by Hitman 44077
In Manhattan, Jason Hart and Raven stood at the docks of the East River, ready to board the T-shaped passenger barge that would take the two to Titans Tower. “I’d like to thank you for showing me around the campus earlier, and taking the time to listen to all that’s happened recently,” Jason said with gratitude. “It’s been hard to deal with at times.”
“I am glad I could help you,” Raven said with understanding. She eyed the young man whose thoughts were heavy with emotion. “It seems Denton could use the help of the New Titans.”
“Yeah, my hometown could, but I don’t expect the team to just drop everything on their plate in order to check things out there,” Jason said. “They have other situations to deal with, and those take precedence.”
“Things have been quiet for us since the invasion was stopped. I am prepared to help you, and I know the others will as well,” Raven said, reassuring her friend. “After all, we have dealt with such problems before.”
“That’s right,” Jason said as he remembered the times he’d teamed up with the New Teen Titans. He’d been made an honorary member during a brief time in which Robin had undertaken several solo missions, yet he’d been accepted as one of them despite their unfamiliarity with him. (*) “You sure there won’t be a problem with me moving into the Tower?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The New Teen Titans (Drug Awareness Giveaway) #1-3 (1983).]
“I am positive, Jason,” Raven said with a friendly smile. “Now, I believe we should board the barge before it grows darker out here.”
“You got that right,” Jason said with a sheepish grin. And with that exchange, the two reacquainted friends boarded the barge, which took them to the island where Titans Tower resided. Once they reached the island, Raven walked toward the entrance and pushed in a key code to open the Tower’s doors. Once that was done, the doors opened, and Raven turned to Jason.
“Once you are settled in, we will take time to show you everything in regards to the Tower. Let’s go inside,” Raven said.
Picking up his suitcase, Jason followed the black-haired Titan and entered the large, T-shaped building. They took the elevator to the second floor of the Tower, where several members of the New Titans had already gathered for the evening. All were costumed and ready for their meeting.
The elevator doors opened, and Raven and Jason walked from it as they heard Nightwing already speaking to the assembled group. “For the most part, things are well. But Gar’s right. There may be more to this Crimelord than we’ve seen so far. The silence is a reminder that he’s still out there, but there’s other matters we need to talk about first. One is something that’s been on my — eh?” Nightwing said, even as he noticed the brown-haired man whom he’d helped train several years before. “Jason?” he said aloud, even as the other members turned toward the individual standing next to Raven.
“Yeah, it’s me, Dick,” Jason said, a little nervous. “I didn’t mean to interrupt–“
Nightwing jumped up and approached Jason, extending his hand to welcome him. The other assembled Titans joined Nightwing in his approach, especially the members that Jason knew when he aided them as the Protector. “It’s good to see you! You’ve grown some since I saw you last! How have you been?” Nightwing said.
Jason accepted Nightwing’s hand, and the two men shook hands. “I’ve had some good times and some bad times. But I’m glad to see you — all of you.”
Raven said, “Jason has enrolled at Manhattan University for the fall. He plans on staying long enough to finish his degree. However, he had some problems with the dormitory room. Though he paid for the room along with his tuition, there was no room for him on arrival to the university. I suggested he move into the Tower in the interim.”
“Jason, you can stay as long as you want,” Nightwing said, placing his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “New York is a very expensive place to stay. All of us here can attest to that.”
“I appreciate that, Dick. And by the way, I like the costume. A welcome change from the Robin identity, right?” Jason said.
Nightwing had a slight grin as he spoke. “More than I can tell you, Jay. I’d forgotten that you haven’t seen me as Nightwing. But we also have gained some new members since you aided the team.”
He motioned for Jericho and Kole to walk toward the group, and they did. “Jay, this is Joe Wilson and Kole Weathers. Joe and Kole, this is Jason Hart,” Nightwing said as he introduced the three to each other. Jericho shook Jason’s hand, even as Kole spoke to him.
“I didn’t know you were a member of the team, Jason. I’m glad to meet you,” she said pleasantly.
“It’s been several years since I was made an honorary member, but I’ve always been proud to call the team my friends,” Jason said. “I’m glad to meet you — both of you.”
Jericho used his hands to sign his greetings once he and Jason released their handshake.
“He’s saying that it’s good to have another friend here,” Artemis said.
“Well, I’m glad to be here, Donna. I just wish it was under better circumstances,” Jason said as he remembered just why he was at the Tower.
“Is there something wrong, Jason?” Starfire asked, noticing along with the group just how troubled the young man was.
“Yeah,” he quietly confided. “I made the decision to attend Manhattan University during my senior year in high school. But so much has happened between then and now.”
“Tell us what happened,” Nightwing said, knowing the troubled look more than any other in the room.
Jason grew quiet, turning away from the team as he felt the pain of guilt and sorrow fill his entire body. But he composed himself, knowing that he needed to tell the team before there could ever be closure between himself and the ghosts that haunted him. He turned back to the group and spoke. “You remember my cousin Ted, right, Dick?” Jason asked.
Nightwing had a sense of what was troubling his younger friend, but he wanted to confirm his suspicions. “Ted was the reason you became the Protector. He had problems with drugs more than once,” he answered.
“Yeah. I knew Ted liked comic-books, and I designed myself a super-hero costume in an effort to help him get clean. Of course, I received a beating for saving his life from the scum who supplied him, that is, until you arrived at the scene as Robin. You’d given a speech earlier in the day speaking against drug use at Denton Junior High School, and it helped convince Ted to go cold turkey,” Jason said, recounting the past along with Nightwing.
“You displayed a courage that really impressed me. I just wish I’d arrived sooner, before you’d been beaten as bad as you were,” Nightwing said.
“In the end, it worked out. You helped train me so that I could handle myself, and you allowed me to help with the Titans,” Jason said. “I have no regrets.”
Nightwing nodded. “That said, I remember Wally saying that Ted had moved to Blue Valley. He had a relapse, but he’d managed to straighten himself out again with you and the rest of the team. Has he had another relapse?”
“Yes,” Jason said quietly as he closed his eyes. “Only this time, he died.”
The team members all looked at their friend, shocked and saddened to learn of this turn of events. “Oh, no,” Changeling said, placing his hand over his mouth.
“Jason, I am so sorry,” Artemis said, feeling horrible for her friend.
“Thank you,” Jason said somberly, slowly opening his eyes.
“When did this happen to Ted, Jay?” Cyborg asked. “I would’ve been at his funeral. All of us would’ve.”
“I couldn’t. He died in July, and there was so much happening to the world at the time. That alien invasion. I didn’t want to trouble you with the world at stake,” Jason said with understanding.
“It would have been no trouble. You’re a friend, Jay. We are there for our friends,” Nightwing said, letting the young man know that in no uncertain terms he was thought of as a true part of the team, as well as a true friend. “You said he was back on drugs. Is it known just what killed him?”
“I know, because I learned about it way too late,” Jason said, looking down at the floor.
“What do you mean?” Starfire asked.
Jason looked back up at the group and spoke. “Ted moved back to Denton only a few months before with his folks, and we renewed our friendship. That was back in February. But things started changing by late May. He began to act suspiciously, like he had when he was using drugs. Then June rolled around. There were reports of a super-being. This guy could fly, exhibited superhuman strength, and seemed to act erratically. He also busted up some drug houses in his appearances. I’d pretty much retired the Protector identity, but the news of this being lured me back. I didn’t know who this guy was, but Ted seemed to be a big fan of this guy.
“Ted told me the guy called himself Captain Justice, and he was going to set a lot of wrongs right in Denton. I wasn’t a fool. Ted had to know more about this guy than he was letting on, right? My patrols finally led me to an encounter with the so-called Captain Justice a few days before July. This guy was built like a monster, and he was wearing a costume that looked as if it were a part of him, like it was painted skin. The guy was bizarre, to say the least. He talked about being a real hero and doing what heroes are supposed to do, even if it means killing in the name of justice.
“That threw me for a loop, and I realized that this guy was insane. I knew I had to trail him back to wherever he lived, and since he didn’t seem all that bright, I had no problems accomplishing that. But I wasn’t prepared to learn that he lived at the same home as my aunt and uncle’s home — Ted’s home.”
“You’re saying that this super-being was Ted? How?” Cyborg interrupted, perplexed at how this could be.
“I found out the answer a few days later. I wrestled with my conscience, trying to comprehend what I’d witnessed, and I knew I had to learn the truth myself. I arrived at uncle Bob and Aunt Louise’s house, only to hear a loud argument between Ted and Uncle Bob. Ted ran upstairs to his room even as Aunt Louise allowed me inside. It seems they’d been arguing over a dwindled savings account, and Ted had been proven as being the one to withdraw the money. I assured them I’d talk to him, try to calm things down. I ran upstairs and knocked on Ted’s door. He told me to go away. I told him to trust me, that I’d help him out the best I could, but he refused to listen to me.
“I kicked the door open and watched as he injected this purplish substance into his arm. I yelled, ‘No!‘ as he finished injecting himself. He fell to the floor and shook, even as I tried to help him. That’s when he said, shaking, ‘Ambrosia makes it all go away.’ And then — it happened.”
“He changed?” Kole said calmly.
“Yeah. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” Jason confided. “His clothes ripped, like he was Lou Ferrigno or something, and his body changed, some of his skin changing to match a costume set — half-blue and half-yellow, as his skin acted as a physical costume. He grew so muscular it looked deformed, and he stood staring at me as if I were an enemy. My aunt and uncle heard the noise, and they saw the creature that Ted had changed into. He freaked out, shouting he was all alone, and thrust himself at such a speed that he burst through the wall of his room.
“He flew all over the city, generally attacking everything in sight, and I knew I had to help him any way I could. I changed into the Protector and followed him. I tried to talk sense into him, but he wouldn’t listen. He tried attacking me, and I did all I could to avoid his rampage, until his body finally quit. He collapsed and changed back to normal, only to die in my arms.” Jason stopped speaking as a single tear dropped from his right eye.
“I — I am so sorry, Jay,” Nightwing said, consoling his friend.
“That’s what I had to deal with, Dick. A twisted drug that can transform the human body into something so physically powerful and deadly. Imagine the temptation it had to be for Ted, to gain powers and abilities and have some sick artificial high at the same time. Ted called it Ambrosia, but I called it something else. I call it Venom, because it’s a poison to the human body,” Jason said, growing angry. “It also killed someone that I helped out at the Denton Youth Center. His name was Casey Thompson, and he changed into a different type of creature — a reptile-like creature — and I found a syringe holding remnants of the purplish drug where he’d holed himself up.
“I was going to wait a little while before telling you all of this, but when I ran into Raven, she convinced me to share my experiences with you,” Jason finished.
“Then it’s time the New Titans intervened,” Nightwing said, determined.
“I’ll be honest, Dick. I’m not as good a detective as you. I haven’t been able to find any leads,” Jason started to say.
“Don’t worry, Jay. None of us here want other kids to suffer like Ted and Casey. I think a trip to Denton is in order, and I think the Titans could use the help of the Protector. Do you want to join us tonight?” Nightwing asked, knowing that Jason needed to be a part of this.
“I do,” Jason said in a serious tone, as he desired justice, not just for Ted, Casey, and his aunt and uncle, but for those whose lives had been affected by the drug. “Let me suit up, and I’ll join you in the T-Jet. And, Dick, thank you.”
“No problem, Jay,” Nightwing said, hoping to help his friend. “Raven, show him a living quarters and suit up, too. We’ll meet you in a few minutes.”
“Yes, Dick,” Raven said calmly. With those words, Raven and Jason entered the elevator and headed to the living quarters area of Titans Tower, even as the others spoke in regards to what they’d just learned.
“That’s crazy,” Cyborg said. “A drug which can change people and give them powers? But I know Jason, so it can’t be impossible.”
“Batman told me of a guy who was injected with steroids and became a perfect fighting machine. Dr. Moon called him the Gork, and he nearly killed Batman before his body broke down from cellular damage. (*) So, I can see how a drug could be designed the way Jason described,” Nightwing said.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Perfect Fighting Machine,” Detective Comics #480 (November-December, 1978).]
“What kind of world are we living in when someone’s selling the promise of super-powers with the injection of a needle? It’s just wrong!” Changeling said angrily.
“You bet it’s wrong, Gar,” Artemis said with equal disgust. “It’s a sick world out there, and I know I want to put a stop to this. I don’t ever want something like that spreading to New York, or to ever have Jenny tempted by such a drug. Being a parent puts a whole new perspective on things, as I’ve seen these past two years.”
Nightwing looked at Starfire, remembering just what he was going to tell the others about when Jason showed up. But he knew he’d have to wait to speak to her about what was on his mind. No matter what, she had to be the first to know, and hopefully they could come to an understanding.
Starfire had a similar feeling, as she’d pondered much during the day. She’d come to a decision of sorts as well, unknown to the man she loved. Once this was taken care of, then there would be time for a discussion.
Within a matter of seconds, Nightwing focused back on the matter at hand. He spoke to his team. “Let’s head to the T-Jet, group. We’ve got work to do.”
The members all took a separate elevator to the top of Titans Tower and entered the T-Jet. Minutes later, Raven and the Protector joined the others aboard the flying craft, and with their arrival, the T-Jet took off on its way to Denton, Texas.