Disclaimers: usual disclaimers apply. I own the stuff I own, DC owns the stuff they own.

Summary: Dick throws his kid out a window. Chaos ensues.

The Baby and the Bathwater

**

Mara Grayson looked around the art room. It was her last year in this stupid little-kid school, with her stupid little-kid brother, and she was sick of art, and the art room, with it's finger paintings clothes pinned to strings running across the ceiling, tissue paper stained glass taped to the real windows, dirty paint brushes and paint-stained smocks hanging on hooks behind the door. It was dumb in here. She could think of half a dozen things she'd rather be doing, and NONE of them involved modeling clay or gluing feathers to construction paper.

But this wasn't art class. Her teacher had received a note from the office and had sent her here with absolutely no explanation. Mara knew a trap when she saw one, and this was a trap.

Waiting with an astounding lack of patience, Mara picked at the blister on the palm of her hand and ran over the things she had to do tonight. She'd just graduated to equipment checks, and she didn't want to mess it up, or have it taken away. And she wanted to grab gloves with more padding in the palms tonight. Last night she'd nearly had her hands ripped off on some idiotic adventure that involved the Riddler and two tons of toilet paper. If there was a dumb way to die, Mara was sure she'd find it. With her luck, her twip of a brother would find her drown in a bucket of sardine flavored jelly beans, or she'd be beaten to death with a hunk of butter. Why? Because the universe was funny that way.

The blister burst and clear liquid shot out of the red and white wound and she wiped the stinging mass against her jeans. Alfred would not approve.

Finally, just when Mara thought she was going to turn into an old granny and have to walk at grade school graduation with a cane, the art room door opened. Mara cringed. It was Ms. Pavin, the guidance councilor.

"Mara. It's nice to see you again." She smiled, carrying a leather portfolio clutched tightly to her chest. All those administrative types wore sweaters with childish things on them in an effort to show they weren't 'out of touch', and true to form, Ms. Pavin was doing the same. She had a blue sweater bearing black silhouetted witches flying over a bright orange pumpkin patch.

The feeling is exclusive to yourself, Mara thought to herself.

"I was hoping we could have a talk about a few things," Pavin said, sitting across from Mara in a chair obviously too small for an adult.

"In the art room?" Mara asked skeptically.

"Well, it can be a little stuffy in my office sometimes," the woman said, noting the child's overly-suspicious nature.

And the art room was better? Mara thought to herself. People were so strange. "Oh-kay…" she muttered breathlessly. "So. What am I in for?"

The woman let out a short burst of a laugh. "We just like to touch base with all of our students from time to time. We're at the G's in the alphabet."

Mara sat back, and Pavin noted that her comment seemed to assuage the girl's ramped curiosity. Her teachers reported that she was very quiet and aloof most of the time. Apparently she was only remotely interested in what was going on around her when there was wind of a conspiracy. She also liked to stand behind teachers on the playground and listen to their dirty gossip.

"Are you excited about going to the junior high school next year?" Ms. Pavin asked finally.

"Maybe," Mara said non-committaly. Actually, she couldn't wait to get out. Her brother had been in this school with her since the beginning of last year, and the place wasn't big enough for both of them. That, and she was surrounded by idiots. Mara pushed the issue of home-schooling, or of going to one of the private schools her Grandpa wanted to send her to, but her dad was all insistent that she learn how to behave in a 'normal working environment.'

Personally, she just thought that her dad was being a middle class snob in wanting her to not become a high-class snob. That's all that was to it, really. He was afraid hanging out with Grandpa would make her snobbish, and dad was so insistent on her not becoming a snob, that he got far too excited on the merits of a middle class existence, especially when it bored her out of her mind. At least Grandpa kept her busy. Mom and dad invested too much time in wanting to change her into a 'normal' person to see that she was languishing here. At least she thought she was. Junior high HAD to be better than this.

"Well, I'm sure it will be different for you. You'll have a locker of your own to keep after, and classes in a lot more places. Hopefully you won't have a difficulty making the transition to a larger school."

Mara folded her arms over her chest, right across the Superman symbol of her long-sleeve t-shirt. At least the girl had interests, Pavin though. "Yeah, right. As opposed to now, where everyone's stealing stuff out of your desk and everything else." She wanted to stab Michael Dabbson in the hand with her pencil when she saw him digging through her desk this morning. "You put a lock on those things, and hopefully it keeps the rabble out." Rabble like Mickey Simms, who'd been held back AGAIN, or Michael, who thought everyone elses' deck contents belonged to HIM.

Ms. Pavin had been afraid the girl wouldn't want to open up, the way things had been going before. Of course, she wasn't exactly excited to see the girl so heated, but at least she was talking. "Yes, I can imagine that keeping your things in a locker would make that better." She couldn't believe that this sixth grader had just called her classmates rabble. Pavin wondered if this was the result of too much time spent with her paternal grandfather. The man was a noted philanthropist. He was also a 'social butterfly' to put it mildly. Perhaps he was passing on some untoward opinions of the average man to this child.

Studying her subject, who was now totally calm, Ms. Pavin realized she'd just snapped closed like a book. She was staring past the woman, out the windows. "Anything interesting out there?" Pavin asked finally.

Mara Grayson shrugged.

"Have you thought about class scheduling for next year?"

"I'm sure my mom'll schedule me for something lame." She never looked away from the window.

"Well, parents do have input into the class selection process, but don't you think you should take some initiative?" As she spoke, Pavin opened her leather portfolio and lifted the sheet on her tablet to a clean page.

Mara's silver eyes briefly made contact with hers. "Doesn't matter. All the classes are stupid anyways."

"Well, perhaps you'll change your mind in junior high school? All of your teachers HAVE recommended you for advanced classes." She realized Mara was staring out the window again.

"I hate school," the girl said absently. Suddenly, she realized what she had said, though, because her eyes quickly met the guidance councilor. "I mean…"

"It's alright," Pavin told her mildly, clicking the ball on the top of her pen. "Many kids don't like school. It still means you have to go, though. Is there any thing I can do to make your next six and a half years in the Bludhaven Public School System more pleasant?"

Mara felt her stomach muscles twist and tighten. Six and a half more years. "You know, arsonists and thieves only get five years, sometimes. It seems a little silly that we're put in the 'pen for twelve to thirteen just for reaching school age."

Pavin had to laugh. The child was hopelessly pessimistic, but at least she was funny. "School isn't intended to be a prison. What makes it seem like that?"

"Fenced in exercise yard, lunches served on plastic trays, we're not allowed to have plastic knives, ketchup is rationed, the day is routine to a fault… the only thing we're missing is a tower and guys with guns." Mara could handle guys with guns. People who wanted you to make little animals out of clay were another story.

Mara knew she was being testy, but she couldn't stop herself. This lady had dragged her out of class to 'get to know her'. Well, this was who they got. Testy Mara who didn't like being taken out of class just to be jerked around. One'd think the Universe would have a little more respect for someone who almost suffocated in toilet paper last night.

The universe sucked. Everything sucked. Mara sighed.

"Well, you'll be happy to know that there is no fence around the junior high school. You know, one thing that might make things a little more bearable for you is if you had an activity of some sort." Pavin began digging through the literature in the portfolio, trying to find an activity to suit the girl. "Have you ever played softball?"

"No," Mara grumbled smartly. But last week she'd smashed a pumpkin being thrown at her with a piece of rusty pipe. She had a feeling it'd be the same sort of feeling, except for the part where the pumpkin gave a wet lurch, cracked, and dropped to the ground, spilling it's innards onto the asphalt. Then again, hitting the pumpkin might be more amusing than playing a game where the object was to run around in a square and end up back where you started.

"Well, do you have any interest in any sports? The Intramural teams don't require any try-outs or anything like that. You'd just be picking something you're interested in. The Volly Ball team takes sixth graders. You could start and play through until ninth grade."

Mara had to physically restrain herself from shuddering. "That's ok."

"Physical activity can be good for you."

"I'm not sedentary," she replied accusingly.

Pavin was surprised the girl knew what the word meant. "Well, what do you do in your spare time?"

A thin smile spread across the girl's lips. "Spare time implies I'm idle."

Pavin had certainly been handed a feisty one. "Well, what do you do when you're not in school?"

"Stuff," Mara grumbled. She put her foot up on the chair next to her and looked down at her shoe.

This was going so well. "Your teachers asked me to discuss some things with you."

The girl suddenly snapped into an upright position, pulling her foot off the chair and glaring into Pavin's eyes. She had a presence, if nothing else. No matter what line of work the girl eventually went into, if it involved intimidating people, she'd do well. Pavin was glad that jumping on Michael Simms last year was the only time she'd been in trouble at this school. She had a feeling no one would be able to contain her, if she let loose.

"This was a setup. This wasn't a routine meeting, and this wasn't to talk about next year." Why did teachers have to be so much trouble? She did her homework. She wasn't allowed out after dark if she didn't do it. She got straight A's on everything. She behaved, mostly, except for an incident here or there. What more did these miserable, rotten old biddies want from her?

"This isn't a 'setup,'" her guidance counselor explained patiently. The child had far too much imagination. She also obviously listened to her father too much. She was beginning to sound like a police detective as well. "We're a little concerned for you, is all. You're a very bright girl, but you never appear interested in anything. I'm trying to give you alternatives. There's a girl's choir at the junior high school. There's chess club, a history club… I'm just trying to help you find your nitch in school."

"I don't WANT to find my nitch because I don't want to BE here!" Mara said forcefully. Her voice echoed off the walls of the room and stung in her own ears. Well, THAT cat was out of the bag. Mara had decided long ago that if she couldn't be happy about being at school, and she couldn't misbehave because it'd get her pulled out of the suit, she'd just shut down. That seemed like a good way to deal with the people around her. Just block them out and pretend like she didn't have a problem.

Pavin tilted the portfolio upward so Mara couldn't see what she was writing. Mara had a pretty good guess. "Well, if you don't want to be here, that's something to discuss as well. Maybe you'd do better in a more challenging environment. We can discuss it with your parents--"

"NO," Mara responded before she could finish her thought. "Holy dead end. Look, I'm fine where I am. I do my work, and I keep outta trouble. I don't say anything to anybody."

"That's the problem, Mara. You're not socially connected in any way what so ever to anyone or anything in this institution." She'd tried the teacher to student approach. Now it seemed that being level with the girl would be a good idea.

"SO?"

"Human beings are social creatures." She couldn't believe she was having this conversation with a ten year old. A barely ten year old. Her birthday had only been last week. The girl had started sixth grade at the age of nine, that should have told Pavin something, she supposed.

"SO? Just because I don't want to talk to anyone in this… this GRUB-HOLE, there's something wrong with me, and I need 'counseled' or something?" The girl folded her arms over her chest protestfully. "My brother's a regular nut-job. He can't talk right, and he sleeps with that stupid robotic dog. Go analyze HIM into more socially acceptable behavior!"

Mara stood up and turned her back to the lady. Wouldn't life be so much simpler if we could just beat up everyone we disagreed with? Why didn't the rules of the street apply to classroom behavior?

"Ms. Grayson, I think you'd better sit down right now and listen to what I have to say. This is not about your brother, this is about you. Now, I've already spoken to your parents about this--"

Mara heard the word 'parents' and swallowed her anger. Throwing her self back in the chair, she sat in stony silence.

"That's better. I have already spoken with your parents, and they want to see you become more socially active as well. If there's something standing in the way, we can work on it."

"What's standing in the way is that I have absolutely NO desire to associate with spazes bullies."

"I know you get picked on, but it's not by everyone. I don't think you should give up on the entire school population because of a few kids." Pavin pulled her long, dark hair over her shoulder and picked a fuzz ball off of her sweater. "And I think you DO want to have friends and get along better with your classmates."

"Lady, you don't know ANYTHING about me."

"Your parents said you'd give me a hard time," Pavin said knowingly. That was ONE thing Pavin was sure of. She'd not believed a ten year old could pose such a formidable challenge, but here she was. 'Challenge,' in the flesh. She wondered how such an obstinate creature could come into being.

Mara scowled for a moment. "Fine. Chess club." She wasn't going to let Pavin win, but she wasn't going to let her parents win either. Really—who did they think they were? They ran her life—or they thought they should, or something. Life would be so much easier if she lived with Grandpa Bruce all the time. Out of this dumb city, away from these dumb people.

"I'd have hoped that this would be a thoughtful choice."

"Lemme think about it," Mara said sarcastically. Thoughtful choices. Was she Wonder Woman or something? Geeze. Everyone was trying to force her into something all the time. She put her hand on her chin and stared at the ceiling a moment. "Chess club." Grandpa Bruce would approve of that. Even if it was probably a nerd's only club.

Shaking her head, Ms. Pavin produced the forms for the Chess Club. "Just return these before scheduling starts in a couple of weeks." Digging out a course guide, she handed that to Mara as well. "Try to pick some courses that interest you."

Mara leafed through the blue booklet. Yeah right, something that interests me, she thought to herself. "Can I go back to class? Planning my continued social development is interfering with my education."

The child was a definite attitude case, Ms. Pavin thought to herself. "You can go back to class now, Mara."

Without hesitation, Mara popped up out of her seat and left the room, the door slamming behind her. Ms. Pavin sighed and began writing notes on her tablet. The child was… full of personality, to say the least. It was a shame, though. She had such nice parents.

* * *

Mara turned down the hallway leading back to the sixth grade classrooms, then stopped in her tracks. Doubling back, she went past the art room and to the cafeteria. Digging in her pocket, she found the appropriate amount of change, and then lifted the receiver off the phone. Tossing the phone down the coin slot, she pushed the receiver between her ear and her shoulder and started dialing.

"Hellllo!" came a cheerful voice on the other end.

Mara sighed. She HATED Brucie. "Can I come live with you?"

"You called to ask me that?" her grandfather questioned sternly.

"Don't make me go to the junior high school. Alfred can teach me, or I'll teach myself. Brentwood's accepting girls now. Come on. Help me out."

He sighed. "What happened in school today, Mara?"

"Nothing. Look, I just don't wanna go there. Everything's stupid." She leaned against the wall and moaned.

"Mara," he said sternly. "I don't have time to have this conversation now."

"Can you at least talk to dad about private school?"

There was silence on the other end. Big, painful, thick silence.

"GRANDPA!"

"Mara, I've already discussed it with him. I have work to do, and you have a class to get back to, I'm betting." He waited for her to agree.

"Aren't we supposed to be somewhere?" a male voice said from behind her.

"Gotta go. Be a pal. Help a friend. Get me outta here." Mara hung up. "Iwasjustonmywaybacktoclass," she told Mr. Unverferth in her best Uncle Wally impression as she turned around.

"Ms. Grayson, you know students aren't allowed on the phones unless they have teacher permission. I doubt that hall pass in your hand has anything written on it about the payphones."

Cell phone. Mara demanded a cell phone for graduation.

Mr. Unverfirth marched her back to her class room with a final reprimand and a stern look. She had to hand it to him—it was almost Bat-like.

* * *

"Well, at least you ducked," Batman told Robin.

"Small comfort," Robin said as she tore her mask off, then opened the drawer on the stainless steel desk in the Batcave. She pulled out a hand mirror and looked at herself. "Problem," she muttered, tracing the clear skin around her eyes.

Batman only glanced fleetingly at the child's face before searching for medical supplies. "I figured it WOULD be. But we'll deal with it."

Robin shrugged. "I kept telling dad I needed a tan." She poked the red, raw skin that covered the rest of her face, everywhere where the mask did not touch her.

"Don't touch it," he ordered.

Her fingers fell away. "You think that weird Avatar person got out of there?"

"It's too early to tell. Look at me." She obeyed, and he began inspecting the skin, paying careful attention to the blisters on her cheek and chin. "They're mostly first-degree burns. The rest of this will clear in a few days."

Robin bit her sore, cracked lip while he cleaned the skin. It wasn't the most pleasant thing in the world. "Can I have a Get Out of School Free card till then?" She winced when he touched a thin bubble on her cheek and it burst.

"We'll see."

Everything was always 'we'll see' with Batman.

"I don't think the young lady is going to be going anywhere," Alfred said, appearing behind them. "Not with raccoon rings around her eyes."

"She's lucky she still has hair," Batman announced, letting Alfred take charge of the medical care.

"It was pretty cool, Alfie," Mara told him anxiously. "Except for the part where I nearly got my head blown off. I didn't like that part very much. But I flew six stories down and wacked 'em good."

"I'm sure you didn't like it very well at all," Alfred said drolly.

"It was awesome, except for that. And then the whole building blew up. And then we were in the sewers, and then there was Killer Crock, and he said he was going eat me. And then…"

"The less you move your jaw," Alfred warned as he began applying a thick, gelatinous mixture to her face, "the less this will hurt."

"Is he telling me to be quiet?" Robin asked Batman.

The green mixture began to dry as soon as it hit her skin, and Alfred was right, it did hurt less if she kept still. "You can take it as you wish, Miss."

"I will call Oracle," Batman said with resolve. "I will inform her that you will be otherwise… detained during school hours tomorrow."

Robin bounced once. "SCORE! And ask dad if I can go to Brentwood--" she let out a yelp of pain then winced. "Owwww."

* * *

The door to Jim's office opened just as he pealed the lid off of his microwaveable plastic container. Steam hit him in the glasses, and for a moment, he wondered why Bullock was dragging Robin into his office.

"Look who I found wandering the halls."

Jim knew it wasn't Robin, it had to be Mara. Bullock got a certain soft lilt to his voice when he was talking to small children, one he did NOT reserve for small children who were also Bat-freaks.

He tore his glasses off. "Can I help you?" he asked with some bit of humor as he began wiping them with his tie. Hopefully she hadn't been arrested or anything. At when he slept, he had nightmares about the kinds of trouble she could get into.

"I found Miss Hollywood wandering around the MCU. I think someone's a little lost." Jim put his glasses back on his face and inspected her. She was wearing a turtle neck, baseball cap and large sunglasses. "So, I figured I'd return lost property." Bullock's big hand came down onto her head and rubbed the cap around her skull.

"Thanks," he said as Bullock exited, closing the door behind him. "To what do we owe the honor of this visit?" Please don't let her have run away from home, Jim pleaded with the divine. He seemed to recall at least three instances of her father running off and causing himself more problems than solutions.

"Alfie dropped me off, I swear. But he didn't wanna, cause he was gonna stay with me, but Grandpa called, and I didn't wanna go to his office and just sit outside cause I'm not allowed in any more." She tossed her back pack into the corner and then hopped into the chair on the other side of his desk. "Whatcha eating?"

He shook his head. Thank God for small favors. He used to think he was paranoid, imagining the worst, but then he realized he was just being prudent. "And why isn't this little girl in school?"

By way of answer, Mara ripped off her sun glasses.

"Interesting mid-winter sunburn you got there," Jim replied dryly, inspecting the domino-shaped white patch over her eyes.

"Wind burn. Skiing. That's my story and I'm sticking to it." She grinned, readjusting her hat. "Crocky back in the petting zoo?"

"YES, he's back in Arkham," Gordon informed her as he began digging at his leftover spaghetti with a plastic fork. "And the press was really happy with Batman and Robin leveling half a block of dockside storefronts. Thanks for asking."

Mara started laughing so hard she snorted. He was funny when he got testy. "Batman didn't blow it up! Avatar did!" It wasn't like they hadn't tried to stop him! She snorted again, and almost fell out of the chair. "And uh… it'll get fixed up."

"Umm hum." He'd already heard about grants flooding in from a mysterious force to cover the costs of the damage. Jim just tried not to think about it too hard.

"You know what I hate?" Mara said as she got up from her chair, and leaned over the desk to inspect his lunch. "I hate when you heat it up in the microwave, and then all the sauce gets dry and then the spaghetti is dry, and then you put more on, cause it's dry, and then the sauce is cold, and it doesn't taste like the first sauce. I have an idea. Why don't you tell Grandpa Bruce that he should fight with dad more about private school?"

Without thinking, Jim handed his roll to the girl and pulled his plastic container a little further away from her.

She shoved the whole thing in her mouth, then began fidgeting. "Come on, you gotta," she said over the bread. Chewing twice, she swallowed the entire thing. He was sure Dick was somehow to blame for that new habit.

"You know, I'm glad to see you came to visit ME because I'm ME and not because you WANT something."

Mara's burnt cheeks turned a little redder. "And I came to see you too. But I was just thinking about that. Spaghetti makes me think of that."

"You're not eating my lunch," he informed her. Sometimes, she wasn't very sneaky.

"I didn't want your spaghetti," she said innocently. "Alfred already fed me. You don't think he'd let me out of the house without lunch, do you?"

"But you can ALWAYS eat more." The girl had two hollow legs. "And I agree with your father. I think you need to learn how the real world works. You're not going to get that at some preparatory school."

She moaned and sat back in the chair. "It's not the real world! It's school!"

Jim shook his head and sighed. She was too young to understand what they were trying to instill in her. She was smart, she was even mature for her age, but she was still only ten. She still thought too often in immediate gain, as opposed to long term investments in one's future. "You'll understand when you're older."

"Mom said that last year."

"OLDER older."

She slouched down in the leather chair still further. "Got any case files I can read?"

* * *

Robin sat in her chair at the computer, swinging her legs back and forth. As Oracle went on and on, she slouched a little lower, and a little lower. "And you were a good girl for Grampy?" her mother's image on the computer asked.

She wiped a hand over her masked face, ever careful of her red skin. "I was good. I was good for Alfred. I was good for everybody. Can we stop with the humiliation now?" Mom must have thought she was the worst kid in the world, she reasoned.

"Milliate her more!" a voice said in the background.

"Jimmy, go do your homework! This is the last time I'm telling you." Oracle turned around, told him how he'd never get another thing as long as he lived if those spelling words weren't copied in triplicate.

Mara just sighed in the interim. Her family was so weird.

"Speaking of homework, Martha Ann," Oracle said, turning to her once again. "I picked yours up from school today. That means you have to be home early tonight to do it."

Robin tried to laugh. "Got weird guys to try and catch. Avatar. Avatar takes precedence over spelling?"

Barbara scowled at her daughter. "NO. Short patrol, home, spelling—and NO trying to get yourself killed. Save it for the weekend. "

Robin shrugged. She could try, couldn't she? "Ok. Short patrol with grandpa, no death-defying stunts that boggle the mind and make Man marvel at the audacity of the Gurl-Wunder." She rubbed her chin, and pulled off a piece of dead skin. "And that whole almost blowing my face off thing was so totally not my fault. Killer Crock and the Crazy Avatar weirdo-freak person were working together…"

Barbara scowled at her oldest child. "And the night before that, you were almost smothered in toilet paper. If it's not one thing, it's another. Can't you keep yourself out of trouble?"

Mara grinned. "Yes, mommy."

"THANK YOU. Go get your grandfather."

Figuring she was off the hook, at least for a few minutes, Mara bolted out of the chair and went skidding across the cave floor to the weapon's locker. Back on the computer screen, Oracle rolled her eyes and sighed. That kid was all of Dick's annoying qualities married with all of Bruce's exasperating qualities and the end result was a little fire ball that she wanted to lock in a cage until the girl was at least in her late teens.

"Mom wants to talk to you. She said I could stay out real late tonight--"

Oracle could almost FEEL Batman's scowl, even though she couldn't see it.

"Alright, alright. I'm going. And quit stealing my job." There was the sound of heavy things being moved around precariously. "And talk to my mom about you-know-what."

Batman came out of the weapons locker and walked directly to the Crays computer. He didn't appear angry in the least that Mara had back-talked him. Barbara thought that Bruce put up with far too much where she was concerned.

"Don't worry," Batman answered quietly. "It'll take her a while before she admits she can't lift any of the car's equipment."

Barbara bit back a smile. At least Bruce was as mean to her, sometimes, as he'd been to them. "What is 'you-know-what'?"

"Private school."

"That again?" Barbara was NOT amused.

"You should at least think about it."

"Not no way, not no how. Anyways. Short patrol, then I want her home. Alfred said her face should be cleared up enough tomorrow for her to go to school. I don't need her scaring the crap out of my dad any more. He said he almost had kittens when she walked into his office with Bullock this afternoon."

"What was Bullock doing on the day shift?"

"Hold-over from the night shift?" Like Barbara knew, or cared. "You did have TWO psychotics on the loose last night. And don't try to distract me. No kittens for my dad, no long patrol, no psychopaths, no blowing my kid's head off. Have I covered everything?"

Suppressing a smile, Bruce cut the connection and the screen went dark. "Give up?" he called behind him.

"I don't give up!" a strained alto voice called out to him.

"It weighs more than you do," he said patiently as he made his way back to her.

"I moved it!"

He frowned at her. "An inch."

"Two inches." She glared down at the metal tube and base that were vexing her. "Fine. An inch."

Gently, Batman pushed her against the wall then picked up the launcher. He was preparing to fight fire with fire tonight. He knew Avatar couldn't be hurt by flames. The plan was to strike first.

"I'll be able to pick it up when I'm twelve."

"No you wont," Batman informed her as he took the hulking mass of metal to the car.

"How's about when I'm thirteen?"

"No."

"Can I drive when I'm thirteen?"

"No."

"Can I launch explosives at psychopaths?"

"No."

She followed closely behind him, watching his cape swing back and forth as he moved. "Did you talk to mom about school?"

"Yes. And before you ask—NO." He put the device down. "I'd just give this battle a rest for now."

Robin began stripping away the panel above the left car wheel and prepared to install the device. "So, like, we gonna see Batgirl tonight? Or is she scared of fire and 'splosions? Or maybe she's gonna go on a another date, and kiss him, and then they'll get all gross like Tim and Stephanie. When she came over for dinner, they were out on the patio and he had his hand on her--"

"ROBIN." He turned around and scowled at her.

"Whaaaaat? He DID! And I don't like her anyways. Now that he's off the couch all he does is spend time with her and she's stupid. She doesn't like cartoons or anything. Can we beat her up?"

Batman didn't bother responding.

"Can we scare her? At least lemme push her off a building. I mean, you owe me something. You didn't do ANYTHING with mom and dad about school."

"You're a pest, you know that?" His cape swung around as he turned away from her and walked back for more equipment. In a sadistic sort of way, he enjoyed watching her stubbornly struggle with things far too difficult for her. It WAS the only way she'd learn her limitations, and how to exceed them.

Robin grinned then followed happily after Batman as he walked back across the length of the cave.

* * *

Robin couldn't remember being in this much trouble. Well, this week anyways. Being nearly smothered and being nearly blown up aside. This was like serious, serious trouble. And it was weird. This was the drowning in jelly beans sort of thing. Ok, so she'd predicted jelly beans and it had been cornmeal.

She reached a hand upward, but the yellow grains of dried, crushed corn closing in on any space she created as soon as she did so. Breathing wasn't really going well right now. Of course, if she DID manage to get out of this vat, she'd probably burn right up.

"Go see what's on the other side," Batman had said as soon as soon as they'd entered the packaging plant. There'd been a noise, she'd gone to investigate. It was suppose to be just a quick trip around the city before she went home. Batman had told her about six hundred times that she wasn't going after Avatar tonight, and she'd just have to live with that. And then there'd been the dumping of the cornmeal, the lighting of the cornmeal on fire, and who knew what the heck else was going on out there, now.

Well, the good news was, if she didn't suffocate, burn to death or die of smoke inhalation, she'd PROBABLY be excused from going to school tomorrow. Of course, she was probably going to suffocate or burn to death. Stupid cornmeal was getting hot. And it smelled. The fact that it was clogged up her nose had nothing to do with it…

There was a sudden tugging on her throat. The reinforced collar of her cape caught on her jaw bone and she was pulled out of the mix. Smoking cornmeal surrounded her, but it looked like the fire was out-what little she was capable of seeing through the smoke.

"Just pull me out by my HAIR next time!" She said, trying to push grains out of her nose. She pulled her cape out of the gloved hand that had hauled her out of the mix. "GEEZE! I'm not that big of a--"

WHY didn't her Bat have pointy ears?

"Is that how you talk to your grandfather?" Her dad grabbed her by the belt and hauled her onto the catwalk next to the vat.

Robin coughed then rolled onto her side, away from the smoking grains. "Ni-ightwing."

"You can Da-ad me later, small-fry. Let's work on getting out of here in once piece for now?" Without waiting for her to get her breath back, he grabbed her by the belt again and picked her up then pulled her under one arm, like a football. This was how he used to handle her when she was little. It was the only way he knew that she couldn't escape.

"Put me down… I can walk!" She just couldn't breathe.

He hauled her through stacks of smoking food and to the nearest window. Nightwing kicked it out and then tossed her through it. He did NOT follow.

"Every…body…sucks…" she grumbled as Robin landed on the asphalt next to the building. Crumpling onto her side, she picked cornmeal out of her eyes and rubbed her nose furiously, trying to clear the last of it away. With a tired hand she brushed the majority of it off of her hand and cape. "Don't need him," she muttered.

Her dad had just tossed her out of a window! Of all the nerve! He'd THROWN HER OUT A WINDOW.

Granted, she'd only fell two feet, and she jumped off of buildings more forcefully than he'd tossed her…. But stuff. What kind of dad throws his kid out of a window?

She put her hands on the splintered, paint chipped window sill and pulled herself to her feet. Holding her breath against the billowing blue-white smoke, she tried to look into the plant. "ORACLE!" Robin cried out.

"What?" came a voice in her ear.

Pulling herself back through the window, she tumbled to the ground, then grabbed her cape and pulled it to her mouth. The sprinkler system was beating some of the smoke down, but it was still kind of hard to breathe. She had NO idea where her rebreather was at this point. "Nightwing threw me out of a window! For no reason!"

"He did, did he?"

Robin glanced back and forth, finding no sign of the Avatar weirdo, or of Batman. The burning grain smelled kind of good, actually, she decided. "He did! And I didn't do ANYTHING!"

"I'll take care of it," her mother said peevishly. There was silence on the other end. That gave her plenty of free airspace to contemplate the crackling of the small burning fires that were coming under control by the emergency sprinkler system.

"Hello?" she called out. She wanted to be a great detective. So far she wasn't detecting anything tonight. She'd never seen the cornmeal coming, till she was surrounded in it. And she couldn't find her Bat, or her father. Maybe she should give up and join the circus.

There was a hand under her belt suddenly, and she was back off of her feet. "Didn't I kick you OUT?"

"I came back in for YOU!" Well, she'd come back in for Batman, but if Nightwing wanted to get saved too, that was ok.

"You get one save per day, Small-Fry." He began pulling her towards the window again.

Instantly, she began wriggling in his grasp. She hated that he was bigger. If God was fair and just, she'd wake up to be taller than him one day. "Wait! Where's Batman! I'm not leaving without him!"

Her father put her down on her feet and sighed. She tried to run past him, so he grabbed her cape and held her still. "He's fine. I helped him out, and he's off and running after Avatar. And you, my dear, have homework to finish."

Looking around through the haze, Robin couldn't spot him. He had gone off without her. "Fine."

* * *

Mara Grayson bit on the top of her pencil. The eraser wasn't particularly tasty, but the metal around it stung and tasted all funny against the filling in the back of her mouth. Who really DID care about symbolism and foreshadowing? Who could really concentrate, when Batman was out alone, and mom and dad were having a row in the next room.

"I tossed her out of the window because she was in the way!" Her dad's voice was high-pitched and indignant.

Her mother, on the other hand, just sounded angry. "Did you even check to see if she was ALRIGHT? Richard John Grayson! You just threw your daughter out with the bath water!"

"The building was on FIRE!"

"You could have been NICER about it!"

"If that would have been Bruce, she would have THANKED him for it!" Mara made a face at the door to her bedroom. Dad just so did not understand the partnership dynamic. That was why dad worked alone. It wasn't BATMAN. It was NIGHTWING who didn't play well with others.

"You're NOT Bruce! You're her father!"

"You can't prove that!"

She heard the sound of her mother smacking her father.

She was glad mom had hit him. He was so mean. He always thought he was being funny, but he was just mean. And he threw her out of the window. So what if the building had been on fire? And where had he come from anyways. It had just been Batman and Robin all night. They didn't need no stinking Nightwing. He probably only came to spoil their patrol and drag her home to do stupid homework. He was the worst parent in the world.

"What did you do THAT for?"

Mara put down her pencil. The "meaning" of the color of the car could wait. She couldn't concentrate on it any more.

* * *

Jim's stomach was grumbling something fierce when he unlocked the door to his office. The Avatar thing had blown up in everyone's faces tonight, and the media was not too happy that another local business had gone up in flames. Batman had suspected before that this was a little more than a psychopath, and he was beginning to concur.

He figured he had about twenty minutes to consume the greasy steak sandwich in his bag before he had to fend off the mayor and start thinking up something good for the Press Relations people.

WHY was there a little red-headed person sitting behind his desk?

"Can I come live with you?"

Jim threw the bag and it's contents on the desk then gave an exasperated cry. He shouldn't have even THOUGHT about her running away this afternoon. It had become some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, or something.

"WHY are you sitting in my office?" ROBIN he could understand, but Mara? Why wasn't she with Bruce? Her coat was still on, and her backpack on her back.

"Cause. Grandpa didn't wait for me and dad threw me out a window." She picked up his bag and started digging through it. She removed a white paper wrapped sandwich.

His hand slipped under his glasses and rubbed his eyes vigorously. This was turning into some sick replay of Dick's childhood. It was encouraging to see that he was fairing SO much better than Bruce. "Put that sandwich down."

Unhappily, Mara released the sandwich.

"I have work to do. Batman's gone and made my job interesting again." He walked around the desk and turned his chair until she took the hint and hopped out.

"I don't even know what HAPPENED," Mara said defensively, before she realized the error of her statement. "Never mind. What I mean is—it PROBABLY isn't Batman's fault."

Sitting, Jim unwrapped the sandwich and thrust half at her. "Sit there and eat this and be quiet." He wrapped the paper around his half then opened a file. He decided to wait until she sated with food and a little calmed down before he tried to call her parents. He was sure they were probably upset, but three or four minutes really wouldn't make a difference at this point.

Past his bread and steak, Jim tried to look over the file. After a few bites, and several tries at concentration, his eyes fell on his granddaughter. "You're parents are going to kill you. You're aware of that."

"Well, yeah," she said dejectedly. "But they were fighting."

He had a hunch she was a lot more hurt than she was letting on. Especially with how stiff and rigidly she sat in the chair on the other side of his desk. She wanted to have Bruce's poker-face, he knew, but she was just a child, and prone to being transparent with her feelings.

"What were they fighting about?" He had a psychotic, possibly mob-employed arsonist on the loose and he was having this conversation right now. There was a certain amount of irony in his life.

"Nothing," Mara said sheepishly.

He wiped his hands on the paper bag, trying to get some of the grease off. Napkins would have been nice. "I'm going to find out one way or another."

"Me." Her voice was so quiet and tentative. There were times when Jim didn't think she was capable of EVER talking softly.

Someone was going to figure out at any moment that he was in his office, then would come storming in, asking questions , shoving paperwork in his face… "Mara, grownups fight."

"And dad threw me out a window. And Grandpa ditched me. I wanna go to Brentwood." With the last, her voice cracked. Suddenly, she turned away from him and started digging through her backpack. She pulled out a purple teddy bear and buried her face into its soft, fuzzy head.

Jim knew he'd had better days.

Quietly, he picked up the receiver of his phone. For the first time, he noticed the voice mail light flashing. Without checking the messages, he dialed a number as quickly and quietly as possible.

"Hello?" came the unhappy voice of his daughter.

"Missing something?" He whispered the question into the phone, but the sarcasm was still evident.

"She's there with you? Thank God. Dick'll come get her. I can't believe she'd do that…"

"Look, you all had better settle this," he said with authority. "She's sitting here, cry--" He had glanced at the chair across from him to find it empty. "Great. She's gone. Wonder who she learned THAT trick off of." He hung up then went to the door and looked out, not that he'd find her.

"You need somethin'?" Bullock asked. He'd only had six hours off in the last thirty two. No wonder he looked more miserable than usual.

"You seen my grandkid?"

Bullock scratched the back of his thick neck. "I brought her into your office this morning. 'Course I saw her."

Jim shook his head. Was there some unwritten rule somewhere that his life had to be as INTERESTING as it could possibly be?

* * *

Dick tried to be a good dad. He made his kids do their homework, he made them get up and go to school, he took them for icecream on the weekends and he played with them. So WHY had he said that maybe Mara wasn't his kid?

Besides that he was an idiot.

He'd been mad at Barb. He threw her out of that window for her own good, and because she needed some time to get herself together after nearly suffocating. Mara wasn't going to be any good to the team out there—he should have KNOWN she wouldn't leave without Bruce.

Why didn't Babs understand how hard it was to do anything with Mara? That was really what he was mad over—that she was angry with him for doing his best to keep their daughter out of trouble.

And really—she WAS a handfull. Dick had no idea what he'd done to deserve her. He loved her, but what in the world had happened that he ended up with her?

Getting into Gotham, he pulled off the highway and turned towards Tricorner. He had to turn around and back track, however, once Babs informed him that she was no longer with Jim.

By all rights, ROY should have ended up with Mara, and HE should have ended up with Lian. He'd never say that out loud, but that's what he thought. Roy deserved someone who was going to be a perfect trial all the time. Not a sweet, humble kid who'd only taken over leadership of Young Justice because her dad said it was ok. Jade Arrow—Lian—was probably far, for more than Roy deserved.

Meanwhile, HE had the kid who'd latched on to the one person in the universe who was not what you'd call 'suited' to turning out normal kids.

She didn't want to go to regular school, she didn't want to participate in any activities… she just wanted to spend all of her time chasing around after Batman, like some kind of puppy. Mostly, it made Dick sad. The girl had the whole WORLD opened to her, and she wanted to chase after Bruce.

Sometimes—like tonight—when Mara was being so difficult—he got frustrated. And THAT was why he said stupid things that made his daughter crawl out of her window and run off alone.

After a quality twenty minutes spent torturing himself all the way across town, he pulled up in front of the Manor. If he were ten, and trying to run away from his dad, he'd run to Alfred. Granted Alfred didn't also live with his dad.

* * *

"…Then Grampy called Mom," Mara moaned unhappily then took another gulp of hot chocolate. "You won't tattle one me, will you?" she asked Alfred.

Alfred stood in front of her. He stared down at the little girl for a moment before daring to intrude on her view of the universe. "Tattling is what children do. Grownups do not engage in such--"

"Alfie, don't tell mom. I know they're gonna find me, and dad's gonna drag me home, but they don't have to get here JUST YET." She grabbed her napkin and wiped her nose quickly with it. Next to her on the floor sat her bag, and the purple bear that Mr. Kent had given her last year for Christmas. She might fancy herself a mini-Dark Knight, but she was still just a little girl who was very hurt.

"Richard," Alfred said loudly. "Don't you have something to say to your daughter?"

Mara spun around, just as her dad came out from behind the kitchen door. ALFRED knew he was there, and SHE hadn't? What the heck kind of vigilante was she anyways?

"Mara," he said quietly. "I didn't mean it the way it sounded."

Instantly, the girl dropped her spoon and picked up her back pack, throwing it behind her, then grabbing the teddy bear and clutching it to her chest. "Lets just go home," she whispered.

Alfred saw a scowl cross Dick's face. "Fine. And who said you could take a train by youself? And cross Gotham all by yourself?" Hearing this, Alfred stepped between the young man and his daughter. "HEY!" Dick cried out.

"Master Richard, I don't think that's REALLY what you want to say to her."

"She ran away!" Dick reached past Alfred and grabbed Mara's arm. The girl was in NO end of trouble. "To another city!"

"At least she was running TOWARDS something," Alfred said firmly.

Pulling her to his side, Dick let out an exasperated sigh. "Come on! Not you too!"

"Don't yell at Alfie!" Mara cried out desperately, before pulling away from his grasp and running off. Dick heard her feet pounding on the stairs and turned to follow.

Before Dick could follow, Alfred grabbed his shoulder. "That isn't what you really wanted to say to her, was it?"

"She shouldn't have run off!" he shouted suddenly. "SHE should have listened to me when I told her to stay out of that building!"

"You're her father," Alfred told him calmly. "It is natural to worry about her safety."

Dick remained scowling at him for a moment, then suddenly looked at his hands. "I'm turning into Bruce, aren't I?"

"You're duplicating some of his… overprotective tendencies."

Dick stared at the half-consumed hot chocolate on the table, and the chair pulled slightly out. It seemed like there were so many things that he SHOULD have a deeper understanding of, but he just lacked the ability to comprehend.

Dipping his finger into the luke-warm cocoa, he pulled out some of the bubbles that used to be whipped cream and licked it off of his finger. "I guess I better do something about it. Talk to her?"

"That would be a start."

* * *

Mara did what she did when she was upset—she went and sat in the bottom of her closet in her room at grandpa's. He had big closets. It was quiet, it was dark, and mostly people left her alone. Sometimes, Cassandra or Tim would lock her inside. She was fine with that, mostly.

Her bear smelled like detergent. Mom had had to wash him after Twip ate six slices of mushroom pizza and puked up all over her bear. He probably did it on purpose.

Wiping tears on her sleeve, she hugged the bear a little closer. She kind of suspected the things she'd heard. But hearing them—still hurt. If dad didn't want her around, why did he make her come home every night?

There was a knock on the closet door. "Can I talk to you?" her dad asked casually. The door opened and light poured in. Mara squinted up at Dick.

Mara wished you could lock closets form the inside. "I didn't say you could," she said smartly.

Dick crouched down next to her. "I'm sorry you heard me say what I said."

"Fine." She sniffed then tried to hide the bear from him.

He hated when she did that—that type of compliance. "Mara—I mean it. You're my kid. And I didn't mean to hurt your feelings by throwing you out that window." Who'd have guessed tossing her out a window would hurt the feelings of the toughest cookie on the planet?

"But you don't want me around," she said bluntly. "How's about this. I'll stay with Grandpa Bruce. Or I'll go to Brentwood. Or some place else. Then… then I'll be out of your hair."

"You're not in my--" Dick grabbed her and pulled her closed to him, but she pulled away. Her back smashed up against the back wall of the closet. "Mara, you're not in my hair. And you think things'd be so much better at Brentwood? Tim HATED it at Brentwood."

"Then what about grandpa?" she asked hopefully. "He'll let me stay here."

Of course, he couldn't think much to refute her idea that staying with Bruce would be a good idea. "You can't live with Grandpa."

"Why not?"

"Well… did you even ask GRANDPA about it?"

Mara bit her lip.

"You didn't, did you?"

"He said… he'd say yes, but you would never agree."

Angrily, Dick suddenly stood up. "He DID?" How DARE Bruce?

Mara turned away from Dick and thrust her head into the corner so he wouldn't see that she was crying. He didn't notice, though—he was too incensed.

"Who does he think--"

"You're making her CRY," Bruce said angrily from behind him.

Dick spun around and looked at his father. His face was burned, and his hair was sticking straight up in the air. He was wearing a robe, but seemed to be holding himself very stiffly in it. Dick was GLAD he'd been put through the wringer. "Did you tell her she could stay here with you?

"Dick, that's irrelevant. I knew You'd never consent to it." Bruce walked past his son and knelt in front of Mara. "Stop crying," he ordered calmly.

Mara couldn't, because she realized her grandfather didn't want her either. "I wanna go to Brentwood!" She cried out. She wished she could run away, but she was cornered in the closet. Maybe spending time in a closet wasn't the best place to hide any more.

"You WANT her to, though!" Dick cried out indignantly. "And you're NOT going to Brentwood! You're not going ANYWHERE."

Bruce sighed, looking from his son to his partner. He hadn't seen her cry since she was three. "YES. I would take her." With a stiff, aching arm, he reached in and pulled Mara out of the closet. "Mara, go down stairs and finish your hot chocolate." He knew his son well enough to know that Dick was fuming profusely at this point.

Slowly, Mara got to her feet and made her way out of the room. He knew she'd been looking for some sort of escape.

"Why the hell did you tell her that, Bruce? She hates home enough as it is!"

Slowly, Bruce rose. "It's good to know you have somewhere to run to," he said quietly without looking at Dick. He hated these conversations. "Look. I've done what I've done. And right now, you're not ACTING like you want her. I suggest you start trying to fix THAT before you come in here criticizing me."

Dick refused to even look at his father after that. "Your working against me isn't helping! If you weren't so… lenient on her, so… coddling… and constantly undermining me as a parent… maybe she wouldn't have run away!"

"Richard John Grayson." Bruce said coldly. "This is coming from someone who ran away THREE times before he was her age. I had Child Protective Services on my door step at LEAST twice a year until you were seventeen. And the only person who was undermining ME as a parent was YOU!"

He picked her book bag up off the closet floor. "CPS was on your door step TWICE, and that's when she was a toddler. You'd already been removed from my home ONCE by her age, and you were cruising for a second time already. I'd say YOU got the better end of the deal." He turned over the book bag and looked at the cartoon characters on the other side. He'd never understand her fascination with that Shatzi show. "Believe it or not, Dick, she's a good kid. I think you need to give her a chance and get to know her."

"I'm never going to get a chance to know her!" Dick protested. "Because all she does is spend time with you." He sat down on the bed, frustration etched in his every movement. "I mean… she might as WELL stay here. She doesn't like being with us. And she isn't my biggest fan. I just wanted her to grow up normal," Dick said sadly.

"I never asked for the attention she shows me."

"You never did anything to discourage it, either."

"What could I have done? You think I'm coddling her, but I've been harder on her than I have been on any of you—and for a lot longer. I did the only thing I know how to do. And all of that didn't deter her. I didn't encourage her obsession with becoming Robin, either."

Dick looked up at his father desperately. "You think Saturday morning cartoons and deathtraps, or making her scale the cave walls and lift weights is going to deter her? She feeds off that kind of stuff! It… it's legalized trouble!"

"And if we didn't get her invested in something, it would be illegal trouble. Dick… you don't know her like I do," Bruce said in a moment of raw honesty. "You have no idea how capable she is." Capable of causing problems, getting herself into trouble and basically becoming the thing they fought against. Bruce didn't say that, though. There was too much of her that reminded him of Jason, sometimes.

"Great. My kid is a delinquent. I mean… I tried to do everything right. How—I mean? I didn't ask… We tried to do it right."

Bruce did something he wasn't used to doing, and wasn't comfortable with doing, he put his hand on Dick's shoulder. "She isn't a delinquent. I said she's a good kid. She just… has certain ideas. About the world. About… other things."

"Maybe you SHOULD take her."

"There's a reason why I keep telling her not to ask—that you'll just say no." Bruce looked around him, searching for some easier way to say it, but there really wasn't one. "I know you…love her. And want her home."

"Then why all this stuff about private school?"

"Private school. Not boarding school. I don't know how she got Brentwood into her head. I think… you have to give in to some battles to win others."

Dick clenched his eyes shut. "I don't want her staying home with us to be a battle."

Bruce couldn't believe he'd managed to foul that up. "Poor wording. What I mean is… you need to give a little sometimes, to get some things in return. Give her some… space. She may surprise you."

Hesitantly, Dick nodded. "I guess… we can at least talk about it. None of those preparatory schools though. The last thing I want is her coming home in a little suit every day." He supposed he could find her a modest private school that would challenge her without turning her into a more arrogant child than she already was.

"Good. She'll be happy to know that you are… willing to include her in decisions." He leaned against the table that contained the lap top he let her use when she was staying over, and some of her junk. "And… get to know HER."

Know her? What was there to know. She was Mara. She was his kid. She could live entirely off of mashed potatoes if you let her. Her TV in her bedroom stayed constantly locked on the cartoon station. She hated school, she hated him…

Dick looked at the back pack in Bruce's hands, looking at the strange purple characters on the back. He knew the way she was. He really didn't know WHO she was, or what she liked. Reaching out, he took the back pack from Bruce and left the room. "I got it covered," he muttered as he went down stairs to find her. He could do this, right?"

Turning down the hall, then going into the kitchen, he found Mara working on another cup of hot cocoa, complete with whipped cream. "I was always a marshmallow kind of guy myself," he said casually.

"We going home?" She'd gone from upset and crying to angry. She was too much like Bruce. That's what the problem---No. Dick swore he was going to stop thinking like that. She's the way she is. And she's your daughter. So suck it up and deal. For the kid.

"We're going to go home soon. Unless you want to spend the whole night doing Bruce's paperwork. Looks like he got a nice suntan like you did." Dick pulled a chair out from the table. Placing it next to her, he sat down. "Look, Mara… the reason why I wont let you live here is that we love you, and we'd miss you." He put her book bag on the table quietly.

"Jimmy wouldn't miss me," she pointed out.

"He would. But he's not the important one. Your mom and I would miss you. That's why you're not allowed to stay more than two days at a time in Gotham. And you're our only little girl, and our first-born…" Mara buried her face inside her mug, licking at the whipped cream. "And you're YOU. Who's going to help mom bake cookies, and who's going to jump off the balcony just so I'm forced to catch you?" Gently he pulled the mug away from her face and let it come to rest on the table. "So… no Brentwood. You think you're surrounded by spaz-balls and degenerates now? That place is a 'last chance' spot for all kinds of messed up little rich kids. So… maybe a private school in Bludhaven? You know… some place where we'd get to see you more?" Barb was going to kill him.

"Really?" She looked at him suspiciously. "This isn't cause Grandpa made you." Grandpa could make people do all kinds of things.

"Grandpa and I had a little talk. He's right." Dick frowned. He hated when Bruce was right. He hated even more when Bruce was right about family stuff. "He said I need to get to know you a little better." He turned the book bag around, and stared at the characters silk screened under the zipper. "Like… who're these guys. Not more of that Japanimation stuff, is it?" If it wasn't Voltron, it didn't exist in his little world.

"Wanna-be Anime, Dad," Mara said knowledgeably. "But it's still good." She'd never admit just how MUCH she liked it. It wasn't a sign of weakness. She wasn't sure how or why, but it was.

"That's the thing you watch really late, when you get home from patrol, isn't it?"

Mara nodded.

"Well…" he looked at his watch. "It's getting 'really late'. We probably have just enough time to get home and order a pizza before it comes on."

"For real?" She asked cautiously. Dad never really took an interest in the things she liked. Like when she sat up in her room on rainy days and designed death traps. Mostly he told her that she should be doing something else. And if she was watching cartoons, there was some chore she could be doing instead.

"Yeah. We're gonna start over a little. Hello, Martha Ann," he liked it when she cringed because they said her full name. "I'm Dick. And I'll be your Dad."

She smiled for the first time. "Hi, Richard John, I'll be your kid." She held out her hand, and they shook on it. "And… um… no more throwing me out of windows?"

Dick couldn't help it. He wrapped his arm around her. "Well, I'll try not to. I think… maybe spending some more time together'll help. Then you'll learn how I do things, and I'll learn how you do things. I really should have known you weren't going to leave without Bruce. But… well, you should have known I wouldn't leave without him either." He gave her a quick squeeze. "It'll be that 'team building' stuff I do with the Titans. Only it won't involve Wally shooting ice-cream out of his nose."

Mara rose, grabbing her bag. "Can we get ice-cream too?"

"As long as no one shoots it out of their nose." He rubbed her hair affectionately. "Anyways…Lets tell Alfie and Grandpa that we're outta here like dico."

Mara groaned at her cheesy dad, but grabbed his hand. "We should get sausage and pineapple on the pizza."

"You mean ham and pineapple?" They slowly strolled out of the kitchen."

"Nope. Sausage and pineapple. You'll see. It'll be awesome."

Dick could feel the heart burn starting right now. That, and it'd aggravate the ulcer he'd been developing for the last ten years. "I'm sure it will be." He grabbed her coat out of the closet, and started searching for Alfred. He had the uncanny ability to sneak out and disappear whenever you needed a 'private' moment with someone. "So… are we talking strips of sausage, or crumbled up sausage? Or those weird little processed ball things?"

Grinning, Mara merrily started in on a diatribe about the merits of crumbled sausage.

THE END