Title: But For The Grace: Five Things Which Fortunately Never Happened To Dick Grayson
Fandom: DC Comics
Pairings: Babs/Dick, Dick/Slade. Dick/Tim. Potentially others.
Warnings/Features: AU. slash, het, character death. Spoilers through Nightwing 117 and for Robin: Year One, in AU sorts of ways.
Tim would just as well nap at a console or on a couch, but Alfred insisted on putting him up in the room he'd had when he lived in the Manor, and Tim knows better than to argue. Swallowing his pleas of "don't go to any trouble," Tim helplessly watches Alfred prepare the room and make him too much dinner.
On the other hand, it's a distraction from Bludhaven's radioactive glow, and how neither Bruce nor Dick nor Barbara in Metropolis can be reached. For as long as distractions can last. Tim's legs ache on the stairs; he remembers pacing this hall on the way from Tim Drake to Robin, and his eyes hurt as he remembers sitting in this bed the night after his mother's funeral.
Fortunately, exhaustion saves him from further thoughts; it's several heavy dreamless hours, deep into the night, before Tim wakes up because the air's changed, someone's in the room. He rolls over, blinking, and Dick's in the doorway, outlined in warm light. He's barefoot in nondescript civvies, black leather jacket and white shirt and jeans; chemical burns are scattered across one cheek, and he limps very slightly as he comes closer.
Tim smiles and sits up. He's been worried that Dick would do something reckless in the face of Bludhaven's destruction, after everything that's happened. He obviously did enter the city, judging by the burns and the slight acidic scent off his clothes, but he hopefully wasn't there too long, if he's well enough to walk.
"Hey, we're back." Dick sits on the side of Tim's bed; Tim leans into the kiss before he thinks, careful of the burns on Dick's cheek, and Dick's mouth is as soft and warm as always, his hands strong on Tim's shoulders. Tight, even, pushing his sleeves up, squeezing his shoulders hard and pushing him down.
Tim stiffens. They're in the Manor. They don't do this in the Manor, they never have, because of Alfred, because of Bruce, because of plausible deniability. He pulls back, not sinking with the push but leaning far enough away to see Dick's face. His eyes glint blue and dark; he looks like he would sitting on a gargoyle, eyes full of the city and the night. Tim can feel the individual dents of Dick's fingers in his shoulders. He could so easily kiss him again, he's honestly beyond glad to have him here and safe, but... "Dick?"
"That's me." Dick sounds almost normal, but his smile is too soft and gentle to be a smirk. His thumbs press trails of heat into Tim's skin.
"We can't, here?" Dick's sides are almost feverishly warm when Tim untucks the shirt and makes himself a liar.
Then his hands stop, because Dick just looks at him, neither surprised nor mischievous, but rueful, and sad, and so beautiful it hurts. "Just this once... I think it'll be okay."
Just this once. Just this last? Tim pushes Dick up and climbs onto his lap, examining him. Beneath his shirt are just a couple of long scratches; his skin is flushed but not abnormally so, his eyes are clear. He looks fine.
He looks fine. "How long were you in Bludhaven?" Tim's fingers wind themselves tight in Dick's shirt.
Dick's still holding him, just as tightly. "Tim. Little brother. Please---"
"How long?" Dick's got just enough shadow around the burns to make his cheekbones stand out all the more sharply. He looks as beautiful as he ever has, and Tim knows, and doesn't want to know. The words "walking ghost phase" echo in his head, and he wants to shake Dick, to insist it isn't true.
"Too long." Dick shakes his head. "Way too long."
"How long?" Tim's voice dries up to a whisper. He pushes his face into Dick's shoulder, unable to look into those blue eyes.
Dick palms Tim's head, stroking his hair. "A couple more days till I get sick. Maybe a week total."
His heartbeat is strong against Tim's cheek, his hands warm and real on Tim's skin. He can't have a time bomb ticking in every cell of his body. "No," Tim mutters, muffling the denial in Dick's soft shirt. "No."
"I'm sorry," Dick says, like he's not the one who's dying, "I am. I just wanted... one more night with you." The muscles along his ribs are solid and sleek under Tim's hands, his hand familiarly calloused beneath Tim's chin. "I have to go to Metropolis in the morning."
Of course. Tim tries to say it, and unexpectedly, ridiculously, bursts into tears. He tries to hide his face in Dick's shoulder, but Dick holds him and kisses him, and he's crying too, and Tim clutches him and opens to the kiss.
They hit the bed and roll; Dick kisses Tim between sobs, stripping off his clothes with all his familiar speed and grace, twisting under Tim's hands. "Stay here," he murmurs over Tim's forehead as Tim desperately kisses his pulse and the ridge of his collarbone. "Please don't come to the hospital. I want... Think of me like this."
Tim nods, unable to stop crying, and Dick pulls him up again to kiss him, passionate and alive. Tim holds on tight, and he can't stop sobbing, but he can kiss back.
"How're you feeling, kid?" Dick watches Slade's orange boots pace towards him in time with the throbs of pain. Step, throb, throb, step, throb, throb. Bullet in his shoulder, one in his gut, like spikes of burning ice. Maybe one in a leg, but he can't feel those anymore.
Slade crouches into view, tipping Dick's chin up with two big, oddly gentle fingers. He's a little blurry, but Dick can see fist-shaped red bruises along the side of his face, too extensive to have healed yet. "Hmm. I don't think you're concussed."
"Too bad. I could use a nap." Slade's always liked the crazy sort of bravado; he grins, and Dick laughs, and coughs, the metallic tang of blood spreading through his mouth. Slade wipes Dick's lips with his fingers and licks them clean, and Dick would laugh if he could breathe, which he currently can't because the pain's flaring up to a crushing weight on his chest. Slade multiplies before his eyes, two white-haired men, four, blurring out to blue and orange and darkness before reappearing.
Slade's concerned expression might just be real. "You don't look so good." His fingers tap lightly against Dick's chin.
He doesn't feel so good, except for how the alternate drop made it through despite Slade's efforts, so he feels great. In a way. This is all very funny, and very painful, and it takes Dick three gasping tries before he can say, "I've been better."
Slade nods, checking the pulse in Dick's throat. His fingertips are scratchy flares in spreading numbness. "I'm sure you have. Was it worth it, kid?"
Yes, if it saves a quarter million people, but Dick's too busy coughing up more blood to say so. Breathing is getting harder and harder, the lump of pain pulsing more and more severely. "How's Rose?"
Slade snorts. "I think you can stop giving a damn now, if you want." Dick shrugs, or tries to with the shoulder that still works, and Slade shakes his head in fond astonishment. "She's fine. Other end of the street. Mind if I tell her the gangbangers took you out? She's got her mother's temper."
Dick's getting kind of brain-fogged; if he had enough air, he might say something like, 'one day she'll see you for the evil man you really are,' so it's probably just as well he doesn't. Instead he laughs, pushing it out against the thick heaviness on his chest, and Slade laughs with him. "All right, Grayson. How do you want this?"
"Quick," Dick more mouths than says. Slade nods, face serious, almost kind, and cups Dick's cheek. Slade kisses him almost softly, no teeth, tongue tracing a tingling line of warmth along his lip; it's the kind of kiss Dick would've sunk into, before. Now he sighs, and feels it, but he keeps his eyes open though all he can see is a skin-toned blur and the orange-brown of the sky.
He nips Slade's lip one last time, and Slade chuckles and gently bites him back, then pulls away and sets both hands on his neck, fingers spreading out caressingly, thumbs stroking in front of his ears. "Anything else?"
"One more kiss?" Dick asks hopefully, though he can feel the gurgling in his throat on each breath. Slade grins at him and kisses him, quick and hard, press of teeth and scrape of beard.
When Dick can see him again this time, his smile is almost regretful. "Close your eyes, Dick."
Dick does. He's wondered sometimes what the last face he'd see would be: Roy's or Kory's, Tim's, Babs's or Bruce's, their faces falling through his mind as he thinks their names. It's funny whose it's turned out to be, and maybe one day Bruce will forgive him for that, for this. "Damn shame," Slade murmurs thoughtfully, firming up his grip.
Then he twists, quick and sharp. Dick thinks he hears the snap, but he doesn't have time to be sure.
The only life sign in the wreck is wearing Dick's GPS signal. Even so, at first Barbara thinks she's missed him, till she adjusts the directional and hears the breathing, slow and loud and painful. "Nightwing," she says, to no response. "Nightwing. Nightwing!"
She gets a scraped-out groan. She drops the voice scrambler and tries again. "Nightwing? Robin?"
"Hnh?" He sounds groggy and thick. He's wheezing. "Mmnh. Ba-- Oracle."
She's got him. "Nightwing," she says, trying for a bracing tone. "I've got help on the way. What's your situation?"
It's only because she knows him that she can tell he's laughing, and he breaks off abruptly on a hiss. "I think I took 'em with me. Sorry."
"I only see one life sign," she confirms. She doesn't tell him that it's green flickering into blue. "Can you move?"
"No." Another horrible thick laugh. "Bad news... my leg... nngh." Several muffled sounds of pain, while her heart twists in her chest. "Pretty sure I lost it. Your favorite, too."
"All of you is my favorite," Babs says before she thinks. The hell with it, when she's left the scrambler off all this time. "H and Z're fifteen out. You can make it that long."
This laugh is even less of one. "'M not sure, O."
"I am," she lies. "Hang in there, Man Wonder."
He sighs. "Keep talking, B? I, ow, I---" He sucks in a noisy, wet-sounding breath. "I love your voice." A low, choked sound. "Please."
She's tempted to call up to the cockpit, but screaming at Zinda won't speed up the plane. "Of course, N." Just lie still and hang on. "The kids are all safe. A few bumps and bruises, but nothing major. C's with them; she's got Vashen and Wolfe in custody. Want a tape of their interrogations?"
"Heh." He sounds worse on every breath. The life sign is darkening blue. "I want." Several labored breaths. She thinks she can hear a rattle. She isn't hearing a rattle. "To see you. I. B."
"You will. Nightwing." She checks the channel three ways. No one could possibly be listening in on this. "Just, stay with me. Dick."
"Mmm." She can see that smile in her memory. "Love you."
"I..." That was a rattle. No. "Dick, I love you." It's getting fainter. His breathing's getting fainter. There's no flicker on her screen, not even violet. "Dick? We're on the way..."
Barbara hears absolutely nothing on the other end. Just the line's intrinsic static.
"No." She calls up the position of a dozen heroes, all fliers. "Don't quit on me, Nightwing." Power Girl, J'onn J'onnz, the Marvels. She still has plenty of favors to call in. "Don't you dare." Jade, Donna, Starfire. Some people won't require favors. "Dammit. I'll never forgive you." But no one is available and on this side of the country; the entire Superfamily's out in space. "Don't..."
No matter how far she turns up the volume Barbara hears absolutely nothing.
She punches the console, once, twice, three times. She curses in five languages until her voice breaks, but she can't drown out the silence. Then she puts her head in her hands and cries.
Dick hadn't known a person could hurt so much. He's just covered in hurt, broken all over, and he can't see; the gravity feels like it's been turned up ten times, and Two-Face is standing over him, hefting the baseball bat, laughing like a rusty saw, and Dick hurts all over, like his muscles are ground meat, all the blows blending together. He hurts so much he can't breathe, and he let the judge die, and he's failed Batman.
When he hears the whump he wonders why he didn't feel it, if that means he's dead, till he feels the whoosh of Batman's cape skimming over him. And then he doesn't feel anything else.
Sometime in there he's lifted, and all the bits of his bones grate against each other, and he can't push a scream out of his lungs. Two-Face is over him, baseball bat raised, saying, "I didn't kill you, it was the Bat." Dick tries to say, "no" but he chokes, there's no air, and everything is fuzzy and broken-edged and fading.
"Robin." Batman's voice is low and dark. "Robin. I've got you." Dick tries to speak, and can't make his mouth move. He tries to hold his hand up, and his arm hurts like an exploding flare. "Robin, talk to me..."
Batman sounds unsure. Batman should never sound unsure, and Dick can't breathe, but he manages to whisper, "Batman."
He can't feel his arm, he can't feel his lungs, but he can feel Batman's breath across his face, before he can't breathe at all.
He never falls.
The wind's blowing in his hair, roaring in his ears. The audience gasps like one huge voice. The rope's waving in his hands, fluttering as he falls.
He never falls. He's a Flying Grayson. His parents are flying away from him, their arms out, their mouths open--- no, he's the one falling, the air rushing past him, the audience a sea of round eyes, round mouths. He holds out his hands, but there's nothing to catch, and the air pours through his fingers.
Dick's falling, and he can't see his parents, and the lights are so bright. He grew up here, and now he won't get any older, and he's falling so fast he can't breathe, falling into the lights.
He never falls.
He hits the ground.