Hello! Thanks you for your reviews.
I hope you like the second chapter.
Disclaimer: I don't own Batman.
When Dick got to the kitchen and smelled Alfred's mouth-watering pancakes, he knew he was totally screwed.
He managed to wash his costume and his hair before going back to Gotham (though he could swear he still smelled the spice!), but his nose was another story. It was swollen and black and it hurt like hell!
"That damn brat! There I was trying not to hurt him and he breaks my nose. Batman is gonna have my head for that!"
There was no way he could hide this from Alfred or Bruce, so Dick took a deep breath and entered the kitchen.
"Good morning, Alfred!" Dick said with a wide grin.
"Good morning, Mast… My Goodness! Master Richard, what happened to your nose?" Alfred cried out, running to the boy and checking his injury.
Alfred. Where would they be without him to look after them?
"I'm fine, Alfred! Really! It's not as bad as it looks" Dick said, wincing a bit when the butler touched his nose.
"It doesn't look like it's broken. Are there other wounds that I shouldn't be worried about?"
"No, just the nose" the boy said, purposely reaching for his breakfast and avoid Alfred sincere gaze of worry. It always made Dick's stomach twist with guilt. "It wasn't a big deal. I just ran against something."
"Was that something a fist?"
If it wasn't for his Robin training, Dick would have jumped from his chair. Bruce Wayne walked silently as a ghost and stared hard at his ward's swollen nose.
"It was a recon mission" Bruce said, his eyes cold as a block of ice and just as hard. "I wasn't informed that the team was under attack."
Dick shook his head. "No. We weren't under attack. Everything went according to plan and we gathered the data we needed… it's in your computer by the way. Artemis and I… we sort of bumped into a robbery on your way there."
Bruce crossed his arms around his chest. He didn't need to say a word; Dick knew he had to tell the whole story now. Great.
"We found four thieves trying to blow up a safe on a grocery store here in Gotham. Artemis and I disabled them in less than a minute and called the police" the Boy Wonder explained. "I heard noises coming from another room and I assumed it was another thief, so I told Artemis to stay with the others while I tried to take him out. When I opened the door, I grabbed him but… he was a kid. It took me by surprise."
Bruce's eyes lost the bat glare and his expression soften slightly into something similar to shock and confusion.
"Yeah… A really small one too. Nine? Ten years old? I'm not sure. Anyway, he was trying to get away and wouldn't stop kicking, but I didn't want to hurt him. I swear, his arms felt like twigs. But then he punched me. I shouldn't have underestimated him; I never thought someone that skinny could throw a punch like that. I let go of him at the same time Artemis got in the room and I guess he must have panicked because he threw a cupboard full of flour and other stuff over me and left through the air vent. By the time we got outside, he was gone and I couldn't find a trace."
Bruce nodded and closed his eyes while Alfred shook his head sadly.
"Poor child. To be forced into a life of crime at such a young age…" the kind butler whispered, pouring them tea. "The world truly is cruel sometimes."
"There have been reports of an increase of juvenile delinquents in Gotham" Bruce said. "There are more and more children on the streets every day. Most of them come from families with a criminal history."
The way Bruce said it, made it look like there was something Batman could do about it, but he wasn't that naïve. He could scare the criminals and probably dissuade some of those kids from committing a few crimes, but that didn't solve the problem. They were still in the streets and they would grow up to do wrong, turning into the criminals Batman fought in the future.
"Never let your guard down while on patrol, Dick" Bruce told him with his infamous bat glare. "You know that you can't be fooled by appearances, even if your opponent is a child."
Dick wanted to tell his mentor that he wasn't fooled by the kid; he just thought he could go easy on him, but he knew there was no arguing while Bruce was on Batman-Mode.
"I'm sorry. It won't happen again" the boy said, eating his pancakes.
The breakfast went on silently until Alfred brought Bruce the newspaper with a hint of a smile in his lips. "I suppose we won't be expecting you for lunch, Master Bruce?"
The black haired man frowned at the butler and continued reading the news paper. "No, you won't."
Alfred nodded. "Very well, sir. Please let me know if you plan on bringing Miss Vale to the Manor. I'll make sure to prepare dinner. Miss Vale seemed to enjoy the Tiramisu last time she visited us."
Dick almost choked on his tea and stared at Bruce wide eyed. "Vale? As in Vicki Vale? The reporter who keeps criticizing Batman on the news every single night? That Vicki Vale?"
Bruce purposely refused to look up from the newspaper. "Yes."
"Miss Vale invited Master Bruce for lunch" Alfred explained, clearly enjoying the way his boss's frown grew.
"But…? I thought you and Selina…" since Bruce grabbed the newspaper a little too tight, Dick immediately changed the topic. "Why would you go on a date with her? Isn't that awkward? She hates you."
"She disapproves the existence of Batman and his acts of vigilantism" Bruce explained. "She has no problem with Bruce Wayne. Besides, it's not a date" he glared at Alfred. "She wants to talk to me about a few projects in which Wayne Enterprises could invest. Don't you have to go to school, Dick?"
Dick and Alfred exchanged glances and smirked. That was Bruce's way to tell them to stay out of his business and if he wanted to go out with an attractive woman who also happened to hate his secret alter-ego, that was his problem.
Long after Dick was gone, Bruce dropped the newspaper. It was just him and Alfred in the sunny kitchen that had always been Alfred's territory in the Manor since Bruce could remember.
"I'll be on Crime Alley tonight" the man said. "Unless there's an emergency, I would like my whereabouts to be unknown."
Alfred stopped washing the dishes and faced his master with sadness in his eyes. "You don't have to go to that dreadful place every year, Master Bruce."
It was a conversation they had been having for years. Every year, on the night of Thomas and Martha Wayne's death, Batman went to the alley behind the theater where they were murdered and then he would patrol the place, daring any criminal to show his face.
"I know I don't have to, Alfred" Bruce said. "I'm going because I need to."
Alfred wished he could tell his master not to go, that nothing good ever came from remembering that tragic night, but he knew there was no stopping Bruce just like he knew he would never leave his side.
"Very well, Master Bruce. Master Richard and I will be here waiting for your return" the butler said, placing a warm hand on Bruce's shoulder. "Please have a lovely lunch with Miss Vale."
Bruce wasn't expecting Vicki not to mention Batman. Actually, he had a few lines rehearsed in case she asked for his opinion or worse, an interview, about the Dark Knight.
The first half hour went by pretty well. Vicki was ambitious, but she wasn't a bad person or a bad reporter. She genuinely cared about Gotham and Bruce liked her (very attractive too!). Still, Bruce couldn't help but cough when their conversation about charity balls suddenly turned into a debate about Batman using a child like Robin to fight crime.
"You want me to what?" Bruce asked.
"Chair the committee of concerned citizens against the Batman" the red haired woman repeated softly but unwavering.
"Vicki, you know that I put my money and my reputation on the line, when it comes to a worthy cause, but…"
Vicki smiled and drank a gulp of water. "We don't need your money… Just your good name."
"I serve on the boards of any number of socially concerned organizations…" Bruce added.
"And you've invested much of your money in Hospitals and free clinics around the city" the young reporter interrupted. "You're a humanitarian."
"Why don't you just say it, Vicki? I'm a classic victim of liberal guilt."
Vicki nodded and stared at Bruce. "I think a man who was orphaned by gunfire, only to inherit a fortune built on munitions has a right to feel a little guilty. Who better than Bruce Wayne to understand and take a stand against the violence of a Batman?" the young reporter almost spat the word. "Violence which can only lead to more violence?"
Bruce almost sighed. It was true that Batman needed to use violence, but what would happen if he didn't?
"Yeah, well, it seems to me that without Batman this city would be a helluva lot more violent."
Vicki frowned and shook her head in disbelief. "You're always defending that Halloween hooligan! He's a menace. He's even forcing a young boy to fight crime with him. How disturbing is that?"
"We don't know if Robin is being forced to fight" Bruce answered, staring attentively at an elderly couple and the young man who had clearly just stolen the old man's wallet. "Excuse me."
In a matter of seconds, Bruce ran to the thief and accused him of stealing the wallet. Obviously he ended up fighting and even let the thug punch him the face before "failing" to tackle him, though not before he managed to get the wallet back.
"Bruce!" Vicki cried out, helping him get up. "You were foolish to get involved… But I love you for it!"
Bruce touched his throbbing jaw and smiled. "I'm still not chairing that committee…"
Vicki chuckled and grabbed him by the arm. "Why didn't any of these other upstanding citizens pitch in and help you?"
"What? And be called fascist vigilantes by the media?"
The old man who had been robbed ran towards them, his face red with worry. "Are you alright?"
"Yes" Bruce answered, giving the wallet back. "Here's your wallet. Somehow in the scuffle I managed to get hold of it."
After accepting the old man's gratitude, Bruce walked Vicki to his car.
"Are you going to be alright?" the young woman asked, glancing worriedly at his injured face. "We can go to an emergency room…"
"And put a cold compress on my bruised ego? No thanks…" Bruce answered, though he was pretty sure his face was all over the internet by now. Joy. "Give you a lift somewhere?"
"Thanks, no" Vicki said, crossing her arms over her chest. "I don't think you'd much enjoy driving me down to Crime Alley."
The billionaire's blue eyes widened with surprise. "Crime Alley? What takes you there, of all places?"
"A story, what else?" Vicki said, leaning against his car with her usual confident smile. "We're doing a follow-up on that controversial school that's opened down there."
Bruce blinked and his lips slowly turned into a smile. "Oh, yes… I've followed that on the news. Ma Gunn's School for Boys. How is the old girl's battle with the powers-that-be coming along?"
"Pretty well. The media has publicized her back-to-basics approach… But because she shelters runaways without cooperating with social agencies, 'the old girl' has her enemies" Vicki explained, her eyes pleading to Bruce. "You ought to consider giving her some funding, Bruce… the school is accredited, you know… Ma Gunn was a teacher in Australia for years."
While driving home from his lunch with Vicki, Bruce couldn't help but wonder how ironic that the reporter would invoke Crime Alley on that day. The past seemed to be pulling him towards that place.
When he got to the Manor, he learned that Dick was at Barbara's house working on a school project. Apparently everyone had been very curious about his nose, since they all knew Dick Grayson wasn't the kind of boy who got into fights.
Alfred tried to make the evening as normal as possible, constantly asking about Bruce's lunch with Vicki Vale and clearly disappointed that his master didn't invite her to the manor. The butler had apparently made his life's mission to see his master settle down. At this point, Bruce suspected Alfred would set him up with a chimpanzee just to get him to date and socialize.
There would be no socializing tonight.
Batman left the Batcave as soon as the sun went down and drove silently to Crime Alley, his mind lost in his memories of his parents and the night that changed his life forever.
He parked the Batmobile near the closed theater and walked to the same place where his parents had been shot. As he touched the ground where their blood had been, he remembered the boy he was and how helpless and guilty he felt. If he hadn't made them take a shortcut, if he had been brave enough to face the thief, if only he had been stronger and bigger and able to fight…
Slowly, Batman stood up and walked to the dirty street. Bruce Wayne wasn't able to help anyone that night, but Batman had the strength to do it now.
Unfortunately, it seemed that every criminal was aware of his arrival. The word was out on Crime Alley and no one dared to make a move on the night the Batman always visited that hellhole.
The Dark Knight sighed. He needed to make a few surprise visits to this place.
Like everyone on Crime Alley, Jason knew tonight was the Bat's night.
The streets were all but silent. There would be no drug dealing, no hookers waving in the corners, no robberies… It was perfect for him.
Grabbing his tire iron, the black haired boy opened a window and came down the fire escape. He wasn't afraid of the Big, Bad Bat like they all were. Who said he was really going to show up? Maybe it was all a lie to keep them inside and scared like wusses.
Tonight he didn't have to worry about competition or being knifed, all he had to do was get the tires as fast as he could so he could sell them.
After finding his first car, Jason got down to work. He didn't feel guilty, if those people could afford nice cars, they could buy new tires. But to a street kid like him, those tires made the difference between being hungry or eating.
He needed the money. He needed to eat and he wasn't gonna hide just because there was a crazy guy out there dressed like a bat.
Therefore, Jason worked all night kneeling in the mud, his face and hands filled with oil and taking the tires to his apartment before going to steal the next ones. Unfortunately, Crime Alley had a bad reputation and almost no one ever parked their car there anymore. By the time the sun was rising, Jason had only stolen tires from two cars.
The boy walked to the old theater, desperately trying to find more cars. Eight tires weren't enough and those weren't even in good shape. All that work and the old guy was gonna laugh in his face and refuse to pay him.
That was when he saw it.
At first, the boy didn't want to believe his eyes but… it was! It was the Batmobile! He recognized it from the TV and the papers. That was Batman's car!
Slowly, Jason walked to the car until he was close enough so see his reflection. It really was a cool car! The coolest he had ever seen.
In awe, the boy reached out and his fingers touched the black metal. He was expecting some sort of alarm or a trap, but the car stayed quiet.
Jason stared at his tire iron. How much money could he make with those tires? Batman's tires! They had to be worth a fortune.
But… it was Batman's car! It was insane to steal his tires! It was bad enough that he had punched Robin. How could he steal his tires?
Still, they were Batman's tires!
Kneeling on the ground, Jason Peter Todd, age eleven, proceeded to remove the first tire of the Batmobile. He kept expecting the car to electrocute him or turn into a giant robot and fry him, but it came out just like the other tires he had stolen.
"See? Batman is not that special!" Jason thought, happily taking the first of the tires to his apartment.
The next two tires came out just as easily and the boy ran to the Batmobile for the last time to finish his job.
"Unreal!" a low voice said, forcing Jason to stop and look around.
Since he didn't see anyone, kid silently walked to the car until a dark figure suddenly loomed over him, almost making him lose his balance and scream.
"Well… Come to finish the job, boy?"
Jason's eyes widened like saucers as his mind realized who he was talking too. Batman, the real Dark Night, was standing right in front of him and looking extremely pissed.
Here's the iconic scene of Jason trying to steal the tires of the Batmobile. You would think Batman had an alarm, huh?
The dialogue was based on Batman #408, when Jason first appeared.