Takes place after Jason's death but before Tim shows up.

Flown the Coop

Alfred found Bruce in the Batcave, brooding. This was not an unusual pastime for the Batman, but this was Bruce Wayne, not the Caped Crusader. The superhero garb was still behind the glass case. And the reason for the brooding wasn't a dangerous criminal on the loose or the public's diminishing support for the vigilante. The reason was something Alfred had seen coming for a few years now. At dinner, Dick had announced that he was moving to Bl├╝dhaven and that he would be taking up a new superhero name. He was done being Robin, for good.

Bruce reacted as well as Alfred had anticipated, which was, not well at all. The billionaire pretended not to hear, and then when the young man repeated himself, he told Dick the teen was wrong. When Dick pointed out all the reasons it was time for him to leave, Bruce demanded that his ward stay in Gotham. Dick insisted he was leaving at the end of the week and nothing Bruce could say would change his mind. The end of the meal was consumed in stony silence.

The butler waited until they had gone their separate ways-Dick upstairs to his room and Bruce down in the Batcave- before planning his strategy. In the past, the butler had talked to each of them separately, trying to get each of his charges to see the other person's side. This had allowed for uneasy truces in the past, mostly because Dick had backed down and given in to Bruce's position. This time would need something different. At 18 years old, Dick was tired of being treated like a child. He was going to leave, with or without Bruce's blessing. It would be best if Master Bruce would talk to his ward and come to a solution, Alfred reasoned, but the man would need some strong hints on how the conversation should go.

Alfred approached Bruce silently, but his employer's hearing was still sharp even when he was mulling over a problem. "If you're here to tell me I'm wrong, I don't want to hear it, Alfred," Bruce said without turning. It was a habit Alfred had tried to break Bruce of. For one, it was unnerving to have someone suddenly talk to you while facing the other way. For another, it was rude. Alfred pushed that aside to deal with the more pressing problem.

"Not wrong, sir, but perhaps not seeing the full picture."

Bruce didn't respond, which Alfred took as a signal to continue. "I realize it is difficult to have a child leave home, but it is the natural order of things. Children grow up, and they move out so they can become their own person. The children still love their parents, and respect them, but they need to change the relationship so they can be seen as equals with their parents. Dick will always be your son, sir, but he can't be in your shadow. He can't stay under your wing forever."

"It's not just him leaving. He's giving up Robin, too."

"He may be giving up the name, but he will still be the same young man he's always been. He is a brave, selfless, intelligent person, thanks in part to your guidance. He still wants to fight crime, only under a different name. Master Dick outgrew Robin a few years ago. He needs to be a hero on his own, not just a sidekick. It's time for Robin to leave the nest." Bruce snorted. Alfred opened his mouth to defend his point when Bruce finally turned to face him.

" 'Leave the nest?' Really, Alfred."

"I admit, I was not trying for a pun."

"And earlier you said, 'stay under your wing.' "

The butler cleared his throat and continued, "It is difficult to transition to a life without children around when you have grown accustomed to them. I know you're facing an empty nest now..." he said hesitantly.

"You did it again." At Alfred's questioning look, Bruce repeated, "Empty nest?"

The stoicism that Alfred prized himself on meant that his embarrassment did not show. "You are changing the subject. The point is that it is time for Master Dick to spread his wings- Good heavens, I can't seem to stop, can I?"

"What you're saying is that Dick is an adult and I need to treat him as such," Bruce translated. Alfred could see a smirk on his employer's face and sighed. At least the man could see Dick's side now.

"That is correct, sir."

Bruce sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "I thought that if I ignored it, the situation would just go away. I don't want to face the fact that my child has become a man."

"It would happen whether or not you accepted it. And ignoring it seems to have created some tension between the two of you," Alfred said with a hint of disapproval in his voice.

"I know. I handled it... poorly. I'll talk to him."

"A wise move, sir." Alfred turned to leave, but then thought of something before he had taken more than a few steps.

"It could be worse, Master Bruce." Alfred's mustache twitched upwards as he suppressed a smile. "Instead of telling you he was leaving, Master Dick could have flown the coop."