Deep within the Labyrinth, his sprawling underground base, Slade Wilson carefully examined the size changing belt that had belonged to Ryan Choi, the latest Atom, now dead, a victim of Slade and his team. He was pleased. He had killed a hero (not his first), been well paid, and all the while camouflaged his true intent. Misdirection was a useful tool.
Despite how well he had covered their tracks, he knew his team’s actions would be discovered. It was like the steps in a ritual dance. He would take every precaution against discovery, someone would eventually push hard enough, and sooner or later bring specialized powers to bear on the problem, either highly advanced scientific gear or some form of magic. Spell casters were hard to counter without very precise planning. He considered the possibilities and wondered which hero it would be.
Of course, he was aware of a reputed connection between Choi and the woman calling herself Giganta, but that didn’t trouble him. He was well aware of her power to grow to immense size, and that did grant her a lot of strength, but it also made larger targets out of her vital areas. He could bring her down easily enough.
His video link beeped, interrupting his musings, signaling for his attention. It was possibly a client, so he took a moment to pull on his mask and answered as Deathstroke the Terminator, one of the world’s best assassins.
The image resolved, and Slade allowed himself a moment of mild surprise. Not that this moment had come, he was fairly certain it would, but that it had come earlier than anticipated. He didn’t have to wonder anymore. The kid was stepping up his game. Deathstroke regarded the cowled image and said tonelessly, “Grayson.”
“Wilson. You’re a business man. Let me put this simply. You have my friend. I want him back. How much do you want for him?”
Grayson had matured even more since stepping into his mentor’s boots, Slade thought. Slade’s thought processes and reflexes were vastly faster than human, so the pause to think wasn’t noticeable. He had half expected the hero to give him a lecture on morality or threaten him. Obviously, he didn’t know about the dead Atom, instead he was interested in his friend, now a member of Slade’s team.
“I’m keeping him. I don’t think he wants to be ‘rescued,’ this time, Bat-boy. He’s one of us now.”
There was a moment of silence, and something in Grayson’s eyes reminded Slade of the original Batman.
“We tried the easy way.”
The connection broke. Slade began to alert his team. He’d known this would happen eventually, and had made preparations.
Elsewhere, the man who was now the Batman leaned back in his chair. “You heard?” he asked, not looking back. A few figures emerged from the shadows.
“We did, honey. You tried. Now we start letting people know.” Donna Troy moved to a different console and began placing calls.
Dick watched her for a few moments, and then began doing the same. They had grown up together, learned together, trained together. They were family. A large, extended family. There was a long history between Deathstroke and the heroes who had called themselves the Teen Titans. Now that history was going make itself known. While placing his calls, another part of his brain focused on tactics. He had several plans, which he refined as he made the calls.
Deathstroke leaned back, hands steepled in front of him, facing the now blank monitor but focusing his attention elsewhere. Grayson wouldn’t give up, especially not on someone he called a friend. Slade wondered when he’d be coming. While it was possible the kid had bought into the Batman myth enough he’d try it alone, Slade wasn’t betting on it. Grayson was too good a tactician, and had too many connections. The question was who would he bring with him?
Deathstroke leaned forward and began scrolling through the cameras in his base, assessing his team. He’d warn them in a few moments, but he wanted some time to consider his options, and see the state of his team. None of them were solid, whole, individuals, but if they were, he wouldn’t be able to manipulate them as easily.
He found Cinder first, in her room. Young, inexperienced, virtually unknown to the superhuman community, she was a good find. Her crusade to make people pay for sins against children gave him a good handle on her, and her own traumas made her easier to control. She reminded him a bit of young Tara Markov, albeit not as psychopathic. Given her history, he also had no intention of trying to get her in bed, another difference between the (literally) fiery Italian and the crazy royal bastard. Cinder stared off into space, no doubt reliving some of her least favorite moments.
Slade turned the camera controls to another room, and centered in on Mark Richards, the second man to use the somewhat ridiculous alias of “The Tattooed Man.” His mystical tattoos made him a formidable combatant, but depression robbed him of his edge. The death of the man’s son had dealt him a sharp blow that Richards had never recovered from, and the subsequent strain and fighting with the remainder of his family had made him more vulnerable to Slade’s schemes. Once, Richards has been on the edge of becoming a hero, working alongside the Justice League in the most recent planet-wide Crisis. Slade suppressed his own reaction to the loss of a child with the ease of long practice, so that he didn’t even note he’d done it. His oldest had died fighting the Teen Titans, and his other son had perished at Slade’s own hand, even if he’d later been resurrected, which was almost a matter of course for heroes in this day and age. Richards was in the training room, practicing his hand to hand combat. Not bad, Slade granted, although far from the top tier Slade himself belonged to.
Thinking of masterful fighters… Slade next viewed the woman who called herself Jade, better known as Cheshire. She was an assassin, a master poisoner, and a formidable hand to hand combatant, even without her advantage of being triple jointed. Many believed her to be as cold and withdrawn… well, as he was most of the time. Slade knew that she grieved over the death of Lian, her daughter, and was despondent to the point of being sloppy in combat, which in their line of work was virtually the same as being suicidal. Even Slade wasn’t sure why she was seemingly ignoring the death of her other child, Thomas, Jr, the spawn of Cheshire and her former teammate Catman. Slade suspected she was either in denial or was simply repressing the memory entirely. Whatever the reason, her grief made the woman who had once destroyed most of the country of Qurac with a nuke much easier to control, and for all that, she’d already conspired to kill Slade once since he recruited her.
Thinking about the assassination plot naturally enough brought her fellow plotter to mind. Deathstroke found Harper in his quarters, as he suspected he would. The former hero was lying on his bunk, facing away from the cameras he had no doubt spotted, with his experience as an adventurer and government agent. The man now once again called Arsenal was barely moving, and Slade suspected he’d shot up recently. Roy had turned back to the drug habit he’d once beaten to deal with the triple trauma of his daughter’s death, the loss of his arm, and the wholesale destruction wrought on his hometown of Star City, all accomplished by the villain Prometheus. That man, too, was supposedly dead, but that meant less these days than it once had. At times, Slade was half expecting his eldest son, ex-wife, and long time companion and servant to return from their graves whole and hearty, not as the undead monsters he’d faced not long ago. Harper’s drug use was weakness, but as with the rest of his team, an exploitable one. Harper was nowhere near at his peak, but even his diminished current state put him above many of the fighters and marksmen out there.
That left one final member of his team. As expected, Slade found him in his personal chamber, kneeling before what appeared to be the statues of a man and a woman. The “statues” were the mortal forms of the powerful Black Adam and Isis, turned to stone after a confrontation with the much more powerful wizard Shazam, or so the information Slade had managed to collect indicated. Slade would have felt better about his intel on this matter if he’d been able to gain his own access to the Justice Society’s computers, but even the Calculator was wary of systems overseen by Mr. Terrific, a foolish name for a man of towering intellect and accomplishment. Osiris was on his knees, praying, beseeching, wailing, for a hint as to how to bring his sister back from her stone state. His powers had been acting erratically since his return from the grave, and Slade wondered if his magic abilities were tainted by Black Adam’s petrification, the wizard’s rage at all of his mortal champions, or the young man’s grief. Of all of them, Osiris was the most powerful and the most unpredictable, which was not a combination Slade liked. If he had known how different the formerly idealistic youth had become, he might not have selected him for this grouping, but Slade needed him for now.
Seeing no surprises in his surveillance, Deathstroke activated the base-wide announcement system. “Everyone report to the briefing room now. There’s trouble coming.” The time looking in on his pawns had allowed the rest of his incredibly complex brain to mull over several defensive plans, and he believed he was ready for the impending attack.
Donna walked back into the computer room. She paused to take a look at Dick, leaning forward on the console, studying something. He was more intense as Batman than he ever had been as Robin or Nightwing, but he remained himself, somehow. “Dick? They’re about ready for you.”
He didn’t turn for a moment, focused on one monitor. “Who came?”
She smiled. “Everyone you asked, and then a few. People like you, Dick. And a lot of us are worried about Roy.”
He turned finally, a somewhat grim smile on his face. “Good. Make sure everyone has what they need. I have one more thing to do before I talk to them.”
“Oh? What’s that?” She tried to think of whatever contingency might have occurred to her longtime friend, but nothing came to her.
The smile seemed out of place below the Batman’s cowl. “To coin a phrase…. THIS is a job for…” the name that left his lips made her smile all the more brightly as she went to tell the others that he’d be with them soon.
Deathstroke stood before his team. This was far from an optimal arrangement, but he knew that you play the cards you’re dealt, and plan for as much as you can along the way. “I’ve received information that the Justice League, or a part of it, is going to be coming after us. I need everyone sharp and focused. We can take them, if you work together.”
Ink looked concerned. “The Justice League? You think we have a chance with them?”
Cheshire waved a hand, dismissively. “Have you been watching the news? That’s not the League. It’s a bunch of stand-ins with a smurf and a talking monkey. I’m not worried.”
“Confidence is good. Overconfidence will get you beaten.” Deathstroke projected his voice loudly. “Don’t get cocky.”
“I did not come here to fight heroes.” Cinder’s accented voice was concerned. She shuffled her feet.
“They don’t know what we’re doing, and won’t take the time to listen,” Slade began.
“They know exactly what we’re doing, and they’re coming to play God. So we need to kick their @$$es back into next week.” Roy snapped out.
“Transporter signal detected,” the base security system warned suddenly. Everyone looked around readying powers and weapons.
“Wilson. Last chance. This doesn’t have to get ugly.” The voice came from the shadows, and to Slade it seemed slightly misdirected. Even his enhanced hearing had difficulty targeting the source.
“I told you. I’m not interested in deals. Were you actually stupid enough to come here alone?” Slade turned, somewhat sure he’d found the right place to look.
“I don’t have to do this alone, Slade. We’ve both lost people, lost family. But that’s one of the big differences between us.” An escrima stick in each hand, Nightwing stepped out of the shadows. “I made a new family.”
“Transport signal detected,” the base computer intoned again, as the glow faded, and Nightwing was flanked by Donna Troy, the Flash, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven.
“But you threw yours away,” Nightwing continued.
“I thought you were supposed to be Batman,” said Roy.
“Once a Titan, always a Titan,” answered Nightwing.
“Transport signal detected,” sounded again as another burst of energy resolved into the current team of Teen Titans. One of them, a young woman in a costume similar to Slade’s with a spill of white hair, stepped closer, a sword in each hand.
“What’s the matter, Daddy dearest? Not happy to see me?” Ravager taunted.
“Transport signal detected,” the computer spoke again, as more figures emerged, Titans and allies from several different periods of the team’s history. Slade’s enhanced brain was practically whirling in his head. He could almost see his team’s odds of success falling as he looked at the heroes appearing before him.
Nightwing regarded Deathstroke. Slade’s stance conveyed his unwillingness to surrender. Dick had hoped to avoid this, but he was more than up to the challenge. “OK then… Titans, together.”
Osiris stepped forward, fists clenched. “With the swiftness of Heru, I will eliminate these intruders.”
A blur came from the third group as something smashed into the boy, taking him through the wall of the base and beyond. A young woman’s voice spoke in his ear. “ ‘Swiftness of Heru,’ huh? Sounds kinda cool. Is that anything like ‘Faster than a speeding bullet?’” Supergirl kept on the course Nightwing had laid out for her, and drove the stunned man into the wall of the abandoned rock quarry that had been suggested as a safe place for the fight.
Osiris shook his head, standing, and then another voice came “If we’re going to swap catch phrases, I have three words for you. Fastest. Man. Alive.” Wally West sped to just out of Osiris’ reach and concentrated. “But I learned how to do other things, too.” Impossibly, Osiris felt himself slowing.
“It doesn’t matter. I can still beat both of you!” He yelled in defiance.
“Kid, you’re not paying attention. This fight was over before we even showed up. We’re a family, we look out for each other. We don’t have to fight you alone.” Flash said. Osiris turned towards Supergirl, fists raised, and then was flattened to the ground once more as Donna Troy swooped in low and delivered a powerful blow to his head. More noise came from behind, and the reeling Osiris saw Superboy and Kid-Flash arriving, Superboy cracking his knuckles.
Donna hovered for a moment, shaking her head sorrowfully, and said “I think your sister would be very disappointed in you, Amon.” Osiris went berserk at the mention of his sister. The fight was brutal, swift, and one-sided. Donna activated her communicator, following Dick’s plan, even this part that she disapproved of. “Troy to Waller. One for pick up.”
Back at the Labyrinth, Ravager closed in on Deathstroke, swords swinging through a complex pattern in the air. Nightwing moved in from the other side. “It all comes back to family, Slade. Yours, mine, the Titans… and Roy’s. You’ve really ticked off a lot of people with this group of yours.” Nightwing moved off, leaving the father and daughter to face each other.
A blonde woman in a dark costume and fishnet stockings took up a fighting stance in front of Cheshire. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to say to you about how you’ve treated my boy,” she said, and drew in a deep breath. Black Canary’s sonic scream ripped out of her, smashing Cheshire into the nearest wall.
The Vietnamese woman tried to stand, stunned. “How did you even find out about this place?” she asked.
“Yeah, ‘bout that. Oracle says ‘Hi!’” Canary spun and lashed out with her foot, catching the other woman in the temple. Cheshire fell to the ground, and Canary snapped handcuffs on her, and began the long process of removing the assassin’s various poisons and weapons.
The woman called Cinder saw her team falling to pieces around her as a large man with reddish hair and a mostly green costume closed in on her. “Do not fight, and you will not be hurt.” he said, his voice, too, betraying a foreign accent.
“No, we will not be stopped this way!” Cinder called on her power and hurled blazing fireballs at the large man. They caught him in the chest, and he was suddenly sheathed in flame. Cinder looked pleased, then paused. Her reddish fire was shifting, as the man burned a bright white that became hard to look at. She shielded her eyes with one hand as he moved closer.
“Little one, this did not have to be difficult. But there are things that burn hotter than you, and have more than one trick up their sleeve” She tried to flee, but with amazing speed he caught up to her easily. His fire harmed her no more than hers had him, but he moved one hand up in a blur and delivered a knockout blow with the ease of long training and greater than human strength. He then activated the communicator he had been given for this job. “Red Star to Troy, the Italian is down.”
Wonder Girl and Robin moved in on Ink, fighting through the magical constructs he was creating from his enchanted tattoos. Wonder Girl fought a large, purple, glowing tiger, as Robin evaded several flying skulls with bat-wings. Ink prepared to loose another of his tattoos when a calm female voice came from behind him. “Mark Richards. You are acting out of grief and rage. I can ease your pain.” Raven’s soul self loomed behind the man and drew him inside. A few moments later, Ink reappeared, and fell to the ground.
“What’s in there, anyway?” the young Robin squinted disapprovingly at Raven, then looked to his team leader, Wonder Girl.
“Nothing you ever want to find out about, kid,” Wonder Girl answered him.
Arsenal pulled out a large blade in each hand, mirroring Nightwing’s escrima sticks.
“You shouldn’t be here, Dick.” he sneered. “I can still take you. All of you,” he looked past Nightwing to Cyborg, and moved closer to Dick. “No white noise blaster today, Vic. Stay back.” Roy pointed a blade at the large man of dark flesh and gleaming steel.
“You might have been able to take me on one of your better days, Roy. Now? On the drugs, not practicing? No chance.” Nightwing countered a half-hearted thrust by Arsenal.
Cyborg frowned at Arsenal. “You forgot where you came from. You forgot who your friends are. But most important? You forgot who built that for you.” A signal went from Cyborg’s control system to Roy’s metallic arm. The limb suddenly began jerking spasmodically, throwing Roy’s balance off. As he looked at it in surprise, Nightwing swung one stick in a sharp, short arc, knocking the other man’s blade aside, then snapped forward and laid his other stick alongside Roy’s head. Roy stumbled backward, taking another blow from Dick, and then collapsed as Cyborg blasted him. Dick and Victor began securing him.
Ravager and Deathstroke clashed, sword on sword, over and over. “You’ve gotten better, Rose,” Slade commented, blocking her latest strike.
“I have better trainers. It’s easier to work on technique when your partner’s not trying to kill you.” She sent a series of high, low, high combinations at the older man, which he parried.
Slade then suddenly swung his free hand at what appeared to be empty air. “Nice try, Logan, but I can see a midge just fine with my vision.” There was a sudden hint of movement and a large green bear was standing before the mercenary, reared back on its hind legs.
“You were better than this for a while, Slade, why did you go back?” Beast Boy asked him.
“Sentimental armchair psychology, trying to get in my head, boy? Or distract me?” Deathstroke leapt high, over the arc of Ravager’s blurring blades, landing behind her and barely missing with a kick. “Please, I’m three steps ahead of you before you even get up.”
A voice seemed to speak directly into Slade’s ear. “Two things to remember, Wilson. One, I was a Titan, too, for a while. And two, Ryan Choi was my friend.” The nearly microscopic Atom kicked Slade’s inner ear with the strength of a full sized man, and mercenary let out a roar of pain. Thrown off balance, he still managed to block Ravager’s next strike, only to feel something wrap around his waist and pull him into the air. The large green elephant threw him hard to the floor, as the Atom delivered another painful blow to Deathstroke’s center of equilibrium. Still, Slade started to try and rise, and then fell when Ravager smashed the hilt of her blade into his head. The Atom enlarged himself, and turned to the now human again Beast Boy. “Thanks, Gar. He caught the double feint with you, but missed the triple.”
The prisoners were all collected, and special restraints placed on them to negate their various powers. Nightwing walked past his friends and teammates, thanking them, ignoring some of the by-play between them. “No, you can’t keep his stuff!” an exasperated Wonder Girl was saying to Ravager, who was holding Deathstroke’s blasting staff.
Outside, an ambulance was waiting. Roy Harper, stripped of his weapons, with his cybernetic arm removed, was strapped to a gurney. Black Canary stood over him, looking worried. “He’s going to be getting good care, Dinah. Dr. Midnight is working on a way to purge the drugs from his system even faster, and we’ve hired the Power Company for security this time.” She nodded.
“I’m going to be spending more time with him this time, Dick. You, me, Ollie, Donna, we’ll have someone watching over him, there for him.” He put an arm around her shoulders as Donna climbed into the ambulance. The orderlies from STAR Labs loaded Roy in, locked the doors, and moved around to drive off.
“Yes, we will.” Dick watched the vehicle pull off. “We’re family.”