Mad Ninja Skills, Man

February 22, 2018:

With Spider-Man's recommendation, Red Robin seeks out a certain stretchy superheroine to talk about becoming a Titan.

A rooftop in Jersey City, NJ

If it weren't for Gotham, Jersey City would be the largest in New Jersey. Definitely less evil clowns, though.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Batgirl, Batman, Batwoman, Impulse, Iso, Robin, Spider-Man, Squirrel Girl, Static, Superboy, Zatanna Zatara

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Peter had said something about Red Robin meeting people on rooftops. He did also say something about not commenting on Red Robin's name. And lots of seriousness. And be honest and be yourself. And it all sounds like she's being set up for a blind date instead of an interview for the Titans.

What's he going to ask her, though? Why she wants to be a hero? Why she wants to be a Titan more than anywhere else? Is she aware of how this is all going to ruin her life?

She didn't stop for a burger and fries. She has a bag of samosas instead, and a thermos of hot tea. She is going to be going between rooftops tonight, one earphone in one ear. There's a bag crossing over her shoulder and strapped around her waist, keeping her dinner and thermos secure as she hops around the city.

She has her patrols, too. No one told her she had to do it. But weird stuff happens in this city like every other, and nobody really pays attention to Jersey City. It doesn't have the cachet of Gotham or New York, and she's getting better at the parkouring. Especially because she can stretch her arm to catch herself if she misjudges.

Tonight, though? She's sprinting, sprinting toward the edge of the rooftop of a sixteen-story building to land on one across the street. Not easy, not for a normal person. You need tools to do this. That, or you need to be able to fly.

Flying squirrels can't… technically fly? But they can glide, and so can Kamala when she stretches her costume and her… well, herself, from wrist to ankle, catching the wintry breeze and floating across the street to land on the other side. Her toes graze the roof and she stumbles just a bit before catching herself, stretching back down to normal-shape and wobbling a little in place, arms outstretched as though afraid she might fall any minute.

"Phew." She didn't eat asphalt this time! Two out of three times she doesn't get hurt doing this maneuver. It's a new record. To celebrate, she turns around, walks to the corner of the roof, and sits down to pull out her thermos and her bag of still-hot dinner.

"So that's your thing, then?" says a voice from behind Kamala on the roof, shortly after she sits down. "Some kind of… Squirrel girl?"

There's amusement in that voice; a young man's, but low and confident. The kind of voice you'd expect to take charge of a situation. The kind of voice you'd attach to somebody who expects everyone to do their best, and then do a little more.

The figure that voice is attached to, as it turns out, is indeed a young man, in a costume of red and black with yellow accents. There's no cape, at least not at the moment, the bandoliers that cross his torso to meet up at the stylised bird head logo on his chest apparently holding some kind of small backpack against his shoulderblades. No cowl, either: A black, jaggedly-designed domino mask covers his eyes and partially obscures his features, white lenses turning the first thing people look to for signs of reciprocal humanity into something featureless, something alien. His black hair is left to stir lightly in the late-winter breeze, spiked up with some kind of possibly superhuman hair product. Maybe he invented his own, he is some kind of super-genius with nearly infinite resources and a habit of not sleeping.

The other thing, of course, is that despite what Spider-Man might've told her about the leader of the Titans, he sounds - and looks, with the faint smile playing across his features - more amused than anything else. He's seen the video from the security cameras, of her interesting encounter with Spider-Man and Static. He has… At least some idea of what she does.

And it's only like 25% squirrel-related, surely.

It might be the fault of the earphone she has in. It might be her distraction of the hot snacks in her bag. It might be a dozen things, but whatever it was…

The thermos goes soaring out and toward the ground, but luckily it's still capped. The bag of samosas flies upward as her hand does too, and beautiful triangles of chickpea go arcing through the night air. When Kamala startles, she startles hard.

But she also recovers quickly. One arm darts downward to catch the thermos and she leans that way while the other hand holds the paper bag open to catch her dinner. She does, too, manage to do so without ruining it, and as much as it was an unintentional series of events, the instant clumsiness translates into some actually almost graceful recovery. In the end, she's caught a series of fried snacks in a sack and rescued her imperiled thermos, and both get set neatly on the edge of the building as if she's afraid they'll both shatter.

She regards Red Robin with a smile that actually hits a mark between pleasant and wry. She's always doing something like this. If she ever meets a Titan without dropping something, it'll be a first. She, too, has a domino mask rather than anything really covering her face or hair, and there's clearly a difference between their costumes: hers is pretty good, a few steps above a hoodie and leggings, but it's obviously homemade. Homemade with some interesting additions, but still, not made in a billionaire's workshop.

The face behind the domino mask relaxes a bit. She's comforted by his manner, and as she reaches into her bag, she pulls out a smaller thermos and offers it up.

"Spider-Man said you probably like coffee. I decided I might as well be prepared." And if she didn't end up seeing him tonight? Just like last night, she'd drink the coffee herself after finishing off her own thermos. "I'm almost sure Squirrel Girl is someone else? I swear there's someone who talks to squirrels. Me, I'm just the limbo and hide-and-seek champion of Jersey City. Ms. Marvel. It's a real pleasure to meet you."

Plus: Mad ninja skills, man.

Red Robin's skills aren't the only ones that are mad, of course, as Ms. Marvel proves as she catches the items his sudden arrival inadvertently(?) made her drop. It's not just stretching abilities, whatever their origin; he was pretty sure after what he saw on the Titans Tower security cameras, but he had to be sure. Whether they were some part of her abilities, a natural inclination, or something she'd trained, the young woman's reflexes were remarkable. Maybe not nearly precognitive the way Spider-Man's seemed to be, but still…

He does it, without even thinking. Analysis. Collecting and sifting through data. What he sees, hears, smells, experiences. Filed away carefully. The costume is hardly professional, but she isn't just wandering around in street clothes. Something she made herself? And she's… Offering him coffee?

Right. Spider-Man, of course.

There's no sound as his booted feet move over the rooftop, despite the obvious weight of the soles. Each step is careful, his weight precisely controlled, but it doesn't look like it. Looking like you were being careful would defeat the whole point. In the end, though, he settles himself down on the roof by the young woman. Well, he isn't going to pass up the coffee, he supposes, though it's probably not quite the 'peel the paint off the walls if you aren't careful' level of strength he prefers.

Honestly nobody else would ever want to drink his coffee. Not even most of the rest of the Bat-family.

"You definitely made an impression on Static and Spider-Man," he says, watching the girl from behind those featureless white lenses. "I'm Red Robin. The red part is important, Robin is somebody else these days and he's not nearly as friendly as I am. So, Ms. Marvel, I hear you want to join the Titans."

He might be surprised by this coffee. It's a dark roast, very faintly sweet, but richly brewed with cinnamon and cardamom. Pakistani coffee. Strong. STRONG. Maybe not as strong as Tim brews it for himself, but it's rich and flavorful and packs a certain caffeinated punch. Just right for someone who needs to keep going all night.

She notices the way he walks, or at least the way he doesn't make a sound. No crunching on the tarry gravel of the roof. No… actual sound at all. She shouldn't be surprised, but she's never actually been around any of the Batfamily, at least not up close. On a clear night in Gotham, you can occasionally see a *whoosh* of cape if you're lucky. It's like whale-watching, if Gotham is a great deep dark ocean.

She smiles at him, though she's cleary trying to see some kind of… of humanity behind those pale and alien lenses. She just has wide brown eyes. This guy has white domes.

It takes some serious restraint to not say 'yes there have been several Robins over the course of the years and I have written fanfics about all of them' and replace that with "Red Robin, then. I've heard a lot about you. All good! And I do. I feel like… I really don't want to be just a solo practitioner anymore, if that makes sense. And I feel like I'd fit in among the Titans." Agewise. Personalitywise. And other ways, too, for that matter.

"I understand you're the man who makes the decision, and. Well. I wanted to find out what you were looking for in new members. And if you want a samosa. I mean, that wasn't my goal specifically, but they're good and hot, if you want one."

There are a lot of theories, you know, about how many Robins there have actually been: Few people outside of those 'in the know' actually guess the real number. Usually they guess more than there actually have been, figuring that the Batman's sidekicks must meet all sorts of grisly ends when he keeps throwing them up against the likes of the Joker or Black Mask or Killer Croc. One popular theory that makes the rounds in Gotham is that the Bat actually owns a bunch of orphanages across the country, training disposable children for his own use.

Some might argue that the reality is, in its own way, worse.

"I try to make sure people hear as little about me as possible," Red Robin admits, with a self-deprecating grin. He's been more than willing to let some of the other Titans take the obvious spotlight, since it lets him work, and of course the less attention that comes his way the less strain is placed upon the secrets he carries. What happens if somebody sees Red Robin on television and just happens to recognise him?

But he learned a long time ago that getting things exactly the way he wanted them was never really going to happen. It's a lesson which has… Well, at least it's tempered his control issues. A little.

Kind of.

Maybe.

"It can be difficult," he says, though what he means isn't immediately clear. Difficult to make those decisions? Difficult to know if he wants a samosa? "Working by yourself. Trust me, I know." He'd tried to work that way, to follow that ideal of the lone Dark Knight. But what had that gotten him? Nothing. Less than nothing. It was only by working as part of a team, with people he trusted, that he really accomplished anything. "But working with a team is a different kind of difficult. There's going to be personality clashes. There's going to be times when you have to follow the lead of somebody you won't want to." It's like a family, he doesn't say. He doesn't know what her personal situation is like, after all, and he's well aware of the sore spot family can be. Intimately aware.

"This is good coffee," the vigilante says. "And, sure," he says, meaning that she can join, before he adds: "And yeah I'll have a samosa, thanks."

There are forum debates about how many Robins there have been. And if Batgirls count as Robins. And whether all the girls are Batgirls and the boys are Robins or if a girl can be a Robin or if Batwoman technically counts, and if Catwoman technically counts, which she almost certainly doesn't… and has there been more than one of those?

There are entire forums. Huge debates. Flame wars. Factions. Nothing Red Robin wants to know about, she's quite confident. And nothing that would be improved by knowing how many bones they've all broken, how many scars they have, and how young they were when all those things happened. Good little soldiers.

Kamala opens her own thermos, fragrant with strong black spiced tea, sweet and milky, and takes a long and thirsty drink. She's listening, though, and sets her tea down between them. "I can't imagine what it must have been like for you. What it still must be like. I've never really been part of a team, at least not like that. But I've been able to… to work with other people. There was this time, see. All these other kids from my school were just… they got hit by this horrible nihilism. But when they woke up, when I got through to them? They saved themselves. That moment of connection, I… I like to think that's what a team is. At least sometimes."

Awkward smile time. But it's earnest, for all its awkwardness. She passes the bag of samosas and offers some napkins as well: they're a little greasy and she's wearing gloves, too. They're still piping hot in the inside, and spicy, too.

"Mmm? Thanks! My mom made it." She bites her lips and ducks her head: "She knows. She… kinda knows. She doesn't know everything, but when I tried to tell her, she…" A soft, warm smile: "She trusts me. Trusts my judgment. So I — "

She's just twigged to it. "Wait, you said 'sure'. Do you mean… like, 'sure' sure? As in Titans sure?"

It's bad enough knowing that Batburger exists.

That there's fast food themed after himself, after his 'family', after the maniacs and monsters they work to protect Gotham from. He's still pretty sure that if he dug deep enough it would turn out that Lexcorp owned the brand, but he hasn't been able to find anything conclusive as of yet. And the worst part is that the food is actually pretty good.

The scars, at least, are generally confined to less visible areas of the body… But it can make for an awkward beach season, to be sure. Especially after some kind of leech demon tries to chow down on your trapezius. Of course, the worst scars aren't the physical ones, generally speaking.

Naturally, as Ms. Marvel speaks, Red Robin is refining his analysis of her. Adding things here, discarding things there: It was never about her powers, not really, though he remains the only non-metahuman among the current crop of Titans. It was more about her. What sort of person would she be? Did she need the Titans to provide structure, to give her some kind of assistance in the dangerous business of adapting to the fact that she simply wasn't like everyone else?

So many young people were left to their own devices, when it came to that. Mutants could find help with their own kind, sure, but what about the rest of them?

So, he lets her talk. He takes a napkin, and he gingerly retrieves a samosa from the bag, using the napkin to keep his glove clear from grease and debris while he chews, and watches her. She talks about her mother knowing, at least some of it. Trusting her. Healthy home life. That one was a rarity. And…

As in Titans sure?

"Yeah," the Red Knight replies, having both swallowed his food and wiped his mouth before speaking. Even before he was part of the long list under the care of a certain indefatigable butler, he'd been mostly raised by his family's Scottish housekeeper, and she would no more countenance talking with your mouth full or getting crumbs everywhere than Alfred Pennyworth. "The Titans exist to help young, exceptional people, Ms. Marvel, and I figure there's two possibilities here. One, you're an incredibly good actress and this is all part of some evil scheme to destroy us from within… Or two, you're exactly who you seem to be. A genuine, sincere young woman who wants to help. Either way, I'd rather have you close at hand."

None of which explains why he put the 'evil scheme' option first, of course. Maybe it's a joke?

It's not a joke.

Kamala actually STARES at him while he speaks. She's halfway through a bite of samosa as he begins. There's clear surprise and delight (and shock, and honestly the shock is taking prescedence) and it's only the memory of her mother tapping her chin that keeps her from also showing some half-chewed chickpea filling.

It's the content that keeps her from swallowing. She continues staring at him in astonishment. Is he kidding? He's kidding.

It's Red Robin. He's CLEARLY not kidding.

So she takes a moment, reaches out, grabs her thermos, and drains about a full cup of it to wash the samosa that is now glued to the inside of her mouth. Breathe. Don't cough. Don't accidentally spit over the side of the building.

She manages all of it and even a deep breath afterward. See? She's growing up, becoming more composed.

"I'm. Flattered? You're making me almost wish I WAS that impressively evil. I'm not, though, for what it's worth. I'll do the Titans proud, I promise."

A moment to let that sink in. Then:

"So what… what do I do? Is there a secret handshake? I'm really hoping there's a secret handshake. Are there dorms? I don't know if my parents will let me move out, but we can find out. There will clearly be boys there, but I'm a good and trustworthy child and a credit to my family, so there's that. …Is there a cafeteria? Oh God, I'm asking you stupid questions now, I'm SORRY."

Evil infiltrators is a serious concern in the superheroic world.

It's a whole thing.

"I mean, that's what you would say if you were secretly evil," Red Robin interjects. Both because it is, and because he is messing with her a little bit, now. It's still a valid concern, though. Maybe all the shapeshifting stuff is because she's actually some sort of metamorphic alien, or demon. Or a Clayface. What if she's a Clayface and he lets her into the Mud Room and she takes control of all the synthetically engineered metamorphic silicate compound? Turns into some kind of Clayface Kaiju, rampages all over Manhattan?

These are the sort of worries you have to entertain when you're the leader of a superhero team. Especially a superhero team mostly composed of people who would not worry about anything of the sort.

"There's no secret handshake yet. There are dorms," Red Robin answers, addressing Ms. Marvel's questions in roughly the same order she's asking them. "You don't need to move in, you can just use your room there when you're in New York. Mostly it's Iso that lives there, I think Silk relocated, too. But yes, there's boys. Myself, Superboy, Impulse, Spider-Man, Static…" He tilts his head, pensively: He's eating another samosa. "There's a cafeteria, I guess you'd call it, we have a big kitchen and a central living area. We have to do our own cooking, the Tower doesn't have any civilian staff, it's just us. And your questions aren't stupid, Ms. Marvel, it's important to know what you're getting into, right?"

"I mean, when do we ever REALLY know what we're getting into?" Oh, Ms. Marvel means it as a half-joke, but given what happened in Genosha and all, it's… not all that funny, really. Not knowing what you're getting into is why Batman is known for being prepared for anything and why there's no known list of all the things Tony's suit can do.

But she does give Red Robin a gentle and friendly (and telegraphed) shove in the arm when he starts teasing her about maybe being secretly evil. "You keep on with that and you'll drive me to evil. Muahaha. Hahaha. Haha. Honestly, if you saw me in the school play when I was in the third grade, you'd get rid of any ideas that I was some kind of amazing actor. Um. I know there's other things. Anything forbidden, apart from generalized evil? I don't think I'm going to do anything you wouldn't like, but. I have college, an internship, a family. I've teamed up with some pretty cool people. I'm assuming none of that is off-limits… oh. Do we need to give, ah, secret identities? Not that I won't. But it's kind of nervousmaking."

I mean, when do we ever REALLY know what we're getting into?

Red Robin's only outward response to that is to crack a wry smile, because really… As hard as he tries, the answer is 'maybe half as often as he'd like, if he's lucky'. And that's even before he started getting involved in all of this magical stuff courtesy of his close association with a certain Zatanna Zatara. Every time he thinks he really has his footing in the world, he learns there's a wider, weirder world out there. And the worst part… The worst part is that he kind of likes that.

"Pretty standard superhero rules. No killing. Our first responsibility is to protect innocents and minimise damage. At least try to comply with the legal authorities, technically the Tower and the island it sits on belong to the City of New York, they're just letting us use it. We're not an exclusive team but… We are our own team, you know? We don't work for SHIELD, or the Avengers, or even the Justice League." The desire for independence is, he knows, a natural impulse for a young adult. What he's done with the Titans is, he knows, simply that but writ large. But he won't let anyone compromise it. Not even Batman.

"And nobody has to reveal their civilian identity if they don't want to. Some of the members, like Zatanna, don't really have one. The private rooms and obviously the bathrooms don't have any surveillance, so you can feel free to be yourself there if you want to just be Ms. Marvel with the rest of the team."

The explanation is conspicuous, though not everyone would be inclined to pick up on the point made: That the rest of the Tower is surveilled.

And Kamala's smart enough to pick up on that. Her mouth twists to one side and she nods, finishing off her samosa. It's starting to get cold—at least, the samosa is. The roof is already cold.

The rest of it, though? She nods her approval. She doesn't want to belong to some kind of… junior group. Some subservient team. What they do, even if they haven't all been doing it for a really long time, is just as important as anything else.

"That suits me just fine, honestly. I guess I should have asked all these questions before I begged to join. But I. I knew what I was getting in to. As much as anyone ever really does. I knew where I wanted to be; that's all."

Her smile is sweet and cheerful. And genuine. "I'm also… really thrilled to meet you. I think I said that, but it bears repeating, because I was a little terrified to meet Red Robin. I was afraid I was going to have to be intensely serious or you wouldn't take me seriously. And then I thought about it and figured well, you had to okay Spider-Man and Static and you probably saw what happened when I met them, so you'd probably be okay with me."

"If you think I'm serious," Red Robin says, "you should meet Batman."

He means it as a joke, but the comparison is apt.

Also what he doesn't realise is that Ms. Marvel would probably totally want to meet Batman. This puts her in a distinct minority.

"Anyway… Don't worry, once you meet the others you'll understand. It's not about everybody being serious, it's about having a variety of different perspectives." Most of which are less serious than his, but then he's been doing the costumed vigilante thing since he was fourteen years old, and took up the role of the Boy Wonder after the brutal death of his predecessor, and then was trained by assassins and witnessed all manner of human cruelty and depredation. The fact that he's looked so deeply into the dark mirror of the human psyche and remained in any way functional is, frankly, a miracle.

"I think you're going to fit in just fine, Ms. Marvel," he confides in the young woman, because well… He's pretty sure she is. "You'll have to thank your mom for me for this coffee, though," the vigilante adds. "And… Maybe get me the recipe, it's good."

A man can't survive on coffee that can double as an engine degreaser alone, you know.

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