Where Home Is
Chapter One: `Bouncing,' For Fun and Profit
Dick paid the pizza delivery man then pocketed the change. He took the oversized box and thanked the man, then closed the door against the cold night air. This was one of the reasons he'd never move to the `burbs--all night pizza delivery.
As he took the box into the living room, he inhaled the smell of sausage, sauce and pineapple. The things he was willing to do for the sake of bonding.
His daughter was sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, flipping through the channels.
"There was this weird guy, and he rang the door bell, and he ordered me to take this. Think it's a bomb?"
Mara rolled her eyes and stopped flipping through channels at the cartoon station.
He was batting a thousand tonight, really. "Alright. No more cheesy jokes to make you gag until you're done eating and you have something in your stomach to puke up." Sitting next to her on the carpet, he lifted the lid to the box. He lifted one slice out and handed it to her, then pushed the lid of the box closer to her for a plate. He loved his kid, but his carpet was not going to suffer for the sake of bonding time. "So tell me who these guys are. Who's the lady with the swords?"
"She's the blue guy's mom. And when she gets wet, she's a bad guy, and when she's dry, she's a good guy."
Dick nodded with understanding. "Is the blue guy a good guy or a bad guy?" He was so happy he'd given up cartoons. They'd gotten a lot more complicated in recent years. Whatever happened to Tasmanian devils and talking dogs? "Why's the blue guy pushing that man off a cliff!"
"Oh, that's the blue guy's evil twin brother..."
This show had better NOT be longer than half an hour. "I can see why you like it," Dick said convincingly. He was a good dad. He could bond with his kid.
* * *
Fortunately, the show WAS only half an hour long. Then fate followed that up with having three episodes back to back. About half way through the third one, Mara had finished the last piece of pizza, then curled up next to him on the floor. After the night's events, he wasn't sure if he could get away with it, but Dick pulled her into his lap anyway.
"Do you ever go to bed when you get home from patrol?" he asked as he kissed her head.
"Maybe," she said with a tired yawn. Her eyes closed, and he looked down at her dark eye lashes. Her hair was a very dark red, and her eyelashes were mostly black. They only reflected a little red in the light. Other than that, she had his coloring. She didn't have a freckle to her name, or her mother's perfect white skin. She WAS his. He didn't know why he'd said what he'd said about not being her father, but when he looked at her, he knew.
She was embarrassed by his brand of humor, but she said the same stupid things sometimes. She definitely had his appetite, he noticed as he pushed the empty pizza box away. Who'd have guessed twelve slices wouldn't be enough?
Things had gone well after they'd come home. He said he'd talk to Barbara about private school, and that prospect seemed to sate a lot of her energy. They'd talked about school, how she really didn't WANT an activity, but if she really HAD to, she'd join the chess club. He playfully poked at what was left of the burns on her face while she tried to swat his fingers away, and had proved that he was the best Robin, yet again. It was good actually laugh with her for a change.
Seeing that she was well and truly out, he picked her up and got to his feet. It was time for little Robins to be in bed, and former Robins to go drag their over-working wives away from the computer. Then they could eat breakfast together before Dick dragged himself off for the early shift.
Life was good, Dick realized. His son hadn't turned on his `people are eating while I'm asleep' radar, so they'd had the pizza all to themselves. He and Mara were getting back on a good footing. He'd just gotten a little hysterical there, that's all.
How in the world had Bruce worked with him as a kid? Especially with Bruce being so over-protective? The building had been on fire, and even though it wasn't a bad fire, and the sprinklers were putting it out, he'd panicked and tossed her out of the nearest window. Man, he was annoying. No wonder his kid thought he was a spaz.
As he approached the steps, the sleeping sidekick in his harms turned a little and rubbed her nose. "Don't take me home, Grandpa..."
Never mind, Dick thought. He was a spaz for legitimate reasons.
Ok, what did Bruce have that he didn't have? Besides The Car. He was nice. He watched her stupid cartoons. Bruce sure as heck didn't do that. He took her to work with him and showed her off, and Bruce wouldn't even let her into the office any more since she asked a German business man if she could play with his toupee. He was nice.
And that was the thing, wasn't it? He pondered this as he went up the steps. He was nice and Bruce was... BRUCE, and she liked that better, somehow. Maybe if he locked her in shackles while she slept and encased her in cement, she'd like him better.
With a sigh, he opened the door to her bedroom, contemplating what horrible things he could do to his kid to win her affection.
Just as he put her long, thin body onto the covers, the computer on her desk beeped and Oracle's floating representation appeared. "Mommy's scary head," as both of the kids had called the Oracle image as toddlers.
"I'm putting Small Fry to bed," Dick informed it.
"Get up here." That's all she said, then Oracle disappeared.
Dick quietly left the room, then rushed up stairs. He hoped whatever it was, he could be done with it in a few hours, or his wife was going to have to come up with a really good excuse why he wasn't on time. It was HER turn to think up something this time.
He opened the door and entered, not sure of what he'd find on the other side. "What's up?"
Barbara didn't even bother to turn around. He swore, he spent the better part of their marriage looking at the back of her head. The only reason he knew what she still looked like was because he'd get his loving wife's face instead of the Oracle head occasionally.
"Scarecrow's in Bludhaven. I didn't want to say anything down there otherwise I'd have the munchkin up here too, telling me `I'm not tired, mommy,' right before she passes out on the floor." Oracle called up some files on the most recent escape. "Apparently, he got out when they were putting Avatar away. Bruce is letting this be your call."
Dick rolled his eyes. "Because he knows I go to work in like three hours. Ok, lets get this show on the road." He had clothes stashed near the station. He could pull this off. "I want eggs and hash browns..." he called behind him as he went for the door.
Yanking it opened, he saw a fully-dressed Robin in front of him.
"Go ahead, say it," Barbara urged.
"Well, I'm NOT tired. Lets go." She did an about face and marched towards the stares that lead to the roof.
Dick stared at her for a moment, then followed. Somehow, Bruce had bottled his attitude, and Mara accidentally drank it instead of baby formula.
* * *
Dick found himself lagging behind her. He wondered if this was why Bruce had stuck behind him so much in his youth. There was a certain sense of wonder in watching her go. Regularly, she was a holy terror. But watching her flying through the air, she looked... well, like a little angel. There was a happy, care-free aspect that reminded him of her mother.
"Hey, hang back a little!" he called as they approached the third location they'd checked in fifteen minutes. God only knew what the Scarecrow wanted in Bludhaven. Besides to make sure that Nightwing got NO sleep tonight.
Hopefully this wasn't another Desmond-torture-Nightwing scheme.
For all he knew, Batman had said hey, why don't you go bug Bludhaven tonight.
Robin slowed in front of Nightwing, and they both came to stop on the roof the chemistry department of one of Bludhaven's public universities. They'd checked a chemical dealer and a pharmaceutical firm already.
The Scarecrow had escaped without his usual fanfare of fear toxins. This time, he'd simply... slipped away. That meant he needed to restock.
"Movement on the second floor," Robin said, pointing to the window across from their location.
"I go in. You stay here." He swore at himself for being over protective, but decided to get off the roof before she could protest.
"Ok," she said in cheerful compliance.
Dick almost fell on his ass as he prepared to step off the roof. Don't say anything... don't say anything...
"I'll watch your back," she explained. "They come out, I bounce `em."
He breathed a sigh of relief as he jumped. She enjoyed landing on people far too much. Then another thought struck him--was she necessarily safer outside? He had a certain respect suddenly for Bruce putting up with him as a child.
* * *
About ten minutes later, it got noisy in the chemistry department. Robin used the magnification lenses in her mask to try and get a better view, but there wasn't much to see. There was a row of windows on the second floor that were mostly frosted over from the chilly winter night, and beyond dark shapes moving against the red glow of exit signs, there wasn't much to see.
"Oracle?" Robin asked finally. There were three big figures entering the room she was sure her father was in. They looked like they had some pretty big guns. Rifles of all things.
"What?" came a voice in her ear. Mom sounded awfully tired and grumpy.
"Can we have the flat sausage for breakfast? Not the round ones?" She couldn't hear the glass windows shattering above the gunfire. She heard the dieing away of the echoes of the gunfire and the glass hitting the ground.
Patience would probably be the death of her.
"If you two get out of whatever you're in alive, you can have whatever you want for breakfast."
Robin grinned. They were going to get out alive. They always did. That meant flat sausage. "And pancakes. And French toast."
"One or the other."
"You said I could have whatever I wanted." Would someone PLEASE come out of the building so she could kick his butt?
There were a few more crashes. In the darkness, she saw black and blue flying at the three oversized men. There was a sudden silence, and then a siren could be heard in the distance. If they were coming out, it was going to be soon.
"Get through the night and we'll negotiate." The line went dead.
She perched herself on the edge of the building, careful to keep out of sight. Waiting, she prodded the remaining blister on her cheek. She could feel one of them coming, almost. Down the front flight of steps, hitting the landing, taking the second half of the flight... Two cars, probably one campus police and one local police were a block away.
She was ready. She'd been trained by the best. It wasn't arrogant to know that she could handle whatever was coming her way.
As she jumped, she hit the communications device on her belt. "Pancakes, French toast, and waffles!" She declared as she hit the figure that exited the building.
Robin's boots landed on his shoulders, and the thin, wiry frame of Jonathan Crane smashed into the pavement. The grin on Robin's face fell very quickly when the thud of Crane's body was followed by the crunching of glass between said-body and cement.
"Bad tactic!" she called out to Oracle, hoping her mom was still on the other line.
* * *
Nightwing finally dropped the last thick-necked thug. His body fell on top of the black lab table and pushed it three feet, then came to a halt. Crane had gotten out of the supply room with God only knew what, but he wasn't worried--he had backup for a change.
"Umm... Dick?" Oracle said tentatively in his ear as he was trussing the man up.
"Huh?" the man was MORE than a load. Fortunately, the police were coming. He could hear them pulling up on the other side of the building. Wrong entrance, dummies!
"You might wanna check on Robin. Her channel just went dead."
Pushing the heavy body away from him, he rushed to the stairs. He took the flight in two jumps. Landing, he saw a heap of human on the ground in front of him, just beyond the opened double doors of the school. Beneath Robin's black, unfurled cape laid Scarecrow's masked head. Crossing the threshold, he held his breath, seeing the remainders of the noxious fumes rising off their bodies.
Checking both of their vitals, he realized that Crane was well and truly out. So was Robin. He scraped her up into his arms like a sleeping toddler, and took to the roof as quickly as possible. The sounds of the sirens were finally coming around to the right side of the building.
"Oracle, call Doc Leslie. Have her meet us at our house." One night alone with Robin, and he's getting her overdosed on fear gas. It took a gift to be as lousy of a father as he was. "She's unconscious, but she appears to be ok," he said in answer to her unspoken question. "She broke all of his vials of fear gas."
"Shit," Barbara breathed in his ear. "She doesn't do anything half-assed, does she?" She cut off the line for a moment, and Nightwing hauled ass across the roof with his bundle. "She's on her way. Remind me why we do this again."
She didn't even stir in his arms. Under normal circumstances, she or anyone else would be having massive hallucinations right now. It worried him that she was well and truly unconscious. He didn't know what it meant, or what would happen next.
"Test in just how much I can endure before she gives me a heart attack," Dick said breathlessly as he landed on top of his muscle car. He didn't know if it was the pizza or the situation that was causing bile to rise up in his throat with stinging, sickening ferocity.
Continued in part 2