Eleanor stared at Brigid Tenenbaum from across the table, lips pursed and hands clasped on the tabletop. The scientist had been brusque ever since she had walked through the door, eyeing the Titans with a hawkish gaze. Though she had accepted Cyborg's awkward polite invitation to join them for breakfast the old woman had yet to touch any food. In fact, only Beast Boy and Cyborg were stuffing their faces in earnest. Starfire picked at her meal half heartedly. Raven and Robin sipped tea and coffee respectively as they frowned in turn at both Eleanor and Tenenbaum. Eleanor didn't even make a show of eating or drinking despite her normally voracious appetite.
The woman looked ancient. Her hair was long and grey, white in places. Deep wrinkles creased her once smooth features and she seemed smaller and more hunched over than Eleanor remembered. Granted, that last bit might just be because her last encounter with Tenenbaum had been through the eyes of one of her Little Sisters. Her eyes were the same though, hard and cold but with… grief just below the surface. Those eyes flicked from Titan to Titan until at last they settled on Eleanor. Tenenbaum pursed her lips.
"How much have you told them?" Her voice was raspier than it had been back then.
"I... Think most of them know about the reason you're here by now."
"-Oh wuh?" Beast Boy said through a mouthful of tofu waffles. Cyborg put down the glass of milk he'd been gulping and raised his eyebrows.
"The little ones," Tenenbaum said impatiently. "The girls, now tell me where they are. I need to examine them." Eleanor clamped her mouth shut to stop her knee jerk response. Revulsion rose in her throat. She needed the scientist but the woman's hands were stained with blood, some of it Eleanor's. The thought of her near those little girls...
"Hang on," Cyborg raised his hand to signal a time out. "What little girls?" Tenenbaum scowled.
"I thought you said they knew."
"Siren's sisters," Starfire supplied.
"-Air ih *Gulp* they're in some kind of coma thingy in the hospital." Beast Boy gulped down his waffles and belched. Cyborg stared at the shapeshifter and then looked to Raven and Robin.
"Did you guys-"
"Yes," Was all Robin said. Raven just sipped her tea. The metal man looked between his teammates with a furrowed brow.
"Wait, are you guys telling me that I'm the only one that didn't know about this!?" He gaped at Siren and then the rest of them.
"It just sort of happened..." Eleanor scratched the back of her head awkwardly. "And you don't pry, so..."
"This is what I get for minding my own business? I get to be the odd man out? Come on!"
"I didn't plan-"
"Enough!" Tenenbaum stood up from the table and stared straight at Eleanor. "I'm not here to listen to your adolescent squabbling! Take me to the girls, or I'll find my own way."
"Hey, I don't know who you think you are lady," Beast Boy puffed himself up and jabbed a finger at her. "But you walked into our house, so you don't get to say what's what, whoever you are, am I right?"
"She's a war criminal," Robin spoke quietly, but his words cut off exchange like a knife. Beast Boy leaned away from Tenenbaum, eyes wide. Even Raven started slightly. Everyone except Eleanor eyed the old women with newfound suspicion. Tenenbaum became very still and her countenance turned stony. Then her face cracked into an ugly grimace.
"You've been reading up on me, I see..."
"Brigid Tenenbaum," Robin continued. "Jewish, born in Belarus where she lived until she was taken to Auschwitz in the Holocaust during World War II as a child." He paused. Most of the other Titans looked at Robin feeling a bit confused now. She sounded more like a victim than anything else. "There, the Nazis discovered her to be a scientific prodigy... And she started helping them perform experiments on her fellow prisoners." Now the Titans' heads swiveled back to Tenenbaum, new expressions of distaste on their faces... Except Starfire, who had no idea what they were talking about. The Earth history she'd skimmed hadn't gotten to that part yet.
"Robin..." Eleanor bit her lip, unsure what to say or whether she should say anything.
"Go on," Tenenbaum walked to the counter and turned to lean against it. "You're on a roll."
"And then, in 1946, just as American and Soviet governments were trying to recruit her, she vanishes off the face of the planet." Robin frowned at Tenenbaum. "What I don't know is how you know Siren or why you're here." The old women glanced at Eleanor out of the corner of her eye and set her face in a grimace. Eleanor caught something in her gaze that took her aback: sorrow and regret.
"If she hasn't told you, it's not my place." She turned towards the door again. "But I've already told you why I'm here, to help the little ones. It's none of your business, but if it makes you feel better, consider it a penance."
"Wait," Eleanor rose. "Dr. Tenenbaum, I'll take you. Um..." She turned to Cyborg sheepishly. "I'm going to have to borrow the T-car..."
"Oh no, if the T-car's going anywhere, I'm driving." Cyborg frowned. "Do you even have a driver's license?" She could understand his reaction. She'd probably feel the same if her original creation had been stolen, repainted, stolen again and finally blown to pieces all within hours of its completion. She had never gotten around to getting a drivers license anyway. Eleanor almost thanked him but there was a look in his eye that gave her pause. She nodded meekly instead.
"I'll go with you," Robin replied instantly. He stood from the table and, with an appraising look at Tenenbaum, made for the door. There was no point in trying to deny him. If at all possible, Starfire looked even more depressed than before. The Tamaranian rested her head in her hands and sighed heavily.
"Hey!" Beast Boy stood. "I'm going too, because unlike some people," He puffed out his chest and walked past Eleanor with his nose in the air. "I don't leave teammates hanging." When he was gone, Eleanor's gaze fell on Raven. The sorceress refused to make eye contact.
"Raven..." Eleanor began, but wasn't sure what to say. The sorceress delicately placed her tea cup on the counter. Then a pulse of dark energy covered her in shadow and she was gone. Siren felt a pang in her chest and turned towards the door herself.
To say the car ride was awkward would be to say the surface of the sun was balmy. Siren tried to give Cyborg directions before he reminded her he had GPS built into his arm and then they lapsed into a silence that seemed to stretch on indefinitely. Eleanor thought she could actually feel the edges of her sanity fraying. She wanted him to say something, anything. Even yelling seemed preferable to the silence, but Cyborg remained stoic, his eyes trained on the road.
"Cyborg," She blurted out at last, surprising herself. "Could you just... Say what you want to say?" For a moment there was silence. Then Cyborg spoke.
"Yeah, okay. Don't think what I'm doing means you're off the hook."
"I know tha-"
"I don't think you do." Cyborg glanced at her sharply before returning his gaze to the road. "What you did- Heck, what you and Robin did was prove that you don't really see yourselves as part of this team." His voice rose with every word. Siren found herself stumbling over her own tongue.
"Th-that's not true..."
"The things that threaten the city?" Cyborg waved vaguely at the bustle of the streets beyond the windshield. "That's what this team was made for, alright? We joined up so we could help people. Robin... He treated the team as a means to an end. You? You ignored us and then you weren't there for us. I'm not sure which is worse." Eleanor... did not know what to say to that. She opened her mouth, then closed it again and bowed her head.
"Those are just words, they are cheap." Siren started and turned to look in the back seat. Tenenbaum gazed out the window, inscrutable. "Actions don't absolve either, but they're a start."
"I... didn't ask you." The former Little Sister mumbled with halfhearted resentment. She sank down in her seat.
"She seems to have the right idea." Cyborg grunted. They lapsed into silence, another suffocating, smothering silence.
"...Has Raven said anything?" Siren said after awhile. Cyborg glanced at her, then returned his gaze to the road.
"You think she'd talk to me about her feelings?"
"I just..." Eleanor choked up. She covered her face with one hand and closed her eyes. "I didn't mean to..." What exactly? Did it even matter? A tight ache had wound itself in her chest, non-responsive to reason or argument. When she thought of the way Raven had turned away from her that morning, it only got worse.
"Raven's never talked much to anybody except you." Cyborg sighed. "Just think about that, alright? Think." They fell into silence once again, until Tenenbaum spoke up with a change of topic from the back seat.
"Eleanor," She leaned in between the front seats. "I want you to tell me exactly how you put the little ones into this state." It took the former Little Sister a moment to gather herself for a response.
"I... I've always had a connection to the new Little Sisters." She glanced at Cyborg, hesitating to continue, but there wasn't much point in deception now. "I even developed a plasmid that let's me perceive the world through them... Mother never had access to your original research, so their genetic and mental conditioning was all based on me." She took a breath. "I used what remained of that connection to influence the residual ADAM in their systems, to put them in a sort of... stasis, slow their aging and metabolism to almost nothing. I did the same to myself."
"Why did you do all that?" Cyborg cut in. He was raising an eyebrow at her.
"We were starving and running out of water. I was trying to save them but..."
"But your effort used up all of the ADAM in their systems." Eleanor could nearly see the gears turning in Tenenbaum's head. "That's why you were able to wake up and they were not."
"Do you really think you can help them?"
"If I can identify precisely the changes you made… Perhaps."
Eleanor was dressed as a civilian, dark pants and a matching jacket. If she was here alone with Tenenbaum, they might have been entirely inconspicuous. As they drew up to the hospital beside the parked R-cycle and Cyborg stepped onto the curb, she was beginning to wonder if it was worth the effort. Any pretense to normalcy was utterly dashed when a green pterodactyl swooped out of the sky and Beast Boy touched down.
More than a few hospital staff, patients, and visitors mobbed the trio of male Titans to take pictures and request autographs. Beast Boy was all too happy to oblige them and Cyborg signed a few casts, but Robin politely waved off his admirers. He was... focused. Eleanor lagged a ways behind them with Tenenbaum, keeping her head down in the hopes that the Teen Titan's local fan club wouldn't recognize her. She was lucky. They were so star struck they wouldn't have noticed if she'd driven by them in an eighteen wheeler. They skirted the gathering crowd and soon enough they were actually ahead of the other Titans. They reached the correct ward and Eleanor spied Dr. Lutwidge wringing his hands as he approached her. His hair was disheveled, his eyes were bloodshot and there was a coffee stain on his lab coat. He eyed the trio of male Titans with bewilderment.
"My, oh, wow..." He began, a flummoxed quirk of a smile on his face. Eleanor couldn't tell if it was excitement or nervousness. "Miss Lamb, bringing Titans to visit again? You must tell me how you met them sometime..."
"Sometime," She told him as she took in his appearance. "...Are you feeling alright, doctor?" The man winced, but his smile didn't waver.
"Oh, I'm fine, fine, perfectly fine. I-I've just had some long nights wracking my brain over this," He gestured vaguely in the direction of the coma ward, "stubborn problem."
"You'll be happy to know then," Eleanor looked back to the crowd and then back to the Dr. Lutwidge. "We might have a solu-"
"Out of the way," Tenenbaum interrupted and pushed her way past Lutwidge. The doctor's face reddened and he sputtered at her retreating form.
"I-what? Excuse me?!"
"She''s a… specialist, doctor." Eleanor tried to placate him and touched his arm. "She just needs some samples."
"What?!" Lutwidge pulled away from her and started down the hallway at a furious pace, shouting after Tenenbaum. "If you think I'm about to let some strange woman walk into my ward and start sticking needles into my patient's arms, you've got another thing coming!"
"Oh dear…" Eleanor bit her lip.
"Problem?" Robin approached behind her, but she waved him off.
"Nothing I can't handle, I think… I just need to make sure Dr. Lutwidge doesn't get Dr. Tenenbaum arrested." She blinked and turned around again to look behind Robin. "What happened to the crowds?"
"Beast Boy and Cyborg are distracting them." Robin walked past her with barely a glance. "I'll take care of the doctor."
"Robin," The boy wonder stopped when she said his name. "...Why did you decide to come with me?" The question had not been at the forefront of her thoughts, but it struck her now that he had offered no explanation.
"We talked about it last night." He looked at her over his shoulder. "Apex and Slade are linked. And you're linked to Apex. I know you don't want to tell me, but I need to learn more."
"...You've run out of leads on Slade, haven't you?" Eleanor sighed. She was not the only one running into dead ends, yet Robin seemed to think he could get around his by running into hers. Abruptly a perverse bitter amusement filled her, and a mirthless chuckle escaped her throat. "That's why you're focusing on me. What's more, all the leads you thought you had turned out to be what Slade let you find... Starting to feel a bit futile?"
"..." He made no physical reaction, save for a nearly imperceptible wince. Robin turned his head forward and began walking down the hall again. A wellspring of regret instantly bubbled up inside Siren.
"Robin! I…" She couldn't find the words for a moment, and in that moment Robin turned into a room and Dr. Lutwidge's objections started up again, directed at the young Titan she would guess. "I shouldn't have said that…" Eleanor had lashed out at the only Titan that she didn't feel guilty towards. Well, she certainly felt guilty now. "I'm a disaster…" She continued down the hall, trying to put those thoughts out of her mind, or any thoughts altogether really.
It did not become an issue, as all thoughts and feelings came to screeching horrifying halt the moment she walked into her sisters' room. There Tenenbaum stood, leaning over a small slumbering form with a needle entering the girl's arm. Before she realized what she was doing, Eleanor had crossed the distance between them and brought her hand down on the doctor's shoulder to spin her around and do far worse things to this violator of children. By the time she stopped herself, she was moment away from crushing Tenenbaum's shoulder beneath her superhuman grip.
"Eleanor!" The doctor's head turned to look at her with a start, but her hands remained steady. She seemed unsettled by Siren's gaze. "You startled me…" Eleanor carefully loosened her fingers and let her hand drop. She exhaled slowly.
"Sorry, doctor, its just…"
"I know," Tenenbaum sighed and put her newly filled red vial away, dabbing at the drops of blood that bled from the tiny wound with a swab. "Believe me, I know." She straightened and looked down on the Little Sister. "Why is this one different from the others?" Eleanor didn't know what the doctor meant at first, then she followed her gaze and saw the girl's blonde hair. All the others were brunettes.
"That's Cindy," Eleanor reached down to touch the child's cheek. "My… mother was able to condition the Big Sisters to look for children that looked like I did at that age, I suppose she hoped that would make success more likely in lieu of a DNA test. Cindy…" Eleanor bit her lip. "It was more complicated. I don't know the whole story, but there's little point in recounting it now. The Big Sisters always liked her the most…"
"Eleanor, whatever you think of me." Tenenbaum's gaze lingered on Cindy for several more moments, then moved on to the next bed and the sleeping girl upon it. "I promise you this: I will wake these girls."
"Who is this woman?" Lutwidge ground through his teeth as he stared through the observation window. Who did she think she was? Those were his subjects! His! His! HIS! The Titan boy Slade was so interested in had spouted off about the Titans taking responsibility and Lutwidge knew better than to let the police anywhere near the matter, so that left the doctor to stew in his own rage as he watched that old hag-
Yes. Lutwidge leaned closer to the glass. She was old, quite old, old enough that perhaps... The doctor stood abruptly and walked down the hall to his office. She's old enough that she could have been witness to grandfather's 'Wonderland', perhaps more than witness? He grabbed the doorknob with such force he felt the metal warp slightly under his superhuman grip and slammed it behind him in his hurry. He could feel a child's glee rising in him. Before he knew it, he was grinning from ear to ear. They think she can fix the broken dolls. How many eastern European women with that sort of knowledge could there have been? Only one.
"Where is it?" Lutwidge hissed as he raked through his desk drawer, casting aside paper clips, pens, and paperwork to scatter in the room. Finally he yanked a leather bound volume from the drawer and began leafing through it. When he finally found what he was looking for, his smile widened. "Well, well... This could make things easier." What luck! To have the answer to his problems walk right through his doors. "Ms. Tenenbaum." He tapped the name on the page of his grandfather's journal. "I think its time two professionals of our stature become acquainted."
Brigid had never been overly fond of people. At least, interacting with them. It was always terribly awkward. She was blunt and rarely felt it was worth the time to explain herself to anyone. People tended to think she was cold and haughty. Certainly she had high estimate of her own intelligence, that was true, but she had realized years later that it came with a cost. She was like a flashlight, shining brightly on a single point and blind to all else. That realization had been part of the self discovery that led to her remorse over her creation of the Little Sisters.
She couldn't track the myriad nuances of human interaction. It was better for her to keep her distance, lest she make another grave mistake. For that reason she had been only a distant support for Jack as he raised those he had rescued, just close enough to keep an eye out for any complications from the genetic tampering. She had thought those sins were behind her, then Eleanor Lamb emerged from the sea like some specter of condemnation.
All these things ran through Tenenbaum's mind as she sat in her hotel room. Beside her pieces of equipment she had brought with her hummed as they processed the samples she had taken from the girls. Half formed theories and nucleotide combinations dotted the pages of notes before her. She tapped the paper with the tip of her pencil and rubbed her temple. The results would be automatically sent elsewhere, where a more advanced computer could decode the sequence and send it back to her. Until then she was rather impotent, but her mind was preoccupied with Eleanor. Sofia's daughter was unique. The other Little Sisters she had freed were children when she had helped them, and they had attached themselves to her as a surrogate mother. They didn't fully understand the gravity of the crime perpetrated against them or her involvement.
The Big Sisters that had remained in Rapture were too bound up in their mental programming to recognize much beyond their protective drive towards the Little Sisters. Eleanor had no such obstacles. She had been freed of her conditioning, but never the affliction. She was aware of everything that had been done to her and at least a part of her hated Tenenbaum for it. Brigid could see it in her eyes.
Was it the nature of sins to perpetuate so long after the sinner had sought penance? Was penance to be never ending then? It seemed to be, but never before had Brigid been confronted so blatantly with her... victims. Yes, she would have to use that word. Eleanor tried to hide it, but it was there, accusing, reigned in by her care for the little ones. It was more than Brigid could bear. With some hesitation, Eleanor had invited Tenenbaum to stay in the tower and work there until the girls were cured, but the doctor didn't want to be around those eyes.
The sound of weight on an old floorboard pulled Brigid from her reverie and she tensed. She hadn't heard the door open and besides which she had locked it. Her hand snaked into the bag next to her to curl around the grip of a revolver. Until she was packing for this trip, Tenenbaum hadn't loaded it in years. The past has a way of inspiring paranoia when it rears its head after a fifty year silence. It was paying off now it seemed. She pulled out the gun and spun around in her chair, leveling it at the room behind her. The tall form of a man in black loomed just inside the doorway. Red goggles glinted in the gloom. The door was still shut. As she cocked her pistol, the man raised his hands in a calming gesture.
"Now now, doctor, let's not do anything rash." Tenenbaum paused. There was not a trace of fear on his voice. In fact, his tone carried a mocking undercurrent, almost daring her to try. He had called her 'doctor'.
"What do you want?" She scowled at him and kept the firearm leveled at his chest. Her mind was racing. How did this man know who she was? The only people that knew who she was and that she was even alive were Jack, his little ones, and... Eleanor. That had to be the connection, considering the timing. Could... Eleanor have sent him? Revenge for what was done to her and the rest? No. Eleanor wouldn't jeopardize the possibility of curing her sisters. If not an ally, perhaps a spy? An enemy of the Teen Titans then, but which one?
"Is that any way to treat a guest?" He mocked. "We can behave like educated civilized individuals here, doct-" A thunderous bang cut him off as the Brigid pulled the trigger. A cheap mirror shattered behind him and the man stumbled to the wall with a yowl of pain as he clutched his grazed arm. Tenenbaum stood and wrapped her other hand around the revolver's grip, steadying her aim. With that racket, somebody was sure to call the police. Now she just had to keep him here until they arrived.
"Ahg! You-you!" He sputtered rage through his black mask. Tenenbaum stared him down with eyes of ice.
"I'll ask you again, what do you want?"
"Oh, don't be impatient," The man straightened with some effort, his hand still pressed to his bleeding arm. His voice was thick with pain and the promise to repay it. "We'll have plenty of time for that." Suddenly Brigid's vision was obscured by a red mist, one that seemed a little too familiar. Her revolver was wrenched from her grip as a forearm pressed against her throat.
"I can punch a ten foot walking tank in the head without batting an eye but knocking terrifies me, fantastic." Eleanor muttered to herself. She was leaning against the wall opposite Raven's door. At this moment, she couldn't imagine a more intimidating sight. Just what could she say to fix this? She took a deep breath and steeled herself. It wasn't as if she could make things much worse, unless she did... That wasn't helpful. The former Little Sister crossed the hall in two steps and raised her hand. It hovered over the door for a few moments. Eleanor took another breath, held it, and rapped her knuckles against the door twice.
"Raven?" She spoke tentatively. There was no answer. She half hoped Raven wasn't in, but she hadn't seen her anywhere else in the tower. "Raven, i-it's Eleanor. We need to talk. I'm... sorry." Eleanor held her breath. No answer.
"Please," She stopped to restrain the tremor that had crept into her voice. "Please don't shut me out like this..." Eleanor bowed her head, her face burning beneath the skin. When the door creaked open she started so badly she nearly lost her balance. It was only a crack. Raven's violet eyes peered out at through the gap. Her expression betrayed no emotion. "Raven! I-"
"I didn't shut you out of anything, Eleanor." Her voice was flat and even. "You did that."
"I know that! I do." Eleanor nodded emphatically and placed a hand on the doorframe, leaning closer to Raven. Hearing Raven's voice had loosened a knot of emotion in her chest, mingled relief and regret. "I just- It wasn't something I wanted. I-"
"But you did it." A hint of something that might have been anger, sadness or both entered the goth's voice. "You did it with hardly a thought."
"That's not true!" Eleanor realized she was shouting and lowered her voice. "I didn't want anyone to get hurt because of something out of my past. I wanted it to stay history, not let it take over the present-"
"Do you not understand how selfish that was?" The venom in her tone stopped Eleanor cold. Then it was gone and Raven sounded weary. "You went off without a word when we needed you, knowing you could have been hurt or worse. You have more people that depend on you than your sisters. People that don't want to lose you... You forgot that." The door began to slide shut.
"Wait!" The door closed and locked with a click. All the strength drained from Eleanor's limbs. She leaned against the door and slid to the ground. "Just tell me how to fix this..." Siren didn't know how long she sat there, despondent. She felt a lump in her throat. The feeling of helplessness cast a shroud over all her thoughts. Her mind circled the question without any hope of finding an answer: What can I do?
"Siren," When Eleanor looked up, Robin was looking down at her. He frowned. "Are you okay?"
"Not exactly." A bitter laugh shook her. "God, this is pathetic. I've never felt so... I don't even know what I'm feeling!" Robin stared at her and she kept laughing. When her chuckles tapered off, she took a deep breath and looked up at him, sobered. "Well? No words of wisdom?"
"...You're going to have to pull yourself together." He extended a hand towards her. Siren regarded it with a raised eyebrow.
"Oh, I can just do that now? At the drop of a hat?."
"Someone just reported a gunshot at Dr. Tenenbaum's hotel." Instantly, Eleanor's gaze swiveled to meet Robin's with wide eyes. She gaped at him.
"I'll fill you in on the way." Siren took his hand and he pulled her to her feet.
"Alright, alright," Eleanor composed herself and gave Raven's door a lingering look before she nodded at Robin. "Alright," She breathed. "Let's go."
On the other side of the door, Raven sat cross legged on her bed in meditation.
"Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos." She repeated the mantra slowly and deliberately. "Azarath, Metrio-" Abruptly dark energy wrapped itself around a vase on her bedside table and the pottery imploded, falling into a heap of ceramic shards. Raven gritted her teeth and dug her fingernails into her knees.
"The police have no idea what to make of it." Robin said as he examined the floor of the hotel room. Eleanor stood in the center of the room, surveying the carnage, what little there was. There was a bullet hole in one wall and shards of a mirror on the ground. A scuffle appeared to have occurred by the desk and someone had flung a revolver across the room. It was not a very nice hotel room to begin with. The room was more or less clean, but tiny, having little more space than the minimum required to squeeze in a bed and a desk without blocking the adjoining bathroom, which was proportionally claustrophobic. The door and window were both securely locked when the police arrived.
"Are you sure about the window?" Eleanor glanced about the room for any hint that might help.
"Its sealed," Robin pulled Tenenbaum's bag closer to him and began digging through it. "Its not supposed to be opened. Nobody could have gotten in that way without forcing it and its undamaged."
"And the door? Could somebody have gotten in or out that way?"
"Only if she let him in, but there's no record of anyone entering the building. A security camera caught someone leaving out the back carrying something." Robin pulled something out of the bag and paused to examine it. He placed it on the floor and continued rifling. "It was too blurry to make anything out though."
"What's that?" Eleanor picked up the item Robin had set aside. It was a faded black and white photograph showing clear signs of wear. A young Tenenbaum was standing behind a park bench with her hands clasped in front of her. She was smiling. Eleanor almost did a double take at that. A younger man stood beside her, a much broader smile on his face. His hands were on the shoulders of one of the five little girls sitting on the bench. Five very familiar little girls...
"Masha... Susie... Adelaide... Sally... Leta..." She spoke the names breathlessly as her gaze shifted from face to face, not quite believing what she was seeing.
"They got out. They survived." She touched the smiling little faces on the photo. "I thought Mother had turned them into Big Sisters or splicers had gotten them." Eleanor realized she was smiling herself. For a moment,she forgot all about her recent troubles. "They're alive!"
"Who?" Robin sounded impatient. He reached for the photo. She held it away from him without thinking.
"They're my friends! I haven't seen them since I was a little girl."
"So why does Tenenbaum have their picture?" Robin folded his arms with a frown.
"I... suppose she must have saved them." Eleanor suddenly sobered. Her smile faltered.
"Saved them from what?!" Robin was feeling impatient. Trying to get specific information out of Siren was beginning to resemble pulling teeth. Unfortunately for the boy wonder, Eleanor's thoughts were miles away.
"She saved them... They'll be much older than me by now, with families of their own..." She shook her head and looked to Robin, her jaw set and a peculiar look in her eye. "We have to find her." Before he had a chance to speak a word, Eleanor had turned to rifling through the doctor's purse.
"Siren!" Robin ground through his teeth. "What are you talking about?!" The former Little Sister paused to look up at him.
"Robin, one day soon I promise to sit down and tell you everything about me and my past..." She resumed her task. "But today we don't have time."
Brigid Tenenbaum was feeling her age. Her rough handling had taken its toll. Her throat was bruised and she knew she would have more on her wrists by the way she was lashed to the faded armchair. Her back was killing her. She'd have to see her own doctor about that after this little adventure, assuming she got out of it alive. Best as Brigid could tell, she was in some sort of abandoned apartment. The room was bare save for the chair. The walls were covered in cracked and peeling white paint. The sunlight pooled on the floor from a well sized window. She didn't have a great angle to see out, but she thought she could see the bay. Her gaze shot to the door as it creaked open.
"Ah, good to see you're doing well." Her abductor walked with a spring in his stride. "I was a little worried I should have restrained myself with such a frail old woman." He spread his arms. "But it seems I needn't have! You're fine." When she answered with a disdainful scowl, he shrugged. "As you wish, we'll skip the pleasantries and go straight to business. I like that in a professional!" He began to pace around her, slowly and deliberately. When he passed in front of her, he paused. "Now, doctor, what can you tell me about Little Sisters?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." She tried her best to stifle any reaction. How in God's name did he know about that?
"Oh don't try to lie, doctor!" The man stood with a laugh and resumed his circuit. "I know better and besides, you should be proud! This is your life's work!"
"My life's work has been to bury it." She abandoned her feigned ignorance and settled for a smoldering glare.
"Are you crazy?" The man sounded genuinely surprised and stopped his pacing. He rushed around to squat in front of her and look up into her face. "Come now, think about what we can do! A human being is so frail! So weak! You've heard of Superman, Martian Manhunter, even that Tamaranian with the Titans. All aliens and each could break a human in half with less than a second of minimal effort. And who knows what else is out there! Humanity needs to be able to defend itself! We can't rely on a few self proclaimed protectors to shield us forever!"
"Oh? You're an altruist then?" Tenenbaum drawled, unimpressed.
"Yes!" He snarled and struck the floor with his fist. The floorboard gave way like wet paper, splintering with the force of his blow. Her abductor stood and drew his fist to his chest with a curse, brushing slivers of wood from the glove.
"You're beginning to suffer from the side effects." Brigid's lips split into a grimace. She still didn't understand how he got ADAM, but last night made sense now. This man was a splicer himself. He had used a teleportation plasmid to get into her room. It had been so long, she hadn't recognized it right away. This was a problem, a big one. The more unstable he was, the more liable he was to react violently... but maybe she could find a way to use it to her advantage. "How much have you spliced?"
"Shut up!" He snapped at her. "Shut up! I've done what I've had to!" The man stood and produced a knife. When he spoke again, it was through gritted teeth. "Now, tell me about the procedure, please."
"I can help you!" She shouted as he advanced and the man froze, tilting his head at her.
"You know how to stop the degradation?"
"I do, I can undo it." Brigid eyed the knife warily. "If you'll let me." But the splicer was already shaking his head.
"Undo it? And just what do you mean by that? Getting rid of the degradation is no use to me if it takes away these abilities as well. Of course, you could just be lying altogether." He held up his free palm and it burst into flame. He knelt before her and held the ball of fire toward her face. Tenenbaum turned her head away from the intense heat, pressing herself into the armchair. He held it closer and closer until Brigid swore she heard her hair start to sizzle. Then he closed his fist and the flame was extinguished. "Now, tell me what I want to know." When she turned to face him, Tenenbaum spat in his face. Saliva splattered on her abductor's goggles and he reared back, climbing to his feet as he swore and turned away. He raised his fist as if to strike but it only trembled in the air for several seconds before he lowered it.
"You'll wish you hadn't done that, doctor." The eloquent facade was back. "Nobody knows where you are, but I am in a hurry." In three steps he was out the door again. It slammed shut behind him. When she was sure he wasn't coming back imminently, Tenenbaum worked her phone out of her left sleeve. She had grabbed it during their initial struggle when she realized she wasn't going to win. It was something of a miracle that he hadn't discovered it when he lashed her arms to the chair, but considering the state of his mind, she wasn't entirely surprised. It was an old flip phone and Brigid had a little trouble getting it into her hand and open without dropping it. Dialing wasn't much easier. Damn arthritis.
"Rnnnng... Rnnnng... *click* Doctor Tenenbaum?" Eleanor sounded astonished. "Where are you!? We found your room-"
"I don't know," Brigid leaned as far forward as she could to get closer to the mouthpiece. She heard footsteps in the hall and bit back a curse. "Somewhere by the bay, I have to go."
"Wait, keep the phone on!" That sounded like the boy, the one that had come to the hospital. Robin, was it? "I can track it."
"Then be quiet," She awkwardly shoved the open phone back into her sleeve. Just as she did so, the door swung open.
"Doctor! I have a few gentlemen here I'd like you to meet. They've been sampling my work, so they're a bit rowdy."
Raven eventually gave up on meditating in her room. For the sake of minimizing the property damage to her own possessions, she had decided to relocate. That left her to roam the halls. Titan Tower was a lot larger than it needed to be for its six residents, but at the moment Raven was glad for the space to think. She settled on the living room, hoping that the change of scenery and bright sunlight streaming through the windows would do her some good.
The bright light was distracting and the sight of Jump City only made her wonder what Siren was doing out there at the moment. That line of thought invoked a flash of hot anger and thus she was back to square one. She gritted her teeth and brute forced the emotion back behind her barriers, nails digging into her knees as she hovered crosslegged in front of the window. She heard the door open behind her.
"Raven? Are you alright? Anger is the opposite of what you hope to achieve in meditation, yes? Can I help in any way?"
"No..." Raven bit back a longer scathing retort. Starfire didn't deserve that. "Just... leave me be, Starfire."
"...Your thinking about what Siren and Robin did, aren't you?" The Tamaranian floated up beside her, a pout of concern on her face. Now she wasn't going to go away, great. Raven sighed.
"Yes," The goth answered, though she realized even as she said it that she had hardly spared Robin a thought. Starfire nodded knowingly and crossed her legs to hover beside Raven.
"I too have felt troubled about their actions. Perhaps if we talked about it-"
"Starfire, please," Raven took a breath, willing herself not to get angry. "I don't want to talk about it." For a few moments, Starfire was uncharacteristically quiet. The Tamaranian was looking at Raven and the goth couldn't quite tell whether she whether she was being examined or Star was just deep in thought. Or she might just be blindly worrying about her. That would be a very Starfire thing to do. She had an open heart, but not the sharpest perceptions.
"Friend Raven," Starfire broke the silence at last. "It's Eleanor that bothers you so much, isn't it?" Raven blinked at her alien friend. Where did she pull that from?
"Because you are truthfully quite similar."
"...I'm not sure I follow," Raven eyed the Tamaranian. She was trying to get at something specific.
"Its..." Starfire mulled over how to express her thought for a moment. "You both don't want to trouble others with yourselves or your problems. And you hate the idea of anyone putting themselves in harm's way on your account, so you are always willing to put yourself there instead... Does that make sense?" Starfire tilted her head at Raven, unsure. The goth could only stare back in astonishment. Everything the Tamaranian said had the ring of truth to it. With a pang, she realized that at the root of all her anger was... fear. Fear that Eleanor would crucify herself without a second thought to save someone, leaving Raven...
What exactly? Alone? She had the other Titans but...
"How does that make us different from, say, Robin?" Any one of the other Titans would throw themselves into danger in defense of a friend, surely.
"I..." Starfire looked down. "Robin's problem is something different. I think he's trying to... prove something to himself. I'm not sure he's conscious of it, but I believe he's wrapped himself in stopping Slade to the point where it is all he can see." Starfire placed her hand over her heart and when her eyes met Raven's there was an earnest fire to her gaze. "But I believe he just needs to be reminded! He still cares, he's just... distracted!" Now it sounded like she was rationalizing.
"You really want to forgive him, don't you?" Raven shook her head. "Why? When he clearly doesn't want to act like a team player?"
"That's why he needs our help!" Starfire unfolded her legs and zipped around to hover in front of Raven. "Slade is leading him into a dark place... But we can help him find his way out!"
"Is that what you think I should do with Eleanor?" Raven stood and walked back to the couch. "Just... Forgive her?" Starfire drifted behind the sorceress.
"Siren needs help in a different way, I think." The Tamaranian settled down on the couch beside her friend. "Robin needs help seeing beyond Slade. Siren needs help seeing... Herself."
"What?" Raven raised an eyebrow at the alien.
"She doesn't really understand how much her friends would be hurt if anything were to happen to her, she doesn't-"
"-believe she's important." The sorceress finished quietly. It made sense and certainly explained the martyr complex, sad as it was, but what could she do? Raven's mood darkened.
"...Well," Starfire said after a moment. "I think she's starting to." The goth turned to her and gave her a curious look. The alien's cheeks reddened. "I, um, was standing down the hall when Siren was at your door earlier." She coughed. "I think she's begun to realize her mistake. But if you want to help her, you can't shut her out. Its good for you too!"
"Me? When did this become about me?" For that matter, when did Starfire become a psychoanalyst?
"Oh!" Starfire clasped her hands in front of her and beamed. "Isn't it obvious? You smile around Siren more often than ever and you even laugh sometimes! Which you, uh, don't do around anyone else..." Raven started and she leaned away from Starfire, staring at her wide eyed.
"W-wait a moment! What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that you're great friends!" She tilted her head at the sorceress quizzically. "What did you think I meant?"
"Uh," Raven coughed into her fist. "Nothing, nothing at all." She composed herself. "So... how do you know all this anyway?" Starfire sat up straight and lifted her head proudly.
"Powerful emotions are celebrated on Tamaran. Understanding them is very important!"
The low whump followed by a loud groan of pain set Eleanor's teeth on edge. Without a doubt, they had reached the right place. She and Robin were crouched on the roof opposite Tenenbaum's current cell, it was a story shorter than their target window and separated only by a narrow alley. The interior was dim, but both Titans could hear what was going on inside.
"The building's been abandoned for years," Robin surveyed their surroundings. "Half the block too by the looks of it. I guess they aren't worried about anyone hearing them."
"We have to stop this." Siren moved to stand, but Robin seized her wrist.
"We can't just rush in! If we don't do this right, they could kill Tenenbaum and get away. We have to be smart." Just then, a sigh slipped through cracked window.
"Don't be a fool, doctor. This frail old body of yours can only take so much. Just tell me about the procedure and we can dispense with this." It was a voice Eleanor recognized, one that made her blood run cold.
"Apex," She hissed. Robin looked at her sharply. How did he know about Tenenbaum?
"You'll kill me." The doctor deadpanned. She stated it as a fact, not an accusation.
"I don't want to kill you, doctor!" The villain snapped. "I want you to work with me! We could do so much! But..." Tenenbaum began to choke and gag. In a sick moment, Eleanor realized Apex was strangling her. "Your belligerence hasn't left me much choice..." Then there was a gasp and Tenenbaum panted for breath. "This will continue until you give me what I want or your poor old heart gives out. Your choice. The former Little Sister gritted her teeth and looked at Robin.
"Fill that room with smoke, then break through the window. I'll teleport in and protect Tenenbaum." She set her jaw.
"Now wait a second-" Robin started.
"You're just going to have to trust me," And then she was gone, with only a rapidly fading violet flash to mark her passage.
"Ya know lady, he's got a whole basement full of weird shit that'll make your skin crawl off and run for the hills. So how about you jus' fes up before he decides to..." The splicer trailed off and Tenenbaum caught a flash of violet from behind in her peripheral vision. "What the fu-" A bolt of lightning took the thug off his feet with a shriek of pain. A dark figure seemed to slide into view and knock a second splicer into a wall. Tenenbaum's vision swam. If her body had ached before, it was screaming now. She could feel several impressive bruises forming and she suspected several bones had broken in the beating, even though her abductor had ordered his men to use restraint. Her throat was a mass of throbbing pain she didn't dare contemplate.
"No! No! No!" The man in red goggles was shouting, backing away from the interloper. The door burst open and more splicers poured in. The window smashed in and suddenly the room was filled with smoke. The doctor began coughing and tried tugging at her bonds. No luck. She glimpsed a new lithe figure smash through what remained of the window. It joined the indistinct commotion in the smoke around her. Several times, she was jostled by splicers stumbling into her chair. Then something or someone hit the side of the armchair with such force that it toppled over sideways. Tenenbaum tried to brace herself as the ground rushed to meet her.
"Ah!" She cried out as she hit the ground, her head striking the floor despite her efforts. Her vision became blurry and she could feel something warm pooling where her head touched the floor. I'm hemorrhaging. Her senses were going in and out. There were screams, shouting, loud crashes, flashes of light. For one clear moment, she saw her abductor's masked face but then he was gone in a red mist. Everything began to grow dark. I could die here, she thought, I could die here and now on the floor of an abandoned apartment just as my rescue arrives. Her body was old and didn't react well to trauma. Tenenbaum wasn't one to laugh at grim ironies, but she felt oddly detached and unconcerned by the possibility.
"Doctor? Doctor Tenenbaum?" That was Eleanor's voice, coming as if from a great distance. Dimly, she realized that the sound of fighting was gone. "Doctor? Can you hear me?!" Now a note of panic entered her voice. I can hear you, she wanted to say, but her tongue would not obey. I'm alive, I'm... And her awareness slipped into oblivion.
When next the Belarusian doctor regained awareness, the first thing she was aware of was a white hot spike of pain driving through her skull. Either I've finally reached Hell, or I'm still amongst the living. Neither possibility would be particularly surprising. She cautiously opened her eyes and saw... a dark ceiling. She was lying in a bed, the covers drawn up to her chest. There was an IV in her arm and a she found a bandage on her head when she felt for it. To her left, there were curtains drawn over what appeared to be a floor to ceiling window, probably for the same reason the lights were off. They didn't want to blind me as I woke, how thoughtful. I suppose that rules out Hell. When she looked to her right, she was certain. She wouldn't be there. Eleanor Lamb sat slumped in a chair, asleep at her bedside.
For a moment, she just examined the former Little Sister. For as long as Tenenbaum had been in the city, Eleanor's features had been ruled by grim moods and there was always that condemning glint in her eye whenever she looked at the doctor. Now, her features smoothed in the innocent mask of sound sleep, Tenenbaum felt as if she was seeing her for the first time. Though it pained her to admit it, she did not remember the faces of all the girls she had wronged. Tenenbaum had not been personally involved in the actual process for most of the girls, especially in the later stages, but Eleanor had been amongst the first and the first to bond with an Alpha Series. She had been a bold girl, a waifish little thing, always inquisitive and strikingly intelligent for her age.
The girl was a young woman now, and she had grown to be beautiful, her soft features framed by dark brown hair that looked black in the dim light. She was gifted in so many ways yet troubled in so many others: the crimes visited upon her, her displacement in time, the fate of the Little Sisters and all the emotional uncertainties that plagued any teenage girl. It called to that maternal instinct that had so horrified her when it first reared its head all those years ago. Despite all she must be feeling, she had saved the author of her torments. Tenenbaum's heart broke for the girl. Without thinking, she reached out and almost touched her shoulder.
Eleanor stirred. Brigid froze, then quickly retracted her hand. The girl would take no comfort in her touch or her sympathy. It was a selfish, impulsive gesture that would comfort nobody but herself. Eleanor's head rose and she blinked blearily. She started when she saw Tenenbaum, eyes going wide.
"Doctor! Oh, how long have you been awake?" How long have you been staring at me? Her tone said.
"Not long," It wasn't until she heard it in her own voice that Tenenbaum realized how sore she felt. Her entire body ached. "I only beat you by a minute. How long have you been sitting there?"
"Since I-I mean we brought you here, which was," She blinked at the sunlight peeping in though the sides of the curtain and then glanced at the digital clock beside the doctor's bed. "About eleven hours ago."
"Eleven hours..." Considering her injuries and her age, she should count herself lucky to have woken at all. "How badly was I hurt?"
"It was bad," Eleanor leaned forward and clasped her hands in front of her. "But we were able to stabilize you. Raven... was very helpful in setting some of the worse breaks." Tenenbaum sensed a story there but didn't pry.
"Eleanor, that man who took me and his thugs were splicers." Eleanor's countenance darkened as the word left her mouth. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"
"...Yes." The former Little Sister pursed her lips. "He calls himself Apex. He appeared some month after I arrived in Jump City."
"ADAM? Here?" Tenenbaum shook her head. "How is that possible?"
"I don't know," Eleanor sighed. "I... think it may be linked to my arrival somehow, but I'm not sure. I'm not sure of anything really, let alone his plans."
"He claimed he wanted to empower humanity,"
"...I was afraid of something like that." Eleanor's face fell and she rubbed her forehead. "I've been trying to track him down but it seems like I've managed to mess up my own life instead."
"..." They sat in silence for several long moments. Tenenbaum gazed at the young woman before her, once again struck by her perseverance. Dealing with a madman on top of everything else. Once again, Tenenbaum felt the urge to reach out and comfort her. Once again she restrained herself. But there is one thing I can do. "Eleanor Lamb," The former Little Sister raised her head.
"Did you retrieve my notes and equipment from my hotel room?"
"They're in the corner," Eleanor stood uncertainly.
"And this infirmary," Tenenbaum looked around her. An array of advanced machines lined the far wall, some were monitoring her own vital signs. "The equipment is quite advanced, yes?"
"It is... Are you sure you should be working in this state?"
"Please, this is the least I can do."
The least Brigid Tenenbaum could do, Eleanor decided, was more than most people could pull off with an entire team pouring their souls into the work. For an entire week, she hardly left the infirmary. Half the time she was scrawling near illegible notes that were beginnig to paper the walls and the rest of the time she was running tests on the samples drawn from the girls. Anyone less intelligent and less knowledgable of the subject would have taken months to make as much progress.
Eleanor popped in from time to time, trying to help where she could, but Tenenbaum had her own process. Even if the former Little Sister understood the science, following the doctor's train of thought was another matter entirely. Eleanor found that she was getting in the way as much as she was helping. That left her to her own devices. She visited her sisters in the hospital, she watched television with Starfire, she sparred with Robin, she even tried her hand playing against Cyborg and Beast Boy in their video games. She lost horribly in that case, but wherever she went Raven was never there.
For that reason, she was quite shocked to see Raven sitting on her bed when she went to turn into for the night. Eleanor stared at the goth, dumbfounded.
"I've been... a bit unfair, I think." Raven said, squirming uncomfortably.
"No, let me say something." The sorceress held up a hand. "What you did was wrong. It was selfish and a betrayal of this team." Eleanor cast her eyes down at the floor guiltily.
"I'm not done." Raven took a breath. "All of that is true and I haven't forgiven you, but I realized that what I was doing, shutting you out like that... I was trying to punish you, but... I wasn't really trying to help you." She fidgeted awkwardly with the edge of her cloak. This sort of thing was hardly her strong suit. "So I... came here to… talk." A silence stretched on for a time. It was quite clear to Eleanor that Raven had no idea where to take this from there. She was actually turning red. Seeing her so flustered was rather cute. It brought a smile to Eleanor's lips.
"Thank you," She stepped into the room and sat down beside Raven. The goth watched her out of the corner of her eye. "It means a lot to know you haven't given up on me."
"Yeah… well… ugh, Starfire didn't say what to do at this part…" Raven grumbled.
"Starfire? What's she got to do with this?"
"Nothing!" The sorceress said too quickly. At Eleanor's raised eyebrow, she said "Well... she convinced me I was being too hard on you. I thought about it for a few days and… now I'm here." She looked away, embarrassed. Eleanor's eyebrows strained higher towards her hairline.
"Starfire did what? How'd she manage that?"
"Turns out being a therapist is a Tamaranian pastime…" Raven shook her head. "But… look," She rose and turned around to face her friend. "There are a few things I need you to promise me."
"Anything," Eleanor tilted her head at the sorceress.
"First, never run off to do something that dangerous without telling anyone ever again."
"Never again." She nodded earnestly.
"Second, whenever the team needs you, you WILL be there, alright?"
"Absolutely," Eleanor suddenly found the floor very interesting and frowned. "I can't keep my past to myself, not when it's here now. I accept that now."
"Good." Raven nodded. "And lastly, try and remember that you're not an island… okay? What happens to you matters to the people around you." The former Little Sister looked up at the sorceress. After a moment, her lips cracked into a small smile.
"I understand that now, believe me... thank you." An awkward silence stretched between them. Then Eleanor's communicator began to ping. Raven cleared her throat and turned away as the former Little Sister flipped open her communicator. "Dr. Tenenbaum?"
"I need to get to the hospital," The old woman spoke in her customary blunt clipped tone.
"Um, okay, you need to perform more tests?"
"Its finished, I have a cure." She said it as if she were announcing the weather, all business. Eleanor leapt to her feet so fast she nearly knocked heads with Raven
"Yes. Get the car, please." And she hung up. Eleanor looked at Raven and the sorceress stepped aside, clearing a path to the door. She took one step towards the exit and hesitated. She turned towards her friend.
"Are we… cool?"
"No," Raven shook her head. "But its a step."
"I had to use ADAM from your blood samples as a vector," Tenenbaum explained. "I tailored it to return their systems back to normal working order."
"You're injecting them with ADAM?" Eleanor felt alarmed, looking down at Cindy Meltzer's small form between them. The doctor was using a cane now, more for balance than support. She took one hobbling step forward with a full syringe held delicately in her free hand. Eleanor herself was in street clothes. If Tenenbaum were wearing a white coat, they may have passed for any doctor and visitor discussing a patient's treatment to the uninformed observer. Their observer, Eleanor glanced at him over her shoulder, wasn't such a person. Lutwidge had secluded himself in the observation room, glaring at Tenenbaum through the glass but apparently resigned that he couldn't stop them. "Is that a good idea?"
"They won't suffer any ill effect from such a small dose." The doctor inserted the needle of her syringe into Cindy's arm. She applied pressure to the plunger and Eleanor watched as the crimson substance was forced into the little girl's body. Eleanor half expected the child to start convulsing, but she remained still. "In a few moments, Cindy will be an entirely normal little girl once more." The old woman's face split in a grimace. "Though I don't envy the task of finding homes for these little ones."
"I, uh, had thought they could stay with me..." In truth, Eleanor hadn't given much thought to what would happen to the girl's after they finally awoke. Getting to that point had been trial enough, but she had assumed they would stay together. Tenenbaum sniffed.
"Please, do you truly believe you're suited to raising over a dozen little girls on your own? Not to mention your lifestyle." That... was true. It was challenging enough looking after them on the lifeboat. While she felt the urge to giggle at the image of a tormented Cyborg covered in crayon graffiti and ribbons driving them to school everyday in the T-car, keeping them in the tower would only make them a target. They deserved a chance at a normal life, as much as that was possible.
"Some of them will still have family, won't they?"
"Some," The doctor sounded doubtful. "Some parents around my age, with only so many years left. Perhaps a sibling that hardly remembers them. This isn't going to be easy,"
"Life isn't meant to be easy." Eleanor stepped around to the foot of the bed and braced herself against it with both hand, staring at the child's face with a tender expression. "I always knew I couldn't give them back what my mother stole from them... but I can give them a fresh start." Tenenbaum opened her mouth to say some something, but at just that moment, Cindy's eyes fluttered open groggily.
"...mmmh..." A little groan escaped her throat and in an instant Eleanor was there at her side. She enfolded the girl's hand in her own.
"Hey, its alright, you're alright," She spoke softly, soothingly.
"...Eleanor?" Cindy blinked blearily at her, speaking slowly like one still half in slumber. "Was I asleep?"
"Yes sweety," She brushed the girl's blonde hair out of her face. The child's future was uncertain. There was no telling where she might go after this, if she would end up in a good home, if she would be able to adapt to this new age, but all those worries meant little to Eleanor at the moment. A warm flood of relief filled her and she could not help but offer a wide smile. "You've been asleep a long time, but you're awake now."
The girls were scattered around the room, some whispering together in groups of two or three, a few talking to the social workers that had arrived over the last hour, and a others sitting quietly on their hospital beds wearing solemn expressions. Of that last group, two had red and puffy eyes from crying. When they first woke up, they had all clung to Eleanor like a life raft, barraging her with questions about where they were, what had happened, where the restrooms were, and anything else they could think of. She tried her best to allay their fears, but the truth of their situation wasn't a pretty one. They were cast out of their own time and didn't even know if their parents were still alive. The officials, after being convinced that the girls had in fact been asleep for fifty years, were having quite a hard time tracking them all down. Sofia Lamb had snatched children from all over the Atlantic coast of America and Europe. In addition, tracking someone down after fifty years when only some of the girls knew their old addresses and the youngest, a five year old, wasn't sure how to spell her own last name was daunting indeed.
Eleanor sat in a chair by the door, worn out by her efforts to comfort and explain things to the girls. Tenenbaum and Dr. Lutwidge made a circuit of the room, doing a brief physical exam of each girl. Whenever Tenenbaum's eyes lit on one of their faces, Eleanor saw a side to the doctor that she had rarely seen before. Her expression melted into a small smile and she spoke softly, reassuring the poor things that they would be alright. Lutwidge seemed more befuddled than anything else. He kept casting glances at Tenenbaum when she wasn't looking, eyes filled with a mix of annoyance and some sort of grudging respect. He forced a smile for the girls, but his movements were mechanical. His thoughts were obviously miles away. Maybe trying to figure out how she did it. Tenenbaum solved in a day a problem he's been staring at for months. Then the doctor looked her way. He stood from the last of the girls and started towards her.
"Miss Lamb," He nodded absentmindedly. Eleanor noticed he was just as if not more disheveled than the last time she saw him. He hadn't washed the coffee stain out of his lab coat, his eyes were bloodshot like he hadn't slept in days, his clothes were all ruffled and there appeared to be a bandage wrapped around one hand. "I'll have to look at their blood work to get better sense of things, but it looks like they've made a full recovery."
"I think so, doctor." She offered him a smile. "And I want to thank you for looking after them and not giving up."
"Oh, it's my job." He ran a hand through his hair and forced another smile. "Besides, giving up isn't my nature. I'm going to keep them here for a few days though. Observation, you understand. Just to make sure there are no complications or adverse reactions to..." Lutwidge glanced over his shoulder at Tenenbaum. "Whatever that woman did."
"I understand," Eleanor glanced at his hand and frowned. "What happened to your hand?" He seemed startled by her question.
"Oh, um, uh, I got it caught in a door jam. Nothing too bad, but it really hasn't been my week..."
"Yes... until today." There was a weary note in his voice but he smiled awkwardly. She returned her gaze to the girls. Lutwidge stood by for a moment, then cleared his throat.
"Well, um, I'll just check that blood work now." He hurried out the door without another word. Tenenbaum was just about finished with the last of the girls. She straightened and beckoned Eleanor over.
"It seems they are alright, though its difficult to be sure without examining a DNA sample." The doctor said once the former Little Sister had come closer.
"Dr. Lutwidge said as much." Eleanor nodded. "I... uh, need to say something to you actually..." The doctor gave her an appraising look. Her eyes were tired, but there was something in them that might have been dread. She leaned against one of the empty beds.
"Very well, speak."
"I forgive you." Tenenbaum looked Eleanor in the eye sharply, eyes wide and lips parted. For a moment, Eleanor was worried she had given the old woman a heart attack.
"...w-what did you say?"
"Or maybe it's better to say..." The former Little Sister mulled over precisely how to get the idea across. "...I've accepted that you're not the same person you were when you created the Little Sisters. I saw the picture of you with the girls you brought up from Rapture the first time. You saved them... and you seemed very happy." She placed a hand on Tenenbaum's shoulder. "I'm so glad they escaped and got the chance to have lives, I just wanted you to know that." The old woman just stared at her for a long moment. Then she placed her hand over Eleanor's.
"Thank you, Eleanor Lamb."
"Excuse me, I hope I'm not interrupting." Eleanor turned to see a woman in a dark suit and skirt walking towards them from the door. She appeared to be on the far side of fifty, with greying blonde hair down to her shoulders, but still significantly younger than Tenenbaum. The woman nodded towards the doctor. "Brigid, and this is..."
"Yes, this is her."
"I see," The woman stared at Eleanor's face intensely for a time. The Little Sister felt like squirming at the attention, but resisted for the sake of politeness. She almost interrupted before the woman spoke again. "Is it really you?" She whispered
"I'm sorry, but who are you?" The woman's eyebrows climbed towards her hairline. She smiled though.
"I suppose it isn't surprising that you wouldn't recognize me, Eleanor. After all, it we haven't seen each other since we were children."
"Children? That's impossible unless..." Eleanor's eyes went wide and she whirled back to Tenenbaum, who nodded. She faced the woman again. "Then you're..."
"Sally!" Eleanor cried out and seized the woman's hand in her own. "Oh my god, Sally! I never thought I would see any of you again! How are you? What have you been doing all these years." Now both of them were smiling broadly.
"I'm well. I started a business, got married, had a family. We just sent the youngest off to college last year."
"That's fantastic! And the other girls that came up with you?"
"All well. Some of us started looking into adopting a few of these little ones if they have no relatives to take them in once Brigid told us about you. Who better knows what they've been through better than us, right?"
"That would be perfect!" Light warm feelings coursed through Eleanor. For once, it seemed things were all working out.
"I'd love to hear your story, Eleanor, but I've actually brought someone here to see you." Sally released her hands.
"Someone? One of the others?" Eleanor looked to the door, half expecting Masha or Leta to appear there any moment.
"No, but someone who wants to talk to you. You'll find him in the room at the end of the hall. He'll know you when he sees you. Go on." She stepped to the side to give Eleanor a clear path to the door. "He's waiting."
"Who?" Eleanor couldn't imagine who she could have brought to talk with her. Sally just smiled.
"You'll see." Eleanor gave her old friend a curious look, but made her way hesitantly to the door regardless. As the former Little Sister passed into the hall, she heard Tenenbaum and Sally conversing in hushed tones behind her.
"You brought him here?"
"He wanted to talk to her."
"That's not the point! He's in no state to..." They faded out of earshot as Eleanor walked. The room at the end of the hall turned out to be some sort of lounge, a place staff, visitors, and physically able patients could rest, talk, and drink a cup of coffee. At first glance, she thought it was empty. Then she noticed a wheelchair in the corner by the window. Eleanor would have thought the man in it was a patient but for his street clothes. He appeared old, older even than Tenenbaum. All his hair had fallen out and his face was like a skull with sunken eyes. His limbs looked like skin draped over bone. Small transparent tubes lead from a device on the underside of his chair, hooking over his ears and into his nose, providing oxygen no doubt. He stared vacantly out at the gloomy street, watching cars and buses move by in the light rain.
"Hello?" Eleanor spoke once she was a few feet away from him. When he didn't respond, she tried again, louder this time. "Hello?" That time he turned in his seat to look at her.
"Oh!" He turned more fully and gave a smile of crooked teeth. "Sorry, my hearing ain't quite what it used to be." The man offered a shaking hand. "You must be Eleanor, I've heard a bit about you." Eleanor took the hand gingerly.
"I'm afraid I haven't heard anything about you." Eleanor sat down in a nearby chair.
"Well, for starters, you and I were born in the same place." When she heard that, the former Little Sister stiffened. Glancing around, she saw they were alone, she leaned closer to him.
"You're from Rapture? But you look..."
"Older than Brigid? Well, let me give you a tip for aging gracefully, don't let a bunch of scientists mess with your hormones to grow you from infancy to physical maturity in the span of two years." He looked her up and down, letting a dry rasping laugh. "Not that you need help. You look pretty good for a woman that's pushing seventy."
"Is such a thing possible?" Eleanor honestly wouldn't be surprised by anything that went on in Rapture, but she'd never heard of such experiments.
"Aye," The man leaned back into his chair and steepled his fingers. "Apparently. Not that I remember it. But, I guess you might know the part where I came back to Rapture." At once his demeanor darkened. He frowned and a distant look came into his eyes. "I came back, found out my life was a lie... I got pulled around on somebody else's strings until I managed to get out with my girls." Eleanor couldn't breath for a moment. If she was right, this wasn't just the man in the picture she had found in Tenenbaum's bag. This was the man splicers had whispered about in fear for years. Simon Wales had incorporated him into his religion, making him out to be some sort of messiah. Her mother had been inspired by his lack of free will. The man that took down Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine singlehandedly...
"You're the son of Ryan."
"The name's Jack." He coughed into his fist, then wiped his lips. "Only thing that man ever did for me was show me the strings I was danglin' by... though I guess that's pretty good for a guy who only knew he had a son for an hour or two."
"So you're... wow." Eleanor shook her head, not quite believing. "The splicers back in Rapture, after you left they were convinced that you were some kind of angry god, down there to punish them."
"That right?" Jack started to laugh but it turned into a hacking cough. Eleanor laid a concerned hand on his shoulder. "*hack**cough* Well, good for them. They gave me enough trouble, a'right." He brushed off her hand and settled back into his chair. "Now, I think that's enough about me. Let's talk about you."
"Me? I don't know how much Dr. Tenenbaum told you-"
"I have the gist of what happened down below. I want to know about your new life as a teenage superhero."
"You know about that do you?" Eleanor scratched the back of her neck sheepishly. "I...guess it just seemed like poetic justice at first."
"Plasmids doing good for a change? Believe me, that I get. But what about your team? The Titans, tell me about them." Eleanor could tell Jack was looking for something specific. Not that she had any idea what.
"Alright then... Well, there's Robin. He's the leader more or less. Dedicated, would describe him. When he's not working or training, he spends most of his time hanging out with Cyborg and Beast Boy... or Starfire. He looks out for everyone usually, but we're... having a bit of a rough patch." Eleanor hesitated. She didn't particularly want to go into the Titan's current problems.
"Go ahead," Jack waved vaguely. "Tell me about the others."
"Beast Boy, heh, he's always telling jokes and trying to be funny. He's braver than he thinks though. He keeps trying to make me watch movies, but I don't really get it most of the time." Despite herself, Eleanor smiled at the memory of one particular night when he had her watch a marathon of Arnold Shwartznegger films. That had been... interesting. "And Starfire's the most earnestly compassionate person I've ever met. She can be a bit naive at times, but she's learning. We try to teach her, and me to be honest, more about how modern Earth culture works here."
"Sounds like you've got some interesting characters for roommates, there."
"I certainly do," Eleanor smiled. "There's also Cyborg. He's more level headed than Beast Boy, though he's got a temper, and he'll throw a fit if anything happens to his car. He's very friendly though. Raven..." She stopped, unsure how to go on without delving into personal issues.
"Raven's the girl in the hood, right?"
"Yes, she's... Raven is complicated. She's quiet, but very thoughtful, understanding and beautiful." Abruptly, Eleanor realized her face was getting warm and she was smiling. "She can also be stubborn, blunt, and judgmental, but she found it in herself to give me a second chance when I made a mistake."
"Oooooh, I see how it is." Jack began to chuckle.
"What?" Eleanor tilted her head and furrowed her brow in confusion.
"Nothin', its nothin'..." He smiled. "But anyway, I think you've found what you needed to when you got up here: a family."
"A family? You mean the Titans?" Eleanor was taken aback. She had never quite thought of it that way. An alien, a sorceress, a cyborg, a colorfully dressed martial artist, and two mutants didn't exactly fit any definition of the term she was aware of.
"A group of people you care about and care about you. People that'll stick with you through thick and thin. That sound about right?"
"Recently... Not so much." That weight of guilt settled in Eleanor's chest once again. "I haven't-"
"Look here," Jack leaned forward and jabbed a finger at the former Little Sister. For the first time, she recognized the tattoo on the inside of his wrist from paintings in Simon Wales little cathedral: chain links. "That doesn't matter. What matters is that you don't give up on it. Why, when the girls were teenagers, oh boy what a headache that was, it was one crisis after another, but we made it through. Stick together and try to make up for the mistakes you made. Try and understand when the others make mistakes. Family is important, blood or not." He settled back into his chair. "Bah... I'm babbling. Just... This is what I wanted to make sure of, since you just came up. I didn't have a family before I found my girls, not really. Without one... the world can be a very lonely place."
"I know that." Eleanor sighed. "I've always needed someone. Mother... She used to look after me and I think she loved me, deep down, but her ideals... Dr. Alexander had the way of it, she turned love into something that was beneath her. Even then, I forgave her in the end. Father was bound to me by neither of our choice, but he never let me down. Now... you're right. Now the Titans are there for me. I just need to let them know I'm there for them. Raven's been helping me understand that."
"There you go." Jack smiled and turned his head toward the window. The clouds had grown darker. The rain had intensified, speckling the windows with rivulets of water. Rows of umbrella tops trumped back and forth down below on the sidewalk. Cars threw up sheets of water as the rolled through puddles. He sobered and that distant look returned to his eyes. "Just be careful, Eleanor. I have a feeling. You can call it instinct or old age's intuition or even a premonition from a man looking into his grave, but I feel it. This business with Apex is going to get worse before it gets better. Rapture isn't done with you yet."
Author's Note: ...Don't hurt me? I know, I know, it's been awhile, but I'm here now to deliver my longest chapter yet with over 14,000 words (Switch, my previous longest, was a bit over 12,000). That's something, right? I hope I managed to surprise you with Jack's appearance and got across Apex's deterioration. He's not a raving lunatic quite yet, but he's on his way down the path. Tenenbaum and Jack aren't going to have big roles from here on out. Tenenbaum might appear later, but this is probably the extent of Jack's involvement. Let me give you some insight into my writing process: after I wrote the first chapter, I sat down, sorted out most of the episodes from the first season I wanted to keep, then I wrote down vague plot ideas for Eleanor's challenges in the other seasons so I'd have an idea of where the overall plot is headed. Then, I decided on two original episodes to be written into season one and wrote plot summaries for every episode I wanted to write in that season.
Best laid plans, right? Well, of course I changed things around a bit as I went along and over time the character development started going in directions I hadn't planned out, so this episode had to be re-planned for the little schism in Mask. I'm afraid The Apprentice Part 1 & 2 will have to go through a similar rework. Most of the plot should remain as I've planned, but I'll need to work out the character development differently. The next few weeks promise to be very busy for me though, so I'd be lying to you if I said it was likely for me to be done quicker.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing from all you readers. There's nothing I like more than a thoughtful and/or enthusiastic review. 95 of you are signed up to receive emails the moment I post this, so exercise those digits!