Disclaimer: These characters belong to DC; they're not mine and never will be. No money is being made from this piece of fiction. The character of Jack Malone was created by Charlene Edwards.
After Alvin Draper finished off his slice of pizza, he threw away his paper plate and brought his glass to the sink. He then went back to his quarters and suited up, becoming Robin once more.
"I've gotta be getting back to Gotham. Later guys!"
The rest of Young Justice, who were still sitting around the meeting table, called out "Bye!" and "See ya!" to Robin's retreating back. A few minutes later, Impulse and Arrowette left for their respective homes. Looking at the mess everyone had made, Secret wisely misted out through an air vent, leaving Wondergirl and Superboy to clean up the area.
Seeing that Al's glass was still in the sink, Superboy carefully picked it up with his TTK and brought it over to the lab. He set it down gently and rummaged around for the fingerprinting kit.
Wondergirl watched with curiosity. "Kon, what're you doing?"
"Y'know how Rob always says we've gotta get better at this brainwork stuff?"
Cassie didn't like where this was leading. "Yeah, so?"
"Well, I'm just following Fearless Leader's suggestion. What better way to practice?" replied Superboy smugly as he took out the kit and started dusting the glass for prints.
Wondergirl just stood there and sputtered. "B-but you can't seriously--!"
"Serious as a heart attack, Wonderbabe." He put a piece of tape over a powdery spot. He slowly removed the tape, lifting a black outline of a thumbprint. He held it up triumphantly. "See? I'm learning already." He brought the print over to the computer.
"But we can't! He said that he couldn't tell us who he really was 'cuz he'd get in trouble. Batman might fire him! Or worse." Cassie shuddered at the thought.
"Cass, see, this is the beauty of it! He's not telling us. No one's breakin' the rules. Think of this as one of those mental exercises Rob's been trying to get us to do."
Cassie was still unsure. Kon had made sense, which actually made her worry more. "But it's Robin's secret! He's trusting us!" Despite her protests, she made no move to stop him.
Kon laid the piece of tape down on the scanner and looked speculatively over the computer, trying to remember the next step. He glanced at her. "Trust? You call giving us a fake name trust? He never tells us anything personal, but he knows practically everything about us! I mean, for all we know, he's got some sort of file about taking us down. Each one of us." He looked at her straight in the eyes. "You heard about the Bat and the JLA, right?"
She had to look away from the force of his stare. "Yeah," she mumbled. Diana had told her everything. To be betrayed like that! And by a fellow warrior, someone who had to watch your back! She looked back and tried her last defense. "But this is Rob. We know him." Even to her, it sounded weak.
"Do we? Do we really know him? Remember who trained him, Cass." He returned to studying the machine in front of him. His face brightening, he leaned forward and typed a few commands in. "There! The search is going out, and all we hafta do is wait. C'mon, Cass, let's see if there's any pizza left." He took her unresisting elbow and led her back to the meeting room.
In the Batcave, a panel on one of the Cray computers came to life. Following its program, it intercepted the inquiry regarding Timothy Drake. The request did not come from Brentwood Academy nor was it requested by someone with an authorization code, which a select few possessed. Following its protocols, it shunted the inquiry to the Batmobile's computer. Camouflaged in an uninhabited alley, the Batmobile received the message and sent it to a wrist unit, which immediately began to flash a small red light. All of this took less than a minute from the time Superboy hit the "Enter" key.
The wearer of the wrist unit paused in his surveillance, pressed a gloved finger to stop the flashing light and thought, his mouth a grim line. He quickly typed in a couple of commands and lowered his arm, allowing his cape to drape back into place. He was going to have a discussion with his younger partner later on.
After tidying up the meeting room, the two young heroes returned to the lab computer to check on the search. The results were displayed on the monitor.
"Yes!" crowed Superboy. "How's that for detective work! Who's the King, baby!" Feeling extremely proud of himself, he did a victory dance.
Instead of celebrating, Wondergirl reluctantly sat down and read the file. What she saw stunned her. "Kon! You'd better look at this." She turned to him, but he either didn't hear her or chose to ignore her. Frustrated, she flew to him, whacked him on the back of his head and dragged him to the consul.
"Hey! Cass, ya didn't hafta--"
"Shut up and read!" She used both hands to turn his head to the screen, giving him no choice but to look. He sobered immediately.
There in front of him was a picture of a younger Robin, unmasked. He read the accompanying information. The file was from the Gotham Juvenile Detention Center.
Name: Malone, Jack
Date of Birth: 3/21/86
Father: Malone, Michael aka "Matches"
* see Blackgate Prison case #LJH34728
Siblings: Malone, Robert aka "Robbie"
* see Gotham County Jail case #VGT89374
* see JDC case #84763562
Violations: Petty Theft, Attempted Grand Auto Theft, Breaking and Entering
The file went on to state sentencing and time served. Checking the dates, Cassie noticed that Jack was released two years prior to when he claimed to have become Robin. She sat back and tried to process everything.
For once in his short life, Kon-El didn't have a smart remark prepared. He was speechless.
"Great Hera," whispered Cassie. "No wonder why he never talked about himself. And of course, he couldn't tell his father about being Robin." She thought about the name. Jack. Oddly, for some reason, she always pictured him with a Biblical name like Matthew or Timothy because of his strong character.
"It all makes sense now," murmured Kon. "He can pick locks, get in and out of anything without being seen, hot wire cars. He's even picked my pocket before." His respect for the leader of Young Justice grew. "Kewl."
Cassie looked at Kon, shocked. "How can you think this is a good thing? You know what Al--I mean, Jack--I mean, Rob's like. He would do never do any of that willingly. What if his father or brother beat him into it?" She clenched her fists as the implications of what she said hit her. Child abuse? How could Rob stand to live like that? "We've got to talk to him."
Kon stopped her from reaching for her communicator. "Hold it, he's probably with the Bat right now. Remember the last time we bothered him on patrol?" They both grimaced.
"Alright, tomorrow then," she relented. "You think Batman knows?"
"Him? Of course he does! I bet he even hired Rob for his skills." He blew out a breath. "Okay, tomorrow we talk."
As soon as Robin touched down on the roof next to his boss, he knew something was wrong. The Batman looked grimmer than usual. An errant thought crossed his mind: The world's going to end. The Batman glared at his partner. Robin gulped. Correction: My world's going to end.
"What happened?" The words were drawn out in a growl.
"Uh, we had a meeting and then ate pizza. I left and came here." He stood his ground, trying not to back down from the stare.
"What?" He went over the evening in his mind, recalling every detail as he'd been trained to do. It hit him. He groaned. "The glass."
"Who?" Batman only needed one word to convey what he wanted. Who knew how to lift the print? Who would think of it in the first place? Who ran the query?
"It's gotta be Superboy. I saw Impulse take Arrowette home." He'd seen them speed past the Redbird on their way back. "He probably dragged Wondergirl into it." He really hoped this wasn't Cassie's idea. He also hoped Secret had no part in it. Clearing his throat, he asked, "So who am I?"
"Oh." Great, he thought. Now I have to deal with another name, and I have a rap sheet. This should impress Kon. He dreaded the next YJ meeting.
Patrol was relatively unexciting. Robin was privately hoping for some action, something or someone to pound his frustrations on. Aside from Kon-El, that is. When the evening ended, they returned to the Cave and changed back into their civilian personas. Tim awaited his punishment, trying not to fidget.
Bruce glared at him. "Tomorrow, 8 AM. Manor." Without another word, he turned his back on the boy and stalked up the stairs to the study.
Tim ran back to his own home via the tunnel. Tomorrow was Saturday. What would Bruce do to him? Extra training? A heavier caseload? Both? As Tim silently crept into his bedroom, he knew he wouldn't be getting a good night's rest.
Later that morning, at precisely 8 AM, a bleary-eyed Timothy Drake ambled up to the front door of Wayne Manor. He rang the bell, momentarily forgetting that Alfred wasn't there to greet him. After waiting a few minutes, he used his own key and let himself in. In the middle of the foyer stood a ladder, a shovel, a mop, a bucket and one of Alfred's aprons. Tim ripped off the note that was taped to one of the ladder's steps. "Clean the kitchen. -B"
This struck Tim as a bit unusual. Nothing crime-related or even Bat-related. Clean the kitchen, big deal. He tied on the apron, picked up the items (who uses a shovel to clean, anyway?) and trudged towards the kitchen. Bruce was living by himself now. How hard could this be? Then he stopped and remembered the Tuna Sandwich Incident. Uh oh. Never underestimate the Bat. Steeling himself, he slowly swung open the kitchen door. Oh. My. God.
A blood-curdling shriek awoke Bruce from a deep slumber. He merely smiled and rolled over in his bed. Heh. That'll teach the boy to clean up after himself. He went back to sleep.
"Kon, he's not answering his communicator. I'm worried." Cassie paced around the Justice Cave, too keyed up to sit down. Despite her determination the previous day, she wasn't looking forward to confronting Robin.
Superboy, however, was lying on the couch and watching TV, occasionally flipping the channel. "Relax, Wondy, he's probably busy doing . . . whatever those Batguys do on Saturdays. Classifying lint or something."
She tried her communicator again. "Robin? Come in, this is Wondergirl."
The little device beeped back. Finally, a response! "I'm busy. Tonight," came the terse reply.
"Whoa." Superboy looked up at his partner. "I think you caught him before he had his coffee." He turned off the TV and got up. "Look, Cass, he's not gonna be here for a while, so why don't we go do something? Like work on our tans. C'mon, let's go." He whisked her out of the Cave before she could protest.
Robin stalked into the Justice Cave, not really expecting anyone there yet. He resisted the urge to go and kick Kon's favorite chair. Ten hours of scrubbing, scraping, shoveling and he was only halfway done cleaning. What in the world had Bruce done to that toaster? Alfred was Tim's new hero. It was a miracle that the old gentleman had put up with Bruce for as long as he had.
He walked around the Cave, trying to relax the sore muscles that had cramped up in the Redbird on the way over. He had been tempted to take a nap before coming, but he knew that if he lay down, he wouldn't have the strength to get up again. What a workout that had been! Stretching, endurance and weight training, even a bit of acrobatics--dodging a falling mountain of pizza boxes--all performed in the kitchen. Tim thanked God that Bruce hadn't made him do the laundry.
Tim made himself a fresh cup of coffee and settled himself at the conference table. Ah, sitting! He didn't have to wait long. Superboy and Wondergirl strolled in, obviously not counting on Robin being there so soon. The Boy Wonder glared at them, using the same expression that made hardened criminals wet their pants and cry for their mothers. Both teens were taken aback, obviously not counting on Robin being so angry.
Cassie made a weak attempt at a greeting. "Uh, h-hi Rob. How are you?"
Whatever Kon was going to say died on his lips. He'd never seen Robin so furious before.
As his mentor had him questioned on that rooftop, Robin questioned them now. "Who?"
Cassie pointed to Kon, who blanched at her gesture. He finally worked up the nerve to speak. "Uh, she was there too. She watched."
"He knew," Robin said quietly. "The Batman found out."
Robin flowed from his chair and stood in front of the couple, hiding any signs of soreness. He didn't want to appear weak. He addressed Cassie softly. "I'm very disappointed in you. I expected better." Mentally cringing, Tim realized he sounded like Batman.
Cassie had to back up a step. She herself hadn't realized how much she needed Robin's approval until he uttered those simple words. Tears started to well up in her eyes. Oh Hera! She ran from the room and locked herself in the bathroom.
Kon was all ready for yelling or some other form of rage from Robin. He wasn't prepared for this calmness, this cold fury. The situation was worse than he thought. "Hey, Rob! Buddy! I didn't mean to--" He stopped when Robin turned to face him.
Robin continued in the same gentle tone he used with Cassie. "You didn't mean to what, Kon?" He slowly moved towards the boy, making his prey unconsciously back up closer to the wall. "You didn't mean to expressly go against my wishes? You didn't mean to destroy the trust Batman had in me? You didn't mean to ruin my life?" The last few words came out in a hiss. Kon was briefly reminded of a cobra getting ready to strike. This did nothing to allay his fear.
Robin almost smiled when he saw how intimidated the more powerful teen was, but he bit it back so as not to break the spell. Using speed which would impress even Impulse, Robin grabbed Superboy by the front of his jacket and slammed him up against the wall, raising him a couple inches above the ground, causing Kon's feet to dangle in the air. It was all in the momentum, really. It never occurred to Kon that he could easily break the grip he was in.
"Lesson one, Kon-El. Never underestimate the Bat. Lesson two." He brought back the larger boy back down to eye level and growled, "Never underestimate me." He let go. Kon, whose legs were unprepared for his weight, immediately crumpled to the floor, dazed. Robin turned his back and made his way to his coffee. "Leave," he said in a flat tone. He finally allowed himself to grin when he heard the whoosh of displaced air marking the Boy of Steel's exit.
While Tim had been playing Cinderella for the wicked step-Bruce, he had been trying to come up with the best way to exact his revenge. Since roasting Superboy over an open fire was not an option, he settled for a psychological attack. It worked out quite nicely.
Chuckling, he got his drink and moved to the couch, no longer hiding his stiffness. He put his mug down and lay flat on his back, relaxing into the cushions and knowing that he would look slightly pitiful to Cass. He absently rubbed his arm, which had been bruised earlier when he fell off the ladder. How could a grown man, possibly having the IQ of a genius, get so much food stuck on the ceiling? Alfred would've had a cow. Tim noted the time. He closed his eyes. Cassie would be coming out soon.
As predicted, she emerged from the bathroom, eyes and nose slightly puffy from crying. She crept out, checking to see if the coast was clear. Normally, she wasn't so skittish, but she felt terrible for inadvertently hurting a fellow team member, especially Robin. Hearing nothing, she assumed all was well and boldly headed for the exit. "Cass." Startled, she leapt into the air and assumed a defensive stance. "Calm down, Cass. I'm over here." She floated over to the couch and softly landed next to the reclined vigilante. Even wearing the mask, he looked exhausted. Then she noticed him rubbing his arm. He opened his eyes and looked at her.
She couldn't meet his piercing gaze. "I-I'm sorry. We had no right to invade your privacy like that."
"S'alright, I guess it was going to happen sometime," he sighed. The upside of the whole thing was that they would stop wondering who he really was.
"He left. Hopefully to do some heavy thinking for once in his life." He had to hold back his snicker. That scared look on his face when he was up against the wall...
"What happened to your arm?" Cassie asked, settling on the floor next to him.
That killed his cheerful mood. His face became expressionless. "I don't want to talk about it." He was still slightly embarrassed about that. He should've checked to see that all four legs of the ladder were stable. How he missed that banana peel, he'll never know.
Noticing the guarded look that came over his features, she thought about her earlier conclusion about his living conditions. "Did your father or brother do that to you?" she asked hesitantly.
"What? Why would they?" He awkwardly sat up on the couch.
"Well, I just thought because your family, y'know..." She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence.
Oh yeah. He was supposed to be Jack. "Uh, no. I was doing something for Batman today. I got careless. As for my brother, that Dick wouldn't dare touch me." She winced at his language. He hardly ever swore. "Besides," he didn't need to hide the bitterness in his voice now, "I hardly ever see my father."
"Oh." She felt herself blushing, ashamed of her question. No one spoke for a few seconds. "So, uh, what do we call you now?"
He asked warily, "Did you two tell anyone else?"
"No, we wanted to talk to you first."
"Good. Well, can we just pretend that Jack Malone doesn't exist? I'd rather not have to explain it to everybody else. Where's Secret, by the way?" He looked around.
"She went out with Cissie. Movie or something." She stood up. "I'll talk to Kon about... forgetting, um, Jack Malone. And Rob, I'm really, really sorry about this."
He gave her a small smile. "Thanks, Cass, I know you are." He watched her as she left and counted to one hundred to make sure she wouldn't suddenly return. The guilt trip he'd planned for her worked out as well. The Bat's reading assignments came in handy.
Groaning audibly, he levered himself out of the couch, and went to the lab computer to erase Jack Malone's file. Then, for the second time that day, he got out a bucket, filled it with soapy water and started cleaning everything he could've possibly touched with his bare hands. This was going to be a long night.
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