CATverse A/N: This story is part of the CATverse, the timeline for which can be found at www. freewebs. com/ catverse. (For ease, I would suggest looking at the Story Arc Listing rather than the muddled timeline table, I'm just sayin'), and follows Bright Nova's unposted story 'Gestures'.
Regular plain old A/N: This is the first story I've written in a long time where I have absolutely no idea where I'm going as I type this author's note. Let's see what I come up with, shall we? Oh! And happy Halloween from CATville!
Dick Grayson didn't grow up as a ward of Bruce Wayne without learning a few things. As Robin, he'd been taught the very basics of detective work and the most important skill--the one that had been hammered into his head time and again throughout his training--was observation.
Observation was the one that still guided all of his actions as the fledgling hero Nightwing (at least, by Gotham's standards, he was fledgling--having only been using that pseudonym for less than a year), because Batman had continually insisted that the power of observation was the most versatile tool any hero has at his disposal. Brawn only goes so far--there's only so much iron you can pump--but the human mind has a nearly limitless ability to observe and learn.
Observation allows a man to find the chink in the enemy's armor. Observation allows a man to spot all the exits and calculate the odds as to which one his prey is most likely to use…
And it is observation that allows a man to notice the fact that the tablecloth on one of the banquet tables rustles every few seconds when nobody else is looking.
Bruce Wayne was throwing a big bash to commemorate…actually, Dick hadn't been listening. It's not as though it mattered anyway; the party was simply a ruse to draw out a new thief who had been targeting upscale soirees and allow Batman to catch them red handed. It was for this reason that Bruce had made the party a masquerade ball--to help lull the enemy into a false sense of security with the anonymity that masks and costumes provided--and it was for this reason that Bruce had invited Dick. Between himself, Bruce, Barbara Gordon and the still-relatively-new-to-the-crime-fighting-business Tim Drake, there wasn't a corner of the room that didn't have a pair of eyes scoping it for suspicious activity.
And it didn't take a genius to realize that a rustling tablecloth most definitely counted as 'suspicious activity'.
As Dick sipped from his champagne flute serenely (kindly filled with sparkling grape juice by Alfred so as to keep his faculties intact) and continued to watch the tablecloth in question, he nonchalantly sauntered over to the table while artfully avoiding the women who were so very keen on throwing themselves in front of him.
Setting his glass down, Dick put his hands in his tuxedo pockets and glanced around. There were a few people milling about the table, chattering loudly and laughing but fortuitously, no one happened to be near the part that was suffering from a case of tablecloth-rustle-itis--nor were they watching it.
It was the work of a few scant seconds for him to drop down under the pretense of picking something up and slip under the table.
What greeted him was not what he had been expecting.
A woman, in a blue taffeta ball gown, mask and gloves that all favored a peacock's plumage, was crouched on her knees, peeking under the tablecloth out into the crowd.
She seemed more worried about whatever was going on out there than she was concerned with illegal activity, and with amusement apparent in his voice, Dick ventured a "Hi."
The peacock squeaked, dropped the tablecloth and fell on her backside all in one fluid motion at the sound of his voice. Frantically, she gathered up her ample skirts that had tried to make an escape under the edges of the tablecloth and turned without any grace at all to look at him.
The peacock let out a noisy breath at the sight of him, as though she was relieved. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," he replied easily, a smile forming against his will as she clumsily brushed the feathers in her hair out of her eyes.
She huffed. "I'm hiding. I thought that much was obvious."
She flicked her eyes to meet his. "Awfully nosey, aren't you, Augustus?"
This time he grinned outright. "Julius."
"I'm Julius Caesar, not Caesar Augustus."
"Oh, whatever. I was still in the neighborhood. It's not like you're wearing a full costume…just a tux and a golden laurel, " she snapped, lifting the tablecloth again and looking out into the main room.
He tried again. "Who are you hiding from?"
She turned to look at him again, irritation clear on what little of her face was visible around the mask. "Why are you still here?"
He shrugged. "I tend to get curious about birds hiding under banquet tables."
"Well I tend to get curious about nuclear fission reactions; that doesn't mean I go poking at isotopes whenever there's one handy," she answered snippily. "And it's Lex Luthor, if you must know.
Dick's eyebrows rose in disbelief. "Luthor?"
"Yes, Luthor." The peacock attempted to snap her fingers but found it impossible with satin gloves on. "I made the mistake of saying 'yes' when he asked me to dance and suddenly he thinks that must mean I'm interested in him."
"And you're not."
"Clearly. Sure, he's nice to look at and really, insanely rich, but he wouldn't even look at me twice unless it was to throttle me if I weren't wearing this mask." One of Dick's eyebrows lifted a little higher at this statement and she quickly explained, "There was a…business deal I was involved in that went bad. He's not exactly my biggest fan right now."
"So you intend to hide under a table all night?"
"If that's what it takes, yes," the peacock said with determination.
"Wouldn't it be easier to just make it clear to him you're not interested?"
"And how to do propose I do that? Throw myself at somebody else? Somebody like you, I suppose?"
"Why," he said, somewhat flirtatiously, "would you like to dance with me?"
"Not if I can help it."
Dick laughed, shaking his head and the peacock looked at him oddly.
"You know," she began, "most men have the decency to be crushed when they get turned down."
"Oh, was I supposed to be crushed and not amused?"
"That is the generally accepted response," she said, her words coming out clipped and precise.
He forced down his chuckles and took on an appropriately contrite expression. "I do believe I've offended you."
"Oh, don't be stupid, I--" The peacock was cut off in mid-sentence by a shout from the main room.
"NOBODY MOVE! This is a robbery!"
"Smeg, they got a head start on me." the peacock whispered, shifting her skirts aside.
Dick Grayson suddenly found himself face to face with a snub nose revolver--a lump that had been between layers of taffeta that he hadn't noticed.
All the mirth that had been apparent in the air mere seconds earlier was gone instantly. "Et tu Brute?"
"Nothing personal, Caesar," she replied with a careless shrug.
"If you ask me, sticking a gun in my face is pretty damn personal."
"I've got a job to do."
He watched as she kept the gun trained on him with one hand and gathered her skirt up with the other. The peacock was about to exit from the little hidey hole when she turned back to look at him. "Just…stay here, that way you won't get hurt."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "How kind of you."
Dick couldn't be sure, but he thought she smirked at him. "Consider it me making up for refusing to dance with you." And then she was gone.
Tearing off the laurel that had been atop his head, Dick stripped out of his tuxedo jacket and started unbuttoning his shirt; his Nightwing costume emerging from beneath it within scant moments.
"Oh, we're going to dance alright."