Agony's Best Friend

Missing Heroes

"Diane," Slade called, gray eye harsh and cutting as they turned on his niece, "tea. Now."

"Yes, Master." She murmured, metal fingers working on automatic. She kept her head down and violet eye fixed on her hands as she measured tea leaves to precisely, heated the kettle too slowly, and poured too many cups for the present company. She was slow to bring it to her uncle as was obvious in the soft clanging of her metal feet.

Slade, though, was slow to take a cup of tea from the offered tray and did not drink. After a moment, his hands came up to remove the mask and reveal a white-haired man with an eye-patch as well as a pinched look that only came when one was in a heavy reverie. The furrow of his brow, almost angry looking, would have tipped anyone off to his train of thought.

"Your tea will get cold." His niece murmured from her submissive position at his side, very aware that he hadn't dismissed her yet. When he took a small sip of the herbal tea, Diane nearly sagged in relief. It seemed as though it was one of her master's better days, making this risk she was about to take just a bit safer. "May I ask what you are thinking about?"

His eye rose to her, dark and scrutinizing. "I believe I must find another apprentice." He huffed, turning away slightly. "One that isn't defective."

With that short answer, he turned away from her and motioned her set down the tea tray as well as leave. With a wince, she did just that, pretending that his last prod at both her and Dick's unsuitability of playing his apprentice hadn't gotten the exact response that they both knew it had.

Defective. Broken. They weren't broken.

They weren't.

. . .

There was something about that look mirrored on almost all of their faces that made Dick wince. It was a familiar look that screamed of betrayal, broken trust, and lost faith that he himself had worn too many times to count. The idea (the truth) that he was the reason that it had appeared on their faces made his blood curdle.

For once, he was glad that the other Robins did not attempt to speak. Their silence was as appreciated as the waves of calm and comfort they sent when words could do nothing. It almost tempted the boy to give a smile, sad and pitiful as it might be.

"Why?" Starfire finally managed to gasp, stumbling forward slightly, her jean jacket slipping off one tanned shoulder without her notice. Her green eyes were wide and just a bit manic, something that made Dick have to swallow before he could answer.

"You can't just . . . quit." Beast Boy whispered, looking for the life of him lost. The peach skin and blond hair still threw Dick for a loop when he looked at the younger male despite knowing that he was in disguise while under the manor roof (under Alfred's orders as there were no superhero costumes allowed outside the cave). Beast Boy bit his lip, looking as though he couldn't continue.

"I'm not going to quit." Dick stated, smiling gently but sternly at them. "And I will always come if you need me."

"But we need you now!" Starfire exclaimed, staring at him with trembling lip and chattering teeth. He gave her a kind smile, stepping forward to grasp her hands gently. His skin was cool to the touch, and her eyes fluttered closed for just a moment at the feeling.

"But you don't." Dick whispered. "None of you do. You've proven that time and time again. Don't think I haven't been watching the news. You, the four of you, have been able to beat some of the worst of Jump's villains as a team. You're balanced, confident, and successful. You don't need me anymore." His voice slowly grew in confidence and volume as he continued, and his eyes rose to look at each of them. The silence seemed to last a millennium of one-sided conversations, sad goodbyes, and piteous rejections. Finally, though, one of the last Titans to speak stepped forward, eyes pleading and trembling hands outstretched.

"Dick, we need you." Cyborg said, his voice strong and steady more for his team than himself. "Please. You're our leader!"

"No, Cy." Dick shook his head, releasing Star's hands. Dark blue eyes rested on the dark-skinned boy with an odd expression that made his heart pound just a bit faster-Pride. Dick looked proud. "You're the leader."

The older male gaged, eyes wide. He spluttered for a moment, not knowing what to say or how to say it. "But-You-I can't be-"

"You already are." The room went dead silent as Dick looked at them with that proud look again. The easy smile on his face wasn't forced, nor was it fake. His eyes slowly moved to each of them in turn. "Once, we made a good team. Now, you make a great team. You're not only ready to go on without me, but you've already done it well. You guys don't need me, and it's best if I go, but that doesn't mean that I'm gone. You guys are all family, and my door is always open. If you need a thing, call me, and I'll be there. I will always be there. And vise-versa, if I ever need help, you'll be the first that I ring. The Titans may be in my past, but that doesn't mean that I'm not still a Titan, though honorary." He gave them an encouraging smile.

After a moment, Beast Boy sniffed softly before flinging himself on the (still) injured boy. He didn't break into loud sobs or plead or beg, just hold on as if the other male might disappear if he let go of him. "Robin . . . ." He trailed off, not knowing what to say.

"I know you guys want me to stay, but . . . but the Titans need a Robin, and I don't think I can be Robin anymore. Robin . . . the mask is too much, and I don't think I can live up to it anymore. While Robin is important, I need to be myself again instead of clinging so much to the dead." Dick smiled, arms softly wrapping around the changeling in his arms as he had many times before for others just as close to him but now gone. "I'm not doing this just for you. I'm doing this for me. It's time that I let go of them, and to let go of them, I need to let go of Robin." He sighed softly. "I'm sorry."

Slowly, Beast Boy stepped back, wiping quiet tears from his face and looking up with puffy eyes and raw, wet cheeks. He took a deep breath, and his voice came surprisingly steady. "You'd better visit."

Dick blinked in surprise, not having expected any of them to understand, let alone accept it so quickly. Apparently, he wasn't the only one with such thoughts because the other Titans stared at Beast Boy as well with mixtures of shock, wonder, betrayal, and indecision written plainly across their faces.

"At least once every two weeks. You stay in your room as much as you can, and-and help us catch random bad guys when you're in town." The boy commanded, eyes oddly determined. "And whenever you fail, you have to bring some kind of sweet or game to apologize as well as stay through the week no matter what you're doing."

Dick's jaw dropped, much like everyone else's. However, the green shape-shifter's eyes never left him.

"Promise." Beast Boy insisted.

Finally, Dick closed his mouth in a genuine smile before nodding at him. "I promise."

With those words, the tension seemed to finally fall from the room, and, one by one, the Titans seemed to give their friend a subtle sign that they understood and supported him. Misty eyes, sad smiles, sharp nods-Dick received several.

He noted that Starfire kept her eyes down and her voice was silent. His smile fell for a moment, but he had no chance to speak as Raven, his only supporter from the beginning, asked in a soft voice. "What now?"

Dick paused, a frown on his face. "What do you mean?"

"You said that you aren't going to quit." She stated clearly, dark eyes sad yet understanding. "What are you going to do?"

"Pick up my old persona." He replied softly, a slow, careful smile sliding across his lips as memories, good memories, flashed across his dark blue eyes. "What do you think of the name Nightwing?"

. . .

"You aren't staying here, are you?" Barbara asked as he finally exited the room filled with his teammates. He glanced at her for just a moment before wearily shaking his head, letting a tired though accomplished look come across his features since he was no longer in the Titan's views. "Where will you go?"

He paused, licking his chapped lips before smiling at her. "Wherever I'm needed."

"Dick," There was a pleading note in her voice that made Dick blink. He hadn't heard Barbara use that tone in years, "please at least stay long enough to have the surgery to remove the . . . that piece of kryptonite and to recover. Please."

He smiled softly. "I'm not getting rid of it, Babs."

Barbara blinked in surprise, obviously losing her footing. "What? Bu-But-"

"I'll live while I live, Babs." He stated, voice oddly muted. There was no sag in his shoulders or telling sign of distress that gave Barbara any hint as to how he felt. Fear, and just a bit (okay, a lot) of anger gripped her core as she spun on her heel and marched toward him.

"And you'll die when you die!" She snarled. "You can't do that! You-You can't leave Bruce and . . . you can't leave me."

As if he were approaching a wild animal, Dick slowly stepped toward her, hands reaching out. Slowly, his hands cupped her face, and her eyes fluttered closed on automatic. She leaned into his touch, thinking about older times when things weren't so hard or terrifying. She missed the days she felt free to make friends-colleagues without fearing that they would soon sacrifice their lives. She sighed softly.

She missed the days when they were a family.

Slowly, she felt him tilt her head downward and give her a gentle kiss on the forehead, lips soft against her flushed skin. "I will never leave you."

Her eyes didn't open, even after he pulled away.

"I was thinking Bludhaven." Dick said conversationally. "I think it'd be a good place to start. After all, they definitely need a hero."

When her eyes opened, her hero was gone.

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