Author's note: Thanks to Jim Greeno, Kim, and Preetha for last-minute beta work. This story came about as I was thinking about what happened between Babs and Dick before Sarah's excellent "Best Girl, First Girl, Only Girl" (not to mention the whole carving thing), so thank you Sarah as well. Please do not archive without my permission.
Disclaimer: Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, and related characters belong to DC Comics. Dr. Townsend belongs to the Philosophy Department of the University of Texas at Arlington.
Barbara Gordon sat at her desk in the bedroom of her small apartment, staring at the blank computer screen and waiting for inspiration to strike. Her Philosophy of Science professor had given them a doozy of a paper assignment.
"A 15th century astronomer and a 20th century astronomer both watch a sunrise. Do they see the same thing?" she muttered to herself. What kind of wacky question was that? She always thought the old "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears, does it make a sound?" question was a joke. Apparently no one told Dr. Townsend.
The sound of something tapping and scraping against glass briefly halted her mutterings. Looking out a nearby window, she saw that it had started sleeting, so the sound was probably the ice blowing against the French doors on her balcony. She resumed staring at her monitor, and the sound went away. A few minutes later, the tapping was back.
Ice didn't make that kind of sound.
She jumped up from her desk and ran to the living room. She then froze in shock. There, huddled against the wall of her balcony was a shape she immediately recognized as Robin. He was curled up under his yellow cape with only the top of his head and one hand exposed. The green-gloved hand held one of his batarangs and sporadically tapped it against the glass of the doors.
Barbara hurriedly unlocked the doors and knelt down beside her former babysitting charge and current occasional crimefighting partner.
"All right, Dickie-boy, where are you hurt?" she murmured, not sure whether he would hear her or not. As soon as she touched his arm, she paused. He was burning up! She managed to haul him to his feet and half-led, half-carried him into her bedroom.
"Well, Munchkin, you sure have grown a bit since the last time I had to hustle you off to bed," Barbara said absently, as she unhooked his cape and pulled off his gloves, boots, and utility belt. When she reached for the fastenings on his red tunic, though, she paused. Suddenly this no longer seemed like undressing a ten-year-old who had stayed up too late. Now she noticed the broader shoulders, the muscled arms, and the more-chiseled look to his face and neck.
He's only fifteen! she chastised herself.
There's no harm in looking, herself replied somewhat mockingly.
He's sick! she rejoined. That seemed to shut the other voice up, but it didn't help Dick any.
"Dick," she coaxed, willing him to open his eyes. "I've tried the emergency number Bruce gave me. I've even tried calling the Manor; no one's answering! Tell me who to call to help you!"
This was so frustrating! Barbara had been fighting crime as Batgirl for several years now. Batman very reluctantly allowed her to fight alongside the "Dynamic Duo," but he always made her feel like an interloper. When she accidentally learned his and Robin's secret identities (she shuddered at the brou-ha-ha that had been), he still made no further effort to make her part of his team. Thus, she had no idea what he or Dick would want her to do.
"Leslie ..." mumbled Dick.
Leslie? Who was Leslie? Dick's girlfriend? She purposefully ignored the little twinge she felt at the thought of Dick with a girlfriend. Was Leslie a man or a woman? A doctor ...? Suddenly she remembered the contact sheet Alfred gave her when she first started babysitting at the Manor: "In case of emergency, contact Dr. Leslie Thompkins." Thank you, photographic memory!
"Dick? Do you want me to call Dr. Thompkins?" Barbara asked, hoping the young man would respond.
With great effort, Dick slowly opened his eyes. The crystal-blue eyes were bright with fever, but Dick managed to hold on to consciousness.
"Hi, Babs ..." he sighed.
"Do you want me to call Dr. Thompkins?" she repeated.
"Yeah," he exhaled. "She ... knows ..." The eyes drifted shut again.
Okay. That settled that. Barbara snatched up her phone and dialed the phone number she remembered from six years ago.
"May I speak with Dr. Thompkins?"
Before Dr. Thompkins arrived at Barbara's apartment, Dick roused again. Barbara took the opportunity to ask where Alfred and Bruce were. He smiled weakly.
"'m glad you've got things in the right order -- Alfred, then Bruce." He tried to laugh but the effort started him coughing. Barbara helped him drink some water. He continued, "Thanks. Anyway, they're up in Albany at some charity pre-Christmas shindig for the governor. S'posed to be back tomorrow."
"And Bruce let you patrol on your own?" She didn't know whether to be impressed, jealous, or horrified.
"Wasn't a patrol," he sighed. "Just surveillance. Although the deal did end up goin' down early. Got Sam Martin's boys wrapped up all nice and neat for your dad. Hope he found 'em." His voice trailed off, and Barbara was afraid he'd lost consciousness again.
"Mmm hmm. I was jus' thinkin'. Anyway, I started feelin' pretty punk during the stakeout, and after the dustup, I knew I wasn't gonna make it back to my bike. I saw your place was nearby, so I came here." He looked up at her apologetically. "Hope you didn't mind."
The sound of her doorbell ringing kept Barbara from any long reply, so she planted a kiss on top of Dick's head and said, "Of course not, silly! That should be Dr. Thompkins. I'll be right back."
It was indeed Dr. Thompkins. She made short work of examining the young man, clicking her teeth together in dismay as she looked at the thermometer reading.
"105.2 degrees! Obviously, our first priority is to get that temperature down. Barbara, if you would hand me that bottle over there," she said, pointing to a large bottle of rubbing alcohol, "we will see if an alcohol rub will help any."
Actually, Barbara did the rub while Dr. Thompkins started an IV and took a blood sample. Leslie said that she didn't like the speed with which this fever had struck, so she wanted to run some tests. For some reason, this statement seemed to energize something in Dick. He had been lying passively under Barbara's ministrations, but now he tried to sit up.
"Whoa, Munchkin! Just where do you think you're going?" Barbara asked in shock.
"I need to check on the other Titans!" Dick panted. "They could be sick, too!"
Dr. Thompkins asked, "What do you mean, sweetheart?"
"I felt perfectly fine this morning," explained Dick determinedly. "We had a Teen Titans meeting at eleven o'clock, and I went to that. During the meeting, we were shanghaied off to some wacky other dimension. We got back around four o'clock this afternoon, but from our standpoint, we were gone for over eighteen hours! Anyway, we went through standard decontam procedures, but now I'm worried we may still have caught something." He lay back against the pillows, exhausted by the long explanation.
"What do you want to do?" asked Barbara.
"Let me check with Harper -- he'll be the simplest to reach," he replied, holding out his hand for her phone.
"Look, Gillhead, I don't care how you do it, just get to S.T.A.R. Labs as soon as possible," Dick stated flatly. He put down his Titans' communicator with a sigh and lay back down, closing his eyes.
Barbara, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, reached over and instinctively began stroking the shiny black hair in an attempt to offer what comfort she could. She could almost see the energy draining out of Dick as he finally let go of his responsibilities as the Titans' leader.
Both Roy Harper (a.k.a. Speedy) and Wally West (a.k.a. Kid Flash) were sick with symptoms similar to Dick's. Dr. Thompkins seemed satisfied with the doctor at the halfway house where Roy was living, and she promised to keep him informed of any progress she made. Dick then called Wally's house, pretending to be a schoolmate. When his mother said he was too sick to come to the phone, he managed to find out that he had a high fever and was coughing.
Next, Dick called Wonder Girl and found that she was also sick, although not to the degree the other three were. He arranged for S.T.A.R. Labs to send someone over to pick her up, so they could run some tests. The big surprise came when Dick called Aqualad using his Titans' communicator. The young Atlantean wasn't sick at all.
Since he wasn't sick, Garth didn't see why he needed to take the considerable trouble to go to S.T.A.R. Labs, pointing out that if he did get sick, the Atlantean labs were much better suited to take care of him. Dick finally convinced Garth that S.T.A.R. needed to find out why they were all sick and he wasn't.
It was almost funny, really, what a different person Dick was when he was in his "Titans Leader" mode. Barbara was used to a wisecracking, light-hearted boyish Robin; this serious, forceful, almost stern young man was ... intriguing.
"They'll figure it out, Dickie-boy," she murmured. "You've done your part by getting the pieces in one place. Just rest now."
"Bruce is gonna kill me," he muttered. "He's been ticked anyway about all the time I've been spending with the Titans, especially since Roy ... you know."
Barbara paused in her comforting strokes, thinking about Speedy's recent battle with heroin. The whole story had been hushed up, and the outside world only heard vague rumors. The only reason she knew more was because of her friendship with Dick, who needed someone to talk to about his friend's troubles. He and the other Titans rallied around the young archer, insisting that he remain a part of the group, a decision that caused some problems with their mentors. Her hand started moving through Dick's hair again.
"But why will Bruce be upset with you?" she asked, puzzled. "It's not your fault you got sick."
"I think he's trying to find an excuse to pull me out of the Titans," sighed Dick. "He thinks splitting my time between Gotham and the Titans is making me lose focus." His eyes closed again, and he leaned his head slightly into Barbara's petting. "That feels good."
"Do you think the Titans are affecting your focus?"
The blue eyes opened wide. "No! If anything, they keep me sane!" Dick's eyelids began drifting downward. "With them, I don't have to be absolutely perfect ..." His voice drifted off as he lost consciousness again.
"Leslie!" Barbara called out in alarm.
Dr. Thompkins quickly rejoined her patient and checked his temperature. When the thermometer beeped at her, she closed her eyes briefly and shook her head. "It's going back up again, Barbara. 105.4°."
Bruce and Alfred descended on Barbara's apartment around midnight. Barbara's irreverent little voice wondered if Bruce was relieved that for once he had a perfectly legitimate excuse to bail on a society function. In spite of the off-putting scowl on Bruce's (or more accurately, Batman's) face, she was very glad to see them, though. While she and Dr. Thompkins managed to get Dick's temperature under 105° again, the high fever had triggered convulsions. Dick was so strong that Barbara had to use her entire body to pin his upper body to the bed, while Leslie tried to hold Dick's legs. Once Bruce and Alfred were there, it was much easier to keep Dick still.
As the night wore on, Barbara developed a great deal of respect for Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Leslie attacked Dick's fever as fiercely as Barbara would have gone after a dangerous criminal, but the main reason for Barbara's admiration was her ability to make Bruce do what she wanted. When Bruce demanded that they move Dick back to the Manor, Leslie simply said, "No, dear -- he's perfectly fine where he is." And Bruce listened!
When Bruce grew impatient waiting for S.T.A.R. Labs and decided to go back to the cave to do his own research, Leslie sighed at him. "If you must," she said. "I just hope Dick doesn't injure himself during a convulsion since you won't be here to help hold him down." Dick's body decided to go into convulsions again soon after she spoke. Bruce helped hold him still and said nothing more about leaving.
At 3:45 a.m., Barbara was in her small kitchen making yet another pot of coffee when she heard Leslie's cell phone ring. Leslie answered the phone and after a few moments broke into a wide smile.
"Wonder Girl's fever has broken? You've got a serum? Wonderful!" Leslie motioned for Bruce to join her. "Thank you, Dr. Sherrington. I'm going to let you talk to Batman, so you two can discuss how to get the serum to the other children." She handed the phone to Bruce.
Within five minutes, Batman made arrangements for Flash to pick up the doses for Speedy, Kid Flash, and Robin, and Bruce suited up and went outside to meet the speedster for Dick's dose. Ten minutes later, he was back, handing the precious package over to Leslie.
Thanks to the serum, Dick's fever finally broke around five o'clock. He was still unconscious, but Leslie said that his system had been severely stressed by both the fever and the convulsions, so they should just let him rest. She firmly vetoed Bruce's hint that they move him back to the Manor, and after giving Alfred some directions for Dick's convalescent care, she left to get some rest.
The late afternoon sun shone weakly through the window and onto the bed. Barbara sat in a nearby armchair and studied the bed's occupant. She finally persuaded Alfred and Bruce to go home by pointing out that Bruce Wayne's limo was not exactly the most unobtrusive vehicle to leave sitting in her parking garage. They would be back later that evening. Leslie came and went, saying she felt Dick would be waking up soon. She also said S.T.A.R. Labs still didn't know exactly why Aqualad's Atlantean physiology made him immune to whatever it was that caused the fever, or why Wonder Girl's bout was less severe than the boys', but at least the serum worked.
Now that the crisis was over, Barbara could face the fact that they almost lost Dick. It made her realize just how large a role he played in her life. It certainly seemed a little ... unhealthy for a woman of twenty-one to be thinking so much about a fifteen-year-old boy. She tried to tell herself that she only thought of him as a younger brother, but the irreverent little voice inside wasn't buying that.
She sighed ruefully and ran her fingers through his hair. Obeying a sudden impulse, she leaned forward and placed a light kiss on his forehead. She drew back and started in surprise to see equally surprised blue eyes looking back at her.
"Um ... yeah. F-fever's down," she stuttered slightly. The blue eyes began to twinkle. She tried to frown quellingly at him. "That was not a kiss, Boy Wonder. It was purely scientific."
He smiled at her. Before he could say anything, she asked, "Are you hungry? I've got some soup simmering."
"Sure, that sounds great!"
"I'll be right back."
Feeling hungry herself, she pulled out two soup mugs and filled them with the vegetable soup she had started that morning. She set the mugs, a small plate of crackers, and two glasses of water on the bed tray she excavated from the depths of her pantry. She carried the tray into the bedroom and saw that Dick managed to rearrange the pillows so that he could sit up in bed. She placed the tray on his lap.
"All for me?" he grinned.
She snorted in reply and transferred her soup mug and glass to the small bedside table. For the next few minutes, the two sat quietly enjoying their soup. Then Dick spoke up right as Barbara took a sip from her glass.
"I wonder if I should mention to your dad that I spent the night in your bed?"
Barbara almost choked as she tried to avoid laughing. When she finally got her breathing back under control she leveled a glare at the innocent-looking young man. Suddenly, her glare faded, and her expression took on a decidedly impish look. She waited until Dick had his spoon in his mouth and said, "Just make sure you tell him I was on top."
The resulting explosion of soup meant she'd have to wash the comforter as well as the sheets, but it was worth it.
Barbara ducked into the Wayne Manor conservatory with a sigh of relief. If the Deputy Mayor's "flirting" got any more heavy-handed, she was going to discourage him as forcefully as necessary whether it attracted her father's attention or not. She didn't think anyone saw her slip in here, since Alfred usually kept this part of the Manor off-limits. She froze as she heard someone walking nearby.
"I see you decided to hide out, too!" said Dick cheerfully.
She turned to smile at him. He looked particularly handsome tonight in his tuxedo; although she could tell he'd loosened his tie slightly. As she drew closer, she could see the tension in his jaw and neck and wondered what had upset him. "Too? Who are you hiding from?"
He made a face. "Aw, it's those ditzy girlfriends of Bruce's. They're either so determined to prove what a wonderful mother they'd make, or they hit on me when Bruce isn't around. Sheesh!" His face brightened suddenly. "I'm glad you're here though, so I can give you your Christmas present! I didn't have it with me the other day. I'll be right back!" He turned and ran out of the room.
A minute or so later, he came jogging back in, carrying a large-ish box wrapped in gold paper with a green bow. He skidded to a halt in front of her, made an elaborate bow, and handed her the box. Playing along, she made a curtsey of her own as she accepted the present. They walked over to one of the stone benches, and she opened her present. After digging through the packing material, she pulled out a gargoyle carved out of plastic resin. The figure was about eight inches high, and she stared at it trying to figure out why this gargoyle looked so familiar. Ah! Now she remembered. She turned to Dick who had a challenging expression on his face.
"Do you remember it?" he asked.
"I do have a photographic memory, Boy Wonder! It's a copy of the one I perched on after the first time you showed me how to use the jumplines." She smiled, remembering the feeling of exhilaration she felt after that first breath-taking flight. Dick stayed with her the entire time -- close enough to make her feel safe, but letting her make the jump herself.
"Did you carve this?" she asked, admiring the gargoyle.
"Yeah," he replied sheepishly. "I learned how to carve when I was real little, and after we did some stuff in art class, I decided to take it back up again."
"Well, thank you! I think it's a very good likeness."
"I wanted you to have it, since you're the best 'goyle' I know." He smirked when the pun brought the expected groan from Barbara. He continued, his expression becoming more serious, "I also wanted to thank you for talking to Bruce. I don't know what you said, but he's not pressuring me about the Titans anymore -- he even let us use the hunting lodge for our Christmas party!"
Barbara looked away for a minute as she recalled her conversation with Bruce. It took place a few days after Dick went home. She and Batman had just rounded up a small gang of burglars, and they were waiting for the police to pick them up.
She made her opening remarks casual. "Y'know, the first time I saw Robin, I thought it was neat how different his costume was from yours."
Batman didn't say anything.
"I mean, Kid Flash's costume looks like the Flash's, Speedy's is similar to Green Arrow's, that sort of thing. But Robin's ... I'm not sure how your two costumes could be any more different from each other."
Batman still didn't say anything.
"Once I got to know Robin, I thought I understood why. The two of you are different, just like your costumes are. Obviously, you understood that when you let him choose that costume."
Batman focused on her, his request for elaboration loud but unvoiced.
"Robin's told me that you want to pull him out of the Teen Titans."
He looked slightly disconcerted by the seeming non sequitur but replied, "I just feel his time could be used more profitably doing other things."
"You don't want him to have friends?"
"I don't want him to lose his focus."
"Robin is the most focused person I know!" she said, exasperated. "You don't perform quadruple somersaults at the age of nine without being able to focus! That's part of what I meant about the two of you being different."
Batman looked at her with a slightly puzzled expression.
"I always thought you understood that just because Robin makes jokes and has fun doesn't mean he's not concentrating on the job. Why are you suddenly trying to turn him into a miniature Batman?" She could almost feel his resistance softening and pressed her advantage. "You and I are loners. We tell ourselves we don't really need anyone, and for the most part that's true. Robin, although I wouldn't say he needs people, likes people. The Titans are the only kids his own age he can be himself around -- please don't take that away from him."
Batman stared off into the distance for a few moments; then he turned to look at her. A slight nod of his head was all the response she got, but she went on her way with a lighter heart.
"I didn't do much; I just tried to point out that the Titans were also your friends. I'm glad he's not hassling you any more."
"Yeah, me too." Dick shifted slightly as he sat next to her. When she turned to see what was wrong, she was mildly surprised to see that his face was flushed.
"Umm ... I was w-wondering ..." his voice trailed off and then continued, "w-would you like to go with me to see The Nutcracker this Saturday?"
Barbara quickly understood that this was not a casual invitation. No, Dick Grayson just asked her out on a date. She closed her eyes and swallowed, trying to think of the best way to handle this. She turned to him.
They were sitting so close together; she felt the disappointment in his body before she saw it in his face. He, too, closed his eyes.
"Sorry, Babs. Guess I shouldn't have done that. You wouldn't want to go out with a kid like me anyway," he said dejectedly, looking anywhere but at her.
"Dick ... I'm flattered you asked me, but whether I want to accept or not, it just wouldn't be ... appropriate," she said as gently as she could.
He nodded, still looking away from her. She finally placed a finger under his chin and drew his head around to face her. The irreverent little voice pointed out that sitting down they were basically the same height now.
"It may be selfish of me, but I hope I can still be your best 'goyle,' though."
He laughed, almost in spite of himself, and nodded. She leaned forward, intending to kiss him on the cheek, just as he turned his head to say something. Their lips met. Barbara jerked back as though she'd been burned and quickly stood up.
"I'm sorry ... umm ... I need to get back to the party. I'm sure my dad's wondering where I am. I'll see you later, okay?" she babbled and walked rapidly out the door, clutching her gargoyle.
Two nights later, Robin and Batgirl teamed up to bring down the Penguin's latest scheme for money, power, and world domination. Their teamwork had been impeccable, and the wisecracks had flown around as usual, but Barbara could tell Dick was forcing himself to behave normally towards her. She couldn't really blame him -- she could still feel that kiss on her lips like a brand.
Before they split off for the evening, Dick said, "Hey, Wally gave me some cool computer games for Christmas, and Bruce actually let me put them on the computer 'downstairs.' Would you like to come over tomorrow before we go out on patrol and try 'em out?"
Barbara couldn't quite bring herself to look at him, "I-I'm sorry, Dick. I have a ... date tomorrow evening. Maybe in a couple of days?"
"Sure, Babs," he replied with determined cheer. "That'd be great."
He waved and then leapt from the roof in his usual heart-stopping (at least to Barbara) habit of jumping first and then firing his jumpline. She held her breath until she saw that his line caught and he was flying toward his rendezvous with Batman.
The next night, Barbara found herself walking out her apartment building's door on the arm of one of her classmates to see, ironically, The Nutcracker. She and David ran into each other at the bookstore the other day, and he had asked her out. She still wasn't sure why she accepted; she really didn't know him all that well.
When David opened the car door for her, she thought she caught a reflection of something yellow up on one of the rooftops. While her date walked around to the driver's side, she looked closer. There it was. The familiar yellow cape.
As David got in the car, she pasted a smile on her face. Maybe Dr. Townsend had a point. Maybe knowledge could irreversibly change one's perception of an event. Or of a person.
~~~ The End ~~~