Rating: PG-13 for some naughty language
Disclaimer: All characters owned by DC Comics. No profit is realized from creation of stories based on these characters. Some section-titles are titles or lines from Jimmy Buffett songs, an homage, not for profit. Timeframe: Post-NML. Post-Academy graduation
Inspiration: Margaritaville Tequila.
Summary: Rascally Arsenal drags exhausted Nightwing out on the town, with lasting results.
Note: I had this thing written, then TLRDRN beta'd and offered an unrefusable, testosterone-spiced color job, like the difference between ketchup and habaòero pepper sauce, earning co-author credits. Comments and feedback are welcome to SKHwrite@a...
Thanks to my pal Matt, who provided the testosterone-laced smack, after reading an earlier version. His contributions were so wonderful, and so "Arsenal" that there was no question of giving him co-author credit. Thanks, Matt, for really "guy-ing" this thing up!
Note: Dick's thoughts are in parentheses (alas, no italics in default-land). And yes, I am a ParrotHead.
Hold onto your cowls, kiddies:
// The perfect partner //
Nightwing moved with quiet purpose along the hallway of the dormitory of the Titans Tower. He walked into his room, throwing the gear bag onto a chair. With his next step, he dove onto his bed, twisting to land on his back with a bounce. He lay back, spread eagle, and relaxed, letting his bones turned to water. Peeling off his mask and closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply, nostrils flaring (Man, I stink). He then sighed heavily in exhaustion.
He looked forward to getting some rest this weekend. He'd had four hours of sleep out of the last seventy-two. The rest of the time he had spent clinging to the roofs of various speeding vehicles, diving off bridges, and leaping in front of moving trains. He had been punched, kicked, shot at, slammed to the ground, and thrown off his motorcycle. He had surveiled, audio-tapped, infiltrated, evaded, gathered clues and obtained convicting evidence. He had quipped, joked, snarled, interrogated, intimidated, cajoled and praised. He'd picked his clothes up off the floor and did his laundry, bought way too much frozen food for one normal human being to consume, then bought the matching freezer to hold it all. He checked his phone messages, read his e-mail, repaired equipment and reloaded the utility compartments in his gauntlets and boots. He got his hair cut, watched that damned TV show with the yuppies stranded on the island (I wish they would stay there) and flirted with Oracle over a midnight bowl of Crunchberry. He doctored sprains, bruises, scrapes, friction burns and pulled muscles. He worked on rebuilding his car, and then had to ice his foot after dropping the water pump on it. There was also a bruised and swelling knuckle to be tended. Bruised and swelling in response to punching that very water pump. He dozed off on the couch, in the bathtub, in front of the computer and on the dolly under the car. Oh–he also stopped two gang fights, seven break-ins, four armed robberies, helped solve a murder, and interrupted a massive shipment of heroin.
Dick Grayson was a bit bushed.
What the hell was he going to do if he ever got hired at the Blüdhaven Police Department? Clones. Lot's of them. That might help.
And now, here he was at his part-time superhero gig, the Titans. Yep, here he was, relaxing for the first time in more hours than he could remember. But he wasn't on call. He was in hiding. Of course (please God no) if there was a catastrophe or alien invasion, or if the Tower was beset by the Hive, the Wildebeests, the Brotherhood of Evil, or a particularly nasty, giant, red, multi-eyed, soul-devouring, antlered demon, Nightwing supposed he'd have to move his ass off this oh-so-comfortable couch and lead his team to victory or disaster. All things being equal, he'd really rather sleep. For about a week. Starting... right about...nnnooowww...
Skirting the edge of consciousness, Nightwing vaguely perceived something–what was it? A draft? Fans kicking on? One eye cracked open in time to see Roy Harper–the Titan known as Arsenal–landing feet first on his bed, one foot to either side of Dick's supine body, his bounce sending their bodies a couple of inches off the bed in the counter bounce. Harper squatted over his teammate's belly and tapped him annoyingly on the cheek.
"Robbie! Waddup!? Watchoo doin' sneakin' around here without saying hello, dude?" He grinned evilly, gleefully, kind of like the Joker. "You tired Batboy? Playin' too much chase-the-landlady?" Arsenal partially unfolded from his crouch and began lightly jostling the bed.
(I'm going to commit my very first murder). A fist that moved too fast to see gripped Roy's shirt. Legs bruised black and blue to match his costume's colors scissored Roy's legs.
Roy felt himself being flipped straight backwards off the end of the bed. Strong arms pulled him to his feet and flung him against a wall. He heard the flat slap of open palms slamming microns away from his ears against the wall. The room was very dark, but he could see a pair of wary, flinty blue eyes very near his own, smell warm breath against his cheeks.
"Hi Roy. Nice to see you, pal. How's things? Lian?"
Nightwing stepped away and turned on the lights. He trudged back to his bed to sit down. "M'really tired, man... busy couple a days. Nap time. Not the best time to mess with me. What's up?"
Arsenal sat down and clapped his friend between the shoulder blades. "Nap time my ass. All work and no play makes the 'Wingster a cranky flying rodent. Come on dude! I'm bored to effing death. The kids are gone, out to a movie or somewhere, Donna took Lian to see the Lion King, Garth and Wally are doing that domestic thing and Victor went to Star Labs in Metropolis to do some research."
"Dick, let's DO SOMETHING. Let's go get wings 'n beer or something. Damn, I gotta get outta here. YOU gotta get outta here. We, 'WEEEEEE, gotta get OUUUUTAA this place... if it's the last thing we EVER DO'... c'mon Robbie, you know the words!"
"C'mon Dick. You *gotta* eat! Don't you want to grow up to be a big, strong Bat?"
"Roy, I am *exhausted*... otherwise, I'd be happy to go, but right now, all I want is THAT pillow, and THIS mattress, and a thorough examination of the inside of my eyelids. Okay? Please?" Dick implored.
Forty-five minutes later, Roy Harper and a showered-and-shaved Dick Grayson were facing each other over a table at Hooters. A buxom redhead had just dropped off a platter of gooey, steamy wings slathered in sauce that was a decidedly unnatural shade of orange. There was a half-empty pitcher of beer and two empty mugs flanking the mess. "See Dick, now, does it get any better than this?"
"It does when I'm in my bed. Alone, or with company. Although at this point, I would actually prefer a little solitude." Dick poured, then summarily drained, a mugful of beer. "Buuut... I gotta tellya, *that* is damn good. I haven't had a beer in..." (Jeez, has it been that long? When *was* my last beer?) "...all right, I'll give you this one. Maybe I *do* need a night out... without my long johns on." He loaded up a plate of some of the nastiest, tastiest-looking mess he had seen in some time.
Watching his friend, Harper deadpanned, "Mahstah Dick, reeeaaahhlllllleeeeee..." in his best Alfred Pennyworth. "Man, Alfred would box your ears to hear you talking. *You* don't get to have sex."
"Yeah, he would, at that–without a second thought. Y'know, I gotta admit, sometimes I miss the cape. The microfiber makes a great napkin. He chomped into a fat drumstick, made an orgasmic face and sighed, "Oh, God, that's good."
"Yeah, tell me how good they are tomorrow on your way outta the john."
While they ate, the two heroes traded bits of stories about work, cars, sports, women, and their "families." They also traded jokes, burps, and turns ordering and emptying pitchers.
After a particularly and horrifically loud belch, Harper announced that nature was calling. While he waited, Dick pushed back from the table, wiped his mouth and, stifling a yawn, looked around the crowded restaurant. After a few minutes, Roy returned.
"Oh, yeah. Life just lost all meaning."
Harper split the last of the pitcher between the two glasses. They both leaned back in their chairs, basking in their full bellies and slightly fuzzy vision.
Dick's mind wandered freely. This really was great. It was a rare opportunity for him to let his hair down and really relax. He shifted his attention back to his friend. "Did it hurt when you got your tattoo? That tribal thing around your arm?"
"Nah. But then again, I don't recall much of it. I DO recall the first couple of pitchers though if that helps."
"I guess that's the unwritten rule of voluntary body mutilation. The drunk part, that is." Dick looked at the tattoo circling Roy Harper's powerfully coiled biceps and triceps. It was a very interesting, intricate design. It was very distinguishing. Dick preferred to blend in rather than stick out, but then, Arsenal/Roy Harper didn't bother to segregate his public crime-fighting persona from his private one. He also was not burdened with protecting anyone else's lifetime of secrets either.
"Well, how else do you shed your inhibitions enough to go through with it? Besides, what the hell does 'hurt' mean anyway? You've had Deathstroke, that Az-Bat asshole, and Blockbuster on your dance card. And what about that Blackgate Prison thing? That wasn't exactly a wet-dream either, was it, Dickie? Tattoos're *nothing* after the kind of shit *we've* been through. Besides, it's not mutilation..." Roy smiled proudly, "...it's decoration."
"Riiiiiiiight—not according to Ba... Bruce. "You don't need any distinguishing marks that might jeopardize your identity." Dick intoned in his eerily dead-on impersonation of The Voice–Batman's deep, intimidating growl. And, just in case Roy couldn't recognize that, Dick held his fingers to the sides of his head, aping the pointed ears of the Dark Knight's cowl. Dick chuckled with self-satisfaction. He was the only man in the world who could get away with that kind of thing. He loved goofing on the Bat.
"Dude, HOW old are you?" Roy leaned across the table glaring directly into Dick's eyes.
"Twenty-four." Dick did not look away.
"And HOW far away from the Bat do you live?" He inched closer.
"Fifty-nine and two-thirds miles." No inflection in his voice.
"And, let's just say, you DID get a tattoo of some kind. Just what EXACTLY could he do? FIRE you? Uh, if memory serves, didn't he already DO that?" They were almost nose to nose. Roy's face now split in a wolfish grin.
"This is true." Dick's patented smirk materialized as he sat, almost preternaturally still, staring unflinchingly into his partner/opponent's eyes.
Abruptly, Roy SLAMMED his palm on the table loudly. Dick flinched imperceptibly at the sudden noise and movement. Reflexes that would not relax. The empty pitcher tottered and spilled the last remnants onto Roy's lap. "Shit... Get UP, Dickie ma boy! We got thangs to DO!" Harper shot up knocking his chair over. Some patrons around them quieted and looked in their direction. Roy returned their stares–"WHAT?!" The diners returned to their respective meals. "Let's get outta here *DICK*." (Why does he always have to say it like *that*?) "The evening is young, so are we, and we have places to go." Dick sighed and started to get up. "Oh, and by the way, 'GOTCHA.'" Roy jabbed his friend in the chest. "You flinched hero."
Dick flushed. Roy was right. "Did not." He protested, a bit pissed.
"Bullshit. You flinched. I saw your hands."
"You're lucky I didn't collapse your trachea with a knife strike to the throat." Dick smiled smugly and reached for the check. "Any way, if I did, it was because of the beer."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Roy put his thumbs together with the index fingers extended to form a W. "Besides, Bartending-Wonder, haven't' you learned anything at that lame-ass cop bar you work at? Alcohol is NOT an excuse for behavior, only a facilitator." He was referring to the bar where Dick was part-timing in Blüdhaven.
"Shut up, man." Busted, Dick gave a half-smile. "We really should be getting back to the Tower, though, Roy. This fine, nutritious meal and your dazzling company have thoroughly exhausted me. I am bone tired, I have barely slept since last Wednesday, and I must admit, I am having just the slightest trouble standing completely straight."
"Richard, my man," Roy put on a deep voice, "you am da straightest boy in 'dis entire 'hood! It is high time for me to put a serious crimp in that straight-arrow thing of yours. But, I have just the fix. Got your ATM card? Plastic? Traveler's cheques? Twenty-four dollars worth of beads?"
"Yeah..." Dick's eyes narrowed. He eyeballed Harper suspiciously. "Why?"
"Well, pay that damn thing and let's motivate! Like the man said, this is your *life* and it's ending one minute at a time!"
(Amazing how *I* always get stuck with the check). Dick put down several bills that amounted to an outrageous tip. "Alllll... riiiiiight..." He sighed.
"YEEEESSSSSS!!!" Roy hooted and jumped up onto a chair. "Ladies and gentlemen, a moment, if you please! We are superheroes out-of-uniform and we are going out on the town. We are going to drink beer and flirt with women we don't know. If there is any kind of emergency, odds are we will be in no condition to be of much help. I just want you all to know that. But I'm sure that someone wearing long underwear will arrive in the nick of time to save the day. Thank you. That is all."
Dick reddened, furious. He grabbed Harper by the wrist in a vice-grip and pulled him down from his perch. "Let's go."
"NOW." This time the growl was his own. And it carried just as much weight and power as his earlier imitation.
"Okay. Chill man. I was just..."
They were outside before it happened. Roy knew it was coming and he also knew that he deserved it. Might as just shut up and take the medici... OUCH–he felt the forearm in his neck and the grip on his belt just before he slammed face-first into the window of an SUV.
"WHAT the Hell was THAT?!" Dick growled in his ear. It was disturbing just how much he sounded like his mentor. "You can't dick-around like that. What were you thinking?"
"Come on dude..." Roy gasped. Not a whole lot of air was making it into his lungs.
"No. *I* am not screwing around here. There is a LOT at stake with what I keep private. More than you know. This is something I take VERY seriously I will not put myself, my friends, my family, or anything else at risk just so *you* can mess around in a bar." He thumped Harper's face into the glass for punctuation.
"Ow. Jeezuss man, lighten up." Roy felt the pressure lessen. At that moment, he pushed back off the truck sending Grayson stumbling.
Dick rolled with the blow he had anticipated. As he went to his back, he swept Arsenal's weight-bearing leg with his own right leg. While the archer flopped hard to his back, the acrobat did a kip-up and was on Roy's chest in the span of two heartbeats. He grabbed his friend by the lapels and pulled his face to his own. "Harper."
"I want you to know something."
"What?" Roy spat.
"I am dead serious when I say... Gotcha."
The tiniest intimation of a smile tugged at the corner of Dick's mouth. Then it showed in his eyes.
"You piece of..."
The man who was Nightwing rolled backwards down Arsenal's body, pushing off with his hands into a handstand and then rotating gracefully to his feet. "Now, are we drinking, or what?"
"..." Roy Harper started to say *several* different things, but just resigned himself to the fact that his fellow Titan did, indeed, have a sense of humor after all. He sprang to his feet using the same move that Dick had. "All right. We're even. I flinched. Now let's ride. I've got several bartenders in this town who count on me to support their families."
"My man." Dick clapped Roy on the shoulder conspiratorially.
"This is a good suit though man, you *could've* kept me off the ground."
"You're lucky I didn't put your laughable ass in that puddle over there."
"You have exactly seven minutes to fume about this. After that, I will have no memory of this event." (It was pretty funny).
Roy slapped at his jacket to get rid of the last of the dust. "All right Robbie! Let's go. You gotta learn to live in the moment."
Dick knew he was giving in too easily. Maybe it was fatigue, or maybe it was the beer, or maybe he thought that he had just been working too hard for too long. He honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd had any fun that hadn't required a mask on his face and his fist in some mook's guts. He knew that whatever the Bored Bowman had in mind would no doubt involve a degree of irresponsibility that the Dark Squire seldom, if ever, was allowed. He grinned at himself and pressed on, joining his fellow Titan dutifully at the curbside. "Tonight is going to be a cab night if ever there was one, Arrow-breath!"
Bat be damned, Dick Grayson was going with the flow.
// Why don't we get drunk... //
After loading up at an ATM with what Dick knew to be rapidly disposable cash, the two Titans walked through the doorway of a club (Dick was asked for ID, Roy was not) with loud techno music, dim lighting and several stages occupied by writhing, undulating, scantily clad (if they could even qualify as clad) nearly beautiful women. Dick gazed around the club, blinking in the atmosphere. As they walked through the club, several performers, waitresses, bouncers and patrons said hello to Roy. None of them said anything to Dick. After the archer disappeared into the smoke to forage for supplies, Dick turned his drifting attention to the performers. One girl particularly caught his eye. She slowly bent backwards until the top of her head touched the stage, her G-string-clad hips swaying to the pulsating throb of the music. "Niiiiiiice. I wonder if Donna can do that?" Roy's voice found Dick's ear as he pressed a bottle of beer into his hand and held a pair of shots along with his own beer. They toasted with the small glasses and tossed them back. Tequila always burned his throat, but the Corona chased it away.
"Yow!! Man, now THAT'S what I'm talkin' 'bout! Nice job, Dickie. Didn't think you'd be able to do that in one hit." Roy congratulated his somewhat repressed friend.
Dick winced. "Thanks? I think." He swallowed more of the crisp, lime-laced beer to ease his throat.
"Well, since that went so well, I think we should get right back on that horse. Heather?" He held a hand up with two fingers raised. They stood at a tall, circular table adjacent to one of the main stages. An impossibly beautiful waitress materialized at Roy's side with two more shots and the assorted lemons, limes, and salt shakers.
The men settled into themselves and became another couple of boys out for the evening, not two men who have traveled into space and saved the planet from destruction. They drank beer, watched the dancers, admired and commented on this feature or that motion, and gratefully accepted the drinks that steadily flowed from the tray of the impossibly beautiful waitress. When another round of tequila shots arrived, Dick rolled his eyes and groaned. "Maybe I should just *crawl* to the bathroom now." (I have fought Bane, how can this scare me)?
A dancer was eyeing Dick conspicuously. When he shyly smiled at her, she flashed rows of teeth that would have impressed any politician. The black lights reflected their brightness and made them seem to glow. She winked. (I have a little devil sitting on my shoulder. He has red hair and carries a bow and arrow. Great. The angel on my other shoulder wears a cape-and-cowl and is scarier than Satan himself. Great.).
"I gotta hit the head Roy," Dick announced, laboriously finding his feet.
"Okay Robbie, but first..." he handed him another shot. When Dick paused, Roy gestured with his chin to drink up, taking a large measure of amusement at his normally tight-assed team leader's apparent unsteadiness.
Dick scowled, "Sadist." He gave his friend his most intimidating glare, licked his hand, poured the salt, licked the salt, did the shot, sucked the lime, made a face and slammed the glass down on the table. "Watchoo got, Speedy?"
Roy's eyebrows raised. Was that a lighthearted challenge? Maybe this was a good idea after all.
"Wimp." Dick muttered as he made his way to the men's room, glad to have scoped out its location when they first arrived. He stepped inside, judiciously regarding the urinal trough, and made his way to the end stall. It wasn't disgustingly horrible, so he stepped inside and locked the door. (Of course, no window in the bathroom). He frowned and attended to his necessary task. (Although it could use one). His nose wrinkled at the thought, and the smell.
Moments later Dick navigated his return to their table, physically relieved and moving subconsciously to the driving beat of the music. He surveyed the various dancers on each of the four runway stages. His gaze reached one girl in particular, a jaw-dropping blonde in a fake police uniform, or strategically placed parts of one, anyway. A beat-cop's hat, a G-string that was little more than a detective's shield and some dental floss, and a toy pistol in a holster slung low across her... talented... grinding... hips. Transfixed, he slowly walked toward her stage. She swayed, undulated, and pumped those hips to the music. Noticing Dick's rapt attention, she drew her pistol, aimed, and sprayed him squarely in the forehead with a stream of water.
On the other side of the runway, Roy caught the movement and burst into guffaws at his friend's plight.
Dick laughed good-naturedly as he wiped the water from his dripping forehead on the sleeve of his shirt. He smiled broadly up at the beautiful blonde. Her eyes narrowed, then grew large with recognition. "Officer Blue-Eyes!!" she squealed, "I remember that smile, and those *eyes*!" The dancer slid gracefully from the runway and locked her arms around Dick's neck. She planted a big, wet kiss on his still-smiling lips. Not entirely sure of where he should place his hands, he listened to the pointy-eared angel on his shoulder and kept them at his sides.
Roy stopped laughing. He sat in astonishment, watching this stunning, mostly naked blonde wrap herself around a guy who probably hadn't been to a topless joint but maybe once in his entire life. In fact, *he* had been there. At Terry Long's–Donna's ex–bachelor party, Dick had been the designated driver. It didn't look like he'd had all that much fun. Roy correctly figured it was because, since Dick and Kory had been going hot and heavy at the time, his reserved team-leader just hadn't been as impressed with the spectacle of nekkid wimmin' as the rest of the horny bastards in their party. 'What the ff-maaannn... that's just not fair...' the bowman groused mildly, '...the chicks go nuts for the 'Wingster, and he's clueless on how to properly appreciate it.'
"Hullo, Danni, I *thought* that was you up there... what're you doing in New York?" Dick blushed at the singular attention the beautiful young dancer paid him.
"I moved here last month with my girlfriend, Maya... that's her over there..." pointing at a lithe black woman in a fedora, and little else. "A friend of Maya's had the hookup about which clubs were hiring and which ones didn't require... uh... personal interviews, she raised her eyebrows. 'Rachel's' was pretty classy and they have a high-end clientele, so here we are!" She stepped away from Dick and posed, arms open wide.
Dick smiled again. "Well, I guess any move out of the 'Haven is a move up. Are you doing okay here, they treating you right?" he asked, looking around the club. Lot's of glassy-eyed, fat, balding men in eighteen-hour old suits, a few homeboys in shiny FuBu gear, and an equal number of urban cowboys sizing up there competition. (Very macho). Next, he noticed the security. Strategically placed in the crowd was the occasional mild mannered citizen. They were good, subtle. The only thing that gave them away was the fact that none of them was watching the entertainment. They were watching the watchers.
Dick also noticed the beefy security guys... one of whom looked to be approaching them with stern determination. An iron clamp grabbed Dick roughly under the arm. "No touching the dancers, Holmes. Hands-off, right?"
Seeing his friend being roughed by one of the bouncers, Roy was off his barstool and striding to Dick's side in an instant. "What's up yo? Problem here? This beautiful young lady approached my friend, not the other way around!"
"Roy, I got this, it's cool." Dick reassured his friend.
Danni, looking a little startled, spoke out. "Shavaughn, it's all right, this is a friend of mine from the 'Haven."
Facing the hulking black bouncer, Dick backed up the dancer. "That's true, sorta, I met Danni when she performed at my Police Academy graduation party. I didn't know she was here in the City–it's kind of a surprise reunion, y'know?"
The large bouncer looked at Dick cautiously. "Aah-ight. 'S'real nice an' all. I'm not gonna kick your asses out of here. We gots to take care of the blue right? But we all got a job to do here, an' you getting in the way dig? She gets the dollahs to make people hollah, same? Wait till she's done as the feature."
Dick grinned lop-sidedly. He was relieved not to have his butt kicked, or to cause an incident that might get the young dancer fired. He approached the bouncer and gestured for them to step a few feet away. He spoke to the man for a moment, handed him something. A brilliant smile featuring several ounces of gold split the ebony mask of Shavaughn's face. They shook hands and Dick returned the smile, although at considerably lower wattage. He then returned to the intrigued Roy and Danni.
"'S'aah-ight now. All taken care of. Hey, Roy–Danni, Danni–Roy." He introduced the dancer to the superhero. Roy's lips curled into his most charming, rakish smile, and he took the dancer's hand, kissed it chivalrously. "Extremely pleased to make your acquaintance. And for the record, you'd be wasting your time with this flatline here. He doesn't know his ass from his elbow when it comes to incredibly beautiful women, such as yourself. *I*, on the other hand..."
"What's Donna doing tonight, Roy?" Dick interjected, peeved. They were interrupted by a waitress, who returned Dick's credit card, along with a bill for him to sign. Dick pocketed his card and looked at the bill. One eyebrow rose momentarily, then he smiled and signed the paper, returning it to the waitress.
"What was that?" queried Roy.
"Nothing... hey, let's grab a table?" indicating one next to the stage where Danni was dancing.
"Yeah, be right back." Roy grinned, and winked at his friend.
Turning back to the dancer, Dick spoke. "I guess you'd better get back to the show before Shavaughn reconsiders."
"Yessir, Officer Blue-Eyes..." Danni saluted and kissed Dick on the cheek. "...I wouldn't want you to have to handcuff me and take me into custody." She turned as she stepped back up to the stage. "Unless that's what you're into." and she gave Dick a look that caught his attention in several different parts of his body.
He was still blushing when Roy reached their new table with their drinks. "Dude! What's up with you having a party with strippers and not inviting me?" Roy asked, with mock-indignation.
Caught off-guard, Dick looked at the other Titan briefly, then looked away, at the familiar blonde dancer on the stage. "The party was a surprise, organized by some friends, Roy, and you *were* invited to my graduation. You were a no-show, just like *everyone* else. If you'd been at the graduation, you'd have been at the party." Dick intoned with more than just some disappointment. He had to admit, it stung that no one among his closest friends–or his family–had been at his graduation. Not even Alfred. Dick knew better than to expect Bruce to show up, but he really thought Alfred would have been there. To see him graduate. From anything.
After an uncomfortable silence, Roy changed the subject. "Hey, Tanya said some guy bought a round of drinks for everyone in the place. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" He narrowed his green eyes at Dick, who took a pull on his beer.
Dick cut his eyes toward Roy. Smiled just a little. "Tanya?" Then returned his attention to the main stage. Danni was "arresting" a member of the crowd.
Roy followed Dick's gaze to the luscious blonde. "So. D'ja get her number, Robbie? Gonna meet up with her later? Inquiring mind wanted to know."
"Nah–not my type." Dick smiled at Danni as he took another sip of his beer. So talented. So...
"Not your type? What? Dude. A: she's gorgeous. Second: she digs you. That can't happen very often. And D: SHE'S EFFING NAKED! That spells 'my type' in any language on this planet. She's the universal donor! 'Clueless-Wonder'! What, precisely, is your *damage* here?" he quizzed in exasperation.
Dick turned to Roy, his expression solemnly serious. "She sort of asked me the same thing, Roy. I... I couldn't lie to her, she's really a nice girl." Roy listened to his friend with all the attention he could muster through the alcohol... and the music... and the naked women. Dick looked down, as if in embarrassment, then looked the flame-haired archer straight in the eyes, pausing.
"I told Danni I couldn't, you know, 'see' her because..." Dick paused to clear his throat.
"Roy, I don't know how to say this... Roy, I have, for a long time. I... jeez, I thought maybe you knew... I thought..." he trailed off. Dick put his hand on Roy's knee. Roy glanced down at Dick's hand. On his knee. Then he looked back up at Dick's face–and he was suddenly uncomfortable. Dick moved in a little closer, his hand firmly on Roy's thigh now, his crystal blue eyes unwavering. Dick watched Roy's expression change from concern to panic. God, this was so difficult, he didn't know if he could actually go through with this... "I *love* you Roy–I've tried to fight it for a long time. Do you think you could *ever*–"
"Uhhhh... Dick..." *now* uncomfortable with the sound of his friend's name. "Look, man, I'm... uh... flattered. Really, and all, but..." Roy blushed and stammered. He looked away for a moment, not knowing what to do or say–he was flummoxed. He knew Dick was a brainy, sensitive kind of guy, with a tumultuous emotional past, plus the whole living-with-a-grown-man-running-around-in-tights thing, but this..? Roy heard a sound like a tight squeak, followed by a gasp. He turned back in time to see Dick double over in laughter.
Dick laughed hard, barely able to catch his breath between peals, tears appearing at the corners of his eyes. Smilex. He felt like he'd been blasted with Smilex, the Joker's lethal laughing gas. "...G-G-Gotcha!..." and more laughter. "That's twice." Oh, his stomach hurt now. Ow. But this was *too* good.
Roy sat stock-still, glaring at the man across the table from him who was nearly prostrate with laughter. "Did not." Roy uttered. Terse. Clipped.
More laughter, gasping. "Riiiiiiiiight!"
"No way, Bird-brain, I knew you were goofing on me all the time." Roy lied, seeing no easy way out of this humiliation.
"Oh, puh-leeeze, Roy. Oh wow. Jeezus that was great! Your face was the same color as your hair!" Dick slapped the table, rocking their beer bottles. He hadn't laughed like this in ages. Oh, it felt SO good!
Roy just sat as Dick attempted to calm himself. Dick looked at him again and hooked his index finger into the side of his own mouth, yanking his head to the side in an exaggerated "caught-fish" gesture. He pointed at Roy and dissolved into peals of laughter again. "Gotcha." Dick repeated, raising two fingers on his right hand. He was beginning to catch his breath and quiet himself down as the quart of endorphins released by his laughing-fit took effect. He looked at Roy and sighed contentedly.
Roy glowered back. Then his smile broke through. He raised a glass.
Dick returned the toast with a quizzical look on his face.
"Well, evidently, you have had the bat successfully removed from your ass."
"Screw you, Harper!"
"Blow me Grayson." There was nothing else for the archer to say.
"Izz'at an invitation, Roy?" Dick's voice cracked at the end, and his laughter started all over again. "Are you starting to come around?" He choked out. Tears ran down his face.
There was only one thing Roy Harper could do. He got up and went to the men's room.
When Roy returned to the table Dick had composed himself and was watching the arresting blonde dancer again, sipping his beer. Only a liquid twinkle remained in Dick's eyes to betray his mirth. "What are we gonna do about these shots, Arrow-head?" Dick's gaze never left the stage.
"I say we kill 'em. Now."
"A merciful death."
"Like the one you'll be begging for, come morning."
"...Which I'm sure I'll be cruelly denied."
"Right. Like they say, 'Lick-it, Slam-it, Suck-it!'"
The two friends spent the next hour enjoying the exotic entertainment, tipping frequently, and getting riotously hammered.
// I treat my body like a temple–you treat yours like a tent. //
"I'm-okay-I'm-okay, I swear..." Dick leaned against a wall, not entirely convinced he actually was. He was very drunk. Drunker than he'd ever gotten in college, the last time he'd wholeheartedly participated in binge-drinking.
"I'm not so sure, dude... you look a little shaky." Roy didn't feel too steady himself.
"Okay-okay... m'okay." Dick reassured himself, as well as Roy. He straightened up and looked at his friend. He put his hands on the archer's shoulders and pulled him closer, until they were almost touching foreheads. "I've gotta learn to live in the moment, right?" Pause, and with deliberate seriousness, "I think I'm ready now, Roy."
"You *think* you're ready?"
"I'm *ready*. I can *do* this. I *wanna* do this.
"Good for you, Robbie. I'm proud of you. ...Do what?"
// Another fine mess //
"I'm not making noise –"
"Whoa! Heeheeheehee... hey! Shhhhhhh!"
"Cut that out, I don't need a shower, dude."
"Wanna bet? ...P-U!–heeheeheehee..." A sharp gasp. "Uh-ohh..." A groan of misery. "...Are we at my room yet?"
"Not yet... you're not gonna spew, are you?"
"I'm am NOT gonna throw up! I promised, didn't I?"
"Yeah, but I don' truss you."
"But Roy, you've trusted me with your life, man, we're TITANS!" he grabbed Harper by the lapels on that last word.
"Yeah, I trust you with my life. I just don't trust you not to hurl on me right now, you unnerstand?"
"Oh thanks. Now I *really* don't need a shower."
Whining painfully, "Where the hell's my room? Are we on the right floor? ...I wanna lie down, Roy."
"Don't lie down here! We're almost there, just a few more... damn, you're heavy–will you just *walk*, man?"
"...Here... here is... a good place, Roy. I gotta lie down man. Here. NOW."
"No, no, no, no, Dick, not here, waitaminit, dammit..."
"Ohhhhh. No, no... oh, jeez. Oh–God..."
"Aaahhh shit. Dude! You promised! See what I mean–I can't trust you, you lightweight pussy!"
"Shut UP! Ohhhhh God, please God, please, just let me get to my bed..."
"Roy? ...Dick? What's wrong? Are you all right? You said you'd be home three hours ago! I was worried!"
"Donna! Hey! Babe! Yeah... we're late, we got... sidetracked—never happen again, I swear!"
Weakly, "Donna... heeeyyy, Doll... I hafta lie down now. Or else I'm gonna..."
"Oh–hey–no, man! No, you're not! Donna, can you give me a hand here, please, babe? Please? He's an inch away from..."
Dick's legs buckled and he slid out of Roy's arms to the floor. Roy squatted over him–deja-vu–and tapped him on the cheek. No response. God, he didn't want to look up at Donna. If he had killed Dick, she would never forgive him. Maybe she would accept that it was suicide. No, that wouldn't work. If it was suicide, she'd say he had driven Dick to it. Or led him.
"Are you just going to leave our fearless leader lying on the floor, Roy?" Arms crossed. Foot tapping lightly. "He pukes, you die."
"Guess not." He hooked his hands under Dick's arms and pulled him up halfway, until Dick slipped out of his jacket–and promptly puddled to the floor.
The Amazon glared javelins at the disheveled archer, shoving him backward until his head thumped the wall behind him. She bent and picked up her longtime friend, cradling him in her arms like a sleeping child. "Open the door, Roy." Rubbing the back of his head pitifully, he mutely obeyed.
"Get the covers." Roy dutifully pulled the bedspread and sheet down. Donna lay Dick carefully on the bed and sat next to him, smoothing a stray lock of hair off his forehead. She began to unbutton his shirt. "You want to get his shoes, please?" Off came the Titans' leader's shoes and socks.
Donna tenderly slipped her friend's arms out of his shirt and pulled it away from his body. She looked at Roy. "His pants?"
"He's okay, Donna, it won't kill him to..."
"That's all right, I'll do it *myself*. Go on, get out of here. You've caused *enough* trouble." She moved to unbuckle Dick's belt. Roy swatted her hands away. "I'll do it, jeezus, make a federal case..." Roy yanked his victim's pants off and quickly threw the sheet and bedspread over the lower half of his body. Somewhere... neither man could recall... Dick's boxers had gotten lost. Roy did not want Donna to see what had "sidetracked" them that night, either.
Donna rolled Dick onto his side and placed a pillow behind his back, and a throw pillow from the chair in front of him. She wanted to keep him from rolling over onto his back, in case he vomited in his sleep. "Dick? Dick, honey? You need to listen to me, okay?"
"Dick, wake up for just a minute, honey. Wake up."
"Uhnnn. N-no... no. Can't do tha', Doll, pleeeeze."
"Dick, listen to me. If you need to be sick–are you listening?–If you need to throw up–"
"Yeah, dude. If you're gonna spew, spew in this." Roy did his best 'Garth Algar'.
Donna gave Roy a look that made his testicles shrivel. "If you need to throw up," she said sweetly, "roll forward and do it–I put the waste-basket right here, next to your bed. Okay?"
"Hokay... puke in th' trashcan... but, I don' wanna throw up, Donna... I h-hate throwing up..." He was miserably pitiful.
"I know, honey, I know. Would you like me to stay here with you for a while?" Donna rubbed Dick's back lightly, watching him with concern.
With his last particle of conscious thought, Dick realized that THAT would bug the ever-loving crap out of Roy Harper. His murderer. His friend. ('Pussy,' huh?) Dick opened his eyes with great effort and gazed up at Donna. He touched her knee weakly with one finger.
"Would you? Tha's so sweet, Doll, thanks. Luv you..." Triumph. He closed his eyes and fell into a senseless abyss.
"That's so LAME, Donna. He'll be fine. C'mon, let's go to bed."–Shit. Roy realized he should not have said those last four words aloud. Damn. Damn. Damn-damn-dammit!!
Donna seethed. "No, Roy, YOU go to bed. YOURS. You go check on your daughter and then you go to bed. I am staying here with Dick for a little while; just to make sure he doesn't get sick. How could you DO this to him, Roy? You KNOW he doesn't usually drink!"
"I... he... but it was..." he stammered. Defeat. It was best just to flee and live to fight–or love–another day. 'At least Lian still loves me.' He thought drowsily on his way out of Dick's room.
// Nothing is sure but this brand-new tattoo //
Sensation slowly returned to the corpse-like body sprawled across the bed. Dick Grayson lay belly-down on the mattress, a pillow underneath his head and upper torso, bed linens all but kicked off the bed. Part of a sheet draped from his knees to mid-buttocks.
He was afraid to open his eyes. If what his brain told him was true, vision would not help the situation at all. He must be back at the circus, because how else could his mouth be full of hay and elephant dung. And Elinore, his beloved pachyderm, sat stubbornly on his head. He groaned long and low, and tried to move his extremities, verifying or dismissing paralysis. What the hell was the command to make Elinore stand up, he wondered? He lay there for a while trying to figure it out.
The feeling slowly dawned on him that he might not be alone. He needed to try to open his eyes. But the prospect of the sight of Elinore's unattractive behind gave him pause.
"Unca Nightwing?" a small voice filtered through a couple of tons of elephant flesh.
"Unca Nightwing? You waked up yet?"
Lian was here to rescue him. 'Lian, push the elephant off my head, will you, Princess?' he silently implored.
"Unca Nightwing, you gots to wake up. Auntie Donna says I'm not s'pose to talk to you 'til you're waked up."
Dick risked opening one eye. Elinore was still there, but she had now become invisible. He focused until he could discern a pair of almond-shaped brown eyes. Lian.
"Hi, Unca Nightwing, you're waked up! You were asleep longer than Daddy!"
...Was she speaking English?
It was too soon after waking with an invisible elephant on his head to accurately process speech. Or any other higher functions. He was, however, acutely aware of a singular lower function that was begging for attention. His bladder no longer desired to be as full as it currently was. And as soon as he figured out what to do about Elinore, he would address that situation.
He blinked stupidly at the little face before him. He knew he had to say something. How exactly did speech work again?
"Hi, Lian..." Dick spoke through the mouthful of hay and elephant dung. His voice echoed painfully through his skull.
Dick tried moving. ('A fetal position sounds nice. Can I do that?') He tucked his knees under him and pushed backwards, to lie on his side.
Seeing Dick's movement as an invitation, Lian climbed onto his bed and scrambled over him, slamming her little knee into the already-protesting bladder, and on his other side, a little heel kicked his lower back near his tailbone. "OW! Jesu... mphrmphng..." the majority of his exclamation was buried in his pillow. Dick did not want Lian to learn THAT kind of language from him. Lian cheerfully started bouncing on his bed. Bouncing on her feet twice and dropping to her fanny for the third bounce.
Dick prayed for death. His. Quickly.
Her father's child. No DNA test required there, no sir!
The bouncing stopped (thank you God).
Then Lian spoke with the profound wisdom of children:
"Unca Nightwing, how come you gots a Batman on your booty?"
Dick's eyes snapped open. The elephant dissolved.
"Huh?" he posed to the child, looking over his shoulder at her.
"How come you gots a *Batman* on your booty?" she repeated.
Muscles and brain-function came back online instantly. He realized far too much of his bare skin was exposed to this child and yanked the sheet up to his neck. Dick sat up and scooted back until his spine touched the headboard.
"Lian, honey, Uncle Nightwing has to go potty. 'Scuse me..." he explained as he gathered the sheet around him and walked mummy-like to the bathroom. He shut and locked the door.
First things first, he quieted his screaming bladder. Next, he stood with his back to the mirror and looked over his shoulder. "What the..." Was that a bruise? Dick ran water and grabbed the soap. He wet the bar of soap and rubbed it across the 'bruise' then scrubbed the area gently with is hand. He wiped himself clean with a wet washcloth. Still there.
'Jeez, I've got to get closer...' thoughts gaining clarity now. He removed a hand-held shaving mirror from a drawer and sat on the countertop, angling the hand mirror to the larger wall mirror. Dick's breath caught in his throat and his eyes widened. No. Oh, no-no-no. Uh-uh, no WAY!–THAT was not ...THERE!
"Oh, Holy SHIT!" he hissed in horrified disbelief.
On his lower back, actually at the base of his sacral mound, his "tailbone," Richard John Grayson now sported a tattoo. A very particular tattoo.
A tattoo of—the Bat-insignia.
The tattoo was about three inches wide and an inch high. The bat's tail descended into the top of the cleft of his buttocks. 'Well, there go my dreams of being a refrigerator repairman!' he quipped to himself. But the design was more than Batman's insignia alone. Super-imposed inside the black bat-shape was–in a brighter blue–Nightwing's own symbol.
Dick had absolutely *no* memory of how the tattoo had appeared on his body. That alone was scarier than having actually *gotten* a tattoo. How the hell was he going to explain THIS? Of course, it was a foregone conclusion that sooner or later, he'd have to–Batman had a way of finding out EVERYthing. Dick looked up at his reflection. He was looking at a dead man. His eyes narrowed into a furious scowl. He was not going to be the *only* dead man in the Titans Tower!
Dick grabbed his bathrobe off the hook on the back of the bathroom door. He pulled it on as he was flying down the hallway. He was bellowing Roy Harper's name all the way.
// And how it got here I haven't a clue //
"...pasted a hundred-dollar bill on this chick's ass and... Oh, 'morning 'Wingster, or rather, afternoon. Coffee?"
Standing in the kitchen, Roy held out a mug of coffee to Dick. The enraged Titan slapped the mug out of Roy's hand, sending mug and coffee flying to spray and shatter against the stove. He twisted his fists into Roy's shirt and slammed the archer against the refrigerator, pinning him with his feet barely touching the floor.
"How did this THING get there, Roy? How the Hell did I end up with this... *thing* on my ass? Is this some kind of sick practical joke? TELL ME!!" Dick snarled venomously through clenched teeth.
Knowing how pissed, how freaked, how deadly his friend was at that moment, Roy Harper remained calm, not moving his eyes from Dick's.
"Easy, Dick. You told me 'I've got to learn to live in the moment, I'm ready to do this, I want to do this!' You asked for it, you drew the design out, you specified the colors, you chose its location, you paid for it, and you lay down and had it done. Simple as that. Now, you want to let me down, man? You're scaring my kid, okay?"
The cloud of fury dissipated from Dick's brain. He released his friend as his expression morphed from angry to confused to contrite.
"Maybe you oughta sit down, okay, Dick? Have some juicy-juice and a couple of ibuprophens?"
Dick looked around the room and saw that Argent and Damage were staring at him, mouths agape. Donna, however, was trying to hide a smile behind her hand. Lian was sitting at the counter next to Donna, a cup of juice and some cookies in front of her.
Just great! No costume, no mask, real name flying everywhere, totally out of control... he may as well strip his robe off and do naked cartwheels through the kitchen. Well, at least nobody had mentioned Batman.
Lian looked around at everyone. Everybody was so serious. With typical aplomb, she broke the uncomfortable silence.
"Unca Nightwing gots a Batman on his booty. He can be Booty-man now too."
Dick closed his eyes and seriously considered the cartwheels.
The room exploded in laughter. Damage was doubled over. Argent had spit a mouthful of scrambled eggs on the floor. Of course, Arsenal was apoplectic.
"Booty-man?! Bwah-hah-hah! Oh that is great! That is IT! Too awesome!"
(Booty-man. Great. How long am I going to have to live with *that*?)
Lian was now running around the room holding her blanket around her neck singing, "Booty-maaaaaan! Booooooty-maaaaaan!"
Roy was not helping. "Man can you see it? On a dark and stormy night when villainy is lurking everywhere... just look to the sky for those perfectly shaped buttocks. He will be there... Booty-man!"
Dick couldn't help but smile. That *was* kind of funny.
// It's been a lovely cruise //
Later that evening, Nightwing wheeled his motorcycle onto the Titans' barge. Arsenal was there with his daughter in his arms, to see him off.
"Roy, again, bro, I'm so sorry I lost it today. It was a pretty huge shock, considering I have absolutely no recollection of the... procedure." Nightwing could barely meet his friend's eyes.
"There's no need for apologies, my 'de bauchery-apprentice.' It was a blast! You know, I had a feeling you had it in you to let your hair down successfully–we just had to muck through all those years of Bat-imposed repression. Maybe we should ease into it a little more slowly next time. Stuff like that is better left to Masters like myself." Green eyes twinkled above the smug grin.
Nightwing stepped up onto the bank of the island, pulling his friend and his friend's daughter into a hug. He kissed Lian on the forehead. "Bye-bye, Princess. See you next time."
"Bye-bye, Unca Nightwing." She put her arms around his neck and gave him a fierce hug.
Nightwing moved back, slugged his friend in his free shoulder and smiled. "Regardless, I did have an exceptionally good time, Roy. Thanks. I haven't laughed like that in a couple of years, even if it *was* at your expense."
"Yeah, and if I'd been thinking straight–ugh, no pun intended–I'd have called your bet and played along. What would you have done then, Bird-brain?" Roy winced at the memory of his discomfort.
"I'd have given you the *wettest* tongue kiss you have ever seen, Bow-head!" Enormous smile.
Returning to the barge, Nightwing disembarked for his trip back to Blüdhaven, musing, (But next time I want peace and quiet to catch up on my sleep, I think I'll just head to Metropolis and get a hotel room).
// Gotcha Redux //
Two weeks later, Roy Harper abruptly woke to a powerful hand held over his mouth and another one pressed to his throat, constricting the blood vessels that ferried blood to the brain. Eyes scanning wildly, he was unable to make out anything but a dark mass. What had happened to the nightlight he kept for Lian?
A deep, gravelly voice struck Roy's ears as his blood ran frosty-cold with recognition. Oh, he knew THAT Voice, all right.
"Arsenal. Pay attention. There will be No. More. Tattoos. For him. Ever. Do you understand me? Blink if you do."
"Good boy." The hands disappeared, leaving Roy gasping for breath. He immediately reached over and turned on the bedside lamp. Not a soul was in the room. Not a sound broke the silence save for the pounding of his heart.
The lamp stayed on the rest of the night, but Roy Harper didn't sleep another wink.
// Epilogue //
Nightwing slid into the Batwing's co-pilot seat, retracted the ladder, and touched the control that sealed the cockpit shut. "Nightwing-to-Oracle... all clear to re-engage the Titan's Tower security grid. Bring it back online, and thanks for your help during this little, um, 'test'."
"Test, my *hindquarters*, 'Former Boy-Wonder'! Spill it! Come clean. What, were doing evil things with superglue again?"
"Babs, you know me too well. Yeah, there's a story, but I have to tell it in person... it's an 'illustrated' tale (to put it literally, sort of). How 'bout I share it next Friday night over Chinese take-out and a new DVD? Your place, about eight o'clock?"
"Illustrated? Hard copy or demonstration?"
(As hard as you want it, and demonstrated with total abandon... could easily become 'the Greatest Show on Earth') "Both, Babs. I'll call before Friday. Nightwing out."
"Take her up and out, Robin, let's blow some sonic booms down the coastline on the way back to Gotham!"
(And you, Roy... Gotcha).
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