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The Art of Being a Teenage Superhero

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Superheroes were supposed to have either awesome or tragic origin stories.

Kyle wasn’t really an expert, but he was pretty sure that was just how it went. He’d read enough comics and manga, and it wasn’t like Earth was completely lacking in heroes with public identities. They all fit the criteria.

His origin story involved being chased through a school building by a magic green ring. It wasn’t very impressive, and only tragic in a pathetic way.

Kyle Rayner of Earth , the ring chirped. You have the ability to overcome great fear.

Unfortunately he didn’t possess the ability to overcome great height. Attempting to vault over the second floor railing instead found him tripping and falling into the bushes below, landing on his back in a tangle of limbs and pointy branches.

“Ow,” Kyle said, and decided to make the most of his accidental hiding place and hope the ring just…went away. He stayed on his back, catching his breath, grimacing when the ring whizzed down through the foliage, probably laughing at him, if rings could do that. “Can you please reconsider? I literally just fell off a building. Surely you have better options, and my mom wouldn’t consider superheroing a viable career path.”

She was fine with the art, which put him above some of his classmates, whose parents pushed them towards ‘practical’ careers that sounded to Kyle like willingly having your soul forcefully removed through your nostril.

The ring buzzed around his head for a bit, until Kyle finally heaved a sigh and sat up, rolling his neck and shoulders. A twinge in his neck had him grimacing. The ring moved closer towards his hand.

“I can see you doing that,” Kyle told it. “Don’t think you’re being sneaky or anything.”

It started to do casual circuits around his head.

“It’s like being plagued by the world’s most annoying mosquito.” Kyle got to his feet, brushing dirt and grass off his pants and casting a look around for his bookbag. The ring moved up out of his line of sight. Kyle tilted his head up to follow it and spotted his bag, suspended over the railing and caught on a protruding piece of metal. He sighed. “Just great.”

With a little buzz, the ring circled his bag a few times and then shoved itself under the strap and lifted it, unhooking it from the piece of metal and lowering it down to Kyle.

“…Thanks.” Kyle eyed the ring warily as he reached out to take his bag back, but it didn’t drift closer. It remained hovering where it was, glowing a bit brighter, like maybe it was proud. Or maybe Kyle should give up trying to interpret the body language of a magic ring. “I’m still not taking you. I know what you are, okay. I’m too young to be a space cop, there have to be rules about that.”

The ring seemed undeterred, following in Kyle’s wake as he picked his way out of the bushes. He had visions of it following him home like a dejected puppy.

There weren’t many people still around on school grounds this late—Kyle had been in detention again, because sometimes he and his alarm clock had disagreements and the school’s definition of ‘late’ was far too strict for his tastes. When he looked back at the ring, it edged closer to him, brightening up some more in hope. With a sigh, Kyle opened his bag, lifting it to let the ring zip inside. “We can’t have people on the street seeing you, if you’re just going to follow me home anyway…”

Home was a little house not too far from his school, which Kyle was glad for because adding a commute into his morning routine was asking for him to get daily detention. His mother wasn’t home from work until later, the only reason Kyle didn’t get frequent lectures about being held after class. He’d have to pull his act together, as he was perilously close to having the school call her up. He swore his homeroom teacher was actually developing a twitch from Kyle constantly barreling into the room late.  

Up in his room, he opened his bag and let the ring fly out. It spent several minutes doing happy circuits of the room—Kyle was no longer questioning his own interpretation of the ring’s behavior, it wasn’t like it was going to argue with him—before it swooped in and hovered beside him at his desk as Kyle got his art supplies out and started sketching.

“I should be doing homework,” Kyle said, as the ring drifted about in the air, turning this way and that like it was examining Kyle’s drawing very carefully. “But when am I actually going to use any of that crap? I already know I’m going to be an artist.”

His mother wouldn’t approve. She might support Kyle’s desired career but she didn’t want him slacking off in school, no matter how useless Google and calculators actually made half the crap they taught.

He had vague awareness of the ring as he worked, but eventually blocked it out to concentrate better. He hadn’t had much chance that day to sketch, between classes and detention and catching up on a late assignment in the library during lunch.

Kyle was so absorbed in his sketching that he jumped when his door swung open and his mother poked her head into the room. He scrubbed a hand over his face and blinked, realizing it had grown darker since he’d sat down.

His mother flipped his light on and raised an eyebrow. “Homework, Kyle. Fun stuff after.”

He nodded, resisting the urge to look around the room. He didn’t want to draw attention to his green friend.

“I’ll call you when dinner’s ready,” his mother said. She frowned. “You look pale, don’t stay up too late tonight, okay?”

“I won’t.”

The door closed behind her with a click. Kyle spun around in his chair, searching the room for the ring. It wasn’t buzzing around his head, or floating in the air. He couldn’t spot it anywhere. It wasn’t like his room was that messy, it shouldn’t have been hard to find a glowing green alien ring. Just as he was considering the possibility the entire thing had been some kind of weird hallucination, there was a shuffling noise from behind him. A piece of paper on his desk began to move, and then the ring slipped out from under it, giving a little shake before rising into the air and going back to completing looping circuits of the room.

“It’s kind of weird how smart you are.” Kyle sighed, reluctantly leaning over and digging through his bag for his school books, pulling them out and dumping them on his desk. “I don’t suppose you’re any good at math?”

The ring darted past Kyle’s head to hover in front of his textbook. Its green glow intensified. The textbook started glowing green as well, before it opened and the pages starting flipping by themselves.

Kyle gaped at it. “I…okay. Okay. That’s a little creepy, even though I know you’re a Green Lantern ring and not some possessed demonic artifact.”

The book closed itself once it reached the end and the ring moved over to the pile of worksheets that Kyle had shoved haphazardly in a folder, using its weird green power to pull the sheets of paper out of the folder.

“We’re only allowed to use blue pen,” Kyle said, just to see what the ring would do.

With an irritated little buzz, the ring levitated one of his pens and started filling out his worksheet. Kyle leaned closer to watch, eyebrows climbing when he saw that it was even using his own handwriting.

“Okay, if those answers are correct then I’m like a thousand times more likely to agree to become a space cop.” Would he even have to go to school if he became a Green Lantern? And why was the ring even here, anyway? As far as Kyle knew, there were already like two or three Green Lanterns on Earth. He hadn’t heard about any awful supervillains or disasters lately. Things had been peaceful, even. The news was back to worrying about climate change and whether electing a supervillain as President was a mistake—Kyle could say with authority that yes it was, because the guy built death mecha in his spare time and was kind of obsessed with killing Superman.

Granted, Luthor’s robots looked awesome, but rampant destruction of public property and attempted murder were still frowned upon even if you looked cool while doing it.

His pen clattered as it hit the desk, the ring finished with his worksheet and spinning itself in lazy circles in front of his eyes.

“You can stay the night.” Kyle got to his feet and went to grab one of the pillows off his bed, bringing it back and putting it down on his desk. He fluffed it up a bit for the ring. He didn’t know if the ring cared about having a proper bed, or even if it actually slept, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do for a stray that followed him home. “I make no promises about accepting your offer, though. Pretty sure your bosses wouldn’t approve of your choice, anyway.”

The way the ring settled down on the pillow gave Kyle the strong impression that it really didn’t give a hoot.

It didn’t exactly shock him. After all, despite being the weapon of an intergalactic police force the ring had been perfectly happy helping him cheat at his homework.

***

The next morning Kyle hit snooze on his alarm three times before he was awake enough to recognize that it was a terrible idea.

With awareness came panic, followed swiftly by falling onto the floor because his legs got trapped in his blanket as he tried to leap out of bed in a blind rush. He flailed around like a clumsy fool, kicking his blanket away and groaning. It wasn’t until he let his head fall back against the floor and stared at the ceiling that he realized that his vision was partially obscured.

Frowning, he peeled a sticky note off his forehead and turned it around so he could read it.

I tried , was written neatly in his mother’s perfect cursive.

Kyle sighed. “Thanks, Mom.”

His mother had remained unsympathetic to her son’s tendency to sleep like the literal dead since the fourth time she’d caught him up late, sketching on top of the roof. Putting notes on his head was her version of tough love.

Sitting up, Kyle leaned over and groped around on his bedside table for his phone, dragging it off to glance at the time.

“I’m doomed.” His mother’s tough love might get a bit more tough if the school called and told her exactly how many detentions he’d managed to earn for being late.

A flash of green light and then the ring was in front of him, turning itself in slow circles in front of his face.

Green Lanterns could fly. Pretty fast, too, Kyle knew. If he could fly that fast he could still make it to school on time.

“This is not me saying yes.” Kyle reached out, letting the ring slide down onto his finger. “It’s just a test drive, okay?”

Welcome to th — the ring paused, then there was another flash of light, this time so bright that Kyle had to hold a hand up to shield his eyes from the glare.

When the light faded, he was wearing—

“Oh, no way.” Kyle shook his head, scrambling to his feet and grimacing at the Green Lantern uniform that clung to him way too tightly. It was a lot less impressive on his scrawny body than it looked on a real superhero. “I can’t go to school dressed like this.”

The ring gave a disappointed buzz.

It took him another five minutes to get dressed, properly this time, and grab his stuff. He might’ve been quicker but panic made him knock his folder off his desk and he had to waste time gathering the strewn papers and shoving them into his bag. Apparently the costume was a requirement while using the ring, or it was simply trolling the hell out of him, because Kyle had to suck it up and wear the stupid uniform for the short flight to school.

Flying was…fast.

He hadn’t really been driving, so to speak, what with the ring sort of just doing something and then there was an adrenaline rush and he was being dropped into the bushes outside the school, sans uniform and ring, which tucked itself away in his bag. He scrambled up and into the building, heart thundering in his chest because he had maybe a minute or two to get to his class before the bell rang and Mr Horton gave him that look .

In the end, Kyle grabbed onto the door frame and swung himself into the room right as the bell rang. He still got that look from Mr Horton, but the man did nothing but purse his lips and nod towards Kyle’s empty desk.

He all but collapsed into his seat with a sigh. “Safe.”

“Congratulations,” Mr Horton said dryly. “Perhaps by the end of the semester you’ll have mastered arriving early.”

“Doubtful,” Kyle replied, because he was honest and Mr Horton wasn’t actually that bad, just a stickler for the rules.

The ring stayed quiet in his bag. Kyle couldn’t help but compulsively check on it every chance he got despite that. It didn’t garner him even a single weird look; his classmates were used to Kyle drifting off in his own head and occasionally being weird.

Other than his paranoia that the ring would do something to draw attention to itself, Kyle spent the day at school pretty much how he usually did; drifting off in his own thoughts and wishing to be somewhere else, preferably with a sketchbook.

“At least today I don’t have to stay after for detention,” he muttered, on his way across the school grounds towards the quiet, secluded area he liked to sketch in during lunch. He glanced back and patted his bag when it vibrated at his side. “Hey, you okay in there?”

The vibrations grew stronger, just as a shadow fell across him.

Kyle stopped moving and turned his head, looking up, and then up again.

A very large, extremely orange monster was standing in his path, right in the middle of the school grounds. He could maybe guess why it was there.

“Well, crap.”

It looked like maybe his origin story wasn’t going to be so boring after all.

Chapter Text

Kyle stumbled backwards on pure reflex, away from the…whatever it was.

Growling, the vaguely reptilian, humanoid...thing (person? alien?) opened its mouth and said something that sounded like incomprehensible gibberish mixed with odd sibilant sounds; probably from the forked tongue, Kyle figured, panic starting to rush in his ears. It launched itself at him and Kyle’s body refused to obey him, frozen on the spot. He found himself yanked backwards off his feet, the creature’s jaws snapping closed where his head had been a moment before. His bookbag was flying through the air, away from the creature, dragging Kyle along behind it.

Despite the alien’s—and Kyle would bet good money it was an alien, what with the alien ring and all—humanoid shape, it could apparently run on all fours, which allowed it to gain on Kyle quickly. Before it could catch up, there was a blinding flash of green light and Kyle found himself back on the ground, standing…somewhere else.

“Oh, what the hell.” He swung around, glancing around the the empty clearing rapidly, searching for the alien. It looked like they might have landed in one of the parks near the school. The ring wriggled its way free of his back and launched itself at his hand. “There’s zero chance you’re a normal Green Lantern ring, this is just too weird.”

It jammed itself down on his finger and Kyle was once again dressed in the Green Lantern uniform. He had a second to grimace at it before the bushes rustled and the alien charged at him, letting out a deafening roar.

Kyle yelped, leaping backwards and ending up flying through the air. He flailed his arms and tried to concentrate past the feeling of being unbalanced that persisted even as he failed to fail out of the sky. He swallowed, eyeing the alien below as he managed to stabilize himself upright and high above the treetops. “I can’t fight this guy, okay? You seemed to be doing fine on your own, I don’t know why you wanted me all suited up.”

Apparently incapable of flight itself (thankfully), the alien instead reached out and wrapped its arms around a nearby tree and uprooted the entire thing, swinging it around in a circle and then tossing it through the air towards Kyle.

Maybe, if Kyle hadn’t been in the midst of panicking and had actually prepared in any remote way to be a superhero all of a sudden and actually fight monsters, he’d have done more than just scream.

The tree stopped. Kyle blinked, heart hammering. It had been grabbed by a giant green hand. As he watched, the hand used the tree as a club, smacking the alien around the head and knocking it out.

For a second, Kyle thought the ring had come to his rescue again, but then a figure descended out of the sky to hover in front of him, and he was face to face with the real Green Lantern, who wore a look so skeptical that Kyle could read it through the mask on his face.

“What the hell is going on here?” Green Lantern asked.

“I have no idea,” Kyle replied, because the day was only half over and it had already been Too Much.

Green Lantern’s head tilted as he focused on the ring on Kyle’s finger. “How’d you get your hands on that, then?”

“It followed me home.” It sounded stupid to his own ears. “I tried to say no but it…didn’t want to leave.”

Green Lantern’s jaw worked for a moment. “All right. Next question, then. How old are you, exactly? There’s no way you’re over eighteen.”

“Uh.” Could he be arrested and sent to prison in some far off corner of the galaxy if they thought he’d stolen their ring? It did seem kind of…special. “Should I be, like, asking for a lawyer right now or something?”

“Maybe a parent,” Green Lantern replied, pinching the bridge of his nose. “This is a mess.”

“If it helps, I didn’t actually say yes.” Kyle tugged at the ring, sliding it down his finger. “You can have it back now.”

“Kid—”

Taking the ring off while hovering in the middle of the air was a terrible idea, Kyle realized, right as he started plummeting towards the ground. Thankfully, the actual Green Lantern knew what he was doing and Kyle was snatched up by a green construct. In the palm of Kyle’s hand, the ring was warm and vibrated. It was totally laughing at him.

“Shut up, you,” he said to it, under his breath.

Green Lantern lowered him gently to the ground and landed beside him, one hand coming down on Kyle’s shoulder. “All right. Let’s sort this out, then.”

Somehow, Kyle got the feeling it wasn’t going to be as simple as just handing the ring over.

***

Kyle’s mother glanced between him, Green Lantern, and the ring that was sitting dull and inconspicuous on their dining room table. Green Lantern had just finished explaining the situation. “My son was chosen for wha t?”

Kyle cringed. “For the record, this is totally not my fault.”

The ring remained lifeless, but Kyle knew that if it wasn’t playing dead it would be laughing at him again. He’d clearly been wrong about the lack of demonic influence.

“Can’t you just—” His mother sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “—just take it back?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Green Lantern replied, with a grimace.

What he meant was that Kyle had thrown the ring at him and booked it out of the park, running back to school and hoping the guy didn’t follow him. It had meant abandoning the ring but honestly, it had a better chance against Green Lantern than Kyle did. He’d gone to class and been a fidgeting, anxious mess the entire time, until he’d experienced the utter humiliation that was a superhero showing up at the school and pulling him out of class.

Apparently, the ring had rejected Green Lantern’s company by teleporting him to the other side of the city and sneaked its way back into Kyle’s bag, where it remained hidden until Green Lantern had tracked him down.

He could literally never go back to school again, they probably all thought he was a criminal .

His mother took a deep breath, nostrils flaring in a way that Kyle knew meant she was pissed. “Uncomplicate it. You are not taking my child to another planet so some strange little aliens that have proclaimed themselves Guardians of the Universe can prod him with sticks because they don’t know what’s going on!”

“Ma’am,” Green Lantern said, which was a mistake if Kyle ever knew one, because she hated being called that. “Let me assure you that I don’t want the kind of responsibility that comes from taking a minor to Oa. I really, really don’t. Which is why I’d like to ask you to come as well.”

“No. If they want to see him they can damn well come here.” His mother shrugged. “I don’t know what kind of jurisdiction they even think they have.”

Kyle’s mom was a total badass, and by the look on Green Lantern’s face, he agreed.

“I’ll see what I can do.” Green Lantern gave the ring a glance. “Trust me when I say that just taking the ring back is my preferred option, too.”

No one had asked Kyle his opinion. Or the ring’s. It seemed alive enough to count for something. It was pretty clear from Green Lantern’s wariness and reaction to being teleported that it wasn’t a normal ring.

The superhero stood and left the house, going out to the porch to contact his bosses, the so-called Guardians of the Universe.

Maura turned her gaze on Kyle, narrowing her eyes.

He looked down at his hands. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You had an alien ring following you around and decided to do nothing ?”

“When you say it like that it sounds bad.” Kyle shrugged. “I thought of it more like…not bothering you unnecessarily.”

His mom’s lips thinned. “Like you didn’t want to bother me about the detentions? Or the math homework?”

“Math homework?” Kyle asked weakly.

“Advanced mathematics seemed unusual to your teacher,” his mother said. “Coupled with a superhero showing up, they expressed their concern.”

For a moment, Kyle utterly refused to believe that this was actually happening. Inside his head was just screaming and ‘abort!’ being shouted in a panic. It felt a bit like being spectator to some of his nightmares.

“This is serious, Kyle.”

“The ring did my math homework,” Kyle said, when reality refused to rearrange itself to his liking. “I…kinda just thought it was cool.”

“Well, it’s nice to know I have that ring to thank for your budding delinquency.” Maura shook her head, getting up and heading into the kitchen.

The ring gave a sad buzz.

Kyle nudged it with his fingers while his mother was distracted. “You betrayed me! You read the whole textbook and then pull out advanced mathematics ?”

He swore to God the thing actually shrugged at him.

“Tone it down next time.”

The ring materialized some of the green energy that Green Lantern used for his constructs, making a hand and giving him a thumbs up.

Kyle nearly bit through his lip to keep from laughing.

The front door opened and closed, and Green Lantern walked through back into the dining room, slumping down into a chair across from Kyle. He’d taken the mask off, which turned him from mysterious superhero into a guy who looked like he could be any of his classmates’ dad.

His mother came through from the kitchen, a glass of water in her hand.

“You got your wish,” Green Lantern said, sounding flummoxed. “They’re going to send one of the Guardians here.”

“Well, it looks like they can be reasonable,” Maura said, tension easing away.

“I didn’t want this,” Kyle told them both. “They sound creepy, I don’t want to talk to them.”

“Well,” Green Lantern said, thoughtful. “You’re not wrong.”

Kyle’s mom gave Green Lantern an exasperated look and then put her hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “I’ll be right there, sweetie, don’t worry. We’ll get this sorted out.”

On the dining table, the ring brightened, like it agreed.

***

If someone had asked Kyle what he imagined the Guardians of the Universe would look like, he’d probably describe those trippy angels from the bible with the sixteen thousand eyes that were beyond human comprehension. Or if he wasn’t paying close attention he might picture a raccoon.

“Thanks for coming so quickly, Ganthet.”

“It is a matter of some importance,” the Guardian replied, serene.

The Guardian that had arrived on their doorstep more closely resembled a smurf than anything Kyle was expecting.

Kyle sat on the couch, between his mother and Green Lantern, who had removed his ring and introduced himself as Hal Jordan while they’d been waiting for the Guardian to arrive. Maura Rayner wasn’t a woman who was easily intimidated, but she’d had her back up about having a superhero wandering around the house, and had been noticeably warmer since Hal had ditched the suit.

On the opposite couch sat the Guardian, and there was little he could do to make himself seem normal. Not that he looked like he particularly wanted anything to do with them; once Hal had finished explaining the situation his sole focus became the ring that sat calmly between his cupped palms. “We have no record or knowledge of this ring being made,” Ganthet said. His hands were glowing just slightly, and his gaze didn’t shift away from the ring.

“I thought it was different,” Hal muttered, shifting in place and frowning. “But how could it mimic a Green Lantern ring so closely?”

Ganthet didn’t reply. After a moment, the glow of his hands intensified and then he blinked, eyes widening. “…Ah.” He glanced up, zeroing in on Kyle—the first time he’d so much as acknowledged anything that wasn’t Hal or the ring since he’d arrived. “This does change things, doesn’t it?”

Kyle didn’t think that sounded like a ‘sorry for the mistake, we’ll be taking the ring back now’.

“Ganthet,” Hal said, slowly, shifting forward. “He’s just a kid.”

“He has been chosen,” Ganthet replied, opening his hands.

The ring zoomed across the room, glowing brightly when Kyle plucked it out of the air.

His mother got to her feet. “Kyle, go upstairs. The adults need to talk.”

She meant she wanted to shout at Ganthet in peace, really.

“Oh no,” Ganthet said. “The boy will be coming back to Oa.”

“Uh, no.” This time, it was Hal Jordan who stood up, crossing his arms and frowning at the Guardian. “He’s a minor, Ganthet. He’s not leaving Earth.”

“He is the Torchbearer,” Ganthet said, which explained absolutely nothing and sounded, frankly, really stupid. Ganthet looked between the two adults with a furrowed brow, possibly confused by their reluctance to allow him to abduct Kyle and take him to an alien planet. “He has much to learn. Oa is the best place for him.”

Hal snorted. “No, it really isn’t.”

Kyle stayed seated where he was, mentally counting down the timer on his mother’s temper. She didn’t disappoint.

“Listen here, you little goblin!” She loomed over Ganthet, fingers curled into claws like she might have been considering scratching his eyes out. “I don’t know why you think you even have the authority to police the entire universe, but frankly I don’t care. This is Earth, and Kyle is my son. He is not going anywhere!”

“Your son has a greater destiny.”

“That’s not true,” Kyle said. “I don’t know what you got off that ring, but it’s lying. It’s a troll, dude. It found me on accident and just likes to watch me fall off stuff.”

“You’ll improve with more training,” Ganthet said, clearly not listening to a word Kyle was saying.

“If any training happens, it’ll be here on Earth.” Hal slipped his ring on and took Kyle by the shoulder. “Come on, kid. Your mom looks like she’s got more words for Ganthet, and I’m going to take you somewhere safe for the time being. We’ll get this sorted out. That’s okay with you, Maura?”

Green Lantern was on a first name basis with his mother? Had they conducted a secret meeting while he’d been in the bathroom or something?

His mother nodded. “That’s fine.”

Kyle got the distinct impression that secret meetings had definitely happened outside his hearing, because his mother did not looked surprised at all by the suggestion.

“Where are we going?” Kyle asked, closing his hand around the ring and following Green Lantern out of the house. Behind him, he could hear his mother begin an epic tirade that he wasn’t sad to be skipping out on. She was scary even when it wasn’t directed at him. “Will my mom be safe alone with that guy?”

“She’ll be fine, I have someone watching the place.” Green Lantern nodded at Kyle’s ring. “Put that on. Might as well teach you to fly—properly—on the way to New York. First lesson: don’t take it off in the middle of the air.”

The ring radiated warmth. It was laughing at him again.

“New York?”

Green Lantern’s lips quirked. “I’m dropping you off with the Titans.”

Chapter Text

At first Kyle could feel the ring helping him, steadying out his flailing attempts at flight and keeping him in the air. Eventually, though, he felt less and less of it, until there came a point where he felt an absence he never had while wearing the ring before--like he'd been wearing headphones for hours while painting and had finally taken them off, the resulting silence obvious and nearly ringing in his ears.

The realization was enough to send him reeling. He managed to stay in the air and not fall out of the sky or do anything else embarrassing, although he got the feeling from the way Green Lantern spent the next five minutes flying closer that he hadn't managed to be as subtle with his panicking as he would’ve liked.

By the time Titans Tower was visible in the distance, he'd managed to fly on his own without killing himself long enough that Green Lantern had pulled ahead again.

The few glimpses of Titans Tower that Kyle had occasionally seen on the news didn’t do the structure justice. It loomed over East River, ten stories of glass and steel that advertised the headquarters of the Titans far and wide. Kyle was sure there was more to it than meets the eye, otherwise it surely would’ve been the target for endless attacks by supervillains over the years.

There was a clearing near the entrance to the Tower. Hal swerved suddenly, diving down towards a small group of teenagers tossing a football around. Well, two of the boys were tossing a football between them, while another boy and a girl took turns throwing knives at the balls while they were in the air. The clearing was filled with impaled, partially deflated footballs. What passed for fun amongst superheroes, Kyle supposed.

The kid currently holding the ball caught sight of Green Lantern and paused mid-throw, raising one eyebrow behind the large, dark sunglasses perched on his nose. None of the group were in costume and the kid’s sunglasses were the only effort any of them had made to obscure their facial features.

Green Lantern landed next to the group. “Hey, kids. Nightwing around?”

Kyle drifted closer but stayed in the air.

The kid in sunglasses—Robin, Kyle realized, he was the only one with black hair—jerked his chin towards the Tower. “On his way.”

Sure enough, when Kyle glanced over his shoulder he saw Nightwing, in full costume, striding out of the front of the Tower, a furrow between his brows. Green Lantern folded his arms over his chest and waited for the Titans’ leader to reach them while the teenagers gave each other curious looks.

Nightwing stopped beside Robin and gave Kyle a quick glance. “Oh boy.”

“That about sums it up,” Green Lantern replied, shrugging. “Look, I gotta sort some things out and need to stash the kid somewhere safe until we figure out what to do. You good to watch him for five minutes while I do that?”  

Nightwing’s lips quirked in a smirk. “Five minutes?”

“Not literally five minutes,” Green Lantern replied, scratching the back of his head. “You know what I mean. A couple hours, whatever.” He gestured at Kyle. “Kid, get down here, say hello.”

Uh, no, two of them were holding knives .

“They’ll play nice,” Nightwing said to Kyle, nudging Robin in the shoulder when the kid scoffed. He looked back at Green Lantern. “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of your new baby Lantern.”

“That only makes me worry more.” Green Lantern sighed. He clasped Kyle’s shoulder briefly when Kyle finally drifted down to the ground. “I’ll be right back, kid. Don’t let that ring do anything weird.” With a quick, artless salute, Green Lantern rose back into the air and sped off. Kyle stared after him until he was little more than a small green speck in the sky and then turned to face the Titans.

Robin’s eyebrows were raised over his sunglasses. He stared off in the direction Green Lantern had flown. “I bet you fifty bucks he never comes back.”

Nightwing sighed, reaching one hand up and ruffling Robin’s hair. “No bet.”

So it looked like Kyle had been abandoned on the other side of the country with a mysterious alien ring and a bunch of teenage superheroes who played with knives in their spare time.

Fantastic.

***

Twenty minutes later Kyle found himself in a rec room in Titans Tower, surrounded by the four Teen Titans. Nightwing was nowhere in sight. Apparently ‘we’ll take good care’ involved dumping him on the kids and evaporating into the shadows. Kyle couldn’t exactly blame him since he’d once faked a stomach bug to get out of babysitting his neighbor’s kids.

One of the boys, wearing a bright red backwards baseball cap, scratched at the back of his neck. “Well, this is a little awkward.”

“We should probably introduce ourselves,” Robin said, with the great reluctance that came from someone who understood, on a fundamental level, how painful it was when teachers suggested the exact same thing on the first day of class. Beside him, one of his teammates opened her mouth. Robin elbowed her in the side without looking. “Don’t start.”

She gave him a flinty glare and brushed a lock of white hair out of her eyes. “’We should introduce ourselves’, says he who has yet to disclose his real name.”

“I said ‘don’t start’.”

“When have I ever listened to you?” She rolled her eyes and turned to Kyle. “I’m Rose. No codename. I don’t need one and I think they’re stupid.”

“A font of wisdom, as always,” Robin said.

“Whatever, nerd.” Rose pointed her thumb to the boy on her other side. Kyle recognized him as Green Arrow’s newest sidekick and rumored lovechild. He shared his mentor’s blond hair, but there was little other resemblance between them. “This is Connor. He was supposed to have a secret identity like Birdbutt over there but then he decided to be reasonable.”

“I slipped up and forgot I was supposed to keep it secret,” Connor said, serenely calm. “I would tell you my codename but…it’s a work in progress.”

“He’s banned from naming things,” Robin said. “He’s worse than Nightwing, and you may not know how bad that is, but you will.” There was an ominous certainty to his voice that was kind of hilarious but also a little unsettling.

Connor coughed into his fist. “I’m not that bad.”

“You suggested ‘Shaft’,” Robin said, raising his eyebrows.

“Oh wow, yeah, no.” Kyle shook his head. “No, that’s…wow. You look cool but that name is like automatically plummeting you to negative cool points.”

“Connor isn’t cool,” Rose said. “He was raised as a monk. He just happens to look like he should be modeling for Vogue.”

“And I’m Eddie.” The kid with the baseball cap waved, vaulting over the back of the couch and snatching up a game controller. “Otherwise known as Kid Devil. My identity is half-secret.”

Kyle blinked at him. “Okay, so, I’m Kyle, and you’re half-secret, Connor is accidentally not a secret, Rose is not at all a secret, and you—” Kyle pointed to Robin “—are a cryptid.”

Robin stared at him for a moment, stone-faced, before one side of his lips quirked up in a smirk. “You can stay.”

Kyle blinked as Robin turned and left the room. “What did that mean? Did I pass some kind of test?”

“You did,” Rose replied. “Good job, new kid.”

“Wait, no I’m not joining or anything.” Kyle shook his head. “I mean, probably. This was not supposed to happen.”

“Oh yeah?” Eddie asked. “What’s your story, then?”

“My life was hijacked by a sentient magic ring.”

Eddie nodded, offering him the second controller. “And how’s that working out for you?”

“Well, it helped me cheat at math.”

***

By nine that evening Kyle had to admit that there was a distinct possibility that Robin had been right and Hal was just never returning. He wondered if his mother would file a police report. Did it count as kidnapping if she’d given permission to his initial abduction and he’d been transferred to a third-party? Was his mother in on it? Had his budding delinquency inspired her to go the route of tough love and she’d asked for him to be dropped on the other side of the country to fend for himself?

At least the East Coast had really good pizza, but at what cost?

Robin had been missing for most of the evening; Kyle got the feeling that it wasn’t unusual. Well, that or the others weren’t nice enough to save some of the food for him. He finally reappeared just as Rose and Eddie finished fighting it out for the last slice.

“Hey, Fearless Leader,” Rose said, waving the spoils of her victory. “Sorry, we didn’t save you any.”

Robin shrugged. “It’s fine. Get suited up, all of you. We’ve got a training mission.”

Eddie groaned, slumping down across the table. “Dude, no. It’s time to chill.”

Connor and Rose were likewise unmoving.   

“It’s Friday,” Robin said, one side of his mouth twisting down unhappily. “Stop being lazy, our reputations are at stake.”

“You’ve been fighting with Nightwing again, haven’t you?” Rose sighed, dropping her half-eaten slice and standing up. She dusted her hands off. “Let’s get this done, then. Mission parameters?”

Mission what now? Kyle glanced to the others, but Connor and Eddie remained still and reluctant.  

“Escape and evade.” Robin smirked. “We’re getting off this glorified playpen of an island and disappearing into the city, remaining right under Nightwing’s obnoxiously smothering beak and proving he ain’t shit.”

“Joy,” Eddie said, thumping his head down against the table. “A sleepless night in the city. In defeat we’ll find ourselves grounded. In victory, also grounded—but at least we’ll have our pride, right? You two are the worst.”

“Winning against Nightwing is its own reward,” Rose said, waving a dismissive hand.

Robin nodded. “And our reputations depend on it.”

“Aren’t you two banned from conspiring together?” Connor asked, but he was getting to his feat even as he said it. When Eddie looked up and spotted him, groaning, Connor just gave an apologetic shrug.

“Another rule of Nightwing’s we’re disregarding as both unimportant and overbearing,” Robin said. He narrowed his eyes at Kyle. “You have a costume?”

“Uh, yea—wait, what, no—”

Robin had already turned and strode off towards the door. “We’re going from the roof. Meet up in ten.”

Eddie sat up, shaking his head and looking to the ceiling. “One day I’m gonna be that kid. I’m gonna be the kid who stops this foolishness before it begins and tattle.”

Rose raised an eyebrow. “You’d really go to Nightwing to put a stop to it?”

“No,” Eddie replied. “Like he isn’t just as bad. I’ll go to their dad.”

Connor whistled. “You’d break the bro code that badly?”

“Come on, Connor.” Eddie got to his feet and shuffled off towards the door. “Like you even know what the bro code is.”

“I was raised in a monastery, not on another planet,” Connor said. “I’ve been in Star City long enough.”

Rose rolled her eyes, hooking her arm around Kyle’s and dragging him off after Eddie and Connor. “Come on, new kid. I bet that ring of yours is going to come in handy.”

Kyle was pretty sure this was not the kind of thing his mother had been thinking of when she’d given him all those lectures on the dangers of peer pressure.

***

The Green Lantern costume was still way too tight and looked wrong on Kyle’s stupidly scrawny body, but at least he didn’t really stand out from the Teen Titans. No matter how weird Kyle thought he looked, Eddie was literally wearing what looked like a kid’s Halloween costume, including a fake devil tail. He was completely unbothered about it and was, apparently, not prepared to let Kyle be self-conscious either.

“If I admit now that there’s something to be ashamed of, I’ll have to look back on all the years I’ve been doing this and be embarrassed,” Eddie said. “And frankly I refuse, I was embarrassing enough at thirteen without finding more reasons.”

“Here at the Teen Titans, we specialize in self-delusion,” Robin said, nudging Eddie in the shoulder. “Not that I can talk. I look like a set of traffic lights.”

“I mean, the Robin costume was designed by Nightwing,” Rose said, grinning sharply. She looked the most normal out of all of them, forgoing her usual costume in favor of sweatpants and a large hoodie. She’d rolled her eyes and claimed it was for ‘stealth reasons, fools’.  

Kyle wished he’d thought of it first.

Robin had briefly argued that not wearing her costume was breaking the rules, but Rose had simply replied that Robin had made up the rules himself just to make things difficult, and then they’d glared at each other for a solid minute and a half before turning their backs and sulking.

Connor arrived last, in green and brown kevlar but without his archery gear. “Sorry I’m late. I had to dodge Nightwing on the stairs. He’s looking for you, Robin. I think he wanted to apologize for whatever fight you had.”

Robin grimaced. “No way. I’m not ready to stop being mad yet.”

Kyle hadn’t really given much thought before to what teenage superheroes would be like, since the media attention on the Teen Titans was heavily filtered through the Titans proper. It was a probably a good thing, because while Kyle found everyone pretty normal and sometimes hilarious, he was pretty sure that the media would have a field day with some of the shit that they said.

Connor shrugged, not looking the least bit surprised by Robin’s reluctance. “I had to leave the rest of my gear behind with your brother prowling around down there.”

“Probably for the best,” Robin replied. “We have enough knives to go around.”

Oh yeah, Kyle had forgotten about the knives.

Chapter Text

Kyle normally spent his Friday nights on the roof of his house, sketching or painting, staying up far later than his mother would prefer. It was a maybe a little ironic that on this particular Friday night he’d somehow ended up on the rooftop of Titans Tower, planning to disappear into New York City and hide out for far later than was probably wise. All he was lacking was his painting supplies and his mother’s disapproval.

Well, he was sure she would disapprove of his current plans, if she ever found out.

“What exactly is the plan here?” Rose asked, sweeping her arms out to encompass their current situation—standing on the top of Titans Tower, ten stories and a river separating them from the city. The wind was picking up, whipping her long white hair into a frenzy. “Are we hijacking one of the planes or something?”

Connor made a thoughtful noise. “While it’s unlikely they’ll think of it as a possible exit, the roof has some obvious disadvantages.”

“Like falling to our deaths?” Eddie gave a wary glance towards the edge of the roof. “There’s no railings to anything up here. The place is a total death trap.”

Robin smirked. He was staring at Kyle—or more accurately, at the green ring that adorned his finger. “Have you had a proper chance to test that out yet?”

Kyle blinked, glancing between them all. “Uh, please don’t tell me you want to rely on my ability to create constructs with this magic ring that I’ve had for like a day.”

Rose hummed thoughtfully. “Our team has been somewhat unbalanced. A distinct lack of meta abilities.”

Eddie shrugged when Kyle glanced at him, a sheepish but encouraging smile of his face.

“Perhaps a less dangerous first test?” Connor was clearly the level-headed one of the team.

Robin cocked his head to the side. “A Green Lantern ring is the most powerful weapon in the universe. It’ll be fine; I have grapples.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not the most powerful anything.” Kyle slid the ring off his finger, frowning at it when it remained still and dull in his hand. “But its not like you’re a normal ring, right?”

The ring lit up, floating off his hand to spin lazily in the air.

Kyle pointed out to the city. “Can you take us there?”

The ring swiveled this way and that, making a low buzzing sound like it was thinking hard. Kyle kind of got the feeling it wanted him to try, like when he’d been flying.

“Please?” he asked, clasping his hands together in front of his face. “This day has been too much already and I don’t want to add falling ten stories to that.”

It stilled. For a moment Kyle thought he’d said something wrong. He’d never seen the ring freeze so completely while it was in the air. Just as he was opening his mouth to speak, the ring started glowing intensely, bright enough that Kyle had to bring a hand up to shield his face. When the green light dimmed enough for him to drop his hand, the first thing Kyle saw was the ring, dull and lifeless, start to fall. He snatched it out of the air on instinct.

Behind him, someone cleared their throat. “So, what in the hell is that?”

The second thing Kyle saw was what looked like a giant green whale shark, floating in the air above Titans Tower and regarding them with an expression that looked far too much like lazy amusement.

Things were beginning to make a little more sense.

Kyle held the ring up. “Let me guess, this is a totally normal Green Lantern ring now that you’re not in it?”

The green entity yawned.

“This is not very stealthy,” Robin said, shooting a look back towards the stairs that led inside. “Have your magic space whale do its thing before someone catches us.”

“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take orders from me.” Or anyone, Kyle suspected.

Rose looked it up and down, one eyebrow raised. “If this thing is going to take us into the city, I don’t suppose it could change into something a little less conspicuous first?”

Kyle had never seen a giant green whale sigh before, but he was pretty sure that was what the entity did. Then, its green glow intensified and it began to shrink down, until what was floating in front of them looked a lot like—

“That’s a Pikachu,” Kyle said, perturbed.

Eddie snorted. “You were not kidding about this thing being a troll.”

“Well, I guess that’s technically less conspicuous than the giant catfish thing.” Connor shrugged. “So, how exactly are we gettin—”

There was another bright flash of green light and Kyle briefly felt like all his guts had turned inside out, and then the light and the feeling disappeared and they were no longer on top of Titans Tower, but instead standing in an dark alleyway, the whistling of wind replaced with car horns and the distant sound of sirens in the city.

Connor looked around, eyebrows raised. “Well. That answers that question.”

“Please let’s never do that again,” Eddie said, holding his stomach. His face had gone pale, making his light freckles stand out more obviously.

“Better than a rollercoaster,” Robin replied, patting Eddie briefly on the shoulder before moving towards the mouth of the alley, about as unruffled from the experience as Kyle would expect from someone trained by Batman. “Someone hide Space Pikachu, we’re going on the move.”

Rose gave Kyle a thumb’s up. “He’s all yours, Ash.”

“Thanks,” Kyle replied, dry as a desert. He held the ring out, but the green entity turned its nose up and instead floated up to sit on Kyle’s head. “Hey, that is not hiding.”

It yawned, pulling at his hair as it got a grip. Kyle grimaced.

Robin looked back, staring at Kyle and his attachment with a stoic expression that nevertheless gave Kyle the impression he wanted to laugh. “Okay, new plan: if anyone asks, that’s Beast Boy.”

“He’s better company than Beast Boy,” Rose muttered, moving to stand by Robin’s side.

Eddie shrugged. “The quiet is pretty nice.”

“He can even shapeshift,” Connor said, then winced. “We probably should not talk about Beast Boy like this while he’s not here to defend himself.”

Rose snorted. She glanced at Robin. “Okay, Boss. You’re running this show—what next?”

***

Going into it, Kyle hadn’t given much thought to his expectations of the evening. He wasn’t really good at planning ahead, thinking things through and making his own judgment call. He mostly found himself swept along in whatever the people around him were doing. His mother said he had his head stuck in the clouds. A few of his teachers had less kind things to say, things like ‘easily influenced’, and yeah, maybe it was something he should work on in himself.

Exhibit A being that he was running around New York City with a group of teenagers he’d only just met, in flagrant violation of whatever curfew or rules were in place by their guardians—Kyle didn’t know, it was his future defense when they got caught—with a green Pikachu on his head, which hadn’t garnered even a single odd look.

It wasn’t how he’d expected his evening to go, but he found he was actually having fun.

With the first of their objectives achieved—escaping undetected from Titans Tower—there wasn’t much for them to do for objective two—remain at large—until someone noticed what they had done and started looking. Robin was tapped into the Titans’ communications and was monitoring the situation. Until then, they had to find ways to pass the time.

Connor cleared his throat. “As the one nominated as ‘the responsible one’, I feel it’s my duty to warn you both that you could die.”

Robin and Rose ignored him entirely, too busy creating their makeshift tightrope out of Robin’s grappling lines.

Eddie clapped politely from his place reclining on the rooftop next to Kyle. “Good job, Connor.”

Connor sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. “Once again, I’ve accomplished nothing.”

“But you tried,” Eddie replied. He patted the rooftop beside him. “Let’s watch these fools try to kill each other.”

Kyle leaned back on his hands, staring up at the sky and wishing he had his sketchpad. Robin and Rose having some kind of spar while balancing on a thin tightrope strung up between two buildings was much cooler than the things he normally sketched when he hung out on the roof of his house.

Beside him, his green Pokemon companion poked at his hand and cocked its head to the side. Kyle glanced to the ring he was wearing on his finger.

It poked the ring.

Kyle blinked. “Uh, what?”

“This is a stupid idea,” Rose said, causing Kyle to look back over towards the makeshift tightrope. Robin was already out in the middle, balancing on the rope, suspended six stories up in the air.

Robin gave her a daring grin. “Well? You coming out or not?”

Eddie cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “I believe in you, Rose!”

“I don’t,” Connor said, shifting from one foot to the other. “I mean, I have full confidence in your abilities, but that doesn’t mean I think this is going to end any other way than tears, injury, and possible death.”

“Noted,” Rose replied. She put one foot on the tightrope, glancing between her feet and Robin, still grinning. She hesitated. Robin jostled the rope with his feet. Rose stepped back, shaking her head. “Y’know what? Nope. Nope, nope, nope.”

Robin started laughing. “I knew you wouldn’t do it.”

Rose glared, pointing an accusing finger at Robin. “And I know that you, being the colossal ass that you are, were planning on knocking me off for shits and giggles!”

“Maybe.” Robin shrugged one shoulder, walking back over to the building. His arms were thrown out for balance but he was steady enough that it might have been for show. “I would’ve caught you, though.”

Rose huffed, shaking her head. “I should push you off.”

With a laugh, Robin jumped over the ledge and landed on the rooftop. His hand drifted to his ear and he frowned, tensing. A second later, he dropped his hand and gave them a grim smile. “Look alive, the game is afoot.”

It was like electricity sparked through the air, making the whole group of them jolt and tense.

“Finally.” Rose pulled her hair back and tied it up. “Are we sticking to the streets or hiding out in the park? Or do you have something else in mind?”

“New kid chooses,” Robin replied, pointing at Kyle.

“Me? Why?” Kyle got to his feet, rolling his eyes when his green companion floated up to sit on his head. “Wouldn’t someone who can actually strategize for this be better?”

Robin grinned. “This is my strategy.”

“The Titans know us well,” Connor said, when Kyle turned a confused look on him. “Throwing an unknown element into the mix isn’t a bad idea.”

Kyle shook his head. “You guys know I’m from Los Angeles, right? I don’t know anything about this city.”

“Perfect,” Robin replied. “Pick a direction.”

After looking between the Teen Titans, who all looked resolute, Kyle sighed and pointed to his right. “That way, then.”

“All right, team.” Robin clapped his hands together, a smugly pleased expression on his face. “Let’s get moving. I’m happy to report that Nightwing is already hitting the roof.”

Eddie dropped his head into his hands. “Why does he always say that like it’s a good thing?”

***

Twenty minutes later and they’d run what felt like a mile and had two close calls, resulting in Robin taking over navigation—to Kyle’s great relief. Just keeping up with the rest of the group was hard enough. A mostly sedentary life sitting around doing art wasn’t exactly keeping him in the shape needed to be a superhero. Kyle had quickly fallen to the back of the group. Connor had eventually dropped behind to run with him, after a quick exchange of looks between him and Robin.

“It might be a good time to practice with that ring,” Connor said, as they waited on the corner of a street for Kyle to catch his breath. The others were still moving, leaving them behind. Connor didn’t look bothered by it, so Kyle tried not to feel embarrassed, but mostly failed. “I mean, we can all run faster and longer than you, but you can fly.”

“Oh.” Kyle coughed, wrinkling his nose at the dryness at the back of his throat, and then straightened up. “I’d honestly forgotten about that.”

Connor blinked, then smiled and shook his head. “The one kid chosen to be bearer of the most powerful weapon in the universe, and he forgets he has it.”

“I spent most of the time thinking it was a sentient alien,” Kyle replied, pointing to the Pikachu that was still firmly latched onto his head. Partway through their run through the city it had the gall to start napping, somehow still managing to keep a tight hold on his hair. It was even snoring, which Kyle swore it was doing just to taunt him.

Connor laughed. “What better time to start learning than a training mission?”

“This isn’t a real training mission,” Kyle said, “unless all your training missions are instigated without permission when Robin and Nightwing get in a spat.”

“A fair number are.” Connor glanced in the direction the others had gone. “But not all of them. They’re usually the most fun, but you didn’t hear that from me.”

“Since you’re the responsible one?”

“Something like that.” Connor nodded to the other side of the street. “Come on, let’s start catching up. Use the ring.”

Kyle hesitated, twisting the ring on his finger. There was a sharp tug at his hair and he tilted his head back, trying to see the green vermin that was assaulting him. “Is that supposed to be a hint?”

All he got in response was a loud, deliberate snore.

Connor frowned. “What exactly is that thing, anyway?”

“A troll.” Kyle shook his head, jostling his hitchhiker, and then sighed and concentrated on remembering what it had felt like, when he’d been flying earlier that day. Connor waited patiently. Space Pikachu started snoring louder. “Hey, you know what—” Kyle broke off when something seemed to click in his head and he was shooting several feet up into the air. He threw his hands out for balance and managed not to fall straight back down to the ground.

“You got it?” Connor asked.

Kyle nodded, floating down so he was closer to Connor’s level, hovering about a foot over the ground.

“Let’s catch up to the others then.” Connor started off across the street.

Using the ring meant that Kyle kept up with ease, trailing just behind Connor. There was no obnoxious snoring accompanying him, which Kyle guessed meant his companion was finally satisfied. Connor led him on a winding trail that Kyle had no hope of remembering. Finally, Connor ducked into an alley and took to the fire escape, climbing up to the top.

The rest of the team was waiting for them, ducked down behind the edge of the roof. Robin had one hand up to his ear, head tilted as he listened to the older Titans’ communications. Rose was a few feet away, acting as lookout. Connor vaulted onto the roof and crouched beside Eddie. Kyle landed on the roof and knelt on Connor’s other side.

Robin looked up, pulling his hand away from his ear. “All good?”

Connor nodded. “I don’t think we were followed. I doubled back a few times to be sure. Not that it’s a sure thing, against them.”

Humming thoughtfully, Robin turned and waved Rose over. “Communications are compromised. Nightwing just spent the better part of five minutes chewing me out.”

“What, he didn’t even bother trying to feed us false information?” Eddie asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Too cliché.”

Rose nudged Robin in the side. “If you were my younger brother, I too would take every opportunity to yell at you.”

“Thankfully for everyone involved, I’m neither younger nor your brother,” Robin replied. His expression settled into something more grimly serious than the jovial mood he’d had for most of the night. “All right, Nightwing sounds pissed enough that I’m implementing phase two of our mission.”

“There are phases to this tomfoolery?” Eddie asked. “I want to vote for a new leader, the power has gone to your head.”

“Sure, who wants the job?” Robin looked around. “Rose, Lantern, Bueller?”

Kyle frowned. “Lantern is not my name.”

“Look, you’re lucky your ring comes complete with preassigned codename,” Robin replied. He pointed at Connor. “We literally pick a new one for Connor every mission because he can’t decide.”

Connor hung his head, giving a weary sigh. “They long ago stopped being serious suggestions.”

Eddie grinned. “Tonight he’s the Majestic Macaw.”

Kyle was absolutely sure he did not hear that correctly. “I’m sorry he’s what?”

“Guys, please,” Connor said, expression pained.

“No, we gave you actual months to decide.” Rose pinched the bridge of her nose. “The best you could come up with was Shaft.”

“I’m bad at names.”

Robin held his hands out in a helpless gesture. “Clearly.”

Kyle was absolutely certain that something similar would be in his own future, because he wasn’t good at names either. “Uh…Green Lantern is fine.”

“Cool.” Robin nodded. “Teen Lantern it is, then.”

Opening his mouth, Kyle took a second and then shrugged. It could be worse. Far worse.

“Great, now that’s settled.” Robin glanced between them all. “Back to phase two of our mission.”

Eddie frowned. “Hey, wait a second. What happened to democracy?”

“Ask President Luthor,” Robin replied.  

“Fair.”

“No more interruptions.” Robin shoved a hand over Eddie’s mouth when he started to speak again. “Phase two—it’s the part of the horror movie where we all split up, under the assumption that it will make it harder for our pursuers to track us, despite how it usually results in us being easier to pick off. Except in this case, it will definitely work.”  

Rose rolled her eyes. “A great plan, as always.”

“Thank you I spent a whole half a minute thinking of it.” Robin pointed at Rose and Connor. “Connor, you’re with Rose. Someone has to keep her out of trouble.”

Rose shoved him in the shoulder. “Hypocrite!”

Robin stuck one hand out to catch his balance. “Yes, like all great leaders before me, I sit on a throne of lies and deceit.”

“Okay, there’s at least one big assumption being made there.”

“Eddie,” Robin said, not even glancing at Rose as she pulled faces at him. “You’re going solo. Make me proud.”

Eddie gave him a thumbs up. “I’m going to find the nearest internet cafe and play games until they kick me out.”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.” Robin turned to Kyle. “You’re with me.”

“Godspeed,” Rose said, standing and vaulting over the edge of the roof before Robin could respond. Connor sighed and followed.

Kyle waited until Eddie had climbed down the fire escape and left to find his internet cafe before turning to Robin. “This isn’t a training mission at all, is it?”

“Not really, no.” Robin shrugged. “It’s mostly just for fun. Think of it as team bonding.”

“And Nightwing?”

“Oh no, he’s genuinely pissed—but he’s also not currently on speaking terms with Batman, so it’ll be fine.” Robin stood up, offering his hand to Kyle. “Come on, let’s see if we can do anything fun with that ring.”

Kyle let Robin haul him up to his feet, wincing as something tugged on his hair, hard. “What was that fo—”

From behind him, Kyle heard a low, familiar growl. He swallowed, turning around slowly on the spot to find what looked like the same alien that had attacked him at school. It stood on the opposite side of the roof, eyes narrowed and focused on Kyle.

Beside him, Robin already had a curved weapon—a batarang?—pointed towards the alien. “What the hell is that?”

Kyle heard a soft huff, before the weight on his head disappeared. He looked around frantically, but the green entity had vanished.

“Focus,” Robin said. “You have the ring.”  

He had a ring he had barely any idea how to use and the powerful entity that had been protecting him had just vanished into thin air. Kyle swallowed, turning back to face the alien. “Oh boy.”

Round two—fight.

Chapter Text

The fight would have been hilariously one-sided, if not for Robin.

The alien was fast, strong and knew how to fight. Kyle could barely fly well enough to dodge and the only construct he could manage to project was a kind of formless green energy which could knock the alien back a few feet. He’d quickly settled for knocking it into position for Robin to take advantage, but it was strong enough to shrug off most of Robin’s weapons and a smoke bomb to the face besides.

When the alien finally landed a solid hit on Robin, knocking him clear off the roof, Kyle managed to dart around and grab Robin by the wrists and yank him up and into in the air, out of range of any further attacks. It felt like the most helpful he’d been during the entire fight so far.

“Okay,” Robin said, as he dangled calmly in Kyle’s grip. “I’m actually getting kind of pissed off, now.”

“I’m sorry,” Kyle said, cringing.

“What?” Robin glanced up at him. “Not at you. At Shrek down there.”

Kyle blinked, glancing between Robin and the alien. “It looks nothing like Shrek, it’s orange, dude, what are you even talking about.”

“You wanna argue about this right now?”

“Kinda, yeah.”

Robin gave a thoughtful hum, starting to swing his legs back and forth. “I knew you’d fit right in. Hey, throw me at him.”

“Throw you—”

Shrek bellowed, crouching down and then leaping for them, getting close enough that Kyle jolted in surprise, grip loosening on Robin. It was enough for Robin to slip free.

“That works,” Robin said, twisting in the air and plummeting down to meet the alien. He ducked the clawed hands and grabbed Shrek to pull himself close, smacked one hand on Shrek’s chest and then maneuvered around and used his back like a springboard to propel himself away towards the roof. Kyle darted through the air after him, flinching as what sounded like a firecracker on steroids sounded behind him, followed swiftly by a long string of what was probably alien curse words. His ring helpfully translated them with barely a delay, and wow, yeah his mother would be horrified.

A glance over his shoulder revealed Shrek landing awkwardly on the next rooftop, patting at the flames that had caught on his clothing. There was a small ring of fabric missing on the front, where Robin had attached whatever bomb he’d used.

“Wow, he really is tough,” Robin said, putting his hands on his hips. “He’s after your ring, right?”

“Probably the entity but I don’t think he knows what it really is.” Otherwise Shrek would’ve realized the green Pikachu that had evaporated into thin air was what he was really after, but instead he’d attacked Kyle.

Robin nodded towards Shrek, who had crouched in preparation to jump at them again. “Look alive—he’s coming and I’m running out of toys. You’re gonna have to learn how to make something a little more solid with that ring.”

There was no chance for Kyle to respond; Shrek jumped the gap between the buildings like it was nothing and all of Kyle’s focus went into dodging and trying to visualize something—anything—that could do some damage instead of blankness and panicking. Robin slipped a pair of knives into his hands and was relying on them rather than any of his other weapons, staying mostly out of range and only occasionally ducking in when the opportunity presented itself. The knives were able to slice Shrek, but the wounds seemed to close over quickly. Along with being fast, strong and durable, the alien also appeared to have accelerated healing.

“Some people have all the luck,” Robin muttered, ducking a swing of Shrek’s large claws and backing off again. “Come on, Teen Lantern. You’re an artist, right? How hard is it to picture a hammer?”

Shrek kept swinging at Robin, finally managing to land a glancing blow that sent Robin staggering back towards the edge of the roof. Unlike them, the alien didn’t show any visible signs of tiring, and launched itself at Robin again.

Robin couldn’t keep dodging forever, especially not backed into a corner.

Kyle dropped out of the air, pointed his ring and visualized what he wanted exactly as he did when he was drawing.

The glowing green mecha hit Shrek like a freight train and sent him tumbling over the side of the building.

“Huh.” Robin, crouched low to the ground and with his grapple extended, eyed the direction the alien had fallen. “Nice hammer.”

“Construction isn’t really my thing.” Kyle helped Robin to his feet and then peered over the side of the building. There was a Shrek-sized crater in the alley below, but Shrek himself was gone. “Are you kidding me?”

“I think a tactical retreat might be in order,” Robin said, with a hint of reluctance. His hand drifted up towards his ear. “Should probably postpone our ga—”

The building beneath them shuddered like it had been hit by an earthquake.

Kyle took flight over the side of the building. He wasn’t surprised in the least to see Shrek scaling up the side, claws on hands and feet punching straight through concrete as the alien forcefully slammed his appendages into it as he climbed. “Holy hell.”

“Let me guess; he’s Godzilla-ing it up.” Robin backed away from the edge.

“I think King Kong was the one that climbed.”

“He looks nothing like King Kong.”

“He doesn’t look like Shrek either.” Kyle swept down, hovering at Robin’s side, offering his hands so he could lift them both into the air.

A bright flash of green light had Kyle flinching and covering his eyes instead. A small green Pikachu appeared on the roof, between the two of them and Shrek, who had just launched himself over the side of the roof with an angry shout. A second later he collided with a solid green construct, and then Green Lantern had him captured in a sphere, floating in the middle of the sky.

The entity yawned and disappeared with another flash of light. A solid weight settling on his head told Kyle exactly where he’d gone.

“You kids alright?” Hal asked, turning away from the alien he had trapped in the sphere. He raised an eyebrow behind the domino mask. “Where’s Nightwing? Why are you two out here alone?”

“Nightwing’s hanging around somewhere,” Robin replied, shrugging. “We’re on a training mission.”

“It’s Friday night.” Hal stared at them for a moment, before shaking his head. “Well…have fun. I have to deal with this guy and make sure it sticks this time. We’re still…talking through this whole situation, Kyle, but at least Ion is keeping you safe. Don’t, uh, stay up too late or whatever.”

With an airy salute, Hal flew off, towing a disgruntled Shrek behind him.

“Ion?” Kyle blinked. His green companion leaned forward, hanging upside down in front of his face. Kyle winced at the pull on his hair. “Oh.”

“That all went smoother than expected,” Robin said, kicking at some of the concrete rubble on the rooftop. “I’d almost say we were luck—”

Nightwing flipped over the side of the roof, landing in a crouch and then straightening up to his full height to stare at them impassively.

“—nope.” Robin shook his head. “Belay that.”

Kyle nodded, looking at his feet. “It’s belayed.”

“Tower. Go.” Each word was bitten off and near trembling with rage. “Now.”

Nightwing didn’t even wait for them to do anything, just dove straight back off the building and grappled away. Kyle presumed he was still looking for the others and didn’t expect either of them to disobey him, which Kyle could understand because he was frankly terrifying and only a suicidal fool would dare.

“He’s really mad,” Robin said, head tilted and tone thoughtful, like he hadn’t yet decided if it was a good or bad thing.

Kyle put a hand on Robin’s shoulder and shook his head. “No way. Seriously, of all the shit I’ve dealt with today, that was the scariest. We’re going back to the Tower, dude.”

Robin’s shoulder shook under his hand as he huffed a laugh, a wide smirk stretching across his face. Kyle couldn’t see his eyes behind the domino mask, but he imagined that they would be dancing with amusement. Ass. “Are we? Who’s in charge here, you stepping up?”

“Maybe you’re immune to Batface, being like…related or whatever, but that was my first exposure, okay. I need to build up an immunity or get vaccinated or something.”

“Batface?” Robin asked, sounding delighted. “Vaccinated. We’re definitely keeping you.”

“Yeah, well, right now my options are here or like…the Space Smurfs so I might not be leaping for joy but that’s because the world stopped making sense to me when I was chased through my school by a cosmic entity.” Kyle lifted off the rooftop and held a hand out, wriggling his fingers when Robin made no attempt to move.

Robin cocked his head to the side, chewing on his bottom lip for a moment. “My name is Jason.”

Kyle lost his concentration enough that he dropped back down to the roof. “Wait, what? Isn’t your name like the big secret of the team?”

Robin’s lips twitched like his face couldn’t decide whether to smirk or grimace and ended up somewhere in-between. “It’s more like…we pretend that my name is the big secret, in order to keep the real secret, which is that I gave my name out just like everyone else on day two.”

“Seriously?”

Robin rolled his eyes. “My name is Jason. It’s one of the most common names in the country, what is anyone going to get from that alone? I’m not even allowed to show my face.”

“Is your face a fake secret too?” Kyle asked, intrigued.

“You need to level up before I can answer that question,” Robin replied, only to wince a second later and clutch a hand to his ear as audio feedback screeched from the communicator, loud enough that Kyle winced in sympathy. “What the fuck?”

What did I just say?” Nightwing’s voice was clear and thunderous.

Robin ripped the earbud out and squashed it between his fingers. “Asshole.”

“Did he hear us?”

“Nah, it’s one way unless I tap in.” Robin met his eyes. “We should probably go.”

Kyle held his hands out again. “I promise you that if I drop you in the river…there’s like an eighty-five percent chance it’ll be an accident.”

“You think I’m trusting the math of the kid who got his Space Pikachu to cheat for him?”

***

It was five in the morning on a Saturday and no one was happy.

“A roaring success, as expected,” Eddie said, bleary eyed and on his second smuggled can of energy drink. “Truly, I couldn’t have envisioned a better outcome.”

“What are you complaining about?” Rose asked. “You literally sat in a room and played video games until they found you. For you it was just a normal Friday night.”

“Hah! Incorrect, false, and untrue.” Eddie finished the can and flopped back to lay spread eagle on the grass, one arm thrown over his eyes. “For one thing, even if I did play video games on a normal Friday night, I wouldn’t get dressed down by Nightwing for it and then run ragged with early morning training in punishment.”

Rose kicked at one of Eddie’s shoes, frowning. “It’s not punishment enough if you can still string that many words together.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been awake this early in my entire life,” Kyle said. He turned to Jason—and it wasn’t hard to think of him by a civilian name when he was dressed so casually and only bothering to obscure his face with sunglasses. “You’re nocturnal, right? Do mornings often have a five am this early or did Nightwing make this one special?”

Jason frowned, turning his head slightly. “What.”

“Are you okay?” Connor asked, from Jason’s other side. The three of them were sitting on the steps at the front of the Tower, where they had come to rest after completing the laps that had been their first morning training task.

Kyle licked his lips and thought about it. “No.” He looked back at Jason. “I think your brother might be evil.”

The arm that wasn’t covering Eddie’s eyes shot into the air. “A solid theory from Teen Lantern! And now, from me, a rejoinder—it runs in the family and the blame for this entire debacle falls squarely on you, sir.” His hand lowered until he was pointing an accusing finger.

“Me?” Connor frowned. “Eddie, what?”

Eddie sat up, looking between his hand and Connor. “Dark magics caused this.”

“You’re all freaks and I can’t believe I associate with any of you,” Rose said.

“That’s not what you said last night,” Jason replied, and then put his face in his hands. “That came out…bad.”

Eddie started to howl with laughter and the rest of them followed like it was the most hilarious ever said at five in the morning on a Saturday—and honestly it might have been, Kyle had no way of knowing and no intention of ever experiencing it again to find out.

When they eventually subsided back into exhausted silence, Rose tilted her head back and looked beseechingly to the sky. “We need more girls on this team.”

***

“So, his name is Ion?” Hands on her hips, Kyle’s mother stared down at the green Pikachu in Kyle’s arms. “And he’s a…what, exactly?”

“Er, a manifestation of cosmic…willpower?” Kyle shrugged. The Guardian, Ganthet, had explained it before finally leaving Earth and entrusting Kyle’s training to Hal and the Teen Titans, but Kyle had mostly just wanted to go to sleep as soon as possible and had tuned the majority of it out. “I think he’s kind of important.”

“This is karma.” His mom nodded to herself and went into the kitchen, grabbing the stash of imported tea she kept on top of the fridge. Kyle trailed after her. “This is because I wouldn’t let you have a puppy when you were twelve.”

“I’m almost positive that’s not true.”

While his mother bustled around the kitchen and made her tea, Kyle slid into a chair at the kitchen table and watched. Ion climbed up onto the tabletop and picked up a salt shaker, examining it curiously.

“All right,” she said, sitting down across from him, hands cupped around a mug of tea. “I can accept this.”

A relief, for sure, because it had technically already been decided.

She pointed at Ion. “If you help him cheat at his homework, cosmic entity or no, I will smack you on the nose with a newspaper and put you outside in a kennel.”

Ion’s ears flattened and he put the salt shaker down before casually floating up off the table and out of the room.

His mother’s finger shifted to point at him instead. “Kyle, same goes to you.”

Kyle blinked. “I don’t think cosmic entities have homework.”

That got him a withering look. “Don’t be cheeky, you know what I meant.” She sighed, rubbing at her eyes. “So, every weekend?”

“Yeah.”

“And you want this, Kyle?” she asked, pursing her lips. “You weren’t talked into it, you’re not doing it because some arrogant blue alien said you had to—you want to do this?”

It wasn’t likely that Ion would leave him alone either way, but— “Yeah, Mom. I want to do it.”

The weekend had been fun, but more than that it felt—right. Like he was meant to do it, in a way that only art had ever really fit before.

His mother sighed. “Okay. Then I have one piece of advice.”

“What?”

“That costume does nothing for you, sweetie, use that big artistic brain of yours and design a new one, or there won’t be a single person in the universe who’ll take you seriously.” She took a sip of her tea and smiled as he spluttered in offense. “And go get some sleep, I’m waking you up extra early so you’re not late for school.”

“I can’t believe—school?” Kyle froze in horror, memories of being pulled out of class and incomplete homework swirling through his mind.

Ah, crap.