The Game

Chapter 2

Growing up the ward of Gotham City's billionaire bachelor afforded Dick the finer things in life. The most expensive toys. An endless wardrobe. Nearly every electronic gadget on the market. Dick never wanted for anything tangible under the roof of Wayne Manor. Bruce never intended to spoil the boy, but in his own quiet way, he was showing the child that he never wanted him to be without, never wanted him to suffer at the loss of anything again. It was a stark contrast to the life of a traveling circus performer, but then again, the small trailer of the Flying Graysons had its own luxuries. For Dick, the most important ones had not been physical possessions, but the now faded memories of a mother's smile or a father's ruffling of his dark hair. Somewhere along the line, Dick had reconciled his two past lives, and appreciated what everyone had done for him. He was grateful beyond words at all Bruce had given him.

But it was always the small things that brought a hint of that lopsided grin to the boy's lips. An extra piece of pie for dessert. An hour added to his weekend curfew. Alfred's decadent chocolate chip cookies. Those always brought a smile to the weary crime-fighter's face.

It had been a week since his plan had backfired, a week since the engraved watch taunted him into action. And Dick had yet to make his move. Of course, a lot of things can happen in a week. At least, in Bludhaven they can. Dick had been so preoccupied that, he had almost forgotten about Bruce. He knew that whatever he planned had to be flawlessly executed. Battling the Bat was nerve-wracking, and Dick hadn't had a single chance to relax and formulate an idea yet. Not until a plate of chocolate-chip cookies had shown up at his doorstep, compliments of Alfred. He didn't have time to eat them then, since he was running late for his shift at Hogan's. But he had set them on his small, round kitchen table, promising his grumbling stomach they'd be his dinner after his nighttime patrol. He would unwind, enjoy his much-appreciated treat, and plan a veritable coup to Bruce's position as current victor in their game.

It was a productive but strenuous watch for Nightwing. At the moment, all the exhausted vigilante wanted more than anything in the world was to curl up on his lumpy couch with the plate of Alfred's decadent cookies securely on his lap. Then he could plot his next move and show that cowled mentor of his that—

"Oh, no."

That was all he had wanted.

"No." The jaw tightened as bright eyes narrowed in utter disbelief. "No. No. No. No. No."

Gloved fingertips ran over the edge of the ivory porcelain plate before they reached the folded piece of paper.

"He did not….."

Thanks for the snack, Dick. I was getting kind of hungry waiting for you. B.

"He ate my cookies."

The taunt was clear enough. Bruce hadn't been waiting for him to return from patrol. He had been waiting for him to make his next move.

"He ate my cookies."

Alright. That had spurred him into action. Abandoned batarangs and repossessed watches were one thing-but Alfred's cookies?

This meant war.

The young man sighed as he reached up to free the black mask from its place on his striking face, loosening the adhesive spots just inside each temple. This seemed a little low-scale for Batman. Too much of a cheap shot. Too simplistic. Dick wondered if any other surprises were lurking around as he tossed the mask onto the gray laminate countertop. He bit his lip and stared at the closed door of his refrigerator. The low grumbling of his stomach reminded him that he was still hungry, and that even though his 'dinner' had been pilfered, he still needed to eat.

With hands on his hips, Dick studied the dingy white of the closed refrigerator door, mentally making an inventory of what food he had, trying to decide what sounded good to him. There was that pizza from two nights ago—he had nearly half of that left. There were the various take-out containers from his favorite Chinese restaurant a few blocks away. A few Tupperware containers that Hogan's wife had asked her husband to pass along to his new employee also offered a few choices. He finally settled on the pizza and a large glass of chocolate milk to wash it down. A smirk briefly flashed across the boy's lips.

At least I still have that chocolate milk.

Wrong.

"What…?"

It took almost ten seconds for the boy to close the jaw that had dropped open in shock. He stood there, mouth agape, in front of the open refrigerator just staring at the stocked shelves.

No pizza. No cartons. No chocolate milk. Everything that even hinted at having taste had been removed and replaced with—

"Tofu?"

Tofu. Bean sprouts. Soy milk. Broccoli. Dick shuddered. He utterly detested broccoli, and the first time it made an appearance on his plate after Bruce had taken him in, he made sure both his new guardian and the well-meaning butler were well aware of that fact. Somehow, though, it always seemed that every now and then, he was served a more than generous portion.

Bruce had thrown away all of his good food and replaced it with every healthy one that the boy hated. A quick rummage through his pantry revealed the same horrifying fact. Cookies and chips had been replaced with rice cakes. The donuts he had procured yesterday morning were missing. And now his Lucky Charms had been traded out for something that looked like small twigs masquerading as cereal.

Dick could feel his face burning as he slammed the pantry door shut. Not only was his food gone, but now Bruce was two moves ahead of him. His ego was wounded more than his stomach, however, and the boy used his rage to fuel the need for revenge. After about an hour of brainstorming, a sly smile suddenly crossed Dick's lips.

"Got it."

Alfred had mentioned that Bruce had a meeting in the morning that was very important to Wayne Enterprises. Dick knew just how anal the man could be when it came to these things, how he had to be perfectly groomed, perfectly punctual, and perfectly prepared. Dick's smile grew. The man had to be patrolling now—he could slip in and out of the manor in a matter of minutes. The boy nodded once, as if affirming the cleverness of his plan. He would go to the manor, kidnap all of the man's suits, and leave him with nothing but a pair of tattered jeans and a loud, brilliantly dizzying t-shirt. The man would either be forced to call Dick and ask for his clothes, show up late to the meeting while waiting for Alfred to procure new ones, or actually show up to the office in a hideously casual outfit. Dick was banking on the last option, since his mentor would never admit defeat nor show up late to such an important meeting.

Yep—it would definitely take the man down a notch.

"Shouldn't have messed with my cookies, old man." Dick taunted as he headed to his closet in search of the most color-challenged shirt possible. "Shouldn't have messed with my cookies."

XXXXX

Bruce was crouched on the ledge of an old warehouse, his binoculars focused sharply on a couple of trucks parked by the docks. Dick stood behind him for a while, watching the soft fluttering of the dark cape against the gritty rooftop.

"Don't you have your own city to protect?"

Bruce hadn't even turned, hadn't broken his gaze, hadn't even blinked. He didn't acknowledge that he knew about the boy's presence behind him except for that quietly asked question.

Still, something about it caused a twinge in the boy's heart. Bruce had said your own city, as if finally acknowledging the boy was good enough to be Bludhaven's protector. Dick finally swallowed and walked over to his mentor.

"Yeah, well, things were quiet." He settled next to the cowled man and peered over the ledge to study the so-far abandoned trucks. "Besides, I thought maybe you could use some help."

An eyebrow arched beneath the cowl. "Help?"

"Yeah—Alfred said you've been staying out later and later for patrols." Dick suddenly pulled out the bag of broccoli that had been left in his refrigerator and opened it up. "Am I not welcome here?"

Bruce shifted slightly when he heard the crinkle of the plastic bag. "You're always welcome here, Dick." He firmly replied. "I would hope that you knew that."

"Sometimes it feels good to hear it, though." The words had been blurted out before the younger one had a chance to stop them. He could see the pointed ears turn and knew the clear eyes were now finally acknowledging him. Dick cleared his throat as if that could erase his embarrassment. "What's the story here?"

"Rumor has it that more than just machinery parts are coming in with the next barge." Bruce explained, his lensed eyes still focused on the boy. "I wanted to check things out."

"When's it coming in?"

"Some time before dawn."

Well that was specific. Dick suddenly grinned. Good thing he brought food.

"Hungry?"

Dick was holding out the bag of broccoli, watching for the man's reaction from the corner of his eye.

"No." Bruce turned back to the docks, bringing the binoculars back to his eyes. He waited for a few minutes, listening as the boy's gloved fingers searched through the bag, trying to find the perfect piece. "I, uh….seem to remember you not liking broccoli."

"Nope." Dick lied, slowly bringing the abhorrent vegetable to his lips. The smell alone caused his stomach to churn. "I've matured in my tastes. I've decided to change my diet, you know. Nothing but healthy food from here on out. That way, I can be in top condition for crime fighting."

Dick could see Bruce's jaw tighten a little as the older man fought to suppress a smirk.

"Is that so?"

"Hm-mm." Bruce had turned again and was watching with a keen interest as the boy tapped the thick green stem against his mouth. "You sure you don't want some?"

Dick heard a low, quiet chuckle. "Mmm…never liked broccoli." He answered as he slipped the switch on his binoculars to intensify the image of his intense scrutiny. "In fact, whenever you and Alfred weren't looking, I usually slipped it onto your plate. Glad to see I was doing you a favor."

The combination of the vegetable's raw aroma and Bruce's taunting revelation caused a spluttered choke from the young man. He felt three hard, precise thumps between his shoulder blades before he was able to catch his breath.

"Settle in, Nightwing." Bruce stated as he returned to his original position. "Looks like we could be here a while."

The young man fought hard to suppress a heavy sigh. He would be damned if he let Bruce see just how much his latest prank had bothered him, so like it or not, he was going to eat that blasted broccoli if it killed him. As the spongy texture rolled around his tongue and nearly gagged the breath out of him, he thought it just might.

As the hazy smog and the almost eerie mist of the Gotham night settled around them, Dick's mind began to slip back to a buried memory. One that was of a night like this—cold, dreary, and silent. One that occurred just a few weeks after Robin's official debut.

It had been a rough day at school, and even though Dick had been going there for over a year now, he still found himself on the fringes of the many cliques. He always seemed to be there, pushed into the outer edges of everyone else's lives, staring at normalcy while standing in its margins. Some never spoke to him, and others would look down upon the circus boy and tease him behind his back, or if they were feeling especially cruel, to his face. It had been one of those days, and the mocking insults of being a circus orphan, a gypsy-child that no one wanted had stung his heart. Alfred had noticed how upset the boy was and knew what was the most likely cause. Bruce, for all appearances, was oblivious to both.

That night, Alfred had gone to great lengths to prepare the boy's favorite dessert—triple fudge brownies. They were always best warm—in fact, for the ten-year-old, that was the only way to enjoy them. Dick's subdued but still noticeable scowl had faded, and the dark shadows of hurt had lifted a little from his normally bright eyes when they were placed in front of him.

But then a firm, almost devoid voice had stopped his fingers in mid-air as they hovered over the brownies.

Get dressed, Robin. We have work to do.

He hadn't even gotten to take one bite.

A few hours later as they crouched on an uneven and very cluttered rooftop, blue and yellow capes billowing in the bitter winds, he had asked in a near-defiant tone why he wasn't allowed to bring the brownies with him.

We're here to patrol, Robin. If you wanted to snack, you should have stayed home and let me be the one who takes this job seriously.

That had hurt more than the teasing at school. It took Bruce a restless night to realize that. The next day, Dick remembered standing quietly by his desk, waiting for the teacher to dismiss the class for lunch. His bright eyes had narrowed when the young woman had suddenly excused herself and met a shadow in the hallway. A shadow whose voice he instantly recognized.

Uh, Dick left these at home this morning. I thought he might like them for his lunch. Can you tell him that….tell him that Alfred brought these by for him? I don't want him to think that I was checking up on him.

Of course, Mr. Wayne.

The teacher had returned and placed a small plate on Dick's desk. Brownies. Triple fudge. Still warm to the touch.

It had brought a genuine smile to the boy's lips.

"Shouldn't you be getting back to the manor?" Dick suddenly asked. "It's almost dawn, and Alfred told me you have that important meeting with Lucius?"

"Mm." Bruce murmured, his attention still focused on the scene below.

Dick slowly rose to his feet, staring in absolute disgust at the half-empty bag. Had he really forced himself to eat that much?

"Wayne Enterprises acquiring another business?"

"This one's important, Dick." A sudden edginess had slipped into the fatigued hero's voice. He kept his back to the younger one, apparently unaware that Dick had stood and walked a few feet away. "Very important. It could mean a lot of jobs that people in this city need."

"So who're you and Lucius meeting with?"

"Agbar Industries. The CEO and a few other important players have traveled here from Germany. If all goes well, Wayne Enterprises will be opening several factories with them."

"Well….I'm sure you want to make a good impression. Maybe we should call it a night so you can get home and change?"

Dick could have sworn he saw the tiniest of smiles cross the man's lips before it was quelled. "Yes, I should." No protest. No lecture about how Batman never just calls it a night. Nope. Nothing like that. Just a small, subtle smile on the normally passive face. "I need to pick out a suit."

With that the man was gone, the echo of the jump-line blasting across the sky still ringing in the younger one's ears.

XXXXX

Dick had crawled into bed the second he finished scrubbing the horrendous taste of broccoli out of his mouth by brushing his teeth about twenty times. He didn't realize that the few seconds he thought he had closed his eyes for had actually been a few hours until the phone blared into his ear.

"Yeah?"

"Late night?" An amused voice asked.

Dick reached up and rubbed his aching eyes. "Something like that."

"Well, I thought I'd thank you for your help last night by taking you out to lunch." Bruce said, his voice unusually light. "Can you be here at Wayne Enterprises in an hour?"

"Yeah, I think—" Hold on. Bruce wanted to thankhim? Bruce never thanked him. At least not in ways that he specifically pointed out were for that purpose. Something else was going on. It took the boy a few minutes to remember his prank. Ah—so this was some sort of trap. A chastisement. A punishment. Dick knew better than to go, but he just couldn't wait to see how a jeans and t-shirt clad billionaire business man had managed to seriously conduct his important meeting. "Yeah, I'll be there. See you in an hour?"

"Sounds good, Dick."

The young man smiled as he hung up the phone. This was going to be good. To rub salt into the already stinging wound, Dick decided to wear a suit himself so that he make the normally perfect Bruce Wayne's unprofessional attire that much more conspicuous. Dick sighed as he threw the chenille blanket off of his legs. He couldn't wait to get the whole delicious story from Lucius.

"Dick! So glad you decided to come!"

The boy was standing outside the board room staring with mouth open at the chief executives of Wayne Enterprises along with those from Agbar clad in jeans and t-shirts. He finally managed to blink when he felt a hand squeeze his shoulder.

"Oh—I guess I forgot to mention that I decided to make today a casual day." Bruce pointed out. The younger one could see the subtle, knowing smile that time. "Seems I could only find this to wear."

Dick just frowned and shook his head.

"Mr. Wayne surprised everyone all by personally calling us this morning and telling us that we could dress down today. I think it even made those Agbar execs more at ease." Bruce's secretary chimed in. "Believe it or not, Mr. Wayne can be quite intimidating sometimes."

"Well, we should get going. I've made reservations for us. And don't worry—I made sure they have broccoli for you."

Bruce—3; Dick—2

Oh, yeah. Dick thought as he followed the man to the elevator. This is definitely a war.