A/N I'm back! And I think that I will just barely make my self-imposed deadline! (As long as the site cooperates!) I hadn't realized how difficult it would be to get back in the swing of writing once I finished with school.
For those of you who are new, this story is a sequel to my other fics The Nestling and Toward a Dark Horizon. You do not have to read them to enjoy this story. It is complete in and of itself. However, I would recommend that you at least take a look at The Nestling (it's short, only six chapters) to give you an idea of my take on the characters.
Disclaimer This story was inspired by the movie, Batman Begins. I have no legal right to any part of the Batman franchise.
In Which Dick Refuses to Do As He Is Told
I learned the way a monkey learns — by watching its parents.
- Charles, Prince of Wales
The football sailed in a long, high arc through the soft summer evening air. Thirteen-year-old Dick Grayson ran backwards, leaped up, and triumphantly wrapped his hands around the pigskin. He smashed its pointed end into the ground and howled, "Touchdown!"
"There are no touchdowns in catch!" Bruce Wayne called from across the wide lawn. "Get your brain straightened out, Grayson!"
Ignoring the older man's jibe, Dick cocked his arm and threw. The ball spiraled smoothly up, and Bruce was forced to back up a few steps to catch it. He threw it back. The object was to throw the football a little farther each time until one of their arms gave out, and Bruce's record was unbroken. (The one time he had purposely shortened his throw, Dick had thrown a fit over being allowed to win and demanded a rematch.)
They played until the sun had sunk completely beneath the horizon and Alfred appeared to call them in to a late supper. "How's your homework?" Bruce asked as they dug into grilled steaks.
Dick rolled his eyes. "Fine."
"You haven't done it yet," his guardian surmised.
"I was busy today. I'll get it done."
Dick rolled his eyes again. "When have I ever not done my homework?"
"How about last Tuesday?"
"Ok, fine, one time…"
"And the Thursday before that."
"Maybe twice. Come on, Bruce, I have a tutor. It's not like my grade is going to be docked if I miss a couple of deadlines."
"Mmm," Bruce muttered noncommittally. "Speaking of tutors, how are you getting along with Mr. Peaceable?"
After the disastrous incident with Miss Tracy, Bruce had hired a retired instructor named Paul Vincent. He had proven to be exactly what Dick needed, but after two years he had moved to Florida to be closer to his children. Since then, a progression of tutors had passed through the manor, all of them unsatisfactory in one way or another. Alex Peaceable, a part-time lecturer in the physics department at Gotham U, was the latest of these.
Dick shrugged. " 's alright," he mumbled around a mouthful of potato. "Kind of anal about some things."
"Like what?" Bruce asked, noting that Alfred was hovering close by, listening. Dick's education had become something of a bone of contention. Alfred thought the boy should be sent to school, but Dick had resisted the idea, and Bruce, remembering his own painful teenage years, didn't have the heart to force him.
"Poetry. He's always making me read poetry."
"And you read it," Bruce said, half as a statement, half as a question.
"Yes." Dick looked grumpy.
Alfred moved away, his expression mildly pleased. Bruce guessed that they were thinking the same thing - that perhaps they had finally found a tutor who was capable of the impossible task of making Richard Grayson learning what he didn't want to learn. He was far from incapable, and he wasn't lazy, but if he didn't see the importance of a thing, he simply refused to take any interest in it. Although he read voraciously, anything he touched by choice was science, or an occasional bit of history. He avoided any literature labeled "classic" and had a penchant for mathematical shortcuts that left him ignorant of methodology. Since he could think rings around most licensed educators, and since those scholars capable of keeping up with him preferred funded research to struggling with an adolescent genius, he had been more or less running his own education for the last three years. Until, possibly, Alex Peaceable. Only time would tell.
Later that evening, Bruce slipped into the TV room. A Star Trek rerun was blaring on the large screen, and Dick was sitting cross legged on the couch, laptop balanced on his knees, and an open book beside him. His eyes, however, were focused on Captain Picard, not his open document. Bruce walked up behind him and read the three lines on the screen.
"Out, Out-" is a poem by Robert Frost. In Frost's "Out, Out-," a guy gets his hand accidentally chopped off by a buzz-saw. When the guy gets his hand accidentally chopped off, there is a lot of blood. This is probably symbolic of
Bruce picked up the remote and clicked off the television.
"Hey!" Dick protested. "It helps me think to have that on."
"Yeah. Right. Just do your homework, Grayson."
"Fine," Dick muttered, scrunching himself into the corner of the couch and scowling at the book of poetry.
Bruce rolled his eyes and headed for the door.
"Are you going out?" Dick called.
"Can I come with you?"
"Just thought I'd ask." Dick resumed staring at his screen, and Bruce ran down the stairs to the study. Alfred was waiting for him in the caverns.
"So do you think Peaceable will make it?" Bruce asked, beginning the familiar routine of donning his armor.
"I am feeling a certain cautious optimism," Alfred allowed.
"He's actually upstairs writing a paper on Robert Frost."
"Will wonders never cease," the butler murmured, passing over the gauntlets.
"I mean it's terrible," Bruce elaborated as he strapped them on, "but still…"
"It's very encouraging. How late will you be tonight, sir?"
"I'm not sure. There have been rumors that something big is supposed to go down in the east district tonight, but it's all been … elusive. Don't wait up for me," he added, as he did every night.
"Very well, sir," Alfred said, as he did every night. They both knew that the butler would be waiting in his usual spot when the Tumbler rolled back into the cave.
The stern mouth beneath fearsome cowl twitched upward in the smallest of smiles. "Good night, Alfred."
"Good night, sir."
"Jimmy, if you do that one more time, I'm going to stuff you head first into the toilet!" Babs snarled, as her little brother leaped over her prostrate form with a small plane in his hand, his mouth emitting a steady stream of shrill engine noises and spit spray. Babs was sprawled on the living room floor with her math homework, and Jimmy had been circling her to come in for a landing for the last fifteen minutes.
"I can't read minds, Barbara, I don't always know every little thing you're thinking!" their father's voice suddenly thundered from the kitchen.
Jimmy froze in mid squeal.
"Well maybe if you were actually home once in a while, you wouldn't need any psychic abilities!"
Babs's grip on her pencil tightened, and the graphite point snapped off against her notebook. Jimmy was suddenly at her side, burying his face against her shoulder. She sat up, pulling him onto her lap so that he could hide his face against her while she covered his ears.
The fight in the kitchen raged on, like all the others since they had moved to the new house after James Gordon's promotion to chief of police. Babs huddled over her little brother and wondered why she had ever thought things would be better if they left the old neighborhood.
The shouting went on and on until the ringing of the phone brought a shrill interruption. Babs heard her father pick up the phone and recognized the sudden urgency of his tone, even though the words were now indistinguishable. There was the sound of the phone clicking back into its cradle, and then her mother's low voice asking a question. Her father responded, and then…
"James Gordon, I am not finished talking to you!"
"I have to go, the Deep Harbor Casino's being robbed!"
"You do not have to handle all the crimes in this city! Let someone else go! Isn't this what your wonder friend bat is for?" There was a short silence and then Barbara spoke in a bitterly cold tone her daughter had never heard before, not in all the months of fighting. "Don't you dare walk out that door."
Babs held her breath through an eternity that was deathly silent, until the soft click of the front door latching slipping into place.
Alfred was tending some of the orchids in the pool room when his phone began vibrating. He flipped it open and found a text message – a simple sequence of numbers that meant one thing. Evacuate.
Alfred froze, the phone in his hand. This had happened once before, when Bruce had feared he was trapped in a no-outs situation. It was imperative that Richard be gotten to safety before Bruce's cover was blown and all of Batman's enemies came after his other life. That time, an out had opened at the last minute, and Bruce had come home. Maybe the same thing would happen this time. Maybe.
Alfred abruptly came to life, snapping the phone shut and hurrying out of the pool room and upstairs. Dick was sound asleep, only his tousled hair visible above the covers. Alfred snapped on the overhead light and pulled back the blankets. "Wake up, Master Dick."
Dick groaned and forced open his eyes. "Did I oversleep again?"
"No. We're evacuating."
All traces of sleepiness disappeared and Dick popped up from his pillows, fully alert. "What happened? Where's Bruce?"
"He's ordered us to start evacuation procedures. Get dressed and then meet me in the study."
Confident that Dick was coherent and ready to spring into action, Alfred ran out of the room and down the stairs, dialing the airport to have one of the Wayne jets prepped immediately. They would fly to O'Hare, and then out of the country under false passports…
He was at the computer, programming the explosions that would seal off all entrances to the caverns, when Dick entered the study. He was dressed but empty handed.
"Where's your bag?" Alfred snapped, entering the code that would create a delayed crash of all of the Manor's systems.
"I'm not leaving."
At the boy's cold tone, Alfred froze, hands poised over the keyboard, and then he cursed himself for not having expected this, for not already having a line of persuasive arguments in place or, if those failed, a dose of chloroform. He turned, meeting Dick's steady gaze. "Of course you will. Those are Master Wayne's orders, and we will follow them."
"I'm not leaving him." Dick's tone wasn't upset or defiant. He was simply stating a fact. "Where is he, Alfred?"
"He didn't say. There is nothing we can do to help him." The butler turned back to the computer.
"You really expect me to believe there's no way you can find him?" When Alfred didn't respond, the boy continued, "I'm going after him if I have to walk into town, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."
Alfred grimaced. Dick's words, which would be false bravado in the mouths of most thirteen-year-olds, had the unpleasant ring of truth. A super-intelligent kid on home territory and with five years worth of martial arts behind him would have no trouble eluding a man in his mid-sixties. And if he admitted it, he too was reluctant to fly to safety and leave Bruce to his fate, no matter how logical such a course might be.
The boy and the old man stared at each other for a long moment, and then Dick said softly, "You know we can't go, Alfred."
The butler drew in a slow breath and walked over to the gilded bust which now hid the switch that would open the secret panel to the lift. If I live through tonight, I'll be out of a job in the morning.
"Well then, Master Dick," he said, as the shelves swung silently outward, "I suggest that we hurry."
To Be Continued
A/N Well, that didn't turn out quite like I had envisioned, but I think it will do. Leave a review and let me know what you think! Update will hopefully be up within a week.