Dinner with the Mayor.

It took very little time between Dick’s exit and Slade’s return, but she knew that was being choreographed. Perhaps the more surprising aspect of the timing is how soon after Slade’s return, that the Mayor’s entourage shows up. This leaves her with very little time to tell her original dinner companion what had happened or clue him in on what the entire parking ticket situation had truly been about. 

Once Slade has been clued in, at least so much as to understand he has to beat feet before even eating, there is barely enough time for Dinah’s waiter to clear up the second seating. Mayor Queen cuts a striking figure, just as he did the last time she’d seen him. Age sets well on Oliver, especially when it’s quite clear that he’s not letting his new position keeping him out of the training room.

Quite frankly there are more clues for her to pick up before Oliver and she makes eye contact than what follows. That entourage of his is specifically curious, because she knows the head of security; Tommy Merlyn. One of Oliver’s life-long best friends. While Tommy’s father has always had questionable dealings, Tommy has never seemingly followed in his footsteps. Then there’s a woman, but isn’t there always with Oliver? She’s tall, taller than Ollie or Tommy in fact and stacked in a way that says ‘I could break you’. Which is accompanied by this nonchalant sort of style that never hints at her needing to say something like that outloud. 

While the rest of the Mayor’s protectors are the run of the mill security that you might see anywhere else in the country? Those two stand out in just about every conceivable way. So much so, that before Slade has completely exited the building she’ll get a little chirp in her ear of him whispering a single bite of information: ‘That’s Agent Zero. You’re going to ignore me, but for the record I suggest you abort right now.’

A warning from Slade is a haunting experience. The man simply fears no one and nothing. Which means that he has such a healthy respect for this Agent, that he would abandon the battle-field rather than fight her. Or more accurately, he would abandon this particular battle-field. Wherein she’s an element of surprise, one that Dinah has no training for or intel on.

From that moment on Dinah is on her own, but it takes almost no effort on her part to be noticed. Which almost immediately becomes an invitation to join Oliver. One thing will roll right in to another and Dinah will find that Ollie is happy for her presence. Nothing will derail that pleasure either, much to Dinah’s constant snipey demise. The man is surprisingly an open book; willing to discuss anything, so long as Dinah humors him as well when he makes casual attempts to get her to see his point of view. He hides nothing, answering any questions and making any overture she asks for. Right down to offering DNA samples, of which he slyly suggests that she’s even welcome to collect personally, if it would put her mind at ease.

During the time that she’s with Oliver, Slade makes his way to the Queen Estates. Where he does his part in all of this. Though there is even less to report there. Queen Mansion is largely abandoned, beyond the skeleton live-in staff that keeps it maintained and in livable shape. There’s no signs, not the obvious or less obvious, signs of anything be amiss. Deathstroke’s tools allow him to scan the House with varying types detection all of which prove a big fat negative. Leaving him to report that the Estate has been largely out of use since the night of the celebration of Queen winning the mayoral election.

At the same time, Dick Grayson, in the guise of the Batman, infiltrates the Mayor’s Mansion and Office. Shockingly, he has only marginally more to report than Slade. ‘Marginally more,’ equates to confirming that Nowhere has a hands on presence in the Mayor’s office under the guise of the Department of Extranormal Affairs. They have literally set up a joint task force that works out of City Hall, under the Mayor’s direct authority to enforce the law. Through that task force they pull together under one heading a group that works to eliminate both vigilante and their super-villain enemies at the same time. Dick almost seems worried, yet largely impressed by how… legal… the entire unit is structured.

And when Dinah is ultimately free of Mayor Queen for the night, she’ll the Batman waiting for her in the old rag-tag apartment that she’s staying in for the visit. Slade is once more conspicuous by his absence. In Slade’s place is a small un-opened package that awaits her on the countertop nearest the entrance. Within which is a very simple choker similar to the one her grandmother wore as part of her costume.

Dinah: In a way, it’s incredibly hilarious to send Slade Wilson (and his salad) packing like this, or it would be if I were a hair more suicidal than I actually trend towards. So there’s no shooing motions, so much as explanation brief as it may be, before we’re on to a whole different game. I have, however, been present for, or there in the aftermath of, enough of Deathstroke’s dirty work to have a teensy bit of a hair on the back of the neck rising sort of warning that it can only be taken so far, before it becomes more trouble and annoyance than he wants to put up with to get what he wants. I’m top rate in a fight, but poor to middling at taking long range bullets from a sniper rifle.

There’s a very big problem with the way the rest of my evening goes. Not the warning about an Agent Zero, which I do indeed ignore insomuch as I don’t get up and leave, but part of me hoped very much that something about all of this would just scream wrong, in blaring capitol letters. That even though he’d been fooling everyone else around him, there’d be no fooling me. But other than the fact that this whole thing is just idealistically wrong there’s nothing else that is. Wrong, I mean. I was looking for something to seize on, something that I could use to expose what’s going on and protect My Ollie after we break him out, and stop this from happening to anyone else I care about. Some slip up, but there’s nothing I can find.

Other than the fact that it’s completely fucking insane for Oliver Queen to have suddenly and abruptly decided that vigilantes are just the absolute worst thing and that they need stopped by any means necessary. I don’t buy the change of heart. Don’t buy the explanation for it, but then who else would possibly think it strange? The people who were in the life with him, that he turned on? For my part, it ins’t a hard act to play, other than I’m restraining myself from attempting to bitch slap sense into Oliver…no, wait, that would be a normal interaction between the two of us, were I actually a Dinah that didn’t think this wasn’t My Oliver. Physicality came in a whole lot of forms for us, so grilling him? Looking at him like I think he’s sprouted a third eye-ball? It’s all in character. The thinly veiled hostility and confusion and hurt? Yeah, that’s all me, too.

Probably the least me is the refusal of a little more hands on confirmation of genetic make-up. Gee, -Mayor- Queen, as much as I’m usually down for sleeping with guys I don’t know, I think I’m gonna have to -pass-. No. Not the continued snarky digs, but I probably still would have done it anyway. Cover the bases. All the bases. The desire is just completely absent, to such a degree that I think I’d likely give myself away if I were to even attempt it. We weren’t exactly strangers to make-up sex, I guess that tells me a lot about my level of hurt and betrayal that I don’t even make a go at it.

Disappointed as I am at not finding anything myself, and typically happy as I am to rely on no one else, it’s actually pretty disheartening that no one else really does either. He pushed through his election on the whole anti-capes platform, clearly it’s a winning one so you’d think even more people would be doing it, so the task force isn’t that shocking. Maybe the speed with which it was assembled and how neatly it actually functions is, but they had time to prepare for this ahead I’d assume.

“More gifts other than your glum, looming presence? You shouldn’t have.”

Even if it’s not from him, I assume it’s not booby trapped on account of he’s here and so is it. I heave my ass onto the counter, like I’ve got the extra weight of everything from the day riding on me, with a long sigh as I pull the box into my lap to open it. Reaching in and fingering the jewelry delicately.


That choker looks authentic because it is. Old, in so much that the actual assembly was crafted nearly a hundred years ago. With the small yellow crested Canary as the signature piece in the middle of two leather strands. If it were from just about anyone else, she’d probably be impressed. And if it were given at any other time she might even be swayed by it. Judging by the set of her jawline, neither of those things are in the cards for tonight. I didn’t anticipate them making any impression, I just wanted to make a sort of statement from the moment she stepped in to the room.

Part peace offering, part nostalgia call back. I’d been after making sure that Dinah had something to think about other than whatever she’d discovered during her time with Queen. “We ran DNA testing on a sample taken from his hair brush. Cross-referenced with a follicle taken from his bed-pillow. Triple-crossed it with skin samples from a tooth his mother kept in the attic at Queen Mansion. The person you had dinner with, is Oliver Queen. There’s not even a hint, of a clue, that it’s anything other than the real thing. We’ve had to worry about shape-shifters before. So we’ve got the means to test for them.”

“Even if our early warning grid is off-line after the attack on the Batcave, we can still run the tests we know about. This must be something else entirely.” I’m not an idiot, I’m not even going to try to go down the path of suggesting that is really Oliver.

Not only does that serve no purpose in moving forward, but it would likely only make Dinah that much more upset and uncomfortable. What I’m after is a different side of Dinah. One that isn’t quite so combative with me as she’s been of late, but I suspect that’s simply not in the cards for the two of us right now. So I’m going to keep trying something different. Open honesty. A new trait for the Bat-Fam to explore.

“When they arrested Oliver, there’s a high likelihood that they did something to him. We know they have several high functional telepathy users. Mind Controllers come from the magic side of things too. Don’t forget people like Mad Hatter can do terrible things to someone with the slightest tweak to their personality…” It’s all just an offer, to put it out there and secure hope for Dinah that the person she met, even if it’s actually Queen, isn’t really him.

But, I also know it rings hollow because she was hoping for something else entirely. By then I’ve rounded her small rented apartment and am standing before her. ‘Hat in my hands,’ so to speak. If by hat, you mean Bat-cowl, so that she can see my face. See the obvious disappointment there, to match her own.

“Consolation prize, more so than gift,” a glance from her face to the small necklace and back again. “Slade was back first. He isn’t appreciative of my being here anymore than you are. But. He is actually more practical than you. I offered him the information you already had, he gave me what he garnered at Queen Mansion. We compared notes. He’s arranging transport, on the hunch that you’re going to want to do something… big… now that you know there’s not going to be a quick fix to this.”

“Me? I am a man of two minds right now. The Batman thinks in terms of what’s next, but I know if this was me? If Barb was the one that got mind controlled or replaced by body snatchers. I’d be in a really terrible place. Requiring Booze and/or a trip down to crime alley, to get in to a fight that let me clear my mind for a couple hours. Does Star City even have a crime alley?”

Dinah: There’s a short huff of what is meant to pass as a laugh, and maybe to cover for surprise just a little bit, at what I actually have in my fingers once I’m looking at it a little more closely, the now empty box passed back onto the counter by my hip before I turn the choker over, and back again. I recognize it, of course, though only from pictures. For someone so ostensibly anti-attachments, I do still have some sentimentality to me. I just don’t talk about it, like how I’ll never tell you that my movie of choice is usually an old, classic romance. This particular piece just hadn’t been in my thoughts of late, and for it to turn up now, after my discussion with Conner Luthor, just kind of rings kismet. I hadn’t had a chance to go looking for it between that conversation, and leaving for Star City. Holding it up between thumb and forefinger by the cameo in the middle, I offer it to his view. As if he hadn’t already seen it.

“Let me guess. Harmonic stabilizer? Thank you, Dick. Did Bruce have it?”

How’s that for actual, real sincerity? With no barbs hidden in it. No sarcasm. No weighting of his name like I’m calling him a name and calling him by name at the same time. Like 95% of the rest of the time. Then I’m whistling low between my teeth.

“There’s that special brand of extra thoroughness that we’ve come to know and love from the cowl… he didn’t seem particular alarmed when I almost ‘accidentally’ set his sleeve on fire either so… there’s my high tech contribution to the vetting.”

But he isn’t wrong. If anyone tried to tell me that this was Oliver Queen, my Oliver Queen, of sound mind and making his own decisions and conclusions then they’d be in for a fight from me. Most likely verbal but.. it’s been a trying day. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. When it moos, however?

“Makes me wonder who, or what, is waiting at that black site and I am debating whether or I’m more or less resolved to go find out, now. What do you know about an Agent Zero?”

There’s probably cracks to be made about us all playing nice with one another, so it’s probably telling to a degree that I’m not actually making any of them. Instead I’m left side-eyeing the cowl-less Batman from across the room.

“We need to get you out more. Every city has a crime alley. East Gary is pretty much the arm-pit of the Pacific Coast, but the action’s pretty much always on in The Triangle. Booze is only good if you don’t have any potential for a fight, so that leaves flipping the bird at the anti-vigilante laws.”

Though that’s probably not wise. Not because I’m chicken, or don’t want to test their response times and reaction strength, but this is only a stop on the line.


The sound I’m making is akin to a long drawn inhale, that is then expelled with a sort of grumbling acceptance. Dinah seems to be a step ahead of me on the gift-giving end of our evening. It is clear to me that she’s acknowledging this as a true gift for, because she gives the thank you, but at the same time I’d hope she would see it as a bit of a peace offering. Especially when it comes from me being not in uniform. At least, not entirely.

“Good eye. It is a harmonic stabilizer, but it isn’t one that Bruce had locked away. That’s actually all me. I knew Dinah Drake, your grandmother right? A long time ago in a Galaxy, Far Far Away. Bruce sent me to learn from a couple of the Gotham City ‘Old Timers.’ He did the same with Tim too. Bruce was always wanting us to follow in the foot-steps and learn from the best.”

“I spent a couple weeks learning Gotham’s history, it’s secrets you might say from your Grandma, Johnny Thunder and Alan Scott. I became something of a fanboy for a time. I’ve got quite a collection of old school memorabilia. With the way things have gone of late, I’ve been looking into some low-tech means of keeping us all a step ahead of the game.

“There isn’t anything fancy in that. It’s not hot-wired to the internet or lowjacked,” as I’ve spoken, I’ve also crossed the length of the small apartment and put myself in front of Dinah. “May I…?”

It is as if I’m feeding off of her being less combative than normal. Though that isn’t quite the truth, because I’ve been trying to diffuse whatever this is for the last few times we’ve been in the same place at the same time. The problem has been simple; I rise to the bait and she mocks me as well as I mock super-villains. Without fail Dinah lights a fuse and mine’s pretty short as it is.

Now though I’ve got a hand out to see if she’ll be willing to let me put the gift for her on to her throat. “I’d have been fairly sad to not get to witness you setting Ollie on fire, in more normal circumstances.”

“Did Superboy tell you that Oliver was being kept there or that he was taken there? Is there a chance that they took him there to be ‘conditioned?’ While I was working with Spyral, I saw a lot of double-Agents get reconditioned while in captivity. That was with normal means, Nowhere has far more extranormal means to make that process speedier.”

“There’s also another point, you should consider, Dinah. Something that Huntress told me about herself. She said that Nowhere is… not entirely what we think it is. It isn’t all Evil. She told me to start thinking of it three dimensionally. Like a bee-hive. Every little honeycomb is insulated by a certain level of either misinformation or lack of information. Only the highest levels know the whole story. Sometimes the various departments are even intentionally tasked to work at cross purposes for plausible deniability if needed.”

“If you need a good example? Slade’s here with you. Helping you. Except he’s on their payroll. We both know Slade’s got questionable morals, so him double crossing them? Par for the course. Why are they allowing it? Why are they letting him, potentially work with you against whatever they’re doing with Ollie? There’s exactly one reason; Because allowing him to do so, means that if you actually do something irreparable to their plan with Queen, they can swear off a small part of their group as having gone rogue. Then claim their Agent helped bring it to a halt. Luthor, working in layers. He’ll even get to say his own son told you about the whole thing. It’ll cement Conner even more as a Hero if you succeed. Or alienate him as a traitor if you fail. Luthor wins -both- ways.”

Tilting my head just a bit, because I know everything I just said is a nutshell for all the things Dinah hates in the world we live in. People like Luthor muddy the water, drag the rest of us into that mud and inevitably make all of us dirty. But, I’m telling her this because it relates back to exactly what we’ve spoken about before with Bruce. If Tim is right and he’s alive, Bruce may have done all of this as a way of getting out of this entire cycle the rest of us are trapped in.

It’s impossible for me to think of it any other way, because quite frankly I think it may have been the only solution. I just don’t know if it’s something anyone can come back from. “Agent Zero. Cliff notes? She’s something special. I don’t think Nowhere even calls her Agent Zero, it’s everyone else that does. The Batcomputer pulls and correlates news reports on most meta-humans, as you know. What we have on her is limited. She’s distinctly meta. 

“The sort of meta than is able to swat bullets right out of the air, but doesn’t appear to be bullet proof. She’s fast, but not super-fast. In Fawcett City, she chased down a car of alligator men. Stronger than any person has a right to be, but seemingly not on the same level as Superboy. That same car, she picked up and chucked about a block. Her fighting skills are off the chart, just a few months ago she came to Gotham to retrieve a cyborg that seemingly went rogue and in the melee she utilized several distinct, but known fighting styles. Then switched to one that… I’ve never seen before. She throttled Tim -and- Helena, at the same time and actually thanked them for the fun.”

“That sounds like an awful lot of information, but we literally know nothing about her. Frankly, I would have put money on her being an Amazon, but if she is? Wonder Woman’s mother, whom happens to be a bonafide Amazon that doesn’t mind being a source of information so long as Alfred plies her with good scotch, didn’t recognize her. My second guess would have been Alien, but her incursion into Gotham was -before- someone took out Brother Eye. Meaning that since only like four people knowhow Brother-Eye works? One of which is not on the planet, another is dead, the third was at the site and the fourth was baking cookies? There’s next to a zero percent chance someone could beat the tech.”

“So in reality? We know more about what she can do, than who she is.” Clearing my throat a little more gently than is strictly necessary. “Seems to be a trend really. All the most badass women, like to keep a little mystery and not let us guys get to know them.”

“Not. A pickup line, for once. I know you pretty well.”

Dinah: “What, he never let Uncle Ted beat the shit out of you?”

To be totally fair, my training with Wildcat didn’t take that particular bent until a half-dozen years into my tutelage with him, even if it very definitely colored my own current method of instruction with the baby birds. Ted Grant never, ever, went easy on me. Even when I was six years old, and I think if anyone had really been witness to our sparring sessions after my Mother died they’d question why the hell he was being allowed to brutalize a young, grieving girl. I hadn’t questioned it, but then I needed it. Probably even more so when Dad was murdered, and I went from reckless to suicide by vengeance. Not my words. I don’t go easy on Spoiler because Gotham isn’t going to. A lesson she probably already knows from childhood, but there’s nothing like a good dose of pain to make your body remember a lesson even better than your mind can.

I do see the peace offering, as what it is, and that means that Dick gets more precious, rare, honesty that’s not a weapon and without snark to give it teeth.

“She was the best. I miss her. For once, I can’t claim being a know-it-all for pegging this for what it is. Happy coincidence. Con-L had mentioned I should look for it in Grandma’s things.”

His question of permission is answered in gesture, rather than word, as I slide fingers under my mane of blonde hair and lift it up and off of my neck, out of the way of the choker being fastened around my throat.

“He also said the same thing. That it’s not what we think, and that it does a lot of good with the right hand, while the left hand does other shady shit behind its back. The shady shit that he doesn’t agree with,” Probably an important distinction there, “is why he told me that they’d taken Ollie in the first place. I was untouchable, so they touched someone else.”

My fingers drum on the counter on either side of my thighs as I purse my lips in thought. Not because I’m mulling over what Dick’s said to me, which I honestly can’t argue with. Shock of the century, seemingly. But because I’m calling up that rooftop conversation with Conner Luthor, so that I can repeat exactly what he said. Not where my mind’s run with it from there, but the precise words. And the recriminating wince, before I can bother to mask it, is probably at least a little telling that I’m realizing I missed my chance, and window, and that I probably just wasted a whole lot of our time. But maybe a portion of that is hindsight.

“Kept. But he also said that until they could make their press splash, to rival the Wonder Couple’s, he was being replaced by an Agent Dibney.”

Until. Which hadn’t been the important word, and that they’d tamper with Ollie and swap him back had never at the time even occurred to me. I was still looking at this like we were still going up against a copycat, at least until I’d gotten here and we’d been faced with evidence that it was, in body, Oliver Queen. Stands to reason then, that it was true exactly to Conner Luthor’s word. Oliver was at the Black Site, being ‘reeducated/tampered with,’ while Dibney was in his place. And instead of outing him as the Green Arrow…

“Fucking layers. Another mouthpiece for the anti-vigilante agenda, bait for me which at least I knew was bait ahead of time,” I would have taken it regardless, “And if the ruse is exposed, they have apparently a laundry list of charges against him so long they didn’t write them all out waiting to be levied. Hopefully whatever agreement he signed when he ‘decided’ to go straight and out all our friends will eliminate that to a degree but…”

But I know better, it’ll probably be counted as invalidating whatever he’d agreed to. Unless it can be proven to be under duress. After Dick finishes going through his own list of what this Agent Zero can do, or not do, I let out a low whistle between front teeth. No wonder Slade was outsies when he saw her, or rather recommended I get that way myself. Like I’d listen. Which he clearly knew. There’s another chuff of laughter at Dick, and a roll of my eyes.

“Hard to really maintain any kind of mystique when you have a Batcomputer, pal. Or a chatty Butler. Or just because I don’t really do subtle…”

Dick : “Actually, fun fact, I didn’t meet Ted Grant until after I’d met you. Bruce took me with, when he went to talk to Grant about you being special. To get Ted to agree you needed people your own age in your life and more particular training than a fist to the face every day.”

Putting the piece of jewelry on is simple. I’m a deft touch and she does the actual hard work for me. Once her hair is out of the way I’m able to slip it around her throat, cinch it in to place with it’s clasps. Then wait, for a couple heartbeats, while the little device activates. True to my word, it isn’t ultra high tech like Timothy would do. It is very much old generation technology. There’s just a little more to it than I’d said. She’ll feel a sort of sonic hum pass through her entire body as it attenuates to her. Like a tuning fork, it does exactly what the name implies stabilizing the out of sync harmonics that her power creates in every cell of her body. Think it as the physical body’s version of clarity to thought.

Except. I may have asked Alfred to put one little extra bit of old school technology in there with it. We’ll worry about that a little later, for now she’s presented me with something different to focus on for a second. “Conn Elle? Connel. Cawn-El. Hrm. Con-L. I’m going to ask two questions and I don’t want you to take them as hostile. I know you are partial to this Superboy and I know Timothy isn’t, exactly. So first question, do you think he’s earned this. The name. Names, plural.”

“Second question. You clearly trust him, so… why don’t you trust me?”

Right up until then I’d left my hands right where they were. Lightly touching her neck, locking the mechanism in to place. Now though I’m drawing them back and taking a much longer look at her. That last question is something of a personal one, in the midst of a very business-like discussion, but I’ve been curious for a long time about it. She fights me on anything, everything. I thought it revolved around the two of us being the same age, rivaling one another in the eyes of our peers. But. The way she’s fought me about the entire situation with Tim has been different. Personal. Then she didn’t want my help. Not just a refusal, but almost a violent denial.

Before she answers though, I kick in with a little more information. “Agent Dibney. Ralph Dibney. He’s a meta-human, shape-shifter of course. He was a first rate detective, until some funny business got him kicked off the force. He looked dirty, couldn’t get a job with a badge anywhere but Nowhere. I will tell you however, Dibney isn’t a blind true believer type. He doesn’t buy in to causes. Just paychecks and women. You might have a lead, Dinah.”

“As for the ‘ruse,’ and ‘exposing it,’ I’m going to point to something out. Again. You’re really not going to like it. But. I think you need to hear it. Because one of the most insidious things about any form of mind control? Is breaking it, is never simple. There’s a real chance here, that the Oliver you met tonight -is- your Oliver now.” Clearing my throat, I use one hand to lightly nudge her chin so that she’s looking at me directly. “If they’ve re-wired him? The only way to undo it, is going to be re-doing it. It’s difficult, because the person who has been tampered with is going to be the one who fights you the hardest.”

“Can we talk about Tetch for a moment?”

Dinah: “More practical training, for sure. I feel the need to point out some humorous irony in going to the Bat Cave for socialization.”

But at that point, I only didn’t live in a gym or dojo, or the basement of what is now my home in Gotham with its heavily soundproofed walls, because it was technically required by law that I go to school and my grandparents demanded very little of me. That being one of those things. Ironic or not, there was a lot of things I needed in that cave that I didn’t recognize at the time. I suppose that’s the crucible that it was for all of us. Well. Except for maybe Tim. He came at this whole thing from a different angle than Dick or Bruce or I had. As the heirloom fastens around my neck, I’m a little surprised by the thrum that I can feel all the way down to my bones. My power isn’t something I’m constantly aware of any longer, but the meta gene manifested itself when I was five so I’ve had a while to get used to it, and then tune it out. This is like an instrument that had been just slightly off coming into tune. A feedback loop being fixed. i’m actually a little glad he’s got questions so I don’t end up distractedly dwelling on this.

Or trying to fly out the window.

“Funny, huh? I like his bestie better than he does. The Luthor kid was a job for him, though, and I think he might have gotten maybe just a little bit…”

Prejudiced, on account of the apparent Goddess that he’s been carrying a torch for. I wind up trailing off before I can begin to air any of that laundry. Either his brother already knows, though I happen to think he’s a little clueless when it comes to that, or Tim wouldn’t appreciate me gossiping about something that he’s trusted me with. As for the question itself, however, it’s both simple and complicated all at once, and much like the moment I spent recollecting my conversation with Conner about Oliver’s capture, I actually pause to order my words. Which is probably telling that I find this important to convey exactly as I mean to, and to not just bull and brash my way through it like I do most things.

“Bluntly? No, but it’s not a matter of earned. Not yet. He reminds me a lot of someone else I’m rather intimately familiar with, though. Slapping on a name and a costume that doesn’t actually belong to them, because they’ve got something to do or prove. He’s what they made him, and that can go one of two ways. Do I think that he can step up, and along the way that one important thing to him might turn into two, and then more? Yeah, I do. Even Supermen follow the path of least resistance though, and he’s already aware that no one trusts him, and if no one does what’s in it for him to want to even try to earn that?”

You want more irony? That I’m treating the acutally bullet proof, actually faster than that speeding slug, eye-lasering teenager with proverbial kid gloves, but he is still that. A kid, with a whole lot of potential for both destruction and greatness that needs a reason. Other than his girlfriend, because while that may work for now I have a hard time believing that will work forever. Dinah Lance. Cynical Romantic. Now. It’s the second question that actually surprises me. Surprises me enough to make my eyes widen in confusion, and my head pull back a fraction. Not enough to seem like I’m trying to back away, but it’s a physical manifestation of the ‘waitwhat?’ that sounds in my head. I’m actually completely thrown off, and so I right myself in the best way I know how. Some immediate sarcasm after he’s carried on without really giving me a chance to answer.

“Well, you did taze me. So you’re saying there might be something I can flirt my way towards a resolution with? Hallelujah.”

There’s a heavy sigh as he tries to gently, at least more gently than I’d probably do in his place, remind me that this new Oliver is My Oliver, and that this is the new normal for him going forward and that I should act and plan accordingly. Because I don’t like it, but logically I get it. It’s also, in part because he’s managed to take the natural flow of the conversation and loop it back around to something we’d agreed to table until later. Or at least that I’d decided and said we’d deal with later, because he’s fixated on it like it’s going to stop me from doing my ‘job.’

“If we must.”

My hand moves from the counter, a single motion to snatch at his hand but while the movement is quick it’s not violent and I take it, rather than slap it away from my face.

“I do trust you, Dick. Why would you think that I didn’t?”

Dick : “It wasn’t always like that. When I first got there, it was.. just a cave. Not even a bat cave. The first couple weeks Bruce tried, really tried, to beat the witty sarcasm out of me. Every night, once I was deemed not yet ready, he’d leave and Alfie would pick me up. Put me back together. We’d start all over the next day. It didn’t become the Cave you needed until Bruce remembered how to live again. Once he realized that he needed people like us, if he was going to survive … you know the rest.”

Part of me believes that Dinah is going to see this as a setup. That she’s going to think I’ve orchestrated this conversation in to being about her or about me. Truthfully, I’d wanted to discuss the topic we’re getting too, but it’s happened far more organically once we stopped fighting every other breathe. We, or at least I, needed it to be more fluid than forced because I knew we’d never make it to the point I have been desperately chasing if we got in to another fight.

For all of that as a reason, I don’t want to do a disservice to the discussion of Conner Luthor. Because the rest of our talk stems from the organic honest of that topic. “You’re more right than you know, D. He is what they made. He’s a weapon. A highly trained, extremely effective, physically teenage, mentally pre-teenage, weapon that popped out before his egg timer went off. That’s what Bruce sent Tim in undercover to ascertain too. How much of their training go imprinted before it all went sideways.”

“Tim’s reports are … detailedGrizzly. But. A trained eye can see how this Superboy changed, as his life was influenced by the things he wanted, that he couldn’t just take. He can be better. They didn’t strip him of that choice. Tim’s assertion is simply that he doesn’t believe the Superboy can make the Superman choices without that influence.” And there’s something else, but there is always something else. “Tim’s insights are colored by the things he witnessed Con-L do, before he started to mature. They’re colored again by Tim’s insecurity. An insecurity that is.. deepening. I’m troubled by what -I- see as those two boys going in opposite directions because of this Wonder Woman’s influence on them. Intentional, for Con-L. Unintentional for Timothy.”

“We saved him, you know?. Every day. Bruce, I mean. Sometimes twice as much as he saved us.” Head tilting off to the side, because I’m making a very studious attempt at really looking Dinah in the eyes. “He needed us. So there’s no loss to our ego admitting that we sometimes need each other. I needed that kick in the ass you gave me. Damien needs one right now. I’m starting to think maybe Tim does too.”

I know I’m pulling her rather suddenly away from the discussion about Tim and Conner. But I’m only doing so topically, to get her to see something. Or to lead her towards what I hope she sees, the same way I do. “I don’t think you trust me, because …. you’re the smartest, most bad ass woman in the room. Any room. In the entire time we’ve known each other, I’ve never intruded on your life like I’ve been doing lately.”

“If you trusted me. You’d know that, no matter what your brain is telling you, there is no way I’d risk making you hate me. Unless I actually knew the alternative, not helping, not intruding, was worse.” She took my hand, so I give it this soft squeeze that leaves it open for her to pull away. I almost know that it is the next most likely outcome. Especially once I finish that thought. “Tetch had you alone for a few seconds. Just long enough to start doing what he always does. Making a change. In this case, he was just making sure you’d do the thing that would most please him. Such as, for example, letting him go.”

“Tim rushed in. Tetch screamed his name, just before he got his jaw broke. I know you’ve been effected. I believe in you, D. I know you can accomplish anything you set your heart and mind too. I just want you to trust me, that I’m afraid that you’re choices are ever so slightly colored by this. That you’ll make a choice, however small, based on something that shouldn’t be there. And the consequences will be too high to be paid.”

“That’s why I put the Harmonizer in to the Collar, that Tetch used to control his sister. Alice. Back when we first met him. When he hadn’t quite perfected the whole mind whammy hat thing.” When I give her hand a second squeeze, it’s because I’m offering a hint of reassurance. And…the most charming smile I’ve ever offered. “And. I hope you trust me, right now. Because I am telling you the only Robin you need to please is the one right in front of you. I know. It’s hard to trust someone that just got you to put on a collar with a mind control device in it.”

“But, if we can make it the next few minutes without you breaking my nose… just tell me you trust me. Please.”

Dinah : “Hell, you don’t even need the reports. Ask him and he’ll tell you. For all his flaws and the problems that kid might present, he’s honest. And underneath the Superman mask, and the act that is Conner Luthor, there’s a whole lot of you can lead a horse to water, but that horse doesn’t actually know if he wants water or not, and God help you if you try to make him drink it. For now, he likes it because she likes it, but we can’t count on that motivator long term. Or. I guess we can, because I’m told she’s immortal? Christ. Someone save us all from perpetual, god-moding teenagers…”

I may be grousing, but he already knows that I like our current Superman. I just don’t trust that Wonder Woman will always be in a position to solely be the one keeping him in line, and if we didn’t have to depend on the status of a hormonal teenage relationship to keep the world from burning I’d be so much happier about the whole thing. So would Tim. Because then he could make the move that he wants to make, and that thought line has my head already starting to try to tally up all the ways we can give Conner Luthor other things to be attached to, and want to protect and more relationships to maintain. My nose wrinkles, not because of the turn my mind’s taken but because of what Dick’s said about Tim. So he knows. Not shocking, he’s a smart guy and as much of an incredible genius as Timothy Drake-Wayne is, he’s far less subtle about some things than I think he thinks he is.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have chewed your ass into taking the cowl from him, I wasn’t trying to damage his ego, in fact I was trying to do the opposite. I just couldn’t sit there in the Nest and watch him get himself killed, along with his not even half-trained liability.”

So why hadn’t I just gone out with him? Because if I’d done that, I would have almost surely been myself, done all of it myself, and conveyed the same message in a different way. Except Tim made it pretty clear he didn’t really want the suit in the first place, he was filling some too big shoes, and consequently tripping on them, because he felt that someone had to and he could do it until someone else would. No. I think I made the best choice for the situation, and insecurity is something that can be worked on. Dead isn’t.

“Sounds like they’re both due a lightbulb moment. Maybe we should lock all of them in a closet together. Let them sort out their… I can’t finish that. It’s a terrible idea even for a joke.”

Tim and I had a talk with Damien, but since it didn’t involve literally kicking his ass, I don’t know that it took. I guess we’ll have to see how he comes out of his indentured servitude to NOWHERE, or if he’s another name on the list of folks that need rescued from this ‘isn’t as bad as we think’ group. When he shifts topics, as we’ve been going back and forth doing, I can only hope the deadpan look on my face conveys a whole lot of what I’m thinking, without my interrupting to say ‘listen, dumbass…’ If I didn’t trust him, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I would have fought a lot harder against him coming along, or taken a different route that probably would have involved more than a little lying and possibly violence. Or that maybe just maybe I’ve been fighting with him because he’s never intruded in my life before so what gives him the right to start right now, and not trust me to handle my own shit.

And then deadpan, you’re an idiot expression goes blank. Just not the sort of blank that might indicated confusion, or incomprehension. No. I understood him perfectly well, so this is more the calm at the center of a storm of I’m about to murder your ass. He’s got my hand, and I don’t precisely try to take it away, so much as solidify my own return hold on it so that he can’t get away from me. There’s a really solid temptation to really incapacitate him with a well placed kick, but he better be able to explain himself. There’s an explosion of action in my free hand shoving off the counter, as my heels use the front of the cabinet to propel me forward, and knees up with every intention of riding his shoulders to the floor.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?”

My free hand’s catching at the choker, trying to rip it off of my throat. The rage that’s roared into life in my chest is making it very, very hard to not just commence with trying to beat the crap out of him and vent all the anger of the day. Trying, because he could actually give me a run for my money, though unless he’s got his clubs on him I’ll have an edge. Until you take into account the suit of actual armor he’s wearing, so that leaves me with just head shots. Someone, somewhere, might feel bad about the damage to his handsome face but… if he’d actually just mind controlled me into pleasing him instead I probably shouldn’t be able to be so creatively, and explicitly planning out how I’m about to dismember him.

That’s really the only thing that stops me from actually starting to make my solid go at it.

Dick : “I’ve had one opportunity to meet your Superboy, and I kicked him out of Gotham as soon as the meeting came to an end,” before she can quibble about that particular Batman tradition, I move on to… “At the time our truce, so to speak, had not be entirely thrown out the window by Damien’s actions.”

As for Tim, I don’t really even know where to begin. A lot of what is going on with Timothy is Dinah’s fault, except it isn’t her fault at all. She can’t be held responsible for what she’s done the last few months. Which I know won’t mean a thing to her once she’s as free as I can manage to get her from the spell she’s under. So let’s start with the part she really played no part in. “No. If there’s guilt for you, as far as Timothy is concerned, that’s not where it lays.”

“When I spoke with Tim, about the Cowl, he didn’t want it. Because he already didn’t believe he was good enough. The problem, the real problem with Timothy, is that for all those brains? He cannot see his own value, because all he’s ever known as ‘second place.’ He thinks that he’s the second best Robin, behind me. The second best detective, behind Bruce. He couldn’t stop the attack on our systems, because he’s not quite as good as Babs. The first girl he ever fell for? He couldn’t win her, even though his competition was almost literally abusing her. When he accepted that he needed to be second fiddle, he couldn’t even manage to do that… he failed you at the Iceberg Lounge, got benched and you immediately went off with Slade. That part, you can own, for the record.”

“Baby brother needs a win, but it can’t come from me. The Detective in him will never accept it from me. He’ll poke holes in anything I even try to do or say.” As for the other, I’m not certain if I’m the right person to help with Superboy either, but I do know from experience that he respects Batman. Even if that respect didn’t pay off long term, obviously.

Oh. Wow. This hotel has the nicest floors. Cushy. I’m impressed, maybe I should forget buying that restaurant and look at buying…How the hell did I get here? Ah, yes. I think Dinah Lance is angry. Very angry. Good call, Dick. I knew I better come with my hat in hand and my armor thick. Because… “…Dinah. D. Di! Dinah!

The smart thing? Put my arms up. She road my shoulders to the floor, but she doesn’t have the weight to keep me there if I want to move. Block any shots to the head, that’s what I should be doing. Nothing in Bruce’s training said to lay there prone. To be the punching bag for Dinah’s fury. Someone has to be and I can take it. So, I do. As much as she needs to unleash, I’m just hoping she hears my only defense.

“…it’s a false command, D… there is no Robin…!”

For the first time in a very long time, she should be more or less free of Tetch’s original command. With mine making no actual impression, because no one fills that role currently. I didn’t erase what Tetch did, because doing so would require erasing literal months of her memory. We’d need a spell or a telepathic far more surgical than that choker would ever allow for. Plus, Dinah would have to be willing. Which will never happen. All I’ve done, in a way, is the same thing Bruce did with Tetch’s real sister Alice. He gave an empty command, that released her from following the previous one.

The one thing that doesn’t work for me here, is that the choker won’t simply pull off. The stabilizer part of it, makes it something of a magnet in so much that her own power keeps it locked in place. The only way it’s coming off, would be for someone to turn it off. And she’s currently deciding whether to throttle the person who could do that.

Dinah: The part that he says I can own, is actually one of the few parts I won’t. He seemed to enjoy the benching, after all, and then ignored that I’d done it in the first place. It didn’t seem to be until after the fact that he really had gotten butt hurt about it, at which part I should have just done it more forcefully or explained it to him in no uncertain terms. Why hadn’t I, when I was doing it for just the same reason I’d gone to Dick about the cowl in the first place? He hadn’t let me down at the Iceberg, he’d had a cover to protect and by proxy all the people attached to that cover, and leaving him in charge of training while I left had been meant to show that I trusted him and believed that he could handle it. So why did I ignore him moping about up until… fuck.

It’s not Dick’s repeated use of my name, and variations thereof, that’s stopped me from exercising a one-two right across that smug face of his. Even if it’s not looking actually smug right now it does on occasion, and furious as I am that’s affront enough. On top of everything else. It’s definitely not any sense of modesty or restraint that’s come from realizing that particular attack in a short dress, and with where I’m perched, might be a little compromising. To someone else. It’s the fact that my fingers are still trying to get purchase on the new jewelry that’s defying the force being applied to it, and instead of coming free just digs into the opposite side of my neck instead.

“I’m aware.”

Growled through clenched teeth at him. The fact that he’s apparently going to just lay there and take it takes a lot of the satisfaction for me out of it. God, no I still really do want to break his nose, so instead I rock back onto the balls of my feet and start to rise. If I weren’t the one he’d pulled this on, I might actually be impressed by the forethought. Fucking armor. What’s making me even more irate is that he’s practically led me by the nose into a trap twice now. And I let him. Only this time it happens to sting just a bit worse.

Okay, no. I can’t completely help it after all. I’m part way up when I drop my weight in order to drive a knee into ribs, even though I know it’s not going to do much if anything other than some fake satisfaction for me. I punched a Batsuit once upon a time, and they’ve only gotten more advanced since then. I don’t linger there, or throw any more physical jabs, I twist to the side and get my feet back under me again.

“Get this off, and then get the hell out. I have to figure out what the fuck I’m going to do about Tim now, on top of everything else.”

Dick : “…hey, don’t just… unngh.. really?”

Okay. Who would have thought the entire bear defense that my actual father taught me at the age of five would work? ‘Just go down. Play dead.’ He’d told me after one of the circus bears escaped during a particularly terrible trip to Arkansas. I’d thought every element of this conversation through a hundred times. I knew that I could get her talking. I knew she innately trusted me. And. I’d known all too well that she’d end up wearing that choker. What I didn’t know, is what would happen after that. So, my only plan had been… Play dead, Dick..

Little did I know, she’d shank me in the ribs as an after-thought? If that’s the worst of it, then it was worth just about any cost. Worth dusting myself off as I pick my ass up off the ground and get myself in right proper shape for what comes next. She didn’t punch me before, but maybe she’s about too.

“I can’t. Seriously. I literally can’t take it off. At least, not as easily as could be accomplished in the time your tone of voice suggests that I have left in this mortal coil.” She needed the freedom to work out her anger and betrayal a second ago, this time she’ll find me less willing to just take a punch after what I’ve just said. “Stabilizer is primed to your harmonics. The only way it comes off now, is if you can keep yourself stable enough to take it off.”

“Hey. You said you trusted me. I really hope you meant that, because you know how Hatter’s programming works. You couldn’t knowingly let me break his mind control. If you meant that bit about trusting me? Then … aw, t’hell with it… I understand why you’re angry. But, I came here knowing your pride wouldn’t let you accept that anyone ever had to save you from anything.”

“We need you, Dinah. The real you. I’m done apologizing for that.” She is at least getting part of her wish though. The gloves are on and I’m reaching back to lace the cowl back over my head. “If you can’t handle the fact that I was willing to do anything to make sure your every choice was your’s and no one else’s? Then you asked the wrong person to put this cowl on.”

“Because if you knew me, even a tenth as well as you’ve said before? Then you know there’s just not a chance in hell, that I’d let Tetch diminish the only woman I respected as much as I respected Bruce.”

Dinah: “…hey, don’t just… unngh.. really?”

Okay. Who would have thought the entire bear defense that my actual father taught me at the age of five would work? ‘Just go down. Play dead.’ He’d told me after one of the circus bears escaped during a particularly terrible trip to Arkansas. I’d thought every element of this conversation through a hundred times. I knew that I could get her talking. I knew she innately trusted me. And. I’d known all too well that she’d end up wearing that choker. What I didn’t know, is what would happen after that. So, my only plan had been… Play dead, Dick..

Little did I know, she’d shank me in the ribs as an after-thought? If that’s the worst of it, then it was worth just about any cost. Worth dusting myself off as I pick my ass up off the ground and get myself in right proper shape for what comes next. She didn’t punch me before, but maybe she’s about too.

“I can’t. Seriously. I literally can’t take it off. At least, not as easily as could be accomplished in the time your tone of voice suggests that I have left in this mortal coil.” She needed the freedom to work out her anger and betrayal a second ago, this time she’ll find me less willing to just take a punch after what I’ve just said. “Stabilizer is primed to your harmonics. The only way it comes off now, is if you can keep yourself stable enough to take it off.”

“Hey. You said you trusted me. I really hope you meant that, because you know how Hatter’s programming works. You couldn’t knowingly let me break his mind control. If you meant that bit about trusting me? Then … aw, t’hell with it… I understand why you’re angry. But, I came here knowing your pride wouldn’t let you accept that anyone ever had to save you from anything.”

“We need you, Dinah. The real you. I’m done apologizing for that.” She is at least getting part of her wish though. The gloves are on and I’m reaching back to lace the cowl back over my head. “If you can’t handle the fact that I was willing to do anything to make sure your every choice was your’s and no one else’s? Then you asked the wrong person to put this cowl on.”

“Because if you knew me, even a tenth as well as you’ve said before? Then you know there’s just not a chance in hell, that I’d let Tetch diminish the only woman I respected as much as I respected Bruce.”

Dinah: I should really knee him in the face while he’s getting up. And then sucker punch him on the next time, though there wouldn’t be a next time. Clearly he was willing to take the uncontrolled rage beating, but probably not so much petty, calculated pot shots. I’m so tempted, in fact, that I stalk away from him a few paces once he’s said he can’t take it off, because the urge to do it anyway has just become almost insurmountable. And I’m only getting more angry at the fact that I’m so angry at him I very nearly can’t control myself. Controlling myself was a victory I’d earned and fought for a long time ago. The fact that I can yell at him without yelling at him is a testament. Though it’s also very tempting.

“Yeah. I did. Fool me twice, Dick…”

I’m settling for waspish snapping at him, because inside I’m screaming all the harder over the fact that I’m wearing a mind-control collar, in the middle of Star City, that he can’t take off again, and who knows where Slade is right now, or if he’s been listening. If there’s one thing I hate more than getting trapped, or trumped, it’s feeling vulnerable. And I’m kicking out the person who I could normally count on to watch my back.

“And you thought that doing it here. Mid mission. With Deathstroke. When probably the most questionable thing I’d do would be to continue to act in your brother’s best interests…”

Ah, fuck. Tim. What the fuck am I going to do about Tim… seriously, I forcibly steer my thoughts away from Red Robin and our interactions because it would probably both serve to make me less able to calm down, and liable to be a little ill. I can’t spend tonight examining every interaction that we’ve had, but what else am I going to do? Hit up my crime alley of choice, in a mind control collar, in a NOWHERE infested city that already knows I’m here?

Logically. Deep down in my angry beehive of a brain, I know that Dick couldn’t wait, even if the actual timing and method that he chose was unmitigated shit. Logically, if I knew that he really knew what Tetch had done to me and let me stay that way, it would probably be worse. Logic just has absolutely nothing to do with anything right at this particular moment, and I really should have punched him. Now he’s got the rest of the suit on, though, and I have missed the opportunity to do it without a whole lot of extra effort. Which leaves me stalking towards the back of the apartment, to go and find something that I can punch.

And I’m telling Barb. How’s that for petty pot shots…

Dick: “Okay. I don’t want to argue, yet. We can do that once you actually listen to me for a second.”

This? I’ve said this to Dinah as the motherfucking Batman steps in front of her and her exit. I’m okay with being the punching bag. I came here knowing that I’d be the bad guy at the end of this. I haven’t sought out a thank you or any sort of gratification from this. I could have, but that’s not remotely who I am. Even at my lowest. But, I’m not having this right here. Where she questions my tactics after she forced me to take this route.


“I’ve had quite enough of that particular line of garbage, Dinah. You know damned well that I wouldn’t have come here mid-mission and locked that choker on you, if there was even a chance someone else could utilize it. If someone got close enough to you, to figure out what it is? They’d also need to stay close enough to you to use it. Which, by the way, only works with old school tech. It needs my exact bio-metrics to function. Which also requires someone to figure out who it’s keyed too. Track me down. Get me out of the suit. Then let’s say another shapeshifter fakes my biometrics, my voice and uses it? In order to override those past commands, we only programmed a single phrase in to the Ones and Zeros.”

“That’s a string of events that could happen, but they’re pretty damned far fetched.” A jabbing hand cuts through the air between she and I, symbolically ending that line of discussion. At least on my end. “You’re also being dismissive of the fact that pleasing Red Robin has a statistically better chance of going terrible, than the odds of that choker being used against you before you learn to get it off.”

“What if. In his depressed state. He gave you the idea that pleasing him would equate to you walking off the short end of a pier? Or going on some suicidal mission with Deathstroke, because he’s got his pre-teen pubes in a twist over not being good enough for you?”

“If you want to vent your anger at me? Fine, get it out. Walk away. But, you’re not going to walk away from me without hearing from me that I meticulously planned this. Because despite being the *&^%$ Batman, I’m not Bruce under this cowl. I can’t do it alone, like he could, Dinah. I need help. I need a team, a family. And everyone leaves. Barb left. Bruce left. Helena left. Tim is leaving, right now. Has Damien even ever been there. Rhetorical.”

“My point is, that I need you. The real you. I need you know your choices aren’t influenced by anything, but you.” Both of my hands are visible, up, but ready to defend this time if I need too. “Now that you’re free of Tetch and you know that I made pretty fucking sure this wouldn’t backfire… you want me to go? Fine.”


“What are you willing to do to make sure Oliver is Oliver? You think he wants your help? You think you can go to his place, right now, tell him that he’s been subtly changed and he’ll pop a bottle open with you to brainstorm his freedom? You don’t even know what they’ve changed, to keep Ollie so close to the man you know, but to get him to walk a different path. You just know it can’t be tolerated… Pot. Kettle.”

“Like I said. Tell me to go, now, and I’m gone. I just want you to say it, knowing I came here for the same reason you did. It’s just a different blonde we used to be hung up on that we each came to save.”

Dinah: Oh, he doesn’t want to argue, despite I’m fairly sure pointing out that it’s all we do. It’s definitely what I do, because it acts as self-defense, as deflection if I want out of a particular situation, as a means to antagonize someone. Playfully or not. Particularly of late it’s been one or the other of us picking those fights, well meaning or not. And no matter how much I should probably at least acquiesce to his planning going steps further past baiting me into the collar, into making sure that it wouldn’t get me into even more trouble, I’m not going to. Not out loud.

Maybe he does have something in common with our new Superman after all: being punished for doing what he thinks is the right thing.

Throwing my hands up in the air, not at his face, I spin on my bare heel and stalk a pace back in the other direction to both create space once more and as a means to channel the bottled up energy at least in some small amount of kinetic movement. Even if the best I get is a short back and forth pace on the rug. Since he’s taken the legs out from beneath my last accusation, I do what any smart tactician does. Abandon that, and pick up somewhere else.

“You didn’t exactly leave me with a lot of other options here, and you damn well knew I’d be fucking mad at you for it. I’m mad that you made a point of showing me not to trust people that I should trust, and then I did it again anyway. I’m mad this went on as long as it did, and that it might destroy someone important to me even when it’s ‘fixed.’ I’m mad because I feel backed into a corner. And it’s not the same. I wasn’t acting against everything I used to stand for because…”

He’s going to have a rebuttal for that, so I lift an index finger between us. It’s just to stop me, more than him, as I take a deep breath and readjust. Because you just spent the last few months crossing a line you were never going to cross with a kid that you’re now going to have to figure out how to handle, without permanently damaging your relationship, or his ego.

“If I thought this was going to be anything other than something other than Ollie masquerading as Ollie, I would have come at this from a different angle, and if I thought it was a matter now of just changing his mind, then I wouldn’t have turned down the nightcap.”

No, you turned that down because apparently screwing other people became a line you weren’t going to cross. Fuck. It had made so much sense to not be, well, me in that particular moment and now I’m finding myself unable to trust my decisions that I’d been so sure of.

“And if I find proof that this really was just him somehow then I’ll punch him in his goateed face, and protect the family that he turned on, but I am fully capable of being fucking mad, and still not leaving.”

Because I’m mad because he matters to me. Both hes, I suppose, and I didn’t miss that he said he needs me. I guess if anything that was some good word choice to at least stop me from building up more steam. I’m still damn well going to keep arguing though.


“Here I am doing exactly what I just said that I didn’t want to do. Arguing. But, I’m going to point out that you are mad because you’ve been backed in to a corner. Which I did and I’d apologize, if it weren’t for the fact you wouldn’t <I>allow</I> anything else.” Which I’m pretty sure she should hear it in my voice for once, that I am genuinely frustrated by the fact that she wouldn’t listen to me any other way I tried. “Do you realize how many times I tried other routes on this? Dinah, I mean it. It was this way or Alfred’s way and Alfie suggested tranquilizers in your Bourbon.”

The real Batman would never be standing here having this discussion. Bruce didn’t justify his actions. People either understood his intentions or didn’t. And those who didn’t either swallowed their pride or got out of his way. To my credit, I’m as true to my word as possible. I need people, so I can’t be like Bruce. I have to get people to understand and keep working with me. Except that I have a limit to the crow I’m going to eat when it comes to something like this. I own my choice, but I won’t own the fact that she backed -me- in to the corner and left me no real alternatives.

I won’t say it that way, but I’m not exactly sure what Dinah expected. So I’m going to move on and she opened the door quite nicely. “Actually, with regards to Timothy, I believe the damage is not in the fix. Tim’s problem is a compounding one. It began with Cassandra Sandsmark, but it has steadily gotten worse because of a perception that none of us have corrected. He seems himself as something of a failure. Or perhaps, he sees the approach he’s been taking as a failure.”

“This is where I’m a bit out of sorts with all of this, Dinah. From what I can tell Tim is thinks himself unworthy. He failed as Batman, because he tried to be Bruce. He failed Cassandra, because he actively chose to leave her with Conner (whom he sees as vile). He failed to solve Bruce’s murder. He’s failed to protect the Family from these outside attacks. He manipulated Damien, instead of helping him, which turned in to Damien killing Firefly and a host of others.”

“You also left him with a protege. Whom he seems hell-bent on not failing like, he perceives, he has done for everyone else in his life.”

“Before our last conversation in Gotham, I took some time at his ‘Nest.’ He’s doing some advanced things there, definitely above my paygrade, so I had to get Lucious Fox involved. As nearly as we can tell, he’s decided to <I>improve himself</I>. Which seems connected to ‘failing’ you at the Iceberg Lounge. Experimental nano-mesh technology to repair his shoulder. Complete costume redesign. New bike.”

My shoulders move in only the most slim approximation of a shrug, before I am speaking again on the topic of Oliver Queen. “Not to say I told you so, because frankly we’re well beyond that, but… Tetch’s programming affects people’s natural tendencies. I’m not sure you could actually <I>think</I> strongly about the topic of mind control, hypnosis…etc, without your mind comparing your circumstances to Oliver’s. Especially once you had someone like me putting it in front of you. That would have lead to self-examination, which your programming would automatically rebel against.”

“Meaning: Tetch’s programming was impacting you in ways you couldn’t perceive. Like dropping a small pebble in a pond, the ripples go everywhere Dinah.”

“Regardless. We’re here now. I hope you consider, for once, forgiving me. Because I really do need you and I need you to trust, if not me directly, then trust the fact that I’d only break your trust if it was something like this.” Crossing my arms, I haven’t moved so it leaves me framed as the Batman in the doorway. Scowling, which is far less pretty than my smirk. “Also. I’m moderately hurt, Dinah, that you spent a couple moments thinking I’d mind control to please me. Anything less than the full Monty ‘Dinah Lance’ doesn’t merit a notice from this Robin.”

“Actually. That’s what tipped me off to all of this. You weren’t you and I actually like you. I might be the <I>only</I> person that does.”

Dinah: “Gee. It’s almost like Alfred knows me…”

Sure, I’d still be mad then, but only after waking up and I’d get over it. Easy to think when it’s the circumstance that I’m not actually in the middle of, even though I know two things perfectly clearly: Dick Grayson’s not going to be okay with roofying a girl he actually remotely cares about, and/or will have to see again with any regularity. He’s not Bruce. And hypothetical betrayal is mostly likely going to seem not as bad as the one you actually just lived and had to actually feel the emotions, and reactions, of. I keep alternating between defensive arm crossing, and animated gestures of annoyance.

“You kept accusing me of being in love with your brother! Which I’m not! Wasn’t.” Blonde head cocks to the side for a moment in obvious mental examination of that particular mental assertion, lips tightening like I’m ready to find something unpleasant. “Nope. Wasn’t. Definitely wasn’t.”

I guess we’re all very lucky that the programming doesn’t make you act in a manner completely counter to your normal proclivities or Christ this would be even worse.

“And if I’m not allowed to be pissed at you for something you couldn’t help, you don’t get to point fingers and use your butthurt face. Yes. I know it’s under there. For things I did when I wasn’t me. Fully me. Normal me.”

As he goes on to detail Tim’s supposed failings, I rub my palms against my forehead in my own frustration, but it’s taken some of the heat out of the rest of it. We’re not talking about me now. Of all the ‘flaws’ he lists, almost all are things that all of us have been failing at of late, maybe with a few additions of failing Tim for putting him in situations that he’s much too young to have to deal with, or not thinking through how he, being Tim would respond to others. It’s not like we don’t all know how he ticks.

“Nnn-nnn. She was his first, I got roped into training her. Christ, so we have to all babysit Spoiler now so nothing incidentally happens to her and he really goes off the deep end. Great. Perfect. Just how I want to spend my time.”

That’s a choice I don’t have to try and examine, though. The time I spent in the bowels of the Nest training these kids instead of doing something productive like chasing trails on Bruce’s murder, or dealing with Ollie’s disappearance before it reached the point it’s at now. Maybe the timing would have been different, and I suppose I can try to blame Tetch for all of this if I really want, but I still would have trained them. I was doing it with Roy, which wasn’t at Red Robin’s request.

“He seems to enjoy the costume shtick, and better faster tech is his wheelhouse. I’ve had to fight to keep him away from my ride for years. But the million dollar man routine is something that is going to need dealing with. It’s like none of you have watched a sci-fi movie ever…”

There’s so many sniping comments I could, and want to, make with what he’s just said. Road to Hell. Good intentions. All well and good to claim the greater good when you’re the one in the wrong… maybe it really is better in the short term that he did this here, because the situation itself demands some logic and self-preservation override anything else that might be going on in my head, and that is something I can focus on. If he was making up the whole thing about my grandmother to get me to let my guard down, though, I really will hunt him down in his sleep and do a whole lot worse than a knee in the armor. I don’t fawn and pat his hand, and assure him that all is forgiven, and it’ll all be okay, but the fact that I don’t keep needling him about it is a fair approximation to a white flag from me. Instead, I cluck my tongue at him.

“Superman likes me. You should probably stop baiting, unless you want me to helpfully go back to the comment about you being hung up on me.”


Those lips of mine draw in to a very thin line. Tone of voice dipping in to that grittier, ominous tone. “You do not know what is under the Cowl. You may think you know, but there is no way to confirm. Batman does not do ‘butthurt,’ it’s literally in the bi-laws. Of which you’re in violation of by just suggesting such a thing.”

This bit of back and forth is about the only confirmation she’s going to get. Because I’m not going to give her the satisfaction of taking the mask off again and letting her see it. She isn’t the only one who has a self-defense mechanism. Mine just has a utility belt these days. “Also. You were <I>Moping</I>. M-o-p-i-n-g. You were either in-love or Mind Controlled. Nothing else makes Dinah Mope. Also, pretty sure there’s a line about ‘Dinah Mope’ in the bi-laws. Scribbled in crayon. By a little mocking bird.”

Okay. Now I move. For the first time since I barred her quick exit, I circle back around to where I’m close enough to actually make contact if one of us wanted. I just don’t make that particular leap yet. Another self-defense mechanism, you might say. How the fuck did she hurt my ribs through this much space-age kelvar weave? This girl. Meh.

“Mnn. Not sure how much babysitting she’s going to need. I’ll give this guilt-driven Tim one thing. He’s hell-bent on making sure Spoiler is ready for the life. The two of them disappeared, after he nearly beat her to death during some bo-staff training.”

“Superboy likes you. Great. A-Plus endorsement. I’ll put that in your epitaph. ‘Couldn’t say thanks to the guy who literally dropped everything to help her. But Superjerk liked her.'” Pulling the large cloak down around my shoulders allows me to actually loom in the center of the room for a moment. “<I>Only you</I> and Bruce would think it a weakness to be hung on someone as impressive as you.”

A flick of the wrist. That is all it takes to send her little hotel room in to complete darkness for a moment. The gesture controlled electro-magnetic pulse from my suit bathes us in Darkness. When it blinks back on a couple moments later? Dinah’s alone with her thoughts.