Silent Passage

I stared down at the street. From this distance it didn't look like much of anything -- bright flashes of formless colour interspersed with dark flashes of background asphalt. But hey, whaddya expect when you're looking at the street from about ten inches away? Luckily for me, I wasn't actually standing there in the street watching the traffic whizz by. Re-focusing the monoculars, I tried to find the tiny gizmo I'd been searching for for nearly -- hell, an hour. At this rate, my eyes were gonna go batty.

I suppressed the urge to lift the monocs and focus in on something much more interesting than speeding traffic: Batman was halfway down the block, doing the same thing as I, as was Batgirl who was half a block down from *him*. They don't tell you about this part of crimefighting. Sitting and watching for hours -- worse for us than your typical flatfoot who can at least have his relief show up with pizza and coffee. I imagine that if we asked, Al would. But we'd need to get him into costume so no one would ask why Bruce Wayne's manservant was delivering pizzas to the Caped Crusader and his Intrepid Sidekicks.

*That* was an image that kept me entertained while I continued to search the street. I finally decided I could only really see him in his butler's uniform, and a mask. We could call him The Butler - that would confuse everybody, right?

Gimme a break, I've been staring at this street for a *long* time now. Cars, trucks, vans, bikes, who-knew-whats were speeding by, obscuring the asphalt I was studying for some sign that would only be about two inches big. I couldn't even chat on the radio because if Batgirl and I got going, Batman would growl at both of us. And the kinds of things I'd want to say to Batman to keep me entertained, I don't want BatGirl overhearing.

Not that Batman would let me say those things to him while we're working. He's such a... well, let's just say he's focused. I wasn't convinced any of us were going to find anything -- except maybe Batman, but who is ever really surprised when he finds things no one else notices? Blue flashes, green flashes, flashes so fast I couldn't even tell their colour. Nothing that looked like--


I blinked and looked over. Right there in his hand was exactly the mobile transmitter we'd been waiting for. I grabbed it from his hand and checked it over. Still counting down, naturally. I whipped out my tool belt and began to dismantle the back.

"Um, can I ask--"

I ignored him. I found the schematics to be just like Batman had said, just like the plans we'd studied back at the Cave. It only took me a few moments to disarm it. *Then* I looked back up. "Thanks. What are you doing here?" I saw Batman land on the rooftop behind Flash, but didn't let on.

"I've been rounding those things up all over the northeast. Didn't really know what to do with them; when I saw you three watching, I figured you could tell me."

"They should be disarmed," Batman said.

Flash whipped around, then instantly pretended he hadn't been surprised. A moment later BatGirl joined us; he gave her a huge, charming smile, which she returned. I rolled my eyes.

"The same way Boy Wonder here disarmed this one?" Flash asked. Batman nodded, and our visitor vanished in a red blur. Two seconds later he reappeared and dumped a handful of transmitters on the roof. Before any of us could reach down to help, he began going through them, mimicking -- I hoped -- the moves I'd made to disarm the first. A half a minute later he stood up, a pile of defunct transmitters at our feet.

Batman glanced down, gave Flash a nod, then said, "Let's go."

We had work to do, people to track down and badguys to bust. Flash gave me a bewildered look which I completely recognised. I clapped him on the shoulder. "He means "thanks, we really appreciate it, you did great work". It's all in how far down his chin goes." I caught the tiny glare Batman sent back to me and smiled. Batman and BatGirl paused at the edge of the roof, waiting for me to catch up. On some strange impulse I said, "See you around?"

I wasn't sure why I wanted to see another costumed freak in Gotham. I'd read about Flash's escapades in Keystone City, but I'd never really thought about meeting him. Batman had never said a word about him, which made me think he didn't entirely approve, nor did he entirely disapprove. I hadn't really cared enough to push him for an opinion. But when the Flash smiled and nodded, I was glad. Maybe it was just instinct, telling me he was one of the better good guys, someone worth knowing.

Maybe it was just because he looked about my age.

Either way, as I flew off with the Bats and the Girl, I looked back over my shoulder. All I saw was a red streak disappearing into the distance.

It was way freakin' early in the morning by the time we made it home. Showers, breakfast, and debriefing Al took the usual fifteen minutes. It would have taken more if I'd have been able to get Bruce into my shower, but he pretended not to notice my subtle hints. I took my shower alone, reminding myself it just meant sooner to bed.

And fewer giggling looks from Barbara.

As I headed upstairs, I gave my arms a stretch. It was nice to be able to move without any pain. A hand landed on my back. "Sore?"

I grinned. If I said yes I'd get a backrub. I'd get that *look*, too. "No. Can I have a backrub, anyway?"

Bruce smiled. I took that for a 'yes' and pushed him up the stairs faster. It was *so* nice to be able to move without pain. When I'd finally gotten out of my cast I was in rehab for six months, enduring what Alfred laughingly called physical therapy. I think I hurt *more* then, than I did when I'd broken everything in the first place. Even with having lain there, oozing blood and being in agony.

I learned fast not to say that out loud, though, because when Bruce heard me, he got that *other* look. The one that's mostly mask.

Finally, though, about a month ago, I got a clean bill of recovery. Batman put me back in the field and ever since things have been back to-- OK, 'normal' would be misleading. Unless you realise nothing is normal, then things being unusual would be normal.

Back in the field, anyway, and though he treated me like an FNG -- fucking new guy -- for a few nights, I proved to him that I was perfectly able to do my job. Soon he was back to treating me like his partner, and BatGirl and I were well on our way to learning all over again how to work together.

The weirdest part was when we got home after a hard night of saving the world. Bruce has never been very demonstrative, and he still isn't. But when we're in bed together, he touches me like I'm going to break all over again. I whopped him with a pillow once to make him stop, but it didn't really help.

And of course he doesn't talk about it. I've resigned myself to being fragile china for awhile. At least he's touching me, again.

I dragged him upstairs, not intending on trying to convince him of anything, this time. I was just so ready to be naked and alone with him. I glanced over my shoulder at him, wanting to see whatever expression he had. That was how I saw Alfred before he got near enough to interrupt.

"I'm sorry, Master Bruce. You're needed downstairs."

I let go of Bruce's hand, and gave him a brave smile. He was already nodding and saying thank you, rubbing my hand slightly before turning around. I shrugged at Al to let him know I didn't mind.

"It's the Commissioner," Al explained.

"We working?" That was different, of course. If I couldn't have Bruce naked, I'd take him in costume. I mean that both ways, by the way. But Al shook his head.

"He's called about the Ainsley murder."

I nodded, hiding my disappointment. That one was over two years old. No leads, but it would keep Gordon and Batman busy for a while, talking and rehashing old records. Gordon's had this thing, lately, about going over old, unsolved crimes. Like he's trying to clean his docket before retiring, or something.

Al left, and I turned back towards bed. If Batman were up for a couple hours, he wouldn't bother coming to bed at all.

I headed for my own room.

I had no idea what time of day it was when I came downstairs. It was cloudy outside my window, and I hadn't been awake enough to figure out where I'd left my clock. I figured it didn't matter too much, and took my time getting down to breakfast. Or lunch, dinner, whatever.

"Good evening, sir," Al greeted me as I entered the kitchen.

"Thanks, Al."

"For what?" He looked over from where he was either getting dinner ready, or putting leftovers away.

I yawned, and sat down at the table. "For telling me the time. Where's everybody?"

"Master Bruce is at his office, in town; Barbara is in the gymnasium." He placed a coffee cup on the table in front of me.

"Oh, you're a lifesaver, Al." I took a sip. I really didn't know how I'd ever managed without a butler, before. Vague memories of being awake at dawn, doing chores, came to mind. I pushed at them, making them vaguer.

"Yes, sir." Al's heard this before. Usually every day after we get in after 4 a.m. I honestly didn't know how Bruce managed it. Caffeine? Sheer will power?

Too stubborn to admit he's sleepy?

I took another drink and felt myself beginning to wake up. "Thanks, Al. How long has Barbara been in the gym? I think I'll go join her if she hasn't been there too long."

"Less than half an hour, I believe. But if I recall correctly," which meant he did, "Your sociology class meets tonight. In fifty minutes."

I groaned, and let my head drop. It wasn't that I didn't like the class. Back when I was bedridden, Bruce had had to explain Dick Grayson's sudden disappearance from public view. He told everyone I'd gone off to college. That was all fine with me, until he informed me I really *was*. I had to be actively enrolled in case someone checked. Who would check, I don't know. But he insisted in that understated, I'll glare at you 'til you give in, way of his.

So I enrolled. Since I couldn't go to campus, I took classes that met over the internet, and traditional correspondence courses. Once I got the cast off and was rehabbing, I was enrolled in a couple of regular classes as well.

My soc class tonight was my last internet course, and tonight's meeting was one I really couldn't miss. The prof was handing out exam questions for our finals two weeks from now. 'Sample questions,' he called them, but I'd been told by other students that the same questions showed up on the test.

I wasn't really worried about the exam, but it was stupid not to get the questions beforehand. I'd done all my readings and had received As on all my work so far. I actually kinda enjoyed the class. The professor knew what he was talking about, and the other students pretty much seemed intelligent. Not the typical freshmen geeks I had found in my other classes, on campus. But more often than not I missed meetings, because of my night job. The prof didn't seem to mind, but every so often I couldn't miss.

And *those* nights, Batman left Robin home. I didn't complain too much. At least not yet. I was getting ready to call it quits on the college experience, though. I was fully recovered, and both Dick and Robin were able to make whatever appearances required.

I hadn't quite figured out how to tell Bruce this was my last semester.

It would wait, though. I only had two more weeks then finals, then the semester was over and it would be four more weeks before anyone found out I wasn't enrolled in the next semester. Tonight, though, I had class.

I accepted the plate Al handed me, and told myself I had fifty minutes to wake up. Maybe I'd go down to the gym, anyway. Getting the stuffing knocked out of me by a cute girl always did wonders for my state of mind. Although then there'd be the shower, change of clothes, and then hoping the university server let me telnet in in time to make the class. What good does having a T-1 ethernet connection do when the server you're trying to get to doesn't like you?

I opted for finishing dinner and heading back upstairs to my room to log on and roam around the net before class. Yeah, OK, and during. I mean, that's what chat logs are for. I ended up accessing a bunch of newspaper and magazine articles on Wally West, aka the Flash. My participation in class discussion that night might have been a little lacking, but there were a *lot* of articles.

I'd known that West was a public superhero. That is, he doesn't keep his identity a secret. How he managed to avoid getting his friends, family, and home attacked, I didn't know. Maybe the villains in Keystone City are nicer than the ones in Gotham.

When class was over, I stayed on reading articles. Batman and BatGirl had left while my class was still meeting; Al had told me Batman hadn't expected me to join them tonight. There wasn't much going on in Gotham and he expected to be back early. I didn't bother arguing because an early night meant everything I'd missed last night. This morning. Whenever. I hadn't argued because if I stayed here, I'd stand a better chance of enjoying myself, later.

Besides which -- I was enjoying myself, now. West seemed like a really interesting person. I hoped he'd stop by Gotham City again. Long enough to have a conversation, this time.

I was staring at one of the more recent articles about Flash. He'd saved the world, or at least his part of it, a couple weekends ago. He'd given the Keystone newspaper an interview right after the cops had taken the bad guys away. I found myself surprised at the idea, and impressed by how... well, *together* he seemed. This was no tortured soul. I definitely wanted to spend some time talking with him.

Then I realised someone -- Bruce -- was standing in the doorway, looking at me. I turned and gave him a grin. "This doesn't count as 'failure to be aware of your surroundings at all times,' does it?"

"No." He shook his head, uncrossed his arms as he moved away from the doorway he'd been leaning against, and walked towards me. "It's 'being unaware of a potential enemy'."

I gave him a look. "Yeah. Like I'm gonna get attacked by some hulking stranger right in the middle of Wayne Manor? Without you or Al or the security system noticing?"

I was joking; he wasn't. He frowned ever so slightly in that way that said he was about to deliver a Lecture To Be Remembered. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, and listened intently. "You can't rely on myself, or anyone else, or even the security system. You *have* to be aware--"

"Bruce, can we skip this lecture? I've heard it before. Why don't we just take it as given that if you'd been a bad guy I'd be in the middle of a fight right now?"

That did *not* amuse him. He didn't pursue it, however. Sometimes he just does that, and leaves me wondering how pissed off or disappointed he really is. "What are you doing?" He'd glanced at the screen, but it wasn't quite turned towards him.

I shrugged. "Reading about West. Figured after meeting him last night, I'd find out more about him."


Despite what I tell other people, I had no clue what he meant by that. I waited a moment to see if he was going to expand on that, but he didn't.

He just nodded. "I'm heading for bed."

He didn't wait for me to say anything like "All right!" before he left. I didn't mind; I began shutting down the programs I had open, and made sure I'd bookmarked the newspaper's archives. By the time I headed out after Bruce, he'd already vanished down the hallway.

With a grin, I hurried after. He might be irritated with me, but that was nothing new. It was nothing I couldn't make him forget about, too.

I found Bruce just exactly where I expected him -- standing beside his bed, undressing. His back was to me, but I didn't pretend he didn't know I was there.

I stopped and looked at him. He was down to his shorts, carefully folding the sweats he'd put on after his post-Bat-beat shower. Sometimes I wondered why he did that when Al was around to do that sort of thing for him. Maybe he was just used to it. Al, I mean. Not folding his clothes.

Though if he'd always folded his clothes, he'd be used to that, too. I stopped trying to confuse myself and paid closer attention to the man becoming naked in front of me.

He'd removed his shorts and was now wonderfully naked. Still had his back to me, which meant I could stare at his legs, the muscles of his ass and his thighs, the way they clenched when he moved....

The way his cock swung free as he turned to face me, the way it hardened slightly as he found me staring. As quickly as humanly possible, I moved across the room and into his arms. I didn't care that I was still dressed; I wanted to feel that body against mine.

He embraced me, and the tightness of his hug made me all the harder, straining though I'd been since I'd caught sight of his body. He lifted me slightly and kissed me; the motion dragged me roughly against him and I began to wish I'd undressed, first. Now there was no chance I could stop long enough to do so...

I felt his hands on me as I kept kissing him, kept rubbing myself against him. I needed to feel him, needed *him*. I gasped when he let go of my mouth and I latched onto his shoulder, wrapping my arms and one leg around him to hold on. He cupped his hands under my butt and held me -- for a moment, then he began kneading my buttocks and pushing me even harder against himself and I think I went a little nuts.

I was probably screaming, though it felt little more than gasping for air. I know I was biting and pulling at everything I could reach, trying to do what I still don't know. Drive myself inside him, I suppose, though we really weren't in the right position and I was still wearing clothes. I was shoving my cock against his stomach as hard as I could with the lousy leverage I had, whimpering things I'd have been embarrassed to hear, had I been capable of understanding whatever it was I was saying.

I didn't even know exactly what Bruce was doing, all I could feel was him holding me up and *being* there, being so solid and real and warm and... I kept pressing into him and clutching at everything I could grab, to pull myself in again. I heard him whisper in my ear and I howled, and came.

Bruce laid me backwards and I found myself lying on the bed. When had he turned us around?

"Oh, ick... next time remind me to strip, first."

His hands moved to the waistband of my jeans, and he looked up at me as he began to unzip them. "I rather liked it."

Oh, god, I was getting hard again... Please, don't ever let me get too old to get hard when Bruce uses that tone of voice. He pulled my jeans down, raised an eyebrow slightly at the evidence that I was nowhere near done yet for the night, then laid my jeans on the floor. I managed to pull my shirt off before he could lie down with me, then I latched onto his body like I'd wanted to, before.

Skin on skin.

I kissed him again, hungry for whatever he was going to give me. He was touching me again, lifting my hips towards him. I went, letting him manoeuvre me however he liked. I let him raise my leg, hooking it up on a shoulder while he moved downwards, slightly. My breath caught and I grabbed his mouth again, wanting to feel that part of him as he entered me.

Then he impaled me, and my shout was swallowed in his mouth. He was holding me down with one hand on my face and his torso half-lying on mine, trapping me with his body as well as with that one point of contact I couldn't have moved from had I wanted to. I tried to wriggle, tried to get him to move more, but he held me down and took me at his own speed.

I was whimpering again, whimpering in Romanian which Bruce swears someday he's going to learn. When he broke the kiss I turned my face sideways, burying it in the crook of his neck. I could smell only him, his sweat and his musk and the fading freshly-showered scent of soap.

"Bruce, please, oh god..." I could barely breathe, forcing my whisper out because I had to touch him that way, too. Needed to drag him inside me body and soul; I felt his hand slide down to the middle of my back and he held me. I started shaking, the next orgasm building rapidly, and I turned my head to look up.

Bruce was looking at me, brown eyes shining and oh, so utterly unshuttered. I cried out, then, and he kissed me.


He began thrusting hard, suddenly, and, in silence, he came inside me.

I wrapped my legs around his waist as he slipped out, to hold him still and near. He smiled and moved forward again. Wrapping both my arms and legs around him, then, I settled myself beside him, holding him against me. I felt him sigh, his head resting next to mine. A hand came up and combed through my hair, a kiss was laid on my cheek, then I closed my eyes and let the world go away.

It didn't go away for long. I only dozed for about half an hour before I woke when Bruce shifted. I was getting cold, and when I realised how incredibly icky I felt, I grinned. "I need a shower."


I looked over, eyebrow raised. "'Mm'?" Sometimes I don't bother pretending I understand his every non-word.

"Go ahead." He didn't look like he was going to pry himself up and join me.

I frowned at him. "I'm not the only one," I suggested, subtly.

He half-smiled, but didn't move until I scooted away from him. As I headed for the bathroom, he followed. He said nothing as I got the hot water going, or when I pulled him into the large shower stall, or even when I took the soap and began lathering his chest.

He just stood there, watching me. He had the cutest, tiniest, damned grin on his face.

"You're kidding."

I shook my head. "I'm not kidding."

Wally stared at me for a few moments before shaking his head. He looked like he was uncertain whether I was *really* kidding or pulling his leg. Finally he just said, "Wow. I think I should be glad Keystone City doesn't attract the same sort."

I laughed, though as soon as I did, I found myself wondering if it were really that funny. "I think you have to have a Batman-sort protecting the place in order to attract that kind of villain."

We were sitting atop the Carver Building, near the western edge of Gotham City. It was a couple weeks after my first meeting with Wally West. I'd come up to this area of Gotham alone on patrol. Batman had started sending me out on my own a couple nights a week. I liked it, mostly, except he wouldn't say why he was doing it. I knew he wasn't replacing me -- he's eventually going to send BatGirl out on *her* own, and he and I will go back to being partners.

I had been up a couple blocks from where we were now, checking things out, when I'd seen the red streak of light heading through the streets. Flash'd joined me on my patrol -- actually took most of it over, running around my part of Gotham every few minutes or so while we sat here and talked. I'd been describing the sort of thing to look for, which had led to a description of our usual sort of criminals.

Which had led to his claim of disbelief.

"I guess that says something nice about me, then, doesn't it?" Wally said, grinning.

I laughed again. "It says you're not a dark, brooding, frustrating, genius. Whether you think that's good is up to you."

He looked at me, curiously. "Frustrating?"

I was glad I had a mask on. I felt myself blushing furiously. "Um..."

He waited.

I looked away, ostensibly concentrating on what little details I could make out of the street traffic, below. It was too late to say I hadn't meant anything by it; I'd hesitated long enough that he'd know I had. Finally I said, "Well, he's not like normal folk."

From Wally's expression I could tell he knew I wasn't telling him anything everyone didn't already know.

But I wasn't sure I wanted to try to explain it to him, either. I added, "It isn't easy being his partner." I shrugged. There wasn't anything else I *could* say.

He seemed to realise I didn't want to talk about it. He watched me for a moment, then excused himself for a quick dash around town. When he'd come back, he sat down beside me again. Our feet were dangling off the edge of the roof, and we started talking about other things.

I don't know exactly how long we had been talking about this, that, and the other when I realised that we sounded like a couple of schoolkids hanging out after school. Maybe on Hallowe'en; most schoolboys don't wear costumes like ours every day. It was fun, though, talking to him like he was completely normal. Like I was, too.

Two perfectly normal superheros.

I turned my head even as he touched down. Wally saw me look and turned as well. Batman.

I stood up fast, feeling guilty -- then I stomped on that feeling. It wasn't like I'd been shirking my duties, even if I had simply asked Wally to take them for me. Batman didn't say anything, he just walked over. The look on his face was enough, though.

I glared back at him.

Wally was glancing from me to Batman, obviously not sure if he should say something, or run for it. Granted he had the advantage if he decided to make a break for it. I doubt even Batman could trip him up before he got out of the city. Batman didn't give Wally much attention, just gave him the slightest once-over which could have led to anything had either of us wanted to make something of it.

Then he said to me, "Let's go."

I rolled my eyes and looked at Wally. "Nice talking with you. Maybe we can hook up again?"

He gave me a grin, still looking a little intimidated to have been so clearly dismissed by The Bat. "Sure thing." He glanced at Batman and added, "Maybe after work next time."

"Sounds good." I smiled; Wally was cool. I had a feeling I was going to enjoy being friends with him. He vanished and I looked back at Batman.

It'd be fun hanging with Wally as long as *someone* didn't make it more annoying than it was worth. I didn't move, though he'd started towards the other edge of the roof. He stopped and looked back.

I waited. He didn't say anything. We *both* knew what he needed to say, so why he wouldn't do me the favour of saying it aloud, I didn't know. I waited some more, folding my arms across my chest to let him know I wasn't joining him until we had this out.

He walked back over to me, and gave me one of his meaner stares. I ignored it -- on the outside. He hasn't glared at me like that in months.

Since before I got hurt. He hasn't really, sincerely chastised me for *anything* since before then. "What's the problem?" I asked, frustrated that I'd had to.

The look I got in return told me he didn't think I needed an answer.

"Stuff it, Batman. Tell me what the problem is." I was pissed. I didn't exactly know why; I only knew that I wasn't going to let whatever judgement he'd made, stand. But I needed him to state it, so I could yell at him correctly. No point yelling at him for something that he wasn't actually doing.

He glared, then in an even voice he said, "I gave you a job to do."

"Yeah? And it got done." I shrugged like I didn't understand why he was upset.

"I gave *you* the job. Not him." He changed his glare a bit, from the 'you screwed up' into the 'don't do it again'. I recognised them easily -- I've seen them often enough.

This time I just glared back. It was just a mild 'don't glare at me' one, though. "Don't you trust him to notice if something's going on we should know about?" That's all I had asked him to do, after all. It wasn't like I'd expected him to kick any ass or take any names for me.

There was the slightest of pauses, which told me Batman *didn't* trust him. That surprised me a little; he must have done as much reading up on Flash as I had, if only because he's obsessive that way. He should know what kind of superhero Wally was. Smart and experienced enough to notice the kinds of things that needed stopping.

Heck, for all I knew, Flash *had* stopped a few things on his run through the city and simply hadn't mentioned them to me.

That made me pause. What if he had? Did *I* trust him enough not to worry about what he might have done? I didn't know him very well, despite how easily we got along. My instincts were saying I could. So did I trust my instincts?

Did Batman?

He'd better. If he were going to call me his partner, he owed me that much. I glared at him since he hadn't yet answered me.

He barely shrugged. "I told you to do it."

I gave him a chance to say more, but apparently that was all there was to it. "You're pissed at me because I let Wally do my job, so he and I could talk?"

"I told you to do it."

I was surprised that he bothered repeating himself. "So now you can't trust me to do anything I'm told, is that it?" He was acting like I was a 13-year old sidekick who would rather play games than fight crime.

Or maybe... he was upset because I'd done something unexpected which he hadn't foreseen, and couldn't have taken into account. Maybe it was just because I'd deviated from his plans.

Have I mentioned Batman acts like a control freak sometimes? Like, 99% of the time? The other one percent being when his head is thrown back and he's almost screaming, pounding into me or getting sucked-- Anyhow, I was saying. Maybe he was upset because he hadn't known what I was doing. How it would have affected his plans, I couldn't say.

But otherwise he would be angry for totally strange reasons, like no one but he and those he approves can be crimefighters in Gotham. Which, come to think of it, is also a control-issue.

So it wouldn't be so strange, after all. I walked over to him, feeling not so pissed any longer. "I'm sorry. Next time, when I'm off-duty. OK?"

He just nodded, but I could tell he felt better. I felt better. I put my hand on his arm.

"I guess we should head home?" I was thinking of some conciliatory sex, myself. Half-out of costume, maybe I'd jump him in the cave if BatGirl and Al were already upstairs.

He nodded again, all signs of glaring gone. There wasn't any sign that he knew what I had in mind, or approved, but that was OK. He never did, when we were out. It was how he looked when we got home that mattered.

I thought about *that* look. I beat him back to the BatMobile.

When we got home, BatGirl and Al were long gone to bed. There was a note saying so on the computer console. I grinned at Batman. He gave me that look.

We didn't get upstairs for a long time.

I supposed I shouldn't have expected to actually get away with no one finding out. I hadn't, really, but I had sort of been expecting them not to find out for a month, when classes started up again. It didn't even take a week.

Batman had left me home while I studied for and took my finals. I didn't really complain because once I started studying, I realised just how much of it I had to do. I mean, just because I wasn't going back the next semester didn't mean I wanted to flunk out of this one. The classes weren't that hard and flunking or even getting Ds would be embarrassing.

Anyhow, I took my tests and settled in to resume my life. Grades would be posted the following week, but I wasn't worried. The tests had proven a lot easier than my classmates' horror stories made them out to be. Well, mostly they had. But I was pretty sure I'd passed them all. I wasn't thinking about them, though, in favour of making sure I stayed up to speed. When Batman and I started working together again every night, I didn't want him finding any weak spots.

I was in the library, digging through some ancient history for something to read. I'd always loved history; that was Old Gregor's fault. But it was also something Bruce approved of -- said a lot could be learned about people today, by reading history. He meant it would make me a better crimefighter, of course. Not exactly something you can major in at college, though.

Barbara had asked me once why I hadn't enrolled in a history class. I had shrugged her off, but honestly, I wasn't sure I could have explained it to her. History was fun, and it reminded me of someone I'd grown up with. Turning it into a class would have taken the fun out of it. When I read I can hear Old Gregor's voice, wheezing and huffing and giving life to every dancing picture. Even when I read things he never told us about, stories he had never painted on, I could hear him.

I'd forget I was reading, and it was like I was there again. I miss it, which doesn't really surprise me anymore. There was a time when I thought being Robin would give me enough that there wouldn't be any empty places. When Bruce admitted for the first time that he loved me, I'd *known* there weren't any more empty places.

But now, I realised they were still there. They haven't gone anywhere, they'd just been overshadowed by other things. But it didn't hurt so much anymore to feel them, not unless I started remembering that for all I missed the circus, I couldn't ever go back. My life there was lost forever.

That's when I'd bury myself in a history book and strain to hear Old Gregor, talking in loud, musical words.

I hadn't found a book I wanted to look at yet, when Bruce came into the library. I glanced over and smiled. "Hey." Then I went back to checking the titles. I heard him coming towards me and I wondered if I could get something more fun than even history to entertain me. I peered over my shoulder and caught the expression on his face. I groaned. Whatever it was, I was sure I wasn't going to like it. "What's up?"

"You aren't enrolled next semester."

Oh, yeah. Not going to enjoy this, at all. But I shrugged. "I know."

There was the slightest pause, then he asked in such a carefully measured tone that I knew he was upset -- but not *angry*, not yet -- "Why haven't you enrolled?"

I had toyed with the idea of telling him I wanted to transfer and couldn't get in until fall. Put off telling him the truth until later. But that was a stupid notion -- there was only one university in Gotham worth going to, and anything else meant leaving. We both knew I wasn't leaving. So I told him the truth. "I'm not going back to school."

I left the books alone, no longer in the mood to listen to Old Gregor. I faced Bruce and found him still not quite angry. At least he's fair, he waits until he knows. "Why not?"

"I don't need it. I've got everything I want, here." I waved my hand, meaning both the library and the Manor. And, yeah, the Cave. I don't think I could give up the Cave, for anything. Except Bruce, and it wasn't possible that he'd ever give it up, either. So that one was safe.

His eyes darkened slightly, and I knew he wasn't happy. But he didn't yell. He was probably going through all the arguments I'd gone through, myself, back when I'd debated dropping out. I had enough to support myself for at least three lifetimes, thanks to his gift a few years back which I'd since invested and quadrupled. I'd taught myself the equivalent of a business degree, learning how not to lose all my money or my pride.

I spent a lot of my time in this library, reading stuff I'd have been assigned in school. But I read stuff I enjoy, or stuff I need for my night job like forensics -- and the exams were a lot tougher out there than writing essays. Multiple choice, of course, but if you guessed wrong you ended up lying in an alley, bleeding.

So it wasn't like I was going to do the playboy thing, and it wasn't like I was stupid or lazy. So why take up space in a class for a piece of paper I didn't need? If I ever found myself needing a job requiring a bachelor's degree, I'd rejoin the circus.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Bruce finally asked. He'd gotten past angry, now, past all the arguments I had and probably a few more, besides.

"Never came up."

"You should have brought it up."

OK, that he was angry about. No question. But I just retorted, "Do you consult me on every decision you make about your life?"

I could see him start to snap back, say something equally defensive. But he didn't. There wasn't anything he could say which wouldn't be petty, or hypocritical. He isn't my guardian, and he isn't in charge of my life.

But when he nodded, and turned to leave, I felt upset. I didn't know why. Had I wanted him to argue with me? Demand I go back, demand I tell him about these major sorts of decisions?

I didn't call him back as I watched him leave the room. Something had just happened, here, and I didn't know what it was.

It was late before I headed downstairs. I'd missed dinner with the others and fixed myself a plate from the leftovers, despite Al's protests that he could serve me. I let him hover, though, while I served myself. I really wish he would let me do for myself, but I guess he wouldn't have anything to do if he weren't being a butler. He's not the travel the world type, and he's definitely not the puttering in the garden type.

Bruce and Barbara had already gone down to the Cave, getting ready for the night's patrol. Not much had been happening this week; the last few nights we'd been home early. I wasn't about to hope it would be the same tonight, for that was the surest way to have half a dozen Arkham inmates bust loose.

I'd been feeling strange all day, ever since my conversation with Bruce. I hadn't figured out why, though. I'd alternated between obsessing about it and ignoring it, and neither had worked. I just felt weirdly off-kilter, and I wasn't sure that putting Robin's costume on would be enough to snap me out of it.

I was in no hurry to get down to the Cave and find out. But I couldn't exactly take the night off.

I blinked. Couldn't I?

It wasn't like they couldn't call me if they needed me. I stood there in the hallway for quite a while, stunned by the notion which had never occurred to me before. If I wasn't up to it, Batman would probably rather I not go out. He might not even disapprove.

Wouldn't he?

I stood in the hallway for another long moment, trying to figure that one out. Would he? If he did, did I care? But if I stayed home, what would I do?

I thought about that one, then I headed downstairs for the Cave.

Swooping down out of the sky onto unsuspecting criminals is one of the highlights of my work. I've gotten past the desire to shout as I swoop; startling though that might be for the swoopee, I've come to admit Batman is right about some things. Silence lends to the atmosphere of paranoia, of danger, of fear.

No one's afraid of a superhero who shouts as he comes through the door.

I don't usually feel as forbidding and unforgiving as Batman comes across, but I can act as spooky as I can and let the mystique do the rest of the work for me. That's mostly Batman's work, of course. Mystique. My job tends to be 'knock down the henchmen.' I love my job.

Henchmen don't. Johnny Do-Good's henchmen certainly didn't seem to be enjoying my efforts, as the three of us swooped down from the rafters onto the warehouse floor. BatGirl and I actually landed on a few guards, not the floor. Oops. Clumsy us. I apologised to the one unconscious under my feet before leaping away to knock down another trying-to-be-a-bad-guy guard.

We'd been out on patrol, all of us together. Batman still wasn't saying anything about why sometimes he sent me out alone and why sometimes he kept us together. I hadn't been able to detect a pattern to his choice, yet, but I knew there had to be one. With Batman, there's always a reason. I'd figure it out, or go nuts trying.

Anyway, we were up there above the city, peering down into the shadows, flying through them and becoming one with the hidden corners. Nothing suspicious had been going on until we hit the docks. BatGirl spotted Lenny Two-Tones scurrying from an old truck towards what the city considered an abandoned warehouse. Lenny works for Do-Good whenever he's not in jail, so naturally we decided to take a look.

Johnny Do-Good himself was directing operations. A lot of unmarked crates and boxes were being carried into the warehouse, and one little weaselly guy was standing beside Johnny, rubbing his hands together and looking happy. If we could have heard them, I'd have bet he'd be cackling.

Batman had us watch for a bit, find out if maybe there was something more going on than Johnny's typical smuggling operation. That's what he does -- whatever you want, he'll find it and ship it. Anything, anywhere, anytime. For an exorbitant fee. But when you really need rhinoceros horns or red-back tortoises or young Caucasian females, you call Johnny Do-Good and he'll get them for you.

We've only ever been able to keep him laying low for a few weeks; we've never caught him red-handed, never got him trussed up for Gordon and the boys in blue. Batman would really, really like to get him and his ilk off the street. When he gave us the word to jump in and interfere with business, I couldn't help grinning.

Maybe the night was gonna turn out all right, after all. I left my second guard on the floor and bleeding, and headed over to give BatGirl a hand. A foot, rather, when I slammed foot-first into a goon's head. She knocked down the other two while I slapped some cuffs on Goon, then we both turned our attention to clearing the other side of the warehouse.

Batman was talking to Johnny and his new friend. New friend was dangling from the end of Batman's hand, feet a few inches off the ground. Johnny was probably conscious, but I say that only because he was groaning as we ran past. BatGirl grabbed my arm as we neared the half-dozen who'd been waiting for us, and I skidded to a halt. Taking her hands, I launched her, spinning the both of us until she gave me a nod and I let fly. She slammed into four of the guards and turned them into instant believers in the Power that is Bat.

I headed after the other two. One was digging through a box, the other was aiming something long and skinny at me. I didn't like the looks of it, though I didn't have a clue what it was. Meant to hurt if it hit you, was my guess, so I threw a batarang at him. He ducked, and I hit him broadside. No, I guess that's what I'd done to the first four. Don't tell Barbara I said that, though.

Goon went down, and I looked up for the last one and found myself staring into a black, round, barrel of the sort small rockets usually come out of. I blinked, wondered if that was standard issue or some of what Weasel Guy was shipping, then dove to the floor. I turned the dive into a roll, knocking into the goon's legs and throwing him back. The rocket went off into the ceiling -- I hoped nothing fell down on us, and decked the goon with my elbow.

It took one more swipe and grabbing his jacket and thunking his head onto the concrete to knock him out. When he was safely not-moving, I stood up and looked around. Just in time to see a big, black cape rushing up at me. An arm reached around my middle and I was flying backwards.

Chastised, again. I was sitting in the BatCave, costume half-off and waiting for Bruce to decide what next. He hadn't said anything when we'd picked ourselves up off the floor, ceiling and roof lying in scattered pieces around us. I hadn't said anything, either, because all I'd been able to think of was "Oops." And it hadn't even been my fault, really.

BatGirl and I had exchanged a 'don't make him yell' look, as Batman had stalked back towards the BatMobile. We'd climbed onto our bikes and followed him back towards the Cave.

None of Johnny's guys, including Johnny, had survived. There were some fairly unstable explosives in that warehouse. Saved the cost of a trial, but the Fire Department was going to be sending *somebody* a bill.

When we'd arrived at the Cave I'd started towards the lockers, wanting a shower and a trip upstairs for a midnight snack. BatGirl slipped ahead of me; I'd flung my cape and the upper section of my costume aside.

Then Bruce gave me a glare, and I froze. He'd thrown his cowl back and had stopped right in front of me, glared, then a moment or eternity later had gone ahead to the locker room.

I'd stayed stock-still, unable to move. I almost heard myself crying after him that I was sorry, but I couldn't figure out what I'd be sorry for. I didn't know what he was angry about, but that look.

It scared me.

I've never been scared of him, before.

I didn't move from my spot. I know it was probably ridiculous, at least it was extreme. I knew, *knew* that there was no way Bruce was ever going to... act on his anger. At least not towards me.

Maybe near me.

I told myself I was overreacting, but I still didn't move until Bruce returned. He was in a robe, towel draped over his shoulders. He looked the picture of home from work and ready to relax until you saw his face.

He was still glaring. I tried not to squirm. I didn't dare ask what he was mad about. My luck he'd think I should know, and yell at me for asking instead of telling me what he was mad about.

He walked right up to me, staring down at me from about three inches away. I could feel the heat rising off his body and wanted to take the rest of my costume off and rest myself against him. I braced myself as best as I could for whatever came next.

Which meant I was totally unprepared when his arms went around me and he held me tight.

"Wha--?" I managed even as I returned the embrace as much from reflex as acquiescing to the desire to hold him.

He didn't answer me right away. We just stood there, me wondering what the heck and him... doing what the heck. Holding me like I'd--


OK, sometimes I'm an idiot.

Like I'd come within inches of getting myself killed. The first time I'd even been nearly scratched since Robin had returned, and I almost get myself flattened by falling ceiling bits.

I held him as tightly as I could.

I don't know how long it was we stood there, but my back was chilled by the time he finally leaned back and looked at me again. His face was still pretty impassive, but he wasn't glaring any longer. I finally understood what that glare was -- 'I'm going to hold this in as best I can, until I can let it go.'

"Are you OK?" I asked, though I knew it was going to be his first question to me, too.

His eyes narrowed slightly; I think I surprised him. But he just asked, "Are you?"

I nodded. "Not a scratch on me," I grinned. "But you're welcome to double check. Lemme get changed and showered?"

He started to nod and I took a step towards the locker room, then he reached out and took my hand. It surprised me; I spent a few milliseconds trying to recall if he'd ever done that before. Then I just continued towards my shower, and he followed along.

He checked for scratches, then soaped me up and rinsed me clean, then checked for scratches again.

I put on my robe, not bothering to dry myself off, and we went upstairs. He stayed barely two steps away from me the whole way; I couldn't see any reason to complain. It was nice, even though he'd been scared out of his wits before doing it. It was nice having him so close.

I took us to his bedroom, directly to his bed. He didn't seem to have any objections. He draped each of our robes over the back of the chair, then followed me under the covers. He curled up behind me, one arm over my middle, then he laid very, very still. I stayed awake for only a little while, enjoying the feel of him holding me like that.

When I woke up, I couldn't tell if he'd even fallen asleep. I laid still for a moment, letting myself wake up slowly and enjoy the feel of his snuggle. It was only a moment, though, before Bruce acknowledged that I was awake and moved away, getting out of bed.

I rolled over and watched him go, enjoying like always the sight of him, naked. Sometimes when he gets almost to the bathroom door he stops and looks over his shoulder to ask if I'm joining him. He didn't this morning.

For some reason, that felt weird.

I didn't get up, though, and join him anyway. I stayed wrapped up in the blankets feeling warm and snug. That is, until I realised I felt hungry, and in need of a toilet. Not in that order, either.

I left Bruce's bedroom and headed for my own, stopping at the closest hall bathroom on the way. I imagined I could smell breakfast being prepared, two floors and half a wing away. I hoped it really was being prepared; I was fairly starving. I hurried through the necessities of just having woken up, and threw on some jeans and a shirt then headed downstairs as quickly as I could.

I noticed, on my way down, that someone had reinforced the stair railing that I used to vault over. The bar was sanded, too, but that might have just been me, rubbing it smooth over the last couple of years.

Al just smiled when I came into the kitchen, and nodded me towards the table. Barbara had beaten me down -- again. Don't believe what they say about women taking forever to get ready. I began filling my plate with pancakes and scrambled eggs, telling Al 'thanks' before I got my mouth too full to say a word.

Barbara was looking at me, when I slowed down long enough to notice she was still sitting there.



Yeah, right. I raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"Are you OK?"

That wasn't why she was looking at me, half-smirking and half-something else. But I nodded. "I'm fine. You? Any scrapes or bruises of note?"

"Nah, not me." She smiled easily, and I knew she wasn't just saying that for Al's benefit.

"Great. Another record -- one destroyed building, half a dozen destroyed bad guys, and no even-slightly damaged good guys." I nodded to Barbara. "Or good girls."

She rolled her eyes at me. I grinned. She shifted a little in her seat, glanced up at Al, then looked over at me. "Is... he OK?"

Even she's got the "he" down. I swear, there are a hundred people I know who call him "he" instead of Batman, Bruce, or some variation thereof and they *all* know who they mean when they say it. How many superheros do you know who can go by a pronoun?

OK, how many superheros do you know who're Batman?

I was already nodding. "Yeah, he's cool. I think I'm gonna get a lecture or extra time training today. How not to get hit by a ceiling 101. But he's OK."

She half-smiled. "He only glowers because he cares."

This time *I* rolled my eyes. "Are you gonna eat that?" I pointed at the last piece of cantaloupe, ignoring the fact that Bruce hadn't gotten down yet to eat.

I was beginning to wonder where he *was*, when he came in. Dressed for the office and carrying his briefcase, he looked *nothing* like the man I'd seen heading for the shower, earlier. It was like he'd put on a costume when he put on a tie. Weird. (Less weird than a pair of glasses, but still weird.) He even acted differently which really wasn't that much of a surprise, but sometimes I wish the guy who loved me would look at me from out of those wild brown eyes. Not wild, like he's about to fly off and do something bizarre. But wild like he's just half-there, barely paying attention to what's going on around him.

I watched him indiscreetly as he accepted a glass of juice from Al -- keeping our relationship hidden from those two *now* was pointless -- and he waved off eating breakfast at home. Al started in on his usual, 'you really must eat something, sir' and even pulled his totally unfair 'think of how it would reflect on *me*, if you arrived at the office with a growling stomach'. I say "unfair" because he does that sort of thing to me, too.

Bruce seemed only slightly more impervious than I was; he took a bagel and a pear with him as he left. Al sighed like he feared the worst because Bruce hadn't sat down to a hot breakfast -- and I speared the last two pancakes, now that they were up for grabs.

Al gave me a look which I won't bother describing, and went back to his morning chores. Barbara grabbed a bag off the table and went over to him, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and said she was off.

"Where you going?" I asked her.

"I'm going down to the Commissioner's office. Remember I said I was thinking about volunteering there? The orientation is today. I'll be gone all day, Uncle Alfred, and probably home late. Don't keep supper for me."

"You're gonna be a Civilian Aide?" She'd talked about it last month, but I hadn't realised she was actually going through with it. "That's cool."

"Yeah. I figured maybe help us keep on top of what's going on in City Hall; besides, it sounds like fun. I'll learn a lot about police procedures, which will be useful. *And* I can get a look at the stat sheets as soon as they come in. Even with all our toys we only get them a day later, when they're broadcast out to other stations."

"If we had a tap into the Fed's computer, that wouldn't be a problem."

"I'm working on it," she said, then she left.

I looked at Al. "You think she can do it?"

"Possibly; if anyone can, I imagine it would be she."

"Guess it's a good thing she's on our side, then, huh?"

"I want you to search through the records and see what you can find."

I stared at him. He wanted me to *what*?

He narrowed his eyes, ever so slightly. But he didn't say anything. Not yet -- not until I went ballistic, at which time he'd simply repeat himself.

I turned away from him and headed for the locker room. I was putting on my costume, no matter *what* he thought I should be doing. Records -- yeah, right.

"Dick, what are you doing?" His voice had that hard edge to it which almost meant anger. Well, he probably thought it was anger.

"I'm going out." It would have sounded petulant if I hadn't meant Robin. Typical teenager storms out in a cloud of resentment -- not exactly. But I couldn't believe Bruce was trying to keep me *in*! Last night had been nothing, no big deal in the cold light of day. I didn't have a scratch on me, and if Batman hadn't leapt over to me I'd have gotten myself out of the way.

He was overreacting, but I didn't feel like cutting him some slack. If I stayed behind tonight, stayed with the computers and records safe behind cave walls, it'd be admitting that every time something like this happened he'd be justified in keeping me here.

I wasn't about to get grounded for every bruise, cut, or scrape. I finished putting my costume on, gave Bruce on last glare, then slipped my mask on. I headed towards my bike, detouring around him as far as necessary.

Knowing him, if he really wanted me here he'd do something annoying like trip me up and tie me to the chair.

I faltered, then, and risked a glance back at him. He was only doing this because he wanted me safe, right?

He was looking at me like he could not *believe* I had the gall to walk out against his orders. I clamped my jaw shut against what I'd have liked to yell at him if it wouldn't have made me sound like a spoiled child. Instead I spun on my heel and went over to my bike.


I ignored him. For a brief moment I worried that he had installed another deadman switch on my bike, but I wasn't going to take the time to give it a once-over. If it died, then it died and I'd damn well *walk* if I had to.

I swung a leg over the bike, righted it, and gunned the motor. It flared to life like an angry lion, screaming into the black tunnel ahead of us. I kicked it in gear and we flew forward -- diving into the darkness that only computer-assisted imagery or soul-deep memorisation could guide you through.

I didn't hear him try to contact me over the radio, and I got miles away with no hint of shutting down. Either he'd decided to let me go, or he hadn't installed a new switch. After tonight, I figured, I might have to check again. Depended on how pissed he was in the morning.

Shaking my head, I decided not to think about it for awhile. I aimed the bike towards Gotham, intent on seeking out evil-doers and stopping crime in its tracks.

And staying away from Batman for a night.

I did check in with Al, though. If I were to get in real trouble I'd want Batman and BatGirl to rescue me, no matter how annoyed I was with *his* attitude. And if they needed me I wasn't about to let a snit keep me from helping. As long as things were under control, though, I let myself seethe.

Keeping me in. Keeping me home. It wasn't even the first time I'd nearly been beaned by a rafter -- time was, in fact, when he barely noticed and never commented when I almost got hurt unless I'd also screwed up in the process. I could understand the impulse, times were when I wanted to keep *him* home, keep him out of the night for just a few hours. Maybe if he stayed away it would leak back out of him and he'd be a little more normal, a little less haunted.

Keep him safe and home and maybe something besides torment would creep into the backs of his eyes when he's staring at nothing. Keep *us* home and forget that the world needs saving; stay in bed and let the world save itself.

If I went down *that* road long enough, I'd get resentful. I knew that, and I tried to rein myself back in. It was hard, though, on top of feeling angry at Bruce and confused, as well. I wasn't even sure why I was confused, only that I felt some lingering question, like in the back of my mind I could remember what the rest of my mind had forgotten.

It was no way to face crime -- not in Gotham. Slip for even a second and the masterminds we get here will run right over you, and laugh as they disappear. I pulled my bike over into an alley just inside the city proper. There wasn't much traffic and I hadn't garnered any attention. I slipped into a shadow and watched the street, considering.

I didn't even know where Batman wanted to patrol, tonight. The police calls had been quiet as of this afternoon -- and if I'd stayed long enough to hear what he'd wanted me to research I'd know if there had been anything of interest to check out. I couldn't very well call in and ask, not without getting ordered back in.

But I couldn't just stroll around, hoping I hit upon something worth stopping. Gotham's a big place, and criminal types can squeeze into some pretty small cracks.

I sighed. Maybe Al would--

"Hey. Am I interrupting?"

I grinned. "Hey, Wally. What are you doing here?"

Flash smiled back at me, dressed in head-to-toe casual gear. Jeans, jacket, ballcap. Definitely not the 'save the world and grab a pizza to go' costume the well-dressed speedster was wearing these days. "Had a night off -- don't tell the bad guys that. But things have been really quiet back home -- and on the entire east coast. Thought I'd drop in and see if Big and Scary minded if we cut out for an hour?"

"As you can see, I'm flying solo tonight. Can't exactly ask him." Wouldn't, even if I could. I'd *tell* him.

Wally gave me a curious look. "Don't you have a radio or something? Bat-talkies?"

I gave him a glare, which rolled right off him. Heh. I liked this guy. "I could call him, but...." I looked at the street, again. "Yeah. It sounds good. I'll tell him and he can call if he needs me." Wasn't I just looking for a solution to my problem? If I went nowhere, I couldn't exactly be in the wrong place.

Wally just shrugged; then again, he had no idea what I was avoiding. I called Al and told him I was hanging with Flash and if anyone needed me, to call. Didn't give him time to say anything about what had happened, or even relay any messages -- should there be any. The last time I'd called in he'd acted like he'd wanted to say something, but I'd hung up on him too fast then, too.

"So. Where to?" I asked.

Wally shrugged. "Your town. You pick. Uh, is there anyplace you can go and hang out, dressed like that?"

"Yeah -- Penguin's Playhouse or the BatCave. Don't recommend the first unless by 'hang out' you mean 'beat up badguys'. Can't recommend the second..."

"Big secret, that's OK. So, where, then?"

I thought about it. Finally, I glanced back over my shoulder. "I know a place. Can you follow me?"

"On *that* thing?" He sounded disdaining.

I grinned. "Well, follow me, then!" I turned the bike back out of town, and raced away. Wally paced me -- easily, I'm sure. It looked weird, though, seeing someone running beside me while I was cruising at nearly 100 miles per hour. It was almost like he was sitting beside me, grinning over at me whenever he caught my eye.

When we got there, Wally looked around, then at me. "Nice field."

I shrugged. It was a quiet place to talk. Of course, I didn't exactly know what I wanted to say. I knew what I wanted to talk about, but most of it only Alfred was cleared to know about.

Part of my problem was Batman.

The other part was Bruce.

We stood there for a few moments, each of us no doubt wondering 'what now'. Finally, Wally looked at me. "Come here often?"

I laughed, then shook my head. Glancing around the field, I found myself reflexively checking it out, noticing and identifying everything I saw. It was a bad habit for anyone but a detective, paranoid, or professional Batman's Sidekick.

"Do you ever--" I stopped, remembering that of everything he'd read about The Flash, and Wally West, nothing had been said about his working with partners.

"Ever what?"

I shook my head. "I'm sorry -- I don't know if this will make any sense. I just wanted to talk to *someone* who knows what it's like trying to balance a normal life with this." I tugged at my cape.

Wally nodded. "Yeah. It's tricky. I imagine it's easier, though, for you."

I looked at him in surprise. "Easier? How could it possibly be easier? Lying to my friends, spending half of my life being someone else -- some *thing* else. I barely have a normal life most of the time." Even Dick had to spend most of his time preparing for Robin. Study, work-outs, catching every newscast. It was hard to *be* Dick Grayson, sometimes.

But Wally was nodding. "Yeah -- you don't have to worry about your family and friends being targets. You don't have reporters camped out on your doorstep--"

"*You* can't get away from reporters?"

He stopped, and grinned. "Well, yeah, but I don't like *having* to. I'd like to be able to hang around my own home sometimes, without..." He looked away.

"Without being The Flash?"

He nodded. "I guess we do understand each other," he said. "I remember one time I was trying to get to class, and normally I'd stop at Dean's Cafe on my way. I'd been kinda busy the day before, you know -- catching bad guys -- and there was a reporter on my doorstep. I flashed past her, only to find one at Dean's. Then another on campus. It was like they'd staked out my entire route..." Wally shook his head and sighed.

"I kept missing classes. It was worse in high school, because teachers think kids don't have *any* life outside school. Not to mention one that takes over more of your life than schoolwork. And it wasn't like--" I stopped myself before saying anyone's name. "Like I could get absentee slips."

Wally laughed. "Dear Mr. Perkins. Please excuse my son from missing school -- he was battling evil and had a sore throat."

I grinned. Then, a second later, I was laughing right along with him.

We talked for a while, comparing stories and laughing like idiots at things which hadn't been all that funny at the time. It was a lot like being with Davy, except for the context. Wally got to hear my 'Dumb Things I've Done Trying To Stop Crime' stories. Davy had heard all about Bruce.

I checked in with BatGirl a couple times, making sure they weren't leaving me alone despite needing help. I couldn't tell if I was glad or disappointed when she said each time "Nah, we're fine, have fun." I could have gotten something different had I called Batman.

Hence my calling BatGirl.

After a while we settled down into a comfortable silence. We were sitting on the ground -- pizza and blanket provided by a quick trip to town. I was feeling more relaxed than I had in a long time, not counting moments lying awake in my lover's arms.

I caught Wally looking over at me, and raised an eyebrow at him.

"You OK, now?"

"I guess."

He laughed. "Which means, not really. Something I can help you with?"

I could see, then, in his face and hear in his voice the man who was a hero. Sitting there he'd sounded more like a young guy, happy and relaxed, not a care in the world. Like I'd been feeling, too. "I don't know," I found myself saying. "There's a lot I can't tell you, so I don't know if what I can makes any sense."

"Try me." He set aside the last empty pizza box -- he'd eaten four, by himself. "At the very least I'll tell you I don't have a clue what you're talking about, and we'll be no farther ahead."

I gave him a look; he just smiled. "OK. My problem is with Batman. I--" had no idea what to say. I found myself staring out into the night, thinking of the last fight we'd almost had. Thinking of the way he'd held me. Thinking of the things I'd yelled at him. "I don't know what to do," I finished.

Wally gave me the look I'd expected. "About...?"

Sighing, I leaned back and told him about the fights. The arguing, the accident I'd had and hadn't had, told him how Batman kept me home, kept me under wraps, kept me safe and out of the way. I couldn't find any conclusions to draw, except that I didn't like it, and I knew I couldn't change it.

When I'd finished, Wally just sat there. I figured he had no idea what to say, and was trying to figure out how to say so, politely.

"You know, Robin," he began thoughtfully. "There are a few of us, superheroes our age, who're thinking about forming a group. Just us, on our own. No older and wiser mentors reminding us how much we don't know. Maybe... with Batman treating you like that... would you like to join us? Get away from Gotham City and become your own hero."

Sometimes I like the fact that Bruce doesn't push his way into things. He stays back and watches, without interfering. Batman interferes, but only when you're about to hurt someone. Bruce just watches.

I spent a long time thinking about Wally's offer. We'd talked about it twice since that first night, almost a week ago. Flash and Robin were getting used to working together -- Batman never even mentioned it when I said we were covering the north half of Gotham and to call if he needed us.

I'm sure he knew something was going on. I still don't know if he knew what. I was pretty quiet around the manor, though, that week, and it wouldn't have taken the world's greatest detective to notice. But it wasn't something I could just decide without thinking it completely through.

Then think through *again*.

The hard part was knowing that I wanted to do it. I kept thinking of everything Wally had told me, and the idea of being with folks my own age, doing our own thing... Who wouldn't want to do it? With no one looking over our shoulders to see when we'd made a mistake, no one to tell us what to do and how to do it. Wally had said that everyone needs a chance to become their own person. And I knew that if I stayed, I'd become the guy Batman needed me to be.

The trouble was, I couldn't decide if that was such a bad thing. Because not going meant not leaving Bruce.

Every time I had myself convinced that it was the best thing to do, I'd come back to that. Bruce. How could I just... leave?

For all that he annoyed me, for all that Batman drove me up the wall... for all that I wanted him to treat me differently, I couldn't quite see leaving.

No, I could see leaving. I couldn't see Bruce not being there. You know, I seriously thought about offering to join the group, but living at the manor, still. Work all day, commute home. Rather, work all night, commute home during the day. If I wanted to *see* Bruce.

I knew that wouldn't work, of course. So I was left with being unable to choose.

Eventually I found myself in Bruce's den, standing just inside the doorway watching him at his desk. He knew I was there but hadn't glanced up, yet. I wondered if I needed to wait for him to do so.

"Dick." The look on his face told me he knew we were about to have the talk.

I went closer, nervous as hell and wondering if it were not too late to forget I'd ever heard about the group in New York. "Hey," I said, lame though it was as a conversational starter.

But he was just waiting patiently. He didn't say anything, just looked at me. I had the sudden feeling that no matter what I said, it'd be all right.

It was a weird feeling. I hadn't even been worried about how *he* would take this, until now. "I wanted--" I almost said "to ask". That was no way to do this. "I wanted to talk to you about... moving out."

I watched his face. There was no change, that I could see. He just waited.

"Wally's been telling me about these guys my age, superheros, you know, who wanna form a group. They asked me to join them." I hadn't actually met the others, yet. But Wally had apparently talked to them. We were supposed to be getting together in New York later this week. It was just to feel each other out, but I wanted to have decided before I went.

Bruce nodded. He still didn't say anything.

"I... think I'm going."

I heard myself say it and only then knew I was going to. Bruce nodded again. "I see."

Now it was me, waiting. Watching his face for any sign of how he felt, or what he would say. If I needed a few milliseconds' warning to figure out what I was going to say.

"When are you thinking of going?"

I told him about the meet that Friday. I didn't know if we'd have anything set up that soon -- but Wally made it sound like we would be ready to go, as soon as we all decided to do it. I could be out of here by next month.

If I wanted.

Bruce stood up, and came around the desk. He looked at me, and I still couldn't read anything in his eyes. I couldn't even tell if it was because he was hiding from me, or if there was just nothing there to see. For a moment more he just stared at me, then he held out his hand. I took it reflexively, too stunned to do anything else. But when he spoke, I felt I was like falling. "I wish you the best, then."

I was upstairs, packing a bag. One small bag, for the weekend. I didn't know if I'd need more. I wasn't thinking about it. Wasn't thinking about what, really, I was taking. I'd already packed a crate of Robin's gear, locked and ready in the cave. I was going as Robin, but if I stayed in new York with the Titans, I'd stay as Dick Grayson.

I hadn't pointed that out, when Bruce had wished me luck. Or when he'd asked if I needed anything, transportation or help with anything. I'd told him no; the point of this was to be on my own. I hadn't had to explain that to him. I'd shaken my head and he'd been gracious. He'd known, of course he'd known. He'd offered because it was in him to help, no matter what. No matter who. He had asked a few questions -- who else was involved, what did I think of them. I put him off by saying I only knew Wally. That was why I was going, this first time.

He'd nodded again, and said nothing more until I felt awkward and stupid and wanted to grab onto him and scream for him to argue with me. Then I turned, and left the room.

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