Author: Lord Yellowtail PM
Post Robin 125. Tim has reclaimed Robin. When an old enemy discovers their identities, the Teen Titans attempt to protect those they hold dear. But can Tim lead his friends against a demon while clashing with his estranged father?Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Chapters: 17 - Words: 192,029 - Reviews: 143 - Favs: 93 - Follows: 57 - Updated: 09-23-07 - Published: 06-21-04 - id: 1923629
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: See previous chapters for full notes. All feedback welcome and appriciated. Enjoy.
As soon as the steel door to his cell clanged shut, Jonathan Crane finally allowed his self-control to lapse, and basked in the pleasant feel of the sneer that broke across his face as he scrubbed a hand through unkempt hair. When the carbon steel locking mechanism had fully engaged, he decided his half-witted escorts were far enough away to allow himself the low, harsh laughter he'd been holding in for the last twenty minutes. His shoulders shook slightly as he rubbed his wrists--as usual the restraints had been painfully tight, but not quite enough to bruise.
A feeble attempt to extract some petty retribution against me without breaking their façade of impartiality and professionalism. How juvenile. Still, he wouldn't let a few passive aggressive guards ruin his good mood. Dr Grant, his so-called therapist, had been ill today, and he was stuck with Stanford, a simpering wet-behind-the-ears idiot barely out of medical school. Not that the man appeared stupid: according to Hugo Strange, his academic record was exemplary. Alas, rumor was he had chosen to work at Arkham for the excitement, passing up a much more mundane, better paying, and more secure job in Chicago. And the simple truth was obvious to anyone, be they as spectacularly imbecilic and delusional as that codependency nightmare Quinn or blessed with Crane's intellect: anybody who moved to Gotham for the excitement was a stupendously massive ignoramus whose speedy demise would be a great service to the human gene pool.
Crane couldn't imagine anyone would begrudge him for his glum demeanor when it came time for today's session. Grant's incessant attempts to make him believe his devotion to exploring the full dimensions of fear constituted a mental disorder were annoying. And misguided: No other emotion save fear was so complex, so uniquely experienced from one individual to the next. If he occasionally had to sacrifice a bit of society's chaff in his experimentation, so be it; left to their own devices they were useless cretins. And if he sometimes used his unique understanding for personal gain, well, why shouldn't he? It wasn't like he was ever given a single hand up from anyone. Grant was intelligent and interested enough to engage in debate on the issues of fear, and still stupid enough to think he had any chance of curing him. Ha. Moreover, he treated Crane with the respect--the carefully but imperfectly hidden fear--he deserved. The verbal sparring allowed him to keep his mind sharp while he planned his next liberation. But the fact remained, Stanford was an idiot too stupid to be afraid of either Gotham or the asylum, and Crane had gone in expecting no such positive mental stimulation, which made the whole two hours a complete waste of his time.
And he'd been very nearly right. One hour and forty-five minutes of effortlessly deflecting the boy's by-the-book, unrefined techniques, and he was bored out of his gourd. No imagination. Couldn't outthink a turnip. On top of that, he was developing a formidable headache listening to the nasally little bastard. Then the unexpected had happened. The orderly escorting Stanford's next patient, Firefly--whom Crane didn't care for very much, and not just because he had accidentally set the straw in the Scarecrow costume on fire twice--stuck his head in the office to give the traditional fifteen minute warning. Why the man didn't just use the intercom, Crane would never know, but he wasn't complaining: for just a split second Stanford's eyes had widened as fear swept through him. Crane's interest was peaked, though he wasn't dumb enough to look back and try to find out the trigger. When his session was finally over, he stole a quick look as the orderly led him back to his cell, and his eyes immediately fell on a silver scorpion hanging around the man's neck. Arachnophobia. It had taken all his control not to burst out laughing then and there. How ordinary. Still, it gave him the perfect opportunity to get his revenge on the dolt. Petty? Yes. Mundane? Absolutely. But at the very least, it would give the fool some respect for the power of fear.
Thus, he was quite cheerful as he lay in his bunk and contemplated the possibilities. Getting the requisite arachnids would be the hardest part, but anything could be had in the Asylum for the right price, and he'd developed quite the skill at bartering with unstable minds over the years.
His thoughts were disrupted by a bright flash of light and howling that left his ears ringing. Half blind, he sat up in his bunk and swung his legs over the side, but did not move to stand. What the devil? He had been around long enough and traveled in the right circles to recognize a Boom Tube, but during Arkham's last renovation Batman, acting through the Justice League, had requested some sort of scrambling field be put in place to inhibit such portals. At least, according to Nigma. Who knows how he found out. Curiouser and curiouser. He blinked. Damn. I sound like Jervis.
He kept blinking furiously, more surprised than anything else. Anyone who could so easily break into his room would have already done him harm if they so intended. There was no logical reason to be afraid, and it was the mark of the superior mind that logic, not fear, was always in control. After another few seconds, only a few spots remained in his vision, and he was able to get a look at his visitor.
The man looked to be in his early twenties, with thick, long, black hair and a domino mask with glowing red lenses. Tall but not quite six feet, and obviously muscular, he wore black leather and steel mesh fatigues that surprisingly looked to be fitted with little or no body armor, though he certainly compensated with an abundance of weaponry. Crane was by no means an expert on anything but the most basic of arms--guns and knives were entirely too primitive and imprecise to be his weapons of choice in all but the most desperate situations--but he could say with certainty this fellow was stocking enough equipment to take on half of Gotham PD's Major Crimes Unit, assuming he had any skill.
He catalogued all this with interest, but it was the boy's skin that caught his eye. At first, and no thanks to the cell's dim light, he'd assumed it was chalk-white like the Joker's, but that wasn't quite right. No, there was a certain bluish tinge. Like a corpse. Definitely not human. That realization set off a flash of something in the back of his mind--not fear of course, but there was definitely cause for apprehension. He'd dealt with the occasional demon or magic user or alien, and the experience always wound up being unpleasant. Still, interesting. Very interesting.
The figure chuckled, readjusting the large broadsword on his back and grinning. "Not too startled there, doctor." His tone turned serious. "Then again, I wouldn't expect anything less from The Master of Fear."
Anger sparked deep within him, but he quickly pushed it down. There was a seriousness in the young man's voice that told him he was in all likelihood not being patronized. Still, the palpable arrogance rolling of the youth made it clear he was not showing deference out of respect to someone he considered an equal. Alright, then. If you're not going to lop my head off, let's see what you want. "So I am," Crane said smoothly, slipping into the silky, confident tone of the Scarecrow with practiced ease. "Obviously, you're not here to attack me, and I must admit I am intrigued as to how you managed to enter my cell. But first, the obvious: who are you, and what do you want?" If this boy wanted to just appear in his cell and act like he owned the place, that was fine. Scarecrow could be nonchalant and blase with the best of them.
The stranger chuckled again, bemusement all over his masked features. "The name's Harm, and I have a proposition for you. I'd like your cooperation on a project that would benefit from your ... unique talents." The grin increased to a point that the Joker comparison popped back into Scarecrow's head. "You would be handsomely compensated, of course, and I can guarantee it'll be more interesting than sitting on your ass in this cell planning to attack idiotic twits with scorpions."
Ah. Interesting. Arrogant, but well informed. Telepath? He rarely engaged in doing others' dirty work, as their plans were usually incredibly small minde, but it never hurt to listen, especially when confronted with the prospect of escape, and of course, money. Then again, I assume he's talking about money. Last time Joker decided to "compensate" me I ended up with three crates of potted ham. "Well, you've already intrigued me just by showing up, and as you said, there's not terribly much going on around here, and if you think you need my aid you might very well have something ... fascinating ... in the works. Let's hear it, then."
Harm--and really, what an unimaginative name--crossed his arms as he leaned against the cell wall. "Basically, I want to break you out of here. No, let me rephrase: I am ready, right now, to open another Boom Tube and let you walk out of here. On the condition, of course, that you do a job for me."
Scarecrow nodded thoughtfully. "No need for the vagueness; I'd figured that much out on my own. The question is, what's the job? If you know of me, you likely know I only partake in exploits of a certain caliber."
Harm smirked. "Fair enough. You heard any news today?"
Crane shook his head. "I'm afraid not. I have two hours of television privileges today, but they don't start for another thirty minutes. I suppose something's going on outside." Harm laughed then, loudly, and Scarecrow silently thanked whomever was responsible for putting him in a soundproof cell. He really wanted to hear the whole story before the guards came bursting in. Even if they did, I doubt they would stand much of a chance.
"Yeah," Harm said, grim humor in his voice. "Me. I'm sure you'd approve: I've got everybody running scared. I'd tell you more, but I'll let you catch the highlights on the news. They're finally getting around to covering Las Vegas. Thought they'd never make it off the east coast." His grin turned feral. "Morons."
Las Vegas? East coast? His interest increased. Whatever this boy was up to, he managed to make a nationwide splash. "I'll be sure to do that," Crane said finally. "Though I would hope you would tell me enough that your presence here would begin to make more sense."
Harm chuckled--a sound Scarecrow was rapidly coming to loathe. "You're really to the point, you know that? No room for banter. Alright," his face grew serious, and his lips drew into a hateful scowl, "here's the deal. I'm out for the Teen Titans, and so far it's going well enough. I've knocked off one of their mentors already, and the rest are holed up in the Superman's Fortress of Solitude, no doubt spinning their wheels like the panicked little twits they are. You know their leader, I'm sure. Robin may be a weakling, but he's pretty good at keeping things under control, as much as I hate to admit it. I need him as off-balance as possible, and I want you to help me increase the pressure."
A great wave of disappointment flowed through Scarecrow, and more than a little indignation. "If you're simply looking for someone to attack him so you don't have to get your hands dirty, I'm afraid the answer is no, as much as I'd like to get out of this dump. Tangling with the Batman is never a fun experience, and going after his lackeys is the best way to earn his ire. While I do make the occasional exception, it's certainly not something I'm willing to do to suit someone else's ambitions." You couldn't pay me enough.
To his surprise, Harm just looked amused. And smug as hell. "Let me apologize, Dr Crane. I'm afraid I didn't make myself clear." His expression darkened, and for the barest split second Scarecrow was ... concerned ... about his personal safety. "I'm going to rip out Robin's heart myself, and would be really ... annoyed if anyone else tried before I was done with him." And just as quick, he was smiling again. "Besides, like I said, I need your particular talents, and let's be honest, if I wanted a hitman you wouldn't be my first pick." He chuckled. "And just so you know, Batman's off planet with the Justice League. For this mission, he would be none of your concern."
Rather bloodthirsty, aren't you? The disappointment and indignation melted away as once again his curiosity came to the fore. Damn, but this boy can drag things out. "Well," he said, purposefully mild, "my apologies for jumping to conclusions, then."
Harm waved his hand dismissively. "Not at all. I'm sure plenty of cowards have tried to get you to do all their work for them. But no, I want him off balance, and what better way to do that than to throw his city off kilter? You know Black Mask, I'm sure?"
Scarecrow raised an eyebrow. It's rather hard not to know of someone with a skull for a head and an ego the size of my Aunt Bertha. "Yes."
"Well," Harm continued in a very businesslike tone, "then you probably know he's out to rule Gotham's organized crime sphere. He's put quite hefty contracts on certain family heads. Why, if someone were to kill Belosi, Laurentis, Gerard, and Moglievich, they would easily net ten million."
Scarecrow nodded. Black Mask's ambitions were an open secret. But something's still missing. "My instincts are telling me you could kill them all yourself, and keep all the money. Why me?"
Harm popped his knuckles, and nodded with an approving smile. "I could. But that'd be too clean. Now, if you did it, I'm sure you could not only kill every last one of them, but their deaths would be as terrifying and confusing for the survivors as for the murdered. I can tell you where to find them. I'm even willing to negotiate with Black Mask on your behalf. I know you two don't get along, so he'll never even know you were involved. What I'm asking," the feral grin was back, stronger than before, "is for you to--"
"To create enough confusion and fear to start a massive, city-destabilizing gang war." Scarecrow felt a vicious smile of his own bloom across his face. "My dear young man, that is an interesting challenge. The potential to engender a general climate of panic is enormous." He thought for a moment. Why not? If Batman's really out of the picture, there might actually be a chance of success. And the chance to leave Gotham in the thrall of its own terror ... yes. "Congratulations, young man. You've left me very, very interested. I'm assuming you would want some cut of the profits."
Harm nodded. "A ... negotiator's fee, for dealing with Black Mask, and a finder's fee for getting you the information. Five million, paid on successful completion of the mission, of course."
Scarecrow resisted the urge to gape. That was far less than he'd been expecting to have to give over to such an obvious egomaniac, and left him with a quite mind-boggling five million dollars. He was, unfortunately, not one of the criminals who managed to accrue and secret away a vast amount of wealth, though he was by no means poor. Still, that much money in one fell swoop would be more than he'd made in the last four years. Imagine the resources, chemicals, and tools I'll be able to acquire. "That would be ... quite acceptable." He narrowed his eyes. "Though I must confess, I'm not exactly comfortable taking you for your word on all this."
"Of course not," Harm said, grin never faltering. "You're a smart man. Watch the news. I think it will convince you I can back up my claims." He turned, and held out a silver cylinder. "I'll be back in an hour and a half." Another flash of light and a pair of ringing ears later, Scarecrow found himself alone again.
"Well," Jonathan Crane said with a smirk, "so much for being bored." The next little while would be highly interesting, at the very least. He smiled and lay back on his bunk, contemplating the various ways to literally scare someone to death.
The more Robin thought about it, the more he was sure they could take Harm. He was just as certain it would be an incredibly violent, bloody affair, but didn't let himself start fretting about who might be killed or maimed. It was really amazing how useful Bruce's platitudes could be. No matter how bad things get, stay focused in the present. Every instant you spend dwelling on past mistakes is an instant you could be working to ensure your future success.
Yeah. No pressure there. He blinked, and his lips twitched into a smile. When Bruce had sent him on his first solo patrol, he said something else, and even if he didn't repeat it very often, Robin knew he meant it. I wouldn't be sending you out there if I didn't believe you were capable of dealing with whatever you encounter. You're as ready as you can be, and you've come farther than I would have believed possible. I'm proud of you.
Bruce hardly ever said those last three little words, but Robin, unlike Dick it sometimes seemed, was very good at reading them in his actions. And Batman had left the Titans in charge of Earth, and trusted them to handle the entire planet. He nodded to himself, a dull warmth spreading from his chest. Batman believed in him, and Robin wouldn't let him down.
The Urban Legend was roused from his musings by a faint rush of air, and turned just in time to see Superboy float into the alcove, hands behind his back, somewhere underneath his fluttering cape. His dark blue eyes were stormy, his mouth drawn into an ominously thin line. "Hey, Tim," he said flatly, dropping to the ground and coming to stand at Robin's shoulder in three long strides. He folded gauntleted arms on what passed for the windowsill, the gold buckles over his forearms gleaming in the light. "Cassie just beeped me. Her mother's awake." He cracked an entirely too small grin. "She sounded thrilled."
Robin felt a burst of joy, but it died out just as quickly. Kon should've been excited too, as much as he liked Helen. Something's up. "But you don't."
Kon cracked his knuckles and shook his head. "Don't get me wrong, Tim," he said, frowning slightly, "I'm glad she's awake. I was really starting to worry. It's just ... she's blind and half her face is burned off, and she knows it, but so far she's only worried about Cassie and the rest of us and--"
"She isn't as upset as she should be?" Robin nodded, feeling his lips twitch down. "She's repressing." Not surprising. Still ... she shouldn't be so good at it so soon after something like this.
Kon nodded, scowling. "Yeah. Exactly. But, I mean, after what happened, is it normal? Cassie's too happy to notice, and no one else is really paying attention, but I've got a bad feeling about this."
Robin winced. "Kon, I ... I'm sorry. I haven't been keeping an eye on Helen as much as I should be. I didn't mean to leave you stuck dealing with it alone--"
Kon's eyes widened. "Whoa! Put the brakes on the guilt trip express. I'm not saying I feel abandoned or something, and it's not like you haven't been busy, Fearless Leader. You're doing a great job, by the way, seriously." He scowled. "None of us really tried to stop you and Greta from taking charge with Traya, and you're both going to have your hands full when she wakes up. We'll all be there to help, but she'll be stuck on you like flies on honey." Robin raised an eyebrow, coughing back a chuckle. Kon blushed. "Ma says it a lot," he muttered. Clearing his throat, he continued quickly. "But yeah, without getting all broody on me, what about Helen?"
Robin grasped his friend's shoulder and forced out a small smile. "It's good that you see what's going on, but denial is a normal part of the grieving process. It's ... unusual ... for someone so grievously injured to repress so heavily so quickly, though." As if the injury wasn't bad enough. "But I'm sure Alfred and Leslie are keeping a close eye on Helen. If they think something's wrong, they'll deal with it. They're the best." Can't afford to start second guessing now.
Kon narrowed his eyes, folding his arms over his chest and floating off the ground. Robin wondered if he realized he was doing it. "So I just keep standing around and doing nothing? That's what I've been doing since you and Cassie brought her back, and it blows, Tim."
Robin sighed. "I know what you mean." Kon looked like he was ready to disagree, but Robin held up a hand. "How do you think I feel every time I go with Greta to visit her mother?" He gritted his teeth. The more he thought about Ellen Hayes, the more he was sure they were in for bad news, and he was going to regret not telling Greta sooner what was going on.
Kon blinked, eyes wide. "I ... I didn't think about that. Sorry."
Robin waved him off. "Forget it. I don't really do anything special when I go with her, but Greta says me being there for her keeps her from completely falling apart over it all, especially when Ellen has bad days. That's worth any amount of discomfort to me, even if it can be excruciating. It's worse for her." And that's not even counting this latest mess.
After a long moment, Kon nodded sharply. "Still sucks, though. It's going to take some getting used to, but I'm there as long as she needs me." He smiled thinly, and Robin knew that would be the last they spoke of this for now. "So," Kon said abruptly, tone far more casual than before, "did you finish editing that file for Gotham PD?"
Way to change the subject, buddy. Robin grinned, pulling a folder from the largest pouch in his cape and tossing it over. Kon snapped it out of the air and started flipping through. "Got it down to just the basics: powers, abilities, personality profile. Luckily, you don't really need to know that much about how Harm became what he is to fight him. Or to know not to fight him." He sighed. He had left out any information on Harm's origins. There was no reason to officially link Greta to all this." If APES or the DEO gets involved, it might happen anyway. Ugh. Nice positive thinking, there.
Kon whistled. "Just the basics? This is 40 pages, in tiny print."
Robin smirked. "About half of that is information on what took out the public service communications systems, the ineffectuality of our Boom Tube shields, and some other logistical stuff."
Kon flipped another page, and nodded. "Ah, yeah, here we go." He snapped the folder shut and handed it back. "As much as you're telling them, I bet they won't even stop to think about what you're leaving out."
Robin nodded quickly as he slid the folder back into its pouch. "That's the plan. Gordon's smart, though. He's been dealing with Batman long enough that he'll probably notice I'm not telling him everything. What's important is that he realizes I'm not hiding anything he needs to know." Hopefully, it won't rankle him too much.
Kon nodded. "Sounds fair. So, when are you going, and which one of us do you want to go with you?"
"Any minute now." Robin hated to sound like he was chasing Kon off, but the sooner he left, the sooner he could be back. "And I'm going alone."
Kon's eyes widened. "Hey! I thought none of us were ever supposed to go anywhere alone." Superboy threw him a sidelong glance. "What's up?"
"Don't worry," Robin said quickly, lifting both hands in a placating gesture. "I'm not turning into Batman. I have no problem with any of you going into Gotham. I'm taking a Tube to the top of Wayne Tower. Batgirl will be meeting me there, and we'll stay together until I come back. It's just--I haven't spoken to her at all since this started, and I'd like to check on her. From what Oracle said, she's not taking everybody being outed like this very well."
Another nod. "And you don't think she'd be completely comfortable talking about anything that's bothering her with someone else around."
Robin nodded. "She doesn't like admitting weaknesses. She's a lot like Bruce that way. I'm not even sure she'll open up to me." He frowned. "We're not exactly as close as I wish we were. Nightwing's my brother, but more often than not Batgirl feels like a distant cousin." Doesn't help that I was a little afraid of her in the beginning. And she could see it with every move I made. "I don't want to put any extra distance between us right now."
"And you're worried she might see you bringing someone else along as 'extra distance?'"
Robin cracked his knuckles. "Yeah."
Kon shook his head. "You know most of the time I pick on you Bat people, I'm joking around, but seriously, you guys have problems," he finished with a smirk.
"I assure you," Robin smirked right back at him, "we're all very aware of that." Kon chuckled as his earpiece chirped. That's a private line. "Just a second." and he raised an eyebrow as he tapped it. "This is Robin."
"Master Robin," Alfred's crisp voice filled his ear, "do you have a moment?"
Huh? Alfred always chose his words carefully. He usually only ever wanted "a moment" with someone when he wanted to speak with them in private, and it wasn't like anyone would be able to hear him with the receiver in his ear. Unless they had super hearing. He grimaced. He could only really think of one thing Alfred would feel the need to talk to him privately about. Ellen. Damn.
Robin was saved from the potential problem of having to shoo off Kon without getting his suspicions up as Superboy's own earpiece went off. He couldn't hear the tone, but it was obvious when his friend tapped his ear and started talking about lunchmeat and animal crackers that someone else was talking to him. Anita, probably. Hopefully. Kon smiled and waved at him as he walked off, and Robin returned the gesture. "Yeah. What's up, Alfred." He already had an idea, but maybe he was wro--
"Things have settled down enough here that Leslie and I thought you should know we finished our examination of Ellen Hayes." The Englishman's voice grew somber. "You were right to suspect a problem, young man. She is not in any immediate physical danger, but, suffice it to say, Leslie would like to speak to Miss Greta immediately, and I would suggest you accompany her if at all possible."
Robin's face twisted into a grimace. So much for being wrong. Damn. He had been dreading this conversation for so long Alfred's calm demeanor was actually quite encouraging. If there had been something more immediate wrong, the gentleman's gentleman would sound more urgent, at the very least. "She's not here right now, Alfred. She's gone to get everything out of her hotel room with Bart. I'm about to head for Gotham and meet Batgirl. We'll be going to see Commissioner Gordon."
Alfred was silent for a long moment. "I see. Waiting a little longer at this point wouldn't hurt, I suppose." Well, that was comforting, at least. "But as soon as you are both back, Leslie or I will contact Miss Greta."
Robin nodded, and couldn't help wincing at the trace of frustration in Alfred's voice. He knew it had to be more for the whole situation than anything else, but he still couldn't help thinking once again that Alfred just wasn't supposed to sound like that, especially in a crisis. "Understood."
"Very good," Alfred said quickly, just a bit more upbeat, "and Master Robin, do tell our mutual, softspoken friend Leslie and I said hello."
He couldn't help grinning at that. "Will do, Alfred. Robin out."
As she walked, she tilted her hand, raising an open palm to the sky, sunlight reflecting off the inky black of her armor. "No point trying to be ... sneaky. Too bright."
"Yeah." He started to say more, but stopped as she came to a halt in front of him. He couldn't read body language like a book, but he it was obvious she was tense. Before he could say anything Batgirl moved forward with that swift, flowing grace that was uniquely hers, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.
He was too surprised to move, but luckily his arms seemed to be operating off instinct, and he felt himself returning her hug. Batgirl--Cass--was almost never this affectionate with him. Maybe their relationship wasn't as screwed up as he thought. After another few moments, he felt her starting to pull away, and loosened his grip.
"I'm glad you're ... good, Robin." She paused. "Almost," she added, sounding slightly accusatory.
Robin's eyebrows shot up. "Almost?"
Batgirl swept forward again, knocking back his cape with one of her arms and lightly tapping against the armor over his taped ribs.
He had almost forgotten about them after Raven dulled the pain. Every once and while he felt a dull throb, but that was it. The next time he got in a serious fight, on the other hand ... well, he'd just have to be careful. He scratched the back of his head. "It's not that bad. Leslie didn't ask me to stay on the sidelines, at least."
Batgirl nodded. "Good."
Remembering his earlier words to Superboy, Robin risked his own question. "What about you? We--I--kind of left you on your own since this started, and now Oracle's about to check out. Everything okay?"
A quick nod. "Gotham is quiet. Too ... early, I think. See more ... tonight ... how criminals act. Lots of police. Their ... radios are working. Not like Oracle said other places are."
"Well, that's good news," he said. But you're avoiding the question, and you know I know it. Wish I knew what you were thinking. Sometimes that full mask is really annoying. "But how are you?"
She stiffened, and for an instant he thought he might have pushed her too far, but then she seemed to shake herself, turning away slightly. "Robin," she whispered, and to his astonishment she actually wrung her hands. "What happens when we win?"
That was not the question he was expecting, and he knew better than to pretend it was. "I don't understand. What do you mean? Sure there'll be lots to do...we'll have to find places for everyone who lost their homes, and then there's Wonder Girl's mom and Traya and--" he ground to a halt as Batgirl held up a hand, and he thought about thanking her for the interruption. He was starting to seriously depress himself.
"No." She shook her head, sounding frustrated. "Gr--Secret will send Harm back to hell."
Robin nodded, unsure where she was going. "Yes, she will. It's the only way to really stop him."
A nod. That didn't seem to bother her. "But what about the ... the monster maker? And the time traveler. They know ... us. Everything."
It took him a few more seconds to figure out what she meant than he liked, but then it clicked, and he felt stupid for taking so long to figure it out and more than a little uncomfortable. "They know our secrets, you mean."
She nodded again, folding her arms. "We're not safe," she said quietly, uncertainly. "No one. Not while they know. Don't want to see everyone ... hunted forever." It wasn't like he hadn't thought of that before, but the way she was talking, and knowing how gung-ho she could be when she thought someone she cared about was in danger, he was momentarily alarmed. But her next words calmed him just as quickly. "Can't kill them, and they won't forget." She paused, tilting her head forward. "So what do we do, Robin? How do we ... fix this?"
Part of Robin whispered that they could be made to forget, but wiping memories just to protect themselves was just as wrong as killing to do it. Maybe more. "The time traveler has disrupted the timeline severely. We'll turn him over to the Linear Men. They're timeline police. It's their job to make sure he can't contaminate the timeline anymore."
She cracked her knuckles. "The monster maker."
That was much more complicated. In truth, Robin had no idea how they were going to deal with him. "I don't know. But we'll catch him, and anyone else who knows. I promise you that. And some way will be figured out to ... contain ... that knowledge. Our way." He knew she would be able to read the without killing implicit in his words. He smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging way. "The League has just as much at stake here as we do--everyone will be trying to come up with a solution. We won't be hunted forever." He thought for a moment. There was something else she probably needed to hear. "And the only way you'll ever lose the family you've made for yourself here is if you decide you don't want us anymore, because we're not going anywhere, no matter who tries to get rid of us. We will not let some cowards who are too afraid to show their faces ruin our lives."
"No. We won't," Batgirl said, and she did sound more confident. She stepped forward again, grabbing his shoulders, her small hands like vices. "Harm will try to kill you. When he does ... don't forget I ... want to keep my family. All of it. Tell the others."
Wow. I think that was an order. "I won't forget." Robin grinned. "And maybe you'll get the chance to tell them yourself."
"That would be ... nice." She pulled a grapnel from her belt and gestured at a particularly nasty gargoyle across the street. He grabbed his own as he raced her to the edge of the roof. It was time to go.
Harvey dumped the folders on top of Jim's already cluttered desk and squeezed himself into a chair. "The techs still don't know what happened, Commish. Just that some kinda virus thing fried all the computerized dispatch equipment." He scowled, hands twitching, and Jim figured he was itching for a donut. Since whatever the hell was going on started, there hadn't been any time for coffee breaks. "Damn high tech junk."
"Wonderful." Jim took off his glasses and began polishing them with his tie. "So they just wasted hours, and still don't know what's going on, except that everything is 'fried' and somebody did it on purpose. Coulda told you that right off when the entire network went dark."
Bullock shrugged. "Least we had the back ups." He picked up the radio he had brought in, and banged it against the side of Jim's desk. "Tough, too, not nearly as flimsy as the hi-tech sets." He shook his head. "We've finally got one over on Metropolis. Word is they're still not completely back. Not even close. Guess no one ever thought they might have to do without their computers." The words were gloating, but Harvey couldn't have looked any less happy. Even the City of Tomorrow would start to eat itself alive if the criminals realized public services couldn't talk to each other. Its superheroes could only do so much.
Jim forced himself to smirk. It wouldn't do to look discouraged in front of his officers. Even Harvey Bullock, who could probably see straight through him anyway. Still, the truth was anything but encouraging. "You think I wasn't going to make sure we had top notch backup systems after No Man's Land?" When the money had finally showed up to start rebuilding GCPD's infrastructure, Jim had found himself in almost full control of where it went. Bruce Wayne's influence, according to rumors. It was easy enough to ignore the implications if he wanted to. "After seeing how fast Gotham deteriorated when it was cut off, you'd think all the other major cities would've pushed for it, too."
Harvey laughed. "You kiddin', Commish? They wouldn't follow Gotham's lead if we figured out how to turn sludge into gold." Jim didn't miss the furtive glance he sent towards the window. "Hodgkins heard from one of his buddies in Vegas. All the private security people have been deputized since they're the only ones who can really talk to each other right." Harvey looked uncomfortable all of the sudden, eyes darting once again to the window. Jim had left it open for a reason, but Harvey was acting plain weird.
With all the money flowing through Los Vegas on a daily basis, it was the private security capital of the country. It was uniquely suited to take care of itself until public services were completely back, especially around The Strip. As long as no one has any power trips, he couldn't help thinking, an image of Bill Petit flashing across his mind's eye.
Still, it was odd for Harvey to randomly mention that particular city. "And?" he prompted. Since this mess had started, his friend had gotten more and more distracted, and Jim did him the courtesy of pretending not to know why. Looks like you're finally ready to talk. He would be very surprised if he had to ask directly what was on the detective's mind.
Harvey cracked his knuckles, not meeting Jim's eyes. "Nothing official yet, but word is one of the Justice League--Red Tornado--was at the Bellagio with his family when it all started. Someone tried to implode the building. He got the evacuation going, handed his family off to some security guard named Byron, and went back stage to check on a missing magician."
Jim frowned, ignoring for the moment the incongruity of one of the League having a day out with his family in costume. Even though he could hardly fathom the idea after being in Gotham so long, there were such things as superheroes with public IDs. Now we're getting somewhere. Can't help thinking I'm not going to like this. "Convenient. Go on."
"It gets messed up from there. This guy, Byron? Police found him murdered his apartment, time of death sometime last night. Whoever was pretending to be him disappeared, and no one knows where the little girl is."
Jim's eyebrows shot up and he sat up in his seat. "So she was kidnapped? All that just to grab a kid?" He paused. Harvey hadn't mentioned the woman. "What about the mother?"
Harvey actually winced as he shook his head. "Missing, presumed dead. Whoever grabbed 'em took 'em to a subbasement--a few shreds of the kid's dress were found there. Skull fragments were found at the scene with hair that matched the mother. Full thickness. They can't be one-hundred percent certain till they get a tissue sample to compare, and that's not happening any time soon." Jim raised an eyebrow in question. "Their house was completely torched. There's nothing left to get a sample from. Bomb squad thinks it was C4." He whistled. "Someone went through a lot of trouble to erase 'em, boss."
"Christ, Harvey," Jim growled, wishing for a cigar or his pipe for the first time in months, "them, Wonder Girl and her mother's imploding museum in Gateway, Titans Tower in San Francisco--someone's declared war on superheroes, and we're right in the middle of it with no idea what's going on. You can't tell me this isn't ... isn't ... argh!" He took a deep, shuddering breath as Harvey stared at him with wide eyes. They both knew it wasn't like him to lose it like this, but he couldn't very well tell the detective he was scared to death because he hadn't been able to get Barbara on the phone since 2:30, and whatever was going on, she was surely right in the middle of it, again. He had only kept from panicking outright because he knew things like this had happened before, even if they weren't so public, and she had always been fine then. Still, as soon as things were calm enough for him to leave by himself, he was going over to the Clocktower and checking on her, even if he had to bust down the door. Secrets be damned; she'd just have to deal.
"Uh, Commish? You okay? You're lookin' a bit ... splotchy, there." Was that his imagination, or had Harvey just slid his chair back a few inches?
Nice, Jim. Very leaderly. "Sorry, Harvey. I don't much like being so ... helpless."
The big detective waved him off. "Don't worry about it. You're not the only one feelin' the heat," he growled. "I mean, hell, this thing's nationwide. There's not really that much we can do about it, but we've got radios, guns, and cars. Don't want the normal trash thinking this is a chance to start something."
Jim felt himself nodding in agreement. Harvey was right. For now, they couldn't do much about the coast-to-coast whatever the hell it was, but he would be damned if some punks managed to start a gang war or go on a spree while he was navel-gazing and feeling sorry for himself. "Not that I'm saying I want anything to happen, but some good old fashioned street crime would be a welcome distraction."
"Tell me about it," a new voice murmured, and Jim whirled back towards his window as Harvey jumped slightly in his seat, then chuckled.
Robin stood just to the left of the window frame, cape open and arms crossed. Somehow, he had managed to find a bit of shadow from the bookcase and squeeze himself under it.
Jim resisted the urge to shake his head, but still must have looked amused. The boy tilted his head and smirked. "Reflex, Commissioner. Afternoon, Detective." Robin sounded just as focused and serious as he usually did when Jim talked to him. Maybe moreso.
"About damn time you showed up, kid," Harvey said, grinning. "Kinda been waiting for someone tell us what was up." His mouth twisted into a frown. "You don't look too good."
Jim raised an eyebrow, half amused and half confused, but then he saw it, too. The shadows he was steeped in made it harder to notice, but the signs were there.
Robin's mouth was drawn into a thin, emotionless line that Jim had at first ignored because reminded him so much of Batman (too much, actually), and the lenses in his mask were narrowed just slightly more than normal. Very faint worry lines were visible near his mouth. He stood with his arms crossed and head tilted slightly down, and Jim got the impression he was in very deep thought. Even the muscles in his arms and legs seemed just a bit too taut, as if he were waiting for someone to attack him. Excepting Bane and No Man's Land, Jim could recall no time when the boy had seemed this uncomfortable and grim. Well, damn. That's not a good sign at all.
He would have seen it sooner, but he always tried to read Robin the way he read Batman, and was only just starting to realize that didn't really work. Harvey, apparently, had known for a while.
Robin chuckled, entirely too flatly. "It's been a lousy day," he said simply, reaching under his cape. Jim heard something snap and the sound of paper sliding against fabric, and his interest piqued. "That doesn't even come close, really. You've no doubt noticed someone's attacked the public service infrastructure nationwide, and a lot of League installations have been destroyed. A very powerful, very smart psychopath called Harm is trying to wipe out the Teen Titans, and he's putting a lot of effort into doing it now, while the League and Outsiders are off-planet. Though I'm sure he plans to go after them eventually. Everything that happened today--the communication systems, the hubs, the demolition of Titans Tower--it's all tied to him."
"Fuck," Harvey breathed, and Jim was too gobsmacked to bother even glaring at him. "All of it, everything that's happened is all because someone's got a grudge on you and your pals? We don't even know how many people are dead--"
"We know, Detective. I made a point of tracking down the exact numbers." Robin said, soft and harsh, as he pulled a folder from under his cape. "It took a little while to get a handle on things, otherwise I would've come sooner. I didn't want to end up leaving you with questions I couldn't answer." He sighed, and Jim couldn't help but think of how young he had to be, even as his mind reeled at the idea of this entire nightmare being someone's insane vengeance scheme. "Nothing I can say could come close to the grief I feel for all the people who died today, but I promise you we're doing our best to make sure no one else joins them." Robin's eyes narrowed, and for just a moment Jim could see burning anger and guilt in his blank gaze, but he mastered it quickly. Far more like Batman that way than any of the others.
Harvey pinched the bridge of his nose. "Damn. Sorry, kid. Didn't mean to snap at you like that. Not like there haven't been plenty of vendettas against cops that haven't led to bloodbaths. When it happens, though, we usually know what the hell is going on pretty quick."
"And we can usually do something about it," Jim added. From everything he had heard--the ease with which all the JLA teleporter hubs, with their heavily armed guards, had been taken down, for starters--he suspected the police were going to have to take the backseat on this one if he wanted to avoid massive causalities. "My ego isn't so big that I can't see that's a bad idea, here." Jim hated having to play defense, even if an insane supercriminal was on a murderous rampage.
Robin nodded at him, stepping forward and putting the folder on his desk. "This dossier includes everything important we currently know about Harm and his accomplices and what happened this afternoon. I'd like to go over it with you in case you have any questions."
Harvey leaned back in his seat and stared at the vigilante. "What happened to just dumping the info and disappearing? Not that I don't like having someone around to explain the mysterious evidence folders for a change."
Robin scowled. "Harm is especially fixated on me and my closest allies. I have no doubt that he'll focus on Gotham specifically at some point. Like I said, I don't want anyone else dying because of this." He smirked at Harvey. "Besides, you already know I can be mysterious and vague. For now I'm more interested in getting everyone through this in one piece."
Harvey barked, Jim even managed a small chuckle, not in the least because the kid was trying to lighten the mood, and they certainly needed it. Things were about to get nastier, he was sure. Robin was here to prepare them for a war. As the Commissioner of Police, he was more than ready to fight to protect his city, but it didn't stop there. Others, he knew, might blame Robin and those like him for attracting the violent, bloody attention of supercriminals, but Jim had gotten out of that game years ago, when he realized Gotham would have fallen in on itself (and maybe straight on to Hell) despite his best efforts if not for the help of a man in a horned cowl. Aliens still would try to invade, and maniacs to pillage and maim, even if there weren't superheroes to challenge. Like Harvey said, vendettas weren't anything new, and humans with no powers could be just as violent and deadly if they wanted to. He slid the folder towards himself.
If all that wasn't reason enough to get ready for whatever was coming, this maniac meant to wipe out those close to the young hero standing in front of him. Feigned ignorance only went so far, and anyone trying to kill his baby because she managed to overcome what the Joker had done to her and still did everything she could to help keep Gotham afloat and the world spinning in the right direction, well, they would have to deal with him.
"Harvey," Jim said finally, "lock the door. Let's get started."
"Right." The big detective hauled himself out of the chair and lumbered across the room.
"Alright, Robin," Jim said finally, "it's your briefing."
Ignoring the folder for the moment, the vigilante started with an overview of the various attacks around 2:30, and out of courtesy, Jim decided not to mention the very similar sudden, inexplicable, and total collapse of the Drake home in Bristol around the same time. Or the fact that the couple and their estranged son--living with Bruce Wayne for almost a year--were now missing. There would surely be an uncomfortable moment if he did, and Jim easily convinced himself he had no sure idea why.
She was still quite proud of herself for not running away screaming when a pole with some sort of bulb grew out of the ground and a creepy (she supposed it might have been meant to be soothing) voice asked if she also wanted a session with the "full body exfoliation matrix." That had been five minutes ago, and Dana had to admit that she must have been a little creeped out and taken a wrong turn somewhere, because now she had no idea where she was, and it wouldn't be long before her bladder started getting insistent.
On top of all that, she was still running around without shoes, and whatever the floor was made of, it was hard, and her feet were starting to hurt.
Lord, this is so stupid. Okay, plan B: start feeling up the walls and hope I get lucky. She winced. So glad I didn't say that out loud.
As she began trying to find an access panel, Dana heard light footsteps, getting closer. She turned just in time to see Greta round a corner, a large, flat crystal pallet covered in luggage floating along behind her with a dull hum.
"Mrs Drake?" Greta blinked up at her, resting her hands on the crystal behind her. "Are ... are you lost?"
Dana chuckled, shaking her head. Not like she'll make fun of me or anything. "What gave me away?" She thought for a moment. "And sweetie? Just Dana, please. Whenever someone calls me Mrs Drake, they usually want to sell me something."
"Sure," Greta said.
Dana pretended not to notice how the girl's smile had all but doubled in size. "She just wants to make a good impression," Tim had told her. So far, so good.
"Um," Greta started again, looking a little unsure, "where are you trying to go?"
Dana blushed. "I ... this is gonna sound really stupid, but I'm trying to get to the restroom. I asked Connor for directions and, well..."
Greta scrunched up her nose. "You didn't end up in that room with the big orange chair, did you?" She shuddered. "I don't think Kon's trying to prank you or anything. Tim would throttle him if he did. He sent me there once, too, and I'm sure there's actually a toilet somewhere, but ... then that pole thing comes up out of the ground and starts waving around and I don't really want to stay and find out."
Dana laughed. "I'm glad I'm not the only one creeped out by that thing."
Greta brightened. "My room has a pretty regular toilet, if you want to borrow it."
It suddenly occurred to Dana that Jack was getting them a room for the night, and if she had stayed with him, she would have been able to go by now and wouldn't have gotten lost in the first place. Gotta be nerves making me ditzy. No way I'm this dingy all the time. "Lead the way, honey." Greta nodded and started moving down the hall again, and Dana fell in step next to her as something occurred to her. "Say, wasn't Bart supposed to be helping you with all this luggage?" And now that she really looked, Greta had a lot of bags. More than she had ever seen one person bring on a vacation, even a pretty long one. A dark little thought suddenly tickled the back of her mind, but she ignored it. "He didn't skip out on you, did he?" she said playfully. The energetic boy didn't seem like the lazy type.
Greta shook her head quickly, almost defensively. "No! Not at all. He was great while I was getting everything packed back up, and I'd still be dragging stuff through Boom Tubes without his help, but once I had everything on the platform, I thought it would be better to let him go. He gets a little overeager to help sometimes and I didn't want him to get the idea to help me unpack and get into something I didn't want him to see before I could stop him."
"Ah, well," Dana said quickly, starting to feel slightly uncomfortable and strangely amused at the same time. "Privacy is important."
Greta nodded enthusiastically. "Tell me about it. One time, Cassie and Cissie saw me wearing this superhero themed pajama set I had found at the mall, and started joking about how I was 'sleeping with the Justice League.' I didn't really get what they meant or why they thought it was so funny, but I asked Starfire one day and--well, Cassie and Cissie didn't make that joke anymore." She blushed. "I did get a lecture from Victor about taking good care of the pillows and stuff in the Tower guest rooms, but then Gar ... uh ... what's the word ... goosed him, and he forgot about it." She shrugged. "That's not really the kind of thing I was worried about, though. I mean, I trust Bart and all and he can be mature when he wants to be, but I still don't want just anyone ruffling through my underpants and stuff, even if they are trying to be helpful. Not like there's anything really strange in there, but, well, you know."
"Uh, yeah. You bet." Part of Dana really wanted to know how you goosed someone who didn't wear any pants (or any other clothes, which was kind of creepy if she stopped and thought about it), but she was too afraid to ask. Greta sure seems comfortable talking about it, though. Then again, she didn't know what it meant to sleep with someone. She suddenly remembered that Greta had spent years in captivity, from when she was very young, and just wouldn't have had an opportunity to pick up a lot of things that almost anyone else her age would know. If she was stuck like that for years and didn't age like Tim said, she might be even older then she looks. Lord. And she's probably still playing catch up. Suddenly, Greta's naivete and, and the way she flipped from extremely innocent to angrily knowing so quickly and so often, and all the strange little gaps in her knowledge that Dana had observed since meeting her, made a lot more sense. And so did Tim's warning about not pitying her. She was cracked and damaged around the edges, yes, but she was far from broken. Maybe that's one of the reasons she gets along so well with Tim. He's not exactly whole and normal anymore either. Dana wondered if Greta realized how extraordinary she was just because she hadn't gone completely and totally insane after everything that happened. Tim wouldn't have been able to talk her down from Darkseid's mental abuse if there hadn't been anyone sane there to talk to, however deeply hidden.
"Now, if I had bought the Robin underpants I saw at Hot Topic last week, that would've been weird. But I do have some self control," Greta added musingly, almost to herself. "They were really cute though."
Dana nearly lost her balance and walked into a wall.
And if she admitted it, she wanted to learn as much about her son's very unique girlfriend as she possibly could, and would take any opportunity she got. Greta was surprised enough with her offer that she didn't seem to suspect any kind of ulterior motive, which Dana appreciated. She didn't want the girl to think she was evaluating her or something. 'Cause I'm not. Really.
Dana counted at least a dozen different pieces of luggage: clothes bags, duffels, big boxy suitcases with eight different zippers and twice as many pouches, and even two metal briefcases that Greta seemed especially careful with as she set them aside. The platform itself took up almost half of the small room. That funny feeling she had felt earlier nestled its way back into the pit Dana's stomach.
"Here, sweetie." Dana shook herself out of her reverie and scurried to help Greta with a duffel that was as big as she was. Dana hefted it easily and watched as Greta stuck out a hand for the wall to steady herself.
"Thanks," Greta smiled thinly. "I would've felt really stupid if I ended up in the infirmary in the middle of all this because I fell over and got crushed by my pants and shoes. Could you put it, hmm," she pointed to a crystalline block next to the
bathroom door, "over there, please."
Dana couldn't help frowning as she crossed the room. "Greta, where are you going to put all this stuff?" The room wasn't that much bigger than a Holliday Inn-type bedroom, and there wasn't exactly a lot of closet space.
Greta looked at her for a moment as if she were speaking gibberish, then blushed. "Oh. Well, I don't need all of these. Just a few more. I'm hoping Kon knows somewhere I can store the rest until I can move it again."
Dana pressed her lips together, no longer able to ignore the suspicion in the back of her mind. "Sweetie, is this everything you own?" She was very proud of how she just sounded curious, and hopefully hid just how disturbed she was. If this is everything, it's not much.
Greta just nodded before turning to start tugging another, smaller suitcase of the pallet and carrying it over to the other one. "I'm afraid so," she said conversationally. "I used to leave most of this at St Elias during the summer and just take a few suitcases with some clothes and bathroom stuff and ... other things, but this year they were going to start charging, and I don't have 2000 dollars to spend on that, and since there was room at the hotel I just brought it all with me."
Dana felt slightly dumbfounded at what she was hearing. She stores her things at St Elias and ... where does she go when she's not staying in Batman-provided hotel rooms? What the hell? Dana wasn't a stupid person, though, and her mind had already come up with an explanation that made far too much sense, given everything else the girl had told them. She just didn't want to believe it. She pointed at a small duffel. "Bathroom?"
Greta smiled and nodded, tilting her head. "How could you tell?"
"It's either that or a purse," Dana smiled back at her as she scooped up the parcel, "and you don't seem like the furry purse type." Greta laughed, and as Dana moved towards the bathroom, she couldn't resist asking, "So, if Tim wasn't putting you up in a penthouse lovenest downtown," Greta's entire face turned red, and for an instant Dana felt bad for teasing her, "where would you be staying, do you think?" Please say you have an apartment somewhere, or something.
Dana was already coming out of the bathroom again before Greta spoke. She was leaning over the platform, so Dana couldn't look at her face. "I don't know, really. I usually stay with Cassie when we're on vacation--Gateway's pretty safe, most of the time, and I like hanging out at the museum. I stayed with Bart a couple times, and that was fun, but I always feel like I'm bothering Jay and Joan. Bart's a handful for then, even if Jay can keep up with him." She giggled. "And last time I was there Bart and I fell asleep on his bed under a blanket while we were watching a movie, and we both had clothes on, but I think it made Joan a little uncomfortable, and that weirded me out a little. I mean, I like Bart a lot. He's like the brother I should have had." Her eyes narrowed slightly at this, and Dana bit the inside of her lip. "But I never once thought of him like that." She shook her head and grinned at Dana. "Besides, I don't think I would have the energy. I don't know how Cissie keeps up with him." She seemed to realize she was rambling (disappointing, because it was really cute to watch, as far as Dana was concerned) and frowned. "After everything that's happened, though, I don't really know where I'll go after this. I'm trying not to think about it. Anita keeps offering their spare bedroom, but as long as Agent Maad's living with them, that isn't happening." She sighed. "I could probably stay at Wayne Manor as long as I wanted, but it seems too weird, you know? Mr Wayne is only just getting to really like me, I think, and he really likes his privacy. I don't want to overwhelm him with, uh, me. And with Tim--it would be kinda complicated." Her frown deepened. "Sorry. I didn't mean to bring up...uh..."
Dana had to work very hard to control her facial expression. She's living out of suitcases. She's homeless. This is awful. She blinked. And now I'm staring at her and she's going to think I'm angry because of what she said. Wonderful, Dana. She sat carefully on the edge of the bed, surprised when what she thought was crystal shifted beneath her weight. "Don't apologize, honey. I asked. Don't get me wrong," the patted the space next to her, and Greta moved to sit down, "I miss Tim living with us very, very much, and can't wait for the day when he and Jack and I can all live together again like a family, but ... we're just not there yet." It hurt more than she thought it would to say it out loud, but it was the truth. Whatever unspoken truce there was between Jack and Tim right now, there was no way it could last. There was just too much that wasn't resolved yet. "And I didn't mean to pry or criticize or anything about where you live. I just ... it makes me sad that you don't have somewhere to call your own." Dana squeezed Greta's shoulder as she spoke.
Greta just flashed her a small, confident smile, and there was no missing the sadness in her eyes. "I'm glad you asked, if you were curious. Too many people guess." For a moment Dana felt guilty, but figured the girl wouldn't tell her anything if she didn't want to. Keeping secrets was obviously something she could do very well. "After Darkseid, I thought about trying to get my parents' house. I wouldn't want to live there after ... after everything. There's too much death there for it to ever be home again. Even without my powers, I could feel it. I'd hate to go back now that I'm actually in tune with the Abyss." She shook her head, speaking again before Dana had a chance to ask exactly what that meant. "I really didn't have a choice, though. After Daddy tried to stop Billy and Mommy ... got sick, there wasn't anyone to pay the bills anymore, and they owed a lot of people money." She shook her head again. "The bank took it. There was a little bit of money left over after all that in," she chewed at her lip, and it made Dana smile in spite of herself because she couldn't help thinking about the way Tim would stare at his girlfriend when she did that, like no one could see that he was totally smitten, "probation?"
"Probate?" Dana offered. Now she really was starting to feel guilty for dragging all this out of the girl, but the fact that Greta didn't seem terribly bothered just reminded Dana she had much bigger problems. Not like that makes it any better.
Greta nodded. "Yeah, that. Mr Wayne helped me get the money. Tim says he 'threw his army of lawyers at it.' And he's even helping me invest it so I'll have some savings. Once a month he sits down with me and explains what all the different numbers and things mean. I think I'm really getting the hang of it, and it's pretty fun. At least I think so. Tim says it gives him a headache." She giggled. "Cassie told me once if Tim and I liked everything the same it would be too boring. I told her she was nuts."
Dana raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah," Greta winked, "I mean, think about it. Do you really think my life--any of our lives--will ever be boring? Ever?"
Dana chuckled. "I guess not." They were quiet for a moment.
"Dana?" Greta said after a moment, and Dana turned quickly at the tone of her voice--far more tentative than anything she had heard from the girl since the luggage escapade began. She looked pensive, and Dana realized this was important.
"Yeah, sweetie?" she said quietly.
"I know I probably seem a bit less upset about not having much than I should be, but I want you to understand so you don't worry. I just--I feel better knowing someone I trust is just a few rooms away if I need them. Every time something bad's happened to me, I've been alone."
It only took an instant for Dana to realize what she meant, and her eyes widened. "Greta, are you afraid to live alone?" Oh, sweetie.
Greta dipped her head slightly, as if she were trying to hide her eyes behind her bangs. It would have worked better if Dana wasn't looking at her from the side. "It's not like I have a panic attack if I'm alone for too long. I just ... as long as I live with someone else, no one can take me away without someone knowing I'm missing. Some superhero, huh?" she hissed. "I can't even stay somewhere alone overnight without worrying I'll be kidnapped. I only managed to stay at the Hyperion because Tim promised to check on me at least once a night. So stupid."
Dana tried to discretely wipe away the tears springing up in her eyes, and squeezed Greta's shoulder. "No, sweetie. It's not stupid at all. You were taken and abused by terrible people. More than once. But you're smart and brave and in spite of everything you still put yourself out there and try to help people, even if some of them are trying to hurt you again. If staying with your friends makes you feel safe, then that's what you should do. No one will think less of you. No one whose opinion matters, at least." She shook her head slightly. What had been done to the girl next to her was monstrous, and the more she was around her, the more she felt the need to look after her. The fierce overprotectiveness Tim exuded made more sense all the time. "Does Tim know about this?"
Greta nodded. "Yeah," she sighed. "It makes Tim sad, so we hardly ever talk about it. Robin protects people, and fixes things when they're wrong."
"But he can't outthink this for you, or beat it up," Dana said softly. That must be terrible for him.
"No," Greta said, just as quietly, "but listens when I do want to talk about what's happened to me, and he always makes me feel safe. Even if we weren't together I know he wouldn't stop looking for me if I disappeared. And he's so smart. They couldn't hide me from him forever." She paused. "Sometimes I'm afraid I'm too ... needy ... for him."
Dana shook her head. "I don't think so. Tim has a lot of problems too, sweetie." Greta nodded, frowning. Dana was surprised she agreed so quickly. Good for you. "I think, from what I've seen, you help him just as much as he helps you. Just in very different ways. You might not even realize you're doing it. And here's a secret: that's how real, adult relationships work. It's not always sunshine and roses. When someone's in love with you they'll accept you and all your little imperfections no questions asked, just as long as you do the same. My momma always told me real love wasn't much of a fairy tale, and you've really gotta work at it to keep it going, but it's the most amazing thing in the world, because two people in love are stronger and happier and more whole together than they ever could be by themselves. And my parents have been married almost thirty years, so I think she knew what she was talking about." She sighed. "I just wish you didn't have to go through so much, sweetie. You shouldn't have to live out of a suitcase and bounce around from place to place, or always look over your shoulder for someone who might be trying to hurt you. But I don't know what to do to help you."
Greta looked at her for a long few moments before speaking. "I don't want you to be sad for me. One day I will feel safe again by myself. I promise I won't let them beat me. I may not have my very own place, but as long as I've got my family, I've got a home." She grinned softly. "If I'm here or San Francisco or Gotham or Gateway, or wherever, it doesn't really matter so long as I've got you guys." Her grin widened. "And the scenery never gets boring."
Dana gulped down the lump in her throat, and was sure her eyes were moist they way they were stinging. Greta's vocabulary might not be as big as Tim's, but she didn't seem to misspeak. So long as I've got you guys. My family.
She didn't know her son's girlfriend very well yet, but it was painfully obvious she didn't trust just anyone. And she hadn't warmed up to Jack just because he was Tim's father, either. Dana wrapped her in a one-armed hug and grinned ear to ear when the small girl returned the gesture, but was determined not to make this into a Lifetime Movie Network moment if she could help it. She searched for something deep and meaningful to say, but she never could get around the lump in her throat.
"We'll make it, Dana," Greta whispered softly, the same steel edge in her voice Dana had heard when the girl had burst into a cloud of golden-brown vapor before her eyes. "I won't let Billy hurt any of you again."
Dana frowned, glad Greta wouldn't be able to see her. She wasn't sure that was a promise the young hero would be able to keep, as much as she might want to. But she needs to make it more than I need to hear it. "I just want you all to come home when it's over, sweetie. All of you."
"Me, too." Not the answer Dana was expecting, and it certainly wasn't what she wanted to hear, but she couldn't help smiling anyway. It was honest, and reminded her, whatever Jack thought to the contrary, they all knew what they were getting into, and that had to give them a better chance of making it out alive. And sometime in the last several hours, she realized, Greta wasn't the only one who had decided to adopt a new family member or two. She squeezed the girl just a little tighter, and closed her eyes, enjoying the companionable silence they had fallen into. It wouldn't last long. Not today.