Title: Worth the Risk
Author: DC Luder
Summary: There's a first time for everything. Bludhaven Valentine/Dick's First Kiss challenge.
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: Everyone writes a thirteen page story during the Grammy awards, right?
"The decision to kiss for the first time is the most crucial in any love story. It changes the relationship of two people much more strongly than even the final surrender; because this kiss already has within it that surrender."
I was thirteen years old.
I was Robin the boy wonder, partner to Batman the world's greatest detective.
I had jet black hair, piercing blue eyes, a mega watt smile along with a peak physical figure.
I lived in the largest private residence on the eastern seaboard on one of the largest estates in North America.
I could throw shuriken with perfect accuracy, fight off a dozen armed men and free fall from a sky scraper, all with a smile on my face.
And yet when I saw the pink flyer hanging on the cafeteria activity board announcing the upcoming Valentine's dance, I cringed.
Throwing the remnants of my lunch away, I read the fluorescent piece of paper, tempted to rip it off of the wall and toss it with my banana peel and empty milk container. The Bristol Middle School Student Activity board held a dance for seemingly every holiday on the calendar, save for Presidents day and Thanksgiving. They each were elaborately decorated, had varying dress codes and themes and required five dollars at the door, or eight for a couple.
I had never attended a single one in my approaching three years living in Bristol.
My double life allowed time for my studies, training, vigilante work and not much else. I had always told the few friends I had that Bruce didn't like me going to the dances, making him out to be the bad guy but at least it was a believable excuse. When they had religiously attended the Friday night dances, I had always been suiting up for a night of patrols.
There had been times that I was tempted to go, such as for the Halloween Costume party or the Spring Fling right around Easter. Any time I had honestly intended to go, something had always sprung up, requiring Dick Grayson's social activities to step aside for Robin's responsibilities. Bruce had never seemed noticed if I had been disappointed but Alfred had always been quite vocal about his concerns.
At first, Alfred had managed to keep his thoughts silent, but the more I became involved I Bruce's war on crime, the more it had seemed to plague him. Over the last six months, they had increasingly argued about my upbringing, always attempting to do so out of earshot. Bruce's position had been that pretending to be a normal boy was a waste of time and effort given my true purpose in life. Alfred had staunchly opposed, saying that I needed a normal childhood for my own well being.
I had agreed with both of them.
Every once in a while, I longed to be a carefree teenaged boy whose only concerns rested with passing a pop-quiz in algebra or getting a pimple before school pictures. Seeing my fellow classmates genuinely enjoying their lives, even though they weren't masked crime fighters, was intriguing. They gained satisfaction from just enjoying life, laughing with friends and spending time with family.
But I enjoyed being Robin. And Bruce was my friend… and family.
"Are you going to that?"
I glanced around to see the face of my friend Taylor, a ketchup stain on his yellow and green hooded sweatshirt. During lunch, a dollop had slipped out of his hamburger and I had joked that he was complete with mustard, relish and ketchup. The others at the table had laughed but had proceed to try and mark my white te shirt with red. I had bee able to evade his efforts, the will power fueled by the fact that Alfred would have been mortified.
Shrugging, I watched as he dumped his tray in the garbage and set on top of the stack, "Probably not."
"I can get you a date, my sister keeps writing your name on her notebooks," he smirked.
I rolled my eyes as we walked together into the noisy hall, "Thanks, but I think I'd rather stay home than go out with a sixth grader who is just as tall as me."
He patted my back, "Could go stag?"
"Stag?" I looked at him, "To a Valentine's Day dance?"
Taylor replied, "You never go to these things… girls always fight with their dates and break-up, go cry in the bathroom together and come out looking for someone new to dance with, make their boyfriends jealous."
Nodding, he turned left down the science hallway, "All the time. I danced with three different girls for the Snow Ball last month."
We paused at his locker and I watched as he entered the combination before pulling the door back. As he searched the chaos for his Earth Science books, I found myself asking, "Did you kiss any of them?"
Retrieving the text book and a blue binder, Taylor slammed the door shut and then winked at me, "All three."
He went into a little too much detail as we walked down the corridor towards my locker. The two minute warning bell sounded just as we reached it and I hurriedly gathered my things, still listening to Taylor. Being on two junior varsity sports teams had earned him notoriety in our eighth grade class making it easy for him to woo girls. He rarely had a girlfriend for more than three weeks, but that had never put a damper on his ability to find a new one.
Walking into Mr. Hayden's class with thirty seconds to spare, Taylor and I took seats in the back. The chapter test scheduled was a welcome distraction from thinking about the dance, Taylor's prowess with the ladies and life in general. Although I completed the multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions in twenty minutes, I waited for three other classmates to get up and put their test on Mr. Hayden's desk before rising myself.
According to Bruce, the key to maintaining a secret identity was to not stand out in a way that would even remotely hint you could be a masked crime fighter. For Bruce, that meant being a socialite that was always late to work, missing meetings and being a womanizer. For me, somehow it meant keeping good grades, no sports teams and not ending and keeping a solid attendance records. With middle school a hierarchy of what you were best known for, being the boy that used to be in a circus and doesn't come to any school functions put me somewhere in the plebian level.
If anything, I would have loved to play sports. It didn't have to be gymnastics, I would have settled for the swim team, soccer or even baseball. Teammates that would eventually become friends, recognition in the school paper and social tree and trips to away games ending with burgers and fries courtesy of the coaches. I would have had no problem making either of the high school divisions, rewarded with my name embroidered on a team jacket and having warm-up clothes and uniforms in school colors…
I had my own colors. Red, green and yellow.
After Earth Science, I sat through US History, Ethics and a study period. Walking the halls from class to class, it seemed as if everyone was talking about Friday night's dance and who was going with who. I spotted a dozen more pink flyers tacked up around the building, seemingly there to torture me. When I was done for the day and grabbing my coat and backpack from my locker, I sighed quietly.
It was a stupid dance. With red balloons and cardboard cutouts of hearts and colored streamers. There would be a lame DJ, stupid contests for cutest couple and best dressed and overpriced refreshments. It was all pointless compared to donning my mask and waging war in the streets of Gotham City, saving innocent lives and taking out the criminals.
If it was stupid, why was I still thinking about it?
As always, Alfred was parked in the pick up-drop off lane, the glossy black Lincoln town car standing out amongst the rainbow of SUVs and sport cars. I was a few yards away when he stepped out of the car in order to open the backdoor for me, "Good afternoon, Master Dick."
"Hey, Al," I landed loudly on the leather seat before he shut the door.
Once he returned to the driver's seat and pulled back into traffic, he asked, "Might one inquire as to your day was?"
"Fine," I mumbled, staring out the window.
"Of course. Your dismal demeanor is only a testament to your superior acting skills."
Glancing up at his reflection in the rear view mirror, I noted he was smirking. After shifting in my seat, I replied, "You're right… it wasn't fine."
"Is there something amiss, young sir?"
I went quiet, wondering just how much of my pointless problem I should share with him. Complaining about wanting to having a normal teenage experience would lead him to tell Bruce, who in turn would offer me time to myself, leaving him alone on patrols without me to watch his back. Granted Barbara was helping us more of late, but she didn't know the job of sidekick like I did.
Unfortunately, there was no fooling Alfred. Lying wasn't an option, nor was fibbing or simply making matters seem less troubling than they were.
"Master Dick?" he asked.
Given how long I had taken to respond, I ended up saying, "The school Valentine's dance is tomorrow night."
"Oh, how wonderful, sir," Alfred's eyebrows rose in surprise, "And will you be attending, sir?"
I shook my head, "Probably not."
"Pardon me for asking, but do you wish to attend?"
"I don't know… we've been pretty busy this week with weapons ring surveillance…"
Alfred hesitated before proposing, "I assure you, Master Dick, that if you desire to attend the event that Master Bruce would be willing to make other arrangements for your… nocturnal activities."
Having started to regret even opening my mouth, I made another excuse, "Even still, there's no point in going if you don't have a date."
"I find it hard to believe that a handsome, young man such as yourself would not be able to procure a young lady to court for the evening."
"That's Bruce's department… not mine."
"Be that as it may, it certainly remains a possibility, sir, for you to enjoy the holiday as well."
"It's okay, Al… I'd rather be out working than at some dumb dance."
He was silent for the remainder of the ride, letting me out of the car before pulling into the garage. I passed through the service entrance, kicking my shoes off before trekking upstairs to my bedroom. There was at least three hours worth of homework in my backpack, all of which needed to be completed before setting foot in the Cave. My social life since becoming a crime fighter may have been brushed aside, but my academics had always come first.
Setting my backpack down on the floor, I shed my coat and put my shoes away in the walk-in closet. Returning to the desk, I opened up the bag and unloaded my text books and binders, stacking them neatly on the surface before turning the lamp on. I decided to go from easiest to hardest, starting with French. After writing out a conversation that used five verbs and three different pronouns, I tucked the loose leaf sheet in the book and said, "One down, four to go."
I completed my US History branches of government work packet, two pages of algebra equations and English reading assignment for three chapters of The Secret Garden before Alfred knocked on my door. Having left it open, I looked over my shoulder and watched as entered, smiling to the tray in his hands.
"How are we fairing, young sir?"
Leaning back into my chair, I stretched my arms and shoulders, "Almost done… Just have to do my health packet."
He set the silver serving tray down on the open space on my desk, "Perhaps a momentary pause in your studies would be practical, sir?"
Looking over the turkey club sandwich, glass bottle of root beer and walnut brownie, I nodded, "Practical and logical."
As he often did, Alfred pulled up a spare chair to sit adjacent to me. Most afternoons, I would replay my day at school for him and talk about life in general. He was always quick to compliment my accomplishments in school and to offer wisdom where needed. He was my family just as he much as Bruce was. In fact, he was probably the only reason I had stayed at Wayne Manor after those first, horrible few months.
Ancient history, I reminded myself.
I sample the sandwich, took a wallow of root beer and thanked Alfred before asking, "Did you go to school dances? When you were my age?"
He shook his head, straightening out his pants leg before replying, "No, sir… at the time, social functions of that sort were reserved for those in the latter years of secondary school. Comparable to eleventh and twelfth grade."
I sipped the root beer again before setting the bottle back down on the tray, "did you play any sports?"
"I had a few years of cricket and badminton… but I much preferred other extracurricular activities."
"Like school plays, right?"
He smiled softly, "Drama class, more or less. Performing the literary greats… Twelfth Night, Faust, Pygmalion… certainly nothing requiring choreography and musical numbers."
I smirked, trying to picture Alfred singing and dancing. Two years earlier, after I had settled into my new life, I had quizzed Alfred relentlessly about his and Bruce's lives. It had amazed me that Alfred had not only been a decorated veteran of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, but also a relatively accomplished stage actor. He had given it all up in order to move to the United States in order to take his dying father's role as the Wayne family caretaker. He was the most amazing person I had ever known, and that included Bruce and the sword swallower that could pack away a broadsword while riding a unicycle.
After eating half of the sandwich, I asked, "Do you really think Bruce wouldn't mind? If I went tomorrow?"
"It does not matter whether or not Master Bruce would mind, young sir. It only matters that you do as you wish… and that you take time to enjoy your youth while it still exists."
Silence fell between us, long enough for both of us to feel the discomfort.
He stood and returned the chair to its place along the wall, "If there is nothing else I can assist you with…"
I shook my head, "No, thanks though… and thanks for this."
"My pleasure, young sir," he nodded curtly before leaving me.
Alone, I turned to my health packet and pulled back the cover sheet, sighing at the first page. Glancing over the blank places I was supposed to label on the female anatomy, I promptly closed the packet and set it aside. Finishing my snack, I changed into running shorts, a fitted tunic and sneakers before exiting my room. Jogging down the three flights of stairs, I continued on to the study, surprised when Bruce wasn't there. The Grandfather clock put it at nearly six, well passed when he usually returned from Wayne Enterprises.
Traffic, I wondered.
Unlocking the entrance, I raced down the steps, jumping over the last three in order to somersault in the air and land squarely on my feet. Moving to the training bay, I breezed through a routine set of shadow boxing, jump rope and katas to get my blood pumping. From there, I fueled up the Batmobile, checked my utility belt for supplies and even checked Bruce's as well.
Seven-thirty and still no Bruce.
I was sitting at the computer when Alfred appeared, crossing the granite floor smoothly. Spinning around in the chair around and around, I called out, "Bruce here yet?"
"I'm afraid Master Bruce will be staying in the city tonight. He has asked me to escort you in for patrols."
"What's he been doing?" I asked, moving faster.
Alfred cleared his throat, causing me to grab onto the workstation counter to halt my fun. He then answered, "Master Bruce had an… engagement to attend to this evening."
"Engagement? Like a date?" I asked while jumping out of the chair.
"Yes, Master Dick. Now, if you will ready yourself, I shall prepare a vehicle for us to take-."
"Batmobile's ready to go," I nodded towards the lower level.
Alfred shook his head, "Absolutely not…"
"Come on, Al… where's your sense of adventure?" I teased.
He walked away after replying, "My sense of adventure is well fed by the antics of Master Bruce and yourself, sir. There is no need to take to gluttony."
Riding into the city with Batman behind the wheel of the Batmobile was often spent listening to the police scanner and traffic reports, along with checking for any unusual radio calls from Arkham and Blackgate. Riding shotgun in one of the stakeout sedans with Alfred, I was left to silently stare out at the dark surroundings, catching glimpses of lit windows as we traveled from rural to residential and then on to Gotham.
When we passed into the city limits, I glanced to Alfred, "Where am I meeting him?"
"Building adjacent to the restaurant Maialino… just north of Robinson Park."
I mused that was probably where he had ditched whatever girl he had taken out to dinner, lying about an emergency conference call from overseas. He had used a broad spectrum of excuses to get out of all sorts of social functions, even his own birthday party once. Anything he could do to get out of a suit and tie and don the cape and cowl as soon as possible.
There was a considerable amount of traffic around the Park, lots of Valentines out celebrating a night early. I spotted vendors selling roses at every street, couples walking hand in hand and nary a horse carriage in sight that didn't have lovebirds nestled in for a tour of the city. Reaching the north entrance, Alfred pulled out of traffic and into a dark service alley.
Before I jumped out, he offered, "Do be careful, young sir."
"Careful is my middle name, Al," I winked at him before opening the door and climbing up the fire escape.
As I ascended to the rooftop, I kept an eye out for Alfred as he drove off and out of sight. The flat, tar coated roof was dusted with snow, the meager inch we had accumulated the day before. Perching at the northeast corner, I retrieved my binoculars and studied the tinted window's of the building across the street. I shivered involuntarily, the cold air suddenly registering once I was motionless.
Hopefully Bruce had skipped out on dessert and-.
"Ready?" I heard a low growl.
Standing upright, I turned to smirk up at Batman, "Been waiting on you."
"For thirty seconds," he grunted.
He had a point. And the only way to counter his being correct was to throw him a curve ball, "How was your date?"
There was a fraction of a second where he allowed his mouth to crack open without purpose. He saved it by replying, "It was a business dinner."
Stepping closer to him, I studied his face and asked, "That why you have lipstick on your face?"
He narrowed his eyes until the lenses were white slits on the dark cowl but I knew he was resisting the urge to wipe his mouth. There were times it was appropriate to be scared of him such as when he had been unable to apprehend a wanted criminal or when a suspect was let go from police custody on some snafu. But seeing Batman with a smudge of red on his lips was not one of those instances.
"You'll tour the wharf while I check on the safe house in the East End. Batgirl will rendezvous with you there in an hour. I'll come get you when I'm through, at the shipping office."
Punishment for the wisecrack, I thought to myself. But it was worth it.
It took nearly forty minutes just to make it to the shoreline, relying heavily on riding on top of the L-train and hitching on the roofs of delivery trucks. Arriving, I was greeted with salty air, heavy with the day's catch. Given the cold temperatures ad strong wind coming off of the bay, activity was nonexistent as I traveled north along the harbor. Our primary focus was importing and exporting of illegal items into Gotham, regularly keeping an eye on the docks for suspicious activity. It generally yielded something to do, but I found myself simply walking along uninterrupted.
That was until I was hit in the back of the head with a snowball.
"What the-," I said while spinning around, finding only my own footprints, tracking back as far as the eye could see.
Then another snowball found me, colliding with my collar bone.
My eyes gazed upwards, finding Batgirl standing on the top of a storage car, already preparing a third projectile.
Finally, a worthy adversary, I thought to myself.
Ducking out of sight, I forged a massive ball out of the damp, sticky snow, carrying it in the crook of my arm while climbing up the storage car's metal ladder. Reaching the roof, I immediately took aim and fired, missing my target by a mere inch as she ducked. When I went to make another one, she had launched hers, hitting me in the forehead.
"Hey!" I called out, tossing a snowball at her again, smiling when it collided with her side, "You can't hit someone when they are climbing a ladder, I could have fallen."
"And you're not supposed to hit girls," she smirked, putting her hands on her hips.
Approaching her, I pointed out, "You're not a girl… you're a Batgirl."
"Such a dork," she shook her head. "And I was just trying to get your attention."
"I have a name, you know," I sighed, taking a seat on the edge of the car, "You can call it out and I almost guarantee I'll respond to it."
She stood for a moment longer before sitting beside me, "Yes, of course. Dork."
Although there was nothing like working alongside Batman, I had to admit that partnering up with Batgirl was growing on me. In the beginning, we had done our best to run her out of business seeing how she trained on her own and made her costume by herself. Bruce had been wary of letting her join our efforts but after she proved herself time and time again, he had no choice. He made her take the same vows I had when I became Robin, thus officially letting her join our team.
And having another young crime fighter to turn to was an addition I had treasured.
"Nothing south of here," I said randomly, "It's like a ghost town."
"Too cold," she noted, "That and everyone's out celebrating. Gotham City… highest crime rate on the east coast and yet everyone takes a time out for candy hearts and roses." She absently dragged her gloved fingertip in the snow, drawing a heart before flattening it with her palm.
I smirked, "Except for us."
"Oh, like you have Valentine's Day plans…" she shook her head.
"I do," I defended myself, "I have a big dance to go to."
Batgirl stared at me for a moment before letting herself smile, "Oh really? And Batman's going to let you take the night off for this?"
I shrugged, thinking of what Alfred had said earlier, "He doesn't have a say in what I do… and besides, he was out on date tonight, so I should be able to have fun, too."
"A date? Him?" she laughed, "That's a good one."
Rambling, I said, "What, he dates people. Girls, lots of them. I do, too."
Her smile softened, "I bet."
Staring at her, I accused, "And what about you?"
She pulled back a wave of auburn hair from her face, "I'd rather fight crime than worry about something as silly as boxes of chocolates and stuffed teddy bears."
Without thinking, I responded, "All girls like that stuff, though."
"I thought I wasn't a girl?" she beamed.
We went silent, both of us staring out at the water. She caved first, pulling back her glove to check her watch, "Nearly ten… we should get moving."
I nodded, getting to my feet and dusting the sow off of my legs and cape. We trekked up the rest of the wharf, finding nothing of dubious nature. As he had promised, Batman was waiting for me behind the shipping yard office. He nodded slightly at both of use and when we reported nothing of interest had happened, Batman replied, "The arms surveillance has been equally unproductive."
"A quiet night for once," Batgirl stated.
He killed the optimism by saying, "The night isn't over yet. Proceed into Waverly Place and up through the Village. Radio if you need me."
We nodded, watching as he disappeared into darkness.
"Think his date went bad," Batgirl commented. When I asked what she meant by that, she explained, "Well, he certainly isn't acting like it went well."
I thought about the lipstick had been on his face when I had met up with him earlier but kept my mouth shut. As close as we were, I knew I would never live telling her about that down. Changing the subject, I asked, "Do you have your cycle?"
She nodded, "About a half of a mile north. Need a ride?"
"Yeah, seeing how mine just vanished a minute ago."
We walked the rest of the way, focusing the light conversation about our plan of attack and hot spots that needed to be covered in the neighborhoods Batman had assigned us. With a quarter of a mile to go, our timeline was set for the foreseeable future and we were quiet. Too quiet. I decided to break the silence by saying, "I'm not going to the dance tomorrow."
"Like you said, we have more important things to do."
"Really? We just walked the entire wharf and saw no one. What makes you think it's going to be any better tomorrow?"
I shrugged, "Might as well be out doing something I like instead of trying to dance."
She smiled at me, "You can sweep the floor with criminals but you can't dance?"
Shaking my head, I explained, "I can… just not very well."
"Well, you better learn," Batgirl said as we approached her bike, concealed between two large crates, "Girls like boys that know how to dance."
"I know that," I remarked too quickly.
Turning to face me, she asked, "Do you? When was the last time you went to a dance? Or even on a date?"
I could have told her the truth, which was never, but I lied, "All the time."
She narrowed her eyes, "Have you even kissed a girl?"
"Of course," I snapped, suddenly regretting how the conversation had turned on me.
"It's okay if you haven't, you're pretty young still-."
"I'm not that young," I countered.
Studying my face, she chewed on her bottom lip before releasing it, "I would say… thirteen… going on fourteen."
Even though she had hit the nail on the head, I denied it, "Try fifteen."
"Yeah, and I'm twenty-five," she stepped closer to me, "Listen, I'm not saying you're a little kid… I'm just saying it's okay to be young… to make mistakes… to have fun."
"I could say the same to you."
That forced her to pause. When she nodded, Batgirl said, "You're right."
I was about to tell her that I would find my own way into Waverly Place when she leaned forward, dropping her head slightly so that she was eye level with me. Before I knew it, her lips were pressed against mine, hesitant at first and then with more pressure. I stood motionless, uncertain as to what was happening and knowing if I moved I would make her stop.
When she pulled away, she simply turned and threw a leg over her motorcycle. Barely even breathing, I turned and stared at her in utter confusion. She grabbed the helmet from the back compartment and tossed it at me, enough movement to snap me out of the trance. She grinned, "Well, are you coming?"
She had kissed me, although I couldn't decide if it was because she was young or if it was a mistake or if she just wanted to have fun.
A girl had kissed me… No, not a girl… Batgirl.
Nodding, I donned the helmet and carefully climbed onto the bike, wrapping my arms around her slender waist as she pushed the kickstand back and hit the ignition.
It was decided.
I didn't need to go to the stupid dance with girls crying in the bathroom and the DJ playing the Electric Slide five too many times. I could have just as much fun racing through the streets of Gotham with a girl that never cried, one that only seemed to laugh or growl. As we sped away from the docks, somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered if I had lipstick on my face, just as my mentor had.
I also pondered if Batgirl would hit me if I tried to kiss her.
In the concealment of the helmet, I smiled.
It would be worth the risk.