by Chicago

Usual disclaimers apply - characters still not mine,situation still is, whole thing for fun not profit.

Rated: G

It wasn't the first time he'd pulled into the Cave to find Dick working out, but it was increasingly a rare occurrence. And tonight? He wasn't entirely sure he welcomed the company.

He turned off the engine of the Batmobile and sat for along moment behind the wheel, watching as his adopted son worked on the mats. Dick didn't pay any attention to Batman's arrival, focused in on his workout. It gave Bruce an odd thrill of pride. Yes, maybe it would be nice to have him pause to greet him, but somehow this was more right. Focus. Discipline. Dedication. Maybe Dick wasn't his son in blood, but Batman's fingerprints were all over him.

But why was he here? Batman watched him narrowly, noticing that he had modified his routine to work around a tender left shoulder. The visible part of his leg on that side showed the kind of dappled bruising that came from having to take a break fall on concrete. He'd clearly run up against someone tough enough to get a solid hold on him and maintain it. It happened from time to time, and Batman incongruously found himself smiling slightly. He knew Dick's bruises likely ran the length of his left side, including a horseshoe shaped mark around the hip where the pelvic bone pinched the flesh against the ground. It was the kind of mark that J'onn, having learned what a hickey was, had laughed at when he discovered it on Bruce's body. He'd answered Bruce's indignant protest with soothing kisses...

Batman shook his head. There'd be no soothing kisses tonight, and he was annoyed at J'onn anyway. Really. He let his face settle into more familiar grim lines and stepped out of the car.

His emergence came just as Dick rolled out of a shadowed technique, and as Dick regained his feet, he offered a greeting. "Hey."

Batman nodded, and Dick returned to his workout. A couple of bottles of water near the mats betrayed Alfred's presence somewhere in the Manor, and Batman took one of them as he headed to the locker area. Dick tumbled again, bouncing out of the fall into a sharp scissor kick and a feint to his left. His crisp motions made his imagined attacker seem almost visible, Batman noted approvingly as he opened the water.

After a couple of swallows, Batman peeled off the cape and cowl and stretched with a wince. He probably should join Dick on the mats, but the night's patrol had given him workout enough. Plus there was data to be entered, and his armor was beginning to get the itchy feeling of dried sweat. He peeled down to his thermal undersuit, tossing the outer armor onto the repair pile. He probably would actually have to retire this particular suit, but there was no sense wasting it if it could be mended.

He stretched again, relishing the coolness of the cave. His shoulders popped as he reached over his head, tugging gently on each elbow to unkink the joints. His ribs protested, but it was with the throb of bruising, not the sharp pain of a break. Not really even enough to bother Alfred with, although if J'onn were around...

No hope of that tonight.

Bruce was beginning to regret his fit of pique.

Dick was moving into cool down exercises on the mat. Had he been here long enough to go through a whole routine, or was he cutting the workout short? The latter seemed unlikely, which meant he hadn't even stopped by Barbara's before retreating to the Cave. Interesting.

Bruce walked over to the computer and settled into his chair, taking the bottle of water with him. He reopened the file he'd been working on that morning. Not so much to add, really. Just a case closed and some stray notes about prefered weapons on Joey the Fish's thugs. Dick came up behind him as he typed, a towel draped over his shoulders and a bottle of water in his hand.

"More gang activity?" he asked, nodding toward the file.

"Small stuff," Bruce acknowledged. "Hopefully nipped in the bud."

"Where's your 'cover'?" There was a bit of a smirk in Dick's tone.

"Why aren't you at the Clocktower?" Bruce countered, a hint of the Bat's growl in his voice.

Dick shrugged, clearly unwilling to be baited. "I believe Babs' exact words were that if I was going to cut off her briefing, than she was not going to take responsibility for nursing me when I got hurt."

"You're hurt?" Perhaps Dick was masking some deeper injury? The thought chilled Bruce despite evidence to the contrary.

He could see Dick's laconic smile reflected faintly in the giant screen of the Batcomputer. "Only enough to accept a little nursing. And you didn't answer my question. Where'd you lose Sasha this time?"

"She's playing bodyguard to Jasmina del Marte."

"Bruce, you didn't."

"If Jasmina is going to interrupt board meetings with dramatic scenes, she'll deal with the consequences."

Dick chuckled. "Come on, Bruce. You must have given him the idea."

"I thought he'd be more discreet." The excuse sounded lame even to Bruce's ears. "Anyway, if he's going to adopt that form, he can't well be walking around Gotham without a bodyguard."

"So you gave him yours. Which means he probably played Jasmina to the hilt. You should check your credit card transactions."

"Three designer gowns, seven pairs of size 11 shoes, some very nice diamond earrings, and two handbags." And some pricey lingerie, Bruce didn't add.

It didn't matter, as Dick was already laughing. "Where on earth is he going to keep all that?"

"Jasmina maintains a modest villa in Argentina. But for the moment? She's got a penthouse suite at the Mandrake."

Dick whistled. "You paying for that, too?"

"I believe J'onn's exact words were if I wanted to treat him like a kept woman, I would pay for him like a kept woman."


A soft alarm sounded, and Bruce reached over to silence it and turn on one of the house cameras in time to see Sasha slam the front door. She'd scarcely taken three steps into the Manor before Alfred confronted her, his lips thin with disapproval. There was no sound on the feed, but his lips were read easily enough. "Really, Miss Bordeaux."

Her response was accompanied by an exasperated toss of her head, and then she was squarely facing the camera. She spoke slowly, and even less skilled lipreaders than those watching her from the cave would have had trouble mistaking her message. "You can tell Master Bruce that his girlfriend is home safely." Her lips curled disdainfully around the words.

"Man, Bruce, she's got it for you bad," Dick remarked.

Bruce shut off the video feed and stood up, his temporarily forgotten ribs causing him to flinch.

Dick looked at him curiously. "And maybe you could've used the cover tonight," he remarked.

"I'm fine," Bruce growled.

Dick poked unerringly at one of deep bruises hidden beneath Bruce's shirt, prompting a hissing breath from Bruce. "Take a bullet or two, Big Guy?"

"Let it alone, Dick," Bruce warned, bristling at having involuntarily revealed the injury.

Dick lounged against the back of Bruce's vacated chair, opting not to square off against his adoptive father. "Does J'onn know?"

Bruce glared.

Dick sighed. "Fine. Go clean up. Mind if I crash here tonight?"

"I still regard this as your home, Dick," Bruce pointed out, turning toward the showers and stalking off.

Dick waited until he was sure Bruce was safely out of earshot and settled into his chair. A couple of swiftly typed commands, and the monitor pulled up the image of the Oracle mask.

"Oracle," the synthesized voice answered.

"Babs, it's Dick."

He waited for a moment, but the mask stayed firmly in place. "All right," he finally said. "I was an idiot."

Still the mask. "You needed something?"

He sighed. "I guess I am my father's son," he admitted ruefully. "But I love you. Good night."

"Good night, Dick."

The screen winked out, darkening the Cave. Dick rose and headed for the stairs. Might as well have Alfred rustle up some sandwiches.

J'onn studied the darkened monitor. "Have we forgiven them yet?" he asked.

Babs merely smiled and handed him a pint of cookies-n-cream ice cream. "Maybe in the morning," she decided, opening her own pint of mint chocolate chip. "You up for some Bogart?"

"Marlowe?" he asked.

She chuckled. "Sure. I could use a little detective fiction. I'll go load it up."

J'onn watched her go and gave the monitor one final glance. Yes, a little detective fiction would be good. He collected his ice cream and left the room.


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