Roy Harper strolled along Varick Street, one thumb hooked into the front corner of his jeans pocket, the other hand carrying the plastic bag. One of the illegal-but-unbothered street vendors on Broadway had been selling kids' books and he'd picked up a few for Lian after he'd recognized the cover of one of the offerings -- the adventures of a young mouse living in the big city -- as one of a series that his daughter was constantly taking out of the library.
It was a warm night for the season, especially considering the cold snap that had blown through last week, and the streets were pleasantly full of laughing, shouting, happy people on their way from drinks to dinner, the start of a good Saturday night in New York City. Without having to look at his watch, Roy could tell it was around 9pm; the restaurants were busy and the clubs looked like they hadn't opened yet -- as he passed, he noticed that there was no music blaring out of Culture Club, the Eighties dance place off Houston that Donna would drag him to far too often for his liking. He'd tried to convince her that she didn't remember how much she had disliked the music the first time, but she had never bought his lines and they'd end up underneath the Rubik's Cube disco ball just the same.
Donna'd never bought any of his lines and that wasn't even one of the big reasons why he still missed her with an ache that could paralyze him.
He took a right on Downing Street, heading east away from the crowds. He was in no mood to socialize with strangers, he realized sourly, no mood to put the effort into learning enough about someone new. Idly he noticed that Sammo's, the bar Kyle frequented, had a new awning. There had been articles in the newspaper about how the city was cracking down on signage -- a ticketing-as-fundraiser project that had the mayor's approval ratings dipping ever further -- and, with $100 fines for the first offense, there was a booming business for those who could help businesses comply in a hurry.
Bleecker came a couple of blocks later and Roy didn't bother turning. Kyle was still gone... or, rather, he was gone again. They'd gone out together after the reception that followed Donna's funeral, just the two of them, so they could mourn in private -- or at least away from the others. Diana's grief had been uncomfortable for its intensity, but at least it was understandable. Some of the others... Roy snarled in disgust at both the memory of the ostentatious displays of sadness by people who had never known Troia as Donna as well as at the necessity of making her public personna the focus instead of the person she was when it was the person who was everything. 'Troia' was just an outfit.
He and Kyle... they had been less rivals for Donna's affections than complementary parts of her life. But they had been part of Donna's life, not just Troia's or Wonder Girl's, and that had taken second place in the semi-public honoring of a fallen heroine. Not wanting to be Green Lantern and Arsenal, official representatives, they had left. They'd found a quiet bar near Kip's Bay and reminisced about the woman they had both loved and lost.
But that had been six weeks ago. Kyle had since wrapped up his thing with Ollie -- and Connor was still not quite recovered from having to broker that peace -- and gone back into space. Roy didn't think he was coming back any time soon. Something had happened to him while the JLA had been stuck in ancient Atlantis, something that had totally shaken his foundations so that his assistant getting attacked was not the first straw but the last. At the reception, Kyle had looked lost and it had had nothing to do with Donna's death.
He paused when he hit Sixth Avenue. If he wasn't going to cruise, then he might as well go home, pull on the togs, and be antisocial in the direction of the criminal element. Brooklyn needed its vigilante heroes, too. He turned north, got on the F at West Fourth without pausing to watch the basketball game, and got off at York Street five minutes later.
The walk home, of course, was not quiet. DUMBO was not the bucolic part of Brooklyn, if such existed. After the Tower had been wrecked, they'd stayed in a hotel for a while before he'd found the apartment. It was a humongous loft in a converted warehouse ("Sweeney's" was still printed in giant red letters on the exterior wall) with its back to Empire-Fulton Ferry Park and the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge to its side, and current hotter-than-hot it-spot DUMBO all around. Roy didn't need to head into Manhattan anymore to go out, although it was so close -- and so much easier to get to than from the Tower -- that he often still did.
The apartment was quiet when he entered. He checked first on the sleeping Lian, depositing the books on the nightstand where she would see them in the morning, before heading to his own room to change. Ron was sitting on his prayer mat in his room, obviously meditating. Ron was a friend of Connor's from the ashram and had come to New York from volunteering at a children's center in Oakland. Ron's unbreakable, gentle calm and sweet-natured patience was a good balance with Lian's boundless energy, but what was more important was that Ron had neither knowledge nor interest in the hero business. He was aware of what Roy did, aware of who Lian's mother was, but that was not why he was there. Rose -- and even Chanda before her -- had been drawn to the Titans; they were working for Arsenal, not working for Roy Harper. Ron... hadn't even known who Speedy was. (Ollie had loved that... until Ron had confessed that he didn't know that Connor wasn't the first Green Arrow, either.) And if Roy were to have any chance of getting Lian set up in a normal, happy, civilian life, then that was an important change.
"Do you feel a particular unease or are you just going out to go out?" Ron asked quietly as Roy emerged from a stretch. He had that particular blissed-out look that came from meditation, be it in Tibetan or Diné, and Roy returned the smile instinctively. Peace, the elders used to tell the children, is contagious, but only if you sit still long enough for it to catch you.
"A little of both," he admitted, standing up and rolling his neck. "I'm just..."
Ron nodded understandingly and then gave a particularly un-beatific smile. "Be safe," he said, his hands making a shape Roy figured was a mudra to that effect, bowing slightly, then turning back toward his room.
Roy watched him go, then turned to the locked cabinet where he kept his weapons. He'd have to fletch some more arrows soon, he noticed as he took the quiver down from its hook. He unlocked the case with his knives, selected what he felt like carrying, and let his hand hover before the drawer with the guns before deciding against them. The cabinet well organized and better stocked, each drawer locked and each case within similarly protected. He'd thought long and hard about gun locks before opting for them -- or, rather, opting to use the ones Dick had given him. But Dick was right: if someone broke in, Roy could use whatever was at hand to defend. But when Lian found the cache -- and no matter how many times he, Ron, Dinah, and everyone else told her not to, it was a 'when' and not an 'if' -- he'd like that extra protection for her.
One of the advantages of the loft was that it had quick access to the rear stairs -- and nobody, Roy had quickly realized -- used the stairs past the fourth floor. It was quick work getting out and away from the building unseen, rooftop to rooftop, hidden by the darkness of the night and the shadow of the bridges.
Petty crime was not a big problem in DUMBO anymore, the results of both a 24-hour community as well as an involved local police precinct. East, however, away from the Heights and Vinegar Hill, around Downtown (it had taken him a while to realize that Downtown Brooklyn was more north-west than down) and the Navy Yard, things were less assured. It was more industrial and daytime commercial and there was always spillage from the band of depressed neighborhoods that made up north-central Brooklyn. Groups of unpleasant types came out to pick on the isolated and the weak, to do drugs and turn tricks, to negotiate stolen goods and divvy up the spoils taken from other people's lives.
Tonight, Saturday night, should have been a busy time and it was. A couple of B&E's foiled without getting within twenty yards of the would-be perps (amateurs dangling off of fire escapes were easier to hit than cans on a fence), a would-be mugger dissuaded (Roy had helpfully pointed the broken-fingered man in the direction of the nearest hospital), and an open-air group high ruined (a water-sprinkler/stinkbomb arrow had landed right in the middle of the stash), but there was no sense of satisfaction.
He still felt restless, a sort of displeasure -- an itchiness, almost -- within his own skin. It was distracting in a passive kind of way, not enough to throw off his aim but more than enough to make him aware that he wasn't giving full attention to what he was doing.
Part of it, he suspected, was the newness of it all. New apartment, new nanny, new neighborhood; no more Titans, no more Tower, no more Donna, no more Kyle. He was a stranger in his own life, deeply alone in a way he hadn't been since the first time the Titans had broken up and Ollie'd left him to run around... "Not going there," he murmured to himself.
The Titans had scattered. Vic, Kory, and Gar were out in California doing... he wasn't sure what. Jesse had gone back to her business and the grapevine said that she had had some sort of accident and lost her speed. He heard rumors about the others, mostly that they were trying civilian life for a while. Garth was embroiled in whatever crazy politics were currently going down in Atlantis. Dick... Dick was doing his damnedest to be both nothing like the Bat and everything like the Bat all at once and it was making him crazy. And Roy felt like a world-class shit that he just couldn't find it within himself to expend the energy to help Dick fight against the worst parts of himself.
He'd tried, of course. He'd had to. But Dick could brood as well as Bruce could and Roy hated that cold, angry, 'stop-wasting-the-planet's-oxygen-by-breathing' look that was the reward for his efforts. You can't help anyone who doesn't want to help themselves and there was only so much focused hatred he was willing to accept. Even from Robbie Shortpants.
Introspection and reverie were interrupted by the sound of a gunshot and a scream in the not-too-distance. Roy sprung out of his resting position, up and over the ledge and running across rooftops, getting his bearings by listening and watching for where everyone else was running from. A squeal of tires, a second squeal different from the first, and Roy scanned without pausing for the best way to get across Quincy Street. He'd had to get readjusted to jump lines and grapple guns; he hadn't needed them so much with the Titans. But while he was not as graceful as he might like -- that would come with practice -- he could still move quickly and effectively and without drawing attention to himself.
This was Brooklyn, not Gotham, and swinging from building to building could only get you so far. He used a grapple line around a lamppost to get down from the three-storey building on the corner and cut across the deserted intersection diagonally, vaulting over a short chain-link fence and then around behind the apartment building it bordered.
Another fence jumped, a pit bull avoided, up someone's driveway and across Gates Avenue. It was easier to scale the fire escape on the outside than clamber up the steps and dodging everything from ashtrays to houseplants to a plastic chair on the way up. Across the roof, a reasonable jump to the next one, a ladder climb up to the next building and he stopped, dropping to one knee at the edge and looking down. Acceptable sightlines, he decided, although far from optimal. He'd have to squint -- the apartment directly below him would have been perfect -- but he'd done more with less.
There were five men and a woman -- although, as they all looked to be Toni's and Grant's ages, that was perhaps stretching the definition a little -- standing in front of the entrance to the apartment building across the street. One of the guys was protecting the girl, who in turn was cradling a screaming toddler, and the four others were opposing them in a semicircle. Another girl was lying on her back on the ground off to the side, a gunshot wound to the belly darkening an ever-expanding expanse of the concrete beneath her.
Not for the first time, Roy envied the Gotham crowd for having the Oracle. An ambulance on its way now and the girl might -- might -- have had a chance. If the guy waving the gun was the one who shot her, then it was a large enough caliber bullet that it might have simply done its damage and gone through.
But in this neighborhood, the odds of someone calling either the cops or the paramedics weren't great. The girl would be dead in half an hour, if that long. Roy had his cell phone, but while he was loath to tie up his hands and his attention with making the call when there was no one else around to help him, there was no alternative.
The dispatcher took the information and got as far as asking for his name before he disconnected. He wasn't worried about the call being traced. Even if they did manage to get a bead on him, it wasn't as if the NYPD didn't know that Roy Harper had a night job.
The quartet was really one guy and three backup singers, Roy observed. They were standing and looking tough while the guy with the gun did all the talking. It was hard to hear; between him and the baby and the crying woman and the man protecting them, it was a cacophony. Worse, it was echoing off of the walls -- they were at the apex of a U-shaped building. He heard every other word or so, not enough to figure out what was going on -- every other word seemed to be "bitch" or "fuck". There was no way other than body language to tell if the confrontation would dissolve naturally or whether it would escalate.
Roy surveyed his options. Taking down the four was the thing to do, but the question was how to accomplish it without anyone else getting hurt or any of them either fleeing or summoning reinforcements. He looked over his shoulder, verifying the contents of his quiver; he automatically kept track of how many arrows he shot and how many he retrieved, but after the first time he'd ended up empty handed after Ollie had grabbed one without saying, he'd taken to double-checking.
If it were only the street lamp illuminating the scene, then he'd have knocked out the bulb with one of the rocks by his feet and then set to work. But there were also some cage-protected floodlights on the sides of the building, plus the illuminated foyer between doors, and there was no way he'd be able to create a darkness that would work to any advantage.
He nocked an arrow, testing his shot. The boob with the gun was gesturing with it, pointing at the man, pointing at the building's front entrance, pointing at the girl lying dying by his feet. The farther away from the barrel of the gun, the easier the shot would be -- the chamber, the hand, the wrist, the forearm. Maiming wasn't a preferred option, even for a murderer, but he had to take the highest percentage shot. Especially as he didn't know who else was carrying.
It would be easy to take out the three backup singers at once -- they were close together and if he moved to the far end of the roof, he'd have an angle to nock three arrows at once and expect all three to strike true. But they weren't the problem right now; the one with the gun out was.
He heard enough fragments of shouting to tell when the 'conversation' was turning back to the girl bleeding out on the ground. Roy aimed for where the hand holding the gun was when it was pointed at the girl, pulled, and... released. He had the next arrow nocked and ready before the gun hit the ground and before the howls of surprise and agony filled the air.
He'd have to get someone to explain to him what it is about the criminal element that turns their fight-or-flight instinct off when they see one of their comrades with an arrow coming out of each side of his wrist.
Instead of either running away or drawing their own weapons, everyone looked around, a couple obviously not understanding enough of basic physics to properly judge from where the arrow must have been shot. The guy who had been shot was screaming, alternately cursing his unknown assailant, demanding the crime be avenged, and reiterating that he was in rather a lot of pain. Roy would have been amused, but he was watching the girl with the baby, waiting for her to take the opportunity to run.
"Damn it, babe, get out of there," he murmured. "Get inside, get a fucking ambulance." Ten minutes to get an ambulance or a fire engine to this area. Less time to get cops because they were always on their way over here. Formative years spent with Ollie and his own stint in civil service and he was still a little suspicious of how fast help came when the neighborhood looked like this. Another call couldn't hurt.
But she didn't get away, instead standing there, looking around like the rest. Finally, her protector grabbed her arms and looked to push her in the direction of help, but by that point it was too late.
The shock of the arrow had worn off and one of the three amigos pulled out his gun, conveniently stashed in the waistband of his jeans. At the leader's urging, he aimed at the couple, holding the gun in front of him like a three-year-old learning how to piss standing up.
An arrow later and that gun, too, was on the ground, no wound inflicted. But it was immediately scrabbled for, along with the first, and the other two stooges had drawn their pistols and were looking around, trying to find the archer. A third arrow, aimed squarely for the hind of the bending man, made its mark. The force dropped him to his belly and distracted everyone. The armed men laughed until the leader started barking at them, pain and anger and fear making his voice sound almost rabid. Roy couldn't make out the words anymore.
The dim sounds of sirens could be heard over the yelling and the muffled radios in the apartment building. An ambulance and a couple of squad cars, the angry sound of horns as they sped past double-parked cars with their stereos blaring. Probably still on Nostrand, but getting closer and Roy hazarded a look.
It was quieter on the roof, easier to hear and to see -- the flashing lights reflecting off of building edifaces and the glare off of windows. Roy had maybe a minute before the tough guys noticed the sounds. They'd try to run, of course. He nocked another arrow and aimed for the thigh of the one closest to him; hitting fleshy parts assured minimum damage and made it impossible to flee -- one of them was guaranteed to try anyway, but he wouldn't get far, even from the fattest cop.
The blue-and-whites pulled up with a screetch, the ambulance right behind it. Five cops emerged, guns drawn and shouting. One of the goons, the one Roy had shot in the wrist, tried to make a break for it, but was tackled by a cop before he got to the corner. He fell with a cry, then shouted out again when his wrist hit the ground. Even without seeing the cop's face, Roy could tell he was perplexed by how he was going to handcuff the guy, finally placing the cuff behind the arrow and getting up from where he had been kneeling on the would-be fugitive's back.
The ambulance obscured his view of the girl on the ground, but there were other ways to see. With the arrival of the authorities came the end of the 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil' silence and drawn shades were opened, lights that had been turned off turned back on, heads poked out of re-opened windows and spectators called to each other. Roy learned that the wounded girl's name was Jaleese, that the baby was hers, and that the girl who had been holding the baby was Jaleese's sister Shantiqua.
The sudden bright lights down on the ground got Roy's attention. Flashlights, bright ones at that, looking for the source of the arrows. Not wanting to be seen -- it was one thing to be saving the world from alien invaders, but it was another to be a civilian on a roof shooting arrows at other civilians; this was not Gotham. He dropped to a crouch and ran away from the ledge, heading back to where the ladder was. It would take them time to figure out which building, longer to get inside and up to the roof -- if they were inclined to pursue. New York was chock-a-block with heroes, even if they didn't venture into the outer boroughs that often, and maybe none of them minded even if it wasn't a card-carrying Justice person who was playing vigilante.
Climbing down, he ran across roofs until he got to the last apartment building in the row, then took the fire escape down to the street and continued on. He was on the opposite side of Gates from where he had started, across from a row of commercial properties, all sealed with metal shutters against the world.
Taking a breath, Roy looked around. He knew roughly where he was; had done enough time studying the maps of Brooklyn. He really should invest in some sort of motorized transportation. Not that he'd draw an unusual amount of attention getting on the subway at this hour, but it would be convenient. He looked at his watch. If he worked on his way back home, he could retire for the night with a clear conscience. It's not like he had a day job to get up for, but he did want to be awake and around for Lian and he wasn't as young as he used to be -- staying up all night and then getting up for the day on only a couple of hours' sleep stopped being easy years ago.
He crossed the street to the edge of the commercial block. Rather than climb up to the roofs -- especially with no easy access and no connecting rooftops on the other side -- he might as well just cross through behind and save the grapple hook. Halfway through the long, narrow, dark parking lot, he interrupted a couple of teenage girls getting high off a crack pipe, smashing the pipe and pressing into one of their hands a card for the local drug clinic. It wasn't the nice thing to do, but Roy surprised himself a little by how much that didn't bother him. He put his life on the line to save the world -- Donna and Lilith died to save the world... for petty criminals to wreck it and for drug addicts to waste it. His own empathy -- that twitch of need he felt at the scent of the cooking coke, that sense of loss as he ground the glass and powder into the ground so that it couldn't be recovered -- was not overcoming his disdain and frustration. He was impatient with their weakness, disgusted at their too-eager squandering of something so precious. Life was not so goddamned cheap. Not when it had cost the lives of so many he held dear.
The anger carried him through the rest of his rounds. Roy had always understood the therapeutic aspects of vigilantism, but he had also been taught to temper it. "You're gettin' out your anger just by putting on the mask," Ollie would tell him, the unspoken part clear: it was enough to take justice into your own hands; adding brutality or cruelty or avenging petty grievances invalidated the act and made you no better than the criminals you caught. The idea was to be where the police could not more than it was to do what the police would not. And Ollie, with his very particular ideas of officially sanctioned law enforcement, brooked no exceptions. Speedy'd been sent home more than once for taking out his bad day on Star City's bad seeds.
But there was no one to censure Arsenal. And so while Roy heard what he assumed was his conscience speaking -- and his conscience sounded alternately like Ollie and Dick-as-Nightwing -- he was not altogether compliant in listening. There was no brutality, no crossing any lines real or imagined, but there was an ungentleness to his actions that unsettled him with its wrongness, even if not to the point of making him stop. He didn't have to have used an arrow there. A shouted warning may have sufficed where a punch was used. There was no one particular act to be ashamed of, but Roy returned home and slipped into the shower feeling dirtier below skin-deep.
The next morning came early -- too early, although he managed to groggily accept thank-you kisses from Lian, who had hopped up on his bed waving her new books. Ron, trailing behind with the last parts of "Don't wake your Dad" still on his lips, apologized, shooed Lian off to her breakfast and closed the door behind them. He managed to get back to sleep and woke up again closer to noon.
Sunday was a relaxing, slow day. After Ron left for the mini-ashram in Park Slope, Roy took Lian to the park next to their building. For all of his joking about fatherhood being a sure way to attract women, Roy simply smiled and pocketed phone numbers that were offered to him -- there was only attention for one lady today. Lian had a bicycle with training wheels now and would tear around the paths with a recklessness that Roy tried to temper only when pedestrians were about. Later on, they took advantage of Ron's absence and Roy grilled steak (Lian didn't quite understand vegetarianism, but accepted Ron's beliefs with the same 'you're-weird-but-I-like-you-anyway' equanimity that she accepted Connor's). She was asleep before Ron returned and Roy turned his thoughts to whether he should go out. Last night's behavior and emotions sat heavily in his stomach and the question was whether a night fighting crime would erase them or make them stronger.
Finally deciding that he wasn't the brooding type, Roy got dressed. He repeated his mental reminder to fletch arrows -- he'd do it tomorrow; he already had the necessary tools -- and made his way to the roof and away. It was after midnight when Roy first got a chance to look at his watch. It had been more an active night than a busy one -- lots of running around, but not so much quantity mischief as quality. He'd also seen one of the Green Lanterns -- gut instinct said it was Sentinel, although it could have been John Stewart -- working some mojo over the East River. It had looked like an isolated incident, not something involving either the JSA or JLA, although Roy probably wouldn't have gotten involved anyway. There was nothing lamer than a hero from an obsolete team showing up in the middle of a brouhaha looking for something to do. If it were something big enough that reinforcements were needed, then the JLA had his cell phone number.
As if on cue from the thought, the phone rang. The number on the display was Dick's, which was odd enough that Roy pressed the button to answer the call -- even if Dick were talking to anyone, he wouldn't make social time while out as Nightwing and there was a whole list of people Nightwing would call in case of emergency.
Before he could even say hello, however, the line went dead. Roy closed the phone with a frown, more curious than concerned. Dick had the Oracle and the Bat network looking out for him; either he had dialed by accident or something else had come up. More likely the former, although it would be so typically him to realize he was being a brooding pain in the ass right in the middle of taking down some mooks in Bludhaven.
Roy took one last look down at the intersection he'd been watching and turned away, heading down the block via rooftop express and jump-lining across the street to continue his way east. MetroTech bled into Fort Greene and Boerum Hill in not-precise ways and between the expressways and LIU and the giant mess that was the Atlantic Avenue subway station... it was a lot to learn. This borough was a lot to learn. It was only a few miles across and yet it took more than an hour to cross it by car -- dead of night, let alone when normal people were stirring -- and it was becoming more and more impractical to restrict himself to just the places he could get to on foot. There were many reasons he'd picked DUMBO as a place to raise his daughter and its proximity to crime hadn't been one of them. More like 'distance from'.
Roy settled into a new scouting spot overlooking Flatbush Avenue. He'd stay here for a bit, see what turned up. Even more than learning the neighborhoods was learning how to get around in them -- where there were roofs, where it was strictly streets, where the locals would help you out and where they'd come after you with broomsticks and switchblades. Brooklyn was not used to vigilantes or heroes -- that was a Manhattan thing, along with $11 movie tickets and prompt snow plows in winter. It was used to fending for itself, like Queens except tougher and with an attitude. The criminals did not fear apprehension from anyone but the NYPD, the citizens expected rescue from almost no one, and Roy wasn't sure whether relief or resentment was the greater sentiment now that he was presenting an alternative option.
"You're too high up."
Roy's heart stopped for a moment, then resumed beating normally... as normally as one could when Batman showed up to critique your methods.
"Let's see you tell that to Nightwing when he's checking the scene from a thirtieth story ledge," he replied evenly, not turning to look at the other man. "Arrow goes three hundred feet per second and I don't have to worry about someone jumping the string. I'm close enough."
"Nightwing's a trained acrobat," Batman retorted, voice still flat and cold. "You've staked out in a spot with no easy egress except freefall."
Roy had heard Batman speak as 'Bruce', even while wearing the suit. Freaked him out to hear something approaching human come out from under the cowl. But this was very much the Bat and, now that the shock had passed, Roy could push aside the decade-plus-old fear of inspection. "I've handled worse. But you're not here to rip me about my positioning, although I'd really like to figure out how you found me. What do you want?"
"What are you doing?"
At this, Roy did turn. "The Times crossword," he answered testily, in no small part because he suspected that the phone call from Dick hadn't been from Dick after all -- a tracer call by Oracle, more likely. "What does it look like? Garden variety masked vigilante crime prevention. Except, you know, without the mask."
Roy smiled winningly, but for his own benefit, not the Batman's, who moved out of the darkness to the ledge a few feet away, all without so much as looking at him. "You're wasting your time."
"Excuse me?" Roy was rapidly losing patience. Dealing with Batman was always infuriating and knowing that didn't actually keep you from getting frustrated -- if you weren't already scared out of your gourd. But Roy hadn't been scared-scared of Batman in a while, certainly not since he'd been Arsenal. In his past experiences, however, Dick was usually around to run interference and translate Batman's need for oblique references and awkward silences into something more productive and less aggravating. But he wasn't here now and Roy wasn't in the mood to be bullied.
"You're wasting your time," Batman repeated, still looking down onto Flatbush. "This is too much territory, too much unknown territory, for one man to protect. You're doing more harm than good; a hero brings in challengers and you're not prepared to handle the influx."
"This coming from Mister Me-Versus-the-Major-Metropolis himself?" Roy scoffed, angry more because he knew Batman was right, at least to an extent. But he hadn't been working in Brooklyn long enough to build up much of a reputation and, frankly, hadn't been concerned with any visiting baddies looking for a challenge. He didn't have a rogues gallery and, living in the same city as the JSA and at least one member of the JLA, he was pretty sure he failed to register on most supervillains' radars.
"I... don't work alone," Batman said quietly after a moment's pause.
"Gracious of you to recognize it," Roy muttered to himself before speaking aloud. "The Flash works alone. Nightwing works alone. Now I know you trust him a lot more than you trust me and Wally's your JLA buddy now, but..."
"It's not about trust," Batman ground out.
Roy looked over again. Bruce was obviously on the edge of saying something important and just as obviously personal. Part of Roy wanted to prod him because getting anything private out of the Bat was like pulling teeth and they could be here for hours, but the rest of him knew that if he pushed too hard, he'd never get anything. And, despite everything he said to himself and to the world, he wanted to be someone the Batman could take into his confidence. So he took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and waited.
"There's... a gap... now that the Titans have disbanded," Batman finally said, his voice a shade softer and a lot less cold than it had been earlier.
A fire engine followed by two ambulances came tearing by. Both men followed the vehicles with their gazes.
"There'd be a gap if there were a Titans," Roy replied sourly, but without rancor. "Garth is caught up in the Atlantean coup, Jesse's retired, Lilith is gone, Donna... Some of the gang is out west trying to set up shop out there, but I don't know if there can be a Titans anymore."
"There should be a successor."
"Why?" Roy asked, somewhere between curious and skeptical. Batman had hated the junior teams, hated that each of them had a member of his own network -- two more groups who would inevitably, invariably learn his own secrets. He had hated their training methods, their closeness, their callowness. "There's no great evil the Titans could defeat that the JLA or JSA couldn't. As for the other stuff? The Titans were about... figuring things out. Learning how to grow up and be a hero at the same time. And look where it got everyone. We buried two of our own and nearly got all of Young Justice killed. I'd have thought that you'd be happy that there were no more Titans."
Batman took the rebuke silently.
It was a sudden realization, a sudden re-figuring of Batman's words and Roy started, suddenly enough that Batman reacted as if Roy had seen something down below. "You said 'successor'," Roy murmured, almost accused. "Not 'replacement' or 'restaffing' or whatever it is they call it."
"The Titans served its purpose," Batman said, his voice regaining its aloofness. "Now it's time to reap what was sown. Use what was learned to accomplish something..."
Roy turned angrily toward Batman.
"... something else," he amended without seeming to give any ground -- or any apology. "The time for teaching is past, at least here."
"What are you getting at?" Roy asked, letting his suspicion show. He leaned forward a bit, looking down and around. There was motion on a roof across the street, but he couldn't figure out if it was criminal or not. "There has to be a specific reason you sought me out. I'm not one of your favorites. I'm not even sure you like me very much. Or that you trust me at all.... This is about Dick, isn't it? I'm about to get dragged into your little mind-fuck, aren't I? Well, no. Even if he were returning my calls -- which he isn't -- I'm not about to play with his head just because you can't reach it to do it yourself."
A car blasting loud music, the bass amped up enough to rattle windows and bones, came cruising by. Roy could hear the hum of the vibrating chasse over the beats.
"You're a capable field agent for solitary assignments," Batman said, calmly, as if Roy hadn't just accused him of being a meddling bastard. "But you're extraordinary within a group dynamic."
"Yeah, I got an E on the 'playing well with others' part of my report card," Roy retorted. "That doesn't answer..."
"It's foolish to waste your efforts where you are merely adequate instead of putting yourself in a position where you can maximize your talents," Batman cut him off.
"You missed the part where I said that I don't think any of us are up to doing the Titans thing again," Roy said. He idly realized that he'd been picking mortar out of the brickwork behind him. Batman brought out all sorts of nervous habits. "None of us are up to losing any more friends."
"Stop building teams of friends and instead build one of professionals." Batman was looking at him, Roy knew, but he didn't return the glance. "Camaraderie is a benefit of teamwork, not a prerequisite."
"I've done this the 'other way'," Roy said when Batman didn't continue. "I've done the paramilitary thing. With the CBI. I know what's involved and what gets lost... You can't work with strangers. You have to be willing to die for your unit."
"You have to be willing to die for your cause."
"That's already understood," Roy snapped. He didn't like having his dedication questioned -- or the dedication of any of the Titans. "But you get nowhere as team if there's no trust. Or have you already forgotten Ra's al-Ghul and his Tower of Babel plan?"
There was a cold, stony silence. But Batman didn't storm off, so Roy took a deep breath and continued.
"You have to trust your unit not to get you killed," he said. "I like to know who I'm working with."
"Terra. Raven. Jericho. Cyberion," Batman listed. "All of them were threats precisely because of their knowledge of 'who they were working with'."
Roy sighed; he had no real answer. He couldn't -- wouldn't -- point out that he hadn't been party to all of it.
It dawned on him, suddenly, like a light switch being thrown, that this was the single longest conversation he'd ever had with Batman. That the Bat was treating him like an adult, like Arsenal instead of Speedy... it was enough to make him wonder if he should be testing for shapeshifters or mind control devices. While he was still investigating this new sensation, wondering if Wally had been so weirded out when he first joined the JLA, Batman brought his attention back with one of those grunting noises he made when he was thinking.
"Nightwing is not ideally suited to recruiting a team such as this," Batman said and Roy made a face. The down side of realizing that this was his longest-ever conversation withBatman was also realizing that Batman really was that single-minded, that his curtness wasn't from the brevity of the interaction. He just... was. Dick's ability to glean entire conversations out of single words suddenly seemed much less magical.
"It's not what I'd call an area of my expertise, either," he said dryly, thinking of 'his' incarnation of the Titans. "And Nightwing's screw-ups tend to be less spectacular than mine."
"His strength is in strategy and development," Batman replied in agreement. "He can effectively manage disparate personalities."
"You didn't let him pick the JLA team that filled in when you guys were off in Atlantis," Roy half-blurted out in a moment of sudden clarity. It wasn't something he had thought about, but it made sense now. He'd never questioned why he hadn't been asked to join that temporary squad; Ollie was the natural first choice and even Connor was an official reservist. Besides, he had been needed on the Titans. "You picked them. He just piloted the ship."
"His field command skills are unrivaled." It was said without doubt and without pride and Roy, for the billionth -- trillionth -- time thanked the Spirits that it had been Oliver Queen and not Bruce Wayne who had visited the rez that day.
"So I'm not supposed to look too closely at why you think I am a better judge of 'hero team potential'," Roy began conversationally. "But if we're gonna re-start the Outsiders for you -- that is what you're suggesting, isn't it? -- shouldn't Nightwing be here to discuss things anyway? You can't possibly be worried that his feelings would be hurt by you asking me to handle personnel."
There was a pause then, a long enough pause that the traffic light down on Flatbush Avenue changed twice before Batman replied. Long enough to get Roy wondering about just what was going on in Gotham that Bruce had to come to him to get to Dick.
"There will be..." Batman began almost haltingly, then stopped. "Nightwing will not know of my involvement."
"Wait! What?" Roy cried out, turning his entire body away from the street to face Batman, who didn't flinch. "What the hell is going on here? Why..."
"You will have full financial, technical, and ordinance support," Batman said with full Bat-voice and Bat-attitude. "But there will be no connection to me... in any form. Not from me and not from you."
The last was said with open menace and Roy took a step back. Embarrassed at his show of weakness, Roy sighed and walked to the other side of the roof and back again, crossing in front of the other man with some trepidation, despite knowing (intellectually, at least) that Batman wouldn't grab him.
"You bastard," he finally growled, resigned to silence. Bruce knew he wouldn't tell Dick, because telling Dick would crush him.
"The offer stands," Batman said calmly. "Take what time you need to consider it."
Roy closed his eyes and spun on his heel in frustration, running his fingers through his (too-long) hair. When he looked back, he was not especially unsurprised to see that Batman had disappeared.
The paperwork came by FedEx the next morning and any lingering doubt Roy had about turning down Batman's offer was erased when he saw the name on the stationery. Optitron. The same corporation that had tried to sponsor the Titans and Young Justice. Bruce Wayne, Roy thought viciously to himself, was a sick, sick bastard. He had created this holding company -- for, surely, that is what it was -- and established a history for it, always knowing that it would be useful someday, always intending that it would be used someday.
There was no way Bruce could have anticipated the tragedy that disbanded the Titans. But it was just like him to plan a contingency for such a situation.
"Jesus, Bruce, couldn't you have just willed him a fucking boat or something?" he muttered to himself, looking over the corporate financials. Roy was no great detective, but it wasn't that hard to follow the line Batman had drawn.
Why else form a company unaffiliated with Wayne Enterprises and then establish it as being interested in the hero cause? In the business world, it was suicide -- insurance went way up if the investors so much as suspected your CEO had eaten lunch at Warrior's. Such public interest had to be for a purpose. And for one purpose only. Robin wouldn't need a team created for him; it wasn't his thing -- Robin was in the business to be Robin, not part of a team. He wasn't like Dick in that regard. Batgirl... forget it. Batman himself, if he really did mean to re-start the Outsiders, wouldn't do it through such ostentatious means. And Bruce, driven as he was, would not be founding a team without any members of his family on board. That left Dick.
"You sick fuck," he repeated aloud.
The paperwork was impressive. Optitron was not only offering Arsenal as much money to start a team as it had offered the Titans, which was something between 'obscene' and 'unbelievable', but it was also offering the members of this prospective team a base salary. A very, very generous base salary. Which perhaps was a requirement to gather a group of mercenaries, he thought ruefully.
And that was just the start. There were allowances for insurance premiums -- any team's biggest expense -- and the offer of a facility right there in Brooklyn, although he was free to establish the team wherever he wanted.
But it didn't matter. He couldn't do this. He couldn't be part of this insane game. Dick would kill him when he found out -- not if, but when. Dick was the detective and he knew Bruce.
Instead, he put the envelope in the 'Arsenal' cabinet, in the drawer with the special sewing equipment needed to repair flexible body armor. And went back to fletching arrows.
It had taken two weeks of second thoughts. Two weeks of wondering. Two weeks of really long trips home from central Brooklyn as dawn broke.
The gossip mill didn't work nearly as well as it had back when there was a Titans, let alone when there was a Titans Tower. Donna wasn't there to grab his elbow and pull him off to the side and grin mischievously before telling him the latest dirt. So it had taken two weeks before Roy found out that Barbara had dumped Dick.
He'd seen the crap going on in Dick's life already -- the chaos in Bludhaven rarely made the news in New York, but last week it had. Plus the circus thing... Roy had left a half-dozen messages with Dick's cell phone, his home phone, and with his almost-grandfather and there was no reply.
The JSA was in the news with the mess in Kahndaq (and oh, did that give him bad, ugly memories of Chesh) and when that ended so... unsatisfactorily, he felt his resolve start to crumble. The JSA couldn't handle so many sorts of events because of who they were. But someone else...
He retrieved the envelope from under the sewing kit and pulled out a pen and a calculator and got to work.