30/30 - Bail
Disclaimers and other information in "Opening Credits"
Rating: PG-13, R if you're sensitive to language.
"Hello?" he answered gruffly.
He had to give Babs credit; he barely recognized the nasal tone that answered him. "You have a collect call from Matches Malone. Do you accept the charges?"
Dick Grayson gave an internal blink, but his mouth had already gone into cover mode. "What the fuck does he want now?"
"Sir, will you accept the charges?" An impatient and indignant edge came into the nasal voice.
"Yeah, yeah, sure. Fucking bum."
There was a click of a connecting line, then, "Robbie? That you?"
"Who you think it is, the tooth fairy? What's wrong with you, man - the guys are over and-"
"Need ya to bail me an' my lady out, Rob m'boy. Ran into -"
"Wh-whoa- wait. Bail you out? What stupid shit you pull now?"
"Long story. Listen, I'm at central PD headquarters. Cops'll let ya bail me an' Cherry out for $500. Ya just gotta-"
"You think I made of money now? I should let you rot in there, no matter what you didn't do to deserve it, man. I got people here and -"
"Shut up an' listen to me a minute, Rob.. Y'swing by Gert's; she'll front the cash. Ol' dame owes me one anyway."
"She know yer with Cherry?"
"An' she ain't gonna know, now, is she, Rob?" There was a threatening edge to Matches' tone.
Dick waited a beat, then sighed heavily. "Awright, fine. I'll go by Gert's, bail you out. Idiot."
"I heard that."
"Good." Dick punched the button on his comlink hard, hoping it sounded convincingly enough like a slammed receiver. A second later Barbara's voice was in his ear.
"Nice work, Hunk Wonder. I'm embarrassed to know you."
"Funny, Babs. You know what happened?"
"Bar brawl, believe it or not."
Nightwing shot a line across the street, heading away from the Clocktower. "My father, the role model."
"Well, it'll help Matches' rep, anyway."
"That was tonight's date? C'mon, J'onn, I'll show you how to be a cheap hood?"
Barbara's laugh was soft in his ear, warming him as he cut through the night air. "I suspect J'onn could give Bruce a lesson or two on that front."
Nightwing landed on a rooftop and sprinted across it, launching off the ledge to tuck and spin en route to a lower roof. "This sounds worse. I don't want to imagine them one-upping each other. What's up with this 'Cherry' ID?"
"Pulling the police file... oh, my!"
"Babs?" Dick dropped into the alley where he had left his car, bouncing from fire escape to fire escape to make his descent.
Nightwing tapped in the security code for the car as he snorted. "Stripper or hooker?"
"Oh, no. No, it's way better than that. Although I never in a million years-"
"What?" The car door opened, and Nightwing slid inside, already peeling off bits of costume.
"You'll have to find out yourself, former boy wonder."
"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," Dick grunted as he squirmed out of his costume in the confines of his car and stretched into the back seat for a pair of ratty jeans.
"Oooh," Barbara's voice commented, and Dick glanced over his shoulder to see the vid-screen on the dash had cleared to reveal her face. "Nice ass."
Dick tapped the dash control with his toe. "Peek later. I gotta go rescue dear old dad."
He could hear the pout in Barbara's voice. "Fine. You got enough cash to hand?"
Dick twisted to rummage in the glove box. "Yep," he confirmed, pulling a greasy t-shirt over his head and then stowing his costume. "I'll swing by after I finish this mission."
"Can I look at your ass then?" Barbara asked suggestively.
"Only if I can look at yours," Dick shot back. "Nightwing out."
It was a short drive to GCPD central headquarters; it took longer for "Rob" to find parking than it did for him to get there. He rolled the name 'Cherry Delight' over in his mind, wondering why it seemed so familiar. Yeah, it was an obvious kind of name for a working girl, which would be just the kind of date that would add to Matches' credibility - although less a kind of date that Dick expected Bruce and J'onn to go on. Something about the name nagged him, though, like he should recognize it specifically...
He shook off that line of thought as he finally heard the start of an engine up the block and pulled his car up behind the soon-to-be-vacated spot. Ten minutes later he was waiting for the duty officer to bring out Matches and Cherry.
He slouched, practicing his surly act with a little mental prayer to the police gods to keep his attitude from karmically counting against him on his next shift. He straightened a bit as he saw the cop coming back, then he caught a glimpse of Matches, a bloodied towel pressed to his face. "Jesus!" the word exploded out of him. "You fucking pigs brutalize him or somethin'?" His eyes darted around the room, aware that every officer had come to alert at his outburst.
Then a hand pressed against his arm and a throaty voice said, "Calm down, Rob. It happened during the fight, before the police got there."
He looked down into the earnest green eyes of the blonde who spoke to him and suddenly found himself fighting the mother of all blushes. Cherry Delight - he knew now why she seemed familiar, and a back corner of his mind was cursing Roy Harper. After all, it was Roy Harper who had insisted on a night of pizza and porn as a bonding experience for the guys. Without Roy Harper, Dick Grayson would never have known about "the Cherry Trilogy" - widely regarded as what Roy had described as "the kind of classic erotica the girls won't mind you seeing."
Dick hadn't tested the theory, not quite convinced that "Helping Hand," "A Question of Taste," and "Pop!" were the art-house productions any open-minded lady would find enticing. But he had watched them. And he was currently looking right into the eyes of the star who...
...who he knew was really a Martian.
J'onn seemed to allow the recognition before he sent reassurances to Dick's brain. I took over Cherry's identity after she retired from the industry, he explained. Out loud, Cherry said, "C'mon, Rob, let's get out of here."
Dick hesitated. "Talk to me, Matches. You sure they din't rough you up?"
Matches lowered the towel, revealing a gash over his left eye still oozing blood. "Ya think I let them cop docs touch me?"
"Get out of here, Malone. We heard enough of your whining," the desk cop remarked.
"Let's go, Matches," Dick urged, grabbing Bruce's arm and well aware that "Cherry" had already headed out the front door. "We gotta get you fixed up."
Matches glared at "Rob" for a moment, then grinned and pulled a pack of kitchen matches out of his pocket, lighting one against his thumb and then pinching it out. "Yeah, let's go. I had enough of the stink of this place." He put the unburnt end of the matchstick between his teeth as he gave a final grin to the scowling desk cop, then he followed "Rob" and "Cherry" out to the street.
He got a single positive incline of Bruce's head - no more Matches here, just pure Bat. But from the backseat?
"Yes, please." There was, in Cherry's roughened voice, the exact tone of correction with which Alfred occasionally redressed Bruce. Dick looked into the rearview mirror, but she had scooted directly behind him, as far from Bruce as she could be within the confines of Dick's muscle car.
"Right," Dick said, turning on the engine and shifting into reverse, craning in his seat as he cranked the wheel to the right and began unparking the car. With less than an inch clearance he stopped the car and shifted into first, now spinning the wheel all the way to the left. He roared out of the parking spot... and no one said a word.
He stopped too short at the end of the block... and no one said a word.
He took a left where he should have taken a right... nothing.
Just an ongoing and intensifying silence.
Dick pulled over and stopped the car, turning in his seat so he could at least see both of them. The were in mirror image poses, both staring out the windows on their respective sides of the car.
"Stop it!" Dick ordered.
That at least got Bruce's attention. "Dick," he rumbled.
"Look, I'll bail you out of jail. I'll watch your back. I'll help you think of a good cover story for that shiner and the stitches you're going to need. But I REFUSE to drive this car with you two arguing telepathically."
"Dick?" Cherry this time, sounding bewildered.
"Don't tell me you're not. If Cassandra were here, she would've complained about the way your body language is screaming. If you're going to fight, at least do it out loud."
"Dick," Bruce - or the Bat dressed as Matches - warned, but Dick heard Cherry's words.
"You didn't need to start that fight."
Dick blinked, and Batman glared at the blonde in the backseat. "Wait. MATCHES started the brawl?"
"You didn't hear what he said," Batman defended, his eyes storming.
"I did," Cherry corrected, "the gist of it anyway. He didn't mean any harm."
Batman's - Matches' - hands were clenching into fists, and a new trickle of blood ran down from his split brow. "He was asking if you had - it was none of his business."
"And that was a reason to hit him?" Cherry challenged him, her chin jutting defiantly.
"I didn't hit him hard." That was a Bruce response; Dick recognized a hint of petulant billionaire in the tone.
"You knocked him through the men's room door and into the bar!" Cherry contradicted,
"Whoa!" Dick interrupted. "Damn, Bruce, what did he -"
Dick shot a look back at Cherry - at J'onn - then returned his attention to Bruce. "I don't think my language is the worst of your problems right now."
"It's an argument I can win," Bruce snapped back, turning his face back toward the car window and pressing the towel in his hand against his seeping wound. "Let's just get to the clinic."
Dick looked uncertainly back at Cherry and was surprised to see her scooting into the middle of the seat, reaching forward to touch Bruce's shoulder. Bruce jerked away from her, and Dick saw a sort of exasperation in her eyes. "Go on, Dick," she urged.
Dick shook his head and put the car back into gear, this time aiming for the fastest, most direct route to Leslie's clinic. The comlink came alive in the console as he drove, and Oracle's filtered voice filled the stillness of the car. "So how are our jailbirds?" she asked.
Dick caught the scowl that flitted across Bruce's face and managed to deflect his jab toward the cut off button. "My car," Dick pointed out. "Oracle, this is not a good time."
Any levity in Oracle's synthesized tone was immediately quashed. "Got it. Call me when you are back on patrol. Oracle out."
Cherry, still sitting in the middle of the back seat, tilted her head and met Dick's eyes in the rearview mirror. "We're interrupting your plans," she stated.
Dick offered a smile back. "No, no more than the average Gotham riff-raff." He could see Bruce's snarl reflected in the passenger window, but he ignored it. "Besides, it's not every day I get to rescue a movie star."
"That's enough, Dick," Bruce cut in.
"Bruce," Cherry said sternly, "you KNEW Cherry's past before we decided to go out tonight."
Bruce scowled. "That was her PAST. Before she was... well, you."
"It's still a part of this identity, Bruce. It shaped Cherry's work. Without it she wouldn't have been so desperate to stay alive."
"Stay alive?" Dick asked curiously, ignoring the sour expression on Bruce's face.
"Cherry died while she was launching Project Pleiades." Cherry's voice was softening and deepening into J'onn's intonation.
"That's the organization that helped advocate for more precise laws for the adult film industry, right? Helped educate the consumer and retail markets to force some of the seedier fly-by-night guys out of business."
"Yes," J'onn agreed, sounding impressed. "You know -?"
"Cop work," Dick explained, with a quick glance at Bruce. His face was still turned away, but Dick was sure he was listening closely. "Guys in vice mentioned it made their work easier."
J'onn - Cherry - nodded, and Cherry's voice reasserted itself. "The Project was in a delicate spot when she died; her sponsorship was crucial if it was going to succeed. It cost me little to step in for her, to make a promise that would ease her passing."
Dick considered for a moment. "Are all your identities like that? Real people, I mean."
"Most of them. Lives ended too soon. Good people." Dick noticed that Cherry's hand had once again found its way to Bruce's shoulder, and this time Bruce let it stay there.
"Cherry was proud of her work," J'onn continued, now talking more to Bruce than to Dick. "It was... respectful. Celebratory."
Bruce made no reply, and silence fell again. After a few moments, Dick pulled in in front of the Gotham Free Clinic. He set the parking brake and turned off the engine. "All's ashore that's going ashore," he announced.
Cherry and Matches both exited, and after a moment, Dick followed. They eschewed the front doors in favor of a side entrance, and Leslie answered herself almost as soon as they buzzed. Barbara, Dick realized. She had undoubtedly figured out that the route Dick was taking was leading here and had called ahead.
"Matches Malone, what have you done now?" Leslie scolded, ushering him into the building. "Please don't tell me you got into mischief in the company of this lovely lady."
A sullen expression showed on Matches' face as Leslie waited for Cherry and Dick to enter and closed the door behind them. "Don't scowl like that, just head into exam one and I'll be there in a minute."
Matches - Bruce - wordlessly obeyed, and Leslie turned her attention to Cherry. "Miss Delight, it is lovely to meet you."
Dick managed - just - not to let his jaw drop open. "You know her?" he asked, incredulous.
Leslie smiled knowingly at Cherry. "Of course. I'm a big fan."
Cherry - J'onn - chuckled and accepted Leslie's handshake. "I am honored. And you do realize-"
"Naturally. You'll have to explain this one to me sometime."
"We'll have tea."
"Agreed. Now let me deal with your other half. Rob, you'll keep Miss Delight company?"
Dick felt more like fleeing the scene, still processing Leslie's words, I'm a big fan. Nope, he definitely didn't want to think about it. But he nonetheless forced his mouth to work. "Umm, sure."
"Good. I'll have Matches stitched up in a flash." Leslie turned and disappeared down the corridor that Matches had proceeded down only a moment earlier.
"C'mon, Rob," Cherry suggested, leading him toward the chairs near the side door.
Dick followed her numbly and took a seat. After a moment he said, "No offense, J'onn, but I'm not sure I'm crazy about this identity."
Cherry laughed. "Like father, like son."
Dick shook his head. "I don't think I'd start a brawl over it, but -"
A snort sounded from the blonde beside him. "Stubborn protective jerk."
Dick blinked. "You're still mad at him?"
"Of course I'm mad at him," Cherry replied. "It was a stupid thing to do." She paused for a moment, and a wistful expression appeared on her face. "It was also unbearably sweet."
"Sweet," Dick repeated flatly.
"Well, yes. Defending my honor, insisting that the others respect me - very chivalrous."
"But you're still pissed at him."
"Language, Dick," Cherry said primly, but there was a definite sense of humor behind her echo of Bruce's - Matches' - earlier correction. "And yes, he's still a stubborn jerk."
Dick released the breath he had drawn in to protest Cherry's chiding and stared at disguised Martian. "J'onn, don't take this the wrong way, but you are talking like a woman."
Beside him, Cherry Delight ducked her head a little with a hint of a pleased smile, her eyes sliding coyly up toward him. "I've been practicing," she confessed.
Dick froze and closed his eyes. He knew enough about actors to know that their habitual gestures occasionally showed up in their work. There was no way J'onn had intentionally invoked the gesture and tagline that had so famously attached to Cherry Delight's film ego. But there was also no denying that his father's lover had just perfectly delivered from a porn star's mouth the exact words that had been uttered when Cherry's oral skills had been amply demonstrated on screen.
"Rob?" Cherry's voice was asking. Then, "Dick?"
Dick shook his head to clear it and stood, opening his eyes. He looked at Cherry and forced himself to see J'onn sitting there. Then he squatted in front of her and met her eyes earnestly, resting a hand on her knee. "J'onn, you know I care about you and about Bruce and I'd support you guys whenever you need it. But right now-"
Cherry - no, not quite Cherry, because J'onn had altered her features a bit and let his own eyes shine out of her face - brushed her fingers over his hair as if he were a school boy and smiled sympathetically. "A little too weird, isn't it?"
Dick nodded. "Leslie's going to be mad at me, but I just really need to bail. You - you'll be okay waiting here?"
A warm laugh escaped J'onn. "I could probably protect the whole neighborhood if it came to it," his female voice reminded Dick.
"I meant you won't be too lonely," Dick clarified pointedly, earning another smile that seemed to radiate from J'onn's eyes.
"You are your father's son," J'onn said. "I'll be fine. Give my best to Barbara."
Dick watched J'onn's disguised features earnestly for a moment, then stood, fishing into his pocket. "I can leave the car-"
J'onn shook Cherry's head. "No, we'll manage something. Thank you for your help tonight."
Dick smiled crookedly. "Just part of the job. Say goodbye to Leslie and Bruce for me?"
Dick glanced around the hall nervously one more time, then exited the side door with a profound feeling of relief. He was SO ready to get back to the Clocktower and put this night behind him.
J'onn - still wearing Cherry's form - stretched and rose to her feet, tiptoeing to kiss Bruce's cheek. "I think we traumatized him enough for one night. I sent him home."
"Bruce, here's a couple extra chemical ice packs," Leslie was saying as she came down the hall. "I'll just add it to your tab. Where'd Dick-?"
"I sent him home," Cherry repeated. "And Bruce, don't forget you owe him $500."
"So does this mean you two will be staying downstairs tonight, or-"
Bruce glanced at Cherry, who shrugged. "Maybe we will," he decided. "Leslie, thank you as always."
"Yes," Cherry added, "we can't thank you enough-"
"Posh," Leslie interrupted. "You two go crash. I'll call Alfred to let him know you're here. And," she continued in a lecturing tone, "I don't want to hear anymore about Matches starting bar brawls."
"Yes, Leslie," Bruce acknowledged meekly, wrapping his arm around Cherry's waist. "Good night."
"Good night," she replied, heading down another hallway as Bruce led Cherry to a broom closet with an elevator.
Neither Bruce nor Cherry said anything as they descended into the hidden sub-basement of Leslie's clinic. Bruce finally broke the silence as he palm-keyed the door to one of the Bat's mini-lairs. "Not quite the Manor, but-"
His words were interrupted as Cherry claimed his lips, her tongue softly probing the swelling bruise on the right corner of Bruce's mouth before slipping between his lips. When they parted a moment later, Bruce smiled down at her. "Am I forgiven, then?"
"I'm still thinking about it," Cherry revealed. "And I think Lavender's book is going to have to be published."
"Oh?" Bruce wrapped his arms around Cherry, his hands loosely clasped against the small of her back.
"Yes," Cherry stated, her fingers tracing patterns against Bruce's chest. "I had no idea your jealous streak ran so deep."
Bruce tightened his arms, fighting the urge to defend his action.
It was the right move, for Cherry smiled at him and reached up to touch his cheek. "You're so sweet, Bruce." Then she tiptoed, drawing his head down to whisper to him, "I was wondering if you wanted to try-" Her voice dropped even lower, and she described exactly the act which had been mentioned once before that evening - and had started the brawl at the bar.
A deep flush colored Bruce's cheeks as he listened to Cherry's lips describe...
He held her more tightly, letting her feel what her words were doing to his body. "Yes," he breathed. "Oh, yes," he added more emphatically as Cherry's hands began to move.
Cherry smiled and led him to the bed.