I was walking upstairs in weary failure. That damn Joker had gotten away again. What I really needed was to just shoot a tracking device in his skull so I could always find him. Made me so damn angry.
I had forbid Dick from going out tonight. He had a large test tomorrow and there was no way he was going to lose a night of studying for a patrol that probably wouldn't yield any results anyway.
He had been furious. He had stormed around, screamed, told me he hated me, threatened to kill himself and then me and then Alfred (after he had sided with me that is) three times, and finally stalked into his room and slammed the door. I had left alone with a heavy heart.
I hated making Dick angry, I really did. There was something about it, always some part of me that was so scared we might never make up and that his words were true, that he really did hate me. Over the course of those long years, he had said that he hated me so many times, too many to count, and yet we, without fail, ended up making up.
Still though, those words always frightened me. I forever felt horrible when he said them. He knew I did and so tried not to say them often, but every once in a while, they came out. Dick was essentially a good kid, but he had his little quarks. I supposed every kid did.
Thinking about the fight we had had earlier that evening, I could tell he was a far cry from the nine year old I had taken in so many years ago. It made me sad. I was struck with a sudden urge to see him and so, braving his potential grudge, walked up the stairs and into his room.
He was fast asleep, limbs sprawled at odd angles and blankets tangled around him. He was snoring softly with his mouth open and I could see a little drool on his pillow. His hair was sprayed wildly and falling in front of his eyes like the mane of a shaggy pony. Dick certainly wasn't a pretty sleeper. I chuckled softly to myself. If Dick ever got a wife, she would find a nightmare lying with her.
I sat down on the bed and gazed at his sleeping form for a moment. He was breathing slowly and deeply. These days I could always tell when he was really asleep and when he was just faking. He had fooled me when he was little, but not anymore. He shifted and the blankets fell off his broad, powerful shoulders. He was so well built, muscles rippling beneath skin scarred by many encounters with various villains.
I felt guilty when I looked at him, at how much he had suffered for what I had put him through. But, more then that, I felt a sense of the deepest despair. He was enormous, so much bigger then that slight, fragile nine year old I had taken under my wing nearly seven years ago.
Whoa, I thought to myself, it had already been seven years. The time had gone by much to quickly for my liking and he had grown from an adoring nine year old who practically venerated me into a moody adolescent that argued, sometimes just for the sake of arguing. My sixteen-year-old son.
I gazed at his sleeping face. He was so handsome and yet looked so childlike while asleep. I wondered what he was dreaming about, if anything. Dick tended to be a heavy sleeper, dropping deep into the kind of slumber you don't dream in.
Suddenly, I felt the urge to collect him in my arms like I had done when he was nine, to cradle him to me and hold him on my lap while he gazed up at me. But, he was too big to be picked up now, too big to be snuggled and cuddled and held. He was too big to run into my room at night, frightened after a nightmare, too big to beg me to play cars with him or for me to read him a bedtime story.
I longed for those days and I wished so much he was still a baby. I almost cried when I thought about how big he had gotten. He was all grown up. He would leave the house and then I wouldn't have him around any more. He wouldn't be mine any more.
Unable to resist an urge I suddenly had, I collected him up gently and held him. He was seemed even bigger now that I had him on my lap. His head lolled back over my arm and very little of him still fit where it had so easily before, but for a moment, I could pretend he was small again.
I held his sleeping form close for a moment, pressing his head to my chest so I could stroke his hair before placing him back down on the bed. It wouldn't do to wake him. I was sure he would ruin the stillness, the silence, the perfectness of that single quiet moment I had with him.
I gazed away, out the window and at the twinkling stars. He always left his window open. He said he liked to see those mysterious lights so far away. I was so distracted and lost in nostalgic thoughts, the feel of the hand on my arm made me jump.
I looked over and saw Dick sitting up next to me and gazing questioningly at me from behind his long dark hair. "Something wrong Bruce?" he asked concernedly.
"Nothing", I said quickly.
"You're crying", he murmured, putting a hand on my shoulder, "What's wrong?" I wiped the tears from my eyes.
"Nothing's wrong", I replied. I gave him a small smile. Somehow, that seemed to do the opposite of what I intended it to and rather then reassure, it simply undermined even further.
"Is it something wrong with Alfred", he asked anxiously, "or the league?"
"No, no", I replied, "nothing like that. It's just been a rough night is all."
"I…I'm sorry for earlier", he said softly, "I didn't mean those things I said to you. I don't really hate you." The look of guilt in his eyes told me he assumed my anguish was due to his own actions.
"I know", I replied, patting the back of his head. I grasped his neck with my fingers, running my thumb over his cheek. Then, I pulled him gently to my chest, holding his head against it as I ran my other hand through his messy hair. He had not begged for the reassurance of being held close for years and though he relaxed a little at being embraced, I could still feel the tension in him.
I looked down and saw him gazing up at me, blue eyes filed with uncertainty, as if he still didn't quite believe there wasn't something amiss that he should know about. That look alone made another tear trickle down my cheek, one I couldn't catch. It was a look I remembered so well from when he was small.
The tear hit his forehead and he straightened up, pulling away from my grasp. His eyes were swimming with fear and the certainty that something was definitely wrong. I rarely, if ever, cried in front of him. I knew it upset him, as it did now. "Bruce, please", he pleaded desperately, "just tell me what's up. You're scaring me." I gave a sigh. There would be no convincing him otherwise now.
"I was just thinking", I said.
"Thinking about what?" he asked.
"You", I replied. He cocked his head, a quizzical look lighting his features. When he'd given me that look as a child, it had reminded me of a confused puppy. It still did.
"What about me?" he asked warily. I was silent for a moment, which seemed to be answer enough for him because he said "I really did upset you, didn't I? Gee Bruce, I'm sorry, I was just mad was all."
"No, it's nothing you did tonight. Just something you have been doing", I replied cryptically. For a moment, he sat in silence, as if racking his brains for some recurring wrong he had committed. Obviously finding none, he broke the stillness.
"What?" he asked.
"Growing up", I replied softly. He gave me another confused look.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I just…I miss when you were little I guess", I admitted.
"I guess I have been getting a little bratty lately", he mumbled, "I was a lot cuter when I was younger."
"It's not like that", I said, "It's just that you're gona be leaving soon, you know, to make your own way and I just…" I looked away at this point, not really wanting to face him, "I don't want to let you go. You were my baby. You're my son." Dick was silent, so I looked over at him again, as if to gage his reaction.
He had an inscrutable look on his face. "Do all parents think about weird stuff like that?" he asked finally.
"I don't know", I said with a smirk, "I don't talk about this kind of stuff with too many other parents if you'll recall. I'm rather antisocial." Dick gave me a little grin.
"Yeesh Bruce", he said, "and people say I'm hormonal. It's not like I'm dying or anything. I'll come by and see you at least once a year." He tilted his head so that he could peer at me from beneath his disheveled hair. It gave him a puckish look.
"I'll miss you", I whimpered, trying to sound playful while pushing back the fact that my heart was breaking, "What am I going to do without you running around the house? In two years, you'll be off to college and I won't see very much of you at all."
"I was just kidding Bruce", Dick said, "I'll come see you more often then that. Anyway, it won't be for forever before I get out of here. I can't wait, but you know, two years is a long, long time."
"Not when seven slipped by so quickly", I replied softly.
"They were quick for me too Bruce", Dick murmured, "and I'll miss you. But I promise, you aren't losing me." He looked so adult at that moment, I had to bite my bottom lip to stop from crying again.
"You're a man now", I said softly, "you're not a little kid any more, not a baby." Dick leaned over and put his arms around me tightly.
"I'll always be your baby", he whispered in my ear, "but don't tell my friends I said that." I gave a sniffle and then allowed the tears to seep out while Dick held me tightly. I put my arms around him as well, rocking him gently back and forth. Finally, I released him, allowing him to sit back and face me.
I pushed his dark hair out of his face and held it so I could gaze at his sparkling blue eyes. "I'm so proud of the man you're becoming", I murmured softly, "and I love you so much." He grinned at me.
"I love you to Bruce and for the record, your praise still means everything to me. Not everything has changed." He leaned his cheek against my palm with a smile and closed his eyes, as if enjoying my touch.
"Did you study your math?" I asked. He gave a snort and sat up.
"What a way to ruin a moment", he grumbled. I gave him a parental look.
"Yes", he muttered, "I did. Gee, I'm going back to bed." He turned around as if to fall face first onto his pillow, but I grabbed him around the middle and tugged him back so that his torso was across my lap and his head was on my chest.
"Hey", I said, my breath tickling his face, "don't go to bed angry with me. You know how much I hate it when you get angry."
He looked up at me giggling and said, "Well, this is awkward."
"I'm not letting you up until you promise me you're not angry any more."
"Alright, alright", he said playfully. He squirmed for a moment and then looked back up at me, relaxing more fully then he had all night. "I promise", he said softly, all manner of seriousness held in his sparkling eyes. I gently let him go but he remained in my embrace.
"You know", he said, "I think I'll just go to sleep here." He closed his eyes and started to snore loudly.
"No, no, no", I said, pushing him up, "you are way to old for that."
"But I thought you missed me falling asleep on you lap." He playfully replied, turning around to face me.
"Well", I said, "It was a little more of a novelty when you were less then one hundred pounds." He grinned at me. "Yes", I said softly, "yes I do miss it."
"Don't start crying on me again", he said warningly, "or I'll have to report this major lack of cool to my friends, who all seem to thin you're pretty chill. I don't know what gave them that idea, certainly not me…" I ruffled his hair.
"You need to get this hair cut", I commented.
"No", he replied indignantly, "I'm growing a mullet." I gave him a critical look.
"It's not working."
"It'll work", he said assuredly, "don't you fret." I reached out and pulled him to me once more, holding him tightly for a moment before releasing him.
"Now", I said, "let me just fix this catastrophic bed of yours." I pulled his sheets and blankets up and arranged them so that they made a little more sense then before. Then, he lay down, his head on his pillow. I tucked him in.
"Night, night Bruce", he said mockingly (though I could detect some real warmth behind the words).
"Night", I replied, "love you."
"Love you too", he said and closed his eyes. I pushed back his "mullet" and kissed his forehead before walking out. He was right. We did have a little time left together. I would do my best to make it count.