A/N: Yo! So, in this chapter there is Bruce (who was supposed to appear last chapter but got cut) as well as the Team who are so overdue it's rather ridiculous. I'm sorry. They missed you guys and now hate me because I kept them out so long. They are threatening to sue.
Anyways, Reviews! Thanks thanks and thank you!
ILoveTheRobins: Yeah, I love them too. Thanks for reviewing!
Soccernin19: Yeah, poor Artemis. Daddy issues. Dick too, I guess. Thank you for so consistently reviewing! You are the best!
KaliAnn: Yeah, you are smart. Get in touch with Bruce about that, will ya? Feel free to punch William again while you're at it.
Guest: Umm, thank you?
Sairey13: He wasn't with Slade…. And that paste, man. Naw, I'm just messing with you. Thank you for reviewing and yeah, poor Dick. But he really wasn't with Slade….
Grayson-lover-101: Cliffhanger, hanging from a cliff!
Brightpath2: Yeah, blow up in the face is right! Love that expression. Thanks for reviewing!
Fluffsterzz: hahahaha, omygosh I love that face! ;_; tears! Haha, okay, thank you for reviewing again. Go ahead, try to hug him.
Nomby: Wow, coffin spikes! Very creative. Is it? Hmmm….
YJFanYeah: Well, thank you for the review, again! I feel like I write you a chapter, you write me a chapter… Just kidding! But seriously, I love reading your reviews. And it's explained (a little) in Behind the Mask why Dick's in calculus now. He took Algebra 2 in seventh grade because that was the highest math he could take and then over the summer he had to take two classes in order to skip a grade (so that he's a freshman this year) and so he took pre-calc (which had trig in it) so he could take calc this year. Sorry, that was long. Glad you liked all the detail and thank you for reviewing, again!
Taking a small sip from the glass of water in front of him, Bruce let his thoughts wander as the screen on his computer continued to assail his eyes with the blinding light of business. A hundred and one things were begging for his attention and none were receiving it; it was a stressful morning for everyone. Bruce hadn't been able to concentrate from the moment he entered the office and the lack of concentration wasn't showing any signs of becoming less lacking. In all honestly, the lack of concentration had probably been around much longer, though well-disguised and less intrusive. That all changed about two days ago; it had been progressively getting worse since then.
Alfred had insisted on dropping Dick off at school as Bruce had had an unavoidable (or so it was claimed) meeting far too early in the morning for any civilized human being. It involved the CEO of a large company in Japan who was trying to negotiate in efforts to merge with Wayne Enterprises and was just about the last thing Bruce was interested in. However, duty called (Alfred's words) and so the butler had taken Dick to his first day back in school and Bruce had been silently freaking out ever since.
He'd never considered himself to be the paranoid, overprotective parent type (okay, he was overprotective and extremely paranoid, but that was different, of course, right?), but here he was, sitting in his office, imagining all the worst case scenarios and calculating how long it would take to disable the alarms at Gotham Academy and sneak in and pull Dick out. Starting from the time he left his office, about seventeen minutes if the traffic cooperated.
In short, he was antsy. And it was not okay. Bruce Wayne wasn't antsy. Batman especially wasn't antsy. He was calm, cool, and collected; a suave playboy millionaire with no concept of time or responsibility (though was steadily progressing in that department due to the addition of his young ward) who could play hooky with the best of them and not bat an eye. He was a calculated machine, operating on kale and protein alone, working systematically and unwaveringly to take down all that was poisoning the city. He was powerful, strong, fearless, bold; he wasn't antsy.
But this was a whole new scenario. His emotions had gone through so much over the past months that they were little more than frayed nerve endings that spasmed at the slightest hint of neurotic stimulation. Dick, his ward, practically his son, had been through so much over the past months that Bruce had slowly felt what little semblance of a heart he possessed ripped repeatedly to shreds as again and again, bad news reared its ugly head. He'd just gotten Dick back – really back; back enough that Bruce felt like the boy was really there and real – and now he was being carefully peeled away from him again.
Dick could take care of himself, Bruce knew that. He'd trained the boy well and the fourteen-year-old was mature and wise beyond his years. But that was then and this was now. As Bruce felt the strain on his own emotions and sanity, he could only imagine the hell Dick's had gone through. The boy had had everything stripped away from him, only after being kidnapped for over a month, subjected to unknown tortures. Now he was being awkwardly forced back into the cookie cutter that was everyday life, only he'd been pulled and twisted so many ways that trying to fit back in was like trying to force a snowman into a reindeer shape. It didn't really work.
And it wasn't just his mind either, but his body too. Bruce had seen the damage – heck, he still saw the damage every day; how was he supposed to expect a boy who'd suffered so much to go back to eight to three days of lectures, gym class (of course he had a pass for that), and worst of all, teenagers? Watching Dick struggle to do simple things like button up his shirt or walk down stairs, Bruce had felt his little, shriveled heart clenching in pain and sympathy. And then rebellion that his oversized brain would think it a good idea to send the boy back to school.
But he had anyway. Even with a shattered knee and a semi-robotic arm, Bruce had asked the kid to go be normal for the day. Of course Dick had never been normal, and that was fine, good even, but now…. And then there were his eyes. Leslie said there was nothing they could do. Glasses did little and Dick complained more of distorted letters and objects than too-small print. Leslie said that he would have to learn to overcome the challenges; she gave him vision exercises to do but Bruce knew Dick didn't do any of them. Leslie said it was a good idea for him to go back to school, but Bruce was beginning to have his doubts about Leslie.
He knew the doctor was only doing what was best for Dick and was honest in everything she said and did, but Bruce was beginning to wonder if there was one exception. Leslie had always hated the idea of Robin; a nine-year-old boy running around with the Batman in nothing but tights and a cape? Even now that that boy was older, Bruce knew Leslie still hated the cape. He knew that she wanted Robin off the streets and couldn't help but wonder what lengths she would go to do accomplish such a goal. Bruce had no doubt she was doing everything she could for Dick, to help him heal, but her diagnosis had been particularly grim regarding the boy's return to activities. That wasn't saying Bruce wanted Dick back in the costume after what had happened, but he also knew how damaging the news had been to his ward. Beyond Robin, it took away the trapeze and anything else active. Dick was a naturally energetic person (sometimes too energetic) and what he'd been reduced to was hard.
Bruce pounded the thoughts away. There was no reason to suspect Leslie would lie to him. Except there was reason, but Bruce would continue to believe Leslie was an honest person with admirable morals (she was, generally, anyway). He didn't want Dick flying around getting himself kidnapped again, so why should he question what was keeping the boy grounded? Because it was destroying Dick. No, Dick would be fine. He would get over it; he was already getting better. He was extremely talented and would easily find something else to put his energy into.
Bruce rubbed a hand over his face as he turned his chair to look at the phone lying on his desk. It took his addled brain a moment to comprehend that the name and picture on the screen wasn't a Japanese man in a suit – or any man in a suit for that matter. Dick.
Snatching up the phone, Bruce swiped the screen, his brain digesting the message almost before he could read it:
'I can't do this'.
Rising quickly, Bruce yanked the jacket lying across the back of another chair to his left and was struggling into the sleeves and out the door as he hurriedly hit '2' on his speed-dial.
"Dick?" Bruce leaned into his heavy office door, buttoning up the front of his jacket as he swept across the hallway, nodding to his secretary before taking the stairs two at a time.
"Bruce." The voice was tight, pained, and soft.
"I'm on my way-"
"Y-you don't have to…." Dick voice trailed off at the end and Bruce could hear him start to cough.
"I'm coming. It's fine," he quickly added before Dick could interrupt again. "I'll be there soon. Can you meet me out front?"
"Yeah…." There was such defeat in the voice….
"Dick, it's fine. You'll be okay, just hang in there."
Bruce hung up as he approached the front doors to the building, dropping his phone in his jacket pocket and pulling out his car keys. He hit the unlock button and slid into the front seat, practically pulling out of the parking space before he'd even started the car. Hitting the main Gotham street, Bruce was glad that the lunch hour rush hadn't hit yet and it was clear sailing all the way to Gotham Academy. He pulled up the long front drive less than fifteen minutes later, stopping only when he was as close to the front gates as he could get. There wasn't a student in sight so Bruce turned off the engine and got out of the car; he was Bruce Wayne, he could walk into anywhere anytime he pleased.
The front gates were shut but Bruce pulled out a card and scanned it on a small panel to the right. There was a buzz and Bruce pushed the gates open. He crossed the courtyard and entered the building through the main entrance. Upon entering the building he was bombarded with the sights and smells of high school that he'd tried so hard to forever erase from his memory. The lockers, the tile floors, the posters on the wall, the trophies. Bruce inwardly shuddered, wondering who had originally thought it a good idea to send anybody to a place like this unless they were highly unstable individuals who could not function in society and needed medications and years of therapy. Of course, maybe that was the idea….
He had no idea where Dick could be and was about to pull out his phone and call the boy again when he heard soft coughing a little ways up and to his left. Rounding the corner he was greeted with the sight of Dick sitting, leaned up against a wall in a dusty, dark side hallway.
Dick looked up, coughing slightly and then struggling to rise. Bruce hurried forward and caught the boy as he stumbled, keeping an hand on Dick's arm as a suggestion that he remain on the ground.
"Are you okay?" Bruce crouched down next to Dick, scrutinizing his appearance with expertise known only to a few. Dick was pale and looked a little more gaunt than normal, but there were no apparent injuries.
"I'm… fine," Dick coughed, closing his eyes with a wince.
"Why are you coughing? What happened?" Bruce ran a hand through his ward's hair, considering whether to sit down and hear the boy out or get him out of the building as fast as he could.
"I-I just couldn't do it, Bruce." Dick sounded absolutely miserable and it tore at Bruce's insides. "The lights, the kids, what they were saying…. And then she was wearing a white coat and… and…." He trailed off as another round of coughing set in.
Bruce was thoroughly confused by Dick's explanation but knew that now wasn't the time to sort out of the details. Taking a careful hold of Dick's left arm and side, he slowly rose, pulling the boy up with him. "Let's get out of here. I parked just out front; think you can make it?"
Dick nodded, but Bruce saw how he clutched his right arm close to his body and he limped heavily his first few steps. Bruce decided against asking any of the million questions bombarding his brain until they reached the car. Dick wordlessly stumbled into the passenger seat, his eyes closing and his cheek going to rest against the headrest. Bruce could tell the boy was exhausted and he berated himself for thinking that he'd been up for something as strenuous as school.
As Bruce started the engine and began pulling out of the parking lot, Dick coughed again and Bruce worriedly glanced at his ward. "When did you start coughing?"
Dick didn't answer for a minute but finally replied: "After I ran away from math class. I don't know why."
"Does it hurt?" Bruce remembered that Leslie had mentioned something about the possibility of his lungs being damaged from the smoke.
"Okay, just take gentle breaths." He left the 'I'll tell Leslie about it' out.
Bruce drove in silence for a few minutes, debating whether to try asking Dick what had happened or wait for the boy to talk. He knew he probably should have gotten more information at the school in case he needed to talk to a teacher or something but his instincts had always been to protect first, ask questions later. Dick spoke up before he could make up his mind.
"Can – can we not go home?"
Bruce turned, surprised, to look at Dick. His eyes were open now and he was staring down at his hands.
"Why?" Bruce asked, turning his attention back to the road but keeping half an eye on the pale face.
"I – I just don't want…." Dick took a deep breath. "I just don't want to."
"Does it have to do with Alfred?" Bruce could almost see the surprise on Dick's face when he hit the mark. Almost. He'd trained the boy well. Dick didn't respond and Bruce knew that was as much admittance as any. "Fine, we don't have to go home, yet." Bruce sighed. "But I know you're exhausted. What would you want to do?"
"Umm…." Dick looked around for a second before looking back up Bruce with wide eyes. "Go get ice cream?"
Bruce watched as Dick smiled just a little bit as the boy slid into the booth by the front window of the ice cream parlor. Bruce sat down across from him, giving the whole shop a quick once-over (again) before feeling satisfied that it was secure (from paparazzi mostly, but anything else as well). Dick's smile was quickly wiped from his face by a small coughing fit and Bruce pursed his lips in worry. His ward was putting on a good show of being fine, but Bruce could see the exhaustion written all over the boy's face.
Bruce imagined that Dick really just wanted to go home and sleep for the rest of the day (or two) and the fact that he instead insisted that they go for ice cream and not go home really testified to the shame he felt. He didn't want to let Alfred down, to show his weakness to the elderly man. Bruce knew Alfred would understand, and he knew Dick knew too, but Bruce had had his own share of mishaps that he just couldn't bring himself to tell the butler about for fear of the disappointment he'd see in those kindly eyes (though Bruce had never witnessed such a thing).
If Dick was thinking this way, and Bruce deduced that he was and Bruce was almost never wrong, then the boy was clearly in a bad place. Obviously Dick was disappointed in himself that he'd not been able to make it through a day of school, but there was no reason to believe others would share in that disappointment. Alfred would only be understanding; if anything, Dick should be worried about disappointment from Bruce (though there was none, to be sure).
But maybe that was the root of it all. Maybe Dick felt he'd already disappointed Bruce and didn't want to take the chance with Alfred too. Knowing he was a good detective and aware of the impressive knowledge and understanding he had of his ward, Bruce could honestly say that what he was inferring from the situation was probably pretty close to accurate. And Bruce hated it. Hated that he'd ever done anything to make Dick feel this way.
But maybe he was wrong. Maybe he was reading too much into the situation. Maybe Dick only wanted to spend some time with Bruce and was simply seizing the opportunity. Bruce knew that Dick thrived off the attention Bruce gave him and craved the one-on-one time that they sometimes managed to have. He felt bad that it was so rare (and perhaps becoming rarer with the loss of Robin); maybe Dick was making an effort to increase its appearance. Bruce could hardly imagine how the boy could actually want to eat ice cream, as he'd refused every offer of any food for the past two months, but maybe he was just grasping at straws.
Or maybe Bruce was right in his first deduction and should stop deluding himself. Or maybe he should just act like a normal person and ask Dick what was up.
"Dick, do you want to tell me what happened?" There, nice and normal.
Dick looked briefly over at the ice cream counter and Bruce followed his gaze. The owner was still in the back mixing up their ice cream and Dick brought his eyes back to the table. "A lot of things happened."
"Okay." Bruce would wait, give him time.
"It was just… weird being back there. It was so… normal. Nothing had changed and…."
"Yeah." Dick was now looking down at his lap where his hands lay. "I punched a kid."
"What?" Bruce sat up straight, all his energy brought into the situation.
"Mr. Hanquist didn't call you?"
Dick sighed. He brought his injured arm up and the table and started playing with the brace. Bruce was actually pleased to see the sight. He'd been… terrified, after Dick had woken up and been repulsed by the contraption on his limb, that he'd made the wrong decision regarding Dick's arm. Maybe he should have just let it be or maybe he should have had it amputated. He hadn't given Dick a choice and Dick was the one who'd have to live with it. But the boy had slowly come accustomed to it and seeing him now, at least messing with it and touching it like it was tolerable made Bruce breathe easier.
"He said stuff," Dick started again. "About you, and about Alfred."
"What kind of stuff?"
Dick shrugged. "Just stuff."
"Was it just about us or about you too."
"All of us."
Bruce grunted, annoyed. Dick should not have to deal with this, especially not now. He knew from the moment he enrolled the boy at that snotty school he'd be singled out; he was different, acted different. It didn't take much to discover he'd grown up in the circus - many of the kids had probably seen him perform – and of course in a building full of rich, white (mostly), privileged brats, being from the circus was about as pathetic as you could get. Not to mention the accent Dick had carried when he'd first arrived, his distinct ethnicity (it wasn't extremely strong, but noticeable in a school like Gotham Academy), his… personality. Dick had handled it all with grace and maturity that Bruce admired and had managed to make some not-quite-bratty friends along the way. Now, however…. Bruce had heard the rumors, some of them anyway. Dick didn't deserve them and he definitely didn't need them now. Not with everything else he was suffering.
"And that's why you punched him?" In all honesty, Bruce wanted to punch him too, whoever it was.
"Pretty much. I tried to ignore him, I really did." Dick stopped fiddling with his brace and sat still. "But he just kept talking! He wouldn't stop!"
"Who was it?" Bruce could tell Dick was getting worked up.
Bruce nodded. Kid deserved a punch. His dad too. But that wasn't the point and punching wasn't okay. Not unless you were wearing a cape. "I take it you weren't sent to the principals?"
Dick shook his head.
"I dunno, Mr. Hanquist just didn't."
"Did you tell him what happened?"
"Excuse me, sirs, your ice creams." The shop owner, a slightly large, Italian man (without the accent), was standing above their table, a tray with two tall glasses of ice cream balanced on top. "For you, Mr. Wayne." The man took down one of the chocolate ice creams and placed in front of Bruce, laying a spoon beside it. "And for the younger Mr. Wayne."
"It's Grayson," Dick murmured as the other chocolate one was placed in front of him. "But thanks."
"Oh, I'm very sorry, Mr. Grayson," the man hurriedly apologized, bowing slightly. "My mistake!"
"Thank you," Bruce smiled, handing the man a large tip.
"Of course. Enjoy!" And then the man was gone.
"I hate when people do that," Dick muttered, picking up his spoon and running it through the whip cream on top of his ice cream.
Bruce narrowed his eyebrows but didn't comment. Picking up his own spoon, he scooped up a spoonful of the chocolate banana ice cream, taking a bit and letting it melt in his mouth. He really didn't have ice cream (or any treats, for that matter) very often. Training required the proper fuel for his body and unlike Dick he couldn't load up on sugar and expect to last the night.
"It's good, isn't it?" Dick was smiling slightly as he watched Bruce eat, whip cream decorating his upper lip.
"Yes, it is."
"Me and Barbara come here a lot. Or, we used to." Dick took a small bite of his own ice cream. "Aren't you gonna ask why Mr. Lorello serves ice cream in a glass?"
"No, because I came here when I was a teenager and know all about Mr. Lorello's secret."
"You came here too?" Dick looked surprised and Bruce smiled.
"I'm not that old."
"News to me."
Bruce gave Dick a look and Dick only shrugged, taking a large bite of his ice cream. There was a sense of relief flooding over Bruce as he watched Dick eat and crack jokes. He didn't do nearly enough of the first and the second was also depressingly absent.
"Are you going to tell me why we're here?" Bruce finally asked again. "I do enjoy spending time with you, Dick, but I also have to know what happened."
Dick's jaw tightened and he stopped eating. "It was stupid calc class." He turned and looked out the window, his eyes getting glass as he stared off into space. "It was really bright in the – the classroom and it hurt my eyes and gave me a headache and…. I couldn't read the problems; they were all blurry and mixed around and then I tried to – to write and…. I couldn't do it Bruce! I just… couldn't. It all reminded me; the lights, and the teacher's voice, and the coat she was wearing…. And then my arm and leg hurt and-" Dick coughed and cut off, hanging his head in shame.
"Did you take your medications today?" As soon as Dick mentioned that his arm and leg hurt, Bruce went on guard. In a normal day, Dick could usually manage at least until lunch time with minimal pain if he took his pills. Nearing one o'clock Bruce would start to see his face tightening in pain and his movements become stiff, but it was barely eleven now. There was no reason Dick should be experiencing intolerable pain unless school really did take a harder toll on him than Bruce originally thought. "Did you take them, Dick?"
"I – I don't know."
Bruce sighed, feeling his heart clench in sympathy for the young boy across from him. He knew Dick was in considerable pain if he didn't take his meds and Bruce was surprised the boy was holding up as well as he was. The tight lines on his face, his pale color, the way he held his bad arm; all testaments to the aching he must have been feeling all morning.
"Here." Bruce reached into his jacket and pulled out a few bottles. He kept Dick's meds on his person for times like this. Reaching across the table, Bruce sprinkled a few pills into Dick's hand. Dick took them wordlessly and Bruce shook his head. "I'm sorry, I should have made sure you took them this morning."
"'S'not your fault," Dick shrugged, going back to his ice cream half-heartedly. "They're my pills; I should remember to take them."
After a few more moments of silent eating, Bruce spoke again. "I'm sorry that I pushed you into going back to school so soon. Especially when you didn't think you were ready."
"I… it's fine." Dick wasn't really eating his ice cream anymore; more just pushing it around in the glass. "I thought I was ready. I mean, you were right. Things have to go back to normal."
"I know," Bruce murmured. "But I am sorry; it was too soon. I know you weren't ready and that you did it for me – and Alfred. Thank you, but I'm sorry I pushed you so hard."
"I – I do want to go back. I think…." Dick stabbed at the cherry on top of his ice cream with his spoon. It sank into the fluffy whip cream underneath it.
"Then you will. When you're ready."
Dick huffed a small sigh. "I just…. I don't know if I'll ever actually be ready. Sleeping in's really nice."
Bruce's face cracked into a small smile. It was nice to hear Dick acting more normal – or, normaler than he'd been the past few months. Normal… that didn't really sound right anymore, in the situation. It almost sounded… like a joke. What was 'normal' after this?
"But in all honesty…. I can't go back to normal, can I?" Bruce looked up at Dick's words. "Not really, anyways." Dick suddenly let out a humorless laugh. "Who are we kidding? When have we ever been normal? I grew up in a circus, you grew up in a mansion; going to school is just so normal for us. Haha, yeah, right. Normal is wearing capes and Kevlar and throwing things and beating up people. It's swinging around the top of buildings while normal people sleep. That's what's normal for us and I'll never do that again."
"Sorry Bruce; I guess you and Alfred will never get your normal back." Dick stared down into his ice cream, his face so utterly defeated that Bruce suddenly felt… angry.
"You know what, Dick?" He stood up and walked around to Dick's side of the table, sitting down at the boy's side. "Screw normal. I don't want anything from you except the best you can do in whatever situation you're in. That's all I've ever asked of you and you've never disappointed me." Then Bruce did something so very uncharacteristic in public as he wrapped a strong arm around his ward's skinny shoulders. "Don't ever think I'm disappointed in you and don't ever think that you're not doing enough. I know I'm not an easy man to talk to, but you do a da*n good job at it. Just like everything else you do. We'll make a new normal if we have to."
"You hear the B-man has a mission for us tomorrow night?"
Artemis raised an eyebrow at Wally as she snatched an apple off the counter. "Really? Batman?"
"Yeah, it's something in Bialya." Wally grabbed three apples from the counter.
Wally shrugged, taking a huge bite out one of the apples and leading the way back into the main room of the mountain. "Flash wouldn't tell me what we're doing there, but it must be a big deal. Lot of the League's involved."
"We're going on a mission… with the League." Artemis gave Wally's back a skeptical look. "You sure you heard your uncle right?"
"Yes, I'm sure." Wally collapsed on the couch, sticking his feet up on the coffee table. "He said it's tomorrow night; we're leaving at seven."
"Crap." Artemis lowered herself into the armchair to the right of Wally. "We're leaving at seven?"
"Yeah, time's different over there and I guess Bats wants to arrive in the middle of the night? I dunno. Why does it matter?"
"I have a stupid thing at school tomorrow night." Artemis rubbed at her apple with her sleeve, not really interested in eating it. She actually wasn't too disappointed at missing the mission; actually, she was kind of relieved. It just reminded her too much of….
"What kind of thing?" Wally was starting to smack and Artemis resisted the urge to smack him.
Artemis let out a huff. "Swear you won't laugh."
"Cross my heart and hope to die."
Artemis mentally facepalmed. "It's a solo and ensemble concert thing…."
"No!" Artemis threw her apple at the speedster, deciding it was better ammunition than food. "I'm running tech. They made me since I don't do choir or band or any other instrument thing. It counts for my grade in science, which is stupid because pushing buttons and operating lights have nothing to do with chemistry, but I'm failing the class so I hafta be there…."
"You're failing chemistry?" Wally suddenly sat up straight and Artemis rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, you didn't know that?"
"No! Dude, I'm a chemistry genius!"
"Rub it in why don't you," Artemis muttered. "And don't 'dude' me."
"I can tutor you!"
"Oh gosh, how romantic." Artemis stood up and walked over to the large expanse in the middle of the entrance to the mountain. She hit a button on the wall and a large holographic display popped up.
"It would be! Like in those movies, you know?" Wally was back to slouching on the couch, two apple cores already lying on the ground around him. "I could tutor you, babe," he muttered, dreamy eyed and Artemis groaned.
Ignoring him, Artemis started typing on the holographic keyboard which she was still somewhat at odds with as her fingers kept slipping through. She didn't really understand how the things worked and for some reason she hadn't yet managed to master the correct strokes required to interact with the glowing blue displays. She quickly found what she was looking for, however, in the databases and pulled up a large file with the latest on Bialya in it.
"Whatcha doing?" Wally asked, twisting around backwards to look.
"Looking up why Batman would possibly send the Team and some of the League to Bialya," Artemis replied, not looking away from what she was reading. "And so far, I've found no reason. Nothing weird's been going on there since you guys last visited…." Artemis scrolled through a few more pages of animal wildlife gossip, something about a wildlife nut from Qurac dying in a tragic car crash, and warnings against a new strain of the monkey flu affecting the monkeys with really ugly butts. Suddenly she stopped. "Do you think it could have anything to do with the Injustice League?"
Wally fully sat up and swiveled around. "Maybe? Honestly Arty, I have no idea. I just know I'm glad to actually get out!"
"Are you talking about the mission tomorrow?"
Artemis looked over to where M'gann stood in the doorway.
"Sure am!" Wally exclaimed and Artemis was beginning to develop the urge to shoot him for being so cheerful. "It'll feel good to really run again! Beat some bad guys, get our hands dirty, try to remember overly complex Kaldur-plans."
"Yes, I'm excited to get out as well!" M'gann floated into the sitting area. "J'onn told me he's coming along; it must be a pretty important mission!"
"And that is why we are not to speak of it until Batman debriefs us."
"Oh, hey Kaldur." Artemis quickly closed the files she had up and let the display shut down. The Atlantean was dripping water and Artemis assumed he'd just arrived from Atlantis. "You staying the night or something?"
"Yes," Kaldur responded, walking up to where Artemis was standing and rebooting the display. "My king thought it wise that I participate in the training session tonight and tomorrow morning in preparation for the mission."
"We have a training sesh tonight?" Artemis stepped away from the holo-computer and went to stand near M'gann. "First I heard of it. Actually, first I heard of any of this."
"Maybe since you can't go," Wally smirked. "You know, since you have to push buttons tomorrow night."
"Oh shut up, West."
"You can't go on the mission?" M'gann asked, suddenly looking worried.
Artemis sighed. "No, I have a school thing."
Artemis spun around in indignation and raised a questioning eyebrow at the clone. "Who taught him that word?" She asked, watching as Conner meandered over to the couch and sat down next to Wally.
"Very funny," Conner retorted. "Clone jokes: so amusing."
"That wasn't even a clone joke!" Artemis scoffed. "It was an artificial intelligence joke and I think they're very amusing."
"Yeah, everyone's laughing."
"Probably at your attitude."
"I like his attitude," Wally interjected. "I think it's… sassy!" Conner gave Wally a look and Wally quickly amended: "I mean, it's, uh… attitudinal….."
Artemis wasn't sure whether to laugh or bang her head against the wall. Laughing was the best sounding option, but she still had her tough façade to keep up and all. But it was nice to have the Team back together and the archer didn't want to ruin it by giving herself a concussion so she refrained from both responses and instead cracked a little smile and leaned against the wall as Wally and Conner continued to discuss the clone's attitude. Artemis was actually starting to be genuinely disappointed about missing the mission and hanging out with the Team until M'gann spoke again.
"Do you think Robin will come back for the mission?"
Both Wally and Artemis froze, their gazes meeting across the room. But before Artemis could say anything, Wally stood and marched to the doorway leading away deeper into the cave. As he passed through the doorway and just before he was out of sight he turned and hissed:
"Robin's never coming back." And then he was gone.
Thank you for reading and please drop a review if ya don't mind!