Summary: A crisis in the Wayne household. What else?

Disclaimer: All characters belong to DC and Time/Warner; this is an original
story that doesn't intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome.

Copyright July 2000

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What Are Little Boys Made Of?
By Syl Francis

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"Where *is* she?"

"Where's who?" Bruce didn't look up from his paperwork.

"You *know* who!" Dick said.

"Dick, even I can't read minds," Bruce responded a bit impatiently. "Now, I'm
extremely busy. So please. Just the facts."

He turned his attention to the next financial report on his desk. His eyes going
down each column carefully, when he suddenly stopped. He could feel a pair of
eyes glaring up at him.

With feigned care, he put the report down and turned to face Dick's intense
gaze. Bruce felt the usual small catch in the back of his throat whenever he
held the boy's eyes.

The dark blue was a match to his own as was the dark hair. Strangers invariably
mistook them for father and son...

"Ridiculous," Bruce remembered telling Alfred dismissively. "I'm Dick's trainer,
his mentor. I'm not his father."

"Of course, sir," Alfred had replied in that urbane way of his...

Setting his paperwork to the side, Bruce reached down and picked up the small
boy, sitting him on the desk in front of him. Dick crossed his arms and jutted
his small chin in that stubborn way he had.

Bruce sat back on his comfortable desk chair and looked up at the boy.

"So what are we talking about?" he asked.

Dick dropped his eyes, his cheeks suddenly coloring hotly. "Elinore," he
whispered.

"Is that what this is all about?" Bruce asked feeling relieved. "You misplaced
Elinore?"

"No!" Dick shouted. "She wasn't with me this morning when I woke up!"

Bruce looked a little guilty. "I'm sorry, son. It was so late when we got home
last night. You'd fallen asleep in the Batmobile, and well, after I put you to
bed, I didn't think about Elinore. I'm sorry. She's probably on your dresser.

"No, she's not! I already checked. She's gone!" Dick insisted.

"Of course, she's not gone, Dick," Bruce said soothingly. "Alfred probably took
her to be cleaned or something."

"No, he didn't!" Dick argued. "I *asked* him. Bruce, Elinore is missing!" The
boy was clearly upset and fighting to hold back tears.

"Dick, it's impossible for your stuffed toy to be missing--"

"Elinore's *not* a stuffed toy!" Dick cried, jumping to his feet in anger. He
looked down at Bruce from his higher vantage point on top of the large,
executive desk.

"She's my best friend! She's the only person I can talk to! I thought you
understood! But you don't! All you care about are your old reports and catching
the Joker!"

"Dick--" Bruce began stunned by the level of vehemence with which the boy had
lashed out. He reached for Dick, but the young acrobat eluded his grasp by
somersaulting off the desk. Landing gracefully near the door, Dick turned to
face his guardian, his expression showing his inner feelings of betrayal.

"I thought you could love us. But you can't. You don't care about anyone except
*them*!" In anger, Dick pointed accusingly at the portrait of Bruce's deceased
parents. Turning to leave, Dick paused for a moment.

"I don't want to live with you anymore," he said, and then ran upstairs to his
room.

****

His small carryall packed, Dick sat momentarily on his bed. He held his parents'
8 x 10 portrait in his hands.

"Why did you have to die?" he asked. "Why did you have to leave me?" Then,
because he was still only nine, and nine-year-olds were allowed to cry now and
then, even if they were training to be Batman's partner, he let the tears start.

"He doesn't love me like you did," he sobbed. "He never will. No one will." And
then, because nine-year-olds are after all too old to bawl like babies, he wiped
his tears and stood. He placed the portrait in his carryall and zipped it close.

Manfully lugging his bag downstairs, Dick went into the kitchen to find Alfred.

"I'm ready," he said. Alfred looked up from the infinite minutiae of preparing
the noonday meal. He gave his youngest charge his undivided attention as always.

"I beg your pardon, Master Dick?" he asked. "You're ready for what?" Spotting
the packed bag, his eyebrows shot up his forehead. "Master Dick, are you going
somewhere?"

Dick nodded, bravely meeting Alfred's gaze. "I'm leaving," he said. "I'm not
going to live here anymore. Can you please drive me back to the Juvenile
Detention Center?"

"I--?" Alfred stared nonplussed. "Master Dick, sit! Now!" Dick looked at him
clearly perplexed, but complied. "Here, have these while you wait."

Alfred placed a small plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk
in front the boy. Dick stared at Alfred, eyes wide. Cookies before a meal were
against Alfred's strict household regulations. The dignified gentleman moved
towards the kitchen door.

"Young sir, you are to remain in your seat," he ordered. "Do not move. Do not go
anywhere. Do I make myself clear?"

Dick nodded, his dark eyes confused. Wordlessly bringing a cookie to his mouth,
he watched as Alfred stormed out of the kitchen.

****

"Master Bruce!" Alfred called. He was startled by a dark, tousled (and quite
dusty) head that suddenly peered up from underneath the giant dinosaur.

"What is it, Alfred?" Bruce asked clearly distracted. "I'm a little busy." He
ducked back under the massive trophy, his muffled voice carrying up. "Can you
pass me the flashlight, please--*ouch*!"

"Master Bruce! What are you doing, sir?" Alfred asked, handing him the
flashlight.

"Looking," Bruce muttered, most of his words too muted to be understood.

"Looking, sir?" Alfred asked. "Looking for what?"

Bruce finally emerged. His handsome features marred by several streaks of soot
mixed with sweat. His hair was matted down by dirt and perspiration. Alfred
stood and stared in horror. Bruce was wearing one his better Oxford shirts. It
was covered in cobwebs and filth.

Ruined probably, Alfred sighed. He hadn't realized the necessity of dusting
underneath the behemoth. Obviously, this was an oversight that he'd have to
correct in the future.

Starting today.

Bruce wiped his dirty forehead with his dirty sleeve, thus transferring the soot
on his sleeve to his forehead and vice versa.

"Sir, what are you looking for?" Alfred asked.

Bruce sighed, his shoulders slumping. "A little boy's best friend," he said.
"Alfred, I knew his stuffed toy--I mean, Elinore--meant a lot to Dick, but
honestly, I hadn't realized the extent of his attachment."

Bruce turned away, body language stiff, telegraphing his sense of helplessness
and shame.

"I made light of the situation, Alfred." He placed his forearm on the dinosaur's
gigantic leg and his forehead on his arm. "Why can't I say the right things to
him? Why can't I reach him?"

"Sir--" Alfred began.

"Is he right, Alfred? *Am* I incapable of caring for anything except my 'old
reports and catching the Joker'?"

"Is that what Master Dick said, sir?"

Bruce nodded.

"He's hurting, Master Bruce. He lost the two most important people in his life,
and he's transferred all of the love that he felt for them to Elinore. She's all
he has left of his former life. All he has to remind him of his parents' love."

"I know," Bruce said, barely able to get the words out. He blinked rapidly
fighting the raging emotions that were tearing him inside. He thought of Dick's
dark accusing eyes and almost lost the battle.

"I said that I would be his trainer and his mentor, Alfred, but that I wouldn't
be his father," Bruce choked out. "Well, I sure called that one right, didn't
I?"

"Sir, you're wrong. You've been wonderful with Master Dick. I can see a certain
fond--attachment--growing between you two. Neither of you is openly
demonstrative about your affection, but it's there nonetheless."

Bruce slowly turned to face Alfred, doubt written across his face.

"But what you said about his transferring his love to Elinore--?"

"That's only because he's frightened and unsure of your feelings, sir. If you
give him something other than a stuffed elephant to concentrate his feelings on-
-or rather, if you give him *someone* else as a focus for his love--then
Elinore's role in his life will soon begin to diminish in importance."

Bruce looked away, staring unseeingly at the dark recesses of the Batcave.

"I'm supposed to be the World's Greatest Detective," he said. "And I can't even
find a child's stuffed elephant lost in my own home."

Alfred smiled. "Go to him, sir. I assure you. Master Dick needs you much more
than he needs Elinore."

****

Bruce peered in the kitchen door. Dick was seated at the table. He was holding a
framed 8 x 10 picture and was talking to it, a plate of cookies lying forgotten
in front of him.

"You'll see. I'll be fine. I'm a big boy now," he declared. "Daddy always said
that, right Mom? And they're not so bad at the juvie center. I was just a kid
the last time I was there. But now I can defend myself a lot better, so the
bigger kids won't be able to bully me like they did last time. So you don't have
to worry about me. I'm gonna be okay."

Bruce took a moment to gather his courage, taking several deep breaths to quiet
his rapidly beating heart. Chasing the Joker was easy, he thought. Talking to a
nine-year-old boy wasn't.

Pushing open the door, Bruce stepped into the kitchen. At his entrance, Dick
looked up, his eyes red from crying. Bruce noted the several conflicting
emotions racing across the boy's face. Finally, curiosity won out.

"You're face is all dirty," Dick said with childish amazement. "Better not let
Alfred see you."

Despite his own feelings of uncertainty, Bruce gave Dick a half-grin. "He's
already seen me, and he wasn't too happy."

Dick nodded in understanding. Command Sergeant Major Pennyworth was a stickler
for cleanliness. Even Bruce didn't always escape Alfred's strictures.

"What were you doing?" Dick asked, not really caring.

Taking a seat across from the boy, Bruce reached for a cookie before answering.
Dick stared at Bruce's filthy hands. Another rules violation. Boy, he'd be
willing to stay another night, just to see Bruce catch 'what for.'

Taking a moment to chew and swallow, Bruce finally answered. "I was looking for
Elinore," he admitted. Before he could explain further, Dick leaped up from his
chair and unselfconsciously threw his arms around Bruce's neck. Surprised, Bruce
hugged Dick to him.

"You *were*?" Dick cried. "You *found* her? Where was she? Bruce, you're the
*best*!" These last words were uttered too quickly for Bruce to interrupt.
"Where is she? Is she okay?" Dick paused long enough to look happily into
Bruce's pained expression.

"What is it?" Dick asked in a small voice. "What's wrong? Is Elinore okay?"

Bruce swallowed. "Dick..." he began, his voice tinged with guilt. "Son, I didn't
find her. I looked everywhere that I could think of--places that you normally go
into during the day." He shrugged helplessly. "She wasn't in any of those
places. I'm sorry, Dick. I failed you."

Dick put his head down on Bruce's shoulder and hugged his guardian's neck a
little harder. Soon, he was sobbing quietly, brokenhearted over the loss of his
friend.

"She's all I had left," he said brokenly. "Everybody I loved--everybody who
loved me--is gone."

"No, son," Bruce said with quiet desperation, holding him tighter. "Dick, that's
not true. You have Alfred and me." Dick looked up slowly until he was nose to
nose with Bruce. He stared into his guardian's eyes at first with disbelief, but
soon with dawning hope.

"Really?" he asked. "You're not just saying that?"

"Dick, have I ever lied to you?" Bruce asked. Dick shook his head, 'no.' Smiling
happily, Dick hugged Bruce again.

"I love you, too, Bruce," he said, his voice muffled by Bruce's strong
shoulders. "I didn't mean all those awful things I said earlier. Honest."

"I know you didn't, son," Bruce said. "All that matters is that you and me and
Alfred all have each other." Dick nodded without looking up.

Father and son sat quietly holding onto each other into the afternoon until the
lengthening shadows indicated the end of a long, painful day. The tactful
clearing of a throat announced Alfred's presence.

"Might I recommend a light dinner, sir?" he asked. "Before you and Master Dick
make your evening sojourn?"

Bruce looked up at the man who'd raised him and smiled gratefully. Turning his
attention to the small bundle in his arms, he asked, "What do you say, partner?
Hungry?"

"Uh-huh," Dick said inelegantly. Alfred rolled his eyes upward. He obviously had
his work cut out for him with this duo. Zeroing in on his employer's filthy
appearance he reminded him about cleanliness being next to godliness.

Dick and Bruce exchanged amused glances.

"Why don't we go wash up for dinner?" Bruce said. Dick nodded.

****

Hours later, long since Robin's usual nightly curfew had passed, Batman pulled
into the Batmobile's hangar. Looking across at his young, sleeping partner, his
stern features softened.

"I guess I'll have to put you to bed *again* tonight, youngster," he said
shaking his head. He climbed out of the Batmobile and made his way around to the
passenger side. Reaching in, he unbuckled Robin's seatbelt and easily picked up
the small boy.

Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

"Alfred, what are doing up so late?" he asked.

"When you didn't return Master Dick at his usual time, I became a little
worried, sir."

Batman looked down at his brightly garbed partner. "I'm sorry, Alfred. Things
became a little hectic. We just didn't have time to report back."

"That is quite all right, sir. I'm just happy to see that the young master is
fine. Would you care for me to put him to bed?"

Batman nodded a little regretfully. "If you wouldn't mind," he said, handing
Robin over. "I have to unload some equipment before hitting the showers." Alfred
nodded wordlessly and turned to leave.

Batman reached into the back of the vehicle and began sorting through the
equipment lockers that he kept for storage. He sighed. Maybe he should leave it
for tomorrow. He was exhausted from the evening's activities and thought he'd
pulled a muscle from the last fight.

About to close and lock the storage compartment, something bright and colorful
caught his attention amongst the dark, non-reflecting equipment. Removing his
cowl, Bruce stared momentarily, not believing his eyes.

Reaching in, he carefully rescued the child's stuffed toy whose absence had
caused so much heartache during the course of a single day. Elinore was none the
worse for wear. Her bright, Haly Circus blanket with 'ELINORE' in bold letters
was quite safe and sound.

Bruce smiled. Dick must have taken her out last night. Since he'd come to live
with them, Dick was never truly comfortable if Elinore was more than a few feet
away from him. Alfred invariably found her in the Batcave following their
workouts, by the poolside, in the garden, and once under the baby grand piano
following a rather long and dull dinner party.

So, Robin the Boy Wonder still needed his security 'blanket.'

"Well," Bruce said, smiling to himself, "the young daredevil *is* only nine
after all."

****

Placing Elinore on the pillow next to Dick, Bruce sat and watched the boy sleep.
He recalled Alfred's words.

//"...He's frightened and unsure of your feelings, sir. If you give him
something other than a stuffed elephant to concentrate his feelings on--or
rather, if you give him *someone* else as a focus for his love--then Elinore's
role in his life will soon begin to diminish in importance."//

Bruce sat a moment longer taking the words to heart, knowing that he needed to
*be* that 'someone' as much as, if not more than, Dick needed *him*. Seeing
Dick's hand reach across the pillow to Elinore and pulling her in close to him,
Bruce felt a momentary stab of jealousy.

Dick snuggled in closer to Elinore, his small chin on top of her head, her
elephant's trunk across his neck. Then again, maybe this wasn't a contest--
perhaps it was more of a partnership. He and Elinore each had an important role
to play in the boy's life.

Staring into her dark, unseeing eyes, Bruce made a silent pact. We'll get him
through the rough times ahead, Elinore--together. Turning to gaze upon the
peacefully sleeping boy, Bruce smiled once again, treasuring the moment.

"Good night, son."

The End
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