The following Friday morning
Bruce Wayne stood in front of the nondescript door attempting to gather his thoughts. Normally, that was not a difficult task, but this was not a normal situation. He knocked. Inside he could hear some music being turned off, and then the door opened to reveal a somewhat-startled Dick Grayson wearing cutoffs and a Bludhaven PD t-shirt.
"Bruce! Uh, hi!"
"Hello, Dick. I...come bearing gifts." He held up a small sack. "Alfred's chocolate chip cookies."
Dick gave him a high-wattage smile. "You certainly know how to make a guy glad to see you! Come on in!" He motioned for Bruce to set the sack down on the table. "Have a seat, and I'll get us some milk to go along with 'em." Dick brought the milk and some glasses to the table and sat down across from Bruce.
The next few minutes were filled with unpacking the cookies, pouring the milk, and just enjoying Alfred's gift. Bruce glanced around the apartment. While it certainly wouldn't win any "Good Housekeeping" awards, it was definitely neater than the last time he had been in Bludhaven, not to mention Tim's description of Dick's New York apartment. Looking through to the bedroom, he saw an ironing board and that Dick must have been in the middle of pressing his uniform trousers.
"I'm sorry for barging in like this. Do you have to...go on duty soon?"
"Nah. Not until 3:00. I just wanted to get ahead on some things while I have a bit of down time."
Bruce smiled slightly to himself. It was rather comforting to talk to someone who knew him well enough to interpret his questions. He finished his cookie, drank some milk, and looked around for a napkin. Dick saw his problem, leaned his chair back on two legs, and snagged a couple of paper towels. He passed one over to Bruce and kept one for himself. Bruce raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"Don't you look at me like that," Dick warned, smiling. "Remember, I was the one who cleaned up the Manor before Alfred came back from England! Not to mention I doubt you coped all that well while Al was with Tim."
Bruce quirked his mouth in return. Wiping his mouth, he decided it was time to discuss the reason for his visit. "I had an interesting lunch appointment yesterday."
Still amused, Dick raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"With Harrison Palmer." Still no reaction from Dick. "As you may know," he said sardonically, "he is the majority owner in an electronics company that has been having some unexpected financial trouble. He had approached me as an investor to give them some needed capital, and I thought that was what our lunch was going to be about. You can imagine my surprise when he thanked me for uncovering a blackmail and embezzlement scheme and recovering the missing money."
Bruce thought he detected a slight twinkle in Dick's eyes, but he wasn't sure. "He was puzzled, however, by my sending my foster son to investigate the matter instead of someone more, uh, conventional."
Dick smiled. "So what did you say?"
"I said something about its being more of a personal matter than a corporate one, and that you'd volunteered for the job. I'm pretty sure he believed me."
Bruce waited, but the son in question just looked at him with that same amused expression. Frowning, he continued his story. "After lunch, I discovered that Barbara had sent her report to my corporate email account, which was why I hadn't seen it yet. Your name was nowhere in it, so I called her and asked for a complete report, which she grudgingly sent." The amused expression disappeared from Dick's face, but Bruce wasn't sure whether it was because of the report or that he had called Barbara.
"The so-called 'complete' report contained more details, but I realized there was still one bit missing -- the blackmailer's identity. So I went to see Barbara in person, this time. That's when she told me that Jennifer Hill was the blackmailer." Dick's expression remained neutral. "I assume that's why you got involved?" Dick nodded. "Why didn't you tell me about it?"
Dick looked at him for a moment. "I figured it was better this way," he said quietly.
"Better?" Bruce almost shouted. "I've warned you over and over, Dick -- emotion clouds your judgment! Maybe it wasn't a dangerous situation, but you should still know better."
"Bruce, I'm not the one getting all emotional over the situation -- you are. I figured it was better because I didn't have the emotional baggage you did."
"What are you talking about?"
Dick spoke carefully as if talking to a small child. "Jen Hill came closer than anyone I've ever seen to making you break character. I didn't want you to have to deal with all that garbage again. In my judgment, I was better equipped to handle her than you were." He sighed. "I know you don't trust my judgment, but that's the way it goes."
Bruce felt a small pain in his chest at the resignation in his son's voice. "Dick ..." He stopped and then tried again, "I do trust your judgment. It's just that ..." His voice trailed off. "You honestly believe I was more upset by Jennifer Hill than you were?"
"Sure. I can't really remember another time that I heard the Bat when you were supposed to be playing Bruce Wayne. If that isn't 'upset' I don't know what is." He shrugged. "Since I wasn't all that bothered by Jen Hill, it seemed logical."
Bruce suddenly remembered Dick's words when Bruce had realized the young man had heard everything he'd said to the mayor's wife: I wasn't hurt, Bruce, not traumatized, either. Just...shocked. What bugged me out worse was worrying that I'd screwed up and that you'd rip me a new one for it.
"So you weren't after revenge," he said in realization.
"Well...maybe a little bit," Dick said, smiling again. "I don't like being embarrassed any more than the next guy. But honestly, I just wanted to...protect you." He laughed sheepishly, but then continued with some determination, "'Cause you're still my partner, and that's what partners do."
Bruce gave Dick an almost-smile, and the two men sat in silence for a few moments, eating cookies. The memory of their library conversation brought to Bruce's mind a question he had wanted to ask for many years.
"Something occurred to me awhile back, and it never seemed like the right time to ask," he said tentatively. "Why weren't you more upset by what she did to you?"
Dick looked at him measuringly. "I think you really already know the answer to that," he said calmly.
Bruce closed his eyes. "Because that wasn't the first time it had happened," he stated. He opened his eyes to stare at his son.
"When... how many ..." his voice skittered a bit. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" he whispered.
"Bruce, let it go," Dick pleaded. "You don't need to know any of this; it's all over and done with; just let it go!"
"You know I can't! You are my...son -- I was supposed to protect you!"
"Bruce, you can't...no parent can protect his child from everything! I dealt with it, and I moved on. You need to also."
"I...won't! After the Joker...It was bad enough that I took you out on the streets with me where you could be killed. Now I find out there were things going on I didn't even know about!"
"I wasn't going to force you to choose between me and the Bat -- I figured I'd lose!" Dick yelled.
Bruce saw a startled, almost scared look appear in his son's eyes; then Dick hastily got up from the table and stood looking out his apartment window with his back to Bruce. Bruce left the table as well and went to stand behind the younger man. Dick ignored him.
"What did you mean by that?"
"Nothing. I didn't mean anything; I was just rambling. Don't worry about it."
"Dick." He hated using the "Voice" (as Dick had always jokingly referred to it), but if that's what it took ...
Dick still ignored him. Bruce lightly placed his hand on Dick's shoulder, feeling the tension in his son's muscles.
"Please, son. Tell me the truth."
Dick sighed. Still looking out the window he said very softly, "Okay, you want truth? Batman needed Bruce Wayne to be an irresponsible playboy. Now a playboy obviously needs women, but what kind of woman goes out with an airhead like Bruce Wayne? Batman deliberately selected women he knew wouldn't be hurt; but that was as close as he came to thinking of them as human beings -- they were pretty much interchangeable -- so he didn't really think of how they reacted to anyone else." He finally turned slightly to look at Bruce, and Bruce almost wished he hadn't. There was so much pain and acceptance mingled together in his boy's eyes.
Dick looked away again and continued, "Once I figured out the pattern, I realized that since it was Batman's decision, it was up to Robin to...deal with it. I avoided them when I could, tolerated them when I couldn't." He took a deep breath. "Because once I realized you didn't know what was going on, I knew that telling you would force you to choose between doing what was best for the Bat or best for me. And I'd be damned before I let myself do that." Dick finally turned away from the window and walked over to sit down on his couch. Bruce sat down in the chair across from him.
"Bruce, you're just going to have to accept that there are parts of my life you will never know about. That's just the way things have to be. I chose this life -- it's given me a purpose and a means to help people in ways nothing else could. While there is stuff in my past that I wish hadn't happened, all of it has worked to make me the man I am today."
Bruce tried to match the honesty Dick had shown. "But I still should've protected you better. I know I got so caught up in the fight sometimes that I would forget you were only a boy, partly because you were so good at what you did. Then something would happen to jolt me back -- the incident with your coach or Jennifer Hill -- and I would remember how young you were. I think part of my 'obliviousness' was because I was...scared."
"Scared?!? You've got to be kidding me!"
"Scared," Bruce said firmly. "I would realize you weren't a 'soldier' -- you were my son! Which meant I was your father, like it or not. That scared the living daylights out of me! What on earth did I know about being a father? I had barely had one before he was taken from me; I didn't really know any, except for Jim. And here I was trying to get you killed!" He looked down in shame. "So, it was easier not to think about it at all."
Dick slouched down into the couch and looked at Bruce. Bruce could almost see the wheels turning in Dick's head. After several silent minutes, Dick sat up.
"Okay, Bruce, we're going to try something a little different. Are you ready?"
Bruce stared at him suspiciously and nodded.
"I forgive you," Dick said calmly.
"What? What does that mean?"
"Exactly what I said. I forgive you. You have my full and free forgiveness -- all you have to do is take it."
"I still don't get it."
"Look, you said you trusted my judgment. Do you really?"
Bruce sensed this was the most important answer he had ever given. Did he trust Dick's judgment? Bruce remembered how he'd felt leaving Gotham, knowing Dick was protecting her as Batman in his absence. That calm of knowing he'd started to put to right something that he'd broken; the peace of knowing his city was taken care of. "Yes, Dick. I trust you, and I trust your judgment."
Dick smiled at him rather shyly. "Then trust me when I say that I forgive you. Believe in that, and don't beat yourself up about 'what should've been.'" He walked over to the table, grabbed a cookie, and walked back over to stand in front of Bruce.
"It's like when someone who cares about you gives you a gift." He handed the cookie to Bruce, who took it and stared at it and Dick. "To refuse the gift would be wrong, wouldn't it?" Bruce raised one eyebrow, but nodded obediently. Dick continued, "Alfred baked these cookies for us as a gift; my forgiveness of you is a gift. Both are given from the same motivation, and both are given freely. To refuse them," he stopped and swallowed, "... to refuse them is to refuse us."
Bruce looked down at his cookie and nodded. He heard Dick walk back over to the couch and sit down.
"So, Bruce...how 'bout them Knights?"
Bruce's head shot up, and Dick snickered, presumably at the expression on his face. That surprised a snort of amusement from Bruce, which set Dick off even more. Before long, the two men were laughing almost uncontrollably -- they would try to stop, but one or the other would start snickering, and then they'd be off.
They had finally gotten themselves under control when a voice chimed out from Dick's computer, "Y'know, guys, there are lots of people who would pay big money for a tape of the last few minutes of that! The Bat and Nightwing laughing like a bunch of hyenas. What's the joke, guys?"
Bruce didn't miss the way Dick's eyes lit up as he walked over to the monitor. "Hi, gorgeous! I guess you just had to be there."
"Hey, if you two boys are busy, I can call back later ..."
"No, it's okay, Barbara," Bruce said. "I needed to be going anyway."
The two men walked to the door. "Listen Dick, I'll...try to remember what you said."
"Thank Alfred for the cookies for me, would you?"
"Sure thing." Bruce turned to go, but then surprised both of them by pulling his son into a quick hug. It was over almost as soon as he did it, and then he quickly walked out the door. As the door closed, he could just hear Dick on the other side.
"Hey, sweetheart! You got any plans for dinner tonight? Maybe we can finish off those pizzas."
Bruce smiled to himself and walked down the corridor and out of the building. Time to go home.
*** The End ***
** End notes: In Part 7, Dick is actually quoting from Elizabeth Lowell's book Jade Island. It just seemed like something Roy would say. In Part 8, some of Babs' rant at Dick is courtesy of Chicago (when she read my first draft of part 7 **g**). Also, J.D. and Thelma are real people. Unfortunately, J.D. really does have emphysema. :-( I've fictionalized them somewhat, but they are a really sweet couple (and Thelma really does make the best sugar cookies).