Dick Grayson had heard the word "study" used to describe a room before. On the television shows he'd watched with his mother, the study was always a large, bookfilled room with stately leather chairs meant for one, but that could easily seat two, curios and interesting artifacts from all over the world on tasteful display on antique tables and cabinets. It is always where the master of the house retreated to mull over his day in those British dramas his mother so loved. The study in Wayne Manor was no different in that regard, but to Dick, the room was false, hollow somehow, as if all the expensive books on the well built and elegant shelves were all simply there for show. They are an illusion, props for the real life show that he was suddenly aware of having a role in. Bruce Wayne was seated at the wide and impressive desk at the far end of the room, as Clark perched on the edge of a leather couch that easily cost what Dick's whole family earned in two months of performing. The effect of the room before Bruce Wayne began speaking had been very different, it was rich, cultured and quietly majestic. Dick wondered if even his perception of Kara's surreal beauty would be diminished by the harsh light of the older man's revelations. Because if what Bruce had just told him were even partially true, then the whole world was surely upside down and Dick went over it in his head again just to be sure it was sinking in.
His family had been killed in an act of senseless and bitter revenge, not an accident, not as a vicious retaliation for his dad renegging on gambling debts. In this very house, another man, related to Dick by a degree of kinship that the sixteen year old aeralist could not comprehend, was asleep. Dick felt his fists opening and closing as Bruce calmly explained the events of the last few nights. But it all passed Dick by in a blur of words. All he could see was his mother, in a twisted heap in the middle of the center ring, Tina beside her, one arm outstretched. His father's body had been separate from the others, the once graceful athlete sprawled at the bottom of the center ring, his trapeze still in his hand. To have lost everything this way...Dick looked up at Bruce and blinked back hot tears of rage.
"We can get these guys, Dick." Bruce said simply, finally. "Clark and I were on our way to investigate a lead that just broke tonight. I want you to stay put while we..."
"No." Dick's rejection was flat and immediate. "Do you think that you found the people who killed my family?"
"I think I found the ones that control the vendetta, yes. They didn't actually kill your family, but they ordered the execution, just the same." Bruce sat back in his chair, his dark eyes giving none of his thoughts away. "You can't come with us, Dick. It's too dangerous."
"I'm not sure I understand." Dick leaned forward,quickly rising out of the wide leather seat. "The guys who are responsible for killing my family are right here, in this city right now, and you are actually telling me I have to stay here?"
"As long as you are a target for these people, yes." Bruce rose as well. "I'm not arguing this."
"That makes two of us." Dick straightened. Not as tall as Bruce, he drew himself up to his full height and folded his arms defiantly. "I'm going."
"Dick..." Clark began reasonably, "This is about your safety."
The teenager laughed bitterly. "Right. He just got done telling me I'm a walking target for hired killers.What am I supposed to do, sit here and wait for them? My being here puts everyone at risk, Chloe, Lois, Kara..." Dick shook his head. "I'm going. I'm helping take these guys down."
Bruce sighed. "If you go, you are on your own, kid. I can only do so much to protect you if things go badly."
"That's my problem, isn't it?" Dick snapped, his dark hair falling in his eyes. "And how are you supposed to protect me out there? You're just some rich guy with a Good Samaritan complex that takes in strays like me."
Bruce nodded slowly, considering this. "It's true. Everything you said is true. You have a right to bring these people to justice for what they've done."
"Damn straight, I do." The teen replied defiantly. Bruce cleared his throat and continued.
"By virtue of your relationship with Kara alone, I'd have helped you as far as I have already...given you a place to stay while you got yourself together. Because of the nature of your family's death, I had to do more. I couldn't let it just go by. I made a promise to myself that my own parent's death would not be in vain. I do what I can, keeping out of the radar as much as possible." Bruce looked down at his desk. "It's my personal quest. Clark is involved now because of Kara, and through her, Karen. But you, Dick. You're young, impetuous and reckless. If you are going to work with me, we do it my way. You follow my lead and do exactly as I tell you. We clear?"
Dick and Bruce locked eyes, and just as the younger man was opening his mouth to speak, Clark nodded and said, "The only intention here, Dick, was to protect you. Things have been hard enough." Dick Grayson turned to stare at his girlfriend's cousin in shock.
"Protect me? Geez, Clark. The damage has been done." Dick laughed again, and shook his head. "When someone shows up to give me the pill to wake me up and get my life back, let me know."
"I understand what you are saying, Dick, I really do. I wasn't much older than you myself when I found out who I really was. It was painful, but I accepted it. Every day of my life is a new test of what my abilities can do and what I will use them for. I understand your desire for revenge against these people but revenge for it's own sake will never be enough." Clark voice was purposeful, determined. "It has to be about more than just vengeance."
"You guys are serious about this." Dick flopped back down in his chair. "I want to see these bastards get what they deserve."
Bruce nodded. "So, you agree to my terms?"
"Yeah, on two conditions. One, I'm not a stupid sidekick in this. I'm not dancing around drooling catchprases and crap, like the comic books. I'm just as much a partner in this as you guys are." He looked Bruce and Clark over, studying their black clothing. "And two, you both remember that neither of you is my father. Simple as that."
The older men looked at each other in surprise. "Seems fair." Bruce picked up a remote control and pressed a button. One of the large, heavy bookcases slowly slid aside, revealing a secret passage. "From this point on, my young friend, everything you see and hear is completely top secret. Clark and I are now trusting you with our lives." He gestured politely toward the newly revealed corridor. "Follow me to the Batcave."
"There it is!" Kara cried out, pointing to the Fortress of Solitude as she and Karen flew toward the crystalline . It shone like an earthbound star against the black night sky of the frozen wasteland. Karen smiled, recognizing the structure from her dreams. It had been real all of it. They flew in to the Fortress and landed, their feet making small shuffling noises in the soft snow that gathered in the doorway. At first, Karen crossed her arms over her chest, afraid to be cold, but the inside of the Fortress was comfortable.
"Kara Zor-El, you have returned." A voice echoed through the vaulted space and Karen looked around in surprise. Kara, on the other hand, calmly nodded and looked up at the rotating sphere over their heads. It pulsed and spun with light and color as they approached and finally settled into a soft green that almost made it seem as though they were underwater.
"Archive, this is Karen Starke..."
"I am aware of Karen Starke. Her time to be here has not yet come." The Archive's even and neutral voice cut Kara off. "Why have you brought her here without Kal-El, Kara Zor-El? Leave now and do not return without Kal-El."The Archive's even and neutral voice cut Kara off. "
Karen felt the air grow slightly more chilled, and wondered idly if it was because she was not welcome. The stormy expression on her companion's face was evidence enough that Kara had also recognized it. The Kryptonian girl turned her face up to the sphere and spoke again, her voice both sweet and authoritative.
"He's busy. I wanted to show Karen what Krypton was like." Kara told the Archive. "Please?"
"No." Karen looked up at the sphere. "I'm sorry. It's just that this is the closest I've ever felt to feeling like I belonged…"
"You have a purpose, Karen Starke. It is up to Kal-El and Kara Zor-El to help you discover it."