Notes: Here we are again, with a multi-chap for our Dusty-verse. I'm slowly going through my to-write list and finishing stories while InvisibleBrunette is working on other stuff. She claims I've got the longer list :/

It was a Wayne party; meaning it was an extravagant social event where up-and-comings need to be seen in while the already-rich needed to grace it with their presence. And if you were lucky or important enough to be invited to this kind of party, you had to be there wearing your finest: the most beautiful designer gown or tux in your closet and the most extravagant accessories in your dresser. And so that night, the large ballroom was decorated with lovely flower arrangements and crystal chandeliers whose sparkle rivalled those of the milling throng beneath. For one night, everything was beautiful and glittery and the law-abiding public were enjoying themselves.

But for a man like Carters, the night held a different meaning altogether: a Wayne party meant a lot of bling for the swiping.

His half-dozen armed thugs were unaccompanied by any of the costumed freaks Gotham was well-known for - a fact his men were happy of. They didn't need the notoriety nor the wasted effort in 'playing nice' to a psycho. All they had - and needed - was bravado and a kind of desperation that had them ignoring the warnings the other Gotham lowlifes told them about not angering the Bat. After all, it was just a party like any other socialite party in Gotham - only there was a lot more riches at stake.

"That's it, just add your pretty baubles to my buddy's sack there and no one gets hurt." Carters encouraged with a nudge to the red-gowned lady's back as she nervously walked up with her jewelry in her hands.

The happy chatter that filled the ballroom minutes ago had fallen away to fearful murmurs and sobs as the guests dropped their riches to the sack Junior was holding. Carters watched with glee as each sparkling gem and fat wallet slowly filled the canvas sack. He was beginning to feel the heat of a tropical sun on his skin the heavier the sack became.

They had only reached half of the guests when the gang leader suddenly realized his half-dozen had suddenly lost two members.

A stab of fear shot into him as the thug swung his gun around in a shaky arc, scanning the frightened party-goers for the spectre that had taken his men. "Sammy? Jake?"

There was a series of thumps and he swung around to find the four had been reduced to three. The grim warnings ran through his head again: 'in Gotham, you never know when or where or how the Bat will show up. Best to keep things quiet than piss off the Bat...'

He lunged and grabbed one of the younger girls nearest him, ignoring the protests of her family as he turned her and wrapped an arm around her throat, his gun shoved against her temple. "Come out, Bats! Or I start shooting! We know you're in here!"

"T-t. Taking hostages? Weakling." The voice came from behind him.

Carters whirled to point his gun where he'd heard the voice, the girl yelping against him. But instead of a man clad in black, he was faced with a boy in a colorful costume scowling at him with arms crossed.

"Did you believe you are frightening anyone, quivering like a scared child?" the boy said haughtily with a gesture towards Carters' trembling hand.

Relief came first when he saw it wasn't the Bat, but the boy's arrogant tone had him mustering up a bit of bravado. "You stay right there! Or I'll shoot!" He shouted, pretending that his shaking gun-hand was only brought about by the strain of holding the gun at full extension. The costumed hero wasn't moving anyway, and at this range he could hardly miss.

But something black and sharp suddenly slashed his wrist. He cried out at the pain and the gun fell clattering to the floor. "What in the-"

He followed the black thing to where it was embedded on the floor. It was a black bladed thing that had hit him, shaped like a-

"Batman!" shrieked the girl in his arm.

He jerked up at the sudden shadow that fell over him. Gotham's feared hero loomed over him with glowing white slitted eyes. "Carters. Let go of the girl." The vigilante rasped, gravelly voice grating against his ears.

How did the Bat know his name? But even as he was thinking that, Carters found himself curling his wrist to point the gun at the girl - then the stinging pain reminded him that he had dropped the gun and he was now unarmed. And he had two vigilantes right in front of him.

"Shit." He cursed, taking a step back. His men were silent and were probably already taken care of. He had no backup, and no gun. And he could think of only one way to get out of this scot-free. So he threw the girl at the Bat. Then he spun on his heel and ran for the exit.

The crowd parted for him. Any other day he'd be enjoying the feeling of being so important people didn't want to get close to him, but not tonight. Tonight he needed to be far, far away from the Bat.

He had just chucked his ski mask into some bushes outside the hall when something heavy dropped on his shoulders, slamming him to the ground. Pain exploded on his chin but he'd had experience in barroom brawls; so he twisted his legs, followed by his torso and swept out an arm to knock the weight off his back. The weight eased and- he paused. The weight was...lighter than he'd expected.

It was the sight of a sprawled Robin just three feet away that jolted him into action.

Shit. He scrambled to his feet. He was about to start running again when a black fist came flying out of nowhere and white stars burst in his eyes.

Batman and Robin drove back to the Manor in a heavy silence - or, as their civilian attire declared, Bruce Wayne and his son Damian drove back to the Manor with an air of tension between them like two sumo wrestlers readying for a clash. It was...a frequent happenstance of late.

"We need to talk Damian." Bruce called to the fourteen year old ahead of him when they reached the main foyer of the Manor. The night's take down of the armed thugs was successful and injury-free, a minor triumph that would be added to a decreasing number of incident-free reports in the Crays. Lately, it seemed as if the whole city was out to challenge the Dynamic Duo and it showed in the growing frequency of injuries.

But Damian stomped off in the direction of his bedroom, pretending he didn't hear his father's commanding voice that echoed in the empty foyer. Only for a short while, though..

As though he'd changed his mind, Damian whirled around and stomped back, coming to a halt in front of his father.

"Why did you intervene?" he demanded without any of the caution or respect Bruce had instilled in all the Robins except for this one. "I had everything under control!"

"There was a ballroom full of innocents, Damian. I wanted to be safe, rather than sorry."

"That isn't true! You just don't trust me!"


"You're not being fair! I've tried to prove myself to you time and time again and for what?" Damian's voice - which the boy would later vehemently deny - cracked. "Richard trusts me! Why can't you?"

Bruce bit back a weary sigh and put his hand on the Boy Wonder's shoulder- only for the boy to jerk away from his touch as if burned.

"Damian, it's not that I don't trust you-" Bruce said, ignoring his youngest's disbelieving 't-t'. "-it's that I was preventing Carters from using his gun-"

"What? Did you not think I could handle it if he had reclaimed his weapon?" the boy asked haughtily, crossing his arms over his chest. An ugly scowl marred his face.

In a rare moment of tenderness, the Dark Knight cupped his son's cheek. "No," he replied. "Damian, you would've been the closest target, he could've easily shot you."

"It's not as if I've never been shot before, Father."

"I know," Bruce was well aware of that, and frankly the thought of any of his boys or Cassandra getting shot made his stomach turn. It was a given in their dangerous hobby that injuries would come but his worry never eased every time he heard any of them were hurt. "But son, you have to understand something. I never want to see you, or your brothers and sister hurt."

Damian pulled away with a sullen scowl. The anger from earlier had lessened, but was still present on his face. He only looked at his father for a moment longer with glassy blue eyes, (a trick of the light, he'd claim later), before muttering 'Whatever' under his breath and stalking off back towards the showers.

The billionaire finally released the sigh that had been building up and ran a hand through his dark hair.

"That boy is going to give me gray hairs." he grumbled, knowing that Alfred had appeared behind him. The butler was predictable in his showing up whenever he was needed, and sometimes even when he was unwanted.

"He certainly is spirited, Sir." Alfred observed drily.

"No matter what I do or say, it seems like I'm doing the wrong thing by him, Alfred." Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to fight the headache building between his eyes.

"He's at a difficult age, Master Bruce. He still has a child's mindset, yet he wants to be treated as an adult," the butler replied. "In fact, he reminds me of another thirteen year old boy who felt like he wasn't being given enough liberties."

Bruce shot the older man a look that was clearly unimpressed. "I wasn't that bad."

"Of course not, Sir," Alfred soothed but his eyes twinkled. "You were worse."