Author's Notes: Dick Grayson's POV to the adoption event in "Gotham Knights" comics.
By Gen X
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The paper in my hand seems strangely foreign. Don't get me wrong, it feels right. It's just that... I never expected it. Don't get me wrong I always had hoped.
When I was a kid, it hurt. Not an aching wound, not like losing my parents, but a dull throb that was always present. Like the child in pre-school that scribbles meaninglessly while the other kids make Mother's Day cards. The girl in junior high, that ends up dancing with all her friend's dads at Father-Daughter functions. I was never quite to that point, but I was close. The phrase 'so close yet so far' had never rung more true.
When I was younger, my standard reply to anything involving parents was to abruptly inform people that they were passed on. Gone. Dead. No more. Although, as time went by, the standard answer changed. Everyone's presumption changed. No longer did I need to explain about my parents, rather I had to deny that I had any.
Somehow, everyone naturally assumed that Bruce had to be a relation, but he wasn't. Despite how much he "acts like" he is, was "a natural at parenting" or even how much he "looks just like" me, he wasn't my parent. Closest thing, but still a world away, I hated having to correct people, yet I wasn't sure exactly what I was upset with, the fact that people would just assume, or that I regretted that it wasn't so.
It wasn't until later, that I figured it was probably just Bruce. Batman might've been the smartest guy on the planet, but Bruce still had a few cracks where things could slip through. I used to tell myself that he probably never even thought about it. Maybe, it was, you know, like a marriage license. Something not everyone feels they need to do to show how they feel.
My theory actually worked too.
Until, Jason that is. Poor ol' Jason just blew my theory to hell and back. Now instead of, "Why not?" the question became "Why not me?" Maybe it was sibling rivalry, maybe it was as innocent as that. I tried to ignore it and fall back unto well placed arguments, but they seem to mock me, knowing that they no longer held weight.
Don't get me wrong. It wasn't like I brooded upon this every waking second or every day. It's not something you actively think about. It really isn't, it's a part of your life. Most days you accept it and move on all without a conscious thought. I was able to sign my name, fill out forms, all normally. It's not something you think of unless someone brings it up, or something tips you off.
A wedding'll do it. Something subtle, symbolic of family. Something just enough to bring it to the surface but not as blunt as a direct question. Walking Donna down the aisle brought up a few memories, a few bells tittered off about how we were forced to deviate from custom (not that it could really be helped.) Maybe it was one too many a champagne toast, or perhaps the feeling that nothing could ruin this day, or maybe it was as simple as dropping the kid's name into the conversation, but I needed to ask.
I wanted to know, no matter if I wouldn't like it. Bruce's answer was comforting, in that it was his style. He didn't scramble to make it right, overdo sympathy or make any impulsive moves to 'make up for it.' He told me the truth, and I won't lie and say it didn't sting a bit. It's understandable. It made perfect sense. It touched me to see a rare glimpse into his emotions, for him to say the words, and not let them go understated. Yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had been overlooked.
After that, I really didn't know what to think. You sit back and you draw comparisons. It's a luxury and a curse some people have. They get to pick out traits they like from stepparent to parent and foster parent and guardian and back again. They get to pick and choose, but to do so you have to compare. Stepmother won't make you eat carrots but your mother does, why your new stepfather won't let you out past ten when your dad's curfew has always been eleven.
You start to compare. Then, you start to choose, and soon after you start to question why the other person simply doesn't get it? How hard is it not to make carrots, to stay up an hour later, or say 'I love you'? Or even to address you as son, to your face, not in reference, without a life and death experience?
Mom and Dad always knew how to show it, so why couldn't Bruce just get it?
I knew why. So did he, even if he wouldn't admit it. The painting of his parents loomed above the fireplace. They smiled down, but I don't think Bruce even remembers that smile. He remembers shots, screams, and pearls. He remembers a vague feeling of happiness before and the feeling of emptiness after. Can you mourn if the memories have slipped away? Can you heal even after you've forgotten what was lost? His storybook life ended and it was salvaged as much as it could, but it wasn't the same.
It's never the same, not for anybody.
So I understand he's never had a model to follow. I understand that he's been flying blind. I know how scared he is to risk loss again. I understand him, but I don't think he completely understands me. He doesn't see my doubt and my uncertainty. He hasn't watched as I struggled to find out how my life related to his. Robin was Batman's sidekick. Dick Grayson was Bruce Wayne's ex-ward. But what was adult Dick Grayson to Bruce? His friend? His partner? His son? Something more? Something less?
I thought about this again tonight. I can't help it when the Batman legacy gets mentioned. It's a road I've traveled all too well. I wasn't expecting anything like this tonight. Truth be told, I wasn't expecting it at all. I had written it off in a water under the bridge way. I could tell from how Bruce was babbling that it wasn't a contingency for Batman.
He might not have come out to say it but the words were they in each fumbled and nervous statement. Then I realized, as much as I needed to hear them, it wasn't going to happen. As much as I wanted him to be there for me, I realized that he needed me to be there for him even more. So I filled in the words. I took the steps he couldn't. And I said it first. I put his worries to rest when my pen finished on that paper with a flourish.
He took the first step, and I brought us the rest of the way. The paper didn't change anything, after all it's only paper. The gesture did. I knew where I stood in Bruce's life, but more importantly I knew where I stood in his heart.
I'm still gonna call him Bruce though. Even after all these years, I don't think either one of us is ready for 'Dad.'