A/N: This chapter has been in the making for a few days now, and considering I had to rewrite parts (which I never have to do, so that was a first...) and have had family visiting... XD I did the best I could with this final chapter, especially doing my best to keep everyone in character! I'll look it over when I have time on Friday, but as for tonight and tomorrow (family again and an A.P. Physics test to study for), I'll have to politely run away screaming! XD That said, please tell me if you see any glaring grammatical/characterization errors!
Thanks so much to all of the reviews, favs, and alerts to this fic! Gosh, all of you were fantastic! I love you all! I never imagined a two-shot, of all things, could get so much attention!
(And I re-edited the first chapter - frankly, I like this version better, even though I didn't change much of great consequence - so...just to let you know! Thanks to those who caught things I didn't!)
Just like that, everything's over.
Black Mask and his goons are back in Arkham.
Commissioner Gordon commends Batman and Robin for their efforts.
The Dynamic Duo makes it back to the Batcave, where Alfred is waiting for them faithfully as always.
It is when Bruce begins tending to Dick's wounds that things start to strain.
The bullet-graze has already been taken care of, but there are still the several punches delivered by (and Bruce cannot help but smile grimly here) 'Bane, Jr.' Peeling away the top half of his Robin suit, Dick does not even grimace at the black and blue discolorations covering his chest. He's had far worse, after all.
Bruce presses tentative fingers to his adoptive son's chest, gently pressing around each bruise to ensure that no ribs have been bruised, cracked, or broken. He breathes a little lighter in finding that nothing of the like is ailing the boy.
But then he recalls his observations earlier this morning, remembers the shortness of breath and pained winces, and his eyes shoot back to examine Dick's chest for a second time.
Sure enough, there is an extra bruise among the others.
A much darker, much uglier sixth.
Just as he'd suspected. Something had happened while Robin had been away.
For a moment, he is angry that neither Black Canary nor Red Tornado said anything. But then, the anger fades when he understands that it probably wasn't their decision.
Knowing Robin's power over Black Canary, who for all of her strength and could-be fire is still a woman with motherly impulses, Robin had begged her, made her swear on her honor as one of the few in the League to know his and Batman's identities, not to tell the Big Bat.
As for the android of the Justice League, there was nothing to stop him from telling the Batman. Nothing except his sense of duty to the mentor-apprentice code, that is. Besides, he knew from experience that Batman would notice the difference in his protégé on sight and take care of it in due time.
Reaching forward to perform the same careful examination on this bruise that he had on the others, Bruce is surprised when a small hand shoots out to clamp tightly around his wrist. Looking up into Dick's maskless blue eyes, the secret-Batman sees that they are filled with both fierce determination and fear.
And for all that the boy has become in these four years since coming into Bruce's life, for all that he begs with those magnificent baby-blues, for all that it pains his adoptive Father to have those angel-eyes close tightly and tear away from his own...Bruce feels he has no choice but to unleash the infamous Batglare and wait for the truth to come.
For it has long been established that there is no lying to either Bruce Wayne or the Batman.
"It…it's not as bad as it looks," Dick murmurs quietly, absently feeling out the hours-old bruise and letting his fingers dance across it almost sacredly. "Rib's just bruised, that's all." His attempt to shoot the man a smile is pathetic at best. "Promise."
And though this assures Bruce a little, it does naught to answer his silent, much more demanding question.
But this inquiry, for one reason or another, is one that Dick appears immensely reluctant to answer.
Here, then, is the most difficult part.
For no matter how much Bruce has come to love this boy—and dear Lord above has he ever—this is something he must do.
Setting a strong hand on one of Dick's shoulders, he takes the thirteen-year-old's chin in his gentle, yet firm grip. The child, having looked away again shortly after seeing Bruce's dissatisfaction, is forced to meet like blue eyes.
"What happened, Dick?" It is no more than a whisper—a dark one, but a whisper all the same—but nevertheless it sends terrible tremors down the teenager's spine.
Protégé and adoptive son of one of the greatest superheroes in the universe he may be, but Dick knows that even he will not be spared the consequences of declining anything asked in that voice.
"It…it was an accident…" he stammers at last, eyes averted with stomach twisting as his fists clench until his knuckles turn white. "It…it happened during training yesterday…"
"All right! Superboy, Robin, you're up! Show us what you can do!" Black Canary orders, a small grin on her face as she folds her arms across her chest and stands back. Glancing over at the others, she can see the excitement written on their faces. This is one fight they've all been itching to see.
The pixie of the team wastes no time in flitting over to his side of the 'ring,' while his broody friend decides to take his time. Both of them getting into their fighting stances, the Bird can't keep the smirk off of his face.
"You ready for this, Superboy? I've been waiting to kick your sorry Kryptonian butt all morning!" Robin chirps, blue eyes shining playfully behind his mask.
His sparring partner merely huffs back, though the Boy Wonder swears he sees a smile there somewhere.
"You haven't won yet."
The thirteen-year-old's beam just grows. "We'll see about that!"
And truly, no less than a moment later he has disappeared into the shadows, leaving only his signature eerie laugh echoing behind.
The room falls silent. The observing occupants smile widely; they know how this game goes.
As well as strengthening his own combat skills (though most would argue that isn't possible), Robin always does his best to help whoever he's fighting hone her own skills. At this point, it would seem he's testing Superboy's supersight and superhearing.
Taking in the room around him in a way only a Kryptonian can (clone or not), Superboy waits.
To the right he finds nothing but his other friends; to the left is Mount Justice's supercomputer, the kitchen, and the living room; behind him stands Black Canary, beyond her the 'door'; in front of him is Robin's vacant spot, the teammates' rooms, the secluded training room, the pool.
But no sign of Robin.
When he goes off like this, Robin is not allowed to leave the ring's perimeter. With that in mind, if he's not below (the floor and bowels of the base rest there)…then he must be above!
Stepping back a few paces, the sixteen-year-old takes a running start prior to leaping upward. Hands securely wrapping around one of the thick, black steel rafters hidden in shadow, he uses his momentum to swing up and land on top of it in a sitting position.
Superboy is about to scan the area again, but reconsiders with a small, appreciative smile. Robin is trying to get him to use everything but his strength to find him; the least he can do is cooperate for the fun of it. Besides, he could use the practice.
Closing his eyes, Superboy listens. He hears only the heartbeats and breathing of those he's come to love.
Kaldur's strong heart and calm breath; M'gann's spirited core and gentle wind; Wally's quick thump, thump, thump! and equally rushed breathing; Black Canary's sound heartbeat and assuring breath.
And then, he hears it.
Just the slightest inkling, yes, but it's there, ready and waiting as the owner has much too much fun. A steady, calm heartbeat is the Boy Wonder's, jumps of excitement breaking in occasionally as the breathing pattern is nearly identical. This, adding to the fact that he swears he can feel the boy smiling…
"Found you!" Superboy shouts triumphantly, bright blue eyes snapping open. Spinning around quicker than most can blink, he is leaping toward Robin with arms outspread.
But Batman's protégé is smirking, has seen him coming for a while now. And now that he's close enough, can actually see, Superboy's eyes widen as Robin lets him find his footing before raising his collapsible bo-staff above his head.
And yet the blow never comes (any other time, yes, but that is not the goal of this exercise). Instead, the Boy Wonder uses his staff to vault over Superboy and land safely on another rafter farther ahead. Turning back to the older teen with his usual joking grin, the mask-bearer waves him over. "Superboy, come on! You're falling behind, dude!"
The sixteen-year-old rises to meet the challenge head-on and bounds after the young ninja, tentatively using his breaking-through superspeed until he is just one step behind. He lunges forward to grab hold of Robin's foot, but his best friend twists around to face Superboy without warning.
The older, taken aback for little more than a moment, has even then let too much time slip by. He keeps forgetting that Robin's been taught by the best, by the one man to whom time means the most.
But now it's too late. As Robin bends over backward and presses his foot to Superboy's chest, he takes a deep breath. In the next instant, the acrobat whips upright and presses all of his weight onto that one foot while his other foot uses Superboy's shoulder as leverage to leap into the air. Spreading his cape in order to give the illusion of wings, the Bird grins almost reminiscently as he is suspended in midair for a few seconds. Taking this heart-pounding opportunity for what it is, he performs a triple somersault flawlessly out of impulse and lands expertly on the horizontal beam farthest from the Kryptonian.
There are whistles and cheers from down below, and Robin is beaming brighter than the others have ever seen him. He's in his element here somehow, Superboy realizes, just as he himself is in the heat of battle. At some point in the middle of all of this, Robin found his niche, his place where he is most high.
The clone merely wipes the sweat from his brow and vows to push himself harder.
"Hey!" The child jumps, something they've also never seen—no one can sneak up on Robin except the Batman!—and when he turns toward Superboy, the Kryptonian is nearly sure he sees a glint of something shining on his cheeks... But he pushes it aside for now. It's probably just sweat, and as for the boy's sudden distraction…Robin's used similar tactics before in order to help him learn to tell the innocent bystanders from those pretending to be. "Is our little Robin ready to take the plunge without a net?"
And here is where it all comes crashing down.
Superboy sails through the air, reeling his fist back and sending it careening straight for Robin's chest. Inwardly, he knows the futility of this; Robin has never allowed a punch to land so easily! But it's another one of the games played between the clone and the Bird: something of a masochistic version of 'Chicken.' Besides, it's fun, and Robin's always trying to get Superboy to have more of that!
He's nearly on top of him now! He's closing in! He's mere feet away! Any second now…any second…!
But all at once, he sees. Something's wrong! Robin's…Robin's not moving (Superboy has to strain his eyes to make sure he's even breathing), and dear Krypton, if the boy doesn't move now and if Superboy doesn't stop…!
What were previously exalted cries now turn to horrified, panicked screams. Superboy has to think quickly (something Robin says the clone is good at, once his mind is clear and focused), and in doing so he probably saves his young best friend's life.
He turns to the right in midair, landing on the beam beside Robin at an awkward angle; he uncurls his fist so that the blow will be entirely comprised of his knuckles and the back of his hand. The force of the strike is still that of a wrecking ball, however, and the explosion of pain it brings in his chest breaks Robin from his reverie.
"Robin!" numerous voices cry, mixing with the child's own startled yelp as he is thrown back and plummets downward.
He can see the ground from this position, and briefly he wonders if…if perhaps this is something of the last view his parents had the night everything changed… The sinking feeling in his stomach, the bile in his throat, the tears in his eyes, reminds him so much of that day, and something inside him jolts.
Twisting a full one-hundred-eighty degrees while falling, he unearths his grappling hook, takes half a second to aim, and shoots. He recognizes the familiar pull as it wraps around one of the heavily-reinforced beams as though it's an extension of his very soul, and he uses the centripetal force afforded to save him.
Collapsing to his knees the moment his feet are on solid ground once more, the child is greeted by the crushingly protective arms of Superboy. They are descending to Mount Justice's floor at a gentle rate an instant later (he smiles faintly; M'gann...), and he buries his face in Superboy's shoulder.
Now that had been close…
"S-see, Bruce?" Dick whispers shakily. Eyes tightly closed, his head is downcast and his hands are clasped firmly in his lap. His complexion has long been colorless. "It wasn't—"
He stops himself, biting his lip. He was going to say it wasn't that bad, but really…who is the secret-Boy Wonder fooling? Especially the Batman? He sighs heavily, head hanging ever lower and hands rising to rid his cheeks of tears.
What Superboy'd said…it was the exact thing his real Father, John Grayson, had asked him just before his first live performance. Dick had kept it close to his heart ever since, and to hear it once again in such a different, yet somehow same setting, to hear it now that the original bearer and his wife had been gone from the young acrobat's life for just over four years…
"Richard," the thirteen-year-old snaps up at the sound of his name gracing his adoptive Father's lips, the man's soothing, solid voice and visage distorted via the ringing in Dick's ears and the wall of tears before his eyes, "I need you to calm down for me. Can you do that?"
The younger's blue eyes widen. Bruce only speaks to him this way when he's truly bursting over, when nothing else can break through to him. A large, warm hand comes to cup Dick's still somewhat-damp cheek, and the boy leans in to the touch eagerly, gladly drinking in the comfort the warm appendage and its owner bring. Raising his own hand to encase Bruce's, he squeezes gratefully.
"I'm okay, Bruce," he asserts, his small smile shifting into a cheeky smirk. "I've had plenty worse than this, old man."
His mentor hums quietly, acknowledging and darkly thoughtful at once as he presses his face into Dick's palm and breathes in the familiar smells of combat that have yet to leave the youthful, somehow soft-calloused skin. Kissing his son's palm tentatively, Bruce encloses the tiny hand with his other as well, gripping once more before letting the tangle of hands fall between them.
This is the first time he's tried that calming method, one exhumed from a deeply-treasured memory of his parents, and for a moment Bruce is anxious. The teen's heartbeat has quickened, and his breathing has grown lighter and shakier without the help of his injuries.
But it seems he has nothing to fear, for in the next moment his son throws his arms around his neck. It takes no more than a moment for him to get over his shock and enwrap the child in his own great arms and hold him closely; this is not the reaction he expected in response to such a small action, yet Bruce cannot say he is entirely surprised. After all, the secret-Dark Knight has never shared anything so heart-close with his young partner before.
They stay like this for many a stretched moment, breathing each other in and basking in the glory that is one another. They have been partners in crime-fighting for so long now that at times they forget the weaknesses and limitations they have as humans, how good it feels to bond like this, how enriching it is to feel the heartbeat and life-heat of the one they love the most alongside their own.
As Dick reluctantly removes himself from Bruce's loving hold at last, a tiny grin is on his face. It fades, however, the second he remembers the driving force behind this whole conversation.
Peering up at the Wayne man, his expression is worried and fairly protective. "Superboy won't—I mean, he isn't in trouble, is he? It was all my fault, and he did his best to save me even then! And how was he supposed to know the significance of what he said?" Batman had always taught Robin to be on his guard no matter what, seeing as anything can happen at any time. And the secret-Boy Wonder refuses to let his best friend take the fall for this lapse in form! "After it happened, he—he looked so sorry, so guilty…! He kept hovering and apologizing—he cried, Bruce!" The man's brows shoot to his hairline. "He's never cried before…!" Dick's own quiet voice cracks and wavers here, and his mentor rests a supportive hand on the teen's knee. "He would never hurt me or the others! He loves us, and we love him." It could be the adult's imagination, but the secret-Batman can swear that suddenly his adoptive son is sitting up straighter, is holding his head higher. "I love him, Bruce. He's my best friend, and I won't let you hurt him."
There is an impenetrable silence here. Dick waits for his partner's response.
But really, what can Bruce say?
His son is correct in every way: Superboy didn't know about Dick's past, so he couldn't have known that he was stealing words straight from the boy's deceased Father's lips; he had done his best to keep the child from injury; and while his own reservations about the clone had more or less eroded away over the past several months, he couldn't deny that the Kryptonian truly did seem to hold his teammates on a pedestal and vice versa.
This is a matter of the heart and soul, indeed.
All in all, the Father is proud of his son. He's always taught him to stand up for himself, to believe in whatever it is he's fighting for. And if Richard has ever believed in anything as strongly or stronger than this, Bruce cannot pinpoint it.
"I know, Dick," he concedes come a moment more. "I know. I've seen the proof with my own eyes. He will not be penalized. He probably saved your life." Robin snickers inwardly; that's just what he'd said… "However..." he gestures to the lead-lined pouch on the child's utility belt, which had been restocked as per Young Justice's formation, "…remember our discussion."
Dick's face turns grave with intense gravity, pale and a tinge green as he nods his head slowly, swallowing thickly and squeezing his abruptly teary eyes shut. He remembers that early morning after Cadmus well, how disgusted, enraged, and horror-struck he'd been. He'd been given the Kryptonite…had to accept the reality that he was quite literally holding his new friend's death in his hands…
Recalling this is made even more difficult now, what with the deep friendship he and Superboy have forged since the team's birth.
"B-Bruce…?" he croaks softly, looking down to blink away the tears prior to glancing up at his mentor. "Do you…really think I'll ever have to use it? Against Conner?"
The child knows he's being naïve. He knows well that some situation might arise one day in which he will have no choice but to use the deadly weapon against his best friend. After all, Clark and Bruce have found themselves in such a circumstance. And more than once, at that.
Bruce recognizes this, too. But the boy has been through so much in his short life, has known so much heartache in his robbed-of-innocence world, and if a little bit of compromising hope is all his son needs to keep going, to keep fighting, to keep living his life as fully as he does now…
Somehow, Bruce doesn't think that's such a big price to pay.
"I pray not, Dick," he breathes. "I pray not."
A/N: Hopefully the ending is all right! And just to clarify, Superboy and Robin are best friends in this and nothing more (that goes for all of the teammates, for all of my fics...whether for this fandom or any other - sorry, but I don't read or write slash...)!
Also, while I know Dick can perfectly perform a quadruple somersault, I felt that would basically be a dead-giveaway to his friends (the ones who live on land and are from Earth and were not in a pod until a few months ago...that is...) as to his identity, seeing as the Flying Graysons were some of the select few in the world who could do this, if not the only ones.
Plus, the superspeed thing...I saw that in another story and felt like a complete idiot for not remembering that Superman has superspeed! XD So whoever's story that was (really good...I'll remember eventually...) thanks for the reminder! So Supey's only just discovering it here... XP
Thanks so much for reading!