And then I lost control of the story, and Superboy got involved.
A/N: So…yeah. We've veered somewhat from the original premise of this thing, but…I can't say that I care that much. This was fun to write and enough of you seem to be enjoying the read, and really that's all that matters in the end. Big thanks again to Kikino for the beta. You are a grand catcher of slips and mishaps. And to all of you wonderful reviewers...what can I say? You're wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave thoughts. Superboy, the team, and fluff are all in store with this final installment of Surrogate! BONUS sixty percent more story, FREE! (this last part is longer than the previous two combined, and some)
Maybe Superboy did have heat vision. At least that's what it felt like to Robin when he entered Mount Justice with Superman at his side. He could have sworn that the clone was burning a hole straight through his temple.
"You're sure you're up for this," Superman asked placing a concerned hand on his shoulder. "Batman would not be happy if I let you aggravate an injury you're hiding from me."
"For the last time, Big Guy!" Robin said, stepping out of the touch when the intensity of Superboy's glare went from stinging to molten. "I'm good. Let's just get this started."
"Started? Get what started?" The slight shift in the air beside him was enough to let Robin know his best friend had just entered the room. He was still in his civilian clothes.
"KF!" Robin greeted with a grin, raising a hand to smack palms with the speedster. "Superman's filling in for today's training exercise."
"That's right," Superman spoke up. "Get your team together. Briefing will be in ten minutes." With that, the older hero moved towards the room that served as both sparing area and briefing room. Robin chanced a glance over Wally's shoulder to confirm visually that Superboy looked near murderous with contained fury. Superman hadn't even looked in the clone's direction for the entire time they'd been in the room together.
"So...uh, have you heard from your uncle about what's going on?" he asked, attempting to distract himself from the clone's angry eye.
Wally's attitude shifted just so. A little more serious, almost subdued. "Yeah, he told me that Batman was in pretty bad shape. You doin' alright, man?"
Robin rubbed uncomfortably at the bruises on his neck, glad that the collar of his cape covered them for the most part. "It was a little intense last night," he admitted. "But I'm good now. Really." Though, he did his best to avoid eye contact as he said this, looking anywhere but at his friend. He noted with no small relief that Superboy had left the room.
"Well Uncle B's all over it. I saw the analysis of the sample you guys sent over. Nasty stuff, but nothing we can't handle."
The words actually were a comfort to hear; relieved a tension in Robin's body he hadn't realized he'd been holding onto.
"Of course," he grinned, slipping back into his cocky confidence as comfortably as he wore his uniform. "Like Batman would ever go down that easy. C'mon," he moved towards the common room's exit, gesturing for Wally to follow. "Let's find the others and get to briefing."
Superman was standing at in the center of the briefing room with Red Tornado when the group of teenagers came together.
"As some of you already know," the Kryptonian began without prompting, "Batman is not available for your training exercise this afternoon."
From the looks on their faces, Robin could tell that most of the others didn't know, and his mouth twitched in a small smirk. Maybe Wally was finally learning the fine art of discretion after all.
"He did feel that this exercise was important enough to not be skipped, however. So," he paused just long enough to let a little tension build, "I'll be observing in his place." Robin was watching Superboy carefully for his reaction, but beyond a tightening of the clone's jaw, there was none. The others were a little more active in showing their appreciation; Kaldur straightening, his attention rapt on the older hero in front of them; Megan giving a small squeak of glee, grinning broadly and clasping her hands in front of her. Artemis simply shifted her weight to her other leg and allowed a smirk, while Wally did his job in voicing the majority of the group's sentiment with an exuberant "EXCELLENT!" complete with fist pump.
"Your exercise for today," Red Tornado added, "will be R17-B04. You will each meet with me to be given your roles in the simulation then regroup here for mission briefing and deployment. Beginning with Aqualad." Red Tornado turned to leave the room and Aqualad followed. The others dispersed, and Robin watched as Megan placed a hand on Superboy's shoulder and attempted a conversation with him. It was difficult considering that Superboy appeared to be doing his level best to implode Robin's skull with his mind.
"Harsh," Kid Flash murmured, turning Dick away from the clone's death glare. "Hope he gets over that by the time we deploy. Speaking of which, since when did R17 have a B04?"
Robin smiled at his best friend. KF was the only one on the team who was aware of how many scenarios were available because Robin made sure to tell him every time he or Batman finished a new one.
"As of yesterday," the boy wonder smirked. "I'd just finished sending it to the computer here last night when we got the message from Batman about..."
"Right," Wally cut in, quickly redirecting the conversation. "I don't suppose you'll give me a hint about what's in store for us, will you?"
Robin just grinned. He told Wally about the sims, but never what they involved. Even Robin wasn't privy to details on all of the simulations since Bruce programmed several himself.
A moment later, Megan was gently tapping the speedster's shoulder letting him know that it was his turn to see Red Tornado. After Kid Flash left, Megan turned back to Robin.
"Don't worry about Superboy," she told him with a sweet smile. "He's just a little upset about Superman. Well, he's always a little upset, and with Superman it's probably more than a little, but-"
"Ms. M," Robin interrupted her rambling with a grin. "It's cool. I get it."
The Martian blushed some, but offered another smile and a pat on his arm before turning away and going back to Superboy. For once the clone was not glaring at Robin, instead directing his attention to the briefing room floor, a look of consternation marring his features. Robin chuckled to himself. He definitely understood why Superboy was concerned.
In the several months since the team had been formed, Batman had worked with Robin to create various simulations to help train the team for the kinds of situations they might encounter. 'R' was the code for reconnaissance missions, and so far they had come up with twenty scenarios, each with variations that would switch up the composition of the team and put different members in charge. 'R17' was designed to go sour and incapacitate two of the team. 'B04' put Superboy in charge of getting everyone out safely.
The team had yet to run a simulation that put Superboy in charge.
Robin was the last to be called over to get his role from Red Tornado and the android was succinct as usual.
"You will be an early casualty," Robin was told. "As soon as the team engages the enemy, remove yourself from the conflict and join Superman on the observation deck."
Robin gave Red Tornado an odd look. "Missing teammate wasn't part of the scenario."
"It is now, under Batman's orders. You are dismissed."
Robin wasn't really surprised to hear that Batman had been in contact with Red Tornado despite his health problems. Bruce never had been one to stay down and out for very long, and despite the fact that Robin wasn't exactly thrilled about abandoning his team in a scenario as crazy as this one would be, he understood the logic. Batman wanted Robin to be his eyes and ears with Superman; see what the Kryptonian saw in the exercise and make sure he didn't misinterpret anything excessive Superboy might do. This was not going to be pretty. Batman knew it, Robin knew it, and Superman was about to find out. He wouldn't be in on the action with his team, but at least he could console himself with the knowledge that he would have great seats for watching the show. With a sigh and a shrug, Robin made his way back for briefing. This would be interesting.
-:- -:- -:-
"This is a disaster" Superman said, voice a cross between awe and horror.
"Heavy on the 'dis'," Robin chimed in. Superman barely spared him a confused glance at the comment before turning his attention back to the monitors that showed the team's progress in their escape. Robin had to admit, as missions went, what was happening in the sim room was about as far from aster as you could get. He'd expected that things would not go smoothly, but even he was amazed by the near meltdown happening as Superboy did his best to lead the team for the first time.
They hadn't been able to collect much data from the computers in the complex they were investigating, but that wasn't surprising since Robin wasn't there. Then came the first injury, an explosion that had completely incapacitated Kid Flash and set the building on fire as well. Things had spiraled out of control from there. Now the complex was burning, both Wally and Kaldur were down, and Superboy was clearly beginning to panic as he tried to figure out how to get everyone out alive.
"Wal-um...Kid Flash!" the clone's voice came over the speakers. Aqualad was draped over his shoulders. "Can you scout ahead to see if our exit is clear?"
"Dude," Wally sounded distinctly un-amused. "I'm concussed and both my legs are broken!"
"I thought you healed fast," Superboy growled.
"Yeah, but not that fast!"
"I can go!" Ms. Martian offered dropping Kid Flash from her telepathic hold and moving to scout ahead.
"Sure, just leave the injured guy unprotected," Wally griped, causing Megan to stop and turn back to him blushing.
"Right! Sorry," she said, returning to his side and lifting him again.
"Hey!" Artemis called from a bit further back down the tunnel. "Baddies with guns. Closing from the rear. We need to get out of here and fast!"
"I KNOW!" Superboy roared. "Just give me a minute!"
"You've got like ten seconds!" Artemis snapped back. "Or not!" she cried tackling Ms. Martian out of the air as flames flooded the space the Martian had occupied moments before. Megan lost her grip on Wally who tumbled to the ground unceremoniously and began rolling for all he was worth as bullets began peppering the tunnel floor around him.
"I hate playing injured in these things!" KF cried over the sound of gun fire. "Any ideas on what happened to Robin yet?" he asked the room in general.
"I DON'T KNOW!" Superboy bellowed in response.
Guards began flooding in from the direction they'd been fleeing, laying down more fire. Superboy roared as he charged the newcomers attempting to clear a path, Kaldur still draped over his shoulders. This left Ms. Martian, Artemis and an injured Kid Flash to hold off the guards coming from the rear.
"An exit would be really nice right about now!" Artemis called to Superboy, hiding behind a conveniently placed crate.
"YOU WANT AN EXIT! I'LL MAKE AN EXIT!"
With that, Superboy crouched down and leapt up, punching a hole straight through the ceiling of the tunnel. Aqualad was still draped over his shoulders. Cameras on an upper level showed the two breaking through the floor of a room straight into a frenzy of startled workers who stopped and stared at the clone only a moment before guards in the area opened fire. Superboy did the only thing he could and jumped again, landing a few feet to the left of the hole he'd created, apparently hoping to either warn the others to stay back or cover their exit. Or maybe he was planning to go back down. There was no real way to tell.
The landing, unfortunately, wasn't one of his gentler ones. Moments later, a dull roar began filling the speakers. Superman and Robin both watched as stones, and metal, and supports began falling in the tunnel below Superboy's landing. Ms. Martian did her best to hold the debris back with her telekinesis but it was hopeless. A loud buzz filled the air, the lights in the sim room went red and a pleasantly neutral feminine computer voice announced "Mission Failed," repeating as the red lights flashed on and off.
Robin's fingers went to the interface in his gauntlets and shut the simulation down. He also killed the audio feed into the observation deck as the more vocal members of the team began making their opinions of the situation known.
Silence reigned where Robin stood with Superman and watched Artemis and Wally go at each other as Megan tried to comfort Superboy and Kaldur massaged the soreness from his neck and shoulders from the sidelines. Superboy had plowed him through a lot of surfaces, many of which were not simulated. Robin let the silence hang just a bit longer before speaking.
"That has actually never happened before." The computer was only programmed to shut down like that if over half the team was lost, and while simulations were not always complete successes, they'd always all made it out alive.
Superman didn't comment for a long moment, just kept watching the others, eyes lingering on Superboy. The clone let out a roar of frustration and turned to leave the room. Superman reached for the intercom button and spoke.
"Superboy, you are not dismissed. Stay put and wait for debriefing."
Superboy's response of "DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!" could be heard even without the audio feed, but Robin smirked when he saw that the clone did as he was told. Clearly some of what Black Canary was teaching him had stuck.
Superman shut off the intercom and turned troubled eyes to Robin. "Is he always like that?"
"Who, Supey? He's gotten a lot better, but he still has his grumpy moments. I think it's just because he's still getting the hang of interacting with people, but-"
"No," Clark cut him off. "I mean that...destructive. That out of control."
Robin watched the Kryptonian, unsure of the emotion he could see in the older man's eyes.
"No," he answered honestly. "He's usually a lot better at keeping it together. To be fair, R17 is one of our toughest scenarios, he's never been in charge of the team before, and on top of that was the pressure of knowing you were watching. He's just trying to prove himself to you, Clark. You do realize that, right?"
Robin watched Superman for the subtle reactions he knew so well; the crease between his brow, the clenched jaw and tensing muscles. Reactions that were similar in the man's clone, who was now pacing the sim room like a caged animal.
"He doesn't need my approval," Superman said, keeping his eyes on the troubled boy on the monitors. "He has Canary, has Batman."
"Cut the crap, Clark," Robin said stepping between the monitor and the older hero. "You're the only person on the planet who can help him learn what he needs to know. Batman can't tell him what to expect as his body matures. Canary can't explain to him how to control his powers. They're doing the best that they can, but what he needs is you."
"I do," Robin cut in before he could be told that he didn't know what he was talking about. "And either way, you agreed to observe and work with us to correct the problems you saw. You're Batman's stand-in for the day," the Boy Wonder gave one of his trademark grins. "Time to get to work."
-:- -:- -:-
It was well after midnight when Robin decided to slip away from Clark and make his way back to Gotham on a hunch. As suspected, his access to the cave was still active, and as he made his way into his primary base of operations, he was not shocked at all to find Bruce sitting at the computer, wrapped in a bathrobe, monitoring the eyes that he had all over the city.
"Why do I doubt Alfred knows you're down here?" Robin said, stepping up beside his mentor. It was a testament to how out of it Bruce really was that he jumped slightly at the sound of his partner's voice. When he looked up, there were still traces of the manic man from the night before in his blood shot eyes.
"Dick," his voice was still rough from screaming, "You're supposed to be with Kent."
"And you're supposed to be in bed," the young hero countered, reaching out to shut off the news feed Bruce was tracking. "Come on. Gotham will survive one night without you watching over her." He moved to help his father up, and was shocked (and a little hurt) when Bruce flinched away from him.
"I'm fine," he growled, rising on unsteady feet as he made his way to the elevator that would take them back up into the manor. "You shouldn't be here. Where's Kent?"
Shaking off the hurt feelings, Dick smiled as he peeled his mask off and followed. "He's a little occupied. There was a lot to cover with Superboy after today's training exercise. Good call with the switch up. Now that they're actually talking, there might be some hope for-"
"Go back to your team," Bruce cut him off, stumbling some as they entered the elevator. Dick hurried to catch him and felt every muscle in his mentor's body tense at the contact. "Stay back!" Bruce growled at him, but Dick was having none of it. Bruce wasn't actually fighting him, just stumbling about the enclosed space, so Dick did his best to keep him steady. Somewhere in there Dick had managed to push the button for the proper floor and as soon as the hidden wall panel slid open, he stepped out into the second story hall and called for Alfred as loud as he could. It was late and since Bruce was probably supposed to be sleeping, there was a chance that Alfred was asleep himself.
"Master Bruce!" the old butler appeared moments later, still fully dressed, and Dick probably would have spared a thought for the nocturnal tendencies of their strange little family unit if it weren't for the fact that Bruce was still panicking for some reason and weakly trying to shove him away.
"Get him out of here!" Bruce growled as best he could as soon as Alfred was there. "Get Kent. He should be with Kent. It's not safe."
"I've got him Master Richard," Alfred said as they made it to the entrance to Bruce's room. "Wait here a moment. I'll return shortly." And with that, a door was shut in Dick's face and he was left staring owlishly at the polished wood.
That had been...odd. It was clear that Bruce was doing better than he had been the night before, but Dick had not been expecting that reaction. Bruce wasn't glad to see him; wanted to send him away. Even if it was the toxin still in his system, the rejection carried a very heavy sting.
He stepped away from the door to pace the hall as he waited, wondering if maybe it hadn't been such a good idea for him to come home before Bruce gave the okay. What if he'd triggered something in Bruce that would slow his recovery? What if…? Before he could get too far into the 'what if' game, the door opened again and Alfred stepped back out.
"Is he okay?" Dick asked immediately. The butler gave a small smile that was very British, but threaded through with paternal fondness and the ghost of relief. He nodded once and breathed a barely-there sigh.
"I've given him the final dose of the serum Mr. Allen brought over this afternoon" Alfred said. "He's resting calmly now and will likely be asleep soon."
"Can I..." Dick hated the hesitation he felt in asking, but after what just happened, it was clearly necessary. "Can I see him?"
"I think he would like that very much. Master Bruce was quite distraught when he was lucid enough to realize what he almost did last night."
"That wasn't his fault," Dick was quick to defend.
"You and I both know that, but we both also know how difficult it is to dissuade Master Bruce of certain notions once he's decided to believe them."
Dick gave a wry grin at that, knowing all too well how right Alfred was.
"May I take your cape, belt, and gloves, sir?" Dick looked down at his uniform and wondered if maybe he should change out of it completely, but decided against it. Removing the bulkier parts would suffice.
"Thanks, Alfred," he said, clicking and unsnapping uniform parts. He placed everything in Alfred's outstretched hands with a grateful smile.
The butler who was more than just a butler nodded his acknowledgment, and then tilted his head towards the open door. Alfred turned to put the items away and Dick crossed the threshold, pulling the door closed behind him.
Bruce was laying in his bed, his robe draped over the chair that sat at his bedside, blankets pulled up over his bare chest though his arms remained above the covers. His head turned when Dick entered, tracking the boy as he moved to the bedside and settled into the chair. Bruce winced when he looked at his son, and Dick's heart felt that sting again until Bruce lifted a hand and ghosted his fingers over the bruised flesh of his neck.
Dick had all but forgotten about the bruises. He could only imagine what they looked like now that they'd had time to fully develop.
Dick brushed the hand away, gripping it and giving a firm squeeze before releasing it back to the bed. "I've had worse than this from sparing. Don't worry so much."
"Should be resting," he cut in, not willing to allow his father to continue any further down the path of guilt he was already walking. "I'm fine, Bruce. Really."
"Too close," Bruce breathed, closing his eyes and shaking his head on the pillow. "That was too close."
"Yeah, well," Dick said placing a hand to Bruce's clammy forehead, "if it's any consolation, you scared the crap out of me, too." Bruce gave a small breathy laugh for him, and Dick grinned as he watched his father's face relax and breathing even out into sleep. "Just get better, Bruce," he whispered, running his hand back over his father's head through Bruce's thick, dark hair. "I need you to be okay. We came way too close to losing you, too."
Dick didn't look up when he heard the door to the room open and the soft padding of feet crossing carpet. A moment later a heavy hand settled on his shoulder. Dick smiled.
"Done with Superboy already?" The hand tensed, but stayed where it was.
"Not even close," Clark sighed. "Looks like Bruce gets his way again. The kid does need a lot of help."
Dick turned to look up at Clark, a soft smile on his face. "But it wasn't so bad, was it? Dealing with little Supes?" He'd seen the two of them together. Superboy had been an eager student, almost awestruck at the fact that Superman was talking to him at all. And Clark…it was clear that Clark enjoyed the chance to teach once he got past the initial awkwardness.
Clark sighed again, this time removing his hand from the boy's shoulder to run through his hair. "No it wasn't," he admitted. "It was actually kind of...nice."
Dick's smile broadened into a grin. "Something you could get used to?"
Clark looked at him with an expression that couldn't quite be called pouting. "Maybe," was all he allowed. His attention turned back to Bruce, sleeping soundly with his head turned towards the heat of Dick's hand that still rested on his head. He leaned down to run his own fingers gently over the other man's head. It was a rare thing to see Bruce Wayne look so peaceful; almost vulnerable. He gave a gentle smile of his own before stepping away from the bed, directing his attention back to Dick.
"I take it you'll be staying for the night?"
Dick smirked. "We'll make a detective of you yet, Kent."
"Smartass," Clark snorted, then turned to leave. "I'll be back to check in on you guys tomorrow. You know how to reach me if you need anything."
"I do," Dick confirmed. "And Clark?" Clark paused to look back at his best friend's son. "Thanks."