The End. And the Beginning.
I tapped my fingers rapidly against the computer console as I waited for the Crays to pull my data. Faster, faster, faster....
"Shouldn't you be going to bed?"
"Yeah, RIGHT," I told Batman. No sleep for me tonight!
"It does well for first impressions to be awake." I scrolled through my list of possibilities. If I were a drug lord, I'd set up shop right about where? "Can't sleep," I told him. "Just can't sleep."
"You should at least go home."
I rose from the chair and rubbed my tired eyes. This wasn't a search he needed me here for. "Ok. Just cause my mom hasn't seen me in like a week," three or four days, really. There was that thing on Tuesday night where I'd ended up in Bludhaven.
"Ok, fine. I know when I'm being kicked out," I said in good humor. "I guess I better get outta here before dawn. Or Dinah, my fairy God-mother will turn me into a mouse or something."
He took up my place at the computer. "Pumpkin. You'll turn into a pumpkin. Goodnight, good morning. Now go."
I stuck my tongue out at the back of his head. "Night grandpa."
* * *
"How many cups of coffee did you have?" my father asked as we approached the Titans tower.
"SIX," I said loudly.
"Oh-kay. Look. Calm down. Roy loves ya, Donna loves ya, I love ya. That only leaves four more people. They'll see you're adorable like me and fall instantly in love."
"Dad... shut up."
"One cup of coffee was plenty." He was terribly amused by all of this.
"I'm going to puke."
"Too late. You've lost your opportunity. We're here." I looked at the tower and then got out of the car.
I got out, my stomach in a flutter. "Dad," I whispered. "I mean it. I'm really going to puke."
He came around the car and his hand discretely went into my cape and grabbed my arm, hard enough to hurt. He held me upright and pulled me along. "Better?" he asked.
"Sure," I said in a breathy voice. "Only four people."
"Right." His thumb was going to leave a bruise. I would thank him later for giving me something else to think about. Pain was a good thing to think about.
Uncle Roy was standing at the entrance. "What's this rag-muffing you're bringing in here? Hey kid!" I smiled. "You're taller, or something."
"Maybe you're shrinking. Osteoporosis."
"You seriously read too much." He held the door opened for me, and as I crossed the threshold, he kicked my behind. "Oh yeah. Never miss a target. Especially not one THAT big."
"Yuck," I groaned. At what point did Uncle Roy officially become a dirty old man? "Nightwing, make him stop sexually harassing me."
It was an old joke, and we didn't even bother saying these things in humorous tones. He'd say something nasty, and I would, in my best feminist voice, accuse him of sexual harassment or something equally snotty. We needed a hobby. What could I say?
"How's Lian?" I asked. I hated that she was too busy now to even drop an e-mail. Yeah, France needed a super hero. Actually, they needed several. Did it have to be her? Like, in ENTIRETY?
"Ugg," I he moaned.
"Still living with Impulse, huh?" Bart wasn't a bad guy. I saw him around now and again. Between marriages, he had been Tim's regular drinking buddy. And of course, drinking with Tim was usually a depressing thing. He got two beers into him, and he'd start bemoaning something or other. We owed Bart a debt for being Tim's therapist, if nothing else.
"Ugh." He pulled a pretend knife from his chest. "Right here. It hurts right here."
"So? He's cute." Had to break things down into terms even Roy could handle. "And it'd been a whole year since he and Batgirl broke up. You should be relieved. It means she is totally NOT the rebound girlfriend."
"Dick, get your kid outta here, before she makes me cry."
"Doesn't take much," Dad said, then smashed my hair around proudly. So what if making fun of Roy was a general past-time?
"Hello? I put stuff in it to make it stand up like that!" And you pay for it, so like, it would stand to reason that you wouldn't want to waist it.
As we crossed the front lounge, I saw a purple girl stiffen. Ok. Apparently young Titans didn't talk to my dad like that. I'd have to abide by that. After all, I was just another member of the team, first of all, and second of all, we weren't announcing familial relations. I looked like my dad. It's how I knew I was related to him (as opposed to my moms humorous ascertains that I was really Blue Beetle's child), but we weren't going to go around confirming any rumors.
As we approached the conference center, the calm that came before a battle overcame me. "Ot oh," Uncle Roy said as we walked to the main meeting room. "Bubbles is nervous. She's going into Bat-mode."
"My name isn't Bubbles," I informed Roy harshly.
"Robin," my dad started. "Smile and stuff."
"You can't make me." I entered the conference room behind them. I sort of tuned my father out as he made his little preamble to introductions.
"This is Robin. Robin, you know Arsenal and Troya." I nodded, acknowledging them. Dad began gesturing to the faces around the table. "Skip Summers, resident speedster and Kid Flash. Edwin Mode, aka Electrode. I'll let you guess what his power is." I nodded to these two as well. Now here was the person I dreaded meeting-- Balius.
"This is Balius." I nodded once to him as well. Illegitimate son of an Amazonian princess (Namely Wonder Woman), and Aquaman. he was more powerful than one guy ought to be, and acted like it, too. Batman couldn't stand him.
"And I guess this leaves, last but not least, Iris. She throws fire--among other things," my dad said cheerfully. The girl who'd made faces at me from the lounge. And geeze, what a girl she was. She couldn't have been much older than me, maybe a year or two, but God.
Wear more dresses, Bullock told me. Why? Why bother? Why not just become a boy permanently? I will NEVER look like that. I DIDNT nod acknowledgement.
There was an awkward silence. Say something, dad! Uncle Roy... Aunt Donna... SAVE ME. I was standing there... they were staring at me... Geeze! Even the Bat would flinch.
"There will be training after lunch," my father said finally. "Until then, your time is your own," he told me formally. "I would recommend settling into your room. Troya can show you to the room assigned. Your official status is part-time, But you are still expected to attend regular meetings and training days--your schedule permitting--until you've passed the six month point, at which your performance will be evaluated and further recommendations made."
Or we can go into formalities. That's a fun way to cover awkward silence.
"Come on," Donna said, then went for the door. "I'll see you all in a few!"
I followed after her silently. What I wouldn't give for a shadow to crawl into? "They hate me," I whispered when we were finally out of sight.
"Well, you didn't exactly SAY anything, so it's not like they had a chance to hate you."
Uncle Roy fell in behind us. "Yeah. Totally. If you don't open your mouth, then no one knows how stupid you are."
"That's just YOU, Roy," Donna said snidely.
"What's under your cape there, kid?"
"Nightwing said I should bring some stuff to make my room look lived in," I informed him, showing off my duffel bag.
"You brought dirty clothes?"
"That's just YOU, Roy." Donna said again.
I rolled my eyes. "Some day, someone is going to show me a healthy male/female relationship and I'm not going to know how to react."
"Gimme your bag," Uncle Roy ordered. I made no effort to give him the bag. "Give me the bag, Bubbles."
I scowled, but gave it to him.
"See? I'm a gentleman, and everything. Now both of you shut up." He looked from me to the bag. "What the heck is in here? LEAD?" He started reaching for the zipper.
"DON'T open it," I ordered.
"Aww, come on. Tell Unkie Roy what's in the bag..."
"Nighthawk's dismembered body," I told him smartly.
Roy rolled his eyes. "Geesh. You kids really need to work on that. Last weekend, he was talking about how he was going to mulch you in the garbage disposal. And I quote. 'Piece by piece.'"
I snorted. "I'd like to see him try."
Donna stopped at a door and punched a code into the key pad. "Got it memorized? Good." She looked at Roy. "I thought I was supposed to take her to her room. What purpose do YOU serve?"
"I wanted to see my God-kid?"
Donna didn't look convinced.
I held my hand out for the bag. "Thank you for the bell-hop service," I said formally.
He handed over the bag.
"We are really glad to have you here. It's going to be... different. Having a Robin and a Nightwing, all at the same time."
I did smile a little. "Hopefully things'll work out," I told her.
"You're SO grown up," Donna answered sweetly. She sounded... surprised or something. "Come on, Roy. Lets go."
"Ok, gimme a minute. Don't you have something to do... you know? Somewhere else?"
Donna left us.
"Ok, what's the deal?" I asked as I put the bag on the bed.
Roy remained in the door way. "I don't know. I just hear that you and Kyle Rayner's kid're an item. I want the skinny."
I groaned. "We are so NOT an 'item,' as you call it. Why don't you call off any bets you have running?"
"Need I remind you about the poll running for Plastic Man finally getting laid?"
"Fine. I just wanted to find out what my odds were."
"NONE. Robin is strictly a solo act. I don't need complications like that."
He leaned against the door jamb. "Ok. Happier subject. How's your Bat treating Black Canary?"
"She's actually been around the last week or so. It's been kinda weird. He took half a night off. And they went out, though I know for a fact they never made their dinner reservation..." The last was thrown in just to gross him out. I began unpacking the bag.
"YOU asked. If you can't deal with my intel, don't ask."
"Ships in bottles? You call that ROOM DECORATION?"
"Aww, leave me alone!" I moaned.
He shrugged. "I try to give a little advice..."
I shoved him out the door and shut it playfully. Just as the door closed, I saw Iris coming down the hall, scowling at me.
There's a rule written somewhere that nothing in my life can be simple.
There was a knock on the door. "Go away, Arsenal."
"Robin." Ok, so it was Iris and not Arsenal. Batman woulda known that. Then again, Arsenal wouldn't be making a second trip back to bug Batman, which would have left the only other person in the hall-Iris. Was I sure I wasn't a side-kick?
"Yeah?" I asked as I opened the door.
She thrust a package towards me. "This just arrived. Twenty minutes here, and your mail's rerouted?"
I ignored the jab. "Thank you," I said more curtly than I intended.
"I don't know who you think you are-but your way of doing things won't stand around here. I know about you Bat-people. Around here-we respect our elders"
I sighed, and rolled my eyes behind my mask. "You don't know me. You don't know anything ABOUT me. I've known Roy a long time. That isn't the first door I've slammed in his face, and it won't be the last. Thank you for delivering the package. I won't say mail because as you can see, it is not post-marked. It was obviously hand-delivered. It was either delivered by an older gentleman with a graying moustache or a green boy in flannels." I turned on the Sherlock Holmes bit that Jordy loved so much. This chick deserved it. "With my luck, it was both of them conspiring together. Now if you do not mind, I would like to open the package in private."
She huffed, and I could see her eyes begin to glow orange.
"I'd slam the door in your face too, sweetheart, but we've only just met." I gave a fiendish grin, and waited until she took a step back through the doorway, then closed it.
I threw myself on the bed, my heart racing. Jordy and I hadn't really spoken since "the thing" a few weeks ago. We'd talked, but we always talked around that thing that had happened in the Watchtower. Sending me something here? That was kind of personal...
I tore opened the green crape paper and opened the white cardboard box inside. Inside was something wrapped in white tissue paper. Jordy must be slipping. No green tissue paper? I pulled it off, then stopped, staring at the object in my hands.
What the hell did I do now?
My heart beat faster as I turned it over and over my hands... a crystal angel with a red heart in its hands. Ok, girl. Don't panic.
There was a little plate at the bottom of the base. "To my Angel. Congratulations on the move up. I know you can do it. Try not to kick anyone's butt too badly."
NOW you can panic.
Jimmy called him my minty-assed boyfriend. Yeah, he was minty. Was he my boyfriend?
I looked at the chronometer on the display inside my mask. Ok, I had enough time to take care of this. I picked up the phone, made sure I was on a secure line, then dialed.
"Catch any fish?"
Grampy sighed. "You're just making fun of me, now."
"Oh come on. The entire Major Crimes Unit is stalking you. It's both cute and sad." First it started with an inquiry as to whether he'd caught any fish on his fishing trip. Then Bullock made cookies and brought them over the last two weekends in a row. Then that gross Sam guy who hit on me invited him to dinner one night...
"This isn't a social call." Boy, he knew how to cut through my crap.
"When is it ever a social call? Listen. Ok. If a guy sends you... kitch. What does that mean?"
"He sent me this... I don't know what it is. Ok. It's this clear crystal angel. And it's holding this little red crystal heart. And there's an inscription on it and everything. What does it MEAN?"
"First of all, you should call and thank him." He didn't say anything after that.
"THEN what do I do?" I asked in a terrified voice.
"Well, I guess that depends on what is said during the course of the phone call."
"All of you people are smoking something. You're all like 'you should go out' but we really shouldn't."
"I didn't say anything like that. You're the one who said he sent you kitch."
I moaned and smacked myself in the forehead.
"See? This is why you people never cease to amaze me. You save the world before breakfast, but don't know what to do about a knick-knack."
"Now YOU are making fun of ME."
"My point is-I don't think I can help you. YOU have to call him. Either you're going to take the easy way out and not do anything at all, and probably end up with regrets, or you're going to call him and thank him for the knick-knack."
"I can't do this."
"You can do anything you set your mind to."
"Now. I'm going to let you go. You call your friend." He hung up. He knew if he didn't, I probably wouldn't get off the phone.
I stared at the telephone for a few more minutes, trying to think of what I'd say. Thanks for the... thing. Sorry about the... other thing. Are we going out?
"You have three minutes to get down stairs!" my dad called through the door.
"Yap, yap yap..." I muttered, pushing the phone away from me. Ok, so I'd stared at the phone longer than I though.
* * *
Beneath my cape, I folded my arms across my chest while dad explained the drill. I noticed the immediate difference to when I was partnering him due to being grounded, or tagging along behind him and Jimmy. I actually had a place, here.
"Come on, Bubbles."
"ROY," my dad started.
"It's ok," I muttered with a serious frown on my face. I followed Uncle Roy with a sigh. There was nothing wrong with the name Robin. Why did he always insist on calling me Bubbles? I swore to God I was going beat that habit out of him some day.
"Ok," my dad said. "You two ok up there?"
"The crown-prince of debauchery and I are fine," I replied.
"A knife," Roy muttered. "A knife right here!" he pulled the pretend knife out of his chest.
I rolled my eyes. "Ready to go."
The course was relatively easy, I thought. Protect the "innocents" and get rid of the bad guy. Roy and I were on protect the innocents patrol. When the first explosion hit, I swung in and dropped the line, and came in low. I was a little surprised that these guys used real fire power.
I sensed something above… "Arsenal, DOWN!" He hit the dirt. "Now take care of that cannon!"
He shot off an exploding arrow, and that was the end of that. "Thanks, Bubbles."
"Next time, I'm going to let you get shot!" I called after him.
"Editorial comments later," my dad said as he eliminated another cannon.
We went on for another twenty minutes, until the simulation was over. Unfortunately, during that time, Uncle Roy had called me Bubbles forty-two times. Now he was just getting annoying.
"Robin, good job paying attention to the last two obstacles and getting them taken care of. Iris, those were yours and you should have had them out."
Oh yes, the sweetness of validation.
Dad and Aunt Donna discussed what had gone right and what had gone wrong for a few minutes, then we moved to break. I was grabbing a towel from the corner when I noticed Balius behind me.
"You fight well."
For a girl. Say it. For a girl.
"You are… remarkable."
"For a girl?"
"No. That is not I will say."
"Good for you, then." Ok, so I didn't like him even before I met him.
"You have the spirit of a warrior."
"Thanks for sharing. Is that a pick-up line?" I asked jokingly.
"You would make an acceptable wife."
The towel fell out of my hands. "I'm gay," I told him, before I could think of anything else, then I turned past him to leave.
Dad and Uncle Roy were staring at me with confused looks as I dashed out the door.
I could hear Roy and dad still in the doorway. "She's WHAT?"
"Jericho Junior. I'll be damned."
Oh brother. Well, maybe it'd get them off my back about Jordy.
Aunt Donna got the last word in. "You morons."
I knew Balius was in pursuit so I did the Bat thing and disappeared. Mara, you are the biggest chicken-shit in the entire world. My brother was right. I needed a life. I spent too much time with people that lacked social skills, it was rubbing off—horribly.
"Uhh… Robin…" I could hear Uncle Roy coming after me too. Good move, Ace!
I went back to my room and threw myself on the bed. You just solved one problem by creating two more—and they were both named ROY.
I picked up the phone and dialed my refuge—Jordy.
"Social call?" he asked with expectation in his voice.
"Yeah. Thanks for the… thing."
"It's an angel," he said proudly.
"I… I know."
Oh boy. This was going well.
"So. Things're going well?"
"No. I've got everyone mad at me, and um… I sorta confused dad and Uncle Roy."
"What'd you do?"
"Um… you know that Balius guy?"
"The twad who thinks he's God's gift to women?"
"Well, he kinda hit on me."
"Didja deck him? Aw man. Tell me someone was taking pictures."
"Umm… no. I sorta did something else."
"Didja kick him in the face?"
"I sorta… told him I was gay," I muttered under my breath.
"What!? What do you say to that!"
"You freak! I'm NOT!"
I rubbed my hand over my face. "I panicked! Geeze."
"You drive me nuts," he said. "You should have just kicked him in the face."
"You know, I would have, but I was trying to keep the peace, and make a good impression… oh to hell with it. I shoulda just hit him. I'm a psychopath. I think we all know that."
He giggled. "What'd he say?"
"Uhh… that I'd make him a good wife?"
Jordy started laughing hysterically.
"This isn't funny! Uncle Roy's going to star running polls with my name on 'em."
"Dude, he ALREADY has polls with your name on 'em!"
I stopped suddenly in my ranting and raving. "How do YOU know that?"
"Ya hear stuff."
"WHICH poll on me do you have money in?"
"There's only one poll."
"Oh god. Isn't that like insider trading or something?"
"Mara… GOD. When're you going to get it?"
"Oh forget it. Look. Hold on."
He hung up. Dad said this was supposed to be a good day, that I'd start something new, and meet new people, and everything'd be just fine. It's all dad's fault. Blame dad.
I guess I better go try to play damage control with Roy at least. Dad was horribly confused, and that was fun and everything—but he really wouldn't care either way. Good, maybe this'll make him feel a little dumb for threatening Jordy. But Uncle Roy? The man needed to stop running polls. He didn't like it when Plastic Man started one on the length of Lian and Bart's live-in arrangement, but He does this to everyone else.
I went to the door and opened it, sighing. This would be going to be… unhappy. Lets just hope that we can do it in private, ya know? I still owed him for the Bubbles stuff, too.
"She appears." Iris attempted to block my way.
"Look," I said to Iris. "I don't want to get into anything with you. I have no problem with you, really." Except for the fact you're probably as big of a bitch as I am.
"Did you think you could just walk out of there? WE weren't finished. You Bat-people…"
"What's your problem?"
"Look, Nightwing's one of those Bat-people. You don't give HIM a hard time."
"He is our leader."
"Oh brother." I was often thankful for the mask. It hid how I was rolling my eyes constantly when I got around other people who weren't my partner. "And Nightwing's a swell leader. But if you're going to hate me for being Bat, you might as well hate him too. Look, I'm sure you're a very nice person, and yeah, us Bat-people can be pretty horrible, so why don't you--" I stopped mid sentence. "Ok. What has Nighthawk told you about me?" It was the only logical explanation.
"Probably that us Gotham folks are evil, except for Redwing who's neurotic. bla bla bla… Am I close? I'm going to kill that little runt." Redwing WAS neurotic. But he was OUR neurotic. And the Bat and I weren't evil. The jury was still out on Cassandra.
"He's an adorable little kid."
"He's obviously poisoned you all against me already."
"ROBIN!" What was Jordy doing here?
"He's done no such thing…"
"Hey! Robin! I got a question for ya…"
With the sound of Roy's voice, I felt my world close in on me. When I looked, Dad was with him. This was getting messier and messier…
"Robin, I wanna talk to you alone."
I threw my hands up in the air. "Lantern! Can't you see I'm a little busy?" Fending off my adoring fans.
"We're not done with this conversation," Iris told me.
"Robin, if we don't talk about this now…"
"What're you guys talking about. I think I should know…" Why, Uncle Roy? Will it change the odds on your polls?
"Lantern! If I could, I would! I'm a little busy!"
He grabbed my arms. "Ok, then we do this in a crowded hall way."
"You're stupid, you know that?"
"You came all the way down here to tell me that? I thought we established that on the phone."
"No, you idiot. Ok, I've tried giving you time. I figured after…the thing at the Watchtower, you'd just need some time. But I know I'm not imagining things. I know I'm not just… in this alone here and making stuff up, because YOU did it first. Just remember that. But if I keep waiting for YOU to realize what the heck's going on, I'm going to be old and dead. So you brought this on yourself. You did it first!"
His lips smashed against mine, and I grew tense, but didn't pull away. He couldn't have done this in private? No, you idiot. You're the one who wouldn't let him. And yeah, I'd started it. I'd kissed him gently on the lips in the Watchtower that time I'd been about to…
"Well, this changes the betting," Roy muttered to my dad.
"I'm confused again," dad replied.
"You're both STILL morons," Donna added.
Jordy's arm slid around me and pulled me closer to him. What the hell was going on? And what was his tongue… ok. So I kind of liked that. When I came back to my senses a little, I realized my hand was on his arm. It ever so slowly was creeping up to her neck.
"You are NOT gay!" Balius yelped. Was there ANYONE not witnessing this scene?
And why was I worried about that? Ah, Mara. You really ARE one of those personality-less Bat people, aren't you?
Both of my arms slipped around his neck, and I decided to try that tongue thing again.