Summary: Dick Grayson arrives at Wayne Manor, a cold empty place, shortly after his parents' murder: A re-telling of the Boy Wonder's well-known origin story.
Acknowledgements: Some ideas and dialogue borrowed from Batman: Dark Victory #8; All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #9; Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #100; Gotham City map/points of interest from Batman: Gotham City Secret Files and Origins #1; The Brave and the Bold #28; BTAS: Robin's Reckoning S2E2; The Sandman #1. [Additional notes at the end.]
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: October 2012
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
(More) Pressing Matters
by Syl Francis
[Mon., 21 Dec./0045 EST]
The dark Gotham alley echoes with the sounds of fighting: flesh pounding flesh, surprised grunts, and cries of pain. These are accompanied by the occasional loud crash of a body being slammed against a metal dumpster and the distinctive whirr of a batarang flying toward an unsuspecting target.
The overcast winter night refuses to give up its denizens, barely allowing the rare glimpse of shadowy figures moving together in a deadly dance. In the center of this roiling mass, an even darker form plows through the others, quickly and methodically. Finally, after several minutes of urban warfare, the alley once again lies still.
The moon chooses this particular moment to break through the thick cloud cover. As it does, its silvery beams suddenly expose the six unconscious bodies, strewn haphazardly along the icy, snow-covered alleyway. If a passerby were to look closely, he might see that the men are each trussed up like Christmas turkeys, wrists and ankles secured by plastic tie wraps.
Of course, the onlooker might miss the silent black shadow in the shape of a man-sized bat swoop up the side of the five-story building and disappear among the Gotham City rooftops.
As the moon once again slips behind its dark cloud cover, the wail of approaching sirens acts as a reminder to all potential eyewitnesses that in Gotham, it is always better to mind one's own business. Besides, it is the winter solstice, the darkest night of the year. In Gotham, that's never a good thing…
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
It was past midnight. The city's numerous skyscrapers glittered like finely cut diamonds under the overcast night sky. Batman pensively stood watch over his city. The previous night's snowstorm had blanketed the city streets and dark alleyways in a pristine veil of white.
The Old Girl almost looks like a blushing bride, he thought. Except for the drug deal that he'd broken up earlier, it was a quiet night. Not a creature was stirring, he thought facetiously, not even a bat-signal. Perhaps it was time to call it a night—or morning—depending on your point of view.
He thought of the small boy he'd left safely tucked in bed a few hours earlier. His harsh jawline softened slightly.
When Bruce Wayne made the spur-of-the-moment decision to assume custody of Dick Grayson earlier that year, he thought that he'd only be providing him with the basic necessities—a roof over his head, a warm bed, and food on the table. Of course, other needs that only a man of his considerable means could provide were understood: a topnotch education, first-rate medical and dental care, and a (stratospheric) trust fund.
Plus, Wayne Manor had something even more important to offer: someone who understood what the bereaved boy needed—Alfred.
Alfred had raised Bruce after his own parents' murders. There was no one more qualified to help the boy through the grieving process than the very man who had helped and guided Bruce through his.
Batman made a noise deep in his throat, a cross somewhat between a growl and a snort. A growl, he told himself sharply. He was Batman after all, and Batman did not snort.
In truth, with all of the material wealth that Bruce could provide this one special little boy, the only thing Dick needed was the one thing Bruce had been unprepared to give him: a new father.
Batman scowled as he recalled his nearly catastrophic failure in the early days of his relationship with Dick. He remembered the special performance at Haly's Circus that March, nine months ago tonight, the night when both their lives were changed forever…
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
[No Date/No Time]
In his dreams, Dick relives the fateful day—his birthday, March 21. It had been the happiest day of his life and the most tragic, the day he lost his parents. He recalls a line from a book his dad read him once, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."
He sees it in snapshots, a slideshow on fast-forward:
…His mom making pancakes, leaning down for a kiss on the cheek, her sparkling laughter indelibly imprinted in his mind.
…His spraying Elinor, the circus' star elephant, with a high-powered hose, giving her a good scrub-down for her regal appearance in the circus parade that afternoon.
…His going to Pop Haly later that morning to ask permission to ride Elinor in the parade.
The slideshow usually slows down around here, but then speeds up again when he gets to:
…Pop, a gentle, grandfatherly soul, yelling at a stranger, shaking his fist in fury. The hard-faced stranger saying something muffled., smirking knowingly, as if he's holding all the cards.
…He sees the same man later that night under the big top, shortly before the Flying Graysons are due to go on. About to say something to his dad, his mom hurries him along as Pop Haly announces them.
"Ladies and Gentlemen…Haly's Circus proudly presents the Flying Graysons! Tonight, to celebrate his eighth birthday, young Dick Grayson will perform for the first time the 'Quadruple Spin of Doom'…without benefit of a net!"
…The crowd gasps at his words at first, but then breaks out in excited cheers and loud applause. The clapping abruptly morphs into the sharp, whip-like sound of ropes snapping, while the cheers turn into horrified screams.
…He hears his mom calling his name as she slips away. "Dick!"
…He sees his dad twist his body in midair while reaching for his mom's hand. "Mary!"
…He finds himself kneeling between their bleeding, broken bodies. His dad looks at him, as if trying to speak but makes no sound. As he watches, the light in John Grayson's eyes goes out.
…His father's sightless eyes now haunt him in the dark. "Why did you let us die?" They accuse. "You knew what would happen and didn't say anything."
…He recalls the police and the reporters and the questions…lots and lots of questions.
…He remembers sitting alone on an empty bench, as a warm jacket is placed gently around his small shoulders, completely swamping him. He feels a comforting hand rest briefly on his shoulder. He looks up into a pair of kind, dark blue eyes that mirror his own pain. The jacket belongs to a dark-haired man who is very tall and very well dressed. Something flashes in the dark eyes and Dick experiences a momentary connection with him, which is quickly tamped.
…He cries out as a pinch-faced woman from Child Welfare Services forcefully takes him from Pop Haly's arms. Elinor trumpets her displeasure and heartbreak, threatening to break free from her bonds. Dick slips from the woman's grasp and runs toward Elinor, who wraps him protectively within her trunk…
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
[Sun., 12 Apr./0030 EDT]
He wakes up abruptly, shivering in the cool spring night. Unable to go back to sleep, he lies there, staring up at the ceiling, seeing everything that followed in his minds eye…
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
[Sat., Mar. 21/2345 EDT]
The woman, who introduced herself as Dr. Cunningham, demanded that Pop Haly "…Get that animal to release the boy this instant, or I'll have you up on charges!"
Frightened, Dick gently signaled Elinor to release him and walked toward the woman. Taking him by the arm, she led him to his family's trailer where she ordered him to change out of his costume. He noticed that he still had the dark-haired man's jacket around his shoulders.
While he changed, Dr. Cunningham rifled through his dresser and stuffed some odd bits of clothing into a backpack she found tucked in his tiny closet. She paused at a pair of pajamas with a Superman logo. With a shake of her head, she went ahead and threw them in as well.
He was told he wouldn't be able to bring anything else with him because of lack of space, but in an atypical act of rebellion, Dick held on to his stuffed elephant, refusing to leave it behind. Reluctantly, he laid the too-large, man-sized jacket he was still wearing on his bed and walked away.
They arrived at an imposing cinderblock building surrounded by a high chain-link fence. They stopped at the gate, where Dr. Cunningham announced herself. Apparently, they were expected, as the gate opened automatically. They drove through into the compound.
Once inside the building, Dick was made to sit and wait on a hard plastic chair. Soon, he was led down a dimly lit dingy corridor, lined with gray, numbered doors. They stopped at number 5.
"You'll be staying here, Richard, until we can make more suitable arrangements for you." Dr. Cunningham looked down at him with cool, but not entirely unsympathetic eyes.
"Why can't I stay with Pop Haly?" he asked. "The circus is my home. We're all family there."
"Metaphorically speaking perhaps," she replied with disdain. "However, no one in the circus is actually related to you. Besides, an itinerant circus is no proper place for a child. I feel…" She paused and cleared her throat. "That is to say, Child Welfare Services feels that you will be better off in a normal, stable home. You'll have your own bed to sleep in. You'll attend school. I know you'll be much happier." She gave him a bright smile that failed to reach her eyes.
"Dad always says that normal is highly overrated," Dick protested. Realizing that he had just referred to his dad in the present tense, Dick amended sadly, "I mean…he used to say that."
"Yes, well…we saw what that philosophy got him." Ignoring the boy's stricken look, Dr. Cunningham clapped her hands sharply. "Very well, time for bed. I packed you a set of pajamas and a few other necessities…toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush—that sort of thing. You can look them over tomorrow. So, I guess this is it. Have a good night's sleep, Richard. I will be checking on you in a few days."
And just like that she was gone, and for the first time in his life, Dick found himself completely alone.
The night's tragic events finally caught up to him. Lying down on the lumpy mattress, Dick folded in on himself, clutching Elinor, his toy elephant, to his chest. He curled his knees up and finally let the tears come.
His brief, but unhappy stint in the Juvenile Detention Center was the longest, most frightening week he ever had to live through. Later on, he felt that the less he remembered about those dark days, the better.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
[Fri., 27 Mar./0900 EDT]
There had been one bright spot; however, a week later he was summoned to the Office of the Chancellor. As he approached the chancellor's door, he'd been nervous at first—nothing good ever came from being called before the head of the juvenile detention center. Bravely straightening his shoulders, Dick knocked and waited.
He heard someone say, "Come in," before turning the knob.
Chancellor Simon was at his desk and seated across from him were Dr. Cunningham and the same dark-haired man he'd met at the circus. They both turned as he walked in. The dark-haired man nodded in greeting. Dick began to feel a strange, panicky feeling seeping into his body. He had left the man's jacket back in his family's trailer. He'd felt real bad about that, but Dr. Cunningham had insisted. Dick wondered if he was going have to pay for it.
He shivered, suddenly afraid. He didn't have any money. He knew that some of the boys at the JDC were there as punishment for getting in trouble. Maybe he'd be made to stay here, too, as punishment for losing the jacket.
The dark-haired man looked at him with growing concern.
"Richard, are you all right? Are you cold?" He turned to another gentleman who was also sitting in the office. Until then, Dick hadn't even noticed he was there. He had a kind face and gentle eyes. "Alfred…he's shivering." As he spoke, the dark-haired man removed his jacket and began to put it around Dick's shoulders. He had an amused glint in his eye. "Let's not be making a habit of this, shall we?"
At his words, Dick's face crumpled into tears. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I'm sorry…"
"Alfred, I don't know what—? Richard, what's the matter, buddy?"
"Here, let me, sir." Alfred went down on one knee in front of Dick and began to fuss with the oversized suit coat. He plucked a pristine handkerchief from the coat's left breast pocket and gently wiped the boy's face.
"There, there, young sir…To what do we owe this torrent of tears? I'm afraid that you've quite worried Master Bruce over there."
He gazed steadily into Dick's eyes, waiting for the boy to regain some semblance of control. When the tears and sobs finally slowed to a manageable trickle, Alfred prompted Dick with a patient look.
"I left it back in the trailer," Dick managed to whisper. "I couldn't bring it with me. I'm sorry."
Bruce and Alfred exchanged blank looks. "Left what back at the trailer, Richard?" Bruce asked softly.
"Your jacket…the one from the other night. The one you loaned me." The boy didn't dare look up to meet Bruce's gaze. "I'm sorry," he repeated.
Dr. Cunningham snorted in exasperation. "We're wasting time," she snapped. "Chancellor, Mr. Wayne, I have a very important committee meeting in another half hour, which I simply cannot miss."
"And we have a very important child's welfare to discuss, Doctor," Bruce said sharply.
"Important?" Dr. Cunningham scoffed. "He's little more than circus trash…and a gypsy, no less. Why, everyone knows they're all just a bunch of—"
"That's enough!" Bruce said, his voice dangerously quiet. He glared at her, fighting to get what Dick would later call his considerable Bat-temper under control. Months later, Bruce told Dick that at that moment, he had never felt so close to striking a civilian—a woman at that—in his life. He rose to his full, imposing height. "Alfred, why don't you take Richard outside?" Turning to Chancellor Simon, he added, "Chancellor, please have someone get Richard's things. He will not be staying here tonight."
"Now, just a minute, Mr. Wayne," Dr. Cunningham broke in. "You may be the great and powerful Oz at Wayne Corp, but I'm director of Child Welfare Services. I decide where Richard will be placed…not you."
"Funny, you should say that because I just happen to have a court order that disagrees with that statement." He checked his watch. "In fact, I believe that my lawyers should be arriving just about now with all the necessary paperwork."
His words were met with a knock at the door. Giving her a grim look of triumph, Bruce opened the door. "And by the way, need I remind you that I also serve on the board of directors of CWS? As of this moment, the Attorney General's office is investigating why the civil rights of an innocent child were violated through false imprisonment. Your incarcerating Richard here, alongside violent juvenile offenders, is not only disgraceful…it's illegal." He turned to the Chancellor. "And you, Chancellor Simon, also have a lot to answer for…for going along with this."
"Great and powerful, indeed," Alfred murmured.
It was all over but the credits.
After that, things moved quickly. Dr. Cunningham, having been served a summons, left in a huff, arguing that Mr. Wayne "wouldn't get away with this." The army of grim-faced men in dark gray suits that had trooped in a few minutes earlier, left shortly after Dr. Cunningham stormed out. However, their whole demeanor had changed. As they left, they smiled and congratulated each other, shook hands with Alfred, and even ruffled Dick's hair in passing.
To be honest, Dick hadn't fully understood what was happening. In was only when he was led to a long, black limousine waiting outside the JDC's doors that he realized he was leaving.
His happiness was short-lived.
Once he found out that he wouldn't be going back to Haly's Circus, but instead, would be going to live with Mr. Wayne, Dick again shrank back into himself. It was a long, silent drive toward Wayne Manor that day, followed by many more days that were filled with the same oppressive hush…
~ / ~ / ~ / ~
End of Part 1
Additional Notes: Thanks to my betas—Beth, Ellen, and PJ. As always their comments were critical and incisive; these ladies are professionals with the mighty editorial pen. Any mistakes you see are mine.