I own whom I own. I don't own whom I don't own. Thanx to Char for
betaing and Brendan for allowing me to ramble incessantly on topics
known only to God and myself.

Discourses in Disaster

Dick put his Sun Dollars cup into the cup holder beside him, then
pulled off the high way. Traveling down an unpaved road about a
hundred yards, he turned off the road to a patch that sat above
a `scenic overview' and shut off the engine.

"Wow, a make-out spot. Didn't know you felt that way about me," his
son wisecracked from beside him. A lot of the usual exuberant
flippancy was gone. There was just a jaded sarcasm left. Something
was changing, and Dick wanted like hell to know what it was.

"You're the one who wanted to talk," he reminded his son. "Start

Jimmy took one more sip of his coffee, then looked out the window,
watching the early morning sky and the tufts of cold-weather clouds
drifting across it. "You know… I spent all night trying to think of
just the thing to say, and I had something really cool to start out
with, but now that I'm sitting here… I'll be damned if I can remember
what it is."

"Watch your mouth," Dick reprimanded. "That's a start."

"Mara doesn't have to--" he snapped automatically.

"She doesn't still live under my--" Dick stopped.

They fell into uncomfortable silence.

"Do you like her more?" Jimmy asked finally, still refusing to look
at his father.

"Hell no. We've done our damnedest to make sure you two knew that we
didn't love either one of you more or less than the other, and you're
both paranoid that the other's the favorite child. Do you know how
FRUSTRATING it gets after nineteen and a half years of playing the
same game?" Why couldn't he manage just TWO children? There were kids
that grew up in families of four, five… seven children that didn't
have the ego and confidence problems these two had.

"Ok. Fine."

"What does that have to do with why you're out of the suit?" He
picked up his cup again, placed his finger over the hole in the lid,
and swirled it around, trying to get the sludge off the bottom of the
cup before taking another sip.

"A lot. I'm just not her out there."

Dick was trying to remain calm, but for some reason, his heart was
pounding in his chest. "I never expected you to be. You were you. And
that was more than enough. Jimmy, you were GOOD."

"But I wasn't her."

"You think you were my `replacement sidekick' because Mara decided
she liked Bruce and Gotham and Arkham escapees more than us?"

"She gets grounded, she goes out with you, and I get benched."

"That's cause every time I had you two in the air together, you did
nothing but fight."

Jimmy's lips pursed together in angry protest. "Bench her, not me,"
Jimmy said, trudging up arguments that were at least eight years old.

Dick sighed, sick of searching for new ways to explain the
situation. "She HATED flying with me. It's only a punishment if
you're miserable. It's an ancient Bruce ritual of sadistic torture
until `lesson' is learned." Dick took a deep breath, trying to calm
the pounding in his veins. "Jimmy… do the grudges go back this far? I
thought we were great partners. We didn't keep secrets… or I thought
we didn't. But if you've been holding grudges since day one… it might
take us forever to fix what's wrong."

"I don't know," Jimmy admitted. "I just… hate her so much. I always
have." The young man squeezed his cup uncomfortably. "God… I hate
Bruce too. I hate them both so much."

Dick didn't respond. He knew his son wasn't comfortable around Bruce.
He didn't know the emotions ran that deep.

"And then… they had to go do that to me."

"Do what?"

"THAT. Egypt."

"Oh." Dick turned his cup a half turn, and drank the last dregs of
his coffee.

"And I hate you for it too."

Dick wanted to say something, but again found himself lost for words.
They both stared out the windshield at the barren trees, pondering
the bitterness that lay between them. "Bruce loved you," Dick managed
finally. "In his way."

"I hate his way," the young man said vehemently. "Sometimes I thought
the only one he gave a shit about was Mara. And even then I never
understood the sick attraction. You know, before she and Jordy
shacked up, there were rumors that they were sleeping together."

"They—what? Who the hell--?"

"Dad, come on, you had to have heard them. It was practically a
fricking relief when I heard Jordy and her pounding away over open
channels. I thought to myself great, that means there's nothing
perverse going on, or less perverse, or not as perverse as it could
be or something. And I swear, that's the only reason why he never
murdered Jordy for going near her, to kill the rumors. Balius tried
to hit on her once, and Batman practically fed him his own leg. Hell,
he stared down anyone who even tried to have a conversation with her.
Then you all wonder why she has no friends," he sighed.

"Jimmy—they were just partners. They worked together. Believe it or
not… back in the day… Bruce an' me used to be that close. And I don't
know… I just grew up. Got my own way of thinking… and moved on. Which
isn't bad. I don't regret flying with him. She just… I don't know.
They thought the same. Even when she was little. It'd drive me nuts
that they communicated on this level that I never communicated with
him on, and they just… clicked. I don't know. All I know is that it
drove me nuts."

"So then you weren't partners with him like she was."

"Well, he and I had to actually TALK in order to communicate, and he
doesn't like talking so… Well, you should have seen when she got
dragged on Justice League missions with him. They wouldn't say two
peeps. Maybe… that's what freaked people out." Was he explaining this
well at all? He didn't feel like it. "Just… tell me how this fits
into the this mess."

"I don't know," the young man admitted.

"You know… I thought we were like that. I mean… we never used to
really talk, right? We talked when we were flying, but we didn't talk
when we were putting the smack down on someone. I thought we had what
they had."

Jimmy shook his head. "What they had was SICK."

"There wasn't anything going on!" Dick said too loudly. The car shook
with the force of his answer.

"He was sick! She was sick! Do you know how many blows to the head
she WILLINGLY took to get to you guys? That might be why she has
fucking brain damage now. And… and he was the same way. He'd get
almost fucking blown up… just because. They were both fucking
suicidal psychopaths."

"I think it's the water in Gotham," Dick answered flippantly.


"What? That's just the way he played the game. And she wasn't screwed
up until the Joker thing, ok?"

"You make an awful lot of excuses for them."

"I shouldn't have to defend my dad or my daughter to you."

"I hated working with her," Jimmy said, his eyes suddenly burning
with tears. "I hated working with her… before. And I hated working
with her after."

"James, you don't have to work with her. Don't ever talk to her ever
again… I don't care. I still don't see what THEY have to do with
Bludhaven. I don't see what they have to do with you coming back, or
you leaving, or any of it."

"Dad, geeze! Just… let me talk!"

Dick crushed his cup and threw it behind him. "You sound like a
Sunday sermon… dancing around the point. I love you, but get the hell
on with it."

Jimmy turned in his chair and stared at him with wide, wet
eyes. "Does the double standard for swearing in this household ever
strike you as slightly ironic?"


"Dad… that's the way everything is. There're separate rules for
everyone in this family. And somewhere along the way there got
invented this rule that Jimmy'll just do whatever anyone else tells
him to do. I wanted my own life. Somewhere away from those nutcases
in Gotham--" his voice cracked. "And the constant intrigue of who's
going to fill the vacuum of power in Bludhaven this week. We get rid
of Blockbuster, and there's the league of assassins. We get rid of
them, and Shiva moves into town. We get rid of her, and the mafia
declares war. I just… want to build stuff. I make it, you break it.
You break it, you send me a check and I make you a new one. That's
all I want. Something NORMAL in my life. Is that too much to ask?"

"It all depends on how you define normal," Dick said calmly. He
watched a bird fly among the barren branches, then take off into the
morning sky.

"Not a cape and tights."

Slowly, Dick turned to face his son once more. This was such a
difficult conversation. One that had been avoided and danced around
for a long time. He supposed it would just be best if he got it all
into the open. "What're you going to do if your kids have meta-

"They're not… I had them test…"

"Jimmy… there're no certain things in life. You're married to a Meta.
You could have the league of assassins on your doorstep just for
that. When Jordy was little, the whole fucking Justice League had to
steal him back from some group that wanted to experiment on him."

The young man glared at his father bitterly, wondering if this was
some sort of punishment. "Are you trying to scare the shit out of

"I'm trying to say you weren't handed a normal existence."

Jimmy's face closed off, his brows falling. "Well, maybe I should
have been."

Dick did his best to will Jimmy to look at him again, but eye contact
was not forthcoming. "So you DO blame me… going all the way back. I
thought this is what you wanted."

"I wanted to fit in in a world I had no business fitting into."

"You have every right--"

"I have no fucking right. Bruce had a crusade, maybe you do too… Mara
has some sick fucking connection to him, and I'm just excessive

The force of Dick's reply shook the car again. "You are NOT baggage."

"I was a freaking sidekick. Excessive, gratuitous, after the thought

"ALL the Titans were sidekicks. You eventually find your own way."

Suddenly, Jimmy's eyes were boring into his father's. "That's it.
This is my own way."

Dick looked around him, searching for sense in all of this. "I wish I
believed that, ok? There is something else. There's some other reason
you just walked away, which doesn't make sense when placed in
conjunction with the fact that you worked so damned hard to be out
there every night. Even after you got sick. I told you before… you
are NOT responsible for what happened to Bruce. He made his own
decision and NONE of us could stop that."

"I don't blame myself," the boy spat venomously, and then took a
sideways glance at his father. "Fine. I blame myself. And I blame
her. And I blame YOU. I don't understand what happened, or why. I
don't understand… tell me why you were there with him. Tell me why
YOU went with him instead of her. Tell me why you couldn't get out

"Jimmy, sometimes…"

"Dad, don't be shitting me, ok?"

Taking a deep breath, Dick regrouped. He ran a hand through his dark
waves, trying to bring some order to his mind. "She had monitor duty.
I scheduled her for it because Bruce asked me to. And I gave you that
case so you'd be busy. He wanted to talk about some stuff."

Jimmy stared blankly at him. "Huh?"

"Line of succession."

The blank look changed to shear vacancy for a moment, but Jimmy came
back to earth. "Was he dying or something?"

"We talked about it once in a while. It was just that time again,"
Dick stated. "The last plan was for Tim to take over, and it didn't
look like there was any way in hell HE was ever coming back."

"He LET you talk to him about that kind of stuff?"

Dick put his arm behind Jimmy's chair, turning closer to his son. "He
wasn't an unapproachable beast."

Sucking in a breath, Jimmy turned away from his dad, staring out the
passenger side window. A paper food rapper danced along side the car,
then blew completely away. He watched it fade into the distance for a
few moments. "So, who did he want in Gotham?" Did the old guy really
think that his dad would just drop his life in Bludhaven and
relocate? That was one of the reasons he hated that man… always
assuming everyone else would just do what he required of them.


"You told him no, right? I mean, you wouldn't let him talk about it
like that. You wouldn't… you--"

"I said I had to ask you first. I tried to discourage it. That you
and Mara in the same city was a bad idea…"

"And why not you?"

"I think it took me ten or fifteen years to beat that idea out of his
head. I did my stint as the Dark Knight. A couple of months was
enough to beat the idea out of MY head. So.. um… we were kind of
looking at our options."


"That Ra's needed dealt with before I jokingly mentioned Roy's name
one more time and he whaled off and killed me."

Jimmy scowled. "You know… I'm supposed to grow up and stop joking
around and stuff… and you're worse than me."

Dick's lips pressed together for a moment. "The double-standard is
duly noted."

* * *

Jordan Rayner stripped off his clothes and crawled back into bed next
to his wife. He wrapped an arm around her, pulling her back close to
his chest.

"Where's MY chocolate?" Mara asked sleepily.

"You didn't want any," Jordan pointed out, kissing her neck.

"Changed my mind."

He sighed, pushing her hair away from her ear so he could rest his
lips near it. "I gave her one pound of chocolate, and she ate it in
like three bites. Peaches is bouncing off the walls."

Mara's eyes closed again, tiredness overcoming her again. "That's

His hand wandered to her abdomen, a little worried about her. She'd
been up late last night, working on the computer and pacing the
floors, and generally being irritable, but this morning she was just
completely out of steam. "You doing ok? I didn't mean to take off…"

Her arm rose and she grabbed her husband's head, rubbing his
hair. "I'm ok. You promised the kid candy."

"Mara… are you sure? I just want to know what's wrong." She didn't
pace the floors for nothing. Yesterday she'd been half-insane with
whatever had infected her. He'd been in his own private hell
yesterday, but he wasn't oblivious.

Knowing she wasn't going to get out of it easily, she turned in his
arms to face him. "You know I'd tell you, right?"

"We all have our imperfect moments," he reminded her. He'd spent over
a year wanting to blast Superman out of the sky—he could forgive her
not telling him about whatever had bitten her last night. "So… just
tell me what's up."

Suddenly, her face fell, but she couldn't bring herself to reveal all
that had happened. "I don't know," she answered desperately. "I
think… maybe it's just everything, you know?"

Jordy glanced once at the ceiling, swallowing his own
admission. "Yeah. I know how that is."

"Hormones or something."

He nodded, knowing he had no similar excuse. "It happens. Crys did
her best to get on my nerves after you went up stairs last night.
That's how you know she and Jimmy are meant to be—if he's not
aggravating us, SHE is." He kissed her forehead, wondering if that
was admission enough of why he was in his OWN mood.

"Some day, I'll figure her out."

"Don't hold you breath." He wondered if kissing her might distract
her from her mood. He wondered if `other things' might distract her
as well. Hell, HE could use the distraction. He was still feeling
heartily guilty after his confession the night before, and every time
his wife frowned or showed the slightest bit of anxiety or
displeasure, it practically tore through him. In light of that, he
did everything in his power to make her contented.

She was actually rather receptive to his kissing, and he was a bit
surprised. He wouldn't have thought she'd have felt up to anything,
not with how tired she'd been a few moments ago. He should give up
trying to understand her.

* *

There was a thick silence, and neither party would look to the other.
A few winter birds chirped their morning song, but even their
cheerful cries could not inspire the car's occupants to talk.

Finally, Jimmy opened the car door.

"Where do you think you're going?" Dick asked.

The young man gave his father a sideways glance. "I had twenty-eight
ounces of coffee. Where do you THINK I'm going?"

"Don't get lost."

Getting out, Jimmy shook his head. "Cause I really want to walk
home." Without waiting for a response, he slammed the car door.

Finding his cell phone, Dick called the Titans Tower. "I'm gonna be
late," he announced, before even finding out who was on monitor duty.

"Today is NOT the day to be late, buddy," Wally edged.

"Yeah, today's not the day for a lot of things. I FINALLY got Jimmy
talking to me." And WHY was WALLY answering the phone?

"Dick… I wanted to ask you to show up early." There was a certain
tone in his friend's voice that reeked of parental lecture.

Dick pinched his nose. "This is important to me, Wally. Jimmy said…
he might think about coming back. You know how long I've waited for
this. Whatever it is… it can wait." And Jimmy was back, staring in
the car window at him, waiting for the conversation to break up.

"Fine. Talk to him. But… Look. All I'm saying is that you better come
straight here. And… don't like… well, just be cautious." The line
went dead, and Dick put the phone down, indicating it was safe to
return to the car.

Opening the door, Jimmy sat back down. "Mom find some other crappy
chore for me to do?" Jimmy asked accusingly.

"I wasn't talking to your mother." He didn't deny that Barbara had
been using him as a bit of a lackey lately though. "That was Uncle

Wally had been trying to tell him something, maybe even about Jimmy…
but whatever it was, Jimmy had no suspicion. That put him on edge.

"But back to what we were talking about… Do you feel like telling me
now why you hate me?" Whatever Wally had to say, it could wait.
Getting this conversation out of the way was far more important than
whatever the Titans were going to complain about today.

"I don't know. I just do," the young man grumbled.

"That isn't a real productive answer." How could they fix it, if they
didn't know what it was? Why did kids have to be so damned
frustrating? For the first time in like… ten years… Mara's acting
like a normal human being, so that meant Jimmy had to give him grief.
It was some kind of tag-team event.

"Why do you hate your sister? Jimmy… God. Am I THAT big of a failure
as a parent?"

"Look, it isn't you, ok? I just hate her because I hate her and she
has to make everything difficult." Desperately, he searched the sky
for something he couldn't quite say. "And… and I'm mad. I'm mad you
let her put me in the suit. And I'm mad that we even had to come get
you. And I'm mad that he's dead, ok?"

"Jimmy, I know there was a lot you never really… resolved with him…"

"Just tell me why the hell you couldn't get out of that. Just tell me
why we had to come after you." Suddenly, Dick's son's eyes were
boring into him intently.

"We didn't know he was going to deviate from the pattern, ok? We
didn't know Talia was going to go off and marry some bean counter and
throw his universe completely out of whack."

There was another question on Jimmy's lips, but he refused to voice
it. What had happened that Talia was siding once again with her
departed father? "SO? You guys've gotten out of stuff before. You're
the one who always said 'have a plan, but be flexible.' So what

"Jimmy, we WERE flexible. And we chased him half way around the
world, and we walked right into his trap. I'm not proud of it, but we
did. And he was employing metas and everything else this time, ok? I
just got the tar pounded out of me, Bruce got nailed with some kind
of poison. And by the time we both came to, you and your sister were
already there, ok?"

"It's so lame."

"It's the truth."

"He should have went down fighting."

"He did."

It wasn't the end Jimmy would have envisioned for him.

* * *

"Wake up…" Mara whispered, nudging her husband. They'd fallen asleep
again after their love making, and now it was mid-morning.


"Come on… You gotta be in New York in fifteen minutes."

Jordan Rayner's eyes snapped opened. "FIFTEEN?"

Mara propped herself up on the pillow, staring down at his big,
black, worried eyes. He was so handsome when he was angsty. "I forgot
to set the alarm. Be thankful I'm giving you any warning at all." She
smiled, watching him roll out of bed and begin searching for clothes
frantically. "You can get there. You have time." She pulled the
blankets around her shoulders, watching him. "You can get across the
galaxy lickity split, I think you can handle the east coast in seven
to eight minutes."

"Quit talking, I can't find my pants." Using the ring, he lifted the
bed off the floor and retrieved his errant clothes.

"Oh brother."

"Don't bring your brother into this."

"I'm not bringing…" but when she looked at him, he was grinning. "Put
your pants on." She didn't know why, but lately, she felt so much
more alive when he was there. She was used to frequent separations,
though. It was part of their job. Perhaps she felt so much better
when he was around for psychological reasons… she was connected to
him through their child, and she wanted to share every moment of it
with him. She should be blaming dad and the Titans for Saturday
morning's interruption, but she was too lazy. "Get going. We'll eat
dinner some place nice tonight."

"PLEASE don't make this a work thing."

"It's not. I just need to stay in circulation. They'll snap a few
pictures, we'll eat a bloody steak, and come home and crash."

Jordy was yanking opened the bedroom door as he looked back. He had
something smart on his lips, but it died there. What were the odds
that they'd ever get to the 'dinner' part of today without some
crisis? It was unlikely-so there was no sense in starting a fight
about how he didn't want to get the skin on his face seared off by
camera flashes tonight.

* * *

Dick's beater pulled into the driveway, puttered as the engine was
turned off, then fell silent. Jimmy opened the door and got out,
slamming it behind him. He felt sick. He didn't know if it was coffee
on an empty stomach, or what he'd heard in the long conversation with
his father.

He was shaking, and fuming mad, all at the same time. "Grandpa wants
me to go grocery shopping for him today," Jimmy announced as he put
his key in the front door. It also sucked that Grandpa Jim was
slowing down. He'd had knee surgery last year, and things just seemed
to be going to hell ever since. But the old guy better just hang on,
because Jimmy didn't know if he could deal with another loss or
another upset right now.

"Tell him I said hi," Dick answered, standing next to the car.

Jimmy didn't look back. He went into the house and slammed the door.

The conversation had gone mediocre at best. Jimmy didn't believe him,
or wish to hear about Bruce, Egypt or the whole lot of it, but it was
out of the way. He had no further insight as to why Jimmy was so
insistent that he despised his sister, but seemed to cater to her
every mood swing as of late. He didn't know if they were ok, after
the revelation that Jimmy hated him for Bruce dying.

There was only one thing he was really sure of-Jimmy still blamed

What a lousy way to start the weekend.

* * *

Jordan looked once to the closed metal blast door, then to
Balius. "You're kidding, right?"

The warrior's proud head tipped back, and he stared down his nose at
the shorter man. "I do not joke about such things."

"They're having an old folks only meeting?" He'd given up valuable
sleep and fool around with the wife time for this meeting, and they'd
kicked out everyone who wasn't old school?

"They will be ready for us shortly. First they wish to speak to

Iris nodded, her magenta skin growing oily with the bristling of

"Who isn't here yet." Jordy threw himself down on the hard bench
outside the meeting room and sighed.

"You take it personally," Balius noted, sitting firmly beside his new
comrade. "These things happen. A warrior is patient."

"I'm not a warrior," Jordan reminded him. "I'm just a guy with a

White teeth suddenly peeked out as Balius grinned, set on the
backdrop of his tanned skin and highlighting his deep blue eyes. "You
are a warrior. Only a warrior can court and win a fighter such as

Iris rolled her eyes. "Not this again."

"Jealousy is unbecoming."

"Oh please," Iris complained. "I don't even swing your way. You just
WISH I did."

"Not jealous of MY lack of attention, but Robin's."

"Don't take me there… I don't want to go."

Jordan leapt to his feet. He didn't want to get into this argument
again. "GUYS. HUSBAND standing right here. I really don't need to
hear how ANY of you lust after my wife."

"I do NOT lust after your wife!" Iris bristled.

"Then I don't wanna hear how you DON'T lust after her, OK?" These
guys were considered senior members of the team, and they nitpicked
each other to death. "Where's everyone else?"

"The kitchen," Iris and Balius said in unison.

Jordan shook his head and headed for the hall. "Fine. I'm sure I can
find some junk food somewhere to assuage the fact that you two are
certifiable and either need to get a divorce, or get a room."

Before Iris could reaffirm her lesbianhood, or Balius could confess
his undying devotion to someone he obviously couldn't have, Jordy
stormed off. Was there a reason those two fought like cats and dogs
whenever they got within ten feet of each other? Just forget the fact
that they were the leaders of tomorrow. Balius had already been
mentioned several times for Justice League membership, and Infinity
had been courting Iris for half a year.

Jordy was happy as anything to finally make it on to the team, but
sometimes, this place got downright silly.

* * *

"Y'know… I have clothes to wash," Mara peevishly told the image on
the computer. She was also quickly running out of steam. She hated
that her energy only came in spurts now, but she endured everything
she had to. This was, after all, her kids.

"We just… really think you'd better come to this meeting," Superman
told her.

"The Justice League wants me at a Titans budget meeting. I suppose
mentioning that I'm on leave-of-absence, not to be disturbed upon
pain of death, would be futile, because something's up."

Superman nodded once.

"Great." Mara sighed. "So, is this a formal or informal gathering?"

Suddenly, Clark's eyes had migrated to her expanded
midsection. "Formal, I'm afraid."

"Don't worry. I'll think of something." With a tired smile, she
closed the connection. Really. She didn't understand why Jordan or
her father couldn't be her proxy, or she couldn't telecommute.

* * *

Nightwing leaned across the table, glaring at his friends. "I want
you to be damned fucking certain you can back all of this up."

Roy folded his arms across his chest for the ten hundredth time, then
looked back to Wally for support. "We're as sure as we can be. Look,
we don't want to be doing this--"

"Then DON'T," Dick said irrationally, turning his back on his

In an instant, Wally had sped in front of him. "We don't want to do
this… but Dick… we looked at the numbers. We even had our contact in
the Wayne Enterprises Budget Control department confirm the amounts
of the transfers. THEY are about to do an internal audit. We've
audited the teleporter logs fifteen times…"

Nightwing's head dropped to his chest. "Things were going good,
y'know? Mara's ecstatic about the baby… Jimmy might be settling
down…" A sigh escaped him, in place of a sob.

"Dick… we'll get to the bottom of this, OK?" Roy said
sympathetically. "I mean… there COULD be an explanation. Right?"

"Or my kid's fucking going rogue."

Wally put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "There's that too."

* * *

Matrix let himself into the kitchen, his android body glowing with
the need to recharge. They kept the recharger unit next to the
microwave, so he could feel part of the group, and it seemed to work
well for maintaining a sense of camaraderie the few months he'd been
with the team. He looked behind him, watching Amethysts enter before
plugging himself in.

"I didn't know they made leather in `maternity size,' Amethysts
announced as the door slid closed.

From the table, Jordan Rayner smacked his forehead. "WHAT is Robin
doing here?"

"Dude, you KNOW her?" Amethysts asked, flickering near transparent
with excitement.

She really should have been on the Young Justice team, but Jordy was
grateful HE didn't have to deal with her in that special leadership
kind of way. "I LIVE in Gotham."

"I heard the Bat'll kill anyone who operates in his city, though." As
Amethysts announced this, Matrix disengaged himself from the charger
and casually moved towards the youngest member of the team.

Jordan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Roy had probably filled
her head with that. The weird part is, Roy probably also believed
it. "I have a dispensation to exist there. My grandfather too. Rob
and I get along, mostly." More than mostly, but no one needed to know

"I heard, she went psychotic last year. Had Luthor assassinated…"
Matrix grabbed her arm and began dragging her to the door. "Hey!"

"Unsubstantiated rumor," Matrix informed her.

"I heard she's a cannibal! I heard she ATE Nighthawk…" A rumor
probably perpetuated not by Roy, but by Jimmy himself, Jordy thought.

Matrix clasped an orange synthetic hand over the girl's mouth.

"THANKYOU," Jordan sighed. Most of the superhero community had put
two and two together, since his marriage to Mara. The rest of the
world only didn't know because to them, Robin didn't exist. Amethysts
obviously was just without a clue. "I'll go talk to Robin," he
informed the two, opening the door and brushing cookie crumbs off of
him in the same gesture. "And we'll see if Robin's in the mood for
lunch. She can dine on Slappy here." Rolling his eyes, he left.

* * *

Jimmy and Kristen stood, eye locked, in their bedroom for a moment.

"I just came up to get my keys," Jimmy said stonily.

"Jimmy… if you're still mad at me…"

"I don't know HOW I feel about you right now."

Pulling the pink sweater up over her wrists, Kristen put her hands on
her hips. "Jimmy… I didn't mean it like you heard it. All I'm saying
is… they're interfering with nature. I don't know how, but he did it,
ok? And he wasn't given a ring to use magic like that."

"You said my sister isn't a fit parent."

"Jimmy, look at her track-record!"

Throwing opened his top dresser drawer, Jimmy began digging for the
keys to his grandfather's apartment. "She's been nothing but good to
our kids."

"And we're going to just wait until she goes psychotic and hurts
someone, or--"

Grabbing the keys, Jimmy let go of the drawer. It slid out of the
frame and landed on the ground, dropping its contents everywhere.
Jimmy walked past his wife, not wanting to hear more. "I'm taking the
boys with me," was all he said, then tore down the steps and out the
bedroom door at the bottom of the loft.

"Jimmy, don't slam the door!" Barbara ordered from the kitchen
sink. "And your grandfather wants to know when you're--" Barbara's
reprimand died in her throat, seeing the intense, burning anger on
her son's face.

"I'm taking the boys with me," he growled. "DON'T bother to set a
place for dinner." Going into the living room, he snatched the two
young men up by their shirts and wrapped a blanket around them.

"Jimmy…" Barbara didn't know where to start. She didn't know if this
was about his talk with Dick or what, but whatever it was, she
probably couldn't say anything to calm him down. "Come on, Jimmy.
I'll watch them…"

Opening the hall closet, he took out two identical jackets and shoved
them under his arm and kicked the door closed. "NO. You wanted me to
be a responsible adult? I'm taking responsibility for my off-spring."
He glanced past her, to the door that lead to his bedroom. A second
later, he threw open the front door and exited, slamming it behind

* * *

Mara was glad for the second wind of energy. It kept from being bored
to death during The Flash's diatribe.

"So I called the front accounting office of the grants department…"

Looking around at the room's occupants, Superman, Batman Troia,
Arsenal, Flash and Nightwing, she sighed. Finally Robin raised a
gloved hand. "And they can't figure out the discrepancies either."
For someone so fast, he was sure dragging this out. "I KNOW what he's
been doing. He's been hacking the grants server and changing the
numbers on our contributions to the Justice League, so he can charge
you guys more. You don't even want to KNOW what he's doing to the
Titans' petty cash budget."

"WHY?" came Nightwing's labored question.

"Why not?" Robin shrugged, not really concerned. "I'm not worried.
I'm skimming it off of two of his Swiss bank accounts and putting it
in a trust fund that will be turned over to the Justice League in
eighteen months. You guys're actually making out on this. The WE
fiscal year isn't up for another two months, and before they finish
their audits, they'll find a reason for the discrepancies." She
pushed the chair away from the table and prepared to stand. "Try
TALKING to me next time. It'll save you guys the fits of hysteria."

Roy's hand clamped down on her shoulder and held her firmly in the
chair. "Not so fast, Bubbles. We haven't just been checking the
financial records. Maybe there's something ELSE you can shed a little
light on."

Nightwing leaned forward across the table. "Look, if you know all the
things he's into, why don't you just tell us? It'd save us from
the `fits of hysteria' as you put it."

Mara's masked eyes dropped to the table. She knew about the stupid
stuff her brother was into because it was aimed at her. And if she
told about some of HIS stupid human tricks, she might have to give up
a few of her own. Like the link from Justice League and Titans'
security feeds running directly into her machine at work. "I think
that's everything that affects you guys."

"Ok, then what's this?" Uncle Wally asked as he pushed a busted
device covered in some greenish metal towards her.

Her eyes briefly glanced at Superman. "Looks Kryptonian," Mara
offered, reaching for it. Turning it over, she saw some yellow solder
on the inside. "Or not."

"Or not is right. It's originally a Kryptonian design, and there're
only two groups of engineers that have access to that—STAR and your
brother. And THAT," Wally pointed to the gold connecting various thin
wires. "Is practically your brother's signature."

Mara shrugged. "He was given access to that technology fair and
square. What modifications he makes in future designs really aren't
our business."

"THAT was found on a DEO bot that was scanning the island," Roy
explained. "I shot it down, and it self destructed. THAT is what's

"I'm sure the DEO is capable of getting their own solder and fine
point electronics from Apokolyps." Was she defending her brother? If
it weren't for the fact that they were both in over their heads with
this Talia thing, she'd be itching to lambaste him, same as the rest.
But right now… she needed him, and she needed him out of suspicion
for whatever idiotic prank he was pulling now.

"Which brings us to teleporter logs," Wally said, pushing a stack of
papers towards her. "Those are the Watch Tower logs." Flipping it to
the last page, he pointed. "Those're from the cave."

"Who said you could hack the cave's logs?" Mara asked defensively.

"Tim gave them to us," Superman said. He, Batman and Troia had been
uncharacteristically silent during the whole scene as it had played
out thus far.

Mara's eyes went to her partner, and she frowned. So much for
discussing all major decisions with his partner before proceeding.
She looked through the pages quickly, trying to refute the obvious
conclusions she was drawing. "So he's passing large-mass items
between here and Apokolyps. Or someone is. This is circumstantial…"

"Robin…" Batman's voice was filled with equal portions of warning and

"Fine. What do you want to do?" So much for heading this off at the
pass. "Because I'd like to think he isn't as sloppy as this. And no
offence, but this is SLOPPY." Or a desperate plea for attention—she
couldn't decide which. "Unless you have some better proof, he's going
to wiggle right out of this."

"That's why we were hoping--"

Mara craned her head, looking back at Roy. "You were hoping what?
That I'd have some kind of condemning proof? You seem to think he and
I are friends or something. We might be related, but I wouldn't dare
EVER go that far. It is STRICTLY a professional relationship." Making
her decision, she looked around at all of them, an air of formality
pouring fourth from her. She was hoping she could save the boardroom
theatrics for the weekdays, but she needed to put a clamp on this
now. "I'll go through the rest of my records, in the cave and at
Wayne Enterprises and the Wayne Foundation. If I find anything
useful, I will turn them over. I will increase my monitoring of his
activities, and I advise you to do the same. Until we have definitive
and inconclusive proof of his rogue activities, and a clear vision of
their nature, we have no case. If we confront him with what little we
have now, he will go completely underground, and we'll be hard
pressed to ferret out his actions."

Gripping the arms of the chair, she pushed herself upward. It was a
difficult task with her protrusion, but fortunately the cape covered
the majority of her struggle. Moving from behind the chair, she paced
as she was want to do at work. "Daedelus is crass, a smart mouth and
incredibly naive, but he is NOT stupid. Do NOT treat him as such.
Bruce had protocols on him a phonebook long. I suggest you proceed as
such—as opposed to seeing this as an `internal' or `family' matter.
If he suspects it is—his activates will go underground and all leads
will dry up."

"I would express caution…" Batman interjected with equal logic.

Robin was relieved to see that she and Tim were back on the same page
again. She did NOT need to have him at odds with her as to how to
deal with her brother. "I'm not suggesting a lack of caution. Only
stealth. If this turns out to be nothing, our stealth will preserve
his feelings. If suspicions are correct, we'll have made our jobs a
lot easier." And hopefully, buy her enough time to get to the bottom
of this on her own.

* * *

"So they just pulled her in?" Jordy asked hesitantly.

Iris shrugged. "Justice League bigwigs also went in right before her.
Whatever it is, they're not letting a word of it leak out."

"I've walked into the budget meeting from hell," Jordy moaned.

"Warriors are patient," Balius reminded the younger man.

Warriors aren't sitting outside the conference room listening to YOU,
Jordy thought. "I hope this doesn't take much longer." Talk about
eating up a whole day with this stuff. It was supposed to be yearly
budget meeting followed by the monthly session in which the senior
members of the team `educated' their younger counterparts on all the
things they'd done wrong recently. It was typical but necessary

"I bet you she's done something wretched," Iris stated as Amethysts
and Matrix approached.

Jordy's chest heaved once. He was in a complicated position.
Technically, Amethysts and Matrix were his peers, but he'd certainly
known the senior members of the group a lot longer. Roy Harper had,
after all, interrupt his final successful effort in ridding himself
and his girlfriend of the burdens of their virginity. Nightwing's
daughter had been the object of virginity vanquishing, and Troia had
been the one who'd held him as he cried after his mother's
death. "Who knows," he tried to say complacently. Iris and Balius
knew that he'd preffer to be defensive on her behalf right now, but
it wasn't his place to inform those who weren't in the loop just how
connected he was to whatever was going on behind those doors.
Sometimes… life was a bitch.

* * *

Robin came pouring out of the conference room like a force of nature,
either blowing over or stirring everything in her wake. Beneath her
cape, her arms were folded across her chest, not only in anger, but
also in the hopes that it would hide her protrusion just a bit. "You
realize I'm going to have to eat Daedleus alive," she said to her

Balius rose to greet her, but seeing her current state, chose to hold
his peace.

Matrix attempted to grab Amethyst's arm before she could say
anything, but she turned transparent and slid through his
grasp. "See! I told you she eats people!"

Robin's eyes turned to the newest member of her team, someone she'd
not yet met, due to her current `inactive' state. "The name's ROBIN.

"Not what?"

"Cultural references are lost on the young," Robin stated.

Amethyst looked around at the group gathered near the door, looking
for support. "Come on! She said she was going to eat him…Lantern will
tell you. He lives in Gotham…"

"Jordan, they want to talk to you about the weapons installs Daedleus
did," Robin announced, walking through the group. "And someone,
please… PLEASE buy that girl a clue." Stalking off in obvious upset,
she left the group standing in stunned silence.

Iris tucked her short hair behind her ears. "So… does she mean the
not eating people clue, or the who does what to whom in Gotham clue?"

Jordy rubbed his eyes. "So… anyways. Weapons installs. Me. Conference
room." Turning on his heals, he entered, not willing to engage any of
them in `that' particular conversation.

* * *

"And you were with him the whole time?" Nightwing asked.

"Yeah. I mean… I was on duty, he likes to talk as he works…" Jordy
shrugged, not seeming to understand where it was going.

"And he didn't install anything that looked like this?" Nightwing
handed the young Lantern the small green device he'd shown Robin

"Nope. This was all standard weapons-grade stuff. Nothing like this."
Jordy had no idea what it was, but it didn't look like anything Jimmy
had ended to the defense grid. Mara was right. Whatever Jimmy had
done this time, he needed to be seriously smacked down for it.

"And he's never mentioned to you taking on any other contracts?"
Superman asked finally.

Jordy shifted in his chair, suddenly a little off-set. "We don't like
to talk about work." He just hoped Mara saved a piece for him. "Look,
what's he gotten himself into? I mean… he's what passes for my best
friend, and I'm married to his sister and stuff. It's going to come
out, and I don't want to be surprised and stuff."

The Titans' leader stopped pacing the length of the conference room,
and looked at the young man sitting before him. "This is to be kept
in the strictest confidence," Nightwing warned. He knew they couldn't
keep Jordan out of it, or unaware for long. He was too far involved

"I understand," Jordan replied.

"This is going to have to wait," Roy said, turning from the
communications console at the far end of the room. "It's Oracle," he
informed Nightwing. "I think you better take this." He put Oracle's
floating head on the larger monitor above their heads.

"Roy says Jimmy isn't there with you," Oracle stated, a hint of worry
tainting the mechanical voice. "He never showed up at my father's. I
lost his tracer," Oracle stated, trying to sound professional, but
the frustration and concern were too close to the surface. "He
stormed out of here… and he took the boys with him," she finished

"Shit," Nightwing muttered, looking around helplessly at his team,
and the others who were gathered there. "Your last location?"

"Coastshore. Along the cliffs."

"You're shitting me," Nightwing answered, wondering why things always
had to go from bad to worse where his kids were concerned. "Clark?"
Nightwing asked pleadingly. Someone who could fly and possessed x-ray
vision could make short work of a search mission.

"If Jimmy's in trouble… we might not want to storm the Bastille,"
Jordan inputted, unsure as to what was going on.

"Clark's family. Clark check the coast. Jordy, you have all points in
between there and my house. I'll take all points between the cliffs
and his grandfather's."

"What about me?" Roy complained. "And Fleet feet? If you think--"

"Roy, talk to Robin again. There's something she's not giving up—at
this point it may give us some clue as to what the hell's going on.
Wally, be quick about this—I want a particle analysis of everything
specifically, down to the molecule that was passed in the boom tubes.
Also see if you can hunt down a W.E. accountant and see if they can
be persuaded to start an audit on a Saturday. I love that kid, but
she's shitting us as much as Jimmy is, and I don't think we have time
to be fucking around any more."

What the hell had his son done? And what had he done with the boys?

"They're all out to give me a heart attack," Nightwing muttered as he
dashed to the nearest teleporter. For now, he didn't want to
contemplate that it could be more than just a conspiracy against him.
Not when his grandkids were involved.

* * *

"Do you doubt the truth of what I've said, or the competence of my
strategy?" Mara asked, unclipping her cape and throwing it over her
chair in the cave.

"Look, we're not questioning any of that stuff. But you're holding
back," Roy pointed out. His glaring eyes were not made any less
serious by the fact that he was scowling from two hundred miles away.

She eyed him skeptically, not revealing anything. She would not allow
their bluff to call HER bluff. "You guys are going to get my full

"We need something sooner," Roy demanded. "Jimmy's in trouble." Every
morning, Roy got up and thanked the powers that be that his kid
wasn't as frustrating as Dick's.

"The only trouble Jimmy's in is how I'm going to ram my foot up his
ass when this is all over with." Mara stood behind it's tall back,
rubbing her belly beneath her leather jacket. The baby was kicking in
protest since she'd gotten back to the cave, and the little thing was
a fighter. Sometimes she suspected it was trying to fight it's way
out. "I can handle him," she said, then realized it was probably the
wrong thing. It made her seem like too much of an accomplice.

"Jimmy's gone missing, and we're taking this VERY seriously," Roy
warned. "Your mom lost the trace on him, and he has your nephews with

Mara's lips pressed together. "Stupid jerk," she muttered. "Any

"That's what I'm calling you for. What else is he involved in?"

"You seem to think we're pals or something. Look, I'll deal with it
from here." She closed the connection. The line started ringing two
seconds later, but she didn't pick it up. She needed Jimmy now. She
didn't need any of his nonsense. Didn't he see that?

* * *

Landing on the roof of Nightwing's home, Superman opened his hand,
revealing the tracking device, which was no larger than the head of a
thumb tack. "I found this washed up on the shore. No sign of a car,
or the kids…"

Dick breathed a sigh of relief. "He learned that trick from his
sister. But it doesn't tell us where he is. Just that he doesn't want
to be found."

"It's not looking good," Clark pointed out. He always wanted to give
those kids the benefit of the doubt. He'd given it to Jordan, and
things had turned out very well in that regard. Still, the evidence
continued to mount against Jimmy, and the boy was not around to clear
any of this up for them.

"Ok. Barb is freaking out. It's getting dark. If we don't find him
after sunset… he can disappear almost anywhere." Even with two
cranky, crying tag-alongs, he was sure Jimmy could vanish if he
wanted to. And then, who knew what would happen.

"How're YOU holding up?" Clark ventured to ask.

Dick ran a hand through his hair. He'd done that about fifty times
already today. "Me? Just peachy. Kristen's at home, blaming herself,
Barbara's tearing her hair out, trying to get some kind of trace on
him. Whatever he's done, he has my grandkids with him, and he's my
kid. I don't know what he's doing, but he's my kid." He pressed his
fingers into the knotted muscles on the back of his neck. "I thought
we were patching things up. I thought… we'd raised him different than

Jimmy had done so many things in the last few years though that made
him question how effective he'd been as a partner or a parent. He
liked to blame Mara's quirks on all the time she spent with Bruce,
but he couldn't blame anyone else with Jimmy. The kid had been his
partner from day one, and thereby his responsibility. And if his son
was going rogue, it fell to him to fix it. As much as it killed him.

"Our primary goal is to get the kids back," he reiterated. "Then I'll
see if I can handle him." His tired head dropped to his
chest. "Assuming we can find him," he pointed out sadly.

* * *

"Jimmy, you're a fuck," Mara announced, shining her flashlight on her
brother. She had found his car about half a mile back on a dirt road,
and had followed the trail to here, a small clearing in the woods.

He didn't open his eyes or flinch. He just continued sitting in the
leaves, his legs crossed and his hands resting on his knees. "And I
heard you coming half a mile away."

"What're you doing out here? You know, half the world's looking for
you. Mom's worried like hell, and I'll personally kick your ass if
you did anything to those kids." Mara looked beside him and saw the
car seats. The boys were in their snow suits, a blanket over them for
extra protection against the cool fall air. For once in their lives,
they were asleep.

"I needed to think. I couldn't think with everybody all… ARRGG." Both
hands rubbed at his bushy hair vigorously.

Mara unclipped her cape and spread it on the leaves, then sat down
on it carefully. "Ok. Talk to me."

"There's nothing to talk about."

"Jimmy, we need to talk." She pealed off her mask, placing it beside
her. "You can't kidnap your own kids and take them out into the

"I didn't kidnap them. They're my kids. Mom wants me to be
responsible, I'm being responsible…"

"Jimmy, while I'm impressed that you thought to make a little tent
for them out of a flannel blanket, the fact that YOU are sitting out
here in nothing but that sweater doesn't bode well for you being
voted Mr. Responsible, ok?" she reached out and squeezed his hand. It
wasn't just for support reasons. She wanted to judge how long he'd
been sitting out there. Four or five hours, she'd judge. His hand was
ice cold, and numb to the point that he didn't notice the pain she
was intentionally inflicting.

"I want to move out of there," he said quietly. "I can't keep
listening to mom, or… dad. Or being there…" His eyes finally met his
sister's. "I don't want to go home."

Mara seemed to remember a lot of arguments with her grandfather that
started out just like that. "Jimmy, what happened today?"

"I hate you," he pointed out. "I hate you and your always rightness,
even though you're stupid about everything and you're NEVER right,
somehow you're always right. And I hate it. And I hate you."

When this was all over, Mara was going to shove her foot down his
throat. "Ok. Fine. I'm a big fat jerk."

"You are."

"Ok Jimmy, I'm a big fat jerk. Can I be a big fat jerk in your car,
with the heat on?" Her ankles were swelling in the boots, and she
hadn't been feeling well since she'd left the Titans' Tower.

"You know, everything'd be so much damned easier if I'd have just
stayed out of the suit to begin with."

"But you did. Get over it." Mara's whole life for the last two years
had been all about how the past couldn't be changed. She didn't need
to have him wallowing in it too.

"You know, I kept expecting YOU to say it. You're down with that
painful truth shit."

"Say what?" Mara asked. She wasn't given to patience where he was
concerned, but she had a feeling it was the only way to get him out
of the cold.

"That He'd be here if I'd have hung it up after Scarecrow got me."

Mara bit back tears. They came too readily to her eyes these days,
and they were quick to start gushing whenever anyone mentioned
Him. "Jimmy, sometimes… its your time to go, you know? And…" she
sighed. "Look, I already told you I thought you were brave as hell
going out there every night after the fear toxins gave you anemia.
Ok? I don't blame you for being out there. I blame you more for being
on your ass right now but I'm trying like hell to be patient with

"HE should be here, and I shouldn't be."

"If you weren't here, neither would Harry and Thomas. And quite
frankly, I like the little buggers, ok?" She grabbed both of his cold
ears in her gloved hands and tugged on them firmly, until he was
looking her in the eye again. "I don't blame you, ok?" She'd never
really blamed him. Batman had gotten her out of the habit of blaming
others early in life. She took responsibility fully on
herself. "Jimmy, I mean it. I don't blame you. Dad doesn't blame you.
It's just the way things ended up."

"You could have dumped him in the pit."

"And then he'd have woken up, and promptly killed me for letting you

"I almost killed you," Jimmy pointed out with no emotion in his

"You didn't." She took her hands off of his ears, seeing that this
trip wasn't going to be a short one. Slowly, she edged the cape from
beneath her, and put it around his shoulders. "We got all the way in
there. We got out. God… we have a whole hall of Titans that were
lost. Sometimes… not everybody makes it out."

"Not HIM. He was the best. THE best."

"This game is equal parts planning and luck. You can push your luck
if your planning's good. Grandpa ran out of plans and luck all at the
same time."

Jimmy looked at her, really maintain the eye contact with more than
just glazed eyes for the first time since she sat down. "He thought I
was someone I wasn't. He wanted ME in Gotham. That's what dad said."

Mara smiled a little. "Yeah. He did. And I threw a temper tantrum,
and screamed a blue streak. And he let me scream and he said that his
decision was final. He hadn't even talked to dad yet." Pulling the
cape closed a little tighter around him, Mara thought back fondly to
how much of a hard time she'd given. "Grandpa thought so highly of
you. He had protocols on you like you wouldn't believe. He would have
been proud of how you handled yourself in the suit."

"I never wanted to BE him."

"I think he'd have even been proud of how you walked away. Gotham's a
hard place to walk away from. I know."

"Dad doesn't think so."

"Dad liked the idea of having a sidekick too much. He likes the
whole `buddy' aspect. I think he should adopt Roy," Mara pointed
out. "But I think we're both kind of mad you just walked away. When I
think about it, I get a sick feeling inside. Like you gave part of
yourself away."

His head slumped, and he gave an emotional sigh. "Mara… I can't do it
any more. Every night I was out there, I was thinking of how I was
just a cheap imitation of him. How I couldn't be him to you, or his

"TIM is filling the role ok."

"I don't want to be Nighthawk either."

Mara rubbed his leg with soothing affection. She needed him right
now. He couldn't be having this emotional crisis. Not when Talia was
coming back in three days, and wanted an answer. "You don't want to
be Nighthawk because it's too close to Nightwing. But if you keep
being Daedelus, you're going to end up being Oracle in a few years,
and I'm not sure you want that either," she pointed out logically.

"God what the hell is with everybody?" he asked in frustration. "HE
was talking about `the line of succession' when he bit it. And its
all dad's talked about since yesterday, and… now mom? Come on. I
can't deal with this."

Mara sighed. "I guess now's not a good time to tell you Cass wants me
to take her costume."

"You're a fucking institution as Robin."

"I know. Still… I don't know. It's something to think about. Jimmy… I
need you with me on this, ok? It's the only way I can beat Talia. And
there're some other problems, ok? Nothing I can tell you about right
now, but things're going wrong with the Titans." Namely, Jimmy was
the thing going wrong with the Titans, but she couldn't tell him that
just yet. "I'm tired of yelling and screaming. And I'm tired of all
this crap. We gotta pull together one last time and just get thru

Jimmy rubbed a hand over his face, trying to grasp all of this. "Cass
isn't coming back."

"She doesn't have any intention. She… kind of looks at Isley as her
reward for fighting the good fight."

"You coming back after the baby?"

"Hell yeah. It's killing me that I'm not out there now. I think Cass…
she's just put in her time and she's done. She's made peace with it."

"She makes Tim join back up, then she quits. I don't believe this. I
can't fucking believe my family. Everybody's nuts." His eyes were
suddenly wet. "HE wanted me to be HIM, and dad wants me to be a
sidekick and Mom wants me to take over for her, and and…. And… you're
all fucking nuts. You're nuts."

"Jimmy, you're sitting alone in the woods, getting frostbite," she
pointed out. "You're not one to talk."

"I want a house in the suburbs!" he yelled suddenly. "I don't want to
be like you people!" for the first time, he looked at his sons. "We
were gonna be normal," he added pathetically.

The baby had somehow taken a hint from it's cousins that now was a
good time to sleep, because it had stopped kicking for the first time
since she'd left the tower. "You're not normal, Jimmy. You have
access to technology that isn't on the regular market. You build
stuff a college drop out shouldn't be able to build. You sell to
people who decide the fate of the world. I'm sorry, Jimmy, but you're
not normal."

"There was this one time, when I was a kid, and Blockbuster was
trying to squeeze my head like a juicer… it just all stopped making
sense then. I was thinking… all the other kids in my class were
washing their faces, and going to bed…"

"But you stayed out there," Mara pointed out.

"I don't know. I was trying to figure it out."

"Maybe you stayed because you have a calling."

"Maybe I stayed because I'm STUPID."

"You are stupid, but that's besides the point. All I know is that you
better figure it out and make a decision. Or you are going to end up
surrounded by monitors and trying to get the Justice League out of a
scrape at four in the morning, and I don't think your wife would like

"My wife," he sneered.

"Kristin is worried about you."

"Kris just wants the boys back. She probably thinks /I/ am an unfit
parent too."

"Who else does she think is an unfit--" Mara frowned. "I'll kill

"I can't talk to her right now either."

"Have you tried talking to her about ANY of this?"

"What's there to talk about? He's dead, its my fault, we all know
it's my fault, and she and I have been through it a hundred thousand
times why it isn't, but it is, ok? And I can't talk to her anyways.
She's not… I don't know. She's and…"

"She's quiet and sweet when she's getting her way, and if she isn't
she gets pushy. I've known her longer than you have, and we've NEVER
gotten along. But you two got married. So deal with it."

"We don't fight. And then, we just… God. I don't even know what's
happening to my marriage. Dad's right. I was too young to get
married. Oh god. Dad's right. Dad was right that I'm a complete screw
up and failure, and I wanna play hardball with the big boys and I
told Oracle I want a piece of the action and had her chasing me
around the internet for a month, but… but I'm just a complete and
total screw up."

"Jimmy, you had a fight with your wife. Me and Jordy actually THROW
shit at each other at this point and you had your first fight. After
over a year of marriage. It's not the end of the world. Even if she's
a manipulative bitch who thinks I'm going to be an unfit parent."

Her brother pulled his knees to his chest. "It's like the whole
fucking universe isn't how I originally envisioned it."

"Sorry." She didn't know what else to say. "Look… it's cold. Lets get
the kids in the car, and we can go get some dinner and do grandpy's
grocery shopping, and try and sort this mess out, ok?"

Jimmy didn't make any gesture to move. "I don't know if I can."

"Ugg. Look, I can give you the name of a good therapist…"

The young man stood instantly, folding his arms over his chest. "I do
NOT need therapy. And if I did, it's because of YOU people. And… and
all your… crap."

She didn't think she'd ever get him to see that he was just as
entrenched in it as the rest of them. Obviously he thought that
ripping off the Justice League was something ALL the cool kids were
doing. "Help me up," she ordered.

He looked at her strangely, not moving even when she lifted her hands
for him to pull her to her feet.

"Jimmy, I mean it…"

"What if I don't want to?"

She scowled and put her hands on the ground, pushing herself up
enough to pull her ankles beneath her.

He watched her struggle for a moment then grabbed the back of her
leather jacket and pulled her to her feet. "God, you're pathetic."

"I'm almost seven months pregnant. YOU do this and see if you can get
around without flopping around like a beached whale."

"You said it, not me," Jimmy said with a grin. "Umm… Mara, did you
come alone?" he asked as he picked up the car seats, one in each
hand. The boys didn't even stir as he grabbed them.

"YES…" she said, seeing the faintest bending of a branch on a pine
tree a quarter of a mile off with the aid of moonlight. "Roy or dad?"
she asked, just as the figure jumped out of the tree. "Aww man.
They're watching me," she muttered. "They followed the tracer in my
car." She didn't need to be under suspicion too. It would make the
situation with Talia even harder.

Nightwing moved towards them, only slightly more relaxed than Mara
had seen him this afternoon. "What the hell did you think you were
doing?" he asked, obviously upset.

"Dad… I got it covered," Mara moaned. "Can we do this in a car?
SOMEONE'S car? It's kind of cold out here."

"James… I can't believe you'd be this irresponsible. You're mother--"

"Wants to kill me. I know what else is new. Just… just don't talk to
me right now, OK? I can't talk to anyone right now." Carseats in
hand, he walked past them, getting back on the trail that lead to the
road. They were a hundred miles outside Gotham.

"You were doing JUST FINE talking to your sister."

"She throws things at her husband," Jimmy pointed out, automatically
trying to deflect some of his father's anger.

"Jordy throws stuff back. It's not like we—you're a jerk, you know

"How did you find him?" Nightwing asked skeptically, not trying to
catch up to his son. He hung back with his oldest, trying to figure
out what was going on.

"Jordy and I come out here some times when we need some `alone time'.
Figured he was taking a time-out." She scowled at her father, putting
her mask on and changing to the night vision lenses. "And YOU guys
were following me. You don't trust me."

"I don't know who I can trust any more," Nightwing said quietly.

Despite the tightness in her boots and the aching in her back, Robin
accelerated her pace. "He has my cape," she answered. "I want it

Lagging behind even more, Dick sighed. Things were never easy with
family, least of all these two. Sadly… he had a feeling the situation
would get a lot worse before it ever got better.

THE END… for now.