Dick: When Dinah came to the Manor, I’d promised her to speak with my youngest ‘Brother.’ At first I’d been resistant, because Dinah had been unwilling to actually tell me whether she thought I should do something or not. It was never about whether or not it was the Black Canary’s place to make a decision. I was looking for input. Tim hasn’t been at the Manor much since returning to Gotham. I haven’t left, quite so often as I would like either. We’ve been travelling different paths. All of us have been. What I needed for Dinah was an assessment. Given by someone that I could trust. Which wouldn’t be laden with judgmental bias, like I might get from others. She hadn’t been willing to outright tell me that I needed to take the Cape and Cowl off of Tim. In fact, Dinah hadn’t been overly willing to do much of anything but lecture me about my own inadequacies.

If she’d been having that discussion with Bruce, it wouldn’t have gone quite so nicely as it did with me. Though, the simple truth is, if Bruce was still here none of it would have been a discussion in the first place. What Dinah had done is make me aware that I needed to get my head in the game. I’d argued that my head was in the game. The truth was somewhere in the middle. I’ve been obsessed with finding Bruce’s murderer. The only comfort that I’ve found of late, has been that which I could get from Barb. Even that was tempered by how torn the two of us have been over everything else. All of which equated to Dinah being at least partially right. That might grate upon me, if it weren’t for the fact that she was also partially wrong too. Saving Graces.

This is the first time I’ve come to the ‘Robin’s Nest.’ Which is doubling as the Bat Cave these days. Among the list of things I hadn’t known, that’s one of the chief among them. No one told me that Tim didn’t feel welcome at the Manor. No one mentioned to me that he was taking over the mantle of the Bat. No one managed to inform me that he’d set up one of the store houses as a new central base camp in the middle of Gotham City. No one told me anything, but I should have known anyway. Because I should have been involved. I should have been out there. In the City. Doing what I’ve been doing since I was younger than Tim is now.

It took about an hour before I accepted that Dinah was right about that. That I managed to find my way through feeling left out and realized that I hadn’t been left out. I’m the one who withdrew. Damien and Tim followed my lead, because I’m the oldest. We all did what our Father would do. Pulled in. Formed ranks. Kept everything close to the vest. What we had all done wrong, is that we followed Bruce’s example. When Bruce wanted us each to be better. After accepting my part (not the totality) of the blame for being so out of the loop? I’d made a single call.

A couple hours later, I’m feeling a lot better about everything. You see. I didn’t come here to take the Mantle of the Bat away from Tim. I came here to tell Tim about the lead Barbara and I found. In coming here, I’d opened the gate, turned on the lights and invited Timothy Wayne inside. Because anything else would feel like I was punishing Tim, for doing what is right. You cannot do that. Tim did the right thing. He lead Damien to doing the right thing. He’s managed to somehow marshal these other kids against the forces aligning against them. He’s done all of these things, while carrying a burden that he was never meant to carry.

“Did you see this?” In my hand is a newspaper, one that has a front-page headline. “The Dark Knight and The Fastest Man Alive solve the case and save the City. Central City, that is.”

Dinah Lance doesn’t consider this a game. Neither do I, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that if it was a game? Timothy Drake is winning. For now. That’s part of -my- problem. “Don’t get me wrong. I get it. He’s not ready. Neither is Damien. But, I just couldn’t take it away from him. He’s done so much. Managed to accomplish so much. I think that if I took it away from him, it would be a blow that he might not recover from.”

“Stop. Right there. I’m not through, Dinah.”

“What I mean, is that there’s a confidence level involved in all of this. You know it as well as I do. After accomplishing the things he’d managed, if I told him that he wasn’t ready? It could have lead him down a path of self-doubt, that he doesn’t deserve. Mentally, that kid is more ready than Damien or I will ever be. Physically? Like you said. He needs help. So that’s what I was planning to offer…”

“…and then he asked me how long he has to wear that damned suit. Tim says he almost chopped the horns off his cowl in the Batmobile,” there’s a rueful smirk, that isn’t quite teasing about time but recalling the way he made me laugh when he said it. “He’s never worn the Cowl, he didn’t know to compensate for the height. The cape is longer than he’s used too. He’s never been without his own tools. Tim asked me to take it. Hell, he told me that his plan from the start had been to talk Damien. Get Damien on the right path. Then talk me in to taking it so he didn’t have too.”

“Dinah. I just had a meeting with my little brother. A meeting you thought I needed to have. Why do I feel like my little brother planned all of this? Maneuvered you. Me. Damien. He tripped on his cape. While filming the entire thing for training footage. Convenient. All I want to know, is did you know or were you an unwitting pawn in my evil little brother’s scheme?”

Dinah: “That depends.”

On what it is he’s asking if I’d seen or not, but I straighten up from the bank of monitors I’m hunched in front of to give my chair a spin and turn it around to face Dick and what it is he wants me to see exactly. I wasn’t using the computers, mind you. They’re currently serving as a prop for a clipboard and my pen and papers. Most expensive desk in the city, unless of course I was in the actual Batcave doing the same thing. The clipboard is mostly for something extra solid to use to whack anyone who points out I could simply use the ‘writing surface’ to do this digitally. Kudos to Nightwing for bringing me a physical paper to look at though. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised it’s not just a digital representation on a fancy tablet or something along those lines.

“And without Wonder Woman, either. Normally I’d have some commentary to make about the lack of girl power in that equation, but since it’s a victory for our boy I’m going to save that for another time.”

Crossing one long leg over the other, I’m by far the most casual person in the ‘building.’ Mostly because once Spoiler walked in on me, or rather I guess I walked in on herbeing here, there isn’t anyone who comes down here that doesn’t know my real identity anyway. That means I do training, and basically everything else, in workout gear unless I’m planning to go do some ass kicking. Such is my current lot. But when it comes down to it, I’m actually far less protective of ‘Dinah Lance’ than any of the rest of them are of their names. I don’t have anyone that isn’t also a vigilante that I care about currently. And they can watch out for themselves. Or I can. Stretching my arms overhead like I’ve been interrupted doing something incredibly taxing, I cross one long leg over the other and look at Dick expectantly. He told me to stop.

The raised eyebrow says he’s got about five seconds to finish, and he better make it good, before I’m going to keep on regardless.

“Oh. He did. Did he mention the part where he made the ears longer in Version 8.6, because someone commented that he looked shorter? Mental preparation was really never the concern.”

I may not have been there for that conversation, but I don’t exactly need to be a rocket scientist to know who in the Cave would have said it. Without knowing to think through what i might lead to. Which was a taller hat, and thicker boots. There’d been much facepalming and grumbling behind his back about that one, while I felt that I couldn’t voice that complaint to his face. I’d told Dick as much at Wayne Manor. I’m ground floor cheer squad here. Tim already doesn’t think he can do this. Despite the successes. Having someone tell him that to his face isn’t going to help matters. It’d just undo the good he’s managed to bolster himself with.

Which is also why I wasn’t actually after Dick to tell him he sucked either. He doesn’t suck. That’s not really the issue.

“Normally, and in any other situation, I’d get squinty right now, think about what you’re telling me and go ‘oooh, that little asshole done played us.’ But there’s no way, and I mean none, that he would have intentionally tripped on his cape. As Batman. Out in public where someone might see it. Which is the actual core of the problem. He won’t risk doing something that Batman wouldn’t do. In his opinion. Because he’s preserving an image more than he’s watching his own ass. And the partner he’s been taking out with him isn’t up to the task of doing it for him.”

Don’t get me wrong, she’s actually made…a lot of progress. I figured the kid would have washed out by now. It’s actually training modules and schedules I’m working out for her right now on my papers. But she’s not going to be able to save Tim’s life if something happens that falls outside all that mental preparation of his.

“That was the original plan though, yes. I was more than a little shocked when he took it on himself in the meantime.”

Dick: “Mm.”

Let’s agree that I’m not convinced. My little brother has pulled quite a caper of late. Manipulations worthy of one of the Rogue’s Gallery, to be honest. I’m not so willing to believe that everything was happenstance. What I can’t dispute though, is what Dinah says about Tim’s dedication to the image of the Bat. I can agree that it would take a lot for him to actually do something out there. In the City. Which would, potentially, make the Batman look bad.

“I don’t want to split hairs with you, but … the detective in me? Is saying that while you’re definitely right about whether he’d blemish the Bat image. There’s a certain likelihood, that Tim left the footage in place. For you to find and me to see. Because he knew it would bring about certain logical conclusions.” Both hands come up, plaintiffly, palm up and open. “I’m just saying. If Tim didn’t want us seeing his blunders? We’d never know they happened, unless we saw them with our own eyes.”

That’s about where I roll my shoulders in a shrug, because it doesn’t really matter in the end. Whether it was a plan or unintentional, the result is still the same isn’t it? I found out, with an assist from Dinah and I -got- motivated to do what was apparently the original plan in the first place. “He wants to tie up a few ‘loose ends,’ but once he does we’re going to make a transition. Maybe more than one.”

With those last couple words, I cast a look around the new ‘Cave.’ I can see why Tim calls it the Robin’s Nest. This is nothing like the Bat Cave. Bruce liked his technology as much as anyone, but he was focused on iconography. There’s way too much light here. Too many -people- here. Dinah’s here. I know that I saw the girl she’s referencing down there fighting a wooden dummy when I came in too. Word is that Roy Harper found his way in to Dinah’s care too. All the while I’ve been hold up at the Manor, with Barb and Alfie… and books.

“You should talk to Tim,” a bit of a twist upon our last conversation, but there’s a much lighter tone to this than before. “He’s got big plans. Outside of Gotham. And if he’s not going to be hidden behind the Bat, then Timothy Wayne, head of Wayne Enterprises will need to be somewhere other than here full time. If he stays here. He’ll be in more danger as Tim, than he ever was as Batman.”

“The look on your face says you haven’t tracked Helena down yet.”

Dinah: Mm. That’s other people’s versions of ‘yeah, no I understand what you’re saying but I also understand you’re totally wrong. At least in this family. The Waynes are like, High Kings of Monosyllabic Disagreement. Which doubles as non-responses to anything you might choose to say that they’re not going to dignify with a response, while pretending that they are. The only part I don’t know for sure, is if they all picked it up from Bruce, or if he just managed to find people with similar mannerisms. Maybe a little of column A, a little of column B.

“There was no finding on my end. He actually gave it to me. Had to pull it up multiple times because I kept accidentally closing it out before I was done watching, so that I could take notes on all the things Spoiler needs ‘helpful correction’ on.”

In a way, their problems aren’t totally dissimilar. Both trying to do what they feel they have to, and putting things into play they’re too new with to be able to use effectively. I had the ‘benefit’ of being a trained fighter for almost a decade before I ever thought to go out and actually use it on anyone as a vigilante. It was long past muscle memory at that point. Stephanie can throw a punch. She clearly picked up some ugly version of playground brawling as she grew up, but fighting with someone who is just another angry scrappy kid is a lot different than fighting someone that can, and will, kill you. Her inexperience with it means she makes mistakes while she’s focusing on something else. And if Tim’s going to continue to fixate on what Batman would or wouldn’t do? He’s going to leave openings he never would as Red Robin.

“More than one? Listen, I know came up there all full of piss and vinegar and indignation, but I also wasn’t kidding when I said taking the mantle from one person who’s not totally committed and putting it on another wasn’t really a great solution. If we all need to think tank something else? Then we do that.”

I don’t want Tim to get himself killed, but I don’t want Dick to either. But frankly… it’s less of a worry for me. The suit’s not new on him. He’s not the third in line that was never, ever supposed to actually have to wear it. He’s more than physically prepared. It’s the mental part where it gets iffy.

“…no, the look on my face says you’re actually telling me something I already know this time. And they are big plans. Tim picked up on a thread that Bruce sent him out on, without knowing that’s what was happening, and he’s running with it. Seems to have made friends that can have his back outside our ‘fair’ city, as well. My money? Is on him joining up with them once this is all sorted out here. But until that happens, anyone that wants Timothy Wayne is coming through me, first.”

My lips purse, partly because of the seriousness of that last statement with the implied ‘I will fuck their shit up’ and…partly because…

“But no. I haven’t gotten her cornered yet.”

Dick: Okay. That is very clearly a surprise to me. Tim showed Dinah the footage? I might have actually blinked just then. Losing the mask of inscrutable passiveness for just a moment. Long enough for it to be seen, but only if the person was looking or as aware of their surroundings as Dinah. There’s no mental cursing at myself for losing control either. Such is the enormity of that information. Which I’m added to the list of things that have surprised me recently.

A list that includes Dinah Drake coming to my Home and giving me the lecture of a life time. One that got cut off at the knees because she wasn’t willing to tell me to pull the trigger. She clearly knew it needed to happen, but she wouldn’t say it. Now she also knows of these elaborate plans too. “You told me, at the Manor, that you were helping Tim. I thought you meant just with training the rookies.”

“You’re helping him, aren’t you? Wait. Waitwait. I mean, you’re really helping Tim. You’re not just doing everything for him or watching to make sure he doesn’t get himself killed. You’re helping Tim?” For the second time in as many minutes, I’m losing the mask of stoic distance. I’m surprised at this revelation. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not surprised that you would help someone. I’m surprised that the angry little girl with a mean right hook, is helping my brother the Dreamer. You’re the most pragmatic person I know, now… No, offense, Dinah, but you’re like a hot wet blanket on the hopes and dreams of everyone around you. I couldn’t understand why you said you wouldn’t make the call, but…

“You’re invested aren’t you? You’re not ditching, to run off to another city again. You actually … mean that. You’re going to protect him.” A hand goes up in to my hair, brushing it back from my face as I soak this all in. “It’s what you do. You’re a hero. You’ve always been a Hero. You’re just…”

Whatever I’m rambling about, I bring it to a halt then and there. Drawing myself up, good and proper, I make a gesture to the sparring pads. “You can’t protect him against the unknown, so get some coffee. I think it’s time someone trains you for once.”

Dinah: The look on Dick Grayson’s face says shock, or maybe just a hair short of that. He thought he had it all figured out, that this was some genius mastermind plan of Tim’s (not really unbelievable) where he was arranging his pawns and higher pieces, so that they would just naturally fall into place, piece after piece, in a way that didn’t even look like he’d done anything at all. Tim’s a planner, and a plotter, sometimes inside of each other. And while I can’t say I really doubt he might have let something be where Dick could find it? I’m not sure he even thought Dick would be looking, and he’d seemed fairly earnestly embarrassed when I had pointed out the tripping. And head bonking. Which I had. As much as I don’t want to jar the guys’ confidence, he knows me well enough, to know that if I have a chance to call out and mock both him and Spoiler in a single breath I’m going to do so. Especially on a first viewing of ‘game footage.’

He probably would have thought something was wrong that I didn’t say anything.

I actually let Dick continue to work through his running list of realizations with very little input from me. I’m just all expectant looks, mixed with ‘uh, duh?’ and a little bit of ‘really, Dick? Really?’ on the side. I may have also rolled my eyes at him, a motion which lolls my head all the way over to my shoulder, and spins my chair around so that I can deposit the clipboard back on my desk/million dollar computer monitor, and finish the revolution.

“I feel like I should point something kind of important out here, since you are probably going to repeatedly bring this up. Again. Likely any chance you think you’re going to get a rise out of me for it. Your father and I had a very polite discussion almost three years ago. You know. The kind where he’s not saying overtly threatening things, but with the clear undertone of ‘if you don’t do what I think’s, I’m going to break your knees and windpipe and ship you off to someone that’s going to keep you out of Gotham forme.'”

Just imagine the kind of talk people he didn’t sort of like would get. In other words, no talk. Straight to the breaking and crating.

“I know what you’re thinking. But Dinah! That’s the kind of talk that gets a dude pimp slapped, kicked in the junk and then further emasculated for daring to tell you what you’re going to do or not do! And you’re right. Except that I actually agreed with him, and saw Bruce’s point. I’m a meta. Gotham’s got enough problems without my superpower arms race escalation. So I found a college as far away as I could get without crossing an ocean.”

Talk about your coast to coast trips, too. Really. Star City had its own problems, mind you, and it’s own vigilantes which I’d invariably hooked up with. And. Erm. Hooked up with. But I’ve changed a lot since I was that angry little girl, as he’s called me. I wasn’t angry anymore, before I’d actually left Gotham or it would probably have been a different conversation. I’d gotten what I”d been after. Not vengeance but justice, and I’d learned the difference. In a way, I hoped it was a lesson I’d be able to impart on Damien eventually. Because he’d been reminding me a lot of myself seven years ago.

“But this?”

I jab a finger at the floor, then spin a widening circle with the digit to encompass not just this room, or this building, but the city as a whole.

Is my home, and this is my family. When I heard about Bruce I wanted to come back. When Helena called, honoring his ‘wishes’ kind went out the window. I like to think he’d understand, but frankly? This time I don’t really care. You want pragmatic? I can’t protect the only things I’ve got left to care about from Star City. You bet your ass I’m invested. I don’t go and give Superman an ear full for just anyone‘s schemes. What Tim’s doing is important to him. So I’m helping.”

Plus, as a side benefit, they’re looking out for metas in general. Which I am.

“We’ve been working together since we both got back. I was helping him with his Big Plan before he put on the cowl.”

I suppose I am a Hero, but I can pretty much promise one thing. Anyone comes at any of these ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ while I’m around to get in their way, they’re going to learn just how far into the grey area I’m willing and able to go in order to stop them. It becomes my turn to raise my eyebrows in surprise. Both of them. As I look from Dick, to the sparring pads, and back again like I’m double checking what he’s just suggested. Maybe asking if he’s crazy. Emotionally detached? Oh, I know I am. I don’t get involved in things like serious relationships because it’s idiotic. Not how my brain works, and there’s not enough time in the day for it. Fun can be had without anything else needing to come from it. But family is something different.

“Coffee huh? Is this about to be an enlightening experience for one of us?”

I’m not saying no, though. I’m actually willing to humor Nightwing because if he thinks he knows something I’m going to need in order to look out for his Brother, and all the rest of them? I’m going to at least listen first before I kick his ass for it.

Dick: Dinah’s reactions are extremely telling. She’s been involved, she says as much moments later. She’s been in the known, she says that too. True enough, she isn’t actually discounting what I meant by investment. What I’m stuck with when she finishes speaking? Is that Dinah talked a whole lot, but said very little. Kind of standard operating procedure with her. I’ve been seeing her do this for a long time and I get the implication of what she is saying but…

“He didn’t want you to leave,” comes the only retort that I even offer to what she has said. “You missed the point and before you get all righteous with me. I’m serious. Bruce didn’t want you to leave. If you had stayed and just concealed your power, it would have been enough. Bruce thought you needed to leave. The you wouldn’t be able to get your life in gear until you left and got a life in the first place. I think it hurt him, actually. Forcing you to leave. I also think he didn’t want you to end up like me, resenting him. Or Barb, after the Joker….” (Wince)

“Just like I also think he’d be very proud of you. What you’ve become. What you are. Most especially though. What you’re doing here, now.”

“As far as escalation goes. I think we may be past that tipping point,” there’s a sort of certainty to that, which suggests a lot more than ‘think’ in all of this. “I don’t have a whole lot more than what I told you before. Other than the simple knowledge that what took down Bruce wasn’t something or someone we’ve faced before. It’s old. As old, if not older, than Gotham itself. You saw all of the History books I’ve been reading, there’s a smattering of clues in them, but it’s a lot of time piecing them together. Frankly, it’s a lot of guess-work.”

“Except for one thing prevailing thing. When Wayne Enterprises announced that he was going to ‘Rebuild and Reshape’ Gotham, following the No Man’s Land debacle in the Narrows? I think he awoken something. Like I said, something big and something old. Bruce contacted Damien’s Grandfather just over a week before he died. He was researching old Gotham Myths. Ra’s Al Ghul answered Bruce’s request with one word: Hide.

“I’m not sure how familiar you are with Ra’s, but let me tell you something. The man doesn’t hide from anything. So to have him say that? I’m convinced that there was more to Bruce’s research than just myth and legend.” Flicking my hands down to either side of my legs for the escrima sticks that settle in to nearly invisible holsters. “After Bruce’s death. Someone accessed the Bat-Cave’s computers. Even before you came to see me, I’d been planning to meet with Tim. I wanted to see if he could figure out why they were doing in the system. I also wanted to see if Damien could get something more from his Grandfather.”

“What I do know, for sure, is that if you’re going to protect my baby brother? You probably need to work with someone other than Rookies.”

Dinah: For once, I wasn’t actually trying to discount anything Dick was saying to me. Except, of course, the now repeated insinuation that there was a potential for me to just up and bail because something or someone was getting a little closer to me than I liked. Something and someone already did get close, and I ‘bailed’ on Star City to get back to it. I’ve lost an awful lot. We all have. There won’t be anymore on my watch, not if I have anything to say about it.

“I’m not sure if that plan of his was a success or not. Mostly what I figured out is that I’m never going to be able to toe the line, and a regular life lived during daylight hours is just not for me. But. Thanks, Dick. It’s nice to hear.”

And I suppose, now that it’s been brought up I really haven’t actually made use of those meta powers since I got back in town. Except on my little excursion to Metropolis. Still not sure that it counts as ‘repressing’ myself. I don’t think that resentment was going to be my issue. I’d already worked that through. I came into the Batcave already resenting Bruce, because he was curtailing my mission. That angry girl I was back then was full of negative emotions, and completely repellent to any good ones. I’d tried to wall off, because it seemed easier than gaining anymore people to lose. Clearly, it had happened anyway. Balance. It’s impossible to let go of something, without gaining something back in the process. Usually something opposite.

“Escalation? Are we talking… big and old like Tim’s new bestie the Wonder Goddess’ crowd or…”

That seems too big, honestly. And I’m not exactly sure how subtle that crew would be. Wrath is a word that you associate with Gods, and that’s not subtle in any of the stories. Or if you watch any of those people operate on Earth now. I’d think there would have been an example made, unless they just truly don’t want anyone to know they’re there and steering things.

“…or are we talking Illuminati level?”

Pursing my lips, because I know enough about the Demon to know that he doesn’t hide because he doesn’t have to hide. That’s telling enough even for me, and my usual want of something more concrete than superstitions and primal fears. Levering up out of my seat in one smooth motion, a hand comes up to gather my hair back in a ponytail while the other flicks the elastic that had been on my wrist into place, securing it back out of my face. When it comes to roughing up Stephanie, I don’t typically bother. Dick’s been putting foot to ass as long as I have.

“I didn’t think just someone could even access the Cave computers? I mean. I know basically the opposite side of zero about brick walls and D-Doos, but I was led to believe that unless you’re like…Tim, it probably wasn’t going to happen.”

Padding over to where the gear for sparring is currently housed, I am actually putting some on. Not a lot, mind you, though it’s infinitely more than I bother with most of the time. Thin, but effective armoring for my shins, and forearms because that’s where chances are I’ll be doing most of the blocking. And while I can fight with a weapon just as well, I opt to go without for now. You can always count on your fists, and the rest of your body, to be present and reachable if you get surprised.

“I do have Ted still, you know.”

Mind you, Ted Grant is eighty years old or so at this point. If you think that’s going to keep him from knocking your jaw off your face you’re sorely mistaken.

“But I’m happy to go a few rounds with a Rank 3 Old Man instead.”

Dick: Swirling the escrima sticks in my hands as we talk is more about getting my fingers limber than anything else. It’s second nature, using them as an extension of my body. It happens to be one of the many reasons I completely understood what she meant, when she told me that Tim wasn’t using his bo-staff. She didn’t have to explain it, because I know first hand what it is like to have to go without a tool you rely on. I’ve spent most of my life learning to adapt, to live a life in which my tools can and will be taken away. I like to think that’s one of reasons why I’ve survived as well as I have outside of Gotham. Out on my own. Bruce prepared me for a world where anything I have can and likely will be used against me. Tim got the same training, he’s just missing the time and experience he needs to put those lessons in to practice full-time.

Padding down the steps towards the training mats while Dinah preps. I’m not going to need the padding, since I came in full uniform. “Right now the problem I’m seeing is that the answer is a little more like ‘Both’ instead of one or the other. As near as I can find in all the research I’ve been able to do? They’re as old as that. Dating back further than written history. They’ve also spanned a good deal of the entire world at one point or the other.”

“However, I think what Bruce was dealing with is more centralized. I think we’re dealing with one section of a sort of Illuminati. A splinter group that came here. Settled here. I think this group sees Gotham as their ‘Foundation.’ They’ve cultivated just the right amount of corruption. Not so much that the city falls in to total chaos, but right on the brink. So that they can operate beneath it all. Undetected. That’s why I think they tolerate, maybe even embrace, the position of the Batman. He keeps the mixture right where they want it.”

“Think about it. I mean, really think about it. Gotham isn’t actually a completely meta-human free zone. Why hasn’t that group that Tim is struggling with set up shop here? Your Grandmother lives here, doesn’t she? What about Ted and her friend, Alan Scott. Doesn’t he have super powers? Aren’t they the same damn powers as the guy who caused the entire Coast City affair in the first place? So. Again. There were Heroes here, in Gotham, before Batman existed. When he came around he policed them, so Nowhere doesn’t have too. Sounds a lot like the Batman’s existence was exactly the right answer.”

“Bruce Wayne on the other hand. Had a grander scheme. He had plans to make Gotham Great again. He didn’t fit in the mixture.” As I finish speaking, I turn and center myself upon Dinah. Escrima sticks up, at the ready. Shoulders off-set. Feet taking a more balanced position on the mats. “Which brings me back to the Bat-Computer. That’s another thing that is bothering me. People like Tim couldn’t hack those computers. Because Bruce used fifty people like Tim to make it Tim-proof. No one gets as deep as someone got in to those computers. Not remotely. Someone was in the Cave.”

Dinah: If we were just going to be fighting bare knuckle to bare knuckle? I wouldn’t have bothered with anything other than the clothes that I’m already wearing.  Which isn’t going to blunt any sort of blow, but it shouldn’t need to.  In an ideal world? I wouldn’t be training Stephanie Brown in her Spoiler Suit.  It does blunt a blow. Which is part of the reason why it probably looks like I’m being a little overly vicious with her.  Anyone who has trained with me knows that I am ruthless when I spar, but pain is a great motivator to not replicate a mistake.  Like a child who only touches a hot stove once and never wants to feel that cause/effect ever again.  But she’s in armor.  She hasn’t learned that the beatings hurt without it.  The last thing she needs is to learn that she can afford to get hit, because she has that suit.  Because someday? She might not, and that hit that her mind has learned she ‘can’ take may be the one that kills her.

I’m not about to tell ‘Nightwing’ to ditch his sticks.  I want a fight, after all.  I just also don’t want a fractured ulna.  They’re not great, believe me.

“I’m not saying you’re wrong, I just have a hard time believing anyone would really want to cultivate…well.  Gotham.  Given any and all the options something that old, and that established and that powerful could put into place.  They must want to stay under the radar badly to put this much noise into the world.”

My mouth pulls to the side, as I drop into a position that’s only technically defensive because I’m not moving yet.  Fists up, up on the balls of my feet.  As a general rule, I don’t like to do defensive, unless it’s to bait my opponent into a movement that I can punish them for.  Works on Stephanie Brown all the time, and on pretty much every mook out on the streets.  It’s also not going to work on Dick Grayson.

“My grandmother’s dead.”

That answer comes the moment before I move.  It’s as good an opening as any, one of us has to start this off and it’s going to be me.  In the middle of the kind of conversation that makes people turn awkward and apologetic very, very quickly.  There’s no anger or hurt in my tone at his bringing it up, though.  He’s brought it up as a part of a very good point.  They were laying low, but they had been here already.  An open palm, coming center mass at Dick, stiff armed momentum behind it as I lunge forward, a loose fist ready to follow up.

“And if they got in the cave once, and they are still here, they could do it again at any time.”

Dick: “No offense taken. I’d actually agree with you, ordinarily. Why Gotham? Well, it certainly can’t be somewhere like Metropolis. The supers there don’t actually keep to the Shadows and the last one could see through walls. Then you’ve got places like Bludhaven. Where the Criminals are actually too ballsy, they won’t let someone keep the status quo without a challenge for a week. Much less decades. Gotham is really the only city in the ‘New World’ where you really have a perfect mixture.”

“The GCPD and the normal Criminals are too complacent. What few supers we have don’t take part in the City politics very much. Batman keeps the Rogues from ever setting up shop for long. They keep Batman from rooting out the entire criminal element.” This is where I watch as Dinah gets set, but hold back because I’m not going to attack her. Not right now. Not when we’re actually discussing something important. “You’ve got a perfect storm here. Where you could, in theory, exist for decades without ever even being discovered.”

“Your Grandmother’s gone? I didn’t actually know that. Sorry to hear that. I mean it. Sometimes the sheer amount of loss that we have all endured is staggering to think about.”

The sticks aren’t just a weapon. They’re part of me. Allowing me to move with an enhanced reach. They function like batons, which I’ve been working with since I was a child. Even younger than Dinah, since the ‘Flying Grayson’ act with the circus. Acting as a fulcrum to enhance my balance even more than normal. I can’t say enough for how much they aide me, but they’ve never been a crutch either. Batman insured that right away. I went without them the entire time I was in the role of Robin. Everything we did. From training, to being in the field, was done without them to insure that I never suffered from their loss like she describes Tim being off balance without his staves.

When Dinah does finally attack? I go for the one thing I’m absolutely positive that she won’t expect. The Kill. A flick of one hand to divert her lunge, while the rest of my body contorts to the side. In time with this I bring the other hand down, but release the escrima stick at the last second. Sending it out of my grasp, down to the mat. Where it’ll ricochet back up toward her Jaw.

“Worse, Dinah. You’re not thinking bad enough. If they got in to the Cave. They got past security systems that span everything from key-code to eye-prints, to DNA registry. You cannot get -in- to the Cave, unless your DNA is on file. Not without sending off an alarm -or- battering your way in. Whoever did this got past all of the bio-metrics. Got in to the Cave, physically. Then past the cyber defenses too.”

“If they can do that to the Cave, then they could have been Here too or at Wayne Enterprises. Any of the Wayne Corp holdings.”

Dinah: “We’re a hot mess, for sure. There’s too much going on at any one time, that you’re usually playing whack-a-mole with the crooks. A sort of vigilante triage. The worst, and most threatening at any one time, which means you’re not worried about why that’s the status quo.”

I know I haven’t been. It just is. That’s how Gotham’s been as long as I’ve been alive. From the stories I heard growing up, too. The only thing you could count on was that Gotham’s crime was like fighting a mythological hydra. Cut off one head, and a few more would spring up in the same place. That didn’t slow me down any, back when my head was full of fire and rage though. Tim knew about my family, I assume Bruce did as well, but that’s because they were snoops that always knew more about anyone than you probably wanted them to. Dick had left Gotham before it happened, and it wasn’t as if I talked about it often. Or ever.

“It’s alright. I truly was not kidding when I said you guys are the only family I have left.”

But it is. Staggering. It’s why Bruce’s death was perhaps one of the cruelest, even though it should perhaps have been the most expected, given what he did with his life. What we all do. My grandparents at least had been the easiest of the deaths I’ve faced, though it really hadn’t eased my rage much at the time. Sometimes, having nothing to blame but being mortal only makes you feel that much more impotent and helpless. Never feelings I’ve coped well with.


Clucking my tongue at him, the hand that had been cocked back to punish any block to my initial lunge is yanked in, accelerating the spin that he starts me into as I drop my weight, ducking the bouncing stick, and driving the arm he’d blocked back towards his midsection.

“No foreplay? I see how it is.”

Not thinking bad enough? I may not get the ins and outs of tech, but I do know about people being where you don’t expect them to be. About inside jobs, and festering corruption and what it can do when it’s not excised properly.

“What is the likelihood that someone has all of those things? Someone from Wayne Corp. Someone from R&D that these people have their hooks into?”

I don’t want to think it was any of the people allowed in the Batcave. That list is small. Very small. But as he says…they could get in anywhere. Know about anywhere. Which only makes me want to hole up in this little fortress here and make sure no one comes sniffing around, or hurts anyone else using the building.

Dick: A grunt of acknowledgement is Dinah’s reward for sleuthing through what she’s figured out. I gave her the clues, she made the leaps. Dinah has always been a good detective. She would have made an amazing Cop, if only she’d wanted that for herself. Knowing that she was able to find her way through the abyss of half-clues tells me that I wasn’t wrong myself. Maybe that is why I am here. Clearly neither of us really needed the physical work out. Perhaps I’d needed a mental sparring instead?

Rolling though and coming up out of the tumble also has another added benefit. I’m close enough to key the trigger in my gauntlet. Letting her see how the previously tossed escrima stick comes to life and returns to my hand. “The sad irony of all of this? I actually don’t think they knew Bruce was Batman. I think they know now, but I don’t think they knew before.”

“Barbara and I met with Helena. She gave us the first clues, the trail. That’s why I told you to hunt down the Huntress yourself. She and I don’t exactly get along famously these days. Given that I chose Barbara over her, there’s some… lingering …resentment.” The wince makes it past the little eye-mask. Hard to cover up anything with these silly things. “She didn’t give me everything she knows. Just enough to put me on the right path and warn me not to pursue it. Even though she had to know I would.”

“To set your mind at ease, I checked. The Cave keeps a log and a backup log. As well as an off-site secondary, third and fourth log. For every entry in to the Cave. All of them were erased. Which only adds credence to what you just said. Whoever killed Bruce? Made sure to take what they needed for access to the Cave. At least that’s the logical conclusion. Your partner had a very illogical one.”

I’ve no sooner said those words than I’m back in motion. Crossing the distance between us as quickly as possible. In motion, at the point of being nearly upon Dinah? I unfurl one of the sticks again. Throwing it just low enough to force her to move or take the escrima stick center mass. What she does to avoid the stick will determine, in mili-seconds what I’m going to do as a follow-up.

Dinah: Sometimes you need a sounding board, more than anything, and sometimes you need the fight. The way it gets your blood going, endorphins kicking and your reactions firing at peak efficiency. Never underestimate what fight or flight reflexes can do for your system. All the unnecessary things fade away, and that leaves you with only what you do need. Your mind and its ability to reason through tricky situations chief among those.

“And now they’re capitalizing on that.”

I’m not sure if the Joker would find that humorous or even more infuriating. That it amounted to an ‘accident’ that the Batman was killed, because someone killed Bruce Wayne. He’s already terrorizing the underground as it is, looking for someone to blame for the loss of his nemesis. How effective of a hound would he be for the actual foe we’ve got to deal with? And how much of Gotham would he destroy to get to them? I hate to say it, or in this case think it, but maybe his presence isn’t the worst thing right now. He’s keeping a lot of them in check from any huge and reaching schemes. They’re trying to not draw attention. Which means that we’ve got some breathing room to hunt the actual problem.

“Hell hath no fury, and all that. Maybe I just need to invite her to an after hours special party at the bar, get us both drunk and see if that makes her feel more like reconnecting and sharing. I’ll just have to banish Timothy to his room so he doesn’t lurk and look all judgey.”

His room being my living room and the couch, but hey. It works. I’m also more glad than ever that I ‘made’ him take it, instead of just hiding out somewhere nearby to keep an eye on me while he decided whether or not I could be to blame for his father’s death. I agree with his assessment of Helena though. That she had to know telling him anything would give him a course to act on. So did she tell him, aiming him as she would a crossbow bolt in the direction she wanted? Or was it to send him away from something else?

“Illogical? Tim? That’s shocking. What was it?”

Then he’s moving again, and my mouth’s turned up in a smirk as I watch. Not because I’m finding what he’s doing humorous. I’m enjoying myself. I haven’t had a fight with someone that’s even close to a threat to me in a couple weeks, and it feels good. I don’t avoid the stick at all. The roll of an arm as I start to rise has me snatching at it, while the other hand comes up again, using my upward momentum to aim the heel of it at his nose.

Dick: “Unfortunately, that’s where I hit the wall. After they killed Bruce, they found out he was the Batman. The reason that I think that caught them by surprise, is because their next move was to raid the computer. Then they orchestrated Joker’s release.” Lowering my voice, not for effect or secret, but because I am actually not sure how she’s going to react to what I’m about to say. “And your return. I’m pretty sure Helena reached out to you because they wanted her to.”

We’ve talked before. Many times. Most recently our talks have not been the most pleasant of discussions. Accusations have been thrown out. Implied or out right stated. This feels good. Right. Talking to her about a case, -the- case. Giving her details of it, then having her tell me her impressions. Seeing if she draws herself to the same conclusions. Each time she’s done so, up to now, has been a key for me to really buy in to what I’m seeing. She sees the details the same way. Which is why I know one of the conclusions she might make and I want to brace her against it, at least for now.

“Before you get your hackles up. I’m -not- sure she did it at their behest or because they put the breadcrumbs for her to follow. In fact that’s starting to be the most maddening part of all this. I can’t be sure that what I know at this point, isn’t specifically because they want me to know it.”

Dinah is good. No, that’s not even accurate. She’s better than good. In a fight on the ground, she’s better than I am. Maybe not even a little better either. I’ve gotten better over the years, but so has she. Where I’ve worked to encompass other techniques, like being in the air. Being mobile and agile. She’s focused on technique. That’s why I knew when I asked her to work out that I wouldn’t be able to fight her without the sticks. I also knew that I wasn’t wanting to teach her something, that she already knew. Which is why I lead with the sticks.

Even as she’s snatching the thrown stick out of the air, I’ve changed path. The natural way for me to take this would be up in to the air. So I take it to the ground. In that split second of seeing how she handles the stick, I throw myself in to a baseball slide. Legs parting midway through the slide, with the intent to scissor not one but both of her legs as I go right through them. How do I know this is going to work? Because I’m about to blow her mind.

“…he thinks Bruce is alive…”

Dinah: “A move that was more overt than apparently anything else they had ever done.”

And so makes sense as the next move of someone who was caught off guard, and dealing with an unforeseen snag in their ‘little’ plan. I could take what he has to say about my friend the wrong way. I don’t, however. Not with where my train of thought was already heading. For something to have existed so long, and so pervasively, and to have the resources and skill to pull on in order to make Ra’s scared of them they have to be manipulative. Not just brutal, or they’d be known.

“No. It makes sense. Helena thought, or had the bug put in her ear, that Bruce’s death would bring you all back here. And that you’d fight over who was going to be the next Batman. Something that would have played out in their favor in a few ways. Bat-Civil War not only gets their new Batman, to maintain the status quo, but has three of the best suited people to find out what really happened too busy fighting each other.”

I think better while talking, so the thoughts are coming out as they come to me. Working out much like our bodies are doing at the same time.

“She calls in me, thinking that the Cave needs a bully to make sure it doesn’t go too far, and that you all at least eventually come to some sort of conclusion. With the wagons circled, there’s still people that won’t let Gotham fall to utter chaos, while still working towards getting things back to normal. I’m not sure that they anticipated Joker playing ‘police’ as he’s doing, but he’s not taken off the board because he still serves their purpose. I’m not sure if they could have predicted that none of you would want the Cowl. I didn’t.”

And yet. Here we are with a Batman just the same. If I’d badgered Tim into doing so, I would actually feel pretty awful just now. But maybe his wearing it, since by process of elimination I have to figure maybe these people know it’s him, that might actually keep him safe. For a little while. Until, like any of the rest of the pieces, actions aren’t matching the agenda and the status quo any longer. Dick may also be right about what we’ve been ‘allowed’ to know. We’re going to have to read between some pretty thin lines here.

How I ‘handle’ the stick was about to be some blunt force trauma. It’s a weapon I’m comfortable with, even though I don’t go out with them myself. A motion that’s more wrist than arm, and therefor with more speed than force, would have sent the end to whipcrack him across his descending skull. But, by golly, he makes me proud, and actually manages to startle me. Bruce. Alive? Nothing Tim’s said, or done, has indicated anything like that to me. Maybe because he didn’t really want to spread that hope. Or in this case maybe it’s fear? Or because it wasn’t a fully formed thought. Either way, right now it provides Dick his opening. Because it is illogical and unexpected. Blue eyes widen, as legs get kicked out from under me. Getting hit, doesn’t mean you stop though. That’s how you get dead. Twisting as I drop, I tuck my torso so that shoulders hit about the time my knees do, and I roll. Onto the mat, since the reasonable assumption is that Dick isn’t going to stay beneath me for an enterprising knee or elbow into something breakable.

“…Bruce ‘broke’ into the Cave.”

He’d have everything he needed to get in. Definitely everything needed, including a knowledge of the codes needed to find anything, and erase that it happened at all. The big question though now, becomes did he do it to get intel he needed to track these people down? Or did he do it for them?

Dick: As soon as Dinah’s legs and mine connect there’s a series of movements. Her falling, but choreographing the fall in to an attack all of it’s own. Me gliding through the ‘baseball’ slide, then as she’s tucking in to the fall I’m nipping up to my feet. Reversing our stances entirely. Putting her on the low ground, with me above. No longer centered or entirely facing her, but I’m whirling around to correct that.

Meanwhile Dinah has connected all of the dots. Even a couple that had taken me a bit longer to accept. The revelation that Timothy Drake was convinced of our Father being alive? Stunned me. Dinah doesn’t seem quite so stunned about it as me. In fact she seems quite at ease with Timothy’s willingness to believe, to hope. I’m starting to think I’ve completely misread Dinah’s stance on my little brother. Which, in an of itself, makes me doubt a lot of other things I’ve been reading. Making Dinah’s assessment all the more critical for my own investigation’s foundation.

The next move I make is not an attack, but a single fingertip pointing at her. Fingergun. I see that look on her face. “Scary prospect. If Tim’s right then it answers a lot of questions. While creating ten thousand more that I can’t begin to answer. There’s one problem though. I was there. I saw the body. I was with Alfred when he ran the tests. I was with Lucius when he confirmed them. Bruce Wayne is dead. As much as Tim hopes for his illogical conclusion. I know for a fact that Bruce died.”

“I don’t know where to go from here, Dinah,” it’s an honest admission, maybe as shocking as the revelation had been. But not nearly as shocking as… “You really shouldn’t touch a man’s stick without permission.”

She’s really going to be steamed when she wakes up. Probably even more so when she realizes that in a place like this? There’s bound to be some footage of her holding upon the escrima stick as it tasers her. I don’t even -need- to be the best detective in the world to know that she’s going to make me pay for that when we spar next.