Timfinity: Birds of a Feather
"Hi, honey, I'm home!"
Tim Drake looked up from his research as Dinah Lance let herself into her apartment and dropped her bags inside the door. He heard the sound of her coat being dropped on top of the bags, and then of her boots falling together beside the door.
"I'm in the kitchen," he called, picking up the day's newspaper and skimming for the article he wanted to share.
"Whew." Dinah padded into the kitchen, dressed in jeans, socks, a cream-colored shirt, and a suede jacket. "That flight was a doozy. I'm starving. Please tell me there's food."
"As long as sandwiches are ok," Tim answered. "Dad and Dana said you should come over tonight for dinner, so I figured you could do your own shopping but I picked up some bread and there's lunchmeat in the fridge."
"Yeah. I tossed the old stuff and the leftover pizza and the strawberries. They were starting to grow green fuzz. And there was a plastic container in the back that I just threw out. I didn't open it."
"You did the right thing," Dinah told him, opening the fridge and peering at the labels on the plastic-swathed deli meats. "Is this from the deli down the street?"
"Genuardis," Tim confirmed. "I look like a nice young man, so I got cannoli for free."
"I hope you saved me some."
"You don't look like a nice young man." Tim waited a beat, glancing down the obituaries. "There's a box on the counter."
"I knew you wouldn't let me down. So what's going on, workwise? I've been out of the country for almost two weeks. Give me the latest gossip, Bird Boy."
Tim looked up from his paper. "I think I should have pants."
"What do you want pants for?" Dinah asked, pulling a loaf of multi-grain bread from the pantry.
"Well, for one thing," Tim said diplomatically, "the feathers tickle."
Dinah snorted and added an unopened bottle of spicy brown mustard to her pile. "I never heard any of the Robins complain."
"I heard the new Robin has pants."
"Seriously?" Dinah looked up from her sandwich preparation. "What kind of weenies is Batman training over there? Batgirl has pants, Robin has pants…in my day none of the cool sidekicks had pants."
"Kid Flash had pants."
"Yeah, my point exactly."
Tim raised an eyebrow. "Roy had pants."
Dinah opened her mouth and closed it again. "And let that be a lesson to you," she said archly, "that doing drugs is not cool."
"Wow, you went there." Tim propped his paper against the table and leaned forward to pull his wallet out of his back pocket. He extracted a bill and laid it on the table. "I am never making bets with Roy again."
"You say that every time," Dinah reminded him, slicing her sandwich down the middle. "You're lucky he only took you for a five." She brought the plate over to the table and sat down across from Tim. "What're you reading?"
"Girl died at the airport yesterday," Tim said, sliding the paper across the table. "Bag of heroin burst in her stomach."
Dinah's face twisted. "Drug mule."
"She was pregnant."
Dinah put her sandwich down and pushed her plate away.
"Sorry. I should have waited 'til you were done eating." Tim retrieved his paper and made a show of studying the smudged newsprint.
"Give me that." Dinah snatched the paper away from him and Tim settled back in his chair. "All right," she said, scanning the article. "What were you doing there?"
"Who said I was there?" Tim asked innocently.
"The article doesn't say she's pregnant. Either you were at the airport or you were hanging around the morgue again and I told you not to do that. That's something Batman's sidekick would do."
Tim barely refrained from rolling his eyes. "Long pants, efficient recon, what's the sidekick world coming to?"
Dinah glared at him over the top of the paper. "All right, Mr. Research," she said, closing the paper and bringing her sandwich back to center, "what do you have?"
Tim had been waiting for this and sat forward eagerly in his chair. He'd committed the facts to memory and organized them for easy digestion. Dinah liked information, not data.
"Her name was Tatiana Volshenski, seventeen years old," he recited. "She was Gotham, her family lives in Little Odessa, no known mob connections. She was returning from a round trip flight to Santa Prisca -- "
"Santa Prisca," Dinah interrupted. "What was she doing there?"
"Modeling," Tim replied. "According to her friends. Some guy she knows at a club they go to sent her to Santa Prisca for a photo shoot. Probably the same guy who knocked her up."
"She was modeling pregnant?"
"She wasn't showing yet."
"Did she even know?"
"She knew. She was hoping the modeling gig would get her some money so she could move out and get a place of her own."
Dinah shook her head and took another bite of her sandwich. "Ok. So we have a girl who gets knocked up and is trying to make some cash for the baby. Her boyfriend sends her to Santa Prisca to take pictures on the beach and then she swallows a couple of bags of heroin for the flight back? Something doesn't compute here."
"Yeah," Tim said slowly. "If I were her boyfriend, I'd wouldn't want her flying off to a place like Santa Prisca and I sure wouldn't be pimping her out to be a model."
"You wouldn't have gotten her knocked up to start with," Dinah told him in a tone of voice that was more instructional than informative.
"Right. So what, we're looking for another guy?"
"Not necessarily. Let's think. She's seeing a guy and she gets pregnant. Old-world family, maybe, unsuitable boyfriend? Maybe too old? So she starts asking around, finds a guy who's willing to help her make a little quick cash. Maybe for the baby, maybe for an abortion. He tells her he's sending her out to Santa Prisca to be a model -- who goes out to Santa Prisca to be a model? -- and once there, she finds out she can't go home unless she transports the drugs."
"So we're looking for the guy who sent her? Good." Tim had that information. "His name is Nikolay Renko. He owns a club on the corner of Cameron and Schnapp."
"She can't have been the first girl he sent over there," Dinah murmured. "Have you looked at airport surveillance, yet?"
"No." Tim paused. "Why?"
"Someone was going to pick her up," she said. "Someone who was going to harvest the drugs. Get dressed, Canary Lad. We're going out."
Dinah's natural charm and vivacity never failed to amaze Tim. She could talk anyone into anything with just her personality and everyone's memory of the fishnets.
Tim had flatly refused to wear fishnets.
The feather shorts were bad enough and he hadn't been exaggerating -- they were itching something fierce as he sat on a file cabinet in the cramped evidence room of Gotham Central and waited for the evidence officer, whom Dinah had called Marv, to find the airport security tape for the afternoon Tania Volshenski had died.
Dinah was sitting on the desk across from him, swinging her legs gently against as they waited.
"Found it," Marv's voice came from somewhere near the back, but when he reappeared he was only carrying a piece of paper. "Looks like Detective D'Abo has it."
Dinah smiled brightly. "Thanks."
Detective D'Abo was a woman in her late thirties with blonde hair folded into a chignon and a world-weary expression on her face. Her shift ended at four, but she didn't protest when Dinah and Tim asked to see the tape. Instead, she took them into the A/V room herself and had a tech set it up.
"You can see the vic right there," she said, pointing to the corner of the screen. "She's already stumbling, but no one's helping her. Probably thought she was just dopey from the flight."
Dinah nodded, but Tim was scanning the crowd for someone who was not greeting the crowd. There were many people standing around, looking bored, but one caught Tim's eye just as D'Abo was noting the exact time Tatiana Volshenski collapsed. He was a short, stocky, dark-haired man reading a paper. As people began to rush toward the dying girl, he slowly placed the newspaper in his inner coat pocket, looked up at the arrival/departure screen, and ambled away.
"Can we get a better shot of this guy?" he asked. Dinah nodded and the tech zoomed in and focused the picture. "Go back a bit?"
The scene reversed, frame by frame, until Tim could see the headline on the folded half of the newspaper. The letters were Cyrillic.
"Yuri Grushkov," D'Abo said, passing Dinah a mug shot. Tim peered over her shoulder. "Two assaults, pled down to offensive touching, several harassment charges, one illegal intercourse that was dropped when the victim refused to testify." She looked expectantly at Dinah.
"Tatiana Volshenski wasn't the victim, was she?" Dinah asked.
D'Abo shook her head. "One of the beat cops in Little Odessa probably knows something about Grushkov. Let me make a call."
She made three calls, each one obviously a more unlikely connection that the one before, until suddenly D'Abo's eyebrows shot up. "Do you have a home number? A cell? Great. Yeah." Scribbling. "Thanks, I owe you one."
"Vice cop," she explained shortly to Tim and Dinah. She dialed again. "Officer Pryblinka? Detective D'Abo. Yeah, we're investigating the Volshenski thing and a name dinged on the radar -- Grushkov. Yuri Grushkov. Yeah? Might be. I'll pass it along. Thanks." She hung up the phone and looked expectantly at Dinah and Tim. "Yuri Grushko is a popular name," she said. "Especially among prostitutes and girls in the rave scene. He takes care of problems."
Dinah and Tim exchanged glances. "That sounds about right," Dinah said.
"You know we can't ignore this lead," D'Abo said, watching Dinah carefully.
"Twelve hours?" Dinah asked. "And then it's all yours."
D'Abo looked reluctant and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was nearing five o'clock.
"Good enough," Dinah agreed cheerfully. "We're late for dinner."
The other sidekicks, Tim was fairly certain, didn't have family dinners with their parents and mentors. Of course, he considered, running some peas across the plate with his fork, most of the other sidekicks actually lived with their mentors and had family dinners every night. Except the Robins, and who knew where they came from. Batman probably cranked them out on an assembly line.
The current topic of conversation was Tim's latest award of "Best Legs" in Teen Sidekick, a monthly magazine produced by a staff with no particular connections. The result was a lot of recycled press shots, an outrageous gossip column, and exercise tips. Young Justice and now the Teen Titans would occasionally receive a plea for an interview with one or more of the members, but almost universally replied with regrets. A few post-Teen Titans from groups past had thrown the magazine a few bones and it was still running on the fumes from those interviews.
"Third year," Dinah was telling Jack and Dana.
"It's all the running," Dana replied with a hint of smugness as she reached for the bowl of couscous. Tim pushed it toward her, eager to let the healthy food migrate far from his plate.
"And he wants to wear long pants. Can you figure?"
Jack cast Tim a sympathetic look. Dinah had been very up-front about the need to keep his parents in the loop when Tim first approached her. Sometimes he thought she had been counting on Jack and Janet to say no. Surprisingly, once assured he would get the proper training, they treated the idea like an after-school program, and Dinah went to great lengths to ensure Tim never came home with anything nastier than a black eye. After Janet's death, Dinah had referred Jack to Dana's practice and the rest, as they say, was history.
"The feathers are kind of, um -- " Jack started, but he was run down by Dinah's ruthless cheer.
"They're thematic," she insisted. "They really tie in the Canary name."
"I could, maybe, decorate the cape?" Tim offered. "And if I had long pants, I could get some really hefty boots. Maybe the split-toed martial arts ones."
"Aw, Tim," Dana teased, bringing out a large platter of fruit for dessert, "you don't want to make the cover of Teen Sidekicks anymore?" She said down and picked up a slice of cantaloupe. "All the girls at work think you're cute."
Tim dropped his head into his hands. He was doomed.
Tim always got the dirty jobs. This wasn't one of the worse ones, he supposed, maneuvering baggy jeans over his costume shorts, but clubs weren't his natural environment and he was sure to stick out like a sore thumb.
For one thing, he couldn't dance.
Dinah kept insisting he didn't have to dance, just find Grushkov or Renko and follow them, but that didn't make him feel any better about the situation.
His tunic was a terrible color for hiding, but with the black vest and a black leather jacket over the whole ensemble, he almost had a chance at blending in.
"How do I look?" he asked Dinah, who poked experimentally at his spiked hair.
"You're so underage," she fretted. "If they let you in we can bust them just on that."
He didn't ask why she didn't call Roy. Roy was in New York, running the Outsiders and he was sort of a free spirit when it came to helping out.
"I'll be on the roof," she promised as she dropped him off. "Constant radio contact when you're out of sight, ok?"
"Ok," he agreed, hopping out of the car. The tiny ear transceiver was hidden in his earring and the microphone was in the Ukrainian trident that hung around his neck on silken cord. He melted into the queue of young adults and teenagers standing in line. He was well aware that he looked nowhere near 21, but neither did the cluster of kids in front of him, and he followed them into the darkened club with only a wave of his fake identification card.
Once inside, he headed to the bar area and lifted a glass of ice discarded at the bar.
"Canary," he murmured, settling the finished drink in to his palm as if he'd been holding half the evening. "Do you read me?"
"Loud and clear, Bird Boy," Dinah chirped in his ear. "See anyone we know?"
"Not yet," Tim replied.
"Go where the girls are."
"Yeah, thanks." Tim worked his way around the room, finding plenty of girls in just about every pocket of space between the first bar and the stage where a local band was warming up -- at least Tim hoped they were still warming up.
Tim looked up and turned around slowly. There was a balcony level, with girls clinging to the railings and waving at the band members, who seemed to survive more on good looks and alternative clothing than musical talent. As he watched, a dark-haired man came to the rail and peered down at the crowd. Yuri.
"Ah-ha," he murmured to himself. "Canary? I've located our man." He heard her acknowledgement and began to work his way around the room toward the spiral staircase that led to the second floor.
He'd just reached the foot when he found himself facing a very broad chest. He looked up to find it attached to a very muscular pair of arms and a very grim visage.
"You got an invite from Mr. Renko?" the man rumbled.
"Then you stay on this level."
Great, Tim thought to himself, slinking back into the crowd. He could have bluffed the man, but since he had no idea whether the invitation was paper or personal -- and he had neither -- it was safer not to lie to the very large man.
As it turned out, a solution presented itself quickly as Yuri Grushkov came down the stairs holding the hand of a thin, pale, dark-haired girl. Tim slipped after them, watching Grushkov open the door next to the men's room. It looked like a utility closet but Grushkov escorted the girl in first and then appeared to step down. Tim followed and palmed a wad of wax from his pocket over the locking mechanism. He went into the men's washroom and rinsed his hands. When he stepped back into the hallway, the only people around were a group of kids going back into the dance floor.
"I'm going downstairs," he murmured to Dinah as he tugged experimentally at the door and was pleased when it opened.
"Watch your back," she told him. "Contact me as soon as you find something."
He retrieved his wad of wax and found stairs leading straight down. He descended slowly, in the dark, feeling each stair before putting his weight on it. He found himself in a hallway, lit only by the dim glow from a partially open door. It illuminated the hallway enough to let him note the presence of three other doors, all closed. He eased himself into the shadow cast by the stairs opposite of the door and tried to listen to whatever conversation might be going on inside.
Whatever was going on, it didn't take long and Grushov appeared with the girl and with another man, this one tall and blond. Renko, Tim guessed. He said something to the girl in Russian that sounded vaguely comforting and offered her a charming smile. Then, he and Grushkov ushered her up the stairs.
Tim waited until the door at the top had closed and then got down to the business of becoming Canary Lad. He discarded his jeans and jacket under the stairs and fastened the Kevlar/Nomex weave vest. His stylized C pin went on the breast and he slapped the domino mask over his eyes, hoping it was straight. He went straight to Renko's office, which they hadn't bothered to lock. He let himself in and found the desk immediately. A tiny flame flickered brightly atop old-fashioned oil lamp on the desk, explaining why Renko hadn't just flipped off the light when he'd left the office. Tim made a mental note to report the guy to the Fire Marshal. A bottle of vodka and a half-filled glass sat next to the telephone and a silver pen marked a place in a ledger. He flipped open the ledger and determined that more intensive study would be necessary to incriminate Renko. He rifled through desk drawers, finding a datebook, which he wedged in his belt, and what appeared to be spare keys. He had just hooked them over his belt to try in the remaining hallway doors when he heard the door at the top of the stairs open and voices jabbering at each other in a Russian dialect.
"Dinah, they're back," he hissed, diving out the door and behind the stairs, but it was too late, their footsteps on the stairs were audible and Tim had nowhere to go. He glanced frantically around the office and saw a door that was nearly obscured by an elaborate wall tapestry. He elbowed it aside and jammed the first key in the door. It didn't turn. He pulled it out and tried the next key and the next. The fourth key fit and as Tim heard the tumblers of the lock turn, he also heard the click the office door opening. He jerked open the door in the wall and dove through, not knowing if he was jumping from a frying pan into a fire.
He pulled the door shut behind him and blinked at his new surroundings.
"Canary," he whispered, "I've found them."
Seven girls were sitting in the small room. The youngest of them looked to be thirteen, and the oldest not much older than Tim himself. They looked tired, hungry, and uncomfortable. The far wall was lined with commodes and Tim suddenly realized what the purpose of the room.
"Who are you?" the youngest girl asked suspiciously.
"An excellent question." The voice was smooth and not so thickly accented as Tim had expected. "Turn around."
Tim turned around slowly, lifting his hands in the air. The voice and the gun belonged to Renko, but Grushkov was in the background, tapping the flat of a switchblade against his palm. They must have heard him go through the door.
"No snappy patter?" Tim asked. "No cliché announcements or dire threats?"
"Shut up," Renko said. He stepped back and gestured with the gun for Tim to move out in front of the desk. "Move."
"If you insist."
The voice was neither Renko's nor Grushkov, but it was familiar to Tim. A second later, something whistled through the air and caught Renko's wrist. He barked in pain and dropped the gun. Tim dropped to the ground and scooped it up, knowing Grushkov would be coming.
He was wrong. Grushkov was standing with his hands in the air, deferring to the crossbow Roy Harper held in one hand.
"I didn't know you were coming," Tim said conversationally as he pulled a plastic tie from a belt compartment and knelt to fasten Renko's hands. Roy's arrow had grazed his wrist, which was bleeding, but not badly. Tim broke the arrow shaft in half and pulled each side from Renko's ruined shirt sleeve.
"You know how Canary gets," Roy said conversationally.
"How does Canary get?" Dinah asked, appearing behind Roy.
"Very concerned about the safety of her sidekicks," he answered enthusiastically.
"Yeah, you keep believing that," she said. "What do we have here, Canary Lad?"
"Grushkov and Renko," Tim said, nodding at each and crossing the room to fasten Grushkov's hands. "And seven girls waiting to pass condoms full of heroin in the room in there."
Dinah went into the other room to release the girls and Tim wrapped a plastic tie around Grushkov's wrists. He was working on fastening the two ends when Roy shouted.
Renko was moving, leading with his shoulder as he dove at Tim. Tim kicked out, catching Renko in the stomach, and Roy sprang forward to take control of Grushkov.
Grushkov wasn't fully restrained, though, and he hadn't dropped his switchblade, merely hidden it in his sleeve. Renko crashed against the corner of his own desk and snarled at Tim. He struggled to his feet, but he was off-balance and fell heavily against the desk. The open bottle of vodka tipped and fell, breaking on top of the oil lamp.
The tiny flame flared and Tim fumbled at his belt for flame retardant.
"Yo!" Roy shouted, his standard warning since he refused to call Tim 'Canary Lad'. Tim turned and managed to deflect a stumbling Grushkov. "Dinah, you'd better get in here!" he called as Renko rammed the desk again, upending the already volatile oil lamp. Oil and vodka spread across the desk, burning everything they came in contact with. Papers went up in flame.
"What the -- " Dinah appeared at the doorway, taking the situation in with one sweep. "Roy, there are seven girls in there. Get them out of here and get them medical attention ASAP. There are keys in the door. Check the other rooms." As she spoke, she crossed the room and yanked open the top drawer to Renko's desk. He made a move as if he was going to ram the desk again and she knocked him out with a roundhouse kick to the head. "Tim, go upstairs and empty the club. Don't let them panic, just get everyone out. Go now."
Tim hesitated a fraction of a second, then ran out of the office and up the stairs to the main club. He'd forgotten the deafening pulse of the music that enveloped him as he burst out of the door to the hallway. There was a bouncer in the hall and his broad features creased into a scowl when he saw Tim emerge from the private entrance.
"Renko's office is on fire," Tim called before he could get too close. "Open the fire doors and call for help. We need to evacuate the building."
The burly man paused, unsure whether to believe the interloper or investigate the situation for himself.
Tim made his decision for him, pulling the fire alarm on the wall.
"Is there anyone else in there?" a passing firefighter yelled as Tim stumbled from the building, his yellow-feathered shorts and tunic saturated in soot.
"No!" Tim yelled back. He'd checked the balcony levels before they'd collapsed, all the bathrooms, and behind the bar before he'd left. The main level had several exits and the late-night clubbers had not been difficult to corral out of the building. There'd been plenty of hysterics and several group pushes that could have become tramplings if the massive bouncers hadn't intervened, but Tim was certain the few girls he'd pulled from the bathroom, coughing on smoke, had been the last.
"Is there anyone else inside?" someone else asked and Tim looked up into the face of Marcus Driver. MCU was there? He felt slightly guilty. The MCU had been formed to handle the freak show of Gotham City and the only reason they were on the scene was the presence of costumed superheroes -- namely, Dinah, Tim and Roy. Renko and Grushkov had not been metas.
"No," he managed, shaking his head and coughing out a lungful of smoke.
"You ok?" Driver wasn't particularly anyone's favorite cop, but he was even-tempered and he played fair.
"Yeah," Tim said, nodding. "Just a little inhalation."
"There's oxygen over there," Driver said, using his chin to point at the ambulances just inside the police safety lines. "Get some if you need to. I don't want to have to scrape your yellow-feathered ass off the ground tonight."
"Thanks." Tim nodded to him and went on to let Driver do his work. He saw Dinah twenty yards away, talking to a redheaded cop in civvies. Romy Chandler. Chandler was both Dinah and Roy's favorite cop, though for completely different reasons. Tim had heard she and Driver were an item, a rumor Roy staunchly refused to believe. He made his way over to the grouping in time to see Chandler's new partner and Detective Del Arrazio herd the newly cuffed and Mirandized Renko and Grushkov toward the GCPD Crown Vics.
"See you brought the kid along," Chandler said, nodding to Tim when he was just inside earshot. "You ok?" she asked him. In her hand were the papers Dinah had pulled from Renko's desk.
"I'm fine," Tim said, his voice a little gravelly. "I got some smoke."
"Yeah, I see," Chandler replied, eyeing his suit critically. She turned back to Dinah. "Thanks, Canary. I'd imagine the testimony of the girls Arsenal brought in and these papers will pretty much seal the deal for the prosecutor. If they're smart, they'll cop a plea to trafficking and spill the beans on their contacts."
"The girls are on their way to the hospital," Roy reported, coming up behind Dinah. "Detective Chandler." He grinned, the flash of white teeth irresistibly rakish in the sooty shadow of his face. "You're a sight for sore eyes."
"You can probably get drops for that," Chandler suggested dryly. She tucked her clipboard under her arm. "Canary, I can use the usual number if this thing does go to trial and we need witnesses?"
"Of course." Dinah nodded and turned away. "Ready, guys?"
"Detective Chandler, it's been the zenith of my day -- " Roy started before Dinah grabbed him by the quiver and dragged him off.
Tim grinned and began to follow.
"Hey! Canary Lad!" It was Chandler calling after him and Tim turned, hoping she wasn't going to ask him to muzzle Roy, as she had in the past.
She stared at him for a moment and shook her head. "Put some pants on, kid. It's cold out here."
Tim vaulted over the ledge and onto the roof where Dinah and Roy were watching the firefighters aim oversized hoses at the burning club and its dirty underground secret.
"Boy, did we make a mess," he said, leaning over as far as he dared. Romy Chandler was talking into a radio and another car pulled up, depositing Commissioner Akins at the scene.
"More than you think."
Tim spun around. That wasn't Dinah's voice, nor Roy's. They looked similarly surprised as Batman appeared on the roof. He must have come from the shadows, Tim realized, breath choking in his throat.
"This operation was sloppy, risky, and ill-timed," Batman continued, his voice a cold growl. "Did it occur to any of you that the drug producers in Santa Prisca are getting away scot-free?" His attention seemed to focus on Tim. "That fire destroyed valuable evidence of the drugs' origin. Thanks to you, all that information is lost and the drug czars overseas are still profiting from thousands of other helpless children."
"Batman." Dinah's voice was firm but it was Batman's words that echoed in Tim's ears.
"There were people in danger," Roy put in. "Teenage girls. You want us to just leave them there?"
"Did you think Renko was the only one sending girls to Santa Prisca? Did you think he was the only one in Gotham? The only one in hundreds of cities?"
Tim set his jaw and tried not to imagine a hundred other Tania Volshenskis dropping dead in a hundred other airports. He tried not to imagine a hundred other girls in sitting in stinking Gotham basements, waiting to pass condoms full of powdered death.
"They were people!"
"You didn't think, none of you did." Batman's eyes were white slits in his mask. "You saved a few people at the expense of hundreds more."
"There were seven girls in there -- " Roy shouted over Batman's hiss.
"And there are seven more somewhere else," Batman barked back. "And ten in another hole, and four dead somewhere, and you'll never know where -- "
A stunned silence dropped on the rooftop, immediately disrupted by the swirl of Batman's cape as he turned on Black Canary.
Batman's name was Bruce? Tim glanced over at Roy and raised his eyebrows. Roy shrugged back, looking innocently bewildered, which, for Roy, meant that he was neither. Roy knew Batman's first name and it was Bruce. Tim filed this away for later consideration.
"You have no right to use that name," Batman growled, almost pitched too low for Tim to hear.
"I don't holler at your sidekick, I expect you to leave mine to me," Black Canary hissed back.
"Your sidekick..." Batman opened his arm in a gesture that encompassed the tableau below, "...set half of Little Odessa on fire."
"Batman." Dinah shook her head. "Get off my roof. We'll talk about this in private."
To Tim's infinite surprise...he did. Batman pulled a grappling gun from his belt, shot it off toward some point in the distance, and leapt from the roof, disappearing in the smoke-laden night sky.
Dinah shook her head and crossed the roof toward Tim. "You okay, kiddo?"
"I'll live," he said quietly, brushing some soot out of his hair and staring at the stains on his gloves. "He was right, wasn't he?"
"He was right. There are still guys in Santa Prisca doping up girls from all over the place and sending them back."
"Wait 'til we get home, Tim. We'll talk about it there."
Tim waited, silently following Roy and Dinah across rooftops for eight blocks. Little Odessa was just west of Old Gotham and the streets were narrow. The buildings were close together and a few running leaps brought them easily to Dinah's apartment complex.
"I'm going to go get some hot chocolate started," Roy offered, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to indicate downstairs, though it was nowhere in the direction he was pointing. "It's cold up here, y'know?"
Dinah nodded. "We'll be down in a bit."
Tim knew -- and he knew that Dinah knew -- that Roy was both giving them space and expressing his concern. It was cold, but mostly he didn't want them out on the roof arguing.
"I screwed up," Tim said flatly when they were alone.
Dinah shrugged. "The fact is, we could find the girls who were in immediate danger and we saved them. Is Batman right that we didn't go to the root of the problem? Yes. Could we have used the information that burnt up tonight? Of course. But that's the tradeoff, Tim. We suspected there were girls in danger and we were right. Renko and Grushkov are in the hands of the police. If they give anything up, the authorities can work for there." Dinah smiled and shrugged a little helplessly. "I'll give Oracle a heads up. Maybe between us, we can scrap together enough intel for a trip to Santa Prisca later this week. The point is, don't give up hope just because Batman's tights are in a knot. We did good work today."
Tim nodded slowly. "Yeah," he admitted. "I guess. I just hate that we could have done more."
"Don't stop hating that," she said softly. "Because when you do, you're not really out here anymore. But you can't beat yourself up over it, either. You can hate it, but you can't hate you."
Tim thought about that, thought about what she was meant by those contradictory statements. It made an odd kind of sense, really.
"So, you gonna be ok?" Dinah was wearing her long pants but with her arms wrapped around her middle, she still looked cold.
"Yeah," Tim said after a minute. He paused, unable to convey the depth of his conflict. "I want to mope for a while."
"Ok," Dinah said. "But just a little while. No need for you to go all Bat on us, got it?"
"Ok," he agreed with a small grin.
"Come in when you get cold," she added, swinging herself onto the fire escape. "I won't let Roy drink all the hot cocoa."
"I appreciate it," he said, nodding his farewell as her head disappeared below the line of the roof. He sighed and pulled his legs up to his chest.
Tim hadn't been lost in his thoughts for more than ten minutes when he heard the whisper of boots and a cape on the roof. He lifted his head and located the origin of the sound. Downwind. Smart.
"What do you want?" he called.
"Hi." Red and green emerged from the dark and a flash of blonde hair gave away the newest, still mysterious Robin.
"Oh. Hi." He didn't mean to sound unfriendly but he couldn't bring himself to attempt 'welcoming'.
"Look, I know Batman gave you hell for what you did," Robin said bluntly.
"Yeah," Tim said, noticing how much her blonde ponytail reminded him of Dinah.
Robin sighed and walked over to the ledge where he had been brooding. She sat down about a foot to the left of where he'd perched and peeled the domino mask from her face.
"Are you allowed to do that?" Tim asked as she looked up at him with wide blue eyes. She was pretty. Very pretty, he allowed.
"No. But I won't tell if you don't."
Her smile was pretty, too. Not dazzling, but even and dimpled and with more than a fair hint of a secret shared. He found himself liking her against his will.
"So...." he started.
"Yeah. I'm here why, right?" She pressed her palms against her knees, leaning into a shrug. She tilted her head so one ear rested on her shoulder and studied him carefully. "I heard the girl who died was pregnant."
Tim nodded. "About three months."
Robin nodded. "Yeah, that's what I'd heard. Were any of the other girls pregnant?"
"Not that I know of." Tim shrugged. "They don't run autopsies on the living."
"Good." Robin put her hands over her face and for a minute Tim thought she was wiping her eyes, but when he looked back, her mask was on. "I don't care what Batman says," she said. "You did the right thing. And...thank you."
"Thank you? For what?"
But Robin was already gone.
"Huh." Tim tried to stick his hands in his pockets and realized he had none. The temperature of the night air was inching below freezing and the flesh-colored leggings weren't staving off the wind as well as he'd like. Pants, he thought, as he climbed onto the fire escape and began to make his way down. He needed to pester Dinah about getting some pants for his costume.
After he kept Roy from drinking all the hot chocolate.