Part eight of a fan fiction by Velkyn Karma
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, Young Justice or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs to DC, Warner Brothers, and associated parties.
It took several hours to reach the Cave, and several more to complete their debrief. News of the utterly destroyed facility had travelled fast in the meantime—even if the League couldn't approach it, they could still post surveillance from far away. So Robin was entirely unsurprised to find not just Batman and Red Tornado waiting for them, but also Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Flash, and (curiously) Captain Marvel.
The League members seemed unusually concerned for their charges. Robin could tell all of them were wearing the kid gloves again, concerned for their partners' physical and mental well being on a disaster mission after a disaster exercise. So it was with a great deal of satisfaction that Robin, as spokesperson for his team, reported the absolute success of their mission—in which they not only discovered the purpose of the weapon they were sent to investigate, but also utterly destroyed it, thereby saving almost the entire League from a nasty future surprise.
The League members listened with varying degrees of response. Captain Marvel and the Flash seemed particularly impressed with how the team—especially Kid Flash and Superboy—handled while completely de-powered, and Black Canary had nodded her approval at their combat under duress. Green Arrow had smirked when listening to the tale of Artemis' one-woman assault on half the soldiers in the base. By contrast, Batman was silent and stony-faced throughout the entire debriefing, and so still he might have been a statue.
When they were finally finished, Batman moved for the first time, his eyes narrowing. "My orders," he said slowly, in a low, commanding growl, "Were explicitly that this was a covert mission only. In the event of any trouble, you were to immediately retreat. All four of you acknowledged these orders. Am I correct?"
Robin barely suppressed a wince. Batman was ticked. "Yes," he agreed, deciding for the moment that it was better not to push it.
"And despite my explicit orders you decided to not only remain, but break covert status, announce your presence, and put yourself in extreme danger for the sake of a failed mission. Is this correct?"
This time he glanced at all of them. All four muttered in meek acknowledgement. Most of them were looking at the floor. Robin was still managing to look at Batman, but only due to four years of practice.
"At least all four of you are clear on that," Batman growled. "Each of you will, as before, be given a written evaluation detailing all of your mistakes. In addition, all of you will begin additional training with both myself and Black Canary for combat and stealth—without relying on the use of powers."
Kid Flash gaped. "Without—?"
"He's right, Kid," Flash cut him off. "Can't get caught flat footed like that again."
Batman gave the Flash a dark look before turning back to the Team. "You have one day for recovery. Training begins the following day. Do not be late." This time Kid Flash was the one to receive the withering look. Wally looked like he wanted to sink into the ground.
"You two are not exempt either," he added, glancing at Robin and Artemis. "You will be training in more advanced forms of combat and stealth to ensure your fellow team members are covered, and you will be expected to assist those two in their lessons as well."
"Finally," Batman said, looking around at them all once again, "...good work."
All four of them looked up in surprise. "Huh?" Wally said intelligently.
Batman folded his arms behind his back. "As you assessed, this...anti-League weapon did indeed pose an extreme threat to the League," he said. "Had this weapon successfully been passed off to this highly influential buyer, it would certainly have been used skillfully and dangerously. Even the League would have had difficulty countering it. For the four of you to handle the situation as well as you did under highly stressful and unexpected circumstances indicates skill, courage, and teamwork. You will train to improve and avoid mistakes made in this venture—but given the circumstances, the situation was handled well. Good job."
There was a stunned silence from the Team as they processed those words. Batman didn't hand out praise like that easily—they'd earned it, and they all knew it. Not only that, but Batman's words appeared to have sparked something in their mentors too. The rest of the Leaguers were looking at their partners and charges with a newfound sort of respect, as though re-evaluating their abilities again. Kid gloves, off. They'd proven they could handle themselves again, mind-messing exercise or no.
"Heh," Superboy said after a moment, first to break the silence. "I can live with that."
"Hell yeah!" Wally zipped to his mentor's side. "Praise from Bats doesn't come easy! I'd say that earns me some celebratory pizzas, don't you?"
The Flash groaned, but it was good natured. "You'll eat me out of house and home over a bit of praise, Kid. Oh, fine."
Artemis snorted. "I'm heading home for bed," she said decisively. "I could sleep for a week."
"Come over tomorrow afternoon, and we'll get your ammo squared away again," Green Arrow said, following after her to the zeta tubes. The others, as if taking this as a signal, began to trickle away towards the tubes or to head deeper into the Cave, bringing the meeting to its end.
Batman said nothing as he lead the way towards the zeta tubes as well, or when he keyed in their coordinates to head back to Gotham. Robin was content for once not to break the silence; he had a lot on his mind.
In fact, it wasn't until they were back at the manor, with their uniforms safely put away in the Batcave and dressed once again as civilians, that Batman—Bruce—finally spoke. "Dick," he said, almost hesitantly, "You've been awful quiet. Are you feeling okay?"
Bruce frowned a little. "Are you sure? There's nothing else you wanted to report...about the mission, maybe?"
Dick frowned. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what Bruce was driving at, and he didn't exactly want to chat about it at the moment. "I reported everything of importance in the debrief already," he said instead, evading. "I can go into more detail about the hacks and codes later if you want—"
"That's not what I'm talking about, Dick." Bruce eyed him carefully. "Are you...okay, after that assignment? You seemed...reluctant...to lead at first. I didn't want to push it on you, but the matter was urgent. While the other three are skilled none of them possess reliable leadership skills yet. I wouldn't have forced it on you if I'd had the time, but..."
"But you had to. The mission was at stake."
For a moment, Dick felt nothing but bitterness. There it was—that anything-for-the-sake-of-his-mission side of Bruce, that part of Batman that could never quite be contained. That part that he used to admire and now wanted nothing to do with.
But...as frustrating as it was to see it in action—and related to himself, no less—he realized with a little surprise that he wasn't really angry. He hadn't wanted to take lead on that mission, that much was true. He'd been terrified of taking charge, of getting his friends killed with a few bad calls, with more dedication to the mission than the people. But Batman had forced him into the role, and Robin found that he'd needed that. It had scared him to take control, but once he'd been given no choice—once his friends had been relying on him—he'd learned that leadership was more than just directing pawns or taking all of the burdens onto his own shoulders. A leader was supposed to lead, but they did it by knowing their followers and trusting them to handle themselves absolutely. It was a valuable lesson, and one he'd sorely needed.
And he'd learned something about himself, too. The exercise had paralyzed him into indecision, made him think things about himself he couldn't prove or disprove. He'd unhesitatingly sent his friends to their deaths, knowing he made the right choices the entire time, but when he'd had time to think about it after he'd been terrified to think that kind of blackness could be inside of him. He'd been so scared of it he'd refused to move forward, just so he would never have to make another choice again and prove if that thing was really in him. What he hadn't realized was that deliberately not choosing was also a choice—and one that wasn't helping him, and wasn't him.
But he'd learned now. He was more than that thing. He could rise above it, and he proved it—to himself, to his friends, and even to Bruce. There might still be difficult decisions to make in the future, but he would face it as he really was, and succeed. Not as a would-be imitator of the Batman. As Robin.
"I'm fine," Dick said softly. He looked up, and realized Bruce was still watching him carefully. He smiled—it was a real smile, if softer than usual—and said, "Really, Bruce. I promise. I...realized a few things, on that mission. I think...I think I'm better now than I have been in over a week."
Bruce was too good to let any sort of emotional flicker cross his face at that, but Dick knew he knew what it meant. Since the exercise. He also knew Bruce knew he meant it.
"Alright," Bruce said after a moment. He didn't pry further for details—and Dick knew he wanted them badly, so that was saying something. But he did say carefully, as though unaccustomed to offering emotional support, "I'm glad you're feeling better, Dick. But still...if you ever need to...or just want to...you can talk to me about anything. You know that, right? This mission...the train-for-failure exercise..."
Dick was surprised to find he didn't actually flinch at that, or immediately try to avoid the subject. It really didn't bother him as much as it had before. And he didn't think for a second that Bruce had missed that, either.
"I know," he said. "Trust me, I know." He still wasn't ready to talk to Bruce about most of the things that had happened in the exercise—and by extension, some of the revelations he'd made in this past mission. Those things still hit too close to home regarding Bruce, and he wasn't quite ready to admit to the man who had taken him in just how terrified a part of him was—had been—of becoming him.
But he might get there, one day. And it was still good to know the offer was open.
"And speaking of missions," he said after a moment. Bruce raised an eyebrow, but waited patiently, and after a moment of hesitation Robin said, "Well...look, Aqualad's still the best leader for the team right now. He's good at working with everybody and thinking under fire, so to speak. Maybe not so much with the actual literal fire, but you know what I mean. But...well, if you're in a tight spot again and you need somebody to lead the team..." Dick shrugged. "I don't think it'll bother me so much in the future."
Bruce blinked once—as good as a start of surprise, for him—and said after a moment, "I see. Are you sure?"
Dick grinned. "I'm absolutely positive that Robin can handle it just fine."
Thousands of miles away, a man stepped into a pitch black room, closed the door, and waited patiently in its center. He did not wait long—within a minute seven different screens extended down from the ceiling, surrounding him, and flicked on. A distorted white silhouette appeared on each screen. Although the room was quite dark, the brightness of the screens lit up the man, lightly armored and wearing a dull grey mask, sufficiently enough that he could be observed by each watcher.
The man did not wait for an invitation; he understood his masters too well by now. "As arranged, I travelled to the base in Russia to investigate this weapon and represent the Light in its purchase.
"From those I interviewed, it sounded as though the weapon hadbeen highly effective and worked as advertised. The League sent a few of their brats to investigate, it seems, and at least two of them had their abilities blocked. From the description, it sounds like Kid Flash and the Superboy. The Superboy was of particular note to the mercenaries I spoke to—a number of eyewitnesses claim they managed to shoot him. Furthermore, the inventor of this weapon claims that if the kids had been in his weapon's confines for longer than a couple hours, their powers would have started to deteriorate, permanently."
One of the distorted figures on screen shifted slightly and spoke. His voice had been distorted digitally as well, just slightly, but even so the man could hear irritation in his tone. "I see. Highly effective indeed. And did you manage to claim this weapon and recover the Superboy?"
He hesitated a moment. "No," he said finally, knowing better than to stretch the truth. "The brats had already been gone for hours by the time I arrived. The man who extended an offer on the weapon to us was particularly...upset. The entire facility was in chaos from their departure. Several areas had been blown up. Most of their regular armaments were destroyed. The anti-League weapon we were offered a chance to buy was completely wiped out."
"Define this...'wiped out'," one of the screens demanded. It sounded vaguely French. "Was it merely the physical structure that was destroyed?"
"The central tower was decimated physically," the man clarified. "I'm told this was the most vital portion of this weapon, where most of the components for screening powers and producing the energy to block them were located. Most of the outer towers that acted as receivers to push the signal out farther are still intact, but I'm told they're useless without the central piece. Digitally...unclear as of yet, but early investigations make it sound like this weapon was destroyed internally as well."
The man grimaced as he finished. "There was nothing left to negotiate or purchase."
There was silence for a moment as the seven bright figures seemed to consider this. Then another voice, different from the first two, said firmly, "Good."
The man blinked. "Good? That it was destroyed?"
"This is not what we seek," the voice said. "Had you made contact with this so-called weapon still intact, we would have had it destroyed anyway. For once the League's children have done us a favor."
The man was still puzzled by this. He knew his masters owed him no explanation, and he was pushing his luck a little by voicing his opinion, but he asked anyway. "But why? I thought you wanted the power to go up against the League?"
"The power to overcome them, yes," Another of the voices said. "This is not that power. It does not discriminate. It stops all. It is a double-edged sword more liable to cut its owner than its opponent. We do not need such so-called weapons."
"Besides," the first added, "While the League must be overcome, those abilities are too valuable to suppress. They must serve the Light."
There was an edge to the tone that said, while they were content enough to answer their underling's questions, questions were now over and asking further might prove dangerous. The man knew when to quit, and nodded.
"Alright. But...what should I do with the scientist, then? He's currently upset, but everyone that worked there claims he's brilliant. Even with his notes and schematics destroyed, it's possible he could recreate this technology...and that's assuming the League doesn't get to him first. They're probably already looking."
There was a pause, as though the seven were mulling it over. Then one of the voices spoke. "Dispose of him. The man has already chosen to barter rather than serve the Light. We have no use for such liabilities, either."
The man nodded. "I'll take care of it myself."
"Excellent. If that is all, you are dismissed."
The man said nothing, and one by one the screens snapped off and quietly recoiled back into the ceiling. He stood alone in the darkness for several minutes, considering his plan of action. Then, without a word, he turned and exited the pitch-black room, closing the door quietly behind him.
He had a scientist to meet tonight, and it was an appointment he just couldn't miss.
And that would be the end! Thanks for reading :)
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