Summary: Dick discovers the real meaning of magic.
Disclaimer: All the characters are owned by DC Comics and Time/Warner;this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome!
By Syl Francis
"There's a place and means for every man alive." (All's Well that Ends Well IV, 3)
Just the two of them! Dick couldn't believe it. Bruce asked him if he'd like to go to the park today. Just the two of them! In the two months that Dick had been at Wayne Manor, he'd grown extremely fond of Bruce and Alfred. Dick was even starting to trust them openly with his feelings.
It was hard, though. Dick missed his parents terribly and spent much of his waking hours mourning their loss. Also, getting close to Bruce wasn't easy. Sometimes Dick just needed to snuggle next to Bruce, to feel the warm comfort of his nearness. But Bruce was so unapproachable much of the time.
Especially when he donned the mask and cape. Then he wasn't Bruce anymore. He was...something else. Something frightening.
Those times Dick would hang back in the shadows, too shaken by the menacing vision to step forward into the circle of light.
Still, Dick was only nine, so he'd often forget himself. During the dark days following his arrival at Wayne Manor, Dick often woke up screaming in the middle of the night. Either Bruce or Alfred would be there for him, holding him, rocking him back to sleep...
One night, Dick woke up from a deep, dreamless sleep and found himself alone. The room crackled with the deep rumbling sounds of a distant thunderstorm, occasionally bursting with the sudden nova brightness of chain lightning.
Feeling inexplicably frightened, Dick quickly made his way to the master bedroom and eased between the covers next to Bruce. That night was one of the rare occasions when Bruce was actually sleeping at home, rather than being out silently hunting in the night.
The next morning, Dick woke up to the smell of coffee and the sound of paper rustling. Opening his eyes, he looked up at the powerful form of his new guardian who was quietly sipping his morning coffee and reading the newspaper. Dick just watched for a few moments, not making any noise.
"Sleep well?" Bruce asked without turning. Dick's blue eyes widened in surprise. How did Bruce know that he was awake? Feeling slightly abashed, Dick sat up and leaned on the pillows against the headboard.
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir," Dick replied.
"Sorry? For what?" Bruce set his paper aside and carefully handed Dick a small glass of milk. "Here, drink this," he ordered. Then added sheepishly, "It's, uh, good for your teeth, or something."
Dick dutifully took a sip from his milk. Bruce buttered some toast then handed it to Dick on a small plate. Dick found himself with a glass of milk in one hand, and a plate of toast in the other. He looked so helpless that Bruce's eyes suddenly twinkled in amusement.
"Here, let me help you with that load, chum," Bruce offered. "Why don't you scoot over here a little closer, and we'll share the tray." Dick nodded, handing Bruce the glass of milk so as not to spill its contents. He'd never had breakfast in bed before.
Watching Bruce like a hawk, Dick tried to do everything Bruce did. Dick buttered his second helping of toast just so, held his small glass of milk this way (and didn't gulp), and carefully wiped off any possible signs of a milk mustache from his upper lip.
Bruce gave him a half-smile, then reached across with his own napkin, and gently wiped at a drop that had traitorously clung to Dick's chin. After they finished their breakfast, Dick watched as Bruce lay the tray aside and turned to him. Unsure of himself, Dick sat back on his heels, keeping a little space between them.
Bruce gently patted the bed next to him, and Dick eagerly moved into the protection of Bruce's arm. He lay quietly for a few moments, enjoying the feeling of safety he almost always felt around Bruce. Just like the times that his Dad held him.
"Now, chum," Bruce broke the silence. "What exactly were you apologizing for this morning? You didn't borrow the Batmobile last night and take her out for spin did you?"
"Uh-uh," Dick said seriously. His wide blue eyes looked shocked at the suggestion.
"Hmmm. *I* know...You went down to the Batcave and used the Crays to play 'Wing Commander' again! Now how many times do I gotta tell you? The Batcomputer's for serious work and not games?"
"But I *didn't*! Honest!" Dick protested. "I *never*--!" Dick stopped. Bruce had a suspicious looking twinkle in his eye. "Aw! You're just teasing me!" Dick laughed, grabbing the nearest pillow and proceeding to pound his elder. Bruce quickly retaliated and the Pillow Fight of the Century commenced.
By the time Alfred walked in the door to check on his two charges, the room was awash in a blizzard of down feathers. Alfred stood at door blinking. Bruce and Dick immediately stopped what they were doing and both stood guiltily in place. As one, they each hid their pillow behind their backs.
"Master Bruce! Master Dick! What have you done? Your room, sir! It's a disgrace!"
Bruce and Dick simultaneously pointed at each other and accused together, "HE did it!"
Alfred closed his eyes in long suffering silence. Apparently, not trusting himself to speak, Alfred informed them quietly that he was going grocery shopping. Enunciating each word carefully, he added, "And young sirs, when I return, I expect this room to be returned to its original state of immaculate orderliness. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Alfred," Bruce and Dick replied together. As the door shut behind the real head of the Wayne household, Dick turned and pounded Bruce again.
"Now see what you got me into!" Dick said in mock anger, ducking underneath Bruce's counterattack.
"Oh, yeah?" Bruce replied, matching Dick's tone. "I'll show you, you little munchkin!"
Dick giggled and back flipped out of Bruce's grasp. "Sticks and stones!" He taunted. "You'll never catch me, you old geezer!"
"Old geezer?" Bruce protested. "Now, you're gonna get a spanking!"
Despite the laughter, Dick's pain continued to be a bone-deep, gnawing ache. Bruce and Alfred helped make it go away somewhat, and Bruce even began training Dick in the evenings after work and on weekends. That helped. A lot.
But much to Dick's disappointment, Bruce actually went to work somewhere else. Without him. Every day. And Bruce didn't usually get home until after four p.m. when the Wayne Enterprises' company helicopter dropped him off on the Manor's well-manicured back lawn.
Dick knew that life was going to be different when he lost his parents. At the circus, the Flying Graysons were a family act, and therefore the happy threesome worked, rehearsed, and played together. Day in. Day out. Therefore, having to get used to *staying home* while Bruce *went to work* was a huge adjustment.
Furthermore, Bruce informed Dick that he'd be starting school at the start of the new term. That was less than a month away! Dick felt that he'd hardly had a chance to get to know his enigmatic guardian. It was therefore a very lonely little boy who haunted Wayne Manor that week.
"Master Dick," Alfred's punctiliously British tones broke through his gloom. "Might I interest you in a rousing game of Chess?"
Dick sighed and shook his head, no. He'd been sitting up in his room, staring out his bedroom window at the beautifully maintained Wayne Manor grounds. Before coming here, he didn't know that anyone could have so much money, own so much, and still seem to have so little. Dick had been fighting tears almost all week. He felt so miserable. The Flying Graysons didn't have very much in material wealth, but they'd had each other, and that had been more than enough. Now, Mom and Dad were gone forever.
Alfred sat down next to Dick. "You know, young sir, sometimes talking about something that hurts inside helps one gain perspective, and many times helps ease the pain."
"Why did it happen?" Dick asked without preamble. "Mom and Dad never hurt anybody! Why did he have to kill them?"
"I'm afraid that I don't know the answer to that, Master Dick," Alfred admitted sadly. He quietly studied the latest addition to the Manor. "You're unhappy here. And for that I *am* truly sorry."
"It's not your fault, Alfred. You and Bruce have been great! Honest! It's just that things are so different here. So many things to learn. Even what fork to eat with! I feel so dumb sometimes..." This last was whispered in a small voice tinged with shame.
"Master Bruce and I want you to feel that Wayne Manor is your home, that you are neither a stranger, nor a visitor here, but a member of our family. If there are some things that seem strange or different to you, things that make you uncomfortable, please don't hesitate to ask questions. That's what I'm here for." Alfred paused, then sat up straighter, his voice taking on a resonance of mocking self-importance.
"I am after all, the 'Wayne Family Official Answer Man' going back several years...all the way to when Master Bruce was about this high!" Alfred held his arm out and lowered it to about two feet above floor level.
Dick smiled at the image of the tall, straight man who'd so recently become his guardian as a mere toddler. "What was Bruce like when *he* was a little boy, Alfred?"
Alfred smiled and proceeded to charm and delight his new charge with tales of a certain rambunctious boy who once loved to play pranks on his parents and the household help. Dick was so caught up in Alfred's stories that he didn't notice that Bruce never aged past six in the tales.
"Now, it's *your* turn to tell me a little bit about yourself, Master Dick. I know about your circus life, but what about the activities you and your parents shared when you weren't the Flying Graysons?"
"Hmmmm. That's tough. The circus *was* our life...but we did other things together as a family. My Dad loved old movies, so during the off season, we'd rent videos of old black and white films. I think I've seen Casablanca about a hundred times! We did some outdoor stuff, too: camping, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing." Dick paused in remembrance of the happy times. Suddenly, his face lit in a bright smile.
"It's funny 'cause the most fun memory I have of my parents is the day Mom brought home a bottle of 'Magic Bubbles'!"
"'Magic Bubbles'?" Alfred asked, single eyebrow raised.
"Yeah, you know. A bottle with some kind of soapy liquid. You dip a stick with an open circle at one end into the bottle. When you pull the stick out, you blow through the open circle and make bubbles." Dick smiled and shrugged embarrassed. "It's kid stuff...I'm too old for that now, but still...I remember that day like it was just yesterday..."
Dick woke up feeling excited. Today was Saturday and Bruce didn't have to go to work! On Saturdays Dick didn't have to shower and dress right away. Ignoring his bathrobe, Dick hurried down the hall, barefoot and dressed only his pajamas. Alfred would be shocked, he thought smiling. Slowing down outside of Bruce's bedroom, Dick hesitated and listened first. Turning the doorknob, he peeked inside, careful not to make any noise.
"Come in, Dick," the gruff voice made Dick's heart jump into this throat. Swallowing nervously, Dick walked in timidly. What was it about this man that so attracted him, yet frightened him? Dick walked up to the foot of the massive four poster bed. His head just cleared it enough to see the sole occupant staring at him steadily in the early morning gloom.
Dick was about to apologize for disturbing him when Bruce's eyes appeared to take on that secret twinkle of his. "C'mere, chum!" Bruce slammed the bed next to him. Dick didn't need a second invitation. He easily vaulted over the footboard, landed on his feet, somersaulted and this time, landed sitting down next to Bruce. "Hey, that's pretty good! You'll have to show me again."
"I told you that you're the master acrobat here," Bruce replied seriously. "I'm still learning. In that area, you've got me beat, chum. I'll never learn if you don't show me."
"Oh boy!" Dick yelled standing up, ready to test the bedsprings. Hesitating, he asked, "Alfred won't mind?"
"Hey! Whose bedroom is this anyway? Who's the boss here?"
Dick stood uncertainly. "Are you *sure* it's okay?" Bruce gave him a half-grin and waved him back next to him. There was something in his eyes that warned Dick to stay a safe distance. It was the same look his Dad got whenever they got into a tickle fight.
"Uh-uh!" Dick replied giggling, shaking his head.
Bruce dove for Dick, but Dick was too fast and managed to somersault out of the way instantly. Bruce, tangled in the bedsheets, ended up head over heels on the floor. "Hey! No fair!" Bruce yelled, fighting his way out from under the sheets.
Dick looked down at Bruce from the relative safety of the bedpost. He was perfectly balanced on the top of the post with one hand. Bruce stared admiringly at the boy's form. Dick was going to make an excellent student.
"What's not fair?" Alfred asked from the open door. His single eyebrow went up as he took in the new chaos in the bedroom. Master Dick upside down, balanced on one hand on the Master's bedpost. Master Bruce tangled up on the floor with what looked like the entire contents of his linen closet.
Obviously, order was to be a thing of the past.
All three stared at each other, for a long instant. Finally, Alfred startled both of his charges by bursting into laughter. Dick soon joined him, and even Bruce managed to break into a real smile...
That was several hours ago. Now Dick was getting ready for his day's outing with Bruce. He still couldn't believe it! A whole afternoon! Just the two of them. Dick hurriedly dressed in what Alfred called his "outdoors" clothing. Brother!
Dick thought impatiently that he'd never get used to having so many different outfits. Rebelling, Dick quickly undressed, pulled out an old pair of faded Levi's, a Haly's Circus souvenir sweatshirt, and a new pair of sneakers. It was going to be a crisp day, so he also pulled out a medium weight jacket. Now he was ready.
Dick stepped out of his room, looked both ways, saw that the coast
was clear and quickly executed several handsprings in rapid succession. Reaching the end
of the hallway, Dick once again checked to see if any disapproving grownups were around,
saw that he was alone, and eagerly slid down the banister--head first and on his stomach,
his arms out in
Landing easily in a single graceful motion, Dick hurried to the kitchen. He wanted to see what Alfred was whipping up for lunch. As he was about to push through the kitchen door, Dick overheard Bruce mention his name.
"--Dick. Thanks, Alfred. I owe you," Bruce said. Dick stood outside the kitchen wondering what they could be saying about him.
"Well, sir, poor Master Dick has been feeling quite alone this week. I just felt that it would be a good idea for you and he to spend some quality time together. Get to know each other a little better. He really looks up to you, sir. He misses his parents terribly, and you and I both know that the pain of that loss will never leave him. Still..."
"Still, it's a nice idea to help him cope," Bruce finished. "Well, I had nothing better to do today, anyway. I mean what's a merger with a Japanese company that Lucius and I have been working on for the past six months? Or the possible threat of the nationalization of WayneOil in the Middle East? And let's not forget that WayneTech is introducing a new product today that will revolutionize the aerospace industry! Spending quality time with a nine-year-old boy sounds like--"
"Spending quality time with a nine-year-old boy sounds like a really stupid idea! You don't *have* to spend time with me! I'm *not* a baby!" Dick said in hurt anger. "And you're not my father!" Dick looked at both men with accusing eyes.
"Dick, it's not like that--!" Bruce began.
"Yes it is! I heard what you said. You don't want to spend time with me...you've got more important things to do--!"
"That's not true! And you shouldn't eavesdrop, young man. You might hear things that aren't meant for your ears--!"
"Like this! I know! Well, I'm not going anywhere with you! You're only doing this 'cause you feel sorry for me! Well, you can go 'n take care of your Japanese whatever, and your oil fields, and the space program. I'm going back to my room." Dick turned to go, but Bruce's steely voice halted him in his tracks.
"And sometimes," Bruce stood up to his full height. "Sometimes, you only hear half the story. You and I are going to the park and that's that."
Feeling exceedingly put out, Dick refused to cooperate with Bruce and didn't talk to him on the long drive out. Bruce selected his convertible top Porsche two-seater for the drive. Dick had admired the car the first time he'd laid eyes on it, but this was the first time Bruce had the opportunity to take Dick for a spin in it.
However, Dick was determined to have a miserable time. He sat hunched down on the passenger seat for the seemingly interminable drive out to the park. Yet, even Dick couldn't help but feel affected by the day. It was a bright, sunny November afternoon. The countryside surrounding Wayne Manor and the outskirts of Gotham City just seemed to burst in the fiery Fall colors of orange, red, and brown. Dick's first Thanksgiving without his Mom and Dad was almost upon him.
After that, Christmas.
Dick felt the hot tears stinging the backs of his eyes. I won't cry, he vowed. Only Mom and Dad loved me. No one else will ever love me like them. Not even Alfred...or Bruce. Dick wasn't aware that the tears were spilling until he felt one splash on his hand. Dick quickly wiped his eyes. He didn't need Master Bruce over there noticing what a big baby he was.
I'm never gonna cry again, Dick promised himself. So why wouldn't his eyes cooperate? Dick felt something, a silk handkerchief with a monogrammed BW on the upper right hand corner, being pressed into his hands. He looked up to find Bruce's concerned gaze on him.
"Here, chum, this'll help," Bruce said quietly. Dick took the handkerchief wordlessly. "Care to talk about it, Dick? Sometimes talking helps...I know. Believe me, son, I know."
"I'm not your son!" Dick answered hotly. "My Dad's dead! No one's ever gonna take his place...D'you hear me? No one!" By then Dick's voice had taken on a hysterically shrill note. He'd turned on Bruce and begun to pummel him on the shoulders relentlessly. Sobbing, Dick cried out as he steadily pounded Bruce, "My Dad's dead! He's dead...dead...!"
Pulling the car into a secluded picnic area in the park, Bruce turned to Dick. He gently took the boy by the wrists, and somehow managed to pull Dick onto his lap. Bruce held Dick for a long time that afternoon. Thinking back on that day, Dick couldn't remember if he'd fallen asleep in Bruce's arms. The next clear memory he could recall was Bruce asking him if he was hungry.
"Hey, chum? How about some lunch? Alfred wouldn't tell me what he packed for us, but he promised a real surprise. You hungry?" Dick looked up at Bruce's dark eyes. Dick was beginning to understand that Bruce would never be as demonstrative about his feelings the way Dick's Dad had been, but the feelings were there nevertheless.
Dick nodded and smiled up at Bruce, his earlier feelings of hurt betrayal forgotten.
Bruce's mouth quirked up in that funny half-smile of his. Dick wondered about that. Why couldn't Bruce allow himself to show happiness? Why was *Bruce* always so sad? Dick had been so caught up in his own grief these past few weeks that he hadn't noticed that Bruce seemed to be carrying some kind of secret pain.
Dick promised himself to ask Alfred. Whatever was causing Bruce so much pain, Dick knew that he had to try to help him.
"Okay, chum. What do you say, I unpack the lunch while you set up the picnic blanket? That sound like a winner?"
Dick nodded enthusiastically. They retrieved the old-fashioned picnic basket from the trunk and found a warm, sunny spot where they began to set up. Dick quickly spread out the old quilt that Alfred had folded so neatly and precisely. Noticing a slight breeze that kept picking up the ends, Dick looked around for and found small stones to weigh down the quilt's corners.
Bruce, meanwhile, began unpacking the lunch. Alfred had outdone himself as usual. His special chicken salad on sourdough bread, sealed metal containers with hot, thick vegetable-noodle soup, left over dessert from last night, and two Thermos bottles filled with hot coffee and cocoa for Bruce and Dick respectively. It was too chilly a day for cold drinks...
After they'd finished their sumptuous meal Dick noticed a brightly colored bottle tossed carelessly on the quilt. Dick looked at it closer, his eyes squinting. To his delight he soon realized that that Alfred had included a bottle of "Magic Bubbles" with their lunch.
"Magic what?" Bruce asked. He'd just lain down for a nice nap, and wasn't too enthusiastic about opening his eyes just yet.
"Magic Bubbles!" Dick said exasperatedly. "Gosh, Bruce! Don't you know anything?"
Bruce opened one eye. Dick's face was about two inches from his. Letting out a long-suffering sigh, Bruce sat up on his elbows. "Okay, Professor, I'm listening. Just what exactly are Magic Bubbles? But be careful...I'm a natural skeptic. I don't believe in magic."
Dick sat back on his heels and looked at Bruce confused. "What's a 'skeptic'?"
"It means I want you to show me. Come on. I've never heard of Magic Bubbles. What do you need to do to make them work? Recite some kind of mysterious incantation? 'Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...'" Bruce made a face and several funny gestures with his hands, imitating his idea of a magician.
Dick giggled. "You're silly...just like Dad! Here I'll show you...It's easy! Really!"
Dick quickly introduced Bruce to the art of bubble making, blowing bubble after bubble.
Soon the air around their picnic blanket was thick with delicate rainbow colors floating softly in the November breeze. Bruce's eyes lit up delightedly as Dick blew one bubble after another. Bruce reached up carefully with his forefinger and touched one then another. Sometimes, the bubble Bruce touched would burst and disappear forever, other times it would gently bounce off his finger and move off in its new direction.
"Here, you try it!" Dick said, passing the bottle over to Bruce.
Dick didn't know who had more fun that day...himself or Bruce...
Dick felt restless with anticipation. He could hear the whup-whup-whup of the Wayne Enterprise's helicopter, signaling Bruce's return home. Tonight, Robin was going to make his debut.
Dick smiled as he waited. He was beginning to feel happy again, truly happy. Even Bruce didn't seem so sad all of the time anymore. The pain from his parents' loss would never leave Dick fully. He understood that now. Dick knew that there would still be days filled with darkness and loneliness.
As he saw the helicopter descend for its landing, Dick caught sight of Bruce and waved enthusiastically. Bruce waved back from his passenger seat. Dick couldn't be sure, but he felt certain that Bruce was probably smiling that funny half-smile of his.
As Bruce emerged from the passenger side, Dick took off at a run. He was supposed to wait until the helicopter was safely in the air, but he couldn't. Not today. Bruce saw him coming and said something to the pilot who nodded his head. Dick ran up to Bruce and suddenly found himself enfolded in the waiting arms of his guardian. They turned, Bruce's arm around Dick's shoulder, and walked back to the waiting area.
Bruce waved at the pilot, who nodded again and soon lifted off into the growing shadows.
As Dick and Bruce watched the helicopter disappear into the twilight, Dick knew that the days marked with pain and sadness would now be offset by the real magic in his life...the love that surrounded him in his new home.
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