Dick sighs in relief as he straightens his back, letting his muscles shift and his spine snap itself back into some semblance of a straight line. He scrubs a hand over his face wearily and decides he might need that third cup of coffee after all. He gathers a litter of cheap Styrofoam cups that have arranged themselves throughout the waiting room, the one they've taken over completely, bypassing a passed out Bart and Jamie who have falling asleep adjacent to one other, mouth hanging open, and in the case of the former, drooling a little.
Dick tosses away the trash and heads for the cafeteria. On the way, he stumbles upon Roy and Barbara caught in a private conversation. He eavesdrops without even meaning to. "You need to call him," Roy is saying. "Look, it's not my place and god knows I don't want to stick my nose into the middle of it. But he's my partner, Babs. If you're breaking up with the guy, at least tell him. Bard hasn't heard a word from you in nearly a week and it's driving him crazy. Which is driving me crazy because the guy won't shut up about it."
Barbara pauses, visibly thrown, and Dick thinks, Jason Bard. Of course. Barbara's guy from that night he'd crashed her date. Dick hasn't really thought a lot about the guy, because there's not a lot of info to go on. He knows Jason Bard is a detective with the Gotham PD and Roy's partner, but beyond that, there's not a whole lot more. He doesn't even know how long Barbara and Jason have been dating or if they're particularly serious. It probably doesn't say anything good about Dick that he's elated to hear Barbara hasn't been in contact with Jason pretty much since joining his merry little band of thieves, but screw it. Dick has never once hidden his intentions towards her, and he isn't going to lie. The urge to perform a small two-step jive of happiness in the hidden corridor in strong.
That is, until Barbara says, "It isn't like that, Roy. I just… I've been busy. I'll call him up and calm him down. I'm not breaking up with him."
"A phone call might not cut it. I wouldn't be surprised if he suddenly showed up, the paranoid way he was acting these last few days. He knows you're here with Dick."
Barbara quiets for a beat. "What did you tell him about Dick?"
"I kept it vague, but he's a detective, Babs. Jason knows how to put two and two together."
"I told you, it's not like that. Dick and I… we're just… friends."
"Yeah," Roy comments, dubious.
Barbara sighs. "Don't worry. I'll handle it."
Roy holds his hands up like he's walking away clean of the entire affair, but it's Barbara that rolls off in a huff. Dick watches her wheel away, and something hits the pit of his stomach, a sinking feeling of going one step forward with her, only to be pushed back three.
"How long have you been standing there?" Roy asks, then turns to pin Dick with a knowing gaze.
Dick straightens, clearing his throat. "Plead the fifth, Officer?"
"That's Detective," Roy remarks.
Dick grins. "Of course."
But then Roy pauses, at war with himself about something and then strides forward. "Look, I gotta know. What are you involved in, Dick?"
Dick sighs, because he knows exactly what Roy is asking about, but it's too complicated to get into it with him. Besides, they're both entirely too exhausted to deal with anything more complex than basic arithmetic. "At this moment? I'd love a deeply committed relationship with my bed."
"I'm serious. I held off until Artemis was out of the woods, but now I want answers. That wasn't a car accident. I'm a cop. I know when something doesn't add up, and all you guys – here, in Metropolis? Don't feed me any bullshit. What happened?"
Dick forces a smile as he drops to a nearby chair with a thud. In the many years he has known Roy, he has always had a temper that was one step short of exploding. He has no patience for bullshit, no tolerance for much of anything, in fact. When they were kids, Roy had folded into Dick's life as if he had always been there, but the truth is, he's always been apart too, his own one-man army. His decision to join the force when Dick's path went in the opposite direction was just another sticking point. They'd stayed friends despite it, right up till that moment when Dick pleaded out to several counts of assault, including one with a deadly weapon, and their relationship had dwindled down to a handful of visits over the course of four years. He doesn't blame Roy for that because in the end it was Dick that had acted out of line, but Dick isn't in the mood to explain himself to a guy who hasn't been around for the last few years either.
"Can't this wait until later? I've had my fill of explosive arguments for the week, thanks."
Roy's jaw clenches. "You're smarter than this, Dick. Learn from your mistakes."
"And yet, here we are in a hospital. Artemis could have been killed."
"You think I don't know that? You think I didn't try to keep them out of this? I did! They—" he cuts himself off, because he's explaining himself even when he doesn't want to. "I don't owe you any answers."
"The hell you don't—"
"Should I have my lawyer present for this conversation, Detective?"
The low blow lands, just like Dick had intended it. "You ungrateful son of a bitch," Roy fumes. "If you had any idea what I've done for you guys, why I'm even in Metropolis in the first place—" he cuts himself off. "You know what? Screw you."
"Done for me?" Dick blinks in confusion. "What have you done for me?"
"Nothing, Dick," Roy seethes, in a tone that implies he might have meant the word with a lowercase D rather than an uppercase one.
"Okay, wait," Dick tries, but Roy is already striding away.
Dick sits there, entirely exhausted and utterly confused. Beyond raising the question of Roy's reason of being here in Metropolis, Dick feels a little winded at the implication that Roy has been helping them in any way.
"That was rough, ese."
Dick turns to spy Jamie standing awkwardly in the connecting corridor. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Since before Roy asked you that same question," Jamie answers, sheepishly. He pauses. "Is Barbara really dating his partner?"
Agitation rises. "Look, Jamie, I'm really tired and I'm not in the mood to—"
"Yeah, yeah, cool, bro. No need to say anything else. I was just going to do some private business of my own." Jamie thumbs at the men's restroom, and quickly bids a retreat towards it.
It takes a few seconds for Dick to muster the energy to stand, but then he remembers his quest for another cup of coffee, even if it is a bitter brand of the hospital kind. He'll grab an extra cup for Wally, who needs the fuel more than anyone. Artemis has spent majority of the day in and out of slumber, but the docs are optimistic about her diagnosis. She'll be staying in the hospital for another day or two, and then have about a month of physical therapy after that, but she'll recover. Unfortunately, the timeframe means she won't be able to actively participate in the rest of the con.
If there even is a con.
After the latest scare, Dick isn't sure he wants to continue. The risk is too high. The reward of punishing Savage, Luthor and Black Manta is something he still intends on pursuing, but maybe his original plan had been better. He should have done this with Kaldur and no one else. The thought rings through his brain like clear church bells. Dick pulls out his phone and stares at it for a long beat. He shouldn't risk bothering Kaldur while he's undercover, but it's been almost eighteen hours since Dick last heard anything from him. After a brief moment of debate, he decides it's worth a risk of a quick text to check in.
He types it out quickly and hits send, holding his breath. It's only a few seconds before he gets back an answer from Kaldur, Still out on an errand.
It's code, meaning he's still with Savage.
Going well? Dick texts back.
Can't talk. Got a headache. Might turn into a migraine. Which means bad, bad news. Savage must be paranoid in the aftermath of the attempted burglary of his facility. He's probably tripling his security. Dick curses under his breath, before Kaldur sends a follow up text. TTYL.
The signature sign-off indicates that they would in fact only talk in person, and it'd be at least a day before Kaldur is able to pull himself away from Savage. Dick sits forward, frowning, feeling his stomach cave in. He doesn't like the idea of Kaldur being on his own like that, adrift in a sea of enemies, but he's been doing this for years and Dick trusts him to navigate through shark-infested waters. Still, he doesn't like it one bit.
The responsibility of this all is getting to be too much. He'd underestimated a lot of things, apparently.
He gets the coffee, hightailing back to Artemis' room to find an uplifting sight, for once. Wally and Artemis are engaged in the type of kissing that should make her heart-monitor overheat. This sort of love-struck, nauseating behavior that would normally make Dick troll 'em or look respectfully the other way, depending on the mood, but instead he just smirks. They're insanely lucky to have each other, and Dick finds himself happy and relieved for them. It's amazing that they can still be this stupidly in love with each other even after all these years. They make love look easy.
"Ahem," he clears his throat, finally, standing awkwardly at the doorway. "There's impressionable children not far from here in the waiting room, y'know?"
Wally pulls back, but doesn't break eye contact with Artemis. He flips Dick off without even glancing in his direction, and Artemis laughs.
"I come bearing gifts," Dick tries, holding up the cup of coffee.
Wally zooms across the room so fast, it's almost a blur. "Forget my love for Artemis. You're my favorite person in the world right now."
"Hussy!" Artemis calls from her bed.
Dick pulls up a chair and sits beside Artemis, and for a few blessed seconds, it feels like all is right with the world. "Damn meds," she says through a yawn. "I'm glad they're giving me the good stuff, but I can't stay awake for longer than an hour."
"You should be resting," Wally insists.
"Look who's talking," Artemis grumbles. "Wally, you look like you haven't slept in weeks."
"An exaggeration. I haven't slept in days."
"Oh, that's much better," she barks at him, glaring. "You need to rest, Wally." She turns to Dick. "You mind helping me out here? Tell him he needs to rest. He should go back to the hotel. Earnestly, he smells. He needs a shower and a few hours of sleep. I'll be fine without him constantly hovering over me like some Bela Lugosi freak. Tell Wally that, would you?"
Dick turns to Wally, casually adding, "What she said."
"Thanks," Artemis says, wryly, "Real convincing."
Dick tries again, "Okay. Wally, she thinks you're stupid and should go away."
"That's better," Artemis hums, happily.
"I'll leave the hospital when she does," Wally declares to Dick. "Tell her that."
"Wally thinks you're stupid too, but he's staying."
"You are the worst wingman ever," Artemis declares. "Forget it, I'll bring in the big guns and ask M'gann."
Dick smiles, already feeling a small swell of pity for Wally when he goes up against that. "Look, I'll send everyone else back to the hotel, okay? We'll figure out some type of rotation and leave only around two people here to keep Wally company? If only because you pass out a lot and he might go crazy from boredom. Babs and I will take the first shift."
"Oh, how generous of you," Artemis says, knowingly. "Volunteering yourself and Babs like that? You'd suffer through long hours of her lonesome company just for little ol' me?"
"I was hoping the head injury might have affected the part of your brain that controls sarcasm, but no dice, huh?"
"If anything," Wally volunteers, "she gets worse when she's tired and grumpy."
"And being talked about like I'm not present in the room," Artemis adds, glibly. "You're still fussing, Wally. Everybody is fussing over me. I hate it when people do that."
"Deal with it," Wally declares, unsympathetic. "There's a waiting room full of people out there that love and care about your well being. Oh, the horror." He pauses, briefly, then straightens. "Actually, in the case of your sister, the horror is a little bit more literal than one would think. Did you know she's threatened to kill me seven times in the last twenty-four hours for letting you get hurt? The threats have been disturbingly detailed."
Artemis offers a beaming grin. "She's really warming up to you."
Wally rolls his eyes.
Dick sips his coffee quietly and hides a grin behind his cup.
Jamie gets sent to the hotel with the first wave, and he's never realized how much he misses out by spending all his time in an auto-garage, until he's standing on the sixteenth floor of a lavish hotel that's booked solid by Grayson. Jamie gets his own room and everything.
The room is opulent and fancy, and Jamie stands there for a beat, in torn jeans and a grease-stained shirt (he'd been rebuilding an engine when they'd gotten the call from Barbara), and he feels like maybe Grayson is up to something big if he's shelling out cash for these type of digs. It's obvious they're running some sort of scheme, and it'd gone awry and gotten Artemis injured, but no one is telling him anything. They still see him and Bart as kids. Of course, he should adopt the same devil-may-care attitude that Bart does, ignoring the pink elephant in the room and just enjoying the luxuries of the moment. Jamie could totally raid the minibar and order at least six items off the room service menu. But something is unsettling about this entire venture.
Then, to add to the strangeness of the circumstances, a personal butler shows up. An honest-to-god personal butler.
"Alfred!" Stephanie squeals in delight, hugging him. "When did you get into town?"
"Good to see you too, Miss Brown. I flew in late last night."
Tim and Cassie take turns hugging him. "Miss Cain," Alfred breathes, tightly, through her hug. "You must remember these old bones are not in the same condition as they used to be."
Cassie releases him, setting him on his feet and offering a smile of apology. Jamie stands there in awe. She's half Alfred's size, but she'd lifted him clear off the ground at least a couple of inches. Jamie has no idea what to make of Cassie. He'd thought her a teenager like the rest of them, but then Tim had informed him that she was actually closer to twenty-one and the reserved persona was more... cultural differences than anything. Jamie decides it's only a fraction of the truth. Cassie isn't so much reserved as she communicates in different ways than normal. He's just starting to pick up on that.
"What brought you here, Alfred?" Tim asks.
"The old manor was dreadfully drafty with no one there, and I figured my services might be of some use here in assisting Master Grayson and Miss Gordon. Judging by the state I found the hotel rooms, I see I wasn't wrong. I'd ask if the people staying on this floor were raised by wolves, but it'd be a particularly self-deprecating comment giving I know I've had a hand in the upbringing of several occupants."
Tim winces. "That's not our fault, actually. We can't have maid service up on this floor because Dick is paranoid of—" Stephanie elbows him in the chest, pointedly. "Erm, we just don't want strangers and hotel staff up here. The mess sorta accumulated."
"And clearly," Alfred says, primly, "I have taught you nothing about picking up after yourselves."
Stephanie quickly changes the subject. "Have you spoken to Bruce lately?"
There's a pause. "He is still in China, attending to his business. He sends his regards."
Jamie watches all three faces of Stephanie, Tim and Cassie fall a little.
The rest of the evening unfolds quickly. Alfred insists on cooking everyone's dinner for them in the kitchen facilities afforded to the largest suite on the floor. Even though it completely ignores the legitimate option of room service, Jamie gets the feeling it might be useless to ague against the older gentlemen. Alfred takes the order of everyone in the group, from pasta to pizza to Bart's unspecified order of eggs, lots of 'em, and then Jamie watches with a quaint sort of fascination as Alfred sets about making everything from scratch. He flips the last egg onto the platter filled with beans and sausage and, with a tight flick of his wrist, sets the food down on a wide platter. Bart runs by and grabs the plate, hollering, "heads up!" before the plate zooms down the counter to land in front of the vacant spot beside Jamie, where it spins dizzily, revolving at least half a dozen times before coming to a impressive halt.
They dig in, and damn. The food is good.
A few hours after that, the teenagers make a plan to spend the evening doing tourist-y things, because apparently the Wayne kids hadn't really been given a chance to explore the city much. Which raised the question of just what, exactly, they had been doing for the last week, but Jamie tries not to stick his nose into it. He gets the feeling it wouldn't really go anywhere because they seem like a tightlipped sort of bunch. He means specifically Cassie, who he's seen utter maybe three words over the course of a day, but even Stephanie, who is friendly and can blabber away at a mile a minute, never really gives any details about what they've been up to. Not even an accidental slipup.
They're dressed and ready for the night, emerging out on the side streets of the hotel, when Jamie remembers he forgot his cell. "Be back in a few," he hollers to the others, speeding off. He cuts through the parking garage for a faster way to the hotel elevator, when he sees Roy Harper in the back talking to some guy on a bike.
"You shouldn't be here, Jason," Roy is saying. "It's not the right time yet. Let things calm down a bit."
"I'm tired of waiting. I'm sick of it. Let's just get everything out in the open."
"Listen to me—"
"I never asked for your help. You stuck your nose where it didn't belong."
"Excuse me for giving a damn," Roy says, glaring. "What was I supposed to do, Jason?"
Jamie searches his memory and remembers overhearing the name of Roy's partner, the same one that Barbara is dating. Bard. Jason Bard. He takes a long, measuring look at the guy, and maybe Jamie doesn't know Dick Grayson that well, having only met him in the last few weeks, but he finds himself liking the guy and rooting for him. Bard is stiff competition, though. Lean, muscled, a pretty boy, even. There's also a slight bad-boy persona to him that makes girls usually go crazy, surprising for a cop, but maybe that's just the biker jacket talking? The motorcycle is a beauty, too. A 1098 SP Ducati in black. Jamie gets distracted a little by the ride, blocking out the details of the tense conversation because he's always got a thing for engines and the Ducati has some of the best. It must easily have 170 horsepower.
"You see something you like, kid?"
Jamie blinks, caught like some peeping tom. "What?"
Bard smirks, walking over. "You work at Wally and Artemis' garage, right? You're the whiz kid with a reputation."
"Don't know what my reputation is, hombre. I just like fixing things."
"That's what they say," comes the reply, amused.
"You're Barbara's boyfriend?" Jamie asks. "She's not here right now. She's at the hospital."
"With Dick?" Bard asks, pointedly.
"Jason," Roy warns, tightly, from the back. "Don't."
Bard ignores him, grabbing his helmet. There's something written on the back of it, but Jamie can't read it. He watches in bewilderment as the guys trade a stiff exchange of looks, and the tension between them is so thick that Jamie thinks about stepping back a bit in case things come to a blow. They sure aren't acting like partners. But then, idly, Jason climbs onto his bike and starts the engine. The roar is almost deafening. He secures his helmet and flashes Jamie another look.
"Nice meeting you, kid. See you around."
Then the bike takes off, gunning for the garage exit at a fast speed. Jamie barely has time to make out the words on the back of the fire-engine red helmet, a personalized branding. It says two words in black cursive script.
Notes: Okay, so I had this chapter sitting in my computer for a while now, and figured it'd be my last update this week. You guys will consider this evil, especially after that last revelation (JASON TODD. Like forget the red herrings of Roy Harper and Jason Bard. The 13th dude couldn't be anyone else knowing how much I love the batfam) but really, I'm not trying to be evil. That said, I will be going on a hiatus for Grayson's Thirteen. Multiple reasons, including RL, Original Writing, and the fact that I need to probably plan out the remaining eight chapters of this fic so that all the loose ends fit together. (I normally never plan ahead like that.) Anyway, I hope you guys won't be too upset that I'm not going to be updating as regularly? I don't know when I'll update, tbh. I might write this fic in my spare time to unwind from my original writing, or something, but no promises. I'd appreciate your patience!