** This is FANfiction. It is an old piece, but one of my favorites. All characters are property of DC Comics. **
Dick shot up in bed with a strangled gasp, the sheets tangled about him like tentacles waiting to squeeze for the kill. He panted wildly and tried to regain some semblance of peace and order, some grasp of where he actually was. Slowly the over-sized, monolithic room came into focus and his pants of fear turned to heavy sighs of longing. This was no mere room – it was practically an apartment. All manner of expensive toys, computers and other trinkets filled the grand space. There was even a small sofa and entertainment center off to a corner with every game console known (or not known) to man waiting to be played. He’d not touched any of it since moving in to Wayne manor.
The nightmares continued no matter where he slept, how much or little or how often. The same horrible vision played out in his mind like a video on replay, each screen capturing the terrified faces of his parents as they plummeted to the ground. His own horrified screams echoed in his ears, ringing loudly like church bells that wouldn’t let you go back to sleep on a Sunday morning.
He brought a shaking hand through his hair and let his feet dangle over the edge of the bed. His toes didn’t quite reach the Chinese rug that lined the swath of flooring beneath his bed. He stared at it for a long time, the patterns making his eyes cross.
“I wanna go home,” he whispered softly. Even the whisper echoed in the vast space he had been given to reside in. No one wanted to see a little boy in a huge house, what better place to put him than in here?
Bruce snored lightly onto his polished desk, the washed out blue of three different screens spilling over his sleeping form. One of the screens flipped rapidly through a series of numbers only a genius would understand while a second cycled through several different newspaper clippings. Books that had been pulled off the shelves lined the open spaces of the desk and floor. Alfred would have had kittens if he saw the mess the room was in. The thought made Dick grin if just a little bit as he hovered in the doorway.
His feet were bare and twisted against themselves on the cold wood of the floor. The manor was drafty even with all the expensive heating and piping. There was just no way to adequately heat a mausoleum. A raggedy old half-bald bunny was clutched in his left hand while his right fidgeted with the hem of his pajama shirt. He wanted so much to speak, to call out so it would be known that he was there; that he was alive and real – and very much in need of a friend. But nothing came out. No words, not even a whisper.
Bruce’s senses kicked in almost on instinct once Dick planted himself in the doorway to his private library. He woke with a snort and first stared blearily at the three screens in front of him as if they were the cause of his disturbed sleep. A slight jump to his left made his eyes instantly shoot towards the doorway, every hair on edge and ready to fight. But the apparent cause of his startled state was only an eight-year-old boy with a dirty bunny.
“Dick?” he asked, the annoyance already thick and heavy on his groggy voice. “What are you doing up? It’s gotta be after two in the morning.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Dick answered meekly, regretting his words even before he spoke them. Tense would be a delicate word to put to his relationship with Bruce. For all his hard thinking, Dick still could not really understand why the billionaire decided to take him in. Bruce floundered horribly whenever he was forced to be alone with him, so Dick took it upon himself to remove the cause of Bruce’s agitation – he simply stayed out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind, is what his father used to say. Never had he expected it to be so true – or hurt so much.
“Oh,” Bruce said, the agitation and nerves hitting almost instantly. He had no clue how to deal with a child. He often wondered what stroke of insanity possessed him to take the boy in in the first place. Necessity, to be sure – the kid would still be in Juvie if Bruce hadn’t intervened. Sitting in a jail cell was the last place a kid needed to be after the death of his parents. He’d agreed to take Dick until a foster home could be found but that was six months ago and there was no sign of relief in the near future. Conversations with Dick were short at best, absolutely terrifying at worst. Of all the things to bring fear to his heart, it was an eight-year-old kid with blue eyes. He knew, somewhere in the back of his brilliant mind, that there was a better way to handle the situation with Dick but it wouldn’t surface. It remained elusive, taunting him as if saying ‘you can have everything else but this’.
Dick stared at him expectantly, the boy’s fingers twisting nervously in his shirt. It was an annoying habit he had and it bothered Bruce immensely for reasons the young billionaire could not explain.
“Stop doing that,” Bruce said absently with a bit more bite to it than he intended. He was tired and cranky and Dick wasn’t helping.
“Sorry,” Dick replied, bowing his head so that he stared at his toes instead of at Bruce. He could never do things quite right. Six months and he wished he’d died with his parents. He wanted to say something more, to ask the many questions that had been pounding inside his head but Bruce’s tone silenced them all to stillness. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
Bruce watched as Dick turned himself around and started shuffling back down the hall. He sighed heavily and chided himself for messing up yet again. The kid would never come out of the shell he built around himself if Bruce kept knocking him down with every word he spoke. The problem was, he didn’t know how else to interact with Dick. Corporate assholes he could handle. Robbers – no problem; psychotic criminals – piece of cake; information super highway – easy street. An eight-year-old orphan – clueless.
Dick felt the looming presence behind him before the shadow even engulfed him. He froze instantly and did his best not to flinch when Bruce stopped at his heels.
“Hey,” Bruce said catching the tiny flinch from Dick. He didn’t want to scare the kid but the minor reflexive act seemed to set a flame of red somewhere in the pit of his stomach all the same. “Want some coffee?”
Dick blinked and slowly turned around to look up at Bruce. There was almost a smile on the older man’s face – of course it could’ve been gas too. “I – I can’t have coffee. I’m only nine.”
“I thought you were eight?” Bruce asked, suddenly panicked that he didn’t even know the boy’s age.
“Well, eight and three quarters,” Dick finally admitted. The shadows hid the flush of crimson that filled his face and his hands instantly started to twist up the ears of his bunny.
“Oh,” Bruce responded, the obvious eloquence flowing from his lips. “Ok … well … um …”
“H-h-how ‘bout hot chocolate?” Dick ventured. It was the longest conversation the two of them had had since Dick’s arrival. He was positive it wouldn’t survive to the kitchen.
“That’s Alfred’s specialty.” Bruce kicked himself the second the words left his mouth. The kid was trying to help, honestly trying to join in on some part of the world around him and he’d just shot it down.
“Oh.” The look of dejection on the kid’s face was heart wrenching and infuriating all at once.
“Cold,” Bruce blurted out suddenly, making Dick’s eyes widen a little and his grip tighten around that blasted animal of his.
”Cold chocolate,” Bruce said dumbly then frowned at himself. “Just regular chocolate milk, not hot. I can do that.”
“Oh,” Dick said, then suddenly understood what Bruce was saying. “Ok … sure.”
Bruce nodded as if confirming the ‘plan’ they’d just made and led the way to the kitchen. The walk was nerve wracking as his office was clear on the other side of the mansion from the kitchen. Dick didn’t say anything, silently shuffling along just behind Bruce, his small feet making tiny padding noises across the tiles and wood flooring. Bruce looked back at him once and then couldn’t bring himself to do it again. The kid was a pathetic sight to be seen. He looked dejected and frail, so small and insecure like the world was going to squash him at any second. There was nothing about Bruce’s world that was not solid – well, almost nothing.
What made it worse was that Bruce wanted very much to reassure the boy that life wasn’t horrible all the time, that there was strength to be found and hope. He just had no way of conveying that to him without causing further harm. Trauma was a powerful thing. It bred fear and uncertainties so strong they were practically rooted. Trying to dig at those roots usually hurt more than they helped in Bruce’s experience. Besides, it wasn’t actually his job anyway. This was only temporary.
The kitchen finally let itself be seen and Bruce all but ran to the refrigerator if for nothing else than to have his mind occupied by something other than Dick. The boy followed like a lost puppy, climbing up onto one of the breakfast stools without a word. He set the ragged bunny down on an empty stool beside him and waited, hands folded on the counter, for Bruce to serve up the promised chocolate milk. Much to Bruce’s dismay however, there was no chocolate to be found.
“Damn,” he cursed after digging through three cabinets with no success. Dick seemed to shrink in his chair. Bruce took a deep breadth and turned to face Dick with what he hoped was a reassuring grin. “Uh … ok … so … looks like we’re all out of chocolate.”
Dick said nothing, those big blue eyes staring with a silent plea that the child could not yet voice. This time Bruce had no outlet to run to. He stared back, his fingers drumming on the pristine counter top as his mind raced to find a solution that would make Dick stop staring at him. He was one of the most brilliant minds of his time! Surely he could think of something that would not involve running to Alfred’s room in a near panic.
“Up … for a drive?” It was the best he could do. It was two forty five in the morning on a Friday; the kid should be in bed – he had school in a few hours. But, it was still the best that Bruce could do.
“It’s Friday,” Dick said, pointing out what Bruce already knew.
“Yeah … you want chocolate milk or don’t you?” Again the words came out harsher than intended but he was sick of walking on eggshells with this kid. Six months and nothing – somehow Bruce doubted a miraculous foster family would drop into his lap at the unholy hours of the morning.
Dick thought about it for a moment, trying to puzzle out a problem he wasn’t really aware existed. After a small eternity he finally nodded, “Ok. I’ll – – I’ll go get my jacket.”
“Good. I’ll … meet you in the garage.”
“Ok,” Dick nodded, slowly sliding off the stool as if he didn’t quite believe Bruce would be there. And, in all honesty, he might not be. But it was a risk Dick was willing to take – the first of many.
By the time Dick found his way to the garage, Bruce had already warmed up the Ferrari. Dick’s running steps slowed to a near halt when he saw the car and it took a mental kick to actually get him moving again. The car was gorgeous, he felt like he would contaminate it just by looking at it.
“Getting in or not?” Bruce asked, bending down so he could look at Dick from the driver’s seat. That was enough to set the boy hopping, the kid all but leaping into the passenger’s seat. He wore his jacket on top of his pajamas, the dull gray flannel pants in stark contrast to the vibrant green of his winter coat. There hadn’t been a real snow fall since mid January but the freezing temperatures still clung to the air even in the beginning of March.
Dick looked all around him, his small hand touching the leather interior almost in disbelief as Bruce drove to the only all-night diner in Gotham that was not guaranteed to have you shot before the sun rose. Bruce clicked on the radio if only to drown out the stifling silence. Dick didn’t complain, letting his hands rest in his lap instead.
Inside the diner there were only a few other late-night snackers. The entrance of an easily recognizable icon and a boy in pajama bottoms caught some attention even if it was from only three people. Doing something like this during the day would have had half of Gotham’s reporters beating down the door. What Bruce hadn’t been able to decide is if they would be there for him or for Dick.
“What’ll you have?” the waitress asked after a moment of staring at them both, sizing them up. Her hair was an unnatural color of red and stacked on top of her head in a poor attempt at a 50’s beehive.
“Hot chocolate,” Bruce answered. “Two of them.”
“Ain’t got no more, honey. Truck don’t come in ‘til four. Get you some coffee?”
Of all the rotten luck. Not even a diner had chocolate. Was the world suddenly chocolate free to torment Bruce further?
“The kid’s only eight – he can’t have coffee,” Bruce grumbled. Dick looked at him with an apologetic expression and it only made the self-anointed heir sink further into the red bench.
“What ….,” Dick began softly in a hoarse whisper that was barely audible. “What about a shake?”
“Shakes I got kiddo – what flavor? No chocolate, mind.”
Dick looked to Bruce as if asking permission to order such a thing. In his mind, what they were doing wasn’t right anyway. He wasn’t allowed up past nine on a school night and here he was at some diner at almost three a.m.
“Vanilla,” Bruce finished, the smallest of grins curling his lips. “Too many problems with chocolate anyway.”
The sun had already crested the horizon by the time Bruce and Dick left the diner. They’d gone through three shakes each, a piece of rhubarb pie and an order of chili fries without saying more than a few sentences to each other. Still it had not been as bad as Bruce originally thought it would be. The kid was smart, if horribly quiet. It turned out the bunny’s name was Boff and was a gift from a member of the circus for his first birthday. Bruce let it slip that, he too, had had a stuffed animal when he was young – a bear with only one eye. He wasn’t brave enough to share the name with Dick and wondered if he ever would be but did manage to let slip that he still had the silly creature and kept it in his room.
Blessedly, conversation was put on hold once they got in the car. Not two seconds after buckling himself in, Dick fell asleep. Bruce allowed himself a few glances over at the kid as he drove home, mentally sighing with wonder. Who would want a traumatized circus kid who’s only real talent involved walking across a tightrope or tumbling at high speed across the floor?
“No one,” Bruce said aloud, surprising himself with the sound of his own voice. He took one more look at the sleeping boy in the passenger’s seat and drove a little faster towards the manor. He didn’t want to actually think about the possibility that crept into his mind.
“Where on Earth have you been?!”
The voice broke through the tense silence that washed over Bruce as he carried Dick into the house. He hadn’t bothered to try to wake the boy up once they arrived but hadn’t expected an attack on the way in either.
“It’s almost seven in the morning!” Alfred scolded, standing with folded arms in Bruce’s direct path. “Is it really beyond your capacity to leave a note? There are several white boards throughout this ridiculous expanse of brick and marble for that very purpose!”
Bruce could only gape. He hadn’t expected to be scolded for trying to actually involve himself with the child he’d agreed to shelter – if temporarily. Alfred’s scolding only seemed to wake Dick anyway which, oddly enough, made things even worse. Bruce had had a good explanation until Dick woke up. The words suddenly died on his tongue as those blue eyes looked up at him with a bit of scared curiosity.
“Um ….” Bruce managed, setting Dick down now that he was awake. The boy rubbed his eyes and yawned a bit, standing very timidly next to Bruce – or rather, just behind. Alfred didn’t spare the boy any of his scrutiny or scolding looks either.
“We ran out of chocolate,” Dick said, still half asleep and bleary eyed but fiercely clutching the bunny as if it were a shield.
“I beg your pardon?”
“There’s no more chocolate,” Dick said, his sleep deprived subconscious letting him speak rather than hide away in silence. “Bruce took me out to get some but the diner didn’t have any either. We had shakes and pie and chili fries. It was good.”
Both men only stared down at the small child still rubbing his eyes just behind Bruce. His voice was very small but firm with a hint of happiness neither Alfred nor Bruce had heard from him since he’d moved in. Bruce looked almost as abashed as Dick should have been and simply glanced over at Alfred, expecting a harsh tongue lashing for doing something so irresponsible with a child.
“Do I still have to go to school?” Dick asked suddenly, his hand flopping to his leg, the futile attempts at rubbing sleep from his eyes failing.
“No, Master Dick,” Alfred answered at last, relieving Bruce of having to do so. “Come, let us get you into bed.”
Bruce watched with a bit of jealousy he could not explain to save his life as Alfred led Dick away by the hand. Just when they were about to round the corner, Dick turned around and waved at Bruce.
“Maybe we can try again tomorrow!” he called back, letting himself be dragged out of sight.
Without thinking Bruce reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He only had to push one number on the speed dial as he turned and headed back towards his office.
“Good morning Maggie,” he said into the receiver as he walked. “No, no – nothing’s wrong. I have a favor – how much NesQuik can we get a hold of before noon?”