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Chapter 4

After Bruce showed the last non-family guest to the door, he returned to the drawing room to find a reception committee that was not at all friendly.  They wanted answers and they wanted them now: Stuffed Mushrooms. Cheese Puffs. Raspberry Meringues.  Explain.

“You start with a four cups of mushrooms and a pound of fresh crab… Looks like it’ll have to wait.”

In the window behind Dick and Tim, the Bat-Signal shone over the night sky. 

Great, now they had to suit up and go into battle with Bizarroworld Batman at their side.

The next day, Dick Grayson bought Selina Kyle lunch. 

“I thought Barbara was helping you pick out furniture,” she asked casually.

“She is—was.  Actually that didn’t go too well.  No, this is about… last night.”  

Selina smiled inwardly.  She knew what the lunch was about.  Bruce had briefed her on Dick, Tim and Barbara’s total overreaction to his debut as chef, and had given strict instructions that, if anybody asked her, no explanation was to be given.  He hadn’t planned this as a stunt, but since they had made such a drama out of it, and since Tim HAD set him up at the party, since Dick HAD played the prank with the workout dummy, and since Barbara had undoubtedly cheered them on, they all deserved a little payback.  

“What does Alfred say?” Selina asked innocently to avoid volunteering any information herself.

“Not much,” Dick admitted.  “He’s preoccupied.  That director, (did you meet her?) she’s got some project taking Shakespeare to the schools.”

Ah, that explained it.  Bruce had predicted the big reaction from Alfred, not Dick and Tim.  He was curious why the butler hadn’t so much as raised an eyebrow.

“Look, the point is,” Dick began.  

Selina deftly changed the subject.

“Tell me about the furniture shopping.  What went wrong?”

Dick was out of his league.  It took a Batman to corner Catwoman.  After a few more tries, he admitted defeat and threw out the hidden agenda.  They would talk about what she wanted to talk about:

Shopping with Barbara had been a disaster.  Dick liked bright hues (“Easter Egg colors,” declared Babs) and bold patterns (“Groovy, it’s 1974 all over again”).  Barbara was pointing him to pieces best described as institutional.  When he voiced this opinion, she declared that anybody that would mix green with red and yellow (a pointed reference at his old Robin outfit) required a keeper.  

“Now tell me, please, what is the point in having the largest thing in your living room, this thing you’ll be looking at every day, decked out in fourteen supremely subtle shades of taupe?”

“If you don’t like her taste, why did you ask her to help you?” Selina asked, suppressing a giggle.  The batboys uniform cluelessness in domestic matters was becoming a source of endless amusement.

“The master plan was that shopping gave me an opening to ask her out.  Bruce went and torpedoed that idea though.  He has to stick his oar in, doesn’t he?  Has to tell everybody what to do.  I tell ya, Selina, it makes me want to scream sometimes.”

“Can I ask you a delicate question, kiddo?”

“If you don’t call me kiddo ever again, yeah, sure, why not.”

“How old were you when you lost your parents?  Under 13?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because this is the ninth or tenth round of you and Bruce bitching about each other that I’ve sat through, and I’ve gotta say—He’s not well adjusted enough to hear this, but you are—this is what fathers and sons do.  They drive each other crazy.  You both lost your parents before adolescence, you never got to the point where you realize they’re not perfect.  You insist Bruce won’t let you be your own man, doesn’t know when to let go, yadda yadda yadda —and you’ve blown it up into this monstrous character flaw.  Richard, no father in history has EVER let go in the way you seem to be expecting.  It doesn’t happen.”

Dick’s response was delayed by his need to chew, and by the time he swallowed Selina went on.

“He says you never listen, by the way, meaning you plan to make the decisions affecting your life yourself and not do it his way.  That’s normal, too.  He might know that if his Dad had lived, ‘cause they would’ve gone through this same thing about the time he turned twenty.  My guess, it would’ve be about Bruce going to med school or not.  Y’know what though, if he had been through it, he’d still turn around and do the same thing to you.  Only difference is maybe he wouldn’t feel like it’s a big failing on his part.”

“You think he blames himself?”

Selina looked at him like he’d asked if the sky was blue.

“Richard, you have MET Bruce, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, okay, it was a stupid question, but I mean—”

“He has a hyper-idealized view of everything to do with his parents.  His father was a perfect father.  Since he’s not perfect, his relationship with you isn’t perfect, he undoubtedly feels he doesn’t measure up.”

“But that’s ludicrous–”

“No shit.  What I’m saying is this: what he feels, what you feel… this great estrangement, as you all seem to think of it it, this isn’t some profound conflict out of Greek tragedy.  This is what drives sales of Maalox in every town in America every Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s what families do.  Ask around.”

 

OraCom:  Channel 1—Nightwing to Robin
<ENCRYPT THROUGH BABS.NET - LOCK-OUT CHANNEL 2>

::Robin, it’s ‘Wing. ::

::Did you talk to her?  What did she say?  Shape-shifter or Robot? ::

::We didn’t get into that. ::

::That was the whole point of the lunch. ::

::Forget that, let me ask you something.  Does your dad drive you crazy? ::

::You mean about grades, girls, tattoos, politics, the internet, using the car, the music I listen to, the movies I see, the length of my hair, the cost of good sneakers, and the Celtics’ chances of making the playoffs—yeah, my dad drives makes me crazy. ::

OraCom:  Channel 1—Nightwing to Oracle
<ENCRYPT THROUGH BABS.NET - LOCK-OUT CHANNEL 2>

::Barbara, it’s Dick. ::  

..:: What did she say?  Mind-control nanites or evil doppelganger? ::..

::We didn’t get into that—let me ask you something: Does your dad drive you crazy? ::

..:: Are you kidding? Since he retired that’s what he does with his time!  Just this morning he sent me this article from Cosmo—COSMO mind you—‘Safety tips for the city gal living alone.’   Forget I was raised a policeman’s daughter, forget I have better security than the NSYNC Compound—he’s sending me clippings from COSMOPOLITAN MAGAZINE! ::..

Sheesh, Dick thought, possibly Selina had a point.  Barbara continued without a pause.

..:: AND he agrees with you about the sofa, can you believe that?  What does he know about—you’ve seen those curtains he has in his study, right—and he’s telling me it’s your apartment and after all we should adjust to each others’ tastes because—GET THIS!—it’s just a matter of time… ::..

Alright Papa Gordon!  Dick beamed as the implications sunk in:  She had told her father about their argument, just as he had told Selina.  He was, at least, still important enough to rank in the day’s headlines.  And Gordon had not only taken his side, he implied it was only a matter of time ‘til the two of them set up housekeeping together.

What did it matter if Bruce had been replaced by an evil doppelganger shape-shifting killer robot from an alternate universe?  He and Babs were back on track, and all was well with the world.

To be continued...

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