Summary: A Good Soldier—Epilogue

Special Thanks: To my two fantastic and patient beta-readers, PJ and Beth. Your critical reading and helpful comments have helped make this a much better story. And also, I'd like to thank everyone who has taken a moment to give me feedback. Your kind words and thoughtful praise were the engines that drove me forward.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to DC, Time Warner, and CN; this is an original story that doesn't intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome.

Copyright: June 2012

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A Good Soldier

By Syl Francis

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[From: Part 8]

Batman held Dick in his arms, his cape covering the boy protectively. He gently ran a lone finger down the boy's cheek, marveling at how innocent he looked. Had he told Dick he loved him recently? How proud he was of him? He thought of the adoption papers lying in his desk drawer. Why hadn't he finalized them before this?

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[Begin: Part 9—Epilogue]

Batman, cowl off, sat at his master computer in the Batcave. The giant virtual monitor was split into several screens. In a smaller window, he had video surveillance footage of Ra's Al Ghul and Ubu boarding a private jet in Teipei, which soon disappeared from radar. Another window showed Talia going through French customs in Marseilles. She was seen getting into the back of a black Bentley with phony license plates outside the airport. Interpol lost her trail within the first 30 minutes.

There were no signs of either Dusan or the old Sensei, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing. When last seen, the old Sensei had been dead by his own hand, and Dusan had suffered a serious wound to the side, possibly fatal. With the Al Ghul family's tendency not to stay dead for long, however, Batman opted for a healthy dose of paranoia and assumed they were still out there, and still after Dick.

In the virtual monitor's largest window, he had a live feed of Dick going through a complicated acrobatics/gymnastics/martial arts routine.

"A good soldier," he murmured, acknowledging Dick's willingness to improve on his strengths and eliminate his weaknesses. Briefly, his thoughts strayed once more to the adoption papers in his desk. Maybe it's time, he thought.

His features softened momentarily as he continued to watch, completely awed by the boy's level of skill. Dick managed to make the most complicated, difficult moves look easy—and with the added touch of beauty and grace.

The boy could practically defy gravity.

And then Dick slipped and fell on his rump, eliciting an annoyed grunt and a sharp curse. Batman lifted an eyebrow, wondering where the boy had picked up such raw language.

"Roy," he growled. He'd have a talk with their resident Rebel Without a Cause about his language and being a poor influence on the younger, more impressionable heroes. "Wally, too." The speedster had a heart of gold, but sometimes his mouth moved faster than his brain could filter it.

But he was getting off track, avoiding the inevitable, refusing to acknowledge the final virtual window directly before him. It had no live feeds, no video footage. It was simply a scientific analysis with numerical sequences and a small message flashing at the bottom—a message he had tried ignoring for the past few minutes, but no longer could.

Against his will, he let his eyes fall down to the analytical language: coding, percentages, amino acids, yes/no Bolean searches. At last, his eyes came to the final words: Match—99%-itle. In other words, there was a 99 percent chance that Dick was Talia Al Ghul's son and Ra's Al Ghul's grandson.

He had also run a secondary check through the mitochondrial DNA, a test that was designed to follow the maternal DNA line. That test had come back with similar results.

To get a 100 percent match, he'd have to run the analysis against the biological father's DNA.

"But who's the father?" he murmured, although deep down he already knew. Dick was thirteen years old. He would have been conceived almost fourteen years ago, around the time that Bruce was in Nanda Parbat. "The dates match." All he had to do was run the final test…

"As you Americans would say," a soft voice said behind him, "the ayes have it." Bruce spun around, not surprised to see Talia standing there. How she and her father always managed to circumvent the Manor and Batcave's highly sophisticated, one-of-a-kind security systems never ceased to irritate him.

"I guess I need a new security upgrade—again." He stood, bringing down his cowl while scowling at her. "What do you want, Talia? If you're here for Dick, you know that there is no power on Earth that will ever persuade me to hand him over to you or your father."

Talia's eyes dropped briefly, her hurt at his greeting evident in her stance. She knew now that her decision all those years ago had been the correct one. She did not belong with him...or, rather, he did not belong with her. Her upbringing had been too violent, filled with too much death—much of which she herself had caused. She doubted if her soul would have survived the waters of the Fountain of Essence—something, which both Bruce and Richard had.

That had been the true test of where and with whom Richard belonged. Talia took a moment to gather herself and then took a deep breath.

"As I said…you Americans have a saying: The ayes have it." She smiled, teasing. "Or…in this case, the eyes—" She pointed at her own and then at Batman's. "—have it." At the Dark Knight's blank expression, she shook her head in fond exasperation. "You have eyes, Beloved, and yet you do not see. To know who Richard's father is simply look into his eyes…and into a mirror."

She walked up to him and held out a small, oblong box—a jewelry case. She watched him as she slowly opened it, revealing a single strand of pearls on a bed of deep blue velvet. He recognized it instantly: It was an exact replica of his mother's pearl necklace, which he'd given Talia the day he'd proposed. He'd had it commissioned by the same jewelers that had made his mother's.

"I believe this now belongs to Richard—it was his mother's, left with him once a long time ago as a remembrance. When the time is right, give it to him."

"Why…?" he whispered, reaching for it. His fingers briefly wrapped around hers as he took the jewelry case from her. "Why didn't you tell me?" He held her gaze for a long moment, seeing in her beautiful, almond eyes the same regret and pain over their lost love that he knew she saw in his.

Abruptly, he turned his back to her and looked intently at the monitor. The camera zoomed in on a close-up of Dick, hair matted with sweat, practically inhaling a bottle of water. The boy's youthful features were flushed from exertion, softly glowing with a sheen of perspiration in the cave's lighting—a picture of health.

It was hard to believe that he had died so violently, not once, but three times in the past week. Or that Bruce had held Dick's lifeless body and watched helplessly as he'd bled out in his arms. It was as if he'd relived his parents' murder and the Graysons' fall a thousand times over. The scenes had become superimposed, one murder/death bleeding into the next. Bruce shuddered at the images. It had all been much too close. He was pulled back to the present by Talia's quiet voice.

"I couldn't let anyone know. It would have been too dangerous." She spoke softly, knowing that no explanation would ever be good enough. "Father would have killed us both and taken Richard, raised him in his world. I couldn't allow that to happen to my child...our child."

"But the Graysons? Why didn't you warn me?" He closed his eyes, seeing their tragic fall again. He could have prevented their deaths…if he'd only known. Placing both hands on the console, he leaned on it, once more overcome by the remembered guilt of four years ago…and the heartbroken, dark-haired little boy whose sad eyes melted his frozen heart.

"I didn't know, Beloved…I found out too late." Talia shook her head. "I purposely did not learn the names of the couple that adopted him. What I didn't know, I couldn't reveal. I thought that would protect him…" She clenched her fist in self-loathing. "I was a fool."

Neither spoke for a long moment, both lost in memories that were best forgotten, but nonetheless treasured despite all the pain they evoked.

Smiling wistfully, Talia watched Dick on the rings, his strong body in a perfect T. "He is magnificent, isn't he?"

She walked up to the monitor and tentatively reached up and touched Dick's image. She ran her finger along his outline, hesitating on his face. Dropping her hand, she turned back to Batman.

"I wanted my child to have a normal life. A mother and father's love…everything I couldn't give him."

"He had that," Batman said softly. "John and Mary Grayson's lifestyle may not have been what we call normal, but they loved Dick. And their love has carried him through the bad times and good times. He is their son."

Talia shook her head. "No, Beloved. He was their son. Now he is yours. Not mine…and not my father's. He will always carry the Graysons' love inside him, but he is now and always will be your son." She kissed him affectionately on the cheek and started walking away, fading into the shadows. "Do not be afraid to show him your love, Bruce. He loves you already. All he needs is to hear you say the words…"

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Bruce stood outside on the large patio immediately adjacent to his study. It was a warm, September day, with blue skies and cotton-candy clouds, the well-manicured grounds and gardens a showcase for summer's last hurrah. He rarely walked the Manor grounds anymore. He used to explore the numerous nooks and crannies as a child, which is how he literally fell into the cave that lay directly underneath.

When Dick first arrived, the boy used to sneak out and find places in which to be alone. It would take Bruce and Alfred hours sometimes before they found the unnaturally quiet boy, curled up someplace where he'd cried himself to sleep. As time passed and they grew closer, not only as Bruce and Dick, but also as Batman and Robin, Dick's need to be alone grew less and less. In fact, the boy's natural exuberance thrived in the company of others, and he sought out Bruce and Alfred on an almost constant basis.

With the new friendships he'd recently formed in the Young Justice team, Dick seemed to need Bruce and Alfred's company less these days. Bruce knew that this was good. The boy was growing up, making friends, becoming more independent. But still…he missed the small boy who always seemed to be underfoot and asking endless questions only yesterday.

"Bruce?" Dick's voice sounded uncertain, as if afraid to disturb him.

He turned, his mouth slightly upturned in a half-smile. "Yes?"

"Bruce…Ra's Al Ghul explained why they took me. He told me about the ritual—the soul exchange. He said they needed a blood relation for it to work, and—" He stopped, unable to go on. It had taken him all morning to work up the courage to ask, and now he'd lost his nerve.

"And you want to know if it's true? If you're related to Ra's Al Ghul? If Talia is your biological mother?"

To Bruce's surprise, Dick shook his head.

"No, I don't care about that. I know who my mom and dad were. They loved me, and I'll never forget them. Blood relation doesn't mean anything, Bruce. You taught me that. Just because I'm related to them by blood doesn't mean that I'm gonna grow up to be evil…or, I don't know…" he shrugged. "Become Master of the Universe or something."

Bruce's eyes crinkled in amusement. "Oh? You don't have this inner drive to rule the world?"

Dick shook his head, smiling. "I'm not even ready to lead the team, yet. So, no thanks!" His smile slowly disappeared, replaced with an uncharacteristically serious expression. "Like I said…blood doesn't really matter, Bruce, but…" Dick paused, looking directly into his mentor's eyes, marveling again at how alike they were to his own. He had to know. Taking a deep breath, he opened his mouth.

"I am your father, Dick." Bruce knelt down until he was eye level with Dick. "Is that what you wanted to ask?" At Dick's nod, Bruce placed a warm hand on his son's shoulder. His son. He marveled at the fact as if it were finally sinking in. His expression softening, he gently ran a thumb along the boy's cheek. "My son." Without further word, he took Dick in his arms and held him for a long moment.

Dick reciprocated by throwing his arms around his father's neck. He couldn't stop the hot tears that were somehow just there, soaking into Bruce's formerly crisp Oxford shirt. There were so many questions he wanted to ask…things he needed to know. He smiled when Bruce answered the foremost question on his mind.

"I didn't know, Dick…I'm the World's Greatest Detective, and I never even suspected. Now that I look at you, it seems so obvious." He broke the embrace, but kept his hands on Dick's shoulders, holding him at arms length. "But how do you feel about it, Dick?"

Dick shrugged, taking an ineffectual swipe at his tears with his shirtsleeve. He accepted the white handkerchief Bruce offered him. Must be allergies, he grumbled silently.

"I'm not sure what I'm s'posed to think," he admitted, when he was finally able to answer. "When they first told me, I didn't believe them...didn't want to believe them. But the more I thought about it, the less it hurt. I loved my mom and dad, Bruce. And I know they loved me. I don't understand why they didn't tell me I was adopted, but…" He stopped, unsure of what to say next.

"Would it help you to know that I've wanted to adopt you for sometime, Dick? I've got all the paperwork in my desk." He stood, and his hand still on Dick's shoulder, steered the boy into his study. He opened his desk drawer and took out a packet of papers, which he handed to Dick. "I've had these for several months now…since your birthday in March. I was just building up the nerve to ask you. I guess I was afraid you'd say—"

"Yes! I would've said 'yes,' Bruce! In a heartbeat!"

This time Bruce gave his son a full-blown smile. Not his phony-baloney, billionaire playboy smile, or the cutting smirk Batman used on villains (and some heroes he thought were idiots), or even his not-quite-a-smile half-smile that Bruce only used with his immediate family and close friends. No, this was a bona fide smile the likes of which hadn't been seen in private or public from Bruce since he was eight. It even rivaled one of Dick's own megawatt smiles.

For the first time in a long time, Bruce felt genuinely happy. He looked into his son's eyes and saw the same happiness reflected back. Leaning down, he touched his forehead to Dick's—a gesture of affection the boy recognized from many nights of being held after a nightmare. Or in his early days as Robin, when he'd fallen asleep in the Batmobile after an especially long patrol, and Bruce carried him up to bed and tucked him in.

"I love you, son…I have for a long time—almost from the very beginning. I wanted you to know…just for the record."

At Bruce's words, Dick's smile lit up his face, and he threw his arms around his father's waist. "I love you, too, Bruce."

Bruce finally realized that while Robin was the good soldier Batman needed in his relentless war, Dick was the son that Bruce Wayne had always wanted but thought he would never have. He only hoped that he would measure up to being the father that Dick needed and wanted. More importantly, he wanted to be the father that Dick deserved.

"Bruce…shouldn't we tell Alfred?"

"Tell me what, sirs?"

Bruce and Dick gave each other matching knowing smiles, and as one turned to their surrogate father and grandfather.

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A short distance away, on a wind-swept, wooded hillock overlooking Wayne Manor, almond-shaped eyes peered through a pair of binoculars at the happy, laughing scene being played out in Bruce's study. Unmindful of her hair whipping uncontrollably behind her, Talia watched the warm, family scene before her, a longing smile flitting across her beautiful, exotic features. She zoomed in on the boy's joyful expression as he hugged the family valet. The man's usually stoic manner was struggling with the effort of holding back tears.

At last with Bruce's arms firmly around his family, all three men walked out of the room. As the study door closed behind them, Talia finally lowered the binoculars. It took all her inner strength to turn away from the siren's song that called to her from within the Manor.

Richard is with his father, as he should have been from the beginning.

Refusing to acknowledge the tears that fell of their own volition, she climbed into the backseat of the waiting Bentley.

I hear that Milan is lovely this time of year…or, perhaps Buenos Aires…?

She closed her eyes and leaned back in her seat as the car pulled away, leaving her heart behind…

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The End