When he sees Bruce for the first time he’s startled by how beautiful he is.The blue eyes, the ramrod straight shoulders, the sarcastic tilt of his mouth. He’s leaning up against a low wall in a button-down and jeans, smoking a cigarette. Everything about it it is contradictory to the Bruce he knows, from the slouch, to the outfit, to the glowing cancer stick threaded between his fingers. Even his facial expression doesn’t make sense. The Bruce he knows would notice he was being watched immediately, but his eyes pass over Dick sightlessly.
Fundamentally, Dick knows that Bruce wasn’t always the stoic caped crusader who scaled buildings and chased down felons for fun, but he thought, even at 21 a little more of it would show on his face. But he is so unguarded. What he really looks like, a frankly devastating young man, is finally apparent now that he’s not shrouded by equal parts cold intelligence and menace.
There were no pictures in the manor of Bruce at this age. No high school graduation, or sports photos, no girlfriends, or other children. Nothing really after his parents died. Not for lack of trying on Alfred’s part, Dick has been given to understand. It always gave him the impression that Bruce hadn’t actually been alive until he became Batman. The real Bruce that is, not the one who gallivanted with beautiful women and faked polo accidents and base jumping mishaps. It never occurred to him that billionaire playboy Bruce had ever had its roots in reality.
Bruce tips his head back to lazily blow out a stream of smoke, and the gesture is so insouciant, so alien, Dick is baffled. Two boys join Bruce at the wall, backpacks thrown over their shoulders, they say something that makes him smile and straighten up from the wall, carelessly flicking the cigarette aside. When he leaves, Dick crunches it out with the toe of shoe and shakes his head. He supposes everybody is a little wild in college.
It becomes clear as the day advances that Bruce is not merely wild in college. He’s a fratboy. Dick scopes it out later and finds pictures of not just Bruce’s father, but also his grandfather and his great uncle on their alumni wall. Apparently generations of Wayne men have pledged SAE. What shocks him is how much zeal he seems to have for the whole thing. Dick watches surreptitiously from a tree as Bruce rummages around his incredibly messy bedroom and locates an extremely expensive bottle of Glen Elgin and a stack of cracked cups and goes downstairs to pour everybody a drink. It’s only 5:30.
Dick is surprised he isn’t thoroughly soused by the time he finally heads to the Ivy Club for dinner. Dick nearly falls out of the tree when Bruce actually piles into a very nice open-top Maserati with three other boys who can’t walk straight and a driver who couldn’t manage “what’s on the menu” without slurring. Dick has to restrain himself from jumping out of his tree and offering to drive them himself. Barbara made him promise no contact. But this is unbelievable. It’s like watching Animal House: The Wayne Edition. He just can’t believe that the man he knows stole fruit for orphans and has a terrible time pretending to have fun at parties, is an out of control bro.
“Are you playing this week?” one of the guys asks Bruce as their driver friend fiddles about with the ignition.
“Nah,” Bruce says and rolls his shoulder. “Coach is still pissed at me for that party after we played LeHigh.”
A kid with glasses snorts and shoves them up his nose. “You nearly dislocated your shoulder trying to do a handstand off a diving board to impress their stupid pep squad.”
“Nearly,” Bruce replies with a laugh, “Meaning not actually. Whatever, if they want to lose this week...” he trails off with a shrug in his voice. Dick can’t take it.
Bruce plays team sports. He can’t hold back a snort of hysterical laughter. These are not the parts of Bruce that he chooses to inform Dick about. No stories about how he understood what it meant to raise a little hell the one time Dick had accepted a watered down beer at a party and had wound up back at the manor puking his guts out while Bruce and Alfred looked on, cheerlessly unsympathetic. Nothing on what to do about girls other than a book, a box of condoms, and a fierce, “Be safe.”
The car finally kickstarts into gear and Dick has to climb down from his tree and follow on foot.
He sneaks in to the Ivy Club a few minutes after Bruce and his friends go inside. He doesn’t expect an ambush, but it’s a better place for it then the halls of a disreputable frat house with only a couple of blockheaded jocks for an audience. Dick remembers one throw away comment about this place. Bruce had said his money had guaranteed him entrance with a sardonically tilted head, and wouldn’t Dick prefer to go to a university where things like that had no bearing. Only rich people thought that there were places where things like that had no bearing. Dick could hardly pick a fight about it though. He’d spent almost more of his life obscenely wealthy than he had traveling from town to town, hoping the crowds would be big enough so that everybody could get paid.
As he patrols the halls, he changes his mind. This would be a perfect spot for an ambush. Peels of laughter come from the dining hall and Dick sighs. They won’t stand a chance against Hush. And Bruce who one day will be their greatest protection is intoxicated, and who knows how polluted his lungs are from cigarettes. Dick also severely doubts running around a baseball diamond is adequate preparation for fighting off a criminal mastermind. This Bruce is just a normal guy. And the only thing that happens to normal Bruce is that he picks a fight with a slick blond kid halfway through the soup course, and his fraternity brothers have to drag him back into his seat.
Dick who’s able to get a pretty good view of the aftermath of the tumult hears one of the brothers tell Bruce, “You’ve got to stop getting into fights with Carlysle, they’re going to kick you out of the club if you don’t.”
“Let them,” Bruce says, wiping his bloody nose on a rough paper napkin. “It’d be an honor.”
Dick lingers a little too long, thinking about how this Bruce almost reminds him of Jason. Just as he’s having that frightening thought, one of the other brothers spots him just standing there, between tables and shoots him a weird look. Dick retreats and waits outside in the cover of the hedges after that. He hopes this ends soon, because he can only masquerade as a student for so long, following Bruce everywhere, before people start asking questions.
There’s enough going on that night that Dick is able to sneak into the party at the SAE house without notice. He installs himself in the corner near the stereo and starts a conversation with a group of girls, because standing around silently staring is going to get him noticed for sure. Bruce is difficult to track though. He’s in and out of the rooms, spinning some girl around on her heels or doing shots with a few kids from the baseball team. At some point in the night, with Dick trailing him, he winds up scaling the roof, laughing at the heavens, while girls giggle and shriek at him to come down, please, Bruce, you’re scaring me!
Dick watches, sick with unease, afraid that Hush’s intent to kill Batman before he’s even Batman will be accomplished by too many Jaeger bombs and a side of whisky. Dick has never felt fear for Bruce so strongly or constantly. He feels a hot knot of shame coil in his belly. He’s always expected Bruce to be invulnerable, like some long-lost Hercules. He’s only been afraid when it’s too late. Barbara used to say that Bruce thought they could handle themselves. That he didn’t worry for them. But Dick knows about that bank of monitors in the cave. He’s come to realize that Bruce is constantly terrified for them. Bruce finally clambers down without any trouble and a shouted, “Hallelujah, baby.” In relief Dick takes a bracing sip of the drink somebody pushed into his hand when he walked through the door. He’s been nursing it, because people who don’t drink at parties like this also stick out. But the long swallow was a mistake.
He’s got his eye on Bruce who’s talking to some girl expansively with his hands when the world starts to fade out. Dick looks down at the cup and curses. He’s been felled by a stupid college party and if this is the moment, if he fails, he will...he passes out before finishes the thought.
He wakes up with a pounding head, half hanging out of a messy bed. There are books strewn across the floor, all hefty titles. He wonders if he crawled into some philosophy major’s room to pass out. It holds a certain kind of irony.
“So you’re awake,” a voice says and Dick jerks upright, covers flying off.
Bruce is sitting in his desk chair, a pencil stub stuck out of his mouth and a whimsical expression on his face. He’s wearing sweat pants with Gotham Knights written on the thigh and nothing else. Dick eyes the dark trail of hair running into his waistband and the strongly defined muscles. He’s leaner than he will be, but already very broad through the shoulders. He runs a hand through messy hair and raises his brows as Dick continues to stare. So much for no contact. He bets Barbara won’t be surprised he fucked it up. “What happened?” he finally croaks out.
“You collapsed into a potted plant and started raving about criminal mad men and bats,” Bruce replies, looking extremely amused. “You got a hold of some good shit.”
Dick rubs his face and groans.
“I promise nobody took advantage of you. I had to beat ‘em off. It was a real struggle.” Bruce says jocularly, smiling wider when Dick groans again. “What’s your name?”
“Dick,” he says and swallows dryly.
“Short for Richard?” Bruce says with a sardonic twist to his lips, “Or, you sir, are a dick?”
“Short for Richard,” Dick replies and pushes his face into Bruce’s pillow. He feels like Bane started pounding on him. There is no justice in the world.
“Right, well, get up, Dick,” Bruce says and kicks the side of his bed. “I’ll make you breakfast.”
Dick is extremely skeptical of this breakfast. As far as he knows Bruce has never cooked anything in his life, and from the way Alfred acts when Bruce is in the kitchen he suspects any of Bruce’s concoctions would be crimes against the palate. But Bruce manages eggs and bacon just fine, and the coffee he makes is heavenly. He feels a little guilty as he eats it. Dick should really be getting along now, what with what Barbara said, and changing the time stream and all that. But what’s done is done. And he can’t imagine how much worse it’ll be if he runs off and then Bruce spots him lurking. The brother who caught him staring at the Ivy Club will surely mention it. But Bruce doesn’t ask questions. Not Dick’s age or what he’s majoring in, not even how he ended up in their frat house. It’s disconcerting.
Bruce just blithely sits across from him and opens a large Hume tome while pushing his fork around his plate.
“You’re reading that?” Dick asks, fork suspended halfway to his mouth. The other guys are starting to wake up and filter into the kitchen. Some of them look like they’re in worse shape than Dick. Bruce eyes him above the text and it’s the first familiar expression Dick’s seen on his face. The kid with the glasses from yesterday pulls a box of cereal off the top of the fridge and says, “Wayne’s probably the smartest person on his way to flunking out.”
“Shut up,” Bruce says amiably.
“Most pretentious D student ever,” the kid continues. He levels Dick with an assessing look. “I’m Jake and you’re that bat kid who fell into the plant.”
“Dick,” Bruce adds, like Dick won’t be able to say his own name.
“What did I do to you?” Jake says and whaps Bruce with a dish towel.
“Ow, Jesus,” Bruce replies, rubbing his shoulder, “It’s his name, asshole!”
Dick can’t help a laugh.
It’s a mistake to think Bruce is happier now. He realizes that quickly. Bruce is more carefree, but the drunken joie de vivre Dick has witnessed over the last couple of days could only be described as self-medication. A wave of guilt rolls through him when he realizes it makes him feel better. He doesn’t like the idea that Batman has made him into the bastard he is today, because Dick certainly doesn’t feel that way about himself. This unhappy rendition of Bruce is simply minus all his stoicism and purpose. Dick wonders what miracle helps him find that purpose when Bruce decides to get high after breakfast and go to the chem labs.
“What are you doing?” Dick asks, shrugging the shoulders of somebody’s borrowed t-shirt.
Bruce pinches out his blunt and says, “Come with and you’ll find out.”
“This isn’t really...” Dick starts out, but something about the look on Bruce’s face immediately makes him shut up. It’s a Pavlovian response. He can tell from Bruce’s own surprised look he wasn’t expecting the battle to be won that easy.
They tromp across campus to the science labs, with Bruce actually taking sips from a little silver monogrammed flask the whole way.
“Who are you?” Dick mutters.
“Sorry?” Bruce says over his shoulders, blinking heavily-fringed lashes.
“You’re going to end up with a cirrhotic liver.”
“Can’t come fast enough!” Bruce replies cheerfully. Dick sighs and considers it unfair to punch him. Bruce can’t defend himself now and he wouldn’t understand why anyway. He’ll have to save it for when he gets back to the future. If they get Bruce back he’s going to give him a good black eye. Let him try to explain that one to the papers as a riding accident.
It turns out that Bruce is conducting an experiment in bioluminescence. He’s got a tank full of fireflies and says a whole bunch of stuff about operons and cofactors and synthesis that really doesn’t make sense to Dick. Tim would understand. Dick didn’t do poorly in school, but it wasn’t his strong suit either. He supposes he was far too practical for theoretical science.
“See, bioluminescence is a so-called ‘cold light,’” Bruce tells him, using the mechanical pipette to suck a substance out of a beaker. He’s got these protective glasses on over his eyes that he also made Dick wear and he looks over the tops of them significantly. “Which means it has low thermal radiation.”
Dick stares at him and Bruce sighs. “You’re about to tell me you’re an English major, aren’t you?”
Dick decides it's better not to tell him that he purposefully dropped out of college just to piss Bruce off. He wonders if he’d gotten around to choosing a major what he would’ve studied. Criminology maybe. And then he thinks about the Loeb classics Bruce had bought him every year after Bruce had caught him in the library pouring over the pictures in an illustrated edition of Ovid.
He clears his throat. “Classics actually.”
“Flectere si nequeo superos, acheronta movebo,” Bruce replies.
“Vergil, and Jake’s right, you’re super pretentious,” Dick says and drums his fingers on the lab table like he’s bored. He’s glad to see that Bruce is as fond of this quote now as he is in the future.
Bruce actually sticks his tongue out at him while he pours something else into the beaker. Dick wishes he had his cellphone so he could take a picture and send it to EVERYBODY. The beaker flares with a greenish light and Bruce lifts a satisfied brow.
“What exactly are the applications of this?”
“It’s a completely sustainable source of light,” Bruce replies. “Applications are limitless. The only issue is that I have yet to figure out a way to get it to luminesce in an aesthetically pleasing way.”
“You are...” Dick trips over the words, “...really weird.”
Bruce snorts. “This from the guy who collapsed into a plant and waxed poetic about bats for six hours.”
“You were really agitated,” Bruce says with a shrug and goes back to fiddling with the glowing substance. “Kept grabbing my arm and telling me to hush.”
Dick supposes his subconscious worries took over. He couldn't let himself fail the mission just because he got roofied at Bruce’s stupid frat party. Dick realizes he’s blushing and that Bruce is staring at him expectantly.
“You know, when I woke up this morning, why didn’t you send me away?”
Bruce’s canines are slightly pointed, just like Barbara. Now that he’s not fifteen and still figuring out what his dick is for, he knows that it’s a turn on, and that the young man standing before him is the progenitor of said turn on. Yet, it is odd to see him bite his lip in thought. By the time Dick knows Bruce, he will have successfully learned to mask all his facial tics. He will be nearly unreadable. And yet, this rambunctious version of Bruce is much harder for him to make out.
Bruce’s eyes suddenly focus, like he just remembered Dick was there. He says, “I like interesting people.”
Dick clears his throat. He has to look away from those assessing blue eyes. “Well...this is cool. How are you failing again?”
Bruce shrugs. “Don’t go to class.”
“Why not? You’re--” he pauses to correct himself, Bruce isn’t so famous yet that random people at college will simply know about his massive inheritance, “--parents are paying to go here.”
“They’re dead,” Bruce says baldly, putting the beaker down. He pulls the latex gloves he was wearing off and throws them into the trash. His face is closed off. “I’m paying for this whole thing myself..my money, I can do what I like.”
Dick winces as Bruce brusquely shuffles him out the door.
“I’m sorry--” he tries to say.
“Don’t worry about it,” Bruce says, eyes looking straight over his shoulder.
“No, but--” Dick has never found this subject difficult to talk about. Bruce has always been forthright about this aspect of his history, disclosing all the nooks and crannies of what it’s like to lose everything that matters to you in a single instant. All so that Dick would know he wasn’t alone. He’d forgotten that nobody had ever been able to do that for Bruce.
“Food. I want food? You?”
Dick takes the line that Bruce is throwing him with both hands and changes the subject. “That’s because you smoked more than Timothy Leary back there.”
“Timothy Leary took shrooms and dropped acid,” Bruce replies, with a shrug, “to my knowledge I’ve never done either.”
“To your knowledge?” Dick answers incredulously.
“Yeah, to my knowledge,” Bruce says. He stops and looks back and forth between Dick and a fence separating them from the grass. “Race you!”
And now it’s like old times, even with Bruce being a merciless cheater. Bruce swings himself bodily over the fence and doesn’t glance back to see if Dick is following. He’s got four inches on Dick, almost all leg, but he also doesn’t yet spend his nights vaulting over rooftops hot on the heels of various criminal masterminds.
Dick beats him back to the road, but he’s glad to notice that Bruce, only a few feet behind, isn’t huffing and puffing the way Dick worried he might be. “I don’t know how you’re not a slovenly wreck,” he says, eyeing the high color in Bruce’s cheeks and the fine sheen of sweat on his throat. “From what I’ve seen, you certainly deserve to be.”
Bruce pats his abs. “It’s the DNA, horribly unfair to the rest of you mere mortals.”
Now that Dick is past the age of wolfing down three hamburgers and still feeling like an empty pit, he has to keep a tight watch on his calories. He knows from many bitter evenings at the Wayne manor that Bruce has no such problems. “I hate you,” he replies and then wishes he could take it back. He’d said it jokingly to Bruce over the years, but more recently he’s said it and meant it. Bruce doesn’t know what his sudden deer in the headlights pause means, and because he is not yet the Bruce Dick knows, he completely ignores it.
“Food, Dick, or I shall make a terrible ass of my self,” he says and pushes past him.
“Too late,” Dick cries after.
“Be nice or I won’t give you a sip of my flask,” he replies.
Dick would say he’s not interested, but it’s a bit nippy and the jacket he got sent back in is more for early spring then early winter. “Give it here,” he says and Bruce pops it up into the air, simply expecting him to catch it.
The waitress who serves them at the cafe starts to a stop when she goes to hand them their waters. “You two must be brothers,” she says, shooting Bruce an altogether too interested look. If Dick can conclude anything from Bruce’s current modus operandi it’s that he’ll eat her alive.
Bruce arches a brow. “While it’s true that Dick and I possess the rare combination of black hair and blue eyes, and ignoring the highly divergent maxilofacial structure, Dick’s altogether more swarthy skin in winter indicates that he either frequents tanning parlors,” Dick glares at him, but Bruce continues on, “or that he’s of Mediterranean or Balkan extraction. Further, Dick possesses two mendelian traits that I do not, cheek dimples and free earlobes, both autosomal dominant, suggesting that if we’d been of similar parentage, I would have them also.”
She sets the waters down with a confused look, like she only understood one in every six words. “What can I get you?” she asks tentatively, pulling out her pad and eyeing Bruce carefully like he’ll throw an encyclopedia at her at any moment. Dick understands, he really does.
“I’ll have the mesclun salad and a coffee, black, he’ll have a burger and fries,” Dick says and after a moment adds, “and a chocolate shake.”
“Wow, thanks, dad, I could never have ordered that on my own,” Bruce says, leaning back in his chair.
“Yeah well, it’s exactly what you said you wanted and I didn’t want you to alienate our poor waitress. I’m not a fan of spit in my food.”
“Oh she wouldn’t have spat in it,” Bruce says definitively, “but now she won’t ask for my number.”
Dick props his chin on his fist. “You sound proud of yourself.”
“I am, it’s an art form.”
“Do you have something against sex?”
“Hardly, but my girlfriend would be a bit peeved if I started picking up random waitresses.”
Dick’s mouth drops open. “You...have a girlfriend? Where have you been keeping her?” He feels stupidly jealous all of a sudden.
Bruce quirks a brow at him. “You’ve only been around for a day.” Dick obviously doesn’t mention he’s been watching Bruce for three. Bruce shrugs after a long pause. “She was over last night, but then you fell into that plant, and I was worried what would happen if I left you to your own devices. Also, I’m going to break up with her in a week probably, because there’s this chick in infectious diseases who actually makes me get up in the morning to see her, and the last thing I want is to give Lily any ammunition to say I cheated on her.”
“What?” Dick blinks.
“Lily, my girlfriend, I don’t want her to think I cheated on her before breaking up with her.”
“But you’re emotionally cheating already!”
“Well yes, but that can’t be helped,” Bruce replies with a theatrical sigh. “And if you could see this girl, Jesus, you would be emotionally cheating your brains out.”
Dick swallows uneasily. Dick is the last person who should accuse anybody of emotionally cheating on anybody. He knows that. Barbara’s been accusing him of it most of his adult life. But something about the man who will one day be Batman, shooting the shit with Dick like he didn’t once have to buy him his first condoms or explain to him what the other school children meant when they started talking about bases and fingering and all that nonsense, is really throwing him for a loop.
“God she’s got the sweetest ass, I just want to spread it and--”
“No, god! No, we are not talking about this.”
Bruce’s ever-present (and extremely annoying because Dick will never manage that look of skepticism) raised eyebrow is up by his hairline. “You’re a prude with a name like Dick?”
“I’m not a prude!” Dick replies heatedly. “There are families and professors in here!”
“Well it’s not like I’ve gotten out my bullhorn and started shouting it to them,” Bruce replies and then he’s leaning back in his seat and his Sonic Youth t-shirt rides up to reveal the lines of muscle that Dick is all too well acquainted with in the batsuit, but never at this angle. He can count on his hand the number of times that Bruce has worn a t-shirt. “Anyway as I was saying, her a--”
Dick covers his face with his hand. “If you say one more word I’m leaving!” He’s not quite man enough to admit that he’s jealous, horribly so. Especially because he very much wanted to believe that Bruce taking care of him even though he didn’t know him from Adam meant something.
Bruce laughs. “Oh, Prudish Dick, you are so lucky you’re not pledging SAE, I would get so much mileage out of that one.”
There’s another party in the SAE house that night. “Presidents’ day weekend, bitch!” Bruce says when Dick tries to convince him to take it easy. Bruce wades through his closet, trading his t-shirt for a plaid button-down. God, Bruce is such a college-angst cliche. Dick says as much and he just laughs.
“You don’t have to stay. You can go back to your dorm and be lonely, sad, pathetic, and alone.”
“That was kind of redundant.”
“You’ll never get laid with that attitude,” Bruce replies, unconsciously tousling his hair so that it sticks up in the front. Dick itches to flatten it. Bruce’s got two beers at his elbow that he’s drinking all by himself and he’s already had a couple of hits off one of the other brother’s water bong. Dick asked him in all seriousness if he’d done any of the harder stuff and Bruce had replied “crack is whack” to Dick’s disbelieving face. He’d said soberly, “I refuse to bankroll an institution that takes advantage of the poverty-stricken as the only viable means of upward mobility in a racist and debauched capitalistic society.”
“And you think pot doesn’t do that?”
“Pot should be legal!” If Barbara’s best-case scenarios are right and he manages to get back to the future, Dick plans spit all these gems back at Bruce whenever he’s climbed up on to his high horse. He’s guaranteed to win every argument for the next ten years.
“How do you know if I get laid?” Dick asks from Bruce’s bed. Bruce apparently uses the same detergent that Alfred has always used on all their laundry and it’s giving him a serious case of nostalgia. They both know he’s not going to leave.
“You’re all tetchy and serious,” Bruce replies, leaning back against his desk and scratching his belly. Dick doesn’t follow the motion with his eyes, because even this Bruce would notice. “Annnnd...you spent the entire night high out of your mind raving about a giant bat. That is fucked up!”
Dick can’t help laughing. He would love to know what this Bruce would think of his present-day incarnation. Probably that he was a giant psychotic pain in the ass. Which would be an accurate evaluation. Although, Dick would have to say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Bruce at 21 is the most psychotic hedonist he’s ever met. One of the brothers tells him Bruce always loses Never Have I Ever, because there’s nothing he hasn’t done.
“I haven’t jacked off in class,” Bruce says, protesting.
“Oh wow, if that’s where we’re drawing the line,” the brother replies.
“I never fell into a plant and started raving about bats!”
Dick wants to brain himself on Bruce’s advanced philosophy reader. “You have got to let that go.”
Dick stays with Bruce because there was never any question and Bruce either doesn’t notice, or doesn’t care that Dick is never farther than ten feet from him. Sometime after eleven, Lily shows up. She’s a dark-eyed blonde who’s at least as tall as Dick and wearing heels. She and Bruce shotgun a can of Bud Light together, her hand drifting ever toward his belt buckle.
Jake catches him staring. “She’s so incredibly fine,” he says. “Bruce is such a bastard.”
Dick nods and carefully swirls the beer around in his cup. He watched Bruce pour it out for him and since then he’s kept it close on hand. “He’s going to break up with her.”
Jake pushes his glasses up his nose. “Bruce Wayne, you dog, that means he’s already got somebody else in mind.”
Lily leaves after a little while and Bruce appears at his elbow. “I think she’s going to break up with me first,” he says, swaying a little on his feet.
“Don’t tell me you’re upset by that,” Dick says.
“It’s really terrible, I’m self-aware enough to know that,” Bruce says, “but yes, I am.”
Dick is opening his mouth to scold him when Bruce bounds off, calling, “I need some air.”
“Bruce, would you--” he cuts himself off and makes an ugly noise in the back of his throat. He sets his drink down and shoots Jake an apologetic look. “I’m going to go after him.”
Jake is giving him a weird look, like all the little odds and ends about Dick are just starting to form a puzzle and he’s not sure he likes the picture. Dick doesn’t linger to find out what Jake is going to say and if it includes the word fag.
He finds Bruce under a tree down the street after a few horrible moments of thinking Bruce had completely disappeared, and he’d have to explain to Barbara why some of their loved ones simply didn’t exist anymore. Damian had winked out right after Bruce did, and things in the manor kept roiling and shifting--things that had been fixed or renovated fell apart without warning in decrepit shambles. They couldn’t enter the cave anymore and Tim didn’t know who they were. She’d said he had one shot to fix the timestream before it completely rearranged itself around Batman’s sudden absence from the world. If only Bruce wasn’t so determined to get himself killed and Hush would just show up. The waiting was becoming an agony.
But then he sees the little curl of smoke and makes Bruce out shivering under a tree. “You shouldn’t have left without your jacket,” Dick says as Bruce takes a long drag off the cigarette.
Bruce laughs, flicking ash aside. “You remind me of someone from home when you talk like that.”
Dick starts and then realizes he must mean Alfred. Somewhere in the world, Dick is barely alive. His parents are just teaching him the basics of tumbling. It’s a bitter thought, he could go and warn them, but Barbara had made him swear he wouldn’t interfere.
“I know it’s a really awful thing, Dick, but you have to consider all the lives you’ve saved, all the good you’ve done. And you don’t know how meddling could make things worse,” she said.
Dick had agreed, but he hadn’t even realized it was an option until Barbara warned him about it.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Bruce asks. “You’re always looking at me like that.”
Dick swallows. Bruce isn’t as oblivious as he thought. “It just...seems like you’re throwing your life away.”
“What life?” Bruce asks bitterly, exhaling smoke.
Dick wants to rage against him. He has so many gifts and talents. He is so achingly smart and beautiful and Dick has spent many years wanting whatever Bruce would consent to give him. And so many people love him and have been inspired by his example. But he knows Bruce will never understand this. He wonders if this is how Bruce felt when Dick dropped out of college, after he’d battled Dick for months to even get him to consent to enroll.
“We haven’t met before, have we?” Bruce asks. “I know you’re from Gotham.”
Dick colors. “W--what makes you say that?”
Bruce ashes the cigarette and rolls to his feet. “You addressed me by name when you were having your weird acid trip.”
Dick narrows his eyes at him. He suddenly understands what all of this was, the absence of questions, allowing Dick to follow him everywhere without even seeming to notice. Bruce will always be the same poker-faced asshole. He’s always picking and picking at things. “You kept me around because you wanted to understand that acid trip.”
Bruce looks surprised. “What? No, I kept you around because you’re hilarious.” He misinterprets the look on Dick’s face and says quickly. “In a good way.”
When Dick still doesn’t say anything he says, “You must think I’m some bizarre paranoiac if that’s what you thought I was doing.”
Dick runs a hand across his face and blows out a breath. “I just...know you.”
Bruce shakes his head. “But you really don’t. I’m certain we’ve never met. I even called Alfred to ask...” he trails off.
“But you do know him, Bruce,” a voice says from between the trees. “Just not yet.”
Dick tries to leap in front of Bruce but something connects with his temple and the world goes dark. The moment he lets his guard down it all falls apart. Sometimes Dick feels he’s in his first year all over again. This would never happen to Batman, he thinks as he sinks into unconsciousness.
He comes to with a pounding head. He can’t quite figure out how to get his limbs to work. Bruce and Hush are talking. It’s strange to see the man that Bruce will become in Hush’s surgically altered face standing next to the man that Bruce is.
Bruce rears up on his knees, his cheek bleeding and his lip split. He’s holding one arm gingerly. “So kill me,” he says. “It would be a mercy.”
“Don’t play that card, Wayne,” Hush says, delivering him another blow. “If you wanted to die you would’ve done it already.”
“Alfred would be devastated if I killed myself. But if you do it, and you seem to want to an awful lot, I can hardly be blamed.”
Hush belts him across the face and Bruce’s head snaps back. “You have an unexpectedly smart mouth,” Hush says, voice considering. He watches, frozen and sick with it, as Bruce slowly turns his head to glare defiantly up at Hush. God, he must've never had any sense of self-preservation.
Dick groans and finally summons enough strength to slam into Hush from behind. “Pick on someone your own size,” he shouts as they tumble to the grass. They grapple and roll, punching and kicking. There is no finesse to it. “Run,” he shouts raggedly at Bruce while digging his fingers into the tender flesh under Hush’s arm.
Hush bellows and then something sharp prick’s Dick’s upper arm. He goes limp almost instantly. Hush rolls off of him and runs a hand through his hair, breathing hard. There’s a surgical needle in one huge fist that he tosses aside. “My apologies, a mild spasmolytic. You were getting annoying.”
Dick strains to move but he can barely manage more than a twitch of his fingers. Inside he’s screaming. Bruce didn’t leave. He’s watching the scene before him frozen in mute horror and Dick can do absolutely nothing. What will his life be like without Bruce? Will he even be alive in the future? Will any of them?
He watches as Bruce straightens his back, and stares at Hush defiantly. “If you kill me, you have to promise to let Dick live.”
“Wayne, I’m not about to do anything that makes you happy.” A scalpel appears in his hand. “I intend to flay you alive.”
A bitter scream bursts pasts Dick’s lips and his right arm jerks, sensation returning. He drags himself across the grass toward them.
Hush raises a brow and then turns to Bruce. “Look at your future son, look how he burns for you. How perverted and sick you are. I’m doing the world a favor.”
More and more sensation rushes back into his limbs and Dick manages to push himself up to his knees solely through the strength of his arms. His legs are still useless Jello.
“Remarkable,” Hush says, cocking his head.
“Have compound in...blood...can catalyze...paralytics faster...” Dick snarls.
Hush looks at him wonderingly. “Well, Wayne, I suppose we have to give you your due, you do think of everything.” He turns back to Bruce and shouts in surprise when Bruce is suddenly in front of him. Bruce stabs him in the eye with the discarded needle and Hush drops like a sack of potatoes.
“I suppose we do,” he growls. He wipes blood off his face and breathes hard. “You should...probably pretend to be paralyzed when the police arrive. Not sure how we could explain the situation otherwise.”
Dick is still struggling to move his lips and tongue. “Not...gonna be...a problem.”
Bruce nods and sinks down to the grass.
The paramedics patch them up while the police take their statements. The entire frat house has emptied out to watch the hubbub. They cart a paralyzed Hush away and an EMT, swallowing their fake story, says, “Looks like we’ve got another John Wayne Gacy on our hands.” To have Hush reduced to a sexually deviant serial killer is almost laughable. Possibly the best revenge they could’ve had on him.
They want to take Dick to the hospital, but he insists otherwise. “I don’t have health insurance,” he gasps, as sensation fires through him, making him feel strangely aroused.
“I’ll pay for it,” Bruce says exasperatedly.
“No,” Dick says, “I can’t let you do that.” He has unknown antigens and vaccinations in his blood, stuff that doesn’t exist yet. They’ll want to study him and he’s got to hit the device and get out of here, not further medical science. Bruce doesn’t understand yet although he will. Dick will be fine.
When everybody leaves they climb back up to Bruce’s room. The other brothers give them a respectful berth and slowly usher all of the guests out the house. Bruce sinks down to his bed with a lost expression. There’s a butterfly bandage across one cheekbone, and his wrist is wrapped in a protective brace. Dick hovers in the doorway, ignoring his own hurts. He shouldn’t linger. He did what he came here to do.
“You’re not really my son, are you?” Bruce asks.
Dick’s stomach feels leaden, that his feelings should be revealed to Bruce like that. He can’t imagine a worse way. He wants to follow after the police car that’s carting Hush away and murder him. It’s not an impulse he’s proud of.
“No, you--you took me in when my parents were murdered.”
“Good. That’s good,” Bruce puts his head in his hands and laughs weakly. It sounds more like crying. “I would’ve had to kill myself for wanting to fuck my own son.”
Dick jerks more at the use of the swear word. Bruce never swears. “You don’t--” he starts.
“Yes, I do,” Bruce replies, rolling to his feet. Dick stares at him frozen, he slides his fingers into the hair at Dick’s nape, tugging him in for a kiss. It’s not the same as his Bruce, but in some ways that’s better, because he’s on a more even footing with this Bruce. Although Bruce is unfairly good at this. His tongue slides into Dick’s mouth, flicking the tip against Dick’s. He pulls their hips together, guiding almost, like Dick would need to be coaxed into it. He’s still too shell-shocked to do more than hang on to Bruce’s shoulders. Bruce nips at the corner of his mouth and then pulls back. “Also, I would’ve been really discomfited if my analysis of your parentage had been in error.”
“Did you really just--”
“Yes,” Bruce replies again and walks him back onto the bed. He pins Dick’s hands to the pillow and sucks a line of kisses down his neck. Catwoman once bitterly told him to beware of experienced lovers, motivated more to goad Bruce than by any desire to impart advise. But she was right. Bruce moves, fists tightening around Dick’s wrists, like he’s using them as leverage to bring their hips together in a slow sliding roll. He chuckles as Dick opens his thighs around Bruce’s legs. Dick curses and jerks, cock trapped in his jeans under Bruce’s weight. The bed creaks and Dick thinks everybody in the house is going to know exactly what they’re doing. He pushes his face into the pillow in shame, but then he remembers, he’s leaving. He won’t ever have to face them.
He looks up at Bruce and sees the man he will know superimposed over him, strong and silent, only the slightest lines in his face giving away a sense of humor. Dick blinks and 21-year-old Bruce is looking back him. His eyes are black with pupil and he bites down on his lip as Dick thrusts back up against him. Dick’s mouth opens and Bruce bends down, teeth closing over his lower lip. Dick jerks, hands closing and opening spasmodically.
Bruce lets Dick roll them over so that he’s on top. Dick has to stop for a moment, hand braced on Bruce’s shoulder. Babs is going to kill him. He forgets that train of thought entirely when Bruce reaches for Dick’s wrist again, thumb rubbing over the sensitive tracery of veins. “You’re a bastard,” Dick breathes, when Bruce brings the wrist to his mouth. He nips first and then runs his tongue along Dick’s forearm. Dick can only hang his head between his shoulders and groan.
He huffs out a breath and reaches between them, fighting with the buttons first on his jeans and then on Bruce’s. Bruce watches him, eyes going half-lidded as Dick pulls him free of his boxers. Bruce arches under him, lips parting, as Dick begins to stroke their cocks together. The whites of his eyes show just under his lids and he says, “Yeah, just like that.” He runs a hand up Dick’s thigh to his ass, fingers spreading across one cheek, following where the muscle meets the thigh.
“God, your ass,” Bruce tells him, he presses his cheek into the pillow and cuts off in the middle of saying something else when Dick thumbs along the slit on the head of his dick, knuckle catching just under the corona.
“It’s not enough,” Dick says, voice just this side of desperate. He hasn’t done something like this since his own aborted attempt at college.
He watches Bruce’s stomach muscles flex where his t-shirt has ridden up and then he’s sitting up, catching Dick’s lower lip between his teeth and pulling, hand delving down inside the back of his jeans. “Yes it is,” he says, moving on to Dick’s ear, “I bet you can come just like this.”
“Fuck you,” Dick replies, but can’t help a shudder.
Bruce’s larger hand wraps around Dick’s, squeezing their cocks together. He pulls Dick back down against him, kissing him and keeping the rhythm going, their combined sweat making the way easier. He takes his hand away and then they’re just rutting together, mouths crashing, messy. Dick loves the slide of his cock in the cut of Bruce’s pelvis, somebody’s pre-come tacky on the flexing muscles of his belly.
“Christ,” he says in wonder, because he does come, hard and fast and unexpected. He sits back to breathe, feeling a little like he’s on fire. He’s still spread over Bruce’s thighs, watching as he jerks himself off, lip caught between his teeth. Bruce holds onto his thigh with one white-knuckled hand the entire time.
“Don’t...don’t talk about killing yourself anymore, okay?” he says, later lying naked in Bruce’s bed, after Bruce shoved him off unceremoniously for a shower. He came back with a roast beef sandwich and kicked Dick in the shin until he moved over.
“What exactly is going on in the future? First you going on about bats, and then that guy going on about bats and traveling through time to kill me.” He settles down on the bed, taking a mouthful of the sandwich. He looks at Dick and shakes his head. “If I hadn’t seen somebody wearing my own face, I would never believe it. And why would he want to kill me anyway?”
“You’re important,” that’s all Dick says. And then his stomach drops out. He slept with Bruce. If he thought that wasn’t going to have complications in the future he hasn’t seen enough bad 80s movies.
“That sounds ominous,” Bruce replies, unaware of Dick’s sudden tension.
“I should go,” he says softly against Bruce’s bicep.
“Yeah, shit, you should,” Bruce says and then winces, “I totally broke my no cheating rule.”
Dick raises a confused brow. “What?”
“Lily and I are still technically together.”
Dick can’t help laughing at the expression on his face, the tension broken. “I’m going to tease you so hard when I get back.”
“I’m not sure that’s fair,” Bruce replies.
“You never play fair,” Dick reminds him and rolls out of bed. He finds his jeans on the floor and shimmies into them. When he looks up Bruce is watching him with muted interest, a hand skimming his belly. He swallows and gives Bruce a long look, committing him to memory. Things aren’t like this in the future. He doesn’t think they can be. And now, unless Bruce thinks it’s all a crazy dream, or if he doesn’t put it together, which Dick really hopes he doesn’t, he’s going to know. Barbara said something about small events maybe having no effect, time has a natural flow, she’d explained, and it wants to stick to it. He desperately wishes it’ll still be alright, because he can’t bring himself to regret it.
“You’re staring again,” Bruce tells him.
Dick clears his throat and takes half of Bruce’s sandwich. He takes a bite and salutes him with it, touching the talisman Barbara gave him before he left. “I’d say be good...”
Bruce fades out in the middle of a shrug that turns into surprise as Dick disappears and then Dick feels like he’s going a thousand directions at once before finally reassembling. The ceiling of the cave blinks into view and he finds Barbara peering down at him.
“You smell like a whorehouse,” she says baldly, watching Dick pick himself up with narrowed eyes. Dick looks down at the flattened sandwich in his hand and tosses it toward the trash can. Barbara gives him a look.
He clears his throat. “Well you’re still alive, the cave is in one piece, Batman is--” she nods “--back. So I don’t think it matters what I smell like since obviously I saved the day.”
“Cocky,” she replies, shaking her head. She wheels the chair away from him. “He’s upstairs. Three days you were gone and I thought you’d failed for sure, but everything just flipped back a couple of hours ago and nobody can remember anything that happened to them in the last three days.”
“Probably for the best if it was anything like the way it was when I left.”
“It was...not good,” she says grimly.
He nods. “Listen, I have to look something up and then I have to sleep.”
She smiles just slightly and says, “Go.”
He finds what he was looking for in the library. Stuff that Alfred’s kept of Bruce. There’s a spiral bound packet entitled, “Bioluminescence, Synthesis and Practical Applications.” He flips through it quickly, shaking his head. At least Bruce managed to publish this before getting expelled. His heart nearly comes to a stop when he sees a note in the bibliography.
A foot falls on one of the creaky floorboards and he jerks his head up. Bruce stands, leaning against one of the bookcases. He’s in a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, like he just came from work. His face is unreadable. Dick swallows guiltily. He took advantage and now they’re always going to have to live with the fact that they had sex. “I changed the timestream,” he says softly. “Barbara warned me not to, but she said small events, and I didn’t think it would matter. I didn’t think...”
“What’d you do?” Bruce asks carefully.
Dick flips the packet around and holds it out to him. Bruce crosses the floor to take it from him. Dick watches expectantly as his eyes run down the page. They stop and Dick stops breathing. There’s a jokey fake bibliography for a book titled Prudish Dick. Bruce closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I was not known for my maturity at the time.”
“When I wrote that false citation.”
“Wait, are you...” Dick has to stop. It’s too much to take in. “Are you telling me you...”
Bruce smiles. “You didn’t change the timestream. Thomas Elliot always went back in time to kill me, and you always went back to stop him.”
“Are you saying you--you knew that we’d--” he can’t bring himself to say it. “THIS ENTIRE TIME?”
Bruce looks back at him evenly. “Yes.”
“But you could’ve--and I agonized--and you--I can’t believe--but then--”
“Complete sentences,” Bruce instructs.
“You never did anything,” Dick says and turns away from him. He can’t look at him.
“You came to me when you were a child,” Bruce says soberly, “For the longest time I wasn’t...I wasn’t even sure it was you. And then you got to an age where I couldn’t deny it any longer.”
“When you fired me as Robin,” Dick replies softly.
“Yes,” Bruce replies.
Dick’s hands clenched into fists. “Do you not want me anymore?”
“Dick,” Bruce says, voice a sigh.
“I’m asking you,” he says childishly, shoulders up around his ears.
Bruce crosses the space between them and puts one hand on Dick’s shoulder, his thumb runs along the line of Dick’s collar. “Always,” he says.
Dick leans back into him and closes his eyes. “Just so you know?” he says as Bruce rests his chin on Dick’s shoulder. “'Pot should be legal.'”
Princeton doesn't recognize fraternities, so they don't have houses, but it suited my purposes, so I fudged it. The Ivy Club exists. I'm sure they're not as awful as I portrayed them...maybe
Also, when I imagine an adult Dick Grayson I totally picture Kid Darkness from Step Up 3D. He's the one in the center.