by MrFox712 and Libbylawrence
“I hate parties,” Dick Grayson said to himself as he fidgeted with the lapels of his tuxedo.
Despite the demands of his time as Red Robin, Dick found himself in New York at the behest of a former ambassadorial colleague and now a candidate for the New York Senate.
Loath as he was leave Gotham City, Dick had argued in vain as his fiancée Karen Starr insisted he attend the affair. She had already made plans to visit her cousin Clark, and with the invitation to the soirée in hand, she had no compunctions about encouraging Dick to go to New York. “After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder,” she teased.
Ginger ale in hand, Dick made his way through the crowded ballroom. Most of the attendees, like himself, were foreign service personnel, albeit still in the government’s employ. The remainder were New York’s political elite, with a smattering of local celebrities. In the face of all this, Dick was glad that he was a Gothamite and no longer involved in the political arena.
This, however, made for an incredibly boring evening. Dick smiled emptily, occasionally giving an obligatory nod or a mock enthusiastic handshake with someone he knew he would not be meeting again. After negotiating the crowd, he at last spotted an open window and a balcony beyond.
He took in the cool night air while looking north toward Central Park. It was all he could do to not leap over the balcony’s edge and plummet toward the ground, at the last second releasing his bat-line to soar up into the air once again. At least, he would have if he’d thought to bring his costume.
Sighing, he looked into the night sky, picking out various constellations. Behind him the occasional revelers passed by, giggling to themselves. In the room beyond, a round of applause went up as the senatorial hopeful was introduced. Dick turned to go inside, his sense of duty overcoming his boredom, when he noticed a young woman standing before him.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you, Mister…?” she offered in an exotic accent.
“Grayson. Formerly of the diplomatic service, and one-time ambassador to South Africa,” Dick replied as he offered his hand.
“Ah, yes. Richard Grayson. I’ve heard of you,” she replied, taking his hand into hers. “My name is Talia — Talia al Ghul.”
“You’ve heard of me?” Dick said, somewhat surprised. “Ambassadors don’t exactly make the headline news.”
Talia smiled, then released his hand. “I did a report on U.S. and South African relations for my senior thesis. I was a political economics major at Oxford. You figured very prominently in my work.”
“Glad I could help,” Dick joked. “You got an A, of course, didn’t you?”
“Actually, no,” Talia scowled. “The professor said my report was naive and overly romantic in its assessment of the topic.”
“Gee, well, um — I’m sorry about that,” Dick apologized, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment.
“I made that up,” Talia replied while Dick fidgeted. “You know, you’re cute when you’re embarrassed.” With that she wrapped an arm around his and steered him toward the ballroom. “Let’s find a place to talk more.”
Dick barely contained as sigh of relief now that a dull night had begun to show signs of promise. Talia steered them through the crowd effortlessly, and in no time they found an unoccupied table in a remote corner.
“So what brings you to this soirée?” Dick asked.
“I’m not part of any delegation here,” Talia responded between sips of champagne. “I work for a non-profit organization, an… environmental concern. We’re here to make sure that our issues are represented in the election.”
“Environmental issues in New York? You must be kidding. No offense, Talia, but people here are more worried about their jobs and the taxes they pay.”
Talia’s expression turned to disgust as she arose from the table. “Typical. You’re no different than all the others.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Dick blurted out as he reached out for Talia’s arm. “I wasn’t passing judgment here, just making a statement.”
She resisted for a moment, trying to pull away. When she saw he was sincere, she relented, her face softening. “Have you ever seen the purity of the Sahara Desert? Have you ever stood on the pristine blue ice of an Arctic glacier?” The passion in her eyes drew him in like a magnet. “No, don’t answer me,” she said, placing a finger on his lips while pulling him closer.
“I have seen such beauty. Such things as you could not imagine, living as these people do, in concrete canyons and steel towers.” Her eyes were glistening, with tears, or was it just the light? “Such beauty,” she murmured again, their lips almost locking.
Suddenly, a shot rang out, and all hell broke loose.
Dick felt weightless — weightless and warm, surrounded in a comforting darkness. Oddly, he didn’t seem to mind; the warmth was all enveloping.
He was content to drift in the darkness alone, but something nagged at him from the back of his mind. Slowly a name formed in his mind: Talia.
“Talia,” he muttered as the dark warmth began to recede. “Talia,” he gasped suddenly as the darkness was gone, replaced by a harsh fluorescent light.
“She must have been some date,” a male voice, teenage by the sound of it, joked from the side. Dick turned his head toward the source.
“Jason?! What’re you doing here?” Dick tried to sit up but slumped back as his head began to throb.
Jason Todd scowled, seeing the look of pain on his mentor’s mien. “Helena sent me; thought you might need some back-up.”
“Where am I?” Dick asked as he motioned for Jason to close the venetian blinds. The throbbing in his head subsided slightly as Jason drew them closed.
“Doctor’s Hospital, about three blocks from Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence. They brought you here after the shooting last night.”
“That’s right, the shooting. Last thing I remember was a loud crack, people shouting; I turned to get Talia, and then… nothing.”
“I got the skinny from one of the waiters,” Jason replied as he sat on the edge of Dick’s bed. “They said it looked like you took a bad spill; they figure with all the people panicking, someone just knocked you over.”
“No, that’s not what happened. No one touched me. Believe me, no one touches me if I don’t want them to.”
“That’s what I figured as well. The docs are waiting for the blood test to come back.”
“I’ll need a sample myself. If there’s anything amiss, they may not catch it. But I’ll need some of the blood taken from last night.”
“Already done, boss,” said Jason, the teenager known also as Batwing, crime-fighting partner of Red Robin. He smiled as he withdrew a small vial from his jacket. “Nurse’s aide was pretty cute. I got her phone number, too.”
“What about the gunfire?”
“No one was struck. Surprising, considering how many people were in the room. But the police want to talk to you and your mystery date. Seems that you were the last two on the balcony just before the shot was fired.”
“Curious, that,” Dick muttered as he caressed his temples. “I went out there for some air. A few minutes later, she came out as well. We talked a bit, then decided to go back inside.”
“Well, maybe she–”
A knock on the door interrupted Jason’s reply, both men turning to face the door as a middle-aged black man in a lab coat entered the room. He frowned upon seeing Jason.
“We have some news on your blood test, Mr. Grayson, but I think you might prefer to hear it in private.”
“It’s OK, doctor. This is Jason Todd, my personal assistant.”
“Very well, then. The toxicology reports are in,” he said gravely. “We’re still awaiting several other analyses.”
“Go on,” Dick replied stoically.
“Well, Mr. Grayson, it appears you’ve been poisoned.”
“Poisoned? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“It’s not for you to understand, Ubu. But your vexation amuses me,” Talia said, mocking the large man as both stood on the terrace of Talia’s Trump Tower apartment.
“I thought you sought to have Grayson take you into his confidence.” When Talia didn’t respond, the large man continued. “That by being friendly with him, you would gain his trust and access to his resources.”
“That was my plan, initially. But he is involved with another, and his type may be swayed by seduction, but never ruled by it.”
“But surely, by poisoning him, you risk the very secrets you seek.”
“I am testing his mettle, Ubu. I will determine whether he is the successor to the Dark Knight, or just a pretender to the throne. I’m sure you’ve thought the same thing about me, haven’t you?” She turned an icy glare toward him. “Whether I am a worthy heir to my father’s empire?”
Ubu swallowed hard; intelligence not withstanding, he knew that his next response was a matter of life and death. “I serve you as always, Mistress,” he answered as he knelt before Talia, “as my father and his father before him served your father, Ra’s al Ghul.”
Talia smiled, a modicum of warmth entering her gaze. “Very good, Ubu. You show a surprising… wit when your life is threatened.”
“My Mistress is too kind,” Ubu replied, still kneeling.
“As for our little Red Robin, Mr. Grayson. Don’t fear for him; the poison is slow-acting. If he is the measure of the Dark Knight, he will find a way to further slow, if not counteract, the poison completely.”
“And if not?”
“Well, there’s another successor, isn’t there?” With that, Talia began to laugh, a cold, menacing laugh. Ubu was not comforted at all.
Later, a concerned Jason Todd watched his mentor working in the Batcave beneath Wayne Manor. Dick had ignored the concerns of his doctor and left the hospital. He had displayed a peremptory manner in doing so, and he had spent the trip from the Big Apple to Gotham City in an uncharacteristic brooding silence. Jason’s efforts to get him to talk about his crisis had failed miserably. Now Dick labored over the lab table and scanned computer screens of data with a coldly clinical demeanor.
“Dick, can you find a way to stop the toxin?” asked a hesitant Jason.
“It resists my best efforts thus far. I’ve slowed it; that may be enough for now. I now have no doubt that Talia was behind the whole thing. The gunfire was a distraction to allow her to slip away into the night. The drug came from her. It may have been placed in my drink, or she might have even been wearing it in her lipstick or perfume. In any case, she touched me briefly, and no one else did. If she carries such a powerful and rare drug, then she must also know how to render it inert. Equally clear is the fact that she knows my secret. That means I need to find her. I intend to do just that!”
“But maybe Doctor Mid-Nite could help, or the Amazon purple healing ray…”
Dick stood up and silenced the young man with a glance of icy resolve. “No. If she had wanted to kill me, she could have merely had her lackey shoot me in the back. This was designed to test me in some way or to play a mind game of her own creation. I resent that more than I can say, after decades of action as a costumed hero. I’ll pass her little test and win her game. And I’ll do it with my own resources. That means no magic rays or amazing miracle cures. She wanted to test my wit and my resolve, and I think just maybe I want to do so as well. I appreciate your concern, but I want you and Kara and Helena to stay out of it. That’s an order!”
He pulled his hood over his head and walked toward the part of the cave that housed the latest model of the sleek Batplane.
“But… how can you find her?” said Jason. “If she knows your secret, then she has to have some impressive resources of her own.”
Red Robin turned for a moment and said, “Her resources and her resolve are nothing compared to mine. I’ve been living a life of peril for almost fifty years. I don’t kill; that makes some think I must be soft, but I am not. Before I’m done with this, Talia will learn the consequences of playing such games with people.”
He flew off into the night, leaving Jason behind. The young man shook his head and glanced through the shadows of the cavern. It had always felt huge and full of possibilities. Now it merely seemed empty and rather cold.
Red Robin piloted the plane through the night, while his keen mind was equally busy as he formulated a plan.
Talia spoke convincingly about her love for the unspoiled places of the world. I was trained to judge character by the greatest detective who ever lived, and she was sincere in all she said. She lulled me into letting down my own guard by speaking from her heart. That was a weakness that will cost her dearly. I’ll strike at her directly through threatening the things she values the most!
Shortly before dawn, the hero stood above a startled man in an elegant room in a New England mansion.
“Wha-what do you want? How’d you get past the estate security?” the man stammered as he rubbed at his eyes and jumped to his feet.
“Davenport, you know me,” said Red Robin. “That in itself should tell you how I could get past your security. You also know that you have no need to fear me. I rescued your father years ago from the Joker. Now I’ve come to ask you to return the favor. Time is of the essence, and I had no choice but to come in so suddenly.”
Robert Davenport, the man magazines called the most eligible bachelor in America, or the unofficial prince of America, nodded and said, “What is it you want?”
“I want you to make a statement in which you endorse the New Progressive Party candidate F. Scott Monroe. I wish you to do so with all the media fanfare your celebrity status can produce.”
“That’s absurd,” countered Davenport. “I don’t know anything about the man. I have abstained from any overture to actively endorse any party. My family may have loomed large in American political history, but I barely passed the bar to become a lawyer. I lack their ambition.”
“I will tell you all you need to know,” said Red Robin. “Lives may hang in the balance if you fail to do as I say. As for Monroe, you may pull your support away from him later when I give you the word. Now let me explain…”