failed to stop them from kidnapping M'Gann.
It didn't matter that mere chance had put him in those circumstances instead of a teammate. Chance could do so again. It didn't matter that he could just as easily take the easy way out and blame others for being too slow or not alert enough – he controlled his skills, not theirs. All that mattered was that they had a second chance where everybody was miraculously okay, and he wasn't going to let anybody die this time.
He still couldn't beat Nightwing in the arena. He was getting better, but not good enough, not yet. But he didn't think that that was the problem.
Batgirl taught him how to be stealthier, more alert, better at noticing significant details. He taught her how to move and track in water. Alertness was good, he needed to know where the danger was if he was going to help people. But that wasn't what had tripped him up before.
Old mission files were not only a font of useful information on the strengths and weaknesses of enemies and teammates alike, but contained a lot of useful information on strategy and tactics in practical settings. La'gaan was no stranger to battle planning, but he enjoyed seeing examples of his teammates and leader doing it. But there was nothing in there that he hadn't already experienced.
La'gaan reviewed the files of his previous missions. Then, with a particular idea in mind, he reviewed the footage of some of his matches against Nightwing.
Then he went to find Conner.
"I need your help," he said without preamble.
"Huh? With what?"
"I... need to learn how to beat my anger. I've always used it to help me fight, but it's holding me back. And this is your area of expertise, so..."
Conner opened his mouth as if to protest that, didn't seem to be able to think of anything to say, and shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you. Charging in blind is a great way to get hurt and screw up a battle plan. So don't do it."
"Easier said than done." La'gaan remembered charging in blind to take on Kaldur's army by himself. He took out a lot of soldiers, but that meant nothing after he was captured.
"Believe me, I know. Do your powers make you angry?"
"Your powers. Are you angrier when you're puffed up?"
"I... don't think so. I mean, I'm stronger so I can hit harder, but I think that's it."
"We need to do some training. See you in the arena in ten minutes."
"I can't, I have a date with..." La'gaan trailed off as Conner glared intensely at empty space. "Can we do it tomorrow?"
La'gaan walked toward the centre of the arena. Conner was already waiting there, arms crossed over his naked chest. He'd torn too many shirts to even bother wearing them in sparring matches any more. "Good, you made it," he said shortly. "Let's go."
La'gaan puffed up and charged. Conner moved quickly, dodging and tripping him; he landed on one palm and sprang up again easily. Their hands met in a grapple.
"Please," Conner said, sounding almost bored. "We both know I'm stronger than you are." He gave a sudden push with all his strength, shoving La'gaan backwards; La'gaan responded by stepping backwards and spinning on his heel as he deflated, intending to throw Conner, but Conner was ready for that and used one foot to trip him. They both ended up on the ground, Conner on top. His weight was in theory enough for La'gaan to shift, but he'd locked his legs behind La'gaan's knees and pinned one of La'gaan's arms far out to the side for balance. He even held his face nose-to-nose with La'gaan, making it impossible for La'gaan to headbutt him with any force, or without hurting himself.
La'gaan wriggled until his limbs were positioned to escape the hold, and Conner interjected occasional comments about how much practise La'gaan needed. La'gaan didn't respond. He just pushed harder. They rolled to their feet, grappled, until finally, Conner's arms were too low for him to be able to reach up to protect his stupid, grinning face in time, so La'gaan punched, as hard as he could.
Conner sidestepped, and La'gaan fell on his face. He felt the weight of Conner's foot on his back before he could get up.
"Mad at me?" Conner asked.
"You think?" La'gaan growled.
"You're slow because you're distracted by trying to fight your anger. And you're on the ground because you listened to it long enough to make stupid decisions. Trying to fight it is pointless... you need to accept that you're angry, but remember that that affects how you make decisions, and compensate." He took his foot off La'gaan's back and helped him up. "You seem to have most of it down. It's just a matter of the stupid decisions."
La'gaan very nearly said 'I'll show you stupid decisions' before seeing what was wrong with that sentence. Instead he threw himself at Conner once more, one hand grabbing for Conner's wrist, the other gripping at his hair.
He could do it. He could protect everyone. And he was going to prove it by bringing Conner to his knees.