It's so funny that even I laugh at it, and I never laugh at my own jokes. Read it already.
Chapter 10: Love-Love Battle GO!
A Deep, Dank Place
Robin woke fitfully, his stomach knotting and cramping as he rolled around in mindless agony. He was aware immediately that he'd been dosed with something awful besides just the paralytic nerve agent, and the cocktail of vile toxins was enough to wrack his intestines with burning pain. A hacking series of heaves later, Robin vacated his guts and the seething pain therein, opening his eyes at last. There was no difference in the view, and he edged away from the stinking puddle of stomach contents as he lay back on a surprisingly smooth, cold floor and stretched out in the pitch blackness.
"Alright Robin, you've regained consciousness in a completely pitch black room," he said to himself as he noticed the draft, "And you're naked. What do you do now?" The answer was obvious: take stock of what you do have and what you do know.
As soon as he could muster the coordination, Robin clambered to his feet and wandered blindly to the nearest wall. With one hand against it, he reached up and felt along his face, finding, to his simultaneous relief and frustration, that the useful little holograph sunglasses had expelled his emergency mask when they'd been removed. His identity was now protected by a mask-shaped layer of black super-polymer foam that wouldn't be coming off until the correct industrial solvent was applied. It was a pain, but he was safe on that count.
Next he felt along the wall until he had the measure of his prison. The room was a perfect circle about fifteen feet in diameter. The walls were made of something cold and unbelievably smooth and slippery. Extending his hands as far up as they would reach found no ceiling, and when he shouted experimentally, the room echoed up above him for what could have been ten feet or a hundred. The strange acoustics and pitch black made it impossible to estimate.
Time to recount what he knew. He was in a pit with walls he couldn't climb—and there was so little light that his mind was producing multicolored splotches and shapes as though he had his eyes pressed shut. Oh, and the whole space smelled strongly of his own vomit—that's always a plus. Let's not forget, all he was wearing was his mask and a frown. Unless he was mistaken, this is what Batman liked to call a 'Pray you don't get to this point' situation.
A Not-Dissimilar Locale
Raven woke with a sudden jolt, sitting straight up with a gasp. A wild-eyed search through her most recent memory uncovered nothing for long, panic-inducing minutes. The space around her was black as nightmares, the darkness crowding in around her like a choking fog as she struggled to recover some sense of where she was and what had happened. Finally, a piercing pain in her skull arrived along with blurred recollection of an audacious plot and its inauspicious end. With that memory, her breathing settled, and the dark seemed to recede, becoming a cloying, all-pervasive nothing instead of a weight pressing down on her. She realized that this was yet another uncouth awakening in a long recent series, and her fear and confusion was tempered by flat disgust.
With a sigh, she tried to gain her feet, only to stumble back onto her rear as she became acquainted with the further peculiarities of her situation. Something was tying her ankles together about a half foot apart, not to mention the fact that her pumps were long gone. When she checked herself from head to toe, she concluded that while she still had her dress (which, indeed, hadn't budged a centimeter out of place) her hair had gone flat and she had strange manacles on her wrists and another loose one around her neck. When she discovered the last one, she also discovered that she couldn't budge the large hoop in the slightest, despite the fact that there was no apparent reason for it to grip her. With that revelation came a distinct sinking feeling. And then she heard it.
Raven froze, tensing like a whipcord the instant she realized she wasn't alone in the darkness. Motionless, she strained her ears, trying to swallow even her own pulse lest she miss the slightest motion of air to give away her unseen roommate. There the sound issued again, and Raven gasped quietly as recognized it for what it was.
The tiny sound choked off, the issuer stifling herself in pouring terror, reflexively withdrawing until there was no hint of her presence left. It was enough to both confirm Raven's suspicion and flood her with a host of new fears.
"Star, are you there? Are you alright?" Raven flopped over and started to worm and crawl across a cold, smooth metal floor in the direction the noise had come from. In instant reaction, a similar sound of motion joined hers, wordless crawling retreat directly away from her approach. It became a race of a sort, two bodies squirming, bound in the darkness, right up until Raven's timid companion hit the wall. The slight thump was followed by an unmistakable shriek, and the next moment, Raven was close enough to touch Starfire and could feel the heat from her body. "Starfire, talk to me! What's wrong?"
"NO!" the shriek was panicked, containing no shred of coherence. "Get away! Not again! I won't let it happen again!"
With that cryptic shout of unmitigated terror, Starfire quickly devolved into Tameranean and started to belt out phrases that sounded like prayers, or maybe curses… maybe even a mix of both for all Raven knew. Reaching out with her powers to try and calm her down directly, Raven discovered something else she hadn't known.
"AAAGG!" her body was wracked with a sudden jarring pain, her eyes pierced by light as the shackles on her wrists, ankles, and the hoop around her neck all erupted into a blinding white iridescence. The nerve-searing pain died out the second she stopped trying to access her power, but the glow persisted even as she slumped onto the floor next to the shaking woman babbling quietly in her alien tongue. Raven cursed silently and repeatedly as she listened to Starfire's completely unhinged mumbling and felt the lingering ache in every inch of her skin. It was pretty clear now that these were no ordinary shackles—the lingering glow was an obnoxious little reminder of that. But at least, now, she had something to see by.
"Oh… Star… no…" Raven forgot her own pain as she saw the state her friend was in first hand. While she herself had survived the transitioning unconsciousness with little more than a bad case of bed-head and less her nicest pair of heels, Starfire had obviously had a much different experience.
Starfire was… well, 'a mess' doesn't really cut it, but it'll have to do here. About one half of her intricate braiding had come undone and sat in partially-unraveled bristly mess while the rest tangled and knotted in a massive disaster of red hair. That is to say, what of her hair that was visible was messy—most of her head was locked up in a cold metal mask that encased her head like helmet with only a small air slit over her mouth. Her dress was torn and completely bedraggled, as though from some great struggle, and the floor around them sparkled with sequins lost in her thrashing. She was bound up in a single high-tech manacle of heavy metal that wrapped and bound both arms all the way up to her elbows.
While Raven took in that horrific sight, Starfire continued to mumble curses and prayers in her native tongue. Raven didn't find her own voice again until the light from her bonds had died away, leaving nothing to break the darkness but the terrible after-images provided by her own overpowered imagination. Then, she recognized something of what was going on, a whisper in her memory pointing directly to the last time she'd seen bonds like Star's.
"Starfire! Can you hear me? Please Star, you've got to calm down!" There was no indication that the quivering mess of alien next to her had even noticed her, and Raven grew desperate. "STARFIRE!" Raven shrieked out as loud as she could, the noise echoing upward ominously. The jarring reverberation finally brought a still silence from Starfire, who curled up into as close to a fetal position as possible and cowered against the wall.
"Starfire, it's me." Raven reached out and touched a gentle hand against one of Starfire's torn stockings, only for the girl to jerk away. "Don't you recognize my voice?" Raven let her be as she considered the question, until she finally uncurled slightly and sat up away from the wall.
Suddenly, Starfire made an exhausted sighing noise, twisted where she sat, and slumped forward, knocking Raven off balance and sending them both to the cold floor. Laid out next to one another, partially tangled and completely bound up, Raven could hear Starfire's tears hitting the inside of the thick metal mask. Her next words were whispered with such a mish-mash of distress and relief that they were almost impossible to understand.
"Oh Raven… it was terrible…" She began, interspersing her story with chokes and gasps, "I awoke in this darkness, and I could feel the bonds on me again—again!"
This cryptic remark was apparently supposed to convey massive volumes of horror. Then she recognized the manacle for sure, and she realized just how deep that horror must be.
"Star, are those the same bonds you had the day we met…?"
"Gordanian slave bonds." The flat way she said the words hurt Raven on the inside. "When I awoke… I thought… for a moment I was sure I was back on their research warship waiting in the experiment holding cells. I… I have been having… I think the term is 'flashbacks.' It is likely due to the drugs."
"Drugs?" Raven tried to coax more information out of her. Besides curiosity of a period of her life Starfire had never deigned to relate in any detail, she really seemed much calmer to be speaking of it now.
"The manacle," there was the sound of the unwieldy thing being brandished in the pitch darkness, "automatically dispenses a neurologically active agent with accompanying semi-telepathic suggestion emissions from an embedded transmitter. The combination has a great many effects desirable to those wanting to keep a race of mighty warriors as slave labor or test subjects. Among other functions, it is a truth serum and a power-disabling agent that can be adjusted to most galactic species."
"Really? The last time I saw you wearing one of those… well… you weren't exactly docile." Starfire made a sound that might have been amused, but was probably just barely-suppressed terror.
"A saboteur replaced the drugs with a harmless substitute before that Gordanian warship put out to space. When I awoke in my cell I was not under their influence… and I had a very great deal of anger and indignation built up. Oh!" Starfire changed tracks suddenly and without pause, "Even now the drug has not taken full effect…" Starfire's voice began to break with a new rising tide of panic, "It… it courses through me…"
There was a sudden, ear-splitting BAM as Starfire hurled the enormous metal object into the floor opposite Raven, the entire room reverberating like a bell.
"RELEASE MEEEE!" Starfire screamed before repeating the motion in a wild, mindless thrashing. BAM! BAM! BAM! The room was shivering so hard Raven's whole body was wracked by jitters in sympathy. GONG! A new sound joined the whacking as Star shifted tactics, slamming her blindfold-mask into the floor just inches from Raven's face. Raven rolled quickly away as she continued to writhe and shriek. BAM! GONG! BAM! GONG! She alternated the striking motions as she whipped around on her side of the unbearably dark prison.
WHACK! There was a slightly wet sound from the vicinity of Starfire's head, and the thrashing came to a sudden, frightening, halt. Raven scurried across the floor even as the room slowly, slowly stopped vibrating, twisting her cuffed hands through a tangle of hair and limp gown until she could feel for her friend's pulse. When she felt a slow, steady beat under her finger, she let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. An ear pressed against the mask/helmet's mouth slit told her Star was still breathing, and she rolled off of her friend in relief. She was out for the time being, but it seemed like she was going to pull through. As for this inky black cell they shared, well, that was the next matter for consideration.
While she lay on her back, her hands uncomfortably linked in front of her, Raven considered what she knew. From the sounds made when Starfire vented her uncontrollable panic, it seemed as though they were in some kind of metal cylinder. The air above them was fresh and seemed to be circulating, so that meant they weren't liable to suffocate. That cleared them for three minutes. If whoever was jailing them deigned to give them water, they'd outlive three days, and with food they'd outlive three months. Heh, the rule of threes. Without her powers and, indeed, without even being able to walk or stand with her ankles bound, she wasn't going to be organizing an escape of any kind. That meant it all came down to a waiting game.
"At least it can't get any worse." Raven said out loud, experimentally, and then regretted it when she noticed the disturbing way the sound echoed in the dark. That then got her to thinking about what she'd just said, and she realized with a sick, sinking feeling that she kind of had to go to the bathroom. That could get… messy.
Starfire started to shiver audibly next to her, and she realized that she herself was also freezing on the metal floor. Without the slightest reluctance, Raven rolled over and did her utmost to wrap herself around Starfire's unconscious shape. That didn't amount to much with them both bound up as they were, but as she snuggled against Star's back, the other girl's shivering slowed and she delighted in the heat coming off her at the same time. A waiting game it was.
Titans Tower—Kidnapping Plus Three Hours
"What do you mean there's no sign of them!" Speedy shouted into his communicator as he buzzed down one of Jump City's emptier thoroughfares on Robin's motorcycle.
"What, did I stutter?" Cyborg snapped back with masses of open irritation, "there are no leads! There are no witnesses! There aren't even any clues! PERIOD! Whoever snatched our boys was a real pro about it. If we want to find them, we're going to need a friggin' psychic or something, because the old fashioned way just isn't gonna work this time."
"AHG!" Speedy shouted, breaking suddenly and pulling over. He leapt from the bike and stamped onto the pavement, frustration barely contained and completely insufficient to blank out the guilt. In an act of utter futility, he ripped off his yellow helmet and flung it at a brick wall, grinding his teeth as it clattered and rolled away. When he had himself in control, he pulled his communicator up again.
"Alright. Alright." He paused, his mind blank during the battle between panic and fear for his friends. "ALRIGHT! Okay. I'll call the local FBI office and see if they can recommend any decent psychics. If there isn't anyone on call, I can pull in a favor from… from someone. All sorts of people owe Robin and the Titans, it shouldn't be too hard. I just hope it doesn't get too bad… Birds'll never forgive me if I have to call Big 'B' over this."
"I hear ya, and I'm as worried as you are, but pacing around there isn't finding our friends. I'm still trying to get something coherent out of K.F.—he's already up but those drugs don't want to leave his system. B.B.'s flat out useless too—'I didn't see anything—oh my aching head'" the mocking was more out of his own fear and frustration than anything else. It was clearly underwritten by the big man's concern for his little buddy too. "Which reminds me, you got any clue why whoever snatched our ladies and gentleman didn't grab Quick-Spaz and Zoo-Spaz?"
"Nah… I was thinking about that too." Speedy was glad to be reminded of the only thing resembling a lead they had so far. "If it was anyone in the general Supervillian Set, I don't see why they'd leave two 'capes' behind. Of course, Flash-o was in full disguise, but that didn't stop him from grabbing Birds. I mean, this guy is a real pro! Every tracking device we had on those three is completely dead!"
"Yeah, I know. Hmm, maybe somebody who has a grudge just against those three? Is there anybody who has it out for just them?"
"God I hope so. It would make this so much easier."
"It's a place to start anyway. You make those calls, I'm going to hop in the T-car and access the Tower's database. Wish me luck."
"I'm wishing Robin luck. Then again, why am I even worrying?" The question was clearly rhetorical, and Cyborg didn't respond. "That little dick," Speedy went on as he wracked his brain for the comm. numbers he'd need, "is probably already halfway to breaking out of captivity as we speak!"
After pacing his tiny space's full circumference for the one-hundred-and-thirty-ninth time, Robin once again walked off the full diameter. With that distance firmly cemented in his inner-eye, he turned around, pressed his back against the near wall, and dashed as quickly as he could for the other side. He leapt upward right on cue and rejoiced as his foot contacted the wall at exactly the right angle. He pressed his weight down to run up the side of the wall for a snatch at the lip of the pit, then felt his stomach leap up into his chest as his foot, rather than carrying him up the wall in a blitz of momentum and muscle, slipped downward and crammed painfully into the corner where the wall met the floor. The rest of his body followed, after a fashion, and the room rang like a bell as he impacted sharply with the bottom.
"EEHHOUCH!" Robin let out the long, slow moan after a pause. "So the walls really are frictionless," Robin admitted to himself aloud as he silently smarted for the pain to his toes, rump, and skull. "Note to self—let's not try that again."
His private embarrassment was interrupted by an ominous, all-pervading laughter that threw him into instant hyper-alert. He was up on his heels and ready to fight in a flipping flash, eyes strained upward into the dark for any hint of movement.
"Well, well Robin, it seems you've managed to stay busy while left to your own devices." The voice was deep and ominous, vaguely reminiscent of about a dozen different criminals and madmen he'd taken on in the last five years. Frankly, the fact that his captor was a male didn't do much to narrow down the list.
"Who's there?" Well… in his experience, it never hurt to ask, villain egos being what they are. "Who the hell are you wand what do you want with me?"
"What? You mean you don't remember me?" The voice was heavy with mock indignation. "I mean it's only been what? A week? Surely I made a little more of an impression than that."
"Ravager!" it clicked like that, though Robin couldn't help being a little surprised to have been taken under by a guy who'd been such a pushover the first time around.
"Why Robin, I bet you snap out all the killers' names with that exaggerated tone of danger and drama!" The Ravager's sarcastic drawl grated on the Boy Wonder, more because he had no clue of where it was coming from more specifically than 'up.' The cell was still as absolutely dark as it had ever been.
"Okay Ravager, you've got me, so humor me." Robin relaxed slightly and stretched out his neck from the strain of craning it upward. "Why'd ya strip me down? Eh, you don't have one of those weird superhero fetishes—"
"Of course not!" The Ravager cut him off before he could take that line of thought any further. "After frisking you for the third time, I realized I would never find every gadget you hid in that suit. When I found the lockpick in you boxers I decided the Full Monty was the only way to be comprehensive. Plus, it's rather demeaning yes? It would hardly do for the prelude to my revenge to be a tolerable experience."
"Revenge? Is that what this is all about?" Robin sounded genuinely shocked. It was an act of course—he'd had opponents pursue revenge for less, what with the egos and all. "So I slapped you around a little and gave you a molten-metal shakedown, so what? If that's the worst thing that happens to you after you underestimate someone as badly as you did me, you've gotten off easy. Trust me."
"You little PRICK!" Ravager sounded blatantly furious for the first time. "You really don't have the slightest idea do you? You didn't just humiliate me—you've killed me! The Society of Assassins has a very specific policy about members that give up their contract holders. My death warrant was signed and notarized before the police arrived at the factory to cut me down!"
"What?" This time Robin actually was a little shocked. He'd honestly never given Ravager's fate a first thought, much less a second one, and this particular explanation for this follow-up escapade struck him as even more thin than most. "Okay wait!" Robin actually was ticked of in an extraordinary manner as he thought this through. "How exactly is my fault that you can't stand up to a little junior-grade 'high-pressure interrogation.' For cripes sake—you didn't have to squeal! I wouldn't have actually let you burn up after I set your mask on fire you fucking pansy—I'm a public-sanctioned crime fighter! If they were going to kill you for singing you should have kept your trap shut!"
"Oh don't you start with me you little zit-factory!" Ravager's moderately deranged tone told Robin he'd struck exactly the right nerve. "I don't have to take lip from an ass-wipe without a single notch in his obnoxiously accessorized belt! Especially not when I have him and his two little girlfriends locked up in industrial cooking vats!" Robin worked to keep the smile off his face as he finally wheedled some information out of his captor. Then the smile curdled as he realized that Starfire and Raven were in the same condition he was. Perhaps exactly the same condition.
"What have you done to them?" leapt from Robin's lips despite the deeply-established knowledge that interrupting your enemy's informative rant was a no-no. "I swear if you've laid one finger on them I'll—"
"You'll what?" Ravager cut off his emotionally-charged threats before he could further embarrass himself, clearly because he couldn't hold off on actively rubbing in his victory to this point. "What could you possibly do? Fly up out of that dark metal pit and take it out of my hide? I don't think so Skippy—you're not going anywhere." Robin turned his eyes away from the perfect darkness above and throttled his fury while staring at the perfect darkness below. "By the by, this isn't about whose fault my impending demise is. No—rather, this is all about whose life I'm going to grind into paste before clipping tragically short as a last huzza in my career. You should feel honored—I blew my entire bankroll and called in every last favor in my book to set up the perfect little torture experience in these, my last hours of life. Honestly, that's why I neither assassinated you while you were staring goo-goo eyed at that fine red-headed piece of ass nor just left you in this tank to die in a pool of your own festering excrement. I want it to be slow, but I want to see you broken and dead before my number comes up."
Robin took all of that in as he laced together new and creative expletives at his own incompetence. Suddenly, his half-serious musings about romance in the Titan's Game Room—was it only one week ago?—seemed to be distinctively the biggest foul-up he'd ever perpetrated on himself and especially on those women. Then his mind snapped back to the task of escape and survival.
"Y'know, that's a pretty shitty attitude you have there? If you're such a big, bad assassin, why don't you fight the system? Run. Hide. Go kill them first. You're really not impressing me with this whole 'last moments of my life' routine."
"HA!" Ravager's back of contempt echoed more than usual. "I don't think you understand who I have to deal with. The Society of Assassins knew who they were dealing with, and they hired only the very best to 'make an example' out of me. Running or hiding would be futile. To kill preemptively would mean it was possible to locate them. Which it isn't. Even for me—the guy who tracked you down during your most secret liaison. Do you begin to see the picture?"
"I begin to see what a pussy you really are." Robin decided twisting his captor's crank was probably the fastest way to elicit a change in his situation either way. "Maybe if you let me out of here… and give me some pants… I could help you find a nice safe protection program's skirts to hide under. You're already dead and they can't kill you twice. I'm sure you know some other names you could sing to the FBI—"
"Oh I'm sure you'd like that." Ravager's tone left no question as to his answer, and Robin slumped slightly in the darkness. "But enough idle chit-chat. Did you know I ran your prints?"
"Is that so?" Robin perked up slightly at this, though not at all in fear. He was actually smirking slightly.
"And your DNA. It was all I had after that clever little automatic mask jumped out of your disguise. Would you happen to know the name that came back for both?"
"Heh, let me guess…" Robin's smile stretched wide. "Maybe Burt Ward? Loren Lester? Chris O'Donnell? No, seriously, tell me. I always get a kick out of this part."
"Hmph." Ravager sounded coolly furious about his amusement. "Just some small-bit chuckle-head: Scott Menville. I have to admit though, that's rather an entertaining trick. Anyway, I suppose I'll have to carry on without discovering just who you are. A small loss, considering what I still have in store. Anyway, you just sit tight down there while I supervise the outside contractors I hired to perfect this little drama. They sure weren't cheap, but what I have in mind requires quite the specialist's touch. And it's not like I can take my bankroll with me."
"What are you planning?"
"Now Robin, telling you would ruin the surprise. Heh heh heh hahahahahah!" The laughter faded slowly, as though Ravager was walking away. Robin fumed, his good humor long dissolved. That his prints had been run meant ol' Bats now knew he'd been pinched, but that was hardly encouraging if he and the ladies were at Ravager's mercy much longer.
Speedy, Kidnapping plus Seven Hours
"Oh Lilith, THANK YOU!" Speedy shouted into his comm., the relief on his face bordering on outright tears.
"Yeah, yeah Speedy, you just remember," the young copper-blond psychic on the other line, better known as Omen, responded with distaste, "you're going to owe me the date of a lifetime for this. I'll get to divining your lost bird's location, you just be ready to pick up the tab on a seriously glamorous night out."
Omen cut the line and Speedy was left leaning against Robin's motorcycle in the middle of a dawn-drenched street. Shadows of various city buildings left the bare twilight quite broken, but the sun's emergence did little other than impress Speedy with a new sense of urgency. Every hour lost increased the chance he'd never see his friends again. That depressing thought chilled him as the comm. beeped again and he flipped it open.
"Damn Lil, that was fast!" he snapped into his communicator without looking. "Or are you just calling back to secure a night of wild se—"
"Hello Speedy." The deep voice at the other end of the line choked Speedy off to a sudden, spine-freezing stop. His eyes gradually ratcheted themselves to the comm. screen, where the back of an enormous throne-like chair was silhouetted by numerous bright computer monitors. "Is there any chance you could connect me to Robin?"
Speedy felt his bladder tighten as it threatened to vent in protest of the massive surge of bone-chilling adrenaline that had just dumped into his system all at once. His mouth was dry and he was acutely aware that he'd broken out in a cold sweat.
"Heh, eheh, Batman! Sir!" Speedy was racing between a state of mind that was terror-blank and another that was terror-flooded with possible lies. In the face of Big 'B' though, all lies paled to the useless and ephemeral things they were. "There… there'd be a slight problem with connecting you to Robin. You see, what with developments in the last week and crisis in the past ten hours…"
"He's been picked up." Batman made it a statement, not a question. There really wasn't much Speedy could say.
"Eh. Yes sir."
Now, Speedy didn't want to cast his pal in a bad light, but he didn't want to say anything to Batman that could possibly be construed as a non-truth. The old nut could smell lies, even from the other side of the country over a comm. line.
"Well, it was a blanket nerve-gas attack on a public place. No warning and minimal chance to don NBC gear, what with him being out of costume at the time."
"Hmm? Well, I'm sure there's a story there, but the boy has made it quite clear that I'm not to meddle in his affairs ever again. Still, my data net caught someone running his prints, and I'm responsible for broad-range data control and identity protection for all Justice League members and affiliates. I don't think he can complain if I feed you the tracking data I picked up on the query."
Like that, Speedy's screen was filled with a recording of a standard data trace that narrowed to a mostly-abandoned industrial area near the docks before the signal had terminated. It wasn't perfect, but it limited the search area vastly.
"Err… thanks." Speedy was completely at a loss for what to say. After all, this was The Batman.
"Oh, and Speedy?"
"Our parting may not have been on the best of terms, but the boy is still one of my own. It would be… unfortunate to loose him at this point. Understood?"
Speedy gulped once, hard. "Yes sir!"
"Good." The line cut, the bat logo lingering for a moment before his screen went completely blank. Speedy held his breath for a moment, and then sighed in relief. Then Speedy recalled the time-sensitive nature of the current crisis, and he nearly dropped his communicator in his haste to get Omen back on the line.
He told her the news, then he told everyone else on the search teams, and then he consulted his tactical display of the city. His screen showed blips representing the Titans and himself converging from all directions on a ten-square block section of the city's seedier side. This was a break, but it had been hours now, and it only took seconds to slit an unconscious victim's throat and leave him or her for dead face-down in a gutter.
"Good Speedy, real nice." Speedy said to himself as he hopped back on his borrowed ride. "Our job is to save 'em, not kill them in our own mind. Now hurry up." He gunned the bike, the morning shadows flickering over him as he sped away.
Ravager's Converted Factory
"And you're sure this thing will get the job done?" Ravager asked his associate in the white lab coat as they both watched a team put finishing touches on an extremely large apparatus. The thing had many pieces and parts, but the business end consisted of a series of metal rings set up around the pot-cell he'd trapped the female heroes within. The pure poindexter he'd addressed nodded with an oblivious smile.
"Oh yes! The Oscillation Overpowering Consciousness device is absolutely guaranteed to take control of normal behavior patterns and throw the subjects exposed to it into an extreme variation of any emotion or state of mind you could possibly desire. It's been tested to extreme circumstances, and has show impressive results in all test subjects, even non-human and non-sapient organisms." The pride he felt at all of this was evident, and it made Ravager grin in self-satisfaction at the con he was pulling off.
"Good, good. And when will it be completed?"
"Why, it will be fully operational as soon as the final tests on the power feeds have finished up. And uh, might I ask what the hurry is for?"
"I'm paying you to not ask questions. Suffice to say that my own research requires that your device be set up post-haste. Alright?"
The poindexter seemed leery, and Ravager could hardly blame him. His half-assed story about far-fetched food research had barely been enough to get these guys out here, much less convince an actual scientist in person. However, money talked much more convincingly, and questions from the completely legit lab he'd contacted for this specialist equipment had evaporated in a deluge of green. And as soon as he had what he wanted, this crowd would be out of here. 'Permanently,' if necessary, though he was hoping to avoid that. 'Disappearing' people has a tendency to draw unwanted attention, after all.
"Ah, if you don't mind me commenting, you don't look much like a scientist." Ravager leveled an unpleasant masked stare at the meticulous little man.
"I mind. Aren't you done yet?" That comment had nails in it, and the scientist turned away in a sweat and started riding his assistants. Anything to get him away from this muscle-bound, murder-eyed masked man.
The Ladies' Pit Cell
"… and so it took me an hour to do all the braids, even with the device S—I procured for the task." Starfire's voice was tired and distant, but no longer muffled. As it turned out when Raven rushed to help her up, her last gasp of super-strength had cracked her mask wide open… at the regrettable expense of a wide gash along her forehead and temple.
"I can certainly relate. You wouldn't believe what it was like giving myself a perm, even just this light one. If it weren't for my powers I'd never have managed it." Raven was sitting behind Starfire as they both rested in the darkness. She was alternatively working the tangles out of her friend's long hair and using the soft inner lining of a shred of Starfire's gown to clean away blood that had begun to coagulate here and there. In the pitch black, each was a daunting task done completely by feel.
"Yes… about that…" Starfire's voice sharpened somewhat. Raven could feel the conversation drifting back to the question that had to inevitably come up, and it was all she could do to keep up her task as the anxiety gnawed at her. Which is why it was an unexpected relief when the whole place started vibrating like a tuning fork.
The relief lasted exactly as long as it took for her head to start throbbing unpleasantly to the rhythm of the vibration. It wasn't exactly painful, but the sensation was disturbing beyond words, and Raven found herself letting out an involuntary low-key moan. The sound was matched by Starfire, and the two of them sat there, suspended in darkness, assaulted on all sides by the grating hum.
It stopped. At the same instant, Raven lost her balance as the wires holding her wrists and ankles together released suddenly. There was a motion and grunt from Starfire accompanying a clang that could only be her manacle sliding off and hitting the ground. They were free. And yet… Raven felt… odd…
"Oh, not again." Raven muttered, as the lights came on in their cell.
Robin's Pit Cell
Robin looked up with a start as the distant ceiling to his overgrown can blazed with sudden light. He had to blink and squint at the unexpected glare, but he muscled through as quickly as possible to see what was going on. For a moment he thought his can's lid had been popped, but the colors and motions that flooded in under the glare told him this was an escape of a different tune. The entire ceiling, some fifteen feet above him, was now an enormous monitor screen displaying a generic blue and red closed-circuit television logo. In the tinted light cast by the screen, Robin noted just how completely featureless his surroundings really were. Then, with nothing better to do, he lay back on the ample cold metal of the floor and crossed his leg across his nakedness as he waited for something else to happen.
Soon enough, the screen came to life with the last face he wanted to see just then. Ravager's blank blue mask filled the massive circular plate, managing to convey an air of smug satisfaction without any visible features. Robin worked through a series of rude hand gestures, and then completed the test by breaking his silence.
"Ah, Ravager, nice to see you didn't skimp on the accessories." He smiled in comprehension when his voice got the reaction his rune hand signals hadn't. He wasn't being watched. "What is that, a projection screen? Nice."
"Only the best for my special guests. As a matter of fact, I believe it's finally time to start tonight's main attraction." The mass of seething hate was hardly hidden behind the smile Ravager's words squeezed through, but his delight was certainly a disturbing new twist to it all. "Let's consult the cameras shall we? I do believe you'll want to see this."
The camera feed switched to an angle-down view of a cell that looked quite identical to his. The only material differences were the fact that it was lit by stark fluorescent lights and contained two women in differing states of wardrobe disrepair; thankfully still far short of his own. While his chest tightened at the confirming evidence that they were indeed captured yet again, he was relieved beyond description to see that they had apparently avoided much of his own discomfort so far. Of course, all signs pointed to that not lasting.
"I've picked up a very special something to provide preliminary entertainment as well as the more serious activities I took the liberty of scheduling for later on. Heh."
"Okay, I'm about as tired of this 'vague and oblique threats' thing you've got going on as I've ever been of anything. How about you stop running your mouth and just put up already? A wimp like you doesn't frighten me, even when you try to get at me through a couple of women."
"Well, well, Robin, no lack of bravado I see. I'd like to comment right away that I've already disabled their powers."
"I'd still pick either of them over you in any kind of a fair fight. Of course… that wouldn't be on your itinerary."
"Too true!" Ravager's amusement seemed to know no bounds, probably because Robin wasn't doing much of a job of disguising his distress at the ladies' probable fate. "If this were the good old days—or heck, if this was just any plain-old interrogation, I'd probably just run the old-school gamut. Subdue the subject. Start with the extremities—fingers and toes either broken or severed off. Next is always up for grabs, but I like to vary between kneecaps and cattle prod, maybe hot irons. There are all kinds of gritty details, but suffice to say that the night wouldn't end until the eyes had been removed and/or burned out and something close to eighty percent of the body's bones were broken."
Robin was carefully silent and expressionless, but he looked slightly pale.
"Of course, I've never really been into that whole torture thing—far too messy. Besides, the goal here is to cause you as much pain as possible before I kill you. Now, causing you bodily pain would hardly be satisfying—I'm certain you wouldn't give me the pleasure of screaming. That's why I picked up these two, you see. 'Hurt the love interest'—it's psychological warfare 101. But like I said—I've never been much into physical torture—much better to just kill someone. So instead I decided to delve into the advanced classes of psychological warfare—which is where I found documentation on the new frontiers of deep-integral emotional manipulation. And that, yes that, is how I decided to amuse myself before the heat catches up with me."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
The Ladies' Pit Cell
"I do not believe I understand what is going on Raven." Starfire made a classic understatement as she looked at the blank metal walls and rubbed her aching wrists. "Why would the slave manacles have injected me with an antidote to the sedation effects? Why did they even come off?"
"There's something wrong here." Raven was completely distracted, combing her hands through her untenably frizzled hair as she slouched on the floor in consideration. "Do you feel that?"
"Feel what? I am so full of mood-altering chemicals that I am shocked to be standing!" Starfire looked frankly distressed, her gown an absolute disaster after the damage it had taken in the process of staunching the cut on her forehead. A frowning glower towards Raven indicated her silent disbelief that the other woman's tight dress was still pristine—not even a smidge of dirt on its midnight-black expanses.
"I'm not sure either, but I've got this disgustingly familiar impression that something queer is up. Like… something with my head. I've had a little too much experience with it recently to miss it at this point. Though I have to admit, I don't have a clue what's going on myself."
"Well, certainly I will take that concern into consideration." Starfire's expression became just a little bit pissy as the full sight of Raven's cocktail dress recalled the question that had been knocking around violently in her subconscious for hours now. "However, there is definitely something I have to ask you before anything else happens. What exactly were you doing at the same dining establishment as my date with Robin? It seems impossible that such a meeting could have been a coincidence, especially with you dressed like… like that."
"Oh… ehrrr… yeah…" In the face of the furious/betrayed look stabbing forth from Starfire's eyes, all of Raven's carefully rehearsed cover stories evaporated. Raven found herself praying for a distraction. ANY kind of distraction. "As to why I was there, well, I just… I was just…"
The light bathing them suddenly turned a gentle violet color.
Ravager's Control Station
"You see Robin, this is a fascinating little toy I dug up," Ravager bragged as he picked up a remote with a variety of dials and began to turn the big one. This dial had settings representing a full-spectrum rainbow, and he slowly adjusted it from white to purple. Below him to his right was the gigantic pot holding the women, just to the left of which was Robin's nearly identical holding container.
In instant response to his input, the machine began to hum at a higher frequency, the entire warehouse filling with a low-key answer to the reverberations. "A simple turn of a dial," he went on with gusto as he watched the monitor tracking the women, "plunges those within the field into an entirely different, entirely irresistible state of altered consciousness. It never even occurs to them that they're behaving strangely. And the final, beautiful touch: prolonged exposure to one energy state makes the effects permanent."
Ravager smiled enormously under his mask as he sat down in a beach chair in front of his monitor array. With the assurance that Robin was more or less forced to watch him play with the heads of the two people he had a thing for, Ravager raised the remote and hit the activate button, shifting the machine from warm-up to engaged.
The Ladies' Pit Cell
"…I was just…"
The light bathing them suddenly turned a gentle violet color. Wide-eyed, Raven forgot what she was saying. Then she saw Starfire, who'd gone wide-eyed quite as she had, and it occurred to her exactly what she wanted to say.
"I just had to see you Star!" Raven gasped the words as their utter truth locked into her chest in a burst of emotion unlike any she could recall at just this moment. "I couldn't stand to be away from you for a moment longer!" Raven leapt to her feet and stood in barely restrained enthusiasm for the pulse-racing sensation that had drilled so suddenly into her body.
"What?" Starfire asked, emotions conflicting and rearranging visibly on her face as she seemed to struggle with some enigmatic reevaluation. When things finished dancing around her cheeks, a brilliant, delighted smile was what shook out. "You mean… you feel that way as well?" she squeaked, as though her bourgeoning delight would hardly allow her to say the words. Raven couldn't have looked happier at this answer if someone had opened her skull and put a flood lamp behind her teary smile.
The two of them closed the distance between them in the cell and fell into one another's arms, wrapping into a lover's embrace like their lives relied on maintaining their grip. Then, like some unspoken signal had passed between them, each backed up slightly so she could look into the other's eyes.
"By X'hal Raven… I have never felt this way about another before!" Starfire whispered, her eyes sparkling as each of them locked onto the other's gaze.
"Oh Starfire," Raven answered breathlessly, her hand traveling down the taller woman's completely bare back, tangling intermittently in her flowing hair, "You say the sweetest things."
"By all means then," Starfire's stance suddenly changed as she felt the hand slide delightfully down to the small of her back, "let them be enough." Starfire shifted her weight and carried Raven with her, leaning the smaller woman back and shifting her complete weight into her arms. Raven's head flew back with a wonderfully shocked gasp as one of Starfire's hands wrapped around her shoulders and the other slid up her bare thy and under her dress skirt to get its grip on an expanse of cool, smooth rump flesh left exposed by her sparse underwear.
"Oooh… Starfire!" Raven giggled in excitement as both of her hands shot up around Starfire's neck for grip. The other woman's draping hair framed her naughty smile as the two of them locked eye to eye yet again. With strength that was impressive, though not nearly her normal super-level muscle, Starfire drew Raven's face in close to hers until nothing but a hard thought stood between their quivering lips.
"I should ask…" Starfire breathed the words as her lips rubbed delicately over her Ravens, "may I take you?"
"Take me?" Raven was just as breathless as Starfire, "I want you to marry me."
Everything quite abruptly sharpened into a livid red.
Starfire dropped Raven like a jug of rancid milk. The look on her face had screwed up into a terrific blossom of disgust and fury as she backed away.
"MARRY you? You want me to marry…" Starfire was briefly at a loss for words, "you?"
"What?" Raven asked defensively as she pried herself to her feet with a look so gravely livid that it cast deep shadows under her eyes. "What's wrong with that, huh? Oh—I know—I'm not good enough for Ms. Star-Princess, am I? That's old Raven, an easy mark to pork on the side, but when the time rolls around for a little commitment, it's time to really fuck her!"
"What exactly do you think you are accusing me of you nasty little witch-slut?" Starfire spat right back at her well-clad cell-mate. "You know I have feelings for only one person, and it certainly is not a menglack like you. Robin is the only one for me, or have you not seen how he looks at me?"
"Oh-ho!" Raven spotted the avenue of her counterstrike, "I know I've certainly seen the way he looks at me! One little glimpse before was enough to distract him completely from the plain, air-headed little skank sitting across from him."
"I KNEW IT!" Starfire shrieked as she zipped in and took a quick shot at Raven, the hard left-cross going wide as the smaller woman stumbled backward. Starfire paused then to seethe out, "You were intentionally trying to ruin my date! The moment I inform Robin, you will have to forfeit the competition!"
"What competition?" Raven drawled sarcastically as she crouched to a low fighting stance. "I had this in the bag from the first kiss. Still, you won't have another chance to ruin this for me!"
She finished that statement with a shriek of fury and a low-crouching, lunging punch that caught Starfire square in the guts. Starfire heaved, but took it like a champ, bringing both fists down in a rabbit-punch square into Raven's exposed kidneys. Raven stumbled to the ground as Starfire wobbled backward, both fighting for breath. Without powers, the heavier, warrior-bred woman had the clear advantage.
Starfire recovered first, a cream-stocking heel snapping around in a spinning back-kick that would have dislocated the kneeling woman's jaw if she hadn't ducked. The swirl of skirts was no hindrance to the enraged Tameranean—while combat mobility hadn't been the intention of the sinfully high slit in the cocktail dress, Starfire moved like a kung-fu mistress in a Chinese gown. Raven had to duck and roll away from a chop-kick combo, and suddenly she was backed into the cell's curving wall.
Raven was livid, no thought in her mind but how to end Starfire's life. Starfire, on the other hand, had a look of undiluted, feral, gut-boiling hate locked into her eyes, denied a fusion-hot glow only by the grace of the lingering control drugs. She lunged suddenly, going for a choke-hold, and Raven slipped nimbly away, dragging her short nails along a stretch of skin left bare by the revealing dress and leaving four red trails in her skin and a deep rip in the cloth.
Starfire followed her as she rolled, catching up and landing full-out on top of her in a classic pin. Holding down her arms with her elbows, Starfire shifted expertly until she'd mounted the smaller woman and could restrain her entire upper body with the press of her knees. Leering with the devil's own grin, she linked her hands around Raven's neck and began to constrict mercilessly. With no thought for escape, Raven twisted and heaved until she could throw up her free lower body and wrap her legs around Starfire's neck from behind. Suddenly jerked backward, Starfire fought to maintain her choke hold, even as she forced downward with her thighs to try and stretch out and over-extend the shorter woman's body in the most painful manner possible. Raven toughed it out, and in seconds both women had achieved frightening shades of purple.
In sympathy, the room achieved a charming shade of chartreuse. The soft green flooded around them, and just as suddenly they popped out of their death-tangle and rolled apart to heave for air. They finished recovering at about the same time and sat up in nearly identical motions. They gazed around bemusedly until they simultaneously spotted one another and erupted into almost identical grins.
"Oh Star—I LOVE your dress!" Raven half-shrieked as she scooted across the cold metal floor to close with her bestest friend in the universe.
"Really? You do?" Starfire welled with joy at the compliment, "It was such an agony to have to choose, but when I saw this one on the shelf it simply declared, 'you must wear me Kori!'"
"No!" Raven threw an incredulous wave of dismissal at her companion, "you can't tell me you found that on a shelf somewhere! I was certain it was designer-made for you! I mean, you look positively delicious!" At this last, Raven's voice lowered to emphasize the way she meant the compliment.
"Oh Raven—Stop!" Starfire blushed with a passion, "I can not possibly look better than you do in your festivity garb! I have been meaning to inquire all night—what is the secret of that garment? It is pristine—and it looks as though it were painted onto you! You certainly must tell me—the curiosity has been unbearable!"
"Please—this thing?" Raven played at modesty, but it was obvious that she was overwhelmingly proud and flattered beyond words. Well, for a moment she was beyond words. "Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to let it out. I made this dress myself. With magic. Actually, I used a spell to weave it out of darkness. Because of this, there aren't anymore shadows left under my bed or vanity chest."
"Truly?" Starfire looked stunned, reaching out to run a hand along the 'cloth' as it traced in perfect black fit around Raven's smoothly athletic curves. "How can such a thing be possible?"
"Heh…" Raven brandished her right hand, showing of a rather unassuming silver ring there. "The magic is bound to this. You just put it on and the dress appears."
Starfire reached out and took Raven's hand in hers, drawing the ring in for a closer look. With impeccable timing, the room's lighting deepened almost imperceptibly from a gentle green to a slightly harsher color that spoke of jungles and moss. A surge of new, unbearably powerful emotion twisted in her chest, and her face was marred by a bloom of angles and creases.
"The only problem I note about this garment," Starfire said, as Raven wobbled in oblivious confusion while attempting to adjust to the subtle change in control waves, "is that it would look far better… on ME!" Starfire jerked at the same moment, yanking the ring off of Raven's hand. In a blink, Raven's dress evaporated into vanishing black smoke, and, short of the manacle hoops on her limbs and neck, she was quite stark naked. "HA!" Starfire snapped as Raven shrieked and rushed to cover herself, exulting in her embarrassment. "What seems to be the problem Raven," she asked rather cruelly, "were all your underclothes in the laundry?"
"No…" Raven whispered, finally recovering and focusing her embarrassment in on the new emotion demanded by the OOC device. She watched as Starfire turned and toyed with the ring, waiting for her to slide it on before finishing, "that's just how the magic works."
The instant the ring was on Starfire's finger, all the cloths she'd been wearing fell through her like they were woven of air. Simply put, in order to stay permanently clean, the enchantment carried a supplement that made its wearer wraith to a great many things including, apparently, cloth. At her feet then was a pile of her sequin-encrusted dress, cream stockings, and a matching set of cream garters and panties that were lacy and semi-transparent in a way that was obviously supposed to be erotic. Of course, as cosmic law of embarrassment decreed, this was the article that landed on top of the pile, and as both women focused on them with very different thoughts, Raven was no longer the only one blushing. But she was still the only one naked.
Starfire, of course, was now wearing Raven's dress. The unerringly skin-tight roll of utterly opaque material traced around her longer, leaner, more amply-endowed body in a very different fit, but it was clearly identical in design from sensuous choker to barely-there micro-skirt. Not even an envy-drunk Raven could fail to admit that Starfire wore it fantastically well—though the vindictive backlash this necessitated whispered comforting qualifications. For one, Raven had no trouble insulting Starfire's beefy, muscular legs, which were so accustomed to miniskirts that one hardly batted an eye seeing them now. For the other, she was mollified by the thought that HER dress could probably make a manatee look good.
"Oh it's on now!" Raven shouted Starfire out of her mind-freezing focus on her own secretly-donned 'sexy underwear' as she grabbed for the cloth on the floor and yanked the bundle up to use as makeshift covering until she could get her dress back. There were good reasons for not donning Starfire's cloths until she got her own back, such as the fact that a dress cut to fit her like this one did would slip off of Raven's less… abundant… curves and leave her very much exposed in the bust and rump areas—not to mention the inches of skirt she'd drag. However, Raven's unbending reason for the temporary measure was simply that she wanted HER dress back. "You asked for it this time! If you don't give me back my dress with fucking absolute haste—I'm going to take these fuck-me-I'm-a-slut panties and stuff them right-!"
The room turned a frenetic hot-yellow, and Raven completely lost track of what she was saying. Raven's eyes widened, and Starfire lost her own haughty stance as her heart rate spiked and her mouth went dry. The two of them stared at one another in silence for a long moment, then, as though a trigger had been pulled, both of them just busted out screaming.
Fear. Terror. The kind of sensation that blanks out all other thought, all other feeling, the kind of sensation that reached down into the deepest, most reptilian recesses of the brain and bypasses twenty million years of sophistication with a simple choice: Fight or Run. Screaming, screaming, screaming like steam through a slot or a Fourth-of-July noisemaker, both women scrambled backward until they hit opposite walls, and then crumbled. Without a focus, without some clear and obvious target for the unreasoning instinctual response to the terror riding them, a flood of adrenaline and lungs furiously warring for more air were impotent, body-tormenting burdens. Raven screamed her last and crumpled into a quivering fetal position with Starfire's cloths clutched like a security blanket. Starfire pressed herself back into the wall like she would somehow pass through it and gain more room to flee, her eyes darting from one imagined flit of motion to another as she started to hyperventilate.
The yellow softened and deepened, and now it was pink.
Each woman calmed from the teetering edge of fear-induced delusional psychosis at about the same pace, and it was Starfire, leaning in relief against the smooth wall, who giggled first. It was a haphazard thing, bursting to life and then snuffing out again in the briefest moment. Still, it was more than enough, and it raised an echoing giggle from Raven. Giggles became chuckles. Chuckles became Chortles. Chortles became full-fledged laughter. In seconds, both women were reduced to completely uncontrollable laughter at everything and nothing, breaths coming in labored gasps and becoming rarer with every passing moment.
Starfire was on her knees, slapping the metal with one hand as she keeled over to ease the growing ache in her stomach and rally the quickly escalating war to breathe. Raven was rolling on her back and alternating with a useless kicking motion as she faced the same problems, hardly able, or even caring, to keep herself covered.
They were just turning blue when the room did the same.
Their weeping came quick and hard, the laughter snuffing out much more suddenly than anything before. However, they barely had a chance to get into the stuttering gasps and runny-nosed sobbing before the room shifted back to yellow. They were both shocked into involuntary body-wracking jerks by the too-sudden change, and neither had yet had a chance to scream the first time before the room went pink again. Another back-arching, fist-clenching jerk came and went, breaths gathered to scream coming out as sputtering laughs that slurred into moans as the room went blue again.
Now the room was shifting between the three colors at high speed, and the result was horrific. Unable to resist the influence of the machine trained on them—indeed, quite ignorant of the very concept that they might be under someone else's influence at all—the women went into a kind of shock as the settings blurred together into a continuous sickly orange. Raven once again balled into a fetal position as her mouth lolled open in one scrambled, drooling groan after another. Starfire was flat out on her stomach, teeth grinding and fingernails digging bleeding gashes into her palms as she went into a minor seizure and lay twitching and heaving on the metal floor.
Ravager's Control Station
"STOP! Please… stop…" Robin's voice came through the intercom, heavy with emotion. He wasn't letting anything too damning show, but he was obviously falling apart as he watched, or refused to watch, the cruel and unusual torment Ravager was cooking up in the massive mixing vat. "You're going to kill them—Please!"
"Why Robin—begging now are we? Wonderful!" Ravager cut the device down to grey setting, forcing the women on his monitor into the blessed relief of mindless stupor. "Yes, begging is an excellent start, but let's not forget what we're here for. That was just a little warm up to test some of the preliminary features. This puppy has three intensity settings, and I haven't even taken it out of first gear yet! So, are you ready to see what this thing can really do?"
"DAMN YOU!" Robin screamed into the air, the mic screeching in protest and ravager hearing a piece of it come up all the way from the pot-cell below. "If you have a beef with me—settle it with ME you coward! Leave them OUT of this!"
"Pshht." Ravager flipped the remote up into the air and caught it easily. "I'm having way too much fun for that to happen." Ravager cut the audio feed from Robin's cell as the young man devolved into impotent threats and furious raving. "Now that the functionality test is over and we've managed—by complete accident mind you—to get them both pretty damn close to naked… I think it's time we returned to an earlier theme." Ravager smiled perversely under his mask as he moved a switch from first position to second position, "But this time with some teeth."
The Ladies' Pit Cell
Back in the converted pot, Starfire was delighting thoughtlessly as her aching muscles slowly loosened after her spasms. In the grey light, she wasn't particularly able to string two thoughts together, but her eyes wandered as she lay relaxing on her stomach, and she eventually saw Raven doing much as she was, only with fewer cloths on. Starfire's dress provided little more than something warmer than the metal floor to sit on as Raven rested her back against the wall and stared numbly at the ceiling. The stupor-inducing grey setting of the Oscillations Overpowering Consciousness device left her quite unselfconscious. All of which made the shift to plain white light that much more jarring.
Starfire perked up suddenly, as though she'd just snapped to out of a daydream, and she noticed which part of infinity her unseeing eyes had been staring off into. Blushing despite herself, Starfire flipped over in a rush and stared at the ceiling, wondering what was going on. She had perfect memory of everything that had gone on for the past few minutes, and while it all seemed perfectly natural and plausible that she and Raven had behaved as they had, something was still finagling at the back of her mind. Raven took a little longer to snap to, but when she did, it was with a sound of shock at her own unreserved nudity that informed Starfire when it finally happened.
"Uhh…" Raven shook her head as though to clear it while she wrapped herself in Starfire's dress like it was a sparkling, poorly-shaped toga. The final effect covered about as much as her own dress originally had, though it wasn't any kind of comfortable or secure, and it was disgustingly drafty downstairs. She wound up with leftover underwear and stockings and didn't seem to know what to do with them. Even uninfluenced toward any particular emotional bias by the unseen device, it was still nearly impossible to generate a thought or motivation of one's own as long as the baseline vibrations were still inundating the brain.
"Eh… it occurs to me that you might… want your dress back…. Yes?" Starfire showed Raven's own hesitance and unshakeable sense of wrongness, but couldn't think of anything more salient to say than that.
"Uhh…" Raven took a moment to process that, and then nodded, "Sure. This one wouldn't fit me no matter what. It's all in the bust and hips you know."
"Oh, Yes." Starfire agreed, the small talk seeming to quell that quiet murmur of strangeness this whole situation still had, "I too had trouble keeping it in place, even with it matching my size." This last was said as she turned to the side, Raven taking the cue and turning away also. Then Starfire started them off by slipping the ring from her finger and gasping at the sudden draft. She reached around to hand over the ring without looking while Raven also reached to meet her half way, intending to trade her for the underwear so they could straighten themselves out.
And that was when everything went purple. Again.
Robin's Pit Cell
Robin Raged. Robin Screamed. Robin clawed at the walls of his prison like he would strip the frictionless plastic coating with just his fingernails, like he would gouge finger grips into the metal underneath and climb up and out. But it didn't do any good. At this point, Ravager was no more listening to him than he was watching him, so he truly was alone and cut off once more. While the purple light flooded down, Robin took one last look as Starfire and Raven started making out and then averted his eyes.
Left with no recourse for his frustration, Robin crumpled into a naked slouch in the edge of the pit furthest from the moldering puddle of his own vomit. His anger was dwarfed by the crushing weight of his own impotence, both of which had nowhere to go but inside. Internalizing it all, he stared into the flickering patterns the ceiling-screen cast onto the floor and let it all curdle.
Suddenly the glare from the screen shifted red and the sound of the action above him turned to shouts of rage and the crisp sound of painful flesh-to-flesh impact. By the sound, they were fighting like feral dogs, lacking all reason and driven by no greater purpose than the desire to see the other's blood. There was one particularly harsh impact noise and an indistinct sound of animal agony, prompting a burst of heartless laughter from Ravager's line.
Instantly it was as though Robin had never calmed down, so quickly did he leap to his feet and turn murderous eyes back up to the screen. As he watched without seeing, Ravager repeated the process, sending Raven and Starfire through alternative mindless, empty passion and rabid, vicious bloodlust. Again and again he see-sawed the women through that combination, and every time they broke a kiss to tear into one another, he chuckled yet again. Robin felt like a runaway train, his guts boiling and a pressure building up behind his eyes. It felt hot and had absolutely no relation to rational thought, and it just kept getting hotter. Finally, when it felt like his blood vessels would pop and spray founts of blood from his eyes, Robin vented all of his collected frustration in one rollicking, incoherent scream of bloody murder.
He screamed until his lungs seemed to collapse like zip-lock bags with the air sucked out, then fell silent, staring straight up at the point his instincts told him the camera was hidden. For a long moment there was no change, just a black-eyed Raven necking with a split-lip Starfire, but Robin just kept staring. He concentrated everything he had into his gaze, focusing all of his searing hot desire for Ravager's death and stacking it up behind his eyes. Finally, because he couldn't help but lash out while his adversary was down and defiant, a picture-in-picture containing a camera feed of Ravager in his beach chair opened off to a random-seeming side of the circular screen above him. Surprisingly, it was exactly where Robin had been staring.
"What's the matter Robin? Aren't you enjoying the show?" Robin didn't say anything, he just kept trying to murder Ravager with his expression. "Oh don't be such a stiff! I'll probably get tired of forcing virgins into lesbian intercourse and blood-spilling catfights… err… eventually. Maybe. Probably not, but you don't have to worry about it. I'll be dumping in some cyanide before too much longer, so your 'suffering' will end soon enough. Heh heh heh heh heh, these new toys of mine are just unbearably entertaining. I'm afraid playing with them has completely distracted me from any thoughts of making your demise long and painful—I'd rather spend the time I have left doing this. So Robin, please, just sit back and try to enjoy the show. Maybe get your jerk on one last time before the end—frankly I don't really care anymore."
Ravager stopped, because through all of this, Robin hadn't spoken or responded in any way. In fact, not even his expression had budged an iota. Robin willed Ravager to look his way, to look and see how much he wanted to reach into his chest and pull out the bastard's irredeemable heart, and somehow, it worked. Ravager glanced away from the monitor displaying what was on most of Robin's screen—that being Starfire nibbling on one of Raven's ears as they… err… undulated. He looked at his feed of Robin, and then he did a double take as the emotion behind the Boy Wonder's gaze transmitted perfectly, even over the video circuit.
Robin saw something then that he would never forget, and his eyes widened in appreciation as he grinned a grin that held little in the way of sanity. "Ravager, you're going to die." Robin said.
"Yeah," Ravager said without hesitation, leaning in to the camera for emphasis, "But not before you and your little girlfriends."
The single word slipped into the air on honeyed tones that chilled the heart, and no one who'd ever known the voice could ever mistake it.
Ravager's Control Station
"Wrong." Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator, Assassin Extraordinaire, commented with a tone colored by the irony of his own timing more than any form of passion.
Robin had seen what Ravager hadn't—he'd seen the killer sneaking up behind the killer, and he'd noticed the difference between them instantly. Slade's half-black, half-orange mask obscured his identity and his empty eye socket with a sinister air of intimidation that Ravager's blue shroud could never match. Rippling muscle bulged under a black and orange suit of mid-weight combat armor absolutely covered in guns, knives, and ammunition pouches—though if anything, this stealth assassination mission had prompted him to pack light. Robin's eyes widened involuntarily the moment he saw who had picked up Ravager's death contract—because that was the only reason he could possibly be here—and he pronounced his death promise even as the massive hands closed in around Ravager's unsuspecting head.
Ravager never even had a chance to be properly startled, much less put up a fight or even turn around for that matter. He might possibly have had time to recognize the fact that he was about to die before hands on arms corded with muscle slipped into a familiar grip on his skull and wrenched through a motion repetition had taught them to the point of fluid muscle-memory. But really, probably not.
One moment, Ravager was taunting Robin, and the next instant, wide eyes were staring out from a neck fifteen degrees past right-full-extension for the human spine. Slade cradled Ravager's limp body for a moment, supporting it in its chair, swaying it from side to side almost playfully, and then gripped the top of the mask and gave it a tap that sent it rolling out of the beach chair and onto the control station's metal-grating floor. He took the blue shroud and stuffed it into a pocket, either as a trophy or a proof of death. Then, with a businesslike diffidence, he pulled a silenced 9mm from one of the many, many holsters on his weapons harness and shot Ravager's still form twice in the back of the head. Overkill to some, but simply a double-tap coup de'grace to a true professional.
With his immediate business concluded, Slade slid into the beach chair Ravager had vacated and leaned back as he examined the two monitors, one with Robin glaring astounded daggers into the camera and the other recording two hot teen women getting steadily freakier. It was a credit to his personality that his focus landed completely on Robin, even as he lifted the discarded remote and puzzled over it for a moment.
"Well, of all the people I wasn't expecting to bump into while back at my old stomping grounds, I'd have to say you were pretty close to the top of the list, boy." Slade was unruffled and conversational as he glanced over the remote, seeming to understand its function almost without effort. "I'd say you managed to dig yourself a very deep hole this time, and as long as I have you as a 'captive audience,' I suppose I'll go ahead and take a few liberties." There was a particularly breathy moan from the other monitor, and Slade's one eye narrowed as he spotted Robin's distraught waver. "But first, that's enough of that," he switched the OOC device to gray, forcing the women back into harmless stupor, "I'm going to need your undivided attention."
"What do you want Slade? A thank-you?" Robin was caustic, but he seemed powerfully calmed by the fact that the women were out of immediate danger. Slade just shook his head in mild disgust.
"You seem to be under the massively mistaken impression that you've been saved. Really though, it appears that you've found another astounding stroke of luck that you caped types are so predisposed to. Let me make it clear that you and I are still enemies and that the next time we meet I will make my best, extremely competent effort to murder you."
"Yeah." Robin looked contemplative, too relieved by this completely unexpected reprieve to be preoccupied by his deep-seated and visceral hatred for the source of it. "So you want to talk and I can't do shit to stop you. So talk."
"My but that's no attitude for someone who is about to receive sage wisdom from an old hand in the same profession—but you always were an ingrate."
"I'm not a killer Slade." Robin slipped down to the floor and took up a meditative position, the camera panning out to follow him. "Can we move along here? I'm sure you've got to get back to engraving names onto bullets or something."
"Cute… very cute boy." Slade's expression was unreadable beneath the mask, but Robin could hear his cruel smirk in his words. "However, I saw the look in your eyes when this looser," he gestured vaguely toward the corpse sitting in the pool of blood next to him, "was playing games with the two liabilities you've so inexplicably integrated into your life. Deny your killer instinct all you want, but yes, let us move on."
"I…" Robin struggled to keep a poker face, "…begin to see where this is going."
"A quick study, as usual. Good. Now, I no longer benefit particularly from strengthening you, but the mistake you've made here is so amateurish that I can't sit by and allow anyone who's ever been associated with my teachings to make it. Tongues will wag—my reputation could be impinged by your sudden addiction to idiocy."
Robin made no comment, and the smile lurking under Slade's mask sounded wider when he continued.
"As I said, you've married yourself emotionally to others on a level that those in our line of work simply can't afford. One would think that the continual examples of this mistake lined up back through the history of high-power operators like us would clue people in, but this same tissue of foolishness gets repeated again and again. How could anyone knowingly endanger themselves by forming a romantic connection to another—knowingly and willingly, even with full knowledge of the threats that will arise on a regular basis? To hand one's enemies a lever to strike with… unbelievable. Simpering, weak, foolish sentimentalism. Pathetic."
"You could never understand Slade. Explaining love to a rabid sociopath murderer is like explaining color to the blind. There isn't even a basis for understanding. So are we done?"
"No." The smile had fled Slade's voice. "No, we aren't done, not yet. You sit there, so smug in your self-righteous sermonizing, boy, and I don't appreciate it. Well, I'm doing the same, I suppose, but I'm the one in the position of dominance, which gives me the right to do pretty well whatever I want. And what I want is to teach you a lesson. Hmmm… yes, and the opportunity exists to enjoy a little sport at the same time."
"What are you talking about?" Panic rose slightly past Robin's poker face. "What are you up to?"
Slade just cut the connection. All of them, actually.
Robin's Pit Cell
The screen above him flickered into darkness as Slade deactivated all monitors, and Robin found himself once more plunged into total black. His heart thumped all the way up into his throat as a wash of terrifying anticipation flowed into veins only recently cleared of rage and distress. Slade was brilliant in his unconventional tactics and terrible efficiency, and Robin could only stand in creeping fear as he waited for the next blow to come. He knew now that he and the girls were far, far from being out of danger.
There was a banging from the covering that shut him into this giant pot, then a flare of light as a cutting torch broke through the screen and traced a quick, messy circle. A grating wrench later, a circle of natural dawn sunlight was peeking down into his pit. It was not obscured in any way, but Robin knew that Slade was just outside this new avenue.
"So Boy, I want to ask you," Slade's voice echoed down diffidently, "did that looser explain to you just how the device he was using works?"
"Not really, but I more or less got the idea." Robin managed to maintain control of his tone, though he had no illusion that Slade believed him as nonplused as he sounded.
"Well here's a little fact that I picked up reading the Society of Assassins Intel blurb on this particular toy when it first came out: More than eight minutes of exposure to class three levels of any one induced emotional or mental state leaves the mind permanently entrapped in that condition. More or less—it is a case-by-case thing, but eight minutes sounds about right here."
"Slade… don't do this…" Robin wasn't begging—he'd never beg anything of Slade. He was telling Slade not to complete this little game of his.
"I'm setting the control to level three yellow-spectrum oscillation."
"Don't DO IT!" Robin screamed, hopelessly. His only answer was the distant sound of muffled screaming that quickly trailed away to nothing. "NOOOOO!"
"Oh yes. At this level the emotion of fear is quite exquisitely overpowering. According to pioneering research by one Dr. Crane, the initial shock actually shuts down most of the higher brain functions. I'd say about now they've finished reflexively vacating their bowels and bladders and have moved on to rapidly escalating adrenaline-fueled cardiac arrhythmia. It's really a toss up as to weather they enter persistent vegetative catatonia or just suffer massive cardiopulmonary failure."
"WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?"
"No need for shouting boy, you'll get your chance if you just calm down. Now—calm…?" Robin reigned in the urge to rip out his own hair and mangled his face into a semblance of calm. "Good. See this?" Slade held up something over the hole that, backlit as it was, looked like a spool of twine. Then he withdrew it.
There was some motion out where Robin couldn't see and then a line of stiff wire fell in a bundle trailing up to the opening. Robin literally couldn't believe his eyes. Thinking to seize control of Slade's temporary insanity, Robin snatched at the wire and prepared to free-climb up the twine-thin rope. The instant he touched it, he ripped his hand away and cursed virulently. His fingers were bleeding along an unbelievably deep, fine cut inflicted by the barest brush with the line.
"That's heavy-duty razor-filament wire. We in the business use it for garrotes, nooses, impromptu restraints—you know how it goes. I guarantee it will support your weight, but if you can free-climb that and still count to ten on both hands, you will have impressed me beyond my wildest expectations. The way I see it, you have two very clear-cut alternatives. The control is right up here—you can scale the wire and save these women you've gotten so attached to, or do the smart thing and abandon them to their destruction and wait for your little friends to rescue you. Now if you'll excuse me, I have—as you so aptly put it—some bullets to etch names into. At the rate I'm going, I'll have the seed money to start a new criminal empire by the end of next quarter. See you around Boy. Oh and boy—'six minutes and forty seconds,' by the by."
"SLADE!" Robin called after him in a fury, but there was no answer. There was only the gently waving razor wire and the clock ticking away inside his head. Looking down on the cut seeping blood from his right hand, Robin wavered only for the barest moment. With a quiet prayer to whatever god might be listening, Robin resigned himself to what he was about to do.
Immediately Robin started to hype himself up, breathing heavily and slapping at his skin as his eyes watered involuntarily at the thought of what was coming. When he felt he'd built up as big a head of determination as he could, he squared his jaw and grabbed the very end of the razor wire in his left hand. Instantly he was cut in a half dozen places, but he ignored the stinging and the swell of blood as he wrapped the wire around his palm and wrist in a gentle but secure bind. His hand was already completely slick with blood.
His heart thundering with adrenaline and the rising shock of his bloodied hand, Robin found a spot at around shoulder height and began to wrap his right hand with the slack between that and the end around his left hand. Now he was literally dripping with blood, small rivulets pouring down his arms to cover the floor and his legs with numerous harsh, bright red spots. He heaved for air past the panic caused by so many bleeding wounds so willfully induced, praying for the time when shock would tune out the pain and simultaneously desperately hoping he could stay focused through it all.
Whimpering once then, because there just wasn't any way this wasn't going to be the worst thing he'd ever done, Robin steadied himself on his feet. He hesitated once again, rather foolishly, considering how far he'd already committed, but really, really understandably. Then, Robin fixed the image of himself trying to eulogize at Starfire's funeral or pull the plug on Raven's persistently vegetative husk, and that was all there was to it. With a last deep breath and a dribble of moisture down his cheeks, Robin heaved once with his right hand and pulled himself the first few inches off the ground.
Search Party, Kidnapping Plus Eight Hours
With a thundering crash, the loading dock door of the old food processing mill flew off its running tracks and blasted into the empty factory floor in a dented, clattering heap.
"Full-grid search!" Cyborg shouted rather unnecessarily, a yellow and orange blur zipping past him. The blur canvassed the room in a whirlwind of disturbed air, covering hundreds of square feet in the blink of an eye.
"Sweet Jesus!" the shout of shock and alarm echoed through the large, mostly empty space of the building, and suddenly Kid Flash was right there in front of them again, a pale, haunted look on his face. "Found Robin! He's hurt, and there's some corpse up there next to him, but the joint is abandoned otherwise. M-medics—I'm going for medics! There—on the scaffolds above the food processors—hurry!" And he was gone.
Ahead of the team was a forest of pipes and conveyers, enormous machines that at some time had worked in perfect unison to create something—maybe cereal or candy, it was impossible to tell at this point. Rather than the relief they'd hopped to feel at finding something, the boys were overtaken by anxiety from Flash's vague but urgent report.
"Right, follow me!" Cyborg took command, though his orders weren't quite as good at dispelling their hesitation as Robin's tended to be. The team navigated the maze of ladders and maintenance walkways until they reached what seemed to be a nest of newly-lain cables and monitors overlooking a pair of gigantic food-processing tanks. It didn't take much more to find Robin.
"Oh… no…" Speedy summed up the general mood as each of the three of them spotted what was left of the Boy Wonder. He rushed over and knelt next to his friend to check vitals as Cyborg and Beast Boy went on guard, shock turning to anger that they would very much have loved to have a target for. "He's still with us, but just barely—I can't believe how much blood…" Speedy decided not to finish that statement, because the scene really spoke for itself.
Robin was leaning back against a console, unconscious and naked except for a liberal coating of his own dried blood and strips of cloth that had been tied with tourniquet constriction around both wrists. The cloth had been pulled from the costume of the corpse, a blue-clad soldier that the guys knew from description to be Ravager. Robin's hands were partially purple from blood-deprivation and sliced into hamburger besides, with blood from the wounds all over… well… everything.
"Alright, Speedy," Cyborg checked his scanner, "Help me find the girls. I'm pickin' them up around here too. BB…" he hesitated for a moment now, reflecting the difficulty of talking about what he was going to say next, "… sniff around and try to find the rest of Robin's fingers."
Speedy left Robin with reluctance, Beast Boy going slightly greener than normal before shifting into a bloodhound and starting his tracking routine on the trail of blood splashed all over the place. Cyborg followed his scanner to the edge of the scaffolding and looked down, the archer coming up behind him. As soon as they got a closer look at the food processors below, the story of what happened here began to piece together.
"Robin was held in that one," Speedy began, pointing down and to the left at a gigantic pot with an ill-fitting piece of steel plating over its normally wide-open top. There was a hole in the steel with a trail of blood splashed out of it and the edge of the scaffolding just above that spot seemed now to be the origin of the blood trail. "No clue what cut him up yet, but judging by the condition of his hands I'd say it happened while he was climbing out of there. Considering that, the obvious place to find the girls would be—"
"The other pot!" Cyborg finished.
"No man—the other pot!" Cyborg pointed this time, and Speedy saw what he was talking about. There was a faint sound from the other cooking vat with its jerry-rigged steel lid, like a pounding and badly muffled shouting. Speedy and Cyborg glanced at one another, and then wasted no time flipping and leaping down onto the steel lid.
A quick examination of how the thing was attached to the vat lead to the simplest possible plan for cracking it—Cyborg got a grip on one edge and peeled the metal back like it was a tin can and not two-inch plated steel. Folding down the bent metal, a deep, dark space below was flooded with light, twin sounds of exaggerated relief echoing out in answer.
"Speedy? Cyborg? Raven—we have been rescued!" Starfire sounded at the edge of tears. She was wearing her filthy, torn cocktail dress, which, along with a few bruises around her face and neck, made her look disquietingly close to a beaten hooker. Raven was wearing her dress, and if it weren't for the shiner darkening her left eye and her messy hair, she'd look as pristine as she had at the start of the night. Magic—go figure.
"Hi Ladies!" Speedy shouted down, and then caught a whiff of the air rising out of the vat. "Ugh! What is that smell?"
"Don't ask!" Raven shouted, sounding like she'd just run three marathons. "Just… don't ask. Can you get us out of here?"
"Hold on, we've gotta finish helping Robin—" Cyborg started, then slapped a metal hand over his mouth as he realized he'd messed up.
"What's wrong with Robin?" Both women screamed simultaneously.
"Nothing, nothing!" Speedy tried to calm them. "He's just fine. You girls just sit tight while I tie off a rope and—"
"Hey guys!" Beast Boy shouted enthusiastically from above them, "I think I found Robin's pinky!"
Starfire and Raven had matched looks of horror on their faces, completely frozen by the intensity of their concern. Starfire lost her knees and Raven was barely able to catch her as she slumped over.
"No—hey—It's not as bad as all that!" Speedy lied clumsily as he held up his hands in a mollifying gesture. Cyborg still hadn't taken his hand off of his mouth.
"HA!" Beast Boy shouted again, "Founds his other pinky!"
He'd never get to react to the other guys' anger though, because that's when the ambulance arrived.
Titans Tower Medbay, Kidnapping Plus Forty-Eight Hours
Speedy stood in the foyer of the Titans Tower Medbay and glanced from the woman to his left over to the woman on his right. Starfire and Raven were back in uniform and doing everything in their power to avoid looking at one another. Speedy had asked about their sudden shyness of one another, and Raven had told him in no uncertain terms that it wasn't any of his business. Cyborg had read up on the odd device they'd found strapped to the outside of the vat the women had been trapped in, and his description had painted a picture that left much to Speedy's imagination, but none of what he imagined was anything less than horrible.
They looked just awful. Starfire had recovered from most of her minor injuries as her alien toughness returned with her strength and powers. However, the drugs she'd been exposed to had left her absolutely insomniac, and she had bleak bags under her eyes from days without a single wink of sleep. Raven had made out the worse of the two by far, however. Her black eye hadn't quite recovered, but that was nothing compared to the almost deathly pale, pasty tone her skin had taken on. They'd finally figured out how to remove the manacles that had suppressed her powers, only to discover that the backlash from all that suppressed emotional energy suddenly releasing was a terror unto itself. Raven had been struck down, comatose for twenty-four hours in her own bed and barely clinging to life. Starfire had spent her sleepless days and nights at her friend's side, the mysterious shyness they now showed each other unable to match her concern. Or maybe the shyness just wasn't present when there wasn't a chance they'd have to talk about what happened between them in that foul-smelling prison cell.
"Okay ladies. Let's go." Speedy said, and turned halfway to activate the door panel without taking his eyes off of them. They each advanced hesitantly, eyes downcast away from one another, and made an effort to not even brush each other as they followed him through the door to Robin's hospital room.
Inside, Speedy took up a spot next to the door as Starfire and Raven fanned out to either side of his bed. Robin was even more frighteningly pale than Raven, the massive blood loss he'd suffered bringing him to the brink of eternity and simply not receding at all quickly. His body was mostly covered by his bed sheets, but his masked face, now protected by one of his regular, smooth masks, and his pale arms were still exposed. His hands were each encased in a plastic sack filled with disinfectant, and the plastic was covered by cloth to spare them the sight of his ghastly injuries. Speedy had seen them, however, when he was removing the foam emergency mask. They were purple and bruised and completely coated in prickly forests of stitches. They were absolutely hideous, but at least the prognosis was good for him to keep the severed fingers. When he was relatively certain neither woman would freak out, Speedy stepped out of the room and left them in privacy. For a long time, no one said anything.
"Hey there," Robin broke the silence without opening his eyes, forcing both women to jolt in surprise.
"Robin… you are conscious?" Starfire answered, expressing the common disbelief.
"Yeah, well, I'm a little doped up, but I try to avoid dosages of pain medication that will actually knock me out. It's an old habit." With this explanation, the room fell back to silence again. Before the ladies hadn't known whether or not he'd be able to hear him, now they were just plucking up the courage to begin.
"We heard…" Raven finally began, "We heard you were hurt trying to save us. We knew there must be an explanation for why… what was happening to us stopped, we didn't hear it was you until afterward. I'm not sure how much more of that we—I—" Raven looked at Starfire for the first time since she'd regained consciousness, and the other woman just nodded, "how much more of that we could have survived." Raven trailed off and glanced at Starfire again, surprised she hadn't requested that Raven speak for herself only. Starfire seemed not to notice Raven's surprise as she addressed Robin.
"We wish to thank you Robin." Star was earnest and solemn. "You saved our lives again… and to see what it has cost you—"
"Nah." Robin interrupted the moment it became obvious that Starfire was working up into a fit of tears. Both women waited while he gathered the breath to speak again. "It was never in question from the moment I knew your lives were in danger. If it was a choice between giving up some part of my body or the two of you… well… take my hands—please. They make prosthesis for hands these days—just look at Cyborg. You two are… completely irreplaceable in the entire universe."
The women stood in wonder of that comment for a moment, too stunned to even react. Then Raven staggered and fell into a chair next to the bed—the most she could allow herself without destroying something—and Starfire burst into unrestrained weeping.
"Oh Robin!" She couldn't contain herself, and she leapt down to embrace him across his chest.
"Ouch, ouch, ouch!" Robin said slowly until Starfire leapt off of him, face creased with contrition at having hurt him. She slowly worked at drying her eyes as he caught his breath again after the new rush of hurt. "Do… do you two remember—?"
"Yes." Raven stopped him before he could say more, despairing that he'd ask for details of what had happened to them. "Yes, we remember every second we were fully conscious for." She and Starfire were blushing for a very different reason now, and each seemed to find something interesting about the plain tiled floor.
"I'm sorry. I—I'm sure there was something I could have done—"
"Robin, stop that!" Starfire commanded, and he obeyed immediately. The look on her face was kind of frightening.
"Don't you dare try to feel guilty about this Robin," Raven elaborated on their common sentiment, double-teaming him as though they'd rehearsed this. "There was no way to anticipate or prevent anything that happened. And when the time came, you were ready to sacrifice everything for us! After all that selflessness, how dare you try to feel guilty?"
"I…" It was Robin's turn to be stunned. "I… no." Robin sighed expressively. "I'm sorry. I don't know if you realize, but I was forced to watch everything that happened to you while that machine was manipulating you."
Starfire let out a peep of embarrassment and turned away the moment this news sunk in. Raven turned deep magenta—an incredibly uncomfortable-looking transformation considering her sickly patina—and crossed her arms as she looked straight down again. Even after the transfusions that had saved his life, Robin didn't have enough spare blood to blush, but it looked like he wanted to.
"Yeah. If I sound guilty, that's why. I would have done anything to protect you from that. I'm so sor—"
"Please, cease your apologies!" Starfire demanded, without turning around. "Raven has already released you from blame. We know you did everything you could to save us—that we were discomforted before hand can not be helped."
"Starfire is right," Raven continued, though her blush didn't abate, "stop that. What happened to us was… was…" she trailed off, at a loss for words. "I don't know what it was. It was like…"
"Nothing we did seemed like it was due to anything more than our own wills and desires." Starfire came to Raven's rescue in an unexpected bout of eloquence. "It was as though we had decided for ourselves to do everything that we… did."
"Right," Raven agreed, her embarrassment dissolving somewhat as she realized she wasn't the only one feeling as she did. "Even looking back, even knowing we were being controlled by that machine… It's really hard to see anything we did and feel violated or disgusted by it."
Starfire turned around too now, and the two ladies looked right into each other's eyes for the first time since their kidnapping. Something passed between them, some spark of understanding borne of common intense experiences, and it was suddenly as though the past day of unspoken tension had never been. It was delightfully refreshing, and both women looked the better for it.
"Hmm…" Robin hummed in exhausted relief, "well I don't know what you're talking about really, but it sounds like we got luckier than I expected. I was afraid I'd used all my luck when it turned out they wouldn't have to amputate my hands."
"Indeed…" Starfire said, still communicating on an almost instinctual level with Raven. "Raven… might I… have a word?" Starfire gestured with a nod to the corner of the room, and Raven just nodded and walked back to meet with her out of Robin's earshot.
The two of them put their heads together forehead to forehead and laced their arms around one another's shoulders, speaking in whispers that Robin had no chance of overhearing. Their huddled conversation wore on, Robin's curiosity eclipsed only by his exhaustion, so that he spent less time worrying about what they were muttering than he did just concentrating on staying conscious. Eventually—at long length—they returned, this time standing side by side.
"Do you want to say or…?" Raven began.
"Please, go ahead." Starfire smiled wanly.
"Well…" Raven took a moment to collect herself. "Starfire and I had a little talk."
"Indeed?" Robin would have chuckled at her answering glower if he'd had the energy.
"Yes. I should let you know right away that we still haven't decided things between us." Robin inserted a quiet curse into her pause, and both women smiled. "I'm saying we still aren't sure of that, but we are quite sure of something else."
"Oh yeah?" Robin wasn't trying to be mean, but he couldn't help but be anxious about this whole issue resurfacing while he'd hardly had time to regain his senses, much less his health. He toyed with the idea of hitting the emergency call button with his elbow and having Speedy usher the women out, but they were too quick for him.
"What we're trying to say is that we're sorry Robin." Raven stated as simply as possible, and Robin couldn't help but be surprised completely away from his emergency call button. "We've been pretty damn selfish, that's gotten very clear. I mean, here we are, two friends squabbling over the same guy like jealous, needy bitches, and we go right ahead and push all the responsibility for sorting things out onto the least qualified one for the job—you."
"The phrase Raven originally used," Starfire cut in, "Was: asking a man to make a commitment among attractive options is like asking a cat to breathe underwater."
This time Robin did laugh, and instantly regretted it from the pain.
"Over and over, through actions and words both, you make it clear how much you care about us," Raven went on. "And all we do is keep tormenting you to solve our dispute for us. Well, we just want to say—"
"Raven and I are done squabbling over you, Robin." Starfire couldn't wait for Raven to say it, and rushed ahead of her. She seemed enormously proud of this statement, but Robin was merely confused. Really, really, really confused.
"We're not going to fight over you anymore Robin," Raven said, as though expecting his incredulous stare from the start. "Or at least… that's the idea anyway."
"Indeed," Starfire's proud smile did a vanishing act, "I too am uncertain how well it will work, but we are determined to trouble you with our disputes no longer. Perhaps we will work out our differences and meet an agreeable conclusion. Perhaps we may yet be wrenched apart by a rivalry… but…" Starfire snuck a glance sideways at Raven, "I can not help but feel our 'dynamics' have shifted somewhat for this experience."
"Right. Yeah," Robin was unable to keep a straight face, "I'll believe you two can settle for half my attention when I see it." Both women greeted his cynicism with an ice cold wall. Robin didn't back out. At first. "Damn—fine! How about you two let me get some sleep? If you want me to ever be able to hold either of you ever again, I'll need some rest."
The ladies each gave him a look, but his eyes were already closed, so he was able to safely ignore what those looks might have meant. Starfire glanced at Raven again, then, rather shyly, she held out a hand. Raven looked at it for a moment, seeming to face down some internal conflict, and then took the offered hand with a weak smile of her own. They left Robin to his sleep.
Outside, Speedy saw them leave, hand in hand, after having entered without wanting look at one another, and his mind boggled. He glanced into Robin's room to see him sleeping, and then glanced back as the ladies got into the elevator. Then he shook his head. Every now and then, Robin just impressed the hell out of him.
Epilogue—Kidnapping Plus Two Months
"Have you ever felt like you were living in a dream?" Robin asked, the sound mildly muffled by the fact that his face was pressed into his palms along his chin to prop it up during his grinning reverie. The pink scars traced over them like they were made of patchwork, but even now they were fading with treatment.
"I guess… how do you mean?" asked his companion, who sat immediately next to him at the bar, leaning back against it and keeping his eyes on the room.
"I mean, like the world is caught in some kind of surreal warp," and he didn't alter his grin as he spoke, a shroud of satisfaction stiffening his shoulders, "like every moment is impossible to deny and impossible to believe at the same time," his voice was colored by the force of his emotional exhilaration, doing nothing to improve his friend's ability to understand, "like you keep expecting to wake up and end the incredible time."
"…Damn… you are so obnoxious," Robin's compatriot accused him rather than answering that unbelievably smug expression, his eyes surveying the large, quiet diner systematically as he spoke his aside to the zoned-out joker next to him. "Do you have to sit there and brag about what a lucky bastard you are? You're making me sick." From the tone it was clear the young red-haired man, so similar in build and appearance to the utterly dejected Boy Wonder, was actually just massively jealous.
"Heh, yeah, sorry. I don't mean to be like that, but I just can't believe how things are going. And really, if it makes you feel better, it's not all champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Those two are as competitive as hell, and they'll tire you out like you wouldn't believe!"
"Oh, I can believe they'd 'tire you out,' you stud you!" Speedy quipped, and then dodged the retaliatory elbow shot his friend threw. He chuckled in satisfaction as they waited for people at the various other tables to stop staring.
"You know that's not what I'm talking about. Shit man, taking this to that level would probably be the kiss of death for our stability. As long as I keep things low key, it'll keep working out."
"Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that." Speedy was clearly incredulous, as though he were determined to bring his friend down a peg before he lost out to his envy and stamped away. He'd come into town tonight on regular rounds, not to sit here getting his friend's success shoved down his throat. "Besides, what fun is it keeping things low key?"
"Oh, with these two?" Robin challenged, "Plenty. I never would have pegged Raven as such a romantic, but hell! Must be all those dramas and romances she's read. And Starfire—how can one woman be so sexy and still pull of 'cute' so well? It's damn mystifying! I'll admit there was a little trouble at first. They could be a little snippy when one would try a PDA at the tower with the other around, but we set some ground rules about keeping it to dates and it evened out pretty quick. We got along fine taking turns on dating, and then they came to me with the idea of going out with both of them at once. I'll tell you, that one was touch and go at the start, when I was sitting between them in a movie. Talk about a tug-of-war! Then it all came together at dinner, mostly because I had them sit side by side across the table from me so they could keep one another in check. Yeah… not sure how many more of those I have in me unless they calm down a little—"
"ALRIGHT! Damnit man—I get it! You're happy, they're happy, fantastic! Be sure to give me a call in another month, when they both want some poon-tang out of you and start taking pieces out of each other in jealousy of time in your bed!"
Robin was silent, because it had been a crude blow. Speedy realized he'd said too much the moment it was out of his mouth, but he could hardly take it back. Then Robin's blank stare became a smile, and Speedy's jaw flopped open in confusion.
"Actually, I've had some ideas about that myself."
"ARG! Why do I have the feeling that I actually don't want to hear about this?"
"No, seriously," Robin put up his hands to try and calm his friend down a little, honestly interested in his opinion. "First of all, I'm not going to push the timetables at all. Unlike you, I have something called discipline. That and ol' righty, now that she's better, keep me under control. This is because… I'm pretty sure they're working out that whole sex issue on their own, with me out of the loop."
"Alright… I was wrong," Speedy admitted as he suddenly split a huge grin, "Spill. What's this now?"
"Well… I don't have this on any kind of authority mind you… but…" He smiled, leaned in, and lowered his voice to a whisper. Speedy listened intently, and then snapped back away, obviously believing his friend to be quite out of his mind.
"Those two? NO! No way in hell. You. Are. Dreaming. My god, I can't believe I envied you for even a minute!" Speedy changed tracks as he leapt off his stool. "Dating two women but not getting jack from either? That's like doing twice the work for no pay! HA! I leave you to it Robin, make sure you take good care of righty if she's the only one giving you any 'attention.'"
"Pshh, you jerk!" Robin shouted as Speedy walked away, "I know you're just jealous!"
"Fat chance!" Speedy called back. He stepped into the cool night air and out into the parking lot, still chuckling to himself about the goofy theory Robin had whispered to him. No way.
Still, Speedy did have to admit that he was maybe a little envious. Robin had a good thing going now that those two had calmed down a little. In his heart, Speedy wished them the best of luck, and he wondered how long it would be before one or the other realized that, if nothing else, their extreme-danger lifestyle and the plain march of time meant that they couldn't juggle things forever. Yes, for those three, the best of luck.
(Crank you fav' song, cause the credits are rollin')
BUT WAIT! You favorite song skips on its player and dies out as the camera cuts back to Speedy.
As he walked back to his motorcycle, Speedy heard an alluring whistle. His eyes were drawn to a nearby alley, where an unfamiliar, absolutely stunning leg was sticking out from behind the corner, along with a pale hand making an inviting gesture. Instantly, Speedy's face split into a brilliant, hungry smile. It didn't take him long to make it over to the alley, eyes focused on the leg even as the hand withdrew. He just had time to see that the leg was a mannequin's before a strong force griped him around the shoulders and jerked him into the alley's darkness. He was about to break into full-combat when another strong force pushed him into the alley wall and knocked the air out of him. When he opened his eyes, a stray light over a building's back door was illuminating two very familiar female silhouettes.
"Star—Rae—how ya doing?" Speedy said, nerves bleeding from his tone. He'd been hoping to avoid them at all costs seeing as how they couldn't possibly not realize—
"We're just going to cut to the chase Speedy," Raven said, not at all threateningly. "We know that you were playing us both a while back, and since you were here in town again, we figured we'd show you our…'appreciation'."
"Now ladies… let's not be hasty!" Speedy had broken out in a cold sweat, because Star's eyes had started to glow with a hot green light in the dark, and the shadows themselves seemed to gather around Raven's backlit silhouette.
"Silly Speedy!" Starfire said in a sweet-as-candy tone, "We are not angry! You genuinely wished to help us both—we want to thank you!"
"Uh, really?" Speedy couldn't deny the sincerity in Starfire's voice, though he'd learned to be ever-wary when her eyes glowed like that, so he was torn.
"Of course," Raven said, tone still cool, "We decided to introduce a few girlfriends of ours to you. You don't mind, right?"
"Girls?" Speedy couldn't believe his ears, "no kidding? Of course I don't mind! Er… is it anyone I know?"
"I kind of doubt it. They are very eager to meet you though." That sounded unnecessarily ominous, and Speedy got a sudden, Very Bad Feeling. "In fact, they're waiting to meet you right now. Hey girls!" Raven shouted, "Over here!"
Suddenly, there was a mass of noise, as though from a middle school cafeteria at peek hours, and something in Speedy's lower intestines tightened in abject terror. The noise drew close to the other end of the alley, where it found its source in a mass of people. People with high, squeaky, high-speed voices. People wearing glitter and masses of fake jewelry. People generally not exceeding five feet in height. People almost universally lacking breasts despite their undeniable femininity.
They got closer, and there was a sudden, collective, simultaneous intake of breath. The breath released in one voice.
"OH! IT'S SPEEDY!" came the shriek. It was the unspeakable: under-aged fan-girls… a lot of under-aged fan-girls. Speedy's eyes bulged as he stared at their enormous numerical superiority.
"Was… was this really necessary?" He asked Starfire and Raven as tears began to well at the corners of his eyes, the mounting feeling of desperation choking them from his body.
"Get him girls!" Starfire and Raven shouted as one. The tide of female flesh that had barely begun to taste puberty's bittersweet breath advanced in one mass, and Speedy turned to run. The look on his face was priceless.
(Freeze frame on Speedy in mid-stride, frenzied fan-girls behind him. Your favorite song blasts back at the best part and the credits roll again.)
All done folks. We'll discuss the possibility of bonus chapters based on reader response. I left the ending open with this 'official' finale because I really DON'T CARE who gets Robin, and I wanted the ending I was comfortable with to be the one I didn't include in any potential alternate ending bonus material. It makes no difference to me, and choosing either side would leave me open to criticism from the other. So, I chose neither, with an ending that could eventually lead to either, both, or none. This way, everyone gets to criticize me, that being what I've been looking for from the start—critical commentary. If you want to see me write a one girl ending, well, that's negotiable, but really, does it matter? Yes, yes, my avowed purpose at the first chapter was to settle the question of who should get Robin—readers with a good eye should recognize this as a 'pilot hook.' It's always been my opinion that it doesn't matter who gets who, as long as the characters are written as being at least marginally believable and true to their plot-constructed feelings. My genuine goal with this story was to entertain you all and improve my own writing, both of which I've achieved, so there. I suffered through a swelled-head period and a subsequent 'no one's reading so why update' period, and both were probably good for me in the long run. That makes this a successful project.
Direct complaints, compliments, and especially CRITICAL COMMENTARY—right here baby. Note—I've already admitted to this being an overblown melodrama, so that doesn't count. I'm all ears for complaints about the open ending though—fire at will. Spelling and grammar… well… you try editing chapters this long with 100 accuracy!
Damnit. Now I have to go back and final-edit this leviathan story. Oh well.