Continuity: Comics!verse AU, based on post-Crisis continuity.
Rating: Very M.
Characters/Pairings: Alfred Pennyworth, Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne... and Surprise Guest
Word Count: 2454
Summary: Dick comes to a decision about what to do with his life.
Warnings: Discussion of death, some naughty language. No spoilers for anything more recent than the 1980s.
Disclaimer: Most of the characters and locations in this story are © DC Entertainment Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment. All content is fictional and for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.
Posted to robin_fans, we_love_dick, mrsarcastic_tim, batfic.
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Alfred Pennyworth was doing some afternoon dusting in Wayne Manor's decadent foyer when there was a loud knocking at the front door. For a moment he was frozen in place, frowning disconcertedly. No one should be knocking at the front door of Wayne Manor, unless they were buzzed through the gate first.
Alfred straightened, shifting his grip on his feather duster so that it was more like a weapon and palming his panic button, the little transmitter he kept in his pocket at all times that would bring Master Bruce up from the Batcave if pressed. Then he walked gravely to the great double doors, laid a hand on the latch, and pulled the door open a crack.
Visible through the narrow gap was the grinning face of one Richard Grayson. “Hey, Alfie~.”
The feather duster dropped with a clatter. “My word! Master Richard!” Alfred pulled the door wide open.
Dick laughed, throwing himself at the astonished valet. Alfred found Dick's lean, muscular arms wrapped tightly around him, rumpling his suit. “Ohhhh, Alfred, it's so good to see you!”
Alfred's face creased into a fond smile and he returned the hug just as warmly, if more gently and with more regard for the sanctity of the other man's neatly pressed (although not so neatly pressed as they should be) clothes. “Honestly, Master Richard,” he said, and he tried to sound stern, “knocking at the front door?”
Dick pulled back, laughing again. “I jumped the fence,” he admitted. “I wanted to surprise you!”
“Well, young sir, if surprise was the objective, you've mostly certainly achieved it,” Alfred sniffed, straightening his jacket. He picked up the feather duster and stood to one side. “Would you care to come in, sir?”
Grinning, Dick shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped into the foyer. Once the door was closed behind him, however, his grin faltered. “...Bruce?”
“In the Batcave,” Alfred informed him. Dick nodded. “Master Dick,” Alfred began, more softly, “dare I ask where you've been all this time? You've been gone the better part of a year.”
“I went back to the circus. Turned out Mr. Haly needed another aerialist, so... I stuck around for a while.”
“I suppose there was no way you could have said something, or called,” Alfred commented dryly, giving him a pointed look.
Dick shrugged a little, his lips twisting into an apologetic smile. “I... needed to take some time. For me, you know? I'm sorry to make you worry. Did you seriously not know where I was, though? ...Bruce couldn't have been looking very hard.” And there was an edge to his voice and in his eyes, something hard and bitter.
Alfred smothered a sigh. “Master Bruce figured that if you wanted to be found you would've left a note.”
Dick snorted. “Yeah, well, he's right about that.”
Alfred's lips thinned slightly. If only his boys weren't so damnably stubborn.... “Well,” he said, “I for one am delighted to see you back safe and sound. And... will you be staying...?”
“Yes and no, Alfred, yes and no.” Dick bit his lip. “We could talk in the kitchen...?”
“Of course, Master Dick. And would you like me to prepare some hot chocolate?”
Dick beamed. “Alfie, you read my mind~!”
~ ~ ~
The Batcave hadn't changed. Dick put his hands in his pockets and closed his eyes and just stood at the top of the hewn stone steps for a few minutes, listening, smelling, tasting, feeling. The cave air was cool and humid, carrying just a hint of damp, moldy smell and the faint, acrid tang of guano that no amount of cleaning or ventilation could quite manage to banish completely. He could hear the drip of water, the occasional quiet chirp of a sleepy bat, the low hum of electronics and, just barely, the sound of typing.
He wasn't stalling. He just needed a moment to take it all in.
Dick took a breath, opened his eyes, and made his way down the stairs. Bruce was working at the Batcomputer in his civvies, as he frequently was this time of day, as he had been the last time Dick had been in the Cave. Nothing's changed, Dick thought.
Like the last time (like all times), Bruce let Dick stew in silence for a minute while he finished what he was doing. Nice to see you, too, Bruce. Dick leaned against the console at what had been officially unofficially his work station. He pulled open a drawer; pens, Post-It pads, highlighters, paperclips, and staplers were scattered in the drawer, messy and haphazard where Bruce's things would be neat and organized. Nothing had been touched or moved in the months he'd been gone.
Bruce was swiveling to face him. They eyed each other for a few moments; then, “Have fun at the circus?”
“It wasn't hard to guess.”
“You knew and it didn't occur to you to tell Alfred.”
“You didn't tell him either,” Bruce pointed out. “I figured if you wanted your whereabouts known—”
“I would've left a note, yeah, I know.” Dick huffed a sigh. He didn't know what he was bothered about. Bruce was right. He was always right.
There was a pause. “You dropped out of school,” Bruce said disapprovingly.
“The things worth learning aren't taught at universities, Bruce.”
Bruce tapped his fingers on the console, twice, and stopped. “Learn anything, then?”
Dick raised his eyebrows. “I think I did, yeah,” he said. Bruce continued to stare impassively at him; Dick turned away and flipped through a stack of case files, suddenly and desperately needing to do something, see something that wasn't Bruce's cold, piercing gaze. He paused, pulled a file from the stack, flipped it open. “I read about this one. Possible serial killer, right? What've you got on him?”
Bruce steepled his fingers. “Two victims identified that fit the pattern. Isaac John Swan, 32, Caucasian male. Veronica Mary Pacer, 34, Caucasian female. No link between the victims. In both cases the victims were killed in their own residence, and the cause of death was a lethal dose of sodium thiopental, administered via injection. The perp removed a body part from each victim: from Isaac Swan, his left ear, and from Veronica Pacer, her right index finger.”
Dick waited a moment then blinked. “Seriously, Bruce?” he asked incredulously. “That's it? I read as much in the newspaper! Those killings were months ago!”
“I've been busy,” Bruce said, voice hard, frowning. “I haven't had time to look into it.”
“You haven't had time—?!”
“I have bigger problems at the moment,” Bruce growled. “For instance, Pamela Isley is still unaccounted for.” This with a pointed look. “And for instance, Garfield Lynns just escaped from Arkham. Immediately prior to his escape he made a number of threatening statements pertaining to nearly a dozen buildings in downtown Gotham. The serial murder case is lower priority right now. The police can take care of it.”
Dick crossed his arms, frowning. “...How'd Lynns get out?”
Bruce leaned back in his chair. “Unknown,” he said, “but it is unlikely he could've managed it without outside assistance.”
“He helped Isley to escape, right? Maybe she returned the favor.”
Dick chewed on his lip. “...Seriously though, Bruce—”
“The police can take care of it.”
Dick shook his head. He needs help. He needs my help and he's too God-damned proud to ask for it. He sighed. “...Bruce—”
“Why are you here, Dick?” Bruce's voice was cold and sharp, a knife made of ice.
Thunder and shadows flitted across Dick's face and his hands clenched into fists. “I'm moving out,” he announced, biting the ends off each syllable. He pulled open another of the drawers at 'his' workstation, digging through it with sharp, angry motions. “I found an apartment downtown. I came down here to get these.” He held up a Discman, tangled-up headphones, and a small stack of CDs. Dick looked at Bruce, at Bruce's pointed gaze and the slight arch to Bruce's eyebrow. The feeling of being judged was a heavy weight on his shoulders. “Not all of us find research thrilling, okay?”
Bruce's expression darkened. “The research is necessary,” he growled. “It's an extremely important, if not the most important part of—”
Dick slammed a fist into the console. “I did the work, dammit! I did it well. ...I did my job.”
Dick waited for Bruce to say something, anything, but stoney silence was all Bruce gave him. Dick felt sick, suddenly, felt his face contort to match the twist in his guts. He shook his head. “Go to hell, Bruce,” he spat, and, turning his back on Bruce, he stalked up the stairs and out of the Cave.
~ ~ ~
Dick let out a long, slow breath. He was lying on his back on an air mattress on the floor of his new apartment, his arms folded behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling. His belongings were scattered around him in boxes and suitcases. He didn't have much; one thing Dick wasn't was a pack rat, a circus habit he'd never quite shaken. He'd needed only the smallest size of U-Moov truck to haul his belongings from the manor and his college stuff from storage. He didn't have any furniture, though; tomorrow's priority would be a trip to AKIA.
I'm going to have to get a job, he thought mournfully. He could live off of his sizeable trust fund for a good long while, but he didn't want to drain it dry. A real job. One that will let me stay put, stay in the city so I can—
He frowned. ...So I can what? He couldn't be Robin anymore. Bruce had taken that away from him. And it was clear as water that he wasn't going to be able to work with Bruce. But he had gone home to the circus to figure some things out about himself, and the biggest, most important thing he'd figured out was that he couldn't go back to an ordinary life. Even a circus life. He was a fighter now, for better or for worse. He'd be a fighter until he died. Probably until it killed him.
He needed to get back on the street.
Dammit, Bruce, why did you have to take Robin? He wasn't yours to take, and I need him. Dick slid his hands into his hair and pulled, frowning... then he let go, and his frown smoothed out into something harder, firmer. No, you know what, Bruce? You can keep Robin, for all the good he does you. I don't need him. I'm not a little boy anymore. I've outgrown him, I've outgrown you. It's time for a change. New costume, new name, new me.
Dick was staring through the ceiling now, fingers tapping against the mattress. Abruptly he shoved himself up, scrambling across the carpet to an open suitcase. Lifting stacks of folded clothes out of the way, he pulled out a garment bag, unzipping it so he could look at the blue costume inside it. He'd worn it during his season with the Haly Circus; it was based on the costume his father had worn, many years before Dick was born.
Dick smiled softly. Bruce had taught him to fight, but long before that it had been his Dad who taught him to fly without fear. It was only fitting.
Setting the costume aside gently, Dick rummaged through a messenger bag, producing a notebook and pen. Then, curled up against the side of the air mattress, he started furiously sketching additions and modifications. He tapped the pen against the notebook while he thought, nodding to himself. “I'm going to need a sewing machine,” he said out loud, and smiled.
~ ~ ~
It was a dark night in Gotham, as dark as it gets. No clouds, no moon, the feeble stars producing insufficient illumination to pierce the city's gloom. Batman slipped through alleyways and side streets, skirting the streetlamps' glowing amber pools, a silent shadow among the shadows of Crime Alley as he headed for the Batmobile.
He'd gotten a lead that a shipping container full of automatic weapons that had gone missing a few days before had ended up in the hands of one 'Sneaky' Joe Marr, operating out of Skidmore across town. Marr was unlikely to make use of the weapons himself, but he would be looking to sell, and soon. Unfortunately, Marr was the careful sort; he moved locations frequently and was notorious for excellent security.
To his irritation, Batman found himself wishing he had Robin with him. The fastest way to find Marr would be through the Y Gang, a gang of kids and teens who made it their business to know everything that happened in the Skidmore District. One of Dick's personas had befriended a member of the gang years ago; he was often able to obtain useful information through that contact.
Batman scowled. He would just have to find Sneaky Joe another way. He'd done just fine before Dick had come along. Maybe it was better this way. Maybe—
Batman rounded a corner, entering the alley where the Batmobile was parked–where the Batmobile sat on cinderblocks, one of its front tires leaning against a nearby dumpster. Batman stood frozen for a moment, staring in shock and stifling an unexpected urge to laugh. Un. Believable.
By the sounds of things the thief was still at work on the other front tire, hidden from view by the vehicle's bulk. Batman edged silently around the front of the vehicle and looked down on–a kid. Just a red-headed kid, early teens, clearly nothing on him but his clothes and the tire iron he was using. Batman put on his best glower and waited.
After a minute the kid glanced up–and fell over backwards, scrabbling to get away. “Oh, fuck!!” Blue eyes wide, he clambered to his feet, clutching the tire iron. Batman took a menacing step forward, and the kid raised the tire iron as if to strike with it. Batman stepped forward again, looming, and the kid seemed to reconsider. He dropped the tire iron with a clang, raising his arms in surrender and offering up a shit-eating grin. “...Oops?”
It took far more effort than it should have for Batman not to smile back.
* * *