See? I still know what real soon means! I am with the second and hopefully (this is where vinnie gets a good laugh) the last chapter for this ficlet. Sorry I dropped you back there but...since senior year has started I've lost all my ability to function after eleven. Pathetic, I know. Anywho, nuff rambling. Shut up and read.

It didn't take long for Dick to realize that he didn't know this part of Gotham (or any part, really). The circus grounds had been his home, and whatever place they were set up had made up the entirety of his world. Stepping out that door had been like diving head first into a massive river with no plans of how to get across. He was utterly lost and completely at the mercy of those around him.

Don't cry. Dick stumbled, only just catching himself as yet another faceless person shoved past him. You are not going to cry.

There were no homes in this part of Gotham, no porch step to duck into, no fence to jump, no backyard to hide in. There was just skyscraper after skyscraper, shop after shop, and what felt like millions of people packed into every square inch. He thought for the barest second of crossing the street, but that would have been pure suicide considering the din of horns honking and brakes screeching.

What felt like hours later, his situation had only grown worse, and now he couldn't have gone back to Wayne Enterprises whether he wanted to or not. Every person looked the same, every building melded into one. The cacaphony common to a busy street had dissolved into a single, high-pitched screech in his head, drowning out all logical thought, freezing the air in his lungs, and shocking his heart into frantic beating. He was lost...completely and hopelessly lost, and not one person in this massive crowd cared. No one in this city, in this country, in this world, would have any reason to even care what happened to him today. There was no parent to frantically describe, no reunion waiting for him after this terrifying experience. He was just one in millions. Just one little boy engulfed in the mobs of Gotham City.

He choked on the first tear, giving up the effort to keep moving forward and instead just ducking, crawling between legs until he found the solid, brick wall of a building. He planted his back flat against it, letting his heart pulse through it. His frightened eyes closed, his head dropped into his hands, and he sobbed his heart out. No one would come for him.

The only comforting thought his young mind could conjure up was that, if he ceased to exist today...maybe he would see them again.

Bruce knew it even as the boy locked eyes with him. That nagging voice in his head kept screeching a warning, but he ignored it. The kid only wanted a bathroom, after all. The last thing he wanted to do was suffocate him.

Bruce knew even as the office door clicked shut that he was making a terrible mistake, but still, he shoved his intuition aside. What did he know about kids, anyway? The boy was eight, what trouble could he possibly get into in a restroom?

So he sat. He skimmed over documents for signing. He sipped his morning coffee. And he watched the clock.

It wasn't until ten minutes had ticked away that the nagging voice became too loud to ignore. Sighing, still unsure about his annoying impression, Bruce Wayne made his way to the men's bathroom.

"Richard?" he called, feeling like a moron even as he did so. "You in here?"

No response.

The embarassment vanished immediately, to be replaced by an intensely painful sinking feeling. "Richard?" he called, voice slightly higher pitched. Losing all sense of dignity, the head of Wayne Enterprises bent over and searched for feet in every stall. All of them were about eight sizes to big.

Turning on his heel, Bruce was off, his mentality quickly switching into his after-hours persona. Where would the boy go?

"What makes you think you have any say in what happens to me? I didn't ask you to adopt me! You're not my father, and I don't have to stay here! I WON'T!"

"Son of a bitch," he whispered, pace rapidly increasing. Not even twenty-four hours and he had already lost his charge.

Dick had managed to find a small nook in which to tuck himself, shielded from notice and protected from careless feet. Emotion had drained out of him, leaving a cold numb in its wake. It didn't matter how many people walked past his hole. Nothing changed. Nothing could be changed.

It took his sluggish brain a moment to realize that someone had pulled him up by the arm. He stared in surprise at the man who now held him, his face bringing up a complete blank. He'd never seen him before.

"Johnny? Thank God you're all right!" The strange man pulled him into a suffocating and slightly painful embrace. Dick's nostrils filled with the revolting smell of sweat, cigarette smoke, and stale alcohol. His mouth opened at last, entirely prepared to let out a shriek for help...but at that precise moment, he felt the icy cold metal pressed in between the button gaps of his collared shirt. "Shut up and walk," the man hissed, lips pressed against his ear.

The boy didn't have much room for fear, only shock. His legs moved on their own as the man pulled back, gripping his hand and sharing a relieved smile with anyone who took the time to glance his way. Not that many did.

He was tugged along until they stood before the gap between two skyscrapers, filled with trashbins and dim with natural shadow. The gun was back now, pressed midway up his spine. For a moment, the man was content simply that Dick was putting one foot in front of the other, and in that instant, he thought maybe it would continue like this and he would never have to worry about what would happen when the street was far enough away. Wishful thinking.

The man laughed, voice scratchy and thick with mucus. He spat out the words so fast one ran into the next. "I know who you are, kid. You're that brat orphan Wayne took in. Oh yeah, that was all over the papers, kid. This is just my frickin' lucky day, isn't it? Wonder what he'd do to get you back. Better yet..." Dick heard an ominous click, and he knew he should be terrified. He wasn't.

"I wonder what Brucey would pay if he had some...proof that his brat's life was in danger."

Dick turned slowly, eyes fixed on the muzzle of the gun. Maybe he would see them again...

A sickening crack rang through the alley...but Dick wasn't the one to fall.

Bruce Wayne stood with the shattered neck of a bottle in his hand, the man collapsed at his feet. For what felt like an eternity, Dick stared at Wayne, and Wayne stared back. And then the shock dissolved.

The eight year old clung to Bruce's waist for dear life, sobs shaking his small body as all the fear of the last few hours, no, the last few days escaped him in one torrent. He thought that he was alone, staring down that gun. He thought no one was left to come for him. But this man did. It was only natural in his mind that he would cling to that man for support.

Bruce lifted the boy he barely knew in his arms, rocking him gently, stroking his dark black hair and whispering soft words in his ear. "It's all right...I'm here. No one's going to get you. You're safe."

It seemed as though hours passed before Dick felt that he could let the tears receed. He was crying out every memory, every hope, and every ounce of disbelief. His body was nearly limp with exhaustion when at last he took a shuddering breath.

Setting Dick gently on his feet and kneeling down beside him, Bruce rubbed his cold arms comfortingly, searching his face. "You ok, squirt?" he asked, voice slightly choked. He couldn't seem to get the image of that gun and the look on Richard's face out of his head...He had the feeling it would haunt him for quite some time.

Rubbing his sore eyes with both fists, Dick nodded hesitantly, not sure if he really knew the answer to Bruce's question. He did know one thing, though. He had known it inside from the beginning...but now he realized there was no point in fighting it. Nothing could give him back his old life...but eight was way too young not to start a new one.


The man blinked for a moment, eyes analyzing. "Yes?"

Dick gave a small, shaky smile. "Can we go home now?" there you have it. The odd little section of Batman and Robin's life that popped into my odd little mind. Hope you enjoyed it...however, if you intend to complain to me about plot or some other foolish thing, I'll have you know this right here is my stress RELIEVER. I don't need to be stressing about this along with all my other, graded writing assignments. -cough- That said...We turn the page on this chapter of the legend of the Dynamic Duo. Cheers. -Dusty

One more thing...The bit with Bruce in the office skipped back an hour or two from where we left Dick, and that time was spent in trying to find the kid. Gotham's a big city and Dick made a lot better time than you would expect... That said.