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Coming Home, part 6b
by Smitty

When he'd gotten no answer from Babs, Spud decided that it was time for drastic measures.

He was going to make lunch himself.

It was past five o'clock and he and Babs usually ate at four-thirty. They'd eat dinner when Dick got home, but that wouldn't be for ages—not until eight-thirty or nine!—and Spud just couldn't wait that long.

It couldn't be all that hard. Scorch used to make him sandwiches when Mommy wasn't home. They were kinda lousy sandwiches, compared to the ones Mommy or Babs made, but they were food. And that was certainly better than no food.

But Spud was still a little fuzzy on how to actually make the sandwich. He knew it had bread. So he had to find the bread.

Dick had made toast for breakfast that morning and then made a sandwich to take to work. He'd gotten the bread from a wooden box on the counter. The counter was low enough for Spud to reach, but the box was pushed all the way back to the wall. Fortunately, Spud was a very good climber. He opened the door of the cabinet below the counter and put his foot on the bottom shelf. And he would have been able to scramble up to the counter with no problem, except...

Except his flailing foot came in contact with a box of crispy rice cereal, knocking it to the ground.

"Uh oh." Spud peered down at the sea of crisped rice masking the floor. He'd have to clean that up. Deciding that since he was on the counter, he might as well get his bread first, he crawled to the box and pulled out the loaf of honey-wheat. Carefully, he unwound the twist tie and removed two slices from the bag. Just as carefully, he replaced the twist-tie, making sure he pushed all the air out of the package first. He looked down at the cereal again, knowing it would make a bigger mess if he jumped on it. He crawled around the side of the counter, trying to get around the mess, and accidentally bumped a fruit bowl sitting on the counter. He managed to grab it before it fell and noticed a banana sitting inside. Dick had put banana on his peanut butter sandwich before he'd left that morning. Maybe Spud would try the same thing. He jumped down, holding the banana and his two slices of bread.

His next stop was the fridge. Every peanut butter sandwich had to have jelly on it, right? He didn't see Dick put any on his, but it must have been there. He found the jelly jar in the refrigerator, but it wasn't the plastic purple kind Mommy used to buy. This was a heavy glass jar, and the jelly looked kind of red. Spud pulled it off the door shelf of the fridge and tried to kick the door closed. It was heavier than he thought and as he hopped around trying to hold onto his armful of supplies and kick the door harder, his foot hit some cereal and slid out from under him. The jelly jar hit with a loud crash, dark red jelly exploding everywhere. Spud blinked.


Babs! She was out of her room! She'd fix this!

But... oh no!

Too late, Spud glanced back at the mess. He couldn't let Babs see the pile of goop on the floor. Looking around frantically, he saw a dish towel hanging on a rack and quickly tried to cover the mess with the small piece of cloth.

His efforts were in vain.

"What *happened* in here?" Babs looked distressed, holding her hands to her head. "This is a disaster!"

"I... tried to make a sandwich," Spud offered, trying to nudge more of the mess under the towel with the toe of his shoe.

Babs covered her eyes with her hands.

Spud stood fearful for a moment, until she removed her hands and looked at him.

"You couldn't have waited for me?" she asked with a sigh. "Or at least come to get me?"

"I was hungry," Spud said defensively. "And I did knock, and you didn't answer."

"Ok, ok. How about I make us some sandwiches and you... go sit at the table or something. Stay out of trouble."

"But I can do it by myself," Spud said stubbornly. "And I was gonna clean it up, too. I know how to use a broom and not get cut."

"That's great. You go use the broom and I'll make us something to eat." Babs opened a closet door and extracted a broom, tossing it to him.

He ducked. The broom fell in the gook on the floor.

Babs sighed. They had their work cut out for them.

Two turkey-and-swiss sandwiches piled high with lettuce, tomato and mustard later, Babs and Spud were back where they belonged. At least one of them was.

"Spud?" Babs blinked at her monitor.

Not in the living room.

Not in the den.

Not in the kitchen.

Not in any of the bedrooms.

She waited a minute and then ran the scan again. Maybe he had gone to the bathroom. Nothing.

Then she started to get nervous.

Captain Amy Rohrbach was mulling over a case of arson. One she was thinking of committing. On her desk.

*I should be on my way home now,* she thought dejectedly, looking over the stacks of paperwork before her.

Then, just to add insult to injury, the phone rang. Amy promised herself that if it was another complaint against Grayson, she'd hurl the phone through the plate glass of her door.

"Rohrbach," she answered, at least trying to sound professional.

"Captain, Grayson's wife is on the phone," the desk sergeant told her crisply. "He's not answering at his desk."

"Patch her through," Amy instructed. Barbara Grayson wasn't the kind of wife to call her husband at work on a whim. Amy pulled a pencil out from behind her ear and tossed it on top of her paper stack. "Hi Barb," she said when she heard the line click over. "It's Amy. Dick's on the road. Something I can help you with?"

"Hi Amy." The other woman sounded distracted and worried—something Amy had never heard from Barbara. "Is there any way I can get a hold of Dick? Spud... he's disappeared and I don't know where to even start looking for him."

"Sure, hold on," Amy said calmly. "Let me see where he is. I'll be right back."

Amy put Barbara on hold and dialed the dispatcher.

"Can you give me a location on unit 478?" she requested.

"Sure can," he replied cheerfully. "Try the stadium. Policing the johns. Need a patch?"

Amy considered this for a moment. The stadium was about as far away from Avalon Hill as one could get. The station was much closer. "Not yet," she said finally, "but hold on to that thought."

"Roger that!"

"Barb?" she asked after switching back to her first line.

"Right here." Barbara sounded anxious, but, Amy reasoned, so would she if she were missing an eight-year-old.

"Dick's down by the stadium. I'm just getting off and I'd be happy to drive by and take a look around."

"Would you?" Barbara asked, sounding incredibly grateful. "I'd really appreciate it."

"No problem," Amy assured her, tossing a smug look at the paperwork looming on her desk. "I'll be there in a few minutes." She hung up the phone and grabbed her police issue windbreaker and her keys.

"Don't miss me," she called to Coombs, the desk sergeant, who replied with a jaunty salute.

Amy pulled her Jeep up to the curb in front of the Graysons' house. Killing the engine, she did a quick visual scan of the quiet neighborhood. A few older girls were sitting under a tree in the front yard of another house while several young boys ran their scooters up and down the street. Snatching her keys from the ignition, Amy hopped to the ground, ready to go Spud-hunting.

"Hi." The voice came from behind the open car door.

Amy peered over the door to see a small boy with unruly red curls and a freckled face, wearing jeans that seemed a few sizes too large and sneakers.

"Are you one of Dick's friends?" the boy inquired.

"Yes, I am," Amy told him, the corners of her mouth turning up. She closed the door of her vehicle and looked down at him. "And you must be Spud?"

"Yup!" Spud offered her a wide grin. He was missing a baby tooth, Amy noted.

"You know, Babs is pretty worried about you," she said, keeping her eyes on him as she walked past him, starting up the driveway.

"'Cuz I fell in the pool?" Spud asked, confused. He quickly caught up to Amy as she took the driveway in long strides.

"No," Amy told him affectionately. "If I had to guess, I'd say it's because you're out *here*... and not in *there*." She nodded at the house.

"Babs didn't say I had to stay in," Spud protested.

"Did you tell her you were going outside?" Amy asked, pausing at the kitchen door.

"Did I have to?"

Amy considered this. "It might have been nice."


The police captain looked into the house through the screen stretched across the top of the door to see Barbara entering the kitchen.

"Hey," Amy replied, trying the door and finding it unlocked. Spud must have used it to get out, she reasoned, knowing Barbara was very careful with the doors. She pulled the door open to show Spud standing next to her. "Looking for this little guy?"

"Spud!" Babs cried out in relief. "Where *were* you?"


"I was worried sick," Babs continued, not listening.

"But I was outside..."

"Well, since everyone's home and safe," Amy suggested, "I'm going to head out. If I run into Dick, I'll let him know he should call home."

"Amy, I can't thank you enough for coming out here," Babs said, turning her attention to the other woman.

"Any time," Amy told her breezily. "I'm only a phone call away."

"I really appreciate it," Babs told her again, obviously a little embarrassed about her overreaction.

"My pleasure. I'm out of here, kid. Tell Babs where you're going from now on, ok?" Amy winked at Spud and ruffled his hair. She smiled brightly at Babs and started back down the driveway.

Behind her she could hear,

"Don't you ever scare me like that again!"

Amy smiled to herself. That kid was in big trouble...

"You are in so much trouble, young man," Barbara warned Spud.

"But I didn't *do* anything," he argued, jutting out his chin.

"How am I supposed to know where you are?" Babs answered angrily. "Go out and walk around?"

Spud shrugged. "I woulda came back," he insisted.

"Would have *come* back," Babs corrected. "And what if you'd gotten hurt or lost? How would I know?"

Spud looked at her in confusion. Where did she think she was? Downtown?

"Hey, rookie!" Amy greeted Dick cheerfully as she walked into the station. "You need to call your wife."

"Dispatcher said you were looking for me," Dick replied, ignoring her advice as he followed her around the front desk. He hadn't forgotten the morning's incident.

"Spud decided to go exploring," Amy told him, "and forgot to tell Barbara."

Dick pressed a hand to his head.

"You think you need a few days off, Grayson? Get used to your new... situation?" Amy raised her eyebrows at the pained look on Dick's face.

"I'm off tomorrow," he replied. "I'll give you a call and let you know if I need more time."

"Talk about it with Barbara," Amy suggested. "Maybe we can give you paternity leave or something."

"Great," Dick muttered, not finding the same humor in the situation that Amy apparently did. Without bothering to change or shower he grabbed the keys to his motorcycle and took off for home.

"Go to your room, young man!"

Barbara wanted to wince at the words she heard coming from her mouth. But she was too angry and too scared. What had she been thinking, agreeing to help raise this boy? What made her think she could handle something like this?

Spud's face turned stormy as he glared up at her, arms crossed stiffly across his chest.

"Well?" she asked. "What are you waiting for?"

He didn't answer, but turned on his heel and stamped off down the hall.

Babs shook her head and rolled out of the kitchen and into the living room. She'd obviously spent far too much time in her computer sanctuary for one day. It was time to pay some attention to the rest of the house and see what else Spud had left lying around.

It didn't take long.

The wheel of her chair hit something as she reached for Evil Spoon. She looked down to see Susie Suds pouring into the little throw rug that spread under the coffee table. And she saw what else was on the floor.


Damn Volvo. The car in front of Dick was moving much too slowly for his taste and there was no way he could change lanes without getting creamed. With an impatient sigh, he checked over his shoulder and slid over onto the shoulder. He passed the Volvo on the right-hand side, pouring on the gas. Not the safest move, he admitted grudgingly, but it sent him flying ahead of the rest of the traffic. He darted back into the right lane and barely glanced over his shoulder before easing his way between two cars in the left lane. The car immediately in front of him got off on the exit to the central business district and Dick roared ahead, satisfied to be on his way home at last.

"What'd I do now?"

"What are you doing with these?" Babs hand shook as she pointed at the strategically placed pills on the floor.

"I was pretending they're—"

"Spud, those are *pills*. That's *medicine*. And it's dangerous! I can't believe you were using them as toys! Those could be poisonous if you ate them!"

"I wasn't going to eat them," Spud protested, screwing up his face in disgust. "They're explosive gas pellets. No one eats explosive gas pellets."

"Spud, those are muscle relaxants," Babs explained, shaking the bottle at him. It had been sitting on the coffee table so she'd been able to identify the pills, but she couldn't reach the medicine on the floor. "Do you know they could *do* to you?"

"Relax my muscles?"

"Don’t talk back to me! Go to your room, right now!"

"I was already there," Spud protested hotly. "You want me to go back just so you can drag me back out here to get yelled at?"

"I said don't talk back to me," Babs warned. "Now, go to your room until Dick gets home. I mean it!"

"I can't *wait* 'til Dick gets home," Spud yelled back, sticking out his lower lip. "He's nice to me. You're nothing but mean!" He turned and raced to his room, slamming the door hard enough to shake the pictures on the wall.

Barbara burst into tears.

"Oracle? Hello?"

Dinah Lance's voice echoed through the empty room.

"Anybody home? Um, now would be a good time..."

Dick yanked open the kitchen door and rushed into the house. He heard a door slam and walked into the living room in time to see Babs burst into tears.

"Babs! Honey, what's going on?" Dick asked, sinking to his knees in front of Babs and reaching for her hands. He glanced around the living room, belatedly realizing the mess that he'd walked into. Toys were strewn over the couch and on the floor in front of it and something green and gooey had spilled on the rug. A handful of pills littered the area. Dick paled in realization. "Babs, where's Spud? Where's Spud; is he ok?"

Babs nodded, her tears subsiding into anger. "He got into my muscle relaxants," she sniffed. "Decided to use them as toys. Scared me to death."

Dick took the sketchy information he had of the day and put it together in an ugly picture. He rose to his feet and reached Spud's door in a few long strides. He rapped loudly twice and opened the door himself.

Spud was sitting on the floor, sniffling angrily into his sleeve. His horse was tucked securely in the crook of his arm.

"We don't slam doors around here," was the first thing to come out of Dick's mouth. "So you're losing yours until you can respect it." He whipped his pocket knife out and thumbed open the screwdriver section. Spud watched wide-eyed as Dick deftly removed the screws from the hinges and set the door in the hall.


"Show me you're mature enough to have a door and I'll put it back," Dick promised. "But first we need to talk about a few other things." He sat down on the bed and plucked Spud off the floor and plopped him on the bed next to him. "Look, buddy, this is a two-way street. We're all learning stuff here. Babs has a lot of stuff to do with her computers, I have work, and well, neither of us can spend as much time with you as we want. So I need you to be extra good when Babs is busy. It's ok to go outside, but you have to let her know where you are and when you're going. We don’t want her to get worried, right?"


"But nothing. House rules. Got it?"

"Got it," Spud agreed gloomily.

"Good." Dick quirked a half-smile and tousled Spud's already rumpled hair. Spud squirmed and watched Dick leave.

"What the hell was that?"

Dick sighed. He'd taken barely two steps from the room. Babs was hovering in the hall and from the look on her face, he could tell he was in trouble. "What did I do wrong?" he asked wearily.

"What did you do wrong?" Babs looked at him incredulously. "Nothing by your 'little buddy'. Everything's fine as long as he loves you! Why do I have to be the villain? Yeah, you can't have fun because Babs can't walk? Is that how it is?" Her face stormy, Barbara spun her chair away from him, wheeling into their bedroom and slamming the door behind her.

Dick winced. His body ached with bone-deep tiredness and every assault on his senses took a little bit more out of him.

"Are you going to take her door off, too?"

Not this. Dick turned to look at the small red head staring up at him. He was being tested. He knew it and he hated it, because he knew what he had to do. He opened the door to the room he shared with Barbara and pulled out his pocket screwdriver again.

"You are *not* doing what I think you're doing," Barbara protested hotly. She spun her chair around to face him.

"Unfortunately," Dick growled.

"I can't believe this," Babs exclaimed. "Dick, who's the kid here?"

"Spud is," Dick affirmed. "And he needs to understand that rules mean something. To everyone," he added pointedly as he pulled out the last screw and moved the door away from the hinges.

"And how am I supposed to change?"

"We have a private bathroom."

"I can't believe you're doing this."

"Neither can I," Dick told her, setting the door down. "And now I'm going out."

"You haven't eaten yet."

"I need to get out of here. I can't handle any more of this."

"Oh, that's fine," Babs shot back. "I deal with this all day and you walk in for five minutes and decide it's too much for you! Maybe if you showed up at home once in a while, you'd have some idea what went on here!"

Shaking his head, Dick walked away from her, heading to the computer room and the elevator that would take him down to the basement room that housed his costume and equipment.

Once underground, he pulled on the Nightwing suit he'd taken off only twelve hours before, checking the compartments in the boots and gloves to see what needed restocking. He decided against going back upstairs to kiss Babs goodbye and was headed for the WingCycle when he heard the communications device signal him. He paused for a moment, deciding whether he wanted to answer the call. It could be important. But more likely, it was Babs or Batman. He'd nearly decided not to answer it when the decision was made for him.

The screen cleared in a priority transmission, showing Batman's stony face.

"Dick. I asked you to call me yesterday."

"I was busy," Dick countered, his tone hostile.

"This is important."

Here it comes, Dick thought angrily. How did he find out so fast?

"You've brought a *child* into your house."

"It's none of your business what Babs and I do in our house."

"Did you think I wasn't going to find out?"

"We weren't trying to hide it," Dick snapped back. "We just didn't feel the need to ask permission."

"You think I would have told you no?"

"You would have said it was a bad idea. You would have said that I was being impetuous and irresponsible; that I didn't think it through, that it was a security risk..."

Dick was so involved in rattling off Batman's anticipated remarks, he missed the telltale muscle twitch at the corner of Bruce's mouth.


Dick blinked, then hardened his face into a mask of grimness.

"Except the first one."

Dick blinked again, this time trying to remember what the first point in his rant had been. After a moment, Bruce took pity on him.

"Even if it is impetuous, irresponsible, not thought through, and a security risk... I would be a hypocrite if I told you that bringing a child into your home is a bad idea."

Dick looked up, startled. The cowl had been pulled back and Bruce met his eyes evenly.

"I—" Dick looked away. When he looked back, the cowl was back on. "You need to start sleeping over Dinah's," he said with a half-smile. "She's getting too chummy with your butler."

"I'm not sleeping with Dinah," Bruce said automatically.

"Oh really?" Dick asked with a fiendishly arched eyebrow. "Then why—"

"I ran into your wife and Spud at Leslie's clinic, where I was delivering supplies as per Alfred's instructions," Bruce replied grimly.

"You ran into them? And they didn't tell me?"

"I asked them not to. I wanted to give you grief."

"Consider your grief given," Dick growled. "Now, I gotta go."


Dick turned back to the monitor, adjusting the Nightwing mask across the bridge of his nose.

"Don't be stupid out there."

Batman signed off.

"Now what was that supposed to mean?" Nightwing wondered aloud.

Continue To Chapter Six C

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