Duke shifted his weight from foot to foot, anxiously watching the numbers on the display climb as the elevator ascended. He adjusted the backpack slung over his shoulder and looked at his phone again, rereading the text message for probably the hundredth time. It said an address, date and time, a code for the elevator, and the initials DG.
It didn’t take a detective to figure out who had sent the text, but why on earth did Dick Grayson want to meet up with him in this random building downtown?
Something in his gut had told him not to ask Bruce, or to even give Alfred any explanation to where he was going on a Saturday night. Of course, it wasn’t like he was really used to reporting his whereabouts to any adults lately.
The elevator chimed as it finally stopped and the doors slid open silently, revealing a hallway.
Dick was approaching the elevator, waving and smiling. He was wearing plain clothes, jeans and black v neck shirt (Duke quickly waved away the passing wonder of what the hell was the dude’s thing with tight clothes).
“Hey, saw you coming up. Come on, almost everyone is here already,” said Dick, motioning for him to follow.
“Alright,” said Duke, still not sure what was going on. “Uh, I brought my gear with me…” he added, motioning to the backpack.
“Oh, yeah, good idea. Always good to be prepared,” said Dick, barely glancing at the younger boy as he led the way down the short hallway.
Duke was even more confused. Was this not a night work thing?
They turned the corner at the end of the hallway, which opened into a huge room a few stories tall. On the opposite side, a large, old bell hung in front of tall, bay windows. The sides of the room were taken up by three stories worth of ledges, home to what looked like all the spare gear any Bat could need. In front of them was a set of stairs leading up to the large middle platform. Duke could hear voices of people up there.
“Welcome to the Belfry,” said Dick casually. “It’s brand new. I only just got the tour tonight too.”
“Uh, whoa,” said Duke, still taking it all in. Like the Bat Cave, except downtown.
“Come on, Tim and the girls are all up there already,” said Dick, starting up the stairs.
The assortment of mismatched furniture in the center of the room looked extremely out of place compared to the sleek, efficient design of the rest of the Belfry. There were two couches, a couple armchairs, and a giant beanbag chair clustered around a large square coffee table that was loaded with snacks, drinks, and a couple board games.
There were also six people he more or less recognized who turned to look at him. This vigilante thing could be pretty great, Duke idly thought as his eyes swept over the five women in the room.
“Right, have you met everyone yet, Duke?” Dick asked, looking thoughtful. “I’ll just run through intros real quick. You remember Tim over there, right?” He pointed at the only other boy in the room who was standing near the monitors off to the side, talking to a woman sitting in a wheelchair.
Duke nodded at Red Robin, who was wearing a hoodie and jeans and grinned back at him.
“That’s Frankie next to him. Or, as you might have heard of her, the Oracle. She mostly runs ops for Batgirl’s team.”
The woman in the wheelchair waved to him and said, “Hey.”
“And then Harper and Cassandra,” Dick said, pointing to the two girls sitting on one of the couches, one with bright blue hair. “Bluebird and Orphan. Then that’s Stephanie, aka the Spoiler, over there on the beanbag.” The blonde cheerfully waved at him. Those three looked about his age.
“And of course, Barbara is--”
“Batgirl, right?” Duke filled in as the redhead on the other couch nodded. Riko would be so jealous of him.
“Glad you could make it, Duke,” said Barbara with a warm smile.
All of them were dressed casually like Dick making Duke self-consciously glad he had decided at the last minute to show up in civies and just bring his costume.
“So, what is this? Bat family game night?” Duke asked, cautiously approaching the group.
Harper snorted. “It was Steph’s idea.”
Stephanie put up her hands in a shrug. “What? I just thought we should all hang out since we all kind of have similar life experiences right now,” she said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Barbara fairly. “It’s good to spend time together when there’s not a city crisis.”
“Yeah, we’re all separated too much. Kind of hard to be a family,” said Dick.
“Soda?” Cassandra, who was nearest to him, held up a can to offer him.
“Uh, thanks,” said Duke, lowering himself into an open armchair next to her and taking the drink. He dropped the backpack on the floor, trying to ignore the loud clunk. “But who’s out on patrol?”
“Batman and Batwoman are both out tonight,” said Tim. He and Frankie made their way back over to the group. Tim squeezed on the beanbag chair with Stephanie, putting an arm around her shoulders, while Frankie moved her chair next to the couch where Barbara was seated.
“So, no grown-ups allowed,” said Duke, smiling a little despite himself.
“We even considered not inviting Grayson,” said Harper, smirking.
“Hey,” said Dick, frowning and folding his arms.
“Anyway, if they do need us, we’re in the best place to help,” said Tim, motioning to the monitor where a feed was continuously updating.
“Anyone know if Jason is showing up?” Dick asked, still standing just outside the circle and looking thoughtful.
Frankie cleared her throat and looked at Barbara who quickly busied herself with her phone.
“Um, he texted me a little bit ago that he was on his way,” the redhead said a little too casual.
“Oh good,” said Dick, distractedly. “I really was worried he wouldn’t show up.” He didn’t seem to notice almost all the younger sidekicks give each other glances. Instead he dropped into the other chair and pulled the veggie platter towards himself (who the heck brought the veggie platter, Duke wondered).
Duke wasn’t sure what the furtiveness was about so he grabbed one of the bowls of chips and helped himself. The others only seemed to be picking at the food on the table anyway.
“So, that self-updating emergency feed is pretty clever, Tim,” said Frankie, pointing over her shoulder to the monitor. “I’m gonna have to see if I can recreate something like that at our base.”
“Thanks,” said Tim, looking proud. “It should be pretty easy to focus the algorithm to Burnside. You have to show me one of your drones some time though.”
“I’ll bring one next time,” said Frankie, grinning.
“Nice, I’d really love to see how it works with the neural link.”
“Well, I had a little help with actually building them--”
Footsteps bounding up the stairs interrupted their conversation and Duke looked around at the newcomer.
“Don’t worry, I’m here and I come bearing gifts,” said the young man, holding up a paper bag and smirking.
Duke hadn’t actually ever seen Red Hood without that full helmet, but he could match up the voice and mannerisms while also doing process of elimination.
Jason pulled a bottle of whiskey out of the bag and plunked it on the table.
“Jason, really?” Dick sighed.
“You know, there are minors here,” Tim said, wrinkling his nose a little.
“Also, we brought beer,” said Barbara, holding up her own bottle.
“Yeah, we’ll get through that too, Barbie,” said Jason, shrugging off his leather jacket and tossing it on the back of the couch she was sitting on. He turned around, surveying the circle. “Right, ladies. Frankie, you’re looking wonderful tonight. Drake. Golden Boy. Oh, Duke right? New-new Robin?” he said, holding out a hand to Duke.
Not expecting the offered handshake, Duke hastily wiped the chip crumbs off on his pants and took it. “Uh, yeah, I’ve met you before.”
“Yeah, yeah, the Robin thing. I remember,” said Jason, sitting down on the couch next to Barbara. “It’s too quiet in here for a party.”
“It’s not really a party, it’s more of a get together,” said Barbara.
“Nah, it’s totally a party,” said Steph.
“Ain’t no party like a Bat kid party,” said Harper.
“Hashtag ‘Only in Gotham’,” Stephanie added, grinning.
“In that case, how about some music?” said Dick, getting up and heading to the computer. “Any requests?”
“Just none of Tim’s techno shit,” Harper called, making everyone laugh.
“It’s not techno, Harper! It’s called EDM,” Tim said, turning red.
“Babe, she’s just teasing you,” said Stephanie, patting his knee.
“I like your electric music, Tim. We can listen to some of it later,” Cass offered.
“It’s not … Fine, but no musicals either!” Tim pouted.
As Dick started up a playlist of some sort of rock and pop mix, Jason cracked open the bottle of whiskey and took a swig from it, then offered it to the group.
“Tim, I can’t believe you’re gonna turn your nose up at this. I spent eight whole dollars on this bottle of whiskey,” said Jason.
Frankie and Barbara both grimaced.
“Ooof, couldn’t you at least have gotten something a little more middle shelf?” said Babs, taking the bottle next. She took a drink and pulled a face again before passing it on to Frankie.
“Didn’t realize you were a whiskey snob, Babs,” said Jason, raising an eyebrow.
“You’ve met my dad, right?”
“Ah, good old Gordon.”
Gordon. Duke frowned slightly, his brain suddenly making the connection. “Wait… is your dad Commissioner Gordon?” he asked.
“Yep,” Barbara confirmed.
“Your dad is a cop?”
“Her dad is The cop,” said Dick, rejoining them and sitting down again.
“Does he know …?”
“That his daughter is Batgirl? Not officially. But he’s too good a detective, he probably does know,” said Barbara with a shrug.
Duke looked around the circle of sidekicks. He knew hardly anything about them all. Well, he had gleaned little bits from his time working with Bruce so far, but it wasn’t the same as knowing them. Not like he had known the other Robins. His Robins.
But they had specifically invited him to be a part of this “Bat kid” party that wasn’t really a party.
Although now that he realized it, there was one sidekick missing.
“Where’s Robin?” Duke asked, frowning. “Like the little, grumpy one.”
Jason snorted. “Grumpy. You’re too kind, kid. But, hey, Grayson, did you not invite demon spawn?”
“Don’t call him that,” said Barbara, smacking his arm.
“I, uh, encouraged Damian to make plans with his new team tonight,” said Dick, looking a little guilty. “It’s good for him to hang out with more people closer to his age.”
“And we get some peace,” said Stephanie, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, I get enough death threats from Jason most nights,” said Tim.
“What? When have I threatened to kill you in the last month?” Jason protested.
“Well I’m counting trying to push that bottle of denatured wood alcohol on me as poisoning so…”
“Relax, Tim,” said Harper, reaching across the table to take the bottle. She bravely took a large gulp then coughed loudly as it burned down. “Christ that’s awful.”
“I wanna try next!” said Stephanie, eagerly reaching out.
“Uh, okay, yeah, I get that Rob- I mean, Damian is a pretty wound up kid, but his feelings might get hurt if he gets excluded again,” said Duke. “Not that he’d ever admit that, of course.”
“It really is good for him to spend time with the Titans. But I’ll make sure he knows he’s invited next time,” said Dick fairly. He pointed at Steph and Harper. “You two take it easy, okay? You are still minors.”
“Dick, relax, we’re here, we can take care of them. It’s just a few drinks,” said Barbara while Jason winked at the other girls.
“How did you all get started in this anyway?” Duke asked, leaning back in his chair again.
“Ahh, origin story time,” said Jason, rubbing his hands together. “I’ll go first. Mine’s the best anyway. Basically, I stole the tires off the Batmobile and Batman caught me and recruited me.”
“What? No! I’m calling bullshit!” said Harper, leaning forward and pointing at Jason. “You did not.”
“It’s true, Blue,” said Jason, leaning back and looking smug. He casually put an arm on the back of the couch, behind Barbara. “Grayson?” he added, turning to the other man expectantly.
Dick nodded as he reached for a beer and popped it open. “Yeah, it’s true. He got three and Batman caught him going back for the fourth,” he confirmed.
“But why? Just to screw with him?” Duke asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Are you kidding? Those things would have easily gone for a few grand apiece,” said Jason. He looked around the circle. “Who’s next?”
“Well, you probably already know I grew up in a circus, my parents were acrobats,” said Dick. “They were killed during a show and Bruce Wayne happened to be in the audience. He took me in and showed me how to get justice for them.”
“My dad said he would never allow me to ever become a detective so I decided to find another way to help.”
“My dad was Cluemaster, a villain. So, I became the Spoiler to spoil his plans. Get it?”
“My father was also bad. He trained me to be an assassin but I could not stand to kill. So I joined Batman.”
“A crazy lady had my mom murdered because she was trying to sell me to Batman as his next Robin. Also my dad is shit so I had to raise my brother. But basically, I wanted to help.”
Duke blinked, taking in all their stories. The bottle of whiskey had made its’ way around the table a few more times, skipping Tim, Cass, and himself.
“So, uh, I’m sensing a theme here,” he said, looking at Tim and Frankie who had yet to share their story.
“Don’t look at me. My parents are both alive and well. I just happened to figure out that Dick was Robin and then Nightwing,” said Tim, putting his hands up. “I confronted Batman and insisted he take me on.”
“Yeah, my parents are fine too. They moved upstate a few years back,” said Frankie. “But it’s hard to not notice that your roommate is Batgirl. I helped Babs stop a rogue AI and insisted on being her partner.”
Duke looked over at Dick. “You know, for all you lectured us Robins about not knowing what we were getting into, sounds like all of you had the same thing in mind when you started,” he said.
“And what’s that?” Dick asked with a knowing smile.
“Taking matters into your own hands.”
There was a pause as everyone considered this.
“This is getting too serious, let’s play a game,” Stephanie suggested.
“Strip poker?” Jason suggested, grabbing the deck of cards on the table to start shuffling.
“No way. Cass would have us all naked in like ten minutes,” said Harper, shaking her head. She glanced over at Duke and added, “She’s really good at reading body language. No matter how good your bluff is, she can call it.”
“Regular poker then. We’ll bet batarangs,” Dick said, getting up again.
Across the street on another rooftop, two tall Bats stood, watching through the windows.
“I saw them passing a bottle around. Want me to go break it up?” Batwoman offered.
Batman zoomed out the lenses on his cowl.
“No, they’re …” he started, then cleared his throat. “Alfred strongly advised against stopping them. He said … young people, especially these ones, need to spend time socializing. It’s team building.”
Batwoman looked over at him for several moments then smirked a little.
“He’s right. But not because it’s team building, Bruce,” she said. “It’s family bonding. Those kids being friends is a good thing. And having safe place like this is also a good thing.”
“They all know they are welcome at the Manor,” said Bruce with a hint of … disappointment maybe?
“Oh cousin, trust me, it’s not as fun partying at your parents’ house,” said Kate, laughing. “Come on, let’s make sure the city is okay so they don’t get interrupted. They need this.”
Bruce grunted an agreement and the two readied their lines, swinging out into the night.