Three Bats That Came To Visit (And One He Went To See)
3 Just as Promised
"It was '83," I correct Tony mildly.
He stops by his desk, and turns to glare at me. "It was '82," he says. "Trust me on this one."
And normally I would, but I've been trying out my new mini-CPU, and had looked it up. "'83," I tell him. "Or has the International Movie Database, Wikipedia, and all of the Internet got it wrong?"
He just stares at me, and then finally manages, "But...how...you're not even near your computer!"
"I can hack into the Internet using my mind," I tell him with a straight face.
It takes him two seconds to decide he doesn't believe me. "No, seriously, how did you-?"
I turn sideways a bit, showing off the new bulge on my belt, right behind my hip. "It's a computer," I tell him, and laugh at the look on his face.
"Oh, come on. That isn't a computer; where's the keyboard, or the screen?" Tony asks, disbelief heavy in his voice. Tony's not a technophobe, but neither is he a technophile.
"It's a miniaturized CPU, rewired for direct input and output via the buttons, ideal for travel or remote accessing. None of the bulk, all of the power."
"Yes, it's that; thanks, Babs," I say absently, and then twitch.
"You're welcome, Tim," she responds, grinning, and rolls the rest of the way in.
"Well, hello," Tony says, and I stifle a laugh. I meet Babs' eyes and jerk my head towards him, asking if she wants me to stop him. Her wink says, clear as day, that she'll take care of it herself. Tony, oblivious, continues. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name?"
"Barbara," she says, and offers him a hand. "Nice to meet you, Tony."
He stumbles on his next line, and she blinds him with a smile. He rallies impressively, though, with, "So what's a girl like you doing in a place like this?"
"Visiting my little brother," she says, and I snort. She's more of an aunt than a big sister, or, really, I'm not sure. Being Bats has bound us together, and that bond goes so much deeper than social concepts of 'family'.
But Tony's mouth drops open again, and he turns to me, looking crushed and utterly betrayed. "You've got another sister? Geez, McGee, and I'd pegged you as an only child. That's, what, three brothers and three sisters?"
"Kind of. And you haven't even met my uncles," I say blithely. "Our family is, uh. Unconventional."
Babs laughs, and says, "I do believe that's the nicest adjective that's ever been applied to us."
"Yes, well," I say, and just take in the sight of her for a second.
Babs looks good. Well, she always looks good, but she looks like she's doing well. Her eyes are bright and her hair gleams red in the florescent lights, and she's updated her wheelchair again. It's smoother and more streamlined, and still so very shiny. But my eyes catch on the glint of gold from her wrist, and it makes me want to wince; it's the charm bracelet Dick gave her years ago, the one with the little bats and familiar V's on it.
I don't know what's going on between them, currently, but none of our relationships have ever gone smoothly.
She catches where my eyes are, and smiles at me. It's real, but it's got a streak of grief a mile wide. "Yes, well," she echoes, and shrugs.
"Right," I say, and lean forward to put my hand over hers. I'd like to say something comforting, but I've got nothing. If I came out with any platitudes, she'd smack me.
And then I hear the elevator ding open again, and glance up to see Ziva. Ziva and Dinah. "Oh," I say. I hadn't expected that, which was stupid because I really, really should have.
They're deep in conversation, which is scary, and both smiling, which is scarier. "No," Ziva is saying. "I find the fingerlock the most effective."
I so don't want to know.
Dinah catches sight of me, though, and stops. "Tim," she breathes, after a second of staring.
"Hi, Dinah," I say, and curse that it comes out shyly.
"Tim!" she repeats and throws herself at me, and I catch her. She wraps me up in the strongest hug I've had in years, and it feels perfect.
I glance at Babs over her shoulder, and she's smiling gently. It occurs to me that Babs didn't tell Dinah who they were coming to see, and that the rest of the superhero world still thinks I'm dead or gone.
I also catch sight of Ziva, looking incredibly confused, and Tony, looking incredibly jealous. I smile, and then close my eyes and hug Dinah back.
"It's good to see you," I murmur, and she lets out a sound that's half-laugh, half-sob.
"Oh my god, Tim, you don't—I was...we all thought..." And she squeezes extra-hard, and I think I hear my bones creak. Then she pushes me away and throws a punch at my face.
I duck and fall on my butt to avoid the kick that follows it. I hear exclamations in the background but I'm rolling, feet over head, to pop up behind my desk. It's a familiar pattern; divert the kick, block the punch, and then hop up on top of the desk, because we Bats have never fought from the ground.
She settles into stance and takes a deep breath. I've seen that enough to know what comes next, and I kind of like the squadroom in one piece, not thousands. Her Canary Cry would not only blow out the windows, but mess up all the computers, too. We can't have that, so I flip over her head. "Innocent bystanders," I remind her, and sweep her legs out from under her.
Or would have, if she hadn't turned and backed off. "Innocent bystanders?" she says. "Do you know what we, innocent bystanders, went through when you disappeared?" I stop to blink, and she almost lands a jab. "The brooding alone almost drove me insane! And you know, better than anyone, that the guilt—" and I see where she's coming from, so I come in tight, and close. "Tim, I can't believe you!"
And I catch the punch, tug a bit, and pull her back into me. "I'm sorry," I say. "I didn't mean—I never wanted..."
I don't have the words, but she understands anyway.
This time, when she pulls away, she sniffles once, rubs her hand over dry but shining eyes, and lightly slaps my shoulder. "Don't you ever do that again," she says, and smiles, bright and watery.
"Never," I promise. "Never again." And I even mean it, because as much as it would break them if I left again, it would shatter me worse.
"Right," she says, and just looks at me for a while.
Although it's happened more than it should, it's still not every day that the dead come back to life.
Babs clears her throat, and Tony starts to say something. It's no doubt both silly and flirtatious, so Babs just talks right over him. "So, where's this Abby I came all this way to meet?"
"She's got her own lab, because she's more special than us," I inform her, and offer Dinah my arm. "And I think she would particularly love to meet you, if you wouldn't mind. She was extolling the virtues of high heels in self-defense last week."
We're almost out of sight when Gibbs comes down the stairs from the Director's office. He sees us, and I stop and turn to face him. "Who're your friends?" he asks.
I take a second to inhale, and to decide what to tell him. "This is Barbara, and Dinah. Babs, Dinah, this is Special Agent Gibbs."
He looks them over, eying Babs and her hair for a second longer, and says wryly, "More family, McGee?" and I have to smile, because yes to the family, no to the McGee, and he knows it.
"Something like that," I allow. "I was just gonna take them down to meet Abby."
He blinks at me, and says, "Then what are you still doing here?"
Dinah makes a noise that sounds exactly like that noise you make when you're trying to disguise a giggle. Babs doesn't bother, and just laughs. It's light and happy, and I have to smile. "I see why you like him," she says to me.
"Funny," I gripe, starting forward again. "Dick said the exact same thing."
The elevator doors close, and Dinah says, "I suppose you can take the boy from the Bats..."
"...but you can't take the Bat from the boy," Babs finishes, and they're still giggling over me when the door opens to the lab. I exit quickly, doing my best to look extremely put-upon. It isn't hard.
"Abby?" I call. I can see her back, and I finally get near enough to notice the headphones. Right.
Moving a little slower and a lot lighter, I come up behind her, and pull one earpad away from her head. "Hi," I say, and let it go.
She shrieks and twirls in a most satisfying manner, and I duck the arm she flings around. "Tim!" she yells, voice still high.
"Abby, Babs, Babs, Abby. Also, Dinah. Have fun!" I call, and a duck and a weave get me the hell out of there and into the relative safety of the elevator.
I love them all, but I'm still scared of them individually, to say nothing of them as a group. I fully intend to go hide under my bed—or behind Tony—until they're done conspiring.
I just hope they leave the building standing.
2 Brotherly Bonding
The last thing I want to see after a shootout is my desk, complete with requisite paperwork. I always thought this was an immutable fact.
Turns out there is, in fact, something I like seeing less. Namely, my desk with requisite paperwork plus additional guest.
"I hate you," are the first words out of Damian Wayne's mouth.
"I know," I say, and drop my bag with a sigh. "What do you want?"
"You were never worthy of the suit, much less the cowl," Damian announces far too loudly, scowling far too darkly. "You were always a liability and an insult to the profession."
I fall into my seat and sigh, "Yes, thank you, Damian." I haven't slept in three days, and haven't had caffeine in the past ten hours. I'm running on fumes, which may actually be a good thing. It means I'm too wrung out to be properly angry about Damian sitting on my desk. On the other hand, it also means that if he decides to try and kill me, chances are he'll succeed. "So what do you want?"
"You failed," he continues, blatantly ignoring me. "You failed, you were compromised, and then worse, you gave up." His eyes narrow, which is a feat in and of itself; I hadn't thought he could squint further without actually closing his eyes.
"Kinda knew that," I point out. "I was there." Because what I really need right now on top of the shitstorm that was tonight is a rehash of all my greatest regrets. No, please, do rub that salt in those wounds a little harder.
"These are all the reasons that I will not ever hesitate to kill you," Damian says, and I believe him. So help me, I do. He grew up as an assassin, and right now I can see that in his posture and his eyes.
As much as I believe it, though, I'm not currently dead. This begs the question, again, of "So what do you want?"
He frowns at me, then huffs and turns away. "You haven't called Grayson back. He's getting worried."
And now everything makes sense. Dick wouldn't just drop in until a week or so after I stopped answering, and it's only been about three days. I got a message right before this case blew up, literally, and my cell phone's in more pieces than my priorities just now. Dick would be worried, but not enough to do something about it. Obviously, Damian took it upon himself to remedy the situation, and it's almost sweet.
He isn't done yet, though. "Which means he's losing focus in the field, and is a liability. Once again, you are dragging him, and therefore me, down. Your capacity to fail even when not directly involved is astounding."
And that's almost a good lie. It's clear he hates me, but it's equally clear he's fond of Dick. And yeah, I do need to call Dick; running patrol while distracted can be dangerous.
"Geez," Tony interrupts. "Who even talks like that? Seriously, you're, like, six."
Damian has ignored everyone else up to this point, but now he focuses in on Tony. I raise a hand and cut in before he opens his mouth to eviscerate the hapless agent. "Not worth it," I say. "Don't bother. I'll call Dick in a while, okay? I wasn't ignoring him; I was just busy."
He seems less than pleased, but that has always been his default setting so I'm not too worried. He glares at me, and it's fairly impressive; I can definitely see the family resemblance. He's got a while to go 'til he's on par with Bruce, though.
"Very well, Drake," he drawls unhappily, my old name an insult on his lips. "But I'll be watching you, and if you upset Grayson this much again I will find you and make sure you live to regret it."
It's the kind of threat a professional makes, someone who knows there are worse fates than death and how to deal out most of them. It's not one that can be made idly, and the fact that it's completely credible coming from someone so young makes it that much stronger. There's not a person in the room who doubts his word.
"You'd have to get in line," I reply anyway, because like hell am I letting him get away with that. Can't let the brat think he's got me cowed. And also because Bruce would get to me first, just behind me holding myself to account.
He bristles, but his objective is accomplished so he hops off my desk and strides away. Seriously, there are damn few people the verb 'stride' can rightly be applied to, but he's one of them. It's a skill he must have picked up from Bruce.
"See you around, Damian," I call after him, just to piss him off. He turns to glare over his shoulder, so I wave a hand lazily.
"No," he answers shortly. "You won't." And just like that, he's gone.
Tony lets out a breath. "That's one scary kid," he says, and I nod. Ziva does, too. Tony's flopped bonelessly in his chair, and he rolls his head to one side to look at me. "What was that even about?"
I actually have to stop and process that; that's how tired I am. "Uh," I finally say. "I think I just got the boyfriend speech over my brother," I decide. "Which is just awkward."
"This one a brother, too?" Tony groans. I nod, and he sighs explosively. "Seriously, I give up keeping track of you people," he says. He'd probably have thrown up his hands if he was any less tired.
"I like him," Ziva says, and we both flop our heads over to stare at her. "What?" she asks defensively, no less frazzled than the rest of us.
"Figures," I mutter. "You probably even trained with his mom." It's not unlikely, actually; as I recall, Talia did a stint in Mossad, as well as every other agency she could lie, hack, or bribe her way into. Ziva hums curiously, which I take as a prompt. "Talia?"
And suddenly, despite her exhaustion, Ziva's sitting up straight. "Talia?" she repeats, then demands, "Talia al'Ghul?"
"Oh," I say. "So you do know her."
Ziva says nothing. I think she might be trying to, but not actually succeeding. I'm not sure, though; my chair is amazingly comfortable right now and my eyes are sliding closed. With the mission over and the threat neutralized, I'm crashing hard. "Hell of a woman," I continue. "Hate fighting her. She's fast 'n strong..." I have to pause to yawn, "...but arrogant. Likes to get fancy when simple'll do."
"You've fought Talia al'Ghul," Ziva says, and I hum agreement.
"Fought her dad more," I murmur, not really paying attention anymore. "Stupid Lazarus pits. Should just do the world a favor and stay dead."
There's motion, and I open my eyes enough to classify Gibbs as a non-threat. He's upright and moving, and that's more effort than I want to think about just now. He got to sleep last night.
He stops, looks us over, and says, "Go away."
"Yes, Boss," we murmur, or variations thereof, and none of us get up. I put my head down on my desk.
Gibbs sighs, then sits down at his own desk. I'm listening now instead of looking; I hear Tony groan and Ziva shift, but not far.
My team is safe, Gibbs is on watch now, and I'll be fine to drive home in a second, right after I take a short nap...
1 Also known as, Oh Shit It's Him Run
The phone on my desk rings, and I pick it up absently, tucking it into my shoulder so I have both hands free to continue typing. "Agent McGee," I greet, and frown at the screen. If I can just get around this protocol, then I can implement the routine that would-
"Agent McGee, you have a visitor?" Janice from the front desk says. There's a hesitation in her voice, and I stop, sit up straight, and blink.
It's not unusual for me to get a visitor. Uncommon, but not unusual. But Janice knows Sarah, and most of my family wouldn't bother with the front desk because rules are something that apply to other people. I'm not working any case where I dropped my card with a witness, not recently, so I really have no idea who it could be. Then I almost smack myself on the head, and remember that I can ask, "Who is it?"
There's a little hiccup over the line in the background, a little breath, a little cough, and I wouldn't have heard it if I hadn't been listening, if I didn't know that sound.
"Oh, shit," I say and drop the phone.
"Agent McGee?" Janice's voice pipes down the phone, but I'm too busy panicking to really pay attention. Because Jason may be insane, Damian may be out for my blood, and Bruce may not actually be a human being, but there is still one person who scares the crap out of all of us. Janice says, rather loudly, "He says you're expecting him?"
"I," I manage, then pick the phone back up. "Um. I. Yes?" She asks me to confirm his name and ID, so I do on autopilot. Then Janice hangs up, and I sit there, staring at the phone for a few seconds.
"Um," I say, mostly to have something to do.
"Are you okay, McGee?" Ziva asks. She's glancing at me sideways, and I know, okay, I know I'm bordering on some massive mix of panic and shock because I am about to be so, so dead, and I'm not even particularly sure I mind.
"No," I say, one of the few times in my whole life I've ever answered no to that question. "I don't think I-I gotta go."
I grab my bag, and just hit the power button on my computer. I'll make up the lost work later or something; coding is less than important right now.
I spare a moment to be thankful it's Friday afternoon. It's five minutes to five, even, though most of us don't ever leave that early. Except Tony, but he comes back later to finish stuff when no one's around to see him be productive, so that doesn't count. Still, I glance at Gibbs' desk as I heft my bag over my shoulder.
Gibbs is watching me. He doesn't look worried, per se, but he's not really happy either. I meet his eyes as I round the corner of my desk, and I hesitate, just for a second. Regardless of the clock, regardless of visitors, if Gibbs needs me then I'm staying.
But the boss just tips me a tiny nod, and I take a deep breath, steel my nerves, and head for the elevator.
Tony and Ziva aren't working anymore, and I miss whatever byplay goes on behind me. Then they both scramble to follow. I sigh; I hadn't thought they wouldn't, but I had hoped they'd do me the courtesy of at least pretending not to.
Gibbs watches us until we get to the elevator, and I take a last glance around the squadroom before the metal doors close with a particularly final sounding click.
The silence in the lift is tense and awkward for about as long as it takes Tony's curiosity to overwhelm his sense of personal boundaries. That is to say, about four seconds.
"What's going on?" he asks, turning to face me.
"I'm about to be dead," I say. I'd tried to state it as bland fact, but it comes out a little weaker and a lot quieter than I'd meant. Because have I mentioned yet how dead I'm about to be? The answer is still 'very'. Very dead. Not even mostly. Completely.
Why is he even here? I mean, it couldn't be an out-and-out assassination attempt; he's far more subtle than that.
"Is this person a threat to you?" Ziva asks, suddenly on guard. I snort; I can't help it.
"Not in the way you're thinking. And I doubt you could take him, anyway," I tell her. It's true; even Bruce has trouble in cases like this.
"Who is it? Who is it?" Tony wants to know, bouncing around to try and find weakness on my face. My mind is in shock, my doom is imminent, and my temper is fraying, so it's a good thing for everyone that the doors choose that moment to open.
I force my lungs to expand, and begin the trek to the front desk. The walk seems to take forever, and I spend a good deal more energy than it usually takes ignoring Tony. But then I hear Janice, and she's laughing.
Of freaking course she's laughing. He's charming and his wit is as dry and classy as champagne, and if he decides you're going to like him then you are going to like him.
Either I make noise or Tony or Ziva do; I'm not sure and it isn't important.
"Ah, Master Timothy," Alfred says, impeccably polite as ever. "What a pleasure it is to see you again."
I wince. "Hi, Alfred."
He looks at me, then he looks at me. I know I should've been by the Manor earlier, but it's too late now for shoulda-coulda-woulda's. I can't stand the way he's looking at me, so my eyes hit the floor. There's a moment, a second, then I offer the only thing I have; I say, "I'm sorry."
It comes out thin and high and childish, and I wish I could swallow it back down. But I can't, so I wait. There's another pause, and my heart flips over itself in a move Dick would be proud of. Alfred has always been our constant and our support, our guide and our adult. He may nominally work for Bruce, but if Alfred doesn't want me back then I don't get to go back. End of story.
"Oh, my boy," he murmurs instead, and relief makes me sway weakly. I can't help but hug him. This man got me through my high school career when all of my worlds were falling apart around me, and kept me sane for as long as he could.
"Sorry," I say, and, "missed you," and then I have to let go and step back, because that isn't fair to him. Especially since I'd hate to ruin his suit.
"Very well, then," Alfred says. "Master Bruce has sent me to collect you for Saturday night."
I blink, then set to figuring out what Saturday is. Well, Sunday is special, but Saturday is-oh, damn, it's the annual bash for Bruce Wayne's birthday, isn't it? My face pulls before I can stop it, and I say cautiously, "The birthday party? Is that...really the best idea?"
Alfred regards me calmly, and I see the calculations and failsafes that cascade behind his eyes. "Master Bruce believes so," he says, and if Bruce believes it then it's fact.
"Bet Dick's behind this," I mutter, and by the faint twitch of his eye, Alfred agrees. "Right," I say, and turn back to my team. "Apparently I'm going away this weekend. Call me if something comes up." Coincidentally, I happen to have the next two days off, and you know what they say about coincidences; they take an awful lot of planning. Good to know this wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision on Bruce's part.
"It is a pleasure to meet Master Timothy's friends," Alfred's saying to Ziva and Tony with a little bow. "He has never been blessed with making them easily."
"Alfred!" I exclaim, scandalized. I mean, yeah, it's true; when you've got too many lies to balance, friends just get in the way. But that doesn't mean he has to tell them that! "Anthony DiNozzo, and Ziva David. Please stop telling them outrageous lies."
"I would never, Master Timothy," he says, and that is such an outrageous lie in and of itself that I have to smile. He continues with, "Your old room at the Manor awaits your return, and your tuxedo is ready for the fitting." I don't question how he got my measurements; it isn't important. I don't have my flat knives on me, but I trust Alfred to have a set of 'rangs or knives to tuck into whatever suit I end up in, because Alfred knows how we like our security blankets sharp and pointy. "Master Dick has inquired as to your preference of dates, and Master Damian has indicated a desire to defenestrate you repeatedly should you attend. Master Bruce would like me to remind you of your press training, and reiterates that punching reporters is still not permitted."
"It was only the once!" I protest. I'll never live that down, apparently, but I don't regret laying that one guy out; there's slander and then there's just plain asking for it.
"Indeed," Alfred says with a straight face.
I sigh; it's impossible to win when Alfred starts agreeing with you. "I'm ready," I say instead, hitching my bag up higher. We need to get home before Dick tries setting me up with some model or other. Abby's working, though, and Sarah has a term paper due Monday, so I'm pretty much out of luck with bringing my own date.
Alfred gives his polite little almost-bow, and says, "Miss Janice, a genuine pleasure." She titters and flushes, and I wonder absently for the millionth time if Alfred really does have superpowers. It would explain so much through the years. "Miss David; Master DiNozzo."
I toss a little wave over my shoulder and say, "Bye, guys."
"Goodbye," Ziva murmurs, and Tony says, "What the actual hell, McGee?"
"I know," I sigh, following Alfred. "Don't you hate birthday parties?"
+1 Many Happy Returns
I was right on pretty much all counts; Dick's model friend is pretty, my new flat knives are prettier, and quite incidentally, sharper, though still not quite on par with Damian's tongue.
(He does try to defenestrate me. Five times, now, and counting.)
I haven't gotten to talk to Bruce yet, not really; last night was patrol and all of today's been in the public eye. It is, after all, Bruce Wayne's birthday, and appearances must be kept up. Dick has been busy being charming, Alfred has been busy arranging things for tonight, and I've been busy foiling Damian's rather lackluster murder attempts, which is all the more annoying for the fact that Damian's been stuck to Bruce's side the whole damn day. Bruce has been Bruce instead of Bruce, which is always a bit disconcerting.
This whole thing is, though: I'm so out of practice with the paparazzi song and dance routine that it's laughable. Dick's certainly laughing at me, anyway. I can't believe I'd forgotten how incredibly blinding flashbulbs are, even if I haven't forgotten how to fake a real smile. It was a relief to duck away from them earlier, under the guise of getting ready for the birthday bash. That's what it's called on the invitations, you know; 'Bruce's Birthday Bash'. I'm not sure what Bruce has done recently to warrant this bit of Alfred's subtle vengeance, but it must have been bad.
It's been a nice respite, but there're a million more cameras out there, and ten times as many questions. But there are also old friends to find and pretty girls to dance with, and I may get a chance to chat with Bruce for more than ten seconds, which would be a change.
Bruce is standing unnaturally still now, not inviting conversation, and Damian is skulking around at his side. It's the three of us waiting here; the girls are still getting ready. I think. I'm never sure when it comes to these matters. They'll appear at the party sometime, I'm sure, and that's enough for me.
The door next to be slides open and Dick finally comes through He's resplendent as always, and always takes more time than any of us. I think he spends it on his hair, personally; it's unusually shiny tonight. That's the headcount, though, and it's time to face the music.
Dick messes up Damian's hair and reaches out to tug my lapels into place, Damian scowls at everyone impartially and fixes his 'do, and Bruce tips us a nod. Then we all put on our smiles and Bruce opens the door.
Despite the familiar itch of a new suit and the brightly false smiles of the others, despite the crowd and the glitz and the glam and the fashion and flash photography, despite the drinks and the gossiping and the many many stories I'll have to spin tonight, somehow, just for now, my smile isn't fake.
No More Secrets has been edited; sorry about the confusion there. Also, sorry it's been a while, I had to do life. I will finish this, promise; only two more chapters to go!