Barbara Gordon walked down the busy Gotham street, shifting her backpack on her shoulder into a more comfortable position. She moved the stack of books she was holding to put more of the weight on her right arm than her left. No one gave her struggle a second glance, taking her for another busy college student from Gotham University. Not that it was an untrue assessment, but most of her current load were extra classes she'd picked up this semester.
Abnormal psychology. Criminal Law. Introduction to Criminalistics.
She knew her father wouldn't approve, so she did most of that class work at the library as opposed to home. He was dead set against his daughter joining the police force, and that just made her more determined.
Barbara had started working with Batman the year before against his will, but unlike her father, Batman had finally relented and let her help. She trained long and hard with him, and she learned a lot about the criminal mind and the mean streets of Gotham.
But she wasn't about to give up her schooling to become a full time vigilante. She knew the importance of the science, the hard work, and there were some things that needed to be done within the law and not by some night stalking boogeyman. She wanted to be the one to do those things, to do what the Batman couldn't.
As she neared the steps of the library, a bus pulled up to the curb next to her, spilling its passengers onto the sidewalk. A man in a cheap suit on a cell phone rushed past her, elbowing the stack of books in her arms. He muttered what Barbara could only guess was an apology before continuing on his way.
She rocked the stack back and forth in an attempt to balance them again. She managed to save all but the top one and it slid off the stack. Just before it hit the sidewalk, a hand reached out and grabbed it. Barbara sighed in relief because that book wasn't hers, and the last thing she wanted was to pay a damaged book fee to the library.
"You should be more careful, Barbara," a male voice said, and Barbara rolled her eyes.
A smiling Dick Grayson replaced the book on top of the stack. Dick Grayson, the one person she spent a good portion of her time avoiding. She found him to be juvenile and annoying. In the last year, she spent most of her patrols sticking close to Batman, learning everything she could from him. She'd spent a few patrols with Robin along with Batman, and she wondered how Batman tolerated the boy for this long. She could barely tolerate him for the short patrols she'd been on patrol with him and Batman.
"Thanks," she said quickly before continuing on her way up the library stairs.
"Hey, wait up," Dick called after her, jogging to catch up. "Looks like we're heading to the same place."
"You're going to the library?" Barbara asked, unable to keep the surprise from her voice.
"I know this may come as a shock to you, but I do know how to read."
She sighed. "That's not what I meant. You just don't strike me as the library type."
"I'm not," Dick explained, "but I don't have a choice. I have a biology project I have to pass or Bruce will kill me." He held up a biology text in his hand as if to prove his point.
"Ah," Barbara replied. She leaned against the entrance to the library, pushing the door open with her back. Dick took the door and held it open for her, and she muttered a quick thank you before heading for the furthest, quietest table in the building. Much to her disappointment, Dick followed her, planting himself across the table from her.
"I have a lot of work to do," she told him, hoping he would take the hint.
"That's okay," Dick said, either missing the brush off or choosing to ignore it. "So do I. You won't hear a peep from me."
Barbara sighed in resignation and opened her books to start her work while Dick went off in search of a book he needed.
Despite his promise, when Dick returned, he took every opportunity he could to strike up a conversation. She would answer as briefly as possible then go back to her work. Dick was up and out of his chair more often than he was in it, and Barbara wondered how someone as restless as Dick Grayson could possibly be an effective crime fighter.
"We've been at this for hours," Dick said after a while, slamming a book closed. "How about we take a break?"
Barbara looked up from her homework, and by the waggle in his eyebrows, she knew what kind of break he meant.
"I still have work to do," she answered, barely glancing up at him.
"So do I," he countered. "But you know what they say. All work and no play..."
"That is not play," she told him.
Dick rolled his eyes. "You sound just like him. I think you should come out with me for one night. I can show you a different Gotham."
"You're welcome to take a break if you want, but I'm staying here."
"C'mon, the night air will clear your head."
Barbara closed her book. "You're not going to leave if I say no, are you?"
"Nope," Dick grinned. "I'm pretty persistent."
"Fine," she sighed.
"Great! Meet me at Wayne Tower in a half hour."
Dick collected his things and flashed her one last smile before heading towards the exit. Barbara considered standing him up and staying put, but she knew he'd track her down. And part of her was desiring a break, though she'd never admit it to him.
She gathered her books together and headed for home. When she got there, she tossed her work on the bed unceremoniously before collecting her gear for a night on the town.
She couldn't say she was looking forward to spending an evening patrolling with Robin, but it would be interesting to see him out there solo. He had to posses some skills or Batman would never keep him around. She'd seen him in action several times with Batman, but never on his own. During those patrols, he had amazing physical prowess. Not the brute force strength Batman boasted, but agility and grace she'd never seen. His movements were fluid and could almost be described as beautiful.
Not that she'd really noticed.
She donned the cape and cowl and soon found herself leaping across the Gotham rooftops. Dick had been right. The night air felt good across her face. She reached Wayne Tower in no time, using a grapnel line to scale the massive skyscraper. When she reached the observation deck, she wasn't surprised to see Robin sitting on one of the many gargoyles waiting for her.
"I'm glad you came," he said without even looking at her. "I thought you'd stand me up."
"I considered it," Batgirl answered, perching herself on the ledge next to him.
"I love coming up here," Robin said quiet enough that Barbara wasn't sure if he was saying it to her or himself. "The city looks beautiful."
"Until you get to street level," Batgirl added.
Robin turned and smirked at her. "Such cynicism. You've been hanging around Batman too much."
"You know it's true. You see the same stuff I see. Gotham is drowning in its own filth."
Robin shook his head. "You can't always focus on the negative aspects of the city. Sure, there are good people, too."
"If you say so."
Dick stood on top of the gargoyle and smiled down at Batgirl. He extended a green gloved hand to her in an invitation.
"Come with me and I'll show you what I mean."
Barbara looked up at him and despite a mask covering them, she could swear his eyes sparkled. He fought criminals and the filth of Gotham night after night like she did, yet somehow he remained positive. He lived and worked with Batman, the ultimate cynic, but he retained an upbeat attitude.
Maybe it would do her some good to see the city through a new pair of eyes.
Batgirl returned his smile and took his hand.
Robin leapt over the edge of the tower and Batgirl followed. He released her hand mid-fall, reaching to his belt to grab a decel line. He waited as long as safely possible before firing it off at a nearby building. Batgirl followed closely, watching how natural Robin looked soaring above the Gotham streets. He seemed more at home in the air than on the ground.
"Where are we going?" she asked as they flew over the city.
"You'll see," he answered cryptically, winking at her over his shoulder.
They traveled about 20 blocks east before Robin landed on a rooftop and secured his grapnel line. Batgirl wasn't far behind him, and she knew the neighborhood well from Batman's files. While the area wasn't as bad as Crime Alley, it did have a good share of crooks hiding out there. In fact, they'd been there on a call a few days earlier.
Robin was looking over the ledge and Batgirl walked up next to him to see what had his interest.
"Remember this place?" he asked.
"Sure," Barbara answered, looking at the building across the street. "Arson call three days ago. Owner tried to torch it to collect the insurance money. Batman caught the guy."
The ten story apartment building across the street was a shell of what it had been. The outside was scorched, and all of the windows had been blown out by the fire that day. It was a low rent building in disrepair, and rather than pay for the repairs to get the apartment complex up to code, the owner decided to burn it down, disregarding the dozens of people living there.
"Yeah, Batman caught the guy, and he's been arrested and will play for his crime. But that's not the end of it for all the people that guy hurt."
Robin jumped off the roof, using ledges and the fire escape to lower himself to the street. Batgirl followed him as he ran across the street to a church a few doors down from the scorched building. She was surprised when Robin walked in the front door, and she was hesitant to follow. Batman never used the front door. Ever.
When he noticed Batgirl wasn't behind him, Robin stuck his head back out the ornately carved wooden doors. "You coming?"
Batgirl shrugged and entered the church. Batman wouldn't use the front door, but that was part of the reason she was out with Robin. She was trying things his way to see what made the little bird's brain tick.
Barbara had been in many churches throughout her life, and this one wasn't much different from those. Large beautiful stained glass windows decorated every wall, sparking ever so slightly with the moonlight, and candles were lit in every corner of the room. There was one distinct difference, however. Several of the pews were lined with blankets and pillows, and there were a lot more people in the church than Barbara would have expected at this hour.
"Robin!" a voice called across the room.
The pair turned to see a priest in his mid to late thirties approaching with a smile.
"Father O'Brien," Robin greeted him, taking the priest's hand and shaking it.
"It's wonderful to see you again. What brings you by?"
"Just checking in to see how things are going," the young vigilante said.
"As well as can be expected," the priest replied. "The community's really come together, mostly thanks to you. We've received donations of food and supplies, and we have people volunteering to help out until these people get back on their feet. We really are grateful for everything you've done. Little Robert over there has even said he wants to be just like you when he gets older-"
Barbara swore he could have gone on gushing about Robin if the younger man hadn't politely interrupted him.
"Anything you guys need? Anything I can get you?"
The priest smiled and shook his head. "No, but thank you. You've done more than enough to help."
Father O'Brien glanced over Robin's shoulder, noticing Batgirl for the first time. "And who might this young lady be?"
"Oh, sorry," Robin apologized, gesturing to his companion. "Father O'Brien, this is my associate, Batgirl. Batgirl, this is Father O'Brien."
"A pleasure to meet you, Batgirl," the Father said, extending a hand to her.
"The pleasure's all mine, Father," Batgirl replied, shaking his hand.
"Father O'Brien set up a temporary shelter for all the people who lived in that apartment building," Robin explained.
"You've done a wonderful job," she said.
"Thank you, but it never would have been possible if Robin hadn't rallied the community to help out. He went to the local businesses and communities to get help for us. He got local business to donate food and clothing, and neighbors have collected bedding and other supplies for us."
"He did all that, huh?" Batgirl asked, but turned to Robin. The teenager smiled and shrugged at her.
"How is Riley doing?" Robin asked, changing the subject.
"He's doing well. He had some second degree burns, but his mother took him to that clinic you recommended. Dr. Thompkins has been wonderful. She's keeping him in the clinic for observation, and she set up his family in a nearby shelter. She wanted me to give you her thanks."
The priest turned to her. "A five year old boy that lived on the 8th floor. He was burned pretty badly. Robin contacted Dr. Thompkins to get him proper care. We owe everything to this young man."
Robin shrugged again as if it were no big deal. "I'll stop by again as soon as I can. If you need anything in the meantime, tell Doc Thompkins and word will get back to me. Keep up the great work, Father O'Brien."
"You too, son," the priest said as Robin headed for the door. He turned to Batgirl before she followed Robin. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Batgirl."
"Same here, Father," she said, smiling to him.
Batgirl turned on a booted heel and followed Robin out the way they had come in. It was several minutes later, once they were safely among the Gotham rooftops, before Barbara spoke.
"Do you do that often?"
"Do what often?" Robin returned, jogging across one roof and leaping to another.
"Go back to scenes and check up on people."
Robin shrugged for a third time. "When I can."
Barbara considered that for a moment and realized how often the aftermath of a crime slipped her mind. She was usually so focused on stopping the next big crime, she forgot that stopping the bad guy didn't solve all of the problems. She thought of the victims of previous crimes, but she spent so much time thinking about preventing new victims, it was easy to lose sight of their hardship.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a cry for help from the streets below. Robin must have heard it too because he was leaping from the roof at the same time she was. They used decel lines to swing safely to the street, and a block in front of them, a man and a woman were huddled together in the midst of a group of tough looking men. Barbara counted eight of them, and most had weapons of chains and baseball bats.
"Give us your money," one man growled, slapping the tip of his bat into his palm repeatedly.
"We... we don't have any," the woman said, clinging to the man with her.
"That's too bad," the man threatened, "because there's a toll for using this street. And if you can't pay with money, we'll have to take it in other ways."
The gang members backed the couple against a brick wall, creating a semi-circle around them. Robin and Batgirl ran up from behind them, and Robin stopped, motioning his thumb up towards the sky.
"Up and over, Batgirl?" he asked, and she nodded in agreement.
Robin crouched down and created a foothold for her with his hands. Batgirl ran towards him, and when she put her foot on his hands, he launched her towards the crowd. Batgirl somersaulted in the air and landed perfectly, between the gang and their potential victims. She struck a defensive stance and glared at the thugs.
"Look at what we have here, boys," the ringleader chuckled. "A little rodent. Let's see if she's as tough as the other Bat."
"Now don't you boys now you shouldn't hit a woman?" Robin said from behind them, causing them all to turn around.
The gang leader laughed again. "It's the junior bat clan. Get them!"
Batgirl used Robin's distraction to send the frightened couple on their way before half of the gang turned to her. The four men circled around her, and as she easily avoided the chain that was swung at her, Barbara knew she'd have no problem taking these guys out. Their movements were untrained and sluggish at best, and one well placed kick had her first man down.
While Batgirl preferred to fight in silence, Robin had other ideas.
"Is that the best you can do?" she heard him say, but that was only the start of his goading.
"You swing like a little leaguer!"
"Oh come on... Getting whipped by a teenager? That's gotta hurt the ego."
By the time Barbara dropped her last man, Robin still had the ringleader standing. The thug swung a bat at the boy repeatedly, but never even came close to hitting him. Robin smiled and back flipped out of the way as the man swung again.
"So close that time," Robin laughed. "But if you can't hit me with all my bright colors, you need glasses. Get your eyes checked, man."
The gang leader roared in anger and charged the young vigilante with the bat held high over his head. Robin used a nearby wall to launch himself over the man's head as he swung at him. When Robin's feet hit the ground, he swept his leg low, knocking his enemy onto his back. With one well placed punch to the man's rib cage, he forced the air from his lungs and sent the thug into unconsciousness.
As Robin crouched down and secured his last pair of batcuffs on the gang, Barbara stood next to him with her arms crossed.
"Why do you taunt them like that?"
"Because it makes them mad. And when they get mad, they make mistakes."
"It's more than that," Batgirl said with a smirk. "You enjoy it."
"Of course I do," Robin replied honestly, rising to face her. "I fight crime, and I have fun doing it."
"It's not a game, you know."
"I know. I'm reminded of that on a daily basis by a certain pointy eared friend of ours."
The duo heard police sirens in the distance, and they knew the couple must have called the police. They gathered the gang together under a street light, then disappeared down a nearby alley. Batgirl led the way up to a neighboring roof to keep tabs on the group until they were secured by the police. Three police cruisers skidded to a stop in front of the would-be muggers and began loading them into the police cars.
"You're nothing like Batman," Batgirl said as they watched the police.
"I'd hope not," Robin laughed.
Barbara turned to him with a questioning look, hoping he'd elaborate on that. She spent most of her time wanting to be more like Batman, and Robin was happy he wasn't?
Robin picked up on the unspoken question. "Batman is a great guy, don't get me wrong. He's the best detective I've ever seen, and I do my best to learn that from him. But he's angry... and sad. He spends so much time among the filth of Gotham, I think he forgets that it's okay to enjoy life."
Just like that, a light went on in Barbara's head. Suddenly, she understood. "So that's why all the joking and the puns?"
Robin shrugged. "It's not just for him. I need the reminder too sometimes. He's been through a lot in his life, and I can relate to it. I know the up days and the down days. But all of that in the past doesn't mean he can't enjoy the present. He reminds me all the time that being Robin isn't a game, so I like to remind him that being Batman isn't a curse. Sometimes he needs a reminder that he can be happy."
Batgirl smiled. "Yeah, he can be stubborn about that."
"That's an understatement," Robin chuckled, returning her smile.
Robin lifted the edge of his glove, revealing a watch underneath. He walked to the ledge and looked back at her.
"Well, it's been fun, but I should call it a night. If I don't finish that biology project, I'm a dead man. And I'm sure you have your own work to finish."
"Yeah," she said. "I should finish that up."
Robin saluted her with a wink. "Hope we can do this again sometime, Barbara."
"Call me Babs. Everyone does."
He smiled. "Babs it is, then. Until next time."
One last smile and Robin leapt over the ledge. She walked over to the roof's edge and watched him swing off into the Gotham night. As she watched him go, Barbara found she had a new appreciation for the young vigilante. She still found him juvenile and annoying, but his outlook on the city was refreshing. She now knew why Batman kept him around.
He was a light that this city needed. Not only did Robin have a lot of potential as a crime fighter, his caring and humanitarian attitude was something this city desperately needed. If more people in Gotham were like that, there wouldn't be a need for Batman, and Barbara knew that was Bruce's ultimate goal.
Barbara knew she had a lot to learn as a crime fighter, and maybe there was something she could learn from Robin after all.