Dinah: Wayne Manor has a front door. Who knew, right? Me, if we’re being technical, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve entered the place through it, and still have some fingers left for a peace sign. Definitely for flipping someone off, or a thumbs up. When Tim and I had come to talk with Damian I’d feigned confusion about the road we were taking, to go along with the discomfort at the limousine transport. I knew Batman long before I knew Bruce Wayne in any shape or form. Didn’t exactly come from the same neighborhood, or walk in the same circles unless you looked only at our alter egos. I spent a lot of time in the caves below, and that’s an entirely different route. Years spent working with Bruce, training with him and simultaneously helping train his official proteges.

Different sets of lessons though. I needed help with direction and restraint. Sixteen year old me had already been training with Ted Grant for ten years, and I was hurting, angry, and had a nasty streak. Like turning Mean Girls into an R Rated action flick. I almost surely made for a brutal sparring partner or instructor because I didn’t think I had the time or patience for it. Price of admission, though. Stephanie and Roy don’t know how great they’ve got it. This place, and the souls that inhabit it, mean something to the city at large. No, people don’t know who’s under the masks, the cowls, or in my case the stage makeup, but they stand for something. For me? It’s family. Yeah, the other things too but I systematically lost everyone I cared about only to find a crew that could understand me better than anyone since my Grandmother.

So to say I get a little… touchy about things that effect them is an understatement. The Waynes are mine. Not in an official way, like the papers that tie them all together as a family but that doesn’t actually matter to me. I defend mine. Even from one another, if I feel the need. I don’t know if that’s why Helena called me in the first place, or if she just wanted backup of her own. Either way, I’m here. Both in Gotham, and flying up the drive on my bike.

One doesn’t just simply walk into Wayne Manor. You have to get past the gatekeeper. And if you think Alfred Pennyworth isn’t a very good barrier, especially with the kinds of enemies Waynes and Bats have, then you’re an idiot.

“Alfred! Looking handsome and suave as ever.”

He’s also not spared the way I talk to everyone. Outrageous wink, saucy grin and flirtatious tone as I lean in the door frame, propped up by an elbow.

“Dick in?”

I really want to ask after The Dick, but… it’s Alfred. Also if I’m too rude there’s a chance there might not be dessert for me to pilfer and we don’t want that.

Dick: Let’s take a moment to just acknowledge who and what Alfred Pennyworth is. He isn’t merely a man servant. Nor is just the patriarchal Grandfather-Figure. In fact the latter might well be something of an insult, given that Alfred is barely old enough to be Bruce’s Father. That does not mean he did not accept the role when Bruce’s Parents died. Bruce became the man’s Ward. Angry, Embattled, Bitter and Drive. Yet, a ward of Pennyworth in every since of the word. People look, rather looked, at Batman all of those years and wondered how the hell Bruce Wayne created such a figure when the steward of the Cave was such a kindly, if handsome man like Alfred Pennyworth. Always o prim and proper in his dapper suit and tie. Ready to arm the world with one pastry at a time, along with a cup of tea.

The answer is rather simplistic: Alfred Pennyworth once put a man in intensive car with a sugar spoon. All it took was threatening the suggestion of mugging the rich kid, while Bruce was in finishing school. People who under-estimate Alfred Pennyworthy’s humble, yet refined, pinache are soon to regret it. A simple background search wouldn’t even tell you half of the man’s story, but British Special Services and nearly a decade at MI5, would leave most people asking where he found the time to know how to get those creme puffs so proper.

I do my best with the tools the creator gave me, madame.

He also manages not to rise to the bait of Dinah’s behavior.

Isn’t he always of late, Mum? Right this way. I have some apple tart waiting for you in the social. Be careful, the tea is hot, but I added a touch of spiced rum to take the edge off. Of it and you, I should say.

Never one to miss an opportunity. For the dig over Barbara and I not being out in the City like some of our other family members or the opportunity to display his near-omniscient ability to predict visitor’s arrivals and anticipate their whims. Jack-of-all-Trades. Purveyor of comfort. Alfred Pennyworth is also quick to lead Dinah to the larger of the Manor’s offices. Where he’s equally expedient in abandoning his current charge, to the cutting figure of Dinah Lance. Leaving the two of us alone, without apologies for interrupting me.

Not that I seem to be doing much. There’s a stack of books far older than the Manor itself, in multiple stacks all across the desk. Some of which have found a spot on the floor or the couch. There are obvious signs of Alfred making an effort to tidy, only for a new mess to have been recreated or in the process of such all around. Despite the mess, it’s clear that something is going on here. Though a glance at various titles seem more to suggest History lessons than detective work.

“Hey, Dinah. You should have called ahead, I would have sent the car for you. I’m told you loved the limo.” Peeking out from behind the overly large desk, with a chipper wave of the hand and quick smile. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here last time. I was meeting with Helena.”

Dinah: “I’m not entirely sure that’s true.”

Because I’m pretty sure he could do a lot more with them, but that’s part of the charm. And the ruse. In a way, Alfred Pennyworth is my exact opposite. He’s the unassuming, humble one that could rip you apart with said teaspoon. I’m the freaking Black Canary and a lot more comfortable in that role, but even outside of it will unabashedly let someone know I could and will beat them to an inch of their life. And let them know that they’ll probably enjoy it while it’s happening.

“Ah, see, you always know just what to say to a girl. Thanks, Alfred.”

Isn’t he always? Hah. Well. Thanks for the tip off and confirmation, which get a quirked eyebrow and a hint of a smirk. He’s ready with sweets and booze. There’s a dig for Dick. And a dig for me, because clearly my cheery, flirty tone hasn’t completely hidden the look in my eyes that is purposeful and indignant. Then again, maybe I laid it on a little thick with my choice of wardrobe for the day. The Black Canary, and even just ‘plain Dinah lance,’ is provocative and in your face. She knows what she’s got and she flaunts it if it suits her. I’m as comfortable in faded, if tight, jeans and a loose teeshirt though. Motorcyle boots and jacket, that I’ve unzipped to display in happy, curly font the slogan of ‘What doesn’t kill me better run.’

It’s laundry day. It was laundry day three days ago. I don’t like doing it and so I was left with this or the Canary suit. I let Alfred have my jacket, without any fuss or argument because I do have manors for the people that are worth of a display of them. Blue eyes rove the architecture that’s a lot less familiar to me than what is hidden underground, as I slink after the Wayne family Butler turned Patriarch and let him lead me to where, I’m assuming, Dick is or where he’ll summon him to.

“You aren’t using the proper tone for the level of sarcasm Tim probably used.”

We had perfectly good bikes to ride. Or a less flashy car. Mostly, it boils down to the fact that I don’t like anyone else but me behind the driver’s wheel, or handlebars. Control issues, maybe. Or paranoia. Instead of building features now I’m taking in books. Clearly he’s researching something, but the subject matter is iffy to guess from what I can see in front of me. Instead of a chair, I park my ass on the edge of the desk. Better to loom and snoop at what he’s looking over.

“And if I’d called, then you would have known I was coming.”

Maybe conveniently also not been here again. We hadn’t come to talk to him the last time, but it probably would have been a lot better to have all the boys in the room at the same time. Boys. Dick’s actually older than me, but that’s a point that doesn’t effect how I talk to him in the least.

“Oh? How did that go?”

Dick: If Alfred Pennyworth agrees with Dinah’s assessment? You’ll never know from the way he has this humble ability to blush upon command. It’s enough to leave you wondering if he was as good an actor as he was at, apparently, everything else. Normal people just aren’t as polite as he is. Nor at they as good at predicting the wants, needs or whims of everyone around them. Alfred is dialed in. Not just to the one he’s serving, but to the people in that circle. He is the man in the chair, the man at your bedside and the man who picks you up when you’ve fallen. That isn’t to say he always dusts you though. Sometimes when Alfred picks you up, it’s for the purpose of knocking you back down to insure you’ve learned from your mistakes.

His ‘retreat’ from the room is as tactical as anything I’ve ever seen. Even going as far as to pull the two double doors closed, to insure we’re not interrupted. Or at least, not until Alfred himself is ready to permit that to happen. True to his word, there are goodies awaiting for Dinah. Along with a tray of other assorted pastries and a cup of Earl Gray that is luke-warm by this point. Yet more indicators for the savy mind that would tell someone of my lack of appetite -or- the fact that these History books have been important enough to keep me from remembering -to- eat.

Dinah’s outfit is almost a stark opposite of my own. A sports jacket is over the back of the main desk’s chair. With the vest hanging open loose and the shirt sleeves rolled up? It gives me a look of being sophisticated enough to have been out at work at Wayne Industries. Yet, also shows all of the signs of my hunkering down here to ‘work’ on whatever it is I’m researching. Even a sharp detective like Dinah is going to have trouble seeing the pattern of book titles though. The only common thread here is History. All of it is physical books, that haven’t made their way in to an online format. Hands to pages. No search feature. All put together it’s easy to see why I’ve been off the radar, because there’s just no easy or fast way to get through this much material.

“It wasn’t really sarcasm, so much as a sinister mirth. Apparently Tim’s got a flare for seeing you squirm. Something tells me he’s far behind on points in that particular game though.”

Rising out of the chair I’ve been occupying, in an effort to square the two of us up. Call it an old habit. You don’t face this particular young woman in a sparring session, any other way than head on. I liken it to facing off with a Tiger. They size you up for weaknesses before they even know if you’d be good to eat. It’s second nature. Showing weakness determines a lot of things before you’ve even said a word. This is about giving Dinah a clear look. There’s no shaggy beard. I’m not an unwashed heathen. Despite the appearance of the books from a Library, the sheer amount of them and the type of it. I’m not wasting away. I’ve not been hold up in the Manor, depressed and distraught. Nor consumed by anger, guilt or fear. There are aspects of those things in my life, but I’ve not let them consume or control me.

Clearly though, I’m as driven as the next guy. Apparently I’ve just decided to brush up on the History of Gotham, by way of the entire world. Circa the Dark Ages. “Ah, but that’s a misnomer. I knew someone was coming, because Alfred started baking. The number of potential Visitors was reduced by virtue of what he was baking and what he was brewing. The hint of rum spice he added, lowered the possibilities down to you or Selina. Alfred doesn’t dress up for Selina. Plus, he isn’t walking about muttering about Trollops. So that left you, Dinah.”

“About as well as you might expect. Games. On top of Games. Answers wrapped in cryptic riddles. She said she needed to make contact with you, too.” A thin eyebrow lifts just the tiniest bit, almost perfectly timed with the marginal smirk that’s forming. “Wait. You didn’t really think I was going to start sharing now. When I know you’re here to lecture me? Gosh, Dinah. You’re out of practice. You get to lecture me -or- talk to me. Not both. I’m not Ollie.”

Dinah: “Evil mastermind, and he does try, bless his little heart.”

The shake of my head is almost mournful at the state of poor Tim Drake, who tries very hard to put me off my game sometimes, but that isn’t entirely new. Dick had moved out of Gotham City by the time that Bruce had brought me into the fold. Which meant that twelve year old Tim had sixteen year old Dinah to deal with. Yeah. The score’s not anywhere close to even. I’d have to give up and let him gain some ground and I’m just not willing to do that. If girls can be said to be cocky? That would probably have been a descriptor for me for almost all of my life. Confidence comes with superpowers, apparently. It did for me. And combat prowess. I’ve always been hard to rattle, or put off.

His rising, and taking away my height advantage is fine by me and I don’t shift to regain it. It wouldn’t work. He’s taller than me. But I’d forced him to move, dictating our posture and positioning. Running a conversation is about so much more than just the words. Or the big desk chairs. The books are strange, and definitely not an area of my forte. I know the streets, I know the turns and who’s got fingers in what pies but history and I weren’t always fast friends. It wasn’t immediately applicable to my actual hobbies. I didn’t know that it was for him either, so that means there’s a point. Ideally a point towards all of our mutual problem. I think I’d be more irate than I already am if it’s not.

“I don’t know if I should be insulted or gratified that I don’t get that particular label. Kudos for the process of elimination though, and your end, and correct, conclusion.”

I can’t lecture and talk to him? Hah. Well. He can certainly think that. The smirk, the look on his face, I don’t actually rise to the bait in it. Instead, there’s a pause and actual honest to God silence, as I pick up my tea cup for my drink, and the booze that it’s got inside of it. Mostly the booze, frankly. A slow, delicate sip thanks to the warning of the heat, followed by a gratified sigh at how good it is. Heat, and then the kick of an entirely different sort down your throat. I don’t know that it’ll be enough to take any edge off me, but it’s delicious anyway. Carefully setting the cup down, with much more care for Alfred’s china than I show for much else in my best imitation of a prim and proper lady. Hah. Right.

“Oh. I know you aren’t Oliver Queen.”

Oliver Queen wouldn’t be holed up reading books in the study while someone else was calling themselves Batman. But for all I know, Dick’s wrapped up in what he’s doing with Barbara, and neither Damian or Tim has seen fit to clue him in on that fact.

“But I did come to talk to you. Funny enough, about the process of elimination and the only option left standing. Would you care to explain to me why your brother is being forced to put on the cowl? You should probably use small words. Simple terms. I’m no Rhodes scholar, and I just don’t seem to be able to understand.”

Dick: “One of the things I learned in the first six months of knowing Tim, back before he was brought in to the family. I’m talking about when he was trying to convince Bruce to bring him in to the fold. It’s that if you play a game, any game really, with Tim for any length of time? He eventually wins. It isn’t a matter of whether he will or won’t, just when.”

There isn’t any sort of chastising there. That’s friendly advice and a gentle reminder. If asked I’d give a very similar reminder about Dinah Lance. The Black Canary doesn’t need to always out-think her opponents. More time than not, she’s just better than they are. Made worse by the simple act of under-estimating her. That well cultivated image she projects, the air about her attitude and antics lead you down a very natural path with her. Even after years of her besting people all across the world? People see those fishnets, the legs under them. The breasts that she flaunts or the blonde hair she doesn’t have to dye. It is all as well crafted as a technological monstricity like the Batmobile. Put together precisely to get the job done and it works.

It won’t work with Timothy Drake though. The kid doesn’t think like the rest of us. He makes us all look like we’re playing checkers, while he’s playing three dimensional chess. A roll of my shoulders will tell her that’s all I have to say about it though. Dinah would probably dispute it, but she’s like a little sister to me. I’m always going to think in terms of protecting her, even when she doesn’t need it. Especially when she doesn’t want it.

“If I was you, I’d take the compliment and run. Al has softened towards Selina of late, but he doesn’t make her special tea. Or steal glances when he thinks she isn’t looking.”

Different dynamic entirely. Selina is the girl who did Bruce wrong. Even if she didn’t. Doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Even Bruce. Selina didn’t get married. Have kids. Take herself and Bruce away from this life. Give Batman a reason to actually be Bruce Wayne. Even if he’s forgiven, he’ll never forget it. She’ll always be ‘What could have been,’ no matter what. Especially now that it’s off the table for ever.

That’s a cool remark about Oliver, but I let it pass without comment. The way I invoked his name was meant to push her to something. Either in to the lecture I was going to get or make her shut down so we didn’t have to have that part of the discussion. Some things are tactical, some are practical. She made me move, I made her choose. Now we’re past the opening dialogue and getting to why she’s here. Why she’s really here. The ‘trick’ is that there really wasn’t a choice to be made. Both topics tie together and leave us with the same discussion. I wanted to know her priorities. The investigation or…

“According to the security feed,” disseminating, but also informative, that neither of them spoke to me about it, I found out another way. “It was his idea. No one forced him. No one is forcing him.”

Dissemination is the wrong tactic, but the one that came immediately to mind. I have to stop that, because it is both unhealthy -and- leads toward an untruth. I’ve got both hands up, palms out and open, to beg off the salvo that would surely come as a result of how I’ve just answered. A soft puff of air that is a mixture of sighs. Resignation mostly.

“Look, I could spend the next hour. The next day. The rest of the week, probably. Out lining how I’ve spent the last ten years trying to get out from under the shadow of the Bat. How I’ve made a life out of trying to step out from under the weight of it. I could draw pictures. Make a flow chart. Somewhere around here I have a power point presentation all ready to go. I even paid Morgan Freeman to narrate it, for effect. But…

“Let’s just assume, that for a second. That none of that is applicable. Let’s just take a second, Dinah,” reaching out carefully, to just simply put a hand upon her shoulder. “To consider. Maybe. For a second. That I’m not shirking my ‘responsibility.’ That there’s a chance that Barbara and I found something. And then I saw Him on the News. In Coast City. On the News. With a marvel of a woman and a man that moved like greased lightning.

Lightly, but importantly squeezing her arm to impress upon her that what I’m saying next is actually the truth. Not just hypothetical. “Let’s consider that for the first time. In my life. I wasn’t afraid of that Cowl, because I was too busy being inspired to think maybe Bruce’s legacy can be about more than scaring the shit out of everyone.”

“You think I missed how he spoke to Damien? Have you ever seen those two talk like that? Have you ever seen Damien inspired?” My other hand gestures to the desk mounted land line Phone. “Pick it up. Call Tim. Tell him to meet me in the Cave. I’ll take the Cowl from him.”

“If you make the call.”

Dinah: Eh. I’m not going to debate whether that’s true or not about Timothy Drake-Wayne. Because trying to insist that he won’t win is putting the guy down more than I actually like to do. There’s ribbing your ‘family,’ and then there’s dragging them down. Despite what some of them may think on occasion, and maybe not without cause, I don’t like to do the latter. Tough love? Sure. The blunt, and abrupt way I like to bring a matter to the fore to get it over and settled? Absolutely. Not that I can’t be roundabout. I do that sometimes. Blunt hurts more at first, but is probably less ego damaging in the long run. If I’m making a point and not making it overtly? It’s because I’m going to try and humiliate you with self-realization as I go.

“She always assumes people are looking. And by she, I mean me.”

They usually are. It works for me. It’s part of the whole thing. Besides. You make me spiked cider like this? And you can look as much as you wantAccording to the feed… ugh. Dick corrects the route he’s chosen to take, which is intelligent of him because I was getting ready to rear back and express exactly how wrong he is. I deal in facts, you have to to be any degree of detective, but more than that I’ve always favored motivations and drive. It tells you a whole lot more than facts ever can. Because people aren’t machines. No one forced him it technically, factually true. No one came up to Tim, held a gun to his head and said he had to do it or die. There’s no lingering blackmail that says if he takes the cowl off, someone he cares about is going to get that same treatment.

Gotham needs a Batman. That’s how they were raised, and what we were all taught. And if Dick wasn’t doing it. If Damien couldn’t do it, who did that leave? Tim. The one who was never supposed to be the Bat. Put in a position where the ‘actual heirs’ (not my words), weren’t doing what they were supposed to and he had to step up. Was morally obligated to, despite how much he didn’t want to do it. It’s noble. It’s not healthy though. I’m doing my best to help him, but… honestly I don’t think it’s me that’s helping him the best with it. See? It’s not all about me and how great I am. But I do actually let Dick ward off my verbal assault with just those hands. Him seeing the error there is enough for me. For now.

“If you actually think that scaring the bejeezus out of people is all that the Bat was about, then you missed the boat Grayson.”

My tone is more than a little tart, but I don’t dig in on that note any further because of what he’s actually said. About being inspired. Because in the cave, even as mentally I was going ‘wtf are you doing, Tim?’ I saw the way the two younger brothers were interacting. It wasn’t normal, but it was good.

“No. I’m not going to make that call. It isn’t my place.”

Funny enough, I think Helena called me in to try and keep them from erupting into civil war over who would be Batman. So color me shocked when the squabbling was a lot more in the lines of who had to draw the short straw and put on the cowl. They’re their own people. With their own formed identities. I’m not sure that Bruce Wayne knew how to be anything else except Batman, so I don’t know if he’d be disappointed or relieved for his children that this is the state of things.

“He needs help. Both of them do. Everyone feels like they’ve been chasing their own tails, instead of doing anything for Gotham or themselves. So I’m glad that some good came out of his putting on the cowl. Because he needed some kind of victory. We all did.”

And I’m holed up in the mini-cave, back to teaching the younger generation, but even I haven’t been able to chase anything down. It’s possible I needed them to have that victory more than I need one for myself. Maybe I don’t have a horse in the race, but I still adore the animals. I’m still tense under Dick’s hand on my shoulder, and the booze hasn’t been in enough quantity to lose the edge, but I’ve clearly changed tacks. There’s no ‘you’re right’ or ‘okay I see your point’ but I guess it might be assumed. Since I’m not yelling at him.

Dick: “You couldn’t bully me in to anything, even if you tried,” someone else might say that brashly or with an air of arrogance to it, but I’m putting it out there as surely as I stated the ‘facts’ about Dinah. “You could, however, convince me.”

As to whether she would have kicked my ass for being a pussy? That is less up for debate. In all likelihood she could accomplish that exact thing. On paper it might look like she and I would be a good match. Anyone’s game. Life isn’t determined by a score card. Dinah is committed to her craft. She bought in to the aspect of our lives that is violence. It doesn’t even bruise my ego to accept that she would very likely win in a fair fight. But the only one that would help, would be Dinah Lance. Even then, probably not so much. She knows, even as she’s said it, that she wouldn’t change my mind with fists.

She could, however, change my mind. I’ve provided her with one avenue, I’m sure there’s at least a couple more. “I’m proud of him too, but not just for what he’s done outside of Gotham. I really did see the way he spoke to Damien, but far more importantly? I saw how Damien responded. That was the first time I’ve ever seen those two communicate like Men. The stuff on the News only added to that pride.”

“Look, this isn’t some pity party here at the Manor. I’m not shirking my responsibility either. Hell, just to cover my bases with you? I’m not just being a pussy, Dinah.” Letting out a breathe that is far more about releasing some sort of pent up worry, than it is a sigh. All the tension releases with that breath and I drop my hands from her to the books on the desk. “The truth is? When Bruce died, I wasn’t ready to step in to his boots. I don’t think any of us were. We all needed answers, but there weren’t any to find. It left us all. You included. With this gaping hole, that none of us could fill. Barb and I worked the case on the ground. Damien took his own approach. I wasn’t even aware of the Joker connection until I saw the footage. Helena brought you back. Tim took to the air as the Red Robin.”

“We both know what Batman means. Or rather what it was meant to mean. We don’t agree on what it became, maybe. But we both know that this Country we live in? Batman lived long enough to become the villain. Luthor made sure of that. He did the same with Superman. I’m positive he did the same with the Lantern too. Tim stepped in. He took on something he was never meant to have to shoulder. He found something in Damien, to inspire. He found something in you too.”

“Then he went out there. On television. He put the Batman out there. In front of the world. With other Heroes.” Very very gently, I take one of Dinah’s hands and put it down upon the picture frame that lays on Bruce’s desk. It’s an old one. Of Thomas, Martha and Bruce the night of their trip to the Movies. “He’s pulling them together. He’s finishing what Bruce started. The weight of the world wasn’t meant to be on his shoulders, but he picked it up anyway. What right do I have to step in now, if I’m not absolutely positive the weight of it is going to crush him?”

“The thing I do know for absolute sure, Dinah? Everything happens for a reason. We’ve finally got a lead. We got a lead the same day Tim took the cowl. The same day Damien decided to be better. The same week Batman went on national news. The same time those kidsgave Lex Luthor the finger.”

“Dinah. Stop saying it’s not your place. It was your place the moment Helena asked you back. The second you let Tim bunk at your place. The very instance you started teaching new heroes. When you went to Metropolis and stood in Superman’s face. Or when you started trailing Joker. Keeping tabs on Damien. I’m not too much of a pussy to point out that you ran out on Ollie. Ran back to Gotham. You’re standing here, telling me that the one place you ran away to? Isn’t your place at all.”

“It’s your place. It’s always been your place. If you don’t know that, then you’re the one who missed the boat, Detective. Maybe it’s both of us sitting there on the pier, watching the boat sail away. How about you make me understand, now? Why do you keep running away… Pussy?”

Dinah: The hand that’s not holding my cup comes out, palm down and rocking slightly back and forth. The body language equivalent of an ‘eeeeehhhhhhhh..’ and declaring that hisdeclaration was perhaps a little bit iffy. But I’m not going to quibble with him over it. It’s mostly the same thing, in my line of thinking. Bullying, or convincing. The words and motivation are the same. The tone and approach are just different. I’m definitely not above switching tacks to get what I want in the end, though.

“It was pretty Twilight Zone-esque. I wasn’t sure what was going on. And I definitely didn’t expect the end result. Not any of it.”

It’s easy to say I wouldn’t’ have gone with Tim, or rather wouldn’t have taken him with me to have the discussion if I’d known what would happen ahead of time. But my means of communicating wasn’t going to do anything except for make Damien more defensive about what he was doing. At that point anyway. I was him, once. Too angry to see any better way of doing what I thought I needed to do with my life, what my purpose had become. I wasn’t really in the mood to listen to anyone back then, either. I hadn’t needed someone to order me around though. I’d needed something to belong to.

He keeps saying I could have convinced him, but I don’t want to. It’s not the goal. I wanted to understand, and I do. You don’t talk someone into doing what we do, let alone into being Batman. They’ve got to be in it 100%. My initial outrage was that I didn’t think Timothy was. And that it was going to get him killed. A fear he’s already actually expressed to me. I’m not about to lose anyone else, right now. When Dick speaks of this lead they’ve apparently finally gotten, I’m obviously interested. Eyes go over the books once again, because if they’ve got something, then this isn’t just random history essay information gathering going on. It’s towards something. I’ll be damned if I can guess what. But that interest keeps me from rising to the bait he’s throwing for me.

That and I don’t actually have a thing to be defensive about. Nor do I think I owe Dick Grayson any sort of explanation on the matter. Because I don’t even owe Oliver Queen one. The waggling hand moves to a singular uplifted finger. No. It’s not the middle one. Pointer.

“Not Gotham. Not what I meant. Gotham’s my home, and I was as much a liability to it as I was an asset. If we hit that point again? Then I’m going to leave again. I didn’t need Bruce to make that clear but…don’t get me wrong. He made it very clear. And Oliver Queen can handle his own shit.”

….eeeehhhhh…. he can handle it well enough. I hope. Star City wasn’t mine though, end of the day. It was his. No matter what drive I had to help them, and him, it’s not home. Gotham was. And that was always, and forever, going to trump the other.

Dick : Oliver Queen can barely tie his own shoes without tying them together, tripping on them and then telling the sneakers that they are the ones who failed his city. But. I’m not going to have that discussion with Dinah. Because even if she came here to lecture me, I wasn’t exactly looking to turn this in to a -fight-. Not the verbal sort. Nor the physical sort that is likely to result from constant Queen commentary. I’m going to let her have the final word on that much at least.

“No. Not Gotham. That isn’t what I meant either. Here.” Once again my hands open wide, encompassing far more than just books this time. “I’m not Damien or Tim. Not some kid off the street you’re training in the basement.”

“My parents died. Right in front of me. Tony Zucco took them from. Bruce went through the same thing. He brought me here. Took me in. He adopted me. Guess what? He did the same thing to you. Okay. I needed a way to keep the darkness that consumed Bruce at bay. You needed a focus for the anger that already took root. We may have come here for different reasons, but we left here with the same result. We’re family, Laurel. You’ve got the same rights, privileges… and obligations as the rest of us.”

The encompassing expression ends with my arms folding across my chest. I’m not one for ultimatums, so I’m not giving one. It’s implied though, isn’t it? The Lead is about Bruce. And that’s a Family matter. So what is it then? Am I wrong, about her being part of the family? I sure don’t think so. I’m pretty sure Tim and Damien would agree with me. Barbara, Alfred. I don’t know a single member of the ‘Family’ that would disagree. Except maybe, Dinah.

“It is your place. Own it. Don’t own it. It changes nothing, other than you came here to understand why I’m shirking a responsibility. Twinsie.”

Dinah: “You’re right, Dick. You’re not one of my kids.”

Stephanie may never, ever shut up and Roy may be not even close to a child anymore physically, but there’s an edge in my voice of ownership of those words. I may not have known one of them as long as the other, but I’ve been made responsible for them. As responsible as Tim felt for Spoiler if he let her keep doing what she was doing without help and training. They’ve been Mama Bird-ed just the same. Continuing on, my voice maintains an even tone. Not rising. Not getting louder. Which may actually make it all the more clear how impassioned I actually am on the matter that I’m going to the effort to modulate myself.

You actually know what you’re doing. You’re a grown ass man, not a barely legal boy that’s only been in this game for a half-dozen years. Tim is a lot of things. He’s brilliant, a mastermind that’s very, very good at arranging things to go his way in the long term. Maneuvering people into the right positions, for the right results. Sees the connections in the world that he needs to find. And he is going to get himself killed. Worse, he knows it.”

I don’t want to say it out loud, honestly. Even voicing it makes me feel that raw anger again in my throat, or maybe that’s emotion. How terrible would that be? So I take a moment to refresh my tongue for more, with a sip of my boozy cider that I wish was just the straight stuff right now. Setting it down again, I carry on calmly.

“And if he does? I’m never going to forgive you. I’m never going to forgive myself. I’m never going to forgive Damien. He. Needs. Help. All three of us have been training as long, hell maybe even longer than, Tim’s been alive. Right now? He’s a guy in a suit that knows he’s doing the right thing, and hopes he can pull it off. He’s going out without his staves because Batman doesn’t use a staff, for Christ’s sake Dick.”

I even let the ‘Laurel’ go, even though he damn well knows that I hate being called that. Banter, for once, is more or less out the window in favor of that ‘real talk’ he seems to have wanted.

We need to have his back out there. And that means no more of this left hand, right hand bullshit. I can’t keep him alive, and keep the other two from getting in over their heads by myself. How’s that for owning it?”

Dick: Well. I’m glad that we’re at least agreeing on that part. Because it sure seemed like she was trying to play the ‘Big Tough Guy’ role with me. When I know there’s more to this. I also happen to know that ‘It’s not my place,’ is a cop-out on Dinah’s part. That is her way of trying to not let the emotions out. I think she doesn’t want to admit that there is actually emotions involved here. Being worried about Tim, Damien or any of the other kids is one thing. She came here to understand why I didn’t take up the Mantle of the Batman. But. I’m pretty sure she also came here, because she wanted me to take it away from Tim.

“You should have lead with that,” comes the sober response, after a very pregnant pause.

This is the basic, core, difference between Dinah Lance and I. I tend to lead with my heart, she seems to think that she needs to disconnect from it. Taking the Cape and Cowl away from Tim, when all I’ve seen is how good he’s done? Seemed very much like the wrong move. No matter how much I know my ‘Little Brother’ is hating it. Sometimes the best people to entrust with power are the ones who don’t want it most. They’re the ones who handle it the best. Treat it with the most respect.

Dinah has finally given voice to the concern. To the genuine. Well thought out. Observed in practice. Concern. Genuine, because it’s actually the first thing I’ve believed Canary cares about saying since she walked in here. “He’s not alone. I believe he knows that, but I’ll make sure he knows. Today. I won’t take it away from him, I’m not sure it’s mine to take away at this point, but I’ll make sure he knows that I’m here. I’ll make sure he knows Barbara is here. We’ll talk. Today.”

Taking another breathe, I recognize that I’m steadying myself no differently than she did with her drink. Same objective, different methods. It’s enough to make me smile once more. “What do you know about the History of Gotham? The real History of Gotham, I mean. Not the stuff from the text books.”

“The answer is in the History, Dinah. I’m not crazy, I’m serious. Bruce wasn’t killed just because he is Batman. It’s the exact opposite of what we’ve all been looking for. Batman was killed because he’s Bruce Wayne. Bruce was the target. You’ve got to talk to Helena. I don’t know enough yet to actually give you an educated explanation. I’m still learning, but I can tell you this is deep. We’re not dealing with the Flavor of the Month. This is big and old. I think this goes back to founding of the City. To the original families.”

“The reason we’re struggling, is that this isn’t someone we’ve faced before. It isn’t something we’ve dealt with before. I can’t help but think it’s got roots that are deeper than the people Tim’s working against. Maybe that’s even tied to it. We’re researching, but this isn’t something Barb could just oracle up on a computer. That’s the only reason we haven’t called in Tim and Damien already. We don’t even know what we’ve got here. Not entirely.”

Dinah: “I shouldn’t have had to lead with that.”

Last week I wanted him to take it away from Tim. Part of me still does. Part of me also wants to punch him right in the face right now, but then I’d probably break something important. Like my cider cup, or Dick’s untouched teacup over there. Might send perfectly good apple tart tumbling onto the floor and cause a mess. But if Dick has been watching the surveillance, and is aware enough of what Tim’s doing to know about the kids in the basement, about his freelance work with heroes from outside Gotham’s borders? He should damn well have been aware of everything I just said. So my tone is suitable dry in response.

“Taking the suit away from someone who’s doing the right thing, and doesn’t want to do it and slapping it on someone that doesn’t want it and is only wearing it to keep someone else from wearing it isn’t really any better of a solution. Which is why I won’t tell you I think you should put it on. Not after what you’ve just said.”

It has to be someone who’s in 110%, or maybe we’re just going to have to figure out what Gotham is going to look like without a Batman, and explore how bad it actually needsone. Or if a smattering of other people acting in his name are just going to have to be enough. Divide. Conquer. Lean on one another. I’m going to take Dick at his word though, that they’re going to speak to his brother today. That this isn’t going to be put off any longer. Maybe it sounds callous but… Bruce is dead. Losing anyone else because we’re absorbed in who’s to blame is unthinkable. The firm nod of my head, and the pursed line of my mouth, say that’s good enough. That I’m satisfied for now. God help us all if I have to revisit this topic again later.

The smile on his face makes me cock my head, expression shifting to confusion. What the hell is he smiling about?

“The History? Not a lot. If it didn’t involve gyms, dojos, or the police precinct I probably just didn’t care. I know tunnels, and hidden buildings and old speakeasies from my Grandfather and Great-Grandfather’s days on the force. Little nooks and crannies and stories but… not anything I’d imagine would be useful to us.”

That heavy pause of Dick’s earlier had been one thing. My silence borders on stunned, and silence from me is a pretty damn rare thing no matter the reasoning. They weren’t killing Batman, they were killing Bruce? That might sound like an idiotic distinction to make…unless you knew the man. He probably stopped being Bruce Wayne when he was a child. Bruce was the alter ego, not the other way around. But the look in my eyes is like a light bulb clicking on. Of course. None of us would have ever thought that. With everything to be faced in Gotham, as Batman, why on earth would it have been anything but the Rogue’s gallery. How could something possibly have been in place and at least one of them not known about it before now?

“…I’ll go hunt her down right now.”

And maybe light a fire under Stephanie’s ass to get her going on her own case. No. That’s a poor idea. She’s raring to go, she’s just not ready. Tim said that she’d been trying to tell us something was up. It’s not that we didn’t believe her it’s just… well. Cluemaster. When he said it was something bigger than he’d imagined the man might have come up with? Tim’s got a pretty good imagination. That makes me worry.

“That explains the lull in the crime families. All of them. If anyone knew anything, I can’t believe they wouldn’t have squealed by now. To Joker. To Damien. To someone.”

Dick: “Dinah. You damn well should have lead with that. I’m willing to let you come in here and lecture me, but I’m not willing to take responsibility while you shirk it. Every single one of us puts our life on the line when we go out there like we do. If you thought Tim couldn’t do it, then you’re not just responsible for telling me. You’re damned well responsible for telling him.”

There is just a little bit of heat to my voice, but it isn’t truly anger. Not at all, actually. Which is why I’ve got to check myself. This is something else. Agitation. Irritation. Frustration. No, I know what it is… “You came here to blame me. To make sure I knew what he was doing. How he was doing it. You wanted me to ‘Help?’ Not only am I willing, able, and ready, I want to help. But you want me to make the decision. You want to skirt it off as not your place. Let me tell you something, Sister. Tim doesn’t talk to me about his decisions. He didn’t consult me. All I’ve known is what Alfred Pennyworth has told me.”

“Because he sees everything. Bruce didn’t even set up access to Tim’s base. The whole point of it was to be ‘off the grid,’ an emergency fall out shelter in case things went bad. I was asking you to talk to me. To give me your input, tell me as the one on the ground level what you think. I’m sorry if you think it’s wrong to want the input of a seasoned veteran, who’s got more information than I do. You don’t think it’s your place, but I’m pretty damned sure in this case? It wasn’t just your place, it was your responsibility.”

“Which… you’ve done. In like the most aggressive way possible. Outside of throwing punches. I suppose I should thank you for at least that much?” There’s a cross between a scowl and that smile from before, but I’m actually just glad she told me what she thinks finally. It’s important. “You know I’ll keep my word. We’ll talk.”

“Now. About this,” once more tapping on the books, before looking back at Dinah. “They don’t know. They really don’t know. At least. The actual Families. I think some of them suspect, but they’re all afraid. Because this is more myth, more superstition than fact. If even a tenth of what I’ve been reading is true? Then this is bigger than anything we ever faced and we had Batman.”

“Also. Ass. I think the person in the Batsuit might be the safest person in the City. Because I think what killed Bruce? Is after the City. And I think they’ll eliminate anyone who stands in their way. The Batman protects the people. Not the power. He’s not their enemy. But Tim might be. He inherited most of Wayne Industries. Damien might be, but he’s hard to find.”

“The Wayne Family might be a problem. So I thought. Maybe. The most helpful place I could be. Is right here. Where they can find me.” Clearing my throat pointedly at her. “While someone else kept the City safe for a bit.”

Dinah: “Dick. I didn’t have to tell him, he knows. And I didn’t actually know what you knew, or didn’t know, because we’ve had something of a communal communications breakdown. Which we’re all going to fix going forward.”

Something about being in Gotham City just brings out the inner noir protagonist in people, I guess. I don’t think it matters if he thought he was going to get himself killed, or didn’t think he was good enough to be up to par. The goal seemed to be making it work until someone else was ready, willing and able to take the cowl off of him. Maybe it’s just the ‘flaw’ of a good person that wants to do right.

“Yup, sure did.”

That confession is more than a little too cheery, given what I’m saying.

“But I was open to accepting it’s not anyone’s fault if properly convinced. Well. Except Damien’s. It’s always Damien’s fault. I’m feeling a bit trapped in the position of not being able to be Tim’s cheerleader and partner and critic all at the same time. I’m not enough.”

Words that have never come out of my mouth before, and likely never, ever will again.

“And it doesn’t mesh to tell him to his face, and confirm, the doubts about what he’s doing while also being the one who’s trying to get his head fully in the game so that he canmake it work.”

Spreading my hands with a helpless shrug, it’s my turn to return the wry smile.

“You’re welcome. I’d apologize, but we both know I’m not the least bit sorry. I can’t grab Tim by his little Batears and shake him, so I’ve got to channel the aggression somewhere. And apparently I’m already borderline too rough on the noobs in class, so I probably shouldn’t take it out on them. Congratulations, slugger. Designated most able to take the punches. Verbal and otherwise.”

Wrinkling my nose slightly because this isn’t my forte, the books that is, I reach over and turn one slightly on its cover. Not disturbing the pages, just getting a better look at what’s actually there. I can’t even refute people having a fear of superstition. Myths. His brother’s got a torch that he’s trying to put out for an honest to goodness goddess, and who knows what other things that we didn’t think were real actually were. Hiding in mystery, and the fear of the strange and unknown. If Dick’s right, then maybe Tim will be safe from this group, whomever they are, so long as they think Batman’s doing his job. And if they don’t… The look that I shoot Dick now is contemplative, both of what he is telling me, and what I’m understanding out of all of this. What he gets is me raising an eyebrow and smirking, like he had at me earlier.

“Should have lead with that.”

So maybe that sounded a little mocking. Only a little bit though. In good humor and friendship. Ish. Rising from the edge of the desk, the pointed finger gun turns into me cracking my knuckles like I’ve got some hard work I need to get to.

“We’re getting shirts. It’s official. You can get back to your research. I’m going to take my pie, get out of your hair, and pilfer a few more on my way out. I think I’m going to probably need my energy to work brow beating Helena into the rest of my lineup for the night.”

Dick: “Sorry. Couldn’t be helped. I needed to know something. About you. That you wouldn’t answer directly. Needed to provoke you.”

The way I shrug could literally be a pantomime of the way she did to me only a second ago. Except that it looks just as natural, because I do this all the time. The shrugging. Not the provoking. Or at least, I don’t do the provoking the way I did it with Dinah. I’m hoping she doesn’t approach everyone like she approached me either. Because if so? I might need to check on the health of those trainees. God lord.

Matching wry smiles may just break the entire world, but we’re managing it for the moment. I’m growing more and more confident by the moment though that beneath her’s is someone people actually should fear. There’s a darkness to her, a willingness to defend her family that I haven’t seen since she first got here. For the second time tonight, I do something that isn’t natural for people around Dinah. We’re alone here. It’s worth the risk of catching her once more by shoulder to give the woman a hug. Not your average sort of hug either. This is just about as manly as it’s even possible. Complete with patting of the shoulder.

“I miss him too,” comes out the solemn whisper for her and her alone.

When I step back, it’s with a very simple gesture to the tray of snacks that Alfred brought in for us. If it wasn’t already clear, they weren’t for me. Alfred was just being equal parts polite and hopeful. He doesn’t like that I’ve been holed up in here researching. Likes it even less than I’m trying, openly, to be the most publicly visible Wayne-son in the City. Alfred knows what I’m up to, even if I haven’t discussed it with him. I’m not even sure how, he just does.

The worst part of everything that Dinah has said to me tonight? Is that I actually agree with her. I even empathize. “Alfred once told me that he never feared Bruce and I going out in to the night like we did, because he Dynamic Duo could survive anything. Except each other. Because he knew it didn’t work if I was the only one in Bruce’s Circle of Trust. I couldn’t be Cheerleader, Partner and Critic. Not if I wanted Bruce to trust me as any one of those things.”

“Just remember one very important thing, Dinah,” the last thing I have to impart to her as I walk her to the door, where no doubt Alfred is waiting for her already, with a glass to the door in an effort to hear every word we’ve said. “You said you’re Tim’s partner. I hate to be the one that points this out, but… that makes you Robin. I’ll have Alfie deliver one of the suits to your Bar. You should wear it to your meeting with Helena.”

With that? I push the door shut, so that she is left with Mr. Pennyworth, his glass. A tray of goodies and the sound of my snickering from the other side of the door.