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"Son, what were you thinking? You could have been killed."

Eddie looked like a deer in the headlights as he looked up at the firefighter speaking to him. Hesitantly, he lowered the oxygen mask from his face and gave a shaky smile.

"I'm s-s-s-s-s-sorry," he paused, nervously glancing towards the burnt out building that had only recently been put out. "But...people n-n-n-needed h-help," he added. Eddie was still pretty shocked by what he had done.
He'd just been looking for decent dumpster to get some food from when he saw the fire. A little listening in on the crowd had revealed that people were still trapped inside the flaming restaurant. And with no superheroes in sight and no one having any idea when the fire department would arrive, the homeless teen was torn. After a few moments of thought and gathering some courage, he took a breath and rushed in.

Eddie wasn't sure he would be able to do anything but he knew he had to try. And despite some cuts, burns, and bruises, he managed to find the three people that had been trapped by the blaze and helped them out in time for the fire department to arrive.

The firefighter just sighed at Eddie, reaching down and pushing the mask back onto his face. Eddie lingered for awhile, just watching and catching his breath. When he started feeling better, Eddie carefully slipped away from the scene. He'd overheard one of the paramedics talking about reporters and calling Eddie's parents and he didn't like the sound of any of that.

He was just trying to help after all. It was the right thing to do after all.

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*Takes place between Teen Titans #50 & 51.

It's getting worse every day. She feels him reaching for her, clawing his way free of the place between worlds, raping her sense of security and belonging.

The hellish part is that when her empathic senses reach out for her friends they are so happy right now, unaware of the battle she faces. A wedding, food, music, proposals...But like her own calm, there is something growing under it which threatens their souls.

Who am I to remove their happiness from them, especially if Trigon breaks through?

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Eddie knew something was wrong when he got home and didn’t get some annoyed noise or insult hurled his way. Putting his backpack into his room, he glanced at the glowing green numbers on his bedside clock and frowned. It was too early for his mother to be out at work. And the lack of response to his entrance had him confused. A very small part of him was thinking that he would be glad if something happened to the woman but the fourteen year old squashed it with one glance at the plastic Superman sitting on his desk.

He didn’t scream or yell out when he saw her on the couch. He just moved forward and went through the first aid routine he’d learned in gym class. No pulse, not breathing, bleeding from the nose, needles and bottles of who knows what around. Melissa Silver was dead. Eddie didn’t know for how long but there was no doubt.

What happened next was mostly a blur. There were cops, people talking to him and getting very little in the way of answers from the shocked young man. Next thing he knew he was being picked up by a police officer and carried out of the apartment. He was puzzled at first by why he was being taken to a hospital but the bruises and black eye from his day at school must have been enough to get him checked out.

Doctors and nurses asked questions, poked, and prodded. Eddie remained silent for the most part, offering monosyllabic answers at the most. After giving someone that called themselves a social worker his school ID instead of saying his name, Eddie was left alone in the hospital room. He sat there with the usual hospital noises as the only sounds in the room. He didn’t know what he was going to do. Eddie’s eyes lingered up on the window in the room, the teen wishing desperately that Superman, Green Lantern, The Ray…any of his heroes would show up and just take him away. Rescue him like they rescued all those other people.

Eventually, Eddie looked down to the floor. The social worker came back and gave Eddie back his ID before leading him to another room. The teen appreciated that it smelled much less like medicine and sick people. When he heard the social worker talking to someone on the other side of the door, he appreciated things much less. They’d called his father and he was on his way. Eddie panicked. There was no way he was going to go back to live with his father and brother.

So he waited. The social worker stuck around, trying to get him to talk but Eddie ignored him, trying to think of what various heroes would do while he waited. Once the social worker started to doze off, Eddie took off. Doing all the sneaking he imagined Batman and Robin would, Eddie made his way out of the hospital and onto a bus back home. Getting back into the apartment wasn’t hard considering that he had a key and easily ducked under the police tape.

Avoiding the living room entirely, the young man packed quickly. He honestly didn’t know what he would need so he went with his gut. Clothing, some small supplies, some food…all of it was crammed into a JLA-logo backpack and then hefted onto the small teen’s back. He made one last stop before leaving the apartment, going to his mother’s room and digging around in her purse until he found her ATM card. He didn’t know what his mother’s will said or if she even had one but as far as Eddie was concerned, whatever money was in there was his. He just hoped that any heroes could forgive him if they ever found out.

It wasn’t a long trip to an ATM, Eddie glad he knew the PIN number. He emptied the account and then walked away as calmly as he could even if he thought someone was about to swoop down and grab him by the neckscruff at any second.

Eddie ended up walking for a few hours until he wandered into the park. When the area started to become familiar, he looked up and saw something that stopped him in his tracks. The statue of Superman. Eddie stood there, staring up at the statue for a long while. At first he just wished the real Superman would show up and take him away from where he was. To some exciting new life. Eventually, the young man sighed though. He doubted anyone was coming to save him. An idea occurred to him though.

Standing there under the statue, Eddie came up with the idea that he could travel the country and see as many superheroes as possible. He would learn as much as he could, helping as many people as he could along the way. He thought he could make people like the Flash and Wonder Woman proud of him if he survived, learned, and did as much good as he could.

Happy with his new plan, Eddie found an out of the way spot to curl up for the night. Taking a blanket from inside his backpack, he wrapped himself up and spent the night staring up at the statue and imagining all sorts of scenarios that likely wouldn’t ever happen until he drifted off to sleep.

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The day was off to a good start so far in Roy's opinion. He was up early, had all kinds of time for a morning run and a shower before he had to go.

Come ten am he had been ready for a half hour. He kissed Lian goodbye and told her to be good for Donna, then hugged Donna goodbye and thanked her for watching Lian. And then he was off...

Ever since his younger days Roy had always been a fan of fairs. He liked the smells, the sounds, the bustling crowds of it all. He also loved beating the holy bjeezus out of rigged marksmanship games to the horror of carnies everywhere. It was never a hard sell with that ladies.

"I bet you I could win you anything you like here."

Monica raised a brow, then pointed to the biggest bear on the stand.

"How about that one?"

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He had been planning and re-planning this for months.

The helmet was his baby, his best invention yet. He knew the tech specs and could rattle off the blueprints in his sleep. He had thought of selling the device to the Pentagon, but it was too much fun. That, he he wasn't sure it could work with anyone else's brain pattern. Learning he had an active metagene really didn't surprise him. It actually explained quite a bit.

He inherited his father's wealth, and his grandfather's. That caused the greedy and the jealous to show up in droves. The greedy wanted a piece of the pie without having to work for it, and the jealous believed that he wasn't capable of doing anything on his own because his family wealth had given it all to him. He wasn't sure which irritated him more.

So, he took on challenge after challenge. He plays the stock market like others play fantasy football. He's obtained several Ph.D.s from top universities. He's sought out and studied martial arts, learned to pilot most types of planes and automobiles. He even has increased his inherited wealth by creating one of the top R&D companies in the world.

So now? The next challenge. He feels a bit silly in the leotard, but it's all part of the plan. He heard on the police scanners - a Unabomber wannabe decided to make a political "statement" by putting a bomb in a downtown office building with enough plastic explosives to make a crater of three city blocks. He's parked the convertible out of the police cordon and managed to sneak past the blockade.

Yup, just as expected - there's the building, the bomb, and Doom Patrol. He puts the helmet on and feels an instant rush as it activates. Time to introduce them all to Mento.

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He turns the helmet over in his hands, the light glinting off his wedding band.

He's not sure what's eating him. Here he is, top of the world. They've just beaten the tar out of Mallah and Brain's latest scheme. His company has just expanded into the former Soviet Bloc, with stock prices going through the roof. He's married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and he makes her just as happy as she makes him. And while he never planned on having children, the idea of having a son is growing on him.

In all reality, he should be deliriously happy.

Cliff and Larry are playing cards. Rita's on the sofa with Garfield, munching popcorn as they watch cartoons. Really, even if they all got off to a rocky start (and who can blame them? He was being a bit of an ass), these people were a lot more genuine than his fraternity brothers at Harvard or the people he slapped on the back at country clubs.

I'm one of them.

The helmet doesn't give him the power per se. He figured that out before he even built it. All it did was crank up what was already there, and it explained a lot – like why those glittery parties and business lunches made him physically ill (Rita's already seen him with a crippling migraine), or how he was able to discern what a client or vendor was offering before they even laid out the full terms of the deal. It's why he just did not schmooze very well.

He turns the helmet over in his hands. Having the ability to discern the thoughts of others doesn't mean your own are any better sorted out. 

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Current Location: Dayton Manor

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It's good to be back in his old costume again. The Corps is reforming. Guy, John, Kyle, and Kilowog were all at his side when they defeated Parallax. Locked up that parasite of fear that had been residing inside of him for so many years... since even before Katma had died.

He lands, unseen, outside the office. He'll catch up with Tom later; for now, he wants to see someone more important.

She was the last person he saw before he died. Now that he's back, she's the first person he wants to see.

Of course, she's married now. That's the only reason his idea will work. If she wasn't married, he'd probably want to go somewhere else. Let their relationship bloom more naturally. But she's married, and he believes they're happy together. He'd never want to ruin that.

But he's also always considered her a close friend. And she can help in a way that no superhero can.

He might have a pulse again. But Carol's the only person he knows who can help him really live again.

He knocks on her office door gently.

"Carol?" he calls. He opens the door and steps inside. "...hi."

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The new kid, Kyle, told him what was going on. The Earth is going to die. The sun has been extinguished, and the Earth cannot survive.

He's been to see Guy and John. He... took care of something at Ollie's grave. He visited Barry's memorial statue. He's been to see Tom.

He's almost done saying goodbyes. But there's one more he has to see.

He's saved the most important person of all for last.

There have been other women. Hell, he almost even married Kari Limbo, who Extant killed during the Zero Hour event. But even if she was still alive, he wouldn't be going to see her right now.

None of the other women mattered. None of them were special.

None of them were Carol.

She was always the One.

The snow is coming down over Ferris Air when he appears behind her.

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Hal grins as he walks along the boardwalk, with Carol at his side. The Predator is gone. Star Sapphire is gone. It's just the two of them.

Not that they're dating or anything. Hal's been sort of kind of not really seeing a woman out on Mosaic World. But Carol remains a very close old friend.

He looks to Carol, the stuffed animal he won for her earlier in her hand. He's very lucky to have her as a friend. She's certainly been an invaluable help in planning his new air taxi business. Plus, he had to take her on the Ferris wheel... it just wouldn't have been the same without her, if only for the opportunity to crack jokes about her name.

He sighs pleasantly as they walk off the boardwalk and onto the beach.

"I'll be honest," he admits, "I had no idea what sort of work would go into making my own business."

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She loved tiger lilies and and peanuts. Every year he gets a small bag of peanuts and one single tiger lily and heads for Oa to remember. He can still hear her in his head saying he shouldn't waste any time or sentimental junk on her. He's not a sentimental guy, but she was his wife.

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It occurs to Carol that she does a lot of waiting when it comes to Hal. Earlier tonight she watched Hal take off after the Predator, and she hasn't heard anything from him in hours. This on top of the fourteen hours Hal spent on the roof at Ferris Air waiting for the Predator to show up. He is so determined to protect her this time.

Now she waits on the deck looking over the ocean under the stars and wonders when Hal will be back. At least this time she's not looking heavenward for the answer.

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It had taken forever for Carol to fall asleep, even though she'd gone to bed long past midnight. Between the Demolition Team and the Predator, the fire, the destruction, Ferris Air was all but wiped off the map. She had to rebuild from the ground up, and find the money to finance it.

It could have been worse. People could have been killed, but it didn't excuse the fact that Hal was gone when she needed him most. Called off like a lapdog to save an alien world when his friends were in danger. Her life was all but destroyed, and he could only apologize for being too late to help.

And never mind that kiss from the Predator.

It felt so good to strike him. A part of her would be ashamed of losing control like that, but the rest of her wanted to do it again. She would not let herself lose sleep over her ultimatum. It was either the Green Lanterns, or her and the life they could have together.

She loved him so much, but she didn't have it in her to share him anymore.

Maybe it was the relief at finally coming to a real decision that let her sleep now with the calming sounds of the waves below on the beach.

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Hal climbs down the ladder, exiting the jet and tossing his helmet to Tom as he comes out.

"She's handling well, Tom," he tells his old friend. "Got a little rough when I started pulling 12 Gs, but otherwise, not too bad."

Tom just shakes his head, chuckling. "You didn't need to test that high, Hal. It's not meant to be rated that high."

Hal slaps his mechanic... and old friend... on the back. "Hey, what's the point of being a test pilot if I don't push the barrier?"

It was true. Being an insurance investigator, and a toy salesman, and a long-haul trucker... what was he thinking? His true calling had always been to fly. Returning to Ferris Air had been a dream. He wasn't quite sure why he hadn't returned sooner. There was something... about a girlfriend? He'd been dating someone who hadn't wanted him to return to Ferris or something. It wasn't jealousy... He shakes the thought off. Unimportant. He was back now, and that's what mattered.

Hal steps to his locker and slips out of his flight suit, then slips his ring back on.

"I've never understood why you don't fly with it," Tom shakes his head. "Seems like it'd be a bit of a safety net."

"I've never been one for safety nets, Tom," Hal replies with a grin, allowing the ring to turn invisible while on his finger. "I thought you knew that."

Tom just shakes his head. "I've got your data. Let me do some work on the plane, and if the next test flight goes well, this plane just might make the deadline."

Hal smiles. "I'll leave you do it, then," he nods, taking his leave of his friend and heading towards the main office complex. Carol will want a report.

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"Carol, wait!" Hal moves to pursue her as she begins to storm down the street.

Sure, they'd been drifting apart. Things even were looking good for a while... until the news broke that she was dating Green Lantern. She needed some space. And between his constant travels into space, and his job on the road, he was giving her plenty. That's why he didn't mind that she went out to dinner with that other man... at least, he didn't mind much. Even if he did appear charming, and debonair, and rich. Green Lantern may be a celebrity, but Hal Jordan didn't make much money anymore as a long-haul trucker.

"Carol... I had to stop him." Yes, it's true that Hal wasn't thrilled by the idea of Carol seeing another man. But Andre wasn't just some suave man trying to muscle in on Carol. "You know I had to. He would have destroyed the planet."

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Vera had faded into the background when she saw her teammates begin to pair off after the night of drinking and games at Warriors. She was both pleased and amused at the members of her team -- she may not be the leader, but she's starting to feel a bit... maternal, perhaps?

She chuckles to herself as she disrobes for bed. Maybe not maternal. But certainly "big sister." She may have been Chess's younger sister all her life, but she's finding she's thinking about her teammates almost like younger siblings that need guidance. Is that fair? Probably not -- they're all good members. She's pretty sure she can trust them.

Besides, it's not like she had the most healthy relationship with Chess; she's pretty sure she wouldn't want to treat her teammates the way Chess treated her.

She dreams...Collapse )

Vera sits up in bed, startled. She blinks back the memory, and swallows before the gorge can rise in her throat again.

And for a moment, she thinks she can still smell the cloying odor of his cigarettes... until it's abruptly gone, like a phantom odor from her dream -- even though Chess didn't smoke back then, she still associated that smell with him.

Was that really exactly what happened? Was that how the conversation had played out? Had Chess... made her want to go? She hadn't realized it at the time, but she was young. Confused. Scared. And Chess was the only one who would ever take care of her, until she learned how to take care of herself. Hell, Chess was the one who made it possible to take care of herself: he was the one who made those men design and build her arms.

She glances at the clock. It's a bit early to be starting on her day, but it's not like she's going to be getting back to sleep any time soon. She shrugs on her sweats to get started on her morning workout.

She could use the chance to work out some aggression. And as she steps away, she can almost feel Chess still standing behind her...

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Grandy was not a happy man. His employer, Jason Belmont, isn't listening to him. He's refused Grandy's raise. This simply will not do.

Belmont needs to be taught a lesson.

His perfect weapon is with him. Sybil walks along at his side.

And there. Belmont's fiancé. Perfect.

As they walk by each other, Grandy swerves to collide with her, bumping her shoulder.

"Watch where you're going, you snooty biddy!" he spits at her.

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It's been some time now. Since he left Coast City, he's lived up north in Evergreen City, Washington, as an insurance investigator. He's had several relationships, but none were that serious. The closest to long-term was Eve Doremus, but even that didn't last that long. And yet another brief girlfriend ran off to get married, though at least that one lived on another planet, so he wouldn't have to face her again any time soon.

A couple months ago, Carol stopped by Evergreen City, and they spoke briefly. She admitted that the wedding with Jason had been put off twice, but she was going to be married the next day. By now, she should be happily married.

Insurance investigator really didn't work out, though. He just hasn't been getting around as much as he'd like, and he just couldn't face the tragedies throughout the insurance business any longer. So he has a new job now.

Traveling toy salesman.

No, really.

He works for Merlin toys, traveling to different cities to sell toy lines to distributors and directly to stores.

Okay, it's not test flying jets, but at least it's more positive than insurance investigator. He's dealing with getting toys to kids, rather than finding out whether or not someone's house burning down was an accident.

And now he's back in Coast City.

He ran into Tom first; his old friend quit Ferris after he left. The mechanic owns a chain of gas stations now, and he and his wife have a kid, and another one on the way. Then he ran into Carol.

And that's why he's flying across the sky now, Carol Ferris in his arms. They need to catch up.

He lands on a secluded beach and sets her down.

"Good to see you again, Carol."

______________________________

*This scene is from Green Lantern v2, issues 73-74.

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Tom is right. Hal's beaten around the bush long enough.

It's obvious that he and Carol love each other, even if they keep dancing around the topic. It's obvious to him that she's the one he wants, and vice versa. Trying to play it off like it's not what it is has gotten old. She's got a crush on Green Lantern, too, that's clear... but if he was honest with her, and told her the truth, then it wouldn't be an issue. It's time to do all of that.

It's time to open up. Barry's wedding has really shown him something. When someone is right for you, you don't keep dancing around the subject. Marriage isn't the end for Barry and Iris... it's just the start of a whole new adventure. He sees that now.

Maybe it's time to have someone other than Tom -- someone not in "the life" -- let in on his secret. Maybe it's time to tell Carol everything.

And if things go well?

His hand drifts to his pocket, where he's got a small case, holding a diamond ring.

Sudden? Probably. But they know they're compatible in personality; compatible in professional lives; compatible in the bedroom (and in his shower, and on his couch, and on her kitchen floor, too, for that matter). It might be sudden, but it's also long overdue.

He steps to Carol's office door and knocks.

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If there was one thing that Carol Ferris loved, one thing that freed up her mind and let her release her stress, it was flying. Something about it made her feel more connected to the world and to herself, even though she was physically more detached from it. If only I could fly on my own, she mused to herself. She often wondered how it felt for heroes like Superman and Captain Marvel, heroes who could take to the skies on their own. Granted, there's been a few times where Green Lantern's held me in his arms and flown and that's been.... Carol swooned. God, he's gorgeous. She set her mouth in a thin line though. Green Lantern might have been hot, but there was also Hal Jordan to contend with. Hal Jordan, her pilot, who Carol was quickly falling for, no matter how hard she tried not to. It's hard not to, though. He's a priggish jerk, but there's something about him that's just so annoyingly charming...

She mused over Green Lantern and Hal Jordan for awhile, lost in thought. She was lost enough to still be able to concentrate on her flying, but not much else. She snapped out of her reverie when she felt her plane being forced down, though. It wasn't because of her steering, nor was it because of the weather conditions. In fact, Carol couldn't tell why her plane was being forced down. Keeping her calm - Carol Ferris was not going to panic in this sort of situation. She was a stronger, smarter woman than that. Really.
 
The last thing that Carol remembered before she blacked out was touching down on a soft patch of ground...Collapse )

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It's a gorgeous day and for all that he appreciates a peaceful moment, Joe Wilson does really feel the most at home in the heart of a place like this on a weekend afternoon. Since he was small he had taken an interest in simply observing other people, only interjecting in the rare moments when he felt he had something to say, but now grown up and quieter than most he could call that childhood interest a passion.

The park bustles with movement and noise. People walking, dancing, running, talking to each other, singing, shouting. They are each absorbed in their own little microcosm of the world, focused on a task, or a word, or a step, or on another person sharing that one moment of existence with them. Watching them is like watching the wind blow soap bubbles about. He loves the way they collide and cluster, drifting singular and then the next moment connected by a common experience.

Paul taps him on the shoulder, drawing his eyes away from the highschoolers flinging a frisbee back and forth. Tina is warmed up and ready to go. Joey's careful with the flute as he pulls it out of it's case. He does a few quick scales to make sure he hasn't forgotten the keys too readily, then starts off the song. He'd been up a bit too late the night before playing it over and the bridge is still giving him a bit of trouble, but judging from the crowd clustering around Tina as she starts to dance he doubts anyone would notice a missed note.

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It's been a long several days. And his world has totally changed.

First, he found out that his boss... an old friend of his father's... was selling to Ferris. To Ferris. After everything that bastard did. After taking away Hal's father. Ferris might as well have aimed a gun and pulled the trigger. And now he's buying out Arden, one of Hal's dad's oldest friends... and the last place he could get a job since being drummed out of the Air Force, even if he wasn't allowed to fly.

But that was nothing compared to the alien. And the ring. And the week of boot camp with strange creatures of all shapes and sizes. (His boot camp instructor kept calling people "poozer." Really.) And the color yellow... he can't affect the color yellow. What the hell kind of limitation is that, anyway?

He's returned now... and Tom filled him in on what he missed. Carl Ferris hasn't even shown up. He's having his princess of a daughter handle everything. Most of the employees of Arden Air quit as a result.

Hal's ready to do the same.

He marches towards her office and knocks on the door.

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Young Harold -- Hal -- Jordan stands on the airfield, clutching his father's jacket tightly. As the jet screams by overhead, he's filled with complete pride and joy.

"GO, DAD!" he screams, trying to be heard, not just by others around him, but even in his father's cockpit.

Hal's older brother Jack didn't care about their father's flying anymore. His younger brother Jim was too young to come out. But Hal couldn't imagine being anywhere else. He even skipped school some days just to watch his dad fly. They'd sit in the cockpit and eat lunch together.

He holds his father's jacket tightly. It's an honor to hold it for such a great pilot.

Hal's always wanted to be just like his father.

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It had been a long day. Her, mom and Dad running all over town to just try to save one of their contacts. Now they were on the last one. Here, at the abandoned aquarium by the bay they'd hopefully be able to at least save one of their friends.

These were people who had trusted them and worked with them. It wasn't right that so far every one of them was ending up dead. This place was always creepy, even when there WERE people here. But now they were trying to find their friend it was that much worse.

JD was just barely fourteen. This was the first real operation her parents had let her come on, once they found out she had been doing it on her own anyway.

"Mister Hooley...?" She was absolutely not afraid. After all, this wasn't just playing around in a costume. This was life or death.

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She's been mostly a rumor, but she doesn't know that. All she knows is that she's been here with all these noise, lights, and people for a week. The library allows her to read. She has discovered how to gather food from shopkeepers, and she knows there's a lot of evil men doing evil things. She followed one of them to this roof above a place where currency is being kept - and she's wearing her new salvaged costume like the heroes of this world wear.

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Current Location: Gotham City

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Garth has never really liked these court gatherings. He didn't exactly grow up around other people, and these social gatherings don't make him comfortable.

Sure, he understands the need for them. After all, Arthur is the king of Atlantis. And he's caring for Garth. Not exactly like surface adoption, he's discovered -- on the surface, children that are adopted are treated as though they were the parent's flesh and blood. Here, things are different. Orphans never really are part of the family they're adopted by -- they're just cared for and have their needs seen to. Which is fair enough... no one asked Arthur to take in the lost child on the reefs. He's been very good to the young Garth.

He misses the surface. He loves his school in Scotland, and he's doing very well in his classes. He loves adventuring with Arthur, of course, and he wouldn't give that up for anything, even if he has lately been distracted with that Queen Mera.

He's grateful for everything Arthur does for him. But that doesn't change the fact that he doesn't much like these social gatherings.

So Garth has found a quiet corner, and he has a book that's been specially printed on plastic sheets just for him, so he can bring it underwater.

His nose is deep in a book, so he doesn't notice the people passing all around him... and for the most part, they ignore him, too.

Just the way he likes it.

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*This takes place during the events of the Crisis on Infinite Earths

The asylum has been quiet. They've been trying to help Duela Dent with her problem, but they've been finding it difficult... there doesn't seem to be anything mentally wrong with her, yet there continue to be problems.

They have realized that costumed heroes and villains seem to exacerbate her issues. As such, they have passed word along to her friend Tula that her treatment may require her absence from their lives for a time -- perhaps an extended time. She, in turn, passed word on to Duela's friends: their very presence could make her treatment harder. She would be in touch with them again when she was ready for it.

By limiting her exposure to costumed heroes -- even in media -- they have stabilized the young woman, but they're still not sure how to proceed. Doctor Midkopf has suggested that perhaps some form of post-traumatic stress has caused a severe memory loss, which their treatment can begin to heal... but they may never get that chance.

Because Duela Dent's life is about to get very interesting.

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They rented a car and drove along the coast, stopping over-night in small, beachy towns. They dodged tourists and ate ice cream and talked about nothing in particular; anything and everything except where this little road trip of theirs would end. Through Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The conversation started to die around the time they hit Maine, and by the time they turned away from the coast and began traveling inland, not even the music on the radio could drown out the silence.

Tula put the car into park at the gate, looking up at the building on the other side.

"Looks kind of like a school, doesn't it?"

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It was shortly after Donna's wedding. Duela had been coming and going among the Titans randomly for awhile now, beset by restlessness that she really couldn't put a name to.

It was odd and she hadn't talked to anyone or told anyone about it but it almost felt like her mind was falling apart. It worried her. Sure, she was never stable. She didn't care if someone thought she was sane. Normality was for people who were afraid to be what they were.

But even her normal sense of 'not quite there' wasn't anything compared to what was happening lately. It was like her mind was a pile of puzzle boxes and someone had opened all of them at once and dumped the contents all over and expected her to make a coherent picture out of it.

She didn't know where to start, or even what piece went where and what pictures they were supposed to make.

J.D. was here for her stuff, but looking at some of her things she got the feeling that it didn't belong to her. That it never had. And some of it she could've sworn weren't even hers to begin with.

She held the duffle bag by its strap as she stood in the hallway outside her room taking a moment to just breathe. To try to sort through things. She needed to talk to Tula-hoop. Her friend being the only person she felt right talking to.

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Garth grins. The Titans have been growing lately. Beast Boy. Hawk and Dove. Bumblebee, Mal, Lilith, Gnark.

But the latest member is... strange to say the least. But she and Tula certainly hit it off.

So here he is at a Value Village, accompanying his girlfriend and their new teammate in a search for fun new (used) surface clothes.

He realizes it would be rude to sneak into the changing rooms and make out with Tula here... not when they have a friend along. So instead, he satisfies himself that he'll be able to watch her try on different clothes ... and later, he'll be able to help remove them from her.

And in the meantime, he'll get to know this new teammate a little better. Perhaps he can understand why she has decided to call herself "Joker's Daughter."

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Tula had been prowling beyond the walls of Atlantis for a month now. Black Manta had kidnapped Arthur Junior and Aquaman and Garth had gone after him. Aquaman had come back with Black Manta. Arthur Junior and Garth hadn't come back, for different reasons.

At least, she hoped that they hadn't come back for different reasons. Arthur Junior was dead. Garth couldn't be. He couldn't.

Tula chewed on her lower lip, peering out through the water. "Please Garth...where are you?"

Her voice was pitched too soft to carry very far, and she didn't expect an answer. Where ever he was though, she just hoped he was all right.

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Donna is dead. Killed by a malfunctioning Superman robot. No one can seem to determine where it came from. Not that it matters. Not really.

What matters is that Donna is dead.

This would normally go to a family member. But Diana is busy with the formalities of the death of a princess... her sister. And she's also keeping an eye on Dick.

Garth knows Greek funeral customs. So he washes the body, anoints it in oil, and prepares it for burning. Two Mercury dimes are placed on her eyes for paying Charon.

He smiles sadly to himself as he places the dimes on her eyes. A nod to her duel heritage, they show her love of the world of men while still remaining true to her roots.

He hasn't cried much.

Lilith is being buried later today. There won't be many people there -- mostly Titans. He plans to be ready by then.

Lilith's death hurts. But she always kept somehow... distant. She was a good friend. He's known her for years, and has cared for her. It always hurts when a Titan dies.

But Donna is something else altogether.

She was like his sister. His older sister. Technically, he's older... but she was still like an older sister.

He brushes her hair out of her face, and touches her cheek gently.

He steps out of the room, leaving her body in repose, and breathes in the ocean air, listening to the gulls cry.

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His body shakes.

Garth was injected with a drug against his volition while holding the gateway to Chemical World open... causing him to close the portal, trapping the Titans on the other side.

And while the Titans struggled with the war in Chemical World, Garth had his own battle to face. His body, abruptly addicted to a chemical that didn't even exist in this world, went through painful, powerful withdrawals. A couple of scientists had managed to fool his brain into temporarily believing it was receiving the chemical... just long enough for his body to pull through any potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.*

Now comes the hard part.

He lies in bed, sweating, shaking. His body wants the drug... needs it. His mind rejects it.

He fades in and out of consciousness. He remembers asking Dolphin if the Titans made it back. He remembers catching a glimpse of Lilith cooling his forehead with a washcloth.

The sweat covers him, soaking the sheets. He shudders, and he thanks the universe that the drug -- whatever it was -- does not exist in this universe. Because right now, he's not sure he'd have what it takes to stay away if it did.

_______________________

*See Titans #42-44, 2002.

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Garth's nervous. His palms are sweating.

What if the Titans don't like Tula? What if Tula doesn't like them?

These are his best friends. Robin, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Kid Flash. He's been best friends with them for a year now... and Tula is so special to him, too. They returned to Atlantis together after Aquaman saved them from that mind-controlling gangster, but they're still together.

He smiles shyly to himself as he thinks about what "together" in a literal sense means -- as they're sometimes that, too. Which he really likes. A lot.

He glances over at her.

"I told them I was bringing a friend. I didn't tell them that you're my girlfriend. I thought I should tell them that in person."

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Aqualad -- or Tempest as he now calls himself -- looks over at Dolphin. She reminds him so much of Tula... talking about independence... such a free-thinker. There are times even her scent reminds him of Tula.

Is that fair? Probably not.

He traces the shape of her sleeping face with one hand, considering the possibilities.

He only recently returned from the other dimension where he gained his new magical abilities. It seems strange, having lived three years in the last six months. When he returned, he faced his uncle Slizzath -- and that doppleganger of Tula. Which only reawakened his longing for her.

He still misses her. He knows that. But he has to move on.

He's not sure Dolphin is the one he wants to move on to. But... he is happy to take time to explore the possibilities.

Elsewhere, ghosts from throughout Atlantis's history return from the shadows. Sorcery threatens the kingdom, and Aquaman has begun to face the threat. But Garth is far from there, and knows nothing of those events.

He smiles and leans back, putting his arms behind his head and relaxing, closing his eyes and basking in the afterglow in the coral reef, his lover asleep at his side. He begins to drift off... but when a hand brushes against his cheek, he stirs.

"Mmmm... did I wake you?"

______________

*dialogue mostly by Peter David, Aquaman Annual #4, 1998.

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The 19-year-old Garth grins over at Tula. "Gar assured me that they didn't chlorinate the pool at all."

They met Dick -- he's "Nightwing" now, he has to keep reminding himself -- back at Titans' Tower, and now they're racing upstate in the jet. It's easier than trying to transport them both upstate in any other way... after all, they can't be more than an hour out of water before they start feeling weak and ill, meaning a normal drive upstate would be difficult.

To Donna Troy's wedding. It astounds him, really... here she is, 19, and getting married. He's not quite sure what he thinks of the groom... he's 34 and they met when he was her college professor... but he holds his tongue on that. Terry seems to make Donna happy. Besides... looking back on it, he's not so sure that getting that involved with Tula that quickly was the smartest idea he's ever had... but he wouldn't have changed it for anything.

"Thanks for the lift, Dick," Garth offers.

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He's still not quite sure what's going on. Things are bad all over the world. These two Titans intend to get to Titans' Tower to provide help.

But in New York Harbor, out of nowhere, Black Manta and the Shark attacked them both. He'll later learn that villains were attacking random locations all across the globe, but for the moment, none of that is known.

For now, all he knows is that he and Tula are fighting for their lives against both the Shark and Black Manta.

He's not willing to mess around. Eels wrap around around Black Manta, holding him back while Garth sends several punches into him, stunning the baby-killing villain. He's not playing around -- this is one of the few villains he's considered killing over the years. He won't... at least not today... but he's been tempted.

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Garth storms away from the palace, kicking a conch shell as he goes.

He's been feeling more and more pushed away by Arthur lately. Since Aquaman married Mera and had a child of his own, Garth feels more and more reminded of his status as... what is Garth to Arthur, anyway? He's not his son... Arthur made that abundantly clear. Arthur Jr is the only son he has. Is Aquaman just his caretaker? Is that all?

And he's even been taking all the credit for their teamwork lately, too.

He's alone. He has no family. Arthur wouldn't care if he left... he and Mera even threatened to abandon him back to the reefs if he screwed up.

But where would he go?

He swims a little further, kicking the conch shell again, focusing on his loneliness.

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It's too much. All too much.

The cold mountains of Switzerland don't affect Garth's skin. He can survive the ocean depths -- this is mild by comparison. But even if he had the sensitivity of a surface-dweller, he's not sure he could feel anything.

Tula is dead.

The team, such as it is, is falling apart. Donna nearly killed Hawk, who's become unbalanced since Dove's death. Wally's so focused on being Barry that he's lost touch with who Wally is. That young kid Jason is doing his best, but he can't possibly be Dick, the way everyone expects. And something is sticking in Roy's craw. Maybe something to do with that woman who just beat their ass? Cheshire?

But he doesn't care. None of it matters.

The rest of the team is recovering.

But Garth just can't be a part of this anymore.

He slips out of the hotel and into the snow.

And just starts walking.

____________________________

*This takes place during the middle of New Titans #20, published 1986, immediately after the Crisis

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She puts the coffee in front of him.

"Need help?"

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Suicide Slum, Metropolis, DE

Caleb appears in the trash ridden alley beside the apartment building, and is immediately assaulted by the smell of urine. Not that it matters. It's not as if I'm here for the bloody scenery, now am I?

Every part of him is tense, and has been for hours. The first bottle of vodka didn't do much to address this, and as he staggers through the alleyway and works on his third bottle, Caleb finds that not much has changed. Well, almost nothing - his festering rage has found a voice in his inebriation.

The hobo he staggers past is awestuck, but the staring quickly grates on the Russian. "Take a pict're... it'll last longer, ya nosey...." he condescends, not even looking at the man as he staggers by. He is a man with a purpose, after all. And the whino isn't it.

The lack of elevators usually isn't an issue, but by the sixth floor, Caleb is thoroughly irritated with these endless sodding stairs. Just another thing between him and the door he's finally banging on...

Wait. He stands there for a moment, examining the numbers on the door. 615. That's not right. He turns around, slowly realizing why the picture just isn't right. He's oriented wrong. Trevor's door is the one on the right at the top of the stairs, not left...

"Oh, blooooody sodding ... sonufa... whore...." He turns around, and proceeds to bang on the correct door this time, unaware of just how many times he has knocked by now.

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