Title: Not Bad At All
Author: DC Luder
Summary: The first step in the right direction always seems to be the hardest one. Bludhaven "I want you to be happy" Day challenge.
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: References made to Dark Victory.
"Those who can laugh without cause have either found the true meaning of happiness or have gone stark raving mad."
Hate is a strong word.
My mother had always cautioned me against using it, saying it was a word that had too powerful of a meaning to be used with haste. I had never directed it to a living being in her presence, knowing how much it had bothered her. In her eyes, the only thing I had ever hated had been cauliflower and getting popcorn kernels stuck in my teeth. Living amongst such a warm and active atmosphere, there really hadn't been a need for me to use the term on a person.
She was gone. They both were, leaving me with him.
I hated him.
Hate wasn't a strong enough word.
"Master Dick?" Alfred called from the hallway, softly rapping on my bedroom door.
Bedroom, bathroom, sitting room… my quarters. My entire life, I had never slept in a bed larger than a cot, I had shared a dressing room with my parents and four other performers and I had no need of a place to just sit still. That had been the life I wanted, the life my parents had wanted.
That life was over.
"Young sir, I strongly protest to locked doors…"
I continued to ignore him as I sat on the bench below the bay window. Thankfully, I had a view of the side lawn, nearly large enough to house the big top itself. I often sat and looked out at the lawn, trying to recreate every detail of my former home right down to the flags waving in the air and the scraps of litter on the ground after each show. That's where I belonged, not in some dark, cold mansion.
Not with him.
When Alfred's footsteps had sounded, I looked to the door, tempted to get up and make sure he had left.
Looking back to the window, I subconsciously began biting my lower lip, a bad habit but one I had never been able to kick. Even though I had never been nervous before performances, I had never been good around reporters. My father generally had answered their questions at press events promoting the circus but many of them had always wanted to know what it was like to be the youngest aerial acrobat in the world.
I had always bitten down on my lip, shrugged and answered, "It's fun."
Dad had always joked on our way back to our quarters that I would have to rehearse a more compelling answer. Thinking of the smirk on my father's face as he rattled off over-enthusiastic declarations of the exciting life on the high trapeze, I nearly smiled myself. Letting a frown cross my lips, I rose from the bench and carefully crossed the expanse of the bedroom. Pressing my ear to the door, I was pleased to be greeted with silence.
I hadn't left my room at any point that day. Even after weeks of living in the great house, I had yet to find anywhere I felt safe or even comfortable. My room was the closest thing, and that was only because it was where I kept my personal belongings and pictures of my parents. Whenever I had toured the Manor, I had spent most of it opening doors I wasn't supposed to, finding hiding places and doing anything I could to avoid him.
Alfred wasn't so bad, he seemed nice. He seemed genuinely concerned for me, always offering an ear if I had wanted to talk, knowing that I never did. Whenever I had bothered to ask where he was, Alfred was quick to recite one excuse or another. It was confusing, why he had taken me in if he had no intention of spending any time with me. When I had accidentally found the former master bedroom of the house, Alfred had finally explained that he had also lost his parents to crime at a young age, that he knew what I was going through. After that, I had been only further confused, if he had shown sympathy in making me his ward, why hadn't he told me how to deal with what had happened?
Before the circus left Gotham's city limits, I had snuck out of Wayne Manor, making the hazardous trek by myself. Part of me thought I had done so to try to find peace but the other part wanted to get to the bottom of my parents' deaths. Returning to my new residence, I had paused on the rooftop, high above the front courtyard, staring out at the twinkling city.
How could something so evil look so beautiful?
I had smirked sadly to myself, same as the Manor.
No, it wasn't the Manor that was evil, it was him. He couldn't care less about me, always working, always going to parties and bringing home girlfriends. Whenever he talked to me it was only briefly and it sounded like it was physically painful for him to do so. On the fourth of July, I had called him out on it, that I hadn't belonged living with him, in his house. He had tried to offer comfort by saying he wanted me to like living there, and that he would get me anything I wanted.
I wanted to tell him that the only thing that I had wanted was to find out who had killed my parents.
Before leaving me that night, he had said softly, "Dick, I know we have a lot to talk about, but---."
I had cut him off, eyes glued at the fireworks bursting outside, "You've got other plans. Big surprise."
For that kind of lip, my parents would have had me helping the livestock crew muck animal pens.
He had deserved it, though, and he must have known because he left without saying another word.
With my stomach growling in protest, I quietly unlocked the door, preparing to sneak out down the stairs and to the kitchen unnoticed.
It would have worked had the doorway not been blocked by a massive body, dressed in a dark suit.
My eyes travelled up to find his face, "Uh, hi."
As much as I hated him, it was impossible not to respect his presence. He was huge, over six-feet tall, all muscle too. He could have given Hugo the Bear Wrestler a run for his money. Standing beside him and looking up at his face had always given me a crick in my neck.
Thankfully, I hadn't looked up at him that often.
"Alfred said you had locked yourself in, figured I would come see for myself."
I hadn't locked myself in, not as much as I had locked the world out. When I didn't reply, he offered a forced smirk.
Almost made me hate him even more.
"Dick… can we talk?"
"About what?" I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.
He sighed, the smirk faltering, "About why you're here."
I shrugged and then nodded, "Okay."
"It's nice out…" he looked to the stairs, "Want to go out on the terrace?"
Not especially, I thought to myself, but agreed anyway.
He didn't say a word as we made our way down to the ground floor, down the east corridor and through the French doors to the stone terrace. He had opened the door for me and after stepping outside; I was surprised to see the table had been set for two. Rather than Alfred's usual midday cuisine of hearty soups and hot or cold sandwiches, I was surprised to see miniature funnel cakes. Upon closer inspection, I noticed each was dressed with either cinnamon, powdered sugar or chocolate powder.
I looked back at him, unable to contain my confusion.
He walked by me, taking a seat while speaking, "My mother loved the circus… she was so proper and poised but… Alfred said that whenever she was able to attend one, she was like a child again, mesmerized by the acts… the abilities of others…" he smirked, this time it came naturally, "My father… only went for funnel cakes."
I carefully took the seat to his right, not sure if I was supposed to say anything, or rather if I even wanted to.
He finally continued, trying to keep his eyes on me, "Alfred told me… that he… he told you about my parents. How they died." After I nodded, he continued, "I thought that bringing you here, you would be able to cope… with what happened to your parents. But after you arrived, I realized that I wouldn't be able to provide that, seeing how I still haven't learned how to cope myself."
His eyes fell to his hands as he rested them on the edge of the wrought iron table, "It's been over fifteen years… and that night is always with me, every second of every day."
"I know," I finally spoke up.
He sighed, his eyes finding mine again, "I wanted to make everything better for you, Dick… I wanted the best for you, a life I couldn't have because I let my past haunt me… I still want it for you, I want you to be happy… And… I'm not sure if I can make it happen, if I can give you that life."
I was silent, my lip held firmly in between my incisors.
He proceeded, "I know you're not happy here, and I will do anything in my power to find a place you can be… a foster family, someone more capable than I am…"
Hate is a strong word.
I should have never let the word cross my mind, not towards him, what had I been thinking, what had I done?
My eyes were suddenly very hot and the scent of the warm funnel cakes brought a foul taste to my mouth.
Not wanting to hear another word, I rose from my seat and made a dash for the door. In the three strides I had managed, he had jumped up from his chair, halted in the doorway and knelt before me. Since my vision had been blurry, I had crashed into him, my arms instinctively hitting him repeatedly in the chest, a mouse trying to push over a mountain.
"No, let me go!"
"Dick, it's all right."
"No, it's not!" I went to hit him in the face but he caught my hand and pushed it down. Given that my physical attack was failing, I resumed my verbal one, "It won't be all right, not if I leave!"
He spoke evenly, "Dick, it's for the best, for the both of us---."
I cut him off, confused that my cheeks were wet, "No… I… I don't want to leave, I do like it here, I swear…"
The look on his face was the same as when I had first seen him at the circus. "Dick… I know it seems scary but---."
"I can't leave them… just like you can't leave your parents."
He didn't have anything to say to that.
For the first time since I had set foot in his house, I spoke without sarcasm, without a leer in my voice. For the first time, I simply spoke from the heart, "I'm sorry… please, don't make me leave, Bruce… I'll do anything…"
He shook his head as he set a hand on my shoulder, "You shouldn't have to do anything... If you want to stay, you can. You can stay as long as you want."
I leapt forward, wrapping my arms around his neck, wondering how in the world I could have ever hated him. He was the only person who understood what I had gone through, he was the only one who hadn't lied to me that I was going to get over it and he was the only person who would be able to help me live with it. I would never forget them, or what had happened as that night would be with me, every second of every day.
Awkwardly, he patted my back before breaking the embrace by rising to his feet. I wiped my face quickly with the back of my sleeve, suddenly conscious that I had been crying.
He cleared his throat and looked back to the table.
I looked as well, sniffling one last time.
"I've never had a funnel cake," he said randomly.
"Never?" I had asked in disbelief.
He shook his head, returning to the chair he had leapt from a moment earlier, "Nope…"
"The powdered sugar ones are the best… my mom used to get one for me at the end of every show weekend… Dad liked elephant ears, so he could get everything on it." As I took my seat, I realized it was the first time I had told him anything about my parents. Fitting, considering it had been the first time he had told me anything about his.
I showed him the only way to eat fried dough was with your hands, so that you could lick your fingers clean afterwards. Even though my mind had given me reason not to, I smiled as I thought to myself that it had taken the threat of leaving for me to appreciate being his ward.
There was no going forward without going backwards first, my father had always said.
He smirked at me, the tip of his nose covered in powdered sugar, "Not bad."
Thinking we had finally agreed on something, I replied, "Not bad at all."