"Artemis!" Wally cried out. "Help!"
Artemis walked over to the two other boys, cracked her knuckles and jabbed two fingers into Red Arrow's neck. He collapsed.
"Thanks" said Wally, rubbing his neck.
Artemis punched him in the jaw.
Wally noticed the light purple glow to her eyes.
"Aw crap" he muttered, jumping out of the way of a kick.
"Artemis! Fight it! Somehow. I don't know, just fight it already!"
Artemis stumbled forwards and shook her head like she had a migraine.
"Good!" said Wally. "Good! Keep fighting it! If anyone can break it it's you. You're the toughest girl I know! And that's why I... why I..."
For the love of... Just freaking say it already, West!
"Why I love you." There. He'd said it. Out loud. In front of witnesses. In front of the witness.
Artemis stumbled forwards a bit and looked up. Her eyes were their normal pale grey.
"You mean it?" she asked, sounding like a little girl waiting for reassurance.
Wally wanted more than anything in the world to say yes.
Instead he found his body charging forwards, arms swinging. Artemis barely jumped out of the way.
"Now, now" Wally felt his mouth say, though the words were not his own. "As romantic as this is, it's finally time that one of you suffered some... permanent damage."
Wonder Woman ripped the last MONQI off of her shoulder and crushed it in her hand.
Scattered bits of green metal and wiring coated the entire tarmac. Not far away were the smoking remains of an MQ-9 Reaper drone.
Captain Marvel bent over to try and catch his breath.
"Woo! I hope we don't have to do that again for a while" he said. The rest of the Leaguers shared his sentiment.
Superman put a hand to his earpiece. "Batman, this is Superman. The area is secure. We're moving in."
"Acknowledged" said Batman. "Be advised, we've found bullet holes and fired shells but no sign of the Team or any additional hostiles. Martian Manhunter has detected something and we're checking it out. Move into the base and continue the sweep. Over."
"Roger that" replied Superman. "We're on our way."
Robin was expecting something weird when he peeked around the corner and he was, of course, correct, but seeing Roy groaning on the ground and a subsonic Wally trying to grab Artemis was a tiny bit weirder than what he'd had in mind.
What made it even weirder was when Wally turned around and lashed out at Roy.
"Stop it!" Artemis shouted, tackling him.
"Hey!" shouted Robin, running into the open. All of his detective's instincts were blaring. Something was very wrong here. Kaldur and Rocket were right behind him.
Wally suddenly exhaled and blinked. "Rob!" he shouted. "Don't hurt her! She's not the-"
Kaldur suddenly cried out in pain before hurling a punch at Rocket.
"Whoa!" she shrieked.
Roy's leg shot out, catching Kaldur off balance and knocking him to the ground. The archer slowly got to his feet.
"Will someone please tell me what's going on!" Raquel shouted.
"It's Psimon!" Wally replied. "He's screwing with our heads, trying to get us to take each other down!"
"Everyone! Back up!" shouted Roy. "Stay out of each other's reach!'
Kaldur got to his feet as everyone spread out, waiting to see who would be next.
Robin felt a very familiar presence in his mind. Before he could react, his right hand had formed a fist and lashed out at Wally, only to be intercepted by his left.
"Oh... no... you... don't!" he muttered, pulling his arm back, no doubt looking like the craziest man alive. But he'd be damned if he let a half-rate villain like Psimon get him that easily.
I heard that came the psychic's voice in his mind. And so what if you can resist me? Your friends aren't so... fortunate.
The presence faded as Rocket screamed.
"No!" she shouted, clutching her forehead and slamming into a wall. "I won't let you control me again! I won't! I won't!" Despite her protests, she straightened up and threw a punch at Aqualad, which he easily deflected.
Don't you understand? asked Psimon as his power left her mind, leaving her gasping for breath. What you want has nothing to do with it.
"Guys!" Robin shouted. "We've got to shield our minds! Think of one single object, anything, and don't stop thinking about it! That thing is everything to you! Every inch of your mind needs to focus on that one, single, thing. Nothing else matters! Got it?"
Everyone gave some sort of nod and began focusing.
"Oh, and, uh, try to pick something you wouldn't mind a supervillain seeing" Robin added.
Raquel took a deep breath and began picturing a daisy. Her mom had some in her window box. Man, she was going to have to tell Mom about all of... No, no, the daisies. The daisies. That was all that mattered.
Robin to a glance around and saw that no one was making clumsy attempts to kill each other. So far, so good.
Feeling a psychic probe on the edge of his consciousness, he brought up an image of an Eptesicus fuscus, the big brown bat. It seemed appropriate. They had a fair colony in the cave, and he'd studied pictures of them enough that he could see every single hair on its body.
As soon as that image was set, he began humming. Softly at first, but then louder and louder. Wally heard him and after a second of trying to place the tune, he joined in. Soon, so did Raquel, then Artemis, and then a reluctant Roy, and finally Kaldur began a clumsy attempt to follow along.
Psimon swept from one mind to another, but he couldn't find any holes, and the humming was getting to him.
Robin chuckled internally. Psimon's such a loser, Psimon's such a loser he mentally sang to the tune. The psychic's anger and frustration came off in waves.
Enough! he growled. I do not have time to deal with mere children.
'Cause we're beatin' ya so bad? thought Wally.
Psimon grunted. And just what I need. A Mar- He stopped mid-word. Well, no time to chat. I suppose what I've done so far will have to do.
The entire group winced as one last blast of psychic energy surged through the link connecting them. Then, their thoughts were truly their own again.
"That... sucked" muttered Wally. The rest couldn't help but agree.
"What was it that we hummed?" asked Kaldur.
"Frère Jacques" Robin replied. "An old French lullaby. It was either that or the theme song to The Flaming C."
"Thanks for the help," said Artemis. "I assume Batman taught you that?"
"Yeah" Robin replied. "Psychic resistance 101. Now, if you've got anything you want to say to keep us from beating you up for betraying the Team, I'd say it now."
"She's not the mole" interrupted Wally. "Sportsmaster tried to get her to defect, and Batman told her to go undercover."
"Batman..." Robin muttered.
"I assume he didn't tell you?" Roy asked. Robin shook his head.
Could that be why she...?
"And we are certain of this?" Aqualad asked.
"Look, I don't know about you, but she risked her life to save me from being a KFcicle" said Wally. "And she got in a fight with her own dad to boot." He walked over and put his arm around Artemis's shoulder. "She's no traitor. She's one of us."
Roy sighed. "I kind of have to agree with him" said the archer. "Outside of the mind control, she hasn't tried to kill us. Yet."
"Thanks for the support" Artemis said sarcastically.
"Now about our other traitor" Red Arrow said, turning and pointing at Rocket.
"Hey, Roy" said Robin. "You know that guy that was just messing with our heads and stealing our bodies? Yeah, he was around earlier. I know. I was there."
"Um... Sorry about electrocuting you?" Rocket said sheepishly.
Red Arrow grumbled but said nothing.
"So, now that we're all on the same page," said Artemis "What's our next move?"
They stopped to think for a moment. In the silence, the sound of running footsteps echoed through the corridor.
"Did you hear that?" asked Wally.
"Sounds like running" Robin said. "Shall we?"
"I am not so certain that continuing to engage our enemies would be a wise decision" Aqualad said. "I alone am armed."
"Yeah, and I'm stuck at normal human speeds" Wally added.
"I say we get out of here before something else crazy shows up" Artemis agreed.
"Come on, guys" said Robin. "We can do it. Just a peek, okay? All this running and fighting and we still have no idea what these guys are up to. Not much of a recon mission if we can't even get that much."
"Robin has a point" said Red Arrow. "Sportsmaster and his men are retreating. Now's the time to press our advantage."
"We have the advantage?" Artemis asked, sarcastically.
"Please?" Robin whispered to Kaldur. "This could be our last chance to rescue Z."
Aqualad sighed. "Very well. Robin, scout ahead. Do not engage any enemies you may encounter. Everyone else will stay behind me. Try to remain quiet. Move out."
"Clear" Batman reported. Black Canary moved up to check the next corridor for enemies. She, Batman and Green Arrow had been sweeping the base like a well-oiled machine for the past five minutes, but they'd encountered nothing besides the swarm of MONQIs up top.
Superboy was, oddly enough, not happy to be away from the MONQIs. As much as he hated them (more than any other type of monkey, in fact), fights let him toss his problems out the window so to speak, at least for a little while. Get his mind off things. Like how screwed up everything had gotten in the past day.
But now that there was no immediate threat, his adrenaline rush had worn off and he found himself uncontrollably... thinking. About things he really, really didn't want to think about.
Oddly enough, didn't have to do with the rest of the Team and the fact that they'd been missing for hours. They were all pretty tough, and even the new girl (Rocker? Racket? Whatever her name was) had been superheroing longer than he had. They'd be fine. He was sure.
What made him anxious wasn't the fact that he'd fallen out of a plane, or that he'd been hit with a kryptonite arrow, or that he'd been beaten up by Sportsmaster. It wasn't even that he'd nearly punched M'gann's head off. It was something much worse.
M'gann had been feeding Queen Bee information. She'd sabotaged the Team. She'd stolen his shields, which could have made the difference between saving the rest of the Team back at Cape Chidley and... whatever it was that had actually happened. She'd betrayed all of them.
She'd betrayed him.
And for what? So they wouldn't know that she looked like a different species? They'd almost died because she didn't like her appearance that she could change at any time?
He understood, sort of. The idea of wanting to hide from who you were, from what you'd come from. After all, that was why he'd told no one else about his little 'chat' with Daddy #2 Lex Luthor. And why he wouldn't stop loving her. Probably couldn't, even if he tried.
But the others? The League? Batman? Would they see a scared little girl in desperate need of love and support, or would they see an alien rookie who'd sold them out for selfish reasons?
Would they keep her on the Team, even if she came clean today? Or was the damage already done?
Conner hadn't thought that much about it, but he made the decision right there. If M'gann was taken off the Team, he'd quit too. After all, his shield habit was almost as dangerous. And he would not leave M'gann. Being alone like that would probably crush her, and he would not let that happen.
But they couldn't stay quiet about it, either. That would only tear the Team apart from the inside out. Either they would be accepted for their mistakes, or they not be.
We WILL tell them he said over his private mental link with M'gann.
Right she replied, her face, finally green again, concealing all signs of emotion. Of course.
Sportsmaster dashed into the command center, Cheshire, Tala, and the recently revived Manta, Tate and Bennett behind him. The room was nearly empty: Only Kuttler and Freeze remained. Well, them and a giant glowing sphere hovering in the corner.
"That was four minutes" the techie said, checking his watch.
"Shove it, Kuttler" Sportsmaster replied. "Is everyone through?"
"Everyone who isn't here. Psimon already left. It seems he encountered more resistance than he'd expected and then detected a Martian getting within range, so he figured he'd cut his losses and book it. And we better do the same. The tech's not designed to keep a portal open this long. We've got maybe a minute before it collapses."
"Right." Sportsmaster said. "Leaving time."
"Indeed" said Tala. "We should have vacated this hideous excuse for a building long ago."
Sportsmaster rolled his eyes as they turned towards the portal, Tate, Bennett and Manta stepping through. He was getting very tired of Little Miss 'I'm a Powerful Lord of Chaos Do What I Say.'
Laughter echoed through the room. It was high-pitched, mischievous-sounding and very, very familiar.
"Robin" said Mr. Freeze, his eyes narrowing.
"Yo!" shouted the Boy Wonder himself as he swung into the room, gripping the top of the door frame in his bare hands. His foot connected with Sportsmaster's hockey-masked face, knocking him back into Tala as Robin backflipped away.
Cheshire reached for her sai, only to realize it was no longer there. (Damn that archer and his sexy, sexy mask!)
"Old fashioned way it is" she muttered, charging.
Mr. Freeze tried to lift his freeze gun to put the Boy Wonder on ice, but his reflexes were too slow. Robin flipped across the room and connected a flying kick with Freeze's dome, slamming him into a concrete wall. The weapon misfired, coating the doorway in ice as Robin kicked it out of Freeze's hands.
In the hall, Aqualad had just reached the door when he had to flatten against a wall to avoid being flash-frozen.
"Robin, what have you done?" he said to himself as he drew his waterbearers and began to concentrate.
Okay, so Robin was technically supposed to only scout and then report back before engaging. And normally he would've. But seriously, these guys had a portal and had been about to go through it. There was no time for any other options. Not if they were going to save Zatanna. Besides, he'd been doing pretty well that night, even without his utility belt.
"Mr. Freeze?" he teased in his sing-songy 'tick off villains' voice. "Really? I thought you had higher standards, Victor."
Freeze growled and lunged at Robin. This was roughly equivalent to an elephant trying to step on a mosquito and the villain missed by a full two feet. Off balance, he tumbled into the portal.
One down, four to...
Robin's thought was interrupted by Cheshire, who flew through the air like a pinwheel and forced him to dodge a very annoying set of blows.
Tala raised her hand and began to speak. "Nibor lliw..."
Then she got hit by a flying table lamp of all things, courtesy of a rapidly flipping Boy Wonder.
Noah Kuttler had backed as far away from the fight as he could and checked his watch. The portal shuddered and began to contract.
"We've got fifteen seconds!" he shouted, jumping in. "Move it or lose it!"
"Jade!" Sportsmaster shouted. "Take Tala and go! I'm right behind you!"
"I will not allow-" Tala began, only to be interrupted by Cheshire landing beside her and grabbing her in a bridal carry.
"Don't hurry, Crusher" the assassin said with a wink as she dove into the shrinking yellow sphere.
Robin tried to intercept, but was knocked aside by Sportsmaster.
"Not today, kid" he said, drawing a pistol and firing.
Robin evaded the first two bullets with more acrobatics and was saved from having to dodge the rest of the clip by the ice coating the door, which exploded, knocking Sportsmaster back and showering him with fragments. The pistol clattered to the ground.
Aqualad allowed himself a brief smile as he charged into the room. Ice was still water after all, though it took considerably more effort to get it to shake off the bonds that held it solid.
Sportsmaster figured he'd really had enough of rearguard action the past two days and so backed up a bit before diving into the portal, throwing a hunting knife at Robin to keep him back. It didn't work, of course.
"Rob!" Wally shouted as the rest of the Team ran into the room. "What's gotten into you?"
"No time!" Robin replied. "I've got to save Zatanna!"
There was only one option left, and it was suicidal. Completely and utterly suicidal.
Robin went for it anyways, because that was the kind of guy he was.
"Bruce is so going to kill me for this" he muttered before lunging at the glowing sphere.
"No!" Wally cried, dashing forwards. Evidently some of his speed had returned, as he was able to reach Robin in a matter of milliseconds and grab onto his friend's cape.
Too late. Robin's momentum carried him forwards into the portal, followed a second later by the speedster.
"Wally!" Artemis screamed.
Before anyone else could reach it, the boom tube contracted and vanished, taking with it both boys.
Artemis, Kaldur, Rocket and Roy just stood there for a minute in an empty room, staring at one particularly empty corner.
They were still there when the Martian Manhunter phased in through the ceiling, and when Batman, Conner, M'gann and the others arrived.
Still staring at the same, empty, corner.
"Guys!" M'gann said. "You're okay!"
It took the Martian girl a second to realize what was wrong.
"Where's Robin, Wally and Zatanna?" she asked.
The four Team members turned and looked at her, and then back at the corner.
Batman almost instantly determined what was wrong. That was the reason they called him the World's Greatest Detective. The Dark Knight took a deep breath. After years of training to keep his emotions hidden and in check, he was able to reduce everything he was feeling at the moment to a single clenched fist.
A radio crackled
"Batman, this is Superman. We've secured the west end of the facility. It's empty. What's the status on your end?"
Batman clenched his other fist briefly as he put his finger to his ear.
"All clear here, and we've recovered most of the remainder of Team. Only Robin, Kid Flash and Zatanna are still unaccounted for. We do not believe they are still on site."
"Roger. We'll continue to sweep anyways."
"Understood. Batman out."
"Come on," Black Canary said. "It's time to go home."
One by one the remaining Team members turned and left.
Until, finally, only Batman remained, eyes locked on the corner.
For one tiny moment, a speck of water appeared in his eye, and then it was gone.