The long-awaited chapter five of Black Lace Stockings. Sorry for the delay guys.
Disclaimer: I don't own Young Justice. Don't sue me.
So the flutter, her stupid crush, it wasn't going away at all despite her best efforts, and as if it wasn't bad enough before, it was even worse now because Wally had found some new girl at his school to pine over, and he wouldn't shut up about it – about how amazing this girl was, how pretty and funny she was, and –
What was her name? 'E', started with an 'E.' Emma, her name was Emma.
"Rob, did I tell you what Emma did today?"
Ricki had dealt with jealousy before when it came to Wally during the times he had been dating other girls in the past, but her jealousy then hadn't seemed as bad as it did now. There hadn't been any crush before. At the time, Wally had just been a friend to her, and she had only been jealous that she hadn't been able to spend as much time with him, as a friend, and that'd been it... Right?
Now though, with her crush on the younger speedster, she was jealous because she didn't want to hear him talk about some other girl.
She wanted him to think about her that way.
She knew that it wasn't even a possibility though – him liking her that way – as long as she kept this secret about herself, and when her jealousy reached a point where, during a mission, she'd been very tempted to just push him off the rooftop they were standing on because he kept telepathically talking to her about Emma (she would've caught him, she had just wanted to scare him a little bit, enough to get him to shut up), Ricki decided that enough was enough and that this crush needed to be dealt with.
So she figured, after giving it a lot of thought, that it wasn't so much Wally that she was crushing on as it was the idea of a guy actually liking her and paying attention to her in that way. Of course she was going to be flattered by Wally briefly flirting with her when the most flirting she had ever received from a guy in the past had been them making eyes at her from across a room. She'd simply been charmed, not by Wally but by his words, and she'd probably be feeling the same way about any other guy who flirted with her (and wasn't a total creeper about it).
If she wanted to get rid of this crush, she was going to have to put herself 'out there' a bit more, as a girl, and flirt with guys – try to flirt with guys, since she was pretty much clueless when it came to flirting – and hope that they flirted back. She had just the place in mind to accomplish this too, since she couldn't exactly go to any school events and flirt with the guys there without raising a few eyebrows.
One of Gotham's many clubs was having a teens night, and from what she'd heard, this one was pretty popular, so it would be the perfect place for her to go and meet some guys her age (or close to it) while she was 'Riley.' And yeah, she wasn't thrilled by the idea of having to lie about who she was, but it wasn't as if she were looking for anything long-term. She just wanted to have a fun night being the teen girl that she was, and gain the attention of a guy while she was at it – to flirt and maybe dance and get all of those gooey crush-like feelings out of her system so that things could go back to normal between her and Wally.
Shirts and pants littered her bedroom, the dramatic aftermath of her 'why do all my clothes suck/look too much like boy's clothes?' freak-out. Standing in front of the mirror, she scanned her reflection, taking in her final clothing choice. A figure-fitting black t-shirt with a random spiraling red design on the front, a dark pair of jeans, and some strappy black low-heeled shoes to go along with it.
It was the best she could come up with, which really wasn't too bad considering the few choices that she had. She did kinda wish though that she had more options, and she had a brief moment of thinking that 'Maybe I should just go and tell Bruce that I need some new clothes. Girl clothes.'
She knew it'd be completely okay, Bruce and Alfred had always said it was okay for her to go out and do something girly, like buying more-feminine clothes, but when she actually thought about doing just that, it always made her worry that he'd see it as her saying that she was unhappy with her life, as both his ward and as Robin, and that she blamed him for present circumstances, which totally wasn't the case.
Her choice – the thought always seemed to be floating in the back of her mind – her decision.
She was very much happy, she could just... do with a few changes here and there. That's all. It didn't mean that she found him at fault for anything though, and she felt ridiculous for being worried over something like this, but just knowing that your worries are ridiculous and likely unfounded doesn't make them go away.
It was simply easier to not talk about it, and if she so felt the need, she could secretly go out and buy some new clothes in the same way that she had gotten the 'sexy' panties and bras she currently had hidden in her room.
A growl of frustration escaped her as she fisted her hands up in her hair, her fingertips coated in hair gel. She'd wasted a good half-hour attempting to stylize her black locks into something more pretty and less boyish, but it just wasn't happening. Her hair was simply too short and she didn't know enough about styling hair to know how to make it work. She really hadn't wanted to have to wear the black wig again, but she didn't have too many other options and she wanted to get going because it was getting late enough as it was, teen's night having started at seven and here it was going on eight at night.
With a defeated sigh, she put on the wig, long black locks falling over her shoulders, and after making sure it was securely on, she quickly headed out of her room with a story ready on the tip of her tongue. Bruce always worried when she went out into Gotham on her own, but when she went out as a girl, as Riley, that made him worry even more than usual, and she had a feeling that he wouldn't approve of her going to a club. Alcohol-free teen's night or not.
She tried to breeze out the front door before too many questions could be asked – already had her jacket on and her utility belt secured snugly up her sleeve in a hidden second lining of the jacket– and it was a noble attempt on her part, but nothing got past Bruce's paranoid Bat-senses.
"Where are you heading so late at night?" Bruce asked, calm and collected and strategically seated in the dining room connected to the front entrance, his chair facing the door. He sipped at a cup of tea and had a newspaper open in front of him, as if this were something he normally did every night, which was complete bull because if Bruce was going to drink tea and read the newspaper anywhere at this time of night, it was going to be down in the Batcave.
"Just... out," she said as casually as possible, trying to be as nonchalant as him. "To a new friend's house." she added, "I met her at the mall when I was Riley. She invited me over."
Ricki had to hold back from blurting out every little detail she had come up with for her cover story – the exact place she'd met the non-existent girl, the exact time and day that they met, the girl's entire back story – because she knew it would be too suspicious , and if she said all of that, she might as well be holding up a sign that said 'I'm lying.'
After pausing a moment to let Bruce respond, which he didn't, she continued on, "It's not a school night and you said I could have tonight off."
Bruce's mouth formed a thin line, his eyes narrowed just-so-slightly, and she had to force herself to keep a relaxed air about her. Finally, Bruce asked, "Do you have your cellphone on you?"
"Of course," she responded instantly, and she did. It was in her pants pocket.
Bruce studied her for another moment longer before finally nodding and adjusting his newspaper, turning his attention back to reading it as he said, "Call me if you need me."
And that was it. No question about the girl's name, or where she lived, or if her parents would be home (all questions she had answers to). He didn't even give her a curfew, just gave her his usual vague Bat way of saying 'Stay safe.' and of course 'I'm here if you need me.' It was so out-of-the-ordinary that she felt even more tense than before, but Bruce didn't say anything else, so she figured she was in the clear.
After replying with a quick, "Sure," she made her way over to the front door, but she only got as far as grasping the doorknob before Bruce spoke again.
"Ricki," he said, and she nearly jumped out of her skin, her knuckles turning white as her grip around the doorknob tightened. "Is there anything you'd like to tell me before you go?"
The ticket she'd gotten in advance to teen's night at the club burned in her back pocket, and she bit the inside of her mouth, wondering if he actually knew anything or if he was just setting her up to blurt out the truth and give herself away. Either option was a very likely possibility for Batman, and the fact that he even suspected her of anything at all probably wasn't a good thing. In the end, she went with what, in her opinion, was the safest option – to deny that there was anything even going on at all.
"No," she said, glancing over her shoulder at him and keeping her voice as level as before, "Nothing comes to mind."
Silence reigned between them.
"I'll... see you later?" she said, hesitantly, half-questioningly.
"Yes," Bruce said, looking up from the newspaper once more to stare unblinkingly in a way that made her fidget in place, and it was only the small smile he gave her that allowed her brain to work long enough for her to figure out how to open the door.
She was out the door before another awkward word could be said.
The newspaper folded closed as soon as the front door clicked shut and icy blue eyes narrowed at the sound of departing footsteps. Bruce's mouth pulled down into a frown as the Flash's voice echoed in his head, memories of a conversation he'd had just a week prior.
"So... how's Robin?" the question was asked at the end of a League meeting, that rare moment when there was a lull in activity.
"Fine," he'd said, and then his eyes narrowed with suspicion, "Why?"
Flash floundered for a moment at the sudden ire directed his way and held up his hands defensively as he said, "Well, you know– just.. Wally told me about the spill he took in the bathroom, and–"
His gaze snapped over to Black Canary, cutting Barry off as he said, "I was not informed of any such accident."
For a moment, Black Canary looked taken aback by the Batglare, but then her own eyes narrowed stubbornly and she rested one hand on her hip, "I didn't bring it up because it wasn't a big deal." and then she leaned in close and spoke quietly under her breath so that only he could hear – barring others that had superhearing, and out of the corner of his eye, Bruce saw that they at least had the decency to look away as if they weren't listening.
"Yes, he slipped in the shower, but he was fine, and he was already embarrassed enough by Superboy walking in on him, the last thing the kid needed was me making a spectacle of the whole thing," she said.
Anything else after that faded into the background as that one thing Canary said seared itself into his thoughts. 'Superboy walking in on him.'
Superboy walking in on Robin.
Superboy walking in on Ricki.
In the shower.
Bruce rose to his feet, the newspaper folded up and discarded in the nearest wastebasket as he left the foyer and made his way down to the Batcave.
The lights around her pulsed, bathing her in a rainbow of colors, and the music played loudly in the background. Despite her lively surroundings though, she couldn't help but boredly fiddle with the glowing blue Batsignal pendant of the necklace she'd received at the door, and wondered to herself how she had gotten swept up into such a... dull conversation.
When the two moderately attractive guys had first approached her, it had started out alright. There was some small-talk and a couple of flirty smiles here and there, and okay, there was no flutter, but it was still something and it was certainly better than just standing off by herself.
Then that small-talk turned into a conversation about hockey. Now, she didn't have any problems with sports talk, it frequently came with the territory when pretending to be a guy, but this wasn't just talking about hockey, this was them talking about how amazing they were at the game and 'Yeah, got that scar wrestling the puck away from the other team.'
From there, things continued to devolve to where they were really just talking at her rather than to her and seemed more interested in comparing their varying sporting achievements among themselves. She couldn't help but think that none of the guys on her team acted like this, not even Wally. Sure there was a little bragging here and there, but it was all done in a jesting way, and they'd never tried to use it as a kind of pick-up line before.
She pressed her back up against the second floor railing of the balcony looking out onto the dance floor, contemplating just how hard it would be to slip away from them without them noticing in that way she was so famous for as Robin. It was in that exact moment when she saw a flash of long red hair as someone, another girl, bowled past the two guys and latched on to Ricki's arm in a kind of half-hug with an exclamation of, "Best friend!"
She tensed in the girl's hold, but managed to keep herself under control despite the suddenness of it all, because she was Ricki right now, or rather Riley – not Robin though, but just a normal girl.
Not that there was anything normal about this entire situation.
As mystery girl turned a dazzling smile on the two rather bewildered-looking guys standing before them, Ricki's mind caught up with the rest her and she had a moment of 'oh, crap' because this wasn't just some random girl, it was Barbara-Freakin'-Gordon. Barbara who knew her and sometimes hung out with her at school, Barbara who just ran up to her and called her 'best friend.'
While on the outside she was frozen, seemingly unaffected, on the inside, Ricki was panicking, because Barbara recognized her, had figured out who she was. She must have. Why else would she come over like this? But did she think that Richard was just crossdressing, or did she realize that Richard was actually –
"Sorry guys, gotta steal her away from you," Barbara told the two boys, and then Ricki was being dragged away from them and into the crowd, nearly stumbling as her legs seemed to forget how to walk and just what the hell was going on?
It was only when they reached the stairs leading down to the main floor that Barbara finally released the hold she had on Ricki's wrist, and by that point, Ricki was sure that her eyes were comically wide.
"Sorry," Barbara said again, except this time it was directed towards her, and as the older girl turned to face her, she gave Ricki a sheepish look, laughing for a second before she said, "You probably think I'm completely insane. But... you just really looked like you needed to be rescued back there."
Ricki blinked, said nothing, her mind having derailed completely by this point.
Barbara suddenly looked embarrassed, asked, "Or did I misjudge that entirely and those were your friends back there?"
She mentally flailed, grabbing hold of the reins to her composure.
"No," she said.
Still though, what?
Barbara held out her hand, an easy-going smile on her face, "I'm Barbara."
She was introducing herself.
Which meant that she didn't recognize Ricki, and really, in the flashing colored lights and overall dim tone to the club that made it kind of hard to see things completely clearly, it shouldn't have been a surprise that the older girl didn't connect her with Richard Grayson from school. Wally hadn't known it was her either when he quite literally ran into her, and that was during daylight hours – but don't think about Wally – all the same though, Ricki was beyond relieved.
She clasped Barbara's hand, shaking it with a small smile, "Riley." And then she hooked her thumbs into her jean's pockets and quirked an eyebrow at the redhead, "Rescued me?"
"Clearly you were too nice to tell those guys to get lost," Barb said with a simple shrug, "And I could hardly ignore a sister-in-need. What can I say? I'm just in a hero-ing mood tonight."
And she 'rescued' Ricki by providing her with an escape-route, so to speak.
Ricki laughed, any remaining stress that she felt ebbing away, "Guess I owe you one then, Supergirl."
"You can buy me a soda with a little umbrella in it later," Barbara said breezily, then shot one arm into the air, pointing at the ceiling as she dramatically announced, "But first, we dance! Because you can't not dance to this song!"
Before Ricki could even blink, Barbara had her by the wrist again and was pulling her down the stairs to the main floor, the music growing even louder the closer they got to the dance floor, and thus to the DJ and the speakers. As they wove through the moving masses, Barbara leading the way, the beginning beat of the song finally registered in Ricki's mind as one she recognized.
'Party rock!' echoed from the speakers and floated overhead as the pulsing lights synced up to the beat of the song.
She laughed when she heard it, the Party Rock Anthem, and a smile spread across her face as she walked a bit more quickly, following Barbara's insistent tugs and matching the older girl's pace more easily. It was a song she had on her music playlist back home, and secretly she was a little thrilled at the prospect of dancing to it with a large crowd like this, so when Barbara playfully pushed her out onto the dance floor and straight into the heart of it all with a shout of, "Let's see your shuffle, Rye!" Ricki just let herself fall into the beat of the song, dancing along with everyone around her.
Party rock is in the house tonight
Everybody just have a good time
The music thrummed up through her body from the dance floor, a vibration she could feel deep in her chest, the techno washing over her and clearing away all thoughts of a certain green-eyed redhead.
And we gonna make you lose your mind
Everybody just have a good time
Barbara sidled up next to her, a spring in her step and her movements matching up with Ricki's.
It wasn't exactly how Ricki saw her night going when she'd first come up with the plan to go to the club, but dancing along with Barbara like this was more fun than she'd had for a while now, and she could feel a tightness in her chest easing its grip, a feeling she hadn't even noticed was there until now. Sure, dancing didn't really offer a solution to any of her problems, but for the moment it was a nice reprieve, and anyway, by Gotham's standards, the night was still young. Plenty of time to see where else the night might lead, plenty of time to see who else she might meet in a club as crowded and lively as this.
–We just wanna see ya... shake that!
"Recognized, Batman – 02."
"Superboy – B-04."
When Conner stepped out of the zeta tube, he couldn't stop his gaze from wandering.
It actually was a cave, and there really were bats hanging high up above along the ceiling. It wasn't so much that though that grabbed his attention and brought about a kind of awe that he attempted to keep hidden from his face – the base in Mount Justice was pretty much a cave in its own right after all. It was that this... this just seemed so much more expansive – greater than Mount Justice. There was just so much more to it – steel and technology integrated into stone walls, and from where he silently stood on the platform just outside of the zeta tube, he could see more levels stretching both high above and far below him, a labyrinth that it seemed only Batman and Robin would know how to navigate.
He never for once thought he'd actually get to see the place, what with how secretive the two Gotham heroes were.
But then, this wasn't exactly a courtesy call, and Conner mentally steeled himself for whatever might come, his eyes narrowing suspiciously on the Dark Knight's back, because once you've dealt with cases of mind-control and stolen identities, it was a little hard to completely trust anyone a hundred percent again.
"We need to talk," the man had told him at Mount Justice. "Away from prying minds."
Conner knew he meant M'gann, who had been watching them both with a poorly concealed look of concern from where she'd stood in the kitchen, and he'd responded, offended on her behalf, that 'M'gann wouldn't eavesdrop.'
Batman's eyes had narrowed down at him, "I don't take those risks when it comes to Robin."
The fact that it was about Robin, and the way the man was acting, it was why he followed Batman into the zeta tubes without any further arguments or demands, and M'gann prodding through their mental link, that something could be wrong, that he should go see what the man wanted, and that they could always get in contact through the comm links later if need be.
And so here he was now, and he already had fairly good idea of what this could be about – the memory of what had happened, what he'd found out about Robin a little over a week prior was still fresh in his mind.
"Your suspicions are valid but unwarranted," Batman said, his cape sweeping around his feet as he turned to face Conner, and as those masked eyes took in his tense stance and wary expression, they lost some of their bite – still steely and commanding respect, but not angry as Conner had originally thought.
"You're not in trouble," the man said.
Conner's fingers uncurled from the fists he hadn't even been fully aware that he'd been making.
"You said this was... something to do with Robin?" Conner prodded carefully.
Batman's mouth pressed into a thin line, shielded white eyes seeming to consider Conner carefully before he spoke, "It has come to my attention that there was a certain... bathroom incident between you and my protégé, one that merited further investigation."
It was exactly what Conner thought it was about then, and for a moment, Conner was reminded of the movies and the TV shows M'gann liked to watch, where there was information – more often than not important information – that some or all of the characters seemed to know, information that could clear up so many problems and misunderstandings and solve things right then and there, but rather than divulge that information, rather than just come out and say what they knew, those characters on the screen would dance around the issue, around their words, and it never made sense to Conner, why they wasted so much time doing that.
Never let it be said that he was one to beat around the bush.
"You're wondering if I know that Robin's a girl," Conner said.
"I suppose that answers my question, doesn't it?" Batman said, not faltering for a second – even the faint thump, thump Conner could hear of his heartbeat remaining steady. The man continued on without pause, "Which leads me to.. certain concerns regarding the issue."
Suddenly Conner was faced with a look that was far more intimidating than the Dark Knight's usual brooding and looming demeanor. He was faced with the look of a father, a parent, a family member who would do whatever it took to protect their own – a look that he still wasn't used to seeing on Superman's face (a look that the Man of Steel intended for him) even two years later after that initial year of rejection.
And Conner found that he was at a loss about what 'concerns' the man could mean, because these weren't the concerns of Batman, they were the concerns of the man beneath the cape, the concerns of a father about his daughter.
Brow furrowed, his mind floundered, and he grabbed on to the first real idea he could come up with.
Which was, regrettably, "I– I didn't see anything that I shouldn't– I mean, she was completely covered by the towel–"
His brain screeched to a halt, Robin's words echoing in his head about not letting that bit of information be known – although honestly, he half blamed Robin for even putting that thought in his head to begin with. He kind of doubted he would have come up with it all on his own.
"That is to say," he concluded rather pathetically, "that I didn't see her in only a towel."
You could have cut the tension in the air with a butter knife and served it up on toast.
"...Ignoring that," Batman began slowly, and muttered quietly under his breath, "for my own sanity–" he continued on unencumbered, "– My concerns, of course, are of your ability to keep this information to yourself."
"She asked me the same thing," Conner said, "And I told her I would, but..." he hesitated, because the man standing before him likely had a hand in it all, in the lie surrounding Robin's life, but determination drove him on. He needed to say his piece, "I don't understand why there's a need for her to hide this at all."
"I am not asking you to fully understand the circumstances pertaining to this situation," the man said, his gaze cold, "nor to understand Gotham and the way this city works. And it is also not your prerogative to know all of those details either. I'm asking you if you can be trusted with this secret."
Conner didn't bother hiding his glare, nor his disapproval over the situation, but he nodded his head regardless, said, "Yes, you can trust me." because he still remembered what Robin as said, that this was her choice, and he would respect her choice.
"Good," Batman said.
Then just like that, the tension was gone, and the next thing he knew, Batman was giving him a mission – really, a small task – because Robin had gone out on her own into the city, as a civilian, and Batman wanted Conner to go after her just in case she ran into any kind of trouble. Before he could really think too much about that – that maybe Robin would find offense with him checking up on her – he was given coordinates to her location and sent back through the zeta tube, dropped off out in the middle of Gotham, and, well, he could go back to the mountain, but now all he could think about was what if she did run into some kind of trouble?
A low growl rumbling quietly in his throat, Conner huffed out a breath and dug his comm-link out of his pocket, letting M'gann know that everything was fine and that he was just going to be held up a little bit helping Robin with a task for the night.
With that taken care of, he was off and leaping through the streets of Gotham.
I'm on the pursuit of happiness and I know
everything that shine ain't always gonna be gold
I'll be fine once I get it
yeah, I'll be good
She swayed and danced to the pulse of the song, brushing against the moving bodies around her and not caring, because she wasn't hiding anything here, she was just another girl in the crowd dancing and having a good time.
Her mouth quirked up into a small smile when she caught green eyes watching her through the crowd for what would be the third time that night – and yeah, okay, apparently she had a 'type' and it was boys with red hair and green eyes.. or really just red hair because Roy had blue eyes, but she wasn't going to get into that subject – after all, this was a night about moving forward, not back, and honestly, she couldn't help who she was drawn to, especially when that person was giving her those kind of looks and paying her the right amount of attention.
She shut her eyes, drowning her thoughts in the music and dancing before opening her eyes again and glancing his way.
Yes, he was still definitely watching her as he himself danced.
Her smile grew a bit wider.
"Go dance with him!" Barbara suddenly said, loud enough for Ricki to hear, but not so loud that it carried across the room.
Ricki faltered in her dancing, taken aback, "What?" and then a kind of nervousness flooded up inside of her and she found herself shaking her head, "No – no, I'm fine right here."
It was what she came here for, she knew that, but knowing and doing were two completely different things. Those two guys from before, that was different. They walked up to her. She herself though? She couldn't just– just walk right up to him like that. She needed to... build up her nerves or something first, because she'd never done anything like this before. She'd never just walked up to a potential someone that she might like who she'd never met before and simply talked to them.
Barbara was having none of it though, of wussing out or otherwise, and seemed to be of the mindset that one should be pushed into the pool to get used to the water. Clapping her hands down onto Ricki's shoulders, she said, "Come on, you've been making eyes at each other for like the past five songs."
Then, much like when she first dragged Ricki onto the dance floor, Barbara pushed her forward, and while Ricki was sure that the older girl didn't mean to be as forceful as she was, she still stumbled on her feet because, hello, heels – maybe not ridiculously high heels, but heels none-the-less.
Suddenly tanned hands were wrapping around her upper arms, offering support as her legs shook for just the briefest moment before she regained her balance, and as her eyes shot up to the owner of those hands, any sense of calm and composure she had regained from nearly falling was gone again because it was him, the boy with the green eyes who she'd been smiling at before and who had been smiling back at her. Her mind flickered back to Wally, to when he ran into her and caught her, to when his arms were wrapped around her – but no, she stopped herself, because she didn't want to think about Wally, and this wasn't Wally, not at all, it was some other boy whose skin was much tanner and his red hair longer, long enough to be up in a short ponytail, and he didn't have his arms around her either, just had his hands holding her by her arms.
He also wasn't smiling, not like he'd been before, and for someone who didn't know her at all, he looked surprisingly concerned.
"You are unharmed, I hope?" he asked, and the tone and his way of speaking totally didn't match the package, not that she was complaining. She could tell from that one sentence alone though that he wasn't native to Gotham. It was enough of a shock to break her stupor and give her back her voice.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said while at the same time struggling to squash down any remaining nervousness.
"Ah, I am glad!" he said, and she didn't quite know what to make of how he went from serious to jubilant so quickly. Releasing her arms, he reached down and clasped her hands in his own, saying with a bright smile, "And I feel that a proper introduction is in order. Hello! I am Kory Andr, but you may call me Kory, Miss...?"
"Uh, Riley," she said, smiling unsurely, "Riley Pennyworth."
"It is very nice to meet you, Riley-Riley Pennyworth!" he said, shaking her hands enthusiastically.
She blinked, mind thrown, "Wha– no, it's not– it's just Riley."
"Oh, I see," Kory said, eyes alight, "You were simply engaging in your culture's habit of repeating one's name, much like the Bond-James-Bond."
Was this guy for real?
"Sure," she said slowly.
"Might I interest you in joining me for more of the dancing to loud music?" he asked cheerfully, and this time her smile came more easily. He was a strange one for sure, but his words sounded genuine, and so she nodded her head, accepting his offer, and let him lead her away from the outer edge of the dance floor and more deeper into the crowd.
The song was nearing its end by this point, and she fell back into the beat of it as they slowed to a stop and he turned back to face her – her hips swaying and her body moving to the bum, bum, bum, of the techno, watching the way his green eyes studied her as he danced close. Very close.
Close enough that he reached out and rested his hands on her waist. She could feel her face heat up, and couldn't be more thankful for the flashing lights than at that moment because she was sure that they were hiding a blush. It took a lot of self-control to keep herself dancing as if it was no big deal.
"I hope this is not... presumptuous of me. Is it?" he asked.
"No," Ricki squeaked, then cleared her throat. "No, it's fine."
'Fine,' maybe, but horribly awkward, at least to her. He was quite, quite close now, and she had no idea what to do with her arms with him being so close. Her blue eyes cast around them, discretely, looking for some kind of indicator, or rather, dancing advice, and at first there was none because the people around them weren't really dancing together as she was with Kory, but were just dancing next to each other and near each other more or less.
And then she spotted Barbara through the crowd, dancing with some tall blond guy, her back to his front as they moved together. Barbara twisted around to face the guy, a smile clear on her face, and she draped her arms over his shoulders as his hands slid from her waist down to her hips, all the while the older girl looked completely at ease.
Ricki looked away, her gaze snapping back over to Kory just as one song bled into the next and they adjusted their pace and movements to the slightly slower beat.
Blue eyes met green and he furrowed his brow as he looked down at her.
"You are not having fun?" he asked.
She blinked, took a tight, nervous breath and reached up, resting her hands on his shoulders. Smiled through the tiny bubblings of anxiety because it was more convincing than whatever sort of pinched expression she must have had before.
"I'm having fun," she assured him, and through the awkwardness of it all, through her nervousness and uncertainty of what was a new experience for her, she actually was kind of having fun. She could even say that it was... nice.
Nice to be held by someone who wasn't family or a parental figure, to be so close to someone who didn't see her as just a friend, who didn't see her as a guy–
"Your smile is quite pretty."
–who said things like that, even if it was a little cheesy and, for flirting, kind of blunt.
So Ricki kept dancing. With him. And the night breezed by around them to a point where it suddenly struck her that she didn't feel nervous anymore, and she completely lost track of how many songs had played or how long they had been dancing for – just let herself get lost in the joy of it all.
"So what brings you to Gotham?" she asked, an eyebrow quirked, "Business or pleasure?" and she mentally backpedaled because if that didn't sound like a pickup line, then she didn't know what did.
He smiled, oblivious, or at least not seeming to pick up on her wording.
"I originally was just passing through," he explained. "But then I made a close friend. I am sticking around for him."
"That's nice," she said, because it was. That kind of loyalty that was so clear in his words was hard to come by in people, especially in Gotham– but then, he wasn't exactly from Gotham.
"Yes," Kory continued, "I am actually here tonight because of him. He insisted that I experience this... club scene, with your flashing lights and blaring music."
Then he glanced to the side, and she saw a kind of joy light up in his eyes as he said, "Ah, you see, he is over there talking to that girl with the glowing bands around her wrists." And as Ricki followed his line-of-sight, Kory suddenly shot one arm in the air and waved enthusiastically as he shouted over the music, "Jay, my friend! Look! I am doing the dancing! You are right, it is quite enjoyable!"
And at the sight of a boy with hair as dark as hers giving them a 'what the hell' look and then pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation, Ricki couldn't help it, she started laughing – really laughing – which made Kory smile even wider, looking down at her with dazzling green eyes.
Then the lights went out and the music cut, all of the dancing around her stopping along with it.
Her body immediately fell into the defensive, muscles tensing and her eyes darting around the club as her hands dropped away from Kory. Her thoughts shot to her utility belt and she mentally cursed – it was in the club's coat-check area, still concealed within the second lining of her jacket, because once she'd reached the club and got inside, she really hadn't thought she'd need it, add to that the fact that it would be kind of hard to keep it hidden if she was going to be dancing with people.
She took a step back from Kory, planning on slipping away unnoticed to go fetch it because this was Gotham after all and she needed to be prepared for any such occurrence, but before she could, a single light came back on and it was pointing at the DJ.
Who was wearing a domino mask.
Her hands curled into fists.
"It's ten o'clock boys and girls," the man rumbled over the speakers. "For all you new-comers out there, that means it's a time when the Bat comes out to play with all of Gotham's worst."
There was a short pause, filled up only with the quiet murmuring of the crowd around her, yet it wasn't the murmuring of fear, or even apathy. There was a note of excitement in their voices, and as she watched the silhouettes of the teens around her shifting oddly in the dark as others darted out of the shadowed corners of the club and onto the dance floor, caution and a readiness to fight gave way to confusion.
Then the DJ grabbed hold of the microphone, pulling it close, and said only three words, "So let's play."
The music started anew as the lights flared back on, blindingly bright, yet different from before because the colors around her now glowed in a way that could only be caused by the effects of a blacklight, and there were dozens of people scattered about now who were wearing cheap plastic masks and black capes you'd probably get from a store-bought Batman Halloween costume, while others had smeared on brightly-colored face paint that shone like a neon sign in the lights. Some with too-wide smiles painted on, resembling a certain clown, or just a clown in general – or white makeup with black lipstick and a mask with a jester's hat, and the variations didn't stop there – pale green makeup with dark green lipstick, some with neon paint smeared down half their face, others had burlap sacks over their heads with eye-holes cut out and smiley-faces drawn on, and all around were question marks, and top-hats, and canes, and cat ears.
Her mind stalled at the sight of it all as everyone began dancing again, waving glowsticks and glowing Batsignal pendants in the air, and instinct had her jerking away when one clown-dressed teen in-particular came just a bit too close. Obviously the club wasn't under attack, she could see that now, but even for her, even after all that she had seen and dealt with in her life, this was just a bit too strange for her tastes. She could understand people dressing up as Batman, or any superhero really, but dressing up as the villains? As the people who terrorized Gotham and murdered and maimed so many?
It didn't make sense to her.
"Is something wrong?"
Her gaze snapped over to Kory. She had honestly forgotten about him for a moment. Thankfully, he wasn't wearing any sort of costume.
He looked down at her with a furrowed brow, and again that look of concern.
"Just... not feeling much like dancing anymore," she said, her wavering smile giving away her unease.
"We could go upstairs if you would like," he offered. "I believe there are sofas for sitting."
She cast an unsure look at the crowd around them, her mood feeling pretty much spoiled for the night, but she supposed things might pick up and that she should at least give it a chance.
"Sure," she finally said, looking back up at him. "I'll go grab us some sodas and then meet you upstairs."
"Ah, wonderful, and I will acquire us a place for sitting!" he announced, a determined look on his face, and she could only wish him luck as he turned and plowed his way through the crowd, because with the amount of people that there were at this club, unless he were to physically remove someone from their seat, she doubted he'd be able to find any space on the couches.
Weaving through the crowd herself, she made her way over to the bar and began the wait for the people in front of her to get their drinks and move off to the side so that she could have her turn. She glanced over her shoulder every now and then, trying and failing to see if she could spot Barbara anywhere – she did owe the girl a drink after all – and it was when she was about one row of people away from the counter when she felt her phone buzzing.
Her thoughts immediately went to Bruce and she dug it out of her pocket, because even though it was a night off for her, Batman had likely still gone out on patrol himself, and for all she knew, there could be some kind of emergency going on.
As Ricki flipped open her phone though, she saw that it was a text from Wally. Her lips turned down into a frown, because so much for getting him off her mind for one night. She very nearly considered ignoring it and going back to her task of getting drinks – but again, what if there was some sort of emergency?
With a sigh, she clicked the open text button.
And wondered 'what the hell...'
~Duckers Sidewinder ~ the text read.
Thumbs jabbing at the keys, she quickly texted back.
~Is that code for 'help'? Should I be concerned?
A minute dragged by. She hardly even noticed or cared as people pushed past her to order their drinks. Then the phone buzzed again.
~We don't have a code for 'help.'
She shut her eyes for a second, pressed a hand to her forehead, and took that response as a 'no'
The phone buzzed a third time.
~We should tho.
She glared down at the phone. Texted back.
He responded almost immediately.
~Ur radio host name. 1st name is name of childhood stuffed animal, 2nd is name of fav fair ride.
Rolling her eyes, she flipped her phone closed with an audible snap, andninja'd her way past the few people crowded around the bar in front of her, ordering two sodas. As she waited for the bartender to return with her drinks, fingertips drumming against the countertop, Wally's text settled in her mind and wouldn't really leave her alone no matter how much she wanted to ignore it as him being annoying. Your radio host name, with rules similar to finding out your soap opera name or stripper name – your childhood stuffed animal combined with your favorite fair ride – the beat-up looking elephant plushie that was sitting on a shelf in her bedroom drifted into her thoughts, and then for a favorite fair ride...
Her mouth pressed into a thin line as she flipped her phone back open and sent out a short text.
Honestly couldn't have sounded girlier.
Always the super-speed texter, his response was quick, and in several texts in a row.
~ Dude, thats perfect.
~lol, U weird kid U.
Ricki pursed her lips, texted ~So says *Duckers*
Flipping her phone closed for the last time, she shoved it back into her pocket, determined to ignore him for the rest of the night. Collecting her drinks from the bartender, she turned back to the crowd around her, her eyes trailing over the mass of swarming teens as she shuffled past several people trying to get in their drink orders; her mind taking in the costume props they wore – masks and capes and clown makeup – and there was a Joker-esc girl dancing pressed up between two Batman guys.
"You seem to disapprove."
Blue eyes snapped over to her right, and it took her a moment to recognize him as the boy Kory had waved so enthusiastically at. Now that she had a closer look at him, she realized that he was actually a bit younger than she'd previously thought. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and raised an eyebrow at her when he met her gaze, a slight smirk on his face.
"It's clear on your face," he said, gesturing at his own face.
"Just seems a little tasteless is all," she said.
"Nah," he said, looking away from her and back out at the crowd. "Just think of it more like.. they're trying to make Gotham seem less, you know," he shrugged, "horrifying." he glanced back over to her, "Take away the fear from the source. Makes people like the Joker seem less scary."
"I... guess I can see that," she admitted, casting one last look out on the dance floor before turning her attention back to the dark haired boy beside her, "You're Kory's friend, right? Jay?"
"Jason," he said with just a touch of annoyance, but it was gone as quickly as it came, "Anyway," he continues breezily, "Kory's upstairs if you're–"
Ricki stumbled forward as arms wrapped around her from behind, soda sloshing over the brim of each glass and running down her hands and in between her fingers. She grimaced, sagging under the weight clinging to her back.
It was Barbara.
"Hey girl!" the redhead exclaimed all too joyfully, and quite loudly right into Ricki's ear, "Is this guy bothering you? I'll totally fight him off for you!"
Jason raised an eyebrow at them, and as Barbara hissed at him and made clawing motions in the air with one hand, Ricki's initial annoyance morphed into bewilderment. She shrugged out of Barbara's hold, being careful not to spill anymore of the soda, and turned to give the older girl a calculating look. What she saw, she definitely didn't like.
Without Ricki to lean on, Barbara was swaying unsteadily on her feet, her eyes half-lidded and a goofy smile on her face, and every few seconds she would burst into little giggle fits. Shoving her drinks into Jason's hands, Ricki reached out to the older girl, wrapping one hand around her forearm and resting the other on her shoulder, asking, "Barbara, are you okay? You seem a little –"
"I'm fine, completely fine," Barbara said, waving away Ricki's concern. "Great in fact! I just punched this guy and he totally whined like a little bitch. It was awesome."
"You what?" Ricki cast her gaze about, half-expecting to see some kind of commotion heading their way, but other than the blissful chaos of the other teens partying around them, there was nothing. Turning worried blue eyes back to Barbara, she asked, "What guy?"
"Oh, what?" Barbara asked, brow furrowing, "No, it's fine. I'm fine."
The redhead wasn't alert, she couldn't seem to focus, on Ricki or the questions she was asking – her glazed eyes following the movement of the lights around them with a kind of drifting fascination. Ricki leaned in closer to the older girl, studying her overall demeanor, trying to determine exactly what she was seeing – some form of intoxication she knew, because these weren't the actions of a level-headed person, but whether it was from alcohol or perhaps something worse was the true question.
"Barb?" she snapped her fingers in front of the girl's face to get her attention, "Barbara, did you take anything?"
The girl she knew from school, she certainly didn't seem the type, but then, one never knows. People as a whole could be unpredictable, and even the ones she was closest to could still surprise her sometimes.
But that wasn't the case this time, not tonight and not with Barbara, who got this tight look around her eyes, who looked so confused as she mumbled, "What? No, I... What are you talking about?"
Barbara shook her head like she was trying to clear it, and Ricki fumbled to adjust her hold and get a better grip on the older girl as she sagged and stumbled sideways, unfortunately knocking into another girl who dropped her drink, the glass shattering on the ground when she did. Ricki pulled Barbara close to her side, away from the broken glass, gripping her by the waist as she swayed and her legs shook, and that was exactly when a large hand snagged Barbara by the upper arm, jerking them both a step back.
Ricki snapped around to the owner of the hand with grit teeth and hackles up, and only when she saw that it was one of the club's security guards did she force herself to calm down and smooth away her look of ire. Or at least, she did until the man curled his lips up at them both and informed them that, "You and your friend are going to have to leave. We don't allow under-aged drinking here"
For a second, she could only stare up at him, eye wide with disbelief, before she snapped, "Are you kidding me?"
"We don't know who snuck the alcohol in," he continued, "but your friend and everyone else who's become intoxicated have to leave."
"My friend didn't drink anything," Ricki growled, stepping close to the guard and glaring up at him. She fought plenty of guys bigger and more powerful than him, so she certainly wasn't going to be intimidated. "If anything, someone's spiking the drinks. Maybe if you guys did your jobs better, you'd know that!"
"Look, you can either leave on your own, or I can escort you out" he said, his other hand grabbing her by the elbow and pushing both her and Barbara a step back.
Ricki jerked out of his hold, Batglare in full effect as she pulled Barbara away from him too, hissing, "We'll leave, alright."
Jason was gone by this point, having disappeared into the crowd just a few minutes before, but she supposed it didn't really matter, did it? The night was pretty much done with, forcibly drawn to an end, and as the security guard followed them out to make sure they left, standing behind them with crossed arms as they collected their jackets to go, any thoughts of seeing Kory again pretty much fell by the wayside.
"Just be happy that we didn't get the cops involved," the guard said as they exited out onto the streets, and Ricki was sure to pause long enough in her helping an unsteady Barbara get her jacket on to flip the guy off for their troubles.
Barbara flinched at the sound of the club's door slamming shut behind them, a look of distress flooding her eyes as she moaned, "The police? Oh no, my dad– he doesn't... he's gonna be so mad.."
Ricki sighed, "Don't worry about it Barb," she half-heartedly patted the girl on the shoulder, "He said they weren't getting the police involved." and as she eyed several other teens that were stumbling about the sidewalk in varying states of intoxication, she figured that that wasn't so much a courtesy to them as it was the club just trying to avoid the possibility of being held liable for underage drinking.
Mouth pressed into a thin line and with Barbara leaning very heavily against her shoulder, Ricki pulled out her cellphone and called up one of Gotham's taxi services, telling them to send a couple of cabs their way. Considering that she seemed to be one of the few people out here who was still sober, she might as well be the responsible one and make sure everyone got home safe.
She had Barbara sit down on the sidewalk because the girl was getting a little bit heavy having to pretty much hold her up for so long, and she wished she could say that that's where the night ended, that from there things wound down and everyone hopped a cab home, but of course nothing was ever that simple. As she stood in wait for the cabs to come, an angry shout drew her attention over to one of the drunken teens, a boy who before had been leaning against the side of the building, the same blond boy who Barbara had been dancing with earlier, except now his face was screwed up in rage at the sight of them, and Ricki had to say that he had a rather impressive-looking bruise blooming over one eye.
"Well look who it is!" he snarled as he stumbled over to them, and Ricki automatically stepped in front of Barbara, her body growing tense. He hardly seemed to notice her though, only having eyes for the redhead sitting on the ground behind her.
"Little Miss Sucker-Punch," he said, words slurring as he stepped within swinging distance of Ricki, which honestly wasn't very smart of him. He leaned sideways to look around her and down at Barbara, snapping, "It's called flirting, bitch. If you weren't interested, you should have just said so."
"Flirting doesn't involve your hand up my shirt," Barbara said, not looking at all threatened by his posturing, and she dragged herself back to her feet, stepping up next to Ricki and draping one arm over her shoulder for stability.
"You were giving me all sorts of signals!" he said, voice getting a high pitch to it as he made a kind of incredulous gesture with his hands.
"Not for you to dive right in and steal second base!" she said, sounding just as incredulous and irate, "I mean, you skipped a lot of steps there! Do you even remember my name?"
"Yeah!" he said, "It's 'Bitch with the mean right-hook.'"
Ricki was quick to grab Barbara's fist before things could escalate. She almost couldn't believe that she was getting involved in such a conversation, even if only in a small way, and she was about to open her mouth and get further involved by telling them to both let it go, and stay on opposite ends of the sidewalk, because they were both clearly shit-faced and not in any position to be making rational decisions at the moment, but before she could, laughter coming from the doorway to the club stopped them.
It was a boy with clown makeup smeared across his face, smile stretched wide in their direction, and behind him were a couple of other teens decked out in the likeness of Gotham's Rogues.
"What, is something funny, Chuckles?" the blond boy who been arguing with Barbara snapped, twisting around to face the group.
"By all means, don't stop on my account," the clown boy said with a smirk. "You three are just too cute for words with your fighting."
If the other teens scattered about weren't watching them before, they definitely were now, standing along the sidelines and staring with rapt attention.
"What did I tell you?" the clown boy said, looking back over his shoulder at his friends with a grin, "It'd be hilarious, right? Prime entertainment." he turned his eyes back on them. "Better than anything on tv."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" the boy standing next to them growled.
Ricki's eyes narrowed in suspicion, studying the clown boy's face carefully, his smug, gloating expression, and the secretive smiles being traded among his friends standing behind him. "You," she said, realization striking her, and it honestly wasn't that hard of a guess either, "You were the ones who spiked the drinks, weren't you?"
"What?" both Barbara and the blond boy said.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" blondie fumed, voice getting high-pitched all over again.
"Hey, I'm not admitting anything," the clown boy said, holding up his hands in an easy-going, unconcerned away. "Not like you can prove it either way."
"I'm sure the security cameras would beg to differ," Ricki said.
Maybe, because in the darkness and flashing lights of the dance club, it would likely be hard to make out something as subtle as someone slipping something into people's drinks, and from the look on this Joker-esc wannabe's face, it seemed he knew that as well.
"Yeah, good luck with that," he said, all too self-assured.
"I have scholarships I'm relying on, shit-head," blondie said, "I can't be caught up in this crap right now."
"Oh, relax, Drama Queen," the clown boy rolled his eyes. "You'll be fine in the morning. And hey," he chuckled, "maybe this will loosen up whatever stick you seem to have up your ass."
"You think this is funny? How about you come over here and I'll show you just how funny this is," blondie ground out.
Apparently not one to be intimidated, and taking the challenge to heart, the boy with the clown makeup walked confidently over to them, all of his friends trailing a short distance behind him, until he was practically chest-to-chest with the blond boy standing next to them, and instinct had Ricki taking a step back, pulling Barbara along with her.
"If you think I'm threatened by you, you're joking," the clown boy said, teeth bared in a grin, "And between the two of us, I'm the only Joker here tonight."
Blondie struck out at him, not so much with a hit as he just pushed the guy back with both hands, and clown-boy's response was an immediate uppercut, dropping the blond boy straight to the ground, blood spilling past his lips. As the spectators around them let out both startled and sympathetic cries and the clown-boy lunged forward for a kick, Ricki's mind screamed threat and she was moving before she could even really process what she was doing.
She slipped out from under Barbara's arm, striking the clown-boy in the throat with one quick jab that winded him one second and in the next second had his arm twisted around behind him and was forcing him to his knees, then to his stomach – his head turned sideways with one cheek to the ground. Her senses warned her of several other someones rushing her way, the clown-boy's friends who thought they could take her, clearly picking the wrong night to come to their idiot friend's aid.
Her fist caught the first one to reach her in the gut, and as he was bent over wheezing, she grabbed him by his shirt collar and yanked him down on top of his clown-dressed friend, springing over him as she did so and meeting the others head-on. It was an easy fight compared to the ones she'd had in the past, and she was careful not to seriously hurt any of them, because stupid or not, they were still just civilians. She didn't even feel like she had to go for her belt, which was still hidden in her jacket.
Two more went down with just two to go, and that was when the stupid heel on one of her shoes broke, momentarily throwing off her balance as she stumbled back. The older, Harley Quinn girl she'd been about to take down saw it as her advantage and charged for her, fingers curled up like claws, and with not too many other options available to her, Ricki figured 'To hell with it' and kicked off her broken shoe, striking the girl in the head and taking her down.
Which left just one guy.
Who she didn't immediately see.
And her gaze darted all around, when suddenly there was a metallic bang from behind her.
Ricki twisted around in place to see the last guy crumpled to the ground at her feet, and standing behind him was Barbara holding the lid to a trashcan in her hands.
"Did I get him?" Barbara asked, looking flustered with long strands of red hair hanging down in her face, her mind sluggishly trying to catch up. She blinked down at the guy, and when it seemed that she registered what she was seeing, she laughed triumphantly, dropping the trashcan lid on the guy for good measure as she said, "Ha, I totally got 'im. How you like them apples, jerk."
Ricki's shoulders slumped, the tension bleeding out of her, when a hand suddenly clapped down on one shoulder, and she swung around, striking out, her defenses flaring up too quickly for her to stop herself.
There was a yelp, mostly startled, then a hiss of pain and, "Damn girl, you hit hard."
It was Jason, who was rubbing at his arm with a pinched look on his face, and standing behind him was Kory, who it seemed only had eyes for her.
Which she had to admit still seemed kind of weird to her.
"I am sorry I did not come sooner," he said, green eyes glimmering in the street lights, and then those eyes narrowed at Jason, "My friend got... distracted on his way to come inform me of what had happened."
"What?" Jason snapped defensively, "They had only been kicked out. I didn't think anything like this was going on. Anyway, I was totally getting somewhere with that girl back inside, and Miss Ninja here seems to have handled herself just fine."
Kory's gaze snapped back over to her.
"Are you at all hurt?" he asked, stepping around his dark-haired friend to approach her.
"Yeah, don't mind me back here," Jason said as the taller redhead passed him by, "You know, the one who actually got hit."
As she opened her mouth to respond, to apologize, to tell them that she was fine, she suddenly heard a faint sound coming from up above, one she was all too familiar with, having heard it more often than not out on the battle field – a war cry, a roar, and she wasn't the only one to hear it either. Kory's eyes shot up, and for a moment, time slowed down as he rushed past her, a tanned hand pushing her back a step, attempting to shield her.
Then Kory brought his hands up before him and green burst into existence, not fire but glowing hot energy that writhed around his palms.
Her eyes went wide.
And that's when Conner leapt down from the sky, pavement cracking under his feet as he landed in front of them.
Time sped up again. Behind her, she could hear startled shrieks and the sound of running footsteps as everyone bolted down the streets. Even the dazed teens she had knocked to the ground just minutes before were racing away, some dragging their less-than-coherent friends along with them, with blondie following a weaving line in their wake – a kind of hysterical chaos she wouldn't be able to control on her own, and she could only hope none of them got themselves hit by a car in their inebriated states, not that Conner or Kory seemed to notice or care.
Teeth bared, Conner eyed Kory up and down, clearly measuring him as some kind of threat and growled, "Step away from her."
"Make me," Kory bit out, those cheerful tones from before gone now and replaced by something much more dangerous.
"Whoa," Ricki said, her mind finally catching up with her, with the situation as a whole, and though it was probably one of the dumbest things she's ever done, she darted around Kory and actually stepped in between them, her footsteps unsteady due to only having one heel on.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" she repeated, arms held out at her sides between them, "Big misunderstanding here! Put your guns down boys. No attacking each other!"
She could feel the adrenaline racing through her and the green energy around Kory's hands was making the hair on her arm stand on end. Spinning around with her back to Conner, she held her hands up to Kory, palms out and fingers splayed, about to explain to him that Conner was her friend – and yeah, maybe he shouldn't have come down here all 'attacky-like,' but still, her friend nonetheless – and at the same time she wanted to explain to Conner that Kory hadn't been trying to hurt her – or whatever the clone seemed to think – that up until now, Kory had been harmless, overly nice even.
But then her back pressed up against Conner's chest and she stopped, all explanations dying in her throat, because it suddenly struck her, the way she had automatically positioned herself. She'd put her back to Conner, pressed up against him, because she knew he wouldn't hurt her even accidentally in the heat of a moment like this, she knew he'd protect her – but with Kory, she'd kept her eyes on him the whole time, hadn't she? And she had her hands up, a defensive maneuver disguised as a placating gesture.
He wasn't just some cheerful tourist, he was someone who could be a real threat, and deep beneath it all, she realized that she didn't trust him, because she didn't really know him at all, did she?
It was almost as if there were stars fading from her eyes, and as she met Kory's green gaze, despite it all, she couldn't help but think, 'Wouldn't that have been perfect?'
But her mind was coming back down to reality now, and as easy as that would have made things, trade her feelings from one redhead to another, nothing in her life, it would seem, was so cut-and-dry, and as nice as the night had originally been, as nice as it had felt to dance with someone and be so close to them in a non-platonic way, she just didn't... feel the same way around him as she did around Wally. She practically tried to will it into existence inside of her, asked herself where was that flutter now, when she actually wanted it – and wondered just what the hell was wrong with her when it didn't show up.
'Good-looking guy standing right in front of me and I still can't get that speedster off my mind..'
Another thought floated through her head, one that she didn't really want to hear at the moment, that she'd never once felt threatened by Wally, not even when she first met him all those years back.
'Hopeless,' she told herself, 'I'm completely hopeless.'
"Kory, you..." she sighed, "You should go."
The green glow fizzled out immediately, and as it did, her arms flopped down to her sides. He gave her a look that was both confused and a little hurt at the same time, and she felt so frustrated – by everything that was going on in her life, by her emotions that wouldn't work the way she wanted them to – that she just wanted to scream. But she didn't, she kept a look on her face that was confident and stern and yes, you should really go now.
Jason tugged at Kory's hand, murmuring something quietly to him as he pulled him along, away from them, and after Kory cast one last look at her from over his shoulder, they left, walking down the street and disappearing around the corner.
She slouched just the slightest bit against Conner, the clone's hands coming to rest on her shoulders as she did, and she couldn't help but feel a little dejected even if the night's conclusion and the way things went were pretty much her doing.
Ricki's gaze snapped to the side.
Relief flooded through her despite the fact that Barbara had seen a whole lot of stuff that she probably shouldn't have, because she was just happy that the older girl hadn't run off into the city like all the others had, intoxicated and wandering around who knows where.
Ricki pulled out her cellphone, stepping away from Conner and dialing a secret number that would connect her to the Batcave, which would connect her to Bruce's comm-link if he was already out in the city.
"I have no idea how much of this is whatever I accidentally drank tonight," Barbara said, holding a hand to her head.
"Don't worry about it, Barb," she absentmindedly told the girl, phone pressed to one ear as she listened to it ring. "I'll get you home and you can sleep it off."
As soon as she heard the click, and the rumbling Hm? of Bruce's voice when he answered, she quickly explained the situation, rattling off her coordinates and just how many teens she had seen go running off into the night, because she knew he'd take care of it just like he took care of everything else.
"–and yeah, I'm not as a friend's house tonight, but I'm guessing you already knew that much, huh?"
He didn't say anything, but he didn't need to. She could practically sense his slight smirk over the phone.
She ended the call with a roll of her eyes, and with that all taken care of, she rounded on Conner, hands on her hips.
"Way to be covert, by the way. I think you shook the whole block earlier," she said, her tone a little snippy – but then, she felt that she was entitled to be a little snippy after all of that. "What was that even?"
Conner frowned, very heavy on the 'dis' in gruntled, "I could hear his heartbeat from the rooftop. He wasn't human."
"You're one to talk."
His eyes narrowed, "He was advancing on you, and there were other people lying on the ground around you."
"No, no," she cut him off, index finger held up in the air before her, "Not advancing on me – walking over to see if I was alright. And those people on the ground, I put them there."
"And I helped!" Barbara chirped cheerfully from the side.
There was a pause in which Conner looked more confused than anything, until he asked, "Then why did you tell him to leave?"
"It's–" the fire burned out inside her, and she sighed, "–complicated."
For a moment he just stared at her, studying her, but then he simply nodded his head, accepted her answer even though he didn't understand it, and she couldn't appreciate the gesture any more than she already did.
"What are you even doing in Gotham anyway?" she asked quietly – not concerned, but just curious. She felt too tired to worry anymore for the night. "Were you watching me or something?"
His earlier comment of watching from up on the roof came to mind.
"Your... mentor brought me here," Conner said, "He had me come find you. Wanted to make sure you didn't get into any trouble, I guess."
"I suppose I deserve that," she said, gaze cast to the ground. "I did lie to him about where I was going tonight."
"I promise I wasn't spying on you," Conner said. "I only just got here. Gotham's... easy to get lost in."
Her lips quirked up at that, and she shook her head, looking up to meet his eyes, "It's alright, Kon. I'm not mad at you or anything."
"He also," Conner continued hesitantly, "Knows that I know about... you."
She couldn't even find the energy in herself to feel embarrassed when he gestured at her chest, like the topic he was discretely trying to talk about needed that extra bit of info for her to understand what he meant.
"Oh," was all she could think so say.
"Was he mad?"
"No," Conner said. "Just... protective."
She hugged her arms around herself.
"Yeah, that sounds about right."
She felt a teeny-tiny bit of relief regardless.
A smile crept up on her face.
One of the cabs pulled up shortly after.
"I'm going to make sure she gets home alright," Ricki said, eyes on Barbara who had taken to playing with the zipper of her jacket. "You should probably head back to base. Think you can find the tubes from here?"
"Yeah, I have a better idea of where I am now," Conner said, gaze cast upward and about at the buildings towering about them. He seemed unconcerned.
She was half tempted to just drag him along with her, but then, Commissioner Gordon was already going to be distressed enough when he saw the state that Barbara was in, adding in some teenaged boy that he didn't know showing up along with her would likely only make things worse.
Instead, she settled for telling him to "Call me later to let me know you got home safe," even if it was a total mothering thing to say.
"Likewise," he said, looking moderately amused.
And then he vanished down an alley where he could jump away without being seen and she herded Barbara into the taxi cab, collecting her broken shoe off the ground along the way as she did, and later taking the other one off once they were both in the backseat of the cab.
She let Barbara slurringly tell the driver her address first – it'd be suspicious if the older girl knew that she knew it after all – and then when Barbara was distracted, Ricki quietly whispered to the driver the correct address, as Barbara had gotten the street name wrong. They fell into a silence after that, a silence that lasted several blocks with Barbara watching her through half-lidded eyes, slumped in her seat with her head tilted sideways.
"What?" Ricki eventually asked.
Ricki looked away from her, focusing on the buildings passing by outside, trying not to think of, well, anything, really. Like, one night away from her thoughts. Was that too much to ask?
And Barbara was still looking at her. Ricki could practically feel the girl's eyes burning a hole in the back of her neck. She fidgeted in her seat, and several more blocks went by before she turned back to the girl, a mental growl rumbling in her head.
"What?" she asked again.
Barbara gave her a considering look, mouth pressed into a thin line, and then without any kind of real warning, she leaned over and kissed Ricki.
Right on the lips.
It wasn't at all deep or passionate, but it wasn't so much a brief peck either, just... the press of Barbara's lips on her own... soft..
Ricki's brain fizzled out, and she didn't really respond in any way either, just... was frozen the entire four seconds it lasted.
Barbara pulled away with a curious hum, slumping back down in her seat as she said, "Maybe that was just the alcohol or whatever talking, but you kinda looked like you needed that."
Ricki honestly didn't know what she needed at this point.
"Uh.. huh," she said slowly, unsurely.
It didn't strike her until later that that was her first kiss.
She really shouldn't have been that surprised that it was with a girl.
By the time she had gotten Barbara home and explained the situation to her dad, and assured him that no, she didn't need a ride home, and no, she didn't need him to call anyone for her, it was well past midnight as she exited the Gordon residence – very nearly one in the morning even as she made her way down the street, her feet bare and her shoes held loosely in one hand. She estimated that it only took about five minutes before the Batmobile pulled up next to her, the passenger-side door sliding open.
She didn't even begin to wonder how he knew right where she was, because he was Bruce and he always knew – that, and she'd bet her money that there was some form of a tracker in her belt.
Casting a quick look around herself for prying eyes, of which there were none – Batman never made mistakes like that, after all – she quickly slipped into the sleek black vehicle, the door sliding shut behind her, and she buckled herself in just before they took off down the street.
"How was your night?" he asked.
She thought of Kory, his strange way of talking and his weird glowing powers. She thought of Jason, and Barbara, and that poor blond kid who'd made the mistake of copping a feel. She thought about the music she had danced to, and those jerks she had taken down, the drugs or alcohol or whatever they had brought to the club, and she purposely didn't think about the kiss she had gotten in the cab.
And she thought about Wally, who hadn't even been there.
'Duckers Sidewinder and Zitka Windseeker coming to you live from Cool Hits 102.'
She mentally shook her head.
"It was fine," she told him. "How 'bout you?"
"Helped the police round up some hysterical and inebriated teens," he said. "Uneventful."
She hummed in response, a comfortable silence falling over them, streetlights zipping by overhead as they coasted through the streets of Gotham, on their way back to the Cave.
"You wanna know something really weird?" she didn't even need to look his way to know that she had his attention. "There's like this.. Batman verses Gotham Rogues rave-dance theme at that club I went to, probably others too."
"That's a new one," he rumbled.
That's all for chapter five! Hope you guys enjoyed it, and apologies for any spelling errors I may have missed.
For anyone who's interested, I recently made myself a Tumblr account. There's a link to it on my profile page here, or you could just type in the link below (remove the spaces):
deranged-black-kitten. tumblr .com
So anyway, there were a couple canon characters making cameo appearances in this chapter. Jason Todd, a rule 63 Koriand'r (or Starfire), and of course, Barbara Gordon. Hopefully I got their personalities alright (I only really know Starfire from Teen Titans, so that's the version I based Kory after), and hopefully none of you minded too much.
As always, reviews are love and make the writing world go 'round, so let me know what you think. :)