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It had been a long night on patrol. Batman glanced over at Robin sleeping in the passenger seat as he drove the Batmobile back to the cave. Though no one would believe it, and he'd deny it if confronted, he was taking the road relatively slowly so the boy could get some rest.
He looked at the youngster in the passing strobe of streetlights. Dark hair, closed eyes which were a remarkable blue when opened, cheeks shadowed by the long, black lashes. Slender but muscular, still waiting for another growth spurt to catch up with his classmates in height but probably never going to reach six feet and would be lucky to get close.
Dick never—all right, rarely—complained about the long hours, the sacrifices of a normal life, close friends, the usual school activities he either had no time for or couldn't risk a because of a possible security slip.
What else would he have to give up or never experience if he kept on the course he'd been on for five years now? And do the pluses, the things he'd seen (and would see in the years to come) even it all out or would he resent this when he was older? Resent the girlfriends he didn't have, the school dances he didn't attend, the sports teams he could have led but never joined, the camping trips, the movies with friends; how would he feel about them when he was twenty, thirty, forty?
Would he survive that long?
Would he live to get married, have kids, see grandchildren?
And did Dick understand, really comprehend that the choices he was making now would affect him throughout his life? Did he understand that even if he were to hang up the cape tomorrow there would be secrets which he'd have to take to his grave and that there were people—bad people and bad organizations who would stop at nothing to learn those secrets?
Could he possibly realize how much he was giving up, had already given up to lead the life he was?
He said that he did, of course, but did he? Could any teenager?
But it was Dick's choice. At first it was a payback, revenge, an evening of the score against the men who murdered his parents. Closure. Without that the boy would never have healed.
Was he really healed, or as healed as anyone could be after seeing what he had? Was his dedication to crime-fighting his life's work—at least for now—or something he did because he felt Batman expected it of him? Did he see it as rent paid for the house he lived in, the food he ate, the clothes he wore? Was it just for approval, Bruce's and the world 's at large?
Was this the ultimate hobby for a thrill junkie half-grown child or the start of a career he had a talent and passion for?
Would the day or night come when he was injured once too many times, missed one to many football games with his friends, turned down one too many offers to go back to the circus or compete in the Olympics so that he could catch another bank robber or psychopath?
And would anyone blame him if that day came? Would he be criticized for walking away, for quitting? Would it matter? Would he care?
Doesn't everyone have the right to choose their own course? He was still a young teenager, surely he could quit if he wanted?
Did Dick know that?
He slowed the large car more as they came to that rough patch of road. Looking left, he saw Robin shift slightly in his seat but stay asleep.
Bruce's thoughts ran on. What would happen if or when Dick decided that he no longer wanted to live the life he had now? What would happen if he decided to quit Robin, be normal; would he tell Bruce or would he feel obligated to continue? And what would his own reaction be if the time came, say over dinner, when Dick told him that he'd had enough, had other things he wanted to do, was finished? How would he take it; calmly, maturely or see it as a betrayal, a cop-out, a rejection?
And if—when—that day came, how would he, Bruce, react? Would he take it calmly as a natural progression, evolution, maturation or would he take it as a rejection of the years they'd spent together?
He mentally paused; dear god let him take it well if Dick ever made that decision. He owed the boy that much at least.
But, and his mind almost paused at the thought; if the boy's parents hadn't been killed, if they were still alive, performing their act eight shows a week with their now teenaged son; would that have been any more normal than the life he led now?
Was traveling nine or ten months a year, endless rehearsals, home schooling, always being in a new town with a small group of circus friends for company, always being an outsider when he walked down some main street looking for the movie theater or a food store—was that any more wholesome, was it any more grounding? Would it have been abetter life, made him happier? Would he be any more or less prepared for adulthood?
Given the impossible choice, Dick would have chosen to live the life he'd been born to. How could he not? He had to wish that his parents were still alive, still in his life, didn't he?
Eve Alfred had hinted as much any number of times, that Dick needed to be allowed the perspective of seeing just how abnormal his live had become. He was slowly becoming a younger version of the Bat in that Dick Grayson was the mask for Robin; Robin wasn't expanding to where the character was dominating the person in the costume.
But that was Dick's decision.
But Dick was sixteen years old.
Almost home, he hit the switch which would open the hidden entrance to the cave and felt, rather than heard Dick stirring beside him. "We're here."
Car parked, Dick got out without a word, clearly still half asleep. He had to be up in five hours to start his morning workout before he left for school.
Neither one said anything, it was just another night.