The night was a slow one and Robin was wondering just how longer the case could be played out. Here they were, waiting.
Bruce had pulled him away from his own research just an hour before for the case currently on the backlit streets of Gotham. Tim didn't really mind, though he was wishing he had thought to bring the article by Lois Lane to read more while they were waiting on this stakeout. The Ritzi gang (he had thought to ask about the name, but just got a long shake of the head from his older brother) was lying low for some reason in its normally 'loud' exchanges on the streets. Batman didn't know the reason and he needed to know. So the calm of the stony cold office had to be disturbed.
In this case, Tim could almost see Bruce smirking and muttering, 'Who better than him?'
Though this Robin was not a party animal, Dick could definitely qualify where Tim didn't. Every time the trio found themselves in this type of situation, the current Boy Wonder could see why the classic Dynamic Duo was nearly invincible. You couldn't catch the original Boy Wonder! That was one thing Tim was certain of as his masked eyes trans-versed the rubble of the explosion where the blue stripe of the iconic Nightwing suit was easily caught in his sight against the black night sky and the fire behind him as it danced among the flames and security henchmen.
"Stop fooling around," Tim heard Bruce growl into his comm.
"Oh, lighten up old man. If you're so bored-come out and throw a few of these guys around with me," Dick said back over the commlink, whereupon Tim had to muffle a laugh.
Batman's deadpanned visage was so funny that Tim couldn't stop a chuckle from escaping in reaction to the look the Dark Knight had on his face. Why Dick was the only one that could ever make that look appear was beyond Tim, but the event hadn't lost its appeal to the funny bone.
Robin jumped with a yelp and turned around to see his older brother smiling down at him from a grapple line.
"That was unnecessary," Batman said gruffly.
"Do you want the info-or not?" Nightwing said, holding out a flash drive while rolling his eyes with a happy smile on his face.
"Dustin Malos?" Tim asked mentally, an eyebrow raised at the face the Bat-computer was displaying.
Tim had started decoding the information using the Batcave's computer and after half an hour, he finally had it finished. The profile he had discovered though, struck him as quite…unusual. It wasn't that the man was any one person in particular to him. It was the fact that this was a proverbial nobody in their records.
Maybe they had the wrong guy?
Robin, mask less, glanced across the small console group of computers to see that Bruce, cowl down, was studying his own copy of the data. He was waiting for Tim's decoding of the one criminal profile. It didn't seem important, but Bruce still wanted to know.
"I finished the decoding."
"Good," the man muttered and reached up to turn off the screen of the computer he was working on.
"His name is Dustin Malos."
The chair Bruce was sitting in hit the floor of the cave back first, resounding so loud in the cave that the bats above them all began taking off in different directions. Bruce was next to Tim in a breath, eyes slightly widened at the profile picture staring back at him. The boy stiffened and slowly edged his chair backwards as the man leaned against the keyboard of the computer.
"Uh, you recognize him?"
"Hey! What's with the racket down here?"
Bruce gritted his teeth, reached out and within a snap, ripped the flash drive from the USB port of the computer. The profile disappeared in a blinking white light only to be replaced a moment later with the bat-symbol background that they were all familiar with.
"Don't breathe a word of this to Dick. I have to go."
And in just a couple of blinks, the Batmobile was driving out of the Batcave just as Dick entered the room, his mask gone and a towel draped over his shoulders. Gym workout. Typical that the guy still had energy to spare.
"Uh, he went to meet with Commissioner Gordon."
Come on lie. Work! Work!
"Uh huh, is that so?"
Crap! Lie failed!
Tim sighed and slumped back into his chair, "I don't know. Probably scoping out the guy whose profile we found in the data stock you recovered."
"Who was it?"
A long pause followed.
Dick frowned, "Tim."
The boy fought to keep his mouth in a straight line, "He told me not to tell you."
Dick sighed largely but then smiled ruefully, "Alright, if it's important I'm sure I'll find out eventually."
Tim sighed in relief. His older brother hadn't resulted to the eyes. Those freaking eyes conveyed EVERYTHING and Dick had a whole arsenal of them stored away in his mind. There were the puppy-dog eyes (the most deadly) the prodding eyes (it got you to tell him everything) the Bat-Glare (criminals and allies alike were susceptible to it) the child eyes (which made attackers falter when they looked at his face) the hope shine (used to convey that whoever Dick was looking at needed to trust him completely) and then the prodigy look (only Batman EVER got that one)
He would've gone on in his mental rambling but Dick's voice interrupted his thoughts, "Come on, let's head upstairs and have a movie night!"
Tim smiled and pulled his cape off in a near rush, "So, you'll be here tomorrow too?"
The acrobat reached out and ruffled his little brother's hair with a smile, "Well, you have that play on Friday at your school. I'm planning to stick around and see my little brother steal the spotlight."
Tim blushed, darn it! Who told him? The only ones who knew about that play were-
"Alfred," Dick said with a smirk.
"I knew it!" Tim said accusingly.
"Hey, it's not every play that you're the star, and I bet Alfred will be training you harshly the next few days. You NEED a movie night beforehand trust me little bro."
Tim stalked off to change out of his uniform while muttering under his breath, "There's nothing important about this play of "Romeo and Juliet" Dick."
"Oh, I need to ask which you are. Romeo or Juliet?"
He barely dodged the birdarang that was thrown at his head.
At 2:00am The Batmobile pulled into the Batcave once again and its driver got out, a scarred frown marring his face.
"Yikes, bad mission?"
The Dark Knight reached up, pulled his cowl down and looked towards one side of the cave where the main computer was standing. Dick was sitting in a chair in front of it, a manila folder in his hands.
"Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
The younger man smirked, "Nah, when you left, Tim and I watched a movie and he went to bed but I was still restless so I came down to look into a case or two."
"Personal or for the Titans?" Bruce asked, honestly curious.
"The Lantern Corps actually."
Bruce stopped his forward advancement and his eyes narrowed, "Explain."
Dick closed the folder he had been browsing through and sat it down on a nearby clean countertop next to him, "Well, I was with the Outsiders in Malaysia at the time, we were investigating a strange dark energy surge by what the locals deemed the 'Demon-Wood' in that area. What we found though was a fight between pretty much every color lantern there was."
"And you failed to tell me about this why?"
Dick blinked, "I reported it to the League, and I assumed Superman told you at the meeting that night."
Bruce frowned, "Remind me to put kryptonite dust into his coffee tomorrow morning at our next meeting."
Dick rolled his eyes good humoredly, "Noted."
"Any other cases?"
Dick reached for another folder on a stack behind him that Bruce counted about a dozen of, "Oh plenty; though most of these solve themselves. I'm sure you know about New York's Jima Wana case."
Bruce nodded and walked over to the computer to take his normal seat beside Dick, "So you'll be in Chinatown on Saturday?"
The younger man chuckled, "Sunday. Do you honestly think I'd fall for that faux report published by the Police? Those idiots will be showing up to an empty warehouse on Saturday."
"Hmm, good job."
The younger hero didn't say anything, he just smiled and his eyes flashed that 'look' that Bruce really didn't have a word for.
"Now," Dick said, tossing the folder he had just picked up back onto the manila tower, "I can ask. Why'd you rush out of here when Tim finished decoding that personnel profile?"
"He told you?" Bruce gritted his teeth.
"Well technically, he told me that you told him not to tell me so I didn't ask."
Silence echoed back at the statement before the acrobat shrugged, "I assumed that if it was important I would find out eventually."
That was true, sooner or later he would find out. Resigned, Bruce began to speak.
"The profile was-"
"Dustin Malos?" Dick suddenly asked.
The Bat nearly started, but his eyes were enough to entertain the question.
The younger man's smile fell into a frown, "I was waiting for everything to download and I'd already taken out the guards so I kind of took a look at the data."
Bruce just shrugged.
"I should've known," he said with a shake of his head.
"So…how was your search for him?"
"You found his grave marker in the Soutch–Rais Cemetery?"
The younger hero smirked, "I kind of ran into the name a few years ago."
"And you didn't-"
Dick interrupted him, "Tell you because it was a personal case for me."
Bruce gritted his teeth and turned away from his eldest son.
"Hey, don't be so grumpy old man."
"Why do you call me that?"
Finally! He had gotten Bruce to ask!
"Eh, it's the best title got for you right now besides your name," the younger said with a shrug.
Dick chuckled, got to his feet, stretched and yawned before speaking, "I'll tell you some day."
Once again, Dick Grayson left Bruce Wayne befuddled.
Dick did tell Bruce eventually. No one guessed it could have been HERE and at this TIME though.
Gotham city was darkly quiet. Seriously, the waves that normally made sound existed were there, they were just laden down with some radiated air substance that matched the Dark Knight's creeping cape. The entire family had been returning to Gotham from a war halfway across the universe and the Bat-Clan expected to come home to a relieved butler…
That wasn't what they found.
So here Dick found himself searching the city as Nightwing. Given Tim was still unable to work past his own emotions at the moment, Dick had called Helena to help him scour the city for Bruce/Batman, called Leslie to do her doctor-thing and had called Stephanie to watch out for Tim. Maybe she could help her boyfriend where he couldn't help his little brother.
"Nightwing, you honestly expect that we can find him?" Helena asked over their communicators.
"We have to try."
Huntress groaned then spoke, "Well, he isn't on the south side of the City. I've checked every alleyway, scanned all the abandoned buildings, looked through the dark warehouses and I've been rooftop hoping for the past four hours. Now what honestly makes you believe we can find him?"
"Nothing really. We probably won't find him."
"Then why are we trying?"
"We have to."
A growl and Huntress hung up.
A warehouse, an abandon building, alleyways and rooftops? Those were all places anyone would look for the Big Black Bat. So Bruce would avoid those places at this time.
After releasing his grip on his line and landing on top of a coffee house, Dick stopped running to catch his breath. Helena may have just finished with the South, but he had already searched the North and the East sides of Gotham. Now on the beginning of a normal patrol route through the West side of the city, he forced himself to stop and think. Bruce would have reprimanded him for wasting so much time in the other areas of the city. They couldn't look for him in a normal-for-him place. There was absolutely no chance he'd be there.
Sure, crime was low tonight. Just some muggings, pickpocketing, car thievery and a store robbery he let happen. Yes, let happen because the only thing the shop owner would have to replace was the window. The criminals were apparently getting very stupid. He had watched from across the street as the men in ski masks broke in the window of an electronics store, grabbed the CARDBOARD display televisions and speakers, and then took off with a bat-tracer on their vehicle, which was an old hippy van from the 80's painted in bright neon colors. Dick had just called the police and told them the group was heading north. The GCPD could take of them.
He still had to find Bruce.
He knew where Batman would hide-but where were Bruce Wayne hide that no one would suspect?
Aggravated, the hero walked to the edge of the small building and took hold of the tall standing neon letters that faced the empty road and sighed. He would think that Bruce Wayne would be locked away in his study back at the Manor, but he had run out, and there wasn't any news bulletin about the Billionaire ending up somewhere surprisingly. He probably didn't want a big crowd anyways.
So Bruce Wayne would hide-where? Right under his nose?
Still annoyed, Dick took a deep breath and took a hold of the top of a giant neon T of the coffee shop's sign and leaned forward. Intending to push off of the base of the sign with his feet and continue searching endlessly. That's when he found him. INSIDE THE COFFEE SHOP!
So he kind of hung there for a minute, ignoring the burn of the lights seeping through his gloves where he still held the top of the giant neon T. Actually, since he was finally getting a good look, he noticed the sticker on the wall behind the unmanned cash register spelled out the word, "Satchel's" and it finally clicked. Of course Bruce would be hiding here. Dick remembered David Satchel, an old counterfeiter Bruce and he had busted back in his days as the Boy Wonder. Surprisingly, the man had been one of the few criminals of the time that had willingly reformed. He had started up a coffee shop, which had done exceedingly well at first-unfortunately, the man had died a few months ago and the shop had gone to a distant nephew who knew very little about business. The place had near hit rock bottom.
The place was deserted except for the missing man in the corner. Determination burning in his eyes, Dick pushed himself back up onto the rooftop and walked back into the shadows before raising a hand to his gauntlet and pushing a button to call his motorcycle to the next street over. A rapid vaulting of rooftops, a quick change in the shadows by pulling his civilian clothes (which had been in his motorcycle's saddle-bag for lack of a better term) over his outfit before removing his gloves and pulling off his mask to stow away in a hidden pocket inside his jacket and then a quick 45 second ride around the curb allowed him to be seen as any normal citizen of Gotham city wanting some kind of caffeine boost.
The stupid little bell above store doorways rung as he walked into the quaint room and Dick found that the whole place could be mistaken for being deserted if the lights were turned off. Heck, it was quieter than the Manor. Bruce, sitting alone in the corner of the place tensed and Dick could see the obvious signs in his straitened shoulders and clenched fists.
"How in the world did you find me?"
Dick wanted to yell but he bit his lip and attempted to speak softly as he walked over to the small two seat table, "Call it dumb luck."
When he finally sat down, the walk over those few feet felt like it had taken forever, a bushy, blonde-haired beauty was suddenly beside the table, "Hi, welcome to Satchel's would you like to sample our new Snapple Cappuccino?"
So stupid, only the human race would think of it.
But Dick smirked and spoke, "Sure, Amelia. It sounds refreshing."
When the woman had near skipped back into the kitchen, Dick felt more than saw Bruce glaring at him, "What?"
"I was not flirting!"
Bruce himself had his hands wrapped around a Styrofoam cup holding black coffee that had long grown cold.
"You should be back at the Manor with Tim."
Dick scoffed, "I'm sure Stephanie can help him more than I can and I already called Leslie. Everyone else has gone home."
Bruce raised an eyebrow, "Under whose orders?"
"Mine. Want to challenge it?" the younger man said with a glare.
The elder said nothing as the blonde skipped back in with Dick's order, smirking seductively. Crap, had he been flirting? He couldn't remember.
"Your Cappuccino Mr. Grayson."
Great they knew him. Of course he had been in Gotham for some time. He hoped the Titans were holding up well.
"Thank you, Amelia," he said with a smile, taking the drink from a bronze stained tray the woman was holding out before the gold curls disappeared back into the kitchen again in a flash.
Bruce was glaring at him again.
"Look Bruce, thanking a waitress for a drink is not flirting."
"How do you know her?"
"I don't!" the younger protested.
Dick scowled, which was kind of frightening, even to his companion, "Bruce, she's wearing a name tag!"
It got quiet again.
Oh my goodness, he hadn't just noticed something Bruce had overlooked, right?
Dick sighed, set down his drink and threw up his hands, "Come on Bruce, you're completely out of it."
The younger man bit his lip and reached for his drink. Hmm…surprisingly fruity in smell and taste. Not too bad. Something told him though, that the waitress had probably made it herself. He didn't hear anything else in the kitchen except the hum of the woman's voice and he doubted that Daniel Satchel, the nephew that had inherited the business, had had enough creativity to think it up and market it. Maybe the old place would make a comeback?
Like how he was waiting for the old man to make a comeback.
"Come on Old Man. Alfred probably didn't even know himself."
"Well OK, I know that's a bit of a stretch but-it's happened Bruce. Don't treat his death like you did Jason's."
"How didn't I notice?" Bruce asked, his brooding mood definitely the one forward in this conversation.
"Alfred is the world's best actor-what did you expect?"
"Still, to hide everything without anyone noticing...he must have known."
"Maybe he did, maybe he just didn't know when. Leslie can hopefully give us the full diagnostic later."
"Was calling Leslie such a good idea?"
Dick's voice dropped to a whisper, "I would have called 911 as usual but then I'd have to explain to the emergency squad why The Boy Wonder was curled up in our hallway crying his eyes out."
Bruce gulped, "Tim."
"He's fine. Like I said, Stephanie's with him."
Once again, silence blanketed the two of them.
The older man was just staring past his eldest son's head so Dick set down his drink, reached out and pushed on his foster-father's shoulder, "Snap out of it!"
This time Bruce's head did snap up, "Did you-"
"Yes, and now that you've snapped out of it, will you please STAY out of it?"
The elder said nothing in response.
Dick groaned, "You're impossible."
"Tell me Dick, do you still mourn your parents?"
Really wrong time to take a drink of that Snapple Cappuccino…
Dick coughed, "What kind of a question is that?"
"An honest one and I hope I get an honest answer."
Crap. He could tell the truth or tell Bruce what he expected to hear, that's what he normally ended up doing anyways.
"Of course I do, but I don't cry over it anymore. I've had you, Alfred, Jason, Tim, Clark, etc…I don't feel like going through everyone…why are you asking?"
"No reason," Bruce said quietly.
UGH! This conversation was going nowhere!
"You need to come back to the Manor," Dick finally said before dropping his voice again, "ALL of us need to get our alibis strait for when they start asking questions."
"Do you know what that was Dick?"
"Leukemia. We've seen it enough. That's why I figured you were here, David Satchel died of the same thing."
Bruce closed his eyes and spoke softly, "One of our few successful cases where a criminal gave up the life."
The distant clank of a high heel on a large tin object and fading footsteps, told the two that the woman was walking out back, probably to take out the garbage.
"Why did you call me-"
Dick interrupted, "It worked to snap you out of it. Besides, aren't you?"
"I never know Dick. You tell me."
The younger hated how hollow Bruce's eyes appeared to be.
Dick breathed deeply and braced himself. One of those truth times that didn't come along too often.
"Bruce, I'm all for heart to heart talks but I know you aren't."
The younger man scoffed, "I don't even know why you're asking when it's so plainly obvious to apparently everyone."
"If it's obvious, tell me."
"Tell you what? That's it's obvious you're my father? You tell me, did I dream up the adoption?"
How the heck had they even gotten on this subject?
Bruce listened for a moment; the woman was talking to someone outside. No voice was answering. It was a cell phone conversation obviously.
"No. You didn't."
Silence settled around them again, Bruce taking a drink of his cold coffee and holding back a distasting flinch.
Oh forget it! Dick hated these silences.
"I get it Bruce, I do. You're thinking of what Alfred was to all of us, so you are, in turn, trying to puzzle out what you are to all of us. For some reason you've never felt at peace with my answer."
"I've never felt at peace with my position in your life."
Oh my gosh! Had Bruce actually just uttered that sentence?
"What position?" Dick asked.
Another drink of cold coffee, "You tell me."
ARG! How he suddenly wanted to pick up the table and hit his companion over the head with it!
"Fine. You want the truth? Here it is! The ONLY reason I don't refer to you as my father, even though you ARE, is not because of John Grayson or anyone or anything else, it's because you were always much more than just my father."
Bruce's eyes snapped to the wall at his side, but Dick could tell he was still listening. They just didn't want to look at each other, so he let his eyes fall to the pattern across the table they were sitting at.
"When my parents were murdered I needed a lot of things and you became everything I needed when I needed it: a kind stranger, a friend, a brother, a teacher, a partner, an ally, a hero and above all else, a father. That's the truth, now you know. So what now?"
"Are you going to keep sitting here, brooding over your cold coffee?"
When Dick looked back up, he hadn't expected to see Bruce leaning forward, his head bowed and eyes shut tightly.
The younger man pretended not to hear the choke in his voice, sighed and pushed his own batch of caffeine to the side before watching his own fists before his face clenching and unclenching.
He was really gone. No heartbeat, no breath, cold body. Dead for hours in his own bed.
Dick forced himself to reach over and place his hand on top of his father's, "When people make up a word for all of that-I'll have something to call you other than just, 'Bruce.'"
The door in the back of the store reopened, the blonde continuing her phone conversation as she reentered the kitchen.
"Come on Old Man, let's go home."
My challenge for this story was emotional play. So, I only have one question:
At the end of this, how do you feel?
Not so sure this turned out as well as it could, I just couldn't bring myself to make it too fluffy.