End of Summer
 
Choices Chapters
1: Prologue

2: Robin & Huntress

3: The JSA

4: The JLA

5: Starfire, Robin & Batman

6: New Members of the Family

7: At The Manor

8: The Stake-Out

9: New Friendships

10: The Titans

11: Facing The Past

12: Shattered

13: Confrontations

14: Flying

15: Conversations

16: Hitting the Streets

17: On the Trail

18: Face To Face

Choices

Chapter 11: Facing the Past…

by Marilee Stephens

Dick stared at the three figures that had just come through the doorway. He really just couldn't believe his eyes. Yes, Donna had mentioned two of them in their previous conversation up on the JLA satellite. However, he realized that though he had accepted on an intellectual level that these people were still alive, the knowledge hadn't really hit him on an emotional level until this moment, when he had to face them in the flesh. As a result, he was shaken and a bit speechless.

The others weren't though. Donna was the first to get to her feet and move over towards the trio. Wally, Garth and Vic soon followed, though Alianne remained seated.

Reaching the tall blond man, Donna quickly planted a light kiss on his cheek before exclaiming, "Joe, when did you get back from Paris? How did the exhibition go? I bet your paintings flew off the walls!"

Even as she was questioning Jericho, she was reaching around to give both the fair-haired and dark-tressed women with him hugs. The other men were also exchanging handshakes with the silent man, such that he couldn't answer Donna's questions immediately.

As a result, it was one of the women that provided answers. "Oh, the exhibit went really well. Everything was sold that was going to be, and for prices that even we didn't expect." Even as she was speaking though, all three newcomers were casting glances over to where Dick sat in silent stillness.

"That's wonderful, Kole", Wally replied as he was giving the other woman a hug. Joe's hands were finally free and as a result, his fingers started to dance into the conversation.

Joe's eyes left the young man at the far end of the table even as he "spoke". "Yes, the gallery owner was very pleased with the response my paintings got. She wants to set up another exhibit for next year."

"Should've known that you would go over well with a 'lady' art-shop owner", Wally came back with a grin to Joe.

"It was my work that went over well, Wally", the man's fingers signed.

"Yeah, sure Blondie… That's what ya always say", Vic teased back.

Dick was still sitting in his seat, watching the friendly exchanges pass between the friends. But his own mind and heart were racing even as he took in the slightly changed appearances of the three figures from those he remembered.

All three were dressed in casual clothes and not whatever their current working uniforms were. But then, Donna had indicated that they weren't in the "superhero" business on a regular basis anymore. Maybe it was to be expected then. Joe Wilson had changed a lot on the surface. He was obviously older, and as his face had matured, it had taken on some sharper facial features that reminded Dick of Joe's father, Slade. The jaw-line was a bit stronger, the cheekbones just that much more pronounced. The major change was in how he was wearing his hair, though. Instead of the tumble of curls that Dick had been used to seeing on his Joey, this man's hair was cut very short on the sides and back, though the top still had enough length that some curls fell over his forehead. And he had taken to wearing a neatly cut mustache and goatee, much like his father's. The look slightly unnerved Dick when he had first seen the man come into the room, though he had been reassured when he had gotten a look at the man's eyes. They were the same large green orbs that radiated a sense of peace and confidence that Dick had been used to seeing in his Joey's eyes. That, in combination with the man's smile, which flashed frequently as he "talked" with the people grouped around him, convinced Dick that deep inside, this man was very much the same as the Joe Wilson he had counted among his closest friends.

Kole also had changed a bit. Dick really hadn't had had time to truly get to know the Kole that had been a member of his Titans team for such a short time. This woman did resemble the one that he remembered, though her hair was longer, falling just past her shoulders, where his Kole's hair hadn't reached hers. Also, this woman's stance and demeanor indicated that she did not have the slightly reserved demeanor, or wasn't maybe as quiet as he remembered his Kole being. Of course, given the circumstances that he and his Titans had met Kole under, and the mission involving her parents, her being slightly unsure might have been more due to the situations she had found herself in at the time, as opposed to her own nature. This woman seemed to exhibit more confidence than he remembered Kole having, though still not the overt confidence that Koriand'r or Donna displayed.

The third member of the trio was the one that took Dick back the most, and gave him the most trepidation. He couldn't help it. He remembered the last time he had seen a version of this woman. It had been on what was supposed to have been one of, if not the happiest day of his life. But the presence of this woman's counterpart had ensured that it had turned into one of the worst. He had heard what had transpired after that, even if he hadn't been there himself. But seeing this woman still caused a slight chill, on top of the confusing mix of joy, sadness and apprehension he felt at seeing her and the others, run down his spine.

Even as he was uneasily assessing her, noting the still long black hair and her slight, graceful form clad in a pale pink sheathe, the woman turned and gave him with an understanding look. "I am sorry if my appearance here is causing you pain, Richard", she softly stated in a slightly husky voice, as the red jewel on her forehead winked softly in the light.

The others turned to look at him in confusion with her statement. Jericho's hands flashed and flitted as he "voiced" what the others appeared to be feeling. "I don't understand, Raven. How can you be causing him pain? We've never met this Dick Grayson before and we only came in a few minutes ago."

Raven continued to send Dick reassuring glances even as she answered Joe. "It is not just me, Joseph. Though I seem to generate slightly more fear in him than either of you, seeing all of us has elicited some strong feelings from young Richard."

"You mean coming to see him was a bad idea, Raven?" Kole wanted to know. "When Vic mentioned him when I called up to the satellite to see what the general alert was about, Joe wanted to come and meet him much earlier. It was only the exhibition that kept us in Paris this long. That's why we asked you to bring us back here when you popped over to see the end of the show this afternoon and we got the message from Garth about coming here."

Joe's hands rapidly moved even as a frown deepened on his face. "I'm sorry, Dick. If I'd known that we would cause you any trouble…"

Dick raised his hand for silence at that point. He was amazed at how quickly everyone fell quiet with his action. It was exactly how his Titans would have reacted if he had done the same thing. "Please, it's not you. Honestly. In fact, it's really, really good to see all of you. Believe me. A part of me is very happy to see how well you all are…"

Wally's impatience seemed to get the better of him. "I don't understand. You're acting like you haven't seen them in ages, or at least, your versions of them."

Dick sighed heavily at the remark. He was back into the quandary that he had faced at other times on this strange adventure. Outside of the conversation/confrontation he had had with Koriand'r at the warehouse, and the short talk with Bruce in the satellite, he hadn't revealed to anyone some of the losses he and his friends and acquaintances had faced on his earth. At the other times when comparisons could have been made, he had managed to side-step the questions for the most part. But for some reason, with these people, he knew he wouldn't feel right unless he explained everything to them. It wasn't fair to them, or to the relationships that he had or had had with their counterparts back home.

He indicated with a sweep of his hand for everyone to grab seats around him, before he slumped a bit and rested his arms on the table in front of him. This was going to be hard, and somehow it felt better to have them all comfortable before he launched into his story.

"I'm sorry. I know that I haven't said much about it, but my version of the Titans have been through some really bad times in the last few years."

"Yeah, you definitely gave that impression up on the satellite when Kory showed up", Vic commented.

"I know. I was… startled by her presence there. It wasn't… expected. Just as seeing Joe, Raven and Kole, and to a somewhat lesser extent, you and Gar isn't what I'd thought I'd find."

"Dick, what are you saying? What happened to your Titans?" Donna wanted to know, even as she reached over to rest a hand on his forearm.

Dick swallowed hard on the lump that developed in his throat at the sincere caring he heard in her voice and saw in the faces circling the table. This might be even harder than he thought.

"It's just… My Titans don't exist anymore. At least, not in any formal sense. Actually, not in any real sense at all. The team was taken away from me. My Kory has gone back to Tamaran and married someone else. Vic and Gar are off in space somewhere, and this is after both of them undergoing physical and emotional transformations. Raven… At least a part of Raven went truly mad for awhile and caused such pain and suffering…". Dick had to stop and take a deep breath before he continued. In that moment, he looked up and saw the shock that was coursing across all the others' faces. Looks of disbelief were warring with confusion and sympathy. He had to swallow hard again and blink rapidly to dispel the slight feeling of tearing that was causing his eyes to squint before he could continue. "As for Joey and Kole…"

"What about us?" Joe's fingers danced urgently.

Meeting the other man's concerned gaze dead on, Dick could barely get the words out. Finally, in a rather flattened, emotionless tone which the others knew indicated how much pain Dick was hiding, he stated, "Joe, on my earth… On my earth, you and Kole are dead."

Gasps of horror arose from around the table, even as multiple questions were thrown at him from all sides.

"What do you mean, they are 'dead'?"

"Yer kidding… right?!?"

"Dick, please. Tell us that you're not meaning it the way that it's sounding."

"I'm sorry, Donna. I wish I could tell you differently. I really do. But I can't."

Garth's low voice cut through the silence that fell over the group with Dick's last statement. "Dick, maybe you should tell us everything."

Dick nodded in understanding. He then set out to tell them the same story he had told Koriand'r a few nights earlier. It wasn't any easier to tell the second time, though none of them displayed the sense of anger that she had towards the end of the tale. Instead, as well as the horrified looks, tear-streaked faces, occasional sobs and exclamations of surprise, anger and sorrow they all exhibited over the course of his revelations, they also asked questions. Some of them even responded with understanding and compassion, though the prevailing mood was one of disbelief in combination with anger towards the events he described and heavy-heartedness at the outcome of those events.

As Dick was describing what his Deathstroke had had to do to his Joey to try and stop the corrupted souls of Azarath, he saw both Raven and Kole reach out to grab Joe's hands. But Joe shook his head and freed them from the women's grips, if only to comment, "I've suppose there's some irony to that, given the relationship between myself and my father and how it ended."

Dick couldn't figure out how to ask Joe further about that before Donna was urging him to continue with his story. She obviously felt that he needed to say it all the way through, if only for his own peace-of-mind. What she didn't realize is that he doubted he would ever feel any peace about what had happened. Maybe that was another reason why he hadn't allowed himself to think about it after it had all come down.

He continued with his tale. By the end, the disheartened mood that had fallen over the group reflected Dick's own feelings, though he doubted any of them felt the degree of responsibility that he himself felt for the sequence of events.

"So that's how my Titans feel apart. And I couldn't… didn't stop it." Looking directly at Joe, Raven and Kole, he added, "And I am so sorry that I couldn't save them." A break entered his voice as he continued, "I am so, so sorry!" The lump in his throat grew to a massive size, one that he knew he wouldn't be able to swallow down. Even though he was looking at this earth's counterparts to his friends, in his heart and mind, he was seeing his own friends. Seeing them and hoping that they could forgive him.

The others shook their heads in a slightly shell-shocked manner. Donna, as she wiped the tears from her cheeks, rose and came over to give him a hug. It was tight, as if she was trying to absorb his distress into her own body. Finally, though, she broke the hug and the silence to question his statement. "Dick, what do you mean? How were you suppose to stop what you just told us? How could you have prevented any of what happened."

"Because it was my job to stop it. I was the leader. The one in charge. The one that's suppose to have all the answers. They trusted me to have those answers, and I didn't. And it led to all the disasters that befell us. I let personal matters get in the way of my judgement, so that I missed so many things. I wasn't there during the Crisis when Kole died. I didn't catch the changes that Joey must have undergone when the Azarathean souls finally started taking him over. I didn't question the changes in who I thought was Kory, when it wasn't. I wasn't there for so many of them when they probably needed me, when they had been there for me in the past. I made so many mistakes…"

Garth again spoke up. "Dick, even as leader, you can't control every thing that happens, every action someone else does. And you can't predict how life is going to go. Maybe you did make some mistakes. Maybe some of those mistakes did lead to difficult times. Maybe you had to make difficult choices, and some of your choices weren't always the right ones. But that's life. No one's perfect, especially not in the circumstances that you've just described to us. All you can do is the best that you're capable of. But there are times when even your best won't be enough." Garth paused for a moment before he continued. "My best wasn't enough to save Tula."

"And our best wasn't enough to save Roy", Donna murmured even as Wally reached over to give her hand a tight squeeze. "It seems obvious that even your best couldn't prevent a lot of what happened to your Titans. You can't let yourself believe that it was all your fault that it turned out the way that it did."

The others were nodding their heads in agreement. But somehow that show of solidarity and support touched a painful core of… maybe anger, maybe confusion in Dick. As a result, he bit out, "Has your Nightwing made those kind of mistakes. Ones that cause that much pain, that much destruction."

Joe signed abruptly, "No, but then, he's never faced the circumstances that you've described either. And there have been times when he has made mistakes in some of his actions, which led to times of stress and pain. Maybe not to the extent the events of your past have led you. But he has made some."

Raven picked up from Joe's sentiments with that. "And you are not at fault here, Richard. You have hidden a great deal of pain within yourself due to your feelings about this, but a lot of these events were beyond your control. You must not torment yourself with the idea that you could have prevented them. I know how destructive that can be to one's self, especially if there is no way that they could have control of the circumstances that led to those events. It is not a healthy attitude to have. Please, you must either realize that you couldn't prevent a lot of what you have told us, or at least let yourself forgive yourself for what did happen. I believe that your teammates would have known that it was not your fault. That you did your very best to try and save them the pain, hardship or death that they did end up facing."

"She's right, Dick. You can't beat yourself up over this", Wally added. "We all know how our Dick Grayson seemed to always be beating himself up about things in the past, taking responsibility for things he couldn't control. You seem to be a lot like him that way. He learned that things don't always go the way that he might have planned, though he still seems to forget that life lesson on occasion. You have to learn to do the same."

"Maybe you're right", Dick came back with. "And in my head, I might even agree with you. But my heart…"

"Your heart says differently", Raven softly ended his sentence. "We all know what that feels like." A silence fell over the group at that point, as each person seemed to be lost in their own private memories. Dick wondered what occupied each of the others' minds. What events did Raven's words conjure up in the others' psyches.

All of a sudden, a beeping noise arose from the communications terminal that Garth had used previously to call for the other Titans to come to the Tower, breaking into the somber feel of the room. Striding over to it, Vic activated it. Dick caught a familiar voice coming from the speakers, which Vic greeted in a lightened voice that was either to hide the tension that permeated the room from the caller, or was used to try and alleviate that same tension.

"Hiya, Goldie. What's doin'?"

"Hi Vic. I didn't expect to hear your voice. I was trying to get in touch with Nightwing. Dick told me he had headed for the Tower for awhile."

"Yeah, he's here. Do ya want to speak to him?"

"Well, I really just wanted to make sure he's all right. He's been gone for some time now. The kids and I were getting worried."

"Yeah, whatever, Goldie. Ya know, you worry way too much about yer own Wings. You shouldn't be takin' on others as well", Cyborg jokingly replied, obviously trying to lift his and the others' spirits.

"Thanks for the advice", the lilting voice shot back. Breaking out of his melancholy mood, Dick was a bit amazed to hear a slightly mocking tone behind it. While his Kory certainly had a sense of humor, and would playfully tease him and others on occasion, she hadn't ever seemed to have that edge to the humor he was now hearing. He guessed that this Koriand'r's longer time on Earth might have affected her a bit more than he had originally thought. "Now, is everything all right?"

Vic, obviously trying to bring some smiles to the down faces around him, tossed a teasing look over to Dick, as the young man rose and approached the terminal. "Hey, kid, you doin' okay? Ya know, you better answer 'yes'. Ya don't want a ticked off Tamaranean on yer back."

"Victor, I'm not 'ticked off'", Koriand'r's voice came back over the line. "We were just concerned."

"Would you two knock it off", Donna requested as she walked over to where Vic was standing. Speaking towards the terminal, she added, "Everything's fine, Kory. A few of us were just getting to know Dick a little better. I guess we lost track of time. That's all."

"That's fine. We were just wanting to check."

As Koriand'r was finishing her statement, a giggling could be heard coming from the corridor outside the room. Bounding into the room, a large, green, grizzly bear with a smaller figure clinging to its back skidded to a halt besides the girl's parents. After she slid off the ursine figure, Kallen rushed over to Garth and Alianne and started chattering in a breathless voice.

"Mother, Father, I had the most wonderful ride. Uncle Garfield flew me all around New York and out over the ocean on his back. The ocean's surface went on forever and ever, with waves everywhere. And then we landed on a beach and he turned into an antelope and let me ride him all the way down the beach. And then he turned into a dolphin and we went for a swim, and then he flew me to his house so I could play with Mark for a bit, and then…"

"It sounds lovely, Kallen", Alianne gently interrupted the flow of words. "I do hope that you thanked your Uncle Garfield for the time he spent with you." The child's enthusiasm had worked wonders on the mood of the room that even Cyborg's earlier attempts hadn't been totally capable of. Dick noted that everyone had noticeably relaxed as Kallen had gone on about her adventure. Obviously the solution to an adult's pain was a child's joy. Though they also probably didn't want the girl to pick up on the depressed tone that had existed between all of them before she had come back. Children were very perceptive in picking up when adults around them are unhappy. Still, Dick appreciated the effort each of them was making to regain a lighter mood.

"Thank You, Uncle Garfield", the girl threw herself at the emerald-hued man who had just finished morphing back into his human form. She threw her arms around his neck in a tight enough hug that a comical winch flashed across his face.

"You're welcome, kiddo", he managed to wheeze out breathlessly. As Kallen released her grip, he reached up to massage his throat, even as Garth reached over and ran his hand over the other man's shoulder in a reassuing, if slightly apologetic, manner.

"Sorry, Gar. Kallen still sometimes forgets her own strength up here on the surface.

From the communications terminal, Dick became aware of another excited voice. Amanda was apparently with her mother and had picked up on the exchange.

"Kallen? Mommy, Kallen's at the Tower."

Dick heard the loving tone in the girl's mother's reply. "Yes, she is, *h%vm%g *."

After that, there was a rapid exchange between the two at the other end of the line. Finally, Koriand'r's voice came back over the line. "Will you be there for awhile, guys?"

"Probably, Kory. Something up?"

"Amanda just wants to go and see Kallen for awhile. She says that she hasn't seen her since her birthday."

"That is true, unfortunately", Alianne interjected. "We have just been so busy in Poseidonis and elsewhere."

"Amanda is coming?" Kallen's face broke into a big smile. "Mother, Father… We do not have to leave right away, do we?"

Garth reached over and passed his hand over the long braid down his daughter's back. "Of course not, my little swimmer. We don't have to go yet."

"Thank you, Father", the little girl exclaimed as she gave her father a quick hug. She then ran over towards the door of the room and settled into waiting for the appearance of her friend.

Alianne turned back from where her eyes had followed her daughter towards the door to address a statement towards the terminal. Raising her voice slightly, she inquired, "Koriand'r, what is this that we have heard about you being injured?"

"Injured? Koriand'r, what happened?", Raven's low voice demanded as she then moved to where Donna, Vic and Dick were standing. Dick saw the flashes of concern that passed over each of the others' faces, though each look was unique to their owner.

"Raven, Ali… I'm okay. Really. It was just a shot to my arm. No real damage done. Honestly. A few weeks in a sling…"

"A few weeks? I don't think so, Koriand'r. I'll come over to the house right now."

"Raven, you don't have to do that. I'm okay. Besides, how many people have you already helped today? I know how many shelters and hospitals you were going to visit. How much of your energy have you spent either curing physical problems, or helping people deal with their fears and anxieties? You don't need to add to that something as minor as my arm. And we're not at the house any ways. I'm being well taken care of, believe me." A small smile crept over his face as Dick heard the slightly exasperated tone in Koriand'r's voice. Obviously, the others at the Manor were maybe taking too good a care of her.

"Still, Koriand'r…"

"No 'still', no 'but', no nothing. I'm getting a chance to relax and have my husband and kids pamper me. It's not all that bad. Just keep an eye on Amanda for us, okay? You know what type of trouble her and Kallen can get into. And knowing my daughter, she'll probably be the one that starts it."

Another amused smile crossed Dick's lips at that. He hadn't really seen that side of Amanda, but as he thought about it, he realized that he really hadn't seen her with other kids besides her siblings. There probably was a bit of a mischievous streak to her.

"We will, hon. Take care and I'll give you a call later", Donna finished even as she made to terminate the call. At the same time, Kallen let out a yell and ran off down the corridor. The sound of two high-pitched voices greeting and laughing with each other echoed into the room. A few moments later, the two girls followed their voices in.

"Hi, Uncle Wing", Amanda exclaimed as she flew over to plant a kiss on Dick's cheek. "We were all wondering why you were here for so long. Talking to everyone must have been fun, huh?"

"'Fun'? I suppose that's one word for it", Dick heard Wally comment in an undertone as Amanda greeted all the adults in the room. She then came back to Dick and excitedly continued.

"Mommy says that I'm supposed to bring you back to the Manor when Kallen and I are done. But she wants us to do a few things for her first. Is that okay?"

"Sure, sweetheart. You go and have some fun with Kallen. I'm just going to chat with these guys some more. But try and stay out of trouble", he teased.

She shot a brilliant smile back at him. "Okay, Uncle Wing. C'mon, Kallen. I've got something in the tree house that you're just going to love."

As the two girls rushed from the room, one flying, the other running, Dick turned to the others and mouthed, "Tree house?"

Wally rolled his eyes somewhat at that. "Yeah, we built one for all the kids in one of the trees in back of the Tower. It's where they hang out a lot when any of them come here to the island. But they won't let any of us up there to see what they've done with it since we built it. It's definitely 'Kids Only – Adults Keep Out' territory."

Alianne smiled at Wally's mockingly complaining tone. "Now, Wally, you know that it was a very good idea for the children to have their own space here. And that way, if you need to hold meetings about important issues, they are not underfoot."

"You're right, Ali. I still can't believe that Ivan and Iris got me to promise that I would never set foot in it though. Sometimes you really have to wonder what they're cooking up when all of them get together."

"You mean, outside of the various practical jokes they play on each other and us, or the different 'excusions' they plan. Maybe we really should have thought some more before we gave the older kids some of the privileges with our technology that we have."

"C'mon, Donna. You know that by their ages, they were going to probably get into that stuff any ways, whether we gave them the okay or not. At least, this way, we have some control over what they will or will not use. And they're generally pretty responsible with using stuff. Well, at least, most of the time."

"You're right, Garth. But after Lian, Robbie, Amanda, Ivan, and Iris took the T-jet last year to go and get one of the kangas from Paradise Island to bring home and show their friends, I have to say that maybe we should rethink just what some of those privileges should be. They could have been seriously hurt in that little escapade. And much as my mother adores Robbie, she was not pleased with that stunt at all."

Dick felt a smile creep over his face as he took in the shift in these people's demeanors as they shifted into parental mode. Thinking about it, he did have to wonder at how being parents, especially to what seemed like a very precocious bunch of kids as these apparently were, was really like. Still, he had to wonder why these people would let their kids use such things as the T-Jet. Of course, it might be that when they had given said permission, it had more to do with training them to fly it, and not them expecting the kids to abscond with it to places unknown. But before he could find out more, the communication terminal started beeping again.

This time, it was Wally who reached it first. Flipping the switch to on, they all were listening in when Superman's voice came over the line. "Wally, Donna, Vic. Are you still there?"

"Yeah, Clark, we're here, along with some others. Something come up?"

"Yes. There's been a report of an ongoing robbery in an electronics plant in Queens. Can you people check it out? It may be connected with our ongoing problem."

Dick jumped up with that. It might be another piece to the puzzle that was keeping him here.

Even as Wally and the others noted Dick's obvious reaction to Superman's statement, the Fastest Man on Earth was responding to the Man of Steel. "Sure, Clark. We're on it. Just give us the details and we'll go find out what's going on."

Superman hurriedly outlined the information that had been passed on to him. Dick knew the area of the location of the plant. At least, he did if this New York was the same as the one that he had spent several years of his life in.

Even as he was contemplating that, he noticed that some of the others were looking at him expectantly. He met their expressions with a quizzical one of his own. But even as he was doing that, plans were formulating in his head about how he would approach the problem they had just been given.

Gar's voice interrupted his thoughts as the other man asked, "How do you think we should deal with this, Nightwing?"

As Dick started to outline what he had been thinking, he realized that that must have been why the others were looking at him in the manner that they had. They were apparently expecting him to take the leadership role, even as he himself had unconsciously fallen into it. It was a weird feeling. They expected him to fill the role that their Nightwing did. And he, much as the events of the past had made him convince himself that he didn't want to do the leadership thing anymore, had naturally taken on that role himself. He also realized that he didn't like either their reaction or his own. He told himself that he didn't need this pressure again in his life.

But even as he was telling himself that, he knew that in the best interest of time, therefore giving them the best shot at finding out what was going on, he was going to have to ignore his uneasiness. He had to fall into the role that all of them expected of him. He quickly turned and started issuing orders.

"Wally, you head over there right now and do a re-con. Vic, you, Garth and Donna follow him as quickly as possible. Gar, I need you to carry me over there." Turning to Raven, Joe and Kole, he asked, "Are you three in?" With all of them nodding in the affirmative, he continued, "All right. Get into your working clothes and then have Raven transport you over."

Turning to Alianne, he inquired in a slightly less commanding tone, "You'll keep an eye out on Amanda for me, won't you, Ali?"

With a reassuring smile, she replied, "Of course, Dick. She will be safe here. I will explain to the girls that you all were called away. I will also make sure that both of them stay out of trouble."

"Good luck with that, Ali. I'm almost glad I just have to go face the bad guys", Gar joked as he was following the others out the door.

Dick brought up the rear of the group leaving, but just as he was about to exit, he turned back and added, "In case I don't get a chance to talk to you again, Ali, it was great meeting you. You're obviously just what Garth needs in his life."

"Thank you, Dick. I hope that your life takes a turn for the better soon as well."

Dick smiled faintly at her statement. That was something that he couldn't even think about until they found a way to get him back to his own earth. But that thought only passed fleetingly though his mind before he returned to thinking about what the team might be going up against in the next few minutes. They didn't know who was involved, or what capabilities and weapons they might be facing as a result. As such, he was going to have to be careful in how he approached the situation.

Exiting the Tower, he saw in the distance that Vic and Donna were already making their way through the skies, Donna gliding over the air currents, Cyborg leaping from roof-top to roof-top. As well, Garth was quickly slicing through the waves of the river. He was going to follow the water as far as he could to get close to the plant as he could before leaving its watery embrace.

Garfield, in the shape of a large condor, was waiting for him at the edge of the island. "Hey, Wings, let's get this show on the road."

"All right, Changeling. I'm with you", Dick said even as he was climbing on the bird's back. As they lifted off into the sky, through his own uneasiness about what lay ahead, Dick felt like there was something else missing. But he just couldn't quite put his finger on it.

Maybe it was that the other people he expected to possibly have here to work with, like Koriand'r or Roy, weren't. But somehow that wasn't it. Even as he was making himself again shift focus back to the matter at hand, the strange feeling settled into the back of his mind and sat there.

"Whatcha thinking, Kid?" Gar asked him.

"Just trying to decide the best way to deal with whatever we meet with when we get to this plant, Gar."

"Aaaawwww, it's just a simple robbery, Kid. We'll be able to deal with it in no time flat." Confidence rang through the other man's voice. Dick wondered if he really felt it, or if he was trying to cover up his own insecurities, the way his Changeling had done in the past. Somehow, from something in the voice, Dick believed it actually was the first. Maybe growing up had changed this Garfield Logan in ways that made him the person he had always wanted to be. Dick hoped that that was the case.

They were approaching the area of the city where the plant was located. Changeling began to swoop down towards a roof top where the Flash, Nike and Cyborg were already waiting for them. As the bird alighted on the roof, Dick flipped off of his back, landing just a few feet from the others.

"What did you find out, Flash?"

"The good news. I can tell you that we're not too late. Who's ever behind this is still in there. Bad news: there are a lot of them. And they're holding a number of the plant's staff hostage while they look for whatever they after."

Dick thought for a moment. He couldn't just have them burst in if there were hostages at risk. He needed to know more about who was behind this. "All right. Changeling, I want you to…"

"Yeah, yeah… I know. Turn into something small and sneak in to get more information. Geez, don't tell me that you did this to your Changeling as much as my Wings does this to me." With that, he morphed into a small bird and headed for the building.

Dick shook his head slightly before turning to the others. "Cyborg, head over and see if you can hear anything. I don't think you will, but it's worth a shot. Wally, you try and get a more accurate estimate of how many people we may be dealing with here, both in terms of foes and hostages. Report back anything you find out. Nike and I will wait for the others."

"Right", Wally sped off to carry out his task.

"I'll see what I can find out, Wings. Though, yer right, it is a bit of a long shot that even with my internal amplifiers, I'll pick up anything clearly."

"Anything's worth a try right now, Cyborg."

"Yeah, yer right." Even as the other man went to hop off the edge of the roof, he glanced down and waved. He leapt off, but a moment later, was back up with them, holding Aquaman's hand in one of his own.

"Thanks, Vic. Definitely beats taking the elevator."

"No problem, Gills. The boss-man will let you in on what's going on. I'm off." With that, the gold and flesh colored form again leapt over the side.

Aquaman turned to Dick at that point. "Well, 'boss-man', what are we up against?"

"I'll wait until the others get here. That way, I don't have to say the same thing twice. However, are you capable of telepathically scanning the area?"

"I don't know if I would pick anything up, Nightwing. The minds of my other Atlanteans are developed for telepathic communication. Getting anything clearly from you surface-dwellers is a more remote possibility."

"Well, give it a shot any ways." Even as Dick was saying that and Aquaman turned to focus on the plant, the smell of brimstone filled the air, in association with the mists that Raven's form always emerged from when she teleported.

Dick and Nike turned to greet the newcomers. Dick noted that each of their costumes was slightly modified from the ones that he had known their counterparts to wear. Raven's dress and cloak were neither the dark blue she had worn when he had first met her, nor the white version she had adopted after the second confrontation with Trigon. No, this Raven's was a lighter shade of blue, somewhere between the darkness of her first one, and the stark whiteness of her second. Amazingly, it seemed to give her a radiance of serenity that neither of the others had.

Kole's outfit still incorporated several of the crystals that she was capable of forming. But a number of the more… fussy of the details had been removed. The outfit this Kole currently wore, while still the pale, almost crystalline-blue color he was used to seeing on her, was simpler, and flowed a bit more about her body. Gone was the pleating on the sleeves and skirt of her costume. Her longer hairstyle was also swept up and secured with some sort of cystalline clips, though she still wore the crystal in the middle of her forehead.

Jericho's outfit was also a bit simpler than Dick was used to. While several of the main components of it were the same, the blue leggings, the purple tunic, the white shirt; they were also a bit different. The shirt's sleeves weren't nearly as loose as his Joey had worn. The blue material that had encircled his neck was gone, as well as the majority of the gold accenting on the costume.

But the outfits were still very close to what he was used to. The differences were just enough to reinforce the fact that these were not the people that he had known. In some ways, that made Dick feel better, though it also generated a sad note deep within him. His friends were gone and weren't coming back.

Dick and Nike set into filling in the others as to what the Flash had already told them. Dick then asked if any of them had any ideas about how to approach the situation, given the fact that hostages were involved.

"Why don't I teleport in and either remove as many as I can, or protect them with my soul-self", Raven suggested.

"I don't think so, Raven. At least, not until we have some sort of idea of just how many people are being held. While you maybe able to get a large number of them out, or into your soul-self, you might not be able to hold all of them. And it might leave you vulnerable to attack. Since we still don't know exactly whom we're dealing with here, we don't know if they have any sort of power that could hurt you. It's a good idea in concept, but I want a few more facts before we attempt it. Are you picking anything up, Aquaman?"

"No, sorry Nightwing. There are so many scattered thoughts out there, and I can only faintly pick them up. It's just too confusing to get any clear reading."

"I do sense a great deal of fear down there, Nightwing", Raven added in a slightly strained voice. "There are many people in emotional distress, and a few in physical pain as well."

"Raven, are you sure you're all right?" Nike asked in a concerned voice.

"Yes, Nike. I'm fine. I just need a moment to adapt to the feelings. Nightwing, there is also the stench of evil coming from the building. Two main sources, but also several smaller ones. Someone down there almost delights in causing others to suffer."

"Great. A sadist. Just what every good hostage taker should be", Kole added in a dark tone. As she spoke, Cyborg leaped back up to the group.

"Did you manage to find anything out, Cyborg?"

"Not much. Sorry Wings. My amplifiers just picked up a few things like the sounds of heavy machinery moving, but not much else. I looked for any sort of opening that might allow the sounds to come through better, but whatever's going on in there must be happening more towards the center of the interior of the building, as even then, I could only make out a few words clearly. Did get something about 'circuits', 'hidden base' and "big meeting', but not much else."

"Well, let's hope that Changeling and the Flash have better luck."

A few more suggestions were thrown out as to how to get in and stop whatever was going down. All of them had potential, but Dick didn't want to go with any of them until Gar and Wally reported back in. The more information they had, the better the plan would be that they would come up with.

Even as Dick was outlining possible complications with an approach Vic suggested, a rush of wind signaled that the Flash had rejoined them. He was holding his hand in a loose fist, and when he opened it, a verdant mouse scampered off of it and morphed back into Gar Logan. Both of the men had concerned looks on their faces, and when they turned to face the others, Dick felt another feeling of dread creep up his spine. Whatever was going on, it definitely had these two worried.

"You two found some stuff out, didn't you?"

"Yeah, Kid, we did." Gar turned to the Flash, almost as if to get confirmation of something before he continued. "But you ain't going to like it. Boy, are you not going to like it…"

To be continued…

 
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