Back to the Tower

June 11, 2018:

After months away in Smallville, the Clone of Steel returns to Titans Tower. Krypto the Superdog becomes Zatanna's new favourite.

Titans Tower, NYC

The grounds of Titans Island are bright and green in the late spring/early summer. Just, uh, don't go into the river.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

School is now out in BFE Kansas.Senior year. Big darn deal. Conner would never really admit it, but he came to love it there. The Kents took good care of him. He learned a lot, and he's gained a little perspective on normal. Not that he really wants to be normal at all. Normal is not in the cards. The clone packed up his possessions, and he has places to be.

Of course he hugged and kissed the Kents goodbye. But the figure that alights on the island with a big, bulky bag of clothes and a pair of headphones on his head is not alone. A white dog, red cape flapping in the wind flies circles around the young man. Krypto, for the moment, is keeping up with his other friend. The dog's paws settle on the island first, then Superboy's booted feet do as well. He adjusts the bulky old bag over his shoulder.

The young man kneels down, and the dog bathes his face in kisses. "Thanks, buddy. I needed some company." Of course he did. He left home. As full of bravado, salt, vinegar, and sheer ornery spitfire the young man might be, it's always scary to say goodbye. With some care, he adjusts the bag before the dog steals his cookies. "Come on, man. Those are for the team. I gave you your treat already." The dog gives a whining growl in response.

The headphones do not leave his ears. The music is set really low; just enough to drown out some of the other noises. Superboy is having a rough hearing day. His shoulders square, and he looks about for a moment, letting the fear leave him as he starts to smile. "Hey boy, can you find Red Robin?" He asks the dog.

The Tower is as it always is (for certain values of 'always', anyway, since it's probably less than a decade old): That improbable T-shaped structure counterbalanced by its underground levels, the manmade island on which it sits proving to be surprisingly green, a ring of trees around the outer edge creating a kind of barrier against the outside world. Almost, you could forget that it was in the middle of a river cutting through one of the largest, most populous cities in the world… If it weren't for the way the Manhattan skyline loomed in one direction. It created a little world unto itself, where the Titans could refine themselves to better operate in the big wide world out there.

Case in point…

"Come on, you can do better than that!" chides a voice. Low and confident: Red Robin's voice, the voice he uses when he's in costume anyway. And he is in costume, as he always is around the Tower and people who don't know his secret identity. The more lightweight suit he was using for Titans operations, the 'cape' that formed its curious wing system safely stowed in the small backpack that also housed the muon repulor thrusters. With a staff in hand, and a blindfold covering his eyes, he's expecting the person he's chiding to hit him with her own staff.

See, he promised he'd help train Zatanna, because if it came to a pure no-powers fight, the witch was definitely not the most dangerous member of the team. She and Iso both needed seasoning when it came to interpersonal violence, which apparently means sparring matches on the island green, off to one side away from the front plaza.

"It's like that old movie. Stop trying to hit me, and hit me!"

You can do better than that!

"Easy for you to say!" Huffs and puffs Zatanna Zatara, pale face red and clad in simple, but fashionable workout clothes - and all in black, leaving her mostly monochromatic save for the pops of color on her cheeks and the nigh-near unsettling blues of her eyes. "I don't know…" WHACK. "…about you but…" WHACK WHACK WHACK. "…some of us have never…" WHACK WHACK. "Received any training…from….internationally-renowned…master assassins!"

Like that old movie, he says.

"Now you're starting to sound like Spidey."

The heat in New York is unbearable this time of year, leaving her soaking in exertion and humidity. Long black hair has been swept out of her face and pulled in a tousled knot, the tanktop and yoga shorts are supposed to help, but Summer has come and it is unforgiving as ever. Even the Tower's position close to the water doesn't help.

She can understand and even appreciate Tim's noted vigilance when it comes to readiness and preparedness, but right now, all she wants to do is throw the stick at Batman's former Robin, turn around and run straight into the water. It would certainly be cooler than what they're doing right now.

Sounds catch her attention, however. She isn't blessed with keen senses either, but what she does hear is the sound of a canine's whining growl. She pauses, though she has learned since then not to drop her guard; the staff is held crosswise in front of her.

"Was that a dog?"

"And where do you keep getting that cape from?" The dog almost gives Superboy a reproachful look, licks him one more time, then lifts his muzzle. The white dog sniffs the air. Then points, like a dog about to flush game before emitting a soft pop as he flies off. It's a sizzling sound as the dog flies at great velocities. The red cape leaves a crimson streak behind the alien dog as he zooms through the air. It sounds hot. Red Robin likely knows the sound as a certain missile called Krypto hurtles through the air towards the group at great speeds.

Zatanna did indeed and in fact hear a dog. The white creature is delighted to see one of his favorite people; Red Robin. Leaves breeze about and twist in the wind as the superdog flies towards his target.

The dog does not strike Red Robin, and instead begins to bay with unrestrained joy. Heavy, powerful paws dig into the loamy soil as the dog runs around Red Robin and Zatanna, his tail whipping back and forth in obvious canine delight. The dog lifts his head and gives a soft, almost puppy-like little howl, the red cape blowing in the breeze as he tilts his head back.

Then it is wet kisses and happy panting as the alien hound attempts to greet first Red Robin and then Zatanna. Sloppy, delighted canine kisses. It should be obvious who is approaching. From just over the trees, the figure descends. He puts down his bag as his booted feet alight on the ground. "Hey." he says, and his hands slide up to remove the headphones from his ears. Superboy is wearing a black tee with the 'S' shield emblazoned on it. It is tucked into a pair of worn jeans, with a pair of heavy black boots on his feet. His lips quirk in a vaguel cocksure smile that is vaguely crooked on his youthful face. One hand pushes his short cut hair back and away.

"Didn't give my room away, did you?" The tone is complicated. A little sullen, tinged with forced restraint, genuine fear his room is gone and an underlying sense of eagerness.

He does look Zatanna over, because its Superboy. He spares her a slightly brighter smile.

Is the blindfold a handicap or is he just gloating?

Red Robin had a whole speech about it before, about the importance of constantly investigating, constantly interrogating your surroundings. Depending on one sense, as dominant as sight was to humans, was just asking for trouble… It was easy to be blinded by bright lights, by deep darkness, by your own blood running into your eyes. How you had to experience your whole environment, feel the movement of the air, hear the sound of your opponent's footsteps, their breathing. It was all very inspirational.

But Zatanna was right. Red Robin had been trained since he was barely a teenager by various teachers of varying levels of lethality but extreme levels of competence. Where Zatanna had been taught with similar rigor, it was in matters arcane rather than the application of blunt trauma to bad guys.

Was that a dog?

"People walk dogs in the riverside parks all the time, it's not—" Nope it's definitely a dog on the island. He can feel the rush of air as something flies towards him but lands nearby, and honestly for all the weird crap in his life he only knows one flying dog.

Fortunately he gets the blindfold off before Krypto distributes doggy greetings, a grin pulling at the Red Knight's often solemn features. It's been a while.

"Tried, but nobody would take it," is the former Boy Wonder's immediate and easy response, his eyes hidden behind the featureless white lenses of his domino mask as he looks right at Superboy. "What, were you worried we'd replace you? You're the only one who can drag Impulse away from the tv so other people can use it."

She has never met Krypto before, though she has heard of him many times. Imagine to her surprise when a caped dog comes flying into their training grounds and rocketing like a comet, first to Tim, as he seems to know him very well. Despite her unfamiliarity, the distinct 'S' logo is indicative enough as to where the alien dog has come from, and who owns him.

Zatanna is about to say something when Krypto turns his attention on her and she is immediately flooded with canine kisses.

"And who might you be?" Though she already has a guess when she drops on one knee. Shadowcrest is a distinctly 'cat's only' environment - there's a white tiger somewhere in there, as well as her Siamese, Pyewacket. But that doesn't mean she has an aversion to dogs. Judging by how she's acting, it appears that she loves dogs just as much, when she scratches at the scruff around his face with both hands and makes puffy-cheeked faces at him.

"Who's a good boy? You're a good boy! Is Krypto a good boy? Of course he is!"

As Tim and Conner reconnect, the magician contents herself with playing with the alien dog - she's never met one that could fly before, so that is a novelty in and of itself. It wouldn't be long before the dog rolls on his back though, considering Zatanna's attentions, and once he does, she proceeds to give him all the belly rubs.

"So many face licks. So many. Is it because you like me or because you're licking me for the salt?" She can't help but laugh, and at the smile turned her way, she gives Conner a small wave.

"Stranger things have happened. I got beat up by a scrawny kid with a stick once." Superboy counters, his grin taking on a slightly self-mocking cast. He takes a couple of steps over and extends a hand to Red Robin to greet him warmly with a firm shake. His grin remains lopsided. "Impulse just needs someone who shares his curiosity." he gives their other friend a break.

There is a moment of quiet silence as there is this feeling thing to discuss for a matter. Superboy doesn't say anything for that moment, breaking it only with a little declaration. "I've missed you, Buddy." It is a simple sentiment, but heartfelt. If Red Robin will allow it, Superboy gives his arm a gentle grip.

Ugh. Feelings. Sentiment. Blech. Superboy turns to watch the young lady and the dog. "He is the best dog." Krypto gives a playful bark back at that, as if agreeing. Superboy also cautions. 'Careful with all the compliments. He's a lot smarter than he looks." The dog barks again, bark trailing off into a low whine in the back of his throat as if the beast is trying to talk. Superboy's features soften a little. "He likes you. Careful, that means he'll steal your food first." Again, the dog barks at that, as if agreeing. His tail wags quickly, but gently, to not hurt Zatanna.

"I'm Superboy. The good looking one there is Krypto. In private, my friends and teammates call me Conner." he leaves off the Kent surname, for now. His blue eyes regard everyone for a moment. His chest rises and falls in a soft exhalation of contentment. He offers his hand to Zatanna in greeting.

There's a faint snort from Red Robin at Superboy's 'scrawny kid with a stick' remark, but of course he takes his friend's hand with his gauntleted own for a shake. Of course, he doesn't prevent the brief grip on his arm that follows, although of course in front of a young woman they should only be doing very manly man things like punching bears and talking about sports.

"Hasn't been the same without you around, man," the vigilante agrees, his own grin turning lopsided as it becomes clear that Krypto the Superdog is now Zatanna's favourite.

The possibility that the dog is much smarter than an Earth dog and possibly than many humans is something Red Robin has been aware of for a while, so he's hardly surprised when Krypto seems to agree with Superboy's warnings about the canine's mischief. But then, this is the sort of dog who plays fetch with whole trees. The sort of dog who, when he chases cars, is a genuine threat to the car he's chasing.

"Don't worry about Zee, she has a way of finding out secrets," he notes, because it was very obvious to him how Conner left off his adoptive surname. "She even knows mine, which is a long and kind of embarrassing story."

"I can believe it, that he's the best dog," Zatanna tells Conner with a laugh, finally, and somewhat reluctantly extricating herself from the dog's attentions. "And it's fine if he steals food from me, first, though he'll probably be disappointed with some of them." She glances down to the dog, reaching out to poke his muzzle playfully. "I don't eat meat," she tells him in a conspiratorial whisper. "So if you want to steal hot dogs and stuff, steal them from Tim."

And just like that, she reveals that she, too, knows the person behind the domino mask, confirming what Tim says. Pivoting around to face the newcomer, she meets his offered handshake with a pale, long-fingered grasp. "I know," she tells him, a slight hint of amusement on her expression. "Tim's talked about you, Cassie and Impulse over the year and a half I've known him. The t-shirt's a dead giveaway, I've seen the pictures."

Moving towards where all the bottles of water are waiting for them in a bucket of ice, she pulls one out, cracking it open and taking a sip.

"Good. Always needed more brains than just yours around here." Superboy says it with some warmth. "Especially with me done. I heard the impacts on my way over. Glad to see that you are still hitting your friends with sticks." Conner slants Zatanna a small smile. "He used to hide behind sunglasses and act mysterious with his name. You must be pretty good if you figured him out."

He gestures at the shirt. "This old thing? Thrift store special. Anyone could pick one up." He notes. "I would think it was more the chiseled jaw and haunting blue eyes." Yeah, he is a little full of himself but under the bravado there is something else. His tongue is in his cheek; Superboy is making a little fun of himself. A little time in Kansas seems to have taken some of the air out of his tires.

"I really shouldn't keep you from your training." He says it quietly, making making assumptions based on her knowing Tim's name, the training, and the fact that she's incredibly good looking.

Superboy is many a thing, but a fifth wheel, he is not. "You can count on me being around a lot more. I had a promise to keep to family." His eyes narrow a little at the memory, but his smile remains firmly in place. "Don't let me interrupt. I am sure you will both be hitting me with a stick in the near future."

Krypto follows after Zatanna, hoping for a few more moments of her attention, then perks his ears up at Conner, staring at him, as if looking forward to going to Conner's room. "Be careful. He might put your eye out." Conner warns Zatanna.

It does have a whole different weight to it, knowing Red Robin's secret identity: Many of the others just aren't that good at maintaining one, if they even bother. Of the other Titans, it's really only Spider-Man who does. Cassie might try, but really the whole wig and goggles thing has always been a terrible disguise.

But well, some of them have stronger reasons for needing a 'secret identity' than others, right? It's not just about protecting themselves, in the end.

"Hey, I'm good at being mysterious," the vigilante says, defensively. "Gotten a lot better at disguises, too." There was a time when dressing down with sunglasses might've worked: Then Tim Drake became Tim Wayne, became a part of the face of the Wayne Foundation's charitable efforts. It makes anonymity a bit harder to come by.

When Superboy moves to excuse himself so they can continue their training, Red Robin looks towards Zatanna, who looks to have sweat off about two years of her life. He's not entirely sure he'll be able to get her back to it, even just considering inertia.

"Probably a good time for a break, anyway. I've been working on a new nutrient smoothie that might actually taste good…"

Nothing with 'nutrient' in the name ever tastes good.

"…Or I think there's still some pizza in the common room fridge."

"It wasn't so much of me figuring anything out as me being persuasive," Zatanna tells Conner with a hint of a grin, capping her bottle and letting it dangle from her fingers as she listens. Though at the eyeglasses story, she slants an angled look Tim's way. "I mean you guys must've known each other for a while, I don't suppose you saw any of his baby pictures, did you?"

Oh, no.

The mention of the chiseled jaw and the haunting blue eyes has her laughing appreciatively at the quip, a brow perking upwards. "Well, that, too," she tells Superboy unabashedly and without shame. "I'm a big fan as to how the t-shirt stretches out like that, I'm committed, not dead." She winks at him and tosses him a water bottle from the bucket. "It's ninety-degrees out, I know you're Kryptonian, but you still need to hydrate. Everyone should have water on the go if you're spending the summer in New York."

With him moving away, and at Tim's suggestion for a break, she grins at him broadly. "The best idea I've heard all day," she tells him, picking up her gear and following both young men back to the Tower's proper. "Sweet, blessed airconditioning, I never thought I'd miss it as much as I did the last two hours."

The dog leaps up and catches the water bottle, sharp teeth puncturing it and spraying water all about as he shakes it open. His tail and ears are lifted up. He is obviously demonstrating how cute he is as he sprays water all about. The dog shakes the bottle repeatedly as he wags his tail. Superboy just looks at the dog, smiling and giving a faint chuckle. "I know. You like her. She needed to give you the water first." The dog vigorously nods his head, and Superboy looks over at Zatanna. He winks, but not in the creepy way, or so he hopes, but more the playful way. "Most times, it is a boy and his dog. In my case, even the dog gets top billing." The dog sneezes in agreement. Superboy collects his bag. "My parents made sure I ate before I left. I don't mean to be captain Buzzkill, but I need to get set up so I can start putting the Fun back into the Titans." He holds up his left hand at Zatanna, and playfully notes, "I know how to spell."

Tim knows Conner's moods better than most, perhaps better than Conner's. He misses the Kents already, and he's not quite up to the company. "Tomorrow? We'll do something fun and vaguely embarrassing for certain dour men in capes." he eyes Tim's outfit, and warns Zatanna. "No capes." Krypto drops the bottle to bark his disapproval at Conner before picking it backup to put it in the trash.

"Why would you want to see my baby pictures?" Red Robin wonders, turning a confused look on Zatanna. It's honestly impressive that confusion registers through the domino mask completely hiding his eyes… But he's been wearing masks and cowls since he was barely a teenager, so probably he's used to them by now. "What about your baby pictures? There has to be at least one of you in your junior Taekwondo outfit."

No he still doesn't get why his baby pictures, or anyone else's baby pictures, would be a source of entertainment. But that doesn't mean he can't try and turn it about anyway.

"Yeah, that's fine," he tells Conner, who wants to return to his room in the Tower on his own. Goodness knows Red Robin has done similar plenty of times… But then he can be a solitary person to an extremely frustrating degree, as Zatanna and Conner are both well aware. "Spelling's her job these days," the vigilante jokes, indicating Zatanna. Because she's a witch, see. He doesn't explain the joke, knowing full well that would ruin it.

"Hopefully I still have some normal people clothes," the masked young man jokes to Zatanna as Superboy and his Superdog go on ahead back upstairs. "But what's wrong with capes…?"

Krypto's showboating and spraying water everywhere has her laughing and lifting her hands up to ward off the errant spraying. She doesn't seem to mind getting wet, considering the heat. If anything, she looks rejuvenated now, when she whistles and calls for the dog to follow them now that they were leaving the training yard.

Tim's question is legitimate and she wings a bit of water at his direction, flicked from the top of her water bottle. "Because I wanna see if you've always tried to be mysterious your entire life. Do they make baby-sized shades?" Zatanna says, throwing a look over at Tim and flashing him a broad, impish grin, steps taking her back to the Tower's proper. Though the mention of her in her junior taekwondo outfit, she laughs. "There's plenty of those around, somewhere in Shadowcrest…if you're brave enough to try and hunt for them." The place is a maze, and a literal haunted house all days of the year.

What is wrong with capes? "I don't have a costume, so I'm staying way out of this debate," the young woman says with a laugh, starting to veer off from the boys. "I'm going to go take a shower, and then maybe take a nap and do some reading for school. Nice to meet you, Conner. Tim, we need to talk about a thing later."

And with that, she starts back towards her room.

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