Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   
  • Belief
  • Of Bugs and Bug Men
  • Circus!
  • Collector's Item
  • Green Future
  • Hooray For Hollywood
  • Idiot's Delight
  • Mere Mortals…
  • Mister Zeus…
  • JUDGING!


  • End of Summer
     
    Choices Chapters
    1: Prologue

    2: Robin & Huntress

    3: The JSA

    4: The JLA

    5: Starfire, Robin & Batman

    6: New Members of the Family

    7: At The Manor

    8: The Stake-Out

    9: New Friendships

    10: The Titans

    11: Facing The Past

    12: Shattered

    13: Confrontations

    14: Flying

    15: Conversations

    16: Hitting the Streets

    17: On the Trail

    18: Face To Face

    Choices

    by Marilee Stephens

    Choices

    Chapter 15: Conversations

    by Marilee Stephens

    Dick halted outside the slightly agape door he had heard the voices coming from down the hall. A few feet from the door, he had deduced the identity of one of the speakers, even if he still couldn't clearly make out what was being said. Thinking how he had been so sympathetic when they had talked earlier, Dick decided he just might be the person he could unload some of his fears on without worrying about harsh recriminations.

    He was just about to knock on the door, warning the occupants of his arrival, when the gist of their conversation started to penetrate his brain. Hearing it, he knew this definitely wasn't the time to interrupt. In fact, if anything, he should just back off and either head back to bed or maybe find someone else who might be willing to sit and listen to him spill his guts. Still, every time he had seen these two interact, he had been fascinated by what was obviously an intense if unspoken something between them, even if what that something was wasn't necessarily all that clear. Still, eavesdropping was wrong, and he knew it. He was just about to back off when something they were discussing struck a chord within him.

    "…. go on like this, Selina."

    "I don't know what you're talking about, Bruce."

    "Yes, you do. And it's not just affecting us. Look at how Helena's reacting."

    "I can't help it that she's expecting us to be like her parents. Don't you think seeing her affects me too. She's a symbol of what I thought my life was going to be. What I wanted my life to be. But because of one little mistake…"

    "It wasn't that little."

    Dick had been in the process of turning to go when Catwoman's comment caught him off-guard. He hadn't thought about it, but in a way, these two were obviously dealing with the repercussions of what their lives could have been if they had made different choices. The same way that he was having to do, especially with regards to the kids. Maybe Bruce would definitely be the person to talk this whole situation out with. Still, this definitely wasn't the right time for that talk. Still, the mention of this "mistake"… That did intrigue him.

    "No, Dick… Back off. This is their private affair, and none of your concern." Yet even as the figurative little angel that sat on his shoulder and served as his conscious was telling him this, the little devil on his other shoulder was egging him on. "Look, Grayson, who knows… You can never be sure what information is going to be important later on. Maybe you should listen in, if only to get some insight into this Batman's state of mind about personal relationships. Who knows when that might come in handy."

    Even as his two sides were debating, the conversation in the other room had continued.

    "Wasn't it? Could what happened… what I did… really kill any and all of the feelings you had for me? I know that I still feel the same… I still love you." Dick heard a beguiling note enter the woman's voice with her next line, "Even if I do want to knock some sense though that thick skull of yours on occasion."

    However, it appeared from the tone in the male voice when it next spoke that the man wasn't going to let any attempt at humor detract from seriousness of what was being discussed. "It's not about how we feel about each other. Of course I love you. I probably always will. And if that was the only thing we had to worry about, we wouldn't have had a problem. But that's not the problem. It's a problem of trust."

    "You're never going to get over that, are you? Could that one time really have destroyed any trust you had in me that badly?"

    Dick felt a strained pause fill the air before Bruce deigned to reply. "Actually, Selina, it was never about my trust in you. It was about your obvious lack of trust in me that told me we never really stood a chance."

    A stunned silence greeted the man's statement. Then the female voice erupted. "What!?! I trust you. Even when you and I were at each others' throats, I knew you would never hurt me."

    "If you trusted me, why didn't you tell me about how you were being manipulated?"

    "Dammit… I was protecting you. Considering who was behind the whole mess, I knew that not only could he hurt you as Batman… He could hurt you as Bruce Wayne. Especially as Bruce Wayne. He was never really interested in that part of you. And regardless how I'd always felt about Batman, it was Bruce Wayne that I actually fell in love with. To find out that you were one and the same only made it all make sense."

    "Was it really only protecting me that you were worried about, Selina? Be honest, didn't you have another worry as well?"

    "That's unfair, Bruce, and you know it."

    "Is it? Is it really, Selina?"

    A long silence ensued at that point. Dick couldn't see what was going on in the room, but he could feel the tension emanating from two people inside. He knew he shouldn't be listening to this conversation. Whatever had happened between these two, it was obviously still a sore topic between them. And he didn't have any right to be invading their privacy anymore. Backing away from the door, he made off back down the corridor.

    Even as he was feeling a bit bemused by everything he had just overheard, Dick headed downstairs. This Bruce Wayne obviously in some ways was very different from his own, maybe even more than he had thought previously. Sure, he had heard others say things about this Bruce that didn't fit his imagine of Batman, even seen and heard some of these differences himself. But still, in his own head, this Bruce had still held a certain… mystique that he associated with his own. Witnessing what he had in the past few minutes, while not totally destroying that feeling, had put a bit of a large dent in it. This Bruce really did allow some people to get close… closer than even he had expected.

    He decided that a hot drink might help him sleep better. That is, if anything was going to help him, that might do it. As such, he headed for the kitchen. But when he got there, he found that he wasn't the only one who had decided that this might be a good idea.

    "… Worried about him."

    "Hon, if he wants to tell us, he'll tell us. From what you've told us Donna said, Phobia must have done a real number on him."

    "Dick's right, Koriand'r. It's obviously something that he's not ready to share with us. When he is, he will."

    "Still, Kory does have a point. Remember, he seemed a bit out of sorts even before he left this morning to head over to that Tower that the Titans use."

    This was not what Dick needed. His counterparts, Koriand'r and Helena were discussing him. He didn't know whether to just leave or to go in and confront them. "Whoa", he told himself. It was apparent that his nerves still hadn't settled down from the hallucination Phobia had evoked in him. He didn't need to confront them. They were obviously concerned about him. Still, he hadn't decided what quite to do in response to their conversation when the partially open door swung fully open.

    "Care to join us, Wing." Richard had a slight smile crossing his face, like one he might wear if he found a kid with his or her hand in the cookie jar.

    "Uuummm… okay. I suppose." Dick felt a faint tinge of red sweep up over his face before he fought it down. After all, they were the ones that had been discussing him.

    When he got into the room, he saw that Helena was seated at the table, with Richard regaining the chair he had obviously just vacated. His other counterpart was leaning against a countertop, watching his wife closely. Dick noted that while Koriand'r upper arm was heavily bandaged, she wasn't wearing the sling that she had been previously. They were all dressed as if they were going to bed or had been there, wearing pajamas and robes. Koriand'r was over by the stove, where both a pot and a kettle were situated over active elements. Some mugs were sitting by the stove, obviously waiting to be filled.

    She inquired, while stirring whatever was in the pot, "Want something to drink, Wing?"

    "Sure. But is your arm okay enough to be doing all of this? I could help…"

    Her husband snorted. "We've already been through all that, Wing. She won't let any of us help her."

    Koriand'r's voice took on a severe tone, even as she mock-threateningly waved the spoon back in Dick's counterpart's face. "I've had enough coddling in the last few days to last me a lifetime. While a little pampering can be nice, you all have gone overboard. Considering some of the injuries I suffered as a warrior and a slave, this", she indicated the bandages on her arm, "barely qualifies as a scratch."

    "Okay, okay… We get the point." The Earth-1 Dick raised his hands in a sign of defeat. Still, Dick noted that he kept watch over his wife as he moved to the table and grabbed a seat.

    Koriand'r expanded on her question from a minute ago. "Just what would you like to have, Wing?"

    "What have you got?"

    Her husband answered, even as a slightly concerned glance crossed his face while he noted her somewhat gingerly reaching over to open a cupboard and retrieve another mug with her bad arm. "We've got cocoa and regular and herbal tea. Kory's just learned to make a mean Chai Tea Latte, if you'd like that. Or there's always hot milk. And if you really want it, there's always a steady supply of coffee going in the coffee maker. You know Bruce and his coffee." The Earth-1 Dick ended that with a knowing smile around the table to everyone. They all nodded. Coffee was or had definitely been a stable for any Bruce Wayne.

    "But what are you guys having?"

    "Well, Kory's making cocoa for me and Richard. Never did outgrow having that when I can't sleep." He inclined his head questioningly at Richard as if to confirm that that was the same for him, even as his younger counterpart was indicating to Koriand'r that he would have the cocoa as well, if there was enough to go around.

    "Yes. There's just something about cocoa when I'm not able to fall asleep…"

    Kory interjected at that point, "Considering how many times each of the Alfreds must have made it for you guys at the end of a long night on patrol, it's got to be ingrained by now."

    At that, Helena looked startled for a moment. "Oh, by the way, guys, I forgot to mention…"

    "Forgot to mention what, Helena?"

    "Well, Charles went back to our earth early this evening to get fully catch up with the others, and I asked him to look into some stuff for me while Uncle Bruce and I were working on some leads here."

    "Oh, anything important."

    "No. I just wanted to make sure that our Gotham", she looked over at Richard, "was doing okay without us around. But according to Charles, both Alan and Charlie seem to have everything covered…"

    Dick, listening in, picked up enough to ask, "Alan's Alan Scott… right. The old Green Lantern?.."

    Richard and Helena exchanged playfully shocked looks at that statement. " 'Old' Green Lantern? I'm not sure that Alan would like the label." Helena teased Dick.

    Dick winced. "You're right. Sorry. It's just on my earth, we've had several GL's over the years."

    "It's okay, Dick. Helena's just joshing you."

    Dick's grin matched that of Richard's. "I know… But I was wrong to call him that. Any ways, who's Charlie?"

    "Oh, you must not have a Blackwing on your earth either." His Earth-1 counterpart deduced. "Have to admit, when I first met him, I wasn't too sure about him."

    "Blackwing?!?"

    Helena picked up the question in Dick's tone. "Charlie Bullock. He helped Ted Grant… you know, Wildcat… out when he was just a kid. Ted took Charlie under his wing after that. From what I've heard, he also followed Dad's career a lot back then. Any ways, he really liked helping others, especially with what he perceived as injustices, so when he was older, he went to law school."

    Richard continued with the explanation as Helena paused. "Our firm hired him as a legal assistant when he was through with school. That's how we met him. Then our partner, Arthur Cranston, was threatened at one point, and a shop keeper friend of Charlie's was vandalized. After that, what with his idolizing of Batman and his training with Ted, he decided he needed to do more than just be a law clerk. So he put together a costume and started to go out on the streets. It took him awhile, but he's gotten very good at handling himself in under pressure."

    The Earth-1 Dick Grayson then interjected, "I have to admit… It was his costume that made me a bit wary when I first met him."

    "Why?" Dick wanted to know.

    "It's very much a… homage to Dad's costume", Helena clarified. "Lord knows, when I first saw it, I was a bit taken aback as well."

    "That similar, huh?"

    "Oh, there were some differences. But it is very close. His silhouette is very much Dad's. But he has glider wings instead of a cape, and the symbol on his chest isn't the same. Still…" Helena picked up the mug that Koriand'r placed in front of her. From the smell, Dick decided that she had settled on having some sort of herbal tea. A moment later, hot mugs of cocoa appeared before him and his eldest counterpart.

    "Yeah, even Richard's old Robin costume wasn't as much of a take-off of what your Dad's must have been like as Blackwing's is." As Koriand'r set a steaming mug in front of her husband and settled in to sit on his lap, he smiled over at his elder counterpart, "Just what were you thinking there, Richard. I understand wanting to honor Bruce and everything… But…"

    "Your old Robin costume?" Dick was confused. Wasn't his old Robin costume the same as the one that he and his Earth-1 counterpart had worn at one time?

    "Not my original, if that's what you're asking, Dick", Richard explained. I had another one that I wore for a few years when I… outgrew the 'green shorts'."

    "I liked the green shorts." Koriand'r interjected with a smile. "Definitely showed off Dick's legs the best."

    "Yeah. Even I remember them as being very nice legs", Helena teased.

    "Don't you two start." The Earth-1 Dick Grayson gave his wife a quick squeeze as he threw warning looks at both her and Helena. "I'll never live down what happened when I first met Helena as is."

    Dick was totally fascinated by all the little things that were coming up in the conversation. He wasn't even sure which question to ask first. These people obviously had a bit of a varied back-story with all their relationships. Still, he knew that he could only find out one thing at a time.

    "Hold on, all of you. Richard, what was this old costume of yours like?"

    "It really wasn't as bad as what Dick's making out, Wing. I had just sort of combined Bruce's Batman costume with elements of our original Robin costume."

    Dick was trying to visualize this when his Earth-1 counterpart explained in more detail. "Yeah, Wing… Imagine Bruce's outfit without the cowl, and with a yellow cape instead of the black one, with the collar extending up in scalloped points behind the neck. A slightly larger black domino masking the eyes. And as a symbol, a red circle, with the black bat symbol on it, and then the yellow Robin 'R' situated on top of the bat."

    Dick sat there for a moment as the picture appeared in his head. He didn't know if he had it quite right, but the face he must have made as the image formed set the others to laughing. Even Richard chuckled as he stated, "Okay… Maybe it wasn't the height of fashion sense. But I was never into that sort of thing any way."

    "I'm not sure you should be the one talking about strange costumes, Dick. Not after the picture I saw at your house this evening." Feeling a bit apart from the group, due to their sharing so much history that he did have, Dick decided to he should try to integrate himself a bit into the conversation. As such, he took a chance to slightly tease his older counterpart, much as the other man had been teasing their eldest counterpart,. "Really didn't know you were the gangster type."

    His counterpart closed his eyes in obviously feigned disgust as his lips twisted into a wry grin. "Kory, sweetheart… Didn't we agree that that picture was never to see the light of day again?"

    "Sorry, Dick, but the kids love it. And Alex thinks of it as her first picture with us, even if she hadn't been born yet. It seems as soon as I put it away, they want it back out again." Turning to the others, she explained, "Gar threw a Hallowe'en party a few years back where he specified we were supposed to come as villains. While most of the people who came went the super-villain route, we decided to do something a bit different."

    "Sounds like fun."

    "Oh, it was, Helena. Gar used the party as an excuse to announce his engagement to Caroline, so it was extra special." Koriand'r paused before turning the conversation back to what they had previously been discussing, "Still, if we're talking about uniforms, I like your current one a lot, Richard. It's very stylish."

    "Thanks, Kory. Though, you do know that your husband was the first to wear it?"

    "You were, Dick?"

    "Only for one case, m'love. Long before I met you. My own Robin costume got pretty shredded while I was working with the JLA and JSA once. In fact, that was when I first met Richard." Richard nodded his head at that while his younger counterpart continued, "He was nice enough to loan me the prototype of this new costume that he and a designer friend of his… Neil something-or-other…"

    Richard again nodded agreement as he specified, "Neil Adams."

    "Adams… right. That he and this guy had come up with. It's pretty much like the one that Richard now wears… Though the half-cowl was blue, I believe."

    "Yes. I didn't make the switch to the new costume for a little while. When I did, I made a few color modifications."

    "Still, it was an interesting case. Both of us were feeling a bit… under appreciated."

    "We were complaining, and you know it, Dick."

    " 'Under appreciated'?" Dick was even more curious. It sounded like his counterparts maybe had dealt with a few of his feelings from over the years as well."

    "Well, maybe 'under appreciated' isn't the correct term, Wing. I had just really joined the JSA, and while Bruce had grown over the years to really respect my opinions and decisions, some of the older JSA members were treating me still as the 'kid' of the group. It irked me."

    "And the JLA was pulling the same sort of thing with me, though I guess technically I was still a 'kid'. We were sort of commiserating over that when we really first got to know each other."

    "Still, things did get better as I got older, especially when Karen and Sly joined the team as well. I wasn't the sole 'youngster' anymore. And then Helena showed up…"

    "You weren't already the Huntress?"

    "No… I didn't take up that identity until after my mother had been killed and my dad had given up being the Batman. In fact, it was as a result of my dad 'forbidding' me to pursue this life-style that I came to Earth-1 for the first time. I wanted to get some advice from this earth's Batman. That's when I originally met Uncle Bruce and Dick."

    "An incident I will never live down." The Earth-1 Dick added in a mocking dejected tone.

    "C'mon, Dick. It wasn't that bad", his wife reassured him.

    "You weren't on the other end of that throw."

    "I take it Dick's told you about how we first met, Kory." Helena smiled at the other woman.

    "Yes. When Dick first introduced me to you and Richard, I asked him about how all of you had met."

    "She thought it was cute that you handled me so easily, Helena."

    Dick looked at all the smiling faces gathered around the table. Obviously whatever had happened had a humorous element to it. "Just what was so funny?"

    "I don't know if it was so much 'funny', Wing, but more 'unexpected'. I had come to Earth-1 to get Uncle Bruce's advice. Being who I am, I couldn't resist trying to break into the Wayne Foundation building, where Uncle Bruce was living at the time. Of course, his security picked up on it, and he and Dick, who was home from college visiting, came down to 'meet' me as Batman and Robin. But I apparently came on a bad day, from Dick's point of view."

    "Yeah, I definitely wasn't having a good day. My girl-friend at the time, Lori, was meeting with an old 'ex' of hers, and I was feeling a little put out. As a result, I was a bit… short-tempered… With the 'intruder' appearing, I used it as an excuse to vent my frustrations physically. I really wasn't thinking, just reacting, and then it all back-fired when Helena almost casually tossed me half-way across the room."

    "Well, you did leave yourself open, Dick. And it wasn't as if I wanted to hurt you."

    "I know. Still, I think your statement after that threw me for more of a loop than your throw had."

    "What… me coming out with how I was Uncle Bruce's 'daughter' caught you off-guard?" A twinkling entered Helena's eyes even as she affected an innocent expression of disbelief on her face.

    The Earth-1 Dick just rolled his eyes. " No?!? You think? Of course, Bruce figured out what Helena meant right away", he told the others. "I think I was even more concerned when I found out who your mother was. Considering there had always been something between Bruce and Selina here on this earth, I had to wonder just what would happen if they hooked up and had a kid. Just where I would fit in the whole thing. I know it sounds silly now. But I was still sort of searching for my own identity at that point."

    Both Dick and Richard nodded at that remark. All three men exchanged looks as if they all knew and understood what the others were feeling.

    "I guess we were lucky that us meeting Kory happened in much more formal circumstances. I hate to think what could have happened if we had surprised her at some point." Helena again smiled over at the other woman, who had been contentedly sipping on her own mug of tea while the others had talked.

    At that, the winged slope of Koriand'r's eyebrow rose as she looked over at Richard. "I guess you never told Helena about our first meeting, did you, Richard?" she queried while a flushed look crept up Richard's face and her husband just chuckled.

    "What 'first meeting', Dick? Didn't you meet Kory the same time I did up on the JLA satellite?" Helena turned to look at the eldest Dick Grayson present curiously.

    "Uuummm… Formally, yes. That was when I was first introduced to Kory. It was just…" Richard's voice held a slightly strangled note before trailing off slightly. Koriand'r tinkling laugh broke the short silence that followed. She managed to stifle it before continuing.

    "I'm sorry, Richard. I shouldn't laugh, considering all that I've learned about Earth's 'morals' in the time I've lived here. It's just I remember so well the look on your face when you exited the patio doors at the penthouse to find me sun-bathing."

    "What? When did this happen? And what was so funny about it?" Helena voiced Dick's own unspoken questions, though he had an idea why it might have been a bit disconcerning for Richard, if this Koriand'r was very much like his own.

    "It's just… well… A few months before we 'officially' met Kory, I came to Earth-1 to talk to Bruce about something. When I contacted Alfred here at the manor, he told me that Bruce had been in the city for a few days. I decided to take the transporter tube from the JLA satellite directly down to Gotham. I thought to look him up at the penthouse first, as I figured he might still use it as a base when he was in town overnight. When I reached it, I couldn't find anyone in the apartment itself, but I heard someone out on the balcony, so I figured he was out there."

    "Only, he wasn't… I was. I was living there for a while after I returned to America from Europe. And it being such a nice day, there was no way I was staying indoors."

    "Okay, I can understand why Dick coming across you, a gorgeous female, instead of Bruce, might be a bit unexpected… but still…"

    "If she's alone or with just the family, Kory tends to sun-bathe in the nude, Helena." Her husband eyed the long form of his wife in admiration, even as a slightly wicked grin etched itself across his face. "And while I might enjoy the sight, I imagine it could be a shock for someone who was expecting to see an clothed Bruce Wayne."

    "Oh… I see. Yes, that just might be a bit… unexpected." Helena couldn't help the smile that flashed. "Poor Dick."

    "Hey… It's not like I didn't… appreciate the view. It just wasn't what I thought I'd find." While his face still held an a very faint hint of pink, Richard seemed to also find the whole scenario described amusing as well. "Still, at the time, I was so surprised, I immediately turned around and left. Didn't even give Kory a chance to tell me her name. I think I figured at the time that since Bruce was living with Selina back at the manor, he had sub-let the penthouse or something. Frankly, the only thing I was sure of was that this was obviously not a good time to visit."

    "Didn't her eyes give you a clue that this couldn't be just any renter?" Dick wasn't sure if Helena was really that curious, or was just looking for a way to tease her partner.

    Richard's face tried to take on a serious cast, even as he uttered in a deadpan tone, "I'm afraid her eyes weren't my primary area of focus."

    With his pronouncement, laughter erupted around the table. It took a few moments for it to calm down enough for Richard to add, "Still, wasn't until I talked to Bruce later that day that I found out just who Kory was."

    "And what did you think at that point, Richard?", his Earth-1 doppelganger was curious to discover.

    "That you were a lucky man, my friend. An incredibly lucky man"

    Again, laughter echoed through the kitchen. Dick felt an incredibly sense of camaraderie around the table at that point. For a moment, he felt as if he truly fit in with this group.

    His Earth-1 counterpart, his laughter finally fading, came back with, "You bet I am." He gazed at Koriand'r adoringly for a moment.

    "I still don't understand why you North Americans are so uptight about the whole nudity thing? In Europe, it wasn't nearly as much of a problem." Kory's face, while still smiling, took on a slightly perplexed expression. "It's almost as if you're ashamed of your bodies."

    "Blame it on our puritanical founders, Kory."

    "Maybe, but I'm not raising the kids to feel that way."

    "Hon, I agree, but still, there are limits. Sure, around the house is fine…"

    "Let's see if he says that when the girls get to be teen-agers", Dick threw over to Richard and Helena.

    A knowing if concerned look swept over the Earth-1 Dick's face. "Don't even go there, Wing. Not if you know what's good for you", he stated in an obviously fake threatening voice, which caused another round of chuckles and giggles to ripple around the table.

    Then, as the levity lessened, he turned back to Helena. "Hey, you still haven't told us about what you 'forgot to mention' earlier."

    "Um, that's right. Before we got off track, I was going to say that since Charles was going back to our Earth, I asked him to make sure Alfred was okay. As a result…"

    "As a result, I decided to come for a visit myself. And I must say, it looks like I came just in time, if this is how hard it is to maintain the upkeep of this manor." The slightly mocking voice came from the direction of the door leading back off the kitchen towards Alfred's quarters. Dick saw how both his Earth-1 counterpart and Helena gave very slight comical winces while Koriand'r and Richard exchanged knowing looks. Remembering the conversation he had overheard back on the satellite between the two of them, he understood why the other two might be a teeny-tiny bit uncomfortable given the situation they were now in.

    "Alfred… It's wonderful to see you again." Koriand'r obviously didn't share her husband's very slight discomfort. Instead, she leapt up to greet the older, slightly stooped man with a hug, even as his younger counterpart entered the room and surveyed the slight mess still sitting on the kitchen counter where Koriand'r had prepared the drinks earlier. He then turned with a raised eyebrow to look at the people still seated at the table, as if to say, "And just what have you managed to raid from my kitchen this time?"

    "Thank you, Miss Kory. It's delightful to see you again as well. How are the young ones?"

    "They're great, Alfred. They'll be thrilled to see you in the morning."

    Even as Koriand'r and the older Alfred chatted, the others rose to greet the two men. After the round of handshakes and hugs, the younger Alfred moved over to start the clean up. Koriand'r immediately turned to protest, "Alfred, stop that. I'll clean up. You sit down. Why don't I get both of you something to drink as well."

    "Thank you for offering, Miss Kory. I'll just take a moment to clear this away."

    "No you won't. Both you and Alfred go and sit." Dick was slightly amazed that the two Alfreds exchanged bemused glances at the commanding tone in Koriand'r's voice before shrugging slightly and complying.

    "I do believe we should do was she says, Mr. Pennyworth."

    "You may be right, Mr. Beagle. Do you think it is motherhood that causes some women to believe that they can start bossing everyone around?"

    "It may just be that. Of course, from what I've heard of Miss Kory's past, she may have developed that trait during her training."

    "There is that possibility. Though I don't remember her being quite this… forceful before the arrival of the children."

    "You just saw her under good circumstances, Alfred. Believe me, Kory's always been a bit on the… demanding side", her husband teased lightly

    Koriand'r had obviously just decided to ignore the men's bantering. Instead she turned back to the stove and set the kettle back on to boil. "Would you two prefer Earl Grey, Ceylon or Darjeeling? Or is Orange Pekoe alright?" Dick surmised she knew that offering them anything besides tea would be turned down.

    "Earl Grey will be fine, Miss Kory. But you really should let us help you. Especially after that nasty shot to your arm that Alfred was telling me about." As the older Englishman moved towards the table, the others followed and regained where they had been sitting a few moments before.

    "It's fine! Besides, using it will probably help in the healing."

    "Or make it worse."

    Koriand'r gave her husband a glare that silently said, "Leave it alone, Dick", before turning and taking a teapot, some fine china cups and saucers and a metal container for holding the loose tea leaves out of a cupboard. She then grabbed the appropriate box of tea leaves off another shelf.

    As she went about preparing the tea, the others around the table went back to conversing. "So, young Master Richard. How has your visit to this earth been going so far", the older Alfred inquired. "Nothing too out of the ordinary, I hope."

    Dick drew in a very sharp breath at that. Alfred's question was innocent enough, but it brought back the memories of what had happened this afternoon, and the emotional pain that his nightmare had caused within him. Amazingly, he had almost forgotten it in the warmth generated by the teasing and bantering that had been going around the table. Almost, but not quite. But he had shoved it to the back of his mind momentarily. Now the images rose up again, hitting with a fresh wave of pain, even if it wasn't quite as sharp as it had been earlier. As a result, he had to sit a moment and try to collect and contain his thoughts before answering.

    During that moment, he noticed the others around the table had also gone still, almost as if they did know what was going through his mind and were waiting for some sort of outburst. In a way, he wished he could give in to that impulse. To yell and scream and find something to hit and kick and beat to a pulp. Anything to take way the ache that was permeating his mind and soul. But he wouldn't let the anger and pain out that way. He couldn't. These people didn't deserve that. The concerned looks that they were giving him and each other just reminded him of that. Remembering the direction of the conversation he had overheard before he had been invited into the kitchen, he suddenly realized that all the talk had been a way of taking his mind off of what had happened, even if they had wanted the details. Just as the time on the trapeze earlier had also distracted him for a time. No, these people were trying to help, or at least, giving him the time to come to grips with what had happened before pushing him to reveal anything. So he held his tongue for a long moment before speaking.

    Still, it was with a very subdued tone that he finally answered. "It's been very… interesting, Alfred." It was the only word that Dick could think of to use at the moment. It had also been at various times confusing, enlightening, entertaining, horrifying and all the range of emotions in between. But he didn't know if he could go into it anymore than that without breaking down.

    "Young Master Richard, is something wrong?" The older Alfred, obviously having not yet been told about some of the more distressing events, appeared to be very concerned at the note in Dick's tone of voice.

    He thought for a brief minute of lying, telling him that everything was great. But he knew he couldn't do it. Not just because of the fact that he felt he couldn't lie to the older man, but because he also knew that if this Alfred was anything like his own, he would know in a split second that something was wrong.

    Instead, he gave a slight shrug, as if to indicate that there was but it wasn't life or dead or anything like that. Sure, during the nightmare, he had felt like it was, but he knew that that was all it was, just a nightmare.

    "It's okay, Alf. Really. Just having to face some old memories. I'll be fine."

    "Sir, if you want to talk about it…"

    "I have a gazillion and one people ready to listen. I know. And I will. Soon. Okay?"

    The others just looked at each other for a long moment before turning back to him. From their faces he could tell that both Koriand'r and Helena really would have liked to push him a little bit. They probably both felt it would be better for him to get it off his chest. But his counterparts and both Alfreds obviously knew better. Just as Helena leaned forward and started to say something, the younger Alfred put his hand on her arm, while the Earth-1 Dick tossed him a slight smile.

    "Whatever you want, Wing."

    Even with that acceptance, which seemed echoed by the others, the atmosphere didn't return to the relaxed state that it had been in before Alfred's question. Richard opened his mouth as if to interject something, but must have decided against it, as he then closed it without saying anything. Both Alfreds took the moment to take long sips of their tea, as if they needed to do something to fill the gap. Dick, feeling just a tad uncomfortable, thought that maybe it was time to break up the grouping, or at least remove his presence from it. He and the others might relax a bit as a result.

    Rising from the table, he informed the others, "It's been a long day. I think I better head back up to bed. Thanks for the cocoa, Koriand'r. And for all the stories. It's been great."

    The others started to protest.

    "You really don't have to go up now, do you", Koriand'r interjected.

    "We were just starting to get into the really fun stuff. There's probably some things about our Alfreds that you just wouldn't believe", her husband added as an inducement for him to stay.

    "C'mon, Wing… Surely you can't pass hearing those up", Helena added.

    Dick looked at the three younger adults. He noted that Richard and the Alfreds didn't add anything. Maybe they had realized that he needed a bit of a break.

    "It's tempting, guys. But I really should hit the sack. See you all in the morning." With that he turned and headed out of the kitchen.

    A few moments later, just as he paused before climbing the stairs, he heard the soft tread of footsteps behind him. Turning, he spied both of the proper English butlers approaching him.

    "Did I forget something? Was I supposed to clear the table?", he joked, trying to erase the solemn looks each Alfred was giving him.

    "Master… 'Wing'. Is it alright if I address you that way, sir?"

    Dick looked at the older of the two men. "Alfred, you can call me anything you want. If it wasn't for your counterpart on my earth…"

    "Fine, young sir. I just wanted to apologize if I upset you a few moments ago. That was not my intention."

    Dick approached the older men and laid his hands on the shoulders of the stooped older Alfred, even as he gave the other one a reassuring look. "You have nothing to apologize for, Alf. It's me, and some stuff that I need to deal with. If anything, having both of you either here or back on Earth-2 has helped me feel at home more than anything else. It's almost as if you two are the only true constants between these earths and my own."

    "I don't understand, Master Wing", the younger Alfred said.

    Dick smiled ruefully. "It's hard to explain. It's just that even the people that have direct physical dopplegangers in my universe are somehow different in personality or power or something. You two are the only ones that could be my Alfred, even if you're not. So please, don't apologize or anything. If anything, I should be thanking you. This place feels like home with you here."

    "If you are sure, Master Wing. We would never want you to feel uncomfortable."

    "I'm sure. I just need to get some stuff settled in my own head. When and if I'm ready, I'll let you know what's up."

    "As you wish, sir. But we are here, both of us, if you need us."

    Dick felt the slight sting of tears enter his eyes. Blinking rapidly, he reached out to give both men's arm a slight squeeze. "Thanks, guys. That means more than anything. Now, I really should get some shut-eye."

    He turned to head up the stairs, even as he felt their eyes following him up. He didn't know if he would be able to sleep or not, but he would try. Slipping down the hall, he entered the room that he had been given.

    Instead of slipping into bed, though, he took a moment to wander over towards the window. It looked in the direction of Gotham, and as soon as he reached it, he knew that he wouldn't be heading towards bed. No, while not a solution to his troubles, he saw something that might take his mind off them for a bit longer. Turning abruptly, he headed back into the hall. Silently he slipped down the stairs and towards the grandfather clock.

    Though an open door to the library, a window could be seen that appeared to be lit up. Anyone who approached it would have seen a familiar black-and-yellow symbol lighting up the sky.

    …to be continued…

     
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