It’s a trick I’ve used before in the past with a fairly reasonable amount of success. Put a set of headphones on and people just don’t think you’re listening to them. No one fathoms that your iPod isn’t even turned on. They just assume that it is. Add to that a set of earbuds that have been subtly modified to amplify surrounding sounds, and you’ve got yourself an ideal way to spy on conversations going on around you without anyone being the wiser.
However, as I found out the hard way, the trick works better when your father isn’t THE Batman, and he’s NOT the one you’re trying to covertly listen to.
I realize I’ve been made when I feel the left earbud being tugged out of my ear. When I glance over to the driver’s side of the car, Bruce’s gaze meets mine for a moment with a quizzical look as the small earphone dangles from his fingertips. He doesn’t have to say a word. The question is obvious to me.
“Wanted to see if it would work on you,” I admit with a shrug.
“Who has it worked on?
I can’t help the smirk that tugs at the corners of my lips. “Damien, Dick, all the Titans, Babs, Steph, and most of the folks working at Wayne Enterprises.”
A short, embarrassed chuckle escapes me. “Did exactly the same thing you did.”
Having lived and worked with Bruce this many years, I’ve become attuned to his subtle signs of genuine amusement. He may not show it most of the time, but I know he found the results of my little experiment humorous.
“If you rigged those things to play music when removed from your ears, I think it would provide a better cover.”
“Duly noted,” I replied as I removed the other earbud, though in actuality I already had that specific upgrade in the works back home.
These days, it’s not often that I’m able to have Bruce all to myself. To be able to spend time alone with him during daylight hours without the masks was especially unheard of. Between both of our full schedules, we’re lucky if we manage to find a spare half hour once a month just to share a meal together out of uniform. So when my father came to me after a stockholders’ meeting at Wayne Enterprises to ask if I wanted to join him on a road trip that afternoon, how could I refuse? Unfortunately, that meant cancelling a lunch date with my good friend (and “fiancee”), Tamara Fox.
“Don’t worry about it, Tim,” she’d said to me as she made herself a cup of coffee. “We can have lunch together another day.” There was even a genuine smile on her face as she spoke to me. It had caught me off guard. For whatever reason, I’d been unconsciously bracing myself for a furious tirade that never came.
“You’re not upset I’m cancelling?” I’d asked.
Then it was her turn to look confused. “Of course not. Why should I?”
“Well...” I’d struggled for an explanation. “I guess... Past experience with breaking dates...?” I said lamely.
She’d just sighed, set down her coffee cup, then reached over to straighten my tie. “Tim, we can always reschedule our dates whenever. It’s no big deal. Besides, didn’t we just go to Russia and back together? I can’t even remember the last time Bruce Wayne was in town long enough to actually make his presence known in the building here.” Her fingertips lingered on the length of silk cloth, smoothing a non-existent wrinkle. “Besides,” she said softly under her breath, just loud enough for me to hear. “You two deserve some time together after everything you’ve all been through.”
Her eyes lifted from my chest to meet mine. “Don’t you?”
I’d stared at her in stunned silence. Something about her observations and how spot on they were at that particular moment struck a chord in me. That she understood what I was feeling despite of my lack of eloquence on the matter felt... nice.
She took my loss for words the wrong way, though, and gave me an uncertain look as she released me tie. “I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?”
“Of course not!” I’d said quickly to reassure her, then more softly I added, “You said everything right.”
It was about that moment that both our respective fathers decided to make their presences known. I don’t think either of us realized how close we were physically to one another until just then. Tam almost jumped clear out of her skin when her father cleared his throat. For my part, I can’t honestly remember the last time I’d let myself become so completely unaware of my surroundings. I also hadn’t realized how heavily I’d been leaning on my crutches until I found myself stumbling over them awkwardly while trying to backpedal away from Lucius Fox. Fortunately, I suppose, Bruce was right there behind me and kept me from falling completely to the floor. It was just as well. At that particular moment, pretending to be recovering from a severe spinal injury was at the very back of my thoughts.
“Tamara. Your sister needs you in her office now,” Lucius had said with an even tone, though his focused stare never left my face. Despite everything I’d experienced in my life as Robin, for some inexplicable reason, I felt like a deer caught in headlights under his steady unblinking gaze.
“It’s just as well,” Bruce had said as he helped me right myself on my crutches. “The two of us need to get going anyways. Coming Tim?”
“Ah... Sure.” I gave Tam one more furtive glance while trying to avoid Lucius’s piercing eyes before following Bruce to his office and the private elevator it contained.
It was with Tam’s father that Bruce had been speaking with when I attempted to covertly catch snippets of their conversation in the car. Despite my immediate unease when I saw Lucius’s name appear on the car’s dashboard computer, I was relieved when the subject of the talk was only about the earlier board meeting.
“Is Lucius angry with me?” I asked cautiously. For a moment it looked as if Bruce wanted to burst out laughing. Thankfully, he didn’t, though he did little to repress the amused grin on his face.
“Well, you were looking awfully cozy with Tamara there after the meeting.”
The way Bruce put it made my ears burn. I groaned and tried to shrink backwards into my seat. “We weren’t being ‘cozy.’ I was just cancelling my lunch date with her.”
“It’s not like that,” I said a little too quickly. “It’s just something to keep up appearances. That whole engagement thing.” Even as the words left my mouth, I could practically taste the heavy dose of uncertainty laced inside them. Bruce, of course, noticed as well. His expression and tone of voice turned from amused to serious. Not “Batman serious”... Just “serious.”
“You and Tamara do seem to be getting closer,” he observed.
“We’re just friends.”
Bruce gave me a look out of the corner of his eyes. It appeared as if he was about to say something I really was not in the mood to hear. So I shook my head, a silent declaration of “Not right now,” and hoped he would understand.
Fortunately, he did. He didn’t seem happy about having to hold his peace, but at least he didn’t press the issue.
Desperate to change the subject, I turned my attention to the road we were travelling. “So where are we going anyway?” I asked as we took the on ramp that would send us away from Gotham City and across the bridge to the mainland.
“I got a call from Jason--”
I could feel my body tense and my hackles rise. “Todd?” I growled through teeth set immediately on edge.
Bruce shook his head. “Blood. Jason ‘Blood’.”
With a sigh, I relaxed, letting go of the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. “So what does he want?”
“He didn’t say specifically. All he said over the phone is that he has something to give to me, and that I would need to pick it up in person.”
Though dealing with Jason Blood was infinitely better than dealing with Jason Todd in my opinion, I couldn’t help but still feel uneasy. Jason Blood was one of the world’s strongest and oldest sorcerers. Though he was one of Bruce’s oldest and most trusted friends, I was afraid that whatever he might have for my father was, most likely, going to cause us no end of grief.