LinkExchange FORWARD

Growing Pains
By Syl Francis

"Children without a childhood are tragic." Mendele Mocher Seforim

Robin couldn't believe it. It wasn't his fault; why couldn't Batman understand? As always, Batman hadn't uttered a word through the whole ordeal. The Gotham City police had come in lights flashing and ordered the Titans to cease and desist. The GCPD then hauled the junior superheroes in to jail.

Sam Ryder, Gotham's newly elected district attorney, and Lt. Bullock, the GCPD head of major crimes, had been lying in wait as Robin and the rest of the Titans dramatically broke into the James Street Branch of the Gotham City National Bank. The young heroes entered as only they could: Robin and Speedy rappelled in; Wonder Girl glided in gracefully, landing gently on her tiptoes; Kid Flash simply appeared in a blur; he was carrying Aqualad who looked green around the gills (as Speedy said later).

The Titans had been set up, of course.

Apparently the DA's office received a tip that a heist was being planned for that night by the same gang of kids who'd committed a string of bank robberies in the past weeks. The one similarity tying all of the robberies together was that the gang dressed up like the Teen Titans. The heroes were obviously being impersonated, but the whole thing had become a media circus. Several groups were calling for the disbanding of the Teen Titans.

Earlier that night, Robin and the other Titans met in the Batcave to brainstorm possible scenarios to clear their names. Unfortunately, Batman and the rest of the JLA had forbidden their junior partners from getting involved in order to avoid any further confusion. Naturally, the Titans were upset with the situation and with the JLA's seemingly unfair restriction.

Speedy, as usual, was ranting to no one in particular. Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Wonder Girl were each sitting glumly on whatever chairs were available, which this being the Batcave, were few.

"I don't get it!" Speedy said; he'd been complaining almost nonstop for an hour. "We could be useful in finding these imposters. Instead, GA and his pals send us to our rooms like we're kids, or something! Our motto should be: The Teen Titans--Saving the World before Curfew!"

"We are kids," Robin said without looking up. "And like it or not, we're also underage." Robin turned around and looked at the others shrugging. "When the JLA pulls rank, we have no option but to obey."

"No option but to obey," Speedy mimicked sarcastically. "Brother, aren't we the good little Daddy's Batboy?"

Robin's cheeks flared crimson…

"Go on Grayson!" Dick's inner voice suddenly urged. "Punch his lights out!"

…but as always with Speedy, Robin kept his anger in check and turned back to his computer search. He's not worth it, Robin replied to his inner voice.

"Yeah, right!"

Robin sighed inwardly. Lately, this unbidden commentary kept running through his head almost nonstop. Sometimes he felt as if an alien had suddenly invaded his head and was sucking out his brain. Robin had taken to calling his rebellious inner voice "un-Dick" because of its irritating tendency to urge him to commit some action that went against his better judgement.

"What would you have us do, Harper?" Kid Flash said. Sometimes he had little use for Speedy. Robin might be able to put with him, but Kid Flash always jumped in and challenged him. "You're such a hotshot. You think we should all just disobey our partners on your say-so? I happen to respect Uncle Barry a little too much to ruin our relationship just because you're feeling dissed-off!"

"Boys, please!" Wonder Girl pleaded quietly. "Let's not argue. Roy, Dick's right--"

Speedy interrupted her.
"Of course Dick's right, Donna. The kid's always right isn't he?" Speedy said sarcastically. He walked up to Robin and placed his right hand on the shoulder of the intensely concentrating Boy Wonder. "Mister 'Self-Discipline' here," Speedy said derisively. "Mister 'Never Makes a Mistake' is always right!"

Wonder Girl looked hurt by Speedy's outburst.

Robin, who hadn't missed Speedy's referring to him as a "kid," looked at the unwelcome hand on his shoulder.

"Oh, lemme break his hand!" un-Dick begged. "Plee-ease? A coupla fingers? Just the pinky? Come on, it'll be fun!"

"Move it or lose it." Robin said quietly, his voice taking on a dangerously icy timber. Speedy swallowed and immediately removed his hand. Robin allowed himself a smug smile.

"Heh. Psych! How do you put up with the guy, anyway?"

Speedy tried to cover up his nervous reaction by sidling away nonchalantly. Robin might be younger by several months, and he might dress like an overgrown elf, but Speedy had seen him in action. Robin could probably wipe the floor with him.

"Roy, you are such a jerk," Aqualad said disgustedly, his arms crossed in front of him.

Robin, who'd lost interest in the conversation almost as soon as Speedy moved away from him, broke in suddenly.

"Hell-o! What's this?" he said.

"What's what, Leaderman?" asked Kid Flash.

"Hold on a sec…" Robin said quietly, not taking his eyes off his computer screen. "Look at this, guys!" Robin sounded excited.

"Okay, we're looking," Kid Flash said. "Uh, what are we looking at?"

"This!" Robin said triumphantly, pointing at the tactical display. Looking around at his team, Robin saw that they clearly did not understand what he was talking about.

"Okay, Grayson, wow 'em with your brilliance. Show 'em that keen, Bat-trained intelligence."

Sighing, Robin explained.

"Look at the map grid of the different locations the bank robbers have hit so far. Do you see a pattern?" Four heads shook in unison. Exasperated, Robin pointed out what to him was the obvious. "If you play connect the dots like so…" Robin touched a few keys on his computer console in rapid succession, "…voila!"

The grid was suddenly transformed into a bright red flashing line in the shape of the letter "T".

"Now if we stay within this pattern," Robin said, "I think we may be able to determine where the gang will strike next. Let's see if there are any other banks within the 'T'."

Sure enough, there was one immediately to the south of the most recent bank holdup.

"Bingo! Gotham National has a branch on James Street right along here," Robin said pointing at a grid square along the 'T'. "I'd better report this to Batman ASAP!"

Speedy immediately grabbed Robin's wrist as he was about place his call. "Hold it, Wonder Boy! Why call the big-bad Bat? I say we handle this ourselves."

"Ooooh, that's the second time he's laid his hands on you, Grayson. I think he wants you!"

Shut up, Robin replied annoyed. Keeping his eyes directly on Speedy's, Robin, without visible effort, removed Speedy's hand from his wrist. Speedy flinched; his wrist throbbed painfully where Robin had applied some type of freaky Ninja Vulcan nerve pinch.

The kid had a vice-like grip on him!

"Uh-uh, buddy," Robin said. "The JLA told us to stay put. Those were direct orders."

Speedy grinned derisively.

"What'sa matter, Bird-boy? Are you on such a short leash that your old man doesn't trust you to use your own judgement? Geez! Come on! It's us these scumbags have been impersonating. I say we go out and put a stop to them ourselves." He jutted his chin out defiantly. "I'm going, with or without you, fearless leader."

Robin looked around at the rest of his team. They were all in obvious agreement with Speedy.

"All right, Grayson, Harper's an idiot, but he's got a point. It's your reputations on the line, not the JLA's. Go on, kid Just this once, live dangerously. Break one of the Batman's precious rules!"

Okay, fine then, Robin thought nodding. "Let's go, Titans!"

The Titans staked out the bank, and at midnight, the approximate time of all the other robberies, they broke in through the roof entrance. Robin removed an electronic lock-pick from his utility belt. "Oh the toys Bat-Dad let's us play with! Ever think about becoming a second story man, kid?" The device was sensitive enough to override the bank's security system for approximately 45 seconds--just long enough to allow the junior superheroes entrance.

That was the last thing to go right that night.

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…" Robin listened in a daze to the arresting officer's droning voice. He couldn't believe it. This wasn't happening! How could everything have gone sour so quickly?

Years later, Robin would remember the short humiliating ride to the nearest precinct and what happened afterward. Each of the Titans was placed in a separate holding cell and made to wait.

Finally, the cell door opened. An ominous shadow fell over Robin.

Oh, God. I'm dead.

Robin looked up slowly, swallowing nervously. The Batman stood silently, grimly. A police sergeant from the juvenile division stood in respectful awe behind him. Finally, Batman gestured with a short of shake of his head. Follow me. Robin sighed and stood up.

Maybe they'll give me Life with no chance of parole, Robin thought hopefully.

They walked down what seemed an interminably long, filthy corridor. Robin's sharp eyesight registered peeling plastered walls painted a repulsive apple green from floor to waist level; from there up to the ceiling, what had once been white paint had long ago turned into its present state of nasty smoke-smudged dishwater gray.

Robin's olfactory senses were assaulted by several smells that he preferred to leave unidentified.

Why doesn't Batman say anything, he thought desperately.

They were led into a larger conference room. The other Titans were already there, as were Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and the Flash. Commissioner Gordon, Ryder, and Bullock added a somber finishing touch to the proceedings.

"They were exactly where you said they'd be, Batman," Gordon said without preamble.

"Huh?" Robin said startled. Batman had set them up?

Gordon continued without pause. "The actual bank robbers were at the First Union Bank of Gotham, just as you said."

Robin looked at Gordon without comprehension. "I don't understand, sir."

"What the Commissioner here means, Boy Wonder," Ryder broke in, "is that you and your junior hero friends are free to go. While we were capturing you, the real bank robbers were caught over on the north side of James Street. Consider yourselves lucky that I got the word quickly. We were just about to initiate a strip search, and I don't believe the young lady would have found that very pleasant."

Wonder Girl gasped in embarrassment; her cheeks flushed furiously pink.

"Hey, watch your mouth!" Speedy said. He'd jumped up instantly, kicking his chair back in anger.

"Speedy! Back off!" Green Arrow said sharply.


"I said, back off!" Green Arrow repeated. Speedy ducked his head, and in a fit of childish fury removed his hat and slammed it on the conference table. Nevertheless, he sat straight down.

The Flash spoke for the senior partners. "We'd like to thank you, Commissioner, and you Mr. Ryder, for releasing our youngsters to our custody." Robin noted with a twinge of longing that the Flash stood immediately behind his partner and nephew, Kid Flash, and affectionately held his shoulders.

"Believe me, Flash," Ryder replied coldly, "I do this against my better judgement. These kids have powers and abilities far beyond most people; they've shown me tonight that they lack the self-discipline to act responsibly. So, please pardon me for saying this, but first thing tomorrow, I'm filing a court order requesting--no demanding that as long as these young people are within the city limits of Gotham, they are to cease any super-hero activity."

"This is ridiculous--" Gordon interrupted. "Robin is one of the finest young men I've ever known!"

"Be that as it may," Ryder answered. "Tomorrow, I talk to the judge. Until then, Batman, and the rest of you heroes, your junior partners are considered persona non grata here in Gotham! Good-night." Ryder nodded curtly, spun on his heel and exited the room.

Robin stood dumbfounded. He couldn't believe it. This was bad for all of the Titans, but unlike him, they all lived in other towns. Gotham was his home, and Robin had just been told in no uncertain terms that he wasn't welcome here.

The long drive to the Batcave was punctuated with a forbidding, unbroken silence. Robin grew increasingly worried the nearer they got. Why didn't Batman say something? Robin admitted he'd screwed up royally. He'd wanted to report his findings to Batman as soon as he figured (incorrectly as it turned out) that the bank robbers were going to hit the James Street branch of Gotham National. Unfortunately, he'd allowed Speedy to badger him into handling the situation by themselves.

No! Robin gave himself a mental headshake. He was the leader; it had been his decision to give the go ahead. He wouldn't blame his poor judgement on someone else. He was ready to take whatever punishment Batman dished out.

So why didn't Batman say anything?
Robin opened his mouth a couple of times to apologize, but thought better of it. He'd already explained the Titans' actions (such as they were) to the GCPD and JLA. Batman already knew the whole story. It was his turn to speak.

As the Batmobile roared through the holographic cliffside that led to the Batcave, Robin began a series of calming, breathing exercises to help him mentally prepare for the worst. He didn't have long to wait.

When they emerged from the Batmobile, the Dynamic Duo stood and faced each other across the top of the vehicle's canopy. Robin's mindseye imagined an endlessly dark chasm separating them. He could actually feel Batman's cold fury, a gathering gloom that was slowly enveloping the Batcave. Batman methodically removed his cowl and instantaneously reverted back to billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne.

Robin followed suit and took off his mask. His transformation was even more dramatic than Batman's had been. Whereas before, the self-assured, laughing daredevil known as Robin had been standing before Batman, the young vigilante was suddenly replaced by the exceptionally boyish face of Wayne's not quite yet fourteen-year-old ward and heir, Dick Grayson.

It took all of Dick's self-resolve to look his guardian in the eye. Wayne held his gaze for a long cold instant, then abruptly turned away and headed for the uniform vault. Dick remained behind for a few seconds, watching Wayne's retreating back in soundless despair.

Please say something, Bruce! Dick pleaded wordlessly. He closed his eyes and sighed to himself.

This was going to be even worse than the time Robin had set off after Clayface alone. He'd only been Robin for about three months and was under strict orders not to go out solo. Robin's confrontation with Clayface ended as expected--he was knocked out cold and thrown into Gotham Bay. If Batman hadn't intervened, his junior partner's career would've ended almost as soon as it began.

Robin wasn't allowed to come out and play again until almost three months of intensive retraining.

His head down, Dick followed Wayne to the uniform vault.

After they had changed into civilian clothing, Wayne, his back still turned to Dick, finally addressed him. "I need to investigate Ryder's threats about a court order against the Teen Titans; therefore, until I clear up this little mess, all Robin activities have to stop."

Wayne turned around and faced his stricken ward.

"Until further notice, Robin is off limits. You are confined to the following outside activities--school, library, and Sunday services. If you need to go to the library, you must first clear it with either Alfred or myself; otherwise, you are to come straight home from school."

Wayne paused to let it sink in.

"You will do your homework immediately, then do a three hour training session in the gym. After dinner, you will continue your forensics studies until nine o'clock. Monday and Tuesday evenings you will read from the textbooks; Wednesday and Thursday evenings you'll do the labs. I will give you a weekly exam on Friday before my evening patrol."

Dick winced mentally. Wayne's tests were tougher than anything he ever got in school.

"The hour between nine and ten p.m. is your personal time, confined to your room, of course, lights out at ten. Wake up will be the usual: oh-four-thirty. Morning workout is from oh-four-forty-five until six. Then showers, breakfast, and school." Wayne steadily held Dick's eyes. "Do you have any questions?"

Dick swallowed, began to shake his head, no, then on second thought, nodded instead. "Ye-yes-s, s-sir." Dick managed to stutter. His voice had recently started to change, and whenever Dick became suddenly agitated, his voice cracked. "If--if Mister Ryder--uh--if Mister Ryder's charges are dropped, then--?"

Wayne nodded. "If the court order that Ryder threatened us with is dropped--then we'll discuss any future Robin activities at that time."

"Yessir," Dick whispered. "Bruce, what if--? What if the charges aren't dropped? What then? What happens to Robin?" What happens to me, he wanted to add.

"We'll cross that bridge when we have to. Go on upstairs, chum. Shower and bed."

Dick nodded, his head down. Out of the corner of his eye, Dick saw Alfred, their butler, standing on the staircase in respectful silence. He knew that Alfred would never interfere between "Batman and Robin" business, but would in his own quiet way, provide his strength and support.

Unable to fall asleep immediately, Dick lay staring up at the ceiling. Sent to his room in disgrace! He hadn't felt this alone since the first night he'd spent here. His earlier conversation with Bruce kept echoing in his head:

"What if the charges aren't dropped? What happens to Robin?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we have to…"

"What happens to Robin…?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we have to…"

Dick finally fell into a fitful sleep

He suddenly wakes up and finds himself surrounded by people who are laughing and pointing at him.

Speedy: "Mister 'Never Makes a Mistake' is always right!"

Commissioner Gordon: "You have the right to remain silent…"

Bullock: "You, Bird-boy, we're gonna clip your wings! Strip off your feathers!"

Wonder Girl: "Yeah, Boy Wonder…take it *all* off!"

Dick suddenly finds himself standing fully nude in front of everyone; he tries unsuccessfully to cover himself.

Wonder Woman laughs: "He's so small, Batman; what's he good for?"

Batman holds his chin thoughtfully and studies his junior partner critically.

Batman: "Not much, I'm afraid. Incapable of acting on his own Can't follow simple instructions. I'm afraid I'll have to trade him in for a new partner. I'm sure there are plenty others who'd want to be Robin."

Dick, pleading: "No, Batman, you can't! I'm sorry, please!"

Batman: "Sorry, kid, but you really laid an egg this time! Even I can't get you out of it! Oh well, you're an acrobat. I'm sure you'll land on your feet! See ya!"

Dick suddenly finds himself outside the locked gates of Wayne Manor. A sign is posted at eye level: "Robin fired. Dark Knight Seeks New Partner! Full benefits. Inquire within."

Dick grabs the iron railings in desperation.

Dick: "Bruce! Alfred! Please, I'm sorry! I want to come home! Please, let me in! Please, I want to come home!"

The speaker to his right comes alive; he suddenly hears Alfred's mocking voice: "But surely young master, you always knew the position was merely temporary. After all, Master Bruce is from one of Gotham's oldest and wealthiest families, while you… you're nothing but a circus acrobat. A gypsy no less! Merely a passing whim on the part of Master Bruce's kind heart. thank goodness it's finally passed!"

Dick feels hot tears coursing down his cheeks. "No…no! Please…no!"

"Now please, sir, it's time…"

"…to get up. The Master's wishes, I'm afraid."

Dick sat up, entangled in his sheets. "What--?" he gasped, his heart beating rapidly. He looked out into the darkened shadows of his bedroom. "What--? Who?" His bedside lamp suddenly came on, startling the sleep from his eyes. It was all a dream?

"Good morning, Master Dick. I'm afraid it's…" Alfred gave a droll pause, "…reveille. Here's a glass of orange juice to get you started. The Master hasn't yet returned from his evening's adventures."

So, Batman had been called out again last night. Oh well, even if Robin hadn't been grounded, he still wouldn't have been allowed to go out again on a school night. Anyway, Alfred had only added this last bit of morning news to let Dick know that he had a few extra minutes to get ready. After years of living in Wayne Manor, Dick had learned to read most of Alfred's encoded messages.

Dick nodded his understanding, and rubbed his eyes wearily. "Thanks, Alfred."

The faithful butler, more father and friend than servant, smiled sympathetically at his young charge and quietly bowed out of the room. Dick reached for the orange juice and drank it down in two quick gulps. Sighing deeply, he tossed off his covers and headed for the bathroom. He splashed cold water on his face then quickly brushed his teeth.

He wondered what emergency could possibly have needed Batman a second time in one night. He'd know soon enough probably. That is, if Batman was still willing to talk to him about his cases. Batman was a little obsessed that way--he'd talk to Robin about a case he was working on, but he wouldn't talk to Dick. Sometimes he acted as if Dick and Robin were two different people.

Maybe I am, Dick thought, then amended ruefully, or rather, maybe we are. Geez, life sure could get complicated at times! I wonder if Wally has this problem? Dick abruptly shook himself back to the present and found his face staring back at him. On impulse, he checked himself for any signs of facial hair.


Why was he the last of all his friends on everything? Roy had been shaving--off and on--for almost a year now. Wally had suddenly shot up to six feet in his stockings almost overnight. And Garth, who knew what changes the Atlantean teen may be going through? Dick suspected something momentous, although he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

On the other hand, Donna's changes had been a little more interesting, causing Dick to blush guiltily whenever he thought about her. Privately, he resented the way Roy was beginning to act so possessively towards her.

As for himself, Dick was constantly annoyed at his voice, the one sure sign of his emerging puberty. There wasn't much else, though. At almost fourteen, he was still woefully small for his age, barely topping the scales at five feet three and one hundred twenty pounds.

"Hardly the stuff to strike fear into the superstitious hearts of criminals, Grayson!" Dick said sourly. "Yeah, well, the Robin kiddy getup doesn't help matters much, either."

Dick paused in mild surprise.

"Funny, Grayson," he said to his mirror face, "you've never been ashamed of Robin before." His face stared back thoughtfully, but voiced no reply. Dick dropped his eyes. "Guess I'd better get down to the gym before the Boss gets home and finds me AWOL."

Dick was again mildly shocked, this time by the bitterness in his voice. He'd never before felt anything that Bruce said or did to him was even remotely unfair.

Bruce made the rules. Dick obeyed. Period.

Since his parents' deaths, being Robin was the single consuming passion of his existence. Robin didn't leave time for any other interests or friends outside of the Job, but that had never been of any importance. After all, he was the Batman's partner! He got to take down scumbags and other lowlifes who preyed on the weak and innocent. He'd even taught Bruce a thing or two about acrobatics and felt secretly pleased that at least in this area, his skills were superior to his mentor's.

Well, maybe he held a slight edge anyway.

Dick felt a sudden cold fist in the pit of his stomach. What would he do if Robin *was* taken away from him?

"We'll cross that bridge when we have to…" Wayne's voice echoed ominously in his head.

It was an extremely subdued Dick Grayson who finally stepped onto the practice mat.

    At promptly six o'clock, Alfred stopped Dick's workout. "Shower, then breakfast, Master Dick." Dick nodded distractedly. He was concentrating on his cool down exercises. Dick inhaled deeply, then shook his shoulders. Time to shower. The familiar roar of the Batmobile suddenly reverberated through the caverns.

Daddy's home, Dick thought sardonically.

Again, Dick did a double take and assessed his mental attitude.

Stow the negative vibes, Grayson! Dick chastised himself silently. Whatever happens to you is entirely your fault! Remember that! You gave the stupid order to the Titans! And it was your lousy detective work that got you and the others into this mess. Don't blame Bruce for your mistakes. And certainly don't blame him for being a parent.

"Parent?" His annoying other self scoffed. "Is this how Mom or Dad would've treated you? Bruce isn't a parent! He's too busy being Batman! And where does he get off thinking he's capable of raising a kid? He's treating you like one of those lowlife scumbags you love to crack down on! You've been bagged, tagged, and sentenced, kid. Now all you have to do is serve out your punishment and hope for an early parole."

Dick shook his head in vehement denial. You don't know what you're talking about. Bruce is a cool guy. He's just a little intense.

"Cool? Intense? Don't you mean cold and obsessed? When's the last time you did anything together besides bust heads? Sorry, but I can't see you and Bruce at the annual school picnic. Face it, Grayson, you'd've been better off if you'd stayed at the orphanage. At least the bullies there never pretended they wanted you around!"

Dick shook off the voice and stood silently as the Batmobile settled into its hangar. Batman stepped out. Dick waved tentatively, but Batman walked by him without acknowledgement and disappeared into the uniform vault. Dick shrugged dejectedly and headed upstairs.

The Gotham Gazette's headline caught Dick's eye immediately: District Attorney Just Says No to Teen Titans!

Alfred looked upon his young master with sympathy. In his school uniform--dark blue blazer, matching tie, and grey slacks--Dick seemed so young and vulnerable. It was the eyes, Alfred had decided when Dick first came to live with them. They held a haunted quality that reminded Alfred of another lonely little boy who had stolen his heart long ago. The pain and hurt reflected in Dick's eyes never failed to sound an empathic chord within Alfred. This obviously called for Dick's favorite breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes.

Dick read on: "Gotham City may have seen the last of the junior vigilante, Robin the Boy Wonder. In an unprecedented press conference late yesterday evening, District Attorney Ryder issued a statement saying that he was requesting a court order calling for the immediate suspension of all under-age superhero activity within the city limits. 'These young people, while well-intentioned, do not have the necessary maturity and self-discipline to be allowed to simply run around the city unsupervised…'"

The story's lead paragraph just about killed whatever appetite Dick might've had left. Even Alfred's famous pancakes didn't interest him. Dick went through the motions at the table, but felt too upset to eat anything. He forced himself to swallow a couple of forkfuls of his breakfast, but anymore and he was afraid he'd just lose it. He drank his milk in order to have something in his stomach, but that was all he felt he could safely keep down.

"Is that all you're going to eat?" The cold hard voice behind him startled Dick into almost spilling his milk. He quickly put his glass down, stood and spun around. Dick felt his cheeks burning crimson and thought he was going to hyperventilate. What was the matter with him? He'd been grounded before, usually for some carelessness on his part during patrol. He normally accepted his punishment willingly, like a man.

It was all part of the training, part of the Job.

"I don't have to remind you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day," Bruce said.

"Oooh, think he learned that in a Bat-parenting training manual?"

"I--ah, uh, that is, I'm not all that hungry, Bruce. Alfred, thanks, I'm sorry."

"Great comeback, Grayson."

Bruce looked at him worriedly. "Not hungry? You're not coming down with something are you, chum? Alfred, his face looks kind of… flushed."

Alfred looked at Dick critically, then placed his palm lightly on Dick's forehead. "Hmm. You don't seem feverish, Master Dick. But perhaps we shouldn't take any chances, Master Bruce. At his age, boys are somewhat prone to sudden fevers and chills."

Dick looked from Alfred to Bruce in a state of near panic. Confined to the Manor all day, then all night? There wasn't any way he could face that, no matter how high a temperature he might have. And they were talking about him as if he wasn't even there!

"Maybe, you're right, Alfred. Dick--!"

"No way! I'm not staying home all day! I'm not sick, for crying aloud! I'm just not hungry. I mean who could be…with headlines about them splattered all over the place? Please, Bruce, if I can't be Robin until this mess is cleared up like you said… please don't stop me from just being me, too."

He was interrupted by the sound of the school van pulling up the front drive.

"Please, Bruce? I'm fine, really!"

"Alfred, you said he wasn't feverish?" Bruce looked at his friend. Alfred sighed and shrugged his shoulders; he was used to young men in this house who were incapable of staying in bed for their own good. "Okay, Dick, go on to school. But remember--"

"I know, sir. Straight home, yadda, yadda, yadda."

Bruce gave him a rare smile. "Get out of here, brat!"

    The inner glow that the warm smile from his guardian evoked within the young teen lasted until fourth hour boys' gym. This term the class was learning the basics of gymnastics. The coach had the captain of the boys' gymnastics team demonstrate the proper positions on the high bar.

Dick was bored out of his mind. He'd been doing this stuff since before he could walk. Unfortunately, the coach also noticed Dick's lack of interest.

"Grayson!" Startled, Dick looked up from his reverie and jumped to his feet. Coach James was a stickler for an almost military formality in class. The advantages of a parochial school education, Dick thought ironically.

"Yes, sir!"

"Why don't you demonstrate the basics of the high bar to the class?" James' voice showed he'd brook no nonsense. Dick swallowed.

"Fine mess you've gotten yourself into, Grayson."

He'd just broken Rule Four: Never call attention to yourself.

"Great going, especially since you've been grounded for breaking Rule One: Never disobey any of the Batman's instructions"

Dick sighed to himself! Now, if could just remember to hold back a bit. Dick walked up to the chalk bucket and began dusting his hands.

"Why should you hold back?" His perverse inner voice whispered. "After all, it's public knowledge that you were once a member of the Flying Graysons. Well, maybe your classmates don't know it, but a lot of Bruce's acquaintances sure do. Remember how they used to look at you funny whenever you said something in Circus-slang?"

Yeah, what of it? Dick replied in annoyance. And why don't you just shut up so's I can concentrate?

"What do you need to concentrate for, Grayson? You're just gonna play it down anyway! But why should you? Why don't you just show that jerk, James, just how the Flying Graysons used to do it?"

Dick was about to shut out his rebel voice when he caught a glimpse of James and the gymnastics team captain sharing a smirk. That did it!

The Ringmaster's voice suddenly rang in Dick's head: La--dees and Gentlemen! Children of all ages! Your attention please! Dick Grayson, the youngest Flying Grayson will now demonstrate his death-defying quadruple flip, without the safety of a net!

The team captain approached Dick. "Here, Grayson, I'll give you a boost."

Dick shook his head. "That's okay," he said pointing at the springboard, "I can mount without help." The older student raised his eyebrows in surprise, then grinned.

"Hey, it's your funeral, kid!"

Dick positioned himself a few feet from the springboard, mentally prepared himself for his mount and pictured the routine in his head. Ready, he nodded at the coach.

Dick took off, quickly executed a triple handspring somersault, landed on the springboard with his back to the high bar, leaped vertically off the springboard, straight into a back flip, ending above the high bar. Not until he'd almost cleared over the bar did Dick finally catch it, one-handed.

Dick heard the collective gasp from the other students. He went into a short routine that was still superior to any currently being executed by anyone in the state although he did indeed hold back a bit. For a dismount, Dick achieved the desired momentum, released, gained the needed height, and performed a perfect quadruple spin.

And he sticks the landing, Dick thought smugly!

The next thing he knew, Dick was surrounded by his fellow gym students. They were actually cheering. He couldn't believe it! Dick looked around at the smiling faces in mild consternation.

"What did you do now, Grayson?" His inner voice sounded put out.

What do you mean, what did I do? Dick asked. This was your idea, remember?

"Oh, no, you don't put the blame on me! You're the one who just demonstrated to the whole school that you're some kind of world class gymnast. Just wait'll Bruce gets a wind of this!"

Dick felt that sudden cold fist of fear in his stomach again. Bruce…ohmygod.

"Grayson! That was fantastic!" Coach James was shouting. "After school I want to see you in my office, young man. We have to talk."

After school? Dick panicked. Oh, no! "Coach! Coach!"

Dick called trying to catch James' attention, but James was addressing the rest of the class. "Showers, men! And everybody uses soap today, that's an order!" The boys' laughter echoed through the gymnasium as they ran to the locker room.

Dick showered quickly and managed to catch James before the bell rang ending the period. "Coach James, sir, I'm sorry but I can't stay after school. I have to go straight home."

"Don't worry, I'll call your home and let your Mom know that I need you to stay a few minutes after class."

"Uh--I don't have a mother, sir…or father. My parents were killed a few years ago."

"I'm sorry, son. I didn't know that. I should know, I guess; but I'm still kind of new to the faculty." And there were a few things that for some reason others didn't deem important enough to fill me in on, he thought in disgust. "Whom should I speak to at home, then?"

"Alfred Pennyworth, I guess…he's our butler. Bruce Wayne, my guardian, will be at work; but Coach, really, I'd prefer you didn't call them. I-I'm grounded right now. I have to head straight home. That's part of the sentence." Dick explained eyes downcast.

Coach James' lips twitched in mild amusement, although he quickly hid it. "Don't worry, son, coaches have been greasing the skids for wayward athletes for generations now. You let me handle it."

"But, Coach James--"

"I'll handle it, Grayson! Now head on to class."

Before his resolve melted Dick refused to budge. "I'm sorry, sir, but I can't stay after school for athletics or any other after school activity. I have my academics and other… outside interests, that keep me from extracurricular activities. So, if you want to talk to me about gymnastics, then the answer is no."

James' eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"I'm sorry, Coach, but I'd have an unfair advantage over the other students. You see, my parents and I were professional aerialists, the Flying Graysons. When they were killed in a trapeze accident, well, it kinda broke up the act. I can't compete in amateur athletics; it wouldn't be fair to the other athletes. I'm sorry."

Dick turned away sadly.

"Grayson, you know that the rules have been changed. Today professionals can compete with amateurs, as long as they're willing to give up their professional status for the period of competition."

"I know that, sir, but it wouldn't be right. Thanks for asking, though; it's kind of nice to be asked." Dick looked at the coach with longing, then eyes downcast walked out of his office.

"Poor kid," James muttered sympathetically as he watched Dick's forlorn figure walk out. "I wonder what such a well-mannered kid could've done that resulted in his being grounded?" Especially by billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne, no less, he added to himself.

Ah, well. James had been a teacher and coach long enough to know that parents came in all shapes and sizes. Many times those who seemed to possess the least qualities to be good parents turned out to be the best ones. Maybe he'd have a little talk with Mister Wayne, nonetheless. Couldn't hurt to get to know his students' parents, now could it?

    "What were you thinking?" Wayne asked icily.

Dick sat with his head hung low.

"Brother, did you do a stupid thing!" his inner voice sneered.

Shut up, you! I'm already in enough trouble without you interrupting.

"Temper, temper!"

"I don't understand what's been going through your mind, young man. First you disobey direct orders, now you demonstrate to the entire school that you're an Olympic class athlete! Or, as Coach James said, better than Olympic class! Dick, what's gotten into you?"

Dick shrugged his shoulders, feeling deeply ashamed.

"Oh brother! Lookit Dickie-boy roll over and take it! Is this why you were trained? What a wuss!" un-Dick sounded thoroughly disgusted. "Look, kid, if the big-bad Bat won't let you be Robin, then Brucie here has no call not to let you be Dick Grayson. Remember, you were a Flying Grayson before you were ever the colorless, wimpy ward of this billionaire playboy!"

"Dick, look at me… you've never had trouble talking to me before. Tell me what's on your mind, son. We can work it through."

Dick finally snapped.

"I'm *not* your son! I'm nobody's son! My parents are dead, remember! You told me years ago that you would never be my father, only my partner. Well, I'm not your partner anymore! I'm just plain Dick Grayson, and I was a Flying Grayson before I was your charity case ward…before I was Robin! If you and the powers that be in Gotham won't let me be Robin anymore, then you have no right to keep me from being ME!"

Dick felt angry tears course unashamedly down his cheeks during his tirade. What was the matter with him? This wasn't him doing the talking.. it was that inner voice that had been getting him into so much trouble lately. How could he say such unforgivable things to Bruce? Dick didn't know, and at this point, he didn't care. He felt so alone--so abandoned--just like shortly after his parents' murder. He felt as if he had no one. His whole life was coming unglued, and he just couldn't put up a brave front anymore.

Dick suddenly felt as if he'd been putting on an act ever since his parents' murder. The Dick who'd been living in the Manor by day and playing Robin by night these past years was a lie, a phony. The prospect of never being allowed to be Robin again had apparently acted as the catalyst that suddenly woke him from a seemingly long dream, a continuing nightmare of self-denial over his parents' deaths.

Dick's stricken face contorted into all consuming grief.

"My--parents--are--dead," he sobbed uncontrollably, collapsing onto the floor. "They're dead."

Meanwhile, Wayne's reaction to Dick's apparent tantrum went from shock, to anger, and then back to stunned concern. He quickly hurried across the room to his ward and knelt beside him. Wayne took Dick by the shoulders and hugged him closely to him.

"Dick… Dick, I'm sorry, son. This is all *my* fault…what I said to you, all those years ago, about not being your father… I was scared, son. I didn't want to get close to anyone. After I lost my parents I was afraid to let anyone in. But long ago, I guess without either of us even being aware of it, you somehow found a way in. Dick you're more than a partner to me. You're my son… my son."

Dick's sobs began to quiet down.

"I don't know how we're going to fight this court order against Robin," Bruce continued, "but we will fight it. And we'll win…I promise you, Dick, we will win! But even if we didn't, even if Robin couldn't ever fly again, it just wouldn't matter, because you'd still be my son."

Dick looked up at Wayne, then turned away shaking his head in disbelief. "You're just saying that 'cause I'm acting like such a big baby."

He sniffed quietly and wiped his nose unselfconsciously on his sleeve.

Wayne gave Dick a stern look. "Have you ever known me to lie to you, chum?"

Dick solemnly shook his head, no. His tousled raven hair and blue eyes gave him an innocent sincerity that Wayne privately admitted was probably how Dick had worked his way into the Bat's cold heart. The kid's probably going to break a few female hearts as well, Wayne thought. Hmm-mm. I guess he'll take after me in other ways besides crime fighting.

Dick smiled guilelessly at the man whom he had loved like a father but had been too afraid to admit it to for so long.
.    Unable to resist the urge, Wayne playfully brushed a lock of hair from his ward's eyes. Yup, the kid has potential lady-killer written all over him. Wayne's normally taciturn expression softened a bit as he scrutinized Dick's open, upturned face. Hmm-mm. Still only peach fuzz, he thought affectionately, but his voice is definitely changing. Watch out, ladies, my little boy is growing up!

Wayne stood, then offered Dick a hand up.

"Come on, son," Wayne said, placing his hand on Dick's shoulder. "I think I smell some of Alfred's famous hot cocoa."

"Okay… Dad."

The End
Copyright 1999

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 1999 by .