Disclaimer:  DC owns them.  No copyright infringement is intended.

Title:  Thirteen Hours: Déjà vu?

Author:  NorthernStar

Series:  The "Thirteen Hours" series.

Status:  Work in progress.

Rating: PG-13

Warnings:  Some mild violence and bad language.

Summary:  Dick returns to school after his accident to find even more questions, and no answers…

Notes:  This story takes place two days after 'Awakening.'

Thirteen Hours: Déjà Vu?

By NorthernStar

"O what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practice to deceive."

Sir Walter Scott

The shadow twisted in the gloom.  Alfred could barely see the form moving on the horizontal bar set up in the ceiling of the enormous cave, a small thin body in free flight, beginning an all too sudden descent onto the hard ground far below.  An arm snapped out to the catch the bar.  Quick hand changes and giant swings followed, gathering momentum.  Dorsal and eagle grip swings added to the speed until enough height was gained and the figure let go of the bar and spun through a quad with casual ease.  The landing was off a fraction, no doubt due to bruising, but he didn't fall.

"I do not believe Dr Tompkins would approve of your return to full training this soon."  Alfred said, breaking the silence.

The boy straightened up, showing no surprise at the butler's presence.  Dick had shot up like a proverbial weed over the summer and now stood at five feet four.  His bones had lengthened into typical teenaged gangliness, offset by the lean musculature of his athlete's body.

Dick wiped sweat from his brow. The bruises on his face stood out angry and accusing.  "Use it or lose it," he said casually, but Alfred thought he heard tension behind the words.

"Over excursion of healing muscles can lead to permanent injury."

"I'm fine."  He told him, but immediately dropped into a cooling down exercise and Alfred knew he had to be satisfied with that.

"Breakfast will be at seven."  He said, "Master Bruce will be expecting you." 

***

Dick stepped from the shower and grabbed a towel.  He rubbed himself down vigorously, wincing at the discomfort this caused his bruised left side and shoulders.  He wasn't looking forward to breakfast with Bruce, knowing he'd have to bite his tongue and hold back the many questions he had.  Dick had already broached the subject of the thirteen hours he'd lost, several times over the last couple of days, to polite and sometimes stern stonewalling.  "We will not have this conversation again."  Bruce had told him finally, in the voice that raised no arguments - the voice of the Bat.  Maybe some of the hurt and confusion that surely must have shown on his face broke through the barrier Dick felt was increasingly separating him and his guardian, because Bruce had allowed him a slight smile.  "Try not to worry, Dick."  He said and probably meant it as comfort, but Dick, who would have walked through fire if Bruce had asked him, found he was unable to trust those words.

At first Dick had been angry at Bruce and Alfred's refusal to fill in those missing hours and he still was, but now he'd started to become frightened by it too.  The many possibilities scared him.  Dick was no stranger to the horrific.  He'd witnessed horrors most adults would tremble at, not the least of which had been the bloody and violent deaths of his parents.  What could be worse than that?

And the trouble was, his mind was all too eager to come up with answers.

Pushing the thoughts from his mind, he quickly dressed and went upstairs.  Bruce looked up from the pages of the morning paper when Dick sat down at the breakfast table.  He looked calm and relaxed; the very model of a man with no money worries, no worries of any kind.

"Good morning, Dick." He greeted, before going back to the financial pages.

His demeanour annoyed Dick.  He and his guardian had spent little time together over the last two days.  Nothing new there, of course, but since he hadn't been Robin, or attended school, Dick had found the old house lonely and unbearable.  Only Barbara Gordon's visit had lifted the gloom, even if the young woman had spent the entire time talking about her father with the air of someone who needed to get things off their chest.  It had left him no time to express his own concerns.

Alfred placed a pile of delicious looking pancakes in front of Dick but the young man had to force himself to eat, not desiring a lecture about breakfast being the most important meal of the day.  That would hold him up.  He had to get to school.  He had to find answers. 

Once he was finished, stomach protesting at the forced fullness, Dick grabbed his books, said a quick good-bye to his guardian and hurried Alfred into driving him to school early on the pretence of catching up on the assignments he'd missed.

As the car drove him ever closer to Bristol, his heart began to race with anticipation.  And not a little fear…

***

Dick found a sheltered spot outside the school grounds to wait out the last hour before classes began.  The first half an hour was incredibly boring and bitterly cold but the second passed quicker as he scanned the kids arriving for school for a familiar auburn head.  This one too fat, that one too tall… Until at last, just ten minutes to registration, the right reddish brown head wandered in through the gates.

"Claud!" he yelled, hoping to catch her attention.

The girl's head moved at the sound of her name, but she didn't look around.  Dick knew she'd heard him and frowned.  The next moment she was lost in the last minute rush not to be last for class.

Sighing, Dick pushed aside thoughts of heading her off at her locker.  He really couldn't afford to be late either.

Morning classes passed in a void.  Dick was unable to keep his mind on anything other than finding his study partner and pumping her for information about those missing hours.  She had a starring role in a couple of them, and if Bruce wouldn't help then he'd have to figure this out for himself.

And he'd been taught detective skills by the best…

He couldn't find her at lunch, despite searching everywhere he could think of and asking her friends if they'd seen her.  He missed his own meal following up possibilities and spent the rest of the day uptight and hungry.  At the end-of-day bell, he scooted out of class so fast even Wally would have been impressed.

Dick ran through the corridors, dodging around people who yelled insults but he succeeded.  He got to Claudia's locker before she did.  Leaning back against the cold metal, Dick began to wait. 

One hundred and fifty two Mississippi's later, his quarry came into view.  The girl paled at the sight of him and would have turned away, but Dick quickly crossed the distance between them, elbowing other pupils out of the way.  Another few kids he'd pissed off today.

"Dick…"  She flushed, "um…look, I'm…I'm kinda in a hurry, OK?"

"Great, then I'll just come out and ask.  What happened after we went to the library?"

She swallowed.  "Um…nothing.  Nothing at all.  I went home." 

"You came back to the manor?" He didn't remember this, but Alfred had inferred it.

"No, I…I just went home."

He frowned.  "You don't seem surprised I had to ask."

More red stained her cheeks and Dick guessed she was very close to crying.  "Well…I…I thought…I…"

Dick tensed.  "Have you been speaking to Bruce?"

"Bruce…um, that's your dad, right?"

It was Dick's turn to look embarrassed.  "No, well, sort of, I guess."

She used the time to check her watch.  "Oh!  Dick I have to go."  She cried, pushing past him to quickly retrieve her coat and bag from her locker.

"Just a minute."  He took her arm, not restraining her, just letting her know the conversation was not over.

"I can't!"  She clutched her bag to her as if it were a life-preserver.  "Look, I'm grounded.  If I'm not out and in my dad's car by five past…" she trailed off, looking down.  He wanted to make her finish the sentence but he had no stomach for making anyone cry.  He nodded and let his hand fall away. 

Claudia took a few steps, before looking back.  "I'm sorry."  She whispered and hurried away.

Sighing, Dick leant back against her locker, watching her back disappear.  "Yeah, me too…"

****

Alfred was waiting patiently at the gates, standing straight and formal beside the car.  He opened the door the moment he saw Dick and watched the boy climb in.

"I trust you had a pleasant day at school, Master Richard."

Dick slumped on the back seat.  The frustration at a fruitless day at school threatening to boil out of control the closer he got to home.

"I see you have not."  The butler said, sliding into the driving seat.  "Are your injuries bothering you?"

The boy opened his mouth to reply when he was suddenly hit by inspiration.  "No, it's not that.  I just got a mega assignment."

"Your grade point average is more than adequate.  You should have little to worry about."

Dick felt a flash of pleasure at the praise before pushing it aside to concentrate on more important issues.  "Yeah, but there's still a lot of research I gotta do."  He glanced casually out of the window.  "Could you drop me off at the library?  I'd like to get a head start, seeing as how I won't be going anywhere else tonight."

Alfred paused, "I do not believe Master Bruce would approve."

"Why not?  I'm not on curfew, or grounded."  He sat forward.  "Please, Alfie?  I missed two days already.  I need to catch up."

"The computers…downstairs…are more than adequate…" he began.

"Downstairs is dark, gloomy, depressing and cold."  He knew he was shamelessly playing to Alfred reservations about Robin, but like Bruce always said 'use whatever weapons are to hand.' "Plus Bruce'll have a fit if he finds out I did schoolwork down there."

The butler's eyes flickered to the rear-view mirror and Dick did his best to look innocent.  "A brief visit then."  The elderly man said.

*****

Any hopes Dick might have entertained about going into the library alone were dashed when Alfred also got out of the car.  He looked at the butler and frowned.  He didn't want the elderly man to become suspicious of his motives for visiting the library, but on the other hand, he wanted Alfred out of the way.

"I think I might make use of the facilities while I'm here."  The man said.  "It's been a while since I read a truly challenging piece of fiction."

Dick forced himself not to show his annoyance at being accompanied.  "You should try something by Umberto Eco, or maybe Jostein Gaarder."

"Perhaps I will."

Inside the library, the pair parted directions.  Dick made his way to the reference files and made a great show of searching the listings while keeping an eye open for the tall, skinny librarian who had helped him and Claudia find the books they needed a few days ago.  When a few minutes had passed, long enough for a reasonably bright boy to find the cards he needed, Dick wandered over to the shelves and began to pull books.

Alfred hovered around, keeping him in sight at all times, until Dick thought he'd go completely insane if he couldn't tell the elderly man to leave him in peace for ten minutes so he could do a little investigating.  His head had begun to ache and his shoulders felt sore.  It had been a long day and his body was crying out for rest.

Maybe he should call it a day…

A rush of adrenaline coursed through his system in the next second as the librarian he was looking for walked in.  He looked down at his books before the hormonal response showed on his cheeks.  In the time between their arrival at the library and the woman's appearance, Dick had come up with a perfectly legitimate excuse for talking to her.  Now all he had to do was wait until she wandered past, and at a time when Alfred was some distance away and would not overhear.

Fate it appeared, was favouring him that day.  After a couple of minutes, the butler was absorbed in a book and the woman came passed Dick's table.

"Excuse me?"  He called out.

She stopped.  "May I help you?"

"Yes, I was hoping you remembered me?  From the other day?"

The woman looked vague.

Dick held up two reference cards, making it look like he was asking her about them.  "I was with a girl.  We were looking up the second world war."

She nodded, "I'm afraid the copy of War Diaries isn't back yet."

Dick smiled.  "It's not about that.  It's…um…"  His voice failed.  It's about what?  He berated himself, suddenly feeling like an idiot.  I lost my memory and I was hoping you could fill in the gaps?  More inspiration struck.  Maybe I can't say memory, but… "I…er…I lost a notebook while I was here."

"No one has handed anything in."

"Did you…um…notice if I took it out with me?"  His eyes flickered to Alfred, still absorbed in the book.  "I would have been picked up…or perhaps I took the bus?"

"Outside the library?"  She shook her head.  "No, sorry.  I don't remember."

Join the club… "It's really important."

"Well, I suppose it would be on the security tapes."  She sighed, "But I'm afraid you couldn't get access."

Dick smiled.  Maybe I can't…but I know a boy wonder who can… "OK," he sighed in a dejected manor, "thanks anyway."

He had to fight to hide the fast beat of his heart as he settled down at the table again, with the books open, making notes.  He knew everyone, including Alfred, would assume the scrawny shorthand was untidy cribs from the books.  In reality, it was hastily written and just as hastily guessed, angles and degrees of the library's interior.  Now he knew of there presence, it wasn't hard to see the cameras.  He worked quickly, deducing the field of view for each.

Alfred's voice surprised him.  "We must leave now, sir, or Master Bruce will return to an empty dinner plate."

Dick hurriedly closed the note book.  "Yeah, sorry."  He said, and gathered up the books to place back on the shelf.

**2***

Dinner wasn't the terrible ordeal Dick thought it would be.  When they returned to the manor, Barbara was sitting in the lounge with Bruce, talking quietly.  He guessed, with Robin out of the picture for a few days, Batman had an opening for a gopher.  Batgirl, apparently, had applied for the job.

"Will you be staying for dinner, Miss Gordon?"  Alfred had asked upon seeing her, and Dick crossed his fingers.  Dinner with him, Bruce and Barbara was a thousand times preferable to dinner with just him and Bruce.

Bruce almost smiled.  "You are more than welcome."

When the young woman grinned and accepted, Dick let out the breath he'd involuntarily been holding.

Dick went upstairs to put his books away and change.  Alfred liked everyone to 'dress for dinner' and that went double for when they had company.  He glanced at the notes he'd made, wanting to put them into sketches while they were still fresh in his mind and then looked around at the wardrobe.  Ordinarily he would have taken the opportunity to put on his best suit, and combed his hair into a more mature style in the hope that Barbara would notice him.  She didn't see Dick as much beyond her friend and Batman's kid partner, with the emphasis firmly on the 'kid' part, despite their working together in some tough situations.  He wanted very much to 'put on his glad rags' as Alfred might say, and go down stairs and just enjoy Barbara's company.

But this wasn't ordinarily. 

Sitting down at the desk, Dick began to work.  When Alfred summoned him down half an hour later, the maps and sketches of the library's interior were as good as they were going to get.

His fabricated project proved to be the main topic of conversation as they ate.  Dick surprised himself at the fluidity of his own lies and the ease in which he told them.  He almost began to believe he really did have an urgent project to do.  He knew he ought to be ashamed of himself, but he reasoned, with all the logic of a teenager, that Bruce had started this when he had refused to tell Dick the truth.

After coffees, Bruce and Barbara retired downstairs and Dick declined to join them, saying he wanted to get started on his homework.  The hours passed slowly in his room.  As much as he wanted to be down in the cave, he had other things he needed to do.  Bruce and Alfred weren't the only ones who knew where he'd been and what he'd done in those lost hours.  Claudia for one, and he hadn't given up on speaking to her.  Something in his gut nagged at him when he was talking to her.  He didn't know if Bruce had warned her not to say anything, or whether all the secrecy was simply making him paranoid.  Either way, he intended on challenging her as soon as her grounding was over.

Besides, there was one other person he could ask. 

Leslie…

Dick reached for the phone and dialled a number that was almost a familiar to him as the mansions.  "Hi, Dr Tompkins…"  He said when he heard the woman pick up.  "I was wondering…"

****

Dick had been slipping out of the house since he was ten years old, both as himself and in his guise as Robin.  It almost wasn't a challenge any more.  Almost… 

He had checked the computer files for clues to where Batman and Batgirl were patrolling that night.  Thankfully, it appeared they would be good distance from the library, which was where he was going first.  Leslie's clinic though was a different matter.  He would need to be very cautious.  He couldn't afford to get caught.

Once outside, feeling the bite of the November air in his Robin costume, he gunned the Robin cycle and sped into Gotham.  The rougher portions of the road jarred his healing muscles and by the time he reached the city limits, he was coated in a fine sweat.

He really shouldn't be out doing this.

But what else could he do?  Live without knowing?  Bruce would say yes, of course.  Could Dick really do that?  Pulling up at the library, Robin knew the answer was no.  It would always be no.

Breaking in was ridiculously easy, and he wondered briefly whether the library could benefit from a Wayne Foundation grant to improve the security.  There was only one guard, an elderly man in his sixties with a huge paunch and uneven teeth.  He made a circuit of the building every hour and Robin waited until he'd passed before climbing through the top window.  He found the main security office and had the lock picked in seconds.  Inside, the close circuit tapes were astoundingly easy to find.  The big label on the cabinet saying 'surveillance tapes' kind of gave it away.

Maybe that grant wasn't such a bad idea…

Robin opened the cabinet to find a small stack of video tapes, each with wipe clean labels.  They only appeared to go back a week before, presumably, being used again.  He scanned the dates and found several with 11/5 pencilled on.  Sorting through them, he pulled out only the ones he'd guessed from the angles would have caught him and Claudia on them. 

Taking them away was out of the question, however much he would have like to run them through the cave's sensitive equipment, and he couldn't copy them.  Watching them on the office's small VCR was the only option.  He checked his watch and was relieved to see that less time than he thought had passed.  He still had forty five minutes before the security guard came past.

"Showtime."  He muttered to himself as he popped the first cassette into the machine.  Fast forwarding through the tape took longer than he'd hoped; it was an old machine after all.  But he eventually saw his own image. 

Robin remembered arriving at the library so he pressed the forward button again.  He stopped when he saw something he didn't recall.

Robin watched, fascinated, as the little him on the screen tickled Claudia until she dodged free.  He caught her with ease and they dissolved into giggles.  The skinny librarian he remembered appeared to shush them and they returned to their school work. 

Smiling at their antics, Robin wished he could remember that.  Whatever else was hidden in the missing hours, it seemed he had lost some good memories too.

The images settled back down to work again and Robin hit the fast forward again.  He watched the hyper fast couple whiz around – sitting, walking, retrieving books, putting them back.

"Come on…"  He told himself.

Then he saw something of interest.  He saw his image leave the camera's field of vision and Claudia was now alone.  And then not alone, as a young man walked up to her, his back was to the camera so Robin couldn't see his face.

Claudia picked up a book and handed it over.  The kid took it, opened the pages then closed it again.  He reached into his bag and took out another book, which he gave to Claudia, before turning to leave.  No conversation, no eye contact…  Robin caught a brief glimpse of the boy's face as he left, but without the benefit of a prefect still or a zoom function, his face was nothing but a shapeless blur.

On the screen, Claudia was peeking in the book she'd been given, but his returning image self blocked the camera view and he didn't see the book again until she tossed it aside without care.

Frowning at the scene, he tried to dredge the memories up.  But he didn't remember any book. 

Glancing at his watch, he hissed through his teeth, "damn."  He would have to hurry this up. 

Robin advanced through the rest of the tape, watched through two speeded up hours of two people studying.  The only moment of interest was seeing himself give Claudia a quick, embarrassed kiss on the receipt of a drink she had just brought him.  He wished he remembered that too.

Robin quickly put in the next video, from the entrance camera.  When he pressed play, he was pleasantly surprised to see the angle covered a portion of the road outside the library.  He forwarded through his and Claudia's arrival there, he remembered that.  It was the leaving he was interested in.

After several minutes of forwarding, he saw their images again, walking out of the library.  He smiled; they were holding hands.

He remembered that.  They had been talking about…chances…about… Robin silently cursed.  He didn't recall their conversation, but he did remember the important bit; the feel of her warm hand in his, and that made all the difference.

The images went outside, and the picture lost even more quality as the view was seen through glass doors.  A blue ford pulled up at the curb and Claudia turned to him and Robin was suddenly assaulted by a sensation, something akin to déjà vu, but not.

I'm sorry…                                                                                

But no; she had said that this afternoon, not then, not there on that curb.  What had she said?  As much as he tried, the words were lost to time and circumstance.

And then she kissed him.  Not shyly, as he expected, but with heat and passion.

The far off sound of a door closing snapped him back to the here and now.  He pressed the forward button again to the point where Alfred drew up in the Rover. 

So Alfred had taken him home.  Alone.

"You had taken the vintage Harley Davidson out to the west of the property.  I believe your primary motive for this was to impress a young lady."  Alfred words repeated in his head.  Why would he try to impress Claudia if she wasn't there to be impressed…?

He watched himself stumble into the back of the car, probably still dazed from being on the receiving end of such an impassioned kiss.  He quickly ejected the tape and returned the video's to the cabinet before locking the office door and slipping out into the shadows.

As he climbed out of the window, and prepared a jump line, he guessed that Leslie would be just coming on duty…

*******

The clinic was full, stretched beyond its capacity.  Sick and injured people lay on gurneys, in wheelchairs, anywhere there was space.  Dick had hidden the cycle several blocks away and changed into jeans and a T-shirt.  He preferred to make this visit as Dick Grayson. 

The nurse at the duty desk was a plump, harassed looking woman in her late forties.  She didn't smile at him when he approached the desk, nor did she show any surprise at a lone boy walking in off the street long past midnight.

"Name?"

"Richard.  Um, Richard Grayson."  He glanced around, trying to see the doctor among the crowds.  "I'm here to see Dr Tompkins."

"In case you haven't noticed, kid.  We're busy."

"Does she have a break period?"  He asked.  "It's really important."

"And these people here," she said, pointing. "Bleeding on the floor, I guess they're not?"

Dick set his jaw, wanting to yell that he hadn't meant that.  He was tired and he was cold and his body had been aching since the morning.  He wanted so much just to turn in and sleep, but something inside him was pushing him forward to more answers.  It was almost as if Dick, the young man, was nothing more than an unwilling passenger in Robin, the detective's, mystery.

"Please?"

The nurse sighed, "Sit down.  But I'm warning you, you're in for a long wait."

Dick slumped down on an uncomfortable looking orange plastic chair. 

Ten minutes later he was asleep.

***3**

"Cola?"

Dick squinted in the harsh light as he came awake.  Dr Leslie Tompkins smiled tiredly down at him, holding out a can of soft drink.  He sat up and immediately checked his watch.  Damn, it was nearly dawn.  Bruce would be back at the manor by now and if he'd checked on Dick and found him missing…  Well, there'd be hell to pay.

Oddly, he found himself not even caring. 

"When you said you wanted to drop by for a chat, I thought you meant during the day."  Leslie said, "Or do you even remember what that is?"

Dick took the drink gratefully and gulped it down.  The icy liquid helped to wake him.  He rubbed sleep from his eyes, wincing at the sharp protests from the many bruises on his body.

"Let's talk somewhere private."  She said and indicated down the hall.  He forced himself up onto sleep-lazy legs to follow her.

She opened the door to an empty office and held it open for him.  "I'm guessing Bruce doesn't know you're here."  She said as he entered the room.

"No, and I-"  He felt uncomfortable, having to ask this.  "I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell him."

The woman closed the door and sat down.  "Now why wouldn't I do that?"

Dick didn't really have a good reason, beyond keeping him out of trouble and she probably wouldn't be convinced by that one.  So he ignored the question and came straight to the point.  He was too tired to do anything else in any case.  "Did Bruce tell you what happened to me?"

Unprepared, the woman visibly flinched at the question.

"I know I crashed the bike.  And I know what impact trauma looks like."  He lifted the thin T-shirt he wore.  "It looks like this."  The bruises on his side and back had darkened over the last couple of days but were healing quickly.

The doctor knelt and checked the damage.  "I'm amazed by your recuperation."

"And this?"  He held out his wrist, marred by ugly bruises.  "This isn't impact.  This is…this looks like someone grabbed me."

"It's possible the damage was caused when Bruce pulled you form the wreckage."

"No."  He found himself hiding the marks from her, almost embarrassed.  But yet he hadn't minded showing her his side and belly.  "I'm not as good on forensics as Bruce is, but I know the difference between day old and hour old bruises.  These are…"  The words suddenly caught in his throat, as if finally getting the chance to voice his fears aloud, made them all the more real and frightening.  "These are from…before."

She laid a hand on his arm.  "You know, you could just as easily have hurt yourself working out."

He shook his head.  "Wrong type of injury."

"Dick…"

"Did Bruce tell you?  Do you know?"  His voice broke a little at the words.

"Bruce did tell me."  She waved down his immediate questions, "but I suspect that it was no more than he told you."

"But…but didn't you notice?  When you were treating me?  I mean, the wrist, my face.  Those are earlier bruises, you must have noticed."

"Dick, you were unconscious and remained that way for several hours.  I was concerned about the possibility of your falling into a coma.  I didn't have time to notice slight variations in bruise types."

"But…" His objects died on his lips.  A wave of exhaustion overtook him and he slumped back.  "I just want to know!  What could be so bad that Bruce would want to keep it from me?"  Anger built inside him. "Was I…attacked?  Was I…?"

Leslie reached for him then, making true eye contract since the conversation began.  "No, no.  Listen to me, Dick, you said you knew forensics.  You would know if…"

The boy blushed.  "I mean, physically attacked. I know the difference."  His eyes were wide.  "What if Robin wasn't good enough?"  He admitted.

She gave him a genuine smile.  "In all the years I've know you, the words 'wasn't good enough' could never be used to describe you."

"I screwed up once."

Two-Face…

"You were only ten.  Two-Face tricked you.  You're older now, more experienced."

"Then why?"  He knew he was whining like a child, but right now he was too tired and in too much discomfort, to care very much.  "Why won't he tell me?"

The doctor tried to hide her troubled expression, but he read it all the same.  "I don't know, Dick." 

He didn't believe her for a second.

"Another stonewall."  He muttered bitterly and got to his feet.

She stood as well.  "Let me take you home."

"I can get there."  He opened the door, stopping when he heard his name.

"Dick…"  But her pager sounded and she sighed.  "I'm sorry, I have to go."

"Yeah."  He shrugged as he walked away.  "Bye, doc."

*****

Outside, in the grimy streets, bathed in the harsh neon signs of a dozen or so parlours and gambling joints, Dick sat down on the steps.  His mother would sometimes wake him early so they could watch the sun rise together.  No two were alike, she told him.  And they weren't.  The circus was never in the same place long enough. 

He was tired and aching and he could even admit to being scared, and the only thing that seemed to make sense right now was the approaching dawn.

Footsteps sounded behind him.  He didn't look around.

Fatal mistake.

The punk got in one good shot to the back of Dick's skull before the boy realised what was happening.  Dick rolled with the momentum, coming up on to his feet, his head muzzy and dazed from the blow.  A knife glittered in the light.

"Be sensible, kid.  Give us your wallet."

Dick spun, kicking out.  He hit the thugs hand with the side of his foot and the knife went sliding away.

"Fuck!"  The man swore and clutched at his injured hand.

"You might wanna rethink your career options."  Dick smiled as he felt the kick of adrenaline wash away everything that had happened over the last few days.  This was him.  This was real.

"Fuck you!" His assailant spat, and dove for the knife.  Dick jabbed his right fist into the man's solar plexus and he crumbled like dust.  His head struck the pavement with a resounding thud and the man lay still.

"You were distracted."

Dick's head snapped around at the third voice.  He tensed when he saw the familiar shadow a couple of metre's away.

"Leslie called you."  The words ground out, he surprised himself with his own venom.

"No."  Bruce separated himself from the shadows.  "When I discovered you gone, I triangulated the cycle's position from the tracking device."

"I deactivated it."  He said dully.

"I reactivated it."  The tiniest hint of smile lifted his mouth.  "Remote activation, new feature."

"Great."  But it was just another challenge.  There was more than one way to skin a cat.  More than one way to disable a tracker too.

Bruce knelt at the unconscious man's side.  "We'll talk about this at home."

Dick tensed, knowing what was coming.  "I'll get the cycle."

"Barbara's riding it back."  His brows lowered.  "You will come home with me."

Dick balled his fists to stop his mouth from getting ahead of him and saying something he'd later regret. He followed Bruce to his guardian's car and slumped in the passenger seat.  Neither of them spoke the entire time.  Dick thought the atmosphere in the car would finish him, but he fell asleep almost immediately.

****

"Dick."

Bruce's voice pulled him from his slumber.  He heard himself groan as he opened his eyes.  He was still in Bruce's car, now parked in the manor's garage.  Dick stumbled out the seat and led the way into the house.  His head might not care if Bruce was going to lecture him or not, but his body wanted out of his guardian's presence.

Bruce followed on his heals, silently.  When they entered the mansion, Bruce stopped, turned to the boy, blocking his path.

"What you did was foolish."  He told him.  "Your body isn't strong enough yet.  You could have gotten yourself killed."

Like you'd care… Dick thought bitterly.  "I knew what I was doing."

"Then you knew you deliberately left this house without permission, you took both the Robin costume and the cycle without my knowledge and you disobeyed not just mine, but Leslie's, orders not to be Robin until you are healed."  He stepped closer to the young man.  "You agreed to follow my orders without question.  I have to be able to trust that or our partnership will cease to be affective."

"You can trust me.  You know that." 

Bruce's gaze never wavered.  "Why did you visit the clinic?"

Dick set his jaw.  "I wanted to ask Leslie about the fifth."

"I told you to leave it."

"I can't."  He cried.  "I'd do anything you ask but not that!  I have to know."

"It isn't important."

"This is important."  Dick held up his wrist.  "And this."  He said, pointing to his face.  "I know these happened before the crash and I don't remember what caused them.  Do you know what that's like?"  The anger and frustration of the last couple of days suddenly broke free; flooding out so fast Dick couldn't have stopped it even if he'd wanted too.  "I keep running scenarios in my head and each time they get uglier and uglier."

"Dick…"

"I can't concentrate in school and it keeps me awake at night."  His breathing came faster and faster, spurned on by overwhelming tiredness.  "Wondering about this could have got me killed tonight, or didn't you notice?" 

"My word!" Alfred's voice sounded from the stairs.  "Whatever is this dreadful calamity?

Dick didn't care.  His anger would not be stopped until it was spent.  "You can't keep this from me, you don't have the right!"

"Sir?"

Bruce turned away.  Alfred came down the last few stairs, wrapped in his dressing gown, but still managing to create an air of the utmost propriety.

"Perhaps the lad is right, sir."

Dick stepped between them, calmer now; the third man's presence, as always, acting like a cooling rod in his and Bruce's nuclear fission.  "Whatever it is, I need to know!"

Bruce set his shoulders.  "You should get to bed, Dick."

Alfred laid a hand on the boy's shoulders.  A rare touch that made him truly listen to the butler's next words.  "I also believe that would be best, young sir."

Dick stood silently for a long moment, but his anger was finally spent and tiredness was overtaking.  His feet took him to the stairs before he'd even realised it.  Halfway up he heard his guardian's voice and paused.

"We agreed, Alfred."

"We conducted a conversation in which we concluded that if Master Richard did not ask the question, we would not supply the answer."  The butler replied, "At no point did we agree to any deception. Unfortunately, the best laid plans…"

"We did this to spare his feelings."

"We have not succeeded then." 

Bruce didn't answer.

"He deserves to know the truth."  Alfred continued.  "Is that not what Batman and Robin fight for?"

A long moment passed and then Bruce began up the stairs.  He stopped in front of his ward.  "It's been a long time since I told you a bedtime story."  The words were light, but there was no humour in them.

"You only did it twice."  The words tumbled from his mouth.  This didn't feel real.  "Goldilocks and the three bears and Hansel and Gretal."

"Would you like to make it three?"

"Yeah…"  He looked up at Bruce.  "What's this one called?"

The man's face hardened.  "Thirteen Hours." 

~~End~~

~~~To be continued in "13 Hours: Telling Tales" (Yes I know it's cruel)~~~