A light summer wind breezed through Gotham City, cooling the harsh heat from the blazing sun. Throughout the city children were running and playing gaily, closely followed by frazzled mothers attempting to apply sun cream or fix a sun hat on their child. But inside Wayne Manor two figures were locked in an epic battle.
Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were sat either side of the chess board, each carefully assessing their opponent’s pieces and mentally calculating their options. Bruce, having just moved his knight to take Dick’s bishop sat back to study his ward. The boy looked stunned, clearly not having expected that move and quickly looked at his remaining pieces to try and build a better defence. As his brows came together and his piercing blue eyes flicked swiftly between the pieces, Bruce could almost see the cogs turning in Dick’s head. His young ward’s intelligence always astounded him; Dick truly had an aptitude for anything he put his mind to and was wholeheartedly dedicated to his school studies. It was one of the reasons he let him become his partner in fighting crime.
Dick had lived with Bruce for two years now, and had been fighting as Robin for a year and a half having discovered Bruce’s secret after only six months. Bruce had been training Dick ever since, honing the boy’s many skills and enhancing his fighting technique, and although he was immensely proud of his ward and his achievements he couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret. Robin was incredibly skilled, fiercely loyal, and thus was a great asset to the duo, but the boy was only fifteen. He should have been chasing girls, not deranged criminals. He should have spent his evenings relaxing with his friends, not puzzling over riddles and clues to prevent major crimes. It was in these rare moments, playing chess or sports as Bruce and Dick that he realised how young his ward really was.
After a few minutes Dick reached out and moved his only remaining castle four paces left, looking to gauge Bruce’s reaction. Having been wrapped up in his own thoughts Bruce hadn’t been paying attention and thus had to study the board to get back into the game.
Dick smirked, “Gee Bruce, for all the lectures I get about daydreaming I would have thought you’d set a better example,”
Bruce, used to his ward’s cheeky teasing, fixed Dick with a mock stern gaze, “I was not daydreaming; a very important thought came to mind which had to be given the due attention,”
“Shouldn’t the game also be given the due attention, Bruce?”
“The game is being given the due attention,” Bruce’s bishop took out Dick’s queen, “By myself at any rate,”
Dick’s draw dropped, “Gosh, Bruce, I wish I could multitask as well as you,”
Bruce chuckled and was about to respond when Alfred walked over to them, “I’d hate to interrupt, sir, but there is a call for you,”
Dick’s heart sank as Bruce thanked Alfred and went to his study to take the call. He knew it was likely to be Commissioner Gordon with a new case for them to investigate, but even if it was from someone at Wayne Enterprises chances were that Bruce would still have to go and resolve a problem.
Aunt Harriet, who was sat on the couch across the room, looked up from her newspaper and commented, “I didn’t hear the phone ring, did you Dick?”
Dick looked up at her, “No Aunt Harriet, but it sure is a good thing Alfred did, otherwise Bruce would have missed the call,” Not that that would have been a bad thing, he added mentally before catching himself and chasing those thoughts away. The entire population of Gotham City could be at risk and here he was annoyed that his morning would be interrupted. Guilt pooled in his stomach as Bruce returned to the living room.
“Was there a problem Bruce?” Aunt Harriet enquired.
“Yes, but it was easily resolved. Dick, what say you and I go fishing today?”
Had Bruce’s offer been genuine, Dick would have been over the moon and eagerly taken him up on the opportunity to spend more time with his guardian. But Dick now knew the Commissioner had been on the Batphone and because Bruce had suggested fishing, he knew this case would take up most of the day. However, Aunt Harriet didn’t know the offer was false, and so Dick put on his best eager face and leapt up from his chair, “Oh boy, Bruce, can we?”
Bruce gave Dick a curious glance, knowing something was wrong, before responding, “Of course Dick, but we had better leave now if we want to get a good spot,”
“Gee Bruce, sounds great! Bye Aunt Harriet,” he planted a kiss on Aunt Harriet’s cheek before bounding after Bruce.
Upon their swift arrival at Police Headquarters, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara presented Batman and Robin with the new case: it seemed the Penguin had escaped and was up to his old tricks again. There was an abandoned warehouse on the docks which used to process the fish caught in the harbour which Batman deduced was likely where the Penguin and his henchmen were holding out, and without further delay the Dynamic Duo sped away.
The Batmobile pulled up at the kerbside, about 200 yards from the Penguin’s suspected hideout. Batman and Robin made quick work of setting up the individual Bat-Analysers and Bat-Sensors to monitor the building and any inhabitants.
“Now that we have complete coverage of the warehouse, we just have to wait until the Penguin appears,” Batman announced to his partner.
“Roger,” Robin agreed, slightly lacking his usual enthusiasm.
Ten minutes passed and nothing happened. Nobody had returned to the warehouse and Robin had not come to Batman with his problem, leaving him no choice but to confront the boy.
“Is there something wrong, Robin?”
“Hmm?” Robin looked up, “Oh, it’s nothing,”
“It clearly isn’t nothing if it’s bothering you this much, Chum. You can always tell me what’s wrong,”
Robin seemed to consider this before looking away, “No, it’s selfish,”
Batman raised an eyebrow at his sidekick, “I don’t think you’re even capable of being selfish, Robin,”
Robin looked sheepishly up at Batman, “Well... it’s just that... sometimes I wish that we were doing the things we tell Aunt Harriet we’re doing,”
Batman appraised his young partner before responding, “If we were currently fishing as we have told Aunt Harriet, there would be no one chasing the Penguin right now,”
“Chief O’Hara and his men would be looking for him,”
“True, but none of Chief O’Hara’s men have our specialised skill sets. The Gotham City Police Department is a well equipped and capable team of men, but with extreme cases such as the Penguin they need our assistance. Would you have them struggle while we are more than capable of helping them?”
Robin shook his head furiously, “No Batman, that’s not what I meant at all. I was thinking more along the lines of there not being any criminals we needed to catch,”
“There are always criminals, Robin, but I think I understand your point now. If you remember I explained this to you when you first wanted to become Robin that our free time would be restricted by what cases needed our attention,”
“Do you regret your decision to join me?”
“No!” Robin exclaimed forcefully, “No Batman, I don’t regret it. I love what we do; I love that we can make a difference and help protect Gotham City. I love that we can help criminals rehabilitate. I don’t regret my decision, Batman.”
“It’s alright Robin it was only a question, and I admit I am relieved to hear your answer,”
“I’ll always be here for you Batman,”
Batman was slightly taken by the conviction in the boy’s voice, “And I for you. But let me see if I have this straight, you are glad for what we do but wish that our services were not required as frequently as they are?”
“Well I must confess the same thought had crossed my own mind, and in another life perhaps we might not have been required to intervene as often as we are,” Batman admitted.
“In another life we might not have been needed at all,” Robin suggested but Batman shook his head and repeated his previous statement.
“There are always criminals, Robin. But in another life, someone else might have donned the cape and cowl.”
Robin considered this, but shook his head, “I can’t see anyone else but you being Batman,”
“And only you could be my partner,” Batman stated with certainty.
Robin shook his head, “Maybe not, in another life I might have been the criminal you were chasing,”
Batman smiled, “I don’t think you would’ve been the criminal in any other life, Old Chum,”
Robin smirked, “What, you don’t think I could pull off a full face of clown makeup? Or a purple top hat?”
“Don’t joke about such things, Robin,” Batman chided even as he tried to keep his laughter in, but one look at Robin and the pair of them burst into laughter.
Once the chuckles had died down, Batman broached the topic that had been bothering him for a considerable amount of time.
“In another life you would have lived with your parents, and would never have been exposed to this darker side of life,”
Robin looked up at Batman with sad eyes, “Yeah... but in that life I wouldn’t have met you,”
Batman was stunned by the boy’s response, and was heartened to see the truth in the crystal blue eyes.
“And in that life I would never have been able to achieve the great things I’ve done with you, nor would I have been able to do as much good as I have in this city,”
“But you would have had a normal life,” countered Batman, “You would have had a mother and a father, and you wouldn’t have to lie about where you’d been because you really would have gone fishing with your father,”
Robin looked down at his gloved hands, the fingers of which were knotted together, “My father would never have taken me fishing. He was far more interested in developing his next circus act with my mother. The only times we were ever really together was when I was finally old enough to join the group and he could maximise the performance by including me in the act. Other than that it was the occasional training session, but mostly I taught myself based on the instructions he’d given me.” Robin looked straight into Batman’s eyes, “You’ve been more of a father to me than he ever was.”
Batman stared into his young ward’s eyes and felt as though he was staring into his very soul. His last words had completely frozen him in place. Batman had been about to respond when Robin continued.
“When you first took me in I didn’t really know what to expect from you. I didn’t know if you were going to be distant like my father was or if you would be more involved... and it seemed like you were more like him. When you kept having to leave for ‘board meetings’ or ‘millionaire gatherings’ I had thought you were just like him: far more interested in your business life than you were in me. And I was angry. Not at you, but at myself for thinking it could have been different with you than it was with my father. I was bitter and I would isolate myself from you so that it wouldn’t matter if you had to leave, because we wouldn’t have had to cancel any plans. And I felt terrible for it, Bruce, truly I did and I still do,” he looked up with tear-stained eyes, “because you tried so hard to get through to me, and I refused because I didn’t want you to hurt me.”
Robin was silent for a moment before continuing, “The day I found the Batcave was the best day of my life, because I realised you had been leaving me to do something worthwhile, and because you agreed to take me on. And when you started training me I realised it wasn’t like when my father was training me, you put the effort in and worked with me. After that I was more willing to open up to you because I realised that you were interested in me, not just what I could do for you. And that’s why I could never regret my decision to take my place at your side; it has made things so much clearer for me. The only reason I want to be doing the things we tell Aunt Harriet we do is so that I can spend more time with you... with my father.”
Batman could only sit there, unable to form words after what Robin had just confessed to him. He’d had no idea his young ward, no his son, felt the same way about their relationship as he did. Robin misinterpreted his silence as a negative reaction and ducked his head.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I only meant to say how I felt and I thought you... it doesn’t matter. If you don’t feel the same way, then I get it, and that’s fine an—”
“Robin!” Batman interrupted after his first efforts weren’t heard, “Don’t ever belittle yourself like that. Of course I feel the same way about you, how could I not? I was only silent a moment ago because I couldn’t believe you felt that way about me,”
“Really? You’re not just saying that?”
“I would never lie to you. I was equally glad when you discovered my secret identity and I would no longer have to pretend there was ever anything more important to me than you. I agreed to train you because you were so eager and I knew it was something we could do together, and I know it did plenty of good for the both of us. We both learned to open up to each other and we became what we each needed. You needed a father - that much was clear. But I never knew I was missing anything until I met you – you’re the son I never knew I needed,”
Robin smiled, tentatively at first but soon he was full on grinning as Batman smiled along with him. It felt as though a great weight had been lifted off of his chest and he could breathe more easily knowing Bruce loved him as much as he did Bruce.
“Gee Batman, I sure am glad we had that conversation,”
“Me too, Old Chum, me too,”
Only a few seconds later one of the Bat-Sensors beeped and they both peered at the results on the tiny screen.
“Holy arrival, Batman! The Penguin’s returned to the warehouse!” Robin exclaimed.
“Come on Robin, the sooner we catch him the sooner we can return home,” Batman said as they both leapt out of the Batmobile.
As they raced towards the old building Robin realised he didn’t need to imagine what things would have been like in any other life – this one was just fine.