Coming Home, 5b
by Smitty

"Who is that guy?" Spud asked as he swung his feet against the exam table.

"That's Bruce Wayne," Leslie replied, ripping open a disposable thermometer. "Dick went to live with him after his parents died."

"Oh." Spud tried not to sound too curious. "So he's Dick's second daddy?"

"I thought you didn't believe in second daddies?" Leslie asked, offering him the thermometer.

Spud took the thermometer from her and held it for a moment. "I don't," he assured her, before popping the instrument in his mouth.

"Really?" Leslie asked, leaning her elbows on the table. "I think Dick and Barbara are going to be pretty disappointed to hear that." She caught Spud's mouth before the thermometer fell out. "Careful. Got another minute to go."

"I don't like this."

"When do you ever like a situation?"

Bruce's mouth tightened. "There's a lot at stake here," he said tightly. "When I took in Dick, there was only myself and Alfred to worry about. Now there's you, Tim, Cassandra... how much does this boy know?"

"Right now? Nothing. He's been in my computer room but he doesnít know enough to know it's unusual. Dick and I usually keep it locked."

"I don't like this."

"Of course you don't. It was fine when you did it, but Dick and I don't need a son, right?"

Bruce remained impassive. "I just meant..." He paused. "Does this make me a grandfather?"

Barbara grinned. "I'm starting to think you might like that idea."

They fell into companionable silence as the pregnant woman emerged from the restroom with her little boy in tow.

Barbara and Bruce exchanged rueful looks.

Not much later, the far door opened and Leslie emerged, Spud's hand clasped firmly in hers.

"Oh, good" she said with a smile. "Everyone's still here. Spud, why don't you go say hi to Bruce while I talk to Barbara for a minute, all right?"

"Ok." Spud swaggered up to Bruce, his earlier shyness forgotten, and stuck out his hand. "Hi, I'm Spud."

It was one thing, Bruce reflected, to be able to calculate the risks involved with impetuously taking in a young boy and deeming it a poor tactical move. It was quite another to look that young boy in the face and feel the same way.

"Well, Spud," he replied, taking the small, grubby hand gingerly. "I'm Bruce. And I'm very pleased to meet you."

Spud beamed.

"You be the good cop, I'll be the bad cop," Dick suggested, bouncing on his toes like a boxer waiting for the bell to ring.

Filb cast him a sidelong glance. "If you say so," he agreed.

Dick strode purposefully up the steps, taking them two at a time. Filb followed with a little less enthusiasm, squinting into the low light of the bar.

Dick headed straight to the bartender, talking in low tones. Filb surveyed the bar and its occupants. Most of them peered at him over drafts; some of them nodded in recognition. 'Old Man Filbert' had walked that beat many years before and made it his business to be on top of all the news. With a sigh pulled from his toes, he crossed the room and straddled a chair next to a kid who was probably only just barely twenty-one.

"Darius Johnson," Filb declared. "Your job let you out this early?"

"Aw, man, Filb..." Darius whined. "Don't be raggin' on me..."

"I'll rag on you if you need it," Filb informed him sternly. "But I need something from you, now."

Darius looked around at the rest of the bar's occupants. It wouldn't be good for his reputation to be seen talking to a cop... but is *was* Old Man Filbert. Darius remembered Filb coaching his Little League team and eating cookies afterward with the gruff officer's pretty wife. Darius owed him.

"We're looking for Robert Watson," Filb explained, watching his partner at the bar. "His kid brother caught a slug in the neck. No trouble, just want to talk."

"Back room," Darius said into his beer. "Rob-Dub ain't gonna much like you nosing 'round. And it was his half-brother."

Filb nodded and started to rise. "You're a good kid, Darius. Always looked forward to you coming up to bat. Go back to work."

He sauntered over to the bar and clapped a hand on his partner's shoulder. Apparently the "bad cop" act wasn't getting him too much of anywhere. "Let's take a look in the back," Filb suggested quietly.

Dick's eyes immediately shifted toward him. "Sounds good to me," the younger man agreed. Ignoring the bartender, Dick and Filb made their way to the back room.

Dick opened the door to a pool table and half a dozen men fell silent, not one over thirty, all standing around the table with various brands of beer clutched around pool cues and cigarettes. Half a dozen pairs of suspicious eyes turned toward them.

"All right," Dick barked. "Which one of you is Robert Watson?"

"We got a few questions," Filb explained loudly. "'Bout 'is kid brother."

"Yo." One of the young men detached himself from the group. "What you got on the kid?"

Dick sized him up and sidled a bit closer. "He was in a... skirmish day before last."

"Yeah, and got his ass shot up," Robert Watson informed them. "What you care? He was just a little black kid from the ghetto."

"We care," Dick informed him flatly. "And we're looking to figure out where he or any of the other kids might have gotten a gun. You know anything about that?"

"Hey man, I didn't give him no gun," the youth insisted.

"Not saying you did," Filb said mildly. "Just looking for a name of someone who might have."

Robert Watson thought on that for a minute. "I might have something like that," he finally said.

"Aw man, don't go giving shit away," a voice piped up from the back of the group.

He was ignored. "What'm I getting for it?"

Dick and Filb exchanged glances. "We're going to find whoever set this thing up," Dick told him. "And we're going to make him pay."

Robert Watson looked back at his friends. And they laughed.

Leslie hitched her hip on the edge of a worn waiting room chair as Bruce distracted Spud.

"What's the verdict?" Barbara asked, glancing over at her charge.

"Malnourished for sure," Leslie diagnosed. "Underdeveloped. You can tell he's small for his age." She followed Babs' gaze to the large man and the little boy regarding each other. Babs looked back and Leslie met her steady gaze. "Nothing life-threatening, though," the doctor assured Babs with a smile. "Lots of milk, a good multi-vitamin and feeding him the way you feed your husband will get him back on track in no time."

"That's it?" Barbara asked, raising an eyebrow.

"That's it," Leslie confirmed. "Whole milk is best, because he can afford the extra fat right now, but skim won't hurt him any. I've written a prescription for multi-vitamins and calcium chews," she added, pulling a slip of paper from her pocket. "They look and taste like candy, but make sure he knows they're not. The calcium chews won't hurt him, but a lot of kids accidentally OD on vitamins because they don't know any better. You'll have to get him to open the child-proof lid, because you won't be able to. No adult is. Try to get plenty of vegetables into him and keep his meals as balanced as possible." She gave Barbara a speculative appraisal. "And no daring young Spud on the flying trapeze until he's bigger, ok? Or at least until I'm more confident about his bone density."

Barbara nodded, the corners of her mouth twitching upward. "Not a problem," she assured Leslie, wondering how long she was going to be able to keep that promise.

"Right," Leslie nodded, with a knowing twinkle in her eye.

"Leslie, thank you," Barbara started to say, when she felt a weight on her chair.

"Hey Babs," Spud prodded, hanging on the arm of her wheelchair, "Bruce said that if you said it was ok, we could go get ice cream!"

Before Barbara could glance at Leslie, the older woman replied, "Ice cream sounds like a fine idea! Just what the doctor ordered!" Barbara smiled in relief as Bruce boosted Spud onto his broad shoulders and held the door for her to wheel onto the sidewalk. It wasn't until much later that she realized Spud had called her by name for the first time.

"You think we could skip the station house?" Dick mused, staring idly out the window of the parked police cruiser. "Just fly a paper airplane with all our paperwork into Amy's office and run like hell?"

"Yer getting grouchy," Filb pointed out, crunching on an apple. "And we don't have any paperwork, 'member? We've been doing stuff Amy told us not to. All day."

Dick growled.

"'Sides," Filb added, "Babs'll kill us if we show up smelling like a couple of raccoons. And I ain't sharing a shower with you."

Dick wrinkled his nose and passed a weary hand over his face. "I feel like Iím missing something," he said, almost to himself.

"Like perspective?" Filb asked good-humoredly, but not without meaning.

Dick sighed and stared out the window of the cruiser. "Babs is telling me the same thing... when I see her."

Filb nodded slowly. "You were in early this morning."


"You think this guy's gonna show?"

"Not a chance."

"Let's go."

It was like looking through the old photo albums Alfred had so carefully collected and assembled overthe years.

The boy had the mischief and enthusiasm of Dick at nearly the same age and the determined scowl and smart mouth of Jason Todd. And suddenly, painfully, Bruce wanted those days back.

"You've got ice cream on your nose," Barbara commented from next to Spud's stool. She took a delicate bite from her small scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt.

Spud swiped at his face with a sleeve and Barbara smiled.

"Not you," she told him. She nodded. "Bruce."

"Huh?" Bruce grinned and dabbed at his nose with a napkin. "Wonder where my mind was."

Barbara shook her head.

Bruce looked down at the small boy who was looking up at him with an openly mischievous grin on his face. "Go ahead and laugh," he told Spud. "You're gonna be messy, too." Bruce tapped his spoon against Spud's nose, leaving a dab of ice cream and fudge sauce.

Spud's eyes widened in surprise and crossed as he tried to see what Bruce had done to him.

Bruce chuckled. "Dick used to get that same look on his face," he declared. "Hey, ever try this?" He brought his spoon to his own nose, balancing it carefully against the tip.

Spud immediately tried to imitate him, but the spoon fell back into his bowl with a clatter.

"You kind of have to wrinkle your nose," Bruce instructed, picking up Spud's spoon to let him try again.

"I'm going to take pictures and show Dinah," Babs threatened, leaning her cheek on her fist to watch the two boys with her.

"Who's Dinah?" Spud wanted to know.

Bruce shrugged. "Some friend of Babs'."

Babs rolled her eyes.

Bruce grinned at her.

And Babs had her second revelation of the day.

"Yo, Grayson!" Filb pounded on the shower door.

"What?" Dick closed his eyes against the hot water, scrubbing at his arm with the soap.

"Yer using up all the hot water and some of the guys are gonna come after ya." Filb paused. "I'm heading out."

"What about dinner? Babs is gonna take it out of my hide if you don't show," Dick called back.

"I'll show," Filb promised. "Just got some errands."

"Don't be late."

Dick heard Filb's fist hit the shower door in a parting shot. Masked by the cloud of steam, he leaned heavily against the wall of the cubicle and tilted his head against the wall. Then, he dialed the water hotter and attacked himself with the soap again.

Continue To Chapter Five C

Back To The Main Story Page