A/N: I'm stuck in those glory days- when Dick was Robin, Barbara was Batgirl and the cartoon was on everyday. That doesn't stop me from writing this stuff, though. I borrowed a bit from the episodes "Robin's Reckoning" when writing this, because I own it and have seen it too many times to be considered healthy. But I was never entirely happy with it, so I changed some stuff. (Tried not to directly quote, despite the voices in my head repeating entire scenes as I wrote.) Have I covered my butt entirely yet? Oh, right- if out-of-characterness abounds, please forgive me. These are the Bruce, Dick and Alfred who live in my head and have happily done so since I was seven or eight. I will readily admit to shamelessly making up details when I wanted to. It's my fic, darn it! Written: July 14-17, 2002 (proud of myself, durn it!)
Disclaimer: I own nothing. I don't own "Aida" or Batman. I'm only in love with them and slowly losing my mind.
Summary: After his parents are killed, Dick is taken to live at Wayne Manor- an all too big and empty and lonely a place for a circus boy. Especially if Bruce is never around.
Rated: PG (Lotsa angst… I hate self-ratings.)
...The past is now another land
Far beyond my reach
Invaded by insidious
Foreign bodies, foreign speech
Where the timeless joys of childhood
Lay broken on the beach
The present is an empty space
Between the good and bad
A moment leading nowhere
Too pointless to be sad
But time enough to lay to waste
Every certainty I had
The future is a barren world
From which I can't return
Both heartless and material
Its wretched spoils not my concern
Shining like an evil sun
As my childhood treasures burn
Shining like an evil sun
As my childhood treasures burn
"The Past Is Another Land"; Tim Rice and Elton John; "Aida"
It started like any other show. But it wouldn't end that way...
Dick passed his mother in the air as they switched places, he grabbing hold of the trapeze, and she his father's hands. Landing on the platform, he turned to watch his parents. He loved to watch them perform- they were perfect. But this time... Dick's smile froze and as he yelled a warning, the trapeze holding his parents broke. Time froze. Mom and Dad fell. And kept falling. Dick felt like all the air had been sucked out of his lungs and he was cold... He knew people were shouting, screaming; but he didn't hear them. All he saw was his parents, lying motionless in the center ring. He couldn't move. His teeth were chattering, and he was shaking, but he couldn't move. Someone yelled at him to stay where he was, and some of the other performers began approaching the ring. Before he knew how he'd done it, Dick had climbed down the ladder and was running toward his mom and dad.
Larry, one of the clowns, grabbed him by the shoulders, trying to hold him back, and Dick began crying as he tried to fight the larger man off. "No! Let me go, Larry! Let me go! Mom" he screamed, his voice catching. "Dad! Let me GO" Dick wrenched a shoulder free and shoved Larry- hard- and ran. The others moved aside, letting him through.
Dick skidded to a halt. His parents, his mother and father, his entire world, lay broken before him. Nothing would ever be fixed. His legs gave out beneath him and he fell forward, grabbing his mother in a desperate hug as he began sobbing. "No... Mom! Mommy, please..." he whispered, choking. He shook his head against her shoulder, burying his face in her neck, but nothing happened. Her arms didn't raise and hug him back. She didn't move her head to rest a cheek against his temple. Not a muscle twitched. Dick found that he couldn't breathe. He was choking, sobbing. Over and over they fell. The insides of his eyelids played the scene repeatedly. He was shaking so hard, he didn't realize that he was biting his lip until he tasted the blood when he bit too hard.
Someone put a hand on his shoulder, tried to move him, pull him away. It set him off. Dick lost control. He screamed, cried, tightened his hold on his mother and wouldn't let go. When he was forcefully lifted off of her, his arms pried away, he raged. He kicked, he yelled, he hit. But it didn't last long. He had no energy, except that given by his grief, and it was burned quickly. Mr. Haly accepted Dick's abuse, crying himself as he knelt holding the boy. Finally, Dick collapsed against him, sobs coming so hard that the older man shook with them. While Dick cried, Mr. Haly carried him off to the side, sitting with him on the bleachers while the police arrived and covered the bodies.
After a long while, Dick's sobbing slowed enough for Mr. Haly to leave him and return with a blanket and a cup of tea. Dick took the mug silently, looking at the white sheets that hid his parents and didn't respond to anything anyone said to him. Draping the blanket over the boy's shoulders, Mr. Haly turned to the police lieutenant approaching him. "I think he's in shock" he said quietly.
"No, I'm not" a small voice behind them said. Dick tore his gaze away from the center ring and met the officer's eyes. "They're dead" he added, somehow managing to sound both infinitely old and impossibly young at the same time. He set the mug of unwanted tea down and stared at his hands clasped in his lap. "Something happened to the rope, after Dad checked it. I watched him check it! There was nothing wrong" he finally said desperately, looking from Mr. Haly to the policeman. "It was that guy- the one who threatened you, Mr. Haly! I saw him coming out of the tent! I tried- But they didn't" he broke off, burying his face in his hands.
James Gordon sat next to the crying boy, and put a hand on his shaking shoulder. "It's all right, son."
Dick shook his head. "No, it's not."
Bruce Wayne stood several feet away, watching Lt. Gordon and the boy. Almost everyone had left, but Bruce hadn't been able to. He was about the only person left in the tent who wasn't with the circus or the police, having avoided being forced out by sliding into the shadows. He could hear pieces of conversations taking place around him, but only paid half a mind to them. His attention was focused on the boy, who looked nothing short of stunned. Bruce knew exactly what he had to be feeling, and it was that knowledge that made it impossible for him to leave. In his mind's eye, the falling, then broken bodies of Mary and John Grayson resembled far too much those of his own parents. Bruce knew that this was another night that would never leave him. So he waited, lurking just beyond anyone's notice, until he could approach Lt. Gordon.
His chance came sooner than he thought it would. The boy was allowed to leave with one of the lion tamers, and Gordon spoke briefly with Mr. Haly, the owner of the circus. Bruce approached, keeping a respectful distance away until Gordon noticed him.
"Mr. Wayne" he said in surprise, gesturing to Haly that he could leave and turning his full attention to Bruce.
"I was in the audience" Bruce explained. "I couldn't leave, after..." Gordon nodded sadly and Bruce continued. "How is he"
Gordon glanced over his shoulder at the side entrance the boy had left through. "I suppose you've heard of Tony Zucco"
Bruce nodded. Everyone knew something about the guy- even those who didn't spend their nights as Batman. So it didn't hurt to admit that he had heard of Zucco. "What about him"
Gordon sighed. "The boy saw him leave the tent. He threatened Haly earlier today..." He shook his head sadly. "I think we're going to have to find a safe house for him. He's got no family, and there's no way we can leave him here, not now. He's a material witness. Poor kid..."
Bruce stared at the tent flap, an idea- and his ulterior motive for wanting to speak with Gordon- taking shape in his mind even as he said"A safe house? You mean... something other than foster care"
Gordon grunted. "We can't turn him over to the state. Well, we could. But it would be a mistake. Besides, Haly is the boy's godfather. If things were different... Well, if things were different, we wouldn't be here, now would we" he asked wryly.
Bruce nodded. Then, slowly, he said"I may be able to help."
Dick sat at the end of the impossibly long dining table, fidgeting with his napkin in his lap. Sometimes Wayne Manor was just too quiet. He was used to noise, all the time. But in the last two weeks, he had been forced to adjust to the impossible size and silence that was his new home- for the meantime. At least until Zucco was caught. What would happen to him then was beyond his knowledge. Mr. Haly had already left Gotham. Going home didn't seem like much of a possibility.
Alfred entered the dining room, carrying a tray with him. Dick noticed that there was only one plate of food on the tray and tried to hide his disappointment. "Where's Bruce" he asked as Alfred set the plate before him. "Isn't he going to eat"
"Not tonight, Dick" a voice from behind him said. Dick turned in his chair to see Bruce standing in the doorway.
He smiled, crossing the room and setting a hand on Dick's shoulder. "I've got some late meetings. Thought I'd say good night before I left."
Dick did his best to smile back. "Night, Bruce."
His guardian gave his shoulder a squeeze and waved at Alfred. "I'll be late- Don't wait up, Alfred." And with that, Bruce was gone.
Dick sighed heavily and pushed his plate away, slumping in his chair. "'Don't wait up'" Dick repeated scornfully. "You always wait up. And he always has meetings. Who with"
"Clients, Master Dick." Even though he was mainly talking to himself, Alfred answered as he took Dick's plate from the table, knowing by now that Dick wouldn't eat. At least not until later. "Some of the most... influential clients Wayne Enterprises has dealings with."
Dick shook his head. "What? This late? He's been out past two all week."
Alfred raised an eyebrow at his young charge. "And how late have you been up this week? I would have thought that young men your age would be sleeping at two in the morning."
Dick squirmed uncomfortably, not wanting to make Alfred mad. Alfred was the only person whose opinion of him really mattered- Bruce was never around to have one. "I... I'm sorry, Alfred. It's just... Sometimes I can't sleep."
Alfred didn't say anything, but the hard look on his face softened slightly. "It can be difficult to readjust to new surroundings" he said in a quiet tone.
Dick shrugged. "It's not so much that. We were always on the move. If we spent a whole week in one place, that was a long time. It's just... Sometimes it's so... quiet here." He bit his lip and looked at Alfred uncertainly. He didn't add that Wayne Manor was also impossibly huge and empty and that he was just plain lonely. For the most part, it was only him and Alfred- which was fine during the day, because he spent most of his time with the older man. Alfred was tutoring him, catching him up to the other children his age. His education in the circus had been... haphazard at best. When Mr. Haly could afford it, he had hired tutors, but for the most part, his mother had been his teacher. And while he was beyond kids his age in certain areas, he was far behind them in others. So because it was already nearly Thanksgiving, and it was decided that he had enough 'adjusting' to do, he was being taught by Alfred until the fall came around again and he would be enrolled in a local school... Either that or Zucco was caught and Dick left Wayne Manor. Whichever came first.
But at night the quiet really set in. There was no sound in this place. Even with his window wide open (which made the room cold, anyway), all he could hear was the crashing of waves- and those muffled at best, as the cliffs lay well beyond the other side of the Manor. And there wasn't even any traffic to hear. Wayne Manor sat at the top of the cliffs lining Gotham Harbor, and was accessible only by a winding, twisting driveway that ran at least a mile before hitting a road that wasn't exactly well-traveled. Privacy was not something Bruce Wayne had to worry about. The problem was that Dick couldn't stand it. All his life he had lived moving from place to place. He'd spent more nights sleeping on the road than he could count. He'd never before noticed how used he was to the sounds of traffic and people and animals until coming here. If they weren't on the road, the sounds of the elephants and tigers would replace those of cars and cities they passed through. And every single night of his life, he had fallen asleep to the sounds of his parents talking in hushed voices just beyond his sight.
He missed them all the time- but night was the worst. Every night, his mother read to him. Or if she had something to do, his father did. But when the story was over, the other always came in to hug him and tuck him in. If he was sick, or sad, his mother sang to him. Sometimes she did just because. If there wasn't time for a book, they just sat and talked for a few minutes. No matter how crazy and hectic the day had been, or how pumped up on adrenaline he was after a show, their voices never failed to calm him down and lull him into sleep. He was having a hard time falling asleep these days. Staying so was nearly impossible. He could only lie staring at the ceiling for so long before he had to get out of bed and wander. He didn't often leave his room. He would usually grab a book from the wall-length bookshelf and sit on the floor of his closet, which had a light in it, reading until his eyes were too heavy for him to continue, all the while listening for the sounds of Alfred coming to check on him. But sometimes he couldn't sit still and he would wander- not far. Just as far as the landing, where he could see down the stairs and into the study and den. Almost every night, the lights were still on and he could see Alfred wandering about, waiting for Bruce to return.
Now Dick sighed and gave Alfred a pleading look. "Alfred? Can I eat later? I'm not very hungry."
Alfred suppressed a sigh. It was the same almost every night. "Of course, sir" he replied, knowing that if he forced the boy to eat, he would do so, but would only eat what he had to. Master Dick was always eager to please- almost too eager. He tried too hard at times. The boy's insecurities and pain were all too obvious and Alfred did his best to make him feel as if the Manor were his home. The problem was that it wasn't Alfred he was trying so hard to impress- not anymore, in any case. He still did all he could to please Alfred, but was beginning to understand that he needn't do so. He seemed comfortable around him now, which was a big improvement over his first few days there. But he still sought approval- he was still seeking his place. And Alfred knew that he wouldn't be at ease until he felt he had gained Bruce's approval. Which was proving difficult.
Dick smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes, and pushed back from the table. "Is it all right if I go outside for a while"
Alfred looked at him in surprise. There wasn't much to do outside... It was nearly winter, and the grounds of Wayne Manor were hardly an exciting place for an eight year old boy. Though the unmanicured portions of the estate were very exciting, he knew, having ventured after Master Bruce many a time when he was a boy. They were exciting- but dangerous. "Yes" he answered, making a quick decision. "But you must stay within the gardens, and be back inside before night falls. Do you understand"
Dick nodded, grinning widely. "Sure thing. Thanks Alfred" He started to leave, but stopped in the doorway, turning to Alfred with a hesitant look on his face. "Alfred? Can I go down to the cliffs? If I'm careful"
Alfred gave Dick a stern look before answering. "If you must. Stay well away from the edge" he added quickly, seeing the grin return to Dick's face.
"I will. I'll be careful- promise" With that, he was gone.
Dick ran across the wide expanse of lawn behind Wayne Manor, enjoying the feeling of the cold, crisp air as he did so. The air was heavy with the smell of the ocean and approaching winter, and the ground was hard beneath his feet. It felt good just to be outside, rather than in. He didn't know where he was going- he hadn't been outside all that much since coming here. Lt. Gordon had taken him here the day after the funeral- of which he remembered very little. He knew that there were lots of people, mainly from the circus, and that Bruce and Alfred had been there. He'd had only four days to pack up everything he had and say goodbye. And even if it had been three weeks now, there wasn't a day Dick woke up that he wasn't confused at first as to where he was.
He was trying to adjust... It was just so hard, sometimes. Besides, he wasn't sure how long Bruce was going to keep him there. This whole arrangement was originally meant to protect him from the man who had killed his parents- Lt. Gordon said he was a witness. No one had come out and told him this, of course, but Dick wasn't stupid. Nor was he deaf. He knew that when Zucco was caught, he might have to leave. Where he would go then, he didn't know. But it wasn't really worth thinking about, because no matter where he was going to be, it wouldn't be where he wanted. Where he wanted to be was a month ago. Which was a train of thought he'd discovered to be not worth following.
After a while, Dick slowed to a walk, catching his breath and looking around. The grounds were really very pretty and well-kept, and he climbed a small hill to see the land give way to sea and sky before him. The view was amazing, and the waves were loud here, even if he couldn't see them yet. But the cliffs weren't what caught Dick's attention- on a small hill a grove of trees stood like sentinels over an old graveyard. Dick looked at it, intrigued. It was an odd thing, to just stumble upon a cemetery like this. Cemeteries were never exactly his favorite place, though he hadn't had much occasion to go into one before. He'd only been in one once or twice, when his mother had taken him to see his grandparents' graves- but that had been a long time ago, and what Dick remembered most was that she had cried for a long time afterwards.
Dick hesitated, curious about this graveyard set deep within the grounds of Wayne Manor, but in his mind's eye seeing his parents' caskets waiting to be lowered into the ground. But that wasn't here, he told himself, walking over to the nearest of the headstones. The closest ones were old, and it was hard to read the names on them, but he quickly realized that everyone buried here was a Wayne. He felt slightly guilty, walking through and looking at the graves, as if he were intruding upon something. The newer graves were in the back corner, facing the water. He read the names on the last headstone and wondered why they sounded familiar, but shaking it off- after all, Thomas and Martha were fairly normal names. He looked back at the Manor, a little in awe of how long it must have been there, and how many people must have lived in that house.
He turned around, ready to continue on to the cliffs so he could watch the waves, but something in the corner of his eye stopped him. Set back, slightly away from the other graves, was a single headstone. It sat just before two large oak trees, which had by now lost all of their leaves- without them, Dick could see how the upper branches had run out of room and begun to intertwine. The cemetery was as nicely kept as the rest of the grounds, and not a leaf from any of the bare trees could be seen. It was a pretty spot, and would be prettier in the spring and summer, when the leaves had grown back. But none of this was what Dick was thinking as he approached, wondering whose grave it was, and why it wasn't with the others. He felt nervous, seeing that it was very new—getting closer, he could see where a layer of sod had been put down but had yet to blend in with the rest of the grass.
Dick watched his feet as he got closer, wanting to avoid stepping on the new grass. A nagging feeling, like deja-vu, pulled at the back of his mind and made him want to turn away without looking, but he ignored it and raised his eyes to the headstone anyway. What he saw made his stomach drop out from underneath him and his knees lock. This grave, unlike the others, was not for a Wayne... It was his parents'. Dick took a step backwards, feeling ready to bolt. Why were they here? He hadn't been prepared for this, even though he'd been wondering lately if he might ask Alfred to take him to see them sometime. Sometime. Not yet. Not now. Notnownotnownotnownotnow... he thought desperately, feeling his throat close up on him and his vision blurred.
Shaking his head and wiping a hand angrily over his eyes, he forced himself to calm down. It wasn't as if he didn't know they were dead- he knew it. Every second of every day for the past three weeks, he'd known it. Except when he woke up in the middle of the night... But here, right in front of him, were their names... Engraved into a piece of rock, with their birthdays and that day right underneath them. And over their names, like a headline"Grayson". He squeezed his eyes shut and took several deep breaths, forcing himself to calm down. He knew they were dead, he told himself. Seeing it in writing like this didn't change anything. Except that now he couldn't pretend that this was all some big, stupid mistake. Like God was going to pull back a curtain, yell "gotcha" and make everything right again. Resolving himself, Dick opened his eyes and stared at the marker, taking in every possible detail.
He leaned over closer to read what was written along the bottom of the stone, in small, delicate letters. "That it will never come again/ Is what makes life so sweet. Emily Dickenson". Dick swallowed back the lump in his throat, wondering who had asked for that to be put on their headstone- it had been one of his mother's favorite poems. Someone from the circus, no doubt. He didn't remember anyone asking him anything about this, or the funeral. It had all been done without him, and suddenly that made him angry. They were his parents. No one else had any right to decide these things... Under their names and the dates was written "Beloved Parents, Treasured Friends". Ha. Like everything his parents were could be summed up in four words.
How long he looked at it, he didn't know, but instead of wanting to break down and cry, like he had only a few moments ago, he felt fiercely angry. Possessive, maybe, but that was okay. They were his parents. He should have been given some say... Why were they here, instead of a public cemetery, some place he could go visit whenever he wanted to? When he had to leave here... It didn't bear thinking of, just now. It made him even angrier. His parents weren't Waynes, they shouldn't have been buried with them. Dick, seething, turned and ran back toward the Manor.
"Alfred" he called, storming into the kitchen. Alfred looked up in surprise from where he stood drying the dishes. The boy hadn't been outside as long as he had thought he would be- only twenty minutes or so. "Alfred, why are they here"
Alfred looked at him uncertainly. "Why are who here, Master Dick"
"My parents" Dick cried, angry. "Why are they buried here"
Alfred suppressed a sigh, and lay down his dishtowel. It hadn't occurred to him that Dick would find the cemetery, though he knew it should have. It didn't surprise him that he hadn't remembered where they were buried. The day of the funeral, Dick had still been in a state of shock. "Master Bruce thought"
"Who is he to decide that? He's never even around" Dick snapped, crossing his arms over his chest indignantly. "They have to be here forever"
Alfred frowned, a bit alarmed at how angry and hostile Dick was acting. It wasn't at all like him. Though what he said about Master Bruce was entirely true. "Master Dick, please sit down and calm yourself"
"No" Dick interrupted, sitting anyway. He slouched in his chair, an utterly miserable look on his face. "I don't want them here" he said a bit more calmly.
"Why not" Alfred asked, confused. Not that there was anything that could be done about it now.
Dick shrugged, his anger beginning to give way to exhaustion and grief. "Because... What happens when I leave"
Alfred sat in the chair next to Dick, honestly surprised. "Leave? Where were you going"
Dick shrugged. "I know I'm only here until the police catch Zucco" he explained sadly. "I heard Lt. Gordon and Bruce talking about it."
"You know no such thing" Alfred countered sternly. "If Master Bruce were only intending on keeping you while absolutely necessary, he would not have arranged to have your parents buried here."
Dick looked at him uncertainly. "Really"
"Really" Alfred assured him gently.
Dick shrugged, looking back at the tabletop. He felt a little better- a little less panicked- but still uneasy. When he spoke, it was in a very soft voice. "I didn't think I'd be staying here."
"What do you mean" Alfred, once again, was genuinely surprised.
Dick swung his foot, not answering at first, because it all seemed suddenly stupid to him. "I didn't think Bruce liked me very much."
Alfred resisted the urge to sigh again, feeling both angry and remorseful. "Why on earth would you think that" he asked, though he knew very well why.
Dick shrugged by way of response. After a moment, he said"He's never around. I only ever see him when he's leaving." He knew he sounded like a spoiled, unappreciative brat. It wasn't Bruce's fault that he had to work so much. It wasn't Bruce's fault that he wasn't used to having a kid around.
Alfred did sigh now, and Dick looked at him, worried that he'd made him angry somehow. Alfred only smiled sadly. "I am certain that Master Bruce never intended"
"I know" Dick said, smiling apologetically. "I didn't really mean it." He looked away, tracing an invisible pattern with his fingers on the arm of the chair. "It just surprised me, finding them."
"I'm sure it did" Alfred said softly, feeling guilty for having let Dick venture out without a clue as to what he might find. And for not having remembered himself. He noticed how tired the boy looked, and hoped that tonight he would be able to sleep- though it was doubtful. He knew that Dick hadn't been sleeping; he remembered another little orphaned boy, also unable to sleep. For months, unable to sleep. He could only hope that Master Dick would not fall into the same type of depression Master Bruce had. There had not been a less pleasant experience in Alfred's life, than those first years after Thomas and Martha Wayne had been killed. And now, with Dick, Alfred felt as if the past were repeating itself. Everything was the same, except that Dick was still too unfamiliar with the Manor and Alfred to let down his barriers and allow himself to really grieve. Alfred dreaded that time, as much as he worried over its absence. It wasn't healthy for him to keep those emotions bottled up, Alfred knew all too well. Standing, he placed a hand on Dick's shoulder. "Would you like your dinner now"
Dick considered for a moment, not wanting to hurt Alfred's feelings. "Not really" he said, looking up at Alfred apologetically. "I don't think I'm that hungry tonight."
Alfred nodded. "Very well, sir."
Dick watched Alfred go back to drying the dishes, and felt like there was more he wanted to say, but he didn't know how to go about it or what it was. "I might go to bed, if that's all right" he said instead, pushing away from the table. "I'm kinda tired."
Alfred looked at him for a long moment without saying anything, but finally nodded. "Of course, Master Dick. I shall be up in a few minutes."
Dick smiled thankfully and backed out of the kitchen. "Thanks, Alfred."
Alfred made his way down to the cave with a tray of food for Bruce. He reached the bottom of the stairs just as Batman stepped out of the Batmobile. Setting the tray down on the table next to the computer, Alfred turned and accepted the cape, laying it across his arm as he did every night. But tonight he only half-listened to what Batman had to say about his night's excursions.
Noticing Alfred's lack of input, Batman turned to him, confused. "Alfred? Is something wrong"
"Of course not, sir" Alfred replied, but Batman could hear the slightest hint of sarcasm in his voice. Anyone other than he wouldn't have noticed it.
Raising an eyebrow, Batman removed his utility belt, and asked"What is it, Alfred"
Alfred hesitated for a moment before saying"Master Bruce, while I am sure that catching this Zucco is of the highest import, I cannot help but wonder if your time might be better spent."
Batman was stunned. Alfred nearly never openly criticized his actions- he was usually much more subtle. Beyond that, he didn't understand what it was Alfred was saying. "What do you mean"
Alfred turned to look at him and fixed him with a stern gaze he remembered all too well from his childhood. "There is a little boy upstairs who is aching for some of your attention."
Batman frowned. "I'm doing this for him" he argued.
Alfred sighed, shaking his head. "I'm sure that revenge is a wonderful thing, sir. But right now, Master Dick is simply trying to survive. I would have thought that you, of all people, could remember how that feels."
Batman didn't reply, but that didn't stop Alfred. "He has lost all that he has ever cared about- his parents, which I know you must relate to, as well as his home and friends. He is in a strange place with strange people. Did you realize that he thought this was a temporary home? A safe house"
Batman looked up at Alfred in surprise. "He did"
Alfred nodded. "Yes. You have made very little effort to spend time with him, Master Bruce."
Batman didn't answer, not sure what he could say. It was true.
Alfred continued, moving to put away the cape. "Master Dick has spent all of his energy on trying to adjust to life here. He has not yet begun to grieve." Here, he paused significantly, giving Batman a look. "But he will. The question is not if, but when and how. And whether or not he will ever feel that Wayne Manor is his home."
Batman watched as Alfred began to leave the cave, feeling a bit blindsided by the whole conversation. "Alfred" he called. Alfred stopped and turned to look back at him. "What" He stopped himself. He felt like a child again, asking Alfred what he should do. He was an adult, for goodness sake- Christ, he was Batman! He should be able to figure this out on his own...
But Alfred knew him too well. "I would suggest that Batman take a few nights off. Bruce Wayne should spend some time with his ward. He needs you, sir. Whether either of you know it." And with that, Alfred was climbing the stairs and leaving the cave.
Batman removed his cowl, and stood silently in the center of the cave, Alfred's words echoing in his mind. The older man was right, as always, Bruce knew. He looked down at the mask in his hand, feeling sick. What good did he do, then? Logically, he knew he did the right thing. Every night, he went out to 'fight the good fight', protecting the city. He was the good guy, wasn't he? And he knew he did good. He knew he had saved people- he'd seen them; parents, children who would have died had he arrived later. But that didn't change anything. He was, after everything, only human. And for all the good he had done- for all the lives he had saved... He hadn't been able to save Dick's parents. He hadn't been able to save them any more than he had been able to save his own.
Maybe that was it. Maybe that was why he was suddenly so obsessed about catching Zucco. Because every time he saw Dick, he was reminded of how he had failed—again. You didn't have to take him in, he scolded himself. If you weren't going to pay him any attention, if you were going to use him as a reminder of your inner demons, he would have been better off with someone else. Except that every time Bruce thought that- and it was fairly often- he remembered the way Dick had looked, that night. Like his entire life had been stolen from him. It had been. And Bruce saw himself in Dick. Another reason to avoid him. Which was essentially what it all came down to. He had offered to take Dick in, had given him a home... And was now avoiding him. Out of guilt and self-pity, he thought scornfully.
Bruce went to change out of the costume, thinking over Alfred's words. Alfred was what he remembered best about his childhood. He remembered his parents- but small things, moments or impressions. The memories and idolization of an eight year old who had never gotten to know his parents as anything other than parents. It was one of the many regrets he had. He'd never had the chance to get to know them. Luckily for him, Alfred knew them. Better than anyone else. And it suddenly occurred to Bruce that some of the things he cherished most about his parents were things Alfred had told him. It was disconcerting, realizing that some of his memories were second-hand, at best. But they were there, in any case. And Dick didn't—wouldn't—even have that. What Bruce remembered most after his parents' deaths was Alfred. Alfred's presence had been a constant- there wasn't a time he could recall that Alfred hadn't been there. And since they'd taken Dick in, he realized, nearly every time he saw Alfred (except here, at night, of course), Dick was somewhere nearby. Whether tagging along, or being followed, it was hard to tell, but didn't matter anyway.
Feeling guilty, Bruce finished buttoning his shirt and made his way back into the cave. He was the one who had offered the boy a home. He was the one who had made the decision to take him in. And yet it was Alfred who had the job of caring for him. Alfred who knew Dick well enough to come down here and give Bruce a scolding like he hadn't received in years. Not that he ever scolded Bruce outright. Alfred was a subtle man, when he wanted to be. It was more the tone of voice that Bruce knew well, having heard it often growing up. And one he suspected Dick was getting used to. Dick had been with them for two weeks, and Bruce had barely seen him. He shook his head. He remembered, all too well, what he had felt. It had taken months for Bruce to come out of his self-inflicted depression. One he wasn't certain he was entirely through with. But what Bruce remembered was how much he had needed Alfred's support, whether he realized it at the time or not. And he knew that Dick was getting just what he had. The problem was that while Alfred had cared for Bruce since he was an infant, Dick had only just met the man. So it meant different things. What Alfred said made sense... Not only had Dick's parents been taken from him, but he'd had to leave his home and everything and everyone familiar to him. Bruce didn't want to try and put himself into that scenario. He'd had enough trouble being in his own home with Alfred.
Bruce slowly began the climb up the stairs toward the Manor, still feeling guilty, but resolved to fix things—if he could. Alfred was right. Dick needed him, even if neither of them knew it. And he needed Dick. What he needed, he wasn't sure. Looking at Dick was like looking at himself again. Except that Dick wasn't Bruce. And he wouldn't be. Bruce just knew that all he could do was all he should have been doing. Dick hadn't asked to be taken here. He hadn't asked for his whole life to be turned on its head. But it had been, and he was here, and Bruce was going to help Alfred make it as easy for Dick to adjust as he could. It was the least he could do, really. He just wished he had realized all this before.
He made his way into the kitchen, where Alfred was cleaning up. "Alfred"
Alfred looked up, surprised. For good reason. Lately it was typical for Bruce to spend a good hour or more in the cave after his return. "Master Bruce. Is there something wrong"
Bruce considered for a minute. "I've been stupid, Alfred. I'm sorry" he finally admitted. Sighing, he chose to ignore Alfred's undisplayed shock, and turned to leave, pausing in the doorway. "Do you think he's awake"
Alfred shook himself mentally, considering the question. "He reads in his closet" he finally said. "Though not usually this late. You might check in on him, sir."
Bruce smiled appreciatively at Alfred. "Thank you, Alfred." He reads in his closet, Bruce repeated to himself as he left. It was so typical of Alfred, to know everything that was being done in the Manor, even if it was done in hiding. If Dick hadn't been hiding, he would have used the lamp. But Alfred knew everything.
Bruce paused outside Dick's door- his old door. He wondered, now, how wise it had been of him to give this particular room to Dick. It already held enough grief for one room... To add to it seemed stupid now. Bruce shook his head. He had been very stupid in this. Very stupid, and very impulsive. Let's take this little boy away from everything he knows, give him my old room and then pretend he barely exists. Great going, Bruce, he thought scornfully. Sighing, he rested his hand on the doorknob, hesitating. It was terribly late... Dick would probably be sleeping. It might be better to wait until the morning, he thought. He could take the day off... Spend some much needed time with him... But even as he thought it, he was turning the handle, knowing that for his own peace of mind, he had to check in on Dick tonight. Make sure he was sleeping. Make sure of... something. Bruce didn't know.
He stood in the doorway, letting his eyes adjust to the dark. The tall windows let in the moonlight, and it illuminated the room enough for Bruce to make out furniture and the small figure in the bed. The light from the hall cast his shadow almost all the way across the room to Dick's bed, and Bruce stood there for a while, watching Dick sleep. He wasn't going to wake him, he decided. He would let him sleep whatever sleep he could, knowing too well how sleepless his nights probably were. He turned to leave, but stopped, hearing something. Bruce looked over his shoulder, and stared at Dick's huddled form, watching it for some sign of movement or distress. There was nothing, and Bruce finally sighed, leaving the room.
He stood outside the door for several minutes. It was odd. He was a little frightened, really, because he felt such a strong pull to the boy. Some sort of deep connection that made him want to go back in that room and simply watch him sleep the night through, just to be sure that he did. And that, along with his own guilt and grief, was why he had been avoiding Dick. He knew that. He also knew that while he would never be Dick's father—as Alfred would never be; as Alfred could never be Bruce's father—he would do his very best to just be there. To be... something to Dick. Whatever that something may be. And he would try. That was all he could do, when it came right down to it. He could only be there for Dick, and try to help him. Which was originally how Bruce had explained wanting to take Dick in, in the first place.
Bruce finally turned away, heading down the long hall toward his own bedroom. He didn't know if he would get much sleep that night- somehow it seemed doubtful. But that didn't matter.
Bruce awoke a few hours later, having fallen asleep fully clothed in an armchair by a bookcase. He stared out the window at the moon, letting himself slowly wake, before glancing at the clock. Three in the morning. Not quite time to get up, but almost. Though he was- at the moment- tempted to let his morning routine fall by the wayside. Of course, that would never happen, but it was still a thought crossing his mind. He stretched, standing, and wondered why he had woken up. It wouldn't be the first time he had spent the night in a chair without changing.
After a trip to the bathroom to get a glass of water, Bruce discovered that he wasn't terribly tired. He wandered about his room for a while, after a failed attempt at reading, before wandering into the hall. He didn't have any specific destination or action in mind, but he found himself outside Dick's door again. This time he didn't hesitate, but softly pushed open the door. The room was brighter now, as the moon was higher, and Bruce could see better because the hall was dark behind him. He frowned, taking a step further into the room. There were muffled whimpers coming from Dick's bed, where he was lying on his stomach, but tossing fitfully.
Bruce crossed the room quickly and sat on the bed next to Dick, reaching out to put a tentative hand on the boy's shoulder. Suddenly unsure, he said softly"Dick... Dick, wake up."
Dick gave a strangled cry and nearly fell off the bed in his tangled sheets. Blinking, he stared at Bruce as if he had never seen him before. He stared for a moment or two, before an unbelievably lost and frightened look crept into his eyes. He swallowed hard, sat up, and pulled his knees to his chest, hugging them to him. He looked at Bruce and opened his mouth to say something, but then stopped. His eyes filled and he buried his face in his arms before letting go a cry that seemed to echo from somewhere deep inside him.
Bruce wasn't sure what the best thing to do was, but just did what came to mind first. He reached out and put his arms around Dick. "It's okay" he said quietly. "I know."
Dick stiffened when Bruce first touched him, but as soon as he had spoken, Dick collapsed against him. He uncurled and turned, burying his face against Bruce's collarbone. He clung desperately, clutching at him as if frightened that if he let go, Bruce would vanish. And then he cried. He cried like he hadn't let himself since that first horrible night without them. And it just made it worse. He held onto Bruce with all of his strength, trying not to think about how it wasn't his father he was holding, or his mother, and how it never would be again. He failed desperately, and it only made him cry harder, until he didn't think he could take it anymore. He couldn't breathe. He was gasping more than crying, struggling to catch enough air to continue his crying. He was shaking, his teeth knocking with the force of it.
Bruce had to fight back tears himself, holding Dick as tightly as he dared. He could feel Dick trembling, could feel his fingers digging into his back, and honestly couldn't have cared less. His heart broke with Dick's, hearing the agony behind every sob and feeling it himself, as if he were eight and suddenly alone again. He didn't know what to do or say, but knew that nothing he said now would even be heard, so he held on, letting Dick cry.
How long they sat like that, neither knew nor cared. Dick was lost, deep inside himself, and couldn't see a way out. Bruce held on, giving Dick the time and opportunity to let go of all he'd been keeping bottled up for weeks now. After Dick had long since lost the ability to breathe sufficiently, his tears began to slow. He kept his grip on Bruce, though, as he struggled to find a breath. He began to find it harder and harder, and soon had to let go when, unable to breathe, his aching lungs forced him to begin coughing. Bruce rubbed his back, feeling slightly alarmed at the strength of Dick's coughing. Eventually, Dick managed to regain enough control to force himself to take a few deep breaths. After the coughing had mostly stopped, he was left with the hiccups and a horrible headache along with finding it difficult to breathe. He couldn't ever remember having cried that hard, and was suddenly aware that Bruce was still there, offering him the glass of water he kept on his night table. He wiped his eyes, hiccupped and took it, avoiding Bruce's eyes.
Bruce watched Dick closely, seeing the blush that was beginning to creep onto his tear streaked face. He didn't say anything, but placed a hand on Dick's shoulder gently. Dick's eyes were red-rimmed and tears still clung to his eyelashes; occasionally, as they sat there silently, waiting for Dick to find his breath, a tear or two would escape and trail down his face. Dick finished the glass of water and handed it back to Bruce, looking hesitantly up at him. "I'm sorry" he said in a shaky whisper.
Bruce looked at him in undisguised surprise. "Sorry? Why should you be sorry"
Dick shrugged, looking away as fresh tears began to threaten. He didn't answer because he knew if he spoke, he would start crying again. But Bruce surprised him instead by saying"I'm the one who's sorry, Dick."
Dick looked up at him, confused. "What? Why"
Bruce heaved a sigh, looking sadly at Dick. "I haven't been around much, I know. I should have been. I should have... I should have remembered."
Dick frowned, took a shuddering breath and asked"Remembered what"
Bruce looked away and Dick began to think he'd said something wrong, he took so long before answering. But finally Bruce replied in a vaguely choked voice"What it feels like. At first."
Dick looked at him, more confused than before. He followed Bruce's gaze to the wall over the fireplace, where a portrait of two people was hanging. He could only just make them out in the dark, but an idea suddenly occurred to Dick and he asked wonderingly"Your parents..."
Bruce nodded, looking back at Dick, a remorseful smile on his face. "My parents. I was eight. Just like you."
Dick stared back at him, trying to digest this information. Suddenly the grave he'd seen earlier—the one with the familiar names—made sense. He fought back a new batch of tears and repeated"Like me"
Bruce nodded again. "A little different. They were shot." He stopped, composing himself before saying"But yes. Like you."
Dick drew his knees to his chest again, and leaned his chin against them, looking into the shadows that hid the portrait. Neither said anything for a while, until Dick spoke up in a whisper. "I was dreaming."
Bruce looked at him, hearing the way Dick's voice shook and knowing that he was going to break down again soon. "About your parents"
Dick nodded, shaking as he tried to keep himself under control. "They wouldn't listen to me" he said, an edge of desperation to his voice. "I was warning them... And they didn't listen. But then... They were okay. They fell, but they didn't" He stopped, wiping his face furiously. "And then... Then I woke up" he finished, looking up at Bruce with haunted eyes. "I always wake up" he added, before burying his face in his arms again.
Bruce reached out and drew Dick into his arms, holding him while he cried a fresh batch of tears.
"It's not fair" Dick sobbed, the words coming in gasps. "It's not fair..."
"I know" Bruce said softly, holding Dick closely. "It's not. I know."
Dick shook his head against Bruce's chest. "I don't understand... Why them? What did they do"
Bruce sighed, resting the side of his head against the top of Dick's. "Nothing, Dick. They didn't do anything—and neither did you. It just... happened. There was nothing you could have done" he assured him, telling himself the same thing. "There was no way to know, Dick."
"But I did" Dick cried, bringing on a fiercer tide of tears. "I knew he didn't belong in the tent! I heard him threaten Mr. Haly"
Bruce simply held him, not sure what else to do. "Dick, listen to me. There was nothing you could have done. Nothing. There was no way to stop it. Some things are just... out of our hands." If only. He wished he could believe his own words.
Dick took a few gasping breaths, clinging to Bruce. "I just... miss them so much" he whispered, pressing his face against Bruce, wishing he could just fold in on himself and disappear. Wishing that he could just stop hurting. "It hurts too much."
Bruce held him tighter. "I know, Dick. I do know... It won't always hurt this much."
Dick pulled back just far enough to look into Bruce's face. "Does it ever stop? Will it ever just... go away"
Bruce looked pained, regretting that he couldn't promise Dick that yes, the pain would stop. It would vanish. If he could have taken Dick's pain from him, he would have, looking into those bloodshot blue eyes, rimmed with tears. "I wish it did, Dick. But it will get better. In time. I promise."
Dick's lip began to quiver and he buried his face against Bruce again as he started crying again. "I want my mom and dad" he sobbed, his voice muffled.
"I know." And he did. There were times that Bruce's grief and guilt threatened to overwhelm him, even now, years after the fact. But he had forgotten just how much it had hurt in the very beginning. He'd blocked most of that time out. And Dick was going to lose himself in his grief—he wanted to, Bruce knew. "It's all right, Dick" he told him softly. "It's all right. I'm right here."
Dick cried. He hadn't before let himself do this—every time he was faced with breaking down, he would give himself a mental slap and stop himself. But for some reason, he couldn't do that now. Now, all he could do was cry and cry, holding onto Bruce like he was a sort of life raft. He couldn't have stopped crying now if his life depended on it. But eventually there weren't any tears left, and Dick slowly regained control, sniffling and hiccupping while he coughed and tried to breathe sufficiently. But he didn't let go of Bruce. He repositioned himself, leaning against Bruce's chest, and feeling his eyes grow heavy. He was exhausted, completely drained—but he did feel better. Safer, somehow. Bruce was much bigger than his father had been, and it cut into him sharply when he thought about how he would never hold his dad like this... But he still felt safe. He couldn't summon any emotion other than his exhaustion, and that deep ache centered in his very core. But he felt better, anyway.
Bruce unconsciously rubbed Dick's back, feeling him relax and begin to calm. Neither said anything for a long while, as it seemed Dick was content to just settle into Bruce's arms and cling, still shaking. After a while, Bruce felt Dick's grip loosening and he looked down, seeing that Dick was fighting to stay awake. He smiled sadly. It looked like he was going to wind up skipping this morning's routine after all, because he didn't particularly feel like leaving Dick now. Carefully, Bruce pushed himself up in the bed so that he could sit up against the backboard. Dick stirred, looking up at him with a frown.
"It's all right, Dick" Bruce said. "Just getting comfortable."
"Oh." Dick laid his head back against Bruce's chest. "You don't have to stay" he told him sleepily.
Bruce smiled. "I know." He looked around, trying to find the blanket Dick had somehow lost. Finding it, he pulled at a corner and revealed a very worn stuffed gray elephant. Smiling, Bruce reached for it and gently nudged Dick's shoulder. When he glanced blearily over, he smiled upon seeing the elephant. Bruce handed it to him and then grabbed hold of the blanket and covered his young charge. Dick hooked an arm over the elephant and repositioned himself against Bruce, finally drifting off to sleep.
Bruce leaned his head back, and looked down at Dick. By no means did tonight make everything all right- it would be a long, hard journey for Dick. For both of them. But right now, he was content to recognize their minor victory. The three of them—he, Dick and Alfred—would take it a day at a time. It was the most they could do.