You're Gonna Carry That Weight

August 29, 2017:

Red Robin tries to get answers from Spider-Man about the mysterious Spider-Woman (not that one, the one with the hoodie) who seems to have some kind of past connection with the other Titan. Good moods all around.

Red Robin's Lab - Titans Tower

A home away from home for a forensics expert / computer engineer / gadgeteer crime fighter. Has pretty good speakers, too.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Gwen Stacy, Spoiler, Silk, Zatanna Zatara

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Meet me at the Tower when you can.

It was a characteristically terse text from Red Robin, not always the world's greatest communicator. The Tower is a bit livelier now towards the end of summer, with the recent addition of a certain pigeon-detonating Inhuman; still, with most of the Titans being students, the advent of the fall semester might keep some of them away. After all, it's not like they can all teleport, or fly, or run fast enough to cross the continent in under a minute.

It wouldn't be difficult to find the Gotham crime-fighter, once Spider-Man is at the Tower, because the building's computer system - knowing that the team leader is looking for the webslinger - helpfully directs Spidey towards the operations level in an affable, synthesized voice.

It's not an AI by any means, but the Tower knows how to handle itself, and how to steer people towards where they need to go. Of course, given the ways that Fairchild and Impulse have been (secretly) messing with it…

Red Robin is working in one of the labs, a workspace he claimed for his own projects. There's plenty of others, still, the Tower having been designed for a larger group than currently inhabit it, but of course the former Boy Wonder made himself a little home-away-from-home since his primary lab is all the way in Gotham. They're networked, of course - it's easy to arrange for uptime on WayneTech satellites when you know the guy who owns them - but there's still enough lag to make it a nuisance.

With his feet up on a desk, the costumed young man is lounging in what appears to be a very comfortable computer chair, reading through a book that looks to be about… Astronomy and Magic? He's about halfway through already, which isn't too bad since he only got the thing the day before, and he keeps stopping to take notes. There's music playing in the room as well, piped out of one of the desktop computers.

It's… Peppy and cheerful?

In fact, it's K-pop.

Meet me at the Tower when you can.

Five minutes later

Patti ill be threw in a sec WHY APP I NAH THWART WOODSY CUMULATIVE

Ten minutes after that

I MEAN THE WARTS

Three minutes after that

Ok there in a sec

And then a picture underneath.

Of Spider-Man, taking a selfie.

Giving a thumbs up while he aggressively noogies the villain known as the Spot through one of his own portals.

And that's the story of how Spider-Man made it to the Titans Tower late. Somehow. Even when Red Robin literally said 'when you can.'

He's just that amazing.

This is all still so strange for him, though — being on a team. Even still relatively new as he is, the arachnid vigilante has been at this solo for long enough that this all still feels incredibly out of place for him. A distant part of him wonders if he truly belongs, but that ever-present, niggling self-consciousness is easy to shove aside as he makes his way through the Tower with a growing sense of familiarity. You can tell —

"Hey, computer dude! How's it going? I was kinda wondering — can you make yourself sound like whoever? Like — I dunno — if we wanted you to make announcements in Brian Blessed's voice, could you do that? You probably don't understand what I'm saying, do you? I'm just talking to myself, aren't I? … I still love you, computer dude."

— by that. You can still tell by that.

By the time that Spider-Man's finished his rambling, one-sided conversation with the rudimentary computer system, though, he's made it to Red Robin's workplace. This, too, is something he's still getting used to. Actual workbenches. WorkSPACES. With equipment. Equipment that costs MONEY. He still hasn't used any of his, or -any- of the equipment in the Titans Tower, partly because of a clinging desire to keep some of what he can do close to the vest (seriously he's been blowing his cover to WAY TOO MANY PEOPLE lately), but mainly simply due to the fact that he's -still- grappling with all of this. It's a process.

Which doesn't mean he's not still him. Case in point: when he enters, and hears that music. Lenses shutter, like they were blinking. He looks towards Robin. His lenses squint scrutinizingly. And though he catches that book and its curious title (magic: ALWAYS BAD. ALWAYS), the VERY FIRST THING he says is:

"Okay, if you called a meeting here with me -just to ask me to be part of your new K-pop band-…

"… I'm like, so in. One hundred percent. We good? Meeting adjourned? … I guess we oughta come up with a name, though… maybe like, Division R? (R stands for red. Y'know. Because we both wear red. Like — mostly red. Get it??)"

Because he knows his priorities.

The Tower's computer is, sadly, not much of a conversationalist.

Though maybe that has to do with its primary programmer also not being much of a conversationalist at times, and certainly the sort of person to look at the capabilities of a computer system with a kind of ruthless practicality. Why it even has such a chipper tone of voice is anybody's guess… But, at least he resisted his first impulse to make it sound like HAL 9000.

Especially since, despite the general ages of the membership, enough of the Titans are nerdy enough to get the reference.

"I guess we could," Red Robin answers without looking up, the white lenses of his domino mask turned down towards the book still. He turns a page, which certainly lends credence to the idea that he's multitasking, able to both absorb the information in front of him and still carry on a conversation with the wall-crawler. "We could probably have some really good dance moves… But, uh, do you even speak Korean?"

He does.

Which, yeah, of course he does.

Slowly he closes the book, before setting on the desk along with his notes. They're probably not even important, his question to Zatanna about the eclipse and people acting like weirdos was more of a joke than anything else… But put knowledge in front of Red Robin that he doesn't already have, and he'll probably go for it. It's for the best that the books the gothic witch provided were more theoretical than actually filled with Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. Because then he'd know them. And that would probably be bad.

"But, no, actually… I had a weird encounter last week with a young woman in a costume almost exactly like yours. Seems like she had similar abilities, too… The agility, the strength. She even used some wrist-mounted devices to make webs."

She seemed interested in the idea of working with the Titans, until he'd mentioned the presence of Spider-Man, he doesn't say out loud. But he's wondering about it, as he watches the other young man inscrutably.

"So… What's the deal? Long-lost sister? Is she you, but from an alternate reality where everyone's sexes are switched around? Or… I dunno, did someone clone you…?"

Nah, that would be ridiculous, right?

"Do I even speak Korean? I mean — you've heard me, right? I can, like — you know — barely even speak English."

"Or whatever!"

Yep.

"What, can you?" He says that jokingly. A second passes. "… -can- you?" he says, a little more in doubt that before. A second passes. He squints. "… you can, can't you?" He says, flummoxed. A second passes. He's still squinting.

And then Spider-Man just throws his hands up in the air, exasperated.

"Oh my god, you speak Korean, of -course- you speak Korean."

Defeated without Red Robin even having to utter a single word.

Rambling something about how -he- could probably read Korean if -he- was some crazy white ninja heir to a restaurant dynasty (he's still preeeeetty convinced that's the case), he is, fortunately, easy to break out of that joking rant — especially given what Red Robin has to say next. You see, Spider-Man has a lot of powers. Spider-strength. Spider-sense. Spider-talking. And, of course, there's always the classic, spider-selective-listening-because-you're-still-in-guilt-ridden-deflection-over-certain-emotional-triggers. Which is why Red Robin says,

But, no, actually… I had a weird encounter last week with a young woman in a costume almost exactly like yours. Seems like she had similar abilities, too… The agility, the strength. She even used some wrist-mounted devices to make webs.

But what Spider-Man HEARS is,

But, no, actually… I had a weird encounter last week with a young woman in a costume almost exactly like yours. Seems like she had similar abilities, too… The agility, the strength. *CHARLIE BROWN TROMBONE SOUND EFFECT*

Yeah.

Which is why his reply to the caped crusader (junior grade) is an easy wave of his hand through the air. "Huh? Oh, no, like — that's Silk. She's… it's complicated. I can't really tell you the deal or anything because," long pause to consider explaining something that isn't his place to explain and also absolutely about the right person in question, "complicated." Lenses squint anew.

"She's definitely not a clone though. Like. Totally, absolutely sure about that. Clones are ridiculous. Are there — is that like a thing? … Of course it's a thing what am I even saying. Ugh. That's just — skeevy. Ugh!"

Completely Missing the Point 101: Never Give The Subject the Chance to Correct You.

"If I ever get cloned I'm just — I'm going home and never coming back. Gross. Gross!"

Really, Spider-Man's ability to talk is a kind of impenetrable conversational defense - there's simply no room to get a word in edgewise. Though Red Robin's expression is difficult to full read thanks to the mask with is white lenses - not nearly as expressive as the ones on Spider-Man's full head-covering mask, though that's probably completely intentional - there's a faintly visible furrow in his brow, one that would've been hidden if he was wearing his cape and cowl instead of his more lightweight Titans costume.

Tradeoffs, really… But that's on purpose, too. Without the full cowl, he's less inscrutable to his teammates, less of a cipher. As useful as the dehumanising effects of a cowl can be, he's trying to take a different approach as the Titans' leader.

Batman would probably have advised him otherwise, but, well… He's not Batman.

"I've met Silk," Red Robin says at the first available opportunity. "She actually helped when we needed to capture someone with valuable information when Zatanna and Constantine were trapped in Hell. This was different. Silk is taller."

A fact he remembered, having met the girl once, months ago.

Most of that time having been spent in a life or death battle with snake-themed metahumans.

And he hadn't slept in, like, a week.

"But, all right, not a clone. That still leaves long-lost sister or alternate universe version of you. But… Look, I get it. We've all got things we don't want to talk about, we've all got secrets. You and I both want to protect our identities."

Although the way things worked out, Spider-Man is actually one of only a few of the current Titans who doesn't know who Red Robin really is. So maybe he's actually better at the secret identity thing?

"This Spider-Woman, though… She seemed isolated, and kind of… Off? She might be somebody who needs our help."

Of course he didn't mean Silk. Even Spider-Man knew that, somewhere, deep, deep down.

He was just hoping against hope that he was.

Not that it doesn't take him by surprise when Red Robin mentions it's -not- Silk he's referring to. Those lenses widen as the masked vigilante turns his head towards the other, slightly less masked vigilante, like a little, muted expression of confusion. "Huh? Really?" he asks. "Maybe it was Silk, in a—" Silk is taller. "… Maybe Reducto shot her with a shrink ray?" …

"…………… A really crappy shrink ray?"

Look.

… It could happen.

(is reducto even the name of a villain, come on peter -)

Eventually, though, he just gives up. Exasperated, the webbed superhero (menace) just raises a hand to his forehead and pinches the bridge of his nose to the best of his ability. It's actually pretty tough with that mask. Red Robin keeps going, though, and every time he talks, it's like a percussive drum going off in Spider-Man's head. Just blaring, louder and louder, every little note sending flashes of unpleasant memories surging to the forefront and —

"I don't know! Okay!"

— Peter Parker just breaks.

"What, you think — I dunno — all us spider-people know each other? It's not like I — I don't have some kinda secret Spider-Cave where I track every spider-themed superhero or something! I mean — I'm just… I'm just some guy who's got two crazy spider-doubles swinging around and my problems are already bad enough without the Bugle probably prepping up some long expose about how I'm secretly some kind of spider-dracula who's converting innocent people into his weirdo spider-brides or something creepy like that! And it's — I should have copyrighted this thing, you know!" He's not even really hitting any cognizant marks anymore. But… it helps distract him. It always does.

His hands thrown into the air, Spider-Man just walks off, flabbergasted. "She'll be fine, she's tough, probably, we've got other things to do, we don't have to help every webslinger identity-theft ever! It's just — argh!"

He may have pressed a button.

Maybe.

Spider-Man disappears, out the door, frustrated and ranting.

Five seconds pass.

His march back is much more defeated. After all, he knows…

"Fine — it's — look, it's complicated, okay, it — ugh. God. Whatever! What do you want to know?"

… even if he -didn't- know anything, he would never be able to turn a blind eye.

"Ugh!"

For all his theatrics, it's just not who he is.

Avoidant behaviour, Red Robin thinks to himself, watching Spider-Man go to great lengths to try and keep the topic on the apparently somewhat safer Silk.

Admittedly, the former Boy Wonder is curious if there's some kind of a connection there, too, given the again similar abilities… But there was something different, in this case. If it weren't for the height, it could've almost been Spider-Man in falsies and a differently coloured costume.

Outburst of anger seemingly out of proportion with subject, his mental cataloguing continues as Spider-Man gets exasperated, gets mad. Despite the fact that he knows that an angry Spider-Man could turn him into a red smear across the wall, Red Robin remains impassive, calm. Nearly motionless.

After all, he knows that there's a world of difference between 'could' and 'would'. He trusts the webslinger's refusal to use lethal force even more than his own.

The anger, the way that the other masked young man storms off, tells him a lot. It's of a piece with Spider-Woman's own behaviour once he was mentioned: There's some kind of history there, and it's not the good kind. The kind that makes people defensive. That makes people pull away.

Naturally enough, it makes him think of Spoiler. Maybe…

When Spider-Man marches back into the room, Red Robin has… Not moved an inch, of course. It was only a few seconds, after all. Maybe he'd figured this would be exactly what would happen. Understood the other young man well enough to know that he wouldn't be able to bring himself to just storm off and not deal with it.

What do you want to know?

"Nothing that would compromise your identity," Red Robin says, reassuringly. "But it's clear that there's some kind of connection between the two of you. Similar costumes, similar abilities… Is she an alternate reality version of you? Because that would explain a lot…"

He's being obvious. He knows that. And really, all he wants to do right now is really yell. Scream. Just shout that it's not his problem, and wash his hands of all of it. She'll find her way back.

But he can't.

Because he doesn't know that.

And the last time he turned his back on her —

It's almost strangely like he's given up, the way Spider-Man makes his way back. There's nothing overtly dejected about it — he doesn't hang his head, doesn't shuffle, doesn't heave any sighs. It's just… neutral and empty, in some strange way that's hard to define with him so well-covered by that costume. Without a word, the young vigilante just makes a single jump into the air, one that carries him, twisting, until he hits the ceiling on his back. And there he sits, upside-down, knees pushed up toward his chest, like that ceiling was some safe zone for him to think within.

"She's not from here," he confirms as he props his chin upon his knees, his gaze behind that mask focused on the far wall, his tone a level neutrality. "It's not that… weird Hydra-New York, or anything. I already checked that. And… I'd know." He shakes his head.

"But she's not me. Trust me, I found that out the hard way. Have I ever told you I'm an idiot? You ought to know that going forward — I'm a big, stupid, dumb-faced idiot."

Probably good to know.

"She's… I dunno. She's stranded here. The place where she comes from is totally different. Her webshooters don't — it's not the same kind of process mine use. I think maybe she's using ambient moisture with a catalyst…? Anyway, it's just like, events happened differently there, and I'm not even sure just how much of a culture shock this place is for her. She thought Silk was some kind of supervillain, I mean — you've met Silk. She couldn't villainously mastermind her way out of a paper bag. She'd probably have a heart attack before she could bring herself to kick a puppy." He waves a hand through the air errantly. "Things are all upsidedown where she's from, I guess." Says the young man currently sitting upside down. "They don't even have Netflix. They have -Blockbusters-. To -rent videos from-. Whatever that is. Like — what??"

Seriously!

"I don't know. I just… I think she needs help. Getting back."

This time, it's easier to just let Spider-Man talk. It's not the mile-a-minute gabber designed to forestall interruptions, after all… It's someone getting difficult words out of their system, admtting, or at least coming close to admitting, things that they'd rather not even think about.

From where he's sitting in his chair, Red Robin looks up at the ceiling-seated Spider-Man, and he just listens. He's good at listening, at picking out the details and nuance of what people say and don't say.

So of course, he's doing exactly that: Forming possibilities, suppositions based on the admissions and behaviours of Spider-Man and Spider-Woman both. If they're not the same person, or variations on the same person - and he has no reason to believe the wallcrawler is lying to him - then, what? There's clearly something connecting them beyond their shared abilities. A young woman stranded in their world with no way to get back to her own, a world in which Silk, of all people, is some kind of supervillain…

They both know their respective reality's version of each other, the former Boy Wonder realises, and a few things click into place. He can't help it, can't help but put things together like that. It's in his nature. He solves puzzles, riddles, mysteries.

He's had to actively keep himself from trying to figure out who Spider-Man really is. On some level, it grates on him not knowing… Especially because he knows that Zatanna does.

"The Blockbuster thing was a definite tip off that she wasn't from around here," Red Robin agrees, finally speaking. "Though she might've just been from the middle of nowhere." Though it says something about their lives that multiverse theory is more useful to figuring this out than googling to find any still existing Blockbusters in places with terrible internet infrastructure. Alaska, maybe…?

"But if she needs help, then we should help her. It's what we do, right? Somewhere out there is a world without its Spider-Woman. There are people who care about her, who have no idea where she's gone. I'm gonna admit I'm not an expert on interdimensional travel, but it beats the hell out of leaving her to hope that one day she stumbles through a crack in spacetime that just happens to take her home."

He pauses, consideringly… And he makes a decision, because of course Spider-Man is part of the team, and he can't just unilaterally ask him to set aside his feelings about this and just toughen up. Because, well, he has a hunch now, gnawing at him.

"Have you ever met Spoiler? She's on the Avengers, I mentioned her before. She… Well… Anyway, she got it into her head that she was going to do what I do, and in the end I started training her, hoping that it would keep her alive. For a while, things went fine. Great, even. And one day she died. It was an explosion, we got separated, she…" He reaches up, scrubbing a gloved hand through his shock of black hair, a gesture he could never make in his cowled costume. "I knew it was my fault. If I'd been better, if I'd been faster, I could've saved her. If I'd trained her better, she could've saved herself. But she was gone. She was gone, and I couldn't tell anyone. How could I? Who could I open up to about it?" It wasn't long after that his father and stepmother were killed, anyway. Until following in Batman's footsteps made him an orphan, just like those who had been Robin before him.

"And then, I found out that she'd faked it. Taken the opportunity to get out of the vigilante life. When she came back, it was like the sun coming out again." His anger over it, his bitterness, he'd buried for a while. For a while, but…

"Somewhere, Spider-Man, there's people hurting. People who can't talk to anyone about it, because who are they going to talk to about their costumed vigilante friend who just up and disappeared? People who know her out of the mask, who think… What? That she's become just another statistic in a world full of them? How many eighteen year old girls do you think go missing every year? If we can help her, if we can help those people, shouldn't we try?"

He knows, objectively, that Red Robin is right. That they have to help her. That -he- has to help. Not just because of those moral implications — in fact, if it was just that, it would make it so much easier. So much more simple.

No. He has to. He owes her that much. The guilt riding him demands he does. He tries — has tried — to delude himself that helping her could somehow make up for what he's done.

But he always comes back to the same answer.

"…" As Red Robin tries to relate, makes that confession to him, Spider-Man curls his knees upwards until his face is simply lost between them. He knows that the other young man is just trying to help him. He appreciates, truly, the fact that Red Robin's even telling him this — how painful that memory must be. But… rationality is one thing. Sentiment is another. And for as smart as he might be, Peter Parker's always been someone ruled more by the latter than the other.

"… I know," he ultimately says, two simple words that append Red Robin's question a solid half a minute after he asks it. It's so little, with a tone that just sounds drained, when he is normally a font of verbiage. Because even if he knows what Red Robin is trying to do, ultimately it just makes it hurt even more.

"… Thanks, Robin. Really, I mean it, but I… I'm just…"

He shakes his head, once, as if to dispel some errant thought. Slowly, he detaches from that ceiling and falls. He doesn't even think, or notice, the fact that he lands perfectly on his feet. Because his thoughts are far from there.

"But it's okay. It's… really. It's fine." It's not. "We'll help her. We'll find some way to get her back home. We have to." -I- have to, rules his thoughts even if it can't find its way to his lips.

"It… won't be a problem, I promise."

And with that, he just starts walking, intent on finding his own work station for the first time since he's been here. So he can think of what he can do.

And at he sounds convincing, even if he knows it will be a problem.

The truth is that Red Robin kind of figures that there's a more personal guilt at play here.

He knows that Spider-Man is carrying it around with him, like a hot coal he refuses to drop no matter how much it sears his hands: Their conversation after the Lernaea incident was enough to tell the detective that much, even if the webslinger had never specifically admitted to it. He can see the shape of it, the shadow of it - like gravity distorted by a huge, invisible object - even if he doesn't know the details. Now, maybe, he knows a bit more of the contours of the pain that drives the other vigilante.

Failure is inevitable, in lives like theirs. No matter how good they are, no matter how strong, how fast, how smart… They will fail, and people will die. But the real trap is this: If they become inured to it, numb to it, would they still be able to live with themselves?

The former Boy Wonder, at least, has accepted that he has to live with those ghosts. With the terrified eyes of one of his classmates staring up at him while he tried to keep her alive long enough for paramedics to arrive, the light there slowly fading as the gush of arterial blood against the hands providing pressure to her gunshot wound slowly lessened.

That's part of why he doesn't sleep so much.

The nightmares.

"Okay," he says with a nod, rising to his feet as Spider-Man drops with an effortless agility that even Nightwing would envy, from the ceiling to the floor. "If it does become a problem, let me know. We'll figure out something."

He knows better. He knows Spider-Man wouldn't say anything, even if it tore him up. The choice to share that memory about Spoiler's apparent death wasn't just about the people left behind, after all. He surmised - he knew - that it would resonate with the other vigilante in a very direct sense.

You're a real piece of shit sometimes, Tim Drake, he thinks to himself as he watches the other young man leave the room, his eyes hooding behind the lenses of his domino mask. With Spider-Man gone to find his own workspace, Red Robin shuts the door, to leave himself alone with his own guilt.

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