Dick’s not entirely sure how he feels about all this. Sure, he seems to be unhurt, but Bruce is vanished someplace – Dick is sprawled, close to naked, in a puddle of Batsuit – and there’s all these kids hanging around wearing costumes and yelling at the lady in green. The one with the criss-cross belts and the mask is pretty red in the face, and doesn’t seem to be taking Bruce’s disappearance well. Dick shifts under the heavy Kevlar and pushes at the cowl hanging over his face so he can get a better view. Carefully, carefully, he’s not sure they know he’s here.
“What did you do to him!” the guy in the belts yells. “What happened – where’s his body!”
“Body!” cries the lady in green. She’s carrying a weird sort of staff with a bedknob glass ball on the top, and she’s a born performer, flinging her arms wide and exaggerating her expressions and everything. “I do not kill, sir. I think we have that in common.”
“Then where is he?”
She giggles and tosses her head; it makes Dick think she can’t really be all that grown-up. “Why, where you left him.”
“Where we left –“
The one with the criss-cross belts over his chest spins around to stare in Dick’s direction. The girl by his side – short black hair, bat on her chest – turns with him. There’s another girl, blonde this time, wearing purple in her uniform; another bat. Dick’s never seen any of them before. Bruce told him no one else knew but him. There’s a man in a leather jacket with a white streak in his hair, carrying a gun. Dick perks up a little: maybe he’s a cop, maybe he can take him to Captain Gordon?
Anyway, they’re all staring at him.
No use hiding.
He struggles to sit up under the weight of the cape and cowl. It’s cold; he’s shivering, because as mentioned, mostly naked!
Oh God, what if one of them’s a pervert. The one with the leather jacket? Dick can taste the fury rolling off him, the dangerous kind of fury.
He’s Robin. And he’s a Flying Grayson. He’s not afraid.
His knuckles whiten with the grip he has on the cape. Bruce isn’t here. Bruce would’ve reached him by now if he were. The cape’s all he’s got.
“Oh my God,” says the criss-crossed one, voice dropping out of fury and falling eighty-seven stories into horrified. “Oh my God. Dick?”
And suddenly Dick understands. It wasn’t Bruce that vanished.
It was him.
He’s just about got his head around this concept – he’s just begun to think – OK, so if I’m under the cape now was I wearing the cape before? – in fact, he’s almost got his tongue around a name, when a blur of green and red and yellow drops into the alley.
“You idiots, the witch is gone – what happened to Grayson?”
Anything resembling coherent thought in Dick’s head dissolves faster than – than sugar in hot tea.
This new kid is wearing his costume.
Dick hadn’t thought he was the type of person to go into shock, at least not anymore, not now he’s seen – what he’s seen. But apparently he is: when he shakes back to himself, they’re in the Manor, in the big gleaming kitchen. He’s still bundled in Bruce’s suit, tucked into a chair too large for him. (He’s never really felt so small in this house before, not even when he first came, before he Knew.)
Most stuff’s the same. The microwave’s different. So’s the fridge and the coffee maker.
So are the occupants.
“Hey,” says the guy with the white streak. “Back with us?”
He’s smoking out the window by the door.
“Kind of,” says Dick. His mouth’s dry. Better not make him angry. “Where’s Bruce?” He figures that question’s innocent enough, but – the guy’s mouth thins, and he flicks the ash off his cigarette with a sharp wave of his hand that’s a cover for an angrier gesture. It pours off him in waves, a bit like it does off Batman.
Dick can’t help himself: he flinches.
The guy draws a breath like someone who’s just had awful, shocking news. There’s a pause; Dick forces himself into stillness, calm. The guy stubs his cigarette out.
“D’you remember anything?” he asks. He’s making an effort to be calm. That just means he’s dangerous when he’s not. Dick shifts, tries to move, to free himself from the suit he’s tangled in.
“No,” he says.
Dick frowns. “Why would I know your name?”
The guy says, “Oh!” as if that hurts, and shakes his head – actually laughs, though it’s kind of bitter. “Why indeed. I’m Jason. Jason Todd.”
“Jason Todd,” Dick repeats. “You already know who I am, don’t you.”
“Richard John Grayson. Usually known as Dick, though I’m not sure why that’s never bothered you in twenty-seven years, especially having spent most of ‘em attached to Roy Harper by the hip –“
“I don’t know who that is,” says Dick sharply. He’s starting to get angry now himself. Who is this asshole, and what’s he doing in Dick’s kitchen, and how does he know about Batman; he must, he hasn’t said anything about the cape yet, and why is he talking like Dick’s known him for years?
“Oh boy,” says Jason. “OK. Um. We’re kind of a family?”
“I don’t have a family,” says Dick. “My family’s dead.”
It hurts less if you say it like the way you’d say the grass is green, or the sky is blue.
Jason looks taken aback. “What about Bruce?”
“Bruce isn’t my father,” Dick says, exasperated. “We’re partners. That’s different.”
Jason puts his hands on his hips and looks like he’s speechless. He’s not that old, Dick thinks, not even as old as Bruce. Dick’s practicing reading people like Madame Astarte does at the circus, and he thinks Jason’s older than he looks. He’s sort of battered.
Again, kind of like Bruce.
“What?” says Dick.
“Nothing,” says Jason. “Erm. D’you remember the others from the alley?”
Dick thinks back. He sort of. There was someone in… yellow?
“Did I have, like, a mental breakdown or something?”
“You did kind of pass out. The Replacement nearly had a heart attack.”
“The… Replacement.” Dick feels a bit sick. The boy in yellow, of course. The boy in his yellow. His colours. His family’s colours.
The kitchen door opens. Dick turns eagerly, uses the movement to try and get free of the suit, hopes against hope that it’s Alfred or Bruce –
It isn’t. It’s another stranger. He’s got black hair and blue eyes like Bruce – like Jason, in fact – and he’s short and kind of thin; he’s wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. Bare feet. There’s a scar at his neck.
“Hey,” he says, smiles at Dick like he’s happy to see him. “You feeling OK?”
“He doesn’t know who you are, Timmy,” says Jason mockingly. Then, softer, more bewildered, “He doesn’t know who any of us are.”
Timmy’s face shuts down like someone flipped a switch. “Oh,” he says. It makes Dick feel horrible, like he’s stolen something from the dude, or disappointed him somehow. Dick resents being made to feel like that by some random guy who’s invaded his house.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Dick snaps. “If I ask you where Bruce is, will you actually give me an answer?”
“Bruce is in Russia right now,” says Timmy. “Alfred is with him. They’re in Murmansk or someplace – I can’t remember, but the weather is pretty bad, and we can’t get through.”
Oh, fantastic. So Dick’s alone in a Manor full of weirdo look-alikes who know who Batman is and obviously think they know everything there is to know about him, too. Could this day get any worse?
But all he says aloud is, “OK. Fine. I’m gonna.” It’s embarrassing that climbing off the chair nearly tips him to the ground. He struggles to stand up under the weight of the cape. He thinks he’s actually naked underneath it. His knees are trembling.
Jason’s hands fall onto his shoulders at the same time as Timmy reaches for him. Dick freezes up instantly. He can’t help it. He just hopes he’s not shaking.
Jason’s hands fall away. Timmy takes a step back. They think they’re so smart they know what they’re doing with frightened kids, huh. Dick can. Dick can use that, if he ever gets his own reactions back under control. Bruce says everything can be a weapon, even what you are, how you feel.
Timmy says, “Have some tea. Or something to eat. You passed out back there, and it’s cold out, and it’s been a bad night all round.” His voice is gentle and slow and warm, like he’s talking to a frightened victim. It’s all autopilot, ‘cause Dick can see his eyes, and they’re wide and horrified.
Dick shakes his head. They don’t – he’s not afraid of them, not really. After all, he’s Robin. But he’s uneasy, and off-balance, and the way they look at him makes him anxious, makes him fidget under the weight of the person they want him to be.
He wants those lost, anxious eyes off his skin. He wants clothes; he wants his Robin uniform and a Batarang and his, you know, his partner back from outer fucking Siberia.
“I’m gonna go put some clothes on,” he says, and barrels right past them on unsteady feet, dragging miles of cape behind him like he’s playing dress-up. Timmy reaches for him, but stops. Dick hears Jason say, “Leave it,” low and quiet.
His bedroom’s not his bedroom anymore. There’s a stranger’s things in it – a strange bed – grown up clothes – none of his books – his father’s leather jacket that he’s going to wear one day when he’s big enough is gone, and he’s crawled under the bed and climbed to the top of the closet and emptied the closet and even looked out the window onto the ledge and he still can’t find Zitka.
This, finally, is when Dick’s composure cracks. He’s crying furiously, pressed into the corner between the closet and the chest of drawers, when the boy comes in.
Dick’s breathing stutters.
The boy’s – the boy looks more like him than either of the other two. It’s his skin – his skin’s darker like Dick’s. Dick doesn’t think he’s Rom, but – you never know. He could try talking to him in Romani. Short black hair and blue eyes. Are they, like, a prerequisite? Do you not get to come into the Manor without looking a certain way?
“Grayson,” he says, shocked.
At least Jason knew what his first name was. That kick of anger has Dick abandoning any plans to speak Romani to this kid. He wipes his eyes on the cape and tries for defiant: “What do you want?”
The boy jumps. “Clothes,” he says. “I brought you some clothes. Cain said.”
“Cassandra Cain.” Awkward pause. “She’s our sister.”
It’s too much – way too much. Everybody in this house seems to be convinced he’s someone he’s not and Dick doesn’t understand: who they are, who they think he is, where all his possessions have gone, did Bruce just send him away, back to juvie hall, is that why they all stare at him like that, is he the failure or the reject or – or –
“I don’t have any siblings,” Dick shouts. “I don’t have any family. I don’t know who you people are or what you want from me!”
The boy looks like Dick’s just slapped him.
“Of course not,” he says, drawing himself up. “How could I possibly have forgotten?” He puts the bundle of clothes he’s carrying down and slams the door on the way out.
Dick waits till his footsteps have faded down the hallway. Then he jumps up, throws the clothes on, goes through the desk drawers. Glory be, there’s a wallet with cash, nearly fifty bucks. The ID is Timmy’s. Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne.
Well, if that doesn’t answer his question about who all these kids are. We’re kind of a family – but only kind of, because Bruce isn’t Dick’s father, only the others’. The Replacement – yeah, Dick’s Replacement.
How dare Bruce give another boy his mother’s colours? His mother’s name for him? It’s not like he doesn’t know how much they mean to Dick.
There’s a voice in his head that’s suggesting he doesn’t know that happened at all – that he doesn’t know anything for sure – that he’s not being a very good detective right now.
Dick doesn’t care.
He needs to get out of this house first. He needs – he needs allies. Real ones, ones he knows he can trust. He’ll do his detecting from a place of safety.
Is he really afraid of these guys?
Dick still doesn’t know.
But Bruce always says not to put yourself in unnecessary danger, and even operating under the fear that Bruce has thrown him away like so many used tissues (like most rich guys would do to kids like Dick), his advice is still sound, so Dick’s gonna run.
He grabs a sweater out of the closet; an extra layer can’t hurt. He pockets the cash and the flashlight in the bedside table and the Swiss Army Knife on the keychain lying on the desk. There’s a block of chocolate in another desk drawer and a plastic bottle of water by the window seat. Dick crams the chocolate into his mouth and drinks the water. He feels better. He feels ready.
He’s out of the window and running across the grounds less than ten minutes after the kid slammed his way of the room.
Where to go?
Well, if he doesn’t have Bruce and he doesn’t have Alfred, there’s only one person in Gotham City left whom he does have.
“It’s not Grayson,” says Damian.
“Of course it’s Dick,” says Cassandra. “They move the same way.”
“Oh well,” says Jason. “If that’s all it takes. Look, he doesn’t remember a thing about any of us.”
“He said he didn’t have a family,” Damian says, near-inaudible.
“He said Bruce wasn’t his father, that knocked me for a loop,” says Jason.
“He’s been in there a hell of a long time,” says Tim.
They all look round. They’re sitting at the top of the staircase, waiting for Dick to come out and trying not to freak out too badly. Dick’s ten. He doesn’t need their freakouts.
“You said to him that we were family,” says Cass to Damian.
He nods. Kid looks as miserable as Jason’s ever seen him.
“So did I,” he says.
Everyone looks at him. Jason glares. “Well. You know.”
“And Dick just.”
“Wouldn’t hear it. Which, if we’re figuring he’s ten and his parents haven’t been dead for long – well, it’s not that surprising, you know?”
Nods all round. This isn’t a family, this is an orphanage. Steph’s coming up the stairs to join them.
“He not out yet? Babs thought it was hilarious, by the way.”
“She wouldn’t have if she’d seen the way he flinched when we came near him,” Jason said. His relationship with grown up-Dick is… complicated (currently in a ceasefire period, but complicated nevertheless), but that ten year old didn’t even know who he is, let alone what their history is. He’s not gonna go projecting their issues onto a kid who doesn’t know squat about them. And this kid… for all the times Jason’s heard Dick’s rags-to-riches darling of the press fairy tale story, how come it’s never occurred to him before to wonder what state Dick was in when he came to Bruce in the first place?
Judging by the kid he just spoke too, not too great a one.
Steph worries at her lower lip with her teeth. “You don’t think,” she says.
They all look at the bedroom door again.
“He wouldn’t have run off,” says Tim. “Surely. I mean. Dick.”
Jason stands up. “You mean,” he says, “orphaned circus kid Dick who’s training to be Robin and who’s already watched his parents die and been chased by a mobster and who has not lasted this long in this business because he’s stupid or incompetent?”
“He’s run off,” says Steph.
Dick’s halfway to the precinct and the relative sanity of Captain Gordon’s presence when Catwoman finds him. Her costume’s different, but the whip’s the same.
“You know, from two roofs over, I really thought I was hallucinating,” she says. “But it is you, isn’t it?”
Dick backs away. “Lady, I don’t know –“
She laughs at him. “Dick,” she says gently. Kneels down and takes her goggles off. “Trust me, little Robin.”
“Screw it!” says Dick. “Screw everything! Is there anyone left in this city who doesn’t know who I am?”
Catwoman – Selina – laughs again. “Sorry, kiddo. You’ve been doing this for a long time, you know. Word gets around.”
Dick grumps. “I guess.”
“B not answering your calls?”
“Those kids aren’t answering my questions.”
“I don’t have siblings!”
Dick worries at his lower lip with his teeth. She’s not exactly trustworthy, Catwoman. She’s not exactly untrustworthy, either.
Selina Kyle’s never called him Richard after he asked her not to. And she always, always asks how he’s doing in school and stuff, and seems interested in his answers.
He sits down on the ledge of the roof and sighs. She comes to sit by him. “They all look at me like I’m supposed to be someone else,” he says. “It was like. It was awful, it was – suffocating. And scary. I mean they weren’t scary, but the way they thought –“
“I get it. So you left?”
“I thought Captain Gordon could tell me the truth.”
She laughs out loud. It’s a nice sound, not mocking at all. “I think you might give him a heart attack, Robin.”
“OK. You ready for this?”
“Uh-huh. You’re twenty-seven, and you’re Batman. There was a sorceress, earlier, who… made you ten again. And B is… out diversifying his interests.”
“That’s business speak for faffing around. Wait. I’m really Batman?”
Selina grins. “Heh. Make sure you tell him that when he gets back. Robin, sweetheart – he gave you Gotham. He gave you his city, because he knew that you were good enough and that you’d never let him down.”
Dick wraps his arms around himself and tries hard not to cry again. She puts her arm over his shoulders and draws him in close.
“And those kids,” she says. “Those kids are, in fact, your siblings, and you love ‘em very much. Very, very much. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they’re looking at you like that because they don’t know how to deal with a Dick Grayson who’s not their perfect big brother anymore.”
“I’m not perfect.”
“Try telling them that,” says Selina, grinning. “Oh, sure, you fight a lot. But you adore each other, deep down. And I’m betting that ten year old you scares the pants off all of them.”
Dick sighs. He scuffs his heels against the brickwork and says, “They called you, didn’t they.”
“In a panic.”
“If you wanna come home with me, we can do that.”
He looks up. “Really?”
“Thanks. That. That means a lot.”
He frowns out over Gotham City. Distant noise of traffic, people shouting in an apartment below, music playing, the dim smog-glow of the sky, all these new buildings making up a skyline just unfamiliar enough to be exciting. He breathes it in, and thinks of the kid who brought him his clothes, and how hurt he was when Dick said –
He’s got to make that right, somehow. If they’re really his brothers. He’s got to make it right with Timmy too, and Jason.
That’s what family does.
“B really gave me Gotham? He didn’t – I mean –“
He didn’t send me away.
“He gave you Gotham,” says Selina. “He gave you everything that mattered to him. Because you’re just that good.”
Dick grins, furiously proud. Then he says, “They’re all his kids. Aren’t they? Like, for real?”
Selina taps her fingers against Dick’s upper arm. Then she says quietly, “You’re his partner. That’s different.”
Dick sighs. It’s dumb that it feels good to have that confirmed.
To know it hasn’t changed.
“I think maybe I’d better go back,” says Dick.
Selina drives him back; he doesn’t ask where she gets the car. When they get out of the car, Selina pauses at the steps up to the front door. She looks like she’s trying to decide – something. Dick waits patiently; finally she tilts her head and crosses her arms and says to him, “You know how I said you adored each other deep down?”
“Yeah,” says Dick.
“I wouldn’t trust Jason Todd as far as I could throw him.”
“But you could throw me pretty far, Miss Kyle,” says Jason cheerfully from the top of the steps.
Selina’s mouth twitches fondly. Dick finds it… encouraging. “I appreciate that your emotional health seems to have recovered some in recent months,” she says bluntly.
“Right. Because even before that I was known as the kind of scumbag who routinely hurt children?”
Selina looks at him. “I’m not stooping to an argument with you over all the ways that you and Tim have issues,” she says, sounding amused now. “Here, Robin. Call me if you need me. All right?”
Dick takes the little square device off her curiously. “Wow, this is a phone?”
“OK, no,” says Selina. She ruffles his hair, shows him how to open it and what the code is, and then she walks back to the car and gets in.
Dick shoves his hands into his pockets and angles a look at Jason as she drives off. He’s smiling. Faintly.
“You comin’ in?” asks Jason.
Dick shrugs. “Sure.”
Everyone’s in the kitchen. They’re cooking up pasta and vegetables and sausages, and it smells delicious. Dick’s whole body aches with how hungry he is.
The blonde girl shoves a plate at him: there’s a buttered bread roll on it and a substantial slab of cheese by way of a starter. Dick attacks both without pausing to say thank you.
“I’m Steph, by the way,” she says, amused.
Dick swallows half-masticated bread and says, “Hi. I’m – well, you already know, don’t you.” He goes a little red.
“Sure,” says Steph, electing to ignore his embarrassment. “And this is Cass.”
“Hello.” Cass smiles at him. Finally, a break from the blue eyes! Dick grins at her happily. He wolfs the rest of the roll and cheese down, instantly more capable of standing on his own two feet than he was before. Cass passes him a glass of milk; he downs half of it and then wipes his mouth on his sleeve the way Mom would always scold him for.
Tim’s over by the stove, so Dick doesn’t notice him struggling to keep a straight face.
“So I, uh, should maybe apologise,” he says. “For, you know. The hassle.”
“Absolutely not,” says Steph.
“We, uh, we probably could’ve explained a lot better than we did,” says Tim.
“Uh-huh,” says Dick. “I mean, maybe a little better, yeah.” He pauses. “But I ate all your chocolate, and I’m not sorry. So.”
“I… am punished,” says Tim, nodding solemnly.
“You’re about to burn the sausages,” says Dick, while everyone’s sniggering.
The kid comes in when they’re already eating. His face is tight and hard, and his shoulders stiff. He’s been pushing himself too hard at – something physical. Dick’s not sure how he knows.
“I see you made it back in one piece,” he says.
“Selina drove me.”
“Hmmph,” says the kid.
“Watch it, Dami,” says Steph, but she sounds sort of fond.
“Your name’s Dami?” says Dick.
“Oh. Well, I’m Dick.”
“Only I wasn’t sure, cause you called me Grayson.”
Dami-an glowers at him. Dick grins. Chews pasta at him obnoxiously.
Dami grabs himself a bowl and climbs onto a chair and starts eating without another word.
“Thanks for the clothes,” Dick says.
Someone – Cass, she’s sitting next to Dami – nudges him. “You’re welcome,” he grates.
“I mighta ruined the jeans a little.” Dick sticks his legs out and looks at the holes in them rather mournfully. There’s red scrapes underneath, but nothing too bad. “I came off that roof on 73rd too fast, and it –“
“Wait, you took the rooftops without equipment?” says Tim.
“Well, I get lost when I’m on the ground,” Dick says reasonably. He has a feeling it doesn’t convince them, though, because a sigh runs round the table.
“Those are scrapes,” says Steph, leaning over to look at his jeans. “Scrapes need disinfecting.”
Dick hmms. “Jay can do that after.”
“Can… he,” says Jason, rather helplessly.
There’s a worried sort of silence.
“We’re kind of in trouble, aren’t we,” says Steph.
Dick goes on shovelling pasta into his mouth and doesn’t deign to answer her.
It’s two o’clock by the time he finally gets to go to bed. Tim puts him in his – their? – room, and says he’ll sleep in one of the guest rooms.
Dick curls up under the blankets and hopes really hard that he doesn’t have any nightmares. It doesn’t really work. Dawn’s on its way when he gives up, wipes his tears off, decides to head for the one place no one’s seemed to want to talk about to him: the Batcave.
It’s pretty deserted. The computer’s different. That’s a dinosaur, which is seriously freaking cool. There’s these weird cases, covered in white dust sheets… In the darkness, they are seriously freaking scary. Dick avoids them, but even with his back turned it feels like they’re watching him.
Up ahead, by the computer, it looks like Tim’s finally gotten through to Bruce.
“…sorceress we didn’t recognise,” he’s saying. “I talked to Zatanna; she says these things usually wear off on their own, and that she doesn’t want to meddle in case that does more damage. She says if he’s not back to normal in a week to call her again.”
“A week!” says Bruce on the screen. He’s older and heavier and harsher, and Dick thinks at first that he’s scarier; then he thinks he just wants Bruce to be here, so Dick can hug him and be told that everything’s going to be all right, somehow. “Damn. All right then. Ten, you said? How does he seem?”
“Mostly OK,” says Tim. He hesitates. “We, uh.”
“We kind of scared him at first. I think. At least, we didn’t explain what had happened very well, and he –“
“How’d you know?”
“I know Dick, despite all rumours to the contrary. Is he home now?”
“Yes, of course. Selina found him.”
On the screen, Bruce nods. “Is he at the Manor or the penthouse?”
“We’re all at the Manor. We kind of figured, you know. Out of the way.”
“Yes.” Bruce pauses, frowns. “Did you fetch Zitka?”
Tim stares. “… uh. The elephant? From Haley’s?”
“The stuffed toy he can’t sleep without,” says Bruce, exasperated. “Get over to the penthouse and bring it to him. The panther too, what was its name.”
“Elinore, Master Bruce,” says Alfred’s distant voice.
“Uh,” says Tim. “Stuffed toys. Yeah. Of course Dick had stuffed toys, all kids have stuffed toys. I’ll get on that.”
“Tim,” says Bruce, and now he’s almost smiling. “Breathe. It’ll be all right. As long as he’s not hurt. He’s still Dick, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” says Tim, and smiles.
“Yes. I’m coming as soon as I can. When he wakes up I want to speak to him.”
“Of course. Talk to you later.”
“Get some sleep, Tim.”
Dick bounces a little on the balls of his feet and smiles to himself. Bruce remembers Zitka! It’s OK. It’ll be OK. He’s sure, now.
When he comes into the kitchen a few hours later Steph’s there, draining her coffee cup and rinsing it out.
“Hey,” says Dick.
“Hi. Can’t stay. Came to bring you something.”
He frowns. She gestures at the bag on the table. It’s a bit. It’s sort of lopsided, and.
Dick drives for it with a happy cry. Zitka tumbles into his arms. Removing Elinore takes more concentration, as she’s bigger. They both smell weird, sort of fusty, and Zitka’s fur is darker than he remembers, and her left arm is hanging on by the merest thread. She’s the type of elephant that sits on her haunches, see.
“You’re welcome,” says Steph, smiling. “Well. Gotta go. Class.” She ruffles his hair like Selina had done last night, and then she’s gone. Dick settles into his chair and tucks Zitka into the crook of his arm. Elinore sits on the table and watches him patiently.
“They’re not so bad,” Dick confides. “Man, but dinner last night was weird.” He sighs. “Everybody was all tense and quiet. And I don’t think they were trying not to scare me, either. Or not just because of that.” Elinore of course is quizzical. What is he going to do about it? “I don’t know,” says Dick. “Something. Man.” He sighs again. “Older me must be pretty useless. I tell you this, E. Someone needs to get ‘em into line.”
He’s going to have to plan this as carefully as the campaign to get Bruce to keep him. Dick can tell. He’s still debating strategies with himself when there’s a knock on the door, and when he looks up:
“Superman is in your kitchen,” says Steph. “And baby-Dick calls him Uncle Clark.”
“Yup,” says Tim.
“What do you think. Aunt Diana?”
“You know,” says Steph. “I mightn’t bet my college tuition on it. But I’d bet somethin’.”
Jason comes by again that evening. Uncle Clark said he had to be patient with everyone because they’d had a few really bad years lately, so Dick will of course be patient, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to ask questions or con hugs off of everyone, or anything.
All things considered, these so-called siblings of his are the most huggable people Dick’s ever met. They’re always so surprised when he hugs them. It’s amazing. He loves it. He loves that they love it. It’s enough to go to a boy’s head.
The only one who doesn’t hug is Dami.
That’s all right. Dick has Plans for tomorrow anyway, at least on that front. His kind-of replacement: if Selina says Dick is Batman, and Dami is (possibly) Robin, then it follows…
Something follows. Dick’s going to find out what.
He must have given Dami the costume himself. Of course he did. It’s his Mom’s name for him. Bruce would never.
Dick decides he’ll give Dami a head start next morning. He reads in the chandelier for an hour or so before he goes to find him – hilariously, Timmy never notices he’s there, despite passing through the hall about six times, usually talking into his phone. Dick sort of wishes he had a water balloon to drop on his head, or something.
Eh, that would be kinda mean.
Dick wonders if Dami’s ever climbed up to the chandelier. He has a feeling not.
Dami’s in the study with those earplug-things in; he’s commandeered Bruce’s chair and is reading some boring old tome, Tacitus or something. Dick doesn’t care. He was reading Treasure Island.
Dami ignores him. Studiously.
Dick bounces on his toes, considers his options: he could take his earplugs out or tug his book away or turn a cartwheel on the desk or –
He kicks him in the shins.
Dami jumps up with a yell.
Dick grins. “Made you look,” he says.
“Why you –“
Dami clenches his fists and goes red with anger.
“Only I don’t figure it’s really fair of you to be pissed off at me for stuff I would never’ve said if you people had maybe been better at explaining stuff.”
“I don’t care what you figure.”
“Liar liar pants on fire,” Dick sing-songs. “What, haven’t you ever heard that one before?”
Dami’s mouth goes tight.
“Grown up me has neglected your eddication,” says Dick pompously.
“No I plainly have if you’ve never heard that one. Where did you grow up, in a university?”
Dami puts his nose in the air. “With the League of Assassins, in the company of my mother, Talia al Ghul.”
“Never heard of her,” says Dick.
“Are you Rom?”
“You’ve got skin like mine, I thought maybe you were Rom, like me.”
“No,” says Dami. There’s a pause before he adds, “I’m Arab, mostly.”
“Oh,” says Dick, feeling oddly sad about that. “Most people think we’re from Egypt, you know. Originally. That’s where gypsy comes from. The word, I mean. My Dad said.”
Dami looks interested. “Then where are you from?”
Dick shrugs and grins. “The circus.”
“I don’t know. I never asked. It wasn’t important. We always had each other.” He looks away. “And now I guess I’ll never know.”
“I,” says Dami. “I’m sorry.”
Dick shrugs again. There’s a short silence, during which awkwardness threatens. Dami crosses his arms over his chest. He looks kind of like Bruce, actually. It’s his nose and his cheekbones as well as his eyes.
Dick says, “I gotta get out of the house.”
Dami’s eyebrows climb.
“Like into the grounds?”
“I hate indoors air.”
“It’s just air.”
“I used to live in a caravan. I’m not used to indoors.”
“Better get used to it.”
“Nu-uh. Don’t wanna.”
“Now you’re being childish.”
“Right, cause I’m ten.”
“Oh wow, adulthood. Have you voted yet and everything?”
“I wanna go out,” Dick says. “Let’s go explore and play soccer.”
“We don’t have a soccer ball. I don’t usually engage in that kind of juvenile -”
“You might not, but I sure do! Come on!”
Dick has to haul Dami along by the wrist, but for a kid who’s meant to be Robin he’s not putting up a fight, so Dick supposes that means he wants to really? The outhouse is just where Dick left it, and he jimmies the lock with his tongue stuck between his teeth.
“There’s a key in the kitchen,” says Dami.
“Gotta practice,” says Dick. “Theeeeeeere you are. It, OK, gardening things, lawnmower, croquet stuff, seriously though have you ever seen Bruce play croquet? Cause I haven’t and I’ve been here for over a year, but duuuuude. It must be like the most boring game ever, right? I mean.”
“I – suppose,” says Dami.
“Anyway, things, stuff, aha! My box – it’s all –“
It’s all cobwebby. Dick’s stomach drops a little. He pries the plastic lid off, and peers in, and:
“It’s deflated,” says Dami. “Can we go back now?”
Dick sighs. Deflated is one way of putting it. His soccer ball looks like – a kicked-in head or – he shudders, violently, and puts the lid back on the box. It hasn’t been moved in years, you can see the marks on the floor of the shed.
“Come on,” says Dami. “I’m hungry. Let’s go get food and climb a tree or something.”
Dick brightens up. “Yeah! I like climbing things.”
“I would never have guessed,” says Dami.
Lunchtime, Tim is eating a sandwich at his laptop and tabbing back and forth between work and his chat with Kon when Cass sits on the corner of the table, balancing a bowl of strawberry yoghurt in her hand, and says, “Where are the boys?”
Tim looks up. “I dunno,” he says. Wants, childishly, to add I don’t care. “I left ‘em sandwiches in the kitchen. Damian’s still sulking, I guess.”
Despite his words, he kind of feels sorry for the kid. Tim himself is pretty freaking rattled by a ten year old Dick who distrusts and dislikes him, and while Tim has no problems admitting that he adores his big brother – Dick didn’t raise him. He did Damian.
And yet Tim’s the one who’s avoiding the ten year old.
Tim frowns, but: “It’s a big house.”
Pause there. Scrape of Cass’ spoon; onscreen it says Kon’s typing; the radio’s playing near-silent on the other desk. Sun’s out, and it’s warmer than yesterday, properly spring. Tim’s got the windows open. He kind of likes it like this. He shouldn’t spend so much time in the basement at their place. He’s reminded of his childhood home, all big empty spaces and sunlight. It’s comforting.
Finally, he says, “They’ve run off or something, haven’t they.”
Cass licks her spoon off. “Mm-hmm.”
“Are we worried?”
She shrugs. She’s smiling. Tim understands: she’s not worried for the boys, but for whoever has to clean up whatever mess they’ve made.
Tim sighs. Puts his sandwich down and types to Kon, gotta go little brothers run off probably plotting world domination
--need a hand looking?
Surge of unexpected delight at the thought of seeing Kon today. Like to see you but it might freak dick out don’t know what clark told him about titans etc.
--point ok shout if I can help
--always. see you sat
Cass is reading over his shoulder and grinning. Tim closes the window with a vengeance.
The boys are up an oak tree on the very edge of the grounds, nearly a mile away from the house, eating sandwiches and arguing about The Goonies. Dick says it’s the best movie ever. Damian is firm in his stance that it’s juvenile nonsense.
Tim says dryly, “Well, I guess you’ve not been kidnapped.”
“By whom?” they scoff in unison.
“Bored, huh,” says Cass.
“Yep,” says Dick. Simultaneously, Dami says, “No.”
“My soccer ball’s deflated,” says Dick.
“I didn’t know you had one,” says Tim.
Dick pulls a face. “Haven’t you got any games to play? I’d train but you’re not gonna let me, are you?”
“No, and no,” says Tim. “Sorry. But I could put the Goonies on for you.”
Dick pulls another face, this time with tongue sticking out. Cass is holding in a giggle. “I wanna be outside. What about tennis?”
Before Tim’s eyes there rises a vision of broken windows, noses caved in by tennis racquets, and balls falling into Alfred’s flowerbeds, with subsequent trampling of delicate blooms –
“No,” he says hastily. “Not tennis.” Come to think of it, he’s grateful the soccer ball’s useless. “Why don’t you go in the pool? It’s a nice day, we’ll roll the doors back and you can be outside.”
“Awesome!” says Dick. “Let’s do that.”
“I’ll come,” says Cass. And when Tim looks at her, surprised, she shrugs. “They might drown.”
“So might you,” he says cheerfully.
She waits until they’re out of earshot of the boys and says, “Damian’s different.”
“You mean you like him better now?”
“I kinda do.”
“He’s looking after Dick.”
“Mmm-hmm. That’s what Robin’s for.”
“Don’t,” says Cass. “I don’t like that – the way you all… think you’re responsible for B. He does what he wants. He’s responsible for you.”
Tim sighs. “I know,” he says. “But he can’t do that if he’s dead, can he?”
“Dick’s better,” Cass says quietly. “I feel… disloyal, but Dick’s better. For us, maybe even for Gotham.”
Tim moves in for a touch: hand on her back as they walk, just for a moment. It’s both true and wrong: Dick, as Batman, does not demand of his siblings, nor expect, nor manipulate or use. He asks, and they answer. On the other hand, Dick really hates being Batman, and that comes across.
On the other other hand, the mere fact that Bruce can be (is) an autocratic manipulative asshole has not, as yet, enabled any of his children – not even Jason, not truly – to stop loving him and missing him and wanting their father in their lives.
But all Tim says is, “Not to mention for Damian.” Because even he can tell that Bruce has no idea whatsoever what he’s doing with Damian.
That evening Jason’s in the kitchen again, smoking out the door this time – he’s sort of slumped against the frame, like he’s caught between staying and going.
“Awesome!” says Dick. “I wanted to talk to you.”
Jason takes a slow drag of his cigarette and says, “What about?” The smoke curls around the words and hangs against the dark night outside. Dick settles his stance without meaning to: feet wide apart, arms loose. If he’s scared of any of them, he’s scared of Jason.
Only a little, though.
“I wanted to ask how everyone came here and found out about Bruce and stuff,” says Dick. “And you’re oldest next me, so I thought I’d start with you.” He climbs onto the counter next the microwave and bites into an apple, waiting. He figures he’s got a right to know, especially if he did give Damian his name. But if Damian is Robin… who are all the others?
“How I came here,” Jason says, musing. “Well, I jacked Bruce’s tires, and apparently that impressed him deeply, so he made me Robin. If only all job interviews were that easy, ey?”
Dick swallows a mouthful of apple gone cardboard and bitter. The bottom’s dropped out of his stomach. He knows what’s coming next. (He knows Bruce.) “Bruce… made you Robin,” he says. “Where was I?”
“Oh,” says Jason. “You had your own thing up in New York? I don’t think you know any of the Titans yet, but you guys’ve been friends since forever. I’m pretty sure you’d met by the time you were eleven.”
“So,” says Dick, struggling to get things right. “I’m in New York. And you’re in Gotham, jacking Bruce’s tires.”
“And he made you Robin.”
“I don’t mind telling you those shorts were a real dumb idea.”
“Did. So I. I gave you the –“
Something changes in Jason’s face: for a moment, it gets ugly and angry and Dick wants to throw something at him and run. But Jason stubs out his cigarette and lights another and says, when he’s taken a drag or three and is calm again. “No, you never liked me.”
“It’s good of you,” says Dick, mouth numb, “to put up with me now.”
Jason looks at him sharply. Dick doesn’t know what he sounds like and doesn’t care.
“Why’d he do it? Bruce?”
Shrug. The anger’s back. Jason’s left hand, hanging by his thigh, is clenched, white-knuckled. Dick’s playing with fire.
“Because he wanted to.”
“Without asking me?”
“The hell would he?” says Jason. Now it’s in his voice too, straining and sharp. “You weren’t using it anymore.”
Dick swallows bile. “I’m not wearing my Dad’s leather jacket right now either,” he says. “That don’t mean I’m givin’ it to some random jerkwad townie.”
“Not seein’ what your Dad’s sartorial choices have to do with this,” says Jason. He drags at his cigarette again. Heel of his boot kicks back against the doorframe. The noise of it makes Dick jump.
“Bruce gave it to you like it was my freaking cast-off jeans and you don’t even know what it means,” says Dick. “You don’t know jack about anything!”
Shouted, furious. He’s crying. Again. Damn. He didn’t want to cry, he was sure he wouldn’t cry, this can’t be good, it can’t, it can’t.
Jason’s smirking at him, mouth twisted unpleasantly.
“Can it, kid,” he says. “It hasn’t happened to you yet.”
And from the other door Bruce Wayne says, “What hasn’t happened?”
Tim slides past him into the room, takes in Dick on the counter, Jason leaning against the doorframe, the half-eaten apple crushed in Dick’s strong thin fingers, the tears on his face. “So guess who’s back?” he says.
“Dick?” says Bruce. Wow, he is older, so much older, he’s got grey in his hair. If Dick weren’t so angry he’d be scared. Behind Bruce, Damian, Cass, Steph. Then Alfred.
“Master Richard –“
“You gave it to him without so much as asking me?” says Dick, and the room goes silent. Alfred freezes. Bruce, moving towards him, stops, hand outstretched. “You gave away my mother’s name for me like it was a pair of pants I’m too big for, so some other kid can have them? And you couldn’t even tell him what it meant?”
“Your mother’s!” says Jason, jerking upright, dropping his cigarette.
“Grayson, what are you talking about?” demands Damian.
Tim is silent, wide-eyed. Steph’s gone red.
“I trusted you,” says Dick, too angry to be anything but blank and calm. “You said I wasn’t disposable, you said we’d be partners –“
And Bruce says, “I did, and I meant it. I still do.”
“But you can pass around my family’s colours and my mother’s name for me no problem, cause I’m still just some random carnie kid that you –“
“No,” says Bruce, horrified. There’s lines in his face that shouldn’t be there, and Alfred looks ancient, and all Dick’s resolutions about siblings and family are gone and forgotten: he resents them all, completely and perfectly, even Dami.
They want him to be the kind of person who’s OK with Bruce doing whatever he wants to the memory of Dick’s family.
“Liar,” shouts Dick. “Why couldn’t you have just left me at Haly’s, Pop would never have given my name away!”
And he’s gone, faster than even Bruce can reach for him. He doesn’t try for the door; even if he got out the grounds and into the city, where the hell would he go? Juvie hall again? Selina’s? Hah. She’d probably bring him back here.
“Well, that went well,” says Tim dryly.
“His mother’s name for him?” says Steph. She rounds on Bruce. “His mother’s name! All this time I thought you made it up!”
“Babs could talk to him?” offers Cass.
“Perhaps Master Bruce should give it a try,” says Alfred dryly.
Damian stares blank-faced at the wall.
Jason slips out the door and disappears.
Dick has crammed himself back into the corner of Tim’s room. It’s last night all over again. He’s sort of bored with this now, or he would be if he could stop crying and being furious and wanting his Mom and missing his Dad and hating Bruce and wanting Bruce to come say sorry and tell him it’s all a mistake and why, why, why did he ever go near Jason, Dick knew from the start that Jason wasn’t like the others, that he didn’t like him, that Jason was dangerous and mean and that makes him feel a whooooole lot better, that his mother’s name for him was given out like free candy to someone who hates him.
At least he’s still got Zitka. He crushes her between his elbow and his side and wipes his eyes on Elinore’s black fur.
Nowhere to go; nothing he can do about it. He has, apparently, given up all rights to his family and his name: they’re going to get passed around from one kid to the next like – like pass the parcel, and everything that makes him him is going to disappear under Bruce’s cowl and Bruce’s cape and Bruce’s identity, and he –
He knows what Bruce’s footsteps sound like in the corridor outside. Usually it’s comforting: usually it’s Bruce come to wake him from a nightmare, to hold him or talk to him or read to him.
Right now he’s picturing himself kicking Bruce in the face.
“Dick?” Voice hollow through the door.
“Go away!” Dick bellows.
“Dick, if you’d let me –“
“I don’t have to let you do anything!” Dick shouts. “You go ahead and do it anyway! My Mom’s name, Bruce! My Mom’s! How’d you feel if I set light to your parents’ portrait!”
Ringing silence. Oh, he’s done it now: said the unforgiveable. If Bruce leaves, Dick doesn’t hear him. He clenches his fists in Elinore’s fur and tries to calm his breathing down.
“You know,” says Jason, “I never thought you had that in you.”
Dick’s so surprised he just about climbs up the wall. Jason laughs, low and scratchy. He’s perched on the window-sill, folded up weirdly small for a guy who’s so big. Dick is holding on to Zitka and Elinore and looks like a child. He wants to shout at Jason too, but he doesn’t know Jason – doesn’t know where to hit. Instead, what comes out of his mouth is:
“I don’t even have any photos,” and, humiliatingly, starts to cry again.
Jason says, “Oh, shit.”
He’s not awful enough to try and hug Dick, cause Dick would probably punch him, but he does come over and sit by him and wait, hands wrapped around his knees, for Dick to calm down again. Then he produces a handkerchief from somewhere and hands it to him.
“It’s for bandages,” says Jason.
“You’re a really bad liar.”
Jason grins. “Only when I want to be.”
He gets a blown nose and a snuffle for an answer. Jason looks around the room, says, “Doesn’t look like your stuff. Where’s your telescope, I thought this was your room?”
Dick shrugs. “It’s Timmy’s now.”
Jason snorts. “Woo. First your name, then your bedroom…”
“Why don’t you go ahead and rub it in.”
Almost a smile. Dick tucks his knees up close against his chest. Jason is… he can’t figure Jason out. He’s gone all soft now, totally different from in the kitchen.
“I always thought you used that thing for watching chicks.”
Dick pulls a face. “Maybe I will,” he says. “Maybe from now on I should do all the stuff Bruce doesn’t want, just to show him.”
Jason rests his wrists on his own drawn-up knees. He’s wearing a silver chain round one wrist. Dick can see red marks under the skin there, like Jason twists at it a lot, deliberately making it hurt.
“Show him what?”
“That he doesn’t get to do that.”
“It’s not gonna change the fact that he already has. Trust me. I know that’s a difficult concept to get through your head.”
“What have you got to be pissed at Bruce for?”
“He replaced me too, you know,” says Jason. But he doesn’t sound bitter, or upset, or angry. He just sounds tired. “He – ah, let’s not get into it. He does stuff I’ll never agree with. But I kind of… decided I was wasting my time tryin’a get through to him. And that I had time, and that… that it wasn’t a bad thing.”
“To have time?”
Dick considers this for a minute, but he’s got no idea what Jason means by it. What’s the alternative to having time? Being dead? “Hmmph.”
Jason’s mouth is curved. It’s a nice smile when his eyes join in. “Your Mom’s name, huh.”
“Cause I was born on the first day of spring.”
“I’m… not sure I ever knew when your birthday was.”
Dick folds his arms. “Does anybody anymore?”
“Alfred,” Jason says promptly.
“I guess.” Dick sort of smiles. Jason hasn’t looked at him. It makes him feel… weirdly safe. Safe enough, in fact, to ask, “How come you hate me?”
Jason twists the bracelet around his wrist. Suddenly Dick sees what it’s for. Like an anxiety thing or something, Jason plays with it and keeps himself from snapping or – or.
“You’re kiiiiiiiiind of perfect.”
“Always following orders.”
“You never listen, and you don’t want me around.”
“Using my Mom’s name that I never said you could have!”
“Ten years later,” says Jason, “it sounds sorta petty.”
“How old were you?” Dick asks curiously.
“How old was I?”
“Oh, uh. Eighteen? I think?”
“So, a grown up.”
“And you were a kid.”
“Well. Kind of.”
“You know,” says Dick, “I don’t think I like older me very much. He sounds mean. And boring. And mean.”
Jason starts laughing. “I hope you’re not doin’ that thing where I’m supposed to make you feel better by disagreein’, cause I’m not going to.”
Dick scratches at his neck and smiles.
“Now what do I do?”
“Well, you oughta be back to normal within a week.”
Dick frowns. “And if I’m not?”
Jason grins. “I guess we’ll have to enrol you in school.”
“What about Robin?”
“…ohhh. Yeah. Well, you and the demonspawn could time-share.”
Dick shrugs. “I don’t think Dami shares. Not that. Not, like, permanently.” I wouldn’t.
For the first time, Jason turns his head to look at him. “You won’t be sent away,” he says. “I promise.”
“What if I wanna go away?”
“I don’t know. Where do you live?”
“Oh,” says Jason, “oh no. You’re not coming near my apartment. No way no how. Tim can –“
“Tim’s like high school age.”
“He’s super-smart, he can handle it.”
“And he looks at me wrong.”
“He just needs to get used to it.”
“I don’t wanna hang around everybody who only sees who I’m not anymore when they look at me,” Dick says.
“I –“ says Jason. “Crap.” He twists the chain on his wrist again. “Man, the things I never wanted to know about your sad ass.” He sighs. “Fiiiiine, pack your crap, come on.”
Dick jumps up. “Awesome! D’you live by yourself?”
“Thank God,” says Jason. “Look, just get your stuff, OK, before anyone notices.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one in the house but Alfred is still talking to him.
“You might excise the qualifier, Master Bruce,” says Alfred dryly.
“Why are they all acting like it was yesterday?”
“As far as Master Richard is concerned, it might as well have been yesterday.”
Bruce drums his fingers on the table top once. “I didn’t realise how much it hurt him,” he admits quietly. He remembers how angry Dick had been, of course he does. He hadn’t realised how much of that was grief and not hurt pride. Dick had already been Nightwing by then; he had left Robin behind him in a way Bruce would never have been able to, had their situations been reversed.
“Master Richard is less than adept at showing his hurts. I do wonder how he came by that habit.”
Bruce rests his face against his aching steepled fingers for a moment. “If he’s not out by breakfast I’m taking an axe to that door.”
“As it belongs to Master Timothy, perhaps you should take it up with him first.”
“Alfred, my son is hurting and it’s my fault. Do you have any actual, concrete suggestions, or are you just going to stand there and blame me for everything?”
“Credit where it’s due, Master Bruce,” says Alfred, bordering on sharpness. Bruce feels, instantly, like a disobedient twelve year old. Perhaps Alfred sees it in his face; after a moment, he relents. “Give him time,” he says gently. “Try and explain when he’s less angry. I had almost forgotten about that temper,” he adds, chuckling.
“I know I did,” says Bruce quietly. “He used to let it out as Nightwing, but lately…”
“I believe he fears its detrimental effect on Master Damian. And perhaps Master Timothy as well.”
“Hmm.” Bruce sits up. “Alfred, cancel the next three trips? I’ll talk to Barbara and see if she can drum up a replacement.” He sighs. “I’ve just realised I don’t know the first thing about my family anymore. Time I stayed home for a while, I think.”
If Alfred smiles to hear it, Bruce doesn’t see.
Dick’s been asleep on the couch for a while when he’s woken by an odd buzzing noise; it cuts off sharply and Jason’s voice says softly, “Yeah?” He’s in the kitchen; the rest of the apartment is dark. He’s talking to someone quietly; Dick strains to hear. He’s put the phone on speaker somehow. Dick raises his head a little and sees that Jason’s cleaning a gun at the table.
“… leave him there, they probably would’ve ended up killing each other.”
“They managed fine before you came along.”
“That was before I came along. Did you know about the name?”
Dick twitches, hides his face deeper in the pillow Jason fetched for him.
“Robin. It’s what his mother used to call him.”
The woman on the phone falls silent. “His mother,” she says. There’s an odd twist in her voice “No. He told me – I just knew it was special to him.”
“Yeah.” Jason stands up and washes his hands at the kitchen sink. “I’ll talk to you later, Babs.”
“Good night, Jay.”
Dick hears his footsteps, slow, the snap of the light switch, and then the swing of the bedroom door closing. He tucks Zitka more firmly against his chest, closes his eyes. He’s so tired his eyes are aching. (Though that might be the crying he did.) Zitka’s here. He can sleep now. He can.
Damian stomps into Bruce’s study at two in the morning. Bruce is staring at the fire again (still), and turning his cell over and over in his hands: maybe Dick will call, maybe Jason will. Too slowly, he becomes aware of the boy standing near, arms crossed, expression haughty. He sees, if he looks close enough, something of his own mother in Damian’s nose, jawline; unfortunately, that doesn’t help. Bruce is as proud of the boy as he is of Cass, and loves him with helpless affection, but he’s never known what to do with the boy, not ever. Bruce recalls Alfred’s comment about Dick’s new leash on his firework-flash temper and resolves not to get angry at the boy, no matter what’s about to be said.
“I blame you for this,” Damian says.
This is starting well.
“You’re not the only one,” says Bruce. Then, uncharacteristically honest, he adds, “I blame myself.”
“So you should,” says Damian. “All this time I thought it was Todd’s fault.”
He doesn’t clarify what ‘it’ is. Bruce doesn’t need him to. He looks away again, back at the flames. “No,” he says. “It was never Jason’s fault, was it? Not at the heart of it.”
Is he so poor a father that he cannot make his own children feel wanted, loved, safe in their knowledge of his affection? Apparently, yes.
Of course it doesn’t much help matters that at ten Dick didn’t – doesn’t – want Bruce to be his father. He wants a partner, wants to have and be an equal.
Tough. Bruce has come too far to turn back now. Dick is his son, at ten or twenty or twenty-seven. Just as Jason is, and Tim, and Damian.
Dammit, he’s never had these problems with Cassandra. It’s absurd that he wants to swing over to Central and tell Jim the whole sorry story.
“We could patrol,” he offers to Damian.
The boy’s eyes narrow. “Grayson doesn’t need replacing,” he says. “I can handle myself.”
“You’re eleven,” says Bruce. “You’re not patrolling alone.”
“Once you’ve fixed Grayson you can take it up with him,” Damian snaps. “I’ve got it in writing and everything.”
No hint of Bruce’s amusement shows on his face. “All right,” he says. “I didn’t realise.”
Damian seems to understand that he means it as an apology, and is suspicious. “… right,” he says. “Fine. Very well then.” His English teachers must have been British; living in Gotham has rubbed the slight Middle Eastern accent that once reminded Bruce so sharply of Talia almost entirely away, leaving a crisp British accent only slightly softened by traces of American pronunciation. Damian sounds… like Saudi nobility, educated at Eton or somewhere similar, young enough to adopt the accent as well as the language.
Association with Alfred probably hasn’t helped.
Bruce tries for a smile. Damian still looks suspicious.
“Get some sleep,” he says. “I’ll need you to get in touch with Zatanna in the morning. I want to know the name of this sorceress, and why she felt the need to attack Dick.”
Damian actually seems to relax, glad to have orders, or a plan at least. He nods sharply, moves away and out of the firelight. He’s almost to the door when he says, “You have to fix this. I want him back.”
Dick’s been more of a father to him than Bruce ever has, hasn’t he? Bruce pictures having to tell each and every one of the people who’ve known and loved Dick Grayson that Nightwing is gone, and wants to wince. If Barbara doesn’t kill him, the Titans will. Clark and Diana will.
“I do too,” he says.
Damian nods stiffly.
“Sleep well, Damian.” His mother used to sing him some lullaby about teddy bears, Bruce suddenly remembers. None of his children have ever been young enough for it.
“Good night, Father.”
Steph’s in the kitchen when he wakes up. “Out of bed, sleepyhead! Come on, there’s bacon.”
“Urgh,” says Dick, sitting up in a tangle of blankets and rubbing at his eyes “Bacon?”
Jason laughs his scratchy laugh as he opens a cupboard and produces a cereal box: sadly, nothing with chocolate, but Dick will take what he can get. He eats in his bed, blankets across his lap, bowl held just about under his chin. Steph is smiling.
“I came to do recon,” she says. “B wants to see you, but he says it’s your choice when and where. God only knows who bullied him into that concession, but it’s saved me the trouble.” She winks.
Dick lets his spoon falls, clinking, against the bowl. His chest is a bit tight, but he’s not – he’s not angry anymore, not the way he was last night. It’s like it happened a thousand years ago.
Maybe it did. Maybe he’s time-travelled. Maybe this is all just some weird spaced-out dream, and he’ll wake up in the Batcave and Bruce will tell him he’s been hopped up on Poison Ivy’s spores, and that he, Dick Grayson, is irreplaceable, and that Bruce would never, ever give his family’s colours or his mother’s name for him to someone else.
Jason’s apartment is on the top floor, and he’s got pretty big windows, and the living room and dining room is one big space, and he’s got a lot of bookshelves.
“You must read all the time,” he says.
“Saves me talking to actual people,” says Jason lightly. He tips him a smile, but Dick thinks he’s being serious just as much as joking.
“But you don’t live here all the time, do you?” Dick asks. The apartment feels too musty for that.
“No,” says Jason. He doesn’t explain. Dick shrugs and looks at Steph again.
“Anytime,” he says, “but it has to be here. I feel better here. Less of a ghost.”
“You’re not a ghost,” says Steph quietly. “You don’t remember us, but you’re ours, kiddo, you built this family, and now it’s gonna look after you. OK?”
“I don’t remember building anything,” Dick says in a small voice.
Steph comes over to him and puts her hand on his shoulder and kisses his forehead. “It’s just as well,” she says cheerfully. “Dami and I have saved your ass more times than you will ever be comfortable remembering.”
Dick forces a smile. “You and Dami?”
“He’s annoying, not incompetent,” says Steph, grinning.
It’s not till after she’s gone that Dick thinks maybe Jason doesn’t want him here that long, and he turns to say something, but Jason’s behind him, lacing his boots. “Read whatever you want,” he says. “I gotta work. Have fun, OK?”
Dick’s forgotten there is such a thing.
“Work,” says Jason.
“Waiting tables,” says Jason blandly.
“Waiting tables,” Dick scoffs. Then he remembers. “Oh no – Selina! I left her phone-thing at the Manor!”
“I don’t think she was expecting you to give it back,” says Jason. “Unless you’d rather stay with her? She did offer, didn’t she?”
Dick thinks about it. “No-oo,” he says. “I like it here.”
It’s nice to be around someone who prefers real-him to grown up-him.
“It’s not exactly a safehouse, is it,” says Bruce disapprovingly as they ride up in the elevator.
Tim tucks his hands into his pockets and tries not to think about Jason’s actual safehouses: bare booby-trapped warehouses, usually, too cold and too lonely. “It’s a nice place,” he says.
“You’ve been here before.” Bruce manages to make it sound like a statement – like he’s the one telling Tim something Tim didn’t know – but the thing is, Tim’s been Bruce’s son for years now and was Robin for longer, and he knows perfectly well that this is what surprise sounds like on Bruce.
“Once or twice,” he says. There was that time Jason dragged him back here and stitched him up after Killer Croc had taken a bite out of him – Damian has a thing about Killer Croc, Tim’s not sure why, but he routinely gets in over his head when Croc’s involved, and this was one time when he couldn’t get himself out again – and the few times they’ve worked a murder case together; both before and after Dick did that olive-branch thing and he and Jason declared peace.
Bruce doesn’t say anything else. His face is carefully blank, his stance carefully casual, but again that very care speaks volumes. Honest ones, too.
Tim says, “It’ll be all right.”
Bruce’s eyes flick to him, and back. The elevator halts; the doors open. Jason’s lounging by the door to the apartment, a few meters along the hall. Gestures Bruce inside with a mocking wave of his hand. Tim comes over and stands beside him, shoulders against the wall. The door shuts.
“The entertainment value just keeps ratcheting up and up,” says Jason.
Tim is – Tim is too tired to be annoyed, and too worried to be baited (what if this is it what if they don’t work it out what happens to my family then, like a child during his parents’ divorce). Dick is ten years old and his memory is gone – and with it, of course, all the things that made him, not Dick Grayson, but Tim’s older brother.
In a way, it’s almost as if Tim’s brother is dead.
He doesn’t think he could handle it if that were permanent.
So he just shrugs his shoulders at Jason and says, “Sure,” and resists the urge to slide down the wall and draw his knees up and rest his forehead against them and fall asleep.
Jason crosses his arms over his chest, staring at nothing. The silence isn’t awkward; Tim realises he’s not the only one who’s too tired for that. But he breaks it, eventually, just the same.
“You don’t have to do this, you know.”
“It’s fine,” says Jason.
“Right, because you love Dick so much.”
The corners of Jason’s mouth curve up, wry and slow. “Notice me not making the obvious joke, there,” he says. “I got news for you, Replacement. That’s not Dick.”
It’s a statement so mercilessly close to Tim’s own fears that he physically flinches. Jason sees, tenses, looks away. Some buried part of Tim – still twelve, still innocent, still running Gotham rooftops with a camera and a hope – wants to think that despite his words, Jason finds the idea as painful as he does.
“Ten years old,” Jay says, “and – totally helpless, you know? He could get run over in the street today and no one would know anything about him. And no kid who’s not an actual ninja assassin puppy oughta be allowed to face our particular brand of family drama by ‘emselves.”
“Damian’s too vicious to be a puppy,” says Tim.
Jason snorts. They don’t speak for a while, and to Tim’s surprise the corridor is silent, the other apartments presumably occupied by people working ordinary hours at ordinary jobs. Outside the sky is clouding over. Tim’s got a laundry list of stuff he needs to get done, including the actual laundry – it’s his week. Cass is handling patrols. Robin business, she called this whole mess. Not for Batgirls. Maybe that’s why Babs hasn’t been over; well, that, or not really wanting to see her former boyfriend as a ten-year-old. Tim would totally get that. Still, he should drop by later on.
“How is Damian taking it?” Jason asks suddenly.
“I… don’t know,” Tim admits. “He seemed OK yesterday afternoon. They were hanging out. Now he’s gone back to brooding. It’s weird how it seems like such a big thing,” he adds softly. “Like it… changes everything. Even though it doesn’t.”
Jay shrugs. “Did you know?”
“I knew they used to wear red and yellow and green at the circus.”
“Dick drop that info into casual conversation?” Slant of bitterness to the words. It’s never occurred to Tim before that Jason might be as jealous of Tim’s relationship with Dick as he is of Tim’s relationship with Bruce. (Funny, that. Maybe Tim’s the one who should be jealous? If Jason hadn’t died, Dick would never have bothered with him at all. Aaaah, enough. Talk about looking for things to feel insecure about.)
“No,” says Tim. “Never.” He and Dick had talked for hours about what it meant to be Robin. They had never talked about what being Robin had meant to Dick. Suddenly every remembered conversation takes on new shades of meaning; every word of approval from his brother feels doubly significant. “I was there.”
Jason turns to stare at him.
“When his parents died,” Tim explains. “I was at the circus. I saw.”
“How old were you, six months?” Jay sounds scandalised.
“About two and a half,” says Tim. “Maybe three. I think? I don’t even know. It’s one of my earliest memories, anyway.”
“Watching two people fall to their deaths is one of your earliest memories,” says Jason flatly. “Timmy, that’s fucked up.”
Tim’s turn to shrug. He… hadn’t ever thought about it in those terms. Mostly he’d thought about Dick, about being hugged; then, later, about Batman and Robin and the connection he’d made. Suddenly he feels defensive. “Well, what’s yours?”
Something ugly brushes across Jason’s face. “Earliest memory?”
“Of which life?”
Tim hunches his shoulders against that bitterness, feeling himself going red like a teenager who’s put his foot in it with his personal idol. “I –“
“My Mom,” says Jason abruptly. “She was just standin’ in the kitchen, she was drinking something. I don’t know. And I came in… I just remember looking at her from down there, like she was ten feet tall.” He shakes his head. “I think she smiled at me. I think she was wearing a dressing gown, that it was early morning.” He crosses his arms, jams his hands under his shoulders defensively. “My Mom.”
Tim doesn’t speak, barely moves, feels amazed and grateful. Hides his smile. Jason sighs, shifts, paces a few steps down the corridor and back. They’ve been trying really hard not to eavesdrop at the apartment door.
Everyone’s become so fragile: Bruce and Dick, previously unbreakable, Damian, previously incapable of open uncertainty, Jason, previously wielding his hurts like knife-blades, not showing them, quietly and unspectacularly, to a boy he hates. It feels like the ground’s shifting out from under Tim’s feet.
“Cass says you put a ton of audiobooks on her phone for her,” he says.
Tim grins to himself. Jason’s stopped pacing and come to lean against the wall again when the apartment door opens. Dick comes out, too short and too thin, puppy-softness gentling the lines of his face, unscarred, untrained and ignorant.
“We’re good,” he says, swallows. “We’re good. I – if Jay doesn’t care I’d like to still stay here, though.”
“Jay doesn’t care,” says Tim.
Jay raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t object.
“Well,” says Dick, planting his hands on his hips. He absolutely is not going to cry again.
Bruce comes into the living room, looks around quickly. Everything’s old; Dick thinks even the books are second-hand. But it’s comfortable, and he likes it.
Bruce comes to sit opposite him on the armchair.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Uh-huh,” says Dick coldly.
“We’d been fighting,” says Bruce abruptly. Dick thinks he sounds like it hurts him to say it. “You and I. You were – you’d grown up overnight. And I insisted on pretending nothing had changed, when of course it had. You’d started college; you were spending more and more time with your friends.”
“Jason said I had my own thing by then.”
“You’d become Nightwing. You changed your costume, put Robin aside.”
Bruce half-smiles. “I didn’t know for a long time where you got the name from. Later I realised it was a Kryptonian myth.”
Dick folds his legs underneath him and settles on the couch. “It sounds pretty cool,” he says.
“I’m pretty sure you loved every second of it.”
But now I’m Batman. Dick bites his tongue on the words; one argument at a time, he guesses. He’s still not over how much older Bruce looks. Well, seventeen years older of course, but still.
He wants, badly, to be hugged and told…
He’s not a child anymore.
“Jason,” says Bruce. His head turns to the apartment door; he closes his eyes just briefly. “Jason needed a home and a purpose. His mother had died; he – well, it’s not really my business, or yours. I thought I could help him the way you and I helped each other.”
Oh. Dick rubs at his upper arms, feeling bad despite himself. Jason’s been helping him when he didn’t have to, or even particularly want to, as far as Dick can tell, and Dick’s getting mad because of Bruce trying to help Jason. Nice. Real nice. And Jay’s Mom died, so.
But he still has to ask: “And you didn’t think I’d mind about the name?”
“I didn’t think at all,” says Bruce baldly. “I missed you, and I wanted to help Jason, and…” He trails off. Dick doesn’t think he’s ever seen Bruce do that before. He looks – he looks hollowed-out, talking about this.
It wrenches at something in Dick’s chest. Suddenly, he doesn’t want to hear it.
“It’s OK,” he says. “I. It’s OK. I just wanted – this is –“ He wipes at his eyes to stop himself crying. Bruce puts his hands on his shoulders, kneeling in front of him; then he tugs a little, and Dick slides off the couch and wraps his arms round Bruce’s neck and just hangs on.
Bruce is all he’s got. He doesn’t want to hear about how they’re going to fight and not-talk and not like each other anymore, even, and he just – he just wants to get to go home now, please.
Wherever that is.
When they get to the penthouse Dick runs out of the elevator and hugs Alfred really tight.
“My boy,” says Alfred helplessly.
“I was awful,” says Dick. “I’m really sorry.”
“You,” says Alfred, “did nothing wrong.”
“Bruce said he was sorry.”
“I grovelled,” says Bruce, and ruffles Dick’s hair.
“Yah, well,” he says, and lets Alfred lead him further into the penthouse. “Wow, really, this whole place, really? Just for me?”
“Master Damian resides here as well,” says Alfred.
“No chandeliers,” says Dick, grinning. There’s a Flying Graysons poster on the wall. And lots of books everywhere, like at Jason’s, only lots of his are grown up-looking textbooks. And – Dick moves away from Bruce and Alfred to the couch and lifts his Dad’s old leather jacket off the back of it. It smells different – Dick’s not quite sure how, but it does. And the leather’s really worn and it’s grey at the cuffs and collar where it’s been rubbed at and rubbed at. And someone’s patched the lining once or twice.
He looks over at the poster again.
“How come Damian lives here?” Dick’s aware he’s being a little disingenuous, but he never did manage to ask how Damian became Robin. He and Bruce had just talked about Jason.
“I leave Gotham a lot more than I used to,” says Bruce. “And Damian… can’t always come with me, and you look after him.”
Dick puts the jacket back down. “Like you look after me?”
“Well,” says Bruce, and frowns. “Didn’t he tell you? Damian’s my son. Biologically.”
“He did not tell me,” says Dick, narrowing his eyes. “Don’t you like each other, or something?” He crosses his arms over his chest and fixes Bruce with a stern look. If Bruce is Damian’s real dad, Damian oughta live with Bruce, not Dick.
Even if they are Batman and Robin. Which is an idea that… well, it makes Dick feel less excited than it did, especially after what Bruce said about him having these friends, these Titans, and about being Nightwing. Selina said he was good, and that means a lot, it does, but now… now it also makes him feel sort of… squiffly. Nervous. Weird.
Maybe even a little bit scared. What if he lets Damian down? Not that Bruce has let him down! Ever. (Yet?) But… but Dick’s not Bruce. And Jason doesn’t like grown up-Dick. And – and he doesn’t really want to be Batman. He like the sound of Nightwing much better. He wants to be as good as Batman, only… only himself. He’s not sure how he’ll feel about a grown up-him that doesn’t want that.
“He’s my son,” Bruce repeats. Dick’s not dumb enough to think that actually answers his question. “Besides, he likes you better.” Smile and a wink. “He hasn’t been here in Gotham for very long, and when he arrived – “
Bruce looks, helplessly, at Alfred.
“Master Bruce was indisposed,” says Alfred blandly. “You assumed a great many responsibilities during that time, Master Richard.”
Like being Batman.
Dick doesn’t hesitate. He pulls a face. “I’m glad that’s over with. Heeeey, can I see my bedroom? What do I wear when I’m a grown up? Not suits, tell me please I don’t have to wear suits…”
When Tim gets back to the Manor that evening he repossesses his room first thing. It’s empty compared to his actual home, his and Cass’ place on Crime Alley, but his old clothes are still in the closet, and some of his least-read books are on the shelves.
His skateboard is under the bed. He drags it out, runs his fingers over the scuffmarks. He hasn’t looked at it since… since before Kon died? Tim’s not sure. He was so proud of it once, as proud as he was of anything he did as Robin.
Maybe Damian would like the thing. That’s what older brothers do, right, pass stuff on?
Behind the skateboard, there’s a box of photographs. The Batman and Robin ones are in a smaller box inside the first, this one with a lock on it. The photos Tim is looking for are next to it. There aren’t many. The whole point of the camera was to photograph the things he couldn’t reach.
In retrospect, he doesn’t know why he didn’t include his parents in that. Well, but things changed, didn’t they. He and Dad were close, at the end. Dad trusted him, knew him, loved him.
She’s been dead so long ago that sometimes Tim almost forgets he’s lost her at all. So many other losses at once; Janet Drake had faded quietly into the background, become a kind-faced, distant blur. Here she is: thick dark hair, a perfect smile. Tim remembers how she always put her official smile on for photos. He doesn’t have any candids of her. He wonders if maybe she hadn’t liked having her photograph taken. She had an official voice too, he remembers, stiffer and sharper than her ordinary one, that she used when she was talking to someone about work… you’re official-voicing me, Mom! he’d say sometimes, over the crackling phoneline to her in Brasil, Peru, Mexico. And she’d laugh and laugh and say, sorry, sweetheart, I can’t get out of the habit.
Batman and Robin, orphans.
“Got a lead on that sorceress,” says Steph. “Apparently she’s living it up in Robbinsville. Freaky magic stuff happening all over. Couple dudes got turned into pigs. Some old lady turned half her furniture to pure gold just by touching it. Man, if I hadn’t already read about King Midas I’d go for that gift.”
Jason shakes his head. “You’d need magic,” he says, “to live it up in Robbinsville.”
Not very interesting magic, though, is it? Not particularly… original. Play-magic. Imitation.
Steph laughs. “Where’s Dick?”
“At the penthouse, with Alfred and Bruce. I had stuff to do, and he didn’t look like he should be left alone. Besides, Alfred wanted to see him.”
Steph nods. She wanders thoughtfully through the apartment; runs a finger along the bookshelves, leans against the armchair, stands up again, circles the couch where Dick’s pillow is lying on his neatly folded duvet, studies the bookshelves stacked with second hand paperbacks; the only new books Jason owns are the textbooks he sporadically buys, something medical, usually, or a sociology thing.
Jason leans against the kitchen entryway – doorless – and studies the way she moves, the tilt of her head, her curious eyes.
“So,” she says.
He smirks at her.
“Team dead Robins,” she says.
“I forgot you were the one Black Mask got,” he says.
“You’ve never gone after me,” she says abruptly. “I mean, even when –“
“Even when I was crazy?”
“Team dead Robins.” You’re not Bruce’s replacement-son.
She’s watching him. He twists the bracelet round his wrist, sharp ache grounding him, makes himself smile. Faintly. Steph rolls her shoulders so the cape ripples down her back and shakes her head. She’s read Bruce’s file on him, probably – or maybe Babs’. Jason’s not sure what’s in that. He’s had the guts to do a lot of necessary, terrible things, but he’s never had the guts to go to Babs and ask her… well.
“Hah,” he agrees. “No nasty scars, I take it?” Gestures, with his fingertip, from left shoulder down the middle of his chest to his belt buckle: Y-incision.
Steph’s mouth tightens. She doesn’t look away, but Jason feels –
Dammit, these fucking kids. Some small voice in his mind is laughing at her, at her pain, red-shaded and vicious.
Jason hates that voice. If he thought shooting himself in the head would make it shut up – he twists the bracelet again, leans his weight against the doorjamb. Kids. Just kids. A ten year old, one billionaire’s whims away from dying, from ending up on the same streets Jason used to live on, and a pair of girls with scars that run near as deep as his own, and a boy whose earliest memory is of witnessing a murder, and a child who’s never known a family that hasn’t dealt in death and violence.
“What’s it like?” Steph asks quietly.
“Demonic possession,” Jason says, straight-faced. Do they all think he’s Pit-crazy? Or just crazy? Or perfectly sane all along? It used to amuse him, the idea of Bruce agonising over that very question. Now thinking about Bruce just makes him tired. Jason spent so long thinking the man was dead; he guesses he got too used to it.
“There was a girl,” says Steph. “She held my hand the whole time.” She shakes her head. “Leslie says Bruce was with me when I flatlined, but I don’t remember him at all. Just her hand, squeezing mine.”
Jason is surprised. “I remember a girl too,” he says. “I thought she was my mother – my real mother. Not Sheila.”
Steph shakes her head again, as if shaking off the memories. She’s biting her lower lip.
“So, hey,” he says. “Robbinsville, huh.”
Batgirl reaches up and pulls her cowl back on, grinning. “Is the Red Hood up for a team up?”
“With a pretty blonde in body armour? Well, sure.”
She laughs. They go out through the living room window.
Catwoman catches up to him in Robbinsville. Bruce is man enough to admit to himself, if not to her, that he hoped she would.
The first thing she asks is “How’s the little bird?”
“Unimpressed with me,” Batman says. “And most of his siblings, I think. Except Jason, for some reason.”
She laughs out loud. He likes the sound. “Irony.”
“I only hope he remembers it when he’s returned to normal.”
“They already had a very comfortable little détente.”
Batman hmms. He is still not sure he approves of Dick’s announcement that the Family would stay out of Jason’s neighbourhood from now on, but – according to Oracle, the Red Hood hasn’t killed anyone in nearly six months. He’s… he wants to be relieved. He wants to hope.
He can’t let himself.
Catwoman reads that dull pain in his body language; she taps a fingertip against his chest, still smiling.
“Come on,” she says. “You must have found this sorceress by now. I’d like a word with her myself.”
Her smile takes on a vicious slant. So does his.
When Dami arrives at the penthouse he agrees to watch The Goonies with badly-concealed irritation. Dick doesn’t care. He bounces up and down in his seat and eats ice cream and talks at Dami like Dami hasn’t gone and crawled right back into his shell. It works, too! The kid starts loosening up again. They’re almost back to where they were before Dick went and asked Jason that dumb question.
Dick’s proud of himself. He doesn’t like seeing people forcing themselves to be miserable. Making people happy is – was – his job, after all. He likes it. It’s the best feeling, knowing that someone’s smiling because of you.
He says as much to Dami, who rolls his eyes. “I suppose it’s one way to define philanthropy,” he says.
“Phil-whosit?” Dick says, blank.
Damian huffs. “Philanthropy,” he says. “From the Greek. Literal translation, love of mankind.”
“You speak Greek?” says Dick. “Like, properly? That’s pretty cool. I only know a couple words.”
Dami chows down on the last meringue in his ice cream bowl and says, “How many languages do you speak, anyway?”
Dick has to count on his fingers. “Uh. English, Rom, German, Spanish, bits of Portuguese from when we were in Brazil when I was eight, have you ever been to Brazil? It’s awesome! And I can say hello and goodbye and yes please and ask for directions and order pizza in French and Italian.”
“I speak all of those fluently,” says Damian, “as well as Greek and Russian and Arabic, of course.”
Dick wiggles his feet, hanging over the edge of the couch, and says, “Suuuuuuure.”
Damian is indignant. “Shall we have a competition?”
“Loser has to –“ says Dick, and stops.
He can’t think of anything.
His life is so messed up he can’t even think of a forfeit for a dumb game. Like, at home, at Haley’s, he’d say help muck the stables or help do the cooking or even just something tiny and stupid, like skip desert. And even if it was just Bruce and him he’d say something about reports or telling Alfred that they scratched the paintjob on the car. But now he’s… sort of lost. Is Jason going to let him sleep on his couch and scarf his cereal and not go to school forever?
“Wax the Batmobile,” says Damian in French. He’s looking at him all sharp and expectant.
Maybe not totally lost.
Later on Damian’s asleep on the couch himself; none of the grown-ups are back yet. Patrol. Dick’s not bothered, or worried. Rather the opposite.
He thinks Dami might be faking it in order to get out of watching another movie, though. He doesn’t mind that, either, as long as he gets left alone for a bit. He slides, quietly, off the couch, trying not to disturb the other boy (his brother) in case he really is asleep, and wanders off into the penthouse. Alfred and Bruce hadn’t really shown him much of it earlier. Dick knows he’s got a bedroom that’s pretty empty, and a kitchen that’s waaaaaaaaay too tidy (though to be fair, that’s Alfred’s fault), and a bathroom that’s got a really big first aid kit, and a roomful of yet more books – a study, like Bruce’s. (It turns out a lot of the textbooks in the living room are actually Damian’s.) Then there’s Damian’s bedroom, and Alfred’s, and a guest room.
He searches the bedside cabinets briefly, but doesn’t find anything other than his Dad’s watch and a book grown up-him was reading that looks excruciatingly boring. There’s a funny bookmark in the pages. It looks handmade; when he flips it over it says happy birthday love lian in a kid’s handwriting.
Dick feels weirdly cold. Who’s Lian? Nobody’s told him about a Lian.
Maybe she died, like his Mom and Dad.
Moving on! There’s a sideboard near the kitchen door. Dick rifles through a drawerful of bills and official-looking letters. The next drawer has a pad of recycled paper. No one’s used it at all. Underneath, in the cupboard part, the sideboard is empty.
Dick steps into a pair of his own boots, lying outside the study door. They’ve got mud on them and the laces are a mess and standing in them makes him feel like he’s trying on his Dad’s things. He wonders if Bruce is still keeping his Mom’s rings for him, or if he has those in this penthouse someplace.
Ohhhh, the study is way better. There’s photographs! Those are the first thing Dick notices, the thing he missed when he stuck his head in here earlier. Loads and loads of photographs – on the walls, on the bookshelves, all kinds of people, people Dick’s never met, people he doesn’t recognise, people who don’t even look human, like the lady with the red hair and the orange skin. They’re smiling and laughing and happy to be there; sometimes there’s children with them, sometimes not. Sometimes they’re older or younger. One or two were taken at a wedding. Sometimes there’s a man in the photos who looks like Dick’s Dad: same hair and skin, same shape to his face. Blue eyes like his Mom’s.
It doesn’t take a genius detective to figure out that the man is Dick himself. He swallows hard, turns away from the laughter on his own face, the happiness he doesn’t understand yet.
Instinctively he knows the photos by the desk are the most important ones. There’s papers scattered all over and one of those really thin laptop-computer things. There’s a phone, flatter and bigger than the one Selina gave him. Dick picks it up. It’s plugged in, and it lights up and tells him he has seven missed calls and five messages. He wants to read them, but it just asks him for his PIN, and of course he can’t remember it, so he puts the phone back.
Ooooh, there’s a map of Gotham on the wall there, behind the couch and the leather armchair. Dick lowers himself into the armchair experimentally; it drops underneath his weight, obviously used to someone much heavier. The leather’s cracked and well-worn, so he must spend a lot of time here, in this chair. He stretches his arm out: he’s too short to reach the table, or the tall reading lamp. It makes him feel out of place, wrong.
He stands up again, goes back to the desk. Some of the papers say Wayne Enterprises; others are from foundations and charities. There’s a birthday card, written but not posted, lying beside its envelope. Dick stares at his own handwriting: it looks quick and spiky, totally different to his Dad’s and his Mom’s – but maybe a little like Bruce’s. The card’s supposed to go to someone called Donna. Happy Birthday! it says. love as always, Dick. He wonders if Donna’s his girlfriend. He wonders which of the women in the photographs she is: the red haired lady in the wheelchair? The one with the orange skin? The dark-haired lady who looks a bit like Aunt Diana? The lady in the police uniform, holding her kid on her hip?
At the very bottom of the card, under his signature, there’s another short sentence, in smaller handwriting. Dick peers at it. Donna – it’s so good to get to send you one of these again. Enjoy your day, and I’ll see you soon!
What does that mean? Did they have a fight? Well, either way, Dick can tell that this Donna is important to him. Will be important to him.
So will all the people in the photographs. Dick knew as soon as he came in here that the study is the most important room in the penthouse. He wouldn’t have anyone’s photographs in here if he didn’t –
Love them very much.
All these people, all these strangers, who he loves. Grown up-him. And that man’s vanished, maybe for good.
Dick throws Donna’s birthday card down on the desk and turns to the final set of photographs. Damian sulks up at him out of one of them. There’s Steph and Cass, hugging. There’s Cass, wearing a leotard for ballet and talking earnestly to grown up-Dick. There’s the lady in the wheelchair again, smiling widely. She’s really beautiful. There’s an old Polaroid of himself and Jason, and wow, that’s maybe the weirdest of the lot, Jason so short and scrawny, half-squinting at the camera because of the sunlight on the snow all around them. He’s grinning, and grown up-Dick has an arm slung across his shoulders.
And finally there’s one of him and Timmy, they’re in the Manor grounds, it’s summertime. Grown up-Dick is wearing sunglasses and laughing with his whole body, and Tim – Timmy who’s barely come near Dick this whole time, not properly to talk to him the way Damian and Jason both have – Tim is leaning against him and laughing too, laughing the same way.
Dick realises for the first time: not only does grown up-Dick love a lot of people very much, but people love him back.
Tim’s hanging on to him and laughing and tilting his head up and looking delighted, so that his whole face is different to the Tim who came to Jason’s apartment with Bruce only this morning; he’s happy.
Happy because of Dick?
And now –
Dick’s cried a lot this week – even more than on the day his Mom and Dad actually died – but he’s got one more bout of tears left in him.
One last quick search through all the desk drawers.
Cards, postcards, letters, little trinkets and baubles that were obviously presents, ‘cause Dick would throw them away otherwise, he doesn’t keep stuff like this, not unless someone gave it to him, there was never room for anything at Haley’s, they lived in a trailer, come on. Invitations to people’s weddings. Donna Troy and Terry Long. Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Wallace West and Linda Park. A scribbled note signed with S, something about Damian’s cat. A big envelope with a kid’s drawings and letters to Uncle Dick, all signed Lian. Who’s Roy? Who’s Kory? Who’s Kara? Who’s Garth, Gar, Vic, Raven? Who’s Conner? Connor? Dinah? Karen?
Books with inscriptions in them. To Dick, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, love, love, love. He finds his eleventh birthday present from Aunt Diana: a big book of Greek and Roman mythology, her writing on the front page black and strong: I hope you enjoy these stories written down as much as you did when I first told you them! A very Happy Birthday, Dick. Much love, Diana. The book is old and yellowed and it’s been read so often the spine is cracked and the pages are dog-eared so he can find his favourite myths quicker.
Dick won’t be eleven for another four whole months.
Five messages on his phone and seven missed calls after – what – three days? Four?
How many email-things on the computer? From who? From people whose photos he hasn’t even seen?
A note, small and crumpled and old, folded over and over. Dick reads about five words of it – my dearest darling – it’s a love letter – a love letter to him, from someone called Barbara. He drops it back into the drawer and shakes.
All these people.
All these things he doesn’t know. A whole life he’s forgotten, stepped out of – abandoned, really.
As if he’d died.
At the very, very back of the treasure drawer, the little box with his Mom’s rings, her sapphire pendant.
He pockets the Polaroid of himself and Jason and flees the study.
“So Zatanna thinks the freaky sceptre-thing she was wavin’ around is doin’ the actual magic,” Jason is saying. Steph is only paying attention with half an ear, because she needs one to listen for O: for the first time in four days Barbara has a visual on her ex-boyfriend’s de-aged self, and Steph has an idea that she’s not taking it so well.
Dick’s not taking it so well either. Did Damian say something to him this evening? No, Steph doesn’t believe that. Not even Tim would believe that, and she’s pretty sure Timmers is happy to believe a lot of the Brat-Bat (Bat-Brat? Hmm.), but never that he would intentionally harm Dick Grayson in any way.
Well, not anymore, anyhow.
Still, the kid looks wrecked, smaller and quieter than ever before, as if he’s sort of turned in on himself. Even when he was at his most upset at the Manor he was yelling at other people, energy directed outwards. Now he’s sitting on the topmost of the three steps separating the living room from the corridor, and looking miserable.
Cass has noticed it too. She moves to Steph’s side, touches her elbow. Steph raises an eyebrow at her.
“Talk to him,” says Cass.
“You talk to him,” says Steph. “You’re his sister.”
“Not great with words,” Cass points out. “He usually knows that, so it works. Now he doesn’t.”
“Hmm,” says Steph.
“Robin business? I wasn’t much of a one.”
“No,” says Cass, amused now. “Besides, you’re good with troubled ten-year-olds.”
They both look at Damian. Steph doesn’t know what the kid’s been doing for the last four days, but it doesn’t seem to have included sleeping; he was conked out on the couch when they all got here. Even now his eyes are heavy and bruised-looking.
The cushion lines on his left cheek and his messy hair make him look almost adorable.
“What do you think happened?” she asks.
Cass looks back at Dick. Steph… sometimes Steph would give, like, anything to be able to read people the way Cass can. Other times she’s glad she’s not walking around with that extra burden of knowledge. She can barely keep her classes straight, let alone other people’s whole selves. With great knowledge comes great responsibility? Knowledge is power is O’s watchword.
Never make anyone as wise as yourself is Bruce’s.
“Have you ever… been in Dick’s study?” Cass asks.
Steph is surprised. “No. I crashed in his room once after a case.” She’d gotten her shoulder dislocated and, fuzzy with painkillers, had let him manoeuver her into his enormous bed to sleep it off. Waking up the next morning had been like waking up in a hotel room. She doesn’t know where he slept. If, indeed, Dick had slept at all.
Babs clears her throat in her ear. “It’s where he keeps all his stuff. His personal stuff, you know. Alfred insisted he personalise the penthouse, and most of Dick’s things went into the study.”
Steph doesn’t ask how Babs knows. “Yeah, no, Cass is definitely the one for this conversation.”
Cass tugs Dick into the kitchen as the conversation starts revolving around magic and spells and artefacts and a dude called Jason Blood. He follows her curiously; like Timmy, neither of the girls have really had much to do with him. He thinks he understands about Tim. Where Damian sulks, Tim goes distant. But Cass is what Bruce calls an unknown variable.
She makes them each a mug of hot chocolate. Dick’s mug has a weird S-shield on it – red on black, not like Uncle Clark’s. He peers at it curiously.
“It’s Tim’s mug,” says Cass. She’s grinning, so Dick guesses they’ve got a joke about it.
She sits opposite him at the counter. Down the corridor Bruce is arguing with Jason. There’s a sunny laugh that’s gotta be Steph; the conversation carries on, changes. Cass is always so quiet. She sips at her hot chocolate without watching him or leaning towards him or doing anything that even hints that she might care if he’s there or not.
Like Jason’s refusal to look at him that night in Timmy’s bedroom at the Manor, Dick finds it comforting. It gives him space.
He wants to talk to her. He wants to know who she is and what she means to grown up-Dick. He wants – he wants to talk to all of them, really, all the people in the photos, all the ones who sent cards and letters and presents that he’s treasured so much he’s kept them.
“Who’s Barbara?” he asks suddenly.
Cass looks surprised. “Commissioner Gordon’s daughter,” she says after a moment. “I thought you’d met.”
Dick shakes his head. Barbara Gordon, writing him love letters. Future-him, anyway. Grown up-Dick. He wonders if he wrote her any back.
“And you do ballet.”
Cass smiles. “The photo in the study. Yes.”
He smiles back, a little. “Is it cool?”
“It’s… lovely. It’s like… another language.”
“I read people. People’s bodies, faces. Words are harder.”
“So…” Dick turns this over in his mind, thoughtful. “So ballet is a different way to move? Like fighting is different to gymnastics.”
Cass nods. “Exactly.”
“Maybe I should try it.” He grins.
“You’d be… welcome in my beginner’s class,” Cass teases.
“How long have you been doing it?”
“Not long. A few months.” She’s watching him now. “You bought me the lessons.”
Dick looks up. “I did?”
“You did. I went… to see Swan Lake with you. It was a company thing. I loved it. You… said I should take lessons. Birthday present.”
Dick’s gaze drops back to his hot chocolate. “I don’t remember,” he whispers. He did something nice for his sister, something she loves, and he doesn’t remember.
She touches his wrist.
“I hate it when you all look at me like you’re disappointed with who I am,” he says, not looking up. “Only now… it’s like I’m disappointed with myself.”
Cass turns her hand to pry his fingers from around his mug and wrap hers around them. “Don’t be. You haven’t done anything.”
Dick laughs miserably. “That’s my point.”
She shakes her head angrily. “Not my point! Oh! I hate words. Listen. If –“
“If I stay like this, what then?”
“Then we’ll miss him, and look after you.”
“If I decide I want to stay like this?”
“Then we’ll miss him, and look after you.”
“You’re Dick,” says Cass. “Our brother. Bigger, younger.” She shrugs. “Different, but not in the ways that matter.”
“Steph said that.”
“Were you ever Robin?”
Cass smiles. “No. Batgirl. Steph was Robin.”
Dick’s surprised. “Really?”
“Not for long. Bruce fired her.”
Dick glares. “I don’t think I like how Bruce thinks he’s got a say in that.”
Cass laughs. “Tim says Batman needs a Robin,” she says. “To look after him.”
“Well, yeah,” says Dick. “I mean. Someone’s gotta do it. All the stuff he does. He’d be dead by now, wouldn’t he?” He pulls one side of his mouth up, wistful, rueful. “Might as well be – us. Besides.” He grins now, real and true. If everything else going on around him is weird and off-balance and brand new, this one thing is still the same. “I like it.”
Cass looks thoughtful.
By the end of the next day, Dick’s still ten. No one is particularly happy about this.
Not even Dick. He can’t go out, he can’t do anything; he understands they’re worried about this sorceress person now he’s been like this for five days and the spell hasn’t worn off, but for cryin’ out loud, he’s going crazy being shuttled back and forth between Jason’s place and the penthouse, between family members who look at him wrong, who he doesn’t know, who he should know.
He shows Jason the Polaroid. “Where was this?”
“Christ!” says Jason, staring. “You kept that?”
Dick’s uneasy. “I guess.”
Jason leans over and draws it, gently, out of Dick’s fingers. He stares down at it for a long time without saying anything.
“Aspen,” he says at last. “My first winter at the Manor. You swung by and threw a duffle bag at my head and said we were going skiing.” He laughs. “I’d never skied before.” Another long pause. For the first time this week, he’s smiling because of something grown up-Dick did. A good memory. “I’d never left the city before.”
“Did you like it?”
“It was.” Jason clears his throat. “The mountains were amazing. Better than anything I’d ever seen on TV.”
That’s not what he was going to say at all.
When Dick does a handstand on the kitchen counter and breaks an overhead light on the way back down Jason snaps, grabs him by the scruff of his neck, drags him back across town to the tower, makes Tim let them into a place called the Bunker, and locks him in the gym.
When he comes out, Batman and Cass are waiting for him. Cass is smiling; Batman looks like he’s just been talked into agreeing to something he thinks is dumb but Dick will think is awesome and has no idea how he got to this point.
“And I thought he talked a lot when he was Batman,” says Damian, disgusted.
“You get used to it,” says Tim, grinning.
“You never knew him when he was Robin.”
“No, but Nightwing wasn’t too different. I mean, he was more grown up and better at it. But the talking – yeah. I guess you never really saw that.”
Damian sighs. It’s a long-suffering, put-upon sound – the sigh of a boy with an irrepressible younger sibling who can’t keep out of trouble and who insists on dragging his big brother into it every time.
Tim remembers Dick heaving that sigh at him, sometimes, to tease.
“He’s ruining my reputation,” Damian says gloomily.
“He kind of is, isn’t he,” says Jason, leaning over the back of Tim’s chair and fiddling with his cigarettes.
“Don’t you dare get ash in my hair,” says Tim.
Jason lights up over the top of his head.
“He could at least have worn his own uniform,” Damian adds.
“Just count yourself lucky he didn’t hug the Commissioner,” says Tim.
Jason coughs on a lungful of smoke, trying not to laugh.
They’ve only been out for less than two hours and Robin has not yet stopped laughing except to talk. And complain about the boots.
“They’re too heavy!”
“Take it up with your brother,” says Batman unsympathetically. He’s trying not to smile.
“You’re the one who’s not letting me wear my own costume,” says Robin, disgusted.
“Count yourself lucky I let you come at all.”
“Yeahhhhhh, yeah. That’s your I’m enjoying this face, you know.”
“How can you tell?” Batgirl asks over the commlink they gave him. “He’s wearing a cowl.”
“How can I tell?” says Robin. “I’m Robin. It’s my job to tell.”
He turns a cartwheel along a parapet, whistling the opening bars of the Oo-de-lally song from the Robin Hood cartoon.
“You’re supposed to be keeping out of sight,” says Batman sternly.
“I am out of sight. I’m twenty stories above ground.”
“Stick in the mud! I haven’t even made a single pun all night.”
“I’m sure that’ll change at the earliest opportunity.”
“Oh man,” says Batgirl. “This whole conversation. This is bliss.”
“I bet you didn’t have to wear the clunky combat boots when you were Robin,” says Robin.
There’s a ringing silence. Uh-oh. What did he say?
“I did get a really neat skirt,” says Batgirl at last.
“Skirts!” says Robin. “Meh. I like your leg-holster-thing.”
He only just hears her chuckle over the comms. “Thanks.”
“And all the purple.”
“Eggplant,” says Batman, amused.
“He remembers!” says Batgirl, mock-shocked. Or maybe not so mock. Robin’s not sure. He sniggers just the same.
“Hey, you wanna hear the story about how I met your brother?” asks Batgirl. He can hear the grin in her voice.
“Timmers. We are formerly boyfriend and girlfriend.”
“How come formerly, was he mean?”
“Not intentionally,” says Timmy over the comms. He sounds apologetic, so Robin guesses that’s all right.
“Hah!” says Robin, and then has to wait to continue till he’s on the other rooftop; the wind as he swung was snatching all the words right out of his mouth. “I knew you were eavesdropping.”
“Everyone’s eavesdropping,” says Timmy.
“For God’s sake,” says Batman.
“Still got the face on,” Robin sings. “Oooooh, look, a mugging!”
He and Batman dive right in.
The only member of the family whom Dick doesn’t meet is the mysterious Oracle. Apparently she’s also known as Babs. That was who Jason was on the phone to, the first night Dick was at his place.
Sounds like it’s short for Barbara.
Dick thinks of that love letter and decides he’s fine with staying out of her way. It’s all very well for other people to have girlfriends. Timmy and Jason and whoever. As far as he’s concerned, the whole notion is sort of icky.
Dick’s been ten for nearly two weeks. Sometimes he still wonders if he’s just time-travelled to the future – if he’s switched places with grown up-Dick, who’s now wandering around his Gotham, annoying Bruce and complaining that all his clothes are too small and all his friends are stupid kids who don’t know him.
He still sleeps at Jason’s place, but he spends most of his days at the tower now, usually with Damian and Cass, sometimes with Alfred. When it’s just him and Alfred, it’s not so different from being at home.
Bruce is spending a lot of time doing company stuff with Tim. Steph’s at college.
“Who told you about Zitka and Elinore?” Dick asks her one day.
“No one,” she says. “I’m psychic.” He wonders if it was Oracle – Babs – and that’s why she won’t tell him.
Every day it’s a little bit easier to be around the others. They slowly stop looking so disappointed every time he turns up, like they thought this time maybe he’d be someone else. Dick wonders if that means they’ve given up on getting grown up-Dick back.
That idea gives him the heebie-jeebies almost as badly as the way they looked at him in the beginning. He wishes his brain would just pick a way to feel about all this and stick to it.
Tim still doesn’t have much to do with him beyond the totally necessary. And if Dick hugs him… well, sometimes he flinches a little.
Honestly, out of all of them, Jason is still his favourite. Jason watches dumb movies with him and lets him eat cereal for dinner if he wants and spots him sometimes when he trains. Sometimes he gets a sort of a bemused look on his face when he looks at Dick, but Dick’s pretty sure that’s just because he gets surprised sometimes that there’s someone in his apartment with him, not because of who Dick isn’t. Jason’s real used to being alone, just like Bruce is. Was.
And just like with Bruce, Dick gets a lot of personal satisfaction out of changing that. About his favourite thing to do is fall asleep on top of Jason while they’re watching a movie or something. Jay will sort of settle deeper into the couch and put an arm around him very gently, and Dick wakes up later and feels warm and wanted and safe.
Whenever Bruce sees them together he gets this smile like he can’t quite believe it.
Zitka’s arm (leg?) comes off at the beginning of the second week. Dick is devastated for all of five minutes, until Jason throws a sewing kit at him, but of course Dick can’t sew to save his life, so Jay has to help him.
The Family are trying to keep Dick out of the loop about the sorceress; Dick’s not sure why, but he’s not eager to know more, if he’s honest. The others have had a couple run-ins with her, but they haven’t caught her yet. Zatanna, who’s apparently a magician friend of Bruce’s from when he was a kid, can’t help much cause she’s got a Justice League thing going on, so the sorceress is still getting to wreak magic havoc in Gotham.
Not that she’s really doing all that much harm. From what Dick’s overheard, it sounds like she’s having fun. No one’s died yet or anything; in fact the worst thing she’s done so far in terms of hurting people is animal transformations. The best night of the fortnight is the one where they go over to Central and find Captain – Commissioner – Gordon on the rooftop, grinning tightly.
“Come and have a look,” he says.
They slip quietly through the precinct down to the cells, and fetch up in front of a cell that contains, not a person, but a penguin. It waddles across the floor when it sees them and flaps its wings furiously at Batman.
“Is that –“ says Robin, awed.
“Yep,” says Gordon cheerfully.
“Yep. Now, listen – you know I officially can’t stand for this, right? I’m not even sure you could call it assault, but seriously, fix this. I’m not putting a penguin on trial for money-laundering. My reputation would be ruined.”
He’s still grinning. Batman has to turn away to hide one of his own. The Penguin is loudly indignant.
“I guess he still recognises you,” Robin says cheerfully, and snaps a photograph before Batman or the Commissioner can tell him it’s inappropriate.
But yeah, he doesn’t mind that they haven’t caught up with the sorceress yet. It means he can put off the Decision.
“What decision?” asks Uncle Clark. Well, Superman. He’s floating above the parapet on the roof of Jason’s building and smiling at Dick.
“You don’t want the spell undone?”
“Wouldn’t it be. I don’t know – sort of like dying?”
Superman hesitates. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“I don’t think anyone has.”
“I guess not.” He floats down then to sit beside Dick on the parapet and puts an arm around him. “You talked to B about this?”
Dick shakes his head miserably.
“What’s he like?”
“Wh- Oh. You mean –“
“Grown up,” says Superman, smiling.
“He’s still you.”
“Only older, and taller, and better at punching people. More muscle.”
Dick manages an approximation of a smile.
“What’s Dick like,” says Superman. “Kind. Honest. Loyal. Generous. Curious. An excellent team leader, detective, fighter.” Dick goes red. “A good friend. A good brother, too. A man I’m proud of, proud to call my friend. That,” he gives Dick the tiniest of shakes, “hasn’t changed.”
“That doesn’t really tell me much.”
“Proud sometimes,” says Superman. “Quick-tempered, too. Not always sure where he belongs. Pushes himself too hard, and he’s so good at it that his friends don’t always notice when he needs them. Never backs down from a challenge – a real challenge I mean, a life-challenge.” He grins. “Ran the JLA a few times.”
Dick snorts. “Did I get to boss you and Batman around?”
“Well,” says Superman, smiling. “Kind of.”
Dick leans against him more. “I wouldn’t mind being him,” he says. “It’s not like I think he’s really awful. Though” – sudden frown – “he was mean to Jay.”
“If either one of you were more like Batman and less like each other it might have helped,” says Superman cryptically. “But you don’t want to stop being you. Of course not. It would be different if you remembered being him.”
“Lots weirder, for a start,” says Dick.
“So. So what do I do?”
“Dick. I don’t know. I can’t tell you who to be. I can only tell you that – whatever you decide – we all love you. And support you. I have faith in your abilities and your judgement; if you decide not to lift the spell I think you would grow up to be much the same man you were last month, before this happened. But I don’t know if that’s a comfort or not. I’m sorry.”
Dick sighs. “It’s kind of got to be, I guess,” he murmurs. “Thanks, Uncle Clark.”
Superman sits with him for a long while.
Two days later, Dick’s still ten, and Tim drops in with the news that the Penguin is no longer, well, a penguin.
“Oh no,” says Dick, disappointed.
“We got footage,” says Tim, grinning.
Jason puts a foot on the coffee table, sprawling out comfortably. “So it just wore off?”
“It hasn’t worn off me,” Dick says in a small voice.
“OK,” says Tim. “Bruce doesn’t want me to tell you this, because he’s Bruce. But. Here’s the deal: we’re starting to think she targeted you directly and deliberately, and that’s why the spell has held this long.”
Dick drops backward onto the couch. “But I didn’t do anything to her! Did I?”
“We’d never seen her before that night,” says Timmy.
“Are you sure?”
“Dick, I can get you logs of all the places you’ve been and all the things you did in the three weeks before she showed up in that alley and I can promise you that the words pissed off a sorceress do not appear in any of them.”
“But you weren’t with me every second of every day,” Dick argues. He’s not even sure why he’s doing it.
“As good as,” says Tim. “Dick, there hasn’t been time. We had that smuggling ring, and the murder up by Amusement Mile, and the frankly epic fight you had with Damian over sending him to school –“
“Lemme guess, he thinks he doesn’t need it?” Jason interrupts.
Tim rolls his eyes. “He had an alarming number of comments to make about the nature of the people he’d be going to school with, the suitability of the teachers, the applicability of what they’d teach him to his future career as Batman –“
Jason starts laughing. “Career! He’s eleven.”
“That was what Dick’s argument boiled down to,” Tim agrees. “Dami’s agreed to give it a try, but –“ he stops there and shakes his head. “But I’m getting off-topic. We’ve narrowed the sorceress down to a four-block area in Robbinsville.”
“What’s it center on?” Jason asks.
“Take your pick. A diner, a dry cleaners, an abandoned building site, and a homeless shelter. The rest of that street is all apartments. One block over you got a couple convenience stores, a hairdresser, the usual.”
Dick jumps up. “So why aren’t we going over there and checking it out?”
Both his brothers frown at him. “Because, sorceress,” says Jason patiently. “I for one have absolutely no desire to be ten again, ever.”
“Neither do I,” Tim says firmly. “For one thing, that version of me? Pretty useless on the crime-fighting front.”
“But I wanna –“
“Dick, no. Not till we know more about her. OK?”
Dick subsides in a huff.
Look, it’s their own fault if they’re gonna believe he’s ready to leave it at that.
He feels bad for pretending to Jay, though.
“You want me to contravene direct orders,” says Damian.
“Direct orders,” Dick sing-songs mockingly. “Come off it.”
Damian glowers. “Contravene direct orders,” he repeats, “and take a half-trained child into an area which we know is –“
“Half-trained?” says Dick. “Screw you. What’re you better at than me, Dami, decapitating people?”
Dami looks away.
“I thought we were Batman and Robin.”
“We are,” Damian says after a moment.
“I thought,” says Dick, “that that meant we were partners.”
“Dami, I gotta do this. Me. By myself. I have to. Please, Damian.”
He thinks it might be the first time he’s called the other boy by his full name.
Damian rubs at his temples with the heels of his hands. “All right,” he says. “All right. But you’re not going in costume – I am.”
They don’t have to look for long to find the sorceress. As a matter of fact, she finds them.
Dick has an uneasy feeling she’s been watching for him this whole time.
She’s wearing that green dress again, and her hair’s so dark it’s like Snow White’s. She waves her sceptre-staff-thing at them both, smirking.
“Good little children should be in bed at this time of the night,” she says.
“We’re not really very good,” says Dick. “Why did you do this to me?”
The sorceress shrugs, smiles, actually twirls around on her tiptoes; the dress swirls and swings around her legs. “Why not?”
“Everything I do is for fun,” she says cheerily. “I’ve never hurt anyone.”
“Except me,” says Dick. For some reason Tim’s tired, distant face flashes into his mind, and the photo in his study, where he’s laughing and happy. “Me and my family.”
The sorceress twists her mouth. She’s still looking like this is all some great, amazing, brilliant joke. “You’re a special case.”
“Why?” Dick demands. “What’d I ever do to you?”
“Oh,” she says. “Well, nothing yet, I gotta admit, but that doesn’t mean –“
As if that’s the last straw for Damian, he makes a noise in his throat that sounds like “-tt-“ and throws a Batarang at her, aiming for the bedknob-staff. She shouts angrily, only just deflecting it, and then says something Dick doesn’t quite hear, and the rooftop gives way underneath them.
They fall into the top floor of the warehouse underneath in a rush of rubble and dust; it’s all Dick can do to fall properly, like Dad always taught him. Everything hurts, and he can’t see Damian through the dust, but he kicks out at the sorceress as she comes close, and she dances away; he throws a bit of concrete, and she bats it away with the staff like it’s a baseball.
She’s not finding this funny anymore. Well, good, because neither is Dick. He scrambles onto his knees, searching for something else to throw at her, trying to see Damian.
“I don’t understand why you won’t just go away,” says the sorceress, and she actually stamps her foot like she’s five or something. She uses magic to blow dust into his face; he falls backwards, scrubbing at his eyes, and she leans over him irritably and has the freaking nerve to poke at him with her hideous bedknob-staff. “Think about what I’ve done for you! You’re ten years old again! Go back to school, learn to skateboard, make some friends that don’t wear spandex! How hard can it be?”
What she’s done for him? Dick thinks of the photos in the study, the cards and letters; he thinks of Cass talking about how much she loves ballet, and Damian telling him about some of the stuff they’ve done as Batman and Robin, and Alfred’s tired smile, and Bruce’s newly grey hair.
What she’s done for him is put a ten year old kid in the place of a man his whole family loved, and made them all miserable.
“Lady, I like the friends I’ve got,” Dick snaps, grabbing at the staff and yanking as hard as he can.
She yanks back. It’s the most bizarre tug-of-war he’s ever been in. Dick levers himself upright and plants his feet more firmly and drags at the staff. She drags back. His heels are slipping on the ground. She’s a grown up and he’s not and she’s stronger than him and this sucks, everything about this situation sucks balls.
“You – really shouldn’t – be – pissing – me off!” she pants.
“You – need – to get – over yourself!” Dick snarls back, and he thinks he’s just about lost hold of the thing when Damian – Robin – appears out of nowhere and kicks her in the knee.
She yowls but doesn’t collapse, which is OK cause that’s all the opportunity Dick needs. He gives a last furious tug; the staff slides out of her hands; he grips it tight and raises it over his head.
“I’m sick of you! I’m sick of all of this – this creeping around and not understanding and not fitting into my own family anymore! I want my real self back, and I want it now!”
He swings the staff with all the strength he’s got, and the glowing bedknob on the end shatters against the wooden floor.
There’s a blinding light, and then nothing.
Dick wakes up slowly to the sound of frantic yelling in his ear: Robin Robin come in – Dick Damian answer me – got a lock sending coordinates –
He scrabbles at his ear and yanks the comm out without really thinking about it. His head is pounding, and when he opens his eyes there’s something wrong with his eyes. No, no, he’s just wearing the cowl.
He’s not wearing the cowl. His gloved fingers scrape over exposed forehead, the skin of his cheeks; it’s only a mask. Strange.
He can’t quite think what’s happened to him. There was a sorceress in the alley, wasn’t there? And it was only a few blocks over from Jason’s place; he had shown up. Regular family reunion… Dick rubs at his forehead again, moves his hand away from his face.
Holds it there, above his eyes, staring.
Colours aren’t always easy to make out through the lenses in the mask, but Dick has, after all, seen his hands looking like this for years. If he takes the mask off, the grey shading of his middle and ring fingers will not be grey at all, but bright electric blue.
I want my real self back, and I want it now!
“Well,” he says out loud, and has to stop to cough (though what he actually wants to do is burst out laughing); his voice feels gravelly and disused. “I guess I asked for it.”
And beside him Damian says “Grayson!” and Nightwing wheezes and coughs again when Robin more or less falls on top of him.
“Hey,” he says, wrapping his arms (blue-striped, blue) around his littlest brother. “Hey, Robin, it’s OK. We’re OK.”
Robin doesn’t get the chance to answer, because there’s a crashing noise, and someone shouts, “In here!” and someone else says, “That’s the sorceress?” and Jason says, “For fuck’s sake!” and Steph says, “Nightwing?” in tones of deepest disbelief, and Nightwing and Robin have barely climbed to their feet before Tim ducks past Batman and throws his arms round Dick.
His momentum sends them staggering a step; Dick’s answering hug lifts Tim off his feet, like the kid is twelve and not nineteen. Tim can just about see over Dick’s shoulder now, but that’s as far as it goes; he’s all wiry strength and compact muscle, clinging on as if Dick’s just been raised from the dead. He smells like sweat and shampoo and Dick turns his head against Tim’s and kisses his hair. And then a rustle of cape and Cass glomps them both – briefly but tightly.
Beside them Damian is glowering, arms crossed over his chest.
Dick cups his little brother’s head in his hand and holds him close as he looks over at the rest of their family.
“Welcome back,” says Batman.
“Interesting costume choice,” says the Red Hood dryly.
“I asked for my real self back when I smashed the thing,” says Dick, grinning. “I guess I oughta be taking this as career advice…”
Tim laughs into his shoulder, steps back. “More careful next time,” he says.
Dick ruffles his hair. “Not planning on a next time, Cindy.”
“You weren’t planning on this one, Marcia,” Tim shoots back, hand tucked firmly into the crook of Dick’s elbow.
“I can manage,” says Dick.
“I don’t trust you,” says Tim.
“You’re turning my stomach, both of you,” says Jason.
And behind them, the sorceress says, “I didn’t know you were supposed to be some kind of family.”
She’s sitting slumped against the wall, wearing jeans and sneakers, brown hair cut in a bob, no older than fifteen.
“What the -?”
“It was the staff,” she says despondently. “I stole it off a fortune teller in the Narrows who said I wouldn’t get away with it – that, you know, the Batman would stop me.” She shrugs. “It was a proper prophecy and everything. I figured, if I could find you first…” Shrug again.
“Self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Tim. “If you hadn’t come looking for Di-, for N, none of this would’ve happened.”
“Like in the myths,” says the girl, and blows out a sigh. “Guess I should’ve thought of that. I’ve read enough of them.” She pulls a face, a hey-what-can-you-do-right sort of face, and shrugs a third time, utterly unrepentant, and Dick starts laughing. It’s been three horrendously long and confusing weeks; his body hurts all over; he’s still got to get back and see Alfred and call Babs and let Superman and the Titans know he’s OK; he never did post Donna’s birthday card and now it’s a fortnight late; he’s three weeks behind on all his work and he’s going to need to spend time with Damian to make sure the kid’s OK, and he’s afraid he’s going to have to fight Jason tooth and nail to keep this new, fragile closeness they’ve found; he’s going to spend a weekend at Tim and Cass’ place, goofing off and eating nothing but popcorn; he wants to work with Steph and build an actual rapport with her; he wants –
Right now, he wants to go home. Again. Still.
At least now he knows he’s got one.
“Rachel O’Sullivan, Long Island, New York City,” says Jason. “Fifteen years old, with latent magical abilities, and bored right out of her comfortable middle-class well-brought-up mind. Took about two grand’s worth of cash out of her parents’ bank account when she ran and hasn’t been seen since. That was three months ago.”
“Unbelievable,” says Dick, falling into his armchair. He kicks his legs over the arm of it and crosses them at the knee, resting his head on the other arm.
“Kinda hilarious,” says Jason.
“We’re gonna have to keep an eye on her,” says Dick blithely. “Stick her on the Titans. Oughta keep her busy. Call it community service.”
“Community service,” Jason repeats, sounding pained.
“Yeah,” says Dick, smiling up at the ceiling. “Hey. Did I say thank you?”
“Once or twice,” says Jason.
“Third time’s the charm,” says Dick. “Thank you.”
Short silence on the other end.
“You can come by on Saturday and pick the rest of your crap up.” Jason sounds carefully disinterested.
Dick’s grin gets wider. “Sure! Eleven OK for you? I’ll bring brunch.”
“I never said –“
“Good night, Little Wing,” says Dick, and hangs up. Perfect. Jason’s got three days to sulk and be indignant; if he really doesn’t want Dick around by the time Saturday arrives Dick will of course leave and try again another day, but if he does…
You can’t steamroller over Jason. It sets his back up; makes him angry, contradictory. You gotta give him time, and let him decide for himself.
Dick would know. He can be the same way himself. He just doesn’t take it as far.
He tosses his phone onto the couch opposite and raises his hand over his face, smiling, remembering that swipe of blue wrapped over his fingers. Maybe he should be taking it further.
Robin, Nightwing, Batman: Gotham is his now. Bruce isn’t getting it back, no matter what Dick decides to wear to work.
It’s gone one a.m. Dick gets up again, grabs his phone, wanders the penthouse; he pauses at Alfred’s door, at Bruce’s empty guestroom; he checks in on Damian, fast asleep with the covers tangled haphazardly round his knees. If Dick goes to straighten them out, Damian will wake; if, on the other hand, he settles for a brush of his lips across the boy’s forehead…
Cass is on one couch, head pillowed on her arm. Dick rescues her phone from where it’s about to fall to the ground and gently tugs her earphones out. Audiobook? No, Scheherazade. He’s careful not to touch her at all; he’s lucky she didn’t wake when he drew the earphones out.
Tim’s on the other couch. Like Dami, he’s a restless sleeper; like Dami, he’s kicked the blanket off and everywhere. Dick goes to tuck him back in, touch his cheek gently. What he’s been through, holding steady, fielding questions, playing peacemaker, all the while probably half-convinced Dick was never coming back.
“Not about to leave you, little brother,” he murmurs.
Outside, on the balcony, the Batman is waiting for him. Dick means to say something, and by say something he mostly means apologise, but Batman moves first, and Dick hides his face in his father’s shoulder and hugs back.
It doesn’t last long, but. He didn’t get one when they signed the adoption papers; he didn’t even get one when Bruce came back from getting his sorry ass lost in time.
“Coming out?” Batman asks when they draw apart.
Dick shakes his head. “Got a call to make,” he says, smiling.
“All right,” says Batman.
“Catch up with you after.”
Curl of mouth that some would call derisive. Dick knows it’s amused. “As?”
Dick laughs. “Myself.”
“Hmm.” Pleased; proud. “I’m glad you had the sense to ask for that.”
“So am I.”
Dick waits till he’s vanished across the chasm of the street before he dials: the phone goes straight to voicemail.
“Clark!” he says. “It’s Dick. All’s well that ends well, I guess.” He laughs softly, sadly. He remembers everything that happened with perfect clarity; what he doesn’t remember so well was how it felt to be that lost, hurting boy. Dick feels oddly sorry for him, as if that boy were a real person he could have helped but didn’t. Maybe he’ll go to Metropolis, sometime soon, and see if he can put that into adequate words. For now, the only ones he has are stunningly conventional. “Thanks, Clark, for everything. Good night.”
About a dozen other calls to make, to return; messages to send, invitations to accept or extend. This next call gets picked up after half a ring.
“The all-knowing Oracle’s Gotham City offices, thank you for contacting us! Office hours are from nine to five –“
Dick starts laughing. Babs doesn’t stop. “- every Monday to Friday, and from twelve to four on Saturday afternoons. Outside office hours I’m afraid we’re quite unable to help you –“
“It’s good to hear your voice again,” he says.
She falls silent for a moment. “It’s good to hear yours, Dick.”
“Talk to me,” he says. “Fill me in. Tell me what I’ve missed. All the gossip, all the news.”
Babs’ turn to laugh. “I knew you only wanted me for my global intelligence network and my superior hacking skills.”
“Did you really?” says Dick. Lets it hang there.
She clears her throat. “I hear you made quite the entrance coming back, N.”
“Oh, you know me, Babs,” he says cheerfully. “I hate wearing capes.”
He falls into a chair while she’s still laughing. It’s a nice night, warmer than it has been in a while. Gotham’s done herself proud; he almost thinks he can see a star or two. On Friday he’s going to get a hold of Steph’s class schedule and ambush her for lunch. Tomorrow, he’s going to humble himself to Donna and beg forgiveness for missing her birthday. He has a feeling Lian for one is going to be hugely disappointed that she missed the opportunity to meet his ten year old self.
For now, well, Dick Grayson has his family back – not that they were the ones who went away in the first place – and his best girl on the phone, and an hour or two to talk before he puts his suit back on and goes back to work.
More than good enough.