"Not My Kid"
part 2 (continued from page 1 )
by Louise Freeman Davis
"Aunt Iris?" Startled, Iris Allen whirled around in her computer chair to see her teenage nephew standing before her, the soles of his worn sneakers smelling like burnt rubber.
"Wally! Don't do that!" Her voice fell to a stage whisper. "And what are you doing here? Your Uncle Barry's in his lab right now if he catches you--"
"He's here? He's supposed to be at STAR labs!" Wally hissed.
"Apparently there was a problem with the ultracentrifuge that is going to take a couple of hours to repair. So he came back to set up here. They'll call him when they have it fixed."
"Broken equipment. How convenient! So much for him supervising every step of the way!" Wally said, bitterly. "Great, someone's probably tampering with the samples right now!"
"Superman and Green Lantern are still there, hon," soothed Iris. "It'll be OK, I'm sure."
"No it won't, Aunt Iris! We're being set up! Robin has good evidence that someone inside STAR labs is trying to frame us, but he needs me to prove it before they do the test! But I can't keep running around like this I need my costume!"
"Your costume is on your Uncle Barry's little finger right now! Just how am I supposed to get it?"
"Do you know where my first Kid Flash suit is?"
"The red one? Up in a box in the attic, I think--"
The next thing Iris knew, her nephew was setting her down there. "Great? Which one?"
"Wally! Will you stop doing that?"
"Please, Aunt Iris!"
"I'm not sure " she blinked and suddenly most of the boxes in the room were open, their contents strewn wildly about. "Wally!" she cried in dismay.
"Yes! Found it!" The boy plucked the red suit from a carton.
"Wally, you haven't worn that thing in three years! There's no way it's going to fit!"
"It's going to have to!" he replied, tugging it on. It was a tight squeeze, and the sleeves barely reached his elbows, leaving a patch of bare skin between them and his gloves, but fortunately the friction-proof material had some give in it. "It'll do!"
"Just don't squat, or you're going to be real embarrassed, real fast!"
"I won't, believe me. Thanks, Iris!" beamed Wally, kissing her cheek quickly. "Did I ever tell you you're my favorite relative?"
"Love, are you sure you're doing the right thing here?"
"It's the only thing we can do. The Justice League won't listen to us!"
"You know I'm on your side here, Wally. No matter what the test shows, if you say you aren't doing drugs, you aren't doing drugs."
"I know, Aunt Iris. And thanks. But that won't help any of us if Barry's test comes back positive."
"Can I do anything else then?"
"Yeah, if we screw this up, get over to my dad's and hide all his belts!"
Iris shook her head. "For the first time in my life I may have to consider hiding your uncle's, too. Wally, be careful."
"I will. Later!"
The boy departed in a crackle of lightning. Iris shook her head, gazing
around at the mess in her previously tidy storeroom. With a sigh, she knelt
by the box that Wally had pulled the costume out of and began refilling
it. Mostly it contained newspaper clippings from that summer five years
ago, heralding the debut of Kid Flash. You know, I really should put these
in a scrapbook for him, she thought, picking up the carton and carrying
it downstairs. When this was over, Barry could clean up the rest of the
"Ok, Robin, I'm set!" said Kid Flash. Dick startled as Wally appeared by his side.
"Okaaaaay ." replied Robin, taking in his teammate in the outgrown suit.
"Don't laugh, huh, it was the best I could do! The good news is, a sudden equipment failure at STAR labs has bought us a couple of extra hours before the blood samples are spun down."
"Guys, we have to understand what's at stake here," said Robin into his communicator. "If we disobey, and I'm wrong about this, we're all going to get our butts nailed to the wall. We might even if we're right, at this point! Wally, there's still time for you to get home before you're missed. And the rest of you, you don't have to do this."
There was a long pause. "Dick, if you could do this on your own, at this point, would you take the risk?" asked Donna.
"Yes, I would."
"Then I'm with you." Garth and Wally agreed.
"All right then. Aqualad, get Wonder Girl to shore as fast as you can. Then stand by, we may need you as soon as Aquaman leaves the water. Wonder Girl, Kid Flash will meet you at Eastside Cove, buzz him as soon as you get close. Robin out."
"So what do we do in the meantime, Bat-boy?"
"Actually, there's a cute redhead in the library who may need a research assistant who can read fast! You willing?"
"Cute redhead? I can handle that! What about you?"
"I'm going to
try to find out who Rosemary Bluebird really is!"
"_National Intruder_ payroll office. Rohrer speaking."
"Hello. This is Agent Duncan, Bureau of Internal Revenue." Dick pitched his voice as deep as possible. "I am part of a Presidential Task Force investigating the practice of unscrupulous journalists concealing income via the use of multiple pen names, and I have some concerns about apparent discrepancies in records we have received from your office."
"Mr. Duncan, I assure you, all our payments are strictly by the book!"
"Hmmmm, then perhaps you can explain the reported income from one Ms. Rosemary Bluebird, which came to our office under a non-existent social security number?"
"I assure you, that is not our policy!"
"Hmmm, well, perhaps if you give me Ms. Bluebird's real name and social security number "
"Agent Duncan, I hardly think that is appropriate material to discuss over the phone!"
"I understand, Mr. Rohrer. I can have a team of investigators in your office first thing tomorrow, if you will have all the records ready for their examination-"
"One moment, please." There was a pause and the sound of a computer keyboard tapping in the background. "Ms. Bluebird has been a staff writer here for less than one year. All income has been reported to your agency under her legal name, Rebecca Deavers Brown, social security number 505-22-4556."
"Thank you, Mr.
Rohrer. I'm sure we can clear this matter up with that information. My office
will be in touch." Dick hung up the phone. Rebecca D. Brown, eh? It
was a start.
"Uh, miss, I think I found something," Kid Flash swallowed hard, blushing bright red as he pointed at the screen. The woman Dick had instructed him to meet was certainly cute, even if she refused to tell him her name. Kid Flash just wished he didn't look so ridiculous in his outgrown costume and was grateful they were alone in the basement archive room.
"Yes, that's the obituary of her late husband," she remarked. "I'm not sure how useful that'll be, but give me the spool and I'll go photocopy it. In the meantime, you keep checking." The redhead had barely returned when Kid Flash's wrist buzzed.
"Wonder Girl here. Approaching Eastside Cove."
"Gotcha. Sorry, miss, gotta go!"
"Well, take this to Robin," she told him, handing him the photocopy, which he stuffed in the top of his too-small boot. With a crackle of lightning he was gone.
Donna Troy was just wading ashore when he arrived. "M'lady, your chariot awaits!" he said gallantly, beginning an elegant bow before the tug in his costume made him think better of it. Donna giggled and so did Tula as she waved goodbye and she and Imp headed back out to open sea.
Kid Flash glared at her as he swept her up in his arms. "You may be gorgeous, Wonder Chick, but one crack about the outfit and I'm throwing you back!"
Seconds later, they whooshed their way up the Wayne Manor staircase to Dick's bedroom.
"Great, you're here!" whispered Dick. "Just be quiet, so Alfred won't hear you. I've figured out a way to get you in Mrs. Billingsworth's room. Donna, put these on!" He pulled out a dark green sweatshirt from his closet, which Donna slipped on over her Wonder Girl costume. "Fortunately, Mrs. Billingsworth his expecting flowers, and you're going to be Lovely Lilac's lovely delivery girl. Got it?" He handed her a Gotham Knight baseball cap.
"Got it!" she said, tucking her hair up under the cap.
"And let me guess, travel by Kid Flash taxi service?" quipped Wally.
"What else? Donna, when you're in there, you need to check the phone. There could be a computer, a fax machine, anything hooked up to it. We need some idea as to what those calls were about."
"And we'd better hope it was something more than a hard-working lab tech checking in on his poor sick grandma," sighed Kid Flash. "Just where do we get these flowers, anyway?"
Dick pulled some scissors from his desk drawer and handed them to Wally. "Alfred may kill me, but the Wayne Manor Rose Garden's in full bloom. Just make it fast."
"That's my specialty. Oh, yeah, this is for you," he pulled the photocopy from his boot, scooped up Donna, and was gone.
Dick picked up the
obituary and studied it intently. Not a lot of information. Mrs. Billingsworth's
husband had died almost five years earlier, of lung cancer. Survivors included
a son, two daughters, a stepson, and stepdaughter
Wait a second. The stepson's
name was Harold Deavers. The same as "Rosemary Bluebird's" middle
name. Dick circled that as a possible connection.
"Right this way, miss," The nurse's aide ushered Donna into room 213. Mrs. Billingsworth lay on the hospital bed, an IV in her arm. She was frail-looking, but managed a small smile of greeting.
"Hello, ma'am," Donna said, as pleasantly has she could. "These are for you, Mrs. Billingsworth. I'm afraid there's no card, but the office is trying to track down who sent them to you." The elderly woman looked at Donna curiously, then glanced at the aide.
"I'm afraid Mrs. Billingsworth is deaf, hon," explained the aide, scribbling a message on a note pad and showing it to her. Mrs. Billingsworth nodded understandingly.
Deaf, thought Donna. She glanced at the phone and could see nothing unusual about it. "Perhaps I could use the phone to call the shop and see if they've found anything yet?"
"That'll be fine, dear," the aide nodded permission. "Let me see if I can find a vase for those." Donna picked up the receiver and faked the call, hoping no one noticed her finger hit the hang-up button. She took advantage of the moment to glance at the medical chart over the bed, and noticed that Mrs. Billingsworth had been checked every hour the previous night.
haven't tracked it yet," she explained, placing the bright blossoms
in the vase the nurse aide had brought her, and setting it by the beside
table. "But they're working on it. In the meantime, you just enjoy
them!" Mrs. Billingsworth reached for her hand, and Dona gave it a
squeeze, then hastily made her way out.
"Nothing unusual I could see about the phone," she reported to Dick, as soon as Wally sped her back. "Mrs. Billingsworth is deaf; she couldn't have heard it. But there were nurses in and out of there all night. One of them must have taken the call!"
"Could be " mused Dick. "But I think there must be some connection to her family. Billingsworth was her second husband. Her first, and apparently the father of her two children, was someone named Deavers! And Deavers is Rosemary Bluebird's middle name!"
"Deavers? That name's familiar to me, too!" said Donna. "But I can't place it, right now. But maybe "
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. "Master Dick? Would you care for some lunch?"
"Just a second, Alfred!" stammered Dick, shoving his notepad and papers into his desk drawer and flopping face down on his bed. Wally grabbed Donna by the wrist and pulled her into Dick's closet, silently shutting the door behind them.
"The butler entered with a tray of soup, sandwiches, milk and cookies. Dick sat up. "Thanks, Alfred."
"Master Dick? Are you quite well? You seem rather excited."
"I'm fine, Alfred, really."
Alfred sat down at Dick's desk chair. "I know this is a difficult situation for you, sir. But Master Bruce is only doing his duty. I'm sure he has your best interests at heart."
"Yeah, I know, Alfred." At any other time, Dick would have been grateful for the butler's comfort, but time was of the essence now. "Look, I'd rather just be alone, OK?" he said, as sullenly as he could. Alfred seemed a bit taken aback, but responded with a courteous "As you wish, sir," and got up to leave. He paused at the bedroom door.
"Master Dick, are you quite comfortable here?"
"Why wouldn't I be, Alfred?"
"It just seems a trifle drafty in the manor this afternoon."
"You think so? I hadn't noticed."
"Perhaps I'm imagining it. Chin up, Master Dick." Alfred nodded to him and withdrew.
As soon as Dick was sure he was gone, he darted to his closet door and opened it.
"Awwww! I thought I had seven minutes!" complained Wally, and ducked as Donna aimed a swat at him. "Hey, are you going to eat those sandwiches?"
Dick pushed him the tray. "Donna, where do you remember the name Deavers from?"
"I don't know, Dick. I'm sorry."
"Keep thinking, maybe it'll come to you."
"OK, so who answered the phone in the deaf lady's room last night?" mumbled Wally with his mouth full.
"Maybe no one," mused Dick. "Maybe someone set the phone to forward calls! I mean, a deaf lady isn't going to be getting any calls herself. Who would notice?"
"OK, if that's the case, how do we find out where they're being forwarded to?" asked Wally.
Dick paused and pulled
the notepad with the number on it from his desk. "We call it."
"OK, Donna, you ready?"
"Dick, I'm not sure I can pull this off!"
"It's OK, Wonder Chick!" Kid Flash encouraged her. "If you get stuck, just ask if they have Prince Albert in a can!"
"Wally, will you quit clowning!" snapped Dick. "It's OK, Donna. Just say as little as you can. The more information they offer, the better. And you know what to say if you get someone who knows Mrs. Billingsworth. Ready?" At her nod, Dick dialed the number.
It picked up after three rings. "Hello?" came a woman's voice.
"Hello," replied Donna. "This is Nurse Harris of Silvertree Manor." Dick slid a finger across his throat and she fell silent.
"Yes?" replied the woman. Dick leaned in close to listen, signalling Donna not to say more.
"What is it?" repeated the woman after a few second's silence. Dick kept a finger over his mouth.
"Is this about my grandmother?" she said, finally. Dick smiled and gave Donna the OK sign.
"Yes!" answered Donna. "You see, she received a delivery of flowers today with no card, so we were trying to find out who sent them."
"Well, it wasn't me. Did you try my mom?" she asked.
"Not yet .We'll do that." Dick scribbled something on the notepad and showed it to Donna. "So sorry to have troubled you, Ms. Deavers."
"Deavers? I'm not Oh, you must want my cousin Abigail!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, who is this, then?"
"This is Becky. Becky Brown?"
"Oh, right, I must have gotten the phone numbers mixed up." Dick scribbled her another note. "Can you tell me where I can reach Miss Abigail?"
"She's be at work now. Gotham City STAR labs. Here's the number." Dick grinned jubilantly and gave his two teammates high-fives as Donna hung up the phone.
"I take it that's good news?" asked Wally. "But I'm not sure I get it. "
"We just talked to Rosemary Bluebird, aka Rebecca Deavers Brown. Whose cousin works at STAR labs! Coincidence? I think not! Abigail probably called her from there last night when she ripped of the specimen jars, and filtered the call through her deaf grandmother's phone so it couldn't be traced! See?" Dick pointed out the circled obituary. "Mrs. Billingsworth had two children from her first marriage, Harold Deavers and a daughter, Madeline Brown! Assuming these are their daugthers, we have two cousins, working together, and one in a perfect place to set up the Titans to flunk the drug test!"
"That's where I remembered the Deavers name from!" exclaimed Donna. "It was one of the toxicology staff Garth and I looked up this morning!"
"It's the connection we need!" said Dick. "Wally, do you know exactly when they're going to divide up those plasma samples? If Abigail Deavers is going to contaminate all of them, she'll have to do it before then."
"Well, with a couple hours delay, I would guess about now."
Robin's communicator vibrated. "Aqualad to Teen Titans. Tula just got here. She was hanging around the palace and said Aquaman just left for STAR labs."
"Wait until he's out of the water, then get there, as quick as you can, Garth. It's a technician named Abigail Deavers we want!" Dick glanced at Wally. "We'd better get there, ourselves. I have an idea, but you're going to have to get me to Commissioner Gordon's office, stat!"
"Aw, but you're not as fun to carry as Wonder Doll here!"
here and stay out of sight! Come on, Wally! To the Batcave!"
Mere seconds later, the two of them were underground, and Dick hastily got into his Robin suit. Just as he was slipping his mask over his face, a voice rang out.
Dick cringed and turned to face Alfred.
"Alfred, this is important! Please!
"Master Dick, I have strict orders "
"Alfred, someone's about to tamper with the drug test! The Titans are all going to test positive unless Kid Flash and I can get there to expose them!"
Alfred fixed the young speedster with a glare. "Ah. I take it this is the source of the mysterious drafts?"
Kid Flash grinned sheepishly and waved.
"And would either of you know anything about the recent decimation of the Manor rose garden?"
"Well, there's a poor sick deaf lady in a nursing home who's a lot happier now!" offered Kid Flash, helpfully.
"Alfred, please!" begged Robin.
The butler folded his arms and regarded him sternly. "Batman will not be pleased, Master Dick!"
Alfred sighed. " when he hears that you have taken advantage of a feeble old man, forced to retire to his room with a sudden sick headache and a mysterious case of the chills."
"Thanks, Alfred! Let's go, Wally!" The two vanished with a whoosh.
"Godspeed, lad," murmured Alfred, heading back upstairs to the main floor, then up to Dick's bedroom. He immediately crossed the room and opened Dick's closet door.
he beckoned with a smile. "Would you not be more comfortable waiting
in the parlor?"
As the two young crimefighters tore into Commissioner Gordon's office, the grey-haired man startled and dropped his pipe.
"Robin?" he sputtered. "Kid Flash? What are you doing here?"
"Commissioner, we need your help!" exclaimed Robin.
"What's going on, son? I thought the Titans were sidelined until "
"Commissioner, there's no time to explain. Kid Flash and I need to borrow a drug-sniffing dog! We have to prove that someone's trying to frame the Teen Titans."
"Robin, these drug accusations I've been hearing about sound like the most ridiculous, trumped-up Well, let's just say I've already sent Inspector Hendricks a memo giving him my opinion! But " Gordon's brow furrowed. "I have to ask, son, are you acting with Batman's approval here?"
Robin sighed. "No, sir, I'm not. Directly against his orders, in fact. But I wouldn't ask if I didn't think this was essential. Please, sir!"
Gordon regarded the young crimefighter for a long moment, then lifted his phone and pressed a button. "Bonny, put me through to Narcotics, please, K-9 division."
Robin gave a relieved smile. "Thanks, Commissioner."
sending you Robin, the Boy Wonder, with one of the Teen Titans. Given them
your full cooperation." There was a gust of wind, and Gordon looked
up to find the pair of costumed youngsters gone. He picked up his pipe.
"Well, the acorn doesn't fall far
"Snuffles here is the best we have, Robin," said Montoya, placing the small canine in the teen's arms and handing him the end of the leash.
"Snuffles?" asked Kid Flash. "We're betting our butts on a wiener dog named Snuffles?"
"Hey, never underestimate a beagle," said Montoya. "They have the best noses in the business!"
"Snuffles " sighed Wally.
Robin looked at his teammate apologetically. "It's up to the two of you, now," he said. "You can get him there faster without me."
Kid Flash rolled his eyes. "Very convenient. So I'm the one who gets to run straight into the lion's den?"
Robin smiled ruefully. "Comes with the territory, I guess, Fleet-feet. Keep in mind, you can also make the quickest escape."
Kid Flash took the dog from him. "Bird-boy, no offense, but that would mean a lot more if the one person alive who I know can catch me weren't there! Wish me luck!" The air crackled, and he and the dog vanished.
"Good luck, pal,"
Reporters had already filled the STAR Labs briefing room. Two floors up, in the toxicology lab, a white-coated technician pressed a button on the side of the machine, and the drum of the centrifuge ground to a halt. Under the watchful eye of most of the Justice League, he popped the lid off the machine, and removed one test tube of blood. The red blood cells were packed into a solid pellet at the bottom, leaving a clear layer of plasma at the top. "Looks good," said the scientist. "Flash, you want to do the honors?"
The Scarlet Speedster nodded grimly and took up a pipette as another technician approached with a rack full of colored-coded test tubes: three red, three green, three yellow and three blue.
"One moment, Flash," said Batman, quietly. Reaching into his utility belt pouch. "If you don't mind "
"HOLD IT!" The League looked up in abject horror as Kid Flash stumbled into the room, his suit straining at the seams and his arms full of floppy-eared beagleness.
"KID FLASH!" roared Barry. "What the devil are you "
"I'm sorry, Flash," the boy gasped. "But this is important "
"Just WHAT is the meaning of this, Superman?" bellowed Inspector Hendricks.
"I have no idea, Inspector," Superman answered, clearly seething.
"Neither do I!" snapped the Flash, setting his pipette down and advancing on his nephew. "I don't know what's gotten into you, but "
Kid Flash quickly set the dog down and unhooked his leash. "Go, Snuffles, go on, boy!" he urged. "Find theÐ find whatever it is Robin thinks you're going to find!" The canine tore across the laboratory floor, yapping furiously.
"Robin's in on this, too?" demanded Superman.
Kid Flash swallowed hard. "We're all in on it, sir," he said. "All of the Teen Titans."
"Superman, you assured me you had those kids under wraps!" Hendricks' voice shook with fury.
The Flash grabbed Kid Flash by the arm. "Inspector, I assure you, he's never done anything like this before "
"Never mind! Just someone shut that dog up!"
Green Lantern bent down to retrieve the animal, but Snuffles growled at him, and darted over to the laboratory bench, jumping up and renewing his yapping.
"Say, Flash!" exclaimed the young speedster. "I think Rin Tin Tin is trying to tell us something!" He twisted out of his uncle's grasp and dashed to the bench, where he gave the pooch a shove on the rear, boosting him up on top of the lab bench. Snuffles immediately jumped toward the rack containing the coded test tubes, and began shoving it with his nose, howling forlornly.
Barry seized Wally's arm again. "Kid, you are in so much "
"Hold it, Flash," said Black Canary. "This is a drug-sniffing dog?" she asked. Wally nodded. "I'm no expert, here, but I'd say something about those test tubes smells like drugs!"
"Yes!" Wally grinned. "And I bet it would have smelled like drugs to whatever tests you were planning to run on them, once you had the samples loaded!" He pressed a button on his wrist. "Did you get all that, Robin?"
"I read you, Kid Flash," came Robin's voice.
"Who prepared those tubes?" demanded the Flash.
The head technician whirled around. "Abby?" he called.
Wonder Woman darted to the door and looked out. "The other technician. I saw her leave, just as Kid Flash came in!"
"Her name's Abigail Deavers, Batman," buzzed Robin, from Wally's wrist. "She's first cousin to the reporter who wrote the original Intruder story."
"Get that woman back here!" demanded Hendricks and Superman, in the same voice. "There she is!" continued Superman, looking down through the floor. "Heading out the back door, first floor, with one of the reporters from the briefing room."
"Wait here!" the Flash ordered Wally, heading for the door. Superman stopped him. "Never mind, Flash. They aren't going anywhere."
On the first floor, Aqualad and Aquagirl had emerged from the marine biology lab and were lurking by the rear exits. As the two panicked-looking women, one in a lab coat, the other wearing a "Press" badge, darted for the doorway, the Atlantean teens stepped in their pathway.
ladies?" asked Garth, with a soft smile.
"Is it just me, or is this place seeming more and more like a principal's office all the time?" asked Wally. Still in his too-small costume, the teen speedster paced restlessly about the JLA lounge. On the other side of the door, the Justice League was pondering their fate, yet again.
"Wally, will you give it a rest?" groaned Garth, slumping forlornly in an armchair.
"No, I mean it! All they need is a hard wooden bench and maybe a nice big paddle hanging on the wall up there--"
"Dick, what is he talking about?" sighed Donna.
"Nothing, Donna. He's being a jerk. Ignore him."
"What's the matter, Bird-Boy? Teacher never sent you there?"
"As a matter of fact, no!"
"Right, silly me, forgot who I'm talking to, here!"
"Just shut up, Wally. And sit down before you split a seam!"
"I can't believe, after all that, they still went ahead with the drug test!" Aqualad rolled his eyes.
"At least we know it's fair now," offered Donna. "They'll have to believe that we didn't do anything!"
"Except violate every restriction they placed on us!" pointed out Robin, his voice bitter.
"We caught the bad guys. Or gals, in this case!" said Garth. "You really think they're still going to nail us for it?"
"We disobeyed direct orders," stated Robin. "Orders Superman issued to keep us out of jail. We knew there could be consequences. The fact that we were right about the set-up isn't really relevant!"
"Robbo, you know, you'd make a lousy defense attorney!" scoffed Wally.
"How long are those stupid tests results going to take? I thought he was the fastest man alive!" asked Garth.
"He can't speed up chemistry," said Wally. "At least we don't have to wait until tomorrow, for the other two labs."
"We shouldn't have to be waiting here at all! " muttered Garth. "They should have trusted us!"
"Can you really blame them, after Roy?" retorted Wonder Girl.
A beep came from the phone on the wall, and Robin crossed the room to press it. "Robin here."
"Phone call for the Titans," came the deep voice of the Martian Manhunter, who was on monitor duty. "Shall I patch it through?"
"Go ahead, J'onn," answered Robin, pressing the conference call button.
"Hey, guys!" came a voice over the intercom. "How's it going?"
"Speak of the devilfish," quipped Aqualad.
"Roy!" exclaimed Donna with delight. "How are you?"
"I'm OK, doing better. One day at a time, they say. I saw you all on the news. Hey, Twinkletoes, where's the flood?"
"Oh, you're funny, Bowboy!"
"Anyway, I called Wayne Manor; Alfred filled me in and said I could reach you here. Jury still out?"
"Yeah." said Robin.
"Are they really that P.O.ed?"
"Probably. They won't make a final decision until the Flash gets back with the test results," said Robin.
"Bummer," answered Roy. "Look, guys, I know it's mainly because of me you're having to go through this--"
"Damn straight, Harper!" snapped Wally, his tone only half joking. "When you get out of there I'm gonna kick your butt."
"Stand in line," quipped Roy. "But listen, at the risk of sounding like a cornball, at least you know they care. If someone had made me pee in a cup six months ago, I wouldn't be here now." He paused. "And before you ask, Donna, no, I haven't heard from Ollie."
"Roy, I'm sorry--"
"S'OK maybe when I work my way up to Step 9. Just remember--"
There was a gust of wind and a crackle in the air. "Uncle Barry's back," said Wally.
"We'd better go, Roy," said Robin.
"I understand. Good luck, guys."
"Yeah, you too," Robin hung up the phone and took his seat. Almost immediately the conference room door opened and Superman motioned them inside. The four Titans shuffled inside and sat down at one end of the long white table.
Superman regarded them, his expression grave, but not harsh. "The first thing you should know is that the drug test came back clean. For all four of you."
"Gee, I'm shocked," muttered Aqualad, crossing his arms and looking away.
"Watch the attitude, Garth," cautioned Aquaman, sternly.
"So, can we go out and play, now?" asked Wally, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Wally--" warned the Flash.
"Kids, I don't blame you for being resenting having to go through this," said Superman. "But I hope you can understand our position. After the situation with Speedy--"
"I don't see why we have to pay for what he did!" lashed out Wally.
"Kid Flash!" said Barry. "You are experiencing the very natural consequences of what *you* did. Or rather, failed to do!"
"It's not fair!" cried Donna. "I know we made a mistake, back then, but how long are you going to keep punishing us for it?"
"It's not a question of punishment, Donna," said Wonder Woman. "Trust is hard to build back, once it's broken. And you did break our trust when you concealed the fact that Speedy was using drugs."
"I thought our word meant something," said Garth. "I would have thought all of you would have at least believed your own partner."
"We all wanted to," said Aquaman. "But frankly, you didn't make it easy. Secret midnight meetings, hacking into the STAR labs computers--"
"Not to mention that crazy stunt you pulled this afternoon!" added the Flash. "When you were supposed to be under confinement!"
"That crazy stunt is what proved we were set up, Flash!" said Wally.
"Lucky thing it for you it did! One mistake and you could have--"
"Superman," broke in Robin. "The fact that we disobeyed orders was my responsibility. Don't blame the three of them."
"It wasn't your fault, Robin!" said Donna. "We were all in it together. Because we didn't see another way to make you believe us!"
"Kids, violating the League restrictions was reckless!" said Superman. "The fact that things worked out-"
"You mean the fact that we were right-" grumbled Aqualad.
"GARTH!" sid Aquaman, severely.
"The fact that you kids were right," repeated Superman. "-doesn't make the offense less serious!"
"Do you think we wanted to disregard your orders?" said Robin. "That was our last resort! It wasn't a decision we made hastily or without considering all our options!"
"Neither was ours, when we decided you had to take the drug tests." countered the Man of Steel. Robin ducked his head and flushed, as the rest of the Titans fell silent. Superman paused to let it sink in. "However," he went on. "-the bottom line is that this whole affair began when you kids were accused of something you didn't do, by an highly questionable source with no supporting evidence. You had to go through a demeaning procedure, because in the court of public opinion you were guilty until proven innocent. It was unfair, and I do regret that it happened, even more so if you got the impression the League held the same view."
"You children are our family, all of you," added Aquaman. Garth fidgeted as his cheeks reddened and his eyes filled with tears. "None of us wanted to subject you to that."
"But as we saw it, there was simply no other way out, and we're sorry you kids had the pay the price," continued Superman. "Sorry enough that we're going to overlook the numerous rules you broke today. Fair enough?"
Robin looked at his fellow Titans, who nodded assent. "Fair enough. Thank you, Superman." Superman held out his hand, and Robin stood to shake it.
"It's been a difficult couple of days for all of us, and there have been a lot of angry words exchanged," said Superman. "So let me apologize for my contribution to it. It's probably best if we all head home. I imagine you all want to take some time to discuss things further, privately. Clear the air, and hopefully, this can all be put behind us. Agreed?"
"Agreed on this front." The Flash stood, slipped a ring off his pinky and handed it to Wally. "I think this is yours, pal."
Wally's hand closed around it, but he didn't look up. "Thanks."
"Want to fuel up for the run home? It'll give your Aunt Iris a little time to smooth things over with your parents."
"Sure." said Wally, with little enthusiasm.
"All right." Barry clapped him on the shoulder. "But first take off that suit, will you, kid? You know how ridiculous you look?!" Wally smiled in spite of himself.
"Hey, you know, it wasn't me who designed the stupid thing. Some of us have taste!" The air crackled as the two speedsters darted out.
Aquaman rose and offered Garth his hand. "Are you ready to go home, now, Aqualad? I think we're overdue for a talk, about a number of things."
Garth placed his hand in Arthur's, who clasped it warmly. "Ready Dad," Garth murmured. Aquaman chucked him under the chin and led him out.
"We should return, too, Donna," said Diana, and a look of dread crossed her foster sister's face. "Don't worry about Mother." Diana reassured her.
"She's never going to let me come back to Man's World again!" lamented Donna.
"We'll explain, somehow," answered Diana, slipping an arm over her shoulders and squeezing affectionately. At the door, Donna paused and looked back. Batman still stood in the rear of the room, his face as grim as ever. Robin had been acutely aware of his mentor's silence throughout the entire discussion, and he could tell Donna had noticed it, too.
"See you, Dick," she offered, giving him a sympathetic look.
"Yeah, see you," he responded. What do you think of your Mr. Nice Guy now? he was tempted to add, but refrained. The women departed, leaving Batman, Superman and Robin alone at the conference table. There was an awkward moment of silence.
"Robin, I came down on you kids hard, and on you more than anyone," said Superman. "I am sorry."
"I understand, sir." Again silence fell as both waited for Batman to speak.
"I have to copy some files from the League computers," said Batman, finally. "Wait in the lounge." The Dark Knight strode out without another word. Robin flushed red, as if he had just been reprimanded in public, then turned and headed out himself.
"Dick, wait!" called Superman, grabbing his elbow.
"Forget it, Superman!"
Robin jerked away. "He never changes and he never will!" Not knowing
what else to say, Superman let him go, and Robin stomped out of the room.
Too angry to think about where he was going, Robin stormed his way down the JLA hallway, pausing at the sound of a voice at the kitchen door. Peering in, he saw Wally, now back in his familiar yellow Kid Flash suit sitting at the kitchen table, which was littered by several empty bread bags and cold cut packages. His uncle sat beside him, his hand gripping the back of Wally's neck.
"-should have trusted you more, Wally," he heard the Flash say. "I apologize."
"It's OK, Uncle Barry. I'm sorry, too. That bit about my dad was a low blow."
"So was taking your ring from you. I'm not real proud of that right now, champ. Would you feel better if I told you your Aunt Iris gave me hell for it?"
"Really?" Wally brightened considerably. "How much hell? Throwing-dishes-at-you-hell? You're-sleeping-on-the-couch-tonight-hell?"
"All right, partner, that's enough!" smiled Barry, snatching up a dish towel from the sink and snapping it at his nephew. "What's the matter, you getting too big for those britches, too?"
Wally dodged. "Or is she finally wising up and divorcing your sorry butt?" he laughed. "I always thought she could do a lot better than a boring stiff like "
"Oh, you're asking for it now, kid!" Grinning, the Flash caught him up in a full headlock. "How'd you like your hide tanned at mach 10? Huh?"
"Hey!" The pair tussled playfully until they saw Robin in the doorway. Barry let Wally go and the boy flushed, a bit embarrassed to be caught rough-housing.
"Come on in, Robin," invited Flash, his tone friendly. "Would you like a sandwich?"
Robin pressed his lips together and shook his head. "No thanks," he answered. "I'm not hungry." He turned swiftly and headed back to the lounge, where he had been told to wait.
Batman was still not there. Robin leaned against the plate glass window, gazing out at the ocean. He could see Aquaman and Aqualad standing together on a rocky cliff that was their usual jump point, apparently deep in conversation. Aquaman had both his hands on Aqualad's shoulders, which were shuddering slightly as if he were crying, or close to it. Aquaman drew him into a hug, which Garth returned after a moment or two, sliding his arms around his father's waist as Aquaman tenderly caressed the back of his head. A bitter taste came to Dick's mouth as he remembered his own father embracing him the same way. The stabs of grief didn't hit him as often as they once did, but it still hurt like hell when they did.
"Time to go,
Robin." Dick's spine stiffened at the sound of Batman's voice from
the doorway. He turned away from the window and silently followed him out.
Once they were in the Batmobile, Batman started to speak, but one look at his seething ward made him think better of it. He started the car, hoping the drive home would ease some of Dick's anger. Instead, it only escalated it. By the time they pulled into the Batcave, Robin was positively fuming.
Two days of pressure like that; he's reached his limit, thought Bruce. And bombs that can't be diffused have to be detonated. Robin got out of the Batmobile, slamming the car door loudly behind him.
"Get on the phone to Commissioner Gordon," Batman ordered curtly. "The Riddler should have sent him a message by now." The sharp words had the expected effect.
"'Get on the phone to Commissioner Gordon'?!" exploded Robin. "Is that all you can say? After all that? I'm supposed to 'just get back to work, kid' like nothing happened?"
"You know, I didn't expect an apology, Batman! That would mean you admitting you were wrong, and I know it's going to be a cold day in hell before that happens! And I didn't expect you to understand what it was like to have your own partner treat you like a common bum out of the drunk tank, because that would mean you actually had feelings! I gave up on that years ago!"
"But I thought, just maybe, it might matter to you that I pulled my team's collective butt out of the fire today! That we had the guts to take the risk! That we put the pieces together, without any help from any of you! I thought I might at least get a 'good job' out of it all! I should have known better!"
"Pardon me, sir," came Alfred's voice as he appeared from the shadows. "A fax arrived for you from Commissioner Gordon. " He handed the Dark Knight a sheet.
Batman glanced at it briefly, then looked at Robin. "Are you finished? Because I could use your help."
Robin pulled his
mask off and flung it aside angrily. "Oh, yeah, I'm finished all right!
And if you need help, call one of your Justice League buddies. Their opinion
clearly counts for a lot more than mine!" Dick turned and stalked up
the staircase, in flagrant violation of the "no costumes in the Manor"
rule. Batman laid the paper on the desk, exchanged a wordless glance with
Alfred, got into the Batmobile and drove away. Alfred shook his head, turned
and silently followed Robin up the stairs into the house.
"Master Dick?" The teen paused halfway up the main staircase.
"What is it?" answered Dick, his voice sullen.
"Shall I bring cocoa to your room, sir?" asked the butler. "Or do we prefer to do our brooding in the study this evening?"
"Save it, Alfred! Do you know what he put me through today?"
"I've been fully apprised, yes."
Dick bowed his head and his voice fell to a whisper. "The others at least tried to defend their partners. You gave me the benefit of the doubt. So did Commissioner Gordon. Barbara, too! Why couldn't he?" He looked back at Alfred. "Superman at least shook my hand, when it was all over. Bruce couldn't even do that."
"You are no doubt aware by now that Master Bruce does not express his feelings the way most others do, particularly in public. But that doesn't mean they aren't there. Really, sir, you're being rather hard on him."
"I'm being hard on him?"
"Surely you did not exhaust your detective skills with this afternoon's escapade, Master Robin. If you would employ them now, you may find Batman to be a better ally than you realize."
"What are you talking about, Alfred? He hung me out to dry the second this whole thing started!"
"Oh? Master Dick, he is currently pursuing the Riddler."
"For the second consecutive night. Have you ever known this particular rogue to elude Master Bruce before?"
Robin blinked, and stared at his friend for a full half minute, then turned and hurried back down the stairs, into the study and down to the Batcave. Snatching up the fax sheet, he studied the three riddles it contained intently. "No, he didn't!" he whispered, softly. "He wouldn't--" Robin dashed to the computer and logged on. "Alfred!" he shouted.
"You bellowed, sir?"
"What was Bruce working on last night?
"I'm sure I don't know, sir. He rarely shares such matters with me."
"But he did request that I locate several back issues of a particular tabloid, not usually on his list of preferred periodicals "
"Where are they?" Robin demanded.
"Let me see. As the recyclables will not be picked up until Monday--" Alfred indicated a plastic crate behind the lab bench. Robin darted over to pour through it. Within a minute a circled article caught his eye. "Oh, no. Not him! " Robin jumped to his feet and darted back to the computer, where he called up a file. "Not him!! Alfred, where's my mask?"
"I believe you hurled it in the general direction of the dinosaur, Master Robin." Alfred informed him, fastidiously brushing the glassware on the lab bench with his feather duster. Dick snatched it up, slipped it over his face and leapt on his cycle.
"I shall keep
your cocoa warm, sir," smiled Alfred as the boy roared off into the
Robin noiselessly lighted on the building ledge and pried the window open. "Hello, old friend!" he called, with a devilish grin.
"Eeep!" cried the silk-pajamaed man, sitting bolt upright in bed. "Oh, not you, too!"
"Consider me Gotham's late night welcome wagon service!" quipped the Boy Wonder, jumping inside. "Congratulations on your parole, Mr. Richards! May I call you Neil? Or do you still prefer 'Mad Mod'?"
"I'd prefer to be left alone, thankyouverymuch, but apparently that's too much to hope for in Gotham City! Now, now, Robin, I understand why you're a bit irritated with me "
"Oh, you do? Well, fill me in anyway, just for grins!"
"I call 'em as I see 'em! And I'm sorry, but I must consider you amongst the 10 Worst-Dressed Superheroes. Honestly, your sense of color is appalling. And the short pants entirely out of season, I'm afraid. Now, for a small consulting fee I'd be delighted to design you something more--"
"I'm not in the market for a tailor, 'thankyouverymuch'! And I have no real interest in that ridiculous review you wrote for the National Intruder--"
"Hey, I tried more reputable magazines Mr. Blackwell has the market entirely cornered, I'm afraid. And I have to do something if I want to reestablish myself as a legitimate figure in the fashion industry!"
"I want to know about Batman!"
"Number two on my Best Dressed list, second only to that delightful Ms. Canary, but then, I've always been captivated by fishnets! I find his ensemble enchanting, simple, yet dignified. But he was most ungrateful! Number two quite an accomplishment, really, I never dreamed he'd be so peeved! Of course, it turned out that wasn't his major concern!"
"So did he enlighten you as to what was?"
"He had some ridiculous notion I was responsible for the report on those dreadful parties you youngsters have been throwing! Really, my boy, take some advice and just say no!"
"So he was here, last night?"
"Oh, yes! Quite persistent, he is! Actually accused me of trying to set you children up, in some way. What my therapist would call a classic enabler in denial! I thought I'd never convince him I had nothing to do with it!"
"But you did?"
"I'm still here, aren't I? Really, my boy, must you be so cynical? Do you really think my attempts to earn an honest living are insincere?"
"Let's just say I've developed a healthy skepticism over the years! I'll catch you later, Mod! And keep your nose clean or I'll make that promise literal!" Robin leapt to the windowsill and exited without another word.
He had an appointment
Silent as a cat, Robin dropped onto the rooftop, where Batman crouched, binoculars in hand, scanning the pier area of Gotham Harbor below.
"You're here," he said quietly.
"Can you still use my help?" asked Robin.
"Certainly," answered Batman, without taking his eyes from the glasses.
Robin knelt beside him, and the silence reigned for several minutes. Atypically, it was Batman who broke it. "So, you deduced where he'd strike?" he asked.
"Mr. Nygma's getting too obvious with the riddles. 'What did Tennessee?' 'The same thing that Arkansas' Whose capitol is Little Rock. 'What happened when the golf course owner bought the baseball team?' ' He put a diamond in the rough.' The shipment of uncut diamonds that's scheduled to be auctioned off next week at Corrinov's."
"I've been taught well. " Again there were several minutes of silence, before Robin spoke again. "I solved the third riddle too, you know."
"Really? That one had me stumped."
"No it didn't. 'When is the Batman like a proper lady's petticoat?' 'When he doesn't show.'"
Batman didn't answer.
"The Mad Mod was a reasonable suspect," continued Robin. "Recent parolee, a reason to have a vendetta against the Teen Titans, a relationship to the National Intruder. If I'd seen that clipping I probably would have gone after him, too."
"Unfortunately, it was also a dead end."
"Someone once taught me that 9 out of 10 leads you follow will turn out to be false. But you take every one seriously, because you have no way of knowing what that 10th one will turn out to be."
"Sometimes you don't have the luxery of time."
"When you think about it, though, it wasn't the Mad Mod's M.O. He's a master manipulator, but not exactly a scientific mind. To pull off a frame-up job like this, he'd have to team up with someone more astute than he. He's not going to do that; he'd lose too much control."
"I probably should have consulted you first."
"Then left me behind? Wouldn't have worked. And it wouldn't have exactly been 'low profile.' You had no choice, Batman. I understand now."
"I'm glad you do."
"I'm still amazed you let Riddler get away with robbing the Gotham Museum--"
"That's not all
he's going to get away with if we don't act now!" said Batman, slipping
his spyglasses into his utility belt and firing his Batline. "Move
The Riddler's easy escape the previous night had left him overconfident, and he arrived with only six armed thugs. The fight was over in less than three minutes. Robin had the pleasure of taking out the Riddler himself, and he wondered if Batman was deliberately holding back as he released the last of his frustrations into the cackling man's jawbone.
Half a dozen henchmen later, the Dynamic Duo stood victorious.
"Did you come on your cycle?" asked Batman.
"Good. Then you can get yourself home. I've got some stolen museum jewels to recover, and I'm sure one of these gentlemen will be willing to reveal their location."
"Let me come, Batman! I'm sorry for what I--"
"It's not that,
Robin." The bells of the Harborside Cathedral began chiming 12. "You
know the rules. In by midnight. It's still a school night." Tossing
one groggy thug over his shoulder, the Dark Knight fired his batline and
disappeared into the shadows. Robin watched him go, once again secure in
the knowledge that some things would never change.
Over the years, Dick Grayson had developed the habit of starting his homework as soon as he got home from school, knowing his chances for going out on patrol were better if his studies were complete. So the next afternoon found him at the desk in the Wayne Manor study, scribbling furiously in his calculus notebook. Intent on completing as much as he could before Bruce returned from the WayneTech stockholders' meeting, he barely glanced up when the front door chimes rang, and turned around only when he heard the study door open.
"A Mr. Clark Kent to see you, Master Dick."
"Thanks, Alfred." Dick rose from his chair as a suited man in glasses appeared the doorway, and the butler silently withdrew.
"Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Kent?" Dick asked.
Clark gave him a rueful smile. "No more 'Uncle Kal,' eh?" he asked. "Well, I don't blame you for still being angry. You have every right to say 'I told you so.'"
"It's not that, sir," Dick assured him. "It's just that Bruce doesn't approve of that kind of language when I'm out of uniform.
"Oh. I see."
"Besides, as Dick Grayson, I'm not sure we've ever officially met."
"I guess we haven't, now that you mention it. Anyway, I stopped in to tell you that we got the official results back from both STAR labs and the Inspector's office. They found just what Barry did." Clark handed Dick a sealed manilla envelope. "But I guess that's no surprise to you."
"No, it's not. But thanks. I'll see that Bruce gets it."
"I suppose you'd heard already, that the search of Abigail Deaver's house turned up the original specimen jars, empty, in her dumpster?" Clark asked.
Dick nodded. "J'onn called the Batcave. Alfred relayed the message."
"Good. I also wanted you to see a sneak preview of tomorrow morning's Planet" He handed Dink a folded newsprint. Dick opened it to reveal the banner headline, "Teen Titans Cleared of Drug Charges."
"We may not have the circulation of the _National Intruder_, but there are those that consider us a bit more reputable. And I was able to convince Perry White this was front-page news. I hope it helps."
"I appreciate it, really." Dick answered, smiling at the full color picture of the four Titans. Beneath it was a smaller black-and-white photo of Inspector Hendricks at his news conference that morning, triumphantly holding up a sealed evidence bag. The youth's brow suddenly furrowed, and he turned quickly away, paper in hand.
"It was the least I could do, under the circumstances," continued Clark. "Lois'll get over it eventually I think Perry had to bump her Albanian terrorist piece to page 2, so she was a bit " Clark's own brow wrinkled in puzzlement as Dick picked up an elegant brass-handled magnifing glass from Bruce's desk, and began scrutinizing the press conference photo in minute detail. "Dick, it's genuine, I promise you "
"I know it is," Dick answered, setting the page magnifier down and turning around to face Clark again. "Listen, is there any way I can get a hold of the original negative for this?" Dick asked. "I'd like a copy for my scrapbook."
"You want the shot of Hendricks? That wouldn't be my first choice right now, but I'm sure Jimmy will be flattered you asked." Clark replied.
Dick gave a soft smile. "That would be great. Thank you."
Clark paused. "I need to tell you something else, Dick. I'm breaking a confidence here, so I'll ask you to keep it to yourself, if you could."
"I'm pretty used to keeping secrets."
"Of course you are. You should know that the vote to ask the Teen Titans to submit to the drug tests wasn't unanimous. There was one very adamant dissenter."
"Batman." There was no questioning tone in Dick's voice.
Clark arched his eyebrows in surprise. "He told you?"
"He didn't have to." Dick answered. "Can you keep a secret, too? Someone's reputation might be compromised if this got out."
"I've been known to be discreet myself, on occasion."
"I'm sure. Clark, did it strike you as odd that Abigail Johnston removed the urine samples from STAR labs? When she had the know-how to simply contaminate them and set up the Titans then?"
"I assumed she did it to plant more seeds of doubt in the public's mind. Generate more publicity for her cousin's so-called 'journalism'."
"That's what I thought, too, until you showed me that picture. Look." He handed Clark the newspaper preprint.
Clark took it and stared at the photo, frowning. Dick offered him the magnifying glass, but he declined it with a wave of his hand as he took off his glasses.
"Sorry, I forgot," Dick smiled. "See anything odd about the evidence bag?"
"I see a sealed plastic bag with Wait a second *five* cups inside? But Batman left JLA headquarters with "
" four. One from each of us." Dick finished for him.
"Are you saying that he ?"
"He suspected the Titans were being set up, even before I did. So he provided a fifth sample, as a kind of negative control. The cups were coded, so the STAR labs staff wouldn't know whose was whose. So if someone was going to spike them, they'd have had to spike them all."
"A positive test from Batman would certainly have been enough to convince the League that there was a conspiracy afoot." observed Clark.
"Tell me about it," answered Dick, with a sly grin. "I mean, sure, he comes to all the Teen Titan wild drug parties, but he doesn't inhale."
"All right, I guess I deserved that," sighed Clark.
"Unfortunately, Abigail Deavers did the math, consulted her cousin and decided she was better off trashing the samples. The Titans would be the logical suspects, and there be even more of an outcry. Worst case, Rebecca gets another day of free publicity; best case, she'd get another chance at it when the police demanded a second test. Or when the JLA did."
A long moment passed before Clark spoke again. "Dick " he said, his voice wavering slightly with emotion. "I've known you, or rather I've known *Robin* almost from day one. I never wanted to believe that you of all people would "
"I know "
"But, with the Inspector breathing down my neck and all the adverse publicity on top of the situation with Speedy I had a responsibility, as leader of the Justice League. If there had been any other way "
"I understand, Clark. You did what you had to do, for the good of the team. Just like I did."
"Leading a team can mean conflicting duties. Sometimes you have to make a judgement call. Which means sometimes you're going to be wrong."
"Tell me about it. My judgement call last March almost cost Speedy his life."
Clark laid a fatherly hand on the boy's shoulder. "Don't keep blaming yourself for that. Leadership is a heavy burden, Dick. But you have a knack for it. More so than me, I think. Your team hung together. The Teen Titans didn't turn on each other, even when it looked like at least one of you had to be guilty. The same can't be said for your adult counterparts, I'm afraid."
"Still, I've had a string of bad calls lately. Up to, and including last night."
"You kids took a big chance, violating the League restrictions to try to clear your names. But in retrospect, I can't say I'm sorry you did. If that woman had succeeded, and three independant labs had tested the Titans positive including the Flash's Well, I'm not sure anyone would have believed you under those circumstances."
"That's where you're wrong, sir," Dick lifted his chin. "Batman would have. No matter how bad it looked. And he would have kept investigating until he proved us innocent, for as long as it took."
"You have a lot of faith in him."
"I have reason to."
"Funny, he said the same thing about you." Dick's throat tightened and he turned away, hoping Superman didn't see the tears that came to his eyes. Clark gave him a second to compose himself.
"You know, son," he said finally. "I don't know if I'll ever have a Superboy or Supergirl or whatever flying around up there with me. But if I do, when the chips are down, I hope he, or she, can believe in me the same way." Clark laid his hands on the back of Dick's shoulders and squeezed. "So, are things cool, you and me?"
Dick nodded and turned around to face him. "Everything's fine Uncle Kal."
"Dick, you're out of uniform. That is not appropriate," came a stern voice from the doorway. The two looked up to see Bruce Wayne, and each wondered for a fleeting second how much of their conversation he had overheard.
Then Dick laughed out loud for the first time in two days, and shot Clark a sideways glance. "See? I told you so!"
Clark tipped his head back and laughed too, slapping Dick affectionately on the back. Bruce crossed the room to glance briefly at the newspaper on the desk, then set down his briefcase, popping it open. He looked back over his shoulder at Dick and Clark with an expression of disapproval, but a slight twinkle in his eye as well.
"I'm glad the two of you have found something to amuse yourselves," he quipped. "Care to let me in on it?"
Clark put on his hat. "It's nothing much, except that your ward is definitely not a junkie." He tousled Dick's hair, as if he were twelve years again, and headed for the door.
"That's hardly news to me, Mr. Kent," said Bruce, turning his full attention to the WayneTech marketing report. "If that's the best you can do, perhaps you should consider a change of profession."
Clark rolled his eyes. "I'll see you later, Bruce. By the way, you've raised a fine boy here."
This time Bruce raised his head. "That's not news to me, either."
"I'll just show myself out, then," said Clark and departed.
Bruce resumed flipping through the report. "Did you finish your calculus?" he asked Dick, without looking up.
"You believed us, the whole time," Dick said. "Of all the Justice League, you were the only one who trusted us, one hundred percent."
Bruce laid down his folder. "I trusted you one hundred percent. You had full confidence in your teammates. What choice did I have?"
Dick folded his arms. "So what did you have planned, if we hadn't busted in with Snuffles the Wonder Dog?"
"The transfer was the most reasonable time for someone to be sure all three aliquots were tainted. I had four clean vials, and four clean pipettes in my utility belt. I would have insisted the Flash use them for his portion. Not as furry a solution as yours, but it would have worked."
Dick swallowed hard. "I was so busy blaming you for not trusting us And all along it was me who didn't trust you. Bruce, the things I said last night I'm sorry "
"And I'm sorry I had to clip your wings, chum. You were in a position where one wrong guess could have landed you in jail. I wasn't."
"I know, Bruce."
"I thought cutting you off from computer access was enough to keep you out of the case. I underestimated what you could do from the confines of your room. You'll have to fill me in sometime."
"Let's just say, I consulted an oracle."
"Dick, the League made its decision. I may not have agreed, but I had to comply. Such is the price of being part of a group."
"I understand, Bruce. Really."
"Sometimes I wonder if joining the Justice League was the right decision. I'm not by nature much of a team player. Especially a team this public. This type of situation is precisely why I prefer to work alone."
"With a few exceptions."
Dick bowed his head. "Y'know, I don't think I've ever told you this, but I consider it a privilege to be your exception."
Bruce turned suddenly and gripped Dick by both shoulders. "Aquaman, Wonder Woman, the Flash " Bruce began. "They have their powers to fall back on. When you and I are out there, we have to depend on ourselves, on our own wits. And on each other."
"I know that, Bruce."
"Teenagers make mistakes, Dick, sometimes big ones. But you make a lot fewer than most. I can tolerate an occasional disobedience, under rare circumstances, and if you had been experimenting with drugs, I'd have gotten over it, eventually. But if I thought that there was even a chance you would look me in the eye and tell a bold-faced lie, there wouldn't be a Robin. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Good." Bruce's hands tightened on his ward's shoulders for a second, then let go. "So, ready for afternoon practice? We need to patrol the warehouse district tonight. Word is that there's going to be trouble in the Dayton Enterprises unit."
Dick grinned broadly, despite the tears that still stung his eyes.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2000 by .
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