Young Justice -:- Hooked
I know that it's the final chapter, but I've finally decided on the setting of this fic within the canon timeline – The fic starts right at the end of Schooled, meaning that Robin hasn't actually met Artemis as she is introduced in Infiltrator which takes place while he was recovering, along with Denial. This chapter starts at the beginning of Downtime, and refers to events in the comic (Training Day) that are adjusted so that Artemis joined the team in facing Clayface instead of Robin.
According to the time stamps that means this fic happened between August 5th and August 27th, but that's not exactly a viable recovery time, so I'm stretching the timeline so that there is two months between Schooled and Downtime. Just in case anyone was wondering lol.
Anyway, super thanks to my wonderful, awesome, magnificent reviewers! Enjoy this final slice of story goodness – this time with an extra helping of the team (for real this time) and some bonus Dick/Wally brotherly bonding!
Chapter Seven -:- Questions
Batman glared at the costumed teenagers assembled before him, internally smirking as they tried very hard not to squirm. Superboy seemed largely immune, but Miss Martian and Kid Flash were both trying in vain to look at anything other than the Dark Knight. The new girl, Artemis, was doing her best to glare back at him, but Batman noticed the nervous shuffle of her feet and the twitch of her left eye.
Finally, Batman settled his gaze on Aqualad who, to his credit, barely flinched. "Report."
"It was my fault," Aqualad admitted immediately. "It was my decision to split up the team, despite your orders to stick together when confronting Clayface. I believed that it would have expedited things by covering more ground, but I underestimated Clayface's shape shifting abilities."
That was a slight understatement, Batman lamented silently, allowing his glare to do the talking. After Clayface had been delivered to the Wayne Foundation, courtesy of the Al Ghuls', Batman had taken a sample to study to find a way of taking down the creature. All the team had to do was track it until he had a solution. By the time he had arrived however, the whole team was down. A few minutes later and there may not have been a team left at all…
"I take full responsibility," Aqualad added, when Batman didn't immediately reply. They were both well aware of what was distracting the normally clear-headed Atlantean, but now was not the time to discuss it.
Batman gave Aqualad a look that said 'we'll talk about this later', and then returned his attention to the whole team. "Dismissed."
Miss Martian was instantly in the air and flying off as if she couldn't get away fast enough, followed swiftly by the others. Kid Flash, however, seemed to be dragging his feet – unusual for a speedster, to say the least. He had only just reached the door as Black Canary stepped up beside Batman and threw him a sideways look. "Inviting the team to Gotham was a bold move."
"Necessary," Batman replied shortly, waiting for the door to close behind the retreating teens.
"Because you did not have your usual back-up?" Black Canary asked leadingly. Batman turned his glare on her, but the leather clad blonde easily ignored him. "Perhaps if Robin was with the team he could have kept them on task while Aqualad is… distracted."
Batman pointedly glanced at the door, warning his fellow Leaguer of the high possibility of eavesdropping Kryptonian ears. Black Canary nodded in acknowledgement, but didn't change the subject. "When can we expect him back? The team are beginning to ask questions – Kid Flash in particular."
Batman didn't reply, instead purposely turning away and activating the holo-computer as a distraction. He could feel Black Canary studying him curiously, reading the answer in his body language and silence. Sometimes he really hated having a shrink for a teammate.
"You didn't," she gasped suddenly, closing the distance between them so that she could study what was visible of his face behind the cowl. Her voice dropped to a barely audible whisper. "You did, didn't you? You fired him!"
That phrasing was a little harsh, as far as Batman was concerned. Robin had simply gone into early retirement. For some reason, that sounded better. "It's for the best," he repeated for the millionth time, like a mantra. Perhaps if he said it often enough, he could convince everyone else that it was true.
"Are you sure about that?" Black Canary asked. Not many people were bold enough to question the Bat, but when they did, it usually meant that they felt strongly enough about the issue to risk his wrath. Batman met her stern blue eyes, genuinely curious as to why she disagreed. "You must know that even before the… before the incident… that he was feeling insecure about his role on the team. By taking Robin away from him all you've done is confirm his doubts!"
"That is not why I did it," Batman replied. "I did it to protect him. To keep anything like that from ever happening again."
"Does he know that?" Black Canary questioned.
"I explained my reasoning to him."
"Yes, but did he believe you?" Black Canary let the question hang for a moment, allowing Batman to work through the possible consequences. If Dick truly believed that Batman had retired him as Robin because he was inadequate, it could explain why he had been acting so down of late. He was already feeling helpless due to his injuries – add the fact that he wasn't good enough to be Robin on top, and it was no wonder that the boy was depressed.
If that was, in fact, what had happened. Bruce had apologised, somewhat awkwardly, for his poor timing for breaking the news, but it had done very little to mend the fences of their relationship. If there was a more deep seated issue behind Dick's reluctance to talk to him…
"He did believe me," Batman insisted. "He even agreed with the decision."
Black Canary pursed her lips, concern etched into her features. "He agreed with you? That firing Robin was a good thing?"
Batman nodded. Why did that fact seem to worry her so much? It just proved that Dick was being pragmatic. He had been severely injured, and had been having doubts about his role anyway, it made sense to pull him out of the life before anything worse could happen.
"You need to talk to him," Black Canary suggested forcefully. "I mean really talk to him. And listen to what he has to say. Firing Robin is what's best for you – it gives you peace of mind knowing that he's home safe. But what is really best for Robin?"
Black Canary held his gaze for a moment, making sure that that question really sunk in, before she headed for the zeta tubes and vanished in a flash of light. Batman stood there for a moment, considering the possibilities.
What was best for Robin?
Dick stared at the cell phone in his hand, internally debating with himself.
He had only just found the device, having been purposely ignoring it while he recovered and, admittedly, moped around. He hadn't wanted to know about the outside world, or deal with the questions that people from both sides of his life would inevitably ask. Barbara would want to know why he wasn't returning her calls (Alfred had told her that Dick had a severe case of the flu). Wally would demand to know why Robin wasn't at the cave
(And that was a question he really didn't want to answer).
But maybe he had put it off for too long. He needed someone to talk to, he really did – maybe it would help him to figure out what it was that he actually wanted. But Bruce would probably be mad if Dick broke protocol and rang Wally – especially as now he wasn't technically Robin anymore. If he called Babs, he couldn't really explain without revealing his old secret ID…
Oh, screw it. Dick thought to himself as he turned on the phone. He loved Alfred to pieces, but he needed someone his own age to talk to, someone who could understand what it was like to have another life.
As the phone bleeped into consciousness, dozens of notifications popped up (almost crashing the smart phone…) informing Dick that he had missed over a hundred calls the past two months, most of them from Wally, along with a landslide of text messages that he had ignored in his inbox. Dick cringed, feeling guilty about leaving his friends out of the loop and worrying about him – he'd have to take Wally out for an all-you-can-eat buffet as recompense.
You know, if he was ever allowed to see Wally again.
Dick pushed that horrifying thought to the back of his mind and hit the speed dial. It didn't even get to the end of the first ring before Wally picked up.
"Where the hell have you been!?" was the immediate greeting. Dick flinched away from the phone at the volume, but had to admit that it was good to hear Wally's voice – even if it was several decibels too loud. "Are you alright? Why haven't you been returning my calls? Are you grounded? When are you coming back? What happened? When…?"
"Er, KF," Dick interrupted. "You kind of have to stop asking questions if you want me to answer them."
"Oh, right. Sorry," Wally apologised. "Let's start with 'Where the hell have you been?'"
"Home," Dick replied succinctly.
"Are you alright?"
"Why haven't you been returning my calls?"
"Bad reception in the cave."
"Are you grounded?"
"When are you coming back?"
"I'll get back to you on that one."
"Those weren't very good answers," Wally complained morosely. Though he was kind of used to Robin being vague, especially with the whole secret ID thing. "This last one you've got to answer properly, alright? What happened?"
Dick sighed, trying to figure out what he could actually say without giving too much away. Not for the first time, he wished that he could just tell Wally everything. He was his best friend after all – if he couldn't trust Wally, who could he trust? "A mission went south. Way south. I've kind of been out of commission for a while."
"Are you alright?" Wally asked again, his worry evident in his tone. Judging by the sounds in the background, he was making sandwiches – lots of them. Wally tended to eat when he was anxious. Speedster metabolism. "I want a truthful answer this time."
A truthful answer. Wow, that was hard. "Um… I'm fine," Dick hesitated. It wasn't a complete lie – he was a heck of a lot better than he had been. Most of the bandages were gone now (though his shoulder was still meant to be in a sling) and physically, he was pretty much healed. "A few cuts and bruises, a few cracked ribs…" a broken femur (among other bones), ruptured spleen, pulmonary contusion, severe head trauma… "Oh, and I dislocated a couple of fingers."
"Right…" Wally did not sound convinced. He knew Robin well enough to know that the minor injuries that he had described would not have kept him away for two months. "When are you coming back?"
"I'm… not." Dick decided to answer truthfully.
Wally choked on his sandwich. "What?!"
Dick winced, and quickly decided that maybe he wasn't really ready to talk about that huge issue just yet. "So, how's the team? Been on any cool missions lately?"
"Are you trying to change the subject?" Wally asked accusingly.
Wally harrumphed loudly. "Fine, but you're not off the hook."
That was a poor choice of words.
"We were in Gotham the other day," Wally began, and Dick inwardly sighed in relief, thankful that his best friend didn't decide to push the issue. "Batman told us to track Clayface, who naturally decided that the sewers would be a good place to hang out – the girls are still complaining about the smell being on them. We got our butts handed to us, but then Batman showed up and tasered the thing and all was right with the world."
"Sounds about right," Dick muttered bitterly. "How's the new girl?"
"Artemis?"Wally asked. "She's a pain in the ass. Roy came to the cave the day she got introduced and it was totally awkward and now he really won't ever join the team which sucks majorly. She's always arguing with me and flirting with Supey, and she gave me orders even though she's like less than a rookie and I'm pretty sure that she let Cheshire get away… Oh, and she totally ruined my chances with M'gann and well… she's a pain in the ass."
"So, you like her then?"
"What? No! What part of that whole spiel about her terribleness gives you the insane idea that I like her? Really?" Wally immediately leapt on the defensive, unintentionally confirming Dick's suspicions, making the younger teen grin broadly. "But anyway, why don't we go back to that huge thing that you're avoiding?"
The grin vanished from Dick's face.
"What do you mean, you're not coming back?" Wally pressed. "Are you quitting the team?"
"Erm… it's a little bigger than that…" Dick sighed heavily. He guessed that it was just time to bite the bullet and admit it already. "I'm not Robin anymore."
"Huh?" Wally asked, clearly confused. "Who are you then?"
"I…" Dick started, and then bit his tongue. Even if he wasn't Robin, he still couldn't just go blabbing his real name because then it could compromise Bruce's ID as well. So what? Was he just supposed to come up with a fake name if he ever wanted to talk to the team again? Was he just going to swap Robin for a new civilian ID? Or was that part of his life completely over now?
Was this the last time he would ever get to speak to his best friend?
"I have no idea."
There came a silence over the line as Wally mulled things over. "Okay, let's back up a second. What happened that was so bad that you can't be Robin anymore?"
Well, that was a long story. Dick decided to go with the cliff notes version. "Arkham breakout. Run in with the Joker. Two days later I'm in critical condition. I woke up; Bats gave me my pink slip."
Another pause. Wally was putting the pieces together and realising that they didn't fit. He may not have a clue when he's falling for a girl, but he was damn good at knowing when Dick was avoiding something. And he was even better at wheedling it out of the ex-Boy Wonder. "I don't mean to sound callous, but you've been hurt before. What's so different about this time that would make Batman fire you?"
"It was really bad, Wally," Dick begrudgingly admitted, and then chewed his lip. Wally waited patiently for him to get to the point, the sound of his munching on sandwiches the only thing that could be heard. "And… and I may have been…" Dick sighed in frustration. "I was wondering what the hell I was doing on a team of metahumans when I'm so…"
"Yeah," Dick agreed. "I know it sounds stupid, but we were going against all these bad guys that Supey could pummel and you could run rings around and I… I couldn't even make a dent. Even when I got a chance to play leader I totally sucked. I couldn't do anything that you guys couldn't do better."
"You hacked the motion sensors."
Dick smirked sardonically. "Yeah. A computer nerd on a team of superheroes. Impressive."
"You were going to quit the team," Wally summarised.
"I was thinking about it."
It was Wally's turn to sigh heavily, and Dick could practically hear the eye roll over the phone. "Well, you're officially an idiot if you honestly think that we don't need you. I've lost count of the amount of times you saved my butt since even before the team, so I know you're awesome. I'm not even going to bother telling you all about your mad ninja skills or the whole knower-of-all thing you've got going on."
"Don't mention it," Wally shrugged. "But ask yourself this; if the whole joker thing hadn't happened, and you'd just quit the team – would you have stopped being Robin?"
"No," Dick answered immediately, surprised by how certain he sounded.
"Because… because I love being Robin," Dick realised. "It's who I am. I've been doing this for four years – I wouldn't quit just because I can't keep pace with metas. I've been beating up Gotham bad guys since I was nine – I know I can do it."
"Then why are you letting Batman fire you?"
And wasn't that the million dollar question?
"Are you done, sir?"
Bruce looked up from his paperwork to find Alfred waiting for him expectantly. He hadn't even heard the butler enter, which would have been odd if it was anyone other than Alfred – the one person who could possibly sneak up on the Batman. They were in his office in the west wing of the manor, the autumn sun streaming through the window and casting everything in orange as it set. "I'm sorry?"
"You dinner, sir," Alfred gestured at the tray that he had dropped off over an hour ago, the half-eaten plate of food now well and truly cold. It had been a long time since Bruce had taken dinner at the table, now preferring to dine as he worked. Alfred clearly disapproved. "Are you finished?"
"Uh, yes," Bruce nodded, leaning back so that Alfred could collect up the tray. "Thanks."
The butler was halfway to the door before he paused and glanced back at his charge. Bruce waited as Alfred hesitated for a moment, and then decided it was best to simply speak his mind. "Perhaps avoiding Master Richard is not the best strategy, sir."
Bruce raised his eyebrows, surprised by the bluntness of the usually subtle elder gentleman. "I'm not avoiding him."
"My apologies, Master Bruce," Alfred bowed his head, and then met the younger man's blue eyes. "But you are. I have scarcely seen you outside of this office or the cave these past few days, and I know that Master Richard has seen even less of you. You take all of your meals alone and only walk the halls when no one else is about."
"I've been busy," Bruce retorted. "With work. You always tell me that I pay more attention to my night time activities than my day job."
"And yet you only pay due diligence to the Wayne Foundation when you are avoiding other factors," Alfred pointed out, and then cleared his throat. "Sir."
"Has Dick told you something?" Bruce asked, wondering why Alfred was being so forward. He knew that the butler was not comfortable with the way that things had settled between him and Dick since he had made the decision, but was there something more behind this?
"He has not needed to, sir," Alfred replied. "I have simply observed Master Richard's behaviour of late, which you have been unable to do as you have been otherwise occupied with… work."
Bruce sighed heavily. So maybe he had been avoiding Dick the past few days, ever since Dinah had suggested that he might have been selfish to retire Robin (which was a ridiculous notion… surely…). He wasn't very good at talking to people, and if recent experience was anything to go by, Bruce had a tendency to simply make things worse by attempting conversation. But Alfred was observant, and usually right. If there was something wrong with Dick, Alfred would have noticed. "What have I missed?"
"He has been increasingly downhearted as of late," Alfred explained. "Even though he has recovered well physically, emotionally I fear he is still struggling."
"He's been through a lot."
Alfred nodded. "Indeed. However, we both know that Master Richard is not one to dwell on unfortunate events. It is not the trauma that is keeping him down, sir."
Bruce knew exactly where this conversation was going, but had never expected it to be instigated by the butler. "You disagree with my decision to retire Robin."
"I do, sir."
Bruce shook his head. "Why? When I first recruited him you were the loudest protestor. Why do you now think that putting him in danger is such a good idea?"
"It is true that I disagreed with your enlistment of Robin into your crusade," Alfred conceded, still sounding a little bitter that he had been ignored all those years ago. "But that was then, before Master Richard had assumed the identity for four years. You do not seem to realise that Robin is not just a name and a costume for the boy. It is a part of who he is – and you have taken that away. He is literally half the person he once was, and has no way to fill the void."
A light knock sounded from the door, the subject of the conversation poking his head through the gap. "Sorry, am I interrupting?"
"Not at all, young sir," Alfred replied politely, toting the tray once more. As he passed Dick on his way out he dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I believe that I have softened him up sufficiently for you, sir."
Dick let out a small laugh. "Thanks Alfie."
And then the door clicked shut behind the butler, leaving father and son alone in the office. Bruce studied Dick, noting the dark circles under his eyes from lack of sleep, and the distinct absence of the sling that he was meant to be wearing. He was fidgeting as well, an old habit from when he was a hyperactive circus child that had been long since disciplined out of him. His inability to keep still was a clear indicator that he was nervous.
Nervous about what though?
"So…" Dick began awkwardly. "We kinda need to talk…"
"Alfred gave me that impression," Bruce retorted, sounding a little shorter than he had intended. This conversation was already off to a flying start. "I mean, yes, we do."
"Right," said Dick. He realised that he was tapping his fingers against his jeans and purposely shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "So…" he trailed off.
"How are you feeling?" Bruce asked to fill the silence.
Dick shrugged, barely wincing as the gesture pulled at his tender shoulder. "I'm alright, I guess. Just a little… sore."
That was not what he was going to say. Bruce resisted the urge to sigh, not wanting to appear impatient. "Alfred said that you had been feeling down lately. Do you want to talk about it?"
Dick pulled a face, as if that was the last thing he wanted to do. And then he took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm just going to get to the point," Dick decided, talking more to himself than to Bruce. "I don't care that you retired Robin."
Now, Bruce had not been expecting that. "Good."
Dick shook his head. "I don't care that you retired Robin, because it's not going to stop me anyway," he said defiantly, making Bruce inwardly flinch. "Do you remember why you gave me the mask in the first place?"
Bruce did. Two months after his parents' death, Dick had run away from the boy's home that he had been assigned to and gone on the streets. He had started by hunting down any connection to Tony Zucco, but it had quickly become more than that. The kid was running around in a hoodie stopping muggings and thwarting crooks long before the concept of being a sidekick had ever been introduced to him. Batman had run into the boy vigilante and tried to persuade him off of the streets. But there was just no stopping Dick.
So Bruce had offered him the training and the mask for one simple reason. "To protect you."
"And yet you site that exact same reason for taking Robin away from me," Dick retorted. "Don't you think that's ironic?"
Bruce didn't answer. He had a horrible feeling that he knew exactly where this was going, and he really didn't like it. Trust Dick to be the one person to find a loophole in his infallible logic.
"I guess it's up to you what happens next," Dick shrugged, the slight glint in his eye telling Bruce that he already knew that he had won. "I get that you don't want me to be Robin anymore – that's fine. I also understand that if I wanted to strike out on my own, you would do everything in your power to stop me – that's fine too. I can leave. I've done it on my own before, and I was nine then and completely untrained."
Bruce stared at his son, silently hoping that he could get him to back down. He couldn't believe that he was practically being blackmailed. He could either reinstate Robin and be able to keep a watchful eye over Dick, or he could lose all control as his protégé went solo without his support.
Neither option particularly appealed.
"So…" Dick muttered after a good five minutes had passed. He was starting to look unsure, but Bruce knew just how stubborn his son was. He would follow through on the threat. "Am I packing my bags?"
Bruce kept silent for another minute. "Are you still having doubts about your abilities and your role on the team?"
"Honestly? Yes," Dick answered. "But I want the chance to prove to myself that it's just teenaged angst. I know that I'm good at what I do. I just need to be better."
That was a damn good answer. "Fine," Bruce relented. "I will talk to Black Canary. If you pass both a physical and a psych evaluation, Robin can attend the training session at the cave next weekend. Deal?"
Dick grinned like a kid on Christmas. "Deal."
Et voila! This fic is officially finished! It was only meant to be a three-shot when I first came up with the idea half a year ago, but I'm glad my muse decided to let me write a nice wind-down that actually tied off those pesky loose ends I have a tendency to leave :P
As always, huge thanks and applause and huge bouquets of cyber flowers has to go to everyone who read/reviewed/favourited and/or alerted this fic – you have all been awesome and motivating and make writing so much more fun! THANK YOU!
My next project, as I said before, is the Identity sequel, but I've got loads of ideas for other stories that I really want to write. I am going to be putting up little synopsis's (is that a word?) on my profile page so if you're interested in one in particular, send me a PM and I'll make it a priority :D
Thanks again, and see you for the next story…