Dick followed at a safe distance. He saw the Joker fall and then safely parachute to a waiting car below. As he tracked the strange felon with his telescopic vision, Dick saw him race towards the waterfront. Still keeping back, Dick saw the Joker board what looked a toy submarine. It was painted a garish purple and green with a red mouth grinning widely on the bow.
Dick rolled his eyes. "Oh, brother," he muttered. Unsure on whether or not he should stop the Joker from escaping, Dick took out a miniature Bat-shaped tracking device from his pocket, and taking careful aim, threw it at the sub.
"Batman says to always be prepared," he quipped.
As the mini-sub was just about to go under, the tracking device adhered itself magnetically to it. Smiling, Dick changed course in mid-flight and sped after the clown helicopter...
Batman took out a palm-sized electronic device and placed the rectangular gadget on the timer. The digital readout seemed to be counting down to zero much faster than conventional seconds. Pressing numbers in a last-ditch act of desperation, Batman punched the pound (#) sign on the miniature key pad.
Stepping back, he watched, eyes narrowed as the LCD screen on his electronic device began to swiftly scroll through millions of numerical combinations in the blink of an eye. Glancing at the nuclear device's clock, Batman felt his blood pound in his head in sync with the countdown: 15 seconds...14...13...
He glared at the LCD screen. It was still scrolling at the speed of thought through hundreds of millions of permutations.
The countdown reached the final ten seconds: 10...9...8...
The LCD screen began to slow. The permutations settled down. Finally, success!
Sweat running down both temples, Batman pressed the star (*) button on the key pad.
Instantaneously, the countdown stopped. Batman was less than an inch from the digital timer. He closed his eyes in silent relief. The clock was flashing 2...2...2...2...
Two seconds to spare. He took a deep, ragged breath.
"Plenty of time," he muttered.
Dick finally spotted the clown helicopter as the first rays of dawn began breaking in the eastern horizon. The calm blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean below reflected the early morning sun. The helicopter was flying low over the water.
Dick stopped in mid-air, hanging uncertainly. What was the problem? Why was Batman flying the helicopter lower and lower into the ocean? Dick's internal odometer told him that they were a good hundred miles out to sea, further than he'd ever flown.
And faster, he thought somewhere in the recesses of his brain.
Why wasn't Batman turning the helicopter around back to the mainland? A thought occurred to him. What if Batman were injured? Squinting against the rising sun, Dick turned on his X-ray vision to see what was going on.
Batman was kneeling in the back of the helicopter, working diligently at some obviously important task, since he didn't seem to notice that the helicopter was steadily losing altitude.
"Batman, you're gonna crash," he said helplessly. "You've gotta *do* something!" Grimacing sourly, Dick made a decision. "No. *I've* gotta do something! Even if it means I'll never be Robin."
Executing a perfect dive, he zoomed straight towards the open hatch on the side of the helicopter.
With not-quite rock-steady hands, Batman pulled the weapons grade plutonium out of the trigger housing. The plutonium was safely enclosed in lead casing, thus preventing any radiation leak. The nuclear bomb had finally been rendered harmless.
Bringing a slightly shaking arm up to his forehead, the Caped Crusader closed his eyes in relief.
A sudden warning buzzer went off from the cockpit. Batman recognized the sound immediately--imminent impact! There was no time to try to gain altitude. The craft was probably out of fuel anyway. There was only one way left for him-- jump!
Taking a running dive out of the open hatch, Batman cleared the helicopter moments before it crashed into the clear waves below.
"So why am I not falling?" Batman asked rhetorically. Crossing his arms and putting on his sternest look, Batman glanced up. Dick's young face greeted him with a sheepish grin. The boy waved a little timidly.
"'Cause *I* got you?" Dick said unnecessarily. Swallowing nervously, he shrugged and asked, "Where to?"
"Home," Batman growled. Then unable to remain stern-faced with his adopted son, Batman relented and gave him a half-smile. Looking up curiously, he suddenly realized that his ten-year-old son was lugging him across miles of ocean and didn't even seem to be breaking a sweat.
"So how come you can suddenly lift over two hundred pounds, kid? And why do you have your shirt on backwards?" he asked.
Dick looked down from his vantage point. Stopping in mid-flight, he stared open- mouthed at Batman as if realizing for the first time that he had plucked his dad, one-handed, out of the air just as the Dark Knight came flying out of the disabled chopper.
Turning back towards land, Dick answered, "I don't know. Wheaties, maybe?"
"You don't eat Wheaties."
"Oh, yeah. That's right," Dick replied. Alfred didn't allow processed cereal in the house.
"Looks to me like you've just found a new power," Batman said sardonically. "I'm not sure, but I'd wager it has something to do with strength."
"Cool!" Dick said grinning from ear to ear. "I'm finally gonna be able to take you one-on-one."
"I wouldn't bet on it, munchkin," Batman said blandly. Dick's smile immediately disappeared. "And you haven't answered my second question. Why are you wearing your shirt backwards?"
"Uh-oh," Dick muttered.
For life. Or close to it anyway. Dick had seen Bruce angry before, but always directed at someone else. Never at him.
"Jeez," he muttered. "Save a guy's life and what does he do? Locks you in your room and throws away the key."
Of course, everyone at Wayne Manor was quite aware that Dick could easily break down any door in the house and end his confinement any time he wished. But Bruce had placed him on his honor.
"On my honor," Dick said ironically, chin in hand. "It's so *not* fair!" He dropped his head on his desk in a huff. He felt it crack slightly under the force of the blow.
"Oops." This 'super-strength' was going to take some getting used to. So far he'd broken five water glasses, destroyed the huge sofa in the family room, and turned one of the antique credenzas into so much splintered firewood.
Dick sighed, recalling Bruce's no nonsense admonishment for disobeying orders and going out without permission. Only after Bruce had thanked him and hugged him, of course, and told him that he loved him. That's when the *other* Bruce took over, the Bruce who was little more than a day-time mask for Batman, the Bruce that only business rivals saw on any given day...
"On your honor, Dick," Bruce began sternly, barely concealed anger seething just below the surface. "You are *not* to leave your room for the rest of the day. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," Dick whispered, eyes downcast.
"You are to give me your word that you *will not* disobey *this* order."
Dick looked up and met his dad's dark blue eyes forlornly.
"I promise," he said, his face crestfallen. "I'm sorry, Bruce. Honest--!"
Bruce relented and Dick ran into his arms, hugging his father and crying into his waist.
"I know you are, Dick," Bruce said softly, holding his son to him. "But you *must* understand that certain rules are made for your own protection." Kneeling he held Dick's stricken face in his hand.
"Dick, powers or no powers, you're only a little boy. And we still don't know the full extent of your powers. I can't have you flying around unsupervised at night, possibly getting yourself hurt or worse." He paused and then added, "You did a very brave thing today, probably saved my life. But you were lucky."
"But I did everything you *taught* me--!" Dick began. And things turned out all right he wanted to add.
"You didn't let me finish," Bruce said. "You comported yourself very well and showed me that you *can* control many of your powers now. But Dick, 'luck' is a funny thing. Sometimes it seems that she's always on your side, then suddenly and without warning, she'll kick you in the teeth." Standing up, Bruce ruffled Dick's hair.
"Son, we can't rely on luck to be there for us, only our training. And while you did a lot of things right, you did a lot of things wrong. I'm sorry, Dick, but Robin isn't ready to make his debut yet. You still need to learn to control these new powers that seem to be cropping up every few weeks or so."
"Y-You mean that I-I'm still going to be your partner?" Dick asked hopefully.
"Of course, you are," Bruce said quietly. "I gave you my word didn't I?"
Dick launched himself at his dad once more and sent them both tumbling onto the floor, laughing...
"Come in," Bruce said at the timid knock on his door. Dick cracked the door to the master bedroom, and peered in. Bruce guiltily noted the red-rimmed, wide blue eyes. No one had ever thought to tell him that being a father would be tougher than facing the Joker.
Bruce was reclining on the massive bed, reading legal documents that his secretary had sent him by special courier that day. His expression softened as he watched Dick's forlorn body language. Slapping his hand next to him on the bed, he jerked his head slightly at Dick. "C'mere, kid," he said with a smile.
Dick's demeanor changed instantaneously. His high-pitched, child's laughter brought a warm feeling into Bruce's chest.
Dick automatically flew towards Bruce and expertly twisted in midair, coming to a soft landing next to him. Additionally, he rewarded Bruce with a rib-cracking hug.
"Oof!" Bruce grunted. "Now that's what I call tough love," he said with a soft laugh. "Okay, Dick, you've been in your room all day. Tell me. What did you think about? Anything?"
Dick blinked, confusedly. What did he think about? Bruce didn't ask him to think about anything. Looking away, Dick crossed his arm in childish pique. What was he supposed to say now? What if what he said was held against him and he *never* became Robin?
But Bruce had given his word. He said that Dick *would* be Robin one day. So what did Bruce *want* from him? Sitting up on his knees, Dick faced Bruce visibly upset. He was pouting like a little kid and realizing this, it only made him more upset.
Bruce was completely immersed in his papers and was not paying Dick the slightest bit of attention. Dick felt not a little confused.
~What did you think about? Anything?~
It was just a question. A perfectly simple question, in fact. Kind of in the line of, "What did you do today?"
~What did you think about? Anything?~
The question resonated in his head. What *had* he thought of today? Nothing. And everything.
"I thought about what Mom or Dad would've done," he said in a small voice. Bruce laid his papers aside and gave Dick his undivided attention.
"Go on, son," he said encouragingly.
"I was kinda mad at you," Dick admitted. "I wished that Mom and Dad were still alive because they *never* would've grounded me for what I did." Dick dropped his eyes momentarily and then looked up again. He shook his head.
"But that wasn't true. Dad would've yelled and forbidden me from going up on the trapeze for at least a week. Pop would've paced nervously all week, afraid that Dad wouldn't let me perform for an important matinee. And he and Dad would probably have gotten into shouting matches all week about it, but Dad would've stood his ground." He shrugged.
"On the trapeze Dad's word was law. If I did anything stupid or wasn't giving him a hundred percent attention, then Dad would make me get off. He said that we were the 'Flying Graysons' and not the 'Dick Grayson Show.' If I wanted to do a solo, then he told me once that he'd help me pack my bags."
Dick smiled painfully. "He didn't mean it. About helping me pack, I mean. But it scared me, 'cause one time, he didn't let me perform. Pop was the Ringmaster and he was forced to announce that I had the flu. And you know what? The audience never even missed me." Embarrassed at his antics, yet proud of his parents, Dick added, "Mom and Dad were the best, Bruce. They didn't need me up there with them." He swallowed.
"I was wrong to disobey your orders, Bruce. I acted without thinking 'cause I wanted to get Zucco." He paused momentarily, and then asked tentatively, "Will you forgive me?"
In answer, Bruce held his arms out to him...
The months seemed to slip by ever faster, gaining speed, until suddenly...
"Happy Birthday, Dick!" Dick grinned from ear to ear and blew out all thirteen candles.
"Congratulations, Dick," Lucius Fox called, holding his glass of punch out in salutation. "Bruce, how're you holding out, now that you're the father of a--"
"TEENAGER!" the crowd of friends called out together. Bruce grimaced in mock horror.
Jim Gordon hugged his teenaged, red-haired daughter to himself and laughed the loudest. "Bruce may have that dark head of hair right now, but give him a month or two. The gray is going to start sprouting out in no time!"
"Oh, Daddy," Barbara protested, laughing. "Come on, Dick. Cut the cake!" Her request was met with resounding approval from the under-fourteen crowd.
"Cut the cake! Cut the cake! Cut the cake!" they chanted.
Bruce and Lucius looked on, smiling. Alfred appeared as if by magic and handed Dick a cake knife. Barbara was instantly next to him holding the pastry server.
"Looks like Dick has good taste in young ladies, Bruce," Lucius teased. Bruce's face went instantly still. Lucius could've sworn that a look of abject terror actually flitted across his boss's face.
"Girls?" Bruce choked.
"The boy has obviously learned a few things from his 'father.'"
Both Bruce and Lucius turned to the sound of the sultry voice. Selina Kyle smiled over her punch-filled wineglass. Dressed in a simple black chiffon dress, with her black hair swept up in a French knot, she looked breath taking. Bruce felt his heart skip a beat.
He caught the faintest whiff of an expensive French perfume.
Recovering instantly, he gave her a cold glare by way of greeting. Lucius, aware of the drop in temperature, beat a discreet retreat.
"Selina," Bruce said curtly. "I don't remember sending you an invitation."
Selina smiled. "Now isn't that funny, Bruce. I don't remember receiving one. You don't mean to tell me that that was deliberate? Why, Bruce, darling, what a perfect faux pas. And here I thought it a mere oversight."
"I heard you got out a few months ago. I didn't think you'd be interested in a child's birthday party."
"You know perfectly well that anything involving *this* particular child interests me--"
They were interrupted by Dick's delighted voice.
"Selina!" he cried happily, coming up to her and giving her a hug. "I didn't know you were in Gotham. Thanks for coming."
Selina tenderly ran her hand through his hair and then held him out by the shoulders at arm's length. To cover her raging emotions, she reached into her pocketbook and held out a bright package. Dick took it and eagerly unwrapped it.
Bruce noted darkly that it was the latest in handheld electronic game boards. He and Alfred had scoured the electronic game stores in town and came up empty- handed. It was no surprise that a woman of Selina's considerable 'talents' would know exactly how to acquire one.
"Whoa! Thanks, Selina--you really shouldn't have," Dick said, hugging her again.
"Don't be silly, Dick. I can't believe that you're really thirteen," she said, shaking her head in awe. "It seems like only yesterday, you were just this high. And look at you now--so tall and handsome. Congratulations, munchkin."
She kissed him affectionately on the cheek.
"Aw, cut it out, Selina," Dick said, blushing at the kiss and her use of the childhood nickname.
"Munchkin?" Barbara teased. She'd walked up to them and had been standing tentatively to the side. Noticing her, Selina raised a single eyebrow. Dick immediately pulled Barbara in by the hand.
"Selina, I want you to meet my best friend, Barbara Gordon. I call her Babs. Babs, this is Selina Kyle, a really special friend of mine and Bruce's."
"A pleasure, Barbara," Selina said sincerely. Bruce moved in.
"Hey, kids," he said with a falsely light tone, "why don't you join your friends outside? I think I overheard Roy and Wally mentioning something about what passes for music and dancing with you youngsters today."
Dick and Barbara laughed at Bruce's doubtful tone and hurried off. As the two young teens ran outside to join their friends by the poolside, Selina sauntered over to Bruce.
"He introduced me as 'a really special friend of--'"
Bruce grabbed her roughly by the wrist and dragged her into an empty study. Slamming the door behind them, he practically threw her across the room. She fell in a heap in the large overstuffed reading chair.
Selina gasped at his violence and cowered for an instant, afraid of him.
"Just what kind of mind games are you playing, Selina?" Bruce asked, his tone menacing.
"I don't know what you mean--" she began.
"Don't *give* me that!" Bruce hissed. "*You* walked out, remember? Left me at the altar like a complete fool!"
Tears welling in her eyes, Selina turned her back to him. Taking out a handkerchief she wiped at her eyes and nose maintaining some modicum of dignity.
"I don't consider begin arrested on false charges and sent to prison for eighteen months as 'walking out,'" she calmly protested.
"False charges?" Bruce asked. "They found the jewels in your suitcase with a plane ticket to Rio. Dent had you dead to rights and you know it."
He didn't add that the GCPD stopped her minutes prior to boarding the plane.
"I only saw you in the courtroom that one day. When you testified. You never even looked at me afterwards," she said accusingly. "You were supposed to be in love with me, but you let a little thing like being arrested come between us."
"A 'little thing'?" Bruce said incredulously. "Selina, you'd been burglarizing the homes and offices of some of my closest friends. You *stole* my mother's pearl necklace--"
"--You would've given it to me as wedding present anyway!"
"Yes, but you didn't know that. It was going to be a surprise." Bruce looked away. He remembered Gordon calling on him at Wayne Manor for a surprise consultation. It was his wedding day...
"Jim, what's going on?" Bruce asked, waving his friend into his office. "The wedding is in less than an hour. We're leaving for the cathedral in another few minutes."
Without speaking, Gordon placed a small cosmetic case on the desk and opened it. Bruce gasped involuntarily at the exquisite collection of priceless jewelry inside.
"Can you identify any of these pieces, Bruce?" Gordon asked.
His face devoid of any expression, Bruce pointed out several Wayne family heirlooms, including the single strand of perfectly formed natural pearls, which he'd reported stolen in the previous weeks.
With a sick feeling at the pit of his stomach, Bruce carefully closed the cosmetic case and read the gold embossed initials--S.K.--Selina Kyle, his bride-to-be.
And the priceless collection of jewelry that Gordon had just shown him? It was the 'take' from the recent string of burglaries attributed to the infamous cat burglar known as the Catwoman...
"The surprise was on *me*, instead," Bruce said coldly. "And you're right. After my testimony I *couldn't* look at you. What would I have seen except more lies? You did nothing but lie all along. To me...and worse, to Dick." Bruce's face hardened.
Selina looked away in deep pain. Bruce refused to allow it to affect him. Lies. Nothing but lies. That's all she'd ever given him. All she'd given Dick. And in the end, it was Dick who suffered the most.
And that Bruce would *never* forgive.
"Yes, I stayed away," he said. "I didn't want Dick exposed to it. He adored you, Selina. And in spite of everything, he still does. Do you have any idea what your little Cat-capers did to him? He thought you were going to be his new mother, that he'd finally have a mother and father again..."
"Do you recognize this, Mr. Wayne?" District Attorney Harvey Dent's deep timbre echoed throughout the hundred-year-old courtroom. He held out a plastic baggy with a string of perfect white pearls.
Bruce glanced at it and quickly looked away again. He gave a curt nod.
"Please answer the court, Mr. Wayne," Dent said blandly.
"Yes. Yes, I recognize the necklace," he said softly. "It belonged to my mother. My father gave it to her on their wedding day."
"Let the record show," Dent intoned officiously, "that the witness has positively identified People's Exhibit 'B.'"
The judge nodded, signing a legal document, which the Court Reporter handed him.
"No more questions, Mr. Wayne," Dent said, returning to his seat. "Your witness, counselor."
The defense attorney stood up. Bruce recognized him instantly as the same shyster lawyer who'd defended Tony Zucco--Verne Mustacho, currently in the employ of Mario Falcone. Even in this instance, Selina had betrayed him. She knew what Zucco meant to Dick and him.
Before he began his cross-examination, Mustacho picked up the baggy with the pearl necklace and held it out to Bruce.
"Mr. Wayne, you say your father gave these pearls to your mother on the day of their wedding," his oily voice grated on Bruce's nerves.
"Romantic, wouldn't you say, Mr. Wayne?" he asked.
"I wouldn't know," Bruce replied.
"Really?" Mustacho asked, feigning surprise. "Mr. Wayne, isn't it true that you yourself had intended to *give* my client this pearl necklace as a wedding gift?"
Bruce gave Mustacho a cold glare. Glancing at Selina who sat with her head down, Bruce turned back to her attorney.
"Yes," he said. "But--"
"That will be all, Mr. Wayne," Mustacho interrupted. "Your honor, I wish the record to show that since this necklace was intended as a gift for my client, it should be removed from the list of exhibits." He shrugged disarmingly. "A person can't steal what already belongs to them."
"I will take your petition under advisement, Mr. Mustacho," the judge said blandly. "Mr. Dent?"
Dent stood up.
"Mr. Wayne, to the best of your knowledge, was the defendant aware that you intended to present her with the pearl necklace as a wedding gift--?"
"Objection, your honor! This calls for a conclusion on the part of the witness," Mustacho said.
"Objection overruled. You may answer the question, Mr. Wayne."
Bruce glanced back at Selina. She was gazing at him with tear-brimmed emerald eyes. Swallowing, Bruce tore his eyes away from her and refused to look back.
"No. To my knowledge, the defendant was unaware of my intentions," he said steadily. He wanted to add, "To the best of my knowledge, the defendant was unaware of a lot of things," but refrained...
In a sudden fit of rage, Bruce picked up a priceless figurine from an accent table and *threw* it against the wall. It shattered into a thousand pieces from the incredible force of the impact.
Selina jumped, startled by his action. Bruce stood breathing raggedly, glaring at the woman who'd broken both his and Dick's hearts.
Bruce had been forced to be strong, for Dick's sake. He'd had to pick up the pieces after Selina's little games had left the boy shattered. And in the end, Bruce's heart had turned to stone.
Then why did it still hurt so much, a small voice asked?
"Why did you come today, Selina? What do you want from us? Haven't you caused enough pain?"
Without looking up, Selina whispered. "I wanted to see Dick. I missed him, Bruce. I didn't know how much you could miss a kid." She risked a glance up at Bruce and winced at his dark glare. "And I missed you, too," she added in a small voice. She dabbed her eyes.
"I know it's over between us, Bruce. I know that I lost whatever chance I had with you, but Dick--" she swallowed, unable to go on. When Bruce didn't say anything, she took a deep breath and plunged in. "And I need your help, Bruce. Please, I'm in serious trouble."
Of course, he thought. Money. That's all she'd ever wanted from him.
Bruce closed his eyes, fighting to calm his shattered nerves. Breathing in and out in slow deliberate gulps, he finally settled his ragged breathing sufficiently to say, "Get out, Selina!"
Without a backward glance, Bruce pivoted and stalked out of the study. Selina slowly stood, and holding her head up, she walked out the way she'd come in, boldly and brashly through the front door.
Long after the guests had left and Dick had gone to bed--visibly disappointed that Selina had left without saying goodbye--Bruce sat alone in the Batcave, remembering...
The happy days, so seemingly long ago. Had it been less than three years? Yes. Soon after Dick's debut as Robin. That's when *she* walked into their lives. And left behind chaos, confusion, and--what?
The pain of what might have been...
The headlines said it all: Robin, the Boy of Steel!
Faster than a 747! [Picture of Robin outpacing a commercial airliner.]
More powerful than a locomotive. [Picture of Robin casually lifting an AMTRAK passenger car.]
Able to achieve escape velocity at a single bound. [Picture of Robin waving at the Shuttle Discovery crew from outside the porthole.]
Robin figuratively exploded into the collective consciousness of the Earth's population. A small boy, barely topping the scales at 4ft, 5in and weighing less than 100 pounds, he became an instant celebrity.
Dressed in a colorful green, red, and yellow costume, Robin was the antithesis of his senior partner and mentor, the dark, enigmatic Batman. Whereas, Batman kept to the shadows and rarely allowed himself to be seen or even photographed, Robin's masked features made the covers of several news magazines. And not a few teenybopper ones.
Bruce shook his head as he remembered the craziness of the period. Little girls all around the world were naming him as the boy they'd most want to go out with on a first date. Moms wanted to hug him and adopt him. Teenaged girls wanted him for a little brother.
And through it all, Dick remained oblivious to the publicity. He was just happy to finally be partnered with his dad.
Together, the Dynamic Duo, as they were now being called, took the criminals of Gotham City by storm.
As often as not, gun-toting crooks suddenly discovered their weapons were too hot to handle and quickly dropped them, or, should they fire a few dozen rounds at Robin, they found out that their bullets only bounced off him...
"Shoot 'im, Rocco! It's that kid. The Bat's brat!"
"Eat *this*, little birdie!"
Batman watched from a nearby rooftop. Let the boy have his fun.
"They'll soon learn," he said to himself.
Robin stood and faced the two mooks without flinching as they opened fire, laughing hysterically. When the smoke cleared, their laughter stopped, choked in their throats.
"I want my mama," one whined fearfully.
"Oh, sh--!" The other one was interrupted in the middle of uttering the expletive.
"Nuh-uh-uh..." Robin chastised, standing over the two suddenly bound and gagged crooks. "I'm just a kid, remember? Batman wouldn't like it if he heard you talking like that in front of me."
On the roof, Batman allowed himself a half-smile. The boy was going to do just fine...
Bruce smiled at the memory. He'd thought that Dick's flying ability, vision powers, and super-strength would be the sum-total of the boy's gifts. Imagine their surprise when they discovered quite by accident that he was also invulnerable...
"This Scarecrow guy is really kinda...well, scary, Bruce," Dick said. He shivered involuntarily, and then glanced quickly at his dad to see if he'd noticed this unconscious display of weakness.
Dick breathed a small sigh of relief. Bruce was completely engrossed in what he was doing. Dick watched as Bruce cautiously measured a green, bubbly chemical from one beaker into another one that held a fluorescent pinkish liquid.
They were both standing over a lab table, wearing lab coats, protective gloves, masks, and goggles. They looked like emergency room workers, Dick thought.
Bruce kept his eyes on the beaker; however, he was aware of his boy's nervousness over the ingredients with which they were experimenting. He and Dick were working with the same dangerous chemicals that the Scarecrow had sprayed over Gotham City to cause violent hallucinations and psychopathic fear.
In order to find an antidote, Bruce was trying to develop the identical combination that Professor Stephen Crane was using on the citizens of Gotham. Crane, known as the Scarecrow, was a psychologist and biochemist, as well as a leading authority in the field of human fear. So far his fear formula had caused ten deaths and several more hospitalizations.
Bruce and Dick had been working on an antidote for the better part of two days and nights. Currently, Bruce was mixing the fourth iteration of the chemical compound that he'd tried that night.
The intercom buzzed.
"Master Bruce, there's a call for you. Commissioner Gordon, sir."
"Thanks, Alfred," Bruce answered without looking up. Finally, satisfied with the new mixture, Bruce put the beaker down and moved towards the door. Pressing the airlock button, Bruce paused at the open door.
"I'll be right back," he said reassuringly. Dick nodded, smiling a little nervously. What could go wrong, he thought? He watched through the lab's transparent titanium steel/lead reinforced walls as Bruce stepped out into the decontamination chamber.
No sooner had the door slid shut behind Bruce, than the new chemical mixture reacted violently and began emitting a poisonous gaseous cloud.
The alarms sounded within the Batcave.
"Bruce!" Dick's frightened voice called from inside the titanium/lead chamber.
"Dick!" Bruce slammed his hands on the sealed airlock door. The entire lab was soon under an opaque mist of fear-inducing chemicals.
"Dick!" Working feverishly, Bruce activated the reverse blowers in the lab to remove the poisonous gas. He could only stand by helplessly as he waited for the lab to clear.
After what seemed an eternity, the atmosphere inside the lab read as "all clear." Bruce immediately opened the airlock door and ran inside. Not knowing what to expect--a superpowered hallucinating being would be extremely dangerous- -he entered the lab, fearing the worst.
Instead, he was greeted by a frightened boy who was quite unharmed, and unable to explain why he wasn't climbing the walls in wild-eyed fear...
This was the first indication of Dick's invulnerability. However, because of the obvious physical danger to the boy, Bruce did not try to test the limits of Dick's imperviousness to harm.
It was Gotham City's underworld that was responsible for Robin's nickname as 'the Boy of Steel' due entirely to a most unexpected discovery on the night of his debut: Bullets bounced off his chest.
Bruce shook his head in amazement. Just *bounced* off...
"He ain't *human*!"
"Run, Digger! The Bat-kid's some kind of a supernatural monster!"
"It's like he's made out of steel! Bullets just bounce off him!"
Both men dropped their spent weapons and ran for cover.
Robin, meanwhile, cowered against the brick wall where the two members of the Purple Gang had ambushed him. He checked himself with unsteady hands. His brand new Robin uniform was little worse for wear, dirty from where the bullets had struck, but still intact.
He slid down to a sitting position. He'd done everything wrong. Hadn't even used his X-ray vision to see if they were hiding behind the dumpster. When they emerged with their guns drawn, he'd stood frozen in place, unable to recall how to use his heat vision.
"Some superhero," he whispered. Dick put his head down and let the tears spill momentarily. "You're nothing but a failure, Grayson," he muttered. "They're all gonna call you Chicken-boy now. What's Batman gonna say? Stop blubbering like a baby, you coward!"
He used his black and yellow cape to wipe his tears and blow his nose. Squaring his shoulders, Robin stood.
"Well, even if this is Robin's first and last appearance, he won't go down without a fight!"
Jutting his small chin in grim determination, the junior caped crusader sprayed the area with his X-ray vision. Concentrating for any new sounds around him, Robin was suddenly able to hear every little noise magnified a thousand times. Bringing his fingers up to his ears, he concentrated slightly, and soon gained control of the heightened sense.
Super-vision and super-hearing easily pinpointed the retreating mooks. Leaping straight up, Robin flew in the direction they were headed. Spotting them from above, Robin landed a half block ahead of them.
As they ran past him, Robin called from the shadows.
"What's the hurry, gentlemen?" he asked, emerging into the illumination afforded by the nearby streetlamp. "The party's just getting started."
"It's the kid!" one whimpered in sudden panic.
"Stay away from me," the other pleaded. "Pleeease!"
"I see you boys have met my partner," a voice from above growled.
"It's the *Bat*!" they both screeched, collapsing on the spot. "Don't hurt us, please."
"Yeah, we didn't hurt your kid--See!" The frightened mook pointed at Robin. "H- He's all right. We didn't hurt him...honest! Tell 'im, kid."
Both men fell on each other, blubbering pathetically.
"I think they're ready to cooperate, partner. Why don't you cuff 'em for the GCPD?"
"Yes, sir," Robin said smiling. "With pleasure!"
Bruce had observed the entire incident from the sidelines. Admittedly, he'd been caught off-guard when Robin failed to use his acrobatics to duck the bullets. His heart had almost stopped when he'd first thought that his son was dead. A cold, black rage consumed him.
*His* fault. *He'd* brought Dick to this.
About to swoop down and take out his anger on the two men, Batman was again caught flat-footed. This time by a still-standing and unharmed Robin.
When Robin slid to a sitting position and put his head in his arms, Batman's first instinct was to go to the boy, but decided instead to let Robin play out the rest of the mini-drama on his own. Robin had to reach his own decisions without Batman's help if he were to continue as his partner.
Bruce's chest swelled again as he remembered his little boy standing up and going after the two crooks entirely on his own. The boy would certainly do, he thought again.
Within days of Robin's debut, Commissioner Gordon reported that a new criminal was in town, a cat burglar.
And not an ordinary cat burglar either, Bruce recalled, but probably the best that had ever struck in Gotham. Rumors that the burglar might even be a woman began circulating like wildfire around Gotham's high society...
"Well, hello there."
Dick looked up from where he sat, alone, at the cleared dinner table. He was playing with two six-inch high action figures. A third figure--female--was leaning against a half-empty glass of root beer. With his boy-sized, white dinner jacket, black bowtie, and matching cummerbund, he was the picture of a perfect gentleman.
A wide yawn quickly dispelled the illusion. He covered his mouth in embarrassment.
"'Scuse me," he apologized automatically. Catching sight of the beautiful woman who took a seat next to him, Dick's tired blue eyes perked with sudden interest.
"Hello," he said, shyly.
"Hello. My name's Selina, what's yours?" she asked holding out her hand. Dick shook it politely.
"My name's Dick," he said. "Dick Grayson."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Dick Grayson," Selina said with a smile. Nodding her head towards the crowds of milling adults in various stages of evening dress, she asked with mock seriousness, "So tell me, Dick. What corporation do *you* work for?"
Selina was referring to the many Gotham City companies that were represented that night for the Wayne Foundation's Annual Charity Ball.
Dick giggled and shook his head. "I don't even work yet," he said innocently. "I'm just a kid!"
Selina's emerald eyes smiled warmly. "Really? You're such a handsome gentleman. You certainly had *me* fooled."
Dick blushed furiously. "Awww. You're just teasing me. Like Bruce does all the time."
"Bruce?" Selina asked.
Dick nodded. "My dad." He pointed across the ballroom at the tall, dark-haired, stunningly handsome man dressed in an identically cut white dinner jacket. "That's him over there. Bruce Wayne."
"Of course," Selina said, nodding. "You look just like him," she added with a smile.
Dick's eyes dropped immediately and he shook his head. "No, I look like my mom. Dad always said so." He looked up sadly. "Before they died. Bruce is my dad now, but I don't call him 'Dad,' I call him 'Bruce' on account of his *not* my *real* dad even though I love him like he is and he loves me. Do you really think I look like him?"
Selina blinked at Dick's conversation thread. She mentally kicked herself. Of course the boy was adopted. He introduced himself as Dick *Grayson* and said Bruce *Wayne*--*the* Bruce Wayne--was his father.
I can't believe I said he looked like Wayne, she thought severely. Then realizing the boy had asked her a question and was awaiting her answer opened her mouth to respond.
Glancing back to where Bruce was standing, surrounded by beautiful women, she thoughtfully nodded. Her eyes smiling, she finally answered Dick.
"Yes, Dick. I *really* think you look like your dad."
Dick rewarded her with a wide, beaming smile. Selina relaxed. This was going to be much easier than she'd thought...
"Orange you glad I didn't say banana?" Dick said, laughing almost before he could say the punch line. Selina joined him, delighted by his knock-knock jokes.
"Will someone tell *me* the joke?"
Selina and Dick looked up at the sound of the deep voice behind them.
"Bruce!" Dick cried, happily jumping up from the table. "Is it time to go home, now? I want you meet my new friend, Selina. Isn't she pretty? And she's not married, neither."
"Either," Bruce corrected automatically. At Selina's amused gaze, he stumbled over his words, "Um, I mean, Dick, you used a double negative, son. The correct way to say it is, 'she's not married, either.'"
"Oh," Dick said, confused. "Well, she's not. Don't you think she's pretty?"
By now, Selina's eyes were dancing merrily at Bruce's obvious confusion. Collecting himself, Bruce placed his hands gently on Dick's shoulders, and smiled down at him.
Looking into Selina's eyes, Bruce answered truthfully. "Yes, son. I think she's very pretty."
It was Selina's turn to blush.
"Good evening," Bruce said pleasantly. "I don't believe we've been properly introduced. I'm Bruce Wayne. You've already met my son, Dick. He seems to be quite taken with you...Miss--?"
"Kyle, Selina Kyle." Selina held her hand out, and Bruce took it in his. Selina was startled by an instant electric charge that seemed to shoot from her fingertips and up her arm.
Bruce held onto her hand longer than necessary. He was completely captivated by her clear, emerald green eyes. Her close proximity gave the barest hint of perfume. A tug at his jacket brought Bruce back down to Earth. He and Selina dropped their hands as if burnt.
"Bruce, are we going home yet?" Dick asked.
The boy looked exhausted, Bruce thought guiltily. Super-kid or not, it was way past Dick's bedtime. "Hey, c'mere, munchkin," Bruce said, bending down and picking him up.
Dick tiredly laid his head on Bruce's shoulder. He wrapped his arms around his dad's neck and his legs around his waist. Completely charmed by their actions, Selina thought privately that Dick looked like a baby Koala bear.
"I think someone's ready for bed," Bruce said, smiling at Selina. "I shouldn't have kept him out so long," he added, as he checked the table for any items that they might have left.
He picked up two of Dick's Star Wars action figures, Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Absentmindedly sticking them in his jacket pocket, he then spotted another one peeking out from under the table. He turned to Selina.
"I'm sorry, would you mind? Kids...it's like traveling with a three ring circus at times."
"Of course not," Selina said reaching for it. Before handing it to Bruce, she looking at it curiously. She gave him a questioning look.
Bruce grinned a bit embarrassed, as he reached for the small toy. "Can't fight an action war without the bad guy. That's Darth Vader, scourge of the republic and evil representative of the Dark Side."
Selina nodded knowingly. "I see." She smiled as Darth Vader joined the others in the pocket of his immaculate dinner jacket. "You seem to have this 'Dad' stuff down fairly pat."
"I'd be inclined to agree with you, except for the small fact that I forgot to line up a sitter for the night. With Alfred out of town and our regular babysitter coming down with a severe case of the flu, I guess I was caught unprepared."
"'Sokay, Bruce," Dick mumbled, sleepily. "I'm not tired."
"S'all right, partner," Bruce said reassuringly. "You'll be in bed in no time." Smiling at Selina, he added, "No more wild parties for *him*."
"I suppose that Bruce Wayne can't be a no-show at the Wayne Foundation's Annual Charity Ball?" Selina asked.
"That's about the size of it," Bruce said, beginning to head out. Pausing momentarily, he turned to her. He started to speak, but stopped. Smiling and shrugging simultaneously, he said lamely, "It was a pleasure, Miss Kyle. Have a good evening."
With that Gotham City's most eligible single dad, carried his small bundle out of the Gotham-Hilton's Grand Ballroom.
Long after father and son had disappeared into the elevators, Selina stood where he'd left her, staring at his retreating back.
"Maybe it's not going to be quite as easy as I thought after all," she mused. "Then again--" She fingered a small action figure that she'd lifted, Princess Leia. Picking up her small pocketbook, Selina exited the ballroom through less conventional means...
The lithe shadow moved through the darker recesses afforded by the deep gloom between the skyscrapers. The sharp crack of a whip preceded a sudden swoop across the towers. Landing lightly on the railing of the targeted balcony, she slipped silently through the unlocked sliding glass doors.
She smiled. Too easy. When would these idiots realize that forty stories up was no guarantee of security from a burglary?
Not when the Catwoman was on the prowl.
"Meow," she purred softly. So far she'd been in town a little over a week and had already hit several high-rise apartments and condominiums. She'd cased out the Wayne Foundation's Charity Ball to get an idea of who amongst Gotham's glitterati had something worth stealing.
And, of course, all of those fat society women had proudly provided her with the information she needed by parading their most expensive jewels out in the open. It was all she could do to keep from doing a snatch and run. She'd mingled among the rich, smiling and observing, all the while planning.
She was about to leave the ballroom, when she spotted him, sitting alone at the table. This was better than even she'd planned. Of course, she knew immediately who the boy was. She'd studied his photos and that of his 'father' on the plane trip from Europe.
Her employers had been very thorough. The job was quite simple--kidnap the boy. She'd already received thirty percent of the expected payoff. The rest of the five million would be paid on delivery. She smiled. They could afford to pay her asking price. After all, Wayne was worth billions.
How much would he be willing to shell out for one little boy?
Step one was complete: Meet the boy and his father.
Step two would wait for tomorrow.
Meanwhile, she'd pass the time by stealing all of the lovely jewels that Gotham's society matrons had so kindly put on display for her earlier that evening.
As she moved through the silent rooms, she saw Dick's innocent smile again. At the memory of the little boy, she sensed a twinge of something she didn't fully recognize. Pausing in the middle of the room, Selina cocked her head slightly as if listening.
Shrugging she continued across the room to the locked safe. Purring softly, she easily opened it, and like a little girl in a candy store, helped herself to its bright and glimmering contents.
Later, sitting on a rooftop, overlooking the sleeping city, she finally realized what she'd felt earlier. The tiniest twinge of her long-dormant conscience...
Dick was sleeping soundly by the time Bruce got him home. Carrying him up to his room, Bruce proceeded to undress him and get him ready for bed. Smiling to himself he recalled the first time he'd tried to do this. Somehow Dick's pajamas had ended up backwards.
Bruce really *hadn't* known how difficult being a father was going to be. He'd thought that providing a roof, three meals a day, and a warm place to sleep was just about all there was to it.
He soon discovered that there was much more to being a parent than just providing material things.
As he expertly undressed the sleeping boy, Bruce thought about how Alfred had basically *forced* him to learn to do this...
"I'm afraid, sir, that I *must* insist!" Alfred said firmly. Bruce looked up from the super-computers where he'd been running a search on the Joker. "If you are to be more than a father in name only, then you must learn to *act* like one. Now march! Master Dick's day clothes are even now being wrinkled beyond repair."
Bruce had been so startled by Alfred's tone that he'd immediately gone upstairs. As he'd walked down the hallway to Dick's room, he'd grumbled to himself.
"How hard can it be anyway? Pull off one set of clothes and replace 'em with another set..."
Smiling at the memory, and how he'd botched it the first time, Bruce looked down at his handiwork: "Let's see, pajamas right side out this time. C3PO and R2D2 are both on the front. See, not hard at all," he said softly.
Tucking Dick in, Bruce sat over him for a moment longer. Sleeping, Dick looked even younger than his ten years. Bruce gently brushed a forelock back.
No, he hadn't known that being a parent was going to be the most difficult job he'd ever undertaken, but having the privilege to watch Dick as he slept peacefully and innocently made everything worthwhile.
"Besides, how many dads can say their kid's the 'Boy of Steel'?" Leaning down, he whispered softly, "I love you, son. Sleep well..."
The next morning Dick awoke to chaos in the kitchen. Bruce was trying to fix breakfast. Dick stood open-mouthed at the kitchen door looking around at the mess that his bachelor dad had made of Alfred's immaculate empire.
"Alfred's not gonna *like* this," he whispered.
Bruce looked up sheepishly. "I don't suppose you know where Alfred keeps the extra flour do you?"
Dick stared at him wide-eyed. Bruce was totally covered in white. As was every possible square inch in the kitchen: countertops, kitchen table, floor. Even the walls and refrigerator had a faint layer of white residue on them.
Dick nodded wordlessly, pointing to the pantry.
Bruce hurried to the pantry and began searching. Where, he wondered? And how did everything get covered in flour? All he'd wanted to do was fix his son's favorite breakfast, chocolate chip pancakes. He hadn't intended to *wear* the breakfast.
Dick picked his way carefully to the kitchen table. Staring at it momentarily, he quietly took a kitchen towel and began wiping down the surface. Pulling out a chair, he noted that even these hadn't escaped Bruce's dubious culinary prowess.
"Take a guy out of the Batcave..." he muttered.
"What's that, munchkin?" Bruce asked distractedly.
"Nothing. Bruce? Can I help? Alfred showed me how to--"
"Nothing doing! Alfred left me in charge of the meals, remember?"
"He sure did," Dick said under his breath, and then added, "Traitor." Bruce was probably the only person in the whole world who could ruin breakfast, Dick thought bleakly. Maybe he could sneak a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at super-speed?
But no, Dick sighed.
Super-powers weren't allowed upstairs in the Manor. If Dick couldn't perform any given task just like a regular kid, then he wasn't allowed to do it at all. He looked askance at Bruce who at this moment had flipped a pancake into the air. Dick's eyes went up, up, up. The pancake stuck to the kitchen ceiling.
Bruce should be banned from any and all cooking activities for life, Dick concluded, rolling his eyes. It was going to be a long morning.
The doorbell rang, interrupting the hungry boy's dark thoughts.
"I'll get it," he said.
Bruce nodded distractedly. He was jumping up trying to *whack* the errant pancake off the ceiling. Even Bruce couldn't pull a "Batman" stunt upstairs. Rules were rules.
"How'd that happen?" he wondered, looking up.
"How, indeed," an amused feminine voice said behind him. Bruce stood stock- still. The subtle hint of expensive French perfume wafted into the kitchen, softly caressing him. Selina.
"Look, Bruce!" Dick cried excitedly, holding up a small figure. "Selina found Princess Leia. I thought I'd lost her f'sure."
Bruce greeted their unexpected visitor with a pleased smile. About to speak, he was abruptly silenced as the pancake, just at this moment, decided to let gravity win, and fell directly on the chef's flour-covered head.
Dick and Selina burst into surprised giggles. Bruce looked like he was about to explode, but in the end, he joined them.
"What do you say to breakfast--somewhere else?" he asked.
"Let's go!" Dick yelled. "I'm *starving*!"
"Maybe you'd better let your dad get cleaned up first, Dick," Selina suggested. "Come on, we'll straighten up the kitchen."
"Hey, that's okay, munchkin," Bruce said, ruffling the boy's hair. "I made the mess. I'll clean it up."
"No, that's okay, Bruce. I don't mind," he said, his tone indicating that he did *indeed* mind.
Bruce smiled. "I'll make it up to you, son. How about breakfast at Gotham's House of Pancakes?"
"Oh, boy!" Dick said. He quickly picked up a kitchen towel and began wiping down countertops.
Bruce smiled at Selina. As he gazed into her beautiful, green eyes, he began to feel warm all over. A man could get lost in those eyes, he thought. Swallowing, he was about to say something, but instead said, "I-I'll be right down."
Selina nodded, feeling a bit dazed herself. What was happening, she wondered as she watched him hurry up the stairs?
Turning to Dick, she felt herself being wracked by conflicting emotions. Snapping back to reality, she quickly grabbed a broom and began sweeping up the fine, powdery mess on the floor. She was here to do a job, she told herself firmly. And nothing was going to interfere with that...
Selina watched, stunned, as Dick seemed to plow into stack after stack of pancakes.
"Hey, there, partner," Bruce said softly. "Slow down. How about leaving some for the rest of the customers?"
Dick looked up guiltily. He'd forgotten that they weren't at home. Nodding, he swallowed and pushed his empty plate away.
"I'm done," he said.
Bruce smiled warmly over his cup of coffee. "Thank goodness," he teased. "We're already on our third server. The manager's ready to throw us out."
Glancing over at Selina, Dick said, "See, I *told* you he was always teasing me."
Selina nodded. "You sure did," she said.
"When's Alfred coming home?" Dick asked casually.
"Tomorrow," Bruce promised. "He said that his father's estate was finally settled."
"That's good," Dick said with feeling.
Bruce and Selina burst into laughter.
"Does this mean that you haven't been impressed by my cooking?" Bruce asked with mock severity.
Giggling, Dick shook his head.
"C'mere, you!" Bruce said, grabbing his boy and pulling him towards him in the narrow booth. "Just for that, smart guy, *you're* cooking dinner."
Dick laughed. "Good! Maybe now we won't have to call the fire department."
"Oh, is *that* right?" Bruce retorted. "Just wait'll I get you home."
Dick turned to Selina. "Night 'fore last Bruce made dinner, and we had to call the fire dep--"
Bruce clapped his hand instantly over his son's mouth. "Now, now, Dick," he said through clenched teeth. "No need to air our dirty laundry in public."
His voice muffled by Bruce's hand, Dick protested. Unable to understand what Dick was saying, Bruce finally released him. Dick took a deep breath of fresh air, and then tried to finish what he'd been saying.
"But I wasn't talking about the laundry, Bruce. I was talking about the fire--!"
Bruce clapped his hand over Dick's mouth again. Grimacing, he said quickly, "It's just a saying, kid. Like 'Loose lips sink ships.' It means that there's no need to go blabbing everything. Got it?"
Dick blinked up at him and nodded. Bruce reluctantly removed his hand.
"Sorry about that," he said, not meaning it.
"'Sokay," Dick said. Turning to Selina, he shrugged helplessly.
Selina burst into spontaneous laughter. She'd wordlessly observed their antics through most of breakfast, fascinated by their easy camaraderie and light back and forth bantering.
It was obvious from the boy's digs that Bruce Wayne was not exactly a master chef, nor of much use around the household for even the simplest tasks. And this was the man in charge of one of the largest corporations in the world? He sounded like he couldn't boil water.
Covering her mouth, Selina felt tears streaming down her face. "I'm sorry," she gasped. "But really--I mean, you're Bruce Wayne, famous business mogul and philanthropist. This is a side of you that I never would've expected."
Bruce looked sheepish. "It's not exactly something I'm proud of, Miss Kyle. If it weren't for Alfred, Dick and I would probably starve to death."
"Please, call me Selina," she said. "I've already discovered your deepest, darkest secret, Mr. Wayne. It's too late to be formal."
Bruce and Dick exchanged quick glances at her 'deepest, darkest' comment, and then turned back to her, faces carefully neutral.
"Very well," Bruce agreed, "but only if you call me Bruce."
"Done," Selina said. "Who's 'Alfred' by the way? You mentioned him last night and again just now."
"Alfred's the best!" Dick said with enthusiasm. "He takes care of us."
"Yes, he sure does, doesn't he?" Bruce said affectionately.
"He sounds indispensable," Selina said.
"He is," Bruce said simply. Dick nodded in emphatic agreement.
Changing the subject, Selina asked Bruce, "Are you ever going to ask me why I stopped by your home this morning? I mean, besides to return the lost princess."
"I don't like to talk business when I'm with my son, Selina. I rarely have time with him. When I do, I prefer to keep matters non-business oriented."
"I can well appreciate that," Selina acknowledged with a nod towards Dick. "And I apologize for basically barging in, but--well, I'm trying to get an animal sanctuary started here in Gotham and wanted to ask for your help."
"What kind of animals?" Dick asked eagerly. Selina looked doubtfully at Bruce. At his go-ahead, she smiled at Dick and explained.
"Large cats...lions, tigers, pumas. They're some of the most endangered species on the planet, and, well, you might say that I have a...soft spot...for cats."
Dick nodded seriously. "Mom and Dad told me that giant cats were endangered. Part of the Haly Circus children's matinee always involved a special awareness class given to the kids by our animal trainers."
Dick had Selina's full attention. "That sounds fascinating, Dick. Tell me more..."
"Where to now?" Bruce asked. They'd just climbed into the open-topped Jeep.
"You mean we don't have to go straight home?" Dick asked hopefully.
"Not unless you have a lot of homework you absolutely *want* to finish right now," Bruce said lightly.
"Not *me*!" Dick said. "Where are you taking us?"
Bruce looked at Selina. "Depends. Do you have somewhere you really need to be, Selina?"
Selina shook her head and echoing Dick said with a laugh, "Not *me*!"
"In that case," Bruce said, "how about a day of sightseeing?"
"Sounds like fun," Selina said.
"Sightseeing?" Dick asked disappointedly. "But we *live* in Gotham City. What's to see?"
"Hey, are you dissing my hometown?" Bruce asked as they pulled out of the parking lot.
"Not *me*!" Dick said, laughing...
Several hours later, the threesome was strolling through the botanical gardens in Robinson Park. They each held an ice cream cone and were trying to eat it before it melted in the summer heat.
They'd just spent the past half-hour flying a kite in the shape of the Millennium Falcon. Dick struggled with both kite and string as he tried to lick his ice cream.
Bruce solicitously took both off his hands, sticking the kite string in the front pocket of his jeans and carrying the kite under one arm. Since Dick entered his life, Bruce seemed to be finding more children's toys in his own pockets than he remembered ever having his entire childhood.
He smiled. It was a nice feeling.
"So what do you think of my town now?" Bruce asked.
"I didn't know there was so much to *see*, Bruce!" Dick admitted. "How come we've never done this before?"
Before Bruce could answer, the quiet afternoon was shattered by the sound of automatic gunfire.
"Everybody--*get down*!" Bruce yelled, throwing himself on top of Dick and Selina, forcing them both to the ground.
Risking a look, Bruce saw people scattering for cover, screaming in panic: young mothers with small children in strollers, elderly men who'd been playing chess in the cool shade of the large elm trees just a few minutes before, young couples who'd been enjoying a romantic walk together--innocent people simply out for a day in the park!
"Bruce!" Dick hissed. "Over there! It's *him*!" Bruce turned to where Dick was pointing. An individual in vaguely nondescript clothing and with indistinguishable features stood calmly amongst the terrorized crowd, holding what looked like an ordinary grocery bag.
"It's in the bag," Dick whispered excitedly. "The gun!" Dick's eyes seemed to lose focus as he spoke. Suddenly the man yelped in surprise, dropping the bag and holding his hand as if it'd been burned. Looking around in sudden fear, the suspected gunman took off down the now deserted, wooded pathway.
"Stay down!" Bruce ordered and took off after him.
"Bruce!" Dick yelled, but did as told. Standing orders were explicit, no superpowers where others might see. Bruce was an adult; therefore, no one would think it strange that he went after someone who'd just shot at them. Dick was a kid, therefore, he had to stay put and act like a kid.
Sometimes it was hard being a kid.
But Dick didn't have time to brood because Selina was suddenly sprinting after Bruce.
"Selina!" he cried. "What are you doing?"
Dick lay where Bruce had thrown him for just a moment longer. His small jaw jutting into a grim line, he stood. His father and a nice pretty lady, neither of whom had superpowers, were chasing a mad gunman. And here he was, 'the Boy of Steel,' doing nothing.
"I know I'm gonna get in trouble for this, but I can't let a civilian get hurt," Dick muttered as he, too, ran in the same direction that the others had gone...
Using his X-Ray vision to cut through the dense woods, Dick spotted him almost instantly. He was running towards the zoo area. Dick looked ahead. He felt his blood freeze. There were several school buses that were being unloaded just then near the entrances.
Bruce was about fifty meters behind the guy, and Selina was about a hundred meters further back. Dick would have to work fast--super-fast--to avoid being seen. Lifting into the air, he flew through the trees, an invisible gale-force wind that disturbed the quiet forest only momentarily.
Zooming past Selina and Bruce, he grimaced guiltily as they each stumbled slightly at his passing. The fugitive took something small out of his pocket, and twisting around for an instant, popped off a couple of shots.
Bruce! Dick quickly looked back and breathed a sigh of relief. His dad's superior reflexes had saved him, of course. It would take more than a creep with a gun to take *him* out.
"*No one* fires a gun at my dad!" Dick said in sudden rage. Focusing on a branch immediately above and ahead of the running figure, Dick sliced it with his heat vision. The timing was perfect. As the gunman ran underneath it, it fell suddenly, knocking him to the ground.
Panicking, the man struggled to get it off him as Bruce, almost on him, sprinted to close the gap.
Raising the automatic handgun, the gunman aimed at Bruce and fired. Dick's breath caught in his throat. Concentrating on the gun, he tried to fry it in the guy's hand, but it was if he'd forgotten what to do. Dick was panicking, like the night of his debut.
Through tears, he saw Bruce twist expertly in midair and avoid the shot. Landing on the soft ground, he rolled quickly and came up fighting. A master at hand-to-hand combat and the use of defensive weapons, Bruce picked up and threw a hefty stone straight at his adversary's gun hand.
It struck him with sufficient force to knock the weapon out of his hand. Bruce moved in easily, and within moments had him subdued. Reaching into his jeans' pocket, he took out the kite string that he'd just minutes prior put in there. Handling the gunman none-too-gently, Bruce soon had him trussed up, the bonds just a little tighter than necessary.
"It's too tight, you moron!" the gunman cried out. "I'll sue! You hear me? I'll sue!"
"You *do* that!" Bruce growled, picking him up by the scruff of the neck. Dick came running up at that moment.
"Bruce!" he cried, throwing his arms around his father. "Are you all right?"
Bruce looked at him knowingly. "Don't give me that innocent look, young man. You and I are gonna have a long talk when we get you home."
Dick dropped his eyes, but then looked up proudly. "You sure showed him," he said.
As they began walking back, dragging the gunman, Dick spotted something lying on the pathway. It looked like a bundle of clothes at first. His eyes widening, he zoomed in with his telescopic vision.
"Selina," he whispered. "*Selina*!" he cried, running to where she lay deathly still.
Bruce dropped his prisoner and ran after his son. They both arrived by her side at the same time. About to check her over, Bruce heard the sounds of pounding feet along the path leading towards them. The GCPD had arrived.
A low moan below them brought a stab of hope. She had a small crease on her forehead where a bullet had grazed her. She began to stir slightly as the GCPD surrounded them.
"Over here!" Bruce said, gently cradling the injured woman. "Selina, can you hear me? Selina?"
A paramedic was suddenly next to them.
"Mister? Please, sir, let me examine her," he said, his voice quietly insistent. Bruce looked up. Both he and Dick had identically dazed expressions on their faces.
Bruce nodded and let the EMT do his job. As he worked on her, Selina's eyes began to flutter open. A quiet moan escaped as she brought a hand up to her head.
Bruce and Dick both hovered nearby. "Selina?" Dick's young voice called worriedly. "Selina, please wake up!"
Finally, they were both rewarded by a pair of beautiful emerald eyes fighting to focus on them. At last, Selina gazed up at them, awake but confused.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Apparently you were very lucky, ma'am," the paramedic stated calmly. "The bullet only creased you. Another quarter inch to the left and--" he left the rest unfinished. "I recommend that we take you to the emergency room where we can get a doctor to check you out."
"No..." Selina protested weakly, shaking her head. "No hospitals. Bruce...please, no hospitals."
Bruce looked at the paramedic. "What if we took her home and had our own physician check her over? Would that be all right?"
The paramedic shrugged. "The cops'll want to question her, and you, of course, since the injury involves a gunshot wound."
Bruce nodded in understanding. "I'll call Commissioner Gordon and give him a statement."
The paramedic looked a little unsure, but then nodded. "I'll give her something for the pain," he said.
"He tied me up!" the gunman was screaming.
"Shut up, ya creep!" the police officer who was leading him away grumbled.
"I know my rights! That's unlawful restraint--!"
"I said, shut up! If you know your rights so well, you oughta know that you shouldn't talk without a lawyer present. Now, do us all a favor and zip it--!"
"--I'm gonna *sue* you, you do-gooder," the gunman threatened, as he was dragged past Bruce and the others. "I'll take you for everything you've got! You *hear* me! Everything!"
Bruce looked down at Selina. He thought about how she was lucky to be alive, thought about the hundreds of innocent park goers this man had threatened, about the few unnaturally still bodies who'd never move again. An explosive burning anger suddenly lit inside him.
He *hated* them.
And those who used them to hurt the innocent.
Jumping up from where he'd been kneeling next to Selina, Bruce looked as if he were going to punch out the jeering prisoner. He was instantly set upon by two of Gotham's Finest.
"Easy, buddy," one warned. "You're a real hero, Mr. Wayne. Don't make us have to arrest you, sir."
Bruce was breathing heavily, not taking his eyes off the prisoner who was yelling taunts at him even as he was being hauled off. At this moment, Gordon arrived. Taking in everything at a glance, he walked up to them.
Nodding imperceptibly towards Dick who was watching with wide eyes, Gordon spoke in a low tone, "Not in front of Dick, Bruce. Think about him and what seeing you arrested would do to him."
Glaring at Gordon for a long moment, the fire in Bruce's eyes finally went out. Nodding, he stood still. Gordon looked at his officers and indicated they leave.
"I'll take over," he said. Looking at each other, they wordlessly released Bruce and walked off. Dick rushed up to Bruce and in an instant had thrown his arms around him. Bruce held him to him, feeling the darkness that had threatened to consume him just moments before finally lift.
"That was a very brave thing you did, Bruce," Gordon said. "And extremely foolish. But we'll talk about that later. First, let's take care of this young lady."
She woke to the smell of fresh coffee and the quiet sounds of a household that was just awakening. As she stirred, she suddenly felt a presence in the room with her. Lying still, she waited.
"Is she awake yet, Alfred?" Dick's young voice asked eagerly.
"Not yet, young sir," a new voice answered. She savored the clean melodious tones from the far side of the Atlantic. "Now, go wash up. Breakfast in exactly five minutes, and woe unto he who dares arrive late at *my* table."
This last was uttered in soft affectionate tones. Dick's answering giggle spoke volumes. This 'Alfred' obviously loved the boy and was himself well loved in turn. Smiling, Selina slowly opened her eyes.
She instantly brought her hands up at the unexpectedly bright sunshine streaming in through the drawn curtains. Finally, her eyes adjusted, she tried sitting up. Fighting a moment of vertigo, she waited until it passed.
Selina studied her surroundings. "I think the word I'm looking for is 'understated,'" she muttered to herself. The furnishings, wallpaper, carved ceilings--even the lampshades--bespoke of tasteful understatement. Her expert eyes could even place a price tag on just about everything in the room.
"Not exactly consignment store furnishings," she said ironically.
Bruce Wayne apparently did not surround himself with unnecessary opulence. This was a room that was meant to be lived in, not a museum for displaying one's material wealth.
Noticing a breakfast tray on the nightstand next to the bed, Selina's eyes lit in delight. Someone had prepared a light breakfast for her: coffee, orange juice, toast, fruit, and cereal. The tray was arranged with meticulous care. Even the napkin had been folded with precision. A single red rose in a slender vase greeted her.
A small card propped against the coffee cup caught her eye. Picking it up, she read the contents:
"Don't worry. Alfred fixed the breakfast. I hope you slept well, Bruce. P.S. Make yourself at home. P.S.S. I'll be home shortly after 4:00 p.m."
Smiling to herself, Selina rearranged her pillows and brought the tray up to her. As she chewed on her toast, her eyes kept sliding back to the note on the tray. An unbidden warm feeling slowly suffused her.
"I'll be home shortly after 4:00 p.m."
Shaking her head, Selina chastised herself. "Down, girl. Bruce Wayne's just another mark. Remember that. You're here to do a job. In and out."
Chewing thoughtfully on a spoonful of mixed fruit, she was suddenly flooded by memories of the day before: Dick's eager greeting when he answered the door. Bruce standing in the middle of the kitchen with a pancake on his head. Father and son's easy camaraderie. Their obvious enjoyment of each other's company to the exclusion of all others, even her. Bruce's uncommon bravery in going after the dangerous gunman.
Putting the tray to the side, Selina sat on the bed for a long moment, wondering how she'd gotten herself into this predicament.
"Remember the most important rule," she said severely. "Never get personally involved with the mark. What would Daddy say?"
Annoyed with herself, Selina stood up and walked to the French doors leading to a small balcony. Stepping outside, she breathed in the warm morning air. A well-kept garden on the left announced where the lovely rose on the tray had come from.
Looking out, she spotted a small figure running along the manicured grounds, arms out to either side in imitation of airplane wings. From here she could hear his sweet, childish laughter.
As she watched Dick play, she felt a catch in her throat and a sudden yearning that threatened to overwhelm her.
"You're and idiot, Selina Kyle!" she hissed. "You've fallen love. And not just with one man, but with two--a father *and* his little boy."
She watched with tears beginning to spill as Dick continued on his solo 'airplane flight.'
"What am I going to do now?" she wondered. Even as she asked the question, she blinked, open-mouthed, staring unbelievingly as Dick rose lazily in the air and laughing joyously joined a small flock of geese passing overhead...