It came out before I could think.


The call echoed around the spacious foyer but received no answer; not that he had expected one. He slammed the door rather harder than was necessary and repeated the call, "BRUCE!"

Down in the Batcave, Bruce Wayne sat in front of the monitor and inwardly sighed. He had expected this reaction, but that didn't mean he was prepared. He heard the door open and expected an angry barrage, but all he heard was "Master Richard is looking for you Master Bruce."

If he was in the habit of showing his emotions he would have rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Alfred," he said. Peering into the reflection on the monitor, he could have sworn that the butler was smirking. The old man had a sense of humor after all.

"Bruce!" he heard again, this time accompanied by a thirteen-year-old boy who seemed rather agitated. Staying true to the reputation of the stoic Batman, Bruce didn't answer or acknowledge Dick had said anything. Instead, he allowed the boy to rid himself of his school blazer by casting it onto a bench press and begin to loosen his tie.

Apparently Dick was used to his benefactor's ways and didn't expect an answer. Pacing restlessly around the room, Dick exclaimed, "Why didn't you tell me? I assume it was your doing. It always is. Whenever weird stuff happens that seems coincidental, I know you have a hand in it." Dick stopped pacing and turned to face Bruce. Placing his hands on his hips to show he wasn't backing down until his questions were answered, he continued, "I've accepted that living with you leads to certain… unexpected occurrences, but can't you at least fill me in? I had no idea what to do today! Luckily, I'm great at improvising and avoiding capture, but I can't keep this up forever."

When Bruce still didn't say anything, Dick brought out the big guns: "Look. We're partners, right? I tell you everything, even if I don't want to you somehow get it out of me. Now, I'm not asking you to share your inner feelings with me or anything, I don't even think you know them yourself, but I need to know things when you know them. If I can't trust you to share important information with me, how am I supposed to learn to communicate properly with my team? Fatal mistakes, Batman. You of all people should know."

Oh no, Dick was calling him Batman. The boy was more upset than Bruce had realized. Dick had yet to play his final card though.

Dick turned his head to the side, his expression falling into shadow. He was practically whispering now, "I thought we were like a family, but obviously not enough for you to trust me. Why did you take me in if you don't trust me?"

Dick let the rhetorical question hang in the air between them. He wasn't going to say anything else until Bruce broke his silence. Truthfully, Dick was more worked up by the embarrassment of the day than by Bruce's lack of briefing. He knew Bruce trusted him and that he was being overly dramatic, but he wanted answers. He had learned long ago that the guilt card was effective for getting answers, and he had taken advantage of this fact. To his credit, Dick only used it when absolutely necessary. He hated using it, but he figured this case deserved it.

The silence continued for at least ten minutes, the only sound was Alfred's footsteps as he walked over to the bench press to pick up Dick's uniform jacket. To the common observer it would seem like the silence would never end, but in reality, Bruce was close to cracking. Dick was the only one who could ever do this to him. He knew there was a good chance the boy was playing him, but he couldn't risk it. He loved the boy as a son and knew, from experience, that he was at a fragile age in his life. If Dick felt untrusted now, it could lead to problems later in life. He may have been over thinking it, but Bruce would rather error on the safe side. Dick would not become collateral damage to his plans.

"Artemis Crock, age 15, lives with her mother in Gotham city," Bruce began.

"I know this already," Dick interrupted. He pulled up a chair and began to roll up his shirt sleeves. Taking a seat, he continued, "I hacked the school computer. What is she doing here?"

"I'm sure I don't have you tell you this, but all of this is highly classified information that you may not share." Dick nodded and made an impatient 'go on' gesture.

Bruce cleared his throat, folded his arms across his chest, and said, "Artemis in not Green Arrow's niece. Her father is a rather dangerous man with connections to the Shadows. I can't tell you who he is or what he's after, because I don't know the second one myself. Just know that Artemis is in danger. She has proven herself to the League, so we agreed to protect her. Besides, her mother is a good friend of mine. We paired her with Green Arrow because of her archery skills. It was pure coincidence that he had a sudden vacancy in the partner department. It doesn't hurt that they are both blond either."

Dick, now in Robin-thinking-mode, asked, "Why'd you make her part of the team?"

Bruce shrugged, "She knows a lot about the Shadows. More than the rest of you combined. Hopefully, her knowledge will keep you all alive." He paused for a moment before adding, "She also helps even out the boy heavy dynamics of the team. Too many Y chromosomes can be a bad thing."

Dick processed this information for a few moments, Bruce scrutinizing the boy's facial expressions. Eyebrows furrowed, Dick looked up at Bruce, "Why is she at Gotham Academy, and why didn't you tell me?"

Bruce inwardly sighed again and pushed forward: "I didn't tell you because I thought you would avoid her if you knew she'd be there. Am I wrong?"

A face close to that of a pout graced Dick's features, and he slumped down in his chair. He muttered, "No, but it would have been better that way."

Bruce had to work hard to keep a straight face. He could tell something had happened between the two at school and really wanted to know what it was. He knew Dick wouldn't tell him if he laughed. In a very serious voice, Bruce asked, "What happened?"

Dick groaned and buried his face in his hands: "It came out before I could think."

Earlier that day…

Dick walked down the school hallway, face buried in his calculus book. He and Bats had had a late night the night before, and he hadn't had a chance to study for his test. Not that he was worried, but it never hurt to review.

Looking up to make sure he wouldn't run into anything, Dick spotted a familiar blond at her locker to his right. "Hey Artemis," he said on impulse.

He continued walking past her, only realizing the gravity of the situation when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Closing his eyes and grimacing at his mistake, Dick stood there, frozen in panic.

"Do I know you?" he heard her ask questioningly.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Dick opened his eyes and turned to face her with a smile: "No. I don't think we've met. I'm Dick Grayson." He offered her his and, hoping she would forget he knew her name.

No such luck. She shook his hand and studied his face before replying, "How do you know my name?"

Trying, and not completely succeeding, to look cool and composed, he shrugged nervously, "I guessed."

"You guessed?" she sounded suspicious.

"Yeah. It's just something I do." He turned to a guy walking past and hailed, "Hey Steve."

The guy gave him a really confused look and said, "I'm Joe." He walked away quickly, muttering under his breath about crazies.

Dick turned back to Artemis with another shrug. "I'm not usually right," he said nonchalantly.

She raised an eyebrow skeptically and queried, "Are you sure we've never met? You look so familiar."

Once again, Dick said the first thing that came to his head, "Trust me, you'd remember if we've met, beautiful." Dick nearly hit himself on the forehead for being so stupid. It was all Wally's fault. Of all the things to pick up from the fastest kid alive. Beautiful? Why? Why that?

Artemis glared at him for a moment, and Dick briefly wondered if he was going to have to go all Robin on her to protect himself. He had just begun to reach for the utility belt he kept on himself at all times when Artemis smiled and laughed, "You're alright Dick. You remind me of a couple of friends I have. One's pretty much a child genius, which I'm assuming you are based on the calc book you have under your arm. The other is… hard to describe, but he like to go around hitting on everyone." She paused, "Well… not everyone. Anyway, thanks for making me feel welcome at a new school, even if you didn't mean to and had a really weird way of doing so. I'll see you around Dick."

She started to walk away, leaving Dick thinking he had somehow gotten out of a very embarrassing situation with very little damage. He was about to congratulate himself when Artemis turned back toward him: "By the way Dick, you may want a new pick up line. That one didn't work so well." With a laugh and a flash of long blond hair she was gone, and this time Dick really did hit himself on the forehead in shame.

Back in the Batcave…

"Eventhough she didn't know it was me, I was humiliated and felt completely exposed," Dick ended his story, his head still in his hands. They sat in silence for a few minutes before Dick said, "I know you're trying not to laugh. Just let it out already before you crack a rib."

Bruce let out a hearty chuckle that mingled with the badly muffled snickers of Alfred. Truthfully, it was good to hear them both laugh, but Dick was rather irritated that it was at his expense.

"You hit on her?" Bruce laughed. "That's hilarious. Sorry Dick, but I think she's a little out of your league."

"I didn't mean to!" He sounded pained. "I blame Wally," he said more quietly, "I need new friends."

Alfred had tears running down his cheeks, "I liked, 'I guessed.' Hahaha. Master Dick, there's no way she believed you."

Dick let out a frustrated moan and resumed pacing, "I just said the first thing that came to my mind! I didn't mean to sound like an idiot or hit on her! What was I supposed to do? Tell her my secret identity? No one's supposed to know who I am, and I nearly blew the cover off our entire operation! You should have told me she'd be there so I could have avoided her, and we could have avoided this situation!"

Bruce stopped laughing and became serious, "I don't want you to avoid her. I want you to be her friend."

"What? Why?"

"She's in danger Dick. I got her into Gotham Academy so you could keep an eye on her."

Dick looked stunned, "You… you want me to look after her?"

Bruce nodded and said, "I know she can take care of herself, but if anyone comes to get her, I want you to be able to help her out long enough for the League to get there. If anyone can do it, you can."

Dick started at Bruce, face expressionless. "What about the cover?"

Bruce thought about it and replied, "Don't tell her, but it she figures it out, it's not a problem."

Silence. The two looked at each other. "So you really do trust me." It was a statement, not a question.

Bruce nodded once and said softly, "Always."

Dick's face split into a grin. If they were more emotional people, they would have hugged, but a glance was enough for them. Dick started walking toward the door to start his homework, and Bruce turned back to the computer.

Just as Dick's hand touched the doorknob, Bruce called to him, "Hey Dick."

The boy turned around questioningly, hand still on the doorknob.

"Just don't hit on her again."