The dusk of day-shapes [Source]
by Te
March 25, 2007

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: References to assorted -- emphasis on
assorted -- older timelines in an AU sort of way.

Summary: In which there are Robins, prostitutes,
explosions, and deadlines.

Ratings Note/Warnings: Mostly harmless.

Author's Note: Next in line for the Human Things That Fly
series, but this one may actually be read without the others,
I think. More notes at the end.

Acknowledgments: Audienced, edited, and practically
midwived by Betty, Katarik, and Petra. All remaining
mistakes are my own -- they surely did do their best.


It's their fourth solo patrol in a week and their third with a

Dick's only *sure* about two of them -- a couple of
reflective-type flashes that didn't fit -- but Jay still likes to
remind him that he'd had a lot more experience than Dick
ever did with being potential prey.

And his instincts are still pretty much dead-on in Dick's
experience, too. As good as Batman's for things like this,
really --

On Batman it's paranoia. On Jay it's showmanship -- and a
healthy desire (as far as Dick's concerned) to choose exactly
who's going to make up their audience.

Right this minute, there's not supposed to *be* an
audience -- they've been staking out what surely does *look*
like a capital-f Family reunion for a bunch of mid-level
players near the docks for a few hours --


"I feel it, too, bro. No worries," Jay says, and shifts just
enough to make his version of the newer, heavier cape
whisper against snow-dusted gravel.

"That's not it. I was just wondering if the time you felt it that
I *didn't* we were around here."

"Hunh. Fish market."

Dicks nods, internally. It had been just taggers with
pretensions toward vandalism. Easy stuff. It'd probably been
while --

"You were ditching their oxy."

Yeah. Hunh. It's *always* around here, and nowhere else --
so far, anyway.

Batman knows they like this part of town best, and like it
even better than that when it's cold enough that most of the
stink is gone by patrol. It's wilder down here, for one
thing --

Too poor for the big guys to take much interest, and just
poor enough for there to always be *someone* in need of
a beating. And the working girls and boys around here could
always use a red, gold, and green friend --

Jay makes his cape whisper again, and Dick focuses,
guiltily -- lots of people moving around in there, judging by
the infrared, and the movements don't look casual
*enough*. Shit. Sorry isn't good enough. "Time to move?"

And there's no time for Jay to answer before --

Well, it's like it always is -- from gunshot to *motion*, and
Dick's still hearing the echoes when they take the two
grimy, ice-rimed windows --

No railing or walkway in this warehouse, but they've got that
covered, too -- Jay's big enough these days to be able to
pack an extra, short-range grapple. He's shot it and dropped
the other by the time Dick catches his waist --

And they're down and into it when the bad guys are just
starting to aim at the ceiling.

Back to back for long enough to check the situation -- bad
guys who favor orange of all things mostly over there, bad
guys who mostly favor purple over *there*.

Everyone's got guns out, and everyone's a target --
especially them.

Jay's already crouching and grinning.

Dick's already zigging --

And Jay has his arm out for Dick's faster return. Jay gets
*stronger* at a faster rate than Dick gets bigger, and Jay's
toss works him like a whip-crack. Dick counts five guns
gone flying on his pass, and then it's time to come down
and *keep* moving.

Keep working --

Oh, when there are this many it's just a *party*.

Always someone to vault over, always someone to land
*on*. When there are this many, there's no time to think
about what kind of *image* they're putting out, no need to
worry about being intimidating *enough*.

Jay's got that covered.

He --

He's got the flexibility and the speed to make two strikes or
more per man, and it only gets better -- *easier* -- when
two of the idiots still standing start gunning for his gold.

Dick has no idea how Jay had convinced Batman to let them
*look* like this, but he has no problem understanding why
it stayed that way.

The gauntlet he uses to punch the face of the guy behind
him has a lot more steel in it than it used to, but it's still
highlighted with gold -- just like the cape that's taking all
the punishment his body's just too fast for.

Just too --

Good, he thinks, when he sends his padded-on-the-*inside*
elbow to the jaw of the last bad guy.

Better when Jay whoops --

"Hah -- he's still alive," Jay says, and prods the *only* GSW
victim with the toe of his boot.

Thank God. "So I didn't make us too slow?"

"No chance of that, baby bro -- but *you* get to deal with
the 911 call," Jay says, and starts collecting guns.

He always does, except for when it's minor enough that Jay
can fuck around and pretend to be a traumatized victim.
Dick's pretty sure Batman hates it, but really -- if they're
*going* to let people record their voices, it has to be better
for them to be more disguised than less.

Jay's never actively *disrespectful* --

"Eighteen guns, three machetes, and I don't even know
how many switchblades. We're gonna have to dump these
in the river. Fuckers. We oughta use one of them to weight

-- to people who don't deserve it. "You know the body
would only float eventually, Green," he says, clears his
throat, and uses one of the bad guys' handy disposable
cells to dial.

He gives the details in his deepest voice, hangs up --

"You're getting better at that," Jay says, and the look on
his face feels the exact same way it always does.

Dick's always going to feel too young around Jay. He's
sixteen now, but Jay's taller -- and bigger -- than Dick's dad
was when he was killed. Jay hasn't looked -- or sounded --
like a sidekick for... well, as long as Dick's known him.
Maybe he never really was.

"C'mon, let's get the rest of these guys zip-stripped and
bail -- I've got a *plan* for the rest of the night."

Of course he does.

And it's a good and easy one. They never take their original
vantage point after one of these -- it's too obvious -- and
usually they go straight into the next area of patrol. This
time, they move fast and hard, making it look like they
just got a call for something *big* --

And then they head right back.

When Dick spots the shadow currently hugging the spot
where he'd been crouched before the shot, it feels like
magic, like maybe they'd *made* their shadow wind up

They land as quietly as they can on the nearest building
adjacent and move low and quiet before pulling out their

Whoever it is --

"Jesus, it's a kid."

"It's a kid who needs a *coat*," Dick says. Their stalker is
dressed to move, not survive out here in the middle of
winter. "I was thinking it might be one of the working girls
looking for help."

"Who stalks the heroes when they want *help*?"

"We don't *know* this is the same --"

Jay *looks* at him. Loudly.

On cue -- and if this kind of thing didn't usually happen
because Jay had planned it *just* that way, Dick probably
wouldn't be able to stand it -- the kid lifts something -- it's a

No flash, but the streetlights down here bounce on the lens
*exactly* the way they had --

"Fine," Dick says. "Stalker or not --"

"It's a kid, presumably just like the ones who used to come
see us in the good ol' days."

Jay doesn't have to point out to *him* that there were a few
different kinds of those. Or that the ones rich enough to
have the cameras tended to also be the ones in need of a
beating. Dick gestures, and they flip back over the side of
the building to move in on the old one.

*Their* old one --

It's a kid, and Robins are friends to kids. Except when
they're not.

It'd be faster to use the grapples for this climb, but quieter --
*silent* -- is better than that, even though the sirens are
just starting to spiral up and make Dick think of fighting,
moving --

It's possible he's been trained a little too well, in some ways.
Probable when he catches himself crouch-running up on the
kid like he's just a guard who needs to be taken out --

Jay's doing it, too. And Jay --

"*Boo*," he says, *loud* under the sirens, and -- it's
probably mean to laugh.

It *has* to be mean, especially since the kid (small, male,
age -- maybe eleven?) *drops* the camera --

And catches it again before either one of them can. Hunh.

"I -- I -- Robins --"

"Yep," Jay says, and crouches to one side of the kid.

Dick takes the other --

"So who are *you* supposed to be, stalker?"

"I'm not. I only wanted to."

"To *what*," Jay says, but the kid is shaking his head
almost violently (dark hair, eyes -- blue? really dark brown?),
and all of a sudden he looks less like a kid --

"This isn't --"

-- than a *runner*, because whatever the kid was about to
say apparently wasn't as important as flipping backwards
off the *roof*.

His gauntlet scrapes the sole (holes) of the kid's left shoe,
Jay's gets the right --

"Mother*fuck*," Jay says, and they're both lunging to
*look*, wincing --

And Dick's just in time to see the kid dangling from the fire
escape by his hands (bare, dirty) before he jumps down,
lands in a crouch --

"Oh, no he doesn't --"

And either that moves him or he already was. The kid
*books* down the escape, using the sides of the ladders as
slides and --

West and out of sight, *moving* -- *dressed* to move, and
Dick hears Jason land behind him and takes that as his cue
to pick up speed.

The new boots have the kind of traction that makes the dirty
slush and ice meaningless, and he has the kid in sight again
in seconds. He's gotten himself up on top of a Dumpster and
is crouching for a spring at another fire escape --

"Kid, *stop*," he says, and it comes out in the Gold voice,
sharp and hard --

And the kid's spring is sloppy, but more than good enough.

Fine, stalkers and ladders it is, and Dick might not have ever
played, before, but Haly's had had contortionists, and you
don't grow up in a circus like that without learning how to
run someone who didn't belong to the *ground*.

And maybe how to hate them a little, too.

The kid's fast, but he's not strong enough to haul himself
up faster than *Dick* can climb, and he's got the kid by the
back of the shirt --

And Jay whistles from below. Dick has to yank a little to
get the kid to let go, but the kick he gets to the *face* is
more than enough reason to make his toss a *showy* one.

The yell the kid lets out before Jay catches him out of the air
isn't enough of a *shriek* for his tastes, but the job is done.
Dick leaps back down and follows Jason -- and the cargo --
further back into the alley.

"We don't *like* it when people cut and run when we're
talking, kid," Jay says, and does a little showing off, too --

The kid is small and Jay is strong, but Jay's holding him
straight-armed to avoid the kicks (good extension), and
Jay's going to pay for lifting him even higher *that* way.

Still, it makes the kid stop kicking and shudder a little, which
lets Jay pin him against the wall and save his shoulders
some punishment.

"*Talk*," Dick says, and hey, look-ee there. The camera is
peeking out of the front pocket of the kid's grimy-looking
chinos. Dick nabs it --

"*No*," the kid says --

"Shut up," Jay says, and he never really has to work to
sound intimidating. "Unless you're about to tell us what the
fuck you were doing tonight."

"And the night before, and the night before *that*..." The
camera's worth a dozen times more than anything --
everything -- the kid's wearing if it's worth a penny. It's got
some wear on it, but it's a miniaturized digital. "You can
*also* tell us who you stole this from --"

"It's *mine*, you -- you have to give it back to me," he says,
and a) Dick doesn't think so, b) completely the wrong
diction for *this* neighborhood, and c) Dick doesn't think

"Why should we?" Jay emphasizes his point by shoving the
kid against the wall a little harder.

*That* got a wince, which is Dick's cue to play Nice Robin.
"It's not like you've been all that friendly," he says, and uses
the gauntlet to wipe away some of the grit the kick had left
on his mask.

"We *really* don't like unfriendly people, kid," Jay says, and
makes a point of looking the kid over, slow and thoroughly
enough that anyone with half a brain can't help but think of
all of their *vulnerable* spots.

It makes the kid wince, and half-curl in on himself -- and
stop. "I was looking for *Batman*," he says and.. actually
glares at both of them.


Dick knows he's not alone when Jason laughs -- that is
*not* a laugh for the street. Dick's turn to pick up the slack:

"And you -- do that with a camera? Got a little deal with a
tabloid going on? What am I gonna find when I take the
memory card back *home*, kid?"

"You," Jason says, still laughing, "should really talk. It's
gonna get tiring to hold you this way, as opposed to by your

Another flinch -- another recovery. "I like taking pictures,
and -- you're Robins. If I was going to find Batman
anywhere, I figured -- I assumed it would be with *you*."

Still with the diction, and now he's poshing up his English?
Maybe older than eleven, then. Thirteen and full of himself.
All right. "You've got ten seconds --"

"*Five*," Jason says.

"-- to tell us your name and *why* you were looking for

"Or *what*? You're Robins. Am I supposed to believe you'll
kick -- beat me up for taking pictures?"

Dick looks at Jason.

Jason looks at him.

Gratifyingly, when they look *back* at the kid, they get
another flinch. This one even lasts longer. In a lot of ways,
Dick likes the smart ones best. *He* knows that Jay was
sharing his thoughts of using the *kid* to weight down any
guns they have to dump in the river -- and Dick can *really*
hate the kid for making them leave tonight's haul to the
police, and their Swiss-cheese evidence lockups -- and he's
pretty sure the kid knows it, too.

It's not that they *would* -- but they don't *have* to be
gentle just because the kid hasn't committed any crimes
they've *seen*.

"I... my name is Tim Drake --"

"*Good* start," Jay says, and uses his free hand to flick the
kid's nose.

The expression on the kid's - Tim's -- face is enough to
make Dick want to revise the age back down again. "Keep
going," he says.

"I'm looking for Batman because my father -- Jack Drake --
has been missing for the past three days --"

"So call the freakin' *cops*," Jay says, and moves to flick
him again --

"*And* the last time I saw him he was with. He was getting.
Two-Face was. Beating him."

Shit. Just --


"And I'm not -- I won't say another word until I can speak to

Which is -- well, it is. They're good enough -- and a good
enough team -- that they *don't* have to bring all the
Arkham stuff straight to Batman anymore, even though they
usually do. But Two-Face...

Two-Face was never on their list, even though Jason had
known Two-Face when he was still just Harvey Dent. Maybe
because he did.


"Are you gonna stay put if I drop you?"

Tim nods, once, and Jay lets go --

And the kid lands on his toes and the fingers of one hand.
Just who *is* Jack Drake, anyway? Should they know him?

Jay taps his comm. "B, we have --"

And Batman says, in *both* their ears, "Keep him there. I'll
meet you."

Which -- they've had the mask-cams pretty much since
Batman invented the things, but they mostly use them for
the heavier cases, filming crime scenes and going back over

How long had Batman just been *watching* them? When
did he break his own patrol *to* watch -- and listen?

Does he always?

It's --

Dick knows that this isn't the way it's supposed to work,
really. He's been living with Batman --

Well, that's just it. He's been living with *Batman* for just
over three years, now. The fact that Jay has been living
with a guy named Bruce for just over *six* years doesn't
really have anything to do with him. Not then, not now...

There's a part of him which wants to say 'not ever,' but
that's the part which is never going to be able to look at the
cowl without seeing his parents' smiles in the seconds before
the ropes --

And that's the kind of thought he saves for dawn, when it's
just him and Jay and the manor. The home they make.

Tim moves -- slowly and warily -- back over to the Dumpster
and hops on. He doesn't spare a look for the fire escape,
which is suspicious enough to make Dick want to zip-strip
him, but Jay's got the stink-eye on him, and he's still not
going to be fast enough to make it away from them.

Though it's entirely possible that he could make it annoying.

In all honesty, it's a little maddening to know this little about
his physical abilities. Nothing he'd done seemed trained, but
his instincts had been good right up until he'd tried to

And he'd done everything in cheap, disintegrating shoes
which should've betrayed him a dozen times in a dozen
different ways... hm. Strong ankles, probably good calves,
too. Good upper body strength for his size and his age --
what Dick *thinks* is his age --

He doesn't know *enough*, and it's going to drive him
crazy --

Unless, of course, he manages to remind himself that they
keep files on *criminals*, not civilians. Hm. The camera --

Lifting the camera makes the kid look up again. He's
telegraphing a dozen different moves -- all of which end
with the camera back in his own possession, but Jay hasn't
even finished getting into Menacing Pose number two before
the kid kind of... stands down.

He's still holding on to the Dumpster so hard his knuckles
are white --


There's pretty much no way in hell Jack Drake -- whoever
he *was* -- is still alive. There'd be a better shot if it was
the damned *Joker*, but if Drake had won the coin toss,
he'd presumably be home already.

"Timmy here said 'three days,' you know, Gold."

Dick thinks about it -- and blinks behind the mask. "So he
did, Green."

"Now, I don't know about you --"

"I think you do," Dick says, crossing his arms and cocking a

"That's -- as may *be*. Just the same, I seem to recall
smelling a tail --"

"*Five* nights ago," and Dick gets to see the kid get a little
pale. More pale.

"Five whole nights," Jay says, mock-thoughtfully. "It's one
thing if you waste our time. It's another to waste

"Not to mention lying to us," Dick says, and starts tossing
the camera from hand to hand.

"Just a hint, Timbo," Jay says, and shows his teeth. "This is
where you give it up *before* we convince Batman to let
*us* take care of hustling you off to someplace with bars
and kids a lot bigger and harder than you will *ever* be."

"After all," Dick says, "I don't see a legal guardian around
anywhere --"

"My father -- my father *is* missing. We live just around
the corner from here. My mother died a few years ago --
this. The camera was a gift. These are all easily ch --
verifiable. I just. I was looking for Batman before, too."

Jay and Dick are the only ones in this alley who know what
expression is under Jay's mask right now, and it's...

Assuming all of this is true, the kid's an orphan. Like them.
Like Batman. Bruce.

After that, it's just a matter of waiting, and Batman doesn't
make them wait long. They hear the engine purring -- all of
them do; the kid tenses and blows out a *breath* at the
sound -- and then Batman is right there, making the alley
a little darker.

They both make room for Batman to do his thing -- *he's*
big enough to loom over Tim even though the kid's still
sitting on the Dumpster -- and wait.

For a moment, it's just Batman *staring* at Tim -- no,
they're staring at each other. It's kind of terrible to see the
look on Tim's face. How much *hope* --

("It used to kill Bruce to act like just another rich asshole
around Dent. You could -- even you would've been able to
see it, just trust me on that. They went to school together,
and whether or not Dent knows it -- that money passed
through a lot of hands before it got where it needed to --
Bruce put him *in* office. Bruce liked him, and he -- he
*believed* in him.")

Is Batman going to tell him?

"Tim," Batman says, finally, "show us your home."

Yeah, he will. Or else it would've been 'boy.' Or... Dick's not
really sure of any of this right now.

"I -- it's just. It's twenty-two East Fourth, right -- oh --"

Batman's already in flight -- kid in tow -- when he and Jason
shoot their grapples, but it's easy enough to follow.
Batman's cape is designed to blot out the *sky* when he's
in flight. It's hard to believe he'd come up with the effect
without Jay to help him, but every disguise he designs is
pretty much perfect. Alfred trains well, too.

When they get there, the building matches the rest of the
neighborhood perfectly, run-down and only still standing
because, back when this area was being built up, they
hadn't known how to build *cheaply*.

They rappel down from the roof, and Dick can see that they
could've climbed -- easily. Someone -- *Tim* -- had driven
spikes into the bricks above his window -- probably while
dangling *from* the window -- to make it easier to climb

The spikes aren't very worn, but --

How long had he been wandering around 'looking for
Batman,' anyway?

Inside, everything is very, very neat and very, very poor.
Dick doesn't think he's ever going to get used to the way
people *live* in cities. A whole great building made of what
had been the best materials, chopped into the worst
possible --

It's the kid's bedroom, and it's barely warmer in here than it
is outside -- just enough to know that someone in the
building still has heat, even though it's not the Drakes. The
floor is bare wood which hasn't been taken care of in a long
time, the ceiling is water-stained... it's depressing, and it's
not a crime scene.

"Where were you when you saw Two-Face, Tim?"

"I was on the roof, preparing to -- I was watching. It was in
the alley just out there. He was asking my father about...
codes." The kid looks down at his feet, and then stands up
straight and looks Batman right at the cowl. "My father was
involved in some sort of criminal... enterprise. With

"Jack 'Shifty' Drake?"

Dick can see Jason tense a little, under the skin, and he's
feeling it, too. Dick still has no idea who Jack Drake *is*,
but apparently both he and Jason should've.

And Tim is blushing hard enough that it looks painful. "Yes,
I -- he -- yes. I... I think he was more of an 'errand boy'
than anything else, but I understand that you'll probably
have to turn him in when you find him. It's... I think I can
convince him to... testify."

Dick -- Bruce has to *tell* him, and...

It's definitely *something* that he can see Batman's hands
twitch like that, like he *wants* to ball his hands into fists.

Tim either doesn't know to look for it or doesn't want to --
and Batman is silent.

"Kid," Jason starts. He clears his throat. "Tim. You -- you
should start preparing yourself for --"

"I -- no. He's just -- he's no one important. He used to --
he's a *business* school dropout," Tim says. "My mother --
they met in college," he says, and looks around wildly for
something. "I just --"

"Tim," Batman says, finally, and he sounds... he sounds a
lot like the Bruce Jay is always *talking* about, and this just
isn't --

This is exactly what it is. Tim starts moving in Dick's
direction, and Dick reaches out to catch him -- Tim moves
*immediately* to avoid the touch, but he's not really fast
or good enough for that. "Tim, you should --"

"You're *Batman*," Tim says, not looking at any of them.
"Batman and the Robins, and I have --" And he pulls a
*batarang* out of the top drawer of the small, cheap
bureau. "I have this," he says. "You save people, I've seen
it, and my father -- we don't always -- he doesn't always
listen to what I say, but he's not bad, and you save people,
and you have to help me save my father. Please. I. Please.
I would appreciate it."

After that, it's silent and kind of awful for far too long.
There's a cheap analog clock (nothing digital *here*, no
power) ticking in the kitchen that just *feels* empty of
anything useful, and Batman --

It's strange to watch him moving like a liquid shadow,
moving *normally*, even though Dick can tell that there's
something off, something (human) about the look on his

Still, it's reflex to make room for the man, even if it's not to
let him menace a suspect more efficiently than he can, even
if it's just to let him take Tim's shoulders in his hands --

Tim's hand on the batarang shakes, but he doesn't drop it.
And Batman --

"We'll do everything in our power, Tim," he says, and it's...
pretty much the best thing he can say. Maybe a little too

"I. That's all I can. Ask."

Or maybe not. All of a sudden, the kid looks like all the
fight's out of him. He's just a kid -- small and pale and
underfed. The skin under his eyes looks bruised and way
too vulnerable, and --

When he looks, Jay looks a little sick behind his mask.
Probably as sick as Dick feels. Still, he's Jay, and he can
pull himself together so fast you'd never think there was
anything wrong.

"We should -- Gold and I can hit the streets around here for

"Do so," Batman says, and that's -- that's not even his
*street* voice. Dick looks to Jay --

But Jay's already looking *hard* at Batman. And it's...

Dick isn't sure what the kid knows and doesn't know -- how
much he's taking *in*, but. Jay hasn't looked at Batman like
that for over a year. Since before Dick had finally made his
own play.

"Batman," Jay says. "What's your plan?"

"I'm taking Tim back to the Cave," he says, and there's a
moment --

There's a moment, there, when Dick knows Batman's waiting
for Jay to say something, and Dick's waiting, too, because --
what the *hell*. But. It's Two-Face. (That isn't all of it.)

"Tim's going to tell me everything he can," he says, and it
*is* the street voice, but it's not the street *body*, or --

When Batman drops into a crouch, Jay blows out the breath
which means he's laughing even though it's not the right
time or place for it. It's one of the street laughs, and Dick
can *see* Batman tensing.

He can see --

He can see Bruce.

"Reports on the hour. More as you see fit," he says, taking
the camera from Dick, pocketing it, and --

He's looking only at Tim. The kid looks shocky enough to fall
right over. Had he even heard what Batman said?

Is it because Batman had watched him *move*?

He -- Tim's father is dead, and Bruce knows it --

("I want you to know -- I want you to know that you will
always have a home, Dick.")

"Let's hit it, Gold."

"I -- yeah," Dick says, feeling slow and off and just -- there
was Bruce. *Right* there --

It's better once they're on the wing. The thing about this
neighborhood is that even with Jay and him hitting it a
couple of times a week --

Well, they haven't been doing it *long* enough. The people
who are just doing their best to get by *legally* are either
safely-as-possible tucked away in their homes or hurrying to
get there.

Anyone moving slowly or looking remotely confident is a

For this, it's just a faster kind of patrol. The dealers bitch,
but they always do. In return for Jay and him not beating
them as badly as they normally would, the dealers are more
than happy to give up what they know about Two-Face.

If they know anything at all.

Nobody wants the big freaks in their neighborhoods, really --
and everyone loves it when they *focus* on them. More
room for crime families and gangs, more chance to do their
own crimes without worrying about *them* --

"Sometimes I still catch myself wondering when the show's
gonna move out," Dick says after they leave another dealer
counting himself lucky to just lose his stash. This one hadn't
had anything to give them.

"I know, baby bro. Fucking scum *everywhere* -- let's hit
the hustlers next."

It *feels* like a detour for the sake of their emotional health,
even though it really isn't one.

The boys on East Moench send up a cheer when they catch
sight of their capes -- Dick's, mostly, since the green lining
of Jay's is too dark to be seen from a distance -- and it's not
hard to give them his best grin, just like it must feel like
breathing for Jay to turn his landing into a little flip.

"Return of the Robins," says the boy whose real name isn't
Misha at all.

Misha's been out and working for longer than Dick's been
Robin, and he kisses Jay on both cheeks.

He's been eating well, and he looks healthy, and he reminds
Dick -- a little -- of Sweet Susie from Haly's.

Sweet Susie had been their best barker, and he'd always
liked to flirt with *both* of Dick's parents.

Misha ruffles his hair like Susie did, too.

They hand out their condoms and cards, even though
everyone allowed within shouting distance of Misha is either
fully-stocked with everything *they* can give them or are
on their way to being so.

There are a few new faces, and --

Some of them are just *too* new, but they have a deal with
Misha. He takes them *to* Leslie at least twice -- or tries
to -- and then if they keep finding their way back...


One of them's a blond who looks older *and* younger than
Tim, but his eyes are hard and cold. He's -- he's new, which
means he's coming from a situation Dick doesn't really
want to think about.

Dick hands him a fiver wrapped around a condom. "Just

The kid nods, and -- the pose is practiced enough that Dick
already knows that Misha's going to have to keep him. No
way Leslie will break through.

"What's your name?"

"They call me Snuffy. If you want something different, that's

Of course it is. "Snuffy's fine by me. Did you eat?"

"What's it look like?"

It *looks* like everything he's eaten in the past month has
either come directly from Misha or from the soup kitchens
down here that get the lion's share of their funding from
Wayne Enterprises. Dick shrugs and pulls out one of the
bland but *effective* energy bars. "If you're hungry..."

They always are.

Snuffy takes the bar and makes it disappear, and the moves
he uses are smooth enough... Dick doesn't want to know,
and, at least with Misha's hustlers, he doesn't have to.

"What do you *really* want to know?"

Dick takes a moment to look at Jay -- he's a little distance
away from everyone but Misha and Drew -- another long-
timer, favors light drag -- and turns back to Snuffy. "What
are *they* talking about?"

"Twins came down the other night, black suit and white suit.
Expensive, and not shopping for themselves. Drew went off
with them without Mish's say-so. Mish is still pretty pissed
about that."

'Mish,' already. No, this kid is gonna be right here until he...
until. Dick nods. "So what did Drew leave *out* when he
came back home and Misha wanted details?"

Snuffy bites his lip and looks hungrier. Dick hands over
another five. "Drew's pretty flush now. Whatever the john
wanted, Drew made him happy. Also -- I heard him say
that it was an apartment, not a hotel."

Bingo. "Has Drew started using?"

"What? No! He knows Mish would kick him for that."

Which means if Drew *is* using, it's nothing harder than
weed, and maybe mushrooms if he can get them. No pills.
His memory might be good *enough*.

Dick's about to signal to Jay --

"Anything else you need? I mean, you're a big superhero
and all..." And Snuffy's smile is wide and wet and
professional right up until Dick looks at Snuffy's eyes, which
are wide and hopeful and scared.

He's always gonna hate this, but there's always only ever
been one way to handle it. "Sorry, Snuffy, I'm pretty taken,"
Dick says, and flips the lenses on his mask enough to tip the
kid a wink he's still too young to know is fake. "But you were
so much help... well."

This time, the five is wrapped around one of Leslie's cards.


Snuffy makes it disappear and walks -- saunters off. It's
practice more than anything else. The longer they're around,
the longer the boys aren't making any money.

And when he stands, Jay holds up a finger. His conversation
is still going on, and it's only a question of when they can
pull Drew away from Misha, too --

But Jay just jogs away from them and pulls his grapple. Dick
pulls his, too, waves at the boys who are giving them a
ragged chorus of blown kisses and goodbyes, and once
they're in flight, again --

"*Un*surprisingly," Jay says, "there was a girl there, too."

"It was an apartment, not a hotel. Hideout."

"*Nice*," Jay says. "Now we just have to hope that the
*girl* drank a little less than Drew. Two-Face pulled out the
champagne -- whatever's he's doing is big."

"Damn. Do we know the girl?"

"The description sounds like Cherry -- black-haired Cherry --
but she was calling herself Elle," Jay says, and turns them
west -- back toward the bikes.

They're going to need to get a little farther in for the girls
they (Two-Face) wanted. In all likelihood, Cherry or Elle or
whoever it was could wear Drew's clothes. And share

There's a stray dog sniffing at the compartment -- it had
nosed under the camo tarp -- of Dick's bike where he keeps
the energy bars, and any animal that desperate...

Jay waves Dick off. "I'll use the helmet radio to call in. Take
care of Fido."

The dog -- who looks more like a 'Patches' to Dick -- snorts
hard at the smell of the bar -- understandable -- but still
snatches it away. And runs.

It feels like the first useful thing he's done all night --

"-- yeah, B. Yeah, we're headed to track her down... Is there
any family for the kid -- don't worry. *I'm* focused... right.
Green out."

Dick looks at Jay.

"We're on plan. B's maybe forgotten to feed the kid, but he
actually has some ideas as to what Two-Face's organization
looks like. Good little stalker."

"And if we find him?"

"Track from a distance. Try to avoid anyone -- else -- getting
killed," Jay says, and flips his visor down. "Come on."

Dick hops on and helmets up. "*Has* B checked on where
we can stash the kid when all of this settles down?"

"I'm gonna guess... no, I'm not," Jay says. "Later."

"Do you think -- is Bruce thinking of taking the kid in?"

"I -- seriously, bro, *not* now."

Two years ago, that tone of voice would've made him want
to find someplace he could hide where no one could find
him. Where *Jay* couldn't.

Now it just means that Jay is thinking exactly what *he* is,
except that it means something different from what's in
*Dick's* head.

They don't --

They ride.

They're never going to be able to talk about it enough.
Sometimes it's *exactly* like living with your boyfriend and
your boyfriend's quiet, freaky ex. And that's about as easy
as it ever gets.

"Are we good?"

The helmet radio is good enough to pick up the fact that
Jay's distracted with keeping an eye out for tall, dark-haired
girls on the stroll, and that he's distracted with other things,
too. "Never bad," Dick says, and knows he sounds just as

It's okay -- *they're* not the problem.

Red-headed Cherry points them back east to Rita, who
sends them to blonder-and-older Mama, who's gonna get
raided if she doesn't work harder to keep a low-profile along
with her low-rent brothel.

They break up three fights there and kneecap an attempted
rapist -- just the one knee -- which gets them a whole lot of
offers for services they don't need and the street names of
four different pimps, three of whom they'd never even heard

Black-haired Cherry had been doing fine *without* a pimp,
the last time they saw her, and sometimes Dick just wants to
take *over* Gotham's prostitution with Jay's help and
Bruce's money. It would be so much easier on
*everyone* --

Including on the asshole calling himself G-Slice who had
*been* braced by two girls they don't know with small
knife scars on their cheeks, and is now surrounded by

The pimps always cry, which just makes it worse on the
girls when they get better --

And so it's always necessary to make sure that they take a
long *time* to get better. Time means the girls maybe wind
up with Mama or one of the others, instead.

Unfortunately, G-Slice has nothing for them in terms of
either their missing girl or Two-Face -- even *after* Dick
starts teasing him -- a *little* -- with his knife. They bag it
for DNA testing later and keep moving.

Two more pimps leave stains on their boots and gauntlets --
and Jay's cape, because sometimes he gets too into things
to worry about a little spatter -- and the last one is being

The bargirls are never really theirs the way the other girls
(and boys) always are -- usually they get what they need
from their bartenders or bouncers -- and so, of course, the
last pimp on the list -- Itchy Dave of all things -- is a known

It's different to burst into a bar than it is to break up a party
in an alley.

It's --

It's *slower*, tiring -- *smelly*, and it doesn't make it better
that Jay's starting to look as pissed-off as Dick feels.

Their uniforms are costumes to too many of the people in
bars, and that means *wasted* violence. Batman would get
better results --

"Shit, Gold. Maybe we should call B out for this part."

He doesn't want to -- he *really* doesn't want to. These
are *their* leads and it's their chase. Dick growls to himself
and punches his palm --

And Jay grabs his shoulder and squeezes. "Think of it this
way -- it'll give the kid time to eat something and maybe get
cleaned up between bouts of interrogation."

Shit. "You don't really think B isn't taking *care* --"

"You know he can be a little forgetful sometimes --"

And that question was kind of -- *avoided*. Yeah, later.

"-- and remember -- according to B, we're not the only ones
this kid was stalking."

Stalking known criminals -- even just to keep an eye on
your own father -- Dick shudders. "He's lucky *we* found

"You know it," Jay says. "I'm calling in again."

Dick nods, resists the urge to bite his lip, and waits for it.

'It,' of course is the fact that they're on follow-duty. It's
ridiculous and insulting to be busted back down to backup,
but Dick has to admit things start moving faster once
Batman's the one making all the entrances.

Dick *hates* drunks. People on other drugs are usually at
least more freaked-out by the Robins in stereo --


Batman hits -- and *hits* -- bar after bar, checking back
with just a 'no' after each one --

Until he hits the Sugared Spoon, which, as it turns out, is
where a girl named Ellie started working after successfully
ditching Itchy -- and getting him rather severely beaten by
a bouncer named Evan.

Dick's all set to cheer her on -- even if Evan had way too
much of a stash on him for just personal use -- except for
the fact that she's not *there*.

Still, there are only two cheap motels where Ellie likes to
work, which means he and Jay get one and Batman gets the

The woman at the counter has somehow missed that Robins
aren't in the business of messing around with the Gotham
sex industry *too* hard, which means that she's satisfyingly
scared and helpful.

Taking point on Room 103 means it's *his* shuriken in
some nameless john's naked hairy ass, and Jay takes care
of tossing him.

Ellie turns out to be tall, have dyed black hair, and
otherwise might as well be Drew's fraternal twin.

"Two-Face," Dick says just as Jay's slamming the door
behind him, and Ellie winces and drags the sheet up a little

"Easy, bro," Jay says, sliding into Nice Robin just as easily
as he should, and pushing him aside to turn a smile on
Ellie. "The john paid up front, yeah? Wouldn't want to mess
with business."

Ellie drops the sheet enough to beam at Jay. "As a matter
of fact..."

Jay beams right back for a minute. "Perfect. You okay?
Should I send Gold here out there to teach him some

The sheet's down entirely, now, and Ellie grabs for her
purse. "Nah, he was slow, but not a jerk or anything."

"Good," Jay says, and pats the bed beside her. "You mind?"

"Not at *all*, Robin. I'm Ellie, by the way." The leer on
Ellie's face makes her look even younger than she is --
younger even than the bubble gum she pulls out of the
purse -- and sometimes he has no idea why Batman leaves
so much of this kind of thing to them, and sometimes it
makes perfect sense.

Sometimes, of course, it's both of those things at once.

"Thanks, Ellie," Jay says, and sits down. His body language
is all about making himself look smaller and less threatening,
and the uniform's magic enough to help with that, even as
it can make Jay -- both of them -- look *bigger* if they
work at it a little.

"*Anytime*. So... what did you want? If it's both of you, it'll
cost --"

Jay holds up a hand. "Nothin' like that, girlfriend. I'm
taken," Jay says, and Dick knows the lenses are up and the
wink is in full effect.

Ellie's pout is too honest for her job -- and too acute for Jay
*not* to be wearing eyeliner under the mask. Again. "Then

Jason pulls out what are probably his last two twenties --
considering the night they've had -- and holds them up
between his fingers. "Information."

"About... look, I didn't know it was going to be with some
criminal when those guys asked Evan if they could buy my
time for the night, Robin. I'm not -- I'm not *that* kind of
girl. I thought it was just going to be for some bachelor
party or something!"

Her diction's as good as Tim's and she's being entirely
honest. Maybe if they *did* get to focus on just the
prostitution angle for a while -- night after *night*, and no
distractions -- they'd maybe get to track down some of the
real assholes who kept doing things which wound up with
their children needing to run *away*.

Gotham should have better things for them to run *to*, and
Jay --

Jay's patting Ellie's hand softly. "We know. Some guys
*always* need to use a front," he says, and Ellie's probably
getting an eye-roll.

"I know! Like anyone really cares if they want a blowjob.
And -- well, that's not what *he* wanted."

Dick really doesn't want to ask. Or for the images to be
anywhere near --

"No?" Jay, of course, has to ask. If he was the one being
Nice, he would have to, too.

Ellie shakes head. "And believe me, I was *grateful*. He
just wanted me and that guy -- Dirk? Danny?"

"Drew," Dick says, quietly.

"Yeah, Drew. He just wanted me and Drew to hang out with
him and a bunch of his little toadies and drink champagne."

It matches, which is great. Just --

"That's fine, girlfriend. So... where *were* you when all this
partying was happening?"

"Oh! We were all the way over on the West side. Just some
old brownstone -- a real quiet neighborhood, actually."

Paydirt. "Second Street, by any chance?"

"Hunh? Oh, no. We were on Castor. It was number *two*
Castor, though -- hey, you guys don't have to go right
away --"

"Sorry, honey," Jay says, and blows her a kiss. "We *really*

And Jay's got his hand up to tap the comm, but Batman's
*right* there. Batman is finishing up filling the tank on
Dick's bike, a look tells them both that Jay's is already
done, and then it's just a matter of a routine double-check
on the tank guard before they're moving.

They start their patrols early this time of year, but now it's
late enough that the streets are *empty* enough for them
to make some speed --

It's *late* enough and they've been busting their asses hard
enough that Dick's actually getting a little tired, and the
realization makes something small and hard get tighter and
harder *and* colder inside him --

But they don't get to choose their own schedules as often
as they get to choose their own audiences.


"Yeah --"

"Listening --"

"Two-Face has just announced to the city that he'll release a
deadly nerve gas into the city in two hours if he doesn't
receive twenty-two million dollars."

"Shit -- *you* couldn't get that much cash that fast --"

"And that is, perhaps, the point. Protocol Alpha," Batman
says, and just because they've never done this before
doesn't mean Dick doesn't know it.

The car's lights are already flashing the afterburner warning.
Dick breaks left, Jay breaks right, and tired doesn't matter.

The bikes aren't as fast as the car, but even Alpha doesn't
leave room for civilian casualties.

The trick to moving this fast in Gotham (he never has --
don't think) --

The trick is just to do it. Trust Batman to take care of
himself, trust Jay to take care of *himself*, and -- no

There are tires squealing behind him, but there's no crash.
There's a woman's face, a blur of neon and arc-sodium on
plate glass --

Bus and Dick's on the sidewalk, and the bike doesn't
maneuver as well as he does, but right now it has to --

Jay's bike *flying* in his peripheral vision means he'd found
a good-enough ramp -- there's a person --

There are people, and Dick has to jink right-left-right and
his heart's in his throat but the bike's balance *is* as good
as his -- in its own ways.

He passes the car and keeps going, because Jay's still
ahead --

*Dent's* still ahead, and -- fucking *gas*. He has a basic
rebreather, but that won't do anything if it can get in
through his pores --

Don't think, and he doesn't, because a car accident *none*
of them caused -- sidewalk's full, but Jay's isn't. He cuts in
just under the *flare* of Jay's cape, the finish on his bike
screams from contact --

Jay's bike wobbles -- at this speed it fucking *vibrates* --

Jay's fine and the street's clear again.

The Batmobile comes back into view from the east and it's
covered in something that looks like pulped vegetables.

Sirens and --

Yeah, this is flight, too.

He knows how to fly.

He's still thrumming when he leaps off and lets the bike
slide into a massive stack of trash -- clinking bottles,
champagne -- and he's still thrumming when the branch he
catches cracks and forces him into a tumble.

By the time he's up, he's dusty and he's *ready*, and
that's --


Because the two guys on the stoop of this brownstone
*match*, and they match when they reach for their
weapons, too. He's too close to make one batarang count,
but he's just close enough to use the banister as a vault.
His first kick isn't hard enough, but the second one sends
the guy flying right over the side.

His body knows that sound is skull hitting pavement, and
he's already spinning. Two punches --

Three and the other guy's down, and this time when he
spins, Jay's right there. He ducks, Jay *takes* the door --

"Robins, *down*."

And his body knows *that's* the sound of Batman flying in
above them --

Just like how his body knows the sounds of chambers being
racked somewhere toward the other end of this hallway.
Two shotguns and something with a safety, and it's too
dark in here to be sure where, so it's time to move.

He serpentines with Jay instead, two and two and the
straightaway that lets them build the speed to head *up*
opposite walls --

And then there are the muzzle flashes -- and a grunt that
tells them Batman's taken one.

Three to go (and that means at least *one* more other
than Two-Face somewhere, *remember*) --

A meaty kind of *crunch* tells him there's one to go, and
that one turns out to be right *there* after Dick lands. Too
close for anything but headbutts and nerve-strikes, and the
former is Jay's territory for when he's feeling mean.

One-two-three and Dick's man hits the ground with a
whimper, and then it's just the three of them.

Jay's breathing is on his right, the creak of Batman's armor's
just ahead, and there's not a light on *in* the place --

Which suggests the vaguely neon-type glow is where they
need to go right --

"Traps," Batman says, low enough that no one more than
five feet away could pick it up without a mic.

*Not* right now, because he'd nearly let himself forget that
Two-Face has a *thing* for traps. Batman doesn't need to
tell them which protocol this is -- he's gone infrared without
thinking about.

Jay goes night-vision. "Trip-wire three paces in front of B,"
he says right before Dick says, 

"Something hot under the floorboards three and a *half*
paces. Crosses the hallway, goes on for at least a yard --"

"Out," Batman says. "*Now*."

What --

And then Dick sees the wall of *red* heading for them at
speed -- did Two-Face detonate early?

No, not a bomb, not quite --

It's fastest for him to just handspring *back* -- and over the
side of the steps to make room for Jay and Batman
*running* --

Dick lands *on* the first guy he dropped, and flips his
lenses back to normal just in time to keep a wall of *flame*
from taking them out along with his vision. Too much for
one man with a flame-thrower --

They must've dropped one of the inside guys *on* a trap-
trigger, and there was no time to get them out --

Jay and Batman are only *just* getting out, and the
uniforms are flame-proof but Jay's hair is anything but --

"Motherfuck --"

Batman sprays him with foam, Dick clamps it *out* with
the ends of his cape, and Jay looks like an extremely pissed-
off punk.

A part of Dick's brain honestly feels like *now* is the time
to let him know that Jay will look even better with the
eyeliner now, but whatever was hot beneath the floor
ignites --

Concussion wave, tuck and use it, loosen up, ride it --

His ankle yells when he comes down across the street, but
that's what the boots are *for*.

"Batman. Green." He sounds so -- so fucking *calm*, but
are they --

"Here," Batman says --

"Fucking -- *here*," says Jay, and it's not a matter of
starting to breathe again so much as it's a matter of time
for a new plan of *attack* --

"The glow was coming from a center room. No easy
entrances, Robins."

Fine. He doesn't *want* easy, anymore. He pulls his flame
hood up and over and knows Jay is doing the same, and it's
time to go *right* back in.

His feet want him to know that his boots can still melt, and
also that the floor of the entry hall is unstable, but these
traps are well and truly blown. Dick shoots his grapple just
in time to see Batman's and Jay's punch into the ceiling.

The ropes don't hang at *quite* perfect five foot intervals
when they're done, but it's good enough for Dick to swing
from, which means that it's good enough for the others.

He's still got point, which means that his cape makes an
excellent target for the asshole with the submachine gun.
He can't move perfectly -- he doesn't want *anyone* aiming
toward that glow, but staying low makes the gunman stitch
a path of light that illuminates just -- *everything*.

Two-Face --

Two-Face is just *standing* there, and Dick knows he's not
supposed to, but he can't *stop* himself from taking his
path in front of him. No time for a kick, but the gunman
makes Two-Face *dance* --

The flaming whip across his thigh is a bullet graze, but the
whistle in the air's a batarang, and he doesn't have to wait
to know it'll hit, so he stops himself on his hands and uses
 his momentum to kick *back* --

Contact, and --

*Contact*, from either Batman or Jay, and *that's* the
sound of teeth hitting the floor. Good.

Dick moves into a crouch --

Dick gets the hell *out* of the crouch, because apparently
the bullet took enough meat out of him that the wound
didn't cauterize itself. He's bleeding now, not deadly-fast,
but dangerous-fast --

And Batman shoves Dick behind himself, and Jay slaps a
bandage on him. It's sticking *because* of the blood, but
until Batman says --


Okay. Batman's got Two-Face cornered *enough* that Jay
can tape him at speed. His tights are supposed to be
*green*, not red -- no, he can focus. He can --

"Nice work, Bats. But you're too late. My little present to
Gotham is armed and ticking, in its own efficiently digital
way. If you so much as *touch* the wrong button on that
keypad you'll set the whole thing off," Two-Face says, and
tosses a gas-mask from hand to hand. "There were a few
more of these around, but for some reason the fellas liked
having them to hand. Feel free to poke around in the ashes
out there for them."

And that's --

Dick moves to the machine -- it looks like an organ and a
computer had a baby, which then mated with the world's
most dangerous fish-tank -- and --

Everything's soldered *together*.

"I see number two over there's noticed that it'll take a little
effort to shut my baby down. Still, you carry a welding torch
on you, dontcha, Bats? I guess you're welcome to try."

A part of Dick is telling him to reach for the thing, Batman
*has* to be tossing it at him. But --

"Then again, number two has maybe *also* noticed that the
whole thing looks a little too shiny for the material it's made
of. It was tempting to wait until you fellas ignited the benzol
coating the thing, but I think I like the way you look --"

And that's Jay's batarang sticking in the wall behind Two-
Face. His gas mask is pierced right through the filter, and
the whole thing is swinging.

"-- when you're a little *frustrated*," Two-Face says. The
smile on his face really -- really needs to be bleeding at
least as much as he wants to. Was. *Is* --

His left boot is wet inside. He needs -- he needs stitching.

"Or fainting from blood loss. That's doable. Nighty-night,
number two."

No, just -- fuck that --

*No* --

But there's no way to stop Jay from putting him *down*,
using his own balled-up cape to elevate Dick's leg, and
using his flame hood to apply pressure on the wound --
*shit*. He's not gonna scream --

"Don't you do this, bro --"

"Gosh and *golly*, that's cute, Robins," Two-Face says. "I
think I might shed a tear or two --"

"It's not too late, Dent. You can stop this."

One day, when Dick grows up, he's going to be able to
sound just as emotionless and *cold* as Batman. And then
he's going to hang himself. Shit, what are they going to --

"Are you serious? Are you -- Bats, don't you *ever* give


"You were trying this when it was still just you and the kid
in the corner who's probably finally old enough to
*shave* --"

"Twelve years of primary school --"

"How *is* it," Two-Face says, "that a guy as smart as
you --"

"Four years until you took your undergraduate degree. A
double-major of History and Criminal Justice --"

"How did you not catch a *hint* when I beat that boy of
yours *bloody* --"

Dick knows about that. Dick -- Jay says Batman used to
speak differently about... about Dent --

"You graduated summa cum laude from Hudson Law in two
years. Law review --"

"*Stop* it --"

"Dent. You were only an ADA for four years before you got
sick of the way things worked in Gotham. The way things
*were*. You decided to change things, and the people
agreed with you --"

"Shut up, or I swear I'll --"

"Two years, and you made so many things better --"

And Two-Face's guns are barely out before Batman has
slapped them out of his hands. It -- it feels like the sound
they make when they hit the floor force more blood out of
him, or pull it out, or --

"Batman," Jay says, "we have to --"

Dent's laugh is gravel, pushed into where he hurts, where
he's hurt --

"It's still too late. It still -- doesn't matter. If the panic hasn't
gotten bad enough in the streets, you *might* just be able
to take me back home to Arkham before I turn this city into
a boneyard." And Two-Face holds his hands out for cuffs.

"All right," Batman says. "If that's the way you want it."

The cuffs go on, and the punch puts Two-Face on the floor.
It's not enough.

It's not --

They can't -- they *can't*.

But Batman's just *walking* over to the machine and --
tapping his comm.

What? They're both right... maybe Batman's trying to reach
him? He's here, isn't he?

"Now," Batman says, and Dick has time to think 'now
*what*' before the kid's voice is coming out of the radio:

"One, six, seven, seven, seven, two, one, six. That's it."

"*No*," Two-Face says, and one of Batman's batarangs
doesn't stop him from stumbling to his feet, but one of
Dick's *own* puts him right back down. To stay.

And then Batman hits one more key --

And there's a sound like powering *down*, and Dick thinks
it's only that last year of maturity that's keeping him from
wetting himself with more than just blood.

"What -- what the *hell*, B?"

Jay *always* knows what to say.

"I want preliminary stitches in Gold now, Green. As for
what -- sixteen million, seven hundred and seventy-seven
thousand, two hundred and sixteen is two to the power of
twenty-four -- the exact number of years it took to bring
Dent to this point in his life. Or so he apparently believes.
Our... new friend memorized the number from certain
papers he happened to see -- *without* the context."

The papers Shifty Drake stole, Dick thinks, because it's
easier than paying attention to what Jay's doing to his

It's not easier to think about just how much Drake had paid
for that.

Dick closes his eyes.

In the end, he *has* to ride home in the car while Jay sticks
around for long enough to make sure neither Two-Face nor
his men go anywhere before the vans arrive. Later, Jay will
stash Dick's bike and ride home on his own.

It isn't --

It's not that Dick has *never* ridden in one of the cars with
Batman, it's just that it was usually in the daytime -- with
*both* Alfred and Jay. Dick had gotten his bike the same
time he'd gotten the go-ahead to patrol.

Still, better to have his foot up on the dashboard than to
get himself or someone else killed on the bike, even if it
does feel a little -- weird.

Maybe it's the sedative that was in the electrolyte drinks
Batman had made him chug. Except --

He feels more awake now, too. Enervated, kind of. He --
Up and down and all-around. Hungry. He's not sure.

"I'd like you to take as much note of your symptoms as you
can, Dick. Ideally, you'll never have to deal with this much
blood loss again, but taking note now --"

"Will let me," Dick says, and yawns, "know my limits if there
is a next time. Sure, Batman."

Batman nods, and it's silent for a while. Quiet, except for
that sort of under-sound of complex machinery and a well-
loved engine. If something happens to his bike before he
can go *get* it...

Well, okay, so it's not like a *pet* or anything, but still. That
bike is his other set of legs. Freedom and power and the
match to Jay's, too. It would be like... changing his uniform
to something without a star at the collar, or... he doesn't

Jay will hide it someplace safe. And --

Batman clears his throat. He -- clears his *throat*. He wants
to say something, but he's not sure of it... it's the way he's
acted, now and again, around Jay.

And -- it's actually kind of disturbing. Considering.


"Jack Drake is dead. When I accessed the police files on
murdered John Does... they simply hadn't run the prints
they'd taken, yet."

Dick nods. It's -- it couldn't have been any other way. At
least Two-Face wasn't the type to chop off hands and smash
teeth. Maybe Jack Drake can have an open casket, like
Dick's father. They couldn't for his mother, because the
fall -- no. Not now.

"Tim doesn't have any other family."

His mind wants him to *move*, but his body doesn't know
how. Or -- something "If he did, he probably wouldn't have
been living with a two-bit -- I'm just gonna start censoring
myself now. God, how was he when you left?"

"Calm. I don't -- I'm reasonably sure that won't last. He'd
made a fair number of plans dependent on his father being
alive to turn state's evidence."

Dick winces.

"I -- I'm going to ask him if he wishes to stay."

Not a surprise, ultimately. Would Batman have made it a
question if Jay had been the one stuck riding shotgun?
How long before he can get *out* of this car --

"I understand if the idea is... an uncomfortable one. He
hardly seemed to 'hit it off' with you and Jason."

Dick sighs. "He's got some attitude on him, but there's
really no telling what he'll be like -- in *any* way -- once
he starts coming to terms with his father's death," Dick
says, keeping it neutral, keeping it... as light as possible.

"You don't think so?"

You do? "Maybe you just had more time with him," Dick
says, and closes his eyes against -- there'd been none of
this when it came to *him* and Bruce -- no. What's done is
done. "You like him."

"He's -- yes. And I think that you, especially, could teach him
quite a lot."

The moves, the speed, the dexterity -- "Did he seriously
*memorize* a code from papers he -- what? Caught a
glimpse of before his father... destroyed them?"

"His father had, apparently, quite a prodigious memory
himself. And a promising future before his fiancée became

"And a criminal bent."

"That, too. Tim doesn't seem especially prone to sentiment
in that regard," Bruce says. "And Tim got the chance to
hear the numbers again while Dent was torturing his father
in the alley behind their home."

"Christ. How sure are you that he's *psychologically* ready
for something like this, Batman?"

"No less sure than I am of myself, on any given day."

That -- was a joke. Not a funny one, but -- still a joke.
Dick --

Dick doesn't know. He wants --

There are times when it's only the fact that he *knows*
Jason would come with him if ever needed to bail that lets
him feel okay in his skin, lets him push back the anger
and the need -- he misses living with *people*, as
opposed to with things which are anything but -- except
for when Dick least expects it, or can *deal* with it. "What
do you want me to say, Batman? Did you want me to

"I was hoping that you would agree, if only tentatively, to
help me train him."

"And Jay?"


Dick -- doesn't shiver. And he'd taken an Oath, just like Jay
had done. The city is his -- theirs. A gift Dick's never been --
and probably never will be -- remotely sure about. And it's.

There's more here, and there's more he could say, more
Bruce has left himself open -- *asking* for.

He doesn't want the responsibility of *this*, either, but he's
the only Robin in this car. He clears his own throat. "And
you haven't even asked *him* yet."

"No. I wanted to speak to you first."

Just... him? It would be pretty easy to go with that, actually.
To go with it being *Batman*, and that it's all about the
fact that Batman wouldn't have a lot of the moves he does
if it wasn't for Dick and Jason. But -- it's not like that.
Dick *knows* it isn't -- dammit.


"How much of this is because you're lonely, Bruce?"

Bruce hums, low and brief. "For this, you use my name," he
says, and nods. "I can't say I don't understand."

"Just -- answer the question. Please."

"I can't. I begrudge you -- and Jason -- nothing. I have
neither that right nor the desire --"

"It's *human*, Bruce --"

"And so am I," he says, before toggling the autopilot and
looking at Dick. "Just the same, it's true. And just the same
as that -- yes, I have been... lonely. It is staggeringly easy
to imagine conversing with Tim. I began wanting to hear
him say my name... very quickly."

"*Jesus* --"

"But he has as much potential as you and Jason did before I
began training you, if in different ways. He taught me how
to access the police records more quickly. He's spent a
significant amount of time learning ways around the security
systems of computers not his own --"

"And so, of course, you left him alone with Alfred in the
*Cave* --"

"I'm not above offering temptation. That's human, too -- or
so I've been told. And Dick -- he is strong. Like you. Like

Yeah. He is. Dick closes his eyes and beats his head against
the seat once, twice -- *temptation* -- again. "So even if he
never wants to be a Robin, you want him to be one of
*us*." And Batman's --

Bruce's smile is small, but not cold. "We haven't known him
for twenty-four hours, and the two of us have already
conversed more and more honestly than we have in the
past three years."

Which -- point. And probably worth more head-beating,
because he already knows that it stopped being *all*
Bruce's fault a while ago, even if Jason never really
pressured him, or -- Dick snorts. Why hadn't Jay ever
taught Bruce that conversations should only happen when
both parties have room to *move*? "Don't you think it's
kind of *premature* to think that this -- *this* -- will be
more... chronic than situational?"

"There's always room for hope, Dick. And if you didn't
believe that..."

If he didn't believe that, maybe he never would've tried --
anything with Jay. Bruce is -- there's no Batman in this car.
Good thing he's drugged. "That wasn't hope so much as --
I had to."

"Necessity... is an excellent rationale for any number of
things," Bruce says.

"You don't think you would've figured it out eventually?"

"I would've been more focused on squares, I think. The
number of presumed dead, the size of the area the gas
would blanket based on wind conditions, the ages of the
prostitutes Dent had hired... perhaps I would've gotten to
two to the twenty-fourth power. Eventually."

"'Observation, memory, calculation, deduction. The
foundations on which we build in order to succeed, in
however small a way.'" How many times had Batman --
how many times had Bruce said that to him before he
started studying the old files in earnest instead of just
running for the practice equipment...?

Bruce nods, and turns back to the road.

It feels like there's something else he should say, if not do.
Some way to express... any of the things inside him beyond
just quoting the man and letting it all... sit there.

Dick doesn't know what that is, and he's back to feeling
tired, too. (Shock, grogginess, calm, tired -- is he still
bleeding?) Is he -- Jay's 'preliminary' stitches would make a
lot of ER surgeons feel kind of inadequate, so... probably

He's tired. He -- "Am I allowed to go to sleep?"

"You can doze, but either Jason or I will be waking you
periodically until your blood pressure is higher."

Right, of course. They'd better plan on waking him up
with food. And no damned energy bars, either. "So Dad's
calling me in sick, tomorrow?"

"Try not to be terribly disappointed. It will upset Jason who,
of course, has nowhere in particular to be tomorrow."

Dick laughs. He -- really can't help it. "I think... I think I've
*seen* more of the guy under the cowl tonight than I have
in the past three years."

"I -- I will never not regret that, Dick. You should know
that --"

Dick waves him off. His hand feels about ten pounds heavier
than the entirety of his arm, but he waves him off. "That
was then, this is now that you have tiny stalker-friend. He's
got pretty much no body-fear I could see, you know."

"It did seem that way."

"Mm. Do we know how the -- how his mother died?"

"Complications from lupus. And, almost certainly, the lack of
health insurance once her husband dropped out of school to
take care of her. She fought it for quite some time. The
woman's -- Janet's -- mother was helping to support them
as much as she could, but she died not long after Janet did.
She's the source of the camera.

And he'd been tossing it around like -- like kind of a *bully*.
Jesus. "The kid's earliest memories were probably of his
mother feeling like hell. So... what? The dad did numbers
for the small-timers around?"

"From what Tim has observed. It's not difficult to imagine
how it started."

Or ended. "*Does* WE hire dropouts who can't work on a
regular schedule?"

"Habitually, in research and development. I will be
discussing our other departments with Lucius. Certainly, we
could always do more."

Dick nods. "Speaking of..."


"We need to do more for the pros. We need to do more to
go after the people who put some of the kids in that

"It can be difficult to gather the information -- and
evidence -- needed to put the criminals away, Dick... but
we could all work harder to find a way to *make* it work,
and to help those who will let us. Leslie has always been
an excellent resource."

She'd probably be a better one if she didn't disapprove of
just about everything about the way they lived. But.
"Doesn't that Queen guy on the League work with kids when
he's not shooting people with arrows?"

"Yes. He's quite passionate about it, as is his ward."

Speedy. Jay's met him a few times and likes him well
enough. "We could ask them for advice, too."

"Yes," Bruce says. "I... no. Never mind."

Tempting. Really, really, very tempting to leave it. Jay
would even understand -- no. "Uh-uh," Dick says, and
pastes on a smile they both know isn't half as real as it
could be. "We're -- turning over a new leaf. Spill."

The corner of Bruce's mouth twitches, once. "Since you put
it that way... I was only going to ask if you were happy, and
if there was anything I could do... well. Jason has always
maintained that I should give you all the space you needed.
I was wondering if there was a way I could do that while
still... helping, in some way."

And -- whoa. Suddenly it's the most emotionally awkward
interrogation ever. Just -- Jesus. "I -- wow. I didn't really
expect --"

"I don't -- need an answer."

Tonight? Ever? Dick shakes his head. It's not like he can let
this just *hang* over them -- any more than it apparently
already has. "I miss my parents every day, Bruce. I think you
get that."


"Sometimes I also miss the person I might've been, if I
hadn't lost them. And I can't... I don't think there's anything
you can do about that that Jason hasn't already... well, you

"He's kept the circus alive for you, in every way he could."

"Exactly," Dick says, and yawns again. Balconies and
Christmas trees. "I think I'm about as happy as I can be. I
know... I can never just be a performer again, and I know
that every city has the same kinds of dark places and awful
things, and I know that I'm never going to... I'm never
going to be the person who doesn't see how awful things
can get."

"And people."

Dick grins. "Especially people. People are pretty terrible,

"But not only that...?"

Dick knows Bruce isn't -- really -- talking about the rest of
the world, so much as the world inside this car. And --

The manor's finally in sight, and the sky's that strange kind
of blue which can't seem to decide whether it's going to
fade to grey or something redder. Dawn -- almost.

Escape in sight -- even if it's only to a gurney in the Cave.
It's safe enough. "No, Bruce. Not only that."

"Thank you," he says, quietly, and pulls in to the Cave.

"You're welcome," Dick says, and wonders what Tim will
look like on the rings.


Note: So, if you are new to the series and decided to start
with this one --

Basically, Jack helped me realize that if you twisted pre-
and post-Crisis storylines just right, you could have a
Jason who lost his parents *before* year one, and who
could thus wind up on the streets for a while before
encountering a young and rather vulnerable Batman.

Three years later, bad things happen at Haly's, and, well,
there you go.

As to the rest --

Jack also helped me realize that the reason why I
wasn't looking forward to introducing Tim to this
universe was because I was thinking of the wrong Tim
entirely. A universe with a One True Jason who helps to
*create* a One True Dick... clearly needs a One True

And other sorts of human things, too... but we'll get
there in time.

.New shape to win.