Chapter 1: The initial idea
It's a little sad that the only place that Dick wants to hang out at with his friends is the very same place that he works four nights out of the week.
On Saturday nights, Oswald Cobblepot's Gin Joint is lively and loud and the staff members practically run themselves ragged while flitting around trying to make sure that every table is satisfied and every drink is topped off.
For the first time in a week and a half, Dick isn't one of them. It's the first night off in a while that he's been able to get and of course, he decides to spend it where he works. He has his reasons of course: the food and drink are discounted from his entire party, the band is the best one that Cobblepot hires, and all of his coworkers and friends know and like each other.
It's comfortable and cozy, their table a somewhat secluded cove in a sea of rowdy diners and dancers. The only place where Dick feels more comfortable is in Wayne Manor with Bruce himself and even that had taken some time.
Thinking about the home that he and Bruce share makes Dick think of Bruce and he knows, even before Barbara nudges him with her elbow, that he has to be making a goofy, rather obnoxious face.
"You know you didn't have to come out with us," Barbara says, teasing slyly as she smiles at Dick. "You could've stayed home with your billionaire and come out some other night."
Dick shakes his head. "And miss out on half-priced appetizers and a night out with my best friends," he says, not at all bothering to hide his own smile. "Bruce volunteered to watch Chloe for me so we could do this, Babs. I'm not passing up on the chance to get out of the house for a little bit."
"He's watching the munchkin?" Barbara asks, eyebrows lifted. "After the Jello incident last year, I didn't think that he'd ever do it again. It must be love." She's teasing again, of course. "So, when are you going to pop the question and make it legally binding?"
Dick blinks, feeling like his brain short circuits at Barbara's words.
"Propose? To Bruce?" Dick blurts out. He didn't – "I didn't –"
Dick feels clumsy, like his tongue is thick in his mouth and he can't think.
At first, he kind of imagines brushing the whole thing off and laughing as if this is all a really hilarious joke. But then, it hits him. This is his life. He can hang out here with his friends because he has a partner who his daughter adores and who adores her in return.
And proposing –
Well, Dick has never thought long and hard about the fact that there's a rather logical conclusion to their relationship.
"Don't think so hard about it," Barbara says, shifting a little in her wheelchair. "Geez, Dick. If I didn't know better, I'd think that someone just smacked you upside the head. I thought you and Bruce were as good as married already, so what --"
Dick shrugs and then reaches for his beer (his third in the past two hours). He chugs half of it without thinking, relishing the familiar bitterness of the heavy stout on his tongue.
"I didn't think about it," Dick mutters later, glancing down at the bottle instead of at Barbara. Jason and Alysia probably won't notice a thing because they're busy bickering over the next appetizer that they're getting, but he doesn't want to risk seeing any judgement. "I keep expecting to wake up on your couch only to find out that it was all a dream."
Barbara touches the back of Dick's right hand.
"Dick, I --" She pauses, noticeably at a loss for words at first. "Is this what you've been going through this whole time? Why -- why didn't you say anything?"
Shrugging, Dick forces himself to meet his best friend's inquisitive green gaze.
"I don't know, Babs," he admits in a sullen voice. "It's just -- Bruce and I have been together for four years and I just can't stop waiting for the other shoe to drop or for him to leave the way that Cheyenne did. Everyone I know is in a stable and happy relationship and I'm just -- "
Gently, Barbara squeezes Dick's hand.
"Dick," she says, "You're in one too."
Dick sighs, glaring down at his beer as if it's managed to personally offend him.
"Yeah, I know that, but -- Babs, This is the longest relationship I've been in and I don't even know if Bruce wants to get married again."
When Barbara pinches Dick a moment later, Dick yelps and nearly spills his beer all over the table.
"What was that for?" Dick asks.
"You're not dreaming, Dick," Barbara says, the seriousness of her tone belied by the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "And anyone can see how much Bruce loves you and Chloe. Seriously, I'm willing to bet that the only reason why he hasn't asked you to marry him is because he's in the same boat: panicking about whether or not you feel the same despite how obviously in love the two of you are."
Of course, Jason and Alysia choose that very moment to get back into the conversation.
"Are you freaking out about your relationships again?" Jason asks. He doesn't wait for Dick to answer, setting down his own bottle of beer with a muted clatter before turning so that he can look at both Alysia and Barbara. "He does this every time things get serious: stress himself out of whatever happiness he has. He's been doing it since we were kids and it's fucking ridiculous."
Alysia at least has the grace to hide her laughter behind her left hand. The massive wedding ring on her ring finger catches the light, chips of amethyst standing out against the gleaming platinum band.
"Don't make fun of him, Jason," Alysia says once she's done giggling, her smiling taking on a decidedly mischievous note. "Remember, Babs and I were still roommates when you two started dating and I have a very long memory. He's not the only person that gets weird about relationships."
The implicit threat works well enough and Jason gives in, sinking back against his seat beside Dick.
"Fine," he grumbles.
When Alysia glances at Dick, he feels himself freeze, fingers squeezing tightly around the slick sides of his bottle. Out of all of his friends, Alysia and Barbara are the only two that can look at him and read him like a book. So when she looks at him, her brown eyes soft and yet still piercing, Dick feels like flinching.
"Lys," Dick starts to say, "I --"
"I'm not going to tell you what to do or how you should do it," Alysia says, "But when David and I were dating, I didn't know when or if he'd ever propose to me. So I took matters into my own hands and popped the question. If you love Bruce as much as we all know you do, then just… think about it, okay? And breathe."
Barbara nods. "Yeah, Dick," she says, chiming in easily enough. "We've seen the way that Bruce looks at you when you're together and how he looks at Chloe. He's yours."
Glancing back and forth between three of his best friends in the world, Dick sighs. Not with resignation though, but with relief at how helpful and understanding they are.
"So," he says, smiling for real for the first time since this part of the conversation began. "Does this mean that you three are going to help me make this proposal perfect?"
Back when Dick was younger and still with Cheyenne, his proposal had been far from romantic. Hell, he didn't even have a ring to slip on her finger until well into her pregnancy with Chloe.
But this time, with Bruce, everything has to be perfect.
Alysia nods. "Of course," she says, speaking for all of them. "Like we'd let you do this by yourself -- We're your friends, Dick."
Jason snorts. "Good job pretending that this has absolutely nothing to do with your obsession with weddings, Lys," he says with a smirk. "I almost forgot what a weirdo you are."
Startled into laughter by Jason's teasing and Alysia's mock-outrage, Dick covers his face with his hands. "You're all ridiculous," he says, his voice muffled. "Especially you, Jason."
"Is that any way to talk to the man that's going to help you get a ring on your boyfriend's finger?"
Chapter 2: Ring Shopping
"I guess I should be thankful that you didn't bring me to one of the jewelry stores in midtown," Dick mutters sotto voce as he trails behind Alysia and her husband David into a jewelry store that's supposed to have existed since the late 1800s. "It's nice that you've remembered that I'm on a budget."
Sure, Dick has money saved up for the engagement ring that he wants to buy, but not that much money. After all, working for Cobblepot doesn't exactly net him six figures a year and there's no way in hell that Dick is going to ask Bruce to pay for his own rings.
Alysia shakes her head as she laughs and then glances over her shoulder at Dick.
“Like I could forget,” she says. “It’s not like you haven’t been worrying about how you were going to afford the rings from the second David and I picked you up this morning.” The smile on her face softens slightly before she looks away. “Mariana and her husband are good people. They’re not going to make you mortgage your soul in order to pay off the ring, Dick.”
Dick manages a shaky smile in response. “Good,” he says, “Because I don’t think my soul is actually worth that much, I --“
When Alysia stops in her tracks a moment later, Dick nearly knocks her and David down.
Alysia squeaks, cutting Dick off before he can finish asking his question.
“Oh, Gilda. I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” she says.
Gilda Dent. As the woman that's married to Bruce's best friend.
Alysia keeps talking, a squeaky note to her voice that'd make Dick grin if he wasn't about to panic his way into making a scene.
“And you’ve got the twins!” Alysia glances about the jewelry store, still blocking Dick’s view as best as she can. “Where’s your husband?”
"Shit," Dick hisses, feeling his face burn with a flush as he glances about for some avenue of escape.
Short of running back outside into the weak Gotham City sunlight and hiding in the backseat of David's massive blue and black Hummer, there's nowhere else for Dick to go. And it's not like he can run out of the jewelry store without raising more questions than he wants to answer at any point in his life.
Gilda takes a while to answer.
"H-Harvey's just… picking up something," she says, her voice a breathless little whisper that immediately makes Dick suspicious. "We'll be out of your way in a minute."
In the very next second, Gilda yelps out a nervous bit of laughter when Alysia shifts to one side and she sees Dick doing his best to be small and inconspicuous behind their mutual friend. Gilda glances back in the direction of the store's private back room, saying that, "I didn't expect to see you here, Dick," in a wobbly voice that sounds more like a verbal step back.
All Dick can do is shrug and smile.
"They're helping me pick out a gift for someone special," he says, not telling the entire truth because he knows Gilda: by the time Dick got home, Bruce would know everything. "But we can come back later if you're busy –"
"No," Gilda blurts out. "It's – We're fine." She offers them a smile that trembles at the corners for a few moments before strengthening. "Why don't you come say 'Hi' to the twins, Dick? They haven't seen you in a while."
Well… never let it be said that Dick is the kind of guy that'd pass up cooing over two of the cutest babies he's ever seen.
When Alysia inches close to her husband and makes a scrunchy-faced "go ahead" gesture at Dick, he squeezes past them and heads toward Gilda and her girls.
When Gilda and Harvey had told Dick that they were naming their daughters Helen and Nessie ("After Clytemnestra," Harvey'd said with a straight face as they watched Bruce coo over the little angels), Dick had to excuse himself to the nearest bathroom until he could stop laughing. Once the little girls were born though, Dick had to admit that there was something about the names that suited them.
And at the very least, Dick thinks to himself as he smiles at Gilda, he's thankful that the twins weren't boys to be named Castor and Pollux.
When Dick reaches out to gather Gilda up into a tight hug, he sighs at the smell of her perfume. In the years since Dick and Bruce became DickandBruce, he and Gilda had become close as well. Out of all of Bruce's small circle of friends, Gilda knew what it was like to be entrusted with the reality of Bruce's life and his care.
"You're squishing me," Gilda gets out around a bit of laughter. Nevertheless, she reaches up to loop her arms around Dick's shoulders, squeezing him tightly for a long embrace before she lets him go, stepping back neatly on the tiled floor. "Seriously, Dick. It's been too long."
Embarrassed, Dick scratches at the nape of his neck with ragged edged nails.
"Sorry, Gilly," he says, a faintly shamed smile tugging at one of the corners of his mouth. "Life has been... hectic lately, what with trying to get Chloe ready for school and --" Dick pauses. "Why don't you and Harvey come down to my job for dinner next week? My treat."
To pay for the rings, Dick is going to have to grab all the hours that he can and that means saying goodbye to getting to bed before three in the morning. It also means that he can kiss the regularity of his usual work schedule goodbye too.
"I'm going to be working a lot more over the next few weeks," Dick says by way of explanation, "But if you and Harvey drop by, I'll take care of you."
Out of Bruce's small circle of friends, he likes the Dents the most. He's gone out with Bruce to other social events and met people like Thomas Elliot and his wife, but no one seems to get Bruce the way the Dents do.
No one is as nice to them either.
When Gilda's dark eyebrows draw together and her small mouth purses with a frown, Dick leaps to deflect before she can reject his offer. "And if you're worried about getting a sitter, don't be: we have a neighbor that watches Chloe and tries his best to keep Damian from burning down the house while we're gone. He'd be happy to watch your twins too!"
Speaking of the twins--
Dick drops down into a smooth crouch in front of the stroller, meeting the curious stares of Gilda and Harvey's one-year old daughters. Both little girls have smooth brown skin that tends more to Harvey's darker skin tone than the paler brown of Gilda's own skin and round faces that are just begging for kisses. That's about where the similarities end.
Grey-eyed Helen smiles the moment that she meets Dick's eyes, baring a mouth full of very tiny (and very sharp) teeth as she waves her right fist in the air and wiggles against her seatbelt.
Nessie on the other hand... She scowls, small fingers flexing impatiently against the bar of the stroller in front of her. Clearly dissatisfied with seeing Dick's face in front of her instead of her mother's, Nessie scowl deepens until, with a quiet hitching breath, she bursts into tears that make the deep blue of her eyes appear even darker.
"Gilly --" Dick says, a bit taken aback by the force of Nessie's sobbing. "What --"
With a neat little bump of her hips, Gilda nudges DIck out of the way and reaches for her sobbing daughter. Within moments, she has Nessie's face pressed into the curve of her shoulder and one hand rubbing circles against the toddler's heaving back.
When Dick blinks at her, silently asking her what he should do, Gilda jerks her chin in Helen's direction.
"Pick her up," Gilda says. "She hates feeling left out."
She watches Dick the whole time, as he unclips the belt strapping Helen into her seat and then lifts her with one hand supporting her bottom and the other pressed to her back. Finally, when Dick has Helen cuddled close, Gilda smiles.
"You look so good with her," Gilly says. "Have you and Bruce ever thought about it?"
Thought about what?"
Gilda rolls her eyes. "About having another kid," she says. "You've been together for four years now and usually by now, most couples are already planning for another kid or two."
Dick bites his bottom lip. "Gilly --"
She blinks at him, her eyes wide. "Did I say something wrong, Dick? It's just that --"
"No," Dick says, shaking his head. "It's fine. I just..."
Whatever else Dick is, he doesn't get to say because just then the door to the jewelry store's back room swings open and Harvey walks out with his hands in his pockets.
The silence in the room is almost as loud as Nessie's crying had been. Everyone just stands there, staring at one another as if they have no idea what to do next.
Gilda, ever prepared to mitigate awkwardness, leaps into action. She buckles Nessie into her stroller seat within seconds and then reaches for Helen. Before Dick even can pull himself together to speak, both of the girls are busy burbling away in their respective seats as Harvey walks towards them.
Dick catches a glimpse of Harvey shoving a small black box into the pocket of his coat before he looks up. In person, Harvey looks every inch the politician currently doing his best to turn Gotham City politics around. When he smiles, despite the fact that he and Dick are friends, it makes Dick feel a bit like he's staring down a particularly hungry shark.
"What are you doing here?" Harvey asks.
Dick almost tells him.
"I'm just," Dick pauses, trying to gauge how much lying he can get away with in front of his partner's best friend. "I'm just looking for a gift for someone." There. Nice and vague. Nothing about that screams that Dick is on the hunt for a set of engagement rings that won't break his bank account.
Harvey's smile widens, putting Dick more in mind of a Great White than ever.
Thankfully, he doesn't call Dick on his clearly pathetic attempts at bluffing.
Instead, Harvey simply reaches out to hold one of Gilda's hands. "Good luck with that," he says simply. "Oh and in case you're wondering, Bruce prefers semi-precious stones to gems. They're less expensive and tend to be from independent workers rather than mines."
And then he just walks out with his family, leaving Dick to stand there gawping after them with an undignified look on his face as Alysia and David move to stand beside him.
"What -- what was that?" Alysia says once the door to the jewelry store closes that behind Harvey's small family. She glances up at David with worry furrowing her brow. "You heard that too, right David?"
David's mouth thins with a faint frown and his dark eyes narrow as well. "Yeah," he murmurs. "You don't think that he knows. He can't, can he?"
"He knows," Dick moans miserably. "I know he knows." Dick slaps a hand over his face just hard enough to sting. "You could just see it in the look on his face. God, now he's going to tell Bruce and my surprise will be ruined."
The weight of David's hand on Dick's shoulder is comforting and comfortable.
"He's Bruce's friend," David points out in a level tone. "If he does figure out that you're planning to propose, he's not going to tell Bruce anything. He's not that kind of friend."
Alysia presses forward and fits her lithe body in against Dick's side as if her presence alone can keep him from toppling over from the sheer shock of running into Harvey. "And if he turns out to be that kind of friend, we'll let Jason kick his ass. Okay?"
Dick nods, charmed by his friends' kindness as a much as he is by the offer of letting Jason fight on his behalf. "Okay."
"Good," Alysia says, perking up immediately before fluffing out her long hair. "Now let's go buy you some engagement rings."