Following the thudding sound of his parents’ bodies hitting the packed earth of the big ring, things seem to move differently for Dick.
He cries out as he runs over to their broken bodies. That’s expected. But then he catches a glimpse of a man in a big brown sweater heading towards the far side of the big top instead of rushing to the main entrance with everyone else. Dick glances down at his parents; at the dark red blood oozing towards him, and he takes off. He runs in the direction of the mysterious man, feet flying over the sawdust as he dodges screaming people.
Dick ducks under a gap in the tent and comes out in the moonlit clearing where Gotham City has let them run the circus for the better part of the past week and a half.
The change in lights makes Dick squint for a second and he worries that he’s lost the man he saw scurrying away like a roach under bright lights. And then he sees it; the big black town car in the distance and the figure of a man walking up to it.
Gleaming black and parked away from the fleeing crowds trying to get away, the car is expensive enough that Dick knows in an instant that it doesn’t belong to anyone at the circus.
It’s out of place and if it were any other time, any other crisis, more people would notice it.
Dick starts heading towards the car, trotting across bits of churned up grass and gravel as fast as he can without winding up directly in the path of the headlights cutting a shining swath through the darkness just beyond the far edge of the circus tents. Dick sticks to the shadows as he moves, hugging the still-warm canvas as he creeps after the suspicious man walking slowly towards that car.
When Dick reaches the last tent (the pink and purple one that the circus fortuneteller uses during the day), he pauses and squints when the rear window on the driver’s side of the car rolls down and a fleshy-faced man sticks his head out.
Dick close enough to hear it when the man in the car turns the engine off, when the hum of the obviously expensive engine cuts out and the fading sounds of screaming rush in to fill the space left behind. This close, Dick can hear the sound of conversation coming from the people in the car. He hears the man in the sweater say, "I did it like you said, boss," before handing something over to the man in the car.
It’s unmistakable, the small scrap of fabric that his parents’ killer presses into the hands of the man sitting in that big car. Dick would recognize the sleek black and blue of his father’s other costume anywhere. It’s the one that he isn’t supposed to know about beyond quiet conversations with his mother.
And Dick’s a kid; he’s good at holding on to things he’s not supposed to have. Clutching tight to memories he’s not supposed to have is no different than stealing away with extra cotton candy to share with Raya and Calvin.
Dick’s breath seizes in his chest and his knees threaten to buckle. He opens his mouth (to cry out, to shout, to call attention to the men who killed his parents,) but before any sound can escape his lips, he feels a strong hand close around his shoulder.
"Hey, I --"
That hand on Dick’s shoulder moves to cover his mouth. Dick tastes rubber on his tongue and gags quietly before a big, black cloak sweeps over him, covering him and drawing him deeper into the shadows cast by the tent. When Dick stops feeling like his heart is about to explode from sheer fear, he looks up, up, and--
"Holy... Batman," Dick breathes, voice hushed and filled with awe as he stares up into the blanked out lenses of the tall man’s mask.
Before Dick can really get going, Batman shushes him and then says, "I’ll handle this," in a low growling tone.
He’s off before Dick can do more than blink and rock back on his heels, sweeping through what shadows stretch between them and the two men in the car.
Dick tries not to follow, he really does, but his parents are dead and the man that might be responsible is sitting there in a car worth more than the money it costs to get everything set up for a year of circus living.
He follows in Batman’s footsteps (literally,) picking through the heavy grooves left behind in the packed clay from the massive man’s boots in a path stretching towards the idling black car. Batman doesn’t look back, but there’s a tension in his shoulders that makes Dick think that he’s not exactly slipping by unnoticed.
The man (men?) in the car notice Batman seconds later, right before he’s on top of them. The town car jolts forward, pulling away from the man in the sweater and speeding off with a trail of dust clouding the air. Dick watches with wide eyes, staring as Batman tackles his parents’ killer to the ground and then wrestles the man into a pair of cuffs.
Dick presses his back against the nearest surface --a light pole that looks as though it’s seconds away from toppling over-- and watches with wide eyes as Batman forces the man back into a standing position with a strong yank of his hands.
"Who do you work for," he growls into the thug’s face and even from where Dick is standing, the snarl baring Batman’s teeth is frightening.
Up close, it must be even more so.
The man stammers several things at a time, apologies mostly, but in the end, he gives up the name.
"Zucco," he says, stammering a bit when Batman shakes him hard enough to make his head jerk back and forth alarmingly. "T-Tony Zucco paid me to take care of them. He said they were in the way but he didn’t tell me more than that."
Batman shakes him once more for good measure then pulls the man after him in the direction of the wailing sirens as the police converge on the circus. Batman glances at Dick as he passes by, thin lips pressed together so tightly that they almost look like a grim slash across his face.
"Everything will be alright," is what Dick is expecting to hear and so when Batman instead tells him that "one does not easily get over the deaths of ones parents" in a low voice, he jumps.
"Really?" Dick asks after a second passes, trotting alongside Batman as though the bigger man isn’t dragging his parents’ murderer to meet justice. "How do you know?"
Batman doesn’t answer him and Dick feels as though he’s said the wrong thing entirely. He thanks Batman, voice jumping up until it’s high and squeaky and then takes off for the other side of the big tent, running because he’s a kid and he’s scared and on top of that... It looks as though he might have hurt Batman’s feelings by accident.
Dick only looks back once and when his eyes meet the blanked out lenses in Batman’s cowl, a realization hits Dick hard in his chest. He knows what he’s going to do when he’s finished mourning his parents properly. Dick knows exactly what he has to do to honor them. And it’s not going to be him making the Flying Graysons work as a solo act.
"I want to be a hero," Dick says in a little whisper and the words feed something warm inside of his body. "I want to be like Batman." That’s all that Dick gets before the reporters and policemen notice him and the blood on his shoes.
After that, Dick is reminded that not all of his mourning will be in private before the people are upon him and tears spring to his eyes at the realization that his parents aren’t going to come and pull him out of the crowd. He loses sight of Batman in the crowd of people coming to him, but the memory lingers vividly enough that Dick knows that he'll never forget a single second of his time in Batman's presence.
With the death of his parents comes talk of Gotham City foster homes and leaving the circus for good.
Dick wants none of the former, but he's already made plans for the latter. Plans that take him next to no time at all to put into play. After all, all he has to do is avoid the court appointed social worker long enough for the circus's train to get him to their next stop in New York. Then he can disappear and the world will forget about Dick Grayson along with the memory of the Flying Graysons.
Dick’s halfway through packing the biggest wheeled suitcase he can find in the train car that he shares -- shared -- with his parents when Raya Vestri, one of Dick's oldest and best friends in the circus family, lets herself into the car; waltzing into the cramped little living space as though it's her room.
Like the rest of the circus family, Raya is dressed in black from head to toe to show that the whole family is mourning the loss of Dick's parents right alongside him. Even the already chipped nail polish on her fingers is a matte shade of black. Unlike the rest of the circus family, however, Raya smiles when she sees Dick and the smile reaches all the way up to her pale green eyes.
Propping her hip on one side of the rickety table bolted to the floor of their little home, Raya smiles despite the frown that Dick feels taking root on his face. She sweeps a hand down over the front of her glittery black skirt, sending it rustling as she waits for Dick to make the first move.
"Don't you know how to knock?"
Dick jams another handful of clothes in on top of what he has already and tries to ignore the pang that comes from packing without his mother chiding him to make sure his suitcase can close. The question is mostly rhetorical anyway, and even if Raya answers him, it won't be anything of substance.
Dick makes a face and then flicks his eyes over at where Raya is busy playing with the hem of her skirt.
"I could have been changing in here."
Raya is in that stage where everything she says comes out as a zippy one-liner. She looks Dick over from head to toe before giving him her best "I'm-so-unimpressed" face.
"So what?" Raya flicks a bit of her long red hair out of her face and snorts as she looks Dick over from head to toe. "It's not like I haven't seen it all before."
Dick feels his face warm with heat.
He tries to force himself to go back to packing his suitcase instead of glancing at Raya's face and getting sucked into another conversation that leaves him feeling way younger than he is.
Dick almost does it. He almost ignores Raya like he wants to, but the temptation to feel like everything is normal gets to him. He may be in mourning, but he's still only twelve and Raya still knows how to hit every single one of his buttons without even trying.
"What the heck are you talking about?"
Dick whirls around to look at Raya who presents him with a particularly smug smile that reaches all the way up to her bright green eyes. Dick crosses his arms over his chest and straightens his shoulders in an attempt to take up more space. He's not even close to being taller than Raya is (and he probably won't ever pass her in height no matter how old he gets or how much taller he grows), but he can at least pretend to be the bigger person.
Raya giggles and her eyes crinkle up at the corners.
"I do have brothers," Raya points out as though Dick is being silly.
There's a clear space at the end of the small couch where Dick sleeps when the circus settles down in a town and Raya plops down on the cushions with all of the ease of someone who's used to getting their way. The look in her eyes shifts to something that Dick doesn't quite understand (but he understands enough to feel uncomfortable).
"What?" Dick barks out. He knows he sounds suspicious as heck, but there's something about Raya's almost pinched expression that's almost too old for her face. "What are you up to Raya?"
"I don't believe you."
This time, Raya's giggle sounds like something Dick should be running from -- or maybe, it's something he should be running towards. His stomach feels tight and his fingers start to feel a little bit sticky with sweat when he goes to shove another t-shirt into his suitcase. Dick shakes his head to clear it and then turns his back on his friend.
"You know what," he says softly, "It's none of my business, Raya. It really isn't."
The train car isn't very big.
Sometimes, Dick's dad used to stretch out both his arms until the very tips of his fingers would brush the crinkled metal wall of their car. It's a cramped fit for two adults and a twelve-year-old, but with half of Dick's parents' things gone to other people in the camp, the car seems bigger than usual.
Or maybe that's the part of Dick's head that's never going to get used to having empty space where his parents should be.
Dick packs in silence for several minutes, putting his clothes and some of his books away in the suitcase until the only thing left of his in the open area of the car are his pajamas and a pair of shorts for when he needs to work out or run to blow off steam later in the day.
All of his parents' clothes are long gone with what can fit them going to the performers that don't have enough and the rest of it landing in a Redemption Army donation box. Dick is happy for that. He doesn’t think that he'd have been able to go through his mother's costume jewelry knowing that she'd never again ask him to put it on for her.
Dick winds up with only few things remaining from the collection of his parents' things. He wraps their albums up in one of his dad's oversized sweaters and then puts them dead center in the suitcase. Their papers go in the front of the suitcase in a zippered compartment that barely closes thanks to the thick sheaf of papers Dick shoves inside of it.
Dick saves the most important thing of all for last. The small black bag that holds what's left of his parents' costumes goes in the bottom of his suitcase and Dick blocks Raya's view of the suitcase as best as he can with his body before zipping it up and looking back at her.
"If there's no practice today," Dick says once he has the suitcase zipped and placed halfway behind the couch where Raya sits. "Why are you here?"
"You haven't been outside all day have you?" the smile falling from Raya's face. She looks at Dick with a sharper look on her face and then nods her head. "I knew it. Calvin said you've been stuck in here for the past few days, but someone should have told you --"
"Told me what?" Dick asks, voice rising and taking on the sharper edge of panic.
Raya pulls at the hem of her skirt.
"The police are everywhere," she says softly, "I heard them telling Mr. Haly that they want to keep you as a witness. I -- I think they're going really to keep you here while we go on to New York." A shuddering breath pushes out of her chest and Raya pulls her legs up so that she can wrap her arms around her knees. "And --"
"And what?" Dick barks out, feeling like a record on repeat. "What else is there?"
Raya frowns. "Ray said Bruce Wayne was asking for you," she mutters, shifting her eyes to the side. "He was with the social worker and they were asking all sorts of questions. I think -- I think that if you're planning to leave or hide or whatever, that you need to get on it now. I don't think they're going to leave without you if they think you're here."
Sighing, Dick glances over at his suitcase as he tries to come up with a good plan. Several moments later, one hits him.
"I need a favor, Raya," he says. Without waiting for her to nod or accept, Dick pushes on. "Can you get Ray and Calvin to make a mess for me? Something that'll distract the cops and everyone so I can get down to Zitka's car?"
"How are you going to get there?" Raya asks, eyes widening. "She's at the end of the train, Dick. If you go outside, they'll see you and --" Raya cuts herself off and utters a huffing sigh, the sound weary the way Raya usually sounds when Dick or any of the other kids their age at the circus is about to do something that'll end with one of more of them in trouble. "You're going to do something foolish aren't you?"
Dick cracks a smile at the way Raya's voice sounds.
"No one ever looks at the top of the train cars," he points out. "We're not in a James Bond movie. If you guys can keep it that way, I can lug my suitcase down to Zitka's car and spend the rest of the day there until we're in New York. That's where I'll get off, I think."
"And what'll I tell them when they can't find you?" Raya asks.
"Tell 'em I ran away," Dick says, shrugging. "They won't care. I mean -- Tell Haly I'm leaving if you want, but don't do it till I'm gone."
When Raya's face falls all of a sudden, Dick rushes to comfort her.
"It's not forever," he says. "Just till I'm eighteen. I just -- I don't want to lose all my choices. If I go now on my own, I can find some of my parents' friends or some family we used to have and stay there. If they take me now --"
"You might never get to come back to the circus at all." Raya finishes Dick's sentence.
She frowns and then gets up off the couch, pacing in a tight circle that makes her long red hair swing back and forth. When she comes to Dick, he welcomes her with open arms and lets Raya hug him as though she’ll never see him again. Raya's arms bracket Dick's waist and she smells familiar and safe as she holds Dick tightly.
Eventually, Raya pulls back from the hug.
"I have a little money saved up from my allowance," she says lowly. "And I know Calvin would give you what he has too. New York is expensive."
"I can do that to you guys," Dick says.
Raya doesn't even give Dick much of a chance to argue with her.
"I want to help," she says simply, "And so does Calvin. So don't argue." She crosses her arms over the stretchy top of her black outfit and watches Dick as though she's expecting him to bolt from then. "You'll call?"
Dick tries to smile and speak past the lump in his throat.
"The second I get to a phone and as often as I can after that."
Raya hugs him again and tucks her face in against the side of his neck.
"I'm going to miss you, Dick," she says in a choked up voice. "Promise me you won't forget about us."
"I won't," Dick promises immediately.
How could he forget about them? Maybe they're not related by blood, but the circus is his family. Raya, Ray, and Calvin are his friends and his family and if not for how much he's cried in the past few days over his parents and over his loss, feeling Raya try not to cry against him would do him in all over again. Dick settles for rubbing one hand over Raya's back through her dress and murmuring what are supposed to be comforting words.
"I'll be back as soon as I can, Raya," he promises. "I'll call every week and write once I get an address of my own. Take care of Ray and Calvin for me, okay?"
Sniffling, Raya nods against Dick's neck and then leans back. Red rims her green eyes and the tip of her nose is swollen and pink from her crying.
"I'll send Calvin with the money when he comes in to feed Zitka." She offers him a watery smile and reaches over to ruffle his hair. "I wish you could stay, but I -- I get it. Be safe. Okay?"
The distraction goes off without a hitch and Dick makes it to Zitka's private car without anyone noticing him. He dozes off against Zitka's warm side, lulled to sleep by the elephant's soft noises and the way that her car still feels like home to him as the late-setting sun leaves the train car at a comfortable temperature.
When Dick wakes up, he has a moment where he doesn't know where he is. He bolts up from Zitka's warm body and glances around with wide eyes until he registers Calvin's lanky form hauling in the bag of custom feed that they feed Zitka at night. Rubbing his eyes, Dick waits until Calvin comes closer before he speaks.
"How long have we been running?" Dick asks in a voice that is still fuzzy with sleep. Calvin shrugs.
"Not long," he says, "Maybe a half hour. No more than an hour though. The police were searching for you for the longest time after we did our distraction, but Raya convinced them you took off so they headed out to find you." Calvin turns away from Dick and tears open the top of the bag of food so that he can pour it into the trough bolted down within reach of Zitka's questing trunk.
"She sent stuff for you," Calvin calls over his shoulder. "They're in your suitcase."
"I told her I didn't need the money," Dick mutters, making a face.
"It's not just money," Calvin says. "She grabbed some food for you and one of Harry's old phones in case you get the money to turn it on." Once he feeds Zitka, Calvin comes and drops down beside Dick on the hay-stuffed mattress that protects the elephant's knees from the hard steel floor of the train car. "She's been crying on us all day, you know."
Dick sighs. "Rub it in, Calvin," he mutters. "It's not like I feel bad enough already." He looks at Calvin. "Is Ray freaking out yet?"
Calvin wobbles one hand from side to side.
"A little," he admits. "It's not much if you don't know what you're looking for, but I think Raya's crying is what's really doing it for him. I think -- I think Raya told him you really did run away."
It makes sense. It's not that Raymond always wants to do good. No. Ray likes to be right and he likes people to know when he's done something they'd like. If Raya had told him Dick's plan, Dick would probably be well on his way to spending the rest of his childhood in a grungy group home or something just as bad.
Dick sighs and rubs the back of one hand over his cheek.
"He's going to be pissed when he finds out the truth."
"So?" Calvin's voice takes on a steely note. "Let him be pissed. Raya and I can handle him." The vehemence in Calvin's voice startles Dick, but after that, the two of them lapse into a mostly comfortable silence as the rocking of the train threatens to send them off to sleep. As Dick's eyes start to feel heavy, Calvin speaks up and jolts him from that half-asleep state.
"You’ll come back," Calvin says and they both ignore the faint wobble in his soft voice. "You’ll come back and perform with us right? You'll help make the circus better won't you?"
With Boston Brand long gone and the Graysons' death a fresh wound, Haly's Circus is going to have a lot of work to do before people will trust the circus again -- before they'll come and trust that the night will end with cheers instead of screams.
Dick nods his head and reaches for Calvin’s hand in a way he couldn't do if they were still in the circus proper, surrounded by their friends and their families and all of their expectations.
"Yeah, Cal," he says in a soft whisper. "Of course I will."
Two hours later when the circus train pulls to a stop at a loading station outside of New York, Dick gets off and starts to tug his suitcase behind him as he heads in the direction of the traffic that he can hear above the rumbling noises from the trains around him.
His parents' papers don't give him much to go on.
All he has is a Manhattan address for Grant's Gym printed neatly in his father's blocky handwriting and a phone number scrawled in his mother's elegant cursive script.
Dick has no idea who Ted Grant was to his parents or who the man will be to him, but it's a start. Or rather, it will be a start once Dick finds a way to get to his gym. Dick sighs and starts trudging towards the street and traffic in the distance. What taxi driver will take a twelve-year-old clear across town, Dick doesn't know, but he has to try.