Disclaimer: Ain't mine.
Summary: Dick Grayson became Robin. But what made Bruce think an 8 year old boy could survive out there?
Notes: I've kept Dick's original origins as an 8 year old. For me, his being the same age as Bruce when he lost his parents is vitally important to the process Bruce must have journeyed through to arrive in the mental place that allows him to take children along on his crusade, some of which I hope I've captured here. It's wish-fulfilment. Bruce was forced to wait and grow before become Batman. He would have given anything to have the chance that Dick has. Bruce wants to give him that. Maybe he just needed to find the justification.
Author's notes: These all popped into my head while lazing in the sun in Tenerife and wouldn't go away until I wrote them. (That's what you get for taking Devin Grayson's Inheritance along on holiday as light reading.) And in honour of that, I've kept a Spanish theme going.
Other notes /words/ denotes foreign speech.
The Casting of Stones
It was bitterly cold already, and the sun had barely set. Bruce felt the hairs on his arm stand up as he got out the warm limonene. It was no different than a hundred other nights like this in Gotham, but somehow he never felt the cold when he was Batman. But here he was just Bruce and the only warmth came from the press of his date against his side.
Calliope music and laughter and the earthy smell of animals and sawdust and cotton candy swirled in the air.
Bruce caught the badly concealed disappointment on his date's face as she surveyed where this night on the town with Gotham's highest profile socialite had taken her.
A man in a brightly coloured top-hat and tail, smiling almost manically, swept them both past the long queue of families waiting to buy tickets.
At the Big Top, the tent was held open for them for overly gracious bows. The stalls inside were empty and they were lead to the best seats in the house.
Money had its privileges.
Giggling caught his ears, then a gaggle of whispered, unfamiliar words. Romany, he suspected. A flash of green danced in the corner of his eye and he turned his head. There was nothing there.
As they both sat down, Bruce saw a boy of about 13 or 14 dart out from under the bleachers and make a dash for the centre of the ring. The kid yelped in surprise as another boy, small and lithe, wearing green, swooped out of nowhere and tagged his back before leaping up into the rigging, out of the older boys reach.
Excellent closure strategy, he thought. Impressive.
That kid in green was one of the flyers. Flew better than a bird. There were two sets of trapezes, staggered, one below the other, one set up at 50 feet and the other 20 feet lower. There was no net.
Bruce guessed the kid would fly at 30 feet, but he scrambled past, right up to the top, following a man the Ringmaster had said was his father.
His father launched off first, spinning through somersaults until he was swinging from the farthest bar. He hooked his legs around the ropes and bar and hung upside down.
After a moment, the boy swung out, tumbled effortlessly through a quadruple spin at amazing speed, coming out of it like lightening, arms out straight. Bruce almost heard the smack of his wrists landing in his father's waiting hands.
The crowd appalled.
The boy continued to swing in his father's grasp, bending and stretching his pointed toes to increase the height and the speed of the trapeze.
Below them, on the lower trapeze, the boy's mother began to swing.
There was a drum-roll.
"Ladies and gentleman, may we ask for your complete silence, for this next death-defying feat is among the most dangerous of all…"
The drum roll cut off.
Bruce caught a faint "huhnt" the man made as the father's swing reached its fullest height and at that top of the arc, he let go of his son. The boy slipped from his fathers grip, falling straight down.
The crowd gasped.
And the boy's outstretched hands clamped onto this mother's wrists 20 feet below, snatching him from his freefall and whisking him into the trapezes swing. From there he clasped another bar and sailed back to the board.
The crowd went wild.
His mother joined him a few seconds later. She kissed him and began to climb up to the highest trapeze.
Bruce didn't follow her progress. His eyes were on the boy. The kid was looking up, his black hair, mussed from his flight, fell across his eyes. He couldn't have been more than 8 or 9.
It had taken Bruce years to become that good, that fearless, that flexible…and this kid…
Impressive. Very impressive.
Then the boys face changed, eyes widening in horror.
And Bruce looked up.
The ropes were fraying, holding the weight of one man, had held the added weight of one small boy but…
The boy's mother clasped her husband's hands.
And the crowd screamed.
It just takes time. Everyone had said that about him, long ago. But the boy didn't need time. The boy needed purpose.
Bruce had no idea what to do with this small child he taken in. He'd only known it was the right thing to do.
Taking the boy into the offices of Wayne Enterprises had been Alfred's idea. Bruce guessed it was probably just an excuse to get them both out of the house so he could better prepare it for the function they were holding at the weekend.
Richard, or Dick as he was nicknamed (and surely only carnies, cut off from television and the 'normal' world, could think that was a good idea) had followed him, quietly and solemnly at first but soon wide-eyed, through the enormous building.
Bruce watched him, fascinated by the boy's curiosity.
At the office, Lucius Fox had cornered him with an 'urgent problem' and they had left Dick in Lucius' office in order to deal with it. Bruce had paused before closing the door on Dick, leaving strict instructions not to spin on the chair, which had been his favourite past-time back in the days when he had accompanied his father to the office.
It took less time than he anticipated and with a chuckle, Lucius suggested they see what damage Dick had done.
Nothing was amiss, although the minute scuffs in the carpet pile around the chair spoke volumes about Dick's obedience.
"Well, I'll be…" Lucius muttered, picking up one of the many logic puzzles he kept on his desk. "I've been working on this for months."
Bruce's eyes narrowed at the completed cube. He took it from Lucius and turned it over in his hand, studying all the sides in the correct colour pattern. "Dick, you solved this?"
There was a flash of guilt in the boy's eyes. "Um, sorry. I just got kinda…bored."
Lucius picked up a ball and the convoluted sticks and ropes sphere it had been freed from and shook his head slowly.
Bruce continued to hold Dick's gaze. "Have you seen these before?"
"Danno the clown had a whole bunch." The boy replied. "He never let me play with them. He said…um, they weren't for kids." And looked guiltier still.
Lucius chuckled and clapped Bruce on the shoulder. "Looks like you've fostered yourself a genius."
Bruce watched the boy guiltily take another completed logic puzzle from behind his back and hand it over.
Very impressive. Very, very impressive.
The boy looked angry. Bruce couldn't blame him. He'd always hated these functions as a boy. He still did, but they had become…tolerable. Sometimes, they were a few pecks away from being pleasant. But he had long given up hope of ever truly enjoying one.
Dick wriggled uncomfortably in the exquisitely tailored suit as Bruce introduced him to the various dignitaries at the function. By now most of them who knew Bruce had heard he'd decided to foster an orphan and looked Dick over with interest.
Bruce moved them on to the Spanish ambassador and his wife and fell into a conversation with the portly man while his wife, who spoke no English, did her best to keep up with them through the odd snatches of translation her husband threw her way.
Dick fidgeted again and sighed.
The ambassador's wife smiled down at him and held out her hand.
"Hola." He answered politely and held out his hand as Alfred as schooled him too. "Me llamo Richard."
"Tanto gusto!" A delighted smile sprang onto her face. " /You speak Spanish?/ "
" /A little bit./ "
Bruce completely lost what the ambassador was saying as his ears trained incredulously on his young charge.
"/ Would you like to get a drink?/ " She asked Dick.
" /Drink?/ " Dick echoed, frowning in concentration as if that word was a little unfamiliar. " /Yes./ "
She grinned even more and took his hand.
Bruce stared after them in astonishment.
The boy is extraordinary.
He found the boy sprawled in an armchair, head pillowed on his arms.
The boy was tired. He should just allow him to get to bed. The questions should wait.
"Your accent is impressive."
Dick blinked sleepily up at him. "Huh?"
"Where did you learn Spanish?"
The boy rubbed his eyes. "In Spain." He looked down at his feet. "We travelled a lot."
"And you picked up the language as you went?"
A nod and a yawn. "I liked playing with the other kids, even if they were gaje."
"Master Dick! There you are, young man." Alfred said, coming to stand just behind Bruce. "Come. It is quite past your bedtime."
Dick got up and slumped wearily behind the butler.
"I kind of know some German too…" he muttered.
Lightening cracked across the sky, throwing harsh brightness over the Manor. Rain lashed down, cold and hard, moving like a living thing.
But it wasn't the thunder that had brought him up from the caverns below.
It was the screams.
Alfred was already at the boy's door. The elderly man could move quite speedily when he was of a mind too.
Alfred opened the door. "Master Dick?"
But the room was empty; the sheets of the bed flung back and tangled. On the floor, the remains of a priceless Ming vase littered the carpet and among the shards, a broken photo frame, the glass shattered over its even more priceless picture.
The smiling faces of the Wayne family.
Bruce stared down at the ruined picture.
There was a bang and the curtains began to flap loudly in the wind that rushed in through the open window. His head snapped up to catch the briefest flicker of movement.
Alfred hurried to the window. "My word!" He peered out, but it was so dark and the rain so heavy that Bruce guessed the ground below was swallowed up by the blackness. "You don't think-?"
Bruce's eyes narrowed. "No, he went up." And he climbed out as well, the rain quickly soaking through his clothes. His toes and fingers found little ledges and cracks but his climb was slow and he caught himself thinking how much easier this would be to scramble up if he were Dick's size. The boy had probably scaled this in seconds.
When he finally hauled himself up on the rooftop, he stood and yelled "Dick!" into the storm.
Light flooded the roof as lightening split the sky.
He moved forward.
Another flash, and Bruce's breath hitched as the sudden brightness revealed the boy crouching just feet away. He hadn't seen him, hadn't heard him.
Then darkness again. He thought he heard motion, and knew the boy would be gone when he reached down.
His hand confirmed it moments later.
"Master Dick!" Alfred's voice.
A block of light appeared at the end of the roof. Alfred had come up the attic stairs and was cautiously climbing out of the garret window.
His ears caught the faintest sound and as lightening once again lit the sky, Bruce watched as Dick leapt and sprang and rebounded of the eves and tiles, moving like a wraith.
Bruce forgot to breathe.
Then there was a clatter and an "oh my!"
Bruce's head snapped round and saw the dim shadow of Alfred pitching to the side, arms flailing.
Too far. Too far.
He wasn't sure if it was his own cry or not as Dick's scream eclipsed his own. Maybe that was what gave the boy's muscles the extra strength. He bounced off the tiles, caught Alfred in one narrow arm and all but fell into him, throwing them both back onto the roof.
Bruce hurried over.
Dick scrambled off the butler and would have made to run had Alfred not snatched hold of his arm. "I'm sorry!" Dick gasped. "I didn't mean to-"
"We will discuss this inside!"
Alfred was looking at his own hand clasping the boy's wrist. "I believe Master Richard is running a fever."
Dick looked up at Bruce. "I didn't mean to break the picture." He told him. "I promise."
Bruce laid a hand on the boys shoulder, feeling him squirm and mutter something in Romany, "du' dera" and propelled him to climb back in the garret window, following at his heals.
Alfred paused a moment, glancing over the edge. "Good Lord…!"
Bruce stared hard at Dick. The boy met his gaze.
"Let's get you out of those wet pyjamas, Master Dick, and into bed."
If Alfred noticed the stare-off, he paid it no mind, simply coaxing the boy forward and out of the simmering gaze of his guardian. Dick allowed himself to be propelled along.
"I wasn't trying to…it just happened."
Bruce held the picture in hands. Although the edge had torn a little, it wasn't badly damaged. He knew it wasn't Dick fault. From the lie of the tangled sheets and from the screams, he knew Dick had woken from a nightmare and in a panic had tumbled from the bed, knocking both the vase and the picture on the floor.
And he had hidden from them, fearing their…fearing his anger, so much so that the fevered boy had fled.
Bruce knew he had no reason to be angry.
But he wasn't sure he wasn't.
His knuckles hurt. He'd taken risks tonight.
Anger had a way of doing that.
Bruce slipped into the guest bedroom where Alfred had moved Dick too. He wondered if the boy would return to his old room, the one Bruce had as a boy, once it was cleaned to broken china, broken glass and broken dreams.
The boy was curled in bed, bright spots of fever staining his cheeks. He watched him a long while until the boy snuffled and coughed in his sleep and Bruce turned to go.
At the door, he heard the boy moan in his sleep, "mom…dad…"
He hovered, knowing the shadows that would haunt the boy's dreams, knowing they would never truly go away. His own never had.
And yet he couldn't reach out to him.
Maybe he never would.
It made little difference anyway. There was no comfort he could offer. Nothing to make it go away.
He could only offer one thing. Something no other man could ever offer Dick.
The chance to make sense out of senseless murder, the chance to give meaning to meaningless carnage…
The chance to purge the darkness before it took root in his soul…
The boy will make a good soldier.
Footnotes – the aerialist feat with Dick and his parents described here is based on one I saw in London quite a few years ago and it was probably the single most stunning act I've ever seen. My heart almost stopped when the aerialist was 'dropped' and the gasps were audible as just for a fraction of a fraction of a second, everyone thought it was accident. They had nets, though!
Glossary (Romany) –
gaje – a non-gypsy
du' dera – (roughly) I'm sorry
Glossary (Spanish) –
Hola – Hello
Me llamo… - My name is…
Tanto gusto – Nice to meet you!