NOTES: The letter from Dick is taken, verbatim, from Gotham Knights #14, as well as his expressed feelings for Bruce. This story was done with Gotham Knights 14 and 17 in mind so watch out for spoilers.
This story was submitted to the "Gotham City Writer's Guild Awards" contest and was a second place winner.
Disclaimer: Without Prejudice. The names of all characters contained here-in are not mine. No Infringements of these copyrights are intended, and are used here without permission.
Thank you, Heybats for being a great beta and friend.
Happy Birthday Son
By DC Lady
'Ok, I admit that always looked weird on the Christmas cards, but I have to tell you, sometimes it felt even weirder writing Dear Bruce. Sometimes I wonder what you call me in your head. When you think about me I mean. If you think about me. Reading those files of yours...I guess it was the first time I was ever sure that you sometimes wondered the same kind of things. And I don't want you to wonder about me. I want you to be sure.
Thing is, I don't know how to reassure you in words. I mean, there are no words. What am I Bruce? Your son? Your trainee? Your soldier? Your sidekick? Your ward? "Ward". I hated that word. It stopped having any meaning the minute I turned eighteen, and I was afraid I would, too. Stop having meaning, I mean, for you. So, in the absence of binding word, I try to show you who I am in action. And I find I can't stop moving.
Sometimes it's because I feel like I have to keep up with you, and sometimes it's because I feel I have to keep ahead of the others. You don't know what it's about either, do you? All the people around you?
Sometimes I think they just gather of their own accord. Pulled by the same magnetism and mission that keeps me in orbit, and I'm so grateful for themso glad not to be alone out here-that I don't give it a second thought.
But, other times, BatmanBruceno, Batman-other times, Batman, I think you deliberately called them to your side...and I can't believe you'd have the gall. You eventually heard me out on the issue, but I don't think you ever really got how much it hurt me when you chose Azrael to stand in for you instead of me. The only thing I hate more than wearing that cape and cowl and imagining a world without you in it...is watching someone else do it.
I know you have your reasons for everything you do and i know you don't always think I believe that. I do believe that. I'm not ever worried that you haven't thought things through. I'm just sometimes worried that I don't factor into your thinking. Or that if I do, you're worrying that I can't take care of myself. It occurred to me for the first time today, that maybe it's not about that. Maybe you're worrying that you can't take care of me. You're not an easy man to be close to, Bruce. As much as you may care about any of us, any of this, I know you'd trade it all in a heartbeat if you could have your parents back. And I've never really admitted this to anyone, but I don't think I would. Trade, I mean. And I don't think I'm ready to see your face if I told you that. Which is why I'm never gonna send this letter.
I miss my parents with my whole heart, Batman, I do. But I wouldn't trade this for the world.
The Batman sat in the empty apartment, scanning the contents of Dick's personal computer. "No," he sighed in shocked disbelief. He read the letter again. The heartfelt words echoed in his mind, the terrible truth those words conveyed ate at his very soul. "He doesn't know," he whispered, his hand rubbing the exposed portion of his face in apprehension. "How could he know?" he scoffed. "I'd never told him."
His mind raced back to the day he handed Dick the papers. Papers that would legally make Dick his son. His heir. He tried to tell him, but words were inadequate, somehow. Then Dick saved him from his feeble attempt of emotional expression. Saying what he wanted to say. Wanted to give voice to, but couldn't. "I get it. And I love you, too," Dick had said. Three simple words. I love you. Yet, he was unable to say them.
He shut the lid down on the laptop, steeped in anger. Anger at his own emotional ineptness. "I should have told him," he choked out and he prayed it wasn't too late.
He activated the tiny transmitter hidden in the ear of his cowl. "Oracle. Anything?"
"Nothing Boss. What about you?" the Batman's information source and member of the Bat family asked.
"I went through the entire apartment. There's nothing out of the ordinary," he told. He kept silent about the letter, instead focusing on finding Dick. The letter. An unsent letter, written and then discarded. Found in the recycle bin of Dick's computer.
He pushed his emotions aside, forcing himself to concentrate on what needed to be done. "Bruce Wayne will call his Captain to establish a timeline of his activities. That might give us some direction." The Bludhaven Police Department was notorious for being corrupt and unhelpful. But, maybe with the persuasive powers of Gotham's billionaire CEO, they'll be more than willing to cooperate.
"I hope so," Barbara said. Then hoping to encourage Bruce, Barbara continued, "B, if anyone can find him, it's you."
"I'll keep you posted. Batman out."
Bruce barely had the time to retrieve the BPD's phone number when the phone rang. He picked it up on the second ring. "Hello." Bruce Wayne's presence in Dick's apartment would be above suspicion. He was his adoptive father after all.
"We've got Nightwing," the mechanized voice on the line said. Alarms were set off within the Dark Knight. Their identities had been breached. He said 'Nightwing', we've got Nightwing and called Dick's apartment. A list of names flashed quickly through his mind. Names of those who knew their true identities. In the seconds it took for the caller to continue, Bruce was mentally analyzing the list, determining a motive and putting a face to fit the crime.
"If you want to see him, stay put. You'll get another call in one hour." The line was disconnected.
Batman frowned. A voice synthesizer was used. There was a familiar syntax, however, that caught his attention. And the abnormal pacing of words meant that Dick's abductor was drinking heavily. Roy.
"Here B. Whatcha find?"
"When were you going to tell me that Roy had Dick?"
"I was sworn to secrecy," Oracle laughed. "How'd you find out? You weren't suppose figure it out this quickly."
"It wasn't difficult. It's Roy after all."
"Well, I don't think they're ready for your appearance just yet. They wanted to surprise Dick."
"Oh, they'll be a surprise. What's the location?"
"They're at Titan headquarters." She paused. "And B?"
"Be nice. Your appearance would mean a lot to Dick, ya know?"
He paused thinking about Dick's letter. "Yes, I know. Batman out."
Wally West guided his best friend into the darkened living room of the Titans headquarters on the pretense of retrieving a forgotten item. "Surprise!" Nightwing's friends shouted at exactly midnight. The start of his birthday.
"Haaapy birthhhday duuude," Roy slurred placing one arm around his friend with a bottle of beer in the other. He started the celebration early.
Donna leaned in and kissed his cheek. "Happy Birthday, hon. Were you surprised?"
"We gotcha, din't weee. Amit it, you were surrrprised," Roy said tightening his one armed embrace while taking a swig from his beer.
"Yes, Roy. I was surprised," Nightwing admitted, choking as he got a whiff of Roy's alcohol laden breath.
"Wait riiight there...I gotta make a call," Roy said patting Dick's arm. Then placing his finger over his lips he continued, "shh...it's a secret."
"What secret would that be, Roy?" Dick asked, suddenly apprehensive about what was planned for the evening. At his expense, no doubt.
"Dude, you don't even want to know," Wally warned, rolling his eyes.
Suddenly filled with panic, Dick faced Roy. "Roy, what have you done?"
"He had Oracle tell me you were missing," Batman began stepping out of a darkened corner of the room.
"Uh…. Batman? I didn't mean it. Really. We just thought it would be kinda nice to surprise Nightwing with your presence. That's all." The fear had a sudden sobering effect on the Archer.
"Really. And you didn't think to just ask?" He said menacingly. His voice low.
"Uh..." Roy could no longer handle the piercing gaze of the bat and ran for his life.
Batman turned to his son and held his gaze. They stood silent until those gathered got the not so subtle hint to scram. "Wally, I think they want to be alone." Donna placed her arm around the Flash's.
"Duh! You think?" Donna gave a playful tap to the back of his head.
"Let's go find Roy. I think I saw him hide under the buffet table."
"Yeah, like Bats won't ever find him there," Wally said sarcastically.
As Wally and Donna left to help their frightened friend, Dick spoke to his surrogate father. "Sorry about Roy. I wasn't aware of his plans."
"I know. I received his call while searching your apartment. It was enlightening."
"The call or my apartment?"
"Both," Batman answered honestly. Reaching within his cape he pulled out a simple white envelope. He looked down at it with apprehension and then held it out to Dick. "Here."
"A present," he answered, no longer able to face his son. The emotions he felt earlier in Dick's apartment threatened to resurface.
Nightwing studied the sealed envelope. The words jumped out at him. 'Happy Birthday, Son'. Son. Bruce had adopted him, but never truly vocalized his feelings. Now, with the simple word written on a piece of paper, he had. He turned it over to open when a gloved hand grabbed his wrist.
"For…later," he said indicating that it was private.
Nightwing carefully placed the envelope in a hidden pocket of his uniform.
"Alfred expects you at the Manor for dinner," the Dark Knight continued lamely.
"I'll be there." Dick smiled.
Batman gave a slight nod, trying to decide if he should say more. " 'I' look forward to seeing you there," Batman admitted and turned to leave.
Nightwing looked at his 'dad', silenced by the emotional display. "Thanks…dad."
Batman stopped and turned a fraction. His lips spread in a thin smile. He nodded slightly and then left. But, not before glaring across the room at a certain archer who managed the courage to come out of his hiding place beneath the skirts of the buffet table. Spying the Dark Knight's gaze that made most villains quake with fear, Roy quickly dove back underneath the safety of the table.
Dick laughed at the all too familiar scene of the Batman terrorizing Roy then grabbed the envelope from his pocket. While his friends were otherwise occupied he slipped away to a hidden shadow to open his present.
Taking a breath, he began to read.
Words never come easy, even as I write this letter. Especially three words I hoped I'd expressed through my actions. But, I'm forced to realize that my actions are not always clear, certainly not as clear as the words you've expressed to me.
I read your letter. Retrieved it from your computer's recycle bin when I thought you were in trouble. A letter you never intended to send, yet one that I am somehow grateful to have read. I know this letter will fall short in expressing my feelings. Please know, Dick, I could not live in a world without you in it. Even if it meant having my parents back. I only wish that I could give you the reassurance you crave in person. I don't know if I am able to do that, but I will try.
Your father, Bruce.
Dick smiled through his tears. "Thank you, dad. It's the best present I ever got."