Disclaimer: Young Justice and all related characters and story plots belong to DC Comics, Warner Brothers, creators Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti, and the network on which it airs, Cartoon Network. I am making no profit from this story whatsoever.
Author's Note: I know, I know, this should be an update for Origin of Wonders, but writer's block, computer breaking down issues, and Barry (typical Flash) have been all giving me a migraine, so expect an update of that next.
In the meantime, this is part of a new series I've been working on. I was gonna post them as a single story filled with one-shots, but then I figured that I'd just post them all individually and not get tied down to a schedule. So this will be part of a series known as "Earth 16 Universe." As such, everything in this series will be as canon as I can make it. Information will be gathered from the show, the tie-in comics, the Young Justice Wikia, and Ask Greg. Certain events will, of course, be fictionalized. And, of course, "Earth 16 Universe" will primarily focus on Robin and his career growing up.
So, enough rambling. On with the story.
The social worker and the lawyer in this story are not mine, either, nor do they belong to the DCU. If you can recognize what show or shows they come from, I may be persuaded to write a story of your choosing.
Oh, and a very Happy Birthday to my new friend on the YJ Wikia, Starlight Keyblade.
Timeline: March 30 - April 1, 2007
Ages: Dick is 10, Bruce is about 28 or 29, and Alfred is about 60 or 61
Warnings: Rated for mentions of prostitution and drug dealing
Gotham's Boy Wonder
It had started out as a beautiful day in Gotham City, which was good since it was Friday. Dick always thought it was boring on rainy days, especially when his foster father had to spend the day at work. Not that he complained all that often. Life at Wayne Manor was so totally amazing, between being raised by the richest man in Gotham who could buy him all the toys he wanted and his duties as Robin, the partner of the Batman. Not everything was that great, though. Most nights, he would wake up screaming, nightmares about the death of most of his family nearly a year ago now plaguing him during the night, but Bruce had been there to help him through the pain.
Today was different. Bruce had taken the entire afternoon off work and decided to spend it with his young ward. They spent most of the time driving around the city, Dick really having wanted to go to the toy store and Bruce agreeing to take him. After eating dinner at the most expensive restaurant in the city, the two returned home and, instead of retiring, went right out back to the basketball court to test the new ball they had picked up. They didn't play an actual game, of course. It wasn't really fair to Dick, since he was much smaller than his guardian and couldn't quite reach the basket. Bruce accommodated him by lifting the boy up so he could throw the ball into the hoop.
"Okay, Dick, stay focused. Keep your eyes on the hoop," Bruce encouraged as the youth took aim. Dick recognized the similar phrase from his training, when Bruce had him working with the batarangs.
Maybe Bruce considered playing basketball to be as important as training? He'd have to remember to ask later. Right now, he had a basket to shoot.
"Yes!" cried Dick as the ball sailed perfectly through the hoop.
"See? I told you," said the older man as he lowered his foster son back down to the ground. Flushed with his victory, Dick spun around and wrapped his arms around his waist, grinning from ear to ear. He must have caught Bruce off guard because it was a moment before Bruce returned the hug, almost like he had hesitated.
A soft "Hem-hem" caught their attention, and the two heroes turned towards the back door to see Alfred had joined them.
"Pardon the interruption, sir, but Mr. Cowen and Mrs. Reed are here to see you," said the butler.
Dick was instantly confused. He didn't know who Mr. Cowen was, but he knew that Mrs. Reed was Bruce's lawyer. Why was she here?
"Thank you, Alfred," Bruce said before turning back to Dick. "Why don't you go wash up and get ready for bed, Dick? I'll be up in a minute."
"Uh… yeah, sure…" said Dick, pouting as he walked into the house, accepting the offered towel from Alfred as he went.
It wasn't even that late, but since it was Bruce's turn to be on monitor duty for the Justice League (whatever that meant), there would be no patrolling tonight. No matter how many times he begged, Bruce never let him go out alone.
So Dick did as he was told, and then sat on the edge of his bed while he waited for Bruce. Over the past year, they had developed several different routines. At bedtime, Dick would get himself changed, and then Bruce would tuck him in. If patrol that night hadn't gone the way they expected it too and there had been a close call, the older man would pull out a storybook from the bookshelf to read to him until he fell asleep. And if it had been a really close call, Bruce would carry Dick into his own room and let the boy sleep with him.
Fifteen minutes passed, then a half hour. He was starting to get worried. Bruce had never taken this long before. Maybe he had forgotten about him after his talk with Mrs. Reed? Maybe I should go check, thought Dick. So he put on his burgundy robe and headed downstairs to find Bruce.
It didn't take long. Bruce always spoke with Mrs. Reed in the downstairs study, so that was the first place he checked. As he approached, he could hear voices drifting out the door, which had been left slightly ajar.
"…good thing they caught him before he could skip town," Mrs. Reed was saying. Dick had always liked her. She had caramel colored hair, chocolate brown eyes, and a kind face. She always had a warm smile for him when they met, and she loved to call him nicknames like "sweetie" and "honey."
Dick was about to knock on the door, but stopped when he heard a very deep voice. He didn't recognize it and figured must have belonged to this Mr. Cowen person. "To be perfectly honest, Mr. Wayne, I was surprised to hear that you had decided to keep the boy after Zucco was sentenced."
Dick froze. Were they talking about him?
"Oh?" questioned Bruce's voice. He sounded curious.
"Well, you know, I don't think any of us really considered you to be the paternal sort," chuckled Mr. Cowen, and Bruce and Mrs. Reed joined him. "But perhaps it was for the best. Gotham City Orphanage is crowded at the best of times."
Dick's eyes widened at the mention. Everything he had ever heard about the orphanage had been really bad. There were really only a handful of kids there who were genuine orphans. The rest were delinquents who should have been doing time in the Gotham Juvenile Detention Center, which was way too small to house all the delinquents. He couldn't suppress the shudder that ran through him now. He had never realized how close he came to living in that dump.
Mr. Cowen spoke again, pulling the boy's attention away from his musings. "Well, the paperwork's all set, Mr. Wayne. You sure you want to go through with this?"
"Dick can be quite a handful," said Mrs. Reed.
"Oh, I know, Carrie, believe me, I know," Bruce responded with a sigh. "I've had a year to make up my mind. I'm not changing it now."
The conversation continued, but the voices sounded as though they were suddenly very far away. Dick could feel himself trembling, despite his warm robe, as he realized exactly what they were saying. Bruce didn't want him. He was sending him away…
His eyes blurred with tears as Dick turned on his heels and ran back up to his room. He slammed the door shut, threw himself onto the bed, and started to cry.
It wasn't fair! He had done everything Bruce and Alfred had asked him to do. He got good grades, he didn't play with the antiques, he kept his room clean, he trained hard, he followed Batman's lead out on the field. What had he done to make Bruce hate him?
"You spoiled, selfish, ungrateful little brat… I never should've taken you in!"
Dick gasped softly in recollection. Of course, how could he have forgotten about that? Just a few weeks ago, Scarecrow had come up with a new scheme to make fast money with his new gas. Only, instead of causing it's victims to experience their greatest fears, it removed all fear. During the investigation, Bruce had been infected by the stuff, but he believed that he had a handle on it. Turned out, not so much. He nearly crashed the Batwing several times that night, walked boldly towards Scarecrow's armed goon squad and not bothering to dodge any of the bullets, and had left the man they were interrogating dangling thirty-five feet below street level tied to a thin rope that quickly snapped under the pressure. The guy would've been street pizza if not for Robin's quick reflexes.
Finally realizing that Batman was in no condition to go after the Scarecrow himself, Robin made a critical decision. So after leaving the terrified goon safe in his office, he tied some rope to one of his batarangs and waited in the shadows. Just as the Dark Knight was approaching the Batwing, he threw the batarang and securely tied up the older hero.
"This isn't the time for games," Batman admonished as Robin unhooked his utility belt and claimed custody of it. "Now untie me."
"This isn't a game. You're out of control," Robin replied in a forced monotone. It was taking all his willpower to keep his voice from shaking. He hated having to do this, but there was no other choice.
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"The gas has affected you more than you think," said Robin softly, trying to appeal to Batman's reason.
"I told you, I can handle it," growled the Dark Knight.
"No, you can't!" Having finally lost control of his emotions, Robin glared directly into Batman's masked eyes. "You're not even afraid to kill anymore."
Batman met the boy's glare with his own patented Bat-Glare. He didn't usually use this one on Robin. It was reserved for criminals (not to mention certain members of the Justice League – Superman, Green Arrow, Flash – who had been getting on his nerves), but never Robin. However, the Boy Wonder refused to crack under it.
"I'll be back for you once Scarecrow's on his way to Arkham," he said, standing up and making his way for the Batwing.
It wasn't so much his name that had caused him to stop, but rather the tone of voice. He turned back, slowly. Batman was looking at him, and Robin found that he recognized this man. This was the man he knew, the man who had offered him sanctuary when he needed it most, the man who had become a father to him over the past eleven months.
"It's hard for me to say this, but you're right. I was out of control, and you made me see that. You did the right thing."
"It's what you taught me to do," Robin told him unnecessarily, but he grinned with pride all the same.
"Do you have a plan?" asked Batman, just as he would have done if this were a training exercise down in the Batcave.
"Scarecrow's at the Seventy-Second Street Subway Station, right? And the objective is to stop him and find out what the cure is for his No Fear gas," answered Robin quickly and efficiently.
"I can help you. You've only faced Scarecrow once. You don't fully understand what he's capable of," Batman said quietly.
"But – "
"Robin, it's okay. I understand your hesitation, but I promise, I got a better handle on it now. And as long as you're there, I know I can control myself," the Dark Knight reasoned.
Robin wanted to believe him. He really wanted to believe him. But he knew better. Batman would never tell Robin to just take his word for it. He would want Robin to know for sure. He wouldn't try to reassure Robin, he would expect him to leave him here, tied up.
"You almost fooled me," said Robin, reverting back to the monotone, before turning his back yet again and walking away.
"Untie me, you little… untie me!" Batman's voice growled out from behind him, but he didn't turn back, even as the Dark Knight started to struggle and curse. "You spoiled, selfish, ungrateful brat!" Robin winced, tears beginning to well up on his face. But he didn't let them fall, not until long after he was in the Batwing, Bruce's final words ringing in his head.
"I never should've taken you in!"
Everything had worked out in the end, naturally. Scarecrow did have a cure for his No Fear gas, which Robin had attempted to get back only to be knocked out and handcuffed with his own cuffs in the process. Batman arrived while he was trying to free himself (having used a flip knife in his boot to cut himself free, Robin later found out) and went directly for Scarecrow, ignoring the fact that the subway train was heading directly for a dead end, where the tracks suddenly stopped. Fortunately for all three of them, Robin managed to free himself from the cuffs and douse Batman with the antidote before he choked Scarecrow to death, giving them just enough time to jump from the train before it crashed. There hadn't been too many injuries either, luckily. Only one of the three goons was in the hospital after taking a thorough beating from the Dark Knight, and Scarecrow quickly recovered from his near asphyxiation. Even Robin himself suffered few injuries, just a bruised hand from karate chopping his way through the metal chain on the cuffs and a few cracked ribs, which had been first bruised when Batman had forcefully elbowed him to the ground while Robin tried to pull him off of Scarecrow, and made worse by jumping out of the train.
Bruce had apologized for hurting him, and Dick had told him that he forgave him. He knew that he would never have done that had he been in his right mind. But Bruce never talked to him about what had been said when Dick had tied him up on the rooftop. It had bothered the boy for quite a few days afterwards, especially considering what had happened with Spellbinder hypnotizing him to steal from the Manor over the February break. But eventually he just stopped thinking about it.
Now, though, he couldn't stop thinking about it. Bruce regretted taking the boy into his home. He had finally decided that he'd had enough, and was going to hand him over to Mr. Cowen. Dick was out of options. Uncle Rick was the only family he had left, and he couldn't take care of Dick in his condition. If Bruce didn't want him, the orphanage was the only place that would take him. And there was no way he wanted to spend the rest of his life in that place!
That settled it. He was going to have to run away.
So he quickly changed out of his pajamas and into an orange hoodie and dark blue jeans. He quickly ran his hand through his hair to make it as messy as possible. Finally, he slipped his brand new pair of dark sunglasses into his pocket, just in case. Sneaking out onto the balcony, Dick climbed up onto the rail and jumped onto the nearest tree branch, swinging down and landing on the ground in a perfect crouch. He turned and looked back up at his old room sadly. He didn't dare stay too long, though, or else he'd get caught. He started running for the gates.
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After a couple of hours, Dick found himself wandering aimlessly around the streets of Gotham. He wasn't exactly sure how he had managed to find his way downtown so fast, but it didn't matter, really. With his glasses on and his hair mussed up, no one seemed to recognize him as the foster son of Bruce Wayne.
At least, I used to be.
His eyes filled with tears again, but he blinked them back and headed straight to the nearest bus stop. He wanted to get as far away from the Manor as possible.
Fortunately for Dick, the bus driver was really nice. As soon as he saw that Dick was alone, the man had started asking where Dick's parents were. To avoid that awkward question, the boy asked him if he could take him further downtown. The man hadn't been too happy about it, but agreed once Dick spun a tale about meeting his uncle there.
"Sure you want to get off here?" the bus driver asked again as Dick got off the bus an hour later.
"Yeah, mister. I'm sure," Dick replied, nodding his head. He turned and started walking down the street.
He had purposely chosen the downtown area because it was easily the seediest part of Gotham. A lot of crime went down here. Homeless people littered the streets, most sleeping on benches or stoops or back alleys. He knew that he would easily fit in here. And living on the streets beat the run-down orphanage any day.
Dick didn't pay attention to where he was going. Somehow, he ended up on an abandoned street. Everything was quiet besides for the rustling of the litter in the wind. As he walked, he noticed a man leaning against a lamppost, wearing a dark trench coat and a matching hat, which was pulled low over his eyes, obscuring his face in shadow. With him was a little girl with blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. She wasn't watching him, sitting on the curb and staring down at the street. Though he couldn't see her face, Dick could tell that she was not much older than him. As he passed them, the man glanced up, his dark eyes glaring coldly.
"What're you staring at, boy?" he snarled, pushing himself off the post and taking a step towards Dick.
"N-n-nothing," stammered Dick in fear, backing away from the scary man.
The sound of an engine from overhead made the man freeze. He glanced upwards, cursed, grabbed the young girl by the arm, and took off running in the opposite direction. Confused, Dick glanced up as well. The sky was dark, much darker than it had been all night. He couldn't see anything that could be making the familiar sound. But he did see the spotlight that suddenly lit up the street. Dick gulped, realizing where it came from instantly.
Batman couldn't discover him now. Thinking quickly, he ducked underneath a low awning. The spotlight passed over his location, but he was safely hidden in the shadows. The Batplane passed over him, disappearing into the cloudy sky.
Dick heaved a sigh of relief, thinking about what had just happened. Had Bruce noticed he was gone and decided to come after him? No, he had been looking to send Dick to the orphanage. He wouldn't have bothered looking for him. Must just have been a coincidence. Maybe this was what he had to do for the League's monitor duty.
Not wanting to linger here, just in case Batman decided to come back for a second round (and knowing Bruce, he would), Dick took off down the nearest alleyway and headed down a new street.
He was starting to get tired, if the constant yawning was any indication. It must have been really late by now. He should probably find a place to rest for the night. He could set off again in the morning to try and find a new place to live.
"Who do you think got ya all those clients, Trix? You can't just go skipping out of our agreement."
Instinctively, Dick turned his head to see what was going on. The speaker was a scrawny man in a tacky orange suit. With him was a young woman with dark brown hair. She wore as much makeup as one of Bruce's dates, but she was dressed in a very short skirt and a shirt that only covered her chest.
"I ain't skipping out, I just want some time off so I can take a few classes at Gotham U!" the woman said defensively.
The man scoffed. "You don't need college, Trixie, you got a full time gig working the streets for me," he sneered at her, grabbing her arm.
"Get off me!" the woman – Trixie – screamed.
Dick wasn't sure what was going on, but he knew she was in trouble. He had to help her.
"Leave her alone!" he shouted, running forward and taking a defensive stance as the two turned to face him.
"Beat it, kid! This ain't got nothing to do with you," the mean man spat, glaring hard at him.
"You're not supposed to use double negatives. That's bad grammar," quipped Dick, slipping naturally into his Robin persona. "I said leave her alone!" He kicked his foot out and nailed the man in the kneecap. He grunted in pain, releasing Trixie's arm and grabbing his leg with both hands as he hopped on one leg to keep himself balanced. Trixie took the opportunity to run and hide behind a nearby dumpster.
"You little brat…" the man growled. "You're gonna regret that."
"Get away from there, kid!" Trixie shouted.
Dick had all ready had that same idea. He waited for the man to recover and lunge for him before he made his next move, jumping up and grabbing the ladder of the fire escape. The man had been totally unprepared for this and therefore crashed into the brick wall Dick had been in front of moments before. He was out cold.
Smirking, Dick ran over to where Trixie was crouched. "Come on," he said, holding out his hand. Nodding, the young woman accepted his offer and they ran out of the alley together.
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The woman was so grateful for his help that she offered to buy him something to eat at the local diner to repay him. Dick happily accepted her offer and followed her to the Time Out Café. She ordered him a large slice of chocolate cake and whole milk, which he started digging into as soon as it arrived. Trixie couldn't help but laugh.
"When was the last time you ate, kid, Christmas?" she joked.
Dick smiled at her as he finished the last bite of cake. "I'm just really hungry," he said honestly.
"Well, boys will be boys," said Trixie. "Listen, I really shouldn't let you go back out there on your own at this hour, especially in downtown Gotham. Take it from me, kid, pimps and streetwalkers ain't the worst in this neighborhood."
Dick had no clue what pimps and streetwalkers were, but he knew that he couldn't stay. "I'll be all right. Thanks again," he told her. He got up and walked quickly out of the diner before she could try to stop him. As he stepped back out onto the street, he heard a distant rumble in the sky. Thunder.
So much for the weather staying nice all weekend. He was gonna have to stop listening to the weather report.
He decided to stop for the night on the docks. There were a lot of abandoned warehouses that he could duck into. The first few were locked up tight, but he kept going, even long after it had started to rain. Soon, he was completely soaked through and shivering in the crisp night air. Worse yet, he could see a pale light and hear rough masculine voices coming from one of the warehouses. He winced. Great. The last thing he wanted was to run into one of Gotham's gangs.
Just his luck, though, as he was sneaking away from this particular warehouse, he ended up stepping on an empty soda can, which crunched very loudly under his foot. The sound seemed to echo through the silence of the night.
The voices stopped. Then, before he could comprehend what that meant, the door of the warehouse opened and a large hand grabbed him by the collar.
"Let go of me!" Dick yelped as he struggled to get away, but whoever had him was too strong. He changed his grip so that he was now holding the boy by his upper arms. The other members of the gang jogged out to join them. Six men, all greasy looking. The grungiest one of them stepped forward, keeping his eyes narrowed on Dick, a slick grin on his face. He must have been the leader of this little band of misfits.
"Well, well, well. What do we have here?" he asked.
"D'ya think he heard us talking about the drug cartel, boss?" asked one of the men.
"Don't be stupid. Of course he did," growled the brute, tightening his grip on the young captive.
"Hey!" yelled Dick as the hold got painful.
"What do we do?" asked another of the gang.
"He might squeal to the fuzz," agreed a third man.
"Not if he's dead, he won't," offered the fourth.
The boss didn't speak while the others spoke. He also didn't break eye contact with Dick. Finally, he sneered. "Enough, boys. Let's see if we can get our little friend here a nice pair of concrete shoes."
Dick's eyes widened. That didn't sound good.
Suddenly, the brute grunted in pain and released his hold on Dick. He didn't hesitate and backed quickly out of the way. Even without looking, he knew who had come to his rescue.
"Keep your hands off that boy," growled Batman, advancing on the gang, all of whom had began to cower in fear.
Dick felt the tears coming back yet again. That was Batman's fiercest voice, the one he only used when Robin was in danger. He was never afraid of it, because he thought it was a sign that Bruce was worried about him, but now he knew better.
So why was he even here?
He took a step backward, and then another one, and another. He didn't want to stay where he wasn't wanted. But watching the fight, lost in his own thoughts, had caused Dick to make the fatal mistake of not paying attention to his surroundings. He took another step back only to find that there was no support under his foot. Shocked, he screamed in terror as he felt himself falling. His body hit the water with a splash…
… and it hurt!
Thousands of icy knives were suddenly stabbing at him from all over. Dick instantly started thrashing around, trying to get his head above the water. His chest burned as his lungs screamed for him to take a breath. It was so hard to think. It wasn't long before his eyes drifted shut and he blacked out completely.
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He was cold, very cold. He shivered fiercely, trying to seek warmth. Something was on his forehead, making him even colder. He wanted to reach up to pull it off, but found that his hand was being restrained by something.
Strange images kept flashing through his mind. There was one where Batman was hovering over him, wrapping him up in his black cape, whispering words of comfort and telling him that he was safe. Then he was back in Bruce's bedroom at Wayne Manor, and Bruce and Alfred were helping him change into his pajamas, the same ones he had removed earlier that night. And in another, Bruce was sitting on the edge of his bed, running his fingers through the boy's hair, gazing down at him in concern. But that one didn't make any sense because people weren't concerned about kids they wanted to get rid of.
There were a bunch of other visions, too, ones filled with terrified screams, snapping trapeze ropes, and mean looks from an all too familiar face. He tried to curl into himself for protection, whimpering pitifully. All the while, Bruce's voice surrounded him, too far away to actually hear the words, but comforting all the same. He focused in on that voice, seeking it out, needing it now more than ever.
When Dick finally opened his eyes, it was to see the sun shining brightly out the balcony window. He blinked slowly, giving his eyes a chance to adjust to the light, before turning his head to see Bruce sitting right next to him. He looked really bad, like he did when he skipped a couple nights of sleep. But he had his eyes locked on Dick's, his gaze hopeful.
"Dick? Are you awake?" he asked quietly.
"Br – Bruce?" he whispered hoarsely. Why was it so hard to talk?
A smile graced Bruce's features and he reached over to the nightstand, where a tall glass rested. Gingerly, he helped Dick sit up and then brought the glass up to his lips. "Here. Drink it slow," Bruce said.
Dick gratefully accepted the offer, taking a few careful sips of delicious ice water before it became too much of an effort. Bruce pulled the glass away, returning it to the nightstand, before helping him lay back down.
"What happened?" asked Dick.
"You fell off the dock. I had to dive in after you. By the time I got you back here, you had a very high fever. It took a while for it to break," explained Bruce.
Dick listened with wide eyes. He remembered what had occurred that night. He left because Bruce didn't want him anymore. Tears began to fill his eyes, making everything slightly blurry. He turned his head away from Bruce, not wanting to see any false concern directed at him.
"Dick, why did you run away?"
The boy didn't answer right away. He wasn't sure he wanted to, but he knew that Bruce would find out soon enough. Besides, what did it matter anymore? So he decided to tell the truth.
"There's no reason for me to stay. You don't want me here," he responded.
"What?" Bruce sounded shocked. "Why would you say that?"
"Because it's true," Dick said, his voice cracking. "You're going to send me away."
"Where did you get an idea like that?" demanded Bruce, still in that surprised tone of voice.
"I heard you…. talking to Mrs. Reed and Mr. Cowen. You – you said that you had m – made up your mind and that – that you weren't going to cha – change it. A – and on that – on that roof a few weeks ago, when I – I tied you up, you – you called me a – a brat and y – you said that – that you shouldn't h – have taken me i – in…"
Dick was sobbing now, unable to stop the tears from falling. He flipped onto his stomach and buried his face in his pillow to muffle the sound.
"You – you don't like me anymore…" he mumbled brokenly.
Suddenly, he felt himself being lifted up and enveloped in a firm embrace. His face was pressed up against a warm chest. The familiar sensations of safety and comfort filled him, and Dick sobbed harder, burying his face into the crook of the older mans neck. Bruce held him, rocking him gently and whispering to him.
"No, no, no… shhh… That's not true, Dick, of course I like you. You're not a brat, and I never should've said that, no matter what the circumstances. I'm so proud of how you handled yourself that night. You were able to remain in control of the situation when I couldn't. I should have told you before. I'm sorry, Dick. I'm so sorry. Shhh…"
It took a few minutes before Dick finally started to calm down, feeling very tired. He was warm in Bruce's arms, and a little less sad now. His eyelids closed, and soon he was fast asleep once more.
When Dick woke up the following morning, he found was that he was still in Bruce's bed, curled up against his surrogate father's side as he read a book. It wasn't until Alfred came in with a breakfast tray that he learned that it was all ready Sunday and that Bruce had decided from now that he wasn't going to school the next day. Dick was thankful for that, and not just because he still felt as weak as a newborn kitten.
It was the first day of April. Exactly a year ago today, he had become an orphan. Dick could hardly believe so much time had passed all ready. It seemed like only yesterday he was begging his father to let him join in the finale. It had been a hard year, filled with so many reminders (his tenth birthday being the hardest), but somehow he had made it through.
Bruce and Alfred had been prepared for this day. Bruce decided not to go into the office so he could stay home with Dick. The two of them spent the day on the couch in the living room (Dick having slipped on his robe over his pajamas), watching television. Around noon, Alfred served them bologna and mozzarella cheese sandwiches while Bruce turned on the news. The first story of the hour was of the busting of a major drug cartel the previous day.
"Truth is, we wouldn't be having this press conference if it wasn't for the Batman. If he hadn't have caught those crooks Friday night, we never would've known this was going down," Commissioner Gordon was telling the press. Dick could tell he was standing on the steps of the precinct, and there were a few other officers by his side.
"But Batman wasn't there yesterday?" questioned one reporter.
"Not to my knowledge, but I'm certain had we needed him, he and Robin would've been there," replied the Commissioner confidently.
Dick grinned up at Bruce, who ruffled his hair. He loved it whenever the news started talking about Batman and Robin.
"It's been nearly a year since we found out Batman was working with a child. In your opinion, Commissioner, should we still be concerned about this arrangement?"
Dick could feel Bruce tensing up, but ignored it. He knew that the Dark Knight didn't like it when his choices were questioned.
"Not at all," said the Commissioner firmly. "As far as I'm concerned, Robin is as welcome in our city as the Batman. Things just wouldn't be the same around here without Gotham's Boy Wonder protecting us."
Dick gasped, his dark blue eyes widening in delight. Boy Wonder? Had he really heard the Commissioner right? Robin had been given a title?
Squealing excitedly, Dick grabbed his guardian's arm. "Bruce! Did you hear? Boy Wonder! I'm the Boy Wonder!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, Dick, I heard," chuckled Bruce, smiling brightly.
"Indeed, a most fitting name for a young acrobat," agreed Alfred. He was smiling, as well. "Master Bruce, perhaps now would be the appropriate time?"
Bruce nodded up at the butler. "You're right, Alfred. Dick, come over here," he asked, patting the spot on the sofa right next to him.
Curious, Dick crawled across the couch until he was sitting right next to the older man. "What's up?"
"Well, do you remember what you told me yesterday, about hearing me talking to Mrs. Reed and Mr. Cowen?" asked Bruce.
"Uh huh," responded Dick, worried now. He really wasn't sure what to think anymore. Bruce had said that he wanted him, but then what had been so important about his meeting with Mrs. Reed and Mr. Cowen that he was bringing it back up now? Was it just that he wanted Dick as his partner, but not as his foster son? Was he sending Dick away after all?
Bruce took a manila envelope offered him by Alfred and placed it on his lap before turning back to the boy. "Mr. Cowen's a social worker, Dick. For the last couple of months, I've been meeting with him and Mrs. Reed to get certain things in order," Bruce explained. "I wasn't going to bring this up today, but after what happened this weekend, I think this might be the perfect time."
He opened the envelope and carefully pulled out some papers. He hesitated for a moment before handing the contents to Dick.
"It's the adoption papers," said Bruce.
"Adoption?" Dick said breathlessly, glancing up at Bruce, stunned. "You want to adopt me?"
"I know I can't replace your father. And I don't want to try. But I thought, maybe, we could make it official, if you'll have me," said Bruce, watching the child warily.
Dick stared at the papers, a smile growing on his face. He could hardly believe it. He instantly launched himself into the older man's arms, crying out joyfully, "Bruce!"
Bruce's arms wrapped around the child, and he laughed at his son's antics. But Dick didn't care. He was just so happy. Bruce wanted to adopt him! He didn't regret taking him in! He wanted him! He really wanted him!
Dick thought the moment couldn't have been any better. But somehow, Bruce's next words found a way to make it so.
"Welcome home, Dick."