All recognizable characters belong to their respective owners (Cartoon Network). For a prompt on YJ_Anon_Meme.
"Shit, man," the guy said. "Just 'cause we ain't the Big One don't mean you gillys can ducat your way in."
Most of the team exchanged looks, but Robin stepped forward, hands in his pockets, smirking up a storm. "Well, you ain't no dog 'n pony show, but we're not gonna Oakley. Just a few capes heard you got some stink, and thought you'd like a few heavies. Ain't matter if we're artists or Chinese, just don't want another Haley's."
And now everyone's staring at him. Still, this can all be 'undercover research', if he wants to pass it off.
The guy's got an eyebrow going up. "You're Rom?" he states more than asks.
Robin eyebrows right back. "Back and back and back. A shanty, music, and kinker."
"Ponger?" the man asks.
"Nah, a flyer. Wintered. Rather work a board than a swing."
He nods, and says, "'m Allan." He holds out his hand.
"Ritchie," Robin says, and grasps his forearm, leaning into a shoulder bump. "My friends are first of May, but we got a lifter, a thrower, a dripper, a rude mental and another. Take or leave whatcha want; we got it covered."
Allan nods, then stops and shakes his head. "A trouper cape. Where'd you go wrong, kid?"
And just like that, Robin's face shuts down. "You don't wanna know, and I'm not telling."
"Fair, kid. Very fair. Follow me, we'll talk to the director, see what we can do."
Robin makes an mmhmm noise and meanders after him, and the team follows close on his heels.
"Did you understand any of that?" Artemis hisses.
"Nope," Wally shrugs.
"Then how do we know what we're doing?"
Wally looks at her askance. "'Cause it's Robin. He's done enough research to speak the slang; he knows everything going down here. Hell, Batman probably did background checks on every single employee. I'm not worried." He glances at Megan. "Are you worried?"
"No," she says. "Robin is...calm."
"I'm not worried," Superboy shrugs. "But we have to call him 'Ritchie'? What's up with that?"
"He couldn't really tell them to call him Robin," Megan offers.
Artemis is nodding. "Yeah. He wants to make sure they can't connect him with any certain superhero."
"Which means we have to lay low, too," Wally adds. "'Cause it wouldn't be hard to guess 'Robin' if the rest of Young Justice is here."
"Right," Superboy adds, and then there's nothing left to say.
Artemis ends up with the knife thrower, to the surprise of absolutely no one. The guy can pin a man to a board at fifty paces, and she can outline him in arrows in under a minute. It makes for a great double act.
He and Artemis are set up in a booth before the show, working as a draw, which gives her ample time to vet and screen the crowd. Superboy is across the way and katty-corner to her, and basically just lifts things to prove his strength, which confuses him a little bit, but also leaves him with plenty of concentration for crowd-watching.
Despite all of Wally and Robin's pokings, Kaldur refuses to be turned into a mermaid. Wally pouts and calls him a spoilsport, Artemis laughs, Robin lays out logical reasons, Superboy sulks in the background and Megan flutters her eyelashes, but none of it can change Kaldur's mind. Eventually, per Allan's suggestion, they assign him to monitor the animals' water, which at least gives him an excuse to skulk around the crew area.
Robin offers to patch up their electronics, and thus wins himself coverage of the tent. Megan just smiles and declines all jobs handed her way, saying she'd rather keep an eye out from a distance, meaning from above. Wally has no job either, and he'll just wander as part of the crowd every night, mixing and mingling. And so, between them, they cover all of the circus, keeping a weather eye out for any suspicious characters.
Come showtime, they'd retreat into the tent, Superboy and Kaldur taking tickets and Artemis selling concessions. M'Gann would patrol the grounds, and Robin the stands. It was a pretty nice setup, all told.
So they settle into their new routine, and they wait.
If he can just connect that wire though the circuit over here, he can double the volume and half the power, bypassing the damaged parts along the way.
He's so smart it hurts, sometimes.
But he needs to test it, so he wiggles out from under the board, and checks the controls. He chooses a piece of music that he really shouldn't, and starts it low. He scales it up slowly, loud and booming, base pounding, but balanced. He turns it back down, satisfied, and the trapeze bars are swaying just a bit.
These two wires are crossed, and this one's stripped. He replaces the latter, and uncrosses the former to prevent imminent explosion. It doesn't take long, and the platform is half-lit, dripping shadows in the dark. He moves on to check the sub-woofer.
The thing is as big as his head, and it doesn't work because some rats chewed through the wires to make a nest inside of it. He understands; the pounding of the beat rolling through him feels like home. He stops to stretch his back, pushing up and reaching high, up to the tent. Up to the trapeze.
He sets to fixing the speaker.
He does fix it, an hour or two later. And now it's so early in the morning that no one's around, no one's awake. He wants to tell someone what he's just accomplished, but the next song clicks into place, that first one, his song, their song.
It's his song, and there's no one awake, and he's just finished the job. Surely it'd be okay if...? Just for a bit.
He fiddles with the lighting, fixes his glasses back in place, shrugs out of his jacket, and climbs.
This isn't his circus. This isn't his tent. This isn't his rigging, nor his costume, nor his family.
But it is his song, and so it still feels like home.
It's not long before he's rubbing grit on his hands, and stretching. It's no time at all when his hands touch the bar, and everything that's been jumping inside him settles into place.
He falls, the song pounding in his ears, the air still but for him, and heavy in the night. There's no crowd, no announcer, no net.
Just the way he likes it.
He lets the bar swing him out into space, and lets it go, floating, flying, defying gravity, defying expectations, defying death. His hands close on another bar, and he propels himself, up, up, down, and out, back into the air, adding a twist, and another, and back with a flip and a tuck and before he knows it, he's going through his old routine.
He pulls a triple, because he can. He'd like to pull a quadruple, but that's too distinctive, even for dark-thirty A.M. with no one around.
After all, there's only the one human in the whole wide world who can pull it off.
So he flips his grip, swings, waits, and lets go. Three and a half rotations later, his palms hit the bar. A second after that, his feet hit the platform. Out of pure instinct, he bows to the empty tent.
He knows he shouldn't be disappointed at the lack of applause.
Finally, their patience pays off. Some slimy hooligans slide in past Megan, and have a meeting with Danvey, the ringmaster and owner of the circus.
The slide back out, catching the attention of Superboy and practically oozing discontent, and the team gathers in Danvey's office per request.
"They did indeed try to get me to pay their 'insurance' charges," he says, disgust heavy in his tone. "I told them I'd think about it."
Kaldur nods. "We got a good look at the men, and have our outside sources tracing them now. The most important thing is to hold out."
Danvey looks them over, sighs, and says, "I hope you kids know what you're doing."
Robin resists the siren call of the trapeze and the ropes and the air for the next few days. Only then, it's just him alone, nobody about so early in the morning. He's just finished fixing a bit of wiring on one of the lights, swaying in the rope harness he'd rigged up with a thought and a prayer.
The connection fizzles together, and the light snaps on, highlighting the trapeze against the dark of the tent. He stares at it, mesmerized, and it just takes him pushing off from the lightstand to get him swinging. His harness is really just a single knot, with the rope twined through his legs, around his waist, and over a shoulder. A tug releases the knot, and he lets gravity pull him down, straightening his lifeline, even as it swings.
And just like that, he can grab the bar, the feeling so familiar in his hands.
He smiles. Sure, Bruce set him up a trapeze, but there's nothing like the high arch of the ceiling, and the color of the tent beyond his toes, and the spotlights that shine bright and heavy, and oh, he's missed this so much.
He stops midway through, prowls around the tent, inside and out, and when he's sure, completely positive there's no one around, he returns to the trapeze, forgets himself in the swing of momentum and the pull of gravity, and, for the first time in just about forever, he flies free.
The first one to go is the tiger tamer. She slips and breaks her arm, and, unable to wield her whip, is unable to perform. M'Gann does it instead, using her psychic abilities to calm and direct the beasts. The audience loves it.
Megan doesn't mind. They dress her in sparkles and heels and do her makeup, and she struts out to the ring. She's a bit blinded by the lights, and very, very nervous. But then she reaches out, touches the cats' minds, and their own restless excitement pulls at her, and she laughs and breathes out, and starts the show.
The cats purr in her head, and the crowd cheers and stamps and applauds, and Megan takes her bows. She runs the cats around again by asking politely, and they head out, offstage and out of the spotlight.
The cats are returned to their temporary home, and she leans against the bars, shaking from delayed adrenalin, but smiling so bright.
Robin is there, and Wally and Kaldur. Artemis is out in the crowds, hawking wares, or being a butcher, as they call it here, and Superboy is off outside somewhere, working as a sideshow and distraction.
Wally compliments her on her outfit and her awesome skills, as he puts it. Kaldur makes mention of how nice it is to work with animals, and how she does it well, and she beams, even as her knees fold under her.
Kaldur grabs for her arm, and Wally's beside her in a heartbeat, and Robin presses a hand to her forehead.
"I'm fine," she says, and her cheeks are starting to ache, but she still smiles. "Just... Is it always like that?"
"Is what always like what?" Wally wants to know, bracing her so she could stand.
Robin understands that she means performing, though, and gives her a razor grin. "No," he says. "Sometimes it's better."
Next is the sword dancer, who trips on a banana, of all things. Her leg is in a cast up to her hip, and she most certainly cannot perform like that. Rumors start, murmurs in the shadows, but she'll recover, eventually.
It's when the third performer, their aerialist, gets injured that the circus folk begin whispering about hexes.
"Well, that's that." Allan sticks his hands in his pockets. "We'll move on in the morning."
"You can't give up!" M'Gann exclaims, "We haven't found the culprit yet!"
"Look," Allan drawls, "You can replace one act, fine. You can drop one act, fine. You can't drop two. We ain't got another flyer, and that's one of the main draws. Y'see, Little Lady? Screwed. So we pack up and move on."
M'Gann stares at him, a little bit teary. She'd come to see him almost as an uncle or something, and had, somewhere along the way, fallen in love with the circus. She wouldn't, couldn't let them move on without at least dealing with the threat, first.
And then it hits her. "Roooo~Ritchie," she says, remembering just in time. "He's an acrobat, right? Can he...?"
Allan stares at her for a second. "He said he was a ponger. Hell, he said he was a flyer, didn't he? We can surely ask."
Robin stares at them, eyes hidden behind his glasses. "So, wait. You want me to perform. You want me to get up in front of a crowd, and fly for you? You want me to actually go through a circus routine?"
Megan nods nervously. "That's about the gist of it."
Robin whoops and backhandsprings in place. "This is perfect! Of course I'll do it! When do I start?"
Allan cracks a smile. "Practice started ten minutes ago. Let's go talk to Danvey."
They do talk to Danvey, who's skeptical, to say the very least. "He's just a kid!" the ringmaster snaps. "A strange kid from nowhere who probably hasn't flown in years, if ever."
Robin's mouth tips up, all confidence without the smug. "I can do a triple," he says.
"Like hell you can," Danvey retorts.
"Make you a deal?" Robin shrugs. "I do it, you let me perform, and give us the full run to find this enemy."
Danvey stares at him, then throws up his hands. "If you want to get yourself killed, fine by me! Insane freaky psycho kid."
That night, for the first time in years, Robin flies for a crowd. There had been murmurs in the group of performers, nervous at this untested stranger. They know he'd never match up to their own flyers. They have impossible expectations of what an aerialist should be.
Robin pretty much blows their minds.
Megan watches from inside the tent, and she knows the others are, too. Kaldur is beside her, though, and he exhales once, and she whispers, "Wow."
He's as light as the bird he was named for, and his pure joy comes through in his beaming smile and the curve of his back and the way he jumps higher and farther and- Her breath catches in her throat as he tucks and turns, but the other bar is on the apex of its swing, it can't possibly get there in time, he can't possibly reach it, even as he turns and turns and-
This time, when he takes his bow, it's not to silence and shadows.
And the few days it buys them is enough. Robin and Megan perform every night, and Wally wanders the crowds, and Superboy and Artemis watch the entrance even as Kaldur monitors the back.
Batman's found the gang running the protection racket, and has been waiting to pounce until they make their move. And the likely time for that is tonight.
It's a Friday, and the place is packed. The circus's engagement ends soon, and if the gang is to act, now is their best shot.
Megan isn't on stage tonight, all the better to find hostile intent. She floats high above, connected to Wally and Kaldur, and points them to hotspots.
They break up a few fights, but not much else.
When the show starts, Superboy joins them, leaving Robin and Artemis to patrol the tent tonight.
Then something slimy sneaks into M'Gann's head, and she lands and points them to the back. They stick to the shadows, and end up around the animals, right where Kaldur usually is.
It seems, in his absence, someone has decided to add something to the tigers' water.
Superboy slams the guy against the bars, then lets him fall. Kaldur catches the bottle, and Wally runs a few checks, just to make sure the other animals' water is safe.
Kaldur sniffs it, and declares, "It's a drug, a steroid. It would make the animals uncontrollable." Superboy picks the guy back up and rams him into the bars again, just for good measure. It startles the cats, who want to roar and pace, but Megan's there, and she soothes them.
"Wally?" Superboy says, and Wally startles and nods, then raises Batman on the communicators.
In the tent, the crowd cheers.
They stand in the road, watching the trucks pull out. Despite having said their goodbyes, the team is still gathered, still watching the last of the circus leave town.
M'Gann has tears in her eyes, despite her best efforts, and is waving, waving as hard as she can, and hoping Allan and the others can still see her. She'll miss them, she knows, but she's grateful for all she's learned these past few weeks.
Artemis is skulking in the back, pretending to be strong and stony, though she's had a great time, too, and it was so nice to talk to other projectile weapon specialists.
Superboy's learned the adoration of the crowd, and that's not something he'll forget soon. He's practiced his control and people skills, and he thinks that maybe he understands Superman and Batman and being a hero a little more now.
Kaldur smiles, but it's sad. He didn't spend much time with the people, but he spent a lot of time with the animals, and he really is going to miss them. Maybe it's time to consider getting a pet...?
Wally waves madly alsongside Megan. It was a nice vacation, but at the same time, this isn't really his thing. For one or two nights, sure, but it's hard to be an audience to the same show once a day (and twice on weekends) for three weeks straight. He's not sad to see the trucks go, and is really looking forward to free evenings again.
And Robin watches a temporary home roll away. He thought about going with them for a brief second, but in the end, he has a family and a team, and he's quite content in his present, maybe even enough to stop living in his past.
And the circus moves on.