"But, I wanna wait for dad!"
"I know, James, but you've got school tomorrow. You need your rest; off with you."
James Gordon, Jr. crossed his arms and puffed out his cheeks in annoyance, standing in front of the couch. Barbara was draped across the sofa, groggily rubbing her eyes as sleep beckoned for her. It was getting harder to stay awake, but she'd determined to wait for her father to get home.
The biggest obstacle in her path at the moment was her kid brother, who wanted to stay up with her. She'd seen the kid sleep through things much more important than school if he got his rest disrupted, and she didn't want to be the one responsible when his principal came calling.
How does Mom deal with this brat? She wondered. She noticed that the boy's cheeks were turning a curious shade of purple. Oh, great. He's holding his breath.
She just arched an eyebrow and waited for him to ride out his hissy fit. It didn't last very long before he spat out his breath, and panted, "You said you would tell me why you got beat up if I went to bed!"
Barbara sighed, pressing her index and middle fingers up against her forehead, leaning into the tips. The pressure felt soothing, in its odd little way. She flicked the hand away, gesturing idly with it as she propped herself up on her other arm to look at him. "Well, yeah, but I won't know you've held up your end of the bargain until you actually go to bed. I'll tell you at breakfast, now please, just go to sleep."
James glared at her, but the little flickering in his eyes told her that she'd won. He began to slink way, slowly moving up the stairs and back to his room. She sighed in relief, resting her head on the sofa arm and staring at the bland ceiling. God, what a day. It felt so distant now, she could hardly believe it was real. But she had a briefcase in her room hat was proof that it had happened. There had been more tragedy than she ever wanted to think about again.
But there were bright notes, in it all. She'd made a new friend. She and Dick hadn't talked much on the ride back, but that felt all right to her. There wasn't anything that needed to be said. The silence was calming, peaceful. She had left the limousine wordlessly, only waving and smiling back to Alfred and the young boy as they drifted off into the waiting darkness of Gotham City.
She'd found James waiting for her. But it hadn't taken much to get him out of the way. With her mother not due back home for another week or so, the only thing left to do was wait for…
A jingling of keys outside the door alerted her. She flipped herself around an sat up in her seat, staring at the door the same moment her father stepped in, seeing her there.
She hopped up and took a step closer, unable to believe what she was seeing. Her father stepped forward as well, into the light of their home and shutting the door. He was a barely-treated shamble of injuries, coated in gauze that had been stained red in a dozen spots. His arm was hanging limply, like it'd hurt if it so much as twitched. The look of shock on his face told her that he was getting a similar impression from her.
They stood like that, just a few feet apart, for quite some time. Frozen in the middle of their actions, examining the terrible injuries they'd each sustained.
As a minute, be it the first or fifteenth clicked by on the clock on the wall, Barbara smiled. Her lips split apart, and slowly but surely a few small chuckles grew into a loud, happy laugh. Her father joined in a second later, and they embraced, guffawing so much that their sides hurt.
Jim barely managed to choke out "I guess your day was as bad as mine, huh?"
Barbara squeezed him tighter and chuckled back, "You have no idea, Dad."
He put his hand on her shoulder and pushed her back far enough so he could get a good look at her face. "Barbara," he asked quietly. "I didn't get as much information as I'd have liked… is everything okay? If there's anything you want to talk about…"
Barbara grinned and hugged her father again, shaking her head. "I'd just like to stay like this a little longer, if that's okay."
Jim chuckled, patting her on the head before tucking it beneath his chin. "Sure thing, angel. Sure thing."
Dick Grayson laid in a bed that was softer than anything he'd ever felt. It was like he was suspended on a cloud. He hated it. It reminded him of the sensation he felt flying through the air, waiting for the moment his mother would grab him by the wrists to toss him even higher into the sky. The roar of the cheering fans, the flashing lights of cameras… none of that. None of that would ever come again.
He stared at the warm, earthy tones of the ceiling, his legs crossed. The realization was sinking in slowly, like a great weight pressing down with subtle, patient force. Everything was gone. His family, his home, his life. His things were strewn around him, but he was in a strange place, with admittedly strange people. But not so strange.
He'd known Bruce and Barbara for a single day, and yet, it was a strange thought to know that they were the closest friends he had, outside of the circus. Bruce had been gone when he came back with his bags, and he had shared few words with Barbara since. Yet the connection was there. He couldn't tell what his life would be like here. But it was a life, and that was a start.
A gentle rapping at the door alerted him to the butler standing in the frame, looking in. Dick soundlessly hopped off the bed and approached as Alfred brought in his last bag, setting it beside the door.
"I believe that's everything, Master Grayson. Is there anything else you require at the moment? I'm not sure if you're one for cider, but—"
"I'm good, thank you Mr. Pennyworth." Dick assured him, bowing slightly before reaching into the bag. He peeked inside to check its contents before zipping it back up, for the moment. "But if it's all right, could you just call me Dick? It feels kinda weird, all the formality."
"As you wish." Alfred replied with an accommodating grin. The butler coughed, clearing his throat as he determined the best way to broach the topic that needed to be broached.
"I can only imagine what you're going through right now, Dick, and I know that this house can feel very empty at times. But, please do remember, Master Bruce and I will be here for you for anything."
Dick's face sombered, and he nodded quickly. "I'll be fine." He assured Pennyworth. "I'm just… gonna need some time. It's weird to think about."
He sighed, and let his shoulders droop. "I'm all alone, now."
Alfred's face scrunched up in an expression of hurt that went deeper than the present situation. He bent down and put his hand on Dick's shoulder, looking him square in the eye.
"Dick, eight years ago there was a boy standing in the same spot that you are now. And right now, I'm going to tell you something that I wish every day of my life I'd told that little boy: I believe, with every ounce of strength in my heart, that you'll never be alone again."
Grayson smiled, sadly and weakly. But a smile nonetheless. Alfred smiled back, and straightened his posture. He moved for the door, saying, "I've left some tea out for you, if you get thirsty. If you require any food, just let me know. Goodnight, Dick."
Alfred's faint footsteps gently carried off into the recesses of the mansion, leaving Dick to whisper "Goodnight" to an empty room. He stood still for a moment, unsure of what to do, when a blip from his laptop caught his attention. He'd received a new message. He hopped over, leaping onto the bed and checking who it was from.
A link sat in the chatbox, an image from one of his common chat room pals. He read the message as he waited for the image to open.
"I still say the cape looks better with the yellow on the outside, too, but hopefully this is what you're looking for." read the words of KRayn87. A moment later, the whole image was loaded. Dick nodded as he took in the details. It was perfect.
Another knock. He looked up, and this time it was Bruce in the door.
"Hey." Wayne said. Dick nodded at him.
Bruce stepped in, looking around slowly. He seemed lost in thought, like memories were flooding back to him. "We haven't used this room since I was a kid. It was just wasted space; are you liking it?"
"Yeah, it's… it's nice." Dick said. Honestly, it was rather intimidating. A strange room was bad enough, but this place had more than half the square-footage of his entire trailer. He wasn't used to this much space. "What did you use it for? Before, I mean?"
Bruce scratched his chin, trying to think back to those days. "I think… I think it might have been a guest room, actually. I remember my father always bringing visitors to this room to put their things. A lot of relatives and stuff."
"Oh." Dick replied. He smacked himself in his head, he needed to say more.
"L-listen, I'm not very good with this sort of thing, but… I want to thank you. Really. You didn't have to do this."
"No, I did." Bruce told him, holding a hand out to stop him. "After today, I'd never be able to live with myself if I didn't do something."
The boy walked over, sitting down on the bed, looking towards the wall. "I'm in a position a lot of people only dream about. If I can put my talents, my possessions to use in some way to help, then I can't just let it go to waste."
Dick stared at him for a moment, absorbing that statement. "You really believe that, don't you?"
"Yeah," Bruce murmured. "I do." He turned himself around to look at the newest resident of Wayne Manor, and leaned forward just a bit. "So if there's anything—anything—that I can do, tell me."
Dick pursed his lips, assessing his words. "There's one thing."
Dick's countenance took on a startling severity. "This… thing you're doing. Batman. Helping people. I want in. I want you to train me."
Bruce didn't say anything. A painful silence gripped the room and choked the breath from it. As he waited for an answer, Dick began to fidget nervously, frustration growing. He was ready to yell, and demand some kind of response.
Bruce's voice was so quiet it was nearly a whisper.
"You'll need a name."
Grayson's response was instantaneous, swiveling the laptop around to show the screen to Bruce. The image he'd received from his friend was on display. A suit, sleek and stylish, made of reds blacks and yellows. But most striking was the bright yellow R inscribed on the suit's breast. The boy's face was frowning, his brow furrowed into a semblance of anger.
Bruce could see the tears that this expression was trying to hide.
"Robin. My name will be Robin."
"Things have not gone according to plan."
The voice of the brash young man was strong, and loud in such an enclosed space. Between the floors of Gotham's towers, beady eyes stared from pale white masks at their ilk, gathered around a table hastily. There were events to discuss, plans to adjust. Foremost in all their thoughts was the newest face in Gotham. The symbol that now flew in their night skies.
An older man called back to the boy, "Do not speak out of turn. There is no such thing as a plan going exactly as planned. These developments were to be anticipated."
"How so?" the young one called back, defiantly. He rose from his chair, palm slamming to the table as he gestured to the strange new world outside. One stalked by bats. "Our operative is dead."
"We never needed Floyd Lawton." A crinkly, old woman's voice crooned. "He has a daughter. We shall send her the money we promised her father. She will know what to do with it."
"And besides!" a portly man bellowed with booming tones. "The Graysons are dead, either way. This city works in beautiful ways, as I'm sure you'll learn. A new dark disease behind every corner, waiting for the right catalyst."
The youngest man sat down, shaking his head, still unsure of it all but forced to relent. "But so many uncounted variables… we never anticipated the second Bat. And now he's gotten his hands on the last Grayson. I say it's time we took action. We should wake the T—"
"Calm yourself." Came the voice of their head. All the muttering voices shut up at once to direct their attention at him. His relaxed poise exuded casual authority. He need not try to exert himself; they already bowed to him without effort. "Our weapon shall sleep for a bit longer. We have other agents at our disposal."
The shadowed figure slid an object across the table to the upstart. He picked it up and examined it carefully. A deck of cards.
"You know what that means, yes? Go and fetch them. Now."
The youth frantically bowed to his master and dashed from the room and out of sight. The silhouette shook his head slowly. "Such exuberance, yet tempered by ignorance. The Batman's nest grows, but he can see only one branch of a grand old tree. This city is older and deeper than he will ever know. Than he could ever know. Let him try and untangle the gnarled roots. Perhaps he will be of use to us. Slade has eluded our grasp, and there are whispers of something else lurking in our shadows. We shall stay back, and allow these forces to collide, and guide the results. Until then…"
He leaned forward, and the light illuminated his mask, as snow-white and featureless as the others. But his hair was as white as the mask, and hints of his skin could be seen around the edges. Skin as gray as the rainclouds over Gotham.
"Until then, keep your ears to the ground. I would know everything that goes on in my Court."
Rain tapped lightly on the window panes. Remil Sionis was sitting on the sofa, staring outside. The TV was off, so he could better hear the rain. He popped an Oreo into his mouth and slowly chewed. He could faintly make out the sound of snoring, as his roommate slumbered on, unhindered by the events of the night.
He had seen it. Everyone had seen it. The yellow blot of light in their sky, and the bat that inhabited it. They had been shown a new order. A new owner of the night. He smiled. The words of his friend echoed in his mind, of the boy she'd known. He repeated them quietly.
"Find what I want… what the world needs. And do that."
He silently looked toward her room, thanking her and wishing her well in her dreams. And then he looked back outside. Red eyes blinked, and watched the rain peacefully drop to the world below. He smiled.
"I think I can do that."