Children of the Night
DISCLAIMER: These characters are not mine, and I stole the title from some old Dracula movie which I've never seen. I don't own Tim Burton either, but if I did... I mean, I liked Batman (sort of), but Batman Returns was pretty lousy (no, I haven't seen the dreaded Batman & Robin yet, but Returns was basically just a couple of plots from the sixties show scrunched together with excessive gore added. Don't believe me? The episodes were 21, 22, 55, and 56). But really—if a smart kid like Dick can think of these questions… why can't Burton?
"Do bats have digestive systems?"
If Batman hadn't been Batman, he probably would have been startled by the sound of Dick's voice. The boy was down in the Cave with him, stretching out on the mats in preparation of practicing some world-class routines on the parallel bars. He had recently discovered that his new guardian—Bruce Wayne—was Gotham City's often-infamous Dark Knight, and was just beginning his training as Batman's sidekick.
"'Do bats have digestive systems'?" Batman repeated the question, going over the Joker's files at the same time. "Of course they do. Why?"
That kid sure came up with the most curious questions…
When Dick didn't answer right away, Batman turned to see that the boy was no longer stretching. Instead, he was lying flat on his back on the mats, gazing up at the hundreds of bats that lined the ceiling of the Batcave.
"Well, if bats have digestive systems," Dick concluded, mostly to himself, "don't they make a mess after they eat?"
Batman quirked an eyebrow under his cowl. He didn't have time for this. Not to mention the fact that he wasn't really crazy about discussing the subject.
"That's Alfred's job," he said shortly.
"That's a pretty big job. I wouldn't want it."
"I'll remember that the next time I'm trying to figure out a punishment for you."
He heard Dick sigh. Hopefully, this would silence the Manor's newest resident for a little while. With the Joker on the loose, he really needed to concentrate on these files.
The Cave was quiet for a few moments. Then:
"Doesn't the squeaking give you a headache?"
"Yes, Dick, now that you mention it, you are giving me a headache," Batman replied in a tone that, by his standards, expressed irritation.
"Not me!" the boy giggled. "I mean the bats. With all of 'em around, they must make a lot of noise sometimes."
"Not half as much noise as you."
Even without turning around, Batman could tell that Dick was scowling at him.
"That's no answer!" he protested as only a nine-year-old could.
"It's the only one you're getting," Batman replied as only Batman could.
Then he heard the kid walking over to the parallel bars and beginning his work-out.
Batman mentally let out a sigh of relief. That should keep the kid quiet for a while, at least. It never ceased to amaze him how much noise one little boy could make. Had he known that the boy would be so talkative, he would have had a muzzle fitted.
Nah, they didn't make muzzles for kids…or did they? Well, they should, anyway.
An hour later, Dick was finished with the parallel bars. Batman was still working on the Joker's files as Dick changed, reentered the Batcave, and sat himself down on the table where Batman was working. Batman inwardly groaned.
"What do you do when they die?" the boy queried.
Perhaps it was because Dick was looking at the computer screen as he said this, or perhaps it was just because Batman was trying to skirt the issue, but he either misinterpreted or pretended to misinterpret Dick's question.
"You know as well as I do that we don't kill anyone. We let the courts decide what to do with the crooks we bring down."
"No, no, no, not him!" Dick insisted, exasperated, as he jerked his thumb at the Joker's picture. "Them!"
Batman felt his headache double in strength as Dick pointed up at the twitching bats on the ceiling.
"What do you do with them when they die? You can't possibly have funerals for all of them."
Make that quadruple in strength.
"Of course we don't, Dick," he said with as much patience as he could muster. Dick could tell Batman was annoyed with him, so he decided to keep his mouth shut. This decision lasted about two seconds until he thought up another question.
"Have you ever stepped on a dead bat?"
"Must be pretty icky."
Batman closed his eyes. This was going to be a long night.
"Don't you have homework to do, Dick?"
"Nah. I finished it right after I came home, just like you told me to," the boy announced proudly, oblivious to the rather rude hint his mentor had just dropped. "Now I can spend the whole evening with you!"
The Dark Knight regretted the sarcastic answer when he saw the wounded look on Dick's face. Dick may be an irritating little pest sometimes, but he hadn't meant to hurt the kid.
"Do you want me to leave?" Dick asked in his saddest little voice. Geez… how did his parents ever deal with this kid?
So, unwilling to hurt the boy's feelings, Batman gave him a rare half-smile and assured him that he was perfectly welcome in the Batcave.
The grin he got in return was more than enough of a reward. What was even nicer was that Dick stayed silent for several minutes, just watching his mentor at work.
When I grow up, I'm gonna be just like Batman—the coolest crime-fighter on the planet! Dick proudly decided.
Eventually, though, the boy tired of just observing and hopped off the table. Taking a few steps forward, he kept gazing up at the twittering little bats that called the Cave home.
"'Children of the night… what music they make…'" Dick quoted in his best Dracula voice. Batman was surprised to find that he was just barely suppressing a chuckle at the kid's imitation. He wasn't half-bad, really… almost amusing. Taking him in might not have been such a loony idea after all. And Dick sure did make the Manor a less depressing place to live… yes, he decided, he was really going to enjoy the boy's company for the next ten years…
Then, suddenly returning to something resembling normality, Dick inquired, "Do these bats ever have babies, Bruce? Or did you get 'em all fixed like they do with dogs?"
Oh, for the love of…
"'No' they don't have babies, or 'no' you didn't get them fixed? Because if you don't get them fixed, then someday this place is gonna be overrun with bats."
"Have you ever stepped on a baby bat?" Dick prattled on. "Because I heard that sometimes the baby ones fall from the ceiling and if they can't get back up again, they get eaten alive by bugs!"
"We don't have any bugs in here, do we?"
"Hey, wait a second—how do the bats get out to eat? You don't let anybody in or out except if you want to, and I doubt you're gonna keep opening and closing the entrance to the Batcave just so they can go out for snack time… hey, let's name them!"
Batman blinked, surprised by the fact that Dick was no longer talking.
"Sure, why not?"
Well, Dick sure was gung-ho about the whole idea, but naming an entire army of flying mammals was not high on Batman's list of favorite things to do. Besides, he had work to do! He may have gotten to like the kid during the past few weeks, but naming bats was where he put his foot down.
"Dick, they're just animals."
"So am I, and I have a name," Dick replied, sounding defensive.
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
The Cave suddenly fell deathly silent, with the exception of the squeaking bats. Normally, this wouldn't have been a problem for the Dark Knight. But, to his own horror, he realized that he was now used to noise down in the Batcave, used to Dick talking up a storm and keeping him company.
But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing… was it?
Just when Batman was going to turn around and say something to the kid, Dick's voice finally broke the stillness:
"Back in the circus, I used to help the trainers name all the new baby animals every spring."
"Did you?" Batman asked in a soft voice. Well, soft for him, anyway.
"Yup. The trainers would always come get me when there was a new animal in the stables, and I'd come down as soon as I could to help name him. Or her," the boy explained. "Sometimes it took all day to come up with the perfect name, and my dad…"
Dick paused here, trying not to let his emotions get the best of him. Meanwhile, Batman was shutting down the Computer. It was clear he wouldn't be getting anymore work done this evening.
Finally, Dick started up again, "…My dad used to pretend to get mad at me for spending all day in the stables. But then he'd ask what kind of animal the new baby was and try to guess what we'd named it. He always came up with the silliest names…!"
Sensing that Batman was watching him, Dick turned to see that he was right.
Batman motioned for Dick to come closer. The boy obeyed and soon found himself sitting on Batman's lap. The two of them were quiet for a moment, just staring at the ceiling and the bats when, much to Dick's surprise, Batman commented, "That one looks like a Vicki."
"Yeah, it would," Dick said with a wicked grin. He wasn't stupid. He'd seen the way Bruce looked at that ol' reporter Vicki Vale. "And that one next to her to looks like a Bruce. Wouldn't you agree?"
"And what, exactly, would you imagine a Bruce to look like?"
Batman gave the kid a look that would have made any sensible person's blood run cold. But, Dick being Dick, he just giggled.
"Hey, what if we name that one over there Jack?"
"Whoops, sorry, forgot. Is Charlie better?"
"Okay, well… that one over there can be…!"
Actually, the ending wasn't exactly what I had planned on. I was originally gonna make Batman hang Dick upside-down from one of the parallel bars so he could find out what it was like to be a bat (which is what Batman did to me when I asked him those questions—touchy, touchy!). Then I got this other idea and… well…