Disclaimer: Important note: Fire editorial staff for last chapter's mix-up surrounding humorous "I don't own these characters" disclaimer.

Addendum: Hire editorial staff first, so I can fire them.

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Partnerships

Chapter 3

As they sped across the bridge connecting Gotham City's northern island to the mainland, Dick was trying to keep the fact that he was still angry at Batman clear in his mind. He was failing miserably. He was sitting in what was without a doubt the single coolest piece of technology he'd ever seen. Even Batman's terse command "Don't touch anything" hadn't been able to dim the wonder the vehicle inspired in him.

"What's it called?" he asked

Batman glanced in his direction. It was the first word either of them had spoken since they'd gotten in. "What's what called?"

"The car."

"Are you serious?"

Dick frowned, "Yes I'm serious."

Batman grunted and shook his head. "It's a car," he graveled, not a pet."

"It's an amazing car!" Dick exclaimed. "There can't be another like it in the world!"

"I have two more, in case this one is put out of commission."

"Oh, what do you call it, then?"

"I call it 'the car'."

Dick shook his head. "You're completely soulless, you know that?" Batman glared at him for a moment and then drove the car off the road onto a dirt track. "Uh…" Dick said, frowning. "Where are we going?"

"Home."

"I thought you lived in Bristol," Dick pointed out. "We're still in Darby."

"Astute observation," Batman graveled, at no point altering the vehicle's course.

The confusion was evident on Dick's face, and it deepened once it became clear that they were approaching a solid rock face. "Uh, Batman…if this is about me calling you soulless…" Batman did not respond, instead continuing to speed towards the gray cliff. "Oh hell, he's lost it," Dick muttered, trying to figure a way out of the car.

Nothing Dick's agitation, Batman pressed a button on the console to the left of him. A panel opened on each of the armrests, and a metal arc rapidly slid out of each one, encircling his wrists and pinning them to the armrest. A similar device clasped his ankles. "What the hell?" Dick shouted, struggling unsuccessfully against the restraints. As quickly as they were approaching the wall, Dick had no time to do anything but draw in a tense breath before they were through, driving along a paved road in what appeared to be a dimly-lit tunnel.

"Holography," Batman explained as he pressed a button, freeing Dick's wrists and ankles. Remembering to exhale, Dick turned to glare at Batman. "You were getting agitated," the dark knight said flatly, "You might have panicked and endangered both of us."

"Three words," Dick said, speaking slowly and counting the words on his fingers. "It's. A. Hologram." Batman simply grunted in response. As they proceeded, the tunnel opened up into a massive cave. "What is this?" Dick asked, staring around him.

"A cave."

"What's it called?"

"The cave."

Dick shook his head in silence. Batman slowed the car to a halt on a circular platform and pressed a button on the console. The canopy slid back and the two of them climbed out. Dick's eyes were drawn to the mainframe computer hooked up to a massive monitor.

"Before you ask," Batman said, the gravelly voice taken on a dry overtone, "it's called 'the computer'." Dick muttered something under his breath as he followed the other man towards the computer. Pulling his cowl off of his had, Bruce sat down at the single chair in front of the keyboard and began to type.

Dick glanced upward at the screen. As Bruce typed, it was apparent that he was making some kind of log of the night's events. It didn't surprise him that Batman kept meticulous records of this nature, but the record itself wasn't what he would have expected. For lack of a better term, it was Batman's writing style that was a surprise. He would have thought that the way Batman would have written would have been entirely dispassionate, bloodless. '10:47: Stopped mugging on 34th St. 10:49: Exhaled." Just the facts, Bat-ma'am.

What was actually written seemed almost like a stream of consciousness, transplanted several hours forward. The log noted that exact time and location of the mugging, but also noted that he 'almost certainly broke the mugger's jaw again,' and drew the conclusion that he was unable to fully control his emotions when it came to back-alley muggings.

He proceeded from that to his encounter with Dick and Selina, and textually berated himself for 'letting a half-trained child' sneak up on him. "Hey!" Dick said. Bruce evinced no reaction to the exclamation and continued writing, noting that he's immediate reaction to Tiger's appearance was to suspect some kind of trap. "If it was a trap," Dick noted, "why would I have spoken to you? I'd have just sprung the trap."

Without taking his eyes off the monitor, Bruce answered, "It was an instinctive reaction to you appearing behind me. Now let me finish this." The text continued, 'It was quickly apparent that there was no malicious purpose. The boy simply wished to complain about my response to his delays. Selina's sympathies obviously lie with him in this instance. Damnable woman.'

"This is the strangest diary I've ever heard of," Dick noted.

"I put everything in the logs, including missteps," Bruce answered. "Instinctive reactions are necessary. I don't always have time to deduce my enemies' plans logically. But if such conclusions show a pattern of leading me into mistakes, these logs will show it."

"So if you put everything in there, including your mistakes," Dick said, his lips curling upward, "where is 'You called. She came'?" Bruce turned and glared at Dick, who grinned unrepentantly back at him. "Well?" Dick asked.

"These are Batman's logs," Bruce pronounced, and proceeded to turn back to face the computer.

"Yeah," Dick answered, "I sort of figured that part out when I noticed you where the one typing them." Dick felt like he could hear Bruce glaring. "Well?"

Bruce turned again and said, "I told you. These are Batman's logs." Dick's eyebrows rose in confusion. Stifling a sigh, Bruce explained, "It wasn't Batman who said that."

"O-kay…" Dick said. "I see…" Bruce just kept on glaring at him. "We're pretty far into the Twilight Zone here, aren't we?"

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After the log entry was completed, Bruce led Dick towards what appeared to be a target range. It had plywood cutouts of man-shaped objects with bulls-eyes at various rangers, the farthest seeming to be nearly fifty yards away. Reaching into his utility belt, Bruce said, "These are batarangs." Dick grinned. "What?" Bruce asked, annoyed.

"Nothing," Dick said, shaking his head, "I just always liked that name. Go on."

Bruce rolled his eyes and handed the three 'rangs to the younger man, saying, "Familiarize yourself with their use. It's not exactly like throwing a boomerang, nor is it like a shuriken or other thrown-" Dick interrupted this by throwing the three batarangs, one after the other, at a target just shy of a hundred feet. All three hit the wooden target within a foot of the bulls-eye.

Bruce arched his eyebrow, Dick answered the unspoken question with, "I always used to try to find those after you chased us. Souvenirs." With a grin, Dick added, "On boring nights, I could talk Selina into playing 'catch' with them on the rooftops."

"Who has those 'souvenirs' now?" Bruce asked casually. Dick just grinned in silence. Grunting, Bruce led Dick towards another area of the massive cave, one kept quite dark. Leading him through a thick metal door, Bruce flipped a switch and lights came on, revealing a huge mockup of a pair of a city streets intersecting, complete with surrounding buildings, cutouts painted to look like people, even a pair of cars and a small truck.

Taking a few more batarangs from his belt, Bruce glanced at Dick's costume, with only a small pouch around his waist and said, "You're going to need a belt to hold more gear." Dick slipped a thin black bag from underneath the leather sleeve of his costume. Bruce shook his head, "This isn't like hauling loot away from a jewelry store. You'll need…worry about that later. For now, he handed the batarangs to Dick and walked towards the door. "Now we test your skills." With that proclamation, he stepped through the circular hatch, shutting it with a loud clang that resonated throughout the chamber.

After a few moments, the mock intersection came alive. The cutouts began to 'walk' along the sidewalk, cross the street, and so on. Even one of the cars began to pull out of it's parking spot. Looking more closely, Dick noted the thin tracks in the cement that the cutouts moved on. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of movement. Turning, he noted the appearance of a cutout with a machine gun in a second-story window. Taking careful aim with one batarang, Dick noticed just in time that the gun wasn't a mock-up. He dived to the side as a volley of bullets sprayed into the concrete where he'd been standing a moment ago. Holes in the cement testified to the fact that the gun wasn't firing blanks.

Throwing more rapidly, Dick flung the batarang at the cutout's head. The impact must have triggered something, as the cutout fell backwards and the fun stopped firing. Behind him, another armed cutout appeared out of an alley. Dick leapt up into the air, flipping backwards over the burst of fire and driving both feet into the cutout's 'face', breaking the cutout into two pieces.

On the other side of the street, a knife wielding cutout appeared, Dick's throw blocked by a cutout of a woman with a baby carriage, (an actual baby carriage, no less.) Dick ran forward, jumping onto the hood of the slow-moving car and leaping upwards, throwing the batarang over the woman into the face of the knife wielder. The cutout fell backwards, but the baby carriage began to roll forward towards the intersection. In the mock-street, the truck began to accelerate, revealing another gun-toting cutout. Landing, Dick turned and flung his last batarang at the cutout, then ran towards the intersection, passing the truck which was headed right for that baby carriage.

Diving in front of the truck, Dick pulled the contents of the carriage into his arms in mid-air, landing with a shoulder roll. It was then that Dick noticed the 'baby' was several sticks of dynamite hooked up to a timer that read 0:04. "You've got to be…" he began as another fake criminal with a real machine gun moved out of the alleys. Tossing the bomb at that cutout, he turned and ran, diving through one of the empty 'windows' as the explosion went off.

The machinery that controlled the simulation shut down and the metal hatch opened. Stepping through, his cowl pulled back over his face, Batman said dispassionately, "Ninety-third percentile. It was good." Dick smiled. "You'll need to do better." Dick stopped smiling.

"Whattya mean? I got all the bad guys, didn't I?"

You used lethal force on that one," Batman said, pointing to the smoking ruin of one cutout. "I know what the rumors are about me. I've helped to spread them, but we don't do that. Ever."

Dick's brow rose, "Not even in self-defense?"

"Not even then. You will be trained well enough that you should never need to kill. In the years that I've done this, I've never needed to."

The two of them walked out of the simulation room and were greeted by the sound of a motorcycle engine. Batgirl killed the engine and hopped off of her bike. Noting the hatch Batman was closing, she asked, "How'd he do?"

"Ninety-three."

"Barbara glanced in Dick's direction and smirked. "Blew up the last one with the baby-bomb?" Dick felt his ears reddening. "I did that too, the first time," Barbara confessed. She frowned and asked, "I got ninety-two the first time. What'd he do different?"

"Jumped over the carriage and grabbed the 'baby' in passing rather than ducking under the truck.

"He wouldn't fit under the truck," Barbara noted.

"Still a safer move," Batman countered.

As Batman began to type, creating 'training file 3', Alfred arrived with a tape measure in hand. Approaching Dick, he said, "Raise your arms please, Mister Grayson."

Dick blinked and said, "Uh, Batman? Your butler is trying to mug me with a tape measure. Is this another test?"

Barbara laughed. Bruce said, "He's fitting you for a new costume. Raise your arms."

Dick raised his arms, but said, "My costume fits fine."

"No no, not over your head," Alfred said, "hold them out to the sides."

Dick complied, but he wasn't ceding the point yet. "What's wrong with my costume?"

"It's impractical." Bruce answered.

"It's just Selina's costume with a different size and color, and no ears."

"Selina's costume is impractical."

Dick paused before speaking. "…I'm going to regret asking this, but how is it impractical?"

"Leather tears too easily."

"Wow," Dick said. Batman glanced in his direction. "That is way more than I wanted to know about you and Selina." Batman glared.

"Oh let him keep the leather," Barbara suggested, an impish smile appearing on her face. "It shows off his butt." Dick's face reddened.

"Be that as it may, Miss Barbara," Alfred interjected as he continued his measurements, "I would suggest that in the course of your nightly rounds, the protection offered by Kevlar might in fact prove more useful than whatever seductive efforts this gentleman of yours might be able to unleash upon Two-Face, Joker or the Riddler. Now please hold still."

"I don't know about the others, but maybe Riddler," Barbara joked.

Dick shook his head. "Nuh-uh. Eddie's definitely straight."

"Lime green tights," Barbara argued.

"Query and Echo," Dick countered. "Have you seen those two? More importantly, have you ever talked to them? He doesn't keep those two around for their brains. And I've seen him stare at Selina."

"I see," Barbara answered. "And why have you talked to them?"

"Uh…sidekick conference?" Dick said lamely.

"And did this conference involve the exchange of phone numbers?"

"It might have," Dick grinned. "Don't worry. You've ruined me for all other sidekicks."

"Hey!" Barbara protested. "I am not a sidekick!"

"Mister Grayson, please. Hold still!"

"This cave used to be so much quieter…" Bruce muttered, sighing.

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Bruce is having second thoughts

Dick wonders if he's thought it out at all

Barbara's thinking about a change

But it's Selina's thoughts that are going to cause the most trouble

in chapter 4