Author's Note: Hey, guys! If you're new to my stories 'Welcome!' If you're coming over from 'The Changeling' or the 'Wayne Brothers' fics, 'OMG you stuck around!' No, but seriously, I'm glad to have you back semi-across fandoms. This is going to be different than what you're used to from me in hopes of accommodating the differences in the characters from the comics to the YJ-verse. Special thanks to my friend Chris and 8swords who beta-read this fic for me and provided awesome commentary.
I have another fic I'm working on now for the comic-verse too that I'll try to post in parallel to this. It's called 'Deluge in the Wasteland' and it's an AU set two months after 'Son of the Demon' and it's – le gasp – a romance! So be on the lookout for that too. In the meantime, enjoy 'Lights of Gotham'.
Lights of Gotham
By: Silver Spider
Thirteen-year-old Richard John 'Dick' Grayson was going to achieve what no super-villain – not even the Joker – had. Tonight, he'd make Batman break the one and only rule.
"He's going to kill me." His hands clasped the handle on the side door in a white-knuckled death-grip, and he pointed at himself with the other. "See this? Dead dead Robin."
"Oh, come on." In the driver's seat, the spot that only Batman had ever occupied, Wally West rolled his eyes. "He's off with the League in that secret space base of theirs. We'll get this back before he even notices it's gone. He'll never know."
Dick said nothing, just gripped the handle tighter. What had he been thinking! Okay, so every kid dreams of driving the Batmobile, but only he had ever actually ridden in it. He would have been perfectly happy to let that go on, except that his friend thought with Batman's absence, this was the perfect opportunity to take the car out for a joy ride. It wasn't like Robin couldn't hack his way to the controls, and they wouldn't be long. Just around the block.
Halfway into the heart of Gotham, he had to wonder yet again why he'd agreed to this suicidal endeavor. He was a-way smarter than this. Except that Wally was his best friend, the only one that crossed over to both hero and civilian identities. It was nice to actually spend some time with someone close to his own age who he didn't have to hide one or the other from. It wasn't like they didn't know how to drive... or like a single cop in Gotham would try to pull over the Batmobile. Still...
"He's gonna know!" He protested. "You know how he's gonna know? 'Cause he's Batman! He knows everything!"
"He won't if you don't tell him." Wally reached into the bag of chips at his right hand.
Dick tried to think about the last time he'd tried lying to his adoptive father. He couldn't even remember what it was about, except that he'd spent four solid days walking on eggshells, and Bruce hadn't said a word. When the guilt became too much and he finally fessed up, Bruce had simply nodded like he'd always known. When Dick finally gathered the courage to ask if he would have ever called him out on it, all he got in return was a raised brow and a silent look that clearly said, "You don't really want to test that strategy."
"Okay, whatever." He didn't want to fight with the older teen. "We came. We saw. We test-drove. Let's just go back now."
Maybe if they got themselves and the car back to the cave in one piece, Batman might actually let him live, though Dick already knew he'd be ground for life. Still, that was better than no life at all. But this was Gotham, where if things could get worse there was a pretty good chance they would.
Tonight was not going to be an exception.
There was a loud 'pop!', and suddenly the car was swerving wildly. Dick yelped, and Wally actually squeaked in surprise. The forecast had called for rain, but in the late November it got cold enough for the ground to be covered with a thin layer of slush. If it had been any other car, they would have already crashed head first into the nearest building. As it was, the anti-lock breaks and traction control took over on autopilot, bringing them to a rough but safe stop.
Automatic training kicked in instantly as Dick assessed the damage. The questions were second nature to him by now. He could hear Batman's voice in his head as if he was right there.
Question: Are you alright?
Answer: Yes. No major injuries. Just a few bruises.
Question: Is anyone with you? Are they alright?
Answer: Yes, and yes.
Question: Are you in danger?
Answer: Only when you find out.
Glaring at his friend who was blinking away shock, he got out of the car to assess the damage. His boots splashed in the slush, and the wet cold of the night air made him wrap the cape tight around his shoulders. Right side was fine, so was the back and the front. They'd skidded to a halt half way onto an empty sidewalk but not into any building thanks to the smart on-board computer that was very much aware of the car's surroundings. He thought they were in the clear until he walked around to the driver's side. Then Dick stared.
"Uh..." The other boy was just making his way out. "What?"
Instead of answering, Dick pointed at what he'd been staring at: the left front tire... or rather what was left of it. Pieces of rubber still hung loosely on the axis, but the whole thing had been blown out, clearly undrivable. His friend turned to him.
"The Batmobile gets flats?" He quirked a brown. "I'm underwhelmed."
"I'm going to die," Dick repeated blandly, now resigned to his fate.
"Would you quit it with the dying? I can't believe Mr. Always-Be-Prepared didn't teach you how to change a tire on this thing."
Okay, that was fair. They did have a spare in the trunk. It took them a total of fifteen minutes to get everything in place, almost to the point where Dick thought the new one looked indistinguishable from the original. He might just get away with this... Next to him, Wally stretched and grinned.
"See? Problem solved. Now let's get out of here. No offense to this charming city of yours, but this place gives me the creeps."
It was only then that Dick looked up and took a real inventory of their surroundings. And all of a sudden he didn't care about the tire or how much trouble he'd be in. Because he knew exactly where they were, and this... this was wrong!
"Yeah," he agreed, trying to hide his unease. "Let's go back."
They had just sat down and closed the doors, when the voice that made both boys freeze in their seats came across the speakers, crisp, clear, and ice cold.
"Why did the pair of you take my car? And what are you doing in Crime Alley?"
Wally clasped his hands over his mouth. Dick sucked in his lips. They stared at one another, each too afraid to answer. Dick stared at the radio as if something might come out and bite him at any moment. It wasn't too far from the truth. Batman didn't wait for an explanation.
"I'm taking control of the Batmobile." The door locks clicked into place automatically, effectively trapping them inside. "You're both coming to Mt. Justice to explain this in person."
Then the radio went silent. Wally marginally relaxed as the car took off, but Dick's eyes were still wide. He was Robin, the boy wonder, the kid that every other kid wanted to be. He leaped off rooftops and took down bad guys without breaking a sweat or a pang of fear. But there was no way he was going to survive this.
Well, it'd been a good life while it lasted.
"Dude!" Wally's shout broke through his musing. He blinked and saw that his friend was holding up the empty bag of chips. "If you wanted some, you could've just taken one with you."
Dick didn't even have the strength to tell him he hadn't touched his stupid snacks.
When the car pulled into the hanger bay of Mt. Justice less than ten feet away from him, Bruce did his best to make sure the expression on his face was completely neutral. With the cowl covering more than half, it might have been hard to tell for most people, but Dick could read him better than anyone save Alfred. Besides, the neutral, unemotional expression would be far worse than any anger. Anger was useless when dealing with the children.
Next to him, Wally's uncle, Barry Allen, shifted impatiently. Speedsters usually had a problem standing still, and even the man seemed nervous about what he'd say. His own mask was pulled back.
"They're just kids, Bruce," he reminded him, as if he'd threatened summary execution. "Whatever they're imagining for their punishment is probably worse than anything you're about to dish out, right? Right?"
He ignored him. Sometimes it was the only way to deal with the man. The car doors opened simultaneously, and the two boys – thankfully with the sense not to wear civilian clothes – slunk out slowly. Even Wally was surprisingly silent and not too quick to make his way over to where he and his uncle were waiting for them. Dick wouldn't look him in the eye.
"I don't need to tell you that your actions were stupid and irresponsible," he used the Batman voice that sent most Gotham thugs running for the hills. "Overlooking the fact that you are both unlicensed, you took the car without permission..."
"...that you'd never give," Wally muttered. An elbow in the side from Dick silenced the boy.
"That was your one comment," Batman glared. "Interrupt again and this will be the last time you see the inside of this mountain. As it is, you are both barred from entrance for three weeks. I consider that extremely light. Wallace, your uncle will add whatever punishment he feels is appropriate. Dick, we will talk at home. And believe me, we will talk."
Dick finally looked up. Seeing the unspoken request, Batman gave an almost indistinct nod, giving the permission to speak.
"What about the others?"
"I will not punish your teammates. If your assistance is truly required, you will be allowed to accompany them on missions. Those decisions will be made by myself alone. Do not attempt to plead your case to the others."
"And don't think your parents won't be hearing about this," Allen added to his nephew.
Wally bit his lip. "It's not like anything happened."
Behind the lenses of the cowl, Batman's eyes turned towards the car. The doors had been left open, and he'd been listening to something for a few minutes now. Distracted by the boys, he couldn't be sure at first, but now he was.
"Nothing happened?" He repeated at Wally who paled all of a sudden and swallowed. "How many people do you suppose are breathing in this room?"
The odd question clearly threw the teen for a moment. He looked around. "Ahh... unless you have the others listening in from somewhere... umm... four?"
"Wrong," said Batman, calmly but pointedly stepping past them towards the car. "Five."
He reached inside, behind the front seats. He could feel the others behind him, looking over his shoulder, but ignored them in favor of focusing on what his right hand had closed around. A yank, some scrambling, and the sound of something crunching on the floor as a few crumbs of what looked like potato chips tumbled out. This was quickly followed by the emergence of a pair of bright blue eyes that blinked up at him.
From the corner of his eye, Batman could see the others staring, but his attention was entirely focused on the revealed stowaway. The boy was filthy, dark hair and tattered clothes wet with slush. He was skinny and pale, dark circles under his eyes looking more like bruises than anything else. His hands were balled up in firsts, shaking slightly, but Batman saw little of fear in his eyes. That, more than anything else, gave him pause.
"How did you end up in my car?" he asked the child flatly.
"When they were busy with that tire." The boy pointed at the gawking Kid Flash and Robin over Batman's shoulder. "I smelled food. Meant to leave 'fore they got back, but... it was cold, and I kinda figured there might be more food."
"You ate my chips?" Kid Flash pointed indignantly, which earned him another jab in the ribs from Robin. Even from his peripheral vision, Batman could see that his partner's expression was very serious. He also noticed that the boy tensed. His nose was running a little, and he wiped it with the back of his sleeve, smearing more dirt on his face. Under the cowl, Batman frowned.
"You don't have to be afraid of them," he told the boy. "No one here will hurt you."
What he got in return was a dubious look. "Tt. You won't. Everyone in Gotham knows you only beat up criminals. And I'm not a criminal."
"You did break into my car," Batman pointed out mildly.
"They left the door wide open!" The boy protested flinging a hand at the older two.
And now he's arguing with me. Again his expression revealed nothing, but privately he was amused and maybe even a little impressed. Most of his own teammates – never mind adversaries and civilians – wouldn't dare talk back to him. It wasn't necessarily the kind of fear he consciously strived for, but he had to admit it was useful at times.
"What's your name?"
"Your full name."
"Jason Peter Todd."
"Front and center, Jason Peter Todd."
The boy climbed fully out of the car and stood before him. He was about two inches shy of four feet and far thinner than Batman had first estimated.
"Robin and Kid Flash will show you were the kitchen is," he told the boy. "But first you need to tell me your parents' names so we can call them for you."
Jason's look grew darker than he'd ever seen on anyone so young. "They're dead. My mom is, anyway. Don't know 'bout the old man. He might be in jail or dead, too. Don't know. Haven't seen 'im in like... a year."
"So who takes care of you?" Robin blurted from a step beyond his right.
"I do," the boy glared back. "Handle myself just fine."
"You handle yourself 'just fine' in Gotham's East End?" Robin stared at the child before turning to him. "Batman..."
He exhaled slowly through his nose, sensing that this had just become a lot more than a joy ride gone awry. His adoptive son, who was almost always so calm and easy-going, was now on the verge of panic, and it wasn't because he was in trouble. He looked at Allen who, for once, seemed just as serious.
"The two of you, take him to the kitchen," he nodded between him and his nephew. "Give him something to eat. Something light. I need to speak with Robin. We will join you shortly."
"Sure," Allen nodded. "Come on, kid. We don't bite. Promise."
Jason hesitated, looked up at Batman, then went along, his soggy sneakers making squishing noises on the concrete floor of the hanger. The instant the hanger door closed on the trio, Dick all but tore off his domino mask.
Bad. Bad, bad, very bad!
First the car, then the tire, then Crime Alley, and now this kid... this orphan. Dick didn't even know why he felt like he'd been punched in the gut by Clayface, why he almost felt like crying. He only ever cried around the anniversary of his parents' deaths. And now Bruce pushing back his cowl and was looking at him the same way he did when the visited the graveyard, not like he was in trouble. He should have been in trouble, damn it!
"I'm sorry!" he blurted out.
"Really really sorry! I'm never going to listen to Wally ever again."
"Dick," the man placed both hands on his shoulders. "It's okay. I'm not mad."
"You should be!"
"You're not hurt. Neither is Wally or anyone else. Everything else we can work out. Take a deep breath."
He did as he was told, feeling only slightly better. "What are we going to do? About the kid. I mean, we can't just take him back where we got him from. He's..."
"...been to the hideout?" Bruce supplied for him knowingly.
Dick slowly nodded, grateful that his mentor knew him well enough to know when to cover for him even from himself. He didn't want to explain, didn't even know if he could put into words why the younger boy bothered him so much. He knew what it was like to be an orphan and he knew the streets of Gotham, but something in the way that boy talked about it just sent chills up his spine. Bruce patted his shoulder.
"Do you have any clean civilian clothes here?" Dick nodded. "Can you go get him something warm to wear for now?"
He gave him a dubious look. "Sure. I don't mind or anything, but... I mean, I'm not that big, but he's gonna drown in anything of mine."
It was his father's turn to let out a deep even breath, and Dick balked. Stupid! When was he going to learn to think before he opened his mouth? This was hitting Bruce just as hard – if not harder – than him, and here he was acting like a child. He turned towards the doors.
"Sorry. Okay, I'm going."
Bruce nodded but called after him when he was half-way to the exit. "Dick."
"Yeah?" He looked over his shoulder.
"You're still grounded. Three weeks. No TV, no computers, no video games. School and home. That's it."
"Okay. That's fair." Actually it was very generous as far as Dick was concerned. He started for the door again, then paused. "What about Robin?"
The man tilted his chin up slightly and sighed. "Robin is grounded, too."