Don't own. Don't sue.

Sinking Ships

***

"Don't cry," my grandfather said uncertainly. Emotional stuff made him uncomfortable. I usually tried to respect that, but right now I couldn't hold it back. I was drowning in my own life.

I shook my head 'no,' then buried my eyes in the pillow I was clutching to me. My body remained planted on the steps where I'd sat down earlier, and I became rooted in place.

"Alfred," he said in a voice that had regained some measure of control. "She's crying."

"I can see that sir," Alfred answered dryly from behind me.

"Why are you crying?"

I shook my head. It was probably too much to explain.

"You don't have thing to cry over," The Voice informed me. "Your father is giving you your way."

"And then what?" I blurted out, sniffling. "So I'm not in Young Justice any more and he's going to live with that. What gives me the right to continue on as I have?" I peeked up at him. His eyes were wide and he was frozen. "Well?" I demanded. "What gives me the right to go out there every night?" I bit my cheek for a moment. Say something. Tell me how childish I'm being. "I don't have a ring, I don't have powers, I don't have the permission of the government. All I have is a belt full of tricks. Grampy said it saves lives, but what RIGHT do we have?"

Grandpa sat down on the step beside me. Alfred had just made himself scarce.

"Has anyone tried to stop you?"

I shook my head no. "So?"

"There is your answer. Their doing nothing is their sanction and approval. We don't exist, remember that. How can you stamp and seal and sign something that does not exist?"

"It doesn't make sense." I buried my head in my hands. "I can't go out there. But… I… I have to. I can't stay out of the costume. I tried. It… it feels wrong. But going out there… doesn't make sense."

"It's just the family madness, Mara. Nothing to be concerned over."

I looked at him. "You're kidding, right?"

He didn't respond. I looked into his eyes. No, he wasn't kidding. He didn't joke around. "Just an unfailing sense of duty to the cause."

"Oh." I stared at the carpet between my feet. "Everyone always kept saying, you know. When I was little, that I could walk away from it. Any time I wanted. That's not right. I mean. It's not true."

"We meant, and still mean—you can find another life. We will not stop you if you wish to cease being Robin."

"I think about it a lot. What would I do? I can't walk away. I'm stuck here. But it's still weird."

"What would put your mind at ease?"

"The Superman seal of approval?"

"We all don't get what we want in life," he said unhappily.

"Hey, I thought Clark LIKED me. Well, until yesterday and the advent of the Great Conspiracy."

"Clark likes everyone," grandpa said darkly. "That doesn't mean he's going to act agreeably with one's own wishes." What grandpa meant was he couldn't stay the hell out of your life. He rose and looked down at me. "Now are you going to go to bed, or are you going to sit here on the steps all day."

"Yap, yap yap…" I muttered, "I was thinking of going down stairs. Working on some stuff." One finger poked out of the blanket I had drawn around me. "And no 'sick people shouldn't be down stairs' stuff. I have my blanky and my pillow and I'll be just fine to mess around on the computer until it stops snowing or I feel better or something." I'd already slept far too much in the last few days. Time to be a productive little birdy. I'd even work out a little later, if I could move around without feeling yucky inside.

I snuggled up in my personal chair in front of the Crays. I avoided Mara's mail like the plague. I was forced to check Robin's e-mail, as I was waiting for info on my long-suffering Penguin project. There were three e-mails from my mother, none with subject lines, which was quite unlike her. One was from Clark, giving me formal notice of his plans to stall my resignation. Only Superman would send you formal notice about stabbing you in the back. There was a certain amount of bureaucracy in all this that I found distasteful.

I was a little afraid to open my mother's e-mails, but I kind of needed her research to make my own possible. After a minute of staring at the computer screen, I decided to make a good faith gesture towards my father, even though I wasn't sure he deserved one. I wrote letters of apology for my behavior to the offended JLA parties, blind-copying my father and the Bat. Stuff THAT in your shorts, Justice League of America! What're you going to do to a contrite Robin? You can't do anything, can you?

Well, they could continue to bug me, but at least they couldn't get my parents involved. That being done, I looked at mom's e-mails. The first was the equipment list we'd asked her to track down, the next was a partial list of the Penguin's most recent contacts in the underground. He and I had a bit of a history, and I was determined to make charges against him stick. I'd been really close twice now, but he was a slippery little beast. He considered himself a 'business man' and he really got on my nerves. He was a snot nosed two-bit who specialized in the 'business' side of crime. He was also responsible for me loosing my two front teeth before their time when I was just a little Robin. As far as I was concerned, no harm great enough could ever befall him.

I printed out hard copies, looking to see if I recognized any names. My buddy Cows Craig was on the list. If I twisted his arm hard enough (literally) he'd tell me what he knew. It wasn't likely to be much, but it would be more than I had now. He was a small-timer and a two-bit who became a criminal out of consummate boredom. What an interesting group of associates I had.

Next, I looked at the list of the things Mr. Cobblepot had been accumulating. This couldn't be right. No. I told myself. It ALWAYS looked like he was purchasing things for legitimate use. That's why he's so successful at evading prosecution. If I was purchasing a 50 foot long bar…

Shaking my head, I chuckled to myself. He thought that going through fifteen different buyers each going to a bunch of wholesalers was going to help him hide. Not from my mommy, I'm afraid.

I hailed Oracle. "Hey, mum. Is it just me, or is Oswald looking like he's starting a night club?"

"I told your grandfather to keep you in bed if you were sick."

"I'm not that sick. Runny nose, cough. No fever, Alfred already checked. Can't sleep my life away, as much as I'd like to. And it was awfully hard to stay asleep with dad down there screaming his lungs out for me to get in the car."

Oracle's green head popped off the monitor and mom appeared. She was still in her robe. "I'm going to kill your father. So that's what the early lunch hour was for. Yeah, your buddy Oswald's opening a nightclub, it seems. He's got a spot picked out on fourty-second."

"And you couldn't have told me that? You let me go through all those papers? Come on, mom."

She snickered. "I was just checking to see if you were awake and alive is all."

"That dork. What's he going to do, open up a dance club for the shady under half of the city? There's GOT to be some sort of illegal thing going on, just because there ALWAYS is." His MO was always to do as much illegal stuff as one could possibly do without getting caught. It was all a big game.

It felt better to be doing something. I'd be ok. I didn't have the Superman seal of approval, but I'd go on living. Grandpa Bruce was right, Grampy wanted me out there, and I must have had the Justice League's approval, if they were begging me back so badly. Crisis adverted, I supposed.

"Hey, you were closer last time to getting something to stick."

I sighed. "Teflon Man is what we should call him."

"Your English teacher called."

"Great follow up to my last comment."

"I don't know. I just thought of it. What is this assignment she's so excited over? She kept going on about how you didn't have to do it, but she'd be so disappointed if you didn't." Mom looked over her glasses at me.

"Ung. My opinion on powered peoples saving the world. She doesn't WANT my opinion."

"Figures. Half the fun in those assignments is finding some way around it while still fulfilling it."

"I THOUGHT I did that. I found out yesterday that she didn't quite buy it. Well, I don't need it anyways."

"Glad to hear."

"Back to the Penguin and my inherent bitterness towards him."

"Save that for your therapy session kid. All I do is look stuff up."

I blew my nose. "Haha. Why did I have to be born into a family of comedians?" Just her and my dad. Tim didn't pretend to be funny, Cassandra still didn't quite appreciate a sense of humor in others, much less possessing one herself, and grandpa had nothing. "Like… how did you and dad end up being such smart-mouths, and why can't I be one too?"

"WE never smart-mouthed the Justice League. THAT is the difference. If we'd have done anything like that, Bruce would have had our heads."

I shrugged. "You know, HE hasn't said anything yet."

"He probably is getting his ya-yas off of seeing you get JLA all torqued off."

It was nice talking to mom like this. It seemed like she was back on my side. "So… can I stay home again tomorrow? I did save the world and everything this weekend."

"That's good for one and a half days. You're already pushing 1.7."

"Give the kid one more day, Barbara." Grandpa had magically appeared behind me. My ears must be getting stuffed too, I hadn't heard him.

"That kid already has twenty-four excused absences."

"Hello? Talking about me like I'm not here, again."

"If you let her stay here tonight, I'll make sure she has her report in to you by noon tomorrow." He was staring at my mother from over top my chair.

"It was due this morning."

"Uh, got interrupted by life," I said in defense of myself.

"She'll have it done by tomorrow."

"Fine. But if she's too sick to go to school, she's too sick to be Robin."

I groaned. I hated that rule. "Fi-ine. But Robin on the street. Not Robin in the cave."

Mom frowned. "Fine. But just because I'm sending you more stuff on the Penguin."

"Joy," I muttered.

"And you, Bruce. I expect to see you in my work room before you go out tonight."

I looked up at grandpa. He looked startled alright. "Oh?"

"You and I have a few things to discuss." Why was mom looking right at me?

"Only if Dick is also in attendance."

"Hey, it's my life, can I be there too?"

"You wanted to stay over your grandfather's." Mom could be such a manipulator when she wanted to be.

"It'll be alright, Robin." My grandfather muttered to me. If you couldn't trust your partner, who could you trust? He'd been looking out for me lately. With my dad, with the Justice League… If other people were going to play games with my life, it would be nice to have some representation for my cause present.

"I have to go, sugar plum," she told me. I hated when she called me that. It made me feel like I was four. "I have your favorite big blue uncle paging me."

"Great," I groaned. Mom's image changed back to Oracle's floating head. When I was kid, I'd found the Oracle image kind of disturbing.

"I'm going in to the office. I have to show up for at least PART of the day."

He turned and walked back up the steps of the cave.

"I gotta get me a job where I can do that!" I called after him. Ok. Don't say goodbye or anything. He was confusing me. He'd seemed mad last night, then he seemed ok with me this morning… Well, he was the Bat. He wasn't supposed to make sense.

I ate lunch in the cave. Not because I had to, but because I could. Mom sent me a big pile of stuff to trudge through. Half of it I think she gave me just to keep me out of trouble and on my butt tonight, so I wouldn't be tempted to go outside.

It got dark pretty early right now, and I kind of regretted not having the early evening to harass Oswald, but there was that stupid rule. Mom was finally back on my side, I didn't want to go pushing my luck right away. Besides, my throat was starting to get scratchy, and I wasn't sure I really wanted to go out in the snow. Superboy had the right idea about ONE thing: fighting the forces of darkness in Hawaii.

Just after dark, an alarm scared me out of my thoughts. I jumped a little in the chair. I better not let Alfred feel my forehead, he'd know for sure I was getting a fever. I brought up the police scanner. It wasn't my night. Two-face was out and running.

I started looking for a location on Tim and Cassandra, but I couldn't find them.

Oracle's head said she was out except for emergencies, I thought this consisted of an emergency. Grandpa was in Bludhaven, and I wasn't allowed out. Either way, I wasn't allowed to go up against Two-Face alone… Answer, mom. What the hell are you waiting for?

I started getting dressed. Looks like it's going to be me.

Mom didn't answer until I was on my bike and flying out of the cave. "What's the emergency?"

I cleared my throat before I tried to talk. "Two Face is out. He's leading the police on a merry little chase. Where are Redwing and Batgirl?"

There was silence while she checked on their location. "Albany?"

"Great. What're they doing in Albany?" Just when you thought Tim might actually be turning into a human being, he goes and runs off with Cassandra. "Well, I guess it's me. GCPD just called in hostage negotiators, and Renee Montoya. He's at… get this… Twin Pines shopping mall. Tell Bats I'll meet him there."

I had an ETA on Batman of approximately 30 minutes, which left me just enough time to either get this in a good place or really foul things up. I guess the cops thought that running him towards the 'burbs would be safer. But if I were Two Face, I'd look for a nice public place like a mall too. He was right on the edge of the city, near the river. How in the world had he gotten a car? I was starting to think the people at Arkham might actually have a handle on things, then something like this happened.

When I got there, most of the place had been evacuated, except for the store he was holing up in, and the hostages. Good move, Harvey. Very strategic, holding up the sporting goods store. In the guns section, none-the-less. It was also in the middle of the store and very hard to get to—no windows, one set of doors.

"Do you know how many?" I asked my grandfather.

"You're not here alone."

I sighed. "I'm what you've got for the next twenty minutes. How many?"

"Seven."

I swore. "I'm just going to see if I can keep things safe till the cavalry arrives. When Montoya shows up, contact me." She was really the only person who could talk to him.

I saluted then took off before a protest could be lodged. I came in through the roof. It was hard walking through a drop-down ceiling without going THROUGH it, but I managed to get as close as possible before gently dropping myself through the tiles.

There were three women and two men, a young boy and a teenage clerk. They appeared to be bound at the wrist, with jump-ropes or bungee ropes or something. The room was lit only with the emergency lights, so I couldn't see as well as I'd liked. Dent was screaming at one of the women, telling her not to do 'that' again. Great. Someone had just tried something. That took this up a notch.

"Harvey," I said gently. "Harvey, it's time to go back to Arkham."

He turned, keeping one rifle trained on his captive audience behind the counter, and leveling the other at me. "It's always got to be you KIDS."

He didn't like the Robins very much, to say the least. I didn't think he had anything against me personally, but it was the whole Robin thing in general. I tried to just appeal to Harvey as opposed to Two Face, and I tried to stay as calm as possible. It seemed to work best. I also tried to be extra gentle with Harvey since that day a few years ago…

"How can Rene visit you, if you're not at Arkham?" Hey, I thought I was being nice and reasonable.

"I'm not going back there." He said it so matter-of-factly that I was worried that this hadn't been a spur of the moment escape, that he had a plan. Or he was desperate.

I held my hands out so he could see I wasn't going to try anything. "Well, if you promise to behave yourself, we may be able to arrange a private facility. You've been doing so well lately. This is the first time in… what? Two years?" Ouch. You're a retard, Mara. "You stopped taking the medication, didn't you? Things were going so well…"

"SHUT UP!" Before I could think, he pulled the trigger.

The force is something you never can anticipate, it just hits you, and you're thrown back. There was a scream, and I was knocked on my ass before I could blink. skidded across the white linoleum. It hit me just below the collar bone on the left side. It's hard to shoot a rifle with one hand, and I was at least benefiting from that. I'd had double protection, my cape and my costume. They were both triple layered Kevlar and I was ok, I just hurt like hell.

"ROBIN?" mom screamed in my ear.

"I'm ok," I rasped, the wind taken out of me. I looked up. That woman with the dark hair sticking out of her baseball cap had screamed again, and his attention was back on her. She was asking for it at this point.

"Harvey," I said, trying to keep my cool. "Come on, Harvey. Rene's going to be here soon, and we can talk about it."

"I gave my demands to the police. There is nothing to talk about." Thanks for not telling me what the demands were, grampy.

I dragged myself to my feet. "There's always a way to work things out."

"Will you SHUT UP?" he pushed the boy who looked like he worked there down on the ground. "One of 'em, every half hour--"

I looked at the chronometer on the display inside my mask. Batman wouldn't get here before Harvey just lost it and made his move.

"Ok, Harvey. What happens when you run out of hostages?" Harvey was smarter than that. Two Face was smarter than that. Why was Oracle silent? A little help here, mom.

"Well, I have something better than hostages now—I have a little birdy. What was it I called your predecessor? Robin the Boy Hostage?"

I groaned. Thanks dad. Another nickname Robin will never live down. That, and short pants.

"Well can I be the girl hostage?" I was done trying to be nice. I knew now that it wasn't going to work.

He looked back to the boy he had on the floor and pointed the gun at his head, and I stepped forward. The poor clerk was staring wide-eyed at the man who held his life in his hands. "Ok, Harvey, this isn't cool any more. I gotta cold, and I'm not supposed to be out right now, so, lets wrap this up."

That got him to turn his attention to me. When he turned my way, I shot a razor at the gun pointed at the boy. It didn't go off when it dropped out of his hand. The 'unknown' variable, the gun pointed at me, did go off, but I saw it coming and jumped up and over, landing on Harvey. "You know, I tried playing this nice," I said, punching him out. It was a lot safer than trying to bring him in 'live'.

"This is Robin," I announced to anyone and everyone on my frequency. "Two-Face is down. Hostages are safe."

"I thought you were going to just keep things under control?" It was my Grampy.

"Someone made a move and he got ancy. Had to bring him down. Something's wrong," I said though, checking his pulse. "He's tanked. His pulse is going a mile a minute. He wasn't his normal controlled, slash psychotically raging self."

I began untying the kid on the floor. He seemed to be the most frightened and in need of attention. I talked as I worked. "Get someone to check his meds list. That stuff that's been keeping him under control—I doubt he's had it in a while. And whatever they have him on now has him tanked."

I pulled the razor out of the gun. It wasn't nice to leave evidence lying around, me being an urban legend and all. I used it to cut the younger boy free then turned to the three ladies. The one who had screamed looked up from under her baseball cap at me. Aww shit hell and damn. It was my English teacher. Didn't they have malls in Bludhaven?

With speed even I didn't think possible, I untied the last few folks as the police converged upon the scene and ended up back in the ceiling before you could say 'Space Ghost Coast to Coast'.

"Well done, kid." My mom said quietly in my ear.

"Where the hell were you? I was all alone in there." I was standing on top of the two level mall. This experience had killed my desire to ever go mall-hopping again.

"You were doing fine. I had no information to give, so I just listened. You're ok?"

I rubbed my shoulder. "Yeah. Hit below the collar bone. Cape's all messed up. I'm just gonna hurt for a while. Harvey's gonna hurt longer, after the rapping I gave him on the head." I was just avoiding telling her… telling anyone about my problem.

Perhaps I should wait until tomorrow and gauge the state of things? See if she acted like she knew anything, see if she was going to be a problem. "Incase you're wondering, you just won yourself a get out of school free card," mom informed me.

"Naw, I was thinking of going in tomorrow."

"The sudden change in attitude?"

"Got something I have to take care of, is all. My shoulder'll hold."

"You have the stubbornness of your Bat."

"He aint just my Bat, he's everyone's Bat," I said sweetly, seeing my Bat approach. "Oracle says I'm as stubborn as you," I informed him when he was close enough to hear. "Make her take it back."

"If she can say that, then I've taught you well." Haha. He was growing a sense of humor on me. I didn't like it. "Go home."

"You don't want to hear about how spectacular I was?"

"Let Alfred look at your shoulder."

"Can we have cup holders in the Car?"

"Go home."

I cleared my throat. "What's up? Did I screw up? Just tell me. Don't go all--"

"GO HOME."

I sniffed. "Fine, be that way."

I hated when he didn't tell you what you'd done wrong. Like you were just supposed to know or something. Without further ado, I took off, but I had no intention of going home.

The air was so cold that my ears began to ache deep inside, all the way down at my throat as I waited for my new favorite grandfather to get back to his office. Finally I couldn't stand sitting on the sill any more, I let myself in and crouched behind the filing cabinets near his desk. It took forever and a day before he let himself into his office, and even then, I had to wait for two officers to extricate themselves from the room.

I waited until he sighed and relaxed in his oversized leather chair. "Got time for a birdy who's lost her way?"

"I was told you were going home. You scared the crap out of me, you know that? When I heard shots fired?"

"I was good. He just knocked me on my butt. What'd you find out about his meds?"

"We have someone checking into it. I have a feeling you'll find out more than we do, and a lot quicker. The doctors in Arkham are being very close-lipped on this one." He wagged a finger at me. "But no going in and roughing them up for info. Let someone else do that."

I moaned. "What's everyone's deal? Other than a cold, I'm fine."

"And you were just shot."

"Oracle said I'm as stubborn as my Bat. Can't keep a good bird down, and all that. It just hurts a whole bunch." Of course I hadn't taken a look at it. It was probably solid black, and maybe even swollen.

I really did want to just give him a hug, and let him give me a hug, and get all warm and mushy. Too bad Robin didn't play that gig.

"You're determined to give me a heart attack. I swear to God, I'm going to retire and spend every night listening to the police scanner just to make sure you're alright."

The grin couldn't be suppressed. "Aww, thanks." I wanted to say, I love you too.

The door opened. "Everything all right in here sir?" it was one of the younger detectives. I didn't know his name yet. He looked from my grandfather to me. "Oh. Robin. Good work tonight."

"Thanks."

"If I can ask… where was your partner tonight?" Man, I didn't know HIS name, but he knew me and felt comfortable talking to me? Little red birds did not instill a sense of fear or awe, did they?

"Uh, super secret grown-up business, I think." Well, that WAS the truth. The great conspiracy of adults had gotten together. The whole Justice League was probably assembled around our kitchen table, discussing ways to make my life miserable.

That being said, I "disappeared." Might as well give the new detective a show. Out on the ledge, I heard him be all impressed with my little exit. Grampy wasn't impressed. I think he's figured out the little magic disappearo trick.

When the officer left, I went back in. I didn't knock this time. "Geeze. The new guys don't have any respect for urban legends, do they? 'Talking to me like you know me' and all that."

"He's heard a lot about you. He's more interested in Robin than in Batman."

"Geeze. I got a fan club. It's equally sad and cute." I let out a nice hacking cough.

"Will you go home already?"

"Am I being shooed?"

"Consider yourself shooed."

I wondered if I could sneak a quick hug before I left. I'd settle for a blown kiss. "Hugs and teddy bears," I told him.

There was a sudden crackle in my ear. "What the hell did you think you were doing? Two Face? By yourself?"

"Hi, dad. Nice to hear from you too," I muttered as I stopped at the window. "Yell at Redwing. I was all alone in the city. And find out who's been playing with Harvey's meds. We can blame THEM for him going off like a roman candle."

Grandpa made a face, listening to the one side of the conversation.

"Defend me here," I whispered to Grampy. "Nightwing, listen. I'm standing in the Commissioner's office, and tonight's open season for people wandering in and out. Gimme fifteen minutes to get back to the cave, then we can duke this out proper-like."

I didn't give him a chance to answer. I shut the channel off, I knew better than to give my dad an opening. Once that mouth started running… well, kids, it was all over.

"Gotta go. I'm toast. Just promise you'll visit church on my Feast Day. I'm about to by martyred for the cause." I blew him a kiss and vanished. Well, I didn't vanish. I threw myself out the window and didn't snap off a line until I was about to be street pizza. I was actually enjoying that terrible ripping you get in your arm right before you tear it out of the socket. It made sense that my right side should hurt as much as my lift side in a sort of Grandpa Bruce self-torture sort of way.

When I arrived back at the Cave, Alfred already had hot tea made and a blanket ready. "We expected you back sooner than this," he informed me.

"We?" that wasn't a good thing.

"I told you to go home." Yaay, Grandpa was back. And he was looking for blood. I turned from putting my bike away to see him sitting at the computer.

I drank the tea down quickly, feeling it pass over my swollen aching throat. "Well, I decided to stop in and see someone who actually wanted to be around me."

Alfred started taking the cape off before I could stop him. "Miss, you should have permitted yourself to be looked over before attempting such a thing."

"I'm FINE," I protested softly as Alfred pealed back the layers of costume. He was going to poke it or something and make it REALLY hurt, I just knew.

"That's what they all say," Alfred snickered. "Usually before we have to sedate them."

"Ha ha. I'm surrounded by a pack of comedians." I grabbed a tissue out of my belt and blew for all I was worth.

"And you're staying home from school tomorrow."

"You know, I don't get you," I told my grandfather. "You're playing some weird angle here, and I can't quite figure out what it is. No one is THIS accommodating of me, least of all YOU. You're usually the first person to try and make things harder than they have to be. Like… why couldn't I just live here, instead of commuting? Cause you said so. Now you're like, stay home from school, take it easy, quit Young Justice, piss off your parents…" I winced and hissed when Alfred poked it. I knew that was coming.

"Your mother wants you to stay home."

"And dad?" I was half tempted to pull Alfred's hand away. It was just a welt. Just leave it go and it'll go away. "He wants to eat me alive. Why? God only knows. But you're contributing."

"I'd like to think I saved you this morning—with both of your parents."

When Alfred had taped an ice pack to the bruise, I put my head in my hands and shook my head just a bit. "Look, I don't want to fight. I hate fighting. Just… just tell me why I'm in the dog house. I can deal with it, if I know what it is."

He remained seated there, looking so calm. "You're not in trouble. At least not with me."

"Great. That just leaves who? The Justice League and my parents."

"Actually, I think the Justice League is sated for the moment. Your mother is concerned for your health, but it is your father that you have to worry about."

"Oh, wise sage, tell me why he's bugging out and going completely and totally insane on me?"

His lips turned into that that fine straight line that I hated seeing on him. "It is typical for a father to be… overprotective."

Ok. So that's what they call it these days. Not being a complete and total psychopath. But… grandpa was doing his best in getting dad to lighten up. I shouldn't be going off on him. "Sorry. You're a good partner. You're trying to keep dad under wraps. It's me. I'm the complete nerd-bomber here." I sighed. "I guess I better call him back. And… I gotta ask. Hear anything about Harvey?"

"Yes. There were changes to his medication schedule. They're not saying why or on who's orders. I was going to let you do the follow-up, but I doubt you'll be vertical much longer."

"Ye of little faith. I could take on… well, a buncha people…" as long as they were unarmed munchkins without Belinda on their side.

"Call your father, before he runs me through."

"He's gotten to you already?"

"Call your father."

He rose from his chair at the Crays. Great. We were gonna make this painful and face to face.

I buzzed his line. "Yo, Nightwing," I said noncommittally. His face appeared. He was using the wrist communicator.

"Please hold," he said in an operator-voice, the video switched off.

I looked over to grandpa. "I'm sorry, that's not cool. You don't put someone on hold cause you're not ready to lecture. What does he think--"

"I had two thugs to drop, Miss Mouthy. And what the hell were you THINKING?"

"I was thinking I'd like, not let people die?"

"ALONE?"

"Who the hell was here? You were having some kind of secret meeting. Didn't you and mom even check to see if anyone else was in Gotham before you pulled Batman? Like, don't blame me because you're…" I pressed my lips together. I wanted to say because you're a bunch of crack-smokers. And I wanted to follow that up with a big BITE ME.

"You couldn't just hold position?"

"You weren't there. You don't know," I said bitterly. "This all goes back to a trust thing…"

"How bad were you hurt?"

I poked the ice bag. "Not badly enough for poor Harvey. Just a big welt." Some of us Robins wore enough clothes to keep from getting maimed by bullets. "Surprised you care. Figured you'd just want to yell at me for being a stupid idiot all night."

His voice dropped. "Mara… I went half out of my mind when I heard you were in there alone with him. He isn't someone… you want to be alone with. God, I could KILL Tim for leaving town and not telling anyone." I knew he and Harvey had a history. I didn't know all about it, but I knew it was pretty ugly. People'd died.

"Dad… it wouldn't have even gotten to the point where he'd be stupid enough to start shooting hostages, except he was hopped up. No coin gimic, no twos, except for the name of the mall… Dad he was seriously strung out. It mighta been Harvey doing all those things, not Two Face. That's the part that has me really worried."

Two Face I could do without. I tried to look out for Harvey, though. He was trapped in the same body with a real bastard. And I also knew a little secret that no one else knew from his last break-out… something I'd never share with another living soul. It was the reason I looked out for him when I could, and the reason I thought that HARVEY wasn't such a bad guy. A murderer, yeah, but not a bad guy.

"Mara… that's not the point. I'm your father, and I worry. Especially when Two-Face is involved." Oh, great harkening to grandpa's words only minutes before.

"Look, I'm ok, everything's ok. Harvey's going back to Arkham."

Were we having a moment here? Were we having it over long distance with Batman standing silently in the background?

"Dad… Can I come home tonight? Will you be home tonight?"

"Actually I was going to go to Albany and kick Tim's ass. Wanna come?"

I guess that meant dad and I were cool again. Or just avoiding our issues. I couldn't help it, I laughed. And when I did, the most horrible wet cough worked it's way out of my lungs. "Don't do that. Hurts the shoulder."

"I can't believe…" he shook his head. That he'd run off to Albany (like WHAT was in Albany?) with Cassandra, when Spoiler was stuck here, and he and Spoiler had a kid on the way?

"Tim's a flake, but it can't be like that." He often turned into a complete idiot where Stephanie was concerned, doing things that you'd think would be completely out of character for him. But this was a little too wacky.

"Tim's dead is what he is."

Well, at least we could bond over having a common enemy. Wait till they found out I'd just opened up a big fat security hole tonight. That'd really get me back on the sh-t list fast.

Dad promised to come home tonight so we could spend some time together, and said if he was going to get home, he'd have to get going.

That being done, I changed into something warm and fuzzy, then Alfred took me home. I could have gotten myself home, by car or otherwise, but I really felt like I'd been hit by the proverbial Mac truck that one hears tell about. It was looking bleaker and bleaker for me going to school tomorrow, but somehow I'd have to drag myself there and snuggled up to my English teacher. Just when one thing in my life quieted down…

Practically crawling into the living room, I collapsed onto the sofa. Alfred was at the door, talking to my mother. What in the world would we do without him? He was the glue that kept MY world together, if nothing else.

Alfred left, and mom came in the living room. I was staring at the TV, even though it was off. Thinking about how messed up my world had gotten. Should I say anything to my parents? I wanted space—I didn't want to run to them over everything. But this was… bad. There were so many people this secret involved.

Mom's hand rested on my forehead. "Yup. You're sick." Thanks for noticing. "How's your arm?"

"It aint my arm I'm worried about." I pulled the ice pack away from my collar bone. It was just plain old black. No blue involved.

"Yowzers."

She pulled herself onto the sofa beside me, out of her chair. "Harvey was doing better, mom." I sighed, putting my head on her shoulder. "Its not even that. I mean… Two Face is Two Face, right? So why'd they have to go get Harvey tanked? I wanna know who's been messing with him and why."

"Tomorrow's another day," she informed me.

"That's what everyone keeps saying," I said tiredly.

We were both drifting off when dad came in. "Got room on the couch for me?" He was in sweat pants and a robe. With care not to joust me around too much, he sandwiched himself between me and mom, and put his arms around us.

"Kill Tim yet?" I asked.

"Naw. He's off chasing after King Snake."

"And Cassandra?" mom asked.

"Well, um… Steph found out where he was going and after whom, so she asked Batgirl to go find him and keep an eye on him."

Mom was a much better pillow than he was. It was hard getting comfortable. "Isn't that cute. They're friends now. Ooy." I coughed and then blew my nose good. "Can we send Ra's Al Ghul my doctor bill?"

No one said anything. It had been a long time since we'd sat in silence. "So. What was decided at the big grown-up meeting?"

"That Clark can announce your resignation from Young Justice." He sounded a little grumbly about that. "And… uh… that there were some things we should be thinking about. About your future."

I froze. I had a feeling this was going to go one of two ways—either get out of the Robin costume, or they wanted to bump me up to an adult team. "Oh?" I asked, trying not to sound like it mattered so much to me.

Mom looked over at me from her place on dad's other arm. Why were we staring at the blank TV screen? "Well, I did have a long talk with your teacher about you."

Was this before or after the hostage thing? Hopefully this was this morning's conversation.

"We did talk about this a little… but I think you've been avoiding the issue," mom began. "So we might as well start talking seriously about college prep."

I groaned. "Dad doesn't have a college degree."

"And your mother has three masters'. What we did doesn't matter. But you have to get ready for the real world soon. It's a year away."

"So why the sudden interest?"

Dad reached around and gave me a pat on the head. "Well, I think the last few months we've been focusing too much on the… other aspects of life. Gotta start thinking about the real world. So. Career plans?"

Think up something good… "Well, uh, Tim's a programmer. He makes good money at it."

"So. Are you going to take a programming language class next year?" mom asked.

"Dunno. Was thinking of taking Study Hall one two and three, actually."

"You do have to think about the future," mom said encouragingly.

"I'll think of something," I promised. "I always do. SO… what was all you talked about? Why'd you need grandpa here?"

"Well, we did talk about something," dad said in a very controlled way. Here it came. "We were hoping to set things up so you had a little more free time, is all. Not pulling you out of the suit or anything. Just… you know." He squeezed my right side gently. Once upon a time, these were the safest arms in the world. He'd been my protector… maybe that's what he was still trying to be. Saving me from my mistakes, and from my adolescence. So why had I chosen grandpa over him?

"I dunno. I've got the Penguin thing. And Harvey, now. And… I just can't up and leave Gotham and like… join the chess club."

"Ever heard of telecommuting?"

I looked over at mom. "You need a side-kick or something?"

"Haha. You couldn't handle my job. Anyway. We just want things calmed down until scheduling for next years classes is over. I think that's a fair deal."

"Yeah. You're right." That was only like a few weeks away. I could handle a rest if I knew it wasn't permanently. "So. Where's the twip? Or did Shrike finally make me an only child?"

"With Young Justice." I tried not to wince as dad said it. I was over it, right?

"They can keep each other."

We sat in silence on the sofa until my brother came home. By then, I was asleep and mom was getting there. "We having some kind of party?" my brother asked.

I woke at the sound of his voice and cringed. My chest hurt.

"Go up stairs and change," mom told him. No wandering around the house in costume rule would get you every time.

"Geeze. Fine. Ok." Scamp ran up the steps to change, and we began to dislodge ourselves from one another.

"Well, folks, it's been a pleasure. Hope we can have more wholesome quality time vegetating together," I muttered as I dragged myself to my feet. I betcha I'd have hurt less if the bullet would have just gone all the way through. Then it wouldn't be like being beaten to death with the bullet. You know? And I was all stuffed up with a sore throat, besides.

Getting fully to my feet, I kissed dad's cheek. "Ouch. You could rip a girl's lips off. Good night. Thanks for being a pain in the butt who drives me nuts and makes me want to scream."

He stuck his hand in my hair and tousled it. "Get to bed and stay there." He even smiled at me. Like he was proud of me, and I wasn't a stupid little person for going up against Harvey. "And don't go getting shot at any more."

I dragged myself to the top of the steps. "Yes sir. I'll tell those bad guys they better not do that, or they'll have to face my daddy."

When I was in bed, I stared at the ceiling, trying to drift back off. I'd felt secure down stairs, with my dad's arm around me. That's why I'd done it. But now in my cold bed? Well, how much trouble could one English teacher be?

As I was starting to fall off, my door opened. "Heard you got ditched for Batgirl by Redwing and had to go up against Two Face alone."

I sighed. "No. that's not what happened. But if it makes you feel better inside to think that, go right ahead." I'd promised Grandpa and myself I'd play Jimmy cool, see what his deal was. "How's Young Justice treating you?" there was no sarcasm in my voice. Just casual concern.

"Lot better now that you're gone. I'm their king."

"They need a leader," I told him. Was he saying that to jerk me around, or was that what he was really after? Damn my family and their constant ulterior motives. No wonder I was a raving frothing lunatic most of the time.

"You're no fun," he said disgustedly, then left. Of course he didn't close the door behind him, so I had to go over and shut it.

The next day I got up the same time I always did, and quietly, slowly and painfully got dressed for school. Jimmy's bus came half an hour after mine, so he didn't get up until I left, and mom and dad were always in bed, unless they'd been up the night before. I got all the way out the door without anyone being the wiser.

When I got to school, I loitered in the halls. The female teachers were talking about Ms. Weitz and her 'terrible' encounter in Gotham city. I was dying to go up to Ms. Weitz and ask her—what's wrong with Bludhaven's malls? Down, Mara. Down.

They bantered on about how brave she was, coming in to work the next day after such an experience. They wanted to talk to her, to find out what it was like, meeting one of Gotham's crazies. As if Harvey were some sort of celebrity or something.

The fact that she was here today didn't bode well for me. I knew she'd only come in the next day if she wanted to get a good look at me. Well, I didn't wish to disappoint did I? It was show time.

I made sure I was extra wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for English. I tried to avoid coughing at all costs. Yes, she was staring at me, every chance she got, when she thought I wouldn't notice. I was in the deepest of kaka.

Now what did I do? I should tell someone. I was REQUIRED to tell someone. Why couldn't I say anything? The thought of the look on dad's face… the disappointment… even though I don't know how it could have been avoided. I'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. No she had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ok. Thirty-five more minutes of her staring and intermittently losing her concentration. I was spared answering questions about Camille due to the previous day's absence, so I just sat there and worried. I'd never had this happen before. I knew if my identity fell into the wrong hands, it'd be curtains for the whole Gotham and Bludhaven contingency. But she was just a teacher, right? She couldn't do anything with what she knew. She could accidentally pass it on to the wrong hands. That was what I was growing afraid of. That off-chance that she'd pass it on to the wrong people. What did I do? Who did I go to? If I went to dad, he'd yell. God only knew what Grandpa would do. I was in serious, serious…

"Mara," her voice snapped me out of my daze. "Can you stay after class?" The bell rang right on the heals of her comment. I swallowed my terror and slowly packed up my books. When my classmates had left, she asked, "Are you feeling better?"

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

"Good. Then I'll expect that essay for tomorrow."

I cleared my throat. "I… don't now. I have a lot of physics. More now that I missed two classes." I put my bag on my right shoulder. Being right handed, I usually threw it on my left, but that side was still seriously hurting. Hopefully she wouldn't catch that. Not everyone was a detective. Right? "Is that all?" I asked hopefully.

She seemed… tired. Maybe a little flabbergasted. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mara," she answered with a sigh. There seemed to be something she wanted to say, but it wouldn't come out. I had a feeling I knew what that was.

"Bye, then." I smiled sweetly, waved then took myself off. When I got out side the classroom, I all but hyperventilated. Deep, deep kaka. Deepest of kakas. Ok, Mara. Head in the game. What would you do if this was a costumed psychopath? You know how to handle those.

Well, beating the tar out of her and hauling her to Arkham wouldn't work. There wasn't anything to discredit her with… Well, I didn't know that. I didn't know anything about her. This is why when they started spouting off the list of world's greatest detectives, Robin wasn't in the top three. Research, dummy. You came in here today without any research.

Did it count that I'd been shot, and was probably getting pneumonia? As grandpa would say—NO. No it didn't. Ok. And I was going to have to do this the hard way. No computer searches or my mother could possibly find out. I didn't want them to know what I was involved in—not until I had some plan for how to deal with it. The grownups tried too hard to solve all my problems. I had to come up with some sort of fix for this on my own. In a year, it'd be all up to me. The bat family stuck together, but you were expected to clean up your own messes.

I waited until the school secretary was on her smoke break, then went in past her desk, past the vice principal's offices and to the 'record room'. It had all the hard copies of what they'd have on her. I found her personnel file. There weren't any complaints in her file, her reviews were good. She appeared to just be a teacher who cared. Apparently in previous years she'd claimed one dependant and filed jointly on her taxes. Her son was eight years old. Ten bucks says that was the kid I saw in the store, and that's why she was in Gotham. Obviously divorced.

Hell, what I wouldn't give for my scanning equipment. I got her home address, looked over her initial application for employment, her resume and hiring agreement. As far as I could tell, on paper, she looked like just a regular lady. Most folks were just regular people, right? It was only me that had a family and peerage of the legally and illegally insane.

My watch beeped while I was putting her files away.

I answered the hail. "Geeze, mom," I muttered when her image blinked onto the display. "I can't exactly talk now." Usually I'd have gone to the bathroom or outside to take a call.

"I thought you were staying home today."

"Something came up. Look. I'm coming home right now."

My family was really good at hanging up upon one another, so I closed the connection.

I went home to face the music. I should have followed standard procedure, go to the nurses' office and get sent home sick, but I didn't I just took off. I wasn't in the mood for any of this. Just when I get one part of my life settled, some other part has to go get complicated. I was a walking soap opera.

Mom kept pressing me, asking what could possibly be so important that I'd go into school when I was visibly ill. I just told her it was a school thing, and no big deal, then kissed her cheek and tried to take myself off to bed. I tended to get a little defensive when I was just plain guilty of something. Thus knowing that, I could occasionally counteract it with being especially sweet. I was pretty sure she knew I was up to something, but didn't press.

"My dad dropped off something for you," she told me before I could escape.

I went to the kitchen table and took a look in the paper bag. Inside was a box, looked like a toy or something. I pulled it out. It was a model ship from my favorite science fiction movie. "Easy snap-together pieces," I read. "Ha ha. Everyone's a freaking comedian."

"He said he hopes that that'll keep you out of trouble," mom informed me. "And I don't think he got you the snap-together kind because he's trying to make a statement, if it's any consolation. He knows you hurt your self."

"Next time, I want a ship in a bottle," I said, grumbling. So Grampy was part of the adult conspiracy to make me 'take it easy' until scheduling for next year took place. I took my prize and went up to my room, slamming the door. Geeze. There was NO ONE I could talk to about this without being condemned and killed.

I couldn't sleep, I was all slept out. My ears hurt, my throat hurt, my shoulder hurt, my pride hurt, my brain hurt…

Night time. I escaped before mom could tell me not to go. When she hailed me to threaten grounding for the rest of my natural life, told her I was working on a 'hot' Robin project that couldn't wait until I was feeling better. Oh the great burdens of illness.

Ms. Weitz lived on a tree-lined street, which was good because they were all brownstones and Victorian structures that really didn't leave a lot of place for a birdy to hide. I bugged a few of her windows with sound amplification devices then curled myself into a tree and prepared myself to wait.

I couldn't help it. I was sick, so I brought the ear-muffs and the cape with the hood. It kept me pretty warm in the cold winter air, and I settled in. An hour later, the phone rang. Thank God something was happening.

"Yeah, Clare. I saw her today. No. I didn't say anything. Well, their voices are the same. At first… when I heard her… I thought… oh no. She's here. Then I saw it was Robin. She drops her voice down… but it's the same." Geeze, lady. Ever hear that lose lips sink ships?

I slithered out of the tree, up to the roof and cut her phone line. I didn't want anything else said. Next I let myself into her house. She was at the phone, checking to make sure the jack was plugged into the wall. "You know, it's not nice to talk about people behind their back."

It was classic. She jumped about a mile in the air and almost had a heart attack. I couldn't resist a smile. She deserved it for blabbing. "Ma—Robin—m..."

I shook my head. "Who else have you been talking to?" My lips pressed together into a face my grandfather would be proud of.

"Just—just my sister." She was afraid of me. That was good. I didn't really feel like being very nice. My worst fear was true.

"And who's she told?" I asked with a hint of frustration. "You see my problem."

"I… I never mentioned your name."

"What if your phones had been tapped? I cut the line coming in on the roof. It's just as easy for someone to tap."

"Who'd do that?" She took a step away from me.

"This is Bludhaven, lady. The list is long. The cops, the baddies, my boss. You name it."

"I—I'm sorry."

"You should be," I told her harshly. "The wrong people find out about me, and you'll be reading in the papers how Robin went out last night in a blaze of glory at the hands of Batman's enemies"

"He… he's real?"

"Damned straight, honey. And he will NOT be happy to hear about this."

"Do your parents know?"

I advanced upon her. "No. And they're not going to find out, because you're not going to tell them. My mother worries enough as it is, and my father's one of the few legit cops in this joint. He doesn't need anything else on his mind. Capeesh?" If, in the little world I was creating, my parents didn't know, then that meant that my parents weren't involved. If I could cut myself off from the bat-family as actually being an actual 'family' member, I had a chance.

"You're also going to tell your sister that it was all just a horrible mistake, that your imagination was running away with you. The pressures of the situation got to your head." I got closer to her until I was only a foot away. In my boots I was slightly taller than her. "Are we clear?" I hated being the mean one, but I was so angry right now. And Batman wasn't here to play good-cop/bad-cop with her. I was always the good cop.

"And if I don't?" she asked weakly.

"Then I sic the Bat on you, lady. And you don't want that. If you can't follow MY polite request—trust me. You'll follow HIS direct order." With my last statement, I'd reverted back to good-cop Robin. I still didn't have it in me to be as forcefully mean as he could be. "Trust me. He doesn't take too lightly to anyone trespassing on his territory. This includes me." I ought to have something stitched into the back of my cape: property of the Bat.

"I… am … mean I wont. I wont say anything. I'll do that."

I backed off and gave her a moment to compose herself. "You'd better. Because I'll be watching."

She looked so upset. I felt… bad. I wasn't a mean person at heart.

I watched her get herself together. "Why… why do you go out there?"

"You don't want to know," I told her angrily. I needed to get myself under control. "It's not something to talk about," I told her calmly. "And why Gotham and not here?" Might as well head this question off before she started drawing conclusions. "I don't know. Nightwing doesn't play well with others." Usually doesn't play well with others was Batman's title. "The Bat was willing to take me, so that's where I went." Not exactly how it fell out, but close enough.

"As for Mara," I began. It would be better to just separate Mara and Robin in her mind right now. "She's just another one of your students. She doesn't deserve a second glance." I hated laying down the law, but I'd never done this before. I didn't know how to make myself clear besides being a hard-nose. I needed her to take me absolutely seriously. "And she WONT be handing that essay in tomorrow."

"I… I guess not." She looked away and blushed, and I took that opportunity to escape. Once I was on her roof, I threw my head back and sighed. That had gone SO well.

I took a few minutes to compose myself, then took off. "Oracle? This is Robin," I began.

"Go ahead." In other words, you'd better have a really good explanation.

"I'm coming home. Got anything on Harvey?"

"Nothing. They hired a new doctor." She proceeded to tell me what had been going on at Arkham the last few weeks, or as much as had been derived from conversations here and there. "…So they've got an APB out on this doctor, but she's vanished off the face of the earth, of course."

"Female doctor?" I asked. The thought suddenly occurred to me. Duh. Hello.

"Yes."

"It's Harley Quinn," I told mom. "She did it." Once upon a time, Harley had been a psychiatrist. I couldn't believe she'd held it together long enough to create an identity for herself and get back on the staff at Arkham.

"Why?"

"Harvey killed the Joker. Or, um. She thinks he did." Harvey's last escape… two years ago. One bullet to the brain… no one had ever solved it. Of course, none of us had really bothered. I already knew because I was there when I wasn't supposed to be.

"And you were planning on telling us… WHEN?"

"You hear things. Look, I've got to have some secrets. It goes with being dark and mysterious." Yeah right. I did dark and mysterious the way the Bat did standup.

"How can I know all, if YOU withhold information?"
"Chill, Oracle. Look, I didn't even know for certain until the whole new psychiatrist thing came into play. But just trust me. It was Harley. Woman scorned and all that. Do you want me to run her in?"

"Let someone else do that. Get back here and start being grounded."

I sighed. "Yes, mother."

I'd avoided telling one big secret only to have to spill another. I'd deflected one painful thing just to open another can of worms. My existence was one big sinking ship.

This was all just normal for my life, it seemed.