Blossoming of a Friendship
21st March 2009
When Dick awoke, he had a disgruntling feeling that he was forgetting something fairly important. The sound of curtains scraping back and cutlery tinkling filled his ears, much to his confusion. He blinked blearily against the harsh light and fumbled for his alarm clock. The glowing digits informed him that it was well past midday—something he hadn't quite expected. With a start, he bolted upright, only to become hopelessly entangled in his endless bed sheets. He paused as he heard soft laughter and looked over to Alfred, who was carrying a tray with an impressive-looking lunch settled upon it. The man set the tray cautiously on the messy bedside table and assisted Dick in sitting up against the headboard.
"Happy birthday, Master Dick. Forgive me for not waking you earlier but I believed that you could do with the extra sleep." He moved the tray over to Dick's lap and ruffled the boy's already tousled hair. "Master Bruce suggests that the two of you go out for dinner in the evening so you have about five hours to do as you please."
"That's great. Thanks, Alfred," Dick replied between mouthfuls. "Are we going to the Italian place?"
"If you want to." Dick responded with a nod as Alfred began to walk towards the door. "I'll make a reservation right away. Is there anything else you would like to do today?"
After a moment's consideration, Dick said, "Do you mind if I spend a couple of hours with a friend? It's kind of important. I just need a lift to the city limits."
"Of course. Let me know when you're ready—oh, and don't forget your presents." He inclined his head in the direction of Dick's desk, where a surprisingly large pile of presents had been placed.
It was the fourth birthday he'd spent at Wayne Manor and he still found the occasion strange. When he had been at the circus, every performer and crew member acted as a family. It was not about gifts or money; it was about spending the day with those you loved and those who cared about you. Dick's memories were much more precious to him than any present he had received. In the mansion, though, things were quite different. Silence generally greeted him as he traversed the halls, which had been foreign to his ears. He had been used to lively scenes and cheering crowds. Silences at the circus meant exclusion or punishment, but silence from Bruce was just something to be expected. He rarely voiced his feelings or showed them, which was the complete opposite to Dick. Dick liked to chat animatedly and when he wasn't plastering a grin on his face or laughing, he showed his pain openly and voiced almost every thought that popped into his head. He'd become accustomed to holding up two ends of a conversation since he'd moved in. Bruce had a busy duel life to juggle and Dick respected that. It was nice when he made time for his ward, though; it was a pleasant surprise, although Dick sometimes allowed a snarky voice in his head to say that it really shouldn't be so rare that it surprised him.
When he opened his laptop, he dived straight into the files Wally had sent him the previous night. While Wally had been talking almost non-stop when Dick had called him, the younger had made a note to messily write down anything of import. His sleep-riddled handwriting was hardly legible in the light of day, so he was thankful that the speedster had thought to send him any necessary files.
The situation, it seemed, was personal. The duel speedsters had been conveniently out-of-town last night, leaving Central City mostly unprotected. Someone had apparently taken this as an opportunity to execute what seemed like an insignificant kidnapping, at least until one looked more closely at the details. The boy kidnapped was named Adam Turner and was one of Wally's friends at school. He was as enthusiastic about science as Wally but was also a keen musician. From Wally's descriptions, he was one of those guys that everyone liked, purely because they were too nice to dislike. Wally had discovered about the kidnapping as soon as he got home; his parents had stayed up to tell him. The police had visited every person connected to Adam but had thus far found nothing. Adam had simply never returned home.
For Wally, this didn't feel like an accurate conclusion. Dick recalled a few minutes spent listening to the other as he recounted how he'd sneaked into Adam's house to check things out and how something had just seemed off. He couldn't quite pinpoint what exactly the cause of this feeling was, but he figured he'd wait for Robin so they could follow-up on the case when they weren't so sleep deprived.
Bruce entered his room shortly after he'd eaten and dressed, a loud knock on the door announcing his presence. His eyes flickered briefly over to the pile of still-wrapped presents before he turned to Dick, a rare smile curving his lips.
"Happy birthday, Dick."
"Thanks, Bruce," Dick replied, settling himself on the end of his bed.
"Alfred tells me you'll be occupied for a few hours," he said in a tone that clearly wanted an explanation without exactly being questioning.
"Yeah. Wally's asked for my help with something—a personal case. You—uh—you don't mind, do you?"
Bruce gave a slight shake of his head. "No, but don't overwork yourself. Our reservation is for six this evening and I thought that we could perhaps catch a movie afterwards." Dick gave a nod in agreement. Bruce walked over to the desk, a hand gliding over the neatly wrapped paper of one of the presents. "I picked this one out yesterday. I wasn't sure I'd be able to find it." Without further elaboration, he walked out, only briefly pausing to inform Dick of where he would be should his assistance or advice be required.
When the door clicked shut and the footsteps faded, Dick hopped off his bed and strode towards the present. His hands wavered in hesitation above it; he was curious but slightly anxious about what was hidden beneath. He hadn't been sure what he'd been expecting, but his eyes slowly widened as he tore the paper, gradually revealing the rather large poster. It was framed and behind glass, but Dick remembered it clearly. It had been the one he'd seen every day before moving to Gotham. The minimalist poster was something to be proud of; its simplistic design did wonders for the elegance of the Flying Graysons. Dick smiled wistfully down at it and tried not to get too caught up in memories.
Throughout the opening of his other presents, Dick couldn't help but look back at it.
In order to not attract any unwanted attention, Dick had to pack his Robin costume inside a suitable inconspicuous bag for his journey to Gotham's suburbs. The towns and smaller settlements scattered around Gotham's borders were mostly poorer than and just as crime-riddled as the main attraction, but no one so much as gave him a second glance as he traversed the streets. Alfred had driven him to Gotham's outskirts in the knowledge that should he encounter any trouble, Dick would be easily able to defend himself. It was funny how little people could recognise him without his gelled hair and blown-up arrogance.
Wally stood waiting for him on the corner of a street, tapping his foot restlessly in a blur. The duo locked eyes and Dick inclined his head towards the nearest alleyway. He followed Wally as the redhead lead on and adjusted his glasses as he walked.
"You're wearing your costume, right?" asked Dick, eyeing the other. He was clad in simple jeans and a sweatshirt, although neither looked as if they could withstand the force of a running speedster.
"Yup." As if to demonstrate, Wally pulled down the neck of his sweatshirt, revealing the bright yellow fabric underneath.
"Good, now turn around; I need to change." Dick crouched to the ground as he opened his backpack and glanced up to Wally at the other's hesitation. "What?"
"You're seriously gonna get undressed in a Gotham alley?"
"Well, you're gonna look out for me." He made a gesture with his hands, shooing Wally further towards the entrance to the alley. "Now turn."
Changing into his Robin costume efficiently in the dark was a much easier task that he'd anticipated. The only real difficulty he had was attaching his cape, which had somehow separated from his main shirt piece in the bag. He gave more than a few suspicious glances to either end of the alley as he reached to remove his glasses, even though he was facing a wall and would soon replace the eye-wear for his domino mask. He tapped the side of the mask and the whited lenses flickered into life.
He turned to Wally, who during the time had stripped himself of his civilian clothes and was left standing in his Kid Flash uniform. After securing the bag containing their clothes in a discreet location, Robin hopped onto Kid Flash's and within a second, they were gone.
Although it had been pre-planned, travelling like this was entirely disorientating. For Kid Flash, he assumed this just meant that his body could finally catch up with the pace his mind worked at. For Robin, he could only grip on for dear life and pray that the other didn't trip over. His eyes were protected by the mask but he'd instinctively closed them upon setting off. The wind blasted through his hair and the muffled noises of passing cities echoed in his ear, and he soon opened his eyes, mostly out of curiosity. The world passed as a blur, much too fast for Dick to process. It was astounding how Kid flash could keep up, let alone direct their travel. He leaned into his turns, accounted for Robin's additional weight, and slowed down just enough whenever he felt Robin's grip get almost painfully tight. It took a couple of minutes, but they'd figured out a comfortable position that did not render their speed too much; Robin laced his arms around Kid Flash's neck while his legs tucked in tightly by his sides. Kid Flash held the legs securely and Robin hoped that the fear of falling off would fade with experience.
Their arrival at Central City was punctuated by a slightly stumbled halt. Kid Flash skidded across the pavement and gravel sprayed up in his wake. They'd stopped at what looked like the back streets behind a row of houses, each with its own reasonably shambolic garage. Out of the corner of his eye, Robin spotted a stray strand of police tape caught on a branch of a nearby tree.
"This is where Adam lives," said Robin, deliberately using the present tense and not phrasing it as a question.
Kid Flash nodded, his lips set in a firm line. "Yeah. His house it that one." He raised a hand and pointed to the house second to the left. Without warning, Robin took his grappling hook from his belt and shot it at the roof, gliding up with ease. His elevated position gave him a clearer view into the house. The window which he assumed to be Adam's showed a room that was eerily disarrayed yet uninhabited. He looked down to Kid Flash and they shared a nod. Robin ran a hand carefully over the glass. It was not broken, although the tiniest of cracks ran along the bottom of it, as if it had been forcible opened with more care than most intruders bothered to give. Ensuring that he did no further damage to the window, Robin pried it open just enough to slip inside.
Kid Flash had confirmed previously that the family would not be in. Adam had no siblings and his parents worked long hours at their respective businesses. He still trod lightly and checked each corner before entering a new room or hallway, just in case. He found his way to the back door fairly quickly and picked the lock, allowing Kid Flash to enter.
"I thought you Flashes could vibrate through walls and door," Robin commented, throwing Kid Flash a smirk over his shoulder as they made their way to Adam's room.
A barely-there blush tainted Kid Flash's cheeks. "Flash can, I can't. I've tried but I just get a nosebleed." He scowled when Robin snorted in amusement and settled for sticking his tongue out to him in what was obviously a very mature manner.
Upon closer inspection, very little seemed ajar in Adam's room. There was almost no sign of a struggle and the evidence that could suggest a fight could also suggest just a very messy teenager. Kid Flash confirmed this query; he'd partnered with Adam multiple times during laboratory experiments and Adam had always been the one to leave equipment lying around and forgetting to put things away.
"KF, I need you to grab a map of Central City. We need to figure out any possible locations," Robin said in a low voice, trailing a hand over the layer of dust adorning Adam's bookcase. His eyes were narrowed behind the mask as he scrutinised his surroundings for any clues. He felt a gentle breeze and within a few seconds, Kid Flash had returned. He pushed the goggles onto his forehead and sat cross-legged on the floor, spreading the large map out before him.
"Can't he be anywhere, though?"
Robin raised his shoulders in a small shrug. "Possibly. It depends who the culprit is."
"But we don't know who took him."
"That would be why I'm looking." Something didn't seem right in the room; everything except the bookcase was in an unruly mess. "Wally, come here."
Kid Flash rose and approached the other, his head inclined in curiosity. "What? It's a bookcase."
"The dust has been disturbed in only one place," Robin pointed out, indicating to the lowest shelf. "Doesn't that seem a little odd?"
Kid Flash crouched to inspect the break in the dust, his brows pinched. It didn't look entirely natural—more like someone had rubbed away the dust just in front of one book. He pulled the book out, paid little attention to its cover, and flicked through it. A small piece of paper fell out, which Robin stooped to pick up. He held it up to the light to better see what it was.
"It's a playing card," he said, showing it to the other. "Well, part of one."
"Maybe he used it as a bookmark," suggested Kid Flash. It seemed entirely reasonable but Robin only replied with a shrug and a quiet 'maybe', before pocketing the card for later examination.
As they took a seat either side of the map, Robin brought up a holographic screen containing data from Central City's police department. This, combined with the little facts Kid Flash decided to throw in during their deductions, gave them a rough idea how and when Adam had disappeared. They'd circled a few of the more likely locations on the map. The possibility of him running away had been erased long ago so it could only be assumed that he'd been abducted. Ignoring the residence of the unknown kidnapper, the places circled so far were the warehouse district and the sewage system. Neither sounded particularly delightful but if this was a gang thing, then he'd most likely be there. It wasn't much and was based on more assumptions than Robin was entirely comfortable with, but it was a start.
"And he hates sports but loves watching them—especially British rugby," Kid Flash babbled, refolding the map carefully as not to tear it. "I can't remember which team he supports. It has some weird name like the Harlequins or something. "
Robin glanced up from his wrist computer at this, a hidden brow raised. It was most likely useless information, although anything was appreciated at this stage. "I'll work on this at home and let you know if I can find anything."
"Yeah, I'll go to the map places. Hopefully I'll find him." He raised his arms above his head as he stood, his back arching as he stretched. "We should probably get going. I don't know when his parents get back—"
"Shh," Robin hissed, a silence lulling between them. Just as he'd thought, Adam's parents had impeccable timing and were coming through the front door as they spoke. He raised a finger to his lips, indicating for Kid Flash to stay quiet, and walk over to the window. It opened easily and he slid through it, pausing on the windowsill so he could close it after them. Kid Flash held much less grace as he jumped, landed on the gravel below, and rolled to break his fall. Robin soon joined him, poised in a low crouch.
Kid Flash grinned to him and turned so his back was facing him. He braced himself for the impeding jump and made sure Robin's body fit snugly against his own before setting off.
He wouldn't admit it, although he felt no shame in it considering Gotham and it suburbs were unfamiliar territory, but he'd forgotten where'd they'd hidden their clothes. Luckily, though, Robin had anticipated this and when he assumed they were nearing his city, he began to speak quietly into Wally's ear, directing his movements among the streets.
They exchanged few words as Kid Flash kept guard over the alley whilst Robin changed. Robin assumed it must have been frustrating for the other to be so close to Robin's unguarded identity yet unable to do anything about it, even though it was mostly out of respect for his friend and fear of Batman. Robin had received countless attempts from the redhead to unveil his true self to him, although most had been more subtle than the first. Robin still refused but he had told Wally that he knew him as his true self anyway. Knowing him as anything other than Robin would not shatter any illusions, but merely set up another façade for him to go by.
"You done yet?" called Kid Flash. "I swear you're as slow as a girl getting dressed."
Robin didn't point out that Kid Flash considered everything to be slow. "Sorry, got distracted."
"I guess I'll—er—be going now." He raised a hand in a small wave before departing in a blur. He was back merely seconds later, his arms tight around Robin in what he assumed was a hug, and then darted off again.
The movie had been nothing spectacular although would doubtlessly win dozens of awards. The speeches were dramatic, the costumes bizarre, and the cinematography gave one the impression of being quite dizzy. Even so, Dick had enjoyed it; it was a change from running around on rooftops, though he'd most likely end up doing that tonight.
They'd had almost no wait at the Italian; Bruce had simply strolled up to the maître d', who had not even bothered to check the reservation list. Whispers sounded around them and some people even had the nerve to sneakily attempt to take photographs. Dick followed the other men hurriedly, having been distracted momentarily by his surroundings, and took the seat opposite Bruce. Their drinks were ordered quickly and they were left in privacy.
Their conversation mostly revolved around Dick's school life and Bruce's work. Dick was curious about Wayne Enterprises and tried to keep up with news about it, but it became awfully dull after a while. His school life wasn't particularly thrilling either; he achieved good grades and kept up the required social time with his friends, even though he was fairly sure that most of them just stayed around so they could be seen with Dick Grayson. Bruce asked how Barbara was, if he'd talked to Wally since this morning, and even made a sly joke about how he seemed to be developing a preference for redheads. Just as Dick was rolling his eyes and preparing to retaliate, a soft, repetitive tune started playing.
He fished his phone from his pocket and glanced up hesitantly to Bruce. With a muttered apology, he accepted the call and raised the phone to his hear. "Wally?"
"R-Robin, thank God." His voice was strained and echoed around him. Something was evidently wrong.
"Are you okay? What's wrong?"
"Adam—he's dead, Rob. The guys who got him, they were wearing masks—I couldn't see their faces. They got me. I can't vibrate out of it. The sewers, Rob, you've gotta help me. It's gonna blow."
Dick's eyes widened. His gaze flickered around the place, calculating the quickest route out. There was silence from the other end and he noticed that Wally had hung up, or someone had hung up for him.
"Bruce, I have to go."
"You're not going," he said softly, although the words were anything but kind.
"How do you—yes I am."
"Richard, sit down. It's a trap."
A/N- So I got distracted because I finally got my AO3 account. You'll never guess what the username is (hint: it's I_mNotYourEnemy).