The Bay area is comprised of three cities; San Jose, San Francisco, and Coast City. With a population estimated at seven million, it’s the sixth most populated region in the United States. San Francisco itself is situated on a peninsula, dividing the bay from the Pacific Ocean, facing Coast City across the bay. The Golden Gate bridge connects Sonoma and San Francisco counties via Highway 101, affording a view of the five islands that dot the bay itself.
All of this was dry fact, memorized to perfection in Slade Wilson’s mind. But he hated the area with a passion. The reason and object of that hate lay on the speck of land called Isla del Gigante by the Spanish explorers that first landed here. It was in between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate, its lone structure rising into the skyline in the shape of a giant “T.”
Slade let the feeling of rage wash over him. He was going to see that tower destroyed. He would stand atop ruined concrete and twisted steel, the blood of its inhabitants drenching his sword-
“Dad! You’ve seen it before! Can we brood another time?”
-just as soon as he figured out why he hadn’t killed his daughter first. “You’re whining again, Rose.”
Rose Wilson rolled her eyes in reply. “It’s noon, we’ve been on the road since five this morning, you refused to let me listen to K-ROQ as we went through LA, and we still have another hour of drive time before we meet Brain and Mallah at the new place. So which one of us is going to explain to Brain why we’re an hour late because you stopped to brood at the Tower?”
Well, when she put it that way… “I’ll have you know that the Brain has wasted lots of time brooding over the Doom Patrol and Titans as well.” He paused as he climbed back into the SUV. “Besides, you don’t need to be listening to that crap on K-ROQ. Bunch of whiney sissy boys from England with long hair...”
“That’s probably what you said about the Beatles when they made it over here too, didn’t you?” Rose muttered as they drove back onto the highway.
Well he had but that wasn’t the point. The point was that all that pop culture distracted Rose from her training. Never mind that she had a sarcastic tongue on her. She got that from her mother. Lili always was quick with the snarky comments. But Rose’s infatuation with things like boy bands, iPods, and anime was grating on his nerves.
It wasn’t that he disapproved of downtime, but when downtime cut into a person’s concentration, and thus degraded their skills, a line had to be drawn. It didn’t pay to be distracted in their profession-
“Dad, stop it.”
Slade blinked then looked over at Rose. “Stop what?”
“Brooding. I’m pretty sure that steering wheel didn’t do anything to you.” Rose pointed at Slade’s hands, which were gripping the wheel so tight his knuckles were turning white.
“I don’t know why you’re so worried about my thinking,” Slade replied as he relaxed his grip.
Rose blew out a sigh that said ‘I am a teen, I know everything, but you don’t seem to understand that.’ “Dad, it’s not thinking, it’s brooding. You’re totally doing a Luthor there.”
“Doing a Luthor? Now wait a minute…”
“Dad! I can totally hear you thinking ‘I’ll get those Titans if it’s the last thing I
do, yadda yadda yadda.’ It’s totally Luthor-esque and you know it. It’s not good for your blood pressure either.”
Slade snorted with disbelief. His own flesh and blood was accusing him of…of…of acting like that millionaire poseur Lex Luthor? “For the love of…alright. For the first, last, and final time, I do not act like Lex Luthor. I do not sit up in my penthouse dictating call notes while acquiring kryptonite and weapons and still not having the balls to confront Superman face to face. I face my enemies in honorable combat like a true warrior. And I do. Not. Brood.”
Rose sighed again. “Fine, whatever,” she muttered and turned to watch the scenery fly by her window.
Slade sighed and concentrated on driving. Father and daughter were silent for a few moments.
“And I don’t need to watch my blood pressure either,” Slade suddenly said. “I’m damn near immortal, I can regenerate most anything that’s done to me.”
Rose smirked. “Details.”
“…Don’t worry about details, everybody will help you get acclimated to the training schedule. But they’re not as intense as Bruce can be. They’re good people,” Tim was saying. “They’re not like Bruce, they know how to relax.”
Cass was tempted to remind Tim that Bruce had relaxed at Xanadu with Selina, but she didn’t think he’d appreciate it. So she kept silent. After all, he was doing a nice thing for her in introducing her to the Titans. Granted Dick had been the one to suggest it, but Tim had been rather enthusiastic about it. She supposed it might have had something to do with introducing one group of friends to another.
She also suspected it might be that Tim wanted her there for someone he could relate to. Someone that knew what happened with the mindwipe. With his father. With Stephanie.
Cass shook that idea out of her head and focused back on Tim, who was still talking as he led her down the hallway to the Titans’ main room.
“You’ve met Conner before, so there’s no introductions there,” Tim said as they turned a corner. “Cassie is Wonder Girl, she’s going out with Conner. I think you’ll like her, she’s pretty out-going and friendly. Bart is Kid Flash. He and Gar are the pranksters of the group. Gar’s Beast Boy, you can’t miss him. Gar, Vic, and Raven are the “Old Guard” so to speak, though don’t mention that around Vic. He’s a bit sensitive about that…”
Cass laid a hand on Tim’s shoulder, stopping him in mid-sentence. “Tim. Why you tell me all their names?”
Tim looked befuddled for a second. “Names? Well you’re going to meet them-“
“No. Not hero names. Real names. Real names be guarded. Secrets. Why you tell me?”
Tim was silent for a moment. “When we started out in Young Justice,” he began quietly, “everybody knew each other’s names. All except me.” He chuckled wryly. “I was taking Bruce to heart when he said that we need to protect our identities. So I told them I was Alvin Draper. Later, after we got back from Apokolips, they found out who I really was. It hurt them a lot. I quit the team there for a while because they couldn’t trust me.”
Tim paused and looked at Cass squarely. “If you are part of a team, you need complete trust of the others. I trust you, Dick, and Bruce to be there to back me up. It’s the exact same thing here. When they found out I was keeping secrets from them, Young Justice couldn’t trust me anymore. I had to earn that back.”
“Like Canary.” Cass whispered.
Tim’s face hardened. “Like Dinah.” They stood there facing each other for a few moments, lost in their thoughts. Cass saw Tim’s posture change suddenly, like he was literally willing himself away from bad memories. “Anyways, none of that here,” Tim said brightly and they began walking again. “I trust everybody, the majority of us have been together since our YJ, days and Raven, Vic, and Gar have been together since Dick first became Nightwing. The only person who’s new to everybody is Mia, Speedy. She’s had it pretty tough but she’s okay once you get to know her. Just don’t let her attitude put you off at first.”
They stopped in front of the door to the rec room. “They’re good people, like I said. Fun to be around, but they’re real professionals when they need to be…”
The door slid open. They stepped through…and met the surprised and embarrassed gazes of Cassie Sandsmark and Conner Kent, lying on the floor, wearing bathing suits and covered with water and soap suds. A giant tarp had been laid from the hall that led to the living quarters to the entrance of the rec room where Cassie and Conner now lay. Water and soap covered the tarp and a good part of the rest of the room as well.
Cass was confused. Was this some secret training exercise? Probably not, the way Tim was hyperventilating.
“C-Conner?” Tim stammered.
“Er, heya Robbie!” Conner replied, equally chagrinned. “Uhm, I can explain…”
“MAKE WAY, YA WHIPPER SNAPPERS!!!”
A penguin slid down the tarp towards the group, not unlike the ones Cass had seen in that movie a few months ago other than the fact it was completely green and talking. The bird bumped into Cassie and spun off to the side, stopping at Tim’s feet and laughing hysterically.
“Woohoohoo! That was awesome! Oh, hey Tim! Grab your swimsuit and join in! Bart got a great idea for indoor Slip n’ Slide! You should try it!”
Cass blinked several times and looked at Tim. He held his forehead in his hands and from the posture of his body, she determined it was an expression he’d done a lot of while here in the Titans.
“And sometimes,” Tim muttered, “it’s like living with a bunch of second graders.”
There are two truths to making a move from one residence to another. One is that friends with pick-up trucks and those that are physically strong are always called upon first. The other is the obligatory bribe of free beer and pizza (in virtually unlimited amounts) in order to get the use aforementioned pick-up and physical strength.
Amongst the costumed underworld, it was pretty much the same. Slade had gotten most of his and Rose’s belongings out of storage, rented a U-Haul, and drove to their new base of operations (“Dad, it’s a nice house in Pacifica, not a base.”) where Brain and Mallah were waiting to help move. He hadn’t expected one of their new recruits to be there, but so much the better. One more warm body never hurt anything.
It did mean that he would have to go get another case of Bud Light and three more extra large pizzas though.
“So, Elephant Man huh?” Slade said to Brain as he watched the ten foot pachyderm-human hybrid move a large entertainment center into the living room.
//Indeed,// the Brain buzzed. His brain canister sat on an upside-down milk crate near the front door. //He is green and rather dim-witted, but as you can see he is very strong and resilient. We shall see if he lasts past his second mission.//
“Who knows, maybe he’ll surprise you,” Slade said. “After all, Houngan played with dolls and he ended up being rather effective.”
An irritated buzz came from Brain’s speakers. //Indeed, until he decided to leave and start is own company. Honestly, who in their right mind would hire him to create a little stuffed toy that giggles when you touch it?//
Slade raised his eyebrow. “He was in on the Tickle-Me Elmo? You’re kidding me.”
Another irritated buzz. //I kid you not. Such potential for mayhem and destruction wasted.//
Slade held his tongue and merely nodded his head. Houngan probably got a fat payday from that thing. He probably wasn’t cut out for this lifestyle anyways. Honestly, who goes into battle with little dolls and wearing a Japanese fan on your head?
“Hey dad, where do want the sofa?” Rose walked in with Mallah behind her, carrying the leather mission-style couch.
Slade pointed to the wall opposite the entertainment center. “There, and tell Elephant Man to bring in the bookcases next.”
“Will do,” Rose replied before walking out again. “Hey Dumbo!” she shouted. “Dad wants the bookcases!”
Slade sighed and shook his head while a buzz that almost sounded like laughter came from Brain. Mallah merely shook his head. “The brashness of youth is only matched by its volume,” Mallah said.
“Don’t remind me. Try driving from Las Vegas to L.A. to here with her.”
Mallah winced. “My condolences. However, we currently have our own problems with the female members of our group.”
Brain buzzed again. //Gemini is at least as competent as her mother was. But our other new recruit is somewhat less reliable.//
Slade raised an eyebrow. “Another new recruit? What happened to Warp, Plasmus, and Phobia?”
“Emil is currently visiting his grandmother in Marseilles,” Mallah replied. “It is an annual tradition for him. Otto is still at our headquarters with the aforementioned Goldilocks and Gemini. Angela is, how shall we say, having…issues.”
//She’s currently in England having her midlife crisis,// Brain supplied. // She apparently decided that the life of a supervillain isn’t what she wanted, so she’s trying to integrate herself back into British aristocracy in order to land a husband.//
“You don’t sound too worried about it,” Slade commented.
//There is a betting pool going on as to when she will return. I have my money on the Fifteenth of this month. Mallah says the Thirtieth.//
“I still believe that she will take some time to rest and recuperate before she comes to her senses,” Mallah said. “However, in the meantime-“
“Dad, the gun safe. In the study or the den?”
Slade turned to Rose. “The study, but after we’ve moved in the desk,” he said before turning back to Mallah. “You were saying?”
“In the meantime, Goldilocks is having trouble focusing on her training. We are trying to get her up to level, but it is slow going.”
Slade nodded. “Rose is having trouble focusing as well. More concerned with what the latest fashion is or if the Kickers are playing in town.”
“They’re called the Killers, Dad! Jeez!” Rose walked in, carrying a box marked “Kitchen”. “Hey Mallah, you gonna help or just sit there and look pretty?”
Mallah sighed. “I appreciate the compliment on my appearance, Rose, but if you need my assistance, I shall be of service”
“Good, go help Slappy out there with the dining room table,” she said before she continued on to the kitchen. Mallah shrugged and went out to help Elephant Man.
Slade sighed. “See what I mean?”
//I believe I may have a solution to both our problems,// Brain said. //Both of our respective girls are not focusing on their training, correct?//
//But I am safe in assuming that Rose has a competitive streak to her?//
“She does. What are you thinking?”
//Let us pair her with Goldilocks for training sessions. Between the two of them, we can prod them to work harder to outshine the other in their sessions.// Brain buzzed happily. //Yes, I can see it working. Let’s use their competitive natures to our advantage.//
Slade pondered the idea. He didn’t know anything about this Goldilocks girl of Brain’s, but he was open to suggestions on Rose’s training. “Sounds feasible. I don’t see any reason why not.”
//Excellent. Our next session will Tuesday. Have Rose there.//
“She will be,” Slade replied. Yes, this would work well. Slade felt the black cloud that had enveloped him since crossing San Francisco city limits begin to lift…only to settle again when he heard an elephant trumpet followed by a crash and Mallah cursing.
“Should’ve hired professional movers,” he groused.
They managed to clean up the rec room and get most everything dried out. Cass decided that there was a definite advantage to having super speed after seeing Kid Flash…no, Bart. His name was Bart…mop the floor in under thirty seconds. Cassie meanwhile had taken towels and soaked curtains to the dryer and Conner had used his breath to dry the carpeting. Gar had been tasked to rolling up the tarp and taking it back to the garage. There was a muttering of “Robins who never let anybody have any fun” from the green gorilla, but Tim either didn’t hear it or just ignored it.
Cass merely stood by and watched. It was…interesting. It reminded her of when Dick and Arsenal had tried to bake a birthday cake for Barbara and had instead nearly demolished the couple’s kitchen. The aura of authority that Babs had projected while directing the batter-encrusted heroes in the ensuing clean up reminded Cass of what Tim was doing now. Minus the eggs on the ceiling, of course.
Though she always wondered how they got on to the ceiling in the first place.
“Well, not exactly the first impression I would’ve liked,” Tim said as he walked over to her. “I was hoping that they’d be somewhat professional when we came in. I should’ve known better though.”
Cass just shrugged. “They listen.”
”What do you mean?”
”They listen to you. Like Dick listens to Bruce. Like Huntress listens to Oracle. Like Bruce listens to Alfred sometimes. Same with them.” She nodded to Cassie and Conner, who were now in uniform. “They listen to you.”
Tim smiled slightly. “Sometimes.”
Cass nodded. “Sometimes.”
“Alright fearless leader, what’s with the meeting?” A girl in a hooded yellow cloak and red suit walked into the room, yawning slightly. Cass figured that this must be Speedy. She fit the description Arsenal gave one of the many times he’d been over at Dick and Barbara’s. She was followed by an older girl with black hair and piercing blue eyes, clad in an indigo cloak. She looked at Cass intently, and Cass couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable under that stare.
Tim glanced at Cass for a moment, long enough for her to see that his expression was saying “Sorry, Speedy’s always like this” before answering. “We’ve got a visitor for the week and I wanted to make introductions. When Vic and Gar get here, we’ll start.”
”Man, I can’t believe you all did that! If I have to replace the carpeting in the rec room again, it’s coming out of your paycheck. Much like last time.”
“Vic, how many times do I have to tell you? That shaving cream incident was totally not my fault!”
Tim smiled. “Speak of the devil.”
Cass turned to see a disgruntled Gar walking in front of a tall, well-built black boy out of the elevator. Well, he was a man really. Judging from the few parts of his body that weren’t steel and robotics, he was probably the eldest of the assembled heroes. He was also the tallest and his posture indicated that he was rather agitated. His posture said that he, like Tim before, also seemed to be used to this. Interesting.
The robotic man-Vic-looked over at Tim and nodded. “Hey Rob. Heard you caught them in the act.”
”Yeah, and the four responsible will be doing an extra training session later to make up for it.” That brought groans from the guilty parties. Tim ignored them and continued. “But the reason I called everyone together is that we’re going to have a guest with us this week. Vic, I know Nightwing let you know ahead of time, but she’ll be training with us and basically observing how we perform in the field. So with that said, everybody, this is Batgirl.”
Cassandra had heard about people getting “stage fright.” How being the center of attention of so many people would case a person to essentially freeze with fear. She wasn’t sure, but she was pretty sure she was feeling that now. There was an icy corkscrew sensation that went up her spine as Tim’s friends turned all their eyes on her. Her mouth was suddenly dry and all she could think of was that these were Tim’s friends and what if they didn’t like her? Had they heard of her father? Did they know who she was? Of what she had done?!
It seemed like an eternity for Cass, but it was only probably a few seconds. She told herself to breathe, exhaled, and said softly, “Uhm, hi.”
The girl in the indigo cloak came forward quietly. She stared at Cass for a moment with those same piercing blue eyes. Then she smiled serenely and put her hand forward. She spoke and suddenly Cass felt much more at ease.
”My name is Raven,” the girl said, her voice calm and mellow. “I am glad to meet you. Welcome to the Teen Titans.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Tim smiled broadly and Cass felt compelled to follow as she took Raven’s hand. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad here after all.
To be continued …