Author's Note: Well, it's certainly been a while since we've all been here, huh? I had to go and re-read Rogue's Status just to get a feel for Wally's character. Well, for Wally's Rogue character. My brain is stuck in his Circus character right now, haha. I hope you guys like this! IT WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR, MOST LIKELY, ALL OF SEASON 3. You have been forewarned! Alright, read, review, and enjoy!
IMPORTANT: Just to let you know, this chapter is a prologue. I'm getting you up to date with any important changes between actual Young Justice and my fic and I'm letting you know where everyone is at the moment. Next chapter starts off the actual plot.
Disclaimer: I do not own Young Justice or any other DC comics.
Wally came to in a burst of shocked, stale air. For a split second, there was confusion, bright, staticky, lightning tinged. And then there was tar, a thick, all-encompassing, black sludge that clung to his skin (his bare skin – where was his suit?) even as it rocked higher and higher up his immobilized form. He had a moment (where was he? Why couldn't he move? What was this stuff? W-what… what was going on? Was he… was he gone? Was he…) of panicked struggling against the strange bonds that snaked over his bare chest before the tar forced itself over his face, his head. He shook, scared, confused, writhing against his bonds, needing air, please, please air he was going to die no no no no no –
Darkness, blacker than the tar that drowned him, took him away again.
Dick sighed and scrubbed tiredly at his forehead. Across from him, Bedlam burned.
A frantic voice called into his ear, "Nightwing, do you read?"
Dick felt something like a smile tug at his lips as he teased, "Worried about me?" He let the attempt at a smile grow a little more, finally settling into a small smirk. It was going to have to do. It was more than he would have managed two years ago.
Barbara's voice teased back, "Worried that you didn't get a sample of the tar before you blew the place."
"Way ahead of you," Dick answered, smirk sliding off his face as he moved back into mission more, "Sending data now." He glanced down at the sample stick he held. He knew that Barbara and Barry hated when he called it 'sample stick.' It was an incredible piece of technology that could access, test, and formulate results within minutes of being submersed in a chemical. Wally had been working on it, building a prototype for his forensic chemistry degree (Barry had always hated that the only reason Wally was getting a PhD in forensic chemistry was because Wally wanted to know how to avoid leaving evidence) before he… died. Barbara, Barry, and Ray Palmer had gotten together and finished the project out for him. Barbara even went so far as to sync the stick with the amazing contacts she'd made.
"Got it," Barbara answered. She was still speaking as the information about the chemical appeared in Dick's vision, "Running analysis." Dick squinted at the data like it was supposed to mean something to him. He resisted the urge to sigh again, knowing that she'd hear him and scold him for it. She kept talking, "Okay, this is crash. A solid lead to the source of the tar and hopefully Bedlam Central."
"Spill," Dick instructed, turning his gaze back towards the burning building. Finally. Finally, a lead.
Barbara answered, "The tar contains a clay only found in one place." She highlighted the country on contact screen, naming it as if he didn't already know, "Markovia."
"Then Markovia, here we come," Dick muttered, mostly to himself.
A new voice snorted into the comms unit, almost causing Dick to overbalance in surprise, "I bet you felt really cool saying that, huh?"
Dick stuttered, "Uh, Artemis, what? What are you doing on this line?"
"I called her," Barbara announced smugly.
Dick hissed at her, "Barbara!"
Artemis interrupted what would have probably become a fantastic fight, "Don't yell at her. She was right to call me. Is this what you've been up to this whole time? How long has it been since you've come to visit? Since you've stayed in one place long enough for one of us to visit you?"
"This is important," Dick defended.
Artemis sighed, disappointment filtering through like an actual, physical wave, "I know it's important, Dick. Don't you think it's important enough to involve others?"
"I was going to involve others!" Dick argued, "I just had to get a solid lead."
"Good," Artemis said cheerfully, "Then let's get the Team together and tell them about this new mission we have."
"No," Dick said instantly, "I'm not ready for all of them yet."
Artemis sighed again, "Please stop shutting us out, Dick. We want to help you with this. Even if most of us don't know this is going on. We… we don't want it be like last year."
Dick bristled, "This isn't like that."
"Well, that's what I'm trying to make sure! Dick, this isn't healthy! Rely on people! Let us help you! Don't go off and throw yourself into some mission! You have a real life to maintain! You know that, right?" Artemis shouted.
Dick grit his teeth, "Of course I know that, Artemis. And I'm doing that. I'm fine." He swallowed, taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, trying to regain control of his temper, "Look, Artemis. I really, really appreciate what you're doing, but… this isn't like last year. I promise. You guys… really helped me. I'm not obsessing over this. I can't say that I'm not doing this for – for Wally, but. Well, I'm doing this the right way. The way he would have wanted me to do it."
"Then tell me what's going on," Artemis demanded, "If you're not ready to bring everyone else in, I'll accept that. For now. But bring me in. Okay?"
Dick ducked his head to hide a smile that wasn't going to form, "Yeah, okay Artemis. You win."
"Of course I do," Artemis announced primly, Barbara laughing in the background.
Dick grumbled to himself, "Why am I cursed to being surrounded by beautiful, evil women?" The two just cackled in response.
Once they'd finished laughing at his expense, Artemis asked, "So, what exactly is it that I'm doing? I know it's important. I know it has something to do with tar or whatever that means. And I now know it means going to Markovia."
Dick sobered again, "I know you've heard of everything that's going on with the disappearing metas. With the metas that are being used, enslaved, experimented on. It's a movement across the world, across the universe now. Metas are the next hot spot item, the next weapon to develop in a global arms race that won't ever end. I'm not keen on letting that happen anymore. I've finally tracked down the group. I've been working my way inwards, trying to figure out the source. I'm… focusing on the experimental groups, the ones who are taking children with the metagene and making them metahumans. After Wally… after the research that Luthor did on him, to him… I won't let that happen to any more kids. No one deserves that."
"So, you're doing this to stop a bad thing, but you're mainly doing this for Wally," Artemis summarized, "That's… good. It's a good step towards healing. Does Luthor have anything to do with this?"
Wryly, Dick answered, "At this point, I assume that any large criminal group has something to do with Luthor and the rest of the Light."
Artemis snorted, "Fair enough." She hesitated, just long enough to tell Dick that he wasn't going to like what was coming next, "You should at least bring this to the original group. M'gann and Kaldur are struggling, trying to run the Team and the League with all the recent resignations. Batman took five Leaguers and three Team members with him. Jeff left on his own. I honestly believe that there's a chance that others will leave, too. I've heard rumors that some of the Leaguers who are out with Diana are thinking about resigning once they come home. That sort of long-term mission, seeing all those poor meta kids, the UN restrictions, all the other resignations. It's putting a lot of pressure on people. If you told at the very least M'gann and Kaldur about this, it would help take a lot of stress off of them. It would help them to know that someone's out there, looking at the root of the problem."
Dick sighed, thinking the situation over. Well… based on how he was thinking of doing things… and… then he could… and then… yeah. Okay, he could handle that. Dick grimaced, hoping Artemis would accept the compromise, "I'll tell M'gann. I was thinking that I'd take a team with me to Markovia. You, me, Babs in my ear, and then Conner. Maybe Jeff, too. It's a shame to see his potential being wasted. I know he wants to be a hero. He just needs to be reminded of that."
He could hear the frown in Artemis's voice when she argued, "Tell Kaldur, too. The original team, Dick. If you're telling M'gann and Conner, then that only leaves Kaldur. We learned our lesson about leaving people out of the loop when Kaldur and I went undercover in the Light. Don't make the same mistake."
Wincing, Dick thought back to the group that Barbara was coordinating. Him, M'gann, Kaldur, Bruce, Tim, and Diana would be meeting soon to update each other on their situations. He had planned to tell all of them about his next step at that meeting. But Artemis couldn't know that. Because they were all keeping secrets again. Hiding his unease, Dick argued back, "I'm going to tell Kaldur. Just not yet. I promise it won't help, Artie. It'll only stress him out more."
"Oh no," Artemis started, "You don't get to pull that card on me. I see what you're doing. You're trying to make me feel like you know him better so you can make these kinds of decisions. Maybe that worked a couple years ago, but we all know each other now. And I know that, stressed or not, Kaldur is going to want to know about this."
"And he will know," Dick repeated as patiently as he could, "Just not now. I promise I will tell him, Artemis. I swear it. Completely. Just let me get to a more stable spot, alright? Please."
There was a long pause where Dick just crossed his fingers and prayed Artemis would listen. His prayers were answered when Artemis blew out a frustrated breath and sighed, "Fine! But you keep me in the loop! Or if not me, then someone. Just please make sure that someone knows everything. If not, then I can't trust you to not retreat back into yourself."
Dick made a wordless noise of protest, "I didn't retreat into myself!"
Artemis's voice was flat and unimpressed, "You lurked at the back of the funeral, not speaking to anyone, leaving as soon as you could without being obvious. You quit the Team. You stopped communicating with anyone. You up and quit university, instead moving to Bludhaven and joining the police academy there! All without telling anyone! And then you swanned off at every chance you got, disappearing into the far reaches of the world, looking for someone who wasn't going to be there."
Dick felt his throat tighten at Artemis's no-nonsense tone and blunt words. Because he had done all of that. He'd spent the year after Wally's death cut off from everyone, searching for… for… nothing, really. An illusion. A false tale. A desperate clutch at something that was already gone. If others had asked during that time, Dick would have told them that he was searching for Wally because Wally couldn't be dead. When depression really set in and he finally accepted that Wally was dead, he would have told them that he was searching for a way to bring Wally back because Wally couldn't be dead.
But he never found a way. Wally was dead and there was no body. There was nothing that anyone could really do with that. And what would they have done, anyways? What if there had been a body? Would Dick have taken it to Ra's al Ghul? Would he have pledged his and Wally's soul to the Demon just to bring back a fractured piece of Wally that wouldn't be peaceful at all? It had been a pointless venture. Dick had wasted a year in his frenzied search.
He hadn't mourned properly. He hadn't grieved properly. He never went to see the Rogues or the Flash family and he never even visited the grave site or the memorial placed in the Watch Tower. Dick hadn't been there for the ceremony erecting that hologram, but he'd heard it was beautiful. Supervillain or not, Wally had managed to touch a lot of heroes, change a lot of lives. It was what allowed the hologram to be placed among the other fallen heroes without anyone protesting.
Dick tore his thoughts away, trying to get back control of himself before he started crying, right there in front of a still burning building, "I'm not talking about this right now. I don't want to get into an argument that neither of us are going to win. I'll make sure someone is always in the loop, okay? Are we good? Can I sign off and go somewhere where there isn't a burning building blowing smoke at me?"
Artemis sighed, but acquiesced, "Don't get snippy with me. I'm just trying to help. I'll sign-off, too. Text me when you need me ready for the Markovia mission, alright?"
"Alright, Artemis," Dick answered, a smile trying to tug at his lips again. Artemis sighed again but signed off.
As Dick was climbing down the building and back towards his bike, Barbara spoke quietly into his ear, "Was that wrong of me? To get Artemis?"
"No," Dick sighed, "I know why you guys are worried. I… I know I was in a bad place last year and that you guys all just want to make sure I don't end up there again. Just – please warn me next time you bring someone else in, okay?"
"Okay," Barbara promised, a smile in her voice, "We're going to get these guys."
"Yeah," Dick smiled, "We are."
When Wally woke the next time, there was no black tar clinging to his skin. He was clean, bare except for a pair of boxers to keep him modest. He felt… centered. Balanced in a way he hadn't felt for – a long time. The lightning under his skin was numb, dozing in his veins, gently warming him.
The serenity he fell into didn't feel real. What was that tar? When did he get out of… there? When did he escape? Did he really escape? Or did he just give up, give in? Was this what it felt like to give in to the lightning? Wally's head sunk down so his chin was resting against his chest. The peaceful feeling was fading as tiredness, panic, and confusion rose up. There were so many unanswered questions. He needed to know what was happening. He – he needed someone. He needed Dick. Or Len. Someone. But he was alone and scared and confusion.
A woman appeared through the glass in front of him (was he inside of something? Did he have to worry about air consumption?), peering at him. She startled when she met his tired green eyes, but she didn't say anything. Wally wanted to open his mouth, demand answers, cry for help, beg to be released from this strange place with its strange memories, but he was just too tired to speak.
He drifted back under.
Dick blew out a breath and threw himself into a chair. M'gann floated gracefully down next to him, a steaming mug of hot chocolate gripped in her hands. She gave him a reproachful look over the rim of it, "When did I become a mother?"
Dick grinned, "Probably about the same time you ended up living at the Cave with Conner. You can't tell me that living with him didn't include a lot of mothering."
M'gann peered at him, red-brown eyes almost glowing, "You seem happier, more settled."
Startled, Dick glanced over at her, quirking an eyebrow, "Really? I don't feel all that different. I'm just the same old me."
She shook her head, "No, I don't think so. Or, well, maybe you are now. But you haven't been for a while. Ever since… ever since Wally died, you haven't been yourself. I think that you are just now coming back into yourself. Maybe its because you have a mission. Maybe it's because you're finally allowing people back into your life. But it's good. I've missed you."
Dick could feel his cheeks heat up, "Yeah, well, I missed you guys too."
M'gann squealed, "Aw! You're too cute!"
Conner came up next to her, settling his bulk onto the arm of the chair the two of them were sharing. He smirked, "You really are."
Dick mock glared at the two of them, "This is why I don't visit! Everyone just makes fun of me!"
M'gann giggled. Conner laughed, throwing his head back, "Speaking of mocking you!" Dick groaned and Conner just grinned at him, unrepentant, "You can't tell me that you haven't adopted all of those kids as your own either."
"Great," Artemis said, walking over, her hair falling in loose waves around her shoulders, "They're going to have some weird congregation of heroes fawning over them all the time. Just what they need. Weirdest parenting technique ever. Ugh, I'm too young for all this co-parenting stuff. With Will running his own company and Jade still being an anti-hero, I'm practically raising their kid. I live with them, you know? Do you know how weird it is to live with your sister, brother-in-law, and niece? If only I wasn't so conscientious about money. Maybe I would have been able to say no when they offered their place for me to stay during college. But now I've got Violet living there, too! And I'll be here with Violet, Brion, and Forager half the time. I'm too young for this."
"Maybe if you settled down with someone…" M'gann said pointedly.
Dick coughed into his palm, "Cough, Zatanna, cough."
Artemis glared at him, "Real cute, Dick." She turned back to M'gann, "It's not like I'm some antisocial spinster or something. I go out on dates. I've had boyfriends. I had a girlfriend. Still doesn't mean I'm ready to parent teenagers. At least the League was older once they started collectively parenting us. You can't tell me that you'd be ready for kids."
M'gann shrugged one shoulder delicately as she and Conner made intense eye contact, "I mean, we'd talked about it, but… it wouldn't have been until after we were married. We were going to go in and get some tests, actually, to see if we'd even be, ahem, compatible with each other. A surprising amount of alien species are, but we wanted to be certain that Martian and half-Kryptonian were. We probably would have tried for kids as soon as we were married."
"You two are so sweet it's sickening. C'mon, Dick. You're with me, right? Too young for kids?" Artemis pressured.
Dick felt grief rising up, threatening to swallow him, but he forced himself to give her a small smile and a shrug, "I'm with those two, actually. Wally and I had actually talked about kids – before. There are some interesting programs that were just kicking off about three years ago that were designed so people could adopt metahumans. I think one of the big organizations is actually making plans to team up with the Metahuman Youth Center that's being finished up in Taos. But we had actually contacted them and started setting up a profile for – for when we were ready." He thought of the ring he'd found in one of Wally's hidden stashes once he'd finally gotten around to going through his stuff (going through it, but not getting rid of it. He just put some away so it wasn't constantly reminding him). He'd gone to Len about it and the older man had said that he'd helped Wally pick it out – legally, with payment and everything. Wally had been planning to propose once Artemis and Kaldur were back from their mission. His plans had been waylaid by the mess that came with the Reach, but he'd planned to propose as soon as they were gone. But Wally died before he could propose. It didn't stop Dick from wearing the ring on a chain around his neck, though.
Thankfully, Artemis let the little bit of grief that showed through go, instead commenting, "Really? You were supposed to be on my side. Then again, I've seen you with Tim. You'd make a good dad."
"Well," M'gann said with a smile, "You're certainly going to get some practice with these ones. I think it's better to start when they're teenagers. They might be more stubborn, but they're less messy and you have to worry less about literally everything being a safety hazard."
Conner snorted, "You do remember that we're keeping the boys, right? I know I was a bit of an outlier, but most boys are quite messy."
Artemis groaned, "Tell me about it! Will was a mess, completely disgusting until Jade put her foot down and kicked him out for a week. And don't even get me started about the time that Jim and Roy came to live with us for a week or two. Actual nightmare."
Dick sent them a pathetically grateful glance, happier than he'd been for a while. They certainly knew how to drag him out of his depressive moods. They could get him to work with his grief instead of for it.
Barbara's voice in his ear almost made Dick send his drink flying. Thankfully, he had years of Bat training and being used to a boyfriend with superspeed to use to hide his reaction. She spoke quietly and excitedly, "I found out who Halo is! Her real name is Gabrielle Daou and she is a Quraci refugee who was working as a servant in the Markovian royal palace when she went missing. She has only recently been reported missing."
"Dick?" M'gann asked, concern highlighting her features.
Blinking, Dick said, "Just got some info. I've got Halo's real name now."
"Really?" Artemis asked, smile stretching onto her face as she stood up, "Let's go tell her the good news!"
Except, when they went outside to tell them, there was no one there. Brion, Forager, Violet. All gone. Along with Sphere.
With a sinking feeling, Dick figured he'd just discovered the worst aspect of being parent to a teenager: the rebellious phase.
Wally wished they'd just let him keep sleeping. He was tired enough all the time that he wouldn't even mind if they kept experimenting on him while he was sleeping – just as long as he was sleeping.
But they didn't let him sleep. They kept him awake and kept him awake and kept him awake. Life became a blur of scientists rotating over him, muttering to themselves and finding new spots to poke and prod.
It reminded him of growing up. It reminded him of his family rescuing him. Why weren't they finding him? He was pretty sure that he'd been stationary in this lab for a while (it was hard to tell with the way time blurred in and out around him). Weren't they looking for him? Was he really that hard to find? He just wanted to go home. Please, Len, Mick. Please Sam, Digger, Mark. Hartley, James, Cameron. Please, please Barry, Dick, Roy, Kaldur. Someone. Anyone. He didn't care if it was a hero or a villain, but please.
Sometimes, they'd let Wally sit alone in a cell and drift, always too cold and in pain to fully fall asleep, and he'd mutter to himself, "You promised me that you'd never let me be experimented on again. You promised, babe. You promised." When the scientists came back, all he could do was shake and mutter that sentence over and over again.
Dick pinched his nose, trying not to let his anger get the better of him. He wasn't going to react like Bruce did when he formed the Team. He wasn't. Still, it was hard.
At the very least, Brion, Forager, and Violet's determination to stick together long enough to get Tara was nice. It was really sweet, actually. And, well, the three of them, standing there, giving him fierce expressions… it reminded him of himself, Kaldur, and Conner. The three of them had stood up to a group of grown heroes who had surrounded them, determined to bully them into giving up the good thing they had going.
When did everything become so complicated?
Probably about the same time he formed the Team, honestly. Dick's lips twitched slightly upward in bitter amusement. He wrenched them right back down when Brion gave him a slightly relieved look. It was far too early to be feeling relief.
And then there was all that mess with the League. Ra's al Ghul was no longer a part of the Light or leader of the League? What? That was insane. The last Dick had heard, Ra's had still been trying to entice Jade back to the League. He hadn't given up, even after her having been a hero for seven years. Then again, he never stopped trying to get Wally to join, either, which had been uncomfortable for everyone involved. Apparently, Wally had made something of an impression on Ra's during his time at the Light.
Over time, Ra's and Wally had come to some sort of agreement and had come to see each other as almost… family? Wally had mentioned seeing Ra's as a grandfather but had immediately followed it up by admitting that he was consistently sure that Ra's was just always looking for the best way to kill him. Either way, Ra's had come to Wally's funeral which had been extra uncomfortable.
The entire funeral had been a strange agglomeration of heroes and villains who all had to pretend that they weren't heroes or villains. No one wanted to give an identity away or get arrested.
Dick shook his head, irritated. What was wrong with him? He'd been doing fine! Why was it that his thoughts were always centering around Wally now? Maybe it was his close interactions with all of his friends. Maybe it was Brion's reddish-brown hair. Maybe it was the way that Forager's voice sounded like the one Wally used when he was mocking things. Maybe it was the way Violet got the same determined, intense expression on her face as Wally did when they were talking about serious things. Maybe it was none of those things and Dick had finally cracked.
Glancing out the window of the bioship as it descended towards Conner's house, Dick thought, If only you were here, Wally. You'd try to corrupt them; I know you would. You'd think it was hilarious, too. You would have been so good with them when you weren't corrupting them, though. All of them are just confused enough about regular American life with powers added on that they remind me of Conner in his earlier days. You were so good at explaining things to him. Did you know him and Brion have bonded over hockey? I think he's trying to teach Violet. Probably Forager, too, now that he's here. It reminds me of when we, ah, kidnapped you. Dick let his eyes close, making sure his face was turned away from the others. The kids didn't need to see him break down like this. He took in a shuddering breath, I miss you so much Wally. I love you.
Wally blinked his eyes open, staring wordlessly at the girl in front of him. Words had been trained out of him as soon as the scientists finished with him and whoever was in charge decided Wally was better used as an income source. He didn't know who he was being sold to. He didn't much care. He knew that things could get worse than they were, knew that things could get better.
He also knew that he didn't have much of a choice.
The girl grimaced at him and Wally realized that she'd opened his cell in his distraction. She sighed, "Are you coming?"
Wally rose, stumbling only a little bit over the threshold of the cell. He wondered if the girl in front of him was another slave. Bringing a new slave to an owner didn't seem like a job to give another slave, though. Especially not this little girl. She had a fierce look about her; she wasn't afraid to glare guards out of her way. She didn't have the chip on the back of the neck that signified the mindless slaves. Wally didn't hope for much anymore, but he hoped that no one ever put one of those on him.
After a few minutes of that silence, the girl sighed again, low and aggressive, "What's your name?"
Wally eyed her warily, not sure if this was a test. He answered slowly, "Wally."
She glanced back at him, brown eyes flashing with strong irritation, "Are you incapable of holding proper conversations?" When she spoke longer sentences, he could detect an accent. Markovian?
Wally glared back at her. Screw her if she was going to be like that. Maybe she was another slave, trying to act superior around the new kid. He bared his teeth, "Screw you."
Finally, she smirked, flicking short blond hair out of her eyes, "That is better. My name is Tara. I have been asking for someone to partner with regularly. You are my birthday gift."
Feeling somehow emboldened by the idea that this little girl was his master (that was not, to say, that he expected any better treatment – he knew that little girls in this kind of business were often a whole lot scarier than anyone else), Wally threw back, "Fantastic."
"What? Worried you won't measure up?" Tara asked haughtily. Wally was the official negotiator for the Rogues, though. He knew how to read people, how to see what they were hiding. This little girl desperately wanted someone closer to her age to be around. She wanted to not be so lonely anymore. She wanted him to be loyal to her. More than anything, she wanted someone to feel safe around.
So, Wally answered easily, "Yeah, honestly. I know better than to judge someone by their age. Or by how tiny they are." She'd barely swung around to start screeching at him before he talked right over her, "You said I was your birthday present, right? How old did you turn?"
She gave him an annoyed glare (a relieved glance) and kept walking forward. Eventually, she answered.
Wally glanced around as he finally left that place. He didn't know where or what it was. He had no clue what country he was in – a French speaking one, but all the scientists were from different ethnicities. He could be in any number of countries.
But he was out of there, now. He had a chance. Maybe no one was looking for him. Maybe they had a reason. It didn't matter. Wally could always take care of himself. He'd get himself back home to his family. He would.
Author's Note: And there's the prologue. I'm going to ask for at least one review for another chapter :) Thanks for reading!