Author's note: This chapter sat for so long on my computer that I finally tore it up and almost completely rewrote it, so now it's twice as long and it contains a little unexpected Dick/Babs. Last chapter of "Sign of Spring" will be up next weekend. Back to the story here... Dick has just stormed out of the cave, fed up with being unable to break Batman out of his gloom...
The Gotham streets seemed so familiar that Dick suspected he could navigate them blindfolded. With his Ducati purring under his palms and the balls of his feet, he decided to try it out a few blocks at a time, and only felt frustrated when it turned out to be no challenge at all.
At least in Blüdhaven he still had to keep his eyes open.
The sun was setting sooner than Dick wanted it to. As the alleyways sank into deep purple and the neon signs became more vivid, he felt a sudden need to see the sky. Looking up, he couldn't help but notice that the one building in the city that seemed to be purposefully obstructing the sunset was the monolithic edifice of Wayne Tower. Behind the visor of his motorcycle helmet, Dick narrowed his eyes. He had an idea.
Being Bruce Wayne's heir and therefore a prince of Gotham granted Dick all kinds of privileges that he'd never gotten used to. But one of the places where he had grown accustomed to never being questioned was Wayne Tower, and sure enough, the security guards only nodded hello as Dick wheeled his motorcycle right through the front lobby and into Bruce's private elevator.
He switched elevators in Bruce's seldom-used office, and went all the way up to the roof. The door opened on the seventy-ninth story, and the sunset he'd been chasing hit him in the face. He walked the bike out into the light, closing his eyes and filling his lungs with the cold of the wind. It felt like the first breath he'd taken all day. He felt vindicated. This was where he needed to be—it always helped to be able to see the horizon when he felt like he needed to put things into perspective.
Parking his bike, Dick paced the outermost edge of the roof, unperturbed by the possibility of a thousand-foot fall. He looked out rather than down at the city that had raised him, trained him, strengthened him. The city that had hurt and nearly killed him more times than he could remember. It was Bruce's city, built and nurtured by Bruce's parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and so on.
Tourists called it dirty.
Finally Dick sat down, staring at the red smudge of the clouds as the sun made its glorious retreat.
Night was inevitable, no matter how brilliantly the sky bled in the last few moments of day. And just as certain, Bruce was right about the future. There was no way around it. The man was over forty, for goodness sakes. He wasn't going to live forever, especially not as Batman. And if he was taken out, there was no way Dick or Tim or anyone could cope with that. It would be over, it would fall apart. Everything Bruce tried to stand for, as a symbol or whatever, it would all disappear once Bruce was out of the picture.
But even as he accepted all of that, Dick felt a flare of anger—because none of it justified the way Bruce was acting right now, with his paranoia and his so-called 'tests', sulking in the cave and insinuating that Dick and Tim would never be good enough. Just the memory of Bruce's attitude made Dick glad that he had knocked him out.
The sun slipped away at last, veiling the roof in grey and Dick's spirit in desperation. He felt like he had to escape, like he had to do something, anything: he couldn't sit still. Action had to be the answer. For most people, thinking about jumping from the seventy-ninth floor would be considered suicidal. For the original boy wonder, suicide had nothing to do with it. He knew he'd figure something out on the way down. He always did.
Dick curled his toes over the edge, and bounced up and down once or twice, parodying a diver on a diving board.
He was about to jump when suddenly he had a better idea.
If night was inevitable, there was only one solution: you had to make the most of every last moment of daylight. You had to go to every length, make every sacrifice, even do the impossible in order to prolong the light you had left.
Part of the roof formed an unintended ramp up to the edge. If he drove the Ducati off of it…
The nearest roof to Wayne Tower's was a hundred feet lower and half a block away. A total distance of well over a hundred and fifty meters; probably closer to six hundred feet. Could he make it that far?
Dick decided to find out. And if he was lucky, at the very apogee of the jump he might have enough altitude to catch another split second of sunlight. He swung his leg over the seat, pulled on his helmet, lowered the visor. Juiced the engine.
He glanced down at the speedometer rather than the city as his back tire leapt off the edge of the roof. One hundred MPH. Perfect.
The bike sailed higher, complaining in a frantic whir that there was nothing but air under the tires. And then Dick found himself smiling, because in the half-second float at the top of the arc, he was back in the sun.
He'd been right about that part, but of course now he had to survive what came next. The roof he'd been aiming for was coming up fast. He had to stay balanced, not let the bike get away from him—
Suddenly a hand reached out of the sky and caught Dick by the back of his belt, and before the falling bike could wrench his arms out of their sockets, another hand reached down over Dick's shoulder and gripped the center of the handlebars.
"Hey!" Dick protested, realizing exactly what had just happened.
"Jumping your motorcycle off Wayne Tower?…" Superman mused, a hint of admiration and a subtle request for explanation present in his tone.
"I would've made it."
Clark shook his head, smiling. "I have to say-- your method of sulking is a lot more exciting than the old man's."
"Do we have to remember that he's old?" Dick asked, upset.
"Is that what's eating you?"
Dick fidgeted. "Just drop me on a roof somewhere. I'll be fine."
"…If you need a little air time, you know, I could throw your bike in the general direction of the manor…"
"Wow, so I could ride my very own flying motorcycle all the way home? Sounds like every little boy's dream come true. Thanks, Superman."
Clark only smiled, unfazed. Sarcasm had never been Dick's strong suit. "So… you wanna talk?"
"Yeah," Dick admitted, his attitude dissolving right away.
Superman made a lazy loop in the air, and spiraled down to the roof of an innocuous old brownstone apartment building. He let Dick fall the last ten feet, and then held the Ducati off the roof until he got the engine turned off.
Dick removed his helmet and held it between his hands, gazing down at his own distorted reflection in the visor.
Superman crossed his arms over his chest, leaned back against an old triple-stack chimney, and waited.
After a moment, Dick took a breath.
"He's worse than ever."
Clark didn't comment, knowing his silence would elicit a quicker explanation than any question. Sure enough, scarcely a few seconds passed before Dick continued.
"Alfred asked me to come home for a visit. He told me Bruce was going through one of his brooding spells. Said he was taking it out on Tim pretty hard."
"Did Tim complain?"
Dick frowned. "No. I didn't really talk to Tim about it, but I know he was trying to tough it out. Train harder, sleep less, inevitably fail to meet unrealistic expectations—all of that."
"That's really the drill?" Clark didn't exactly sound surprised, just vaguely unsettled.
"That's really the drill," Dick confirmed with a sigh. "That's how Robin endures Batman's dark side."
"So what happened this time?" Clark prompted. "I assume you interfered."
"I came home, said hello, figured I'd eventually be able to work him out of it. You know, maybe get him to consider that maybe, just maybe, he was being ridiculous. Maybe even get him to crack a smile."
"…I take it this mission didn't exactly end in success."
Dick shook his head. "It ended in disaster. We got in a fight and I punched him out."
"Yeah. So now, he's going to hold a grudge."
Clark was quiet for a moment, understanding all too well the situation that Dick was in. Bruce never forgot, seldom forgave, and never took it lightly when he was bested by anyone.
"I just wish it had never happened," Dick muttered. "I should've let him win."
Clark smiled a little. "I don't think he would've wanted that. Actually, I think that might be one of his greatest fears."
Dick looked skeptical. "What do you mean?"
"I bet he's afraid of being patronized. Of not being taken seriously."
"Oh, I take him seriously all right—"
"Exactly. And not that I'm a psychiatrist or anything, but I think the reaction he gets from you and Tim is what eggs him on. The emotion he stirs up—the extra dedication from Tim, the anger from you—whatever he can get. He thrives on it. The day you become so immune or so superior to him that you could actually let him win a fight is the day he loses everything."
"Huh." Dick tucked the helmet under his arm and flashed a grateful half-smile at Clark. "Well, if you look at it that way, he really did win after all and I have nothing to feel guilty about. Thanks."
"So… what are you doing in Gotham? Alfred call you in to evict Bruce from the manor after I failed to cheer him up?"
"Not exactly," Clark said, and Dick immediately sensed that he was holding something back.
"Then… what was it? Wait a minute—" Dick had a crazy thought, and somehow the sheer improbability of it made him suspect it was the truth. "--did Bruce call you?"
Clark sighed. "He called as soon as you set foot in the elevator in Wayne Tower. Thought you were going to do something dangerous."
"That's what he said. He said he could see it in your eyes."
"Ugh." Dick paced back and forth, shaking his head. "But that's crazy. This may sound sort of lame, but I only went up there to watch the sunset."
"Well, there was that little stunt with the motorcycle…" Clark reminded him, amused.
"You don't understand. That didn't even occur to me until after I'd sat up there for a while, trying to sort out my thoughts."
Clark still didn't see the issue. "He is always two steps ahead of everyone."
Dick scowled, his eyes darkening. "No. This is just another example of how paranoid he is. He doesn't trust me at all."
"Or," Clark said kindly, "perhaps he knows you better than you know yourself, and this is an example of how much he cares about you."
"Yeah, maybe." Dick relented. "But it's still kind of pathetic that he would actually call you over here to play guardian angel for me."
Superman shrugged. "I've found that some people need a guardian angel more than others. Some people, for instance, seem to have a natural knack for falling out the windows of the Daily Planet building. Other people like to jump their motorcycle off the highest structure in Gotham City with no apparent plan for surviving."
Superman's attitude was contagious, and Dick smiled a little. "Okay, so I admit that might have been a little bit dangerous."
"Hang on, you're not letting me win this argument, are you?"
"Yep." He took a deep, cathartic breath. "You win, Clark. It's for my own good."
Clark whistled. "Sure wish I could get Bruce to say that, one of these days."
"Alfred's been wishing the same thing for the past twenty years."
Clark's voice lowered a bit, sounding wistful. "Has it really been twenty years? I guess it has. Hard to believe. Part of me still thinks of you as that little—"
"I know," Dick cut him off, rolling his eyes. "Bruce and Alfred are the same way. Last time I was home Alfred slapped my hand when I tried to get a cookie out of the jar before dinner. And Bruce still thinks he owns my life. Sometimes it's like… like he's angry at me for growing up. How stupid is that?"
"It's not stupid at all," Clark reasoned. "I think Bruce thought time would stop for you like it stopped for him."
Dick's voice was grim. "…It didn't stop for him."
Clark remembered the start of their conversation, and nodded in realization. "And this brings us back to the underlying issue."
"Yes. He's going to get old. Soon."
Dick's face clouded. "There is no 'and then'."
"Dick. I can't see the future, but I know it'll be all right. You'll figure it out. You and Tim--"
"I don't want to talk about it. It's depressing."
"Fair enough," Clark replied, backing off.
For a minute they looked off in opposite directions, studying the lights of the city. Dick seemed lost in thought, but quickly shook himself out of it, and pulled the motorcycle helmet over his head. "I've decided to do another dangerous thing," he announced.
"I'm gonna invite Superman over to the manor and ask him to help me cheer up the resident grump."
"That does sound dangerous," Clark grinned. "Batman doesn't stand a chance against the both of us, does he?"
"No way," Dick agreed. "But just in case, there is one more person I'd like to bring as back up."
"Who do you have in mind? Wonder Woman?"
"Almost. I'm going to bring Barbara Gordon." Dick swung his leg over the Ducati and put his hands on the handlebars, but didn't touch the key. "So. Is that offer still open for giving me a ride?"
"I thought you were too old for flying motorcycles," Clark said, voice warm.
"I changed my mind. I'll never be too old for a ride on a flying motorcycle," Dick declared. "Besides, I haven't visited Babs in a while, and it might be fun to arrive in style for once rather than dragging myself to her window ledge half-dead."
"Sounds good," Clark said, and hefted the bike up over his shoulder. "Where does she live?"
"Let's see… four blocks north and two blocks west of here. She's on the top floor of her building. See that billboard with the car? That's across the street from her."
"Does she have a potted Salvia plant in her kitchen window?" Clark asked, squinting a little in the direction Dick was pointing.
"I'm not sure. I know she has a Batman clock on her kitchen wall, though."
Clark focused on the distant window of the top-floor apartment. "…Yup, Batman clock. There it is. That's the place."
"So you can throw me from here to there?"
"Definitely," Clark confirmed.
"And you'll let me land by myself this time."
Clark rubbed his chin, squinting again at the motorcycle's intended destination. "Hmm. Well, I was planning to catch you when you got close."
"Your aim's not good enough to land me on the roof?"
"I'll put it this way: I can throw a steamliner through a mountain, but I probably can't hit a bullseye with a batarang at a thousand meters."
Dick bit his lip. "Could you at least hit the target though? I'm talking about landing on a roof, not on a dime."
"Sure, I could hit the target."
"All right, I'll take my chances. I've got my crash gear on anyway, so give it your best shot--and let me land it myself."
"Here goes," Clark warned, and drew back the arm that was holding the motorcycle aloft. He used a quick glimpse with x-ray vision to verify that Dick's skull and spine were in the proper alignment to preclude whiplash, and then launched the Ducati into the air as if he were pitching a baseball.
Dick's adrenaline-inspired whoop faded quickly into the sky, but wasn't lost to Clark's ears.
Unfortunately, neither was the sound of a crime in progress in the alley ten blocks behind him. Trusting that Dick would be all right, Superman swooped away to where he was most needed—and didn't watch the motorcycle land.
Barbara Gordon was proud of herself. For the first time in ages, she was going to bed early. Her computers were all in sleep mode already, screens folded down or turned off as applicable. Her father had gotten her a book last year for Christmas and she was finally, finally going to curl up in bed and just read it.
The only problem was that as soon as she pulled up the covers and opened to page one, someone crashed a motorcycle through her living room window.
She was out of bed and in her chair instantaneously, rushing to the scene of shattered glass and rattling engine parts. The rider, who probably should have been dead, was already extracting himself from the cushions of the overturned sofa.
Barbara narrowed her eyes. "Richard. John. Grayson."
"Wow," Dick panted, voice muffled by his helmet. "Good thing Bruce owns your building, huh? Shouldn't be too hard to fix the--"
"For God's sake, Dick, are you all right?!?" Barbara exclaimed.
Dick stood up, patted his chest, then his stomach, then his thighs, sweeping off shards of glass in the process. "I'm fine," he realized. "Not a scratch." He pulled his helmet off and grinned, eyes a little wild without the half-expected frame of a mask. "And, believe it or not, this is not the craziest thing I've done today."
Before Barbara could think of anything to say, Dick peeled off his gloves and clasped both of her hands. "It's great to see you, Barbara. You look very cuddly right now."
"That's because I'm in my pajamas," she said, pulling her hands away from his. "I was trying to go to bed early, before some psycho on a motorcycle decided to trash my living room."
"I'm really sorry, Babs. I was aiming for the roof."
There was a heartbeat's worth of utter silence as Babs stared into his eyes, realizing that he was serious.
"You were aiming for the roof," she repeated in a deadly monotone.
Dick seemed oblivious to the impending avalanche of anger that was about to crush his world. "Yeah," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "I didn't miss it by all that much, actually—"
Babs clutched the armrests of her chair so tightly that her shoulders quivered. "What. Were you. Thinking?" she seethed, and Dick felt his blood run cold. He swallowed, eyes wide in sudden worry. "I know Tim's the smart one," Babs continued. "…But have you totally lost your mind? Couldn't you just ride your bike over here on the street like a normal person? What did you do? Strap it to your hang glider? Jump off the bell tower of Saint Michael's and roof-hop all the way down McDaniel Street?"
"No, it wasn't anything like that. Are you really mad?"
"Can I make it up to you?"
"I don't know. Can you grow up and start being sensible?"
Dick took a knee in front of her chair, so he could look up into her eyes.
"Ugh, what are you doing?" she demanded, unimpressed.
"I'm telling you that I love you."
"Are we even dating right now?"
"I hope so," he said, leaning towards her face. Rolling her eyes, she gave in and let him have the kiss he was seeking.
Pulling up into a hover outside the broken window, Superman cleared his throat a little. "…ahum. You kids need a minute?"
They both turned to look at him. "Superman?" Babs asked, confused. "What's going on?"
"Sorry about all this," Clark said, landing in a distinctly un-bat-like crouch on the windowsill and easing his way into the room. "I was aiming for the roof."
Babs narrowed her eyes. "…Ah. Suddenly it all becomes clear: the combined genius of the Man of Steel and the former Boy Wonder at work. Criminals hiding behind panes of glass in top-floor apartments everywhere, beware."
"It was mostly my fault," Dick admitted. "Bruce sent him to babysit me and I was determined to make that backfire."
"So what's the rest of the story?" Babs asked dryly. "Because I hope you two aren't Evel-Knievel-ing around Gotham just for the hell of it."
Dick took a deep breath. "Superman's going to help me confront Bruce about his latest brooding spell. And I was hoping you'd come along."
Babs looked skeptical. "You think I'll be able to help?"
"Yeah, I do. I already tried the one-on-one thing with him and it didn't go so well. So for round two, the more the merrier. Are you up to it?"
Babs sighed and smoothed her hair back behind her ears with both hands. "All right," she agreed. " Just go grab my bathrobe, will you? Looks like a cold night for flying."
Moments later, an arm around each of his human passengers, Superman stepped through the broken window.
Dick glanced over at Babs and grinned. "Up, up and away, right Clark?"
"You got it," Clark answered, soaring high over the glittering lights of the city.
It was a one-minute flight to the manor.
...to be continued...
Another note: I don't care what anybody says-- Dick and Babs need to get married and give that brat Damian something that no Bat-boy has ever had before: a mom and dad who stay alive to raise him!!! Okay, sorry for the rant. :) I feel I should also mention that DC comics has yet to provide me with a satisfactory Supes/Bats team-up with Dick as Batman. What's the holdup, DC?? Afraid they'll be too nice to each other? Afraid Clark & Lois might invite this new Batman over for dinner, and he might actually say 'yes'?? Argh!
Oh, one more thing. I just read "Nightwing: Ties that Bind" for the first time this week. Has anyone else read that? It's from the nineties. I nearly laughed myself to death. The story was cute, but good lord, for like an entire issue Dick is marching around in this horrendous POLKA-DOT shirt that I swear no man would ever be caught dead wearing. Sorry, Nightwing my love, but even growing up in a circus is no excuse for wearing Bongo the Clown's hand-me-downs as your civilian clothes! XD