The First Truth

September 01, 2018:

Some days it just doesn't pay to get up in the morning.

Red Robin's Room - Titans Tower

A dorm room like all the others afforded to members of the Titans, but spartan, undecorated and rarely used.


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The dorm rooms are some of the only spaces in the Tower without surveillance.

It's a natural consequence of the push-pull between the need for security and the need for secrecy that exists even among the members of the Titans; even if only a bare handful of the team maintain a secret identity, especially from Red Robin or Cyborg, well… Even that bare handful deserves to have their choice respected. And Red Robin himself isn't exactly handing out his own real identity to the rest of the membership.

Besides, the current incarnation of the team has always had more girls than guys, and the vigilante is many things but he isn't a pervert.

Plus most of the girls on the team could punch him into a coma or magic him into a teacup pig if they felt like it.

So: Red Robin's own, seldom-used dorm room. The Red Knight scarcely seems to sleep, and generally when he does it's at one of his civilian residences, whether the penthouse in Manhattan or the townhouse in Gotham. As a result, while others on the team no doubt have more interesting rooms that reflect their own personalities, especially those that live at the Tower full time, his is just kind of… There. But when he does stay, it provides a safe, isolated space where he can shower and sleep without having to be on constant guard about keeping the calculated distance from the rest of the Titans that protects them, and him, from an angry Batman.

The room is kept cold: He probably got to sleep at around half past four in the morning. He doesn't sleep in his costume, of course, just a red t-shirt and black shorts.

After all, what could go wrong?

It is good to sleep in a cold place. Bodies crave the cold when they drift away from wakefulness. Breathing slows. The tensions of a conscious mind have no further hold.

There is a time in sleep when the waking mind is furthest gone. The unconscious mind, the slumbering mind, moves with slow purpose. Millions of neurons gone silent, then fired all at once. Nothing, everything. Nothing, everything. Over and over. Memories becoming one's very own.

It is a talent of sorts to sleep anywhere. Many people find themselves waking earlier, perhaps out of some primitive preference for the safety of the well-known. Of course, some people live the novelty of calling many beds their own. And where safer than a place you have all but built yourself?

Hours pass. Blackout curtains, or their technological equivalent, are a vigilante's friend. Even then, all things must pass.

There is a woman in Tim's bed. He is at one end. She is at the other. She is resting on her side, above the covers, dressed simply in a black tank top and white athletic leggings. Her black hair pools around her head. It is much longer now than the last time Tim saw her.

When he stirs, she remains motionless. Well, mostly.

"Where has your training gone, little bird?"

The coolness, too, helps avoid nightmares.

It probably comes as no surprise that following the path of the Bat at the age of fourteen has a way of leaving scars on the mind, perhaps even moreso than the body. Seeing things that nobody should ever have to see, learning things that nobody would ever want to know… It leaves shadows in the mind, things that wait until you surrender to sleep before they come out to chase you. It's part of why vigilantes like Red Robin sleep as little as possible: At least the nightmares in the waking world can generally get their jaws caved in.

If you could ask the acolytes of the Bat about their nightmares, and expect to get honest and sincere answers, you'd probably see patterns. Personal failures, the losses of loved ones. A clown, for certain sure. Of course, they'd all list some more individual spectres, things that torment them most. For Red Robin it would be a Haitian man who communes with demons. It would be a rogue with razor-sharp boomerangs. It would be a mostly unassuming Asian woman.

The years have changed him more than her, since he had more changing to do. The boy of fourteen, short for his age, was now a man of twenty-one. Tall, but not a human tank like his mentor: Lean, sharp, an acrobat like his adopted brother. His own hair was longer, too, left to curl around his ears. But the dark blue eyes that open and see Lady Shiva are the same as that child's. Harder, maybe, with the passing of years, but still…

At first, he thinks this is another nightmare.

Then, to his dismay, he becomes certain he's awake.

"I'm really not supposed to have girls in my room," he says, momentary panic manifesting as glibness while he shifts his weight as subtly as he can, trying to figure out just how quickly he can fall out of the bed.

"Sh. Look at my feet. Look at my hands."

Lady Shiva is positioned in one of the many ways that people arrange themselves when sleeping on their side. At least, apparently. Someone with a violent, paranoid, and — most of all — brilliant mind would notice the subtle amount of leverage she's prepared to give herself. She isn't obviously in some kind of predatory posture. It's just enough. Just what's needed. Nothing more.

"If you fell off the side I would be atop you before anything else. Then I could do anything. Probably with your throat."

Shiva smiles. Oh, those smiles again. Little satisfied hints of happiness. The things that apparently bring joy to the Lady Shiva range from terrifying to baffling.

"But perhaps you will try harder after this reminder."

The word that crosses Tim Drake's mind when Shiva points out her current position - and with it, his own potentially fatal lapse in awareness - would break Alfred Pennyworth's heart.

He sees it now, the likeliest chain of events unspooling in his mind - and they don't end well for him. Instead, he starts to slowly sit up, pushing the covers off of himself as he does so… But he keeps his attention on Shiva throughout. There's few people he'd less want to be stuck in a situation like this with than her, though there's the cold comfort that most of those would've probably started cutting on him before he even woke up.

Instead, there's the curious sense that this is something at least adjacent to the idea of a former teacher's concern about a lax student. In some ways, that's even more harrowing - putting something so normal next to Lady Shiva just seems all the more bizarre. Imagine finding her out shopping for groceries.

"How did you even—" No, that's not important right now, that's not the immediate concern. She was good at getting into places where she wasn't supposed to be. Extremely good at it. "I'm definitely not going to sleep for the next couple days, if that's what you were after."

Slowly, carefully, he starts to ease himself off the bed: The kind of cautious movement you use in front of a predator, not wanting to provoke it with weakness or surprise it into action, either.

Shiva watches Tim. The watching is very likely unpleasant. After this killer of people pointed out how easily she could kill Tim, she seems content to let him struggle out of bed while that implied threat just breathes.

Tim takes his time. Shiva lets him. She does not respond to his question. She does not respond to anything, save for her gaze tracking his movements. Shiva sees everything. The little tensing and relaxing of muscles. Must it make this situation more or less interesting for her to watch?

Several moments in to Tim achingly easing himself off the bed, Shiva abruptly and casually rolls away from him and onto her feet. She stands, taking a few steps toward the door, where she puts her hands on her hips and glances around the spartan walls of the room.

"Do you know why I agreed to teach you, little bird? What do you remember?"

He knows where everything in the room is on an almost instinctual level, like how you know where your hand is without looking… That's, of course, assuming Shiva didn't move anything as part of her 'test'. He knows where his suit is, where his utility belt is. Weapons, tools. But of course, having been indoctrinated by one of the world's great (possibly paranoid) contingency planners, there's more at hand than just those, just in case. It was safer here to have those sorts of things laying around, useful caches than it would be at his home.

Here, the identity that must be kept secret is reversed from what it would be there. Here, it's Tim Drake who's the nonentity.

What do you remember?

"You seemed to think it was amusing," the vigilante replies. "Maybe you wanted to see what I would do. If I could be turned into a killer." Any one weapon, and he'd picked the staff. Useful, for a fourteen year old fighting opponents with the advantage of age and size on him. Useful, for someone whose path meant that being outnumbered in a fight would be the rule rather than the exception. But not a killer's weapon.

"Well… I've been a lot of things since then, Shiva, but a killer still isn't one of them."

Shiva is making no attempt to stop Tim from reaching for anything. The advantage she mentioned earlier — her ability to strike at him before he could do anything else — has been willingly ceded. She even has her back to him.

But, what if…?

Shiva turns her head enough that a hint of her face can be seen over her shoulder. There is laughter behind her tone, though she is not known to do something so human as laugh.

"'Killer.' That is the memory to which you have clung. Barbaric."

Shiva moves lightly on her feet. She steps forward, turns, and continues moving toward the door with a few backwards steps. She is now on the opposite side of the room from Tim, leaned against the wall, hands behind her back. The handicaps are layering on.

"It is said the Batman keeps metahumans out of Gotham. Ones he does not tolerate, at least. It is said that the only place as dangerous as Gotham at night is Gotham at day. Is this true?"

It isn't as though the idea doesn't occur to him.

If there's anything that could be called the common thread between the different teachers and trainers Tim has had in the past several years, it's the exhortation to never fight fair. He'd taken the lesson to heart more than most of the others who followed after the Bat: Creating and exploiting vulnerabilities was a key part of the whole modus operandi, but many of the others didn't really understand what that meant, or didn't fully internalise it.

And yet…

And yet, he had to look deeper. Had to ask why.

Someone like Shiva wouldn't show her back to him without a reason behind it. She wouldn't seemingly give up the advantage without cause. Perhaps she was inviting him to attack, so she could see. How would he do it? How much better would he be at it now than he was before?

"Batman doesn't like elements he can't control," is the uncontroversial response from the former Boy Wonder. "Besides, in Gotham a metahuman is more likely to turn out like Killer Croc than Captain America. And we both know there's places more dangerous than Gotham."

His own position moves, as Shiva's does. His bare feet are nearly silent on the thin carpet as he keeps the blinded window behind himself, side-stepping closer to the desk.

"Why so curious about the Bat?"

Shiva tilts her head to the side. She half-lids her eyes. You seemed to think it was amusing, Tim had said.

"Said the bird who devoted its life to another path," she says. "Why are you?"

Shiva does not wait for an answer. She exhales, as if finding satisfaction after a pleasant jog.

"It will amuse me to stay in Gotham for now. Every few days, I will allow myself to be found if someone clever does the seeking. Consider it a kindness extended to the family of my cherished student."

It's a case of fundamental disconnect: On some level, Tim simply can't grok what motivates Shiva to do what she does.

Perhaps that's why he'll never be as good as she is, a pure artist of violence.

"You know I'll warn them," he reminds her, unnecessarily. He's colder, harder than the boy she trained those years gone, but not so far gone that he'd let the others of his curious family of cicumstance wander around oblivious to the presence of a lion in their midst.

He can't help but feel worry, then - not for himself, but for the others. A cold grip of panic, a sour sense of guilt toward those who wouldn't understand what they were dealing with. Stephanie, or even Damian…

"If you think you're just going to hurt whoever you want, you're wrong."

Brave words, though they do beg a very pointed question, don't they?

"I do know you'll warn them," says Shiva. Tim has the immense misfortune to be one of the few people with some level of knowledge about what passes for obvious humor from Shiva. The mere repeating back of words to him is done with apparent conversational neutrality.

But that she says nothing more is the real humor. Nothing more needs to be said. The chain of actions answers itself. She gave him this information, clear as the day behind the blinds, plain as her hands she's hiding behind her back.

It must amuse Shiva to be like this.

Shiva's expression softens. There is something like affection there. It is something like affection because Tim has seen her give these loving looks to corpses she has beaten the life out of, even as cooling blood ran down her face.

"I hope I still have a few things teach you while I'm here, little bird. You certainly remain one of my favorites. I look forward to meeting the others. For now, I will remind you of the first truth so that you may reflect: I don't hurt whoever I want. I only hurt people who let me."

Shiva moves with fluid sureness that is all at once easy to follow and difficult to react to because of her uncanny lack of hesitation and perfect directness of motion. She opens the door, slips out, and shuts it without a sound.

Figuring out how she got into and out of the building is going to be a project. At least she was kind enough to alert Tim to the hole without asking for a finder's fee.

And there's the nightmare again.

It would be bad enough if Shiva was merely incredibly dangerous: Incredibly dangerous is something Tim has acclimated to having to deal with, as a literal matter of survival. Incredibly dangerous can be managed, in its own way, with care and caution and forethought. She was no madwoman like those that seem to sprout in Gotham like weeds.

Even if there was that fundamental disconnect, even if he couldn't really understand her motives, she was terribly sane. Rational, in control, not tossed back and forth by mania and delusion. Just… Alien.

He watches as she goes, long silent moments after the door shuts, Shiva's words repeating in his head. Not simply out of some kind of panicked replay: He turns them over, looks at them from every angle. Searching for the possibility of hidden meaning, of a clue to what she might be after.

Nothing presents itself.

Slowly, tension unwinds because he makes himself relax. He needs to shower, to change, to put the easy confidence of Red Robin on for the rest of the team. And then…

And then, it seems, he needs to learn what Lady Shiva has decided to teach him.

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