Author's Note: So, here is the beginning of what will be a short little three-shot, in line with the story arc containing 'To Catch A Predator,' 'Of Friends and Foes,' etc. This story takes place between 'A Weekend in Bruges' and 'Ache of Cowardice' (please see my profile for the full list and order of stories in this universe). It was inspired by a comment from AJCrane, who stated that she would like to see Bruce's reaction to the videos of Dick's childhood circus performances that were given to him on a jump drive by Clark at the very end of 'A Weekend in Bruges.' Rather than make it a straight epilogue, I decided to fast forward a bit and take a look at Bruce reminiscing about them some three years later. Happy reading!
"Damn it, where did I put those cufflinks?" Bruce muttered as he stalked out of his closet. His tuxedo jacket lay on the bed, awaiting its master as he searched for the fasteners he wanted. The ones Alfred laid out are nice, but…I'd like to wear the sapphires for this. He didn't allow himself to acknowledge the reason behind his desire; tonight's ball was a Wayne Foundation event, and with the anniversary of his parents' murder the very next day, wearing his father's favorite jewelry seemed only appropriate. Where are they… He couldn't have misplaced them, surely. They were, after all, one of his few truly cherished possessions.
His eyes fell on the small lacquered box that crowned his dresser. Oh. Right. They're where I always keep them, he berated himself for his panic. Put your head on straight, Bruce, those socialites will eat you alive otherwise… He drew up to it and let his fingertips slowly caress the pair of perfect white cranes that were locked in an eternal nuzzle on the lid. They guarded a thousand precious moments, all memorialized in the few items that not even Batman's well-armored heart would allow far from his bedside. He wasn't entirely sure he had the time, let alone the energy, to confront those ghosts tonight, and his hands hesitated. …But I want those cufflinks, he determined finally. I'll feel wrong all night otherwise.
Despite the fact that he hadn't lifted the top from the container in almost a year, he still recognized every piece inside immediately. Ticket stubs from the charity function at which his parents had first met; a heavy gold pocket watch, purchased six generations earlier and still, if wound, capable of keeping accurate time; there, the brilliant blue and silver squares he'd been searching for; scattered throughout, a few loose pearls, long ago wiped clean but forever smeared crimson in his mind. Nothing present in the jumble was less than half a century old, save one item whose vulgar plastic shine gave it away as an interloper amongst the antiques.
The billionaire, however, smiled at that coarse reminder of modernity, picking it from the pile and mingling it with the sapphires. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he opened his hand and considered what he held, the past mingling with the present in his palm. Father's cufflinks. Dick's childhood. So different, and yet… And yet equally dear, he could quite finish.
"Knock knock," came a soft voice from the doorway. Twisting around to see the person he'd already identified, Bruce slipped the jump drive into his pocket secretly, leaving only the links.
"Hey, chum. You can come in."
"I figured," the thirteen-year-old shrugged as he entered. "But I didn't want to disturb you."
"You're not disturbing me." As he spoke he worked the first half of the link set onto its hole, securing it carefully before moving on to the second. How could you? I see you so little as it is…
"…You want me to take care of things tonight?" he asked, sprawling across the mattress so that his head came to rest a few inches from Bruce's leg. It was still a relatively rare thing for Robin to be let out completely alone on the streets of Gotham; splitting up to work different cases for the evening was one thing, but Robin running the roofs while Bruce reclined at home was all but unheard of. I know what tomorrow is, the boy's face relayed gently. Batman always gets rougher right before. Too rough. He should stay in tonight. It's better for everyone that way.
…You know me – and him – too well, kiddo. Still, he gave the matter several minutes of heavy thought before answering. There's nothing big cooking this week. Joker and Two-Face are both in Arkham, and he knows what he can handle with anyone else who pops up. "You'll be cautious," he ordered. "And you'll stay out no later than two o'clock."
"And you'll stay in altogether?" he raised an eyebrow.
"…Unless you need me, yes. I'll stay in."
"Sounds good to me," he grinned. "…I've never seen those before," he cocked his head curiously as the cufflinks caught his attention.
"…I haven't shown them to you?" the billionaire frowned.
"Don't think so. I'd remember something like that. They look like the kind of thing Catwoman would give a limb for."
"Good thing she doesn't know I have them, then," he joked failingly. "Here, take a look," he offered, turning his wrist towards him.
Dick sat up and reached out, tracing a thumb around the scalloped silver frame that surrounded the gem in the center. …They match your eyes even better than they do mine, Bruce thought slowly as he watched his son examine into the stone. Imagine that.
"They're beautiful," the teen said reverently. His gaze rose to meet his guardian's. "…Your dad's?" he whispered.
"…Yeah," he nodded, looking away. "They were his." A silence drew out between them, interrupted only by the faint sounds of Dick hitching himself closer so he could lean his head against the man's shoulder. Releasing an enormous sigh that he hadn't realized he was holding in, the billionaire pulled him into a tight hug.
"…I promise I'll be super careful tonight," the boy swore. The last thing you need is to think you might lose someone else right now.
"Good," he replied fiercely. "…Thank you, Dicky," he kissed the top of his head. "Feel a little better? Sort of?" He gave a lop-sided, completely understanding smile as he pulled back. Nothing really makes you feel better on the anniversary of your parents' deaths – I know nothing really works for me, at least – but it's nice when someone at least tries.
"A little bit, yes." It was true. You do that to me. You make me believe everything will be all right, even when we're standing in the middle of hell. How do you do that?
"I'm glad." Standing, he stretched. "Well. I guess I should go get ready. No harm in getting started early, right?"
"Is your homework finished?"
"Psh, please," he rolled his eyes with a laugh. "I did half of it in the car on the way home and the rest before dinner. Alfred already checked it and said it was fine."
Of course it was fine. "Go on, then," he smiled softly, shooing him. "Go convince criminals that Gotham isn't a friendly playground."
"Maybe the Commissioner should suggest a change to the city motto. 'Gotham: Not a Friendly Playground.'" He mused for a moment. "…No, I guess the Chamber of Commerce probably wouldn't like that, huh?"
"The head of the Chamber will be at the benefit tonight. I'll have to ask him," Bruce smirked. "I'll be sure to credit the idea to you."
"Gee, thanks. I guess it doesn't hurt to get started on my reputation as an airhead before I really go out into high society," he rolled his eyes.
"People will tell an airhead anything, you know," he disclosed. "They think you won't remember it, or won't connect the dots with things they've told you in the past. It's a very useful label to be able to wear when need be."
"…I hadn't thought of it like that," he ruminated. "Huh. Good point."
"You bet it is. Now go, would you? Robin has bad guys to apprehend."
"And the world's most eligible billionaire has ladies to make swoon." He spun about once, plastering the back of his hand to his forehead and fanning himself dramatically. "I do say, Mister Wayne, I simply don't understand how it is that a man of your qualifications has failed to find a suitable marriage partner," he mocked the voice of a flighty southern belle Bruce had dated for a brief stint some months before. "It's a tragedy, a real and true tragedy…oh, my, I do feel faint at the very thought of such a man as yourself wandering through life without a capable woman on his arm…"
The act earned him a snicker and a glinting glance of approval, and that was all he wanted. Distraction always works best for me, and they say laughter's a good medicine, so…there. I made you laugh. "Enjoy being bored for hours while I'm out having all the fun," he waved as he all but pranced out of the room.
"…Be safe, son," he whispered after his departing shadow.