A/N Yes, I know it's been only one day since the last update, and yes, I know I probably couldn't have chosen a worse day (except Christmas) to post the conclusion (my own copy of The Half-Blood Prince is waiting for me). However, I'm going to be internetless for the next eight days (I'm going to DIE!), so I figured you'd rather have it now than next Monday.
Disclaimer: Oh yeah, I own Batman. Uh-huh. looks around furtively, then opens side of trench coat Hey, buddy, wanna buy a watch?
Bat-Chapter 6: Birds of a Feather
When Rachel Dawes pulled up to Wayne Manor, she was surprised not to find Dick waiting in his usual spot on the front steps. A crease of worry wrinkled her brow as she walked up the steps to where Alfred held the door open.
"Good evening, Miss Dawes."
"Hello, Alfred. How's Dick doing?"
The butler couldn't repress a smile of grandfatherly pride. "Master Dick is doing quite well. I believe you will find him by the pool." Leaving her purse in the hallway, Rachel walked to the back of the house and stepped out of the glass doors onto the flagstone terrace. There was a wild yell and she turned just in time to see Dick hurl himself off the diving board, turning a double flip before straightening into a sleek dive. She stood still in amazement as she watched Dick swim over and try to push Bruce's head underwater. Bruce lifted him and threw him halfway across the pool where Dick hit the water with a shriek of glee and came up laughing. Then he pushed the hair out of his eyes and saw her. "Rachel!"
Rachel smiled and walked forward as Dick scrambled out of the pool and came running toward her. "Hey, buddy!" She knelt down to receive his hug, then pushed him away, laughing. "What are you trying to do, get me all wet?"
Dick looked at her critically. "You're not all wet."
"Not yet she's not."
Rachel looked up in surprise at a dripping Bruce. "What do you…No! Bruce, don't you dare!" Ignoring her protests, Bruce threw her over his shoulder and ran toward the pool. Rachel's shriek was cut off as her mouth filled with water. She came up sputtering and glared into an amused pair of bright blue eyes. "Very funny."
He grinned engagingly. "It's no fun unless everybody plays."
For a moment Rachel felt herself relaxing into that smile. Then she pushed him away and snapped, "At least you already own this pool." She hurriedly focused her attention on Dick who stood at the edge, laughing hysterically. "Hey, whose side are you on, anyway?"
"You scream like a girl!" he gasped.
"That's because I am a girl, Mister Grayson." She grabbed his hand and tumbled him into the water.
"Ahem!" Alfred at last made himself heard over Dick's shrieking. "Dinner, sir, will be served in five minutes."
It was rather more than five minutes before the three swimmers made it to the dinner table. Rachel was the last to make her appearance, wrapped feet to chin in one of the fluffy robes kept for poolside loungers. She nervously eyed Bruce, who stood by her chair, but he merely seated her, then took his own place at the head of the table.
The conversation was nearly all Rachel and Dick. Bruce contributed the occasional remark, but spent most of the time in silence, wearing an abstracted look. Rachel caught Dick sending puzzled looks at his guardian, but she managed to steer the conversation clear of any troubled waters.
They finished with the double fudge chocolate cake and Bruce stood. "Excuse me, I have a thing at eight I need to get ready for. It was nice to see you, Rachel."
She refused to return the compliment. "Goodbye, Bruce."
Dick licked the last of the icing off his fork. "Bye, Bruce."
"Bye, Dick. See you tomorrow."
"So what do you want to do?" Rachel asked when she and Dick were alone.
"I drew something," he said shyly. "You want to see it?"
"I would love to see it." Rachel allowed Dick to lead her up to his room and seat her at his desk.
The boy pulled a dog-eared sheaf of papers from the drawer. "Actually, I was kind of wondering if you could help me with something. It's a comic book, and the words need wrote in real small."
"Written in," Rachel corrected absently, peering at the page before her. Rows of slightly crooked boxes were filled with painstaking detail. "Is that…Batman?"
"Yep. It's a comic book about Batman," Dick explained. "Can you write the words for me?"
"Definitely." And I definitely want to know just how much you know about Batman.
But any fears that Dick was more enlightened than the rest of the city were soon laid to rest. The storyline consisted of a space alien invasion, and Batman spent all his time wearing his mask and disposing of the tentacled creatures in a decidedly gory manner.
"Do you think alien guts really look like that?" Dick asked, pointing to a picture showing the aftermath of Batman's bat-chopper (a machine bearing more resemblance to the guillotine than the helicopter).
"It wouldn't surprise me," answered Rachel. In her relief over the harmless (aside from mass slaughter) content of the pictures, she would have agreed to almost anything. "Why is this box blank?"
"That's where Batman uses his bat-bomb-exterminator. Can you write KABOOM! so it fills up the whole box? And then put a sort of spiky bubble around it."
Rachel's pencil scratched for a minute. "How's that?"
Dick examined it critically. "Pretty good." He turned the page. "Ok, here the bat-bomb killed the alien boss, but it knocked Batman off the edge of the roof. See, he's hanging on to this ledge here. And this is me. And I say, 'Need a rope, Batman?' and then I throw down a rope."
Rachel obediently wrote in the words, refraining from asking where Dick (or his rope) had come from.
"Then Batman climbs up and says, 'Thanks, kid!' and I say, 'See you later, Batman!' and then he has to fly off because the aliens are going to blow up the train." Rachel wrote it in and Dick turned the page. "But see, these aliens saw me help Batman so they come after me. But they're kind of stupid so they crash the flying saucer but this piece of it knocks me off the roof. And I have to hang on to the same ledge Batman did and I'm saying, 'Heeeeeeelp!'"
"Ok." Rachel flexed her cramped fingers. "Who's this guy?"
"Yeah. He heard me calling for help and he says, "Hang on, I'm coming!' and then he gets this rope and climbs down and rescues me."
"Bruce does all that, huh?"
"Yup." Dick wiggled impatiently while she wrote it in, and Rachel guessed his favorite part of the story was coming up. "And see Batman comes flying over after he saved the train. And he says, 'You need any help down there?' and then Bruce says, 'We got it covered, Batman. You go take care of those aliens!'"
Batman had just finished saving the world when Alfred entered the room. "Bedtime, Master Dick."
"Not already!" Dick protested.
"I'm afraid it's after nine o'clock. But perhaps if you ask very politely, Miss Dawes would stay and say goodnight to you."
Dick swung pleading puppy eyes to Rachel and she laughed. "Of course I will."
"Rachel," Dick said suddenly as she pulled the sheet up to his chin, "who do you think Batman is?"
"It doesn't matter," she said firmly. "It's not who Batman is underneath that's important. It's what he does that defines him." Dick looked puzzled so she explained, "I mean that the things he does tell us a lot more about who he is than we could ever know from his name."
"Oh." Dick thought about that for a moment. "Is that true about everybody?"
"Yes." Rachel bent and kissed him on the forehead. "Goodnight, Dick. Sweet dreams."
"Goodnight, Rachel." Dick settled down on his pillow, an intent look in his pale eyes.
"Hey, do you mind if I look at these some more?" she held up the comic book pages.
Rachel flipped off the light and walked out of the room, encountering Alfred just down the hall. "All safely tucked in," she announced. "Ah, would it be all right if I stuck around until Bruce comes home? I'd like to talk to him."
"Of course." He settled her in one of the smaller living rooms with a cup of tea, and she curled up on the end of the deep leather sofa. Setting Dick's pages on the end table, she pillowed her head on the cushy arm rest. Just for a moment…
The sound of rustling paper woke her, and she squinted around in confusion before remembering where she was. Bruce sat on the other end of the couch, leafing through Dick's comic book. He'd abandoned his tuxedo jacket, his tie was dangling in a state of untie, and his dark hair was tousled, outlining the purply-green bruise on his forehead. "What happened to your head?" Rachel demanded.
A smile twitched the corner of his mouth. "Alfred hit me. With a polo mallet."
"Is that the official story?"
"It's less embarrassing than the truth."
"Which would be...?"
"I was working under the car and sat up too fast."
"Really." Her tone was filled with doubt.
The smile was creeping across the whole of his mouth now. "You're disappointed!" he accused. "You'd rather I'd been clobbered by a thug, or hurled through a twentieth story window, wouldn't you?"
"No!" she exclaimed indignantly. "It just…sounded a little unlikely, that's all."
"I'm human, Rachel. Sometimes I do stupid things."
Why does that unsettle me so much? She switched topics. "Why did Dick draw you rescuing him from the top of a fifty story building?"
"Yeah…" Bruce quickly explained Dick's flight, fall, and rescue.
"And it was after this that he started displaying such…"
"A sense of security?" Bruce supplied, a faintly ironical note in his voice. "Yes."
Rachel sighed. "Bruce, it's not that I'm not glad he's settling in here. You seem to be doing a really great job with him." She hesitated, not quite daring to meet his eyes. "But I don't…I don't…"
"Want him to be hurt. Like you were hurt."
Why do I feel like the one accused? "You disappeared for seven years! How do I know you're not going to walk out on him some day?"
He wore the small, tight smile like a shield. "As you so carefully pointed out to me, the man who disappeared eight years ago never came back. I think it's safe to say he no longer exists."
Rachel Dawes had more guts than the rest of her office put together, but beneath his unrelenting gaze and cold, uncompromising voice, she felt herself shrink back against the arm of the sofa, almost trembling. Who are you?
Then he softened, shoulders slumping, tired lines relaxing the corners of his mouth. "I understand your concerns. Believe me, I've used all those arguments myself, because I do want what's best for Richard. He needs a home, security, friendship, and I can give him those things. I need to give him those things. He's returning this house to what it used to be."
"What's that?" she whispered.
"A monument to life – the legacy of the generations of my family who have lived here. I'd forgotten, Rachel. I'd forgotten that there was more to being alive than eating and sleeping and dreading tomorrow." His fingers gently brushed her cheek. "I can't promise you that I will never hurt him. But if I gave him to you, and our situations were reversed, could you make that promise to me?"
Her gaze dropped and she pulled away from his touch.
"Master Wayne?" Alfred stood in the doorway. "A call for you, sir. It's urgent."
Bruce nodded, not taking his eyes off Rachel. "I have to go."
"I understand," she replied, refusing to look at him.
After he was gone, she sat still for a long time, staring down at a penciled page. We got it covered, Batman.
At last she reached for her purse and drew out a folded document. It was the lease for an apartment - in a building that allowed children. Setting her lips firmly, Rachel tightened her fingers and tore it in half.
Gordon stood alone, watching the smoldering warehouse. He barely twitched when a voice rasped from the shadows behind him, "Where is he?"
"If he's still alive he's on the roof." There wasn't even a whisper of sound, but when Gordon turned around he found himself again alone.
Batman shot his grappling hook to the top of the neighboring building and scaled up to the roof. Ignoring the crunch of pigeon dung beneath his boots, he crouched on the edge nearest the still smoking warehouse. The heat of the fire rendered his infrared viewers useless, but his unaided eyes spotted the crouched figure on the far edge.
How can he hope for escape? The building is surrounded. It was possible, of course, that the fugitive was well acquainted with some of the law officers below, but these were Gordon's men under Gordon's eye. Batman was willing to wager the man had something else in mind. The question was answered by the far-away drone of a helicopter and the sudden straightening of the dark figure. So he's got friends in high places. I'm afraid they're going to be disappointed.
Batman retreated to the middle of the roof, then ran and leaped off the edge. He glided over the twenty feet between the buildings and landed in a crouch. The structure shuddered beneath his weight, and he could feel the heat through his boots. Moving cautiously through the hazy air, he slipped up behind his quarry. The man was too focused on the approaching helicopter to notice his companion until a voice rasped, "Waiting for someone?"
He spun and let out a startled curse, before Batman grabbed his arms in a crushing grip. "I have a train to catch," the mask hissed. "You wouldn't happen to know the schedule?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" The prisoner tried to kick himself free, just as a round of bullets sprayed the deck. The weakened wood gave way and both men crashed through to the interior.
The smoke was much thicker inside, and the fugitive's chances of air weren't improved by the iron grip around his neck. "We've got to get out of here!" he wheezed.
"Thank your friends for the change of scenery. Now, about that train…"
"All right, I'll talk!" the man begged. "But not to you. Take me to the police!"
Batman smiled grimly. "That can be arranged."
Fresh bullets zinged through the hole in the roof, and Batman dragged his captive across the broken floor to a window. "I hope you don't mind heights. Or falling from them."
Gordon spun. There lay the man he was sure had escaped by death or flight. His hands were bound, and the wedge of metal caught in the cord was shaped like a bat.
It was nearly three when Bruce Wayne slipped into his ward's dark room. He stood for a moment, looking down at the quiet figure, and then Dick rolled over and opened his eyes. "Hi, Bruce."
Bruce crouched down. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up."
"I wasn't sleeping."
"I was thinking." He sniffed, his nose wrinkling. "You smell like smoke."
"There was a fire."
"Did you have to pull some people out of the fire?"
Bruce smiled in the dim light. Pull a kid off a cliff and he thinks you can save the world. "I'm not a firefighter, Dick."
"But you're Batman."
It felt like getting kicked in the gut by a polo pony. When he recovered enough breath to speak evenly he asked, "What makes you say that?"
"Rachel told me."
There was no way he'd heard that right. "What?"
"She said we know who people are because of the stuff they do. You and Batman…do the same stuff."
It would have been so easy to tell Dick that he was imagining things – jumping to conclusions. Bruce looked at his ward's pale face and thought, He knows that he has the truth. And if I lie to him…he'll know that too.
"So did you get them?"
"Who?" Bruce asked in confusion.
"The people in the burning building."
Rachel, this is not my fault. "There was just one. And yes, I got him."
"That's good," Dick said and then continued softly, "because sometimes you can't get them all."
This was a lot easier when he didn't talk to me. Bruce sighed and sat on the floor, resting his arms on his knees. "Are you angry with me?"
"No," Dick said immediately. "I'm going to learn how to fly pretty soon, and then I can help you. Maybe we can get them all."
Over Rachel's dead body. Out loud he said, "We'll see."
"My mom said that. Usually it means yes." Dick yawned.
Bruce couldn't repress a grin. Cocky little kid. He rose and crossed to the door. "Go to sleep," he commanded.
"Good night, Bruce."
"Good night, Dick."
All bat-reviewers will receive the undying gratitude of the author. Lousy compensation? Yes. But look at this way: you actually get this prize.
A/N Originally this was intended as a short, stand alone fic, explaining the origins of Robin in the BB universe. But instead of being self-contained, the story only opened more questions – Who were Robin's parents? What was their connection to Wayne Enterprises? And how does Robin transform from little boy to super side-kick?
Action. Attraction. And most importantly, ANSWERS! Be sure to join us for the enthralling sequel to The Nestling.
Toward a Dark Horizon
Coming August 1 - same bat-time, same bat-channel.
Notes to Reviewers (in alphabetical order):
Black 201: Oh yes, Rachel was involved. Definitely. This story couldn't have ended without her!
Crystal: When I was little I used to pretend I was Catwoman. (Mostly so I could marry Batman.) She has a place in the dim future of this story (as in…the sequel to the sequel…) but who knows if I'll ever get that far.
Dot: I feel kind of like Peter clapping for Tinkerbell. "I believe you exist, Bruce!"
Gewher: You're one of my most faithful reviewers. Thank you so much for all the encouragement, and I hope to see you at the sequel!
IcyWaters: Thanks very much for the editing note. (This chapter probably needed a few as well…it's kind of a rush job.) I also nabbed your sentence rewrite, hope you don't mind! I've considered getting a beta, but that would mean working ahead even more, something that's a little difficult for me. As you can see, your demand for a sequel has been heard and will be answered. (So accommodating, aren't I? pats self on back) Anything for my reviewers! Speaking of, thank you so much for your faithful and insightful reviews! They gave me a lot of confidence in this story.
JustCallMeEli: Yes, this story is ending, but another is just beginning! (Isn't that a quote from somewhere?) Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the conclusion enough to follow the continuation! And I'm glad that you, and so many others, enjoyed Bruce and Alfred's little game of breakfast manipulation. It's so fun to stick these really light scenes in the middle of a somewhat dark story. It keeps the balance.
L Moonshade: Yes, definitely planning on writing more. These characters have taken over my brain, and the only way to keep from going nuts is to write 'em out!
Mad Melma: Whoa, very glad I'm not inspiring you to flamies! It's very flattering to know that I can entertain longtime Batman fans as well as newcomers (like myself). Thanks for the great review (long ones are the best!) and hope to see you at the sequel!
Starpossum: Every time I read your reviews, I get warm fuzzies all over! You've been one of my favorite reviewers, so thank you very much! I hope you stick around for the sequel!
TheAmazingTecnocolorRingWraith: Ten, huh? That's cool. Eowyn can still kick all your butts… (Hee hee.) Yeah, sure I'll take Morbucks. Nonexistent currency for nonexistent product sounds fair to me! Thank you for your faithful reviews!
Tega: Your favorite? That makes me happy! I'm feel a little ambiguous about sequels, myself. Sometimes they're awesome (Spidey 2), and sometimes they're awful (almost any Disney sequel).
TV Chick: Yes, Dick's circus background made it in, thanks to Ouatic7 who drew my attention to that rather important point of canon. Thanks for all your reviews!
Wolf Daughter: It wasn't any important hillside…just a steep bank by the river where my cousin used to live. But VERY slippery in the rain!