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 12: Shattered

by Marilee Stephens

Dick gazed at Changeling with a touch of impatience. "Gar, we don't have time for your statements of doom and gloom. What's going on in there?"

"Ease up, Nightwing", Flash chided. "Don't take your anxiety out on us. Gar isn't kidding when he said you're not going to like what we have to tell you."

Nightwing nodded tersely. Flash was right, he was tense. It probably was due to a combination of wanting to find out more about what was going out and having to be back in charge of this group of people. They may not be the versions of the people he was the most familiar with, but deep down, he knew these people were in many ways his friends, just a bit older. And he didn't want to let them down anymore than he had wanted to let down the Titans on his earth. Still, he shouldn't take his feelings of insecurity out on these Titans.

So he passed a slightly chagrined smile over to the emerald-hued man. Gar picked up on it and gave a brief smile back, as he launched into what he had seen. "Okay, here's what's up. Some of our old 'friends' are in there, as well as some goons I'm not familiar with. The bad guys are made up of Phobia and Plasmus… I don't know where Warp and Houngan are or if they're even here. As well, there's a guy that looks like a walking icicle and another one that I heard Phobia call 'Wizard' that looked familiar. I think I saw his pic when going over some files on Earth-2 once. And another guy that looks something like Captain Marvel, except he's dressed all in dark colors. The icicle guy called him 'Adam'. And it looks like we've got approximately 50 hostages to keep out of harm's way as well."

"Do any of those descriptions sound familiar to you, Nightwing?" Wally asked. "I heard that you seem to have a combination of people from all of our various earths living on your own."

"You do?" Donna asked as several of the others looked on questioningly.

Dick nodded. "Yes, though I don't know if that will really be all that much help. From what I've found out, even if there are people using the same 'names', they might not be the same people. A few of the villains I've researched are your Earth have very little in common with the same people on mine. But that's not important right now. Right now, we need to get in, stop whatever's going on and prevent anyone from getting hurt. As well, if at all possible, I want answers, which means we—"

"—We need to make sure that we catch the bad guys. Got it, boss-man", Vic concluded with a wide grin.

Dick relaxed a fraction. For whatever reason, the beaming grin of the man set his nerves slightly at ease. Looking around, he noted the confident expressions on the faces of the others as well. These people were sure of their abilities and how to use them. He remembered a time when his Titans had seemed to feel the same. He only hoped that these people never had to see some of that confidence shattered.

"All right, it appears we're going to have to deal with a number of different people with different powers, so we're going have to split up a bit. But I want to make sure that everyone also keeps an eye on everyone else's back. Since we know just how Phobia and Plasmus operate, we can probably decide how to deal with them easily enough. Also, from appearances, we have both magic and cold-based powers to deal with. This 'Adam' may be a version of someone I came across in Batman's files once, 'Black Adam'. It would make sense given your description of him. If that's the case, then he has the powers of Captain Marvel and thus super-strength and speed. We need to come up with some initial plans to get a feel for just what these guys are capable of."

The others were nodding with Nightwing's summation. Noting this, he went on with his thoughts. "Garth, I think you should be the one in the forefront with regards to this 'icicle' guy. Your body's used to swimming in rather frigid temperatures, and you're fast and tough enough to stand up to whatever cold attacks he throws out. I think we need to get a feel for just what he's capable of. Once we get an idea of that, we can come up with a better strategy for dealing with him."

"I'm on it", Aquaman's purple-hued gaze confidently assured Dick.

"Nightwing, if this 'Adam' guy is a lot like Captain Marvel…"

"I think you and Wally should feel him out, Donna. Your strength and speed, as well as Flash's super-speed, should keep him on his toes long enough for us to get a good idea of how he operates."

Nike and Flash exchanged glances, almost as if they were contemplating their own strategy for working with each other, but without the need to speak about how. They then quickly nodded their own 'ok's' to Dick.

"Joe, see if you can get in quick and get control of this Wizard character some how. Hopefully, since you guys aren't familiar with him, he won't be familiar with your powers either. Since his name would give him some sort of mystical based power, I want him taken out as quickly as possible. This is going to be tense enough as it is, without magic playing a role as well."

"Richard, I might be of some help there…"

"I know, Raven. But I need you to face down Phobia. At least in the beginning. You're best one prepared to deal with her initial attacks."

"I do not know about that, Richard. When we've faced each other in the past, she has made me confront things about myself that I have not found very pleasant."

Dick made to reach out and give the slight woman in front of him a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder. However, before his hand reached his destination, an innate (and unwelcome) instinct made it drop to his side. Much as he wanted to, the image of what his Raven had become still loomed in the back of his mind. Still, he knew he needed to give this woman a sense of confidence in her ability to hand the fear-wielder.

"Raven, if anyone can deal with what Phobia might send at her, you will. I know it. Your, or should I say, your counterpart's inner strength used to amaze me at times. Especially once I really realized what she had to deal with for all those years when she was growing up. You'll do fine."

"Yeah, Witch. Yer the best one for sending that… well, sending her back to Emotion Central fer an upgrade in technique." The others were also passing signs of assurance to the pale-skinned empath.

"Thank you, Victor, Richard, for your faith in me. It was just a small case of nerves. I will not let you down." A confident smile passed over Raven's face. A smile that also had maybe a slight touch of wicked mischief to it. It wasn't one that Dick readily recognized, but he was all of a sudden glad that he wasn't in Phobia's shoes. He had a feeling that this Raven had grown much more adept in handling both her powers and her own emotions in the years that had passed.

"We know you won't, Raven", Donna was saying, as she gave Raven the hug that Dick hadn't been able to a moment before.

"So what about us, Nightwing?" Kole was asking while indicating Vic and Gar.

"Well, I think you and Vic should work on handling Plasmus. Both of you can attack from a distance, which works better with him, as he needs to touch a person to cause major damage." Dick stopped in his ruminations for a moment as he realized that he had been assuming a few things. "Vic, you still have your white-sound capabilities, right?"

"You know it, Wings. It built into my hand unit as is. Micro-circuitry and miniaturization… Yer gotta love it."

"Okay, I think you should keep Plasmus off-balance with that while Kole attempts to erect some sort of crystal cage around him."

"Sounds good to me."

"No problem, bat-boy."

Dick nodded before turning back to Gar. "Changeling, you and I will be responsible for protecting the hostages and trying to get them out of the way. I also want you to keep a close eye on what's happening with the others. I'll be doing the same. If it looks like back-up is needed somewhere, I want to know."

"Got it, kid."

"Good. Batman gave me a radio that's sure to work on this earth. I want to adjust our communication frequency so that we're always in contact with each other. Okay?"

The others murmured and nodded their agreement as they all reached to adjust the own radios to the transmission/receiver frequency that Dick indicated.

"Okay… For getting into place, Gar, I want you to infiltrate first. Get a layout of where everyone is, especially the hostages and who's guarding them at any one time. Also see if you can spot a relatively empty, enclosed spot. Raven, after Gar reports back, you can teleport in the unoccupied room, taking Joey, Kole and me with you."

"Yes, Richard. I do sense areas of peace, though small. I'm sure I can take you there."

"Good. That will give us a small element of surprise for when Wally, Donna, Vic and Garth come in. You four I want to cause some big distractions as you enter, before you start in on your respective foes. That will draw their attention and allow the rest of us to get in place."

"Got you, Nightwing." With that, Changeling morphed into a small canary and flew off.

The others waited a tad impatiently for a few minutes. Dick could feel the adrenaline starting to surge though his system. While most of it was due to his body preparing to go into battle, he knew that a little bit of it was due to a slight uneasiness about being in this situation again, having to constantly be worrying not only about himself, but the others on his team. At one time, he had had absolute faith in his teammates and the fact that everything would turn out all right. They had been the best. He still had faith in these versions of his teammates, but now he didn't have faith in everything turning out okay. A part of him knew that this had to be expected. That things didn't always turn out for the best. But another part really didn't want to go through seeing any of these people being hurt, and possibly die again. Still, he knew that he had to submerge that small, slight fear and concentrate on the task at hand.

After a several minutes, a slight beeping could be heard coming from the several radios each of the teammates carried. Activating his, Dick set the volume loud enough for Gar's low-pitched voice to carry to the others.

"Nightwing, most of the hostages are being held at one end of a large room towards the middle of the building. Room's at approximately 10 meters from the west external wall and 15 meters from the south wall. It's about 10 meters by 10 meters in size, and the hostages are grouped along the north wall. Plasmus and the icicle guy seem to be guarding them. Phobia and the wizard guy are questioning a few people in a smaller room, directly northeast of that one by about 5 meters. That Adam guy is loading up some boxes and containers on a platform at the other end of the room from the hostages, though he's keeping one hostage within a few feet of him at all times."

"Thanks, Changeling. I want you to get into position near the largest group of hostages. Now, how about that small room?"

"Probably best one for you guys is just off the northwest corner of the larger room. It seems pretty deserted, while being pretty close to where most of the action is taking place."

"Got it." Turning back to the others, Dick then quickly outlined the rest of his strategy. "Okay. Raven, prepare to take us to that room. From there, when the action starts, you and Joe will teleport to the other room where Phobia and this Wizard are. Kole and I will head for the large room." Indicating the other four, Dick went on, "Vic, I want you, Donna and Garth to come in through the roof of the main room. Wally…" Stopping for a moment, Dick again realized that he was assuming something about the man that perhaps he shouldn't be. "Wally, can you still vibrate though walls and blow them up?"

" 'Still vibrate through them and blow them up'? I've never been able to do that. I've gotten my speed back to where I can vibrate through them, but they don't blow up."

"Damn. Sorry. It's a trick that my Wally has. I was going to use you to create the hole in the roof for the others to get through."

"Don't worry about it, Dick. The three of us can easily get through the roof", Donna assured him.

"Okay. Then, if you can vibrate in, Wally, I want you to do so down by where this Adam guy is. Try and get between him and his hostage. Donna should be with you in a few moments then."

"Gotcha."

"Okay… Let's head out."

The others waited hesitantly for a moment. Then, almost as one, smiles crept across their faces.

"What?" Dick asked.

"Sorry, Wings… Guess we're all kinda waiting to hear Salad-head say 'Titans Together!' The runt still throws that out when we're all together…"

Dick smiled at Vic's explanation. "Yeah… it might be kind of nice to hear that again. What do you say, team."

"Titans Together!" resounded as they all made to move off to find their own points of entry into the building. Dick watched for a moment with Raven, Joe and Kole while Wally, Garth, Donna and Vic moved rapidly off towards their respective goals. Then Raven gestured to the other three.

"I am ready to take us in."

With that, the other three moved to stand beside her. For a moment, Dick was enveloped by a strange sense of cold, yet warm, as his body again moved between one spot and another without him moving. And a moment after that, he found himself, with the others, in a small, dimly lit room. Loud noises could be heard coming through the walls. Dick whispered quickly, "Okay, guys, we wait for the others to make their appearance. Then I want Raven and Joey to head to that other room Gar described while Kole and I head for the main room."

The others silently nodded their agreement, while Joe signed, "Don't worry, Nightwing. We're ready."

Moving silently over to the door, Dick nodded his acceptance of Joe's statement even as he raised his index finger to his mouth and indicated for silence. Opening the door just a crack, he could start to make out voices coming through the large door he saw situated at the end of a short hall. Some of them were a bit panicky, with the occasional gruff order for silence being thrown out.

All of a sudden, a loud blast could be heard coming from above. With that, Dick whispered "Go" to Raven and Joe even as he headed out into the corridor with Kole. Behind him, he felt, more than saw, the other pair disappear within the folds of Raven's cloak.

Swiftly entering the room, he saw that a medium-sized hole had been opened up in the room. He moved quickly over to a knot of people that were located close to the door he had come in through. Most of them had been bound in a variety of manners, using rope or duct tape. A few were shivering violently, as Dick noted that their hands and feet were encased in ice. Grabbing the arm of the first hostage he encountered, he quickly cut through the rope binding the man and pointed to the door. He saw that Gar was doing the same. At the same time, he looked up to see that Wally had moved a young woman away from the immediate grasp of a dark-clad man who was hovering in the air. Donna was gliding in to land an upper-cut to this "Adam", who appeared to still be somewhat dazed by Wally's action. Turning, Dick observed that Vic was already directing his sound-blaster at Plasmus, while Kole was moving in, her hands starting to glow in a manner Dick vaguely remembered.

"Duck", came from behind him. Doing so, he saw a man dressed all in white, looking a little like a picture he had of Jack Frost in an old book from his childhood, fly over his head. Smiling, he turned to see Garth throw him a quick thumbs up sign. However, even as that was happening, a sudden cold blast swept past Dick and hit Garth square in the chest. While thrown off his feet momentarily, Garth managed to regain his feet quickly, and turned with a determined look on his face to confront this living "Icicle" again.

"Need help?", Dick called.

"No." Confidence rang through Aquaman's voice. "He won't be a bother much longer."

Dick was working on freeing the 6th hostage he reached, quickly reassuring the older woman, when he again took a moment to glance around. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. Vic and Kole were managing to keep Plasmus at a distance, while the pink glistening form kept throwing threats at the two of them in his thick, gutteral accent. Kole had taken the time to erect a crystal shield such Dick, Gar and the hostages were separated from them. She was apparently now concentrating on forming a crystal cage around Plasmus's oozing form. Wally and Donna were managing to keep Adam occupied, as one or the other would distract him while the other would move in for a blow or two. And Garth seemed to be having no trouble at all with the ice-man. Dick could only hope that things were going as well with Raven and Joe. But he knew that both of them were equipped to handle the assignments he had given them.

Then, as he went to move onto the next person within reach, about to use his mini-torch to melt the ice around the man's hands, a momentary dizziness and sense of nausea assailed him. Shaking his head, it seemed to quickly pass, just as a scream shattered throughout the room. Looking around, he saw Garth on his knees, a huge icicle impaled through his chest. The man's eyes were wide with shock, and just as he went to fall over, Dick saw him mouth, "Tell Alianne I lov…".

"NO!!!" Dick screamed, leaping to his feet. Not again. Not while he was in charge. But even as he was rushing to where Garth lay, his hand grabbing one of his escrima sticks from his back and throwing it at the Icicle, catching him in the side of his head, a higher pitch "Aarrgghh" sounded from the other end of the room. Turning, he saw the flying "Adam", having lifted a dazed Nike over his head, forcefully throw her directly at the wall. Dick watched in horror as the woman hit the wall head-first. A loud SNAP assailing his senses, even as he saw the limp form, the dark head at a strange angle to the rest of the body, hit the floor. Dick made to run towards that end of the room, but his legs felt like rubber. The Flash didn't seem to have that problem, as the red-clad man hurled himself at the leering villain in front of him.

"You BASTARD… You KILLED her!!!"

The sneer on the man's face widened as he took advantage of the unchecked fury of the whirlwind in front of him. "I did… And you're next!"

"Flash! Watch out!" Dick could only scream as he watched Adam. But his voice seemed to be coming out slowly, and from a great distance. As if it was occurring in a slow motion silent movie, he watched as Adam mouthed something just as Wally was reaching him. With a bright flash, a lightning bolt came down, hitting both the laughing man and the running man who was about to pound him. After the split second burst of lightning, Dick could only see one rather normal looking man standing, while a charred form lay at his feet. With a second quick word, the lightning flashed again, and Adam was back in full form.

"No…", Dick whispered to himself. "This can't be happening." But even in the moment he took to stare down at the bodies in front of him, Adam was moving off. Off to where the rest of the team was trying to save the hostages… and maybe even themselves. Turning, Dick saw disaster at the other end. The Icicle had obviously come to, and must have tried to encase Vic in a sheath of ice. Gar had transformed himself into a woolly mammoth and had placed himself between his friend and the ice-wielder, but he himself was now slowly being frozen in place.

Meanwhile, Adam was grabbing Vic from behind. Laughing, he made to pull off the arm that Vic's sound blaster was incorporated into. Using the arm as a weapon, he then started to swing it at the unprotected side of Cyborg's face. Vic, obviously in pain, tried to stand his ground and fight back, to protect Kole and the hostages behind him, but it wasn't too long before the flesh-and-blood side of his head was a bloody pulp.

Dick couldn't believe his eyes. His ears. His every sense. This had to be wrong. This couldn't be happening. Not to these people. On the move, he was about to take a swing at Adam himself, when another hand reached over to grasp his shoulder. Yanking himself out of the grasp and around, he found a relatively tall, if somewhat slender man, elegantly dressed in a top-hat, suit and cape, with black hair and mustache and cold eyes.

"Really, young man. Do you think we were not ready for some sort of attack? Did you honestly believe that your pitiful attempts could stop us?"

"Now, now, Wizard", a cultured and haughty voice that Dick did recognize came from off to the side. "They did have a small chance. Miniscule, really, but it was there." Whirling, Dick found the calm, if deadly expression, that he had seen before on Phobia's face. "These two, however, really never stood a chance against you and me, my dear." The green-and-black draped woman casually indicated the bloody forms at her feet. "Raven does… or that is, did have the power to subdue me, if she could only get pass that belief that everyone has a soul. I don't. And as for the mute… well, his fears were ever so… delicious. Setting the two of them upon each other was ever so… pleasant."

"No. NO. NononoNONONO!!!" Dick could hear a man's scream, but he wasn't sure just where it was coming from. Looking around, he saw no man screaming.

But what he did see stopped his heart. All around him lay the bloody forms of his team. All but one. One who was still fighting, even if it was useless. For Plasmus had gotten through Kole's crystalline barrier and she was now firmly in his grasp. Even as Dick watched the acid of the creature start to eat through her flesh, even as he saw the terror and pain emerge in her eyes, she was asking him… Beseeching him… "Why, Nightwing? Why didn't you stop this? Why did you let them kill us?"

"No… This isn't happening again. I won't let it happen again." Turning quickly, he bit out savagely to the duo in front of him, "I won't let you do this again."

"Again? But we already have, dear boy. And you didn't try nearly hard enough to stop us. But then, that's par for the course for you, isn't it. Just as you won't be able to stop this." With that, the Wizard raised a short wand and pointed it at Dick. Energy sparkled and leapt from its tip. Dick made himself still, readying himself to hurtle himself out of the blast's range.

But even as he was doing so, a crystal bulb formed at the end of the wand, trapping the mystic energies within it. At the same time, Phobia was knocked to the floor and unconscious by a flying body.

"What?" Dick exclaimed, caught off balance by the two figures in front of him. "I thought you guys were…". However, even as he spoke, he stopped himself as his eyes, widening, took in the pair in closer detail. "No, this is just not possible", came on a faint whisper.

He had thought that the two people were the ones that had accompanied him into this building, but looking around, he realized that the man's bloody form was still on the floor, that the acid-burned flesh of the woman still stank where Plasmus had dropped it. The duo in front of him… They weren't the Kole and Jericho that he had just met. No, the short hair on the girl, the longer curls on the man…

"Joey… Is that you?" Dick could barely force through his lips. These weren't this earth's versions. They were his teammates. But that… That was impossible.

"Of course, Dick. Who else would it be?", the young, blond man signed as he smiled. "Weren't we always there when you needed us?"

"And you did need us this time, didn't you, Dick?", the younger Kole's voice came at him in a light tone. Even as Dick was trying to come to terms with her presence though, she continued, her voice lowering with a dark edge, while a glare came over her face. "Of course, we were always there for you. Why were you never there for us when we really needed you?"

"Wha…". Dick could barely get the question out.

Joey's face darkened also. "Yes. You were supposed to be the great detective. Why could not see what was happening to me? Maybe you could have stopped it before it got so far gone that my father had to kill me to save my soul?"

Dick swallowed heavily, even as he noticed that the room seemed to be getting warmer, and darker. "Joey… I… There wasn't any sign. You know that. I'm sorry. I would have done anything to save you. You have to know that!"

Turning to the young woman, he added, "And Kole, I wish I have been there. I might have been able to do something…."

Another voice entered the fray then. "But isn't that always the case with you, Dick. You might have been able to do something. Doesn't change the fact that you never did. That you weren't there, does it?"

Dick felt like he was going slightly mad. Something was very wrong here. This was impossible… impossible. That voice…

Turning, he saw the boy standing over near a corner, his old costume hanging around him. "Jason… Jay. I…"

"You gave me your Robin costume. You told me that you would be there when I needed you. But you weren't, were you? And as a result, the Joker killed me."

A hand came out of the darkness that was moving in from the corners of the room, gripping more and more space in its grasp. "It's par for the course, kid. Don't sweat it. Dick talks a good line, and as long as things are going his way, he's fine. But things start getting a little too rough for him, or not going the way he wants, and he's out of there. Ain't that right, pal?"

"No, Roy… You're wrong…" A dizziness gripped Dick. What was going on? This couldn't be happening.

A sneer coated the voice of the man stepping from the shadows. "Oh, c'mon, Grayson. Sure it is. As long as you were in charge of the Titans, hey, no problem. But let someone else take the reins, and you were out of there. Whether we might need you or not. We didn't kick you off the team. You chose to leave cause things were getting a little too out of your control, right?"

"Kory… Kory needed me then… It would have been too hard, with you trying to be in command, and me probably trying to jump in at every turn."

"Yeah… sure, man. Whatever you say. Course, you also said you would be there if we needed you, and then never gave us another thought. Ain't that right?"

"Of course it's right, Roy." The higher, female voice came from just off of Roy's side, as the slim young brunette also stepped into the light.

"No… Not you, Donna. Please, not you too."

"Didn't I have to track you down in that town you call 'yours' now. For someone who said he was one of my best friends, you didn't seem to really want to keep in touch all that badly. Seems like I had to do most of the leg-work there…"

"Things… Things were busy. I was still trying to get set up…" Dick's voice faltered as he realized that he was trying to justify his actions.

An angry look crept over Donna's face. "Of course… Too busy. No problem. Guess you were just 'too busy' when you found out that my son and ex-husband and step-daughter were killed too."

"I would have come… I would have been there if I had known…"

"But you weren't, were you, Dick? And why didn't you know. You're the one who always had all the information, right? Why is it that that all-knowing sense of yours didn't kick in then. Or was I not important enough to worry about."

"Of… of course you were… You are. I wanted to be there…"

"I wouldn't worry too much about it, Donna. Dick doesn't tend to be around a lot when many of us actually need him. He wasn't there when Barry died, after all. Heck, he didn't even notice all the signs that I was suffering speed problems before that. The 'great detective' missed all the clues then. Some best friend I got, huh?" Wally moved up to stand beside Donna at that point.

"Yeah… I didn't hear much from him after Tula died, either, now that I think about it. Nope, Dick had his own troubles to concentrate on at that time, didn't he? A quick visit, or even a short message would have just been too much for him. But, of course, he's in trouble and we all come running."

"Wally… Garth… Things were bad for me then. I admit I was probably a little too wrapped up in myself. But that doesn't mean that I didn't feel for you. That I didn't want to help…"

"You seem to want a lot, Dick. But never quite give it. We were always there for you. Ready to pull you up when you needed us to. But when we need you…"

"Please… please don't do this…"

"Come now, Donna. You know Richard would always try his best. Of course, his best was just never quite good enough. Look at all the things that he managed to overlook… Or maybe even deliberately ignore."

The Raven that stood before him now was clad in her dark-blue robes, not the lighter-hued ones that he had just seen on her counterpart. Her countenance had a reddish hue to it. The look on her face caused Dick to start to shake.

"Look how he handled the situation when I was so tormented by my father. He could have helped, but he said that the Titans had to wait until I asked for help. If Joey hadn't decided to take action, who knows what could have happened…"

"It might have gone better if Joey hadn't tried to find out what was up. Or did you think of that? And I did try to help you when Brother Blood was holding you prisoner." Dick felt himself starting to grow a bit angry at their criticisms, even as the fear still gripped him.

"Yes, and look how well that turned out. You ended up captured and drugged into submission yourself. Into saying lies about your friends and family. You did very well there, Richard. So well that the other Titans had to rescue us and you didn't help in the end at all."

"That's not fair. I did try. It's not my fault that Brother Blood had been messing with my mind for months."

"Of course not, Richard. Did we say it was?" But even as Raven's words conveyed a placating message, the tone was of pure menace. And when Dick looked up, he saw that her clothes had shifted into the black leather outfit she had been decked out in the last time he had seen her.

"And you did so well when the Wildebeest Society and the corrupted souls of Azarath managed to kidnap the myself and the others, didn't you? So well that you managed to get half the team maimed or killed."

"Witch… Witch… Witch… Leave the poor guy alone. He did try to find us." Dick almost dreaded turning to look at the figure behind him. But he did. And the sight made him shudder. For it wasn't the Victor that he had known most of their time together. No, this was the man-machine the Russians had managed to cobble together after the crash. "It's not his fault that he couldn't stop any of it. So Golden Eagle had to die. So Joey had to die. So your soul had to be ripped to shreds. So Danny's body was lost and his soul merged with your mother's and others. So Garth was seriously wounded and only the Atlanteans could save him. It's nothing… He did try after all. It just wasn't good enough. But then, it never is. Our big bad leader just kept screwing up."

"Of course, Cyborg. Did you expect any less from him? He's been screwing up from Day 1. Screwed up with Two-Face. That led to a man's death. Screwed up with the Joker, and got himself shot. Face it, I was just trying to protect him from getting killed by his own screw-ups by saying he couldn't be Robin anymore, and he goes off in a big huff. Things not going his way? He does the Grayson split. It should be patented by now."

Dick's soul felt that it was beaten and couldn't be beaten anymore. To hear this coming from the darkly caped and cowled man in front of him was almost too much. A bare whisper emerged from his lips as he made one last plea for understanding. "Bruce, please… I tried my best. To be the Robin you needed me to be. It wasn't fair for you to take the one thing that had any meaning in my life away from me."

"Fair? Who said life was fair? I was trying to save your life. Did you ever bother to stop and think that maybe I was trying to protect the one main thing that gave my life any true meaning? Of course not. You just assumed that I was doing it to be cruel. So you turned your back on everything. I didn't throw you out of that house, Dick. You left!"

"I had to… I needed…"

"You needed… what? And then, when maybe I needed you, how much were you there? When I took Jason in, all you could do was get angry. Didn't even bother to wonder why I might have done it. When I was going around the bend after his death, why did it take Tim to make you realize that I might need someone there? When Bane injured me, you couldn't even delay your wedding. Where were you when I needed you?"

"Bruce… please. I was trying to make my own life… My own identity… And I did come back. When you truly needed me, I did."

"A little late than never, is that it, Boy Wonder."

"Oh God", Dick thought to himself… Not her too. Turning to face the woman seated in the chair behind him, he could only grimace.

"They're all right, you know. When you need someone, they're there. But when they need you… I thought you were my friend. A close friend. So how come my 'dear', 'close' friend doesn't even bother to visit me in the hospital or the rehabilitation center after the Joker mutilated me. At least Bruce did that. Where were you when I could have used a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to."

"Babs… I should have. I'm sorry. My life… my life was in a different place then…"

"A different place. Yeah, that's right, Wings. But only as long as that 'different' place suited you. And if it didn't, well, there was always somewhere else that you 'needed' to be, right?" A young Garfield moved to stand beside the others. "Heck, even when I was so tormented by Tara's death, all you could do was yap on about what I had done. At least Vic and Kory tried to talk to me about it. But not our leader man. Nope, just had to go on and on about how I had screwed up."

Dick couldn't take anymore. And as if knowing it, the figures surrounding him began to close in. All the while, they were chanting, "Screw up", "Never good enough", "never there when needed", and several other variations of the same theme.

"Stop it! STOP IT!!!" Dick fell to his knees, covering his ears, trying to block out the accusations. "Don't you understand?!? I tried! I tried to be everything all of you wanted me to be! To always be perfect! To always do what's right! To always have all the answers! Damn it all! Don't you know how hard I tried!?! Don't any of you understand!?!"

A momentary silence fell before a quiet "Ssshhhh" came softly in his ear as he felt warm arms envelop him. The other voices fell quiet around them, even as the figures that possessed them fell back into the darkness. "Of course I understand, Dick. I've always understood. You've always tried your best."

For a moment, Dick felt a strange sense of peace envelop him. She did understand. He knew that she would. She had been there for him, supporting him when no one else really had. For a few moments, all was silent and he felt safe.

But even as he let her warm aura permeate his senses and his body, her lightly accented voice was continuing. "Of course you tried your hardest. It was just never good enough. But then, nothing was every good enough for you, was it?"

"Kory?" he managed to whisper as he felt the warm arms slip away, as he heard the cold note enter her voice.

"No. Nothing was good enough for you. Not yourself, and not anyone around you? A person could turn themselves inside out for you and it wouldn't be enough. I love you. I would die for you. Even more than that, I would live for you. But that wasn't enough, was it. When I needed you, you turned your back and let me go. Even when I needed you to understand why I had to do some of the things I did, you didn't even want to listen…"

"That's… that's not true. Not if you talking about that political marriage. I might not have at first, but I did start to understand. I would die for you too, Kory. I would have died for you, or for any of them. Can't you understand?"

"Of course I understand, Dick. I already told you that. Problem was, you might be ready to die, but you're not ready to live, are you? To face the good times and the bad. Oh, you're ready to accept the good times, but when things don't go the way you want… You take off. You said you loved my freedom with my emotions, but I couldn't be free with all my emotions, could I, Dick? Oh, no… The woman you loved couldn't be like that, could she?"

"Please, Kory, don't do this… I never meant…"

"You never meant a lot of things, did you, Dick. You didn't mean to sleep with Mirage, after all. The clues were all there to indicate that something wasn't right, but somehow the man that said he loved me, and that can spot the tiniest clue in the unlikeliest spot, manage to not see what was right in front of his nose."

"That was a mistake… I know it was. It was… with everything that had happened… You were acting so strange…" Dick's voice trailed off again as he gave up on trying to make sense of what he had done.

"But I was willing to make us work. I was. Because I loved you. But after what Raven did to me…"

"I wanted to help, Kory… I did. I just… I didn't know how. I'm sorry. I did try."

"Of course you did, Dick. You always 'try'." The woman's emerald glare threw sparks at him. "Still wasn't enough to accomplish anything, was it? Even when you knew I was hurting, you were willing to just throw it all away. What we had wasn't worth the bother anymore. Was that it, Dick?"

"Kory… Don't do this to me."

"But no. You were needed back in Gotham, weren't you? Couldn't deal with the situation with the Titans, couldn't deal with the situation with me. Let's go to where you were 'needed'."

"Of course, Koriand'r. Like I said earlier, it's a habit of his. Going gets rough… Well, he just gets going." The Batman moved up to lay a hand on Starfire's shoulder, much as what had occurred with their counterparts up on the satellite a few days earlier. Dick took in the gesture with anguished eyes. If it had seemed strange then, it seemed even stranger now.

"That's my 'son'", the shadowed figure continued. "Always trying, but never quite doing. Always having others there for him, but when they need him, he either doesn't care enough to make the time for them, or it's just too much for him and he's out of there. Never even trying to understand the others' point of view until it might be too late…"

"Bruce… Stop this!! I'm begging you!"

"Yes. Great track record you have, Dick. Wonder how much you'll screw up in Blüdhaven. You know that you're going to in the end. I wonder how many people you'll get killed before that happens?"

"I won't get anyone 'killed' there. It's my town and I'm only responsible for myself there."

"Sure, Dick. Whatever you say. Remember if the times get too tough, you can always run off to somewhere else that you're 'needed', can't you?"

The other figures had rejoined them. They all formed a cluster around the man with the bat-ensignia on his chest and the golden-skinned woman. Dick could feel all of their eyes upon him, as if daring him to try and explain himself. But he couldn't. Not now. They wouldn't even listen to him if he tried. The darkness even crept back enough that he could make out the forms of some of their counterparts, scattered over the floor.

Dick was shaking so bad from all that had transpired that he didn't even notice the figure that appeared out of the shadows behind him. But as soon as the figure spoke, its tone harsh with grief and anger, he knew that the nightmare wasn't yet over…

"You couldn't leave well enough alone, could you, Wing. It was bad enough that you let your own Titans team be destroyed. Now you had to go and destroy mine as well. Who else do you want to take away from me? My Bruce? Jay? Alfred? How about my kids? Or better yet, why don't you take my Kory away from me? Sent your own away… Why not get rid of mine as well?"

Dick could barely lift his head to glare at the man in front of him. "It wasn't my fault. I tried to…"

"Yes… You tried. 'Tried' being the operative word. But as in always, you never 'tried' hard enough. Story of your life, isn't it, Wing." From the shadows, some other figures joined the blue-black figure that faced him. A tall gold and auburn form, three smaller shadows that all glared at him with bright gazes as they reached out to grasp their parents' hands. "I made my life work, Wing. I didn't run when the going got too rough. But that seems to be your pattern. Things get too rough with Bruce… Run away. Things get too rough with the Titans… Run away. Things too rough with Kory… Run away."

"I didn't run. I didn't… I went where I was needed."

"You keep saying that. 'Needed'… Sure. Keep telling yourself that. Even if it meant leaving behind other people that needed you as much. Good going, Wing. Maybe you should have kept running. Maybe my team would be alive then. But you had to play 'leader-man' one more time."

"I didn't want too… They expected me to…". Even to himself, Dick's excuses felt slight.

"I'm sure they're glad of that now." Sarcasm drenched the other man's voice.

"I tried my best!" Dick shot back.

"And once again, your best wasn't nearly enough…"

"no… no…"

Even as he slumped, mumbling, Dick noticed the shadow creeping up on the close-knit family through the darkness. He couldn't make out what it was, but it seemed menacing. Raising from his knees, he made to warn them of whatever was approaching them from the shadows…

But, again, he was a second too late. A blast shattered the darkness. Within an instance, he saw his counterpart, his wife and their two youngest children totally incinerated, their forms twirling as the flames engulfed them. Only the dark-haired eldest child managed to escape. Rising to the air, she screamed, whirled and shot a starbolt at the retreating figure.

For one second, the small, angry, flying figure made to follow the form. But then she landed, to kneel beside the ashes that were all that was left of her parents, her sister and brother.

"Amanda", Dick made to approach the weeping figure of the child.

She spun to face him, with furious tears streaming down her face. "Stay away from me. You've ruined everything. You didn't do anything. This is your fault… YOUR FAULT!!!"

With that, the small body flung itself at him and started pounding on his chest. "I hate you!!! I HATE YOU!!! You could have save them. This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been here. You could have stopped all of this from happening. You just had to try harder!!! You should have made them listen.!!!"

Dick tried to still the angry child in his arms. But even as he did so, he tried to comprehend her last statement. In shock, he could barely understand what was happening around him, but even he knew her last comment made no sense. Make who "listen"? There was nothing that he could have said…

He pulled the sobbing, flailing child away from his chest so that he could explain. But even as he did so, he realized that things were even worse. For it wasn't a girl with long black hair and brilliant green eyes in his arms. No, while the child still had black hair, it was short, and the eyes were a deep, angry blue, not the tear-filled emeralds that he expected. Even worse, it was a boy. A boy clad in a brightly colored trapeze uniform. And the face…

Mute, Dick could only shake his head before he raised it to look at the two similarly clad adults that were stretched out a few feet in front of him, their bodies at grotesque angles. Even as he took in the sight, the boy continued his rant. "You could have saved them. You could have had Dad check the rigging again! He would have checked it. I know he would have! Or you could have done it! You could have spotted the weakness in the rigging! You were out on the trap. You could have seen it. But you didn't try hard enough. You could have saved all of them if you had really tried. But you never try hard enough. And now they're dead. Just like everyone else. All because you didn't TRY HARD ENOUGH!!!"

Dick stared once at the boy… No… At himself, as he had once been. And then… Then he heard himself start to scream…

To be continued…

 
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