Some days, it was just harder to get out of bed in the morning. Bruce didn't lead a typical 9-to-5 life. He didn't even lead the party-to-the-wee-hours life that he portrayed to the press and the world at large.
Last night, he had finally tracked down the serial killer who'd been stalking Gotham's suburbs.
Five dead men and three women, all chosen apparently at random between the hours of sunset to after midnight. Some had been going from car to house. One had been in the yard taking out the trash. Witnesses reported hearing screams and seeing several seconds of an intense red light. The shriveled corpses left behind looked like they'd died of extreme old age, hair thin and eyes sunken, skin in layers of paper-thin wrinkles. The oldest victim had been forty-six.
It stank of magic, and sure enough, when Batman and Robin, along with backup from Batgirl, caught up to the criminal, he'd been wielding a magical talisman shaped like a mirror. When it'd become apparent he wouldn't get away, he'd read an incantation and shot a red beam at them. They'd tumbled out of the way, but he'd caught Robin with a second blast just before Batman took him down. Dick's scream had chilled his blood.
The boy, however, had looked none the worse for wear, and no subsequent tests could find anything wrong with him. Before the police had taken him away, the criminal had cursed about not being able to complete the spell, so Bruce hoped it'd simply had no effect.
He hated magic.
On the way downstairs, he paused by Dick's bedroom. The door was still closed, meaning Dick wasn't up yet. That was only to be expected, of course. It had been a harrowing night, and the youngest of their trio had taken the worst of it. He knocked. "Dick, breakfast."
He heard an indistinct mumble in reply.
Then there was a sharp cry and a thump. Alarmed, he called, "Dick?!" before barging into the room.
A young man sat on the floor beside Dick's bed, entangled in Dick's train-patterned bed sheets. Perhaps in his early twenties, he was slim but muscular. Dick's over-sized red flannel pajamas were stretched tight across his broad shoulders. He gaped up at Bruce from under a mop of thick black hair, his light blue eyes wide in confusion. "Bruce?" he squeaked. "Wh- What's happened to me?"
He really hated magic.
"It's a temporary spell. He should be back to normal in a day. Most spells like this are on a 24-hour clock."
"Are you sure? The other victims died without changing back."
Zatanna gave Bruce a long-suffering look, but she explained patiently, just as if she had never explained magic to determinedly deaf ears dozens of times before. "Yes, the other victims died, and so they never had the chance to change back. If any of them had had, say, a hundred-fifty-year life span, they might have survived in their aged states before reverting to normal, none the worse for wear."
"So I get to be an adult for a day?" Dick piped up, sounding much like himself again, except for the two octave voice change.
Bruce scowled at the boy-turned-young man. "No, you're going to be a child with an adult's body for a day."
Dick shrugged, obviously not about to be bogged down by details. "This is going to be great!"
"Are there any other side-effects?" Bruce asked Zatanna, ignoring his enthusiastic junior partner.
"Not that I can tell," Zatanna answered. "But let me know if you notice anything unusual." She held up the amulet. "If you don't mind, I have a few things to take care of. I'll drop this at the police evidence locker on the way back, hopefully before they've noticed anything."
"Thanks!" Dick chirped. "Oh hey, Zatanna, I'll bet you can't say, 'Tel lla fo skcid krowemoh eb enod!'"
Zatanna gave him a level look. "Nice try, kid." Then she spoke a spell and disappeared in a shower of light.
"Woohoo! This is fantastic! Look at my reach now, Bruce!" Dick punched the bag again. "And I'm loads stronger. Still flexible though." He'd done a few forms earlier, amazingly just as fluid as before. Most children athletes lost some flexibility upon growing up. Bruce wondered if this were due to the magic or Dick's own physiology.
"Try the rings," he suggested, curious about Dick's stamina. The rings required finesse and muscle coordination and plenty of flat-out strength. Dick had been working hard for the better part of the last two hours. Normally, he could still manage a ring set at the end of his workout, but it was tough. He'd been closely disciplined since four years old to work two strenuous shows a day without fatigue. Would that carry over into his magically aged body?
Apparently, it did. Only stopping for a drink of water, Dick proceeded to cartwheel his way to the wider set of rings that Bruce used, faltering only the first one before correcting for his change in balance. He really was a genius at gymnastics, Bruce admitted. Jumping up without assistance, he did his usual exercise set, pushing himself to make the holds longer and the spins faster.
"Piece of cake," he commented after the dismount, sweat running down his temples and his grin so wide his teeth gleamed. "I can't wait to get out there and kick some ass." He did a flashy spin kick for illustration.
But Bruce shook his head. He threw a towel at his ward. "Robin's skipping patrol tonight."
Dick snapped the towel out of the air a bit late. "What? I just showed you what I can do! It's not like I'd slow you down." His deeper voice made the whine sound less disappointed and more argumentative. Bruce frowned.
"It's just one night. It's not worth the risk. No, you stay home."
"But Bruce, think how awesome it would be! The Dynamic Duo as they've never been seen before! Our one-two punch is going to be better than ever!"
Rather than argue all night, Bruce made what he thought would be a point that Dick might accept. "Maybe, but you're forgetting something."
"What will you wear?"
Dick's mouth dropped open, and Bruce contained his smirk of triumph. The 'boy' wonder glanced at the racks that held their uniforms with some consternation. The colorful outfit that looked flashy and fun on a twelve-year-old would be patently ridiculous for a man in his early twenties. "I guess you're right," Dick agreed mournfully. "Alfred won't have time to make a bigger size for me."
Bruce grit his teeth around his knee-jerk reply. He told himself firmly that as long as Dick agreed to stay home, what reason he had for it didn't much matter. "It's all right, Dick," he soothed. "It's going to be a short patrol, anyway. There's still that charity banquet to attend beforehand." He headed for the showers.
"Oh, yeah!" Dick brightened at that. He tripped along behind Bruce, his gait amusingly unchanged even though he now easily caught up with his mentor. "I can't wait!"
Bruce froze in the middle of changing out of his gi, honestly taken aback. "Obviously, you're excused."
"But Babs will be there!"
"And I'm finally taller than her now!"
Bruce waited for elaboration, but none seemed to be forthcoming. "You want to go to a party with the Commissioner's daughter so that you can measure your relative height?"
"She said we can't dance until I'm taller than her. And I am now."
Tact was not his specialty in either of his personas, but Bruce tried to break it to his young ward gently: "I don't think this is what she meant."
Dick shrugged dismissively. "I know, but she can't go back on her word. That wouldn't be fair."
"It doesn't matter because you aren't going."
"I won't say anything weird, I promise! We can pretend I'm your... I don't know, your distant cousin or something. Come on, Bruce, please?"
"No," Bruce decided. "Absolutely not."
"I hope little Richard gets better soon, Brucie. He's such a sweet, well-behaved boy."
"Hm, yes. Well-behaved," Bruce agreed with a practiced lack of bewilderment. It was really amazing how many of the guests of the GCPD annual fundraiser had the strange impression that Dick Grayson was a tractable and quiet youth. Thankfully, his mobile phone rang in his pocket. "Excuse me, ladies."
"Sir," Alfred said, with no preamble. "I think we may have a problem."
"What is it?" he asked, geared for the worst. Killer Croc. Two-Face. Joker. He wasn't due for patrol in another hour, but he should be able to slip out early...
"The young master. He's not in his room, nor anywhere in the Manor, as far as I've been able to determine. I'm afraid he might have taken it upon himself to, ah, 'crash the party', is it?"
Bruce scowled darkly, at the last minute remembering to adjust his expression to Brucie's more mild repertoire. "If he shows up here, I'm going to ground him for a month!"
"Yes, sir. I'm sure the chandeliers and staircases are due for some restoration anyway."
Bruce ground his teeth. "I'll lock him in his room."
A swell of conversation near the door drew his attention. People were talking amongst themselves and craning to look at some new arrival. With a chilled premonition, Bruce bid Alfred goodbye and started making his way to the center of the commotion.
It was just as he feared. And moreso.
By some unknown strength, Bruce resisted putting his head in his hands.
A ripple of curious gossip spread from the doorway as Dick sauntered into the room, gazing about him in obvious interest. Bruce stalked toward his ward.
"What are you doing here, and what the hell are you wearing?" he hissed once he'd reached Dick's side. He was pretty sure Alfred would disapprove of him swearing in front of the boy, but Dick had heard worse on the job, and besides, at the moment, Bruce honestly could not think of a different way to phrase his extremely relevant question.
Dick had somehow procured himself a suit for the occasion. With tails. And a sparkly violet and gold cummerbund over a gold waistcoat, a glossy top hat with a matching hatband, and the final touch -- a pair of gold-colored dress shoes.
Bruce's furious demand seemed to take Dick by surprise at first. Then he smiled and deliberately took the question at face value. "I saw this in the rental place. I thought it looked a lot nicer than what I usually wore. I asked if they had a purple hat, instead, and he said they did, but it was under repairs, and anyway, that was supposed to go with the purple suit, but that suit had been rented out already. Isn't that a shame? He did find these fantastic shoes for me, though." Dick did a little twirl to show off his footwear.
There were a number of ways to respond to that that did not involve either violence or raised voices on Bruce's part. He just had to find one, that was all.
"If you had to come," he finally gritted out, "then you should have chosen something that wouldn't attract attention."
Dick got a mulish look. "But I've never been able to pick my own suit before. Alfred always makes me--"
"Brucie!" interrupted a silkily aggressive voice. Do introduce me to your very... shiny friend."
Bruce had to take half a second to collect himself before turning with a suitably lavish grin. "Vicki, hi!" Vicki Vale. Of course the photojournalist would be the most curious and the least discretionary of the tittering guests in the room. She probably already had a dozen snaps of Dick in this getup.
Smiling disarmingly, Bruce put his arm around her waist and kissed her cheek, before turning to present Dick. "This is Leo. He's somebody's friend's nephew or fifth cousin or something like that. Anyway, someone begged my secretary to ask me to take him for the night. So, here he is."
"Hello, Leo. I'm Vicki. It's hard to find a man who'll give Brucie a run for his money in being the center of attention, but I think you've managed it! You're certainly catching the eye of every lady here, I'll bet." Every lady and man and anyone happening to glance in through the windows, Bruce would bet. He was surprised waiters weren't blundering into things, blinded by the light off of Dick's waistcoat.
Dick grinned in pure pleasure. "You think so?"
"Of course, darling. In fact, if you'd like to make a statement -- privately -- I'm free after the party tonight." She winked and bumped Dick's hip suggestively with her own.
Dick looked very much like a deer in the headlights of the Batmobile -- when the high beams and the jets were both on. "Uh."
"Vicki, you evil thing, don't go getting the young ones' hopes up," Bruce admonished gently, even as his instincts were urging him to bat her across the room to get her away from his ward. She didn't know any better. "Besides, he's new in town and won't be staying long. I think you'd best find your fish elsewhere."
"Elsewhere, hm?" she asked with raised eyebrows, obviously taking it for an invitation. Bruce couldn't exactly blame her. At almost any other time, it would have been.
It was, again, a new arrival that saved the moment. Dick suddenly brightened even more (if that were possible) as a familiar teenaged girl and her equally familiar father entered the party area.
"Babs!" Dick called, overloud in his excitement.
The fiery-haired young woman turned at sound of her name but stared in understandable confusion as Dick approached her. "Do I... know you?"
"Maybe not the way I am now, but you do." Dick leaned in close. "I'll give you a hint: You knew me last night." Dick winked at her -- and then reeled backward as Babs fetched him an ear-ringing sock to the jaw. Bruce winced in sympathy, even as he noted with approval that Barbara's technique was improving.
"How dare you! I have no idea who you are, you slimy jerk."
"I-- I didn't mean--" Dick's words were a little muffled as he held his jaw tenderly. "Wait-- Babs."
This time, it was a glowering Jim Gordan who stepped in front of Dick. "You leave my daughter alone."
"Daddy, I can take care of this," Barbara said, rolling her eyes.
Hesitating, Jim looked down at his daughter. "Of course you can, but if he tries anything again, you'll let me indulge myself, won't you?"
Barbara laughed and hooked her arms around one of Jim's, leading him away. "Sure, no problem."
"I'm sorry. I... I...." Dick watched her leave, his entire body projecting utter dejection.
"And here I thought I wouldn't get anything more exciting than Mrs. Randalph's atrocious new earrings." Vicki tapped her camera while Dick gaped at her in mortification. Bruce was glad he'd taken the precaution of palming her camera earlier and exposing the film before returning it.
"Bruce, be a dear, and give me a caption for the photo?"
Smiling easily, Bruce punched Dick in the arm, then put his arm around the boy's shoulders. "Chin up, chum. I'm sure she didn't mean it." It was the sort of airy platitude that Brucie might give, but at the same time, it was a bit of encouragement to the love-struck boy in the flashy suit he'd thought to dance in.
"She didn't mean it," Vicki repeated, nodding. Seeming to realize Dick's gaze of horror on her, she softened her predatory smile. "Oh, darling. Don't look like that. She might come around yet. Don't give up."
"Y- You think so?" Dick stammered, blushing under the influence of her attention and his own mortification.
"Sure, a handsome thing like you?" Vicki patted him on the cheek. "Now if you boys don't mind, I have photos to develop and blurbs to get published. She pecked Dick on the cheek then gave Bruce a slightly more sultry goodbye, before leaving via the staircase exit.
"Well, I guess I'll check out the food," Dick said, obviously trying to put a brave face on things.
Glancing away, Bruce saw that Barbara had separated from her father to chat with a group of other officers' children. "Good idea," he told Dick. "I'll meet up with you later." He headed toward the small group of teenagers.
"Hello, Ms. Gordon. Care for a twirl on the floor?" he asked, bowing elegantly from the waist in invitation.
"Um, Mr. Wayne. Hi." She was clearly surprised and trying not to show it. She took his hand and let him pull her into a smooth waltz. She probably thought Bruce had some Bat-related emergency to inform her about.
Instead, Bruce made small talk, asking about her classes and her friends, all the time very aware of Jim's gimlet stare in their direction.
"There's someone who'd like to talk to you," he said quietly, as Jim's attention was finally drawn away by other guests. "He phrased it badly, but you did recognize him last night." He glided them to a stop in front of where he'd left Dick. The boy, who had been gaping at them with a plate of forgotten hors d'oeuvres in hand, quickly doffed his hat and looked hopeful.
Barbara frowned at Bruce but dutifully studied Dick's face. Her expression transformed slowly into confused recognition and then disbelief. "Oh my god." She looked around for eavesdroppers, then leaned in closer. "Dick?" she whispered.
"Yeah." He looked down shyly. "Do you like the suit?"
Bruce felt very kindly toward the girl when she answered with a perfectly straight face, "It's great. Where'd you get it?"
Leaving the two to talk in quiet tones, Bruce wandered away to give more face time as the decadent playboy prince of Gotham. With a corner of his vigilant senses, he noticed that Dick didn't get his dance, after all, but he smiled all the way until they made their excuses to leave around ten o' clock.
When he got back from patrol, he wasn't overly surprised to see Dick curled up on the command chair, waiting for Bruce's return as he often did when Bruce went out solo or sent Dick home early. The fact that he looked like a twenty-year-old now meant that he was contorted to fit into the seat that had been only marginally comfortable for a twelve-year-old to sleep in.
Bruce frowned. The boy had forgotten to bring a blanket with him again. It was a good thing he'd proven resistant thus far to casual colds and ailments. He moved forward and turned the computer to hibernation mode, saving whatever research Dick had been in the middle of before he'd dozed off. Then he started to wake Dick, but found himself reluctant.
With Dick asleep and blessedly still, Bruce could at last study the boy's magically aged body with a critical eye.
How did the spell work? he wondered. Did it somehow account for current exercise and nutrition levels? Did it actually view the boy's future self and use that as a template? Was this body simply based on Dick's own self-image?
He had to admit, he could easily imagine Dick's bright round face sharpening into those handsome planes. He could see Dick growing into those long, strong limbs. He could picture Dick one day sporting the kind of musculature that this body did now -- powerful yet still lithe and whip-fast. He had assured Dick once that he would easily surpass his father one day in strength and flexibility. If this body were a true reflection of the future, Bruce had not been mistaken.
An improbable and completely unjustified sense of pride filled Bruce. He felt he had raised (will raise?) this boy into a man worthy of the name Grayson. John and Mary Grayson had been trained to fly; Dick could do that and so much more.
A few more minutes went by while he contemplated his charge. When he couldn't put it off any longer, he knelt down and shook his ward's shoulder. "Dick," he murmured. "Get up."
The boy mumbled and nuzzled deeper into the back of the chair, slipping down a few inches.
"We have to go up to bed now. If the spell wears off tonight the way it should, you'll need to go to school tomorrow."
"Aw..." came the semi-coherent protest.
"You already missed a day," he reminded the boy.
"Okay..." Without opening his eyes, Dick smiled and reached up with both arms in a clear request.
At that moment, taking in his sleep-smudged face and tousled hair and rumpled clothes, Bruce couldn't see Dick as anything but the little boy he'd been before this morning. Chuckling fondly, he said, "How do you expect me to carry you? You must weigh twice as much as you normally do."
The boy blinked muzzily up at him. His smile didn't waver. "You're Batman," he answered, as if that were explanation enough.
Bruce sighed. Bracing himself, he hooked his arms under Dick's. "Upsy-daisy."
Dick helped. Minimally. He seemed to be giggling to himself.
"What?" Bruce grunted as he pulled them into a sort of standing, leaning, embrace.
"You feel the same. But smaller. Hm, travel-size Batman."
"I'm not smaller," Bruce corrected him with some asperity, despite himself. "You're bigger."
The giggles didn't abate, however. "Put you in my pocket. Convenient for alllll situations." He started to sing a jingle for a popular brand of breath freshening tablets, losing every third word to sleepy mumbles and half-conscious memory.
Rolling his eyes, Bruce hefted Dick into a bridal carry. It was the only way he could manage the stairs while carrying the 'boy' without throwing him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes -- though he was sorely tempted to do just that as Dick intoned in a sing-song, "Eight different batmen, which one will you choo-oo-oose? Stealth Batman... Scary Batman... Grumpy Batman... Lecturing Batman... hm, what else... No-Fun Batman... Stinky Batman... You're-Grounded-For-Life Batman..."
But he relented when Dick finished, "Carries-Me-Up-The-Stairs Batman... That one's my favorite..." and, leaning his head against Bruce's chest, seemed to fall asleep somewhere between the twentieth stair step and the clock. Bruce sidled through the secret doorway with infinite care so as not to bump his twelve-year-old ward's currently size ten feet on the sides.