Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

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

by Marilee Stephens

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 2000 by Marilee Stephens.
Author's Note: Hi. Thanks for looking over "Choices" again. I'm sorry that there haven't been any chapters in the last few issues of Fanzing. I was away and didn't have internet access for several months. However, that shouldn't be a factor from now on. As well, I'd like to thank Michael for being so patient and putting up with my delays and what-not. Our editor-in-chief is obviously one of the good ones.

 Any ways, I hope you enjoy these next few chapters. If you have concerns, critiques or maybe even a word or two of praise, please feel free to send a note to me care of fanzing@fanzing.com

   Marilee Stephens

Chapter 13: Confrontations

He stared at the coffee cup sitting in front of him. The black liquid sent a faint reflection of his frowning face back up to him. Lifting it, he noticed how his hand was shaking. Shaking enough for the hot liquid to almost slosh out of the cup. He tried to steady it with his other hand, but since it was trembling as well, it only made the problem worse. Knowing that bringing it to his mouth, much as he might need the caffeine to calm his nerves, would only cause a set of scalded lips and tongue, he carefully set it back down.

The past few hours had really done a job on him, he realized. All the things he thought he had put behind him had reared their ugly heads and slammed him right in the face…


"NNNNOOOOOOOO", he screamed and collapsed to his knees, as the young face in front of him grew even darker and took on a cast of sheer disgust.

"Your fault! This is all your fault! You could have save them!" With that, the small body launched itself at him again and started pummeling him, battering Dick physically with his fists, as his words battered at the young man's psyche. Dick, lost in a deep despair, feeling a strange agonizing combination of horror, extreme sorrow and self-loathing, could only accept both types of pounding, his eyes never leaving the two broken bodies sprawled out on the ground a few feet away.

As well, the figures that had drawn back into the shadows crept closer again, their voices raising to batter at him again with their accusations. Even as he watched, their faces seemed to distort slightly, such that the air of menace… and even hate… that came off of them was palpable.

"Screw-up!" "Never there when needed!" "Wouldn't be in such a mess if it wasn't for him…"

The voices seemed to be ringing right through his head. Clutching his hands over his ears and closing his eyes didn't seem to help at all. It was though they had gotten inside his skull and weren't going to let him rest, but just keep torturing him for the rest of eternity.

"This can't be happening! They can't be here! It's impossible!!!" Dick could feel a ground swell of anxiety and hopelessness rise up from his gut and threaten to swamp over him. The tiny part of his mind that managed to maintain a sense of rationality even amidst all this chaos was telling him that there was no way that these people were here. Even if some of them were, how could a young version of himself be here to torment him along with the others? This wasn't making any sense at all. He could hear them, see them, even smell them and he knew that if he reached out his hands, he could touch them. But he also knew it was impossible. Simply impossible. The logical part of his mind was battling furiously with what his senses were telling him and where his emotions were leading him… Right back down into a pit of despair that he would never be able to climb out of.

The heat and the darkness closed in closer, so oppressing that he felt like he was gagging. The guilt and hopelessness he felt grew in proportion to the way it seemed that even his nerves were going to jump out of his skin. The sheer horror of everything that he had seen so far was enough to drive him insane.

Then, all of a sudden, it was quiet. He looked around to find that the figures, the bodies were gone. For a very brief moment, he allowed himself to feel a very deep relief. But his agile mind wouldn't let him hold that. Questions immediately leaped into his head. Where was he? If these people weren't his friends and family, then who were they?

But even as his mind was mulling over these questions, his body was noticing a drop in the air temperature. Where it had been boiling hot before, now it was so cold, his fingers were going numb. And at the same time, he heard whispers come from behind him. Whirling, he shouted into the darkness, "Who are you and what do you want with me?!?"

With that, a pair of grotesque figures stumbled forward. "Who are we? We're all the people you ever let down. And we want you to pay for that."

"ogodogodogod", Dick could only mutter as the two brightly colored but distorted figures became clear. No, not again. Couldn't they just leave him alone? Their mangled bodies could barely stay upright. The woman's head hung at a gross angle as she shuffled forward. The man dragged one leg behind him as he lurched towards Dick. It was obvious that both of them had suffered several broken bones…

"Come give Mommy a hug, my little robin… I've missed you so much."

"no… no… no… This isn't happening… This can't be happening!" Dick screamed at the figures even as he backed away. Turning, he nearly tripped on something behind him, something that moved out to catch his ankle.

"Oh GOD… NO!" Dick could only stare down at the crooked figure of the red-haired woman on the floor, blood seeping from out of the bullet hole in her abdomen and covering the floor around her.

"Dick… What's wrong. Don't you want to see what I went through? Couldn't you even stand to do that much?"

Dick only shook his head slowly, moving out of the woman's reach. The cold had gotten so bad that he was shivering violently. His teeth were chattering so much that he didn't even hear the footsteps behind him.

"Nightwing. I need you to help me with this."

Hearing the deep voice, the one that he had obeyed without question for so long, had Dick turning automatically. But he drew back with a gasp when he saw what Batman had wanted help with. The mangled body he was carrying was clothed in the bright cloth that Dick had always associated with himself, even if it was almost shredded. But it wasn't his body… It wasn't. He knew it was Jason, even if the face was so badly damaged that Dick wouldn't have recognized it without the torn and tattered clothes.

Dick was numb. Whether the cold had finally did him in, or the sights he had seen, he didn't know. But he was in hell. Funny how they always talked about it being so hot. It definitely wasn't hot at the moment.

A cloth was flung over his face all of a sudden. Pulling it away, he saw the yellow lightning bolt that adorned Wally's costume. As he looked at it more closely though, he realized small differences. This wasn't Wally's.

But the voice from behind him was. Turning, he found his friend, but dressed as he had when he was Kid Flash.

"He's gone. The closest thing I have to a real father, and he's gone!!! Where were you when I needed my friends around me?"

Another voice popped up from behind Dick. "Yes… We lost the people closest to us." Turning, Dick saw a younger Garth. This one cradled the limp body of a woman, clad in a yellow two-piece outfit, close. Tears streamed down the man's cheeks. "We've lost the people that gave our life meaning. They're never coming back, and he didn't even try to help us, probably doesn't even care to try."

Dick was so stunned that he wasn't even aware of the two figures that approached him from behind. It was only the hard, cold grasp on his shoulder that alerted him, spinning him around to yet another gruesome sight.

For a moment, he didn't recognize the tall figure that glowed red in the dark light. But he did recognize the other. Joey's face and body were aging and crumbling, just has they had been before his father had thrust his blade up and through his son's chest. His sunken hollow eyes beseeched Dick. "Help me, Dick. Don't let this happen to me!"

The other figure moved to steady the collapsing figure. "He can't help you, Joe. He couldn't help any of us. Remember." That's when Dick placed the figure. He himself had never seen Vic's Technis incarnation. But this had to be it. Both of his friends were having their humanity stripped from them right before his eyes and he could do nothing about it. He drew back, both in fear and in sorrow. He couldn't even meet the almost inhuman eyes that were watching him.

"No, he can't help any of us. He probably doesn't even want to." The sinister tone of the woman's voice swept down into Dick's soul. The dominatrix get-up and black cloak told Dick which Raven was confronting him, but it was the green creature behind her, the one that kept morphing into a variety of gruesome creatures that didn't resemble anything remotely normal, that drew his attention. But the sneer that crossed the green creature's face echoed the one on the woman's. Even as she reached over to apparently pet the creature beside her, she was adding, "Dear Garfield and I know how much Richard is incapable of helping any of us."

"That's right, Raven." Dick again turned to see Donna kneeling in front of a shattered hunk of metal, tears covering the shattered visage of her face. In her hands, she clutched a book. It was one Dick recognized as the one that Terry used to love to read to Robert, even as a baby. "Oh god", he thought, "she's at the crash scene. But that's impossible!"

Another voice entered the fray then. At first, Dick almost thought that someone had come to help him. "Don't listen to them, Dick. I know you tried to help me." Kory's form appeared before him, though a pained expression lurked deep in her eyes. But even as he watched, she started to morph as well. Her long curls shrunk to a straighter, shorter cut. Her costume shifted into an even more revealing one. She looked like she had when he tracked her down to the Amazon. Suddenly, she turned on him. "Do I know you? I don't think I know you." Her voice took on an accusing tone. "Why are you here? Either help me, or leave me to fight my battles myself.
A warrior does not need the help of one who won't even help himself." With that, she turned her back to him and went to leave.

Dick reached out his hand to stop her. But even as he touched her, his hand slipped through her flesh. She was fading, disappearing without a word, yet she was right in front of him. He was losing her again and there was nothing that he could do.

Dick was panicking. They were all there. All in forms that he couldn't help them recover from. And he hadn't helped any of them recover. Inside he was dying, but he couldn't make them realize that.

"You're not dying, Dick. We are. All of us are dying, and you didn't save even one of us." Dick turned to see the people he had just met, the ones that he had just started to know. But they were also as he had last seen them. Nike's head hung forward, Flash's burned and scarred body, Aquaman with an large icicle shoved through his chest. Cyborg with missing limbs and Kole with her flesh dissolving in an acidic pool. They were all there, and they, with the others, stood accusing him, their voices joining in with the chorus of accusations being thrown at him. Accusations of his failure. Accusations that deep down he knew to be true.

Dick's mind whirled with all the sights and sensations that were surrounding him. It couldn't get any worse, and his fear and panic grew as he realized that he might never get away from these ghosts. They all circled him, forcing him to confront his inadequacies, as a sidekick, as a teammate, as a leader, as a friend, as a lover, as a son, as a loved one. Yet, even as all the people he loved were taunting him and haunting him, the one small portion of Dick's mind that was detached from what was going on around him was trying to formulate a plan. A plan for how he could escape from this hell and find his way back to anything that could even pass for normal. Drawing deep within himself, he realized that he had to center himself. He had to! He had to block all the figures and their voices from his mind. Otherwise, he knew that he was lost.

Doing so, taking a deep breath, he deliberately forced his mind inward, away from the storm that surrounded him. It was hard. Almost impossible due to the fact that the voices were still there. That their hands were seemingly reaching out to grab him and pull him down into the morass. That their faces were forcing their way in front of him and demanding his attention. But he resolutely ignored them. He made himself set all the images away from him. They couldn't hurt him if he didn't let them. And he wouldn't let them. He just wouldn't! For several minutes, he made himself ignore everything and everyone around him. He retreated to a place of calm and tried to think his way out of this mess.

And that's when he started to hear the other voices. They were very faint, mere mumbling, but he could make out that they weren't accusing in tone. If anything, they were almost detached from what was happening around him. He decided to make that the focus of his attention. Maybe by focussing on them, he could shut out the other hellish figures and voices that were confronting him.

As he concentrated, the voices became louder, clearer. The other voices were still demanding his attention. It took a lot of concentration, but eventually Dick could start to make out words, sentences. But it was the contents of the sentences that made him realize that the nightmare that he had been living was just that… A nightmare!

"My dear, what ever did you do to him. He's almost catatonic." The voice was vaguely familiar. Dick had heard it before, very recently.

He tried to place it, even as another voice, a more familiar, lightly cultured British one, replied, "I don't know what's happening. I merely brought his fears to the surface and amplified them. Where he goes with them I can't tell you. But I can tell you that I've never seen this reaction before. Screaming, yelling, moaning as he was doing a few minutes ago. Or the subject eventually losing consciousness, those I have seen. But not this state of almost shocked calmness. That is unusual."

Phobia! Dick realized that he should have known that she would be involved. But who was with her? And what had happened to Raven and Joe? Had she and the others really hurt, even killed them?!? Was that why he was now in the grip of her manipulations. Where had the reality of the situation ended and her fear-induced scenario began? Questions tumbled through his mind, but even then he knew that he wouldn't get any answers until he had broken from her spell and stopped whatever her and her cohorts were planning.

Dick forced himself to remain calm. Now that he realized what was going on, the vision around him faded, though the feelings it had evoked still resonated through him. But he slowly became aware of the true scenario around him. He was in a relatively small room. Phobia was standing not more than 6 feet away from him. Dick now recognized the other person in the room. It was the man who had been with Phobia earlier. The "Wizard"… That was it.

Dick gathered himself slowly. He couldn't let them know that he knew what was up. He needed the element of surprise if his plan was going to work at all.

"Well, we aren't going to get any information about what he and the others know of our plans with him this way." The Wizard was clearly annoyed at the turn of events. That was good. Dick decided that he should listen to them for a minute more before making his move.

Phobia's voice came back. "He will still be broken, if not now, then later when we take him as a prisoner to our meeting with the others. There will be people there who can take the information needed directly from his mind if all else fails. And I would love to have another go at him. His fears and insecurities seem very intense at the moment. Not like the other times I have had a chance to even glimpse at Nightwing's psyche. Besides, the others will be glad to find out just how the super-heroes have known about our activities and what we have planned. The 'Voice' will especially be interested, I imagine. Think of the possibilities this could give us."

Dick didn't know how much more their conversation would reveal. And he realized that the longer he waited, the more chance they would notice that he wasn't being held in a grip of extreme terror that he had been. Still, his slight delay had been slightly useful. Deciding it was now or never, he sprang.

He headed for Phobia first. He knew that he had to get her out of action fast, before she could affect him again. While he wasn't exactly sure of what the Wizard was capable of, he hoped that it wasn't anything as dastardly as what Phobia could do. As such, he laid into her, giving her an upper cut directly to her jaw. Normally, he would treat women a bit less harshly, but the threat of her power meant that he needed to take her down and out before she had time to react.

She was caught totally unprepared for his move. Being a creature not totally used to direct physical confrontations, Phobia apparently suffered from the cliched "glass-jaw". As such, she went down like a ton of bricks. Dick allowed himself one very swift, very faint feeling of satisfaction at the punch before he whirled to face the tall man. But his movements had obviously also caught the man off guard. He was just starting to point a wand at Dick. Dick didn't even think but grabbed one of his escrima sticks off his back and threw it at the man's hand. It connected smartly, causing the Wizard to drop his wand and grab his injured hand with his other one, howling in pain and fury. Still, the man recovered quickly.

"You will pay for that. I am not totally powerless by myself. I've learned some tricks over the years of fighting with your brand of ilk." Then, uttering some words under his breath, the Wizard started drawing some signs in the air with his hands. The air around him started to crackle with some sort of mystic energy.

But even as Dick prepared himself to dodge whatever the older man threw at him, he felt another type of tingling fill the room. All at once, a spatial rift opened, distracting the Wizard's focus off Dick. Still, the energies he was generating kept Dick at bay, preventing him from doing more than watch what was happening. A man with a neat goatee and gaudy yellow and gold costume stepped through the rift.

"Zut alors. What has happened to Mam'zelle Phobia?"

"Quiet, fool. I must deal with this insignificant whelp first. Then we will look after your teammate."

'There is no time. Leave him. The battle is not going well. The Icicle and Black Adam have been incapacitated and the others are losing as well. Mon Dieu, we must go now before we are all defeated." Even as he was speaking, Warp was bending over to pick up Phobia. He was headed back towards the rift he was keeping open. The Wizard cast one more look back at Dick before following.

"This is not over. And you will not be able to stop us. Before long, all the earths will be under our control." With that threat, the Wizard stepped into the portal, and it vanished, as if it had never been there at all.

Dick slowly drew in a breath as the air cleared of the ionization that followed Warp's warp closing. But his nerves still jumped and his brain was full of the images from the vision that Phobia's power had forced upon him. He drew further into himself. The danger might be past, but a part of him was still enshrouded by the fear that had permeated him. To avoid facing it, he kept himself under tight wraps.

Still, in one of the corners of his mind, he registered the pounding of feet in the corridor outside the room he was in. The sounds got closer and closer. He warily, if somewhat detachedly, hoped that it wasn't someone else on the attack. He wasn't up to taking anyone else on, he told himself. Yet, his body tensed, as if ready to Brainstorm's Corner at a threat.

But it wasn't a threat that threw open the door a millisecond later. "Nightwing. Thank God. We weren't sure if you were even still in the building. After Warp took you…" Flash's voice trailed off as he noticed the tightly drawn features of the young man in front of him, the way Dick's body literally shook and the almost blank stare on Dick's face. He was obviously in shock.

The Flash moved towards Dick tentatively. "Nightwing? Are you okay? What happened here?" His voice was barely a whisper, yet Dick still flinched at the sound. He could hear the same voice in his head, accusing him, along with all the other voices that had been taunting him.

Flash hesitantly laid his hand on Dick's shoulder. Activating his communicator, he spoke softly. "I found him, guys. We're in a small room at the north-west corner of the top floor." Turning off the device, he knelt in front of the silent young man.

"Nightwing, it's okay. We managed to stop them from hurting anyone and even captured two of them. We're all right. You're all right."

In the recesses of his mind, Dick heard the man's words, but he wasn't all right. Not by a long shot. Still, he knew he had to acknowledge the other man's presence, reassure him that he wasn't physically hurt. As such, he forced himself to raise his head and meet the Flash's gaze.

"You're all okay?", he managed to get out in a relatively stable tone.

"Yes… A few bumps and bruises, but we expected as much."

"It wasn't real then? It was all Phobia's doing?"

"Phobia… That explains the howl you let out downstairs. We didn't know what happened. One minute you're working on freeing the hostages, the next you start shouting and it looks like you're going to head towards us. Then one of Warp's rifts opens right in front of you and you're yanked in."

Even as the Flash outlined his version of what had happened downstairs, Dick heard other people approaching. Nike was the first one to enter the room. Her lip was badly cut and blood flowed from it down to her chin, though she was trying to stop the stream with a piece of cloth. But it seemed the last thing on her mind as she hurried towards the two men. "Nightwing, thank Hera. We were afraid." Her voice trailed off as the Flash motioned for her to stop.

"Phobia got to him, Nike. I think he needs a few minutes to get reorientated."

A look of compassion mixed with horror covered Nike's face with Flash's statement. "Oh no. Nightwing, is there anything…"

"I… I need a few moments. Please." The two faces in front of him were just reinforcing the faces that had been in his hallucination, even though he knew that that vision hadn't been real.

Other footsteps echoed along the hall. The trio turned to see Joe and Gar enter the room, supporting an obvious weak Raven.

"Raven insisted on coming up. She says she can feel Wing's pain even through the mess that Houngan did on her head."

"Ri… Nightwing, I am so sorry. You gave us a job to handle and we let you down." Raven's weak voice barely penetrated Dick's consciousness, but it's irony didn't fail to make an impact. She was apologizing for failing him? Considering what his nightmare had consisted of, he almost felt like laughing at her remark. Except it would be hysterical laughter, not humorous. As such, he kept silent except to ask, "What happened?"

Joe handed off his share of the support of Raven to Wally so that he could explain, his hands flashing in a somewhat agitated manner. "Raven and I teleported into the room where she felt Phobia and this Wizard to be. But they must have been expecting some sort of attack. Because as soon as we materialized, Warp appeared behind us with Houngan, who had several of his technological voodoo figures already in hand. He immediately fired an electrical charge at the head of the one that must have represented Raven. All of a sudden she was screaming and clutching her head. I tried to keep my focus on the two in front of me, even as Raven collapsed, but with the four of them…"

"I understand, Joe. Raven, are you going to be okay?" Dick wanted to make sure that all of the Titans weren't in danger of any lasting repercussions. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if he had actually led them to permanent problems.

"Nightwing, I am fine. It is you that I am concerned about. The feelings roiling within you…"

Dick's tone was slightly harsh when he responded. "…Are my problem, Raven. As far as I can tell, you're in no shape to try to be helping me." In addition to that, Dick wasn't sure that he wanted her using her power on him. Not in light of what he had just been through. He had had enough emotional manipulation, bad or good, for one day. As it was, if she tried to help him, she might have to make him face what he had just gone through. And he wasn't ready for that. At the moment, given the way he was feeling, he wasn't sure he would ever be ready to do that.

Flash broke into the tense silence that have fallen over the group. "Listen, we managed to take down the Icicle and that Adam guy. Warp managed to get the others away before we could grab them, but these two might know something that will help us. I think we should get them up to the satellite and in security restraints before we do anything else. Then we can see about getting all our injuries", he touched his hand to his side with a slight grimace of pain, "looked after."

The others nodded their agreement. But it was a very somber group that made their way down to where their teammates, captives and the hostages were waiting for them.


"Nightwing… Are you feeling all right?"

His reverie broken by the woman's voice, Dick lifted his head from where it had drooped down towards the coffee mug. Seeing the figure in front of him, he shrugged half-heartedly. "Fine, Nike. How's the lip?"

When they had reached the satellite earlier, the lot of them had headed down to the medical area to see about getting their cuts and bruises fixed up. Kole had some slight burns on one of her arms where Plasmus had managed to grab her at one point. Flash had one broken, though non-displaced, and one crack rib where Black Adam had managed to land a punch on him. Aquaman had suffered some bruising and small cuts on his face, arms and legs when the Icicle had projected several sharp, solid ice shards at him. But all in all, the injuries were not that serious. Raven had protested that she could handle the job, but the others had shushed her. She still had been obviously in a great deal of pain herself from Houngan's attack on her. In fact, she was probably the one who was injured physically the most. It appeared that she was going to suffer from sharp pains in her head for awhile. Even her own powers didn't seem to be able to cause the pain to abate. So instead of taxing her, they had gotten Dr. Midnight to administer to their injuries, at least the physical ones. When he had started to examine Dick, Dick had abruptly pushed him away.

"Don't worry about me, sir. I'm fine. The others need your attention more than I do."

"I don't know about that, Nightwing. You look wrung-out."

"Maybe, but there's nothing physically wrong with me." After that, Dick had left the room. He needed something to calm his nerves. He had hoped a brief moment of respite with the cup of coffee would help, but it just resulted in the nightmare playing over and over in his head. And now, with the woman's arrival, even the chance to be alone was gone.

Nike reached up to gently finger the swollen lip, the cut looking more than a little painful. A bruise was also forming high on her cheekbone. But she didn't seem to be in any pain. It anything, it almost seemed as if she was just touching it a bit absent-mindedly while her focus was on the young man in front of her.

"It's all right. You're the one that I'm more worried about."

"Well, don't be. Everything's great."

Nike crossed her arms in front of her as a disbelieving pose. Her eyes narrowed as a "Give me a break" expression crossed over her face. But as soon as the annoyed look appeared, it vanished, as a wave of concern emanated from her over to him. "You want to talk about it?"

His response was short and curt. "No."

She stared at him for a few minutes, while she took a few deep breaths. If he wasn't feeling so banged up and bruised inside, he would almost find her actions funny. It was if she had been in this exact position before, probably with her own Nightwing, and knew that she was going to have to tough him out on this.

But he wasn't feeling up to putting up any defense or offense when it came to this. What Phobia had done was dig up and unleash all the pent up insecurities and guilt and overwhelming sorrow that he had buried deep in his psyche. At the moment, all he wanted was some space to try and put everything back into perspective again. He just wanted to be left alone so that he could find a way to bury all the memories again, before they engulfed him so deeply that he would never be able to find his way out again.

"Look, Nike… Donna. I appreciate the concern. I really do. But I don't want to discuss what happened down there."

    "Dick, it will be better to talk about it. Get it out in the open."

    Rationally, Dick knew she was right. But he didn't want to open up about this with any of these people. At least, not yet. He didn't want to let them see how much he thought of himself as a screw-up.

    "Listen, Donna, I don't need a mother… All right? Find someone else to nurse-maid!" Even Dick winced as he heard the words tumble from his mouth. He didn't mean for them to sound as harsh as they did. But a great deal of pain and frustration seemed to coat his every thought and action at the moment. Still, it hurt to see the quick and fleeting flash of pain cross the woman's face at his statement.

    Still, she was apparently gracious enough to realize that he was probably reacting in a way that wasn't normal for him. "All right. I see that talking to you at this moment isn't going to do either of us any good at the moment. But if you do need to talk about what happened…."

    "I'll call you."

    "Do that."

    Just then, before the awkwardness between the two of them got any worse, Garth entered the room. "Nightwing, we're about to start questioning Black Adam and the Icicle. Want to help?"

    Dick leaped at the chance. Not only to as a chance to find out more about what was going on, and maybe why he was here in the first place, but also to get out from under Nike's scrutiny. "Sure, Aquaman. Let's see how much we can get these two to sing."

    Turning away from Nike, who was obviously still not pleased at his choice, he followed Garth out of the room and down a hall to an elevator. Alighting at a level several floors below, they then entered a tightly secured area. Several rooms branched off the hallway here, each one of them with a special keyboard located beside the doorway.

    Stopping beside one, Garth keyed in a code and the door swung open. Inside, the man that went by the code name "Icicle" was sitting still, his wrist and forehead encircled by special cuffs and headband. Dick had seen them earlier when they had transported up to the satellite. Elongated Man had been waiting with the pieces of equipment. They were specially designed inhibitor bands for super-villains with innate powers. Wearing them, the person wasn't in pain, or constrained unnecessarily. They just couldn't activate their powers.

    The sullen man looked up at the two new arrivals. He was already being watched over by Cyborg.

    "Learn anything yet?", Aquaman queried his friend.

    "Nah… Hasn't said a word. This one's livin' up to his reputation. He's definitely a 'cool' customer." Vic glared down at the man briefly. "But I'm sure he knows a lot that he's not telling us. Let me…"

    "No, Cyborg. I'm sure after some civil conversation, he'll be more than willing to talk to us. Won't you, Icicle." Aquaman's voice carried a tenor of authority that would have brooked no refusal from any sane person. But the Icicle just sent an insolent glare up at Garth before returning to contemplating the table in front of him. Still, Dick had always wondered just how sane anyone who would lead a life of crime really was.

    Garth moved to swing a chair around and straddle it. "So, Icicle. Just what are you doing on our earth? This isn't your usual hunting ground."

    Only a chilly silence greeted Garth's question. Cocking an eyebrow up at both Dick and Victor, Garth continued, his voice, while pleasantly worded, carrying just the merest hint of threat. "Come on now. All we want is a little information. That shouldn't be too hard to handle."

    The white clad man merely swung his chair away from the table and faced the wall. Normally, Dick would have approved of the approach that Garth was taking. Not too threatening. Not giving the impression of that they would actually harm the guy, but still with enough menace that the person on the other end of the discussion would know that they were serious.

    But this was not a normal time, and Dick wasn't really feeling like trying to draw the information out slowly. He wanted answers and he wanted them now! As a result, ignoring the looks that both Aquaman and Cyborg gave him, he stalked around the table and, swinging the chair back around, quickly lifted the Icicle up and practically threw him, backing him up so that the man's body was shoved against the wall. His hand encircled the cold throat, and his angry eyes bore into the almost crystalline cold depths of the other man's eyes.

    "Listen… and listen well. I have had a very bad day. And it's the result of the crap you and your cronies were up to. So I think you should answer our questions. Cause if you don't…"

    A hand came down abruptly on Dick's shoulder. "Nightwing, you've made your point. I think we should step outside for a moment." While Aquaman's voice was pleasant enough, Dick could see in the other man's gaze that he wasn't really pleased by Dick's actions.

    Dick almost refused. But he knew that he was in the wrong here. As a result, he acquiesced, but not before giving the Icicle's throat one tiny little squeeze. He then rapidly stalked out of the room.

    Garth followed him into the hall. His voice carried a tone that caused Dick to know that while Garth might understand, he was a bit angry by what had just happened. "All right. I know that you're on edge. And I'd like to help you deal with that. But that was not the way to go about it. I don't know if we'll be able to get him to open up at all after that."

    Dick slumped against the wall. He had screwed up, yet again, and he knew it. "Sorry. I just couldn't stand the smug expression on his face for one more second."

    "It's all right, I guess. It's not as if he's going anywhere for the moment. But maybe you shouldn't be taking part in the questioning after all."

    Dick knew the man was right. But a part of him rebelled against the idea. "Listen, let me sit in with the other one. That Black Adam guy. I'll behave."

    Garth looked doubtful for a moment, then seemed to realize that Dick was really being sincere. "Okay. Wally and Ralph and J'onn are in with him." Turning and going down the corridor a short way, Garth keyed in another code. As the door swooshed open, he indicated for Dick to enter the room.

    Dick heard raised voices coming from the room. Entering, he found the three mentioned Leaguers facing Black Adam, though the darkly-clad man was behind a protective force field.

    "Do you really think I would lower myself to deal with the likes of you. I have been powered by gods. You are of little to no significance to me. And you will soon realize that."

    "Aw man… Is he going to keep up this incessant babbling forever?" The annoyed tone in the Elongated Man voice told Dick that this Adam fellow obviously wasn't using the same silent method that his erstwhile colleague was. Dick decided to keep quiet this time, but leaning against the back wall of the room, would merely observe how the others handled the boasting bad-guy.

    "Ralph, please do not antagonize him. He might babble even more." The green form of the Martian Manhunter counseled his teammate.

    "Fool. You are no match for me. Release this field and we shall see who would triumph." Black Adam's temper was getting the best of him, Dick could see. However, the others weren't applying that anger in the best direction. The man obviously had a very strong ego. It would be better to play to that, butter him up, before turning the tables on him. That might make him start to spill his guts about things that they really did want to know about.

    Motioning to Wally, he led the speedster outside the room. Outlining his theory, Dick mentioned that they should play up what Black Adam's obviously "large" role in what the super-villains were planning was, how he must be right in the inner circle of what was being planned. Wally saw the wisdom in Dick's advice.

    "Gotcha, Wing. I'll let the others in on the plan. We'll take it from here. You look like you could use some rest."

    Dick sighed deeply. Flash was probably right, but Dick was too restless to even think about sleeping. "Just let me know if you need any help. I'm going to go see if there's been any other news."

    With that, Nightwing turned and left the security area. Heading back up to the level of the conference rooms, he was just about to go in search of someone who could get him on a communication terminal when he heard his name being called from behind. Tensing for a small moment, he relaxed as he recognized the figure behind him.

    "Nightwing… There you are." Jay Garrick hurried towards Dick from down the hall. "I have what you might consider some good news."

    Dick leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. At this point, any news would be considered good news compared to what he had already gone through today. "You've found a way to get me home."

    "Well, yes and no." With Dick's sigh, Jay's expression morphed into one of slight regret. "We're working the best we can…"

    "I know, Jay. I know. I'm sorry."

    "It's all right, son. I just thought you might like to know that the Atom and I have come up with a theory as to how we think we can break through that barrier, at least part way. Enough to we can reach that other Earth we think is there."

    Dick did perk up slightly with that. "That's great, Jay. What's your idea?"

    "Well, we're going to have to go over it with Wally first. The main problem with getting to this other Earth, and then getting you over to the other side of the barrier, is the weird way that the frequencies on either side of the spectral range are so fragmented and keeping shifting. The Atom thinks we use Wally's cosmic treadmill, Wally and I will be able to monitor the frequencies and adjust our vibrations to that of the different frequencies as we 'hit' each one. I need to make sure that Wally's up for it as his reflexes are slightly faster than mine are. I'm not as young as I used to be."

    "You're still a lot younger in spirit than a lot of people I know, Jay."

    "Thanks for saying so."

    "But even if you and Wally can adjust for this barrier's spectral shifts, how do the rest…"

    Jay shifted his silver helmet back and scratched the top of his head. "That's the trickier part. We're going to hook up the treadmill to a transponder platform. Hopefully, anything that's on the platform will have its frequency shifted when we shift ours. But we still have to build it and test it. We're not going to attempt taking anyone else with us until we know it's safe."

    Dick nodded slowly in agreement. He definitely didn't want to put anyone else at risk just for his sake. But still, Jay's news did make him feel a little bit better. He still felt like something that had been pummeled, trampled and left for dead, but he didn't feel quite as bad as he had earlier. To let the other man know how much he appreciated the news, Dick smiled. "Thanks, Jay. I really do know that you and the others are doing your best to help me out here."

    "Hey… According to the newspapers, we're heroes. It's what we do." Jay's jovial tone told Dick that he was really trying to be humble about the whole thing. But Dick knew how much their help did mean to him.

    Jay, nodding in understanding, turned to head back to the lab. Stopping for a moment though, he threw back over his shoulder, "Oh, by the way, I'm supposed to let you know that there's some one waiting for you in the kitchen."

    Dick, a bit startled by that bit of information, wondered who could be waiting for him. Deciding that he should go see what was going on, he headed off in the direction he remembered the kitchen as being.


    Entering the kitchen, Dick found a trio of ladies waiting for him. Amanda climbed off the stool she had been sitting on to run over, as if to give him a hug, but he stiffened slightly at her approach. She must have sensed something from his expression and body posture, as she stopped her dash over. Instead, she moved over to him almost silently and slipped her hand into his.

    "Uncle Wing", she said, drawing him over towards a table, "I was starting to get worried. You didn't come back to the Tower, and then Uncle Garth called Aunt Ali to say that you were all up here."

    "I'm sorry, kiddo. I'm afraid that things got away from me. I didn't mean to not let you know that I was here." Dick's voice was a little tight, but he managed a weak smile to reassure her.

    "That's okay. But you got to be hungry. Kallen and I have been making us all some supper."

    "That's really nice of you guys, Amanda." Dick was trying to keep calm. He really didn't want to worry her or the other two. But seeing Amanda had brought back the vision of her family being destroyed and her yelling at him earlier.

    No, it hadn't been her, he had to keep reminding himself. It had only been a figment of his dream. But between that, and the confrontations he had just had with the Icicle and Black Adam, he was just hanging on to his temper. But he knew he really didn't want to inflict his bad mood on her or the others. Taking another deep breath, as it seemed to be the only thing that prevented him from blurting out his pain in front of everyone, he managed a tentative smile.

    "I sure could use some food right about now", he managed to get out in a relatively pleasant tone. If she or Alianne or Kallen picked up on his less than totally enthusiastic manner, none of them commented on it.

    "Great, cause I've made some sandwiches and Aunt Ali made some soup, and Kallen showed me how to make some seaweed wraps…"

    "Seaweed wraps?"

    "Yeah. You know… With the sticky rice inside."

    "Do you like sushi or sushimi?" Kallen climbed onto a chair across the table from him. "Father says that a lot of surface dwellers eat fish that way."

    "I've had it a few times, Kallen."

    "It is not something we have in Poseidonis, but when we visited Japan once, Mother got one of the local chefs to show us how to make these. They are rather tasty, though I prefer our food more."

    "A lot of people do enjoy the food they grow up with the best."

"Like Uncle Alfred's chocolate cake… It's the best."

    "Or his buckwheat pancakes."

    "Yeah, those too… Mommy still doesn't make either of them quite as good as Uncle Alfred does."

    As the two girls and Dick quietly chatted, Alianne brought over a tray set with a plate of sandwiches and the wraps, as well as three bowls of soup. Dick wasn't quite sure what type of soup it was, but a taste assured him it was delicious.

    As if reading his mind, Alianne stated, "It is a dish I have concocted, made with a variety of undersea plants, Dick. I have learned to touch it up with some of Garth's favorite surface spices. I hope it meets with your approval."

    "It's wonderful, Ali. Thanks for preparing it for me."

    "You are welcome. Now I should see if any of the others would want some food soon as well. Girls, behave while I am gone."

    "We will, Mother."

    "Yeah, Aunt Ali… You don't have to worry about us. Besides, I'm sure Uncle Wing will watch out for us."

    Alianne sent a look back to Dick as if to say that she knew that keeping up with two girls might not be his first choice of activity at the moment. Dick just nodded to let her know that it was okay… That he was fine with all of this. After another short pause, Alianne left the room.

    After that, the three of them fell into a companionable silence. That is, the girls fell into a companionable silence. Dick, on the other hand, felt tense and on edge. But the girls seem to be ignoring his down demeanor. Dick wondered if someone had told the girls not to quiz him on what had happened this afternoon. Every other time he and Amanda had spent time together, she had been full of questions. But this time, she and Kallen just made a few comments about their mutual friends and such.

    Every so often, Dick would hear something that he would ask the two of them about. As a result, he got to hear about some of the funny things that the kids did, or the pranks they would play on each other or their parents, which had him chuckling to himself. But he also heard a little bit more about their sojourn of taking the T-Jet to see Queen Hippolyta. Hearing about Robbie's obvious bit of bravado when they were going through the mystical clouds that shielded the island, telling the rest of them that he had been through the stormy skies a thousand times and that he would have no problem getting them in, brought a worried look to Dick's face. But the girls provided enough giggles and laughs with the story that Dick realized that they obviously either hadn't been in any real danger, or that they just had no clue as to the danger they were in. Dick wasn't sure if he shouldn't reach over to each girl for a hug to make sure they were really okay, or throttle the lot of them for worrying their parents so. Still, the kids had obviously seen it as just one big glorious adventure. Still, Dick thought maybe a quick word with one or another of the parents…

    …But then, who was he to be commenting on parenting to any of these people. All the kids seemed to be as well adjusted as they could be, given the environment they were growing up in. He shouldn't be the one to look as if he was criticizing their parents' choices on how to raise their children.

    "Uncle Wing, are you finished?"

    Staring down into his bowl, Dick realized that he had eaten everything set in front of him. "Yes, Amanda. I'm stuffed. Thank you for the great mean, ladies." He added a smile to his words, to make sure the two girls knew that he did appreciate their efforts.

    "Great, because we better be getting home soon. I still have to get some things." With that, she stood and gathered up his and her dishes. Kallen followed with her own.

    "Do you need some help?"

    "No. We can do this by ourselves."

    They went back into the kitchen area and Dick could hear them rinsing out the bowls. Then sounds came through to them as if they were loading them into a dishwasher. A moment later, they both appeared again.

    "We should go find Aunt Ali to say good-bye and then transport home."

    "I should check and see if I need to do anything else, Amanda."

    "Okay, but I hope you don't. You don't look so hot, Uncle Wing."

    Dick tried to make light of her comment. "Gee, thanks a lot, kid. I know who to go to if my ego ever gets the best of me."

    Amanda didn't pick up on his humor though. Instead, her usually very animated face took on a somber cast. "I just think you need some sleep. The faster we get home and I can do the stuff I need to, the faster you'll be able to get to bed."

    Dick wasn't sure why he would have to wait until she was done whatever it was that she needed to do before he might think about going to bed, but he let it rest. Kids at times could think that the world revolves around them, though he hadn't noticed that tendency in any of the kids he had met so far.

    "All right, sweetheart. I'll just go and talk to Superman for a few minutes, and then we'll head home."

    The girls led the way out of the kitchen. Spotting her mother coming back down the corridor, Kallen ran ahead. "Mother, Amanda and I cleaned up the kitchen."

    "Very good. Did you all have enough to eat?"

    "Yes, thanks, Ali. Do you know where I might find Superman?"

    "I left both Supermen in the main conference room, Dick."

    "Okay. C'mon, Amanda. Let's go see them and then we'll head home."

    Saying thanks and good-bye to Alianne and Kallen, Dick took Amanda's hand and led her off in the direction of the conference room. When they got there, they found the Supermen of Earth-1 and Earth-2 sitting at the conference table, their heads together as they conferred about whatever they were reading in the reports in front of them.

    "Uncle Clark… Did you get some supper?" Amanda flew over and dropped a kiss on the younger Superman's cheek.

    "Not yet, Amanda. We're just going to go over these reports one more time, and then I'm taking Kal-L home to get some food there."

    "Oh… okay. Say 'hi' to Lara for me."

    "I will, kiddo. You'll have to come and stay over again soon. It's been awhile. Once we get this mess all straightened out, I'll talk to your mom and dad about it."

    "Cool, Uncle Clark…"

    Dick watched the exchange, feeling a touch disconnected from the small group. Obviously it wasn't just the Titans or Bruce, Alfred and Jason that Amanda considered "family". Thinking about all the groupings he'd seen so far on these earths, it appeared that not even dimensional shifts would keep these people from being very close friends.

    "Is there anything that's come up that I can help with, Superman?"

    "No, Nightwing. We're just batting ideas back and forth about what this supposed massing of the super-villains that you said the Wizard and Phobia mentioned and the use of inter-dimensional transponders could really mean. And that 'voice' that appears to be in charge. Whoever's behind all this must wield quite a bit of power."

    "Yes… Which means the faster we find out what's going on, the better it will be for us. If there's one thing I've learned over the last several decades, it's that all villains really want is to keep amassing power…" The older Superman's voice trailed off as the three men contemplated just how much power the unknown force behind all of this mess could be wanting. And considering the power he, she or they already had, what was their ultimate goal.

    "I guess the one thing that we do have going for us is that even if the super-villains are massing, they don't tend to work too well together as a team. That's probably the one strength we have over them."

    "You're right, Nightwing. At least we're used to working together."

    "Well", Dick thought to himself, "I'm not used to working with you. But I'm going to do my damnest to make sure that we win this thing."

    Even as that thought swept through his mind, Amanda was piping up, "Uncle Clark, we have to go home. I'm not sure Uncle Wing's feeling so hot, and I got to do some stuff first."

    "That's okay, Amanda. I think you're right. Your Uncle Wing has had a trying day."

    Dick beckoned Superman over, and whispered, "Superman, if there's stuff I could be doing to help…"

    The older man rested a reassuring hand on Dick's shoulder. "Go on, Nightwing. We'll call you if we really need you. You probably could use some down time right now any ways. From what I hear, you were really shook up by what happened this afternoon. Right now, we're just going to see what we can come up with from the information you've already helped us get. You've done more than your share today. Take Amanda and go rest up."

    "All right. If you say so. But if you find out anything…"

    "We'll call you. Now go."

    Dick motioned to the girl who was asking the Earth-2 Superman about his version of her grandfather. Dick could hear the older man's reply. "He was the best, Amanda. Really the best. I miss him a lot. I'm glad I still get to see your grandfather from time to time, if only to help me remember all the good things about the Bruce Wayne that I knew."

    "Grandpa's the best", Amanda added in agreement.

    "Amanda… We better go."

    "Okay. Bye, Uncle Clark. Bye, Superman." With that, the two of them left the other two men at the table, as both Supermen fell into a silence as one of them contemplated the young man who had just left, and the other remembered another man who in some indiscernible ways the young man greatly resembled.

    Entering the room with the transporter, Amanda gestured to Dick to enter the tube. "I'll be right with you, Uncle Wing. I just need to set the co-ordinates for home."

    Dick watched as she typed some numbers into the control panel. She then hopped into the tube with him. With a hum, they were gone.

To Be Continued

 
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