"I'm really sorry that *bzzt * able to be there for now, not *bzzt * I finish my mission. Once I'm done, I'll get there as *bzzt *"
The call was abruptly cut off from the Batcomputer. That was expected due those circumstances, but at least he learned what he most needed to know for now. He then reads the various data again at the screen. Besides the mythos, Bruce didn't know that much about werewolves. After all, he only fought one once, and the other…
"So, how are the tests going so far?" The billionaire didn't need to turn his chair around to recognize that that one was Dick. The young man steps were light, but still echoing through the cave, announcing his approach. The noises were enough though to scare a group of bats that flew away from that bright huge chamber. While Dick approaches, each Batcave trophy would get closer to him, revealing its details and reminding him of past cases and villains. Some of those criminals could only be called humans from their physical appearance, but essentially they were beasts that take on human form. Others would not only look but even embrace their monstrosities. However, all of them share the fact that they were once human and now are nothing more than freaks that take pleasure in ruining lives.
Dick immediately shakes off these thoughts. He needed to focus on the chair in front of him, which was hiding the back of his former mentor.
"The tests are done. I was just about to tell you the results, but there were some measures that I needed to take care of first."
"Yeah… about that, I think I already know the results."
Bruce didn't wait for the rest of it to turn and look at Dick. And at first glance, he understood immediately what his former protégé meant. Unlike earlier in the morning, there were some sparse facial hair on his face now, as if he didn't shave for days. Besides that, and the fact that he was scratching nonstop his new hairs, there was apparently nothing else. Unless the splint on his left arm and the change to his casual clothes.
"This is going way too fast, Bruce. Please, tell me that you at least know when it will happen."
"Around 3 days. From what I've heard."
"From what you have heard… so it seems that you have already get in touch with this contact of yours, right?"
"I did, but it seems that the timing was the worst possible. It's going to take days until we get the help that we will need. Until then, I'll try to find a cure, and any clue that will lead us to your attacker as well."
"Ah, you mean..."
"Yes. I've been to the scene. Besides the blood, fur and claw marks, I couldn't find anything else that would draw us closer to the werewolf. He simply disappeared, as if he took care to not leave anything that would hint us back to him. Which supports the conjecture that it definitely wasn't a random attack, but a premeditated one. The question now is why."
"Well, that's gonna be tough. I have a list full of villains that would hold a grudge enough to try and ruin my modeling career, but none of them howl at full moons or appreciate dog food."
Bruce raises an eyebrow.
"Sorry, I'm nervous." says Dick while annoyingly scratching his face "But really Bruce, supernatural stuff is not something typical in Blüdhaven, at least not since I've started fighting crime there as Nightwing. These things are more likely to be attracted to you rather than the other way around."
"Hm… yes. Indeed." reflective, Bruce instinctively brings both closed hands to his mouth. What Dick has just said brought his attention now to his own list of villains. It's not uncommon for them to try to deal a blow on him through the people around him, especially the Robins. But just a few know that Nightwing was once the Boy Wonder, and even so, none of them have such modus operandi, not that he would immediately recall. Resorting to the supernatural and targeting only Dick, instead of Damian and the others as well… what would be the true motivations of this person? What he or she would gain from such scheme?
"Bruce, if there is something else that I can help you with, you can just tell me." The billionaire takes a glance again at Dick. He looked as serious as to the point that he finally stopped his scratching.
A cure could take months or, in the worst case scenario, years. There were times that he was able to find a cure for a plague or disease in a matter of days, but those were few, and only out of sheer luck. The werewolf blood that he obtained at the scene was contaminated, and therefore, compromised. A linear analysis would be impossible with that sample, thus hindering the chances of obtaining the cure. He didn't dare to tell that piece of information to Dick right now. That would only bring unnecessary frustration, thus resulting in inefficacy. However, he wouldn't need to. If he finds the werewolf, he will be able to obtain a purer sample from the carrier and have a better chance of discovering a cure.
"I think the best you can do now is take your rest, Dick. I'm surprised that you are already walking, but even more that Alfred has permitted you to leave your room just like that."
A metallic sound suddenly comes out from the cave's secret entrance, making both men look at its source.
"Speaking about him..." Dick look apprehensive at the angry butler descending the cave steps, coming closer to them in his familiar sophisticated manner.
"Ah, there you are Master Dick! I take my eyes off of you for some minutes and you disappear just like that." though Alfred was clearly displeased, the way that he was still crossing his arms were telling that at least he didn't lose his composure yet.
"I'm sorry, Alfred. But you see, I'm fine. Well, at least in a way that I'm managing to walk by myself now." the young man was rubbing the back of his head, still feeling kind of embarrassed for making Alfred worry.
"Yes, I can see that, Master Dick. Now, if you are done imitating one of the worst traits of Master Bruce..." Bruce tried to not raise his eyebrow at Alfred "...I've prepared dinner for you. Miss Barbara and Master Damian are already at the table waiting for us, if you both would give us the honor."
"You don't even need to ask, Alfred. But in Bruce's case..." Dick then looks at his former mentor. Without saying nothing yet, Bruce knew what was about to be asked of him "… it always comes to that, right?" teased Grayson.
"You know that our time is short, Dick."
"Yeah, I know. I'm as desperate as you, Bruce, but I also know that you have been eating Alfred's cucumber sandwiches more than the average. You should take these rare chances of eating a meal with us, when Gordon is not calling you, nor the city is getting burned to the ground."
"Master Dick is right, sir. Even though you must be tired of hearing me saying this, but I suggest that you should not push yourself today and get a proper meal."
Both Grayson and Alfred were looking at Bruce, waiting for his response. He didn't move on his chair.
"Look, Dick, I'm really worried that..."
"It will only take some minutes." cuts off the young man "I'm worried and anxious as well to help you work for a cure as soon as possible, but that doesn't mean that I want to see you dead tired, especially after days of working on Penguin's and Black Mask's cases. Now let's just go already. After hearing that dinner is ready, my stomach won't stop complaining."
Dick takes the lead, though Bruce was still looking curiously at his back.
As Grayson said, it took only a few minutes for all of them to be reunited and sit around the huge table. Usually they would use a smaller one, but due the fact that Dick and Barbara were there as well, they needed a bigger one. The chandelier above them illuminated the room, giving a touch of extravagance that none of them cared about.
Most of them were enjoying their meal, eating and even occasionally chatting. Especially Alfred and Barbara. But not Dick, who has been silent since he was served his dinner. Looking blankly at his plate, he was distractedly messing the good looking pasta with the fork.
"Master Dick, are you okay?"
That caught him off guard, making he immediately sit upright on his chair.
"Hm… yes. I'm fine, Alfred. Thanks." However that reply doesn't work, as everyone was now looking at him and trying to understand what was going on.
"I apologize for insisting on this matter, master Dick, but if I'm not mistaken, you said earlier that you were famished. Are you sure that you are feeling well? Or maybe the dish is not to your taste. If so, I can change it..."
"I'm fine, Alfred. Thanks." Dick didn't want to sound rude and cut off Alfred like that. He inadvertently was blunter than he intended to. The embarrassment makes him take off his eyes of his friend and contemplate his meal again. He was indeed hungry, and yet every time that he looked at his plate there was a strange feeling that wouldn't let go of him.
"You know… some rare meat on this pasta wouldn't hurt either." finally muttered the young man. And in the next seconds, he noticed that the cutlery noises has stopped and everyone became silent, looking at him. He instantly sighed in frustration and shame, hiding his face with both palms of his hands.
"Please, tell me that you didn't hear that out loud."
"Sorry, Dick, we all did." said Barbara. She tried to not sound sad, but she didn't manage to.
"Unfortunately, yes." agreed Damian. His voice sounded as if he was annoyed with how that situation was unraveling before them.
At the end of the table, there was Bruce, observing Dick with a look that he knew too well. It was as if the billionaire alter ego was sitting there, analyzing him as if he was a test subject. What ticked him off even more, for some reason that he couldn't explain.
"Master Dick, if you wish so, I can bring something else. Anything that you would like." there was a glimpse of pity on Alfred's eyes that made Grayson even more uncomfortable. If that was not enough, the feelings of awkwardness and guilt were already proving to be more overwhelming than it should.
"The pasta is great, Alfred, thank you." this time he finally managed to be himself; the more cheerful and friendly self at least "Your cooking was ever great, and I don't plan to stop enjoying it any time soon." He smiled in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere and give a closure to that matter. Nonetheless that didn't bring back the sounds of cutlery, nor made his friends stop looking at him. Even so, Dick started to eat, despite the strange feeling of uneasiness that came over him while doing so.
At first it took some moments for everyone to start eating again, yet the silence was persisting to remain. Dick then pulled Barbara's chain, what proved to be successful, since soon everyone was talking with each other again. However, what he didn't notice, is that Bruce wasn't finished with him yet. During his conversations with Damian or Alfred, the billionaire would watch the young man in the corner of his eye here and there, for the rest of the dinner.
The rest of the meal went well without any more troubles and soon they were all done and leaving. Alfred started to clean the table, since Dick and Barbara offers to help were refused by him. Bruce doesn't waste time and gets closer to them.
"Dick, I need you to come to the cave with me. We will need more blood and other biosamples to start working for a cure."
"Right." he nodded. Barbara doesn't say anything, as well as Damian, who was observing the group from a distance while grabbing an apple from a fruit bowl at the other side of the table. As soon Bruce and Grayson make their way towards the cave, both decides to do the same and follow them.
Some time later, Bruce was already looking for the syringes and other equipment in the cave. Damian at first was helping his father with the computer, and he would have been at it for a while, if the Great Dane, Titus, didn't run to him and started to bark. Damian knew what the dog was asking out of him: food. The boy then proceeds to the other corridor, while being followed by his canine companion and leaving behind Grayson and Gordon to continue their conversation in the cave.
"I already told you that I'm gonna stay until everything is solved, Dick."Barbara wasn't mad, but resolute. She was already used to his stubbornness.
"I'm just saying that Bruce is already here to help me with a cure. There is no need for you to keep staying here and take unnecessary risks. I… I don't want to involve anyone else in this mess, Babs." He gently caress her hair, unintentionally making Barbara blush. She takes his hand between both hers in response.
"Risks? Dick, we are talking about you not a…"
"Monster?" cuts off Dick, taking out abruptly his hand from her grasp "Because that's exactly what I'm becoming, Babs. You don't understand. You didn't have to fight that thing to see how strong and fast he is. I've barely managed to survive."
"But you did, didn't you? Don't you think that that was strange? The way that he just left you there, unconscious, when he could have done worse." she puts her hand on his right shoulder, ignoring that last unthinkingly motion of him. And Dick would have let that hand be if it was not important to make her understand. He then grabs her hand gently with his left one, even though it evoked a sad look in Barbara when she sees the splint on his arm moving in front of her.
"Babs, please, stop. I know where you are going and this is just a conjecture. We don't know for sure if that was really its intention or if it was being manipulated. Those things are fierce and brutal, even Bruce needed Superman help to deal with one of them. Superman, of all the people, Babs!" Dick only noticed that he was holding her hands harder when Barbara flinched. Still, she was only surprised, not scared.
"I.. I'm sorry, Babs. But can't you see?" in awe he let go of her "I'm telling you, I don't know what this might turn out, and if the worse happens I.. I'll never forgive myself. That's why I need you to stay out of this. I'd be telling the same for Damian as well, but the kid never listens."
"Look, Dick." sighes a sad but smirking Barbara "Do I ever need to remind you of what I said earlier? I told you, we are family and I won't leave you to deal with this all by yourself. You..."
"Everything is settled, Dick." cuts off Batman while approaching the couple "The blood will be the first one, and then the rest of the biosamples." Both of them looks at Batman, but it is Dick who sighes.
"I'm going, Bruce. And you, Babs… at least think about it, right?"
"I already have." smiles Barbara back.
"Stubborn." though Dick said it in a lighthearted way, he wasn't smiling. Now the only thing that he could do was to help Bruce work on a cure as soon as possible. Three days is an insane deadline, but they have done miracles of this kind before, and now, more than ever, they needed that kind of luck. Precautions will be necessary, of course. But even so, he wouldn't give up that easily.
And while Dick's mind was racing with several ideas, Bruce on another hand was leading him to walk past the Batcomputer. That would have been so, if an alarm had not been triggered from the computer.
Damian came out running from the corridor, getting closer to them as quickly as Barbara. All of them were now watching Bruce trying to access the notification showing on the screen. It was a call from Commissioner Gordon. And since everyone was in their casual clothes, only the audio was allowed.
"I wouldn't have called you if it didn't concern you, but the results from the autopsy just came out." says a middle-aged man voice coming from the screen.
"The same diagnostic as the other one?"
"Yes. Fear gas. The victim this time was a young woman. Jennifer Warren, 25 years. Single. Just moved to Gotham last month.
"The other victim was a man, 40 years old. Born and raised in Gotham." continues Batman "Scarecrow is not being selective with his victims. At least, not for obvious reasons. I'm getting closer through the stakeouts and surveillance, but the streets are not that talkative yet."
"Yes, not yet. But this time we've managed to get the license plate from the van. It belongs to a guy named Sean Coleman. He was arrested some time ago for being involved as an enforcer in a drug trafficking gang. And now he's just received a parole last week. We didn't find him yet, but we are still in the hunt."
"If we find anything else, I'll contact you."
Batman pushes the button, and the audio silences.
"Dick, we will take the samples and run the computer for the analysis before I go. It will take some hours for the first result, but I need you to stay here and do the rest until I come back."
"PCR and the usual. Right." complies Dick.
"I'll go with you, father" Batman just nods to Damian's statement. This time the situation was not dire, and it was an opportunity to improve his sons' detective skills. Next, he looks at Barbara and waits for her answer.
"If you don't mind Bruce, this time I'd like to stay and help you as the Oracle."
Bruce didn't do or say anything, and Barbara knew that this meant he agreed. Together with Damian, he walks towards the lockers where their uniforms are. It was already late, but for them, the night was just beginning.
And thanks again for the reviews and compliments. Sorry for taking a bit longer with this chapter than the last ones, but I hope you enjoyed. If you didn't, well, I'm sorry ^_^', but at least I can tell you that the next one is gonna have some action ;)
Now, I'm being sincere here: it took all my effort to not write somewhere "Dick, don't be such a dick, you dick." Yeah… sry for the silliness, I can't help it, as much as Dick can't help with his smart talks.
Well, I wish you guys happy holidays! And may the next year bring us more joys and excellent comics like that Batman #37 (I laughed my ass off when I saw that tunnel of love scene, and Batman was so 'Groot' like with his "no" quotes hahaha!). DC is being amazing with the Rebirth and Dark Nights: Metal series guys! I'm telling you!
'Till next time! Cya! ^_^