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My Girl
by Syl Francis
Email:
efrancis@earthlink.net


Summary: After the murder of his circus parents, Dick Grayson comes to live at Wayne Manor. Learning to live in luxury while remembering Alfred's rules of age appropriate behavior can be confusing at times, but a babysitter? What's a kid who's training to become the partner of Gotham's coolest guy to do?

Acknowledgement: I'd like to thank Louise, Loren, and Cat for their assistance; their critical input was priceless in the final development of my story.

Disclaimer: All the characters are owned by DC Comics and Time/Warner; this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome!


"The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end." (Benjamin Disraeli)


Of all the wealthy manors in all the world, she had to walk into mine. I knew she was trouble the first time I laid eyes on her. Orange-red braids tied back with kelly-green ribbons. Tortoise-shell glasses that gave her a studious (yet, sexy) owl-like look. A smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, which added just a touch of character to an otherwise perfect complexion.

Behind the glasses, she had eyes that matched the color of her hair ribbons.

She had legs that went from here to--well to the ceiling it seemed. Gosh, but she was tall! I had to crane my neck back almost as far as when I was addressing Bruce … well, maybe Alfred. But, hey, I was only nine and until she walked through the door of the study I was quite reasonably and maturely explaining to Bruce why nine year old ex-acrobats didn't require the services of a … babysitter.

"I don't need a stinking babysitter! Mom and Dad always let me stay home alone! They never called a babysitter!" Well, hardly ever.

Bruce totally and unfairly ignored my perfectly sound argument.

"Captain Gordon's daughter has very graciously agreed to help us out of this spot, chum, and you are going to be nice to her! Now I don't want to hear any more on the subject, understood?" Even back then, Bruce wasn't big on conversation.

"But--"

"No 'buts!'" Bruce interrupted, holding out his hand. "Now scoot on up to your room and get ready for bed. The Gordons will be arriving soon, and I want you looking presentable when you meet Barbara."

I'd only been living with the guy for about five weeks, but I'd already grown used to that tone of finality.

Conversation over.

Master Bruce had spoken.

Thirty minutes later, I was being relentlessly subjected to Sergeant Major Alfred's military inspection of ears, clean hands, and fingernails, as well as his nightly litany of ceaseless interrogations:

"Did we brush our teeth, Master Dick?" He spoke politely, but there was something in the eyes. Almost as if he knew what I was thinking.

My first night here, I'd made the mistake of giving a flippant answer. "No, we didn't brush our teeth!"

Alfred's crossed arms and right eyebrow raised in silent disapproval met my broad grin. I felt the laughter die in my throat. Didn't these guys ever smile?

Now, five weeks later, I still held on somewhat rebelliously to the "age inappropriate" thought, but no longer dared to give it voice. His right eyebrow went up. He knew.

Insubordination died a quick death here in Happy Acres, I thought.

"Yessir," I mumbled.

"Very good, young sir. Did we wash our hair … with shampoo and not the bar of soap?"

Again, his voice dripped politeness, but his eyes … there was this gleam there … the same gleam a scientist had when he studied a bug under a microscope. I surrendered to the inevitable. He was a drill sergeant breaking down the raw recruit in order to build him back up again.

"Yes, Alfred," I sighed. Another one bites the dust.

"Your pajamas are laid out on your bed, Master Dick."

Pajamas! I still couldn't believe that these people had clothes for every occasion of the day! Special clothes for school, different ones for Sunday, other ones for just going for a walk or a ride or playing that silly game where you hit a ball back and forth across a net; there were even special shorts for swimming--can you believe that?--a change for dinner, even if what you were wearing was perfectly clean, and weirder still, clothes for sleeping in!

I mean how many clothes can one guy have? Before, I'd had two pairs of jeans, a couple of T-shirts, and a dress shirt. Oh, and my costumes, of course. I can't remember ever needing any more.

And here I'd thought that the huge house was gonna be hard to get used to. I mean, I was born in a circus trailer and lived in one all of my life. Quarters had been pretty tight and privacy almost nonexistent. At times it seemed as if Mom and Dad were never more than about two feet away from me.

Now I had a bedroom that was almost four times the size of our trailer, and I had my own private bathroom. Heck, I had a walk-in closet that was so big I'd thought at first that it was another room! I guess that around here a guy needed a huge closet in order to hang all the clothes he had to wear in the course of a single day.

But I'd trade it all in to get my Mom and Dad back. In a heartbeat. Every time I thought about them, all the fun went out of my new adventure. Because it was an adventure. Bruce and Alfred had introduced me to a whole new world--the outer world represented by Wayne Manor, and more importantly, the darker world represented by what lay hidden below.

So here I was … the future partner of … oops, that's a secret … but anyway, I was obviously much too old and mature to need some girl to come baby-sit me!

Well, two can play at this game, Master Bruce. I can give the old silent treatment just a good as the next guy! I've been taught by the best.

I waited impatiently in the study, freshly bathed and smelling better than Margie the Tattooed Lady ever had! I was dressed in my Superman PJs (Heh, you should've seen Bruce's reaction the first night I wore them!) and my dark blue monogrammed bathrobe, which completed the picture of Gotham's newest eligible bachelor.

The quiet knock on the door warned us of our guests' arrival. Alfred stepped in and announced them.

"Mister Wayne … Captain Gordon and Miss Barbara Gordon."

"Thank you, Alfred." Oh, did I mention Bruce was dressed in one of his many totally babe magnet dinner jackets? I don't think I've seen him wear the same one twice. He stood and walked over to our guests, shook hands with Captain Gordon and smiled politely.

Even after having known Bruce for only a short time, I knew that smiling did not come naturally to him. So when he was forced to smile, it always fascinated me. I found myself studying his facial muscles, checking for undue tension or spasms. He had to be in some kind of physical pain!
I    I almost felt sorry for him, knowing that he had to spend the next few interminable hours at some boring soiree and keep that vacuous mask on. I said almost. Humph! He brought this on himself. If he and Alfred both didn't have to go, then I wouldn't need a babysitter and he wouldn't have to smile.

Served him right.

" … And you remember, Captain Gordon, don't you, Dick?"

"Huh? Oh, uh, yes sir. Captain Gordon, how are you, sir?" I was genuinely glad to see him. Captain Gordon had been really nice to me that night; he'd kept the reporters and even his own police officers away, allowing me to answer questions at my own pace. I guess I'll always be grateful to him.

"Just fine, son. Let me introduce my daughter." Captain Gordon turned slightly to his right and gently pressed his daughter forward. "Dick Grayson … Barbara Gordon … Barbara, this is the young man I told you about … "

The rest of Captain Gordon's words were lost on me, because she had walked into my life. A vision in braces, knee-high socks, and saddle shoes. She carried her book bag, which looked entirely too big and heavy for her. I gallantly offered to take it from her.

She smiled mischievously and held it out for me. I almost fell under the weight. What was in here?

"Thank you, Dick." She easily lifted the bag again, and slung it casually on her right shoulder.

It was love at first sight.

"Call me Babs," Gorgeous added, smiling politely. She turned her attention to Bruce, billionaire playboy, whose path was littered with the cast-off bodies of women who'd thrown themselves helplessly at his feet. (I overheard Gotham Gertie say that to a group of ladies at a party here the week before. I'd snuck out onto the second story landing to observe Gotham's glitteratti at their most cutthroat. The next few days I searched the mansion for bodies but couldn't find any. I'm still confused.)

Babs didn't even blink. She was totally oblivious to the Wayne charm.

Beautiful and intelligent!

"Mister Wayne, do you have a list of phone numbers or other instructions that I should know about?"

"Yes … somewhere here on my desk. Alfred … ?" Bruce fell into his helpless rich guy act.

"Under the telephone, sir. Miss Barbara, you'll find several numbers there: the car phone, Mister Wayne's cellular number, the host's number, Master Dick's pediatrician's number, the hospital emergency room, fire department, and various and sundry other emergency numbers … Oh, and you'll also find a color coded schematic of the Manor detailing the location of fire extinguishers and all nearest exits. I trust you'll find everything in order."

Babs nodded and turned a wide-eyed look at Bruce.

"I haven't seen such a complete list of numbers since I babysat for the Henderson's new baby." At Bruce's questioning look, Babs explained further, "They were new parents and felt really nervous about leaving the baby for the first time."

She suddenly smiled.

"I guess this is your first time, too, huh?" I swear, Bruce actually flushed in embarrassment!

Alfred saved the day by clearing his throat at just this moment.

"Excuse me, Mister Wayne … Captain Gordon, if we are not to be late, then we must depart in five minutes."

"Of course, Alfred. Bruce, anytime you're ready." Gordon spoke a little more jovially than necessary, I thought. He turned to Barbara. "Honey, is there anything else you need to know before we leave?"

"I just have a few questions," Babs replied in a no-nonsense manner. She pulled out a mini-spiral notebook and began reading. "In order to optimize the effectiveness of the duties with which I am entrusted, I need the following information: exact bedtime, maximum allowable drinks of water, maximum allowable bedtime stories … recommended genres and/or location of books currently being read … any allowable before-bed snacks, and any other information which you may deem necessary to ensure a safe and uneventful evening."

Bruce and Alfred both looked nonplussed, the first and only time I've ever seen them both caught off-guard. I guess that's what becoming a parent does to you. Even when you try to plan for every contingency, something happens you never could've anticipated.

Obviously, neither Bruce nor Alfred had *ever* been a fifteen-year old babysitter, entrusted with the health and safety of a nine-year old. Alfred recovered first, of course, and answered each question in order.

"Nine o'clock sharp … one drink … two chapters maximum of The Three Musketeers … you will find it on the nightstand … absolutely no snacks, no videos of any sort, no television period … and Elinore is sitting on Master Dick's dresser in case he asks."

It was my turn to flush. No way would I ask for Elinore! I mean, I was almost ten! I'd brought down Boss Zucco by myself … Okay! I had a little help from … sorry I can't tell you that … and I was in training to be the partner of … almost forgot, I can't tell you that either … Well, let me assure you, I didn't need Elinore!

Elinore is my stuffed elephant, by the way, a gift from Pop Haly on the day I was born.


I crossed my arms and gave Alfred the darkest scowl I could muster. (I'd studied Bruce closely in this area, too.) He gave me a raised eyebrow in reply. I uncrossed my arms and dropped my eyes in defeat.

"Come on, Dick," Babs said smiling. "Why don't you show me around the Manor? I've never been here before!" I beamed under the bright light reflected off her braces.

"Okay. You won't believe this place! Some of the rooms are as huge as the Big Top at Haly Circus! I almost got lost here my first week, but I remembered a story my Mom read to me once about a guy with a ball of string …"

"Dick … Barbara, we're leaving now," Bruce called. "Remember, don't open the door to anyone under any circumstances, and don't answer the telephone … let the answering machine take the calls. When we call to check up on you, listen for our voices first before you pick up the phone. Understand?"

Babs and I both nodded. Yeah, yeah, yeah … go on willya?


Babs had a photographic memory and entertained me by scanning The Three Musketeers quickly, and then reciting random passages word for word while I followed along. I was amazed. Bruce had been training me with different Eastern disciplines that he said would help strengthen my powers of observation and retention, but it was hard work. It required intense concentration and always left me feeling exhausted afterwards.

"You would've been great at Haly Circus!" I said admiringly.

She told me that she was on her school's gymnastics team and showed me a little of her floor exercise. She was actually pretty good for an amateur, but she wasn't quite up to the Flying Graysons' league … Heck, nobody's perfect, I figured as I applauded enthusiastically. The time passed all too quickly.

My eyes strayed to the bedside alarm clock; I felt my shoulders slump in abject resignation.

It was nine p.m. Bedtime. Babs had gotten me my one drink of water (Don't condemned men get at least a full meal?); she'd already read me three chapters of The Three Musketeers; but she'd been as unmoving as a rock about television. She was an experienced babysitter in other words.

"But--" Even I thought that sounded kinda whiny.

"No "buts!"" Gajes sure weren't versed in the Romany art of bartering, I was beginning to realize. My Dad had been full-blooded Rom, or gypsy, as they're more commonly known, and had been a really smooth talker. To the Rom, a "Gaje" was just about everybody else in the world.

I sighed in disappointment. This had been the most fun I'd had since coming to live at Wayne Manor. Babs looked at me askance. She placed her hands on her hips, slowly shook her head, and sighed.

"I can't believe I'm gonna do this," she muttered. "Okay, Buster, thirty minutes more and then that's it! No more wheedling, whiny excuses. All right?"

"All right!" I jumped up excitedly. "Babs, youÕre the greatest!" And I meant it, too. I'd been beginning to believe that the world actually shut down promptly at nine p.m. I mean, I knew that Bruce … well, never mind that … but Alfred always turned the lights off at nine and I guess I went to sleep immediately because I couldn't recall anything else until he turned them on again at five a.m.

Early to bed and early to rise was the current commandant that dictated my life. Later, when my training was completed, Bruce assured me I'd be allowed to stay up past midnight on non-school nights. Otherwise, the nine p.m. bedtime would hold.

So, what to do with the unexpected stay of execution? I wasn't allowed to watch television (Alfred thought primetime was too violent!), but listening to music was okay. Unfortunately, Alfred's idea of music involved stuff written by guys who'd been dead for several centuries. Thank goodness Babs was a little more up to date.

"These are oldies, but still goodies, I think," she explained.

"That's okay. I don't even know what's current, so I wouldn't be able to tell the difference." I was kneeling on my desk chair, leaning over curiously, watching Babs as she set up her mini-sound system. She turned suddenly, a wicked glimmer in her eyes. She undid her braids and in seemingly slow motion shook out her long hair, allowing it to fall down over her shoulders in shimmering red cascades.

I watched mesmerized. She removed her glasses and placed them carefully on my desktop.

"Okay, kid … get set to tear down the house! … Ladies and Gentlemen … The Doors!"

She punched the play button and my room suddenly resonated with the fast, syncopated jazzy sounds and rhythms of the sixties cult band. I didn't know any of the songs, of course, but I watched Babs' miming along with Jim Morrison and caught on quickly. I accompanied her with my air guitar and keyboards. Spying the bed, I somersaulted onto it and executed a few acrobatic moves in my best-guess imitation of a rock star.

Sergeant Major Alfred would disapprove wholeheartedly.

"Come on, baby light my fire … try to set the night on … FIRE!"

What a blast! We both finally collapsed in a fit of giggles on my bed.

"Master Dick," I said in my best Alfred imitation, "young gentlemen do not cavort about their room in the presence of young ladies."

We burst into more helpless giggles.

"You're a great kid, you know that, Dick? I'm glad Mister Wayne asked my Dad to have me come over."

"Thanks." I lay back with my hands behind my head. "It hasn't been easy, you know? I mean Alfred and Bruce are great … even with all the rules and … some other stuff I'm not s'posed to talk about … but I really miss Mom and Dad."

I felt the tears that were always just threatening to spill begin to fill my eyes.

"If only I'd been able to warn them! I mean, I knew that guy didn't belong there."

Babs sat up and leaned against the headboard.

"C'mere, kid." She took me into her arms and held me quietly for a few minutes, her chin resting on the top of my head. Mom used to do that. The tears suddenly came of their own volition. Babs didn't say anything; she just handed me a tissue and held me a little tighter. I felt grateful … I mean, a guy doesn't want the girl of his dreams to see him bawling his eyes out.

"You know, you can't blame yourself … the only person to blame is that monster Zucco … you didn't do anything wrong. Nothing that happened was your fault … the sooner you can forgive yourself, and lay the blame where it should go, the sooner you'll be able to get on with your life … the way your Mom and Dad would want you to."

"That's what Alfred says. But it's so hard! Look at Bruce … his parents were killed, too, when he was a little kid, and he still hasn't forgiven himself!"

"That's his problem, not yours," Babs insisted. "You have to learn to live with yourself and remember that your Mom and Dad loved you and wouldn't want you to suffer." She turned me around and held me at arms length. "Promise me, Dick … promise me that you will do everything in your power to put the pain behind you."

She held my eyes with her own. I found myself nodding under her intense scrutiny. On impulse I hugged her tightly.

There was a sudden crash from downstairs. Babs and I froze.

"You don't happen to have a dog or anything, do you?" Babs whispered. Her eyes were as big as saucers. I felt certain mine matched hers as I shook my head.

"Uh-uh." What would Bruce do?

Babs looked around quickly and hurried over to the phone on my desk. She picked it up, then turned to face me, her eyes frightened.

"It's not working," she whispered. I swallowed nervously. Another crash downstairs galvanized me into action. I moved quickly to the light switch and turned off the bedroom lamps.

"Quick," I hissed. "Shut the bathroom lights!"

I could see Babs' head nod in the dim lighting streaming in from the bathroom. I listened through the door. I heard muted voices … okay, there's more than one, then. I had to protect Babs, but going against unknown odds would be too dangerous. No, the better part of valor was the best course of action.

I suddenly felt Babs next to me. I pulled her down so I could talk directly into her ear.

"There's more than one downstairs. We've got to get out here and go for help. The Crenshaw Estate is about two miles down the road directly east from here. If I lower you to the ground can you make it there?"

"Are you crazy? I'm not leaving you here alone! If one of us goes, we both go!" Babs' look said she'd brook no argument. Well, it'd been worth a try anyway. What to do?

I had to get into the cave downstairs and contact Bruce. But I had to do it without risking anyone else finding out that it existed … oh, sorry … did I say "cave"? Uh, I meant Bruce's playroom … I, uh, call it his cave 'cause Bruce won't allow anyone else in. See he has all kinds of neat … toys … that he doesn't want anyone else to play with. I guess he never learned to share. I'm only the third person who's ever even seen it!

Anyway, Bruce kept a spare … cell phone … there. I was under strict orders never to use that … phone … unless it was an extreme emergency. I looked at Babs. First rule of engagement: Ensure that all civilians are safe. I had to get her out of the house. Forget the cave.

"Okay, out the window … let's go!" I took her firmly by the hand and led her towards the French doors. They opened out into my second story balcony. It was pretty cool, actually. There was a huge oak tree with a branch that stuck out at just the right angle for grasping. I'd used it my second week here when I went out looking for Zucco.

But Babs wasn't an aerialist. Okay, she was a high school gymnast, but in my professional opinion I knew that she'd never make the jump. How to get her down safely? I ran back into the bedroom and hurried to the desk. I followed the phone line to the wall jack and quickly yanked it. I remembered Alfred complaining that if we placed my desk by the window, then we'd require an extraordinarily long line to reach the room's sole jack.

Bruce had dismissed it as a minor problem. "We'll install a few more jacks in his room when he's a little older and needs an extra line for his computer."

I'd remembered something else: while phone lines had copper wires for conduction, they also had steel wires for added tensile strength! It should be able to hold up Babs' weight for the few minutes necessary to lower her to safety. I hurried back to the balcony.

"Okay, Babs," I whispered in a rush. "I hope you're not the shy type."

"What?" she looked down at me uncomprehendingly.

"I just don't want you to get the wrong idea … Look, I gotta get this line around you … It won't be very comfortable 'cause it's so thin … it may cut into you a bit, but it'll only be for a few moments … Trust me?"

She nodded. I immediately began running the line around her and through her legs, making a rappelling seat. I told myself that this would work better than just tying the line to her waist since her weight would be more evenly distributed. Still, I felt a little uncomfortable about touching her.

When I finished, I looked at her critically, my acrobat's instinct assessing her weight.

"Hmm-m … Five-foot five, about one-hundred ten pounds … add about five for clothing and shoes … okay, approximately one-hundred fifteen."

She looked outraged. Women, I sighed.

"Sorry," I said not really meaning it. Mom used to protest her daily weigh-in all the time, too. It was a standing joke between Dad and me. Whatever weight she claimed for the daily matinee, Dad would always add ten pounds when he checked our rigging.

I can handle this … I hope.

I easily lowered her to the patio immediately below. Hmm-m. She seemed closer to one-oh-five. Maybe all of the intensive weight training I'd been doing these past few weeks was finally beginning to pay off. I quickly followed down after her.

As soon as we were both at the bottom, I grabbed her hand and began to lead her across the grounds. As we turned the corner to the front of the mansion, I spotted the first lookout. I stopped in my tracks and quickly covered Babs' mouth with my hand.

"Bad guy," I whispered. She nodded her understanding. Then impatiently removed my hand.

"Don't do that!" she hissed. I put my finger to my mouth, then quietly began to inch towards the intruder. Unexpectedly, I was suddenly jerked backwards by my pajama top.

"Just what do you think you're doing, Richard Grayson?" It was her turn to cover my mouth, which was a silly thing to do since she'd just asked me a question. She was also suffocating me! I struggled under her unexpectedly strong grip. She let go immediately. "Sorry," she said, not meaning it. I gasped for air.

"We … gotta … go through him," I managed to wheeze.

"And just what do you expect to do with him? He outweighs you by about a hundred and fifty pounds!"

"Don't worry … I know what I'm doing … Geez! I told Bruce I didn't need a babysitter!" I muttered. I looked around the corner. Ugly was still there; he was having a smoke. Okay, then he's relaxed and not really paying attention to his surroundings. He doesn't expect anything … so … I visualized the obstacles, angle of approach, and take-off speed. I took two steps back and drew a slow calming breath. Ready.

Go!

I took off. Amazing just how maneuverable these Superman PJs are, I thought. I wonder if the Batman ones are any better? Naw … don't want to give Bruce a swelled head now, do we? Let 'im stew over my choice of sleepwear for a while.

As the extraneous thoughts zipped through my brain, his voice broke through the clutter. "Concentrate, Dick … you're a natural athlete, but when I've finished training you, you'll be even better!"

"When will my training be finished?" I asked eagerly.

"The more you learn, the more you'll know that there's always something else that needs learning." He paused ominously and studied my uncomprehending look. "In other words … never."

I gained speed, went airborne, and slammed feet first into the back of my target's head. He was out! I conscientiously crushed his cigarette under my heel. I signaled for Babs to follow. To my astonishment, she bent over the goon, pulled his jacket partway off, tied some fancy knots this way and that, and basically left him trussed up as pretty as any turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

She then removed both his shoes and socks. She stuffed one sock into his mouth, and tied the other one around his mouth, effectively gagging him.

She dusted off her hands nonchalantly.

"I'm a cop's daughter, remember?" I grinned wolfishly. There were many more layers to my ladylove than even I would've suspected.

We continued across the front lawn when I saw their getaway van. Hmm-m. I approached it carefully, from the driver's blind side. Sure enough, another smoker inside. I signaled Babs to wait behind the van. I silently climbed on top of the cab, walking softly and lightly the image of rice paper below me. (Yeah, yeah, I'm a regular grasshopper … I've heard all the David Carradine jokes already, okay?)

I assumed one of the Aikido positions I'd recently learned and found my center the way Bruce had taught me. I felt a sense of quiet calm spread through me. Finally, I mentally gathered all of the strength I could muster, went down into a handstand position, and then sprang down and through the driver's side window.

Contact! My small size proved an advantage. I was able to move easily inside the cab of the vehicle with little problem. Therefore, after my initial love tap across the guy's temple, I was able to recover enough to follow through with hard kick to the jaw and an elbow jab to the windpipe. The driver slowly began to slump across the steering wheel; I caught him quickly before he could set the horn off accidentally, and threw him into the back of the van.

I found some rope and old rags and quickly tied and gagged him. There … nothing fancy, but it worked. As an afterthought, I removed the keys from the ignition.

I stepped out the back door.

"Babs!" She jumped, and turned quickly in annoyance. "Can you drive this thing? I think it's a stick shift, but I'm not sure."

"Let me check." She shook her head regretfully. "My dad's been teaching me, but so far I've only driven an automatic."

That does it. Bruce teaches me how to drive next thing. I don't care if I'm underage or too small to reach the peddles. A guy's gotta know how to handle wheels!

Babs reached under the dashboard and pulled out a few wires.

"There … that should slow them down a bit." She grinned in self-satisfaction.

"What did you do?"

"Starter cables." I matched her grin.


I wish I could say that we met with more obstacles, but in truth we had no further trouble reaching the Crenshaw Estate. Mr. and Mrs. Crenshaw as usual were out of the country and their little boy, Dillon, I think, was staying with relatives. The housekeeper let us in immediately and we called 911.

A half-hour later the front doorbell rang and Captain Gordon, Bruce and Alfred all appeared. They all looked harassed, as if they'd each been put through the wringer.

"Daddy!" Babs ran immediately into her Dad's arms.

Bruce and Alfred both walked toward me, looking relieved and uncomfortable at the same time.

"Are you all right, chum?" I looked at Bruce and held his eyes calmly. Suddenly, I broke into a proud smile.

"Sure, I've been taught by the best, remember?"

Get this … Bruce actually broke into a smile … a real smile, I mean … not one of the phony-baloney billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne patented smiles … but one with genuine feeling. And there was a touch of pride there, too. Honest!

I looked over at Alfred and his smile confirmed it.

The next part is a little embarrassing, and hard to believe, but hey, it was a night of surprises. Bruce suddenly bent down and picked me up, like I was his real kid or something. He held me closely for a few seconds, then sort of held me out so that Alfred could hug me, too.

Gosh, a guy a can only take just so much outward demonstration of affection, I know … but, I figured … just this once, I guess it would be okay. So, I hugged Bruce's neck a little longer than was absolutely necessary, and he carried me out to the limo and held me on his lap all the way back to the mansion.

I should've protested. I should've insisted that he let me sit down on the seat. I mean Babs was sitting right there watching the whole thing. But hey, a guy who's only nine and still needs a babysitter needs to be carried and fussed over once in while, right?


"Goodnight, Master Dick," Alfred said quietly.

"G'night, Alfred," I said sleepily. Elinore lay safely tucked next to me on my pillow.

"Well, chum, looks like you had quite a night. I'm very proud of you. You kept your cool and you protected Barbara. I don't know if I could've done better myself."

Although exhausted by now, I beamed at his words. A sudden warmth suffused my whole being. I hadn't felt this happy since before the accident.

"D'you mean it, Bruce?"

"Uh-huh, I sure do." His mouth quirked up in his usual half-smile.

"Babs helped a lot, Bruce … did you know she has a photographic memory?"

"No, I didn't."

"Well, she does … and she's a gymnast … and she knows how to tie up crooks with their own jackets and what wires to pull to disable their getaway vehicles. She's really special, Bruce. You think she'll marry me?"

"Marry you? Don't you think it's rather sudden? I mean you've only had one date, after all."

"Well … I guess." I lay back on my pillows disappointed.

"Good night, chum." Bruce held my shoulder a little longer, then playfully ruffled my hair.

"G'night, Bruce."

I lay awhile longer staring up at the ceiling. I smiled at the memory of Babs' and me miming to The Doors. A sudden thought struck. There was a charity ball a week from next Friday and Bruce had already sent his RSVP stating that he'd be attending! Half of Gotham society would be there, which meant that there would be a run on babysitters.

I'll get Alfred to call her first thing tomorrow, I promised myself.

As I slipped off into sleep, my thoughts were of a pair of green eyes that I instinctively knew would haunt me for the rest of my life.

The End
####

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

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