Eight Years Old
Bruce is finally starting to get a hang of this parenting thing.
The first few months were rough, there’s no disputing that. Bruce lost track of how many times he panicked and called Leslie Thompkins whenever Dick burst into tears over something and Alfred wasn’t home. Not to mention all the times when Alfred would leave Bruce on his own for dinner, insisting that one must learn how to raise a child without a butler to help. Bruce fed the kid burnt chicken nuggets and garlic bread for two nights straight.
Now, though? Bruce is immensely proud of how far he and Dick have come. He’s even taken to attending PTA meetings, if only for the free coffee and doughnuts.
He hears the front door open right on time, then wet boots hitting the floor. Dick had a half day today to make room for meet-the-teacher night later. Bruce isn’t looking forward to spending two hours sitting in a chair made for eight-year-olds, listening to a teacher in plastic pearls talk about an elementary schooler’s oh-so challenging curriculum. At least he’s only got the one; he has no intention of having more kids after Dick.
Bruce busies himself with his mostly unburnt slice of toast, one ear trained on the footsteps through the foyer accompanied by unceasing chatter that Bruce has grown quite fond of over the months.
“—and then they let us outside for recess even though it was raining, and I went on the swings and my hair got all wet and it was so cool.”
“That explains the muddy clothes,” Alfred says.
“Sorry, Alf. I’m not immune to mud puddles.”
“It would appear so, Master Dick.”
The two of them enter the kitchen, Dick working his elbows out of his yellow rain slicker to reveal the school uniform beneath. His cheeks are rosy, his eyes bright. “Hiya, Bruce!”
“Hey, champ. How was school?”
“It was awesome. It was raining all day and at recess there were a ton of puddles all over the playground and a million worms. I didn’t touch them though, ‘cause the teacher said not to.”
“What snack would you like, Master Dick?” Alfred asks, taking Dick’s discarded raincoat and folding it over his arm.
“Can you do ants on a log?”
“Coming right up, sir.”
Dick heaves himself up on the bar stool beside Bruce, his sock feet kicking against the lower cupboard. Bruce spreads marmalade over his toast. “Tell me more about school. Any fights today?”
“Nope,” Dick says proudly, flashing his gapped teeth.
Dick and another boy got into a scuffle on the first day over a comment about whether Dick’s parents being from the circus meant they were part monkey. It’s a miracle Dick only gave the kid a nosebleed and didn’t break anything. The principal let Dick off with a warning since it was his first time at a normal school, but Bruce has a feeling the only reason he wasn’t expelled was because his guardian is the most powerful man in Gotham City.
Bruce had a stern talk with Dick when they got home about the importance of controlling one’s actions. Traveling the world in a circus train car doesn’t do much to help one’s impulse control. He also banned Dick from watching television for the rest of the night, but Dick’s crocodile tears swayed him to balance it out by letting him have ice cream before dinner. That’s good parenting, right?
“I even made a friend,” Dick says.
“Oh? What are they like?”
“His name is Caleb and his desk is right next to mine, so we talked during reading time. Then he gave me some of his chocolate during lunch and we played on the swings together at recess.”
“Ah, the wonders of childhood friendship,” Alfred says from where he’s slicing up a celery stalk at the other end of the counter. He sounds relieved, and Bruce finds himself matching it.
Dick has been at Gotham Elementary for almost a week and hasn’t made a single friend until now. Bruce can’t tell if that is more because of Dick’s circus background or because he is a tan-skinned boy with the barest of Romani accents attending a predominantly white private school. Sometimes (all the time) Bruce loathes being associated with Gotham’s high society. If you’re not white, straight, and rich, you are automatically shunned in their minds.
“He sounds great, Dick.”
“Yeah! And he’s got really pretty eyes too. I can’t tell if they’re brown or green, but they’re sparkly like glitter.”
Bruce arches an eyebrow. “You must like him a lot.” He takes a bite of his toast, making eye contact with Alfred over the boy’s head. Alfred doesn’t react but for a twitch of his mustache.
Dick nods, focus switched over to the plate Alfred slides in front of him. Dick takes a celery stick and picks off the first raisin coated in peanut butter, licking it off his thumb. “I hope he talks to me again tomorrow. Alfred, can I bring an extra snack to lunch tomorrow so I can share it with him?”
Alfred smiles. “Of course. I will pack a second cupcake in your lunchbox tomorrow morning just for him.”
“Thanks, Alf.” Dick goes right back to eating his ants on a log, cheerful as ever, completely unaware of the swarm of question marks buzzing around in Bruce’s head.
Eleven Years Old
Bruce gets home from a three-hour business meeting, his sandpapery eyes aching to close and stay shut for...let’s go with ten years? That should be enough. He loosens his tie and prepares to go upstairs to his bedroom where he’ll spend the next decade of his life hibernating, until he sees his ward on the living room sofa.
Dick is lying on his stomach with his face buried in a throw pillow, as if he’s waiting for the sofa to swallow him whole. Must have been a bad day if he’s not sliding down banisters and flipping over chairs like usual. Sighing, Bruce goes over. “Dick? You alive over there?”
“Mmph.” At least he’s conscious.
Bruce sits on the arm of the couch, shaking Dick’s thin shoulder. “Come on, kiddo. Use your words.”
“Bad day, then?”
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Dick shakes his head.
Bruce sits back with a frown. “Alfred?” he calls.
Alfred pokes his head in. “Yes, Master Bruce?” Bruce gestures to their anguished preteen. “It would seem that our lad had a rough day at school. He wouldn’t tell me what, but I’m making his favorite casserole for dinner. Hopefully that will perk him up.”
Bruce turns back to Dick, who hasn’t moved. “C’mon, Dickie. Sit up so I can see your face.”
Reluctantly, Dick forces himself upright with one last groan into his pillow. His hair is mussed, standing up on one side. There’s a pillow crease on his cheek. He sits back against the sofa, miserable.
“Better.” Bruce prods Dick’s ribs which earns him a giggle, goading the kid into sliding over a few inches so Bruce can sit beside him. Dick leans into his side immediately and Bruce puts his arm around him. “Now, tell me what’s got you down.”
“I want to transfer schools.”
“How come?” As far as he’s known until now, Dick has loved middle school. His childhood took a bad turn when his parents’ ropes snapped, but preteen life is at a good start. Until now.
Dick’s gaze is trained on his sneakers, kicking them where they hang over the edge of the couch. “Some kids in my science class were talking crap about me.”
“Don’t say crap.”
“Can I go to a new school? Please?”
“What did those kids say about you?”
Dick picks at a dime-size hole in his jeans. “They called me gay,” he says quietly. Bruce tightens his arm around the boy, his heart panging. Of course someone had to bully Bruce’s kid. As if his life hasn’t already been hard enough without stupid teenagers making it worse. “I wasn’t even doing anything wrong. I was just talking to my lab partner, and the guys at the next table over started whispering about us. Then they started throwing papers.”
“Did you tell the teacher?”
“No. But I know she noticed. Everyone did. She just didn’t do anything about it.”
That sets Bruce’s blood to a boil. Teachers have a responsibility to protect their students, no matter what. What gives her the right to turn a blind eye to bullying, just because a couple of students might not fit the agreed-upon standards of “perfect” upper class society?
“I’ll set up an appointment with the principal,” Bruce decides.
Dick’s eyes get wide. “Bruce, no. Please. It’s fine, really. I don’t want this to turn into a big deal.”
“What did you do when it happened?”
Dick shrugs. “Nothing. My lab partner stopped talking to me, so I just asked to go to the bathroom and didn’t come back until the bell rang.”
Bruce sighs. Middle schoolers are the worst, every last one of them. (Except for Dick, of course; he is perfect.)
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Kids can be cruel—especially at your age, when they start learning new words that they don’t understand the way they should. They think some words are insults or something to be ashamed of when they’re not. Most kids grow out of this. Too many don’t.”
“People suck,” Dick mutters. “I don’t even know why they were saying all that stuff. I’m not...I’m not like that.”
Bruce bites his cheek. He’s going to have to be careful about this. “Dick, do you know what being gay means?”
“Duh. It’s when two guys date each other. I’m not stupid.”
“I know you’re not stupid. But gay can mean a lot of things. Men can like other men, just as women can love other women. Like Kate, for instance. Then there are bisexual and pansexual people who love all genders, and asexuals who don’t like either.” Thank god Bruce thought ahead and read some LGBTQ+ research books all those years ago when he first began to suspect that Dick wasn’t heterosexual. “And transgender is when someone doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Sometimes people feel more like a man, a woman, neither, or both.”
“I just want to make sure you understand these things, because part of being a respectful person means respecting others for who they are. And if you don’t completely understand the label they identify as, then it’s your job to try and understand it the best you can.”
“Because too many people in this world judge others for things they can’t control, and that’s not right. No one should have to feel like they were born wrong. And I want to make sure you know this, that way you can be better than those who choose to hurt others for things they can’t control.”
“Does that mean the guys who made fun of me are bad people?”
“I’m sure they aren’t. They might just be confused because they don’t understand that being gay isn’t anything bad or dirty. The people in this part of Gotham...they don’t accept a lot of things. They think that being queer or a person of color means you don’t deserve respect, and that’s wrong. It was wrong of those kids to tease you and your lab partner the way they did.”
Dick nods slowly. “I’m not gay.”
“I know. I just want you to be aware of these things. And if you ever have questions or need to talk, you can always come to me.” He ruffles Dick’s hair. “Even when other people are nasty, remember that I love you no matter what, got it?”
Dick shoves Bruce’s hand away and smoothes his hair back out, grinning. “Yeah, yeah. I got it.”
Thirteen Years Old
What’s the difference between a growth spurt and a shark?
Dick doesn’t have any sharks.
“We’re home!” Dick announces. He and Alfred stumble into the house, their arms filled with all kinds of shopping bags. With Dick shooting up half an inch nightly these days, he’s growing out of his clothes at a rate even Bane would gawk at. Bruce and Alfred can barely keep up with the kid. “Want to see what I got?”
“Show me, pal.” Bruce sets aside his tablet and pushes his reading glasses up on his head. (He does not have poor vision, thank you very much. Leslie just made him get a prescription as a precaution, that’s all. He’s still young by anyone’s standards, just ask Selina.)
Dick starts pulling clothing out of the boutique bags, showing off every one of his new sweaters and pairs of Alfred-approved jeans. After ten minutes that Bruce desperately tries to look interested during, Dick pulls out what looks like a t-shirt that’s been sliced in half horizontally. The fabric is bright pink with a chibi whale on the front.
“This one is my favorite,” Dicks says. His grin is blinding.
Bruce stares for a long moment, his brain a lagging computer drive. “What is it?”
“It’s a crop top. You know, like a belly shirt?”
Memories from Dick’s Kim Possible phase flash in front of Bruce’s eyes. “Alfred let you buy that?”
“Yeah?” Dick’s smile flags. He lowers the crop top, suddenly self-conscious. “Do you not...like it?”
“You were supposed to get winter clothes, Dick. For cold weather.”
“That’s clearly something you’re supposed to wear during the summer.”
Dick pouts. “But I like it.” He holds it up against himself, twisting this way and that like an amateur model.
“Sorry, kiddo. You’re not leaving the house in that until springtime.”
“Oh, so Robin can wear tiny shorts in the winter, but Dick Grayson can’t wear a harmless crop top? I smell hypocrisy.”
“Yes, because Robin has thermal leggings and a built-in heater in his uniform.” He looks back at the pink monstrosity, at Dick’s pleading eyes. “I would be open to negotiations if you’re willing to wear a sweater under it.”
“That’s not how fashion works, B.”
“I don’t care. You can wait until it gets warmer out to wear it.”
“You’re such a drag,” Dick whines. He lifts his dozens of shopping bags and goes to leave, then turns right back around. “What if I wear a jacket over it and promise to keep it closed whenever I’m outside?”
Bruce considers that. “Fine. But not below fifteen degrees, got it? And if I see you outside for even five seconds without the jacket, I’m confiscating the Xbox. Deal?”
Fourteen Years Old
Something is different about Dick today. You’d think his boots were made of helium with the way he floats through patrol, and then smiles into his late-night milkshake like it did his homework for him. Bruce sits beside his Robin on the roof of Wayne Tower, silent for as long as he can bear before he can’t hold it back any longer.
“Did anything interesting happen today?”
“Huh?” Dick looks up as if Bruce pried him and his thoughts apart with a crowbar.
“You’ve been...different. Happy.”
“Am I not usually happy?”
“No, you are. Just seems like you’re...extra happy, for whatever reason.”
A blush dusts the kid’s cheeks. He sips his chocolate shake and shrugs. “Dunno. It was just a good day. Nothing special.”
Yeah, and Bruce is a goddamn unicorn. Still, he knows better than to pry where Dick doesn’t want him. It’s a delicate thing. “If you say so.”
“I got a hundred on my English essay,” Dick offers.
It’s a start. “Was that the one on Grapes of Wrath?”
“That was last month. We’re on Animal Farm now. It’s not my favorite.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of Orwell either. Shakespeare was okay, but I preferred his tragedies over his comedies.”
“Of course you did.”
That makes Bruce laugh. He’s not worried; the two of them are high enough that no one can hear it. Bruce even has his cowl down, his face exposed to the cool air.
“They had quinoa burgers at the cafeteria today.”
“Mm-hm.” Dick is dodging something, beating around whatever bush he wants to talk about. Bruce can be patient while he figures it out.
“And I spent some time with Barbara after school.”
“Yeah. We walked home together and we took this old path through the park. Then we kissed.”
Bruce chokes on his milkshake. He coughs, his sinuses burning and eyes watering. When he recovers, he says, “That’s...that’s great, chum.”
“Yeah.” Dick can’t stop smiling, a true schoolboy in love. “And she asked if I wanted to patrol with her tomorrow night, but I said I needed to check in with you first.”
“I don’t see why not.” It’s not like Bruce hasn’t patrolled without Dick before. Sure, he misses the company on the few days a week he’s alone, but he’s not about to deny Dick the thing he clearly wants.
“You sure? You look...freaked out.”
“No, no. That’s...great, that you kissed. Congratulations.” Awkward. He’s so fucking awkward. Stop being awkward right now.
He doesn’t know why this is messing with his head so drastically. Bruce has listened to Dick moon over girls for the entirety of his pubescence, talking about them like they’re goddesses he’s forbidden to look upon, Barbara included. And Bruce has seen the way Dick and Barbara interact with each other in between muggings, always talking with their heads bent close like they’re the only two people in the world. Who would have thought Batman could be a third wheel?
“I’ve liked her for a while now, but I didn’t know if she liked me back and I was too nervous to ask.” Dick’s face goes even pinker. “Kissing her was cool.”
Part of Bruce’s brain jumps at the realization that, holy shit, Dick just had his first kiss, my little boy is growing up, what a milestone. The other part is far less happy about this new development. Yes, Bruce has seen Dick win brawls with men three times his size. He can fly the Bat-jet on his own, knows six languages, and is even leading his own superhero team. And yet, all Bruce can think is, no, not my little boy, he’s just a baby, Batgirl is corrupting his innocence and She Must Be Stopped.
With great effort, Bruce holds it all back. He’s read the parenting books, he knows that it’s important to be supportive when they’re at this age. “Good to hear. I’m happy for you.” He pats Dick on the shoulder.
Sixteen Years Old
“Hey, Bruce? Can I talk to you?”
Bruce doesn’t look up from the metal flakes he’s testing. “What is it?”
“I can come back later if you’re busy.”
“No, I’m just analyzing some samples. I’m looking for residue from one of Zsasz’s blades.”
Dick steps forward, tentative for once. “Need any help?”
“I would like for you to come out with whatever it is you clearly need to tell me.”
Dick snorts quietly. “Nice phrasing.”
“I think I’m bisexual.”
Bruce turns around, forgetting about the samples entirely. Dick’s arms are crossed over his chest, his eyes skipping between everything that isn’t Bruce’s face. At sixteen years old he’s finally tall enough that he doesn’t have to crane his neck to look at Bruce anymore. “You...think?”
“I am. I’m bisexual.”
“Is that cool with you?”
The question shocks Bruce. “Of course it is.” Did Dick honestly think this would change anything? Has Bruce done something wrong, made Dick think that he wasn’t loved unconditionally?
Dick squints, appraises Bruce’s reaction. “You knew, didn’t you.”
“I knew a little bit.”
Dick rolls his eyes. The tension slips from his shoulders. His arms uncross. “Of course you did.”
“Well, you weren’t exactly subtle about it.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Language,” Bruce chides, more out of habit than anything. “And do you realize how often you would come home after elementary school complaining about stupid pretty boys?”
“That was just me being dramatic.”
“I’m not disputing that. But they were still crushes, pal.”
“I figured you thought it was just a phase.”
Bruce shrugs. “Maybe for the first few days. But trust me, I have known you liked boys since you were a kid.”
“Then why didn’t you just say so? It took me years to figure this all out, and you’re telling me you’ve been sitting on this info the whole time?”
“Because this is your truth, not mine. I knew that you would tell me about it when you were ready. And you have.”
Dick is clearly fighting a smile. He bites his lip instead, runs a hand through his mop of black hair that not even Alfred can wheedle him into combing anymore. “Well, I’m heading to the tower for the night, so don’t wait up, ‘kay? Kay. Good talk.” He goes to leave, but Bruce stops him.
“Hang on. Why choose now to tell me?”
Dick stuffs his hands in his pockets—an obvious tell. “No reason. I just...wanted you to know. Just in case.”
“In case of what?”
“Oh, you know.” Dick waves his hand in a gesture that clarifies absolutely nothing. “Life happens. People meet each other. You know how it is.”
Bruce’s soul implodes. “You have a date?”
“I never said that.”
“You implied it.”
“Real detectives rely on evidence, not theories.” Dick winks.
“Tell me who it is. Are they a civilian? A hero? Do they come from a respectable family?” If it’s Roy Harper, Bruce might have to bury a body tonight. Especially after learning about Harper’s drug problem. Dick is too pure for someone like that. Or—heaven forbid —that Wally West kid.
Dick is already walking away. “See ya, Bruce!”
“You come back here, Richard John Grayson! Do I know him? Does he know your father is Batman?”
Dick’s cackle echoes around the cave.
“It had better not be a speedster!”