Alfred handed a drink to the young man sprawled on the lounge chair. Dick nodded his thanks as he ran his hand through his untidy dark hair. He felt tired. With his training at the police academy and Nightwing duties, not to mention jaunts to assist the Titans, his life was feeling just a little out of control. Strangely enough, sitting here with Alfred, all of that seemed to disappear. Despite all that had happened over the years, the Manor still felt like home.
"So what brings you back to our humble abode?" the elderly butler asked cheerfully, sitting down across from the man he had helped to raise. Alfred missed Dick. He missed his sloppy ways and his loud music. He missed the corny jokes, but most of all, he missed the calming influence the young man had once had on Bruce. These days, the relationship between the two men he had the privilege of thinking of as family was strained, though things had gradually improved over the past few years.
Grayson smirked, his brilliant blue eyes flashing with mischief. "Would you believe I had a craving for one of your apple pies?"
Alfred smiled easily. "Yes, considering the way you used to wolf them down like I never fed you, but I get the feeling cravings for pies may be a secondary agenda."
Dick drew in a deep breath and scanned the huge sitting room. He had grown up in halls of the Manor. It seemed so long ago. "I have to fill out some legal paperwork and update my will before joining the force and there are a couple of dates I need to check with you."
The elderly man flicked his eyes to Dick’s legs which were draped over the arm of the chair. Like any parent, Alfred was able to advertise a full conversation in a single look and that one quite simply said, ‘gentlemen do not rest their feet on lounge chairs.’ Dick snorted and swung his legs to the floor. A satisfied expression settled on the butler’s face. "What dates are you referring to?"
"The date my wardship was finalized."
Alfred's grey eyes flashed with memories and his wrinkled brow furrowed. "The 22nd of June. I remember it as though it were yesterday." Alfred shook his head and smiled. "The day Master Bruce signed that document he was terrified. As much as he was wanted you to be a part of his life, the thought of actually becoming responsible for raising a child hadn't fully hit him until that moment."
Dick sipped his drink. "Couldn't have been too bad. He stepped up to the plate a second time."
Alfred nodded. "He was more relaxed the day he adopted Jason."
Alfred noticed something faint flicker across Dick's face. It had been fleeting but the astute old man had seen it. He knew Dick Grayson better than anyone, probably better than Grayson knew himself. Bruce may have been the boy’s legal guardian but a large portion of raising Dick had fallen to Alfred. He couldn't be sure what it was he‘d just seen, but it concerned him. Was Dick still harbouring pain, or worse still, some unfounded guilt in relation to Jason's death? Bruce felt he had left his adopted son down, did Dick share this guilt?
"There was nothing any of us could have done, Master Dick," Alfred whispered, his cultured voice coloured with emotion. "Jason was a troubled young man. Master Bruce tried to give him all that he needed, but it wasn't enough. I don't believe anything any of us could have done could have healed the pain and shadows in his heart."
"It wasn't completely his fault, Alfred," Dick argued, defending the brother of sorts he’d barely known. Thinking of Jason was painful for Dick on a number of levels. "Being the son of Bruce Wayne wouldn't have been easy."
Instantly, Alfred's face flashed with the need to defend Bruce. It was an automatic response and one Dick had seen hundreds of times.
"I didn't mean that, Alf. The media watched Jason's every move. Heir to the greatest fortune in the country. They were just waiting for him to stuff up. Jason found that difficult. Who wouldn't?"
Again, Alfred's face clouded with deep thought. He stared at Dick for a long time before commenting further. "Master Bruce made provision for Jason in his will, but Jason was never made his heir."
Dick drained his glass. "I guess it was another of the things Bruce never got around to." There was no anger in the remark. It was an emotionless statement of fact that Dick accepted.
Alfred stood up and collected Dick's glass. "Quite the contrary, in fact. After Jason's adoption, Master Bruce took great care when changing his will. Jason was well provided for, but there was never any question of Jason being his heir."
"Jason wouldn't have handled Wayne Corp. or the Wayne fortune well. He would have spent it all in a year and had the time of his life," Dick commented with great affection.
Alfred turned to Dick and shook his head seriously. "That wasn't the reason. Master Bruce already had an heir and it never entered his mind to change that."
Dick frowned. "He made Jason his son. I would have thought..." Again there was no anger, but this time there was emotion.
"Bruce did care for Jason - cared for him a great deal. He adopted the boy because he honestly felt that Jason needed the security of a formal connection," Alfred explained. The frown on Dick's lips deepened. Alfred returned to his seat and sat eyeing the young man across from him. "Dick, Bruce's reason for adopting Jason was not purely for the boy's sake, though he would never admit that." Alfred leaned back in the chair, his mind swamped with thoughts of that period when Bruce had been lonely and reaching out. In Jason, Bruce Wayne had seen his chance to right his unbalanced existence again. After all, in the past the addition of a boy into his life had filled the gaping hole in his soul. "Perhaps, he was trying to replace what he had lost after you walked away," Alfred finished. These thoughts and beliefs had remained locked in Alfred's heart for far too long. He felt a sense of relief at sharing them.
"Alfred, I didn't walk away," Dick whispered, emotionally.
"No, you ran and I understand why you did."
Something exploded inside Dick. Something from deep down within him. All of the pain and feelings of betrayal returned and rose up threatening to drown him. In that moment, he was once again that teenager who’d had his entire life turned upside down by the man he trusted the most - the man he loved like a father.
"He dismissed me from his life, Alfred. I didn't feel like I had a choice." The grief and anguish throbbed out of him with each syllable. Time had healed the bullet wound that had been the catalyst for Bruce's decision, but the passing of years had done nothing to ease the deep hurt or the shock of being rejected by the only family he had.
Alfred rose to his feet, walked across to Dick and crouched down in front of him. His stared into in young man's pained face and his heart broke. It was time Dick understood. "It was both the hardest and easiest decision he's ever had to make. The reality of almost losing you was too much, even for someone as strong as him. That night he ‘dismissed’ you, he lost his partner but saved his sanity. In his eyes, losing Robin didn't compare with the thought of burying his son... his one connection with happiness."
"And so he pushed me away and took in a replacement? Someone who was younger with no experience to partner him and watch his back? And he adopted him and made him his son. I can't say I understand his logic, but then, I never did. I guess I never will," Dick remarked sadly, lowering his face.
For the first time, Alfred saw with absolute clarity. "Oh, my boy,” he muttered aghast that he had missed this hidden pain for so long. “I had no idea that... Has he never spoken to you... explained..." Alfred was at a loss for words. He reached out and placed his hand on Dick's arm.
Grayson lifted his head and forced a half smile. The mask Bruce had taught him to wear dropped down into place, shielding his true emotions. "Must be the wine, Alf. Don't know what's come over me. I better be going," he dismissed easily.
"No, not yet. We need to talk about this."
"It's in the past. It's over. We move on."
"Bullshit." Dick was stunned. In all the years he’d known Alfred Pennyworth, he’d never heard him say anything so coarse. "My boy, do you have any idea of why he didn't adopt you?"
"Yeah, I asked him and he told me at Donna's wedding.” The words rushed back.
Bruce glanced up at Alfred, fire and anger evident.
“She told you what?” Alfred asked gently, unable to believe what the trembling child had just related. He ran his hand through Dick’s jet back hair trying to comfort the distressed child.
“She said... that Bruce was going to be my.... new father.” Dick was sobbing as he spoke... sobs that were being wrenched from his broken heart. “I don’t want... a new father. I... already have a... father. I know my daddy is dead... but I still love him. Bruce, I don’t want you to be... my new father.”
Bruce Wayne wrapped the crying child in his arms and began to rock him gently. “Shhh, Dick. Shhh. It’s going to be okay. I promise you, it is going to be okay.” For some time, Wayne held the small, trembling boy. Finally, as the sobs subsided, he lifted Dick’s tear stained face. “I’m going to make you a promise and I always keep my promises.”
Wide blue eyes stared up at him and Bruce Wayne’s own heart lurched. When he got his hands on the social worker who had so carelessly dismissed Dick’s father and upset the child to this extent, he wouldn’t be held responsible for his actions.
“I promise that no matter what happens you will always have a home here. And I promise that I will never attempt to make myself your father. Not now, not in a year’s time, not even when you are an old man. John Grayson is the only father you will ever have. That is an honour that is his alone.”
Dick threw his arms around Bruce and held him tight. “Thank you, Bruce. Thank you.” He kept repeating those words over and over again....
Tears were welling in Alfred's tired eyes as he finished recounting the story. He took out a handkerchief and dabbed them. "Master Bruce has honoured that promise in spite of his own desire to officialise that which he holds in his heart. That, and that alone, is the reason why he has never taken the steps to adopt you. If it weren’t for that promise, he would have done so long ago.”
For several moments there was silence between the two lone occupants of the huge room. Alfred continued to silently berate himself for not having realized that this was a source of pain for Dick while Dick struggled to assimilate what he’d been told. All the years of wondering and believing that Bruce simply hadn’t cared enough or that he simply hadn’t found the time to adopt him were suddenly obliterated. Before Dick could even begin to consciously comprehend the impact of this information, Bruce walked into the room looking for Alfred.
“Alfred, I’m... oh, Dick. I didn’t know you were here.” Immediately, Bruce froze. It was obvious he had walked in on something. The two men stared at him equally troubled. Alfred quickly composed himself and Dick rose to his feet blinking, his young face strained and looking almost stunned. “Did I interrupt something?”
“No,” Dick stated quickly, forcing a smile. “I was just getting some information from Alfred. I needed some dates for some official paper work.” He deliberately looked at his watch. “Hell, it’s got late. I better be going. Thanks, Alf. I’ll have to grab some of that divine apple pie next time I drop in.” Dick turned and headed for the door. He needed to get away so he could get his mind around all of this. “See you, Bruce.”
“Good luck with your exams tomorrow, son,” Bruce called after him. He watched Dick stop.
The word ‘son’ rang in Dick’s ears like a declaration. The younger man turned and stared at Bruce like he was seeing him for the first time. Slowly, he approached the man who had raised him and offered his hand.
Bruce took it curiously.
“Thanks,” Dick whispered, emotionally.
“For what?” Bruce asked, a confused smile claiming his puzzled face. “For wishing you luck with your exams?”
Dick stood for several seconds and then without warning or prompting, he hugged this man who had loved him enough to honour a promise Dick didn‘t even remember him making. The embrace was long and warm.
Dick pulled away, whispered ‘ thank you’ again and walked out of the room, a smile of pure happiness gradually settling on his lips as years of confusion and hurt melted away. Now, it all made sense. Now, he understood why.
© May 2004 Aussie Nightwriter : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to DC comics and thank them sincerely for turning a blind eye so I can borrow them. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.