Choices Chapters1: Prologue
Chapter 7: At the Manor
by Marilee Stephens
The young men stepped forward together, both with hands outstretched in greeting. Dick shook hands with each of them, as Jason remarked, "Nice to get a chance to meet you, John", while he winked at Dick, obviously aware of who he was. Dick nodded his agreement, realizing that he would have to go by a different name in his civilian guise while on this earth. Too many "Dick Grayson's" running around would just be confusing. Apparently his counterpart had thought so to. Dick guessed using his dad's name would be the easiest thing to come to the other man's mind. Still, it was a bit weird to think about Jason knowing so much of his background, and yet Tim not. He hadn't really gotten to know his Jason all that well back home. And yet, it would seem that on this earth, Dick Grayson and Jason Todd were almost brothers, while Tim Drake was much more a stranger to the group. It was also strange to be faced with a version of his "kid brother," Tim, and of young boy who he never expected to see as an adult, Jason, who were the same age as he. He didn't know how to react to either of them. It was obvious here that Jason was "family", while Tim wasn't, and yet, back home, he had felt the exact opposite.
As he was realizing this, he noticed that Richard was making a very subtle move to the back of the room, taking Amanda with him, to point out something outside to the girl. It was apparent that he was trying to avoid having to be introduced. Made sense, Dick decided, as trying to explain who all of them were might be more than a bit too much. Tim, who, unlike Jason, was as obviously not aware of who Dick really was, turned to the Dick Grayson he was familiar with and inquired in a tone that was supposed to sound nonchalant, "Didn't know that you had a cousin, Dick?" But a slight something in the young man's voice indicated to Dick that the question wasn't asked in as offhanded a manner as Tim was trying to make it appear.
"You didn't know I had an aunt either, Tim, until my Aunt Harriet Cooper came for a visit a few months back."
Dick managed to keep a neutral face even as his mind questioned, "Aunt Harriet Cooper? This Dick has an aunt?"
"You related to Aunt Harriet as well, John?" Tim questioned.
Jason interceded for that one. "No, other side of the family, isn't it, Dick?"
The displaced Dick caught himself just before he answered Jay's question. It was obvious it was meant for his older counterpart. "Yeah, that's right, Jay. I don't think John has even met my Aunt Harriet. Have you, John?"
Dick could only shake his head in the negative. At least he wasn't lying about this fact. But he was definitely going to ask the E-1 Dick more about this "Aunt Harriet" person.
Jason resumed the conversation. "Tim just gave me a lift home from work. We're going to go over that prototype computer program you wanted him to work on upstairs, Bruce."
"Good. I'd like his input on that project. Let me know where you think any major bugs are, Tim."
"No problem, Mr. Wayne. I'll make a copy and take it home to look at later tonight."
As the young men left room to head upstairs, the E-1 Dick turned to his younger counterpart to explain. "Since finishing his business degree a year ago, Jason's been working at Wayne Tech. After Bruce found out that Tim wanted some outside experience before starting to work for his dad's company, he offered Tim a job there as well when he got done with his computer science degree."
"Which turned out to be better for me than him," Bruce added. "Tim's come up with some database management and spreadsheet systems that has revolutionized how we keep track of data and equipment. We're putting them to uses even he's not aware of, if you know what I mean," Bruce concluded with a conspiratorial look at both the younger men. Dick just nodded back his agreement.
"One thing, though, John," Bruce added a very slight teasing emphasis to Dick's new name, "do you know a Tim Drake on your earth? For just a moment, I saw a flash of recognition on your face when he came into the room."
Again, Dick only nodded his agreement. When the others looked at him
inquiringly, he snapped out of the silent state he had been in for the
past few moments. "Yes
yes. I know a Tim Drake on my earth. He
and his dad live, or that is, lived, next door to Bruce as well."
As the others easily accepted his explanation, he thought about giving
them a bit of the feeling he had been facing all day. He wondered what
their expressions would be if he also told them, "Oh, and he's the
current Robin, too." A sly grin flashed across his face at the thought
of the startled looks that would spread across their faces. But if this
Tim Drake didn't know who they were, what would be the point? Though,
He was almost about to confide that bit of information to them when a yawn caught him unawares. Richard, coming away from the window, with Amanda in tow, gave him a look of understanding. "Maybe you should be the one to head upstairs for a nap." Turning to the others, he explained, "Dick didn't get any sleep last night. That on top of everything else "
"No, really. It's all right. I can go forever."
"Sure you can", Bruce stated. "But there's no reason to. It's only about 4:00 o'clock and we won't be having dinner until 7:00. The computer's doing the digging for other leads and I'm going to head down to the lab to look into some other stuff.."
"I could help with "
"Yes, you could. Or you could go get some sleep so that when we really do need help, you'll be fresh." Dick couldn't deny the logic of the older man's words. But he wasn't sure he could sleep either. That didn't stop Bruce from turning to the girl just off to Richard's side. "Amanda, why don't you take your 'Uncle Wing' upstairs and show him to his room."
"All right, Grandpa. Me and Uncle Alfred "
"'Uncle Alfred and I'", her father corrected her.
She smiled, shook her head, and threw him a look to say, "Okay, Daddy", but continued, "Uncle Alfred and I got a room ready for him earlier." Turning to the younger version of her father, she then started to fly towards the open door. "I can show you where it is."
Dick looked back to the men surrounding him, only to be greeted with looks that said, "Go". Realizing that yes, he was tired, but also that he wasn't going to be allowed to say no, he turned to follow Amanda out of the room.
As they headed for the stairs at the back of the foyer, him walking, her flying beside him, Dick heard her ask him, "Guess your version of Mommy is going to be really worried about you, isn't she?"
Dick drew to a halt with that. Amanda had obviously misunderstood something. "Uuummm, Amanda. My version of your mommy and I aren't Well, we're not in touch anymore."
Amanda stopped and looked back at him, slowly moving over the stairs that she had just started to fly up, a perplexed frown pulling at the corners of her mouth. "But you said "
"I said what?" Dick asked in a gentle voice.
"You said that you and her got married at your version of Aunt Donna's and Uncle Terry's place. So how come you're not together?"
"Oh." Dick understood where the confusion came from now. How did he explain what happened to the girl in front of him though.
Kneeling on one step, he indicated for her to sit down as well. "Amanda, we were going to be married, but during the ceremony, something well, something happened and we ended up not getting married. Then then my Kory had to leave."
"How come what?"
"How come she had to leave?"
Dick didn't know what to tell Amanda. He wasn't sure he knew just why
"Do you miss her?" the little girl wanted to know, her green eyes, so like her mother's Dick realized, focused directly on him.
Did he miss Kory? He didn't know how to answer that either. He hadn't thought about it. No, he admitted to himself, he hadn't allowed himself to think about it. And now, now he wasn't sure just what he felt. But he had to answer Amanda's question, didn't he?
"I miss I miss a lot of things from when she and I were together."
The girl seemed content with his answer, at least for a moment. Just as he made to stand back up though, she caught him unawares again. "Before she left, did you ever think about having a kid like me?"
This one Dick could answer. "Yes. At one time, I wondered what it would be like to have a kid exactly like you."
"Really?" Amanda beamed up at him.
"Really. Now how about you show me where this room is?"
Taking the hand he offered her to help her stand up, she then continued back up the stairs. But she stopped once more. "Can I ask you one more question?"
Dick wasn't sure he wanted to answer any more of her questions. Not only were they direct, but they seemed to hit just where he least expected them to. Still, that wasn't her fault.
"Okay, I guess. But just one."
Her mouth twisted a bit with his condition, but she nodded her acceptance. "What you were talking about before, about why you were going to get married at Aunt Donna's, you said that you and your version of Grandpa weren't getting along."
Dick closed his eyes as he realized that she was about to score another direct hit on a topic that he really didn't want to discuss with her. But, knowing it was inevitable, he waited for the other shoe to drop. "Yes?"
"How come what?" he deliberately dragged out the moment.
"Do your dad and grandpa always get along?"
"No. They fight all the time. But it never lasts. Hasn't since "
"Hasn't since what?"
"Nuthin'. Anyway, you gonna answer my question?"
He was about to point out that she hadn't answered his, but he saw a stubborn set develop on her face. It was one he recognized. He'd seen it on his version of her mother's face enough.
"It was just a bad time for everyone, okay? I really don't want to talk about it."
Amanda just looked at him steadily with that. He could tell that she didn't like his answer and was determined to ask more. To prevent it, he gave her a look that he had very occasionally used in the past to prevent others from questioning his motives or actions. He saw her draw back, a bit startled. It was obvious that she had seen the look before and knew what it meant. With that, she didn't say another word, but rose and continued up the stairs.
Their journey continued silently for just a few moments more, as they made progress along the corridor. But it didn't last, as Amanda stopped outside one door that was slightly ajar. Dick knew what door it was. It was the door to his old room back at his manor.
"Can I just ask Mommy something first?" she softly asked, the tilt of her head indicating the door in front of him.
With his affirmative, she quietly slid the door a bit further open. As the opening widened, Dick could hear a soft voice emerging from inside. The lyrical words that greeted him were not in English, though he did recognize the general rhythm of them. Peering around the door, he found himself looking at the tableau of Kory, her son with his head resting on her stomach, and her smaller daughter resting against her shoulder as she spoke softly to them in Tamaranean. Seeing the two dark heads in the door, she briefly smiled and nodded. After a few more minutes, she obviously finished the story that she was telling them. As she gently shifted to move off the bed and away from the two drowsy children, Mike sleepily lifted his head and requested something in the same language.
Kneeling beside the bed, she smiled and ruffled his hair. Then, holding her hand upright, palm facing him, she waited for him to do the same with his. After he had done so, she entwined their fingers. A gentle hum filled the room as Dick observed both their hands start to glow. At the same time, she leaned over and planted a kiss on the boy's forehead.
When Alex made the same motion with her hand, Kory repeated the ritual with her. Then standing, she watched for a moment as the two children drifted off to sleep.
Moving out into the hallway, she smiled brightly down at Amanda, before casting a somewhat more uncertain smile at Dick. Amanda didn't notice it however, and launched into a rapid flow of Tamaranean with her mom.
"English, Amanda", Kory admonished when she saw the slight confusion on Dick's face.
"Because it's not polite to talk in a language where someone that's with you can't understand you."
Amanda turned to Dick with that. "You can't speak Tamaranean?" At his shake of his head, she proclaimed, "Daddy can."
Before Dick could answer to that, Kory came back with, "Your father can because I taught him while we were expecting you. Now, to answer your question, we'll only go flying tonight if your father and I aren't needed elsewhere. Okay?"
"Okay, Mommy." As Kory then nodded her goodbyes to Dick, Amanda requested, "Star-touch?"
"All right." With that, Kory and Amanda displayed the hand-holding energy exchange that Dick had just witnessed a few moments ago.
As Kory headed back downstairs, Amanda led Dick further down the corridor. Stopping outside a door several down from the room the other children were in, Amanda opened it up and hurried into it, jumping up on top of the bed.
"Will this be okay?"
"It'll be fine."
"Good. Then nighty-night! Don't let the bedbugs bite!" the girl giggled as she made to leave the room.
"That, that thing you just did with your mom "
"Star-touch," Dick thought. Yes, that made sense. "What was that?"
"That's just a way that Mommy shows she loves us. She says it's special cause it's something only we can share."
"Oh. Okay. But doesn't that leave your dad out?"
Amanda thought a bit about that, her teeth worrying her lower lip. After a few moments, she shrugged. "Maybe. But Daddy shows that he loves us in other ways. Just like Grandpa, Uncle Alfred and everyone else does. Is that a problem?"
"No. I was just wondering."
The little girl made to head out of the room then. Then, turning back, she flew herself at the man seated on the bed and gave him a quick hug and a peck on the cheek.
"What was that for?", Dick wondered as she again made to leave the room.
"That's just me showing you that there are people out there who would make you feel that someone loves you too."
Sleep. That would be good, Dick decided, but it just wasn't happening. He was tired, in fact, he was probably too tired, which was why he just lay on the bed in the room Amanda had shown him to. And all the while, thoughts flew his head. Things that he had seen, had heard. Impressions and emotions and ideas all flowed together and meshed. But after a while, he managed to center on one thought. It had entered his head when he reviewed the discussion that he and Amanda had had on the stairs, and it hadn't left, much as he would have wanted it to.
She had mentioned about how his Kory would have been missing him. Not that she was, obviously, but it made him wonder if anyone was missing him. Oh, sure, after a while, someone would have noticed that he couldn't be reached, but how fast would that occur? When he was with the Titans, he knew at least that his Kory, if not the others, would already be wondering where he was. But now? Sure, in a few days, Tim or Babs might try to get a hold of him. But when they couldn't, they might just figure he was busy with a case or such and wouldn't worry for a few more days. Even then, they were tied up with their own problems right now. And while things were better with Bruce, he doubted that his whereabouts were currently the top priority in the older man's mind. As for the Titans that he remained in contact with, in a couple of weeks they might start to worry. But probably not before. Not unless someone else alerted them to something being up.
But would anyone be missing him right now? The thought ran through his head, over and over. Clancy might notice his absence after a few days, he guessed, but she might just assumed he went out of town for a while or such. It wasn't like they kept up on each other's movements every single day.
Had he cut himself off so much, he wondered. Isolated himself that much? The thought bothered him. Bothered him a lot. Sitting up, he decided that he needed to do something. To get his mind off this line of thought. A workout, he decided. It would clear his mind, and maybe tire himself out that he could fall asleep.
Heading downstairs, he could hear low voices coming from the direction of the library. He could make out Helena's, Bruce's and at least one of the other Dick's voices. Not feeling like facing any of them at the moment, he headed directly for the grandfather clock and down the stairs into the cave.
A sense of familiarity hit him as he got to the lower level. It wasn't his cave, but with the others not around, it felt more like his cave. He smiled as he took in several of the artifacts he recognized. Of course, some things were missing. Like the memorial case containing Jason's old costume. But the absence of that was kind of nice. And the old standbys were there, just as they had been back on Earth-2. The Joker Card, the computer terminals, the Tyrannosaurs Rex.
Looking at the T-Rex however, a shiver of apprehension ran over him. What was that glint at the top of the model dinosaur? The shine reminded him of the glare that might be cast by reflection off a camera lens. Had what he thought earlier, of this Batman being a bit too trusting, leading to maybe slightly laxer restrictions, led to what he had feared earlier? Had someone breeched the security of the cave?
Moving stealthily, he swung himself up, climbing along various stalactites, disturbing a few of the bats that made their home in the cave. He didn't want whoever was watching to see him climbing up to where their surveillance camera was located.
At least, that was his intent. However, reaching a ledge where he could make out just what was located on the top of the T-Rex's head, he realized just how offtrack he had been. For it wasn't the eye of a camera that the light had glinted off of. No, it was the glass eye of a small stuffed dinosaur sitting right on top of the T-Rex's head. The stray beam of light had just managed to hit the glass in such a way that it had reflected back down to where he had been standing.
Reaching over, he snared the toy from where it sat. Leaning back against the rock wall, he could only stare in amazement at the plush figure in his hands. Of anything he expected to find in the Batcave, this was the least expected. It was so out of keeping with what he would expect to find in the cave, he didn't know whether to laugh or
Laugh. That was it. The guffaws started low and then gathered steam. By the end, large tears were rolling down his face, though he managed to keep his "ha-ha's" fairly quiet. After a few minutes of this, he settled down. Taking a deep breath, he realized that the laughter was exactly what he needed. The knot of tension that had been sitting in his gut was gone, or at least, greatly reduced.
Sitting quietly for a few more moments, reflecting on everything and anything, he remembered why he had come down here in the first place. Deciding that a workout would still feel good, he made his way down from his perch, the toy stuffed under his arm. Reaching the bottom, he headed towards the workout room.
Entering the main workout area, he was glad to see a lot of the same equipment he was used to in his Batcave present here. He hadn't really taken the time when he had headed for the change room earlier to notice what was and was not present. Noting the rings and ropes and even a trapeze setup, he decided some high-flying gymnastics might work out some of the kinks in his body, if not his mind. Heading for the change room, he decided he would wear the pants of his Nightwing outfit, minus the shirt, gloves, boots and mask, to exercise in, considering he didn't know where any clean clothes could be found.
But when he entered the locker room, he found that his suit wasn't where he had left it. However, a note was in its place.
Setting the stuff toy down and picking it up, he recognized the writing that marched neatly across the page. "Young Sir. I was cleaning up in here and found your rather torn costume. While kevlar isn't the easiest material to work with, I've taken it to clean and for making some minor repairs. Any supplies you might require in the meantime can be found in several of the unmarked lockers. Please feel free to make use of them."
"Thanks, Alfred", Dick thought to himself. He did remember that his costume was looking slightly ratty, with the small rips and tears from the initial explosion that had hurled him off his earth. Checking around, he found that some of the lockers had names attached to them. Obviously for personal storage. But several were not marked. Opening several of them, he found towels, various toiletries, and some miscellaneous shorts and tops. Grabbing a pair of spandex shorts, he quickly changed.
Looking around, he again spied the small toy. It almost looked like it was expectantly waiting for him to pick it up again. "Okay, you. You can come keep me company while I work out." He smiled at the foolishness of his thoughts, but in others ways he felt pleased. If he could joke in the midst of this whole mess, he was obviously becoming more comfortable with it.
Leaving the change room, he then headed for a small walk-in supply closet where he was sure that bits and pieces of necessary equipment were stored. Entering it, he again realized that some things were the same, no matter where he was. Letting the door swing mostly closed behind him, he thought for a few moments, deciding on exactly what exercises he wanted to do, then picking up a few things that he would need for them. Some tape, a bag of powdered chalk, a couple of leg weights to add some extra effort to his rings and rope routines. He turned to leave, grabbing the door handle.
However, before he fully opened the door, he heard the sounds of bodies hitting the mat that indicated that the workout area had become occupied in the last few minutes. Wondering who else was feeling the need for a little sweat, he started to leave the small closet, until the two voices that were carried to him from the larger room caused him to halt, not sure about his welcome.
"Nice move, hon. The juice break we took seems to have helped. You almost had me pinned with that one," the lower voice stated.
"Well, I wouldn't have if your mind was actually on this match."
"Yeah, okay. My mind really isn't on this."
Dick decided that he had better make his presence known before much more was said. But just as he was about to open up the door wide enough to step from the small room, the higher voice came back, in a tone that at once was teasing yet concerned. "I think I should be offended. A chance to wrestle with me, while both of us are wearing skimpy clothes and your mind isn't on it! Want to talk about it?"
"I'm not sure what's bothering me."
"Sure you are. It's got to do with him, doesn't it."
"Yes No I don't know. It really doesn't have to do with him "
"More with what he represents."
"C'mon, Dick. It's making you wonder, isn't it. What he's told us, or at least implied. X'hal, it's made me wonder."
Dick knew he shouldn't be listening to this. But how could he interrupt now. If he stepped out, they would know that he knew that they were talking about him. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. But the conversation continued, even as he was trying to make up his mind.
"Okay. Some of the things he's mentioned "
"It's got you wondering what your life would have been like if you hadn't "
"No," the lower voice replied. "No it hasn't."
"Yes it has. It's okay, hon. It's got me questioning things too."
"Yes. I've always assumed that we were just meant to be. That's the way it's felt ever since we met. Yet here he is, telling us that to him, he and his Kory weren't meant to be."
"We were meant to be. I know it!"
"Hon, you won't get any arguments from me on that score. I wouldn't trade my life with you and the kids for anything."
"Neither would I. You and the kids are my world."
A soft note entered the female voice, "But he and his Kory obviously weren't each other's world, were they? And it's making you wonder if maybe we "
"No, it's not. They're obviously not us."
"You're right. They're not. But, X'hal, I have to wonder what we have that they didn't."
"Or what happened to them that didn't happen to us."
Dick shook himself. He shouldn't be listening to this. But somehow he couldn't pull himself away. Maybe by listening to these two, maybe he could figure out where he and his Kory had gone wrong.
"It's different with Richard. He never married, never met a version of you in his universe. I've never had to question how it would be different."
"But this Dick did meet a Koriand'r. They did know each other, did fall in love. And then they let that go."
"Yeah. I guess that's what I don't understand. Knowing what we have, what we've always had, what could have been bad enough to drive them apart."
"X'hal, I don't know. I can't imagine. Maybe one of us should ask him."
"Do you think that's wise?"
"I don't know. But it might put some of our questions to rest. And Richard thought maybe I should talk to him anyway."
"Yeah. He thought he might open up to me, if he's used to opening up to his own Kory."
"I don't know, hon. He didn't respond all that well when he first saw you."
"True, but that was partially shock. And I do want to talk to him. He seems so "
"He seems so what?"
"Well, lonely, if nothing else."
Dick heard a smile enter the man's voice. "Still taking in strays, aren't you?"
"Hey, I took pity on you, didn't I?"
"Oh, 'Pity', was it?"
"Well, that and you've got great legs. They looked so good with those green shorts."
"Why, thank you, Mrs. Grayson."
"You're quite welcome, Mr. Grayson." The teasing note left the woman's voice as she queried, "So, you think I should talk to him?"
"I don't know, hon. I don't want to see you hurt."
"And you think anything he tells me could hurt me?"
"Only if anything he says means that you're going to stop loving me. That the kids would be taken away from me. Is that going to happen?"
"Of course not."
"Then he's not going to say anything that can hurt me."
"I suppose not. I guess I'm just worrying too much, huh?"
"Hey, keep worrying about me. I kind of like it."
"Oh, you do, do you?"
"Yeah. I do."
"Still, he is a 'Dick Grayson'. Sure you can handle anything he throws at you?"
"I think so. He's not my*Dick Grayson." A playful note hinted at a change in the woman's tone. "Besides, he's kind of young, don't you think? I sort of like my Dick Grayson's a bit more seasoned nowadays."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah. That's why I've decided that I'm moving to Earth-2 to be with Richard and leaving the kids with you."
"Oh, you are, are you?"
"Definitely. The white wings in the hair. Just too much."
"I'll show you what's 'too much' ". Dick heard the thud of two bodies hitting the mat. After that, a burst of giggles erupted from the room.
"Stop it, Dick. That tickles."
"Tickles. I'll show what 'tickles'."
"Well, if that's all you're going to show me."
"That's all? Why, what did you have in mind, m'love?"
"Hhhmmm I can think of at least one or two things."
Dick's felt his cheeks flame as he realize where the other two's play was leading. He quickly backed away from his place a few feet from the door, even as he heard, "I think we might want to move this 'workout' to somewhere a bit more private."
"And here I thought I cured you of that whole modesty thing."
"There's modesty and then there's indecent exposure, hon. Even the shower room would at least be a bit less open. But moving this to our room upstairs would be better."
Dick definitely decided that the workout idea would have to wait. Somehow, he didn't feel like it anymore. Still clutching the stuffed dinosaur, he waited until he was sure the couple had left the room. Then he himself made his way swiftly across the workout area and back into the main room of the cave.
Since he still had time to kill before dinner and a physical workout didn't seem to be the answer to fill it, Dick wondered what he could occupy himself with. As he came into view of the massive Cray computers though, the thought occurred to him that he could spend the time reviewing files. Maybe by perusing them, he could get answers to some of the lingering questions in his head.
But as he approached the computer terminals, he became aware of two small bodies, one sitting in front of the keyboard, the other just off to the side.
"Amanda, ask him about "
Dick cleared his throat to make his presence known. He didn't want to get stuck eavesdropping again as he had on these two's parents. Two small heads swiveled in his direction, eyes wide. As the girl focused on his face though, the young boy noticed what he was carrying.
"Sammy! Look, Amanda, Uncle Wing found Sammy!"
"Sammy the Saurus," Mike explained as he flew over and took the stuff toy from Dick's hands. "Alex will be so happy you found him. She hates trying to go to sleep without him. Where did you find him?"
Dick could only grin at the animated face that in front of him. Without saying a word, he pointed up to the top of the T-Rex that dominated the back half of the room.
"Sammy was up there? No wonder no one could find him", Mike exclaimed while Amanda developed a strange look on her face. Dick wondered at its origin.
Amanda was regarding her younger brother with a quizzical expression on her face. "What do you mean, Uncle Wing 'found' Sammy? Was he missing?"
"Oh, yeah. You don't know. You were visiting to Aunt Donna's then. We couldn't find Sammy and Alex was really upset. Mommy and Daddy looked everywhere and no one could find him."
Dick saw a very disconcerted look run across the girl's face.
"I forgot. I can't believe I forgot to get Sammy back when we left here."
"Forgot?" Mike wanted to know.
"I put him up there. Remember, Mike, we were playing Mystery "
Mike settled himself on the ground as a bewildered look flowed over his face. "Mystery yeah. You were helping me practice."
Dick was bemused by the two of them. Amanda was fidgeting in her seat, while Mike was worrying his lip with his teeth. He also wondered about this "Mystery" game that they were going on about.
He decided that maybe asking about it would clear both the kids' worries about what had obviously been some sort of slipup on their parts. "Hey, guys, what's this game you're going on about. It sounds interesting."
"Mystery. It's a game that Daddy came up with when I was little," Amanda stated. "He would hide one of my toys and not tell me which one or where it was. Then he'd give me clues to help me find it."
"But it's gotten way better, hasn't it, Amanda?", Mike interjected.
"Uh-uh. Now he hides more that one thing, and also hides the clues for me to find them, and he'll have other people act as 'informants' that I have to ask questions of, and others can play as well. He makes up the best ones."
"Hey, Grandpa does a good job too."
"Yeah, he does."
"Your grandpa plays this as well?" Dick wondered out loud. He found it hard to imagine Batman taking the time out to set up something as elaborate as what these two were describing, simply for the sake of a game.
"Yep. I think he and Daddy try to outdo each other with what they can come up with. Daddy gets to make up the one for my birthdays, and Grandpa does the one for Christmas morning. Last Christmas's was a riot" Amanda continued on enthusiastically. "But the one Daddy did up for my birthday party when everyone was there was just out-of-this-world. I had to take fingerprints and use the computer and talk to various "witnesses" and everything. And all my friends helped, but I got to tell them what to do. And my surprise at the end was Grandfather and Grandmother being here."
Dick could only listen to the whole thing with a touch of amazement. Somehow his counterpart and his mentor were instructing these kids on various techniques that they used in their work while making it fun. The last line also shook him a little bit. If he understood Amanda correctly, it meant that Myand'r and Luand'r were still alive. Considering what he had heard from Donna and Roy, that wasn't the case in his universe anymore.
Amanda didn't notice his silence though. She just continued with her explanation. "But this year, Mike's turning five, so Daddy says that he's going to get his own game of Mystery at his birthday party."
"Yeah. Daddy will play easier games with me, but this is the first time I get a big one all to myself, with some help. So I asked Amanda to help me practice. Didn't know you used Sammy as the prize", he threw at his sister.
"That's the point, Mike. You're not supposed to know what you're going to find", Amanda responded testily.
"Hey, hey. There's no need to get upset. We found Sammy after all", Dick cautioned.
"Yeah, but only after Mommy and Daddy went nuts trying to find him, Uncle Wing. For the first few nights after he went missing, Alex didn't sleep at all. He's her 'buddy'. Mommy and Daddy weren't very happy," Mike added for effect.
"And it's all my fault", Amanda answered forlornly.
Dick knelt down in front of the chair where the little girl sat. "Well, now, that may have been the case, but she did finally get used to not sleeping with him. So it can't be all that bad. How long has he been missing?" Dick wanted to know.
"Two or three weeks. We couldn't find him after Beth had her baby", Mike clarified.
"Beth?" Dick thought to himself. "Who's Beth?"
"That's right, Mike. We were down here visiting Grandpa when Mommy got the call and we had to go back to New York. When we got back, there was a message from Aunt Donna, wondering if I wanted to have a sleep-over with Lian and Robbie. She picked me up later that day."
"You don't live here?"
"No. What made you think we lived here?"
"Well, I don't know. I guess I hadn't thought about it. But you seemed so use to using things around here "
"Only because we visit a lot. But we live in a big house in New York."
"Not as big as this though, right, Amanda?"
"Only Uncle Gar, Aunt Caroline and Mark live in a house as big as this, Mike."
"Aunt Caroline? Mark?"
"Aunt Caroline is Uncle Gar's wife. I got to be flower girl at their wedding. And Mark is their baby boy."
"I see", though the thought of Garfield Logan married amused Dick to no end. "I take it that your Aunt Caroline puts up pretty well with the way your Uncle Gar acts sometimes."
"Oh, Aunt Caro knows how to put Uncle Gar in his place."
"Yeah, Amanda. Remember what she did when he turned into a orangutan on her?"
The children both started giggling at the thought. Dick was tempted to ask them what was so funny, when Mike piped up again.
"Course, Mark can't play Mystery with us yet. He's even younger than Alex."
"Oh, others also play Mystery with you?"
"Yeah, with the big games. I told you I get them to help. Lian's pretty good with being an inter interra "
"Interrogator," interjected his sister.
"That's it. And Robbie and Barry help look for clues. I can get Ivan, Lara and Kallen helping track down other stuff. Iris, Ellie and Diane are still a little young to be much help, but they try."
Dick knew who Lian, Robbie and Diane were. He could surmise who Barry and Iris were named after. But he wondered who's children Ivan, Lara, Kallen and Ellie were. Before he could ask however, a beeping noise came from the computer terminal.
"Oh gosh. Prophet! We forgot about him."
"Prophet? Who's Prophet?" Dick wanted to know.
"He's our computer pal. He helps Grandpa, Daddy, Mommy and Uncle Jay with finding out stuff. Course, he helps others as well. But he seems to contact us more than anyone else."
"Hhhmmm", Dick thought to himself. "Prophet. Let's see, that's a messenger for passing a god's words to man. Just like the Oracle at Delphi." A smile twisted his lips as he thought of the woman at the other end of the line. Some things do stay the same, one world or another.
But the kids had referred to her as a "he". Didn't they know who "Prophet" was? He decided to find out, though trying to do so without arousing any suspicion.
"So, he contacts you often?"
"Yep", Amanda answered in a slightly distracted tone. He watched as her small hands literally flew over the keyboard, obviously explaining why she had been so long in responding. "Passes along all sort of interesting stuff. I think Grandpa asked him to look into those cases that he mentioned upstairs. I hope he sends what he finds soon. I want to start comparing notes."
"How come you don't use his real name? Why call him 'Prophet'?"
Both kids looked at Dick in surprise then. Mike answered him, as Amanda went back to reading the words scrolling across the screen. "We don't know who he is. He just started sending Grandpa messages one day, a long time ago."
"Four or five years", Amanda added.
"Yeah. They didn't trust him at first, even changing the cave's computer systems, but he always came back and the information he gives them is always right. So they accept his help. Still, Grandpa, Daddy and Uncle Jay spent a long time trying to find out who he was."
"But he's really good with computers. They could never get passed all the blocks and security stuff he had built into however he was contacting them. Finally, I think Grandpa got totally fed up and asked him outright who he was."
"What did he say?"
"Only that he didn't want to let his identity out to protect other people around him. He said that he wouldn't bother them anymore if it was that big a deal to them. Grandpa didn't want that, because Prophet has been a big help, and he sort of understood about protecting an identity. So they stopped trying to track him down. I don't think Daddy likes it too much. It's a mystery, and Daddy hates having unsolved mysteries."
Dick was a bit taken aback by what the kids had revealed. He found it very hard to believe that Batman would just let something like this go. It wasn't anything like what his Batman would do. Of course, this wasn't his Batman, as he was learning more and more.
Still, the idea sat really wrong with him. It was a breach in the batcave security that he found very hard to swallow. He couldn't believe that Batman would allow for it either.
As he silently contemplated this new information, Amanda kept rapidly typing on the keyboard, as she quietly passes bits and pieces of information on to her brother. Obviously, both kids liked interacting with Prophet. He was wondering if he could suggest he join in their dialogue with this person when a voice came from behind him.
"So what are you three up to?", Bruce's voice came from over his shoulder.
Turning, he caught Mike's answer even as he noted the little girl being carried on her grandpa's side. "We're talking to Prophet, Grandpa. He says that he's working on that information you wanted."
"That's good, Mike."
"And look, Alex! Look what Uncle Wing found," Mike proclaimed as he held out the stuffed dinosaur towards his little sister.
"Sammy!! You found Sammy!!", the little girl laughed joyously as she flew from her grandfather's side to take the toy from her brother. Clasping it close, she hugged it tightly and squealed her delight.
"What do you say, Alexandra?"
Her grandfather's voice caused the fiery little girl to swing in Dick's direction. Launching herself at him, she exclaimed, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
This time Dick was prepared to catch the small body as it flew into his chest. Automatically, his arms went around her to steady her, even as she started scattering kisses across his face.
"Hey," he replied in a soft voice, "you're welcome." For a moment, he allowed his arms to tighten around the child, before he realized what he was doing and let her go.
"So where was Sammy, anyway?", Bruce wanted to know.
"On top of the T-Rex's head, Grandpa," Amanda stated in a small voice.
"Oh, and what was he doing up there?"
"Amanda put him there when she was helping me play Mystery, Grandpa."
"Yeah, but then we had to get back to New York when Mommy needed to go help Beth, and in the rush, I forgot to get him back", Amanda added in an even smaller voice.
Alexandra broke in then. "Not use Sammy for game!" she shot back at her older siblings.
"I'm sorry, Alex. I had a really good clue that I thought of and wanted to use."
"What was that?" Bruce inquired.
"To find something small, look to the same thing tall."
Bruce nodded approvingly. "Very good, Amanda. But you should have still asked your little sister if you could use Sammy."
"But she would have told Mike that's what I was hiding."
"No, I not!" the younger girl announced defiantly.
"Kids. It's okay. Just think a bit more next time, okay, Amanda", Bruce added in a gentle voice.
"Yeah, Grandpa. I'm sorry, Alex."
"Okay. I forgive." The little girl then ran over and climbed on her big sister's lap to give her a hug.
Dick noted the soft look that had entered the older man's eyes. After a few moments, Bruce continued, "Kids, you better sign off now. Uncle Alfred sent me down to tell you that dinner's going to be ready in just a few minutes. So you should get upstairs and wash up."
"Okay, Grandpa", all the kids nodded their acceptance. Amanda turned back to the keyboard and typed something in rapidly. After watching the screen for a few more minutes, she indicated, "Prophet says that he'll send any information that he finds out in the next hour or so."
"That's good. Now off you all go." Bruce bent to kiss each of the heads before they all flew off up the stairs. Turning to Dick, he casually indicated the younger man's attire. "You might want to change too."
"Of course. But can I ask you a few things first?"
"Ah. The kids told you about that."
"Yes. And I have to say, while it sounds like fun, it's not exactly what I would have expected."
"Well, you'll have to ask Dick why he started playing it with Amanda. My impression was that once he saw how curious she was, he wanted to help her explore. It was something they could share. And it just kept getting bigger and bigger as she got older. Then Mike started getting into it."
"Yeah, but still, it's pretty complex, isn't it?"
"What? You don't think that a game that combines 'Twenty Questions', 'Clue', and a massive scavenger hunt wouldn't be fun?"
"Sure, but Amanda says she got to do fingerprinting in the last one."
"Okay, so there's a little training involved as well. If the kids weren't interested, I don't think Dick or Kory would make them play. But they are interested. This just adds an element of fun. Let's them learn while still being kids."
"Yeah. Amanda mentioned leaving Sammy behind because they had to hurry back to New York because someone named Beth needed Kory. Who's Beth?"
"Beth." Bruce thought for a moment. "That's the girl from the support group that Kory's involved with."
"Kory's involved in a support group?" Astonishment entered Dick's voice. His Kory had obviously cared about the people she found herself surrounded by, but she had never seemed to have the inclination to get involved in that manner.
"Yes. A few years back, a number of things happened which, well, placed both Dick and Kory under a lot of strain."
"You mentioned something like that in our earlier talk."
"I did. But it's not my place to get into it with you. You'll have to ask them about it. Kory especially was having a hard time dealing with some things. Several of us were worried about her. Then Raven asked her to help her out with a group she had become involved with. Apparently Cyborg had once introduced Raven to the same type of thing, years before, as a means of drawing her out. Raven felt the same might work for Kory. The one Raven took Kory to helps women who had been victims of extreme physical, mental or emotional violence. Considering Kory's past, she's had a lot of experience in dealing with that." Dick silently nodded his agreement. "Raven thought having Kory help others would help her. It seemed to work."
"She's a young woman, more of a girl from what I've been told, who had been attacked, beaten and raped. She then found herself pregnant because of the rape." A heavy pause occurred as both men exchanged looks of horror at the thought of what that would have entailed and compassion for the unknown woman. "She started attending the sessions that Kory was part of. For some reason, she immediately formed an attachment to Kory and asked her to be her coach for the birth."
"She didn't want "
" to get rid of the child. No, she's a devout Catholic. She decided to give the baby up for adoption instead."
"And Kory agreed to help her."
"Yes. But then, Kory's not one to turn her back on someone in need. It's cost her, and Dick, a lot in the past though."
Dick was about to ask Bruce what he meant by that, until he saw the darkness in the other man's eyes. Realizing that this wasn't the time or the place, he decided to lighten the conversation a little. "Doesn't it take up a lot of her time?"
"Not really. It's only a couple of hours a week, and since she doesn't model very much anymore, except if Wayne Tech or the Wayne Foundation asks her, she does have some spare time. As it happens, they were down here a few weekends ago when Kory got the call that this Beth had gone into labor. There was a bit of a rush for them to get back to New York. Guess that's how Sammy got left behind."
That seemed to end that train of thought in the conversation. Which meant that Dick then had to go to what he thought was the most important query of all. "I have one more question", he stated, a more serious note entering his voice.
"Yes?" Bruce's voice came back, equally somber.
"This 'Prophet' person. The kids said that you don't know who he is. Doesn't that worry you? My Batman wouldn't rest until he found out where the security breach was."
"Ah. Worried about us, are you?" Dick colored slightly at the man's tone. "Don't be. The kids don't know everything. I know more about 'Prophet' than they realize."
"Oh", Dick nodded as the moved away from the computers. "So you do know who he, or she, is?"
"She?" An eyebrow quirked on the older man's face. "Well, let's just say that I'm 99.9% sure about who our little helper on the other end of the computer line is and leave it at that, okay?"
"Okay, I guess."
"Good. Now go get changed. Dinner will be on in 15 minutes."
Dinner was an experience not to be missed, Dick decided at the end of it. It had been a real eye-opener in a lot of ways. First off, his Earth-1 counterpart and his wife had been a bit late getting to the table, after all the rest; Bruce, Helena, Richard, Jason, the kids and himself, had been seated. They had come in, simply apologizing for being late. But when Mike had asked them if they were late because they took so long washing their hands, as the kids had had to do, they could only smile to each other, while Dick murmured something about how, yes, washing up had taken more time then they expected, while Kory had whispered something in his ear that brought a wide grin to his face.
Then, once the dinner had got started, he had learned more about these people just by watching them then he could have any other way. When the first course had been served, Alfred had also taken a seat. Then the conversation flowed around the table nonstop. It had amazed him. He remembered the few dinners that had occurred at the same table back on his earth. But they had been mostly question and answer sessions, as his Bruce has used the time to grill him on techniques, or information that he had studied. He in turn had asked questions about various methods of detection, or some of the criminals they would go up against. None of that occurred here, or at least, in a mostly offhand manner. The adults did discuss some of the facts that had come up in the last few days and threw possible hypothesis about, but the kids spend more time asking him about things on his earth. He spend a lot of time between bites trying to honestly answer the questions when he thought it was okay to let them know, and in deflecting the ones where he thought it best they didn't.
He also watched as the others' interacted with each other. Yes, he could see where Kory would have gotten the idea of "vibes" coming off Richard and Helena, as she had mentioned earlier. Though at other times, they seemed to act exactly as an older brother and younger sister would. He also noted the way that Richard talked to the kids. At one point, after Mike had questioned the older man about something, Richard looked up and met Dick's stare. A look and small nod passed between them, as they both acknowledged the small sense of loss that seeing these children generated in the other.
Amanda was obviously also very taken with Helena. She was asking her about the visit with her "Aunt Selina." Again, Dick noted the dark and a little lonely look that momentarily skimmed over Bruce's face with the mention of the woman. He was definitely going to have to find out just what these two were to each other.
And then when Alfred had arisen to go and get the second course, Dick had been somewhat taken aback to see Jason, the E-1 Dick, Kory, Amanda and Helena rise to help him clear the table. Kory told him, Bruce and Richard to keep an eye on the younger two children. This had occurred with the third course as well. He had never really thought about doing such back on his earth. He wondered how his Alfred would react if he did the same.
After dinner, Bruce, with Amanda tagging along, had returned to the Batcave, to see if anything had come up from the various searches the computers were running, as well as if any of the various contacts Batman had put out the word to earlier had come through. The E-1 Dick and Kory led the other two kids upstairs for their baths and bedtime rituals, while he helped Jason, Richard, Helena and Alfred with cleanup in the kitchen. While he found himself reacting fairly normally with the older three, he found that he was still having a hard time dealing with the young man who was gone on his world. Seeing a light flare in Helena's eyes at one point when he had unconsciously ignored a question that Jason had asked him, he had to shake himself.
Helena caught him alone for a moment while the other three went to get more dishes from the table. "What's going on with Jason?"
"I'm sorry. I really am. But I can't explain. Not right now. I'll try to do better."
Helena had just given him a hard stare at that. But she nodded sharply just as the other three came back into the room. After that, Dick made an extra effort with the other young man. He realized that none of what he was dealing with was this guy's fault.
Just as they were finishing up, a voice came over the intercom. "Alfred, send the others down. It looks like we might have something."
Dick took off without thinking. Maybe they had come up with a way to get him back home. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he found Bruce and Amanda, their dark heads both bent over some computer readouts. Bruce was pointing out something to the little girl. The others soon followed him, with the Graysons being the last to join the little group surrounding the computer terminal.
"Well, both our searches and Prophet's work have come up with the same pattern. There have been a few robberies that we didn't connect to this problem in the last couple of weeks. Some along the eastern seaboard, and a few out on the West Coast. I've alerted the JLA to them, and they informed me that some of the JSA'ers still over on Earth-2 have found a number of similar occurrences."
"This pattern Can it predict what will be hit next?"Helena inquired.
"Not precisely. But it's given us a number of possibilities. Several right here in Gotham, as well as others in other major centers. I told the others that we'll handle the Gotham locals. They're going to look into covering the others."
"Which means "
"Which means we're going on stakeout", the older Dick concluded.
To be continued in next month's FANZING!
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This story is © 1999 by Marilee Stephens.
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