Author's Note: I confess. I love Dick Grayson. This is set in the B:TAS world, when Dick is still a little kid.
Sign of Spring
Chapter one: current theories
The Bat-signal had been on for twenty minutes when suddenly the rooftop felt a little colder. Gordon whirled around, fought back the instinct to gasp—he was right there, barely a footstep away. The white lenses in his mask were eerily luminous.
"Batman. Good, you're here." Gordon fidgeted with his tie before stuffing his hands back into his pockets. Batman didn't say anything, and the slump of Jim's shoulders began to look guilty. "I, well, I wanted to talk to you."
Gordon almost managed not to shudder at the voice. "Look, it's kind of cold out here. Would you mind stepping inside for a minute?"
Batman narrowed his gaze, and didn't answer.
The wind gusted, stirring up tiny snowflakes. Gordon sighed. "All right. It's the boy."
"Whatever you call him, you can't deny that he's just a child."
"He's a crime fighter. Like me."
Gordon's posture grew even more uncomfortable, but the conviction in his eyes never wavered. He spoke in his usual curt tone, the words slightly hurried. "The truth is, a lot of people in the department think you're crazy or worse for dragging that kid into this world of yours. And, to be perfectly honest, I have a few concerns myself."
"Forget them." It was an unequivocal order.
"I can't. I want to talk to the boy. Alone. Will you trust me that much?"
It was a daring request. A challenge. Batman seemed eight feet tall and made of stone. But at last, he answered. "Tomorrow. Your office."
The wind gusted again, and Gordon squinted a little too tightly against the onslaught of icy specks—and when he opened his eyes again, Batman was already gone.
He'd expected the boy wonder to come swinging through the window, and had left it unlocked for that purpose. That was why Gordon was incredibly surprised when a crisp knock on his door resulted in his finding one square-shouldered and serious-faced Robin standing in the hallway.
The boy took a breath. Beneath his fearless colors, Dick Grayson was terrified. This was Robin's first face-to-face meeting with Commissioner Gordon, but Dick had spoken with him several times, back when his parents had been murdered. That was over a year ago now—closer to two years ago, he realized with a start. But still, how could the simple mask on his face hide who he was? Gordon had been kind to him. He was sure to remember him. He was going to recognize him and it would be the end of everything.
Robin had tried explaining all that to Batman, but the Dark Knight had informed him he'd be visiting the commissioner anyway. Unfazed, Dick had cornered Bruce that morning at the breakfast table and repeated his concerns. Hearing Batman's voice coming from behind Bruce's newspaper had ended the argument.
…"You wanted to see me, Commissioner?"
Gordon blinked at him twice. He was dressed, as always alleged, in what looked like a Santa's elf costume gone horribly wrong. But his dark hair was neatly combed, and with the shirt-collar of his cape, from the neck up, (and ignoring the mask), he looked like he might've been a boy dressed up for church.
He was biting his bottom lip with just the right combination of earnestness and nervousness. Gordon couldn't help feeling an instant liking for him.
"That's right," Gordon answered, opening the door all the way. "Come on in, son."
Robin stepped into the cluttered office, and Gordon took note of the confidence in his stride. He wondered if Batman had trained that into him, or if it came naturally. Either way, it was an impressive trait for someone who only weighed about sixty pounds.
Gordon made his way to his coffee maker and picked up the pot.
Robin looked up. "No thank you."
Pouring himself a cup, the commissioner sighed. "Well, 'Robin,' I guess I'll get right down to it. One thing's for sure: you're a good kid, a really nice kid. About how old are you? Ten? Eleven?"
"Yes sir—I'm ten."
Gordon looked down into his coffee. "Ten years old," he mused, and looked up again with harder eyes. "And a real nice kid. But this world, I'm sorry to say, is not always a real nice place. So that's why I have to ask you—wait, let me back up. Before I ask you anything, I want you to know that you can tell me whatever you want. If there's ever anything you need to talk about, you can always come to me. If you ever need help, I'll be here for you. Okay?"
"Yes sir." The boy gave a quick nod, which almost looked robotic.
"Okay," Gordon confirmed, although he didn't sound convinced. He sipped his coffee, as if to stall for time. "And Batman doesn't have to know."
The boy looked vaguely puzzled, and the commissioner would've rather had to interrogate an entire room full of savage sociopaths than grill the kid about anything. "Go ahead and sit down," he said gently. Robin hopped into a chair, and sat on the very end of it, occupying no more than the first two or three inches of the seat. With his knees bent, his feet didn't quite reach the floor, and he swung them back and forth once or twice, crossed at the ankles.
Gordon sighed. "Here's the thing, son. I don't know why Batman is letting you work with him. I don't even know whether he's letting you or forcing you to. Either way, it doesn't seem healthy. There are a lot of dangerous criminals out there. You've seen a few of them for yourself already."
"Yes sir," Robin repeated, with another nod.
Gordon stopped, and took off his glasses. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, set the glasses on his desk, and the fact that the kid looked a little blurry now saved him from losing his nerve.
"But it's not really those guys that I'm worried about," the commissioner said, as carefully as possible. "…It's Batman himself."
The kid bit his lip, as if debating whether to take that seriously.
"I know you don't want to hear this," Gordon continued, "but try and think about it from a grown-up's perspective. Batman teaming up with a kid doesn't make sense. There might be something wrong with him, Robin. Trust me, I know how much good he's done for this city. But I can't ignore the possibility that he might be a very sick man. If he ever hurts you—"
"You don't have to worry about that," Robin interrupted, but with far less indignation than innocence. The commissioner waited to see if he'd continue, and, with a sudden flash of a smile, he did. "But you know, what you said about it not making sense for him to work with me? Well, the bad guys don't understand it either—and that's why it works so well."
For a second, the boy's confidence was contagious, and Gordon almost found himself believing that there was something powerful at work behind the idea of Batman's little sidekick. Something valid. Something better than the current theories, the tamest of which entailed Batman being a sicko who brainwashed a boy and dressed him up to throw him at worse sickos as a sort of distraction.
But then the ugly side of reality reasserted itself, in the form of Harvey Bullock bursting into the office. "Commish I got the prints off the sledgehammer just like you…" his voice trailed off as he noticed Gordon's guest. He pointed at Robin with one hand and reached for his holster with the other. "It's the kid!"
"I'm Robin," Robin introduced himself, smiling.
"Take it easy, Bullock," Gordon said. "He's just here to talk."
"You find out what the Bat-freak's been doin' to him yet?"
Robin frowned. Gordon sighed once more, and decided to put his faith in the impossible yet again. "So far it all seems to be exactly what it looks like: they dress up and fight crime together."
Bullock snorted. "That ain't what it 'looks like' to me."
Gordon put his palms on his desk and rose from his seat. "That's enough." He sent a stern look at Bullock, and then returned his attention to the boy. "Robin, you can go. Thanks for stopping by."
"Whaaat?" Bullock practically shouted. "Are you crazy? You're actually lettin' this little vigilante walk outta here?"
"I doubt his boss would approve of our keeping him," Gordon said, a hint of wry humor in his tone.
"Yeah, exactly," Bullock asserted. "Whatever he's using him for, it's obvious this kid is his weakness. You know the entire underworld is thinking the same thing: They don't see a Robin, they see a worm to put on a hook so they can reel in a great big Bat. I figure we keep the kid now, we save him from becoming bait later."
Gordon's eyes crinkled at the edges. "Bullock, once in a while you remind me why I haven't fired you yet. But Batman trusted me enough to send the boy over here, and now I'm going to trust Batman enough to send the boy back."
"But commish! You're signing this kid's death warrant! He's gonna get killed out there!" Bullock turned to Robin, anger deep in his eyes. "You ever seen any dead kids, son?"
Robin shook his head, solemn. "No sir."
"Well I have. And I sure as hell don't wanna see no more."
"Enough, Bullock," Gordon warned, but softer than before. The big man's shoulders slumped in defeat, and with a final glance at the commissioner, Robin slipped out of the room.
The Batmobile was waiting in an alley a few blocks away. Batman didn't even look up as Robin's reflection appeared in the top corner of his window, but he hit the button and the roof slid back at just the right instant.
Somersaulting once in the air on his way down, Robin dropped noiselessly into his seat.
"You were right, Batman," the boy wonder exclaimed right away. "He didn't recognize me."
"What did he ask you?" Batman rumbled as the roof slid shut.
Robin grinned, already buckling in. "Well, I thought he'd ask me a bunch of questions. But he only asked how old I was."
Batman nodded. "What did he want to talk about?"
"You," Robin said, still grinning. "He wanted to tell me that you might be dangerous or something." He spoke with a sort of forced smugness, as if to make it clear that he'd been told something he already knew. But Batman looked away, and sat motionless for so long that Robin began to wonder if he'd stopped breathing. "…Batman?" he asked at last.
"…I figured as much," Batman said quietly. It wasn't Batman's voice at all, and the soft, unfamiliar tone made Robin a little nervous.
"I don't get it," Robin said, worried. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Batman frowned. "It's just… you can talk to Gordon whenever you need to, all right? I trust him. Sometimes, I trust him more than I trust myself."
Suddenly Batman seemed frozen in place by the green-gloved hand that had grabbed his wrist. "Wait a minute," Robin said. "Are you saying he might be right? He thinks I shouldn't be working with you! You're not agreeing with him, are you?"
"Dick," Batman said gravely, breaking free of the boy's grasp by reaching for the shifter. "You're a critical part of my mission now. And you don't need to prove anything to anyone. But if you ever want a way out, one that I can't give you, you can go to Gordon, and he'll help you."
Robin stared out through the windshield, Batman's words heavy on his heart. The Batmobile crawled forward, silent at first, and then the turbine spun up and rushed them away.
One thing was certain: Dick would never confide in Gordon now. Because there was no way he would ever want a way out.
...to be continued...