“Fine!” yelled Damian. “I quit!”
Bruce watched as the boy— his son— ripped the ‘R’ off his uniform, threw it to the ground, and slammed through the bunker door, out into the hallway. It was dramatic, in Bruce’s opinion, but Damian always was. The little time Bruce had spent with the boy had shown him that.
Of course, all that time had been last year, before Darkseid’s Omega Beam sent Bruce back in time. His family thought he was dead. In his absence, Dick became Batman, but Bruce had expected that. He was proud of Dick: of his efforts as Batman and of the man he had become.
He had not, however, expected Dick’s choice of Robin.
Damian’s angry footsteps retreated down the hallway. Damian? Really? He was Bruce’s son, yes, but who was his mother? Who was his grandfather? He was a weapon created by the League of Assassins.
A threat. Dick didn’t seem to think so. He swore the boy had changed, but after one mission together, Bruce wasn’t sure. Damian did not follow orders. He and Bruce did not work well together. He did not respect Bruce, and he made that very obvious.
And when presented with those facts, he stormed off.
Bruce turned with a sigh to Dick, expecting sympathy; surely Dick was used to Damian’s tantrums by now. Instead, he found Dick sitting at the bunker table, hands over his eyes. Dick took a deep breath and dragged his fingers down his face. He finished by staring towards the heavens with his hands steepled under his chin, like he was praying for patience.
“I need you,” he said, slowly, deliberately, “to fix that.”
“Fix it,” Dick repeated, making eye contact. He was furious, Bruce realized— barely keeping his temper. There was fire in his eyes. “Find him. Apologize.”
“For what? He ignored my instructions, and I—”
“Apologize,” Dick ground out, “for treating him like an enemy.”
“You do! And you’re wrong! You don’t know him, and you aren’t trying to! He’s Robin, and you’re going to get used to that, not take it away from him.”
“I don’t plan on taking anything—” Bruce began, but Dick cut him off again.
“I don’t want to hear it.” He stood up from the table, walked across the bunker, and pulled a pair of files from a drawer. He slapped them onto the table, then marched out the door, yelling for Damian as he went.
“What are—?” Bruce tried to ask, but Dick was already gone. “Fine.” He pulled the first file from the stack and examined it for himself.
It was an old file, the type Bruce used back when Batman was new, before everything went online. It was labeled “Dick Grayson.” Bruce opened it and read:
I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s difficult for me to admit that Dick and I aren’t connecting, but that is the reality of this situation. We have so much in common that I assumed I could help him. I assumed I knew how to handle this responsibility. I was wrong. Despite my best efforts, his condition has worsened since he came to the manor. Instead of the slow recovery I imagined, he seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
I have to conclude that his regression is my fault. I do know what he’s going through; I can see the same emotions in his behavior that I remember feeling— that I still feel— after my own parents’ deaths.
I should have predicted we would grieve differently. I found peace and motivation in solitude, and because I assumed he would do the same, I left him alone. I see now that it was a mistake. He doesn’t need solitude. He needs companionship and warmth.
Unfortunately, he has me. Alfred assures me that I can learn to be a guardian, and I suppose Alfred would know. I am, however, aware of my own weaknesses. If this is possible, it won’t be easy.
I promised I would help him. I intend to keep that promise.
Bruce remembered this file. He took Dick’s discarded chair at the table and stared down at it, thinking that Dick was never supposed to see it. Then again, Bruce had been gone from the Batcave for a year. He shouldn’t be surprised.
The file was almost twenty years old— Bruce’s first thoughts on Dick Grayson, recently orphaned. He wrote the first entry two weeks after Dick arrived at Wayne Manor.
If he dislikes the manor, read the second entry, he dislikes school even more: he looks relieved every time he comes home, and he changes out of his school clothes immediately. Obviously, he has negative associations with the place. It can’t be the work that bothers him. He doesn’t seem to mind homework, and he’s always interested in my investigations, even if they involve lab work or extensive research. He likes to learn.
Why then, does he dislike school? Several hypotheses: first, he does not enjoy being around other children. This seems unlikely. Dick enjoys people. He follows Alfred and me around the manor in a way that makes it clear that he prefers company. Second, the particular children at his school are unpleasant. Perhaps he is being bullied. This option also seems unlikely; Dick is more than capable of defending himself. I will, however, investigate to be certain. If he is being bullied, I will remedy that problem.
I find my third hypothesis most persuasive. Because he has lived his entire life at Haly’s Circus, this is Dick’s first experience with school, and it reminds him of the changes in his life and the reason for that change. By association, school becomes emotionally difficult. That problem will be harder to remedy.
The only solution is to associate school with something Dick enjoys. Maybe the theater? He did enjoy last week’s performance of Les Miserables. A school play would give him the chance to perform again, something his life now lacks.
As far as I know, the school does not have a theater program for students Dick’s age. An anonymous donation should fix that gap. I can have Alfred suggest that Dick become involved— the idea will seem better coming from Alfred, a former performer himself. Maybe I can convince Alfred to direct the play, to give Dick the opportunity to work with someone he knows. The situation could also provide an outlet for Dick’s natural leadership skills.
It’s as good a plan as any. I will initiate it first thing tomorrow morning.
Bruce smiled at the memory of Dick at eight years old, center stage at the very first Gotham Elementary School play. Alfred still directed that play every year, and Bruce always went to watch. He had missed this year’s…
Bruce scanned through accounts of Dick’s adventures as Robin, a table of notes on his closest friends, and a record of the Ainsworth incident— there had been a bully, but Theodore Ainsworth quickly learned his lesson. There was a list of things Dick liked paper clipped into the file, followed by a list of things Dick hated. Bruce flipped to the back to verify that the list of Dick’s triggers was still there. It was.
His guitar string snapped today. The sound set him off. He hid in his bedroom closet for hours, inconsolable…
I thought he might enjoy Professor Miller’s lecture on corporate formation, but he did not. Alfred says young children do not find lectures interesting. He also says I was not an ordinary child, and therefore do not count. We went out for ice cream after the program, which Dick did seem to enjoy. Perhaps I should let him pick activities from now on…
His friends are obsessed with the Batman. They constantly argue over whether he exists. Dick is having another sleepover at the tower tonight, and he wants me to swing past the windows to prove that Batman is real. If I can find the time, I will. It will make him happy…
He came to Wayne Enterprises today and charmed the entire building. Maybe one day it can be his business…
He says he misses the circus. Haly’s in on international tour in Prague this week. We can fly out this evening…
He likes to travel. We can extend the trip to the rest of Europe if he wants to. Gotham City can last a few more days without us…
One page from a year in was spattered with tear marks:
…I love Dick more than I ever imagined possible…
Those were not Bruce’s tears on the page. Dick was never supposed to find that file, but he had— while he believed that Bruce was gone forever. Bruce felt like he had been punched in the chest imagining it. He did love Dick more than he ever imagined he could. The beginning had been hard. Bruce didn’t know how to raise a child. He didn’t know how to engage Dick, how to heal him, or how to have a family. He did now.
He suspected that was Dick’s point. The second file was labeled “Damian Wayne,” and Bruce knew what his notes must look like in comparison: DNA results, a photograph, battle records, and a half page of personal observation. “Assassin. Attempted murderer. Al Ghul.”
So why was the file so thick? Bruce opened it and found his own notes exactly as he expected them, followed by pages and pages in Dick’s handwriting.
I don’t know what I’m doing either. All I know is that Bruce gave me a family after I lost everything. He gave me a chance to rebuild and to move on and to become something special. I’m going to do the same for Damian if it kills me.
I don’t know what he likes, but I guess I know what he hates: pretty much everything, including me. I know he wants Robin more than anything. He says it’s his birthright, and in a way, he’s right— not because he has Bruce’s DNA, but because his father is dead, and this is all he has left. Haven’t we all been there? All he wanted was a place by Bruce’s side. That isn’t possible anymore, but Robin is the closest thing I can give him. He needs it. If I’m going to be Batman…
He hates the city. I think he spent a lot of time outside while he was growing up? I’ll ask him…
He draws amazing maps and schematics, and while he draws, it almost looks like he’s happy. Should I get him art supplies? That sounds like something Bruce would do. I could leave them in his room without saying anything. That way he wouldn’t have to accept a gift…
It worked. He spent all day in his room drawing. He told us not to bother him, but he left a portrait of Alfred out in the kitchen. I think it was a thank you…
He hasn’t killed anyone since he started, but God it’s been a struggle. I don’t know whether to be horrified or proud of him for trying. I talked to Cass about it last night. She says she understands. I guess she would. I, on the other hand, can’t even imagine the hellhole they grew up in. What turns a child that cold? He won’t let his guard down. I’m guessing every time he did growing up, he got hit… in the metaphorical sense. I’m sure the literal was much worse.
I don’t know how to show him that he’s safe with me…
He got shot today rescuing Sasha. He can’t move from the waist down. Talia says she can take care of it. I don’t think I want to know how…
He’s back at the Tower, in a brace but moving fine. Thank God. I didn’t realize how scared I was of losing him until it almost happened…
Talia tried to force him to kill me. He wouldn’t do it. He broke her mind control to stop himself. He says she offered him a choice: come back to the League or be disowned forever. He says he made his choice, and it’s Robin. He wants to be better. He is so much better. I hope he knows how proud I am…
He loves the houseplants we bought him…
He held the baby for hours while we looked for her mother. I think I heard him singing to her…
He would have enjoyed those stupid lecture series Bruce used to drag me to. He reminds me of Bruce so much. I should tell him. He’ll want to know. It’s all he wants to be…
He saved the kids…
He helped her find her cat…
He cried when we found the body…
He has to know I love him, right? He has to know. In one year, I watched him learn how to love and how to be part of this family. Does he have work left? Sure. But the progress he made is incredible…
Now that we know Bruce is coming back, he’s terrified that he’ll have to leave. He says Bruce never accepted him before, so why would he now? I told him he has nothing to worry about. He earned his place. I’ll do whatever it takes to help him keep it…
Bruce winced at that one. Despite Dick’s uncertainty in the first entry, the file was full of lists: likes, dislikes, triggers, birthday presents, friends… There were drawings that must have come from Damian: Dick and Alfred laughing in the kitchen, birds on the Tower rooftop, Tim by the light of his laptop screen, bats in the Cave with tiny, labelled names, Cassandra and Stephanie grinning as they sparred. The drawings were beautiful. Damian was very talented.
And, if Dick was to be believed, completely changed. That’s what his file said— both in Dick’s words and the actions he reported. Damian was a different person now.
Bruce found Dick in the Tower penthouse, washing dishes. He switched off the water as Bruce approached.
“Where is he?” Bruce asked.
“On the roof.”
“Will he… want to talk?"
“I don’t know. Last I checked he was pretty upset.”
Dick dropped a pile of dishes into the sink. “He’s a child.”
“He’s your child.”
“He’s different now.”
“But even if he wasn’t, he would still deserve to be here. He will be here, Bruce. I’m not asking.”
Dick half-laughed at that one. “I meant to say,” he said, gesturing to the files in Bruce’s hand, “thank you.”
“I mean it. I didn’t… realize how much effort you put into making me feel at home.”
“You needed me.”
“So does he. Put in the effort.”
Bruce nodded, then headed for the roof.