Disclaimer and notes posted previously.

Bat-thanks to Chicago for the High-Octane Beta.

Coming Home, Part 7
by Smitty

Dick crouched on a roof and stared out over his city. He felt betrayed, an outsider in his own city. He felt empty and weary and considered just writing off the night and going home. There was nothing here for him, tonight.

Johnny would be released from the hospital in two days time, going home with a Wayne Enterprises employee and her husband. The couple had been trying to have children for years. An adoption had just fallen through and they had jumped at the chance to help a homeless child.

A trust fund had been set up for each of the survivors of the shooting, a sum that would grow into the required sum for college tuition, with a stipulation that the money be used for that purpose only. Only Lucius Fox, his protégé Tim Drake, or Bruce Wayne himself could release the money for any other reason.

Bruce's money had helped some of the kids when Dick could do nothing. Dick squeezed his eyes shut and breathed in the crisp night air. It was cool for May and the chill burned in his lungs. A different chill burned in his body. He felt impotent. Useless. Ineffectual.

“Oracle to Nightwing. Nightwing, I need a reply ASAP.”

“Nightwing here,” he replied, crisply, because his disillusion and weariness could wait until he was safely in her arms.

“Nightwing...” She paused for a minute, as if unsure how to go on. “Spud’s gone.”

“He’s what?”

“Gone. I stuck my head in his room to check on him and he’s not there. I think he went out the window, but I don’t know where he went after that.”

"I went after Zucco," Dick said, automatically.


"I went after Tony Zucco," Dick said, softly. "I ran away because he killed them and he was still out there."

"He's going after..."

"I'll find him."

As he turned off the communicator, the empty feeling had been filled with purpose and grim determination. There was a little boy out there in the night and Nightwing had to find him.

The bus station was two blocks to the right and three blocks to the right again from Dick and Babs' house. Spud had watched it go by when he was in the car with Babs yesterday. He didn't know exactly how to get there, but it wasn't hard to find. He walked up to the stop sign where Babs had turned and then walked until he found the little overhang. Then he curled up on the bench and waited for the bus.

Nightwing squatted on the rooftop, mulling what information he had. Oracle had been online all night, except when she'd been with Spud. There was no way for Spud to have gotten to the secret part of basement that housed Nightwing's lair. The door was in the computer room.

Next step. He would go back to the scene of the crime. Chestnut Street was where the shootout happened. Would he walk? That was too far and Spud wasn't familiar with the suburban neighborhood. Taxi? He didn't have any money and the Graysons preferred electronic transactions. There wasn't much money lying around. An old bicycle in the garage, but would he have been able to open the garage door without Babs noticing?

The bus. There was a bus stop near the entrance of the neighborhood. If Spud was already in Blüdhaven, that would be the best bet.

Nightwing opened his communicator to Oracle. "Do you have something, Nightwing?" she asked immediately. She had to have been watching her board to react before he spoke.

"Maybe. Can you access a bus schedule for this evening?"

"You think he took the bus?" she asked against a background of clicking keys. "I've got one," she said even before he could answer. "There was a bus downtown from the stop you're thinking of that passed... three minutes ago. Damn!"

"What number was it?" Nightwing queried, ignoring the uncharacteristic curse.

"Brown route, bus four."

"I'm on it. He won't be out there for long."

Spud had paid his half-fare carefully, counting out the coins he'd found in the couch cushions.

"Ain't you awful young to be going out by yourself this late at night?" the bus driver asked gruffly.

"I'm going home," Spud informed him seriously. It was what Scorch had always told him to tell bus drivers who worried about them.

Kids have divorced parents who put them on buses all the time, Scorch had explained. That way one parent doesn't have to see the other one and get in a fight when they drop off their kids.

Spud had nodded as if he understood, even though he really didn't. They didn't even have a daddy. The bus driver just shrugged. "Suit yourself," he said, pulling the handle that closed the door. "Is someone going to meet you?"

Spud froze. He didn't know the answer to that question.

"Sometimes," he said carefully and hurried down the aisle. He hopped in a seat next to the window and pulled his knees up to his chin. He didn't know the name of the street he needed to go to but that was ok. He would sit there until something looked familiar and then he'd pull the cord. It would all be ok.

"Do you think he has a plan?"

"I doubt it." Nightwing crouched on the low roof of a brownstone on Chestnut Street. "The bus is due at 11:23?"

"It's only 11:23 and 45 seconds."

"I know."

"Maybe someone wanted to get off early."


Spud had pressed his nose to the window until he started to see buildings and restaurants that looked familiar. Then, he stood on the seat and pulled the cord.

"You sure this is where you get off, kid?" the bus driver asked, scowling at him when he made his way to the front.

"Yup," Spud assured him.

"You gonna meet your old man or something?"

"Or something." Spud got off the bus and looked around as the driver reluctantly pulled away. He wasn't far from Chestnut Street and he knew a lot of places. There was the bakery where old man Wojowski would give them day-old bread and sometimes a stale pastry. On the corner was where Lamont's mother braided ladies' hair. That building next to it was abandoned. They'd lived there for almost a week before a bunch of guys ran them out. Spud stuck his hands deep in his sweatshirt pockets and trudged down the street. Maybe if he found the place where Scorch died, he could find out who killed him.

"He didn't get off," Nightwing reported from his perch. "Scratch the bus idea."

"How do you know he didn't get off earlier? Or maybe he didn't take that bus? Maybe he took another bus?"

"Possible. I'm going to do an aerial sweep. Is his red sweatshirt in his room?"

"I didn't think to check, but I didn't see it."

"Go look and let me know. If he's wearing that, I'll be able to spot him a mile away."

"Hey! Kid!"

The call came from one of the women inhabiting the street corner. She wore a very short skirt, was heavily made up, and was surrounded by a cloud of smoke. James barely glanced at her before turning his eyes back ahead of him. Look where you're going and ignore the people who bother you. That's what Scorch had always said.

"You." She was in front of him now. "Ain't you one of Tricia Scranton's kids?"

She knew Mommy!

Spud looked up into her garishly made up eyes. He knew her. He knew he did. He just couldn’t remember why.

"I'm Pammy," she said, squatting down to his height.

"Remember me? Aunt Pammy? Your mommy and I used to hang out together?"

Spud nodded. He did remember Aunt Pammy. She had pretty brown skin and hair that she sometimes put in lots of braids and she used to bring over yummy food.

"Which one are you? You gotta be Jamie."

He nodded again.

"What are you doing out here, kiddo? Last I heard of you two, you'd run away from your foster homes and the cops were out looking for you. They shook down the block with pictures and everything."

"Are you going to tell them?" Spud asked, suddenly on the defensive.

Aunt Pammy paused. "Kiddo, how long have you been out here?"

Spud looked hesitant.

"I'll tell you what," she said. "Let's go get something to eat and then we'll talk about it, ok?"

Spud thought about this. It had been a long time since lunch and he hadn't eaten much dinner. He *was* hungry. He shouldn't be since he'd already eaten twice that day but he just... was.

"Ok," he agreed.

"Zeke's not gonna like this Pam," one of the girl called from the corner.

"Zeke can deal, Des," Pam called back. "I'll be back out, soon as I get the kid some pie or something."

"It's your eye," Desiree muttered as Pam led Spud off to a nearby diner. "You want it black, I ain't arguing."

"I'm not finding him on the street," Nightwing reported. "Is there anything local he might be using as cover?"

Miles away in their cozy, brightly-lit home, Oracle shook her head. "I'm checking," she reported. "Local area businesses are mostly closed and locked up. I couldn't say which of his friends he might be staying with."

"He wouldn't be staying for long," Nightwing reminded her. "Just long enough to ask some questions and get out of there."

"Do you even have a clue who he's looking for?"

Oracle's query was met with silence.

"Yeah, that's what I thought. I've got an all-night diner. Want to check in there?"

"I'll take a look. Address?"

"Geez kid, when was the last time you ate? Chistmas?" Pammy asked as Spud demolished a slice of pie and a glass of milk.

"Sorry," he said, flushing. After all, he'd just eaten at lunch! Babs had made him something for dinner, but he hadn't been very hungry. "I'm just in a hurry," he explained. "There was a big fight and Scorch got killed," he explained. "I have to find out who did it and beat them up."

"You ain't gonna find out who pulled the trigger 'round here," the waitress reported as she put their check on the table and refilled Pammy's coffee. "Alls them kids got taken t'the hospital or the morgue." Spud didn't know what the morgue was and didn't want to ask. "I don't know where the hospital is," he admitted.

"It's up by the Zee Moores, kid," the waitress told him. "Long ride. Longer walk. I'd shut down for the night and try again tomorrow."

"I have to go tonight," he said stubbornly.

That wasn't a bad idea, Pam decided. Hospitals always had social workers wandering around their emergency rooms, waiting to talk battered woman into leaving their husbands and protecting kids from whatever they could come up with. Maybe one of them would recognize Spud and insist he go back to child services or wherever he came from. Besides, it was better than letting him wander the dark streets.

"Ok, kiddo," Pam agreed, dropping a five on the table for Spud's snack and her coffee. "Let's go." She took his hand as he hopped out of the booth and walked out the door of the diner.

"No red sweatshirt," Oracle reported over a secure line. "But the horse is tucked into his bed."

Nightwing nodded once. "Roger that, Oracle," he replied. "I have movement at the door of the diner. Female, African-American and Spud. I'm--oh crap."

"What? What is it?" Barbara Gordon asked, alarmed.


She was met with silence.

"Uff! Zeke!" Pam gasped for air as her back hit the brick wall of the alley.

"Yeah, it's Zeke." The man's cruel mouth sneered at her. "Babysitting, are we?"

Pam's eyes darted sideways. Where had Jamie gone? If he'd been out on the streets, he should know enough to hide when things got rough. He should be ok. She didn't see him anywhere. Maybe he was ok.

Then, suddenly, the pressure of Zeke's hand was off her chest and she could breathe again. A dark shape hurled Zeke across the alley to crash into a pile of trash cans. Pam trembled as the dark shape turned towards her. A slash of light from a nearby streetlamp illuminated a swath of blue on the shadow's chest and white beacons glowed in the dark face.

"Get out of here," the shadow growled, but not unkindly. "I'll worry about Zeke and the kid."

Pam nodded, frightened, and ran from the alley, tripping on her heels as she scurried. Half a block away, she paused to take off her shoes before racing to her small apartment and double chaining the door.

In the alley, Nightwing turned his attention to Zeke. Two long strides took him to where the hustler was struggling to sit up and a quick jerk brought the other man to his feet.

"We need to talk," Nightwing rasped in Zeke's ear as he slammed the other man into the wall. The impact traveled up his arm, but he ignored the twinge.

"Uh, yeah, sure man," Zeke burbled, trying to back up against the wall to loosen Nightwing's chokehold.

"I'm in a hurry. If I leave you, you'll just take it out on your girl later. So I'll be back. I'll come find you in two days. And if that girl isn't in pristine condition, you're going to be very sorry. Understand?"

"Yeah, yeah man, I gotcha."


Zeke felt a sharp pain on his head and then the pressure was gone from his throat. He sank to the ground, dragging his necktie away from his neck as the shadow flew away.

"Situation averted," Nightwing reported. "But I lost Spud. He's alone now."

"Maybe we should think about bugging him," Oracle suggested, not idly, as she studied a map of downtown Blüdhaven. "Tack a tracer on him, keep tabs?"

"We'll worry about it later," Nightwing told her.

"We need to find him, first."

Chestnut Street.

Spud curled further into his sweatshirt. The breeze was warm, but it just made him feel colder and more shivery inside. He huddled at the mouth of the alley where he'd hidden, crouching in a dumpster with gunfire echoing in his ears.

Scorch had died here.

Spud tried very hard not to cry-after all, he had a mission. There wasn't anything here that could help him. If he wanted to look, he would have seen bloodstains on the pavement, but he didn't want to look. He should go to the hospital, like the waitress said. Or the morgue, if he could figure out where that was. Or what it was.

But before he could move, he had something else to worry about.

"Hey, lookit what we've got here."

"Yeah, another carrot-top."

"Aw, hims looking scared. Maybe we should get him a teddy bear?"

Spud scowled and gauged his options. The kids in front of him were all bigger than him, at least Scorch's age, and mean. They were street kids, or else they'd have to be inside now. One was wearing a jacket, but the other three weren't. The one with the jacket might have a gun, but the rest didn't. They might have knives though. Spud's best option was to run. If he could slip away...

But then, for a second time that night, a big shadowy figure swept down and cleared the way.

Dick pulled his punches, knowing these were just unarmed kids. They needed some intimidation and a little muscle to back it up, but they weren't going to hurt him. A snap kick to the side took out the first one and Dick grimaced when he felt a rib give under his heel. He knocked the air out of the next kid with the flat of his hand against the kid's chest and followed up with the heel of his hand to the forehead. His free hand grabbed the next kid's jacket, pulling him in close as Nightwing regained his balance and the other kids scattered.

"We don’t need bullies in Blüdhaven," he growled, pushing the kid away.

The boy staggered back several steps and took off. Nightwing looked down at the small boy cowering before him.

"Can I give you a ride somewhere?" he asked, the irony in his voice only for himself.

"I-I need to go to the hospital," Spud managed.

Nightwing frowned. "You hurt?"

"N-no. But... the boys there killed my brother. I haveta go and..." Spud trailed off.

"Ok," Nightwing relented. He scooped Spud up and held him tight as he threw a line. "Hold on tight."

Babs leaned back in her chair, relieved Spud was safely in Dick's arms. He'd been with them less than a week and already she was arranging her life, and worse, her feelings, to accommodate the little guy. She smiled to herself as she moved forward again, donning her headphones. With Spud safe, it was time for her to get back to her nightly duties, and she was feeling generous. Maybe one of the Wayne Corps jets wouldn’t mind diverting from its regular flight path to swing by Cordova to pick up a certain blonde operative.

Nightwing watched from the window as Spud stood solemnly by the bedside of one of the wounded boys. It was a boy from the opposite gang, but wrapped up in white bed sheets, his head shaved and wrapped in sterile gauze, an IV connecting his wrist to a machine, he looked like a very small, very sick child. Spud stepped back quickly as the boy started coughing ragged, wet coughs.

After watching the machines beep and the boy not move for several more minutes, Spud turned and carefully stepped out onto the window ledge with the Spandex-clad hero. Nightwing watched carefully to make sure he didn’t slip as he took one last glance back at the injured boy.

“Still mad at him?” Nightwing asked softly.

Spud was silent for a moment. “No,” he finally said. “I really want to be mad at him. But he’s all... y’know.”

“I know.”

“But I’m still mad. I want to be mad at someone.”

Nightwing watched sympathetically as Spud’s eyes filled with tears, which he dashed away angrily with the back of his grubby hand. “But there’s no one to be mad at, is there?”

Nightwing sat down on the ledge next to Spud and patted the spot next to him. “I tried to be mad, too. I tried to go find someone to blame for the whole thing happening. But I couldn’t find one person.”

Spud sat down on the ledge next to him. “Is that why you’re wearing a mask with your pajamas? ‘Cause you were looking for a bad guy at night?”

“Well...” Nightwing choked back a laugh. “These are ‘special’ pajamas.”

“Is that how come I’ve never seen ‘em before? Are you pretending to be Nightwing?”

“Am I--?“

“Does Babs know you’re out here?”

Dick stared at him, speechless.

“’Cause you’re really not fooling anyone with that stupid mask.”

“I’m not-Spud, who am I?”

“You’re Dick.” Spud squinted at him. “Did you hit your head?”

“No, I--“ Dick looked at Spud, perplexed. “I’m not fooling you?”

“No.” Spud looked puzzled. “So *are* you pretending to be Nightwing?”

Dick laughed. “Spud, when we get home, I have a big secret to tell you.”

The Beginning

Author's Note:
For anyone still interested in Spud and the Potatoverse, there will be more stories in this timeline.

I'd like to thank Chicago, Kerrie, Reccea, A.j., Phoenix, and 'rith for listening to my whine when I had to write hard stuff and just for hanging on with me. Ya'll are my Spudbuds. :) Also thanks for Tracy Sue, Noel and Rebecca for listening to me rattle on about things that probably made little sense. :) And lastly, if the above sequence of events looked vaguely familiar and you can't figure out why, it was modeled after the excellent Batman: The Animated Series episode, Robin's Reckoning.

Thanks for reading. :)

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