Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.
Spoilers: Various AU-ized ones for older storylines.
Summary: There's something Dick's been missing.
Ratings Note/Warnings: Not for the kinder. Content
some readers may find disturbing.
Author's Note: Fourth in the Intimates series. Takes place
vaguely concurrently with "A tighter confinement." Won't
make much sense without the others.
Acknowledgments: To Betty, Livia, LC, and Marcelo for
audiencing, encouragement, and helpful suggestions. To
Jack for bending my head around Dickwards, and then
It's a little strange. He almost never feels like Nightwing
these days -- or like anyone who *could* be Nightwing --
when he has Jason riding pillion on his bike.
(And he knows, deep inside, that the kid only uses the term
'bitch seat' to make Dick wince.)
If anything, he thinks, it should make him feel *more* like
Nightwing. Jason is *Robin*, and has been for long enough
that even now, with him snoring into the helmet radio and
less holding on than slumped against Dick's back, with him
in his civvies... he's Robin.
Little wing, and never mind that he's pretty sure the kid's
going to outweigh him in another year. But he's also Jason,
and that changes... something. Dick isn't sure *what*,
There's something. There's...
It's no easier to pin down than anything else has been
tonight (and Jesus, *Cass* --), so maybe it works.
Gotham is waking up around them, sluggish and disbelieving
of the sun on the horizon as ever, forcing Dick to be
*aware* of just how loud the engine is, Bat-standard
muffling and all. It makes it harder to really open things up,
no matter how well he knows, by now, of just how
*quickly* he can get them both back home to the manor
if he does.
Then again, he doesn't really want to send Jason flying
off an overpass or something, so --
He *does* remember the days when it would've been
tempting to do just that -- and to catch him just *barely*
in time -- but...
It's the same Gotham, more or less, and they're headed to
the same manor -- also more or less, but he doesn't think
he's quite the same person. Like maybe the next time he'll
put on the Nightwing uniform, it'll feel like it's... time for a
Funny how those words used to seem so huge, like maybe
there wasn't really a world outside of Gotham -- no matter
how many times he'd crossed over and through it with the
Titans. Like maybe there wasn't a *life* outside of
Gotham -- for him, anyway. And while there's more than a
little truth to that, in some ways -- he keeps coming
*back*, doesn't he? There's also...
He feels like he's missing something -- like he's *missed*
something, or maybe a lot of somethings. More than the
little show Jason and Cass had put on tonight to keep him
from going to see this 'Avatar,' kid, that's for sure. Baby
vigilantes running circles around the old man -- or trying
Which is -- always -- funny, and also always tends to give
him that feeling of warmth and... *something* which he
craves -- he *knows* he craves it -- but.
Maybe that's it, or part of it. He never got his degree and
he isn't even twenty-three, yet, but he *is* part of the
older generation, now. One of them, anyway. He can't
imagine falling asleep on the back of someone else's bike.
Or in the passenger seat of someone else's car, for that
matter. He can't -- quite -- imagine *wanting* to. There's
a weird kind of freedom in that, when he thinks about it.
The kind that's more than a little sad, and scary. Or would
be, he supposes, if he wasn't about two minutes from
pulling into the Cave.
Just like he's done countless times before, just like he *will*
do countless times in the future. The man he was three
years or so ago would be... shocked? Relieved?
In all honesty, Dick isn't sure.
Maybe that's it, too.
Jason wakes up for just long enough to avoid falling off the
bike after Dick parks, but he's pretty much a lost cause
beyond that. It's a reminder that they haven't actually
managed to talk about what the kid's been up to for the
past few weeks, even though the Cass thing illuminates
part of it, and --
There's that niggle again. That sense of missing
*something* else, even though Robin losing Batgirl -- if
not Jason losing *Cass* -- is something Dick can't help but
think of as huge and exhausting enough to explain almost
There's a temptation to think of it as history repeating itself,
even though the idea's something of an obscenity, even
though it really *isn't*, and even though it's just the same
old pathetic urge to try to make everything bad about
Gotham make *sense*, but...
He gets over it.
Every fifteen steps or so he shakes Jason a little, just
enough to get the kid to support enough of his own weight
so that they *can* take the stairs. The fireman's carry
would actually be easier, but Jason would absolutely wake
up if Dick tried that, and the kid obviously needs his rest.
For whatever reason.
Completely unsurprisingly -- it's past dawn and it's the
*manor* -- Bruce and Alfred meet them outside the clock.
Alfred has a tray with juice and coffee, and Bruce is
managing to look like someone who has never required
sleep, comfort, *or* standard morning beverages --
despite the fact that all he's wearing is his robe and the
"Ah, Master Dick. So good to see that Master Bruce's latest
tranquilizer darts are so effective at bringing down the
wayward Jason." And Alfred raises an eyebrow.
The words are just Alfred being Alfred. The eyebrow is to
let him know that Bruce *isn't* supposed to know that
Alfred was the one responsible for Jason being wayward
for the first place. "The kid's good, but not good
*enough*." Dick can play along.
Even though he isn't sure why Alfred *wants* Bruce to
believe that Jason would make a break for it. Domestic
torture isn't quite enough to explain it.
Bruce, for his part, is pretending he doesn't know there are
undercurrents to be read *or* ignored -- just holding his
arms out like Jason's a package to be delivered.
"Hey, where were you when I was dragging the kid up the
"Admiring your dedication to physical exercise," Bruce says,
And it's not as if Bruce ever *beams*, or anything even
close to it, but there's still something kind of *off* about it.
He hasn't seen Bruce this stiff since his last few months of
being Robin, and while all signs point to Cass --
No, that's absolutely it. That's an *argument* he needs to
have with Bruce, and it's just pissing him off that this isn't
remotely the time and it's pissing him off that he could
forget that. That they could all just stand here and *be*
like this, as though it was just a game that they've lost
another Batgirl (it *is* still losing, even if it's one Batgirl
to another) and *might* just lose a Robin in the process.
They're supposed to be a *family*. And whatever's on his
face right now, it's obvious that Bruce can read it. He's
closer now, and the conspiracy on Alfred's face is just a
little more serious. But.
"Dick, I'll take Jason up. You should --"
"No," and it comes out too sharp. It's not the time. He
smiles for no one's benefit except, possibly, the exhausted
kid at his side and hauls Jason over his shoulder. "Little
wing still owes me some face-time. Guess it's a good
thing he can do it with his eyes closed, hunh?"
Bruce drops his arms and frowns, backing off a step, and
it completely satisfies the *mood* he's in even as it's just
a little too much.
"I... look, I need sleep, too. Long... long drive. You know."
"Of course," Bruce says. Jason thumps him in the kidneys,
but he's still too asleep to make it a decent blow or even
talk. Alfred either isn't giving him any clues at all or he's
too messed-up to catch them. He wants to say
something -- *promise* something -- about how he and
Bruce will talk later, but...
It's Bruce, who'll want to know *what* they're going to talk
about -- as if he didn't *know* -- and there's no way to say
anything at all without having it out right here. Bed.
Dick waves, awkward as his first morning back in the *old*
manor as Nightwing and heads for the stairs and up.
Jason's bedroom is the usual wreck-in-progress, but Alfred
had, of course, managed to find the time to make the kid's
bed and turn the covers back. Dick dumps the kid, and --
Dick does a really bad job of dumping the kid, really. His
own room is right down the hall, but...
He's here, and Jason barely even curses when Dick shoves
him aside to make room.
He doesn't, actually, want to leave the kid alone even for
the time it'll take for his internal alarms to start going off
for warm-up and patrol.
After all, the last time he left here, *Cass'* bedroom was
right down the hall, too.
The light's telling him that it's late morning and his body is
telling him to sleep more -- no. His body is telling him he's
warm, and comfortable, and *held*, and Dick opens his
eyes to find Jason curled against his side and drooling on
his t-shirt. Dick reaches to hit the silent not-really-an-
alarm which will bring Cass running so he can send her
to get a camera -- there are a *lot* of benefits to having
someone who can read body language so well that you
never *have* to make a sound -- and stops.
And remembers. "Shit."
Jason head-butts him in the ribs, gasps out a breath, and
makes it almost to the edge of the bed before Dick
catches him by the bicep.
"Wait, kiddo. No emergency."
"What -- the hell." Jason blinks blearily at him and pulls his
free hand out of his boxer shorts. "Fuck, I think I need to
*start* keeping batarangs in there just to make these
goddamn false alarms more satisfying. Less." He laughs
and scrubs his hand over his face.
Dick tugs him back down. "Sounds like a recipe for
"Only if you can't handle your 'rangs... Dick."
"I can't say I've *tried* handling batarangs with my genitals
before, so I'm sure you can teach me a thing or two."
"Yeah, I -- I am not awake enough for the witty fucking
repartee," Jason says, punching the pillow before rolling
onto his side. "*Why* am I in your bed?"
Dick shakes some of the feeling back into the arm Jason
had been sleeping on. "Well... you're not."
"Okay," Jason says, and turns onto his side.
Dick stares up at the kid's ceiling and waits.
"I'm in *your* bed."
"'kay, just checking."
It takes about two minutes for Jason to go out again,
breathing deeply and sleep-frowning against the sun --
Alfred never let him keep *his* curtains closed, either --
until Dick rolls over onto his side and pulls him close
enough to block it.
*He's* almost awake enough to strip out of more than just
his boots, but almost isn't good enough. Dick doesn't so
much fall asleep as drop off the side of something steep.
"So... *why* do I get to have Teddywing?"
The part of Dick's mind that had been idly considering
redesigning his uniform starts adding yards of lace and
muslin. Alfred gives him an armful of fake robin's egg blue
fur, and --
"Man, wake up, I need to *piss*."
Dick shifts, stretches, and --
Dick blinks his eyes open and smirks into the pained look
on Jason's face. "'Piss,' hunh?"
The pain turns into a scowl. "Fine, I need to jerk *off*.
And you know, you always sound like a damned
schoolmarm when you try to curse, Cuddlewing."
"Did you --" It only takes another shift to get Jason in hand.
"Did you really just say 'schoolmarm?'"
"Aww, fuck, man..."
"Oh... *fuck*, yes --" Jason pumps once into his fist and
then rolls onto his back, hauling Dick half over him.
"Hey, now, I thought you were too manly to hug --"
"It's not a damned hug if I'm trying to get you to hump my
Dick laughs against the sleep-sweaty skin of Jason's throat
and gives him a rough squeeze, and Jason's thigh-jerk is
just on the right side of too hard.
"Yeah, I -- like that --"
"I," Dick says, and licks at the salt. "Know."
And then Jason's yanking on the tangled remains of last
night's ponytail and *thrusting* into Dick's fist, eyes closed,
teeth gritted, and --
It's not the roughest it's ever been (the first time they
found each other after the quake, Jason's eyes wide enough
behind the mask to make him *look* like a kid, instead of
just the guy who let Dick call him that), but it's still pretty
vicious, considering. Just enough to keep Dick from sinking
as far into things as he suddenly *wants* to, because --
"Fuck, Dick, *harder* --"
Because he has to pay *attention*. Like maybe this is part
of all the things he's been missing, too, even though it
was never *like* that between them, and...
And Jason's eyes are closed.
"Hey, kiddo --"
"Come *on* --"
Still. "Jason," Dick says, squeezing, and --
The feel of Jason coming in his fist isn't anywhere close to
distracting enough to take away from the look in his eyes.
He looks *trapped*. Dick pulls off, wiping his hand on the
sheets before reaching up, and --
Getting flipped. Dammit, he's *used* to Jason's complete
rejection of the concept of 'afterglow,' but usually --
"You *do* realize we've done this in the manor exactly
*never* times, right, Dick?"
-- they're in the Cave, or at the Tower, or... no, it's another
distraction. Rings around 'the old man' even as Jason lets
go of his wrist to go for his dick, instead.
"Not that I'm *complaining* or anything, but --"
Dick twists enough to catch Jason's wrists. "You're *going*
to tell me what else is going on, kid."
And for a moment it's like the world has narrowed to the
bed they're both on, and that world's been freeze-framed
except for their hands. In the past, the two of them have
silently thumb-wrestled for upwards of three hours while
on surveillance duty together. Now it's more like their
hands having the conversation they aren't.
But Jason is... Jason, and he only manages to keep staring
down at Dick's chest and not *saying* anything for
another few moments before looking up again. "I know
you're not gonna let this fly, Dick, but you really *don't*
want to know."
Dick twists his left arm free and cuffs Jason lightly on the
head, making slightly more of a mess of the kid's hair. "If
you already know, why are you trying?"
"Just *tell* me."
Jason looks down again.
"Just let me get my dick back in my shorts *first*, all
right?" And Jason kneels up and adjusts himself. "I swear
to fucking Christ, it might try to run *away* if I don't."
"I talked to Babs last night, all right?"
It rocks him. Of *course* it rocks him, just like Jason knew
it would, because it's been years since anyone who
*wasn't* one of her Birds have spoken to her, because
the entire neighborhood around the Clocktower feels like
having a rotted tooth in his *heart*, or something else
which makes no sense, but. "That's not all of it."
Jason glares at him.
"Would you just -- I mean, what the hell did she *say*
that's got you like this?"
"It wasn't --" Jason bites his own lip and glares at Dick for
almost long enough to make Dick need to roll them both
off the bed and -- and *spar* the answers out of him.
"Okay. Okay. I'm going to tell you, all right? You don't
*want* to know, but you *have* to know, and --"
Jason snarls and strikes out, punching the pillow next to
Dick's head hard enough to send a few feathers flying.
"Listen *quieter*, man. Just... just shut the fuck up and let
me tell it, okay?"
Dick nods, and waits for Jason to lean back again before
getting up on his elbows and raising an eyebrow. *Talk*,
he thinks, and maybe it even works, because --
"It *wasn't* over a comm, okay? I talked... I talked to
Because he has to *move*. It makes *sense*, now, that
Jason and Cass would try to keep him from going next
door. She was -- she'd been visiting her operative (where
was the elevator? Was she --)
She's out of the damned *tower*, fairy princess bullshit
*finished*, and Jason has his arm, but Babs --
"*Dick*. Jesus, just wait. You *need* to let me finish --"
"I need --"
"*Dick*. Listen to me, okay? I talked to *her*, but nothing
is different. She's still. She's. Oh fuck, I don't even know
*how* to say this."
It's an effort not to jab Jason in the bundle of nerves which
will *make* him let go, but then he *looks* at Jason
again, and it isn't. The kid is glaring at the carpet like he
wants to try to set it on fire with his eyes and the knuckles
on the hand around Dick's forearm are *white*.
And Dick realizes how hard he's trying to pull away.
And stops. "Okay. Okay. Just... just. Please, Jay. What *is*
"It's. It's her operative," he says, and stops again.
If Dick tells the kid to stop talking to the floor and start
talking to *him*, it'll just kick off another -- another
*fucking* tangent. "Go on," he says, and the sound of
his own voice makes him feel like Nightwing again.
"The kid... the *freaky* kid I was telling you about. I. You
*know* Babs does all this stuff with computers now,
"She always did. It was her hobby --"
Jason snorts, humorlessly. "Yeah, well, it's more than a
fucking hobby *now*. She put.. I don't even fucking know.
The kid is some kind of fucked-up *conduit*. One minute
I was trying to get some damned answers out of the guy,
and the next..."
A part of him -- *most* of him -- is fully aware that Jason
had just trailed off *again*, but there's still. He remembers.
The one and *only* time the world had stood still for long
enough for him to bring Babs -- *Batgirl* -- to the Tower,
and how pleased he'd been to see how well she got along
with Vic, so much so that he hadn't even minded the fact
that they'd never even gotten to go to the restaurant he'd
picked out before... before *something*.
"It's just. I think. She's been in there for so *long*, and
she's been *busy*, because she took over that kid's body
while I *watched*, Dick, and --"
"Cybernetic implants," someone says, and Dick is vaguely
aware that it was him in the same way that he's been
making himself *not* be aware that there are things
Cyborg builds now which aren't for the Titans, plans that
disappear from his files that never --
"I... well. Yeah, I guess, Dick, but --"
"She." Dick blinks, terrifyingly rapidly for too long, because
he knows, he knows exactly what she's doing, and --
("You'll love my body 'no matter what?' Well. I suppose
someone has to.")
"Dick, come on --"
He knows exactly what she's doing -- what she's *done* --
and he knows *her*. And. "Tell me... Jason. Keep going."
"I... there isn't much more. Not really. I mean, I could
*see* it was her. It's not like I'd talked to her boy long
enough to get a sense of who he was beyond 'really
fucking skittish,' but. It was like she was standing right
there. And she said the kid had implants, and I was too
busy trying not to piss myself to ask her anything else
but to prove that I hadn't been hallucinating that there
was a real kid -- a real *boy* -- at all."
The look on Jason's face is queasy and young. "Yeah. I
mean. I'm pretty sure. He seemed really..." Jason shakes
his head. "I *think* so. But then again, I *used* to think
Babs wouldn't go all Invasion of the Body Snatchers on
The laugh that comes out of Dick's mouth makes him feel
queasy, too. "I think I did. Maybe."
The look on Jason's face makes him laugh harder for a
second, enough that he can taste acid and bile in the back
of his throat. "I have -- had -- nightmares every once in
a while of Babs just... uploading herself one day, leaving
us to find what she'd left of her... her body..."
Jason winces and reaches for him.
"I can't *fucking* believe she found something worse."
The hug doesn't feel like Jason at all, but, then again, it
*isn't* a hug. Not really. He's being clutched, squeezed,
and... yeah. He gets it.
*This* is what he'd been missing. What had made Jason
so... Dick sighs. "I have to talk to her. Or... to the boy, I
guess. Do you know his name? Have you seen his face?"
"Uh... No, no, and yes."
It takes a moment to parse the fact that there were *three*
answers there, despite the fact that the first wasn't a
question. "Jason --"
Jason squeezes him hard enough to make his ribs sore for
a second before pushing off. "Really no, Dick. I *know*
you want to hunt the kid down, but what if she *does*...
possess him again? Seriously, what would you do? What
do you think you're going to *say* to her right now?"
For a moment, Jason's objections seem ridiculous enough
that Dick can't quite believe he's trying. Because Babs
wouldn't have *done* something like this if she didn't want
to be back on the street on her own terms, of course she
wants to be back out, and see them, and talk to them,
And what *is* he going to say to her, in the stolen body of
"Yeah, Dick. *That*," and Jason sighs and scrubs both
hands through his hair. "Look, you're right, we have to
do... *something*. I just think it would be a *really* good
idea to figure out *what* first."
He used to think it would involve storming the castle and
rescuing the princess from the dragons in her own mind.
It doesn't matter that a lot of him still does -- it's even
less likely to work now than it had been then. "I can't
help but feel that we... we *did* this, somehow."
"I mean. We don't even... we don't even let *Bruce* go off
and brood for all that long. We're always here for him,
and --" Dick stops, staring at Jason's hand on his shoulder
until he can dredge up the *will* to look the kid in the
What's there, this time, is exactly what he was afraid of.
That *look* on Jason's face which gave him all the answer
he ever needed about *why* Bruce had chosen him in the
first place. Like every time he ever looked young was an
illusion perpetrated by something malicious and random,
and it doesn't matter that *Dick* knows it's not true.
"*Bruce* always *let* us be there for him."
"We didn't give him a *choice*, Jason --"
"And he didn't fucking *electrocute* us, either. Jesus, Dick,
it's not like I wasn't thinking the same damned thing. We
left her alone too long. Her brain went freaky on us
because she was shut up there without us. So tell me --
has it been longer than two weeks since the last time
*you* sent her a damned letter or tried to... since you
did *something*? Because I'd be fucking shocked if it
How long has it been since he'd done something and
really believed it would work? Dick sighs and moves to
brush Jason's hand away from his shoulder, and stops.
He's. He's tired.
Jason balls his hand into a fist and punches him lightly a
few times. "We'll... fuck, we'll figure it out. That Avatar kid
isn't *actually* a soulless zombie. I think."
Dick snorts and grabs Jason's wrist, hauling the kid around
until he can rest one arm comfortably around his shoulders
and start walking them both back to the bed.
Jason flop-falls onto his back and aims a shaky little smirk
in his direction. "Oh, so *now* you want to get laid. What,
you think I can just turn it off and on?"
It's not even close to honest -- Jason is a worse liar than
he is, sometimes -- but Dick knows why it's there. He
aims a lazy punch at the kid's teeth and lets himself get
pulled into a bed-centered wrestling match.
It's still morning -- barely -- and there's still the same old
feeling, the same old surprising happiness about being
something almost like the cool older brother who lets the
kid skip school -- or, sometimes, training -- every now
and again, just to play.
"Oh -- fucking *ow*, man --"
He's not sure what he'd do without it.
"Robin here. What's up, B?"
Dick's frowning before he's awake again, before he realizes
he'd gone back to sleep in Jason's bed.
"B --? Shit, lemme get the trace going --"
And he's *moving*, because it's -- it's still *day*, and how
the hell had Bruce gotten into trouble this fast, anyway?
But then Jason blows out a breath, and he's not moving
And Jason has a hand slapped over his mouth before he
can say anything, *feel* anything but the roller coaster
slide between Babs and... and Oracle.
"What -- why --" Jason breathes out again, squeezing his
eyes shut. "What can I do for you?"
Dick pinches the nerves in Jason's wrists warningly, but
just gets a glare for his trouble.
"I'd say something about how you *had* to be fucking
kidding me if I didn't remember that you'd lost your sense
of humor somewhere along the line."
His own comm is... still in the Cave. He can *get* to it
relatively fast, but --
"Jesus -- just. You used to fucking --" Don't *move*, Jason
mouths. "Look, what do you need me to do, B -- Oracle.
Just tell me."
There's something awful about the fact that he isn't sure he
"Avatar. Fucking Christ. I suppose I should be grateful that
you gave him an *accurate* code name --"
He flinches. There's no other word for it. Jason winces at
"Do you *seriously* expect me to believe you actually care
about your little fucking... *meat* puppet?"
He thinks --
"What -- are you *laughing*? At *that*?"
He thinks he's going to be sick.
"You know, I used to think it wasn't possible to feel your
brain *break*. Oracle -- fuck, do I seriously have to call
you that? For *this* conversation?"
Jason's grip has tightened almost painfully on Dick's jaw.
He can focus on *that*, as opposed to...
Jason laughs, punches the headboard with his free hand
hard enough to make his knuckles bleed, and laughs
Dick wonders what, exactly, is on the other comm, and if
it's the same one he'd pressed into her palm the last time
she'd kicked him out --
"One, I told Nightwing, who would've wound up hunting
your boy down if I hadn't. He still might, but at least this
way he'll make an effort not to."
Jason shrugs at him and shakes his head. "You can't *tell*
me there's anyone out there who needed to know that
more. You can't tell me you don't *know* that."
There's an urge to... *ride* the certainty in Jason's voice,
to hold onto it for at least long enough to *start* --
"No one else. There's no one else who isn't Batman, and I
can *ask* Nightwing not to spread that little bit of *joy*,
It'll get him exactly *nowhere*, and -- Jason squeezes his
jaw again, purposefully this time. It'd be *nice* to know
what the purpose *is*, and why would she think Bruce
*wouldn't* find out?
Why doesn't he know *already*?
"Look, I'm on board, okay? But you've gotta do something
for me... B."
On board for *what*?
"Stay the *fuck* out of BG's head."
Dick chokes, a little, against Jason's palm, trying to
remember everything he'd seen last night, everything
they'd *talked* about -- except it had been *him* talking,
really, not her -- Except that it was pretty much *always*
that way with Cass, and... *Cass* --
"I *mean* it. She... she doesn't need that shit."
He has to believe he'd *notice*, that both of them would if
Oracle had... It's only been a week.
"God, I -- no. Fine. Just..." Jason is shaking his head again,
gesturing 'it's okay' with his free hand. "Fine. Anything else?"
And somehow *that* drives it home, more than anything
else. Dick hadn't realized he'd *needed* it driven home,
but. They've tried so hard, so *uselessly* to get even this
much contact with Barbara. It's just that he can't say he
doesn't understand why...
Jason is looking at him, wry and exhausted. "Do you
*have* a few months?" he says, to Barbara.
And Dick blinks again. Had he really come that close to
thinking that he didn't want to -- even after he'd gotten
over... is he *supposed* to get over this?
Jesus. Just... Dick knocks Jason's hand aside and moves.
He stops at the door, but Jason isn't talking to him.
And Dick needs... air. Something.
He closes Jason's door behind him.
Dick heads for the kitchen after his run through the
grounds, managing to avoid accidentally tackling Jason in
the doorway. He has half of a roast beef sandwich in one
hand and most of the other half in his mouth, and Dick
remembers that 'hungry' is actually an understatement.
Jason jerks a thumb over his shoulder and -- yes. Alfred had
made enough sandwiches for both of them. Dick goes for
them, acknowledging and ignoring the familiar feeling of
getting smaller, younger, and lighter with every step into
*Alfred's* kitchen, and it didn't matter that it was designed
to comfortably hold a squadron of chefs to prepare meals
for enough people to fill the ballroom -- if not the *house*.
It's a kitchen, and kitchens are always... different.
He takes a deep breath after his first sandwich, looks up,
and Jason's... still there. Leaning in the doorway with his
arms crossed over his chest and both eyebrows up a little.
Dick shakes his head, and Jason nods and heads out for his
own run, or maybe to run into Babs on the street and be
allowed to touch her wheelchair or --
It *has* to ridiculous to be jealous at this point. Doesn't it?
He swallows it -- as much of it as he can -- *back* and
focuses on eating, and on stopping before he reaches the
point where he knows he'll just waste it in the Cave's
bathrooms. He's not even close to finished with his
And the Cave... the Cave is itself. Chilly enough to make
Dick feel the drying sweat on his bare arms, echoing and
huge and entirely known. Bruce's trophies, Jason's, and
Dick's own. Cass had never seemed to see the point of
keeping them. And.
Maybe he shouldn't have brought Barbara's trophies to the
Clocktower, even though she'd let Dinah bring them in for
her. (It had been foolish, he knew even then, to stay there
and watch, and hope.) He'd just wanted her to know that
he hadn't forgotten, that *none* of them had.
Did she even still have them?
Dick swallows, again, and heads for the heavy bag.
"Did you plan to take over where Jason left off? Not that I
don't *see* the appeal of punishing the thing in dead
silence. Every now and again."
Dick tenses, and tenses harder at the *humor* in Bruce's
voice. He'd been here all along, of course. It's just that it
was so right for him to be there, silent at the console, that
he hadn't even registered it.
It's also entirely right, entirely *normal* for Bruce to see
how spooked he is and start to move closer to figure out
what's wrong, but.
"I... did you. Did you want to talk?"
But he should already *know*.
The first time he had ever really used the bag, really
*focused* on using the bag -- as opposed to the
fantastically perfect gymnastics equipment and the
weights he'd needed to work before he could really use
*that* -- he'd barely been out of the hospital after
He'd been weak -- *weaker* -- and he hadn't even needed
Bruce to steady the bag for him.
He's willing to bet Jason had just fumed at the man until
he'd left it to swing as it would, but...
When Bruce moves to steady it for him, he doesn't know
how to do anything but adjust his stance for the greater
stability and keep going.
It doesn't take long to realize that he'd needed this for
physical reasons. He's feeling the strain in his triceps and
the ache in his knuckles before he's three quarters of the
way through what he still thinks of as his normal upper
body routine, and -- yeah. It really has been *weeks*
since he's been there.
It's not that working with the Titans doesn't challenge him,
it's just that *he's* not the one usually called on for the
hand-to-hand stuff -- as opposed to projectile work and
Bruce hasn't said anything, but he doesn't have to, either.
Having another Robin had actually smoothed *over* a lot
of the friction around Dick's being a Titan (and it's probably
the only thing that could have done, which is something he
wishes he'd known a few years ago), but he knows Bruce
is never going to, strictly, approve. It's what made it easier
to bring Jason *in*, in ways Dick knows were both
paradoxical and immature.
Made it easier to watch him get along with Dick's friends,
and wear his identity for long enough to make it something
different and his own, and --
And Bruce catches the punch which would've bloodied
Dick's knuckles in his palm instead of letting it hit the bag.
"I... I wanted you to know. I never asked her to leave."
It actually takes a second to parse. Of course Bruce had
never asked Barbara to leave. Bruce had dumped money
and possibilities and Richard freaking *Dragon* on
Barbara's head to convince her to *stay*, and --
"It's just. The video was a shock."
And he's talking about Cass. *Shit*. "Has it ever occurred to
you that we have a *problem* with Batgirls, Bruce?"
Something behind Bruce's eyes sparks and flares up into a
wintry kind of humor. "I've begun to wonder if 'Batwoman'
might not have been a better choice of code name, but..."
It's Bruce, laughing, and it doesn't matter that he hasn't
been thirteen years old and lonely for a long, long time.
He still has to reach out for that, he'll *always* have to
reach out for that -- twisting his hand in Bruce's until he
can twine them together and squeeze. But. "God, Bruce,
don't... don't *joke* about this."
And he can *see* Bruce reacting to his tone, and maybe
thinking that it's too much for Cass -- from *him*, and
the sick thing is...
The sick thing is that he's right. Cass has *always* been
Jason's more than anyone else's, and vice versa. Robins
and Batgirls. But, right now, Dick doesn't think he can say
anything about *Babs*, at all.
"Dick, I... I didn't ask her to *leave* --"
"You didn't *have* to! You *know* you didn't --"
Bruce's wince stops him, and Dick steps back and swallows,
twisting his hand free and breathing.
"I just -- she's *convinced* that you won't work with her,
*can't* work with her, and she's *right*, and Bruce, you
have to know how... how *bad* that is."
Bruce doesn't say anything.
"I -- *don't* you?"
"There was nothing in her eyes, Dick. No... no hesitation or
pause. She had no comprehension of what she was doing
when she killed that man --"
"That's exactly my *point*, Bruce! She was a *child* --"
"Dick, I..." Bruce steps around the heavy bag, moving
towards him, and --
And it's Bruce, so every step he takes is one Dick *doesn't*,
and *can't*, even now, and the only thing to do when
Bruce cups Dick's shoulders and squeezes is look up and
"The world... the *city* is changing all around us, Dick. It
would... I don't have the words for how much it would
wound me to lose you, and Jason --"
"What about --" Babs. Not Babs. Not now --
"But the simple fact is that the *wounding*, at this point,
would be beside the point. I *need* you. Both of you. I
need... I need Cassandra, too, Dick --"
"Then you have to --"
Bruce squeezes his shoulders hard. "I am *afraid* of her,
Dick, and of what she is capable of."
And it seizes him, inside. There are so few things he's
wanted more than just this, than just what he's been
*getting* from Bruce since the first time he let the man
see his own cautious, grudging approval of the
snot-nosed little punk Jason used to be. It's just what
he *wants*, but --
"Dick. Please. I know... I know I should be stronger than
Weren't they all a little afraid of Babs, too?
Dick twists free and moves close enough to let his head fall
against Bruce's shoulder, but he can't make himself stay
there for long enough to let Bruce hug him, or think about
doing it, or... Or. "I. I need to get back to New York. I'm
supposed... there's a team meeting, later."
Bruce lowers his arms to his sides and nods.
"Tell Jason... I'll be back on Sunday unless something
"Yes," Bruce says.
Dick knows Bruce watches him go, whether he's looking
Dick's way or not.
He stops loving his bikes when he starts having too much
time *alone* on them, when he starts wishing he'd had a
side compartment to go with the passenger seat, or...
The first time Babs had joined them in the old Batmobile,
Dick remembers, he'd wanted Bruce to just keep driving
until they got to nowhere at all, and then maybe drive a
little further after that -- even if he did have to sit on
Babs' lap for the entire trip.
He's never going to have that, or anything like that... which
is something he'd *thought* he'd already dealt with,
("Kory --" "You -- your heart isn't *here*, Dick! And the
more I look at you, I... I think I could hate you. Please go.")
It feels like an insult to the Titans and to the man he'd
thought he was becoming to accept the fact that he
*hadn't*, but it's the truth. For a part of him, it doesn't
matter that losing Babs almost certainly had a part in
gaining him Jason as a little brother, in making Bruce
open *up* (breaking him open?) enough that Dick could
actually see the man in him -- as opposed to just
believing in him.
He'd never *really* thought it was over.
He'd never really thought it could be, not without at least
talking to Babs one more time.
("You know, one day I *am* going to get tired of playing
Wendy to your Lost Boys Club, Dick...")
Batgirl after Batgirl. And it seems more than a little...
*facile* to worry about what it means that *they* have
more luck keeping together, *dealing* with each other
than they do in dealing with any of the women they
*could*, but he can't help wondering if -- when --
Stephanie will decide she wants to --
"Yo, N, where are you?"
Of course he'd already dinged Jason. Of *course* he had.
"On the road," he says, laughing to himself.
"When's the last time you talked to S?"
"S...? Are you...? Hey, there still *is* a Batgirl --"
"I'm just wondering when there'll be a Spoiler again,
Jason sighs and laughs softly, sound echoing rich and vivid
through the helmet radio, thanks to the adjustments Vic
"I'm just *saying*... she's been out of the game for a long
time, hasn't she?"
"Yeah, well, the last time I talked to her we talked about
college for a while, and the clinic -- you know she's still
volunteering at Les... shouldn't we wait to talk about this
until we're on a secure line?"
Yes. But. "Just... do you think she *will*?"
"Well, yeah, if we *ask*. You know that, too, man, but..."
"You don't think we should?"
"I don't know, man. Do you? It's not like I wouldn't mind
seeing those sweet purple... anyway. Don't you think... I
don't know. It seems like we're supposed to *encourage* it
when one of us, you know, gets out relatively sane."
Dick manages, with relative ease, not to side-swipe the
concrete barrier as he takes a curve. "Who the hell told
Jason snickers. "Yeah, okay. If we let it go too long, the
stalactites in the Cave will spontaneously turn into penises
or something. Fine. I'll call her sometime. Anything else?"
"I... when I can reach you on a secure line again. I talked
to B about BG."
"Fuck. Yeah, okay. You know how to reach me."
It *would* be good to have Stephanie back, for more than
just her gender. If nothing else, she'll start *calling*
herself The Token Girl within seconds of coming back
and... and she wouldn't let them forget, again.
Maybe she won't be another Wendy. Or.
Maybe she won't *feel* like Wendy. And maybe she won't
scare Bruce. That has to be better.
Walking back into the Tower is the same re-adjustment it
always is, the same shift from partner to leader, even
though the definition of 'partner' keeps changing on him.
He'd never managed to get Cass up here for long
She wanted this -- needed it -- even less than Jason does,
really. A *lot* less. Jason had told him, later, that she'd
thought it was too crowded.
("Or... shit, I don't know. It's Cass. One word might count
for three. Or, like, fifty.")
It shouldn't feel like an excuse, or... maybe it should?
He *is* a leader here -- if he hadn't done most of the
actual recruitment, the others certainly always looked to
him for approval of their choices. Whether or *not*
Jason ever decides he want to be a Titan on more than
just a part-time basis, they'll all know he's there, and
In the ways Batgirl isn't, and never had been.
And when he sees Donna, he hugs her much too hard,
much too seriously for his brief absence, but... she's
She hugs him back, and kisses his forehead, and makes it
The meeting is a mostly casual one. They are, in their own
ways, well enough -- and New York has been as quiet as
it ever gets. Vic has the specs on the rebuilding of
Slabside, and Dick's paying attention. He has to, even
though he can't help but wonder what *else* Vic is
There's a part of him which honestly wonders if he has any
right to ask, but... he's going to have to confront this
'Avatar' before he can make that decision.
They spend most of the meeting going over, at length, the
possibility of a new Titans West. There's a whole new
generation out there, now, metas and operatives younger,
even, than Robin, and they have to...
Donna touches his shoulder. "You're thinking."
Raven's cowl twitches in something like a smile. "And
feeling. At volume."
It's true. "We've been going around in circles, a bit, about
which of us should head out west to be there for these
"I have, already, expressed my own willingness," Kory says,
and it's just another fuckup that Dick can't think of any
reason why she shouldn't. It had been hard enough to get
her not to go off-planet again, but...
But. "They'll need more than that. I know Arsenal's worked
with this Impulse kid before --"
"Once was enough," Roy says. "Why did I ever think Wally
was bad? Sorry, 'mano, keep going."
Dick nods. "So we have an idea on his personality, and
Donna knows Wonder Girl, of course. How much
information do we have on Superboy? And... who was it?
The other girl."
"Arrowette," Roy says, frowning. "I think her mother's still
on probation for that business in Atlanta."
He nods, again. "Which is kind of my point. They're
scattered, powerful, and, at this point, used to working on
their own. I can't figure out *why* no one's ever done
anything about them before, but, well, that's part of it, too.
They've never been on a *team*, and it sounds like some
of them, at least, have families that make ours look
"For some of us, this is our only family," Raven says.
There's no way to respond to that with anything but a
nod. Not for the first time, Dick has feels a twinge for
everything he has back in Gotham, even now.
Vic clears his throat. "You're thinking there should be two
of us? More? That'll weaken us badly."
Dick nods, and frowns. He could suggest Robin. He
*should* suggest Robin, especially if the kid manages to
get Stephanie to come back again. She could take over
at least some of his territory, and the loss would *force*
Bruce to deal with Cass...
Assuming anything ever could. And assuming Babs would
transfer her attention to (him) someone other than
He needs Robin right where he is. Dick shakes his head,
mostly to himself. "We might want to consider, for now,
Titans East 2."
Roy walks into the gym while Dick's still in the middle of the
routine he hadn't, quite, been able to make himself do back
in Gotham, nods at him, and heads for the weights.
It makes him think of Wally for no reason he can pinpoint,
but beyond 'doing fine with the JLA' he doesn't really have
much of anything he can call on about the man.
The League needed him after Barry had died, and what
the League needed, the *world* needed. He can't entirely
be angry with Wally for not being there to help them
figure out what to do with the next generation.
It would be like blaming Bruce, or Clark, or...
Donna had squeezed him again, for a moment, after the
("It'll work out, you know. *We* did all right, after all.")
Lost boys... and girls.
Dick dismounts and heads over to spot for Roy.
"Finally," he says, grinning, and reaches to increase the
"Do you really need it? I haven't seen you even *carry* a
bow out there in a while."
Roy shakes his head and lifts. "Not even close to the point,
'mano. You know that."
They move through Roy's sets easily and, for the most part,
silently, until it's time to head for the mats and stretch
"Considering the fact that I didn't get the chance to lay out
little wing back home..." Dick grins and starts to circle.
Roy smirks. "*Really*."
"Don't start --" Dick dodges the kick aimed for his ribs and
returns it, getting his shin chopped for his trouble.
"I'm just saying..."
Saying *enough* that his focus is down. Dick gets in two
shots to Roy's midsection before Roy can block, dodge,
and relaunch his own attack.
They've been doing this for so long that, at this point, it's
less of a spar than an exercise in memory and trickery.
They both know each other too well to surprise easily, and
sparring with Roy has become --
"You know, I *also* really thought you'd put in Robin's
name for -- unh -- a liaison/leader for the new Titans."
-- an exercise in defense. "I. I thought about it," he says,
flipping back without thought.
Roy starts to follow, pauses, and... stops. "Why didn't you?"
"He's needed in Gotham." It's actually a little disturbing how
easily it falls out of his mouth, even though it's technically
"You know, Bruce has been saying that shit for years, about
*both* of you, but I never thought you'd start."
Easy enough that it's an impossible relief to be called on it,
even though Dick has no *idea* -- he dodges a punch that
would've left him with an impressive black eye and blocks
two more. Three.
"You could," Roy says, "Give me the *real* reason."
"Roy, I swear," and Dick misses with a head-kick, drops,
and clips Roy's ankles just enough with his leg sweep that
he stumbles. "I don't even know where to *start*," he says,
rolling onto his feet just a *little* too late to be able to
continue his attack before Roy's out of range.
"First thing that comes to your head, Ponytail Wonder," and
Roy dodges Dick's rush and heads for the staves on the
wall, tossing Dick one. "Come on."
Babs. Cass. Bruce is *scared*. "I --"
"Come *on*," Roy says, and Dick barely manages to get his
arm out of the way of Roy's sweep.
*Babs*. "It's a who," he says, "actually," and lets Roy fence
them back toward the center of the mats.
"Oracle..." He'd never gotten the chance to tell Roy
Barbara's name. He may *never* get the chance to do so,
not with permission, and -- "Ow."
"*Focus*," Roy says, grinning and moving back into a
ready position after that last really effective
"Are we talking or sparring?"
"Is that an actual *question*?" Roy laughs until he has to
dodge Dick's head-shot or get knocked unconscious.
Dick dodges Roy's *boots*. "No, it isn't. I..."
"So what about Oracle and... Avatar?"
"He's -- " He's a *he*. And how did Oracle get to be
*better* at that than -- Dick somersaults under Roy's
staff-equivalent of a haymaker and keeps going. He
doesn't hit Roy's shins hard enough to knock him down, or
even off-balance, but Roy's too slow to keep Dick from
grabbing one of his ankles and tossing him.
Dick moves in and goes for the sternum-strike, stopping
half an inch above Roy's solar plexus. "He's Oracle's new
agent. Or... I don't even know how long he's been around,
actually. Anyway, he's --"
"Wait, is he kind of a short kid? Skinny, dark hair?"
"I have no idea." Does Jason? Wait. "You *know* him?"
"Well, I wouldn't say I *knew* him." Roy brushes Dick's
staff aside and stands. "Well, not as a *friend* or anything,
"How... what..." He can't think.
"Oracle had Dinah call *me* about... hunh." Roy scratches
idly at his stubble. "Guess it had to be about a year ago.
New kid, needs weapons-training, they couldn't figure out
how to keep the kid from spending so long aiming he'd
lose the shot, blah blah. I said 'sure,' and the next day
there's a kid in a domino and a *seriously* armored
bodysuit looming over my bed waiting to get schooled."
Dick blinks. "You... you *trained* this kid? Why didn't you
"Easy, 'mano. I just assumed you knew him. And then I
didn't hear from him, or from anyone *about* him after
that -- I kinda thought he'd call, actually. He seemed like
The... type? "Roy, did you..."
"And anyway, the word from Dinah was that I was
supposed to keep my mouth shut about the kid's existence,
which made it sound so damned *Bat* that I didn't even
think about it." Roy shrugs. "Did I what?"
One thing at a time. Dick lets himself wince as much as he
wants to and... gestures.
Roy stares at his hand. "Two words: Little. Wing."
"No, I -- *no*. I just -- did you notice anything... odd about
And Roy just stares at him with narrowed eyes for long
moments like *he's* the one who's not making sense. "Like
*what*? Full bodysuit in July? Masked before he's certified?
Bizarre resemblance to you and -- hell, I *kinda* thought
Bruce had just decided to have Oracle track him down
another Robin to back up Jay."
There isn't, actually, any way he can ask if Avatar had
seemed more like a woman than a teenaged boy. It has to
be enough that it's *Roy*, and if anyone had enough
experience to tell...
"Hey, what's this about? Is the kid all right? I kinda liked
"Well, obviously --"
"Jesus, Dick, what's *wrong*?"
It's just another hit, really. He can focus. He can. He. Dick
reties his hair back. "I'm... pretty sure he's okay." Except
for the *implants*.
He can't even... how long has the kid *been* with Oracle?
"The *problem* is that this kid I didn't know *existed* until
last night has apparently been shadowing my family for
years under Oracle's authority. He -- Jesus, who *else* has
trained him?" Who else would Oracle trust? "And he's even
living with *Cass* now, Roy --"
"Wait, in the manor?"
Dick pinches the bridge of his nose hard, if only to keep
from slapping himself in the face. "That's --" He sighs.
Breathes. "That's the other problem, and the reason why
Robin is, actually, needed in Gotham. Bruce... Cass walked
out. She's working for Oracle, too, now."
Roy lets out a low whistle. "I... *is* everything okay?"
"I don't know."
"Well... shit," Roy says, and claps him on the arm. "Patrol?"
Dick snorts, a little helplessly, but it's not like it's something
he has to think about. "Let's take my bike."
"My car is better. And also I wouldn't have to hump your
ass all night."
He doesn't, actually, *always* want to make the joke. It's
just that sometimes he has to. "Well, it *has* been a year
since Avatar, so I'd think you --"
Roy spends most of the trip to the garage trying to punch
Dick isn't sure what he'd do without that, either.
.Then I will warm you.