I'm new to the fandom of Batman and all its glory, so some of the details in the story come from my (veryverylimited) storage of personal knowledge. I included Barry, because I can (andIdid). Alfred plays a bit of an important role in the story as Bruce's wakeup call. Also, I'm not certain when Bruce officially adopted Dick, so in the story, Dick has been adopted at age seven and has been living in the mansion for about two years.

Disclaimer: I do not own Batman. And I'm kind of glad I don't (he'dkillme).


Steadfast Child

Bruce Wayne was a man who could survive being alone. Since the day Alfred became his sole caretaker, he knew that he had the choice of living a lonely life, and for a long time, he'd settled with it. Yes, women would flock to his wealth and he had plenty of coworkers to socialize with, but he was – seemed – content with returning to an empty mansion at the end of the day.

As his vigilante career escalated into a full service to the city, Bruce lost his attachment to the world of relationships, save the affection he had for Alfred. Women were commodities, parties were dull affairs, and Bruce found that he was pretending to be charming more often than he was actually enjoying any given conversation. He'd actually convinced himself that the silence, the calmness in the Wayne mansion, was perfectly and utterly acceptable. But then, he adopted Dick Grayson, and he discovered the solitude was less of a gift, and more of a rarity.

"I'll admit he's remarkable," Alfred spoke up one day, "albeit energetic." The ever-patient butler was standing attentively next to Bruce, watching the Grayson boy leap among the acrobatic equipment in the small gym. Bruce's lips quirked up with the beginnings of a smile.

"I think this room was a beneficial investment for him," the young billionaire said contentedly.

"Of course. It saves our banisters in the foyer as well," Alfred added.

Bruce watched Dick swing from a pair of rubber rings high above his head. The boy's expression read utter glee; by far, it had to be the best birthday present he'd ever received.

"Heads up, Alfred," Bruce said lightly, and held his arms out to catch his young ward as he plummeted down from a balance bar. Alfred, who felt that his old nerves couldn't quite handle the sight of children falling from above, declared that he would be in the kitchen if needed and promptly took his leave. Bruce looked down at the giggling boy in his arms disapprovingly.

"You did that on purpose."

"But I knew you'd catch me," Dick pointed out with a confident grin. Bruce felt that he should have reprimanded the boy further – tell him to be careful – but he could only manage a sigh as he set the boy on the floor. He'd hoped Dick would scamper off again to further explore the gym, but the doe-eyed nine-year-old remained standing before him.

"Something wrong?" Bruce asked. Dick shrugged and pushed his hands into the pockets of his sweater.

"Are you, um… going to go back to work now?" Dick inquired softly. Bruce had come back from the offices in the city to give him his birthday present, and now he seemed ready to shut himself in the library for the rest of the night.

"It has to be done at some point," Bruce said, knowing that as soon as the sun set, he'd be called to action and Alfred would play nanny for the evening.

"But you're always working," Dick said protested, following Bruce out of the gym. He took two footsteps for every one of Bruce's. "Aren't you lonely after a while?"

"I don't get lonely."

"Yeah, sure," Dick said with a roll of his eyes. Bruce gave the boy a sidelong glance and found that he had lost some of his previous excitement.

Clearing his throat, the billionaire slowed his stride so Dick could keep up with him easily. "Did you like your birthday present, at least?"

"Yeah," Dick said quietly. After a moment's paused between them, he reached out to tug at the sleeve of Bruce's shirt. "Will you play in there with me later?"

"I won't have time."

"You never have time," Dick said sourly, releasing Bruce's sleeve, "When are we ever going to do something fun? I don't like playing alone." He didn't like being alone. Occasionally, when he got tired of bothering Alfred and disrupting the mansion's architecture with his acrobatics, Dick would follow Bruce around silently. He would sit in the library and read while Bruce worked, or he would make paper airplanes in the conference room as Bruce met with coworkers. Dick just couldn't stand being by himself, but Bruce could. Sort of.

Bruce rounded a corner to the library, and paused at the door. "You know, when you're older," he said lightly, "you'll work just as much as I do, and then you will have no time for me." His jibe coaxed a short smile out of the boy that was quickly replaced with a sigh.

"Fine," Dick said, watching Bruce disappear into the library. Unless he brought his encyclopedia set in there to read, Dick wouldn't see his mentor for at least five or six hours, and that was a really long time. And Dick really didn't feel like reading for so long.

"Alfred," the boy called, trotting down the hall in search of the butler, "I'm going outside."

"You remember Master Bruce has his rules," Alfred said, though he was aware of the hardheaded, stubborn nature in young Richard Grayson.

"I won't go far," Dick said. Ignoring Alfred's exasperated sigh of "Try not to go past the gates, Master Dick", the boy pulled on his coat and bounded out the front door.


"Where's Dick?"

Alfred had brought in Bruce's afternoon tea when the billionaire popped the question. After delivering a steaming cup to his master's desk, Alfred responded,

"Outside."

Bruce's eyes widened a fraction, and he made to stand. Alfred stopped him.

"I told him to stay within the gates, Master Bruce."

"You tell him a lot of things that he doesn't listen to, quite frankly," Bruce said, and stood up without interruption. "I told him to stay inside."

"He knows how to irk you and the consequences said irking would bring. To respect your wishes, I'm certain he hasn't gone far. Master Bruce," Alfred said, "he's nine years old. A child of that age needs constant attention and stimulation, neither of which you often do not provide. If I may be honest, Master Grayson is looking for a father, not a benefactor." He collected the empty tea tray as the bat signal was flashed against the clouds outside. "I'm preparing roast beef for dinner. Try not to return home before it gets cold."

Bruce frowned and took a sip of his tea. He'd have to call Barry and ask that he keep an eye on Dick while he was away.


"What do you mean he's not home?" Bruce growled into the com-receiver. He set the Batmobile on 'cruise' while he arranged his cape around his shoulders. Barry sighed.

"Like I said, I'm here in the yard and the kid is nowhere to be found. Alfred says he hasn't seen him for hours."

"Barry, find him."

"You find him. He's nowhere near the mansion, so he's obviously frolicking around in the city."

Bruce wondered if chaining his ward to the Batcave wall was a suitable form of corporal punishment.

"I'll keep an eye out for him myself, but you and Alfred should search the mansion from top to bottom," Bruce said firmly.

"Alright. Your call," Barry said, though he sounded utterly skeptical. Bruce ended their conversation and returned the Batmobile to 'manual' as he approached the empty warehouse on the docks of Gotham city. The bat signal in the sky had been a warning from the police; several hostages were being held by The Joker, who was demanding that the Batman hand over his mask for reasons that were not stated. Bruce assumed it was for genetic research, the sort that would allow the madman to alter his genes or create a new type of poison designed specifically for him – regardless of the reason, it was his duty to respond to the city's call.

Bruce could hear The Joker's men cackling from within the warehouse as he slipped out of the Batmobile, shadowed from the night in his dark uniform. How typical of The Joker, having henchmen do all of his dirty work until it came to the actual killing.

"Itty bitty little bratling!" someone was howling, and several voices screamed when a gunshot was fired. Bruce tried the main doors only to find them locked.

"I haven't even shot anyone of you yet, goddammit. Quit whining! Fuck, you'd think the tape would've helped."

"I'll give it another hour and then I'm calling the boss. This is no fun at all."

"We'll have some fucking fun, then. We got a while. Might as well make the best of it. Hear that, everybody? We're gonna make this a party." The henchman's 'party' was emphasized by a thwack, the sound of a fist connecting with bone and flesh. The recipient whimpered, voice muffled.

The bat-grenade wedged into the space under the warehouse doors detonated, sending a brief burst of fire into the air. Shrieks of fear were heard through the smoke, though none of the owners were harmed. They were all huddled in the corner of the warehouse, bound by the wrists and ankles and surrounded by several masked henchmen clutching various weapons.

"He's early!" one of the henchmen yelled. He and several of his comrades were quickly subdued with rope and gas pellets, all the handiwork of the caped crusader. The last two henchmen were crouched protectively – or, threateningly – over a small, trembling form.

"Richard," Bruce breathed before he could stop himself. The boy was tied up, bound from shoulders to waist in thick twine, and a strip of duct tape covered his mouth. From beneath the edge of the tape threaded a thin wire that trailed directly into a handheld remote in one of the henchmen's hands. His thumb was poised over a trigger – a trigger that would detonate the bomb held behind Dick's teeth.

"Don't come any closer 'less you're planning on handing over that mask!" one of the men said. "I'll kill every one of these people, starting with this one!" He shook Dick by the back of the neck, and the boy choked on the bomb in his mouth. Bruce felt every inkling of peace he'd possessed before wash out of him; he snapped.

Bat-a-rangs weren't necessary, or even fucking useful for the job. He moved so swiftly that the henchmen had no time to even flinch before they were kicked, punched, and thrown into the wall behind them. The hostages, excluding Dick, pressed back into the corner, stunned to silence as Bruce dealt out blow after blow on The Joker's men. Dick was staring at the cloaked form with wide, watering eyes, unable to do much else, since he couldn't scream with the tape and the bomb hindering him. The detonator, fortunately, had clattered to the ground seconds ago.

Police sirens wailed outside of the warehouse, and Bruce released a bloodied henchman from his gloved hands. The Jokers wouldn't be showing his face tonight, not when his plans were already ruined.

After untying a few hostages, Bruce allowed the policemen flooding the building to take control in favor of tending to Dick personally. Dick sobbed behind the tape as Bruce swept over to him.

"Don't bite down on the bomb. It's alright, Richard. You're alright," Bruce soothed the boy, "Hold still." He gingerly peeled away the duct tape and extracted the damp explosive from Dick's mouth. As soon as he was freed from the rope, the boy whimpered "Bruce" in a tiny voice and clutched the front of his mentor's suit. Bruce gathered him up under his cloak, wrapping the material around him to shield him from any wandering eyes. He carried the boy to Batmobile, sat in the driver's seat and programmed the system to "Autopilot: Wayne Mansion" so he could assess the bruise rising on Dick's face. It did not look too serious, but some ice upon returning to the mansion wouldn't hurt. Relieved that his ward was not seriously injured – or otherwise dead – Bruce felt it was only proper to provide some much-deserved comfort.

"Don't cry. I've got you," Bruce said gently as Dick trembled in his lap. He stroked his hair and ran a gloved thumb over the deep scarlet mark on the boy's cheek. "Dick, haven't I told you over and over not to leave the mansion without me?"

"I'm sorry," Dick choked out, tucking his arms into his body and resting on Bruce's chest. "I didn't mean to! I was-… just… I-"

"Okay," Bruce sighed, removing his cowl and tossing it into the passenger seat. "I understand. Do you want to tell me what happened?"

"I didn't g-go out of the g-gate like Alfred s-s-said! I st-stayed right in the yard, b-but th-then the men f-found me and I d-d-didn't know what to do and y-you were-… you w-were-…" Dick collapsed into sobs again, his voice growing hoarse. Bruce rubbed the boy's back, pet his hair again; things that he remembered his own father doing when he'd been upset in the past. It worked on Dick, as expected. After a few minutes of fretful crying, the boy relaxed his grip on his mentor and merely sat silently, sniffling on occasion.

Alfred was, as usual, unperturbed by the graceless arrival of his masters. Bruce led Dick – still tucked beneath his cloak – into the Batcave, where the butler proceeded to help them both out of their filthy outer garments. Once he was in his usual state of dress and Dick was draped in nightclothes, Bruce allowed the boy to climb into his lap as he sat in his desk chair. The computer screens glowed in the darkness of the cave.

"Why did you go outside?" Bruce asked Dick calmly, because being frustrated – livid – with the boy would only start up the crying again, and Bruce kind of really fucking hated making him cry.

"I was mad," Dick said softly, averting his eyes to the buttons on Bruce's shirt. He played with one, tracing it with a thin little finger. "'Cause you wouldn't play with me."

"So you disobeyed me on purpose."

"Yes."

Bruce exhaled deeply, rested a large hand over the smaller one toying with his shirt. Dick looked up at him reluctantly, eyes welling up with tears that were certain to be shed at the first harsh word.

"Are you sorry?" Bruce finally asked, voice quiet. Even though the question was gentle, Dick's tears spilled over onto his cheeks as he nodded.

"Yes, sir."

"Then, please do not worry me again," Bruce said firmly. Dick sniffled, nodded again.

"Yes, s-sir."

There was a long pause – not the first of many that night – between them. Dick wiped his nose on his pajama sleeve and leaned forward to rest his uninjured cheek on his mentor's shoulder. It had been a really long time, almost two years, since he'd felt so safe before. Bruce wasn't as lean as Papa had been, but he was warm and gentle and he was finally taking care of him like Dick wanted him to.

"Bruce?" the boy asked softly, "Why were you so mad?"

"Because you worried me," came the man's prompt answer. Then, he added, "Because you're important to me. When I get lonely, I need you around to keep me company."

Dick poked his lower lip out, though Bruce couldn't see him do it. "But you said you don't get lonely."

"I lied. I do." It was a simple answer and enough to placate Dick into silence for a few seconds longer.

"Well, I'll keep you company as much as you want, then. I won't go out of the gate without you and you'll play with me in the gym. …Deal?"

Such a resolute response made Bruce chuckle lightly, because Dick was displaying the side of him that Alfred fretted over the most. He ruffled the boy's hair.

"Deal."


But then, he adopted Dick Grayson, and he discovered the solitude was less of a gift, and more of a rarity. And Bruce Wayne was alright with that.


End.

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