Donna Troy Long snuggled closer to her husband as they sat on a plush sofa in their home. The dark-haired woman smiled as her bearded husband looked up with pleasure.
“Have I told you how lucky I am to have found a man like you?” she said. “I’ve met the Olympians. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with heroes like Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern. I’ve taken photos of some of the world’s most beautiful male models. None of them equals you in my eyes.”
Terry Long smiled and kissed her gently. “As an author, I have more than a passing acquaintance with he who once wrote the line, ‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much!’ I can paraphrase that piece of wisdom and say that you’re laying it on a bit thick.” He chuckled.
Donna feigned a demure and innocent look. “Me? I could bind myself with the magic lasso and say the same things.”
Terry arched his eyebrows in Groucho Marx style and said, “I’ll do the rope tricks around here.”
Donna laughed and said, “See? You have a dynamic sense of humor. You are bright, caring, and not all that bad to look at.”
“Thanks,” said Terry. “I know you are trying to make me feel better about my current lack of academic employment, but you really don’t need to worry. I’m an enlightened ’80s man. I channel Alan Alda reruns. I can find my identity outside of my working life. I can also have self-worth without being able to toss cars around like my bride.”
Donna said, “Oh, Terry, I’m sorry that my efforts were clumsy. I just wanted to cheer you up and let you know that I have total faith in you. I’m so proud of you. I know the job of your dreams is out there. You’ll get it. I just know it.”
Terry said, “As a matter of fact, Mrs. Long, part of my sudden burst of confidence and serenity comes from the fact that I just received an offer to teach Classical Mythology and English Literature at a private college outside the city. Raeburn University wants me!”
Donna flung her arms around her husband and kissed him again. “That’s wonderful! Why don’t we pay a visit to their campus this weekend? I think there’s a charming, cozy bed and breakfast nearby, too.”
Terry Long gazed at his lovely wife and smiled broadly. “Now that sounds like the perfect way to spend a little extracurricular time.”
Donna agreed. As the heroine called Artemis, she had been all too busy with threats from foes like the mad Lord Chaos, Maxie Zeus and the New Olympians, and Doctor Psycho to really spend quality time with her college professor husband. She and the other Titans had also been fruitlessly searching for missing and transformed victims of Steve Dayton’s madness. He had used his Mento helmet to create these hybrid beings while suffering from mental illness. They existed, according to the restored Mento, but even he could not lead the team to them or identify them by name.
Her involvement in these adventures had not blinded her to her husband’s needs. She had felt Terry’s hurt when the university let him go, and she had naturally offered him comfort. However, she had admittedly put his emotional needs second to the life-threatening perils her friends in the New Titans had been facing. She knew that as a heroine her personal desires often had to take second place to her responsibility to the world. Now she hoped to make up for her past absences and enjoy time alone with her husband. The Titans could fend for themselves for a while.
Terry said, “If you aren’t too tired, let’s go upstairs and celebrate.”
Donna nodded. “With the speed of Hermes.”
Meanwhile, another couple sat together in the gleaming structure called Titans Tower and gazed at the stars. The man was a redhead with muscular arms and a boyish grin. He held a baby in those powerful arms with surprising gentleness. Next to him stood a pretty woman with long dark hair who wore a blue turtleneck and a gray wrap skirt. His name was Roy Harper, also known as Arsenal, and his companion was the Titan called Raven.
“The stars are magnificent,” Raven sighed. “When I recall the void I have experienced so often in the past, their gleaming purity is even brighter. My father would have extinguished them without a thought.”
Roy put an free arm around her and replied, “Yeah, Trigon was not the most romantic guy. Sorry, I don’t mean to make light of your pain. He’s gone. The stars are out, and you are with the most charming guy to carry a bow since Errol Flynn.”
Raven laughed. “Your mentor Green Arrow might take issue with that remark.”
Roy shrugged. “Nope. He’s a Flynn fan, too. He copies old Errol’s charm, himself.”
Raven smiled demurely. She enjoyed being with Roy Harper. His very frivolity was a welcome remedy for her more reserved manner. His passion for life stimulated her own desires to feel emotions more fully than ever before. Now, freed from any taint of the evil of her father Trigon, the lovely empath could experience for the first time so many things ordinary people took for granted. Laughter, happiness, and simple comforts were all refreshingly new to her.
Roy’s baby daughter Lian Harper began to murmur, and he said, “Uh-oh, I think somebody needs changing.”
Raven said, “May I do it? Babies are so special. Their openness thrills me. I feared she might need to come inside from this chill night air as well.”
Roy nodded with concern. “Yeah? Do you think she’s OK? I mean, I was raised outside. My dad the ranger and Brave Bow and even Green Arrow didn’t exactly worry about things like night air and kids. I’m such a dope.”
Raven took his hand and led him inside. “You are learning. Lian is very lucky to have a man like you in her life.”
Roy lifted the baby higher and said, “Hear that, kiddo? Unsolicited testimony that your old man is not a total washout.”
Raven whispered softly, “And I am also lucky to have you in my life.”
She was a bit fearful. She had suppressed her emotions all of her young life. The terror that her evil father Trigon would use her an a vessel of conquest via her slightest expression of any feeling had left her nearly crippled emotionally. Now she had no need to worry about living the life any normal young woman would seek.
Still, she had made mistakes before. She had lacked any experience in the varieties of human love and thus had fallen for Dick Grayson and briefly mistaken his friendship for a romantic desire. She hoped that her feelings for Roy were not improper nor misplaced. She wished Donna was around so they could talk about the new, yet exciting attraction she was developing for Arsenal.
Still, although tentative, Raven was a heroine and took a delight in this new rush of emotion without allowing herself to be held back by fear. She continued to enjoy her time with Roy and Lian until the archer suddenly stood up with a yawn and said, “Raven, it’s been fun being together like this. I better put Lian to bed and then follow suit. I’ve got some work for the DEA tomorrow.”
He leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. She touched the spot gently and smiled. It was a warm and pleasant sensation. She wanted to experience more of this possible romance. For now, she knew her dreams would likely be of Roy and be pleasant.
Azar help me, she thought. I do not want my empathic gifts to force Roy into loving me. I made that error with poor Wallace and Richard. I am fortunate that they forgave me. I know that Wallace and I still lack a true sense of comfort when we are alone. He cannot forget our troubled past. Richard is so caring and sensitive to the needs of others that he moved past my efforts to win his love with his usual grace and tact. I only hope Roy will return my feelings when I come to learn exactly what nature they take.
The next morning found Titans Tower nearly deserted except for the woman named Kole Weathers. She wore a white sweatshirt and jeans, and her curly red hair framed a gentle but playful face. She smiled as she watched the computer screen.
“Studying about the group’s past cases is exciting,” Kole said to herself. “I never really experienced school before, since my parents insisted that I study at home. That made learning a solitary experience for me. I never really liked to study. Now, learning more about the Terminator and the Ravager helps me get closer to Joe. Poor father never thought of using a wonderful man like Joe as an incentive for me to learn.”
She grew solemn as she recalled her estranged parents. They had wild ideas about the end of the world, and their frantic experiments had given her crystal-spinning powers, but they had left her alone in the world. They fell victim to their own insect creations and were lost to their daughter forever. She had never truly known love of a selfless kind before. They meant well, but their own troubles and twisted ideas had separated them from their child.
She had become a slave to the Titan Thia on Olympus, and that relationship had also been one of fear and control. Thus Kole Weathers wondered how to respond to Joe Wilson’s tender affection. She had tried to rush their romance in a desire to secure him and keep him close, but the caring artist had understood the sources of her eager desire and had responded with characteristic tact and sympathy. He offered her his love with no threat of its fading and no need to test its security.
The feelings were comforting yet unfamiliar to Kole. Thus she studied Wilson’s infamous father Slade, the Terminator, and his late brother Grant, the Ravager. The two mercenaries had lacked Joe’s mutant powers, but they also possessed a violence and a ruthlessness that was alien to Joe’s understanding nature.
“Joe’s family became known to the others as enemies,” she said. “They wanted to kill the Titans. It is amazing that Joe has become one of the group. Of course, they recognize what I see in him. He is noble, brave, and utterly incapable of becoming the kind of man his father is.” She stared up at a display of the orange-masked Deathstroke the Terminator.
Earlier that day in stately Wayne Manor, a young man named Dick Grayson had groaned in his troubled slumber. A handsome man in a black shirt and elegantly cut pants entered the room and gently touched his arm.
“Bad dream, son?” asked Bruce Wayne.
Dick stirred and brushed one hand through his hair. “Yes. It was a weird one, too, and this from a guy who visited alien worlds on a near-weekly basis in his youth.”
Bruce smiled and said, “I wondered if you were just too used to the noise of the city to rest easy here in the quiet countryside.”
Dick said, “No. Wayne Manor will always be home for me. I suppose what troubled me the most was the fact that my dream or nightmare has been a recurring one. I keep seeing my folks, and they are reproachful. It’s like they are displeased with me.”
Bruce sat down and said, “That is reasonable but unlikely. Did I ever tell you that, in addition to a desire to keep other families from suffering loss the way I did as a child, I have also occasionally carried a bit of guilt as a motive for my war on crime, as the media calls it?”
Dick frowned. “How so? You were just a kid when that mugger killed your parents. You couldn’t have stopped him. You’ve dedicated your whole life to keeping others safe, too.”
Bruce nodded. “Right. Still, I had been behaving badly that day. I did not deserve to go to the movies that night, nor would they have picked that theater had I not insisted that we see that film. That is why, when I recall them, at times I occasionally wish I could have made their last years better. It’s a normal reaction to that kind of early loss. I’d say you are experiencing the same type of feelings.”
Dick said, “I can’t help thinking that I should have been more active in keeping them safe. If I had gone up with them that night…”
Bruce took his former ward’s arm. “You would have fallen, too. You honor them with all the good you do. Think of that and forget these dreams.”
Dick smiled and said, “I’ll try. It’s hard for me to think I might have failed them, though. I assumed that was what the nightmare meant.”
Bruce said, “Alfred’s eggs and pancakes are ready, based on that aroma. Let’s get down there before Jason eats them all.” He moved toward the door with the grace of the Olympic-level athlete he was and turned suddenly as he opened the door. “Oh, and Dick? You could not have let down your folks, since I know you’ve certainly never failed me in any way.”
Dick smiled and stood up. He appreciated Bruce’s words of comfort, but he also knew the recurring nightmare had more to its substance that the false guilt of a child. He had also witnessed the violent deaths of several of his friends from the Titans. He would have to join them soon, if only to lay those night visions to rest.