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Our roots will not whither away

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No one knew Bruce was going home, so he and Dick gathered their luggage from the airport when they arrived and hired a taxi to take them to the Manor. On the drive there, Dick watches the gargoyles and gothic architecture characteristic of Gotham City pass by. He watches the people of Gotham through the windows, and says, “It’s sad here.”

 

Bruce agrees, “It is, but it’s home.”

 

Dick adds, “And you can make it happy again.”

 

Bruce hums, “I can certainly try.”

 

The taxi drops them off in front of the gate. Bruce still remembers how to get past the security, so he inputs the codes and the gate opens. He picks up all their bags and takes Dick’s hand. They start walking up the driveway. Dick gasps at the size of the house. “Woah. You used to live here?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Woah.” Dick adds, “You’re weird.”

 

Bruce’s lips twitch into a small smile.

 

Finally, they arrive at the front door. Bruce knocks, and then Alfred is opening the door, older and grayer than when Bruce had seen him last, and he is no longer shorter than his guardian. “Bruce.” Alfred breathes.

 

“Hi, Alfie.” The moment stretches on as Alfred takes in all the changes.

 

Alfred notices Dick. “And who is this?” he asks, clearly doing age calculations in his head.

 

“This is Dick. Dick, this is Alfred.”

 

“Hi!” Dick waves, smiling a gap-toothed smile.

 

“Hello.” Alfred says. He glances back up at Bruce. He blinks, coming back to himself. “Come in, then.” he says, stepping back.

 

Once they’re all inside and the door is closed, Alfred says, “I suppose you’ll want to put your things away.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“You can put them in the master bedroom, then. I’ll set it up for you immediately, and…” Alfred falters, unsure.

 

“Dick can have a bedroom across from mine.”

 

“I’ll air one out.”

 

There is another long silence.

 

Before Bruce can leave the room, Alfred stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “It is good to have you home, Master Bruce.” he says softly.

 

“It’s good to be home.” Bruce responds. “We’ll have to have a talk later, won’t we?” he says with a wry smile.

 

“Yes,” Alfred glances at Dick, who is staring curiously at everything around him. “I suppose we shall.”

 

As they leave, Alfred hears, “Babi, is that a chandelier?”

 

“Yes, Dick.” His curiosity only grows.

 

Later, when Dick is taking a nap, tired from the plane ride, Bruce finds Alfred in the kitchen. Alfred takes one look at him, and puts on a pot of tea. Then he sits at the table and gestures for Bruce to do the same.

 

“What do you want to know?” Bruce asks.

 

“The boy…?”

 

“Not mine, biologically, but I do want to adopt him.”

 

“Oh.” Alfred is obviously surprised. “How did he come into your care?”

 

“His parents asked me to take care of him. They were circus acrobats. Someone put acid on the trapeze ropes. They snapped during a performance, and they fell. That was about two years ago. We traveled around to avoid the people who killed his parents.”

 

“Who?”

 

“The Court of Owls.”

 

“I had thought they were merely a nursery rhyme.”

 

“They’re not.” Bruce doesn’t elaborate.

 

“His parents, they were friends of yours?”

 

“Yes, for a short while. Though they, ah, didn't give me much of a choice.”

 

“They were charmed by your warm personality, were they?”

 

“Quite.” Bruce huffs, though Alfred can hear the note of melancholy in his voice.

 

“And what sort of boy is he?”

 

“Adventurous, energetic, very sweet, charming, very outgoing, passionate and cheerful.”

 

“A very different temperament from yours.”

 

Bruce’s smile turns fond. “Yes. He certainly keeps me on my toes.”

 

Alfred’s face softens and he nods. “I look forward to getting to know him, then.”

 

“Thank you, Alfred.” Bruce twists his hands around his cup. “I...I’m...just...thank you, for staying around.”

 

There is an I’m sorry hanging in the air between them. Alfred puts his hand over Bruce’s. “Master Bruce, you have nothing to thank me for. I have not done enough. You were grieving and I wasn't there for you as I should have been. For that, I am deeply sorry.”

 

Bruce shakes his head. “You were still there for me, and I’m grateful for it.”

 

Alfred just pats his hand wordlessly. They drink their tea in silence for a few moments before Alfred asks, “So, what else have you been up to all this time?”

 

“Training, mostly. I took several university courses, but I never finished them. I went around the world looking for the best at various fighting forms. I learned meditation and healing techniques, and I've been doing strength and endurance training.”

 

Alfred hums, considering, “And what will you do with that knowledge?”

 

“I don't know yet. I’m thinking about it. I have a few goals in mind, though.”

 

Alfred nods. A few minutes later, Bruce asks, “Is Leslie…?”

 

“She is well. She opened a free clinic in Crime Alley.”

 

“That’s good.”

 

“Yes, she is doing good work, and she enjoys it.”

 

“And you’ve been well too?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Bruce hears footsteps in the hall outside. They approach then retreat again. No doubt Dick is exploring a bit. “It sounds like Dick is up. You should introduce yourselves properly this time.”

 

“That would be nice.”

 

Bruce sets off in the direction he heard him last with Alfred following. He finds him in the foyer eyeing the chandelier.

 

Bruce has seen that look before. Following his hunch, he calls out to the boy, “Dick, I will be getting some equipment set up for you...” As he suspected, there is a mix of excitement at the promise and embarrassment at getting caught. “...but you cannot swing on the chandelier.”

 

He hears Alfred utter a quiet “oh dear” behind him. Dick, predictably, pouts.

 

“I mean it Dick. You could get seriously hurt.”

 

Dick deflates. “Okay, Babi.”

 

Bruce watches him for a second more to be sure he will listen.

 

Alfred clears his throat. “Perhaps young Master Dick would like some cookies? We can get to know each other while Master Bruce naps. I’m sure he is tired from his flight.”

 

Bruce smiles. “Alright. Thank you, Alfie.”

 

He naps, and when he wakes up, he goes through a kata in the yard. He spends the rest of the day showing Dick around the Manor. Then they eat dinner, where Bruce realizes how much he missed Alfred’s food, and Dick discovers how good said food is. He also accidentally lets slip that he and Bruce have been living mostly off of takeout, which Bruce gets a very severe look from Alfred for.

 

When Bruce goes to get ready for bed, it’s with no little amount of trepidation. He hadn't registered it earlier, but his room is the master bedroom now. This was his parents’ bedroom, where he’d go when he had nightmares, and where he’d wake his parents up early in the morning, excited to start the day. A thousand and one memories parade through his mind as he gets into bed and tries to fall asleep.

 

The room has been emptied of their things, but he knows where everything was, and the ache in his chest only grows. He lies awake, trying desperately to swallow the feeling, and shuts his eyes against the absence of their presence. He’s on the verge of getting up to find somewhere else to sleep, when his door opens. The hallway lights silhouette a small shape in the doorway. “Dick?” Bruce asks.

 

“I can’t sleep.” the boy whispers.

 

“Okay. C’mere.” Bruce gestures.

 

“It’s too big and empty.” Dick says as he climbs up.

 

Bruce wraps his arm around Dick as he snuggles close. “I know.”

 

“Can you sing a song?” Dick asks.

 

Bruce does, choosing a Romani lullaby. Alfred, finishing the last of his tasks before going to bed, stops outside the door when he hears the quiet song. He looks across the hallway and sees Dick’s door ajar. He had been a little apprehensive giving Bruce the master bedroom. It was always going to be his, but Alfred had decided to wait until Bruce had grown up, and then Bruce had left. Maybe Alfred hadn't needed to worry.

 

Listening to Bruce now, he feels an inexplicable sadness. Bruce is, in some ways, still so young. He is only twenty-two, and there is undoubtedly some piece of him that never grew past that scared eight-year-old. There are so many ways he is naive and inexperienced, and yet, he is also simultaneously old beyond his years. A memory pops up, of the little boy with haunted, hardened eyes. Here too, he has grown, farther than some people will in a lifetime, caring for a child on his own for two years. There is the ache of loss in Alfred’s chest, but he knows enough to know that this was inevitable, from the day his life shattered watching his parents die in front of him. He hears the song end and Bruce murmur something to his boy.

 

He steps away softly, and he thinks, it is a miracle that this is who Bruce has become, that this strong and brave and impossibly kind and gentle man did not follow the path set by the broken and angry and closed-off boy, that he has not allowed tragedy to rule his life. He thinks, this boy has been a blessing to him, a miraculous spot of light amid the darkness that consumed him when he had first left Gotham, and he thinks, there is a long road ahead, but it is there , and Alfred thanks every deity he knows that those eyes are not so empty that he fears the loss of a future for them anymore.

 

He steps away softly, and Bruce curls around Dick in his arms, who sleeps soundly. Bruce will not sleep easily tonight, not here, back in Gotham in his parents’ old bedroom, and there will always be nights where he does not sleep easily, plagued by nightmares and memories, but he is not worried. He will sleep, because those nights will not be every night, and the sun will rise again in the morning.

 

A couple of days later, Bruce decides that Dick should get a checkup. They were just traveling, after all, and it’s good to go to the doctor after coming back from a trip. Alfred pretends he doesn't know that this is just an excuse to see Leslie.

 

Bruce gets the address of the clinic from Alfred, and they go. They step inside the waiting room, and Bruce observes the bustle. A woman with a black eye is holding a crying baby and bouncing it on her knee, a man is slouched in a chair and holding his hand to a bleeding wound in his arm, and an elderly couple are murmuring to each other in a corner.

 

Across the room, a doctor enters. Her hair is graying but her steps are sharp and purposeful. She looks up from her clipboard as she approaches the front desk and her eyes meet Bruce’s. She stops.

 

Her eyes widen as Bruce gives her a small smile. She steps closer, and says, “Bruce?”

 

“Hi Leslie.” he says.

 

She stumbles over her words. “You're - I didn't know you’d come home.”

 

“Yeah, I, uh, just got back a few days ago.”

 

“How, how have you been?”

 

“I’ve been well.”

 

“Good.” she says quietly. “What brings you here?”

 

“This is Dick.” he says, and Dick waves. “He’s due for a checkup.”

 

Her mouth forms a small “oh”. “I have a free slot in twenty minutes, if that’s alright?”

 

He agrees and she nods. She steps out of the room, then braces herself against a nearby wall. She breathes through the storm of emotions battering her, not least among them renewed grief for Thomas, who has left so much of himself in Bruce. For a moment, she had thought it was Thomas standing there with young Bruce, but then the shock of seeing Bruce, grown up and holding the hand of a little boy had held the feeling back for a little while. There is so much of Martha in those eyes now too.

 

Leslie takes a breath, then goes back to work.

 

Twenty minutes later, Leslie comes back and leads them into an examination room. She gets Dick to sit on the bed and reviews the records Bruce gives her. After she does the standard examination and asks a few questions, she says, “Since he is such an active child, I would recommend a few adjustments to his diet, but Alfred probably has that covered. He’s missing a couple of immunizations, but otherwise he’s in perfect health.”

 

“Do you want to do those now?” Bruce asks.

 

“Yes, now would be best. I’d also like to take a look at you.”

 

Bruce hesitates before answering, “Alright.”

 

She gives Dick the vaccines, and watches Bruce hold his hand through the shots. Once that is finished and Dick has a lollipop, she examines Bruce. She pauses at the new scars, and double-checks the readings for his physical fitness.

 

“I’ve been training.” is all Bruce says.

 

Bruce entertains Dick with conversation during his checkup, and once Leslie finishes, she pauses. “You’re going to have to give me more of an explanation.” she says.

 

“Not as my physician.” Bruce says, perhaps more of a question than a statement.

 

“No.” she agrees.

 

His eyes seem lighter when he says, “Okay.”

 

There is a storm of emotions in her chest, but Bruce walks away with his son, and she smiles.

 

Bruce tells nobody else of his return to Gotham. There aren't many others to tell. A week or so later, he takes Dick to the courthouse to legally adopt him. As a result, word somehow gets out that he’s in Gotham and the media is in a frenzy trying to get the story. Bruce would like to just ignore them, but he knows that will hinder more than it will help. He finally bites the bullet by organizing a party to which he invites all the important people in the socialite circles, as well as a few reporters. The ensuing ordeal is every bit as agonizing as he knew it would be.

 

About an hour into the gala, a couple approaches him. He had been going around talking to all the guests, as was expected of him, but he still hadn't gotten to them all. The couple are, if he remembers correctly, Jack and Janet Drake. He had gone to school with Janet, and it looked like she remembered him. She gives him her hand to shake. “Bruce Wayne! I’m glad to see you have returned to Gotham. How have you been?” she says with a socialite smile.

 

He smiles blandly. “I’m glad to be back. I’ve been well, you?”

 

“Oh, great. Have you met my husband Jack?”

 

“I can’t say that I have. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” he says while shaking Jack’s hand.

 

“The pleasure is mine. I’m glad to see the speculations about why you disappeared are unfounded.” Jack says with a shallow grin.

 

Bruce laughs lightly. “You go on a world tour and everyone thinks you’ve died or lost your mind.”

 

“I can’t relate. Everyone knows about our archeological work.”

 

“Yes, I heard you were archaeologists. And already making great discoveries.” Bruce says, referencing the small discoveries that had received more publicity than they would have if not for the Drakes’ position in Gotham society.

 

“Oh, we’re just doing our job.” Janet says, trying to be modest. “What are you going to do now that you’re back in Gotham? Your CEO is no doubt eager for you to step up.”

 

“Alfred’s been hinting at it, but I think I’ll give it another year or so. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors that I’ve taken a ward. I’ve just formally adopted him.”

 

“We heard. Are you not planning on getting married?”

 

Bruce cringes mentally as he gives them a vapid smile and a playboy line, “Oh, well there are just so many wonderful women out there, I’m sure I could never choose.”

 

They laugh politely,  “It’s funny you’ve just adopted. We just found out we’re expecting.”

 

“Oh that’s wonderful! Congratulations! I hope the baby and you are healthy.” Bruce says, happy for them.

 

“Yes. We’re hoping for a boy as an heir.” says Jack.

 

Bruce winces internally. “Of course. I’m sure you’ll love your baby regardless, though.”

 

“Oh, certainly. We’ve been thinking about names and godparents and such. Oh!” Janet exclaims as he turns to her husband. “Jack, you know who would be perfect as a godfather? Brucie!”

 

“Yes, of course. What do you say, Brucie?”

 

Bruce, stunned, manages to say, “Oh! I’m honored, of course-”

 

“Great!” And then the conversation moves on, and the topic is forgotten. Bruce doesn’t know how to object, or even whether they meant it.

 

By the end of the night, Bruce has said enough so that the media will report that he left on an ill-advised but harmless world tour, met a young orphan and took him in. They will speak of the adoption as charitable and of Dick as a boy from a bad background being benefited by Bruce’s generosity, and they will speculate on whether Bruce is being taken advantage of. They will have almost no information on Dick though, since Bruce was careful enough to only reveal Dick’s name as being Richard and his age as being between four and eight. That will keep Dick away from the public eye until he is old enough to handle the attention.

 

After a few more weeks, Bruce starts to get restless. Since settling back in Gotham, he had done nothing of note, except reintroduce himself to society as a dimwitted playboy, and have Dick legally adopted. He wanted to make a difference in his city but so far, he has done nothing. He decides to change that. After Dick goes to bed, he gets dressed in low quality casual clothing and drives into the city. After donning a disguise, he walks to the East End. It doesn't take long to find trouble.

 

The ensuing fight has Bruce limping away with his metaphorical tail between his legs. He barely makes it to his car without passing out, with his shoulder bleeding from a gunshot wound, a stab wound in his thigh, and an assortment of bruises. He stops to get his bearings. That fight was a disaster. The pimp himself hadn't given Bruce any trouble, but then the bystanders had ganged up on him, he had been injured, that one woman had stopped him from being able to slip away, and then the cops had showed up. Wrecking the squad car had drawn far too much attention, and all he had accomplished was adding new scars to his collection.

 

Bruce needs to get home. Alfred can patch him up, and he can decide where to go from there. He struggles to start the car and drives erratically back to the Manor. He crashes into another car in the garage, then he drags himself out of the car and to his father’s study, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

 

Is Dick safe? Dick went to bed, right?

 

Where is Alfred? Alfred would be able to help.

 

Bruce finds the bell that would summon Alfred. He manages to ring it weakly. He blinks and then Alfred is there in front of him. He’s saying something, but Bruce’s focus comes and goes.

 

“...bloody foolish...sure you put the fear of god in them...know what you were thinking…”

 

Fear of god. Bruce feels a laugh somewhere in the back of his mind. They weren't afraid of him. Should they be?

 

A bat crashes through the window of the study. Bruce spares a moment to wonder if he’s delirious, but then Alfred starts cursing and saying something about “damn vermin”.

 

Memories of being afraid of bats as a child along with the memory of the fight Bruce had just been in dart across the forefront of his mind as Alfred addresses his injuries and he loses consciousness.

 

When Bruce wakes up, it’s midmorning and he’s in his bed. There is a weight against his arm, and when he looks, Dick is curled up beside him. His shoulder and leg are bandaged and he can feel the pain being dulled by painkillers. As he stirs, Dick realizes he’s awake and shoots up. “Babi!” he exclaims, relief ringing clearly in his voice. He throws his arms around Bruce.

 

“Hey Dickie.” Bruce grunts, Dick bumping into some of the deeper bruises. It’s not the first time Dick has seen Bruce injured. There had been a few incidents while they were traveling where Bruce had gotten seriously hurt during training. The first time it had happened was trying for both of them, but none of the injuries had been life-threatening. This time, the injuries aren't exactly life-threatening either, but the circumstances are...not the best.

 

“Did I scare you?” Bruce asks.

 

Dick nods against his chest.

 

Bruce runs his hand through the boy’s hair. “Sorry, chum.”

 

Later, after Alfred has scolded Bruce and brought him and Dick plates of food, Bruce starts thinking about the fight and what he could have done better. He realizes he could benefit from the element of surprise, which leads him to remember his thoughts last night while he was losing consciousness. He could find a way to use fear as a weapon. Maybe make a costume. If he became some kind of bogeyman or urban legend, not only would fear be an advantage in a fight, but it would also be harder for people to learn about him, his weaknesses, fighting style, and identity.

 

A bat is scary. Bruce could become a bat.

 

After he draws up plans in his mind, he tells Dick. Dick’s response is, “You’re a superhero!”

 

“Not really, Dick.” Bruce says. “I don't have powers. And the name most people would use is ‘vigilante’.”

 

“Yeah, but you’re a superhero. You were always a superhero.” Dick insists. Dick had said something to this effect a few times that Bruce remembers, and Bruce has never known why.

 

“Yeah? Why's that?” he asks.

 

“Cuz you help people. And you make them happy. Remember? When you said you want to help people?”

 

“When was that?”

 

“It was a super long time ago. When we met you.”

 

When Bruce met the Graysons. That was what he was talking about. When they ate at that diner, and Bruce talked about his plans. Dick remembered that? That was why Dick thought he was a superhero?

 

“Okay.” he says, not knowing what else to say.

 

He turns this over in his head for a few minutes, but then Dick speaks up, “I should be your sidekick!”

 

An image pops up in Bruce’s mind of the six-year-old in front of him dressed up in a costume and dodging bullets. “No.” he says immediately.

 

“Babi -” Dick starts, but Bruce cuts him off.

 

“No, Dick.” he says sternly.

 

Dick pouts, but sensing Bruce’s reticence, he doesn't say anything else about it. That is, he doesn't say anything else about it for the day.

 

After a couple weeks of going out as Batman most nights, things don't get easier. The police are after him, and Dick has been increasingly persistent about going out with him. At the moment, Bruce is wrapping a twisted ankle, with Dick beside him. “Babi,” he says. “Please let me come out with you.”

 

“Dick, we’ve talked about this.” Bruce answers. “You can’t come out with me.”

 

“Not even if I stay back and hide while you fight?”

 

“No. Not even then.”

 

Dick is getting upset, and it comes through in his voice. “Please Babi!”

 

“No, Dick.” Bruce says shortly.

 

Dick’s chin wobbles and the corners of his eyes pinch. “Babi, let me go out with you!”

 

“Dick,” Bruce sighs, “it’s too dangerous for you.”

 

“Then it’s too dangerous for you!” Dick cries. “Let me go with you!”

 

“I said no, Dick. I’m going out alone.”

 

“No!” Dick shouts. He throws himself at Bruce, hands shoving at Bruce’s broad chest. “You can’t!” He wails, slipping between Romani and English, “No, you can't, you can’t go. You can’t leave. Don't - don't leave me. Please, Babi. Let me go. Let me come with you. You have to let me, please. You - you’re - you’re going to go. You’re going to go a-away!”

 

Oh.

 

Bruce softens. He grabs Dick’s hands and puts an arm around his back to pull him close despite his thrashing limbs. “Dick. Dick, honey, please. Dick, listen to me.” he says, voice low in his chest. “I’m here. Dick, it’s okay.” he says over the sound of Dick’s sobs.

 

“Listen to me, Dick. I’m not going anywhere . I’m not leaving you. I am not going to die . I’m here, Dickie. I’m not going to leave you. It’s okay, sweetheart.”

 

Dick’s cries have subsided to sniffles, and Bruce holds him back by the shoulders to look him in the eye. “Dick, I’m not leaving, and do you know why?”

 

Bruce puts his palm to Dick’s cheek. “It’s because of you. It’s because, when I’m out there, I’m out there for you, to make the world better for you. And when I’m out there, and I think of you, I fight even harder to get home to you. But Dick, listen to me. You cannot go out there with me. I will not let you get hurt. I cannot lose you. I love you, Dick, and I am not going to let you go into a situation where you could get hurt or die, but I promise. I promise you this, when I go out there, know that I will do everything in my power to come home, alive, to you. You will not lose me.

 

Bruce’s fingers rest on the back of his head. “Do you understand, Dick? I’m not leaving. Okay?”

 

Dick nods mutely and leans forward to curl up against Bruce’s chest as the tears continue to fall. “It’s okay. I’ve got you, it’s okay honey. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

“I don’t - I don't want you to go.” Dick hiccups.

 

“I know.” Bruce rubs his back. “I know, and if it gets too dangerous, if I ever start to think that I can’t handle this, I will stop, and if something ever happens and you need me, and I can't be there for you and be Batman at the same time, I promise I will hang up the cape without hesitation. Okay?”

 

Dick nods and gives a muffled, “Okay.”

 

“I love you.”

 

“I love you too Dad.” Dick says, and Bruce wraps his arms tighter around Dick’s small form.

 

Dick stops asking to be Bruce’s sidekick, but Bruce decides to let him listen in over the comm, and he makes sure to never turn it off, except when he gives Dick warning ahead of time if there’s something he really doesn't want the boy to hear. He only does that for the worst cases though, and Dick becomes less anxious about whether Bruce can handle himself.

 

Bruce himself gets a little more worried as the police step up their efforts to capture him. He continues to take down criminals though, as well as work on his base in the caves under the Manor. Dick calls it the Batcave, and the name sticks. Dick’s names for everything else stick too, which Bruce accepts grudgingly. Dick also loves the device that emits a sound at a frequency which calls the bats to it. Bruce tells Alfred it was Dick’s idea when he asks. Alfred, though, just raises an eyebrow at him.

 

Bruce does not give Alfred an ‘I told you so’ look when he successfully uses the device to create a distraction to escape from the cops. He is too busy grimacing in pain while Alfred stitches up the bullet wounds. He is also too busy consoling Dick and reassuring him that this is not Bruce going back on his promise. He takes Dick with him as an apology when he goes skiing in the mountains to establish a cover.

 

Lieutenant Jim Gordon, of course, decides to investigate Bruce Wayne. He’s too good a detective to not follow through on any possibility, and comes to pay him a visit with his pregnant wife Barbara. They get to meet Brucie Wayne.

 

Brucie Wayne is, well, jovial and good-natured, quite dramatic and somewhat dimwitted. After greetings and small talk, Jim asks him, “So, what do you think of Batman?”

 

Wayne answers, “Batman? Oh my! You’re not here to talk about him, are you? I’ve been hearing such horrible things!”

 

Bruce shudders. “Did you hear he attacked the mayor? Poisoned him and all his friends too! He wouldn't come after me, would he?” His eyes widen. “Or Dick?”

 

“It’s horrible, knowing such a monster is in my city, and I have my boy to think of. I just formalized the adoption, you know.”

 

The couple offer their congratulations. Bruce nods. “Such a sweet boy. The world just isn't safe anymore. I’m sure you know what I mean. You’re probably worrying over your little one already.” Bruce says, gesturing in the direction of Barbara’s belly.

 

“And the officers being attacked too? What is the world coming to? I should probably get a bodyguard. One of those ex-military types. They’d be able to hold that Batman creature off for sure. But you’re on the case, Lieutenant Gordon.” Bruce grins at Jim. “They’ve been saying such good things about you on the news. They say you’re a hero cop. You and your men will get Batman for sure.”

 

The butler returns. “Master Bruce, Master Dick requests your presence.”

 

“Oh, well, you must excuse me, Lieutenant Gordon, Mrs. Gordon. I really should go see what Dick wants. Alfred can see you out.”

 

Before Jim can say anything else, Bruce is gone, and the butler is holding the door open for them. Jim somehow manages to ask after Mr. Wayne’s whereabouts during sightings of Batman, and the butler provides alibis for every single one while showing them out the door.

 

On the way down the driveway, Barbara asks her husband, “Do you still think he might be Batman?”

 

“I don’t know.” Jim answers. “He acted very ditsy, but to be Batman, one would undoubtedly want to go to great lengths to keep the secret.”

 

“Well, I hope for the boy’s sake at least some of that was an act. The man clearly dotes on him, but I would hope he has some more sense about him, and at least doesn't leave everything to the butler.” Barbara says.

 

Jim agrees, and he doesn't get any more opportunities to investigate Bruce Wayne before his wife gives birth, then he’s getting up in the middle of the night for feedings and for emergencies. His work keeps making the dirty cops angrier at him, and finally Commissioner Loeb takes action against him. They kidnap Barbara and little James from his home. He gets Barbara free, but one man escapes with his baby. Jim chases him to the bridge, then he’s taking out the attacker, then his baby is falling, then he’s falling too, then they’re caught.

 

Standing there in the water, with the man who is undoubtedly Batman handing him his son, the man’s face bare, but Jim’s glasses missing, Jim takes his baby son in his arms and nods his head while the wanted vigilante swings away from the scene. Bruce Wayne doesn't get anymore investigations by the police.

 


 

Superman lifts off from the roof where Batman stands. The Gotham-based vigilante is unsettling. Their team-up had been relatively effective, but their personalities and methods had clashed horribly. Where Superman acted to be seen, Batman went unseen, and that was just their smallest difference. Superman had some doubts about the other man’s motives. Frightening criminals, while effective, wasn't exactly something to aim for.

 

Then Superman’s ears pick up the sound of his name. He focuses his hearing on where it had come from. A child’s voice is saying, “...was Superman! Babi, you met Superman!”

 

Superman looks to find the source. The voice is coming from, surprisingly, an earpiece in Batman’s cowl. “Can he really fly?” the little boy is saying. “And shoot lasers? And see really far, and hear really far? And lift a whole building?”

 

When the boy’s voice pauses, Superman hears Batman say, “Shouldn't you be in bed?”

 

The boy, possibly Batman’s child, just says, “Yeah, but Superman!”

 

Superman chuckles while he flies further away. He hears Batman say, “Does Agent A know you’re up?”

 

The voice sounds guilty now. “No.” A pause. “How high can Superman fly?”

 

There is a small sigh from Batman. “You need to go to bed.” he says.

 

“But Babi…” the kid whines.

 

Another sigh. “You have until I get home, and then I’m putting you to bed.”

 

“Okay!” the voice chirps. Superman suspects he just got exactly what he wanted. Then he asks again, “Can Superman really shoot lasers out of his eyes?”

 

Superman flies out of range just as Batman says with the faint sound of a smile in his voice, “Yes.”

 

Superman starts to revise what he knows of Batman in his head. He looks at the vigilante’s actions tonight in a different light. Now, he seems to genuinely want to protect people, and there are several moments that Superman had previously brushed off that now have more relevance. Maybe Batman is a good ally after all. He’ll have to keep his eye on Gotham to be sure though.

 




“I’m never going to be as good as Mami and Tati.” Dick complains one day while hanging from the rings.

 

Bruce hums. Nobody will. The Graysons were world class acrobats. Dick would have only been doing acrobatics for a year or so before they died. Bruce had made a point to visit circuses often while they were traveling, and they had even visited Haly’s Circus a couple times, though Bruce had been hesitant, since they had some sort of connection to the Court of Owls. Dick had been able to practice and learn, but he didn't make the progress he would have made if he was still training full-time. Bruce had learned some things, and he could help Dick practice, as well as participate in some maneuvers that required a partner, but he couldn't help Dick improve .

 

“I could find a more permanent teacher for you.” Bruce suggests.

 

But then, flying was a family thing with Dick. He had practiced with plenty of different acrobats, and he practiced with Bruce, but none of them were quite as good as John and Mary had been. Dick might never truly fly again.

 

“Really?” Dick asks.

 

“Yes. They won't be as good as your parents, but you could keep up your skills, and learn more.”

 

Dick jumps down to the ground. “Yes! And I can practice all the time now.”

 

“Not all the time. You know that. You need a spotter, at least until you’re a little older.”

 

“Yeah, but I have my own equipment! And you can spot me whenever.” Dick throws his arms around Bruce’s waist.

 

Bruce chuckles and ruffles his sweaty hair. “Not whenever. We have to sleep, silly.”

 

“Okay.” Dick grabs onto Bruce’s arm, which Bruce lifts so Dick can climb onto his shoulders. “But whenever we’re not asleep.”

 

“So you never want to leave the gym? No food? No Alfred’s food? No ice cream? No zoo? No park? No-”

 

“Babi!” Dick exclaims, flopping onto his back with his legs hooked over Bruce’s shoulders. Bruce grabs his ankles to keep him steady. “You’re no fun!”

 

“Oh. So no me either?” Bruce teases him.

 

Dick pulls himself up and Bruce grunts as he throws his arms around Bruce’s head - and in his face. “No! You’re my captive!”

 

“Are you a dragon now?” Bruce asks as he passes Dick his water bottle.

 

“Yes!” Dick shouts enthusiastically.

 

“Oh no!” Bruce exclaims in mock dismay. “Who will ever save me from the fearsome beast? Certainly not brave knight Alfred! He has not learned of my demise!”

 

“Go! Go! Go!” Dick cheers and digs his heels into Bruce’s chest.

 

Bruce obliges him and carries him to find Alfred, ducking through the doors on their way. When they find him reading, Bruce grins at him a bit sheepishly, but Dick proclaims, “Alfie! You have to save Babi. I’m a dragon and he’s my prisoner.”

 

Alfred looks very surprised, but a smile is pulling at his lips. “You came to inform me? How courteous! Thank you Mr Dragon.”

 

“You’re welcome!” Dick chirps. “Now hurry! You have to rescue him. Or I’ll eat him!”

 

“Oh dear! Will you really?”

 

Dick nods vigorously. “Uh huh.” He grabs a handful of Bruce’s hair and shoves it in his mouth, then spits it back out. “Ick! I changed my mind. I’ll just keep him in my dungeon forever!”

 

Bruce and Alfred laugh. “Alright then.” Alfred raises an imaginary sword and charges. “Evil beast! I’ll slay thee!”

 

Dick giggles and jumps from Bruce’s shoulders onto the nearby couch. Bruce and Alfred both pause, but Dick jumps to the ground and runs around the furniture. Alfred takes chase.

 

Bruce sits on the couch and calls out commentary from where he is watching with a fond smile.

 

Dick dives onto the couch, wriggling between Bruce’s back and the couch. “Save me!” he exclaims.

 

“Oh I’m your savior now?”

 

“Yes! You’re my knight!”

 

Bruce laughs. He gets up and faces Alfred, wielding his own imaginary sword. “I challenge thee, Sir Alfred! I am the loyal protector of this noble dragon!”

 

“I accept your challenge, Sir Bruce!” Alfred bellows.

 

They begin an imaginary sword fight. When Bruce “vanquishes” Alfred, Dick cheers and leaps at Bruce. Bruce exclaims, “The dragon has betrayed me! I must defeat it!”

 

He catches Dick midair and plops him back down on the couch. Bruce starts tickling him and Dick squeals in laughter.

 

“No, no, no! Stop!” he giggles.

 

“Do you surrender, dragon?”

 

“Yes! Yes, I surrender!” Dick gasps.

 

Bruce grins and picks Dick up as he collapses back onto the couch. He shares a smile over Dick’s head with Alfred, who is watching the two of them with something like wonder in his eyes. “Perhaps the dragon and the knight would like some hot chocolate after that battle?” he inquires softly.

 

Dick nods enthusiastically. Alfred takes his time with the hot chocolate, and when he returns, both Bruce and Dick have fallen asleep. Alfred runs his hand through Bruce’s hair, whose head is tipped back on the top of the couch, and he smiles at Alfred’s touch. Alfred finds a blanket to cover them, and he brushes Dick’s hair back where he’s curled up in Bruce’s arms.

 

It’s been a very, very long time since Alfred has seen Bruce so happy.