If they were mine I would have so much money that my hobbies would
include skiing the Alps and catamaran sailing, not writing
Universe: Fleshing out the cartoon canon some comic canon and some Batman and Justice League canon, too.
Timeline: Before the 1st episode (Divide and Conquer)
Summary: A story introducing the characters from the cartoon and showing how they first met as teenagers and leading up to the beginnings of the Teen Titans crime-fighting team.
Series: Part 1 of a planned series.
Pairings: none… yet
Content Disclaimer: Nothing is sacred in the DC Comics universe, because there IS NO DC Comics universe. Anything is fair game. This fic is a blender of everything that has come before, cartoon and comic, for everything DC, in order to give plausibility, coherency, continuity, and integrity to the Teen Titans cartoon show. The authors' notes along the way should help those who don't know a Titan from an Outsider, etc.
Shots rang out loud and clear down the deserted alleyway and ricocheted off of steel and brick buildings. The chase had stretched on for blocks, the villains constantly assailing their pursuers with cascading barrages of automatic weapons fire. Yet their pursuers were relentless, and one by one the automatic weapons ran out of ammunition, forcing their owners to abandon them in the heat of the chase. By now there was just one armed assailant left, and he was currently firing a semi-automatic pistol side-armed in random intervals at his two pursuers, hoping to keep them at bay. Unfortunately for him, those pursuers had taken advantage of the drop-off in firepower and were now deathly close to catching him.
Unfortunately for them, that 'him' was the Joker, with at least half a clip left.
"They're gainin' on us, Mistah J!" Harley Quinn cried above the din as the Joker stumbled slightly from the kickback of a gunshot. Through the corner of his eye he spotted the Batman getting ready some toy or other that would most likely be a lot more fun himself than for his quarry. With no goons left the Joker was starting to get a bit nervous.
"Then why don't you deliver the package, Harley!" he growled in annoyance.
"Oh yeah, Mistah J! I forgot!" Harley produced a pool ball-sized orb from somewhere unseen and lobbed it behind them. A clink and a hiss and then the alleyway filled with purple smoke. The Joker's maniacal laughter was heard over a sudden burst of gunfire as Batman quickly drew his cape across his face to protect himself from the gas, able only to hope that Robin had done the same. The gas dissipated after several seconds, but when it cleared it appeared as though the Joker and Harley had vanished.
Batman heard a noise behind him, and thinking that it meant the bad guys had slipped behind them he spun around—only to discover that the sound had an entirely different meaning. There was the Boy Wonder, lying in a heap on the damp alleyway pavement with his cape covering his face. His legs were bent awkwardly beneath him and crimson stains were rapidly spreading in rivulets that drained away down cobblestone channels.
Batman was instantly at his side. The cape was drawn back to reveal Robin's too-pale face. Mercifully or not, his eyes were still shielded by his mask. Batman paid little heed to Robin's face however; he was too busy taking in the sight of copious amounts of blood gushing from a bullet wound in his chest.
He was only caught staring for half a second. Blood gushing meant that Robin was still alive—and that meant that Batman had very little time. One strong hand ripped the costume open down the front as the other placed a gauze pad on the wound. This did nothing to ebb the blood flow and Batman added another, and then another, until his utility belt was empty of them. One hand applied pressure to the bandage while the other pressed a button on the belt. Seconds later the Batmobile's engine was heard revving down the alleyway, but Batman paid it no heed until he heard the screeching tires.
Batman was reaching for the medical kit even before the door had completely opened, and he was at Robin's side again a moment later. A pressure bandage was added on top of the soaked gauze, and Batman decidedly did not like the cool and clammy feel to Robin's skin.
Such contemplations were violently interrupted by the sound of sirens. He had just enough time to cut the rest of the costume off and stash it in the Batmobile before the squad cars arrived. He purposely did not look at Robin's face when he removed the mask.
Sirens drowned out all sounds save for screeching tires as squad cars blocked off both ends of the alley. Cops and EMTs swarmed the alley and descended upon Batman and the mostly naked Dick Grayson like vultures. Batman covered Grayson with his own cape and stood back, allowing the professionals to take it from there. Bodies swarmed Grayson, babbling in police officer and medical jargon. The cops were eventually shoved aside by the EMTs.
"Holy shit." Batman recognized that voice. Detective Harvey Bullock. "Ain't that Bruce Wayne's kid? Dickie something?"
"My God." Another voice. Commissioner Gordon. "What happened here?" Gordon barked to the frenzied crowd of civil servants.
That's when Batman reemerged from the shadows.
"I found him here like this," he said, no traces of emotion in his voice. "Whoever did this to him was scared off by the Joker and his goons." Over Gordon's shoulder he saw an EMT performing CPR on Grayson as a defibrillator was being prepared.
"You're likin' em younger, eh Bats?" Bullock sneered as he came to stand behind the commissioner. Gordon spun around angrily but Bullock merely shrugged, puffing his cigar. When Gordon turned back Batman had vanished.
From a rooftop, Batman was watching the proceedings below with a strange sense of surreal detachment. It may have been Robin who was shot, but it was Dick Grayson who was dying. Bruce Wayne's eyes stared helplessly through the cowl and watched his ward be loaded into the back of the ambulance that had somehow found its way through the squad cars and into the alley. Another crime, another alleyway, another gunshot, another loved one and Bruce could only watch, powerless to prevent and unable to help in any way.
The cops collectively looked up as Batman suddenly swooped down upon them. The roof of the Bat-mobile slid back and he landed squarely in the driver's seat, only to shift into gear and speed out of the alley through the path that the ambulance had cleared.
Alfred was waiting in the Batcave when the Bat-mobile returned. The hatch popped open and Batman emerged only to stagger slightly and catch the side of the car with one hand for support.
"Master Bruce!" Alfred dropped his teacup as he ran to Bruce's side a lot quicker than one would have guessed an elderly butler could move. He took in the bloodstained costume and lack of cape with healthy concern, his first instincts being to check for injuries.
"I'm fine, Alfred," Bruce said tiredly as he waved off his butler's attentions.
"But—" Alfred's protest was cut off by Bruce's procuring the torn and bloodied Robin costume from the Bat-mobile. "Good heavens…"
"They took him to the hospital. I don't know if he's dead or alive. Expect Gordon to drop by soon."
Alfred nodded gravely, lost for words, as he tried to decide what to do. "If Gordon's coming here," he said at length, being the voice of reason, "then we should get you cleaned up."
Bruce merely nodded. When he made no move towards the locker room Alfred merely reached out a hand. Bruce then seem to realize that this would require motion, and so slowly he walked towards Alfred, who fell into step behind him—far enough back to not be hovering yet close enough to catch him if he fell, and together they made their way towards the Batcave locker room.
Alfred saw that Bruce was indeed uninjured and allowed him the privacy of a shower, and while Bruce took considerably longer than normal, he reemerged looking a bit more like his usual self. Except for his eyes, which retained a haunted and detached look that sent shivers down Alfred's spine.
"One of us should wait for the commissioner," said Alfred, knowing full well that he would be the one to do so. Bruce nodded absently as he pulled on an old pair of sweats.
"Will you be alright if I went upstairs?" Alfred asked candidly, finally earning Bruce's full attention. Bruce nodded again, this time more deliberately. Alfred hesitated a fraction longer than he probably should have, but he did take his leave, and the Batman was left alone in his cave.
Eventually Bruce stood from the locker room bench he'd been sitting on, his bare feet plodding heavily on the cold concrete floor. When he made his way to the door, he noticed that Alfred had taken away the soiled costumes. With a heavy sigh he made his way back into the Batcave, not noticing his own breath as it fogged before his eyes, nor how the damp concrete floor made his toes numb. He found his way to his workstation only to find Robin's costume folded neatly next to the crime lab. However, fond thoughts of Alfred were quickly chased away by the reality of the situation.
Bruce sat in his chair and took the costume in his hands. He didn't need to run any tests on it; he knew exactly what had happened. Absently he ran his fingers over the saturated material, feeling the difference in texture between the spots where the blood had dried and where it was still damp. Then suddenly his fingers found the bullet hole: right through the inside edge of the giant 'R'. The Joker couldn't have fired better had he actually been aiming. Bruce knew the human body well enough to know that at the very least the bullet had pierced a lung. At most…
"Master Bruce," Alfred's voice suddenly resounded across Wayne Manor and through the Batcave over the intercom system. "Commissioner Gordon is here to see you."
With a resigned sigh, Bruce set the costume aside and noticed as he stood that his hands were once again covered in blood. He felt his stomach lurch as he stumbled to the emergency wash basin next to the crime lab. He didn't notice the incredible heat of the water nor how fiercely he scrubbed his hands to be free of the stain. They were red and irritated when he finally made his way upstairs to the manor to deal with Commissioner Gordon.
"Is there something I can do for you, Commissioner?" Bruce Wayne asked as he entered the sitting room where waiting guests were kept. His casual and unaffected tone surprised even himself.
The commissioner ran a tired hand over his eyes. "I think you'd better sit down, Bruce."
Gordon's tone made Bruce's heart catch in his throat.
"The bullet did a lot of damage, Mr. Wayne," said the doctor. "It was touch-and-go there for a while, and he coded twice during the surgery. If you ask me, it's a miracle he survived at all."
"Get to the point," Bruce interrupted with as much patience as he could muster.
The doctor sighed tiredly. "The bullet nicked the aorta and passed through his left lung, but we've managed to stabilize him now. He's still in critical condition, but he's a fighter, that one. I expect he'll pull through, but it's really up to him now."
Bruce nodded gravely, absorbing this information. He heard Alfred sigh in relief from a chair nearby.
"Can I see him?" Bruce asked expectantly.
The doctor hesitated briefly before nodding. "Sure. He's in the ICU right now. Take the elevator to the fifth floor and a nurse on duty will direct you."
"Thank you." Bruce began walking towards the elevators and Alfred rose to follow him.
"Oh, I'm sorry," said the doctor as he moved to stand in front of Alfred. "Only immediate family are allowed."
"But Alfred's as much an immediate family member as I am," Bruce protested, fighting to keep his cool.
Alfred just shook his head. "It's all right Master Bruce. I'll just wait in the car."
Bruce could hear Alfred's repressed indignation only because of how long he's known him. He was about to protest further but Alfred smiled in reassurance and secretly Bruce was grateful for this chance to visit with Dick alone.
The elevator ride had to have been the longest twenty seconds of Bruce's life. Of course he only thought that before the twenty-second walk from the receptionist's desk to Dick's room at the end of the hall. However, not one second of this seemingly monumental time span was enough to prepare him for what he saw when he entered the room.
The beeping, whirring, and hissing were the first things he noticed. Dick was simply surrounded by different machines that Bruce took passing notice of as he approached the hospital bed. Dick was drawn and pale and almost sickly looking lying there, legs covered in hospital blankets and torso covered in bandages. Bruce knew that the doctors would have had to crack the entire left side of his ribcage in order to repair the damage behind it.
The next things he noticed were the tubes and wires. Both of his arms were connected at the hand and the inside of the elbow to various intravenous fluids bags at varying levels of fullness. A pulse-oximeter was secured to an index finger and the wires for other sensors snaked their way underneath the bandages.
The worst tube of all, however, was the respirator. A large blue hose ran from the hissing machine to a facemask that covered Dick's mouth and nose, and the slow and steady rise and fall of his chest coincided with the rhythm of noises from that singular machine. Analytically Bruce knew that the respirator would stay until Dick could breathe on his own, standard practice for a severe lung injury.
The worst of it was how young Dick looked lying there with the respirator mask dwarfing his face the way it was.
Bruce stood hovering at Dick's bedside for many moments, simply reveling in the telltale beep of the heart monitor. Then he tentatively reached out a hand, but Dick looked so fragile lying there that Bruce recoiled as if he were afraid that his mere touch would break him. The recoiled hand balled into a fist that shook with barely restrained fury. However, punching something in this room could have disastrous consequences and Bruce spun away in disgust. To release this tension he began pacing angrily. He had only made a few passes before his eyes drifted to the sight of Dick lying there, alive and breathing due only to the graces of God and machines, and all traces of anger left him. Dick was alive, and for right now that's all that mattered.
Bruce pulled a chair over from the side of the room and placed it by the bedside, already mentally preparing himself for the eventual fight he would have with the nursing staff because of this. Pushing those thoughts aside Bruce sat down heavily and slid forward enough so that he was within arm's reach of Dick. Then he carefully took Dick's hand in his own and marveled, noticing for the first time how much smaller Dick's hands were compared to his own. Bruce brought his other hand over and Dick's hand disappeared completely and thus the wait began; time was kept by the beeps, whirrs, and hisses as a single tear escape Bruce's control and trailed unhindered down his cheek to fall onto the woolen hospital blanket and disappear.
The next week or so was a blur for Bruce. Hundred-dollar bills shoved into the fists of nurses and attendants afforded him the luxury of declaring his own visiting hours, and the majority of those were spent in that very same chair in that exact same position. When he wasn't sitting, he was pacing, but towards the end he found that he didn't have the energy for pacing and so sitting he remained.
He also spoke to Commissioner Gordon at some point, but the actual date and time will be forever lost to him. The commissioner said something about this probably being a mugging that was interrupted by the Joker's getaway down the alley. Dick would have been an appealing target with his designer clothes and expensive watch… Because even stupid criminals fear the Joker, and since it's a safe bet that Batman isn't far behind, the muggers must have shot Dick and left him for dead as they fled the scene just in time for the Dark Knight to arrive and save the boy's life.
Though Bruce didn't know it at the time, thankfully Alfred was busy behind the scenes, keeping the press at bay. However he managed it Bruce would probably never know, but all the newspapers released was "Ward of Bruce Wayne hospitalized after mugging," and it didn't even make the front page. Of course this was made easier by the fact that Dick was seventeen and still a legal minor, and somehow Alfred managed to prevent the tabloids from running with the story, not only to protect Robin's secret identity but also to keep those who routinely follow the society pages—people like Clark Kent and Oliver Queen—from getting wind of how close Dick had come to death.
proving his worth,
at some point in the middle of
Bruce's vigil Alfred dragged the exhausted billionaire
from the Dick's bedside, half-asleep, and somehow
managed to get him into the car and then into the
manor and up to his bedroom. Bruce cursed when he
next awoke and noticed the time—not that he would say anything to Alfred of course. And at least he managed to shower and shave before returning to the hospital.
When he got back he discovered that Dick had been removed from the respirator and was breathing on his own. For perhaps the first time since the deaths of his parents Bruce actually thanked God for something as he resumed his vigil by Dick's bedside.
Day after day this continued as Dick's vitals oh-so-gradually improved, and aside from that one time Bruce never left his side. Alfred made sure that ready stashes of bribe money were on hand to deal with the hospital staff and it was all he could do to convince Bruce to eat, winning that battle only when Bruce had just awakened from the abysmal visitors' chair catnaps he fought to avoid, when he was too groggy and angry with himself for falling asleep to complain.
Only later would Bruce realize that he never saw Leslie during this time, and once again he would have Alfred to thank for that. She was constantly updated on Dick's condition and paid her visit during Bruce's one enforced absence. As much as Alfred adored the doctor, he knew that putting her and Bruce in the same room together at a time like this would only lead to trouble. Her opinions of the 'night life' have never been secret, and regardless of how much Alfred shares them his first loyalties are to his boys, and right now Bruce didn't need any more reminders of how very much it was his fault that Dick was shot. Doubtless his thoughts were already tormented by that angle of the truth enough as it was, so any conversations on the subject could at least wait until Dick regains consciousness.
It was some time during the eleventh day after the shooting when Dick finally awoke. Bruce was holding his hand, absently tracing circles over the back of it with his thumb. The gesture had become more symbolic than practical for Bruce, as though without that contact—that link to the living world, Dick would just simply fade away. His exhaustion-fogged brain was focusing so intently on this concept that he didn't even notice Dick's awakening until he spoke.
"That tickles," came a hoarse croak from the bed, and Bruce dropped the hand as if burned when he nearly jumped out of his skin. Dick looked up at him with tired, glassy eyes, but Bruce was momentarily too overwhelmed to speak. "You look like Hell."
Dick was supposed to remain in the hospital for two more weeks at least, but Bruce finagled to have him released a week sooner due to the adequacy of Alfred's medical training as vouched for by Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Dick's bedroom at the manor was converted: a hospital bed in place of his own four-poster, and machines and IV stands were part of the deal as well. But at least Dick could wear his own pajamas, sleep on his own sheets with his own blankets, and have Alfred tend his needs and cook his meals.
Over the course of the next two weeks the machines and IVs gradually dwindled. Finally there were no machines and only one IV to keep Dick hydrated and to finish the rigorous course of antibiotics prescribed for him. During this time he was confined to his bed. Not that he would ever admit it, but Bruce's threats of the measures he would take to ensure that he stayed there were nothing compared to Alfred's simple statement of 'stay in bed or else.'
Leslie would visit once daily to check Dick's progress, usually around lunchtime. Somehow Bruce always managed to have "just stepped out" whenever she arrived. Leslie knew she was being avoided, but Alfred's point that he had missed quite a lot of Wayne Enterprises business while sitting day and night at Dick's sickbed was a valid one and one that Dick would have accepted without question.
Dick, of course, knew nothing of this. In the beginning the drugs kept him mostly out of it, and even when his dependence on them tapered he still spent most of his time sleeping, as his body was no way near recovered from the trauma. And of course all three adults were exceptionally careful not to say anything to or around Dick that might upset him.
Therefore the biggest problem Dick faced in the early stages of recovery... was boredom. To ease the 'pain' while Dick was still bedridden Bruce moved the entire DVD collection to Dick's room, just in case there was something he owned that would catch Dick's fancy. What Dick suggested that they didn't have Bruce went out and bought. When they weren't watching mindless action films, Knight Rider reruns, or CSI marathons Dick would turn on the puppy dog eyes and get Alfred to read to him like during his first year at the manor when he came down with the chicken pox. Dick heard the entirety of Sherlock Holmes in a soothing British accent but had to turn down Bruce's suggestion that he and Alfred start on the Shakespeare collection by acting out the plays due to the claim that laughing still hurt too much.
The charade that all was well was easy to maintain when Dick was heavily medicated.
It was only when the last IV had been removed and the hospital bed replaced that Leslie's daily visits were no longer required. Dick had also regained much of his mental stamina. He could stay awake for entire movies and have long, thoughtful conversations with people without getting exhausted.
"What are you going to do?" Leslie asked Alfred quite plainly as he showed her to the door after her last visit.
"That's hardly up to me," Alfred replied just as plainly.
"I wish Bruce would stop avoiding me," Leslie lamented.
"He most likely fears your condemnation," said Alfred in all honesty.
Leslie sighed and shook her head. "You all know where I stand on the issue," she said. "But my opinion has never mattered all that much before."
"Oh quite the contrary," Alfred corrected. "Your opinions matter to him a great deal."
"Just not enough to change his mind."
Alfred was quiet for a moment, his expression slowly turning sad. "Opinions have never been enough to sway Master Bruce," he said gravely. "It has always been tragic events that are proven to be the most effective."
"That's why I want to see him," Leslie informed him. "I need to know that he's okay, too."
Alfred's expression softened and he managed a smile for the woman who had helped him raise a son that was never really theirs.
"It's not that he's reluctant to discuss the issue with you again."
"What is it then?"
The smile fled as Alfred's sadness returned. "He doesn't know how to face you," he confessed, "knowing that you may have proven him wrong."
As Dick continued to improve he noticed that he stopped seeing Bruce between sunset and dawn. Bruce and Alfred would always eat dinner in Dick's room and then Alfred would leave to do the dishes. Only now Bruce was leaving too, and Dick wouldn't see him again until the next morning for breakfast. The overly cheerful smile that Bruce donned during breakfast couldn't hide the growing dark circles beneath his eyes as the days stretched into weeks. Some days Dick wouldn't see Bruce until well into the afternoon after he would excuse himself from breakfast. They would spend the afternoons together and then Bruce would leave again after dinner.
Dick knew that Bruce was sleeping during the day, and he knew that it meant he had gone back to being Batman at night. Part of Dick was touched that Bruce waited until all traces of his injury were hidden from view before he returned to 'the night life' while another part of him selfishly wished that Bruce would stay for Alfred's bedtime stories again, and still another part wanted desperately to get out of bed and rejoin his crime-fighting partner in the good fight. Most of all, it motivated Dick to speed along his recovery.
After a few days of only being allowed out of bed to use the bathroom (which was a major improvement over the prior arrangements of course) Dick was finally granted the luxury of a bath—in his swim trunks with Alfred waiting out of sight to supervise. It was his reward for suffering through the removal of his stitches. That night at dinner Bruce commented on the improved smell in Dick's room, which earned him a pillow thrown at his head, which he easily ducked.
A few days and another bath later and Dick was at last permitted to go on short, supervised walks. These he took with Bruce, not because Alfred was needed to freshen Dick's room whilst he was gone, as per the claim, but because Bruce trusted no one's reflexes but his own for this task, not even Alfred's.
For the most part those reflexes weren't needed. Dick only stumbled a few times in the beginning as his legs got used to bearing his weight again. Of course, Dick weighed a good thirty pounds less than he did before the shooting, and to Bruce he looked entirely too thin even now, having gained ten of those pounds back. These thoughts he kept to himself, however.
Just like all the rest.
Now was not the time.
By the end of the next week Dick was walking the entirety of the second floor of the manor unaided, though Bruce did remain close at hand. Dick thought he was ready to tackle a flight of stairs, but Bruce assured him that he wasn't. When Dick protested Bruce simply stated that if he collapsed from exhaustion he would have to be carried all the way back to his room, and this threat silenced all further protests.
Throughout this long road to recovery Dick paid close attention to Alfred and Bruce, mostly to keep his mind active while his body struggled to regain what was lost. Alfred was the same old Alfred for the most part, though Dick was sure there were a few more white hairs than before. However, he did get the distinct impression that much of the atmosphere was forced, especially when he and Bruce would leave after dinner. It lent the aura of parents not wanting to fight in front of the children and Dick got the distinct impression that there was something they weren't telling him.
Then there was Bruce.
Bruce was, well… Bruce was Bruce. Though never an openly affectionate man—actually, never an open man, period, Dick knew that his legal guardian cared greatly for him through the little things—actions that went without words. The way he would listen with interest as Dick described something he learned on the Discovery Channel, the way he would hover yet still give space during their morning walks, the way he seemed more than willing to accommodate Dick's every need or even whim. A softly spoken man of loudly speaking actions, that was the Bruce Dick knew and these past weeks he fit that bill to a tee.
There were the increasing dark circles beneath his eyes, and the seeming regularity that he wore a five o'clock shadow. These things were never common. The first time Dick tried the stairs and stumbled he found Bruce's strong arms supporting him so that he didn't fall. He removed his hands not a moment after he was confident that Dick had regained his balance, but Dick got a good, long look at those hands. They were red and puffy in the telltale places. He was wearing the Batman gloves for too long, or he was hitting things a lot harder or more often than he used to—or all of the above.
And he wasn't getting enough sleep, either. They would spend the evening together from whenever Bruce woke up (not that he was told that of course), and then dinner would be served and then Batman would walk the night until dawn most likely. That would give him enough time to shower and change and care for the equipment before having to be ready for breakfast, immediately after which he would take Dick for a walk. When Dick was back in bed resting Bruce would head to his desk in the study for office email and teleconferencing until finally going to bed around noon.
Dick did the math. On a good day, Bruce would get five hours of sleep. On most days it was barely four, and on some…
Dick couldn't ignore the tired tone of Bruce's voice that gleefully masqueraded as patience, the same as he couldn't ignore the irritation of Bruce's hands nor the bags beneath his eyes, and then there was the occasional limp or muscle to be favored. And yet he never said a word—not that he was in the habit of complaining anyway. And neither did Alfred, which was odd considering he would often inform Robin of his concerns for Batman, clandestinely of course, so that the trusty sidekick could know about any injury or ailment the hero had so skillfully kept hidden. In Alfred's mind, it wasn't betrayal if it could save a person's life. Dick did contemplate that because he wasn't currently riding with Batman that Alfred decided that he didn't have a need to know, but still…
It was during their nightly reading; Alfred had just finished a chapter of The Three Musketeers when Dick decided to confront the issue.
"He's going after the Joker, isn't he," Dick said, almost passively even though it wasn't a question.
Alfred was silent for a long moment. Then: "I wouldn't know, Master Dick. I'm hardly out there with him." The amusement and dismissal in Alfred's tone was betrayed by the pained look nearly concealed in his eyes. Alfred then closed the book on the bookmark and set it aside. It was a bit earlier than they usually finished, and Dick noticed.
"I want to step up my physical therapy tomorrow."
Alfred sighed as he stood from his chair. "I'll take it up with Master Bruce," he promised, resignation in his voice. Dick didn't know if that was from their conversation or from something else entirely. "Get some rest."
The next day Dick started a rudimentary regime of physical therapy. Bruce approved the idea of Dick running through some basic stretches with the concept that once his muscles were a bit stronger more strenuous and involved exercises would be added. Two weeks later and Dick was swimming slow and careful laps in the indoor pool with supervision. When at Thanksgiving Dick could barely make it to the dining room and back on his own, by Christmas he was able to walk anywhere in the manor unaided. His strength, speed, and endurance weren't where they should be, but progress was being made that was satisfactory to all.
Soon enough Dick was lifting weights and going on longer and longer walks. By the end of January he (usually) wouldn't have to take naps in the middle of the day. He could by no means keep the kind of hours he was used to, but staying awake from breakfast through dinner and sometimes a little later helped to return a sense of normalcy to his life that had been lacking these past months.
Neither Bruce nor Alfred were willing to let Dick exercise unsupervised. Usually Alfred would be sitting in a chair reading The London Times, which Bruce would import for him, while Dick would walk, or swim, or stretch. Sometimes though Bruce would join him, usually in the hours just before dinner. He would run through a kata or skip rope while Dick was stretching and working on his flexibility, but would drop everything to spot if Dick wanted to lift weights or take a dip in the pool. Usually these times were spent in comfortable silence, each simply working on his own craft.
For them, silence had always been more comfortable than conversation.
Then one day in mid February Dick woke up at 8:25 for an 8:00 breakfast. He was surprised when he noticed the time not because he had overslept but because Alfred hadn't woken him up to eat yet. Alfred keeps a tight ship and meals are generally served with the chimes of the clock, yet even Alfred is human and late meals due to a kitchen emergency, while rare, have occurred before. Yet if that was the case, then where was Bruce?
Dick wasn't admitting to himself that he was worried. Bruce was probably helping Alfred clean up the giant mess in the kitchen, which probably had Alfred more exasperated than anything else. So, claiming that he was simply curious (and hungry), Dick crawled out of bed and grabbed his bathrobe, intending on making his way down to the kitchen to laugh hysterically at the sight of Bruce and Alfred covered in pancake batter.
Except when he got there the kitchen was empty. What's more, it appeared as though nothing in the kitchen had been used at all.
That sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that Dick refused to acknowledge made him leave the kitchen and head for the Batcave. It was extremely rare that he and Bruce would be out this late, but once in a blue moon it had been known to happen.
When Dick got to the Batcave he found Alfred sitting in the workstation chair reading a book. The Batmobile was nowhere to be found.
The butler startled, either because he was lost in the book or lost in thought, but he hadn't heard Dick's entry.
"Master Dick, what are you doing out of bed this early?" He then noticed that Dick had entered the Batcave in boxers and a loosely tied bathrobe with nothing on his feet. "Good heavens, are you trying to make yourself sick?"
Dick laughed dismissively. "Between Bruce's hovering and your mother-henning no illness would have the nerve to get within a hundred feet of me," he joked.
Alfred was not amused.
"Besides," he amended quickly, "it's after half passed already."
Disbelieving, Alfred glanced at the clock on the workstation. "Good heavens…"
That sinking feeling in Dick's stomach kicked him from the inside out. They were never gone this late without checking in with Alfred.
"You don't think—" Dick was cut off by the sudden opening of the Batcave garage door. The Batmobile drove in and parked in its usual spot. Both Dick and Alfred held their breath as the hatch opened. Much to their relief Batman stepped out of the car, exhausted but seemingly uninjured.
"I hope you brought takeout," Dick called out, masking his relief with humor.
Bruce just grunted as he heavily shut the door. Alfred stepped forward and took the cape and cowl from him when he took them off. Dick saw him gingerly lick at a slightly swollen lip. Bruce didn't acknowledge either of them as he made his way into the locker room. The two exchanged bemused glances as they heard the sudden sound of rushing water.
"Well, I have laundry to see to," said Alfred as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. "Breakfast will be at ten."
Dick just shook his head as Alfred left the Batcave carrying Batman's costume. Alfred had already made it through the door when Dick snapped out of his mini-trance and moved to follow. That's when he noticed the small blood splatters trailing after Alfred that must have dripped from the costume.
Curious more than concerned, Dick grabbed a sample kit from the crime lab. He then painstakingly collected enough blood from the larger of the splatter marks to run a DNA test. Then, with the computer running the necessary permutations, Dick wandered over to the coffee machine and fired it up. He had nothing to do now but wait.
By the time Bruce was done showering, Dick was seated at the workstation with the chair facing outwards. He had a cup of coffee in one hand with another still steaming on the desk beside him, prepared the way Bruce likes it. Bruce was greeted with the strong scent of Columbian Roast when he exited the locker room. He followed the scent to the workstation and saw Dick sitting patiently, waiting for him.
"Rough night?" Dick asked casually as he handed Bruce his coffee.
Bruce nodded with a non-committal grunt as he accepted the cup. He took as long a draught as the heat of the coffee would permit.
"Thanks," he said, letting himself saver the good taste of strong coffee.
"Did Biff Stanwell have a rougher night?" Dick asked when Bruce was taking his next sip.
Bruce looked up, confused.
"You know, the perp you beat to a bloody pulp this evening."
Bruce lowered the coffee cup from his lips slowly as he gave Dick a critical gaze.
"Along with Joey Stallone and David Kanin."
Bruce put the entire cup and saucer back on the desk and stood up straighter.
"Kanin was the Joker's go-to man, wasn't he?"
"Both the Joker and Harley Quinn are back in Arkham," Bruce declared, his voice low and resonating of Batman in one of his moodier moods.
"And you delivered them personally?" Dick asked, his tone as casual and conversational as ever.
Bruce's lack of response was response enough. Usually the police would arrive in time to take Gotham's more eccentric bunch off their hands just as the fun had ended.
"They're back in Arkham where they belong," Bruce said eventually, still using the voice.
"And the goons?" Dick persisted. "Did they wind up in Arkham too?"
"The cops took care of them."
"Cops, or coroners?"
"I'm going to take an aspirin," Bruce said dismissively after a moment as he began walking away—passed the shelf that contained the first aide supplies.
"Bruce?" Dick spun in his chair and called after him.
"Thanks for the coffee."
Dick only watched as Bruce exited the Batcave. Then with a resigned air he stood from the chair and cleaned up the coffee cups, not wanting to trouble Alfred further. That being done he too headed upstairs. He needed a shower himself, and it never hurts to be dressed for breakfast.
Breakfast was taken in the kitchen in a silence more strained than comfortable. Alfred tried for small talk but Bruce was too tired to engage and too irritable to care much for conversation anyway. Dick tried his best but he was yawning before breakfast ended.
"Perhaps you should take a nap, Master Dick," Alfred directed. "You've had a busy morning."
"I don't need a nap," He protested through another yawn. Both Bruce and Alfred gave amusingly disbelieving looks and Dick muttered something under his breath.
"Don't let me sleep too long," he directed. "I still want to swim a few laps this afternoon."
Bruce watched Dick's retreat from his spot at the table. Alfred began clearing the table as soon as he had gone.
"You shouldn't have let him stay in the Batcave," Bruce admonished, slight dejection coloring his tired voice.
"What was I to tell him?" Alfred asked. "That he had no place there?"
"He ran a DNA analysis on the bloodstains from the bat costume," Bruce informed him. "I don't think he did it out of any concern for me."
Alfred took his time to answer, shoving away his immediate response to that statement. "He's already deduced that you've been… hunting," he said carefully.
Bruce didn't seem surprised. "He's a smart kid."
"He's no longer a kid, Bruce," said Alfred weightily.
A heavy silence.
"I know," Bruce finally admitted, quietly, his voice pained.
That night after dinner Dick was going to retire to his room for a bit of reading, but Bruce surprised him with the offer for a chess match. The two of them sat opposite each other, Bruce playing black and Dick manning white. Both were staring intently at the finely carved marble pieces.
"Check," Dick moved his queen into a threatening position.
Bruce blocked with a pawn. "I see you've finally read those chess books I gave you," he observed.
"What else is a person to do when confined to bed for months at a time?" Dick replied, moving his bishop over to strengthen his offensive.
Bruce studied the board intently. "But how much did you pick up?" he asked in challenge, finally moving a rook one space over.
"Enough," Dick answered with a slight grin as he moved his own rook away from the discovered attack of one of Bruce's bishops.
Bruce came close to smirking. Then, much to Dick's dismay, he moved his knight and captured Dick's other rook. "Really?" he challenged good-naturedly, fingering the captured piece gingerly before his eyes and then setting it aside.
"Perhaps if you were home more often I'd get to practice more," Dick said despondently as he gazed at chessboard. Finally he moved his own knight over to protect his now vulnerable queen.
"You could always play with Alfred," Bruce countered as he moved a pawn out of the way of a bishop.
"Alfred's busy." And the queen moved back into a less offensive but much safer position. "Besides," he continued. "Playing with you helps me figure out how you think."
"Now there's a dangerous thought," Bruce mused as he moved a pawn.
"And getting into your opponent's head is a valuable skill to learn," Dick added as he surveyed the board. Finally he moved a pawn of his own.
"Indeed," Bruce agreed as he moved his knight, effectively countering the attack that Dick had planned.
Dick's face fell when he saw what Bruce had done. "If I didn't know better I'd swear you were cheating," he grumbled, an edge to his voice that Bruce readily picked up. Finally he moved his own knight and captured an unprotected pawn.
Bruce then took that knight with his own queen, leaving both a rook and a bishop unprotected. Dick looked up in barely masked surprise.
"Why?" Bruce asked as innocently as he was capable. "Because I'm winning?"
"That's what you think," Dick rebutted, moving his knight again to take Bruce's unprotected bishop.
"Really?" Bruce countered as he moved a rook forward and took one of Dick's pawns. "Check."
Dick repressed an aggravated sigh.
"Is this how you finally beat the Joker?" he asked, his voice retaining that hard edge that Bruce was all too aware of. Dick was searching Bruce's face for answers. "By staying one step ahead of his every move until you could trap him just where you wanted him?"
Bruce tensed at the rhetorical question, but it was hidden by the baggy sweater he was wearing.
"I did what had to be done," he answered, finality in his voice.
"It's not the ends that worry me, Bruce," Dick said, all traces of harshness seemingly having vanished. "It's your means."
"The ends justify the means," Bruce countered, his own voice taking on darker qualities usually reserved for other activities.
"Well what were these ends then?" Dick asked, curiosity covering any suspicions or accusations.
A pregnant pause.
"The Joker had to be stopped." Bruce left out the rest of the thought accompanying that statement. To this statement, Dick nodded.
"We should have done it together."
"And just let them run free in the meantime?" Bruce redirected with slight incredulousness.
Dick had nothing to say to that.
"You're in check," Bruce then reminded him. Surprised, Dick returned his attentions to the chessboard.
"Next time you should wait for me," Dick replied as he moved his king out of the way of the attack. "Judging from the splatter on your costume... you needed me last night."
But Bruce had stopped listening. His mind had latched onto the first words Dick had said, and was quietly reeling. No matter how strong Batman was, Bruce Wayne wasn't sure if he could endure another ten days of waiting for Dick to awaken in the ICU.
"There won't be a next time," he said, quietly and definitively.
Dick blinked in surprise, knowing that he heard right and yet refusing to believe. "What?" he rasped the question.
"You heard me," Bruce replied sternly. "There isn't going to be a next time. Robin is a liability that Batman cannot afford."
Dick flinched. "Is that what I am to you?" he asked quietly. "A liability?"
Bruce could sense the undercurrents of meaning that question carried and it cut him like a knife.
"I thought we were partners." Incredulousness and insecurity in that statement.
Bruce ignored them.
"We were. I'm ending the partnership."
"I won't risk you getting hurt again."
Dick didn't catch the softness with which this last phrase was spoken.
"It's my risk to take," Dick defended. "I knew that going in."
"Not anymore," Bruce countered. "I can't—I won't, take that risk."
"No one's asking you to risk anything," Dick returned hotly.
That statement hit Bruce like a kick in the stomach.
"What's changed?" Dick demanded when Bruce didn't answer. "We're both still here."
"It doesn't matter," Bruce replied dismissively, retreating, closeting his psyche. "I created this partnership, and now I'm ending it."
"You can't do that!" Dick practically shouted. "I swore an oath, remember? How can you stand in the way of that?"
"I'm not," Bruce calmly rebuffed. "I'm absolving you of it."
For all his anger and indignation, Dick seriously looked as though he was going to be sick.
"Is it just that easy for you?" he asked, hurt in his voice now instead of anger. "Just cut away your so-called liabilities?"
Once again Dick's accusations cut Bruce deeply.
"Forget it," the dispossessed Boy Wonder said in disgust, tipping over his king in resignation of the match. Then, standing: "Just forget it."
In more than a walk, less than a storm, Dick left the study and slammed the double doors closed behind him.
Bruce sat in stunned silence for a moment, allowing the implications of their conversation to fully sink in. Then he wiped an angry hand across the chessboard and scattered the pieces to the floor before rising in disgust and turning to the large bay window to watch the full moon rising higher over Gotham.
Dick spent the next few days avoiding Bruce. He would tell Alfred that he was too tired to come down to breakfast and find some other excuse to avoid eating dinner. Alfred was respectful of his wishes, provided he was still eating. The routine became that Dick would sleep until Bruce went to bed and then he would get up for breakfast. He would read or watch television for a few hours—long enough to be too engrossed in whatever it was to come down to dinner. Then after Bruce was gone for the evening Dick would exercise and still make it to bed well before the Batman would return from his nightly prowl, thus the reason for sleeping through breakfast.
This went on for a week and a half. Bruce knew that Dick was avoiding him, but his solution was to simply 'give it time'. After all, it's not like they've never fought before...
Alfred finally grew tired of it. Knowing that neither Bruce nor Dick would make the first move, he took the responsibility upon himself. As soon as Bruce was asleep he went to Dick's bedroom and knocked on the door.
"Go away," was the disinterested call he received in greeting.
"It's only me, Master Dick," Alfred said as he opened the door.
Dick put his Wired Magazine down and sat up. "Alfred," he said in slight surprise. "What can I do for you?"
Alfred sighed and claimed a chair, which he dragged over to the bedside to facilitate conversation.
"You can't avoid him forever, Master Dick," Alfred said sagely, coming straight to the point.
Now it was Dick who sighed.
"Surely you weren't planning to try."
"Just for now," Dick said petulantly, indicating that he hadn't really thought beyond his anger yet. "Until I come up with something better."
"Please don't tell me you were planning on going out anyway and working independently?" Alfred asked, sounding disappointed.
Dick blushed slightly. "He'd kill me," he said dejectedly. Then: "But I gotta do something, Alfred. He..." Dick looked away. "He fired me."
Alfred bit back a grin: here was his chance.
"Why do you feel the need to do something about this situation?" Alfred clarified.
"Because I swore an oath!" Dick defended as though he was just asked why two and two are four.
"Yes you did," Alfred agreed. "But he is not holding you to it. You have no obligation now."
"It's not about obligation," Dick protested.
Alfred raised an amused eyebrow.
"Ok maybe it is," Dick amended. "But, I swore to 'fight alongside him, fighting crime and corruption and never swerving from the path of righteousness!' I can't just walk away from that simply because he's had a change of heart."
Alfred couldn't stop the quiet chuckle that escaped his lips.
"What's so funny?"
"That sounds like something Master Bruce would come up with," Alfred confessed.
Dick shrugged in annoyed defeat. "I don't care if he got it from a comic book!" Dick insisted. "I swore an oath. I haven't broken it yet and I don't intend to start now."
Alfred looked oddly contemplative for a moment before he spoke. Dick knew well enough to sit up and take notice.
"Is this really about an oath, Master Dick?"
Dick was taken slightly aback by this question and blinked in surprise.
"Let me tell you a story," Alfred continued. "When my family was still living in England, my grandfather was a young man of simple means and great ambition. Unfortunately, times were hard, work scarce; you know how it is… Well, he got himself into a spot of trouble you see; decided to facilitate his income with—how should I put it? Illegally obtained wealth."
Dick was listening intently. He had never heard Alfred speak about his family before, aside from the fact that he is a third generation butler for the Wayne family.
"Well you see," Alfred continued, "my grandfather has the dubious honor of being the first to successfully break into Wayne Manor—oh, not this one, you see. I mean its predecessor back in jolly old England, in the town of Pershore, in Worcestershire."
Alfred had to chuckle at Dick's expression. The young master found it rather difficult to believe that his beloved butler had a criminal in the family.
"Well you see Master Dick, my grandfather was not a particularly skillful thief and the authorities picked him up before he even had the chance to escape the grounds. Then the most peculiar thing happened. Master Bruce's great grandfather, Master Charles Thomas Wayne, came to hear the trial and sentencing of the young man that had made off with his heirloom candlesticks—you know, the ones in the fine dining room on the mantle. Well I'm not sure if you're aware, Master Dick, but the sentence in Pershore back then for petty theft was hanging. Now, Master Charles thought that to be a might unfair, and so he intervened on my grandfather's behalf. This is when my grandfather began his employ to the Wayne family, and he was so grateful towards Master Charles for sparing his life that he swore an oath. My grandfather swore that the Pennyworths would always honor and serve the Waynes until either the Waynes saw fit to release them or England fell into the sea.
"And my grandfather upheld this oath, even when it meant uprooting his family to facilitate the move to America. And my father upheld this oath after him until the day he died. And upon hearing of my father's death I returned from England—where I had been living at the time—and I too stepped in to uphold this oath, even though it meant leaving everything that I loved behind and returning to a country I hadn't seen since primary school. Oaths are powerful things, Master Dick."
Dick was mesmerized by Alfred's tale. At the end he took a considerable length of time to process this new information. He never had any idea...
"And they never released you from the oath?" he asked, surprised. It seemed rather cruel in his mind to permanently bind an entire family to servitude.
"They did, Master Dick," Alfred corrected.
Dick blinked in surprise and confusion and Alfred laughed quietly.
"Master Thomas—Bruce's father, saw no reason for me to stay on when it would have been just as simple to hire someone else. The reason I was not with them at the theatre that fateful night was because I was making arrangements to return to England."
Dick had no idea, and his reactions demonstrated this and Alfred laughed again, softly.
"And so you stayed…"
Alfred nodded. "I stayed."
It looked as though the seeds of comprehension were sown, but Alfred needed to be sure and so he continued.
"When Master Bruce's parents died I chose to stay on. The Waynes had named me his legal guardian in the event that something should happen to them and so it was just easier all around for everybody if I stayed."
"But you stayed even after Bruce grew up…"
Alfred nodded gravely. "I placed myself in charge of Master Bruce's education, and he had no sooner ceased schooling that he decided… well, to put that schooling to a rather creative use. He tried to dismiss me then, claiming that it would be too dangerous for me given the nature of his work. I simply informed him that he didn't have the power to release me since his father had already beaten him to it just prior to his untimely death."
For lack of a better response Dick just shook his head. "You stayed all this time…"
"Some things are greater than the oaths we swear, Master Dick," Alfred reiterated. "And so I'll ask you again: why is this so important to you? Is it because of your oath, or is it because of something a bit more profound?"
Dick didn't have an answer for him. It was so much to take in—so much more to consider than he had ever given thought to before. He was so young when it all happened—his parents dying that horrible way, then moving in with Bruce, learning about Batman and becoming Robin. Why did he do it? Was it simply to fight the good fight? Was it because it was the best way to find his parents' killer? Was it because he idolized Batman? He really couldn't say for certain, and this fact frightened him.
"Or is it because Master Bruce made the choice for you." Alfred interrupted Dick's thoughts.
"When I was a kid in the circus," Dick began eventually, "Batman was the local legend of Gotham, some mythic beast that everyone said probably didn't exist. Then I learned that he was real—that he operated outside the law to hunt criminals who held themselves above the law. Then I learned that he was Bruce, and learned why Bruce was… the way he was." Dick sighed, attempting to choose his words carefully. "I learned that I had something in common with him. Both our parents were murdered. When he told me that he became Batman to find his parents' killers…"
"You insisted on having that same chance." Alfred finished for him.
Dick nodded. This was the first time in a long while that he was forced to give any thoughts to being Robin. It was habit now, a part of himself both intrinsic and external. He was Robin. Having that taken away felt like having something precious stolen from him, like having a limb amputated that could never be restored.
"And so I became Robin," Dick continued. "I did it for the same reasons Bruce became Batman. Why should he be allowed to continue and not me?"
Alfred sighed heavily, wanting to tell Dick the obvious truth but knowing that it wasn't his place. This was between Master Dick and Master Bruce. In truth he really shouldn't be interfering at all.
"And yet your parents' murder was solved and the perpetrators brought to justice before you became the Batman's official partner," Alfred reminded him.
Dick took his time formulating a response to that. "Bruce didn't really become Batman to catch his parents' killer," he said at length. "He did it so that no other eight-year-olds are orphaned in Gotham."
Alfred's expression remained guarded as he asked: "Why do you think Master Bruce allowed you to become his partner?"
Dick opened his mouth to respond before he realized that he really didn't have an answer to that.
"You've already said it yourself," Alfred continued. "You found in Bruce's secret a kindred spirit. Don't you think that he would naturally have felt the same way?"
Dick bit the inside of his lip. He hadn't considered that.
"So what's changed?" he asked quietly.
Alfred gave him a serious look that could have almost been considered sad.
"Nothing, Master Dick. Nothing at all."
The two sat in contemplative silence for a long moment. Then:
"What gives him the right to make my choices for me?"
Alfred managed a semi-smirk. "He's Batman. You're Robin. That rather makes him in charge."
Dick huffed. "And that makes him always right?"
"A leader's word must be taken without question," Alfred said quite seriously. "You know this."
"Well apparently he doesn't need to lead anymore," Dick grumbled. "He wants to do it all on his own." The bitterness in his voice was undeniable.
Alfred stared at Dick for a long moment, almost like he was making some sort of assessment.
"And what do you want, Master Dick?"
Much to his surprise, Dick found the answer to come quite easily. "To keep doing what I've been doing," he said. "Even after Zucco died… there are others like him, like whoever it was that killed Bruce's parents. People who think that they can own the law and take no responsibility for their actions… actions that leave people orphaned."
Alfred seemed to smile then, as though he had heard something that he wanted to hear.
"You see, Master Dick, there are greater things in life than upholding oaths. Oaths are about honor, you see, and a man who holds his own honor above all else is simply holding to vanity. Duty is greater than honor, Richard. Remember that, and duty will dictate your actions for you."
Dick nodded gravely, taking note of Alfred's uncharacteristic use of his full first name without it being part of a stern reprimand.
"So what action am I supposed to take now?"
"Well," said Alfred, the serious tone seemingly having evaporated. "There are of course other ways of fighting crime than just vigilante work."
Dick perked up at this, curious and interested.
"Perhaps you should consider them. After all, expanding one's mind is always a good idea."
Dick continued to heal as the weeks stretched into months. While the open animosity that he felt towards Bruce had dimmed somewhat, things were by no means all right between them. Whatever friendship they may have had seemed to have cooled, as though the rift that had formed was only widening as the heat of anger dissipated. The bridges were burned and in the aftermath both parties were left to stare at the other from opposite sides of an impossibly wide ravine.
As winter melted into spring and April's rains chased away March's snows many things long hidden these past few months were laid bare. Dick had been spending most of his time in the gymnasium on the third floor of Wayne Manor—he had long since stopped visiting the Batcave, seeming to Bruce that he preferred to forget its existence. His agility and balance were back to where they should be if not higher. The only elements missing were the old speed, strength, and endurance, and Dick was working relentlessly to build them up. To accomplish this alone he had taken to racquetball, and one day in mid April Bruce entered the gym to see Dick crushing the ball against the wall.
"Your aim is improving," Bruce ventured.
Dick heard him—had heard him enter the gym even, but chose not to answer. Instead he backhanded the ball into the opposite corner and watched with satisfaction as it careened off two walls before returning to him.
"Practice," Dick said after a few more hits. The ball would smack the racquet and bounce off the walls in a tensely repetitious pattern.
"How's the endurance?" Bruce asked casually.
A few more hits, a few more bounces.
"I don't want to play."
"I didn't ask."
Dick crushed a ball into the floor by the wall, causing it to ricochet to the ceiling and back, giving Dick extra time to switch the racquet into his other hand. That's when Bruce noticed that all this time he had been swinging lefty. A few more swings and then:
"So why are you here?"
"I found an opened letter on my desk this afternoon, mixed in with my mail."
Dick continued to swing at the ball with a coldly methodical rhythm that may have unnerved even Bruce if he were subjected to it for long enough.
"I was wondering where I left that…"
The rhythm didn't change.
"You're not one for subtleties, are you," said Bruce.
It wasn't a question.
If the angle would have permitted, he would have seen the faintest of smirks break through the intent expression on Dick's face.
"Learned from the best."
And the rhythm didn't change.
However Bruce envisioned this conversation going, this certainly wasn't it. "Care to put the racquet down and talk to me?"
A few more swings and a few more bounces and the rhythm didn't change at all.
Bruce was starting to get exasperated. "Is this how you were planning on telling me you were leaving?" he asked, barely restraining the disbelief from showing in his voice.
"Would you have preferred a chess game?"
All the while Dick was hitting the racquetball with smooth, even strokes. Bruce was beginning to see that he was the emotional one in this scene, and that reality came as a shocking revelation.
"You never even told me you were applying to college."
Once again the angle denied Bruce the glimpse of the growing smirk on Dick's face.
"I didn't hide it either." Bounce-thwack-bounce. "You must not have been paying attention." Thwack! Once again the ball went crazy and Dick switched racquet hands before it returned to him.
"You used to tell me these things."
"You used to trust me."
The ball ricocheted everywhere and out of control because immediately after making the swing Dick dropped the racquet and clutched at his shoulder in pain. Bruce's natural first response was to go to him, but when Dick turned around and saw that Bruce had moved closer he wasn't pleased.
"Leave it," he directed tiredly, bitterly, as he rotated his shoulder to work out the pain. "What do you care anyway?" He stooped to pick up his discarded racquet and went searching for his ball. Then, with his back still to Bruce: "You killed Robin."
Safely out of Dick's view Bruce visibly winced.
"I saved Dick Grayson," Bruce said, almost too quietly to hear. "That was more important."
Dick found his ball and picked it up. He turned fully to face Bruce across the gym before asking just as quietly:
"There's a difference?"
He and Bruce just stood and stared at each other across the vast and empty gymnasium. Bruce wanted to shout that of course there was a difference, that Batman and Bruce Wayne were not the same person… that Bruce Wayne could not handle Batman's darkness, the steps and tactics needed to win. Realization sunk in like lead in his stomach as he saw for the first time what perhaps he has always known: Grayson and Robin are the same person, they always were.
Dick had his racquet and his ball in hand and so ended the moment by bringing them over to his duffle bag and stowing them away. Then he hoisted the bag across his shoulder, emitting a grunt of pain as he did so that made Bruce nearly take a step towards him.
But Bruce couldn't move. He was powerless to bridge the gap between them.
"You should be happy with yourself," Dick said tonelessly as he made his way towards the double doors of the gymnasium entrance. "You've done what even the Joker couldn't do."
The doors were swung wide.
"Robin is dead because of you."
And the doors swung shut and Dick was gone, leaving Bruce all alone in the vast, empty gymnasium.
Alfred didn't see either of them until dinnertime, and even then he only saw Bruce, who plodded heavily into the kitchen freshly showered and wearing sweats.
"Please tell me I don't have to order a new door for the third floor gymnasium," Alfred commented when he saw that Bruce's hands were taped.
"Punching bag," Bruce grumbled as he opened the refrigerator and pulled out the orange juice. "Where's the vacuum?"
Alfred couldn't help the wry smile as he placed the dinner tray on the table. "I'll take care of it," he said dismissively.
Bruce then noticed that Alfred hadn't even bothered to set a place for Dick.
"How involved were you in this?" he asked candidly.
Alfred paused only a moment before continuing to serve dinner.
"I saw a need; I took care of it. That's what I do."
"And what need was that?"
A pregnant pause.
"The same as yours."
A scoff. "He needed to run away?"
"He needs to follow through. This is just another way."
April lengthened into May and May waned into June. You wouldn't know to look at Dick as he worked out that anything was amiss. That of course didn't mean that Dick didn't notice, and his regiment was still as tough as ever. However, the time for rehabilitation was over. Now he was in his room making sure that he had everything he needed packed and ready to go. He had his duffle packed with immediate needs—a change of clothes and his laptop—as well as a few small personal effects. The rest he was planning on acquiring when he arrived. As ward of Bruce Wayne, he was in no means strapped for cash, which was something he tried to impress upon Alfred when the butler had causally informed him that he would be picking up the tab for tuition. Alfred's response was that as an aging butler he had more money at this point than he knew what to do with so it might as well be put to good use.
"Now what have I forgotten…"
"Perhaps this?" Alfred suddenly entered his room carrying a spare jacket.
Dick smiled sheepishly and took it from him. "Thanks Alfred. I don't know what I'm going to do without you."
"Your own laundry perhaps," was Alfred's serious reply.
Dick chuckled as he took the jacket and began balling it up to fit in his duffle. Alfred saw over his shoulder that the duffle was packed mostly with sentimental items—photographs of his family and such. Alfred then noticed the only photograph Dick had neglected to pack, and it was sitting in a place of prominence atop his mostly barren desk: the only framed picture Dick had of himself and Bruce together, standing side by side on skis beside the lift with the breathtaking Austrian Alps in the background behind them.
"Did I never teach you to fold?" Alfred asked with mock-irritation as he took the balled-up jacket from Dick. He began folding it so that it would fit into the tiny space allocated for it in the duffle. He slipped the photograph into the folds and out of sight while Dick's back was turned and when he handed the folded garment back to him it was placed in the duffle without Dick having any clue.
"I think that's it," Dick said, taking one last wistful look about his room and wondering when he would ever see it again.
"So it would seem," Alfred agreed neutrally.
An awkward pause while Dick struggled to find the right words to say.
"Alfred…" He failed. "Thanks. For everything."
"Thank me by succeeding."
Finally getting over himself and throwing caution to the wind, Dick pulled Alfred into an awkward hug, which was belatedly yet eagerly returned.
"All set?" Bruce asked, walking in and interrupting the moment.
"Think so," Dick said dismissively as he and Alfred separated.
"Walk you to the garage?"
"I think I can manage."
Bruce just nodded. He had expected as much.
"Good luck," he called out, as though the last statement hadn't affected him any.
Dick turned around. "Thanks," he said with the most sincerity Bruce has heard from him in months.
The two of them stood there for a moment, wanting to say things they could not say. Alfred recognized the painful tension to it and so ended the spell.
"You should be going now if you want to arrive before dark."
Dick nodded absently and then turned away. Alfred led the way out of the room and Dick slung the duffle over his shoulder—no signs of pain this time—and followed suit. He stopped in the doorframe and turned around.
Bruce looked up, having been startled out of a trance of his own. He was staring at Dick's vacated room, wondering when he would ever be back again.
Dick's mind stumbled over how to say what he would not allow himself to leave without saying.
"Take care of yourself," he said at length. "I don't want to hear about your death on the Six O'clock News."
Bruce allowed himself a ghost of a smile. "You too."
Dick nearly smiled back, and they both nodded slightly at the other. Then Dick turned and followed Alfred out the door, leaving Bruce alone in the room.
Dick was making his way around the numerous cars in the giant garage over to where his bike was sitting. Alfred followed for a time but then put a restraining hand on Dick's shoulder.
"Ah, this way, Master Dick," he said when Dick turned around.
Curious, Dick allowed himself to be led over to the back wall of the garage near the service door. Sitting there, brightly waxed and sparkling in the fluorescent light was a brand new sports car, robin red.
"Alfred… I can't."
Alfred reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys. "Why not?" he asked innocently. "Has all that time on a bike dulled your memory of the feel of a sports car on the open road?"
Lost for words, Dick could only laugh and shake his head. Alfred pressed the keys into his hands.
"I won't be on hand to tune it up after every turn so do try and take good care of it."
"I will," Dick promised sincerely.
Alfred smiled as he opened the passenger side door. Dick threw his duffle onto the seat and walked over to the other side of the car.
"Good luck, Master Dick."
Not wanting to drag out the goodbye any longer for fear of what it may do to him, Dick climbed into the car and fastened his seatbelt. The feel of the wheel in his hands alone was enough to make him eager to see what she could do. The garage door opened and Dick started her up. Immediately he could tell the man-hours Alfred put into the engine. A boyish grin plastered to his face, Dick shifted into reverse and released the parking break. A wave to Alfred and he was gone.
Bruce was watching from the study window as Dick drove away. His eyes followed the car until it couldn't be seen. Then with a heavy sigh he left the window and walked over to the chess set. One finger tipped over the black king, carefully ensuring that no other pieces were disturbed. Then he sat in his wing chair and silently put his head in his hands.
Dick arrived at Hudson University on Long Island just as the sun was setting over the campus. The first thing he needed to do according to the packet the school sent him was to check in with campus security and get a parking pass. Knowing that this would require his driver's license and registration, Dick popped open the glove box and was taken by surprise at what he saw. Sitting in the glove box was his registration and owners manual, as expected, but they were sitting next to a cell phone.
Curious, Dick grabbed the cell phone and flipped it open. On a whim he hit the 'contacts' button. The numbers for Wayne Manor, Bruce's desk phone at Wayne Enterprises, both Bruce and Alfred's cell phones, Leslie's number at the clinic, Commissioner Gordon's desk number, and one labeled 'belfry' which he recognized instantly were already preprogrammed for him.
Dick was mulling this new information over when the phone beeped at him. Startled, he looked at the display and saw that he had a voicemail. Not entirely surprised by this, Dick pressed 'send' and followed the voicemail setup instructions. Then when he was finally given access to his voicemail box he heard Bruce's voice coming through the receiver.
Don't worry about the cost of the phone. The phone is free. It's the least I can do. Oh and I made a care package for you. It's in the trunk.
Too stunned to speak Dick closed out of his voicemail and shut the phone. Then, realizing what time it was, he decided to get out and register his car.
The process was rather long and involved entirely too much paperwork, but finally Dick was legally allowed to park on campus.
The next stop was to the office of Student Housing—which was getting ready to close—to pick up his keys. He was one of only a handful of students arriving for the summer session, but his convalescence meant that he had to miss his senior year and then pick up a GED. This made class placement difficult and if he wanted to start out where it was appropriate the summer session was necessary.
It was dark by the time Dick pulled into the appropriate campus parking lot. He grabbed his duffle from the passenger side and got out of the car, being sure to lock it and set the alarm. Then he went to the trunk and keyed into it, and when the door lofted he saw the package: an ordinary cardboard box wrapped in packing tape. Nothing special about it but it made Dick smile when he thought of the effort. The car was most likely a gift from Bruce as well, and for some reason such thoughts took the chill out of the damp and drizzly night.
Dick took the package and his duffle up to his room: a single earned through a rather generous donation to the college. Once there he unpacked what little he had brought, set up his laptop, and put sheets on his bed.
He was unfolding his jacket when a photo fell to the ground. Surprised, Dick bent down to retrieve it.
"Alfred…" he murmured fondly, admiring the butler's consideration and slight of hand. He placed the picture on top of his desk with the others and felt better for having it with him.
That only left the package.
Forcing himself to be disinterested, Dick slid a key into the packing tape and ripped it open. Then tossing the keys aside he opened the box top and peered inside. There he saw a bag containing the accessories for the cell phone and its manual. These were sitting on top of a manila envelope that was sitting on top of yet another package. Dick set the phone to charge and picked up the envelope. Flicking it open he allowed the contents to slide out onto his desk.
If the cell phone had been a sufficient surprise, than this was a bigger one.
There sat the schematics for his car, the code name 'Red Bird' titling the documents on every page. At first glance he saw that the car itself was bulletproof, even before it converted into a battle-ready cruiser. Dick was too shocked—too tired to contemplate the possible implications, to read the entire schematic now. He flipped through it absently and skimmed a bit, fully intending to read it in the morning when he was more awake.
That's when he noticed that the car schematics stopped with pages to spare.
There, attached to the car schematics were the schematics for a brand new Robin suit. Dick was so surprised that he dropped the pages. That had to be the other package!
He was ripping the smaller box open in the next instant, then after a brief yet fierce battle with the tissue paper Dick uncovered the suit. His breath caught in his throat as he beheld it. Gingerly he reached into the box and held it aloft—instantly recognizing the feel of Kevlar beneath his fingers. Sounds from the hallway made him hastily shove it back into the box, however. He would have to examine the brand new utility belt later.
That's when he noticed a letter, sealed in an enveloped and addressed to him, written in Bruce's overly precise handwriting.
We both knew that you would go out eventually, even without my permission. If you won't obey me, you can at least stay safe out there.
Dick couldn't stop himself from smiling, one of the first genuine smiles he'd had in a long, long time.
This certainly was going to be an interesting semester.
AN: Dick Grayson was the first of four people to wear the Robin costume in traditional canon. He's the one from the 60s TV show, the movies, and the first one shown in Batman: the Animated Series. He was also a founding member of the original Teen Titans. The cartoon claims that they wanted to create a "newer" Robin, revamping the character and such, so they stuck the first three Robins in a blender to create their version. It didn't matter because none of the cartoon characters have secret identities, or even real names. Well we're changing that. The Titans are going to be real people as well as super heroes for this story, and so Robin is Dick Grayson.
This chapter is our blending of both comic and animated series canon because we needed to explain why Robin left Batman. In the comics, he worked with the Titans while still basing himself in Gotham with Batman, just as Batman would sometimes go off and join the Justice League. Robin in the cartoon very rarely acknowledges Batman's existence so we wanted to show why that is.
In both canons, Robin went away to college. Hudson University, like most places in DC's universe, doesn't exist. Eventually, DC made a map of where their cities were (would you believe that Gotham is supposed to be on the Jersey Shore?) and they also placed Hudson U as being near Woodstock, NY. However, in the comics the Teen Titans were located in New York City (Titans Tower was on an island in the East River). Long Island was used for this fic because it is a short jaunt from the city (and has later canonical implications). According to the cartoon the Titans are in a fictitious city on the west coast called "Jump City." While there is something in canon with "Titans East" and "Titans West," we're not getting into that yet. The Titans are going to be fighting crime in New York. For now.