Four young men stood together in a seedy neighborhood. The buildings around them were old and decayed, reflecting not so much a loss of past grandeur as a long absence of anything approaching comfort, security, or a sense of home. The streets were empty except for the four men. They glanced around occasionally but saw nothing and no one to disturb their nocturnal business.
The biggest man wore a worn baseball cap and carried a bag that he clutched uneasily with one hand while keeping the other hand concealed within his coat. His nearest companion was thin and scarred both in feature and in soul. Both had seen much more than their chronological ages would suggest. They were worldly and disillusioned and hungry for things they felt would satisfy the emptiness of their souls and the vanity of their small ambitions and avarice. They were the dealers, but what they sold took a bit of their own humanity away with each new deal.
The two men facing them were of the same cloth. Angry, eager, and dangerous with resentment, they waited to buy their own ideas of happiness or numbness or both. They truly paid for the drugs with a more precious currency than paper or coin. They spent their futures with each new deal.
Above them stood four other young men. These men had also witnessed much in their colorful lives; however, they retained higher hopes and more selfless needs. Their leader was a dark-haired man in blue who wore a bat-like mask and whose keen eyes took in every detail, while his sharp mind never rested for a second. He was Dick Grayson, Nightwing.
The man next to Nightwing wore red and moved ever so slightly as he watched. He had the agile body of a runner, and he saw the crime below with compassionate but restless eyes. He was Wally West, the Flash.
The third man wore a bow and quiver full of trick arrows. He was muscular, and his hands fingered a slender shaft with a casual expertise as he watched the others with the eye of a trained hunter. He knew this urban jungle well, and he understood the human animals they watched for the very best and most personal of reasons. Roy Harper, Arsenal, had briefly been one of those hungry, desperate souls himself once. Heroin had been his particular choice of escape from situations, both personal and political, which he could not bear or which he chose not to accept.
The final man wore red and blue and watched with purple eyes that reflected a sensitivity, if not an uncertainty. He had been an outsider, too. He had been one who knew the pain of not belonging to any group or community. He also felt the need to stop the crime and help those who suffered because of such needs or vices. His name was Garth, and he was called Aqualad.
Nightwing nodded slightly; he and his fellow Titans moved into sudden, swift, and skilled action. The Flash effortlessly removed the hidden weapons from the four men before they could even register that anyone had touched them.
Dropping down on a thin line that was stronger than its appearance would suggest, Nightwing said, “This deal is over — give up now.” He spoke with a tone of command that echoed through the night air even as his acrobatic body cleaved the darkness and dropped one of the thugs to the cold pavement.
Arsenal followed his friend to the pavement via a swiftly fired arrow-line. He connected with a right cross that stunned the nearest dealer. He took little pleasure in what he did, but he comforted himself that his actions may have saved others whose fragile lives would now not be tainted by substance abuse.
Aqualad frowned as the others ran into the night. He moved to block one thug’s flight and did so with ease. His sturdy body was made to withstand the pressures of the deep, and one human’s frantic impact did little to startle or move him. He gripped the thug with strong hands and wrestled him down with little effort.
The Flash spun the final thug around in a blinding whirlwind of movement that left the youth dazed and beaten.
Nightwing picked up the dropped bag of white powder and nodded grimly at his friends.
Arsenal said, “My sources were right on the money. Thanks for the company.”
The Flash replied, “You’re welcome. Let me drop these gentlemen off, and then we’ll talk some more.”
The heavy thug groaned and said, “Man! I’m a dad. I got kids. Ya can’t do this!”
As the Flash took them away to the neighborhood police station, Arsenal muttered under his breath, “A father. Great.”
Shortly afterward, the four Titans gathered at the gleaming tower that was their headquarters. Mugs of hot chocolate and sandwiches filled a plate on the smooth table. Nightwing, the Flash, and Arsenal sat without their masks and waited as Aqualad joined them after a brief dip in the pool. Such regular exposure to moisture was vital to the aquatic youth’s health.
“Good. Roy didn’t take all the food while I was swimming,” he said with a smile.
“Hey, take a few meals away from a guy, and he never lets you forget it,” said Roy.
Nightwing remained quiet and caught Wally’s eye. A slight shift toward Roy’s position was all the communication the pair of old pals needed.
“We did good work tonight,” said Wally.
Dick said, “Roy, you were exactly right about that deal.”
Roy said, “I’m a big hero,” he said sarcastically. “Bring out the medals and the mayor.”
Dick said, “That punk was a parent, but he was also a criminal. There was nothing else you could do. He had to go to jail. I can look into finding aid for the family. The Wayne Foundation will help.”
“Yeah, yeah. Bat-money to the rescue,” said Roy. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that. I guess taking in that guy and hearing that he has a kid makes me wonder about Lian. If I had not changed and gone cold turkey, would she be the one left alone some night when a deal went bad?”
Wally said, “You were clean long before you even met Cheshire.”
Roy corrected his friend. “Jade. Her name is Jade. That’s how I knew her, and that’s how I want to think of Lian’s mother. The nom du crime is not what I want my child — our child — to think of when she remembers her mother.”
Garth said, “You know, when you learned about Lian during the battle with Jade, you also had no time to do much more than learn where she was and pick her up. (*) You must have some things that need closure.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Titans: Fragments.]
“Right,” agreed Wally. “Roy, we were tracking that energy pattern that enabled Doctor Light to escape. You did all you could at the time to settle things. I’m sure you know that.”
Dick took a drink and said, “Roy, I think Jade is being extradited soon. Maybe you could visit and clear the air. The middle of a case was certainly not the time for you two to have such a serious and life-altering talk.”
Roy said, “Thanks. I know you guys are just trying to make me feel better. I’m still trying to come to terms with the ‘hoods.”