The next few days went by in a daze for Richard. He visited the Ruby City University and finalized his enrollment, went to the grocery store and bought some food for the next few weeks, started a job search (too bad he couldn't put “vigilante” in his list of past positions), and otherwise began to set up the closest thing to a normal life he'd ever had. It was difficult; he'd grown up as Bruce Wayne's ward and with all of the benefits that came with that. Never did he want for money, never had he had to hold an actual job, food appeared in the fridge like clockwork… he had to admit, there was something oddly freeing about having to provide completely for himself.
Monday morning came and with it came his first day of classes at RCU. His apartment was about a fifteen minute walk away from the campus - found that one out when he signed up for classes - though he left half an hour before classes started in case something delayed him. As he walked, he observed the city around him. No dark deals happening in broad daylight, no flying arsonists or ice-themed villains, no mad clowns threatening to blow up the city… Already it seemed a great improvement over Gotham, even after Batman and Robin had cleaned up the streets.
Richard scowled at the thought of the Batman, then took a deep breath and exhaled. No. He wasn't going to think about that right now.
It didn't take long to arrive on campus or to fall in with the other students who were all on their way to class. His detective training enabled him to notice the sheer number of students walking around with earbuds in or headphones on and the comparatively few students chatting amiably with friends as they walked. A student and professor walked by, talking about the migration patterns of deer. Three guys ran by, their friend - bent on revenge - running after them; Richard stepped out of the way and let them pass.
Walking through the door of the classroom, he looked up at the clock. Seven minutes until class started, two other people sitting in desks on opposite ends of the room: one in the front row by the door, the other in the back by the far wall. Richard walked over to a desk somewhere in the middle, one row behind the front. With one fluid motion, he shrugged the backpack from his shoulder and let his arm guide it down to the floor next to the desk, then sat down. Students filtered in over the next minutes; one speed-walked in so she wasn't coming in after the professor, who looked rather amused at that as he entered the room.
“Welcome to Writing 1100. I'm Professor Lavery and you…” The sandy-haired thirty-something paused to look around the room. “You all look bored.”
He slapped his hand against the front desk - a student in the back jolted up with a sleepy grunt - and smiled like he had the most terrific idea. “Everyone stand up. No, really. Stand up.”
Everyone got out of their desks at their own pace. One excitable young woman seemed ready for just about anything, while a guy on the other side of Richard reflected the majority with his confused frown. Richard knew it would be some sort of “get to know you” game, if his semester of experience at Gotham's Hudson University was anything to go by; he could only hope that it wasn't too inane.
“Now push the desks to the center of the room.”
A few students began to honor his request, though most gave him a weird look, to which he responded by waving his hands expectantly. They caught on. Squeals filled the air as the desks slid across the tiled floor - “Lift and carry! Don't slide!” Lavery admonished them - and the desks ended up pressed together in the center of the room, leaving space by the walls for people to stand. Lavery walked to the group of desks and, to the students’ surprise, climbed on top and looked down at them all.
“I'm sure you all have done something like this before,” he said, turning his head to look at the students on each wall. “I'm going to ask some multiple choice questions. Whatever you feel most strongly about, go to that wall. No standing around in the middle” - he wagged his finger at them - “if you do, you'd better have a darn good reason, because I'll be certain to ask you about it. Ready?”
The students murmured their assent, though Richard stayed quiet and studied Lavery. Was he trying to be different for the sake of being different? Was he doing this primarily to the engage the students or to get to know them?
“First question: where are you from?” Lavery pointed at each wall, starting at the back wall, going clockwise. “Western U.S., eastern U.S., central U.S., and outside the U.S. Go.”
Students shuffled across the room, one young man apologizing under his breath to another whom he'd accidentally knocked into a desk. Richard stepped toward the wall with windows letting in sunlight muted by clouds: eastern U.S.
Lavery faced the students from the western U.S. “How many of you are from Ruby City?” he asked. Eleven raised their hands. “Quite a few locals. How many others from elsewhere in Washington?” Five more. “Oregon?” Three. “California?” Also three.
Richard allowed his mind to process the dialogue in the background as he observed the others in his class, analyzing their posture and facial expressions to try to get a sense of what kind of person they were. An elbow to the ribs caused him to look back up at Lavery, who was looking at him expectantly. “I'm sorry, I must have zoned out,” he apologized.
“Don't worry about it; but try not to let it happen again, hmm?” He smiled, though a glint in his eyes told Richard that he was being serious. “I asked where you were from.”
“Gotham,” Richard responded. His jaw tensed slightly as the emotional baggage of that city came back to mind.
“Gotham City, home of the Batman. I hear crime rates have dropped since he started his work all those years ago.” Lavery chuckled. “I remember the days before all of these super-people. Life was different back then…” He clapped his hands together. “Well! Moving on…”
He continued around the room, asking each of the five foreign students where they were from and how they found themselves at RCU. Then on to the next question. And the next: Category of major (STEM, Business, Education, the Arts, and other); favorite meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner - no dessert); books vs. movies (movies won); lyrics vs. melody as the more important element in a song (melody); video, board, card, or other kinds of games (a few people were upset that “tabletop” wasn't an option, since they played Dungeons and Dragons); and so on…
The questions ended with two minutes left of class so the students could put the desks back where they were before and grab their bags before leaving. Lavery went to his desk, looked at Richard, down at a piece of paper, another glance at Richard, and back at the paper. The clock hit 9:50 and students shuffled towards the door. Richard went with, but the professor's voice carried over the crowd towards him: “Mr, eh, Grayson?”
Richard shouldered his way against the current of people to approach the desk. “Did you need something?”
“I was curious.” Lavery set the paper down; Richard could see that it was a list of students with their ID photo. “You said you were from Gotham, yes? Does the name ‘The Flying Graysons’ mean anything to you?”
“Yes…” he said softly. So that's what he wanted to know. “They were my parents.” He readjusted his backpack as a subtle hint that he really didn't want to be talking about this and wanted to leave.
“I had my suspicions,” Lavery admitted. “I'm sorry about what happened to them. We used to take our son to Haly's Circus when it came to town. My wife loved to watch them… Well. I suppose you don't want to talk about that. I did want to ask, I remember reading that you were adopted by Bruce Wayne. Is that something you'd like me to avoid mentioning in class?”
Richard nodded. He'd come here to get out from under Wayne's shadow, after all.
“I understand. You want to be a normal student, not some celebrity.” Lavery packed up the few things he had taken out back into his bag. “I'm sure I would be the same were I in your shoes.” He gestured for Richard to lead the way out the door, then shut the door behind them both. “I'll see you on Wednesday.”
“See you Wednesday,” Richard echoed as the professor walked away. He stood there a moment, watching him leave, then turned and walked down an adjacent hallway.
His other classes weren't any more exciting than the first. The introductory activities honestly bored him and, while he participated, he spent more time observing his classmates than he did paying close attention. No one else asked him about the Flying Graysons or being Bruce Wayne's ward; did they not know, or just not care? Not that it mattered much - the end result was the same either way.
Richard fell backwards onto his bed and groaned. “Well, there's day one out of the way,” he announced to the ceiling, then closed his eyes. Now was when he would be planning a mission with the team, or with Batman. But no, he'd left that behind in Gotham with his Robin uniform.
Well, most of his Robin uniform…
He turned his head and glanced at the bedside stand. In the drawer was a small bottle of spirit gum, some remover, and his Robin mask. Just in case he needed it. He didn't move as he contemplated putting the mask on.
There's no crimes you're going to stop. You just want to explore.
There's always a crime happening somewhere, besides, there's nothing wrong with exploring.
Someone could recognize you. You don't have a suit.
I'll wear something different, that people won't recognize.
And if you come across a crime in progress -
Doubtful. The police seem to have things under control here.
- you'll step in to intervene. You don't have armor, gear, anything.
Fine. You win.
…. You're going anyways.
Yes. I am.
Richard drew his legs up and kicked out, using his hands to spring off the bed and to his feet. He was drawn to the drawer, but first he had to change his clothes: dark jeans that were just loose enough to allow him a full range of movement and a black hoodie. Then he could open the drawer, pull out the spirit gum, and apply it to both his face and the mask. In the early days he'd needed to trace where the boundaries of the mask were so he would put the gum in the right place; now it was second nature to apply it to the right spots. A moment passed as the gum set and became sticky enough to bond to itself, during which he thought through how he was going to leave the apartment without drawing attention. The window faced away from the street - it was a one story drop, nothing difficult - so out the window it was.
The mask came on, and so did freedom. Freedom to explore, freedom to be someone other than Richard Grayson, last of the Flying Graysons, adopted son of a billionaire, who dropped out of college after a single semester. With the mask came anonymity, the ability to be who he knew he could be, not the he that society determined he should be.
He climbed out of the window and pushed off the wall, landing precariously on the wooden fence a short distance away. A quote came suddenly to mind:
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
- Oscar Wilde
Give him a mask, and he'll become his true self, Richard amended in his mind. Give him a mask, and he becomes free.