Standard disclaimers.

The Long Night Out

**

Robin crouched upon the table in the furthest corner in the cave, hovered over the telephone there. She'd pick up the phone, dial, let it ring exactly four times, then slam it down. This process repeated until Her partner grew weary of the repetition.

"Leave a message," Batman ordered finally.

Robin picked the phone up and dialed again. "He's there!"

"He won't deliver the message," Batman informed her sagely.

"Timmy's on the couch, and he's just too lazy to get up and answer the phone. I'm gonna make him get off his butt. It's my job."

Batman sighed and shook his head.

"And if I tell Timmy, and he doesn't tell mum and dad, then they can't call and say I have to come home. So I still win."

"Robin, it--" Batman shook his head. "Never mind. But quit slamming the phone down. And use the redial button."

Robin grinned. "But I'm practicing dialing with my eyes closed. Really fast."

"Dial quieter. Practice that for a while."

Vigorously, she nodded. "Can do!"

For the next fifteen minutes, it was a little quieter in the Cave. It wasn't that Batman minded noise, necessarily. But there were certain types of noise, and in certain patterns, that were less acceptable than others. Robin's inadvertent efforts to destroy his phone were something he'd rather not listen to.

He concentrated his attention once again on the evidence they'd collected earlier in the evening. Robin had done a good job with the contents of the vehicle the victim had been abducted from. While he'd been looking at tire tracks and calculating the possible type of vehicle she had been transported to, Robin had taken the initiative and pulled finger prints, found hair samples, and even a blood sample-possibly from the woman's attacker.

His attention snapped back to the other side of the room. The pattern of dialing, pausing and hanging up had ceased.

".yeah, well, I don't like you either. Put Timmy on."

There was a pause, and Batman wondered if he was going to have to interfere.

"Do it, twip!" She sighed, then was quiet. "He's always gotta be all 'bla bla bla,' you know?"

Actually, Bruce didn't. Jimmy seemed to want very little to do with him, no matter how hard he tried to bond with the boy. Why couldn't he be as simple as this one?

"Hey, Timinator. I'm staying with grandpa tonight. So you gotta tell mom that." Robin shifted uncomfortably. "Well, we're busy. Grandpa Jim said the car-jacker people've killed two ladies already. Soooo grandpa doesn't have time to go all the way back to Bludhaven and then come back here." He did appreciate the way she was able to appeal to her brand of common sense in order to get her way.

There was a little more chit-chat, and then Robin slammed the phone down triumphantly, and leapt from the counter, all in one smooth motion. "I rule! I'm cleared till tomorrow. So whatdawegot?" She bounced once over his chair, then landed beside him.

"I'm still waiting on the DNA. Unfortunately, the finger prints were all from the victim."

She crumpled, deflated.

"Patience. We don't have all of our results yet."

Robin's arms folded over her chest. "Well. they should hurry up," she said half-heartedly. Deep down, she knew he was right. But still-The bodies of the other women had been found shortly after dawn. Robin knew that time was not on their side.

* * *

"So that's where we stand now," Grampy said on the communications speakers. Grandpa Bruce was still working on the DNA results. He listened to Jim's news stoically. Robin knew that that wasn't to be mistaken for apathy.

"Thanks," Robin said softly, slumping lower in her chair. They'd found the woman's body under a bridge that ran over the interstate. An animal rights activist thought it was a hit deer, pulled over, and got a nasty surprise.

She tapped her gloved finger against the arm of the chair for a moment. "Which side of the road?" she asked suddenly.

"Side of the road?" Jim asked carefully. "Right hand side. There's a grass median between the north and south bound lanes."

Robin bit her lip. This body had been found earlier than the rest-it was still night this time. And it had been found closer to the abduction site than the rest. "And I guess we aren't gonna know till tomorrow about tire tracks or people tracks."

"Probably not."

"I think he came back into Gotham," she said dejectedly.

"It's a possibility. Robin. go to bed."

Robin scowled at the speakers. "I'm eight. I can stay up real late now." She dug out a map and spread it on the floor.

Jim sighed on the other end. He knew she wasn't going to quit. Still.

"One on eight-eight. Two on seventy-six," Robin said. That doesn't matter, y'know? It's just a road. Wait. no. That's all constructioned up, right? Both of 'em. Seventy-six got all finished, and now it's eighty-eight." Robin didn't know if it counted for anything. Maybe the baddie just thought it was a good place to hide a car.

"The cars weren't found near construction sights, nor were the bodies" Jim informed her. It was thoughtful, but it just wasn't right.

"They were before, though. Way before, and the bodies are found at least five miles beyond those, beneath over-passes." Batman interjected. "And no work is being done at night on either of them. He may be taking the women there to sexually assault and kill them."

"It's dark and creepy enough," Robin interjected. "If he knows like. where he can go with the car, with all the equipment there. like, maybe he works there?"

"We'll work on it," Jim said tentatively. "Robin. would you leave Batman and me alone for a minute?"

Robin looked up to her partner. She hated being cut out of things, and in general did her best to butt in whenever possible.

"Leave the construction sight to me," Batman said, joining his young partner at the communications station. "Robin, go clean your garbage out of the Car."

Disappointed, Robin obeyed.

Batman took the call off the speaker. "You can talk now," he told Gordon, though he had a good feeling he knew what this was about.

"She's too young for this case."

"When the second body was found this morning, she had similar case files pulled before I was even back from last night's patrol. My problem is. she has TOO MUCH initiative."

"Still you should have SOME control over her," Jim criticized.

Bruce's eyebrows shot upward. "You think you can do better?"

There was silence.

"Just make sure she gets to bed at a reasonable hour," Jim finally answered in frustration.

Batman didn't respond. He had long ago found it much easier to order his previous partners to do things that were obviously good for them. It wasn't that this one disobeyed him, necessarily. He just found it more difficult to lay down the law about some things. Too many times, like today with the case files, she beat him to the punch. Before he could order her not to, she was always already in the thick of things.

He watched her stalk away from the Car, garbage in hand.

Robin returned with two boxes of takeout Chinese. They'd arrived at the manor shortly before patrol, charged to her grandfather's credit card and ordered online. Alfred hadn't been pleased, and all she'd had to say for herself was that sometimes you just really, really needed some General Tso's.

"So. am I benched yet?" she asked peevishly, biting down on a sauce-stained chop stick. She loved Grampy Jim, but he always kept saying he wished she weren't doing stuff.

Batman turned to face her. "Sweep the rice off the seat then get in the car," he ordered. "I'll be there in a minute."

* * *

There'd been car tracks in the gravel at the construction sight and a host of other evidence that indicated there'd been a car that pulled past the barricades, then had moved on. There were even some shoe prints in the gray ash-like dirt near the edge of the road. Batman only drew a few more conclusions from the shoe prints than the police had derived in their original profile of the murderer.

Batman inspected the patterns in the dirt. "He removed her from the trunk, and."

There was a single drop of dried blood on the ground, clinging to a light rock. He'd have missed it entirely except for the complete distortion of color on the chunk of sandstone glittering in the illumination of his flashlight. If it had been from the abducted woman, there probably would have been more, he speculated-but he suspected she hadn't been physically harmed to that point. He had a feeling it was from the murderer-especially since the blood they'd found on the inside of the victim's car had been from someone other than the victim. Before he could move to do anything about it, Robin had swarmed in and was working on the evidence.

He shook his head. She was beyond persistent sometimes. He didn't know if it was exactly. healthy, but he knew that the alternative with her was usually destruction on a level that drove her father to madness.

She scribbled on a sticker then placed it on the bag. "Make sure it's neat," he told her. Her writing left a lot to be desired. "Are you getting tired?"

She shook her head no. Batman let her continue looking around the area for evidence. Somewhere, along the way, she'd somehow decided that this was her case. He inspected the area around where the car had been parked. There was a lot of disturbance in the gravel-and that told it's own unique story. He could see exactly how much struggle the victim had put up.

"Robin, I think that's all we're going to get from this location," he said, calling her over to him.

She handed over another evidence bag. "It's new," she told him.

He looked at the button. It wasn't scratched or weathered, as if it had been making the rounds. What lead him to believe that it wasn't from a worker at the sight was the pulled and snapped threads still hanging from it, and a bit of fabric-green flannel.

"Found it. four feet from where the passenger's door woulda been. Got ripped off and bounced?"

"Probably. Get in the car."

* * *

Robin stared at her reflection in the window as the car sped back towards town. They'd informed her grandfather that they had the case under control and were heading back to continue working on it. As soon as the Bat was done talking to Grampy Jim, the communication's console lit up again-this time with her mother.

The Bat scowled at his charge, urging her to keep to herself.

"I hear tell of you working on the carjacking murders?" Oracle said. That was her way of offering help.

"Yes. I have a few things I need you to run," the Bat answered firmly.

"Where's Robin?" Oracle asked suspiciously.

Just as Robin was drawing breath to chirp up how she was up past her bed time, but it was ok since it was Christmas break, Batman's hand slapped over her mouth.

"She's at home. With Alfred. Asleep."

"Riiiiight."

Boy did mom sound like she was in a bad mood. Parties were supposed to make you happy and relaxed, Robin thought. Even parties that Uncle Roy attended. She wondered briefly if Uncle Roy had done something stupid again at the Titans New Year's party.

"On a more pressing note," Batman said, interrupting Oracle's seething. "What I'm looking for is someone who's worked at both the construction sites on routs eight-eight and seventy-six. Caucasian. Mid-thirties, medium height, heavy build. Lives alone."

"You don't ask for much, do you? I can run height and approximate weight through the DMV database, but you're leaving yourself kind of opened. Possible address?"

"South of down town, but still in the city. Possibly a little west as well. Robin's right-the murderer is doubling back into the city and following eighty-eight at least to where it meets up with the park way-possibly further." The description of the murderer was very close to what the police had already surmised. Possible locations had been his own deduction. Hopefully Oracle could come up with some viable addresses.

"Thanks for giving me something to work with." Robin could hear her mother typing on the other end. "You know she's too young for this case," Oracle added firmly.

"I know," Batman added, not intending to say more. Robin wondered what he COULD say. She knew he didn't want her to do some things, and wanted to leave her home a lot of nights. That's why she took initiative and jumped in head-long. So she wouldn't get left behind.

Robin continued to stare at her own reflection. Briefly she wondered if she'd look more intimidating if her hair were darker-like the other Robins. She wanted to be intimidating. Then she wanted to find this guy and beat him up.

"I have a few addresses I'm going to send over," Oracle announced finally. The LCD in front of Robin lit purple and blue as a series of addresses scrolled up. "Let me know if you need anything else." Oracle paused, not cutting the connection just yet. "And Bruce," she added finally, disgust still evident in her voice. "Get my kid to bed at a reasonable hour."

* * *

Batman had a list of five suspects. The first thee men had checked out. One didn't live as 'alone' as his records indicated, the other two were above suspicion once he actually investigated their dwellings. He'd done it alone- ordering Robin to remain in the car. Each time, he'd had to tell her too. Her hand would be on the door handle, and he'd have to give her a stern look of reproach before she'd sheepishly sat back in her seat. He ordered her to monitor Oracle's frequency and the police frequency for anything new pertaining to the case-especially evidence of another carjacking.

Returning to the car, he briefly calculated which address would be closest to his current location. He opened the door and dropped inside. As he did so, the car was awfully quiet. Looking at his partner, he found her head rammed up against the glass of the side window, and she was asleep.

He looked at the time on the chronometer on the display inside his mask. It was after four in the morning. She'd held on longer than her father used to. He'd be finished by three-thirty at the latest.

Reaching over, he pulled Robin's cape between her neck and the door to prevent her from getting a crick in her neck. Alfred didn't approve of cricks in the necks of young Robins. Of course, it had been a very long time indeed since he'd had a Robin so young so as to precipitate action taken against a crick in the neck, but he had a feeling Alfred's rule on such matters still stood.

He sat back in his seat then pulled the car out of the alley, having made his decision on which location would be closer. Beside, him a head snapped up.

"I'm awake!" she chirped with feigned vigor.

Not even looking at her, Batman shook his head. "Just pay attention," he ordered her.

She nodded her head, promising to herself to stay awake. This was her job, after all. She'd come so far on it, she could see it through, right? Unlike those dumb Apostles, she could stay awake for an hour.

* * *

Robin tapped her foot against the floor board, trying to stay awake. She had insisted before Batman got out of the car that she'd stay awake better, if she was doing something, but he hadn't relented. Holy Overprotective.

Maybe she could bug Grampy Jim. He always had good stuff to say. But then, if she did that, there'd be a line of people to kick her butt. She could bug Timmy. He was just laying on the couch anyways. She could start a booger collection.

There was a thud on the roof of the car. Screw the booger collection. She found a better way to stay awake.

The object that had landed on her roof was too heavy-footed to be her Bat, and it slid off the car, past her window far too clumsily. She waited one heart beat, then a second. Realizing her Bat was not in pursuit, she opened the door and went flying after the man. Folks that were running away were seldom free from sin.

She removed the first 'rang and tossed it as quickly as possible at the man running toward the end of the alley. It missed and landed ineffectively at the man's heals, missing his dark work boots by an inch. The second made it's mark, and the green plaid and jean-clad man came crashing down upon the ground.

As soon as he hit the pavement, Robin jumped forward and landed on his shoulders. That was one of her favorite tricks. She called it 'bouncing the baddie'. It's effectiveness for keeping a perp subdued was usually without equal. Especially when you didn't' have a lot of mass.

Unfortunately, this time it didn't work as well. As quickly as she was on him, he'd thrown her off. Robin landed hard against the dirty brick face of the building to her left, and the man got up and was running to the end of the alley.

"Batman?" Robin squealed into her communications device, getting to her feet to follow. There was no response as the man cut across the four lane divided parkway. Shaking her head, Robin followed, not sure what was going on.

"Robin, where are you?" Batman asked angrily. Robin was in so much trouble, she didn't even think to answer until she had something decent to report.

She slid across the frosty median and regained her balance as she hit the southbound lanes, thankfully empty this late at night. As she did so, the man climbed the fence that separated the highway from the river. He slid down the other side and disappeared into the darkness.

Her answer was breathless and simple. "Mason Street bridge."

The street lights prevented her from using her night vision lenses, but she did make up time climbing the fence since her feet were smaller and she was much more agile.

"DO NOT ENGAGE," he told her firmly.

She dropped down on the other side, sliding a little on the downward slope. She looked up and down the water, and to the giant cement pillar of the bridge leading out across the river. It was hopeless. He could be anywhere, beyond the bridge, in the brush and overgrowth.

Robin looked behind her, wondering where her Bat was. She edged down to the cobble and cement levee that ran along the water's edge. Standing on the incline, she looked up and down the water, with no sign of the man she'd chased down here. The water wasn't moving unnecessarily, so he wasn't inside, though it was far too cold for that. Sighing, she began walking back towards the fence. Well, she'd listened to Batman. She hadn't engaged, though it wasn't for lack of trying. She couldn't believe he'd gotten away. They really had to find him before he-

Hands reached out of the brush and grabbed her by the throat, tossing her to the ground. There was the uncomfortable restriction as his hands slid off of the hard collar of her cape and just under her jaw line. He pinned her to the ground unceremoniously, her arms clamped to her sides by his legs. She tried in vain to throw her weight, to kick him, to do anything, but she was stuck.

One hand released from her throat and trailed indecently under her cape. Using the opening, she arched her back upward and pushed him off of her just enough that she could pull a leg from under him. She pushed it against his stomach, and he almost let go of her. Far too soon, he regained his balance, though, and had her pressed up against the fence. His arms were too long, she realized, as she tried to kick him again. It was growing difficult to fight back, seeing as how she was suffering from a serious lack of air. In one last ditch effort, she kicked out with her right leg, and it shot past him. Her heal came flying back, and into his kidney.

He dropped her with a cry of painful protest, and she went rolling down the frozen dirt slope and onto the hard stone of the levee. She rolled onto her side and attempted to get to her feet, but as she did so, there was a sudden shift in the wind, and Robin prepared for the impact. A body hit hers, and she landed in the water, the man once again on top of her.

With one hand, he pushed her into the mud and dirt. In that instance, the orange glow of the city lights clouded above her as the disturbed setement pushed it from view. The thick, grainy water rushed into her nose and she tried as hard as she could to keep it from engulfing her lungs.

The cape tangled around her left arm, but her right was free, and she tried to push his hand away as it grabbed for her belt. Good luck, she thought. I can barely get my uniform on and off.

Robin tried to pull her leg from beneath him again, but he anticipated her move, and one of his knees crushed down on both of her legs. The pain caused her to swallow some of the disgusting dirty water. The impulse was to cough it out again, but there was no where for it to go. Her immediate response was that it was gross-fish pooped and peed in this water. The pressure in her head was building. The world was lighting up behind her eye balls, and she was loosing the strength to attempt pulling his hand away from her.

She only had to hold on, she told herself. Her partner would come. He was Batman. He always came.

In her last burst of energy, she dug her gloved fingers into his wrist, trying to cut off circulation, but it wasn't enough. He tugged on her belt, and it didn't let go. All it did was pull against her sides and hurt her more than even slamming into a metal bar would.

Suddenly, her attacker was ripped from her and tossed away with a crack and a thud. A strong, angry fist grabbed hold of her vest and pulled her up out of the mud, and set her on land.

Rubbing her eyes with her untangled hand, she forced herself to cough up what had invaded her lungs. She shivered in the cold air, hugging close to the icy stones, praying they'd give her some warmth.

Her ears cleared, and she heard the sound of fists hitting flesh in an almost rhythmic pattern. Suddenly, it stopped, and she forced herself to look up. Batman had the man lifted off the ground by his throat.

"NO!" She ground out hoarsely, against her abused throat and air-deprived chest.

Her own dark protector hesitated. His hand quivered for a moment, and then he threw the man onto the ground. The water-soaked body didn't move, and for a moment, Robin was afraid. She didn't regain her composure until she saw it's chest rise and fall.

Shaking, she sat up. Sirens sounded closer and the space beyond the fence glowed red and blue with the approaching police force. Acknowledging their impending arrival, Batman nodded once to his protégé. In one swift motion, he unclipped his cape, wrapped it around her and scooped her up. A second later, they were safely in the shadows of the bridge.

The cape enveloping her was dark and warm, and the arms surrounding her were firm and safe. She'd never been in his arms before, but she knew nothing could harm her there. Beyond the blackness of the cape and her own forced breathing, she could hear officers calling to one another, and the tinkling sound of the fence being cut.

Robin lulled for a bit, trying to regain her strength. The cold had been enough to kill-never mind her battle. But it was over. Her Bat had come.

A long time later, she felt her Bat shift. He never did that. Ever.

"Talk to me," her Grampy said.

Slowly, she pulled back the edge of the cape from her tired, wet face and saw him standing in front of them, his back to them. He always talked like that-like he wasn't really talking to them.

"There's enough evidence in his apartment," Batman said. "Trophies from the victims, articles of clothing, other items. I was exiting when two souls with guilty consciences decided to make my leaving. difficult. Taylor caught wind and attempted to exit the building before reaching his apartment. Robin followed."

She liked the way his voice reverberated, deep in his chest when he talked. It was comforting, like being rocked to sleep.

"There was an. altercation and Robin ended up in the water. Understandably, I would like to get her to the Car."

There was silence. Robin hoped that they wouldn't talk about it further. That Batman wouldn't say how she'd disobeyed, and Grampy wouldn't ask more details.

"And the bruises on Taylor's throat?"

Batman didn't say anything. Robin was glad for that as well. He waited for just a moment, then took her quietly and unobtrusively back to the car.

Getting her safely installed into her own chair, he checked her over. Her mother was going to kill him for the bruises on her throat, but he didn't care. The thought was more of a passing observance than fear of Oracle.

Besides her twisted and obviously battered cape, her uniform did not appear to be maligned in any way. That meant Howard Taylor had only tried to kill her. Only.

She turned sideways in the seat and rested her head against the back of the chair. Robin pulled the cape back around her and sighed.

He started the car and turned the heat up much further than it had previously been that evening, a wave of guilt filling him. "I'm sorry-I was late," he said finally after the car was well on its way at a speed healthily above the limit.

"You came," she said simply. "I knew you would."

He despised that kind of absolute faith. Batman forced his eyes to stay focused on the road. His hands clenched the wheel as tightly as he could.

Without warning, she moved closer, and her arms shot of his cape and around him. One arm slid behind his back, and the other wrapped around his waist. He tensed, then finally, one hand fell off the wheel and rested on her wet, dirty hair.

She squeezed him once around the midsection, trying to get back that feeling of being in his arms. Unexpectedly, his arm moved lower and pulled her closer towards him.

THE END

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