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Killing Time

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Chapter One: Turntech

“This world will never be what I expected—

And if I don’t belong, who would have guessed it?”

—Three Days’ Grace, ‘Never Too Late’

 

May 10, 23:00

All was quiet in the warehouse when Green Arrow and Speedy arrived. This was somewhat disconcerting, as they had been called there to investigate reports of some sort of commotion that had sounded like an armed, violent fight. Since it was always possible that the reports were exaggerated or that the fight was already finished, arriving to quiet didn’t necessarily have any bearing on the situation either way. Said situation did, however, take a swift nosedive into ‘extremely suspect’ when the heroic duo kicked in the doors, arrows up and at the ready, only to find the entire place devoid of conscious life. Unconscious life, on the other hand, was self-evident in the form of what looked to be everybody in the place knocked out and tied up in a heap in the center of the floor.

The pair of bowstrings went slack in perplexed increments the longer the pair of men stood in the doorway. Green Arrow eyed the heap of lifeless-looking people. Not a one stirred any more than what slight movements of the chest proved them to not be so lifeless after all. He had thought they might arrive to find the fight already over and done with, yes, but he hadn’t expected to find the participants still present in that case, much less gift-wrapped for their trip downtown. Was this some strange, bloodless new type of gang violence…? Speedy scanned the walls, finding evidence of some kind of fight in the dents and scattered weapons, but no ambush lying in wait. All of the warehouse’s contents appeared undisturbed and accounted for, as far as either of them could tell, except for a strangely outlying pile of boxes of expensive electronics like televisions and gaming consoles.

Whoever had done this was long gone.

“What on earth…?” the younger man began, allowing his weapon to go entirely slack as he lowered it to waist-level.

“Looks like whatever happened wrapped up quickly,” was all Green Arrow had to offer as an explanation.

Movement caught their eyes at the same instant, and immediately both arrows were nocked and pointed at the human figure that had appeared in the warehouse’s emergency exit door. The figure, hunched over something less identifiable, froze, caught off-guard by the sudden intruders. Slowly, a pair of hands lifted.

“Well this is embarrassing.”

Whoever had done this was, apparently, not gone at all.

Green Arrow wasn’t sure if that made the situation more or less perplexing. For one thing, he’d initially categorized ‘whoever had done this’ as multiple people in his head. Perhaps they’d left a single member behind for… clean up?

“What happened here?” Green Arrow demanded. He squinted, but the aluminum walls and concrete flooring were only barely illuminated by a few feeble light bulbs dotted along strings on the ceiling and walls. All that could be made out by sight was a semi-upright huddle and a prone huddle that were silhouetted against the brighter floodlights illuminating the yard outside. Its hunched-over posture hid any clues as to body type. All that could be made out was the shock of hair bleached bone white by the halo of light shining through it. The voice, however, at least proved the figure to be male, though it was not a familiar voice. It was a casual, drawling tenor with a southern twang.

Green Arrow was not like Batman. His suspicious nature was restrained by a little something he liked to call ‘rationality’, which was currently telling him that there was something extremely off about a single man choosing to beat up a warehouse full of other men. This wasn’t any type of gang violence or mugging or petty, everyday crime he’d stumbled onto. This smacked of some type of hero-or-villain deal.

Now, again unlike Batman, Green Arrow didn’t guard his territory like some alpha dog, snapping and snarling at anyone attempting to do his job on his turf. Green Arrow rather welcomed other heroes, in fact. Protecting others was far easier and less boring when done in groups, and most heroes had some very interesting stories to share when coaxed into a sharing mood. He didn’t oppose other heroes coming into his city.

But that didn’t mean he wasn’t as wary of dangerous strangers as anybody. And while there was a chance that he’d interrupted a harmless do-gooder who’d gotten here first, there was an equal chance that this man was up to no good and had just taken out a group of innocent people. Green Arrow kept his bow strung and aimed, muscles tensed for the smallest signs of aggression. This was a far more interesting situation than the simple fight he’d arrived to investigate.

The figure shifted, allowing the light coming in from behind him to glint off of something reflective at his side. A weapon. Speedy tensed alongside his mentor.

“Justice.”

Green Arrow blinked, thrown. “What?”

“Justice. Is what happened here. Sir.” The voice carried no mocking inflection aside from the pauses that made it clear that his clarifications were afterthoughts.

Oliver’s teeth clenched reflexively at the sound. He’d know that tone anywhere. Teenager, his gut screamed.

“Uh-huh. And who would be the one serving out this justice, exactly?” Speedy, the reigning champ of wearing down Green Arrow’s molar enamel through sheer tone of voice, demanded.

The figure slowly lowered one hand, causing the archers to draw back their bowstrings in unison, only for it to continue past the gleaming weapon on his hip and latch onto the huddled shape at his feet. Slowly, with the heavy scrape of a body on concrete, the figure moved forward into the warehouse. He vanished briefly into the gloom at the light momentarily flooded the empty doorway, but gradually their sharp eyes adjusted, and the heroes were able to get their first look at the strange person as he deposited the unconscious body of a man at the edge of the existing pile and lifted his hand again. This time, it touched his forehead in a salute.

“Yo. Name’s Dave Strider.”

Green Arrow’s string went slack on the instant. This was no teenager, this was a child. He reminded Green Arrow rather painfully of his sidekick’s friend from Gotham. He had just the same little-boy slenderness and only came up to around Speedy’s chest. His face was impassive, mostly hidden behind a huge pair of aviator sunglasses that had clearly been made for adults. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was wearing what was clearly a hero’s (or villain’s, he supposed, though that was starting to seem unlikely) uniform of some sort—red pants and a red hooded shirt (hood currently down, proving that his hair was indeed that pale even without floodlights shining through it) with a symbol in the shape of a gear stamped across the chest and a knightly fringe of darker red across the shoulders that lengthened into a cape on his back. The gleam at his hip was apparently a silver broadsword, the blade sheared jaggedly off only six or so inches down from the oddly-shaped crossguard.

“You’re a kid!” Speedy said with his usual level of tact. His voice shot up a bit in outrage. “No way in hell you took down all of these guys alone!” There were roughly twenty bodies in the pile.

Dave Strider shrugged insolently. “I have mad skills.”

Oh boy. Green Arrow put up a hand, silencing Speedy’s no doubt vitriolic response.

“I think the more pertinent question here is why you felt the need to knock all of these people out in the first place,” he said with every drop of Listen To Me I Am An Authority Figure that he possessed as Mayor Queen.

The next response was equally toneless, but a bit more halting in delivery. “…These dudes were smugglers or thieves or something, I guess. Found them with that sweet tech over there and a getaway truck out back. Figured I’d be doing the general public some good by taking these unscrupulous elements off the street.”

Well, they’d found no evidence disproving that story yet, Green Arrow supposed. It still sounded pretty fishy that a kid his age had just happened to stumble across a crime in the act of being committed and decided to defend the moral good of the city all by himself. The again, the uniform indicated ‘hero’, and his age indicated ‘sidekick’. Perhaps there was a new duo in town patrolling the streets that Green Arrow hadn’t met yet. Perhaps they’d split up and the kid had been too proud or too experienced to call for his mentor’s help.

There was an alternate explanation that was blooming in the back of Oliver’s mind like a horribly ugly flower with every new word out of this Dave Strider’s mouth, though. He summoned a smile for the kid and said, “Well, I’m certainly not going to complain about getting a bit of help. You definitely have skills of some sort, doing all this before we even showed up.” He hesitated. “Are… you here alone?”

“Yep.”

That single word was the entirety of Dave’s answer. He shoved both hands into his pockets and turned as if to end the conversation there. Green Arrow admitted to a flash of worry. No one doubted Robin’s capability as a superhero (…much…), but all agreed that he was a special case, and that most children that young weren’t able to handle the emotional or physical rigors of the lifestyle. Involving children younger than mid-teens was fairly heavily frowned upon. Sending a child sidekick very far afield on their own was even more so. Despite the evidence literally piled before his eyes that this child was capable of handling himself, it pinged Green Arrow’s every protective instinct to think of one so young going out alone at night to do what he wouldn’t even allow Speedy to do by himself. If this child had a mentor somewhere, where were they?

“Wait!” he called. “You’re new around here, right? Going to be staying long?”

Dave halted mid-exit obediently, turning to cast an impassive look at the man that somehow seemed to convey that he was aware of the direction the archer’s thoughts had taken and was highly unimpressed by it. He had just straightened up from where he had bent over in the shadow of an L-shaped stack of storage containers near the back door he had entered by, emerging with a ratty-looking duffel bag thrown over his shoulder. “New, yeah, obviously. Just passing through, though.”

“All by yourself?” Speedy demanded, no less harshly than before. Even so, Green Arrow smiled. Doubtless his sidekick shared his mentor’s reservations about this child’s age.

With a put-upon sigh, Dave kicked his feet. Easily and naturally, the kick propelled him four feet straight up off of the ground, where he hovered with his feet poised as if to continue walking right on across the air. “See? I’m one of those magical people you have a stupid word for. I just took out like twenty guys on my own. Your concern is really touching and all, but completely fucking ridiculous. I’m so fine I could split atoms.” His voice was heavier with emotion than it had been before. The light, deadpan sarcasm had splintered slightly to reveal hidden depths of bitterness and what sounded like exhaustion. Without seeing his eyes behind the sunglasses it was difficult to tell, but Green Arrow got the feeling that this kid was not as ‘fine’ as advertised. The gnawing worry only grew.

“A boy your age shouldn’t be going out alone, much less travelling at night,” Green Arrow began.

“That so. Interesting. Well, it’s been fun, I’m sure you know how to dispose of these guys. I’m new at this and, frankly, don’t really give a shit. Later.” With a lazy roll, Dave oriented himself upwards and soared towards a small, high window near the rafters that was probably for ventilation.

“Where will you go?” Speedy hollered after him. Dave paused only long enough to unlatch the window and shove it open, calling over his shoulder.

“New York! I’ve got two more strikes before I’m out!” Anybody larger than Dave might not have fit through the small opening, but the flying boy made it out with only a quick wiggle and a harsh yank to get his more bulky bag through. Then, in a flash of red cloth and a glint of silver steel, the boy was nothing more than a rapidly-shrinking patch of solid darkness against the liquid darkness of the sky.

The Green Arrow shook his head slowly and slung his body across his back. “Poor kid.”

“Poor kid?” Speedy sneered. “He was a complete brat! If I see him again, that kid’s in for a real attitude adjustment!”

Coming from Speedy, that was more than enough to coax a chortle out of Green Arrow, despite his lingering worry. Meta or not, capable or not, it was a sad situation this Dave Strider was clearly in.

“Well, nothing more we can do for him right now, I guess. Come on, Speedy, time to get moving these bodies.”

The work was quick, and afterwards the duo returned to their usual patrol. It wasn’t until later that night that a tired Green Arrow’s mind returned to the strange meta child, and began to wonder what exactly had occurred in that warehouse before he and Speedy had arrived. The flower of an idea was still blooming strongly behind his thoughts, throwing out occasional echoes of ‘I’m new at this’ and ‘just passing through’. He did his best to ignore it, but it only nagged louder.

The next day, during a spare moment, he retrieved the security camera footage of the previous night and ran it through to a bit before the time the call of the disturbance had come in, judging by the timestamp in the corner of the screen. The criminals’ truck pulled around to the back lot in sketchy, grayscale jumps of five-second-lapse footage. The well-practiced gang spread out across the interior of the warehouse and began to gather their contraband swiftly, in near-darkness. The graininess, jumping film, and wide focus meant that Green Arrow didn’t initially see where the fair-haired child dropped from before he began to lay waste to them all. The child took each one down with quick swoops like a hunting bird, slamming the hilt of his broken sword into heads indiscriminately.

The criminals’ downfall was their sluggish response. These were men who had clearly not expected to be dive-bombed by what to them must have been nothing more than a red blur. Even on the jumping footage, the kid was only barely more than that. By the time they had galvanized a response, a quarter of the group was already unconscious on the floor. The shouts of confusion and anger couldn’t be heard over the visual-only cameras, but Green Arrow knew that some kind of ruckus must have broken out for the cops to have been called about it.

A few grabbed at him with hands and ropes and one even broke out a crowbar, but Dave dodged and weaved expertly through the air, more like a hummingbird now as he darted around their weapons to deliver blows of his own. Green Arrow wished the film was continuous. The flight had probably been a thing of grace and beauty; highly impressive for a child of that age. His heart leaped as the first few risked their sidearms, clearly no longer caring about the stealth of their operation. Again, Dave’s speed was his saving grace. All bullets aimed at the kid weren’t dodged so much as simply useless at the speed he was moving, and he preferred to take out his targets while still moving rather than pausing long enough for them to get a proper bead on him. The cape helped in those few instances when he did pause by swirling forward as if consciously obscuring its wearer’s form as inertia continued to pull it ahead of him. One or two bullets punched harmlessly through the billowing red fabric, leaving the child untouched as he picked up speed into a blur once more.

If there had been much more than twenty, Green Arrow didn’t think Dave would have managed it. The last two standing managed to get him by the hood of his cape and his arm, and the boy was immediately reduced to a mundane, squirming child. Unfortunately for the crooks, Dave appeared to have had some experience in this area as well, and fairly exploded in all directions kicking and headbutting and biting. He was dropped in shock, and, seeing the opportunity before him, Dave wasted no time in hauling one of his captors to the ground along with him, ruthlessly crushing the man’s temple to the concrete floor.

That, Green Arrow thought wryly, would be the one the police handed over to the hospital for skull fractures. Not that none of the others who’d been brained with a bar of solid steel had incurred head injuries, but that one man’s had been particularly severe. Dave might have been a master of dodging, but he had clearly not yet learned the art of pulling punches. No surprise, as he was somewhere around twelve years old after all.

The final criminal brought his handgun to bear on the grounded meta at nearly point-blank range. Evidently, the last man standing was determined to take Dave with him.

That’s when something odd happened.

Between one frame and the next, there was something floating in the air next to Dave. The grainy film and lack of color made it hard to identify beyond ‘flat’ and ‘round’. Green Arrow’s eyes narrowed. Flat and round. Like the gear device on Dave’s chest? It wasn’t a symbol that made any sense as a representation of a meta who could fly or use telekinesis, but it hadn’t seemed suspicious at the time. Plenty of heroes had symbols that didn’t represent their powers, and plenty more didn’t have symbols at all. The devices were somewhat arbitrary.

This one, apparently less so. The gear-like object only appeared for a single frame in which Dave kept one hand raised to it while the rest of his body dove towards the floor. In the next frame, a bullet was simply creating another hole in Dave’s trailing cape while the young meta launched himself at his assailant’s knees. Oliver, again, wished that the film was more continuous. It was hard to guess what purpose the apparitional gear might have served when the action was so cut up.

The crook, taken by surprise, went down. Dave rose to his knees first and lashed out with his sword, seeming desperate. The hit was wild and lucky, and the man was only dazed until Dave took his moment of stunned pause to hit him again, harder.

For some time, Dave merely observed the wreckage around him, appearing to breathe heavily. He eventually noticed the half-moved crates of electronics. Apparently coming to the realization of what he’d interrupted, Dave set about restraining the criminals and organizing the nearly-stolen goods. Green Arrow watched up until the point where the kid was surprised by the sudden entrance of what must have been the driver waiting in the truck, and took the man down after a quick scuffle in the doorway. That was when he and Speedy had burst in.

Green Arrow rewound the tape to the first moment that Dave appeared on camera.

He paused it. Even here, before the fight had begun, Dave looked disheveled. He appeared to be springing into the air from the shadows of a large crate in the corner of the frame, unnoticed as yet by the criminals until he had assessed their threat level and decided it sufficient to drop from above and eliminate them.

Below him lay an abandoned, ratty-looking duffel bag with a large dent in the center, shoved into the L-shape created by the storage units so that it wasn’t visible to either door.

Green Arrow sighed to have his suspicions confirmed.

A child, alone, new but passing through. He’d almost certainly been squatting in that warehouse until his sleep had been interrupted by criminal activities. It was to the boy’s credit that his instincts had been to incapacitate only, and not kill, but it was strange that his instincts hadn’t been to hide until they left or quietly leave himself. A brave boy, Oliver thought. Brave, used to fighting, meta, and completely alone.

What had left Dave Strider sleeping on the streets in a hero’s uniform, so bitter and so completely alone?

~*~

August 2, 14:00

The Team arrived at the scene of the bank robbery only a minute or two after it had escalated into a hostage situation. The usual circus of police were ringing the building, trapping the robbers inside. Robin honestly (guiltily) wondered for a moment if catching the crooks was really worth forcing them to this extreme. Sure, if the police had let them leave they would have gotten away, but at least nobody would have been hurt!

But no, Robin was a seasoned hero even at the tender age of thirteen, and while he didn’t subscribe to many of his mentor’s more ruthless morals, he knew that the police were working for the greater good. It made his teeth grind to think of people who could so easily turn against families who’d done nothing to them walking out amongst peaceful people. Of reparations never being paid for the terror, inconvenience, and selfishness exhibited by even the pettiest of criminals. Besides, he was confident in his new team. He was sure they could handle this without loss of innocent life for sure.

Aqualad led the way between the flashing parked cruisers to the officer in charge, who was standing before the stairs to the entrance in a small huddle of other officers. Robin, Kid Flash, Superboy, and Miss Martian trailed behind him with varying degrees of enthusiasm. This wasn’t their usual fare—the Team had been conceived as a covert ops team, after all, but it was all that they could do right now. Though their team had both been formed and given a purpose, they had yet to actually be utilized for that purpose, which grated on all of them in one way or another. When the alert had gone out of the escalating robbery just blocks away from their mountain hideout/clubhouse, it had been a no-brainer to respond immediately, permission or not.

Robin knew that most of the others were hoping that proving themselves independently capable of stopping crime would jump-start their being put to use working for the Justice League, but he himself didn’t think it very likely. If Batman doubted their capabilities, he wouldn’t placate them with some castles in the sky idea of a covert ops team, he would have simply put his foot down and dismissed their complaints. Batman knew full well that they were capable of stopping crime without their going out to prove it to him.

Which wasn’t to say Robin was against showing up to the robbery, of course. It was still his job, and he wasn’t going to put it on hold while the League decided what to do with them. He wasn’t as insecure as the others, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t equally as irritated and eager.

He bounced just ahead of Aqualad, aiming a bright sharp grin at the head officer. “The heroes are here! What’s the situation, officers?”

They told him. Apparently it was a small gang of teenagers, three young men and one young woman, who had only been pulling a regular, quiet robbery of the slipping-a-note-to-the-teller style. Two of the tellers had simply done as told without a fuss, while the third had dared to make a discreet call to the police while retrieving money from the back. Unfortunately, the final teller had panicked and made an enormous scene, prompting the female of the robber quartet to draw her weapon. Her cohorts had followed suit, and had soon been taking hostages and shouting demands. The police had arrived not long before the young heroes had.

“All we can do now is try to negotiate,” the officer said almost apologetically. “Going in there now would only provoke them into hurting one of the hostages inside.”

Robin rolled his eyes. Like they didn’t know how a hostage situation worked. It rankled that the man’s immediate assumption was that heroes were only good for rushing in and bashing heads, but it especially stung because it was just a little bit true. None of them would be any better at negotiating than the probably-trained police officer.

The sting was alleviated by his knowledge that there was one tactic left available that they were good at.

“Ambush!” Robin smirked back at Kid Flash, smacking his fist into his palm. Kid Flash grinned back.

“Hell yeah!”

“Is there any other way in?” Aqualad asked of the officer. The cop gestured upwards.

“There’s a skylight. All the other windows are picture windows with hostages lined up in them besides—no good trying to sneak through those.”

“Great! We go up, drop down on the unsuspecting creeps and take ‘em out before they realize what’s happened!” Kid Flash summarized with enthusiasm. He hooked a thumb at his teammates. “There’s more of us than them. It’ll be a piece of cake!”

“Better get in position, then,” Miss Martian smiled, lifting off the ground gracefully. Her cape billowed as she swooped up to the roof. Kid Flash blurred into nothing more than a yellow and red streak on the air as he took off as well, doing a loop around the street to gain enough momentum to shoot straight up the side of the building in one go.

“Please, continue negotiating with them while we prepare,” Aqualad said to the officers politely before following his comrades at a more sedate pace. Superboy merely bent his knees one moment and launched straight up into the air the next, falling in a parabola towards the edge where KF and Miss M had gathered. Just before he hit, Miss Martian thrust out a hand and caught him telekinetically, lowering the large teen gently, silently onto the surface. She giggled nervously and shrugged.

“Um. Sorry! Don’t want to alert the bad guys that we’re up here.”

Superboy nodded curtly. “Good thinking.” While they spoke, Aqualad’s waterspout lifted him up to join the group, and Robin’s grappling line caught on the lip of the roof. He shot up the length of the line and landed lightly amongst them with an exhilarated laugh. Ziplining never got any less fun, no matter how many times a day he did it.

Silently, the five of them fanned out across the roof, padding into position in a wide circle around the glass pyramid of the skylight. There they paused, momentarily put off. It was tough to see through the sloped panes—tough to tell the hostage-takers apart from their hostages from way up above and through refracting glass. Tough to aim enough to fall right on their heads. Not to mention the seconds of advantage the sound of breaking glass would lose them.

Superboy crouched down and wedged his fingers into the iron frame of the base, warping it around them as he yanked upwards. It was not a silent removal. Superboy himself grunted a little, and the metal warped and crunched and squealed as it was torn loose from its rivets into the concrete. Miss Martian caught the loose bits of metal that threatened to plunge down into the bank below, while the boy of steel set the pyramid down as gently as he was able. Robin wasted no time hanging his head over the edge of the new hole.

Luckily, the scene below was easily noisy enough to cover the sounds of the skylight ten feet above their heads. Visibility was increased a hundredfold this way, and the heroes were able to quickly arrange themselves so that the four crooks were within their sight and range. Three were not directly beneath the skylight; one of the men was directing the tellers to collect money at gunpoint while the woman was covering the majority of the hostages, who had been herded into position in front of the glass doors and picture windows also at gunpoint, and the second man guarded the fire exit. These three would be trickier, but not impossible. Miss Martian, Kid Flash, and Robin himself would take care of them. Miss M and Robin were not limited to falling in a straight line, thanks to telekinetic flight and ziplines respectively, and Kid Flash was the least hampered by the time it would take to cross the distance between his landing site and where the crook was standing. The one man who was directly beneath them, then, would be Superboy and Aqualad’s problem.  

Robin figured as much, anyway. They didn’t exactly have time to discuss it before he gestured frantically for the others to wait a second. Superboy and Kid Flash shot him irritated looks alongside Miss M’s and Aqualad’s curious ones, all four tensed and bowed into about-to-spring positions. Robin pointed down at the lone man in nearly the center of the room and tilted his head wordlessly. All attention zeroed in on him.

It didn’t take long before the others noticed what had caught Robin’s eye.

There was a kid who had broken away from the other huddled hostages. The central man was holding a gun on him while the woman kept the rest in line. Making sure nobody followed his example, most likely. Robin’s stomach sank. That meant this kid might be about to be made an example of!

Despite the urgency, he hesitated still. Something was off. Why was a kid defying them? Where were his parents?

Why were he and the bank robber talking?

“—just saying, I thought there was a dress code for this kind of shit,” the kid was saying in a supremely unconcerned Southern drawl. “Punch your card, put on your scrubs, pick a theme, then you can go out robbing banks and inflicting terror.”

The robber laughed at him, fortunately more amused than irritated by the child’s audacity. His confidence was probably boosted high by his gang’s so-far successful response to complications in the plan.

“How about you, then, kid? You don’t have the uniform to stand up to bad guys, either.”

“I left it in my closet at home,” the kid deadpanned back. “Didn’t want to get caught in the rain without a jacket.” The robber laughed again, his head rearing back just slightly.

A moment later, it was slamming back as the kid’s heel came into crushing contact with his jaw. The firearm clattered across the tiled floor as the boy landed lightly, using the momentum of his spinning kick to turn him towards the other robber with her gun on the hostages, who was whirling around at the sudden movement and noise.

There was no more time.

“Go!” Aqualad and Robin barked at the same time. The heroes poured through the hole. Robin’s grappling hook smacked deeply into the wood window frame mid-fall, swinging him straight towards the female robber feet-first.

He shot straight over where she had been moments before, impacting instead with the glass of the window. Luckily, the hostages had hit the floor the moment the fight had broken out, and so weren’t hurt by his miss, or the shattering glass as the Boy Wonder shot through the window and back out onto the sidewalk. He skidded, turned, and leaped back through as fluidly as he was able, shouting as he did so for the hostages to run through the escape route he had inadvertently opened up.

He immediately realized what had happened. The woman had turned towards the kid and her fallen partner, and had instead caught sight of Robin swinging through the air at her, leaving her able to dodge easily.

Robin re-entered the bank to find his team embroiled in combat. It looked like neglecting to verbally divide targets had led to even more issues. Kid Flash had prioritized the woman just as Robin had, and had also been foiled by her forewarning, as he was now struggling to escape the headlock she had trapped him in. Aqualad and Miss Martian were caught in the same predicament, caught as they fell by their intended targets. Aqualad was caught in a hand-to-hand fight with the man by the tellers, while Miss Martian was forced to dodge around flying bullets as the man by the fire exit unloaded his weapon at her. The martian frantically lunged this way and that, trying not only to not get hit herself, but to pluck the bullets from the air as they passed so that no stray shot would hit the panicked, fleeing hostages. On the ground, Superboy surged out of the crater he’d created by landing in the direction of the wildly-shooting robber, his face twisted in a snarl.

Okay. Aqualad could hold his own for now, and Supey was reinforcing Miss M. Robin sprinted for the caught speedster, drawing a birdarang as he went.

The woman’s right arm, the one with the gun in it, the one not holding KF around the neck, swung out and squeezed off a shot, but it wasn’t at Robin.

The kid who had ruined their element of surprise flinched back in the act of mirroring Robin from the other side, blood spraying across his face in an arc. Robin hollered in rage as he launched, flipping around the axis point of the weapon he drove viciously into her elbow joint and wrenching it sideways as he came down on her other side. She cried out in pain, the gun falling from her nerveless grip.

In an instant, the kid was there, too, throwing his own arm around the woman’s neck and swinging around till his weight bent her backwards and he was strangling her from behind the same way she was holding Kid Flash. Finally, her left arm loosened, and the speedster was freed. A yellow and red blur streaked across the bank floor towards where Aqualad struggled with his opponent.

From there, it only took a swift hit from Robin’s fist to her temple to send the lady toppling unconsciously to the floor.  

To the floor by way of the kid straining on tiptoe behind her. The string of swear words the boy let loose as he was squashed by her limp weight was impressive even to Robin, who had grown up in a troupe of gypsies. The Boy Wonder shoved her off of him and hauled the kid upright, scanning him for where he’d been shot.

‘Kid’ was a bit of a misnomer, he supposed. The boy was around Robin’s own age, and had roughly the same build to boot, though he was taller. He even sported a pair of sunglasses similar to the ones Robin preferred when in civilian clothes. His expression, though shot and squashed and now manhandled, was only slightly removed from the deadpan he’d worn while taunting his captors.

“Hey, mind stepping off a bit there, Tightpants?”

“Where are you hurt?” Robin demanded harshly, hurriedly. He was worried about the ki—the guy, yes, but he wasn’t going to waste much more time on it before going to help out his beleaguered team. They could manage for the few seconds it would take to make sure this guy wasn’t going to bleed out if left alone, but he wasn’t going to make them wait a single instant longer than was necessary to determine that.

“Grazed shoulder, not hurt,” the guy responded. The words were no sooner out of his mouth than Robin was turning and sprinting after the others.

Superboy had disarmed and pinned the one by the exit, and Miss M was floating down to put him harmlessly to sleep as he watched. Kid Flash and Aqualad were harrying their opponent, but the man was a big guy for his age and damn good at close-quarters combat even against two people. His sheer force of strength meant that even his blocks left KF and Aqualad shaky and rebounding more hurt than he was.

Something rushed over Robin’s head from behind.

The kid with sunglasses dropped from five feet in the air towards the robber, arms up and heels extended. The robber dodged a punch from Aqualad at that exact moment which tilted his upper body to the side and meant that the kid crashed down onto his shoulder instead of his head. There was the sickening crack of breaking bone, and the man roared in pain or anger as he grasped the kid’s ankle and swiped him bodily at Kid Flash. The two went tumbling over one another away from the fight.

Luckily, the distraction was enough for Aqualad to land a solid side-kick right in the man’s solar plexus, felling him like a redwood. All the breath was crushed from the man’s body, as Robin arrived in time to hop up onto his belly, aiming a cocky smirk downwards.

“Next time, just shoplift at the mall like anybody else your age,” he advised.

A birdarang to the temple sent the man the same way as his partners before him.

Robin climbed off of the guy while the team converged as one on the groaning heap of Kid-Flash-and-some-other-guy. Groaning and, once again, swearing.

“What the hell was that?” Superboy summed the situation up in one bad-tempered snarl.

“Who are you?” Kid Flash added his own breathless inquiry, struggling to dislodge the stranger from his position draped across the small of his back. The kid sat up woozily, one hand clutching spasmodically at his bleeding shoulder, which had splattered a few places on the tiled floor and KF’s yellow uniform as they had tumbled. Miss Martian started forward, worried, but hesitated at Aqualad’s gesture.

“Jesus fuck,” the kid answered, dumped to his knees by the speedster’s sudden bid to rise. Robin leaned in and lifted the stranger to his feet by the elbows, allowing the two of them to gain their feet without any more entanglements.

“That was a reckless thing you did,” Aqualad admonished him. “You would have done well to obey the robbers until help arrived.”

“Help wasn’t doing anything,” the boy justified, tilting his head minutely towards the sirens and flashing lights outside. “I didn’t know you assholes were going to come floating in like the world’s worst-dressed paratroopers!”

Robin was torn between bristling and snickering. Superboy apparently didn’t have the same problem. “We assholes just saved your life! You were going to get killed trying to take them all on by yourself!”

A shrug. “Disagree.”

Superboy growled wordlessly. Miss Martian stepped in, hands up placatingly.

“Guys, what he did was risky, but stopping those bad guys was the right thing to do! We’re all on the same side here… right?”

“Well, yeah!” KF piped up, miming his hand flying through the air as he spoke. “He’s pretty obviously in the same line of work we are. You’re new around here, right? I’m Kid Flash, and this is Robin, Aqualad, Superboy, and Miss Martian. What’s your name?”

The guy hesitated for a fraction of a second. “You want my actual name or my circus name? I’d feel stupid being the only Dave in a group of Aquaguys and Superkids.”

“So you are a hero like us!” Miss Martian cheered, all smiles. She clasped his free hand delightedly. “Who do you work with?”

Another pause. “I’m Turntech. And I… work alone.” The Team stiffened collectively in surprise at that statement.

“You work alone? At your age?” Kid Flash squawked.

“Hey! He’s like my age!” Robin protested. “You saying I’m not awesome at my job?”

KF snorted. “Dude, you were trained by the Batman. Not everybody has those advantages.”

“You are young to be working alone,” Aqualad agreed. Turntech’s flat expression somehow flattened further.

“I guess.”

“Come on, let’s get you out to the ambulances so you can get that cut looked at,” Miss Martian urged, moving her grip to his unhurt shoulder. Instead of passively going along with it like Robin had half-expected, the young hero dug in his heels and refused to be budged.

“Hold up, now. You guys are some special team of superheroing for kids, right? Like some kind of youth group of justice.”

His wording had most of the Team grimacing. “That is… roughly the intent, yes,” Aqualad agreed slowly.

Turntech cleared his throat and shifted his weight. “Right, well. In that case, any chance of an open slot on the roster?”

It took a few seconds to parse what exactly the stranger was asking. Robin’s immediate gut reaction was what? No! He could see the same thoughts chasing themselves across most of his teammates’ faces. What kind of bizarre question was that? Alright, the Justice League usually got a lot of people trying to talk or bribe their way in, and some of the more popular heroes got wannabes and wannabe-sidekicks on a pretty regular basis. But… their team didn’t have fans. Nobody even knew it existed apart from the League and its members! Had this Turntech guy thought this idea through at all, or come up with it on impulse on the spot? He couldn’t have anticipated their reactions, or thought through the consequences of joining the Team if they even let him.

On the other hand, a meta kid just showing up out of the blue and asking to be let onto the Team was too suspicious to ignore. Maybe somehow their existence had been leaked and the kid was a villainous plant of some sort.

…That idea was admittedly far-fetched, since the Team wasn’t supposed to be at this robbery at all and had told no one that they would be, not to mention the laughable idea of Batman leaking sensitive information. Even so, Robin couldn’t help but feel in his gut that something more than impulsive hero-worship was happening here.

“…Why would you ask such a question?” Aqualad ventured, finally. Neutrally.

“Because I want into the club. Duh.” Turntech replied.

“What makes you think we’d just let in a perfect stranger like that?” Kid Flash demanded. Turntech shrugged.

“Well, for one thing, I just helped you take out a bunch of bank robbers.”

“That doesn’t mean we can trust you!” Kid Flash snapped back. “We know nothing about you!”

“Wally…” Miss Martian’s soft voice punctured some of his ire, deflating the speedster. He looked back to meet her soft, compassionate gaze, further leeching his righteous fury. “Let’s just hear him out, okay? I was a stranger to you guys, too, a few days ago. The only reason I’m here at all is because my uncle talked to the League for me.”

“I was your enemy once,” Superboy put in, unexpectedly. “You gave me a chance.” Robin jerked to look at him, surprised. He’d expected the angry, suspicious teen to come down on the side of laughing in Turntech’s face and leaving without a word. Then again, he was right. Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad had given even a proven enemy the benefit of doubt, and he was now a close and valued friend. The same with Miss Martian, though that had come at the urging of the League. And the only reason the three of them had ended up forming the Team to begin with was due to rabid self-advocation.

Robin softened just a bit towards the idea. He admitted that Turntech had done nothing to suggest they couldn’t trust him so far. He’d held up pretty well in the fight, too, even after being injured. The least they could possibly do was hear him out.

“Okay, then. Why? Why do you want on the Team?” The Boy Wonder asked, turning back to the blond hero. Most of the defensiveness had left his voice, but he was still curious and a little surprised. Turntech shifted again, clutching awkwardly at his shoulder. The sunglasses did a good job hiding what little expression his face showed. The guy was as stoic as Miss M’s uncle.

“You know. Hero reasons. I want to kick ass and fight crime.”

“You seemed to be doing that on your own,” Aqualad pointed out.

“Yeah, and sucking majorly. Safety in numbers.”

That still didn’t sound right. Turntech was pretty excellent at deflecting, and even better at controlling his face and tone, but Robin still thought there was more he wasn’t saying. He shared looks with the others, gauging their expressions.

Miss M and Superboy nodded firmly, clearly all for giving the guy a chance. Kid Flash hesitated, shrugged. Robin and Aqualad shared identical glances and identical sighs.

“I suppose you shall take it up with the League,” the Atlantean offered, resigned. “We promised you a chance, but vouching for you is all that we can do. The League will have the final say.”

The tiniest ghost of a smirk.

“That’s all I’m asking for, Fishsticks.”

The group of them escorted their tentative ally out of the bank and towards the ambulances while the police and paramedics took their exit as the signal that it was safe to swarm into the building and begin examining and processing the robbers. It was even more of a circus outside now than it had been when they had arrived, crowded with shouting police and revving ambulances and hysterical former hostages. Amidst the chaos, while the others cleared a path for Turntech, Robin lifted his arm and opened his message system to the Batcave.

What a strange report this was going to be.