Don't own. Don't sue.

Fish Infection
**

Tim Drake sat at Dick's kitchen table tapping his fingers against its
fake wood top. His foot tapped nervously against the edge of the
chair. His breathing grew more and more erratic and a sweat broke out
on his forehead as he tried to keep himself under control.

"TIM. STOP IT," Dick warned, taking the frozen dinners out of the
microwave. He'd gotten the shelf for the thing when he realized he
could cook two things at once last month. "Look, Bruce thinks we need
to spend time together and bond and crap, but if you don't stop it,
I'm going to kick the shit out of you."

Tim stopped, his hands shaking for lack of action. "Sorry," he
muttered with a dry mouth and cracked lips.

"Now eat this and shut up."

Dick dumped the steaming dinner in front of Tim. The young man
stared at it, wondering what to do. "F-fork," he stuttered finally.

"Get up and get it yourself."

Slowly, hanging on the back of the chair Tim got to his feet and got
two forks out of the sink. He washed them and dried them with his
shirt, then returned to the table. "Got you one too," he said
quietly, handing Dick the salad fork. Alfred would not approve.

Tim sat back down and stared at his country steak, mashed potatoes
and apple cobbler. "W-would you be offended… if I didn't… Can I go
lay down?"

"YOU were the one that wanted to eat."

Almost ready to cry, Tim raised his hands to his ears. "Stop it."

"Oh please. Don't go all sissy on me now."

Tim clenched his eyes shut and held his ears. "Stop it! STOP!"

Dick threw down the dishtowel he'd been using as a napkin. "You
disgust me." He rose and marched to his bedroom.

He sat down on the bed and stared at the wall. He knew this had been
a bad idea. But after that fiasco in Bruce's office on Wednesday,
Dick was sort of at his mentor's mercy. He'd arranged for them to
spend all day Saturday bonding and making up, and Dick didn't like
it. That stupid brat had been twitchy all day, and all he wanted to
do was pound on the little creep.

Dick had been told in no uncertain terms that he was in the deepest
of trouble if they pulled even one more prank on each other, but the
desire to do physical harm to Timothy was becoming overwhelming.

Still. If Bruce checked up on them and found them not even trying…
Well, Dick hated standing there and taking whatever pounding Batgirl
could deliver.

He sighed and rose, opening his bedroom door. "Look… Tim…" The boy
was pounding his head off the kitchen table. Dick rushed to his side
and grabbed his shoulder, holding him back. "What the hell do you
think you're doing?"

Tim wouldn't make eye contact. "I wanna go home," he said miserably.

"Tim, what's going on," he asked seriously, trying to be the adult.
He hadn't been acting like one for a very long time.

"I just want to go home," the boy said, his voice cracking.

"And how is smacking your head off the table helping you achieve
that?"

"Go away. Get away from… Dick… leave me alone."

"Not till you tell me what the hell's going on."

"What the hell do you care?" Tim screamed suddenly. "You've been
trying to kill me for three weeks!"

"You know I don't mean it!"

Tim shuddered. Dick looked at him—the kid really didn't look all that
great.

"Look. Something's wrong. I'm calling Doc Leslie."

Tim put his hands over his ears again. "Lemme alone!"

"Look, if you die or something, who's Bruce going to blame? ME!"

Tim pushed away from the table, knocking the cardboard tray of food
on floor. It splashed all over him, and he slipped on the potatoes as
he pulled away. He hit the ground hard. "Go away! Let me go home!"
Crawling to the front door, Tim grabbed on to the knob and pulled
himself up.

"Tim, I'm not letting you go out there. You're gonna get yourself
killed."

Tim froze. "Dick," he said very calmly. "Just let me go. I have to
go. And I have to leave now. And you can't follow… no. Shut up. Leave
me alone."

"You twerp, I'm not saying anything."

"Shut up! Leave me alone! Dick… you gotta help me. Make it leave me
alone!"

"Tim, this is the stupidest joke…" Dick stopped mid-sentence. Tim had
put his hands back over his ears and was screaming. "STOP! Shut UP,
Tim! Do we need ALL the neighbors knowing that you're a freak?"

"Get away from me!"

The front door opened and Tim fell out into the hall. Bruce stepped
between him and Dick. "I'm SO glad to see you two getting alone," he
said peevishly.

Tim tried to scurry off down the hall. Bruce grabbed him by the shirt
collar and hauled him to his side. "Lemme go. I gotta go… Just
lemme…" Bruce grabbed him be the neck, and the boy quieted down. He
stared up at his mentor with haunted eyes.

Bruce dragged him into the apartment and shut the door. "What is
going on here?"

"I don't know, that little jerk's been acting weird all day."

Turning to his partner, Bruce frowned. "Timothy, report."

"I have to go home."

"Lemme punch him," Dick said, drawing closer. "Just once." So much
for being a grownup.

Bruce pushed his son away. "Don't you DARE start. Tim, what's wrong?"

Tim grabbed his ears and shook his head. "Leave me alone! Shut up.
Everyone has to shut up."

"WHY does everyone have to shut up, Tim?" Bruce THOUGHT he was being
patient. As patient as a guy could be when both of his pupils were
trying to kill each other.

"Cause they wont shut up! And… They're getting louder. T-the longer I
go. Without doing anything. The louder… Leave me alone! I have to go
home!" Tim tried to pull away, but Bruce wasn't letting go.

"Is that the kind of FEAK you want for a partner?"

Bruce held up his hand, gesturing for Dick to be quiet. "Without
doing what?"

"Anything. To Dick."

Bruce nodded. "How long has this been going on?"

"W-Wednesday. Gotta go home. Can I go home? Please Bruce. Lemme go
home…"

"And you, Richard."

"WHAT?"

"You're even more irritable than usual."

Dick waved a hand at Tim, who was shivering and shaking in Bruce's
grasp. "Well, look at him! Wouldn't you wanna beat the living piss
outta him too?"

"Oh-kay. So you've been taking your frustrations out on Tim verbally
since Wednesday, I take it." Bruce turned his attention away from his
son. "Tim, what're the voices telling you to do?"

"V-voices… I didn't say voices, lemme go. I wanna go home…"

"Tim, you said `they' are telling you to do something."

"I have to go home." Bruce tightened his grip on the back of the
boy's neck. "To… to kill Dick." He looked down, ashamed, then bit his
lips closed.

Dick lunged for him. "Why you little--!"

In one swift motion, while still holding on to Tim, Bruce knocked
Dick to the floor. "Stay there, Dick. If you move an inch, I'll take
you out."

Tim was shaking and sweat was running off his nose and dripping onto
the floor. "Can I go home now?" he muttered. Bruce realized his grip
on the boy was the only thing keeping him upright at that point.

Bruce reached into his breast coat pocket and removed his cell phone.
Pressing a number on the memory dial, he waited two rings then asked
for a secure channel.

"To what do we owe the pleasure, Dark and Scary."

"Flash, I need the Manhunter and Superman to meet me at STAR Labs."

"Can't the computer goddess hail `em for ya?"

"I'm FINE!" Dick screamed from the floor. "I don't need freaking STAR
Labs! Don't help him, Wally! Don't--"

Placing the cell phone between his ear and his shoulder, Bruce
wrapped a hand around Dick's throat. "NOW, Wallace."

"Dude, what're you doing to Robbie?"

The Bat growled. "Flash, contact them immediately. I wouldn't even
BOTHER calling the Watchtower if it weren't of absolute importance."
Letting go of Dick, he shut off the cell phone and shoved it in his
pocket. "We're taking a little trip, boys."

"I… I'd really rather go home," Tim said weakly.

"Tim, I know what's causing this," Bruce told him. "We can stop the
voices."

"God…" Dick ground out. "He's always BABYING you!"

Bruce scowled, but knew it was pointless.

* * *
"Any idea why it hasn't spread?" Superman asked. He, Batman and the
Martian Manhunter were standing outside the room in which Nightwing
and Robin were being treated.

Batman shook his head. "It seems like since they'd both directed
their anger towards each other, and they'd both provided such obvious
fodder for retaliation, they had no need to go elsewhere.

"I believe I may have an answer for that," J'Onn said. "The goldfish
was the infecting force. Robin spread the Almenian larva to Nightwing
by… what is the term… backwashing into his Zesti in retaliation."

Batman shook his head and wiped his hands over his cowl. "And we'll
never know how the goldfish was infected."

Superman put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Be grateful you caught
it when you did. If the Almenia had grown to full size… who knows
what those two would have done. You remember the last time there was
an outbreak."

Batman nodded. Yes, he remembered. Seventeen had ended up dead, at
the hands of an alien parasite. It produced toxins that had a nearly
sentient quality to them… and they ALWAYS forced the host down a path
of destruction.

"I'd say that they've both not killed each other is a testament to
their will…" Batman trailed off.

"But?" Superman asked.

"For the fish in the ear, and the subsequent back-washing." Batman
sighed. "J'Onn, your efforts in isolating the Almenia is appreciated.
And your efforts at restraining them when the antidote was induced,
Kal El."

Clark folded his arms over his chest. "We can attempt a search for
the origin of the Almenia, if that is what is bothering you."

Batman shook his head. "No. That's not it. Not entirely. And… those
two have caused enough grief. They can work that case as penance.
Its… Well, hopefully with the parasite gone, they'll behave."

"Hopefully?" Superman asked.

"Well, the fish ended up in Robin's ear through not-so-innocent
means. It was retaliation for the dog biscuit-stuffing that he gave
Nightwing to eat."

Superman groaned.

The Manhunter nodded understanding. "You know, Bruce…" he
began. "They're never too old to punish."

Bruce was beginning to see that.

THE END