Choices Chapters1: Prologue
by Marilee StephensAll characters are DC Comics
This story is © 2000 by Marilee Stephens.
Chapter 14: Flying
Dick and Amanda materialized in a room that Dick didn't recognize. Stepping out of the transporter, he looked around uncertainly and slightly seized up inside. He had fully expected to see the same room he had stepped into when he had transported down to the Bat-cave with the others previously. But while this small room was slightly similar in size and shape, and it's main piece of furniture was also the transporter, the walls were of a different color and the "feel" of the place was different. It threw him. After what happened with Phobia, he didn't need any more "surprises".
Turning to Amanda, while batting down the slight rise in anxiety he felt, he stated, "We're not at the Cave."
"Un-uh." She looked at him questioningly, "Didn't I say we were going 'home'. The cave isn't home."
"oh." Dick started slightly as the implication of what she said set in. Of course the manor wasn't home to the Graysons. The kids had even told him that earlier. It just hadn't occurred to him that when she had said "home" earlier, that she had meant her family's home. Maybe he had started to think of the manor as home too much.
Amanda didn't appear to really notice his slight discomfiture at not being where he had expected to be. Instead, she just grabbed his hand and started pulling. "C'mon. I want to show you around."
He had to admit, from the strength behind her grip and the pull, he really didn't have a chance to disincline the invitation, even if he wanted to. Obviously, her mother's greater strength had been passed on to her as well.
Leading him through a door, they descended down a long flight of stairs and then entered a vast room that had to be at least 100 meters long and 25 meters high. It was filled with various workout devices and a large array of gymnastic equipment. Dick noted that above them several ropes and swings were set up, suspended from the ceiling. At one end was even a pool. The walls were a light cream color and various large plants and numerous benches were situated around the room as well. Doors led off from the room at a variety of locations.
"This is in your house?"
Amanda grinned up at him and shook her head. "No, Uncle Wing. Don't be silly. Where would a room this size fit in our house?"
Dick just looked at her with a slight expression of amused exasperation at that line. She just sent a wider grin back at him. "This is Dad and Mommy's version of the cave."
"Well, it's not a cave, but it's where they do all the same things as Grandpa does in the cave. Over there," Amanda pointed to one of the doors leading off from the room, "is the computer room. And there's the room Daddy has his lab in", she stated as she pointed to the door next to the previous one. "There's also rooms for the generators and the locker room and a bunch of other stuff."
"I see. And this whole set up is "
"Sorry, I should have been clearer. Just where is this place located?"
"Ooohhh Under our garage and backyard. The stairs we came down leads to a passage that will take us up to the garage, if you want. Another door and some stairs will take us into the basement of the house. Course, there's also another tunnel that goes underground for a couple of miles before it comes up inside an old warehouse. That's the one Daddy uses if he's going to take one of his cycles out for patrol."
Dick has started wandering around, inspecting various pieces of equipment and testing out a few as he and Amanda were conversing. He had started to relax with her answers. He knew that Amanda wouldn't have taken him anywhere where there could be trouble. Still, his nerves were on edge, trying to cope with his nightmare. But his questioning of the room's history kept his mind off of the other problems. He had just sat down and adjusted the weights on a bench press machine as he asked his next question. "It's pretty massive. Who and how was it built?"
Amanda looked at him for a moment with a slightly questioning air before answering. "Dad and Mommy and Grandpa, with help, of course."
"I kind of guessed that myself, Amanda", Dick threw back at her with a teasing grin, "but it must have been a pretty big job. How did no one find out about it? Obviously, it's not like the cave, where it already existed."
Amanda slowly nodded her head as she grasped what he was really wondering about. "Well, from what Mommy and Dad have told me, Grandpa told Dad and Mommy that he was going to build them a house as his wedding present to them. At first they thought that might be a bit too much, but he insisted. He told them to find a piece of land they liked and then set them up with an architect that helped them design the house. I think Mommy was more involved with that part of it. But he also told Dad that he wanted to help him set up a base of operations here as well. Dad again told him that he didn't need to do that, as he had the Tower. But Grandpa insisted. So, after the house was built, but before the garage or the landscaping was done, Grandpa got in touch with some of his friends, and they came and helped hollow out this whole big space."
"Some of his 'friends'?"
"Yeah, like Uncle Clark, and Mr. J'onzz, and the old Green Lantern and a bunch of others. Mommy said that they did it so fast, it was done in less than half a day."
"Good Lord", Dick thought. He was wondering just how far underground they actually were. But when he put the question to Amanda, she just shrugged.
"I don't know. Thirty or forty feet, I guess. They had to go deep enough to be in the stone and not just dirt."
Dick could only shake his head at that. A whole underground complex, just for himself, or at least, his counterpart, to set up anyway he liked. That would be something. He never really had that before. Sure, he had the warehouse where he stored his car, and the apartment in his building where he had his lab and his files and such, but it wasn't anywhere near this scale in complexity.
Amanda, not knowing where his mind was off to, had kept talking. Dick recovered in time to hear, " half a day to clear the rooms, but Mommy said it then took forever to get it the way Dad wanted. At first, Mommy said that he wanted to have it something like the cave, with the stone walls and all that, leaving it a bit what did she say 'moody', I think the word was. But she said 'No way Un-uh'."
Dick smiled at the look on the girl's face. Obviously, she was mimicking the face her mother had made when she had related the story to Amanda, one that was a combination of being a bit amused and a bit disgusted. "Why was that?" he wondered aloud.
"Mommy said they weren't leaving it like that because she would then have to clean it, and there was no way she was doing that. She's always teasing Dad and Grandpa about what they put Uncle Alfred through, making him clean the cave and everything. Dealing with all the dirt and dust and well, the stuff the bats leave around. When Dad said he thought it would be great if they had this place set up like that, she said she thought he was nuts. So Dad had to have the others come and help them install walls and proper lighting and everything."
Dick looked around at the room again. He had to admit, he really couldn't picture Koriand'r cleaning the cave back at the manor. This setting was much more her style, he decided. The clean walls and bright lighting would be easier to keep in good shape.
"C'mon I have to get some stuff for Mommy from upstairs." With that, Amanda headed for a set of stairs at the far end of the large room. Dick followed her, even as he continued contemplating the size of the room he was in.
Climbing up the long flight of stairs, Amanda threw open a door that led into a large rec-room. At least, Dick had to assume it was that, from the mess that greeted his eyes. This was obviously the kids' domain of the house. Outside of one cleared path from the stairs that led up to what must be the upper floors of the house to the door that they had just come through, the floor and surrounding shelves were littered with a variety of toys and books and such. The walls were done in bright primary colors and a variety of posters and child-done drawings covered them. Turning around, he noted that the door from the underground complex was simply disguised as one part of the wall. Unless someone knew it was there, or was intently looking for it, they would never find it. As he glanced around, he also saw that a computer was set up at the far end of the room, and a large entertainment unit dominated one wall. There were also a couple of easels set up in another corner, where the carpeted floor had been covered by a large drop-cloth. All in all, it was bright and colorful and chaotic!
"Uuuummmm Sorry about the mess, Uncle Wing. We didn't have time to clean up before Mommy and Dad hustled us over to the Manor when they heard about you." Amanda had developed a very slight pink tint to her skin as if she was a little embarrassed for him to see the confusion surrounding them.
"Obviously", Dick noted with a wry grin. "You always leave your stuff lying around like this."
"No Not really. Mommy makes us clean it up every other day. But it's always a mess again by the next day. Mommy says it's Dad's genes coming through, whatever that means."
Dick smiled inwardly. He could still remember a few times where his Kory had commented about the mess his old apartment in New York used to be. But even that short happy memory caused a faint slash of the pain from his nightmare to flash back through his mind. He had to make himself stop thinking about that, or he was going to drive himself nuts. None of it was real. The Titans and Batman and all the rest would never really feel that way about him. He knew that. It was only a warped distortion of his own slight fears coming out.
"But Dad says that it's a great disguise tactic. Any guest who comes down here wouldn't venture into what he calls the 'war-zone', let alone even think about finding the hidden door to downstairs."
With that, Amanda weaved her way through the scattered toys and headed up stairs. Dick followed at a somewhat leisurely pace, just absorbing everything around him. At one point, the cover of a book caught his eye and he picked it up. "The Adventures of Robin Hood and his Merry Men" blazed across the hard binding. Turning around and seeing what Dick held, Amanda commented, "That's one of Dad's favorites to read to us. He says he always liked the swash-buckling stuff. Even took up the 'Robin' name from it. Do you like those stories too, Uncle Wing?"
Dick stared at the cover. He was amazed to find out that his Earth-1 counterpart had taken his name from "Robin Hood" and not from his mother's nickname for him. He guessed it was just another difference between them. "Yeah, Amanda Swash-buckling's great, though I have more of a preferences for mysteries. They're my favorites."
"Dad's into those too," Amanda commented as they emerged into what looked like a casual living room. Dick set the book done on a nearby table as he took in the room. Large picture windows and a patio door on the back wall would let in a lot of light into the room. Even now, the early evening light cast a pinkish glow on the room around them. The walls were pale cream in color, while the furniture was made up of a light-colored wood with simple styling and slightly overstuffed cushions. However, the accessories around the room more than made up for the lack of color of the walls. Dick could see Koriand'r's love of bright, tropical hues in the colors she had picked out to decorate with. Greens and golds, a deep somewhat orangish-pink and such were used to decorate the accessories that filled the room. A variety of plants hung from the ceiling or were placed on the floor in corners. Deep pillows were thrown on the couch or in the chairs situated about the room. Paintings hung at strategic places on the walls to fill empty spaces and yet didn't look too cluttered. A smattering of framed photos of the family, Bruce, Jay and Alfred, and family groupings of the Titans, both formally posed and candids, were situated on the side tables. A huge bookcase with a built-in state-of-the-art music center was at the end of the room opposite the windows. At the distant end of the room from where they had come up the stairs, a large doorway branched off to the right. The left wall went about half way along the length of the room and a counter continued for another half of the length of the open space. Dick figured it must lead into another room.
Looking out into the wide expense of backyard, Dick could see a patio deck setting of wrought iron and cushions with a jungle-tropical print. Further on, he could make out a building in the distance that must be the garage. Further beyond that, there was a grove of trees shielding the back view of the house. There was a large, elaborate jungle gym set up, and a tire swing hanging from one of the trees off to the side of the lawn. Dick could also just make out a corner of a tree house in the branches of another of the trees. The gardens were a wide profusion of a variety of flowers and plants, not placed in any sort of formal arrangements, but more like if they were growing in the wild. Yes, even with seeing just this much, Dick could definitely see Koriand'r's hand in the development of the house.
"Uncle Wing I have to go collect some stuff and pick up our dog from the neighbours. Dad said we should bring him back to the manor since it looks like we might be there for a few more days. Will you be okay here while I go do that."
"Sure, Amanda I'll be fine. I might just explore for a bit while you go do what you have to do." In a way, Dick was glad to have some more time to himself. The others hadn't left him alone for long up in the satellite. This would give him a bit of time to collect himself.
As the girl left the room via the large doorway to the right, Dick himself ventured further into it. Peering into the room to the left, he saw a large, open kitchen, again done in a neutral tone, though it was a slightly brighter and warmer shade of cream, almost a buttermilk in color. Again, brightly colored accents had been used to give life to the room. And as with most houses with kids that he had been in, the refrigerator was decorated with a variety of children's drawing and such. Wandering over, Dick noted a test paper with a "A" done in red marker at the top. Obviously a test from school of Amanda's. As well, there was another one with a gold star decorating the right hand corner. The name "Michael" was printed, rather jaggedly, in the top left. The kids were apparently doing okay in their schoolwork.
Dick grabbed a seat at the wooden table that sat in the center of the room and soaked in the ambience. This was a very "lived-in" house, with not quite all the formality that permeated the manor at times. Of course, the manor wasn't used to having toddlers and young kids around 24/7, either.
From his vantagepoint, he could see another double-width doorway, french doors sitting open, leading from the front of the room into another area. There, he could see a more formal dining set-up, with the table and chairs, which could seat 8 to 10 people, being made of a darker, heavier wood than the set here in the kitchen.
Looking back behind him, he could also make out some sort of cloakroom. A number of different sized coats hung from hooks on the wall. Floor mats were covered with a variety of shoes and boots.
Rising, he went back into the living room. Looking around again, he noted a number of small disks sitting on the various tables and such were scattered around the room. Curious, he picked one of them up just as he realized what it was. He himself had one stashed at home somewhere, packed up with the other stuff from his Titans days that he had gathered together when he had moved. It was a Vegan holographic thought-painting disk. Joey had done one of that flying monkey-bird or was it a bird-monkey for him on his twentieth birthday when they were on Okaara. He hadn't thought about it in years. "Damn Am I going to be reminded of those days every time I turn around", Dick thought to himself as he fingered one of the disks.
As he restlessly moved the disk around his fingers, Dick accidentally hit the activation button. The scene that appeared in front of him startled him. It was of the E-1 Bruce, sitting in a chair, apparently reading from a book he held in his hands. The three children were gathered around him, Alex sitting on his lap, Mike hanging over one of the arms of the chair and Amanda nestled at his feet. The expression on Bruce's face was one of contentment. Not something he generally associated with his own Bruce.
Dick picked up another one and activated it. This one's scene brought a wide smile to his face. It had 4 girls sitting around a small table, obviously playing at having "tea". He recognized Amanda, Lian and Kallen, but he wondered who the dark-haired, blue-eyed other girl was. Her features were reminiscent of someone he knew, but he couldn't place whom. Still, it was the other person in the holo that made him smile. Alfred, with an obviously put-on expression of deep respect on his face, was standing in attendance on the girls, the miniature tea service looking a bit out of place in his hands.
He then noticed the framed photograph that the two disks were sitting in from of. "Guess they were turning over a new leaf", he thought to himself in amusement. The picture must have been taken at a Hallowe'en costume party. In it, his counterpart and Koriand'r were dressed up like an old-time mobster, including pinstriped suit, fedora and tommy-gun, and his moll. The Earth-1 Dick was standing with the gun pointing downwards, a playful sneer crossing his lips. Koriand'r was standing beside him, her elbow propped on his shoulder, her bright red colored lips slightly open and her mouth twisted like she was chewing on a piece of gum. They looked like they were having an incredible amount of fun, but he had never seen himself and his Kory as the Bonny-and-Clyde type. And the fact that at the time this picture was shot, Koriand'r must have been at least a few months pregnant didn't help the image. Still, he decided it was a cute shot.
Moving over to another table, Dick picked up another disk up. The scene that appeared before him was obviously done here at the house. The three kids were outside on the jungle gym. Amanda was hanging upside down from one of the railings, her long hair just missing hitting the ground. Mike was perched on a tree branch just overhanging the gym and Alex sitting in a small child's swing.
Finally, he took the time to grab another one and open it. This was big shot of the Titans and what must be most of their spouses and kids. They were all dressed in formal wear. Looking closely, he realized that this must have been at Gar's wedding. A number of the male Titans were in tuxes and Amanda, Lian and Kallen were outfitted in similar dresses, while they held baskets of petals. Gar himself was done up in a rather staid tux for him, with only the bow tie and cumberbum being of a slightly outlandish print. The small woman standing beside him in the white gown was obviously his bride, Caroline. She looked rather demure in her dress, but from the few comments the kids had made, Dick knew that she must be strong-willed enough to keep Gar in line. The whole group of them looked happy and healthy and well, just the opposite of how the figures in his hallucination had looked.
Dick set down the disk and decided to go explore the rest of the house some more. Just as he was about to leave the room, he heard Amanda call, "Uncle Wing, I'm off to the neighbours. I'll be back in a little while." At that, he heard what must be the front door close.
Quiet settled over the house and Dick took a deep breath. He needed the time alone, to try and get his thoughts in order. Yes, he could do that Or he could investigate the house some more. Curiosity won, though it wasn't that hard a choice to make. Thinking about what had happened that afternoon didn't really appeal. And looking around the house did. It was sort of interesting to see what his life would have been like if things had gone the way he once thought they would.
Leaving the living room, he found himself in the foyer of the house. An elegant stairway swept up to the second story. Given what he had seen so far, Dick knew that the house must be fairly large in size, though not anywhere the size of the manor. Further to the front of the room, a few double-width doors, sitting open, led off to what was apparently the dining room and another room placed on the opposite side of the house. As well, there was two single-width doors just off to the right of him. When he opened the first closed door, he found a spacious, pleasantly decorated half bath. The next door was sitting slightly ajar, though not as wide open as the other, double-sized doors.
For some reason, the fact that this door wasn't as wide open as the other ones intrigued him. Curious, he opened it to find what had to be his counterpart's "up-stairs" study. It was a large room, though not quite as large as the living room he had just left. The center portion of the back wall was filled with a slightly recessed large window. The large, dark-wood desk was situated here such that it could look out onto the backyard. Probably so that his counterpart could keep an eye on the kids if they were outside while he worked at his desk, Dick decided. A full computer set-up took up one side of the desk, while the other held a plotter pad, some sheets of notepaper, a desk-set of pens, a small vase of flowers and some framed photos of Koriand'r, the kids and Bruce and Alfred. On either side of the desk were large bookshelves in the same dark wood as the desk, crammed with a large array of books. At the far end of the room sat a comfortable couch and two matching chairs clustered around a square coffee table. Above the couch hung a framed diploma. Dick was about to head over to it when a beeping noise arose from the computer.
Moving over and sitting down in the chair in front of the desk, Dick flicked on the computer screen. Sitting open was a chat screen that had the words scrolled across it, "Amanda Are you there? P."
Dick wasn't sure what to do. First, he didn't even know if he could respond to the message. He might need a password. And even if he didn't, he shouldn't respond to someone asking for Amanda any ways
Even as he sat contemplating what to do, the computer beeped again and another line flashed on the screen. "Amanda, I need to pass on some information to your dad's twin. Please respond."
The message was for him. But who Dick decided to try connecting any ways. Typing rapidly, he was relieved to see the words appear on the screen. "Amanda's not here at the moment. But you seem to want to talk to me any ways. Who is this and how do you know about me?" Hitting "enter" he waited to see if his message got through.
"Oh, you're there. Where's Amanda?"
Dick sat for a moment. Whoever was at the other end of the computer connection didn't seem to want to give out any answers.
Finally, he typed, "I believe that I asked you a couple of questions first."
"Yeah, you did. Sorry. We haven't been introduced yet, I guess, though I've heard a lot about you from Bruce and the others especially the kids. I'm Prophet And I understand that the kids have all ready told you about me."
Oh So this was the mysterious Prophet. Dick wondered if he could learn anything more about this person who knew so much about the Bat-operations on this earth. He still wasn't at all comfortable with that, even with the assurances that Bruce had given him. He realized that he didn't like it even more than he had before. Maybe because he felt at least somewhat closer to the various members of the family than he had been earlier. He didn't want anyone to have a chance to hurt them. He decided to see if he could draw the other person out a bit. "Yes, they have, though I do have some questions I would love to ask you "
"I'm sure you do. But don't expect to actually get any answers. I've misled the best "
Obviously the other person was smart enough to know how curious he was. Dick knew that if he was going to get any information out of this person, he could have to be very careful about how he did it.
"That may be the case. So, what did you need to let me know about?"
"I'm supposed to tell you that they've managed to get some more information out of this Adam fellow. Apparently your suggestion of playing to and then against his vanity worked."
Dick suppressed a slight smile at that. Bad guys may come in all shapes and with different powers, but a lot of them sure did have problems with their egos. "So what's the scoop?"
"Bruce and Helena are going to look into some of the concerns that were raised from the information he provided them with right now "
"Do they need my help?"
"No. They'll handle it. Besides, you have Amanda with you. You can't just run off and leave her alone." If Dick didn't know better, he would think that from the wording of this Prophet's message, he or she was indicating that he or she wasn't sure that Dick was up to the task of keeping an eye on the girl.
"She's fine. And I wouldn't have just run off and left her. I would make sure she got back to the manor first." Dick decided that he wasn't going to deal with Prophet's apparent attitude problem. Not after the day he had already had. So, he decided to confront the other person about it. "What's with the attitude? I haven't given you any reason to worry about the kids with me."
The screen remained blank for a few minutes. Dick began to wonder if Prophet had cut the connection at his end. Just as he was about to get up and leave, words began to flow across the screen again. "Sorry You're right. Frankly, I wasn't going to try to contact you with the report of what was happening with Adam and everything. Except that when I was conversing with Bruce about what was going on, he mentioned that the others you were with this afternoon were rather worried about your state of mind. I don't know what happened, but they said that you were very abrupt with some of them. And really hard on the two 'guests' they were 'entertaining'. Bruce thought that letting you know that your idea worked would cheer you up. But I also wanted to make sure that there hadn't been any problems between you and Amanda as a result."
"I understand that. I don't think you have any clue about who I am, however. I would never take out my frustrations on the kids "
or maybe not. All I've got is what the kids have told me about you.
And frankly, they think you're the coolest thing ever. Which you
may be. But I can't know that for sure. And I intend to make sure
that they're not disappointed."
"Listen I don't think I like what you're implying Their parents don't seem to think it's a problem. I could understand your concern if I had shown any tendencies in that direction ."
"You're right. I should apologize. It's just that when it comes to Bruce and Dick and their families Well, when I was very young, I witnessed something that they were involved with that really defined the word 'heroism' for me, even if only one of them was on the job at the time. A few years later, after I realized just who they were I've followed them, seen what sacrifices they've had to make to lead the lives they do. And seen what can happen to them and their loved ones because of those choices. I might not be able to be out there, helping them, but I can help them when they need information, and I can keep an eye on their families and loved ones when they can't."
Obviously this Prophet's intentions were good. Still, Dick wasn't sure that he was comfortable with an unknown quantity like this person represented.
"If you're so worried about them, how can you justify possibly being a means of people finding out who they are. Just look at the communication we're having "
"You needn't worry about that. My lines are so secure, no one and nothing can get into them. And believe me, the best have tried. And I wouldn't say anything incriminating over the lines unless I was positive about who I was talking to. As is, I haven't say anything that would give their secrets away, yet You have, however."
Dick sighed This prophet was probably right. "Okay Point taken. But you don't have to worry about Amanda. She's just gone to get the dog. And I appreciate your concern. I have had a rough day. But thanks for the info. It did help a bit."
"You're welcome. And believe it or not, I'm glad to get a chance to converse with you. I'm sorry that our conversation had to go down the path it did, but the kids are special to me."
"They're special to me too."
then, we have something in common. Maybe we'll get to talk again,
on better terms next time. As is, say 'hi' to Amanda for me and
tell her I'll talk to her later."
With that, Prophet apparently closed the connection. Dick flicked off the computer screen with a frustrated sigh. He felt certain that his conversation with Prophet had a number of hidden meanings. Ones that if he could just focus on, he could use to figure out just who the person on the other end of the computer line was.
But there were other things to concentrate on. Silently, he contemplated the blank screen in front of him as he reeled off the list in his mind. One, how to deal with the formation of the grouping of super-villains that was going on. The interrogation of both the Icicle and Black Adam had suggested that there was going to be a major move on that front very soon.
And then there was what was going to happen when they reached this "relay" earth that Wally and Jay were trying to access. What, and maybe even more importantly, *who* would they find there.
Finally, he knew that for his own sake, he was going to have to deal with the concepts that Phobia's manipulation of his sub-conscious fears and insecurities had brought forth. However, even simply reviewing the events of his hallucination in his mind elicited such a sharp pain, as if someone was poking a red-hot skewer into an already open wound, that he decided to forego thinking about that at the moment.
Steepling his hands in front of him, he swung the desk chair around, his mind concentrating on the first concern that had popped into his mind, that of the super-villains massing. But a bright flash of color against the darkened walls drew his attention.
There was a painting situated on the wall beside the door with which he had entered the study. He hadn't noticed it when he had first scanned the room as it had been just off to the side and behind him when he had entered the room. But seeing it now, he knew he had to go and examine it. Standing, he quickly moved over to it.
The backdrop of the painting was that of a crowd, shown as if looking down from above and seated in the distance. However, it was the foreground figures that captured Dick's interest. It showed a spotlight shining from above. Caught in the spotlight was a young boy, clad in a red unitard. Off to the upper left hand corner, slightly in the distance, could be seen a woman, also in a red costume, hanging by her knees from a trapeze. In the lower right hand corner could be seen the upper body and outstretched hands of a man. Extending through the distance of the woman's body and the man's hands, reaching for those hands, was a sequence of figures, all of the young boy, shown in various positions of a flying somersault. The final figure showed the boy's body stretched out, almost within the reach of the man's grasp. And on the boy's face was an expression of sheer joy.
Dick stared at the painting from several minutes, as a cascade of memories fell over him. It was him in the painting. He knew it on an inner emotional level, even as he realistically knew that it was really his older counterpart. But deep down inside, he knew that he was that boy.
And it made him realize something that, right in the pit of his soul, he hadn't wanted to acknowledge. He had been looking at all the differences between his earth and this one. His life and that of his counterparts. But this painting brought home the fact that, whatever differences might exist, there was a basic similarity. One that couldn't be denied. That they were all "Richard Grayson", son of John and Mary Grayson One of the "Flying Graysons". That they had all suffered the same loss, one that the very basis of their beings was the focus of. That loss had been one of the defining moments of all their lives. And as a result, the three of them shared a connection that no one else could.
He was still somewhat lost in thought when he distantly registered the sound of a door rapidly opening and closing. The sound of running feet and clattering paws could be heard coming through the house. As faint "Uncle Wing?" reached his ears.
"I'm in your dad's study, Amanda", he called through.
In response to that, the sounds came closer. But instead of the girl Dick expected to fly through the door first, a dark shape sprung at him, knocking him over with a few rapid licks of a rough tongue before all of a sudden backing off. A low growl emerged from the throat of the good-sized dog that was now crouched in front of him. It's eyes held a look of part confusion, part protective glare, as if he wasn't sure what to make of the man in front of him.
"Tracker! Stop that! Uncle Wing's a friend", came from the doorway as Amanda came into the room. Reaching over, the girl knelt beside the dog and quickly started to stroke a hand down its back. The dog relaxed somewhat, though he seemed to keep Dick under a wary scrutiny.
"Sorry about that, Uncle Wing. Tracker probably thought you were Dad at first, and once he got close enough, realized that something wasn't right. Your smell or something must not be exactly like Dad's. It must have confused him. Probably if you let him get a couple of good whiffs of you, he'll be okay."
"Sure, Amanda. Here Tracker?" Dick laid his hand beneath the dog's nose, even as he was sending Amanda a silent question with his eyes and tone of voice. The dog carefully sniffed at Dick's hand even as Amanda picked up on what he wanted to know pretty quickly.
"'Tracker' just seemed to fit him. When we first got him, Mommy and Dad said I could come up with his name. But I couldn't make up my mind. But then when Dad and I were playing Mystery one time, he immediately started to try and help me find what Dad had hidden by sniffing out stuff and such. So 'Tracker' seemed perfect." Amanda giggled at something that then crossed her mind. When Dick's eyes again questioned her, she smiled mischievously at him. "He does get called other things, though. Like when he does something bad. Then Mommy tends to say, 'X'hal, can't we do something about that 'ketchup dog!'"
"'Ketchup' dog." Amanda took in Dick's confused expression with an even wider smile. "It's cause when we got him, Mommy asked what kind of dog he was. The farmer we bought him off of said that he was a good old 'Heinz 57'. I remember Mommy turning to Dad and saying, 'Isn't that a brand of ketchup?' The farmer laughed and told Mommy that it was just an expression for a dog that's made up of a whole bunch of different types of dogs."
Dick understood the confusion now. There had been times when his Kory had first shown up on earth where a saying would perplex her somewhat. She had mastered herself with a number of them pretty quickly, but on occasion, there would to be the odd strange one that she wouldn't have come across before. This was obviously one of those times.
Dick inspected the dog in front of him. Tracker was a medium to large size dog. Looking at him, Dick could ascertain that standing straight, his head would come up to about Dick's hips. He was nearly black in color, with just a white spot on his forehead. His snout was fairly long and rather elegant looking. The head was finely shaped and rather intelligent eyes regarded him from beneath strong brows. His ears stood up straight, with just a slight droop at the tips. The hair covering the dog's body was relatively short, and Dick could see the play of strong muscles beneath the dark coat.
"When did you guys get him, Amanda? He doesn't seem that old."
Amanda was quiet for a moment before answering. Dick was just about to send her a concerned, if puzzled look, when she started to respond. "Almost 5 years ago, when he was just a pup. Just before Mike was born."
Dick wondered why the girl's tone had dropped with his question. Then, thinking about the point in time she had specified, he remembered something Koriand'r had told him in their talk a few nights back. As a result, he wasn't sure what to say to Amanda about her statement. However, she continued, "I had something bad happen to me, and Dad and Mommy thought a puppy might cheer me up. You know, a friend to have around all the time. Mommy said that her dror was her best friend when she was little, and Dad always liked having Ace around back when he was Robin." As she was saying this, she was reaching over to wrap her arms around the dog's neck. She gave it a squeeze even as Tracker's head whipped around to plant a wet lick across her chin.
To cheer her up, and maybe even add an extra bit of protection for their kids as time went on, Dick realized. "Do you want to talk about it, sweetheart", Dick asked gently. He remembered what Koriand'r had said about how the psychiatrist had told them that Amanda would open up about what had happened to her in her own time. Maybe she was starting to feel safe enough to do that.
But the girl's response to his question quickly indicated that that wasn't the case. "No. I don't." Even as she was emphatically denying wanting to discuss it, she was reaching over with one hand to give Dick's hand a quick squeeze. "But thanks any ways, Uncle Wing."
Dick decided to leave it. He didn't want to get her talking about something painful if she didn't want to. He turned his attention back to the dog.
Having sniffed and licked Dick's hands, and seeing the non-threatening play between his mistress and the somewhat familiar, yet strange man, Tracker obviously decided that Dick was okay. As such, the growling stopped and the dog walked, slightly tentatively, over to give Dick another quick lick across his cheek.
"He likes you, Uncle Wing!" Amanda exclaimed, the slightly dour expression on her face changing to one of delight.
"Yeah, it seems he does", Dick added as he reached over to stroke the dog's back and rub his ears for a few moments as he smiled over at Amanda.
Then, standing, he remembered the picture he had been looking at a few minutes ago, before they had joined him. Seeing it again, he was quiet for a moment as he regarded the figures in it one more time.
"Do you like the picture Mommy got for Dad, Uncle Wing?"
He quietly examined it for a few more moments before answering. "Yeah, I do, Amanda. It reminds me of some good times from my own life. Did your mom get it made specially for him?"
"Un-uh. It was painted a long time ago."
"Really? Then how come your dad didn't already have it. Why did your mom end up with it?"
"Cause I found it. Well, I sort of found it. A few years ago, Mommy took Mike and me shopping with her one day. Alex wasn't born yet, and Mike was still only a few years old. When we were walking down the street, all of a sudden Mike starts pointing and going, 'Momma Momma Momma.' Mommy wondered what he wanted her for, but I looked over to where he was pointing and saw that there was a picture of Mommy in one of the store windows."
"Oh, so that's what he was reacting to."
"Uh-huh. It was one of Mommy's old posters, from even before *I* was born. I remember that it looked like it was set in space, and Mommy had on a purple swim-suit and was holding some silver circles."
"Your mom was holding movie reels." Dick could see the photo very clearly in his mind. Of course, he had been there when Donna had shot the picture. A faint smile touched his lips as the memory swept over him. Kory had looked beautiful in it. He could still see the perplexed expression that had crossed her face when Donna had mentioned about how half the women in New York were going to want to kill her after seeing the poster for the film festival that she was posing for.
Amanda was looking at him a bit strangely. "Okay. If you say so. I guess your version of Mommy also had a picture done of her like that?" Dick nodded silently in response, which seemed to satisfy his companion. She continued with her story. "Any ways, both Mike and I wanted to go look at it. Mommy wasn't so sure, but said we could if we really wanted to. She said that she hadn't come across a copy of it or looked at it in years. She looked really good in it, didn't she?"
Dick again nodded at the girl's question. A slightly wistful face greeted his silent affirmative response. "Uncle Wing, do you think I'll look as beautiful as Mommy when I grow up?"
Dick threw a confident smile down at Amanda. "Sweetheart, I think you're going to be absolutely stunning. Cause you're beautiful right now."
"You think so? Really?" Amanda excitedly demanded to know.
"Really. Truly." Dick reached over and rapidly drew an "X" on his chest as he added, "Cross my heart and hope to die if I'm lying." The girl beamed up at him. He was glad to see the wide smile that crossed her face. "Now, do you want to finish telling me how your mommy's poster connects with this painting?"
"Oh, yeah, right. Sorry, Uncle Wing. Any ways, when we were in the store, which had a bunch of old and new posters, I started looking through some other ones. I remember Mike walking over to me just as I opened this one. And then he started going, 'Daddy Daddy', like he had done before with Mommy's poster. Mommy had been talking with the guy behind the counter, but she came over when she heard Mike. And the poster was of this picture, though a little bit different."
"C'mon. I'll show you." With that, Amanda reached for his hand and pulled him out of the study. With the dog following them silently, they headed for the main foyer of the house and up the stairs. Moving down the hallway, they passed a few doors before Amanda drew him into another room.
It was obviously her room. It had a slightly feminine touch to it, though not some of the more overt frilliness that could be found in other little girls' rooms. The walls were light peach in tone, with a darker peach carpet on the floor. The furniture was done in a light color wood. Mirrors made up the doors to the closet. A tall bookshelf was within reach of the bed. Brightly colored pillows were strewn across the cream-colored bedspread. Tucked amongst the pillows was a stuffed doll, obviously custom made, as it looked like Amanda, with long black hair and solid green eyes, dressed in an outfit reminiscent of her mom's fighting togs. The walls were covered with a number of pictures and posters. Some of which must be popular actors and actresses, others of various superheroes. It was interesting to see that she had included ones of her parents, with the other Titans. But there, hanging on the wall right next to a small vanity table with a mirror, situated in what seemed like a place of honor, was a framed poster. It was the picture from downstairs, but the crowd in the background had been deleted. Instead, a plain yellow color had been substituted. The red of the costumes and the black of the performers' hair stood out against it. And the position of the Graysons' bodies had been shifted to be on a slightly greater angle. This was done to accommodate the large letters that filled the mid-bottom left-hand corner of the poster. In bright red, they spelled out "The Flying Graysons".
"This is the poster from the store?"
"Uh-huh. Mommy bought it as soon as she saw who was in it. She thought it was a wonderful picture of Dad as a kid. And she knows how much Dad and us like seeing stuff that has Grandpa and Grandma Grayson in it."
Dick could see that. The picture had brought back good memories to him. It would do the same for his counterpart.
"Any ways, we got it and took it home to show Dad. We thought we would surprise him. And he was really surprised. I almost thought he was going to cry he was so happy to see it. But then he surprised us by telling us that he had seen it before. The poster was actually based on the picture downstairs. Turns out he had actually had a case involving it way back when he was still Robin Even before he met Mommy."
"Yeah. It was back when he first started college. He told us all about it. Some guys were stealing a bunch of paintings. Including ones by this guy that did paintings of circus scenes. Dad ended up stopping them and returning the paintings. He hadn't seen it since then though."
Amanda paused in her explanation for a moment before giving him a quick grin and continuing. "When Mommy heard about the painting, she decided she wanted to try and find it and buy it to give to Dad. I think she saw how much the poster meant to him, and thought he'd like to have the painting it was from. But she didn't want him to know about it. So she started to play detective."
"Your mom did?"
"Yeah, and she was okay at it. Not as great as Dad or Grandpa, but no one's as good as them. She got some other people to help her look for it as well. She had Prophet looking through web-sites and Aunt Barbara going through auction material. Grandpa helped out when he could too. And Aunt Donna was checking around with all the photo studios and such that she had contacts with to see if anyone had heard of it. And Uncle Joey talked to all the art dealers he knew as well. It took them a while."
"But they did find it."
"Of course. It wouldn't be downstairs if they didn't", Amanda grinned as she teased Dick about his rather obvious statement. "They tracked it down to this guy in Florida. I don't think he really wanted to sell it, but Mommy talked him into it. Then she had it re-framed and gave it to Dad at the party Grandpa and Uncle Alfred threw for their tenth anniversary. You should have seen Dad's face when he unwrapped it. He was so happy. He picked Mommy up and swung her around and gave her a big kiss." That memory seemed to please Amanda greatly, as a wide smile crossed her face.
"I'm sure he really appreciated all the work that she went through to find it for him."
"Yep. But that wasn't the only cool thing that came out of trying to find it."
"Sure. C'mon." Amanda headed back out into the hall, with Tracker following her. Moving down to the next door, she opened it. Dick followed her through and saw that they were what must be Mike's room. The room was down in slightly darker colors. Mainly a teal that would match the boy's eyes, Dick realized. The furniture was of a slightly darker wood as well. Again, the walls were covered with a variety of pictures and such. Noting that Amanda was pointing to one in particular, he saw that it was one of the old circus posters that had been used to advertise when Haley's would be coming to town. Though there was pictures of clowns faces and various animals, most prominent in the framed poster was the Flying Graysons, hanging from the trapeze.
"I take it that your mom found this while she was searching for the painting." Dick's remark was a statement, rather than a question, given what Amanda had previously said.
"Uh-huh. She was searching for a picture of the Flying Graysons, so a number of her leads led her to a whole bunch of other pictures of them. She even found some old film and video footage that had been shot by various local TV stations news shows to advertise that Haley's was in town."
"Yeah. After she got copies of them, she got the video people at Aunt Donna's studio to splice them all together for Dad. She showed that at the party as well. And she bought all the old posters that she could find. There's one hanging in Alex's room too. And she's got others that she's trying to find places for as well."
"What a great gift for your dad."
"He loved it. But then Uncle Joe gave them his present at the party and they both thought it was wonderful."
Now Dick was really curious. What could Joe have given them that could top this. Voicing his thoughts, he was then led out of Mike's room and back downstairs. Amanda then pulled him through the final set of double doors he had seen previously that led off from the main foyer. He hadn't reached this room during his tour of the house, as Prophet's call had interrupted him. It was a slightly more formal living room than the one towards the back of the house. There was a fireplace across from the doorway, and a large bay window with a window seat looking out over the front yard. The walls were again the slightly old-looking cream color that Dick had seen in a number of the rooms. A number of tables held various lamps, pictures, artifacts, small sculptures and a few more of the holographic thought painting disks. Others held vases that were filled with different varieties of flowers, while other potted plants filled corners of the room. The furniture was comfortable looking, though again in a slightly more formal style than seen in other areas. But before Dick could make a full inspection of the room, Amanda was leading him over to the fireplace.
There, mounted on the wall about the mantle, was another painting. It was obviously Joe Wilson's work. Dick recognized the style and brushwork immediately. And it again depicted a family wearing circus leotards. But this one was of the present Grayson family. Koriand'r was seated on the trapeze bar, with an infant on her lap. From the coloring of the child, Dick knew that it was a young version of Alexandra. His counterpart stood with his feet placed on either side of his wife, holding the ropes down to the bar. As one hand steadied Alex, Koriand'r had the other arm wrapped around her husband's leg. On each side of the trapeze, a flying child could be seen, with Amanda to the left of her parents, and Mike to the right. It was a beautiful piece of work.
Amanda broke into Dick's admiration of the painting. "Uncle Joey said it's the 'New Flying Graysons'. Dad thought it was a great idea for a picture. And Mommy just loved the idea of the family having a portrait done. In fact, they liked it so much, they got Uncle Joe to do it in holographic form as well." Amanda reached up to the top of the mantle and picked up one of the disks. Activating it, the scene from the painting appeared in 3-dimensional detail. As well, a bit of animation had been added, such that the trapeze bar swung gently back and forth, while the two children's figures could be seen to be flitting back and forth, around their parents.
Dick watched for a few moments, until Amanda flicked the disk off. "Looks like that one trip to the poster shop led to a whole bunch of great stuff, didn't it?" he commented.
Amanda nodded as they left the room. "There's even one more thing that came from it." Her voice dropped to a whisper, even though no one else was around to hear her. "But if I show it to you, you can't tell anyone. Only Uncle Joe, Dad, Mike and I know about it. Okay?"
Dick, a trifle bemused about how Amanda was reacting, smiled his acceptance of her conditions. He followed her as she set off again. Reaching the foyer, she stopped for a moment to pick up a stack of files sitting on a table and indicated to him to grab the bag that was placed beside it. He realized that she must have grabbed this stuff and left it here while he had been going through the house earlier, before she had set off to go and get Tracker from the neighbours' place.
Then she was heading back down the stairs towards the basement area. Guessing that whatever he was going to go see was down in the "headquarters" situated under the house, he followed her. Tracker brought up the rear of their little group.
Reaching the large work out area again, Amanda immediately headed over to one of the more heavily shielded doors off on one side of the room. Opening it by punching in a code on a small wall-mounted pad, she led the way through a short hall that led to another heavy door. Going through that, Dick found that they were entering his counterpart's lab. A number of containers of chemicals filled shelves around the room, and various pieces of equipment, such as microscopes and beakers, fine instruments and Bunsen burners were situated on countertops. Some heavier analysis equipment was scattered around the walls, while a few personal computers sat on a couple of desks at the far end of the room. Another door led off from the opposite side of the room from which they had come from. Heading there, Amanda opened it up to reveal a storage closet. She indicated for Dick to remain where he was. When she came out of the closet a moment later, she was carrying a large, flat package covered by a pristine white cloth. Dick knew what it was from its size and shape.
Amanda confirmed what he thought it was by pulling the cloth off. It was another painting, again obviously done by Joe. But this one showed a young Koriand'r, probably about 7 or 8 years old, flying through the golden skies of Tamaran. Her arms were outstretched above her, as if she was trying to grasp the sun, while the flight trail that always followed her streamed off in the distance behind her. Dick could also see, slightly recessed into the background of the painting, Myand'r and Luand'r, both obviously younger than when he had met them. Looking at the painting, Dick noticed something amazing. Koriand'r's young face mirrored the same joy that had been in the face of his counterpart in the painting up in the study.
"It's a great picture of Mommy, don't you think?" Amanda asked.
"It's lovely", Dick murmured. He was still struck by the obvious delight in "flying" that both pictures held.
"Dad thought it was a great way to thank Mommy for all she had done to get his painting. And he also told me that he realized with his painting that we didn't have any pictures of Mommy as a little kid. So he asked Uncle Joe to paint this. He's going to give it to Mommy for her next birthday."
"So this is what Uncle Joe thinks your mom looked like as a child."
"No, not really. He was going to do it that way, but when Dad and Mommy were arranging for Grandfather and Grandmother to come for my birthday, Dad got them to bring one of their holograms of Mommy from when she was little." Amanda reached back into the closet and picked something off one of the shelves in it. It was another one of the disks. She activated it, and a young flying form filled the air between them. "Uncle Joe painted it off that. Course, he had to guess for the background, and exactly how Grandfather and Grandmother must of looked back then, but he's been to Tamaran, and he knows what they look like, so they were pretty fair guesses, don't you think?" Dick nodded absently as she continued, "But we have to return the holo to Grandfather and Grandmother. They don't have all that many pictures of Mommy from when she was young either."
Dick nodded in understanding. Considering that his Kory had spent several years on Okaara, training with the Warlords, and then several more as a slave, all before she grew up, she hadn't spent a whole lot of time on Tamaran herself. The same must be true of this universe's Koriand'r.
"It's a great gift, Amanda. I'm sure your mom will love it."
"Thanks, Uncle Wing. But we better be getting back to the manor. It's getting late and Mommy and Dad are probably wondering what's keeping us." With that, Amanda returned the picture back into it's hiding place. Then, after they had gathered up the files and bag that they had brought down, and with her leading the way out of the lab, they headed back towards the stairs they had originally come down, Tracker loping up the stairs just ahead of them. When they reached the transporter, Amanda set some controls and the two of them plus the dog climbed into the booth. With a faint hum and a tingle, they were gone.
When Dick and Amanda reached the cave, they could hear several shouts and laughter, as well as the creaking of wood and ropes coming from the work out area. Dick recognized some of the sounds, as the memories of circus music and the smell of popcorn filled his mind. Amanda lunged up into the air in a burst of excitement. "All right! It sounds like everyone's flying! C'mon, Uncle Wing!", just as Tracker took off at a lope into the interior of the cave, barking wildly, startling the bats that were sleeping in the overhanging stalactites.
Heading towards the noise, they entered the large area to see Koriand'r sitting cross-legged on the mat, closely watching Alexandra. She smiled, though Dick noticed that as her focus settled on him, the sparkle about her lips didn't really travel further than her mouth, and what he took to be a slightly hostile look entered her eyes. But she waved "hello" over to them, even as she watched her daughter steadying to maintain her balance. The little girl was standing on her hands, her toes pointed straight up into the air. Her long hair had been gathered into a ponytail, which was strewn all over the floor behind her. But Alex rapidly took a tumble as Tracker skidded up behind her and started to lick her all over, causing the little girl to squeal in delight of the tickling sensation.
Looking up, Dick could see three bodies high above them. Both of his counterparts were hanging by their knees from the bars attached to long, thick ropes. Between them, Mike's small body could be seen, completing a single somersault before safely reaching his father's hands. Noting the new arrivals, the high-flyers stopped their maneuvers for a moment and perched on the bars, as they shouted and waved greetings to Amanda and Dick.
"Dad, can I come up too?" Amanda wanted to know as she handed the files that she had been carrying over to her mother and indicated that Dick should put the bag down. "We haven't had a chance to fly on the trap in weeks."
"Of course. Hurry up and go and get into your leotard", the Earth-1 Dick Grayson shouted down to his daughter. Then he yelled down in a teasingly stern voice, "But you know the rules. Unless something drastic happens, as soon as you start climbing the ladder up here, no flying under your own power."
"You sure?" Amanda shouted back up in a mocking voice. "What if you or Uncle Richard starts to fall. Can I fly Tamaranean style then?" Her smile relayed the fact to Dick that this was probably a standard fun-filled teasing interplay between father and daughter.
Richard tossed over a remark to his younger counterpart at that, loud enough for the spectators below to hear, "Doesn't have much faith in us, does she?"
"Doesn't seem to. Makes you wonder why she trusts us to catch her when she's up here."
Amanda just rolled her eyes towards Dick before running off towards the locker room. It was very evident that she wanted to get up on the ropes as fast as possible.
"Don't you want to go up and join them?" Koriand'r soft voice came from behind them. Dick looked back down towards her to see that Alex had rolled away from Tracker's slobbering tongue and was now trying to get down into the lateral splits position. But the look on her mother's face was what grabbed Dick's attention. It was at once angry but gentle, wary yet concerned. A very protective look. He wondered whom it was for. Still, her suggestion did bring a rise to his spirits.
"Do you think they'd mind?"
"Of course not. I'm sure they would all love it." Koriand'r stood up. Moving a bit closer, her voice dropped a bit. "And it might do you a world of good." As Dick looked questioningly at her, she clarified, "Doing something fun, that is." She reached out and laid her hand on his arm, saying in a sotto voce tone, "Donna contacted me a little while ago and told me what happened. Are you okay?"
At the mention of his previous nightmare, Dick froze. So that was what had caused the expression on her face. Her words of concern opened the doors in his mind that he was trying to lock those particular images behind. And instead of seeing her open look of compassion, if slightly touched with hostility towards what had been done to him, he could only see the expression of pain and anger that had been covering his Kory's face in the illusion Phobia had forced him to undergo. As a result, he backed up abruptly, breaking Koriand'r's hold on his arm. His action drew the gaze of the little girl seated on the mat not that far from them, stroking the fur on the back of the family pet, though neither he or her mother noticed that her attention was now focussed on them.
"Wing Dick Please Don't back away", Koriand'r muttered in a soft undertone. "Donna didn't give me a lot of facts. She said that you wouldn't tell anyone what Phobia made you see. But if you do want to talk about it with someone I'm here. Really! I know that I was a bit harsh the other night. I'm sorry about that. I still don't understand, but it wasn't right for me to get angry like that. But you shouldn't keep something like what Phobia did bottled up inside. It will only hurt you more in the long run. And like I said the other night, even if it didn't seem like it later, I don't want to see you hurting. I really don't. Strange as it may seem, what hurts you hurts me too. Though", she added, almost as if to herself, as she glanced up to the men gracefully swinging in the air so far above them, "maybe that's not so strange at all."
Her emerald gaze swung back at him, a look that hurt and healed at the same time. Hurt, because deep inside he wished for one brief moment that this was his Kory offering him her support. Healed, because he knew she truly meant her offer, and whether he took her up on it or not, just knowing he could added some balm to the pain that had ripped through his soul earlier. But if he did take her up on it, it would be later Right now, he just wanted to forget it ever happened and have a few minutes of sheer joy. Joy like he had seen on the face of the boy in the painting back in the Graysons' home. Joy that being up a trap, flying through the air, could provide him with. The face on the boy in the poster he had seen earlier passed over his mind's eye. Yes, a dose of sheer joy was something that he could use right now.
She nodded as an understanding passed between them, almost as if she read his mind about what he wanted to do right now. "Go on ," and then raising her voice as a small grin mischievously quirked up the corners of her mouth, "see if you can teach any of those old monkeys some new tricks." Even as she was indicating to Dick the direction of the change room with a shake of her head, her oldest daughter emerged from it and headed for the rope ladder that led up to the suspended men above them.
"*Dogs*, m'love The expression is 'teach an old dog some new tricks'", her husband yelled down at her. Even as he was doing so, the man on the other swing of the trapeze muttered something much too faint to hear. The little boy hanging from his hands gave a surprised laugh, as if he knew what the man said was funny, but also a bit startling all the same.
"I know that." Koriand'r exhaled in mock frustration. "But since you're currently swinging around like you live in a jungle, I thought 'monkeys' was more appropriate. Besides, aren't monkeys your 'first cousins' or something any ways? Thought you'd rather be compared to them instead of dogs, but what do I know", she ended saucily, tossing a wink in Dick's direction.
"You know, with that sense of humor, your wife must be a real pain sometimes", Dick could hear Richard advise their Earth-1 counterpart in a jesting manner.
"Yeah, but she has some other great attributes to make up for that one teeny-tiny flaw."
Koriand'r rolled her eyes at their banter. "You two are pathetic. Wing, if you're going to join them, I suggest you do it soon. Otherwise, you might not get the chance, because if they keep this up, I'm going to have to hurt them."
Dick decided to join in with the teasing. Doing so, he was beginning to feel that he belonged in this group. "I don't know, Koriand'r. Your husband might actually like that", he stated in a slightly lazy tone of voice.
Koriand'r just looked at him, first as if she wasn't sure just how far she should take this, knowing that he had just gone through an emotionally wrenching day. Then, as if she realized that he was doing this as a means of distracting himself from what had happened, her expression shifted to bemusement about his reply, a spark flaring deep in her eyes. "Oh, you think so? You and he must have more in common than I thought then." As Dick flushed bright red at her implication, she laughed heartily as she again pointed to the change room. "Now get going. I think I'd like to see all the original 'Flying Graysons' around here in action."
With that, she turned back to her youngest child, who was sitting with her head to one side, regarding them intently, as if trying to figure out just what the adults were going on about. Indicating a long length of wood situated on 3 feet high legs, she motioned for the little girl to join her. "Alex, let's see how your beam walking skills are going?"
Dick headed off
to the locker room. He changed quickly, all the while noting the
high-pitched childish screams of delight and lower rumblings of
laughter coming from the other room.
"Ready to join us, Uncle Wing?"
"You know it, kiddo. I want to see what all your dad has taught you."
For the next several minutes, Dick watched and helped as the kids went through their paces. They were really quite good. Maybe even better than he had been at their respective ages. But then, it probably helped that they were capable of moving in the air under their own power. It would give them the advantage of a sense of natural belonging and movement in the air that he and his counterparts wouldn't have had. That, combined with the perfect balance and natural agility inherited from their dad would be a perfect combination for these type of tricks.
Finally, their father instructed them to return to the platform. "All right, you two. I want you to stay there while we see what Uncle Wing's made of", their father yelled over to them from the far platform.
Feeling rejuvenated simply by being up among the ropes, Dick yelled back, "Hey, old man I can handle anything that you can throw at me."
" 'Old man'?!? You are going to pay for that, Wing." With that, Dick and the two giggling kids heard their dad throw an aside to his older counterpart. " Can you believe that, Richard 'old man', my Kids these days "
With that, the three men launched into a good half-hour of showing off their aerial tricks to each other and the kids. Richard did a lot of the catching, as after seeing some of the moves that his counterparts were doing, he claimed that his old bones couldn't keep up with that. Of course, he then immediately made that statement false by doing a double-double, making fast work of the two somersaults with two twists before letting Dick catch him. The kids, two on the platform and one on the ground, loved the show, clapping and cheering and shouting out their encouragement and cries for more.
But then Koriand'r called up to the two older ones, "Kids, it's time for bed."
"Aaaawww No way, Mommy Another half-hour Please!" All three children pleaded and begged to be allowed to watch more.
Koriand'r flew up to talk to them. "Sorry, kids, but we already allowed both of you," looking at Alex, hugged in her arms, and then Mike sitting on the platform a few feet away, "to stay up way past your bed-times so you could say good-night to your Uncle Wing when he got back with Amanda." Then fixing her gaze on the older girl, "And now we've let all of you stay up even later to watch your dad and uncles work out. You'll be impossible to get out of bed in the morning as is. So say good-night to everyone."
"Please, Mommy Just one more trick Please!" The kids were not going to go without at least a little fight, Dick realized. Smiling, he thought he would help them out just this once.
"Koriand'r, let them stay for one more. I haven't shown them my grand finale bit yet."
Koriand'r eyed him for a moment, then turned to look at her husband for back up. But he just shrugged his shoulders. Realizing that she was outnumbered on this issue, she gracefully acquiesed, though she did say, "All right. But only this last maneuver. Then the kids have to go up and get ready for bed."
With that, she flew back several feet, moving slightly so that she could stay aloft. The two older children followed her. They obviously all wanted to get a good view of Dick's trick.
Richard asked, "So what's this big bit of yours, Dick?"
"A quad somersault. Which one of you two wants to handle the catch?"
"A quad!?! This should be good. All right, I'll take the catch," his Earth-1 counterpart stated. "Whenever you're ready."
With that, Richard retired to the platform. Dick started his bar swinging and started to build up enough momentum so that when he released his grip, he would have enough speed to complete the four turns in the air before hitting the other man's hands.
The move went perfectly. Dick exhilarated in the feeling of his muscles doing exactly what they were supposed to do. Each step of the trick flowed smoothly into the next. As always, it seemed to be over so fast, and yet he also felt like he could hang in space forever. It was only the hard grip of his counterpart that brought him back to earth, so to speak. At the same time he became aware of an almost hushed sense of awe coming from the small group over to the side. Then an intense clapping came from all the observers. As he and his counterpart landed on the platform, the others started throwing out words of congratulations.
"Wow Uncle Wing, that was so cool."
"Yeah Can you teach me that, Uncle Wing? Will you? Before you go home."
"Wing, that was wonderful. Dick, did you ever do that trick when you were younger?"
"Well, Wing You really are trying to show us up here, aren't you?"
The praise from everyone felt great. For a brief moment, the pain from earlier in the day was completely forgotten.
"Do 'gain, Unca Wing."
"Alex It's time for bed."
"But Mommy "
"No 'buts'. That was our deal. Now go and say your good-nights."
With that, the kids flew over to the three men, giving each a quick hug and peck. Then, with a few longing backward looks, they headed off, their mother following behind them. Tracker, who had been lying off at the side of the work out room, got up and loped behind the small group.
"We should probably call it a night too, gentlemen", Richard commented. "We have no idea what tomorrow will bring and we might as well get rested up while we can."
"You're probably right, Richard. As they say, 'tomorrow is another day'."
As they headed down the ladder, Dick thought on their words. What would tomorrow bring? Would tomorrow be the day they find a way to get him home? Or would this massing of super-villains mean they would be in battle. All of a sudden, after the fun of the evening, Dick wasn't sure if he wanted tomorrow to actually arrive.
But it would, and he knew it. Still, he was quiet as they all headed off to the showers.
Dick, laying in bed later, contemplating the ceiling above him, still in something of a funk from his thoughts at the end of the work out session, reviewed the events of the day, good and bad. In some ways, the good outweighed the bad. Yet the bad had been so outstandingly bad But the time on the trap with the others had alleviated some of his stress. "No", he corrected himself, "Let's get real, Grayson. You've just shoved it to the back of your mind. You're going to have to deal with what happened sometime."
But not right now, he decided, as his mind gingerly touched on the memories of the illusion Phobia had elicited. He knew that he wasn't quite ready physically or emotionally to deal with the feelings she had engendered in him. While some might think avoiding them might be a bit cowardly, he knew that if he pulled them out in his present frame of mind, while he wasn't up to dealing with them, he would just stress himself out more than he needed to be right now. Right now, he needed to focus on the good that had come from that encounter. Finally catching someone who could give them a lead as to what was going on. Getting the information needed to move to the next step. In a day or two, when he was a bit more removed from the events Then he would be able to deal with the emotions Phobia's manipulations had stirred up.
A small knock, coming from the direction of the door, registered in his senses as he was making up his mind about this approach. Wondering who would be needing to see him at this time of night, he responded "Come in."
Muted light from the hallway spilled into the room as a small figure slipped through the opening door. Dick determined who it was immediately, if only by her size. "What's up, Alex?"
The little girl closed the door and approached the bed almost tentatively, not at all with the enthusiasm that Dick had begun to associate with her. "Unca Wing you okay?"
Dick raised himself up and rested against the headboard, reaching over to switch on a bedside lamp, before patting the area of the bed beside him. Alex clambered up, clutching her favorite toy, and sat pensively beside him, obviously waiting for him to reply. A concerned expression covered her face, her small teeth worrying her lower lip. It was an expression Dick had seen on her mother's counterpart's face a number of times over the years.
"Of course, I'm all right, sweetheart. I've had a busy day. But I'm fine. Really, I'm great."
"You sure? You kinda mad and sad in the gym."
Dick stared into the blue eyes of the youngest Grayson. He concluded that she must have heard some of the discussion that he and Koriand'r had had. He thought about placating her, passing off the discussion as a minor misunderstanding, but looking at her, he couldn't do it. She was looking at him with such innocence, such concern, that he didn't feel like he could lie to her. "No not completely. I had something bad happen today. But it will be okay. I promise."
Alex nodded, her small face solemn. She scooted a bit closer to him and leaned in. In a whisper, she commented, "When I sad, I talk to Sammy. It helps." Alex held out the stuffed dinosaur to him. "You have him tonight. He help you too."
Dick felt a lump start to block up his throat. He had to swallow hard, to clear it, before he could say anything. He knew that by offering up her special toy, Alex was using the only way she knew how to make him feel better. Reaching out, he pulled the girl, toy and all, into a tight hug. "Thanks, sweetheart. That's really generous of you."
Alex settled her bright head against his shoulder. Her sapphire eyes looked up at him intently. "Momma says when you sad, think good things to make better. You have good things to think about, Unca Wing?"
Dick smiled down at the child, nestled contently in his embrace. He was astonished to find out how comfortable it felt. All the other times, Alex had thrown herself into his arms, and he had always felt a bit uncomfortable with it, even if he had gotten a bit more relaxed the more she did it. This time he had been the one to initiate the hug. It felt good. "Your mom's a smart lady, Alex. Thinking about nice things would make me feel better."
"What good things you think about?"
Dick resettled himself back amongst the pillows. He took a moment, thinking over what had happened today. And if anything, one thing stood out. "Flying on the trap. That's a good thing, isn't it?"
"Uh-huh. But I too small."
"Maybe. But soon you'll be up there with your dad and brother and sister. I wasn't all that much older than you are when I first went up. It's one of my very best memories."
Dick smiled down at Alex's eager little face. "Isn't this way, way past your bedtime?"
A small yet slightly ferocious scowl developed on her face, as she realized that he had caught her out. Then, it metamorphasized into a wistful, pleading look. "Please, Unca Wing. Tell me story. Please."
"All right, but if your mom and dad catches you up, I'm not taking the heat for you."
A beaming smile and giggle erupted from the child, even as she settled down a bit further. Dick knew that she was waiting for him to start his tale. He had to think back for a moment, though.
"Okay I guess it's probably one of my earliest memories." He closed his eyes. It was remarkable, the way memory worked. With just taking a few moments to pull the various threads together in his mind, he swore he could see and smell and hear everything that could be associated with the circus. The colorful faces of the clowns, and all the animals, and the ladies that rode the trained horses, as well as all the people streaming into the big tent and around the mid-way. The smell of candyfloss and popcorn and sawdust. The sounds of laughter and lions roaring and elephants trumpeting and the Master of the Big Top shouting out introductions, even as the tinkling music of the calliope rose over everything else.
But above every other memory from that time, the one he held most dear was that of his parents' faces as they were working with him up on the ropes.
"I wasn't very big", Dick started out, "but I do remember I had already been working on the mat for some time, just like you were doing today. Then, one day, after when we had gotten to the town where we were going to winter that year, my dad told me that he was going to take me up on the rigging the next day. I remember being so excited, I couldn't sleep at all." A smile crept over his face as he thought back to the almost hyper child his parents had had to deal with that night.
"The next day, Dad and Mom got me up a bit earlier than usual. I think Dad wanted to start practice before anyone else showed up. I remember that the net was up, even though Mom and Dad didn't use it in their performances. And Dad put me in this harness "
"Daddy put one on Mike when he try something new."
Dick gave Alex a reassuring squeeze. "I'm sure he does. It's better to be safe then sorry, especially when you're up on a trap. Dad had me in it before, but always when working on stuff on the ground. Never up on the trap before."
"Any ways, He carried me up to the platform and let me stand there for just a moment. I remember how small everything seemed from up there. All the seats and the size of the circus ring and everything looked like something that ants would use. I suppose we really weren't that high up, but at the time, we seemed to be higher than anything I'd ever imagine before."
"You not scared?"
"Why would you be?" With a small shake of Alex's curls, Dick continued, "No. I wasn't scared. Maybe I should have been. But I'd seen my mom and dad up there before. And I was attached to my dad by the harness. I knew nothing bad would happen with my dad and mom there. But I also think that I was just never afraid to be up there. Maybe a bit insecure as to whether I could do something or not, but not afraid. Maybe it's a quirk with us Graysons to not be afraid of being up there. What do you think?"
"No. Daddy and Mommy not let any bad happen. I know."
Dick smiled a bit wistfully at Alex's words. Must be nice to be that young, innocent and trusting. He hadn't been that in a very long time.
"No, sweetie They wouldn't. Just as I know that before they went away, my dad and mom wouldn't let anything happen to me either. Even the first time I was up on the trap without a net and thought I was going to fall, my dad caught me."
"Daddies good for that."
"Yeah, I guess they are. That first time up on the trap, my dad was taking all the precautions."
"What he do?"
"Well, first he just got out on the trap himself, while I rode piggy-back. I think he wanted me to get the feel of the movement of the trapeze. That was cool, but he was still the one doing all the work. So after a few minutes of that, he had me hold onto the trap myself, while he hung on behind me. That way, he said I could get the feel of how to move my body while I was up there by following what he did."
"Then what?" An impatient note entered the child's tone. Dick smiled. He remembered her mother making a comment about her impatience when it came to story telling.
"Okay. Let's see. If I remember this right, he then had me hold onto his hands, while he hung from his knees on the trap." Dick could clearly see the happy smile that had crossed his father's face when he had gazed up at him that day. The smile of a man that was not only having some fun with his child but was passing on some of his own knowledge, sharing his own skills with his son. The way parents and children had been doing since time started. When he thought about it, he remembered the same smile passing over his counterpart's visage when they had been working with Amanda and Mike earlier in the evening. It must be a totally incredible feeling, knowing that you were sharing your experiences with your children, Dick decided.
"When he had me like that, he just swung back and forth, back and forth, letting me get the feel of the motion. It was great, but he was still hanging on to my hands really tightly. But then, he told me that he was going to let me go. Stopping the trap's motion for a minute, he dropped me down, so that I was just hanging in the harness. Then he started swing the trap back and forth slowly. At first I didn't know quite what to do, but with my dad's coaching and some of my ground training, I was able to get my body streamlined enough to allow for a smooth glide. I realized later that I was probably more awkward than I had ever been before or since, but at the time I just remember thinking that this must what it would be like to fly like the birds. The sense of freedom was so great. I didn't ever want to lose that feeling. Of course, I wasn't really flying. My dad still was hanging on to me tight via the harness. It wasn't until a few months later, when he and my mom actually started to let me pass between them on the two bars that I really was 'flying'."
Alex had been very quiet the last few minutes, intently listening to the words he was speaking, even as the smooth sound of his voice had been lulling her towards dreamland. But the slight pause in his flow of words gave her enough of a chance to sleepily ask, more to say something to stay awake, Dick thought, than that she didn't know, "But you not really fly?"
"Well, not like you or your mom do. But it's the closest thing to flying by myself, I suppose. When you add that to working with my mom and dad, and later, hearing how much the crowd loved watching us perform, I felt like I was really soaring. At times, I thought nothing could bring me down."
But that feeling hadn't lasted. His world had been turned upside down with his parents' deaths, and every time he thought he had recovered and made his life into a stable and relatively content, even happy, existence, something always came along to screw it up. But he wasn't going to allow that to happen to the life he was building in the 'Haven. In the past, it was others' decisions that had brought unhappiness into his life. This time, by being dependent on himself, he wasn't going to let that happen.
Even as Dick was deciding that, he realized that Alex's breathing rhythm had fallen into a steady and deep pattern. Looking down, he realized that the little girl had fallen asleep. Knowing that he should probably return her to her own bed before someone realized that she wasn't there, he gingerly moved her head off his shoulder and onto a pillow before he gently swung out of the bed. Bending, he quietly picked her up and moved out into the hallway, heading in the direction of her room. After he deposited her in her bed and pulled the covers up over her, he looked down at the stuffed dinosaur in his hands.
"Well, Sammy," he thought to himself, "much as I appreciate Alex's offer of letting me have you for the night, I don't think you're going to be able to help me." With that, he tucked the toy under the covers as well and lay a quick peck on Alex's cheek. "Sleep tight, sweetheart", he whispered before he let himself out of her room.
Wandering back towards the room he had been given, he thought he heard some voices from further down the hall. Wondering who was still up, he decided to investigate. While maybe telling his problems to Sammy wouldn't help him, Alex's advice was still good. He could be deluding himself thinking that he could handle all the concerns and fears the hallucination had awakened in him. Maybe talking it out would at least get it out in the open and he wouldn't end up thinking about it so much.
But when he reached the narrowly open door from which the voices emerged, the direction of the conversation he heard so surprised him that interrupting it right then was the last thing he should do
to be continued.
Note: The "Flying Graysons" poster and painting mentioned in this chapter is from the story "Return of the Flying Grayson" from Batman #250, circa 1972 (yes, people, I'm that old No smart comments, ya hear). The poster of Starfire mentioned was shown being shot on the first 2 pages of Tales of the Teen Titans #42 (the first part of the "Judas Contract" story line). And the holographic thought paintings were first demonstrated in Secret Origins #13 (at the time, the then current origin story for Dick Grayson). The "Nightstar" doll mentioned is from David Corsini's story "The Dam", found in Fanzing #19 (the Villain issue).
All characters are DC Comics
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DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.
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