“No reason to be nervous. They’re just like any other people. Who can think and move tens of thousands of times faster than you. Even an idiot moving at that speed would make you look like… like Superboy.” Robin rings the doorbell, and before the sound hits him the door swings open, with Wally West standing inside. He’s roughly Nightwing’s age, having been a Titan, previously. He looks around, for Batman or Nightwing, then looks down, disappointment showing on his face. “I thought one of the older bats would show. Guess I’m just hanging out with a Robin. Not a first time for that.” He sighs. “Come on. Bart’s in here.” Wally leads Robin inside. The front room is a mess of cables, monitors, magazines, comic books. Bart isn’t just there, he’s everywhere, a blur of motion as he reads and games and watches movies and surfs the internet (at agonizingly slow speeds for him).
“Bart, chill; ADHD can be hard to handle at normal speeds, but at super speeds- you’re going to make Robin go cross-eyed. You up on your meds?”
“I’m always up on my meds, I just metabolize them so quickly that I have to take one every five minutes or so.”
“How is that possible?” Robin asks, before appending. “Legally.”
“Currently, the Wayne Foundation is sponsoring sensitive research on the best timing for weening doses of ADHD medications, which means they go through a lot of them. Daily.”
In the blur, we get a single, static image of Impulse eating Gray’s Papaya. “Were you eating a hot dog?” Robin asks.
“Have to keep up my caloric intake. There’s nothing magical about us Flashes; takes me the same amount of calories to run across the continent as it would for you- I just do it thousands of times faster. Plus I had a hankering for Gray’s Papaya.”
“That does sound-” before Robin can finish the thought he’s holding a hot dog in his hand, and so is Wally. In fact, there are dozens of hot dogs around the room; they aren’t all from Gray’s- they only have so many cooked and ready at any one time. Robin’s about to take a bite of his hot dog, before he thinks to question, “And you got these legally, too?”
Wally laughs, because the Bat really does encourage distrust in his people. He notes his concern is well-founded. For a while Barry was feeding himself with change from wealthy people’s couch cushions, which he felt bad about, and especially when other Flashes started popping out of the woodwork, that was so many superfast mouths to feed. “We cover all of our expenses in cash, now. Batman got us access to some venture capital from Bruce Wayne. Turns out we had a few ideas worth patenting, and now Jesse’s running QuickStart licensing them out. And occasionally, Wayne’s companies hire Flashes to do supercomputing for him- basically we can process information faster than any computer, and there are occasions where that additional processing speed can be life or death. Currently we’re mostly working in the Wayne physics labs, with the supercollider. There are particles created in the lab that last only fractions of a second- but to a team of Flashes that’s like days.”
“And it’s sooo boring,” Bart says, bounding between activities. Wally grabs him as he blurs by, and forces him to stand in place for a moment.
“This is what we talked about. I know it can be rough, having to move at someone else’s pace. But you need to leave your feet on the ground, sometimes, and be a part of the human race.”
“It’s not my fault the rest of humanity’s a few hundred laps behind,” Bart says.
“Joke all you want, kid, but nobody’s buying this ‘a Flash doesn’t need friends’ BS. Because we’re all Flashes here; I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have Barry, Jay, Jesse, even you. And that’s ignoring that I still have all the guys from my days in the Titans. It okay to need people, Bart; it’s okay to be human.”
“You only think that because you haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”
“Bart ran back here from the future, but whatever spooked him enough to rip a wormhole through spacetime, it screwed him up.”
“Stop talking about me like I’m not in the room.”
“I can see as fast as you can move; half the time you weren’t in the room. And while I don’t doubt you saw some things, you have amnesia; even you haven’t seen what you’ve seen.”
“I still saw it. And I ran back here.”
“To stop it?”
Bart stops moving. “I…”
Wally’s there in an instant, a shoulder for him to collapse into. “He can’t remember even that.”
“That… sounds really rough,” Robin says. “But that’s why I hope you do come with us. I was skeptical, when I first joined the Titans; I didn’t think anyone could understand me, or what I’ve lived through, or what my life’s like. And they don’t, not completely, because we all have our unique problems. But they do, better than anyone else could, understand what it’s like to live in the shadows we do, the weight of the legacies we have to uphold. You have a family here, people who care about you no matter what. But I hope you can join my friends; they’ve helped me be a better me, and I think you can, too. Plus, Batman lent me a batplane to fly us-“
Impulse is gone in a blur, his clothes and selective magazines, games, etc. are, too. “He’s in the plane,” Wally says.
Robin finds him sitting in the backseat of the plane, which is now full of Bart’s junk. Robin slides into his seat. “I was wondering if I could fly,” Bart says. “I read the manuals while I was waiting for you, as well as everything in the Central City Library, section 629, Aviation.“
“Everything?” Robin asks.
“Yeah, even Aviation in Southern Oregon¸ by Bill Alley, even if I’m not sure why we had a copy here. Wait.” He’s gone and back. “Apparently it was an interlibrary loan for a graduate student paper, but they kept it so long the loaning library just charged them for it, and they donated it to our library. And I did appreciate the picture of ‘Professor’ Charles Nelson’s balloon; it looked like a boob- appreciate in the amusement sense, not the pervy sense- it didn’t look that much like a boob.”
“I see why they call you Impulse. But, why did you put ‘professor’ in scare quotes.”
“Because the book did- though they never explained why; I guess there was some question as to his credentials.”
“You have an eidetic memory.”
“Uh…” He’s gone and back again, and this time is holding onto a dictionary. “I do. And a debauched, unchaste mind. And a prurient sense of humor.”
“I’m pretty sure most of that is being a teenage boy.” Impulse gives him a quizzical look. “I’m just glad none of the girls can read our minds.” He adds, quieter, “And none of the guys.”
“What was that? Sometimes when I’m moving fast- like to return the dictionary” (which is now gone) “sound works differently, you can make it sound like someone mumbled something real low, or sound like they’re speaking real fast and high-pitched like the chipmunks cartoon. It sounded like you said something about Tom Yum Gai, and now I need some Thai soup. Gimme a second.”
An instant later, he and Robin are both holding soup. “Batman would not be cool with us eating in the batplane.”
“It’s cool,” Impulse says. “I move hundreds of times faster than things fall due to gravity. Even if you spill, I won’t let it spill. Okay?” Robin still looks anxious. “And I won’t tell Batman.”
“Cool.” That loosens Robin up, and they eat in the plane.
We cut to Wonder Girl, flying over the waters along the California coastline. We can set this in Atlantis if we want, but I’m just going to assume that somewhere in the mainline DCEU movies that I’m not plotting we’ll have sunk San Diego and it’s now Sub Diego. Wonder Girl dives into the waters, shooting like a bullet down, stopping at the entrance to one of Sub Diego’s underwater domes. She emerges inside to find Mera. She explains that Arthur was unique, but the idea that his mother was the only Atlantean that might meet and fall in love with a human, well, it was naïve. One such native of San Diego discovered her powers when her home sunk into the ocean, and used her abilities to save as many of her neighbors as she could. But since then she’s been just like Arthur- lost between two worlds, a foot in each, a home in neither. Mera hopes that, like Arthur, being a hero to both might find her a home in both, too, and that the Titans helped Garth get his land legs. “That’s what the Titans are for. Um. Do you mind if I talk to her on my own?”
Aquagirl is sitting on a bench, looking sad and lost. She barely looks up at Wonder Girl as she approaches. Cassie sits down at the other end of the bench.
“Hola,” Lorena says, without looking up.
Cassie perks up. She’s taken some Spanish. Not like a lot. But maybe she can make Lorena feel more at home. “Hola,” she says enthusiastically, then her brow knits as she tries to figure out how to proceed, before stumbling out, “Soy Cassie.”
“Me llamo Cassie,” Lorena says, meeting her gaze.
“Oh, you’re Cassie, too?
“No. Me llamo Lorena. Tu llamas Cassie. Se llama Mera,” she says, pointing at Mera. “But my English is fine, if you’re more comfortable with it.”
“Then why’d you start with ‘hola?’”
“Because this was home. With my family. They wouldn’t let me speak Spanish outside the home- I needed to fit in, to be ready for people who might not accept me if I had an accent. But at home- at home we only spoke Spanish. Spanish means home for me. Family. Meant…”
She sighs heavily. “I couldn’t save them. The house came down in a mudslide. Everything but my bedroom window was subsumed in mud. I was digging with my hands, thinking of mom. She was an EMT. I asked her once, when my cousin and I collided. There was a lot of blood, lots of little scrapes, but she was everywhere at once fixing us up. Handling two kids with a few cuts, sure, but I asked how you handle it, when there’s too many people to help. She told me you can’t save everyone, and the hardest part of her life- not just her job- was knowing that trying to save some people meant letting a lot of others die- that sometimes to help the most people, she had to decide only to try to save the ones she could. And my family were buried under thirty feet of mud. Even if somehow they hadn’t been crushed in the fall, they weren’t going to have enough air to last the hours it would take me to dig them out. So I saved the people I could.”
“Was not answering prayers that day.”
“I’m so sorry.” Cassie presses Lorena to her.
“Me, too. I do hope Mera’s right; up there, down here, I’m tired of being alone with this.”
We overlay that last line over the kids all arriving at the camp, as Robin grabs Superboy by the hand, and pulls him away from the rest of the folks into a more secluded part of the main hall. (first, a note: I’m not so much queerbaiting, here, as it might seem; I absolutely do intend to make Robin bi, now that it’s cannon. Superboy isn’t, and while I think making theirs a respectfully unrequited love but still strong friendship might be in the cards, I’m not planning on just completely 180ing away from my prior plans, either). Robin explains that he DNA tested everything at the camp, hoping to get a lead on Deathstroke or Ravager. “Or at least catalog everything Beast Boy humped,” Superboy offers.
“I did learn more about his emissions than I ever cared to; curiously, some of his changes occur down to the genetic level. But I’m telling you, specifically, Conner, because this has to do with you. We’ve known you were cloned by Cadmus scientists at the behest of Amanda Waller while Superman was ‘dead-’”
“Yeah, but they couldn’t get a complete sequence, so they had to patch it up with human DNA, like they used frog DNA in Jurassic Park.”
“Right. Cadmus swore up and down they used DNA from that Rhodes scholar physicist who just barely missed a slot on the US Olympic gymnast team- but no one really believed them. And what we never knew before now was which human they took DNA from. Some of that might be that before recently, until he had a run-in with the Outlaws, we never had a sample of his DNA in the batcomputers.”
“Did you just say batcomputers?”
“Shut up,” Robin says quietly, only mock-defensively, before he gets about as empathetic as we ever see him. “I’m asking you if you want to know who your human ‘father’ essentially, is.”
“You just told me he’s shady. I don’t imagine I can say, ‘No,’ now.” Robin looks wounded, until Conner smiles. “I’m yanking you. Who would say, ‘No?’ You?” Robin shakes his head as he opens up his laptop, then shows Conner his laptop screen. It’s an image of Lex Luthor, with his name in the corner. “No way.”
“Yeah. When the sequence came back, at first I just thought it meant Lex was skulking around. But it was also only a 50% match. Took a while for me to figure out the other half was Kryptonian; it doesn’t just sequence the same way, some of the catalysts are different and… I’ll shut up.”
“No, it’s okay. I missed your blathering, and it was keeping what you told me from knocking me over.”
“Yeah, it’s uh, it’s been a year for surprising revelations.”
“That sounds ominous. You okay? I’m in no position to be helpful if you’re not, but I’m floundering for anything to distract me from… my parentage.”
“Ominous?” Robin asks nervously. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing, just maybe surprising. Unexpected. And I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way I do- or anyone, really, but… I want this to be a safe space. And it can’t be if we’re holding things back, keeping secrets. I don’t want to be Batman.”
“Dude, that’s not a secret. No one wants to be Batman. I barely know him, but I doubt even Batman wants to be Batman. Dude is miserable. You’re way too well-adjusted to be Batman.”
“No- thank you, but that’s not the…” Robin trails off as he stares at Conner, who just stares, always a little slow on the uptake.
“There you two are,” Wonder Girl says from the doorway. “Up to no good? There isn’t still bad blood, is there?”
“Under the bridge,” Robin says with a crinkled nose.
“Well come on. Like it or not, we’re all linked to the big 3. People look up to us, for leadership and grooming tips. And to keep Beast Boy’s libido at least somewhat in check.”
“Yeah,” Robin says, “there are definitely some adjustments we need to make to our collective boundaries on that one.”
They do an orientation thing. I assume it will be dorky, so it’s a good chance to cut away, zooming into a bored Lorena’s head, we zoom out, she’s someplace else, looking riveted. We linger for the moment on the gathered crowd of teen heroes, sitting or standing, listening to someone at the front of the room. In the crowd are: Hawk, Dove, Aquagirl, Speedy (the one recruited in the Outsiders, not Roy Harper), and Miss Martian.
There are burlap sacks they each were escorted in wearing (these are the theatrics he mentions). “I’m sorry for the theatrics. But someone has infiltrated the Titans. I… spoke with Robin, but couldn’t convince him to take precautions. So I have to take them for him. That’s what all of you are: a precaution. Lorena here got herself recruited, she’ll be our eyes on the inside. She can test boundaries, loyalties, push people enough to figure out who’s a danger. I imagine some of you are asking why I need a whole team, and the answer is that I can’t believe there’s been a spy in their midst this long without detection. The only alternative, is that some of them have been turned, possibly even all of them. Push comes to shove, I want to be able to stop the Titans before they can hurt themselves or anyone else. We’re here as friends of the Titans- not foes. But sometimes, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. That’s why, if it comes down to a fight, Hawk will be your field commander. Until that point, Dove will be in control, as we agreed. Dawn, it’s your operation, as of now.”
Dawn Granger, Dove, rises. She’s fairly no-nonsense, essentially having only agreed to be recruited because she wants to pursue a peaceful solution with the Titans first; her and Hawk’s involvement is basically premised upon her getting first bite at that apple. “Thank you, Batman,” she says, and we finally see it, we’re in the Batcave, with Batman standing in front of his batcomputer, with Batgirl standing close by.
We don’t stay for long, but get the idea that Dawn wants to play it subtle, at least to start. She considers the Titans heroes, and so they need to be careful about how they proceed.
We cut back to the orientation, panning from the bored Lorena to the manic lack of focus of Impulse. He’s daydreaming, for a moment, and we see him flashback to the moment between Superboy and Robin right before Wonder Girl interrupted. I’m thinking, to visualize the idea, we watch Impulse run back into that scene, stare at Robin, staring at Superboy, look at Superboy, and we watch as he, at relatively quick speed, figures out Robin’s crushing. Hard. His mouth drops open, and then he smiles. “Good for him,” he says, before running out of the room.
I’m thinking later in the evening, they’re doing a bonfire as a group. Roasting marshmallows, team-building type of stuff. Robin and Conner are staring at the fire, as Robin’s struggling to tell Conner how he feels, and Impulse just jams them together for a kiss, not really understanding why that’s not okay. Wonder Girl takes them all into the administrator’s office.
She demands to know what’s going on, and Impulse demurs, realizing from her anger that he’s screwed up, and clamming up.
Conner, nervous, makes a joke about her wearing a tight Principal’s outfit. Impulse adds his approval. Cassie basically is trying to push them to be empathetic to Robin coming out, but he kind of splits the difference, “I think that would be a good look for you. And I never said I was gay.”
“The request is denied, and if I hear one more peep about it I’ll have you all in miniskirts before the day is out.”
“Her heart-rate’s steady,” Superboy says.
“She is not bluffing,” Robin says.
“I don’t know if you do want to say anything, Robin. But if you do, you’re with friends.”
“I’ve been struggling with this since we first got back. I don’t think I ever questioned it before. I always liked girls, dated girls, was only really ever into girls. And at first I just thought I was jealous. You know, Conner’s got good hair, that jawline, a physique some men would cripple for, and he could be relaxed, and himself, in situations that terrified me. And I was a bigger dick to him even than my usual, at least until we patched things over. And then I came to respect him. Even admire him. And… I don’t know how to say the next part…”
“Dude,” Superboy says, “just say it.” Because there’s drama to be had, I’d play it ambiguous, like he could be hurt/angry and just wants this awful moment to end.
“I’m attracted to you, Conner, which makes me bisexual.”
“That’s cool,” Conner says with a shrug.
“Dude, I may live in Kansas, but I’m not like from Kansas. I’m from Metropolis.”
“Your cousin’s from Kansas, and I wasn’t at all nervous telling him.”
“You told Cla-ondike Bar Man?”
“Nice save,” Impulse says; he is eating a Klondike Bar, because Conner gave him a hankering.
“And yeah. He was super supportive-”
“It is in the name. But I’m glad. I know he’s, he’s a better me, in every way; at least twice the man I could ever hope to be. And I’m glad you told him first.”
“You’re not,” Robin says, “but it means a lot that you wanted me to tell you first.”
“You’re not going to try to kiss me again, are you?”
“Only if you want me to, and even then, I don’t know. I don’t kiss every pretty girl I meet. There’s more to it, than that.”
“Man, that makes me itchy; like it didn’t matter five minutes ago, but now that I know it’s a possibility, I want you to want me. I don’t think that’s a healthy impulse.”
For a moment they all wait for Impulse to weigh in and he says, “I’m not arguing.”
“I mean, you’re welcome to try if you want, but only if you want,” Robin replies. “I don’t want anything from anyone they can’t give freely.”
“I,” Wonder Girl starts, “have some concerns about Starfire.”
“She does strike me as the jealous type,” Impulse agrees. “And the type of jealous type to start fires when she’s jealous. Wait… is her name a typo?”
“I was more worried about her feelings, though now I’m also concerned about fires.”
“Starfire’s great,” Robin says. “She’s also not really into me.”
“I seem to recall what the K…” Conner stops himself again, “kindly parental figures I have in Kansas would call ‘heavy petting,’ last year.”
“Sure. And we had fun together. But as we talked, it kind of became clear she had more of a thing for Nightwing. And I told her to go for it. Um… I did emphasize waiting until she’d reached the relative physical and emotional maturity of a human adult first, but yeah. I think last year I was just the Robin she could get- not really the Robin she wanted. And maybe that’s changed. Maybe she’s changed, or I have. But I really don’t expect that she’s carrying a torch for me.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Wonder Girl says. “Just be gentle with her. And not just because of the fire thing. But also not entirely excluding the fire thing.”
“She is such a sweet person. The absolute last thing I’d want to do is hurt her. I’ll talk to her. First thing. And if she’s in that kind of a mood, I’ll take my licks.”
“Maybe I should go with him,” Bart says. “For moral support”
“I don’t think you have the morals to support anyone,” Wonder Girl says.
“And he didn’t mean those kind of licks,” Superboy says.
Now, for my money, I kind of like the idea of Starfire having a Robin thing. Like, she originally had a crush on Nightwing, and that’s why she was excited to join the Titans, only to find that the Robin she was going to spend time with was a newer one. But then, also getting to know and like him. What I’m saying is, at least until we can get Nightwing and Starfire in the same movie, I kind of like the idea of having our cake and eating it, too; I’d even likely build out a love triangle, though Tim would likely step aside at that point. He’s too good a detective not to see that given who she is, she doesn’t want to be with Nightwing’s self-serious younger brother- not really– that why they’re perfect for each other is the unbridled joy they share, and that, while of course it hurts, he’s okay with that. “I loved you as deeply and honestly as I could, so I hope it doesn’t hurt when I tell you this: I don’t think you’re the love of my life, but I think he could be the love of yours. And I love you enough that I want that for you.” Given the… events I have planned for Titans 3, I think there’s a pretty easy off-ramp for that, and no, I’m not giving you any hints beyond that, no matter how many boomerang arrows you might shoot at me (I have a no giving into boomerang-based terrorism policy that has never served me wrong).
And to address the elephant in the room: this really isn’t a no-homoing. I’m completely open to getting Robin a boyfriend for the next one, even if I’d personally prefer it be another hero, because I don’t really want to start dealing with the normal partners in one of these- it pulls too much focus from the team (though given the line-up I had in mind… it might be easier to set him up with a shape-shifting telepath who could be both– though I could be down with making Hawk bisexual, too, and assuming we’ll have a love triangle between Hawk, Dove, and Robin- though if we assume the general structure of these stands and only plan to do a trilogy, that may not leave a lot of time for that to play out). But this is all largely a logistical issue; if I’d known earlier on that DC were going to have Tim comes out as bisexual, I might have been able to balance my roster differently, maybe have Aqua Lad (but not Tempest, he’s in the Outsiders orbit) show up to be the beef to Robin’s cake. Those kinds of details are usually fudgeable, long-term, but for whatever reason it feels important to me, as part of the challenge inherent in these pitches, to play it where it lays, essentially.
The Titans are all at the swimming hole, in trunks and suits.
“No powers, but then I’m just ‘boy,” Superboy complains.
“Hey, me, too,” Beast Boy exclaims.
“This sounds an awful lot like Robin trying to even the odds,” Terra snipes.
“We discussed that,” Cassie says, “and Robin agreed to give up his wonderful toys.”
Impulse, elongating the words excruciatingly says, “Eyedondnowhiffffeyekenmoobdadzlohleee.”
“Too bad. Now, I know our powers are part of our identities- who we are, and using them can be unconscious. But the moment you use a power and get called on it, you have to stop. So if you’re flying,” she points at Beast Boy who’s a green bat in the air, “you have to drop.”
“Uh oh,” Beast Boy says, shifting first into himself, then into an elephant and cannonballing into the water.
“If you don’t, you’re out, and your team just has to operate with fewer players. Name of the game is king- or queen– of the hill. Girls start on top of the hill, boys have to try and take it. You can use whatever tactics you want to employ, but no powers. Last man- or woman- standing on the raft wins, and the losers- including anyone ejected from the game- cook dinner.”
I see it playing out a lot like most X-Men sports, that they start with the best of intentions, and fail repeatedly; I think Cassie nominates the first boy and girl out to act as referees for the opposing team- because the more people they catch out, the more spread out the cooking will be. I imagine Beast Boy and Terra get one another out almost immediately goofing around with their powers. I suspect Robin hatches a plan using Impulse as a sacrificial lamb, moving fast enough to make them think that both he and Superboy are using their powers, which gets Cassie, Aquagirl and Raven to go after them- only to find Superboy had been hiding underwater. But then Superboy underestimates Starfire’s prowess, thinking without her flight or fire or strength she’s just a girl he can push off a raft, only she rolls and throws him, and he starts to fly, getting amped enough that he keeps flying even after Cassie tries to get him to stop and she tackles him before he reaches the raft, splashing down in the water, where she tells him he’s out.
Robin manages to sneak up on Starfire, tackling her- but she parries enough that when they go rolling she stays on the raft, and ends up on top. And she’s confused, thinking he didn’t like her anymore, yet he’s responsive, his skin flushed, pupils dilated, skin moist, and his trunks are doing “that thing” again. He tries to play coy, to tell her he thought she was into Nightwing, and she tells him that, after much soul-searching, and much girl-talking, “I have decided there is room in my bank of spanking for two Robins. Spanking is the way humans show one another affection, yes?” He tells her she’s just as beautiful as when they first met- the only difference is he now knows Superboy is beautiful, too.
Starfire is intrigued, because now he is a cute boy who can talk about other cute boys, but will still kiss her like she’s the only Tamaranean on Earth. She kisses him, really passionately
Cassie starts flying, “Yeah, I’m, uh, shutting this down. They win. I don’t want to take the raft back, now. We should go. Give them privacy, or at least make it so I don’t feel like I’m in the audience of the show they’re putting on.” Beast Boy, who is standing at the edge of the raft with his hands over his eyes, splays his fingers to gawk. “Come on,” Cassie continues, yanking Beast Boy by the shoulder, “we’ve got an apparently romantic dinner to cook for them.”
Robin and Starfire meet up at the main hall for dinner. He’s wearing a suit. She’s got on a flattering dress. “I can’t believe they made such a big deal. It was some kissing,” Robin says.
“I’ve heard Conner’s parents refer to some of it as ‘heavy petting.’”
“I’m pretty sure to them that’s anything more erotic than touching hands,” Robin says, but flushes when she takes his.
“Am I petting you too heavily?” she asks gingerly.
“No, it’s, it’s perfect,” he says, and they go inside.
The rest of the Titans have put together quite a spread. “You brought a suit?” Superboy teases Robin.
“I learned from Batman; I prepare for everything. And I don’t know that your cousin told you, but he packed one for you, too.”
“Um, you went through my stuff?” Conner asks, clearly uncomfortable about the prospect.
“He and I agreed we need to,” Cassie says seriously. “All of our stuff; I went through the girls, he went through the boys. And I went through his and he through mine.“
“You rifled through her ‘stuff?’” Starfire asks. “Is this the kind of thing I’m expected to be jealous over?” Raven purses her lips and shakes her head, “No.”
“Unless she was wearing it when he rifled through it,” Lorena offers, and Cassie shakes her head that that did not happen.
Starfire is relieved, because jealousy really isn’t her speed, and she doesn’t feel she really gets it.
Superboy’s still upset. “I kind of wanted her to deck you. You went through my stuff.”
“I think we’re still being hunted,” Robin says.
“Deathstroke?” Superboy asks.
“Or his employer. He’s a mercenary. We were a contract to him. And maybe we made it costly enough he couldn’t justify the job anymore. But whoever asked him to attack us in the first place, they probably didn’t go away.”
“So Batman, then?”
“Conner,” Cassie says.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Robin says. “But the first thing I learned from Batman was to never start from an assumption. It makes you ignore clues, and try to fit others to your preconceived notions. If we want to catch whoever is coming for us, we needed to be alert. That meant checking for bugs or anything else that might give them an in to hurt us.”
“It also meant playing our cards closer to the vest,” Cyborg says, emerging from one of the side halls. “I’ve been here since before any of you arrived, watching, scanning for signals, trackers, bugs.”
“And you finally ended the longest game of secret hide and seek because you haven’t found anything?” Superboy asks.
“Not exactly,” Cyborg says, opening his palm. He has what looks like a cricket in his palm.
“Aw, he found a friend,” Beast Boy says, transforming into a cricket and leaping into Cyborg’s hand. “Hey, momma,” he says, before it attacks him, making him realize it’s a robotic ‘bug.’ Beast Boy shifts back into a human. Cyborg shifted his hand to form a little cage around the bug, which is docile again.
“She’s territorial with other insects, to keep them from interfering. That was how I found her. I kept finding piles of dismembered insects- her suitors. Once I found her, I could monitor her, listen to what she was transmitting. To keep from letting them know I was onto them, I had to let the broadcasts through. And the broadcasts were encrypted. Some high level, black ops government encryption. Took me forever to break it- until tonight, in fact. That’s when I learned this little bug wasn’t alone. There are thousands in this forest.” He projects a hologram of the campground, with thousands of dots all radiating circles to signify their communication. “Now, I can shut them down the second I want; hit the entire forest with an EMP and they’ll all go dead. I think we should keep them active. I think, now that we know we’re being watched, and how, we can use that to our advantage. And hopefully, between now and then, I’ll be able to take over their swarm of cyber locusts.”
“So then it’s definitely not Batman, right?” Conner asks. “Because then they would definitely be robot bats, right? Or maybe, if he was playing coy, some kind of insect that’s symbiotic with bats, or specifically hunted by them. Right?”
“I’m not convinced,” Robin says. “But it does seem like a very good reason to be careful.”
In the back of the room, Terra stares, worried. She looks a lot more comfortable in the next scene. “So they’ve discovered our surveillance. Seemed like that was a matter of time. But the intel we’ve gathered in the interim is priceless. The money we could get from the Gotham circus crowd just for some insight into Batman’s fight tactics is enough to retire on- though collecting is always a matter of having to dodge corrosive pies and penguin suicide bombers.” Their location looks familiar. I won’t spoil it yet, if you haven’t guessed why. Deathstroke is more familiar with Terra, this time; it goes beyond the familial relationship he pushed in the last movie, to where now he’s clearly stringing her along romantically. All the while, Ravager looks on, uncomfortable. When Terra leaves, she confronts him about it.
“Dad, I watched you gut a teenager for having the audacity to throw a dagger at you. But… this feels wrong. Manipulation is one thing. I’m on board for love-bombing Terra; I like her just fine, and if that makes her more pliant for what we need, that’s serendipity. But you don’t want her. You don’t even like her, not as a person, not as a partner. So using that to manipulate her, it’s dishonest to a much more extreme degree- one that doesn’t even feel necessary; it’s just egregious.”
“I don’t have time for your Elektra bullshit.”
“Ew. Gross. No. My having minimum standards is not the same as being incest-curious, you sick prick. I’m saying why do this? She’s already going along with everything you want. Why toy with her emotions? Why break her heart? Perhaps more critically, why risk alienating an asset that essential and powerful?”
“Because I might need more than this. She’ll betray her friends for me. But would she kill one, if that’s what it took? Would she kill all of them, if there was no other way to fulfill our contract? Kindness is a mercy I can’t afford.”
He storms off, and we linger on her a moment. “That went great, Rose,” she says, clearly hurt. “He’s Deathstroke. I don’t know if he has feelings, so of course he won’t understand why him lying to Terra makes it impossible to trust he isn’t lying to me. God, he’d probably punch me just for wanting to trust him. I just wanted someone to care about me, a dad… I can’t believe I thought it could be him.”
Cyborg matches the bug tech to Luthor patents. Robin consults with Red Hood over a video link, who relates that Luthor leaves his fingerprints on his black market tech; nothing so blatant as LexCorp. insignia- nothing that the authorities would be willing to hassle him over, but stuffed with proprietary, patented LexCorp. tech no one has the expertise to even use- he wants the capes to know he’s the one supplying black market tech- especially weaponry. “It’s his way of saying he’s gunning for us.”
“About that-” Robin starts. Cyborg pantomimes that he’s going to go, and give them privacy.
“Don’t. I’ve already got Nightwing crawling up my ass over it. My choices are mine.”
“Are they, though? I’m really not trying to hassle you. I’m asking the question I would want to ask if what happened to you happened to me. Are your choices your own? Or are they a reaction to an extreme, even unfathomable trauma. Over the course of less than a year you lost your innocence, any belief in a just, rational world, even the ability to trust in a kind, benevolent paternal figure.”
“He was never kind, and unless you’re a Gotham charity clinic, it’s hard to see benevolence in his actions. You do know that ‘Batman’ is a legally accepted reason to collect disability in the state, right?”
“I don’t want to debate. You’ve been through things I can scarcely imagine, and clearly they hurt you, even changed you. I’m not trying to judge you. And I don’t want to insert myself in this any more than you want. But if you want to talk, either to process, or to probe, or just to have someone hear your pain, I’m here for you.”
Red Hood sighs. “I hate that.” Robin asks what. “You and Dick. With Barb, she’s teacher’s pet. That type, they outshine us, and you know it’s because they’re trying to fill a different kind of hole inside them-” he winces- that was not what he meant. “You know what I mean. But you two. I hate that I take after him the most of us. That both of you can be nice. Kind. Caring. That all I seem to have got from the old man is a desire to hurt people so they can’t hurt other people.”
“You don’t have to be anything like him,” Robin says. “You can choose who you want to be. We all struggle with that, with trying to be who we want, instead of defaulting to who we think we are. But there’s a lot more choice than most people think. If you want to be kind. If you want to be nice… just try. And you’ll be nicer, at least. None of us can be Superman but him.”
“Dick could. Given a spit-curl and the ability to fly.”
“Fair. But the rest of us, we get there by trying to be better than we have been. We make the effort. And that, truly, starts with being kinder to ourselves. I know you feel like our broken bat, or at least the family’s black sheep. But to us? You’re just our brother. We want what’s best for you. For you to be happy- whatever that needs to mean for you. And for you to be proud of us.” Robin takes off his mask. “This thing’s heavier because you used to wear it. And that weight makes me cherish it more, makes me take carrying it more seriously.”
“You were always going to be the serious Robin. I’ve seen pictures from your childhood. You were a serious 8-year-old. And I’m both proud and angry. Because you’re a much better Robin than me- than I could have ever been. I wanted it, so badly… but wanting it didn’t make me a good fit. But you are. I was just keeping the tights warm for you.”
“Nah. You just outgrew them. Like Nightwing. You’ve got your life to live, now. Just, make sure you make the space to live it, and not just in between being who everyone else needs you to be. Not Batman, and not any of the other madmen we deal with, either.”
“Okay. You take care, little brother,” Jason says, and cuts the video link.
“Everything Kosher?” Cyborg asks, emerging.
“Copacetic,” Robin says, wiping his eyes and replacing his mask.
“You know the Arrows?”
“Green, Red, Speedy, any others I’m forgetting…
“They mock the bat ‘family.’ But it’s because they aren’t close. They don’t have what you have, and wish they did.”
“I didn’t know they mock us.”
“Not anywhere you might hear- not with the way Batman teaches you to punch. I heard he flattened a Green Lantern once.”
“No. He was talking hypotheticals- that if the ring protects a user based on their sensing a threat, you could theoretically cold-cock one before he realized it was coming.” It seems like we’re changing the subject, until Cyborg turns to leave. “Thanks. We’ve got problems, like any family, only when one of us screws up people get hurt, or sometimes die. It can make it really hard to see the good, when the bad is so important.”
“Know what you mean. My dad saved my life. He also made me a high-tech Frankenstein. Maybe, if I’d had the chance to process, I could have landed somewhere near ‘complicated.’ But before I could, he sacrificed himself to save the world.”
“I get it. He loved you. But he hurt you. And it’s hard to accept, on an emotional level, that the father who hurt you was the same one who loved you- that he isn’t all good or all bad- just you dad.”
“Something like that, yeah. But I… I didn’t come back to interrupt. It’s the bugs… I cracked the next layer of their encryption. I can see their transmissions, now.” He takes over the screen, and puts up the same map of the camp from earlier. Only this time the ripples are being responded to, and we see ripples, painting an outline of a location. “Given the time between call and response, and the literal thousands of data points a second, I know where they are. And maybe it’s just a relay station, but it’s a solid lead.”
“What time is it?”
“You don’t have a watch?”
“You’re a walking clock. You don’t have the time on your HUD?”
“Is that too late?”
“For normal people, or you?”
“Who here’s normal?”
“I think we go, now, we keep the element of surprise. I’ll brew some coffee, we’ll pour it down our people. Cool?”
“In a pot. In the kitchen.” Cyborg, slightly annoyed at the intimation he’s a coffee pot, stomps off into the kitchen, muttering, “I can’t tell if you get Superboy stupid after 2 AM, or Superboy mean, but I know I don’t like his influence on you.” Robin beats him to the kitchen, “What the f-” he stops himself.
“You know Conner’s not stupid, right? He can think nearly as fast as Impulse. And from what we know of his father he has the potential to be a world-class scientist, but one thinking at the speed of the world’s fastest supercomputer.”
“I wasn’t trying to insult your crush.”
“I’m not defending him because he’s cute. I’m defending him because everyone seems to forget he’s three. He was cloned, and artificially aged. He had the weight of the world thrust on his shoulders by Cadmus and Amanda Waller before his first birthday- and just as quickly the original Superman came back and he became, in the same moment, obsolete and the lesser copy- because Superman is an impossible ideal for the rest of us to strive for. Conner is trying to shoulder a legacy most of us couldn’t budge, all while trying to figure out how to grow up- but in a fraction of the time everyone else gets.”
“Hey,” Cyborg says, touching his shoulder, “we all struggle with our mantles- and with our fathers’ legacies.”
“There are parallels, sure, but this isn’t about you and me. Superman died once. And it could happen again. And if it does, Conner is going to be the greatest hope we have, and as we’ve seen, hope in a world without Superman is a very precious commodity. We need him to grow up, but we also need him to grow up feeling loved, cared for, respected, and nurtured. Imagine a Superman who grew up to be someone like… like Lex Luthor. Feeling entitled, disrespected, angry, motivated by greed and petty jealousy. Superman’s family had a gentler time to raise him, and a lot longer, to build him into the man the rest of us depend on. I know Conner can be that, too, but if he’s going to get there, we all have to help him- we need to, and he needs us to.”
“Okay, man, you’re right. I’m here to be the adult. It’s not cool of me to peck at him. Conner deserves the chance to be his own man, and I need to get the hell out of his way.”
“I’m,” is what Robin gets out, and we can tell he’s struggling to apologize for coming down on him, but I also want to keep Cyborg’s moment going a moment longer, not because he doesn’t want the apology, but because he recognizes he should be the bigger man in the moment. “I know, man, but like I said, I’m the adult.” (I’m not entirely sure how old Cyborg is supposed to be, but I’d aim for as young as possible, that he’s technically in the Justice League, but that he’s barely old enough to drink, and while technically not a teen, he’s only just their senior, so while he feels like he should be a mentor he’s not that much more experienced- mostly because I don’t want there to be a weird age difference, and I want him to be able to pal around more where possible)
“Thanks. I should go start waking people up.” Robin leaves the kitchen, and Conner is there waiting.
“I know that was for my benefit- that you knew I was here.” He scoops Robin up in a hug.
“And if I didn’t?”
“Don’t make it weird.”
“Like this hug?”
“Don’t make the hug weird, now.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re the one doing that.” Conner puts him down. Robin’s actually a little shy, in this moment, because he’s really getting mixed signals from Conner. “Just, don’t do anything you don’t mean, okay?”
“What?” Conner asks.
“I felt something in your jeans, something warm, solid, yet yielding. So unless you were carrying a roll of Rolos in your jeans for some reason…”
Conner reaches into his pants pocket; right now I’m amused at the idea his jeans are tight enough that there’s some maneuvering to get it out of his pocket, before he removes a roll of Rolos. He pops one into his mouth, maybe several, because I think this line only gets funnier the more full his mouth is, “And I’m not going to explain myself.” There’s a long, awkward moment, before he asks, mouth still fairly full, “Want a body-warm Rolo?”
“I legitimately don’t know how to respond to that.”
More awkward silence, before Conner says, mouth still full, “Prude.” He finally chews it down and swallows. “But seriously, what you said. I know lots of people are scared of me. Pa-w Paw-”
“I know who your foster family is, and ‘Pa’ died before you were even created.”
“Right. But I’m bad at keeping up the secret identity. This is practice. But he used say, according to his wife, that he didn’t like horses. They’re too strong to be as stupid as they are. And I know a lot of people feel that way about me. That I’m just… irresponsible. That I don’t take anything seriously. And… I don’t always, it’s not a completely unfair criticism. But I- I really am trying to do right by people- to be the kind of man C-ousin, my cousin is. How do you do this? Living two lives.”
“I mean, it helps that my dad is my dad and Batman is Batman. But it’s pretty much that. When my face feels funny because of the mask, I feel like a different person. It’s a persona.”
“You in the mask, or out?”
“Both. They’re both facets of the real me. You ever feel shy, reserved?”
“I know that, typically, you’re brash, outgoing, fun, a little disruptive. But there are moments where you feel you should listen, and be serious, right? Like when your cousin introduced you to the rest of the Justice League.”
“Sure. You know about that? I guess… Batman seems like the loose lips kind of guy.”
“He is, typically. But with Kryptonians, he assumes the rest of us need to know the score. If even one of you went rogue…”
“Yeah. And I bet he’s the first target if one of us ever does. He’s already demonstrated a propensity for going after Kryptonians, and he… won, so far as my cousin describes it. So yeah, if anyone mind-controlled any of us or we got Eclipsoed or whatever… yeah. Not surprised he’s got a back-up plan.”
“Back-up plans within back-up plans. I just assume, 1000 years from now, one of Joker’s long-dormant projects will come to life, and some poor ancestor of mine or Dick’s will have nanotech kick in that makes them the Batman of that era. Or something less silly sounding.”
“Should you not be telling me this?”
“Oh, I don’t know anything specific to tell. But… the point is, that day, when you met with the League, you put away class clown Conner, or even class president who’s still one of the guys Conner, and you listened. You wanted them to take you seriously, and you knew proto-Fratboy Conner wasn’t going to cut it.”
“Harsh. But if the toga fits.”
“Togas always fit. That’s like half the point.” He pauses a moment. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” Robin squeezes thumb and forefinger together to indicate a little bit.
“It’s just that. It’s situational. It’s code-switching. Everyone does it to some extent. You and I, we have to do it a little more dramatically than some.”
“I thought code-switching is a Black thing.” He whispers the word black, but loudly, so it’s basically the same volume as the rest of the sentence.
“You’re really starting to sound like you’re from Kansas.”
“Code-switching can refer to the ways in which Black people will speak in a more relaxed vernacular amongst racial peers, then try to speak in more racially neutral ways in more mixed groups to avoid the biases usually demonstrated against people using that vernacular.”
“Can you imagine a Black Superman? People would freak out. Imagine if they’d used Steel’s DNA for my human half. That would be crazy.”
“I think that’s a lot of what your cousin does. That the kind, outspoken, caring, attentive hero is the real him, and that when he puts on the glasses, that’s when he’s taking a step back, being the reserved version of himself, the one who listens, the one who tries to figure things out before rushing in.”
“So you’re saying it wasn’t an accident he became a reporter?”
“I don’t think it was, no. I think he was trying to figure things out- figure people out, too, figure out how he fit into the world. I think it probably started young. In Kansas. Asking his parents about who he was, and where he came from…” Conner gets quiet.
“I… I think that’s part of why we get along. I didn’t have a childhood. And I get the sense from you that you didn’t, really, either. I mean, I assume he doesn’t keep you locked in the cave during the day doing the Batman equivalent to creepy, cloistered home-schooling, but you sleep, right? And not during the night. I bet you sleep-walk through your classes just like I do. I bet your real life is your night life, and the rest of your life is just the thing you get through to be able to do this.”
“People who think you’re an idiot are idiots.”
“People think I’m an idiot?” he deadpans. After an awkward wait he smiles. “I was hoping having Impulse here would soften that, a little.”
“He’s the best-read idiot you’ve ever met. I don’t know how much he comprehends, but he retains literally everything he’s ever read.”
“Then why did he have to borrow my magazine for so…”
“I think you’ve said too much already. But it sounds like you two have a bond. Or at least have riffled through the same sticky pages more than once. So I’ll let you wake him up.”
“Dude, morning wood…”
“I’m going to just assume that’s the clever nickname you gave him one morning on a not-completely-romantic walk through the wood on a crisp morning.”
“You would assume incorrectly.” There’s another weird moment. “It was dewy that morning.” And we finally cut the scene that never ends. Montage of the domino effect of Titans waking other Titans. It’s dawn by the time they amass in the woods. The Titans are attacked by the team lead by Dawn. Dawn makes one last plea for a peaceful resolution- that if the Titans will give up the spy they’ll stand down. The Titans refuse, because they don’t believe one of their own would betray them, and there’s a big fight, with the interlopers eventually retreating to the makeshift Batcave we saw earlier.
There, the addition of Batman and Batgirl begin to turn the tide, until Robin, no longer convinced Batman’s involved, takes on Deathstroke, who is wearing Batman’s costume. Ravager tries to shoot him in the back, only for Starfire to intervene, and Robin is able to tear back Deathstroke’s mask. That changes things. See, Hawk, who is big into wars, mercenaries, everything of the stripe, recognizes Deathstroke, real name Slade Wilson, and knows for a fact he isn’t Batman- that Wilson was prominently fighting in the Middle East when Batman first started haunting Gotham. He also says Batman’s a pussy. But the big deal is that Dawn’s Titans now know they’ve been had. While they’re all pretty banged up, this makeshift group of all of the Titans square to Deathstroke and Ravager. The music swells, Dawn and Wonder Girl share a look, before Wonder Girl says, “Titans.”
Before she can finish, Deathstroke says, “Now,” and they’re hit from behind by a cave collapse. I think Robin is about to die, that Impulse stops for a moment, and actually says that he could pull Robin out at speed, but probably not without hurting him. That moments like this he really hates being a hero, because it’s going to hurt, but Robin’s his friend, and he heals fast enough to survive it- unless something happens to one of his arteries… in which case he can’t be sure he wouldn’t bleed out in a fraction of a second, and that that’s a really disturbing thought to have right before- he shoves Robin out of the way just as time returns to normal speed and Impulse is bludgeoned into unconsciousness by falling rocks.
Most of the Titans are stuck under rock, not dead, but injured (some of the heavier hitters, like Superboy, Wondergirl and Cyborg are actually resisting her, and keeping the rock from doing permanent damage to any of them. Deathstroke leans on Terra to bring the cave down on the Titans collectively. This is where she breaks Beast Boy’s heart. He pleads with her to stop, tells her that whatever happened with Deathstroke, the Titans are her family, they’ll forgive her, they’ll take her back, they love her. She looks from Deathstroke and Ravager to Beast Boy. She kisses his cheek, and tells him she’s sorry, she got a better offer, stepping aside as a big rock smashes into his head.
This is the point of no return. Terra sees it on the other Titans’ faces, the anguish that she’s betrayed them. “Terra,” Robin says. “Please. Whatever his hold on you, let us help.”
“You are, birdboy,” she says. Terra strolls to Deathstroke, and kisses his cheek, the way she did Beast Boy. “How’d I do?”
“Job’s not done,” Deathstroke says. “Why are they still alive?”
She turns back to the Titans, and a smile crosses her lips. “That’s interesting.” The cave shakes, as Terra rips several Titans out of the rock. Those stronger Titans I mentioned are essentially in a ball, surrounding Aquagirl. She’s an aquakinetic, and has been using both the water content in the rocks and the water in the surrounding area to try to cushion the other Titans. Terra forms rock restraints around the stronger Titans and peels them off Aquagirl. “All this to protect their mole- well, our mole, really.”
“She’s a Titan,” Wonder Girl insists, even as Terra pulls her by the rock restraints to place her on a rack.
“Just like you,” Superboy agrees. He tries to heat vision Deathstroke, but Terra puts rocks in his way, before flinging him out of the cave. But Terra’s unnerved. She expected them to turn on her. She expected their hatred. Their anger. She wasn’t prepared for their anguish… and certainly not for their conviction that, whatever else is going on, she’s still one of them.
Raven was the last of the protective Titan ball. “Tara,” Raven says. “We’re your friends. Whatever’s going on, let us be there for you.”
Terra is breaking, and looks to Deathstroke. She needs a push, one way or the other. She needs Deathstroke’s approval, or for the Titan’s to turn on her. And this is where Deathstroke having his mask torn from him fighting Robin screws him. Because he can’t hide who he is. He can’t hide the fact that he doesn’t care about her, that his approval was always conditional, always manipulative. “Finish the job,” he barks, glaring.
“Or don’t,” Ravager says. In that moment, I think she’s smarter than Deathstroke, recognizing that what Terra needs in that second is not to be an instrument, but to be a person, to be cared for, and considered. But he can’t see that. All he sees is defiance, and one more bratty girl standing in the way of him finishing this job- and the job, even though it isn’t personal, means more to him than the both of them.
“Get it done, or get out of my way so I can do it.” She tenses, and then releases the Titans. The injured, including most of the newer Titans, limp towards the exit. Raven stays, using her powers to create a stretcher for Impulse, who is messed up. Robin tries to have Raven fly Impulse to safety.
Impulse breaks his wrist so it can heal properly. “Not leaving,” he says, “only another hundred bones to reset.” Raven tells him she can do it faster, but it will hurt. We hear a symphony of cracks, before Impulse lands on the cave floor in a sprinter’s run. You can tell he wants to run at the bad guys and beat them down for the pain they put him through, but he notices his friends, the softness of their stances. They aren’t fighting anymore, not physically. They’re trying to save Terra, and to a one they realize how delicate these next few moments will be, and he drops his fighting stance, too. “Even though you broke a hundred of my bones not five minutes ago, Tara, you’re one of us. Whatever happened, we should go home, and figure out how to make it right.”
“You did this,” Deathstroke bellows. He tries to stab Ravager in the back with a blade. She blocks it, and we change angles, to show that on the other side, she stabbed him in similar fashion.
“No,” she sighs bitterly. “All I did was try to help you. You just couldn’t help yourself.” Ravager starts walking away when Deathstroke pulls his sidearm and fires at her.
Terra steps in the way of the bullet, the only sign of its impact an eruption of blood from her lips. She squares to Deathstroke. “I was aiming for Rose,” he protests.
Terra laughs bitterly, “I can see, now, that I was always in your sights.” A tear slides down her cheek. “You all should go,” she says, to Ravager and the Titans. “The cave is coming down. I was the only thing holding it up, and I can’t any longer.”
Impulse is at her side in a moment. “I’ll stay,” he offers. “I can run you out at the last minute. We can make this okay.”
“Or you can ride on cheetah-back,” Beast Boy offers, “in style.”
“I could give you a piggy-back ride,” Superboy offers.
“The point, Tara,” Wonder Girl says, “is you have a family right here. Some of us might be hurt for a while. But family forgives.”
“You would,” Terra agrees. “I’d just never be able to forgive myself. I can never go back, to who I was before I hurt you. But I did love you. All of you. I just wish I understood that sooner.” She encases them in a rock ball, which is deep enough they struggle to break out of immediately. Terra tells Deathstroke, “We can still run away together. I’m hurt, but I’m tough; and together, it could be a life worth having. If you could put away your plans, your obsessions, your jobs, I know I could make you happy.”
“No,” he says, “you couldn’t.”
“You never really loved me, did you?”
“I don’t know that I ever really loved anyone.”
The rock ball starts to crack and Terra rolls them out of the cave. “I really hoped you wouldn’t say that,” she says sadly, as the cave begins to shake.
We cut to the inside of the rock ball, as they roll, Robin tells them they have to wait until they can stop the ball, or either Impulse or Conner might kill the rest of them trying to break loose- or hit each other on the way- that only one of them should go when they stop. Time slows, as Conner and Impulse look at each other, and Impulse suggests Conner- he’s got the better chance of saving her, since he can fly straight to her, even through the falling rock, but that he’ll be right behind him to help in any way he can. Wonder Girl and Conner link hands and stand at opposite sides of the ball to slow it. As soon as it does Conner bursts through it, with Impulse on his heels. He flies into the mountain as it caves inward. For a moment it’s quiet, before a burst of heat vision carves a hole out, and he flies, showering chunks of rock in his wake.
“Is she…” Beast Boy can’t finish the words.
“I was too late,” Conner says. “Right before I got to her, the rock crushed her chest, broke her heart. I saw it with x-ray vision,” he’s broken over it. Wonder Girl takes Terra and sets her gently down.
An instant later, Impulse has stacked a giant pile of rocks- all of the ones from the cave-in. “Deathstroke’s gone. There’s a series of caves that go for miles, and come out in a hundred places. I could keep looking, though.”
“No,” Robin says. “We need you here more.” The other Titans are gathered around Terra’s body, mourning.
Robin’s the ambassador to Deathstroke’s Titans. They’re worried about Terra, and Robin invites them in. “You’re all Titans today.” Dawn tries to revive Terra, but fails, and says she didn’t seem to want to come back. Hawk holds back, because he’s not good with death, and because they brought a present. It’s Ravager.
She’s a little pissy about being dragged along by them. “They didn’t bring me. I found them. Because what I want, what I stupidly followed Deathstroke in a misguided attempt to achieve, is what you have. I never wanted to be a mercenary. I just wanted… to belong somewhere. To matter. To help.”
“I’d like that,” Robin says, “but I’m not sure you’ll like how I answer you.”
We have a funeral. Both teams of Titans are there as Terra is laid to rest under a headstone with her own statue atop it. We don’t linger, instead moving into the T-shaped Titan Tower, where Robin and Ravager are speaking.
“This feels like the opposite of what I wanted.”
“I know. But your dad’s still out there.”
“Really? He probably just squirreled away some high-tech accelerant to make sure he didn’t leave behind a corpse to desecrate.”
“People like Deathstroke are never really gone.”
“Now you just sound paranoid… but it wouldn’t be the first time literally everyone thought he was dead, either.”
“And I want you working with the Titans. But we’re burying a friend down there because of your father, and some among us are going to have a harder time not blaming you.”
“You mean you, right?”
“If not for you helping Deathstroke, would Terra be alive today, instead of in the ground?”
“I- shit. Yeah. Probably. I helped him put off wholesome family vibes, so she didn’t see him for the creepy manipulator he was.”
“Don’t shame-spiral. There’s a reasonable emotional reaction that you bear responsibility. There’s also a reasonable explanation as to why you were equally emotionally available for similar manipulation. Doesn’t absolve you, but it’s an extenuating circumstance- or we wouldn’t be talking now.”
She takes a deep breath. “I’m here to atone. I know I screwed up. And I know belonging is something you earn, and that the price of earning it goes up the more you hurt people.”
“Good. Because I want you to be down there, with us.”
“I know. Next time, I guess, that maybe that will be a wedding, or at least a Bris for Impulse.”
“I’m definitely telling him you talked about his penis.”
“I will definitely kill your whole family.”
“I’m an orphan.”
She pauses a beat. “You’re lying.”
“You’re not sure. And I didn’t mean on some far off day, as a prize for good behavior. Tara was your friend, too. And you tried to save her. Just like we did. You deserve to stand with us today. And eventually, I hope you can stand with us every day.”
Cut to the lobby, as they walk towards the funeral. “What is it with your bat family and taking in strays.”
“Like I said, orphans.”
“I still think you’re lying about that.”
“I still don’t think you’ll ever know for sure,” Robin says with a smile, walking into the sunlight. There’s a slight commotion at Ravager’s arrival, and Robin intervenes. “There is not one person here today who did not try to save Tara Markov, and there is not one person here today who did not care about her. Today, we’re united by grief and by loss. Tara deserves to have all of those who loved her by her side today, as we say goodbye. We all feel some responsibility for her, for how she hurt, and how her hurt was weaponized. I asked all of you here, because I don’t want any of you to have to be alone today, not with your guilt, not with your pain, not with your grief. This is what Terra wanted, a family, so for today, at least, I want us to give her that.” Robin sits. While most of the Titans are on opposing sides, with Deathstroke’s Titans on one side and the originals on the other, Robin sits at the head of the casket, flanked on one side by Ravager and on the other by Aquagirl. Music swells, we pan over their shoulders towards the setting sun over the bay.