Brendan put up with this little guy. He gets a gold star. I don't own.
Pow, Zap, Zowee
I climbed up and sat on top of the monkey bars. It wasn't a particularly fun place to sit, but other kids wouldn't follow me. I really didn't want to be around anyone because they were all dorks and stupid. From my belt, I pulled the book I was reading. It was pretty cool. It was all the escape tricks that this guy named Houdini did. Never know when you're gonna need some tips, you know?
It was kinda cold. Well, ok, it was kind of more than cold, it was February. I was wearing my uniform under my school clothes though. I was sure mom would like kill me or something because when you're at school, you're at school and you're not at work (ok, so I can quote the lecture), but it was warmer at recess. Grandpa called it being prepared.
I saw a line of kindergarteners come out of the building. I tried not to look. If I looked, then the brat would think that was an open invitation to bug me. I went back to reading my book. Glass coffins? Well, I could think of at least four things wrong with that. Mainly the part where the glass gave way and you were crushed to death, or running out of air. It was kind of weird to me that people did this stuff willingly, you know? Making up their own death traps and trying to escape.
"This, my friends, is a North American Geekwad." I hated that stupid Mickey kid, and I wanted to feed him his teeth most of the time. Too bad there was this big rule about 'self control'. It was highly overrated.
He was a sixth grader… again. I was in fifth grade, and somehow that meant that he got to pick on me like every day of my life. His stupid little friends were snickering and calling me names too. In my mind, Robin got to leap off the monkey bars and make all of them eat frozen dirt. In reality, I turned the page of my book and read about how the coffin collapsed. SEE? No one listens to me.
Fortunately, my own private torment party moved on. I kept reading my book. In my head I knew I had twenty five minutes left to this lousy recess period. I added up all the recess time I'd waste during my grade school career and subtracted it from the amount of time I'd actually spend in class, and established that I could have been out of this school two months ago. Socializing was overrated. A lot of stuff was overrated.
Behind me, I heard a few cheers. Wouldn't it be cool if a big hole opened up in the ground, and it swallowed Micky into it?
"Look at the mama's boy! Wif his widdle wisp!"
"Hey, Grayson! This puke belong to you?"
I turned around. Aww man. Couldn't that twip stay out of trouble? And he was playing with his stupid electronic dog. No wonder he was about to be picked on. The only thing that bugged me really bad was that this was going to reflect on me. I was already a geek-wad. Did I need a brother who was a mamma's boy too?
"Never seen him before in my life."
Maybe if they picked on him for talking funny, he'd talk right.
"Oops. I broke yer little doggie," Micky said smartly. That's ok, that stupid thing made all kinds of noise and basically annoyed the crap out of me.
He started crying. Stupid baby.
"Oops, I broke yer nose," Mickey mocked.
Before I could think better, I shoved the book between the small of my back and my jeans and leapt off the monkey bars and flew at Mickey. When he was on the ground, I turned to the others. "Try me, pukes."
They had the decency to take a step back. I took the opportunity to look at my brother. There was blood coming out of his nose, and he looked mad at me.
"I had it!" he said, wiping the blood away.
"You didn't have ANYTHING," I told him.
He picked up the pieces of his dog. "I hate you."
Micky lifted his head off the frozen grass. With my sneaker-clad foot I pushed his face back on the ground. Of course, this was just in time for teachers to rush up. "Mara Grayson!" one of them exclaimed. It was my stupid art teacher who had recess duty like every day.
"He hit my brother!" I yelled.
"Nuh uh! She punched him, then she tackled me…"
"You get off that boy this minute!"
I scowled and reached for his wrist before anyone could stop me. I pointed to the red smears on his knuckles. "See that? That's blood. It didn't get there from wishful thinking." I thrust his hand back down on the ground and took a step back. "Stupid puke," I muttered under my breath.
"In Mr. Muller's office. We'll sort this out there." She turned to some other teacher whose name I didn't know. Anyways, he was tall and not even older than Timmy. "Take Jimmy to the nurse's office. I'll handle these two."
Two? Mickey's gang numbered six… I looked behind me. It figured the little creeps would all take off.
Mickey was in Mr. Muller's office. Jimmy and I were sitting on a bench outside. Jimmy was swinging his back and forth while he held an ice pack on his nose. "Mara's gonna be in trouble… Dad's gonta kick yer butt."
I scowled at him. "You want me to punch you too?"
"You'll be grounded forebber and ebber."
"Ingrate. Next time I'll let you get murderized."
"Then dad'll kick yer butt too."
"You two," the secretary said. "Quiet down."
I sighed. "Twip."
I did what we do—I tried to save him, and he didn't like it. But he was right, if I'd have let him get pulverized, I'd have been murdered too. I wanted to call Timmy and talk to him. He'd understand. He always said 'no good deed will go unpunished.' And I didn't know what that meant, until now.
The door to the principal's office opened and his royal baldness stood in the doorway. "Ms. Grayson. Would you like to come in here?"
"No, but I will," I muttered. Whoops. I had to work on that. Robin was allowed to talk like that. Mara wasn't. Mara had to be nice all the time. Nice until your face hurts kind of nice. Alfred said to think of it as the world's longest acting gig. If Mara wasn't good to the point of blending into the wood work, I wouldn't have a secret identity, I'd been told over and over. I just thought that it meant that Robin was more real than Mara. And she had better hair, too.
Dragging myself in, I sat in the chair he pulled out.
"Mr. Simms had some interesting things to say about you."
Mr. Simms can bite me, I wanted to say. "Well, he punched my brother," I said. "There's blood on his hand, not mine." I held up both of my hands and showed him that they weren't red or bruised. Of course, simple things like cause and effect, and simple deduction were lost on most people. Whoever cried the most was found to be the victim.
"Would you like to tell me what happened?" he asked, trying to buddy up to me, like he was my best friend or something.
"He was picking on me, and I didn't do nothing. Anything. Whatever. And then he was picking on my brother, and I didn't do anything. And he broke my brother's toy, and I didn't do anything cause I hate that thing anyways. But he made my brother bleed." That was MY job.
"He has bruises on his back where you tackled him to the ground."
I coulda punched him in the head, but then I'd be in MORE trouble. "He probably SHOULD have bruises. I hit him hard."
"If you know you hit him hard, young lady, then you shouldn't have hit him that hard."
I sighed and stared down at my sneakers. "Sorry. I got excited."
"And another thing. When he was already down on the ground, you didn't need to step on his head."
I jumped to my feet. "I didn't step on his head! I used my foot to hold his head down!" And it was better what I WANTED to do, which was knock him unconscious. I was good at that. Nice shot to the side of the head…
"Ms. Grayson, I think we need to discuss these violent tendencies. I understand that your father is a police detective. Maybe he's taught you how to defend yourself, and wanting to defend your brother is a noble cause. Still, we do not allow for overly aggressive students here at Peabody Grade School." Aww, geeze! I was going to be suspended!
"He punched my brother! I just knocked him down and held him there." It was called subduing the perp.
"I've already discussed his problems with him, and I will be discussing them with his parents. I think you and I need to talk about your own difficulties right now." He folded his hands and leaned forward across his desk. "We can talk about anything, you know."
My whole face tensed as I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. "Look, I don't like my brother. But that creep can't go around punching him in the face. That's all."
"You should have told a teacher. That would save you a lot of trouble."
"The nearest teacher was fifty yards away," I grumbled. "Mickey woulda taken his head off by then. He's stupid, and I hate him, but he's my brother, and that's the end of it." Ok, so I wasn't real good at ending arguments like my dad. But that was close.
He smiled, somehow amused. "Fifty yards?"
"It's fifty yards from the monkey bars to the front of the school. And all the teachers do is stand under the awning with their arms folded, gossiping. Didja know that Mr. Groper the janitor is 'doing the nasty' with the guy art teacher? Anyways. It's ten yards from the monkey bars to where Mickey was beating the crap outta my brother. That's sixty yards." For heavens sakes. "And that's too far to run and run back."
"I take it you don't like that. Also, listening in on adult conversations isn't polite." Glad he didn't know I had the teacher's lounge bugged. Cassandra taught me that.
At least he was cutting the crap with me. "Well, what was a kindergartener doing all the way over there, you know? All the way away from his class?"
"You feel inadequately supervised?"
"You said it, not me," I said smugly. I wanted to learn how to talk people into things the way my mother did. I was learning.
The secretary, Bobbie whatever her name was with the big blond hair stuck her head in the door. "Mr. Muller? Mr. Grayson is here."
Aww, crap. Now comes the part where I get ground into the carpet. I was going to be flying with Nightwing for a month. I HATED Bludhaven.
Dad came in and sat next to me. He didn't even look at me. He just shook the principal's hand and stayed all game-face. Great. It was WORSE than being in trouble with Nightwing. I was in trouble with Detective-dad. I'd be doubly dead that he'd had to come here from work. Why couldn't MOM have come and saved me?
"I think Mrs. Blackmore explained the situation over the phone."
My father nodded.
"And she also relayed my recommendations?"
For the first time my father looked at me. "You won't get any complaint from me."
"Hey!" I chirped up. "What recommendation! What's going on?" I hated how adults talked and didn't tell you anything until they did it to you. It was dumb.
"Well, young lady, first of all, settle down. You're a good kid, under most circumstances," Mr. Muller said. "But we don't allow violence at this school in ANY situation. Therefore, you and your friend Mr. Simms are going to have a one day in-school suspension. After that, you will both be eating lunch and spending recess in my office."
I slumped in my chair. That was pretty awful. That was even more horrible than the training protocols my Bat was gonna put me through for this. That eventually helped you. This wouldn't help. All it would do was drive me insane. And thanks dad, for feeding me to the wolves.
"Can you leave us alone for a moment?" Mr. Muller asked me.
I shrugged. I knew when that was an order and not a request. Rising to my feet, I walked past my dad. Now was the part where it REALLY got yucky. They were kicking me out so they could talk about me. As I passed, I felt my dad's hand on my back. He handed me my book. "Get this out of your pants," he ordered. Clutching the paper back to my chest, I ducked out into the hall between the main office and the principal's office. Jimmy was still sitting on the chair, swinging his legs. Simple minds, simple things.
"How's your nose, twerp?"
"Probably broken," he told me.
"Hypochondriac," I muttered, pulling the ice pack away from his nose. It was all swollen and black and blue. And kind of crooked. "Ouch. It IS broken." I grinned evilly. "You know how they're going to fix it, don't you?"
"First they have to rebreak it, so they can set it. And when they ask who wants to punch you in the face again, I'm going to volunteer."
"You can't do that! I'll tell dad…"
"Bwahahaha," I cackled quietly.
I shoved my fist into the punching bag. "Crap a monkey!" I screamed in frustration. My voice echoed in the cave, and scared a few of the bats. Dad had actually upheld that dork's punishment! And then, on the drive home, he'd given me the lecture about how I had to behave myself!
"Mara!" Grandpa didn't even look up from the computer. I hated how he did that. Just sort of set you off doing training protocols until you were blue in the face, and he'd just sort of… unsupervised you.
"Well, I mean it!"
"Polite people don't use that kind of language," he reminded me.
I finally finished this module, so I threw a towel over my face and sat down. "Uncle Roy says it!"
"My point exactly!"
Throwing the towel down on the floor, I marched over to the computer. It was that stupid Penguin guy. I wished I could use HIM as a punching bag. He'd knocked my teeth out! "When do I get to beat HIM up?" I grumbled.
"If you don't start watching your mouth, NEVER."
"Can you believe it!" I yelped. "I have to eat lunch with that little puke until the end of the semester! EVERY DAY! Stupidness! Too bad there ain't some Houdini trick to get outta THAT! And then the twip is all like 'I hate you' because I kept him from getting ground into dust!" I folded my arms over my chest and started fidgeting.
He grabbed my head on top to make me stop. "Think of it as a lesson," he said, leaving his hand right where it was. "The first part of the lesson being: no good deed goes unpunished. The second being learning self-restraint in situations that could compromise a double identity."
I sighed and my shoulders slumped. "Doesn't it suck to always be right?"
"What did I say about language?" he asked me. "I think we need to run some more training modules."
A tiny moan escaped me as I began dragging myself back over to the gym. Of course, the modules he picked were the hard ones, but in a way, it kind of didn't bug me. Like I said before, it was all good for you and stuff. I was just bugged that he decided that it was a good punishment, cause that meant he wasn't happy with me.
"So…" I said, dragging my now tried behind back over to the computer. "Can we go kick some butts now?"
"Are you going to behave?"
I didn't give him a real answer, I just went and sat in the car. He could come with me, or… um… I didn't know. I really thought nine year olds should be allowed to drive. I was responsible. No one else really saw it that way, but I was. Mom thought I needed to learn how to solve problems without knocking people down or out. Dad thought I needed to learn how to hit without leaving bruises and grandpa just thought I had a foul mouth.
Personally, I blamed Uncle Roy for broadening my language horizons. I mean… once you learned all those good expletives (that's what Alfred called him, expletives), could you really go back to not having good words to say?
Grandpa kept me waiting, but eventually he came. "So. What're we doing tonight, boss?"
We sped off down the tunnel and out the back road away from the cave. I wanted to drive this car so bad. "When I'm ten, can I drive the car?"
"I'll be big enough to see over the steering wheel."
"What about when I'm twelve?"
"When I'm twelve," I asked, pulling my knees under my cape and hugging them to my chest, "can I have my own car?"
I took a deep breath and let it out. There was no fun in my life. No beating up guys who deserved it, no driving… "So. What can I do when I'm ten?"
"The same things you do now."
I sighed again and looked out the window. "I know what I'm going to do when I'm ten," I told him. I started laughing. It was hard to keep it inside. "I'm gonna do it when I get home!"
"You don't even know what I'm going to do!"
"It involves torture, and your brother."
"You obviously need more training modules."
I rolled my eyes behind my mask. Somehow, though, he always knew when I was rolling my eyes. "See, you DON'T know everything. I wasn't going to torture him. I was gonna… mail him somewhere."
"I was going to poke holes in the box!" I folded my arms over my chest indignantly.
"We're going to forty-ninth street. The Penguin has a warehouse there. We're going to go in, get the information that we need, and leave."
Back to business. Sometimes he let me play with him longer, but I guessed he wasn't in the mood or something. One night, he told me 'no' fifteen times when I wanted to replace all the yellow in my costume with purple. "So, what information are we getting?"
He explained about the Penguin's new business, which was trafficking prescription drugs. Of course, that was just the word. Actually tying him to it was tricky. I hated that guy. I guess that's why we were going in—because we wanted to hang him up by his slimy little flippers.
"Can I punch him in the mouth? If he's there?"
"He isn't going to be there, Robin."
"Why don't you tell me?"
I bit my cheek, thinking about it. "Cause he doesn't want to be connected to record keeping for all the bad stuff he does."
"So. When we find him, can I punch him?"
"IF you can subdue him without leaving any bruises."
"Can I leave a bruise when I punch him?"
A lot of times, grandpa just didn't answer me. This was on of those times.
I climbed on top of the filing cabinet and pulled opened the top drawer. Obviously when they built these things four drawers high they never anticipated short people ever having to use them. "You wanna know what the worst part is?" I said outta no where.
"Robin, be quiet."
"The worst part is that the little twip looked me right in the eye and said he hated me." I pulled out one manila folder and leafed through the contents. They were some really weird grocery receipts. "Hehe. The Penguin really IS a douche-bag," I said, pulling out one receipt in particular.
"Robin, put that back. That isn't what we're looking for and you know it," he quipped, after glancing over it quickly. "And he's FIVE. He doesn't mean it."
"He's STUPID is what he is. Next time—I let him get pulverized. You know that Mickey guy broke a kid's arm last year?"
"I think this is what we need." He showed me the reports. This was the information on the people who went to the doctors, got the stuff prescribed, then gave it over to the Penguin's guys for… redistribution. It'd be kind of Robin Hood, if it weren't giving to the already rich.
When we were back in the car, he had me fax the names to mom while he drove. Which was cool, I needed something to do on these boring drives.
"I'm looking for addresses, though I know they may be impossible to find."
"You don't know the half of it. Half these people have two social security numbers. One for benefits, one for insurance purposes."
It got kind of quiet while mom worked and grandpa drove. "Hey mom!" I blurted out. "Guess what?"
Batman glared at me. He was trying to say 'don't go there.' But I was dedicated.
"The Penguin's a douche-bag, and I found proof!" I started laughing loudly.
"Bruce! Smack her!"
Fortunately, he didn't smack me. He just grabbed on to my leg and held it firmly until I stopped laughing. I bit my cheeks to keep it from spilling out.
"No! For real, mom! I found a receipt for seventeen douches!" Timmy would get it. He'd think it was funny. "What do you think it 'means'," I asked in mock seriousness.
"It means you have been hanging around the wrong people," my Bat told me.
"He's right, kid. You gotta clean up that mouth of yours. In light of current events, one'd think you'd behave yourself."
I hugged my knees and watched the light posts fly by. "Aww, geeze. I'm nine. That's swearing age. And I don't even say swears, usually. I say other stuff, and that gets everyone all mad."
"A dirty mouth isn't just limited to swear words," my mother informed me. "You have to worry about all the other things you say, too." I wasn't winning no how. Not about the twip, not about my mouth, not about anything. "They hear you saying those words in school, they're going to know you're a little butt-kicker. First of all, it reflects badly on your parentage. Second of all, it's lousy on the secret identity."
See, that was the really crappy part. You'd think I could like get away from lectures and my mom when I was in Gotham. It was sixty-three miles, door to door, and she still could lecture me. Even when I was in the Car, with Grandpa, working. And she couldn't do it in my ear piece. She had to do it from the speaker in the dash, so my partner knew I was getting lectured. "I'll behave," I muttered contritely. "No knocking down guys and no bad mouth." Crap a monkey! Dang grownups ALWAYS won.
"How's Jimmy's nose," grandpa asked. That was like him having a whole conversation, if he even asked how someone was doing.
"Deviated septum. We're pushing to get the other kid expelled. There's NO reason for a sixth grader—who should be a seventh grader—to be beating on a kindergartner."
"Hey! No! Wait! If he gets expelled, I'm going to get beat up!"
"If he's not there, he can't beat you up, Mara," my mother replied with frustrated logic.
"No, but he's got five other guys to do the beating for him. And if I ain't allowed to wallop them, I'm going to get it good!"
"Dodge and run," my partner told me.
"That tactic is in this season," my mother said with approval.
I smacked my forehead. "See, that's how I know you're both old. Maybe that worked when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but if I do that, then I'm a sissy, and I get it WORSE."
"Mara, if they give you any trouble, tell us. Your father will be up that school so fast…"
I pulled my cape up over my head. It was beyond humiliation. I could take them saying stuff about me. Most kids got picked on for something. But being their punching bag was humiliating—especially when you can take ALL of them out. And then to add to the humiliation, my daddy was going to go up and make a big deal. "Can I start home schooling?" I muttered from under my Kevlar.
"Robin," my partner said sternly. "What is the right thing to do?"
Oh man, I hated these quizzes. "Aww… I know. Protect the innocent. Get Mickey outta school so he can't go walloping little kids." I bobbed my head up and down under my cape. "Cause I can roll with a punch, but if he hits some little kid in the face and breaks his nose, he can push it up into his brain and kill him." Which didn't make me feel better because I was still going to die from abject humiliation.
"That's right," my mother said. "And Robin," she added. "Take your cape off of your head. It's difficult to understand what you're saying." She sounded sooo smug.
I tossed it off of my head. "I'm gonna hide under the seat or something," I grumbled.
"Robin, sit up," my partner told me.
I sighed and did as he asked.
"With your feet touching the floor." I pulled my arms off my legs and put them down.
The flying was especially good that night, even though it was nasty-cold. I appreciated it extra because dad could have grounded me into the twenty-second century. None of our leads on finding real hard proof of the Penguin's bad deeds.
I was kind of mad. I really didn't LIKE the Penguin. In fact, I kind of hated him. The tooth fairy and I had a bone to pick. "Can we go punch his lights out anyways?" I asked frustratedly.
"No," my Bat said, landing on top of the police building. I dropped down beside him. I was supposed to stay quiet and stay out of the way during these little pow-wow meetings on the roof. "I'd like a confession we can actually use."
"I'd like to just punch him in the mouth."
"Robin, stay here, and keep your mouth shut."
I rolled my eyes, but obeyed. See, I was the good partner. I could do what I was told.
"And no rolling your eyes."
Arugg. He had eyes in the back of his head. I folded my arms over my chest under my cape. I wanted to wave to Grampy and say hi, but I wasn't allowed. I was just allowed to stand here. I could keep to myself and not go blabbing that James Gordon was my grandpa when I was in costume, but like no one believed me or they just wanted to leave me out of all of the adult conversations, or something. I didn't know. Adults were so weird. When I grew up, I was going to be just like Uncle Roy. I'd be cool, and fun, and I'd say bad words sometimes. I wouldn't be all gerrr all the time.
I practiced holding my breath and counting, trying to keep myself from fidgeting. He hated when I did that. When I filled my lungs up with air again, I noticed they were both looking at me. Doing something I wasn't supposed to do, I grinned from ear to ear.
Grampy Jim shook his head. Yup, they were talking about me. Maybe… like, I could call him when I got home. He'd probably say it was bad to tackle guys too. Or, like Aunt Dinah, he'd say I needed 'conflict resolution skills'. Pow, zap, zowee, that was MY conflict resolution! It was a bummer the rest of the world didn't operate on that ideal.
My Bat came back over to me. "Have fun talking about me behind my back?" I asked smartly.
"Actually, you were facing us…"
"Aww man, see you hang around Oracle too much." Mom did that. She knew what you meant, but she'd twist it around. "So. What'd he have to say?" See, I could make this 'just business' too.
"That you're awfully violent for a fifth grader."
I grinned. "And I'll thank him next time I talk to him. What about the Penguin?"
"The guy who rolled over on the Penguin took back his confession."
"This is why we should punch him in the mouth."
"You and I need to have a little talk…" he shot off a line. I followed, wondering what he could possibly say.
The next morning was Saturday morning, so that meant cartoons. I sat next to Timmy on the couch, and Jimmy sat on the floor. His face was all purple and it looked kinda cool like that.
"You gonna keep me in suspense?" Tim asked. "Or are you going to tell me what Batman said?"
I rolled my eyes. "You wanna know what he said? He said that 'not all conflicts can be solved with violence' and there's a time and a place for everything, bla bla bla, and next time I had to find a way out of it that didn't involve jumping five feet down then launching myself at a twip who really does deserve a pounding." The last part was my personal interpretation, but that was it. "See, I shoulda let him get beat up."
"I coulda got it!" Jimmy yelped from the floor. "I'm not a sissy."
"You're a sissy," I told him. "AND a dork." He got up and ran away. He was probably going to wake dad up and tell dad how I picked on him and cry so I got in trouble. Mailing him to some foreign country really did sound like a good idea.
"Jimmy'll appreciate it in a few years," Tim said. "It was nice of you not to let him ground into the dirt."
"No one else thinks so," I grumbled, taking the remote out of his hand. You always had to have one show to watch while the show you were watching was in commercials. It was called optimizing cartoon watching efficiency. That's what Uncle Roy said.
"I'm sure they're glad you helped your brother. I think they just wish you would have done it differently."
"Well, we all don't get what we want."
Tim ripped the remote out of my hand and started flipping through channels. I hated everything he picked to watch during commercials. "Well, how's about for next time? Try thinking before you leap. And thinking before you beat someone up. Especially out of costume."
That sounded like a Bat-type lesson, and I could live with that.