Batman crouched on the rooftop, blinking to bring the retinal zoom up. Yes, he subvocalized to the Oracle feed, the shipment is here. The guards are... He swung his gaze around to give her the information, and accepted in return a series of shots from nearby security cameras. He had gotten good at integrating multiple viewpoints, and it only took him a few seconds to develop an adequate picture of the situation.
Robin and Kon are two minutes thirteen seconds away, Oracle informed him silently, adding a map that glowed with their projected pathways.
It will be dealt with.
Taking out the armored vehicle was an exercise so routine he was refining his planned interrogation techniques based on the targets' observed responses to fear and pain even as the team worked. First, he picked off the outlying guards with tranq darts. When the driver spotted one of his colleagues falling and tried to pull out, Robin and Kon criss-crossed with exact timing above the truck, Robin tossing flash-bangs in the window, Kon dropping to the roof, unnoticed in the commotion. Batman leapt down to the street in front of the car, ready to tranq the guard riding shotgun when he cleared the vehicle.
Robin's movements were as perfect as Oracle could make them, graceful and utterly efficient; he was already down in the street again, disarming the unconscious men. Kon, however, was at least three seconds off in tearing through the roof, forcing Batman to scramble out of the way as the truck plowed past him. Kon got the driver, but by the time Batman had turned around, the guard had gotten out and ducked behind the cars along the street.
He was already racing along, looking for an angle. Unacceptable, Oracle.
He could hear the distaste. He's not as compliant as the other. I don't have as much penetration. He doesn't come in like clockwork--
Tell Robin that he will in future.
The guard was fairly competent at holding cover, dodging jerkily to keep the cars between him and Batman as he ran. He reached the corner and started to make a turn--
And stopped dead as an arrow slammed into his chest from somewhere along the cross-street.
Batman gritted his teeth as he hurried up to the guard's prone form. Someone was kneeling next to him, inspecting the shaft, when he reached him.
"Damnit, it's chipped," he said, looking up and flashing a grin. "And it's an expensive one. Connor's going to bitch at me for ages, in that incredibly annoying Zen way of his."
"You must be lost," Dick said to Roy, folding his arms and glowering down at him. "Star City is several hours from here."
"So--as you probably already know--these were some of Caroline Blue's gang," Roy said, accepting a cup of coffee from the automatic dispenser dubiously. "I tracked them and the shipment of stun rifles in from Star City."
"There was no need." Dick leaned against the kitchen table, feeling the weight of the costume falling along his thighs. Batman's had always been heavier than his own, and he'd added more armor recently. "I was prepared to handle it."
"Look, I know Batman--the old Batman--didn't like having other heroes in his city, but is there any need to perpetuate the psychosis just to honor his memory?"
"No one else is needed to fight crime in Gotham. No one else is welcome."
Roy gave him a hard smile. "Not even old friends?"
"We were colleagues a long time ago, Roy."
"Colleagues, huh?" For a second, he looked as if he was about to challenge that statement, but then he took another sip of coffee. "What if I, your ex-colleague, have some interesting information for you?"
What's he talking about, Oracle?
No information immediately available. The Arrows are relatively low-technology, limiting hard data accessible to me. Beginning to execute speculative search branches now.
"What kind of information?"
Roy looked around, gesturing with his cup. "So this is your headquarters, huh?"
Dick didn't sigh. "Yes. We rebuilt and expanded."
"She's not localized anymore, Roy. You know that."
"Well, I thought there'd be at least a screen or something. So I could say hi."
"Hello, Arsenal," Robin said, coming into the room. The circuitry on his cheekbone gleamed under the fluorescent lights.
"Jesus!" Roy jumped. "Is that...who is that?"
Dick tried not to be amused. It had taken him time, too, to learn to sort out Oracle's and Tim's voices, and he'd known them both well before.
Not that Tim spoke much at all anymore.
Robin ignored Roy. "It's just the usual implant failure," he said to Dick. "He's headed to the lab now."
"The wetwork needs to be replaced before it fails. Kon must be integrated with the rest of us or he is useless."
Robin's face was impassive, but he swallowed slightly, just a flicker of self mingled with Oracle's decision. Tim had loved Kon so much. "He will."
It's not conscious resistance, Batman.
Then take care of it.
Robin is ready to do it.
"How is Kon these days?" Roy asked loudly.
...The report on Arsenal is now ready in Briefing Four.
Dick said, "If you'd like to say hi, you'll need to do it now. He has medical procedures scheduled."
Dick scanned quickly through the data scrolling down several screens in the briefing room. Police reports on the criminals the Arrows had apprehended recently; lists of information requests their computers had made of outside sources; investments and disvestments of Queen Industries. Nothing within any reasonable radius of relevance answered the question.
In Dick's mind, another image flickered to life: a view of the lab from one of the cameras. Kon was leaning back on a gurney, looking tired, huge, and clumsy. There were red weals along every line where circuitry and flesh met, faint but definitely visible.
"Hey, kid," Roy said.
Kon's mouth worked for a moment until he was able to bring out, "Hey, Arsenal."
"How are you doing?"
"Not so hot," he shrugged. "I'm out of synch."
"What's that mean?"
"I don't really understand it, but Robin says that my body's enhanced healing abilities attack the wetwork. Like rejecting an organ, I guess. It separates me from Oracle, so I have to be reinterlaced every once in a while. I put it off too long this time."
"Because it hurts," Kon said, matter-of-factly.
Roy visibly flinched. "Are you sure it's a good idea to keep doing it, then?"
"It's not going to kill me. I don't think anything can do that."
"You know, kid," Roy hesitated. "Clark does worry about you. He's not mad or anything. If you want to come home--"
Kon looked away. "I promised Tim we'd stick together forever. No matter what."
Now Oracle was cutting in different footage, older material: Robin in the Batcave, crouched like a hungry spider over Kon, who was convulsing as silver seethed across his flesh. "I want this," Robin said flatly, as the circuitry webbed out in long strings between them. "I want to be able to keep it."
Dick acknowledged the memory without comment. Words were redundant between him and Oracle so often now; it was natural not to bother with them. Those images, and their implications, were ones he didn't need to be reminded of. It took eight point three seconds to cross from Briefing Four to the lab. Robin came in on his heels, pulling up perfectly behind him when he stopped in the doorway.
"Let's go," he said to Roy. "Kon needs to have some work done."
Robin stepped past him and to the table, removing a circuit probe from a cabinet nearby without looking. Roy stared at him and Kon, then came out with Dick reluctantly. There was a faint tinge of green to his face. Dick could remember feeling like that when Robin had first given himself up to Oracle's grasp. Tim had wanted to become perfect, Dick's flawless Robin, at any cost, but the cost had seemed so high. Just another weakness to be hidden away in the shadows beneath the cowl until they swallowed it whole. Like so many other vulnerabilities, long buried.
"Taking advantage of our hospitality?"
"Dick, come on, you've got to admit, it's a little fucking weird, letting Brainiac eat Robin and Superboy alive like that."
In his head, Oracle laughed. Roy always was a sweet-talker.
"It's not Brainiac anymore, not since Oracle took him over. Even the Justice League admits that."
"Yeah, but it's not really Oracle, either, is it?"
"It's better," Dick said. "Oracle--she--used to feel pain."
Roy narrowed his eyes at him. "Kind of like you, huh?"
Dick shook his head. "Oracle's not in me the same way she's in Robin and Kon."
"Of course not. You've got Batman instead."
Behind them, Kon screamed. Roy actually paled beneath his stubble. Dick took his arm. "Let's sit down and talk."
Roy didn't have light-boosters or infrared in his corneas, or any of the little selections of Brainiac-tech that Oracle had adapted for Batman's use. He blinked around in Dick's quarters until Dick brought up the lights a little, manually. He wanted Oracle to be able to focus her full resources on restoring Kon.
"Wow," Roy said quietly.
Dick glanced around. It seemed unimpressive enough to him: a metal cube for sleeping in. It was spacious, to allow for katas or stretching before sleep, but very little of the technology that in fact enfolded the room like an embrace was actually visible, except for the keyboard by the bed and half-a-dozen vidpanels in the wall across from it. "What?"
"It's just...you used to have stuff, man. Crappy stuff, but stuff."
"From Robin's life, Nightwing's life--Dick Grayson's life, what there was of it. I didn't need it after."
"Right. Wouldn't want an actual personality getting in the way of the work. Though I guess I should be glad you still have one."
Dick's temple throbbed, but he simply gestured out two soft couches from the corner. "You said you had information for me."
Roy nodded, dropping onto one of them in a comfortable sideways sprawl. Dick followed, more slowly.
"Right. Caroline Blue. I've been interrogating some of her people. Know how she started her career, Dick?"
He didn't need Oracle for that. "She was a WayneTech nonlethal weapons designer gone rogue."
"Ever wonder where she got the money to set up on her own? I know Wayne didn't pay her that much."
"Luthor funds her."
"Now. It takes a lot of capital to produce the kind of prototypes you'd need to convince him to buy in, Dick. She got the capital from Luthor, all right, but it was for something else."
Dick felt the urge, one he hadn't in months, to start raising himself up by his hands. His thigh muscles twitched and stiffened. "You're saying--"
"I don't think that Batman's death was an accident."
"I never thought that, either."
Roy leaned towards him, eyes sparking with eagerness. "So let's go take her down, Dick. You and me. Like old times. We might even nail Luthor, if we get her to roll."
He shut his eyes, willing the feeling that had leapt up inside back down. "Thanks, but no."
"What, you mean you won't even work with a human partner now?" Roy's laugh was incredulous, but edged with hurt.
"No. I mean I'm not going to pursue her. Gotham is my responsibility, and she's not in Gotham."
"But"--Dick opened his eyes just in time to see Roy's wild gesture--"she killed Batman, Dick! Your mentor, your--God, I don't even know what--"
"I'm not interested in vengeance, Roy," he said, listening to his own voice critically. There was a hitch in his breath; some self-discipline clearly still needed to be applied to make it completely true. "Batman can't be distracted from his work here."
Roy stared at him, mouth open, for several seconds before speaking. "When you put on that fucking suit, Dick, it didn't turn you into Batman. It turned you into a zombie."
"If I hadn't put on this fucking suit, Roy," he snapped, rising, knowing that the anger didn't flow from Roy's words alone, "I would have fallen apart. We all would have. I wasn't going to let that happen."
Roy got up, too. "There were other ways to cope, Dick! You had friends! You had options!"
Easy for him to say. Dick's friends had all been collapsing, too, while the League tore itself apart, and he hadn't been able to bear to stand by and watch. "I don't expect you to get it."
"You really think you can just bury yourself in there forever, behind a dead man's face?"
"You certainly can't do anything about it," Dick said, turned away, and waited. His peripheral vision was far better now. He could make Roy miss, but this was probably the easiest way.
Roy's impact carried him back onto the couch. He glared down at Dick. "You can't hide from me," he said, and kissed him.
It was more than Dick had anticipated it would be--the shock like taking one of the Joker's joy-buzzers into your palm. Roy was weight and warmth and unpredictable life; they sang out to him for surrender, the way they always had. He let Roy push the kiss hard, bracing his feet to force them both down into the cushions, and he thought he might sink under it. But then he felt Oracle's stirring of cold curiosity, and it broke the spell; he shifted them, to give her a better view.
You're too good to me, lover.
The lights darkened a bit, then brightened slightly. "What was that?" Roy demanded, breaking off, chest heaving.
"Oracle, trying to set the mood," Dick answered, short of breath himself.
"Okay. I recognize an attempt to creep me out when I see one, and it's not going to work." He slid a hand behind Dick's neck. "You and she used to be an item, didn't you? You miss it? She miss it?"
"No," Dick said as he worked at the catches. "Now we're together all the time."
All of us, said Oracle, and Robin was leaning over Kon, his eyes flat and black as buttons. Kon lay rigid, his expression glassy. One of Robin's hands cupped Kon's cheek; silver traceries crawled up it and into Kon's ear, where they twisted and writhed deep. The other jacked Kon's cock slowly. Dick shivered.
"Except that you're with me now, not her," Roy said, and reached down to palm Dick's bulge. Dick savored the sensation, but held himself still, waiting. "With me, Dick!"
Roy fumbled furiously with the armor. When he was off-balance, Dick began throwing blocks. They grappled over the pieces, but Roy had the advantage, knocking them free with awkward gestures. Before too long, Dick lay exposed to the cool air of the room. "You haven't changed," Roy said smugly. "You still love being held down, and you still can never admit it."
Roy reached down and gave him a couple of firm strokes. Dick groaned. In the lab, one of Kon's arms rose into the air, hand dangling from the wrist. After a couple of awkward tries, it flopped around Robin's neck. Robin responded by moving to straddle Kon's thighs, nestling their cocks together. "You see, Kon?" he murmured, a faint reverberation in his voice. "However much it hurts to begin with, it always feels better when you're with me in the end."
"Maybe..." Dick hooked an ankle behind Roy's knee and flipped him onto his back. Startled, Roy flailed out, but Dick pinned both hands with ease. "But I like other things, too."
Shredding Roy's costume was a lot easier than getting Dick naked. "Fuck, Dick," he gasped. "Since when are you...?"
"You wanted to find me," Dick said, snatching the lube from the storage compartment underneath the couch. "This is me now, Roy. I'm Batman. Whether I'm in the costume or not."
Roy was tight and hot, panting and clutching at him, muttering and cursing. They'd never gone this far, not even as frustrated teenagers who would wrestle at the drop of a bubble-gum wrapper, and suddenly Dick couldn't imagine why they hadn't. Roy burned, cocky and out of control in a way that Dick had never been, and he could have had it then, as sweet as it was now. He drove into Roy ruthlessly, welcoming the warmth in his muscles, the slap of skin against skin. Roy turned his head to mouth and bite at Dick's thumb, and Dick only pushed deeper. In the lab, Robin and Kon moved together like sleepwalkers, unseeing yet perfectly in rhythm. Dick wished suddenly that he could draw Roy closer like that, with the metal that flowed beneath the skin and bound forever. Oracle meant that his mind never needed to be alone again, but when he'd put on the costume, he'd shut himself away from physical connection. He'd thought the longing for it was part of his old weakness, but maybe this way...
He paused and caught at Roy's hard cock, stripping it roughly. "You can't handle me any more," he said, rumbling it, the way Bruce would have. "I'm beyond you. Stop trying."
"You thought you could get at me this way, didn't you?" Like Clark had thought about Tim and Kon, no doubt. Clark had been wrong.
"Yeah," he admitted.
"You were wrong," Dick said, "and now you know it," and Roy came in his hand, jerking. With that body beneath him, dazed and scruffy and gorgeous, Dick only needed another couple of strokes himself before the light broke behind his eyes. For a minute, he couldn't even hear the hum of Oracle.
In the lab, Robin lay twined with Kon. Their circuitry was still in contact.
Sometimes, Dick envied them.
He slid down next to Roy, pushing a stray armored glove out of the way to lie on his stomach. Roy sighed. "You still don't have to do it like this, Dick."
God, he was stubborn. Dick was out of practice in dealing with people whose wills didn't mold smoothly to his own. "It's funny; out of all of us, I thought you might understand best."
"Me?" Roy peered at him. "Why?"
"The heroin," Dick said simply.
Roy sat up abruptly. "Hey--fuck you."
"I'm not judging, Roy. I'm saying--you should find it familiar. You should know why."
"This is your idea of a narcotic? The opiate of the Bat-masses?" Roy was gathering up his clothes. "You're even more fucked up than the League thinks, you know that?"
Dick watched without moving. "Maybe."
Roy flung his mask into the corner in frustration. "Even Batman would say this was nuts!"
"Batman thought that the mission was more important than he was. This is the only way we could make it true."
"Then maybe for once in your life, you could have disagreed."
No, Dick thought, that was the one thing he could never have done. He didn't move, waiting until Roy was dressed. "If you come to this city without permission again, Arsenal, you're finished."
"Don't worry. I'm in no fucking hurry."
The door clicked shut behind him.
He'll be back, Oracle said.
Yes, I think so.
What you told him was clever. That's an offer he won't be able to refuse forever.
Dick got up and slowly began reassembling his costume, placing it piece by piece, lovingly, into its storage box. What I told him was the truth. That's how it feels.
Oracle laughed, a ghostly dance along his nerves.
You think I'm wrong?
I think you're the only one of us who has enough nerve endings left to be able to tell anymore, Batman.
Kon does. Sometimes. You hate it about him.
But I love it about you.
He stretched out on the bed. Wake me in three hours.
Even though they were beyond Oracle's influence, he knew that, for once, they would be.