Shutting Doors II

~ Eleven Months Later (concurrent to Batman and Robin)

I grinned at Bruce as he picked up the phone. Alfred and I had him right where we wanted him -- ordering pizzas. Bruce always tries to protest -- saying things like 'healthy food' and 'paying the delivery boy to come all the way out here' but in the end, Al and I always beat him. We had a secret weapon, you see.

Dirty dishes.

Not that Bruce did the dishes, mind you. Al and I did. But that's why the ploy worked so well. Al has a great 'I'm not asking you for anything, sir' expression which just makes you want to give him anything his heart desires. Me, I have the pleading look. Between the two of us, sighing over the thought of doing another sinkful of dishes and remarking on how nice it would be to have the evening free for a change, Bruce always makes the call. I know he's on to us but I don't care. As long as we get our double layer pepperoni and sausage extra cheese and a side order of garlic bread, I'm happy.

Yeah, yeah, it takes more than that, sure. That's where ordering pizza has another advantage. Instead of helping Al clean the kitchen after supper I get to invite myself to bed early. (No, not my bed, either!) It doesn't always work -- but it works more often than not. I think maybe that's why Bruce gives me that little grin when he finally agrees to call for pizza.

It's the closest I ever get to his ever admitting what goes on in his bedroom, granted. He drives me nuts sometimes, but that's just the way Bruce is. He's quiet and doesn't show his emotions a lot. You have to be watching closely to catch those little smiles or those little frowns. Otherwise, you just never know what he's really feeling. I don't think he's deliberately trying to be mysterious. He just spends too much of his time dressed in costume.

Considering how he looks in costume, that's not such a bad thing.

Bruce got back from calling for pizzas. Al just smiled politely. "Well, sir, as I'll not be doing any cooking tonight, was there anything you need to be done?" There was no sign on Al's face of the triumph I felt. I grinned at Bruce as he just shook his head.

"No there isn't, Alfred. Thank--"

He stopped and stared out the window. I was on my feet in a flash, heart racing because I knew what it had to be. A glance over Bruce's shoulder and I saw it, shining against the sky. Bat signal. Cool!

Bruce headed for the silver closet --- you know there really is silver in there? -- with Al and me right behind. I couldn't stop from giving Al a grin. He just nodded. I loved this. I really did. There is so much about being Robin that makes living so much more. It was like living life in 2-D during the day, but as soon as those uniforms go on, bam! 3-D all the way! I almost beat Bruce down to the cave, where our costumes were kept; he beat me getting dressed, though, because he was used to slipping into that molded suit.

Mine was new, only had it for about four months. I still couldn't quite believe it -- Bruce had created it for me without telling me about it. When he showed it to me, I nearly did a flip. Literally! He'd said it was time I had a "real" costume. Then he'd given me one of those little smiles that said everything he never said aloud. I'd jumped on him, hugging him, and then I'd given him a deep, tongue-wrenching kiss. He'd finally said he was proud to have me as his partner; a real partner, not just the kid who followed him around and held the ropes and called the cops afterwards. I remember the look on his face when I pulled myself off him and started trying on my suit for the first time.

Four months later I was still getting used to getting into the form-fitting suit, but I wasn't about to complain. I snapped the face mask on and grabbed my favorite batarang -- robinarang, actually. I grinned again. Al and I had come up with those, after I had my new suit. I figured, if I was a superhero in my own right, I ought to have my own weapons. That's how I got my bike, too. I built that one months ago when I was trying out a few of Batman's gizmos, seeing if they could be tailored to work on a bike. I had thought it was just an exercise in mechanics, you know, build it to see if it worked.

Once I got it working, though, I couldn't bring myself not to ride it. I kinda liked having my own vehicle, it made me feel like I was doing this for real, not like a sidekick but a real hero. I bet Luke felt this way when he built his first saber. Man, I tell you, ever since I got Bruce to tell me how he really feels about me, so much stuff has happened... the costume, the bike, my own insignia. It's fantastic. Weird thing is, every time I try to tell Bruce how fantastic I feel, we just end up having sex.

That's not a bad thing. Especially after we get home from a job and we're all sweaty and our hearts are pounding and I've been staring at him in that suit....

I tried to get my mind off sex as I headed into the BatCave proper, trying to think about the upcoming job, and not the post-job festivities. Bruce was standing beside the platform where his car was coming up. I could see Al, back on the steps, watching him with a serious look on his face. I wanted to tell him not to worry. It wouldn't help. Instead I looked at Batman as he raised his BatMobile II. He was looking pretty serious himself. I grinned.

"I want a car." I glanced over at him. "Chicks dig the car."

"This is why Superman works alone."

He didn't laugh. He is such a grinch sometimes. Good thing I know he isn't serious. Besides which, Superman doesn't work alone. Jimmy and I have been pals for awhile and I know how much he and Lois and all the others do to help. Even if none of them get to wear cool costumes. I shook my head at Bruce, and waited for him to get his car out of my way.

We fought the frozen creeps for ownership of the diamond -- we were doing pretty good until Head Iceman brought his rocket out. I was still trying to fight off the Hockey Players from Hell when I realized Batman had followed him into the rocket. I leapt after them. It took all of my strength to hang onto the handholds as we blasted upwards but Bruce was in there fighting that creep alone.

I thought my heart would stop. Not just from the speed, either -- when I saw the Frozen Creep come sailing out of the rocket I knew there had to be only one explanation. He couldn't be dead. No way could Bruce be dead, so I hauled myself up the outside of that rocket and pulled myself inside. By that point my heart was beating again; pounding in my chest like it was going to explode.

It wasn't until I flipped over and saw him trapped there that I thought I might be okay. But I swear, one of these days I'm going to let him stay trapped. Not even a thank you, not even any recognition that I'd saved him. If I hadn't wanted to grab him and wrestle him to the ground... well, floor... I'd have told him off. I know that a lot of guys have to resort to making jokes in order to hide the fact that they feel anything -- hell, I do it myself -- but I'm getting pretty tired of hearing criticisms and complaints when I could be hearing just a little gratitude. I didn't get a chance to give him any grief before he set the bomb and we had to sail outta there. Literally, on the doors of the rocketship.

Oh man, it was righteous! Almost like flying... It almost made me forgive Bruce for being a jerk, if he was gonna get me into situations like this. Surfing on nothing but air currents plunging to earth.... When the adrenaline is pumping and the world is rushing around you and the only thing keeping you alive is the hair-trigger of your reflexes you either know you're alive or you're way past caring. It was exactly like flying. I forgave him for being a jerk, halfway down to the ground.

Then, of course, I had to go and get caught by the freeze gun and Batman had to save my life. It didn't make for a really good position to be in for demanding that he treat me better and be more gracious. One minute I'm leaping after Freeze -- that adrenaline rush just carried me through, you know? Man, what a rush... The next minute I'm soaking wet and Batman is holding me up with one arm. I had to ask if we got him. Of course it's my fault he got away. Batman didn't say so exactly... he didn't say anything.

He had looked at me when he'd defrosted me, and I swear there was something creepy in his expression. Later I realized it looked as if he was asking himself if it was really worth it. Just what that "it" was, I didn't know. I tried to let him know how sorry I was.

"Guess we're even now, huh?"

Okay, so at least I smiled at him when I said it. But he didn't answer me, just turned on his heel and strode out of there, back to retrieve our vehicles. I followed, keeping my peace, intending that once he started in on my doing something stupid I would let him have it, too. I mean, come on -- so I got caught and he had to let the bad guy go. It wasn't like we wouldn't catch up with Freeze later, and it wasn't like he'd gotten away with anything except a diamond. Diamonds can be replaced, heroes can't.

I just wished Bruce would have said something.

Back at the BatCave Bruce wasted no time letting Alfred know I'd been nearly killed again and needed looking after. I think he meant it nicer than it sounded, but I couldn't tell. I'd ridden my bike back to the Cave and the Robinsuit had stopped most of the wind but there were some places, right around the edges, that needed some warming up. I never say no to Al's TLC, anyway, because he makes cocoa. I let Al help me with my suit and he got me wrapped in a blanket that Bruce brought over and then -- and through this all Bruce never once looked at me, never said a word right to me -- that's when I figured out what that look had been, earlier. About it being worthwhile. They got me in the chair with warm water for my feet, despite my telling them all I needed was dry clothes and I'd be fine. Did they listen to me? Do they ever?

Al made sure I was really okay while Bruce started digging through the archives for some information on our newest Villain. I hoped he found enough to let us track the guy down. The sooner we wrapped this up and got this guy into Arkham, the sooner I could get back to being mad at Bruce.

Or so I thought. Simulator? He wanted me to spend ten hours in the simulator? I couldn't believe it even as I was hearing it.

"Look, I made a mistake. Don't go all protective on me. I'm sorry, it won't happen again!" I didn't need training!

"You got reckless and you almost got killed by Freeze tonight."

Oh, man, Bruce was looking at me like we were arguing over my forgetting to turn off all the lights downstairs before heading up. Like it hardly mattered and I was clearly wrong. I wanted to belt him one -- might have if the Cave floor hadn't been so cold, and me in bare feet.

"I'm fine! See me, here, alive? How are we supposed to work together if you won't trust me?" I tried to calm down. I knew Bruce was mostly upset because I'd nearly been killed, or hurt. He doesn't react to that kind of thing real well. But I was fine and he couldn't seem to see that. Making me do ten hours training wasn't going to change how scared he was.

I mean, I understood how he felt but I wasn't insisting that he stop going after the bad guys by himself, was I? I wasn't telling him not to go chasing after Freeze without me to back him up, just because he'd been caught and trapped and if it hadn't been for me he'd have died up there. No, I wanted to haul him upstairs and let him know how glad I was he was still alive, and do some celebrating that we'd neither of us been hurt. He wanted to brush me aside and treat me like a kid who wasn't ready for the big leagues yet.

I was so mad I couldn't decide if I should haul off and let him know just exactly how I felt or just leave him down here alone. I really, really wanted to get him into bed but I couldn't just forgive him, either. If I didn't make a choice I was going to break something and then I'd just have to listen to a lecture about tantrums and paying for it out of my own pocket.

Sometimes, I swear, Bruce thinks he's the only one who can make the right choices. It wouldn't be so bad if he treated me like a real partner. All the time, I mean. If he would just stop forgetting that I'm an adult, that I'm capable of handling things myself, that I can get myself out of whatever I get into.... I wish he would stop forgetting that I love him as much as he loves me, and that it's okay to say so once in a while.

I finally just went to my room, alone, without saying anything more to try to make Bruce understand. Right in the middle of a case wasn't the time to try and have some serious discussions about our lives. As soon as Freeze was behind bars, I was going to tie Bruce down and make him listen to me.

I flopped back onto my bed and grinned. Tying Bruce up... now there was an idea! If only he weren't still so hesitant about us being lovers at all, I'd seriously think about it. But he was nowhere near ready for that. He could barely face loving me, or maybe it was being in love with me. I wasn't sure now, which. He never held back in bed, but whenever I tried touching him outside of his bedroom he'd step away. It didn't take me long to get the hint that he wasn't comfortable, so I stopped. I can respect a man's privacy, and I knew that Bruce probably wouldn't ever be comfortable with public displays. It didn't bother me; I didn't need things like that anyway. As long as he smiled at me when we were alone, and I could still see that he loved me, and cared about me, and as long as he still grabbed me once we got behind those doors and held me close and began making love to me... I'd be just fine.

Why did I have to keep telling myself that, though?

A knock on my door didn't surprise me. Al was probably making extra sure I was okay, maybe even with a mug of hot cocoa in hand. I stayed where I was, lying on my bed facing the window. With the light on I couldn't see outside, but that was okay. I wasn't trying to see anything. "Yeah?"

"Are you okay?"

I froze. It was Bruce. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw him standing barely inside my doorway, looking almost as repentant as I needed him to be. I rolled over, sat up. My feet were still cold. "Yeah, I'm fine."

When I didn't tell him to leave me alone, he stepped inside. He looked around at my room, anywhere but at me, still looking like... like he did when Al scolded him. I wanted to grin, but I was still angry. I didn't want Bruce to think he could get away without apologizing.

Finally he did look at me. Gave me that direct, honest stare that makes my insides get all gooey. "Dick, I'm sorry. I wasn't angry with you. I was... worried. If you had been killed, I--" He looked away again. After a minute of silence I realized he wasn't going to say anything more. I stood up and walked partway over to him.

"I know. Bruce, god, don't you think I know? I climbed into Freeze's rocket not knowing if I was going to find--" my voice sort of cracked, "anything to rescue. Don't you think I know how scary that is?"

"I'm sorry." He glanced back up, eyes warm again, and I could tell he really meant it. "I didn't think about that."

"Well you think about it next time. Or I'm sending you to the simulator for ten hours." I took the last few steps towards him, put my hand on his arm. I still wanted to grab him, still needed to show him I wasn't ready to lose him -- wouldn't ever be ready to lose him, whether it was to see him die or see him leave me. I needed to do one more thing, though, before I explained it all to him. "Bruce...."

"Yes?" I had his full attention now.

"I love you. Don't ever think I don't."

I'd confused him, that was evident. He gave a little shake of his head, "I don't--"

"I need to know how much of what you said downstairs is because of this, because of how we are, and how much of it is because you just don't know if I'm ready to work with you."

"I'm not sure I know what you mean."

He did, all right, he just wanted to make sure we were on the same wavelength. I tried again. "Who were you trying to protect, Bruce. Me or you?"

"You." His answer was immediate, but now he was confused again. Good.

"That's okay then." I smiled, and leaned forward. Gave him a short kiss, right where I needed it most. When I leaned back he was still looking at me like I'd started speaking Spanish three sentences back. (Every language he's learned, he never did learn that one...)

"Did I miss something, here?" He put his arms around me, and oh god I don't ever want to lose this feeling. When he's holding me this close and I can feel him, touch him, it isn't just about sex anymore. I don't ever want to lose feeling like this.

I put my arms around his neck, pulled myself up a little for another kiss. He broke it off after a second, though, still wanting answers.


"I don't mind so much if you just want to keep me safe. It's when I start thinking that maybe you don't want me around that I get--" This time I looked away.

This time Bruce kissed me. Hard, lips pressing into mine, pulling me close like he couldn't let me fall. When he pulled away his eyes were dark, like the color of his mask. There was nothing hidden in them now. "Don't ever think that." Then he kissed me again, and I realized that I wasn't the only one with an adrenaline-induced desire to fuck like mad. I let him push me backwards, towards my bed, still holding me close and still kissing me like I was going out of style.

He laid me oh-so-gently down on the bed, following close so that I never really lost contact with his body. His hands were holding me tightly, and I closed my eyes. I never felt better, never felt safer, than when I was with him like this. When he touched me like this, holding me, wanting to love me... I pulled his head down to mine and kissed him, opening my mouth and inviting him in. He answered in kind, taking my tongue inside and caressing it with his mouth. I shivered, then realized that I really needed to get my clothes off. I tried pulling my shirt off and discovered that both our hands were in my way.

Bruce laughed a little and moved backwards just enough to help me shed some clothing. He did the same, until he was naked beside me and holding me again and this time it was like fire, cascading down my sides wherever he touched me. It spread from my mouth where he touched me right to my cock where he had yet to touch; I moaned in frustration and tried to push myself to lie on top.

He held me down, though, firm and unrelenting as he slid one leg across mine. That was fine, whatever, I didn't care -- he could take any position he wanted as long as he took me with him. I grabbed at him, frustration melting into urgency and I pushed my hips up into his, trying to grind our erections together. Get the clue, Bruce, and stop fucking around. I grinned at myself. No, definitely don't stop...

I felt him biting my neck, briefly had time to think my usual favorite line at this juncture about vampire bats and then he reached that one spot right below my collarbone and everything went hazy. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears and what must have been a heart pounding; I could feel something hot and heavy on top of my body, holding me down and moving in no predictable ways. I grabbed onto it and pulled myself along with it, wanting more, needing anything I could get, and suddenly something touched me. I know I screamed; I always do.

When I opened my eyes Bruce was looking at me, breathing heavily. I rubbed my leg against his, feeling a thin layer of sweat making the skin slick. With a deep breath I let myself relax, every muscle in my body finally purged of all that nasty hormonal stuff that makes you want to take your lover in your arms and make him howl. Well, okay I'm lying. I will never not want to make Bruce howl but I needed a chance to breathe, first. He waited for me, smiling; I wondered if I was going to get teased about coming so fast -- like it was my fault I was young. He hasn't done that much lately, though, not since I used all my fingers and toes and over half of his to count how old he was.

So I smiled back and kissed his chin, and waited for him to let me know what he needed me to do. He suddenly blushed, and looked away.

"What?" I started to grin. Bruce was sort of smiling, so whatever it was I wouldn't mind hearing it.

"Nothing... it's just that I--" he stopped talking and just pressed himself against me. Nice, don't get me wrong, but I didn't get it. Not until I looked down, and saw that I wasn't the only one who'd come off quickly. When I looked back up Bruce was blushing even harder.

"I'm flattered." I'd never seen him look so wonderful, blushing and smiling and trying not to look at me. I kissed him, running my fingers along his cheek. "Will you sleep with me?" I didn't realize I'd asked until I heard the words coming out of my mouth. I heard my heart beating again, because I'd suddenly realized we'd made love in my bed, first time we'd ever done so anywhere but Bruce's bedroom.

"I..." He stopped, and I knew he was thinking of a way to say no.

I didn't know why, but I couldn't make him say it. "I guess my bed isn't really big enough." I looked down at the twin mattress, just wide enough for two men plastered against each other but not for sleeping in any comfort. Not that I would have minded, but it wasn't something I needed to demand.

Bruce looked slightly relieved, there behind the gossamer mask that was beginning to fall again. Soon his face was smoothed back into its usual expression, the one that made you think you were seeing the glimmer of emotion when really, you weren't at all. I let him move away, standing up and beginning to search for his clothes.

"I'll see you in the morning?"

I laughed. "Where am I gonna be, huh? Unless the fairies steal me away in the middle of the night." I leered at him, to let him know I wasn't mad at him. He smiled, and grabbed some tissues from my nightstand. He tossed me a couple, then cleaned himself up, pretending to ignore that I was watching. Then he pulled his clothes back on, smoothing everything back into place until soon it was as if nothing--

Didn't need to worry about that one. Not tonight. Instead I wished him a goodnight as he left my room, then I rolled back over and stared at the window. I twisted back around to hit the light switch, and as the room became dark the night crawled inside.

I slammed my jacket down on a table. Should have been a helmet or something; a nice solid crack would have done wonders for my attitude. I looked down. Oh, maybe not. It was one of the antique endtables. Al would really get me if I damaged it. (You know, he'd sigh just a tiny bit then say it was all right, he'd get it fixed, not to worry. Really twist the knife. I can't stand it when he's so... accommodating.)

Everything had been going so great. Bruce and I had made up, we'd found a plan to catch Freeze, Barbara showed up and seemed like a really cool girl -- and Al was thrilled to see her, which was the best thing. Everything was fine. Even when Ivy showed up and I found myself thinking what I wouldn't give to... well, to anything she wanted... I was thinking Bruce and I had finally resolved some of our problems. Give anything except Bruce, of course. But man, what a woman... those curves, those eyes...

So why was Bruce back to acting like a jerk? Like he didn't trust me?

I shook my head. Grabbing my jacket I headed for the side door, the one that led to the woods between the house and the cliff. I slipped the jacket on as I stepped outside. It'd been a long time since we took our gliders out. Hell, it'd been a long time since Bruce had done anything particularly nice for me. Except for breakfast in bed last week, but I knew Al had actually made it. There was the trip to the cycle show in Metropolis which had turned into work when Clark asked for our help. The offer to get me enrolled in the correspondence program at Gotham U. was probably meant to be nice, but I really wasn't interested in becoming a college student. Couldn't convince Bruce of that, though. Might have to take a class just to shut him up. Can you take Phys. Ed. by correspondence? I'd have to ask Davy, next time he wrote. He'd gone off to college in Massachusetts on scholarship.

I smiled. The trees seemed to be waving at me as I went past. There was a faint trail through this section, worn slowly as I'd walked past on my way to the cliff. That backrub, three weeks ago... that had been nice. Robin had pulled a deltoid muscle grabbing onto a cable, to avoid falling twelve stories from the balcony. Minor damage, just sore. Bruce had shown up at my doorway with a towel and some oil, and proceeded to rub everything into liquid.

He'd left before doing anything else but a guy can't have everything. In Bruce's defense he'd had a phone call from the Commissioner, wanting Wayne Enterprises' help in repairing some of the structural damage Batman and Robin had been unable to prevent. I had fallen asleep waiting for him, and the next morning I snuck into his bedroom. That had been nice.

Boy, how it had been!

None of that could excuse what he'd done to me tonight, though. Thinking about it made me want to scream. Let's ignore, for a moment, the fact that he told me not to make the jump. A jump I could make, because even if he didn't know about it I'd made similar ones before. Ignore too, the fact that if anyone was going to make the jump it would be me, on a bike much lighter than either his BatMobile 2 or Freeze's or any of his henchmen's cars. Ignore that I had as much right to have yelled at him not to try it, that I didn't want to risk seeing him splattered all over the side of the building. Ignore the fact that I knew Batman could make it and didn't waste our time telling him otherwise.

No, what pissed me off first and foremost was the fact that, when he couldn't convince me to back off, he shut off Redbird's engine.

Shut off.

Since when has he had remote control over my vehicle? What else does he have control over? I swung a fist out, catching a branch and hearing a resulting snap! Who the hell gave him the right to do that? Spinning on my heel, I spotted the branch I'd just broken. It was hanging partially off; I wrenched it free and stepped back. Bruce didn't trust me. I swung the branch back, and aimed for the trunk. He hadn't ever trusted me.


The branch bent, nearly snapped in two. Bruce had planned on this, had distrusted me so much that he'd built that remote into my bike, and then when he didn't want to let me do something he thought too dangerous, he'd used it.

I swung again. The half in my hands wobbled; the other half flung free after breaking completely. He'd refused to listen to me, refused to believe me when I said I could make the jump. Refused to let me make my own decisions, like a real partner or -- god forfend -- a real adult. Didn't trust me to handle a simple jump like that one, oh but he trusted me to control the bike after suddenly losing engine power during a high-speed chase, miles above the ground on a stretch of metal not more than twenty yards wide. I stepped forward and swung again, the shortened branch bending this time without breaking.

Let's ignore the fact that I had a harder time staying out of the air when my bike fell, than I'd ever had making jumps here and there around the Gotham streets. Did Bruce think he'd have felt better if I'd died because he was protecting me, rather than in the course of duty? Did he think I would feel better? Okay, assuming I could feel at that point. I swung again and the branch started to break. Just what the hell was Bruce's problem? Why couldn't he see that I was his partner and not his mascot?

Why couldn't he trust me? I swung a third time and shattered the branch; too short to break again without hitting my fists against the trunk. I heaved back and let it fly into the air. It caught among the limbs above and I heard it snapping smaller twigs, listened as it fell again with a smack to the ground. His way or the highway. Why wouldn't he let me in? Why did he have to be in complete control over our partnership to the point that I was little more than an automaton, doing his bidding and nothing else? Batman would be better off with a real robot if that's what he wanted. He didn't need me.

It seemed he didn't want me, either. Didn't want me to be his partner, since every time it counted he brushed me aside and left me behind. I looked around for another branch, but it wasn't going to be enough. I turned and headed back to the house; when I broke free of the trees I jogged towards the garage. What I needed now was a ride, on a bike I knew Bruce couldn't control if only because I'd taken the thing apart and reassembled it so many times he wouldn't have had a chance without me noticing. My street bike, the one I'd owned since I was nearly sixteen.

A ride was just what I needed.

Turns out I wasn't the only one. I caught Barbara taking one of the bikes out and followed her. She hadn't struck me as the type to be up to no good in the middle of the night, so she must have been up to something fun. I let her get ahead of me then followed. By the time we neared the Street Bridges I knew we were headed for the race. I raced sometimes, when Robin had the night off and Bruce was either out of town or simply not paying attention. I'd head up here and join one of the straight races, racing individually through the red routes. Green routes were for the beginners and rich kids slumming on bikes their parents bought them. Blue routes were for the groups, racing as teams against each other in a not-so-subtle version of gang-warfare.

I was pretty good, though I didn't race often enough to have a rep. Johnny recognized me though, taking my cash without giving me the eye as I trailed Barbara. She was headed for a blue route -- I didn't think she realized it. No way I could let her race alone. Al wouldn't kill me if anything happened to her -- Bruce would have already done it for him. So I set up for the race, telling myself it wouldn't be as dangerous for us, unaffiliated, as it would be normally.

Of course I was wrong -- stayed alive by the skin of my boots. Man, what a race, though! My heart didn't stop pounding until we got back to the Manor.

When we got home, they told us Al was dying. Bruce looked like... like he was losing the one person he loved most in the world. Like his world had crashed and he didn't know what to do. He closed off from me -- I wasn't surprised, but I wanted to hold him anyway, let him cry and let it out so he wouldn't have to in front of Al. He walked away though, as soon as he'd explained it. I was left standing there in the main hall, staring at his back as he disappeared towards the cave. I knew where he was going, someplace where he could pretend this was something he could fight. Barbara had gone up to Al's room, privilege of family.

I don't get it. One minute I've got all the self-righteous anger a man could ask for, to yell for some courtesy and get it. The next I'm standing there forgetting it all, knowing my grievances with Bruce hardly matter right now. When am I gonna get my chance? When will I get to stand up for myself without something else happening first that even I have to admit is more important? How many times will it happen before I get my chance? Why won't Bruce let me in when he needs me the most? I stood there for a long time.

That night I crept into the guest room down at the very end of the third floor on the opposite wing from all our rooms. Al was downstairs, dying, his niece right there with him to get him whatever he needed. Make him comfortable, the doc said. Right. Bruce had gone to the Observatory to make one of his famous Appearances. He was obligated, he said, besides which begging off would require telling people why and Al's illness was not for the whole town to know.

To hear Al speak of it, it wasn't for anyone, including us, to know. I left the light off in the room as I went in. It was one rarely used, even when the house was full of party-goers staying the night over. But it was kept clean -- of course -- and it was just what I needed. The curtains were dark blue, soft and thick, and the furnishing were all the same. Soft, dark, like you could crawl in and vanish. That's what I needed. To vanish.

It wasn't fair. Barbara and I had come home after nearly getting flung into the abyss, then talking and comparing daring adventures on our cycles. Turns out she was even more fearless on a bike than I was. I had more experience, but only because I got to ride as Robin half the nights, and as myself the other. But it was great -- we flew back to Wayne Manor, wind in our eyes and all I wanted to do was yell, let the world know I was alive. Then we get home and Bruce tells me this news.

I had forgotten my anger with him until I saw his face; three seconds later I'd forgotten it again. Damn it, how am I supposed to yell at a man who's about to lose the last member of his family? What's the point of being right if you can't do anything with it?

I didn't understand why Al didn't tell us. He's been one of the best things in my life, since I came here. Always treating me with respect, but not letting me get away with anything too outrageous. Always giving me the freedom I needed to do what I wanted... but making sure I listened to that voice of reason when I did it. Dad would have been real proud to hand me over to someone like him, I'd told him once not long ago. Al had smiled, big as I'd ever seen him smile. For a second I'd thought he was gonna hug me, but then Bruce had walked in and Al just gave me that look, the one where you can tell by the glint in his eye that he's laughing inside but a proper Gentleman's Gentleman never behaves that way.

Not being so restrained I'd laughed for him, and left a confused Bruce behind as I'd headed out. But for some time after that, I'd glance over at Al and see that same glint in his eye. I was glad I'd made him so happy. He seemed... for all I know, he already knew he was sick. I wonder if that made a difference.

It wasn't fair. I didn't want to lose him, either. What would happen to Bruce? Would I be able to handle him after Al was gone? I found myself sitting in an overstuffed chair by the empty fireplace, staring into blackness. I didn't remember sitting down, but I suppose it didn't matter. Al was going to die.

I could almost understand his not wanting to tell us. Not wanting to make a big deal out of something we couldn't change. Dying with dignity, ever faithful to the last. Al was one of a kind. But I couldn't really accept it. I couldn't figure out which scared me more, losing Al or seeing Bruce lose Al.

I realized I could see shadows in the blackness. Shades of black, blue, and grey, scattered around the room in front of me. I looked over, and could see a strip of near-white, on the far wall. No idea what it was. The room seemed so quiet, so still. It was like the secondary tent we'd put up for side shows for our bigger performances. Before anyone was finished with morning chores or practices, with the big tent filled and the grounds outside in constant motion, the smaller tent would always be quiet, filled only with props and tables, costumes and posters. No one would step inside until we were almost ready for the show.

I'd sneak in when I was nervous before a performance. Maybe I'd have been learning a new routine or maybe someone I knew was in the audience. But I'd go into that tent and the shadows would close around me, inviting me in to sit for awhile and calm myself down. It seemed so small, less than a fourth the size of our big tent. After a few minutes, even the noises from outside would seem to fade away and it would be as if I were totally alone. I would sit then, and let it seep into me, this strange feeling of being nowhere and alone. As if nothing else existed.

Then it would begin to feel alien and I'd jump up and run outside where everyone was, into the sights and sounds and smells of a circus warming up for the day. Whatever had taken me inside that second tent would have gone, and I'd feel better again.

Too bad this room wasn't doing the same. Maybe it was too quiet. I couldn't hear anything from this far away. Not a living soul within two hundred yards, not counting the bugs and the mice. Maybe my problems were just a little worse than they had been when I was a kid.

I slammed my fist down on the arm of the chair. Why was he doing this to me? Why was he treating me like this without even asking me about it? Making decisions that affected me, without even consulting me beforehand; making decisions about me without asking me first. How could I show him he couldn't treat me this way?

Too many questions. No one to take them to.

We ran into Ivy again. She knew -- I don't know how but she knew. She said I didn't need Batman, said I could be a hero in my own right. I hated the thought of leaving Bruce but maybe she was right. It might be the only way to get his attention -- and if he didn't want me, then I'd be better off making it on my own. That night she sent a signal into the air. A Robin signal.

It was really a cool signal, if you ask me. I thought the red was a nice touch. Ivy was definitely my kind of woman -- she understood what I was going through and obviously wanted to help. It didn't take me long to jump into my outfit and head for my bike. My newly un-remoted Redbird, I might add.

Of course Bruce would be standing there, waiting for me, trying to talk me out of it. I would have appreciated it, if it had been about him wanting me to stay. It wasn't. He thought I had misjudged her, that I didn't know what I was doing.

"You'd say anything to keep me away from her!" The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to think them through. All along Bruce had been trying to keep me out of the partnership, trying to keep Robin in the nest. But maybe I was wrong, and it wasn't about that at all. Maybe it was me he was trying to get away from. I felt a stab through my heart that even the Robin suit couldn't protect me from as I turned and headed up the steps.

His next words stopped me. Throwing my own words back at me about a partnership being about trust -- I heard him, but I still wanted to point out that he was the one who hadn't trusted. All along I'd been trusting him, as a partner and a friend and a lover. He had failed me. I was going to wait for him to say his piece then let him have it, once and for all. I hated to -- standing there with my back to him I just wanted to turn and say I'm sorry and let's forget this ever happened. I wouldn't, though. I couldn't. This wasn't my fault.

Then he had to go and ruin my angry mood. "This isn't about partnership. This is about family. Will you trust me now?" I wanted to scream no, how can I when all you ever do... then I heard him saying "partner, friend, lover" in the tone of voice I have only heard when he is saying something he feels to the bottom of his soul. The tone I hear when he's promising a mother he'll return her child safely, when he's telling Gordon that Gotham is safe another night. When he holds me in his arms, late at night, and says just my name.

I turned around. He was standing there, staring up at me, and I knew if I had kept going he would have hurt worse than I was. I took one step back towards him, and the relief showed instantly on his face. I frowned; I didn't understand what he was after, and I reminded myself that he was not out of the doghouse by a long shot. But finally, somehow, we were at a point where he was being honest with me. Now if only he would be honest about everything, and not just this Ivy chick.

"Bruce... this had better be for real." I heard the steel in my voice and was glad. There was no way I was going to let Bruce just waltz over my decisions, and take everything under control. If he didn't have a good explanation I was still outta here.

"I swear, Dick, this woman is up to no good. She has killed people, and she will kill you too if you go to her now."

The way he said it made me think that would be a bad thing. For him, I mean. Sure bet I wouldn't enjoy it. "How do you know?" I stayed where I was, halfway up the steps to my bike.

He started to head for the computer, and stopped, glanced back at me, then after a second continued on. He came back with a folder, and showed me everything. Poisonous kiss, dead bodies, false names and false identities. All there, in red and white. I glanced it over again, then schooled my face to neutral and handed it back. "What if I don't believe you?" I asked quietly, calmly.

"What? Dick, how can you say that? All the evidence is right here!"

I ignored the folder, crossing my arms in front of me. "What if I still don't believe you?"

"Dick," he came a step closer until he was right in front of me, one step down. "You have to believe me. It means your life."

"That usually doesn't stop you."

That set him back. "What?"

"You're asking me to trust you. So why don't you trust me? Instead of treating me like a 12 year old kid who doesn't know a left hook from a soldering iron? Instead of treating me like a kid out for fun and thrills past his curfew; treat me like someone who is trying his best to be your partner, to back you up and is capable of doing so!"

There was so much more I wanted to say, so much more I could have thrown at him. But I could see that I didn't need to. Bruce isn't stupid, he just gets a little focused sometimes. He knew what I was talking about. He was shaking his head, slowly. "Dick, I wasn't trying to..."

"Well, you succeeded. How am I supposed to be at your side if you continually push me away?" This time I heard the pleading in my voice. It didn't matter now. Either I had him or I didn't, and no amount of cool fašade would force him to listen now.

For a moment he didn't say anything. He just looked at me, more sorrow in his eyes than I had ever wanted to cause. He put his hand out, rested it on my arm. "I'm sorry, Dick. I just didn't want to lose you."

"How is making me go away going to keep you from losing me?"

He didn't have an answer for that. Actually, he did. He didn't say anything, just grabbed me in one of the tightest hugs I'd ever had from him. I felt like my bones were rubbing together at the joints where his arms wrapped around me. I inched my arms free, and then hugged him back. I heard him whisper an 'I'm sorry', then, more clearly, "I love you."

You could have knocked me over with a freeze gun. I could count on the horns on a goat's head the times he's said that to me. Said it out loud, in so many words. He acts like it a lot, usually in his bedroom but sometimes out of it. Those 'nice' things he does, whether I end up liking them or not. But he has only once before said those words out loud.

"I love you, too." I rested my head on his shoulder, tilting my face away so not to dig my mask into my eyes.

"Please don't go."

"I won't, Bruce. Believe me, I won't." I wanted to tell him a dozen things all of a sudden, like he wouldn't have to worry about me leaving and how much I appreciated his realizing what he'd done. First, though, there was something more important we had to take care of first. "What do we do about Ivy?"

He pulled away from me -- only enough that I could breathe again without hurting myself -- and considered it. "We have to stop her. If we don't... no one in Gotham is safe."

"Except kids under five and lions over 90?"

He gave me a glance. "I wouldn't count on it."

"So what do we do?" I made no move to get out of his embrace. It felt so good, I can't even describe it. Not like flying, not like riding my bike through the sky at 100 miles an hour. More like running out of the secondary tent, into the world I knew was my home.

Bruce suddenly smiled, crafty and pleased. He had a plan.

The plan worked, and Ivy was caught. Mostly worked; if Batgirl hadn't shown up we would have had to improvise. But she did, and we won. Batman didn't even give me a hard time for being nearly drowned. Of course we still had Freeze to re-capture. Luckily Batman had a plan for that, too. We were doing pretty well until Bane showed up and tossed Barbara and me off the Observatory.

Never saw cat's eyes from quite this close, before. Shoulda been scared. Shoulda been terrified. But all I could think was, I didn't think they'd be green.

I was seven years old, and I'd been hiding among the cages to get away from my brother and Micky. They wanted to con me into doing their chores for them -- again -- and I wasn't having any of it. I couldn't beat them at their games, though, so I had to keep them from finding me in the first place. Since they knew the grounds as well as I did, I had to keep changing my hiding places.

This time I'd had the brilliant idea of hiding someplace they wouldn't follow. The tiger's cage was off limits, so I figured if I got near it, hid myself in the space between the edge of the cage and the trailer, they wouldn't find me and I wouldn't actually be breaking the rules about the tiger's cage. No one had ever said 'don't go near it'. They'd only ever said 'the cage is off limits'. I was a good half-foot away from the cage itself.

I'd crawled in there and settled down to wait for them to give up looking for me and get started on their chores themselves. I heard Daum, the tiger, moving around but I wasn't afraid of him. Josh was a good trainer and always told me Daum wouldn't attack unless provoked. I'd seen Josh feeding Daum just a few hours before, too, so I knew I'd be safe.

But that didn't prepare me for those eyes. When I turned around I saw Daum looking at me. Right next to the bars, staring at me like he'd never seen the likes of me, here in his trailer. Well sure, he hadn't -- in fact he'd probably never seen me before at all. I didn't think I needed to be afraid, though, because Daum wasn't acting like he was upset. He was just looking at me, not blinking, not really moving -- just staring.

He had really green eyes. I didn't know I'd never known what color tigers' eyes were supposed to be, until I saw how green they were. It surprised me, and I thought about asking Josh if tigers' eyes were always green. That would have let him know I'd been close enough to see Daum's eyes and I knew that would be a bad idea. So I sat still and just returned Daum's stare, trying to look and smell like a harmless little boy.

I wanted to reach out and touch his face, he looked so still and calm. Like he was in total control of his world. I began to reach my hand out when he gave a sudden (whuf!) of breath. I snatched my hand back and decided I'd better just wait until it was clear to crawl out and get my chores done. I let myself stare into those eyes again for a few minutes, wondering if maybe, when I was older, I'd like to be a trainer.

I looked back through the slats of the trailer to see if the coast was clear. I saw a flash of color and knew I needed to wait a bit. I'd been in trouble once already this week, I didn't need to get into it again.

That's when I felt hot breath on my head. Two gentle puffs, right on top of my head. I looked up, real slow, and saw an orange and black fuzzy patch. I could feel my entire body freeze, except for my eyes as I looked. Daum's head was bigger than my entire torso. Two green eyes stared down at me, blinked once, then continued the same steady stare they'd been giving me before. Before, from the other side of the bars.

Daum didn't do anything except give me a couple of sniffs, and stare at me. I didn't know if I was snack sized. Hopefully not. When he moved his head away and stepped aside, I inched along the trailer wall to the slot I'd crawled in through. Daum watched me, and I was real careful not to move too fast, or even look like I was going to do anything he disagreed with. He didn't seem to mind, though, as I slipped out the break in the wood slats and left him alone.

Now I was terrified. I looked around, but somehow no one had seen me emerge. I walked slowly away from Daum's trailer -- he might hear me running and decide to follow me -- and told myself that I was still breathing, I was still moving, and began looking for my dad or Josh. Either one would kill me, of course, but I had to find them anyway.

Josh was by the watering tanks. I went over to him, feeling like a tiny seven-year-old who needed to be coddled and sung to sleep like an infant -- who definitely had no place being out by himself in the middle of the grounds. I tugged on his shirt and when he looked at me, smiling, I actually just asked him if Daum was supposed to be in the spot between his bars and the wall of the trailer.

I don't remember exactly how it went from there to my sitting in my family's trailer huddled under a blanket listening to my dad telling me that tomorrow I'd be punished but today I should just rest. There had been a lot of yelling, a lot of rushing around, and a lot of really red faces right up close to mine asking me what in the world I'd done. The only thing that was clear in all of it was my dad, hugging me and telling me that he was very proud of me for letting them know about the loosened bars Daum had squeezed through. Daum was plenty strong enough to get out through the trailer's wooden walls, if he wanted, and if he'd gotten free the nearby town would have wanted to shoot him to protect their people. Josh was a wreck; mom told me later he didn't understand how he hadn't noticed the bars come loose. He was gone a couple months later, with Daum and Chery and Malone, the lions.

I don't remember how dad punished me, either, but I do know that when I was nine and ready to begin my first solo routines dad asked me if I wanted to be called 'tiger'. I told him I felt more like tiger food, and just climbed up the rope to the trap. I never told Bruce this, but that's how my brother started calling me 'robin'. Later it became about my flying, but it started because of what I'd said to dad. At nine I didn't mind so much. It reminded me that no matter what I thought of myself, there was always something bigger than me that I had to watch out for.

Even if it had gorgeous green eyes. Too bad when I was nearly nineteen I'd forgotten.

It was a short fall which is why, I suppose, the flashback was so short. Or maybe I've just had too many pre-death experiences and they're trying to space themselves out. If my entire life flashed before my eyes each time... well, I've never liked reruns and it would be unfortunate to get tired of your own life, just from seeing it too often. Bruce would tell me to stop falling. What does he know? Just because he never screams when he's about to hit a wall.

What I mean is, when my robinarang (have to think of a shorter name for that, you know? 'batarang' is cool, zips off your tongue like marble. 'Robinarang' sounds like an aussie slang term for kangaroo feces or something) was wrapped around that big icicle and it snapped, Barbara and I fell. Not for long, she had her batarang out and saved us, but for a second or two we were falling straight for the pavement. I saw another episode of 'Dick Grayson, Flashback' and then Barbara had her arm around me and was trying not to laugh. She's a pretty cool person. And she has a 'batarang'. Say it real fast and you'll see what I'm talking about.

But that was last night and now it was all over. Al and Gotham had both been saved. We'd defrosted Gotham and Freeze gave us the cure we needed for Al. Now Barbara had gone upstairs to bed, Bruce and Al were still sitting in the kitchen finishing up the breakfast Bruce had made. Bruce was making sure Barbara wouldn't give him another one of those stares -- not that Bruce would have let Al fix breakfast, but she didn't know that. I'd excused myself to go take a shower but I'd found myself here, instead.

The gym. I was just standing in the doorway, looking at all the equipment, not yet asking myself why I'd come down here. I was tired after getting only an hour of sleep on the couch, waiting for word from the Doctor. Bruce hadn't slept at all -- as soon as he was satisfied Al was really okay, he would head upstairs to bed. Probably stay there the rest of the morning.

Probably wouldn't mind if I joined him. So why was I standing here, looking like I was ready for a workout? To be honest, I really didn't know. Everything about the morning was screaming "go to bed with Bruce!" and regardless of whether that meant to sleep or not, or both more likely, I wasn't making a move for the stairs. I didn't know why I was here. We'd made up, saved the day, and nobody was dying. Lots of reasons to celebrate. I didn't feel like it.

So I stepped out into the room, and headed for whichever piece of equipment seemed to want me the most. Nothing too fast, I skipped the rings and the kicking bag. Nothing too involved, so I bypassed the pool as well. I had almost made a circuit of the room before I found myself standing before the parallel bars. I took some chalk, barely noticing the dust floating into the air. Jumping up, I grabbed hold and swung myself on top.

I felt my body swing through the air into a handstand. Staring down at the ground, I let myself fall, legs arcing down into another hold. I let my body set its own pace, dictate its own progression as I swung, held, and moved from side to side, clasping the bars and letting go. I found myself in a handstand again, staring down at the floor and not knowing how many times I'd swung past. I swung back around and pushed myself into a quick flip -- then realized I wasn't ready for it and lost my grab on the way back down.

I landed with a loud thump on the mat, the palms of my hands stinging with the light impact. Falling back I lay there and laughed at myself. Not very long, and not loud enough to make someone come see what I was up to. I pushed myself to my feet and stepped up to the bars again but I didn't need to do it again. I knew what was still wrong. I was ready, now, for my shower. I brushed the chalk from my hands and gave the mat a swipe with a towel left nearby. Then I left the bars behind, headed upstairs in only a slightly different frame of mind.

On my way past my room I stopped and grabbed a robe; halfway to the bathroom I heard Bruce say my name. Someday, I swear, I'm gonna put little pieces of brand new rubber on the bottom of his shoes so he'll squeak when he walks. I looked over my shoulder and waited. He came up beside me, and I got the impression he was trying to decide what to say. He looked kind of cute, actually, trying to look me right in the eye but still searching the corners of his brain and the hallway for inspiration. I kept myself from grinning at him by reminding myself what I'd figured out.

"Can we talk?" he asked quietly, opting for a delay instead of whatever was on his mind.

"I was about to take a shower." Like that wouldn't have been obvious to the man who played Batman for a living. But hey, he started it. I knew he wanted to talk.

"Can I... join you?" He almost smiled at me. Oh god, those almost smiles. My knees shook ever so slightly. I'm sure he didn't notice.

"Depends. Do you want to talk, or do you want to fuck?"

He blinked and tried not to grin. "Well... both, I suppose." He tried to re-take control of the conversation. "Look, Dick, I want--"

"Does it matter in which order?"

"Actually I thought it might."

"Great, then come on." I took his hand and turned towards the bathroom. I ignored his attempt to remain standing where he was -- his sense of duty, honor, and fairness telling him we should talk this over before indulging ourselves. Lucky for us both, I wasn't having any. Besides, I was tired and sweaty and I really needed a shower. He finally just followed me to the bathroom and remained quiet while I got the hot water running. Facing away from him, I stripped quickly -- knowing he was leaning back against the counter watching every move I made. I didn't hear him undressing yet, but that would soon change.

"Dick, can't you just listen to me for a minute?"

I turned around, let him see what undressing in front of him always does to me. He stopped in mid-chastise, and visibly tried to re-form whatever trail of thought he'd been sticking with. I stepped into the shower.

Ten seconds later Bruce was stepping in there with me, naked as a bat. I held out the washcloth and remained right where I was, under the spray of hot water. The washcloth disappeared from my hand, then a moment later it was being rubbed along my back. He'd soaped it up, and I arched my back a little. The goosebumps on my arms could have been explained by any number of things: cold water, cold tile, air conditioning on my naked body. But they weren't. Bruce ran the soapy cloth all over my torso, washing my arms, tickling my ribs with his fingers, scrubbing my neck like I never washed it myself, then kneeling behind me and running his hands and the cloth up and down my legs.

Shaking ever so more than slightly, I braced myself against the wall, hands splayed on the warmed tiles. I kept telling him we needed a bar in here to hang onto. I swayed as he ran a finger down the back of my thigh, then almost fell as he washed my feet, rubbing his thumb into the ball of my foot as he went. My eyes were closed and my head was planted on the shower wall; I had no intention of moving from this spot for the rest of my life. I heard Bruce stand up, and move around -- then his fingers were massaging shampoo into my scalp and I melted.

He held me up with his fingertips, lathering the shampoo and rubbing his hands all over my skull. Someone was making faint moaning noises. Too soon Bruce was nudging me forward, into the spray, and the soap was all washed away. I stayed still for a moment, soaking up the heat, then I opened my eyes and turned around.

"You want anything done?"

Bruce smiled. "I'm fine." He looked fine. He looked very fine. He looked like he was ready for one of us to be sprawled out on a bed someplace nearby, all loose and lubed and ready.

"Can I wash you anyway?" I reached for the washcloth. He smiled at me, and held out his hands like I was free to do whatever I wanted.

This time it was him doing the moaning.

I got Bruce washed nearly as quickly as he'd washed me; I always go a little slower when I get to his legs and ass. I can't help it, I start rubbing the cloth over him and then I have to check to see if I've soaped everything sufficiently and usually I have to soap him again and by that time I give in and just caress him a few times.

He never seems to mind, of course. From the way he was breathing now I guessed he didn't mind this time, either. I let the cloth drop finally, knowing I had to quit now or sacrifice every last remaining brain cell in my body. I nudged him to turn in the spray of water, letting the soap be rinsed away. He looked at me with half-open eyes, and I didn't need to glance down (though I did) to know he was as aroused as I was. Decision time, Grayson. Take him here and risk a broken shoulder or head for the bedroom?

I reached past him and shut off the water and slid the curtain back. The rush of cold air gave me an extra couple of functioning brain cells and I used them to search for a clean towel. The first one I handed to Bruce; the second I used to dry myself as fast as I could. Bruce was moving a little slower, but no less eagerly. Luckily for us both, the second door of the bathroom leads down a short, private hallway to his bedroom. That's why I use this shower, instead of the one nearest my own room.

He followed me as I dropped my towel and headed out. My robe was still hanging on a hook behind the door; I'd gather it up later when I needed it. Right now, the air on my skin was all I needed. I could hear Bruce's feet on the carpet -- the barest hint of a shuffle, which made me grin. He has to be pretty distracted before his trained soft-step gets out of whack. I wriggled my butt slightly as I headed for his door. Behind me I heard a growl, and then hands grabbed my hips as I got my hands on the door.

Laughing, I pushed the door open and stumbled through, Bruce's hands not exactly helping me maintain my balance. I could feel him touching my ass, my back, then I moved out of his reach and turned around.

"So... you ready to talk?"

Bruce just glared at me. "Later." He stalked me; I moved backwards a bit but he followed, eyes going up and down and back up my body.

"Bruce, I thought you had something you needed to tell me." This time I sounded serious, like I wasn't hard as a rock and desperately in need of hot, heavy sex before I could think clearly. What can I say? Part of being a circus performer is being able to act.

He glanced up at me -- he'd been staring at my stomach, I think -- and didn't say a word. But he stopped his advance, and after a moment he asked, "Do you want to talk about it now?"

I thought about calling his bluff. I really did. But with my luck Bruce would control himself and calm down -- and actually start talking, and forego actually fucking me until later. "Uh...." I really did want to know what he had to say. Fortunately he knew he'd called my bluff, and he pounced.

Stepped right up to me and this time I didn't hear a single step, grabbed me by the arms and pulled me against him. His skin was so warm, still covered with beads of water. I shivered against him and I think he bit me, I'm not sure. I was focusing on the press of his erection on my hip, wondering what I could do with it and what he was planning to do with mine. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling myself slightly up to a better angle and attacked his mouth.

He pulled me closer, taking me as hard as I gave. A hand pressed the back of my head, and I found myself rubbing against his stomach, feeling those hard muscles pushing back the foreskin of my cock. I think I started whimpering, and I know I wrapped a leg around his waist, trying to push myself harder against him. He grabbed me, one hand on my back and another on my ass, kneading the muscle there until I thought I was gonna scream. Then I was shoved away suddenly -- I stumbled backwards and fell onto the bed.

I scurried up the mattress as Bruce advanced, slowly, giving me the once and then twice-over until I wanted to arch my back and spread my legs and make him take me already. I think that was probably his plan. I heard that same growling, and my legs started shaking. He jumped onto the bed without warning, landing to my left. We bounced and I grabbed onto him, hoping he'd finish what he'd started. Or maybe I'd started it, I couldn't remember now. I looked up at him, trying to figure out how to form words, then stopped. He was looking at me like... like I'd never seen before.

Before I could ask him what was the matter, he leaned down and kissed me. Not at all like before -- not like he wanted to possess me and throw me down and take me again. This was gentle, like the time he'd danced with me in the upstairs ballroom. I'd planned the entire romantic dinner, sent Al to town for the night, and enticed Bruce upstairs slowly with promises and hints until finally he'd let himself be seduced into one of the most mind-blowing evenings I'd ever had.

He was kissing me like he loved me.

I kissed him back, letting him know how much I loved it when he was like this. Having sex with 'Bruce Wayne, Wild Animal' was fantastic, but making love to Bruce, my partner and beloved, was something precious. I let myself relax, holding him more gently to let him know this was all right, this was great. I moved beneath him slowly, showing him this turned me on just as fiercely as anything he'd ever done. I think he got the message because after a moment he broke the kiss and looked down at me.

He had that look in his eyes again. I'd willingly cross a thousand burning deserts for that look. I wanted to dive into it and drown -- even if that is mixing metaphors a little. I reached up and put my fingers on his cheek. He turned his head and kissed them. I tried to hold back a hiss, and failed. But he grinned at me, then rested his cheek in the palm of my hand.

"Dick... I need to--"

"I know." I traced one finger along his lips. "But later, okay? I want to make love to you, first. Then you can say it all." He was feeling guilty, I could tell, about not saying whatever it was he'd needed so badly to say before.

He didn't look like he believed me, but I held his gaze and found myself calming down even more. Not less aroused, just calmer, and finally he believed me. He kissed my fingers again, making me hiss again -- I've got sensitive fingers, okay? He could blow on them and the feel of his breath.... oh god, he was doing that now.....

I know I whimpered. I tried to move my hands away from him so I could think, then figured there was no point in wasting our time trying to think and let him take my fingers. He began sucking on them, one at a time, and pretty soon I was yelling his name out loud. It felt like I could come if he sucked just one more time, and I didn't know if that was what he intended.

Apparently so. A tongue swirled across the palm of my hand, between each finger, and then teeth scraped gently along the tip of one finger. I grabbed onto his head with my free hand -- and then lost it as he switched hands. I could feel him on top of me, moving up and down my entire body with the weight of his. Two more seconds and I'd lose it entirely; I dug my fingers into his shoulder and screamed his name again.

Then I felt him moving. He still had my hand at his mouth, still teasing and tormenting me, but I felt him raising my legs. Squirming, I tried to help, pulling my legs back and holding one thigh up out of his way. I felt a finger press against me, and I wriggled, trying to shove myself onto it. Everything stopped for a moment -- frozen in time, and all I could feel was a gentle sucking of a finger and the weight of my lower body pressing against my chest. I recognized the sound of a plastic lid snapping shut, and then a cold, moist blob inserted itself inside me.

I was either shouting Bruce's name, or praying in Danish. One of the two but I couldn't tell which. It was loud and enthusiastic, probably said all I needed it to. I tried to hurry him up, moving my hips back and forth as he prepared me, either to encourage him or help spread the lube or both. I felt him bite the palm of my hand, just under the thumb, and as I lost momentary control of my body he slid inside. I did arch my back this time, knees raised high into my chest. The first penetration was slow, almost easy, and I could feel him starting to shake.

That's when I realized my eyes had closed somewhere along the line. I opened them and saw Bruce, kneeling there, my hand in his pressed against his mouth, torso bent down against my legs, eyes focused right on mine, clear and open and amazing. I tried to say 'I love you' but all I could do was moan incoherently. He moved again, pushing deeper inside me and everywhere spotlights started to spin. Lights and shadows danced along the walls of my head until it stopped making sense and I stopped trying to wonder what it was.

I could hear Bruce panting, and tried to help him. I gave my anal muscles a squeeze and felt an ungodly trembling in return. As he pushed in I did it again, and the thrust slammed into me. I heard a long, drawn-out groan. I'd never heard Bruce make noise before in bed, so I grinned and as he pulled out and began again, I squeezed -- once soft, once hard. I'd planned to alternate them, soft and hard as he moved in and out. But he started thrusting so fast that all I could do was lie back and let him in and squeeze whenever I could.

I felt him bite me -- still had my hand, though by now I was the one holding it in place at his mouth. His hands were on my waist, holding on as if for life. I heard him panting, and grunting each time he slammed into me. I threw my head back and yelled as the thrusts began pushing me the final step over. I had the thought to give one more squeeze, and then I heard only screams and the shattering of lights and felt, over and over, the push of Bruce inside of me.

I woke up with my head on Bruce's biceps, and his leg on top of mine. I blinked a couple times, trying to decide if I'd had a short recovery-style nap or if I'd been unconscious all night and it was now time for breakfast. That's when I remembered that it had been after breakfast when we came up here and if anything, it might be time for dinner. I raised my head and saw Bruce, sound asleep for a second before my moving around woke him.

He opened his eyes and like always, looked disgustingly wide-awake. I could never be that awake, that fast. I grinned, and faked it. "Good morning!" I scrunched up and kissed him. I felt him grinning as he returned it. I moved back down and tried to find a comfortable spot for my left arm before it lost circulation. Bruce wriggled a bit, helping me settle, then gave me a hug when I stopped moving around. We lay there for a bit, saying nothing, just enjoying ourselves. Then I felt Bruce begin to tense up, and I knew it was time for our talk.

I sat up, crossing my legs, and looked down at him. I reminded myself that I was, as I'd realized on the parallel bars, still angry. I could let him have his say first, though, because honestly I was feeling very good and probably pretty forgiving. As I thought it, I realized that I wasn't so much still angry, as I was still hurt. I took a deep breath, and knew I could wait.

"What's on your mind, Bruce?"

Bruce sighed a little, and sat up, leaning on the headboard. He pulled the sheet over his legs as if staring at just his naked chest wouldn't distract me. I looked at his face, because distracted though I wanted to be, I knew this was something important. I hoped it would be, even though my heart was beginning to pound away with trepidation. I'll admit I was nervous -- it wasn't often Bruce came to me saying we needed to talk. Usually he came to me and said one thing, and then he'd take me somewhere to demonstrate what he meant. We usually didn't talk about it again, afterwards.

We never talked about why he'd given me the hang glider. We never talked about why I'd tried to run away two months after. We just tendered our apologies and went along our way. I shifted a bit on the bed. Maybe it was time we started talking about things a little more. After all, I knew he was sorry about what he'd done the other day, but it still hurt. I realized that I wasn't sure that he wouldn't do it again. I bit the inside of my lip, and waited for Bruce to start talking.

He was looking at me, not uneasily like he wasn't sure he ought to say it. He was waiting for something, but I hadn't a clue what. "Bruce?" I raised my eyebrows, trying to give him the 'go ahead' nudge.

He sighed. "I wanted to apologize for what I did."

I couldn't help it. I grinned. "I like the way you apologize."

I saw him start to smile, then he shook his head and stared at me again. He was serious -- when is he ever not serious? -- and started again. "I need to apologize. I need you to understand why I acted the way I did."

He was giving me an intense look, his voice low and strong. I found myself getting distracted anyway. I forced myself to listen to him, though, and not think about what other parts of me wanted to be doing. This was important, I reminded myself. More important than closing your eyes and just letting his voice wash over you. I gave myself a mental shake. "So why did you do it?"

This time he glanced away, stared out at who knew what. "It's important that I not lose you, Dick. I can't... stand the thought of you being hurt, or killed. Every time we go out there... all I can think is that this time, you might not make it back. The only way I can handle that is to keep you safe, out of trouble." He looked at me and said, "or stop caring so much about you."


"Please let me finish." I watched as he took a deep breath, and let the rest of it out. "I tried keeping you out of danger but it didn't work. You're right -- it's no way for us to be partners. And I can't imagine Batman without a Robin at his side." He smiled a little, and I felt like giving a yell. I didn't, because before I could I realized he still had one option left. I stayed completely still, and waited, praying I wouldn't hear it. "The other choice was to stop loving you so much. I wouldn't be as scared of losing you. But I can't do that."

This time I just exhaled. The yell I'd been holding back deflated and I tried to inhale again so I could say something, anything at all. Bruce reached over and picked up my hand and held it, rubbing gently and examining it. I tried to figure out what I wanted more -- to crawl over and hold him, tell him I loved him too, go back to the screaming, or sit very, utterly still in hopes that there would be more.

"I love you too much, Dick. There's no way I could ever stop." He looked up at me, eyes staring right into mine. I wanted to say I love you, but I couldn't seem to breathe enough to move. He waited a moment, as if expecting me to do or say something. I tried, honest truth I tried to tell my brain to get in gear and kiss him, grab hold of him and say thank you. All those brain cells were on a vacation, and I was stuck just staring back into those dark, wonderful eyes. I saw him smile, one corner of his mouth tugging upwards once, then twice, then he was smiling widely and trying not to laugh. "Dick? Are you all right?"

"No," I shook my head, wondering how it was I could do this but not anything more. Here was my chance to tell him everything I needed him to know. I could lay everything down and render every grievance I had then I'd probably get another apology and, better, understanding and maybe some sincere regret. All I could feel were his hands on mine, the sheet wrinkled under my butt, and the air conditioning that had kicked on at some point. I couldn't think anything, couldn't say anything, couldn't move except to blink before my eyes dried. Maybe I was afraid if I moved, I'd break the spell and all this would be gone. Bruce leaned forward and I felt his hand on my chin. Then he was kissing me, and the spell broke.

All of this was still here. Bruce loved me, and he was apologizing for being a jerk. I took a deep breath when he leaned away, and I tried to re-form my earlier -- way, way earlier -- line of thought. "Bruce... why did you put that remote on my bike?" I heard the tone in my voice. I hadn't planned it, but I heard my voice showing how much that had hurt.

Bruce winced. "I'm sorry... I had no right to do that. I thought I could keep you out of harm's way. I knew you'd never stay back on your own, and I was thinking I could force you, make sure that you were safe."

I grabbed the hand that was still caressing my face, and held it tightly. "Please trust me, Bruce. Please... I need you to trust me. I need you to respect my abilities. You're the most important person in my life and if you don't support me...." I glanced down, figured out where I was going with this, and looked back up. "I need you to believe in me, Bruce. Because otherwise I can't believe that you really love me. It all just turns into pretty words and friendly gestures and none of it means anything anymore. I need to know that no matter what I do or what happens, you'll be there to support me. Not fight me into backing down."

"I will." He leaned forward again, resting his other hand on my face and pulling me closer. "I promise. Because I love you."

Finally I could breathe. I did so for a minute or two, closing my eyes and feeling myself relax. I found myself grinning, and got my hands free of Bruce's. He let me go and I turned on my side and snuggled up beside him. I heard him laugh, and then he gathered me in close. I thought of the first half of half a dozen jokes to make, break the mood and all this heavy emotional stuff. But I couldn't complete any of them, because I was happy to be right where I was, held close by the man I loved.

"Ten to one the BatSignal goes off."

You know something? It did. The BatSignal, I mean. About ten minutes after I'd snuggled in really comfortably, Al was knocking politely on the door and calling for Master Bruce. He untangled me and grabbed his robe; that's when I remembered mine was down the hall in the bathroom. I stayed in bed long enough to hear Al say "the signal, sir" and then I sprinted for the other door.

I grabbed my robe and belted it on as I headed into the main hallway towards my room. I needed underwear, at least -- I'd worn my Robin suit once with nothing on underneath. I am never doing that again unless it's in the privacy of my own home with another rubber-suited man watching for pure entertainment's sake. Naked skin under rubber is not conducive to one's concentration. Regardless of whose naked skin it is -- I caught Bruce once putting his suit on with nothing underneath and I still don't know who we were after or how we finally caught them. Bruce tells me I did a good job that time, so maybe he should wear it like that more often.

I could hear Al down the hall at Barbara's door. I found a T-shirt and a clean pair of boxer briefs, stepping into them as I threw my robe down, and headed back out the door as soon as I was decently covered. I sprinted again for the balcony in the main hall -- I caught a glimpse of Bruce on the stairs one floor below me, and Barbara was still behind me so I figured the coasting was clear. I launched myself off the railing and grabbed a convenient bar. With a quick spin I sailed down to the next railing and twisted around into space again. The second I got my feet on a flat surface I heard a quietly called, "Show off" and shot a grin Bruce's way. He was almost to the door to the BatCave; I could have just run down the stairs at this point, only one flight left.

Yeah, right. I grabbed the next handhold and shot off into the air, sliding through the closing door -- like he couldn't have held it open for me? -- and remembering, this time, to stop myself before hitting the stairs. I stood up, brushed myself off, and headed down. Bruce stopped and gave me a glance, probably intending to say something reproachful. He hasn't nagged me about taking the scenic route down for months, though. He'd probably like to, but I just tell him to think of it as training. You'll notice he's never removed the bars I use to swing down.

I headed into my little alcove and began suiting up; I heard Barbara and Al come in as I got my pants on. I wriggled a little to make sure they settled properly.

"Stop that," came a hissed whisper.

I grinned over my shoulder at Bruce, also half-dressed. "I'm just trying to get dressed, man. Look the other way." I wriggled again, feeling the interior layer sliding along my skin. Bruce scowled at me and I kept dressing. I turned back around and picked up my jacket; as I slipped my arms in I felt hands help me tug it down into place. Those same hands made sure there weren't any wrinkles in the suit, smoothing the chest plate into place. Tell me kevlar doesn't wrinkle. I don't care, I was grateful for the assistance. I leaned back and wriggled again.

A hand slapped me on the ass -- probably testing the protective powers of the suit in all the important places. Then Bruce stepped away to complete his own dressing; I grabbed my cape and set it into place. I was about to sit back and watch Bruce, when Al came up and handed me a sandwich.

"Thanks, Al." I took it, and suddenly realized I was starving. "I didn't realize we'd missed lunch."

Al smiled at me. "Dinner, sir," and he went over to offer another sandwich to Bruce. I'm glad it's kinda dark in the BatCave. I've never liked people to see me blush. Bruce glanced my way but I concentrated on my sandwich, trying to finish it before getting on my bike. I heard Bruce tell Al thanks, and missed the next thing he said. I heard Al say, "Of course, sir," and spent the entire ride into town wondering what Bruce had said. It might have been something typical, like lock up when we leave and don't wait up. But Al sounded like he'd been smiling when he said it. As in 'almost laughing' -- which was good, I approved of Al laughing, especially at Bruce. Wondering what he'd said was gonna drive me nuts.

I was able to pay attention when we met Commissioner Gordon on the roof. He was surprised to meet Batgirl; Barbara was enjoying herself immensely. I smiled. It wasn't often that I felt like a senior member of the troupe, but having a novice with us did just that. I reminded myself to keep an eye on her in case she started to fall.

Then I listened to Gordon's briefing. "I'm sorry we couldn't give you more time off between villains, Batman."

"That's all right, Commissioner. What have you got for us?" Batman was all business. I tried not to admire the way the shadows fell across his face and the sculpted chest of his suit.

"Someone broke into the Gotham City Vault. Nothing was taken, as far as we can tell. They didn't get all the way to the vault itself, just to the second set of offices."

"But the fact that they got in at all is cause for worry. Any ideas who it was?" Barbara and I let Bruce handle the questions. It made me feel a little like the junior sidekick again. I told myself it was just expeditious, and thought about how much the man in the batsuit loved me. I may have overdone it, because a few minutes later Batman caught my eye and he had to hide a grin.

Gordon didn't seem to notice. "We have only one clue. A scrap of cloth was left behind, caught on the gates as the villain or villains made their escape. The cloth is dyed with what the lab tells me is a most unusual plant -- they've never seen anything like it."

"That's the only clue? How'd they get in?" I asked, forgetting my intention to let Bruce handle it.

"We don't know. The cameras revealed nothing, and all the guards were knocked unconscious for exactly twelve minutes. No alarms went off, and every single employee of the Vault has passed a lie detector test to see if there was an inside man. We would have thought it was just a test and that no one actually broke in, if it weren't for this piece of cloth." Gordon handed the cloth encased in a plastic baggie, over to Batman.

"Perhaps it was a test, and they somehow planted this inside."

"Possibly," Gordon agreed. "But how did they get the cloth inside?"

Batman stared at the cloth, and I knew the wheels were already turning. He looked back up at Gordon. "We'll let you know what we find out. Come on." He pulled the edge of his cape up and I sprinted for the wall, grabbing Batgirl's arm and tugging her along. Three seconds to get over the wall and out of sight, mysterious and inexplicable. Gordon didn't really need the fancy stuff, but it helped to keep in top form. I realized we'd forgotten to tell Barbara about it and knew we were going to have to do some intense briefing and training in the next few weeks. I wondered what else she didn't know and how serious it would be when we found out.

I wondered if this is how Batman felt.

I flew off the edge of the roof, robinarang (yeah, yeah, still haven't thought of a better name) out and thrown into place. As I sailed downward I glanced over. Batgirl was doing fine, a foot or so above and to my right. Batman was above her and to my left. It looked like Barbara had picked up on our flashy exits -- she'd tugged her cape in like Bruce and me, falling blacksuited against a black sky. Don't let Bruce hear me call them that -- the one time I did he went into a whole lecture about maintaining the aura of mystery, even among our allies, to strengthen the sensation that Batman could do anything, defeat anyone. Striking fear into the hearts of even potential criminals might prevent them from breaking the law. On and on he went about keeping the image in the carefully constructed manner, research into criminal psychology, fear of the unknown and the mind's ability to make assumptions from the barest amount of fact.

I think he likes flashy exits, but he feels like he has to do everything for a practical reason. That reason is, of course, fighting crime. Sometimes Bruce is a real stiff.

Then again, he's the one who designed his and my suits.

We headed for the Gotham City Vault to check the place out. Batman sent Batgirl and me to check the exterior of the building, to see if we could find how they'd broken in. He went in through the front door, to check inside. I assumed that meant Gordon had called ahead and they'd be expecting us. Then again, the guards wouldn't be surprised to see him at the crime scene and would probably just wave him on inside. Makes me wonder if any criminals have ever thought about sneaking in someplace disguised as Batman.

Great. Now I was gonna be paranoid.

I didn't say anything about Bruce leaving me in the background where it was safe. I knew he was expecting me to from the glances he kept sending me, but I figured I needed to stick with Barbara and help her learn the ropes. If it kept me someplace where Bruce wouldn't worry about me so much... I wasn't going to complain much. It wouldn't have been fair, or safe, to throw her in the air without making sure she knew how to fly. As soon as Batgirl was ready to work on her own -- as much as Robin ever got to the first year I was with Batman -- then I expected to be right at Batman's side again. Where I belonged.

Barbara and I went around to the north wall -- it was the only one facing away from a street, and the building across the alleyway only had a single row of small windows at the very top, which would be easy enough to check for signs of traverse. I sent Barbara up the side of that building to do so, while I ran up the fire escape and began looking along the top of the City Vault building. I tied the cable off to the roof and rappelled down; I gave everything along the top a cursory check first, in case they'd left any obvious signs. No point in wasting time with all the various lenses if there was going to be a big scratch in the sill. When I didn't see anything I began searching with the lenses -- dialing through microscope, infrared, and ultraviolet.

Batgirl landed beside me when I was exactly halfway across the top. "Hey, there's no sign of anything over there."

"Great. Start checking the windows and doors at the street level. We'll meet in the middle."

She gave me this look like I'd said something inane. "I don't think so. You take the left half, and I'll take the right half." She turned towards the window to my right and began scanning it.

I had no idea what that was about. So I asked. "What are you doing?"

She glanced over, and then kept working. "I'm already up here, Robin. I might as well work my way down."

Fine. I shrugged and went back to my window. If she felt like she could handle the cable well enough, let her. It was just the investigation -- no bad guys hanging all over us trying to knock us into the street. The window I was at was clean, so I let the cable out a bit and sailed down to the next row. As I worked I looked up every once in a while to check on Barbara. She was making good progress, and seemed to have everything under control. Where had she learned to handle a rappelling cable so well? She was pretty good with it. I grinned. It wouldn't be long before she would be ready to do the sidekick thing without my supervision.

Half an hour later I noticed something weird. It wasn't at one of the windows, rather it was a line in between the bricks about a foot to the side of the window I was hanging at. It looked like a thin groove had been cut in the mortar. I scooted over to check it out. A minute later I called up, "Bingo!"

Batgirl looked down. "What is it?"

"It looks like the bricks have been pulled out. It's a hole, about two feet by two feet -- plenty big enough for somebody to crawl through." I tugged at one of the bricks, and sure enough it came right out. I set it on the window sill and tugged at another one. Slipped out clean and easy. A soft whirring warned me that Batgirl was coming down beside me; I waited until she was set in before pulling the next brick. Then I handed them off to her to set aside.

Soon I had the entire hole clear. There was a wooden stud on either side of the hole, and a layer of whatever that stuff is they make walls out of. I tapped it with my hand and it fell forward -- broke into a dozen pieces on the linoleum. I stuck my head in, and found myself in a dark file room. "Looks like we found the way in. Come on!" I crawled in, and flicked the release on my cable. I was just turning my flashlight on when Batgirl stepped in. Looked like a normal file room. I gave Batgirl a grin.

"Now we just have to figure out how they got from here all the way to the third floor where the cloth was found." Batgirl noted.

"Optimist." I shook my head. Just because there were about a dozen obstacles between us and the room in question, including alarms and guards and locked doors. I started for the door, and then stopped. "Wait a minute. Why wasn't there an alarm in the wall?"

"Why would there be?"

"This is the Gotham City Vault. The whole thing is wired. Roof, floor, doors, windows... and walls."

"I guess the bad guys disabled the alarm."

"It would have been turned back on by now. Unless that section of the wall was never wired to begin with." I went back to the hole, and checked it out. Sure enough, there were no wires or sensors. Nothing had even been snipped away, or re-routed. I began playing the flashlight all over the room. Nothing suspicious. Nothing so unsuspicious that it made me suspicious. "This spot must have been left clear when the alarms were put in."

"Someone in the security company? You think they had this planned all along?" Batgirl was heading for the door, her own flashlight out and shining.

"It would explain how they got in undetected. They'd probably have the floor plans for the whole building as well. The gas canisters might have even been planted at the same time they left this hole in the alarm system."

Batgirl stopped and looked back at me. "How long ago was the building wired?"

"About four years."

"Oh." She looked disappointed, like that disproved my theory.

"For a haul like this, four years is nothing," I pointed out. I'd been reading up on all the crimes that had been committed here in Gotham, as well as some elsewhere. From the newspapers, court records, and sometimes the criminals' autobiographies, I'd been learning a lot about how the criminal mind works. Waiting a few years for a few billion dollars is still easy money. Almost 130,000 dollars an hour.

"So why waste all that planning by breaking in and not taking any money?"

"I don't know." I watched as she checked the door, then eased it open. It must have been clear because she slipped out, waving me to follow her. It occurred to me then to wonder why I was letting her go first. I followed her out and found myself in a hallway. Looked perfectly normal. I saw the cameras set up along the ceiling, and waved briefly at one pointed my way. Batgirl was already halfway down the hall, heading towards the stairs that would take us down to the third floor. I tried to think of a reason the villains would break in, apparently take nothing, and simply leave after what was beginning to look like an incredibly intricate preparation. Unless it was a trap of some sort, in which case we were in big trouble.

I grabbed the radio from my belt and switched it open. "Robin to Batman. We found the way in. How about you?"

A second later Batman replied, "Excellent. I'm in the lobby where the cloth was found. No traces of the villains except--"

Then there was static.

I was running down the hall before I could even think what might have happened. Batgirl called out as I passed her, but I didn't stop. Bruce was down there, alone, and something was wrong. I just knew it. Batman doesn't drop his radio or forget to put in fresh batteries. I heard Batgirl break into a run but I didn't stop, didn't even slow down as I hit the door to the stairs. I tried not to think about Batman fighting off a dozen assailants, moving fast and furious but maybe being outnumbered, maybe being trapped by the one he didn't see behind him because there was no one to watch his back. Didn't think about him already being laid out, unconscious or worse, tied up or dragged away by the villains.

I put one hand out and vaulted over the rail, sailing over to the steps below. As soon as I landed I had my hand out again, vaulting to the next level. That time when I landed I spun myself around in the opposite direction; a little trick I'd learned at age five, to keep myself from becoming dizzy. Spin the water in your ear the other way, and it thinks you're standing still. More or less -- it would keep me on my feet by the time I reached the third floor, five levels and five jumps down. I could feel my pulse hammering, feeling like it was filling my throat, choking me. I wished I could blame it on exertion.

Above me Batgirl was following; from the sound of it she jumped the first one, paused, and then jumped the rest following about a flight and a half flight behind me. I didn't look back to see how she was doing. Either she was coming or not; I needed to get to Batman. I hit the third floor and sped towards the door, banging it open with my shoulder and skidding through. A quick glance each way showed me nothing unusual, just one guard standing at attention, staring at my entrance.

"Where's Batman?" I yelled. The guard pointed towards the lobby Batman had been searching. If Batman wasn't there, he hadn't left by this route. Unless the guard... I ran down the hallway. At a junction I stopped, checking each way. At the end of the hall was a black figure -- not Batman -- climbing out of a window. Batgirl skidded to a halt beside me and I pushed her towards the lobby, indicating that she should go check on Batman's last known whereabouts while I took off after the stranger. I ran silently, glad that Barbara had caught on enough to not ask questions out loud and follow my instructions. Glad she'd understood them, for that matter. At least she wasn't following me as I headed down the hall, watching as the man I was after disappeared from view.

There must have been a ledge, because it looked as though he'd simply walked away, off to the left. As I reached the window I stopped, listening carefully for any sign of him. I didn't hear anything except slightly labored breathing -- not my own. It wasn't too far away, but growing quickly more distant. I stuck my head out of the window.

The man was walking along the narrow ledge, not quite running but he looked pretty comfortable on the nearly non-existent walkway. I climbed out after him, grappling hook ready should he fall when my presence startled him. Moving quickly, I had almost caught up with him when he glanced back and saw me.

He wasn't startled. He grinned, white teeth flashing against a blackened face, and continued walking calmly. "Hold it right there!" He glanced again, smiling, and continued walking. This guy was nuts! I hurried forward a couple steps, reaching out to grab his arm. He was definitely up to something, and if he'd hurt Bruce in any way....

As I touched his sleeve he spun, and I caught a brief glimpse of a cable -- he was tied to something, but before I could think about what that could mean he was throwing a punch. I ducked it, one hand flicking the grappling hook out. A fight on a ledge was not my idea of a safe time. I started to grin, then remembered why I was out here. Batman. I ducked the first punch and started to throw my hook out to anchor me for the fight.

He lunged, grabbing onto my outstretched arm, and pulled.

Suddenly I was flying.

This would have been a great time for a flashback. I mean, I expected it. Even had a second to wonder which episode of The Life and Times of Dick Grayson I'd get to see. Don't know if I was looking forward to it or not, but I didn't figure I had a choice. You could have knocked me off a building when nothing happened. No flashback, I mean. Nothing. No thoughts of those I was leaving behind, no flashing images of those I might see again. No regrets, no prayers, no nothing. Just flying.

I was in the alley I'd been hanging above less than fifteen minutes ago. Maybe my body was expecting the cable to still be in place, and didn't believe I was going to die. No near-death, no flashback. It was something to keep in mind if I ever got the chance to do this again.

The street was awfully dark. Like obsidian, polished almost smooth. Behind me my hand was flinging the hook out; I could barely feel it, certainly wasn't thinking about where it would attach or what I would do once I was safely netted. All I could see was the street below. It wasn't getting bigger as I flew closer. Maybe because it already filled my vision.

I was jerked back suddenly; the hook had caught. I turned myself over, forgetting about the fall and turning my thoughts back to the guy who'd knocked me off. He was standing on the ledge, only ten feet above me. He was leaning over, watching, held firmly in place by his own cabled anchor. He looked like he was having way too much fun -- I would dearly enjoy pounding his face a few times before asking him what he'd done to Bruce. I wrapped my gloved hand around the rope, feeling myself begin to swing with the altered momentum. He was in serious trouble when I got back up there.

Facing upwards, staring right into his eyes as he laughed, I missed seeing it. I felt it. The sudden slack, the momentum's swing turning back into a fall, the loud pop of a snapping rope, the jeering laugh from the man on the ledge. I heard it all, but felt only my cape as it wrapped around me. okay, round two -- wait for the flashback, grab the second hook, and try this again.

I wish it would have worked. The creep who'd thrown me off had another throwing knife. I wonder what it was made of, that it could slice through cable so easily.

I would have preferred a flashback.

The Robin suit absorbs impact like you wouldn't believe -- from punches, bullets, falls from twenty feet up. All things I'd known from before, discovering its limits during tests and simulations and actual combat situations. The high-impact rubber and kevlar and thin layer of interior padding (which absorbs mostly sweat, but even so) all combine to absorb shockwaves on contact, dispersing them before they ever reach the rather fragile flesh and bone tucked securely inside. The blueprints are amazing, and Bruce tells me that a few of the equations won somebody at Wayne Labs an award in excellence in engineering. Wayne Labs got another patent, Wayne Industries got another few billion in royalties, and Batman and Robin got some really spiffy new toys.

So the Robin suit and Batman suit and, I would imagine, the Batgirl suit, are ideally -- I can't believe I'm going to say this -- suited to protect the wearers. Since I began wearing it, I had gradually become used to ignoring things I no longer had to avoid. Bullets, knives, that sort of thing. But I'd never really taken the time to reflect on just how well my suit worked, nor just exactly what it did to protect me. All I ever did, in fact, was think about how damn good Bruce looked in his, and enjoyed how he'd watch me in mine.

Three hours of lying in an alley gave me plenty of opportunity to think about it. A vivid demonstration of what a Robin suit can do.

And what it can't.

I couldn't exactly tell what was wrong. Certain areas of my body hurt like hell. My left shoulder, chest, upper back -- all felt like something inside had snapped in two, or three, or maybe even shattered into a hundred. I couldn't even think about moving that part of my body. Luckily -- Robin suit to the rescue once again -- the somewhat hardened form of the suit kept my arm in place so I didn't have to move it if I didn't move anything else.

I really didn't want to try moving anything else, because moving anything else would have moved my left leg. I knew that was broken. Upper thigh, probably the lower leg and ankle; who knew about the foot or the hip. The entire thing was a mass of burning liquid, reminding me quite forcibly that breathing was the absolute limit of motion I wanted to be attempting.

If I could have breathed without moving I'd have done it. One advantage was that when I'd landed, with my left side as point of impact, I'd rolled onto my back. I could see -- had a great view of the Gotham First Trust Bank's clock, I could see each minute tick by. I wasn't being smothered by the piles of garbage, I wasn't drowning in my own blood or vomit or any of those things you don't think about until suddenly you're wondering if you're going to have to deal with them yourself, first-hand. I'd had my first aid courses, CPR and emergency medical aid. I could bandage a wound, set a broken bone, resuscitate and rescue and reassure with the best of them. When I was able to move.

I could feel the blood seeping inside my suit. Couldn't tell how much, just felt the trickle down my ribs and the warm pool gathering under my back. I didn't know if I was bleeding anywhere else. Not that there was anything I could do about it. A design flaw -- the suit wasn't tight enough to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. Have to take that up with Al when I got back.

If I got back. See, that's the other thing about lying alone in an alleyway, unable to move. I couldn't call for help and I couldn't rescue myself. I'd watched as the two men who had sent me down here stared, probably laughing still, then vanished along the ledges around the corner of the building. No way of knowing where they were headed, inside to help their cronies or back to their lair for a celebration. No way of knowing if Batman and Batgirl were inside sweeping up, or someplace, lying still like me, wondering if anyone would be along for a rescue.

For most of the first hour I spent my time wishing Bruce would appear, and wondering if he would be able to. It wasn't a full hour because I kept getting distracted by the sheer pain I was feeling. I think I memorized the view of the sky, framed by the buildings around me. No matter how much time I lost wishing the pain would ease up, go away, or knock me out, I would always be able to glance to my right, and see my friendly clock.

I didn't know why Batman had been interrupted on the radio, and my only comfort was that I'd sent Batgirl after him. Inexperienced help is better than no help at all. At least she could use the phone and call for backup. That reminded me that I had a friend on the West Coast I needed to call. He's a sort of sidekick himself, without the fancy suit. We met several years back when he and his mom spend the winter with us. He was kind of a geek, but cute as hell. He's still cute, but his boyfriend would squish me flat if he caught me thinking it out loud. I thought about my friend for a few minutes before facing the realization that rescue might not be coming.

I knew Batgirl might not have arrived in time. She may have found the lobby empty, and was tracking down Batman's captors. She may have found a full-fledged fight, Batman surrounded by villains, and she'd had to leap in. They may have found some new danger, a bomb or hostages taken, some imminent peril for which they'd have to rush off, leaving a message for me to find when I caught up.

For the second hour I tried to face the chance that she had entered the lobby to find a single, still figure, lying on the floor -- surrounded by dispatched villains, no way they'd have gotten the drop on him. I asked myself what I'd do if I saw her, leaning above me, tear-streaked face and barely able to whisper that she was sorry, she hadn't been in time. She'd be torn up with guilt and I'd have to reassure her, explain that she'd done everything she could, everything and more that we'd expected of her. Tell her what a fine superhero she was.

Let myself bleed quietly to death while she went for help.

During the last hour, I thought about Bruce. Thought about myself, our relationship, and all the wonderful things I was grateful for. The look in his eyes when he told me he loved me. The sound of his laugh. The touch of his hand, the taste of his mouth, the feel of his body on mine when we made love. The sensation of flight whenever he stood near me, whenever he tossed me into the air, whenever he rolled his eyes at some silly thing I'd done and Al was trying his best not to laugh. Bruce was the best thing in my life right now. Had been, ever since Two-Face had destroyed my life and forced me into a world I'd never dreamed of.

It occurred to me, partway through that last hour, that I had made a mistake. It wasn't something I'd ever thought about. That was what surprised me the most, right after the realization that I had made a mistake. I'd never even considered it before. No matter how many times I'd been told. My dad used to tell me my eagerness to fly would get me in trouble if I didn't take the time to check for the trap. He'd been talking about the trapeze, telling me to make sure that I had something to grab onto before I committed myself to the air. But with three hours with nothing to do but think, I realized it was true here, too.

When Batman's voice had cut off abruptly, replaced by static, I had dropped everything to run to his rescue. Like so many times before when Batman got in trouble and I rushed over, ready to help. Sometimes I saved his life. Sometimes I got in the way. Most times, I simply helped. Bruce never failed to let me know when I'd done something he disapproved of, pointing out my mistakes and every time I didn't do what he said.

I usually responded by yelling back at him. As I lay there on the street, wondering if I would see Bruce again in this lifetime, I discovered that I had been wrong. I would have thought it a difficult realization to make, but given what else I was feeling it was nice to be able to concentrate on my recent behavior. If I hadn't had anything in my psyche to examine, I hope I could have invented something. As it was, examining what I'd been doing distracted me from my pains for half an hour. Twenty two minutes exactly, really. The Gotham First Trust Bank clock has chimes.

Ever since Robin began flying alongside Batman, Bruce had been telling me to calm down and consider what I was doing before I did it. Sometimes he termed it differently, using the words "foolhardy" and "reckless". Once he used the word "idiot" but he apologized for that one immediately. I even forgave him, after awhile. Through it all, though, his message never changed. Slow down, think about what you're doing. What you're about to do. What might happen if you do it, and it doesn't work.

That's what my dad never managed to teach me. I never really believed that anything I might try would not succeed. Sure, I fell off the trap a lot but there was always a net to catch me. Even after I was able to grab the bar every time I reached for it, I still did things that didn't work out the way I'd expected them to. Okay, almost every time I grabbed for it. Even when I'd been flying for fifteen years I missed the bar once in a while.

I guess I just don't think about that very often. When I flew with my family in the circus, all I ever thought about was the flying. The leap into the air, the spins, the flips, the sailing into the sky. I never thought about the times I needed that net below me. But for the last half hour I lay there on the ground, untold number of bones broken and who knows how badly bleeding, I thought about it. I thought about having a net to catch me.

It would have been nice. Being caught is always nice, especially if it's by someone who cares about you and holds you tight even as he's reaming you for falling. Nothing feels better.

Wonder where Batman is? I wonder if Batgirl got to him in time? I wonder if either of them knows that I'm lying here, alone, waiting for a rescue. I'd like a chance to tell Bruce that I understand, now. Look before you leap, because the net may vanish halfway down. I was careless. Not because I'd let them cut my cable. That's why we carried backups. If they hadn't been so well-prepared, my second hook would have saved me. Rather, I'd let my fear for Bruce overcome my reasoning -- I forgot the questions I'd posed to Barbara. Why would the villains do what they'd done?

Unless it was a trap. Maybe it was just hindsight talking, and maybe suspecting it was in fact a trap was too much to hope for with what we had to go on. I knew now, what with the two who'd left me here laughing and calling down how successful they'd been. Proudly giving each other cat's names, after they'd brought down the Robin. Even without the benefit of a gloating villain who shares his entire plans as you lie trapped at his mercy, I knew exactly how it had gone.

Sneak in, leave the inexplicable piece of evidence. Wait for the cops to call in the big guns. When Batman and Robin arrive, take them out. Easy. It's been tried before, of course, but this time it worked. Obviously -- otherwise I wouldn't be lying here now, watching the minute hand move slowly to the next number, waiting for someone or something to happen. If I had my choice, I'd have Batman and Batgirl come get me. I'd settle for one of them. Anyone, actually, would be cool. Anyone at all. Hang on, mister, I'll go call for help.

I wanted to tell Bruce something. What was it? About him being right. About me being wrong. I wouldn't ever do it again, I promise, not ever again. You can trust me, this time. This time I mean it. This time I understand why you've kept telling me and telling me not to do it this way. This way hurts a hell of a lot.

Bruce? Are you listening? Can you hear me?

Why doesn't he answer? He's supposed to be here. Somewhere. Maybe he's still calling Al, telling him we're coming in. I want to see him again. Bruce, not Al. I'll see Al later. I need to tell Bruce something. I need to tell him....

There's something going on. I can't hear the clock anymore. There's something muffling it. But I can still see it -- it's right over... well, it used to be right there, behind him. He's leaning over me, and I can't see the clock anymore. If he'd move a few inches over, I could see it. I wonder why I can't hear it?

What is that I can hear? It sounds familiar. It sounds like--


"Don't move, Robin. Just take it easy."

Wow. He's really here. Make it stop hurting, okay? It makes it too hard to think. I want to tell you I figured it out. I need to tell you something important.

"It's all right, we're going to take you back to the BatCave. Don't try to move, okay?"

If I could move I wouldn't be lying here. Sorry -- guess this isn't a good time for jokes, huh? Bruce, could you grab onto me for a minute? I need you to stop me from falling. It's a really narrow ledge.

"Robin, can you hear me?"

I like hearing your voice. Did I ever tell you that? Tell you how sometimes the sound of your voice is all I need to feel like everything is going to be fine? Like I wrap your voice around me and it protects me, the same way the Caped Crusader protects the city of Gotham, Bruce Wayne's voice protects a young man who... well, I've forgotten now. It's nice, though. It's really nice.


Oh yeah, like that, when it drops so low and soft. It's like I can feel your breath instead of hearing it. Only it doesn't sound quite right. You shouldn't sound so worried. It sounds better when you've been laughing.

What's that? Oh... watch out, Batman, we don't want the people of Gotham seeing you kiss your sidekick. Or am I your partner yet? Didn't you say that when I got better we could be partners? You'd make me a suit of my own and everything. Maybe when I get older we can even live together. That would be cool.

I opened my eyes and the first thing I felt was light. I closed my eyes again.


There's that voice again. I smiled. "Yeah?" My throat felt rough. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dry.

"Here, take this."

I felt a straw slip against my lips; the water tasted wonderful. I took a couple of swallows and then found that I'd exhausted myself. The straw disappeared and I wondered if I should try opening my eyes again.

"Hey, there." Bruce was smiling at me. I found myself smiling back before I realized I'd actually opened my eyes. I opened my mouth to say hi, and nothing came out. Bruce moved closer, and rested his hand on my arm. It didn't hurt.

Oh yeah... it was supposed to hurt like hell. I tried to look around, and finally recognized the medical wing of the BatCave. Well, three rooms is almost a wing. Al was hovering behind Bruce, and Barbara was sitting near the door. I wanted a nap.

I looked at Bruce. God, he looked awful -- like he hadn't slept in days. Don't get me wrong, he usually stays up 24 hours two or three days running in the course of living two lives. He does it so often that I suspect one reason Al was so in favor of us getting together is because I get Bruce into bed on a regular basis. He doesn't start looking like he's lost sleep until the third day, usually.

Had I been out that long?


"Huh?" I looked back at Bruce. He looked like he was gonna fall over. "Didn't Al make you get any sleep?"

"He tried." I heard someone laugh. Bruce just kept looking at me. "How do you feel?"

"How should I feel? I think embarrassed is top of the list." I suddenly remembered what I'd been thinking, there before he'd rescued me. "Bruce, I'm sorry. I should have thought before I ran down after you. I really screwed up." Somehow -- maybe because I was on painkillers -- it didn't feel as bad to admit it aloud as it should have.

The expression on Bruce's face was amazing. Maybe because I'd never seen it before. Like wonder, and surprise, and love, and something else I couldn't name, all mixed together. I felt him rubbing my hand while he tried to figure out what to say. I guess in all the times he's lectured me, he's never stopped to consider what would happen if I agreed with him.

"I wish I could tell you not to worry about that... but I'm too relieved to hear you saying it."

"Am I gonna be okay?"

That surprised him. "Of course! I'm sorry, I didn't think..."

Al stepped forward. "Your shoulder was broken, and your left leg broken in three places. Nothing that won't mend." From his tone I guessed he'd said that a lot, already. "You'll be stuck in bed for a while, I'm afraid. From the looks of things, however, you should recover completely."

I grinned, even though I felt like going back to sleep now. "Sounds like fun. Does this mean I get to play video games all day?" My eyes were closing.

I felt another kiss on my cheek. "You can't play with only one hand," Bruce said.

I intended to say something about what I could do one-handed, but I think I fell asleep.

"So what's up?" I rested my good hand behind my head, trying for a more comfortable position. One thing about being stuck mostly immobile is that you get stiff and sore. You wouldn't think it'd happen from lying still for so long, but it does.

Bruce settled into his chair beside my bed. I'd moved upstairs a week ago and was feeling much less injured. Nothing like being in a hospital-type bed to make you feel sick. Being down in the BatCave all that time was a weird thing, anyway. It was like being cut off from the world, connected only by visits from Bruce, Al, and Barbara, and the screen of the computer they'd brought down for me. It wasn't so much that I got bored -- sleeping too much for that -- but I guess I just knew I was underground, and it felt unnatural. How many birds live underground? I was above ground now, though, in a regular bed with windows that overlooked the world. I'd half-hoped they'd move me up to Bruce's room; they didn't, and I didn't think I should ask. I missed sleeping with him. He doesn't move in his sleep so he wouldn't have disturbed me. Maybe he just doesn't want Barbara to know. I don't know what it is. I don't think he's still mad at me.

"Nothing new. We caught the bank robbers in the lobby of the Gotham National Bank. Barbara's turning into a pretty good crimefighter."

That's the other thing. Bruce has been training Barbara while I'm laid up. (No jokes about just being laid. It's been way too long.) Their first mission together was to track down the guys who'd laid the trap for us at the Gotham City Vault. Bruce said she did okay - they traced the cloth and the man who'd sold a bolt of it to a 'shady character' and apparently things unraveled from there. Afterwards, when all the men were safely behind the bars of the prison hospital (Bruce says there was a fight. Barbara says there was a big fight.), Bruce decided to focus on Batgirl's training.

Bruce tells me all about it when he comes up each evening and it sounds like she's doing well. Then in the morning Barbara comes by and we talk, compare notes about being trained by someone who is completely incapable of laughing while he's working and who -- let's face it -- takes everything too seriously. Barbara tells me how she screwed up the day before, pointing out all her mistakes and asking if Bruce really means it when he frowns at you. He's encouraging and all, tells you what you've done right when you do it. But then you do something else and he frowns. It gets creepy after awhile.

I pointed out to her that Bruce frowned at me during training for a whole year before he finally stopped. I guess maybe I talked a little too much about Bruce when she visited. Defending him, sometimes, mostly just explaining him. That's how she figured out Bruce and I were together. She got this really interesting smile on her face and said she thought it was great. Once I figured out what she was talking about I spent about fifteen minutes trying to make her understand that Bruce wasn't ready for anyone to know about it. She said she understood the first time I said it, but I wasn't going to take the chance of Bruce getting angry at me for outing him.

Something else we haven't talked about. Someday I suppose we ought to.

"Commissioner Gordon sends his regards." Bruce smiled at me. This bank robbery thing was the first time Batman had been called out by Gordon since my fall. For obvious reasons, we hadn't advertised my accident. The ones who'd caused it weren't talking. I didn't want to think about them right then.

I kept my tone light. "Oh yeah? I don't see any flowers or candy."

Bruce swatted my uncasted leg. "You're not exactly listed in the phone book, you know."

"That's why he has the BatSignal. How hard would it be to give Batman something to bring home?"

"You want Gordon to use the BatSignal to deliver flowers?"

I shrugged. Nobody knew Dick Grayson was injured -- they thought I'd gone on a trip to Europe. Luckily I was able to take my laptop with me and telnet into my accounts. Even luckier I didn't know anyone where I was supposed to be visiting. But it meant that no one was sending best wishes, either. What fun is being hurt if you don't find out how many people really like you... or want you to think they do? "If they were really nice flowers, I think it'd be okay."

"Oh, you do?"

I recognized that tone of voice. Bruce was going to say something about improper use of an emergency beacon, the BatSignal was for fighting crime and not trivial, social uses. He'd be hiding a smile when he said it, but deep down he'd believe it. I changed the subject. "Is Al back yet?" We'd given him a long weekend off after spending so much time taking care of me.

"No. Why, do you need something?"

"He said he'd stop at the bookstore for me. I was just wondering if he was back."

Bruce leaned forward, resting his elbow on my mattress. "Bored?"

"Don't do that! Not unless you're going to follow up." He was using that other tone of voice. You know the one I mean. He laughed. I decided not to let him get away with it. "After all, it's been weeks. You haven't even touched me. You don't even help Al give me my sponge baths."

Yes, I admit it. I whined. If it worked, I was willing to try anything. Do you know what it's like being given a sponge bath by an old guy when your lover is just down the hall completely available for such things? Al's nice, don't get me wrong. What a waste of a good opportunity, though.

"Dick, you don't need that kind of exercise until your bones are healed."

Great, that did it. He was back to worrying about my less-than-pristine condition. If I pushed him I'd have him brooding again about nearly losing me. That was no fun -- three days last week, before we snapped him out of it. Four days the week before. I tried pleading with him. "Bruce, I'm not talking about exercise. I'm talking about you touching me. More than just a kiss on the cheek when you come in and another when you leave."

He wasn't convinced. In fact, he was frowning again. Good grief. "Dick, I'm not discussing this with you. I'm not going to risk aggravating your injuries by having sex with you."

"Bruce, I'm not asking for sex. I'm not saying I'd turn it down, I'm just asking for you to hold me. I feel like you're keeping me at arm's length -- like I screwed up so bad you can't get close to me anymore." I suddenly thought of something. Bruce had been being fairly nice to me, except when he was trying not to be pissed because I'd nearly been killed. He wasn't avoiding me, and he hadn't told me it was all over. But he wasn't exactly acting like himself, either.

No, that's not right. He was acting like himself. It was as if I were the one who'd changed.

"Bruce? Don't you want us to be together anymore? Or is it that you're going to retire Robin in favor of Batgirl?" Asking it scared the daylights out of me. Thinking it scared the daylights out of me.

The look on Bruce's face when he heard the question scared the living hell out of me.

"Bruce don't do this to me. Please," I begged him. If I could have moved I'd have crawled to my knees. I knew I'd screwed up but I couldn't take losing him -- as Batman or Bruce. "Please, I'll do whatever it takes; however much training you want...."

"Shh! Shh, Dick, calm down." Bruce scooted forward and was holding my face in his hands. "It's all right, Dick. I don't want to break up. Not the partnership, and not the relationship. It's okay." He rested his forehead against mine, still whispering.

I tried to calm down -- his words weren't what I was expecting, not after that look of guilt when I'd asked him if we were splitting up. The way my heartrate had tripled I thought I'd explode. I tried to breathe deep and calm down; it was frustrating because I wanted to grab onto him and I could only move one hand. I really, really wanted to wrap both arms around him and make him repeat what he'd said. I got one arm around his neck and held on.

He moved closer, and put one hand behind my head; the other brushed my cheek. He looked up at me and I wanted to fall into his eyes. Crawl inside him and disappear -- never let him lose me again. Bruce didn't say anything for a minute, just held me still and finally I was able to calm down.

"I'm sorry, Dick. I didn't mean for you to think anything like that." A brief look of guilt passed over his face again. What in the world did it mean?

"Then why did you look guilty when I asked?"

"I--" He stopped and looked down, leaning away from me. I didn't know if I should take that personally or not. Bruce is a really private person -- and I guess that is going to include me, too. Maybe I should say "exclude". Bruce has always kept a part of himself away from other people. I never realized he'd keep it away from me. Strangely enough, realizing that made me feel better. It wasn't me he wanted to keep away from. It was everybody.

"Bruce?" I coaxed quietly, hoping he'd hear that I'd accepted it.

He glanced up and then away, then looked at me and said, "Every time I look at you I see you lying on the street, dying. I..." His voice broke for a second, "dream about it every night. I can't stop thinking about losing you."

Like he lost his parents. Like he came so close to losing Al. I watched him trying to keep that mask on between us. I wonder if he knew how far behind it I could see? Not all the way. I'll probably never see all the way past it. He needs so badly to prevent another person from dying. If he could, he'd keep me here, safe and sound, protected from even the chance of a meteor falling from the sky and striking me. Encase me in Plexiglas, sequestered away with the rest of his precious collections in the east wing.

There was nothing I could do to convince him. Deep down, he'd never believe that I was not going to die. Well, he's right, I will die. Someday. He'd let that fear stay tucked away, in that part of him he tries never to let out where anyone can see it. All I could do was keep the rest of me out of that part -- out where he could see me and keep loving me. I just looked at him, waiting.

"I'm sorry," he finally said. "I didn't mean to scare you." All trace of guilt and fear had left his voice -- gone back to its quiet, measured, cautious tones. Do I obsess about his voice too much? Have I mentioned that one of my fantasies is to have him bring me off by just talking to me, soft and low, sitting near me but not touching me at all....

I reached up and put my hand on his cheek. I didn't say anything. There wasn't much to say at that point. I just needed him to know I wasn't scared anymore. I wanted to tell him it was okay, just don't shut me out anymore. I wanted to tell him I understood and that all I wanted was a place in his life. A place in his heart.

I wanted to tell him about my fantasy and see if he'd do it. Instead I brought him forward, pulling at his chin with my fingers. He moved easily, right up to my face. I started to lean up to meet him, as far as I could with my shoulder in its cast. Bruce finished the move before I could, leaning down and pressing his lips against mine. He held himself there, mouth closed, lips so soft and warm and tender. His lips were dry. When he started to move away I grabbed his head and gave them a quick lick.

I shrugged at his expression. "Didn't have any lip balm."

He just gave me another look. This one said he thought I was nuts. I've seen this one before. I tried grinning at him, hesitantly, extra-innocently. He held the expression. I grinned a little wider. He kept holding it. I tried the pout Blair had tried to teach me.

Bruce laughed. Before he could say anything though, I picked up his hand and held it. "Bruce, could you rub my back? It's getting sore again."

"Sure." This time he just smiled, and moved to sit beside me on the bed. I leaned up a bit so he could work his hands underneath me, and then relaxed completely as he began rubbing.

There wasn't much I could do to get rid of Bruce's fear. There wasn't anything I could do to prevent him from shutting me out sometimes. All I could do was wait until he was ready and then insinuate myself back into his soul. Enjoy the hell out of it while I was there, and then remember that he still loves me when he has to shut me out again.

Batman. The man behind the mask. The man I loved and the legend I had to understand; the legend I was a part of and the man I'll never totally have. I've gotten in deeper than anyone, and I know he needs me. For now, that's going to be enough.

I hear that for some people life is simple. I'll never trade for simple. For as long as we both shall live.

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