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Birds, Bugs, and Other Flying Things

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Things were not looking good, Robin thought. They were wounded, surrounded, and getting no response from Oracle on the Bat-comm. One of the gangsters to Robin's left started swinging a nunchuk-ish thing with spikes on it, and another pulled on a pair of brass knuckles. They didn't want to end this quickly, not when being the guys to finally rid Gotham of Batman and Robin would do more to establish this gang than an entire warehouse full of illegal guns and ammunition for sale - which they happened to also have. Batman didn't appreciate that kind of thing happening in his town, so he and Robin, just coming off of a fight with one of his smaller-time rogues, had walked in to talk to the man in charge. The man in charge had promptly surrounded them with at least two dozen of his finest grunts and vamoosed.

Robin didn't like their odds, but she lifted her fists, making sure to keep her guard up on the side with the aching ribs, and got ready to kick ass. Behind her, panting slightly, Batman did the same. And then -

With a long, hearty laugh, the Blue Beetle drew the attention of the warehouse to the open door where he stood. At his side was Ro... was his sidekick, Sparky, who Robin used to know by another name. But she was Robin now, and he... he didn't want anything to do with Batman anymore.

"Whatsa matter," Blue Beetle said, "You people never seen a couple of guys dressed up like blue bugs before? In this town? I don't know about you, Sparky, but I find that hard to believe." He cracked his knuckles, a mean sort of smile on his face. "What say we show them how things get done around here?"

"You bet, Blue Beetle," Sparky said, pulling out a tiny silver tube. He smacked it twice against his hand and it stretched to ten times its length. Without another word, they leapt into the fray.

Fighting broke out immediately, most of the gangsters rushing the blue duo, assuming that wearing a weird costume meant you didn't actually know how to fight. Or something like that; Robin didn't care what their logic was, only that it gave her and Batman a much-needed moment to breathe.

It wasn't long before the remaining thugs decided to take on the Bat, since they were already there 'n all. Soon everybody was attacking somebody, and Batman and Robin were protectively back to back again. A quick series of hand signs pressed against her arm told Robin to edge them closer to Blue Beetle and Sparky. It was an easy job, since at the same time the two of them were cutting a path through the gangsters towards Robin. When one particularly ugly mug collapsed at Robin's feet mid-punch, she knew without looking that they'd made it.

"Hey, Sp-Robin," Sparky said, only stumbling over her name a little. "How's it going?" He swung the bo staff just over her head, and a dull thud reverberated near her ear from the impact of thin metal stick against thick grunt skull.

"O's not responding to hails," she muttered between punches, "I've got a cracked rib at least, and Batman got grazed by a knife or something earlier - definitely something with a blade, he's bleeding out and it's affecting his breathing." Sparky gave her a once-over, judged by her stance where the cracked rib was, and moved so that he was standing between her injury and the rest of their attackers. A warm fluttery feeling sprung up in Robin's chest, which she did her best to squash down. This was fighting time, not kissy-face time.

"We already knew about Oracle," Blue Beetle said, joining them at Sparky's other side. "This warehouse is a dead zone, no signals are getting in or out. Oracle called us for help when she realized what you must have walked into." Side by side, they continued to kick ass: hitting nunchuk-ish thing-guy in the face with his own spikes; manipulating other grunts into overbalancing so Blue Beetle could use a tai chi flip to knock them on their backs and then knock them out; immobilizing gangsters up with bolas around their ankles or one of the fun birdarangs Robin had designed that covered the target in a quick-drying foam.

The fight went fast, and before Robin had time to catch their breath all the bad guys were down for the count. She grinned, jumping up and down triumphantly. She'd probably regret that later, when the adrenaline wore off and her rib started reminding her it was there and hurting, but for the moment she felt awesome.

"That was awesome," she crowed. "We should totally team up more - " She cut herself off as she turned around; Blue Beetle was hunched over, hands on his knees, wheezing. "You okay?"

He waved her off. "Fine, I'm fine, I just - ow, my lungs, my heart, my everything, my ow ow ow." He clutched at his chest, grimacing. "Why do I keep doing this?"

"Good question," Batman said. R-Sparky was supporting him, one huge Bat-arm over his shoulder as they walked around the unconscious masses.

"Ha ha," Blue Beetle said dryly. "You're a riot."

"Not that I'm not thrilled to have beat up a warehouse full of gangsters," Robin said, "because I am! But it's too bad we didn't get the head honcho."

"Actually..." Sparky opened the door he and Blue Beetle had entered and gestured upward.

Robin, following him, looked up and grinned. Dangling by a string from the blue beetle-shaped hovercraft known only as the Bug was the man that had vacated the premises so inconsiderately earlier. "You get me the best presents," she gushed, and gave him a loud smack of a kiss on the cheek.

"Want us to leave him anywhere in particular?" Blue Beetle asked, climbing into the Bug. "I hear 'tied to a lamppost' is a classic, but approaching cliche." The familiar whine of approaching sirens cut through the background noises of a city at night. "Whatever you'd like, but I suggest you make your choice soon."

Batman Bat-glared up at the man, dangling in mid-air and gibbering pitifully. "You figure it out. Come on, Robin," he added, limping over to the Batmobile with R - damn it, with Sparky's assistance. Robin didn't move, and when neither Batman or Sparky stopped, her heart decided to instead. Her eyes stung a little, but they didn't water. They didn't.

Blue Beetle winced. "Harsh, Bats."

At that, Batman and Sparky stopped, finally remembering that this wasn't what they did anymore. Sparky ducked out of his supportive hold on Batman and turned to Robin, saying, "St-Robin, I'm so sorry, I didn't think - "

"That's new," she said, and if it came out a little bitterly, well, he kinda deserved some bitterness right now.

" - it was just instinct! I would never want to take this away from you." He gestured at Robin in the full multicolored getup, which up to five minutes ago had felt pretty fantastic to wear. Now it just felt kind of phony. Like the way Superboy and the rest of the Titans and half a dozen cops had treated her since she first put on this mask. Like she wasn't a real Robin. Like she was just some girl playing dress up.

"Robin," Batman said, and it hurt. It hurt when Sparky looked at him automatically, completely forgetting what he'd been doing. It hurt that Batman was watching the both of them carefully, reserving judgment. He wasn't going to get in the middle of this, even though it was his fault, and that - that sucked. Robin's blood boiled as her hurt turned to anger, and when Sparky turned an even more apologetic look on her, that was it. She'd had it. She was done.

"Looks like it's too late for that," she said, tossing a birdarang at his feet. The yellow R stared up at him accusingly, and if he said anything, it was after she was already out of earshot.

Her anger faded as quickly as it came. She'd managed to get far enough away that she couldn't hear the sirens anymore, but now that she had left she wasn't sure what to do next. She wasn't stupid enough to consider taking off the costume in public, though it would be faster to go straight home than to find somewhere she'd stashed a change of clothes. She wanted to, though; it was itching at her, suddenly uncomfortable in ways it had never been before, in ways it probably should have been sooner.

She should've known.

She'd never been meant to wear this. She'd never been good enough.

"Need a lift?" someone said from above. She looked up to see the Bug, now gangster-less, hovering ten feet up. "I don't think I'm supposed to know where the secret cave is, but I can get you there, if you want."

It was a little out of her way, but she was pretty sure she'd left an eggplant-colored costume there once. It'd do. "Yeah, okay," she said, and a rope with a handle at the end descended from the belly of the Bug. She climbed aboard, and spent the short flight across town in an agonizing awkward silence. Blue Beetle was cool, in a kinda nerdy way, like Ro - Sp - like Robin, but he'd just been witness to what was possibly the most humiliating moment of her entire life. How were you supposed to get past that?

Thankfully, he didn't try to break the silence with a joke or anything; she wouldn't have been able to stand that. No, he just kept looking at her when he thought she wouldn't notice - and not in a way that would've made things more awkward, ew, no. Just... like he was considering her. Why, she didn't know.

At least, not until after they'd made it to the Batcave (long before the dynamic duo, score one for the Bug). He hemmed and hawed and kept attempting to start sentences without managing to even finish a word. Meanwhile, Spoiler taped up her ribs, got back in old familiar eggplant, and returned to the Bug. They didn't immediately take off, and she gave him a look hidden by her hood. Spoiler figured her body language said enough: What?

Blue Beetle sighed. "So, this might be too soon - heck, it's almost definitely too soon - and let me know if I'm way off base, but... I just lost a sidekick, you just lost a mentor. Maybe we could...?" He made vague, circular gestures in the air between them.

Spoiler blinked, and pulled back her hood. "Seriously?"

"Yeah, of course! Anybody who's good enough for Batman is more than good enough for me."

"But..." And damn it, why had Spoiler pulled down her hood? "But I'm not - "

"Hey now." Blue Beetle put a hand on her shoulder and forced her to meet his eyes. "Batman trained you, gave you the suit, and fought crime with you. That made you Robin. Anything happens to change that, it's his loss." He grinned. "And my gain, if you're up for it."

"I don't know..." When he started to look worried, she looked him up and down and smirked. "I'm pretty sure I can't pull that costume off. Or Sparky's."

Blue Beetle shrugged. "Design your own! No reason we can't have a Purple Beetle in the group."

"One: it's eggplant," she corrected. The two of them made identical moues of disgust as the phrase "Eggplant Beetle" stumbled through their minds. "Okay, no," she conceded, "I'll come up with a better name later. Two: what group? Do you have other sidekicks you aren't telling me about?"

"Well, no," Blue Beetle said. "But since the ol' ticker ain't what it used to be, I've been thinking about pulling an Oracle, doing the behind-the-scenes work while stronger-bodied people like yourself go out and do the butt-kicking side of crime-fighting."

"Like a Bugs of Prey?" She made another grossed-out face, wishing her naming skills hadn't fled her today, but he laughed, long and loud and hard. She could get used to hearing that laugh, she thought.

"Something like that. So, are you in?" He held out a hand. She gave it a long, considering look, then grinned.

"Sure," Steph said, and they shook on it.