Author's note as published on FanFiction.net:
I haven't visited Edinburgh for a few years but when I was writing this I was sure that there was a little gift shop in the middle of either Greyfriars Kirkyard or Old Calton Cemetery. I have no idea why you'd stick a gift shop in the middle of consecrated ground, so this is an open apology to Scotland in defence of my memory.
The whole 'writing about Nico being sad' thing was inspired by the beautiful artwork of Viria and I think it's set maybe after Jason and Nico talk/argue in Africa. Or maybe Nico needs a break from Reyna after she's delivered the Athena Parthanos. I actually haven't a clue...
I also like this less and less the more I read it back, especially the end, so please let me know what you think!
Many things were said that Reyna didn't understand. Leo shot off, riding into the sunset of his own mechanical mind, waffling about all of the techno-babble he could produce. And Reyna just watched him, her dark gaze softening, her arms relaxing, only catching odd words as the boy continued. Occasionally he would stop to take a breath, and, Reyna noticed, look her in the eyes. His were a deep brown, like the colour of coffee or tree bark, burning with enthusiasm and desire to impress like she had never seen. He'd promptly turn a bubblegum pink colour before casting his fascinated scrutiny elsewhere and launching off again.
But that was alright to Reyna. It was a strange thing to admit – even stranger for someone of her calibre – but she felt an odd twinge of jealousy when someone else had the luxury of being regarded by him. She wanted to know that his expression of delight behind his glass orbs was present because of her. Maybe that was obsessive, maybe she was being cautious. The girl wasn't sure; she wasn't sure about many things regarding Leo Valdez. He clamped at her fragile heart in ways she thought it couldn't be clamped, not by him.
Leo stopped talking. Reyna tried to bring her mind back to reality – what had he just said?
"My joke? Did you get my joke?"
Reyna was solid, unmoving. Leo's face dampened. She tried her best to recover from being wrapped up far too much into her emotions, "Wait – no. Could you repeat it? I'm…" she hesitated, "I'm rather slow at understanding jokes."
And Leo grinned; Reyna blew an inward sigh of relief, "Sure," he inhaled, "I was having conversation with Frank earlier. What did I say when Festus broke down?"
Reyna waited, her glance frozen on him as his grin spread across his face like butter on warm toast. The restaurant atmosphere in Nolita just seemed to suck in breath in anticipation – the noises from the other diners muffled as she concentrated on what mattered.
"I said 'I bett-Argo II fix him right away!'"
Her hand flew to her mouth to suppress her giggle. By the gods, that was so awful. So bad it was good, kind of comedy. Leo just chuckled as Reyna covered up her giggle, although her pearly teeth began to flash behind her delicate hand.
"You get it!" he cheered, "You see; you're not that slow."
Reyna wanted to counter that a bridge troll could probably understand the joke. But she didn't say that out loud. He was on a roll (like a fresh piece of bread straight from the oven), and she didn't think it would be good to puncture it. Not when he was grinning so wildly from her understanding his madness it was like he'd won the lottery.
"There are some exceptions," she merely said, between a split smile, "And that was… quite unique."
He chuckled, "I know it's bad. Bad jokes are just my forté. If there was ever a statue made in my honour, it would read 'Leo Valdez –The Gag Guru of Groan-worthy Garbage. Accepted currency is facepalms and headdesks'."
She placed her hand down on the table then, flashing a smile, "And I suppose you get a lot of those?"
Leo's smile turned sheepish, "If facepalms and headdesks were denarii, I could buy this restaurant and a house on the side."
Reyna laughed then. She hated her laugh – one of the reasons why she avoided doing it so much. It was a cross between a snort and a high-pitched squeal. If you hadn't seen it being emitted from her throat, you would have thought a pig was dying somewhere. Leo laughed too – much more masculine, deep, laugh with that edge of a girlish giggle – which covered up hers enough not to be too embarrassed. She did flush a red colour though, ceasing her pig-squealing noises and suddenly finding the table cloth extremely interesting.
Leo quietened, "Your laugh-!"
"Yes, I know," Reyna cut through; a rush of embarrassment knotted her stomach, "It's horrible."
She cast her gaze upwards; Leo was grinning.
"Actually, I was going to say it's really cute," he flushed the same cranberry colour then, "If you don't mind me saying…"
The girl tilted her head upwards now, eyes wide, "You find it… cute?"
Leo's face was hot – heat hot – with embarrassment. Was calling a girl's laugh cute a cliché thing to do? Percy and Jason had said, definitely in the top ten things to do, make sure to compliment her on something: her dress, shoes, hair, make-up, general beauty, voice, food taste… whatever worked. Of all the examples they had given, a laugh was not one of them, and he was pretty sure he'd seen at least five romcoms where the guy had complimented the girl's laugh (of which, he was forced sit through… purely for educational purposes, of course).
He tried his best to quell his feelings of cheesy romance and spoke again, "Yeah. I mean… it's a lot more attractive that my laugh. My laugh sounds like a bodybuilder leprechaun lives in my throat."
Reyna snorted with amusement. It was great to see her so open with her feelings, Leo thought idly, as she struggled to keep her face straight.
"Well," she said, regarding him again with those dark-as-night eyes, "Thank you. And I can assure you, you do not sound like a bodybuilder leprechaun."
Leo practically glowed with happiness. He was pretty sure, if he became any happier, something on his person would catch fire. He was about to respond when the waiter came over. A tray of food was balanced perfectly on his hand and he placed the dishes onto the table with no trouble at all.
"Please enjoy," he said, slipping the tray underneath his arm and retracting his hand, "If there are any problems, do not hesitate to call someone over."
"Thanks dude," Leo said, and the waiter wet away on his business. The food he had left was sizzling hot – two half-chickens marinated in flavouring. The scent of lemon trees and herbal plants walloped his senses and sent his tastebuds into a frenzy, hungry to sample. Not to mention the side-dish, sweet mash potato in a little pot, looked so good he could have done with double the portions.
Reyna picked up her knife and fork. She had a delicate hand about her, the way she twirled and the cutlery like a professional ballerina twirls on their feet, which you wouldn't expect… not when she was slicing with a sword and commanding comrades to battle the other half of the time. She bit her lip, exploring the feast with her eyes.
"Does it look okay?" Leo asked.
She smiled, "It looks delicious," she said, gently forcing a fork into one half of a chicken and hauling it onto her plate, "Good choice."
"Great," Leo said, doing the same. The chicken was so hot steam was rising up. Sometimes Leo wished he was that hot naturally. He watched his date cut off a piece and pop it into her mouth, chewing laboriously.
He waited for her to swallow, "So… how does the chicken taste?"
She gave him a look he had never seen on her before – the expression of amazement. Eyes wide, smile curling on her plump lips. He must have matched her own when he watched her.
"It's absolutely delightful," she spoke, cutting another piece, "I cannot believe I haven't seen eaten here before."
Leo tried it too – she was right. It was rather good.
"Oh man, this is delightful," he said, "Now I wish I did have enough dough to buy this place out."
Reyna smiled, covering her mouth with her hand as she spoke, "So do I."
The two were mostly silent for the rest of the meal. The clanging of fork and knife against plate and occasional chomping sound, as well as the subdued chatter of the other diners and soft drumbeat music from overhead speakers, was the only thing that could be heard. That was fine with Leo – it provided him with the opportunity to relax, think of what to say, and, most importantly, enjoy his food. When Reyna reached for her drink Leo would do so too – maybe it was a psychological thing, but it was just to make sure she didn't feel out of place. They'd only speak to pass over the peri peri sauce or the salt.
With each bite, Leo felt like he was floating further and further into sweet paradise. And with Reyna opposite him, he had already been given a boost there. If he ever had the chance to come back here with her, he would.
But that was the thing. He'd already made total pants of half of the things on the date – Reyna may not have wanted a second time of utter catastrophe with this guy. The rule was if a first date goes badly, you don't get a second chance… well, you might, if you were Fortuna or maybe Venus' child. But he wasn't either, so that was out of the question.
It was times like these that he wished he had Piper's charmspeak ability. Then he could have easily recovered from his trouble with smooth pick-up lines or something.
All too soon Reyna put down her knife and fork in finished formation – Leo had been savouring the taste so much that she had cleared her plate and pot of mash, except from the bones. He felt an urgent need to hurry – he didn't want to hold her up. She took the napkin in her hands, gently dabbing her red lips before folding it up and placing it back on the table. Even when she'd just stuffed her face she still looked like a goddess herself.
Then Leo noticed something. Reyna's post-food face-wipe session had missed the hot sauce on her upper lip. It was like a giant mole – except it was red, specked with black bits and protruding from her face like a peninsula on an island.
Reyna stared idly at everything else in the room, oblivious to the hot sauce chunk getting comfy on her skin. Leo panicked inwardly – what was he supposed to do? He wracked his brain – nothing in the mental checklist could have prepared him for this. Did he tell her and embarrass her in front of him or let her walk around and embarrass herself unknowingly in front of everyone?
He decided in a split-second decision that the first one was definitely better, "Um, Reyna?"
She turned to him, "Yes?"
He used his knife to indicate her upper lip, "You have peri peri on your lip."
Without another second to spare, Reyna seized the used napkin near her plate and shrunk in her seat, "Where?" she hissed, her face burning.
"Just below your nose," he replied, using his knife again. Quickly she removed the evidence with three thorough wipes, "Is it gone?"
"Yep," Leo said, as she sighed.
"Thank you," she breathed, "That could have been very embarrassing…"
Leo smiled, hoping nothing was stuck in his teeth, "No worries. But just so you know, you didn't need it."
"You didn't need hot sauce on you because you're already hot."
Only after her face contorted to surprise did her realise how forward he sounded. Calling a woman 'beautiful' would have been far more acceptable than 'hot', which was usually a cheesy way to pick up chicks (great example: Coach Hedge), but then he couldn't have used it in a joke. Maybe he should have just shut up and kept eating?
But she chuckled, dipping her tone to a dangerous (yet oddly appealing) level, "Were you hoping that would happen just so you could say that?"
Leo hadn't actually planned that joke at all – it would have never run passed Annabeth and the other girls as suitable for the occasion. But Leo Valdez rolled with it, with a cheeky smirk, "Maybe."
She laughed again, which, unlike last time, she was ignorant to how it sounded to others. Leo laughed too, trying to cool his pulsing heart. It was beating so loud that he could have joined a marching band.
Reyna's laughter died much earlier than Leo anticipated, slowly dipping into nothing. Leo had to try not to make himself look awkward, quietening until he stopped completely. His date had suddenly turned sombre – like someone had switched off the happy light in her brain. She regarded Leo with a gentle yet solemn gaze, her eyes like black glass orbs reflecting the darkness.
"I'm sorry," she said – which, to be honest, was the last thing he'd expected to come out of her mouth. He thought she might have been offended by the hot joke, "I'm just… just nervous."
"Nervous?" Leo couldn't help but echo, "Why?"
Reyna looked away, "This date, Leo. I'm nervous sitting here with you," she faltered then, "Not that I'm saying you make me nervous – well, you do, but not in a bad way… I mean-…" Reyna was the praetor of the camp, the leader, the idol that inspired hard-work. She probably hauled men into battle crushed the spirits of her enemies on a daily basis; a bundle of nerves was the last thing he'd expect her to become, since she was so sure of herself and confident in her demigod comrades for the rest of the time.
Leo wasn't sure how to reply. Hades yeah, he was nervous too. He thought it'd be difficult not to be nervous on a first date, when you're exploring new things.
"It's okay," he eventually responded with a smile, "I'm… I'm nervous too. I mean, you can probably tell – I dropped a vase on you."
"You didn't drop a vase on me," Reyna said back to him, with a weak smile, "It was an accident."
"I know," the boy said, "But I probably wouldn't have done it if I'm not as shaky as I am, hahah."
She didn't reply. Reyna felt that it was good to know that both of them were equally as nervous and that she wasn't alone – even if the majority of the date was almost over. She kind of didn't want it to be over; Leo had a strange appeal to him and his personality.
He spoke again, "I guess I'm a bit like the Titanic, trembling at the bottom of the sea."
She couldn't tell if he was being serious, comparing himself to a sunken ship. Reyna narrowed her eyes, "Pardon?"
Leo grinned, "I'm a nervous wreck."
She laughed. Leo laughed. It was as if neither had anything to hide, as if their nerves had dissolved into nothingness. It made Reyna feel relieved that it wasn't a strange thing to feel, she'd been holding up the walls for so long.
The waiter came over then. He appeared regretful for interrupting their conversation, "Are you finished?"
Reyna held up her plate as Leo did the same, "Yes, thank you. It was delicious."
The waiter took the empty plates gratefully, "Thank you. Would you like the dessert menu?"
She looked to her date for guidance, "I'm full, but you can order something if you like..?" She could see the temptation on his face – no doubt did he want ice cream or something to fill to cracks in his stomach. But he shook his head.
"Nah, I'm good. Could we get the bill, please?"
"Of course," said the waiter, whisking himself away to the counter again.
Reyna stared at him funny, "Don't you want dessert?"
He shook his head again, "Really, I'm good. Besides," he feigned sombreness, "I don't think I dessert it."
After a brief chuckle, Reyna spoke, "How long do you spend writing and memorising these jokes?"
Leo shrugged, "Ages."
The waiter came back over with a tiny, rectangular-shaped tray – a thin and crispy sheet of shiny paper with printed words and numbers, "Your bill."
Leo quickly seized it before Reyna could, she retracted her hand in surprise as he spoke, "Thanks." The waiter went off. Leo didn't look at the bill.
"We gotta' agree on how we're gonna' pay this."
Ah, payment. Reyna understood now. She bent down for her purse, in her bag on the floor, and reached it up so he could see it. Reyna knew that it was traditional on first dates to pay exactly half each, rather than one person paying for their whole share. She could understand why this worked – to be fair to your significant other – and was grateful too. The idea of letting Leo pay for the whole thing just because he was the one that asked the question seemed horrendously selfish.
She regarded him with a cool smile, "Half each?"
He smiled, "You read my mind." But she could tell from that relief in his eyes that he didn't want to pay for all of it either. She clicked her purse open – coins of bronze, silver and gold denarii were wedged into the sides, as much as she could fit in. She saw Leo browse secretively at the receipt before passing it over to her in silence, before he brought out his own wallet.
The price was reasonable. It was cheaper than she expected, and for such nice food it was in fact very good value. She selected the appropriate amount, popping the coins with a tapping noise onto the tray. Leo did the same, and the tray became a little goldmine for the restaurant.
Her date exhaled deeply, "I've put the tip in," he said, with a hint of relief, "Shall we get going?"
"Of course," Reyna went to stand up, bending down for her belongings. When she rose, the waiter was back at their table.
"Thank you very much, sir, ma'am. I hope you have a pleasant-" he froze, "Oh…"
Reyna's insides suddenly flared with nerves. He had the coins in hand but looked doubtful. She stopped, midway pushing her chair behind the table, "What's wrong?"
"There is a foreign currency in here – is that a drachma?" he held it up, a rough and shimmering grey coin with the head of Athena printed on one side and Athena's owl on the other. Leo suddenly went pale.
"Oh my gods, I'm so sorry," he took back the drachma from the waiter's hands, rummaging in his wallet again, "I must have mixed it with the denarii… denarii…" Reyna noticed that he gulped then, his face glowing with hot sweat and his eyes contracting to the size of full-stops in a sentence. He had frozen solid, with only his hands in motion. They searched, more desperately, in his wallet for the denarii that – Reyna dreaded to acknowledge – he didn't have.
Without saying a word to embarrass him, she opened up her purse again and gave the waiter a litter of denarii, "Leo, remember, you gave your extra denarii to me because your wallet was so full. Here-" the waiter accepted it gratefully, "We apologise for the trouble."
Leo just stared at her, stunned. The waiter gave a quick, curt nod, "Thank you, and not at all. I hope you have a pleasant evening." He left the couple, taking the tray of coins with him.
When he was out of earshot, Leo spoke, like a cold whisper, "Reyna-"
"Not here. Outside," she didn't mean to sound so commanding, as Leo flinched and sped outside, dodging the other tables and diners. She followed, weaving in and out of the labyrinth of the Nolita restaurant; she knew that his happy demeanour had just sunken into the lowest pits of Tartarus.
Leo held the door open for her. As she approached, a rush of cool evening air singed at her skin. She shuddered, regretting not bringing some form of warmer clothing. The sky was dark, like drapes of indigo and navy littered with tiny white holes had been sewn across the horizon, and the crescent moon provided a reflected glow over New Rome. Many shops were still open, mostly restaurants, and those that had closed for the night blending and blurring into the background like melting butter onto a pan.
Her date was frightful, she could tell. The shine of his sweat was even more noticeable outside, where the light of the moon gave him a more angelic glow, like cinnamon. His hair, one combed, was now back to its curly and loud consistency on his head – like the mane of a lion.
She smiled, hoping to quell the fear that was obvious on his face. But it didn't go away.
"Reyna," he started, "I'm so, so, so sorry-"
"It's alright, Leo," she said, but he didn't stop.
"I thought I'd converted all of my drachmas into denarii, but apparently I missed a few – oh my gods, how did I miss it? They don't look alike – they don't even weigh alike," he turned slightly more happier, "Of course I'll pay you back. You just tell me how much I owe you and I'll repay you – with interest, if you like. I feel so bad-"
She cut him off, placing a finger to his lips. It was the only approach she thought would work – and it did. He went a bright red.
"Leo," she said firmly, "It's alright."
"No, it's not," he mumbled – his breath was warm against her fingers and sent a tingle down her arm, "It's like the most awkward and un -gentlemanly thing on this planet ever to do."
She shuddered then, partly because his lips were soft against her skin, but mostly because she was cold. Her arms back at her side, she was about to launch into a speech as to why she didn't mind when he cut her off.
"You're cold," he said. She saw his breath appear in the air, like puffs of whispy cotton candy.
"Only a little bit," Reyna replied, "But, Leo-" She froze as she saw him, removing his coat. It was black, plain and simple, contrasting with the checkered shirt that he wore, but completed his outfit well. He placed it over Reyna's shoulders, and she could feel the heat rise not only in her body but also on her face.
"That should keep you warm," he said, apparently ignorant of how red she had turned, "Here, I'll walk you home so you can enjoy inside heat instead."
She had to fight to keep her voice in one piece, "What about you? Aren't you cold?" Only after she had said that did she realise how stupid she sounded. Leo chuckled.
"Nah. I'm like a living furnace. The whole 'conjure-fire-from-my-fingertips' thing keeps me warm enough," Reyna could hear the pinch of nervousness back in his tone. He didn't sound so confident in himself anymore, and she missed it.
"Thank you," she said, shivering again. His jacket even smelt of him – a sweet scent she couldn't name that reminded her of a beach, as well as an aftertaste of engine grease. Just how she liked it.
The couple walked along in silence, Reyna with her arms wrapped around herself and face hidden from his view. Not that Leo had cared, pretty sure she didn't want him to look at her – he had severed whatever connection they had when he'd been unable to pay up his share. On his mental checklist, it even said, right at the top in screaming capital letters, MAKE SURE YOU CAN PAY. It had been Percy and Jason's first piece of advice, the first thing to be absolutely sure about. And he'd gone and ruined it anyway.
He felt hollow inside, like a black hole had sucked up all his innards and left him feeling nothing. Reyna, luckily, had been sympathetic enough to save him from eternal embarrassment in Nolita and paid up for him (what other choice did she have?), but that was going to be about it. He could picture it now – she would politely decline a second date before avoiding him for weeks and weeks after, never to look at her pretty face again.
When they reached her house – an expansive Roman villa, with wooden window blinds to keep the cold out and a low-lying slanted roof – Reyna removed the coat from her shoulders and handed it back to Leo. Finally, she looked at him in the eyes, smiling.
"Thank you, again," she whispered, before turning her head away, "And thank you for the date."
He took back his coat, flinging it over his free arm, "You're welcome… and I am really, really sorry. I owe you-"
"Indeed, you do," Reyna's expression had changed of one to complete seriousness, like the very strong stone columns holding up wide arches over her front door, "But, instead of repayment in denarii form, I am expecting a time and date for our next outing."
Leo's skin turned cold, and then blisteringly hot in a moment's notice. He spluttered out a reply before he could help himself, "A-another date?"
Reyna cocked an eyebrow, her expression even, "Yes. You do 'owe me', after all. Is there a problem?" She smiled gently then, a little hope in her eyes.
Leo gulped, "No, no, of course not," he said, too overwhelmed to fully comprehend the situation. She… wanted another date? Somehow he had done it – despite the mess he'd made of himself the entire evening she had requested another date. Confusion welled up alongside his triumph.
"It's just…" he spoke again, "I'm surprised you even want to look at me because I bungled so badly – I was a disastrous date…"
But Reyna laughed, puncturing the night silence with her commanding noises. He wasn't sure whether it was good-natured or a snigger, but by the way she looked like she was enjoying herself, he guessed (and hoped) it was the former. Then, to his surprise, she took a step closer. The scent of her perfume drifted into his nose, like a field of flowers, and Leo could swear the fire was crackling underneath the skin on his cheeks.
"Yes, but you do it in a masterful way… it's sort of… appealing," she said, standing on the tips of her feet and whispered luxuriously, "Besides, mistakes often set us on the right path."
Without warning, she pressed her lips against his cheek in the form of a small kiss. They were soft and plump, like someone was massaging him with silk. Sunshine and rainbows and unicorn happiness burst inside his stomach, coursing through his entire body. For five whole seconds this sensation lasted, before she withdrew. Leo was left in a daze; his legs had turned to bags of jelly and his vision blurred.
That kiss was awesome.
But then Reyna screamed.
"Oh my gods, Leo! You're on fire!"
She was right. Leo's hair had caught fire. The feeling of overwhelming delight disappeared, Leo yelped in surprise ("Gah! My hair is on fire!"), before running around in circles and madly patting his hair with his hands. The fire died out as quickly as it came, leaving only a smoky stench in the air.
Reyna had held her breath, which she exhaled in a shaky motion. Her hands had flown to her mouth, and now she was holding Leo by the arms, "A-are you alright?"
"Oh, yeah," he said, panting hard from the shock, "I'm sorry… Some things just send me into a frenzy… Are you okay?"
"Of course I'm okay!" she protested, going red, "Honestly, my boyfriend sets himself on fire and asks if I'm okay?"
But Leo had ceased all movement, "Boyfriend?" he echoed. Reyna, still holding onto him, let go immediately. If she could go any redder, she did.
"Well, yes…" she faltered, "Why? Do you not want to be my-"
"No! I mean – yes, I do, but-" Leo shook his head to free him from his stupidity, "I mean… yes. I'd love it."
Reyna smiled, "Good. But don't you dare even think about pampering me, okay?" She shivered again, "I suppose I'd better be going now."
"Okay," Leo said, letting his disappointment show, before recovering with a smirk, "I guess I'll see you soon, girlfriend?"
Reyna smirked back, "Yes, you will be, Valdez," she said, making her way to her front door, "And I'm still expecting a time and date soon."
"Of course!" she smiled, before the front door shut behind her. The date was over, and Leo was left alone at the front of her house.
He drew in breath before exhaling deeply. Even though he had been late, never eaten there before, spilt water on her, ordered the wrong drink, failed at small talk, rambled about mechanics, embarrassed her with hot sauce and bad jokes, been a nervous wreck and unable to pay for his meal, she still wanted to go out with him again. Even better, they were now… a thing. His brain felt like someone had wrapped it up in a cashmere scarf – that fuzzy, pleased feeling that only Reyna could make him feel. His friends would be proud and his mental checklist ticked with the bets point of all – get a second date.
He turned on his heel, back to his place, and clasped his hands together.
"Thank you, Hephaestus for helping me through this. You really pulled through," he said, before dropping his head down in defeat, "And for the sake of my soul, please please please help me with the next one."
It was the vile taste of rancid leftovers that finally chased the last vestiges of unconsciousness from him mind. Thirteen year old Robin forced his eyes open and regretted it instantly when the all-too-familiar, pulsating pounding threatened to split his skull. 'Damn it, why am I the one who always ends up getting chloroformed," he complained internally, attempting to massage the headache that was centralized behind his temples. Except his hands wouldn't move; that was when he realized how he was laying.
On his side, with his hands unable to be moved from behind him.
It was always disconcerting, being kidnapped when he was Dick Grayson. If he had been Robin he could have fought back, but as the adopted son of billionaire Bruce Wayne he knows only the rudimentary basics of self defense; easily overpowered by someone determined enough. Especially if his abductor was armed with chloroform soaked rags and rendered him unconscious. Which left him helpless to whatever means of containment was employed to keep him captive.
He noted his restraints were tight around the wrists and elbows, their thickness leaving him believing them rope. He tried to shift his body to get a better look at his bindings only to discover identical bonds around his ankles and knees. He twisted his wrists to test for any give in the ropes. It only took a matter of seconds for him to discover that there was none. With his sigh of frustration he became more aware of the almost painfully tight fabric tight over his mouth.
He fought the temptation to scream his rage out against the gag and remembered his training. He tilted his head back and around, taking in every inch of the dark room he was in. It was circular, small, barely six feet in diameter with walls reaching maybe seven feet up. There was no light fixture, the white plastic – no, fiberglass – walls thin enough to let in outside light but thick enough that he couldn't see anything outside them. There was a single hatch on the roof, maybe eighteen inches wide, but no hinges on this side, nor evidence of a locking mechanism, though he didn't doubt that there was one.
In other words, even if he managed to get himself free he wouldn't get out of the room. No, he wasn't in a room. He was in some kind of tank or cistern.
Okay, that was new…
Resigned to his situation, Dick let his head drop back to the floor. 'Okay, enough time has to have passed, or a ransom demand made. Bruce and Alfred will know something's wrong.' He hoped so; it meant help wasn't too far away and Batman would be along to untie him. The sooner the better, as far as he was concerned. Nothing annoyed him more than being unable to move around as he chose.
Not to mention…
Well, he would never willingly admit it to anyone, but it wasn't just the inability to move or the indignation that came with being held captive. Being tied up just plain scared him. It left him vulnerable, unable to defend himself from whatever his captives had planned. And a lot of the time, what they had planned was something with lots of pain and/or death; heavy on the death part.
The pain he could deal with; Batman had seen to increasing his pain tolerance in the first year of his training to become Robin. The threat of death though, to know his imminent demise was being plotted with no way for him to fight or prevent it-
Yes, Dick Grayson was scared.
But he wasn't just mild-manner-junior-high-student Dick Grayson. He was also Robin, the Boy Wonder, and he had been trained how to cope with and use that fear instead of panicking the way he had the first time. He could remember it exactly, every last detail as it was something that still featured in his nightmares from time to time, and it has been terrifying…
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
He was supposed to spend the weekend with Bruce learning about wilderness survival. The Tillman Ravine in Stokes State Forest of Jersey was to have been the perfect place: Only sixty miles from Wayne Manor and secluded, lush, and easy to get lost in. He was supposed to spend time with his new guardian and mentor.
Dick was not supposed to be grabbed as he stepped out of the tent in the middle of the night to find a tree to relieve himself. He was not supposed to be held with a gun to his temple and a hand over his mouth as Bruce was dragged from the tent. He was not supposed to watch the civilian persona of The Batman beaten into unconsciousness and unable to help either of them.
He was not supposed to be tied up and carried away.
At nine years old, Dick was familiar with the idea of being tied up. Between Saturday morning cartoons, comics, and Thomas Solomon - the escape artist the Haley's Circus Sideshow - he knew what it meant. He did not, however, think he would ever know how it felt.
His hands wouldn't move. No matter how hard or which way he pulled against the tight layers of duct tape winding his slender wrists and ankles, he could move. He was at least grateful they had used the tape and not ropes like he has seen Thomas use. That would have rubbed his skin raw and most likely left bruises. The tape was still making his hands and feet numb from the lack of circulation.
The worst part was the gag, though. Thomas had never said anything about being gagged. The thick, metallic grey tape pulled painfully at his lips whenever he tried to open his mouth. He didn't do it very often, but he couldn't help it. Even though he could still breathe through his nose, the ability was cut in half and he felt like he was suffocating.
Now, several hours later and miles from their original campsite, Dick was fighting against his restraints again, desperate to get to his still unconscious guardian on the opposite side of the room. They had been left alone after being carried into the basement of a rundown cabin shortly after dawn and he had yet to pause in his efforts for freedom. He was panting through his nose and struggling to stay awake.
A new feeling was starting to overcome the boy, something not unlike how his father had once described what one of Haley's clowns had suffered – claustrophobia. His stomach was knotting with fear the more he fought uselessly against his bindings; a fear he had never felt before. The sensations of helplessness and hopelessness were not something he had ever felt before. They were horrid feelings and made his eyes tear up and his body tremble with fright.
He had to stop.
Dick let his struggles subside and his head drop wearily to the floor. He inhaled shakily through his nose and regarded his unmoving guardian. It was comforting, in a way, having Bruce there. The man was tied as he was, and hadn't moved once since the assault happened – that really couldn't be a good thing. Dick could only hope he wasn't hurt as badly as he seemed to be.
Voices sounded upstairs, and Dick hated how he cringed when heavy footsteps walked overhead. Their captors were only a few feet away and at any moment could decide to do something – anything! – do their captives. And there was nothing Dick could do to stop them!
The sound of talking continued and he let himself focus on the voices instead of his dark thoughts. He couldn't make out much, but enough to know that a ransom demand had been made. To whom, he couldn't be sure but he assumed Mr. Pennyworth and he didn't doubt that it would be paid.
"-dump 'em in Stoney Lake tonight?"
'No!' the boy screamed in his head, his eyes wide with terror. "No, if they throw us in tied up like this we won't be able to swim we'd-" And then he realized that was the point. The men would have their money, what did they need him and Bruce for. They were liabilities, and it didn't seem like these men were against committing murder. Dick's heart was racing, his body shaking. If he could only get free, but there was no way to get the tape off his wrists.
… But what about Bruce's wrists?
Dick looked over at his guardian again and his panicked blue eyes met now opened brown. The man was conscious and had obviously heard what the men were planning. Bruce's eyes were reassuring, but there was something else in them as well. "He's almost as scared as I am!" That was definitely not reassuring, but at least he was awake. Maybe, just maybe…
The young acrobat twisted his body into sitting position, straining a few muscles in the process, but feeling a bit better about having accomplished even that much. He felt his would-be mentor watching him carefully as he started to inch his way across the floor. He hadn't gotten far when he lost his balance and fell hard on his side. He clenched his eyes shut and groaned behind the gag, embarrassed to hear the groan nothing more than a soft, scared-sounding whimper.
Another sound caught his attention and he opened his eyes to see that Bruce had sat up and was working his way toward him. The effort was obviously tiring him; the man's dark hair was sticking to the sweat and blood on his face, but there was a determination that kept the man moving forward. Dick choked back the overpowering fear and, with his own resolve, pushed his body until he was sitting again and turned his back to Bruce. Then he started to move his way backward toward Bruce.
'I will never take moving freely for granted again!'
The sound of voices rose and made Dick wonder how long it would be before the men outside decided to come inside. Then he nearly jumped out of his skin at the touch against his back a moment before he became aware of Bruce's presence next to him.
Chilled fingers brushed against his arms, searching blindly for the edge of the bindings. Dick felt a breath of hope catch in his throat. Would this work? If Bruce's fingers were as numb as his it might not. Even if it did, it would take a while though neither knew how long they actually had.
Dick tried not to think about it. He closed his eyes, tried to calm his breathing, and hold back the tremors so as not to make it more difficult for his guardian. He couldn't feel the loosening of the bindings, not yet, but he could feel as Bruce tugged more and more of the thick tape away from him. It took all of Dick's restraint not to wrench his arms apart, particularly when the pins and needles assaulted his hands as circulation was slowly being restored.
Several times Bruce's fingers dropped away and the fear surged anew. He knew it had to be tiring and awkward, but the minutes until he felt those fingers start to work against were excruciating. What if Bruce was hurt worse than he though? What if he was unconscious again? What if they didn't get free before the men decided enough was enough? What if-
Minutes, or hours, Dick couldn't tell. But the last loop of tape suddenly pulled painfully at his skin and he was able to pull his arms apart. His shoulders screamed in protest as he was able to bring his arms in front of him and he groaned at the pain that lanced across his chest and down his back. Then he froze and feared he'd been heard. When no one burst down the stairs he carefully eased the tape off his mouth before turning and working with uncoordinated fingers on Bruce's bindings.
It only took a few seconds before Bruce was grunting his discomfort at the sudden freedom after hours of being bound, expelling a single huff of air through his nose as he ripped the tape from his face. Another minute and both were tearing the last of the tape from the ankles and trying to stand.
'Something else I never considered about this,' Dick thought disparagingly as he lost his balance and stumbled.
Bruce's arms were there to catch him and without hesitation enveloping him in a warm hug. The older man's arms were trembling and Dick eagerly returned the embrace. Dick suddenly realized that this wasn't The Batman, a man with no fear. This was Bruce Wayne, a man who had seen the boy who would be his son held at gunpoint and tied up; a man who knew fear intimately. Neither was ready to relinquish their hold, but after the shaking subsided they both knew they had to get out before their escape was discovered.
Bruce was the first to step back, and looking up into the man's face Dick saw the emergence of The Batman. Without a word he was guided to the stairs and underneath them. With a look, he was instructed to stay put and gave a curt not of compliance. Then Batman was up the stairs and into the upper floors of the cabin.
Their captors were taken out of the State park in an ambulance.
Dick sighed through the fabric of his gag, remembering that night with unwanted clarity. The police and park rangers' arrival had ended the ordeal, but it had been a very long time before the nightmares of being tied up stopped.
He shivered slightly and tried to think of something else. Thinking about how frightened he was every time he'd been tied was just making it worse. Closing his eyes he forced himself to think about the present situation, which wasn't much better but it was a start.
Fighting. His eyes snapped open.
Someone nearby – several someones by the sound of it – was getting their butts kicked. Seconds later, the welcomed deep voice was heard.
"Where is the boy?"
Less than a minute later a shadow was crawling up onto the top of the tank and the sealed hatch was ripped off. Dick looked up at the cowl of his savior and felt the tensions in his body fade.
"The opening is too small, I won't fit through," Batman told him quietly, his voice the comforting baritone of Bruce, and Dick nodded his understanding. "If I drop you a knife could you cut yourself free? Climb out?"
Robin tested the ropes binding him and winced. He couldn't feel his fingers and they were barely responding to him. He shook his head.
Batman disappeared from the hatch but the shadow of his form remained. A moment later the smell of burning plastic filled the tank and he choked on the smell as Batman cut through the fiberglass with a laser cutting tool. It took a few minutes, and the approaching sirens of the police were getting louder, but then the side of the tank was falling away.
"Are you hurt?" His mentor was next to him in an instant, pulling the gag off and easing Dick into sitting up. It was always the first question.
Dick shook his head as his arms were cut free with the edge of a batarang. "Nauseous from the chloroform and my pride's stinging, but otherwise I'm fine." Glad as he was for the rescue, it was still a blow to the ego.
Seconds later he was free and the police were finally showing up. He rubbed at his wrists and winced at the pain in his fingers as the circulation was returned to them. A strong hand fell to his shoulder and he looked past the cowl and into the eyes of his mentor – no, his father. Bruce squeezed gently before helping the boy to his feet and out of the tank.
Bruce knew. He didn't say anything but the concern was there and the reassurance from just a gently touch conveyed just how well he understood Dick's fear. It was unnerving to be so helpless, even if it was nowhere as terrifying as the first time.