Nights off are like scoops of ice cream. You get them few and far between, and when you do, you savor them.
Of course, unless you’re a costumed superhero and burn thousands of calories a day, then you can eat ice cream for breakfast. Nights off? They still come few and far between.
Tonight’s an exception. Last night, there was a Blackgate Prison escape, and the original Batman was preoccupied. With what, he was really tight lipped about, so I didn’t push. Ever since he’s come back from the “grave,” he’s actually been more open, so when he shut up, I figured things were just getting back to normal.
Soooo, after working until daybreak with the Birds of Prey, Batman left me a message on my forehead while I was passed out on the Manor’s couch.
“Take the night off.”
Not even a “good job.”
It’s good to have him home.
With a bass guitar on my back and the shades of a blue singer on my nose, I start into the Mosey’s Jazz Bar in Old Gotham. I usually pair with James Branson and Lace Grace. James is a beatnik with a soul patch and spiky, brown hair. Lace is a beauty with glittering eyes and long, curly, raven hair. I went to college with both of them, and we dropped out almost at the same time. Them, to go professional; me because, well…you’ve heard the stories, real and gossip.
“Oh, you’re here, Dick.” Lace kisses me on the cheek. “I thought you were going to bail on us again.”
James shakes my hand. “Maybe we can actually play this time.”
Last time, the JLA had to wrangle all the metas because of the Starheart’s influence. Before that, the Joker had set up an elaborate scheme with dominos. Prior to that, Damian had stolen a bike and went undercover to expose a child fighting ring.
Yeah, I have the same problem making dates. Going out with anyone outside of the superhero field is tough. “Normal” people just don’t understand, which is why I roll my eyes when my cell phone rings and I see the number. I just know I’m never playing with Lace and James again.
Like I said, I’m part of the JLA now. Going to the watchtower is just another day at the office, but getting a call from Batman, who isn’t part of it now, from the watchtower? It’s a little unnerving, and watching him stand with his disconcerting pose—arms crossed, eyes glued to the two-way mirror looking into the Infirmary—is just scary.
“I thought I had the night off, or did I read the Post-It stuck to my forehead wrong?” I approach.
Bruce pulls off his cowl. “We need to talk.”
Bruce Wayne to Dick Grayson, not Batman to um…Batman. That only happens if something bad happens, y’know like he’s had his back broken and wants me to take over for him—after he’s given the cowl to a psychopath.
Don’t go there, Grayson.
He nods into the Infirmary. “That.”
Oooh-kay. I try to hide my smirk, but it’s hard. “Is there a reason why Damian’s throwing a bedpan at Donna?”
The kid’s spry, even with his left hand taped from his knuckles to his elbow and Batman Band-Aids splattered across his ripped cheeks.
His injuries slap me across the face. “What happened?”
“Riddler. He’s more dangerous now than he was in the past.”
“You getting Alzheimer’s, old man? I remember him teaming with Hush not too long ago to manipulate everyone for and against you, including but not limited to Ra’s al Ghul.”
Bruce remains stoic. “He had Damian for four hours before I could get to him.”
Oh, God. “Is he okay?” I can’t keep the worry from my voice.
“He’ll be okay, but…deal with this.”
I snort. “What? Me? Why do I have to?”
Concern, possibly helplessness, draws lines across Bruce’s usually grim face. “You raised him for the last year. He listens to you.”
Another snort. “Are you serious? He patronizes me, thinks I’m nothing more than your charity case. You’re his father. He worships the ground you walk on.”
Bruce’s stoic composure resides once more. “Humor me.”
I roll my eyes, but do what he asks. Why? I wonder that sometimes, too.
Taking a bracing breath, I enter the room as antiseptic rains down upon me.
“Harlot!” Damian shouts. “You don’t even deserve to be his—”
Damian freezes in mid-throw, an IV holder in his hand like a javelin.
“Put that down now, or you’re looking at washing the Batmobile for a year,” I order, and surprisingly, like a good little soldier, he complies.
I smile at Donna, who looks like she’s about ready to take on the Underworld. “Thanks, Donna.”
“Oh, honey, you have no idea how much you owe me.”
“I lived with him for a year. You’ve been with him fifteen minutes max. Who wins in this equation?”
Donna laughs. “Neither way do you.”
Once she leaves, I turn to the little culprit sitting cross-legged on the gurney-bed. “What gives you the right?”
The brat snorts. “She’s nothing more than a—”
“No! No excuses, no whining, no threats or jabs. I want the truth, kiddo. What the hell gives you the right to throw stuff at Donna, disobey your father, and get me called up to the watchtower on my night off?”
Damian mumbles something, his head ducked. Is he actually ashamed?
“Sorry. Didn’t quite catch that. Mind speaking up for the class?”
“You didn’t come!”
Slapped across the face a second time in five minutes. “Wait. What?”
Damian’s face scrunches, kind of like Bruce’s does when he’s angry at me. “You said if I were ever in trouble, you’d come!”
“I didn’t know!”
“Then what good are you!”
“Hold on a sec.” I touch my suddenly throbbing head. “You’re throwing stuff at Donna and jumping around like a monkey because I didn’t save you?”
Damian averts his eyes like a little kid after he’s broken a window. “When my grandfather threw Drake off a building, you caught him. When the JLA call, you go running, but when I’m tied up and forced to listen to a lunatic with a question mark make horrid jokes for four hours, you lollygag.”
Eleven year olds should never say “lollygag.”
Slowly letting out a breath, I fall onto the gurney next to him and sit the guitar case between my legs. For a moment, I’m reminded once more that Damian might be a little demon, but he’s still just a kid.
“You like being Robin.”
“I am Robin.”
“Actually, Robin was my name, but we won’t go there.” Jason. Tim. Stephanie. Back to Tim. Now Damian. Yeah, let’s not go there today, at least. “Your dad found you.”
“He’s my father, not my partner.”
“He’s my father,” he repeats, “not my partner.”
I find myself twiddling with the top of the guitar bag before I ruffle his hair. Then, almost naturally, I drop my arm to his shoulders and hold him close, pressing my lips down on top of his head. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere between Bruce’s “death” and now, I won the little demon.
Scratch that. Between Bruce’s “death” and Talia’s attempt to kill me, I won this kid, and somewhere between Bruce’s “death” and now, he’s won me.
“What’s that?” He points to my guitar.
“Oh, this old thing?” I unzip the bag and show him the sparkling new Fender Stand Precision Bass with all the bells and whistles guitars can have. “It’s a bass guitar. You play?”
He shakes his head and rubs the stubborn tears from his softening eyes. I scooch back on the bed and pat the mattress. He obliges, snuggling before me, and I situate the guitar on his lap. He struggles when I try to position his fingers.
“Hey, hey, hey…come on, now. You want to learn, don’t you?”
Damian glances over his shoulder. “Did my father teach you?”
I laugh. “No. I actually learned to play the guitar when I was traveling with my parents in the circus. Luckily, I had a knack for acrobatics, but if I would have fallen into the net too many times, then I might have been a musician.”
“Or you could have been a buffoon.”
I slap the kid playfully on the back. “Hey, watch that.”
Working his fingers across the strings, I try to think of a song Damian would like, and it comes easily. “So sick of the hobos, always looking for change…”
I’m halfway through “Hate My Life” by Theory of a Deadman (sorry, Boston) when I ask, “I’ll speak to your dad, but…what do you think about coming to live with me at Wayne Tower again? Perhaps just for weekends? We’ll see how things go from there.”
Damian nods curtly. “All right.”
He follows my fingers. “Perhaps I was wrong.”
“You are a buffoon.”
“Don’t make me tie you to the toilet again.”
Watching from the two-way mirror, Bruce narrows his eyes. A hard hand clasps his shoulder, but he knows who’s behind him already.
The smile in Superman’s voice is annoying. “You must have done something right.”
Bruce watches as his eldest son laughs, and for the briefest of moments, a miracle occurs. Damian grins, but he quickly hides it before Dick can see it.
Bruce does, though, and like his youngest son, he allows a brief smile. “No, Clark. Alfred did.”