Disclaimer: I don't own the Titans. Nope. Not mine.
Part of the E'ara universe, set between last chapter and epilogue of Locked Hearts.
Broken record moment: Aussie, spelling, slang, word usage is all different.
Big fat Warning: Contains… um… fluff and more fluff… a smattering of angst, some drama, oooh action…
"The circus, the circus, we're going to the circus," Garfield sang, bouncing around the group happily as they walked. He paused ahead of them, peering over his shoulder as they caught up with him. "Why are we going to the circus? You don't like these places, Dick."
Dick shrugged, his hands still thrust into the pockets of his jeans, feeling the weight of Kori's arm looped around his elbow. "It's Haley's Circus," he replied nonchalantly, dragging one hand from his pocket to tug up his collar and brace himself against the chill of the wind, before wrapping that same hand around Kori's on his arm.
Kori looked at him, her eyes compassionate, while the others looked at him confused.
"But… this is the last place I'd ever expect you to want to come back to," Barbara said, peering at him from beneath Victor's arm. "This was-"
"I know," Dick said, interrupting her. "But… well… they're in town… it would be rude not to go." He sighed. "Besides, duty calls… seeing that I do own a share in the place…"
Rachel regarded him with narrow eyes and Dick wondered how much she was reading his emotions.
Garfield looked perplexed. "But dude, you hate the circus, you never-"
"Look," he said defensively. "We haven't done anything as a group for a while, and they always send me free tickets when they're in Gotham. Kori hasn't seen them and I… just wanted to-"
"It is all right, Richard," Kori said, and Dick saw her eyeing their friends. "We are very grateful that you wish to share this part of your life with us."
Garfield huffed. "Yeah. Grateful…" His face brightened and he grabbed Rachel's hand, dragging her away. "Oooh look! Cotton candy!"
"Oh!" Barbara cried, clutching at Victor's arm, pulling him in the direction of a shooting alley. "Vic! Win me a bear!"
Kori's fingers tightened around his arm. "Richard, are you well?"
One eyebrow raised and he turned his head toward her. "Yeah, sure, why?"
Crinkling her brow, Kori scrunched up her nose slightly in thought and he smirked at how cute she looked like that. "Something is… particularly peculiar about you today... all month in fact…"
Dick fought not to panic.
"I thought it was perhaps that you were nervous about seeing the circus again… but…" She trailed off with a shrug. "I do not know. Something is different."
Dick marveled at the perceptiveness of his wife of eight years. "Nothing's wrong," he said, trying to throw her off track. "I'm just… well… it's hard being back at this place again, so many memories." He sighed. "D'anthe l'ani, would you mind if I just… had a walk around here by myself for a while?"
She cocked her head at him, a small frown forming.
"Please, Star. I won't be long… there are just some… memories that I would like to work through by myself." Not entirely the truth, but he needed some space at that point, and had to check that certain things had been prepared.
She smiled and unwound her arm from his. "Of course. Call for me when you are ready to enter the 'Big Top'."
He leaned over the small distance between them and kissed her. "See you soon," he said as Kori walked over to join Victor and Barbara. He smiled as Victor peered over his shoulder at him and slung his arm around Kori's waist, hugging both the girls close.
Turning, he drew up his collar to protect himself from the chilly nighttime wind and thrust his hands into his pockets.
"What are you planning?" a dark voice asked.
Dick peered at Rachel. "I don't know what you're talking about."
She rolled her eyes. "Your emotions are screaming, did you really expect me not to notice? Something's up." She glanced over at their friends. "You're not planning another publicity stunt, are you? I thought Bruce had finished making you do that garbage, that you and Kori could be together properly."
Dick nodded. "He has. And I wouldn't do another fucking playboy date even if my life depended on it. Kori can't handle any more of those, they were killing both of us."
"I know." She paused. "So what are you planning?"
Dick gave her a lopsided grin. "You'll see, Rae," he said cryptically, "Just do me a favour, keep her off the scent, please?"
One of Rachel's eyes twitched. "Okay, but you better know what you're doing."
Dick smiled, kissing her forehead before he walked away. "Trust me."
Hunching his shoulders he slipped from the crowds of people gathering at the festivities occurring outside the circus tent as they waited for the doors to open, heading into the trailer section where the stars of the circus lived.
"Well, well, well," a voice drawled. "What do we have here?"
Kori smiled quietly to herself as she watched Barbara teasing Victor about the bright green panda bear he'd won. Garfield laughed heartily by their side, adding his voice into the teasing while he munched on the cotton candy he'd brought.
Eight years. She and Dick had been married for eight years; their anniversary was actually the following week. Of course, no one outside close friends and family knew that they were, it was actually Nightwing and Starfire that had acknowledged their marriage; Dick and Kori were still considered just dating. And even then, they'd had to go through trials and tribulations just to keep dating.
Kori's smile twisted with bitterness as she remembered Bruce's demands that Dick give the public the appearance of a playboy, claiming that it was expected that Dick be shown to play the field before settling down. There was too much interest in Starfire and Nightwing as a couple, seeing their almost perfect relationship, especially as the couple had begun appearing around Gotham with the new Robin at the same time Kori and Dick were in town. Bruce believed some people would begin to compare the relationship that Dick and Kori had with their superhero counterparts, that if it was left as it was, people would figure it out.
Bruce's original idea was to have Dick escort several upstanding girls to certain events, but Dick didn't want to have a bar of it, especially since they all knew what Bruce did on the so called escorts. The public knew that Dick and Kori were dating, if Dick had taken other girls out the press would have had a field day with cheating claims.
She'd been the one to come up with the idea of Dick dating her under the illusion of the hologram ring. Dick could date as many girls as Bruce wanted him to then, and not feel like he was betraying her while doing it.
But first came the public breakup.
That had just about killed both of them. Faking anger and screaming hurtful words at each other in the middle of Gotham Park had reminded them both of the time when they really did break up and Kori had gone back to Tamaran for three months. The tears that streamed down her face, and his defeated stance were not feigned. But what Dick hadn't known at the time of the argument, was that Bruce had asked Kori to leave the Manor that morning.
Oh, she known it was for the best, Bruce speaking the truth when he said it would look odd if she still stayed at the Manor after they'd publicly broken up. But it still hurt that he asked her to leave, that she wasn't welcome in his home anymore.
Kori hugged her arms to her chest as she reminisced. The make-up sex after that fight had been incredible. Remembering the way Dick had appeared at the doorway of the new apartment Bruce had supplied her with, his hologramed red hair dripped water from the rain that had been bucketing down and panting, having just run up seven flights of stairs still gave her shivers. He'd bundled into the room, blurted that she should have told him what Bruce had said and that he never would have publicly broken up with her if he'd known, before taking her against the wall in the hallway by the front door.
Her 'brother' Val Anders was regular at her apartment after that.
Then came the series of playboy dates. It had been fun at first to date Dick as different girls, have so many different persona's. They were able to do the things they couldn't as Nightwing and Starfire, at least, without being interrupted with a Titan alert. Bowling, boating, skiing, dancing at clubs, dinners, movies, going to restaurants and enjoying each other's company, all the things denied them as their superhero counterparts.
And then the rumors started.
Girls with no association or interaction with him began to claim he'd gotten them pregnant. All of them backed out after being told that he would, of course, support them, once they'd submitted to a paternity test. But the slurs stayed. It hurt read the lies printed in the papers. It hurt to see Dick being portrayed a personality so different than his own. It hurt to see him being scrutinised for every single action he made.
They'd begun to dread coming back to Gotham, knowing it was just going to be a debacle. It had even started to impede on their relationship with each other. They'd begun arguing.
Dick started fighting with Bruce again as well. Dick wanted to stop playing the game, while Bruce claimed not enough time had passed. Vicious, name-calling arguments began that even she couldn't defuse. And when she tried, he'd round on her as well, blame her for taking Bruce's side.
He'd become distant while on playboy dates with her, cold, and she'd begun to feel like she was dating a stranger.
And he'd stopped coming to her as Val when they were in Gotham.
Kori shivered and rubbed her arms, separating herself from her friends and wandered away, lost in her thoughts.
Even as Nightwing and Starfire the strain lingered. When they went back to Jump City the tension remained. The knowledge that they could be called back to Gotham at any moment for another stupid escort loomed over them. They stopped mind talking. Then they stopped talking altogether.
And when a fortnight had passed and Kori realised she hadn't seen Dick outside Titan alerts, couldn't even recall the last they'd gone to bed together, she finally decided she'd had enough.
She wanted her husband back.
So she took matters into her own hands, hers and Alfred's, the astute butler knowing the effect these dates had on her and Dick. She went to Simon and commissioned a dress. A very special dress, Simon had been delighted with the design.
The very next Charity Ball that Bruce insisted they attend, she went as Kori. She strode into that room, her head held high, the emerald choker Dick had brought for her on their honeymoon so long ago around her neck and wearing an emerald green dress just like the one she'd married in. She'd even put her hair up in the same style she'd worn, placed those two honeysuckle combs in her hair.
Bruce had intercepted her at the door before she had even taken two steps into the room. And she glared Bruce down, daring him to challenge her presence, telling him enough was enough. Dick had played his game, they'd been good, dutiful children, but now it was their turn and either Bruce backed down and got over it, or he was going to lose them both. She wasn't asking that they be allowed to marry on Earth, all she wanted was to be with him as herself. He'd stared at her, his eyes hard before finally nodding and moved aside.
It had been wonderful to see the look of surprise and happiness on Dick's face, to see him go weak at the knees and have to clutch the table he was standing beside to stop from falling. Even more wonderful to feel the brush of his mind, hear his voice in her head as he took her hand and led her to the dance floor.
They hadn't left the floor until long after the Ball was over.
She'd taken him to her apartment, sneaking in and giggling like schoolchildren as they avoided the paparazzi following them and stayed up all night just talking.
They rekindled what they thought was lost.
But try as she might to not look back, at times, there still seemed to be this wall between them. The way he would stare idly out the window, or his vague comments made her wonder if he was still happy with her. Or if there was something missing…
The past month had been very strange. Weird phone calls at odd hours that he stopped the moment she walked into his office, an unfamiliar woman calling the tower asking for Dick Grayson, secretive conversations, a trip to Gotham by himself. The deliberate blocks in his mind preventing her from entering his dreams. And then this trip to Gotham without Bruce informing them that their services were needed, Dick claiming it was 'just for fun'. When they had arrived, Dick, Bruce and Tim had disappeared into Bruce's office and hadn't reappeared for ages. Dick and Bruce had been almost… cordial toward each other at dinner last night.
Tim having other 'business', that included a knowing nod at Dick, meant that he couldn't attend the circus with them today had sent up the biggest red flag.
And now Dick had slipped off… after inviting her to the place that had been his home, where he had grown up, where he had lived with his parents, he didn't want to spend time with her. Didn't want to share this piece of his history with her.
Tears pricked her eyes.
"Don't think about it," Rachel said from her elbow.
Kori jumped, spinning around to stare at Rachel wide eyed. "Are you going into my thoughts, sister?"
Rachel sighed and threaded her arm through Kori's companionably, steering her walk back toward their friends. "I seem to be remarkably tuned into the two of you today, I don't know why. But those dates are in the past, Kori. Leave them there."
"The hurt remains."
"It only remains because you chose to let those memories have power over you," Rachel said sadly.
Kori stared at her and nodded, knowing the kind of memories Rachel contained in her mind.
"Oh Kori," Rachel said. "I wish I could've been here for you during that time. Perhaps we could've made a difference-"
"Please, Rachel, we have already talked about this. You had issues you had to deal with," Kori said sadly. "You had twenty years of memories to go through, new powers to learn how to control and memories of your own to put in the past. And we went to great pains to keep what we were going through from you and Garfield when you contacted us."
"I know, I just feel as though I let you down, being away for so long, and when we came back, it was already over. I should've noticed your emotions when we visited just after Gar and I got engaged and Dick took me on one of those dates-"
Kori nudged Rachel with her body. "You have never let me down, sister. And Richard and I did not wish to dull your happiness with our troubles. It was rare to see you smiling so much and we did not wish to intrude on your special time."
"He really loves you, you know," Rachel said quietly.
"I know," Kori replied with a sad smile as she wondered to herself whether that was enough.
Rachel sighed. "Just don't think about it. It's not him, it never was him. And it's over. Bruce is allowing the two of you to date as yourselves. Those dates haven't been a part of your life for two years. They're a downer and today is supposed to be about having fun…" she rolled her eyes, "at a circus… where my fiancé can get a sugar high and be terrible to deal with for about a week afterward."
Kori laughed, seeing Garfield and Victor scoffing popcorn as fast as they could to see who could out eat the other. "Oh, I am certain he cannot be that bad."
Rachel's lips twitched upward. "You don't know what he was like after coming back after visiting you guys. It was like he spend the entire time he visited scoffing candies and drinking as much coke as he could. He literally swung off the rafters. And it was impossible to get a decent conversation out of him with out 'duuuuuude' or 'awesome' appearing. It was almost as though he reverted to infancy."
"He always was rather excited to see us," Kori replied with a bright smile. "It was good for Victor to have him visit, they always had so much fun."
"Oh, I've been meaning to ask, Gar said that Vic left the Titans for a year, for personal reasons, but he would never tell me anything more than that. He and Babs are incredibly happy together, they're reading as very emotionally stable so I don't think it had to do with them as a couple. Do you know what was going on?"
Kori nodded, looking over at Victor. "Richard said he had gone to get his 'junk' fixed, but I could never understand how anything Victor had could ever be considered junk, he always keeps his belongings immaculate and Richard would never go into anymore detail than… Rachel? Are you well?"
Rachel's cheeks were bright red, her lips were pressed into a thin line and she looked as though she was about to laugh. "His junk?" she asked in a strangled voice. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Kori replied confused. "Rachel?"
Rachel snickered. "Well, if that's all Dick wanted you to know, I won't enlighten you."
"Let's just say, Babs is a very lucky girl," Rachel said with a rare show of wickedness.
Kori still didn't understand, but when she opened her mouth to voice it, she was interrupted by Garfield's excited voice. "C'mon you two!" Garfield called, beckoning them. "This is gonna be awesome!"
"Yup," Rachel droned as they headed over. "There's the 'awesome'."
Kori giggled while Garfield bounced up and down excitedly. "We have to go and get our seats! We're right up the front."
Kori looked around, becoming worried. "But… Richard has not returned, we cannot enter-"
"Ah, not to worry, Kori," Victor said, with a dismissive wave of his hand, producing five tickets from his jacket pocket. "Dick gave me the tickets, he's still got his, he'll probably meet us inside."
Kori reached for a ticket. "Then I shall take mine and wait for-"
"No way, little lady," Victor grinned, snatching the tickets away. "We ain't leaving you standing out here. Dick will be along in a minute, I'm sure of it."
Kori was unconvinced. Richard? she sent quietly.
Yeah, babe? came his almost absent reply.
She blinked, he'd never called her babe before, it was always baby, sweetheart, d'anthe l'ani or just Star. Our friends are ready to travel into the ring of the Big Top but I would like to-
Head on in, I'll be along shortly.
She frowned. You do not wish me to wait for you?
She fell silent, unsure why that hurt so much. Rachel squeezed her elbow, concerned and Kori tried to smile.
She swallowed. Yes?
I love you.
The smile came then, completely natural and Rachel relaxed beside her. I love you, too.
I'll see you soon.
"Ahh, that's a smile I like to see," Garfield announced, as he offered both Rachel and Kori his elbows. "C'mon ladies, the circus awaits!"
"Yo, grass stain, how come you get to escort both girls in?" Victor complaine .
"You looked like you have your hands full with Babs there, Vicky."
Kori giggled as Victor's hand cuffed the back of Garfield's head, causing the changeling to stumble forward. As he raised the arm that Kori was holding onto to rub the back of his head, Victor used that moment to pull Kori away from Garfield and wrap his hand securely around her waist. "You snooze, you lose BB," teased Victor while Kori and Barbara giggled and Rachel rolled her eyes at them.
"Aww, that wasn't fair," Garfield complained.
They found their seats quickly, removing their coats and draping them over the back of the chairs. Kori gazed around the ring, Garfield had been correct, they were right up against the edge, if she moved her foot forward, she could touch the mixture of sawdust and dirt that was the floor.
Looking up, she could see the various ropes, trapeze apparatus, and lights that made up the canopy of equipment above them.
Rachel settled down in the seat beside her. "You know, I can't remember the last time I actually went to the circus. I hope their magicians are better than Mumbo."
"I just hope their not mistreating their animals," Garfield said passing a bucket of popcorn to Kori from the other side of Rachel.
"I am certain that Richard would not allow such a travesty would occur to the animals under his protection," Kori sai, her eyes strangely drawn to the far curtain, seemingly the stage exit from the large ring in the middle.
"Definitely not," Rachel agreed, pulling off her gloves and placing them in her lap and Kori smiled as Garfield's hand automatically took Rachel's, even though he was leaning over to talk to Victor.
Kori glanced at the empty seat beside her as the ring continued to fill. Occasionally, she would turn and watch the entrance, her eyes scanning the sea of laughing and talking people as they filed through to their seats, waiting anxiously.
But as the lights dimmed and the music started, he still hadn't arrived.
She tried to concentrate on the Ringmaster as he welcomed everyone to the circus, she tried to concentrate on the exuberant performances that occurred in the ring to welcome the audience, as horses trotted in circles, elephants lumbered through trumpeting loudly, clowns made the children laugh. But the empty seat beside her was cold, lonely and she felt empty.
Richard? she called quietly, and got no reply.
Rachel leaned over and took her hand. "He'll be along soon," she said reassuringly. "He's probably just waiting for the right moment to slip into his seat, don't worry so much."
Kori allowed her friend to soothe her, but still could not be drawn into enjoying the circus. She watched the clowns with veiled eyes, laughing a moment after her friends did to hide the fact that she really wasn't paying attention.
The clowns flounced off and Kori took that moment to cast her eyes around the audience once more in search of her husband.
Every single light in the ring went out at once, followed by startled gasps of surprise and shrieks from the children in the audience.
A solitary beam of light surged into existence in the middle. Kori's eyes took a moment to adjust before she gasped in shock.
In the stream of light, stood Dick.
Dick raised the microphone to his mouth.
"Hello! Welcome to Haley's Circus, you're in for a special treat today," he called. "My name is Dick Grayson-"
The applause at his name was deafening. Dick felt a blush rise to his cheeks, he never expected to be actually remembered.
"Ah… it seems that many of you do remember my parents. The Flying Graysons soared through the air above the ring, and it's been eighteen years since a Grayson flew on the trapeze at Haley's Circus. Eighteen long years. But today, with your permission, I'd like to take to the air again."
The audience shrieked and whistled in appreciation.
Dick raised his hand. "A Grayson cannot fly alone. We were family act and I am the last Grayson."
There was a general chorus of disappointment.
Dick smiled cockily. "But there is another that has learnt the secrets of my family, and I would like to ask her to soar with me today." He turned his head and looked up at the red haired beauty that had stolen his heart, so long ago. A spotlight suddenly appeared over her and she stared at him, her mouth open in shock. "Kori," he called and held out his hand toward her. "Come fly with me."
Her head shook minutely, a tiny movement of denial and his grin broadened. "I do believe she's turned shy," he said wickedly. "How about a round of applause for Kori, coax her out of her seat for me."
As people began to clap and whistle, he waggled his fingers at her. C'mon, Star, get off that sexy tush of yours and down here.
She eyed him skeptically before looking around the ring nervously, Rachel whispering into her ear and giving her encouraging little nudges while Garfield, Victor and Barbara grinned at him. When Kori finally got to her feet, the cheering of the audience increased threefold.
Thatta girl, he sent affectionately as she made her way to his side. Offering her his elbow, he fought not to wince as she clutched at it and raised the microphone to his mouth again. "We'll be a minute while Kori changes into something more appropriate, so in the meantime, the enjoy the show." He had to tug Kori slightly to get her moving, passing the microphone back to the madly grinning Ringmaster as he pulled her from the ring and through the curtained tunnel toward the exit.
She was suspiciously quiet as he pulled her through the preparation tent beside the main tent, past the group of clowns preparing for their next show and past the acrobats that were warming up.
"Richard?" Kori asked in a strangled voice after he'd led her outside into the night and headed toward the trailers so she could change. "What are you doing?"
He grinned at her. "You're gonna do the quadruple somersault with me."
"What?" she asked, her voice suddenly shrill, planting her feet in the ground and tugging him around to face her. "This is what you have been planning?"
He nodded, still grinning. "Yup."
Her face went pale and she suddenly sat down on the nearest crate, placing her head in her hands. Concerned, he crouched down so he could see her face, brushing several strands of hair behind her ear. "What's wrong? You can do this, we've done it loads of times-"
"But never with an audience-"
"That's nothing to be concerned about. You don't even notice them when you're up there, I promise." He took her hands to try and stop her shaking, he had known this would be a shock to her, but he'd underestimated how much. "Why are you upset? Star… if you really don't want to do this, you don't have to…" he sighed, trying not to sound disappointed, "I just… thought it might be fun."
She looked up at him, swallowing heavily. "I…" She cleared her throat. "I thought you were unhappy."
He frowned, taken aback. It was a completely different reason than the one he'd thought. "Huh?"
"Things have not been right between us since…" she trailed off.
"Since the dates," Dick acknowledged, with a quick glance around to see that they were not being watched or listened to, wondering why she was bringing this up now. "Things were very bad between us there for a while."
"I know I let them affect me more than I should've. I know I allowed what happened in Gotham to change the way I acted toward you in Jump and I'm really sorry about that. But… us dating as ourselves helped us reconnect as a couple. We're better now," Dick said firmly.
His heart pounded. "Yes, of course we are. You and I can work through anything. Why would you think we weren't?"
She clutched at his hand. "You have been very distant lately, and there were certain things you have said that have made me wonder if you are truly happy or whether there was something missing from our relationship. You have not allowed me into your mind when you sleep and…" she froze and dropped her eyes.
"And?" Dick prompted, concerned.
"There was a woman on the phone," she said meekly, not meeting his eyes.
Horror filled him. "Oh… oh Star no… no don't think that, I would never- I love you."
"I do not think that, Richard," she said with a sharp shake of her head. "And I know that you love me. It is just…"
"It made me think. Some of the things we said to each other during… our public breakup… were not entirely untrue."
He frowned, his mind churning over all the things that were said. "I don't understand."
She looked very sad. "The fact that you love me does not necessarily mean you are happy, Richard."
"But I am happy."
She twisted her fingers nervously. "Then… you have not lost the thrill? We have not grown comfortable together? You do not feel…"
He shook his head, recalling one of the words he used in that argument. "Trapped?"
She nodded sadly, tears filling her eyes.
"Star," he said, taking her by the back of the neck and pulling her forward until their foreheads touched. "We're heroes, baby, life is one big dangerous adventure, and its nice to come home and just be comfortable with you. Yeah, we got comfortable, but that doesn't mean we lost the thrill. You can be so thrilling it hurts," he chuckled, causing her to smile. He moved his head forward, kissing her softly. "I never feel trapped with you," he whispered as he moved away. "You make me feel a lot of things, and being trapped is never one of them."
She closed her eyes, and when she reopened them, they were free of tears.
"So… will you perform the quadruple somersault with me?" he asked.
"Why the sudden interest-"
"Please?" he pleaded. "Fly with me?"
"It's been eighteen years since a Grayson was in the air, I want to share that part of my life with you. And I want the world to know that only you could share that piece of me. Please?"
Kori sighed and nodded.
"Awesome," he exclaimed, kissing her forehead before he stood, still holding her hand. "We have to get you-"
"So this is the little lady," a voice asked cheekily.
Dick grinned and flicked his head around, seeing a man in a clown costume approaching. "This is my Kori." He tugged on Kori's hand, prompting her to rise. "Kori, this is Randy, co-owner of circus, he and my father were best friends."
Randy's jaw dropped as Kori stood and Dick's grin shifted into a smug smile.
"Holy shite!" Randy blurted as he looked up at Kori. "Daaaaaaaamn, Dick, I knew you were into taller girls… but… woah."
Kori frowned, her hand tightening around Dick's. "I am not that much taller than Richard."
Randy blinked, before he gave Dick a cockeyed look. "She called you-"
"Yes, she did," Dick interrupted.
"Well, Miss Kori, you must be something special then," he said, extending his hand to shake Kori's. "Pleased to met ya. Jackie's got your costume all ready, if you just go over to that trailer," he finished, indicating the trailer behind him.
"Jackie is Randy's wife," Dick said quietly to Kori. "She's who I have been talking to on the phone."
"Oh," Kori said softly, giving him a meek smile. "Richard-"
He leaned over and kissed her, stalling her words. "Go, get ready, I'll see you in a minute."
Kori nodded, and headed in the direction Randy pointed, meeting the sandy haired woman in a magician's costume at the door.
Randy turned back to regard Dick seriously, an odd effect in the clown costume. "Now, Dick… I know you've assured us that she can do this stunt, and we saw the tapes you sent us of the two of you doing this, but you gotta understand a lot of us are still skeptical… if we didn't know you so well, we would never have allowed this. Even with those wavers you signed. Tell me she can fly."
Dick smiled. "Randy, she can fly better than my mother could. I have never seen anyone as at ease in the air as she is."
"Huh," Randy stated, looking shocked. "Better than your mother?"
Dick nodded proudly.
"Okay then," Randy replied as though it was the easiest thing in the world. "You need a place to change?"
Randy beckoned him. "C'mon, let's get you set up."
Dick ran his fingers across his chest, feeling the texture of the red acrobatic uniform as he stared at himself in the mirror. It was going to be strange getting up on that trapeze again in front of an audience, but he knew he needed to do this. In more ways than one.
He could almost feel his parent's presence with him as he mentally prepared himself. God, how he missed them at times like this. More than anything, he wished they could have met Kori.
He watched their ghosts in the mirror, saw his mother placing her hand on his chest, heard her voice calling him her 'little Robin'. Saw his father, standing proud and tall, his hand on his shoulder while the other was around his mother's waist. Watched the three of them, remembering how it used to be.
"Fuck," he muttered, squeezing shut his eyes, still feeling something damp on his cheek.
And then there really was the warmth of a hand on his chest, a body pressed up against his back, the sweet scent of honeysuckle. "Richard," Kori's voice whispered sadly.
He leaned back into her, his head falling back onto her shoulder, his hands covering hers. "I miss them at times like this," he said softly.
"I know," she whispered and he felt her lips on his neck.
"I wish you could've met them. Mom would've loved you. Dad would've got a kick out of the fact you are taller than me."
She giggled softly.
Dick cleared his throat and left the warmth of her arms, stepping away to compose himself.
"Richard?" she asked quietly.
He turned his head to look at Kori, his jaw dropping.
She hugged one arm to herself, her hip cocked slightly as one leg was behind the other. He'd never expected her to look this good in the red Flying Grayson costume. The red skintight outfit hugged her torso, the short skirt flaring from her hips and the leggings outlined her toned legs. She'd pulled her massive amount of hair away from her face and into a neat bun so they wouldn't get tangled in it. Jackie had given her glitter, the skin of her neck and chest was covered in it, giving her a sparkly sheen.
"Star, you look amazing."
"As do you," she replied coyly. "That certainly shows off your… assets," she finished, cheekily dropping her eyes.
Dick laughed. "Yeah… believe me I know. But it also allows for more flexibility and less air resistance… God, I never thought you'd look that good in that suit, I should've done this a long time ago."
"Ready for this, love?" he asked, taking her hands, lifting them to his chest.
She nodded nervously.
"Just remember, wait for-"
Kori nodded. "The snap, I remember. I will not let you down, Richard."
He smiled, and rubbed his hands along the outside of her arm until they reached her back. "I know you won't. You don't have to do any fancy somersaults or anything if you don't want to, all you need to do is catch me."
"I know, Richard. We have practiced this many times. You do not need to fuss."
"I'm not fussing," he complained immediately. "I just don't want you to be nervous that's all."
"Of course you are not," she replied. "And you did not ever do the reminding before a date of the play of boys either. I am certain I will not-"
"Ha!" he crowed. "You are nervous. You slipped up."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Play of boys? Do the reminding? You only ever muck up words when you are nervous."
She cuffed him and pouted. "You are mean, making with the fun."
He laughed, his hands slipping to her rump. "That's what life in the circus is all about Star. Having fun!"
Kori giggled as he squeezed. "You are very devious, d'anthe l'ani."
"I know." He grinned and pulled away, keeping a hold of her hand. "C'mon, we have a show to put on."
The audience cheered loudly as they walked back into the ring, the circus' usual trapeze artists and acrobats lined up to meet them. Dick saw Randy and other clowns keeping the children in the audience entertained.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" the Ringmaster asked, looking at Kori for confirmation.
Kori raised her chin. "A Grayson cannot fly alone, and Richard has trained me in the Grayson art of flight-"
"But she's not a Grayson-" one of the acrobat lined up behind him said, shying away as Dick scowled at him.
"I am And'r," Kori said, sternly. "I will not allow him to fall."
"Being a catcher is a test of strength," another of the acrobats said. "Are you sure she can take this?"
The Ringmaster looked at Dick, who nodded. "All right, it's your funeral-"
"Kori has not let me fall yet, even on her first attempt at this, she still caught me," Dick snapped, squeezing Kori's hand.
The Ringmaster nodded and stepped aside with a sweeping gesture, allowing them to get to the chain ladder that weaved its way up to the trapeze platform.
Dick gave Kori a small bow. "Ladies first."
She narrowed her eyes at him, and headed to the ladder. You just wish for the view up my skirt, she sent as she began to climb.
And such a lovely view it is too, he returned, waiting a moment to give her some headway before heading up after her.
An acrobat headed for the other ladder while another one headed up the ladder behind Dick and he saw Kori glance down curiously. Protocol, he explained, they'll act as catchers, and can get on the trapeze if something goes wrong… it's circus policy…
"Geez, she's light on the ladder," Dick heard a voice say below them, glancing down at the acrobats assembled to watch and had to withhold a smirk.
She reached the platform, disappearing over it before she leaned back down and held out a hand. Dick reached up and grabbed it, allowing her to pull him up the last few steps.
"Look," she said with a smile, pointing down into the audience. "It's our friends," she finished, waving madly, that joyous Kori smile on her face.
Dick glanced downward, seeing Garfield madly waving back, Barbara with a huge grin on her face, Victor giving them the thumbs up and Rachel quietly smiling.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," the Ringmaster announced. "If I can draw your attention to the trapeze-"
Dick drowned the voice of the Ringmaster out as he concentrated on Kori, clasping her arms above the elbows.
"You will be fine," she said soothingly, her eyes locked on his, her hand stroking his biceps. "I will not allow you to fall, I shall be right where I am meant to be when the moment comes."
"I'm more worried about you-"
"Now you know how I felt at our xhandal," she said, placing her forehead against his. "We will be fine."
He nodded. "Okay, smile and wave to the audience then," he said, pulling away as the spotlight hit them and the audience erupted into cheers.
He felt more than heard Kori's sharp gulp from beside him, but she raised her hand and waved at the audience and he did the same, keeping one hand on the small of her back.
"Chalk your hands up really well," he fussed, seeing her nod of acknowledgment as she reached for the chalk. "Watch your grip on the bar, wait for the snap and if at any time you feel yourself slipping, you tell me, straight away."
He dipped his hands into the chalk too, making sure they were completely covered, before taking her hand again, his other hand reaching for the waiting bar. "No hesitations, Star."
"Here we go," he whispered into her ear, handing her the bar.
Kori smiled at him, rose up on her toes as she pulled back on the trapeze and gracefully swung into the air. She effortlessly made the transference from that bar to the fly bar in the middle, sending the first bar swinging back to him.
Catching the returned trapeze bar, he watched as she gained momentum on the fly bar and then slipped into the catching position, hanging upside down with her knees bent over the bar so that her hand were free to catch.
Timing was everything.
He carefully watched her momentum, made sure she had enough, counted the seconds between each arc of her swing to make sure she had the timing of the swing exactly the same. All other distractions drifted away, the calling of the audience no longer of any consequence, all he could hear was his breathing, and the creak of Kori's wire as she swung through the air.
Shifting his grip so that both hands were on the bar, he nodded to the acrobat standing on the platform behind him and gave a small jump, swinging off the platform. Ankles tight together, body straight, those were his father's words that echoed through his ears as he swung through the air. He and Kori reached their arcs together, their timing perfect and he saw her smiling at him.
She knew the routine as well as he did, he made sure she was well trained before he considered her ready for this kind of thing. They started small, a simple backward twist as he released his bar and reached for her waiting hands.
He tilted back his head, locking eyes with hers for a moment as they swung through the air, connected by the wrists. She released one hand and he immediately grabbed her opposite wrist, turning mid-air so he could face the direction he'd just come, judging the swing of the trapeze he'd just released.
At the height of the swing, she released him, and he completed a single forward somersault, extending his body to grab onto the flying bar again.
The audience screamed their appreciation.
Gradually the flips and somersaults became more daring. Double somersaults, triple flips and she was always in position to meet him, her hands outstretched, her fingers tight around his wrists as gravity pulled them into another swing.
Their warm up finished, the easy part of the routine, the entertaining part of the act for the audience complete. Kori pulled herself out of the catching position to simply sat on the bar, swinging as though it were a child's toy, Dick climbing onto his bar to do the same.
The quadruple somersault was a different stunt altogether. Instead of meeting his hands at the ninety-degree mark at the height of the swing, Kori was required to meet him at the sixty mark, on her way back down. He'd still be flipping when she reached the height, still spinning through the air and she'd have to be very precise when she extended her arms to catch him, two early and she'd hit his legs, too late and she'd miss him completely.
But hers was the easy bit. He had to power off the bar at the height of the swing as hard as he could so he could complete the revolutions required for the four somersaults and then extend back out straight to reach that extra distance to her hands. And he'd be spinning so fast, he wouldn't be able to see if she was in position to catch him.
The quadruple somersault was the ultimate test of trust and skill.
They sat on their bars and looked at each other while the audience clapped and cheered, one hand extended and waving while smiles were plastered on their faces.
You can back out right now, Dick sent.
I will catch you.
He knew this to be the truth, she'd only ever once fumbled the catch once on the quadruple, and that was the very first time they'd tried it together, and had had to release her bar to stop him falling. But he was concerned that the fact they had a screaming and cheering audience could break her concentration. She couldn't exactly fly to his rescue without blowing their cover.
I will catch you, she sent sternly. You trained me, Richard. Looking back, you even started training me on our flights together. We have spent years on this, although had I known you wished me to perform it publicly I may not have allowed it. But we are here now. You wanted to fly; I will help you fly.
Love you, Star, he sent, nodding down at the Ringmaster, who waved in return.
"Ladies and gentlemen, can we have complete silence please, as Dick and Kori prepare to do the impossible, the quadruple somersault, a feat that has not been seen since Dick last performed it with his parents, eighteen years ago."
A hush fell over the crowd as Kori arched on her bar, swinging higher and slid into her catcher position.
Dick followed suit, gripping the bar tightly as he contorted his body to move the trapeze bar in long, powerful swings, trying to gather as much momentum as possible but still stay in time with Kori's swings.
Ready baby? he asked, seeing her matching his pace exactly.
He released his bar, instantly tucking his body tight, his hands clasped on his knees as he spun through the air.
The faces of the audience blurred into the bright lights hanging from the ceiling as he tucked his body tighter.
There was no need to breathe; the revolutions would be over before the next one was necessary.
No sound existed but the rushing of wind in his ears, his father's comforting voice inside his head, his mother whispering his name. He always heard their voices when he did this stunt, and it was partly because of this reason that he wanted Kori to learn it. That, and he wanted to be able to teach their children when the time came.
He extended his hands, bringing his body as straight as he could.
For an eternal moment, he hung in the air.
This was true flight, the closest thing he could get to the joy that his Tamaranian wife felt every single day.
A moment later, he was falling.
And then he felt Kori's hands close around his wrists and he was borne away safely.
He looked up into her beaming and relieved face and let out a puff of breath, allowing a proud smile to cross his face.
The screaming and cheering began, the sound filtering into his awareness. A glance down at the audience revealed people on their feet as they cheered enthusiastically. His eyes were drawn to their friends, seeing Garfield clutching at Rachel, Victor and Barbara on their feet, punching the air animatedly.
And Bruce and Tim beaming up at him from the seats beside Rachel, Alfred standing in the isle, clapping heartily.
He glanced up at Kori, seeing her delighted face as she noticed Bruce and Tim in the audience as well.
All that remained was the dismount. They performed the mid-air spin again, switching hands so he could see the bar swinging back toward him. Effortlessly, he transferred to that bar, and then onto the platform where the other acrobat grabbed his waist, not that he needed it.
Releasing the bar, he turned to wait for Kori.
She'd moved from the catching pose by then, using her legs to increase her momentum. She released at the height, performing a quick somersault as she switched bars and then was swinging toward him.
He grabbed her by the waist to pull her onto the platform, waited anxiously for the moment until the acrobat that had joined them took the bar from her before he grabbed her by the back of the head and brought their lips together in a quick, frantic kiss.
"Well done," he said into her ear.
Randy was grinning broadly as Dick and Kori descended the ladder, waiting at the base for them. "Dick! That was brilliant! God, you're not even out of breath after that performance! You should consider coming back to the circus."
Dick smirked, his hands the small of Kori's back as he helped her down the last bit of the ladder. "I have a different life now."
Randy waved his hands in resignation. "Ahh well, I tried. Your father would've been proud."
"I like to think so," Dick replied with a sad smile and a nod, before tugging Kori over into the center of the ring where the beaming Ringmaster was waiting and praising them loudly, keeping the audience riled up.
Dick gratefully accepted the microphone from the Ringmaster, Kori standing a small distance away from him, smiling happily and waving to the crowd.
"Did you all enjoy that?" he called to the audience, wincing playfully as they screamed their enthusiasm back to him. "How about a big round of applause for Kori!"
Kori blushed and bobbed into a curtsy briefly before turning in a slow circle to wave at the crowd.
He waited until she had his back to him. "The quadruple somersault is a Grayson family tradition," he said, addressing the audience. "And since Kori is now privy to my families greatest secrets, I'd better make her a Grayson."
The audience instantly dropped into a hush.
Kori turned around to face him slowly, her face shocked. "What?"
He smiled and held out his hand to her. "I love you Kori, always have and always will and I am so very lucky to have found you. A Grayson cannot fly alone, soar with me, forever, as my wife." Again.
Really? she sent, her mind voice hopeful. It is over? Bruce will not stand in our way?
Funny story about that, he returned. But I'll tell you later. Yes, Star, it's over. Now say yes, give me a squeal and a glomp.
She did as she was told; that high pitched squeal of delight, followed by a scream of 'yes'. He caught her tackling body and spun her in the air before drawing her down into a long, searing kiss.
He only broke the kiss when he felt a thump against his back, felt a certain changeling jumping on his back excitedly, while Kori was torn from his arms and into an eager Barbara's embrace.
"Finally!" Barbara squealed happily, bouncing up and down while holding Kori's hands. "Oh, you must have been waiting ages for this."
"You just had to be dramatic, didn't ya man," Victor said, clapping Dick on the shoulder, hard enough to make him wince. "Couldn't go for the easy one, a romantic dinner, a bottle of wine. Nooooo, you and Kori had to do a trapeze act."
Dick grinned. "Yup, sure did."
"You two looked awesome up there," Garfield exclaimed, his arms gesturing wildly. "My heart stopped beating several times I'm sure."
"Congratulations," Tim said, receiving a noogie from Dick for his trouble. "Aww get off!"
Kori laughed, pulling Tim away from Dick to receive a hug. "Richard, you should not treat your little brother so."
"Nah, he likes it," Dick replied cheekily.
"Sneaky," Rachel said quietly, and Dick slung an arm around her shoulder.
"You know it, Rae," he replied, kissing her temple.
"So, do I get a hug?" Bruce asked, standing not far from them and Dick saw Kori freeze.
Things had not sat well between Bruce and Kori for some time. Dick had known from the beginning that Bruce had manipulated Kori into agreeing with the dates. He'd used her love for her family as a weapon, and Dick had seen it coming and had been unable to stop it. Even though Kori had agreed to the ruse, she had taken it hard, come to the belief that perhaps Bruce was trying to push her out of Dick's life. That belief had been compounded when Bruce had asked her to leave the Manor to keep up appearances. Every time Bruce denied them the right to be together as themselves, a little more of Kori had broken.
Dick knew Kori found it hard to deny Bruce. He'd known the reason behind her loyalty stemmed from her own father. Her father hadn't loved her, had tried to kill her far too many times and Kori hadn't wanted Dick to lose that one thing she could never have.
That's why he'd been so shocked and delighted to find she'd defied Bruce to come to a Charity Ball as herself, had nearly collapsed when he's seen her walking toward him in the very image of the bride she had been on Tamaran.
Dick watched Kori carefully as she stared at his father, Rachel rigid beneath his arm and he knew she was checking Kori's emotions.
Bruce shuffled uncomfortably under Kori's scrutiny.
Kori finally smiled. "K'norfka Bruce," she said, throwing her arms around his neck and Dick saw the brief flash of relief on Bruce's face as his arms came around her to hug her back. Kori had not called him k'norfka since it had began.
Dick smiled and Rachel relaxed. "It's over," she said quietly.
"Finally," Dick agreed, giving her a squeeze.
Celebrations had gone on long into the night.
Victor had insisted that they all go clubbing to celebrate, which was absolutely fine by Dick's reckoning. Tequila had a strange Agarfoin like effect on Kori and Dick always made sure she had some of it by the end of the night, it made their playtime afterward so much sweeter.
He and Kori had danced long into the night, long after Rachel had transported a drunk and singing exuberantly Garfield home. Long after Wally and Jenny had shown up to help party, and he'd been berated fiercely for not inviting them to see the act Dick and Kori had performed. He and Wally had proceeded to have shot wars, downing as many as they could, which Wally declared he'd won, even though he could barely stand while Jenny just rolled her eyes. Long after Victor's cybernetic body had succumbed to the presence of alcohol in his system and Barbara had insisted that he leave while he could still walk, unable to carry him.
Dick and Kori lay together in their bed of their apartment, naked, appetites sated for the moment and Dick listened to the quiet warbling snore of the aging Silkie at the end of their bed. Shifting his head on Kori's chest, he snuggled closer, allowing the quiet thump of her heart to soothe him.
"Richard?" Kori asked softly, one hand making trails along his back, the other running its fingers through his hair.
"Hmm?" he mumbled sleepily.
"How did you manage to convince Bruce to allow us to marry on Earth?"
Dick laughed, unable to help himself. "Oooh, Star, you're gonna love this. Here, I'll show you," he said, dragging her into his mind, and recalling the conversation he'd had with his father a little over two weeks ago.
"We're done, Bruce."
Bruce glanced up from where he was working at the Bat computer. "Pardon?" he asked, uncaring, returning his attention to the computer.
Dick planted his hands on his hips. "We're done. Finished. We're not doing it anymore."
"Doing what?" Bruce questioned, still concentrating on the computer.
"Don't play dumb. We've been playing your little game for nearly five years now. We're done… it's time to let Kori and Dick be together again, completely together, not this will they, won't they crap you have us doing. Let us get married on Earth and stop the games."
Bruce sighed and swiveled in the chair to face him. "Dick-"
"Here's the deal. I'm going to propose to Kori and then, next year, you will let us get married."
Bruce shook his head. "No, I don't think-"
"If you don't, I'm just going to get her pregnant and then you will have a scandal on your hands."
Bruce's mouth dropped open, his face draining of blood. "I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me. Pregnant. Would you like me to spell it out for you? She's gonna to stop taking her supplements and go into morn'lo and then I'm gonna f-"
"-k her senseless until she's begot with my-"
Dick smiled smugly.
"You're too young to be thinking about kids!"
Dick scowled. "That's your excuse for everything. I'm twenty-six now. I think the real reason is you don't want to be a granddaddy. Well guess what, we already know we're gonna have a girl, and both of us are actually quite anxious to get down to business. So, Dad, suck it up, get over it and let us do our own thing from now. Or I will just get her pregnant and be done with it. We've been dutiful little children and done what you asked, but it tore Kori apart, not that she allowed you to see that. It nearly broke our relationship. This needs to end. It's our turn."
Kori burst into laugher, her mirth so hard her body shook. "Ooooh, Richard! You did not!"
"I most certainly did," he said triumphantly. "Besides, he deserved it, making us do all that crap for years."
She turned coy as the rumbles in her body subsided. "What, exactly, were you planning on doing to me to get me pregnant? I do not think I heard it correctly over poor k'norfka Bruce's spluttering."
"You don't have anything to do tomorrow, do you?" he asked nonchalantly, propping himself up on his elbow so he can see her, his hand making little circles on her bare belly.
Kori blinked in surprise. "Tomorrow? No, I- … oooooooooooooh." Her head arched back, her hand making small grasping motions on his shoulder. "Oh, Richard-"
Dick grinned. "Perhaps its just better if I show you."