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Leaving the Nest
A/N: This is a work of Fan Fiction. Quite obviously, I do not own any of the characters or situations related to the DC Animated Universe Young Justice Series. I only wish I did.
Dick Grayson's Safe House
The two women continued to stare at him in horrified disbelief, even after he finished his explanation.
"I needed the leverage," Dick said plaintively. "I needed to get Luthor off his game, and it wasn't going to happen by playing nice."
"The League is going to be pissed," Rocket predicted.
"Probably," Dick admitted. "And I'll worry about that as soon as everyone is safe."
"Dick," Barbara said softly. "If either of us were taken, Batman would tear Gotham apart looking for us, but he wouldn't have done anything like this."
"Perhaps it needs to be pointed out," Dick sighed. "I am not Batman. But since our partnership dissolved, he and I share one very important quality. He answers to no one. With the Team gone, and the League telling me to stay out of it, neither do I. In six hours we'll find out if my methods worked or not. If they work, the League will do what they do, the rest of the Team will be safe, and I'll take my lumps. If my little plot fails, the League will still do what they do and I'll still take my lumps, but at least we'll have Raquel back."
"I'm taking a shower, and getting dressed," Rocket said, standing up suddenly. "I always think better in the shower, and you've given me a lot to think about."
"Towels, soap and shampoo are in the cupboards in the bathroom," Dick said. "After almost two days your uniform probably smells like feet. You can probably find a change of clothing in the closet."
Rocket slid the closet door open before stepping back in surprise. "Why do you have so many women's outfits?" She reached in and extracted several hangers, examined them and looked up, her surprise growing, "and in so many different sizes?"
"This is a safe house, it needs to be stocked in case I need to go to ground, like now. I have no doubt in my mind that Luthor is tearing Gotham apart looking for me, but he won't find me if I'm not there," Dick stood up and stretched. "There are women's clothes because I had no idea who would be with me when I needed to disappear. I've got things to fit pretty much anyone on the Team, and a few people who aren't on the Team."
"I know I should be used to how much you plan ahead by now," Raquel said as she selected a set of clothing from the closet, "but I'm not."
"Okay," Barbara sighed after the door closed. "I'm in, even if I do think you've crossed a line with Lena Luthor. We'll argue about that when this is over. What's the plan?"
"Well," Dick said sitting back down at his computer, "First thing we need to do if find out if Rocket's Inertia belt is still working. If it is, we're way ahead of the game, if not, well, we'll worry about that when we come to it. Once we have that figured out, I'm going to crash, I've been up for most of three days now. Facing off against Luthor, I'm going to need to be sharp."
Barbara nodded. "9 am isn't the best time for us."
"I disagree," Dick laughed. "It's the perfect time for us. Don't forget, Luthor hasn't slept for a day or so either, and he's not used to it. That being said, Luthor will have done his homework and will know that Robin never works during the day. He's going to shit himself when he finds out that he's not facing Robin, and never has been."
"Batgirl doesn't come out during the day either," Barbara noted.
"That's why Batgirl isn't going to be there," Dick explained. "A new unknown hero Incognito Girl will be. An innocent jogger in the park, blending in, yet in position to do what needs to be done."
"I do not believe you," Barbara said with a shake of her head. "How can you possibly think this is going to work?
"Simple really," Dick admitted. "I cheat. I've cheated a whole lot, and when Luthor tries whatever plan he has cooked up he'll find out that the deck he's trying to deal from the bottom of has been stacked."
Twenty minutes later, the door to the bathroom opened a fully clothed Raquel, still toweling her hair.
"Batboy, do I want to know just how it is you had several bras and panties not just in my size but also in my preferred brands, styles and colors in a sealed envelope with my name on it in your storage cupboard?" she asked.
"Probably not," Dick admitted. "Why don't we go with 'lucky guess'?"
"You and I are going to talk when all this is over," Raquel predicted. "You won't know where, you won't know when, but it's going to happen, and we'll discuss your 'luck guesses'. So, what now?"
"Now, you test your Inertia belt," Barbara suggested. "Having Rocket on hand to kick butt is a big part of Plan A."
"What's Plan B?" Raquel asked as she retrieved the belt from the coffin-like transport it (and she) had been housed in, and closed it around her waist.
"Wishing real hard we still had Plan A," Dick sighed. "We'll have to call in the League."
The room filled with a low hum and a smile filled Raquel' face. "Rocket's back baby!"
"Thank god," Dick breathed, before turning back to his computer. "I'm going to crash, wake me at 6:30 if I don't wake up first. We're going to want to be at the Park by 7:30."
"Two hours early?" Raquel asked.
"Got to set up our blinds, get into position," Dick explained as he rose, the inexplicably complex screens of his computer now showing itself to be nothing more than a normal Apricot Moorpark. "Watch TV, listen to music, troll the web, won't bother me."
The two girls watched as the black clad man entered the closet, sliding the door closed behind him.
"He's going to sleep in the closet?" Raquel asked incredulously.
"Studio apartment, one bed, damned little else in the way of furniture," Barbara shrugged. "I've slept in weirder places.
"Every time I think I've got a handle on this Hero thing," Raquel sighed, "I end up talking to one of you bat people and find out I've barely scratched the surface." The young woman seemed to think for a moment before continuing. "So, the underwear thing, you don't suppose he…"
"He likely broke into your locker at Mount Justice," Barbara said casually as she began a quick scan of the computer. "And if there's a bag in there for me, he's been through my underwear drawer at home, and I shall kill him."
"There is, and we will kill him," Raquel corrected her with a smile.
"In the meantime, let's talk about your power," Barbara suggested.
"Okay," Raquel agreed cautiously.
"Dick was telling me that you form force fields with your Inertia Belt."
"That's true as far as it goes," Raquel admitted. "I can put up a kinetic field that will get stronger the more whatever it contains fights against it."
"Dick described how you captured Wonder Woman in that kind of kinetic bubble. Does it have to be visible?"
"Well, no," Raquel admitted. "I usually try to keep my fields as visible as possible so I can intimidate the competition, but their natural state is one of invisibility."
"Excellent," Barbara smiled. "Let's go see if this place has a laundry. I'm going to be in Civies because Batgirl never operates outside of Gotham, but you will be front and center, so we don't want you ruining your stealth mode with two days' worth of uniform stench."
Dick stood in the early morning shadows in the grove near the gigantic statute that dedicated the park to Metropolis' most famous hero.
"Company headed your way boss," Barbara's voice whispered in his left ear. "I'm ready and in position."
"Okay," Raquel said on the same channel, "this is weird."
"Without M'gann to do her telepathy thing, we have to depend on our headsets," he said simply. "There is no way Luthor is going to break the encryption I've got running on these beasts in real time."
"I know, it's just weird is all," Raquel said. "I'm in position too, my field is up and holding, so, I guess I'm as ready as I'm likely to get. Metropolis Power and Light is the marking on the trucks."
"That makes sense," Dick nodded even though neither girl could possibly see him. "If Luthor wants to make sure there aren't any witnesses, what better way than phony utility work?"
The trio watched in silence as the utility workers cordoned off the area around the statue while another team pulled a manhole cover and covertly dropped a package into the access. Immediately a foul stench started billowing from the access.
"Well that will keep the tourists away," Barbara sniffed. "Surprise, surprise, a stretch limo is on its way."
"What an amazing coincidence," Dick said drily. "I guess its show time."
The limousine stopped, Dick watched as Mercy Graves exited the vehicle, her eyes sweeping the area as she moved to the rear passenger door and opened it for her boss.
"Thank you Mercy," Luthor said as he exited the car, his distaste for his people's distraction evident on his face.
The billionaire walked to the front of the statue of his arch enemy, if anything the distaste in his expression growing at the sight of the hero. Luthor turned his back on the statue and called out. "We're not getting any younger, Boy, let's get this over with."
Dick grinned and triggered his smoke bomb. He moved to his planned spot between the statue's legs, and stood with his arms crossed waiting for the smoke to clear.
"Hi ya Lex,"he said. "You're late."
Luthor has spun to face the smoke, Mercy and the rest of the 'utility workers' had produced weapons and were pointing them at him.
"Who are you?" the billionaire demanded. "Where is Robin?"
"Oh, Lex," Dick laughed. "You actually thought that a 14 year old was yanking your chain for the last two days? You really don't deserve your reputation, do you? I happened upon your idiots trying and failing to take down a little kid and took him under my wing. I wiped his nose, and sent him home to hide. It's been all me Lex, from little visit to your daughter's room to the phone calls. Retrieving the sidekicks is my audition for Justice League membership."
"Who are you?" Mercy asked.
The masked hero smiled widely. "I'm called Nightwing. Now then, Luthor, where are the sidekicks?"
"Where is my daughter?" Luthor pleaded.
"No, no, no," Nightwing laughed. "You're the villain in all of this, you’re the one not to be trusted. The sidekicks, now, or forget about ever seeing poor little Lena again."
"Bring them out!" Mercy ordered.
The doors on the utility vans slid open.
From her hidden position high above the Superman Statue, Rocket watched as her teammates were lead, one by one from the trucks. The first out was Superboy dressed in his normal black tee and jeans and bound in green chains. Conner was in obvious pain, though he refused to show it. It was clear from the marks on his face that he had been fighting the entire time he had been held.
Zatanna was the next to emerge. Unlike Superboy, she was not in her usual costume, rather she was dressed in dark slacks and a colorful blouse. She recalled from the briefing that Zatanna had been taken between shows in Las Vegas, apparently when she had been out for a meal. She was handcuffed behind her back, and some sort of electronic device was covering her mouth to prevent her from using her powers. Rocket devoted part of her attention to keeping track of where Zatanna was in the lineup. She was supposed to be the secondary target once the excitement started.
Kid Flash was wheeled out of a second van on a hand truck. His body from the waist down was enclosed in a formfitting metal tub, his upper body wrapped in a straightjacket. The assembly was such that it allowed no part of his body any range of motion at all.
Behind Kid Flash's escorts, another set of workers wheeled out a tub of some roiling milky substance. The mass in the tub would attempt to form a structure and then fail back into the gel that made up the bulk of the mass. The silver tub was ringed by electronic devices that almost looked like the devices from Icon's ship that her mentor had called psionic dampeners. She could only assume that whatever it was in the tub was what M'gann looked like when she could not concentrate sufficiently to maintain a solid form. Whatever they had done to her looked horrible, and Rocket promised herself that her third target once the fight started would be to disable the electronics surrounding that tub.
From the third truck, Rocket spotted Artemis stepping into view, shaking off the hands of the pair of Luthor's henchmen who attempted to help her. Artemis was in what was left of her pajamas, both arms in casts from the wrists to the shoulders, her left leg wrapped in a gray fiberglass cast as well. Glaring at her captors, Artemis hobbled unsteadily to where the others waited.
Finally, Kaldur appeared exiting the truck. Like Superboy, Aqualad was dressed in his normal combat uniform, but whatever they had done to him? Shackled hand and foot with an inhibitor collar around his neck, Kaldur shuffled like an old man, not the vibrant hero Raquel knew him to be. His eyes were sunken, his skin grayish and baggy… What had they done to him?
"Are you sure about this?" Batgirl asked over the commlink.
"Positive," Nightwing responded. "Kaldur is a lot tougher than you think. Wait for my signal."
"There they are, Hero," Luthor spat. "Where is my daughter?"
"Now, was that so hard, Lex?" Nightwing asked as he side-armed a small device to Luthor. Rocket watched as the woman in the chauffer's uniform snatched it from the air and examined it before handing it to her boss.
"It's just a phone, Lex," She said.
"What she said, Lex," Nightwing said mockingly. "It's just a phone. Unlock the screen, then press and hold 7."
Luthor examined the cell phone suspiciously, and then he followed the instructions. After four seconds, the screen display of a dialpad was replaced by the face of a young red-haired girl.
"Daddy!" she exclaimed when she identified her father's face. "Oh Daddy, thank you, thank you, thank you, I had breakfast with Princess Aurora, and Minnie, and Daisy, and Goofy and Miss Clarabell and…"
"Lena," Lex Luthor said, showing a side of himself that few in the world had ever seen, "Lena Puddin' are you all right?"
"Of course I'm all right Daddy," the little girl said in the tone of a child dealing with confused adults. "I told you, I had breakfast with Princess Aurora, and Minnie, and Daisy, and…"
"Lena Puddin'," Luthor said desperately, "Where are you?"
"Disney World of course, Daddy," the girl said patiently. "Nanny Alpha Said that you would be here today. You don't have to work, do you Daddy? I love Disney World, but I would be sad if you didn't come because you had to work Daddy."
"Lena… I'm… I'm finishing something up right now, I need to finish is so I can come be with you, ok Lena Puddin'?"
"Ok, Daddy," the little girl said agreeably. "See you in a bit."
Luthor ended the call and hugged the phone to his chest for a second before facing the hero Nightwing.
"You sent my daughter to Disneyworld?" He demanded.
"With her nannies, yeah," Nightwing admitted.
"But the nannies were destroyed," Mercy pointed out.
"Nope, I had them pull a full set of replacement parts from your inventory, and then trash them," Nighwing laughed. "Not my fault you took what you saw at face value. Like I said before Lex, your security sucks."
"And the scream of terror you played last night on the phone?"
"Lena got a little excited when the Dumbo ride got to the top, give the kid a break, she's only four. You're going to be getting some amazing PR out of this Lex."
The sudden shift in topic surprised Luthor to the point where he actually relaxed. The change in her boss' body language had Mercy holstering her sidearm as well. "And how is sending my daughter to Disney World with her Nannies going to get me good PR?"
"Well, I made sure your Nanny bots each had their own unlimited Lexcorp Corporate Credit Cards, and I turned their generosity way, way up, then, because I was feeling kind of adventurous, I tweaked their personalities to the point where they were the most loving grandmother types ever to roll off your factory assembly line. You know, because…"
"Yes," the Billionaire interrupted, "my security sucks, so you've said. Get to the point."
"Well, your little family unit got there just as the place opened and well, no one spent any money at Disney World yesterday… other than you."
"Are you telling me that Lexcorp picked up the tab for the daily attendance at Disney World yesterday?" Luthor asked.
"Of course not," Nightwing laughed. "That would be illegal, immoral, and probably wrong in lots of ways. Lexcorp is a publically traded company. The money came out of your personal account, so, you personally picked up the tab for the daily attendance at Disneyworld yesterday… And today. Did you know that admittance to that place averages 53,000 a day at $125 a head? And people say you're evil. Of course your generosity extended well past simple admittance. You also bought every park visitor under 18, anything and everything they want in all of the shops, and of course you comped all the meals at the restaurants and food stands."
"How much?" Luthor ground out.
"I don't know," Nightwing admitted, "I quit paying attention when the tab hit $9 million around dinnertime last night."
"I've heard enough," Luthor said dangerously. "Mercy, kill him."
"With pleasure, Lex," the woman said, extending her arm as it morphed into a cluster of metallic weapons.
"Oh, no, I'm being attacked by a violent cyborg, whatever will I do?" Nightwing asked sarcastically. "My only hope is an implanted override command. Sunshine Lollipop!"
Mercy Grave's expression changed from one of cruel satisfaction to one of startled surprise when her weaponized arm swung from the masked man to aim at her boss.
"Lex, I can't control it," she shrieked. "Something is wrong with my body."
"Lex, buddy, seriously," Nightwing sighed, descending the stairs of the statue's pedestal to throw his arm around the Billionaire's shoulder. "I've demonstrated since we started this dance that I own your computers. I've flat out told you that your security sucks. I took over your network and personal access in real time right in front of you, I suborned your Nanny 'bots based on your Mercy designs, told you I had done it, and you decide to attack me with your cyborg bodyguard? Why are you still alive? Is Superman just the most easy going guy in the universe or does he just feel sorry for you? You should never, ever leave Metropolis, Lex. The criminals in Central City would pants you for your lunch money, the gangs of Dakota would hunt you for the fun of it, and forget that Gotham even exists. You wouldn't last a day in a town without an invulnerable alien making the place safe for you."
"Mercy, shutdown," the Billionaire ordered. After several seconds, nothing happened.
"I also inhibited her destruct," Nightwing snarked. "But feel free to try it."
"Do you think you've won?" Luthor thundered. "I will find you, I will find those you love and I will…"
"Lex," Nightwing sighed. "I was just going to take my hostages and walk away, really I was, but you had to make it personal… Ok Team, Bingo!"
Rocket shifted her focus back to Kaldur exactly on cue, as one of Batgirl's batarangs arced across the field to lodge itself in the back of the inhibitor collar around Kaldur's neck. The light in the center of the weapon flashed three times before it detonated, driving Kaldur to his knees, thankfully with his head still connected to his body.
Rocket centered herself over her team leader and allowed her invisible force bubble to dissolve, dropping its load of three hundred gallons of seawater onto the Atlantian.
Rocket heard more than felt the impact of the rounds upon her shield, fired by Luthor's men who evidently weren't bothered by their boss being held under the weapons of his own bodyguard. She swooped down to the ground level hoping that Batbo… Nightwing was accurate in his estimation of Kaldur's resiliency.
The Atlantian rising from the ground with a snarl while shattering chains binding him answered her question readily. She moved to intercept her team leader and pressed a set of his Waterbearers into his hands."
"My thanks, Rocket," he said, flicking the left Waterbearer to extend its length of mystically enhanced water whip fully. "Dehydration was most unpleasant."
"You can thank me properly later," Rocket said lifting from the ground again," Kaldur immediately waded into the fight with Luthor's men, joining Batgirl in the fight.
Rocket landed behind Zatanna, and extended her shield to protect them both, and wrenched the electronic gag from her mouth. "We could use all the backup we could get here," she whispered into the magic user's ear.
Zatanna nodded and drew a deep breath, " Sgnidnib sih morf Hsalf Dik esaeler !"
The metal semi coffin and straightjacket holding Kid Flash fell away from his body, and the teenage speedster was gone before anyone could blink.
"What?" Zatanna gasped, "Where did he go?"
Rocket was already gone, moving to the metal tub and using her Inertia Belt to enhance her physical strikes on the tub holding M'gann in her protoplasmic state. She crushed one of the emitters, then a second one, and then a third, and was rearing back to finish the last of the devices when M'gann erupted from the tub screaming in rage, cycling through dozens of forms in the span of a few seconds, some human, some martian, some… other things, she finally settled on her normal 'public' form and launched herself toward one of Luthor's henchmen in particular.
"I'm back," Kid Flash said in Rocket's ear, startling her. "Where do you need me?
"Where did you go?" Rocket demanded.
"I hadn't eaten in two days," the Speedster explained, "that's bad for most people, disastrous for me. I was digesting my own body. As soon as I was free, I hit the hotdog cart on the other side of the park. I don' think that guy ever sold a dozen dogs to one guy before. Who's the guy with the bird on his chest he moves like… Rob?"
"Later," Rocket insisted "Get Artemis out of the crossfire, then see what you can do about Superboy's chains."
"On it," Kid Flash shouted as he and the injured blonde vanished from the park.
Justice League Watch Tower
Low Earth Orbit
The unannounced activation of the Watch Tower Zeta Tube transport system brought the entire contingent onboard the station running to the receiving station. Not being restricted to the access portals, the Martian Manhunter arrived in time to hear the computer announce the incoming visitor.
Recognized: Artemis B:07
J'onn J'onzz felt an unfamiliar tug of emotion when he heard the ID of the incoming visitor. If Artemis was free, would M'gann be free as well? While the young female was not actually a blood relation, he felt a certain responsibility for the white orphan who longed to be human.
The girl materialized on the receiving platform and fell to the flooring, shouting, "Damn it, Wally!"
Superman arrived in the transport compartment as J'onzz scooped the injured girl from the decking, the two aliens both using their senses, hyper enhanced by human standards, to analyze her injuries and treatment possibilities.
"Welcome back Artemis," J'onzz said. "How did you escape? Was Kid Flash involved?"
"No," the girl said, shaking her head. "Not Wally. We were all restrained, but the guards were talking about Robin running Lex Luthor ragged. I'm not sure where we were, but there was a big golden statue of Superman, everyone was fighting. Everyone but me. Wally sent me here because I was helpless."
The two caped heroes exchanged a look, and spoke at the same time, "Centennial Park."
"Assemble a league response team," Superman said, "I'm heading down."
"No," J'onzz manifested a third arm to place a hand on his friend's shoulder. "This is Luthor we're talking about. Robin of all people, 'running him ragged'? A fight in Centennial Park under your statue? This has trap written all over it. We'll assemble the team and respond as a team."
The Kryptonian seemed about to protest, then sagged, "you're right, who knows how much Kryptonite he had waiting for me. We move in five minutes."
The last of Luther's men fell, only a second after Kid Flash managed to vibrate the Kryponite infused chains off of Superboy. The Speedster helped his teammate away from the debilitating material while, unbidden, Rocket encapsulated the chains in a shield bubble and caused them to accelerate away from the Earth at escape velocity.
Nightwing moved to sit on the steps directly in front of Lex Luthor, the Billionaire still being forced to remain where he was under the weapons of his suborned cyborg bodyguard.
"Sirens," the hero remarked. "And heading this direction if I were to guess. I wonder how much this one is going to cost you, Lex?"
"Cost me?" Luthor laughed. "Why would being attacked in a public park by super powered gangbangers cost me anything?"
"Hmm, what we have here is a failure to communicate," Nightwing pointed out. "Pay attention Lex, I'm not going to explain this to you again, I'm not Superman. I'm not going to wait here for the cops with my hands on my hips all heroic like and expect them to take my word for what happened here. There are a dozen cameras focused on this little party Lex. Each and every one of them full HD, with sound and full motion tracking. Copies of each of the videos, both digital and physical are being sent to the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the Department heads of each major division of the Metropolis Police, the Editors of all three Daily Newspapers, the Publisher of both the Tabloids, GBS, because I know how much Max Lord just loves you, all the local Television stations, even the ones you own, all of the state's Congressmen, not just the one's you own, and all hundred senators. This is all happening right now, as I'm explaining it to you. And it includes you ordering Miss Graves here to kill me."
"Now, I have few illusions about life," Nightwing continued, "I have no doubt that you will likely be keeping your promise to join Lena in Disney World tonight, and why not? You paid for it after all. But, never forget Lex, I'm watching you, and unlike the big blue Boyscout, I play to win. You should probably stick to annoying invulnerable aliens, you aren't up to playing with the big kids."
The hero threw a smoke pellet to the ground between Luthor and himself. When the smoke cleared, the Justice League's junior team, and the Hero called Nightwing were gone.
Lex Luthor, a man famous for his public personae of calm was still cursing a blue streak when the police arrived and Mercy Grave's Cybernetic systems returned to her conscious control.
The blue streak intensified beyond all reason when Superman arrived with a Justice League reaction team two minutes later.
Justice League Watch Tower
Low Earth Orbit
"Mission Debrief: Kaldur'ahm Codename Aqualad." Batman intoned for the record.
"You are recovered from your ordeal, Kaldur?" Aquaman asked.
"I am, my King," the youth said with a respectful nod.
"The evidence of your abduction led us to suspect that dehydration technology was used to subdue you," Batman noted.
"That is accurate, yes," Kaldur nodded. "I never truly lost consciousness, but most of my higher functions shut down until I was revived by the seawater immersion in the park. My apologies for my failure, my King."
"Being subject to the limitations of your body is not a failure, Kaldur," King Orin said calmly. "I myself have experience dehydration and know what you went through. Your immediate response to combat when recovering from severe dehydration was beyond reproach. You did well."
"Mission Debrief: M'gann M'orzz Codename Ms. Martian."
"We've never done individual debriefs before," M'gann noted shyly.
"Each of you had individual experiences," J'onzz explained. "We want to make sure that we know what each of you experienced so that we can build training to protect you for the future."
M'gann nodded and visibly collected herself. "The attack was sudden and overwhelming. A psi-active was my principle attacker. Not Psimon, but someone with almost his level of skill. By himself he couldn't have overwhelmed me, but the amount of my attention his attack consumed prevented me from mounting an adequate defense to the physical attack that I encountered in my bedroom."
"Between the two attacks, I lost consciousness," M'gann continued blushing a dark green, "when I woke up, I was in a tub under a constant psionic attack, preventing me from taking a solid form."
"From the videos of the fight, you showed a bit of direct hostility toward a specific member of Luthor's team," The Manhunter pressed delicately. "Do you mind explaining why?"
"He was one of my guards," M'gann said, her eyes fixed on the floor, and her blush deepening. "He kept… putting things in me."
"Things?" Black Canary asked.
"Bolts, coffee cups," M'gann said, her face taking on an expression of distaste, "cigarette butts."
Silence filled the conference room for several moments.
"I for one," Wonder Woman said, "admire your restraint."
"Mission Debrief: Artemis Crock Codename Artemis."
"As soon as we're done here, we'll get your arms and leg looked at," Green Arrow said.
"I'm fine," the young blonde said with a sniff. "You should see the other guys."
"It was clear from the destruction of your room that you had put up quite a fight," Batman nodded approvingly.
"Is my mom okay?" Artemis asked.
"She told me she was more worried about the men who took you than about you," Oliver Queen said. "She said that if you didn't kill them, your father or sister likely would. She is relocated to a League Safe House and has been informed that you'll be joining her soon."
"Well, I can't tell you much," the girl admitted. "The group that grabbed me were seriously freaked out that I got hurt, I mean, even more so than how they acted about their own guys. They got in a woman who I think was a doctor, who set my bones and shot me up with pain killers. I didn't see any faces, and they didn't talk about anything around me other than how much trouble they were in over me getting hurt." She shrugged. "I guess someone wanted the Team whole and unhurt."
"Mission Debrief: Raquel Irvin Codename Rocket."
"This is a waste of time," Raquel said. "I was with Icon when I was taken, and I was out until Dick woke me up."
"Dick?" Icon asked.
"Batboy," Rocket explained. "Used to be Robin, now he's Nightwing."
"Nightwing." Batman noted.
"Yeah," she agreed with a nod. "He woke me up from a Neural Inhibitor, and massaged me through the cramps that come from waking up from one of those things, and then he held my hand when I went into a panic over the idea that I might have been molested while out. That's when he called in Batgirl."
"Why?" Icon asked.
"Because I needed to speak with another woman," Raquel sighed.
"It's a totally understandable woman thing," Black Canary interjected. "Many of us have gone through exactly the same thing."
"I haven't," Wonder Woman said in a confused tone.
"Hardly a surprise Diana, the man who attempts to molest you dies messily," Black Canary sighed. "The rest of us aren't quite that that dangerous."
"Once Batgirl was there, Dick explained his plan," Raquel continued, desperately wanting to change the subject. "It sounded crazy, but most of his plans do. As usual, it worked, we're all here."
"Robin has revealed his identity to you?" Batman asked.
"I just heard Batgirl, who did tell me her name, call him Dick," Raquel said with a shrug. "I didn't ask."
"Mission Debrief: Wallace West Codename Kid Flash."
"Wallace?" Kid Flash asked with a frown. "Come on Batman, Wally, it's always been Wally. I hate 'Wallace', it makes me sound a million years old."
"Let's just discuss your capture and time in captivity, if you don't mind, Wally," Flash asked.
"Sure, Uncle Barry, no problem," the teenaged speedster nodded. "I got home from a run to the store for milk to find five hoods holding guns on my Mom and Dad. They gave me a choice to get in their restraints or they would shoot my folks, so I did."
"Describe the restraints," the Batman directed.
"Well, the lower fixture was like the bottom half of a coffin, but there was more to it than that. Once they closed the latches, I couldn't move my legs at all. Then they put me in a straightjacket, which was lined with electronics, I could still move within the restraints of the jacket, but if I tried to get any speed going, I got an electric shock that almost knocked me out."
"Interesting," Barry Allen mused. "Restraints specifically designed to hold a speedster. What happened during your captivity?"
"Hunger, mostly," Wally admitted. "I was left alone. Never saw anyone until we got taken to the park where Rob was waiting to mess with Luthor. That guy's been holding out on me, his new costume is great, the bird doesn't look like a robin though."
"Mission Debrief: Conner Kent Codename Superboy."
"How are you feeling?" Superman asked. "You're still a little… green."
"Okay, I guess," the youth grunted. "That Kryptonite stuff hurts. How long does it normally take to wear off?"
"The more sun you get the faster you'll get over it. I'd spend the rest of the day in the Watch Tower's solarium," Superman suggested.
"What do you recall of your capture and captivity?" Batman asked.
"Pain, mostly," Superboy admitted. "A couple of the guards wanted to show how tough they were by working me over, but the Kryptonite might have taken away my powers, it didn't make my body any less dense, so at least one of them broke bones in their hands when they punched me."
"Mission Debrief: Zatanna Zatara Codename Zatanna."
"Report the circumstances of your capture." Dr. Fate demanded.
"I don't answer to you," the girl said. "Release my father and I'll speak with him."
"Fate, your presence here is detrimental," the Batman pointed out. "It would be best if you were to leave."
"My current host has affection for this girl," Dr. Fate argued.
"This girl has no affection for you," Zatanna spat, rising from her chair. "As long as the Justice League tolerates this… thing controlling my father, I don't answer to the League either. You can live without my debriefing."
"Mission Debrief: Codename Batgirl Real name not revealed," the Batman said.
"You are not a member of the Team," Aquaman pointed out. "Did you see your participation in Robin's plan as a sort of audition?"
"I am a free agent who works in Gotham," Barbara responded. "A friend called asking for my help, I was available, so I came to help. I am not auditioning for your team."
"The video of the confrontation clearly shows that you threw an explosive batarang into the inhibitor collar while it was still on Aqualad's neck," Wonder Woman noted. "It is only luck that prevented you killing him."
"Luck had nothing to do with it," Barbara disagreed. "From the earliest versions of the plan we anticipated the possibility of inhibitor collars on Superboy and Aqualad, and destroying the collars were my first priorities. If Superboy had been wearing one, his innate density would have been more than enough to survive the destruction of the collar, and similarly, Aqualad is capable of living at the depths of the sea, the pressure wave the batarang was capable of generating would have been a minor fraction of what he was born to experience every second of his life."
"That is… true…" Aquaman agreed. "Though it was disturbing to watch."
"And it was disturbing to do," Barbara admitted. "No one was more relieved that I was when Kaldur got back to his feet after my batarang destroyed the inhibitor collar that was keeping him powerless."
"Disciplinary hearing: Codename Robin Real name not revealed.
"What were you thinking?" Superman demanded.
"Should I come back later?" Dick asked.
That question pulled the Kryptonian up short. "Excuse me?"
"Batman said that this was a Disciplinary hearing for Robin. I am no longer Robin."
"What do you mean, you are no longer Robin?" Wonder Woman asked.
"When Batman accepted the Justice League's evaluation of my status as a sidekick rather than his partner and told me to go home, that was the time of my resignation."
"You quit because I called you a sidekick?" the Flash asked.
"No," Dick corrected the speedster. "I quite literally could not possibly care less what any of you think of me. I quit as Robin because Batman didn't correct you, and then went on to treat me like a sidekick. He and I had always been partners, you see. He was, admittedly, the senior partner, and in charge, but I wasn't the child in the back to be sent to my room when things got 'serious'. His relationship with the League led Batman to decide to change the parameters of our partnership and that led me to decide to end it."
"So, you are no longer 'Robin'?" Superman asked.
"I believe I said that. If you want Robin, there is a new candidate waiting for Batman to accept him."
"Is he ready?" Batman asked.
"He is," Dick confirmed.
"Regardless, you were told to stand down," Superman pointed out. "You disregarded that order and directly confronted Lex Luthor."
"I am not subject to your orders," Dick pointed out. "You issued orders to Robin. Robin was a member of the Team. I quit being Robin, at that instant in time, I quit being a member of the team. I am a free agent, I am Nightwing."
"And who gave you permission to take the name Nightwing?" Superman pressed.
"Who gave you permission to take the name Superman?" Nightwing asked. "We've all taken the name's we've taken for our own reasons. You lead the Justice League, for some reason I've never been able to determine. While I was a member of the Team, I was subject to your leadership. As soon as I became an independent, your orders became nothing more than suggestions that I was free to ignore."
"You kidnapped a four year old child." Green Arrow snarled.
"I most certainly did not," Dick disagreed. "I facilitated a vacation for Lena Luthor that her father had been promising for months. That vacation was in the company of her nannies, whose defensive capabilities and communication capabilities were unaffected in any way. Had Luthor ever tried, he would have instantly connected with them via his own personal phone. The connection I did disable was the outgoing link via the Mercy Graves Cyborg. The fact that Luthor reacts in easily predictable patterns is not my fault."
"Predictable?" Superman choked, "Lex Luthor is predictable?"
"Pathetically so," Nightwing nodded. "I have no idea how he got his reputation. All of his defenses on his buildings are rated to keep you out. They didn't even notice I was there, and that was before I hacked them. He spent a fortune in lead lining ever flat surface in the place and never thought about encrypting his video feeds. His computer security is pathetic, and it's going to be worse, because he's about to hire me as his new security consultant."
"He going to hire you?" Batman asked.
"You're not the only one with multiple public personae, Batman. I was paying attention, after all. He put out for bids, and I put out the lowest."
"Nothing you did was legal," the Flash insisted.
"Very little any of us do is legal, Flash," Nightwing disagreed. "It took me three times of monitoring the video feed from Luthor's office to figure out what happened when you assaulted him, and yes, forcing someone into your superspeed time frame is classified as assault, and a good lawyer would call your entering his building to do your little assault trick as criminal trespass as well."
"The fact remains, you were told to stand down," Superman said, returning to his original point, "and you did not."
"There are seven people on board this station right now, because I did not," Nightwing pointed out.
"Because of your methods, we will never know why they were taken," Batman interjected.
"And I don't give a single damn why they were taken," Dick snapped. "To you they might be little more than expendable sidekicks, to me they are my friends, people I have trained, fought, and bled beside. Now Luthor knows not to mess with the Team, because someone will always hit back at him as hard as he hits us. He knows HE is vulnerable, and because of that I suspect that it will be a while before he tries to extend his reach beyond annoying an invulnerable alien."
"What do you mean by that?" Superman demanded.
"By that, I mean that in two days, I did more damage to Luthor, his operations and his self-confidence, than you've done in ten years," Nightwing said. "Your hands off, mustn't offend methods allowed Luthor to forget the rules. I reminded him of everything he's forgotten facing off against you."
"There are those in the League who feel you should be punished," Black Canary noted.
"In as much as I am not a League member, nor am I currently a member of the Team," Dick suggested, "there isn't really much you can do to punish me."
"You seem awfully sure of yourself, Dick Grayson," Green Arrow said with a smirk.
"Oh, gosh, you figured out my name based upon knowing Batman's name, are you sure you shouldn't been known as the world's greatest detective Oliver Queen?" Dick asked. Seeing the look of surprise on the assembled leaguer's faces he continued, "What? Did you really think I didn't know who you all are? I'm trained by one of the world's premier detectives, remember? Determining who you all were was a task I set for myself before the Team was even formed. The only one that ever gave me any real trouble was Captain Marvel, and to be fair, his was a magical cheat."
"I consider it an asset," the Captain laughed.
"I bet you do Billy," Nightwing laughed. "In the meantime, Ollie can tell us more about his Arrow car, and his Arrow cave, and how he swung through Star City on his Arrowlines…"
A glower was Green Arrow's only response.
"Okay, now that we're done with the feeble attempt to threaten the sidekick, we can get serious. This is my position, and the League can take it or leave it. Within the boundaries that all of us work in, I did nothing wrong. I was successful in extracting the Team from Luthor's captivity. They have been returned whole and for the most part unhurt. Did I disobey your orders? Yes I did, I've explained my reasoning and I stand by that. Would I do it again? In a Metropolis Minute."
"If all of this means that Nightwing will not be invited to membership in the Team and perhaps the League someday, I can live with that."
Dick stood up and faced the assembled Leaguers. "That's it, I'm done. I'll leave you all to discuss what happens now. I have to go plot my escape from the Watch Tower."
"Escape?" Ralph Digby asked. "Why would you need to escape?"
"Because going to ground with Rocket and Batgirl exposed one of my prepared safe houses to the two young women and they discovered just how prepared I was," Dick explained with a small smile. "I suspect I'm going to need to make a run for it."
"Hey," Dick said as he entered the solarium. "How you feeling Conner?"
"Better," the Human/Kryptonian clone said, sitting up to meet his friend's eyes. "The Sunshine helps, a whole lot."
"Someday, I'm going to have to figure out how your body works," Dick laughed. "Being a living solar battery must be a rush."
"It has its moments, but a sunbeam, as nice as it is, will never replace a nice greasy bacon cheeseburger," Superboy admitted. Laying back down on the grass with his hands clasped behind his head, the clone sighed. "You know, when Batgirl told us that you had somehow managed to avoid being captured like the rest of us, I knew I should have been surprised, but I wasn't."
"Nope, and that surprised me," Conner admitted. "I mean think about it, those of us with powers were taken with a fair amount of fuss, but to take Artemis they had to cripple her and she busted four of them up for their trouble and you got away completely, then got the rest of us out. Way to make us feel inadequate, dude."
"That wasn't my intention."
"I know that," Conner laughed. "But then you show up rocking that new outfit and a new name? I'm starting to reconsider the jeans and tee-shirt look."
"Yeah, well, I've managed to annoy the hell out of Superman and by extension the rest of the League, I'm not likely to be on the Team anymore," Dick sighed. "Where is everyone else?"
"Not on the Team?" Conner asked sitting up. "What do you mean not on the Team?"
"They ordered me to go home and leave it to them," Dick explained.
"And you said screw that," Conner suggested.
"Pretty much, yeah."
"Ah, they'll yell at each other for a while, and then do the right thing," Conner said laying back down on the grass, "that's what they did with me, and I had something of a pissy attitude if you recall."
"What?" Dick asked incredulously. "You had an attitude? News to me. Where is everyone else?"
"Kaldur went to take a dip in Aquaman's pool," Conner explained. "He said something about never feeling properly hydrated again, Wally went to find a snack, and the girls are all off in the Medbay with Artemis, 'cause Rocket said they had something to talk about."
"Ah crap," Dick swore. "I probably ought to start running now."
"What?" Conner asked with his own tone of incredulity, "Why?"
"Rocket and Batgirl might have found out something about my safehouse that the girls might not approve of," Dick explained without elaboration.
"Oh," Conner nodded, "what did you do? Steal their underwear?" After several seconds of silence from his friend, Superboy sat up again. "You didn't?"
"No, I didn't steal their underwear," Dick said with a sigh. "I sort of broke into their lockers to find out what kind they wore and had a few sets of the right kind for them, in case they needed them."
"Oh," Conner lay down again, "that seems reasonable to me. Do you really think they'd be mad about that?"
"Well," Dick said, having spotted the women heading their way, "considering they're heading our way, and they don't look happy, it seems likely."
"Hmm. Well, don't get any of it on me, M'gann and I are doing pretty good right now, and I'd like to keep it that way."
"Hold it right there, Nightwing." Artemis called from across the solarium. "We need to talk."
"Love to," Dick responded, never stopping on his way to the exit on the opposite side of the room. "Gotta ask for a raincheck though, there's an emergency in Gotham, I'm needed."
"Odd that I haven't gotten an alert," Batgirl noted with a small grin.
"I'm sure you will, any time now, see you down stairs!"
Dick reached the exit and the door slid open to reveal the exit was blocked by Black Canary. "Hello Nightwing," she purred dangerously. "The emergency in Gotham was taken care of, so you and the ladies can have your talk."
"Shouldn't you be at my disciplinary meeting? Voting to expel me from the Team?" He asked hopefully.
"I voted already," Canary said, leaning across the door jam. "The rest are still deliberating. I ran into the girls in the Medbay, and such a story they told me… Tell me Nightwing, did you have a place for me at your 'safe house'?"
Dick blinked, "I assumed that you had your own bolt hole arranged."
"Oh," she said, her hand falling upon his shoulder, "I'm hurt that you didn't think of me in your plans. Come on, let's go see what the ladies want, shall we?"
"I've got one good arm," Artemis said, "Give me my bow. I'm hunting perverts."
"Look," Dick sighed. "I didn't know who I would end up going to ground with, I wanted to be prepared. It was easy with the guys, boxers and jockies of the right sizes. With you girls, I'd always heard how you all searched high and low for just the right panties and bras because you found everything else uncomfortable."
"Pervert," Zatanna sneered, " Sezis owt knirhs strohs Sgniwthgin !"
Having been stabbed, shot and run over in the past had only barely prepared Dick for the pain involved with that particular bit of magic.
"Damn it, Zatanna, that hurts."
"Good," the angry young woman snapped.
"Did you have underthings for me?" M'gann asked.
"Why would I?" Dick asked. "You form your clothing out of your body mass."
"Just wondering," M'gann shrugged, "maybe I'll be mad at you for leaving me out."
"Oh, why not? Come on, ladies, it's not like I could ask you," Dick tried to explain. "As soon as you tell someone you have a safe house, it's not a safe house. Batman didn't know about it. Batgirl didn't know about it. Noone knew about it but me. Did I invade your privacy to find out about your under things? Yes I did, and I'm sorry about the necessity of that."
"Necessity?" Barbara asked.
"I know you and Raquel used your caches. A bit of comfort in a dangerous situation was not the worst thing in the world was it?"
"It was nice to have a comfortable bra," Raquel admitted. "It took forever to find one that didn't chafe under my uniform. But the fact that you broke into my locker is a major creep factor."
"And into my bedroom," Barbara interjected, "since I don't have a locker at Mount Justice."
"I didn't break into your bedroom," Dick sighed. "I paid attention when we were dating."
"We never went that far," she objected at the sight of the sudden interest of the other girls. "When did you see my underwear when we were dating?"
"When I was helping you fix your uniform," Dick reminded her. "Remember your first one? Spandex with no body armor? I snuck you into the cave for three sessions in the body molds. That's when I found out women wore more than just one kind of underwear."
"Men don't?" Zatanna asked.
"We buy ours in packs of six, wear them until the start falling apart and then by another sixpack, usually of the same brand, style and color."
"Oh," Artemis said in a tone of disgust, "that's just wrong."
"It's your turn to buy," Bruce said as he opened the diner's door.
Clark regarded his friend with a gimlet eye, "I work for a meager salary and you're a billionaire, why is it ever my turn to buy?"
"I don't stay a billionaire by feeding every impoverish reporter who comes my way," the last of the Waynes snarked while looking over the menu. "The pecan pie looks good."
"I lean more toward the apple myself," Clark nodded.
"Back again gentlemen?" the waitress asked when she arrived to take their order.
"You run a nice place to discuss important things, Kathy," Clark said.
Once the pair were alone, they returned to business.
"You seem inordinately pleased with yourself," Clark noted.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Bruce asked. "My partner has learned what I had to teach him, and he learned it well enough to get past me at my own game, at least once. The fact that he twisted your cape was just icing on the cake."
Their coffees and pies arrived, the pair nodded their thanks.
"Are you claiming you planned for Dick to strike off on his own?" Clark asked as he tried his pie. It was almost, but not quite as good as his mother's. Someday, he was going to have to introduce Bruce to what pie was supposed to taste like.
"Planned? No," Bruce answered. "Surprised that he took umbrage at being told to stand down? Not at all. I thought he was still too predictable, that I knew what he was up to, I thought I was in control. I was wrong."
"Bruce Wayne admitting he was wrong, surely that's one of the signs of the apocalypse," Clark said with a grin.
"I am frequently wrong," Bruce disagreed. "I simply try to learn from my mistakes."
"Will you be taking on the new partner Dick spoke of?"
"I'll offer him a tryout," Bruce said, looking over his coffee cup at one of the few men he considered to be a friend. "We'll see."
"You constantly surprise me," the reporter said, shaking his head. "I was honestly surprised when you came out in support of offering Dick his position on the Team back."
"If we hadn't, we wouldn't have a team," Bruce explained. "He saved them, when we weren't even close to finding them, and they know it. Given a choice between Dick and us, they'd have gone with him in a heartbeat. As long as they're with us, we have more control of who and what they end up facing."
"Except for when we don't."
"Except for when we don't," Bruce agreed.
Their pie finished, the two men turned their attentions to their coffees for several seconds until Clark broke the silence.
"Am I soft on my opponents?" He asked.
"The ones you actually beat on?" Bruce asked. "No, no one will ever accuse you of being soft on someone like Darkseid. On those you don't use your strength on, you're so frightened you'll hurt them, yes, you're soft of them. That's why Luthor has managed to get way with so much."
Mercy Graves spotted him first. Having her cybernetic systems shut down had slowed her reactions, but not her ability to observer her surroundings.
"Lex," she said, nodding toward the balcony.
Luthor turned away from his sleeping daughter to see the alien hovering outside the penthouse's balcony in a standing position his arms crossed.
"What do you want?" Luthor asked after he slide the door to the suite behind himself.
"Have I made you soft?" Superman asked.
Luthor blinked. Of all the things the alien might have asked, that was something the billionaire had not expected. "What?"
"We tried to discipline the new hero Nightwing over his arranging for your daughter to come to Florida without your knowledge and approval."
"And?" Luthor asked.
"And he laughed at us," Superman admitted. "He told us he simply implemented a vacation trip that you had been promising for months and that the only communications he blocked was that between your body guard and the nannies. He also said he had done more to disrupt your operations and self confidence in two days than I had managed in ten years. Have I made you soft? Have you forgotten how to deal with human opponents?"
"You need to get that boy under control," Luthor snarled. "He is violating all the rules. The rules that keep the both of us from going too far."
The alien hung his head, "You're right. I'll keep an eye on him."
"You'd better!" Luthor thundered, turning on his heel and heading back into the hotel suite. Once inside, he collapsed on his bed with the realization that he actually had gotten soft while fighting against the alien.
How had that even happened?
A/N: And this concludes my tribute to Young Justice, unless another idea bites.