Notes and disclaimers posted previously.

Author's Notes: This part ended up huge. Massive. Uncalled-for excess of words. So it will be posted in three parts, like the last chapter, but in one part per day to keep everyone's mailboxes sane.

Coming Home, Part 6a
By Smitty

"Mmm." Barbara Gordon Grayson blinked a few times and opened her eyes to the sunlight streaming in her bedroom window.

"Dick?" He hadn't woken her when he came in. Probably wanted her to sleep. She stretched an arm to the other side of the bed, feeling for his solid shoulder. Instead, her hand slid along the quilted cotton of the comforter, stopping only when her arm was fully extended and still had met no resistance.

"Dick?" She turned her head toward her husband's side of the bed. The covers were still pulled up to the head, marred only where she'd pulled her own side down.

Dick Grayson hadn't come home last night.

"Where's your partner?"

"Mornin' t'you, too, Amy," Filb greeted his former rookie. He took a deep drag from the cup of coffee in his hand and looked up at Amy as he set it down. "What are you looking at me for?" he asked. "You know as well as me that Grayson comes flying in right when we're ready to kill him."

"He's already here," Amy informed him, walking around to the other desk and picking up Dick's uniform hat. "Peanut butter, too," she added, lifting a paper sack between two fingers. "So where is he? If he's in the evidence room, so help me—"

"Hey Filb, howdy Amy," Dick Grayson greeted his fellow officers as he sauntered up to the desk. "You after my lunch?" he asked the scowling captain. "I wouldn't recommend it; made it myself since Babs was still asleep."

"Grayson." The look on Amy's face was deadly serious. "My office. Right now." She dropped his hat and his lunchbag on his desk and walked back to her office.

Dick and Filb exchanged concerned glances. Around him, Dick could hear the squad room murmuring. A public smackdown from Captain Rohrback to Sergeant Grayson was SOP when Dick was pressing the limits, but this office stuff was nearly unheard of.

"Well, into the lion's den I go," Dick announced with a falsely cavalier smile plastered on his face.

Filb moved around the desk, ostensibly going for a refill from the coffee pot, and clapped a hand on his partner's shoulder as he walked by.

"Don't get eaten," he suggested.

Dick nodded, and with a deep breath, headed for Amy's office.

"I'm going to kill him," Babs muttered, pulling herself into her chair. Ignoring her matted hair and wrinkled nightclothes, she quickly wheeled out to the living room. No one was there, but she heard noises in the kitchen.

Spud was sitting at the table, eating toast and jelly with Buckshot the horse.

"Where's Dick?" Babs asked immediately.

Spud looked up at her with wide eyes and offered a clueless shrug. "At work, I guess," he answered. "He made toast."

Barbara breathed out a sigh of relief. At least Dick had been home. She rolled over to the telephone and picked up the receiver. Dick's work number was in the memory. Barbara tapped her fingernails on the table as she waited for someone to pick up the line.

"Blüdhaven PD, this is Officer Filbert."

"Filb, it's Barbara."

"Well, howdy, ma'am! Did I ever tell you how happy your ribs make a man?"

"Filb, that sounds almost dirty," Barbara couldn't help saying, sending the man on the other end of the line into peals of laughter. "But I was actually calling for Dick. Have you seen him yet?"

Filb immediately quieted down. "He's here, Barb, but he's in Amy's office now. Think they're talking 'bout your munchkin. Need him to give you ring when he gets back?"

"If he has time," Barbara said with a sigh. "I didn't hear him get up this morning and I was worried."

"No problem, m'dear. I'll pass the message along."

"Thanks Filb." Barbara set her teeth as she hung up the phone. Didn't hear him get up indeed. He'd never been to bed. When she got her hands on him...

"Can I have more toast?"

Babs sighed. "Sure." She pulled out the loaf of bread and dropped two more slices in the toaster. "Did Dick say anything when he was in here this morning?"

Spud looked at her blankly. "He said good morning. And he asked if I wanted some toast. He said he was going to work to find who..." Spud trailed off and turned his full attention back to his toast.

"Great," Babs muttered. "Nice move, Dick."

"Close the door."

Dick closed the door behind him with a bit of trepidation. Amy never closed her office door. Just the fact he'd been ordered in was bad enough. He turned back to face her, standing at attention.

She didn't tell him to relax.

Instead, she leaned her fists on the desk, hunching her shoulders. She blew air out through her teeth and directed her eyes up at him.

"You know what that is?" she asked, cocking her head at a single sheet of paper lying in front of her.

Dick couldn't see the paper so he barked out a crisp, "No, ma'am."

Amy straightened and plucked the paper from her desk.

"It's a formal reprimand," she informed him, her eyes boring into his face. "For failing to follow orders."

Dick stared past her, processing this information. A formal reprimand would go in his service jacket.

It would be pulled whenever he came up for promotion.

It would be pulled if a complaint was filed against him.

It would be pulled if he came up for a commendation.

He felt ill. How would he tell Babs? Bruce? And with all the crooked cops who *deserved* such a damaging piece of paper, why was he coming under fire?

"No one else has seen it," Amy continued. "I'd like to tear it up. But that depends on you."

He dared to glance at her. She was watching him steadily, leaning on the desk again, her palms flat on the surface this time.

"You're *off* this case, Grayson. I don't want to see you talking to another witness, looking at another piece of evidence or following up on another imaginary lead. You do that for me and this piece of paper will be in my fireplace tonight. You run off on another wild goose chase and it'll be the first thing Addad sees when he walks into his office tomorrow morning. Got it?"

Dick nodded once. "Yes, ma'am," he replied, his temper boiling just below the surface.

"Good. You're dismissed."

Dick spun on his heel and snatched the door open. How *dare* Amy do this to him! She should *know* by now that things aren't always as they appeared at first glance! *She* wasn't the one who had spent the last twenty years learning that there was always something worse when you turned the corner. *She* wasn't the one who had a kid waking up with nightmares every night! *She* wasn't the one who had to fix things for him!

Filb raised his head from his paperwork as Dick stormed up to the desks.

"Let's go," Dick said shortly.

"Barbara called," Filb said mildly, ignoring Dick's display of temper. "Asked if you would call her back."

"I'll call her back later," Dick mumbled, picking up his cap. "Let's get out of here." He took off for the door before Filb had even pushed back his chair.

Filb shook his head. "Not good," he mumbled under his breath. "Not good at all."

"Get your sweatshirt," Babs ordered. "We can't wait around for Dick to call. I have to get to physical therapy."

"We have to go somewhere else?" Spud asked, annoyed at having to be separated from his toys.

"Yes, so hurry up. We're going to be late. Go get your sweatshirt."

"It's hot."

"So don't go get it; I don't care. Get something to do, bring your horse or a book or something," Babs instructed. Only after the words had left her mouth did she realize that Spud didn't have any books. Well, they'd have to fix that, she decided. What were kids his age reading now? The books about the wizard kid?

Babs hustled Spud into the car. Fortunately, the outpatient branch of Rabe Memorial Hospital's physical therapy clinic was only minutes away. It was one of the reasons the Graysons had chosen Avalon Hill for their home.

"Hi Barb," one of the technicians greeted her as they entered. "Got a friend?"

"Just this time," Babs replied, figuring maybe she could get Cass to watch Spud next time—no, Cass worked full-time at WE, now. Dinah? Maybe if she wasn't out saving the world that day. Perhaps it was time to make friends with the neighbors.

"We don't have a childcare station," the technician said doubtfully. "Maybe upstairs—"

"He'll be good," Babs assured her. "Right Spud? Go sit down somewhere and play with your horse."

Spud nodded, squeezing Buckshot tightly.

The tech smiled weakly at him. This was not good, she thought. Not good at all.


"What was that?" Babs asked anxiously. She struggled to sit up as her leg was bent toward her chest.

Cindy, her usual therapist, looked over her shoulder. "Sounds like someone slipped in the pool," she commented as she straightened Barbara's leg and put a steadying hand behind her back.

"Oh no," Babs moaned, peering around Cindy in time to see a burly nurse pull Spud out of the water by the leg of his jeans. For a moment, she had a vision of Spud slipping right out of the sloppily large pants. "Spud!" she called across the room.

"This little guy belong to you, ma'am?" the nurse asked, grinning, as he slung Spud over his shoulder and walked across the room. "Looks like he was trying for swimming lessons." He swung Spud down on the floor and handed him the still-dry horse. "Look before you leap, little buddy," he said cheerfully and winked at Babs.

"Spud! Didn't I tell you to just sit still and be quiet?"

"I was being quiet," Spud defended himself. "I just wanted to see why the water was running in a circle."

Babs glared at him, trying to be angry. She wasn't doing a very good job. Although her ears still felt hot from the embarrassment of having the entire room's attention, the proclamation of curiosity had reminded of another little boy who used to be her responsibility. A little boy with dark curls, blue eyes and an irrepressible penchant for sliding down banisters.

"Let's save the science experiments for home, ok?" she asked finally.

"Ok." Spud nodded solemnly. "What's an esspiriment," he asked quizzically.

"A kind of gum," Babs joked in response to his mispronunciation. "It's actually a scientific process to determine the feasibility of..." She broke off when she saw that Spud looked completely blank.

"It's when you find out things by trying them," Cindy volunteered. She took hold of his arm. "Let's do an experiment to see which way your elbow goes," she suggested. She folded his forearm forward, bending his arm at the elbow. "See, that experiment worked," she said. She reversed the pressure, straightening his arm and pushing gently. "But I can't get it to bend that way. So my experiment didn't work. But now I know which way I can bend your arm—and you know how far you can lean over the pool until you fall in."

"Yeah," Spud commented dryly. "Not very."

The keys landed smartly in Filb's hand. He looked up at his partner.

"I get to drive?" He raised an eyebrow. "T'what bug up your ass do I owe this pleasure?"

Dick yanked open the passenger side door of the police cruiser and leaned on it.

"Amy's got a reprimand in there with my name on it, he told Filb bitterly. "Said if I don't forget about the shooting case, she's sending it up. Put it in *my* hands." His voice held his contempt.

Filb looked at him worriedly. "She's being right decent about it," he said slowly, realizing that Amy hadn't taken any official action yet.

"Decent? She's making me choose between—" Dick broke off and turned away, lifting his cap to shove a hand through his hair. "You're driving because I don't want to do anything stupid before I make a decision," he said without finishing his first thought.

"Hey." Filb's voice held an edge Dick rarely heard. "We're going out on those streets today. They're mean and they're dangerous. And I'm not going out there with a partner who's thinking 'bout what he's gonna do with himself. I don't care how good you are. Your head's in the game or none of you is."

Dick cast his eyes down, burning with shame at a lecture he'd been familiar with since he was nine.

Filb watched Dick's face and noticed the dark rings under his partner's eyes. "But hey," Filb said lightly, scratching one eyebrow, "since I'm driving, that means we can go get some real coffee 'stead of that sludge Riley made. You with me?"

Dick raised his head, eyes firm and focused once more. "I'm with you."

Spud shifted uncomfortably on his plastic bag. Babs had insisted he sit on a garbage bag she'd scrounged up from somewhere to protect the car's upholstery from his wet clothes. He looked up hopefully as Babs turned the car up the driveway.

"So why *does* the water move in a circle?" Spud asked, trying to distract himself from the fact that he was sitting in very large, very wet jeans.

"Well," Barbara said mildly, maneuvering into the garage, "the circle you see is actually suction created by the torque of opposing—" She turned off the engine and glanced over at Spud, whose eyes were glazing over. "It's what happens when the water is being pushed two different ways," she amended. "It doesn't know what to do so it just lets itself get pushed around into a circle. We could make one in the bathtub later."

"We can?" Spud's face lit up as he jumped from the car. "Let's go!"

"Not now, kiddo. I'm way behind on my work. You get changed out of those wet clothes and find something to do for a while. Maybe I can play with you when I've caught up a little."

"Ok," Spud agreed quietly, leading the way into the house. He went back to his room to find something dry in his new wardrobe while Barbara retreated to her workroom. He squirmed out of the dripping clothes and into a dry pair of jeans and t-shirt. He looked doubtfully at the pile of wet things. Babs didn't tell him where to put them and he didn't want to bother her, so he scooped them up and took them to the bathroom. Dick had shown him a hamper hidden in the closet where he was supposed to throw his dirty clothes. He wasn't sure these clothes counted, since they *were* wet and hadn't been worn for an entire day anyway, but it couldn't hurt. Dick and Babs seemed to be big fans of *clean*.

Babs shut the door of the computer room behind her and basked in the peace and quiet. She closed her eyes, hearing the happy hum of her computer and the faint repeating tone that indicated an incoming message.

Babs' eyes flew open. Dinah! In her ire over Dick, she'd forgotten to check in with her partner that morning. She moved urgently to the computer. She cleared away the screen saver and donned her headphones, waiting for the click signaling a successful connection.

"Canary?" she asked tentatively when she heard it.

"Not home, leave a message," came the airy reply. "Hey you! How's it going with your newest Boy Wonder?"

Babs sighed in relief. If BC was asking about Spud, she must not be to upset about being abandoned for so long.

"He's being so... rotten!" Barbara moaned. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do with him!"

"I was a horrible kid," Dinah told her cheerfully. "I only listened to my dad. Speaking of the devil, where's Dick?"

"Work. 24-7. He comes home to eat and be adored."

"Ouch. This sounds like a job for Alfred!"

And Babs remembered that she was mad at Dinah.

"Speaking of Alfred..."

Dinah grunted.

"...I ran into Bruce yesterday."

"Oh?" Dinah asked neutrally.

"Been gossiping with the butler again, have we?"

"Alfred told him?"

"Alfred? Be indiscreet? Never. He just arranged to have Bruce show up at Leslie's clinic while Spud and I were sitting there."

"Bruce was being a bastard, wasn't he?"

"No, actually Bruce was remarkably well behaved," Babs admitted, wondering about sharing her revelation with her best friend. "He was at his Brucie-best."

The Graysons' house was considerably less exciting without the Graysons themselves. Spud was used to entertaining himself, but it would have been nice if someone had been around. Without any human playmates, he decided to go looking for a fiendish plot device for Evil Spoon.

Dinah snorted delicately into the receiver. "Brucie-best, eh? That must have been a trip."

"Actually..." Babs paused again. "I'm not entirely sure he was playing."

There was an awkward silence over the line.

"Well," Dinah finally said lightly, "I'm not sleeping with Batman or Brucie, so be sure to let me know if you find another one in there."

Barbara smiled fondly to herself for a moment, then frowned when she heard a male voice in the background.

"Hold that thought," Dinah instructed. "I have to play sick so I can get one of those guys to come in here."

"Come in where?"

"My cell. I kinda forgot to tell you I got captured."

"You got—what? You forgot to tell—Dinah!"

"Shh. They might hear you."

"Hear me? They might hear *you* if you don't shut up and fast!"

Dinah made a sound that clearly indicated her lack of concern.

"So how long have you been in that cell anyway?" Babs asked, suddenly feeling guilty. "And why didn't you tell me right away? I could have sent someone... or done something..."

Dinah whimpered.

Babs blinked.

"That's pitiful," she told her partner.

"I'm sick."

"Not arguing, but you sound more like a constipated cat."

A truly heart-rending moan filled her ears.

"Stop! I'm sorry! I'll shut up!"

Dinah mewled again, and the next sound Babs heard was the thump of a body hitting the wall.

At least *some* things were back to normal.

Toothpaste is as good a toy as any, when you're eight years old. Armed with a tube of toothpaste and comb from his own bathroom, Spud peeked into Dick and Barbara's. Mommy had had lots of things in the bathroom that Spud never used. Maybe Babs had them, too. The counters were low, he liked that. Made it easier to climb on.

There was a little basket on the counter. Chapstick, some cotton balls and a brush. Well, that didn't do him much good. Spud turned his attention to the mirrored medicine cabinet. Maybe there was something good in there. Some orange bottles. Spud shook them and grinned when he heard something rattle. Deadly gas pellets! He grabbed the bottle and ran back to the living room. Now the Evil Spoon would wreak havoc!

"I'm sorry, ma'am, this room is filled to its maximum capacity."

"But my daughter has to *go*!"

"I'm really sorry."

Dick really was. He looked down into the desperate face of a five-year-old who Had To Go. He glanced across the walkway at Filb, was who similarly guarding the door to the Men's Room. He glanced toward the exit of the facilities. He glanced back down.

"Ok," he relented. "Go ahead. Someone's probably just washing their hands." He paused as the woman grabbed her child's hand and rushed to the entrance. "Just... boot someone out, wouldja?" He received no answer.

He sighed and looked across the way.

"Filb?" he called. "How did we get this job?"

"We volunteered!" Filb informed him gleefully.

"Why did we volunteer?"

"Because we're keeping you out of trouble."

"Ri-ight. We couldn’t have kept me out of trouble on a detail *inside* the stadium?"

"We volunteered too late."


The problem with the Graysons, Spud decided, was that they fed him too well. It made him actively hungry all the time. While he could have dealt with the usual feeling of dull emptiness, eating so much was making his stomach growl whenever he went for more than a few hours without food. Babs always made him really good stuff, usually before he ever asked.

But it was past the time she usually made a second meal and Spud's stomach was confirming that fact. Maybe he should remind her. But she had said that she was Behind and Needed to Do a Lot of Work.

Spud had known that she meant she was behind because she had spent the last few days taking him places instead of going to work. He had been surprised to find out that her job was right in the house. At least it did have its own room—the one with all the machines—and he wasn't allowed to go in there.

But he was *awfully* hungry. Maybe if he knocked. Maybe she wouldn't mind if he just knocked and said hi. Maybe she'd forgotten about cooking and she'd remember again if she saw him.

That decided, he got up from his carefully constructed playset in the living room and headed into the room Dick called the "den". The door to the room with the machines was in there. In fact, the "den" was probably where he was supposed to play, since it looked kind of messy and comfy, but the living room had a table with a long skirt, and the furniture had swirly things cut into the legs—swirly things where Evil Spoon could slide the gas pellets!

Spud stood before the door uncertainly. What if Babs didn't want to be disturbed? Maybe she would be mad. He'd knock softly. That way, if she didn't want to hear him, she wouldn’t have to. He lifted his little fist and tapped timidly on the big oak door. He knocked three times.

There was no answer.

Babs winced as the sound of gunfire echoed in her headphones. As long as she could still hear Dinah's footfalls and the sound of air rushing past, she knew everything was fine. It was just when Dinah stopped moving that she had to worry.

A cracking noise and the cacophony was down by one gun.

"Ouch," Babs commented, glancing on the blueprints she had pulled up on the wide screen. She liked to be able to track where Dinah was going. If she was reading the sketchy lines correctly, Dinah was on her way to the vast labs in the building's basement.

Babs hated this part and loved it at the same time. Everything rested on Dinah now, and Babs had nothing to do. But if she closed her eyes, she could almost smell the smoke and feel her heart pound as the shots echoed around her. It was almost like charging warehouses in Gotham again. Almost.

She opened her eyes again when she realized the background noise had vanished. Black Canary must have evaded her pursuers.

"How you doing over there?"

"I'm clear, but Babs, there are too many people in here," Dinah fretted. "I need to get the workers out before I can blow the inventory."

"Can you get out and wait 'til this evening?" Babs asked. "Or hide out somewhere until they go home?"

"They're in shifts," Dinah reported. "If we could work a diversion during the shift change, maybe we can get them all out without endangering anyone."

"Ok, when's the next shift change?"

"In a couple hours. I'll hunker down and wait this out. Talk to you in a bit?"

"Ok. Call me when you need me."

"Roger that."

Babs smiled as Dinah went offline. They were still the best team ever. She was confident in that.

But now she had other things to do. And one of them, she realized, was to find Spud. It was long past their regularly scheduled eating time, and if she was hungry, then he was sure to be famished. She minimized the blueprints on her screen and brought the house cameras on line.

Not in the master bedroom, but then she didn't expect him to be. Not in the guest room or his own room. She hit a button to skip the main bathroom. She wasn't about to oversee *that*! Living room—toys all over, but no Spud. She frowned as the camera view switched to the kitchen.

"Oh no!"

Continued To Chapter Six B

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