I know it's been a long, long time since I've updated this or any of my other stories. I apologize for that. Life got crazy for a while but I think I'm finally getting my muse back. Thanks for not giving up and I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint. This chapter is unbeta'd so read at your own risk ;)
Dick gazed into the fire as he tried to wait patiently for a response from Bruce. Stretching his legs out on the ottoman, he sighed as the fire bathed him in warmth and watched as wisps of smoke twisted and curled throughout the enormous fireplace, flames licking the logs he'd chopped earlier that day.
Chopping wood. Not an activity many would think the son of a billionaire would partake in but, for Dick, it was one of his favorite ways to clear his mind and focus on a problem. His problem lately? Coming up with a way to convince Bruce that Tim was ready to take on a new project.
Moisture in one of the logs expanded and caused a loud pop which roused the pup lying on the couch next to Bruce. Raising his head an inch, he gave a snort and a quick twitch of his ears before plopping his head back down on the cushion, his paws almost immediately began to twitch. Dick watched as Bruce unconsciously stroked the pup's head and reflected back to the day, two months ago, when they had brought Trouble home.
He remembered sitting on the couch with Alfred as Tim and the pup played on the floor. He remembered when Bruce got home that day, how he walked into the room, almost hypnotically- each step seemingly powered by a sound they'd all secretly feared they would never hear again, Tim's laughter.
Ever since that day, Dick reflected, Tim's progress had soared. It was as if by some miracle, bringing the pup home that day had somehow unlocked a door in Tim's mind. Of course, there were small steps at first, but within just a few weeks, it was evident that Tim, more that ever, was on his way back to them. They were able to increase the length and intensity of the awakening exercises and, also, as he progressed, he expressed a need for communication, more than he'd been content with previously- he now wanted to talk.
Speak verbally... well, they were still unable to get him to try that. Dick knew Tim had the ability to, but for what ever the reason, Tim refused and was keeping that reason to himself. It was a small set back in light of how well things had been going and neither Bruce, Dick nor Alfred pressured Tim about it any further, knowing he'd let them know when he was ready. In the mean time, they'd all been working with him to reteach the sign language he'd learned years before when he was training to become Robin. It was all a series of small steps to make a lot of progress, but progress was definitely being made.
Small steps- Dick crossed his arms and dropped his head in thought, chuckling to himself-then came that big step a week ago. The night Batman and Nightwing rolled in from patrol to find Tim and Trouble sitting at the Crays in Batman's chair.
Alfred was a few feet away dusting shelves, asking them if they'd like tea or coffee and Tim was sitting in Batman's chair, grinning at them with a knowing smile-telling them without speaking he remembered... and knew.
Bruce hesitated for only a moment, taking in the scene, then continued his way to the computer, removed his gloves, ruffled his youngest's hair and chose tea.
Dick gave his head a shake and laughed to himself in disbelief, "First time in almost a year, Tim's sitting in the Batcave; Alfred is dusting; and Batman wants tea." Laughing out loud, he peeled off his mask. "Unbelievable."
Tossing his gloves on the computer table, Dick rubbed the puppy behind its ears while studying Tim or a moment before placing a hand to the on his brother's shoulder and leaned down to rest his forehead against Tim's, "About time, little bro."
Later that night, after Tim had gone to bed, the three men gathered in the dimly-lit kitchen. Alfred sat at the table with Bruce and, as he warmed his hands around a cup of Earl Grey, he thought of the best way to recap the events in the Manor while his charges had been out saving their city.
Dick pulled out his seat and set down the bowl of cereal he'd fixed. He looked between Bruce and Alfred while using his spoon to dunk the cereal under the milk a few times, "So, Alfie... details?"
Alfred looked up at the use of the nickname only allowed to be used by his grandsons, and had to smile at the look of earnest impatience upon Dick's face and, with a deep breath, he began.
"The hour was about, oh, eleven thirty, I believe. I had been sitting in this very seat at that time, planning meals for the upcoming week and making out a grocery list. Master Tim had been in his room for some time, reading and listening to his music. It was nearing the time he usually comes looking for bite to eat and, not certain of what he'd be in the mood for tonight, I decided to use the intercom to ask him to the kitchen-I thought, perhaps, we'd make a pan of cookie-dough brownies but, my suggestion was met by silence. The young sir didn't buzz me back to let me know he'd heard and I couldn't hear any movement from his room.
"I thought, perhaps he'd fallen asleep, as one might do while reading, and went to his room to check-but, he wasn't there. I checked his bathroom, your bedrooms and then retraced my steps down to the kitchen in the event that he might have used the south staircase and we'd simply missed each other. Nothing. Then I checked the study, the sitting room, dining room, pantry, garage,..." Alfred sat back and exhaled with raised eyebrows, "I don't mind saying, I was becoming slightly alarmed."
"I don't blame you, Alfred," Bruce said over his cup of coffee, "it's been months since Tim's put us through a vanishing act."
Dick drained the milk from his bowl and set it back down, "Okay, on to the part with the cave, did you look there first and, if so, did he follow you?"
Alfred became very serious. "No. Of that I'm absolutely certain. Since the young sir's … accident, we've all been careful not to mention what activities go on below, in any way. In fact, I can count on one hand how many times I've stepped foot into the cave within the past year, as per our agreement, to make certain if Master Tim were to find his way back to the cave, it would have to be entirely on his own.
"And, might I add-" Alfred leaned forward in his chair to point between Bruce and Dick, "the layers of dust in that place are appalling! You two should be ashamed. In fact, I will guarantee you, come tomorrow, I'll not be the only one with a feather duster in my hand."
"Alfred." Bruce said dryly, beckoning with his hand, "Tim... the cave..."
Alfred raised an eyebrow, giving Bruce a look that said he meant business before taking a breath to continue, "As I was saying, I had looked everywhere and was just about to do a quick search of the grounds when I'd come to a decision of necessity-I decided to enter the cave and use the computer to do a thermal scan of the property, inside and out. After all, it would be the quickest way to find the young sir whom had now been missing, I'd surmised, for over an hour." Alfred paused, staring off into space for a moment as a thought occurred to him, "It was then, when I'd reached the clock and was about to move the hands that I had the feeling of..." he trailed off and took a sip of his tea as he searched for the best way to explain, "Well, simply put, it was as if a light went on and I knew exactly where he was. I fixed the hands of the clock accordingly and descended into the cave-where I found Master Timothy sitting at the computer sorting through case files from the past year."
"Alfred," Bruce began and leaned forward in his chair, turning toward the older man, "I know you already know how important this question is and forgive me for questioning what you've said so far, but, are you absolutely sure there is no way Tim saw you enter the cave tonight or at any time in this past year?"
Not seeming possible, Alfred sat up straighter, answering without hesitation, "I can assure you, Master Bruce, the answer to your question is: No. Not once. In fact, I believe the last time I was in the cave was a few nights after Master Timothy's accident, all those months back, when you brought Master Richard home after he'd been electrocuted-during which, Dr. Thompkins was kind enough to sit with the young sir while I was otherwise occupied."
"Bruce-." Dick said, his grin so large it was bordering on the Joker-esque. In response, Bruce raised a hand so he could think. Dick, ignoring the gesture, got up from his chair and grabbed one next to his mentor, turned it backward and sat down, "You know what this means. You knew-hell, we all knew this day would come eventually-"
"Ever since that day after I got zapped, when Tim traced an outline of a bat on your chest and-"
"Dick, We can't afford to be hasty-"
"-and the outline of my mask on my face-Bruce, no. Listen!" Dick insisted, waving away the hand Bruce held up again. "Look. I know we need to be careful and I'm not looking for you to come to any big decisions right now. I'm not asking for you to agree that he's ready to jump back into the Robin role-hell, I don't even know what the next step should be, I only want you to admit that: A) this is huge and B) we need to take advantage of this new... new, ah..."
"Awakening," Alfred supplied.
"Yeah," Dick said, snapping his fingers twice at Alfred's suggested verb, "awakening. We need to jump on this and do what all those doctors, specialists and therapists have been telling us to do when Tim shows remembrance or awareness in an area he'd forgotten, we need to help to draw it out."
"Yes, Dick, I know what's been said and I know what procedures to take. We also don't want to overload the kid and cause him to shut down or regress-" Bruce raised his voice over Dick's muttering, "-which is a very real possibility if not dealt with properly."
"Ahem, If I may..." Alfred decided to interject before vulnerable emotions between his two charges heated to the inevitable boil, "I believe you're both saying the same thing in different ways and, frankly, I'm beginning to get dizzy from following the two of you in the circle you've been talking." Alfred rose to rinse out his cup, "Taking into consideration the fact that Master Timothy remembered how to enter the cave from your study, Master Bruce, and remembered the tedious log-in procedure to gain access to the Crays Mainframe, and, also, appeared to be navigating its files, drives and user profiles with minimal effort... I find it useless to deny him access to the cave and information about his prior activities there within."
"I tend to agree with you, Alfred. However-" Bruce turned to face Dick, "Any training, instruction and/or preparations to get Tim back into the Robin costume will be of last resort. For now, let's just allow him to take the wheel and see where he'd like to go."
"That's all I was trying to say!" Dick threw his arms in the air with a wide grin, then smacked Bruce on the back with one hand and squeezed his forearm with the other, "He's almost back, Bruce- all the way back!"
"What are you grinning about?" Dick snapped his head up at the question, the sound of his mentor's voice bringing him out of his thoughts. "Oh..." he watched Bruce select another log to throw on the fire, "... just thinking."
"Mm." Bruce gave his oldest a skeptical look then turned and looked at the picture of his parents hanging above the fireplace. "In regards to your proposition," Bruce turned to face Dick, "what exactly did you have in mind?"
"Exactly, well, I'm not sure... exactly. I thought we could discuss the specifics but, like I said almost an hour ago... we have let Tim take the wheel and he's show us what he's remembered and we've all spoken with him about what happened to him last year, and... " Dick paused to pick up the pup that was standing with it's front paws on his leg, "I think it's time to talk to Tim about how he'd feel about beginning to train again. He's done better than we could have hoped on the mental side of Robin, we've all been working with him on that and he can't get enough of it. Hell, he'd be down there 24/7 if we'd let him. I think he could use a switch; let's start working on the physical side. He's ready Bruce. I see it, I feel it and I just know it... Alfred knows it, and I think you do, too."
"Conspiring with Alfred again?"
"Not conspiring, just..." Dick smiled as the pup pounced on his chest and licked his chin, "just making sure I wasn't getting ahead of myself before I brought this up to you."
"Hm.." Bruce propped his feet on the footstool in front of the couch. "Although Tim has shown remarkable improvement in his physical therapy and abilities these past few months, you do realize if we begin to train, there is no guarantee I'll clear him for active duty."
"You also need to realize, if Tim is ever able to wear the Robin costume again, it might be months, even years down the road."
"Are you prepared to stay here and abandon Bludhaven for that long? You know how Tim depends on and seems to still interact the best with you."
Dick nodded, "What ever it takes, Bruce."
"You're one hundred percent positive you're ready for this new commitment? There can be no room for second guessing here, Dick."
Bruce was silent again for a long moment, taking a turn at gazing into the fire, "I'll admit, I've had... similar thoughts myself." He paused then looked back to his son, "Answer me this: Do you truly believe Tim's ready for this?"
Dick grinned and leaned against the overstuffed arm of his chair, "Bruce, who do you think told me to ask you?"
To be continued...