A/N Not much happy fluff in this one; I'm warning you ahead of time. If you feel particularly depressed today, well, there's a hopeful note at the end, but you may want to read something fluffier. *shrugs* Your choice though.
Dick was seven when one of the elephants died.
He loved, loved, loved the elephants; he always had. Anytime not spent perfecting flips or cartwheels or handstands was spent with the elephant trainer. Dick would help with feeding and cleaning, anything he could do to get closer to the big animals. He would perch on one of them when he was done, alternating every day so it would be fair. He would talk, sometimes to the elephant trainer, sometimes to the elephants themselves, babbling about his day and anything that strayed across his curious mind. Stroking their big ears and laying between their shoulders, he felt happy and safe.
He had always known that the biggest elephant was also the oldest. She was the mom of Zitka, and the elephant trainer usually just called her Big Momma. But that didn't translate to the idea that she could actually die one day.
The sun had been shining that day and the sky was a clear robin's-egg blue. Dick had run to the place where the elephants were kept, stopping when he heard Zitka trumpeting. She never did that unless she was hurt, like the one time she had somehow fallen into a fence and been cut and bruised. Dick cocked his head, eyes wide, trying to figure out what could make her sound that way. He gave up, running faster to find out for himself instead.
He was stopped by the elephant trainer. "You can't go in today," he said gravely.
Dick anxiously tried to peer around him, but he was so short it didn't really work. "Why?" he questioned, biting his lip as he finally met the trainer's sad gaze.
"Big Momma…well, she isn't with us anymore, Dickie," the elephant trainer sighed.
Dick froze, not really understanding. Why wasn't she here? Where did she go? Surely the circus wouldn't sell her or anything! He rushed past the elephant trainer before he could stop him, reaching Zitka and Big Momma in a matter of seconds. He stopped though, feeling sick and confused and his heart hurting even though he didn't fully understand why yet.
Big Momma was on the floor, still and not moving. Her eyes were open and Dick didn't understand why she wasn't blinking, especially when a fly landed on it. He shooed it away and put a hand on her trunk, stroking her in her favorite spot, trying to get her to wake up. He withdrew, startled at how cold she was. It was like…
The realization hit and Dick stumbled backwards, hitting Zitka's leg. She didn't seem to mind, letting out a mournful trumpeting sound. Tears started to stream down Dick's cheeks and he sat down by Zitka's foot, wrapping his arms around it and taking slight comfort in her presence. His sobs mingled with her cries, a grieved melody that lingered in the air.
His cousin John came looking for him a while later and Dick found himself back in their trailer, sobbing into his parents' arms. His mom stroked his hair away from his face and his dad hugged them both tight to his chest. His aunt busied himself with making some hot chocolate, saying it would help calm him down. His uncle just let out a small sad sigh. John hesitantly came over and put a hand on Dick's shaking shoulder. "It'll be okay," he offered, slightly hesitantly, glancing up at his dad. Uncle Rick nodded, reassuring him.
"But I miss her," Dick protested, meeting John's gaze with teary baby blues.
"I know," John continued, trying to keep his voice steady and calming, like whenever his dad would comfort him. "But you just gotta have faith."
Dick didn't understand that right then, but didn't want to talk anymore. He simply buried his face in his mom's shoulder and wrapped an arm around his dad's neck, taking comfort and reassurance from the fact that they were there.
Dick was nine when his family fell.
The spotlights were bright and cheerful and the crowd's cheers filled the entire tent with bubbling excitement. Dick loved it, standing on top of the platform and waving, leaning over the edge with the grace befitting an acrobat. His mom and dad were to his right, his Uncle Rick and Aunt Karla to the right of them, and cousin John stood on the end. They were all smiling and the gold accents of their costumes caught the light, glinting impressively against their crimson tops.
The tent was full tonight (like most nights, because Haly's Circus was the best) and Dick felt like he was on top of the world. He spared a quick glance downwards and grinned wider, realizing that he probably was on top of the world right now.
The drums rolled and the music started, their cue to perform. They launched into action smoothly, moving through the air like poetry. They flipped and twisted around each other, catching arms and trapeze bars, teasing gravity with their aerial dance.
Dick couldn't help but laugh, smiling wide enough to split the sky.
But then his turn was over, his feet landing neatly on the platform before his mom swung back out. They started the finale, Dick watching with awed interest and slight jealousy; he couldn't wait until he was old enough to be a part of it. The net was taken away, but that didn't make anyone falter. They made it look easy as they all flipped towards one trapeze bar, latching on and creating different formations of glittering gold, bright crimson, dramatic black, and wide grins.
Snap! That one sound, barely audible over the roaring approval of the crowd, was the sound that shattered Dick's world.
The wire frayed and broke, sending his entire family plummeting to the ground. He dropped to his knees, reaching out a hand in a desperate, vain attempt to catch them. Dick had just enough time to meet his parents' gazes before they hit the ground.
The crunching thud would be seared into Dick's memories forever, just like the image of his family crumpled into the hard unforgiving ground. Dick screamed, already sobbing as he all but flew down the later. He tried to rush over to their bodies but Pop Haly blocked him with firm, kind gestures.
Dick didn't care, struggling to get past, to ignore the screaming in his ears and the awful pain in his heart because he just wanted to see his family and they had to be okay, please let them be okay.
Deep down, he knew they weren't, and so he sobbed and wailed openly, not caring who heard or saw. It didn't matter now, nothing did except for the fact that his family was gone, so suddenly and shockingly that Dick didn't want to believe it. He didn't have a choice.
He wanted to hear John telling him it was okay. He wanted Uncle Rick there with some joke to cheer things up in the aftermath. He wanted to smell hot chocolate because Aunt Karla always said a bit of hot chocolate would help. He wanted to breathe in the sweet lavender scent of his mom and be cradled in her arms. He wanted to feel the steady solidness and reassuring warmth of his dad's tight, comforting embrace. He wanted to wake up, for this to all be a bad dream that would be soothed away from him through loving gestures.
But John was silent and bloody. Uncle Rick was pale and unmoving. He could only smell stale popcorn, old sawdust, and metallic blood. His mom's eyes were frozen open and her arms remained still, and his dad was lifeless and dead. They were all dead. No dream would ever be this awful, and Dick found himself gasping for choked breaths in this horrible new reality he had been thrust into.
There was no one that could comfort him right now.
Dick was still nine when Bruce took him in.
It was really awkward and tense at first, not only because Dick was withdrawn and mourning, but because Bruce really had no idea how to deal with kids. The manor was huge and dark, intimidating to the small boy that was so painfully out of his depth. Alfred helped, but there was only so much the grandfatherly butler could do. Dick had just lost his whole family, his entire world, in one fell swoop. There was nothing anyone could do to make things okay again.
It was late at night when Dick had a nightmare, just another in a long series of traumatizing flashbacks. Bruce was gone sometimes at night and so Alfred would usually offer reassurance when he heard, but there were also nights when Dick was so terribly alone.
Tonight wasn't one of those nights, luckily. Bruce came running into his room upon hearing the involuntary scream, his short hair messed up and his eyes tired but concerned. Dick drew the blankets tighter around himself, wanting to curl up and sink into the earth. Maybe if he just disappeared he wouldn't feel this sad anymore. Because sad was an understatement; it was a sharp, jagged knife of grief that ripped and tore at the broken pieces of his heart with each memory and thought of them, the family that was no longer with him.
It wasn't long before Dick found himself sobbing into Bruce's shoulder, though he wasn't exactly sure how that had happened. He didn't really care either. He just wanted it to stop hurting. Bruce was murmuring quiet words of assurance into his ear, but Dick didn't even try to listen.
A little while later there was a quiet knock on the door before Alfred came in, balancing a tray with two mugs on it. "I thought a spot of hot cocoa might help," he offered, setting the tray down next to them before retreating, letting Bruce do this on his own.
Dick accepted the proffered mug, breathing in the warm, rich smell. Steam curled in the air but Dick took a sip anyway, ignoring the slight burn as he let the hot drink fill him. Aunt Karla would do this same thing, making hot chocolate for all of them.
What was it that cousin John had said the night that Big Momma had died? "Have faith"? That sounded right. Dick didn't understand it then, but he thought he was starting to now.
Bruce had assured him he would see his family again one of the first nights Dick spent in the manor. Dick didn't have proof that that was true, but it seemed convincing to Bruce and wasn't that what faith was about? Dick didn't know for sure, but it gave him something to hold on to.
So he clung to their memories and the thought of seeing them again, no matter how far in the future their reunion might be. Alfred's hot chocolate wasn't the same as Aunt Karla's and Bruce's arms weren't quite the same as a hug from his parents, but Dick realized he still felt better than he had in a while. He was still sad, of course, and he always would be. But now he knew he might recover.
He just had to have a little faith.
A/N I normally wouldn't update so quickly, but I had to get this one off my chest. I hope you enjoyed!
Reviews are greatly appreciated!