Standard disclaimers apply. This is for Charlene, who really really wanted to see it LOL

A Safe Place


Dick untangled the seven month old from her car seat, then tucked her under his arm and closed the car door. "You don't need to go playing escape artist," he assured her as they walked towards the kitchen door of Wayne Manor. "Even though it is awfully cute…" It was as cute as it was frustrating—the way she wiggled around to get out her car seat and child- carrier. Dick had NO idea what seven month olds were supposed to be like, but he heard they could be a handful when they started moving around, so he'd child-proofed the house the second she could roll over on her own. And even though little Martha Ann Grayson was a bit of a handful, he liked being a dad.

He and Barb had gotten over the initial rocks that had followed on the tails of their wedding. Jim Gordon was even talking to him since the baby was born. And who couldn't wanna be friends with a daddy who had such a cute little kid? Dick wondered. And since Lian had gone off to school this year, they sort of needed a new mascot around the Titans Tower. Who else were they going to dress up in funny little costumes and watch cartoons with? Dick had to confess, the warm fuzzies had abounded since Barb had been letting him take the Small Fry out and show her off with the Titans, and with the police force. Everyone liked a cute little kid, right?

Coming into the kitchen, he could see Alfred trying not to smile. The older man liked to make a fuss. True to form, he came over and pinched the girl's cheeks, informing Dick that she wasn't eating right. "You don't know what type of things they put in that JARRED baby food," Alfred reiterated. He took the child from Dick and put her into the waiting high chair and began making his own baby food.

Dick suppressed a grin as he handed over some toys in his pocket to keep the baby amused. She could be a serious handful if she wasn't distracted. "So where's Bruce? He hiding from the baby?" In the last six months, Bruce had really shown himself to be the big sissy that he was. He'd only held the baby once since she'd been born, and he was constantly avoiding her and them. That's why Dick made these little journeys to Gotham on the weekends—to keep in Jim Gordon's good graces, and to torture Bruce. It was an amiable arrangement.

"I'm right here," Bruce said, appearing as if on cue. He stood in the doorway, his arms folded across his eggshell colored polo shirt. He looked like he was about to go golfing.

"There's the fearless Batman. Figured you'd go golfing and miss out on the kid?" Dick asked in an accusatory tone. "Well I gotcha this time—I did a changeup." Usually, he visited Jim first with the Little Fry, followed by Bruce, grocery shopping, then home. He picked up Martha's hand and waved to Bruce with it. "Say hi to grandpa," he cooed. "Say hi to the big bad Batman who's scared of a widdle baby."

She pulled her hand out of his and clapped, grinning and giggling at Bruce.

His jaw tightened. "You don't have to bring her EVERY weekend." This had been going on for months. Surely he didn't plan to continue?

"Actually… I do. It's in my contract with Jim. He gets convinced weekly that I'm not training his grandkid to sling across rooftops, and another week goes by in which he doesn't shoot me. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement. And if I'm in town, I might as well bring her by here."

"Well, I'm busy on Saturdays," Bruce said defensively.

"Yeah, feel my pain. I have to buy diapers then take her to be corrupted for an hour by Roy while I update computer software at the Titans Tower. I think I have the market on busy, Bruce." There was NO way Bruce was skirting out of this. They were going to bond, god-damnit. They were going to be a happy family if it killed them all.

Alfred turned from the blender, looking down his nose at Bruce. The younger man's brow clenched in agony, and he stepped into the kitchen and inspected the girl behind the large white high chair tray. Her big grey eyes stared up at him in wonder, and a non-descript sound escaped her spittle-covered lips.

"Her over-alls are dirty," Bruce commented, noting a white stain on her chest. "You should change her clothes."

Dick rolled his eyes. "If I changed her clothes every time she spilled milk or something all over herself, that's all I'd be doing. Now if YOU want to be official baby-changer, that's YOUR prerogative."

Alfred pushed past both of them, a bowl in hand. "If you will excuse me, there is someone here in need of nutrition free of preservatives."

Was there a reason why Dick's family was insane? The last time Tim had been baby-sitting Martha, he'd taken her home with him, just to watch his dad blow a gasket and ask if the baby belonged to Tim. The boy had snapped about three months ago, and was now deliberately doing things to irritate his father. Cassandra HID whenever he brought the baby over (probably what Bruce wished he could be doing), and he spent half his time over Jim's fending off 'Uncle Harvey' Bullock. He got lots of warm fuzzies from being a dad. NONE of them came from his family.

"Can't you quit being a baby and just get to know her? She's your ONLY grand-kid."

Bruce shifted uneasily. "I'm doing my best here."

"HOLD her or something. I'm not asking you to change a diaper. Just spend some time around her and act like you want to. Cause she's my kid, and I don't care if you give me a hard time, or Tim a hard time, but this kid isn't going to feel bad for existing, just because you don't like her." There, he'd said it. It had been on his mind for a while.

"Projecting, Richard?" Bruce asked skeptically.

"Fine," Dick said, inflating his chest. "You don't start acting like a real grandparent, I'll tell Wally." He watched Bruce's neck muscles tense. "Who will tell Kyle, who will tell the whole damned Justice League. And I don't think Superman would like that," he warned. The truth was, Clark seemed to mistake Martha for HIS kid, and he frequently stopped by, claiming he was 'in the neighborhood.' The Man of Steel wouldn't take too kindly to know that the cutest, most evil child in the known universe was being shunned by her own grandfather just because he happened to be Batman, and a complete failure at family matters, just because it required him to actually TRY.

"I will cancel my golf game," Bruce said stonily.

* * *

Bruce wiped the glob of orange baby food off of his wrist. Why was this such a messy event? "Fine," he announced, his voice very controlled. "It's done." He couldn't believe he'd allowed Dick to talk him into feeding the baby. Alfred enjoyed feeding her. Why couldn't Alfred do it? He had a feeling Dick enjoyed what he was putting him through.

He'd explained shortly after Barbara's pregnancy was made known that they shouldn't expect anything from him. This just wasn't his type of situation to be dealing with—and yet, they kept placing him under these circumstances.

Like when the girl had been three months old. Timothy had decided it would be 'fun' to take the girl over to his father's house, and let his father draw the most obvious and most wrong conclusions about the child. It had somehow befallen HIM to watch the sleeping baby while Tim went back over to his father's house to duke it out with him about unfounded accusations and trust issues.

The only thing he could say—she was quiet around him.

Sometimes… she was in the cave, and he didn't even know it. Cassandra had a new game—wait until Tim was watching her, then abduct the child for a few hours and make him go out of his mind. He suspected it was a desperate plea for attention on her part. Cassandra would hide with the baby, until Tim came storming down, angry and half-hysterical.

It was Tim's own fault. How could you loose a BABY? It wasn't like she could get up and walk away.

Wetting a cloth, Dick wiped the baby's hands and face, running the cloth over her thin, dark hair and following it up with a good thorough cleaning of the overalls. Bruce suspected it really WASN'T worth changing her clothes frequently. The child was a slob.

"Clean babies are happy babies," Dick told her. As soon as he was done, the four fingers on her left hand found their way into her mouth, and she began sucking vigorously. At least she was being quiet.

"Jim's going to wonder where you are," he said suddenly.

"Hey, he knows my cell phone number," Dick responded defensively. "He aint the boss of me." They finally had something resembling peace, they really didn't need Dick to go fowling it up by getting Jim annoyed with them again.

"Well, if I'm not going out today, then I'm going to work down in the cave," Bruce said defiantly as he rose. This had gone on long enough already.

Dick smiled tightly. "Alright."


"As long as you take her with you."

"Not happening."

"It doesn't count, staying home, unless you spend time with her."

Dick probably sat up at night, trying to think of new ways to torture him. She was seven months old. Did it really matter if HE spent time with her? When there were so many people so much more willing, and better suited to the task. Perhaps Cassandra was in the cave…

"Look, I'll take the highchair down there, we'll put her in it, and you can watch her. It'll be cute."

Without protesting, Bruce fled the room and went down to the cave.

* * *

"Oh my GOD," Dick declared as he looked around the cave. In on hand he lifted the white chair and tray, in the other, a kicking, giggling child squirmed under his arm. "This place is an accident waiting to happen!" With flourish, he snapped the chair forward, and it unfolded. He plopped the baby inside, buckled the little seat belt, and clasped the tray over the arms of the chair.

"If she's sitting in the chair," Bruce pointed out impatiently, "then you shouldn't have to worry about her getting into things."

"Know you nothing of crawling babies?" Dick mocked in a strained tone. "If it's in arm's reach, she WILL get into it." He began making efforts at baby- proofing the most un-babyproofable place on the planet. The first thing he did was close the access hatch to one of the power supplies nearest the cave steps. He pushed all sharp/dangerous objects back out of baby-reach, then moved to the weapons vault.

Trying to ignore the child pounding the wooden toy on her high chair tray, and his son's frantic clattering, Bruce continued to type up outstanding field reports. These were things Tim would have done, if Tim hadn't gone and started world war three with his father. Again. He wished the boy understood that he was lucky—but it wouldn't be something that Bruce could impress upon him at that point. He seemed to remember another seventeen year old who thought he knew everything about the known universe.

"I'm going up stairs to get something to put all these bolts in," Dick said, disappearing.

Bruce didn't respond. The bolts were an inch in diameter and seven inches long. He'd be VERY surprised if the girl could pick them up, much less get them into her mouth. But he'd indulge his son. Dick knew EVERYTHING about parenting, after all. No wonder he and Timothy got along so well as of late.

"We'll just have to put you into a cage before you get to that age," Bruce muttered. That'd certainly be better than having someone ELSE tell him his job. He spared a sideways glance for the high chair… and it was empty.

Had Dick taken her up stairs? He'd have said something—wouldn't he?

He'd have heard him taking the baby out of the chair, he reasoned. Why hadn't he heard her getting OUT of the chair, if she had freed herself?

Rising, he saw the seat belt and tray still attached. If only the girl weren't so damned quiet around him. If one were a new crawler, where would one be? Looking around he did not see an obvious answer to his question. He listened as hard as he could for the strains of a baby doing… who knew what babies did. Certainly not him.

And Dick… in a few moments Dick would come down stairs and know he'd managed to loose a baby.

Quickly and quietly, he moved through the cave like a force, searching every nook and crevasse. He even went to the edge of the cliff that lay beyond The Car. What kind of an idiot would leave a cliff up with no barriers what-so-ever? This was more serious that Dick loosing his Frisbee over the edge, and into the ravine.

"Hey, Bruce, where're you guys at?" Dick asked hopefully.

Yeah, Bruce thought. He was hoping you're boding with the kid. "I'm right here," Bruce answered breathily.

"The baby with you?" the young father asked, coming up beside his mentor.

"No." Bruce said casually. "I lost her."

"You WHAT?" he looked from his father to the darkness of the ravine. His face grew suddenly red, and he looked as though he'd explode.

"I didn't say I lost her down there!" He'd reasoned just a second before Dick had shown up that she hadn't been anywhere near the edge. None of the dust and dirt had been disturbed since Batgirl's last debacle. "I think Cassandra stole her," he said calmly. That was a perfectly viable option. Cassandra did that, right?

"You THINK?" Anxiously, Dick searched under The Car, then opened the doors, searching inside.

"She does that. Just to drive Tim nuts." He looked around into the shadows. "Cassandra! Dick wants his baby back now," he called out.

"Cassandra regularly abducts my kid?" Dick asked angrily, searching beneath the two low-set tables near the computer. There were some boxes being stored under them, and he quickly dug through all of them. "Cassandra!" he called out. "Martha! Where are you! Come to daddy!"

"She does that," Bruce explained, going to the computer and sitting down. He began searching for her tracer.

"What're you doing? Don't just sit there! You lost my baby!" Dick kicked away two of the boxes, and they spilled over, the unused motherboards and drives tumbling onto the floor.

Closing the window, Bruce rose and didn't say anything. Cassandra was in down town. Doing God knows what. He'd lost the baby.

"So… how good of a crawler is she?" Bruce asked.

"She's been pulling herself up on chairs. She climbed a couple of steps last night," Dick said angrily. "Pulled herself up on a table leg and grabbed Barb's keyboard and pulled it onto her head." When he found his kid, he was going to kill his dad. That was how this was going to work.

"You should have put a tracer on her," Bruce pointed out as he began rummaging through the medical enclave, trying to find SOME sign of the toddler. He was a detective—some said the worlds greatest—and he couldn't find a baby. He supposed, if worst came to worst… they could always… call Clark.

Bruce realized he had reached a peek of desperation. He was considering bringing in Superman and his x-ray vision. He needed to clear his mind for just a second. It wasn't his mind that was giving him troubles right now. It just somehow turned out that the end result was that he was having trouble thinking. He hated that twisting of the gut that came when those close to him where in… bad positions. And HE had done this. HIM.

Throwing opened all the doors to the cupboards in the kitchenette, he determined she'd not come that way, and moved on.

In desperation, he ripped opened the weapons vault. Among the cramped row of flame throwers, explosives, knives and other paraphernalia sat a happy, chubby little girl, anxiously gnawing on the release mechanism of a grappling hook.

That familiar feeling in the pit of his stomach intensified for a moment, until he ripped it out of her hands, tossed it on a shelf, then grabbed her by the straps of her over-alls and hoisted her into the air.

"I found her!" Bruce called out angrily. "You left her in the weapons vault!" Exiting with the child, he found his son inspecting the uniform closets. "She could have been killed in there!" he hollered. "And YOU did it! YOU let her get in there!" Bruce couldn't remember the last time he'd been this angry.

"Quit holding her by her pants!" Dick tried to snatch the baby away from Bruce, but he pulled the child just out of his son's grasp.

"You left her in there with… with all those THING!" Bruce yelled venomously.

* * *

Tim Drake opened the door to the study, looking around cautiously.

"Can I help you?" Bruce asked impatiently.

The young man stepped through the door way and closed the door behind him. Bruce was sitting at his desk, reading a huge folder full of papers. The baby was in her high chair, a bungee line tied around her chest, and to the back of the chair. "Um… Dick was wondering if he could have his kid back?" Why did Bruce have to be such a hard-case all the time? Was there some kind of rule about that?

"He can't have her back until he starts acting responsible."

"Well, no one's perfect," Tim said defensively, approaching the high chair. "I mean… being a dad's kind of on-the-job training.

Bruce stared at the baby for a moment. "He locked her in the weapons vault."

Grabbing her hand, and sliding his finger into her fist, Tim stared up at his mentor in shock. "Well, um, he sort of left THAT part out of his sob story." He looked at the black cord wrapped around her chest and tugged on it with his other hand. So Bruce had discovered that she was a little escape artist, huh? "How's the widdle Devil Baby?" Tim asked her. "How's the devil baby doing?"

Why was Bruce looking at him like that.

"Hey! She's a little monster. She's the cutest little monster in the entire world, but she's a monster." Unhooking the cord and the seat belt, he slid her out past the tray. "I'll take her off your hands. Me and Mara can go torment Uncle Jack. Won't that be fun, Mara? We can watch Timmy's daddy's head turn green."

Bruce scowled a little harder. "You're not taking her over there."

"Why not? You don't have a problem any other time I'm babysitting her—as long as I keep her out of your hair."

He picked up the papers and slammed their collective edge against the table, straightening them. "You're not taking her to your father's house. End of story. And her name is Martha."

Tim shrugged. "It's just a nickname."

"A Norse demon and the god of Death are NOT appropriate nicknames."

Tim shrugged. "Actually, I was thinking 'Matter/Anti-Matter Reaction Assembly.' But I guess it IS a good nickname for the Devil Baby." He bounced her, and she instantly started laughing. "Who's the baby? Who's the Devil Baby?" he teased, rubbing her belly. She let out a howling laugh, reaching for his hair. She might be The Evil One, but she was the cutest thing in the whole universe.

She'd been quiet for the last hour in that chair, now Tim was going to show up and get her worked up. "You can finish last night's paperwork," he informed the young man.

"Can I take her with me?" Tim asked. Cassandra was supposed to be cleaning out the Clock Tower. That meant he wouldn't have to worry about Batgirl stealing her. Cass had always scared him just a little bit, and the games she liked to play with taking the baby freaked him out even more.

"NO. I don't want her down there. Put her back in the high chair, and start typing."

Tim shrugged. Suddenly, he was sorry he came over. He thought he'd get to play with the baby, but Bruce was being… well, uber.

* * *

"THEN he said I couldn't have her back," Dick complained. He shifted on Jim's sofa, resting his hands on his knees. "So that's why I didn't bring her over today."

"Because Bruce kidnapped her," Jim said skeptically. He put his mug down on the coffee table and eyed the young man suspiciously. He'd been nothing but problems since the first time he'd tried to marry Jim's daughter.

Dick nodded. "Yeah! That's exactly what happened. He kidnapped her."

"What did you do," Jim asked.

"What did /I/ do? Who said I did anything? Bruce is nuts."

"Because Bruce has never wanted ANYTHING to do with that baby." That was another point that had put strain on his relationship with the Bat in the last few months. It was difficult to work closely with someone who seemed to pretend their granddaughter didn't exist. "You must have done something," Jim pointed out.

"HEY!" Dick said with indignation, but deep inside, he was sick.

"You march yourself back over there, right now, and work this out, then bring that baby over here." He began staring at the locked drawer in the desk that contained his gun. The implication was clear—he'd be seeing how fast Dick could dodge bullets if his wishes weren't complied with.

"Mmm fine. Ok. But it's not because I'm scared of you," Dick said defiantly.

"You should be," Gordon said calmly. "I know more about certain… things than one person ought. You won't have to worry about Bruce fighting for custody of the baby, because I will be the uncontested guardian by the time I'm done."

Ok… THAT was something Dick was scared of.

* * *

Dick walked towards his car, parked at the meter across the street from Jim's building. What were the chances of finding a parking space on Saturday afternoon? Seeing the ticket on his dash board, he realized there was a general conspiracy against him. He'd put money in the meter.

Tearing the long yellow ticket from beneath the windshield wiper, he grabbed his cell phone out of his pocket and called the only guy who could help.

"Titans Tower, helping maidens in distress since… well, for a really long time."

"Roy, this is Dick. I need help."

Roy chuckled. "The kind of help you need, I can not provide. I have the name of a good therap--"

"Remember how I helped you kidnap your kid from an assassin?"

"Something happened to the baby?" Roy asked, turning serious. "Does Babs know? She should call out the Justice League. We'll get all the Titans…" His kid had been in trouble enough that he took this VERY seriously.

"No, I want JUST YOU. And don't tell anyone else about this. You can't."

"What's going on?"

"Um… well, we have to mount a search and rescue mission. Meet me in front of Wayne Manor in half an hour."

He was about ready to hang up when he heard Roy's loud protest "WHAT?"

"I helped you get Lian back," Dick pointed out logically. How much a guy forgot in five years.

"Dude—from an ASSASIN. You're talking about infiltrating the Bat's headquarters."

"Titans Together, and all that," Dick pointed out. "Come on. Titans can do anything we put our minds to."

"Uh uh. I am NOT breaking into the Bat's house for you."

"What about for my kid?" Dick started the car. Briefly he calculated how much carbon monoxide it would take to kill himself.

He heard Roy sighing on the other side. "Look, Dick, you're on your own."

"WHAT? That's my kid!"

"And you'd have had to have screwed up hard-core, seriously BAD if the Bat's holding her hostage. So, you better repent, promise to do better, and make a good act of contrition."

Pulling out of the parking spot, Dick quickly reached the speed limit as he left Tricorner. "Don't go getting all religious on me now. Come on! You gotta help me! Barb's gonna KILL me."

"What'd you do?"

"Who said I did anything? Can't Bruce just be psychotic for no reason? And what's the deal? Why's he suddenly turning into uber-granddad? He wanted NOTHING to do with that kid. He held her the day after she was born, and that was IT. Every ounce of love and togetherness this family has had is because I FORCED them to act like a normal family, full of normal people who love each other." Dick let out a heaving breath.

"Well, look at it this way, you wanted Batty to get to know the kid, and have a 'relationship' with her (even though /I/think it's an obvious mistake), and you screwed up, and you got it. Now what did you do?"

Defeated, Dick told his friend about the weapons locker.

"Dude, I wouldn't give your kid back either!" Roy exclaimed. "God, how can you be soooo irresponsible?"

"This is coming from the guy who had a kid with an assassin?"

"Dude! This is your KID! You can screw up with everyone else in the entire world, but you don't screw up with the kid—you just don't do that!" Roy's mind was blown away. Dick, Mr. Responsibility was like the worst parent in the world. It gave him good self-esteem about Lian missing a classmate's birthday party last Saturday because the Titans Tower was being invaded.

"Firstly," Dick said as he turned onto the freeway, "I didn't MEAN to do it! I have NO idea how she got in there, or out of her chair. And I feel bad enough already, OK? Does everyone HAVE to make me feel bad?"

"Look," Roy explained, "you guys treated me like I was stupid every time I did something stupid. What goes around comes around."

"I'm going to have to tell Barb about this, aren't I?" The words tasted badly in his mouth.

"Just admit it—you're screwed."

* * *

"There's mommy's little baby," Barbara cooed. "I'm sorry you're daddy's an idiot," she apologized, picking the baby up out of the high chair. "We won't let him lock you in dark places any more."

Bruce rolled his eyes. Why did everyone talk to her like… well, a baby? It grated on his nerves. Barbara had showed up on his door step five minutes ago, demanding to see her child. Jim must have called her—he didn't suspect that Alfred would. He'd been letting them work out family problems without intervention lately.

"Who's the baby?" she asked. "You are! You are."

Bruce was pretty certain he was going to be sick.

Dick appeared in the doorway, sweaty and panting. "Babs! You're here. What're you doing here?" he looked to his dad. "Does this mean I can take the baby home? I mean—I'll be responsible and stuff."

"Roy already told me you're an idiot," Barbara informed him, wrapping her arms protectively around the child. She needed to shield her daughter from her husband's stupidity.

Dick tried to approach his wife, to take the baby, but she pushed him away. "Roy's a RAT, first of all. And second of all, I already said I was sorry! God! Is there some rule that states everyone has to make me feel worse than I do?"

"You could take lessons in responsibility from Harper," Bruce said sarcastically.

"Geeze, GOD. OK! You're right. ROY hasn't ever locked his kid in a vault with dangerous weapons. OK? I'm shit and Roy is the best dad who's ever walked the face of the earth—except for YOU Bruce." He threw himself onto the sofa in the furthest part of the room, near the fireplace. "Everybody knows BRUCE is PERFECT," he grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest and sulking.

"And don't you forget it," Bruce replied mildly.

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the sadistic smile on his father's face. From her mother's arms, the baby cooed her approval.

Unhappily, Dick wondered if he could run away to the circus.