Wherever You Stand A Hundred Shall Fall
I can't say that it started innocently. I haven't found anything in my life that happens 'innocently'. That doesn't sound too dark, does it? I've found it to be the case, though. It did start simply, with a couple dozen heavy boxes and two undergraduates who realised they'd volunteered for something they didn't really understand. My partner got roped into helping, and from that point everything I was expecting began to take place. I will admit, it ended much better than I had anticipated. Wonders never cease.
Dick and I were in Cascade, Washington, to oversee an exhibit owned by the Wayne Foundation. Rainier University had arranged to borrow it for a display, in conjunction with an exhibit put together by a group of students. Warrior culture from around the world -- several items from my personal collection were here, uniforms and armour that I had collected. Normally I don't bother overseeing something like this -- if I did, I'd never be in Gotham. But two things had brought me here. The first was a rumour I'd picked up concerning sightings of the Demon. He hadn't been spotted in Cascade, but the city did keep popping up whenever I traced rumours for where he *was* supposed to be. I didn't understand it, and where the Demon is concerned it isn't safe to not understand everything I can.
The second reason was my partner. I won't say he needled me into taking the trip. I'm a grown man and I know my own mind. He was right, though. We needed a break. Seeing the look on his face when he boarded the jet was enough to tell me that. He was ecstatic. I didn't tell him about the Demon.
We went to the museum the day after we arrived in Cascade -- Dick insisted on spending the first evening in, and to be honest I didn't feel like disagreeing with him. He *has* become more creative with serving dinner. I hope the hotel has a good laundry service.
The museum curator, Dr. Marcus, met us at the entrance of the museum. After assuring us that all the cartons had arrived safely and were being tended to by the students, he offered to show us around. Dick was alternating between pretending to be politely interested, and being genuinely fascinated as we walked through the exhibits. I kept my eye on Dr. Marcus, the museum, and Dick.
Finally we reached the exhibit hall where the Wayne Collection would be displayed. The set-up was extensive -- even with the cartons partially unpacked, I could tell that once completed, the display would be almost exhaustive of the more significant cultures around the world and throughout history. I was glad, suddenly, that I had agreed to the loan.
Dick was wandering through the finished displays, showing some interest. I don't know whether he was comparing them to the ones we had, or if it was just a warrior's eye gathering information on all the possibilities. He had apparently gotten over his preoccupation with creating "more impressive" Robin suits, after pestering Alfred for two months with design changes. But his interest, I was glad to see, in armament and protective gear did not fade. I didn't mind his desire for 'flash' as long as he understood what was really important.
He could look like anything he wanted as long as he got home alive.
I gave Dr. Marcus a nod as he excused himself to respond to a student's call. The exhibit was due to open this weekend, and the students were moving around energetically. Not frantic, that wouldn't come until Friday when there were still boxes unopened and only one day left to prepare. I smiled and watched Dick move between two rows of cartons. I wondered if I should tell him about the small tear in the upper left thigh of his jeans.
I was relaxed -- as relaxed as I ever get -- when Dick walked past a young student just standing up from lugging a carton into the room. He looked directly at Dick; I could see the instant appraisal in his eyes. Then the newcomer smiled, and I could tell from Dick's change in posture that he had responded. I moved closer.
I watched the stranger talk for a moment, then watched his face as he listened to Dick. His face was open, friendly, no doubt there was nothing more going on than some casual talk about the exhibit. I didn't mind the fact that he was incredibly attractive -- if he had been Dick's type, then Dick would never have become attracted to me. I didn't mind when the man began to walk off with Dick following closely.
I didn't mind because I was following, as well. There was nothing about the man that said Dick was in any danger. Maybe Alfred is right, and I've simply been at this so long that I've developed a sense for trouble. This young man was, I knew, trouble.
I stepped into the shadows easily as I followed them out the side door into a stairway. Now I could hear them clearly, words echoing up towards me. Dick was speaking.
"--used to all the time. Ever since I moved in with Bruce, though, I've been stuck in Gotham. It's great and all, but it gets boring sometimes."
Boring wasn't what he meant. He'd given me the entire speech when talking me into this trip to Cascade. He'd grown up traveling from place to place, never staying in one spot for more than a few months. I hadn't realised how much it was getting to him until he asked for us to come to Cascade. I wish he'd said something sooner.
The other man spoke, and his voice was as lively as his face had been. "I know what you're saying, man. My mom was a free spirit -- we were always on the move. I've lived in more states and more countries than most high school kids can find on a map." He sounded happy with his statement, except perhaps the last bit. "I've never met someone who moved more than we did."
"I don't know if you'd call it moving... I was always home. Home just kept going places."
I filed that piece of information for later. It was important to me that Dick be happy with his new life -- if I needed to arrange for some frequent travel, I would. Batman and Robin couldn't leave Gothmam too often, but occasionally wouldn't hurt. Besides, more places than Gotham could use a crimefighter's attention. I continued down the stairs, listening as they entered the room below.
"Thanks for helping me, Dick. I can't believe those two left like that -- it isn't like the boxes are all that heavy."
"Yeah, but there sure are a lot of them." I heard a light slap, and tensed, hurrying down a few stairs before I heard Dick's voice again. "Not to worry, Blair. I'm not afraid of a few boxes. Besides, I gotta keep in shape."
From the tone of his voice I knew what he was thinking. It had nothing to do with fighting crime, either. I smiled. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I eased through the door and into the shadows. I kept watch on Dick and Blair, looking about as they began picking up the two cartons Blair indicated. I suddenly realised I was being watched.
I froze again, letting my eyes search the room. Neither Blair nor Dick seemed aware of the second intruder. I scanned the shadows, the hidden places, and finally I found him. Staring at me, standing guard as I was -- hidden where he could see and hear all but not be readily observed himself.
Who was he, what was he doing, and most importantly, had Blair led Dick down here to trap him? Why? Did they know he was Robin? Or was it his connection with me, intending to hold him for ransom? I tried to decide if I should warn Dick or wait a moment and see if they would make their move. The other watcher made his move before I could decide; he stepped out and nodded at Blair. I tensed, ready to fling myself at them both and rescue Dick when they attacked.
"Blair," the man spoke, voice steady and eyes still focused exactly on me.
"Jim, hey man, just in time. Grab a box!" Blair was practically bouncing, radiating excitement and something else at the sudden appearance of the third man. Fourth, if you counted me.
"Who's your friend?" I noticed Jim barely glanced towards Dick, before returning his gaze to me. I understood the warning he was sending, but it wouldn't matter. I could take him if I had to.
"This is Dick Grayson. Dick, my partner Jim Ellison. Dick's here with Bruce Wayne, the rich dude who lent us all the displays for the eastern cultures."
"Uh-huh... what about him?" Jim nodded my way. Blair spun, surprised, and searched. I could tell he didn't see anything. Dick looked as well, and I saw him start to smile. Then he looked worried, and glanced over at Blair and Jim. He began to edge away, wondering if I knew something he didn't.
I wasn't going to learn anything more standing here. I stepped into the light, and saw Dick relax, pretending everything was normal.
"Bruce! What are you doing?"
I gave him a smile as I walked over. "I saw you heading off. Didn't want you getting yourself kidnapped." I gave Jim and Blair a careful look, now that I was closer. I'd kept my tone casual, as if I hadn't actually meant what I'd said.
"Oh please. Like I couldn't fight them off by myself." He waved a hand towards both Jim and Blair. I could tell by both men's expressions that they doubted Dick could beat them.
"What if they had tranquilizer darts? Or more men down here to help?"
Dick just rolled his eyes, but he did take a step towards me. "Bruce, I came down here to help carry boxes. Blair's a grad student here at Rainier. He's helping with the exhibit." It was his 'earth to Bruce' voice. Sometimes he's such a kid...
Blair gave me a wide grin, then looked over at his partner. "Gee, Jim, they sound just like us."
Jim cuffed Blair lightly on the head, smiling back. "How many times have you been kidnapped, Chief? Three?" They didn't act like they intended either of us trouble. That didn't erase my feeling that something was going to go wrong.
"Like that was ever my fault! It's *your* job that gets us into trouble... well, most of the time."
"And if you stayed in the truck like I told you, you wouldn't get into trouble... most of the time." Jim was giving his partner a look I had not expected. It made me relax, realising that these two men were not a threat, at least not directly. I glanced at Dick and saw he'd seen it too. he smiled.
"Aren't they a cute couple? Why don't you ever tease me in public like that?"
I scowled at him. He'd whispered it so the other two wouldn't hear, but I saw out of the corner of my eye that Jim glanced up at us.
"So are you convinced they aren't going to hurt me?" Dick gave me one of his cute looks. One of these days I'm going to show him just how far those looks get him.
Time to put on the Bruce Wayne act, and let Batman relax. If his partner were in trouble, it wouldn't take a second to bring him back. I gave Jim and Blair an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry. I just get a little worried... and protective sometimes."
"I know what you mean," Jim said, glancing down at Blair. Blair poked him in the ribs, then danced quickly out of reach.
Dick got a sly look on his face. "So, Bruce, if you're convinced... grab a box. We could use some help."
"Sure," I returned Dick's smile. He wasn't the only one who needed to stay in shape. Each of us took a box, and Blair lead us back upstairs. He explained about the cargo elevator being out of order, and told me about his volunteered help who'd un-volunteered themselves after carrying one box each. Jim said nothing more as we carried the boxes, apparently content -- or resigned -- to let his partner do all the talking. Blair and Dick kept up the conversation, first about the exhibit and then comparing places they'd each lived. I kept my eye on Dick.
Jim was keeping a similar eye on Blair. On the third trip up we caught each other, and he smiled. I returned it, and found myself revising my earlier impression. There was trouble here and these two were or would be in the thick of it. But instead of the adversaries I'd suspected them of being, I knew now we had found two allies.
Allies for what, I didn't yet know.
Blair invited us to dinner with them that evening, to thank us for helping with the boxes. They took Dick and I to a small Greek restaurant; the propetiers knew them by name, and seated us immediately. The decor was comfortable, clean, and the other patrons were obviously enjoying themselves. Our orders were taken quickly; both Blair and Dick surprised me by ordering in Greek.
Dinner with Jim and Blair was surprisingly normal. Blair asked a thousand questions about my travels, beginning with those where I had acquired the various items I'd donated for the display and from there moving to any other place of interest. His questions were intelligent ones, focusing on what I'd observed about the local culture rather than your typical tourists' points of interest.
Dick took several opportunities to interject that he hadn't been aware of a particular trip of mine, once asking when we could return and moving the conversation onto gathering advice from Blair as to new places to visit. Through it all Jim stayed mostly quiet, apparently enjoying his mate's high energy and enthusiasm. He offered no stories of travel himself, though I suspect he was not unfamiliar with foreign travel. During a break in the conversation -- Blair had stopped to eat for a moment -- I decided to find out what brought such an unlikely pair together.
I had to be careful, because I needed to start by asking Blair some questions. This would be my chance to see how well I could retain control of a conversation. "So you're studying warrior culture... is that the subject of your thesis?"
Blair shook his head, quickly swallowing a bite of food and settling in for another long-winded dialogue. "No, I'm just helping out... I owe Clarise a few favours, and I have studied some primitive warrior cultures," he glanced at Jim with a particularly intriguing look in his eye. Jim hid a smile but otherwise did not acknowledge his partner's glance. "My thesis is on closed societies within larger social structures -- how they follow different rules, create their own unique structure separate from the larger society it finds itself in and to what extent that external society influences or fails to influence the smaller, closed society."
Somehow Dick interrupted. "You're studing the cops?"
Blair gave him a grin. "Yeah... how'd you know?"
Dick shrugged; I was impressed. I had surmised the same but I wanted to know what Dick's reasoning was. "How else would you have met him?" He indicated Jim. "No offense, Jim, but you two don't seem like the meet-in-a-bar types."
Exactly what my reasoning said. Jim finally entered the conversation, responding to Dick's comment. "Blair was assigned to me when he became an Observer at the Police Station. I think my Captain thought he was getting his revenge for all the aggravation I'd ever given him over the years." Jim gave Blair a look -- I began to think Dick and I would have to excuse ourselves early. "Little did he know."
Blair returned the smile, and if Dick hadn't spoken I believe those two would have been staring at each other for an hour. Less, perhaps, if they'd decided to head for home.
"An Observer? That sounds interesting. What did you do, exactly?" Dick glanced at me; was it because of the smoldering we were watching, or because he was about to suggest he do something similar, back in Gotham?
Blair gave himself a shake and reutrned to the conversation. It took him a moment to figure out his answer -- or maybe he was still figuring out what Dick had said. "Oh, I rode around with Jim and watched how he did his job -- on the street as well as in the station. I learned more than I wanted to know about the paperwork involved, but overall it's been the most incredible experience of my life. Not just because of him, I mean," Blair pointed his thumb at Jim. I noticed that we had all, except for Blair, finished our dinner. Jim ordered dessert for the three of us.
Dick interrupted again. How was he managing that? "Is that how you got kidnapped?"
"Oh, yeah," he gave us a rather sheepish look. "Sometimes I kinda got in the middle of things. Before I really got a handle on how to defend myself, I was grabbed a few times." His face suddenly brightened and he gave us all a proud, impish grin. "I was able to publish a paper on the workings of the criminal mind, from the first-hand experiences I've had. Dr. Saddleport wants me to collaborate with him on a series of papers -- he wants to focus on the serial criminals, and he's hoping--"
"You are *not* getting kidnapped by psychos to do research." Jim interrupted this time. Nice to know he knew how, when he needed to.
Blair looked affronted. "Jim, come on! I would never do that."
"So you get to go on the investigations and help catch criminals?" Dick was looking much more interested than he ought to. Robin had plenty of experience in fighting crime and it was nice to see him want to learn more. But it wouldn't do for people to wonder why Dick Grayson cared. I'd have to talk to him about that, later.
"Yeah, I do." Blair tried to shrug it off modestly.
Time for some redirection, before Dick could ask me if Gordon would let him work as an Observer back home. "So you're still working on your thesis?" I had the impression they'd been together a long time.
"Yeah..." Blair gave Jim a guilty glance. Slight, but still there. Something was up. "Simon decided he liked having me around -- improved efficiency due to my observations and suggestions. So he's keeping me teamed with Jim. I think he wants to make me a consultant or something once I finish my defense."
Not exactly true, but I wasn't sure what he was lying about. Surely their Captain wouldn't keep them working together simply because of their relationship? That sixth sense which told me these two would be part of some trouble was pushing at me again. There was definitely more going on here than either man wanted to reveal.
We talked for another hour, letting Blair finish his explanation of his thesis then Jim and I discussed local business matters. He knew several of the business owners and CEOs by a reputation I was less familiar with -- cops knew a lot more about the local criminals than they could ever substantiate. We talked more or less inconsequentially while Blair finished eating. Dick kept him amused with editorial comments and clarifications on my end of the conversation and the names I mentioned.
He's a lot more cynical than I realised.
Finally we were ready to leave. Jim and Blair had gone back to giving each other the sort of looks they'd been exchanging earlier. The restaurant was only a few blocks away from our hotel, so I suggested Dick and I walk back. I suspected our companions would be in serious need of privacy as soon as they hit the door. Whether that turned out to be the door to their home, the door to Jim's truck, or the front door of the restaurant I couldn't predict. The polite -- and kind -- thing to do was leave them alone as soon as humanly possible.
From Dick's look he agreed with me. After convincing them both neither of us minded the walk, I paid the check and we left. Jim and Blair headed directly for Jim's truck -- I only saw a bit of manhandling along the way, so perhaps they'd make it back to their place. Dick and I headed down the sidewalk.
"They seemed like a nice couple of guys," was his first comment.
"Did you get the impression there was something else going on?"
I glanced over, for a moment saw the shadows play across his face and nothing else. "Yes, I did."
"How did Jim know you followed us to the basement? I didn't see you even when I knew you were there."
That's exactly what I wanted to know. "Anything else?"
"I'm not sure I bought Blair's story about why he's working at the station. I think he's talked this Banks guy into letting him stay... but I think he just wants to stay with Jim." He glanced at me. "I don't blame him, but it's weird, don't you think?"
"Yes. There's something going on with those two and I'd like to find out what it is." We continued walking for a few moments, then Dick's quiet voice interrupted my considerations.
"They act like newlyweds."
I started to agree with him, when I realised that wasn't was he was saying. I looked over, and he was staring ahead of us, apparently not concerned with my reaction. In an equally quiet voice I said, "They're lucky."
He turned towards me then, anger clear, to pick up the argument. I knew what he would say -- no one here knew us, no one back home would care. He's said them before. I know he'll say them again. Then he just shook his head. "It doesn't matter."
I walked beside him, silently. He was wrong. It did matter.
We said nothing more as we reached the hotel room. Dick headed for the shower, I put in a call to Barbara. I'd intended to leave her a message and get the information as early tomorrow as possible but she answered the phone.
"I need background information on Detective James Ellison of the Cascade PD and his partner Blair Sandburg."
"Sure thing... what's the emergency?" I could hear her starting to type.
"None yet... just curiousity for now."
"Uh-huh." She never believed me. Why should she? I'd yet to ask for information that didn't amount to anything. "Do you want this ASAP?"
"As soon as is convenient. Morning will be fine."
"Got it. Anything else?"
"No, thank you."
"No problem. Give the kid a kiss for me, will ya?" Then she clicked off.
I considered my next move. The obvious one was to join Dick in the shower. There was still the evening news to catch up on.... but Barbara might have mentioned if anything of true importance had occurred. Or Alfred would have called, asking if we needed anything to help. Failing that we would have overheard conversation from those around us, gossiping about whatever disaster had occurred.
I stood in the living area by the phone, trying to decide my next move. I wanted to make love to my partner but I knew he was angry with me. Luckily with Dick the anger is easily overcome. He's always willing to forget about it long enough to spend the night together. I wasn't sure I wanted to face him tomorrow, though, anger still inside him.
But I really wanted to make love to him. It was the best way I had to show him how much I love him. I don't know if he knows that. Maybe someday I should try telling him. Finally I just stripped off my suit jacket and headed for the bedroom. I undressed quickly, hanging my suit up and tucking my shoes back into the closet; Dick had already stuffed his clothes into the hotel's laundry service bag. I added my undershirt and socks and started to strip off my underwear when I heard the bathroom door open.
"Positions like that will get you jumped, Batman."
I glanced over my shoulder, amused at his impersonation of the Marksman. Dick was leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed, gloriously naked except for the towel around his waist. Gods, he has such an incredible body I sometimes wonder how I manage not to take him more often than I do. I don't know if the form-fitted Robin suit is such a great idea... but it's only fair. I stood up, still partly clothed, and realised I'd been simply staring at him for the last two minutes. He smiled at me.
"Does that mean you don't want to be jumped?" He said it casually, with just a hint of his petulant voice. Instead of answering him aloud I walked over to him. With one hand I tilted his his chin up until I could lean down at just the right angle and kiss him. He opened his mouth eagerly, letting me slide my tongue inside. I touched his tongue slowly, exploring all the soft spots I loved -- the ones that made him try to grab at me even as he lost control of his hands. I could feel him pressing up against me, trying to push and pull me at the same time. I let go and looked down at him and watched his eyes try to focus again.
"You think you can take on Batman?" My voice dropped almost of its own accord. Dick teased me about it sometimes, when he'd find himself in the middle of sex with me and suddenly Batman's voice is coming out of my throat. I usually just tell him to hush and make love to both of us.
This time Dick looked back at me with a sparkle, grinning as he taunted, "I can take you on. Just try me..." He leapt up, wrapping his arms around my neck and legs around my waist; I put one foot back to maintain my balance as he latched onto me, taking me in a kiss much less tender than the one we'd just shared. I put my arms around him, holding him in place. Somehow I kept us both upright until he let me go. He grinned at me again. Anger forgotten, but never yet forgiven. "You don't intimidate me, Batman."
I've never really understood why it is so easy for us to play this game. At least to Dick it's a game. Ever since the first time we made love he's been free with his appreciation of how I look suited up as Batman. Somehow it makes him bolder to touch me and challenge me to take him when he's looking at the Bat and not Bruce. He uses it as a fantasy, separating the wild sex we end up having from the moments he tries to grab when I'm treating him as tenderly as my heart can stand, those nights when we're safely in my room far away from any reminders of the rest of the world. I can't separate myself so easily but it hardly matters -- both of us love Dick Grayson with all our souls. Batman and Burce just have different sorts of souls.
I let Dick play and don't try to explain how it makes me feel. Part of me is grateful that he loves me and wants me this way. Part of me wishes I could set Batman aside as easily as Dick sets aside Robin and become a whole person without a mask and cape. Maybe that's why it's so easy for us to play. For me, it isn't exactly playing.
Dick leaned down to kiss me again and I bit his neck. Almost gently at first, nibbling a spot right below the jugular. I felt him tense against me, pushing his groin against my body. As I held him I began biting more fiercely, moving down towards the collarbone where the shirt he'd wear tomorrow would cover it. I left two marks, imprints of my teeth showing brightly on his skin. He was moaning now, hands interlocked behind my head to hold himself upright.
I looked at him, eyes closed and head thrown back, breathing hard. He looked so strong, so incredible. So trusting to expose himself for our pleasure. I ran a hand down his back and only then realised he'd lost his towel. I pressed my hand upwards against his bare buttock, feeling the warm skin in my hand; the muscles jumped, tensing and contracting as I held him. I gave him a hard squeeze and heard him bite back a groan.
Breathless he managed to speak. "You don't... intimidate... me, Bat... oh... uh..." He descended into incoherent monosyllables as I leaned him up against the wall, pushing him to hold his weight and freeing my hands to grab both buttocks. I bent my head down and bit his chest, pressing myself against him as hard as I could, trapping him between myself and the wall. I was pushing up against his erection, rubbing it as I moved forward. He tried to free himself enough to move his hips, wanting to rub himself as I held him up. I grabbed him around the waist as I leaned back, practically throwing him to the bed behind us.
He bounced a couple times, blinking up at me as he regained his bearings. I only gave him a moment before I moved forward. "Now what do you have to say?" I didn't have to control my voice, it growled low and deep and made Dick shudder.
He didn't reply, merely laid himself down on his back and brought his legs up. I barely had time to crawl onto the bed before I felt like I was going to explode. Just seeing him like that, seeing him laid out beneath me, open and trusting and loving everything I ever do makes me want to scream everything I feel. My hands were shaking as I reached for the nightstand; Dick had left a tube of lubrication there as soon as we'd unpacked and it was already one third gone. Granted I don't think it was a new tube. I hurried as I spread it on myself, then inserted two fingersfull into Dick to prepare my way.
He yelled something -- I've never translated exactly what -- as I penetrated him. His back arched and he began panting and shouting, already trying to fuck himself on my fingers. I quickly finished spreading the lube and pulled my hand away; I wanted him coming from my erection inside him, not from my fingers. I didn't give him time to urge me on, slamming into him as soon as I moved close enough to reach. I leaned forward, burying myself inside as deeply as I could. His body gave way, legs pressing against his chest and hot skin slammed against mine, muscles loosening then beginning to thrash as I entered him.
I felt him begin to tremble, his body shaking below me even before I could thrust again. I placed my hands on his arms, trying to find his hands as I pulled my hips back to make the thrust. He moved his own hips with mine, trying to recapture me and I slammed myself down into him again. He was crying out by now, going on in a mixture of nonsensical groaning and whatever it is he says in his father's Romanian. He'd moved his hands down along my arms, and was now holding my hands in his. I gripped them, holding myself up and finally moving my eyes up to his face, away from that body I'd enfolded beneath me. His eyes were open, staring up at me and pleading with me to get on with things.
I heard him say 'I love you' as I pushed in again; he tried to say it again between his screams and then he was coming. His entire body spasmed, prevented from moving around by the weight of my body and the resulting motions set me farther off than I swore I had ever felt. I think that every time, however, so I didn't worry too much when I opened my eyes to find myself lying on top of my lover, spread across his body still pining him dow. From the sound of his breathing he wasn't entirely conscious yet himself so I took a moment to reglue my psyche back where it belonged inside my skull then carefully began to extricate myself.
Arms came up and held me close, giving me only enough room to lie down more comfortably. I did so, giving Dick a gentle nuzzle above the two bite marks I'd left. I reached out far enough to snag the bedspread -- most hotels and motels don't bother washing the spread between guests but this one I had checked and could verify their cleanliness. I pulled the cover over us both and snuggled myself in tightly. Dick simply moved his head towards mine; both of us were fast asleep before I could give him another kiss goodnight.
Somewhere in the night I had a dream.
Jim and Blair were laughing as they parked outside the loft. Their words were unclear but the sound of their delight was not. As they left the truck their words became clearer, talking and joking about the difficulty in spending the day ignoring the building desire to make love. Each man was as free with his actions as he was with his words as they moved together, heading towards the building even as they exchanged caresses and snatched kisses. Blair moved ahead of Jim, looking back over his shoulder and grinning; Jim launched himself after and chased his partner towards the elevator.
Trapped inside for the short ride up, Jim leaned over and gave his lover a deep kiss. From Blair's response it was not as unremarkable as it looked. From the outside there were just two men, lips pressed together, hands and bodies unmoving. There must have been more going on because Blair was already whimpering, voice muffled by his lover's mouth but obviously begging for more.
When the elevator doors opened they stepped blindly around a neighbor; she gave them a grin and ignored their swift passage towards their front door. Blair fumbled into his mate's pockets for the keys; Jim's eyes closed and moaned, leaning back to give Blair more room to search. Finally with a laugh Blair pulled the keys out of a jacket pocket.
"I always forget you kept them here."
"Open the door, Blair, before I embarrass Julie some more."
"She's already gone," Blair unlocked the door but took another kiss before allowing Jim to enter. Jim responded by picking his lover up and carrying them both inside.
Blair dropped the keys and held Jim's face in his hands. He looked down from his perch -- legs wrapped around his lover's waist, Jim's hands locked together to give him a seat. The love on his face was obvious even to someone who never knew what such a thing could be. He said it anyway, leaning close, "I love you."
"I love you, too, Blair. Do you want to make love right here or can we make it upstairs?"
Blair groaned. "I have wanted to make love to you all evening. You look entirely too fuckable in those jeans, you know. It's like you wear a sign that has one giant arrow, flashing 'Blair look at this!' I had to try and ignore it all during dinner so I wouldn't get us thrown out of the restaurant."
Jim gave his lover a short nibble on the neck. "So what's stopping you now?"
"Umm..." He wriggled a bit, and gave Jim a look of innocent regret. "I have to go pee."
Jim dropped him like a hot rock. Luckily Blair seemed to be expecting it and landed on his feet. He laughed at the expression on his lover's face. Jim just shook his head. "I'll meet you upstairs."
Blair ran one hand down Jim's chest, tweaking skin here and there before jumping back and heading for the bathroom. Jim almost followed -- forget that call of nature and answer this one, now! He managed to direct himself towards the stairs, after making a quick check of the doors to ensure they were locked.
Upstairs he pulled the blankets back, looked in the drawer and nodded in satisfaction then began to undress. He put his clothes in the hamper in one corner, all the way down to his boxers when Blair joined him. He was half leaning over, pulling the last sock off, when he heard his mate's voice.
"Just like that, Ellison. Don't move."
He glanced over, not moving out of the bent-over position and saw Blair stalking him slowly. Blair was fully naked, clothes strewn in a path from the bathroom to the bottom of the stairs. He moved forward and touched Jim's back lightly.
"You make me want to take you, when you do that."
"Do what? Bend over?"
Blair smiled. "Breathe."
Jim returned the smile, still not moving. "I'm yours whenever you want me, Blair. Just say the word and I'm down on all fours."
Blair opened his mouth, stopped, tilted his head to one side as if to consider. Then he smiled and said questioningly, "Galoshes?" Jim dropped to the floor, on his hands and knees. Blair's jaw dropped as well, and then he laughed. "You mean *that's* the word?"
"Any word will do. Come on, already!" Jim wriggled his hips and grinned to hear his lover's resulting moans. He smiled as Blair knelt down and began running his hands over Jim's back.
"Let's get in bed, lover mine. Otherwise your knees are gonna hurt tomorrow."
Jim pushed himself up quickly, eagerly propelling himself and Blair towards the bed. Blair laughed, "Slow down! We have all night." He began kissing his mate's arms, as the other man laid down on his stomach.
"No, do it now! Now, now now," he said it so eagerly Blair laughed again.
He leaned back on his heels, carressing on firm thigh with one hand. "Do we have any lube?"
Jim answered quickly. "In the drawer."
"I've already gone to the bathroom... do you have to go?"
"Went at Evelyn's."
"Are the doors locked? What am I saying if you're in bed of course the loft is locked up tight." Blair considered for a moment. "Are we--"
Jim leaned over and reached into the bedside drawer. "Let me know when you're ready, Blair. I'm going to go ahead and start." He squirted lube on his fingers and insert them inside himself. Blair whimpered once and watched. Jim raised his hips, not coincidentially aiming them at Blair. Blair laid his hands on Jim's legs, unconsciously squeezing them tightly as Jim got himself ready. Finally Jim tossed the tube aside and looked back at Blair. "Should I keep going?"
Slowly Blair shook his head. He reached forward and began tracing light patterns on Jim's buttocks with his fingernails. Jim let out a sharp groan and clutched the pillow. Blair continued carressing his lover's body, staring intently at the play of muscles beneath his hands as he made his lover writhe. Twice he leaned forward and kissed the flesh he held, the first time Jim cried out, the second he pushed himself back towards Blair.
"Please, love, take me," he begged.
"Shh, I'm going to... give me time." Blair continued his exploration of his lover's body. Long memorised but always breath-taking, he was easily mesmerised by the man he touched.
"Blair please take me now, I want you in me," the words were growing more unsteady as Blair continued to run his fingers up and down Jim's legs, lightly scratching the skin and playing with his feet. As Jim spread his legs Blair reached down and lightly traced the edge of one testicle lying pressed against the mattress. Jim screamed, bucking up and hitting Blair's chest with his ass. Blair held him down gently, hands now splayed on his lover's back.
"OK, OK, I'm coming."
"Not yet you better not be," Jim warned, moving backwards blindly trying to find his mate and press him inside.
Blair reached down and stroked Jim's stomach, as Jim moaned he placed himself carefully against Jim's ass. As Jim's attention divided, focusing on the hand playing with the firm abs above his hand, Blair pressed himself slowly inside.
Jim let out a sigh as if in relief, relaxing as his lover finally took him. Blair gave them both a moment to recover and then slowly began to thrust. Jim lay mostly still, spread out on the bed; only his hands moved, clutching the pillow tighter as Blair kept thrusting inside him. "What do you want?" Blair whispered.
"Fuck me, Blair, fuck me," Jim's answer was a whisper, face pressed into his arm, body tense and quivering.
"Always, love." Blair began to move faster, eyes closing as he concentrated on the feel of his lover's body beneath and around him. Soon his body took over the motion, pushing him deeper inside, harder and faster. Jim began to move then, lifting his hips and pushing himself backwards, meeting Blair's thrusts each time he came down. Blair reached under and took a hold on Jim's cock, hearing the gasp as his hand first made contact then the groans mixed in with his own as he began to stroke. He leaned down to kiss Jim's back, letting his head remain there as his hips made each thrust without direction.
His body took completely over as the orgasm came; Blair's body began to shake and he shouted, coming inside his lover's body. He was matched by Jim's own coming, pushing against Blair's hand and onto his cock in alternating motions until he cried out as loud as Blair. For a second neither moved, frozen in a space of nothingness where only their heartbeats could be heard.
Then Jim let himself slowly down onto the bed, rolling away from the wet spot in the sheet. Blair tipped off his back, landing heavily on the mattress and not seeming to mind, or even notice. He reached out and held his lover as Jim turned himself around to face Blair; they spooned together closely, forgetting the blankets tumbled at the foot of the bed.
Blair burrowed closer, and whispered, "I love you." Jim tucked his chin in, wrapped his arms around his lover, and wriggled gently. Blair giggled, and awoke long enough to ask, "What was that in aid of?"
"It's body language... means 'I love you'."
Blair smiled, yawned, then gave his mate an answering wriggle. After a moment he said, "You're right... s'easier than talking."
Quiet answered him, and he opened one eye to see Jim already falling fast asleep. He leaned over to give Jim's nose a kiss, then closed his eyes and followed.
When I woke up alone, my first thought was 'Love can be so easy sometimes.' My next thought was to wonder when, or if, it would be so easy for us. I got out of bed and went to look for Dick.
I found he note he'd left me -- he'd woken early and gone downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. With the exception of the cab ride to the university, I didn't see him for most of the day. He gave Blair and Jim more help with the students' exhibits while I was obligated to stay with Dr. Marcus, letting him play host and introduce me to the professors involved. I can't say I didn't enjoy it, most of the people we spoke with were eager to discuss their work. Warrior culture is something I feel acquainted with on more than a passing basis. It was fascinating to hear some of the academic theories on something I've only known from the inside.
I missed Dick at lunch although I had asked him to join us. Jim and Blair were missing as well, despite the fact that the Dean of Anthropology had invited all the students working on the project to join us for the meal. I overheard several of Blair's collegues mention his absence -- attributing it to Jim's morning-long presence. From the smiles and laughter I surmised Blair's absence was not unusual.
It didn't tell me where Dick was, though. I was somewhat impatient to find him, if only to discover to what extent he was still upset. I hadn't been able to gauge his mood on the short trip to the university -- he had answered my questions with shrugs and monotones which is not like him at all when he's mad. The afternoon went the same way as the morning, however, and I did not find my partner until Jim found me and invited me to a late dinner.
Apparently Dick and Blair had spent the entire day talking each other's ears off, and Jim was hoping for a bit of a respite -- probably by using me as a sound buffer. He led me to one of the exhibit rooms where we found Dick and Blair locking up the last of several display cases. The uniforms on display were all ones from my collection; I noticed that Dick had apparently directed the display of each one, for they matched exactly how I'd displayed them at home. He even matched the detail of the Suni warrior's notched arrow, pointed directly at the opposing display's shield.
Blair gave his mate a bright smile when he looked up to see us. Dick glanced over, finished turning the key in the lock, and handed Blair the keyring. Then he gave me a smile, not nearly so blinding as the one sent Jim's way. I have never seen anything like that before in my life. I'll be honest, I was hesitant to get involved with Dick, and once I did I decided to give him everything I could. That wasn't much, too much of me is spent on things that have no time for loving. Until now it had felt like almost enough, almost as much love as I could need. Next to these two I was beginning to feel like a blind man at a circus.
Perhaps that's a bad analogy.
All I know is at that moment I wanted to take back everything I had done and exchange it for a normal sort of life where I could love Dick with the freedom these men loved each other. I wanted to have never taken up the mantle of the bat, so I would not have it standing between myself and the soul of the man I wanted. I walked over to him cautiously, knowing my welcome would not be warm and not wanting the welcome I would get to be on display.
Dick's smile grew as I neared and I wondered what he was thinking. I saw his arm tense; an aborted movement to take my hand. Beside us Blair was crawling down off his mate and finally faced us. "You two ready for dinner? I know this fabulous Italian place down in South Cascade."
"Oh, no, not Italian." Dick spoke quickly. I don't blame him -- the Gotham Mafia had a unique method of killing those they were particularly displeased with. Robin had been unlucky enough to almost rescue one man. He died in the hospital, and Dick has never been able to eat Italian food since.
Blair didn't even blink. "OK, what about Chinese?"
"Chinese is good." Dick gave him a nod. He knew I'd eat anything, so he didn't bother checking with me before agreeing.
Blair turned to Jim. "Is Honey's all right with you?"
"Sounds fine," Jim gave him a nod.
"Then let's grab our stuff and get going before someone remembers to invite us to help set up for tomorrow reception!" Blair was heading for his backpack and coat; Jim grabbed his arm as he said the last. Blair stopped and gave him a puzzled look then broke into a delighted laugh. "Not me... unless you want to carry me and my backpack."
I saw Dick shaking his head, amused. He went over and picked up his jacket and followed Jim and Blair out the door -- Blair was walking, Jim had both of their coats and Blair's pack. As I left the room Blair turned and called back for me to leave the lights on for building maintainence. I did, and followed the rest of them outside.
Dick never glanced back at me.
Dinner was as the previous night's had been. Dick and Blair dominated the conversation for most of the evening, this time Dick was telling Gypsy stories he'd heard from his father. Blair was full of questions -- it was as if his whole being came alive when he was intrigued by new information. I was listening to them talk, enjoying my meal quietly when I realised that I was feeling envious of Detective Ellison. It wasn't a sensation I cared for but it was one I could easily understand.
That's why I was shocked to notice just a few moments later that Dick was speaking with the same light in his eyes, as involved in telling his story as Blair was in hearing it. I found myself staring at him then, no longer hearing his words. His voice washed through me, long familiar in such a variety of his tones that I had never tried to calculate them all -- this one I had never listened to before. I'd heard it, I knew that. I had heard and seen and even embraced him when he was alive with one sort of excitement or another. I knew how vibrant he could get; it had simply never made this impression on me. It had been dismissed as youth and adrenaline, something to either use or corral -- countless times I had tried to rein in the boundless energy when Robin was facing danger and willing only to fly in faster.
Seeing it mirrored in this other man, a normal grad student with a normal life, normal lover, normal everything, made me realise I had missed something important. I settled in, toying with the remains of my meal, and watched my partner talk. I loved him. I was incredibly lucky to have him. Those things I knew. What I had missed was that if I would let him, he could make my life a hundred times brighter than it had ever been before.
An unsettling thought to a man who lives in darkness. As he spoke Dick glanced my way, a small smile escaping as he directed his words to our companions. He loved me too. It shone so clearly in his eyes. Clear as a batsignal.
"Don't you think so, Bruce?"
I looked over at Blair, startled. I had no idea what he'd been saying. From his grin I could see that he knew it, too. I heard Dick stifle a laugh. I just smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry?"
The smile faded into one of understanding. That unsettled me. I'm not comfortable with people knowing certain things about me. His manner was pure academician when he asked, "Don't you think the entire Gypsy culture is based on a sort of antithesis to the warrior culture?"
"I never thought about it before." It sounded intriguing. I looked at Dick, the only Gypsy I knew. Was he a warrior? Of course. "I think the Gypsies have warriors as do every other culture. They may simply be a different sort of warrior than the traditional soldiers we're used to hearing about."
Something in Blair's eyes flickered. "What makes you say that?"
"What is your definition of a warrior?"
Blair grinned. "Haven't you been reading the placards at the museum?" Then he replied in a more serious tone. "I think a warrior is a person -- man or woman -- who by nature is devoted to the defense of the tribe. Sometimes that defense may involve taking the offense, and the way in which the warrior is taught, raised by his or her tribe, will affect how he or she embodies the warrior's spirit. But it's really a very simple definition." He stopped, almost giving me a chance to respond before he continued. "I see where you're coming from -- taken as that simple definition the Gypsies *did* have warriors. People who defended the tribe against outsiders, most notably the local authorities. There seems to be something to the warrior archetype, though, that doesn't fit the Gypsy personality."
"I think that would be an advantage. They wouldn't be recognised as warriors."
Blair began very subtly bouncing in his seat as he spoke. I saw Jim laugh to himself. "That's something we haven't touched on in the exhibit very much -- hidden or unseen warriors. The closest we come are the ninja, but they were easily recognised -- it was just hard to keep track of them. I wonder who would fall into that category, someone who defends their tribe but isn't recognised as a warrior as such."
Jim suddenly moved forward, putting his hand on his partner's arm, and thereby silencing him. "I think we'd better take this conversation elsewhere before the host throws us out."
Blair glanced towards the front of the restaurant. The host wasn't there. "What are you talking about? We're not being loud and obnoxious or anything."
"Yes, but we finished eating an hour ago and the lobby is filling up."
I paid the check again -- Blair looked like he wanted to protest but he didn't say anything. We gathered out jackets and headed out; the busboy hit our table as soon as we stepped away. There were several people in the lobby as Jim had said; how he'd known I wasn't sure. Maybe he was familiar with the restaurant.
They gave us a ride back to the hotel. Blair continued his spontaneous theorising about the nature of an unrecognised warrior as he stopped at the curb. It was fascinating, listening to him expound on a concept I'd only spoken aloud minutes ago. Blair had extrapolated at the speed of light mentioning bits of information I'd spend half an hour searching for. In the end, as Jim pulled up in front of the hotel, Blair had agreed with me about the Gypsy warriors. Jim shrugged his apology. "I try to monitor his intake of sugar but it doesn't seem to help."
Dick laughed, and Blair just gave his partner a dirty look. After confirming our arrangements to meet the next day before Dr. Marcus' last meeting before opening night, Dick and I headed upstairs. Dick was still grinning, bouncing a little on the way to the stairwell. Was it just youth, or would he always be this way? I followed him, feeling a little old. I scowled at myself and turned my thoughts to better things. Ra's al ghul was still waiting for us; I wanted Batman and Robin to do some scouting tonight.
"Hey, why the frown?" Dick interrupted my thoughts. I looked up; he's stopped half a flight above me.
"Sorry. Thinking." Where would be the best place to start? The usual criminal element wouldn't necessarily know anything about the Demon but it might serve to narrow down the search for rumours.
"Uh-huh." Dick ran up another flight, calling down, "Does this mean what I think it means?"
"Depends. What do you think it means?" I began running as well, not letting him get too far ahead.
"Sounds to me like it means work!"
His reply was quiet, but as his voice echoed down it sounded like, "I knew he couldn't take a real vacation." He didn't, I noticed, sound particularly upset. "Hey Bruce?" I looked up to see him leaning over the railing, two flights up. "Did I tell you Barbara left you a message? It took her longer to dig up the stuff you asked for; it should be ready by now, though."
"Good." It would be good to get one small mystery solved before tackling the big one. I ran up the rest of the flights, reaching the door to the penthouse level less than a minute after Dick. He had the door open and was headed for the bedroom by the time I caught up with him. I laid my hand on his shoulder; he stopped and looked back at me. "Dick... I'm sorry."
"For what?" He looked honestly confused. Then his face changed and he started to threaten. "You're not leaving me behind, are you? If--"
"No! No, I don't intend on leaving you here."
"Then what?" He started digging out the locked cases we'd brought with us. Everyone thought we'd taken the penthouse because that's where the rich stayed. We needed roof access.
"I'm sorry... that things aren't different." It was pointless apologising. Neither of us could change things, I doubted that I even wanted to. I headed to the desk and sat down with the laptop to download the files Barbara had sent.
Dick walked up behind me and laid his hands on my shoulders. "Bruce, I love you." He kissed the top of my head. How could it be so easy for him? Didn't he understand the risks of loving me? He moved his hands, wrapping his arms around me in a tight hug. It felt warm. I didn't move when the laptop beeped to let me know it was ready. "I don't care if we can't live like normal people. I don't want Robin to retire and I know Batman will *never* retire. I wouldn't want him to even if he could. I *do* miss some things, sometimes. I miss not being able to relax with you and letting the world disappear and I miss seeing you look at me without seeing that fear in your eyes that someday I'm going to leave you. But I don't regret loving you, and I'm not willing to give that up for anything. So I'll live with what I can get."
For a moment after he fell silent neither of us moved. I didn't know what to say. Sometimes I forgot that the intelligent observer that worked so well at Batman's side also stood beside Bruce Wayne, seeing and understanding as much as the masked detective ever did. I gripped his arm as he started to slid away; gave it a squeeze then let him go. "Thank you."
He didn't answer at first. Then in a lighter tone, he just said, "So what does Barbara say?"
I opened the mail program and downloaded the file. My heart was beating hard and I tried to ignore it, twisting my thoughts back to the reason I'd come here instead of the man behind me. I could hear him checking our suits, making sure everything had survived the cross-country journey. I could see him in my mind's eye, crouched beside the bed, counting batarangs and testing the homing beacons. I wanted to get out of the chair and go to him, leave all this until tomorrow. My arms ached; I wanted to hold him. I wanted to press him close to me and feel his breath on my skin, touch him and love him and forget the world existed. I felt my fingers tapping lightly on the keyboard, not quite hard enough to give the computer the command to open the first document.
Suddenly Dick's hand slid into mine, fingers entwining themselves. I looked over, startled. Dick smiled up at me from where he knelt beside me. He said nothing, letting his face show me everything he was feeling.
'This will never do, Bruce. You have to focus or you'll do no good out there tonight.' The unspoken words forced out the brightness of that smile. Then Dick brought my hand to his lips, kissed the fingers gently.
He let go of my hand and went back to checking our equipment. I looked at the computer screen; after a moment I opened the first of three files. My hand was still tingling. I smiled, then began reading. The first was the CPD file on Detective James Ellison; nothing remarkable there beyond an extraordinary success rate for the last two years. He'd entered the Police Department after leaving the Army -- those files were in the second document Barbara sent. I read through everything; halfway through the Army files Dick came up behind me and read over my shoulder.
Yes, it was. I scrolled back through the reports following his 18 months in South America. There were the usual reports, written to make you think they were telling you everything important. Then there were the other reports -- Barbara's delay was due to retrieving those classified files. Internal memos, doctor's reports, even a few reports by Ellison himself. Nothing obvious, but as Dick said, weird. One might be tempted to dismiss the content of those reports, attributing them as one doctor did to use of hallucinogens during Ellison's stay with the Chopec. Having spent time with Jim, my instincts lend me to believe his own claims that he had not done so. How then to explain those reports?
With no answer presenting itself, I opened Blair Sandburg's file. Once he'd won his bachelor's degree, Blair had never studied modern first-world societies until after he was awarded his status as a Police Observer. Three months after he began working with Detective Ellison Blair filed for a change of thesis, giving a complex title which simply meant he was studying the social structure in the police department. Before that, however, everything he had published, every academic excursion he went on, and the trend of his graduate level courses were all focused on warrior cultures. Exactly what he'd denied studying, when I asked about his involvement with the exhibit. I opened an attachment of one of his earlier papers, a discussion of a type of special warrior called Sentinels. As we read, the pieces fell.
Ten minutes later Dick asked, "Do you think he's one?"
I nodded. "I believe so. It would explain everything we've observed -- how he saw me when I was in total shadow, how he heard the people in the lobby at the restaurant. Why Blair has remained a 'Police Observer' for so long, working only with Ellison when he purports to be studying the entire department."
"Wow... a Sentinel cop. No wonder he changed his thesis," Dick stepped back, I continued to read the rest of the file. "Can you imagine what would happen if people knew? Every other cop on the planet would want him to come in and "consult" on their unsolved cases. Every crook in the business would try to force him to work for them."
I glanced back at him. "I don't plan on telling anyone. Do you?"
He grinned. "I think I can keep a secret. Speaking of which... are we about ready?" He indicated the suits, lying in their closed cases. He'd checked them quickly and relocked everything before coming to stand behind me, knowing that the hotel room was not very secure.
I glanced back at the laptop. There was more, but I suspected it wouldn't tell us much more than we had already learned. I shut everything down. "Yes, let's get to work."
Dick gave a 'whoop'. Lord, he is so young sometimes. I watched him haul out his suit and begin throwing his clothes on the bed. When he was mostly undressed he stopped and looked at me with that eager grin. "Aren't you coming? Or are you just gonna watch me stand around naked?"
"Do I have a choice?" I pulled out the Batsuit. I won't describe the leer my reply earned me but we were very nearly delayed. Dick has no idea how close he gets sometimes.
Dick was putting on his mask when I finally got suited up. "Where do you want to start?" He blinked, and stepped closer. "Do you want help with that?" His voice had dropped significantly. I gave him a glare and reached for my cape. I hated getting aroused in my Batsuit.
"I thought he'd head down to the wharf and work our way south. I want to plant about half of the bugs we brought."
"Listen in for anyone mentioning Ra's Ah Ghul?"
"What if we don't find anything by the end of the week?" We had planned on returning to Gotham the following Monday.
I shrugged. "We can leave the bugs in place. We can check the recordings from home as easily as we can check them here."
Dick gave his cape one last tug, and then we were ready. He handed me one of the bags of bugs, fastened the other to his own belt. After one last quick check to make sure we were leaving nothing incriminating behind, we headed for the roof. The room I'd picked had a window that was blocked from view from all points except one, the building across the street. It was a simple matter to erect a black screen one foot extended from our window to block the view. As long as we remembered to remove it before daybreak we should be safe from prying eyes. Normal prying eyes; I doubted Jim would be spying on our hotel room tonight. He and Blair had been exchanging only slightly less incendiary glances during dinner than they had the night before.
The screen blocked the view all the way to the roof. Once there, we would travel as usual, rooftop to rooftop and let our dark costumes reduce the chance of being seen. No one looks up anymore; not unless they're expecting someone to come crashing down on them. In Gotham, a lot of petty criminals spend much of their time looking upwards.
The architecture in Cascade is nothing like Gotham City. Traveling from building to building was in some cases an exercise in creativity, testing both our skills and the length of our cables. Dick was, of course, enjoying himself to the hilt. He was quiet about it, he's not stupid. But he kept flashing me grins everytime he rolled to a landing and jumping to his feet with an excess of energy. I thought about sending him to the far end of the wharf and having him work his way towards me, letting him work off some of that excess energy running around. I was hesitant, in this unfamiliar city, to let him out of my sight. The denizens of this place didn't know Robin or Batman; there was no telling what they might do, just for fun. When we reached the pier, I simply directed him to twice as many locations to plant bugs than I left for myself.
From his expression I knew he noticed. I just gave him my best Bat glare in return -- washed right off him, always does. He planted all the bugs I instructed him to, without complaining. Didn't stop him from bouncing.
Half an hour into our work we heard gunshots.
Zipping the bag of bugs shut, I reached for a grappling hook. The shots had come from an area approximately three buildings down, to the south. A large gap between the roof we stood on now and the next building over was an easy traverse; Robin landed his hook barely two feet from mine, and sailed over at my side. We heard nothing after the first spate of shots -- handguns, three shots from two different weapons. I wasn't familiar with the types of weapons used in Cascade so I couldn't tell who we were likely to be dealing with. Anything from a streetside mugging to a gangland disagreement, and no way of knowing if the cops were involved. Not yet, of course; three minutes later Robin and I were looking down at a man crouched behind some crates.
He was outside the warehouse Robin and I stood on, facing a truck across the pier. Another building stood behind the truck, with a wide access road between our building and a third warehouse which stood beside it. There was just enough room for backup to join the encounter without being exposed to either line of fire. There was more than enough room for a bat. One man was hiding behind the truck; for the moment no one was firing, instead exchanging threats and promises to hold fire if the other would just surrender. Neither man identified himself as a policeman, but neither did either explain why he was firing.
With no way to know who was on which side, I motioned for Robin to take the man below us while I took the other. After Robin nodded his understanding, I moved away, along the edge of the roof to drop to the ground well out of sight. Staying within the shadows, I listened carefully for any sign of a third or fourth participant. I heard nothing. I sprinted halfway across the pier, still out of sight of either man. Leaning against the outer wall of the third building, I waited, still watching for signs of a hidden attacker. When I detected nothing, I moved.
In a flash I was behind the truck. The man crouched there saw me, started to scream, then broke into the most excited grin I'd ever seen from a man in this situation. I wasn't extraordinarily surprised.
"Oh this is way cool! Batman! I thought you were a legend!" Blair Sandburg stared up at me. Thankfully he kept his voice low so it didn't carry, warning the man Robin was after. "Hey, is Robin around? Oh, wait, he's probably gone after Mussel." Blair was standing up to peer over the hood of the truck when we both heard a shout of surprise. Mussel. I looked over and saw Robin tied off about three-quarters of the way down the side of the warehouse. He was holding one end of a lasso -- the man in the loop was dangling a foot off the ground.
Blair jumped to his feet; I noticed he didn't have a gun. It must have been his partner we had heard firing. I started to ask, but Blair was already on his way towards Mussel and Robin. I kept my eye out, in case there were still any gunmen in the shadows -- where was Ellison? -- and followed Sandburg. My question was answered as we approached.
I saw Robin's quick grin as he saw who my target had been; he hid it carefully behind a stranger's mask. He didn't say anything, letting Batman carry any the conversation. Dick has yet to figure out how to disguise his voice. Normally it isn't a problem -- few people have the chance to meet both of him.
"What's going on? Are you all right?"
I turned and saw Jim emerge from the shadows, pistol in hand. He was a few feet back from Mussel, obviously only a moment away from making his own assault on the man before Robin had stepped in. Jim gave the swinging gunman an amused look, then told Robin, "Thanks. I might have to start carrying one of those." He nodded towards the rope. Then he looked at Blair. "You're all right?
"Oh, yeah!" Blair was startled from his inspection of Robin's and mine outfits. "Jim, did you know these guys were real?"
Jim gave his partner a tolerant smile. Blair was bouncing again, eyes bright and totally unaware of any recent danger. I said nothing; I understood the affliction. I glanced up at Robin. "Are you going to come down from there?" Robin opened his mouth, then glanced at Mussel. "Leave him." Robin spun around on the rope, then dropped lightly beside me.
"Is he secure?" Jim glanced up at the perpetrator.
Jim just nodded, and pulled out a cellphone. As he called his captain Blair continued his investigation. My Bat-glare didn't work on him, either. Maybe it's just youth.
"This is incredible! You know, one of my professors gave a seminar on vigilantes -- no offense, it's a technical term -- and he has this theory on why criminals can often be more afraid of them, than they are of the police. OK, so some of it is obvious, since the cops are bound by the law and vigilantes aren't but that's misleading, you know, since the phenomena occurs even in cities which have vigilantes known for not damaging the criminals they capture. Russ conducted these interviews with captured felons from Cascade, Gotham City, Metropolis, and New York and even the guys caught by cops were more worried about--"
"Blair!" Jim finally interrupted his partner's ramblings, after quietly trying to get the man's attention.
"What?" Blair looked over, unperturbed by the interruption. Robin was trying not to laugh.
"Do you mind?"
For a second Blair said nothing, then he blinked and said, "Oh! Sure, sorry!" I had no idea what he was talking about.
Jim looked at me. "I realise you can't give us a formal statement, but can you explain what you're doing here?"
"We heard the shots and figured we'd better investigate. Just in case. We saw these two," I nodded at Blair and Mussel. Mussel was hanging very quietly. Blair was staring at us wide-eyed, waiting for his chance to resume his talk; Jim had one hand on his shoulder. "We decided we'd better wrap them up until the police arrived."
"Why didn't you grab Blair?"
I only paused a beat. "He didn't have a gun."
He seemed satisfied with that. "Were you two just in the neighborhood?"
I looked over at Robin, he just looked back. I trusted these two, but that was no reason to involve them in a case like ours. The Demon was a dangerous opponent. I looked back at Jim; by the expression on his face I knew he was expecting something less than the truth. "In a manner of speaking. We're tracking down rumours about one of our adversaries. We don't think he's here, but anything we can learn would help."
Robin and Jim looked surprised. Jim recovered faster. "Anything the local police can help you with?"
"I don't think so."
He nodded. Blair leaned forward to ask a question, Jim restrained him again with one hand. "Thanks for your help on this one," he looked up at Mussel, still staring down at us making no sound. He seemed resigned to his fate, almost eager, in fact, to be taken off Robin's rope and handed over to the uniformed cops. I could hear their sirens approaching. Jim continued, "If you need anything while you're in town, let us know. My Captain has a cousin in Gotham City. He'd consider it a chance to repay a debt."
"That won't be necessary... but we will keep it in mind. We'd better go."
"Wait!" Blair jumped forward, out of Jim's grasp. "Do you think you could stop by my department? Russ would--"
Jim hauled his partner back, once again. "Blair, I don't think they're interested in discussing theories of vigilantism with a bunch of academics."
"How do you know? Give me a chance to ask them!"
Jim gave us an apologetic look.
I held up a hand. "Sorry, I don't think we'll have time." I ignored Robin's grin. Just because we'd be spending the entire next three days with those very same academics. That worried me, though. Perhaps we'd have to avoid these two at the museum tomorrow. "Robin," I gave him a nod that we should be on our way. He gathered his rappelling rope and began coiling it as we headed back into the shadows.
Behind us I heard Blair start to explain his professor's theory of vigilantism, to Jim.
We climbed back to the roof we'd been on before. There was not much time left to get the rest of our bugs planted and still show a presentable front at the museum tomorrow. I prefer an hour of sleep; Dick requires it. Otherwise he gets loud -- turns into a teenager. I moved to plant the last of my bugs for this area, leaving Robin to finish his side.
After a moment I heard, "You told them quite a bit about why we're here."
"Yes. Ellison wouldn't have trusted us otherwise."
"I figured it was something like that." More silence, then he walked over. "Do you think we're going to find anything on Ra's?"
I surveyed the area, pondering the question seriously. We had no idea where these rumours were coming from; we did not even know if the rumours linking Ra's Ah Ghul and Cascade even came from Cascade. "I don't know, Robin. But we can't take the chance of missing something. If we could get even a hint of what he's up to..."
"I know." I saw him shift from one foot to the other. I planted my last bug. We needed to finish this area of the wharf, but I didn't want to risk getting too near the police. They would be down at the scene for hours, at least. I indicated another direction, away from the cars and lights. Robin followed, still quiet. I could tell something was bothering him but unless it was simply the thought of Ra's Ah Ghul, I didn't know what it could be.
Halfway across the roof of the adjacent building Robin looked over at me. I met his look briefly, then returned to my work. He wouldn't talk more readily if I were watching him. Finally he spoke. "They work well together."
Oh. This. The regret in his voice was clear, even if I needed to hear it. I continued placing the bugs, working my way quickly towards the center of the roof. As I neared the center I worked facing Robin. He was crouched by one of the roof vents when he glanced my way. I couldn't see his eyes. I wanted to run over there and tear his mask off and hold him. I didn't move; I didn't say a word.
"I'm trying not to be unfair about this. I keep telling myself I understand the position you're in. Not just as Batman, but everything else as well. I know you need to keep your life private. But just once...." He stood up and took a step towards me. I faced him silently. "Just once I would like to know, without a single doubt, that it isn't because you're sorry you're with me. I would like to believe that deep down, somewhere inside, you would rather treat me the way Jim treats Blair and the only reasons you don't are for things outside us both that you can't control. I want to feel," he had taken another step towards me, holding one fist raised as if unsure he wanted to strike out at me, "for just one second as if you loved me more than anything else in your life. What kills me is that I will never, ever have that." He dropped his hand and turned around, walking back to the vent he'd left. He stooped to place a bug, and looked back at me. "There will always be something deeper in your heart than me. That can't change without changing who you are. I don't want to lose the man I love," the roughness had left his voice, and now I heard only grief. "But it means I have to accept never having what I want. When I see someone who looks like he has everything I want, it hurts like hell. You're just going to have to deal with that." Robin stepped away from the vent and moved to place another bug. He didn't try to look at me.
I moved forward, and grabbed his arm. He looked up at me, eyes once again clear.
"I don't want you to say you're sorry, Batman. I don't need it." His tone was soft, hiding the pain under a thick layer of understanding. I hated that I had to put him through this. Hated making him love someone who would put him through this, make him accept compromises and half-lives. But I needed him, I needed exactly what I demanded of him. Batman, and Bruce, needed their partner. I couldn't let him go, and I hated that he wouldn't ask to be set free.
I pulled him to me, picked him up and knelt on the rooftop. He didn't say a word as I held him, letting my cape whip over us both in the stiff ocean wind. I dropped my head onto his shoulder and listened for his heartbeat through the kevlar plate of the costume.
The next morning I stood in the front exhibition room of the museum staring at a large statue -- an art student's impression of a faceless warrior. As an opening piece to the exhibition, it was intended to personify and generalise what the rest of the exhibit halls were trying to say. The entire statue was grey plaster, mostly male but the bare chest carried a hint of the female; features carefully dulled to convey no particular race. One hand carried a stick, pointed upwards as if a spear or long knife. The other hand was empty, raised in order to protect or strike. Bare feet were set on a guard position, ready to run forward or spin in the midst of battle. All in all an expertly crafted display of a generic warrior. Even its face was constructed to hint of no single expression -- one was supposed to read ferocity or gentleness, anger or pride depending on how and why one saw it. That I knew from Dr. Marcus' introduction of the piece when we first arrived.
I saw only sorrow. Warriors don't fight because they want to. Finally I turned away from the piece and headed inside the exhibition hall looking for Dick. When Marcus had seen me, Dick had excused himself and gone ahead. He was almost smiling when he left, had been since I had woken up close against him. Something had happened last night to take some of his anger away. I wasn't sure what it was.
Last night on the rooftop I had held him for a long while, saying nothing and sitting utterly still. Finally Robin had been the one to stir, asking me if we were to finish the wharf that night. I had wished that I could say no, we'll finish it later. The thought of the Demon wreaking havoc somewhere in the world was more terrifying to me than the thought of losing my hold on Robin. Not a great deal more terrifying. I had to let him go and we had spent the next two hours covering the wharf's buildings with our bugs. It had taken another hour to make sure the recorders were set up properly, hidden in an office rented for the purpose by Wayne Exports. A month from now Wayne Exports would actually open the office, to conduct its local business. The recorders could stay easily hidden past that time, if necessary. When we finished we had headed back to the hotel, flying across the rooftops.
The screen had been securely in its place and we entered the room without any trouble. Minutes after our return our suits were cleaned and packed away, equipment safely stored and locked up. I had headed for the shower; Dick had joined me and finished washing me off. He surprised me, keeping the shower quick and non-sexual. I had kissed him once; he kissed me back then let me go. He didn't say anything although I'm certain he could see I was confused. When we got into bed he had waited until I had the lights out, then he spooned up beside me and held on tight as he fell asleep. He never said a word and I had found myself content to lie quietly in his arms until I, too, fell asleep.
I had woken still pressed close against him, and this time he had smiled down at me, bright and cheerful as the night had been dark. We had made love this morning, slow and gentle; afterwards he 'treated' me to breakfast, calling room service and placing a rather extravagant order. We had arrived at the museum almost late and as soon as Dr. Marcus appeared to take me in tow, Dick had vanished with a grin.
Marcus was in a fine form this morning, obviously excited at how well the preparations were proceeding. When he offered to let me sit in on the final stages of the planning meetings I excused myself. I told him I wanted to view the exhibit and see for myself how well things were going. In reality I wanted to find Dick, and see if his good humor was lasting throughout the morning. I'd rather spend the day with him than in meetings, regardless. I wandered through the first rooms, looking for him among the dozens of students hurrying around trying to get their cases finished before tomorrow.
I felt someone come up behind me, and glanced in the glass window of one of the cases. Dick. I smiled and turned around. "What's wrong?"
He looked worried, almost frowning. "I think you'd better look at something." He kept his voice low, and indicated the direction from which he'd just come. I followed him, not bothering to ask until I had seen what had upset him. He stopped in front of a mural-sized placard, covered with posters full of text and enlarged photographs. The photos looked like those used in newspapers, crime scenes and mugshots. I read some of the posters' headlines and discovered we were looking at a display on modern day criminals and how they relate to the modern day warrior. Dick pointed to one and I read.
"It's him." I kept my voice low as well, now all business.
"Yeah. There isn't much, but it it's more than someone might get from reading news articles from out of town papers." It felt strange to be out of costume. Robin stood beside me now, waiting for me to read the poster. I finished it quickly; he was right, there wasn't much. Two items stood out, however. Ra's Ah Ghul was identified as such, and by the Demon and the Immortal. I've never known a journalist that was aware that he went by all three, or cared enough to point it out. A minor point, perhaps, but such was why we had come to Cascade. The second item was a list of places were Ra's was suspected to have struck. Gotham City was there, as were Edinburgh, Paris, Calcutta, and the Sudan. Also listed were Dublin, Cascade, and New South Wales. I had heard of the aborted attempts in Dublin -- IRA fighting had wiped out Ra's plans before he had a chance to put them in action.
We had heard nothing of Cascade or Australia. I glanced down to the bottom of the placard. According to the credits three students were responsible for the information for this particular display. "Let's see if we can find these students."
"Bruce..." I looked over. Dick was about to suggest something he didn't think I would like. "It would save a lot of time to ask Blair if he knows them."
"It might. But they are probably here, right now. We could ask anyone to point them out. I want to find out who they are, first, in case one of them has a reason for knowing more than he or she should."
"Good point." Dick followed me away from the display. I gave him a slight smile.
"I thought it was."
"It's a good thing you don't have a problem with humility, Bruce. I'd hate to have to beat some into you." Dick was sounding much more energised than he had when he'd first found me.
I gave him a glare. Not the bat-glare of course, but it should have had an effect. "You and whose army?"
"I can think of dozens of people who would like to get a shot at Bruce Wayne. We would put you in a dunking booth and sell tickets."
Later I'm going to remind him that I know where he's ticklish. For now I headed for a private phone. It only took a few moments to put the scrambler on and call Oracle. She said she'd have the information in half an hour; we headed back to study the placard and check the other displays for others listing those same students in their credits.
Jim and Blair were waiting for us in the hall.
"Anything we can help you with?" Jim's words were casual but his manner was not. I froze, plastered a confused look on my face and thought quickly. He must have overheard us -- his Sentinel senses more dangerous than I had first assumed.
"No, thank you, I was just calling my secretary back in Gotham."
Jim nodded, relaxing just a little -- but I knew he wasn't buying it. "I just ask, because I've heard of the Demon. He's a pretty serious adversary." Again that piercing look, the relaxed facade vanishing. Under other circumstances I wouldn't mind fighting alongside this man.
"Look, we're not interested in telling anyone who you guys are," Blair jumped in. "Jim's told me about this Ra's Ah Ghul and he sounds pretty serious. There's no way we can just sit back and let you two take him on alone."
I was about to dismiss them, knowing that despite what they had learned I could not risk involving anyone in this fight. If I didn't need him, I'd have kept Robin out of the fight as well. I did need Robin, though, and something in Blair's manner told me that I should not dismiss him, either. I glanced over at Robin and he shrugged, letting me make the decision. I turned back to Jim and Blair. "There may not be anything to take on. We're just tracking down rumours -- there's no reason to think Ra's is in Cascade or has plans to be, in the near future."
"Then there's no reason not to let us help." Blair concluded, as if he had already gone through the entire argument with us. I gave him a dubious look, which he interpreted correctly. "Look, we already know who you are and we know Cascade a lot better than you do, besides which I know the three students who put together that placard you were looking at. I even know who did the poster on Ra's Ah Ghul."
Jim spoke up. "It'll be easier for us to investigate, anyhow. No one will notice if a cop starts asking questions about a known criminal. They might start to wonder why a visiting businessman cares. I assume you do want to maintain a low profile." He didn't sound threatening, merely stating the fact.
I asked anyway, in order to be clear. "Is that intended to be blackmail?"
Blair looked startled, Jim just shook his head. "We already told you, you're secret's safe with us. We just thought we could help."
"Bruce, why don't we let them?" Dick asked. I looked at him, scowling. I didn't want to involve anyone I didn't have to, even for a fact-finding mission. Dick rolled his eyes at me. "Come on, it isn't like they can't take care of themselves. And we know they can be trusted."
I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to risk putting these men in danger -- no matter how well they might be able to stand up to Ra's and his minions, no matter how low the risk might be of Ra's ever finding out they had helped us against him. The chance was there that by saying yes I would endanger them and I could not bring myself to do that. I've done it before, accepted someone's help and too many times he or she has paid the price. I did not want to think what would happen if one of these men were to lose the other.
Before I could tell them I had to refuse, Jim turned to Dick. "How do you know we can be trusted?"
"I just meant... well we looked at your files." Dick gave me a glance but I said nothing. He made his decision and looked squarely at Jim and Blair. "We just know how good you two are at keeping secrets. We were able to pull some classified files, stuff most people wouldn't ever see. That and a couple things we noticed enabled us to figure out what you are -- a Sentinel." He gave Blair a nod, "and you're his Guide, right? So I know you can be trusted with our secret because you understand how important it is."
None of them said anything when he finished. Dick waited patiently, I was content to let them distract themselves from talking me into letting them assist us with Ra's. Jim and Blair looked at each other, communicating silently for a good minute. Blair finally turned back to us. "So... now that we all know each other's deepest darkest secrets, how about we go find Ra's Ah Ghul."
I swear, it must be youth. Blair sounded exactly like Dick had, back when I had first tried to deny his being Robin. Jim merely looked stubborn, but Blair was ready to pounce all over me, talking me into letting them help. Dick held his hand up to Blair and told him, "Hang on, let me. I've a lot more practise at this."
"Dick, don't think that--"
He wasn't listening. "Bruce, I'm only going to say two things. One, they are not your responsibility. Two, they don't need your permission. They have Ra's and the student's names and they can conduct an investigation on their own regardless of what we do. If you say no thanks, and walk out of here I guarantee they'll be all over this and they'll show up wherever we do, covering all the same ground and maybe even doing it faster since they know where they're going. They don't need us, Bruce. But we could use their help and if Ra's *is* in town then we'll all be better off working together than working separately."
When it's important, Dick has never gloated about being right when I am wrong. It was a characteristic I appreciated. I don't mind admitting I'm wrong. As Alfred will confirm, it simply doesn't often occur to me. Batman can't afford to be wrong. I forget that doesn't mean that he, or Bruce, isn't actually perfect.
"All right. Let's start with the student who put together the poster on Ra's Ah Ghul. Blair, I want you to introduce me to him; I can ask him some fairly innocuous questions. Jim and Dick can stay back; Jim, can you listen in on our conversation?" The detective nodded, not entirely comfortable. "We don't want to startle him by outnumbering him four to one. Besides, if he tries to make a break for it we can always follow him."
Blair nodded, and I noticed that the anger I'd seen coiled inside him, earlier, had sprung loose into enthusiasm. "That'd be Charles Watson. He's in the back room, right now, helping Denise put together the last of the display cases on ancient Asian warriors. They've got this great Mongol costume, complete with--"
"Blair, let's just go find him, OK?" Jim interrupted. Blair grinned and led us back down the hall. Jim walked just beside and slightly behind him; I watched as we entered the rooms filled with working students, how often he placed his hand on Blair's back. I wondered if it was to assist his partner staying out of others' way, or if the contact eased some overpowering of his senses. Blair led us through to the very back exhibit room. Jim and Dick stayed near the door, apparently looking at one of the completed displays. Blair and I headed to the rear of the room where we found a man bent over a card that he was trying to jam into a sign display. The paper looked to be too big.
"Hey, Chuck!" Blair went up to him; Chuck gave the other grad student a grin when he looked up.
"How's it hanging, Sandburg?"
"Have you met Bruce, yet?"
His demeanour change instantly. He stood up, wiping his hands on his jeans although he hadn't been getting them dirty. "No, well I mean yeah, I was at lunch the other day."
"Chuck, Bruce Wayne; Bruce, Charles Watson."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Wayne." He didn't seem nervous at all, merely intrigued.
"Likewise." I glanced over at the Mongol warrior. They had painted a face on the mannequin; the visage was very nearly snarling. "I wanted to ask you about one of your displays, the poster on modern day criminals. Blair says you contributed some of the posters for that."
"Oh, yeah!" His face lit up and I steeled myself for another impromptu scholarly lecture. "My dad is a sheriff back in Idaho so I grew up hearing about all the great masterminds of the century. Dad was a real buff, you know? He had me down at the library all the time, making photocopies of the papers from all over so he could track criminals. It was kinda his idea for that display, you know, we wouldn't need warriors if we didn't have people to fight against. I mean, you don't always have warriors fighting each other, good or bad."
"Really?" I made a note to check Barbara's information on the elder Watson. "It's a fascinating piece." I hoped, like most graduate students, he would freely divulge his information merely because someone outside his department showed an interest.
"Thanks! I've always been sort of fascinated, myself, by some of the so-called super criminals. Dad was happy just trying to figure out who did what and how, it didn't matter really what else the criminal was doing. But I got intrigued by a few of the characters I read about, helping dad. Ra's Ah Ghul was one of the most unusual -- did you know he's supposed to be immortal? I haven't been able to verify that, of course, but the things he's alleged to have done in the last twenty years are enough to keep me busy just collecting information."
He sounded like just another eager student, nothing sinister about him. My instincts were telling me he knew nothing about the Demon he had not gleaned from journals and papers. It occurred to me that the rumours I had been hearing about Cascade might well be this student's activities, collecting information instead of being a source. I would have to keep an eye on him, in case Ra's decided he didn't want the attention. Worse, in case he decided he did.
The four of us went to Blair's office to check Oracle's information. Using Blair's laptop I downloaded the files and we read through them quickly. Chuck's story held up, his father was a sheriff in Longahen, Idaho and was well known for his hobby of tracking criminals over the world. There was nothing to tie in either Chuck or his father to Ra's Ah Ghul, other than what Chuck had already told us. Barbara had even located the source of the rumours which had led Dick and I to Cascade. Apparently Chuck had used the Web to do some research, and posted several requests to usenet groups for other aficianados to send him information.
Following one of Chuck's leads, Oracle had even traced one of the two locations we'd previously been unaware of. By checking the various law enforcement records, she had discovered that a man had been arrested six months ago for a string of petty thefts; when interogated by the police he had claimed to be Ra's Ah Ghul. After identifying him positively as Matthew Clarkson, the police had sent him in for a mental evaluation. He had been in the local hospital ever since. Barbara said she would do a more thorough check into Clarkson's background; even if there was a connection between the man and Ra's it would likely not prove useful in tracking down the Demon now.
She had been unable to trace the listing of 'Cascade' on Chuck's poster. I suspected it was a case of harmless egoism on the author's part but it warrented further investigation. Blair offered to ask him, suggesting that if it were a matter of fudging the facts, Chuck would be more likely to admit such to another student rather than someone who could conceivably get him into trouble with Dr. Marcus. With Jim following to keep an eye -- and an ear -- on him, I agreed. We walked back to the museum; Blair explained the interesting phenomena of the mentally unbalanced person adopting another's personality. He sounded well versed in the subject, mentioning briefly that he had minored in psychology and had, since, delved deeper into the study. Jim gave him a strange look, but said nothing. When we reached the museum Dick, Jim and I waited in the main exhibition room while Blair talked to Chuck.
Five minutes later Jim started relaying the conversation. "He stuck it in so people would pay more attention to his poster. He figured that making Ra's seem more relevent to people living in Cascade they'd be more likely to read the entire poster." He paused, then told us Blair was on his way back.
When Blair rejoined us, he smiled, shaking his head. "Marketing, man, no one's above it."
"Looks like we're back to square one with Ra's," Dick said.
I nodded. Cascade looked to be safe from the Demon's machinations. In a way I was sorry -- I would have liked a chance to get rid of him, once and for all. Now, as Dick had observed, we knew no more than we had before about where Ra's was. It wasn't a state I liked.
"Hey," Dick gave me a nudge. "Don't worry. We'll catch up to him."
I didn't say anything. I didn't like not knowing where Ra's was, or what he was up to. I wanted to head back to Gotham and try to pick up his trail; I'd left a program running on the BatComputers, scanning for occurences of his name, and his modus operandi. Bruce Wayne was obligated to attend the Opening Ceremony for the exhibition tomorrow night but I could always get myself excused, citing some necessary business that needed attending to. I started to tell Blair and Jim that I appreciated their assistence when Dick spoke again.
"No, we aren't."
I looked at him; he was giving me a stern look and I knew he was on the edge of being royally pissed off. "We need--"
"No, we don't. Bruce, we are staying. Two more days -- if Ra's does something in the next two days we can get after him from here as easily as we could from Gotham. This isn't urgent, we don't have a deadline to find him. We're staying."
I knew he would not accept any arguments I might offer. He wasn't going to be swayed at all -- if I opted to return he'd remain here alone until Monday. I was tempted to tell him to enjoy himself and I'd see him in a few days. Then I saw the look in his eyes. Underneath the determination was something I hated to see. Dick never begged, not unless he was joking -- or being tickled. He never asked for things more than twice; after that he either went ahead and did for himself or he did without.
This look in his eyes was the closest he ever came to begging. I had driven him to it before when he was talking me into coming to Cascade in the first place and I'd kicked myself for pushing him that far. I didn't know why it was so important to him that we stay -- two more days here wouldn't matter, and the sooner we found Ra's Ah Ghul the sooner we could get him out of the way. It *was* important to him, though. Enough that I would have to let Ra's wait.
"All right." I smiled at him, wanting him to know I didn't resent the concession. He grinned and restrained himself from grabbing me.
"Does this mean you guys are here as tourists, now?" Blair asked.
"Looks like it." I wasn't sure I liked the idea of a real vacation.
"Do you want some native guides to show you the sights?" Blair sounded excited at the prospect.
I didn't glance over to check what Dick thought about it. "That sounds great. There are some things I'd like to take care of this afternoon -- not business, Dick," I forestalled his objection. "Perhaps we can meet again for dinner?"
Blair looked at his partner. "Sounds good," he agreed when Jim nodded. "Are you going to be on campus or should we meet you at your hotel?"
"The hotel will be fine."
I swear I gave nothing away, but Blair suddenly smiled knowingly. "What time's good?"
I checked my watch, barely eleven o'clock. "Six o'clock?"
Again Blair glanced at Jim, after getting a nod he grinned, starting to bounce slightly. "Six it is! Come on, Jim, I need to find Clarise and see if she's finished the last of the cards."
"Wait!" Dick interrupted them. They stopped; Dick turned to me. "You know what he's thinking," he asked me, referring to Blair.
I shrugged. "Of course." What was he upset about now?
"And you don't mind?" He was shocked, to put it mildly.
"Why would I mind?"
I think he might have fallen over from disbelief. "Why would you mind? You, who won't let anyone even catch a glimpse of how we feel back home, suddenly you don't mind if they know exactly what we're up to?" His voice has risen a half octave. He really was surprised.
"Why did you think I didn't want anyone to find out?" No wonder he had been getting upset with me, if this was what he'd been thinking.
Dick said nothing, probably because he couldn't think of what to say. Apparently he thought it was obvious.
"Dick," Blair interrupted. "Aren't you two staying in the same hotel room? The penthouse?"
Blair gave him an expressive shrug. "Don't you think the entire hotel staff knows about you two by now?"
For a moment Dick just stared at Blair. Then he looked at me. "You really weren't trying to... you mean you really don't care?"
I started to confirm it, when Jim spoke. "Just because he doesn't express it doesn't mean he's trying to hide it." He gave me a look, as if to apologise. I didn't mind.
Dick looked from Jim, back to me. He looked very confused. "I thought... I mean you didn't... oh hell," he shook his head and threw himself forward. I caught him, let him hug me tight. "I'm sorry, Bruce."
I returned the hug briefly, then he stepped back. "It's all right, Dick."
"I feel like an idiot." From the look on his face I'd say he was replaying a lot of the incidents he'd taken the wrong way.
"We'll see you two tonight," Jim spoke up, easing his partner back to take their leave and give us privacy.
"Yeah!" Dick sounded distracted, gave the two a short wave and then resumed staring at me like he'd just discovered something astounding. I waited; he'd return to normal soon enough. I said goodbye to Jim and Blair as they headed down the hall back into the exhibition rooms.
"Come on," I turned and headed outside. It was warm, sunny -- unusual for Cascade this time of year. We went back to the hotel to spend the day in darkness.
Next Story: Castoff