Summary: The Robins stopped in March in Chicago during their tour, before they were well-known. There were cultural differences, and music, and memories.
The Robins In Chicago
Saturday morning, March 13th, 10:29 a.m.
The day was looking great - they had heard left and right it was the first day since Thanksgiving that the weather was set on sun. Apparently it had been a signal for people to get even more smashed than usual on this fine St Patrick's Parade day. Picking drunken people from where they were sitting, just above the parking levels of the Marina Towers, was pretty fun. They could even hear the music from here.
"And here's another one..." pointed Jason.
"No, I think this one just can't stay on the sidewalk properly," answered Steph, her hard-won latte in hand.
"What are we waiting for exactly? You still haven't answered me."
"Patience D, patience..." smiled Dick, swinging his legs over the rail.
Tim checked his watch. "It should be on any minute now." As if the only needed thing was for Tim to say so, they watched a small boat dye the river a bright, fluorescent green, made all the more vivid by the sun, under the shouts, bagpipes and happy cries of the crowd amassed on both brinks of the river.
Damian made a face. "Doesn't that reek havoc with the aquatic ecosystem of that river?"
Jason and Tim both turned to their younger brother. "How many people have we seen throw up and take a leak in it since we perched here?" "I don't think there is an ecosystem in this river anymore."
"Ah, fishies, I knew you well..." finished Steph. They all cracked up.
Saturday night, March 13th, 11:30 p.m., The Empty Bottle
Dick: "If you're wondering why Tim and I are wearing Banana-suits, it's because we lost a bet. Jason found them - you see, he has this incredible knack for finding crazy junk; I'll have to tell you later about the time he found us a surf board in the middle of Kansas, we're still puzzling on which rift in time and space it came from. So anyway, the bet - there isn't really any need for most of everyone to know what it was about, exactly. What you need to know, it's that it's completely and entirely Jay and Steph's fault of course; Damian was smart enough to stay out of it.
So, guys, he's really too polite to say it out loud, but Tim hates your guts so much right now."
Jason: "And we should care why?"
Tim: "I know where you sleep."
(audience laughing - bass line beginning)
Sunday, March 14th, 12:30 p.m.
They called a war council in Tim and Dick's room. Well, Dick called their irregular band-meetings 'war councils'. Everyone else humored him.
"I need someone to go location scouting for the rooftop session," Tim said, biting on the side of his thumb and playing with a pen with the other hand. Dick craned his neck a bit, recognized the scraps on Tim's knee as the song that had been resisting him for the past three days. Even the good atmosphere of the previous night's concert, and the other happenings of the night, hadn't taken his mind off it. That was Tim. There was no changing him.
Dick stretched cat-like on the floor, curling into a ball and back again, to finally get his feet flat on either side of his head. "I can come with you, you up for rooftop tag?"
Jeers and catcalls came from the vicinity of the bed, where Jason and Steph had elected to perch - Jay sprawled with his feet on the floor, nursing a water bottle, a hangover and a darkly bruised jaw, Steph sitting close enough from him for his side and her hip to touch. They looked still wired from the previous night.
"Is that what they call it this days?" said Jason.
Damian briefly opened his eyes, to close them once again, focusing on the music the tiny iThing in his hands was delivering, and not on his family's crazy antics.
"Hey Jay, didn't you live in Chicago at some point?" Dick said. His spine popped back into place satisfyingly when he watched the room upside down. His head was at level with the height of the bed. He missed Jason's reaction.
Jason shrugged, the now not-cold-enough bottle against his jaw. "Yeah." Stephanie noticed he seemed a bit uncomfortable. There weren't many subjects he was reluctant about. "Quickly couldn't pay the rent anymore," he finished. From the tone of his voice, he promised anyone who asked more on this to meet a world of hurt.
"Why don't we ask on our website? I bet someone knows somewhere were could play with authorization and no problems," said Steph, quickly cutting the bad atmosphere that had suddenly dropped on them.
Tuesday, March 16th, the afternoon, a rooftop in Chicago
The video began on a shot of the city's skyline, what little could be seen of it from the rooftop it was shot on. There was a strange little tune floating. The camera turned around. The music was coming from a toy piano barely large enough for Tim's hands to play it. Then Steph entered the frame, picked up the acoustic guitar and sat down, began to play. Then it was Jason's turn, who began beating the rhythm on his bodhrán, and Damian's, who put his qanun on his folded legs before beginning to pluck at the strings. The camera finally stilled before Dick's singing was heard, and that Dick was seen at all.
None of what they played sounded like the usual. It became quickly obvious they were having a blast, instruments exchanged and songs shared with bubbling laughters. Even Steph and Damian sang.
The very last minutes of the video showed Jason, his back to the camera, on the edge of the roof. He was saying "Hey, check this out!", and pointing at something on another building. Laughs, again, could be heard, Dick's and Steph's. Tim's head came into view, with the rest of Tim obviously going to shut the camera off. Black fell.
On St Patrick's Day, March 17th, Jason walked around with a green t-shirt, forgoing his usual red ones, and told whomever was in hearing range 'Kiss me I'm Irish'.
The next day, in the morning, he had lipstick marks and not-lipstick marks nearly all over him and moaning that that green beer was foul. Dick and Tim shook their heads, and in Tim's case, took pictures for posterity. Stephanie just laughed at him.
Damian decreed St Patrick's Day as one more weird traditional event.
Evening of Thursday, March 18th, Subterranean
Dick: "There is this song... actually, I had the privilege to meet the original band from whom comes this song a few years ago - I recall having had quite the surreal conversation with the singer, it was very late, or very early, it depends on how you saw it. My only hope, for The Robins, is that one day, one of our songs will become just the half of as well-known as this particular song is."
(the oud and guitar begin playing, quickly joined by the drums and bass)
Dick: "When you were here before,
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel,
Your skin makes me cry..."
The aftermath of the concert was a pleasant buzz under their skins. There were smiles tugging at mouths' corners and restless energy, laughs and skips in steps. Chicago, Dick thought, was good for them. There was something there, he couldn't say what exactly - a fleeting memory, a reminder secure in its false familiarity. If he closed his eyes, there on the sidewalk, on the way back to their hotel and the excellent food Alfred had prepared for them, the night could almost taste like the quietest ones in Gotham. He didn't though. There were new memories to be made, however bittersweet it tasted.
The good mood lasted into the meal, excellent of course. Alfred looked at them tucking in with appetite like the proud parent he was.
Jason raised his glass, commending silence. It was beer in the glass, like in Dick's, water for the rest of them, the buzz continuing.
"Let me use my quota of schmoop for one year," he began, looking at the people around the table and Alfred, looking at his family. Damian was this close from falling asleep in his chair, Steph was wired still, he refused to think about what Dick's hand was doing to Tim under the table, Alfred had a smile on. "First, to Bruce." He raised his glass higher, and the others joined in the toast. "Then, I'm not about to repeat it, ever: I'm fucking happy to be there with you guys."
Tim and Stephanie smiled, Damian tried to hide a soft smile. Dick smiled too, but not one of the smiles he made for the stage. It was one of the slow, beaming smiles he had always kept for them. He leaned in his chair, reached for Jay's head and kissed him hard, mouth closed, a hand on his neck.
"I'm glad," he said against Jason's mouth, before releasing him.
Friday, March 19th, 10:30 a.m.
The knock at their door woke Dick suddenly. He needed a few minutes to realize that, yes, he was really awake, and that there was light at the window.
"Come in," he called, licking his lips. Tim made a noise of disagreement before trying to hide under the pillow, his hand warm on Dick's hip. He knew Tim was wide awake already, probably had been before Dick had opened his eyes. They were getting used to living differently though.
Steph passed her head through the door. She didn't look like she had brushed her hair and her clothes seemed rumpled from here - in fact, she looked like she had just jumped out of bed.
"Yeah, 'm awake... what time is it?"
"Half to eleven..." She came in, leaning on the closed door. She should have been bouncing on their bed and tickling Tim already. Dick sat up, eliciting more annoyed noises from Tim.
"Steph? Is something wrong?"
"...maybe -I don't... It's Jason. I don't think he slept, mostly. He shut the door close in my face."
Dick climbed out of the bed, searched for the clothes he had strewn around when he and Tim had gone to bed, but not to sleep. His shirt was on the chair next to the door, his jeans at the feet at the bed - he called the boxers a lost cause.
"I'm going to go see him, 'kay?" he told her, hugging her and kissing her hair. "Don't worry. See if you can rouse the sleeping beauty somewhere under the blankets?" She hugged him in return, nodded.
When Dick got out of the room, barefoot, he saw she was sitting on the bed next to Tim.
Steph laid next to Tim, facing him. Dick had been right, the younger man was wide awake; and currently frowning. Steph took his hand. He put his other hand around hers. "It's going to be alright."
She closed her eyes, nodded. "I don't... I hate when it happens -to any of us."
"I hate it too." The words hung in the warm air of the room, danced with the dust particles in the rays of sun falling from the window, before hitting and falling against the closed door.
"It's just... he's Jay." Tim snuck his arms around Steph. She held tight to him. He was naked under the blanket.
"Let's grab Damian and Alfred and go for waffles," he said to her neck. She giggled a little. It sounded wet. "We can totally go for waffles for lunch."
The door to the room hadn't been locked. It didn't seem it was occupied. The window was open though - it opened on a fire escape, a tiny space and a metallic ladder. There was smoke drifting in the space defined by the wood frame.
"Jason?" called Dick. He knew better than to stick his head out unannounced. It was a different life they were living, but that didn't mean the previous one was erased in any way. Jason was dangerous. They all were. There wasn't any answer, not that Dick was expecting one.
Jason was sitting in the fire escape, a leg moving restlessly. There was a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a half-empty other next to him, as well as a bottle of vodka. He was smoking like it would reveal the answers to the universe.
"Get the fuck out of my face Grayson."
"Get the fuck away!"
Steph was right - he looked like he hadn't slept. Smoking and drinking probably hadn't helped. "You look like you could use some sleep."
"I don't want to sleep you fucker."
Dick climbed out and sat on the fire escape. If he tucked his legs in and put his arms around them, there was enough place for the both of them. Barely enough. Jason sighed smoke, after a while. "You're not going to leave any time soon, are you?"
Dick smiled, with just a corner of his mouth.
"I've learnt how to get to you, Jay."
"You'd better leave me alone." Before Dick could say anything, he spat more. "I'm in the wrong mood to not hurt you Dick." He picked the bottle up, swallowed a good mouthful, his grip tight on the neck. Dick looked at him.
"Jay... you were in the best mood I've seen you get last night-"
"It's -it looks, and feels too much like home!" The rest of the cigarette got pushed down, crushed. The grip on the neck of the bottle got even more tighter. Jason slapped a hand on his face, like he wanted to push it inside his skull, like he wanted it to hurt, then pushed past, slapped against the wall. "And I fucking miss it!" he said from between gritted teeth. He took another swallow.
Dick recalled this feeling he had got, how familiar it had felt, how right it had tasted - just like Gotham. "I know", he said. There was a city's silence between them.
"Leave me alone Dick." It was the closest to a please Jason would ever say. Dick nodded. Jason grieved alone.
For his brother's sake, Dick would pretend to not see the tears.
in the night of Saturday, March 20th to Sunday, March 21st, Metro
(end of Untitled riff city, audience cheering, guitar and nah still playing some kind of 'waiting tune', various noises of volumes controls and balance being fiddled with)
Dick: "You know, I don't think we've done this yet - you know, like in the real heavy weight bands, where at some point everyone's introduced and they do crazy instrumentals and stuff... So in the back! Looking all tall and dark and no I'm no annoyed that he's taller than me! Jason Todd!"
(audience cheering, Jason starting the drum part of a song)
Dick: "Ladies and gentlemen, watch out, he does bite. I think I still have marks from the fight for the last piece of bread at dinner last night."
(sounds of something being thrown and hitting, audience laughing)
Dick: "Ow! That was totally uncalled for!"
Dick: "Still in the back, to my right! Master of weird instruments! Damian Wayne!"
(cheering, Damian soloing over the guitar)
Dick: "And it's better for my health that I don't add anything to that."
Dick: "Still at my right, our one and only mistress of the guitar! Stephanie Brown!"
(cheering, Steph launching a solo)
Dick: "Yes ladies and gentlemen she's single and she'll probably eat your liver if you annoy her."
(laughs and cheering)
Dick: "To my left, trying to hide - Tim Drake at the bass!"
(cheering, but there isn't more sounds of instruments)
Dick: "As you can see the bass is not the only thing he does well, he also looks very good in tight jeans."
(laughs, guitar stopping, sounds of a scuffle and muted thuds, 'ah'-s in the audience)
Steph: "And as you can see and hear, our very own show-off, occasionally singer and token pretty boy, Dick Grayson!"
(laughs and cheers, bass starting up along the battery, nah stopping)
Steph: "While I'm there, and Dick's still showing off, I'll use this opportunity to introduce our next song..."
Monday, March 22nd, 09:34 a.m.
The van left Chicago by the I-80/I-90 West. The atmosphere was quiet, almost subdued. Dick was driving, Alfred in the passenger seat was fixing a matter of hotel booking for their next stop, about 411 miles and seven hours from there. In the back seat, Damian had fell back asleep against Stephanie, who was looking by the window, her head resting in her hand. Her other arm had sneaked around the younger boy's shoulders. Jason and Tim were in the very back, between duffel bags, instruments cases, amplifiers and ramdom boxes. Jason was absentmindedly beating a tempo with a finger against his leg. Tim was tuning his acoustic guitar.
The tuning became a search for notes, a serie of plucked strings, backpedalling, stopping, beginning again.
At some point, it sounded like something known. Jason, who kept fiercely to his drum kit, and had to be forced and cajoled in turns for back-up vocals, began singing. His voice came clear over the drone of the engine, even for the front of the van. Tim glanced at him over the guitar, kept playing the song.
You'll never guess.
You know the girl you said I'd meet someday?
Well, I've got something to confess.
She picked me up on Friday.
Asked me if she reminded me of you...
***end of The Robins In Chicago