A/N: So, I tried to post this a few minutes ago, and it reposted chapter four... Second time's the charm? Enjoy!
Barbara and Artemis stopped just shy of the gate, seeing two men that they recognized from their first encounter with Lacko standing at the entrance. The looked around, on guard for any of the young teens trying to escape.
"Still no cell service," Barbara grumbled, checking her phone.
"You really think your dad and the cops are going to be able to beat that guy? Do you remember what he did to Robin last time?"
The redhead stopped, feigning her best confused look. "What…?"
"Really? Now is when you're going to cling to the secret identity? We have to save him now. I don't think anything else matters."
Barbara stared for a moment, seeing the intensity in the blonde's eyes. "That's why he trusts you. Maybe he's not so off afterall."
"Nothing. I'm hoping you're good without your bow."
"I'll take left if you'll take right."
A grin spread across the taller girl's face. "Deal."
The two guards didn't know what hit them. They were expendable, of course, else Lacko would have put someone there that put up more of a fight. The girls left them in a heap on the lawn, walking towards the gate. "They take the no phones on school grounds seriously," the redhead grumbled as she rattled the gate. "Locked." Without warning she jumped up, catching the top half and pulling herself over the massive rods of iron. She flipped easily to the other side and landed.
Dick dodged, moving, flipping, and shifting out of the way. His body protested every step, threatening the freeze up if he didn't stop. His breaths were coming in hitched gasps now, and he felt one knee give out before he caught himself. Lacko let out a laugh, standing on the corner of the fence with the higher advantage point. The teen ducked behind a tree, hearing a bullet ricocheted off the bark.
"Come out, little bird."
He pressed himself up against the tree, trying to stay upright. Everything hurt and he couldn't quite pull together enough energy to burst forward in a sprint. If he didn't move just right he would go down. At this point Lacko would kill him.
"Bruce was never good with kids," Lacko called out as he paced the tall fencing, trying to get a better view at his prey. "Tell me, little bird, how is it growing up in the shadow of the Batman? Surely you've about lived up to your usefulness by now. You've been with him – what? – four or five years? Anything that he could possibly learn from your days on the trapeze has long since been learned, and you seem to have slowed down after our last encounter. What good are you now?"
He was trying to bait him. Dick knew that. In his head he knew that, but as he stood there, cornered against a tree, feeling the exhaustion and the pain tug harshly at him, he couldn't help but listen. Bruce kept him around because he cared. He had a hard time showing it, but Bruce did care about him. Really.
The sound of something small hitting the tree was Dick's only warning and he threw himself away before the bomb went off, splintering the old oak in every direction. He rolled, crying out as he did, and stopped. He was facedown on the ground and not sure he would be able to get up. He could hear Lacko jump down and his footsteps against the grass. He was coming closer and the boy tried to push himself up, tried to keep fighting, but the weight of the elder man's shoe crashing down on his back kept him in the dirt.
"Guess that means he doesn't need you any more, hmm?" Lacko sneered.
He knew that voice. Dick knew that voice beyond any other. The pressure let up immediately when he heard the sound of a boot colliding with his captor. Lacko went flying back, landing hard and Batman stood protectively over his protégé. Dick rolled to his back and nodded.
Batman moved forward, dark cape swirling around him in the moonlit night. He didn't acknowledge Barbara or Artemis joining his ward, nor anything that surrounded them. It was as if his sole concentration was on Thomas Lacko and they were the only ones left in the world. The two of them and their angry past.
"Quite a kid you found there, Bruce," Lacko purred as the Dark Knight hauled him to his feet. "Even looks a bit like you. Tell me, what would you do if he were to die?"
He looked calm, and his motions appeared effortless as Batman swung a former teacher of his around – easily as if he had been a doll in the hands of a child – and slammed him against the fence a few yards away. Lacko sagged down, not quite falling, but breathing hard.
"I thought you didn't let yourself get attached, Bruce. Tell me, you wouldn't kill for my niece, but would you for that kid? That kid you had nothing to do with before you saw his parents plunged to their deaths?"
Batman was on him again, but this time Lacko fought back, matching blow for blow. As much skill as the Dark Knight had in movement, Lacko was quick and agile, reminding him of a gymnast. He jumped up and used the younger man's shoulders to catapult off of, landing gracefully on the ground. Then he just stood there, smiling. "Would you kill for him, Bruce?"
Dick tensed at the words and Barbara laid a hand on his shoulder, trying to keep him seated. He shook his head as he watched his mentor cross the distance between them and laid blow after blow, unrelenting. The teen hadn't seen such rage in him in a very long time, and he knew it wasn't what he was meant to be. Not what he wanted to be. He would regret it after the pain subsided.
Batman didn't acknowledge the boy's approach, but he froze instantly when a young hand grabbed at his arm. He looked back, feeling the anger sluff off, and he looked back down at the man in his hands.
Lacko smiled crookedly. "Show me what you're capable of, Bruce."
The Dark Knight took an almost shaky breath. "I'm not you," he acknowledged and dropped him to the ground.
"I could have killed him! I will kill him!"
"No, you won't, because you would gain nothing from it now. I'm not you." He turned, taking Dick by the shoulders and leading him away. "The police are on their way. Let's go home."
Lacko shook, enraged. "I'll tell them everything! Then what will you do? Your precious secrets! Your lives!"
"To what end?" Batman asked, only stopping, but never turning back to him. "What will it gain you?"
They walked away as the sirens filled the night. Lacko, broken in more ways than one, continued to shout what they both knew were empty threats until he and the three young heroes were out of range.
Saturdays were good days. It meant no school, and, if he were lucky, time with Bruce. Training was out today. He knew that when he woke and could barely pull himself out of bed. Alfred had been there to make sure that all three teens were well taken care of before offering both Artemis and Barbara a ride home. Of course, that had been after a lengthy conversation between a somewhat nervous Artemis and a very stern Batman over secrets and expectations.
Now it was morning, and Dick felt as if he had been tossed around like a ragdoll in a dryer.
Bruce was sitting at the long table when he finally made it downstairs. His coffee was still steaming, showing that he had only been there a few minutes. Even the great Batman had slept in that morning. He had the paper out in front of him, reading an article that said something about the arrest of one Thomas Lacko.
"Morning," Dick greeted.
Bruce put the paper down, gracing the teen with a smile. "Good morning, chum. How do you feel this morning?"
"At least we got the driver of the semi this time," Dick quipped, taking a seat next to his mentor. Alfred acknowledged that he would have the teen's breakfast out to him quickly and he thanked him. "What does the paper say?"
"Looks like he doesn't remember a thing," Bruce answered with a shrug.
"So he won't say anything?"
"He probably doesn't remember." Bruce leaned his head back, looking tired. "I ran a few tests while Alfred was taking a look at you three last night. Looks like Lacko was experimenting with a new type of Venom. It enhances one's abilities without any outside effects. Apparently, it also induces extreme violent behavior where it might not have been before."
"You think it was the Venom that made him come after us?"
"I think the Venom enhanced his feelings," Bruce acknowledged. "He felt betrayed by me and the drug made it worse."
"I guess that would explain the increased sporadic behavior," Dick mused, his breakfast put down in front of him and he began to eat. "So he has no memories of anything that happened?"
"From what I can tell of the serum, it's possible that his memories have been wiped since he began taking it. I'll have to wait on the results of how long its been in his system and all of those details."
"So he won't remember?"
"No, he shouldn't remember."
Dick sighed, shoveling a forkful of French toast into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment before swallowing, looking as if he wanted to ask something, but couldn't quite bring himself to.
"Go ahead," Bruce encouraged.
"Lacko said that you took me in because I reminded you of him… because of where I come from and my skills and everything."
Bruce took a sip of his coffee, letting the words sink in for a moment. "You are… talented, Dick. You've even taught me a few things about acrobatics since you've come to live here, but that's not why I brought you here." He stopped, took another gulp of hot coffee, and watched his ward's reaction over the lip of the cup. Dick sat and watched him, carefully, guardedly, and awaiting a full answer. "You do not remind me of him in any other way than your skill level. If anything, you remind me of what I wish I could have been at your age. Driven, but not by hatred or revenge."
"I've been there."
"I know you have, but you chose the right path, and I think, in the end, you bring more balance to this partnership than you'll ever know."
It was as if a burden lifted off of him and Dick sprang up, chair nearly flying back, and he very suddenly wrapped his arms around Bruce's neck. The elder man smiled, feeling the young teen cling to him, and reached up to return the embrace. "Thanks, Bruce," the boy murmured.
"So, chum, what do you feel like doing today?"
"Just you and me. I took the day off work, the school is closed off for investigation, so you don't have the option of finishing your project, and I think its past time for us to have a day off."
A smile lit the teen's face. "There's this technology convention in Metropolis today, and it's supposed to be totally cool! I know you know about it, because I heard that your company donated some tech to it, and you could get us in. Can we go Bruce? It's still early enough! Can we go?"
"You sure you're up to it?"
The elder man shook his head, laughing. "Get dressed. Looks like we're going to Metropolis today."
The grin brightened, if possible, and Dick reached over and shoved the last bight of toast into his mouth, taking off for the stairs. Any stiffness he might have felt seemed well washed away from the excitement. If he would feel it later, it couldn't be seen now. He stopped, suddenly, halfway up the staircase. "Maybe we could invite Clark and see if he'll get Conner to come?"
"Leave that one alone, chum. Get dressed."
Dick nodded, leaving Bruce to his thoughts and his now-cold coffee. A ghost of a smile still remained on the unmasked Dark Knight's lips. Clark had still not come around to the boy that had been thrust into his own life, but Bruce had faith that he would. He remembered his own first days with Dick in the house, how awkward and bizarre it had been, but he thought the teen had come out fairly well. He stood, stretched, and grabbed for his cell. "Hey, Clark, it's Bruce. What are you up to today? Dick and I will be in town for a tech convention and he mentioned Conner might be interested. It may be high time those two boys meet outside the Cave…."
A/N: Well, this has been a blast to write. I hope y'all have had as much fun reading as I did writing it. As I've said before, please leave any constructive criticism or anything else you'd like to say for me. I tend to use ideas that come up for fanfiction in original works as well.