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Balance Act

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He isn’t worried when there’s no answer. He just chats at the silence and at “Mr. Malone” for a few minutes, knowing that Bruce will get the message whenever he’s less occupied. Who knows what’s going on over there today. Perhaps the Justice League is trapped on a spaceship, or the Joker is holding Gotham city hostage. The superhero life makes even the craziest explanation possible. Maybe Damian the little devil has been making trouble at school and Bruce and Alfie are busy smoothing things over. He hopes it’s something like that. He loves hearing family stories, especially those that involve the little brother returned from the dead, that he yearns to hug, so he can convince himself that it’s really true.

Hearing about it makes it easier to not be there.

At least sometimes.

For now he still has Spyral missians and he needs to get back to being Agent 37, until Bruce tells him it's fine to come home.

* * *

A week in, he still isn’t worried. This mission should be over by now. Bruce should have gotten him out. But there is no word or sign from him. Something has come up and he’ll tell Dick when they’re ready. So he keeps his head high and goes on pretending.

Helena takes over the reins of Spyral and makes sure to keep him busy. There are two short missions for him in as many weeks and teaching the girls takes up the rest of his time. It’s like Helena wants him to keep focused, like she does not want to give him time to look at what’s going on around him. He supposes it’s because his former partner in the field is now leading their little organization and she does not want anyone to think she can’t take it. She could have died when Midas shot her after all, and she knows that now she needs to show strength, to strengthen her position. This is her show now and she needs to keep the upper hand.

Nobody can be allowed to see cracks in her armor.

So she makes sure Dick’s attention is elsewhere. It makes sense, but Dick knows everything about misdirection. It’s the game he’s been playing all along.

He ends up being teamed up with Agent 1, because he’s the other one without a partner. Dick tries not to think too hard about why he’s without partner and who he might be blaming for that.

“Agent 1,” he says cheerfully when they meet up at the rendezvous point.

The handsome features don’t move an inch, dark eyes watching him with something that he has come to think of as neutral disdain.

Dick’s grin widens. If the man thinks Dick will change his ways, because the other agent is not receptive to his amiable behavior, then that only shows how little Agent 1 knows about one Dick Grayson. He used to work with the Batman and he had been much more intimidating than Agent 1 could ever be, than any of them could ever be.

Dick still remembers how many days it took him to make Batman crack a smile on the job.

No time at all.

* * *

By the end of the third week, he tells himself there is still no need to worry. This is Batman. What are a few weeks when a mission takes precedence?

It’s Batman. Batman can do anything.

No need to worry at all.

But it's getting harder to believe it.

* * *

“You should have taken the shot!”

“I do not shoot people.”

“What kind of idiot would not take the shot in this line of work?”


Agent 1 looks at him with something that is between blank face and anger. There’s even a hint of undisguised disgust this time. “Obviously,” he says and his usual stern voice has taken on a whole new note of disdain. Dick would even take that as a win, because it means he’s getting a rise out of the other man, if it weren’t for the fact that they were again talking about killing people. He was beginning to think that teaming up with someone as volatile and unpredictable as Midnighter was easier than being the partner of Agent 1. “You need to do what gets the job done. You are not a colorful little hero of Gotham anymore.”

“Colorful,” Dick scoffs. Bruce would be proud of him, because he managed to copy his reprimanding Batman voice to a T.

Dick doesn’t need to be told what it means to get the job done. He’s been doing it all this time. And now, he’s just waiting for a sign that he can finally come home and leave all of this behind.

He’s itching to go home.

But once again, when he’s back in his room, all safety protocols observed, chatting at nobody, there is no sign that Bruce is even listening.

It’s still not exactly worry gnawing on his insides, not exactly fear or resentment. He’s been here too long. He knows how things can work in the trade of masks and capes.

Batman is busy.

Nothing more to it than that.

* * *

It takes him another two days to admit to himself that something is wrong, and then another two to figure out what to do about it. One look at Gotham finally reveals why Helena had been keeping him continuously distracted and mostly away from Gotham.

“Alfred,” he says, as he sits in the dark, and the man comes down the long staircase finally. Alfred freezes. Dick can't even decide what he feels, sad, nervous, nauseous. Last time Alfred saw him he was in a coffin, faking his own death to protect his family.

He's so glad to be here again in the old dank, cold cave, hearing the humming of the computer, and Alfred is right there, right there on the stairs. It's all he's been thinking about for months.

He's home.

And nothing is right.

There is no Batman in the cave.

But someone still needs to get the job done. He just needs to decide what the job is for him.

* * *

“You are back?” Agent 1 asks and wrinkles his nose, like Dick is something the cat dragged in. He feels like something the cat dragged in too and there is a stupid line about a tiger having lured him here on his lips that he doesn't voice, because despite what the man might think about him, Dick can actually keep his mouth shut occasionally. People never get that he's an open person right untilt the point when he isn't.

Only Bruce ever got that.

While Batman worked with mask, Dick Grayson's talent had always been to be himself even when he was keeping secrets. It is a matter of a different form of compartmentalization and it works for him. It's why people trust him. But not everyone sees past it, understands it.

Bruce always had.

The Bruce Wayne the world had seen had always been the mask. Batman, the Bruce only a chosen few got to see day by day - he was the true man. And now the man in Gotham... He is and isn't that man. Dick still feels unrooted. Relieved. Sad. Determined.

He is and isn't on his own now.

He still has something to protect.

And he's come back here, because here is where he thinks he needs to be for now, where he can still make a difference.

“Tiger” is staring at him, a frown creasing his formidable brow. It's the cue Dick has been waiting for. “Of course, I did, partner,” he singsongs. “It's Agent 1 and 37 now and forever, beating the odds.”

The frown deepens.

“You are glad to see me, aren't you?” he asks, and grins wider.

Agent 1 shakes his head. “Still an idiot,” he proclaims and just turns around and walks away. He's never a man of many words. It's always hard to read him.

Dick still feels like grinning some more.

He's glad, he's been missed. Perhaps the whole unfortunate affair with Bruce has one brighter side to it, after all.

* * *

It's another mission, another fight.

There is a screaming match after that would put the fights he had with Batman to shame. He knows why he starts grinning, when the insults turn nasty. The furious expression on Tiger's face makes him grin even wider, but he doesn't push, just talks back and grins.

Then it's lips on his, strong, deadly hands at his hips, under his shirt. It's not a dance, but a fight even now and it makes him hard so quickly, that he's out of breath, even before he's shoved back towards his own bed and Tiger kisses him, deep and angry. There's nothing playful about it, as a tongue roughly invades his mouth and takes, as hands say loud and clear what the man has not admitted out loud to him yet.

Want you.

Even now, his lips bruised, his uniform ripped from him piece by piece, breathless, Dick feels like grinning. It's exhilarating how things are moving, how love is always about change and finding constants, about connection. He isn't even sure yet this is love, because even for him this is a new level of complicated. He just knows this feels right. He gasps when the man above him – still mostly dressed – pushes him down and holds him there hard, to plunder his mouth with fervor.

He's broken the tiger's well learned control and now he can cling, hold on.

He groans, when he's touched, feeling like he's going to explode if this doesn't move fast.

“Why did you even come back?” Tiger growls against his ear and Dick chuckles. “You were home.”

“That part of my life isn't what it was,” he breathes. “And you missed me.”

Tiger growls and Dick thinks his nickname is saying so much more about him than he every imagined. He must have been laughing, because the man bites down on his throat viciously, getting his attention. It nearly undoes him, as he arcs up and up, his backs straining, molding their bodies together in perfect unison.

The growl finally turns into groan and they are both beyond control finally, moving and humping and sighing, the pace changing to frantic and desperate.

They have both wanted this and it's only now that it makes sense.

In the end Tiger comes inside of him and Dick, his legs crossed behind his strong back, his own back arced again in absolute pleasure, thinks that this moment is worth even the bruises on his hips and the ache he will deal with in the morning.

* * *

He returns from a mission that leads him close to home. The yearning to return to how things used to be is still there. He's forever going to a bat at heart, just like he's always going to be a circus brat.

But slipping into Agents 1's room in the middle of the night and slowly undressing before slipping under the covers, feels more exciting than any of the little spy games that Spyral makes him play, and waking up in a firm embrace, before being growled at and being kicked out of bed, so he can leave before anyone notices, has its own kind of weird charm.

It's not the life he would have chosen, but for now he can still do some good here. And Bruce is alive and his family is safe, that's what counts.

He still misses home. But he isn't lonely anymore.

He still misses hearing Bruce talk about what's going on at home, but Tim calls in occasionally now to fill him in. It's not the warm, rare moment when “Mr. Malone” talks about his family with pride, but it's Tim taking the time to give him an organized and very to the point run-down of what is going on at home, so he appreciates it, too.

There's a new Batman in town and it's not Bruce, but so far things have tensely moved into a new routine for Gotham. Part of Dick feels it should be him, but there is a mission Bruce has given him and he's going to see it through now that it has taken a new direction.

Things have a way of working out when you know how to keep your balance. All the bats know about that little secret.

And Dick knows that sometimes they do work out even when you slip a little.

“Will you ever tell me your real name?” he asks Agent 1 when they meet again just one hour after he has been kicked out of bed. This time they are not getting cozy under the covers. They're on a helicopter on the way to their next mission.

“No,” the man says with a firm nod and a stern expression.

“You know mine.”

The man rolls his eyes. “That's because you're...”

“An idiot, I know. Love makes fools of us all, right?” He wriggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“I was about to say, not made out to be a spy.”

He laughs.

“Tiger” doesn't even turn to look at him, but there is something on his blank face that is more amused than gruff and that is just the rarest thing. Dick thinks it might just as well be a smile.

Yes, no need to worry for now.

He's going to be fine here on his own for some time. And when he isn't, well, he's good at figuring things out. At least he's not alone.