Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.
Spoilers/Timeline: Post-War Games, also references
Nightwing #101. Depending on whether you choose
to go with the timeline suggested by NW #99-100
or Batman #634-636, this may or may not be
Essentially, for the purposes of this story, Dick
either has not yet left Gotham, or has already
Summary: There are questions he hasn't asked.
Ratings Note: PG-13.
Author's Note: Written as both a writing exercise
and as an attempt to portray Bruce and Dick's
relationship in a way similar to the sort of thing
Sarah describes here. More notes at the end.
Acknowledgments: To Livia, Jack, and LC for
audiencing, encouragement and helpful suggestions.
It's just the two of them, again.
The words serve as both reminder and source of guilt: It
should not be this way, and it was never, truly, only the
two of them. Not for Batman and Robin, and not for Bruce
However, there are definitions of family -- of
*belonging* -- which even Alfred has never been a part
of, even within the warmth and light of the Manor.
And, here, now, in the aftermath...
It's just the two of them.
There are no words for the feeling -- for the *feel* of Dick,
here. Resting, healing. Regrouping.
It's been too long since Bruce has been sure whether or not
there's a *place* for those feelings, a space beyond himself.
And it has already been too long since the act of questioning
the appropriateness -- of offering a hint of *possibility*, if
only to himself -- has become, once again, attractive.
In the Cave, Nightwing is less a man and soldier than he is a
question, a space of irritating unknowns and startling
knowns at once.
The gunshot wound, by necessity, limits the training
routines Dick has available to himself.
They have, between them, a history of working around such
things, a knowledge of themselves and their abilities and, as
well, a shared focus; there will always be something they
Something to improve.
"Bruce, we *both* know there are things you've never
taught me, things there was no *reason* to teach me, or
teach me in full, because of my other abilities."
No one save Batgirl had come to him already so skilled, so
*ready* -- no. There is no space here for comparison. It's
just the two of them now.
"You've been on that leg for nearly an hour longer than you
should," he begins, and there is, perhaps, some degree of
surprise there. The ease of this is... There's something
*about* it, some question he'll surely need to answer.
Some time when Nightwing *isn't* poised on the mats,
watchful. Waiting. And... perhaps faintly amused. There are
other things here. Other memories demanding to be called
on and daring his rejection.
Bruce shifts his own stance, and the recognition flares in
Nightwing's -- in *Dick's* -- eyes before Bruce even brings
his own hand up between them.
When he gestures, the attack is precisely as unpracticed as
it should be. A blurred and vulnerable flurry of everything
Wildcat had, once, taught Bruce, and everything Richard
Dragon had taught Barbara.
Bruce's own legs are available for more than just balance
and power, and he uses them accordingly.
Forty seconds, a small and useful part of his mind offers, as
Dick lifts himself from the mats.
It's an effort not to nod.
There's a laugh written in the clean lines of Dick's face, and
something far more settled and real in his eyes. "Again?"
Bruce gestures accordingly.
Breakfast is a study in untrustworthy silences. Dick is a
wealth of sound and motion which, for reasons both known
and not (yet), is not being expressed.
There are so many things they haven't discussed, and the
silence in Bruce's own throat is a crowded one.
It should feel, he thinks, far more similar to the silences of
years past. The *crowd* of it should be more
uncomfortable, and likely to end in noise with neither point
nor benefit. It doesn't.
Some of this is surely due to the simple, incontrovertible fact
of their circumstances, and of the people they have known
in the intervening years who are no longer present.
Some of it is... he isn't sure. And when he *does* attempt
to speak --
"You've been holding your left shoulder tensed since you
sat down." The voice is neither the one he wishes to use,
nor incorrect in a *predictable* way. He frowns, inside --
"I'm trying not to scratch at my stitches," Dick says, and
there is nothing uncomfortable in his tone. A casual offer
of information, just as if Bruce had had every right to
comment in the first place.
Another niggling question, another hint of whatever it is his
mind is both refusing to clarify and requiring --
demanding -- clarification of.
Another item, forcibly set aside, because there are other
Dick takes a sip of coffee and sits back, and doesn't say
anything at all until he has swallowed and turned to face
Bruce again. "No signs of infection, less soreness than
Dick smiles at him, and Bruce knows he's raised an eyebrow.
"Less than *I* expected, considering the number of times I
hit the mats."
"You know how to fall."
Dick shrugs, and looks away.
The glimpse Bruce receives of the smile in Dick's eyes is of
something rueful, sardonic, and honestly pleased.
It's staggeringly easy to think the worst when he returns to
the Cave to find Dick half-stripped and seated on one of the
gurneys, a fresh bandage on his thigh.
Alfred is at the sinks, cleaning and drying his equipment,
It's only the fourth night he's allowed Dick to have anything
close to a patrol, even a partial one. They haven't done
enough to teach Dick to use motions and fighting styles not
naturally his own, but the simple fact is that Gotham is too
much for Batman, even with Onyx and Catwoman holding
their own territories, and holding their *own*.
He needs Dick now in ways he wouldn't ever have predicted.
(Another niggle, another question), but if Dick had willfully --
It's *vertiginously* easy to shift to relief, and something
remarkably similar to confidence. Before anything is spoken,
and before Dick does more than simply turning to face
him... Bruce knows.
"The final set of stitches...?" There's no reason to say it
aloud. There's every reason when Dick lifts himself on his
hands and flexes and bends the injured leg with --
cautious -- ease.
"Out at *last*."
"One finds oneself hoping -- in the face of all knowledge and
experience -- that Master Dick will not be taking the fact of
his continued healing as an excuse to undo all of one's hard
Dick smiles at Alfred's back.
Bruce closes the distance between them, and studies the
bandaging. Perfectly done, of course. And entirely free of
spotting. "How long has this been on?"
"About an hour," Dick says, and flexes the thigh once more.
No, both thighs. Dick wants to move.
Bruce steps back and Dick flips upside down, bracing himself
on his hands and doing a portion of a routine better suited
to a vaulting horse than a gurney -- or to anything with
But the gurney doesn't shift, and the routine itself is perfect.
Bruce catalogs the quality of Alfred's sigh -- resigned,
amused -- and nods, internally. Anything more would be --
difficult. On a number of levels.
"We start remedial training tomorrow," he says, as Dick
moves back to a seated position.
"All right. And the streets?"
It gives Bruce pause. The question doesn't feel -- entirely --
honest. With the cowl on, there's some question as to
whether or not Dick can see his hesitation, but none
whatsoever in terms of whether or not he *feels* it.
But Dick's expression is mostly a watchful one, and the
edges and hints of something else, something deeper, never
go beyond nuance.
Suspicion. Still, it was a question, and it doesn't matter that
Dick should already know the answer. Bruce has learned,
too well, the dangers in being... unclear. "It's far too soon
Dick... Dick is still waiting. For something.
"I'll let you know," Bruce says, and Dick holds his gaze --
Dick has always known where to find Bruce's eyes, cowl or
no -- for a long moment.
And then nods.
There is too much to be done in Gotham for them not to
work separately as much as possible.
At the same time, the loss of both Oracle and the police
department has left them -- both of them -- in need of a
certain degree of compromise.
"Your twenty," Bruce says, once tonight's seventh drug
dealer is suitably unconscious.
The first response is a breath -- no. A near-silent grunt of
effort, or perhaps the subtler, more difficult to define fact
Bruce waits, and moves further along his own route. He
"Fifth and Aparo, moving north-north-east."
Drifting from his own route. "Situation."
"Had a runner, caught her. Where she was running *to*..."
The smile in Dick's voice is a predatory one, and a part of
Bruce responds in kind. But the sense of waiting, of
*incompletion*, remains. Something larger, and irrationally
far more important than the simple practicality of knowing,
as best he can, precisely what Dick is doing. "Nightwing."
Another breath, though it doesn't seem precisely effortful.
"All of the guns you predicted were there, but *I* think
there might be more."
Bruce nods, internally. Nothing more needs to be said.
Nothing. Except for the question in himself, wordless and
neither answered nor fully expressed. *That* demands --
Dick laughs, quietly and briefly, in his ear: the familiar sound
of a particularly good -- to Dick's own eyes -- flight in
"Watch and report," Bruce says.
"Done and *done*," Dick says, and the quiet scuff in the
background speaks of Dick's landing on some rooftop Bruce
is incapable of viewing from here. "Nightwing out."
It takes time to realize why he's awake, long seconds to
catalog the absence of anyone from his bedroom, the
precisely correct sounds of the manor in the hours just after
dawn, and the fact that he had not simply been having a
Not even one of the older ones. He hadn't been asleep long
enough for that.
It takes this long to *realize* why he's awake, and some
indefinably -- terrifyingly -- longer period than that to let
himself truly think the words.
The questions he hasn't asked himself, the conversations
which will never happen.
The waiting in Dick's eyes, and the ways in which he --
specifically he -- has caused the waiting to shift to
contentment. To... *satisfaction*.
And Alfred is moving in the manor long before Bruce can
do anything but shudder.
Bruce knows Dick as well as he knows anyone more
complicated than a supervillain, more requiring of attention
and thought than any one of the dozens of periodic
residents -- 'patient' is, as ever, far too optimistic a term --
This has been, for several years, far closer to a particularly
unhumorous joke than it is to a fact, and this hasn't
He'd thought it had.
But he *does* know Dick, and he knows Dick is fully aware
of his attention. His...
Dick must know it's different now, he *must* know --
There's a tension in the muscles of Dick's back as he flips
between the uneven bars which has nothing whatsoever to
do with the difficulty of the routine.
There's a wild set to his features which has nothing to do
with restlessness -- Bruce *hasn't* given him the go-ahead
to go back to the full scope of his acrobatics.
There is a space beside him where Batgirl should be. Where
*Cassandra* should be, giving validation -- if not,
necessarily, voice -- to his suspicions. To the wordless
questions between himself and Dick.
It's entirely possible he's being (paranoid) irrational, after
all. It would not be the first time that a distinct lack of
self-awareness in terms of his own *emotions* had left
him vulnerable to precisely this sort of projection.
He wants, very badly, for this to be merely projection.
He wants, very badly, not to know precisely how to test
this... this terrible theory.
Bruce pulls on the cowl, and steps out of the shadows.
"Down," he says.
Dick tenses further, *hesitates* and Bruce thinks -- he
Dick's dismount is, of course, perfect. He pads, barefoot and
graceful, across the mats. He is silent, until they are close
enough that Dick has to look up to meet Bruce's eyes. No,
he can't -- he can't read *into* --
There's a dancing light in Dick's eyes which makes Bruce
want to suggest a spar, which makes him remember all the
times he had gotten to watch Dick move across rooftops
with Tim. Grace and precision, flight and --
"Floor routine seventeen-prime." Please ask me why. Please
Dick's grin is fleeting and perfect, *bright* as he runs --
dances -- backward, far enough away that the first backflip
doesn't even ruffle Bruce's cape. From there, of course...
Alfred had done a wonderful job on Dick's thigh. If the
routine were simply perfectly performed, then that would...
that would be something to hold onto. Some reason to
focus on it and *only* it, no matter the questions and fear
in his heart.
But it was fitting to remember Tim, because... had Bruce
even admonished Dick to show a greater degree of care?
Had he *had* to?
It shouldn't be so terrible to see the exactitude Dick is
taking with this routine, to see the *thoughtfulness* along
with the art.
"Stop." Finish the routine, Dick. You're so --
Dick twists, cutting off the final flip and landing on his toes.
For anyone else, the abrupt stop would trigger a fall, if not
Bruce knows Dick's confidence in his own abilities has
absolutely nothing to do with why... why he'd allowed Bruce
*to* stop him.
And the amused quirk of Dick's eyebrow is a lie. The truth
is in the smile, beaming and untainted by anything
resembling question or pause.
There are other orders he could give, things both random
and foolish. He... he *can't*. "Dick..."
And here is where he could offer reason, where he could
offer his fears for critique and his needs for rebuttal. But
the only thing which comes out is, "No."
There's something painfully beautiful in the realization in
Dick's eyes, in the fact that Bruce could never, truly, be too
opaque for this man.
Beautiful and *correct*, even though it only takes a moment
for Dick's expression to shift to innocuous curiosity.
"No...? I think you need to be a *little* more specific,
If he waits -- perhaps not for very long at all -- *this* smile
will reach Dick's eyes. "Dick. I can't... this can't happen.
Not like this."
And when Tim's father had been alive, it's entirely possible
that he'd seen an expression just like this one on his son's
face. Bemused innocence, and a shadow behind wide,
familiar blue eyes.
For a moment, the smile is blindingly perfect, rueful and true
and beautiful. And then Dick turns away.
Bruce clenches his hands into fists and -- stops. Reaches.
If he could just -- there are so many things --
Dick bats his hand away with easy, casual blindness.
"You told me once that you couldn't... that I was of no
*use* to you if I wasn't committed. If you couldn't *count*
There's a uniform Dick has never worn, which *none* of
them have ever worn. Red and gold and green, and meant
for the Robin he had never let Dick become. Who he had
never admitted Dick already *was*. But that was then. "I
was wrong. More than that, Dick, I was selfish, and
"Don't you think I *know* that?"
When Dick turns back to face him... there's nothing of the
boy in him. Not the confusion, and not... not... "Then...
"God, Bruce..." Dick scrubs a hand back through his hair.
"I... why didn't you just *ask* me to make a decision?
Gotham or New York. The Titans or... or *you*. Why
There's a freedom here he's never precisely known. Or...
perhaps it would be better to think of it as a freedom which
he'd never considered. Something far more akin to
watching Dick *fly* than anything else. "And if you'd made
the 'wrong' choice?"
And Dick... it isn't that his expression closes. It's just that
'frown' is laughably inadequate as a description. But Bruce
has to try.
"Dick, I had nothing *like* the ability -- the *maturity* -- to
watch you --"
"I *know*. I." Dick scrubs through his hair again, staring
at the floor for a long, long moment before meeting his eyes
once more. "Don't you know that I *wouldn't* have made
the wrong choice?"
He does, now.
"Don't you know *me*?"
Dick stares at him, and... and *searches* him, and Bruce.
Bruce doesn't think he wants to know what Dick finds.
Because Dick knows *him*, so very well. Because there
must be something in him, at this moment, to make Dick
take Bruce's left hand in his own.
To hold it, in just this way.
"I made a vow, Bruce."
For the mission, for --
"I made it to *you*." And Dick squeezes his hand. Harder
when Bruce tries to pull away.
Not very much harder. Because...
"And now? There's nothing to keep me from fulfilling it, in
every way, to the best of my abilities."
Because Bruce can't pull away at all. Because Dick raises his
right hand, as fearless and steady as he's ever been. As he
has always been.
And they say the words together.
The signal lights the sky, a bald, incontrovertible fact against
the slow-shifting clouds of another Gotham night.
This isn't the first time Akins has allowed it since everything
had gone so very wrong, and it probably won't be the last.
Some things are, perhaps, inevitable.
However, Bruce already knows what they want from him
tonight, and there is nothing at Central he needs. Below
him, Nightwing is a whirl of blades and motion. The Feraks
are already down, and none of the vines have touched him.
When Nightwing steps back, away from the fire which is
blooming as rapidly as any of Ivy's plants, Ivy herself moves
forward out of the shadows. At last.
Her rage is predictable, and predictably clumsy.
Nightwing feints, and dodges, and waits, patience in every
shift. Faith in every leap.
"Yes," Bruce says, into the communicator.
And Dick takes her down, ruthless and fast.
As a courtesy, Bruce allows Dick to inform the 911 operators
of where they can find Ivy, and what precautions they
should take. But it's only a courtesy.
It's just the two of them, now.
In talking with Sarah about the quality of 'friendship'
missing from a great deal of Bruce-Dick gen and not --
quite -- expressed/express-able in most Bruce/Dick slash,
I realized that it was a quality *I* tended to (try to) write
In toonverse, in gen *and* slash, for Bruce and *Tim*.
It's not the dynamic which disturbs me beyond words,
really. It's applying that dynamic to *these*
In a lot of ways, I kind of think it's fitting that I
should have character(ization)-specific squicks.
In other ways... well. I had to *try*. Especially
because the problem I have with looking at the
Bruce-Dick relationship in this way have absolutely
nothing to do with not being able to see it, or
Because I can, in both respects. ("And I find I can't
stop moving," anyone?) It comes down to the
different things "I love him" can mean, when the
words are spoken by a fan about some character
or another. Or...
You (general 'you') might have no severe problem
whatsoever with injuring *yourself*, but I daresay
you'd have a big -- *big* -- problem with injuring
a loved one, or with watching a loved one injure
Making Tim -- any Tim -- suffer in some way is
just fine by me.
Making Dick suffer (or just *letting* him suffer)
really, really isn't. And I think it probably shows.